Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cool down everyone - and check out the newbies

At some point this week, it stopped being about a fight over the sales tax, and starting being a fight over the branch of government that calls the shots in Massachusetts. I think that's where things went really, really wrong. Feel free to decide who moved this out of control -- you have many points to choose form. Yeah, I imagine that DeLeo could have collected a majority of votes in support of his crackpot idea, but I can't imagine it wouldn't have gone far beyond that until it got nasty. Blame whomever you want to blame.

One major problem -- we used to count on Terry Murray to keep things cool in these moments, getting Sal and Deval under control when they were being idiotic. I'm guessing that won't happen this time -- "you can't govern by press release, that's what Romney used to do" aren't the words of a neutral observer. I wonder why exactly she went off the fence on this one.

We can argue over who started this...I'm more interested in who's going to finish it. Those of you looking for a full-frontal assault on the Legislature: the governor will lose. Really -- his biggest threat is a veto, and if there's one thing that the Massachusetts Legislature knows how to do by now, it's override vetoes. Primary threats are laughed at by pretty much everyone, and whatever leverage DeLeo has is acres more powerful than any suasion from Deval and his supporters.

Let me point this out: Deval lost the progressives, and he also lost, and lost badly, among members who joined the State House during his tenure.

Of the 2006 freshmen class, the ones who entered state politics alongside Governor Patrick, 8 of 14 voted with DeLeo (D'Amico, Peake, McCarthy, Brownsberger, Alicea, Fernandes, Allen and Conroy voted for the sales tax hike. D'Amico, Campbell, Puppolo, Smith, Calter and Sandlin voted no.)

Of the 2008 freshmen, who entered while Deval was governor, he lost an astonishing 9 of 11. (Gregoire, Dykema, Madden - Independent, Bowles, Lewis, Benson, Ashe, Brady, Hogan for the hike, Arciero and Rosa against).

I would think that if one were truly interested in changing the House, one would court and build support among those who already have dingy offices, bad parking spaces, and scant committee assignments. What's DeLeo going to do to them? The ones most vulnerable to challengers in the primary and general. Deval lost that natural support base to the tune of 18-7 -- even the lowliest members of the House went against him by a veto-proof margin.

This is powerful stuff to me. If anybody would be ripe for plucking by Deval and his people, I would expect it to be people elected under his banner, mostly with him directing the party. And even they don't appear to be cowed by the governor. Or inclined to take his side.

We have to step down. Back off from DEFCON 1, folks. Look for a compromise -- raise the sales tax by .5% with a 1-year sunset provision, put some eminence grise on the task of producing a quick-hit report on raising the gas tax in 2 weeks, and let Deval Patrick cast a veto. Come out with a blue ribbon report recommending a 15 cent raise in the gas tax, pass a 10-cent raise, and muddle through. Let's send everyone hope happy and a winner. If we have only one winner, it won't be the governor and it shouldn't be the legislature.

(Sources: Roll call, 2008 Freshmen, 2006 Freshmen)

Monday, April 27, 2009

A "storm" over a snit? I think not.

My good friends over at BMG have declared a "BLOG STORM!" (capitals, exclamation point, and italics all in original) because, well, the budget is being written at the State House and the governor sent a press release. That's really about it. I should specify: he sent a whining note to members of the Massachusetts Legislature about how they're mean and he'll veto 'an' stuff, and released it so loyal supporters could echo his whining.

I often harken back to a year ago when I attended something sold as a policy forum on education during the Democratic State Convention, which in reality was an Amwayesque attempt to bully people into pushing Deval's education agenda, the "Readiness Project". Already, his office was trying to pretend that Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts Democratic Party were one and the same, and one could only be loyal to one by being loyal to the other.

The most amazing part of that day for me was the discovery that many people had signed up to be "Readiness Representatives" who promised to sell Deval's agenda to their school committees and districts -- before they even knew what it was. Maybe Deval would triple charter schools, or ax them altogether, nobody knew. But whatever he wanted, these people were signed up to sincerely argue that it was a good idea, just because it was Deval's idea.

Well, our Commonwealth has many "Deval reps" who will gladly do as ordered by the Guv on any issue. One of his groundbreaking ideas is to end the exemption of soda from the sales tax. (Regular, not diet soda -- I don't know about lite soda, or if we'll simply tax per calorie). Of course, when Senator Barrios wanted to eliminate Fluff from school lunches he was roundly mocked -- often by the same people now reporting for duty to implement Deval's brilliant idea. You can play with tax rates all you want, but kids' menus are sacrosanct, I guess. The same folks have turned in any pro-labor credentials because Deval wants to stampede people into the GIC plan, whether it works for the town or not.

Here's what happened: someone in the Legislature came up with a stupid idea -- raising the sales tax by two percent -- and it was shot down. The governor was on the side of the angels in fighting it. End of story for most of us, used to trial balloons on any given day. Of course, Deval (who is adopting Mitt Romney's habit of running to the press to complain about the Legislature, rather than quietly working with it) decides to throw himself a snit party. The man who announced ethics reforms and pension reforms via press release unbacked by actual legislation is...announcing his veto plans via press release.

Geez, a governor who lobbies by press release and travels the country. Like we haven't had enough of that in this state.

I'll tell you when I will take Deval Patrick seriously about revenue: when he gives up his Yeltsinesque struggle with the legislative branch and pushes for a progressive income tax.

"Oh, but that takes a Constitutional Amendment" you may whine. So? The anti-equality folks whipped those up right quick to try to prevent marriage equality in this state. I like to think that there are more of us than them in this state.

Are you saying that in the age of Bernie Madoff, we can't get the requisite signatures on the idea of the rich paying their fair share in this state? Deval Patrick can't lead an effort for a progressive income tax in this era and in this place? That is the kind of change we need and we were promised, and if he can't deliver, he's just a fraud with lots of yes-men. Of course, it could mean coming out from behind his press people and leading from the front -- I'd like to think Deval is still up for it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

On textbooks (and Texas)

More education inside baseball stuff for the overly patient reader. Today's topic: textbooks. In our mini-course today, our "text" will be this article on Edutopia. Though it kindly attempts to address many problems with textbooks, it does start off poorly:

Textbooks are a core part of the curriculum, as crucial to the teacher as a blueprint is to a carpenter.

Not even close. My curriculum is determined by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts -- find it here. Decent teachers may use the textbook as a resource, often the main resource, to cover the curriculum, but it takes institutional myopia to claim that they are the curriculum. They aren't a blueprint, but rather a pretty reliable hammer: blunt, simple, and unglamorous. Though the author mentions this reality later on, s/he doesn't really seem to believe it. All elements that may contribute to my need to write my own "texts" on three narrow areas in my curriculum as the textbook takes rather poor stabs at explanation.

The main concern on textbooks, that the article smartly mentions, is the vanishing choice of printing houses. Another key reality is the outsized influence of those states that buy their textbooks en masse, not district by district as Massachusetts does. So some states have a greater say:

Texas, California, and Florida have unrivaled clout. Yes, size does matter. Together, these three have roughly 13 million students in K-12 public schools. The next eighteen adoption states put together have about 12.7 million...obviously, publishers create products specifically for the adoptions in those three key states...

For reasons ranging from dedicated funds to lockstep purchasing process, the single state with the greatest sway over how textbooks are written is quite possibly the last state I'd want to have that power. Due to bureaucratic and finanical reasons, textbooks are essentially dumbed down to the point where they would be acceptable to Texas purchasers, who represent a state scoring notably below Massachusetts in reading ability (per the NAEP). As a special bonus, not only is Texas an academic laggard, but a cultural one as well. Texans' struggle with teaching evolution can only result in wan, mealymouthed explanations of that scientific theory. These are the people with a gigantic influence on the textbooks placed in front of American children.

As a reward to you, the reader, a quiz. Which statement do you believe is true about the textbook that I use in my classroom?

  • Though it surveys world history from the Fall of Rome until the Enlightenment, India is only mentioned twice -- both times in connection with European exploration.
  • It uses outmoded and incorrect spellings for many historical figures of importance.
  • It claims that Buddhism is a religion.
  • In the textbook's telling of the schism that birthed the Orthodox Church, it was the Catholic pope who favored icons, while the Orthodox church rejected them.
  • There is no mention of pre-exploration history in modern Australia or the United States.
  • It labels Confucianism with the symbol of Taoism
Highlight the end of this sentence for the answer: of course, they're all true.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On history: The Boston Tea Party

Coming off the previous week, it seemed everybody and his brother was trying to invoke the "spirit of the Boston Tea Party", whether it be pro-equality activists in Boston, or conservatives nationwide protesting the cutting of their tax rates, having an African-American president, or something. The BTP strikes a strong chord, it would seem -- it was also evoked in 2004 as Howard Dean opted out of spending restrictions at the height of his campaign. Continuing on a rather interesting discussion at BMG though, I have to admit that the whole BTA thing never much resonated with me. Exploring why is an interesting look at how to consider history.

As I alluded a while ago, historians usually place themselves along a spectrum with the "great men" idea on one extreme, and "longue durée" on the other. For centuries, the West was fixated by the "great men" idea that history was shaped by the Julius Caesars and Winston Churchills of the world. Strong personalities stood astride history, and leaping from one biography to another was the essential point of our story. In reaction, there arose first in France the idea of the longue durée school, which basically holds that history is the product of broad, slow-moving trends. To those historians, Caesar was not so much an extraordinary man as an above-average man at an extraordinary moment. Biographies aren't nearly as important as demographic data, and social movements. It's an intense debate that often gets emotional.

If you want to approach it from a geological parallel, longue durée measures tectonic shifts, while "great man" chronicles the earthquakes.

To take a "Great Man" view that powerful individuals shape history, you can make good book that had John Kerry been president in 2002, we'd not have invaded Iraq, a decision that set the course of a good piece of history for the next little while.

On the other hand, "longue durée" folks aver that Churchill was big in World War II, but he didn't create the American-British friendship himself, didn't move Britain off the coast of Europe...heck, he didn't even deliver one of "his" most famous speeches.

Over time, I do lean toward the longue durée way of thinking, and the Boston Tea Party is a great way to examine why. Granted, Great Men are needed for national holidays, statues, to put on money, and all the things that go into the building of an essential national mythology. Plus, it's much easier to write history textbooks and tv series that way -- all reasons why you can see some hysterical reactions to questioning anyone's national mythology. To see one such example as applies to the Boston Tea Party, look here.

One can't deny the aftermath of the protest...the British overreaction to the Tea Party, the Patriots' exploitation of that overreaction to spread colonial hostility to the British, and the adding of several more flakes to what snowballed into the American Revolution. What I can and will deny, however, is that there was anything special about the Boston Tea Party as such that created the moments and forces that eventually shifted the course of history, or that anything happened then and there that would not have happened elsewhere eventually. Basically, I hold that the forces at play would have pushed history forward whether it had been tea in Boston or tobacco in Hampton Roads, Virginia. We would have had an American Revolution, with or without the Boston Tea Party. Here's why...

  • Economic realities: The American colony was a money loser for the British, what with defending the transplants against Native Americans and the French. London wasn't going to long tolerate paying for it...but the colonists weren't about to pay for it themselves. Stalemate. This was the basis of the entire crisis, in my opinion. Sure, the lot of English-speakers muddled through during the Seven Years'/French and Indian War out of self-preservation against a common enemy, but this arrangement wasn't going to last long in peacetime.
  • Colonial overreaction: Charles Townshend was not the coolest-headed person to walk the Earth, and it was the package of punitive measures collectively remembered as the Townshend Acts that got many American colonials off the fence. He was backed by a bevy of similar-minded MPs in London who likely would have rotated him out of office had he gone soft on the colonials. Any series of protests anywhere in the 13 colonies would have evoked this overreaction -- it just happened to be the Boston Tea Party that sparked it in our history.
  • The pamphletting class: The BTA is remembered so fiercely thanks to a group of men who were creative and genial protesters skilled at advertising themselves. During the tea party, the "protesters" got the chuckling help of the ship's crew in finding and disposing of the tea, and it was an open secret who was involved. The Native American disguises were basically a joke. However, one thing the Patriots took seriously was the dissemination of their ideals, and the heroic light in which pamphleteers such as Thomas Paine would paint such events. It just happened that the Boston Tea Party was one such protest.
  • Decolonization: Colonies don't last. America may have been the first to rebel from modern European colonization, but the Hyksos had problems with their colonies four thousand years ago. The Americans quickly became too distant and different to remain partners in the British operation. Heck, even in much, much more recent times, colonies such as Algeria and Ireland rebelled despite being more closely intertwined with their colonizer. It just happens that here we're talking about Boston.

It was going to happen sometime, somewhere, and go from there. The Boston Tea Party was an amusing way to strike the match, but at the cost of about $1 million in today's dollars, not sufficient in isolation to create any problems. It may be useful to consider a modern parallel: imagine a secessionist Governor Perry destroyed $1 million of private property of a quasi-federal agency, say the Postal Service. Do you think Texas's ports would be blockaded, and specific taxes levied against it? No, Obama would sue, maybe suspend the transfer of some federal funds. Obama has a cooler head than Townshend, Texas is pretty much a break-even state for the feds, and it is completely integrated into the country to the point of supplying much of American socioeconomic, cultural, and political activity. Any Texas secessionist movement is too nascent to supply much in the way of propaganda in any case.

With American history full of movements that rely so much more on the greatness and courage of its people -- labor rights, women's rights, civil rights -- can't we retire the Boston Tea Party to the curiosity section of our history shelves? That way, we can at least invoke noble, pivotal protests for our latest pet peeves -- "Freedom (from Taxation) Rides" or "Seneca Falls II", anyone?

Monday, April 20, 2009

World Ups and Downs of the week

World Ups and Downs, a view of the global movers and shakers for the past week.

For a further explanation, see the original post...

moving UP
CubaLooks like the American foreign policy establishment is removing its head from its a--, as American-Cuban relations are improving at a very quick pace. If the US can have relations with Belarus and the Sudan, we can with Cuba as well. As the fulcrum group of Cuban-American voters recedes in importance and number, the time may have come for us to give up on this last gasp of the Cold War.

BurundiThe Internet may not have enough room to detail the difficult, bloody history of Burundi: its role in the African World War, the fallout of the Rwandan genocide, and its own struggles. Rare is the central African country that isn't knotted in civil war, but this week the last significant group contesting government rule gave up its weapons, clearing the way for a hopeful future.

moving DOWN
It's sad that the second nation to achieve independence in the Americas has so many struggles, especially so close to the riches of the first independent nation. The endemic political instability gets even worse in a bad economy, American diplomatic visits notwithstanding.

Though a man calling himself Somali's prime minister is asking for help, the pleadings of a man with as much control over Somalia as you or I may fall on deaf ears. With pirate activity continuing unabated and threatening talk from the criminals, their time in the world's blind spot may be closing. If the world takes steps to stop this piracy, many of those steps may well impact all Somalis in a less than positive way.


Its economy has been quietly collapsing, its currency down 10% in this month relative to the US dollar. Heavily invested in mineral prices, Mongolia acutely feels the effects of the shrinking global demand for the raw materials of manufacturing. Although they may have stemmed the bleeding according to the World Bank, it may be doing so at the cost of falling into China's orbit. Such a move may offer temporary shelter, but in the long run the geopolitical repercussions may exact a higher price.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


What do you think of the new color scheme? Think you could do better? Want to work for free for a demanding client to prove it?

Thanks to the many who came to the blogger dinner/conference/planning session Sunday night in Lynn. Nice to see everyone there...good times. Special kudos to Ryan for organizing the shindig.

My bold prediction: the men's winner of tomorrow's Boston Marathon hails from Kenya or Tanzania.

PS: Interesting list of countries boycotting the UN Conference against Certain Kinds of Racism. The United States and Israel are no surprise given Arab states' use of the conference for their own ends. Similarly, the conservative government in Ottawa apparently withstood Canada's longstanding affection for the UN. Same for right-wingers in Germany and New Zealand I guess -- turns out Obama's actually the exception. But the Netherlands? I figured they'd go and put up the good fight. Naturally, Sarkozy is going, perhaps in an effort to find a buddy who he hasn't managed to insult recently.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Believe in the Bible, or read it, I guess

...the easiest way to undermine belief in the Bible is to simply read it:

Didn't realize Jesus was English. If you think this is self-righteous, take a look at Oklahoma legislator Sally Kern, and decide which is worse, a bad video or a bad lawmaker...

Monday, April 13, 2009

World Ups and Downs

World Ups and Downs, a view of the national movers and shakers for the past week.

For a further explanation, see the original post...

moving UP
Croatia & AlbaniaI'm not 100% sure what the point of NATO is these days, other than to offer rich Atlantic powers a way to have their militaries hang out, and do jobs they don't trust to the people provided to run UN peacekeeping missions. Whichever, it is one of the prestigious rich clubs that countries ache to get into (unless they're petrified of, or in love with, Russia). This week, Albania and Croatia join the group. Albania in particular seems delirious about the accession, where over 95% reportedly favor the chance to offer their 100,000 tons of obsolete ammunition to the cause.

Early moves reminiscent of the Ukraine's"Orange Revolution" have broken out in Moldova as streets fill with people protesting a suspicious election where ex-communists did exceptionally, surprisingly well. Russia, anxious to protect its perceived turf, is already accusing the European Union of meddling. The West, of course, is welcoming this slight climb of the democratic ladder by threatening to downgrade the country's bond status. The Moldovan people are doing the right thing, as people around them aren't.

moving DOWN
South Africa
It appears that the next president of South Africa will begin his tenure under a cloud of suspicion. Prosecutors forswore pursuing ANC candidate Jacob Zuma Reminiscent of the Stevens case, "prosecutors said the withdrawal had nothing to do with Zuma's guilt or innocence". This feels awfully close to the "political solution" an "appalled" Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu feared a couple days beforehand. So South Africa will again be led by a man ignorant of the realities of the AIDS virus.

The term "mob rule" doesn't get much more literal than what's happening in Thailand these days. Popular/populist Thaskin Shinawatra was elected on a Chavez-esque platform of screwing the middle class to help the poor. Slightly corrupt and uneven governance was marked by funneling money to the poor during his tenure. Well, the middle class couldn't have that, so organized mobs began protesting until they managed to get the military to install a less populist government, and to begin persecuting Thaskin and his followers. After a period of these people bumbling along, Thaskin's supporters have turned out in force and are currently surrounding the house of a regime general (barriers to the house were removed by two cranes that the protesters brought with them). It seems that we're headed for a cycle when mob rule is the norm in Thailand, where governance is wasted but good food isn't.


As many people from Adolf Hitler to Osama bin Laden have learned, the United States is pretty much content to let you do whatever you want to your own people and neighbors as long as America is left alone. Another group -- the pirates of Somalia -- may learn that lesson more directly in the days to come. An American ship was briefly captured, and its captain remains a hostage. Somali pirates have exploded as a concern for Americans. Granted, much of it is from right wingers desperately searching for an Obama mistake, and Americans remains scarred by their last sojourn into Somalia. News of the hostage's rescue brings optimism that a smart president won't paint the are with a broad, explosives-laden brush, but if American ships continue as targets, the people of Somalia may find themselves caught in a conflict they didn't want.

The idyllic archipelago of Fiji hosts politics that are anything but. In this latest in the cycle of coups, juntas, and stabs at democratic government, the constitution was just suspended. Though the media is bravely trying to undermine the new regime of censorship, recent history doesn't bode well.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

McCrea's blog for Mayor blog!

Kevin McCrea is running for mayor, but he's already won the prize for Best Candidate Blog in Years in my heart. I doubt he stands much chance against Menino, or city councilors Yoon and Flaherty, but he's got easily the most entertaining candidate blog I've read in a while. I'm not going to go all meta, but many of my favorite blogs have been people talking about the oddities of a daily life very different from mine -- one of my favorite blogs of the past was an often sarcastic blog from a little-used NBA backup that went dark a couple years ago. McCrea does the same thing: it's not a campaign ad in blog form you're reading, but a true blog of a campaigner.

McCrea's writing does a great job of sharing an unusual experience: being a candidate for mayor. His electioneering is there to be sure, but the highlights are invariably his tales of going about the city and trying to find support. One funny thing about politics is that it doesn't take much time to recognize the same faces, be they supporters, hangers-on, or candidates. Like 'em or hate 'em, you get to know your rivals quickly, and well. McCrea's ruminations on Yoon, Menino, and Flaherty slyly reveal the combined familiarity and tension that exists between all rival candidates. For instance, take these passages from today's post, a paragraph apart:

I attended the Mayor’s budget presentation to the City Council...Mayor Menino said to me at 8:05: “Look, it’s five after eight and there isn’t a single City Councilor here."...The Mayor joked to me that they used to serve full breakfast but that was axed due to budget cuts.

The Mayor started the presentation right off by either showing he doesn’t know what he is talking about, or is just not being truthful.

One second we're yukking it up, next one we're calling him out. On another candidate:

"I attended the City Council hearing on Oversight widely publicized by Sam Yoon with campaign funds tonight. The meeting was slated to start at 6:00 but Sam didn't take the microphone until 6:43, nothing like making the public wait."

While it would be nice to see some of the heroic stuff moved to his site so that the blog would become still more entertaining, I'm enjoying this read. Who knows, I could get to like the idea of this guy having a big role in Boston. For example:

I did an interview with a magazine which had a premise that 'Do you think all these new candidates are getting into the field because of the recent corruption in Massachusetts?". I asked the reporter, "What new candidates?"

He's got a point.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Random Tuesday thoughts

It's been a while since I could say anything huge and original, so I've been mainly quiet. But a few things come to mind:

  • I heard Deval Patrick on my radio today talkin' up Massachusetts as a great place to do business. I'm not quite sure why he's selling Massachusetts via Boston radio -- their listerners have already bought into the state by the act of being here. In the radio ad I heard, Deval introduces himself and says that we're going to hear another Massachusetts business success story, and then we get the real commercial, a CEO talking about their successful Bay State Business. Deval then comes on and tells us to visit a website. Three thoughts came to me: 1-Deval doesn't have a voice for radio, 2-About 1/4 of the ad time was spent on Deval talking, not the meat of the ad, and 3-Just how long has this been running? It doesn't seem like a wise use of money for Massachusetts, but not a bad use of money for our embattled governor.

  • Lots of gnashing teeth over the amazingly precarious state of the Boston Globe on the Internets. I certainly agree that ideas are needed to keep the only paper around here with valuable coverage outside the sports section. Granted, a fair bit of the problem is rooted in the poor decisions of the paper's absentee managers in NYC. These buffoons struggle to an online model work the way the LA Times has, and are seemingly unable to gather news that breaks inside their own building. Still, I would like to see things turn around for the rag.

    Newspapers are valuable the way that the Pony Express was...with perhaps the same long-term prospect. Their main stated mission is to gather news, and there is pretty much possible way they can do that nearly as quickly, immediately, or thoroughly as radio, television, or the Internet these days. While many paper defenders say that rags should focus on local news, that's even iffy. The best source for key Lowell news isn't the Lowell Sun, it's My town has a weekly paper that isn't bad, but it has six blogs that I know of that get updated more frequently. The town paper is the single worst source of information on the area casino debate, among other things. With the Internet replacing obits and classifieds, I wonder if all that's really unique about newspapers is their (disappearing) investigative journalism, and their columnists. Maybe that's where the money should go.

  • Vermont joins Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa on the side of fulfilling still more of America's promise to its people. And they did it the old-fashioned way -- over the objections of a milquetoast Republican governor. (Funny story: I met Douglas once while tagging along at a VIP tour of the State House. It was campaign season, and my Hillary button was prominently on my jacket as we shook hands. To enter Boston's State House you go through metal detectors to enter the State House, in Montpelier you go through a door.)

  • My town voted recently in town election, resulting in a clear and close split between the townie ticket (motto: "The people who got us into this mess are the only ones who can get us out") and the anti-townie ticket. I'm seeing similar things happen around the state. Anyone who can figure out how to get 10% of a town's voters to the polls can pick his/her job in most of suburban Massachusetts.

  • Chris Dodd the most threatened Democratic Senator? Strange, that, and an unpleasant surprise. Not that he doesn't deserve it, mind you -- a waste of a presidential "campaign" that shafted his real constituents, and some dodginess over his role in the AIG mess. I have to agree that Dodd is done, and hope Lamont or Blumenthal rides in on a white horse. Plus, saying this allows me to post one of my favorite bits of 2008 political comedy:

Sunday, April 5, 2009

World Ups and Downs

I'm considering starting a new feature of my reader, a weekly international news summary of ups and downs. Time is famous for its weekly summary of mainly domestic ups and downs, and for a while PolitickerMA had them as well. I'm going to do a one-shot deal and see how it's received -- likely in silence -- and consider doing more. International news fascinates me, especially the stuff that slips under the radar screen. I read the Big Three -- BBC News, CNN, and Le Monde daily. Other regional players such as the CBC, (Australian) ABC, Hindustan Times a couple times a week. I'm not Obama, but I'm far better off than Palin or Bush. One of my hopes, in any case, is to move beyond the obvious top tier of countries (Iraq, US, Afghanistan, China, Russia, etc.) to also look at countries that don't receive as much international and American attention.

The idea will be to rank countries for notable changes up or down. I define "up" or "down" in terms of the welfare of its people. Thus, a good week for North Korea's government is probably a bad week for its people. Same in Russia.

That explanation made, I appreciate feedback. And awaaaay we go...

moving UP
United StatesThe Obamas enjoyed delirious treatment from Britons, Germans, and French this week, helped by the president's personal magnetism, and international relief at dealing with an America leader who isn't a socially awkward moron is palpable. Note: for all the conservative whining about some perceived slight against the British Prime Minister or the Queen's gift, Britons themselves love Obama the Obamas.

DenmarkIn a surprise move to many, the Prime Minister of Denmark, overcame earlier Turkish objections to become the civilian leader of NATO. Anders Fogh Rasmussen had angered many Turks for his spirited defense of the right of free speech, even if it extends to mocking the Muslim figure of Muhammad. Rasmussen resigned from his post as Danish PM, and his finance minister will fill the role.

IndonesiaIndonesia, a stunningly diverse country with the most Muslims of any nation in the world, just concluded an almost entirely incident-free democratic campaign for the next parliamentary election. Incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono looks pretty much assured of re-election, partly because his party is the only one seemingly able to knit large slices of the population together in a coalition.

MexicoThe arrest of a top drug lord and increasing attention from the US government to our role in fomenting the drug war in Mexico are two small, precious signs that things may look up for this country riven by incipient warlordism.

moving DOWN
IsraelIf you're a people seeking peace with neighbors, the last thing you probably want is a hawkish, probably racist foreign minister. But that's what Israel has in Avigdor Lieberman, whose first speech as such included the line "We have seen that, after all the gestures that we made, after all the dramatic steps we took and all the far-reaching proposals we presented...I have not seen peace here." That kind of contradicts Netanyahu's promise of a new peace process soon, but there may be good news for him: Liberman's so corrupt that he may not have much longer in government, anyway. What happens next is anyone's guess, as this government likely won't last that long, and with a neutered Labor, it's up to the relatively new political party Kadmia to show that it's ready to lead.

North KoreaDespite all the world's huffing and puffing, North Korea still did whatever the f--k it wanted, launching an intercontinental missile. While early reports from around the world indicated that the launch successfully placed in orbit a satellite, we're now hearing that it failed. Meanwhile, the North Korean people starve.

SudanSudanese President and indicted war criminal traveled unfettered to Qatar this week, where many neighbors welcomed him with open arms, giving him regional cover to continue his regime of genocide.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The 15% Rule Cometh

A good article in Boston's kinda-newspaper, the Phoenix about Tim Cahill's possible run for governor (I'll see the Phx as a real paper if they stop running ridiculous graphics like the one attached to this article). For me, the highlights were the recounting of Tim's fractious relationship with the Democratic Party mandarins -- you know, the hacks that are dragging the party's reputation through the mud in this state. He became state treasurer despite them, and remains treasurer despite them. And there's a good chance that he'll run for governor despite, or simply to spite them. In any case, these folks are good enemies to have, save for one speed bump:

[O]ne person close to Cahill's inner circle says that his preference is still to run as a Democrat...

Cahill has two obstacles in running as a Democrat against Patrick...Cahill's second problem is the Democratic Party nominating convention. To get onto the primary ballot, Cahill would need to win at least 15 percent of the delegate votes at next summer's convention.

That might sound like a low threshold, but it could be a major hurdle. Party delegates are not going to be eager to offend the governor or party leaders — mostly Patrick people — by voting for any opponent.

First off, let this be another round in the chamber to fire at Deval zealots who interpret anything Cahill does as proof that he wants to bring down the Democratic Party. we go again. It was bad enough four years ago with Gabrieli, and I really don't want to deal with this again. It's ridiculous to even discuss prominent civil servants with strong records of public service wrestling with appeasing a sufficient number of party faithful. Now, I can see the rationale behind some ballot threshold. Democratic Party leaders don't want some Bill Ayers-Ward Churchill type getting on the Democratic ballot, the way that southern Republican primary ballots can end up carrying unreconstructed Klansmen.

Gabrieli's main issue in 2006, of course, was declaring for governor after the caucuses occurred, and relying on arm twisting, superdelegates (remember when that word was all the rage?), and deals to get over the limit. So he brought on his own problems.

However, if Cahill has any trouble vaulting 15%, there is a serious problem. That ballot limit should be the party's screen against nutjob candidacies, not a plaything of the bosses.

I do have to disagree with the Phx on this one, actually. If Ed O'Reilly can get 25% against Kerry -- while the Party is doing all it can to undermine him within and without the convention hall -- the sitting treasurer can make it to 15%. There are a lot of delegates who arrive at the convention from all over the state, an even the Deval machine can't get to all those towns and cities. The North Adams area, the Cape, and South Coast could all be fertile ground for somebody running against Deval. His stimulus dispensation didn't wow too many folks around there, and the Democrats in those parts of the states aren't as left-leaning, and aren't as easily taken in by the rope-a-hope strategy. Add in some stalwarts with grudges, I think you get to 15% pretty quickly.

In any case, the headache of having to explain the shutting out of a state treasurer creates more problems than it solves for the Democratic Party, and I think the big cheeses admit that. If Cahill were to come out of next year's convention with 13-14%, you could expect the party rolls to thin down a bit soon after.

Still, this bears watching. And frankly, the more grief Cahill faces on hitting that threshold, the warmer a lot of folks will feel toward him.