Election day is TODAY! (Updated: Jason Lewis wins!)

Another notch in the collective belt of BMGers. Congratulations Jason Lewis! -Bob

Also, congratulations to Rep.-elect John Velis, who picked up a seat for the Dems by beating GOPer Dan Allie in Westfield. - promoted by david

If you live in the Fifth Middlesex Senate district (a/k/a Stoneham, Malden, Melrose, Wakefield, Reading, part of Winchester), or in the Fourth Hampden House district (a/k/a Westfield), or in the 16th Suffolk House district (a/k/a Chelsea/Revere) your contested general election is today!  There are also uncontested generals tomorrow in the 13th Suffolk (Dan Hunt will replace Marty Walsh) and in the 2nd Suffolk (Dan Ryan will replace Gene O’Flaherty).

Also today is the five-way primary to replace expelled ex-Rep. Carlos Henriquez in Boston’s 5th Suffolk district.  There are no Republican candidates, so the winner of the primary will win the general election on April 29.

Don’t forget to vote!

Create the Vote Meeting in Boston Tonight

Disclosure: I work in the arts. - promoted by david

Over the next eight months, the race to elect a new governor of Massachusetts will provide candidates and voters the opportunity to discuss the strengths and challenges of the Commonwealth and debate our vision to strengthen the economy, improve our schools, and make our communities healthier and safer. It’s an exciting and important time.

MASSCreative and the Create the Vote coalition will work with the statewide creative community to make sure that arts, culture, and creativity are an integral part of this important discussion. The Arts Matter in the Commonwealth, so they should matter in this election. We will be meeting tonight from 6-7:30 at Hibernian Hall, 184 Dudley St., Boston to plan the campaign. Please join us!

Arts matter in Lynn

Disclosure: as a professional singer, a substantial portion of my income comes from activities that are funded in part by the MCC. - promoted by david

Arts matter. That’s why we are asking lawmakers to increase the budget of the Massachusetts Cultural Council to $16.1 million. MASSCreative Executive Director Matt Wilson teamed up with Raw Arts Works Executive Director Kit Jenkins to make the case for increased funding in this oped published in the Lynn Daily Item.

Imagine if you could devise a program that helps at-risk youth envision positive futures for themselves and apply for college, stay out of gangs and do better in school. Imagine, also, if this program helped create public art that cut down on graffiti and contributed to efforts to revitalize downtown Lynn.

It’s possible.

Raw Art Works (RAW) serves more than 1,200 under-resourced youth in Lynn ages 6 to 19 through its art programs, including one funded, in part, with a $10,000 grant this year from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC). Young people working with art therapists and professional artists have painted utility boxes and murals on Willow and Monroe streets. They have learned to express themselves through media ranging from paint, fabric and film to found objects. With art, they are taught to see a larger life for themselves than they might otherwise come up with on their own.

You can learn more about our budget advocacy campaign here.

Time for Kirsten Hughes to show some leadership. Will she step up?

The latest from the increasingly embarrassing debacle that was the Mass. GOP convention last weekend is that the party’s chairman of the rules committee, Steve Zykofsky, says that blank or “present” votes should not have been counted in determining whether Mark Fisher got the 15% of delegates he needed to make the ballot.  And if you don’t include those votes, Fisher would qualify.  But the party’s executive director, Rob Cunningham, disagrees with Zykofsky, arguing that the party’s head rules guy doesn’t understand the rules.  And Fisher says he will go to court if the party keeps trying to shut him out.

Cunningham’s defense of how things went at the convention is nothing short of hilarious.

Asked where the additional blank votes came from, he declined to provide details, but noted that officials from both campaigns were in the tally room where the vote was verified.

“That came out of independent, impartial tally room staff making the official vote in a controlled, overseen, and transparent environment in the back of the building,” Cunningham said.

He declined to provide a district-by-district tally of the votes to the Globe.

“In the back of the building.”  And he refuses to supply the actual tally to the press.  Sounds about as transparent as a brick wall.

Kirsten Hughes, the GOP chair who presumably has ultimate responsibility for this thing, was confused while it was actually happening.

The party’s vote-counters came up with a total of 2,533 votes later that night, after the convention emptied of activists. By their math, which included 64 blanks, Fisher fell just short of qualifying with 14.765 percent, Hughes said.

When she gave reporters the official vote tally, Hughes also asserted that blanks were not being counted.

“You can’t count blanks toward a bottom line,” said Hughes. “That’s not how it goes.”

Later, Hughes said she had misspoken and that the blanks had in fact, been counted.

Anyway, the point is that now, everyone knows the story: if you count the blanks, Fisher doesn’t make it, but if you don’t, he does.  Hughes is looking at a public dispute between her executive director and the chair of her rules committee, and if she doesn’t act quickly to restore order, Fisher is going to take her to court, guaranteeing that this will be prolonged for months.

What’s the right call?  Easy.  Hughes should overrule Cunningham, go with her rules chair, and declare that Fisher got his 15%.  That avoids a lawsuit (no way Charlie Baker would sue to keep Fisher off the ballot), it makes her look in-charge and decisive, and it’s the pro-small-d-democratic outcome.  It’s also much better for Baker to have a primary, whatever he or the party Pooh-Bahs may think.  Fisher is the perfect foil for Baker to prove to independent voters that he’s not the captive of the Tea Party, social conservative, RMG types who are probably the main reason Republicans do so badly in this state year after year.  Also, a primary keeps Baker in the news, instead of ceding the free publicity to the Dems as they slug out their five-way battle.

Baker had no primary in 2010, and we all know how that went for him.  He and Hughes should hold a presser to jointly welcome Fisher to the primary ballot.  They’d both come out smelling like roses.

"This is an emergency"

One of the world’s oldest and most prestigious medical journals makes an absolutely unequivocal statement on the health effects of climate change – and remarkably, proposes action:

This is an emergency. Immediate and transformative action is needed at every level: individual, local, and national; personal, political, and financial. Countries must set aside differences and work together as a global community for the common good, and in a way that is equitable and sensitive to particular challenges of the poorest countries and most vulnerable communities.

… So what can health professionals do? Firstly, we should push our own organisations (universities, hospitals, primary care providers, medical societies, drug and device companies) to divest from fossil fuel industries completely and as quickly as possible, reinvest in renewable energy sources, and move to “renewable” energy suppliers. Secondly, we should each use whatever influence we have to change the minds and behaviour of others who are in positions of influence.

Thirdly, we need to build an alliance of medical and other health professionals to speak clearly to the public, the media, governments, and intergovernmental bodies to provide a strong and unified message—that climate change is real and is the result of human activity; that it is already affecting people around the world and is the greatest current threat to human health and survival; and that there are many positive and practical things we can do systematically and at scale to avert its worst effects.

via Climate change and human survival | BMJ.

So in spite of the pooh-poohing from institutions like Harvard, BMJ calls for institutional divestment.

In any event, climate has obvious and gigantic health implications. Leadership from medical professionals — who are typically among the most respected members of any community — . would help to galvanize the public to act.

There are some signs that climate is emerging as a central and motivating issue — among progressives and Democrats, for sure, but also in the corporate world. Witness the Senate’s recent climate all-nighter (featuring our Ed Markey); or Apple CEO Tim Cook’s rebuke to climate-denialist activist shareholders; or even ExxonMobil’s acceptance of a future cost of carbon. Ignore the deniers: even they know in their heart of hearts that they’re wrong. The key is to use the levers of power that are available. May BMJ’s strong wording convince those insitutional players in the medical field to take immediate action.

Cambridge pre-K/K teacher: My job is about testing and data. I quit.

A sad commentary. - promoted by david

On Sunday, the Washington Post had a blog entry about veteran Cambridge teacher Susan Sluyter and why she quit her job teaching pre-kindergarten and kindergarten in the Cambridge Schools. I found it a fascinating read, especially since it goes into so much detail and confirms things I’ve heard as a parent from teachers and kids in our school system (at all levels, not just kindergarten).

Some choice snippets (but I really recommend reading the whole thing):

I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them.

I have needed to schedule and attend more and more meetings about increasingly extreme behaviors and emotional needs of children in my classroom; I recognize many of these behaviors as children shouting out to the adults in their world, “I can’t do this! Look at me! Know me! Help me! See me!”

We found ourselves in professional development work being challenged to teach kindergartners to form persuasive arguments, and to find evidence in story texts to justify or back up a response they had to a story. What about teaching children to write and read through the joy of experiencing a story together, or writing about their lives and what is most important to them? When adults muck about too much in the process of learning to read and write, adding additional challenge and pressure too soon, many children begin to feel incompetent and frustrated. They don’t understand. They feel stupid. Joy disappears.

I remember one Sunday evening when I received an email from the principal of my school letting me know that I was missing one particular document from my assessment site. The missing document was a photo of a math assessment recording sheet that I had somehow failed to post. If I could post it by 9 a.m. the following morning, I would recieve “exemplary teacher” status. If I did not, I would get a label of “needs improvement.” I remember at that moment thinking, “Seriously? It has come down to this sort of nonsense?”

Again, read the whole thing.

What's the Matter with Massachusetts? (thoughts on Beacon Hill, the minimum wage and the grassroots)

Bumped, for the update. It's not over yet. - promoted by david

Updates, 3/27/2014: To no one’s surprise, the House legislation is missing key provisions — no indexing and too low of an increase for tipped workers.

Now the push comes to the Amendments, and the hardball is, apparently, around the INDEXING amendment. We may already know that the Speaker is going to strong arm his delegation to kill it. But who will make a stand and be on record as SUPPORTING this eminently MODERATE policy?

Indexing to min wage is SO moderate, in fact, that ARIZONA –Ari-flipping-Jan-Bewer-Show-Us-Your-Papers-Zona– has already indexed their minimum wage. It’s so moderate that MITT ROMNEY supports it!!

So, we’re up against a deadline. Legislators have until tomorrow, 3/28, 5pm, to add their names as sponsors to Amendments. 

*We* each need to be on record with our State Reps (and, any other Reps with whom we have relationships… perhaps you took a day off to GOTV?) asking them to sponsor an Amendment to INDEX the minimum wage to inflation.

And ask Bill T said on twitter, let’s hear it from the Reps themselves: what possible reason does the Legislature have for NOT supporting indexing?

Progressive Mass has more information and a call reporting tool: progressivemass.com/raiseupcall


Are we a police state yet?

I don't know enough about the Pelletier case to be confident about the right result. But I will say that the judge's ruling seems extreme, and the conjunction of this story with the Auditor's findings about DCF and sex offenders does not exactly inspire confidence. - promoted by david

A judge’s decision this week to award permanent custody of Justina Pelletier to the state scares me.

This is the teenager who spent nearly a year in a locked ward in Boston Children’s Hospital after doctors there disagreed with the family’s diagnosis that Justina was suffering from mitochondrial disease.  The Children’s Hospital doctors claim her illness is psychological, and as a result they got a judge to agree to award temporary custody of her to the state.

According to The Boston Globe, Judge Joseph Johnston has now determined that custody of Justina should never be returned to her parents.  But the reason isn’t that the family has ever been abusive toward Justina or neglectful, which I always thought were the only reasons children should be taken away from their parents.  The reason the judge cited for awarding permanent custody to the state was that Justina’s parents have apparently been argumentative with the people who kept her locked up for a year.

On the Doors with Martha Coakley #Demdoors

The word from the street. - promoted by david

Last week AG Martha Coakley told me that she wanted to go door to door with me. I’ve been canvassing for her gubernatorial campaign, talking to voters and collecting signatures for several weeks. I love to canvass. It’s a fun and effective way to talk to voters and to get votes.

My only question was, “When and where?”

We decided that we would be knocking on doors in Worcester on Saturday because there was a meet and greet in the morning and an afternoon gubernatorial candidates forum, both in Worcester.

A terrible day in Back Bay

FF Michael R. Kennedy (left) and Lt. Edward J. Walsh, lost today in the Beacon Street fire. Photo via WBZ.

The news that two Boston firefighters were lost today in the massive fire on Beacon Street is devastating.  Lt. Edward J. Walsh and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy gave their lives in the performance of their duty.  We extend our deepest condolences to their family and friends.

Hobby Lobby is an easy case (or should be, anyway)

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard one of the hottest-button cases of the year: whether a company owned by religious people can claim an exemption from the Affordable Care Act provision requiring that businesses offer health plans that include comprehensive contraceptive coverage.

The answer, of course, should be “no” in any sensible universe.  Nobody is questioning the sincerity of the beliefs of the people who own the Hobby Lobby company, or who own Conestoga Wood Specialties (the company involved in a companion case presenting the same issue).  But the simple fact is that those people, when they set up their businesses, decided to form for-profit corporations, presumably in order to take advantage of the numerous benefits that for-profit status gives them (most notably including drastically limiting their own personal liability for the debts of the businesses).  And, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said in ruling against Conestoga Wood and explaining why the rationale of Citizens United (which held that corporations have free speech rights) did not apply to the free exercise of religion:

we are not aware of any case preceding the commencement of litigation about the [contraception] Mandate, in which a for-profit, secular corporation was itself found to have free exercise rights. Such a total absence of caselaw takes on even greater significance when compared to the extensive list of Supreme Court cases addressing the free speech rights of corporations.

After all, as the Supreme Court observed in Schempp, the purpose of the Free Exercise Clause “is to secure religious liberty in the individual by prohibiting any invasions thereof by civil authority.” And as the District Court aptly noted in its opinion, “[r]eligious belief takes shape within the minds and hearts of individuals, and its protection is one of the more uniquely ‘human’ rights provided by the Constitution.” We do not see how a for-profit “artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law,” that was created to make money could exercise such an inherently “human” right.

We are unable to determine that the “nature, history, and purpose” of the Free Exercise Clause supports the conclusion that for-profit, secular corporations are protected under this particular constitutional provision. Even if we were to disregard the lack of historical recognition of the right, we simply cannot understand how a for-profit, secular corporation—apart from its owners—can exercise religion.

Later in the opinion, the court rejected a “pass-through” theory for why the Conestoga Wood company should be exempt, explaining once again the importance of the owners’ decision to conduct its business through a for-profit corporation:

The Hahn family chose to incorporate and conduct business through Conestoga, thereby obtaining both the advantages and disadvantages of the corporate form. We simply cannot ignore the distinction between Conestoga and the Hahns. We hold … that the free exercise claims of a company’s owners cannot “pass through” to the corporation.

That strikes me as a pretty well unanswerable argument.  It seems to me that we can leave the more difficult questions regarding religious organizations (some of which adopt corporate form), non-profit corporations, etc. for another day.  The present case requires the Court only to decide whether a for-profit, secular corporation can “exercise” religion within the meaning of the Constitution or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  It should be perfectly obvious that it cannot.  If the Court decides otherwise – and, sadly, the indications seem pretty good that it will, though tea-leaf reading from oral argument is a perilous exercise – that will reflect just how far astray the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence in the area of corporate “rights” has gone.

Carl Sciortino to Step Down April 4th

This post was actually written by the esteemed jconway but because of a WordPress bug shows a different author. Sorry, jconway! - promoted by Bob_Neer

Just saw this bit of news on the wire:

Carl Sciortino is stepping down as State Representative for West Somerville and West Medford to become Executive Director of The AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts.

Here is their statement:

During nine years in office, Sciortino distinguished himself as an effective and reliable proponent of policy changes, as well as allocation of resources, to aid those living with, and vulnerable to, HIV infection. In 2012, he supported passage of a law resulting in expanded HIV testing, and he has consistently sponsored budget amendments seeking increases in funding for HIV outreach, prevention, and education. He has championed social justice issues throughout his career including the right of same-sex couples to marry; banning discrimination against transgender people; expanding access to health care; and increasing resources for anti-poverty programs.

And here is Carl’s:

“As a gay man living with HIV, I am honored to lead one of the country’s oldest and most effective organizations in the battle against this disease which has raged on over 30 years,” said Sciortino. “My goal for AIDS Action in the years ahead is simple: continue the work that has resulted in lowering the rate of new HIV diagnoses in Massachusetts; provide the multitude of services needed to keep those living with HIV/AIDS connected with health care providers; and continue the public conversation about HIV needed to reduce the stigma that is still so closely associated with this disease.”

I congratulate Carl Sciortino on his new position and wish him the best of luck in a role I am sure he will excel at. Unfortunately, he was one of the fiercest and articulate advocates for truly progressive politics in the House and his resignation will create a void that will be hard to fill. Seeing as the general is only a few months away I am not sure if we will see another special or not or who the candidates might be, but until then I will just reiterate how much I appreciated his groundbreaking first campaign, his service, his CD5 campaign,
and his advocacy as a legislator.