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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Challange to Civic Engagement

Porcupine has very much enjoyed the spirited discussion begun by David Kravitz, sere guru of Blue Mass Group, regarding his appointment to the Civic Engagement transition team by Gov. Elect Deval Patrick. The post HERE has generated over 100 comments so far, many of them full-length blog posts themselves.

The one idea that has received universal acclamation is to reintroduce Civics as a course of study in the Commonwealth’s high schools. Porcupine is a big fan of civics class, and has often bemoaned its demise. While there are ‘Rock the Vote’ type events, Porcupine cannot help but note that the decline of voter turnout and participation began when Civics was taken out of the curriculum. There is a trough of 20 to 40 year olds who are disengaged, and often are genuinely ignorant of the structure of government. They do not attend town meeting, even when their own interests and the interests of their children are affected. The 'celebritization' of politics, which has little to do with government, has hastened this decline of attention and engagement. Politics has become crass and harsh. A genius like Abraham Lincoln could not be elected in the era of the 30 second sound bite.

So – it is time to reintroduce the young to their amazing heritage as citizens of a Republic. We in Massachusetts have the Right of Free Petition, meaning that any citizen can file a bill before the legislature. Time’s a wastin’, as the deadline for all legislation for the 2007-2008 Session is December 6th (yes, one more trick – rookie legislators must know to file their bills BEFORE they are even sworn in!). How about this for language?

Notwithstanding any special or general law to the contrary, a requirement is hereby enacted that a condition for graduation from 12th grade shall be the completion of one full semester of instruction in Civics and Civic Engagement, with a course of study which shall include, but not be limited to, the separation of powers, the branches of government, the creation of legislation and laws, and the various forms of local government throughout the Commonwealth.

If the bill is filed by the deadline, it will be heard by the Education Committee in the upcoming session. While many legislators would be happy to co-sponsor such a bill, Porcupine would urge Mr. Kravitz to seek co-sponsors from the other members of his Transition Team, and from the interested and engaged public, and allow them all to be co-sponsors (all you need is their full name, and residential and mailing addresses). Legislators can testify and write letters of support, but let the sponsorship of this bill be made entirely by the public – as a form of Civic Engagement.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

It's Time


Porcupine knows a little bit about the volunteer army.

After I ran away from home at age 14, to get an education in the Inns of Court, I found myself in a state of servitude like many other apprentices before me. So, in 1784, I enlisted in the Army and made good use of the soldier's copious spare time to educate myself, particularly in the English grammar which eventually became my profession. My regiment was posted God-forsaken holes like New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and elsewhere in the provinces until September 1791, as I rose through the ranks to become Sergeant Major. The main reason for this accomplishment was the corrupt officer class, whose peculation and abuse of enlisted men I gathered evidence of while in New Brunswick, but the charges against officers were sidetracked, as it was explained to me that my own Regiment was not exceptionally bad, but the practices I documented were universal and extended into the offices of the authorities I thought I was alerting. Porcupine fled to France in March 1792 to avoid retribution and gaol.

For many years, Congressman Charles (D-NY) has proposed legislation which would reinstate a universal , beginning in 2003 (HERE). Since a major campaign threat in 2004 was the President, George , would bring back the draft, the bill was not given a hearing by the Republican majority. Now, with the Democrats in the majority and the President no longer a candidate for reelection, the bill may move forward.

Porcupine realizes the benefit offered by the Armed Services to those who are poor and who have limited opportunities. The sort of training that proved invaluable to me in my later career are also available to the less advantaged today, with computer and engineering training being the most valuable. But Cong. Rangel has a point – the all-volunteer Army has ceased to recruit enough soldiers, and the National Guard troops are being extended far beyond their original commitments.
Porcupine would like to see a Universal Draft for several reasons, but would like to see changes made to the last draft act. With the exception of severe medical incapacity, Porcupine does not think there should be any deferments or exemptions.

Academic deferments, most recently in Vietnam, function much like the provision in the Civil War that allowed the purchase of a substitute for $300. This is the era of lifelong learning, and there is no reason, other than to shelter those with money who choose not to serve, to have academic deferrals.

Conscientious objection also has a long history, but Rangel’s version of a Universal Draft also contains a provision for National Service, and those with religious objections can serve their country in a non-military capacity.

Naturally, young women aged 18 through 25 should register at once, as the draft should be truly universal in this age of women in combat and laws against sexism.

Young folk like Porcupine, who need the money and opportunity, will still be able to volunteer and serve honorably. But perhaps if we have a truly Universal Draft, remark like those of Sen. Kerry will be wiped from the lips of the hoi polloi, and their pampered children will be compelled to serve a useful purpose for their nation.

It’s time.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Peaceful Day

I defy you to agitate any fellow with a full stomach.
William Cobbett - 1763 - 1835

Today, as we bow our heads to a bountiful God, we can be thankful that we are blessed to live in the most prosperous, idealistic and bountiful nation ever known upon the face of this earth.

Porcupine enjoys old hymns, and has many antique hymnals which he reads like poetry. Here, he shares a classic, and asks that you read the lyrics, and consider their application to your own life.

Come, ye thankful people, come, Raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God's own temple, come, Raise the song of harvest home.
All the world is God's own field, Praise as fruit to God we yield;
Wheat and tares together sown, both to joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn doth appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.
For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take the harvest home;
From the field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last, in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in the garner evermore.
Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring thy final harvest home;
Gather thou thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in thy presence to abide;
Come, with all thine angels, come, Raise the glorious harvest home.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Placing the Shoe Upon the Other Foot

To avoid taking responsibility, I become unresponsive but hang on until the other person leaves me.
Mason Cooley (b. 1927), U.S. aphorist.

As everyone not living under a rock knows, the Massachusetts Legislature provided another Profile in Courage by refusing to vote upon the Citizen Petition to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, which garnered 100,000 signatures more than was necessary to go to the ballot. The Legislature must vote yes or no twice, in two Sessions, and then the change goes to the voters for ratification or defeat. Rather than vote, they declared a 'recess' until Jan. 2nd, 2007, the day before the new Session begins. You see, if they had adjourned, the Governor could call them back into session for failing to take 'final action', and force a vote. As it is, they are just taking an eight-week 'rest'.

This is not the first time this has happened. In 1992, a similar petition for Term Limits was brought before the Legislature, and then-President of the Senate Bill Bulger (yes, THAT Bill Bulger, brother of the FBI's most wanted man, Whitey Bulger) refused to allow a vote. Gay rights activists who are glad that the Legislature has apparently killed this matter with a procedural dodge should pause to consider that if you are using the tactics of Billy Bulger, the Corrupt Midget, you have probably lost your way.

Here is the legal citation from the Constitution.

Section 4. Legislative Action. - Final legislative action in the joint session upon any amendment shall be taken only by call of the yeas and nays, which shall be entered upon the journals of the two houses; and an unfavorable vote at any stage preceding final action shall be verified by call of the yeas and nays, to be entered in like manner. At such joint session a legislative amendment receiving the affirmative votes of a majority of all the members elected, or an initiative amendment receiving the affirmative votes of not less than one-fourth of all the members elected, shall be referred to the next general court.

In 1935 (Opinion of the Justices to the Senate and the House of Representatives), the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held:

Nothing in the phraseology of [Section] 2, of art. 48 is imperative that the joint session convened in accordance with its terms must take final action respecting the matter pending before it within any specified time. Such action must be taken at some time. The mandate is that the joint session shall continue from time to time until final action is taken.

However, according to the SJC, the "mandate" in Article 48 is without recourse. In 1992 (Limits v. President of the Senate), the SJC held:

When the purpose of art. 48 has been frustrated, the only remedy may come from the influence of public opinion, expressed ultimately at the ballot box.

Porcupine is of the opinion that this time, the SJC does have a remedy at hand.

In the Goodrige decision, which created gay marriage in Massachusetts, and possibly the world, the SJC wrote that while the Legislature could act, it had chosen not to, and therefore, without action in 180 days, the Court could not find a legal reason to deny gay couples a marriage license as there is no mention in the Massachusetts Constitution that marriage licenses can only be given to a man and a women. Of course, there is nothing in the Massachusetts Constitution about aviation, broadcasting and public education, either.

In 1992, in the Bulger case, the Court was correct - it could not fabricate term limits out of the air, despite the proper petition of the people. Also, it could not punish or censure the Legislature for failing to act upon its legal duty. Now, the Legislature is hiding behind an SJC decision, and is refusing to vote, as it its legal duty. It is, in effect, making the Court responsible for a public policy decision it would rather avoid. Now, the Court does have a matter within its jurisdiction with which to force action.

The proponents of the Marriage Amendment petition will doubtless sue, even as the Term Limits proponents did, if for no other reason than to establish that the Legislature is behaving unconstitutionally. As redress for this behavior, the proponents should request that the SJC issue an immediate and statewide injunction, stopping any further marriage licenses from being issued to gay couples until the Legislature does complete its duty and vote.

The gay rights activists, who are controlling the majority of the Legislature, will then demand a vote so fast you head will spin. By placing the shoe upon the other foot, maybe we can begin to walk forward from the eight year stall we have been in.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hey, Guys, Can I Play Too? Huh?

Porcupine offers this photo as a write-your-own-caption exercise in the comments. The resemblance to the opening credits for Law & Order are apparent. As our own haplesss Sen. John Kerry looks on, victorious Senators, including Senate President 'Searchlight Harry' Reid stride the halls of power, leaving Sen. Kerry in a rather appropriate backwash.

But I digress - please, offer your own captions!

Part of the reason for offering a photo like this is Porcupine's new Tenant, New York Nitty Gritty, a photo blog which he as long been a fan of. Please, take the time to scroll down and check it out.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori - 2006

War Is Hell.
General William Tecumsah Sherman. (Obsrvation in a Letter, 1864)

Every year, Porcupine pauses to thank the men and women of our Armed Services for their work in saveguarding our Nation and our Lives. As time has gone on, the profession of Soldier and Sailor have been increasingly denigrated by Porcupine's old friends, Those Who Know Better and Best. For instance, this year in Worcester there will be no Veteran's Day Parade, as city officials have explained that lack of attendance and the age of the veterans make such a display untenable. This sort of thing must be hard to understand for the young troops currently serving, who had no idea that they were so antique as to be eliminated.

The sneering of elites at fighting men and women is not new. Our own Sen. Kerry's grudging apology stems in part from a conviction that he was speaking the truth - nobody who is not of the military caste or too dumb to find work elsewhere would go and slog and fight. This is not a new attitude on the part of the wealthy; after all, most soldiers in the Civil War were just men who didn't have the $300 to buy a substitute.

We are different sort of war now, one much closer to our own Revolution, with no formal troops and little possibility of a formal surrender which would create an Armistice Day to be celebrated. As a tribute to those who have chosen to serve, Porcupine shares the words of a much more talented writer, Rudyard Kipling, and his commentary 'Tommy' upon the attitude of an ugrateful society towards fighting forces, written over 100 years ago. Please, if you have the chance today, thank a veteran for their services.

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

For a link to Porcupine's favorite military poetry, please click HERE

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Recess Shun

"In July, we recessed with the understanding that the constitutional convention would take up the remaining items on the calendar when we reconvene. We have the shared responsibility to debate and seek final resolution of all the items remaining on the calendar. Next Thursday, it is my hope that we will finish the remaining business of the convention."
Senate President Robert Traviglini, Boston Globe, Nov. 3, 2006

It’s always noteworthy to see somebody you know on television, and on the Eleven O’clock News on Channel 7, Porcupine was interested to see the spectacle of Rep. Cleon Turner, Democrat of Dennis, standing on the marble balustrade inside the State House, waving and pointing in rock star fashion, somewhat reminiscent of Madonna as Eva Peron, smiling down on hundred of cheering same sex marriage groupies, acting for all the world as if he were Paul or Ringo. It was especially surprising, as the newly re-elected Representative Turner had just spent weeks stumping in the district, gravely intoning that he was a conservative and responsible Democrat, not a wild-eyed radical like that Dick Neitz claimed he was. What a difference two days make.

With his fellow legislators, Rep. Turner had just voted to recess, rather than adjourn, the Constitutional Convention which was postponed in July until two days after the elections. Now, the ‘recess’ will last until January 2nd. You see, if they had adjourned, the Governor could – and would – have called them back into Session for a vote. By ‘recessing’, no such action can be taken. Ah, these clever lads! There are so many options open to them on the last day of this legislative Session – a quick roll call and adjournment with no vote, or perhaps a lack of quorum.

The latest polls showed that the residents of Massachusetts had begun to adjust to gay marriage, and that 56% of them would vote against an amendment to the constitution banning it, but that a full 75% DID want to have the chance to vote as their citizen petition stated. Only fifty legislators were needed to advance this petition, and the leadership knew that there were fifty votes to allow the electorate to decide as they have in over 30 other states. So, quick! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!

At the end of the day, Sen. Traviglini had only promised that he would hold the Constitutional Convention and would allow debate on the issue. He did fulfill that. He never said he would permit an up or down vote by the legislators. With the election of Deval Patrick, it is clear that Clintonian literal truth telling has found a new home in Massachusetts.

So, wave and smile, Rep. Turner. If your shenanigans are successful, the opponents will just go out and get the thousands of signatures again. Really, it’s getting easier each time they do – this is the third time. And that 56% willing to vote against a ban on gay marriage erodes a little more with every lie you tell us.

Just for you, Rep. Turner - a link to a ditty about you and your boss, Sal DiMasi - The Weasel Dance.

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