Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Harvard Square on this night…


image courtesy of Obama for President website

image courtesy of Obama for President website

…was controlled pandemonium. I know, contradiction in terms, but there is no other way to describe it. There was singing, screaming, crying, dancing, leaping in the streets, but not one window was broken, no one was beaten. I barely saw any cops. I hope you’re not surprised to hear that Cambridge is a Democratic stronghold, as is Boston, as is Massachusetts (despite our penchant for Republican governors).

The members of a finals club (Harvard’s version of a frat) all congregated on its building’s front steps and sang along with a projected recording of the Black National Anthem. THAT was a fascinating site…a bunch of white male teenagers belting “sing a song…” as loud as they could. Only in America.

Students jumped into the streets and congregated around the Newsstand. They dissipated just as fast. See? Controlled chaos.

I can’t describe my emotions right now. I go from insane laughter to tears in an instant. My heart is racing, and I’m not sure how much more it can handle. But I’m glad I’m in a blue state tonight. I’m glad Massachusetts didn’t let its bruised ego over the Hilary loss get in the way of doing the right thing. And I’m so glad that I participated in making this day happen.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Statewide Ballot Question 1: State Personal Income Tax

The proposed law would eliminate the state income tax by January 2010.

This proposed law would reduce the state personal income tax rate to 2.65% for all categories of taxable income for the tax year beginning on or after January 1, 2009, and would eliminate the tax for all tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2010. The personal income tax applies to income received or gain realized by individuals and married couples, by estates of deceased persons, by certain trustees and other fiduciaries, by persons who are partners in and receive income from partnerships, by corporate trusts, and by persons who receive income as shareholders of “S corporations” as defined under federal tax law. The proposed law would not affect the tax due on income or gain realized in a tax year beginning before January 1, 2009. The proposed law states that if any of its parts were declared invalid, the other parts would stay in effect.


A YES VOTE would reduce the state personal income tax rate to 2.65% for the tax year beginning on January 1, 2009, and would eliminate the tax for all tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2010.

A NO VOTE would make no change in state income tax laws.



In Favor

We went around and asked people what percentage of their taxes they believed government wasted.  They said 41%:

“On average, Massachusetts voters estimate that the state government wastes 41 cents out of every dollar in state taxes that they pay. Even voters who think the state is headed in the right direction feel that more than one-third of their tax dollars are being wasted.” (Source)

From what I can gather, that’s really what proponents did.  I’m not kidding.  This is the survey question: ““How many CENTS out of every dollar you pay in state taxes would you say is WASTED by the state government?”

That’s it.  That’s the survey that’s headlining this campaign.

“Follow up question for you.  How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?”

In 2012, I’m going to propose Question 7 — a bill to get rid of paper plates in Massachusetts.  We waste more paper with those damn paper plates sticking together.  This is going to be the groundwork for my campaign: a survey question that asks people “How many paper plates would you say Massachusetts residents waste every year?”

Me: “Sir, how many paper plates would you say Massachusetts residents waste every year?”

Sucker: “Oh, I’d say — 23.7% of paper plates are wasted.  They stick together.”

Me: “Thank you.  Please vote ‘Yes’ on Question 7 in November.”

Sucker: “Will do.”

I think I’ll hire these guys to do the survey, they did the one this year:
Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates.

According to their website: “The firm has earned an unparalleled reputation among the leading survey research and campaign strategists in the nation. In this age of accelerating change and instantaneous communication, the proactive management of perceptions has never been more important. ”

“[…] the proactive management of perceptions […]” — that’s exactly what I’m looking for!

Statewide Ballot Question 2: Possession of Marijuana

The proposed law would downgrade the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a civil, rather than criminal, penalty.  Those 18 years or older will be subject to a $100 fine (and forfeiture of marijuana); those under 18 will be have their parents notified, etc.


This proposed law would replace the criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a new system of civil penalties, to be enforced by issuing citations, and would exclude information regarding this civil offense from the state’s criminal record information system. Offenders age 18 or older would be subject to forfeiture of the marijuana plus a civil penalty of $100. Offenders under the age of 18 would be subject to the same forfeiture and, if they complete a drug awareness program within one year of the offense, the same $100 penalty.

Offenders under 18 and their parents or legal guardian would be notified of the offense and the option for the offender to complete a drug awareness program developed by the state Department of Youth Services. Such programs would include ten hours of community service and at least four hours of instruction or group discussion concerning the use and abuse of marijuana and other drugs and emphasizing early detection and prevention of substance abuse.

The penalty for offenders under 18 who fail to complete such a program within one year could be increased to as much as $1,000, unless the offender showed an inability to pay, an inability to participate in such a program, or the unavailability of such a program. Such an offender’s parents could also be held liable for the increased penalty. Failure by an offender under 17 to complete such a program could also be a basis for a delinquency proceeding.

The proposed law would define possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as including possession of one ounce or less of tetrahydrocannibinol (“THC”), or having metabolized products of marijuana or THC in one’s body.

Under the proposed law, possessing an ounce or less of marijuana could not be grounds for state or local government entities imposing any other penalty, sanction, or disqualification, such as denying student financial aid, public housing, public financial assistance including unemployment benefits, the right to operate a motor vehicle, or the opportunity to serve as a foster or adoptive parent. The proposed law would allow local ordinances or bylaws that prohibit the public use of marijuana, and would not affect existing laws, practices, or policies concerning operating a motor vehicle or taking other actions while under the influence of marijuana, unlawful possession of prescription forms of marijuana, or selling, manufacturing, or trafficking in marijuana.

The money received from the new civil penalties would go to the city or town where the offense occurred.


A YES VOTE would replace the criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a new system of civil penalties.

A NO VOTE would make no change in state criminal laws concerning possession of marijuana.


Some of the arugments on both sides:

In Favor

Those in favor of decriminalizing the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana note that the bill, in instituting a civil penalty, would prevent violators from acquiring a “CORI” record (Criminal Offender Record Information).  These documents record every appearance that an individual makes in a state court for a criminal offense, regardless of whether they are convicted or not.  Proponents of the new bill suggest that the record can threaten employment, housing, and education opportunities.

Proponents claim that the state would save $30 million dollars annually, associated with enforcing the current laws regarding marijuana possession. (

The penalties for juveniles would actually be more harsh than they currently are, entailing community service (ugh) and attendance in drug awareness programs.  I like this argument because, on the one hand, we decriminalize the possession of marijuana and reconceive of the drug’s role in our society, and then we bring the hammer down on the minors — people who can’t even vote on the law and are receiving a message that “the grown-ups” don’t see the drug as being as detrimental as it once was (and hence, the decriminalization).  Bravo.

Eleven other states have decriminalized marijuana, and they’re doing fine.

You probably don’t even know which states they are.  Well, do you?

Not in Favor

The naysayers argue that the penalties for first time offenders aren’t as harsh as the other side makes them out to be:

For qualified first offenders, especially teens and young adults, the District Attorneys offer diversion programs that steer kids away from the courts, put them on probation and then dismiss the charge.  If first offenders are actually arraigned in court for marijuana possession, Massachusetts law requires that they be placed on probation and that, at the successful conclusion of probation, “the case shall be dismissed and the record shall be sealed.”


By imposing a civil penalty, the citation for possession of marijuana will actually be more accessible than information contained in a CORI record (Source).  I find this to be the most interesting argument from either side.  Unfortunately, for those not in favor of Question 2, this argument undercuts the basis of their position: that marijuana’s effect on society is serious, and therefore, the penalties for marijuana possession should remain harsh.  According to that logic, they should be favoring more public access to one’s infringements of the law.

Regarding claims by the other side:

  • Claim: “Question 2 claims that it will protect our children from a criminal record that will prevent them from ever receiving student loans.”
  • Response: “Under current federal law, the only way an offender can be denied a student loan is if he is convicted of a drug offense while he is in school and already receiving federal aid, and then he loses his aid for one year.  He can lessen that one year period if he completes drug rehabilitation.  If he is convicted again, under the same conditions, he loses his loan eligibility for 2 years.” (Source)
  • Claim: “Massachusetts will save $30 million.”
  • Response: First, proponents of the bill commissioned the report where that figure was unearthed from.  Second, “[…] if Question 2 passes, police officers will have to spend the same time and effort as they do on a criminal case.  They will have to confiscate the drugs, question the offender, write a report, transport the drugs to a secure site for destruction, and deliver their report to the police station as well as city hall for accounting purposes.  The time spent will be the equivalent, if not more, than what the police spend now.” (Source)

Opponents also go ad hominem on George Soros and mock  the “grassroots” characterization of the bill’s proponents.  I don’t know.

They talk about the number of criminals who are arrested with marijuana in their system, blurring the line between causality and correlation for the reader.

They argue against propositions that aren’t being made.  Prime examples include statistics regarding marijuana use and the operation of motor vehicles.  The proposed bill has nothing to do with encouraging driving while under the influence.  The statistic they need to make an argument, is one showing an increase in the number of marijuana-related accidents as a result of decriminalizing the drug.  They don’t present that.

They don’t even present numbers on the increase in marijuana usage based on the decriminalization of it.

Statewide Ballot Question 3: Dog Racing

As I mentioned in a previous post, in these weeks leading up to the election, I’ll be covering what will arguably be the most important (if not the most tangible) questions before Massachusetts residents on November 4th: the three statewide ballot questions.

Statewide Ballot Question 3: Dog Racing

The proposed law would prohibit dog racing in Massachusetts where betting/wagering occurs after Jan. 1, 2010. The civil penalty for dog racing would be $20,000 at a minimum.


This proposed law would prohibit any dog racing or racing meeting in Massachusetts where any form of betting or wagering on the speed or ability of dogs occurs.

The State Racing Commission would be prohibited from accepting or approving any application or request for racing dates for dog racing.

Any person violating the proposed law could be required to pay a civil penalty of not less than $20,000 to the Commission. The penalty would be used for the Commission’s administrative purposes, subject to appropriation by the state Legislature. All existing parts of the chapter of the state’s General Laws concerning dog and horse racing meetings would be interpreted as if they did not refer to dogs.

These changes would take effect January 1, 2010. The proposed law states that if any of its parts were declared invalid, the other parts would stay in effect.

A YES VOTE would prohibit dog races on which betting or wagering occurs, effective January 1, 2010.

A NO VOTE would make no change in the laws governing dog racing.


Here are the arguments on both sides:

In Favor

Those in favor of prohibiting dog racing in which betting occurs argue that dog racing is “cruel and inhumane.” I don’t know that voters should be so concerned with the “inhumane” aspect of this — I don’t believe the ballot question is suggesting we begin treating dogs like people — but I think the cruelty element is definitely present.

Caging: The cages they keep the dogs in are too small by some peoples’ (i.e., the Boston Animal Care and Adoption Center) standards.

The runs used for similarly sized dogs at the MSPCA Boston Animal Care and Adoption Center are approximately five times larger than the cages used at local racetracks.


Injuries/Fatalities: Dogs, like race cars, crash.

According to state records more than 800 racing greyhounds have been injured since 2002, including dogs who suffered broken legs, paralysis, head trauma and even death from cardiac arrest. A greyhound is injured every three to four days in Massachusetts.


“Documented Cruelty” –

More arguments here.  There is also greyhound rescue, as well as some adoption agencies in Massachusetts.  And if dog racing disgusts you, and you abhor exploitive, cruel treatment of animals, I might also suggest this website.

Not in Favor

Here is their decree in its entirety:

Parimutuel dog racing has taken place in Massachusetts for over 70 years, now only at Wonderland dog track in Revere, and Raynham/Taunton in Raynham. The greyhounds are owned by caring dog owners, not tracks. There is no mistreatment of the dogs as claimed by animal activists. The State Racing Commission fully regulates the industry, has veterinarians on duty at each track, and maintains numerous programs for the welfare of the dogs during their racing careers, and for adoption when their careers are over. About 1,000 people will lose badly needed jobs if the proposal is enacted. The Commonwealth, Revere and Raynham will lose badly needed revenue. From 2000 to 2007, these tracks paid over $40 million to the Commonwealth in commissions and fees, as well as other taxes related to their racing activities. Finally enactment will likely subject the Commonwealth to suits by the tracks for taking their property.


This is what I’ve gleaned:

  1. We’ve been doing this for like a wicked long time.  It can’t be bad, because we don’t do bad things for a wicked long time.
  2. “The greyhounds are owned by caring dog owners [them], not tracks [us].”  This might be my favorite argument, because they are essentially arguing that the reason dog racing is so perfectly harmless is because they, the tracks, don’t own the dogs — caring dog owners own the dogs.  I guess this means that the implicitly uncaring tracks that feed, shelter, and oversee the health of the animals with on-staff veterinarians have just a marginal effect on the well-being of the dogs.
  3. Fine — we treat the dogs like not so well, but if you vote “yes” on question 3, about 1,000 people will lose their jobs!  In these difficult economic times, we can’t afford not to race dogs.
  4. “The Commonwealth, Revere and Raynham will lose badly needed revenue.”  Wait, Revere makes revenue?
  5. “Finally enactment will likely subject the Commonwealth to suits by the tracks for taking their property.”  Okay.  So we don’t really have an argument.  Just know that if the people democratically decide to pass this bill, we’re going to sue the shirts off their backs.  Yes?

The worst part about the defense is that they don’t even present their strongest, and perhaps only, argument: dogs are not humans, and by privileging them, you are restricting the freedom of rational human beings who choose to attend racing events.


The Lloyd Family Players. Photo courtesy of bos_lauren.

The Lloyd Family Players. Photo courtesy of bos_lauren.

This weekend in Davis Square…I know, I’m biased…was the 3rd Annual Honk! Festival. Basically a ton of bands from all over the country turned the Square into a horn and percussion music festival. They are protest, grassroots, political bands who make people shake and stomp and clap as a form of protest, thus hopefully serving as a catalyst for change.

I happened upon this festival last year. I had been living in Somerville for all of two months and when I saw this transformation of Davis Square, I knew I had picked the perfect neighborhood to live. This year, I’m living even closer and so I had to stop by. This time I brought friends and now even more people are hooked. We walked up and down the street, letting the music draw us in. We danced with strangers and did some people watching for the ages. There are some serious characters that come out for this. Next year, I promise to give you a heads up, but reserve Columbus Day weekend 2009 now.

Yeah, what he said.

I would like to second Michael’s post about making sure you are registered to vote. All your passion, support, and time spent following the candidates and their positions will be for naught if you can’t even cast your ballot. This is even more pressing because I just read on the website of another city’s newspaper (we won’t name it here) that many states may be engaging in inadvertent illegal purging of voter rolls as they try to comply with a 2002 federal law: the Help America Vote Act. So make sure your house is in order and register!

Beware the Ides of October: Registering to Vote in Massachusetts

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be writing a bit about the November 4th election as it relates to Bostonians.  I’ll cover a new ballot question each week and provide some mind-numbing state resources.  If you open your textbook, we’ll begin on page 292 with Massachusetts voter registration.

Those of you who will be 18 or older on election day and would like to vote, need to be registered.  As of this posting, you have 7 days to mail in your voter registration form; this mail-in voter registration form must be postmarked by October 15, 2008 — 20 days prior to the election, by law.

If you want to register to vote without leaving your couch, you need to complete an online form to actually get your voter registration form.  It’s kind of like a meta form, I guess.  It’s available here:  You can also show your age and request a voter registration form by phone (617-727-2828 or 1-800-462-VOTE).

Chapter Summary: Registering to Vote in MA

  1. Request a voter registration form (Now)
  2. Complete the voter registration form
  3. Mail or drop-off your voter registration form to your local city/town hall; addresses are listed here. (By Wednesday, October 15)

If you have any questions about this, for the love of God, don’t ask me.  We have a Secretary of the Commonwealth who gets paid to wade through this stuff.  His name is William Francis Galvin and he’s got quite the website:

And so:

Kennedy returns.


The New York Times has more.


Holbrook, Chelmsford, and Harvard have rejected tax hikes, while Randolph gave it the go-ahead, the Globe’s reporting today.

From the article:

Roughly 50 towns and cities may ask their voters to approve Proposition 2 1/2 tax increases this year.

I’m curious: which ones?

Also from the article:

In Holbrook, School Committee chairman James Hathaway said the defeat of a $2.8 million override, mostly for schools, would cause the elimination of varsity sports and crushing cuts to staffing levels.

“Cities and towns are facing very large budget gaps, the same as the state. But they have fewer tools to deal with them than the state does. They basically have property taxes and fees.”

Which is, to my understanding, Proposition 2 1/2.

In Chelmsford:

The override’s failure, school officials said, will force the closing of an elementary school, among other cuts.

And to think that there was a 16 year gap between the two override votes. With a median income of 70,000 — with the national median at 48,000 — and a population of some 33,000, only 2% below the poverty line, they didn’t want to push for a tax hike? Is there some chart tracking property values or mortgage payments that pushes the override beyond the reasonable means of a home owner? Or did they just not feel like it?

President Weakens Intelligence Oversight

From Charlie Savage:

Almost 32 years to the day after President Ford created an independent Intelligence Oversight Board made up of private citizens with top-level clearances to ferret out illegal spying activities, President Bush issued an executive order that stripped the board of much of its authority.

But Bush downsized the board’s mandate to be an aggressive watchdog against such problems in an executive order issued on Feb. 29, the eve of the anniversary of the day Ford’s order took effect. The White House said the timing of the new order was “purely coincidental.”

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