Friday, June 26, 2009

Quick notes

  • Using stupid nicknames just makes the user look stupid. Anyone who calls her "Ka-Ching" Murray or him "Cadillac" Deval is demanding to be laughed at. Similarly, anyone who calls Tim Cahill not a Democrat just because of a difference of opinion is a risible, as well. Especially since our platform is now so meaningless that Cahill can say pretty much whatever he wants and still fit into our platform.
  • I do enjoy watching people try to pretend that Deval Patrick's loss on the tax battle is some sort of victory. He managed to get from a blowout to a tie, which is very admirable. Let's not exaggerate, however. The biggest impact on the Commonwealth is the higher sales tax, which Deval is preparing to take ownership of.
  • In any case, "tougher" ethics laws are very nice but beside the point. Unless you take the lawyers seriously, the issue with Wilkerson, Turner, et al isn't the ethics laws. These people knew the laws and felt they could break them with impunity. That is an issue as much about the people as the laws. Write whatever reforms you want, but the surest way to stop ethics violations is th elect ethical people. The almost-as-sure way is serious campaign finance reform, and I don't hear Deval saying anything about that.
  • I may well be tired of Michael Jackson's music by the end of July.
  • Hub Blog sadly lobbies to place Michael Jackson above Prince as a rock immortal. Hardly. Jackson sang, but sadly other people told him what to sing and how to sing it. Prince wrote, played the guitar, sang, orchestrated, produced, and in his spare time acted. They can match up well in terms of musical impact, but Prince is so, so much more talented. Jackson's dancing was largely derivative from James Brown, and Quincy Jones could make me sound like a genius on an album. Prince's music is thoroughly him, not his "team". No contest.
  • Marry in Mass comes away with a positive reaction to Menino from an interview. Of course he did well -- loathe as self-defined progressives hate to admit it, Menino is a great mayor. He's no visionary (of course, we're pretending the Big Dig wasn't a massive vision) but an effective manager who has managed to personally meet a self-reported 57% of the people of Boston. I'll keep saying it: the only two prominent Bay State politicians who love their current jobs are Tom Menino and Ted Kennedy.
  • In the musical 1776, the New York delegation relates how their state assembly sent them with no instructions because (paraphrasing) "it's a confused place where everybody shouts over each other and not very much gets done." At least on the Senate side, they've somehow managed to go downhill from there.

Good day for the Ayatollahs...

In a great little read about geopolitical history titled Who Hates Whom, the author Bob Harris repeatedly references major events that were underreported because they occurred around the time of the death of Anna Nicole Smith.

I frankly think that the Iranian Revolution may be headed in this direction. Of course, the brave protesters in Iran don't need any external help, and most of the dynamics of the situation in Iran point clearly to a split within the leadership of the country. However, I do believe that the finger has been light on the trigger because the world is watching Iran -- why else would they work so hard to shut down coverage?

Not that the traditional press has covered itself in glory in covering these Iranian protests (much more airtime spent on Jon&Kate), but now I expect they'll ignore Iran altogether. When faced with a choice between celebrity pablum or international reporting, I think it's easy to guess which the media will go for. I have no real problem with Michale Jackson -- I tend to like the music he recorded during his "African-American male" phase and credit him for basically introducing white America to James Brown's dance moves. However, I don't think the importance of his death, which will surely be of the scandalous and confusing variety, matches the importance of the changes now underway in Iran. I expect all manner of coverage about his "legacy", "controversies", and all that rot will dominate the media, giving the monsters who run I ran enough shadow time to send out the Basij to do some random thuggery.

Anyway, it's already happening...

Amusingly, a misspelled variant of his name (”Micheal Jackson”) is the fourth most popular search right now, beating out Iran.

PS: In other news, Deval Patrick has rushed out to claim credit for the Senate's ethics bill. Deval had nothing to do with it except a couple whining videos, but he's working overtime to take credit, and shockingly the usual crew over at BMG can't wait to agree. Apparently, this is all a big win for him (remember when everything was good for John McCain? Same thinking applies). Yawn.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dean overshadows Obama on rights

Howard Dean is showing what he's made of -- again. He has apparently pulled out of an upcoming GLBT fundraiser for Obama. Dean wasn't just some name advertised as coming to the fundraiser, but was one of the four people listed as hosting it. He claims a scheduling issue. I will say that I wouldn't be surprised if Dean pulled out because of Obama's dismal record on GLBT rights, given the fact that Dean was the first statewide politician to risk his future on that issue by bringing the first civil unions into law.

A quick note. As I've said on BMG, Obama's hesitancy to risk his political capital by confirming the rights of an unpopular minority doesn't surprise me one bit. For all their frustrations, GLBT activists enjoy much more influence and acceptance in national politics than atheists. Enough influence that no prominent Democratic candidate is going to openly go fully against their priorities. However, Obama was willing to go after a more vulnerable group -- atheists. That's why I didn't vote for him. From public polling to national representation, atheists are far more vulnerable to attacks than are GLBT Americans. He already one-upped Bush's assault on religious freedom by opening the federal spigot to everything-but-atheism religious pressure groups.

No surprise then that after Obama learned he could go after atheists' rights with impunity, and as such has moved up the ladder to the next group. I'm sorry this was unexpected for anyone, but if you really want to know how serious a politician is about rights, don't ask him about LGBT issues, ask him/her about freedom of religion ones.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sen. Murray's prescience

It was about a month ago that Senator Therese Murray stated during the budget fight that "Unfortunately [Deval Patrick] is kind of making himself irrelevant". Through accidental or purposeful incompetence, Deval's increasingly shrill corps of backers reported that Murray called him irrelevant. This remains, of course, an outright lie, but a useful one for that small, vocal crew.

Well, today we find that yes indeed, Deval Patrick is dedicated to making himself irrelevant. Patrick set out three conditions that would have to be met in order for him to save the Legislature the trouble of overriding his budget on the veto:

  • Pension reform (written by the Lege, as Deval did not more than issue a press release): done.
  • Transportation reform (minus the sinecure Deval attempted to procure for his friend Marian Walsh): done.
  • Ethics reform: in process.

People who've spent 30 or more months in elected politics would probably say that whipping out two major bills, and being deep into a third is a pretty good spring record. However, that's not good enough for Obama's crew of political advisors who have been loaned out once again to Deval Patrick, so in an email today he has announced his intention to veto the budget.

He got most of what he wanted already, and is in a fair shape to get the rest with a little patience. That is apparently not good enough for the governor.

In the world of governing, getting most of what you want even though you have a smaller power base than your partner is seen as a strong victory. It makes for a step toward the policy goals you want overall.

In the world of politics, getting most of what you want even though you have a smaller power base keeps you from using your partner as a foil for a campaign of indignation. It makes for a step backward toward your personal goals.

With this veto, Deval is making clear which goals he prioritizes. He is also making clear what position he must have in order to run against the Legislature next year.

That position? Irrelevant. When Deval gets his wish, I don't want to hear his backers whining about it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Accidental Heroes

I've been quiet online because I'm hard at work offline these days, working in educational activism and my personal life. However, I was arrested by some photos of the street protests in Iran that I wanted to share...

I'm no expert heaven knows, but I do know enough to realize that the "President of Iran" has about as much impact on his country's policies as does the president of Germany (yes, they do have one). I've in the past referred to the post as that of a "glorified spokesman" as the real decisions are made by the unelected clerics that run Iran. But something funny the very real election for this very symbolic post, the rulers cheated, and the people of Iran have mobilized...

I don't know if the ayatollahs are hoping that things burn out, or that Moussavi can be co-opted, but Moussavi remains free and is protesting the vote loudly. And when you draw crowds like this asking about their vote, the end result is usually going to be either revolution, or a massacre. Here's hoping for revolution.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Progressive stance on education?

There isn't one. It's funny -- on most any issue, it's pretty clear what the progressive stance is, whether you agree with it or not. Energy, immigration, health care, diplomacy, taxation...there is quibble on the details, but not on overall picture.

Meanwhile you have self-identified progressives who love charter schools, and those who loathe them. Progressives who agree in the centrality of the MCAS, and those who want it turfed. Progressives are divided, and so are Democrats overall -- Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama diverged on the issue of education more than any other that I can remember.

I was amazed at the reactions of convention delegates when I approached them on education. So many, many different reactions, and frankly a lot of confusion about the current state of education. After most of the work was done, I amused myself by asking several people what the "progressive stance on education" is. The most common answer was an uncomfortable silence.

This tells me that either education issues thoroughly cross-cut progressive principles, or the progressive movement in Massachusetts has never had a serious conversation about education. My early thought is this:

Form a Progressive Working Group on Education. A coalition of activists, academics, educators, community leaders, and policymakers to have a serious conversation about this. Where consensus exists, this working group would try to implement that policy; where consensus doesn't (on MCAS and charter schools especially), have a serious conversation about how progressive principles are bound up in these issues.

I am considering trying to organize a kick-off conference for this in late September. Wonder if anyone would be interested...

Sunday, June 7, 2009


The most poisonous thing in a democratic society may well be doubt. George W Bush's legacy was tarnished from the get-go by the narrow, questionable winning margin in Florida that provided his victory in the 2000 election. More recently, the thin spread of the 2008 Senatorial election in Minnesota is being used by a desperate Republican campaign to keep a legitimately elected senator from being seated. The Minnesota Republicans will clearly try to keep the doubt of Senator Franken's margin of victory alive with a view toward his re-election. The first move of losers in many democratic elections in developing countries is to throw doubt on the election apparatus. Losing sucks but at least you know where everyone stands and can move on, whereas doubt never goes away.

Doubt can be poisonous...and that's when they count the votes.

The most critical juncture of yesterday's Democratic State Convention was a vote on continued usage of the current platform (described to me by Deval's former campaign spokesperson as "a 45-page document nobody reads") in place of the abominable proposed replacement. About 1 out of 6 delegates signed this amendment, nevermind supported it. The whole morass was incredibly dense anyway; I had a 10-minute conversation with one of the smartest members of the Legislature to explain what was going on, and I'm not sure we even got to clarity. Anyway, as per normal procedure, a voice vote was taken on the amendment.

The Chair of the convention was John Walsh, a man who sought such a bland document from day one. He declared the motion denied and went on to other business immediately. Almost instantly, calls to question the vote arose and were ignored. In the hall, the sergeant-at-arms refused to give me the microphone to say "doubt the chair" -- the words Walsh himself had told us to use in order to question the a voice vote. Online, well, you can read for yourself.

Now, I think the amendment did fail. I do think that my side lost. from what I heard. But I'll never know. I'll never know because in the interest of saving the 20 seconds he'd have needed for delegates to stand or raise their hands, Walsh immediately went on to the next piece of business.

It's odd, because we dwelt for a couple of minutes on a non-binding resolution on slot machines later that day. Walsh wanted to get that non-binding resolution right, but was far less meticulous about the entire raison d'ĂȘtre of yesterday's confab. It's odd because a couple hours later on the fathers' rights amendment, Walsh told the hall how easily some very loud "no" voices can be overrepresented in a voice vote. He evidently knew how misleading voice votes can be, but did what he wanted anyhow.

Chairman Walsh ran a fairer convention that his predecessor ever did. But his decision to save 20 seconds by grace of his own impressions comes at the expense of the legitimacy of the vote. The pivotal decision of the 2009 convention is tarnished, and our platform for the next two years will be as well -- all because asking the delegates to stand would have been too much bother.

This is how I see it as somebody who felt that a fair count would have been against us. For the several hundred somebodies in that hall who feel differently -- it feels like it's 2005 all over again.

As for the future, it's easy to see talk about amending the rules to mandate standing or hadn counts of delegates from now on. However, given that the Sergeant-of-arms did not obey the rules for this current convention (on doubting the chair, or suspension to let David Plouffe speak), I don't see the point of writing new rules if they won't be kept in good faith anyway.

PS: I am not ignoring the hard work of the education team to gather 160 signatures on the MCAS amendment despite no organization or budget backing us. The work we did at the convention is just the start, and I'm hoping to keep up our momentum in making the Democratic Party seriously think about education despite itself...more on that later.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Just a reminder

Convention delegates can beat the rush, and support strong public education now:

Amendment for authentic testing and assessment
-- download, sign, and bring with you to the convention.
Amendment for bilingual, and G&T education -- ditto.

Still not convinced? Check this out.

Monday, June 1, 2009

One does not follow the other

Insofar as I've heard any defense of the draft platform, it is the argument that this new type of platform will be one around which Democrats can organize. For instance, from John Walsh, party chair:

The overall goal is to produce a document that is not put on the shelf for four years. To achieve that, we'll need to understand that while in the past, the convention vote has been the end of the process; we need to be ready to make it only the end of the first step...

Once the platform is adopted at the convention, we'll get on it. In addition to a blog to talk about and "build the case" for what they believe is the next step to achieve our goals, Democrats need to commit to organizing to make it happen. At the convention, the party will be announcing The Community Organizers' Initiative, a program that puts the tools of organizing into the hands of community organizers around the Commonwealth.

DSC member Steven Fradkin lectures activists to

Keep the spirit and intent of the Platform intact, so that it will remain a document that can be used by more elect more Democrats.

Apparently the old platform was making it hard to pick off the dozen or so Republican officeholders of note that we have in the Commonwealth. I guess the idea of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" doesn't apply this time 'round.

Frankly, I have no idea how the losing bland-platform argument is supposed to follow from the winning go-organize! argument. Were lots of people saying "I want to organize people to be Democrats, but goshdarnit, there are just too many details! Better to keep it vague!"? Is this the reason nobody runs against Daniel Webster or Susan Williams Gifford, the overly detailed platform?

We're seeing the conflation of two things in this explanation. The first idea, that of bottom-up, activist-empowered organizing, is remaking modern politics and should be the fundament of our state party. Starting from the Dean meetups through the Deval and Obama campaigns, this is a winning approach (which is why I'm trying to borrow it to fight the party elders). These Community tools sound awesome, and I can't wait to reach out to people who recognize the impact standardized testing has on education, an impact that state party leaders now wants to ignore. Kudos to the state party leadership for launching that.

On the other hand is this idea of taking some selected specifics out of the platform. Heck, I'd be happy if I could discern a pattern from which details stay and which are cut (see here). How does this help, again? That old crusher argument on education -- "you should be a Democrat because we oppose the MCAS" is gone. Now it's "you should be a Democrat, well, just trust me that most Democrats don't like the MCAS". Organizing labor as Democrats around the issue of prevailing wage? Gone.

I suppose this platform will make it easier to organize people because now anyone, anyone can feel comfortable being a Democrat now. Carla Howell favors "fair and equitable taxation" so she could sign up, I guess. The platform is so close to the Republican one that it's surprisingly difficult to tell them apart.

This is the strategy of a losing party, not a winning one. Which is why it feels so out of place, and why I wonder where it will lead. As does John Walsh, I favor turning more Democrats into officeholders through organization. However, this draft platform is just an attempt to turn more officeholders into Democrats through redefinition.