Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Empathy Card

Empathy, eh, Mr. President?

An absurd noise arose in 2009 when you said one of the qualities you expected from a SCOTUS nominee was empathy. Right howled and left pondered your meaning. What I heard from the right often was that even mentioning this term seriously showed you a coward, pantywaist and as such unfit to govern.

Art note: Keeping with his attitude, I claim fair use for my transformation of Shepard Fairey's poster.

Perhaps the fairest assumption came from Chris Weigant in the Huffington Post — Because by speaking of "empathy," I think Obama was doing nothing more than signaling he's about to put a woman on the Supreme Court. That fit what actually happened soon and longer afterward.

The actual passing mention at the end of a short set of remarks was benign enough, specifically:
You know, Justice Roberts said he saw himself just as an umpire. But the issues that come before the court are not sport. They're life and death. And we need somebody who's got the heart to recogni-- the empathy to recognize what it's like to be a young, teenaged mom; the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges.
As an admitted empathic sort myself, I was hoping this was going to be more and wider and deeper. Until the mess about your comment, I seldom heard the word outside sermons and conversations with friends who are psychologists. Lately, it has been used, mostly misused, pretty commonly.

One Person's Empathy...

Sharpies may recall your previous, slightly more elaborate use in your far-too-young autobiography, The Audacity of Hope. That included a riff on U.S. Sen.Paul Simon:
That last aspect of Paul's character--a sense of empathy---is one that I find myself appreciating more and more as I get older. It is at the heart of my moral code, and it is how I understand the Golden Rule---not simply as a call to sympathy or charity, but as something more demanding, a call to stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes.

Like most of my values, I learned about empathy from my mother. She disdained any kind of cruelty or thoughtlessness or abuse of power, whether it expresses itself in the form of racial prejudice or bullying in the schoolyard or workers being underpaid. Whenever she saw even a hint of such behavior in me she would look me square in the eyes and ask, "How do you think that would make you feel?"
Then your punchline came in a frame about dealing with your grandfather who was raising you in your teens. You admitted to being a jerk, giving him grief about even doing the simplest chores. Then you came to realize there were small things from you but they would make him feel a lot better. So, you cleaned up your act and were, well, civilized and respectful.

That's not feeling what your grandfather felt. That's self-interest with maybe a healthy dose of sympathy. So, what the future President reasoned (not felt deeply) was a sense of compromise to accommodate a loved on. Sorry, that's not empathy. He goes on to describe projecting to the struggles of the less fortunate. In fact, he's stopping at sympathy, albeit, sympathy with a route to some action.

While that is the way many others use empathy, that isn't it. Thus, you likely have never been consistently empathetic and are not in a position to lead the nation in that direction.

Instead, like the lawyer and professor you have been, you would first think the golden rule. Then if it is not too much trouble, act on it. Others would benefit and you'd feel swell.

In fact, I'd bet our President laughs heartily at America's Funniest Home Videos and such. When tots, adults and animals suffer physical pain and humiliation, whether you enjoy the brutal slapstick or feel discomfort in another's agony is a true personality indicator.

Right-wing sorts can almost certainly be comfortable that their unwelcome leader will not go all gushy on them. They already have a Speaker of House to play at least the melodramatic bits of that role.

In Life and Art

When we had our second of our three sons, I thought more of empathy. It was already something I shared with my late grandfather, who played the father role for me. While it could be very inconvenient as a child, sharing other's joys and pains is what I know.

Our middle son, Eli, is much the same. I hate to fall into a recursive loop, but I feel for his feeling. Even in nursery school, the teachers would say how he was empathetic and comforting to the other children and to the teachers. In many ways, this is how an adult should grow into maturity, heeding by lesson and example from family, teachers and religious figures. It's tough along the way though. Particularly when boys are stereotypically to be callous and rough, sharing feelings with others is odd in the least.

The empathy factor became better known to readers and viewers of science fiction. Perhaps the best example was Star Trek's Deanna Troi, telepath and empath. Her character illustrated the perils as well as benefits to the starship in her skills. It may also be telling that the writers of such works had to deal deeply into fantasy to create such a, well, freak.

Now the term and its related study have a body of varied work. There are numerous books for nurses and even physicians on the uses of empathy in treatment and the dangers of emotional fatigue from caring too much, too often. There are similar cautionary tales of what is known in some psychology circles as vicarious embarrassment syndrome. (There are those, however, including me, who do not consider empathy to be a disorder or syndrome.)

If you are like most and don't grok empathy, a scan of the literature on the net or in a library can provide all you can read. I recently thought I'd expand my own knowledge and hit the Boston libraries. That's where I ran across the nursing-oriented and pop (the nicer American) books.

For the real thing though, it was frustrating to see that many of the best books are for in-library use only. Consider:
  • The age of empathy : nature's lessons for a kinder society, Frans B. M. Waal, available for loan
  • The altruism question : toward a social psychological answer, Charles Daniel Batson, in library only
  • The brighter side of human nature : altruism and empathy in everyday life, Alfie Kohn, in library only
  • Empathy and its development, edited by Nancy Eisenberg and Janet Strayer, in library only
  • Mirroring people : the new science of how we connect with others Marco Iacoboni, available for loan
I got Mirroring People delivered for loan to my local branch, and was surprised at what it was and wasn't. Had I examined it in the library, I likely wouldn't have checked it out. While described on Amazon and elsewhere as a book on empathy, it really is the author and other neuro-scientists plugging their findings.

They did the definitive work on humans and great apes on mirror neurons. Their major conclusion is that we are physically predisposed to feel and imitate others due to certain cells in our brains. They surely lean toward the nature, not nurture, argument. Their findings would also imply a lot more empathy in play that I notice daily.

Regardless, that's good background. It also dovetails nicely with concepts of altruism, particularly George Price's.

Right now, at its basest level, it surely is positive that more of us at least pay lip service to empathy. Even if used as loosely as our President does it, bringing people to attention with calls for watching out for each other can only be good.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Bye Bye to What's Her Name

I can't wait. No Sarah Palin in my blogs, tweets or podcast throughout February 2011...starting three days early. It's a relief. This is my last citation for at least the next 30 days.

When WaPo columnist Dana Milbank proposed this, it seemed like a goof and a melodrama. Some are with the program. Many rationalize, equivocate and make excuses.

Let's cut the crap. Palin is a trivial human being, neither bright enough to lead the nation nor humane enough to respect the commonweal. Everyone from the biggest of big shots in the huge media to us wee bloggy type remarks on her because other do, competitively, and because she jerks us around with her theater, sensationalistically.

I don't really care about the shouting or shaky types who proclaim that we need to let the voters decide. Sure that will it did two years ago...should she get that far again. I won't help her.

Like the line goes in the cheesiest of movies, "She's dead to me."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

On Deck...DiMasi

Choosing the unfortunate acronym PID (Public Integrity Division) MA AG Martha Coakley says her office is ready to track and catch crooked officials. [In the medical world, PID has long meant pelvic inflammatory disease.]

The decades, indeed centuries, of corruption in this commonwealth seem finally to outgrown its use as folklore and comedy. Boston in particular and MA more generally may have lost their wink-wink reflex.

Now comes a real test, one that is out of Coakley's grasp. Following over two years of non-stop theater in the Dianne Wilkerson and Chuck Turner cases, yet another Speaker of the House faces corruption charges. Not only was he high ranking, but unlike the other two lower-level pols, he is not African American.

This latest disgraced Speaker is Salvatore DiMasi. The previous two speakers, Tom Finneran and Charles Flaherty, each admitted guilt, the former to obstruction of justice and the latter to tax evasion.

Finneran cut a plea bargain, to a single charge. Three perjury charges disappeared. He got 18 months unsupervised probation, a $25,000 fine, and restriction from running from pubic office for five years. He has had various high-paying jobs, including being a drive-time radio host. Flaherty received the fine and probation. Both Speakers resigned, but neither spent any time in prison.

What happens in DiMasi's trial — scheduled to start April 25th in Boston — will be fraught with meaning on many levels. Specifically:
  • Affording Justice. The wealthiest and best connected rent the most effective law firms and often seem to get favorable treatment from juries and judges.
  • Race is a Question. Blind justice can't be totally applicable here. Turner's melodrama and paranoid statements aside, two popular black pols went down, and now a big-shot white one is charged. Everyone is looking attentively.
  • Parsing Wording. DiMasi's case looks made for technicalities. Expect his lawyers to torture every nuance of laws and evidence to prove not his innocence, rather the inability of the prosecution to prove his guilt sufficiently given narrow interpretations of the prosecution's case.

Same and Different

DiMasi's case has a few parallels with, and many diversions from, the other two. At the core, all three were indicted by the feds, despite being accused of nefarious deeds in MA only. One might well ask what our AG was doing or not doing.

His indictment is still available at UniversalHub here. The short of it is that software vendor Cognos got contracts with the commonwealth and he allegedly got monthly payoffs for it, in the nature of $57,000. There was lots of money spread around, such as over $2 million commission to Cognos sales agent Joseph Lally and over $600,000 to former DiMasi campaign treasurer and accountant Richard Vitale. Prosecutors claim over 80 criminal acts.

Wilkerson and DiMasi were similar in that each was indicted for personally enriching herself or himself. While Turner is under the same constant fund raising pressure of any pol on short two-year reelection cycles, he never seemed money driven for anything personal.

Wilkerson cut a plea bargain and admitted guilt, as she had in previous tax-evasion charges. Turner stonewalled and so far DiMasi is talking proving his innocence. The courts seem happy to offer that opportunity; First Circuit Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf turned down his multi-prong filing to drop charges this week.
Friday Follow-Up: Wolf also rejected the defense effort to narrow the scope of charges against DiMasi.
So in our allegedly classless America, we actually know that there is considerable deference to the rich, powerful or famous. Despite Coakley's PID and Gov. Deval Patrick's ethics reforms, DiMasi still enters his trial with those considerable advantages.

Having read comments from and spoken to black Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan residents, I know that this case reduces more fundamentally for many. Does the rich white guy walk when the two middle-class black pols go to jail for three and three and one-half years?

Other recent cases exacerbate anger at such discrepancies. In particular, an aide to Mayor Tom Menino got probation on drug possession and dealing, including in City Hall. John M. Forbes was arrested in December 2010. He pleaded guilty, admitted addiction, and sought the court's mercy. He got five years' probation and 1,800 hours of community. While it is not unusual for first offenders on drug charges to receive probation (instead of the 20 years possible in this case), the timing was unfortunate.

Drugs and bribes are different charges. However, this also seems to fit a pattern of white criminals getting better treatment than black ones. Somehow we're not supposed to think or race here, but that may be impossible for many black Bostonians.

Tenor of the Times

Somewhat nationwide, but particularly here, it's ethics all the least in talk. I've recently noticed comments from the peanut gallery at places like the Herald, Globe and UniversalHub, where self-styled wits are proclaiming that DiMasi (in more colorful terms) must be soiling his briefs following the sentencing of Wilkerson and Turner.

Pardon my skepticism. So far, he seems to have shown no interest in admitting any guilt or humbling himself before any prosecutor or judge. We can be reasonably sure also that the now standard set of penalties for Speakers should not be a problem for DiMasi. Certainly none of the Speaker trio has exhibited any sense of shame.

A fair question now is that with judges like Douglas Woodlock and Mark Wolf, is one ready to thump old Sal convincingly? At both Wilkerson and Turner sentencing hearings, Woodlock scolded the devil out of them, calling them on their arrogance and their disrespect for their constituents and the courts.

Allegedly, these federal judges should be above paying attention to the posturing of Patrick and Coakley. Yet, in the larger context, all of government and the voters seem tired of having to assume with good reason that pols — to a one — are crooks.

I still lean toward the privileged likely receiving preferential treatment. It has always been thus, from colonial times and back into England before that. That isn't right.That isn't fair. That isn't American (the ideal at least). Yet it has long been the way in this commonwealth and nation.

I certainly join the residents in Wilkerson and Turner's districts in watching the DiMasi trial, verdict, and in the likelihood of some form of guilty finding, the punishment, or lack thereof. The outcome of this case will speak to reality of ethics in government here.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stings, Home Rule, Fairness

Turner/Wilkerson fatigue is common in both Boston City Hall and the State House. For example, recent past-Council President Mike Ross writes that Turner's sentencing yesterday, "This is a sad day for all of us. Chuck was a colleague of mine for a decade. My thoughts are with Chuck and his family as they process the sentence handed down this afternoon." Likewise, new Council President Steve Murphy said, "This is a sad end to a sad ordeal."

Let it not be the end. There are two kinds of unfinished business here — Turner related and broader.

While Turner and his lawyer have announced a likely quixotic appeal of his 3-year plus 3 more supervised release sentence, everyone else seems eager to whistle a happy tune and get back to shoveling snow. Seven District 7 residents are running to replace him on Council.

City Powers and Home Rule

Between Turner's conviction on four federal felonies related to corruption and lying about it, Turner filed legal action, as threatened or at least foreshadowed by a friend and fellow Councilor. In the early December Council special meeting that ended up expelling Turner, Charles Yancey as much as promised an after-the-fact suit.

The claim in the suit was that the Council did not have the authority to expel a member. While the city's charter lets the Council make its own rules and procedures and one of those unanimously approved rules is to decide whether a Councilor convicted of a felony should continue to serve, Yancey sounded like a lawyer on it. He is not. However, he demanded that they not expel Turner unless the charter specifically used a term like expel for Councilors.

That seems silly and literal beyond credibility and reason. Yet this still needs resolution.

Turner and his lawyer in the suit, Chester Darling, could withdraw the action following Turner's sentencing yesterday. They had sued for his reinstatement, citing their claim the Council had expelled him improperly. When he got prison time, the state law removing him from office kicked in.

Here's hoping the suit continues and that the Supreme Judicial Court makes a quick decision on it.

If the SJC does not rule in what seems obvious to me — that the city and Council and the city's general counsel had done adequate preparation — then the larger battle of home rule looms. My take on that is even more severe.

The General Court, our legislature, has a colonial legacy view on municipalities that came over into our constitution and badly needs overhaul. Cities and towns have to beseech the GC for the smallest, most sensible changes and if viewed favorably by the paternalist legislature, the municipality has to rewrite its charter and return to beg lawmakers to approve it.

Home rule is a sad term that means the opposite of how it reads. Boston and other cities simply do not have the power to rule at home. The GC reserves all such power.

This, of course, is also a silly waste of time. The legislators could be doing more meaningful deeds and thinking deep or shallow thoughts to benefit their constituents instead.

What they need to do is revise home rule so that simple changes that do not commit commonwealth resources or conflict with MA laws are none of the GC's business. There should be no more pathetic mayoral or city manager trips, figuratively crawling on hands and knees to the Hooker entrance of the State House.

About Those Stings...

Surely of more immediate and widespread interest though is that sting thing. Should the feds be about the business of entrapment, particularly of officials with no history of corruption?

In this case, then State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson by her own admission was taking bribes. She seemed a likely subject for surveillance and other investigation. She pointed one of their informants to Turner, suggesting he deserved some of the bribes for a liquor license.

So, there was a link to at least the hearsay of criminal intent, from a tax evader and provably corrupt politician. Yet, Turner had no previous convictions for anything or even charges or for that matter reasonable suspicions.

That's galling to many, including me.

Turner's take loudly, publicly and often has been that the FBI and federal prosecutors engaged in a racist take-down of two activist black pols. While he seems to be one of the few people in the world who believes that he did not, would not and could not take that $1,000 bribe and lie to the feds repeatedly about it, behind all of his obscuring paranoia and polemics are some worthwhile questions.

Turners sensational claims of highly questionable rationale obscure the underlying issues. That's a pity.

Sure, it is obvious he was entrappable (if that's a legit word). Sure, he took a bribe, although there is no clear evidence on his video that he immediately promised a tit for tat — the essence of corruption in public office. Sure, he lied about it repeatedly to the FBI, prosecutors and the court...and perhaps to himself as well as his constituents.

Let's not lose sight of the question of whether this is the best or even an acceptable way for criminal investigators to act. We seem to have a consensus that we don't want the corruption for which MA among other states is known. We would like the crooked pols and employees identified and removed from public service.

Yet does manufacturing an enticement that an elected official ends up falling for protect us really?

In many ways this plays out more like a romantic comedy of recent years where a spouse or lover sends a surrogate to lure her or his partner into bed. Does either kind of set up, pol or partner, prove the target is already a cheater or instead does it prove that under extreme temptation, most of us would fall short.

It is possible that Chuck Turner has been taking small amounts of money or years. Lord knows, it must be hard to raise campaign funds almost weekly for an office that requires running for reelection every two years. Yet, we have no reason to believe he was consistently crooked.

Everyone outside of the FBI and U.S. Attorneys office likely would feel and think better of this whole Turner mess if the feds has done their stereotypical duty. Instead of constructing a temptation, how about they do the hard work? How about they do real investigation into existing corruption?

Just from those uncovered, as in the past three Speakers of the MA House, there must be plenty of rotten fruit ready for harvest. How about the FBI do real work instead of luring someone into a corrupt act that they created just for that purpose?

We could use some comment from the judges in these cases, particularly at the U.S. District Court level and above to reinforce that direction. Likewise, our Congressional delegation should not be afraid of being called soft on crime if it demands that the feds do real work. It's possible that even the President can say this is a problem that we need to address.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Turner Truth Time

A thing about this Chuck Turner sentencing show that bugs me doesn't seem popular with pundits. Most point out that Turner has been consistently obnoxious, but his style may have been obstreperous his whole life. A few concur with him that the whole case sure looks racist. Many (including I) have said or written that the FBI/U.S. Attorney procedures need oversight and correction.

What's been gnawing on me may have more to do with upbringing than anything else. Having spent much of my childhood in a segregated South, I am uncomfortable with the prosecutors' demands and sentencing statements.

I see today that WBUR's David Boeri got a leading defense attorney to propose that Turner is being punished for insisting on his innocence. "What the government is doing in this sentencing memorandum is suggesting that Turner, for insisting he is not guilty, should be punished extra severely," said Harvey Silverglate. "That’s highly improper."

To me, that's approaching reality, but isn't there. First of all, in his trial where he insisted on testifying, Turner did not take the innocent approach. Instead, repeatedly and not very believably, he claimed to have no recollection of the meeting, the man, the money. Even after seeing himself on video, he played with statements of maybe that was he and maybe that was money...he just didn't recall.

After the guilty verdicts though, he has said non-stop that he is innocent. There's where the prosecution is pushing for the heavy hand to crush Turner.

As a Southerner, although I've lived here for three decades, I remember that attitude. It's the boy-you-gonna-get-yourself-in-real-trouble one.

It frequently was used in a racist context, spoken to people those in power considered inferiors. It wasn't only with black folk though. Poor white people, those in serving positions and so forth were all supposed to mind their manners and know their place.

In a very harsh memo to Judge Douglas Woodlock, the prosecution asked for 33 to 41 months for him. The request seemed largely based on Turner's claims that the sting operation that entrapped him was illegal, immoral, indefensible and so forth. He has publicly called racism and named the U.S. Attorneys involved for trying to roust a black pol. In short, he has shown the wrong attitude — no admission of guilt and certainly no contrition.

Strangely enough, Dianne Wilkerson did not fare well, even with her clumsy atonement. She admitted guilt, but still tried to make excuses for herself. That seems in her nature.

I don't know if Turner would have fared better had he admitted guilt to the judge. He didn't and he won't, so that is moot. However, I suspect strongly, that if he showed he knew his place, as they used to say down South, the prosecution would not have had the leverage they did to attack him in that brutal pre-sentencing memo.

If I were Turner or his strong supporters, I would be particularly angry at what appears to be trying to punishing an uppity, to use another Southernism, man.

In sentencing Wilkerson, Woodlock saved his strongest scolding for the political climate of corruption more than for her specifically. He could well look beyond the almost hysterical wording of the prosecutor's demands for harsh sentencing.

Sure Turner has the right to claim innocence, even after he was found guilty on four felonies. As many others who have written stories on people in prison, I recall one incarcerated person after another saying he was innocent and laughing about that being true of everyone there.

Instead, the prosecution seems furious that he accuses them and their standard procedures of malicious, unreasonable and biased acts. They don't want to hear that and this is their chance to slap down someone who dares confront them.

We'll know in about two hours.

PM Update: Just short of 5 PM, Turner gets 3 and 3, three years in prison and three of supervised release. Now the Globe reports Turner will appeal and has asked Woodlock to consider a stay of his order to report to prison on March 25th.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Freedom from Dumb

Time to shut up, Mike. How does a month without writing anything about Sarah Palin or mentioning her in a podcast sound?

It suits me fine and I'll join WaPo columnist Dana Milbank in doing, or rather not doing, just those things. His column with a link to tweet your commitment is here. The accompanying art is from that link. I'll add that to my Facebook page at the end of this month.

I've jumped in by tweeting my resolve. So, I consider it in the works.

As Milbank put it:
I hereby pledge that, beginning on Feb. 1, 2011, I will not mention Sarah Palin -- in print, online or on television -- for one month. Furthermore, I call on others in the news media to join me in this pledge of a Palin-free February. With enough support, I believe we may even be able to extend the moratorium beyond one month, but we are up against a powerful compulsion, and we must take this struggle day by day.
In my minor tweak, I'll replace TV with podcast.

Palin is so, so tempting to react to, for her divisiveness, illogic, incivility, and even regular, pathetic abuse of our language. She seems to love the attention and publicity that such responses bring. It's time to take away her high!

Friday, January 21, 2011

District 7 Forum 2 of 2

Last evening's forum of candidates for the open District 7 seat was promising in its civic involvement (full house) and big slate of six on ballot and one write-in so far. Here's a take on what the candidates said (plus my usual shallowness of appearance).

Part one on the forum is here.

The ballot order of qualified District 7 candidates (as provided by Gintautas Dumcium over at the Dorchester Reporter) is:
-- Natalie Carithers (former aide to ex-state Rep. Willie Mae Allen)
-- Danielle Renee Williams (Roxbury resident)
-- Cornell Mills (former foreclosure prevention specialist, son of former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson)
-- Tito Jackson (former political aide to Gov. Deval Patrick)
-- Roy Owens (perennial candidate)
-- Althea Garrison (perennial candidate and former state representative)
In addition, activist, poet and children's book author Haywood Fennell Sr. is a write-in candidate.

Assuming that ousted Councilor Chuck Turner fails to push out the special-election process to replace him, with his suit to be reinstated to Council pending his 1/25 sentencing in federal court, the calendar is set. The last day to register to vote in the election is 1/26. The preliminary to reduce the field to two is 2/15. The final is 3/15. District 7 includes the neighborhoods of Lower Roxbury, Roxbury, and parts of Dorchester, the Fenway and the South End.

Body and Mouth

A glorious night of politics waslargely without insults but heavy on the oratory, at the Roxbury Y. The smallish meeting room was packed with 150 or more folk.

Note: I apologize for the expected low-quality pix. My digital camera's flash is no a match for low light beyond eight feet or so. Regardless, the following images give a sense of the candidates.

Althea Garrison was a no show. The other candidates presented a spectrum of demeanor, appearance and other personal traits. Specifically (links where shown are to known campaign sites):
  • Carithers — Prickly, funny, self-assured and with a powerful voice, she certainly appeals to those who like heroics and histrionics as well as to older voters. She is also entertainer with Touch radio (106.1 FM) She was one of two scolds up front, along with Williams. The community better get its act together to support her. She looked sharp and professional in a gray suit. She had the second strongest presence after Mills.
  • Fennell — With a quiet confidence, the poet is likely the brightest of the bunch, certainly the cleverest with words. In gray sweater and scarf, he had the look of an aged beatnik. His long, deep history as community activist and veterans rights advocate are as key features of him as his ready wit.
  • Jackson — The normally charismatic Tito did not bring his best game. He arrived late from a fund raiser and seemed tired. He was an oddly gracious team player, applauding and smiling at points by his competitors. He came on solid in his answers, got applause on par with Carithers' and almost as good as Mills. His large frame seemed diminished as he slouched and he looked like an assistant bank manager is his black suit with shimmering silver tie.
  • Mills — He came on strong. Although his primary emphasis was on street violence, he was personable and gave a powerful presentation. He has the physical attractiveness and presence of a seasoned politician or performer. He also managed to call many in the audience, particularly the questioners, by name, further showing is community connections. He was by far the snazziest dresser of the group, with a well tailored black suit, red tie and sharp shoes.
  • Owens — He stood out in several ways, from his deep red, wide lapel suit to his insistence that he was the only candidate with traditional family values and an anti-abortion position (a couple of other candidates raised brows and gave him the stink eye as he repeated that). He returned to those points often rather than answering most questions.
  • Williams — The only unsure candidate, she was uncomfortable holding the mic even though her voice was weak. She did not seem at ease speaking to the room. She was a scold, along with Carithers, repeatedly saying nothing a Councilor did would work if the voters didn't have the Councilor's back and didn't vote in large percentages. She seemed a bit thrown together with incredibly high boot heels under a dark skirt under a lumpy camel colored heavy top. She has a long history of community activism and must work better in small groups.
The forum met its primary purpose of letting the audience leave with a good sense of the candidates. Other than the absent Garrison, the would-be Councilors showed their stuff at close range. You want loud and proud? There were a couple of those. You want wry and spry? Got one of those. You want pious? Covered.

Praise to the civic groups who organized this, plus moderator Keith Chaney. A lot of coordination, adaption and planning went into it. Alas, the detailed scheduling and choreography of the event was overly optimisic (see first post), but it all worked in the end. Mirabile dictu! They ended up much closer to schedule than similar events in the past by anyone except for Suffolk's Rappaport Center (they're the gold standard of fora and one-shot conferences).

They Said It

The evening had many jolly moments and good theater. There was a lot of sincerity and considerable overlap in positions. However, each candidate stood out in one or more ways.

Roy Owens. It may be impossible to describe him without the phrase perennial candidate. It's true enough that in many city and state elections, he's run and almost always lost. Here he was again and, boys and girls, did he ever stand out.

It wasn't just the most daring outfit. Rather, he was there to tell us he was holy and fundamentalist. He was anti-abortion and claimed the real garments of family values. Doing so, he managed to annoy several other candidates with the unproven claim he was the only one with those positions. He didn't ask; he told.

Not surprisingly, he said the District should look to its religious leaders and institutions for solutions. As he put it, "(t)he strongest organization in the black community is the black church."

He also was the most racially oriented candidate by his remarks. Specifically, he returned again and again to dubious assertions that black residents of MA were dying at six times the rate of others and so forth. The biggest issue here was of abortion, which he said not only diminished the influence of African Americans, but by lessening the population growth, caused that loss of a U.S. House seat.

No matter what the topic, the resolution almost always was preventing abortion. The other candidates were off on street violence, schools and jobs.

His strongest showing was in response to questions about standing up to City Hall, specifically Mayor Menino. He seemed to have 1960s flashbacks and responded with, "If you're not willing to fight and die for what you want, you're' not ready to rule either." Heady stuff.

Haywood Fennell Sr. Another outlier, but in a far better received way was the writer/activist candidate. He was the only one talking veterans rights in addition to the core issues of employment, housing, violence and schools. He was also the one most of us would prefer to have dinner with among the group.

Many of his goals are higher level and centered on personal responsibility. For example, he would like to better the health of the District (think prostate and breast cancers, asthma and diabetes). He figures educating the community is the key.

He came up with several of the most memorable lines of the evening. For one, when someone asked the group if they would publicly stand up to Menino, he did all those who said yes one better with, "The mayor organized. Why can't we organize?"

He concluded with saying he didn't want people to applaud for him (as they had each candidate). "I want you to vote for me."

His best though was on redistricting. When several other candidates lamented that they would support a set-aside district for a black U.S. House member, he said that it would be "a good idea if he looks like us, but if they don't think like us, " that won't be any good. "Let's not play the skin game here. We got people who look like us now and what have they done? Don't smell the coffee. Drink the coffee."

Danielle Renee Williams. The candidate who seemed to enjoy the evening the least claims a long history of community activism too. Yet, she did not want to hold the mic, even when begged by audience.

She did have a central theme related to the District. She is enchanted with Turner's District office, which he supported with his money and time for the constituents. She held that residents turned to it for resources and help and would not have otherwise. She believes this central location outside of City Hall was crucial in supporting the District.

Another unique position was getting BPS high schools to add licensing programs. She holds that many jobs require licensing in their fields to start, and that getting this in school would be a great leg up to employment.

She was demanding of the audience as well. She decried low voter turnouts, saying that Councilors and legislators were at a considerable disadvantage if they went back to their bodies asking for things when their peers knew the constituents didn't vote heavily. "You have to have our back, " she said. "If you have no interest in us, you have no interest in yourself."

Tito Jackson. "That was my dad, Herb," he said, speaking of the late Herbert Kawku Zulu Jackson, who founded the Greater Roxbury Workers Association. The question from the audience was just about the elder Jackson's efforts to ensure compliance with mandates to include community and minority workers in government-funded projects.

Tito said having such watchdogs ensuring compliance was falling on the wayside and there won't be fair return to the community without it.

He also pledged to use his considerable contacts at the state and federal level that he met as an aide to Gov. Deval Patrick for the good of the District. Much as Ayanna Pressley said when she successfully ran for Council in drawing on those she knew from working for U.S. Sen. John Kerry, Jackson said he did not owe his connections favors, rather he could use them for the good of the neighborhoods.

He was also strong on the question of whether the pending redistricting should ensure a minority-majority Congressional seat, in effect a black one. He said there were too many backroom deals in redistricting efforts already. He called for non-political sorts, numbers people, to be involved to avoid such skewing of the district as has happened for so long.

Cornell Mills. He had the best response of the evening, judged by the cheers and applause. He either brought a cadre of supporters or made them in the two hours.

Oddly on the face of it, he is primarily a one issue guy — violence. That is understandable as he used to be a homicide investigator for the BPD. Yet he managed to go from that base to its links to education and employment. He hit a lot of resonating chords with the audience.

He spoke of dealing with youth were they are — street corners, schools, detention centers. He also figures that calling on entrepreneurs to join in the Hope Line and similar youth employment efforts will be the way to expand the base of such jobs.

He claimed that if elected he'd come in not owing anything to anyone.

His biggest crowd pleaser was a rejoinder to Jackson's job watchdog call. He drew applause and cheers when he said just monitoring job sites wouldn't work. Instead, the community needs to be in on the planning and specification of projects. "If we're talking about monitoring job sites, you've already lost."

Natalie Carithers. She was in fine form. She used her voice and hands to best effect and made the strongest statements. She was a crowd favorite.

Catithers is not big and beefy like a couple of the guys, but don't question her resolve. She quickly and repeated claimed to be the best in a scuffle. As she put it early, "If there's a fight, I'll be there. I'll call on you to get my back, because I'm going in." The audience hooted its appreciation.

Among the several candidates citing the need for better education, she alone called for a return to an elected (as she said accountable) school board. Several pointed to the disproportionate number of public schools closing in this district.

She was quickest to say she would not be afraid to call out Menino if she felt the District was getting short shrift in the budget or elsewhere. She said she would public confront him. "He didn't elect me. You did."

Envelope Please

Fun and clarifying, certainly, but the forum brings up the who-wins question immediately, even with over three weeks to the preliminary on February 15th. First, watch your papers, stations and blogs. There will be more debate-like events.

For me, I left feeling sure four of seven were out. Jostling for the two final slots should be Carithers, Jackson and Mills. Each is a good talker, each has strong positions that differentiate from the others, and each has support in the community and beyond.

To stay at the top, Jackson needs to be on for every appearance. He needs to be more competitive and ego-oriented as well. It's nice to appreciate your competitor's positions, but don't lose track that it is a race.

For Mills, he might be able to get to the final with a violence-prevent theme. He should expand his thinking and solutions to appeal to those skeptical of any quick and deep impact here.

Carithers seems on auto-pilot and that's not bad in her case. She's a powerful presence, with a considerable record of constituent services working for Rep. Willie Mae Allen. She may just need to be everywhere with her attitude and proposals.

Any pair of these three would go into March for the seat. If I had to bet, it would include that Jackson comes on strong as he did so many times for the governor and that it ends up being him and Mills for the final.

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District 7 Forum 1 of 2

Rejoice, Boston politics lovers! We are due a couple of months of civic theater. The District 7 City Council race will be a good one.

Last night, six of seven candidates for what was Chuck Turner's slot (inlucing a write-in) postulated and postured for the public at the Roxbury Y. They come at big issues — think street violence and no jobs — differently enough to make for real voter choices. Each has at least one major distinguishing position.

Posting note: Our ISP was sick until a few minutes ago — no net or phone all day. Now I see on Universal Hub that there are a couple of reports on the forum already. This one is an overview and part two will have some quotes and observations.

No Country for Stopwatches

Disgruntled questions from voters with long-standing grudges show some the need to address underlying grievances. Moderator Keith Chaney was naively focused throughout in his expectations of the candidates and audience. Neither set showed any intention to keeping to the idealized time restrictions.

Variously, candidates had like two minutes each to introduce themselves, up to two and one-half to answer the first question and down to one and one-half than one as it was clear the model didn't work. The intent of the organizers was as admirable as it turned out to be unworkable. With no insult to anyone involved, this evening ended up with the feeling of an overly ambitious parent trying to keep a highly structured kids' party flowing from one fun activity to another.

Chaney took it all in good spirits though. One would-be Councilor after the previous would look at the garish black on yellow laminated cards a woman in the front middle of the audience held up. The time keeper had cards reading 30 SECONDS, 15 SECONDS, and TIME. If the candidates even looked, they seemed to take these with the authority a local driver ascribes to a YIELD sign.

Likewise, the moderator admonished each audience member with a question to phrase it in 30 seconds or less. Ha! Virtually no one did. They had points to make first, followed generally with rambling lectures on the failures of Boston pols and politics. At several points, candidates or Chaney admitted they had gotten lost in the verbiage — what is your question?

Hints of what was to come in the audience portion were in the prepared questions introduction. The agenda was a masterwork of theoretical project management and scheduling. It might well have worked if the candidates were a group of engineers who accepted the limits and dutifully worked toward the mandated deadlines.

The sponsors prepared six questions. Two candidates were to address a question, each limited to two and one-half minute answers. Thus, from 7:10 to 7:40 PM, six questions at five minutes each would be perfectly timed.

Back on Planet Forum, they barely managed to struggle through two questions. In fairness, the first one really deserved (and sort of got) a response from each — what are your top three priorities and how would you realize them as Council. Candidates got the six prepared questions in advance and could have come in with carefully crafted, terse responses. They did not. Some really didn't even address the question and most only got through one or two before they got the hook after a generous overage allowance.

Missing Pols

Specters of two local politicians were part of the forum, even as the corporal versions were not. Both Chuck Turner and Dianne Wilkerson were and were not there.

Most obviously, the District 7 Council spot is still "Chuck Turner's seat" in many minds and from many mouths. He held it for 11 years, made himself omnipresent and made it plain he was the man to turn to in times of trouble. A minister might ease your soul, but Turner intended to right wrongs and fix problems.

Absent in all tangible ways was Wilkerson. Cornell Mills is her son, but he avoided all mention of her in is speaking and the campaign literature. As close as he got was in a single-spaced letter-sized flier that reads in part, "My brother and I grew up in a household where public and community service was an expectation."

Many candidates make much of their parental or sibling relationships. Of course, with a convicted and newly sentenced to prison mother, even her career as a MA Senator is not the association he wants.

Even so, women in the audience were loudly saying, "He looks just like her."

I disagree. He is tall, handsome, muscular and well dressed. There's not a tremendous family resemblance in the face and he actually looks quite a bit more attractive and composed than his mom.

As for Turner, none of the candidates on their own either distanced themselves or promised to emulate him. They simply didn't mention him in their opening statements or answers to the prepared questions. The closest any got was Danielle Williams, who repeatedly returned to the efficacy of the District office that Turner maintained on his own dime and time. She said it was the right way to provide a place with the resources for the community.

However, during audience questions, several started with statements about how useful and kind Turner had been. They said he was always there, that he found jobs for young men coming out of incarceration, and tried to help residents navigate housing crises. Of course, those are the constituent services that any decent Councilor would provide and how they get reelected so consistently. Turners combination of pointing what he did repeatedly and having that local office for residents seem to have gone a long way in plumping his image as unusual.

When asked specifically about things related to Turner, the candidates were savvy enough to say they would do the same, that such services where key to the job. Likewise, they were quick to riff on each other's assertions that they would powerfully and eagerly stand up to Menino. None picked up those weapons on their own, but they certainly did when prompted.


In the Boston District most burdened with unemployment, foreclosures, street violence, and school closings, no one should be surprised at the distrust of and hostility toward government and pols. Last night, one questioner after another let it rip.

One coincidental target turned out to be U.S. Rep. Mike Capuano. That gritty, solidly progressive, do-right-by-all Capuano is seen by some as an interloper, even a thief. One candidate and an audience member has not forgiven him for sitting in what should be a black seat (sometimes called the minority-majority Congress post). His 8th Congressional District spot, as far as this community was concerned, needed to go to an African American.

Williams said that the District did not have its act together at election time and did not put up any solid candidates to make that happen. Last night, in the discussion of the pending redistricting that will accompany MA losing a U.S. House seat after the recent U.S. Census, the honest lament all around was that having someone of color in the delegation was the best shot at making sure money and relevant legislation helped the District and its residents. By extension, Capuano is not the best Rep.

We saw a similar phenomenon with MA State Senator Sonya Chang-Diaz a couple of years ago. When she ran a second time, this one successfully, to replace Dianne Wilkerson, audience questions at fora and debates were sometimes harsh. As mixed Latina/Asian/white, she wasn't dark enough for some. She didn't belong specifically to this or that black civic organization. She was the darling to the yuppie and Latino-heavy Jamaica Plain.

A funny thing happened on the way to Senate or really in the Senate. She has done the good, necessary and right work. She picked up the long foundering CORI reform and pushed it over the reality goal line. She has led on one Roxbury need after another.

Far harsher criticism than Capuano got emerged for two vilified demons — Mayor Tom Menino and labor unions. Question after question asked how will you fix these evisl.

Unions often have systemic problems that will require overhauls to fix. They would have to stop excluding black and other minority laborers and managers. They would have to adhere to government mandates for local residents, minorities and women on jobs. Those are long-standing, very real issues and neighborhood resentment is quite understandable.

For Menino though, the strong statements of criticism were a bit of a surprise to some and might be to him as well. The very popular, longest-serving mayor certainly says he represents all Bostonians. That perception may alter dramatically as you get farther away from City Hall.

Numerous questions had the introduction in powerful terms that the mayor runs the city absolutely. The Council has no power. Assuming those, the audience asked the candidates:
  • Will you stand up, publicly, to Menino and call him when we aren't getting fair consideration and treatment?
  • What would you do when the proposed budget shortchanges Roxbury and Dorchester?
In aggregate, Menino owns the residents of Boston. He may not own the hearts of all those in District 7. He and his campaign crew can decide whether he'll work on that perception. In a very real sense, he doesn't have to, even if he thinks about re-election. Yet, he does pride himself in being a people's mayor, of all our people. I'd bet he'd want to do what's right and necessary here.

Part two is quotes and claims and drama from the forum.
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Latest Whining by Anti-SSM Forces

Those who truly hate representative democracy have a tough time nowadays. Consider the sputtering and calls for their own political resurrection this week. The cause? The SCOTUS refused to overrule the D.C. Council on same-sex marriage.

The high court ruled these are local issues, making it all sound like states rights to govern where the feds have not reserved powers. The justices didn't even discuss the gay marriage thing underlying it.

An excellent background piece in Bay Windows traces the limited self-governance for the District. Key factors include that even though Congress has jurisdiction over D.C., the District has had some powers since enabling legislation dating to its 1973 charter. It can make its own local laws and regulations, as it did with its Human Rights Act. It can decide as states can which of its citizens can legally marry, as it did in 2009. It can deny a ballot initiative that would legalize discrimination forbidden in its rights act, as it did when a group of fundy ministers tried to overturn SSM. The latter position got the support of the District's high court, which is how its appeal slithered into the SCOTUS.

Not surprisingly, the supporters of this attempt are the two usual suspects, the Alliance Defense Fund and the National Organization for Marriage. The former did the legal work pro bono, as it does with virtually any such anti-gay/anti-SSM effort.

Also as usual, this pair failed in the legislature and failed in the courts. In the end, the pull out the old let-the-people-vote weapon. Unfortunately for this pair, they doubled up in D.C., simultaneously knocking themselves out in both court and a shot at a plebiscite.

Public votes on fundamental policy have their places. At their worst is mob rule, impassioned and often reckless. As bad is the California flavor of ballot initiative, the nation's worst among the half the states that have some form of this; out there, unfunded mandates, unsound laws, and overt discrimination can all get before voters and on the books far too easily. The sleepier version is still common in New England town meeting, which works in small municipalities.

In the larger and I would say more real world, representative democracy is how we advance and maintain our government and civilization. Minimizing emotion and deceit and maximizing knowledge and reasoned debate generally serve us well. Various levels of city, state and national government still make mistakes, but the current hyperbole from the let-the-people-vote types aside, elected officials accountable for what they do have proven superior to forms of mob rule from the beginning of this country.

You needn't wonder how NOM and ADF took this week's ruling. Read all about it here and here.

The pair of joint statements had their best summary with "We are by no means done pressing this issue," from NOM President Brian Brown. The heading of the statement portrayed the District's SSM vote not as expanding civil rights but as destroying marriage, as in NOM "PLEDGES CONTINUED PUSH TO RESTORE MARRIAGE IN DC." Likewise, the ADF has its own (disenfranchised voters) spin and its Senior Legal Counsel Austin R. Nimocks sounds the vague, "We will remain diligent in looking for other legal opportunities to protect and defend the right of all D.C. residents to have their voices heard as the D.C. Charter clearly intended."

While having lost the effort to force a plebiscite all the way to the SCOTUS, it's unclear what they might do in poor little D.C. Yet, it appears that no SSM or similar marriage equality victory is truly permanent. The plug nasties are still grumbling about yet another go at a ballot initiative in MA. Up a state in NH, they are making repeal noises in the legislature. I predict that when Rhode Island finally passes SSM, which it may well this year, the anti-marriage equality jackals will descend there as well.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Let's Assume, Loughner Edition

I have no doubt that cops, prosecutors, judges and juries alike tend to identify with and cut slack to drivers who kill. Depending on your level of religiosity, you might view that as the there but for the grace of God or there but for luck go I.

All too often it is the police report that reads "unfortunate but unavoidable accident." For the family of the corpse, it's no accident running someone down or smashing your vehicle into theirs. From the forgiving nature of driving laws to juries giving an empathetic pass to a slayer, far too often what would be second degree murder with any other weapon brings light or no punishment with a 3000 pound SUV.

The number of Americans who murder or maim by vehicle has been steadily going down since a high in 1979. Much of that seems due primarily to driving more slowly and mostly to better engineered vehicle safety systems.

The latest annual rate, from 2009, is still an astonishing 33,808 Americans dead from motor vehicles. This is over twice the rate of intentional violent murders by other means — 15,241 for 2009.

In that context, Jared Loughner's murder of six people and attempted murder of another 14 he shot may seem like more Americans doing what American's do.

Americans you may ask incredulously? Yes, we in the United States are far highest among our peer group of industrialized Western nations. Per capita, we sit in the middle of all nations, but those with higher rates are in poor, crime ridden, Third World countries. Our European and Canadian counterparts are far, far below us. Down there, even our similar sized Australia with its own history of a wild west background has less than one-fourth the per capita murder rate.

Yet, we as a nation, as our mass media, as our social networks, as our politicians, look at Loughner's blood and guts and brains rampage to wonder how this might happen. Surprisingly, we feign that murders, particularly with guns are rare here.

Disgustingly, far too many of us then switched on the defenses. It wasn't my side or anything my folk said or did. It wasn't the easily availability of guns, high-capacity bullet clips, and ammunition. Out of all that comes one of two conclusions, either it was the other side politically who tipped this guy over, or he was simply crazy and there is nothing that could have been done to prevent it.

Oddly and given the opportunity after the murders, left-leaning pols and pundits did little blaming of the right. Even when some did ask what effect years of objectifying slander and calls for armed insurrection might have had on Loughner and others, the reaction from the most strident of the right wingers was fierce. The Limbaugh/Palin/Malkin sorts were quick to find little toothpicks of evidence of harsh leftist dialog to claim absurdly that one side has been as bad as another.

Mirabile dicu! A reassuring number of pols and media types alike seem willing to consider that tough talk may be harmful. Even as they defensively disavow any possible link to action by murderous anti-abortionist or Loughner types, they seem to have gotten that they could be linked to such lingo when there are attacks and deaths.

The gustiest of the right-wing blowhards are not likely to join in by being aware of what they might incite. They appear to have too much invested in dehumanizing those who disagree with them and in using inflammatory lies to get audience and advertising.

Yet even in that pathetic and risible Palin appearance on Hannity, she paid lip service to civility. That much had sunk in, even if she proceeded to lie and blame per usual. If polls numbers for the likes of her and audience share for the Fox folk and their ilk dip enough, they might even pull in a few talons.

Consider for a moment, what if it turns out that Loughner is just a mental and emotional jumble with no way to understand why he shot so many? Then consider, what if his prosecution uncovers documents and oral testimony from him and others that make a convincing causal relationship to right-wing talk and his actions?

Certainly the script that the extreme wingers and many more moderate righties have followed tightly is the former. Loughner was a crazed loner who acted out dictates of his inner demons and his impulses. That's sweet and neat for them, letting them say anyone who even hints there might be a link between calls for revolution and targeting lefties are irrational bigots.

Unfortunately for them, what the vast majorities of lefties and seemingly nearly all moderates have been asking does not start and stop with Loughner. Assuming no link from winger speech to his actions, that would clear violent calls only in his case. The larger issue of urging the public to take out, target and eliminate Democrats and the whole U.S. government remains.

If those whose words are most suspect can't deal with the idea that they may catalyze violence, the bulk of us appear ready to march on without them. That's when those extremists will find themselves talking diminishing audiences and eventually only to themselves.

In the latter case, what if Lougner left records or makes makes a confession that he was inspired by this or that winger pundit? That could have several obvious effects.

First, many of the strident right-wing talkers, media and pol alike, could call freak occurrence — oh, it was only this person Lougner listened to, or oh, it was this one crazy guy, while the rest of the country can listen to us and not flip out. Many of us on the left on the other hand, might find ourselves butting up against First Amendment rights. Six deaths and 14 maimings directly caused by hate speech, therefore...?

So far, the FBI has been pretty quiet. Experience would suggest Loughner was in fact deranged. Then again, for almost any murder, would it be fair to say such inhumane and inhuman act shows insanity?

We humans so love to have people or processes to blame when something terrible happens. We may not get that with the Loughner case. Yet even if we conclude that he was just too crazed to know why he shot all those people, a good portion of the country will be evaluating the worth and impacts of loose violent talk.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Supremes Do DC Right

Even the right-leaning Supreme Court nails some. Today, the ennead came down for civil rights and D.C. self-determination. They told a group wanting to overturn SSM there by ballot initiative to go away.

Tip of the Toupee: To John Hosty-Grinnell, who tweeted this.

The G.I. Joe action figure looking minister of a Beltsville, MD, church had a mind to take away the SSM rights of D.C. homosexual couples. The D.C. Council voted to legalize SSM there in 2009, consistent with the District's Human Rights Act.

That didn't suit Hope Christian Church's Senior Pastor, Bishop Harry Jackson. He led the repeated drive, turned down in the D.C. Court of Appeals and onto the Supreme Court. He held the paternalistic view that Congress, not the District should decide what D.C. laws could face a ballot initiative to overturn them. He sued the D.C. Board of Election and Ethics, demanding a plebiscite.

The District legal position was that this was a local issue. Moreover, "(t)here is no national analogue to pertinent provisions of District law, and indeed no federal right of initiative at all," reads the city's brief. The decision of the District court is here.

The Supreme Court did not agree with Jackson. They declined to let the suit continue.

As an amusing little side note, the D.C. appeals decision also points out that Jackson was not only asking for discrimination, he was late. While Congress has authority over the District, any laws the District enacts take effect fully if Congress does not overrule them or object within 30 days. The decision denying everything Jackson sought adds (pp. 13-14), "... Petitioners ask this Court to interfere with the Congressionally mandated legislative framework here."

Game over.

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Gilding the Skunk

Now, there's a tortured metaphor — gilding the skunk, but stick with it a bit. Last evening's WOW, POW, EXCLUSIVE Sean Hannity/Sarah Palin victim fest fooled only themselves and the already deluded.

Just when it might be safe to deal in ideas instead of brushing off self-promoters, Sarah Palin screams out her melodrama yet again. It may be unfair to true conservatives and brighter right-wingers, but it is great that she so highlights the extremes and, well, plain Palin stupidity.

The pair's blathering is significant only as evidence of the vast difference between self-identified political sorts. As noted many times here and at Harrumph!, left and right wingers do often bifurcate. Most liberal/progressive sorts typically wring their hands questioning, questioning. Do what they say and do negatively affect the larger world?

Stereotypical right-wing pols and talk-show sorts don't bother. Instead, the Palin and Hannity types assume their own virtue and correctness. They try to build themselves by knocking others down — reason and evidence be damned!

The not-all-that-complex set of issues following the Tucson shootings clarifies the positions. With efforts that might have been applied to something constructive, this group has instead:
  • Sought to turn attention to themselves and away from those shot and even President Obama's memorial service eulogy
  • Repeatedly and with great strain claimed victimhood for themselves
  • Avoided any analysis of or responsibility for years of incendiary speech and writing
  • Feigned that calling for violence even metaphorically is not only their Constitutional right but their patriotic duty
In a milquetoast counterpoint, numerous lefties, like commentator Keith Olbermann combined his analysis. He called out righties who have long used gun, death and other threatening lingo, and simultaneously noted some of his own loose talk. He apologized for his.

We'll be waiting a long, long time for right wingers to hold themselves accountable. Instead what we have heard is another fictional meme. The loudest of them sifted and filtered the many thousands of comments about the Tucson events to present a charade. As they would have it, every lefty from Obama to media commentators to bloggers to Democratic pols has falsely accused their righty counterparts with causing Jared Loughner to shoot 20 people. Hence, the Palins and Limbaughs would have it, they are the true victims of the dreadful occurrences.

Palin's trio of clips is worth a click. Actually, as usual, she only has a couple of ideas and is so repetitive that you can choose any one and get her whole rap — lamestream media, First Amendment, patriotic duty and such.

The reality of the post-Tucson blather is that the left wing types asked the questions about whether years of superheated hyperbole, exaggerations and outright lies might inspire violence. Instead, the shtick is that if lefties can even ask those questions, they as a group are guilty of accusing the righties of being accessories to the Tucson and other murders. In fact, Palin said that the lefties had accused the entire state of Arizona as well as just her class of blowhards.

The closest we actually come to that is the scary, well documented descriptions of dozens of combo First/Second Amendment destruction, assaults, murders and more in the name of insurrection compiled by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. It is a serious caution to anyone who buys that other current winger meme, that the left wing is just as bad as the worst of the right one. T'aint so.

We should though parse Palin more than she normally deserves. She has coalesced the current positions of her phalanx. Her clips are a clear warning of the slogans and postures we are apt to hear for the next several months.

In case you don't have the stomach for all her clips, be aware that she goes beyond the predictable bizarre defensiveness into commentary on Obama's eulogy. She damned the brilliant healing speech that even Congressional Republicans respect with the faint praise that there were a few good things in it. Instead, she flat out said it sounded like a campaign speech. It's hard to tell where inattentive stupidity ends with that remark and where pure jealousy overtakes it.

Instead of dealing with the bigger issues and the widespread call for more civil dialog:
  • Palin claimed that the left as a whole was after her "to destroy the message and the messenger."
  • She dared to invoke Martin Luther King Jr. quoting his that a lie can't live to support her allegation that any link from hot talk to hot lead is that now infamous blood libel she claim on herself.
  • She depicts her repeated calls to violence and insurrection as both respectful and patriotic in petitioning the government for change.
  • Palin takes her bluster and threats as more than her right — "They can't make us sit down and shut up. And if they ever were to succeed in doing that, then our republic will be destroyed"
Her incredible positions are plain enough and worthy of remark only as new archetypes. They are the messages that will repeat many times soon.

Advance Despite Her

She has no more shame than her other TV talking heads and winger bloggers. They eagerly would eclipse the honor and innocence of those shot in Tucson and those who responded to them. Fortunately the President's remarks and those of others at the memorial service focused on the victims and heroes, the real ones.

Also fortunately, even many in Congress are savvier, more civilized and more compassionate than the basest of the right wing. We shall see soon as the House's health-reform repeal debate attempts to gain re-election votes in this quixotic effort. It appears as though those who continue to scream and call for revolution following the national discourse on violent speech are at last temporarily marginalized.

As we all (except for the rightest of the right) saw in the last Presidential election, Palin can ride the waves of national discontent, but on matters fundamental, she has no sense how out of touch with real people she is. The nation will have to advance without and despite her and the Limbaugh types.

We can be sure in later years that the bitterness, lies and overthrow-America talk will pale to invisibility, likely along with our economic troubles. We can be as sure that those who currently steal the honor due the real heroes and victims will find ways to claim they were with the program of building and healing all along.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Wolf Who Cried, "Specify!"

Even if he'll already be sentenced to federal prison time, Chuck Turner will fight away, at least in state court. U.S. First Circuit Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf is figuring out whether to send the fairly trivial legal issue of whether the Boston City Council had specific enough authority to expel him following his conviction on four federal felonies.

Impugning motives here is easy enough. Turner and his pro-bono attorney Chester Darling are big honking egos floating all around. With a certainty that his sentence of prison time in nine days will trigger the MA law removing him from office, Turner doesn't care. In particular, he's been willing to push out the special election for his replacement, robbing his constituents of full representation while he plays at dotting every i.

Likewise, octogenarian Darling unretired to get a final bath of limelight. He is famous/infamous for winning the U.S. Supreme Court case letting the Southie veterans exclude homosexuals from marching in the St. Patrick's day parade. On the face of it, he and Turner differ markedly in politics, but their egos are comparable.

If this case gets tossed to state court for clarity, that could have a good or very good result. Obviously, it could clarify for municipalities whether they can build on their charters or must continue to crawl to the General Court for each minor procedure tweak. Beyond that, it would be great if a state court, or even the Supreme Judicial Court, told the GC to get its home-rule act together and to stop playing feudal lord. Ideally, a few lawmakers would take this opportunity to make more reasonable home-rule processes, so they could do their real jobs.

It is unreasonable to hope for a larger resolution of the underlying home-rule issues here. Massachusetts has an anachronistic, paternalistic system whereby the legislature treats municipalities like serfs. Each city and town must beseech the General Court for even minor changes in governing themselves.

Anywhere that their previously legislatively approved charters do not specify in simple-minded detail any possible variance is trouble. It's back to the legislature and if there needs to be even the slightest tweak, it's a lengthy and tedious charter revision. That, of course, requires approval of the General Court.

Soviet Style

In theory, this process keeps mayors, city councils and their equivalents from grabbing commonwealth powers, making conflicting regulations, or committing moneys the GC hasn't allocated or approved. Let's get real about it though. This is just about power. Lawmakers enjoy making cities and towns grovel.

We'd suppose the senators and reps would have more pressing legislative concerns. We'd suppose that they might create guidelines for municipalities and then just deal with problems when there is a conflict. We'd suppose wrong.

The Darling Turner (good name for a child movie star) suit is only the latest expression of the silliness here. A good outcome would be if the state clarified whether the Boston City Council's careful groundwork in preparing for just this problem was valid, like they were adults instead of kindergarteners.

We heard the current version of the role of home rule during the special meeting of the Boston Council considering Turner's status. There his friend and sole supporter, Councilor Charles Yancey, invoked the home-rule specter repeatedly. He held for Turner that unless the city charter explicitly reads the Council can expel a member, it can't, regardless of its authority to determine its membership.

That is what we learned in civics classes differentiated the old Soviet regime from ours. In the USSR, everything not specifically permitted is forbidden. Allegedly in America, everything not forbidden is permitted. It looks like we remain on the wrong side.

An even better result of this suit would be if a few lawmakers were sick and a little ashamed of treating mayors, councils and the like as though they were incompetent, ignorant little kids. A bill to turn home rule into guidelines would be one such evidence of wisdom and maturity by the GC.