Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Amendment That Won't Die...Yet

The small matters -- a primary and then a general election -- curtain that pesky anti-same-sex-marriage amendment. When this year's Constitutional Convention (ConCon) postponed consideration until November 9th, the anti-gay and anti-SSM forces pouted, stomped and howled. Yet they wait.

Meanwhile, Bay Windows has peeked under the curtain. A piece today reports on five legislators who want to defeat the amendment.

In case you're new to this odious effort, we aware:
  • anti-SSM forces got enough signatures to push a constitutional amendment barring SSM, but only going forward
  • to get on the ballot in 2007, it must get a quarter of the ConCon votes (50 legislators from either house)
  • to get on the ballot in 2007, it must get that same minimum at next year's ConCon in the identical form
BW writes that "a group of moderate lawmakers who've been only tangentially involved with the marriage equality battle are playing a much greater role in planning" for the November session. The five BW interviewed ID'ed "three areas that need to be shored up:"
  • A firm head count
  • Lobbying legislators who have not supported SSM
  • Better strategy communication by pro-SSM forces and legislators
Everyone on all sides agrees that a quarter of the General Court is a very low bar. The consensus also seems to be that this amendment would surely lose if put to a vote in a general election. It's that middle year plus of divisiveness and diversion from real issues that many would like to avoid.

To get the 151 anti-amendment votes would require "supportive legislators who have not traditionally been identified with the marriage equality movement yet who have the credibility to persuade the large swath of white, Irish- or Italian-Catholic moderate and conservative male legislators from like-minded districts, need to be enlisted in the effort to defeat the amendment." While that may sound unlikely, we need to consider the pragmatism of legislators. This is a loser amendment, one many lawmakers would like to distance themselves from, without appearing too radical.

Among the related efforts since the July ConCon, says Rep. Mike Festa, have been "advocates and allied legislators held strategy sessions and reassessed their efforts in order to put together a more cohesive plan in the run-up to Nov. 9. Part of that involves expanding the House whip system, which he led along with state Rep. Alice Wolf (D-Cambridge), to bring in players who can better reach out to moderates and conservatives."

Neither pro-SSM nor anti-SSM forces is confident. While that may show how little support the amendment really has, it would still only need 50 votes to stay on the legislative respirator for another year.

A lot of legislators would like to get beyond this whole issue and stop this amendment. Are there 151 of them?

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Washington State Mulligan

In an oh-what-the-hell move, lawyers for the same-sex couples who were quashed by the Washington State Supreme Court filed for reconsideration of the risible decision. The move has little chance of success.

In addition, the move is so rare that there is no standard for response time or form. The court could immediate publish a one-page rejection, schedule oral arguments or just sit on the matter for months. Remember that the recent decision came nearly a year and one-half after arguments.

Lambda Legal's press release with details is here.

According to the Olympian, "I absolutely want the court to reconsider. Particularly in a case where it was 4 to 5," said Jeff Kingsbury, who with partner Alan Fuller were one of the suing couples. "I think the general consensus is there is some hope that one of those on-the-fence justices might flip."

Predictably, anti-SSM side types are calling them sore losers. This must be different than when they appeal a gay-rights or marriage-equality ruling.

The Seattle Times quotes Lambda Legal's legal director, Jon W. Davidson, as saying, "Instead of explaining why our clients couldn't marry, the court told us why marriage is good for different-sex couples. Barring same-sex couples from marriage only hurts same-sex couples and their families — it doesn't help anyone."

That was pretty much the flavor of the four judges' dissents. In rushing to push the matter back to the legislature, the majority rambled on and on about many non-germane topics and avoided the key issues.

Their attempted avoidance follows similar patterns in states such as New York. The conservative catchphrase activist judge seems increasingly oxymoronic.

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New Kids on the Ballot

Green-Rainbow and Grace Ross both start with the same capitals. Coincidence or karma?

Nuff said.

The AP reports that she got enough signatures approved yesterday by the secretary of state for her slate to appear on the November ballot. Standing and smiling in the spitting rain and mist yesterday in front of the State House, she as gubernatorial candidate and Wendy Van Horne as lieutenant governor addressed their pleased sub-throng.

It was no mean feat either. The party had to produce 10,000 certified voter sigs. The secretary accepted 14,432. We suspect they did it with fewer volunteers than any major party candidate has in a single city.

Money is, as they say, tight. Since April, the GR folk have raised $5,651 (no missing zeroes). This month, their account is about $430.

The slate also includes Jill Stein as secretary of state candidate and James O'Keefe as treasurer. They decidedly want to make a point. As Ross said yesterday, "The time for change is now and we need a government by and for the people, not by and for the rich people."

The party's platform is short on how to get there, but long on where it would like government to go:
  • Abolish poverty: Create universal health care & real affordable housing
  • Decrease global warming, Increase environmental justice
  • No one is expendable: End racial discrimination
  • Support labor struggles, living wages & guaranteed income for all
  • Take back the night, Rekindle the fight for women's rights
  • Equal rights for all residents, including marriage equality
  • Bring Massachusetts troops home, Stop contributing to perpetual war
  • Stop taxing poverty, stop corporate welfare, make taxes progressive
  • Our vote is our voice. Voting rights for all people not monied interests
  • Free education centered on each one's greatest potential
It's hard to argue with any of that. Hey, they even include marriage equality.

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Walking With One Foot in the Grave


While no surprise, a recent Globe column reinforced pedestrians' fantasy that they always have right of way -- jaywalking, in a crosswalk or otherwise. They don't, not in reality and not in law.

The piece in the series by Peter Demarco was in the 8/6/6 Globe under the head Punishable by a fine of $1. Unfortunately, it requires payment or subscription to see now.

The worst misstatement in it is, "The bad news for drivers, of course, is that pedestrians maintain the right of way even when they walk against the light or dash anywhere across an open road."

Honk. Wrong.

We see the attitude often, particularly in cities here. Pedestrians amble against the lights, between crosswalks, in the road with their backs to traffic (often wearing their suicidal Ninja style dark clothes), between parked cars, and at signs forbidding crossing.

These same bozos are wont to say with great conviction that they have the right of way. Yet, if you surveyed rural, suburban, urban and state cops, you'd probably find similar misconceptions and numerous contradictory absolutes.

That is kind of understandable. The laws cut pretty thinly. In addition, we differ from many states in providing some absolute rights of way to pedestrians. In many places, drivers are supposed to watch for pedestrians, but the walkers do not have the right of way. Legally -- both criminally and civilly -- that is a very important distinction.

Here, the general laws of Massachusetts cover pedestrians in numerous sections. While not contradictory, there are important differences and nuances. Key among them:
  • Real right of way (Chapter 89, Section 11). Pedestrians (at least in law) rule in marked crosswalks without an active traffic control signal. Even here, Demarco fails to note the many exceptions. They aren't covered if they are crossing against the signal, nor if they are not within 10 feet (a narrow lane width) of the oncoming vehicles when they start to sprint into the roadway. For prosecution, insurance and civil action, a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk with no crossing light or a marked crosswalk with a light showing WALK is gold. Of course, if the driver disobeys, the pedestrian is still crumbled or dead, but hey, the walker had the right of way.
  • Kind-of right of way (Chapter 90, Section 14 and Section 14a). Far tricker is jaywalking. Pedestrian dreaming aside, this is why drivers who mow down jaywalkers seldom get a citation. The laws require that drivers slow down and if necessary, stop, when they see the pedestrian walking on a road or where there is no crosswalk. So, here not only does the pedestrian not have a right of way, but it is left to the drivers' good graces that 1) they see the scofflaws, and 2) they yield. Criminally and civilly, those are huge. Prosecutions and suits are not won on such grounds. The exception is for blind pedestrians with a marked cane. That's kind of a portable crosswalk. They have right of way.
I must be paranoid and well as a stickler on such distinctions. I taught my kids to use the crosswalk and not to trust the drivers to know and obey the laws.

What is that cliché about being right, dead right? Reinforcing the idea to pedestrians that they always have the right of way might suggest a variation on the New Hampshire motto, as in Walk Free and Die Young.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fear Mongering in Alberta

Out in the conservative farm country of Alberta, a bold, frontal assault on same-sex marriage roars with the tone we hear down here. The worst of the anti-gay forces bwak their Chicken Little squawks.

As some U.S. fundies have, they claim that laws protecting homosexuals and allowing SSM:
  1. Will lead to prosecution for hate crimes for speaking religious beliefs
  2. Will force ministers and others to solemnize gay marriages against their convictions
In the provincial legislature, Tory MP Ted Morton offered Bill 208. It forbids punishment for anyone who refuses to perform SSM solemnization, or who criticizes homosexuals or SSM.

There and here, anti-gay folklore gets shrill. It mingles civil law and religious ritual. Morton and others would have us believe that requiring paid public officials to do their duty, including officiating at same-sex marriages, is the same as requiring Catholics and others opposed to SSM to do the same.

Morton's attitude is very instructive. As he puts it:
Critics of 208 should take a reality pill. Same-sex marriage is not a basic human right...(It) does not appear in any recognized human rights document. It's not in the Charter of Rights. It's not in the Canadian Bill of Rights. It's not in the European Convention of Rights, It's not in the American Bill of Rights. It's a social experiment, and I personally think it's a dangerous social experiment.
It is not so noteworthy that he opposes SSM and denies the legal reality that in his country gays are a protected class. It is worth saying that he wants to undermine the law of the land by his bill. As gay activist Julie Lloyd said at a recent press conference on the issues, "This bill would make it open season on gay and lesbian Albertans."

An article in the Edmonton Sun notes too that the Tory supporters of 208 are those angling for leadership spots in the party. They seem to care less for the bill and more for how they appear in supporting it. One, leadership candidate Lyle Oberg, tried, "I'm in favour of his bill, because no one should have the ability to make anyone do anything against their will."

One wonders whether he favors too letting mounties or judges enforce and rule on only laws they support.

All sides expect 208 to die in the process and got get enough readings to get to a vote. Egale Canada spokesman Stephen Lock calls it "a cynical piece of legislation -- regressive, reactionary and pandering to a very right-wing conservative element." The intention to let civil servants refuse to marry gay couples particularly irks him.

As a political ploy, it is in line with those in Massachusetts who say that religious freedom is at stake. Equine excrement!

On both sides of our shared border, clerics can be as discriminatory as they want when they interpret their doctrines and duty. However, those who are paid to perform marriages by the government have to do their jobs.

Afternoon Update: Sure enough, as reported by 570News, Morton's bill did not get a vote. The Liberals asked so many questions, there was no time. Morton made it personal, calling it "tyranny of the assembly against private members." Even though Tories lead the government, he said, "The Liberals were not only irresponsible in blocking debate today, they were stupid too." Nah nah nah nah.

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Beantown Bad Biking

Off Topic Warning: City cycling follows.

The parade of provincial, moronic xenophobes forms to the left, if they know left from right. Their letters to the Boston Globe blasting today's op-ed politely, gently ripping Boston for its hostility to cyclists will be hyperbolic and vitriolic. The topics are likely how dare a West Coast snot tell us about OUR CITY, and keep those damned kids on bikes off my road!

For a pre-taste, check Bicyclists: Scourge of the roads.

Yet Stephen Madden grew up in Dot and was a bike messenger here before moving out there and becoming the head editor at Bicycling Magazine. We here who love vetting should instead recognize him as an expert and give an eye and an ear.

Earlier this year, his staff and readers ranked Boston low as cycling city, yet again.

Our compact central fist and spreading arm of a city should be ideal for biking. We have broad avenues radiating from the center too.

Instead, as Madden notes, we have virtually no bike lanes and a pathetic, tiny set of bike paths. As we, not he, note, those are poorly constructed and maintained. They actually are used almost entirely by pedestrians, leaving cyclists to take the narrow streets beside them or slowly navigate around insensate strollers who are too dumb to see the cycle v. walker path cartoons, or choose to ignore them. The state owns and is supposed to police these paths.

While there is a nominal $50 for cyclists riding sidewalks in business districts, there is no corresponding penalty for blocking a bike path. The DCR's attitude has been that cyclists are totally responsible for the welfare of the most inane bike path pedestrian. In effect, it has turned the idea of a bike path to encourage safe biking on its head. The state instead forces cyclists onto arteries without either bike lanes or bike paths, further frustrating motorists and prompting cyclists to get back in their cars.

Madden instead concentrates on contrasting bike friendly cities with Boston. Even Cambridge has bike lanes on major roads, which are cheap, easy to maintain and encourage cycling instead of driving.

A mini-rant must include that bike lane enforcement is increasingly slack. Cabs and UPS trucks use them routinely as parking lots. This pushes cyclists into traffic, panicking drama queen drivers, who would rather swerve out into oncoming traffic than slow as required by law, safety, courtesy and common sense.

After a two-day, 75-mile personal survey, Madden suggests:
  • An "aggressive program of road resurfacing...You shouldn't need a shock absorber-equipped mountain bike to ride in the city."
  • Doing something about pedestrians, whom he found much more aggressive and dangerous than drivers. "Common sense dictates you don't talk in front of a moving vehicle, regardless of how many wheels it has."
  • Complement bike paths with bike lanes. The "more miles of bike lanes a city has, the more often people ride their bikes." Lanes cost under $6,000 per mile.
He didn't wave the flags of government either. We have a mayor who is overtly hostile to cycling. He killed the commission to advance it and canned the part-time employee. Da Mare is a real donkey on this subject.

We whine and scream about crowded streets, pollution and delays. One solution is here, it's cheap, it's well documented. Encouraging cycling requires a little vision, a little leadership and a little courage.

Having a mayor who biked to work would be great. It's not going to happen here with this one. Short of that, having one who puts aside his anti-bike sentiments for the good for the citizens seems reasonable. It looks like a job for the City Council.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Some Call Him...Tim?

Arthur: What manner of man are you that you can summon up fire without flint or tinder?
Tim: I... am an enchanter.
Arthur: By what name are you known?
Tim: There are some who call me... 'Tim'?


The Tim with the tie (and no ram horns) is still our choice for lieutenant governor. We first endorsed Tim Murray at the end of May and stand with him.

A blog and MSM meme is clearly to view that spot as only a chair-warmer. It's true that the looey is officially an understudy in case the governor drowns in a hot tub or runs off to a distant land, like Utah. Yet, we have taken Deval Patrick at his word that in his administration, the lieutenant governor would be an active partner and do much more than, say, Kerry Healey. The past few looeys have done little more than act as messengers, runners who don't commit the big guy to anything. They can warm a chair at a distant location as well as on Beacon Street. Whoop-de-ding.

Other political fetishists and wonks have likely joined in watching, listening to or reading debate and other coverage of the second spot hopefuls. Some may recall the live blogging a table full of us BlogLeft types did at their first debate, in Lowell in May.

The coverage of this race has proceeded since at the same thawing, dripping speed. The presumptive solo Republican candidate, Reed Hillman went from handling Wonder Bread to managing other state troopers. From the looks of Kerry Healey's site (he's a lamprey clinging to the big fish), he has a short history as a legislator who was tough on crime. Did we say yet that he was tough on crime?

The Democrats in contrast have an embarrassment of, well, if not riches, at least plausibilities:
We strongly favor Tim. Andrea seems to be the media darling though, even to the point of being called cute repeatedly, as though that was a reason to elect someone, as least after middle school or as head cheerleader. Both women have good personal records of helping people financially and otherwise. [To keep up the incestuous cross-linking, we add one to Ryan's Take on his support for Andrea.]

Yet, we favor Tim (again, the one without the horns). It is honestly enough that he is far and away the candidate who addresses urban and close suburban issues. While the other two speak in general terms of economic health and education for the commonwealth, this is the guy who has both short-term and longer plans to address underlying problems of the vast majority of the commonwealth.

These include (follow the links there to see the details):
  • A Municipal Bill of Rights based on returning more local aid to towns and cities who have been drained by state taxes.
  • A public-education plan, which also restores school budget cuts and series of initiatives through college level.
  • A very detailed commuter and freight rail program to make the most of economic development (this will get a separate post).
  • Modeling on the Worcester rehab that he has been planning and leading for other cities of various sizes.
Our gubernatorial and looey candidates have long feared appearing to favor cities. Showing anything like interest proportionate to the urban and close suburban taxes and population is a sizzling stone. The exurban and rural voters are too quick to scream about favoritism while the urban areas founder and flail.

By the bye, Tim is as personable as Andrea. You can decide whether you think he is cute. However, he does get along well with legislators and his municipal peers. He is much more sincere and believable than either that Hillman character or Kerry Healey.

Click over to Bay Windows for a recent personal profile as well. It concentrates on his work with the Worcester GBLT communities and on his attitude toward the current anti-same-sex-marriage initiative. "...we don't need a divisive battle that's going to ultimately -- the goal is to take away rights that have already been given."

More to the election, he is not afraid of saying the cities and town need help and offering specific programs to get it to them. As the commonwealth's primary contact point with these areas, he would be the one we'd trust most to understand the issues. His lengthy set of endorsements from local politicians, particularly mayors, suggests they would welcome him in the second spot.

Some have written that because Worcester has a city manager, the mayor there is just the favorite city councilor. You don't have to look very deeply into his record to see that this totally under-credits him. Worcester is following his program and plans, and thriving after a long, sad period.

Up on the Hill, he also has rapport with many key legislators and has dealt with them for years. He gives them reasonable choices that favor his constituency and tends to get what he needs, even if it takes repeated trips.

Of the three, he looks like the one who can get the job done best and the one who could do a lot more than be a governor's errand boy.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Bloc Quebecois, "Non"

Up in Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper surely didn't care to hear the news from Montreal that the Bloc Quebeois will vote against revisiting same-sex marriage legalization. Members met in caucus and emerged with an agreement to vote as a group, according to CNEWS.

Despite his campaign rhetoric, Harper seems to be hearing this message repeatedly. "It is simply believed that the debate has taken place and it is not relevant to start it again," said Bloc MP Real Menard.

It seems as though this quixotic quest has lost any hint of heroism Harper likes to give it.

The Liberal caucus has not discussed this issue at its current caucus, although their MPs' previous votes were strongly pro-SSM. In addition, the New Democratic Party "made support of same-sex marriage a party position and as a result its 29 MPs will vote against any motion to reopen the debate."

The minority Tories were not likely to win a free vote before and much less so as time passes.

Menard is pretty plain about what the thinks is going on and what it will do to Conservatives:
I think it is necessary to make the public understand the government is homophobic. When, since 1993, you vote each time you can against gay rights, I think it should be concluded that they (the Conservatives) are homophobic. If the Bloc had voted nine times against women, natives or any other specific groups in the country, I think the necessary conclusions would have been drawn.

"Menard predicted any homophobia on the Conservatives part will hurt them in Quebec where gay rights are generally supported," the article reported.


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Snorting at the Mad Dad

The Mad Dad's recreational bitterness got its expected challenge from the Lexington Schools. The Lexington Minuteman covers the request to dismiss the case by two couples claiming that the school system violated their civil rights by indoctrinating their children.

You may recall the risible, nay plain dumb, case. We have surely given it far more electrons than it deserves. However, it continues to illustrate how some extreme right-wingers want to control public education for their political and religious ends.
  • Read about the lawsuit here.
  • Read about the horror, the horror of not being able to dictate curriculum and classroom discussion here.
  • Weep at the transgressions detailed in the lawsuit.
  • Nod off over the short (3-page PDF) but legalese-laden motion to dismiss.
Through law firm Anderson & Krieger, the schools asked the federal court to dismiss the case before trial as being without merit. As the article describes the motion:
The town motion, which was filed last Tuesday, stated staff at the Estabrook school did "not unreasonably interfere with or place an unlawful burden on the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights" further adding the "legitimate governmental interest in providing an appropriate public education to all school-age children ... outweighs plaintiffs’ rights to tailor the public school curriculum to suit their personal morals or beliefs."
The original suit against the Lexington Public Schools alleged the schools practiced "indoctrination techniques" which violated the families’ rights to exercise free religion, violated their civil rights by using "threats, intimidation and coercion," violated the Massachusetts "opt-out" statute which allows parents to remove their children from discussions about human sexuality and the town "conspired to deprive the plaintiffs of their due process rights."
The motion is to dismiss all four counts. Kevin Bott, assistant town counsel, said, "No court has ever said parents have the right to tell the public schools what should be in the curriculum." State and local boards have always managed that, not individual control freaks, we add.

The motion to dismiss cites a series of related cases for precedence, asking for dismissal on each allegation. In addition, it cites three cases that it claims provide the individual defendants in the administration and board with immunity against civil rights claims.

Also, the opt-out law (Massachusetts Chapter 71, Section 32A) that the anti-same-sex marriage forces love to cite "does not create a private right of action enforceable by the plaintiffs."

In brief, the motion to dismiss says the allegations offer no basis for relief. If the judge agrees, the Mad Dad and his dear companions may be left to pout and rant in their living rooms. Lackaday.

If you have been out of the cycle and want to see the full background, check out the 57-page PDF file of the material that supports the motion for dismissal. We can thank the Parker supporters at Article 8/Massresistance for posting the whole thingummy.

The four parents have representation from Denner O'Malley, a firm that has a mouth-dropping set of client types in its regular practice. Neil Tassel form the firm expects to file his response early next month. Afterward, the judge can decide to dismiss or schedule a trial.

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One Eye on Boston Cops

Amazing. Really.

Mayor Tom Menino will give us a half-empowered civilian review system for monitoring Boston police. That is a huge first step.

The Globe scooped this, as in the above link.

Key points include:
  • a part-time, professional, three-person ombudsman system will review civilian complaints
  • they can request BPD's Internal Affairs to revisit cases
  • they can't subpoena anyone and can't force the police to overturn decisions
  • they report to the mayor annually
For any Boston mayor to stand up to cops this much is a big deal, and again, a start. "Is it all we want?," asked Darnell Williams, Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts president and CEO. "Probably not. Is it moving the the direction? Yes."

Previously, we joined City Councilor Felix Arroyo in calling for a fully empowered board as many cities have.

Amusingly enough, Internal Affairs has recently been firmer on complaints. They pointed out, allegedly as proof they did not need such a board, that they went from supporting 8% of civilian complaints in 2001 to 34% last year. Of course another way of viewing that is 1) they weren't doing their job before and 2) they only responded, and perhaps temporarily, to considerable public and governmental pressure, to maintain their power.

So, we might well wonder what we would and would not get from the new Civilian Review and Mediation Board. Consider:
  • It will get the case files for serious allegations (like drug use by cops) that Internal Affairs dismisses
  • It can do the same if a citizen appeals an Internal Affairs decision
  • It can tell the investigators to reinterview witnesses an reevaluate
  • It can ask the police commissioner to intervene
  • It can offer officers mediation to resolve a compliant, which would not put an Internal Affairs investigation into their files
  • Civilian complaint forms will be available on a city Website to ease the process and increase the likelihood of filings
This watchdog is, yes, toothless, but it could gum bad cops pretty severely. Of course, that will depend on whom Menino appoints, on what he does with any report, on whether the police see the advantage in punishing their bad members to save the force, and whether a new commissioner takes this process seriously.

The criminal-justice scholar who created the report calling for such a board (but one with subpoena powers) had mixed praise. "Most important, from our perspective, is that there is a review of the process after a certain period of time, so that if there needs to be more community involvement and more investigative powers for these folks, that can be addressed," said Northeastern University's Jack McDevitt.

The extremely powerful patrolmen's and detective unions here must have flexed the mayor's way. They have to be happy that the new board will be in the position of requesting cooperation and investigation, and not being able to call its own witnesses.

This level of oversight will certainly not inspire ordinary folk -- particularly in poor neighborhoods -- to trust and support police. That will only come if this board's existence changes behavior and begins getting tangible results.

We'll give Da Mare a solid B on this course.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

CYA in SoWa

Oh, my. Regulars here know of my fondness for Bay Windows -- coverage you won't find in the Globe, at least until they've read that issue of BW. However, today's BW, my buddies are over the top in defending themselves in the Over-the-top defense section at the bottom of their editorial.

(Hmm. This could be recursive. If Susan attacks various bloggers attacks of her attack of their attack on her reporter's attack on...)

Anyway, in case it comes up over a drink, the basics are that BW ran a piece slamming gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick through GLBT activists who support other candidates. Hey, it's the political season. Those folk are pushing their guy by alleging that Deval folded on a key issue of supporting San Francisco same-sex couples wanting domestic-partner benefits for UAL employees per a city ordinance.

Blue Mass Group, Left in Lowell, Ryan's Take, this blog and others (Deval supporters, don't ya know?) cried foul. Fact is, you could look at the UAL board issue several ways. He supported pushing back on the ordinance, allegedly to keep the company from being captive to various local regulations. UAL eventually lost that suit in federal court.

Meanwhile, Deval claims that he pushed the board to do what it voted that year (1999), to set a companywide policy of domestic-partner benefits. This is where the BW editorial gets funky.

She claims that the strongly anti-Deval tone was fair inquiry in an election. She adds:
But the defense of Patrick offered by a number of letter writers to Bay Windows this week, who claim in feverishly hyperbolic terms that Patrick lead the effort at United to install a company-wide domestic partner policy is silly. Neither the Patrick campaign, nor the candidate himself, in a voice mail message left last week for Bay Windows reporter Laura Kiritsy, claimed that Patrick had done any such thing. If he had, don’t you think we would have heard about it long before now?
I think we can hold the drama (feverishly hyperbolic? silly?). Someone there needs to put out four bits for a Globe or log onto boston.com. There in an August 18th piece, we see what Blue Mass Group quoted:
"My view was it was right to do domestic partner benefits," Patrick said. "I advocated for -- successfully -- that we provide these benefits companywide. . . . The good thing about this whole controversy is it also raised a serious policy question. And on the policy question the board got it right, and I'm proud about that.
So, while we have no way of knowing what Ms. Kiritsy asked or heard, but we do know Deval's position. It is surprising that the BW editor doesn't.

Yes, politics can be nasty. Yes, asking hard questions is part of campaign reporting. Those said, it looks like BW could do without the CYA in SoWa. If you have a reporter who doesn't like a candidate, give her space in editorials to say so and why. If you have an editorial claiming to speak for the candidate on what he did or did not do, let a little fact checking enter into it. It's fair to us loyal readers.

From here, you either believe that Deval did the right thing pushing for policy or that he chickened out when he had a chance to fight the good fight the first time. Actually, you can conclude both if you spread out all the facts and opinions. Just don't pretend that he is hiding from this or that he doesn't hold that he pushed for and got the policy.

BW Oddment: Strangely enough, the same issue includes another bottom-of-the-column angle on this. Deval supporters, such as ex-State Senator Cheryl Jacques, defend is UAL role and point to the companywide policy.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Death in the Shadows

A few days ago when I was speaking with the well respected Boston cop who lives a few doors away, he said in passing that the Department would use all the good press it could get. Looking at city officers who apparently were drug couriers and dealers, he's right, of course.

Secrecy don't help though. Nor does the lickspittle attitude of the Boston Globe.

In a city increasingly discomforted and fearful from climbing murder rates, we should be rallying around the men and women who put themselves between violent criminals and us. As one manifestation, today's Globe carries a report of a lawsuit demanding full staffing to 2,500 officers per a 1979 City Council ordinance.

Yet this is just the time for transparency, honor, honesty and building public trust. The old way was to whistle and look skyward as bodies disappeared. It's our version of don't ask, don't tell. That has been true of both the BPD and the Globe.

Let's take a couple of instances recently. One was last week when an off-duty officer plowed into a stalled car on 93 early in the morning, killing the occupant. Another was a few weeks ago and only secondarily the BPD and primarily the MBTA police when a man died on the Orange Line tracks.

In both cases, the Globe seems to rely entirely on handouts or press commentary from the police departments. It didn't follow up or do original reporting beyond these.

In the first example, as reported in the Globe Officer Thomas M. Griffin, 27, will not be charged for killing Michelle L. Vibert, 29.

Of course, imagine if a private citizen had been tooling up I-93 pre-dawn and did the same. The likely consequences would have been:
  • Testing for alcohol or other drugs
  • Charges for reckless driving or worse
  • Tear-producing coverage of the victim
  • Details on the actual wreck and related conditions
  • Follow up articles
Instead, we have:
  • Boston's Acting Police Commissioner Albert E. Goslin calling this simply "a tragic accident"
  • State Police not explaining why the victim's car was in a travel lane or whether it's lights or blinkers were on
  • State Police deciding not to file any charges
  • No mention of any effort to test the officer
  • The Globe not asking any meaningful questions for doing any follow-up coverage on what for all the world looks like a buddy cover-up
Dan Kennedy's Media Nation got a related comment on this wreck:
island_earth said...

When I saw your subject "In the breakdown lane," I thought you were going to address yesterday's horrendous Globe article Off-Duty Officer at Wheel in Crash somehow. The entire article describes how an off-duty police officer hit a woman's car that was parked in the breakdown lane, killing the woman, and he won't be charged. Heaven forbid the reporter would ask *why* he won't be charged, leaving it to the reader to assume it's because he's an off-duty police officer. Which may well be the reason, but you'd think the reporter would try to get someone on the record about that one...
Indeed, it is more understandable that police would like such incidents to disappear without examination than for the major local daily to do so. If the reporters have no guts or gumption, don't they have any good editors over on Morrissey Boulevard?

Likewise for the Orange Line death. We know only the barest details and neither the MBTA nor the Globe seems to have any inclination to flick on the light.

Some guy was on the tracks near Green Street. He died either from getting hit by a train or hitting the third rail. The Globe ran the press release and the short one later giving an unlikely name for the victim. ...nothing else.

By the bye, the Herald hasn't done squat with either story. They are badly understaffed and never ran with either. So their faults are less. Their days of excellent crime and death coverage are long behind them anyway.

A local daily should be all over these. Do we have a police cover-up? Is the Orange Line death an anomaly or does it point out station/track safety concerns? What of the human interest aspects of both victims? Will the Globe only follow up on the I-93 wreck if a wrongful-death suit comes to courts? (At least then they could get a press release to run and avoid any actual reporting.)

I am out of J-school and am appalled by the Globe unprofessional behavior on these and other such stories. Again and again, I read them and wonder why they didn't ask the obvious questions. Isn't there a single metro reporter who understands what makes a good story and what readers expect to learn from one?

From both cases, neither city, transit nor state police help their causes by ignoring these cases. Most certainly the Globe has failed again and again. Let's see them put the news in newspaper!

I have sent email to our daily asking for coverage of the Orange Line death. They did not reply and I don't expect them to. Of course, if a dozen or so folk asked why they are running press releases instead of telling us what is happening in these and similar cases...

If the editors are pulling the cover back up over their heads, perhaps the ombudsman might be awake.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Divorce the Church!

Even in laid-back Seattle, Post-Intelligencer columnist Susan Paynter may have pushed it a bit far. Her A new pulpit view of the marriage issue centers on ministers who would rather tend to souls -- and get out of the marriage business.

As in Massachusetts, Washington State is clear that marriage is a civil contract. Not by the grace of God, but rather by the indulgence of the government, priests and other clerics can sign marriage licenses. However, not only is a religious veneer unnecessary, the right not the ritual is what matters.

That is particular plain if the state later dissolves the marriage. While Roman Catholics can go through their church's annulment process, that in no way breaks their civil contract. They have to go to the state for that.

One more time, civil contracts and religious rituals are separate.

You'd figure that would be plain to local lawyers, but there is at least one in Olympia who is confused or forgetful. The otherwise gay-rights-supportive Gov. Christine Gregoire would sign a same-sex-marriage law, even though she personally seems to prefer civil unions. She is a bit befuddled about marriage law in her state.

Following the recent court loss there for SSM, she made a very odd statement:
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.
Many people are emotional about their own marriage when they had a church wedding. What's odd is not that they would confuse the civil and church. However, Gregoire is an attorney and former prosecutor, who is supposed to know the law. The sacrament may well involve a stroll up the nave and some nifty rituals. However, she ought to know that Washington State is the marriage authority for her and Mike.

Likewise, we are seeing more of such confusion. One example was recently in Slate. "The Explainer" writes again to remind folk that the romantic, Hunchback of Notre Dame idea of a church as sanctuary for criminals does not apply, not in this country, not now. While many police forces avoid going into churches to arrest felons, they have the legal right.

More troubling and related to SSM, Canadian churches are pulling some of the same tricks as some here and elsewhere in the United States. By pushing and exceeding laws restricting partisan political activity, they not only imperil their tax exemptions, they also put their governments in a position of stopping winking at their efforts entirely.

A piece in The Globe and Mail, notes that a federal advisory group "has urged the Canada Revenue Agency to either close the loophole or accept that charities can now freely engage in partisan politics — such as campaigning to defeat sitting MPs who support same-sex marriage."

One such right-wing Christian coalition has announced that in the fall elections it has targeted three MPs who favor SSM. The group wrote to the Minister of National Revenue, "In the committee's view, much of this activity appears to cross the line from what is considered permissible political activity . . . to the type of activity the sector has always understood to be prohibited...If the current prohibition on ‘partisan political activities' does not apply to elected members, but only to candidates, the committee is of the view that amendments to the Income Tax Act be considered to rectify this anomaly."

North and South, some church politicians want it all ways. Leave us alone, we are spiritual, but by the way, we'll breach the church/state wall at will.

On the rational and legal side, Lois Hollstedt, who chaired the charities group said, "This was an issue that we all had one perspective on, which was that partisan political activities are not acceptable under any conditions...Charities need to be given a clear message."

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Slamming Deval Slammers

Basta! The Boston Banner editorial writers are tired of the disproportionate attacks on gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick. The lead opinion in the August 17th issue is pretty strong for such a softly worded newspaper.

Note on Banner Links: This link is to the current issue. After a week, if I forget to update, you can find it in the Banner archives for the August 17th issue.

Accidental Blog Swarm: Nobody orchestrated it, but a scrum of bloggers similarly noticed the repeated media muggings. At Ryan's Take, the question is Does the Boston Globe Just Hate Deval Patrick? At Left in Lowell, it's Let's Stop Distorting the Record. At Blue Mass Group, David notes that the Globe went out of its way to twist the UAL background. Even we asked what was up from the UAL coverage. There are others responding to this obvious mob.

The Banner has a predominately Black readership, but does not say this is purely racially movitated. On the other hand, the editorial notes that Patrick came from the projects and did well, damned well. It concludes:
The real reason for these attacks is that Patrick has run an excellent campaign and is well positioned to win. The nature of these attacks shows that the attackers are not at all sensitive to the rigors of life in this country for an African American.
The editorial list the major attacks and comments on each. The criticisms of him as owning two fancy houses, belonging to a male-only Harvard final club in 1965, and having been on three large corporation boards "show profound ignorance of the black perspective," writes the Banner. Specifically:
  • It "is not uncommon for affluent blacks to build large vacation homes so that they can accommodate siblings and other relatives who cannot afford their own."
  • "Secondly, racial discrimination was a significant problem at Harvard several decades ago, when blacks were not even permitted to live in the dorms. Patrick was duty bound to advance racial integration by accepting an invitation to join a final club. Similarly, Patrick was expected by blacks to take advantage of opportunities in corporate America to bring reform and pave the way for others."
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts and mind of some TV and newspaper reporters? Deval is Black, he's not a native New Englander, he is a political outsider, he offers (threatens?) real change...

We may not be able to understand the motivation of attacks, but many of us from a variety of starting points have noticed that Patrick is the one of the bottom of the heap, getting the knees and elbows.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Deval Leapfrogging the Crime Fighters?

If you agree with the moderate Black-oriented weekly, gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick got it just right on urban crime. The issue is huge and growing, the vast majority of Massachusetts voters live in urban or close suburban areas where it matters -- a lot, and other candidates have not been able to run with this.

The obvious irony is that both Dem candidate Tom Reilly and GOP goer Kerry Healey figure this is their thing. Reilly as a former DA and current AG plays Dick Tracy on TV commercials. Healey has a related degree and read a lot about such matters; so there.

As one testimony of Patrick's prowess here, the Boston Banner cites the endorsement by Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral. She has mega respect in Boston's Black community, smacked down the politically connected White guy for the spot, and has real credentials in urban crime fighting.

Note on Banner Links: These links are to the current issue. After a week, if I forget to update them, you can find them in the Banner archives for the August 17th issue.

Speaking of Patrick's public-safety platform, she said, "Patrick’s plan is very solid and has common sense. There is nothing high in the sky about it. It’s practical and it doesn’t reinvent the wheel unnecessarily."

Okay, she's a sheriff, not an orator.

Like his other programs, Patrick includes specifics, including:
  • 1,000 new officers
  • local and broader partnerships between community leaders and cop
  • more community policing
  • more youth initiatives
  • commonwealth-wide anti-crime council
  • limiting handgun purchases
  • prison reform
  • protection for gang-violence witnesses
  • zero tolerance on sexual and domestic abuse
That may have been partially reactive to Reilly's stance too. His asthenic platform is strongest in public safety.

On the other side, Patrick has our number with the progressive approach to major social problems -- identify and target the underlying causes, not just the symptoms. As he puts it:
The best and cheapest form of public protection is prevention. The best way to prevent street and violent crime of any kind is to ensure that everyone has a job and economic opportunity and a stake in our society and communities.
Cabral likely speaks for more than herself when she said that Patrick "has an incredible background and he knows what he’s talking about. His open and inclusive style is inviting, not dictatorial. He will have no problem standing up before the legislature on issues that need to be challenged with an eye towards good collaboration."

She notes that much of the public is disengaged from law enforcement, while "starving for credible leadership." That may be self-fulfilling on this issue at least. She is helping provide credibility for him on crime.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Gay Friendlier Than Thou?

On the positive side, whether Deval Patrick or Chris Gabrieli is Democratic Party nominee for governor, the GLBT public wins. Both candidates are unequivocally for gay rights, same-sex marriage and other key issues.

The downside leading to the primary next month is the sniping in the GLBT community. It is certain to divide loyalties and split votes for the primary.

The latest weapon is Patrick's service on the board of United Airlines' parent company, UAL, Inc. Bay Windows fired first with a strong piece favoring those who support other candidates accusing Patrick of looking the other way on a key gay issue. Today's Boston Globe follow-up on that adds a little detail.

The basics are:
  • As a board member, Patrick joined in 1997, while UAL fought a City of San Francisco demand that it offer domestic-partner benefits, which would have benefited gay couples.
  • When it came to the board for action in 1999, Patrick agreed that financially troubled UAL should fight the demand to keep from having individual cities dictate personal policy in each.
  • UAL lost this issue in federal court.
  • Patrick led the effort to have UAL offer company-wide domestic-partner benefits in 1999, which it did.
Disclaimer: I endorsed Deval Patrick for governor nearly three months ago.

Cred Note: Corporate management is part of my background. This includes a management degree, being the editor of a large handbook for corporate directors, years of writing about management and business for magazines, and service on non-profit (but not large corporation) boards.

Understandably, Patrick supporters and others can say he was in the trenches fighting the fight. There was a short-term loss and long-term gain. The other candidates talk much and do little.

The other side is ready to worry this like a puppy with a sock. Grrrrr.

Reilly supporter, Rep. Cheryl Coakley Rivera said, "He is hiding behind the law to discriminate." She is a lesbian, a Democrat and from Reilly's hometown of Springfield.

Out West, Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California, said, "People who feel passionately about things will resign from boards they disagree with." He was one of the authors of the San Francisco ordinance that UAL fought.

"I don't think Patrick can have it both ways, which is to tout his position on civil rights as a board member and duck this issue," stated Gabrieli support and gay-rights activist Mary Breslauer.

Besides the actual results he got, Patrick has been forced to speak out on this. From our view, this is good. He has not defended himself vigorously enough so far in this campaign. We don't believe that Massachusetts voters will distinguish between real criticisms and slander and rumor by themselves.

Patrick claimed that the UAL board had a "rigorous debate" about the ordinance and that he urged the company to change its view. He says that he "advocated for -- successfully -- that we provide these benefits companywide...The good thing about this whole controversy is it raised a serious policy question. And on the policy question the board got it right, and I'm proud about that."

So, we have to ask at what point do you put your marbles in the sack and go home? Voters have to judge for themselves whether it would have been better for Patrick to walk away from UAL over the ordinance fight or stick around and go for the infrastructure change.

Of course, because he won in the end, Patrick can say he did the right thing. Clearly there are people like Kors who can't forgive him for how he got there.

Oddly enough, the other two Dem candidates have had their shots at such battles. Reilly has largely pulled the Nuremberg (only following orders) defense on his inaction or malice on SSM cases and ballot initiatives. Gabrieli on the other hand has opened his checkbook for rights and SSM causes. Even though some legislators downplay his role, he did actively lobby in favor of SSM. He has some credentials and as a result standing in the GLBT political community.

In the next few weeks, this latest spat may be just more spit and spite. Patrick lovers say he was in the belly of the beast, fought the good fight and emerged with a gay-rights victory. His haters (or just lovers of another candidate) say he was hypocritical on rights.

Patrick folk can borrow Gabrieli's slogan, rights matter. If that's so, they should walk away quietly from this one. There are those who say and those who do.

Recommended Reading: After this post, I saw that Ryan's Take has a lengthy analysis of the Globe's hacking at Patrick, peppered with some of Ryan's best ranting. Good stuff.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Canadian Religious Politics Play

Canada has more nasty clerics than Bishop Fred Henry. The president of Canada Christian College, Dr. Charles McVety (glad handing left), is also playing the Get-Them-Damned-Liberals game on same-sex marriage now.

With Prime Minister Stephen Harper dragging the corpse of SSM opposition around for another vote -- campaign promise, don't ya know, McVety told the press plus anyone else who'd listen that he'll do his best to see that any pro-SSM MPs lose their seats.

The current focus is Conservative MP Garth Turner. He wants to move on. Like many other Tories, he knows this is a loser and wants to disassociate himself. Like we, they have many pressing legislative issues.

For the next election, McVety seems to like Progressive Conservative D'arcy Keene, who lost the last go to Turner. "Keene said Turner's refusal to toe the party line on some issues and his support for gay marriage have turned people against him," according to a CP report.

Ironically, Harper is calling for a free vote -- no party orders, just conscience. So, Keene's point seems purely self-serving.

Turner has been as nasty as McVety on the subject. He has called anti-SSM folk "single-issue monochromatic militants" and said of religious politics that they smacked of "Taliban" and "flowers of evil." McVety said Turner's comments were "conspiracy theory."

McVety thinks the political process for MP ridings is too short for him to work his unseating magic. However, he told the Ottawa Citizen that his much larger coalition, Defend Marriage, was targeting Turner and two other Tory MPs -- British Columbia's James Moore and Nova Scotia's Gerald Keddy. While Turner was not an MP during the previous SSM vote, both other members voted for it.

On the other hand, the Citizen quotes Keene as wavering on whether he'll run against Turner.

If you are hungry for crumbs on the battle, check Turner's daily blog here.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Pine Needle WiFi

There we are, headed for a Cape Cod upper fist campground. Adventure Bound notes that it offers primitive campsites for tents as well as absurdly suburban lots replete with water, electricity, and yes, cable TV plugs.

We went for the pseudo-woodsy version. Yet, the Website lists among its facilities Wi-Fi service – hot spots throughout the park. So, in an almost-out-the-door emotional spasm, I tucked a laptop in for the trip, thinking that I could post part three of the SSM backlash post.

This is from a guy who grew up as a Boy Scout and even before camped with family by strapping a bumping bedroll on top a backpack and walking into the forest for the weekend. Now though, it's still two kids at home and a wife who thinks that flush toilets are necessary. (What comedian said, "The world is a man's urinal"?)

I can't ridicule that attitude when I even considered a computer and was piqued when I saw the Wi-Fi at the campgrounds? Geek. Geek. Geek.

Fortunately in five days at Truro, there was really too much -- hopping in acclimation in nipple stiffening waves, photographing birds and other wildlife (coyotes too) that rarely show in JP, fires on the beach, panting up the Pilgrim Monument in P-town to justify a New York Super Fudge Chunk cone -- to get serious about logging on.

Truth be told, Adventure Bound hit one of my warning buttons though. I confess that I surely would have done email and posted that third SSM here, if it had been free or reasonable. However, the camp slumlords played hotel chain with this one. They contracted with a Wi-Fi service to provide access at $10 a day.

That is piracy. Of course, traveling business sorts expense $10 daily. No biggy, particularly with $200 rooms.

Yet, shame on those cyber-addicted of us who would unthinkingly cough up for such reprehensible gouging. The campground site says nothing of a fee. They should tell you that it is $3.96 for an hour (15-cents thereafter for a $9 an hour rate) or $10 a 24-hour period. Also, there is limited coverage. So, you fundamentally sit on a picnic table outside an outhouse, pardon, shower and toilet facilities, for reasonable reception.

I'd be fooling you as well as me if I pretended that the idea of on-demand Net connectivity for free would not have pleased me. I'd sit at the site with a beer and laptop, sucking on one and geeking out on the latter. However, the glory of chokepoints is that we find out what the true price and value of owning or doing something is. Ten bucks is too much for a PC fling, particularly when there are beaches to walk, oceans and bays to get us wet, wines to uncork, and sites with sights.

Instead, I post from the Truro Library, which is not in Truro but North Truro, about a mile from our tent. We can't get reception from the library to the campground, but it has another advantage. We headed to library when we heard it would rain this morning. We had three days of sun fun and we pay with one morning of passing wet before another of sun and play.

The library router is not protected. Other vacationers tethered to their workday and at-home cyber-lives sprawl, sit or squat. Most of those are using Apple products, suggesting perhaps that the boutique nature of Mac purchasers makes them more susceptible to the Net jones. [Grunt. Must email!] Steve Jobs forbid that they let a day pass without showing their kewl.

As with the campground, this is a broadband connection. So, the speed varies by the minute as more or fewer download a graphic, video or image-heavy page.

If the campground was renting DSL or other dedicated connections, perhaps they could justify $10. My wife thinks that the novelty of blogging by the pines and doves would be worth that -- just a little more than a movie ticket. I harrumph loudly.

I would stop and stoop to pick up a $10 bill and I would not waste that amount on that whim, at least not when the free alternative, with a roof against the rain, is handy.

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Same-Sex Marriage Backlash: 3

We have been using the excellent article The Backlash Thesis and Same-Sex Marriage by Penn State Law Professor and author Carlos A. Ball. Let's look at what he sees happening in SSM backlash.

Download note: To download the PDF file of the article from the link above, scroll to the bottom of that page.

He sees strong and predictable similarities between the Black civil rights fight and court decision of the 1950s and 1960s and the post-Lawrence and Goodridge gay-rights and SSM ones of the past few years. The overview is here and the comparison with Brown and Goodridge cases here.

While we agree with Ball, he also describes an alternative view, most associated with University of Virginia Law Professor Michael J. Klarman. That theory holds that the Brown decisions were not prime drivers of desegregation and may have been counterproductive because of the associated backlash.

As Ball describes it, Klarman's theory includes:
  • "...social and economic forces, as well as the lingering revulsion toward Nazi policies, played a greater role in moving public opinion in the North toward greater egalitarianism in racial matters than did Brown."
  • Civil rights protests of note began six years after Brown, calling its causal effect into question.
  • Brown may have discouraged protests by encouraging solution by litigation.
  • In fact, Klarman suggests that Brown may have discouraged direct-action protests because "Brown radicalized white politics in the South," which might have slowed gradual desegregation.

Pleas for Gradualism

Likewise, today there are numerous kick-not-against-the-goads forces for SSM. For example, Yale Law Professor and author William M. Eskridge, Jr., as Ball puts it, "has called for pragmatism and gradualism in the pursuit of the legal recognition of lesbian and gay relationships. Eskridge is concerned that court-mandated marriage equality will antagonize gay rights opponents leaving little room for moderation or dialogue."

Others in this gradualist camp include California Senator Diane Feinstein, who said SSM "had come 'too much, too fast, too soon' and that it 'served as a rallying point to get conservative people to the polls.'" Also, the Human Rights Campaign's public positions include that "aggressively pursuing same-sex marriage only played into the hand of Republicans and religious conservatives, who skillfully used the issue this fall to energize their voters."

Readers of this blog know that we are no fans of gradualism or incrementalism, particularly when clear principles are at stake. It is surely unfortunate emotionally for those who use education or marriage rights to feel superior to others. However, they need to hear that this is not acceptable public policy and they need to begin getting over it. The one-two of law and peer pressure invariably brings change.

In his elegant comparisons of Brown and Goodridge, Ball does note some key differences amidst all the similarities. In particular, he is clear that the level of backlash was much higher 60 years ago. "Although lesbians and gay men, as well as bisexuals and transgendered individuals, are today among the most likely to be the victims of hate crimes, that violence is not politically organized and coordinated as it was in the South five decades ago," he writes. "For all of the discrimination experienced today by lesbians and gay men, they do not live under an apartheid regime such as the one that existed in many parts of the United States well into the second half of the twentieth century."

In that light, we hold that it would be appropriate, compassionate, Christian and useful for those vocal anti-gay Protestant ministers to tone it down. If they admit that gay rights, including marriage rights, are in fact civil-rights issues, they can help frame this process. Recognizing that the differences from the Black struggles of the past century are of degree not kind would speed the resolution and healing that are sure to come eventually.

Harsh Backlash Reality

Yet Ball holds the convincing view that civil-rights proponents are right in taking the firm stances that the NAACP and GLAD did in their respective cases. Yes, the backlash comes, often strongly. Then facing the new reality enforced by both law and shifting public opinion, voters and politicians alike begin adjusting.

In terms of the current backlash, he does not downplay the barriers and harm it has caused. They, in fact, strongly mirror those of the 1950s and 1960s desegregation backlash.

Together with the federal DOMA, the constitutional amendments in 18 states and the one-man/one-woman laws in over 40 states will take either per-state overrides or some level of court action. As the politicians and voters intended, this process will take years, likely decades.

In some situations, this will be simpler than others. For example, in Ohio, courts are already finding the SSM restrictions violate laws and principles governing many established partnerships and other civil contracts, as well as employee benefits.

Ball also notes, as we are wont to write, that the thousands of SSMs here already benefit homosexual couples nationwide. Seeing that the alarmist predictions following Goodridge were false helps. However, simply knowing such couples is huge in swaying public opinion.

We add that this seemed to be the decisive factor in finally passing and sustaining gay rights in Maine last year. Individuals and couples were out to neighbors and coworkers. They ceased being the unknown, the other. As Ball puts it, "Studies have shown that a person’s opinion about homosexuality frequently depends on whether that person knows someone who is lesbian or gay."

In Massachusetts, he comments, "No heterosexual couple in that state has gotten divorced, and no heterosexual couple has failed to get married, because of Goodridge. It is easy for opponents of same-sex marriage to use fiery rhetoric about how society will be endangered if same-sex couples are permitted to marry. In Massachusetts, that possibility has been replaced with reality with no evidence of harm to anyone."

In terms of backlash, he acknowledges that the die-hard anti-gay, anti-SSM forces won't let the obvious get in the way or change their views. However, as Southerners came to accept integration and even to call each other on racism, most people come around facing reality.

And Some Don't Change

As a measure of the process on a related issue, he discusses the 1948 Perez v. Lippold decision in California that struck down state restrictions on interracial marriage. Then 30 states banned such marriages, with huge majority support from the public. Then nearly 20 years later when the U.S. Supreme Court did the same nationwide, opinion had matured and shifted.

However, it is worth noting that three years ago when the Gallup pollsters last asked, over a quarter of Americans still opposed interracial marriage. We can certainly expect something similar even after SSM becomes a norm. In some cases, backlash remains as grumbling for the life of the opponent.

Ball states, "It is likely that Goodridge will have a similar impact on the question of same-sex marriage as Perez did on the issue of interracial marriage." He points to wide acceptance in Vermont for civil unions, as well as the trend to civil unions becoming the fallback position in discussions in other states, as it did before becoming law in Connecticut. As Ball put it:
What was to many, only a few years ago, a radical idea (that lesbians and gay men should have the same rights and benefits afforded to married couples under state law, albeit under the auspices of an alternative legal regime), has now, in effect, become a mainstream alternative to same-sex marriage.
Even as most states have reinforced their anti-SSM statutes and amendments, the broader picture is of voters and legislators alike come to realize that legal recognition is necessary and coming. Ball contends, "The political debate in a growing number of states is no longer whether lesbian and gay couples deserve legal recognition; instead, the debate is about what type of legal recognition they deserve."

To the Legislature!

Ball does not see a string of court victories that will hasten the SSM progress. In fact, he writes, "It is fair to say that the movement has probably reached the point of diminishing returns when it comes to the progress that can result from judicial successes in the area of marriage equality. The chances that those successes will be overturned by voters are simply too great for the movement to continue to rely so heavily on the courts."

Instead, as the New York and Washington State high courts recently ruled in effect, "Help us, legislators!" They said the state legislature had to settle same-sex couple rights.

So, Ball predicts that the meaningful advances will come state by state, legislature by legislature.

At the same time, pro-SSM forces, "must begin to rely less on lawyers in the courtroom and more on reaching out to moderate Americans in neighborhoods, schools, and places of work and worship." This includes what we have here, in Maine and elsewhere, self-outed homosexual couples and individuals "living openly...with dignity and courage so that skeptical but open-minded heterosexuals can become convinced that they have nothing to fear or lose if the society were to accept lesbians and gay men as true equals."

On the legislative side, the local and national organizing and lobbying must continue. Following the disappointing Washington court decision, Freedom to Marry's Executive Director Evan Wolfson didn't miss a beat. He said he had already begun the new legislative efforts.

Ball also thinks that forms of SSM, civil unions or other homosexual-couple recognition can be more effective when they come from legislatures. That has happened at a low level in California and New Jersey, for two, and as civil unions in Connecticut.

The anguish that many progressives and gay-rights activists feel now is real and understandable. However, from the historical and legal view, Ball noted that Brown "created the necessary legal and political space that allowed other institutions, most notably the legislative and executive branches of the federal government, eventually to become involved to remedy what the Court had declared was unacceptable inequality."

With many heterosexuals beginning to come to terms with the possibility that they may have to give up feeling superior to homosexuals, the backlash is real and strong...and as predictable as it was with Brown. As Ball writes, "Those struggles are, at their core, about getting the majority to give up privileges, both tangible and intangible, that reinforce their perceived superiority."

He holds convincingly that Goodridge and its related follow-up ruling did foster backlash, particularly following Lawrence. However, that is an expected road hazard on the way to civil rights. We clear the road and go on.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Steaming Cops Facing Review

The Boston Globe did its job today. As much as we snort at the timorous coverage and boosterism of our stolid daily, it comes through from time to time. This one was in snagging the report on police operations that our mayor has squelched since before April.

We figure that this horse is out of the barn and headed to the lush pasture of public view. Coupled with Team Unity attention in City Council, Boston will finally see some form of civilian review board. Miarabile dictu!

So, what do you suppose was so powerful in this report that made Da Mare Menino tuck it under his brooding butt while he nested on it? The answer is the long overdue call for civilian oversight on the nation's oldest police force.

It is way past time to cull the wheat from the chaff. Police are no better at self-monitoring than physicians or accountants. Of course, the biggest difference is that they carry the force of law and can kill someone or send him into a hell of courts and prisons, occasionally wrongly.

Menino is famous for puckering up to the various police unions. They are powerful in many ways and other mayors have knelt before them.

The departing police commissioner, Kathleen O'Toole (beloved of Da Mare) set an independent panel to work following the death of Victoria Snelgrove at the hands of our police. Northeastern University Associate Dean Jack McDevitt (the criminologist, not the science fiction writer) headed the group.

Its conclusions call for some pretty benign stuff:
  • an ombusdman
  • a police-civilian review board
Yet these are so radical to a force that stonewalls the public, has many documented cases of abuse, and has a poor record of monitoring and punishing its own. That cliché of wanting to pluck the few bad apples out of the barrel does not work here...yet.

The Globe reports that it filed a public-records access request four months ago. The city denied that request, claiming as the cops do, that this is only a draft. Then, stupidly, rather than discuss the contents and keep the press and public informed, it hummed and pretended this was not the report we sought. Move along.

In the meanwhile, Council Felix Arroyo called for a review board and we have seen gangs of drug dealing cops among other assaults on the public trust. It's time.

With a purloined copy of the report in hand, the Globe seems to have driven the city to discuss what to do next. Police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll had an unusually lame, "we do consider this a draft format and therefore not a public record." She also revealed the party line on this, citing tht Internal Affairs last year supported 34% of 212 civilian complaints. However, that is up from 8% in 2001. We think that the effort is too little and way too late to trust.

Boston Corporation Counsel Wiliam F. Sinnott implied the city would propose an "internal review" plan, apparently to counter McDevitt's call for substance.

As the Globe puts it:

McDevitt argues in the report that Boston police must establish accountability and transparency about their internal operations or their efforts to combat surging violence will be undercut. (He) writes that the department faces "low trust and confidence in the investigation process, particularly among certain groups with historically poor police relationships."

Related steps include the ombudsman, picked with community input and with "access to all investigative files, tapes, transcripts, and witness statements." He or she would also be able to look at Internal Affairs findings and ask for further investigation as needed.

The panel also wants to streamline the process for filing complaints against officers. In short, what has worked in so many other U.S. cities.

There's nothing new here, except that Boston officials have always been afraid to police our police.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Same-Sex Marriage Backlash: 2

Amid the garment-rending and despair, marriage-equality advocates have known some victories and felt hope. Yet in sheer numbers, the defeats build a much higher stack.

The vast majority of states wall off same-sex unions with various combinations of DOMA, one-man/one-woman marriage laws and/or amendments. Pro-SSM forces have increasingly wondered how they might establish homosexual unions as civil rights.

The lessons learned and roadmap could lie in comparisons and contrasts with earlier Black civil-rights struggles, court decisions, and advocacy demands. Many anti-SSM folk strongly deny that there can be any comparison. Not so, argues a paper, The Backlash Thesis and Same-Sex Marriage: learning from Brown v. Board of Education and Its Aftermath, by Penn State Law Professor and author Carlos A. Ball.

The paper is scheduled for the pending issue of the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 14, 2006. You can download a copy at the bottom of this page. You can see an overview post on his paper here.

Note: Professor Ball is no relation to anyone at this blog. Pity. He'd be good to claim.

Denying the Big Wrong

We note that the anti-gay, anti-SSM forces often like to deny the immutable nature of homosexuality, characterizing it as a lifestyle. That then lets them differentiate between discrimination based on immutable characteristics, such as gender or skin color, and that based on sexual orientation. Thus, if something is not a civil-rights issue, they claim there is no need or basis to protect the class.

Oddly in this century, many of us are too young to have known or have conveniently forgotten the harshest Black struggles for equal rights, particularly starting with desegregating public schools. Here, Ball beards the lion. He contends that the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education is singularly apt in framing the current SSM/civil-union struggle.

There are some key differences. Yet, he makes a convincing argument that seeing what happened and did not happen among the public, in legislatures, and in the Supreme Court show what to expect in the mid-term in expanding rights beyond a few New England States.

He frames the current status in terms that the victories for equal marriage have been followed and in some cases preceded, by defeats. Yet, he states that "despite the harmful backlash experienced by the gay rights movement following marriage cases such as Goodridge, lesbians and gay men are nonetheless better off as a result of those cases. The gains from the litigation, in other words, have so far outweighed the losses."

Historically, this has been predictable for civil rights struggles and has always been overcome eventually. In addition, he writes "political and legal backlashes are a foreseeable consequence of controversial judicial victories that require majority groups to reassess in fundamental ways the manner in which they have in the past treated and understood certain minority groups."

The Long Wait

We who are impatient want the world to get on with resolving these issues and righting the wrongs. We even hear conservatives such as Bill Bennett say that the SSM battle has been lost. While many recognize this is a matter of time, that time is years and decades, as interracial marriage and school desegregation was.

So in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that race-based school segregation was unconstitutional. In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court ruled in Goodridge that marriage here was a civil contract, that our state constitution forbad gender discrimination, and therefore, that we had to offer marriage or the equivalent to same-sex couples.

Ball points out a key parallel in the decisions. In Brown, the Court "left remedial questions for another day." In Goodridge, the SJC "was somewhat ambiguous as to the issue of remedies. Goodridge did not make explicit, for example, whether providing samesex couples with an alternative legal structure to marriage, such as that offered by civil unions, was sufficient to correct the marriage ban's constitutional defects..." In fact, the timid General Court here came back to ask that question and got a "No."

The Supreme Court did more damage through its passivity (my words). The NAACP had to decide whether to press for immediate remediation or to accept gradual improvements. It did the former. However, the Court returned an order to the non-compliant states that they desegregate "with all deliberate speed."

That toothless term was taken by Southern states to mean do nothing, which they gleefully did. Ball notes that "...ten years after Brown I, only 1.2 percent of black children in the eleven states that made up the old Confederacy attended schools with whites."

Ball sums up the effects of the initial rulings in both cases with:
As a result, in both instances, crucial remedial issues remained unresolved until after the respective courts issued subsequent opinions. The periods between the first and second opinions in Brown and in Goodridge raise similar questions about what kind of legal strategy should be pursued by civil rights advocates given growing public disenchantment with previous judicial victories. On both occasions, the plaintiffs’ lawyers chose to continue demanding full and immediate equality, even in the face of growing public opposition.
It would seem that plaintiffs, their attorneys and supporters accepted at some level that backlash was inevitable and they were willing to ride out the storm to achieve their goals.

The NAACP had already won victories before Brown. These included loosening racial restrictions in housing, transportation and at the college level. Even before the Brown ruling, some Southern states changed their laws to prevent being forced to integrate. South Carolina, for example, overturned its law requiring public education for children from six through twenty-one. Of course, this is similar to the SSM backlash, which has seen anti-SSM legislation and amendment drives even before Goodridge.

Rejecting Gradualism

The Brown follow-up case before the Court demanded an immediate end to desegregation in light of the flood of new Southern states laws. The NAACP considered and rejected a gradualist approach.

Ball cites the brief in Brown II as:
...pointing to a “considerable body of evidence,” which showed that when an individual is required to "act as if he were not prejudiced, he will so act, despite the continuance, at least temporarily, of the prejudice." The brief ended by urging the Court to require desegregation by the beginning of the 1955–1956 school year.
He finds a parallel in GLAD's post-Goodridge strategy. GLAD's lawyers argued that civil unions would in fact institutionalize separate classes for homosexual couples for this basic right. In this case, Ball notes, GLAD's brief:
  1. (N)oted that Goodridge held that the ban against same-sex marriage violated not only principles of equality under the state constitution, but also those of due process and liberty, and
  2. (C)ontended that, from an equality perspective, civil unions fell far short of what the state constitution required.
He concludes that, "The GLAD lawyers in effect asked the Massachusetts court to provide the moral backbone necessary to show citizens in the state and across the country that constitutional principles 'brook no compromise.'"

In another parallel with racial equality and desegregation, this successful effort by GLAD saw an even stronger backlash than the anticipatory actions. Even some states that already had a DOMA law, acted to pass constitutional amendments writing discrimination against same-sex couples into their fundamental document that othewise protects citizens' rights.

In the case of SSM, the backlash started six months before the Goodridge decision, with Lawrence v. Texas, overturning the anti-gay sodomy laws. Ball notes that many conservative viewed this as the clear warning that SSM was similarly in the judicial works.

The backlash started with the most reactionary states banning SSM, banning anything that looked legally like marriage for homosexuals, and even banning existing partnerships that heterosexuals and relatives used. That set the tone that continued for nearly three years. In addition, some states defined marriage as one-man/one-woman and passed constitutional amendments with those scattershot partnership limits.

While that seems both a far overreaction and very odd, Ball sees motivations both in the Brown and Goodridge backlashes. For Brown, for example, the resentment had two aspects. Most obviously, the federal government was ordering state and local governments to obey them -- that's a states' rights issue. More important in terms of time to remedy, "The apartheid society that still existed in the South in the 1950s was built on the idea that blacks were inherently inferior to whites. The system of segregated public education was a cornerstone of white supremacist ideology in the South."

In other words, everyone wanted, needed to feel superior to somebody else. Public schools were a key differentiator. Inferior Blacks went to inferior schools, somehow proving the superiority of Whites to their satisfaction. The Court's decision ordered them to drop this deeply held practice and belief.

Up next, how Brown and Goodridge differ and what's to expect.

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