Dovekie in Roxbury (Corrected)

[This post has been edited to correct the Laura Ingalls Wilder reference (I had the wrong book) and to expand with some quotes from The Long Winter.]

The dovekie is an Arctic bird that plays off the coast of New England near Georges’ Bank in the winter but I don’t think one has ever been found in my neighborhood before.  The Boston Globe had the story  and picture on last Friday. 

The dovekie, called a little auk in Europe, was dropped off at the Boston Rescue 2 firehouse on Columbus Avenue in Egleston Square on Thursday night, said Greg Conlan, a firefighter with Rescue 2.

Conlan said the small bird was brought into the station at 7 p.m. by three 10-year-old children.

The bird, which was in a box, looked plump but exhausted, he said.

“It looked tired. It definitely wasn’t going anywhere, but it wasn’t on its last leg or anything,” he said.

Firefighters named the dovekie Olive, the name given to every animal that comes through the firehouse, Conlan said. There is a cat and a turtle living at the station, both with the name Olive.

Here is Olive in her box.

Dovekie

The bird was transported to the New England Wildlife Center in South Weymouth, Boston Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said.

Wayne Petersen, director of the Important Bird Areas program for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, received a call from the wildlife center this morning asking for advice about where to release the bird, he said.

“The bird was obviously blown into the city by the big storm on Thursday,” Petersen said. “It’s a species that once it’s on the ground, they have great difficulty taking off.”

He advised the caretakers to release Olive in waters not heavily populated by gulls, because the small bird could be prey for larger species.

The nice thing about the story is that 3 10 year old boys were thoughtful enough to try to take care of the dovekie by trying to feed it crackers [I’m sure they feed pigeon being city kids.] and then bringing it to the fire station.

In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, The Long Winter, a little auk lands near their house and the family releases it off Silver Lake.  “They had never seen a bird like it.  It was small, but it looked exactly like the picture of the great auk in Pa’s big green book, ‘The Wonders of The Animal World’.”  The little auk had been found in a haystack.  The next day Pa, Laura, and Mary go to release the bird.

He squatted down by the thin white ice at the lake’s edge and reaching far out he tipped the little bird from his hand into the blue water.  For the briefest instant, there it was, and then it wasn’t there.  Our amoung the ice cakes it was streaking, a black speck.

“It gets up speed, with those webbed feet,” said Pa, “to lift it from the….There it goes!”

This is the only other time I can remember hearing about them in unusual places.

No word yet on a successful release here in Boston, but we have been having a snow/rain and now wind storm for the last 24 hours so probably no one has tried yet.

Little auks when not in Egleston Square.

Little Auks

Little Auks (Photo credit: Alastair Rae)

Going over the cliff?!

The Senate is back in town with very unhappy members who would rather be kicking back at home and who can blame them.  Senator McConnell who really, really doesn’ t want to make a fool of  himself a la Boehner and Plan B, keeps asking for a proposal from the President.  I thought the President had made at least two proposals, but I guess Mitch doesn’t follow the new much.  Meanwhile the House is called back into session on Sunday night.  That is the night of December 30 a little more than 24 hours before the cliff.  So what is going on here?  Not being an economist, I can’t explain it all but I have found a couple of things this morning that have given me some things to think about as we play chicken with the deadline.

First is this handy chart from the New York Times from the Debt Reckoning blog.

It was posted last night with this explanation.

The deadline for resolving the pending fiscal crisis is less than a week away and, absent a breakthrough, spending cuts and tax increases on every income level will go into effect on Jan. 2. During their negotiations, President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner have sought to keep tax rates at their current level for some taxpayers while letting them rise for high earners, but they have not agreed on where to set the income threshold. Mr. Obama has called for rates to go up on income above $250,000 (he later increased his offer to $400,000), Congressional Democrats have said they would agree to $500,000, and Mr. Boehner has called for a $1 million threshold.

So we aren’t talking about a lot of taxpayers here since the vast majority of us make under $250,000 in taxable income.  As I understand it, none of these proposals would impact investment income.  (Which as we have learned from Mitt Romney, is taxed differently.)  But we do pay a lot more taxes than just income tax and if we go over the cliff, these will go up.  Payroll taxes, business taxes, various tax credits like for child care, and unemployment insurance will all be affected.

The other thing I read this morning is from the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, They have put together a set of very helpful Frequently Asked Questions – with answers.

For example

What is the fiscal cliff in one sentence?

Much too much austerity, much too quickly.

And since this is Ezra Klein and company, there are a couple of helpful graphs.

On or around Jan. 1, about $500 billion in tax increases and $200 billion in spending cuts (see table 1) [ above] are scheduled to take effect. That’s equal to about four percent of GDP, which is according to the Congressional Budget Office, more than enough to throw us into a recession

Next question:  What matters most?

It’s important to recognize that the austerity crisis is a collision between deficit reduction and stimulus. The good news is that if you look at the various components of the fiscal cliff separately, you’ll see that the parts that do the most for deficit reduction do the least for the recovery, and vice versa. This suggests the possibility of “a la carte” approach to the fiscal cliff, in which we extend the most stimulative policies and wave goodbye to the most costly policies. And if you’re looking to go a la carte then here, via the Economic Policy Institute, is the menu.

I recommend that Senator McConnell take a look at this list and the chart showing the impact of various tax increase proposals, pull out his own calculator and make a proposal.  Of course given the House and Senate rules, we will probably go over the cliff before anything can be passed.

Petitions: Serious and not

The Obama administration created a place where people can petition for actions they want the government to take.  This is in a great American tradition as the Declaration of Independence was in a very real sense a petition to the British monarchy listing all the issues the founding fathers had with the King.  There are petitions for secession, for and against gun control (there has been a response to those), building a Death Star – you name it there is probably a petition.  When the process was started, I doubt that anyone expected so many and varied petitions.  So what happens to them?

Donovan Slack explains on Politico

So what happens to such petitions and will they actually get a response from the White House?

A quick look at program statistics on the White House web site shows that there are 159 open petitions, 45 of which that have reached the 25,000-signature threshold required for response.

Some of those have been waiting several months since reaching the threshold, including two asking about required labeling on genetically modified foods (created in September 2011 and April 2012), two asking the administration to denounce support of former Japanese “comfort women” (created in May and June), one asking that access to journal articles based on taxpayer-funded research be free (created in May) and another asking that foreign aid be pulled from Vietnam unless it returns land to former owners (created in August).

Some petitions don’t receive a response at all. The White House reserves the right to remove petitions that do not fall within its guidelines, for example those that ask for actions outside the power of the federal government. (A petition asking for the removal of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was removed in December.)

The White House has responded to 87 petitions since the program’s inception in September 2011, according to the site. Many of the responses read like dry talking points, others are basically a “no comment.” But a few appear to have had some impact. For example, the White House issued its response to petitions on Internet privacy (SOPA and PIPA) at the same time the House was considering legislation on the issue. The White House came out against legislation, helping lead to its demise. And there was of course the one that prompted the release of the White House beer recipe.

While the White House has yet to comment on the various petitions for secession, Calvin Trillin has made his comment.

A Short Message to Those Who Have Signed Petitions Asking to Secede From the Union

We do respect your point of view.
We’re glad to see the back of you.

Two recent petitions have caught my attention.  The first is a serious one about Westboro Church; the second, is the matching set of petitions to deport or not CNN’s Piers Morgan.  Lets look at Morgan first.

British Citizen and CNN television host Piers Morgan is engaged in a hostile attack against the U.S. Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment,” the authors write. “We demand that Mr. Morgan be deported immediately for his effort to undermine the Bill of Rights and for exploiting his position as a national network television host to stage attacks against the rights of American citizens.”

Last Tuesday, Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners for America, and called him “dangerous,” “stupid,” and “an idiot.” The next night he told John Lott, the author of More Guns, Less Crime that he needed “to stop repeating a blatant lie about what happens in other countries.”

This prompted a petition to deport Morgan and a counter petition by some British Citizens requesting that we keep him because they don’t want him.  I’m sure the White House response will involve a discussion of the First Amendment.  The counter petition doesn’t have many signatures so maybe when I finish writing this, I’ll log in and sign it.

The Westboro Chuch petition, however, is a serious matter.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church chant anti-Marine Corps slogans and stand on American flags during their protest. | AP Photo

The church is composed mostly of members of one extended family who believe that every event is caused by tolerance for homosexuality.  Politico reports

More than 260,000 people have signed a petition to the White House asking for  it to label the notorious Westboro Baptist Church a hate group.

The petition aimed at the church best known for picketing military funerals  and other events with signs declaring “GOD HATES FAGS,” is believed to be the  most popular cause ever on the White House’s “We the People” petition site. Four  other petitions targeting the church’s tax-exempt status have attracted nearly  200,000 additional signatures. All five petitions have passed the number  required for a response from President Barack Obama’s administration.

“This group has been recognized as a hate group by organizations, such as The  Southern Poverty Law  Center, and has repeatedly displayed the actions typical of hate  groups,” the petition reads. “Their actions have been directed at many groups,  including homosexuals, military, Jewish people and even other Christians. They  pose a threat to the welfare and treatment of others and will not improve  without some form of imposed regulation.”

Westboro Church picketed funerals in Sandy Hook probably for no reason other than wanting publicity.  I thing that getting the IRS to look at tax exemption is a good way to go.  They, like Piers Morgan, have the right to free speech but they don’t have to be tax exempt.  I wonder if they claim travel expenses as a business deduction.

English: We the People, White House petition p...

English: We the People, White House petition platform logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Photograph of Westboro Church member:  AP

Fear and 2013

OK.  That is not a very cheerful title for a post during the holidays, but between baking and cooking and family, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and I think there is a direct connection between what is being reported in the new Washington Post poll and the intransigence of many about instituting any kind of new rules about guns and gun safety as well as the inability of Congressional Republicans to put country over party and negotiate a budget deal.

According to the Post,

A bare 53 percent majority of all Americans are “hopeful” about their lives in 2013; some 44 percent say they are instead more “fearful.” The assessment about what’s in store for the world is even more grim: a record low 40 percent report being hopeful about the next year, with 56 percent saying they are more fearful.

Much of the “fear” is being generated by the failure of Congress to act on any measures related to the budget and so-called “fiscal cliff”, but that fear is also grounded in President Obama’s re-election.  Let’s look at some poll results.Nearly six in 10 are very concerned about the national economy if a budget agreement is not reached soon. Among those with high level concern, 53 percent are fearful about the future.

Not all the perceptions are slipping. Fully 53 percent say that based on their own experiences the economy has begun to recover, a sentiment that’s crept up steadily from 36 percent in November 2011 to a new high point. Still, even among those who see recovery happening, most see it as a weak one.

But what is really shocking is the difference between Democratic and Republican attitudes.

Republicans and Democrats report far different readings on the recovery as well as the hopes for their personal lives. Over seven in 10 Democrats say the economy is beginning to recover, but fewer than half as many Republicans – 35 percent – see the economy making a turnaround.

And this difference really shows up when the chart above is broken down by political party.

So why this stark difference?  The Post observes that Democrats are just more optimistic.

Democrats are far more positive, with 75 percent hopeful about their personal lives, exactly the same as 2008. Even during George W. Bush’s presidency, majorities of Democrats expressed a hopeful outlook. Independents splits about evenly between hope and fear.

In separate questions about the coming year, the public divides narrowly between optimism and pessimism about the state of the economy, the way things are going in the country overall and chances for bipartisan agreement in Washington.

A 55 percent majority are optimistic about the policies Obama will pursue in the coming year, a bit of a comedown from the 68 percent who were optimistic when he was first elected in 2008. The current rating is propped up by 85 percent optimism among Democrats, a point shy of their rating four years ago.

So what does this divide mean?  Do pessimistic people get drawn to the Republican Party and optimistic ones to the Democrats?  I think the answer is yes and that we have to figure out why this is if we are going to get back to some kind of national consensus with government actually functioning again.  This fear is also why so many Republicans are buying guns, opposing even simple measures to insure gun safety, and why so many think that secession is the correct response to Obama’s re-election.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to live in constant fear about the future, fear about change, and fear of people who look or act differently than you.  It can’t be healthy.

So if you are a Republican and reading this, for your own mental and physical health resolve to work on your pessimism and fear next year.  Resolve to learn more facts and to think about them.  I think this will not only help you personally, but it might help end gridlock. 

Maybe looking at some great pictures of Bo, the Obama dog, will help put you in the right frame of mind.  And if you are Democrat look at them because they are wonderful.  (Even to a cat person!)  Here is a sample.

President Obama talks with White House budget chief Jack Lew; at left, Bo waits for the president inside the doorway of the Outer Oval Office.

Peeking out

President Obama talks with White House budget chief Jack Lew; at left, Bo waits for the president inside the doorway of the Outer Oval Office.

(Photo: White House)

Replacing John Kerry or potential food fight in Massachusetts

John Kerry has not been appointed to anything as of this writing.  He has certainly not been confirmed by the Senate.  Neither of these facts are keeping the speculation about the race to replace him from heading toward some kind of crescendo.  Ben Affleck, Ted Kennedy, Jr., Congressman Ed Markey, or my former boss, Congressman Mike Capuano.  Will one of them get appointed by Governor Deval Patrick as interim and then be allowed to run or will it be Vicki Kennedy or former governor Michael Dukakis neither of whom will run.  Rumors. Rumors and speculation.

One thing I do know is that Scott Brown is running for something.  He just came out in support of an assault weapons ban which is a change in his previous position.  If he votes for the President’s fiscal cliff plan then we can be absolutely certain he is running.  The cynic in me would say that he likes being a senator more than he values loyalty to his party which, by the way, he didn’t mention much in his campaign against Elizabeth Warren.  It is Republican.

But let us play the game.

Ben Affleck and Ted, Jr. both campaigned for Elizabeth Warren.  Both appear to have good solid Democratic left politics.  Both probably have good name recognition (an issue for Ed Markey and Mike Capuano – although if I remember correctly, Mike came in second to Martha Coakley in Democratic primary to run against Scott Brown in the last special election.  Some, including me, said at the time that Mike would have pushed back harder against Brown than Coakley did).

For one, Ted, Jr. doesn’t really live in Massachusetts even though a lot of people probably think he must.  He would have to hurry and change his residence and registration.

The Boston Globe ran a piece speculating on all of this and said this about Ted, Jr.

The younger Kennedy would have to go out and campaign for the seat, just as his relative, Joseph P. Kennedy III, just did with his recent US House campaign.

Edward Jr. could rely on his father’s legacy, but also highlight his own work with the disability community, as well as his private-sector experience heading a New York-based health care advisory firm.

One immediate challenge, though, is residency. Kennedy may spend time each summer at the family compound on Cape Cod, but he lives in Connecticut.

Massachusetts election law does not require US House members to live in their respective House districts, only that they be an “inhabitant” of the state when elected. The same is true for senators, who don’t represent geographical districts but the entire state. Candidates for both offices, however, have to be registered voters in the state to circulate nomination papers.

President John F. Kennedy famously maintained his voter registration at 122 Bowdoin St., an apartment building across from the State House, all the way until his assassination.

Edward Kennedy Jr. would have to make some sort of formal commitment to Massachusetts before voters made a formal commitment to him.

Ironically enough, Hillary Clinton – the person whose departure may clear the path for a special election campaign – did just the same sort of thing in New York before winning her own seat in the US Senate

Then there is Ben.  His mother lives in Cambridge, but I thought he lived in California.  Anyway, I think he probably has the same residency issues as Ted, Jr.  But, hey, if Sonny Bono could become a Congressman.  A better example for Ben would be Al Franken who went home to Minnesota and visited everyone without cracking a joke.  Franken has made himself into a very good senator.  Unfortunately Ben doesn’t have time to do this.  He does go to Senate hearings, however.

Jay Westcott/POLITICO

The Globe didn’t have much to say about Ben, but Politico reported

“That’s not what I’m here to talk about,” Affleck told POLITICO. “I’m here to talk about what role we can place in making the Eastern Congo a better place.”

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that he was being touted as a possible candidate for Senate in Massachusetts. Affleck campaigned for Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) when she beat freshman Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in November.

So will Massachusetts go for star power, legacy or a seasoned politician?  And the bigger question:  who can beat Scott Brown?

Photograph of Ted Kennedy, Jr. – Brian Snyder/AP

Photograph of Ben Affleck  – Jay Westcott/Politico

The electoral college votes

The Electoral College voted on Monday.

As the Washington Post pointed out

President Obama hasn’t officially secured a second term in the White House. Technically, that won’t happen until the electoral college casts its ballots Monday — presumably in favor of the winner for each state.

Even then, Congress has to formally declare Obama the victor after counting the electoral votes on Jan. 6.

Other than saying that every state has an elector for each senator and representative, the Constitution provides little guidance.  Federal law provides the framework.

Federal law requires state electors to meet in their respective state capitals every four years to cast their votes for president and vice president on the Monday after the second Wednesday of December. Otherwise, states largely set their own rules. In most states, an equal number of electors pledge themselves to each candidate, and the popular vote dictates which team of electors casts its votes.

So how did the voting go on Monday?  The Boston Globe had two stories:  One on the voting generally and one on Massachusetts.  I quote from both.

Ceremonies around the country had their share of pomp and electors in red, white and blue ties. Wisconsin’s electors donned pin-on buttons with headshots of the president. A bit of controversy erupted in Arizona, where a few electors voiced doubts that Obama was ‘‘properly vetted as a legitimate candidate for president’’ by raising debunked claims about his birth certificate.

In New Hampshire, electors supporting Obama signed their four ballots and then certificates that were sealed in envelopes with wax that has been in the secretary of state’s office for more than 70 years.

Vermont’s meeting of three electors was witnessed by a fifth-grade class.

Connecticut’s electors convened in the state Senate chamber and solemnly remembered the victims of last week’s school shooting before carrying out their task.

In Mississippi, which Romney carried comfortably, six men chosen earlier as electors met in a small committee room in the state Capitol and cast their votes for the GOP candidate. Well aware they were doing so in a lost cause, they opted for humor. The state’s Republican governor, Phil Bryant, joked that Billy Mounger, an 86-year-old elector, probably wished to vote for Calvin Coolidge, a renowned small-government conservative president in the 1920s.

And is Massachusetts

The electors, who are chosen by the respective state party committees, entered the chamber  dressed in formal attire to a standing ovation.

Galvin [Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin]  said afterward that each party committee chooses a slate of people to sit on the Electoral College, and the slate from the winning party casts the final vote. Though they are not legally bound to vote for the winner of the November election, all of them have pledged to, Galvin said.

“It was a nice visit to history,” he said of the ceremony, which included classical music from Project Step, a group that provides musical instruction to minority youth, and a rendition of the national anthem from the Boston Children’s Chorus.

Now we wait for Congress to count the votes on January 6.  Then the re-election of Barack Obama will be official.  Until then some historical perspective.

Votes in the Electoral College, 1824.

Votes in the Electoral College, 1824. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cartoonists comment on guns, Newtown, and politics.

Sometime a picture or drawing is worth more than all the words one can write.  Here are a few selections from my favorite cartoonists.

From Matt Bors : Armed Society, Polite Society

Nick Anderson on one response to Newtown.

Nick Anderson's Editorial Cartoons 12/18

And Pat Oliphant on what we should do with assault weapons.

Finally, Tony Auth on the NRA’s problem.

ta121217.gif

Sometimes you just have to laugh.