Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Too-Clever-by-Half Brown

Sen. Scott Brown is finally willing to gamble. He's betting that running from a debate with Granny Warren will let him hold his seat.

By any objective measure, this is pure cowardice, flavored only with his regular voter manipulation.

From the moment he won the special election for the seat nearly three years ago, Brown has played dishonest and dishonorable games with constituents. First, he announced with every vote that he was the extra vote Republican Senators would need to block health reform or this or that major bill. In  other words, "Look at me kids. I'm king of the mountain!"

When he realized after a little over year that he would have to win a full term, he got more clever. He choreographed a Congressional dance, in barn jacket or suit instead of pink tutu. The conceit would be and has remained that he would put his hand over the (R) next to his name. He'd pretend to be independent, voting on each bill's substance and effect instead of political party support.

Not surprisingly, wingers have joined in the fantasy with him. They like his bipartisan ballet. You have to be pretty craven or alas dull witted to buy into this. Search on the net to see thousands of links debunking this pretense. ProgressMass offers a succinct PDF file of the difference in his rhetoric v. reality as well.

The undeniable (except by Brown) facts are that he figures he's gamed the system. By picking bills where his vote makes no difference, he has felt safe in the past year plus in voting against the obstructionist Republicans in the Senate. Thus, his party overlords still get what they want and he tallies up more proof of what he alleges is bipartisanship and independence.

He even goes over the line many times with this ploy. In debates with Elizabeth Warren, he said repeatedly that his or that bill was a bipartisan rejection or passage. He never noted that it would be only a few of the most conservative Dems who'd join his side. Bipartisan? Like hell!

No Stinkin' Debate

So to the debate that should have happened this week, he's flat out chicken. His website has a tricksy statement in which he claims:

  • he couldn't find any time from "a long-planned bus tour" instate to prepare for and participate in a debate
  • he's "pleased to have participated" in three debates, and
  • super-cheap shot, Warren didn't agree to two early-campaign events, neglecting to mention that they were winger-talk-radio ambushes and nothing like debates

So he's counting on low-info and easily deluded voters. He seems to have, to allude to cliché, tiny 'nads.

He's advanced his deceptive, dishonorable and dishonest positions. Confronted by the slight, 60-something grandmother and legal expert with real accomplishments, he has fared poorly. He never addressed his multiple awful votes and has stuck in ads and at the podium to personal attacks.

Brown doesn't seem all that bright, particularly in contrast to Warren. His lack of courage and other standard virtues also should put him way down anyone's voting list.

Yet it comes down to whether his sleazy attempts at being clever are enough. The polls have been surprisingly close. I'm  betting Brown coasted through a lot of school and personal interactions with cleverness instead of reasoning and knowledge.

This election will test the limits of that kind of shallowness on a larger stage. Brown is dancing as best he can for one more week.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How Is Sandy Like Great Recession

President Obama may or may not have been aware of the strong parallel in his reaction to Sandy with the economic recovery..

For the moment, set aside Mitt Romney's stupid comments about privatizing disaster response — as in "We can't afford to do those things." Sure, he should have known better in light of George Bush the Lesser's inhumane and incompetent preparation for and response to Katrina. He doesn't and likely is incapable of it.

There has been Barack Obama doing everything right. While campaigning may have effectively stopped for a week until ballot day, what voters need to know if they wonder who should lead us through 2016 is before them.

As with the Great Recession, the POTUS confronted the effects of the Great Storm well and correctly, righteously and rightly. A good sample is yesterday's statement. (This comes with video and you can click to read the transcript.)

Fundamentally, he:
  • quickly but carefully assessed the problems
  • lined up the resources available for prevention and recovery
  • contacted those in need or with the power to help (notably affected states' governors)
  • plugged in his administration to ensure the safety and well-being of those in peril
With Sandy bearing down on the East Coast, his statement included:
I’m confident that we’re ready.  But I think the public needs to prepare for the fact that this is going to take a long time for us to clean up.  The good news is we will clean up and we will get through this... 
 I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election.  I’m worried about the impact on families, and I’m worried about the impact on our first responders.  I’m worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation. 
The election will take care of itself next week...

In fact, this is a crucial if smaller version of his response to the Great Recession. There is no junk about a quick fix, no political fantasy that government is the problem. In fact, this is a savvy and candid assessment of how big government has a role in huge disaster.

This is the guy we need.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Compounded Job Creator Myths

From silly to now sad, the fantasy of a class of job creators dominates winger campaigning and discourse. Be blunt. Rich individuals and corporations have almost entire chickened out and failed us.

They have not maintained employment levels, much less expanded or started new companies or divisions. The GOP candidates' big lie on this, per Romney and Ryan in particular, is that government regulations and even the idea that there might be tax increases terrifies these otherwise stalwart JCes, as we can term them.

Note first though that the previous excuse was that if they only had more easy-to-access cash they'd sure be JC'ing the devil out of the economy, leading the recovery. Chicken lips, I say to that too.

Search for job creator and get thousands of hits. Even narrowed with an additional term like statistics, research or even the more loaded myth, the term is well covered. Try this one, or this one, or this one, as just a few examples. The fact is that considering facts, academicians, statisticians and even the occasional billionaire capitalist ridicule the JC fantasy.

Best I can come up with here is that those who choice to accept that rich companies and people do create jobs willingly is either:

  • an aspiration for public office and the subsequent financial support from business owners and PACs, or
  • a paternalistic need to believe that some rich father figure will look out for you because you can't survive without that

Many commentators, economists and scholars are quick to point out that creating jobs is coincidental to capitalism. The fewer employees you have, the lower your expenses and if your business is properly managed and selling the right stuff, the higher for margins and absolute dollar returns.

Job Stiflers

You have to be somewhat patriotic and some visionary to make jobs in this country and to pay decent wages. What those same observers also note is that America grew into a great economic power after the Great Depression and WWII because of the patriotic and visionary shared ideals related to a vibrant middle class. More consumers with more money works. Finding a billion poor customers half-way round the globe does nothing for Americans, just for the business owners.

Oddly enough, back at the start of the 20th Century, a few hard-nosed magnates got it. Henry Ford, for one, declared he wanted to pay his workers enough that they could afford the cars they built. In this same era up until recently that attitude was widespread in Europe too, with many companies defining their level of success by how many workers they employed.

Lackaday, in this Great Recession and stumbling recovery, the JCes have failed us, badly failed us.

If they were in fact out there expanding, starting up companies and even retaining their employees, we'd be well on the way to extremely low unemployment and high consumer demand. Instead, when they got lots of cash, they sat on it for interest or invested it overseas. They pretended that onerous regulations and taxes (there weren't any added in this red herring) kept them from hiring.

They, as a group, are unpatriotic and cowardly. They are unwilling to share in the effort of recovery. They are too gutless to do what they claim to live for — take risks and create jobs.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Election? Get THE key right here!

The not-so-hidden competition in this huge election is in full fury. The compulsion to be the trend picker and meme definer fills the net, broadcast and print.

Few may remember how soccer moms came into the political vocabulary 17 years ago, Yet the relentless struggle to be the next to nail it all, THE key to the election, continues.

What we've been seeing and hearing are diverse, absurd and contradictory. One blowhard after another picks such as:

  • undecided women
  • Latinos
  • one or more swing states
  • Black women
  • early voters

It goes on and on and on. It has even affected high-brow media. In today's FT for example (may require free reg to view), the construct is How Hispanics could swing it.

This need-to-define-and-forecast has been going on for a long time. Nearly all are wrong nearly every time. Yet, they neither behave themselves nor apologize afterward.

The pronouncement of this, that or the other absolutely crucial demographic ends up being silly. For that to work, the group would have simultaneously to be almost entirely for one candidate and go to the polls at far higher percentages than other groups, say 85%.

So there is the key to the keys — GOTV. These many meme makers were far behind the shimmering crystal ball in 2008. Then, Barack Obama's candidacy and messages awoke the traditionally non-involved first-time and college-age voters. Those seeing the new soccer mom demographic were surprised and came behind claiming they knew about the youth vote all along. They didn't.

This go, there are far too many pivotal voting blocs. Pivots don't work en masse.

Forget a single pivot for this election. The blowhards will keep puffing but to no great discovery.

As noted here frequently, nearly half the voters are likely to go Romney/Ryan. I figure they are the fantasy believers in guns and butter, trickle-down economics, job creators (even though they have hidden in the boardrooms and refused to risk creating jobs since the big bust), and other daydreams. The Obama/Biden (and Warren) camp simply has to get out the vote. If enough rational sorts are enthusiastic enough to wait in line to control the nation's future, the good guys win.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Franken Carries Liz' Portfolio

Al Franken, no longer funny guy but still stand-up in the other sense of the term, stood in for Elizabeth Warren today in Cambridge. Yeah, he was still funny, even though he's seriously the U.S. Senator from Minnesota.

Truth be told, a friend and I intended to have a pint across the street from the Warren-for-Senate HQ on Mass Ave. out of Harvard Square before the sked announced she and he would appear there about the same time. We're both pinkos about her age, so we were delighted.

Cambridge Common is a fine place for reasonably priced brews, particularly IPAs. I doubt that is why Warren's campaign planted her office directly across the avenue. However after increasing our wisdom, we were ready for the scrum.

Turns out that Warren must have been at another locale. Franken appeared and charmingly carried the afternoon. I was fine with that, having met her numerous times as well as hosting her on the Left Ahead show. I'm decidedly one of her groupies and my wife has been canvassing and phone-banking for her. When we went to her West Roxbury office opening, she threw her arm around me and said, "I love this guy!" My wife allowed as she did too. It was all good.

Lackaday, my chum, who is also a Warren supporter, had not and still has not met her. We tried to get the tap puller to join us, but she pleaded work duties. Just as well...

Al Franken was in town and around for four or five events promoting his potential colleague. He did well.

The room was astoundingly deep for a Cambridge storefront. We packed it with several hundred very decided voters.

Oddly enough, the speakers who prepped the crowd for Franken's arrival were all women and concentrated heavily on LGBT issues. Obviously, this blog has long been gay-rights/marriage-equality oriented. Yet, it was strange that as far as Marjorie Decker (Cambridge City Councilor and candidate for state rep) and Denise Simmons (Cambridge Vice Mayor) and others were concerned, Warren's LGBT positions were start, middle and end. They didn't talk about equal pay, jobs, the economy or the other big issues in play. Meh.

Franken arrived jolly but coy. He stood by his claim that he did not criticize colleagues, as in Sen. Scott Brown. However, he did note the facts about interactions with Brown. Specifically, he cited a bill, the Student Non-Discrimination Act,  he introduced and collected 39 cosponsors for that would provide anti-discrimination for LGBT teens. This would protect kids like the ADA does for the disabled and Title IX does for girls and women. He said he asked Brown to join the cosponsors. Brown said he'd get back with him, which turned into his staff saying no.

Franken preferred to gush rationally about Warren. He noted that control of the Senate is at stake this year and that "is so important." He added that "Elizabeth Warren is so great."

Then he blended his two public personalities to urge those in the room "get off your butts" for the next two and one half weeks before the election. He said that they might have jobs and families, but that they should forget them for the next 18 days.

He joked that 8-year-olds were perfectly capable of using a microwave, while their parent(s) were canvassing or calling for Warren. He added that the 8-year-olds could also teach the 4-year-olds, and that kids really like being on their own for dinner.

He concluded more seriously that you don't want to wake up on November 7th thinking that you could have and should have done more to elect Warren.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Big Bite for Boston Schools

It could be huge, could be quashed, could be diluted, but right now, those in charge of the Boston public schools have a seminal plan to consider. We'll be talking about it was the driving force behind it.

Spend a half hour with City Councilor John Connolly tomorrow, Tuesday, October 16th, from 2 PM Eastern here. If you can't catch it live, go to that URL, to Left Ahead or our iTunes page any time afterward to listen or download his show.

As a parent who had nudged three sons through BPS start to finish, I believe in public education and have gotten the worst and the best of bureaucracy in evaluating schools, assignment games, dealing with teachers, and doing whatever was necessary to see my guys got the good end of the stick. I'm invested.

In the literal world of school boards and superintendents and teachers' unions, the focus is almost always on discreet chunks, such as student assignment plans. Instead, what Connolly, along with another Councillor and four state Reps, have thrown into the process is a serious effort to drop the lines on the maps. Instead, they propose schools in every district with the features parents crave and a whole new set of 16 citywide schools.

This is big stuff, which you can see in detail here.

In our half hour, we can't go through every detail, but as head of the Council's education committee (and a parent of two young children), Connolly has put a lot of mind and heart into this plan.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Yes-vember for Gay Marrigage

OK, kiddies, voters in four states get the right to reverse the elections of fear and confusion about marriage equality. In three states, they can reinforce same-sex marriage (Maine, Washington and Maryland) and in another (Minnesota) they can tell those who want to constitutionally ban it to get lost.

This AP piece has a fine recap of these states' particulars.

One of the few facts the anti-equality folk like the National Organization for Marriage use is that all the states that have put SSM to popular vote have rejected it. That's 32 of 32.

Of course, the NOM sorts do not mention that nearly all of these were in the scare-mongering period just before and after Vermont legalized civil unions and Massachusetts SSM. Given dishonest, dishonorable bluster about the dreadful certain outcomes of letting homosexuals also marry, voter confusion was certainly understandable.

It isn't any more.

Here in New England and the larger Northeast, voters have seen years of only benefits from a slight expansion of marriage. Coupled with single and paired folk coming out on porches, at work and elsewhere, they virtually all know homosexuals hindered, harmed and hampered by denying them the option of marriage. They see there is no redefinition, to use the MA Family Institutes's most common lie, of marriage. They have learned that there has been only societal good and the type of respect and compassion that the major religions preach.

Come November 7th, it's almost certain that the anti-gay/anti-SSM will reframe their we-always-win game. They have built on this mythology despite legalization of marriage equality by legislative and judicial action. All they have left is plebiscites.

We have a dreadful history of denying shared civil rights — to women, African American, Asians and other. We unquestionably share the human failing of being willing to punish those we think of as not like us. Honestly, most of us know better. Fortunately, more and more public speakers make it plain that we should never vote on civil rights.

So, say the count on November 7th is 32 to 4 or 34 to 2, feel the hard breeze from the spin by the Dark Side. Even so, know that this shameful pattern is about to reverse.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Back Porch Capuano

Now he's mine. I've long admired plainspoken and progressive U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano. As a result of redistricting, as of January, he gets my part of Boston as well as other neighborhoods and other towns.

He's constantly going and was tough to get on Left Ahead. He did join us eventually a few years ago. We'll get him on again.

Two nights ago, he was up on my hill holding forth and shaking hands with about 40 of us. He is introducing himself to his new constituents. As always, his candid talk and answers went over well. I don't think he's capable of lying or even dissembling. While he's proudly lifelong Somerville, his plain talk could fit just as easily in New Jersey or West Virginia, two areas I grew up in where they admire and respect it.
An earlier post contains clips of his predictions for November wins by Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren.

Forever Mayor

He poked fun at himself for retaining his quality-of-life focus from his days as Somerville aldeman and then Mayor. He says he still does non-Congressional things, even ones some people consider stupid, like noting where there are potholes that need fixing. He says, "I think these are the things that really matter to people. I care way too much."

In some way, Capuano is a character in his own long-running play. He clearly enjoys letting voters see his foibles and learn about what makes him angry or pleased. That goes a long way toward humanizing him, so that when he casts a vote in the House you don't necessarily like, you have a sense of why...and if you don't, he'd be willing to explain it.

In fact, his candor and conviction remind me of another beloved member of Congress. In a post here six years ago, I recalled something "...U.S. Senator Wayne Morse (D-Oregon) told me many years ago [in the 1960s]. He was staunchly anti-Vietnam War in a state whose voters had the opposite view. When I asked him about compromises and importance of being counted, he said, 'Don't believe a thing a politician tells you if it doesn't square with his voting record.'"

Monday evening, Cappy spoke as though the crowd didn't know his voting record or politics. Surprising to this wonk, he was right.

Up top, he explained why he voted against invading Iraq, which he saw as not involved in 9/11. In contrast, he voted for involvement in Afghanistan, where al-Quaeda had was being shielded. He approved of the anti-terrorism military activities, but not nation building. However, he thinks we are being far too slow in leaving, as the terrorists have long left. He still would support sending troops wherever al-Quaeda or their ilk move.

He went to controversial issues to explain how he legislates and deals. For a big example, he supported the Affordable Care Act for healthcare overhaul, even though he found it only a good beginning and far from perfect.

He enjoys the process, which he describes as politics are "the most difficult thing you can do without hitting each other." He hasn't appreciated the obstructionism by the GOP for the past several years. In fact, he longs for a return to when "...we got to fight with people we disagree with. Then we have to fight among ourselves about the details. Those family fights are the ones I miss."

Stand Up, Speak Up

He said that unfortunately, "my side is full of complainers." He wants both the President and those in Congress to speak up about key issues. "I really want more people on my side to show up and not be afraid to talk about civil liberties."

As much he is willing to mix it up, he says there's an important role for bipartisanship. On the other hand, he said, "There's a big difference between getting along with someone and just selling out." He wants Democrats from the President down to be more aggressive on key issues.

For the long-lasting impasses in Congress, he isn't surprised. He sees it not as a symptom of the Congress members, rather of the national division. "Congress is severely divided" he said because the nation is. The folk voters send to D.C. accurately represent their constituents, hence the conflicts.

For pending issues, he continues to define himself as proud liberal who is a fiscal conservative in the old sense. "I'm not afraid of taxes," he said, "I pay 'em and I have no problems asking you to pay them, but I want them to be used properly." He tells constituents who complain about taxes that if they don't pay them, they don't get the services they want. "You don't get anything for free."

By the way of conclusion, he said plainly that he had no idea of how Congress would act during its lame-duck period looming or even the first six months of the new term. "I'm not optimistic for the next six months or so, but I'm incredibly optimistic for the long term."

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Cappy Calls It For Obama and Warren

"I like politics. It's the most difficult thing you can do without hitting each other."
— U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano

Last evening on Hyde Park's Fairmount Hill, Capuano introduced himself to his new constituents. Under redistricting, he now has the whole of Boston's HP as well as down to Randolph. Starting January, he's the guy in D.C. for a lot of folk in new places.

While much of his homey, candid chat to about 40 of us was about his background and politics, he did not shy way from questions about the pending elections. Below are two clips about the U.S. Senate and POTUS races. Click on the players to hear.

The short of it is that he figures both Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama will win. Warren will have to get out of her comfort zone and speak more to voters who don't agree with her. Capuano said, from experience, that it's easy talking to friends, neighbors and others who share your views. "It gets tough when you talk to people who want to poke their finger in your chest ad say you're wrong about these ten things."

He also noted that Sen. Scott Brown has the advantages of being handsome and a nice guy. But Capuano said that "everybody has to decide what he wants. I want someone who's going to fight for values that we share. I'm not looking for a friend. I'm looking for a Senator."

He thinks Obama is also in for a battle, but that "A year ago, I didn't think Barack Obama could win reelection. Now I don't think he can lose." He admits that Obama did not do well in the first debate but "he'll do fine" in the next one.

On the other hand, "I want the Barack Obama I voted for the first time." That would include one not afraid to push for the right goals.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Inside Heroes' Minds: SSM Edition

Rachel Maddow did a great interview with Ted Olson and David Boies, the odd couple taking the same-sex issue to the SCOTUS.

They are optimistic and terrified, and in agreement that this is the time.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Lines in Shifting Sands

Surprising no one, winger demagogues and the wispy would-be POTUS react immediately to good news for the nation with lies and vitriol. Despite their craven fixation on unemployment rates, and in particular the 8% touchstone, they issue no apologies.

Those many millions of us who grew up with and into the concepts of honor and personal responsibility sigh or chuckle or swear. Those who have transcended those honorable precepts join choruses of denial or conspiracy theory or calumny.

There are many recaps of the GOP silliness, like Slate and MSNBC and the WAPO.

The desperation is understandable, if pathetic. Romney barely had time to revel in his bullying of the POTUS and moderator in his solid if totally incredibly mendacious debate showing. Now he weakly re-re-reframes economic issues.

The trutherism and dizzying spin on the potent symbol of 8% unemployment are stunning. For a year, Romney and for longer the GOP has made 8% unemployment the proof of returning economic health for the nation. With years of GOP and DINO Congressional sorts sabotaging the Administration's jobs and other recovery efforts, they can't even begrudgingly accept that the President's cautious efforts are paying off.

Particularly in contrast with the rest of the industrialized world, we're perking along — despite them.

We've had 42 months of continuous job growth, a booming stock market, and a slowly but steadily declining unemployment percentage. They can't stand that their ambushes and obstructionism have failed.

Imagine how many more jobs we'd have created (real job creation) if wingers in Congress had worked for the good of the country. With far too many companies, huge and medium mostly, sniveling about how risky it would be to add jobs, someone needs to show some guts.

So, now is the time when honorable women and men would praise the milestone they identified, that 8%. They'd apologize for their insults, false claims and failed predictions.

Instead the Jack Welch and Mitt Romney types again show their true nature. The words are dishonest and dishonorable.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Obama's Big Honking Problem

Yeah, yeah, the POTUS' smiley-face, wimpy/pencil-pusher effort last night let the unctuous liar look good in contrast. Yeah, yeah, Obama should have pounced on numerous openings (like Romney's lies about taking over $700 billion from Medicare recipients and bogus claims about tax cuts that don't add to the deficit).

I watched constantly aware of the parallels between the President's weak debate showing and his failure to get bills necessary to recovery into law.

There are several styles of getting big laws passed. After the Eisenhower post-WWII/great feeling era, this has been much easier for Republicans. Congressional Dems have been much more willing to compromise and cooperate on important issues. Yet with the exception of the brilliant but hapless Carter, Dem Presidents  have found ways to get obstructionist, petty GOP majorities to pass the big ones.

Consider Johnson and Clinton. Their styles differed vastly, but they both got 'er done. Johnson, certainly the foremost legislation warrior ever, used every political gambit, including threats, to get his way. Clinton charmed, cajoled and compromised to victory repeatedly.

Obama has gotten a few done, but not nearly as many big ones. Surely his Affordable Care Act looms largest.

Unfortunately, faced with a dishonorable, dishonest, obstructionist GOP House and filibuster-neutered Senate, he failed either to intimidate and shame or charm them into compliance. That has been his great failure. Had he figured out how to get them into line, we'd have jobs bills and a much more robust economy.

Last night, Romney used the "bipartisan" lie several times, not noting that when only a few Dems joined the GOP solid block in defeating bills, it was not at all a consensus across the two. Obama let that ride (stupid move or rather inertia!).

Obama avoided calling out the GOP Congress members. He shouldn't have feared offending them, after they have already spent nearly four years throwing him the legislative finger.

He needs to put the blame to them. He needs to shame them into acting on jobs and the rest of the economy. He needs to call them out. He needs to demand that they actually filibuster and show the country how much they are willing to hurt us all for the basest political reasons.

He can start by making the dynamics plain in the next two debates. He needs to make it plain that we'll speed up our recovery when he makes them finally do the right things. If they balk, he'll name them and shame them. Even these callow elephants shudder at being shown for what they are.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

BPS Napalm in the Morning

The smell on looming conflict permeated MA State House hearing room 437 this morning. Ostensibly, two Boston City Councilors and four state Reps offered up an "alternative student-assignment plan." While that may seem harmless enough, I predict much angst and yelling, and eventually improved outcomes for students, parents, schools and teachers.

Cue the helicopters.

The plan (here in PDF) is about far more than choosing schools.  It means to push and drag a stagnant school system into modernity, accountability, efficiency, and respect for its constituents. As head of the Committee on Education for the past three years, at-large Councilor John Connolly has the energy, perseverance and maybe enough masochism to analyze and wrangle the BPS and its budget (the largest component of the city's expenses, at over $1 billion). He also has kids he intends to put through the system.

By the bye, he's joined us on Left Ahead several times to talk schools or elections.

Like a true progressive, Connolly looks toward understanding systems, and then improving them short, mid- and long term. His hand shows heavily in the plan the group released today.

Other group members who have been attending the advisory group on school assignments and participating in developing this plan are Representatives Linda Dorcena Forry, Nick Collins, Ed Coppinger and Russell Holmes, and Councilor Matt O'Malley. While being quick to say everyone had input in the new plan, Connolly also admitted he drove this and is willing to take most of any resulting heat.

For a quick but reasonably detailed overview, check Adam Gaffin's take at UniversalHub.

Connolly has made it plain that he did not get that he wanted for the schools in the recent teachers' contract. That included no longer days and or more meaningful teacher evaluations. This morning, he told me he had kind of gotten over that, at least came to peace with the situation.

As a parent who confronted the BPS to get three sons through, I am all the more impressed with the new plan. We have an 11-year gap between son one and son two, so our experience with BPS' bureaucracy, and often indifference and incompetence spanned decades...and numerous versions of assignment plans. Like Connolly, we are true believers in public education. The difference here being he is in a position and of a mind to make it better, much better, for others.

You can get more details than just the plan, as well as sign on to its concepts on the new website for this purpose. If you aren't yet up for poring over the full plan, start with the FAQ.

I'll be analyzing it against the other proposed plans and do more on the topic here soon.

Meanwhile I think about the likely blowback from this new plan. There's a lot of potential for NIH (not invented here) by the BPS superintendent, committee, teachers union, and even the Mayor and other Councilors.

Granted, with his hand on the rudder of the Education Committee, Connolly seems to be doing what he sees as right for everyone involved (students and parents utmost). Yet with all the satraps involved, I sense a lot of figurative pearly clutching already. He went to legislators for support and includes new laws. He proposes zoneless assignment, he wants guaranteed kindergarten seats near kids' neighborhoods, and he wants numerous commitments from the BPS. That latter includes the likes of making sure all schools offer such now-rare features as advanced work. He also wants 16 citywide schools with education specialties.

In short, his group has codified what various superintendents and School Committee iterations should have done long ago to vastly improve a so-so system. He must love the smell of Napalm in the morning.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Stomping in Lowell

We did learn quite a bit about Scott Brown last evening — despite his clearest intentions to prevent that. He certainly did not convert any undecided voters, but his claque loved every dodge, every smirk and every personal snipe.

As the last debate-like-event, the moderator had a decided sensationalist bent and was not at all a liberal. In Lowell, David Gregory, a conservative, allowed Brown to avoid answering questions from him, Elizabeth Warren, and the students. He also let Brown bully him into a time advantage. That was all predictable.

C-Span has the whole debate available here.

My wife and I went. The trip was worth it, in the very least to sense and and hear the rowdy crowd reactions. Brown's supporters (each side had 500 tickets — about 10% of the arena, plus the crowd divisions) did not mind at all that he still refused to explain votes favoring huge financial and petroleum companies or repeated dishonest personal attacks. In fact, they cheered those.

Much will be made of Brown's few and acid weapons — Native-American ancestry, and his knowingly false portrayal of two complex legal settlements Warren lawyered in. What I learned instead from his smirks, sarcasm and sidesteps is that he fully expects to continue a content-free campaign. Even with nearly two years of recorded votes, he refuses to let anyone, another candidate much less a voter, hold him accountable.

He also is incredibly indecisive, willfully ignorant, or dishonest about his policies and positions. With the exception of "absolutely" opposing the Dream Act as a form of amnesty, a stance he'd been quoted on numerous times and thus unavoidable, he fudged all questions about how he might vote. It was as though he hasn't thought about whether he'd support the reactionary hardliner Mitch McConnell to head the Senate if the GOP should take it, whether he'd let tax cuts for millionaires and above expire if offset with spending cuts, and anything else substantial.

Instead on one major question after another, he played and overplayed his alleged impartial card (a.k.a. the bipartisan ploy). He couldn't and wouldn't tell us what we'd get by electing him to a full term. He'd pore over each bill's contents, he'd listen to all arguments and only then decide what he believed and would do. While he refuses to call himself a Republican in person or in campaign material, that sounded dreadfully like the Romney/Ryan shtick. They say that their economic plan is too complex to explain, so we need to elect them and let Congress work out the details. Walrus wings, I say!

Amusingly to the intimate gathering of 5,000, we saw differences even during the photo-op before the show, then again during the break and afterward. The self-presenting nice guy was cold and avoided engagement. Warren in contrast tried to chat him up, smiled at him, the moderator and the audience, waved to her husband, and, well, was the nice guy. The difference was she wasn't pretending.

Watching Brown relatively closely was better than on TV, with the many cutaways. I thought throughout of the younger version. He's big on smirking and being pleased with his perceived cleverness. Likely he fell into one of those three classes that teachers and parents praise:

  1. Fast answer. Kids conditioned to respond with the quickest reply tend to be partially wrong or shallow in analysis.
  2. Deep thought. The big brains tend to take longer but come up closest to truth.
  3. Clever. The cute reply, often with a learned grin, may be disarming while really not answering the question.

He often doesn't answer at all, much less quickly. He isn't particularly bright (I'd bet she has 30 IQ points on him). Yet, he obviously has a learned response of going for the light and witty over candid or analytic.

Also, last evening as in the previous kind-of debate it was plain that he does not like being challenged, particularly by a woman. The defining moment was one he clearly had prepared and likely practiced (to the praise of his wife maybe). While he had run long, refused to address the questions the moderator asked, and talked over Warren repeatedly, when she tried to cut in with a point, he whipped out his big quip of the night, "Excuse me, I’m not a student in your classroom."

That was not the only condescension of the 50 minutes, only the most graceless. He actually performed better near the end. She scored first answering an inane hypothetical from Gregory about why it might be that MA has never elected a woman as its US Senator. She said she didn't know, but she was working to change that.

Shortly after, he got in his best of the night by responding to a pointed question about whether she was qualified, as in earned her way, to her Harvard Law tenured professorship. The implication seemed to be an effort to return to the ancestry/affirmative action opening where Brown has yet to show any evidence she got an advantage by listing herself in a directory as having Native-American background. Instead, he made his best feint of the show saying she likely was an excellent professor and he was working to make sure she stayed one. Point and counterpoint.

Unfortunately, Gregory was only a tiny bit sharper than the rumpled of clothes and mind Jon Keller in the first meeting. He too not only opened with the ancestry non-issue, but let it consume over a quarter of the show. We were robbed of substance again.

Throughout what they did get to, Brown assiduously avoided challenges from both mod and challenger. For example, called to task for voting for continued multi-billion dollar oil subsidies when petro companies are hugely profitable, he gave no rationalization. Instead, he said oil companies were going to get that money secondhand from Congressional action or directly from raising prices. He apparently has never considered that stopping the corporate welfare would be the end of it and Congress and President could make sure that was true. Viewing giant industries as masters and unstoppable juggernauts is not the way to go, unless you bend over for their campaign contributions.

Yet that was another benefit of being there. Brown's supporters clapped, stomped and cheered wildly at even his dumbest responses. While Gregory urged everyone before starting not to interrupt with such responses, both sides ended up ignoring him. I listened carefully and figure that perhaps Warren supporters outnumbered Brown ones by 50% or so, at least by oral volume, similar to the crowds outside before it began. Both sides made plenty of noise.

I don't have a whole lot of hope for more substance in the remaining, staged for TV sort-of debates. The format stinks and leads to the shallowness we've seen in the first two, particularly under two lame moderators.

Without question, Warren is smart, knowledgeable and substantive. Brown isn't going to become forthcoming or honest in the next three weeks. We'll continue to have inequality with avoidance on one side.