Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Franken, My Dear, Gives a Damn

Nearly eight months simmering, we finally have to give grudging thanks to ex-U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman for showing the kind of sense that Republicans claim but can't often show. He conceded last November's election to Al Franken when the Minnesota Supreme Court rang the gong on him.

What this definitely does not mean is:
  • Having a theoretical 60-vote margin in the Senate changes the game
  • Democratic Senators will suddenly show honor and courage
A standard game played by Republicans at national and state levels is to shake the big, bad liberal doll in the air to scare the gullible. Here in Massachusetts, the standard lie is unless citizens elect a Republican governor, there will no check on rampant tax-and-spend Dems. That is not only laughable from the perspective of Republicans in Washington, legislative and executive branch alike, being borrow-and-spend wastrels. The local joke is that our many DINOs are at least as socially and fiscally conservative as their GOP counterparts here and elsewhere. Moreover, the GOP governors are far less likely than Dem speakers of the House and Senate presidents to derail progressive and liberal legislation.
Pic Note: I claim fair use of a small portion of Star Tribune photog Brian Peterson's snap of Al Franken and his wife Franni Franken. They are either a fun or a scary couple or both. She looks like she makes a mean Jell-O mold.
Likewise, in the U.S. Senate, Dems are not about to suddenly become brave, progressive and equality minded because a comedian from Minneapolis will join their clown troupe. They have shown a decided lack of leadership on fundamental protections for broad classes of citizens without any help or hindrance from Republicans.

Instead, Franken's tenure will quickly get over the 30-plus week puerile delay by Coleman and his GOP puppet masters. When he comes in as the most junior of Senators, he won't have impact either as a policy maker or even a swing vote. Don't expect the theoretical 60-vote, filibuster buster majority to mean much.

Only if the Dem Senators decide they really care about civil rights (think DOMA and don't-ask/don't-tell for two) will there be some positive change. We have a fairly timid and only moderately progressive President, who has yet to lead any charges against discrimination or for constitutional protections.

However, emotionally it is still good to have the chalk marks up on the good side of the board. We still are missing ailing Bob Byrd and Ted Kennedy, who are rarely able to vote or even show. Obama and the Senate leaders still need to horse swap with the GOP Senators to do anything.

Without GOP cooperation, there's no 60 votes for anything. Now though the least doctrinaire of the Republicans have an out. They can say they knew the Dems has the votes (even if it was debatable) to excuse their lack of opposition to decent legislation.

Welcome, Al. I hope you become a player in the next two years or so.
Thursday Follow-Up: For those we like vetting, the NYT provides quotes and examples of how limited this 60-seat majority is apt to be.

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Big Smile, Long Horizon from Obama

Yesterday's the prez and the gays meeting went as most of us figured. Barack Obama said the LGBT community should relish advances in these first six month and expect to be delighted in the next 42. People still want to believe, but he makes us work for that.
The Remarks: You can read the whole transcript over at Pam's House Blend here.
Many supporters of civil rights in general and LGBT ones in particular have lost patience. His agenda needs shuffling, as in:
  • A come-to-Jesus moment (following irony intended) on same-sex marriage. He infuses his marginally fundy religion on public policy here. It's civil rights marked by a civil contract, B.O.
  • He promised to dump DOMA. Get with the program, Prez.
  • He says even now that don't ask/don't tell is wrong, outdated and inefficient. Nuff said; now act.
Here in Massachusetts, we think of his buddy Gov. Deval Patrick. They each made strong commitments to the progressive, netroots, and LGBT gangs. Both have been timorous with their legislatures. Neither has shown the leadership they promised in their campaigns. Both hide behind the veil of passivity while claiming their major skill is to get disparate groups to work together for good laws.

In yesterday's White House event, the President played the six-month card. Among his remarks came:
I expect and hope to be judged not by words, not by promises I've made, but by the promises that my administration keeps. We've been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration.
That's the old trust-me approach. It works for a lot of sales types, less so for the President.

On DOMA, he said:
I've called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act to help end discrimination against same-sex couples in this country. Now, I want to add we have a duty to uphold existing law, but I believe we must do so in a way that does not exacerbate old divides. And fulfilling this duty in upholding the law in no way lessens my commitment to reversing this law. I've made that clear.
What that should make clear is that he won't push for DOMA repeal or even nibble at the lack of portability of legal marriages among states. If DOMA dies, it won't be because of Obama's leadership. Act, don't ask.

Speaking of over 250 homosexuals tossed from the military during his tenure, he could only say:
But what I hope is that these cases underscore the urgency of reversing this policy not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it is essential for our national security. Now, even as we take these steps, we must recognize that real progress depends not only on the laws we change but, as I said before, on the hearts we open. For if we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that there are good and decent people in this country who don't yet fully embrace their gay brothers and sisters -- not yet.
So, the old bigots in the Pentagon and military aren't quite ready. Our President would pray for their hard hearts to soften. He's commander in chief. He could make this happen today.

So, read all his remarks and make your own call. This is too slow and wishy-washy for me.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Monetizing Online News Podcast

A few, it seems, are not content to rend their garments over the disease and death of American newspapers. Over at Left Ahead!, we'll chat with one on Tuesday.

It’s on beyond hand wringing for newspapers. Our guest on Tuesday, June 30th, describes an aggressive program to test and prove ways to keep news gathering alive. Martin Langeveld is one of the four founders of CircLabs heading this project.

Mild disclaimer: I attended high school with Langeveld and the woman he would marry. We have no business dealings and I am not associated with CircLabs.

This system is a result of The Information Valet Project led by Media Giraffe guru Bill Densmore. His phone interview on the possibilities of monetizing news is here.

While CircLabs’ Circulate will be in beta this summer and full release this year, how it will balance satisfying users with micropayments and targeted ads is to be determined. Perhaps most meaningful is that while only a few newspapers are trying their own systems to support the costs of news-gathering, this new effort means to dive headfirst into the mess to see what works and act as a proving ground.

You can listen live at 2:30 p.m. Eastern on June 30th here. That same URL will return to a player. The show will be available here on Left Ahead! or on iTunes later that afternoon.

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Ubiquitous Insidious Mayoral Campaigning

While much is made rightfully over incumbents' advantage, we focus too much on war chests and too little on incessancy. Likewise, we can appreciate the detailed reporting in today's Boston Globe on Mayor Tom Menino's fund-raising advantage. Yet, his handshake total is surely more significant.

Neither City Councilor challenger, Michael Flaherty nor Sam Yoon, is shy. They both go to many public and private events in the city, from business openings to public meetings to funerals. Even here though, through a combination of tenure and tenacity, Menino is more of a presence.

He also has a key advantage in governmental terms. With the strong-mayor form of local politics, constituents know he is more powerful and more likely to act on their big requests than even a Councilor with aides and constituent-services help. My own district Councilor, John Tobin, makes things happen. The mayor can alter the agenda at will.

Consider another horse the Globe like to ride, Menino's high profile. He's more popular than the challengers and nearly everyone has met him. Doing his job with relentless vigor has turned him into the devil we know...and vote for.

I had one of those moments again yesterday, one that should not have surprised me in a town filled with I-met-Tom stories. Number two son and I were out for a bike ride, got hungry and headed for the Lebanese version of lamejun at Cristelle's in West Roxbury. There's no bike rack or even street signs to lock up, so we leaned our wheels against the wall and took an outside table. The waiter chatted up cycling, saying he would like to buy one, a cheap one for short trips to and from the restaurant. I pointed him to the shop on Fairmont in Hyde Park and added that Menino agreed with the health benefits he had mentioned. He quickly shot back that "He's in here all the time, eating breakfast on Sunday."

For some lightweight examples, Menino showed at the groundbreaking for the Hyde Park YMCA (with some of the redevelopment credit rubbing off) and he was at the Bella Luna opening party (3/4 way down; for whom he went to bat with extended hours). Savvier was his walking Dudley Square streets, listening to the locals' safety concerns.

Like so many individual drops, those efforts, all day and every day, fill Menino's bucket of good will. Even when he doesn't solve any problems, being there is huge. It surely outweighs his looming ad campaigns for the September primary and November general elections.

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Rich Calls Out Obama on Gay Rights

This is just a pointer to Frank Rich's excellent 40 Years Later, Still Second-Class Americans on this morning's NYT op-ed page. He writes clearly — and maybe just a bit too gently — what many of us have been saying in our own corners.

His Stonewall think piece concludes that it is well past time for the President to show some commitment to gay rights, a.k.a. civil rights for homosexuals. Toward his conclusion, Rich cites Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Massachusetts HQ'ed Family Equality Council, saying that"...that he has given major speeches on race, on abortion and to the Muslim world. .People are waiting for that passionate speech from him on equal rights, and the time is now.'"

Rich adds, "Action would be even better. It’s a press cliché that 'gay supporters' are disappointed with Obama, but we should all be. Gay Americans aren’t just another political special interest group. They are Americans who are actively discriminated against by federal laws."

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mayor Menino Comes Heavy

At the end, he claimed he loves this stuff, talking to media including podcasters. Boston Mayor Tom Menino sure seemed to today.

He was on the Left Ahead! show and didn't exhibit any doubts or fears. On the other hand, I confess to multiple surprises. First, for someone with the reputation for avoiding commenting, he wasn't that hard to book. Second, for a man who used to bristle at anything remotely resembling criticism, he jumped right into subjects that suggest problems arose or worsened with him at the helm.

I had no intention of badgering or tricking him, but I figured I would have to educe candor. I had mis-prepared myself. He was in his element and surely could have taken much rougher questions.

Judge for yourself off the player below. Note that he was at a school function and joined in about ten and one-half minutes into the show.

Local political observers almost to a one give Menino a huge advantage over his three challengers in his election. They cite his $1.5 million or so campaign bag of cash as well as his large set of union, government employee and general supporter minions.

Plus, there's the inertia factor. Yeah, he's been there for 16 years, but he's that devil the voters know.

He has some hungry and capable challengers. Over at Left Ahead! we have also chatted with:
We used the same format with each as with Menino. They came on solo, made their pitch about why they would be the best mayor, and did it without trick questions or surprise guests.

Menino was the last in the series. With his reputation, particularly in the Boston Globe, for avoiding debate, conflict and commenting on his record, I figured he'd be canny and evasive.

Instead, he foreshadowed his role in the two scheduled pre-primary debates. With us, he waded right into roiling waters. He admitted to numerous Boston flaws, such as uneven school quality, increased homelessness, and stalled development literally leaving holes in Downtown Crossing. Instead of being defensive, he had a two-prong response to our and his own points:
  1. He had numbers and trends showing improvements in each area of concern
  2. He did not accept his critics' claims that conditions had worsened
For one example of what to expect, check his 6/9/9 speech to the Boston College CEO Club. He held that schools are well on their way and getting better. We heard some of these points today as well.

Setting aside the money and foot soldier advantages, consider how tough it will be to debate someone who refuses to let you advance your premises without struggle and contradiction. Again breaking stereotype, he might end up being the debate king or at least not losing.

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Baker's Dozen Plus Two Candidates

Boston's race for At-Large City Councilor is even more crowded than the one for Mayor. So far, 15 have qualified for four seats. Among those are two incumbents, John Connolly and Stephen Murphy.

Conventional wisdom would have the incumbents retaining their seats. Because two Councilors, Sam Yoon and Michael Flaherty, are running for Mayor, that opened up their two seats this time. I'll be monitoring such sources as David Bernstein at Talking Politics for predictions and trends. He for one is headed downtown tonight for a forum where all the candidates are invited.

Even in the new century, local elections are not likely to pivot on websites and presence. Yet it's fun to see where the candidates start and whether they improve. It's not that far until the September 22nd primary. They need to do the web as well as hit the doorbells, forums, public meetings, and interviews.

By last name, the 15's sites are:

I have spoken with Pressley and Kenneally. My first and extremely subject glance suggests the following on the others:
  • Felix Arroyo — Son of former Councilor Felix D. Arroyo. field director of Northeast Action (universal health care), former SEIU political director. Worked for Chuck Turner for four years. Spongy collaborative platform.
  • Doug Bennett — former Nantucket Republican, promises to shake every Boston voter's hand. LITE issues -- clean streets, low property taxes and green buildings.
  • John Connolly — finishing first 2-year term as at-large Councilor, chairs environment and health, acting hair of education. chairs special committee on Livable Boston.
  • Ego Ezedi — Executive director of the Roxbury Y. Aide to Michael Capuano for four years. Street-level and micro improvements to whittle away at all major city problems.
  • Robert Fortes — Black Republican. Former MBTA executive. His website revels nothing other than he wants your money.
  • Tomas GonzalezSouthie native, who has been Menino's Latino liaison and elder affiars chief of staff. Self-made, poor to scholarship and well on his way to a masters. He doesn't seem to have a program other than claiming to understand everyone's problems and wanting to provide constituent and city services.
  • Tito Jackson — Mr. Vague, with a five-point plan for more jobs, cheaper housing, great schools, low crime, and civic engagement, each without any annoying detail.
  • Stephen Murphy — 12 years on Council. vice prez of Council, chairs public safety and federal stimulus oversight committees.
  • Hiep Nguyen — Free of Boston political stereotypes, a native Vietnamese CPA and civic activist. He also manages to put a measurement and tax spin on issues as diverse as schools and businesses.
  • Sean Ryan — Some of this, some of that. Classically trained pianist and conductor, libertarian somewhat affiliated with Ron Paul, not fond of the Federal Reserve, hotdog vendor at Fenway, wants a local Boston currency.
  • Jean-Claude Sanon — Teacher at the Haitian American Public Health Initiative until last year. He too promises to work for better schools, health care, and more jobs and less crime. You want specifics? Too bad.
  • Bill Trabucco — Hands-down winner of most amusing political website here..maybe anywhere. 41-year-old EMT from DOT. Claims a patent pending (05831190). Casts himself as Everyman. I am not an Insider; not an Outsider. . . . I am YOU. I have the same concerns and worries about the struggles encountered by the hardworking and the underserved. I want to ease those struggles, so we may live and not just exist. "No Nonsense...PERIOD!" is not a campaign slogan, it is my way of life, with a track record to back it up.
  • Scotland Willis — Management consultant with three non-specific issues -- sustainability, public safety and education. He's for 'em.

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Kenneally Wins Best Motivation Prize

Whether you're a horse/jockey combo or a candidate for office, distinguishing yourself from the field can be the whole race. At-Large Boston City Council candidate Andrew Kenneally has a cross-cultural strategy...plus the best story on why he's running.

He is the second at-large hopeful I know of to seek some bloggers among his many outreach efforts. The first was Ayanna Pressley, whom I covered as full of ability but short on program. She's sunk unless she produces more in public appearances than on her frail website. Unfortunately in a field of 15 for the four at-large spots, her non-specific platform seems the norm.

I'll run a snarky quick hit on the initial impressions of the candidates' sites later today and link to it here.

Meanwhile, Kenneally met me at the Brigham Circle JP Licks for over an hour of chat. I can't see trying to do the same with all 15 candidates, but then again, only two have asked. Likewise, at least for the primary on September 22nd, Left Ahead! is not a good venue for podcasts for this horde.

Kenneally though has a compelling story. It's not his obvious background either. That's pretty much a Boston cliché — a blend of Irish and Italian (Gaelic and garlic as the expression goes), loads of siblings and other relatives who are cops, firefighters and even a mom who is a school nurse. No, in this case, it's the hole he didn't get in his head.

The short version is that awful headaches turned out to be a brain tumor sitting on his pituitary gland. The resolution ended up as his Road to Damascus experience that inspired his run for office.

Contrast that to most of the at-large candidates' websites. They each seem to hope that they can do a Deval/Barack, concentrating on let's collaborate to make the better world and city we want. In most cases, they don't offer any way to achieve that. It's more or less a trust-me strategy. No thanks.

For one, consider Felix Arroyo, son of a former Councilor. In a BMG post, he writes:
I am running for the Boston City Council at Large because I want to work with you to build a better Boston. As a community organizer, I believe in "collaborative politics" - bringing people together so that everyone's voice is heard. By working together to improve our communities and our city, we can and we will build a better Boston.
I bet that's not a mind-changing, ballot campaign.

Kenneally's motivation is meatier and more meaningful on several levels. While he is only about 34, he has over a decade of working for well-known and influential pols — U.S. Rep. Joseph Moakley, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, and Councilors Maura Hennigan and Michael Flaherty. He seemed to have found his gun battery as a man who makes things happen, without the grief of running for office.

For someone such as introverted me, it's hard to relate to his desire to run for office himself. While he had that in mind from at least college, it was the tumor that tipped him.

The drama all started with a non-political job offer. With his degrees (communications from UMASS/Amherst, masters in urban affairs from BU and masters in international conflict studies from Queens University in Belfast) and similarly diverse experience with politicians, he lucked into a lucrative offer from a big PR firm in Waltham, Racepoint Group. That suited him and his girlfriend as they projected their future together.

Then came the migraines and lots of tests over a week or more, followed by the operation, recovery and a huge aftershock. It's worth hearing the long version of the tumor tale as he tells it, replete with the surgeon saying it's a good kind of brain tumor if you get one because he could snake in through the nasal cavities instead of opening up the skull. The team got the whole marble-sized tumor and he was set to recover and resume his new, wealthier life.

Racepoint was very nice about it all, paying him full salary over his 10 week operation and recovery. Then they canned him. Being the recession and his being a last hired employee, he went out in a lump of layoffs.

The possibility of death at 33 was a real focusing lens. He wondered "is there anything I really want to do with my life?" He concluded that he really did want to hold public office and that "the last thing I want to do is wake up on my death bed and say that I wish I'd run for office."

So, here he is, raising what he figures is a minimum of $150,000 to get a shot at the November 3rd general election for an at-large seat. He's up to around $40,000 so far.

Even with his background in communications, Kenneally will have to play all sides to distinguish himself in this crowded field. He's fond of pointing to the numerous laws and regulations he originated or had passed over the years. As he says, he's done every aspect of the job of an elected official except run for office and have the title.

There are two incumbent Councilors in the field of 15, Stephen Murphy and John Connolly. Conventional wisdom has them taking two of the four available at-large slots. If so, that would leave 13 candidates wrestling for two. The primary will winnow the field to the top eight vote-getters. That's still long odds.

Assuming that he conveys his plans to tackle Boston's problems to the hundreds of groups and thousands of individuals he'll address by 9/22 as he did with me, Kenneally stands a good chance. Websites won't make candidates this time; many people don't know or care about online presence, at least not enough to click all over a site for detail.

Yet, this candidate can and has designed and run political websites. He'll probably get around to making the most of what he has on Facebook as well as his campaign site. As it is now, his platform and his personal tales require some work.

He does have a single and a trio of YouTube videos that explain much of his back story as well as his positions. The trio is from BNN's Talk of the Neighborhoods, with the ever dour and cadaverous Joe Heisler. Those spread over 22 minutes and require some persistence. Yet, as in all of Heisler's shows, the information is there.

Among his major talking points are:
  • Strong mayor/week council stereotype aside, the Councilor generate nearly all the legislation and determine where much of the city's discretionary money goes. Kenneally needs to make a big deal out of the laws he made happen.
  • He has different and fresh ideas for Boston in areas like crime, including empowering neighborhood watches in close coordination with police as has reduced crime in similar sized cities.
  • For education, he is not on the charter-schools-are-the-answer bandwagon, coming down on the side of keeping resources flowing into the schools. ("If I'm going to have to make a choice between laying off bus drivers or teachers, I'll lay off the drivers.") He wants money for mentor programs to make sure kids get the tutoring and role models they need to stay out of trouble and focused on academics.
  • He sees more pain as state budget cuts affect Boston more. His top priority is to jump start the stalled development projects downtown and around. He sees the added jobs as rippling throughout the city's economy. He sees more cash coming from fine-tuned PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) funds from colleges and non-profits.
Kenneally does have more specific proposals in many areas than most other at-large candidates. He does have a tangible can-do and have-done track record. He's just making it a little hard to see and hear those things for those who don't catch him in person.

He's a good guy, one as dedicated to public service as to himself (and his girlfriend). He'll need to wave his own flag a bit more to let people know what he's about.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mayor Menino on Left Ahead!

Boston’s longest serving Mayor, Thomas Menino will be live on the Left Ahead! weekly podcast on Tuesday, June 23rd at 2:30 p.m. He promises a half hour to say what he wants to accomplish with four more years.

If you can listen live, load up the show here. Afterward, it will be available at that URL, on Left Ahead! and on iTunes.

This is his most contested mayoral race ever. We previously spoke with challengers:

This show will be just the Mayor, no surprise guests. He’ll have his say and you can have your listen.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Outlanders Ordered to Maine

How gullible or stupid are Mainers? Those I knew who grew up there can disparage the locals, but it's hard to believe they'll buy the bull shoveled at them in the drive to overturn same-sex marriage.

An excellent recap of the current machinations appears in today's Press Herald. A big point is that with typical hypocrisy, the anti-equality forces will throw every outside resource they can into the battle. This is precisely what they say is a major sin of progressives and pro-LBGT types.

After a season of staccato losses deafening the nation to their panicked shrieks, the anti folk seem determined to delay SSM from becoming reality there. In that effort, they first hired the California public-relations shop that ran the successful Prop. 8 campaign there to stop gay marriages. This is the same group who produced the nonsensical ads of confused little kids saying that even hearing about same-sex couples was just too much for their little brains.

Moreover, the anti-gay leader, National Organization for Marriage, primed the pump with $60,000 to one local group, Stand for Marriage Maine. The latter group has hired Hessians professional signature gatherers, Michigan's National Petition Management, for $45,000.

If so much wasn't at stake, that sig-drive move would be amusing. The bar for such a Maine People's Veto requires just under 56,000 signatures gathered by the middle of September. Even in a low-population state, that's an extremely low number. You would suppose that if Mainers were against SSM, they wouldn't need outside money and foot soldiers to take this minimal step.

The Press Herald quoted lonely Equality Maine as saying they'd be ready for this battle. At this point, they are clearly outgunned and outspent. They'd likely have to rely on real Mainers to defend the law that the legislature passed and governor signed after much public testimony and debate. They do at least have a contribute page on their website.

It remains to be seen if their academic expert is right that the anti-equality effort may backfire. University of Maine's Amy Fried thinks the locals won't like the outlanders' messing with their business. The political science professor said,"It shows that the national organizations opposed to marriage equality see Maine as an important place to take a stand. It will be getting national attention; this will be watched around the country."

However, she added, People in Maine do not like what they might see as outside interference. We have our own political culture, we have a high degree of civility, a high degree of civic engagement."

Progressives should not leave this to chance. The slick and dishonest PR used in the Prop. 8 drive did fool a lot of people, enough to edge the vote. While not long ago, Mainers refused to buy similar tactics to overturn gay-rights legislation at the ballot, the foreigners are throwing money and people at Maine. They may figure the locals are too ignorant or stupid to think for themselves. Presenting both sides of this story will require money for the good guys as well.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obama Needs Guts

That Obama fellow needs to find his guts. He left them somewhere during the campaign...likely in his deep chest of ambition.

He was to be our strong defender of LGBT rights and civil rights more generally. He has failed through both cowardice and duplicity. Pretending he is so clever that he can keep opposing sides each and all happy with him, he is oblivious to that failure.

In short, he is neither decisive, nor a leader, nor even a civil-rights champion.

I was going to leave this all alone. After all, MSM and bloggers alike have been all over these issues, particularly the absurd DOMA filing in Smelt. By the bye, in addition to those few leader links above, important analysis is at the Leonard Link — the prof notes that beyond the smelly Smelt lies, there are two solid arguments against repealing it in this individual case.

The insulting benefits tweak was just too much though. I now thoroughly support people raising hell with the administration on gay rights, SSM and all related issues.

Obama has had his time, his breathing space, this chance to get economic reforms underway. Now your job is to let him know what you expect and how badly he is letting the nation down. At least once a week, in some way, send a message to the President...by email, phone, paper mail or in person.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Rhode Island SSM Road

Our tiniest state is fittingly a microcosm of same-sex marriage politics and winger bluster. It is symbolic to all sides as the holdout in New England.

The oddment of R.I. has been a recurring thread in SSM coverage here. That includes a conference on the theme at Roger Williams University just over a year ago, where the progressive sorts did not anticipate the rapid advances in the rest of New England. They pegged R.I. though — until the anti-gay governor runs out of swivel-chair time next year, he'll block any SSM legislative efforts. He has the help of likewise anti-SSM heads of both chambers, but they are a decided minority.

An excellent recap of the non-progress there is in today's Boston Globe. Eric Moskowitz names the players and plays.

The spurious ad campaigns and other arguments advanced by the anti forces there are elegant and convoluted in their duplicity. They have been reduced to a few, increasingly difficult to spin attacks.

With California legislating and Iowa courts mandating SSM, the one about New England being the isolated cabal of rebels doesn't work well. They felt better when Prop. 8 halted SSM on that other coast, although it created clearly separate and unequal classes of adult citizens — abhorrent to most Americans and likely short-lived.

Yet the trends are too, too clear even to the National Organization for Marriage. They haven't ceded R.I. and have added a page for it to their website. It even includes the audio of a variation on the scare ad that played well in the Prop. 8 — elementary school kids confused by the idea of SSM, plus a call to lawmakers to do something more useful.

That page is a pretty good view of the state of the anti folk. They have moved from ironic to sardonic. The chorus of redefining marriage has long ago exceeded its shelf life. When civil unions started in Vermont in 2000 and SSM here four years later, that panicked scream came with predictions of societal and even economic disaster. When those proved baseless, they tried the just-wait-and-see lie. As that petered off to nothing, they were left with the unprovable. That is, expanding marriage rights in some inexplicable way totally redefined and ruined it for heterosexual couples.

Of course, that's beyond silly and quite irrational. They don't have many stones left in their pile to throw, so they don't abandon this.

The other big rock the anti types use was handy in California, but has likewise been overused and failed in Maine and elsewhere. The let-the-people-vote approach is the back-up-against-the-wall admission. When they fail in legislatures and courts, when representative democracy and even the executive branches of their states are for marriage equality, there's that last ploy.

In the half of the states that allow ballot initiatives and referenda, the anti types suddenly want a town-meeting type of vote. They have had their greatest successes here. In no small part, this seems due to its susceptibility to calls to emotion and the effectiveness of vast amounts of money for advertising. We can pretend that Americans are smarter than that, but that clearly has not been so.

The amusing twist in R.I. is that the public would surely vote to support SSM. It is only the handful of entrenched pols at top who have stifled the drive. Regardless of which poll you visit, the pro-equality side would win by 12% to 29%. Let-the-people-vote is simply a delaying tactic there.

It is likely good in the long run that NOM and their ilk are wasting money and effort in R.I. Not only does that divert their nefarious aims elsewhere, their certain defeat in the most Roman Catholic of states will further clear smoke from their diversions.

New England will yet be a thumb in the eye of regressive America.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dem Party Chair Talking

The loquacious John Walsh, chair of the MA Democratic Party, is next week's guest on the Left Ahead! podcast. It's kind of a follow-up to Ryan's video from the convention and my grousing here about the watered-down platform.

John's not shy and contacted me right away, by email and then by phone. We chatted about our differing perceptions of the platform and our expectations for it.

He'll be on largely to talk futures now that the convention splattered the platform with progressive addenda. We agreed to start with how the party will use community organizing for its goals.

You can catch him live Tuesday, June 9th at 2:30 p.m. Eastern here. Afterward, the show will be there, on Left Ahead! to listen to or download, or on iTunes.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Rational Market on the Dunce Stool

A triumvirate of idiot siblings has enormous influence. The rational or efficient market theory shares the wobbly throne with supply-and-demand and the invisible hand. Investors, analysts, economists alike have oversimplified the theories and, well, irrationally applied them.

The current worldwide recession has a strong link to the fantasy that in aggregate markets know everything important about a share and its company. The rational rational market will thus correct for both the undervalued and undervalued relatively quickly. The resulting economic model will then be the standard bell curve and pretty damned predictable.

The damned is the key adjective there. This theory is too often damned wrong.

A recurring theme in this blog is how most of us are uncomfortable with ambiguity, uncomfortable enough to force our perceived reality into binary options and clear forecasts.

The hit of the mid-global recession books is unquestionably The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street. Blowhards like I will be prone to expanding beyond that myth to the severe shortcomings of those other dunce siblings. Yet, the rational-market analysis has plenty of punch on its own.

Author Justin Fox seems to be a master of self-promotion, making the most of his extraordinarily timely theory on a theory. Everyone along with her brother and nephew seems to have reviewed the book. While I am very positively inclined to the Financial Times reportage and analysis, its current review is not as meaty or as pointed as the Washington Post's.

Also, a precursor piece by FT columnist Tony Jackson attacked the theory on its own. He concluded about the long run of bull markets, "Behind all that was a group of theories about rational behaviour, which are now blown to the winds. What will replace them is unclear, but we are better off without them."

Admittedly, if efficient markets remained on the whiteboard as a theory or general guideline, there'd be little harm and maybe even considerable benefit. The problem comes with any of the three dunce siblings is when we cannot deal with their ambiguous and theoretical nature.

When economists and market analysts extrapolate into market and individual stock performance on their nifty, smooth line models, it goes to hell. Yet, which of us is immune to that preference for the certain and easy? Even following dot-com bubbles and the present financial disasters, we'd like to punch up a computer model and pretend we know the near future.

Fox points to numerous proofs, both in dollars and in research over the past 35 years or more that efficient markets aren't necessarily rational or efficient. Even their former proponents and definers admit to glaring errors and contradictions. Yet, he also writes that huge pension funds among other investments gamble on these theories with great trust. Likewise, the U.S. and other country's regulators have used the models extensively.

We can look back to Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, which refined and advanced both the invisible hand and supply and demand. Many well educated and otherwise smart people are willing to shout down anyone who questions either theory in any way. They often assume that two theories are absolute, regardless of how some markets are really near monopolies or oligopolies and ill suited to such certainty. Likewise, given Western history since the Industrial Revolution, assuming that capitalists work for the pubic good and their employees' benefit — without any government oversight — goes beyond myth.

The reviews of Fox' book tend to ask how all the parties involved could continue to believe so strongly in the rational market. While that's an academically attractive question, it seems more to the point to ask whether our great recession right now will force regulators and chastened financial houses to do the necessary observation and thinking rather than just living the myth.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

MA Dems Stumble To Platform

Maybe the most obvious answer for Massachusetts Democrats is the right one. With a huge nominal majority among party-registered voters here, the Party is complacent and maybe tone deaf.

As revealed and explained this week at Left Ahead by Sabutai, the draft platform for presentation at yesterday's state convention illustrated an entrenched bureaucracy. It was worse than lacking leadership. Despite strong progressive calls and actions by Gov. Deval Patrick and President Barack Obama in campaigns and since election, the platform was devoid of strong positions or specifics. After numerous hearings where Dems made their best pitches for such planks, the party boo-bahs went vanilla with whipped cream for the draft.

Fascinatingly enough, the big initial amendment created by disgruntled progressives at the convention was to scrap the new, almost meaningless platform. The call was to plug in last year's platform and at least start with some substance.

By vote, that may or may not have failed. As Ryan Adams showed in his video of the vote, Chairman John Walsh blew democracy for Democrats by using his best snap judgment. It was really too close to call like that, but he did. He's the chairman and you aren't. So there.

The convention was there funnelled into the more painful procedure of per-plank amendments plus resolutions. In the end, this may have worked OK or better. There was a vote to reject casino slots, after all. Of course, that could have been added to the older, better previous platform as well.

Amusingly enough, Walsh managed the plethora of proposals, proponents and opponents well, He did a much better job on the votes than on the initial platform one. On several, when it was unclear which side would win, he went through voice vote to hands up to stand up. He should have done that with the whole-platform vote and satisfied the delegates.

He was very efficient in calling the question when there were only proponents of an amendment or resolution to speak, pushing the sausage makings into the casing quickly. After his initial clumsiness, he got the hang of it.

To Sabutai's comments, a larger question is whether the new attitude of the party big shots is to shy from strong positions. Does their idea of attracting and keeping voters mean not risking offending anyone? Considering yesterday's very vocal feedback from delegates, did Walsh and his minions learn that a progressive state wants a progressive platform?

There are other messy details when considering our local party too. For one, it's far from the majority of voters. Almost exactly half of Massachusetts registered voters are unenrollled in any party. If the Dems represented what most Bay Staters believe, that would not be so.

Moreover, both pols and voters include many DINOs. For politicians, that makes sense. If the party in power, strongly in power by number of elected officials, is Democrat, calling themselves that gets them a better chance at being on the ballot, getting party money and getting elected or re-elected. Yet we have seen many, particularly House members, who are so conservative or worse on fundamental issues that you have to ask how they can align with this party.

Like many states, we have areas, particularly suburban and exurban ones, that are far more conservative than the population centers. Most of those states elect Republicans to many of those districts though.

The buzz around me on the convention floor echoed that of some of the speakers. They wanted some leadership, reflecting Patrick and Obama's progressive stances at least. A typical comment was that if you can't say progressive things in a progressive state's party platform, where can you?

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Bluster of the Vanquished in N.H.

The relief and threats spread over New Hampshire. Following yesterday's belated dénouement that legalized same-sex marriage there, we can figure:
  • SSMs can start there on January 1, 2010
  • Local anti-gay and anti-marriage equality folk will do the quixotic non-binding, per-town referenda thing
  • National anti-gay and anti-marriage equality folk have already targeted Gov. John Lynch
According to the Union Leader, the sore losers are making relatively meaningless threats:
Kevin Stone of the conservative Cornerstone Policy Research-Action, said Lynch once said he opposed gay marriage. "The governor evidently has no problem misleading the voters of this state ... We are confident that the voters will not soon forget." Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, said, "If Gov. Lynch decides to seek another term, you can be certain that he will have to answer to voters."
The referendum on whether voters like SSM in place is oddly hollow. Even assuming a solid majority opposed to SSM (unlikely), any action would fall to the legislature. By the bye, its final vote on the last of the three bills required to enable SSM was 198 to 176 in favor.

In his statement on signing the legislation, Lynch said, "Today is a day to celebrate in New Hampshire...Today should not be considered a victory for some and a loss for others." Good luck with that, Johnny. He added that the feds still don't recognize SSM — "And that should change." We won't take any bets on that happening soon either.

Down in New Jersey, the NOM folk are beside themselves with tropes. The N.H. law "ripped a significant hole in the fabric" the state. It sends N.H. "into dangerous waters. It will not be long before young children are taught in New Hampshire schools that they can marry someone of the same sex if they wish — that gay marriage is just as good as marriage."

It's fair to say that the real message is that homosexuals are as good as heterosexuals. Hear. Hear.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Boston, Start Your Debate Engines

Regardless of whether Kevin McCrea's town-crier message of no debates for the mayor's race end up being true, we've had enough of this. He reported this afternoon on his blog that Tom Menino's camp played too coy to negotiate.

Word is that Ed Jesser (Tommy's political strategist) and Ed Fouhy (retired network news exec hired for debate negotiations) queered the deal today. The Globe, WGBH and WBUR walked when Da Mare's boys wouldn't commit to dates, particularly for one after the Sept. 22nd primary.

Enough of this. Civic groups, neighborhood associations and political folk simply need to start scheduling their own debates and fora. Then they invite at least Menino, McCrea and other challengers from Council Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon. If Tom doesn't show, he loses, again and again.

I raised the idea with our BlogLeft group. We were key players in the lieutenant-governor debate in Lowell in that last big race. Maybe we can and should tunnel down to city politics, at least for the largest town in the commonwealth. TBD.

Last month, the Globe reported that MassVOTE intends to go the forum route, planning three for the post-primary/pre-election months. That would be a piece, but we the long, quiet lead-up to the September 22nd primary. Moreover, each major neighborhood and a few sub-neighborhoods want to hear and tell.

Over at Left Ahead, Flaherty called for just such bottom-up debates. Previously, Yoon was first up with us, and he contrasted Ray Flynn and Mel King's gruelling dozens of debates and joint appearances. Next Tuesday, June 9th, we're having McCrea on to discuss his campaign and positions. He's not going to be shy about this subject.

The original idea quasi-approved by Menino of three debates was absurdly low, and an insult to the democratic process. There are simply too many big issues and goals for whoever sits in that chair for the next four years to stick simply with the devil you know.

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NH Joins Gay Marriage Gang

Bless 'em, a few minutes ago (5:20 p.m. Eastern), N.H. Gov. John Lynch signed same-sex marriage into law. He and the House tossed it back and forth until they had nothing left to compromise on.

That makes four of six New England states for equality — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire. Maine sort of is, having passed SSM, but staying it while the anti-gay forces try to repeal it through a plebiscite. Only Rhode Island is in limbo, waiting for the staunchly anti-homosexual governor to run out another two years of his final term.

In the end, N.H. is a testament to the future of SSM in the country. Assuming the actions pushing a federal suit to force marriage equality go nowhere, such state-by-state, states-rights based decisions will erode the amendments and laws forbidding homosexuals marrying.

In this case, the governor wanted it all ways. Although nominally a Democrat, he really seems an opportunist. Up there, they elect a governor every two years and have no term limits. Only crimes, boneheaded decisions or boredom would drive one from office. Lynch seems to have figured he could pretend to simultaneously support pro- and anti-SSM forces. It looks like he has pissed off the former and annoyed the latter. I'm sure he can sell real estate or insurance.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sal Follows Dianne and Chuck

And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught 'em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom

sang Bob Dylan sardonically in The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. In that case, the bad guy was not properly handled.

Locally and lately though, we may have a rare instance of fair play at work. Former Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi and a lobbyist chum (and a friend and a vendor) received the unwelcome gift of federal indictments today. Universal Hub, as usual, is all over this with links.

My first reaction is simply to smirk. I was among the many wondering how it was the the Beacon Hill biggy seemed to glide out of office when nearby Sen. Dianne Wilkerson and Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner were indicted on corruption charges. Many, including Turner, cried foul when those who were among the few African-American politicians around. It looked like the white guys were untouchable.

Today's corruption and conspiracy indictments are damned detailed and just damning. They don't look like anything that permits a plea bargain, at least for DiMasi.

Goose and gander and all that. Sauce 'em up.

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