Monday, July 31, 2006

Confessions of the Habitual Harrumpher

Warning: Off-topic self-indulgence follows.

I have gone from amusement to reality, with the suddenness of a skydiving landing. Getting called out -- albeit in below-the-fold level references -- by local and national columnists, and then yesterday by my oldest son may mean it's true.

I must actually harrumph.

My family has long included cranks of the get-it-done-right variety. I recall the humiliation my sister and I experienced together when our 5-foot 2-inch mother had the gigantic manager of the Sears store in a huge New Jersey mall literally hiding behind his desk. In her righteousness, she drove him to hunker and whisper to his secretary that he was not there.

We had moved from Virginia, which at that time meant a different Sears zone and a different color credit card. The only time our mother ever bought on credit was annually for school clothes. The new store would not take its siblings' card and they told my mother to wait until the replacement came in the mail. She had asked for it two months before and, to put it gently, was not of a mind to wait.

My sister at 16 and I at 15 were not prairie dogs. We stayed low and avoided noise and embarrassment. Our mother, on the other hand, knew what was right and what had to be done. Our blushing was our problem at that point.

It may be of no surprise that she got that new card overnight from the company HQ. It may be no surprise that I have exhibited my crankiness more than once since, regardless of whom it embarrasses.

So, in April, when Kimberley Atkins over at the Herald had one of my posts here harrumphing, I should not have been surprised either. I was.

As she put it in BLOG BUZZ:
Last week's SJC ruling banning most out-of-state gay couples from wedding in the Bay State has made same-sex marriage a hot political topic again online. And so far, bloggers have not been kind to Tom Reilly. "As anticipated, Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Tom Reilly is AWOL," harrumphed MassMarrier, a gay-marriage-friendly blogger.
That was a singleton and amusing. Several blogger chums in effect sought me out to say, "That's about right."

Now, I must assume that Melonyce McAfee of Today's Blogs in Slate reads Atkins'. Last week, she also had me harrumphing. Or perhaps it's just that obvious. I choose to believe she was copying.

As she put it:
Mass Marrier at Marry in Massachusetts regrets the court's argument that gay marriage may be harmful for children and population growth. "The majority ruling in Washington State performed its sideshow trick. It took a key legal principle, stood it on its head and spun it until it was dizzy," Marrier harrumphs. "In both the New York and Washington decisions, the judges perverted a legal touchstone, that of compelling interest. They wrote very clearly that their states had a compelling interest in legislation that promoted the continuation of humanity, in their cases by promoting heterosexual marriage, which often produced offspring. Yet as the dissents in the Washington case iterated and mirrored the New York dissents, that has squat to do with the question before them. … Forbidding SSM simply punishes gays and their children and in no way leads to the production of a single additional future citizen."
Self-consciousness aside, do two, possibly coincidental, comments make for a judgment of harrumph? Am I thus branded with the huge, flaming H of harrumpher?

Perhaps I could have let it pass until last evening. At a large family dinner at Boston Beer Garden in Southie, my oldest son sealed the decision.

Speaking as a reader of this blog, he said, "Well, your posts do have an harrumphing tone."

So, there you have it. I think I need a t-shirt to proclaim my acceptance of my nature. (Insert snort here.)



Tags: , , ,

Keeping Middle-Income Folk in Boston

As in an earlier post, we agree with the research and opinion that concludes that middle-income neighborhoods and families are healthy for cities.

An alternate view would hold that greed and exploitation should flourish, because they have a long tradition in capitalism, and illustrate the vitality of the market system. Those that hold such Adam Smith, invisible hand beliefs are neither analytical nor compassionate enough to suit us. The complexity and internationalization of economics in the past two centuries seems to us to have rendered that theory quaint and idealized.

Boston has remained between 500,000 and 600,000 folk for a long time and its metropolitan area has hovered around 3 million. While we lately have been losing population, the percentage loss should be of less concern than why people are leaving and what the remaining mix is.

Some of this diminution is regional. New England and New York State in general and this area in particular were hit late in the past recession and have been the slowest to show recovery signs. Inside Route 495, we remain hitched to an ever slowing technology span pulling an economic wagon that loses passengers daily. To stop that belabored metaphor, many of our tech giants either failed directly or disappeared into companies owned elsewhere.

Likewise, our quiet, obnoxious giant -- financial sevices and banks -- are shifting jobs to other regions and to their new parents' homes.

So, if we assume that we do want to keep or grow our middle-income Boston, we have to aggressively plan for that, both in public policy and from the business side. As we see in Manhattan and other cities that have lost even a greater percentage of middle-income families and neighborhoods, doing nothing creates a rich-and-poor only town.

None of the problems arose quickly and none of the solutions is all that easy. Consider that the middle class:
  • Has found housing increasingly expensive, climbing over the past few decades from perhaps 25% of income in Boston to 50% or more -- economically untenable and causing a real reduction in lifestyle.
  • Sees real income decreasing slowly but steadily. The effects of the continued economic downturn means low or no raises while general inflation and balooning energy bills eliminate disposable income and chances for upward mobility.
  • Fears public education will not prepare their children to hold their own. Boston remains a gateway for immigrants, preparing them for a life in New England, but severely taxing schools already staggering under budget restraints.
  • Finds that unfunded mandates from the commonwealth force Boston to devote an increasing percentage of its resources to meeting state demands without the authority to tax or collect fees to compensate.
  • Worries over violent crime in cities. This is normal in cities with tightening resources and a discouraged underclass, but no more acceptable to this group than to others.
It is a vicious irony that the legislature throttles Boston, Worcester and the few other large cities here. If we were a seesaw, Massachusetts would forever rest on its eastern seat. The vast majority of its citizens live in the few big cities and their closest suburbs. Despite the feigned objectivity of the General Court, the cities' problems are the commonwealth's problems. Ignoring, underfunding and not creating healthy policy for them hurts us all short- , mid- and long-term.

So, one would suppose that our gubernatorial candidates would feature their plans and programs for Boston and other cities. Nope, only Deval Patrick. In an important nod to the issue, Christy Mihos does say that giving cities more of their tax money back to fix their problems is a good idea. See another post on what the candidates have promoted so far for the cities.

While we endorse Patrick, we would much rather see multiple programs and opinions and a full campaign discussion of how our next leader intends to get Boston out of the sickbed.

Public Policy Enemy #1

Consider where the money come from, who controls it, and where it goes. A decent enough introduction is in Dispelling the Myth of Home Rule: Local Power in Greater Boston, a study funded by the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. This opens a PDF of the executive summary.

Personal Note: We have little good to say of the Rappaports, particularly Jerry the elder. We were condoed out of Charles River Park and knew quite a few former West Enders trampled in the rush to destroy the lower class and middle class neighborhoods. We think the family has a long way yet to go to atone. We do, however, appreciate the institute's current efforts.

The report is well worth reading in its entirety, starting with this summary. Certainly any legislators who do not understand our cities' funding issues need to digest this.

We can all understand how tempting it must be to pretend that the commonwealth can continue to bleed tax and fee income from the people and businesses of the big cities. It must feel like having a bank account that you never need to balance.

Unfortunately, taking the money, returning less and less of it in revenue sharing, and refusing to let the cities make and spend their own money backfires. Eventually, the conditions in the cities will require huge expenditures to right the wrongs of the decades.

The report has three key findings:
  1. Municipalities in the Boston metropolitan region have nothing like—and, equally importantly, do not feel like they have anything like—home rule in the local autonomy sense of the term
  2. Key aspects of the state constitution’s Home Rule Amendment do little to empower the region’s towns and cities.
  3. Home rule in Massachusetts is structured in a way that limits local power and frustrates regionalism.
The fantasy world of the legislature includes laws that require the cities to undertake and maintain systems, with no matching funding. Likewise, Boston can't even decide its housing and land-use policy. It must approach the commonwealth for anything of significance, in effect begging for permission, which is often denied.

For housing, many in and out of the major cities lament the high costs, and then look away. Boston for one can do little by itself to increase the stock of affordable middle-income housing. It needs both commonwealth regulatory permission and now financial help.

The urban-planning vision of mixed income, multi-family homes has worked in U.S. and European cities, but always with both types of government help. Pretending, as our legislature do often has, that Boston, Lowell and other cities have brought these problems on themselves is at best irresponsible.

Many policy researchers have proposals, which the state has so far not endorsed. One is from Northeastern's Center for Urban and Regional Policy, Building on our Heritage: A housing Strategy for smart Growth and Economic Development. This ties the lack of affordable housing for low and middle-income residents to larger economic issues -- worth of legislative leadership, by any estimation.

Its general recommendations are:
  1. The state provide financial and other incentives to local communities that pass Smart Growth Overlay Zoning Districts that allow the building of single-family homes on smaller lots and the construction of apartments for families at all income levels.
  2. The state increase its commitment to fund affordable housing for families of low and moderate income.
More specifically, the three-year-old report, recommends:
  1. Maintain or increase the allocation for housing under the Private Activity Bond Cap at the current level.
  2. Gradually increase the housing portion of the State Annual Bond Cap from its current level of 9.1% to 15% Gradually increase annual state outlays for housing to $120 million. In the next decade this will add about $670 million for housing affordability.
  3. Sell surplus state property, with a priority for housing and mixed use (where appropriate). Use the funds for increasing state assistance for housing affordability.
There are other ways to slice and display these solutions, but all require concerted commonwealth and cities efforts. From what we see in their local meetings and their visits to Beacon Hill, the cities are willing and aware.

The legislature will need to make major shifts, first by admitting that its laissez-faire policies and perverted home rule do not work under the current conditions. The golden goose cities are underfed and sickly.

Up next, jobs and economics.

Tags: , , , , ,

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Peek Under the Judge's Robe

After you have read the Washington State Supreme Court decision and dissents on same-sex marriage, you are likely to drag out your clich├ęs. What planet are these justices from and is this mental disease contagious to other courts?

In a huge surprise, you can listen to that court's chief justice being interviewed by -- ta da -- Dan Savage. The comments support the view circulating widely that state high courts are pretty gutless and that the bold pro-civil-rights decisions like Goodridge are rare indeed.

Those who know Savage as that sex columnist only should be aware that he runs the Seattle alternative weekly, The Stranger. He and his long-term partner are adoptive parents of son DJ. He is thoroughly invested in politics, in gay rights, in news, and marriage equality.

Chief Justice Gerry L. Alexander is not a crackpot conservative, nor is he the famous cricket player of that name. What he is seems to illustrate the current state and near-term future of civil-rights court decisions.

He and his court help prove that the right-wing slur of activist judge is as much a sham as liberal media. Both courts and mainstream media are geldings. They occasionally kick, but mostly hang around the trough. We have also seen that here in Massachusetts with the dreadfully cowardly non-resolutions of the 1913 race-based marriage laws and the anti-SSM amendment petition blessing.

Savage has reduced an hour interview into an on-line exclusive set of links to MP3 files with cue sheets. The under-10-minute segments concentrate on SSM-related issues. Section one talks about the decision, specifically about five minutes in, the suspect class issue. Section two deals more with the byzantine reasoning in the mush-mouthed decision.

The entire question of suspect class arose in the New York version of this question. The Olympia decision -- and the blistering dissents -- suggest the current court state. Basically, the Washington majority avoided the underlying issue two ways.

First, it pre-decided the issue by narrowing the case to the slimmest legal issue possible. The five judges wanted to decide only whether the state legislature might have reasonably thought they had a basis for the DOMA law. This basically removes the constitutional issues and conflicts with equal-rights laws and decisions.

With this in mind, they likewise said that the jive about it being possible that kids would do better in opposite-sex-parent families was a fair assumption by the legislature. Even with a mountain of evidence suggesting otherwise, they said that if there was a difference of opinion, the lawmakers could go to any point of view and just pick it.

Second, they did something similar to suspect class, that is a group that has a history of discrimination through no fault of its own. This works for race, for example, but not something optional like religion, which in turn has its own protections.

Instead, the justices put the burden on the plaintiffs to show that homosexuals were a suspect class in Washington. That was not the suits' main purpose. No one disputes that homosexuals are punished by individuals and under law. However, the Washington Five decided that the plaintiffs did not prove what they had not set out to prove, that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic.

Very oddly, in the interview, Alexander said he thinks it's likely people are born gay, just that this was not proven.

Before you listen, you may well wonder what a sitting justice, particularly the court's chief justice, was doing commenting on this steaming fresh case. It turns out that the interview was part of a larger one of the three justices who are up for election shortly. Alexander did not cancel in light of the decision and the vague possibility of reconsideration.

He regretted that several times during the interview.

As teasers, consider:
  • When asked about the suspect class issue, he said that the plaintiffs did not prove this. Yet, "I suppose the preponderance of the evidence is that it's an immutable characteristic, but I don't claim to be an expert."
  • When asked whether the plaintiffs made a mistake in not bringing up evidence of the inborn nature of homosexuality, "You'd have to ask them."
The conclusion seems to be, as the Washington Supreme Court wrote, ask the legislature. Don't expect equality to come through the courts. We are beginning to suspect this is the rule everywhere, even in post-Goodridge Massachusetts.

Tags: , , , ,

Friday, July 28, 2006

West Coast Civil Unions -- Maybe

Out in Washington State, they don't seem to mind mixing bagels and doughnuts. Already one of the local papers seems to have picked up on the governor's implication that civil unions may be the way to go.

Following a split decision on a very narrow issue to reaffirm the state's DOMA, the high court there practically begged the legislature to step up and do something to resolve homosexual union issues. From this coast, it looked pretty stagnant, even hopeless, in light of the 30 years it took to pass a gay-rights bill, and that this year by a single vote.

Governor Christine Gregoire has been a strong voice for gay rights. On the other hand, she is tepid on same-sex marriage, seeming to favor civil unions.

I can barely keep a finger on Boston politics, much less grok the gestalt of Olympia. Yet, Wednesday's curious comments from the governor there dovetail into the Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial on the next steps for the legislature.

As background, be aware that the state's Supreme Court judges really seemed atavistic on this, particularly Jim Johnson. Ignoring the legal basis for marriage in the state, five of them muddled religious ritual and civil marriage.

Unfortunately, even the governor doesn't get this. Her entire statement, as published in commentary from The Stranger, shows her confusion:
As Governor, I do not believe the state should discriminate against any citizen. I also believe that personal religious beliefs are protected by our Constitution.

On the issue of gay marriage, Washington is a very diverse state and there are many strongly held opinions and personal feelings on this issue. I ask all Washingtonians to respect their fellow citizens. The Supreme Court has ruled and we must accept their decision whether we agree with it or not.

As to my personal beliefs, Mike and I received the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic faith. State government provided us with certain rights and responsibilities, but the state did not marry us.

I believe the state should provide these same rights and responsibilities to all citizens. I also believe the sacrament of marriage is between two people and their faith; it is not the business of the state.
Of course, the state did marry Christine and Mike. That she chooses to believe that her R.C. ceremony was the totality speaks to her upbringing, not the law. The legal fact is that they are married under civil law only because the state issued the license and accepted the priest's signature as one authorized solemnizer of the civil contract.

Whether she had an overlay of Catholic ceremony on her state-authorized marriage really has nothing to do with anything. That is, except that the majority of the justices seem similarly confused.

While one would hope that the majority of legislators know the law better than the governor, none of us can be sure of that yet. People who don't get the separation of church and state tend to be the same ones who can't understand how civil contracts are the basis for marriage authority both there and here.

Thus, the PI editorial suggests that the time is already ripe for civil unions in Washington, on the way to full marriage equality...eventually.

Calling the gay-rights law evidence of "a sea change," the editorial says that civil unions could happen in a few months. It states, "But there is no reason to wait on political change. Before the court decision, state Rep. Ed Murray promised to introduce a marriage bill if necessary. We hope he does so, and that he sees value in accepting a civil union law as a compromise while looking ahead toward a gender-neutral approach to civil marriage licenses."

Readers here know that we don't favor such stepping-stone approaches. Too often the travelers find themselves stuck in the river with no next stone to help them continue.

Yet, it should be a hot time in Olympia this fall and next spring. The political races -- including three Supreme Court justice ones -- have newly clarified issues. Then on January 8th, 2007 (Elvis' birthday), all eyes and ears will follow the legislature...and expect some resolution.

Tags: , , , , ,

Does Boston Need a Middle Class

What of the middle class in Boston? If we follow the local and nationwide trends, we could well have a tiny portion of middle-income families, individuals and neighborhoods. The middle-income folk would go to the suburbs and exurbs, leaving rich and poor.

For the benefit of all three major economic groups, we should care, both in individual terms and as public policy and legislative agenda. As Bostonians, we need be aware of what's at stake from a city of only extremes.

In this era, we may lose sight of such cascading effects. After all, from realty to petro products to medical care to food, real or quasi monopolies, oligopolies and informal cartels control prices of what we buy. Yet, we hear from government and TV that market forces are offering us choice and keeping profits to a minimum while providing profit incentive.

We cannot afford to accept the fantasies of the laissez-faire conservatives.

In such a world, it would seem reasonable that the small subset of the wealthy and wealthiest could push out the middle-income from their neighborhoods and pay much more for housing suddenly carrying a LUXURY sign. Indeed, these very interlopers are quick to say that they pay more per capital in tax and shopping dollars, while lessening the loads on schools -- fewer people and fewer kids, kids who go to private school after all.

That doesn't sound like it has any downside, but the Brookings Institute studies see it otherwise -- as does this mildly opinionated commentator, as does the Boston Banner. Development that prices the middle class out of Boston has bad effects for top and bottom, as well as for the local culture in every sense.

It is understandable that the wealthiest families moving into the newest version of Boston would not want to jostle, see or smell hoi polloi. That is as understandable as their having their attorneys and legislators fighting estate taxes and seeking yet more tax breaks -- mine, mine, mine, mine -- before passing along their wealth to their kids. They are doing the human thing in protecting their own.

Yet, in the current trend, we see middle-income workers and families finding themselves priced out of their old neighborhoods. Their incomes are no longer adequate to live in the central fist and arm that is the city of Boston.

Thus, they find affordable suburbs and commute to the city for their jobs as knowledge workers, managers, firefighters and so forth. In fact, Brookings suggests that they may end up better off in terms of quality of life, including crime rates, schools and so forth. Only the commuting parent or parents lose that time to and from work.

Instead it is the poor who suffer directly when middle-class neighborhoods disappear. The traditional role of those neighborhoods was to enable that stereotypical American dream that so many millions of us have made real.

Consider a city in which the poor are within reach, if they work hard, study hard and maybe are a bit lucky, of upward mobility. They can get the diplomas and the jobs, and move to the middle-class areas. Even if the monthly rent or mortgage is a bit of a stretch, they end up realizing improvements for themselves and their offspring -- cleaner, quieter, safer neighborhoods with an upward spiral of economic and social possibilities. It has happened many times here and elsewhere.

In contrast, if the middle-incomers leave town, we can head to a rich/poor only Boston. Without that buffer for aspirations, the poor stand a much higher chance of staying poor. The diminished hopes and dreams breed the despair from which the stagnation of an entire class of citizens festers.

The notorious ghetto tax that the Banner details exacerbates the problems. When the captive poor spend disproportionate shares of their small income of necessities, the spiral screws ever downward.

Ironically for the wealthy, their domination of the housing and employment markets can backfire. A city without the broad base of economic classes lends itself both to crime and to competition for civic resources. The mired poor require more, and more diverse, services, further taxing the city and taking resources from the activities and infrastructure that the wealthy want.

In the end, this slowly leads to a less desirable, less fun, less Boston-ish Boston.

A future post considers what our politicians, planners and others suggest to avoid or shortcut this cycle.

Tags: , , , ,

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Slate's "Rational Lampoon"

Click on over to Slate for Dahlia Lithwick's slamming of the cowardly Washington State Supreme Court same-sex-marriage non-decision. She uses humor, but doesn't shy from the issues.

Specifically, the majority judges seemed afraid to rule on the issues. Instead, as New York's did and Massachusetts' did not, they wrote that marriage was a pure legislative matter.

Discriminate? Not us. It was those guys in the State House.

She compares and contrasts the three states' rulings, but constantly returns to the Washington court's failure of duty. She points out how they twisted the issue, so that they would have supported the lower courts' overruling of the state DOMA only if they saw it as insane and entirely irrational.

Lithwick writes, "As the Washington State Supreme Court proved today, it almost doesn't matter, in the end. Because once you concede that only patently moronic bans may be struck down, you'll arrive at the same result."

This shirking of legal responsibility seems to play out too often. The myth of activist judges must remain on display meanwhile alongside that of liberal media.

Tags: , , , , ,

Washington Ruling Dissents

The majority ruling in Washington State performed its sideshow trick. It took a key legal principle, stood it on its head and spun it until it was dizzy.

In both the New York and Washington decisions, the judges perverted a legal touchstone, that of compelling interest. They wrote very clearly that their states had a compelling interest in legislation that promoted the continuation of humanity, in their cases by promoting heterosexual marriage, which often produced offspring.

Yet as the dissents in the Washington case iterated and mirrored the New York dissents, that has squat to do with the question before them. Promoting straight marriage has no relation to allowing same-sex marriage. Forbidding SSM simply punishes gays and their children and in no way leads to the production of a single additional future citizen.

Legal observers must be as astonished as many of us plain folk in both rulings. The kindest view is that the decisions illustrate the humanness of the judges, both in their confusing religion with law, and in trying to justify their biases. Those are all too human, but must be corrected because of how they affect others.

Outraged Dissents

The Washington court seems not filled with bigots. In fact, only one justice showed himself to be an ideologue who was not urging the legislature to address this inequality.

Among the three separate dissents, two strongly condemned this wrong of head and heart ruling. The third, from Tom Chambers , concentrated on why the state constitution's Article I, Section 12, should protect homosexual couples.

Opinions from Justices Mary Fairhurst and Bobbe Bridge are similar to the dissents in the New York ruling. They point out plainly and in strong terms where the majority erred legally. Unfortunately, the Washington ruling does not have an option for appeal, because no federal issues are involved. However, other state courts as well as the state legislature there will surely read and benefit from the view of both judges.

Fairhurst gets right into the central issue with:
The plurality and concurrence condone blatant discrimination against Washington's gay and lesbian citizens in the name of encouraging procreation, marriage for individuals in relationships that result in children, and the raising of children in homes headed by opposite-sex parents, while ignoring the fact that denying same-sex couples the right to marry has no prospect of furthering any of those interests. With the proper issue in mind--whether denying same-sex couples the right to marry will encourage procreation, marriage for individuals in relationships that result in children, or child rearing in households headed by opposite-sex parents--I would hold that there is no rational basis for denying same-sex couples the right to marry.
She concludes, with the concurrence of the other three dissenters, Bridge, Chambers and Susan Owens, "the right to marry the person of one's choice is a fundamental right, the denial of which has historically received heightened scrutiny." In other words, the court should have acted to correct the flaw and protect the right.

To the main point, she expands on the inanity of claiming that DOMA in anyway furthers the state's interest in making babies. "But DOMA in no way affects the right of opposite-sex couples to marry--the only intent and effect of DOMA was to explicitly deny same-sex couples the right to marry. Therefore, the question we are called upon to ask and answer here, which the plurality fails to do, is how excluding committed same-sex couples from the rights of civil marriage furthers any of the interests that the State has put forth."

She draws on the plaintiffs' testimony of the hardships forced on same-sex-couple families. As she put it, "...the State has turned its back once those children (adopted or by insemination) are integrated into their families. It is those children who actually do and will continue to suffer by denying their parents the right to marry." The broad spectrum legal protections and benefits of marriage are denied both parents and kids.

She concludes that "DOMA was motivated by animus toward homosexuals. When no rational basis supports a discriminatory statute, this court may presume that the statute is motivated by aimus."

She aptly ridicules the majority's conclusion that marriage as a fundamental right concerns only procreation. The many opposite-sex couples who cannot or choose not to reproduce belie that, as well as the well established privacy right not to reproduce.

Fairhurst has impatience and wisdom in her admonitions. She states, "Furthermore, 'history and tradition' should not control us where that history and tradition merely reflect that a popular majority is willing to denigrate the rights of a minority group." She adds, "We should not have to go through the same painful process of waiting for popular opinion to catch up with the constitution to declare denial of the right to marry unconstitutional."

She calls the majority decision out for what it is. "Unfortunately, the plurality and concurrence are willing to turn a blind eye to DOMA's discrimination because a popular majority still favors that discrimination." She suggested that the right decision would have been more like the Massachusetts one -- ordering the legislature to align law and equal rights. She wrote that her court did not have the authority to rewrite Washington's marriage statutes, but that "this court should hold that DOMA is unconstitutional because the fundamental right to marry extends to same-sex couples but leave remedying the marriage statutes to the legislature."

More Fustigation

Justice Bridge was even more pointed with her pointy head associates. She started her dissent with "I dare say, the result that we reach today will be remembered for what it does not do than for what it does." Among her examples is "What we have not done is engage in the kind of critical analysis the makers of our constitution contemplated when interpreting the limits on governmental intrusion into private civil affairs; what we have done is permit the religious and moral strains of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to justify the State's intrusion."

Bridge stresses the cruel unconstitutionality of DOMA, as well as the majority's mingling of religion and law. She does not mince words about the church/state issues. "Yet the DOMA relies on the notion that the institution of marriage needs to be defended from gays and lesbians, rather like anti-papal laws once sought to 'defend' a protestant way of life from an onslaught of Catholic immigrants, and segregation laws sought to "defend" white-privilege from people of color."

Her dissent also brings to mind the clarity of Massachusetts marriage law from Colonial times. In her state, marriage has been secular since laws of 1854. "Because a marriage license only acts as a trigger for state-conferred benefits, the State's role is not to endorse certain morals, lifestyles, or relationships when it grants a marriage license, but rather it should only identify those entitled to the benefits of marital status." That was similar to findings in our Goodridge decision.

Further, despite the federal DOMA, she notes that "...religious restrictions on the institution of marriage have never governed civil marriage in this country, nor would it be constitutionally permissible for them to do so."

She rightfully pooh-poohs the pseudo-scientific studies of single-parent families as "proving" that opposite-sex parents are better parents. Instead, she states that while DOMA does nothing to preserve straight marriage, by withholding rights and benefits from same-sex families, it does harm to their children.

Finally, her analysis concludes that DOMA violates the Equal Rights Act, by prohibiting a woman from marrying a woman or a man from marrying a man strictly on the basis of gender.

She discusses the 1974 Singer case in her state, which ruled against two men seeking to marry. "The Singer court argued that Washington law denied same-sex couples the right to marry, not due to gender, but because of a definition of marriage that necessitates an opposite-sex couple. In other words, discrimination based on gender was permissible in that case because opposite-sex marriage is the 'traditional' definition of marriage. As other courts have noted, the Singer court's logic amounts to 'tortured and conclusory sophistry.'"

As in legalized racial discrimination, those days should be well behind us. Bridge concludes that "...there is little doubt that the DOMA was enacted because of, not merely in spite of, its adverse effects on gays and lesbians." Amen, we add.

The Washington legislature now will have to confront this narrow decision and look at the broader issues. For yesterday's decision, Bridge concluded:
Future generations of justices on this court and future generations of Washingtonians will undoubtedly look back on our holding today with regret and even shame, in the same way that our nation now looks with shame upon our past acts of discrimination.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Deep Breath in Olympia Legislature

The mountains out West sure are tall by our standards. The climb to equal marriage rights looks particularly steep after yesterday's Washington Supreme Court ruling that DOMA was legit there.

Underneath the affirmation of the legislature's power to create a one-man/one-woman law, the court in both main decisions and dissents suggested that it was time for the state legislature to make marriage inclusive there.

Both pro-same-sex-marriage and that other side had a full 16 months following the the arguments to prepare. The 5 to 4 split could have gone the other way. So, everyone seems to have had contingencies.

Of moment are the drives:
  1. Pro-SSM forces have already begun plans to approach equal marriage legislatively.
  2. Democrats and progressives look to this to rally the good guys and beef up their legislative voting margins following the fall elections.

To the State House

Lefty voters and lawmakers are too, too aware that it took 30 years to pass gay-rights in the state, and that only by a single vote. The question now is must citizens repeat such a trek or has the legislative season changed?

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said following the court ruling that she expected legislative proposals from all sides next term. However, the Spokane Democrat added, "I think it will be some time before we'll see any decisive move in the Legislature away from the status quo."

An anti-gay/anti-SSM leader is ready to start his own climb. Gary Randall, president of Faith and Freedom Network said he favors yet another ballot initiative, this one for an anti-SSM constitutional amendment. Ironically, his group alleges to be all about liberty for Americans.

Brown and Speaker of the House Frank Chopp read prepared statements after the ruling. They each said that they speak with their colleagues. They can likely expect pro-SSM support from Governor Chris Gregoire, an active gay-rights advocate.

The tepid, poll-the-lawmakers attitude characterizes the patient Washington legislature. It has not been as inert as the Massachusetts one, which could have legislated the SSM issue at many point before it became a crisis and after the Goodridge decision. Yet, in Olympia, no one seems to have the East Coast expedience.

In Seattle, The Stranger's Eli Sanders does a nice wrap-up of the decision and quick quotes from politicians. His reportage includes:
  • King County Executive Ron Sims, called the ruling an "unwise decision...If the legislature does not make changes first, I firmly believe that a future court will take up this issue again. And on that day, a wiser and more enlightened generation will overturn this ruling."
  • King County Deputy Prosecutor Bill Sherman, said he was “deeply disappointed” and that if he wins his legislative election this fall will fight “full marriage equality for same-sex couples” if he is elected." Sanders adds, "Expect every other candidate in this race for State Rep. Ed Murray’s House seat to do the same."
  • Gregoire did the politician's two-step on this. Sanders concludes that she favors civil unions through legislation. She said citizens had to accept the court decision. She noted her sacramental Roman Catholic marriage, but added, "As Governor, I do not believe the state should discriminate against any citizen. I also believe that personal religious beliefs are protected by our Constitution... I believe the state should provide these same rights and responsibilities to all citizens. I also believe the sacrament of marriage is between two people and their faith; it is not the business of the state."

Fall Fray

A follow-up article in the Post-Intelligencer brought the slant of how this might affect the fall election. It starts:
The state Supreme Court ruling upholding Washington's ban on same-sex marriages comes as a crushing blow to the gay community, but it's a best-case scenario for Democrats hoping to broaden their majority in the Legislature this fall.

In response to Wednesday's decision, Democrats can neatly tailor legislative proposals to suit individual constituencies, including those that want to allow gay marriage, maintain the status quo or build on the politically expedient middle ground that civil unions represent.

And, most important, they don't have to act on any of those proposals until after the November election.

It also states that is robs "Republicans of a powerful wedge issue." No radical homosexual agenda to rally voters means some other divisive issue must materialize.

The analysis also said that the "ruling frees Democrats to invest more in new candidates and reduces the amount they would have to invest to defend incumbents." This can be crucial in swing districts there. While Dems have a 55 to 43 edge in the House, they are only three up in the Senate 26 to 23. Also, as in Massachusetts, there are Democrats, Democrats and Democrats, with some lumbering DINOs muddling affiliations.

National Long Views: The New York Times tries to put some perspective on the recent decisions:
Legal scholars said the closeness of the Washington and New York decisions suggested that the legal status of same-sex marriages would remain unsettled and controversial. That alone, they said, represents a significant change in public and judicial attitudes.

When the Washington courts last addressed the question of same-sex marriage in 1974, by contrast, an appeals court unanimously voted against the plaintiffs and the State Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

"You've gone in 32 years from something that was more or less a slam dunk to where the court is almost evenly and very bitterly divided," said William B. Rubenstein, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of "Sexual Orientation and the Law." "The issue is in play."

Tags: , , ,

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Do Tell, Barney

Our Congressman Barney Frank is dying to have you ask him political questions. If you have tried locally or through his congressional Website, you know he filters email queries to direct consituents.

Here's your chance to, if you pardon the question, go head to head.

Barney will be on Portland, Oregon TV on Sunday morning, August 6th. The BlueOregon Website is collection questions for our guy.

You probably know that Barney's a good guy with the right politics. What he needs are a few pointed questions and he can take it from there.

Click over to BlueOregon's form and put your question in the comments.

If you happen to be in transmitter range, the show is Outlook Portland with Nick Fish on at 6:30 a.m. on WB32.

So, one of two openly gay members of Congress, from Massachusetts, and working in the lion's den of anti-progressives. The man needs a question.

Tags: , ,

Maura Cackles Again

Over at the Phoenix' "Talking Politics," Adam Reilly pimps his feature from his blog. Don't hate his self-promotion; it's worth a click and more.

In one of the most insightful Boston politics analyses anywhere, he tears away the bunting covering the Suffolk Country Superior Court Clerk for Criminal Business race. This is political reporting at its very best.

The race features the assistant clerk, Robert Dello Russo, against what Reilly calls a chronic politician in her father's mold, Maura Hennigan.

Personal note: I won't even make comments. I was nasty to Maura, like here and here and here, among other times. I'm giving it a rest this time.

Reilly nails the distinctions between the two types of candidates and what they represent in local politics. He also shows how this is a must-win for Maura.

Y'all click on over, ya hear?

Tags: , , ,

Romancing Washington Solons

It surely must be a substantial weight pressing on Equal Rights Washington and other gay-rights, civil-rights, and pro-SSM groups following today's ruling in favor of DOMA there. However, ERW must have considered the possibility. They say they are headed to the legislature to bring the rights that the courts would not support.

ERW Disappointed in Marriage Lawsuit Decision,
Promises to Take Fight to the Legislature

Today the Washington State Supreme Court delivered a distressing decision to state residents when they refused to alleviate the suffering that lesbian and gay couples and their children face by being denied the basic human right of marriage.

"Of course we are disappointed in the ruling," said Barbara Green, Interim Executive Director of Equal Rights Washington. "Today in Washington state families headed by lesbian and gay couples lack the critical protections afforded by marriage. Our children, elderly couples and surviving partners will remain vulnerable and all gays will continue to be second class citizens until marriage equality is achieved."

Josh Friedes, ERW Advocacy Director, added, "In the United States, the right to marry is a hallmark of full citizenship, and all gays and lesbians have been branded as second class citizens by being denied the basic right to marry the person they love."

ERW will now turn our attention to changing the law through the state legislature. Said Friedes, "We are confident that support for ending discrimination will grow over time as lesbian and gay families tell their stories to legislators and the public. We take comfort in the knowledge that support for marriage equality is growing in Washington and that faith communities are joining with the families, friends, neighbors and co-workers of gays and lesbians to advocate for basic civil rights for their loved ones."

Tags: , , ,

Over the Edge Justice in Washington Ruling

Let us consider Washington State Supreme Court Justice James M. Johnson. His concurrence (in judgment only in today's ruling upholding the ban on same-sex marriage was more a jeremiad. He seems to put the rite and the bite in rightwing.

Nice Guys Finish Short: The other concurring judge was Chief Justice Gerry L. Alexander. His one-pager notes that they ruled on the narrow subject of who can define marriage. He concludes:
If we were to conclude otherwise, as do the dissenters, we would be usurping the function of the legislature or the people as defined in article II of the constitution of the state of Washington. ..I quickly add, though, that there is nothing in the opinion that I have signed which should be read as casting doubt on the right of the legislature or the people to broaden the marriage act or provide other forms of civil union if that is their will.
In contrast, Johnson goes on for 56 pages figuratively dripping bile. He does not see the state's highest court as having any authority to rule on the matter. He has an awful insult or two for this colleague, Justice Barbara A. Madsen, who wrote the majority opinion. He even dons mantles of the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress. Here's a judge with both ideology and ambition.

Electioneering Johnson: We did not know the judge and scouted a bit. Washington elects its high-court justices. So his campaign profile is worth examining. He reported that he was non-partisan ant that "We the people can trust Jim Johnson to be a fair Supreme Court Justice, committed to defending our constitution and the freedoms it guarantees. Jim Johnson will NOT legislate from the bench." His entry also included, "CIVIL RIGHTS. Jim Johnson has argued cases protecting our most important civil liberties: Free Speech, Voting Rights and Property Rights. Johnson defended our right to vote without declaring a political party."

A little different slant came in an Associate Press article on court candidate. It introduced him with:
Johnson - who's defended Tim Eyman's anti-tax initiatives, fought against tribal claims on private and public lands and battled to keep Washington's blanket primary election system alive - has the backing of the Washington State Republican Party and big financial support from the Building Industry of Washington, a major force in GOP politics.
It also quoted David Groves, spokesman for the Washington State Labor Council as, "Jim Johnson we think is a very divisive anti-labor candidate."

On the ruling, Johnson clearly thinks the majority was nowhere near as strong as it should have been. He started with the claim that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against polygamy (apparently the 1878 case) was a one-man/one-woman definition of marriage. From there, he concludes that every marriage decision the U.S. high court made affirms this.

Yet the oft iterated gist of his opinion is that "At its core, the claims involve not only the purported right to a 'marriage' with a person of the same sex but also a claim of raw judicial power to redefine public institutions such as marriage." True to his campaign for the seat, he holds the court is more subservient to the legislature than separated from it in governance.

He showed little respect for his associates. In fact, he suggested that the main opinion writer Madsen was in a fantasy world. As he put it, "Nor is Justice Madsen’s claim that 'history and tradition are not static,' Madsen, J., op. at 26 coherent, at least outside the context of a George Orwell novel. Our history and tradition are real and ascertainable."

He dismisses all the plaintiffs' assertions and finds both the state's tradition of marriage and DOMA constitutional. He expanded the majority opinion to embrace his own. "We conclude," he concluded, "that the legislature was justified in enacting DOMA to clarify and reaffirm Washington marriage law by compelling governmental interest in preserving the institution of marriage, as well as healthy families and children it promotes. This conclusion may not be changed by mere passage of time or currents of public favor and surely not changed by courts."

His definitions are absolute, but moot. They exceed the majority's actual findings as well.

Fortunately, no one else on the court seems as doctrinaire as he. At least with Johnson, one knows where he stands.

Tags: , , ,

Washington SSM Pressure Back on Rights Groups

In Olympia, Washington, today's reversal of trial court findings that one-man/one-woman marriage laws are unconstitutional are a boon to anti-SSM groups and a chasm that pro-SSM ones will have to fight in the legislature now. The five-to-four ruling affirmed that the legislature has the right to limit marriage -- as well as to expand it.

The best news amid the rejection for pro-SSM forces was in the main opinion, which included, "We see no reason, however, why the legislature or the people acting through the initiative process would be foreclosed from extending the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples in Washington."

As in Massachusetts, a single vote made the difference, in this case for regression.

The court took the view that what was to be decided was whether the legislature had the right to so regulate marriage. In two cases, representing 19 couples, the lower courts had found that the state's DOMA law was unconstitutional and that it violated the Equal Rights Amendment.

There were two concurring opinions and three dissents.

Among the more bizarre aspects of the majority is the suspect class one. The judges used a 1990 decision (High Tech Gays v. Def. Indus. Sec. Clearance Office) as a basis for dealing with homosexuality as a choice. As the main decision puts it, "The parties dispute whether homosexuality is immutable. The State relies on the decision in High Tech Gays that homosexuality is behavioral, and thus not immutable."

While the plaintiffs noted another 9th Circuit Court of Appeals case (Hernandez-Montiel) that ruled differently, the Washington judges decided that this did not prove immutability of the class.

In another surprisingly conservative interpretation, the judges decided that marriage was not a fundamental right for homosexuals. They chose the vary narrow view that "there is no history or tradition of same-sex marriage in this country." They cited Massachusetts' marriages and Vermont's civil unions. They then turned to circular reasoning about the majority of states forbidding SSM by statute or amendment.

For Washington specifically, they did the same thing. They concluded that there was no tradition of SSM and that the state had used the old common-law oral definition of one-man/one-woman. Again, circular...

While the judges agreed that marriage was evolving, they concluded that it hadn't evolved enough locally to support SSM. Again and again, the decision returns to find that there need not be SSM because there is no SSM.

They also supported the State's view that marriage is for procreation and that because same-sex couples require a third-party in some form to reproduce, the State could call on its legitimate interest in justifying heterosexual marriage. Then, while citing Goodridge here and the facts that sterile, old and those not interested in procreating could marry, they dismissed these.

As with the previous, the basis was that it was "traditionally linked to procreation and the survival of the human race."

The judges also decided that the legislature could believe, based on such evidence as testimony at its hearings, that kids are better off in opposite-sex families. Here, it was not the accuracy of this argument, but whether the legislature was okay in making such assumptions.

They concluded also that DOMA was not unconstitutional and that it does not violate the plaintiffs' privacy rights. They also denied the gender-discrimination claim with by concluding that forbidding a man to wed a man or a woman a woman does not make any classification by sex.

The plaintiffs were held to a much higher standard than the State, which according to the judges need only show a rational basis to justify the legislation.

Agreeing that their ruling was on narrow points of law, the judges did state:
(T)he record is replete with examples as to how the definition of marriage negatively impacts gay and lesbian couples and their children. The plaintiffs and their amici have clearly demonstrated that many day-to-day decisions that are routine for married couples are more complex, more agonizing, and more costly for same-sex couples, unlike married couples who automatically have the advantages and rights provided to them in a myriad of laws and policies such as those surrounding medical conditions (e.g., the right to be present in the hospital and to help make difficult decisions), probate (e.g., the right to inherit property), and health insurance (e.g., the ability to obtain coverage for a spouse through employment policies).
The closest thing the judges had to offer to fairness and hope was their conclusion that "...given the clear hardship faced by same sex couples evidenced in this lawsuit, the legislature may want to reexamine the impact of the marriage laws on all citizens of this state."

Tags: , , ,

Washington State Affirms Discrimination

My first report by email was not correct. Washington State's Supreme Court upheld the position that the legislature there could restrict marriages to DOMA-style one-man/one woman.

Analysis of the majority and dissenting opinions to follow.

Tags: , ,

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

All Hell Comes to Olympia

One way or another tomorrow, there will be a lot of unhappy people in Washington State. In a minimalist notice, the State Supreme Court announced by surreptitious Website blurb that it will release its same-sex marriage ruling tomorrow.

There was no indication of any type about the nature of the decision.

The whole of the notification is:

Washington Supreme Court Announces Decision in Andersen v. King County Expected Tomorrow

July 25, 2006

Olympia, July 25, 2006-- The Washington Supreme Court has announced that a decision in Andersen v. King County, a consolidated case regarding Washington’s Defense of Marriage Act, is expected tomorrow, July 26, 2006.

The Court’s opinion including any concurrences and dissents will be available online via the Washington Courts web site at www.courts.wa.gov in an Adobe Acrobat “PDF” format.



Tags: , ,

Same-Sex-Marriage Ad Times 50

Three leading pro-gay-rights groups are putting display ads in 50 markets talking up same-sex marriage. The ads feature five same-sex couples who have been together from 12 to 53 years.

The quarter-million-dollar campaign appears in big city and smaller papers from the New York Times to the Fresno Bee. A detailing press release is here. The lead organizations are the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Freedom to Marry.

From what we have seen in Maine's gay-rights fights as well as Massachusetts ones, the best ads are self-outed homosexuals, solo and couples. It's hard to want to punish your friends, family and coworkers. This effort aims to augment that and perhaps speed the process.

TaskForce Executive Director Matt Foreman commented, "Public support for legal recognition of same-sex couples has steadily grown in spite of an enormous and well-funded campaign based on defamation and fear, including dozens of anti-gay state constitutional amendments battles. Even our opponents understand it is not a question of whether we will win dignity and equality for our families, but when."

The ads have simple messages of equality. Signatories include:
  • 14 gay, lesbian, bi and transgender groups
  • 9 mayors (with Tom Menino)
  • 11 religious leaders, six civil-rights organization
  • 9 labor leaders
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Executive Diretor Neil Giuliano stressed the wide public-relations effort of the campaign. "The marriage equality conversation is happening around millions of kitchen tables coast to coast, and is certainly not confined to large cities. We specifically wanted to reach people well beyond the big urban areas, because gay couples, their kids and their loved ones live there, too."

Tags: , ,

Monday, July 24, 2006

Middle Class Need Not Apply

The WWII folk built their national aspirations on the burgeoning middle class -- and a fantasy of a never-ending economic growth spiral -- leading us to wisdom, peace and prosperity. Rest in peace, all.

In the last 30 years, our cities instead have spit out the middle class while reserving the option to use its members as firefighters and cops, teachers, managers and skilled workers. These increasingly live in the equivalent of luxurious servants' quarters, a.k.a. suburbs.

The Brookings Institution has studied this for decades. Its just released update (in a 24-page PDF file) shows a continuation of the trend among the 100 largest U.S. cities. An accompanying analysis touches on what cities lose as they head toward a citizenry of only wealthy and poor. While not exactly a seesaw without a fulcrum, it's damned close.

Also, in the New York Times, Janny Scott covers the implications for the City. At the San Francisco Chronicle, Tyche Hendicks does the local version there.

So, we can be just as provincial for Boston. We rank toward the extreme end, but we are not as far gone as New York or Los Angeles. For specifics, concentrations of the wealthy (high and very high income levels) by families are 42.7 % in NYC, 42.2% in LA, and 40.2% here.

More meaningful may be by neighborhoods, because this determines how the cities are affordable to the middle class and how well they serve as both staging grounds and areas of opportunity for upward mobility. Comparable figures are 35.9% in NYC, 34.4% in LA, and 30.2% here. Decades ago, Eastern cities were often 50% to even 60% middle-class neighborhoods, offering both diversity and opportunity.

Statistics Fix: The Brookings report breaks these and other figures down for the 100 cities, with granular breakouts. Slice and dice to amuse and amaze yourself.

The findings include a trend to a city of rich and poor only. The rich take fewer housing units and pay an increasing percentage of taxes that support their cities. The resulting economy and two-tiered living appears a throwback 100 years or more.

So, if you accept that gross economic trends and private and public policies from national to local levels are producing this trend, consider the implications. These include:
  • High housing prices lead in forcing the middle class from cities.
  • So far, the displaced can and do still get to work in the cities, so there is no service crisis or upward wage pressures as a result.
  • The displaced may actually fare better in terms of education and quality of life, except for the commuting parents' decreased time at home with family.
That may not look at all bad unless you consider the non-economic consequences. The Times piece lists:
The disappearance of middle-income neighborhoods can limit opportunities for upward mobility, the authors of the Brookings study said. It becomes harder for lower-income homeowners to move up the property ladder, buy into safer neighborhoods, send their children to better schools and even make the kinds of personal contacts that can be a route to better jobs.
Also, Brookings Fellow Alan Berube includes:
Middle-income, economically integrated neighborhoods are important ingredients for a healthy city. Areas like Richmond Hill, Queens, provide a critical rung on the housing ladder for working families who are moving up, but can't afford neighborhoods like Park Slope. They also form a kind of "social glue" that bonds lower-income and higher-income areas, mediating the interests of residents at the economic extremes.
Other observers note such hard-to-quantify factors as ownership. For example, firefighters and police officers will do their jobs better when it is their city, not just a distant job.
Similarly, in California, Sarah Karlinsky, policy director at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association said, "It's bad for democracy. When you have concentrations of poverty, people growing up there have less access to other life opportunities. The same is true at the other end, as well. ... We don't want San Francisco to become Carmel, just a city of the most wealthy. Then we're not a real city any more, we're a boutique."

That is the crux -- will Boston and cities like Boston return to mixed vitality that provides the intellectual, cultural and civic energy that real cities need? While it is not as diverse or vital as some cities, Boston has long served as that staging ground for immigrants and a set of stairs for upward mobility. Even in our most misguided efforts to plow under the West End and other gardens of that proverbial American dream, we have seen other areas in our city emerging to let the newcomers join us.

Herein lies the current danger. If we produce or permit a Boston that does not provide a middle, we lose it all. If the poor have no options to advance to middle class jobs and housing here, we too could become one of those boutiques, or at worse a plantation city of rich and poor only.

Boston is just one of dozens of U.S. cities losing its culture, character and color. Its economy and government stride inexorably to a town of rich and poor only. That middle class of which we Baby Boomers heard so much praise finds exile to the exurbs and suburbs.

Let George Bush's chums and followers of Ayn Rand say that is right and fair, the way of both God and Mammon. Consider instead the realities of an extreme-only Beantown.

We here are big believers in an economically multi-tiered Boston. By accident of housing purchase, we ended up nearly two decade ago in a neighborhood designed to keep the middle class in Boston.

We agree with Wharton School Professor Joseph Gyourko, quoted in the Times piece. He lives in the wealthy, largely white Pennsylvania suburb of Swarthmore. "I do not meet the full range of incomes and social classes within my neighborhood. Well, think about what happens if metropolitan areas like New York, San Francisco and the like turn into my suburb. You’ll have even less interaction. The most interesting and potentially foreboding implication of this sorting is that it changes the way we view life.”

A future post will present alternatives for keeping a balance of classes in Boston.

Tags: , , , ,

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Subway Suburb

"Oh, you live in the historic Woodbourne area."

That's what the architectural historian on my church's board said when I passed around my new address to other members 17 years ago. He was right and I was too ignorant to know what he meant. Sure, if he said so.

As it turned out Woodbourne's history and political bent suited me just fine, as it did that of most congregants in that pinko, Unitarian church. With a granularity typical of Boston, I had moved to the Woodbourne area of the Forest Hills section of the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. Pity my one-block street doesn't have its own sub-designation, although some realtors do break down where we live further into the Bourne section of Woodbourne.

Among that small order of architectural historians, plus a few other sets of scholars, Woodbourne is known as:
  1. The neighborhood built for the emerging middle class.
  2. The model for single-family home ownership and mortgages.
  3. The right way to build a housing development. (Long Island's Levittown tract housing was the wrong way.
  4. A noble, philanthropic effort to remedy the long-standing housing ills of Boston.
Unlike the Pond Side and Moss Hill wealthy enclaves of JP, Woodbourne has retained a more middle-income flavor. What may have been over a century ago an all-White, mostly Roman Catholic, largely Irish-American social experiment has blended to reflect Boston's cultures very clearly. There are few Latinos here, but White and Black, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, unchurched and others, gay and straight and on and on own these houses.

The small, single and double-family houses that have lately entered into the National Register of Historic Places as an historic district have served the stated purpose from the beginning.

Indeed, ordinary families live on wee plots in petite houses. We are close enough for a real sense of neighborhood without voyeurism. In contrast to the Wellesley and Dover mansions, our quarters seem to have been left out in the rain and then dried to shrinking.

Up the Middle Class

In this century, we'd wonder why it was even worthy of mention. Yet before WWI, there was scant middle class and your housing issues were your own. Typically in a city, the landlords owed the housing and working sorts either lived at the pleasure of their employer or rented. A rare family saved enough to buy land and build a house. Bank mortgages for ordinary people were virtually unheard of, because so few had anything to secure a big loan.

From the shadows of wealth, power and spare time emerged the Boston Dwellinghouse Company. A consortium of do-gooder ex-mayor's wives and such decided that it was time for alternatives for the working class, at least for those in the budding middle class.

This altruistic group decided to, in effect, create ways for people to buy houses. And they did.

The first effort was Woodbourne, which originally was for staff who worked on the T. They could start and finish their day at Forest Hills and walk the mile home, to their homes.

This came with action by some powerful financial forces.
Early in 1911, Robert Winsor, investment banker with the firm Kidder, Peabody & Company, and one of the directors of the Boston Elevated Railway, raised the possibility of building a model residential enclave near the carbarns of the elevated railway system at Forest Hills for its conductors and motormen. Its location was "within fifteen minutes of the business center of Boston on a five cent fare." He began discussing the idea of creating a "scientific, model residential enclave for its conductors and motormen as an alternative to the ills of urban housing and congestion" with an additional goal to be an "object lesson, which will lead others to make similar investments." He also sent agents to study developments in Europe. Among developments investigated were the projects built by the London County Council as well as a large private development in London. The agents also went to Liverpool, Birmingham and Germany.

Debates over congestion and substandard housing were abounding in Boston at this time. "Boston-1915", founded in March 1909, by Edward Filene (retailer) and other civic, educational, and business leaders hoped to provide a blueprint for coordinated response for every department in Boston. It aimed to increase efficiency and cure many of Boston's problems...

The efforts at inexpensive home ownership in a planned natural environment required architects to define what a home should be. The home must look like a house, whether for one or two families. It must be domestic in scale and sited to provide open space for fresh air, light, privacy and recreation.

In the debate of affordable housing and lack of home ownership, Winsor envisioned his plan for housing as a "solution to some of the most serious problems of city life, the ills of urban housing and congestion." Not only would it provide decent housing, the model community would be "an object lesson which would lead others to make similar investments." It was during a period of concern for affordable housing and the lack of home ownership.
A key aspect is that these were not tenements or subsidized public housing. While it was a housing project, the homes were sold at around $5,000 -- according to the Federal Reserve Bank's calculator, about $79,000 now. People could afford it, but not easily, at about $50 a month. These were not gifts.

Annoyingly enough, when we moved here, a backyard abutter, Ralph, loved to tell all of us coming in at late 20th Century rates that he paid $5,500 "for the exact same house" in 1932. Thanks, Ralph.

Why Woodbourne

It is another beloved-daughter story. This harks back to the day when what is now JP was a suburban outlying region of Roxbury. Here near the coolness of the foliage and ponds, upper-class Bostonians would inherit or buy large tracts and build substantial houses on them.

Many owned factories or other businesses town. They trusted no one, except their peers (in retrospect probably the opposite of the rational view), and kept their weekday residences above their workplaces. For them, the crime, disease, pollution and noise of Boston were no place for wives or children. Families ended up in summer or even year-round housing in places like JP, away from criminals and cholera.

You can see one artifact of this in the sinuous and very narrow Jamaicaway. Originally a carriage road, it was the route on the weekend that the wealthy took to their country places around or near Jamaica Pond. Clearly, it would be better suited to two horse-drawn carriages passing than four 235-horsepower SUVs at a time.

In 1845, one such Boston businessman, William Minot bought farmland here and built his massive summer house for his family. His invalid daughter, Julia, was a reader and found an epithet for the new mansion. She said it reminded her of Woodbourne, the house that features in Sir Walter Scott's 1829 novel, Guy Mannering or the Astrologer.

She likely cited the book's description:
WOODBOURNE, the habitation which Mannering, by Mr. Mac-Morlan’s mediation, had hired for a season, was a large, comfortable mansion, snugly situated beneath a hill covered with wood, which shrouded the house upon the north and east; the front looked upon a little lawn bordered by a grove of old trees; beyond were some arable fields, extending down to the river, which was seen from the windows of the house. A tolerable, though old-fashioned garden, a well-stocked dove-cot, and the possession of any quantity of grounds which the convenience of the family might require, rendered the place in every respect suitable, as the advertisements have, ‘for the accommodation of a genteel family.’
Well, we don't keep doves and there's no river to be seen. However, we around here fancy ourselves civil, if not actually genteel. We find Woodbourne in every respect suitable.

Rant Some More: Additional comments on middle-income Boston here.

Tags: , , , ,

Friday, July 21, 2006

No Comity -- We Have DOMA

Bill Clinton's biggest legislative appeasement, the Defense of Marriage Act, lives in Canton, Mass. An arbitrator ruled for a Tennessee-based company that denied a legally married nurse the right to put her female spouse on her health plan.

For some unfathomable reason, he decided that the DOMA gave him the right to let Essent Healthcare of Nashville discriminate, in violation of Massachusetts law. For the lack of comity, The Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) took the case to federal court today in Boston, seeking reversal. GLAD is joining in the suit.

Read the particulars here. Click on the complaint link to open a .DOC file of it.

Methuen registered nurse Maria Ciulla has been married since last October. She works at Merrimack Valley Hospital. She tried to enroll her spouse in the hospital's health plan, but she was denied.

She filed a grievance, citing the union contract, which forbids sexual discrimination. American Arbitration Association Law Judge Arnold M. Marrow heard the case. According to the MNA:
At the hearings, Martee J. Harris, a corporate vice president for human resources for Essent Healthcare based in Tennessee, testified that she had approached BlueCross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BC/BS), the administrator of Essent's self-insured health plan, to have them change the definition of spouse under the Merrimack Valley Hospital plan to include all legal spouses except the legal spouses of gay and lesbian employees. BC/BS had previously changed the plan's definition of spouse after the Goodridge decision to clarify that the legal spouses of all employees should be eligible for health care coverage regardless of whether they are of the same sex or different sex.
The hospital also said that because the contract did not specify same-sex spouses, it could discriminate, even if the marriage was legal here.

MNA Director of Labor Relations Roland Goff said, "Without telling us they were doing it, and with the authority of officials living and working outside of our state, Essent went out of its way to alter a right granted to our members now depriving them of equal access to health care benefits simply because the affected members are gay men and lesbians. This was a deliberate and unseemly attempt to discriminate against gay and lesbian members of the bargaining unit."

The arbitrator put new meaning to arbitrary in deciding, "I find it necessary to go outside the language of the collective bargaining agreement...to construe the Act [DOMA], as well as the potential impact of other aspects of federal law (ERISA) in order to properly decide the issue before me."

Goff states that this "violated his authority."

Tags: , , , , , ,

Government by Finger Crossing

The candidate took a general stand on an issue. Isn't that enough?

No.

Crossing your fingers in hoping for the best while you watch is not enough.

The most timely example are the two anonymous comments on Gabrieli's Secret Identity. The second one encapsulated gubernatorial candidate Chris Gabrieli's capsule positions on several issue -- "And what is he hedging on? Gay marriage? For it. Death penalty? Against it." -- and more.

Yet, in the main, that is the problem with most candidates for this office. They timidly put out a generality and when it comes down to it, they wiggle their big toes in sand and hum distracted tunes.

Gabrieli is not the only one, but because his is the immediate case, let's start by quoting Boston Globe columnist Scott Lehigh, in turn quoting the AP:
Chris Gabrieli, who noted his opposition, simply refused to take a position, either during the debate or afterward. Trying to sidestep thorny issues is becoming something of a trend with him, as Glen Johnson of the Associated Press pointed out in a recent story. Here's the problem: Too much finesse can make a candidate seem awfully fuzzy.
And from Johnson, we see:
And over a series of preprimary debates, Gabrieli has managed to straddle or avoid firm positions on a series of political issues, be it rolling back the personal income tax rate, building a wind farm off Cape Cod or allowing State Police troopers to arrest illegal immigrants.
While this blog has endorsed Deval Patrick (and been slammed for it by Reilly and Gabrieli supporters), we are not blind to his areas of mumbling as well. He just is stronger in positions and more important what to do to fix problems than any of the other candidates. We obviously prefer that.

Do Nothing Legislature

This campaign tenor is vastly important because of our weenie legislature. A true irony in Massachusetts is the past, current and hopeful Republican governors campaigning, so far successfully, on keeping the heavily Democratic General Court in check.

Instead, what we have seen from the Sal and Bobby Show is, well, damned little. We contend that what we need now and have needed for a decade is a leader under the Golden Dome, which we have had neither in either house nor in any office in the executive branch. Somebody has to show some guts and take some responsibility if we are to get out of our stagnation. The lumbering DINOs in the General Court have not.

Let's use same-sex marriage as an example. Consider:
  • Civil-rights lawsuits were likely and then pending. For years, the legislature knew it had to act or permit chaos. Legislators could have led to SSM or civil unions. They did nothing.
  • An anti-SSM law got to a Constitutional Convention. The legislature didn't vote on it, kicking the hate hornets' nest and inspiring the current amendment drive.
  • Senate President Robert Travaglini and House Speaker Sal DiMasi chose not to lead on this, hoping the Supreme Judicial Court would act. Boy, did it ever!
  • Governor Willard Romney was for civil rights, including SSM, and after it passed and he got POTUS envy, against it.
  • Attorney General Tom Reilly was against SSM, and after it passed and he got corner-office lust, for it.
  • Kerry Healey is no friend of homosexuals. She opposes SSM, favors civil unions and is willing to let the amendment stop SSM while the legislature eventually gets around to civil unions.
  • After the SJC decision, the General Court was basically ordered to enable SSM by statute to prevent further confusion and such inane attacks on rights as the current amendment drive. The legislature did nothing and let events drive it again instead of driving them.
Those who could have navigated this issue -- before the SJC ruling -- did not act. This is apparently the wild, unpredictable legislature that needs a Republican governor to check it. Hardy har.

Time for Specifics

So what we need now is not candidates generalizing. Tell us what you will do with and beyond the legislature to make government work. Use specific examples, like the current anti-SSM drive to illustrate your approach, your leadership, your principles.

For example, it was sad indeed to see that all but one of the candidates wants a plebiscite on this amendment. Our favorite, Patrick, was the only one to raise principles of rights and freedoms. He said this was one of those issues that should never go to the public for a vote.

That is a guideline. It should lead to a fine-tuning of the gone-wild ballot-initiative process as well. Yet to get there, we need leadership, at least from the governor and more likely from the legislative big shots. If Trav and Sal need permission to show some courage and to take responsibility for their stands, let us all give it to them. Don't let us muck about in the results of your inaction and indecision.

To the current question then, isn't Gabby saying he supports SSM enough? Again, no.

Like Reilly and Healey, he would encourage the current amendment process to run its destructive, divisive course. After it resolved, if necessary, they each would work to patch up the mess.

The strongest statement from Gabby is on his campaign Website and certainly not in his recent TV interview. On his site FAQ, it reads:
Q: Do you support same-sex marriage or the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts?
A: Yes, I support same-sex marriage. And no, I strongly oppose the proposed constitutional amendment. Same-sex couples deserve all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage as heterosexual couples, and I will strongly oppose any proposals that seek to limit this right.
Unfortunately, his strong opposition has a weak action plan, according to the Globe -- "Gabrieli, also a supporter of gay marriage, was pressed for his opinion, but would say only that he would work to defeat the proposed ban if elected governor."

So for Gabby and other candidates, the need is to walk it like you talk it. If you are for SSM, say it loud. Don't be afraid to say you'll lead the legislature if necessary. Don't be afraid to say we need to get off the dime and not let special-interest groups drive ballot-initiatives.

Most of all, don't tell us you favor this or that. Tell us how you will make this or that happen.

Comment on Comments: We allow anonymous posting, although not identifying yourself even by description in the comment often cheats the other readers a bit. We wouldn't mind if a politician's campaign staff commented and pointed us to position papers or news that disagreed with our views. The only comments we have rejected have been 1) commercial announcements for things like wedding services, 2) personal attacks on other commenters, and 3) obscene and grossly insulting ones.

Tags: , , , , , ,

UpTweet