Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Party Time at Boston City Hall

Bonhomie flavored the day in Boston's City Council chamber. Tomorrow will surely not be as jolly.

This morning though, Matt O'Malley formally replaced District Councilor John Tobin following this month's special election. After he took his oath from Mayor Tom Menino, perhaps he can drive a few details.

As Council President Michael Ross said when he welcomed O'Malley this morning, "You'll also notice we've spared no expense on your name plate." That would be Tobin's with a computer-generated name taped (crookedly) over it. The new Councilor laughed along with everyone else.

By the bye, don't go looking for him on the Council web page. You won't find a picture (Image to come) or bio (election date and More information to come). Yet, I suspect that after this clerically sputtering start, he's in for the long haul and he'll be as active a member as Tobin.

No one seems to doubt his ability to out-Tobin Tobin in pushing both the necessary and the innovative. He certainly is in the mold of the remaining Young Turks such as John Connolly and Rob Consalvo. Another relative youngster, Ayanna Pressley, may fit in the gang, although she's just beginning to show her stuff.

Today's gallery of upwards of 200 was not as numerous or quite as politically rich as his campaign kick-off, but many of the same players were there — like Treasurer-elect Steve Grossman, Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, Tobin, Rep. Liz Malia and so forth. In addition, he might have been able to fill one set of seats with his relatives, including parents, sisters, nephews and others. All were delighted, well, except for the youngest nephew (2 or 3 by looks) who briefly experienced a personal tragedy and inspired his mom to carry him out, hand him off (I think to Dad) and rush back to see her brother sworn into office.

The folksiness of our Council continues to delight. Ross tries to keep a pleasant spirit too. When it came time to, in effect, send a posse around a couple of corners to ask the Mayor to come do the deed, Ross called up three Councilors as an ad hoc committee, named Maureen Feeney as chair because she was quickest to the front of the chamber, and told them to "go across the hall and grab His Honor."

Oddly though, as we waited perhaps eight minutes, Ross ran out of time-killing announcements and banter. Many pols would have more than the needed anecdotes, self-praise and jokes to while away the minutes. In fact, when Menino introduced O'Malley before administering the oath, he showed how an old pro does it with mentions of the new Councilor as an intern for the body and particulars of his parents and siblings.

The rest of the Council seemed to enjoy the hour of ceremony. Before they got to business, Ross was happily glad-handing pols and others, Charles Yancey was grinning and chatting up other Councilors, Pressley was flashing that huge smile, and everyone seemed to be at a class reunion. The only cautions seemed to be in the form of superstition. As O'Malley told me several times during his campaign when I said I had no doubt he'd win, so did Steve Murphy when I spoke of him as the next Council president and John Connolly when I said it was obvious that he'd formally get the title of chair of the Education Committee (which he's de facto headed for two years) — they each and all said not to believe what you read in the papers and to wait and see.

At the beginning one Councilor was absent for the quorum call. That was Chuck Turner, who faces a meeting tomorrow on whether he remains fit to stay on Council following his conviction on four felony counts ($1,000 bribe and three lying to FBI agents) and before his 1/25 sentencing in federal court. It seemed obvious that Turner would engage in some display or protest. In reality, he was likely just talking to someone and ambled in about two minutes late.

When O'Malley appeared with Ross in the front, the crowd, as the sports cliché goes, went wild. He wasn't even in office, but he got a standing ovation, I guess for being Matt. The Mayor got his own big round of applause when the posse grabbed him, but this truly was O'Malley's morning.

Menino arrived looking and acting pretty fit. After several days in the hospital with an elbow infection, he had a swagger and swung his arms like nothing hurt. His wife Angela, another Matt O'Malley fan, showed too, unusual for her.

The Mayor did not provide any of his famous misspeaking takeaways this time. He did refer to same-sex marriage as "single-sex marriage" in praising O'Malley's work with MassEquality. Likewise, he said the job involved "servicing" instead of "serving" the public. Close enough on both, I say. Otherwise, he was very Boston, as in calling O'Malley's father George "Jahj".

He was chatty and philosophical at the same time. He said O'Malley understood the real nature of the job, one which Menino used to hold as well. That is simply "to help people every day." He urged the new Councilor to "do what you think is right. The best poll is the people you meet on the street."

For his part, O'Malley praised the Council and Mayor. He thanked his mentors and supporters, particularly Grossman and Cabral, saying those two made him a better elected official and better person.

He laid out a broad set of objectives in improving eduction, bettering the economy here, and ensuring the best city services. Then without deadlines or specifics, he promised, "I will not let you down."

If any pol can sustain the affection he has earned from voters as well as those who know him, it surely will be O'Malley. Now that everyone thinks he can fly at will, he may just have to do it.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Turner Still Claims Big Honking Integrity

Chuck Turner has the bluster and belly. Mike Ross has the other kind of guts.

Boston City Councilor Turner is already whipping out what he say is his super-sized integrity. In advance of his expulsion hearing Wednesday afternoon, he said, "I think it's funny when they say they are going to vote me off to protect the integrity of the Council. I think I have the best a record of moral and fiscal integrity on this council. For the council to vote me off because of integrity is absurd."

The Globe carries the tale of Council President Ross' letter to the body calling for Turner's ouster...by Friday. Universal Hub serves up the 13-page document, replete with opinion from the city attorney that Turner can speak at the hearing but not vote.

Back in more mannered places and centuries, Turner would likely have resigned when he was charged with corruption in talking a bribe and lying to the FBI about it. He seemed buoyed by charges though, as he did when he was convicted, and now that he faces being voted out of office.

Ross lacks the noise, but is not entirely without quiet drama of his own. He is in the unenviable position of chairing a board at a tough time. He has been a solid leader during this entire prolonged episode. It is a bit of a shame that presidents there can serve only two years and he is finishing his second next month.

For the rules-are-rules crowd, several come into play. One is that the Council's unanimously agreed to rules require an expulsion hearing whenever a member receives a felony conviction. Another at the state level requires removal of any public official sentenced to jail or prison for a felony. For Wednesday's hearing, the Council requires a two-thirds vote to toss a member, which would be eight of 13 in this case, even without Turner voting.

Turner continues to negotiate and will likely try again in two days. His final ploy as been to ask for a postponement of action by the Council pending his January 25th sentencing in federal court. Just maybe, he reasons, he'll get probation, thus technically avoiding the mandatory loss of his seat under state law.

That seems highly unlikely, as it involves a guilty verdict of four counts — $1,000 bribe and three lying to the FBI. While summed, those could equal 35 years or so, the Globe quotes an ex-federal prosecutor as saying the guidelines are for 15 to 21 months.

This mess could have dribbled off into prolonged ignominy...had Ross not taken charge in City Hall. Turner had already repeatedly played racial victim. He noted that he and convicted State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson were the only two current officials charged by the feds and both are black. Another Councilor, the other Charles, Yancey, agreed with this judgment at a Turner rally.

Thus, Ross was in the spotlight, with a passive or hostile audience. Councilors were avoiding talking about Turner, like the situation might just vanish. Even before today's letter and packet, Ross had made it plain though they they had to have the hearing and had no reason to wait for the sentencing. It was Turner's conviction that triggered the trial-like meeting.

Even before he won this month's special election to replace Councilor John Tobin, who took a job at Northeastern, Matt O'Malley said that unless something really unexpected and convincing happened at the hearing, he'd have to vote for Turner's removal. Likewise, several other Councilors have mumbled that they may well do the same.

For his part, we may have a preview of Turner's script on Wednesday. He told the Herald that he was set up, as in, "The issue of my moral and fiscal integrity, I don’t think can be questioned. Obviously the FBI set up a situation to remove me from office."

Ross' package to his peers praised Turner mightily, but returned repeatedly to the rule of law, federal, state and city. He included, "We are not above he law and none of us is above the rules we have established as a body. If we act as if we are, t his body loses its credibility, its integrity and the trust of the people we serve. Many are cynical of government as it is, we cannot add to their mistrust."

He followed that with the motion he will put before the body on Wednesday:

Ordered: That under the authority vested in the City Council by St. 1951 c. 376 § 17 and pursuant to the procedures set forth in City Council Rule 40A, the City Council, in consideration of his qualification to serve as a member of the Boston City Council, now moves that Councilor Chuck Turner vacate the office of City Councilor effective Friday, December 3, 2010.

Note that this order makes no mention of any crimes or convictions. Unlike U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel, Turner's punishment is not to include a public admonishment in front of the body. Rangel though will be unlikely to serve prison time despite seemingly much worse offenses. Turner may lose his pension, but not what he's paid into it, plus interest.

Turner could have made it easy for everyone. That has never been his style. In his role, Ross could have been cowardly and even acquiesced to Turner's call for no hearing until after sentencing. Yet the facts are now that Turner talks integrity and Ross lives it.

Cross-post note: This appears at Harrumph! also.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grateful for the Good Guys

Coming out of journalism school and newspapers, I'm prejudiced. I think we should be occasionally thankful for those with insight, drive, luck and courage to report and photograph people and events that become fixed in our minds.

I thought of this again in July when I read that my erstwhile chum Lee Lockwood had died at 78. He had all those virtues I listed. Even those born when he was older and those who don't recall his name remember his work, including:
  • In-depth interviews with the likes of Fidel Castro and Huey Newton
  • Coverage of Vietnam War brainwashed Navy flier Richard Stratton
  • Numerous articles, essays and photo essays in Playboy, Time, Life and elsewhere
  • Books on political figures, including Castro, Eldridge Cleaver and Daniel Berrigan
  • Countless photographs that documented his times
While he died in Florida, he live in Newton for many years. I recall picking him up at his house, which was rich with some of his pix on the walls.

Pic note: It's odd to illustrate anything on Lee without using his own stuff. However, this uncredited image from his Cuban visit when he wangled the Castro interview was in his NY Times obit.

I think of Lee as the good guy dedicated to his joint profession of writing and shooting. He was a real journalist. In fact, on that trip that I recall best, we headed off to UMASS/Amherst to try to inspire future Lee Lockwoods.

They had a little conference for journalism students, a dwindling species even in the 1990s. We showed up as representatives from the National Writers Union.

On the drive, we swapped more stories of the awesome and awful. His had far greater impact and mine were more typical of domestic newspaper types. For example, I had FBI agents following me and breaking into my apartments, a sheriff patted his gun and let me know, "You write lies 'bout me, boy, and you be in big trouble," and as white editor-in-chief of the black weekly in a Southern city, I confounded a governor and others.

In front of the students, Lee's dramatic recollections and my more mundane ones did seem to captivate the room. On the way back, we both said we wanted to believe that we inspired them a bit, at least enough to keep them from the Dark Side of PR and advertising, where the money is.

Lee loved his profession and was damned good at it. I'm thankful he did his do, from which we all benefited.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Joe Miller, American Weasel

Alaska wheedler Joe Miller may well become a verb and noun. Think, I got a bad case of Milleritis or I have to Joe you on that.

I should ignore the lout. Juneau, AK, is, after all, 4,013 miles from Boston as the buzzard flies. Yet, his obstreperousness and recalcitrance bring to mind a recently local election, as well as a common trait among wingers — both in my purview.
Familial note: My maternal grandmother, Mable Michael, reserved buzzard as her greatest insult and the closest to swearing she ever got. To her, a really immoral person was a buzzard.
Among the salient details are:
  • Miller beat incumbent senior U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski for the GOP nomination for the office by 51% to 49%
  • She did not accept that as final and staged a write-in campaign against him and Dem. nominee Scott McAdams
  • Mirabile dictu! She won (in everyone's mind except Miller's)
  • Before starting her write-in campaign, she quickly conceded the primary
  • Miller has shown near total disregard for voters' rights, the numbers before him, and legal realities following his ego-tainting loss, and with the shameful artifact of his looking for housing and office furnishings in D.C. in advance
  • Despite his states-rights postures, he has filed suits in federal court and state ones, as well as challenging any ballot with the slightest misspelling or word order niggle on Lisa Murkowski, demanding a manual recount of all ballots cast, and a call for not certifying her as winner
The underlying significance is not that this pol waddles under the weight of his gigantic vanity. That is all too common among office seekers and holders. Instead, it is his extreme use of immoral or amoral tricks to try for what he failed at in the ballot booths of Alaska.

As the scruffy, Chuck Norris looking Tea Party sweetie, he bellowed the talk. In stump speeches, interviews and his website cant, he speaks of the will of the people, serving the voters, and the integrity of the vote. When it came to the actual election, he has appeared as a true American weasel.

The duplicity and hypocrisy is outrageous, even by Alaskan frontier standards. The worst is his refusal to concede after it became mathematically impossible for him to win with every trick he could try. She passed over 10,000 votes beyond him. Even if every single, seemingly arbitrarily challenged, vote he is fighting were to disappear, she still wins. Moreover, he promised repeatedly that he'd step back if it was clear she'd won. Weasel.

This is worthy of comment as it illustrates a phenomenon I have covered numerous times here and at Harrumph! We have a wide, perhaps unbridgeable divide in this country between those who turn to literalism over principle whenever it might be to their advantage. While not exclusively limited to right wingers, we see and hear it far more often from them, including winger talking heads, fundies, parents-rights sorts and anti-GLBT-rights types.

Consider what should have been Miller's last opportunity for an honorable exit — reliance on the letter of one phrase in Alaska Statute 15.15.360, Rules for Counting Ballots. He and his lawyer wave section (a)(11) and (b):
(11) A vote for a write-in candidate, other than a write-in vote for governor and lieutenant governor, shall be counted if the oval is filled in for that candidate and if the name, as it appears on the write-in declaration of candidacy, of the candidate or the last name of the candidate is written in the space provided.
(b) The rules set out in this section are mandatory and there are no exceptions to them. A ballot may not be counted unless marked in compliance with these rules.
Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, as the phrase for their logical fallacy goes, this supposedly proves that even slight variations on Lisa Murkowski or Murkowski would fail and should not count. That's ah ha! to the Miller camp and ho hum to the world.

Miller's claims have two insurmountable problems here though. First, even for all his literalism and victory fantasies, he has heard from the elections commission and courts that subsequent case law trumps the strictest interpretation of the statute. In at least two cases, the courts have made it clear the enfranchisement of voters (see Miller's own campaign) wins here. If the intent of the voter is apparent, the vote counts.

Second, even if all 8,000-plus votes he contested disappear, she still wins. (See Miller's promises to shut up and leave when the numbers declare his the squeaking loser.)

What can we learn from this? How about:
  • We still cannot expect even the most self-righteous and self-defined-constructionist candidates to keep their word
  • Weasel candidates will do anything possible to win
  • When they try tricks and deceit, they will try to twist that as either patriotism or respect for voters

East Coast Version

We saw variations on these themes, the same and different recently here in the Fifth District for the MA House race. In the low-turnout, heavily black and Latino, and immigrant oriented district, Carlos Henriquez won a narrow primary against Boston teacher Barry O. Lawton...or did he?

Let there be no suspense. Not only did the young populist top a four-way Democratic primary, he overwhelmed Lawton's write-in attempt in the general. Lawton refused to accept the results of the primary and apparently the final. His site and public statements do not acknowledge his drubbing, even in the form of spin. He is graceless in defeat.

A huge difference here is that the typical election action occurred. Lawton tried an end-run with a write-in and lost again. We should note that his district already has two much older perennial candidates, Roy Owens and Althea Garrison (who briefly held this seat a long time ago). They lost the primary and seemingly reflexively ran write-ins in the final. They always so and always lose badly, but hey, it seems to amuse them.

What Lawton seems to share with Miller are first a huge ego with overconfidence, next a refusal to admit the obvious to himself, and finally, a to-the-end-and-beyond competitive drive. Combined, these traits further lower the opinion of voters, party officials and others in their viability as candidates and their grip on reality.

To those who would say it's the American way to strive, I look at it another way. Most unfortunately, it is the American way for too many of us to sacrifice honor and reason for the slimmest chance at winning.

Think of criminals of all classes and ages. Even with the strongest evidence against them and facing certain loss in court, they take the low road. They plead not guilty and fairly shout that everyone is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. While that might be the most literal legal truth, honor would dictate that they take responsibility with "Yes, I stole the money," or "I did kill him." Remorse would also be appropriate, but admission of the obvious and provable should be sine qua non.

Instead, pols and crooks alike expect us each and all to admire their feisty, almost you'll-never-get-me-copper stance.

Sorry, Joe Miller and so many others, sneaking around, rattling every doorknob in the dark hall for an escape is not worthy of admiration.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mighty Morphing Boston Council

The favorite idle chatter among Boston's City Councilors is not weather or the Sox, but the big honking head on the fifth floor. We think of:

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
—Cassius in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act I Scene II

Councilors are wont to decry the strong-mayor form of government here, particularly under longest-ever serving Mayor Thomas Menino. They invariably break out the corollary that their only real power is to pass judgment on the annual budget.

Chicken lips, I say!

The same Councilors speak just as easily and with great pride of their personal and group accomplishments. They refer to all of their enactments of regulations, projects, agreements and more as legislation. Loosely construed, that's fair enough. Taken as a whole, they do one devil of a lot, even with the big guy two floors up.

Individually, they are impressive at what most of us know our district or at-large Councilors for, constituent services. I have had my own such engagements, including the fairly typical one, District 6 Councilor John Tobin getting a stop sign replaced in a single day. Those quality-of-life things are what people ask for, get and stay politically loyal after receiving.

Not all Councilors are equally as handy with recognizing, framing, and driving policies to substance. The recently resigned Tobin certainly was, as is John Connolly. My new district guy, Rob Consalvo is coming on strong here, particularly stepping up with foreclosure issues. They have been the core of the young-Turks contingent, 30-something Councilors with vitality and ideas.

Likewise, Council President (and District 8 guy) Michael Ross and a relative newbie, at-large Councilor Ayanna Pressley have been pretty active as well. I was wrong before the election to question whether she could make the transition from Sen. John Kerry's staff; she has. For Ross, he has corralled the Council with far greater diplomacy than I have seen in my three decades here.

That does not include a lot of mayors (Kevin White, 1968-84, Ray Flynn, to mid-1993, and Menio since). The Councils of those eras were to my memory stodgy, older Irish and Italian guys, who talked a lot and did little (except for constituent services and funerals).

So with Tobin moved to Northeastern as VP of city and community affairs, what of the young Turks, the activists, the frenzied legislators on the plaza?

Well, for one, the plug-in replacement for Tobin won the special elections yesterday. Matt O'Malley will likely be in office in time for the Wednesday, December 1, Council meeting.

Right after he announced for the election, O'Malley got Tobin's endorsement, along with Connolly's and a jolly gang of pols from Boston and beyond, including Lt. Gov. Tim Murray. Perhaps most important, he is decidedly in the Tobin mold — high-energy, dogged determination, relentless optimism, personal magnetism, and ceaseless innovation.

The additional wrinkle here is what happens after the 12/1 meeting finishes regular Council business. It is supposed to turn to Turner, that is, decide what to do about fellow Councilor Chuck Turner (District 7). A federal court recently convicted him of taking a $1,000 bribe and lying repeatedly to the FBI about that. Council rules agreed to unanimously require such a hearing when one of their own is convicted of a felony.

Turner has not made it easy; he refuses to step down. Moreover, he has asked the Council to hold off any action (including the scheduled hearing) until his 1/25 sentencing by a federal judge. The pretense is that if he received probation instead of prison time, he might continue into 2012, having recently won re-election by an overwhelming majority.

Turner is renown since joining the Council in 1999 and before that as an activist for his populism and polemics. His constituents can't speak highly enough of his devotion to their needs. He seems middling as a legislator. However, several Councilors have spoken highly of him to me, such as John Connolly who heads the Education Committee on Turner's devotion to schools, students and teachers.

Turner seems certain to be turned out, either quickly in December or automatically under MA law after getting at least some cell time the next month. However, that might have a positive for the city.

Turner's choice to replace him is the smart, delightful (and huge) Tito Jackson. He had run almost successfully for an at-large Council spot before. He has served in several positions in Gov. Deval Patrick's administration and re-election campaign.

He is a pleasure to be around, a true progressive, and a captivating orator. He could very well offer Turner's devotion to the District 7 residents and the legislative drive of the young Turks.

For a Tobin replacement, O'Malley is a splendid clone. For Turner's, Jackson holds the promise of populism without polemics. Turner is well known to rouse voters with conspiracy theories, spraying charges of racism with the slightest provocation, and presenting his own fractured versions of history and economics as it suited him.

From the times I have heard and seen Jackson, he would be no less entertaining, just without confrontation and accusation. I suspect Roxbury and Dorchester constituents would adapt quickly.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Grace Ross on Next LA Podcast

Grace Ross often makes pols uncomfortable. She doesn't scream at them or accuse them of personal failures. Rather, she explains the need for fundamental changes to government, policies to foster employment, keep people in their homes and pretty much give ordinary folk a fair shot at America's bounty.

The following is the promo for this week's podcast as posted on Left Ahead.

gracer.jpgEver the activist, often the gadfly, always the populist, Grace Ross joins us Tuesday — at 12:30 p.m. EST, two hours earlier than our usual showtime. Listen to the live stream then or come back to hear it on your own schedule.

The image here is part of a screen cap from a Greater Boston segment. You can prime yourself with that here.

She has long worked to change things for ordinary folk in MA and beyond, sometimes running for office, often filing legislation, and running organizations. Many remember her as the one in the 2006 gubernatorial debates asking the salient questions when the other candidates were staying LITE.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Restock Council with O'Malley

Recently ex-Boston City Councilor John Tobin is strong of personality and intellect. Moving from his District 6 (WR and JP plus a little) to a VP spot at Northeastern, he left gaps. Who'd drive the innovative legislation? Who'll be the entertainer? Who'll smooth the burrs off peers to make them work best together?

As I saw at his kickoff extravaganza, an astonishing phalanx of pols and activists think Matt O'Malley is more than ready for all aspects of the job. I agree.

While I recently moved into District 5 and can't vote in the November 16th special election, I strongly endorse O'Malley.

If you live in the District and have not given the race much thought, think and look and listen. First of course, plan to vote. These specials often have low turnout and the cliché of every vote being important is certainly true here.

Next, spend a few minutes or many minutes. Check the campaign sites:
On issues, all you need to know may be in a pair of 20-some-minute clips of the candidates' presentations to JP Progressives:
Links to their answers to the group's issues questionnaire appear on those pages as well.

Hennigan is a realtor and aptly has lots of real estate on West Roxbury lawns for his signs. He is dreadfully sincere and seems a nice enough fellow. He also saved his best, most fully fleshed out plank for the end of his closing remarks — more programs to keep teens busy and safe after school.

His site shows his small handful of endorsements. Two Councils are on the list.

O'Malley oddly enough does not list his many dozens of endorsements. At the top is Tobin and several Councilors, including President Mike Ross. Public and private groups and officials flock to him.

I'd go with the charismatic dynamo with progressive goals, Matt O'Malley. He is in the Tobin mold of boundless energy and deep compassion.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

SOC with a Mighty Wind

I should be jolly about getting nearly everything on my MA-election wish list. Instead, I fret about the Secretary of the Commonwealth (SOC).

The other one over the guardrail was not a big surprise. The majority voted YES on question 1, to void the new 6.25% sales tax on alcoholic beverages. I subsequently read and heard (just yesterday on public radio in fact) that a lot of voters didn't understand that the $1 million plus to alcoholism treatment programs would be the loser for their 40¢ on a six of craft beer.

SOC though was a bit of a puzzlement all around, including:
  • Media, print, broadcast and online, as a group failed abjectly in issues coverage
  • Endorsement showed a gross ignorance of candidates and platforms
  • While all other statewide offices got full hearings, SOC had no single debate or forum
  • Other reform, sweeping change candidates (Grossman for Treasurer and Bump for Auditor) won, leaving Henderson as thee only progressive sort orphaned
  • Four years ago, reformer Jon Bonifaz failed through the Dem party process, as did Henderson in an end-run as an independent
  • Incumbent SOC Bill Galvin was the sole statewide candidate rewarded for his inertia and passive aggression
  • No one, including party officials, the Governor or the General Court seems to have the slightest interest in improving this office
Also oddly, few seemed to love or respect Galvin. Instead, looking at the newspaper endorsements, it's safe to assume they were busy with the most visible races and fairly ignorant of what Galvin does, and has or has not accomplished.

Yet, the GOP's Bill Campbell and indy Jim Henderson were out and about. The latter in particular broadcast his platform and reforms in person, in press releases, on the internet, and at any newspaper who'd have him. The press had every opportunity and did not do their job here.

Indeed, that seemed to be his plan. Galvin did his best never to appear with a competitor. His campaign site was terrifically slow to update anything, leaving only a flurry a week before the election. That site had zero content representing any platform or issues, and avoided claims of office successes or advances — anything opponents or media could question or contradict.

In lieu of knowledge

So, what can we see in and learn from the endorsements that papers did make? First note that the region's largest paper, the Boston Globe, avoided any nod in this race, while waxing effusively over many other candidates for statewide and even local offices. Likewise, the Democratic party didn't mention Galvin, nor did candidates pitching the whole party slate.

What did hit newsprint included:

Wicked Local's Needham paper — had lots on statewide races, but a paragraph on SOC.
For secretary of state, we endorse Democrat William Galvin. The 16-year incumbent has managed the many disparate departments of his office effectively, and we can see no reason to fix a system that is not broken. While we think his Republican challenger, Bill Campbell, is a worthy candidate, we believe that his idea to reform election law by requiring voter identification at polling places is flawed, and we agree with Galvin that such reform would backfire, deterring people from voting.
Gloucester Times — likewise had much on other races and patched together most of Galvin's talking points from his solo appearances.
Secretary of State: William Galvin has held this post since 1995, has compiled an impressive record of accomplishment, and deserves re-election. Under Galvin's tenure, the ranks of registered voters in Massachusetts have expanded to more than 4 million. Yet the state's elections have been well run and free of any proven claims of fraud. Remember the notorious punch cards that plagued the presidential election in Florida in 2000? Galvin had rid Massachusetts of them three years earlier.
Boston Phoenix — four years ago ripped Galvin in endorsing B0nifaz, gave a why-not nod to Galvin this time (below in its entirety tucked in a gang endorsement).
Insiders joke on Beacon Hill that Secretary of State WILLIAM GALVIN is the dark prince of State House politics. Galvin certainly knows his way around the back rooms, but he runs a tight and — most important of all — professional ship. Vote to re-elect Galvin.
Berkshire Eagle — tried the hardest of anyone to find justifications.
The secretary of state's office only gets noticed around election time, but it has a wide purview that incumbent Democrat William Galvin has made use of for Massachusetts' benefit. Mr. Galvin has streamlined the paperwork process for businesses that must deal with his office's regulations. As chairman of the Historical Commission he has secured tax credits for Pittsfield's downtown initiatives, most notably $300,000 for the Colonial Theatre restoration. As the state's enforcer of campaign finance laws, he has investigated lobbyist abuses, including those involving his party, and fought for tougher regulations. With the census coming, he conducted an aggressive voter registration campaign to help protect the state's legislative delegation. His Republican opponent, William Campbell, has made no convincing argument for change in his under-the-radar campaign. The Eagle endorses William Galvin for re-election as secretary of state.
Eagle Tribune — ended a recap of Galvin's talking points with a bizarre statement that his two opponents hid from the voters when it was Galvin who refused to participate in debates, fora or other joint appearances.
William F. Galvin has been secretary of state in Massachusetts since 1995. In that time he has compiled an impressive record of accomplishment. Under Galvin's tenure, the ranks of registered voters in Massachusetts have expanded to more than 4 million. Yet the state's elections have been well run and free of any proven claims of fraud. Remember the notorious punch cards that plagued the presidential election in Florida in 2000? Galvin had rid Massachusetts of them three years earlier. Galvin has been a leader in the pursuit of investment fraud, and the various agencies under his purview (Elections Division, registries of deeds, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, etc.) are models in terms of customer friendliness. His Republican and independent challengers, on the other hand, have conducted virtual stealth campaigns and have not earned the voters' consideration.
Wellesley Townsman — was at the same editorial meeting with candidates and copied other Wicked Local wording. They ended the brief mention with their own regressive, anti-reform conclusion.
For secretary of state, we endorse Democrat William Galvin. The 16-year incumbent has managed the many disparate departments of his office effectively, and we can see no reason to fix a system that is not broken. While we think his Republican challenger, Bill Campbell, is a worthy candidate, we believe that his idea to reform election law by requiring voter identification at polling places is flawed, and we agree with Galvin that such reform would backfire, deterring people from voting.
South Coast Today — showed their perennial conservative bent, but at least presented a set of reasons for maintaining the status quo.
The sitting officeholders, Attorney General Martha Coakley and Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin, enjoy the advantage of incumbency, an advantage that sometimes carries the wrong people into office. In this case, however, both have done a good job for the public and merit re-election. None of the challengers has convinced us they could do better.

Beyond Galvin's more well-know roles as chief elections officer and receiver of corporations' annual reports, he functions as the state's securities regulator. In that role, Galvin has been able to win reimbursement for some of the Massachusetts residents who lost money in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme — those who invested through a broker. In all, on the Madoff matter and others, he has returned millions of dollars to the public.

Galvin's Republican opponent, William C. Campbell, says people in the financial services industry have told him Galvin has a "hostile" relationship with the industry. If that's true, it's unfortunate, but Galvin's role is that of watchdog. People who have been defrauded would surely rather have a watchdog on their side than a glad-hander.

Under Galvin, more of the public records he oversees, namely in the Corporations Division, have been placed online. Companies can now file their annual reports online and pay less to do it. Before the change, the Corporations Division would become a ridiculous "North Pole mountain of paper" at filing time, he said, and checks sometimes got separated from companies' paperwork. Now that problem is largely solved.

As chairman ex officio of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, Galvin has also been a strong advocate of the historic tax credit program, an important tool to help communities re-use historic buildings for housing or commercial enterprise.
Salem News — made me wonder whether any had ever had the slightest contact with the SOC office, with their mention of "customer friendliness."
Incumbent Secretary of State William Galvin has been a leader in the pursuit of investment fraud, and the various agencies under his purview (Elections Division, registries of deeds, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, etc.) are models in terms of customer friendliness. His Republican and independent challengers, on the other hand, have conducted virtual stealth campaigns and are not deserving of consideration.
The Republican — didn't seem to have listened to Henderson or read his platform, but remained unconvinced of any need for improvement.
Long-time Secretary of State William F. Galvin deserves re-election to another. He has been an excellent caretaker of the state’s elections, its public records and the state Historical Commission. Neither of Galvin’s opponents, Republican William C. Campbell and independent James D. Henderson, have made good cases for replacing him. Galvin deserves to keep the job.
Sentinel and Enterprise — found Galvin OK or good enough.
Bill Galvin, a heavy favorite for re-election, is a competent public servant heading an office that oversees a wide variety of services, including the Elections Division, Securities Division, Public Records Division and Registry of Deeds. We see no reason to support a change in this constitutional office.
Weekly Dig (by Media Farm) — didn't know squat and went with the daily paper endorsements.
Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin has had an iron stranglehold on the office for over 16 years and will not loosen his grip. We thrive inside the safety of his palm. After reading the endorsements of the Berkshire Eagle, the Salem News, the Springfield Republican, the Wellesley Townsman (-person?), the North Andover-based Eagle-Tribune, the Fitchberg Sentinel & Enterprise and every other paper in the state, one choice is clear as crystal: No one ever talks about the secretary of state until we repeatedly elect him..

These are endorsements?

Taken as a whole, the endorsements are shrugs of the media shoulders. That's somewhere between he's adequate, we guess, and we don't know enough to comment. The couple of longish ones seemed to work straight out of Galvin's stump speech, with no awareness of more substantial candidates' platforms.

That's no surprise as it is precisely by Galvin's design. He did not appear for debates or any forum. The one time he did go to a newspaper editorial meeting with the other candidates, he blindsided Henderson with claims that the latter had not voted enough times. Those claims are untrue, according to Henderson and besides avoid the litany of deficiencies with the SOC office Henderson campaigned using.

Moreover, the one time Galvin did appear for public record was in Hanson shortly before the election. He timed his visit to avoid the other two candidates and any confrontation. On video, he did tout his record in returning millions to MA residents defrauded in the Madoff scandal. That was a one-off event and such settlements are part of his job as similar crimes are of AG Martha Coakley's. Yet, he is happy to take full credit for this particular settlement.

We really can't call Galvin's obscure candidacy brilliant, even though most voters chose him simply because they didn't know enough to think about it. The campaign period most certainly did not serve democracy, all the more significant because SOC is the commonwealth's chief elections officer.

Sleeping Press

So there we have it after over seven months campaigning by Henderson and over three by Campbell and zero by Galvin. The media terribly bobbled this race and let Galvin play them. Even the Phoenix' David Bernstein and WGBH's Emily Rooney didn't bother.

As a disclaimer, I did bother, did endorse Henderson, did and do believe — from personal experience as well as listening to the contenders — the SOC is badly in need of modernization and reform, and spoke with Henderson on our Left Ahead podcast. Also, despite repeated pledges by his brother/campaign manager, Galvin would not come on the podcast. So, it's personal as well as intellectual.

One would suppose that the governor and legislature would make Galvin provide access to public information to the public, maybe even over that internet thingummy. One would suppose they'd insist that we join the other 37 states who did what was necessary, like moving out primary election dates, to conform with the law requiring our overseas forces get absentee ballots 45 days before an election. One would suppose many things about the SOC office that do not happen.

Galvin was re-elected to another four year term on top of his 16-year tenure. He made no promises for improvements. We have no reason to suppose he'll make use of computers for public access, or find out what he has to do to increase percentage of registered voters coming to the polls, or even admit he could baldly copy what the dozens of more customer friendly states do.

The vast majority of us sent him back to office, I think out of ignorance. He likes it like that.
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Friday, November 05, 2010

How Much to Save a Smoker?

You want death panels? I got 'em right here!

The straight-news version of the CT v. x-ray chest screening test is a bag of hornets fairly buzzing to get out. The $250 million, seven year study of over 53,000 smokers concluded at its most basic that computed tomography scans were 20% more effective, in essence saving one life for every 300 scans.

Among the hornets are:
  • Even low-dose CT scans are radioactive and carry risks at the level of mammograms
  • CT is much more expensive than x-ray, at about $300 per scan
  • Most anomalies in CT scans are benign, but often lead to risky, expensive, invasive biopsies
  • Cost/benefit analysis has yet to be done, or at least not released
One of our most repeated clichés is that saving a single life is worth any expense. A corollary is that life is so precious that adding a year, a month, a week or a day to someone's span is a fundamental virtue.

Contrast that with wails of the hundreds of millions paying the world's highest per-capita health care costs, while getting rewarded with per-capita lifespans way down the list of nations (29th down). Docs like to blame the many Americans who are fat, sedentary, smokers or some combination. On the other hand, I don't see studies on the effects of the ignorance of doctors about nutrition or their system that discourages spending time with their patients while encouraging treating symptoms with drugs rather than trying to cure underlying conditions.

Regardless of causes, it would be hard to find an American who does not think health care here costs too much and provides too little.

Surprisingly, around 46 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. They know this extremely expensive habit is packaged cancer, heart disease, and emphysema. So, many of us are about as sympathetic to smokers as we used to be in the early awareness of AIDS, when the common thought was it was a disease limited to rutting gay men.

Right now, people not in such a study would have to pay for their own CT scans. Medicare folk promise to review the results here and decide whether to add this test to its structure. In that vein, note that qualification for the study included 30 pack years per smoker (two packs daily for 15 years or one for 30 years). Those in the study were all smokers from 55 through 74 years old.

The researchers apparently were charged with the science and not economic, policy or political analysis. That's where the hornets await. Consider:
  • If — shades of AIDS — people knowingly engage in risky behavior, does that devalue their right to diagnosis and treatment?
  • If CT scans save one life were 300 smokers tested, is that a test insurance, including Medicare, should pay for?
  • What is the tipping point for added longevity — one year, five, longer?
  • As CT scans include more radiation and invasive procedures, when does the cost outweigh potential benefits for a few?
  • In this environment of tight money, high health costs, and public demands to limit government spending, should smokers get triaged into low-priority test queues?
At least until recently, we as a nation were apt to say saving a single life is worth any cost. Think of the safety programs for school kids and preventative testing for everyone though old age.

I'm betting studies like this one inspire lawmakers, medical groups, insurers and others to repackage their clichés. Many may seek polite and euphemistic phrasing for what a year ago would be called death panels. Triage refers to sorting and we're likely to hear more of it.

Dr. Peter Bach at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in NYC already has a few presaging cautions. The NYT quotes him as, "Very soon we'll have an answer about who should be screened and how frequently, but we don't have that answer today." From the same email, the Washington Post gleaned musing on whether there will be an orderly, well-planned roll-out, or whether we shall "see an avalanche of entrepreneurial radiologists taking out full-page ads and billboards tomorrow overstating the magnitude of the benefit, and without any plan in place for how to handle whatever is found or how to select the right patients for screening?"

Either way, most addicted smokers will continue to risk diseases via cigarettes. We don't know if insurance would pick up CT scans whether those same smokers would go for them.

We are likely to hear more bottom-line talk and less expansive bluster about every moment of life being priceless.

Many wingers have long had a life dichotomy. They like to call a not-even-yet-a-fetus group of cells a baby, while many of their number favor capital punishment and mortal self-defense against burglars. Times being tight, we'll surely get some reframing of how precious they think life is for nicotine junkies.

Death panels, indeed. As Cyndi Lauper sings, "Money changes everything."

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Iowa Set for SSM Fight

Quick now, name the state with the motto, "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain"!

The answer is Iowa. Tuesday its voters seemed oblivious to that in voting three judges off their Supreme Court bench for their daring to prize the liberties and rights of homosexuals. In last year's unanimous ruling, all nine justices ruled that forbidding same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Iowa votes on retain judges and a simple majority keeps or tosses them.

The Des Moines Register reports the slight majority to remove them was a rural v. urban divide.

Iowa had a clear conflict between its comity requirement (595.20) accepting marriages legal in other states (like that MA) and its gender/age statute (595.2) based on the Defense of Marriage Act, stating "Only a marriage between a male and a female is valid." As in other states on this issue and different direct conflicts, the justices didn't have a lot of choice. Liberty, rights, and well, the law, was right in their faces, as reflected in their decision.

As befitting judicial demeanor, the three to be removed (Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Associate Justices Michael Streit and David Baker) issued a statement. The only hint of negativity was a mention of "an unprecedented attack by out-of-state special interest groups" in the months before the this vote, which they in Iowa call the merit selection system.

Back here in Blue Massachusetts, putting high-court judges up for recall seems dreadfully political and likely to prevent impartiality on the bench. Poll based legal reasoning appears far too political.

Regardless, the trio concludes uncontentiously with:
Finally, we hope Iowans will continue to support Iowa’s merit selection system for appointing judges. This system helps ensure that judges base their decisions on the law and the Constitution and nothing else. Ultimately, however, the preservation of our state’s fair and impartial courts will require more than the integrity and fortitude of individual judges, it will require the steadfast support of the people.

Coming up looks like an embittering battle worthy of our own agon here against overturning our Supreme Judicial Court ruling affirming same-sex marriage. The Iowa Senate is alone in an equally split (25-25) Senate against Republican House and Governor. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal says there'll be no vote on the subject. As the Register reports:
Gronstal believes the right thing means protecting the civil rights of gays and lesbians. He reaffirmed Wednesday that he won't bow to pressure, no matter how nasty it gets.

"The easy political thing for me to do years ago would have been to say, 'Oh, let's let this thing go. It's just too political and too messy,' " Gronstal said. "What's ugly is giving up what you believe in, that everybody has the same rights. Giving up on that? That's ugly."
Those not so hot on separation of powers and inclined to limit rights to selected groups crowed about the people speaking, while LGBT-rights advocates decried politicizing the courts.

In an amusing thread lost in the rural fury, existing Dem. Gov. Chet Culver is likely to be the one to appoint three replacement judges, not erstwhile and resurrected Gov. Terry Branstad. The latter wants a DOMA-style constitutional amendment.

Iowa was the third state in the nation to go for marriage equality. Those who respect the state motto are in for a fight on maintaining liberties and rights.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Wicked Spin in Delaware

Rumpelstiltskin would be jealous of the straw-to-gold spinning this morning.

We at Left Ahead! shall save our raving and punditry until this afternoon at 2:30. Meanwhile, there's the predictable crowing by victors all around. The most fascinating remarks though come from some of the losers.

Dems have their own fantasy in immediate reaction to the long-predicted loss of House majority. As crisply recapitulated by Christopher Beam in Slate, there is a befuddled, intellectually indefensible message in the election of so many Republicans to Congress, something vague about it proving that what voters really want is for GOP legislators to compromise and work with Dems. Huh?

The oddest spinning of all though came from the graceless and divisive Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. She lost the U.S. Senate race there decisively — 16% margin — to Democrat Chris Coons.

You can judge their post-election speeches for yourself. Her decidedly non-conceding concession is here and his jolly mic time is here. The utter graceless divisiveness of her remarks illustrates again both why she lost so badly and what we can expect from many Tea Party supported candidates.

She claimed victory — "We have won...The Delaware political system will never be the same. The Republican Party will never be the same, and that's a good thing...Our voices were heard and we're never going to be quiet now."

Then the truly bizarre rant started with her quoting herself in her call to Coons. She says she admonished him and warned him that he'd better watch out for and take care of the richest business owners. He's supposed to pick up her plutocrat's position on opposing the "death tax" as the wealthiest like to slander paying anything in transferring their assets to their offspring. The implication was that somehow some terrible retribution would follow if he didn't do what she would have.

In total contrast, he was raised right. He praised the voters for rejecting the politics of no, saying "division has no place in this state." His aims would include getting the middle class back. He continued by thanking O'Donnell for her concession call, without mentioning her apparent threats. He said that he never for a moment doubted her love the the country and voters.

So, who'd you like to have dinner with and who'd you want representing you in the Senate?

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Monday, November 01, 2010

Disgrace That Does Not Recognize Itself

King John was not a good man
He had his little ways
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.

Thus, A.A. Milne described a royal lout in King John's Christmas. That fits and does not fit Charles A. Turner, beloved City Councilor, tedious bombast deliverer, and recent convicted felon.

Chuck Turner displays the best and worst of Boston. He has an empathy and love for his constituents that has led him to better the lives of many. He often though goes far, far beyond facts, reason and civility to claim racism, intellectual deficiency, and conspiracy against anyone who questions his assertions. Best and worst...

So now, Turner faces first a 12/1 expulsion hearing by his Councilor peers and an 1/25 sentencing on four crimes. For the latter, the ink on the paper says up to 35 years, 20 for conspiring to receive a $1,000 bribe to facilitate a liquor license, and 5 each on three counts of lying to FBI agents about that.

For his part, Turner left court saying he is innocent and outlines his next steps on his website. Oddly and unfortunately for those of us in the real world, he never said that in two days on the witness stand during his trial. He was big on polemic — something about persecution as a black man — and really huge on not remembering anything, even when confronted with video that to everyone else seemed to show him taking some cash from an FBI informant.

He tells his many supporters there as he did in a post conviction rally that he'll fight. On his site, he urges them to write to judge asking for no prison time and to City Council President Mike Ross to delay the hearing until after the sentencing.

Ross is a super guy, without the polemics. He doesn't seem to have much choice under Council Rule 40A. His latitude is giving Turner the choice in an open or closed session. Otherwise, the key provisions are:

The council president shall automatically refer a matter to the council upon a felony conviction of any member by any state or federal court.

Any action by the council taken in response to any referral shall require a two-thirds (2/3) majority roll call vote and will be in accordance with local, state and federal law.

There is an 11/16 special election to fill the District 6 seat vacated recently. Ross wants the JP/WR Councilor there for that. However, there seems no reason to acquiesce to Turner's call to hold off until his sentencing. The rule is that if you are convicted felon, the hearing is mandatory and it's up or down on 9 members of 13.

By the bye, even though Turner is 70, no one seems to see how this can go for probation with no jail time on four felony counts.

Turner didn't help his call by saying he won't appeal his conviction. The Councilors who'd like to pretend he might continue to serve while somehow finding the time and energy to also wage an appeal for a lost cause have no hook for their tattered coats.

Even those of us who long tired of this pol who cried RACISM! daily are sad to see it come to to this. Several other Council members are aces at constituent services and clearly seeing big economic, policy and cultural issues that affect plain folk in Boston. Turner is certainly among that group.

He's also quite dogmatic and often flips race and victim cards at the slightest provocation. I think psychologists might say he has a limited executive function of his brain. I recall in that vein his performance at a LaRouche gathering last year.

To be sure, Boston from its slave-trade days to the current segregated neighborhoods and schools (you are free to debate how self-selecting those are) has long been a pretty racist town. Alas for Turner's case, that is not the get-out-of-jail-free card or end to all criticism.

Numerous blog posts and newspaper comments note the seeming unfairness of the latest two guilty findings being of Turner and ex-state Senator Dianne Wilkerson, both black, when surely, surely crooked white pols are just as dirty. Others are as quick to point out that we have an almost continuous history of disgraced and convicted former high ranking white pols, including speakers of the House (with the latest, Sal DiMasi, coming to trial soon for corruption).

Unfortunately for Turner, he has overplayed the racism hand here too many times. If he were a greedy, self-enriching jerk, we could disdain him easily. Instead, as he and many note, he does not have money, drives a junk heap (flivver as my granddad used to say), and if he took money it surely was to stay in office to help his District 7 people.

We know that story well from the history of the rascal king, Boston's picaresque hero, James Michael Curley. We re-elected him alderman (yesterday's equivalent of Councilor) while he was in prison for fraud. In his long career though the range of our political offices, he apparently took much money, but always funneling it to his constituents. He did it even better than Turner, but there is quite a similarity.

Turner has the world's silliest beard and can't stop calling persecution with the least or no cause. Yet, his goals have long been noble.

His last gasp in town seems intended to make people, particularly Ross and others squirm. They, and we, all know what a good Councilor he has been, regardless of his rhetoric.

Now we can go to the should-haves, as the Councilors surely will on 12/1. He should have told the informant to take a hike or that he could not accept a contribution over $200. He should have accounted for any money he got. Coulda, shoulda, woulda...

Making his peers toss him from the body does not diminish them, but him. He leaves a long legacy of beneficence and bluster

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