Sunday, May 29, 2011

It's Time to Make the Marriage

In one week, I'll have a married son. Coincidentally, I'll perform the marriage.

Many have told me and I can believe that it's different for a dad when his daughter marries. There's that long-established jealousy/protectiveness mode kicking in for most fathers. Here, my wife is sort of a surrogate for the bride's mom in Albuquerque, who has been here to cook for the reception and is about to arrive for the final wedding preparations.

I, on the other hand, have cowardly hidden from most of the tasks. In keeping with my blogger name, massmarrier, I have fully played the role of solemnizer. That is, I got the magical certificate of one-day solemnization through the governor and secretary of state, and in this case, created the ceremony and vows. Unlike the previous two weddings I conducted, this was from scratch, both more challenging and more satisfying.

Vows note: Anyone wanting or needing a non-sappy secular ceremony should leave a comment with a request.

I just went through a photo box, hoping to find an image from his alleged first marriage, but failed. At maybe five, he and a classmate from Beacon Hill nursery school decided at a party at our place that they were ready. They called the four parents in and stood there holding a sheet above them announcing they had just married. I recently saw that she did it for real and now it's his turn.

We have three sons (queue the theme) and number one will marry first. Of course, as a parent, I see him in a continuity, not just as his adult self. I include a few of his younger self images here.

When I started this solemnization thing seven years ago, I did one a year. I kind of expected to keep the pattern going. Yet, this will be my third and not eighth. The first two were long-term friends and powerfully meaningful. This trumps those.

California recently copied our designated-solemnizer law. They outdid us in an important way. Massachusetts limits its ordinary citizens to performing one marriage a year. Not so on that other coast.

So in one week, I'll be a triple solemnizer. One could do worse.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Boston At-Large Racers Speak Up

Lower urgency brings its own danger. In the case of at-large Boston City Council race, we'll see who runs the smartest campaign...without a September preliminary election.

A tip of the toupee to the Globe's Andrew Ryan for a detailed recap of situation and players. The lead and one punchline is that half of those who pulled nomination papers seem to have gotten the 1,500 valid sigs to get on the ballot (we'll know for sure in a couple of days after certification) and that nine instead of the seven would have triggered a preliminary to winnow the field to eight. The final will result in the top four winning.

The consensus big players all qualified and remain:
The other two challengers so far seem to be:
  • Sean Ryan, who has run before
  • Will Dorcena, short-term known best as brother of MA Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry
Getting on ballot immediately speaks well of their organizational skills. A preliminary would have been a plus to the lesser known candidates, as well as the fine-tuning possibilities listed in the Globe piece (the other punchline).

Amusingly for me, Sean Ryan is ubiquitous, as he has been before this race. He attends public meetings, hearings, political announcements and more. He makes himself well known and is always eager to discuss his positions or yours. For some background, see the post on him when he ran for Council two years ago.

I'll have to get to know Dorcena. At LA, we had discounted lining up 14 candidates. I think grabbing two more is reasonable.

For the five horsemen of the great choosing, we're getting an early start at Left Ahead.

Flaherty5/17 -
Connolly5/24 -
Arroyo6/7 at 2:30
Murphy6/9 at 2:30
Pressley6/14 at

For those who have spoken with us, a post on the podcast and the show in a player for download is at that URL at Left Ahead. These are also available at our BlogTalkRadio site or on iTunes.

The links for the upcoming shows are to the live stream URLs. If you can't catch those shows at those times, you can use that URL, Left Ahead or iTunes afterward for an on-demand play or download.

Clearly I am excited by the at-large race. With no national, statewide or mayoral contests on the ballot in Boston, this is our political highlight this season. I'll be hitting every debate or forum I can. With only seven in the race, these shouldn't be beauty pageants nor quip skirmishes. Issues big and small should be in the air.

It will be a feast for gourmets and gourmands of democracy and rhetoric. Partake.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dwindling Espousals Down South

The nuclear family seems to be vaporizing in South Carolina. At least fairly recent ideal of man and woman marrying, then having kids they raise together. In The State, a piece on 2010 Census data puts what wingers like to call traditional families at 47.2% there, down from 51.1% a decade ago.

Now, let us pause to reflect on Harold Camping and Lenny Bruce. The former blew it again with rapture/doomsday prophesies and the latter was the least well received prophet — too often damned right.

Surprising to many but well documented through many failures of apocalyptic predictions, believers and the cranks who lead them soldier on. As in just one of many pieces on Camping's 5/21 non-disaster, one in Slate notes the excuses of the prophets and the illogical resilience of their followers. Observable reality need not interfere with personal constructs.

On the other hand, comedian, author and junkie Bruce was cold about self-delusion. As he wrote in How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, "There is only what is." He called what should be "a dirty lie."

That does not provide the now-clichéd inspiration of the Bobby Kennedy paraphrase of a line from a Shaw play. The Kennedy version came out, "There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?" Isn't that nicer, neater and useful as a call to action?

That is not totally incompatible with Bruce's candor. They both started with what truly is, not a dishonest spin.

More of a Menu

Back to South Carolina, analysis came from a local U. of S.C. sociologist, Lala Carr Steelman, who is a co-author of Counted Out: Same Sex Relations and Americans' Definition of Family. To her, "There's more of a menu to choose from."

From several large studies she and her chums conducted, they found, "(P)eople are growing increasingly more flexible in how they define what a family is. The main thing is alternative family forms are expanding at a very high rate and acceptance of them is expanding."

I'm mildly stunned in two ways. As background, I went to college and worked newspapers there a long time ago. I also followed the overwhelming vote to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, civil unions and recognition of legal out-of-state versions.

So now the stats seem to show that even reactionary and anti-gay areas passively accept the likes of gay couples, shacked up straights with or without kids, and amalgamated variations. There is a disconnect between restrictive laws and acceptance of reality.

There doesn't seem to be the insane squealing about SSM having caused anything. After all, there can be no legally married homosexual couples as far as the palmetto state is concerned. The NOM sorts and their loony ilk would have it that there mere existence of legal SSM in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere somehow debases and discourages straights from marrying. They have never finessed the issue of how this could happen in retrospect, affecting the decline in marriage rates that has happened steadily for decades. They don't want to touch the low divorce rates in SSM states, often saying disingenuously, "The worst will happen...eventually."

As we learned in places like Maine, knowing out gay men and lesbians, singly, couples, as parents, makes a huge difference in acceptance. In Maine's case, it also resulted in the defeat of efforts to overturn gay-rights protections. They're working on SSM still and again.

There may be too many leaks in this, if you pardon, dike to plug for the haters. Truth be told, à la Lenny Bruce, adultery, fornication, bigamy, illegitimate kids and such have a longer tradition than straight marriage. Even in the South Carolina and Texas areas, the nuclear family has long been an option, not the mandate.

Now the homosexual couples, with or without kids, are more obvious. This falls into what the I Ching refers to as the preponderance of the small. There's one gay couple, mixed on the street with the two unmarried parent families with the straight ones. Then there are more of this and that.

What's a bigot to do? How many fingers can these metaphoric Dutch boys have?

The answer must be not enough. Not enough to fulfill their fantasy that Americans to a one will live out the never-was world of straight marriage with kids. Not enough to make the majority around them stop that living together unmarried, stop that homosexual love, stop having, adopting and raising kids in very traditional but previously hidden or ignored ways.

Time and culture march on, carrying us like a mighty river.

Tags: , , , , ,

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mike at Mickey's

I like Mike. I liked U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano before this morning's appearance at Mickey D's in Hyde Park and like him even more afterward.

He answered — plainly — questions from 40 or 50 of us at the HP Main Streets monthly networking meeting. I am still astonished when I hear some object to his candor and some who say he is too abrasive. Perhaps because I grew up in a relentlessly honest and plainspoken family, I think he's spot on.
Background: I've been a fan for a long time and wish he were my Congressman. Even after moving from JP to HP, I still lose out; he has part of the neighborhood, but not Fairmount Hill. He has come on the Left Ahead podcast. I live blogged his Park Plaza rally for his U.S. Senate run. I endorsed him in that race.
Nearly everyone else at McDonald's seemed to like him as well. I only heard one claiming neutrality. The sensei of the local karate school, Tony Hanley, said he was there to find out what Capuano was about. More typical was my MA Rep. Angelo Scaccia (pic left), who gave a rousing introduction. He included, "He's been in the pit. He works for us." He added that "When he ran for U.S. Senate, he told it the way it was."

And today under the golden arches on HP Avenue, Capuano did not pander to the voters, did not tell them what they might want to hear. Instead he took their questions and gave true progressive answers.

Fast forward to the end of his hour-plus Q&A, I asked about his plans. First, my comment that had he won the Democratic primary for the Senate race he would have skunked Scott Brown got applause and cheers. Then, would he run for Senate next year and if not, would redistricting give him more of Boston, including all of HP?

He said he was still deciding whether to run for U.S. Senate. He said he learned that the race is all consuming as well as taking millions of dollars. Referring to his blue-collar and middle-class background and history, he added, "I don't know lots of people who can write me $35,000 checks." He said he'd announce his decision this summer.

He added that he won't enter the race unless he's sure he'd have a solid chance to win, that this has been part of political philosophy. Moreover, he said another part was that if he can't go into office and achieve 100% of what he wants to do, "you still need to get elected to do 70%." He said he's learned to work with other legislators to do that.

He also noted that Democrats here have solid majorities, but a poor record in unseating any statewide elected GOP politician. That really hasn't happened since 1978, when Sen. Edward Brooke lost to Paul Tsongas.

As for his current seat, he favored keeping it a minority-majority seat as it is, at just over 53% non-white. He noted that the district has to add 67,100 voters in the redistricting, which is happening now. He said that this could be accomplished very easily by adding more of Hyde Park and similar redrawing.

After the formal meeting, he told me that if no Congressman retires and someone has to lose a seat, it won't be he who does.

Most of the questions were about what's happening with health care, Medicare, Social Security and tax legislation. He answered specific questions as a legislator, husband of a CPA and former tax lawyer, but the recurrent theme was the obligations of Congress and each other to the American public.

He started by stating, "The country is more divided than ever." He cited the Vietnam era of his youth and the earlier period of Interstate Highway construction in contrast. While there were strong disagreements then, there were no questions about doing the necessary to ensure the commonweal.

No one questioned whether to build Interstates. Had that been up for discussion and they were not constructed, we would be a third-world country, he said.

Hard Right Turn

Likewise today, he is appalled to hear self-identified conservatives (both parties) discussing whether we should drastically reduce or eliminate programs for seniors, youth and others. In those previous times, he said, there wasn't a question about taking care of the elderly or seeing that children through college students had the chance for a good education. Congress and the public may dicker over how much we could spend how quickly, but the "bedrock issues" were never in doubt.

Now he says, many in Congress, particularly the GOP-majority House, are in effect saying what they and their parents got from the government is fine, but not for the future. On education, housing, health care, Social Security and more he iterated, "Good for me but not for you!"

Specifically on Medicare, he added, "I cannot believe this country would consider getting out of it. Does this country want to do this to the next generation of seniors?" He acknowledged that some voters also lean this way. "It's OK for you to say, 'I want to be in a country where we're all on our own.' I happen not to believe that."

To Capuano, it is appalling that the GOP house absolutely refuses to get us out of hyper-expensive wars ("Not one penny" of which is paid — all borrowed and debt). They refuse even to discuss taxes or eliminating tax breaks for rich individuals and companies or raising any taxes.

He said these nasty trends are not settled yet. "Last year we took a hard right turn. I don't know what we're going to get out of it. I know what's been proposed, but I don't like it." So far, the Senate won't pass the harshest measures the House has, but again, this is in play.

"If you want to balance the budget, we all have to kick in a little more," he said. This may be when I like him the best — when he tells people distasteful truths and explains why he thinks this way. Here he wants such fundamental solutions as:
  • Taxing corporations who hold excessive tax reserves, as incentive for investment "to get more money moving through the economy."
  • Raising gas taxes, using the money to create jobs.
  • Make meaningful cuts in defense and other currently untouchable budget areas. "You can't just pretend you can tighten your belt" with cuts to social programs.
For his part, Capuano said he was going to plug away on the things he knows and thinks are right, getting as much support as he can in Congress to achieve those. He mused, "I wish I were the emperor and if the job opens up, I'll run for it. Absent that, I'll work with others in Congress."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Flaherty Switches Council Mix to High

Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night.
—Bette Davis as Margo in All About Eve

The once and would-be Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty revivified the napping at-large contest with his entry. After yesterday's conversation with him on Left Ahead, I'm expecting quite a mix up in the next seven months.

For us interested observers, it's Hub political theater old style. For the voters, it should be a great chance to have their say and influence the direction of the four at-large November winners. For the four incumbents, it means focusing and clarifying positions nonstop.

Click on the player below for the half hour with Flaherty. We're lining up several more at-large folk, with incumbents John Connolly 5/24 at 11:30 AM and Steve Murphy 5/31 at 2:30 PM scheduled. Of course, there'll be lots more chances, a forum hither and yon, plus interviews and debates on MSM. Personally, I can't wait.

While nine other potential candidates, not including Flaherty, pulled nomination papers along with the four incumbents, the consensus was that those in office would have no problem staying there. Now there's real tension, as a catalyst is in the political solution.

In case you're not from here, be aware that Flaherty has depth and breadth on Council. His father (the Sr. of the same name) was a state rep for over three decades, a South Boston institution in his own. This Michael was on Council from 2000 through 2009, President for two years, and holder of the widest victory margin (2005) since the body went from all at-large to 9 of 13 as district Councilors 28 years ago. When he stepped back in 2009 to challenge for the mayoralty, he raised over $600,000 for the race, nearly all of it local, but lost solidly to longest-serving Mayor Thomas Menino.

Now, Menino is the candidate who is not running. His Council days are past and he's not up for reelection for a couple more years, but he colors this race. The powerful tension between Flaherty and Menino is undeniable. Moreover, it's a rare Councilor who does not carp about the Mayor having too much power and their gang of 13 too little.

In yesterday's show, Flaherty was refreshingly candid about Menino's role and attitude. For two, he did not hesitate to say the Mayor was often petty and juvenile. He cited such causes as if a Council says or does something that annoys Menino, he or she gets on the naughty list and may not be able to service constituents because department heads and other city employees won't even return phone calls.

It is an understatement to say that the Mayor won't be lending any help to Flaherty's effort to rejoin Council.

The dynamic tension here though is not the well-known, long-term animus between the two popular politicians. Instead, it's will Flaherty pull a seat from one of the incumbents. They are:
The moment Flaherty announced, pundits pontificated and pondered which of the four was most vulnerable. Assuming he has not lost his fund-raising magic and is willing to resole shoes as needed to spread his charm around, he has a solid shot.

Murphy (disclaimer, a neighbor) has been popular for a long time and winning with increasing totals. He's the acknowledged financial guy on Council, which may not be that well known to voters, but well respected in the body. Cultural factors may come into play here and there is a question about whether voters see competent Irish-American men as interchangeable. Murphy has run for statewide office a few times (Secretary and Treasurer) while a Councilor. Yet I don't hear voters say he wasn't doing his job while lusting after and campaigning for higher office.

Connolly is one of the Young Turks and recently achieved a very high profile. On the wonky end, he wants to reform the tortuous and hated school-assignment process. More viscerally, he discovered and investigated expired and past-sale-date food served en masse to BPS students. The publicity on the latter angered the Mayor and several people have told me that Menino considered this a profound embarrassment. Connolly is charming as well as a dedicate advocate for school students and parents.

Arroyo, despite his youth, has a history of public advocacy and even campaigning, as he worked with his Councilor father. He has a natural affinity constituency as the body's sole Latino. It doesn't hurt that he's good looking and personable. He works on housing, youth and labor issues. He is a complete package as youth sports coach, and has a wife and siblings who are BPS products as well a school-teacher mom.

Pressley stands out obviously in several ways. She's one of three African-American Councilors, the first ever black woman in the body, and as District 3's Maureen Feeney is retiring, may soon be the only woman Councilor. She is very bright, compassionate and driven, and as with Arroyo, it doesn't hurt that she's attractive. She too has made quite a splash recently, largely with her personal story and mostly with efforts to combat sexual violence.
Disclaimer: I was bit player in a February WBUR Pressley profile by Bianca Vasquez Toness. The reporter approached me and used a clip to illustrate the criticisms that Pressley may concentrate too much on big issues, putting herself at risk from constituents who like more, smaller accomplishments.
With just the five for our seats, it'll be tough enough. An additional key question is whether there will be a single November 8th final or a preliminary winnowing on September 27th. If nine or more candidates get the required 1,500 valid voter signatures certified by June 28th, a preliminary election will reduce the at-large candidates to eight. The final will determine the top four finishers.

Regardless of that, these five are all solid and will appear on the November ballot. Among others who may get through are Kevin McCrea (ran for Mayor last time), Sean Ryan (known for previous Council run), and Will Dorcena (brother of MA Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry). I wouldn't put money on any of the others to make November's list.

In his many appearances since announcing, Flaherty has said repeatedly that he isn't targeting any or all of the incumbents. I don't know if the may-the-best-candidates-win bonhomie will be the response from the four. Particularly Arroyo and Pressley are pretty new to this stage. They're just getting going on their agenda. They have to see him as a threat...hence the dramatic tension.

By the bye, I discount the ranting of the Chuck Turner supporters who shouted that Arroyo and Pressley would be in trouble for voting with the 11-1 Council to oust him in December. His anointed replacement, Tito Jackson, won and has been doing just fine. Plus, both Councilors showed serious integrity in their floor speeches that day.

Flaherty told us yesterday that he is the visionary, big-picture guy the Council lacks and needs. You can listen in below to hear what he'd concentrate on and how he differentiates himself from the existing Councilors. He also raised his feelings and thought about the Mayor several times in this context, saying the Council had to act like a check and balance and not like cheerleaders.

I'm seeing (and looking forward to) skirmishes right into November 8th. Flaherty's candidacy broadens the debate to include the roles of the Mayor and Council, and maybe whether it's time to overhaul the city charter. He'll have the luxury of saying what he would do if he got a desk in the Iannella Chamber on the fifth floor, almost within spitting distance of Menino's offices. The incumbents will also be pitching what they've done for constituents in big and small ways. They'll have the luxury of asking Flaherty how it was that he served so long and was President when existing finance, schools and other problems festered.

I'd suggest making it to any at-large candidate forum or debate you can. It does indeed look like a bumpy (and fun) night season.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Mayor, the Munchkins, the Marigolds

I can't believe there is another mayor who loves his job as much as Boston's Tom Menino. He was on his stage, performing his script today at one of his neighborhood coffee hours.
Another Chance Note: Tomorrow, TU, 5/17, is the Roslindale version. It's at Fallon Field from 9:30 to 10:30 AM.
This was a much shorter, much grayer version of his annual July 12th block party on his Chesterfield Street. Those are on the anniversary of the day in 1993 when he stepped up from Council President to Mayor as Ray Flynn split to become U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. During his street party, the pol of pols stands all day meeting, greeting and chatting up all comers.

Under the playground's open shelter this morning, he played that role again. This time, he handed out pots of flowers with has snappy patter. He greeted most of his neighbors by name and caught up on familial details for them and answered questions about his wife, his health and more.

He loves this stuff. The national media may focus on his malapropisms, but Bostonians to a one seem to find him charming.

I learned:
  • About his pending return to bicycling, and his comments about Council President Steve Murphy's cycling, which I'll pass along as a challenge.
  • That he has in the past been a gardener, and that his division was the same as ours here, with his wife doing the flowers and the men doing the veggies.
  • That he refers to my neighbor (BPD Superintendent in Chief) Daniel Linskey, who used to be his driver, as a good kid. When I mentioned the coyotes on our side of HP, Da Mare noted that if they become dangerous, they can be taken out, and that Linsky has lots of guns.
During our chats, I kept with the spirit of the day. I did not try to force conversations about the pending City Council races. Moreover, as maybe 90 or 100 neighbors arrived in the cold, windy drizzle, the only candidate I saw was the ubiquitous, often-running Sean Ryan. He's out for at-large Councilor this time.

He's confident he can get the 1,500 valid voter signatures to get on the ballot. He thinks many of the 13 who pulled papers won't. He figures it might even be under nine, which would mean no September preliminary, only a November final, for the four at-large seats. That would certainly change strategies.
Podcast Plug: By the bye, over at Left Ahead, we'll be speaking with the at-large incumbents and a few of the hopefuls. The first will be Michael Flaherty, former at-large member and Council President as well as contender against Menino a year and a half ago. That will be Tuesday 5/17 at 2:30 PM Eastern. Then the next week 5/24 at 11:30 AM, we'll have popular incumbent John Connolly. Check Left Ahead for future guests in the series.
Back to the playground shelter. The Mayor had a grand time. While chatting us up, he got around to handing out dozens of pots of marigolds or salvia. He was a lot bigger draw than the freebies — Dunkin' doughnuts and coffee.

He also drew the raffle ticket for a big basket of Dunkin' coffee and related goodies. Of course, it ended up going to one of his friends. Yet, the odds favored that. Nearly everyone except a few kids who showed up with their parents were friends on a first-name basis, rather their given names and Your Honor.

In another aside, the other Plexiglas® box on the table next to the raffle one was for comments and suggestions. I asked a Parks & Recreation employee if they'd ever start up the Tour de Graves bicycle rides again. She lit up and said that had recently been discussed in staff.

I put a form in saying how much fun they had been, that I still had a half dozen or so skeleton-on-cycle shirts and what a good way to raise money for burying ground maintenance while teaching about iconography and history. If you can't make it to tomorrow's coffee to do the same, you can do the equivalent online at the P&R contact page.

Tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Once and Future Kinglet?

I guess I just can't keep from speculating. The Boston City Council at-large seats are up for preliminary in late September, candidates still have time to announce, and we don't know how many will get the 1,500 confirmed registered voters to qualify. Yet...

A few ruminators have already chewed up and spit out the odds. They figure of the 13 candidates so far, of those who qualify and the eight who advance from the preliminary, the four eventual winners will come from the big five:
  • Felix Arroyo, first-term incumbent
  • Ayanna Pressley, first-term incumbent
  • Steve Murphy, Council President and big vote-getter last time
  • John Connolly, the top vote-getter
  • Mike Flaherty, former Councilor and Council President who unsuccessfully challenged Mayor Tom Menino last year
Among those elbowing to join the magic quintet, a few are intriguing. Will Dorcena, brother of state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, told the Dorchester Reporter's Gintautas Dumcius that he'll win by wearing out his shoes making himself known. A couple more increasingly familiar candidates include Kevin McCrea, self-styled gadfly, and libertarian Sean Ryan, both of who have run for city office before, respectively Mayor and Councilor.

Yet, it is Flaherty who is creating buzz in no small party by buzzing around. While the four incumbents are collecting campaign funds and speaking to supporters, he is media ubiquitous. The Globe and Herald have featured him. This week alone, his appearances included, Greater Boston with Emily Rooney and BU's NNN with Chris Lovett.

Crank up those two videos. Be amazed at the consistency and fluidity of his messaging. He hits exactly the same points with the same phrases. He is far more focused than you or I. His opponents will know precisely what he will stress before September and November.

For one unusual example, consider the bound-to-fail-in-college BPS graduates. I have not heard and remain to be convinced that non-exam-school BPS diploma holders can't cut even the first semester of college. Flaherty states that repeatedly, consistently and with great assurance.

He would be the Councilor to change that. The emphasis on early-childhood education is great, but, hey, if our kids are surrounded by great colleges, but they can't begin to get degrees from them if they can even get it, what's the point?

Neither Rooney nor Lovett had time or apparently inclination to ask him to back that up. I'm sure other candidates, particularly the chair of the Council's Education Committee, Connolly, will challenge him to prove that and other assertions.

Likewise he falls into the Councilor Catch-22. He says he'll come in as legislator and make the right things happen. Yet, he cites soaring school transportation and unionized city-employee health costs when he was Councilor and President. So is it powerful now but powerless then?

Regardless, I think it's time to have Councilor candidates on Left Ahead again. If the other guys won't ask, we shall.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Navy Leads in SSM

File the Navy's most recent action as another tough time for control freaks. They'll be fluttering their folding fans over the new training for chaplains to include same-sex marriage ceremonies, where permitted by state or district laws.

That's right. Military folk doing what military folk do — obeying orders. In this case, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs are implementing the dismantling of the former don't-ask-don't-tell ban on homosexual personnel. The marriage part is just another detail. After all, our services try to be a one-stop shop for the troops and officers.

Among the anti-LGBT folk, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin heads the retrograde charge. He got 62 other members of Congress to sign a letter to the Secretary of the Navy protesting. The gist is to forget what the Commander in Chief says or anyone in Defense. Instead, adhere to the strict letter of the moribund (my word) 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The letter includes, "While a state may legalize same-sex marriage, federal property and federal employees, like Navy chaplains, should not be used to perform marriages that are not recognized by federal law."

For the it's-only-common-sense crowd, this is a shut and keep it shut case. Any gimmick to avoid the inevitable and maintain control over the states and lives of their citizens is fair.

Of course it isn't. Moreover, the Navy covered the real objection we have heard so many times. It lets any cleric whose personal religion does not approve of SSM refuse to perform such ceremonies. Yet by the nature of the job, chaplains necessarily minister to a wide variety of personnel with the full range of religious beliefs, rites and rituals. In addition, they too are soldiers, accustomed to taking care of their troops and not playing drama queens.

Well, good on the Navy for doing the obvious and being first. It was certain to happen and one of the services had to just do it. If a marriage is legal in the state where the base is, that's part of the job.

It is also, like it and accept it or sit in a corner wailing about it, Rep. Akin, part of the culture and legal structure.

Tags: , , , , ,

Monday, May 09, 2011

Flaherty Living Large At-Large

Those of us who get aflutter at Boston politics increasingly anticipate the fall City Council races. In particular, the at-large contest will surely mean:
  • Promises loudly made
  • Innovations proclaimed
  • Accusations muttered
  • Defamations insinuated
  • Rosy pictures painted
  • Artificial distinctions asserted
  • Mayoral and Councilor records debased
  • Campaign inequities decried
  • Opponent's platforms and strategies denounced
No District race is likely to see more of each than the at-large one. At the moment, we seem to have 13 candidates who have filed for the four available seats — each Council seat taken by someone running for reelection. (Tip of the toupee to the zak for the list.)

The 9/27 preliminary should winnow that at-large field to eight for the 11/8 general, whereat the top four win. Meanwhile, there are still 15 days to file nomination papers, after which candidates must collect 1,500 certified voter signatures to get on the preliminary ballot. Normally not all those who file papers get enough petitions to advance.

So, you may ask, why does anyone can in a non-mayoral/non-Presidential election year? Ah, count the catalysts:
  • Two of the at-large Councilors, Felix Arroyo the younger and Ayanna Pressley, are newish, completing one term, so considered moderately vulnerable.
  • The other two, current President Steve Murphy and John Connolly were by far the top vote-getters in the previous election. Allegedly the latter angered Mayor Tom Menino by grandstanding about expired food fed to BPS kids, perhaps suggesting loss of his support. The former supposedly does not have a natural constituency ethnically or in specific neighborhoods beyond his own Hyde Park.
  • When federally convicted Councilor Chuck Turner had his fitness hearing before the Council, Pressley and Arroyo were in the awful spot of voting to oust their mentor. His supporters swore revenge in the election.
  • Former Councilor Michael Flaherty just announced he'd run for an at-large seat. He lost solidly to Menino in the last mayoral and has been sitting out politics until the past few days.
Mild Disclaimer: I've had several Councilors on the Left Ahead podcast and know them. Also, I live a couple of blocks from Murphy. I try to keep it clean by endorsing but not donating time or money to candidates I cover. I claim objectivity, as far as a blogger may.
So, there we have the basics, political fans. There's already lots of chatter. Stuff is up with much more to follow at Universal Hub. The Phoenix' David Bernstein has begun qualifying this and that, with quantifying sure to ensure soon. The Globe has its Flaherty v. Menino grudge match story on display. In his own logorrheaic announcement, Flaherty claims he isn't running against the Mayor, that he just needs to help the city again.

There's speculation at each of the four at-large Councilors is vulnerable. Likewise, will it be Michael who? and will money fly to the seat holders or can Flaherty convince folk to back him yet again?

All in all, tropes will be spewed, pledges will be asserted, aspersions will be cast. If the summer won't be warm enough on its own, this promises to heat up the beans.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Perpetual Pains in Power

It's right there in the Constitution — empowered here and refined here and here. The Governor's Council has long been the paper-pushing drudges who voted on judges up for appointment.

The eight elected members, who comprise the Council along with the Lieutenant Governor, originally had a huge potential role as well. If the Gov. and Lt.Gov. were "vacant, by reason of death, absence, or otherwise, then the council, or the major part of them, shall during such vacancy have full power and authority to do, and execute, all and every such acts, matters and things, as the governor or the lieutenant governor might or could, by virtue of this constitution, do or execute, if they or either of them, were personally present." That Chapter II, Section II, Article VI, was replaced with a cabinet-level, federal style succession ladder — secretary to attorney-general to treasurer and receiver-general to auditor.

Now they rule on gubernatorial appointments, criminal pardons and such. Amusingly even these fairly clerical tasks have become contentious and controversial. Three of the eight have acted out so badly that there are regular calls from government and media to do away with the Council.

Not Likely to Change

A reasoned view of the craziness appears in today's Adrian Walker column in the Globe. He figures it's a fairly lame, overly politicized group...and nothing will change. Not only would it require changing the commonwealth's constitution, it just isn't the kind of problem that gets voters or legislators hot enough long enough to fix.

I've attended enough candidate forums to know what's coming when Council folk are running for election or reelection, as they do every two years. The first and biggest job is to explain yet again what the Council is and does and why it exists at all.

There are two kinds of candidates. One and most common are those who make it clear that they think choosing judges is a big deal and who promise to make sure the governor presents the best appointees. The second would-be Council is the smart aleck, the seriously obstreperous.

We elected three of the latter class in the last go. Mary Ellen Manning is a DINO from Salem. Jennifer Caissie is a Republican from Oxford. Charles Cipollini is a serious winger from Fall River. What they share is a mantra of I AM NOT A RUBBER STAMP.

Truth be told, MA governors don't push incompetents for judgeships. There needs to be compelling reasons, much more than simple grandstanding and point making, to vote against a candidate. In the Council meetings that do consider judges, the members certainly should ask pertinent questions and clarify anything in the applicants résumés that is murky. That's not what we have been hearing from the No Trio.

Cipollini is the simplest. He is reactionary and anti-gay. He opposes same-sex marriage and doesn't care that it is settled law here. He bring us anti-LGBT and parents' rights rhetoric freely and often.

Caissie is more specific issue oriented. She worked for DAs and has been a prosecutor. She wants mandatory sentencing, particularly hard on sex offenders. She is eager to see any undocumented alien convicted of a crime deported. Also, she is very opposed to the clichéd activist judge, who she would say makes laws instead of just applying settled law.

Of the three, Manning is the publicity hound and self-anointed gadfly. A divorce lawyer, she carries her contentiousness to the Council. She hops from one media interview and talk show to another. You can get plenty of background from her by listening to her appearance last week on the Howie Carr show. (This opens an mp3 audio in your default player.)

She seems to be in the mold of Mary Connaughton, who ran for MA Treasurer last year. Both are oddly and strongly proud of being pains in the butt and have everything stop while they make their points. Connaughton remains incredibly pleased with herself for making the MA turnpike authority perform for her while she was a member. She refers with pride to a Globe article (archived for a fee or subscription) that called her the "thorniest thorn" in the side of the Governor and authority.

Amusingly from a distance and not having to attend those meetings, I note that she billed herself as people's champion in fighting for lower turnpike tolls. However, that was for her section (she's from Framingham). She was fine with higher tolls for Western MA and inside 128.

How it is that Manning calls herself a Democrat is one of those tiny wonders of MA politics. She and Cipollini love to gum up the works with highly inappropriate and irrelevant questions. For one, consider his recent attempts to score points at the hearing on SJC nominee Fernande R.V. Duffly.

He and Manning both were similarly harsh when quietly out lesbian Barbara Lenk was up for the same high court. They both attempted unsuccessfully to make big deals of a Lenk ruling on incest and of the possibility that her wife, a public defender, might have to argue or somehow be related to a case that would come before an appeals court or the SJC. Manning said Lenk's not informing all appeals judges of her spouse was "an oversight of huge proportions."

For her part, Lenk kept a wall and recused herself when their might be the appearance of conflict. She also noted that her marriage was public and known. Others commenting on the scrappy hearing said or wrote that other judges don't tell everyone in the judicial chain repeatedly about any potential conflict with their spouses until there is something meaningful to say.

Smirking Gadflies

So there we have it with this trio, as we did with Connaughton. They are irrationally proud at being in a position and of a mindset to clog up the works. Their value add seems in their brains to be more demanding in the process, a.k.a. not a rubber stamp. Most of the rest of us wonder what the matter with them is.

It may be as simple as their family cultures. From my dime-store psychology perspective, I know adults who grew up praised for answering questions at home and school the quickest. Generally those are half-assed comments, but quite a few people think if they are first, they're best. Likewise, others got their rewards when they framed things their own way, from slightly to hugely different. There, contradictory indicates insight and even wisdom, in their minds.

Back to columnist Walker though, his prediction is likely right. Plus, no one really wants to add judge, notary, and pardon's hearings to their workloads. If we had five jerks instead of three on the Council, they could well halt the appointment process or try to turn it into pure politics. Even with the Lieutenant Governor voting to break ties, if the No Trio expands to five, the works clog.

A slower Council, even one that insults nominees with dumb questions, is not terrible. At the least, it gives the more conservative voters and those who are terrified of consensus as proof of overly powerful government some sense they are represented.

I'd like to think that the Council is a lot smarter than the rest of us. As such, they would ensure that our interests are well represented. Yet, reading and hearing the comments and questions, I don't believe that. There's the peril of electing plain folk to such pivotal positions. You get some petty, politicized egotists from time to time. This is the time.

Tags: , , , , ,

Thursday, May 05, 2011

MA Auditor Cleans House

The pug is pissed. MA Auditor of 24 years — and previously boxer in three decades — Joe DeNucci is fuming, pouting and publicly calling the new Auditor "crazy."

Suzanne Bump, it turns out, has turned out 27 of his long-term employees. As reported in the Herald and in the Globe, she did exactly what she promised when she ran. She audited her own shop first and cleaned house.

She based her firings and other changes on 1) internal assessments and 2) peer review by the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers. That external review had not occurred in any of the previous 15 years; to put it bluntly, we flunked. As the summary put it in what is scathing in financial lingo:
In our opinion, because of the deficiencies described below, the system of quality control for performance audits of the Massachusetts Office of the State Auditor in effect for the period July 1, 2009, through December 31, 2010, has not been suitably designed and was not complied with during the period to provide reasonable assurance of conforming with government auditing standards.
It elaborated on major deficiencies in four areas — planning, competence, documentation and reporting. In other words, the works didn't work.

Bump's thorough but reasoned responses are long, long overdue. DeNucci strongly disagrees. He sounded like a boxer unhappy with the ref (I was robbed). The Herald quotes him as, "It’s kind of sad that she had to do all these things... She probably wouldn’t be where she is without me. She’s probably looking to run for governor." The Globe cites a phone interview with him as including, "There are a few of my good workers that I asked her to hold on to, and she didn’t. Whatever I did was fine, but she didn’t appreciate it and doesn’t appreciate it and this proves it. It’s crazy."

In contrast, Bump was her usual gracious self. She said that the deficiencies "were serious flaws," but added that "...this does not mean the office's work was without merit." She added that, "I'm sure Auditor DeNucci is going to be somewhat chagrined. It's a result of the fact, I think, that there hasn't been a review in some time."

You'd have to wonder what the erstwhile auditor was thinking for a decade and one half. He wanted us to believe in his audits of other government agencies, but he didn't let anyone audit his. Then 15 years on, he figures the only reasonable conclusion was that all was well during his tenure. There's someone unclear on the concept of auditing.

Praise to Bump!

I remind readers here that I endorsed her and followed her campaign for both primary and general. I saw this recent election as the greatest chance we had in decades to overhaul the tired, the inefficient, and the questionable. The Auditor was retiring, the Treasurer was stepping back to run for Governor, and there was a progressive running against the sitting Secretary of the Commonwealth. Bump, Steve Grossman, and independent Jim Henderson promised major improvements.

The latter was unable to unseat the Secretary, but the other two have their shots. I like to think that voters were eager, as I was and am, for serious change. We've had the old boys doing the old things for decades.

Bump is doing precisely what she promised. I look forward to more and better. When she can turn her troops to examining the rest of MA government, we should expect and demand great cost savings, vastly improved efficiencies, and likely streamlined departments.

I love this stuff and intend to watch Grossman and Bump for more and better.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Let Us Speak Up Now

Events in Abbotabad and the North Arabian Sea to kill and dispose of Osama bin Laden occurred suddenly and seem far removed. Clandestine U.S. groups and forces planned and carried out it all without our knowledge, participation or such operations invariably occur.

Don't feel passive yet though. We progressive sorts may not have another such moment to influence our future, the whole world's future.

Think Now, Speak Soon

Of course, the death of bin Laden was huge, but even bigger can be how our President and Congress act internationally and nationally. That's where you and I come into it all.

This moment is far bigger than the removal of an infamous terrorist. The world is still reeling from economic upheaval, our country faces policy and economy decisions as crucial as any we have ever, and the Arab and related Middle East countries are in flux for better or worse one upon another.

This is not the time to blindly trust and think that a paternal government will do the best they can for us.

On yesterday's Left Ahead podcast, it was just Ryan and I. We come from very different backgrounds, experiences and eras, often disagreeing. Yet we concurred that this is the time to decide where we want to see America headed and to let our leaders know in the clearest terms.

In the near and mid-term future, decisions in Washington will determine how we act as a nation:
  • How we position ourselves with transforming nations
  • How we allocate our financial, military and human resources internationally
  • How we see to the needs of our own citizens
  • How we influence the behavior of other nations' leaders and citizens, by example as well as by direct and indirect means

Momentous Opportunity

This is time to discard what has not worked for decades and that no longer needed. As an early boomer, I grew up with grandparents who navigated the Great Depression and parents who won WWII.

A huge downside we still carry is a postwar set of hopes lived like undeniable fantasies. That older generation set the tone first with a blind, unshakable belief that America would experience a never-ending growth spiral. They staffed up U.S. companies and rewarded themselves with housing, food, gas and other subsidies, and stacked fat pensions on top of Social Security. Life was (too) good.

At the same time, they continued military spending at or near war levels and generally plunging the nation and us in their future into huge debt. They quasi-rationally feared the Soviet Union and other communist nations, deficit spending into repeated versions of Cold Wars, particularly arms races. We compounded this playing cops of the world, even to the point of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of Americans' lives in questionable or unnecessary wars.

Behold the Greatest Generation!

Now that my generation runs Congress, we have maintained the fantasies and spending patterns. With the exception of the last half of President Clinton's administration, we have been delusional in our borrow-and-spend appropriations.

This is the time, now is the moment to discard delusion, destruction and death. We as a nation can not longer pretend that we can take resources from other nations for our own growth needs. We can't pretend that we can control all other nations with our military might and threats.

In this Arab Spring, numerous nations will align with international partners as they reform or revolutionize their governance and philosophy. We should simultaneously be backing out of enervating wars. We have a singular opportunity to help shape both those partnerships and our own country's direction.

For our own economy and government, a rapidly decreasing set of those in Congress hold that that we can set ourselves right by cutting infrastructure and human services costs. Those expenses (investments really) seem big until viewed in the scale of our national budget.

In fact, we need to totally and permanently change our military expenses. We devote a far greater percentage of our GDP to military than all of our potential enemies combined and far more than any other nation. We are fools to do so. (For a taste of waste, start with a report on such spending.)

Moreover, our military adventurism stemming from those post-WWII/Cold War fantasies is not making our world safer. It is not inspiring the love and imitation of other nations. It places us in numerous armed conflicts and make us the target of those who despise oppressive regimes we install or support.

We would get far better results at much lower human and financial costs through diplomacy and alliances with the good guys. Proving through action that we guarantee liberties for our own citizens as well as fostering it in emerging nations will go much further toward world stability than paying dictators here and there billions for the rights to maintain airbases on their soil.

At this great moment, we have a very smart, highly competent Secretary of State in Hilary Clinton and a President in Barack Obama who finally has found some strength in decisiveness. This is the time to doubly reframe America.

I'll be writing and calling the President and my Congressional delegation. For my part, I want to see diplomacy now and ongoing. I want money spent not on firepower but on infrastructure, here and abroad. Longer term, I want far fewer American brains and billions to go to the military and far more to ensuring both commonweal and security.

  • Freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
  • Freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
  • Freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.
  • Freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

We somehow lost sight of those in the 70 years since that speech. We may never have a better moment to reclaim those goals.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

RI, No Marriage for You

This afternoon (TU 5/3 at 4:30 PM) at the RI capitol, same-sex marriage advocates will protest. The General Assembly did not have quite enough votes to pass SSM, and will try to pass the much inferior civil unions instead.

The pivot here is House Speaker Gordon Fox. Openly gay and a long-time sponsor of SSM bills there, he sudden capitulated. As he wrote to RI legislators, "pragmatism" led him to give up, rather than retrench for another go next year.

The local daily, the Providence Journal, is likewise cowardly. In a lead editorial, it gave a mealy mouth call for SSM...eventually. Meanwhile not passing even a far inferior unions law would, the editorial irrationally states, might avoid a DOMA-style public referendum, with anti-equality talk. It concludes, "In contrast, civil-unions legislation would at least move the state in the right direction."

It is an understatement to say the outcry is fierce. As Marriage Equality RI put it on their site quoting board chair Martha Holt:
Civil unions are a compromise for no one. Advocates both for and against marriage equality have clearly expressed their opposition to the half measure of civil unions. We are extremely disappointed in the lack of leadership at the State House and we would urge Speaker Fox to rethink sponsoring legislation that would create a second class of citizens.
For the unaware, RI already accepts MA and other legal SSMs. It's almost to equality. This is certainly no time to curl up and whimper.

Background Podcast: MERI's campaign director, Ray Sullivan, joined us at Left Ahead to discuss SSM there. Catch him here.

Tags: , , ,