Friday, September 30, 2011

At-Large Signs and Sighs

Having gotten called out before when donating to or volunteering for candidates, I try my best not to do either. I do endorse here and sometimes at Left Ahead, but I can't feign objectivity if I'm kicking in actively.

My middle ground is yard signs, which seem to me to fall in the endorsement camp. Those for Deval Patrick, Barack Obama, and my three reformers last time — Grossman, Henderson and Bump  — were pounded or pricked into our Fairmount Hill soil. I figured I could do the same for the at-large Council this time, as I've repeatedly declared it the exciting race in this off-year election with no big national or state contests.

No so fast, bucko.

Now it is possible some of the other candidates can sway me as the debate/forum season cranks up before November 8th. For example, I personally like Michael Flaherty, but he'll have to come up with new compelling programs and reasons to bump any of the four incumbents.

With that in mind, I responded when I saw a request from Felix Arroyo's campaign to put up a sign. My affirmative electrons were on their way. Within a few hours, I returned from a long bike ride to find the campaign elves had visited.

Now I wonder whether his team's efficiency is an indication of just their enthusiasm or perhaps also of how well he organizes. As I'd welcome the other three incumbents' signs, I quickly contacted all three campaigns via their websites.

I am waiting for responses from two and for the physical sign from one, a week later. John Connolly's campaign responded very quickly with, "Mike, Thanks.  We will definitely take you up on your offer.  I've copied our field directors (two names)." Steve Murphy and Ayanna Pressley's folk have not replied or shown  up with any sticks and posters.

Reasons might be that they are busy with more important tasks, that they are either confident in lower Hyde Park or that they are going into denser areas first, or even that they prefer signs on main drags. Who knows?

Honestly I wouldn't mind a mini-forest of these for the six weeks. I'll keep looking. I might have let my single request to each campaign be it, but next Wednesday I intend to slide down the hill to Pressley's neighborhood meet-and-greet, where Murphy will also attend. I'm sure I'll tease each of them.

Murphy is a neighbor, two blocks away. His campaign may feel no need to hurry or respond at all. Fairmount Hill is splotched with his red-and-white signs, a huge one at Beacon and Fairmount and small up and down the East/West streets.

My Arroyo sign is the only one I've seen for the other three on the hill. As someone who works the elections as a warden or clerk, I know the locals vote. It seems that candidates would like to ensure name recognition.

I'll update this when and if the other three campaigns respond.

Friday Late Morning Update: Half way there and in step with the neighborhood. The Murphy folk drove in a sign. Still no response from Pressley and a promise but no sign from Connolly.

Saturday Pre-Dawn Update: Two surprises displayed when I went out for the papers. Bad was a UPS package that came after dinner, without a door bell, and was sodden from being on the stoop all night. Good was that Connolly's gnomes had come in stealth mode in the dark. I'm three quarters there and have even less to whine about.

Monday PM Update: And now there are four. Now the incumbents' signs line up like Councilors' desks in the fifth-floor chamber. The Pressley guy showed up, popped his trunk, whipped out the sign and hammer. Now I shall have to find something else for complaint. Oh, I know, when are we going to have a series of at-large debates?

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Social and Asocial in District 2

Incumbent District Councilor Bill Linehan may or may not be suited to his largest group of constituents in South Boston. Judging only by his hostility toward and ignorance of social media, he's waaaaay out of step with the 21st Century.

I had that sense when I looked around for the three candidates' presence on the web a couple of months ago and regularly since. The short of it is that knocked-out-in-the-preliminary Bob Ferrara was never serious. He had no website, only a Facebook page, and even that listed only vague self-employed info and showed his interest in youth lacrosse and football. There wasn't a word about his alleged race.

Linehan and Lee are close in age, but really he is much, much older. The real alter kaker types, like Dapper O'Neil, Fred Langone and Jim Kelly, are dead. Yet, there is still a place in Southie politics for the Abe Simpson types. Linehan may be the last or he may have outrun the genre.

That's long been plain. Yet I was still surprised to see the Globe quote him as the old fart. It seems someone spoofed a Twitter account, LinehanD2Boston, promoting him. It isn't malicious, points to his campaign, and looks like what he could do if he was not such a fuddy-duddy.

Instead, he responded, “It’s not me, I don’t have a Twitter account,” Linehan said today. “Now people are starting to follow me. That concerns me. It’s not me.” It sure isn't he. Linehan seems to channel Google's big shots with, "I’m opposed to participating in systems that allow people to be anonymous."

For a flavor of what a creaker he is, consider that he and Lee are of similar age, but she did not freeze 30 years ago. She has a detailed, sophisticated campaign site. He has a slapdash stub that gives no reason to vote for him. She tweets while he is offended by the idea of it. He has a Facebook page apparently created by one of his daughters that carries almost entirely his scheduling stuff. She has a Facebook presence that flows to and from her campaign site, is rife with pix and personal comments and reasons to support her.

Originally, I was going to compare online efforts as I did with the at-large candidates. There was no sense in that for District 2. She groks them. He doesn't. Ferrara wasn't even playing.

As I noted in the at-large piece, internet savvy is not likely to win this race. The cliché would have it that the nice, smart Asian-American lady is great, but she is not from Southie. Identity politics would have all of South Boston voting for the person who looks most like them, who was born there, and that ethnic and neighborhood markers are all that matters. As South Boston voters outnumber Chinatown and South End ones about two to one, that's that.

The results of the preliminary put her ahead, but Ferrara split the South Boston vote. What's most fascinating here will be whether 1) South End and Chinatown voters turn out adequately to support Lee and 2) South Bostonians vote against their self-interest by going only for the candidate who looks most like them.

This time though, first-time candidate Lee offers huge differences. First consider that Linehan is a one-note symphony. He does constituent services. Call or visit him and you're likely to get your little thing. OK, that's essential to a Councilor's job. She promises to beat him even in his sole virtue. She'll go out to all the neighborhoods, find the problems and fix them without waiting passively for the call. Then for the real stuff, she defines a broad set of platforms in nine areas, most with solutions that should resonate with anyone who reads or hears them.

She's also ringing the bells and going smile and hand clasps with all three major parts of the district. Another cliché long before Facebook is that shoe leather wins local elections. She's wearing out shoes and seemingly has an endless supply of smiles and answers.

So far, there's been no comparison. I've wanted to chart 'em up and see who's got the goods. He hasn't show squat.

I'll head to what debates and forums I know about, hoping that he has more than a bureaucrat's drone. Meanwhile, conventional wisdom would have South Boston going for the native son just to pretend that this is better for them than a Councilor with platform planks that will help them.

I honestly don't know how this will play out.

Casinos Wagging the Legislature

They just can't help themselves. While the bluster and posturing over casinos in MA rule our state house, the corruption queue is already crowded. For whatever good remains from Gov. Deval Patrick's tenure, this will be his stigma, his disgrace.

In a telling coincidence, just as the legislators were guaranteeing that gambling interests could buy them, a few hundred yards away, a casinos expert was explaining the only ways to do this right.

As a disclaimer, I'm no fan of casinos. Here and at Left Ahead, I've written and spoken against them. This week's LA show by Ryan Adams and me covers this again.

Down on Tremont St. at a Suffolk Law Rappaport Center round table on gambling, William Eadington sketched the wrong ways and best practices to gambling planning and regulation. We're doing it wrong so far and look headed further down that path.

The UNR professor has made a career of studying gambling, written numerous books and studies on casinos and addiction, and analyzed the devil out of the subject. Other than being a strong advocate for the gambling addicted, he is agnostic about casinos. He sees them as current reality (half of our states have them as well as many foreign cities and countries) and when a jurisdiction legalizes them, his concern is being smart about it.

We aren't. By his criteria, we are already blowing one of the two main rules. We don't have a system that will guarantee integrity and we haven't figured out what we want from casinos. We haven't even legalized it yet and we are already in trouble.

Eadington's message includes:
  • Don't advance without defining and prioritizing what you expect from allowing casinos
  • Have a gaming commission planning, implementing and regulating casinos with only the highest integrity and greatest disinterest among its members
  • Spend the years gathering proposals and picking those that meet your goals long before choosing a site or specific developer
To illustrate how pathetically we are failing here, consider yesterday's decision in Senate debates to reject member Jamie Eldridge's minimalist amendment requiring a five-year waiting period after leaving the legislature before being employed by casino interests. Instead, the approved amendment is for a meaningless one-year ban. Today;'s Globe editorial slamming this intended institutionalization of a revolving door for legislators is spot on. Have we learned nothing from the indictments and jail sentences for corruption?

For casino goals, Eadington compared good and bad implementations in the U.S. and beyond. He made it plain that expecting them to solve the jurisdiction's financial problems is foolish and won't happen.

He did point to some smart goals that work well and noted that each took very different paths to implementation related to the priorities. For one, Pennsylvania decided it wanted to maximize tax revenue and set a high rate on winnings. It ended up doing that with only a few casinos.

In contrast, Singapore started with a prime minister very opposed to gambling, one who came around after many years admitting it was the way of the 21st century and that they had to do it right. There, they required a request for concept from future bidders and carefully considered what the resulting sites would mean. In a six-year process, they went with a majestic $5 billion plus resort that would bring tourists in for vacations, not just a gambling fix. Their laws let them exclude problem gamblers, felons and others, as well as charging nationals $100 to walk in the door ($2,000 a year). They extract a much lower, tiered tax on winnings. Their implementation has truly made this a destination, not preyed on locals, and been a huge boost to the economy. Melbourne acted similarly and revitalized a massive slum area in the process.

Here, so far there is no indication that we intend to do this right or that we are capable of that. The legislature has already shown as a body that it has self-interest at heart. The siting proposals so far seem intended to suck money from locals, not create destinations for vacations for tourists. We're about the slots and quick-trip gambling that is so destructive to local economies and residents.

On this path, the likelihood will be short-term construction jobs, pissant service jobs added in the future, and most profits going out of state and maybe out of country to the gambling corporations. Once we enable casinos, there is no way to retreat. We have a single shot at going this right. No one from the Patrick administration or either house seems to be aiming.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Boston District with Real Choice

Not much may be enough. TBD.

Uneasy must the head of Suzanne Lee lie. Prima facie, she whipped incumbent Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan yesterday. What can we learn from this? What will the result November show of Boston 2011?

The numbers look encouraging for never-run-for-office-before and long-time educator/community activist Lee:

39.12Suzanne Lee
35.03Bill Linehan
25.35Bob Ferrara

District 2 is one of the truly diverse ones in town. The final on this one is likely to bring culture, race, class and neighborhoods to bear. There's no question that Lee's the superior candidate and should win. There's considerable question about the outcome. It is likely to depend much more on GOTV efforts and parochialism than ideas or real self-interest.

By the bye, we have not spoken with Linehan or Ferrara, but did have Lee on Left Ahead recently. You can catch her half-hour podcast here

This race has a wide bifurcation. Incumbent Linehan is a life-long resident of Southie. He was a perfectly good Parks employee for decades. As a Councilor he has been all about constituent services, one of the key functions of the office. As a pol, he's all about I'm one of you. That is damned significant in South Boston, which tends to have a high election turnout. 

Plus, the district is about 65% white. The majority of voters are in South Boston. D2 also has the South End, Chinatown, South Bay and a snatch of Roxbury. By the bye, the South End News calculates turnout at 13%, which embarrassingly enough is not bad for such a preliminary with no big races. (Afternoon update, Chris Lovett has posted breakdown figures for where the votes came from for all three candidates.)

On the other fork, Lee is an actual doer. She turned around one awful city school and then ran the premier elementary (Quincy) for over a decade. During that time, she developed multiple master plans for neighborhoods and drove numerous projects that improved Bostonians' lives. 

You can get a full and fair contrast of the pair at their campaign sites. First note that I'm known to get excited about online presentation and social media. Linehan is a dud at both, which may not be too big an issue in a local campaign centered on South Boston, where identity politics have long been more powerful than ideas.

One of Linehan's daughters seems to dabble in net stuff. She apparently set up a kind of shell Facebook page for the campaign. It's an open group with next to no content. She or who knows who slapped together a campaign site, which is hard to find and not linked from his group page or his frail personal FB one. Pretty much, like Gertrude wrote of Oakland, there is no there there. 

You say you want to know his positions, platforms and plans? Well, I guess you'd better call him or get to a candidate forum. He's not saying. 

Lee, on the other hand, is out there. Her campaign site leaves no doubt about what she's about, what issues would drive her in office. She is very specific on her proposals in each of nine areas. 

For yesterday's votes, we have Linehan commenting to the Globe that he was number two on the preliminary when he first ran for the seat, to win in the end. He said that the South End and Chinatown also turned out for the preliminary and he'd have to rally his supporters in all three neighborhoods.

Ever backroom minded Phoenix writer David Bernstein had his own tweet about the outcomeLinehan alienated both Menino and Flaherty during their mayoral battle -- and paid a price today. So there is that atavistic belief that only machine politics can win locals here. Menino has ground troops and many said and wrote that youth-sports organizer Ferrara was Flaherty's surrogate to split to vote in Southie.

Ideas or Identity

So the simple-minded future would have a larger turnout for the final and every Southie vote going for the Irish guy. Done and done.

I give Lee a good shot here though, considering:
  • She is known and respected for her work as principal in both the South End and Chinatown
  • She more than blunts Linehan's support for the Asian-American community; he said, while she did
  • She has an honest to God platform, while he's old-style and limited to fixing potholes
  • She is even more indefatigable than he, ringing those bells throughout this huge district
Everyone, including the candidates, is well aware of the low motivation issue. There is no statewide, mayoral or national election, only a some ballot initiatives to fire folk up. As in any municipal election, GOTV is the thing.

The complications of course here are many and not too subtle. Like those inconsiderate schlubs who stroll slowly while jaywalking to inconvenience as many drivers as possible, some Boston neighborhoods love a sense of power. South Boston has been one, as in returning the dreadful bigoted Jim Kelly to this seat numerous times. He was obnoxious, inefficient and a true insult to the district outside of Southie. They did it because they could.

Linehan is much more low-key and doesn't exhibit the worst of Kelly's traits, certainly not the anti-gay stance that Kelly finally recanted when he was dying. Yet, despite the incumbent's drabness, there is a clear choice here. Lee is an achiever, an idea and action person, with specific programs and goals to improve the lives of those in the district and whole city.

Cynic this go-round can call on the wisdom of H.L. Mencken with "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." In fact, it may play out that South Boston voters will rally behind the guy who looks like them and who lives near them. It may also happen that enough in the district are tired of the joke nature of their councilors and take the rare chance to put some muscle on the bone.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Quick Kiss from Brown

Get him smelling salts. How very awkward for Sen. Scott Brown The gays like him. They really like him. (At least the small group of conservative, Republican ones do.)

Praise to Politico for being at the Log Cabin Republicans awards dinner last night. He was one of two pols getting the Spirit of Lincoln thingummy in D.C. He mumbled minimal thanks and refused to talk about LGBT issues with the press. So in a way, he was covered in case LCR members might still want to contribute to his campaign.

He did eventually vote for Don't Ask Don't Tell's repeal. That was significant in that he's Republican and he's a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It's your call whether MA Dems' views that he only joined in after the issue was settled is cynical or just honest (see Politico link  for quotes or the Globe coverage of Brown's LGBT record).

For that vote, Brown and Maine U.S. Sen. Susan Collins got the award. Brown also received the group's endorsement for re-election next year — not a terrific surprise as he's the sole Republican in the race.

The PR release on his award includes:
We thank Senator Brown for being on the right side of history in ending this failed policy and we are honored to present him with the Spirit of Lincoln Award. Senator Brown has proven himself to be an ally to our community whose service should be recognized, and Log Cabin Republicans are proud to call this warrior-citizen a friend.
Senator Scott Brown stated, "As I said when I voted to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, when a soldier answers the call to serve and risks life or limb, it has never mattered to me whether they are gay or straight. My only concern has been whether their service and sacrifice is with pride and honor. I would like to thank Log Cabin Republicans for this award." 
The one on the endorsement reads in part:
He has been a tremendous advocate for the people of Massachusetts and a solid ally for Log Cabin Republicans, representing the power and potential of an inclusive GOP. 
Brown grabbed his award, said little, and would not answer any Politico questions as he beat an exit. As they quote him, "I'm here talking about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and I don't really respond to what the Democrats say. Never do." That seems along the line of, "Yes, I'll be your long as no one sees us together."

Even with the boosts of national GOP money and the terrible U.S. economy, it was very impressive for Brown to campaign well enough to grab the special election from a much better known Dem. He was an exurban state senator with an undistinguished legislative record, a who's-that? guy. Yet, he won.

Now he's clearly sweating his associations. He wants support from social conservatives and he wants it from homosexuals. He seems increasingly to alienate the Tea Party types, who remain doctrinaire. I suspect they just can't smudge the oval for him again.

Even with huge amounts of out-of-state funds from those who want to keep this symbolic seat Republican, can he appeal to enough of our 51% unenrolled voters to get a full term? I can't see his footwork being fancy enough to dance to everyone's tune.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Obsessed v. Crazy Groups

The public library freebie magazine rack had the March/April issue of The Home School Court Report. I snatched it.

It and the organization, Home School Legal Defense Association, are dreadfully sincere and single-issue passionate. On the other hand, this looks like a healthy contrast to the loonies in broader parents'-rights groups.  Both sorts see themselves as victims on intrusive government. Both turn to dedicated lawyers to cajole, threaten or sue for what they demand.

Huge differences are:

  • From the HSLDA site and magazine, their members actually are persecuted and need protection, state by state and school district by school district.
  • Home schoolers don't want whole new rules and procedures, just fair administration of existing laws and regulations.
  • Home schoolers don't claim Biblical authority.
  • I see no evidence that home schooler parents lie baldly, as Mad Dad and his ilk have for so long. 
  • Home schoolers are not asking for wild legal exemptions, like the right to beat their children at will.

The short of it is that home schooling is rare enough that many government agencies and education bodies have not adapted. Cops pick up home-school kids on field trips and education tasks, arresting them as truants. Parents who follow the rules (lesson plans, testing, transcripts and so forth) still get threatened with jail and fines for neglecting their children — despite being on the right side of the laws. Some school districts even try to legislate their own requirements in violation of existing state laws.

So, the HSLDA is there with a vengeance. Flying down like Nemesis to provide retribution and right wrongs, the group's lawyers do what's necessary to straight out confused, ignorant or malicious school or government types. From reading the magazine, I think they do a damned good job of it. Certainly if I home schooled my kids, I'd belong to HSLDA.

A fleeting thought would be how nice if the parents' rights types learned how it was done from the home school ones. Alas, the parents' rights folk are not about playing by the rules, or even about honesty and honor. They demand rights that they define, rights that do not and should not exist. They want everyone else to bend to them and change the entire system to suit their emotional needs.

I do know a home school family. Their kids are well educated, measurably so. They played by the rules in California and now in Massachusetts. They aren't loud long-suffering victims, just folk who are convinced they provide a better education for their own than public schools. Their children get or will get equivalent high school diplomas and are in or headed for accredited colleges.

There's the parallel track and then there's off the rails.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ideas v. Jive for Senate

We know it's coming. When it's election time, Dems are bound to claim they trust the voters, they have faith in the collective judgment of Americans. They ignore inane and destructive, emotionally based previous results in what is a hidden plea for smart balloting based on issues.

There's probably not a lot of option here. Voters surely don't want to hear that they'd be asses to go for lies, generalities and impossibilities.

We certainly saw the absurdity of it with George Bush the Lesser. He promised guns and butter, the proverbial we're-American-we-can-have-it-all fantasy. Apparently the nation needed to hear that, to believe that. Absolutely, he told us, we can spend on the military and actual wars, while giving the richest people and companies free tax rides. Our never-ending growth spiral will make it all work. Likewise, Ronald Reagan promoted the still extant jive that if we only put more money in the accounts of the wealthiest corporations and investors, they will do the right thing, investing in their businesses, expanding jobs, and creating more consumer spending from their bigger paychecks.

You would think we would remember how those delusions worked out. As a people, we may not.

The rich as a group don't participate in the trickle-down pretense. Even in this dreadful, prolonged economic morass, they don't share the pain. They hold onto any extra tax breaks or other government dole. They don't create new jobs. They don't take a chance on expanding plants and improving infrastructure. They are happy to look to expanding markets overseas instead of ensuring a flush national set of employed consumers.

Now we have another shot, a voter IQ test as it were. Nationally, 2012 puts the POTUS' record to up and simultaneously on the MA level, a U.S. Senate seat. Voters will have before them the lies and the truth, the fantasies and the ideas. It is only a little dramatic to speak in Biblical terms, think Deuteronomy 30:19 — I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.

I honestly am not sure how emotionally needy we'll be this time, whether we can face our struggle together or will slip back into failed dreams and impossible hopes. Having spent considerable time researching Elizabeth Warren and sitting in a room for a couple of hours during her listening tour, I am sure she won't pander and lie or mumble and pretend.

Instead, in running for Senate, she could not contrast more with Sen. Scott Brown. He doesn't offer and likely doesn't have solutions (I suspect she has 30 IQ points on him). She's not about to say, "We can have it all. Trust me." She'll bring the ideas and realities directly to the debates and stump speeches.

We'll see what we in MA comprise. The results of the Dem primary will be measure one.

History stretching back at least as far as Dick Nixon shows us the hell we create with guns-and-butter fantasies. Instead, we could use a Senate rife with statesmen and visionaries, defining problems clearly and offering workable solutions.

That's Warren from what I've seen. We could use someone who lead us where we need to go and not just tell us what we feel we want to hear.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Warren Day One

As I type, Elizabeth Warren allegedly is at or on the way to a T stop in Boston to (thank God, at long last, what took so long) announce she is running for the U.S. Senate from MA. This finally lets national liberal sorts get back in the game emotionally. The GOP/Tea Party types have flapped their skirts and flexed their flab over their savior du jour solo. Now it's the good guys' turn.

We just returned from three days on Block Island. We intentionally did not take a laptop or tablet and did not buy newspapers. This is an invigorating re-entry.

I have no doubt this will be both a mano a mano and simultaneously a surrogate battle. Wingers will be crazed in trying to keep the seat and lefties want some sense, smarts and a stronger majority in the Senate.

After a couple of years of disappointment in the POTUS — like rust destroying the good tools — national Dem and progressive money and energy have a target.

The best part is that scalpel-sharp Warren is bound to force Sen. Scott Brown to cut the crap. No more generalities, no more looking at the table as he mumbles clichés to voters. He'll have to put out real ideas and verifiable facts about his intentions and deeds.

Warren's entry into the pond raises the water level considerably. Voters won't have any option other than listening, thinking and choosing.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Voter ID? We don't need no...

Unlike the trend of states requiring government-issued photo ID for voting, we won't even be voting on that here. The AG's office says a ballot initiative on it would be unconstitutional.

Tip of the toupee to Adam at Universal Hub.

Numerous socially conservative states (think SC) have passed such legislation one way or another. Down in Columbia, Gov. Niki Haley poo-poo'ed obvious judgments that the law was anti-poor/anti-black in punishing people who did not have licenses or passports. She claims that nearly everyone does and make the fatuous statement that she'd drive anyone who needed to go to motor vehicles for a state ID there herself. I hope she has lots of gas and time. That would be over 178,000 sandlappers. Regardless of the BS, the feds have said show us how this won't disenfranchise large numbers of citizens. To be continued...

Here, AG Martha Coakley's office points to matters excluded from ballot initiatives, as detailed in our constitution's article 48, including:
No proposition inconsistent with any one of the following rights of the individual, as at present declared in the declaration of rights, shall be the subject of an initiative or referendum petition: The right to receive compensation for private property appropriated to public use; the right of access to and protection in courts of justice; the right of trial by jury; protection from unreasonable search, unreasonable bail and the law martial; freedom of the press; freedom of speech; freedom of elections; and the right of peaceable assembly. 
It's the old freedom-of-elections bugbear.

The sticking point is that getting an ID requires at least $25 per person. That would be unconstitutional for those who cannot afford this.

The current law (Chapter 54 §76B) reads that a voter has to show ID if poll workers ask it. This can be a current, valid photo ID or "a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter..."

While most folk think that the lengthy, detailed law works fine, the petitioners for the initiative (11-21) figure otherwise. They write that having every voter show government-issued photo ID every time helps meet their goal of "desiring to preserve the integrity of the voting process,"

As it is, voters show up and orally ID themselves by address and name. If there's a question, they can present a photo ID, like a license or passport, or bring a recent utility bill or such.

As a long-term poll worker, I have not seen any problems. The initiative proposer, Mansfield Selectman Olivier Kozlowski goes for the apocryphal. He told the local Sun Chronicle newspaper that even though there's no evidence of even sparse voter fraud, "Every election you hear stories."

He also brought out the old better-safe-than-sorry routine so beloved of those who favor wiretaps, TSA body probes and such. Since you have to show ID for so many things, why not add voting?

Unfortunately, he falls into and is swallowed up by the huge trap of common sense. "It's only common sense" is what people say when they have nothing. That translates into, "I'm going to make wild assertions and don't want any questions or comments."

Well, Coakley had a comment. Good on her.t.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Humanizing Transgender Rights Bill

The very human face of civil rights is at BMG now in the form of an open letter from parents of their transgender children. They address the real issues underlying the rights bills under consideration on Beacon Hill.

We find it disgraceful that anti-LGBT forces lie about this. With a vast number of basic human rights at stake, trying to divert the discussion into fantasized scare tactics centered on public toilets insults us all. It also puts us far behind over a dozen other states, including all but NH in New England in protecting this group of us.

Read and respond at BMG. Then catch Kara Suffredini and Gunner Scott at Left Ahead next week.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Flash and Follow-Through, Prez

Over at the FT, Clive Crook nails the perfect poster on a tree for our President. I had my own thoughts about his Thursday jobs/economy speech, but this more than covers it.

It's a two-parter — go huge on the recovery program and then go directly to the voters to make it all happen.

He calls for Obama to propose:
  • Even deeper payroll-tax cuts
  • Lots of money for underwater mortgage principal reduction
  • Big subsidies for new jobs
  • State-level stimulus at least as big as the last time
  • Serious tax reform
  • Increased retirement age
The pathetic GOP Congress clearly doesn't care about Americans, just regaining power and returning to their disingenuous, failed policies. They won't support anything he says Thursday, even if fighting him permanently ruins our economy and democracy.

So, Crook figures almost certainly rightly that rallying the fearful and desperate public to his spend-and-reform program is the only workable strategy.

Enough said. It's time for action, Mr. President.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Your Data, Their Blunders

It's anxiety-making easy to find stories of lost and stolen personal data and intellectual property.

OK, boys and girls, one of the latest high-tech clumsiness was a repeat of an Apple employee losing the proprietary prototype of the next generation iPhone, maybe in a bar. This happened to Apple before.

Then there was the BP employee on a business trip who lost a laptop holding a spreadsheet with personal data from 13,000 oil-spill claimants. A wrap-up article includes citations of NJ BC/BS stolen laptop with data from 300,000 customers, another was the GAP losing 800,000 job applicants' data, a hacker grabbing key SS and financial data from 226,000 customers of the Davidson Companies, and the Veterans Administration's stolen laptop with data from 26.5 million current and past U.S. military members.

We all know how government agencies, retailers, financial institutions and even utilities demand personal data to get services and goods.They assure us both that they won't sell our stuff — emails, phones, addresses, Social Security numbers, bank accounts ID and on and one — but we have to reveal all and (ta da) trust them.

It's increasingly plain that we should not trust them. They have neither the technology systems nor the training in place to keep our data safe. They first rely on nothing or password systems that millions of kids among others could hack. They allow absurd amounts of complete data sets out at a time on single hard drives. Far too many move thousands or millions of sets of actionable data onto laptop hard drives, which every bozo and bozoette in the company can leave with for whatever honorable or nefarious purpose, or lose on an airplane, in a cab or at a bar. And they do.

lockedlapNearly all of the many, many cases of data exposure are human errors, both of the employees who lose the computers and other objects, and the systems people and managers who set up the safeguards. Their heads should roll. The companies and agencies should pay heavy enough fines and open disgrace that they change their ways. Applying magical thinking to data security is totally inadequate.

Think this is like using the term accident to account for inattentive or reckless driving that brings maiming or death. Sure the cops, prosecutors and judges can identify (there but for fortune...), but that is wrong, often fatally wrong, thinking. Some missteps definitely deserve punishment and prevention.

The humanity defense is not a solid one here. Nor is it in most places used. Consider how to apply, "It's only human to..." Yeah, it's human to take your eyes off the road, to lose things in a restaurant or bar when you've been drinking, to walk off an airplane totally forgetting expensive and essential goods, and for that matter, to lie, cheat, steal, rape or any of a large number of crimes and offenses you think you might get away with when no one's paying close attention.

Actually many of our laws specifically call out human frailties. Because something valuable is not being guarded at a moment doesn't make it up for grabs, for example.

For the deterrent factor, clamping down criminally and civilly on the schmo who puts large numbers of us at risk for direct stealing or ID theft should start immediately. One strike and you're out. It should also cost the company a lot more than one-year subscriptions to credit-card watching services.

Yet because they're good at protecting themselves, if not you, the managers will be harder. The facts are that lazy or dull-witted IT types and corporate managers who make security policy are culpable. Allowing huge chunks of key data affecting thousands or millions of human beings to flow out of control is asinine.

I suspect that much of the laptop-based losses fall back on that old employees-are-lazy syndrome that affects so many so-so managers. The conceit starts with a belief that if only those shiftless employees would put in anywhere near the effort and production that the sainted managers did, the company would be at least twice as wealthy. Even when measurable productivity soars beyond other countries' and financial troubles can easily be traced to short-term management thinking, that's the pretense. It's delusional and destructive.

A common corollary is that employees will only do a decent amount of work if they always have to be on. Going to a distant customer or for a conference? Well then, be sure the carry a laptop with all possible applications and data you might conceivably need. Work in the airport. Work on the airplane. Work in the hotel. Work over dinner. Work. Work. Work.

The filthy secret is that what is human is overload. That leads to inefficiency of thought and output. That leads to fatigue and concomitant errors. That leads to oversights and mistakes as we try to pretend that there is no end to our multi-tasking abilities. Top being tired with a couple of drinks and, now did you leave that damned laptop in the booth?!

For managers:

  • Security policies don't work well enough and need to be more thoroughly thought out and tested.
  • No sensitive data should leave the building without a lot better reason than it just might come in handy while you're traveling.
  • Encryption, password and other software-based security has to be harder, even it's inconvenient for employees short term.
  • Any data breach has to be analyzed to death, from management and IT aspects as well as the obvious employee possession ones.
  • Databases that travel should be neutered, that is separated from Social Security number and the like so that a lost or stolen hard drive is useless to others; they can be merged when the employee returns, to reflect any changes.
  • Those responsible for putting customers at risk need punishment fitting their involved incompetence.

Sorry, kiddies, it's only human doesn't cut...whether you're drunk driving, drunk laptop toting, or half thinking security policies and procedures.

Cross-post note: This started out seeming like it belonged only at Harrumph, but there's enough politics here, and Labor Day worker thought to spread it.

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Anonymice and Malice

In more proof that being rich or powerful doesn't mean you're always right or smart, see who's afraid of anonymous blog posts and comments, as well as handles for social-media accounts.

Today's John Gapper Financial Times column wraps it up clearly, with one major oversight. He cites Google Chair Eric Schmidt and former Facebook Marketing Director Randi Zuckerberg. The latter was strongest with simply, "I think anonymity on the internet has to go away."

It is indubitable that tolls, anonymice and fake-name commenters on blogs, social-media and MSM sites are obnoxious...and cowardly. As an online omnivore and a blogger who's had plenty of nasty comments, particularly on this marriage-equality blog, I understand. However, I moderate all my blogs and find deleting the haters' and spammers' comments a small price for encouraging dialog.

In the FT, Gapper notes that Google and Facebook have the right to set policies for their sites. In the case of Google+ this extends to the inanity of forbidding users with legal single-name identities. That's crazy beyond Schmidt's claim to beat back bullies, spammers and such. Users can decide whether they'll put up with anal retentive, irrational restrictions. Much as there is no mandate that you travel by air, it's just that if you do, you know you can get frisked and roughed up by TSA types or even worse. Your choice, pilgrim.

Gapper's grasp does not include the underlying motivations. Those raging at or terrified of web users without strong identities (easily verifiable and traceable ones) have serious ambiguity issues. They think differently from most people and a few of them are in a position to affect the options for and behaviors of millions of us.

Ambiguity scholar David Wilkerson has studied this extensively, published on it, and even has a keen breakout of four leadership styles related to it. These comprisej:
  • Mode One - Technical Leadership. These leaders usually deal with ambiguity by denial or creating their own certainty. They are also more dictatorial and are very risk averse by nature.
  • Mode Two - Cooperative Leadership. The aim of mode two leaders is to disambiguate uncertainty and to build teams around them to mitigate risk.
  • Mode Three - Collaborative Leadership. Mode three leaders have a tendency towards consensual methods of leadership. They prefer to work towards aligning team members values and getting agreement. Their approach to ambiguity is for the group to examine it.
  • Mode Four - Generative Leadership. These leaders use ambiguity to find opportunity. They tend to be inveterate learners and innovators.
You likely know people who fall clearly into such categorical descriptions, and may recognize yourself. Understanding these distinctions should blunt the drive by all but Mode One sorts to force their fear of ambiguity on others.

The many of us who are more flexible (see related rant on Harrumph) continue to roll with and analyze what we read online. Strong identity will not stop haters, scammers and spammers. They've been using easily faked email and other identity from the beginning of the WWW.

Instead, as Gapper calls for, we need to avoid expanding the policy choices of Mode One types to the whole net. Sure people can decide whether they'll go with new Google+ restrictions, but they have that choice. Likewise, they should be free to choose whether to read and judge a blog post or comment or other online opinion on its own. Some of us can handle it..