How to get a functioning government

Winning Progressive had a very interesting and thoughtful post this morning by NChrissie B.

We need political fringes because that’s where most new ideas begin. Many will be bad ideas, like the House Republican Budget’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Others will be good ideas, like the financial transactions tax in the Congressional Progressive Caucus “Back to Work” Budget. As the Economic Policy Institute report noted, that tax would “raise significant revenue while dampening speculative trading and encouraging more productive investment.” It would also discourage individual investors from day-trading and other mistakes that churn their savings into brokers’ profits.

New ideas tend to start on the fringes – right and left – because the fringes don’t have to govern. Think tanks, academics, pundits, and bloggers can kick around ideas without worrying about whether the ideas are politically viable. We did that at BPI when we discussed a Guaranteed Basic Income, an idea from and still on the political fringe. We didn’t talk about whether it could pass in the House or Senate. It couldn’t, at least not soon. But it might gain traction in some form, at some point, and such discussions open our eyes to other perspectives on work, wages, and the social safety net.

I wrote in my unpublished dissertation that social movements need racial fringes to make the movement look mainstream.  NChrissie B.  is arguing that the same is true of  legislating.  The danger, however, is that the Democrats ignore their progressive or left wing while the Republicans are ruled by their right or Tea Party wing.  This is where we seem to be right now and nothing is functioning.  We need to get back to a place where there is a middle ground.  NChrissie B. uses the Overton Window as an illustration.

overton window

I’d like to see the window moved a little more to the left and I think that could happen if Harry Reid would just fix the damn filibuster rules.  I also think the Democrats (and President Obama) need to take the Progressive Caucus budget a little more seriously than they do.  It would also help if Mitch McConnell grew a backbone.

The Mayor retires

He is 70 years old and has had health problems, but the big reason he is leaving is because he can’t get out and meet people the way he always has.  The New York Times put it this way

At an emotional announcement Thursday inside Faneuil Hall, Mr. Menino slowly navigated his way up the center aisle with his wife, Angela, to the thunderous applause from official Boston as well as city workers and admirers from the neighborhoods. Over the loudspeaker, Frank Sinatra crooned his defiant anthem, “My Way.”

“I am here with the people I love, to tell the city I love, that I will leave the job that I love,” Mr. Menino, 70, the city’s longest-serving mayor, told the standing-room-only crowd of well-wishers. He said essentially that he was not up to the job, at least not the way he wanted to do it. After illnesses last year that left him hospitalized for two months, he said he could not keep up his schedule of attending every ribbon-cutting, every dinner for a new homeowner, every school play — the small events that filled his days and threaded him to the city’s residents.

Thomas M. Menino says has met over 50% of the residents in Boston, a city of over 625,000 at last census.  No one will argue with that.  He’s been Mayor for 20 years.  Kevin Cullen has a slightly different take on this in today’s Boston Globe.

He talked about how he’s met half the people who live in Boston. That’s a great line, too, but it is misleading if you’re trying to figure out Tom Menino’s ability to hang onto a job for 20 years in a tough, unforgiving game. He may have met half the people who live in the city, but he’s met all the people who vote.

Eveyone has their favorite Menino moment.  I worked for the City of Boston for about 14 years.  I wrote talking points for him, letters for his signature, served on committees years before I started working for the city.  We would get the word that TMM needed something and knew it was the signal to drop everything else.  But my favorite Menino moment has little to do with my work.  Oh, I was at the event because of work, yes, but that isn’t the important part.

Thomas M. Menino spoke some comforting words to a Mattapan’s Edrei Olivero during a neighborhood walkthough.

Thomas M. Menino spoke some comforting words to a Mattapan’s Edrei Olivero during a neighborhood walkthough.

I was working at the Boston Housing Authority and everyone on executive staff had to attend some communities days.  Community days were when the residents of a public housing complex got together to socialize, picnic, and have fun.  They began as part of the push to make integration go more smoothly and to ease racial tension.  I did my share.  At one, I was helping a little girl of about 4 get an ice cream cone.  After standing in line, she got her cone.  We we walking back to where her mother was waiting and the ice cream plopped out of her cone onto the ground.  We were right in front of the Mayor.  Of course, the little girl started to cry.  Mayor Menino bent down and took her by the hand saying, “Don’t worry.  I’ll get you another one.”  And being the Mayor, he got right in front of the line and got her another cone.  We then walked  her back to her mother.  Maybe that little girl remembers the man who got her an ice cream but even if she doesn’t, I remember.  It remains my favorite Menino moment.

Kevin Cullen again

About 10 years ago, the mayor walked into a seminar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He searched for familiar faces, and he settled on mine and we laughed at the odds of a couple of knuckleheads like us being in the same room at Hahvahd.

An earnest young graduate student sheepishly interrupted our conversation and asked the mayor to explain his political success.

“I’m a Boston guy,” Tommy Menino told the kid, shrugging. “I’m just a Boston guy.”

His genius is making everyone feel they are from Boston, no matter where they came from.

Photograph Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff/file 2010

A question for the Chief Justice

So, Mr. Chief Justice, where did you say you went to law school?  That’s what I want to ask Mr. Roberts after yesterday’s hearing on The Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA.

Here is the relevant exchange as reported by the New York Times.

He expressed irritation that the case was before the court, saying President Obama’s approach — to enforce the law but not defend it — was a contradiction.

“I don’t see why he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions,” the chief justice said. He said Mr. Obama should have stopped enforcing a statute he viewed as unconstitutional “rather than saying, ‘Oh, we’ll wait till the Supreme Court tells us we have no choice.’ ”

The White House took umbrage at the remark and said the president was upholding his constitutional duty to execute the laws until the Supreme Court rules otherwise. “There is a responsibility that the administration has to enforce laws that are on the books,” said Josh Earnest, a deputy White House press secretary. “And we’ll do that even for laws that we disagree with, including the Defense of Marriage Act.”

The Chief Justice should know that the President has to enforce laws until they are declared unconstitutional by a court.  Thus my question.

The situation, however, is a little bit more complicated.  NPR explains it this way.

Has the Obama administration abrogated its responsibility by continuing to enforce DOMA, while refusing to defend it in court?

Justice Antonin Scalia: “And I’m wondering if we’re living in this new world where the attorney general can simply decide, ‘Yeah, it’s unconstitutional, but it’s not so unconstitutional that I’m not willing to enforce it.’ If we’re in this new world, I — I don’t want these cases like this to come before this court all the time. And I think they will come all the time if that’s … the new regime in the Justice Department that we’re dealing with.”

Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan: “Justice Scalia, one recognized situation in which an act of Congress won’t be defended in court is when the president makes a determination that the act is unconstitutional. That’s what happened here. The president made an accountable legal determination that this act of Congress is unconstitutional.”

Paul Clement, lawyer for GOP House leadership in defense of DOMA: “The House’s single most important prerogative, which is to pass legislation and have that legislation, if it’s going to be repealed, only be repealed through a process where the House gets to fully participate.”

Justice Kennedy: “Suppose that constitutional scholars have grave doubts about the practice of the president signing a bill but saying that he thinks it’s unconstitutional — what do you call it, signing statements or something like that? It seems to me that if we adopt your position that that would ratify and confirm and encourage that questionable practice because if the president thinks the law is unconstitutional, he shouldn’t sign it, according to some view. And that’s a lot like what you’re arguing here. It’s very troubling.”

Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan: “But my point is simply that when the president makes a determination that a statute is unconstitutional, it can follow that the Department of Justice won’t defend it in litigation.”

What should a President do in a situation like this one?  Does he just continue to enforce the law while trying to get Congress to repeal it as Paul Clement seems to argue.  Or does he do what he did:  say he thought the law was unconstitutional while both appealing and enforcing it.  I suppose that he could have issued an executive order to the IRS to accept joint tax returns from all legally married couples but that would have created an even bigger uproar that going to the Supreme Court.

My point, Mr. Chief Justice, is that yes, this may be an unprecedented situation, but the job of the Supreme Court and therefore your job is to make the ultimate decision on Constitutionality.  So just do your job.  And by the way, where did you go to law school?

Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case,

Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case.

Photograph Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

 

The Supremes and Gay Marriage

There were wonderful thing said by some of the Justices today, but I want to concentrate on the cartoons.  Here are three from the Washington Post.

First Pat Oliphant.

Oliphant 3-26-2013

I love the duck in the corner reminding everyone that this is the same court that gave us corporations as people.

Moving on to Tom Toles.

Toles 3-26-2013

And finally Nick Anderson.

Anderson 3-26-2013

Do we have to say more?

The state of the Sox

Thank goodness the baseball season starts in a week.  My March Madness bracket is sooo busted I can’t decide if I will continue with the next round on the CBS round by round contest.  But baseball.  That’s a different story.  The season is ahead of us, all those games from April to September and beyond to the World Series.

The big question for Boston is whether the Red Sox can rebound from last year’s train wreck.  Actually the disaster began in September 2011, but things got worse under Bobby Valentine.  Maybe it is time to forgive Bobby.  After all, he was a new manager coming into a difficult situation, but he was just wrong for Boston and wrong for the Sox so no forgiveness yet.  Now it is John Farrell’s turn to try.

Spring training has been about what one could expect.  The Sox are .500.  We’ve seen some good youngsters and the pitchers are working faster – even Cloy Bucholtz.  The bullpen seems solid.  The question is:  Can the Sox hit?

Nick Carfardo had a nice list of issues the Red Sox have to resolve to get to their roster of 25 in the Boston Globe this morning.

1. Lyle Overbay — He is the most immediate decision since he has an opt-out Tuesday. The Sox have to tell him by noon Tuesday whether he will make the 25-man active roster. If he does not ask for his release and agrees to open the season in Pawtucket, he will receive a $100,000 retention bonus. The Sox might be OK with that as insurance in case something happens to Mike Napoli.

Overbay is also a proven first baseman while Napoli is not. We’re assuming that David Ross, Pedro Ciriaco, and Daniel Nava are on the bench. That leaves one spot for Ryan Sweeney (who has a March 28 opt-out), Mike Carp, and Overbay. Nava is protection at first base and in the outfield and is also a better fielder than Carp. Overbay is a pure first baseman (he made a nice diving stop Monday) and lefthanded bat. Carp went 1 for 2 against the Orioles and is hitting .211.

I haven’t been that impressed with Overbay or Carp and Napoli is doing OK at first.  I’d let Overbay opt out this morning and keep Nava as back up.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has raised his spring average to .444.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has raised his spring average to .444.

2. Bradley — It appears he’s made the team, at least that’s the indication after the team reversed its decision not to play him in left. He’s passed every eye test, including facing a tough lefty Sunday in Cliff Lee, whom he took deep for a three-run homer and sacrifice fly in his first two-at bats. He followed that up Monday by coming off the bench with two hits, a two-run single up the middle against Pedro Strop and a triple vs. lefty Chris Petrini.

Jackie Bradley, Jr.  Jerry Remy keeps using his full name.  He might be a rookie, but he’s been to the College World Series and appears very mature and stable.  I know there is all this talk about the free agency date being different if he starts the season at Pawtucket, but let’s face it, we need his bat.  Even if he cools off, as he will, I think he will be as asset.

3. Daniel Bard — We’re assuming the bullpen spots that are set are Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller, Koji Uehara, Alfredo Aceves, Junichi Tazawa, and Clayton Mortensen. That could change if Aceves or Mortensen is traded. Mortensen, who was touched up for two homers Monday, is out of options and the Sox don’t want to lose him because he’s stretched out and basically fills the same role as Aceves.

Bard has options and could go back to the minors, as his performance hasn’t been smooth this spring. The Sox also could option Tazawa as well.

I would trade Mortensen ( I’ve read that there is interest in him.), keep Tazawa and have Bard start in Pawtucket.  It is a long season and we will need Bard sooner or later.

How will the Sox do this season?  Predictions have a way of coming back to haunt you (take my March Madness bracket), but I think the Sox will be a better than .500 team.  The AL East is tough and I think Baltimore is the team to beat, but never, never count the Yankees out.

(By the way, I picked Indiana to win the basketball crown this year, but any team but Louisville will suit me fine.)

Photograph Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure

One  of my favorite promotional advertisements is an old one.  Rachel Maddow is standing in front of a pile of dirt which could be the beginning of a new highway or of a dam or a bridge abutment.  She points out that the country needs infrastructure and that the private sector does not build it.  And then Elizabeth Warren famously said (quote from Michael Smerconsish on the Huffington Post.)

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.” And then she hit her stride:

“You built a factory out there? Good for you,” she says. “But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.”

As for the tax implications, Warren said, “Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.” The crowd enthusiastically applauded.

Of course that morphed into the out of context quote used against President Obama:  “You didn’t build it.”

What puzzles me is why the Republicans are so afraid of spending for infrastructure.  And why their fear is making so many Democrats cautious.  Juliette Kayyem tries in her column in today’s Boston Globe to make the link between national security, which every politician is for, and infrastructure.

The United States now concedes that the security of nations is “being affected by weather conditions outside of historical norms, including more frequent and extreme floods, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, coastal high water, and heat waves.” These have had an impact on food supplies and demographic trends. The global population is expected to hit 8.3 billion by 2030. About 60 percent (up from the current 50 percent) of people will live in cities, putting greater pressure on agriculture, energy, transportation, and water supplies.

We are not alone in our concerns. The American Security Project, a bipartisan think tank, analyzed military assessments worldwide. From China to Rwanda, Belarus to Brazil, over 70 percent of nations view climate change as a top threat to their national security.

The United States now concedes that the security of nations is “being affected by weather conditions outside of historical norms, including more frequent and extreme floods, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes, coastal high water, and heat waves.” These have had an impact on food supplies and demographic trends. The global population is expected to hit 8.3 billion by 2030. About 60 percent (up from the current 50 percent) of people will live in cities, putting greater pressure on agriculture, energy, transportation, and water supplies.

We are not alone in our concerns. The American Security Project, a bipartisan think tank, analyzed military assessments worldwide. From China to Rwanda, Belarus to Brazil, over 70 percent of nations view climate change as a top threat to their national security.

Protecting against it isn’t just a matter of preserving natural resources; it is about adapting everyday activities to the threat. We are in competition with other nations in this regard: Global investments are linked to cities that can function in bad weather, airports that can lure commerce, ports that can deliver goods. When storms are powerful enough to wipe out electrical grids, our nation’s ability to project power is limited by our powerlessness.

She goes on to say that much of the infrastructure fight is a local one.

And we still must become a more resilient society, one whose basic building blocks cannot be knocked out by threats that are utterly predictable. This effort to construct a society with climate challenges in mind isn’t necessarily new, but it comes at a time when the limits of America’s infrastructure are abundantly clear and entirely visible: We all feel them as we drive to work, head to school, or use the subways.

Local governments are already invested in these national security efforts, whether they know it or not. Such efforts range from a mayor’s desire to fix potholes on residential streets to a governor’s promise to modernize public transportation. More than a lack of commitment or resources, it’s actually our hodge-podge of governance structures — New York City has control over its building codes, while Boston’s are often at the mercy of state approval — that too often become impediments to local ingenuity in preparing for oncoming storms.

At the same time as our intelligence agencies were reminding us that the climate poses as much of a threat as Iran or North Korea, the American Society of Civil Engineers last week gave American infrastructure a pathetic “D+” grade (up from a D!). Delayed maintenance investments and the failure to commit to modernization projects undermine economic progress, global competitiveness, and the sense that we live in a well-functioning society.

Boston Public Works Department employees Aroll Victor and Julio Echemendia clear rocks from a pothole in South Boston on March 12.

Boston Public Works Department employees Aroll Victor and Julio Echemendia clear rocks from a pothole in South Boston on March 12.

So back to my question:  Why are Republicans (and many Democrats) so unwilling to invest in infrastructure?  Until we figure this out, our bridges will crumble, our power grids are subject to blackouts, and many people will be like us and spend thousands on front end work due to driving on crumbling highways.  Wouldn’t the money I am going to spend this spring on my car be better spent paying taxes that will fix the roads and put some people back to work?    Just asking.