Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Boston Crippled! (...and why?)

Shortly after the 9/11 tragedies, my sick humor was perking again. Following today's cartoon hoaxes that crippled our fair burg, it is time to recharge the electrons.

Universal Hub has a grand recap, replete with images of the offending suspicious critters. It followed up with the likely culprits. It kind of makes you wonder how they'll react if there is a real threat.

Here, in the Hub of the Universe, we can't let our long track record of being a non-target lull us. I offer the apparently funny-only-to-me We build 'em, but they don't come from five and one-half years ago.

The Globe, Herald, and Phoenix wouldn't buy it or run it otherwise. I like to think it adheres too closely to reality and is too inflammatory. Maybe it just isn't funny.

Next Day Follow-Up: Amidst the bellowing and garment rending, Ryan's Take puts it all in perspective. Let's not be too silly here.

Continuing, Logrolling Follow-Up: I see that Uncle over at Scratches has weighed and found wanting. He has a great assignment of blame and ridicule here.

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Shoot-Out at the CT Corral

On Valentine's Day A.D. 2007, the co-chairs of the Connecticut legislature's judiciary committee will go Rell hunting. After hearing Gov. Jodi Rell's veto threat, they still intend to introduce a same-sex marriage bill.

In fairness, the coincidental holiday adds a nice kissy-face aspect to the bill's subject. However, that's the pre-set deadline for new legislation this year.

Sen. Andrew McDonald and Rep. Michael Lawlor, both Democrats, chose not to be cowed by the Republican governor. According to a report in the Hartford Courant, Lawlor this conflict was "inevitable." At the same time, he noted, "This is obviously not the most important issue [facing] the legislature."

The Boston Globe also carries a short version of the action in Hartford. It notes that at the press conference announcing their intentions, Lawlor suggested that Rell might rethink the veto.

On the anti-SSM side, there was bluster and a political gambit. The Family Institute of Connecticut made the predictable, sky-will-fall noises. That include the perennial crowd-pleasing, "We need the people's voice to be heard," from their executive director, Brian Brown.

However, according to the Courant, Brown made a one-two slap. First, he said he wanted a one-man/one-woman marriage amendment to the state constitution. In the wake of the General Assembly voluntarily legalizing same-sex civil unions, that proposal seems to put the nut in nutmeg state. Even Brown said the chances of that happening were low.

Then out of far left field, he urged the legislators to consider a non-binding referendum on the issue. Within an hour, the committee tossed the request, "saying there is no mechanism for such an advisory vote." McDonald added that the legislators had kicked the whole topic around for years and knew what their voters thought. For example, he's a strong SSM advocate, who won reelection last fall with 62%.

The Courant piece concluded with the ill-matched bookends of opinion on SSM there:
Senate GOP leader Louis DeLuca of Woodbury rejected the claim that marriage is a civil right. "Isn't that what civil unions were supposed to address?'' he asked during the Family Institute press conference. "Now they want that name as well. As someone whose been married 53 years, I resent it.'' But Becca Lazarus, a 12-year-old who lives in Windsor with her two dads, doesn't see it that way. She said her friends don't understand why her parents can't marry. "They don't understand what a civil union is,'' Lazarus said during the Love Makes a Family press conference. "but everyone knows what marriage is.''

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Ottawa, the Un-Wyoming

Same-sex Massachusetts marrieds can head to Ottawa should they want to emigrate. The last vestige of official reactionism came off the books.

Two and one-half years ago when the province became the third in that country to enact SSM officially, it added a ban on foreign SS marriages. As the report in CanWest News put it:
The policy recognized same-sex marriages for immigration purposes only if the ceremony was performed in Canada, and if at least one of the partners was Canadian or a permanent resident.

It also clearly stated: "If you were married outside Canada, you cannot apply to sponsor your same-sex partner as a spouse."

The group LEGIT pushed to remove the ban.

British Columbia New Democratic Party MP Bill Siksay called this stricture a "huge inconsistency" and worked to change the policy. He has been a frequent activist on immigration issues. As he described this to a parliamentary committee, "To have a policy on the books that departed from full equality, that treated gay and lesbian couples that were legally married in other jurisdictions in a fundamentally different way than heterosexual couples, was wrong."

Perhaps the Equality State's legislature can consider that too.

As of January 24th, the ban is gone, according to a letter from Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley to the immigration committee. It included, "CIC has moved to annul the interim policy on same-sex marriage. As a result, same-sex marriages legally performed in Canada and in foreign jurisdictions are now recognized for all immigration purposes."

A bureaucrat who does not check her brains at the door is so refreshing.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ex-Equality State

The Wyoming Senate didn't have a lot of pressing bills. What to do? Of course, rush through the anti-Massachusetts marriage bill!

We were sort of waiting for the House follow-up, but there's no hurry on that side apparently. A bill originated in one chamber there gets moved to the other on passage. There it goes through committee and if approved must pass in the identical form in both to become law.

In damned good coverage by AP writer Ben Neary, the thinking of the senators is bare. That's particularly good, as they took an unrecorded voice vote to pass the bill.

The seemingly naive aged chief sponsor, Sen. Gerald Geis, claims the bill just reinforces the existing law defining marriage as one man/one woman. Actually it asserts that it voids out-of-state same-sex marriages. This is the only class of marriage that the state treats this way. If an out-of-state union would be incestuous or underage by Wyoming law, bring to Cheyenne; that's just fine.

Geis says he's just trying to keep on the good side of Bill Clinton's federal DOMA law. In reality, it is trying to turn comity on its head by going beyond refusing to recognize same-sex marriages and voiding them. Take Wyoming residence and poof, you're unmarried.

The irony of this happening in the self-nicknamed Equality State was not lost on everyone.

Another senator, Michael Von Flatern, said they'd have to get a new epithet. He added, "I can tell you that the signal that we're putting out is not good for the state. We depend a lot on tourism."

The coverage noted that Wyoming bases its moniker on being the first in the union to let women vote. This happened in 1869. However, the same year, the legislature outlawed interracial marriages.

Senator Mike Massie remarked that the anti-miscegenation law remained on the books for nearly a century, "adding that the reasons people gave at the time for banning mix-race marriages are similar to those presented now in favor of the ban on recognizing same-sex marriages: that it goes against their reading of the Bible."

Another Democratic senator who voted against the will was Kathryn Sessions. She said, "I feel badly about it. It's not over yet. I hope we don't send that out to represent the state of Wyoming. It's not in the spirit of what we're supposed to stand for."

No one is aware of any same-sex married couples in the state, much less any ready to challenge the existing state law. It remains to be seen whether this new bill, if it becomes law, could withstand challenges at the federal level.

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Escape Hatch for the Disgraced

Who gets to ride a white steed out of town and who has to slink away in the twilight?

Consider evangelicals caught with prostitutes -- heterosexual or homosexual -- or in other adultery. It's repent and resign almost every time. That's the post-Colonial equivalent of the pillory in the town square. Ted Haggard, Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart were all out of there, slinkers everyone.

Closer to home though, it seems theocrats and Le Bon Dieu's bureaucrats get to saddle up and ride to safety. The latest appears to be Catholic Citizenship's Executive Director Larry Cirignano (shown right with Cardinal Sean O'Malley).

Word in the Worcester Telegram is that this one gets to ride off to to head a yet to be fleshed out Catholic Citizenship role in D.C. Apparently he's going to move his anti-gay/anti-marriage-equality act from the scene of his recent disgrace a little over two months ago.

Cirignano continues to stonewall. He is innocent, innocent he tells us of assault and battery on a young woman protesting his group's rally. He goes to court on February 20th to face the charge. However, he assures all that his move to Washington and away from the scene has nothing to do with the incident.

Uh huh. It's just coincidence that the board suddenly created a new spot far away from recent trouble.

Despite the parallels with Cardinal Bernard Law's exodus from Boston, I can't believe what Catholic friends tell me about this being the way of their church. I rather think it rests more on the political nature of their positions as opposed to the pulpit and TV camera public nature of televangelists who are the key money raisers for their groups.

Law (above in his rubious glory), of course, left in advance of any subpoenas or charges from the decades of sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese. While in charge when such disgraces as playing a Hide-The-Abuser game instead of safeguarding parishioners, he never faced indictment. It is quite likely that in a less R.C. state and city, the DAs and AG could have grabbed him many years before. Instead, he rode off to the Vatican for protection and honor. There he kept his Cardinal's cap and received a large number of titular and minor functionary roles.

Both cases look much more about politics than religion. In Cirignano's case, it seems more like a teen involved in an unwanted pregnancy or pot bust. Distance yourself physically and legally from the scene of the crime.

Cirignano predictably has also made another political move. He did a Dick Nixon by declaring victory in his anti-same-sex-marriage campaign after Bobby Travaglini handed him a New Year's present January 2nd.

It makes me wonder whether the anti-gay folk notice that progressives don't have anywhere near the number and level of disgraced leaders as their side. Probably not.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pope's Bag o' Tricks

Perhaps we can stop calling Pope Benedict, né Joseph Ratzinger, Benny the Rat. He doesn't make it easy.

Thursday, he was trash talking, slamming everything from video games to toy guns to same-sex-marriage. In a prayer-service homily, he claimed to be saddened by divisions in various Christian churches. He apparently didn't perceive any culpability by predecessor Popes in fostering division, much less think that he has been doing so.

He did, however, find great hope in folk unifying in reactionary fervor. As the AP story put it:
In his homily, Benedict said through such encounters as Thursday's service it has been possible to perceive the joy of brotherhood, together with sadness for the tensions that remain.

The Vatican is eager for Christian churches to work together on positions they can share, such as opposition to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriages.

Same week, different enemy...violent games and sexually explicit animation are big trouble, the International Herald Tribune quoted the Pope as saying. He "was concerned that media could have more influence on children than their family or teachers do."

Okay, so he doesn't get around much, at least without handlers.

At the game-industry site, Gamasutra, they stressed his call to game makers. He said, "Any trend to produce programmes and products - including animated films and video games - which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray anti-social behaviour or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion, all the more repulsive when these programmes are directed at children and adolescents." His solution included, "Again I appeal to the leaders of the media industry to educate and encourage producers to safeguard the common good, to uphold the truth, to protect individual human dignity and promote respect for the needs of the family."

The Herald Tribune piece added
  • "The pope said children should be introduced to classic literature, fine arts and 'uplifting music.'"
  • He called on game and video makers to support parents, schools and churches by promoting "fundamental human dignity, the true value of marriage and family life, and the positive achievements and goals of humanity."
  • These companies should "safeguard the common good, to uphold the truth, to protect individual human dignity and promote respect for the needs of the family."
  • The previous Sunday, he likewise called for campaigns to discourage kids from using toy weapons -- part of the "contagion" of violence.
In his Thursday homily, Benny preceded his call for fighting such evils as same-sex marriage with one for Christians coming together. He said "Honest and loyal dialogue constitutes the typical and indispensable instrument in the search for unity...Christians are praying so that all the disciples of Christ be one, so they can give harmonious testimony to the men and women of our times."

That unity apparently has its basis in being anti-gay, anti-marriage-equality, anti-women's-choice, among other themes. That's more than his right to opinion, making such pronouncements is a big part of his job.

On the other hand, these recent calls may be as influential as various Popes' edicts on birth control, pre-marital sex, adultery, and divorce. If Roman Catholics pay as much heed to what he said on this week's targets, this may be a good year to invest in video-game companies and to push for same-sex marriage.

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Equality Smackdown in Hartford

You can help yourself
But don't take too much

from God Bless the Child
Arthur Herzog Jr. and Billie Holiday
Keep those homosexuals out of Gov. Jodi Rell's Connecticut state house! She already signed a civil-union bill for them. How dare they come back asking for something more!

She claimed nearly two years ago that she was for equality. However, yesterday she sounded a lot more like our own recent ex-governor in saying in no uncertain terms that she'd veto a same-sex marriage bill if one appeared before her.

Two years ago, her statement on signing civil unions into law was:
I am pleased that the House of Representatives passed this amendment and made it clear that while we will recognize and support civil unions, marriage in Connecticut is defined as the union of a man and a woman.

Passage of this bill will extend civil rights to all couples, no matter their gender, and send the unmistakable message that discrimination in any form is unacceptable in Connecticut.
At the time, the conflict between her DOMA wording and that about no discrimination in her state seemed odd enough. Many of us put it down to the shock of the new.

Yesterday, she made it plain that separate with kind of equal was as far as she cared to go. According to the AP, Rell stated at a news conference, "I said ... when I signed the civil union bill that I believed it covered the concerns that had been raised. And I believe that that bill was the appropriate way to go and I still do. And the answer is 'yes,' I would veto a bill that provides for same-sex marriage."

Rell, shown above, wears a UCONN women's basketball jersey. The costumed hound beside her is allegedly her husband Lou in a husky suit. The pic is from the state Website. It draws attention to her status as married, which she can legally do in Connecticut as a heterosexual.

Having previously announced their continuing campaign to upgrade from civil unions to neighboring Massachusetts-style full marriage, equality activists on Rell's turf were not pleased. Love Makes a Family in Connecticut had already planned a press conference this coming Wednesday to announce their current legislative drive toward marriage.

The organization's president Anne Stanback said, "We're disappointed in the statement, but we are going to continue the dialogue. We hope that she will listen to the stories of the same-sex couples, the children of same-sex couples and why they feel that marriage is different from civil union and is something they should not be excluded from."

Logistics this year are not in marriage-equality's favor. It may take several goes.

The bill needs to be drafted and pushed through the Judiciary Committee by April 13 to hit the floor of the chambers in time for action this year. Then, unless Rell suddenly remembers and reconciles that statement of hers that "discrimination in any form is unacceptable in Connecticut," the bill would need a veto-proof vote to become law. That would be two-thirds -- 101 of 151 in the House and 24 of 36 in the Senate.

Meanwhile, eight same-sex couples have sued for full marriage to get all the benefits and rights. GLAD has the documents, overview and details on Kerrigan & Mock v. Connecticut Dept. of Public Health.

I can just see Jodi now turning to her husky hubby and asking, "Won't those people leave me alone?"

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Archaic Laws 2

While we're waiting for the new omnibus bill to clear the midden pile of passé or dumb Massachusetts laws, we can revisit last year's version. Rep. Byron Rushing gets credit as generator of this session's. However, he benefited from the work of Sen. Cynthia Creem.

Her bill got sent to the Joint Judiciary Committee for study last session. It reemerged in the middle of the Senate docket. Rushing's version is similarly situated on the House docket. We certainly hope as they assign numbers to these bills, they move them up -- for entertainment value as well as good legislative sense.

Perhaps you can find out what the fascination with tramps and vagabonds was. Imagine also new laws that mirror these in featuring many causes for warrantless arrests for victimless crimes.

Format note: In the following, the capitalized SECTION listings are the bill items. The italicized text below that begins with Section is the actual text of the existing law. Also, if this drives you to browse the existing laws to find your own favorites, start here.

For those curious about what's on the books but not eager to dig into the general laws pages, the following includes last session's Senate bill 938 with annotations for the existing laws:

By Ms. Creem, a petition (accompanied by bill, Senate, No. 938) of Cynthia S. Creem, Robert A. O'Leary, Michael E. Festa, David P. Linsky and other members of the General Court for legislation relative to archaic crimes. (2005)


Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

SECTION 1. Section 14 of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 14. A married person who has sexual intercourse with a person not his spouse or an unmarried person who has sexual intercourse with a married person shall be guilty of adultery and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than three years or in jail for not more than two years or by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars.

SECTION 2. Section 18 of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 18. Whoever commits fornication shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than three months or by a fine of not more than thirty dollars.

SECTION 3. Section 20 of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 20. Except as provided in section twenty-one A, whoever knowingly advertises, prints, publishes, distributes or circulates, or knowingly causes to be advertised, printed, published, distributed or circulated, any pamphlet, printed paper, book, newspaper, notice, advertisement or reference containing words or language giving or conveying any notice, hint or reference to any person, or to the name of any person, real or fictitious, from whom, or to any place, house, shop or office where any poison, drug, mixture, preparation, medicine or noxious thing, or any instrument or means whatever, or any advice, direction, information or knowledge may be obtained for the purpose of causing or procuring the miscarriage of a woman pregnant with child or of preventing, or which is represented as intended to prevent, pregnancy shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than three years or in jail for not more than two and one half years or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars.

SECTION 4. Section 21 of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 21. Except as provided in section twenty-one A, whoever sells, lends, gives away, exhibits, or offers to sell, lend or give away an instrument or other article intended to be used for self-abuse, or any drug, medicine, instrument or article whatever for the prevention of conception or for causing unlawful abortion, or advertises the same, or writes, prints, or causes to be written or printed a card, circular, book, pamphlet, advertisement or notice of any kind stating when, where, how, of whom or by what means such article can be purchased or obtained, or manufactures or makes any such article shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years or in jail or the house of correction for not more than two and one half years or by a fine of not less than one hundred nor more than one thousand dollars.

SECTION 5. Section 21A of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 21A. A registered physician may administer to or prescribe for any married person drugs or articles intended for the prevention of pregnancy or conception. A registered pharmacist actually engaged in the business of pharmacy may furnish such drugs or articles to any married person presenting a prescription from a registered physician.

A public health agency, a registered nurse, or a maternity health clinic operated by or in an accredited hospital may furnish information to any married person as to where professional advice regarding such drugs or articles may be lawfully obtained.

This section shall not be construed as affecting the provisions of sections twenty and twenty-one relative to prohibition of advertising of drugs or articles intended for the prevention of pregnancy or conception; nor shall this section be construed so as to permit the sale or dispensing of such drugs or articles by means of any vending machine or similar device.

SECTION 6. Said chapter 272 is hereby further amended by striking out section 34, (Section 34. Whoever commits the abominable and detestable crime against nature, either with mankind or with a beast, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than twenty years. ) as appearing in the 2002 Official Edition, and inserting in place thereof the following section:-
Section 34. Whoever commits a sexual act on an animal shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 20 years or in a house of correction for not more than 2 ½ years, or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

SECTION 7. Section 36 of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 36. Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.

SECTION 8. Section 63 of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 63. Whoever, not being under seventeen, or a person asking charity within his own town, roves about from place to place begging, or living without labor or visible means of support, shall be deemed a tramp. An act of begging or soliciting alms, whether of money, food, lodging or clothing, by a person having no residence in the town within which the act is committed, or the riding upon a freight train of a railroad, whether within or without any car or part thereof, without a permit from the proper officers or employees of such railroad or train, shall be prima facie evidence that such person is a tramp.

SECTION 9. Section 64 of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 64. A tramp shall be punished by imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than thirty days; and if he enters a dwelling house or other building without the consent of the owner or occupant thereof, or wilfully or maliciously injures or threatens to injure any person therein, or threatens to do any injury to any person, or to the property of another, or is found carrying a firearm or other dangerous weapon, he shall be punished by imprisonment in the house of correction for not less than one nor more than two and one half years, but notwithstanding the foregoing a tramp found carrying a firearm or other dangerous weapon in violation of section ten of chapter two hundred and sixty-nine may be prosecuted and punished thereunder.

SECTION 10. Section 65 of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 65. A sheriff, deputy sheriff, constable or police officer, upon view or information of an offence described in the two preceding sections, may, without a warrant, arrest the offender, and make complaint against him therefor; and the state police shall make such arrests and complaints. Mayors and selectmen shall appoint special police officers, who shall also make such arrests and complaints in their respective towns.

SECTION 11. Section 66 of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 66. Persons wandering abroad and begging, or who go about from door to door or in public or private ways, areas to which the general public is invited, or in other public places for the purpose of begging or to receive alms, and who are not licensed or who do not come within the description of tramps as contained in section sixty-three, shall be deemed vagrants and may be punished by imprisonment for not more than six months in the house of correction.

SECTION 12. Section 67 of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 67. Sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, constables and police officers, acting on the request of any person or upon their own information or belief, shall without a warrant arrest and carry any vagrant before a district court for the purpose of an examination, and shall make complaint against him.

SECTION 13. Section 68 of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 68. A person known to be a pickpocket, thief or burglar, if acting in a suspicious manner around any steamboat landing, railroad depot, or any electric railway station, or place where electric railway cars stop to allow passengers to enter or leave the cars, banking institution, broker’s office, place of public amusement, auction room, store, shop, crowded thoroughfare, car or omnibus, the dwelling place of another, or at any public gathering or assembly, shall be deemed a vagabond, and shall be punished by imprisonment in the house of correction for not less than four nor more than twelve months.

SECTION 14. Section 69 of chapter 272 of the General Laws is hereby repealed.
Section 69. Sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, constables and police officers shall take any such vagabond into custody without a warrant and shall, within twenty-four hours after such arrest, Sundays and legal holidays excepted, take him before a district court, and shall make complaint against him.

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Fighting Anti-Equality Folk in Boston

Representative democracy is so demanding -- on the legislators. Far too often for their comfort level, they must make recorded votes on big issues. How much sweeter it is to do a favor for the home district and proclaim, "Ain't I grand!"

On marriage equality, all sides are taking names this year. Maybe a dozen Massachusetts legislators have to make a decision that they, and we, have to live with, and they will undoubtedly have to explain repeatedly.

So, half the remaining eggs are in the Constitutional Convention (ConCon) basket this year. The rest remain in the possible future of a 2008 general election with this dreadful discriminatory amendment on the ballot.

That repeated polls show voters here would soundly reject this amendment seems far less significant than keeping it off the ballot. I am strongly opposed to ballot initiatives that would put such civil rights to a plebiscite, regardless of those addicted to such abuses.

Leading the campaign to resolve this in the ConCon is MassEquality, with a sizable supporting case, secular and religious. The forces who would strip state homosexual couples of their now established right to wed have VoteOnMarriage at the fore with strong support from the good solider, Archbishop Sean O'Malley.

The famous and now infamous Article XLVIII of our state constitution surely did not consider that citizens would try to use the document to strip freedoms from any group. Yet until we tweak the sparse wording (which of course would require a plebiscite itself), we play the cards on the table.

That includes 62 legislators of the combined 200 who voted to advance the amendment. The marriage-equality folk, with our help, need to reduce that to 49 or fewer to win an up-or-down vote. They have a few gimme votes because four anti-equality lawmakers lost and a couple retired, effective with the new administration this month.

So what's a lobbyist or legislator to do?

Well, as standard bearer, MassEquality is visible and loud. It has also held a series of public meetings where some legislators and Campaign Director Marc Solomon said what they were planning and asked for public contributions to the process.

Online resources:
Getting nine to 15 lawmakers to switch is Solomon's aim. Such cagey players as Senate President Bobby Travaglini are almost certain to facilitate the amendment's defeat -- either by vote or procedure -- if they know the votes to do so are lined up. That's cynical, unfortunate and the way this game is played.

Pro-equality Rep. Alice Wolf told one of the meetings getting the necessary support for the ConCon was possible, but difficult. As she said, ""We can win in the Legislature...Will we win? I do not know, but it will take work."

That work must include:
  • Grass tops -- people with personal access to difficult-to-convince or waffling legislators -- persuasion. As Solomon put it, "Someone who knows him, a personal friend. Or someone he has to listen to, like a business leader in a legislator's district who has a kid who is gay."
  • District politics. Going to your legislators, thanking the pro-equality ones and asking for help from the others, works where going beyond may not. For that, ask someone you know who lives in the district.
  • Using the December Supreme Judicial Court comment on voting on initiatives in ConCon. Don't be shy about telling your legislator that the ConCon killed the health care on procedurally but not did not do the same for the anti-marriage-equality one.
  • Broader based, more subtle efforts. There may not be time for the ConCon push to have local small group discussions that worked so well in winning the Maine gay-rights fight. Speaking with religious groups and neighbors is a great mid-term and long-term strategy, but should come after calling, visiting or writing legislators.
The strategy of winning over the anti-gay forces appeared a few times. That seems to me to be a quixotic effort, as dug-in as they are. The Jacobs article cited this as:
Another audience member said he felt MassEquality was not doing enough to reach out to religious conservative opponents of same-sex marriage to try to dialogue with them and change their minds. Solomon said that while dialogue is important, from a purely strategic point of view it made more sense to devote resources towards reaching people who support same-sex marriage but who have not been active in the movement to defeat the amendment. He said he expects there will always be a solid group of people who oppose same-sex marriage.

“Those 30 percent can go and have a party as far as I’m concerned as long as the 70 percent are taking action,” said Solomon.
Just so, the anti-equality types have promised repeatedly that if they lost here or there, they'd go away. They haven't and they won't.

I have no doubt that after they lose this amendment, they will go to their next phase and attack, which surely is already planned. Those who would appease them with plebiscites and discussions, will hear and likely regret the continuing wails, threats and invective. Even as a dwindling party, their self-righteous complaints diminish in volume but not frequency.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Archaic Laws 1: Where Don't Meets Duh

Some outdated Massachusetts laws are amusing, some quaint, and some both spiteful and harmful. In the latter category, we think particularly of marriage laws:
  • Residual statutes that the state Senate did not or would not align with the Goodridge decision. That has left us with the vicious anti-marriage-equality petitions and the current amendment.
  • The twin 1913 race-based laws dusted off by then Gov. Willard Mitt Romney with the help of then AG Tom Reilly. these keep out-of-state homosexual couples from marrying here and spreading our loving poison of same-sex marriage like lavender Johnny Appleseeds.
The trivial and significant versions are on display again. Last year, it was Senator Cynthia S. Creem with her bill 938, an omnibus to sweep these legislative dust kitties from under the furniture of government. This time around, Rep. Byron Rushing has filed a bill with even more arcane and risible examples of legislators gone wild. (His bill doesn't seem to be on the state site yet.)

Creem's bill ended up languishing in limbo after being referred to the Judiciary Committee. We suspect that Rushing has the profile and personality to move his version to the floor. Because it will apparently include the 1913 disgraces, it may be controversial even in this century.

Rushing seems too savvy to touch the same-sex marriage clarifications while the anti-marriage-equality amendment is in the works, but he picked up a lot of Creem's work and added to it.

Let us pause first to reflect what great fun this must be. Among the beadle work and slogging that legislation so often involves, what a joy to sit at a conference table giggling about finds in our laws.

The original post-Revolution constitution carried over its colonial era laws into our new Constitution ain 1780. While some of those laws are a bit odd now, those that the legislature wants to clean up are almost entirely the detritus of our various state legislators in the past two centuries.

Unitarian Universalist Note: The 1788 constitutional convention that debated and approved the federal document occurred in the largest meeting space in Boston, the Long Lane Church. After that, the byway became Federal Street because of the event and the church changed its name. The congregation outgrew that building and built the first public building in the new land fill that became the Back Bay. That was and is the Arlington Street Church. The original location became Bank of Boston HQ, then that of Bank Boston, and subsequently the local HQ of Fleet and now BankAmerica.

The lawmakers, or in this case unmakers, have that fun of identifying and targeting laws outdated by changing cultures, conflicts with other laws, and even realities of technology. While we tend to ignore our own odd habits and offices and homes filled with the unnecessary, we nevertheless ask how could these legal jokes remain?

Part of that is simply inertia. For an alleged freedom-loving nation, we have too many damned laws. At both federal and state levels, legislators don't simply replace one law with a new version. They amplify, amend, and create constantly. The glory of claiming to have solved voter problems with new laws far outshines any clerical improvements.

The new Bulletin Newspapers seem to have the best coverage of Rushing's version. It notes that as with other omnibus legislation, this bill will gang 20 old laws instead of having a separate bill for each. They range from a whole series on such matters as being able to arrest a vagrant without cause or warrant, permitting arrest and up to a year in jail or $300 fine for blasphemy, and fines of $20 for anyone who spits in such public places as on steamboats. Oh, and selling or even advertising condoms seems to be illegal (Chapter 272, Sections 21 and 21A).

Some are dated by politics -- Chapter 264, Section 16A reads in its entirety: The Communist Party is hereby declared to be a subversive organization. Others conflict with later laws, such as Chapter 265, Section 34, forbidding tattooing by anyone other than a physician, when the state now licenses and regulates tattoo parlors.

Some are not trivial. Even though it is not enforced, Chapter 272, Section 14: reads:
A married person who has sexual intercourse with a person not his spouse or an unmarried person who has sexual intercourse with a married person shall be guilty of adultery and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than three years or in jail for not more than two years or by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars.
Rushing said that may be one that gets some debate. "There are people who would argue that even though no one should be prosecuted for adultery that it sends a sign. "To take the law off would almost in some way say we are in favor of adultery. You get those kinds of arguments."

Yet, he sees this and the law against unmarried folks having sex as a package. Chapter 272, Section 18, reads: Whoever commits fornication shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than three months or by a fine of not more than thirty dollars.

With the U.S. Supreme Court making it plain in several cases, notably pertaining to sodomy as defined as homosexual sex, that sex between consenting adults cannot be prohibited per se. In addition, as he told the Cambridge Chronicle about the 1913 marriage laws, "If we had found that law earlier, we probably would have been able to (repeal) it without any controversy at all."

Wording Note: The newspaper posting reads appeal it instead of repeal it, which we take to be a typo rather than Rushing misspeaking.

Last year, Senate 938 languished after being sent to the hell of study by the Joint Judiciary Committee. We're betting Rushing gets a better hearing and a fair likelihood of success.

He's also not working alone. Helpers include Prepresentative Ruth Balser, Gloria Fox, Louis Kafka, John Keenan, David Linsky, Willie Mae Allen, Liz Malia, Doug Petersen, Denise Provost, Carl Sciortino, Ellen Story, Benjamin Swan and Marty Walz, and Senators Edward Augustus and Patricia Jehlen.

He has called for attentional such finds by other legislators to add to the bill. He may have to compromise and drop a few, but we should end up with fewer entries in the next article about archaic laws still on the books.

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Kerry Healey -- Limits of Duct Tape

Surely our Beverly bobble head and her shiny pated companion have realized they lost, and extremely, nearly three months ago in the race for our top offices. However, their minions may still be under the covers, hiding their shame.

We have wondered when they might climb the tatty pole in West Roxbury to remove the duct tape affixing the campaign sign. It is on Belgrade Avenue around the curve from Lords and Ladies and Roche Brothers.

It is in a doubly apt location -- abutting the rubble of a failed gas station and duct taped to credit card logos. The first is a metaphor for their dirty campaign and the latter one for right-wing politics in general.

That silver duct tape has done a marvelous job keeping this sign attached long after the campaign fell apart. There was little this miracle adhesive system could have done for the candidates themselves.

Blunder Update: The first version of this assumed Healey would get a standard stipend for quasi-governmental boards. When I got an email response from the MTC, I learned that their directors receive no pay.

So now Kerry Healey will enjoy her lovely parting gift from outgoing Governor Willard Mitt Romney. Her appointment to the board of the quasi-governmental Massachusetts Technology Collaborative may have been the nicest thing Cap'n Brylcreem did for her when they were in office together.

Also, unlike Romney as arriviste governor, Deval Patrick did not strip Healey of this sinecure. That would have been such a Republican thing to do. In fact, the Cap'n rescinded 27 appointments made by Acting Governor Jane Swift.

We must note that there was some defense here in that in making the Healey gift. It was predictable sleazy politics at its most typical. Romney removed the much brighter, highly experienced and more competent Gloria C. Larson, a Republican who had endorsed Patrick in the recent election. For those keeping tabs, here's 1 mud for Republicans and 1 sky for Democrats.

No one gets rich serving on a board such as this. Even so, for an erstwhile lieutenant governor with a very scant list of accomplishments, being able to claim at least a finger on the rudder of new technology will be a big boost. It's quite a step up from the local hospital and community college boards.

In case, you aren't sure what the Westborough-based collaborative does. They are happy to do the soft shoe for you:
What We Do

The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative is the state’s development agency for renewable energy and the innovation economy, which is responsible for one-quarter of all jobs in the state. MTC administers the John Adams Innovation Institute and the Renewable Energy Trust. We work to stimulate economic activity in communities throughout the Commonwealth.

2005 Annual ReportAs our name suggests, we use a collaborative approach to achieving the organization’s mission. We bring together leaders from industry, academia, and government to advance technology-based solutions that lead to economic growth and a cleaner environment in Massachusetts.
In other words, they gamble, à la venture capitalists, with funds to help jump start companies with seed funds. It's good stuff and when it pays off, we all benefit from new jobs and a stronger economy.

So, the board is huge and diverse, but she'll be able to claim a disproportionate influence if her campaign is any indication. Whatever comes next, she should remember to thank Deval.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Voiding Bay State Marriages

If fate or incident inspires you and your spouse to move your same-sex marriage from Massachusetts, what sounds better than the Equality State? Think again.

Well, Wyoming was the first state to enact women's suffrage (1869). Cynics say they did that to help ensure their statehood and since that they haven't had much to brag about in terms of equality. In fairness (in both senses), they have only smatterings of non-whites, about 3% Native American and 1% African American. Its demographics look like a Western New Hampshire with even fewer Latinos (about 6%). Their idea of equality is occasionally electing female legislators.

Flash forward to the new, devolved Wyoming, the one that may void Massachusetts marriages. Putting the lie to their epithet, they are considering a bill (SF0013) that reads:
AN ACT relating to domestic relations; creating an exception to the provision that all marriages validly contracted outside of this state are valid in Wyoming; providing that marriages between persons of the same sex are void; and providing for an effective date.

Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Wyoming: Section 1. W.S. 20-1-111 and 20-2-101(a) by creating
a new paragraph (iv) are amended to read:

12 20-1-111. Foreign marriages. All marriage contracts which are valid by the laws of the state or country in which contracted are valid in this state, except marriages when the persons are of the same sex.

20-2-101. Void and voidable marriages defined; annulments.

(a) Marriages contracted in Wyoming are void without any decree of divorce: (iv) When the persons are of the same sex.

Section 2. This act is effective July 1, 2007.
Lest you think you are misreading, yes, this mean-spirited, anti-equality, overkill bill would go far beyond not recognizing legal same-sex marriages. It would void them without any other legal action, such as divorce or annulment.

Consider now:
  • Who would introduce such an unreasonable, unfair and almost certainly unconstitutional bill?
  • How did Wyoming get to this legal place?
  • What affect might its passage have there and elsewhere?
Chief buffoon on this bill is state Sen. Gerald Geis, with Rep. Owen Petersen in a supporting role. The former is in the giggle-producing, decades old head shot here. Feel free to guess their party affiliation.

The 73-year-old Geis is a married Roman Catholic concerned mostly with agricultural issues. He's been in the legislature since the house in 1975 and senate in 1993. The 64-year-old Peterson is a married Mormon who belongs to everything from the VFW to the state bar to the NRA to AARP.

The AP ran a piece on the bill, which should be available in numerous places if it disappears from here.

Geis claims to be only following orders:
"A group of people in Worland asked me to sponsor it," Geis said. "They didn't want people from other states that say (homosexual couples) can be married to come in and say they get the same status in Wyoming. ... I'm just representing my district."
Petersen offered some rambling comments about marriage being in trouble. "...I do believe that it's something we should go forward with and support for the betterment of our society." So, I don't think he knows why he's doing it.

Emotionally, Wyoming has the burden of being the state that had the brutal torture and murder of student Matthew Shepard in 1998.

Legally, the bill is of dubious value. Wyoming does not have a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, but its law is very plain -- Marriage is a civil contract between a male and a female person to which the consent of the parties capable of contracting is essential.

In the majority of states, legislators are either truly paranoid about invading hordes of Massachusetts married homosexuals or simply pandering to the basest emotions of the lowest common denominator. In many cases, this led to piling amendment upon law to put this restriction into their constitutions.
It may be fun in 10 or 20 years to see these states repeal these amendments and curse the shortsighted fools who sullied their documents of freedom with overt discrimination. Meanwhile, there are lives to live, and there is the crucial matter of full faith and credit, which Presidents Bill Clinton and George (the Lesser) Bush have tromped on over preventing marriage equality and legal equity.

Here is where Geis and his ilk have set up a volatile legal situation. If this odious bill passes, it would well set up the court cases that they want to avoid. If they intend to prevent one or more legally married Massachusetts same-sex couples moving to Cheyenne and suing for recognition of their marriage, voiding another state's legal marriage is surely the worst way to do that.

They are leaping back and forth over the short fences that separate states rights from federalism, the established dividers that judges through the Supreme Court take far more seriously than they do local paranoia.

Assume that they pass this bill and that Massachusetts marrieds win recognition from the Wyoming or federal courts. This would void the voiding law, opening similar action elsewhere.

This is bound to happen eventually. How nice if the Equality State gets it started so quickly and so clearly.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

High Prices for Unwed Partners

In a dispassionate capitalistic monotone, the Financial Times reports on the state of the states on legal and economic effects of preventing same-sex marriage. In that spirit, I'll try to hold down the shrillness and sarcasm. Let me just write that this is the running score in the Hurt the Gay Couples Game.

The Lauren Foster recap concludes that most financial benefits married couples rightly assume are between impossible and difficult for unwed same-sex ones. In the 43 states that have no recognition of any type for SS couples, married couples' financial protections require considerable effort and purchased expertise.

The FT includes the relationship-recognition map from the Human Rights Campaign. What financial protections there are at the state level (none by the feds) some in California (spousal rights to all unmarried couples), D.C. and Maine (domestic partnerships), Hawaii (reciprocal partnerships), Connecticut, New Jersey and Vermont (civil unions), and Massachusetts (SSM).

Our Census Bureau reports that unmarried couples are at 6 million, up from 3.2 million in 1990. For them, as the FT puts it, "In most states, unmarried couples have the same legal status as acquaintances. And that has far-reaching consequences for financial and personal matters."

For example, spouses can give each other unlimited amounts in life or at death, tax free. An estate tax is a one-time event -- death of the survivor -- for marrieds and twice for unmarried partners.

Partners who are not allowed to marry have to arrange such alternatives as testamentary charitable remainder uni-trusts (UCRUTs). Assets can support a surviving partner, but only if in the end the funds go to the pre-named charity.

If an unmarried partner wants to leave over $2 million to the partner, anything over $2 of the estate is taxable. It is not for married people.

For an unmarried couple, adding the other person to a house title triggers a gift tax -- not so if they were married (and could marry).

Alternately, a SS couple might have to set up a limited partnership, which would own their assets and disperse any only in proportion to the partners' contributions. Of course, this is not necessary for spouses.

A tiny bright spot in this mess was last summer when President Bush signed the non-spousal beneficiary law. It lets anyone named inherit some retirement plan (like 401[k]) assets and roll them into an inherited IRA, thus deferring taxes.

Wills become crucial for unmarried partners too, according to Lehman Brothers managing director and wealth advisory group head Holly Isdale. "For a traditional married couple, certain things are ass-umed . . . but for unmarried couples, they have to proactively state how their assets will be divided at death or separation,” she said.

This can mean separate life insurance policies naming each other as beneficiary. It can also take the form of an irrevocable life insurance trust to minimize taxes. Even here, for unmarried couples only, these fold into the estate and are taxed that way, albeit at a lower rate than gifts.

Also, considering the attitude of many potential estate beneficiaries in the family tree, preventing challenges to wills take a particular importance for unmarried couples. Trusts do not go through probate and are harder to challenge than a will.

As for separation, there are both assets and often kids to consider. Holland+Knight partner Tamara Kolz urges a cohabitation agreement. Her legalese on this is a veritable prose fest:
When a relationship dissolves, it is not unusual for an alimony requirement or a transfer of property from one partner to another to occur. Because the relationship is not recognised by federal law, alimony is not deductible as it would normally be, and any transfer of property doesn’t fall under the exception of transfers incident to a divorce, so there may be capital gains or gift tax consequences. So even dissolving the relationship is far more complicated and costly than for heterosexual married couples.
In short, there really is no in short for unmarried SS couples. In the seven states and the federal district that offer some protection, the burden is a little lighter and the undergrowth a bit less dense. However, the federal tax laws are for spouses, not the unwed. State laws in the 43 playing Hurt the Gay Couples mean that preparation is intense, demanding and unforgiving.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Deval Invites Gays to King's Table

Those cherry picking civil rights don't seem to have a bright future with our Gov. Deval Patrick. At the King tribute today in Boston, Patrick built on the civil-rights aims and achievements. He went further to iterate his recognition that the marriage-equality fight in Massachusetts is an extension of King's work.

There is a sweet irony and a hopeful sign throughout America as self-identified conservatives and the provincial sorts embrace the messages and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. African Americans are still disadvantaged in the larger culture and work world. Yet overt discrimination is no longer acceptable to most of us.

While cooking dinner, I became aware that Patrick had plainly and accurately evoked King in slamming the anti-same-sex-marriage campaign. We were not at the tribute, but the NPR reporter who was said that the deafening applause and cheers suddenly quieted when Patrick made it clear that civil rights are just that and worthy of respect and protection, as King would have had it.

Both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald wimped out on this. Each runs the same solid story, complete with the supplied Associated Press headline. You'd think that one of the rags would have had reporters there and put an insightful story on their sites. Maybe by tomorrow, they'll rewrite the AP story enough to pretend it was theirs.

Among the remarks that stilled the crowd were:

"Race relations is the only major social ill we're facing in this country that we seem to be seriously considering curing by denial, as if declaring ourselves colorblind in law will make us colorblind in fact," Patrick said, repeating a mantra of "we have much work to do."

The governor said the civil rights movement that King led has grown to include ethnic and racial groups other than blacks. He pointedly said it includes gays and lesbians, a notion that has been rejected by some black activists.

"The struggles of others have taken their rightful place over the years alongside the struggles of black people," Patrick told capacity crowd inside Faneuil Hall.

Patrick indicated his concern over an initiative petition to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage.

"Whether you support gay marriage or not, and I know views on this are very strong, we are about to take the radical step of using a petition initiative to defeat basic rights," he said. "The use of the petition process to insert discrimination into the constitution and limit freedoms is unprecedented."

Meanwhile, we have heard even from conservative African American ministers as well as the VoteonMarriage people that marriage equality is not a civil rights issue. Some use the spurious argument that people are born with their skin color and, some try to hold, homosexuality is some sort of choice. Not only is that wrong headed, but it cannot be any more wrong hearted.

Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, also made it plain many times that she had no doubt her husband would have fought for these rights as well. As long as eight years ago, she noted how many homosexuals had joined her husband's fight for African American civil rights. Also, she said:
I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice. But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.
Well, both Dr. King and his wife are dead. However, their message was plain enough. It remains so.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Priests Forced to...Nothing

The shocking word from New Jersey is that nothing much has changed for ministers, priests, rabbis and other clerics. Following the legalization of same-sex civil unions, religious types now have one additional option in solemnizing marriages recognized by the Garden State -- they can, should they consent, perform such ceremonies for homosexual couples.

It is even worth writing about because the state attorney general iterated that this was an option for them, and not a requirement. Likewise, civil servants do not have the option of refusing; it is part of their job.

Despite the panic-mongering asserting that legalizing civil unions or same-sex marriages would bring enforced endorsement of such abominations to their sects, it is not so. It is not so in New Jersey. It is not so in Connecticut. It is not so in Vermont. It is not so in Massachusetts. It is not so in Canada.

The AP reminds us that as of February 19th, Jersey homosexual couples can apply for marriage licenses. After a three-day waiting period, they can have their union solemnized by a public official, like a justice of the peace, or any recognized cleric.

You would think at some point, the anti-gay/anti-same-sex-marriage folk would be ashamed to lie so blatantly. Not yet. No matter how many times their prophesies of doom and pagan slavery fail, they keep at it.

In fact, it is not only the wingers who are infected with such fantasies. The medium-sized Bergen Record likely has a Roman Catholic editor writing headlines, including the one on this story reading AG delivers a setback for civil unions. Of course, that's not what the article says, but it appears to reveal the editor's thinking.

There are plenty of open-hearted and open-minded folk, clerics and otherwise, who see civil union solemnization as either a pleasure or a job.
Attorney General Stuart Rabner's clarification simply noted that churches were exempt from anti-discrimination laws on this matter, as they are exempt in hiring and association rules and regulations.

The U.S. and all state constitutions recognize such as protections for religion. It's the law of the land, even in Trenton.

Move along. There's nothing to see here.

On the other hand, a couple of close-hearted and close-headed legislators put the lie to the claims by the anti forces that they will mind their own business if they lose. In Jersey, one (Sen. Henry P. McNamara [R-Wycoff]] wants to let public officials paid by the state or municipalities refuse to perform civil unions. Another (Sen. Gerald Cardinale [R-Cresskill]) wants to define marriage as one-man/one-woman.

However, the pro-equality side is scampering too, even if it is for positive effect in contrast. Assemblyman Red Gusciora (D-Mercer County) wants to add marriage to to civil unions. Also Sen. Joseph V. Doria Jr. (D-Bayonne) and Assemblyman Alfred E. Steele (D-Paterson) would give domestic partners marriage rights and benefits.

While all those percolate (I'm betting the legislature is gun-shy now and won't pass any of those), the government officials who must perform civil unions or stop performing marriages include mayors and other municipal officials who regularly perform such ceremonies now.

Perhaps someone can tell that Record editor that in New Jersey, as in Massachusetts, marriages and there now civil unions are civil contracts and always have been. Clergy also as add-ons get to solemnize these contracts.

However, the state makes the marriage or civil union legal and only the state can dissolve the contract legally. Folk can layer a religious ritual on top of the contract. That's often a satisfying bonus, but by itself is not legally meaningful. Bring the wedding license and enter into the contract.

We are likely to go through this in every state as they slowly come to SSM or civil unions. It seems like people would have gotten this by now.

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Falling Off the Globe

Our plump doyen of local news and noise continues to mumble its way into a kind of dementia of journalism. The latest confirming diagnosis was that it and its related New England operations would dump about 5% of staff in a combination of buyouts and outsourcing.

That translates into 19 Globe newsroom and opinion jobs. The newsroom there -- for the moment -- is already down to 412 employees. The 125 cuts hit mostly the New England Media Group's Globe and Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Some advertising and finance jobs will be outsourced. The whole downsizing starts this month and should finish by April Fool's Day. Affected employees with 10 or more years will get the buyout offers and outsourced ones will get a similar severance.

Not Really Fired

The best spin seemed to come in the Globe's own coverage. It quoted Executive VP Alfred S. Larkin Jr. as, "Our expectation is we will be able to accomplish our goal without resorting to layoffs." That's in the whoop-de-ding class. Then again, Larkin gets all the plum jobs; he was the poor sucker who had to fess up for the division when it wrapped its paper bundled in confidential subscriber info and distributed them.

It's telling that they tucked this tale of woe on the bottom of the business section front, as the parent company put it in their media and advertising section. The W&T were similar. Even the Boston Herald, with no particular glee, published what it says were the related management memos.

Why Are They Here?

It's sort of just about money. Circulation from last year was down 7% to 386,000 at the Globe and 11% to 89,000 at the T&G. Subscription and per-copy prices don't begin to cover the costs of creating and distributing the papers. However, they are the basis for the real money, by being the measurement for advertising rates.

Wait, you might say, aren't the new realities favorable for media profit?
  • Doesn't cost next to nothing -- repackaging existing work and raking in Web ads?
  • Didn't the Globe and the T&G already hack a bunch of folk and trim operations not too long ago?
  • Hasn't the Globe already eliminated expensive stuff like full-sized format and foreign bureaus?
Of course, but more telling is that these and other newspapers have had decades to prepare for and prevent such problems. Phenomena like Internet, radio and cable news didn't appear in the past 12 months to surprise these folk.

Sure, it's a big challenge to compete with faster news, especially the low-demand LITE versions. Gen-X and Gen-Y folk didn't grow up reading newspapers or much of anything. The same teens and adults who can't make change without a cash register to calculate it avoid the printed word when they can. The last figure I saw from Editor and Publisher pegged the average age of newspaper readers at 55.

This saddens those of us who grew up not only with TV, but getting our news from the several local rags each city had. We moved every couple of years when I was a kid and we got two or three of the local papers, including the closest real city if necessary. For example, in Chester, Virginia, we got the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Washington Post. In New Jersey, we got the Herald-Tribune, the New York Times and the Plainfield Courier-News. In this house, both adults were reporters and we still get multiple newspapers, as well as hitting numerous online outlets. We, in other words, are freaks by today's standards, atavisms at best.

What About New Media?

So, how is it that the local papers and Mama Times didn't get it? The most cursory observation of organisms, animate or corporate, teaches the primal lesson of adapt or die.

Before looking at the adaptations like, consider newspaper economics. There is a well-deserved reputation for being arrogant skinflints on the publishing side. With few exceptions, like the NYT, papers have always underpaid staff. The reporter/editor union, the Newspaper Guild, exists not to bedevil the honorable publishers, but in reaction to them.

Unlike most manufacturing and distribution operations, newspapers are relatively cash positive and have good margins. They don't have to stock and store goods that go bad in the truck or on the shelf. They don't have to keep warehouses filled with accurate estimates of what different outlets need. They don't even compete with a large variety of similar vendors. In general, they are cash rich, getting their ad and subscription income soon after or even before the issue appears. Unlike groceries with margins in single digits, papers have them in the high teens or low twenty percentages.

It's not software, but it's a living.

One interpretation of what's happening at the local papers and nationwide is that publishers can't and won't accept that their business is just less profitable than they so long accepted and expected. The Globe was at least honest enough to include remarks (very bottom) in their piece on this from the president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, Dan Totten.

He called the cuts "corporate greed at its worst." He added, "Outsourcing efforts by The New York Times [Co.] on our beloved Boston Globe shows a lack of respect for the quality, dedication, and work ethic that Boston Newspaper Guild members have brought to their Globe jobs."

Now What?

From that angle, the publishers should adapt by accepting their lower profits for the noble goals of educating the public and being a major force for honesty, honor and freedom. Ta da.

That certainly is in the fat-chance/Pollyanna class. The parent company is publicly held and capitalist. It says up front that its duty to shareholders is profit. They will put their money elsewhere, leaving the Times and its unruly children without cash otherwise.

The other half is what about that Web and previous cost cutting and hard-copy enhancements? If CNN, Fox and various Net news sites make a buck, what the devil's the problem here? Can't dovetail with the print version and do the same?

Unfortunately, this may require more wit and courage than the collective Globe folk have. With the exception of some grainy, outdated video and some god-awful quasi-blogs, is pretty much the print version in HTML and its variants. There's not enough zing for the kiddies.

The site doesn't have real or hidden entertainment -- music, animation, personal interaction. Hell, most articles don't even put in the obvious hyperlinks to make them Net enabled.

Likewise, on the print side, the Globe has only inched toward currency. It now runs color images -- 35 years late. It copies modest additions and improvements to its content from other papers.

At the same time, it has reduced the original reporting to an embarrassing level. Sports aren't too bad, but we need to look to Phoenix, blogs and even TV news for the detail and breadth the big local daily should, and used to, have.

This problem does not look insoluble. However, no one at either the local or the parent company seems to have the vision and guts required to pull the choke on this engine. A 21st Century media demigod should be able to tell them how they can adapt for growth rather than wither and die.

I suggest they put some effort and money -- and faith -- in evolution and revolution. Find and bring in a hotshot. In this case, it's metamorphose or atrophy.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Rights on the Menu in Massachusetts

To keep a bit of perspective, we should probably recall that only a few years ago, any GLBT bill introduced on Beacon Hill was quixotic at best. This session, we'll see a flurry, plus one to tweak the commonwealth constitution.

How they fare under the blended new/old leadership will say a lot about how seriously the legislature takes the landslide vote for change in Massachusetts.

From last fall until this session's Constitutional Convention (ConCon), the sea serpent in the harbor remains the anti-marriage-equality amendment. According to the current Bay Windows, the magic number is a huge nine legislators shifting from let-the-people-vote to protect-marriage-equality-as-a-civil-right position. The Ethan Jacobs piece includes a sidebar with the counts -- defeated anti-equality folk, elected pro-equality ones, elected anti-equality ones, and those terrified of appearing to legislate this right rather than putting it to a plebiscite.

"Trying to change nine votes is a very, very difficult task. And in fact the odds might be stacked against us," said Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. She admitted to having been overly optimistic in hoping to get 151 of 200 votes against the amendment this ConCon.

Yet, the Mass Family Institute/Vote on Marriage people may have gone too far...and wakened the sleeping bunnies and kittens. They have been dissembling, shouting and cheating for years to get this amendment as far as they have. The much larger groups of civil-rights supporters, GBLT voters and vanilla progressives seem to have finally gotten fed up as one. The demagogues' inability to know their limits may at last set the stage for some long overdue remedies.

Consider the list of new legislation that Bay Windows provides:
  • Trans wording to discrimination and hate crimes. Rep. Carl Sciortino (D-Somerville) introduced a bill to add gender identify and expression to the existing statutes. He notes that D.C., nine sates, and 81 cities and towns have such wording already.
  • Veterans benefits Equity. Gay vets, even those tossed from service just because they were gay, can't get federal benefits. Sciortino would provide full state benefits.
  • Out-of-State SSM. The awful 1913 laws then Gov. Mitt Romney and AG Tom Reilly used against same-sex couples from out of state are the target of a renewed repeal effort. Sen. Jarrett Barrios (D-Cambridge) is reintroducing it on his side and Sciortino in the House. Romney would have vetoed this and Barrios is betting that Gov. Deval Patrick would sign it. He noted that Patrick could order officials here not to enforce it, as Romney and Reilly ordered them to use it, but that would leave this remnant of the antimiscegenation era to be used as a weapon in the future.
  • State Medicaid for Same-Sex Couples. Barrios and Rep. Liz Malia (D-JP) plan a bill that would let the state extend its MassHealth insurance to anyone Massachusetts recognizes as married.
In no small part because I like fixing underlying problems rather than patch, patch, patch, I was excited to see the State House News Service announce a tweaking aimed at Article XLVIII of the constitution. This ballot initiative section has is the small wart that has grown into a huge tumor as these measures have in the 24 states that use them.

This first tweak is from Rep. Alice Wolf (D-Cambridge). It would prevent initiatives from limiting or abridging civil rights.

While the Vote On Marriage types love to say the current amendment is not aiming to do that, or really that their marriages are civil rights, but those of same-sex couples are not. Even our trembling, whispering Supreme Judicial Court could not take that argument seriously.

Wolf has company from Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston), Michael Feta (D-Melrose) and Sciortino.

Given the grief and particularly efforts to redefine marriage here by changing it from the civil contract it has always been from Colonial days, this tweak is a necessary start. The political and corporate special interests who love to abuse ballot initiatives need clear rules and limits to keep them from using this well-intentioned populist tool for their narrow interests.

We love this and hope it is the first of many such process improvements and clarifications.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Collision Cop Home Free

If not innocent, this Boston cop will not be culpable for killing a woman five months ago by running into her broken down car on Route 93. The Suffolk DA will not charge him, according to a paragraph in the Boston Globe.

As our plump local press tends to run police and DA statements without any original reportage, we don't know whether the public was well served or should be curious or even outraged.

When we first cited this case, we noted that off-duty officer Thomas M. Griffin sure seemed to get the fraternal treatment. He ran into Michelle Vibert's stalled car, with her inside, around 2:20 a.m. Given the time and that he apparently just didn't notice her car was not moving, it would seem to call for tests for alcohol or other drugs. It has suspicious circumstances.

However, at the time the state police did not cite him. There was also no indication of any testing, either observation, mechanical or chemical.

According to today's regurgitated report:
Investigators found no evidence that Thomas M. Griffin , 27, of Boston, was intoxicated or negligent in the accident. A State Police reconstruction team found that Griffin hit Vibert as she was parked in the right lane around 2:20 a.m. on Aug. 12, not realizing in time that the vehicle was not moving. Investigators believe that Griffin tried to avoid Vibert's car, but struck its left rear bumper, causing it to spin and Griffin's SUV to flip.
If you or I caused the same wreck, the cops might likely assume we had been out drinking, we were not paying attention in our impaired state, and that we were speeding if we flipped our SUV. Maybe they assumed so. Maybe they cut him enormous slack because he was a fellow officer. Maybe they tested him. Likely not, or they would have at least reported that.

So this may be more business as usual and not truly nefarious non-enforcement.

You'd think the Globe or even its asthenic tabloid foe would ask whether the cop got drug tests, what kinds of investigations went on, whether they determined his speed, whether she was in the breakdown lane, whether her hazard lights were flashing, and such. It could be everything was thorough and detached. That would be swell to know. Meanwhile, found no evidence is a spongy phrase.

Coming out of J-school and working newspapers for some years, I sure would have followed up on this story. But those were in days in the last century with hungry competition among cities' several newspapers, and special attention to crime coverage.

By cracky.

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Funding? Transit Don't Need Funding!

The MBTA is no exception. Everyone turns to the legislature and new Governor Deval Patrick, saying, "Fix it. Fund it."

Well, all Deval's cabinet and all Deval's courtiers can't even begin to fund the fixes for nearly two decades of legislative and executive abuse here. He opened his new treasure chest to find a billion-dollar debt instead of that much in surplus claimed by the Lieutenant Governor in her recent campaign for this office and by our own Cap'n Brylcreem, a.k.a. POTUS-envying Mitt Romney.

Thanks to a few legislators who will, thank you very much, take reality no matter how painful over Healey/Romney fantasies, the mass-transit funding issue is running around the room screaming for attention right now. They are introducing a bill for the state to take back $2.9 billion of debt it layered over the MBTA's operations.

Yesterday, state Treasurer Timothy Cahill told the T tough nuggies. He said the state could not afford to pay the debt service (third item down).

Well, guess what, Timmy, neither can the T. In fact, this underfunded mandate from the state, based on badly flawed assumptions has crippled the MBTA. It has robbed us all of the necessary improvements to attract riders and has resulted in three fare hikes in a few years, with more likely. In effect, this is putting the T into a death spiral of decreased services, lower ridership, less revenue, and down, down, down.

Background: See dates and figures in this post by Charlie on the MBTA.

The short of it is that the state, including the Treasurer's office made its best guesses of how much sales tax revenue we'd get in good times, promised the T 20% of that to try to offset a $5 billion-plus debt it piled on. Part of the deal was to say that the MBTA had to break even from then on.

When sales taxes tanked and there was no way for the T to meet its side, the state has whistled and looked skyward. That doesn't cut it. The state made a huge mistake and needs to fix it.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we want fewer vehicles on the road, more mass-transit commuters, less air and noise pollution. Blah, blah. Yet, many of us say let T riders pay for all the costs, forgetting how much beyond tolls or taxes we are subsidized for the roads and related infrastructure to support our automobile jones.

Patrick seems to be about responsibility and fixing what is broken. A lot was broken in the past two decades. Only a few of these are as obvious, affect as many every day, and have such far-reaching implications as the T funding.

Like the $1 billion deficit, Patrick has a problem here. The solution is Sen. Barrios and his buddies'. We need to correct this error and figure out how to amortize and benefit from this mid-term and long-term. We had one administration and legislature after another being dishonest about the funding issues and then refusing to admit their blunders here.

The Mitt has left the building, but he has left quite a mess for others to clean up after.

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