Saturday, December 18, 2010

All up in arms

We have a new business here in Holliston, set up right on the main street through the center of town and just in time for the holidays. The one little detail about the new establishment that has caused something of a stir (at least with some) is the fact that the new business is a gun shop.

I'll admit I had something of a chilled response when I first heard of it myself, but I also I had the sense that on a certain level this was somebody else's business and not my own. Holliston has actually quite a few nice businesses located in the town center: a general store, a coffee shop and a candy store, a bank or two and the library, dry cleaners and a small grocery —a funeral parlor and a hair salon. I would probably rather there was something other than guns & ammo being added to the mix —but that's me.

What bothers me much more than the nature of the new store in town, though, is the character of the discussion in response to it that I've observed. Watching the comment thread unfold beneath a news story on our local on-line news source,, one couldn't help but notice the seething resentments coming to the surface, the bubbling crude. There were the overwrought exclamations of concern about a gun shop "within shooting distance" of a playground nearby. There were one or two glib slights (I'll confess to my own among them). In answer came the comments that the new venture was to be applauded precisely because it was so upsetting to those despised "yuppies and Liberals" who comprise some loathsome "other half " of Holliston. Liberalism, announced one frothy friend of the new business, was a 'Mental Disorder' —kudos to anyone or anything that insults their senses.

Yup, I'm far less bothered by the guns than I am by the ugliness.

There was one comment that comes to mind now that I think particularly circled about the balance we need actually in play. In defense of the shop, one citizen pointed out that Massachusetts had some of the most stringent and demanding standards in terms of gun licensing, some of the most exacting regulation of the sale of weapons of any state in the country. This, the commenter argued, should put to rest the anxieties about guns in stores in immediate adjacency to a candy shop. It should cut through the clamor and quiet the valid concerns and enable the proprietor of the new gun shop to simply go about his business.

I buy that, as both a valid argument in defense of the store —and of the actual value of that much reviled Liberalism. Of course, the Liberalism I refer to is not the cartoon caricature —so popular as a target for purveyors of resentment politics. Rather it is a governing principle of our Democracy, where the instruments of power in government are made responsive and accountable to the people... all of the people, the half that "clings to their guns and religion" and the half that maybe isn't so enthused about products marketed for their kill power, that has some valid concern about the way lethal weapons are treated and traded in our communities.

Oddly enough, it is each half hearing the other half out that is the working concept for our society. Some amount of constructive exchange and cooperation even over our most strongly held differences —that is the enabling premise —I could buy some more of that.

I wish we all could. Sometimes it seems to be in such short supply.

(P.S. Please note that the picture above isn't actually from inside the new shop. I just got a kick out of the guy in the Santa hat.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paying forward or passing through

I heard an interview with Charlie Baker on the radio just the other morning and I liked what I heard. It was a relaxed conversation meant, I'm sure, to simply show the human side of the candidate. On that level the endeavor worked to show a good guy with some potentially good ideas and good intentions. I liked the part when he was asked if he could "have a beer" with anybody in history who would it be and he chose Abraham Lincoln. He said he admired the 16th president for the humanity, even the humor and most especially the grace with which he faced some the hardest decisions ever to confront a public leader.

Humor and grace... I liked that.

The piece didn't make me want to change my vote though. I'm firmly in Patrick's camp. (And from what I read in some opinion pages I guess that bespeaks a core flaw in my character.) The radio interview did leave me lamenting that better debate I know we could have had —had the chosen tenor of the campaign been a bit different.

I've met Governor Patrick in person a couple of times, enough to have my own sense of his humor and grace and integrity. I've not always agreed with his stands on every issue, but I have always had some basic sympathy and understanding for those stands, for where he's coming from and where he's trying to go —his goals and his approach toward them.

I've always had a sense of that same respect coming from him, even when he's hearing it from someone who doesn't agree with him on a particular stand.

It's about balance —you could maybe even call it a balance sheet. Patrick talks about Massachusetts, our commonwealth as something he owes a debt to, he talks about being simply aware that he has benefited from certain blessings that are very much of this place and its history: the passion for learning, the deeper cultural calling to social justice, the sense of community based in ideals —on the level of personal history, he talks of being quite simply aware of the opportunity he was given. These gifts comprise a debt in Deval Patrick's ledger and public service is about not paying it back, but paying it forward.

That's a distinction I would have liked to see explored in our politics. It would have been worthwhile debate I think: these different senses of the balance sheet. I don't for a minute doubt that Charlie Baker is genuine in his belief that the books demand balance and I don't think anyone would disagree that this involves the courage to make hard decisions. I'm sure he sees the reconcile function as a public service, too. But, in how we approach the books, there are discussions we have to have about what we value most —what are the costs simply passing through, whether as deferred debt payments or grant anticipation notes, as taxes or health care premiums or tolls —and what more permanently remains.

And then there's grace.

I've heard this said through clenched teeth so many times over the past weeks and months—see you at the polls! —coming from each side of the debate we have ended up with —see you at the polls! ...It comes off sounding like a threat.

As we come to the end of the campaigning, let me just suggest a little more of that grace, no matter how you see the books, passing through or paying forward.

And —oh yeah— see you at the polls!

Monday, October 18, 2010

All history is supposed

I've reached an age where fifty year chunks of time don't seem so big. My own lifetime is nearly such a chunk, now. And so it is that I've been looking at what we call history a little differently of late. Centennials, Bicentennials, I can remember when talk of such milestone increments of time always went to the topic of the settled facts of history. Things of a certain past were etched in stone.

I was about three years old when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his 'I Have A Dream' speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, so just about as far back as I can remember that speech has always been given —a given— and the godlike monumental figure seated as in some sacred temple behind him, he was always already long enshrined, like an embodiment of unquestionable timeless truth. I would read histories where that god spoke of a fiery path we'd passed through defining ourselves as a nation irrevocably. That's the way Lincoln described it, as he sought to bind slavery and freedom to the war cause he led, a fiery path that would light us down to honor or dishonor —in spite of ourselves, that is what he said, as he introduced the Emancipation Proclamation, that is what he said.

There are histories that describe that speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave a hundred years later as some final consummation, a belated historical conclusion. There is that reading that what he laid claim to in the true meaning of our creed was that long overdue conclusion, honorable at long last even in spite of ourselves. King's own rhetoric spoke to that sense of our history —of history itself. He once described Justice as something that travelled through with the geometric certainty of an arc.

Fifty year increments of time.

This November 6th marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's election to the presidency. We'll soon be seeing those other anniversaries of that fiery path coming round again: December 20, the secession of South Carolina, the first Southern state to withdraw from the Union. Every terrible battle to follow.

I think back to my own first understandings of the supposed historical facts. My oldest brother read every history he could get his hands on during the Civil War Centennial, he collected every piece of memorabilia. I couldn't play with my toy soldiers on the den floor without him intervening to arrange them along the battle lines he'd read about in a Bruce Catton book or some article from American Heritage Magazine. He'd lecture on 19th century battle tactics while I marveled at the plastic sculptures of soldiers and canons and cavalry horses at 1:48 scale. It was my brother who saved up the gas money, doing odd jobs in the neighborhood. He saw to it that my family made the pilgrimage to Gettysburg that summer vacation —to visit hallowed ground.

Fifty year increments of time. Those days as family memories and my first awe at the whole idea of history. I remember the cyclorama paintings of battle scenes, entering a dark room and being suddenly surrounded by the images of glorious battle, sound effects and the sober narration sounding all around us, telling the story of three days of horrific bloodshed, as the lighting shifted our attention from scene to scene. I remember the long walk up circular stairs to a tower that surveyed the same landscape, so beautifully quiet the next day. We had climbed up in the still early morning. I held my mother's hand. Mist rose up from below. We had a long ride home and wanted an early start back. I remember the way my father was moved at the sight of a memorial monument to those fallen of a Union regiment of Irish "volunteers" —a dark bronze of a wolfhound sleeping at the foot of a celtic cross.

It was only later I became conscious of the working provisional nature of that history, that sacrifice supposed to long endure, the very real visceral levels on which the fiery trial continued. The summer of the Gettysburg Centennial was the same summer of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech. It was the summer of the Birmingham campaign and the fire hoses trained on peaceful protesters, Bull Connor's dogs tearing at their skin.

These were called current events at the time, not history.

Thinking back nearly fifty years I can remember how a hundred seemed like eternity. But think back just twice those fifty years again and Lincoln's own first battles of the fiery trial were going on and nothing of the ensuing history was yet established. It's these increments of time scaled to my own experience that have me positing that perhaps all history is supposed... provisionally. And its meanings, while they are supposed to bind us together as a nation, we are not with any kind of certainty —fixedly— a nation bound.

There is that price to freedom.

I thought of this as I read the news one recent morning. A woman moves in to a small South Carolina town, a neighborhood known as Brownsville, and off a pole on the front of her house she flies her Confederate flag. And her black neighbors plan to march in protest. They have already petitioned her to take down the flag, but Annie Chambers Caddell says it is her right to honor her heritage. She's hung a sign on the chain link fence outside her home that marks her sense of address: 'Confederate Boulevard.'

“I know she has a legal right to do that on her property. But just because it’s legally right, doesn’t make it morally right,’’ said James Patterson, a 43-year-old crane operator who lives in a mobile home next door. Some of Ms. Caddell's neighbors can remember when that flag she's flying was more than an allusion to "heritage" —when it was a chosen deliberate symbol of oppression and intimidation. They remember "the Ku Klux Klan that used to ride through the town," said Violet Saylor, a 74-year-old retired social worker. That's what she sees when she sees her neighbor's Stars and Bars on display. She said the flag brings back memories of Jim Crow in the neighborhood she has lived all her life.

It was just fifty years after the Civil War ended, in 1915, that film-making pioneer, D.W. Griffith released 'Birth of a Nation' —just another of those increments of time. The prior fifty years had seen the Reconstruction of the post war South devolve into corruption and disappointment and the bloodied-but-unbowed resurgent supremacy of Southern Whites had become the narrative, at least for some. Griffith's film took that narrative up and defined it as a national history. "lt is like writing history with lightning" was how President Wilson described it when he saw the groundbreaking silent movie, noted for its "innovative camera techniques and narrative achievements." The film's sympathetic treatment of the Ku Klux Klan would help lend legitimacy to racism and vigilante violence moving into the next fifty years.

We try to find meaning in events, in the stories and struggles. There are the outcomes we perceive, the ones we intend and those we are confronted with whether we intend them or not. We believe them concluded. We might like to believe there are larger verities we can cast in stone. But even as we carve that stone, even as we pretend to define what is true or just or good about us and say that it is fixed somewhere removed from us in history, we must realize that the narratives that make up our history are all ultimately personal and present for all of us. What we share and sustain and what we ignore and deny is up to us: The honor or the dishonor in spite of ourselves. The same measure of years applies to our own lives as applies to our history.

And like Faulkner said, the past isn't ever even past.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The debate that wasn't

The other night in Holliston we were supposed to have a debate. The chairs of the Holliston Democratic Town Committee and the Republican Town Committee had actually put together a common effort to host a forum for the candidates for Lieutenant Governor. The competing contenders were supposed to show up, introduce themselves and take questions from the audience, maybe even each other. I was actually quite proud of my town and my DTC for having advanced the idea, as Democratic Chair Beth Greely described it in her opening remarks, the idea of a basic civil civic conversation, where the differences of approach are acknowledged, but also something of the common goals.

But as we all know there can sometimes be something of a slip betwixt the cup and the lip.

It was just last week we learned that we wouldn't have a Lt. Governor candidate from the Cahill campaign. Holliston's own Paul Loscocco put the kybosch on that one. (Enough said.) And then it was just the day before the event that we learned Lt. Governor Murray wouldn't make it... a scheduling conflict. So it was that we ended up the night of the event with a debate where only one candidate was there to speak. Senator Richard Tisei did show up (and I credit him for that) and so in fairness to him he was afforded a few minutes to stump for the Baker-Tisei campaign and then take questions from the audience. He took a few softballs thrown underhand in the middle of the plate from supporters, but even the questions from those more critical and skeptical of his candidacy (myself included) never rose to the level of debate. There was no one present (on stage and with a microphone) to follow up on and challenge his answers, question his contentions. I was reminded of those one-sided conversations one has with one's dentist —after he has numbed your mouth and filled it with the contents of his toolkit.

My attempt was this: I pointed out that candidate Baker, in one of the ealier televised gubernatorial debates, had been pretty darned dismissive of the ethics reform bill Governor Patrick signed last year. Baker had said it was essentially too little, too late...obviously not enough. I remembered that a certain Senator Tisei, someone very much resembling the Lt. Governor candidate, had actually published an op-ed applauding the bill back when the Governor signed it into law. I tried for a laugh and asked if this was an indication of a rift within the Baker-Tisei campaign —if he was considering coming over to endorse Patrick. (No such luck by the way.) But my follow was of a more serious nature. I asked him to cite just one policy initiative of the Patrick administration that he did applaud and support and would want to follow up on in a Baker-Tisei administration.

He sidestepped the policy question altogether in my estimation. He said that, like Patrick and Murray, he hoped to continue showing up at funerals for fallen Massachusetts servicemen.

Now, of course that's a perfectly laudable and reasonable practice to continue —and of course it completely evades the intent of my question. And believe me I know this is not the first and only politician to evade a reasonable question in the course of this political season. But up out of the dentist's chair I have to say how frustrating it is when we come around to campaign season and the candidates can't credit even an ounce of respect for their opponents' ideas or views.

I have no way of knowing whether Tim Murray would have handled a comparable question with any less spiteful reserve. He wasn't there. I do recall that when candidate Patrick was asked the same question back in '06 he pointed to some of the Romney administration's Smart Growth initiaives that were worthwhile and should be considered further, maybe even funded. We might have a worthwhile conversation where we challenge the Governor for not following through on that comment in any measurable way. He might have valid reasons and he might not. That would be interesting to hear. It would be an actual discussion of policy with real implication for the citizens of this commonwealth.

It would be real debate.

I think that's the point of my complaint here, that we missed having a real debate the other night in Holliston was disappointing —I'm sure it was probably disappointing no matter what perspective you started off with—but in some ways we have been lacking that better debate all along —even in the fare we're served on TV with all the candidate's present. We get caricature and dismissal of our opponents' views, maybe a little ad hominem from time to time, but so precious little candid discussion where those common goals of a community are addressed constructively, where we are maybe even trusting of the other's intentions —even if only for the sake of argument, a better argument.

We're into the election contest now and it is probably not a realistic time to hope for a better discussion from our candidates. Any and all communication the next four weeks is going to be more strategic than candid. Maybe somewhere down the line we'll get past that opacity to where we talk with each other, rather than at or around.

I'm still proud of the debate we tried to have the other night, though, right here in our town. We did have Republicans and Democrats, as just plain citizens, working together to put together the event. People of differing views wanting to be heard, but also just maybe willing to listen to each other. I think the folks who set up the tables and chairs, and who put them away when "The Debate That Wasn't" was over, ultimately brought what mattered most, maybe just the beginning of a willingness —and a lot more than any candidate who showed or didn't show.

Anyway, it was a start.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

October surprise: nothing was delivered

Just a quick thought or two on Paul Loscocco pulling out of the Cahill campaign. My esteemed colleague, Dan Haley and I were talking the other night on Mary Greendale's HCAT show 'Just Thinking' and one of the topics that we touched on briefly was the notion of third party candidacies. There was some sense of the quizzical kicked about on the whole prospect of running a campaign without a realistic chance of winning. Who would want to do such a thing?

I'll admit I've watched Cahill-Loscocco with a lot less fascination than I have had for the apoplectic umbrage on display from Baker people (and Dan in particular) at the very idea of their campaign. There has been some guilty pleasure in that particular watching, I do confess.

But as to 'who would want to do such a thing?' I think there is a valid place for third party candidacies. If I recall correctly when Cahill-Loscocco launched there was talk of a sort of 'Third Way' approach to the politics, with the ticket balanced between old stalwarts of differing parties who were set on looking past the old paralytic dialectic of Right v. Left. While I am still a Patrick supporter, when I first heard talk of that "third" perspective being brought to the debate my thought was it would be a welcome one.

Here we are these months into the campaign, though, and like Dylan sang in one of my favorite songs from 'The Basement Tapes' —"nothing was delivered.""

Paul Loscocco deserves credit for the candor in his statements bowing out. And he and Cahill together deserve to be challenged for their failure, too. We never heard word one on that 'valid third way' beyond the partisan paralysis of our current politics. We got another setup of political egoism to choose.

Loscocco acknowledged as much in remarks, that the Cahill-Loscocco campaign had come down to that, with his homage to the Reagan of his childhood and his confession that he saw the race as about not much more than beating Deval Patrick. He allowed as how Baker-Tisei had beaten Cahill-Loscocco in a de facto Republican primary.

I don't agree with Paul Loscocco's politics a lot of the time. But as for his confession/concession assessment, he got that one just about right.

The "very idea" of a viable third way should indeed be available to voters. We should be able to hear of it offered in third party candidacies. We should be willing hear of it from within the two major parties when candidates voice balanced ideas envisioning consensus policy, rather than their side winning always the next contest. But again, I give credit to Paul Loscocco for ultimately admitting that that wasn't what he and his running mate came to offer. Patrick supporters shouldn't be accusing Loscocco or the Baker campaign of back room dealings. They shouldn't be calling this an October Surprise, some underhanded connivance to steal the election. Candor shouldn't ever be cause for such empty finger pointing accusation. And Paul Loscocco deserves credit for his candor. Read between the lines and he could be singing his old running mate out on that old Dylan tune.

"Nothing was delivered
And I tell this truth to you
Not out of spite or anger
But simply because it’s true
Now, I hope you won’t object to this
Giving back all of what you owe
The fewer words you have to waste on this
The sooner you can go..."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Here come the warm jets

The news this morning was that the Republican Governors' Association will be releasing their latest multi-million dollar ad campaign targeted directly on Deval Patrick. Up to now the cross hairs had been on Tim Cahill, the more tactically immediate target. Of course Cahill's punishment has been much deserved —he has agreed with virtually every policy stance the RGA advocates. He needed to be dealt with.

But now we're going whole hog for the big prize.

I actually don't have a working television, so I'll probably be spared most of the onslaught —and maybe I am being unfair about a sight as yet unseen— but somehow I doubt we are going get a lot new from the next barrage —much else beside 'he-raised-taxes-spent-wastefully-rinse-and-repeat'.

Nevertheless, here they come.

As I mentioned on an earlier post, I spent a good amount of time at the polls on September 14th, holding a sign for a candidate I supported in the primary. What I didn't mention in my earlier post, and what I have been stirring around in my head (a.k.a. 'the crockpot') ever since, was the conversation I had there in the waning hours with an obvious Charlie Baker supporter (the large sign was a dead give away). I've known and liked this person for years. We met literally within hours of our moving our family to Holliston and we felt warmly welcomed then and there when we did.

We hadn't stopped to chat in a while and we actually had quite a pleasant and interesting conversation. I don't think my Deval Patrick support was any less obvious (the button on my shirt being a dead give away) and so the discussion went to the subject of how to accommodate our differences, how to make them less personally contentious and get ourselves back to that place where debating our differing views and approaches was about something more than merely winning a contest.

We each told stories of our family backgrounds, our personal traditions of argument and activism. We each of us described what we believed in as a previous better way, where beyond the magnetic pull of the poles at the extreme there was some room for reasonable moderates to find compromise and consensus.

If we agreed on anything for sure it was that we should all work on making and taking the attacks less personally. Oh, and we agreed on one other thing —and that was that it was lamentable to see our elections turned into contests of campaign coffers and away from the better possibility of candid citizens challenging (and thereby refining) each other's ideas. We agreed that the contest should be on that level of the ideas themselves, not on the level of who could call on the larger resources of cash and organization, who could sell a better message like so much soap.

And so we have it today, that the election season news is of another advertising campaign with some amount of millions attached to it as a price tag. I have no doubt I'll receive a few emails today, asking me for a contribution so as to counter. I'm left with these thoughts of my friend and I talking in the growing darkness as a day at the polls came to a close. And stirring in my mind, the words from an old song:

...though we've nothing these days
Nothing these days
Nothing these days

We're down on our knees and we've nothing to say
Nothing to say
Nothing to say...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Once more from the dog in the race

by Tom Driscoll

I spent a good amount of time at the polls Tuesday. Holding a sign for Mike Lake. I thought he was a candidate running for Auditor (but according to my radio the next morning 'Suzanne Bump beat Guy Glodis' so I must have been mistaken). I had previously posted a piece about how I thought Mike Lake's candidacy deserved more respect —that he should be treated at least like "a dog in the race" —maybe I was barking up the wrong tree?

While Suzanne Bump won handily, Guy Glodis edged out Mike Lake here in Holliston by about 23 votes. Lake beat Glodis in Framingham and Wayland. Yet Lake doesn't even warrant mention in the reports I hear on my radio in the morning?

The report l heard segued into coverage of the gubernatorial debate that had happened election night. Tim Cahill (whose poll numbers are running at about the same level Mike finished at) was given his place at the table. He got his voice heard in the reporting. There was even special focus in the news coverage of the fact Jill Stein had been excluded from the radio debate. She was given a voice in the morning air at least.

But the same reporting team refused to even mention Mike Lake in discussions leading up to the Auditors race (as I complained in my earlier piece) and he didn't even warrant mention in reports of the election returns (as I am complaining now).

There's something wrong here, folks. I don't mean to complain of the results of a fair election. I don't mean to start a conversation about why or how my candidate lost —and coulda or shoulda done better. I do get a bit concerned though about the media that lenses and filters our democratic process such that the guy who got 27.6% of the vote in my home town merits note and the one who received 23.8% gets dismissed as a "non-factor" not even worthy of mention.

One reason, in my opinion, that Mike Lake got the invisible treatment: he lacked monied backing or a useful role to play as a pawn for the folks who consider themselves 'the players' in our political game. He simply had an interest in the real work of the position and a commitment to try for it. I know that sounds a little bitter —and maybe it is. But there is something other than my disappointment I want to voice here.

I had someone tell me the other day, as I first started to vent on this topic, that in hindsight they saw why I liked my candidate, but that our political world is such that we simply can't expect the public to notice or respond to a candidate who is merely "a good guy who, all things being equal, is worth listening to.” I'm not quite sure if this person meant to console me or to rub salt in my wounds. Because in my world "all things being equal" isn't a bad starting premise, and "a good guy worth listening to" simply should in fact be listened to —media players shouldn't be making the call as to who gets heard. The public can't notice or respond to someone they never hear about.

And if the game of our politics is going to play out that way —if the media attention is to be so taken with the winner take all contest of "resources" and organization that the points "worth listening to" get forgotten or ignored in the first place —well it's incumbent upon us to demand something better. I do believe we have to change the whole mentality of how we elect our political leaders and public servants, within our parties as Democrats and Republicans, and in the general elections, as citizens. There's a step past being disappointed or angry, that is demanding something better. And towards that end —when something's not right it's wrong —and it's worth barking about.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mike Lake, a dog in the race

Last week I remarked on the way the tiny little analysts in my morning radio were reporting the different primary results from around the nation —how it seemed the sum and substance of the political contest was how the dollars played out —what cold hard cash 'Candidate A' had spent as opposed to 'Candidate B' and what he or she had left in his or her pocket for the general elections.

(Heaven forbid they should discuss the points of difference on policy.)

Well as it turns out those tiny little analysts in my radio don't get any larger when it comes to discussing local politics.

Another week, another morning, and it was Dan Payne and Todd Domke sharing their insight on the race for State Auditor on WBUR. The "analysis" being offered amounts to this: Candidate Guy Glodis has said some really loutish stuff in the past, he's been "shown to be on the wrong side of nearly every liberal issue — gay rights, the death penalty, gun control, taxes, diversity." But he has $800,000 in the bank (though recent news stories of how some of that money got there have become problematic).

Suzanne Bump, on the other hand —credited with a record of being an "activist reformer" will soon "get a $100,000 bump in public funds, which will bring her cash on hand to nearly $200,000 — enough to run a heavy radio campaign."

There was some talk of her ties to the Patrick Administration and the insightful observation that she is a female candidate.

And there you have it.

—Oh, and by the way there's this other guy... Mike Lake "...he’ll have about $58,000" ...might act as a spoiler.


I'll make no bones about it. I'm a Mike Lake supporter. I first met him at this June's Democratic Convention. I'd walked into that convention with an open mind about who to support in the Auditor's race and I found myself being pulled aside by Bump and Glodis supporters, each with dim views of the other candidate to share. From Lake and his supporters I got something entirely different. Here was a candidate who described his interest, not in holding the job —or how it would just belong there on his resumé, he described his interest in actually doing the work.

Mike gave a great speech at the convention and got his name on the ballot as the dark horse and he's been on the trail ever since, plugging away at his campaign —advancing his vision of a new role for the Auditor's Office as an activist advocate for better practices —for better government —where the transparency and accountability brought to the different agencies of our state's government can enable and empower reform and bring about simply more efficient and effective use of public funds.

Maybe that's just campaign rhetoric, I do talk that way sometimes, but as the campaign has played out there's come about opportunity to see his different approach in action.

When recently Auditor DeNucci, on his way out the door, announced that he intended to award his senior staff with raises, an action seen as something of "a fitting parting gift" from the guy who has held the office for more than twenty years, it was Mike Lake, who (while the other candidates cleared their throats and shuffled their feet) simply and unequivocally offered that this was "the wrong move at the wrong time." And Mike Lake pointed out that the first office he intended to audit if he was elected was the Auditor's Office.

That one move, though it is a pretty good indicator of how he would actually approach the job, doesn't qualify Mike Lake for the job. I can recognize that. But the balance in his campaign account shouldn't disqualify him either. That's the point I see lost in the pundit pronouncements flowing from my radio.

Our politics has got to be about something more than the dollars in the contest —especially in a race so much about the public dollar.

That's why I'm barking. Because, beyond the opinings of the political opinion elite, I believe we have a dog in the race.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dollars to donuts... to democracy

I woke in the morning to the radio news, and the talk was of the primary election results in Alaska and Florida, in Vermont and Arizona. There was some talk of the influence (or lack thereof) of Sarah Palin in her home state, of Tea Party activism and the supposed anti-incumbent sentiments far and wide. But those were the quick and passing parenthetical observations. The loudest and most influential voice, the one that spoke most persuasively in all the previous day's election contests (at least from the point of view of the tiny little news analysts in my radio alarm clock) wasn't a Conservative or Liberal voice. It wasn't a voice talking about Big Government or the Libertarian Ideal of none at all. It certainly wasn't the voice that spoke about how one salient issue or another would impact upon a local community or the nation as a whole. No, the loudest voice, the single most noteworthy determinative factor in the contests being reported, was The Dollar Sign.

We heard that John McCain paid $20 Million to hold onto his Arizona senate seat, and that Florida gubernatorial hopeful, Rick Scott had spent $39 million for his spot on the ballot this Fall. (And these are the primary contests!) As the newspeople ran down the list of election returns, the only occasional qualifying comment was what price the candidate had paid for the result. There were only one or two instances where the campaigns didn't get what they paid for.

When this is how election results in a democracy are reported to the public... People, we got a problem here.

I've complained before, and I'm not the only one, that our politics have become too much about the blood sport contest; and not enough about the better tradition of debate where reasoned arguments inform and refine each other on the way towards a working consensus. Maybe that's a naive ideal. I've certainly heard that from folks who wanted to inform and refine my thinking. But if we are going to completely surrender such ideals and entirely surrender to the Market Force of The Almighty Dollar as the guiding principle of our Democracy —well, it seems to me we're losing even the sport in that blood sport.

Become complacent with this kind of electioneering and "We the people" will have become only spectators to an ugly auction.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Like Ike

By Tom Driscoll

It's hard not to make the comparisons. Especially when we take measure of our presidents, it's popular sport to bring out our heroes of bygone days and pine for those lost qualities, or conversely to caution and point to the past follies of those history has come to judge harshly. We bring out the vilified and the embodiments of virtue and compare and contrast for the sake of argument.

It's all good fun and the politicians who end up serving in the office really have no room to complain. They invite the comparisons themselves when they're running for office. Who can forget Dan Quayle comparing himself to JFK? Or the candidate Obama giving the Democratic electorate fits when, during the primary campaign no less, he compared the "transformational" potential for his presidency with both JFK's and Ronald Reagan's (and intimated that this comparison was in some way a good thing)?

So here we are a couple years in with the current occupant of The White House and of course the sport continues. I don't think we've yet seen the "transformation" Obama was hoping for when he alluded to JFK and The Gipper back in the day (but then again, I'm not sure we were real time aware of the mythic national transformations back in the early 60's or in the 1980's either). With the economy's struggles as they've been and continue to be, there have been wishful and dread-filled comparisons made with FDR (depending on which side of the partisan divide you live on). The list goes on from there, from Abraham Lincoln to Jimmy Carter. There's even those who would cross the pond and cite Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill.

We don't yet have the benefit of history's perspective to judge this presidency and these times. Those comparisons this president of ours might aspire to (or those that his detractors might tar him with) probably cannot be definitively drawn right yet. But as I was reading the news this morning (and thought back on an exchange we had going here on this blog) a parallel occurred to me, as much about circumstance as it is about character, and it might be an apt one whether any of us like it or not (including the President).

In this game of comparisons: I like Ike.

And here's where I see some of the parallel. Like Obama, Eisenhower inherited a war effort the country was sick and tired of and yet wasn't quite ready to relinquish, for Ike it was Korea. Then as now the frustration with bloodshed mounted, but also mounting was a climate of fear and hysteria. The contradictory collective call we made as a country was to have the war over, but to have it won decisively in the terms of a larger ideological struggle, and without further cost in blood or treasure.

Neat trick... Sound familiar?

And what is the path in such a landscape?

Look back on Eisenhower's presidency and you can find that list of cautionary failures, perhaps, but also just possibly some noteworthy accomplishment in the form of disasters averted. I know this might exasperate folks who prefer clear cut saints and sinners, but I think you can see the qualities and the failings as of the same cloth.

Eisenhower went to Korea as he promised he would, and the major fighting was brought to close, but the peace brought home was that of a wary stalemate. Under his watch the worst of the Red Scare and the hysteria of McCarthyism would finally begin to fade on the home front (though through no memorable effort on his part). The Cold War would become a concerted undertaking under his leadership, we can criticize Eisenhower for that, but we can also credit him for averting far worse, as he reined in the more bellicose members of his own political party, not to mention his own military leadership; and he skillfully handled the diplomacy of confronting both our enemies and our allies in the Suez Crisis.

In terms of domestic policy, perhaps the most important thing Ike did is what he did not do. He resisted the political appeal of a sharp pendulum swing back against New Deal Era programs like Social Security and helped solidify the consensus surrounding them.

For all the Republican exuberance that must have accompanied the election of their first president to office in a generation in 1952, if one is to credit Eisenhower's presidency, it can't be for what it radically and dramatically transformed. Rather the legacy is one of political caution, deliberate care and transition.

Here these years later we have another president, professing to represent a call for profound change, but doing so (somewhat exasperatingly) as a professor would —deliberatively right up to the ragged edge of equivocation. Seeking consensus and a balanced compromise (even when none is offered from the opposing view). This can be seen as a self effacing weakness or sage and savvy balance, at different times from either side of the political divide we enjoy at a given moment. Prudent patience and pragmatism or perilous indecision and pointless wishful thinking. We can each of us have our own opinions, but they won't change the facts of character and circumstance.

And history will be the judge, of not just this president but of his times as well, whether we like it or not.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Don't blame me... I'm not from anywhere

I'll assume most of us remember the popular bumpersticker slogan, "Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts." I think the sentiment first started appearing on Massachusetts Liberal Mobile bumpers sometime in 1973. Richard Nixon's landslide in 1972 had missed only one state, ours —Massachusetts was the one state in the Union not to popularly elect Nixon, but as more and more of Nixon's perversions of power came to light after his election and the country was compelled to come to terms with the downside of its decision, our standing as a sole dissenting voice (along with the District of Columbia) became a matter of pride rather than chagrin.

I'm reminded of this when I read the MWDN editorial "Home Stretch for the NPV" in support of a measure passed by the Massachusetts legislature and now waiting on the Governor's signature —a measure that would out maneuver the Electoral College (and the U.S. Constitution) with the state's membership in an interstate compact that would in effect put in place a National Popular Vote for the presidency.

I'm just reminded that there are things more precious in a democracy than siding with the winner.

In every argument on behalf of the NPV Compact I encounter, that fact seems lost on people. They argue for their vote to "count" or to "matter" it must side with the winner. That vote for McGovern in 1972, those votes in years past for Stevenson, for Goldwater, for Gore or even Nader simply didn't matter or mean anything as they were too few to effect the desired result. They acknowledge no layers of meaning to our electoral process beyond the popular result —the popularity contest.

I submit that they are mistaken.

My sense of it is that an NPV that dispensed with the structure of the Electoral College in its entirety would not improve our politics one bit. Rather it would serve to atomize the American voting public and only further disaffect them from the debate on the level where it matters most, not among the candidates having it out in thirty second advertising spots and media orchestrated contests —contests of resources and package design —but on the scale of community —on the scale of neighbor to neighbor with a stake in how a neighborhood votes, how a district or how a state votes.

The debate that matters is the one we have among ourselves.

As a means to an end, the legislation now before the Governor would effect a novel change in the name of election reform, it would empower the Secretary of State to instruct the electors who represent our Commonwealth in the Electoral College to vote contrary to results of our own popular election if those results don't happen to jive with the national popular vote tally.

Proponents of this measure argue that it insures that a vote will "matter" or "count" no matter where it's cast —no matter where you live. I just think the opposite is true, that a vote that comes from anywhere comes from nowhere —and becomes so anonymous as to mean next to nothing at all.

I don’t disagree with certain of the sentiments or intentions behind the bill —not much anyway. We are all better off when the presidency is held by the popular choice. But where the folks who have put this together smelled smoke and suspected fire, they’ve gone and designed a fire extinguisher filled with gasoline.

Were we to have the kind of close contest where the electoral and popular results were potentially at odds under this “compact” we would have the decisive mass of Electoral College votes balanced on results being challenged not just in a few counties in Florida or Ohio or Chicago. The scrutiny and suspicion and games of counter accusation would be countrywide without any ordered way of resolving them and the whole of the election would revolve about (and be put in doubt) with suspicions of six fingered countings from every corner. This bill tries to effect the profound constitutional change of adopting a NPV without bothering with the civic culture or systemic infrastructure that would be truly necessary for it to work. It assumes those things will just sort themselves out.

Yup, this bill is essentially firefighting with gasoline —having chosen to wear a blindfold.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Another president's day

"I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the US Congress."
That's a remark Ronald Reagan made, more than a generation ago, as he considered the Congress of his day. One has to wonder, if he could comment on the current scene, if he wouldn't say something along the same lines, if he wouldn't offer to the current occupant of the White House something like... "I feel your pain."

We were reminded recently on the opinion pages of the MWDN that, what with the recent Presidents' Day, we should be aware not only of Washington and Lincoln, but that none other than our 40th president, Ronald Reagan had a February birthday. We were advised to hold that thought in mind in our future observances of the holiday.

And I do think that's good advice. Along with the annual rite of visiting your local automobile dealership, there should be some broader consideration of American presidents and their legacies on President's Day, and Reagan's is a name often invoked with reverence by his countrymen ...many of them anyway. We should indeed give the man's particular legacy due consideration.

But, just as a clear eyed examination of our Founding Father must acknowledge the slave quarters behind Mt. Vernon, and The Great Emancipator must also be understood as one progenitor of the invasive Federalism some complain of today, The Great Communicator must be held to account for what he said, and what he was taken to mean, and where that meaning stands to this day. A quick perusal of the comment thread following the piece in the on-line version of the paper and you can see even the mention of his name still resonates.

Reagan did indeed communicate a clear message, and with wit and concision, as I hope the quote I posted above demonstrates. But at the same time that sunny humor often travelled along with a good amount of internal contradiction. For all the bon mots about profligate spending and the insensate expansion of government, under his administration the federal deficit and —yes, the size of government— expanded. Along with the occasional witty winking slight towards Congress, came Constitutional contempt of the same in the form of Iran-Contra. And somewhere along the line, all the self deprecating humor about government failings (Reagan was the head of our government after all) was taken up, as not only disdain and distrust for government "of and by the people," but as something of deprecation and resentment of and for the people themselves, towards each other.

I'll confess that's the legacy of Ronald Reagan that disturbs me, the way distrust of government, maybe even a healthy distrust, has devolved to a darker disdain for each other in the democratic debate. Among the ranks of the Conservative Cause, those who hold him in the highest regard as an iconic figure, there are far too many with a readiness to discern the "Real" Americans of the Right ...from the rest of us.

It would be nice to believe that Reagan himself would take dim view of some of the uglier rhetoric we're hearing today, like that you heard at the recent CPAC Convention, where lists of the "enemies" among us were recited to applause. "Enemies" no less.

"It is still morning in America," Conservative Pundit Glenn Beck said at the recent gathering, invoking one of The Great Communicator's best loved lines. "It just happens to be kind of a head-pounding, hung-over, vomiting for four hours morning," he continued. "The question is what made us sit there in the john vomiting for four hours?"

And how does he answer his own question? Who is it that sickens Glenn Beck and his friends so? Wherefore that vomiting?

It's not any outside enemy of the state or our society, not even radicals of the present day or from some by-gone era. No, the "cancer, to be cut out" of the American body politic, as Mr. Beck describes it, is a cancer comprised of all those who disagree with him on policy and principle: "Progressives!"

Mr. Beck announces, to the cheers of his fellow Conservative Crusaders, that he blames Progressives, starting with Teddy Roosevelt! ...for that sense he has that he has been vomiting.

I kid you not.

Were Reagan alive in this day and age, it might be enlightening to hear what he had to say, the man himself, not the hollowed out icon. Not about Teddy Roosevelt, we don't need to check with him on that. He was on record citing this ...Progressive, as a hero and a champion of "the virtues and ideals of Americanism" when he issued a presidential proclamation honoring the 125th anniversary of Roosevelt's birth. No, what I think would be interesting is what The Gipper would have to say to those who now proclaim themselves to be his faithful heirs. I'd like to believe the man himself had a more expansive definition of "Americanism" and its virtues and ideals, such that he would take them to task for describing those who simply differ with them as sickening, as enemies, as cancers "to be cut out of our system." For all his often professed disdain for government, I'd like to think Reagan never went so far as to translate that disdain into such blatant contempt for his fellow American citizens, not of the sort we're hearing today from the likes of Glenn Beck.

Reagan once offered that "Protecting the rights of even the least individual among us" was the only valid "excuse" any government has "for even existing." If all that survives of that sentiment for his professed followers is the disdain for government, with nothing of the respect for the individuals among us, nothing of the respect for each other... Well, let's just say the man's political legacy is lacking these years later ...and hopefully it is still a work in Progress.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The tough get going?

News of Evan Bayh's announced "retirement" has really been grating on my nerves. First of all he's not retiring. He's electing not to seek re-election. To say he's "retiring" is to assume the position of U.S. Senator is and would be his to retire from. He might have been the likely candidate for the job this coming Fall—we might assume he held some advantage as an incumbent office holder in a re-election contest, but he faced a job interview nonetheless. This talk of "retirement" is just more of the same arrogance of assumption that riled so many Massachusetts voters when faced with filling "Ted Kennedy's Seat." (Ted Kennedy knew better than to ever call it that)

Adding insult to injury —in my book Republicans (and a few good Democrats) are right to be perturbed with Bayh for the timing of his decision —it being such that an openly contested primary for the Democratic nomination won't likely happen. Instead the Indiana State Democratic Committee will meet and decide upon a nominee to face who ever wins the Republican contest, a contest involving at least four candidates. (Please don't try to tell me that Bayh's timing was inadvertent.) Maybe the strategy is that a good old ugly primary contest will damage more than it builds for the GOP —and maybe that's clever politics. But gaming the process to dispense with the same such "risk" for a Democratic candidate, it's —well, if it's clever politics, it's lousy civics.

Finally, and what really galls me most of all, was the lip service excuse we're hearing about the ugly polarized partisan nature of the Senate's current debate, about that being his reason for opting out of "his seat." If you ask me, If you want to change the tenor of our politics in this country, an actual principled campaign for election to the U.S. Senate is a pretty damned good place to make a start from.

Instead the Good Senator tells folks he doesn't know just what he'll do exactly next, as he strolls the edge of K-Street looking for inspiration.

When I was just finishing High School back in the late 70's I had quite a few heart to hearts with my dad about what I should do with myself —whither would go my career. I had my different interests and among them were professions where the work spoke to me but something of the culture surrounding seemed ugly or corrupt. That's no excuse, he told me. If you find the work that matters to you and means something, then the things you would change about that work, about the way it's done... that's the real work.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Paint on a "small hinge"

I said quite a while back that President Obama struck a wrong note with me when he said he wanted "to be the last president" to address Healthcare Reform. No one should ever have thought or assumed the movement forward would be perfected in one genius giant step —least of all the President himself. That insistence on being "the last" ultimately contradicts what he himself has said time and time again, that this "isn't about me."

Now, as the prospect of a pared back package of incremental improvements appears, the President offers advice to Congress (Republicans an Democrats, alike) about not painting themselves into rhetorical corners, from where constructive compromise becomes impossible. The hard part in politics and public life (and in life in general, I think) is realizing when you should heed your own advice, live up to your own wisdom.

Hopefully the paint around his own corner has dried.

This piece from Fred Kaplan describes the valid potential value of reform that falls far short of perfection —that is far from the last word. Kaplan proffers the historic precedent of Civil Rights Law long forgotten and little valued at the time it was passed, The 1957 Civil Rights Act, law that had its original advocates "outraged" at the compromised bill that ultimately came to vote and formed law. "Many of them argued that it would be better to kill the bill and start over with a new one. (Sound familiar?)" Kaplan asks and then chronicles how the small measures the bill did contain proved important to the historic progress that followed on its heels.

...Long journeys involve steps —or as Kaplan phrases it "small hinges."

"Sometimes the gates of history swing on small hinges, as the saying goes. The 1957 Civil Rights Act was a preposterously small hinge that helped swing open a very wide gate. It's not out of the question that a pared-down health care bill might do the same."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Getting to 'No' you

I was explaining recently, as I offered my sigh filled and grudging congratulations to a euphoric Scott Brown supporter, that in my book there's an important distinction to be made between a skeptic and a cynic: A skeptic is occasionally willing to hope his darkest pessimism is mistaken. It was in that spirit, I explained to my crowing Republican friend, that I offered our new junior senator my deepest heartfelt skepticism.

I would very much like to be proven wrong about Senator Scott Brown. Without going on at length about my past complaints, I would like to find that he has more to offer than just saying no —be it to healthcare reform, to cap and trade environmental legislation, or the better regulation of our financial institutions. Beyond that first 'no' there is the question of —what then?

It would be nice if there was something there.

It was thinking on the subject of 'just saying no' to the President and his agenda that put me on the idea of an early indicator for our new Senator — a place where Scott Brown can show this skeptic he is beyond simple obstructionism. Dawn Johnsen, President Obama's nominee to head up the Office of Legal Counsel, who a full year in is yet to receive her confirmation vote in the Senate, has distinguished herself as someone who believes in a principled 'no' every now and then herself —even when talking to one's president. She has gone on record in critique of past OLC's simply "forward leaning" to the will of their White House keepers. She's on record objecting to the rubber stamp legalizing that enabled and permitted Constitutional evasions on domestic spying and torture in the Bush/Cheney administration. She's on record admonishing the denizens of the past administration OLC that sometimes it is your job to say 'no.'

That plain speaking principle has cost her dearly in the hallowed halls of the Senate. Her appointment has languished in Limbo through the Obama Administration's first year, while Senate leadership worries of the 6O votes it needs to confirm her without being filibustered. (Sound familiar?) There had been some furtive movement towards resolution in recent months, but with Brown's election the immediate speculation is that her goal is now one vote further away.

But maybe there's a bargain to be struck here, Senator Brown. There was that talk during your campaign that you weren't with the Herding to the Right Republicans, that yours was a maverick independent Conservativism —that your stance was toward opening the secreted process, having at the debate. You're not likely to embrace Dawn Johnsen's apparent policies. The demagogued discourse in D.C. is likely to go on circling around her 'pro' position on abortion rights or her seeming disdain for policies of a past administration. But as Johnsen so persuasively points out, the position she seeks to fill isn't about political alignment, issues advocacy or even formulating policy. It is about candid assessment of the the legal standing of the President's decisions. It is a job where, no matter what you might like the answer to be, sometimes you must simply say 'no.'

That's an idea we've been asked to consider in your own campaign rhetoric, Senator Brown —that notion of principled objection. Showing some respect to such a similar stance, even from a position of opposing views —pledging to give Dawn Johnsen the up or down vote she deserves after a long year of empty obstruction and paralytic posturing —that would go a long way towards proving me wrong about you —

In just the way I would hope.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Trojan Horse and Judas Goat Stew, The Recipe

I suppose no one should be surprised by the Supreme Court's 5-to-4 decision on The Hilary, The Movie Case —or that along with the decision we would be treated to brave pronouncements about the bold stance now being taken by the Court against government censorship and bans upon free political speech. No one should be surprised, but that doesn't make it any less horrifying. The fundamental intellectual dishonesty of the opinion is just plain staggering.

I wrote on this a while back, when it was a case being reheard at the behest of the Court last Fall. I titled my piece "Hairdressers" then, with some sense of irony and anger at the rhapsodic defense of corporate campaign spending Justice Scalia had offered —on behalf of corporate citizens "like the local hairdresser" —this as he was supposedly hearing arguments from the parties to the case.

(Should we discuss 'activist judges' now, folks?)

At the time I tried to argue it was just a bit disingenuous to characterize the restrictions upon corporate campaign spending, being made an issue of in the case by the justices themselves, as somehow equivalent to some abridgment of the rights of 'the regular guy' just down the street—those many "single shareholder corporations. … The local hairdresser, the local auto repair shop, the local new car dealer” as Justice Scalia described them, whom he supposedly so wanted to protect. I pointed out that none of the curbs on corporate campaign spending dragged into court by the court did a damned thing different to abrogate a "single shareholder’s" rights —any inch further than the rights of a single stakeholder citizen. What we were beholding in Scalia's "Hairdresser" was a cross between a Trojan Horse and a Judas Goat.

But what was so ominous then, and what makes the decision so sadly unsurprising now, is that the points of law we were hearing argued (mostly by the judges) were never of substance in the original case. The case was never about banning the movie in question, shutting down public showings or pulling copies of the dvd from the shelves —as some have suggested. The case stemmed from a ruling on an online on demand video distribution network, that the corporate producers of HTM had paid a pretty penny to access. The ruling in appeal was that the paid access was essentially a media buy of the sort regulated by campaign spending law. The plaintiff's themselves first argued the case in the narrow terms of that interpretation and it was only when the Roberts Court suggested it that we heard new arguments on the larger themes —"The censorship we now confront [so] vast in its reach"—as Justice Kennedy ultimately described it in announcing the decision.

So, no —we shouldn't be surprised when the decision comes down vindicating the plaintiff's arguments that the judges instructed them to make. No, we shouldn't be shocked or dismayed at all. Actually we should be dismayed , as so it is that we get treated to Justice Kennedy waxing eleoquent.

"When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves."

As Dahlia Lithwick of points out, It fell to Justice Stevens, reading the dissent to the decision, to point out that none of Kennedy's rhetoric actually corresponds to facts of the case —or truly founds and establishes "the court's decision to topple decades' worth of legal architecture that had never been questioned in the courts."

President Obama has responded to the announced decision by calling upon Congress to develop a "forceful bipartisan response" and describing the ruling as one that "strikes at our democracy itself "

"This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way - or to punish those who don't. That means that any public servant who has the courage to stand up to the special interests and stand up for the American people can find himself or herself under assault come election time. Even foreign corporations may now get into the act.

I can't think of anything more devastating to the public interest."

It is worth noting that just one of the campaign spending laws gutted and crippled by the court bears the name of President Obama's opponent in the last presidential election —The McCain-Feingold Act. So, although it might sound crazy these days to suggest that a bipartisan effort could be called upon to correct the errant moves of an arch activist Conservative court, it just might be possible. It's going to require a politically transcendent understanding of the Constitution —and no small measure of Audacity.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bear's song

Bear’s Song

come and lie beside me if only for the rest,
come and lie beside me —place your hand upon my chest
take the rhythm of my heart and bring it to your song
you know and I know you shall sing before too long

I will never see the dancing grass again I know
the earth already darkens deep beneath the snow
your brother’s voices carry, they are singing of the end.
I can taste the taste of ashes carried on the wind.

when first I found you, you were lost, lost into my eyes
lost into their darkness that you feared and that you prized.
for your soul or for your song did you give yourself to me?
was it something that you captured or something I set free?

come and lie beside me and take the things I give
take them to your song and there my soul might live
come and lie beside me you know we don’t have long
tonight I am still flesh, tommorrow I’ll be song

yes something of me lives to see the gold of this turning year
something of the music to a song I’ll never hear
something of your song so much stronger than the words
like the unseen hand beneath the wing that lifts a soaring bird

ashes pool around the stones, morning waits to speak
the words he does not want, the stories other seek
his throat is full with sadness and empty of the breath
it takes to tell the dawning day the legend of my death

come and lie beside me if only for the rest,
come and lie beside me place your hand upon my chest
take the rhythm of my heart and bring it to your song
you know and I know you shall sing before too long

this song is published in

available at

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Free the pimps

Senator Scott Brown sees himself another hot button to politically push —"illegal immigration." So it is we have the news, now in the last days before the special senate election, that he has filed legislation that would bar the protections of our state's wage laws to workers without legal status. Protecting workers' rights to legally limited work days and wages that are humane and livable is one thing, doing that in such a way that we might protect "illegals" —well, that's another in Senator Scott Brown's book.

Brown makes no bones about the political stunt nature of the legislation he has filed. It's not about the problem of illegal immigration. Make no mistake. It's about his political rival. As WBUR reports it:

"... [A]ttorney general, Martha Coakley has aggressively enforced laws protecting workers’ wages. Before the campaign, her office often announced settlements with companies she sued for allegedly violating prevailing wage laws or avoiding payroll taxes. Coakley represented everyone, including illegal immigrants."

Brown sees here an opening. As he understands and explains it all in a telephone interview, the Attorney General's job is to "enforce the laws of the state and to protect citizens here legally and the people who are here with the appropriate immigration status" —the implication being that to enforce the laws of the state one should demur when it comes to protecting citizens without legal presence —that law enforcement really ought to be selective in who it chooses to protect... Really.

I'll just note that at the one criminal trial I ever attended —it was as a juror —the victim was without question of the criminal element sort, but as I recall 'The People' still somehow saw some merit in prosecuting the crime.

And I guess I'm glad Scott Brown is not running for Attorney General.

Honest people can disagree about the best ways to address the illegal immigration problem directly —or even symbolically. There's some honest disagreement about the principles involved —whether certain measures send the right message to lawless behavior. But to write law specifically excluding the protection of the law? Doesn't that just flaunt the whole notion of the immigration debate as being about the principle of... law? Doesn't the supposed debate then descend to nothing more than exploitation of basic bigoted resentment?

If there is a single aspect of illegal immigration that most can agree upon, it is that would-be workers —illegal workers are drawn here by illegal hiring. Illegals become an attractive source of cheap exploitable labor precisely because they live along a dangerous line where seeking recourse could also send them home. Law that would exclude illegal workers the protection of the law from illegal employers—and calling that a move against illegal immigration— I see it as about the same as offering amnesty to pimps and calling it a crack down on prostitution (—thought being they do help keep the gals in line).

But then again Senator Brown didn't file this thinking it was real world legislation. The good senator from Wrentham knows better than that. This is only more prop imagery and nothing more —election season theatrics —reason to once again wonder what kind of world it is Scott Brown lives in. Does he really see the State Senate as only a set stage for his political stunt pseudo-legislation?

Should we assume he would treat the national stage with any more respect?

Monday, January 4, 2010

On the bill to enter into a multistate compact on a presidential popular vote

As I mentioned on an earlier thread, I participated in the Mass Citizens Legislative Seminar this past Spring. And we were given this issue to consider in a mock session of the State Senate.

So if you'll forgive the length of it, I'll recycle the rhetoric:

On the bill to enter into a multistate compact on a presidential popular vote

Madame President, I wish to speak against the proposed legislation before us, while at the same time being very much in support of the spirit behind it. It is not my intention to defend some conservative ideal of the status quo or advocate an unquestioning reverence for the old wisdom of the founders of this commonwealth or this country. I do not mean to advocate or even excuse complacency in the face of current challenges that ache for reform.

But while we should not cling to flawed systems blindly, neither should we abandon logic that is central and meaningful to our history, our electoral practice and our civic culture without a clear understanding of the consequences —intended and unintended.

You will likely hear the legislation we are considering today described as a “One man —one vote” proposal designed to repair what is broken in the way our country selects its president. It is fair to ask who would ever oppose such a notion as one man one vote —what’s more—who could mindfully watch the process by which we choose our presidents and not want to see it at least made “more perfect” —to
borrow a borrowed phrase. I acknowledge that this is the solid spirit behind the matter at hand —as I said it’s a spirit I embrace. But I submit to you that it is our task here to examine the implications of legislation beyond the stated spirit or slogans they travel by.

Just as not every law that calls itself patriotic is in fact and effect patriotic —not every law that purports to protect or improve election law is in fact and effect doing so.

In the final analysis, at it’s core the legislation at hand really does one thing only. It empowers our Secretary Of State to instruct our state’s delegates to the Electoral College to vote in direct contradiction to the statewide popular results of a presidential election.

This is hardly an ideal premise to build upon for legislation that purports to be about reforming our democracy.

Let us examine the proposal further though. The law would bind us into this agreement to potentially contradict the voters of our own state by securing the same agreement from just enough other states to secure a 2 vote margin of victory in the Electoral College. Mind you —no particular other states are identified as involving themselves in our Secretary of State’s license to contradict the voters of our own state. He will simply gather that authority to his office once a sufficient number of pigs have joined us in the poke.

Those who would support this legislation will no doubt point out the faults and flaws in the current system and argue that this seemingly perverse notion of brokering away our Electoral College votes is but a strange means to a nobler end: direct national popular election of the President of The United States. We are told this is the only means of guaranteeing that each vote should have the same weight as any other. That this will remove words like battleground states from our vocabulary and we will stop color coding our maps in ideological tints.

I will admit that this is where the spirit of this legislation is most appealing. The notion that a handful of remote states represent the tipping points to the otherwise foregone conclusions of our electoral contraption is an unsettling one. I’ll admit to my own pain and despair over Florida in 2000. In fairness I’ll also admit to clinging to hope in Ohio in 2004. Thankfully in 2008 we were confronted with neither the reality or the potential of a President elected contrary to popular consensus.

In 2008 we saw perhaps a few foregone conclusions successfully challenged.

And if you will recall, a very central message of the winning campaign was that the election was not about the winning candidate. It was about us. There was that notion about community organizing —that community organizing is the fundamental activity of government in an engaged and vital democracy.

That government should empower communities —as communities should empower government.

This notion of the common purpose of a people arrived at upon the real and human scale of the communities they know and live within —this is one notion —one of a few— I do believe the founders got right. It is the mechanism of community and consensus that informs the design of our Congress and it is the same mechanism by which we should still select our President.

One phenomena of the the current flawed system —at least in the last several presidential elections is that Massachusetts Democrats end up leaving the state to canvas elsewhere—realize that not all of our residents think that is a bad thing. These activists do generally return after the election though. Perhaps if we, like a number of other states chose to award our electoral delegates by the corresponding district more of the energy of that advocacy would remain here, who knows —we might enable and enliven more meaningful debate of the issues that effect our lives —among the candidates for President —and more importantly among ourselves.

That question of how we award the delegates to the Electoral College in consistent keeping with the popular mandate of Massachusetts voters might be worth visiting in this senate chamber, but I’ll grant political realities are such that action on a federal level would probably be necessary to effect a larger balance to the reform.

The measure actually at hand today attempts to change a fundamental aspect of our Constitutional Democracy by means of a clever and perverse construct that evades the deliberately more demanding requirements of amending the Constitution of The United States. I trust everyone in this room to regard The Constitution as something more than a set of cumbersome obstacles to be evaded. I believe we all take a pledge to that effect.

Direct popular election of the President might allow the candidates to direct their attention somewhere beside the battleground states, perhaps that’s true. But mightn’t it also serve to direct our own attention further afield from our own towns and districts and states, from the larger genuine context of our own lives and our own issues. With the measure being proposed today, we might avoid the rare aberration of a President elected contrary to the popular will. But the question remains will we be any more empowered to lend that contest meaning beyond mere popularity?

I submit to you, that the answer is no.

Respectfully submitted

Tom Driscoll

Friday, January 1, 2010

Airbrushing history

I'll admit I find Scott Brown's campaign ad a little creepy. There's something about the conjured screen static taking over and the archival footage of John F. Kennedy giving way to some supposed morphic equivalency between JFK and... Scott Brown. The 30 second spot goes to that dark heart of black and white televised nostalgia mongering in much the same way the full length movie Pleasantville did.

I'll admit Lloyd Bentson's famous advice to Dan Quayle came to mind. Scott Brown, you're no John F. Kennedy.

But to give the Divil his due, Senator Brown does remind us that tax-cuts in and of themselves aren't the property of one political party or one set of economic principles. They are tools in the toolbox to be considered. Tax cuts, why not? There is some dimension to the question, if not to the weird image play at work in Brown's asking of it.

But giving a look to the context of the tax cuts Kennedy proposed (which were finally put into effect well after he was dead) it is worth realizing that the structural concern —as Kennedy conceived of it— underlying a lagging economy as we moved into 1960's was the problematic prospect of a massive and growing federal surplus as we got "the economy moving again."

Herbert Stein writing for the WSJ put it this way: "

In fiscal 1961, when Kennedy came into office, the federal deficit was about 0.6% of gross national product. But the administration believed that the budget would be in surplus, given the existing tax rates and expenditure programs, if the economy were at full employment. It believed that even with lower taxes or higher expenditures the budget would be in balance if the economy were at high employment.

The administration believed that there was a long-term problem of fiscal drag. It thought that in the long run the potential growth of total output was 4% a year, without counting on increased growth from tax reduction or other structural reforms. But this potential growth rate would not be achieved with existing tax and expenditure policies, because they would yield excessive surpluses, which would depress demand. So the long-run growth problem was to get rid of these troublesome budget surpluses.

With some exceptions, the administration did not care much about balancing the budget, except as a useful political slogan. Walter Heller, Kennedy's chief economist, referred to balancing the budget as "the Puritan ethic," at a time when that epithet was considered dismissive.

Cutting taxes was not Kennedy's first choice for getting rid of those troublesome surpluses. He had plans for many expenditure increases - for defense, education, urban renewal, regional economic development, worker training and medical care for the aged."

So, as Steven Greenberg pointed out, writing for back in 2004, there is really some problem "portraying Kennedy as the ideological kin of Reagan and Bush on tax policy." There is just some problem with airbrushing out the context for Kennedy's proposal and pretending he is some spiritual ancestor to the mania for tax-cuts as a cure-all —to what some would describe as Voodoo Economics. Unlike 8 x10 glossy portraits, air brushed centerfolds —or even clever video effects, economies have a three dimensional reality to them that's worth considering on the whole.