Monday, April 30, 2007

DOMA Gets Dope Slap

Today the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stretch the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA) to crush a lesbian mom's hard-won rights.

According to the AP story, it would not take the case of Lisa Miller-Jenkins v. Janet Miller-Jenkins. This was the outgrowth of the couple who moved from Virginia to Vermont, joined in civil union in 2000, had a daughter together two years later, and separated in 2003. Lisa hied back to Virginia, and made the split nastier.

Understandably Janet thought, felt and wanted the case decided in Vermont, where they had the union and legal status. Lisa seemed as nasty as any ex in a straight marriage. She refused to let Janet visit their daughter (who considered them both moms, although Lisa is the biological one). Lisa also says now that she is an ex-lesbian.

She enlisted the infamous anti-gay, anti-marriage equality Liberty Counsel to try to keep the case in Virginia and keep piling it on Janet. This became a spitting contest between the two V states. She lost that one, with Vermont maintaining its order that she share custody. The high court in Virginia agreed, extensively citing the Vermont high-court decision.

The gist of Lisa's argument before the U.S. court is:
Miller says the act conflicts with a more recent federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, on same-sex marriage. That act says no state shall be required to abide by a law of any other state with respect to a same-sex marriage.

In asking the justices to take the case, Miller's lawyers said state courts in Vermont and elsewhere have "eviscerated the protections afforded each state" under the Defense of Marriage Act.

Janet's attorneys pointed to their two-state victories. Also, they make the strong argument that Lisa has been court-shopping by moving to Virginia.

Divorces and their equivalents, and funerals and wills seem to bring out the worse in some people. Good on the Supremes for got falling into the emotional trap disguised as legal argument.

The plug uglies at Liberty report that they'll continue to attack this case from every possible angle in Vermont.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Northern Liars, Cowards and Hypocrites

East Coast, West Coast, seems to make no difference. What you can count on from the anti-marriage-equality and anti-gay forces are dishonesty and dishonor.

Just the latest example come from our neighboring New Hampshire. Remember those folk who said if we lose in the legislature, we'll accept it. Bovine feces!

They acted the same in Massachusetts, California, New Jersey and now New Hampshire.

Both duly elected houses of the representative democratic legislature passed a civil unions bill last week. The duly elected governor says he'll sign it as soon as he gets it. That is the way democracy is supposed to work at the state level.

So, what do you suppose the anti folk's reaction is? Consider:
  • Their lobbying group wants to try to stop this before the January implementation -- by court action.
  • A Republican state rep wants to turn right-wing argument on its head by claiming the unions are discriminatory, because they apply only to homosexuals.
Of course, the absurd hypocrisy of each of these positions is staggering. The first is just what these folk slammed left-wing and other civil-rights-oriented people of doing for years. Even worse, the second is a wonderful catch 22 situation. We won't let you marry because you're homosexual, but we'll dare you to try to get civil unions passed in the legislature. Yes, you can't marry, because it isn't legal. Oh, you have civil unions? Well, you can't have those because you're not married. Huh?

The circular reasoning is absurd and a virtual loser in court. On the other hand, if they overplay that, the courts may have to follow the Goodridge path that our high court did. Yes, discrimination against homosexuals is illegal, so they must have the right to marry.

Anyway, the lesson here is that their argument is never going to be about fairness, rather about hindering and discriminating against gays. They lost, big time, in Concord. The time for marriage equality has come to New Hampshire.

When they say, "Let the people speak," what they mean is, "Let the people speak the only words we'll accept."

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Handguns and Raw Nerves

Cross-posted at Harrumph! and Left Ahead! This promiscuous cross-posting is a first for me, but we ended up kicking the handguns issue up and down the hall in our podcast. Previously, my regular blogs had a related post.

Sometimes I go out of my way to offend people and other times it just seems to happen.

If you picked up on the Bubbling Cauldron podcast this week with the handguns discussion, you might want to head over to the original comments and counterpoints that led to the topic.
I originally stifled handgun remarks as long as I could before posting. As well as our podcast, this led to very different and rather unstereotypical rejoinders at Scratches, a chum's blog. As I, he also bubbled over here and here and here.

You might not think of it from our posts and comments, but we actually are fairly civil, even in our disagreements. He and I share a profession and a generation, but come from sufficiently different backgrounds to make discussions sometimes tense and often unpredictable. We don't go for how 'bout them Sox or the like.

I see a gate opening, leading to a long journey here. I still find America to be socially slow. Here, I see a progressive opportunity to work actively to make major changes in our handgun-loving culture.

Over at Scratches, Uncle has a very different perspective. Yet, it's not the stereotypical, "Don't you dare touch my guns!"

I suspect each of us would welcome comments on the subject. We concur that the Democrats have been absolute cowards about addressing this and the related issues of violence...on the street, at home, in the schools and elsewhere.

I see this as the time for change.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Live Free or Live Free

We all knew it was coming, but glory be. New Hampshire did pass their civil-union/spousal union thingummy today. Gov. John Lynch says he'll sign it as soon as he gets it. After all these years of civil unions and same-sex marriage, this makes New Hampshire the first state to legislate same-sex unions per se without court action or threat thereof.

The new law will also recognize civil unions and same-sex marriages solemnized or entered into elsewhere.

There is a sweet symmetry here, as the Union Leader notes. Now in the region, Maine and Rhode Island are the only states without some same-sex union or marriage. Also, New Jersey has civil unions and a lot of agitation for marriage, and New York's governor is ready to introduce a same-sex marriage bill.

The Senate went by straight, if you pardon, party lines and approved the bill 14 to 10. This goes with the House approval three weeks ago by 243 to 129.

Not everyone is blowing up celebratory balloon though. As the AP story puts it:
"Let’s just call it what it really is, no sugar-coating, no b.s. This creates same-sex marriage. There is no right to marriage in either the New Hampshire Constitution or the federal Constitution. Rather it’s natural law that defines marriage," said Republican Sen. Robert Letourneau, of Derry.
Indeed. If that's what it is, why not make it that. Full marriage works here in Massachusetts.

By the bye, this is a legal matter, a civil contract one. Keep your personal religion off our laws, if you please.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Courting Equality Out and About

Let's see...Mother's Day...Father's Day...some birthdays...just because...

There are plenty of reasons to buy and give Courting Equality. It is social history and great photography of the marriage equality struggle, anticipation and reality in Massachusetts.

You can order it now from Amazon (free shipping) or direct from Beacon Press (more expensive, but you're supporting UUs and can walk right up Beacon Street and leave with copies).

There's a plethora of events coinciding with publication. The first one close to me is at the Cambridge YWCA, Wednesday, May 16th, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Photographer Marilyn Humphries and authors Karen Kahn and Pat Gozemba (and some of the couples in the book) will be there. Of course, they'll sign your book.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Guns in a Less Simple Time

The political carrion beetles feasted following the Cho massacre at Virginia Tech. Right, left, libertarian, pro or anti-gun, and on and on grasped single grains of information and grew huge plants, no whole orchards, from them.

Disclaimer: I had one and then a second post on my eldest son headed to the campus the evening of the murders. That was not what a parent wants to ponder. In mine, you won't find blame for anyone.

Reading buckets of ink or electron coverage of it, I find myself reacting to the excessive and multi-directional gun-control comments, as well as the lack of musing on the class issues.

I claim fair-use to the Rosemary Wells phrase from her Max's First Word early reader. I also strongly recommend this series. Both the kids and adults involved in reading them can tolerate the hundreds of repetitions.

I am also sorry if a cartoon image seems inappropriate in relation to this horrific occurrence and its aftermath. Yet, this reflects the self-absorbed and comic nature of gun debate that has already followed.

A future post deals with the obvious class undercurrents. First though, the arguments about guns brought Max to mind. Throughout the book, despite the entreaties and guile of his sister Ruby to speak other words, Max will only say, "Bang!"

Indeed, on the early afternoon following the Blacksburg tragedy, wing nuts, reactionaries, righty pundits and their ilk were filling the internet and broadcast pipes with screeds about how gun ownership has nothing to do with mass murder using guns. Browning forbid that they found anyone suggesting tighter restrictions on handguns.

Even some not so berserk chums, like here, give reasoned apologies for handguns, tying ownership to libertarian ideals. No discussion of the standard, moot arguments follows. You can find those in internet searches in general or Technorati ones in particular. You can find the National Rifle Association comic-b0ok treatment of in-school murder by guns. Also, likely the guy most in need of asbestos underwear this month will be Salon's Washington bureau chief, Walter Shapiro, following his call to Repeal the Second Amendment.

Pertinently, Australia had a very similar massacre by guns that led precipitously to a fix that seems to have worked. In addition. they had a similar wild-west type of mentality even in city dwellers that they faced and overcame. Europeans quickly had to drop Aussies from their ridicule about a gun culture and concentrate exclusively on us among first-world nations.

An overview of mass shootings in the United States is here. About a third of the way in, you find this as well:
Australia had a spate of mass public shooting in the 1980s and '90s, culminating in 1996, when Martin Bryant opened fire at the Port Arthur Historical Site in Tasmania with an AR-15 assault rifle, killing 35 people.

Within two weeks the government had enacted strict gun control laws that included a ban on semiautomatic rifles. There has not been a mass shooting in Australia since.

Yet, in the same this-but-that article, some folk including a criminologist say that gun availability is no biggie, certainly not a cause. This seems to be an abortion-level hot button.

Thus, we return to the American stalemate. Well over half of the population in every poll favors more gun control and fewer guns. They are not the loud ones that politicians hear or from whom they get contributions. That's simple enough.

Supposedly we now have more handguns than Americans. In itself, this suggests that were we to implement vastly stricter gun licensing, permitting and punishment for violations, it would take decades to reduce the number of guns to even the number that would accommodate one or two rifles or shotguns per hunter and a handgun for domestic protection.

It is difficult to seriously consider the extreme anti-gun-control types' arguments in light of U.S. death and injury figures due to handguns. Consider the graphic in today's New York Times. Nearly 30,000 Americans die annually from being shot, and over 64,000 are injured. From 18 to 40, the most common deaths are black men being murdered. Over that age, it is white men killing themselves with handguns.

The wheezing argument that the violent types would use a knife, club or whatever is not convincing, particularly so for mass murders by gun, easily available gun.

Short of having walk-in or drive-in psychologists on every corner like convenience stores or gas stations, migrating from a bullet-centric culture seems the most workable. Clearly, this is not a simple or politically popular solution, even with the poll figures favoring gun restrictions.

I rather doubt that the Cho massacre will lead to the national soul searching and directional change that Australia experienced. It may more such horrors to tip the debate.

I think of my own family and friends. My beloved grandfather did not kill animals for sport (although he ate them). His son and his son's sons did. My many great-uncles did too, but I think more for the fraternal experience and beer instead of the 14-point buck they stalked. Several of their sons and one long-term friend were life-long law enforcement types -- county or state police or sheriffs. None of them would be without a pistol in the bedside table drawer.

Yet, at the same time, they each and all have faced the calls for adults, teens and even toddlers who died from accidental gun discharge. While they all favor having a gun for that extremely unlikely home invasion, they decry when someone is enraged or otherwise temporarily out of control, has access to a gun, and uses it on another. Those people shouldn't have had guns. Then all of the good intentions of proper training and weapon storage become meaningless, and, of course, undercut the NRA positions.

Yet, even I was not prepared to see some of the right-wing articles and blog posts postulating the all-American gory glory if only every student on the Virginia Tech campus has been armed and trained to use guns. Boy, or boy, some wrote, that murderer wouldn't have stood a chance.

As a boomer, I grew up on such westerns. Those were simple times for my immature mind and emotions. White hats, black hats, good guys, villains...that was simple and satisfying. The good guys had to win, even if they took one to the shoulder and even if they had to shoot it out with the bad guy.

I confess that I understand the appeal and feel the emotional pull of such binary theatrics. However, most of the world has evolved beyond the wild-west drama. Most countries, except for a few Asian ones and numerous non-democracies, have also outlawed or not used capital punishment for decades.

Many of the libertarian bent deride those who would reduce handgun ownership and restrict acquisition and require registration. Some say those folk are anti-Constitution and pseudo-progressives.

I confess that there are status quo components I would defend and keep. As you might imagine from this blog, Massachusetts same-sex marriage is one of those.

I understand that those who want to retain the privilege, or as they say right, to a handgun in every nightstand see that as a status quo worthy of fighting to maintain. I disagree strongly. We really don't need to look beyond the tiny number of folk who claim to have prevented a crime because they carried a handgun versus the daily murders and accidental firearms deaths -- nearly 100 Americans a day.

In an ideal world, every gun owner would be of pure heart, sound mind, excellent marksmanship, and not susceptible to the emotions that would have him turn his weapon of protection to an tool for murder. Then again, in an ideal world, we'd have no criminals and no need to anyone to own a handgun.

No one should wait patiently for either ideal.

Over the past several years, I have noted numerous areas in which we as a nation are socially slow. Gay rights and same-sex marriage are among these. Handguns for all is yet another.

It may take 30 years for us to accept the need to moderation and act on it. Hmm, that may be the same time period for same-sex marriage.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Shifting Down

For the next three months or so, this blog and Harrumph! will have less frequent posting.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lynch Aligns Mug and Wump

According to the AP, New Hampshire Gov. James Lynch is finally off the fence, saying he'll sign a civil-unions bill when it plops on his desk. He's probably too old to become decisive now, but this is a long-overdue and welcome development.

He suddenly claims to have both morality and empathy. He old the reporter, "I believe it is a matter of conscience, fairness and preventing discrimination...I still think marriage is between a man and a woman, but this prevents discrimination."

Unions look sure to pass, likely in next Wednesday's session.

That doesn't suit everyone, including state Republican Chairman Fergus Cullen. He lamented, "The Democrats are going too far, too fast and Gov. Lynch is going along with them. These are not the actions of a moderate governor."

Seeming to represent the strong majority in the legislature on this, Rep. Bette Lasky, a Democrat who led the fight on the bill, said, "It's never going too far when you give people their rights and I honestly believe that the majority of people in this state want to do just that and do not want to discriminate."

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Can the Age of Pork End?

This is goodness and promising. The Boston Globe has a front-page piece on the shameful pork barrel politics in our own state house.

May this be the first flicker as they turn up the heat. This is the wrong time and place for bringing home the bacon or whatever cliché you choose. Both at the national and state level, voters want at least an effort to move away from such waste and disregard for the voters.

Humbling note: I rant much and often on the inadequacy of the Globe's reporting, or lack thereof. Lisa Wangsness has consistently done the best political coverage. The paper's recent history suggests they'll fire her in cost cutting. Let us hope not.

I bet that the Herald and Phoenix will join this chant. It's Readers Digest/Rush Limbaugh perfect for circulation. Self-serving legislators pander to their constituents with old-style pork. They tuck wasteful expenses into useful bills. Then they can go home saying, "See what I did for you." They expect campaign contributions and votes in exchange.

This is 2007. Voters say they are sick of that. They overwhelmingly elected a new executive team to bring progressive politics back to Massachusetts. That leads to several questions, including:
  • Are voters fed up enough to give up their small local benefits for the larger good?
  • Will the MSM pound on the most shameless legislators?
  • Will publicizing these abuses cause voters to scream and even other legislators to out each other's pork barreling?
The other euphemism for this waste is earmarking. The article noted that the House included 1,4780 amendments to the budget just introduced by legislators. Hundreds of these are stealing from the public for pork. "The amendments, which include so-called earmarks and broader proposals to increase the budgets of various agencies, total 'well north of $500 million and counting,' a Ways and Means Committee source said."

Put another way, these expenditures reduce the amount available for funding Gov. Deval Patrick's progressive policies. His aim to set foundations that will better our lives in general and many of which will produce job growth and other revenue enhancement. Pork that gets gobbled up in a single community and produces nothing are not in the same class.

The RD-style list of shame does not appear to be online. However, the print edition highlights a few of these, including:
  • $100,000 — Mayflower II 50th anniversary celebration
  • $350,000 — Melrose stadium lighting
  • $25,000 — therapeutic horseback riding and other alternative therapies pilot program
  • $150,000 — UMASS study of winter moth worm
So at the least, each Rep who wants to play local philanthropist with state money should have to defend vigorously every earmark.

Unfortunately, this article did not tie which piggy wanted to add which amendment to his or her trough. That must be part of future coverage.

Like our colonial heritage of the public stocks, shaming can only be good here.

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Blacksburg Outskirts

For those who asked about Son #1 coming to the Virginia Tech campus on the evening of the massacre, he reported it was surprisingly unremarkable. He is staying just off campus and training in a Tech facility. He is well.

He and a co-worker shared the Ramada with other guests including ABC and CBS news crews. As he put it also, "They're loud late." That is the entitlement I recall from my own news hound days.

As a parental unit, I was concerned with his well being. Beyond that, his vignette from this training included:
The boss of the group of co-workers I am visiting lost a family friend, Prof. Loganathan. She asserted that in India death is such a commonplace that she is not struck by it the way the Americans are, and proved it by being relentlessly merry all day. It was a little disconcerting.
That is indeed a culturally different perspective. It may well relate to her religion as well. In our heart of hearts, we all know from childhood that each of us is a terminal patient here.

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O'Day Romps in Worcester

Although expected, the victory of the pro-marriage-equality and more progressive candidate in Worcester is reassuring. James O'Day trounced the other guy, unenrolled Joseph Cariglia, to replace 14th House District Rep. James B. Leary.

Leary stepped down after his November re-election to become chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Tim Murray. He had a long record of good votes for good causes.

In yesterday's election, the lowest O'Day got in any area was 83.4% of the vote in Worcester. His opponent was from the city, while much was made in the campaign that O'Day was from nearby West Boylston. He averaged 85.1% across the district.

Provincialism yielded to hopes for progressive achievements, it appears.

This ratio of pro-marriage equality state reps did not diminish. In the primary, at least two of the candidates were anti-SSM and favored advancing the current amendment to stop SSM here. O'Day soundly thumped them as well.

The Worcester Telegram covers the vote and has details on O'Day's background here.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Shock of the Real

Cross-posted at Harrumph!

The Virginia Tech massacre has folk scrambling to identify. Of course, for those who loved or at least knew the dead or injured, we risk the worst sort of pretension.

I have my own minor connections and I sense the drive to claim this as a touchstone. Perhaps that need is more empathy than undeserving ownership.

As a nation and larger world, we certainly live in the post-tragic era. The calliopes of TV and cable and now internet news blare and blur real and imagined horror. For their purposes, every death is a tragedy, whether from predictable drug overdose or genocidal slaughter. There’s no need to distinguish if it fills time or space and brings in advertising.

When we do confront an event of true tragic proportion and nature, we can fail to grok and honor it. Such with the dozens of dead in Blacksburg.

I ended up turning off the local news as it cranked up its own cynical calliope. One station, for example, scrambled to pull B.U. students off the rainy streets. The reporter was actually asking the stupidest of provincial questions — What did it mean to them? Could it happen here? Us…us…us.

Well, it wasn’t about Boston or Boston University or who texted a friend at another Southern college to get likewise trivial comments.

My own pause-generating moments were only a little less trivial. I don’t know anyone who attends Tech, but my oldest son was flying and driving there on the evening of the murders. He has a new job that uses Tech facilities for its training.

A parent does not want to know that his son is heading into the mouth of hell, even if the day’s murders have finished, almost certainly. Yes, parents are like that.

My frame of reference on Blacksburg is now totally tarnished and skewed. I spent much of my childhood in Southern Virginia, not far from there. We spent time there and went to Methodist Youth Fellowship retreats on the campus. About the ages of my two youngest, I recall the beauty of the campus and the area. The students seemed huge and very confident to a teen.

Those visions are of another time in that place.

So, my eldest did send email to let me know that he would arrive late in the evening and did not anticipate any problems related to the massacre and its aftermath. That is partial reassurance.

I can only project what it must be like to have a child headed into a combat zone for more than a year.

Let us accept and reflect that the murders in Blacksburg are tragic. No matter how often and how badly the news outlets have misused that word, it is apt here.

This may lead to the level and kind of introspection and other examination that can do two things: 1) Help those dealing directly with the effects, and 2) Lead to decisions that may prevent another such tragedy.

We can never know what the young people murdered yesterday might have done. Some may have brought happiness or healing to many. Given the school, some may have become inventors or entrepreneurs bringing ease or creating wealth and jobs. Some may have become humanitarians. We can never know and the surmising is is yet another aspect of this tragedy.

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Let May Sprout Leaders!

In a few weeks, we could have an active Constitutional Convention (ConCon), or not. All we know for the moment is that we have many shadow puppets -- Senate President Therese Murray, Gov. Deval Patrick, House Speaker Sal DiMasi and the armies of the Dark Side.

Perhaps most fascinating is that Murray, Patrick and DiMasi are all strongly for defeating the anti-marriage-equality amendment, but seem far too cautious about getting the result. An optimist might hope that they are all working so hard behind the curtain that they will get the eight or nine necessary votes to reduce the ConCon vote to send the amendment on below the one-fourth threshold of 50 of 200.

Clearly, the MassEquality and other forces trying to keep discrimination out of our constitution do not count on that. In their effort, it must be disheartening to hear Murray first say that she will avoid such procedural moves as her predecessor used to advance the amendment last time, while killing the health-care one. Then she says shortly afterward that she won't twist any arms to defeat the amendment.

What the devil does that mean? She surely knows that she is the commonwealth's designated number one arm twister. She's supposed to make sure the good stuff gets done and the bad stuff does not.

So is that her way of saying we won't see any arm twisting nor hear the agonies of those being convinced? Alternately, has she had a failure of will and wit in her elevated position? The answer to that may be the key ConCon question and frame politics here for the next year and one-half.

Getting to Fair

We have avoided commenting on the Chris Orchard piece in Bay Windows that justifies the legislature avoiding a vote on the issue at the ConCon, thus killing it. It is an elegantly nitpicking view, one likely to change fewer than one mind.

We have trotted up and down this trail, probably most meaningfully last December. When the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it could not force a vote on a ballot initiative, the informal and non-binding portion of the decision took on the formal and binding role. Then Senate President Bobby Travaglini decided that the mention that it appears as though the intention of Article 48 of the state constitution reads that the ConCon is supposed to vote on all such initiatives. Again, the SJC decision did not mandate this and did not make it part of the formal ruling. In addition, they said they had no power to force it anyway.

The collateral damage, however, was that the most timid quarter of the legislature has used this as an excuse to avoid votes of conscience.

When legislators and executive-branch shots follow the will of their constituents, inertia rules. Everyone sits in the soiled political diaper, motionless, or heads pell-mell wherever the mob wants to go.

That is the true failure of democracy, when the elected leaders won't, don't and can't lead. It is what comes from the most intellectually and morally impoverished politicians. They invariable hide behind some argument to the effect of they are doing what their voters would want, thus servicing their public.

Of course, in contrast, their real job in a representative democracy is to stay a little ahead of the voters, to point where we should be going. When they find reasons and excuses why the status quo is the best and only state, we would have been better to put an oak tree in the office.

The fact is that change is often scary or at least distracting. Almost all of us like to stay with what we know, because, well, we know it and are comfortable with it. Unfortunately, with comfort often comes stagnation and anti-progressive politics that do nothing to better the bulk of us. It is shameful laziness and avoidance.

Risking Leadership

My model for the superior behavior by a legislator remains U.S. Senator Wayne Morse. During the Vietnam War era, he represented a very conservative district that favored involvement in that failed policy, while he opposed it. He voted to end our involvement and save American lives. He led his state and the rest of the nation with early and continuing oration against the unwinnable war. His voters continued to send him back to the Senate, disagreeing with his votes but apparently trusting his leadership and conscience.

Here on the effort to put an amendment stripping homosexuals of their existing right to marry, we have seen many legislators who fail the leadership test. Social conservatives, Democrat as well as Republican, raise the flimsy shield of their average voter. That does not protect them from history or fairness or honor or equality.

It appears that many of the 50 to 60 of the 200 General Court members who would put this amendment before the voters lack both the ability and will to provide leadership. With the polls running solidly in favor of retaining same-sex marriage, they have to know that even with a large, disruptive, distracting influx of out-of-state money and campaigners, the amendment is doomed at the ballot.

We can only conclude that they are betting that supporting putting it to a vote will help them stay in office. That would be the basest form of cynicism.

Perhaps the cowardly 50 or 60 should not stand apart for their base humanity. Their failures are those that many of us share. We want the easy and popular. On the other hand, we elected them to represent us, to be more than ordinary, at least when acting in their offices.

Perhaps one or two more times, if you are in the district of a waffling legislator or one who would vote the status quo and subject us to this torturous and mean-spirited path, you can have some words. Call, write or visit. Say you expect leadership.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Candidate SSM Tally Sheet

Over at Pam's House Blend, she lists the candidates for president in relation to marriage equality. This come complete with responses to her questions about supporting same-sex marriage or civil unions, as well as whether they would repeal the federal DOMA.

On these issues, Alaska's Senator Mike Gavel stands out as best. Specifically, he favors SSM and would dump DOMA.

One of her main inspirations for the compilation is the squish factor. The alleged front runners don't have the courage to be counted here or are on the wrong side. Obama and Edwards are a solid no on SSM and are okay with civil unions. On DOMA, Obama said nearly four years ago that if it came up to a Senate vote, he'd vote to repeal it; he hasn't responded on this since. Edwards has avoided the question.

Clinton is bad on this. Ironically considering her personal history, she says she strongly supports marriage as only between a man and a woman. She's made that work; perhaps that's her real answer to women as well as homosexuals. She'll only play pragmatic on civil unions or domestic partnerships, not saying they are the bare minimum, rather that they might be achievable. Sponge Hillary Square Politics.

Head to Pam's for the whole list and results.

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NH Gov. Blowing in Civil Unions Breezes

New Hampshire apparently has an unofficial tricameral legislature, with Gov. John Lynch being the third house all by himself. Conjecture from legislatures filtered through the AP is that he, if you pardon the pun, queered the vote on civil unions this week.

As the wire story put it, "A civil unions bill moving quickly through the State House hit a jam yesterday and some are questioning whether Gov. John Lynch, who has been silent on the issue, is behind it." It also quoted Sen. Bob Clegg, who expects this to pass when it comes up, as saying,"Why would we fast-track the bill and then hold it? It has to be for purely political reasons.The only factor left is the governor."

I had projected a likely veto-proof margin with the bill passing this week. Instead the vote suddenly halted for an indefinite period. There's a lot of conspiratorially focused chatter on Blue Hampshire about it.

Senate President Sylvia Larsen was the chump, claiming she decided to hold give senators plenty of time to think about it. However, it was clear that the Democratic-dominated house was all behind it. The question was how huge the majority approval would be.

The Democratic governor is not particularly gay friendly, opposed same-sex marriages, and as is his wont, refuses to say if he'd veto the civil-unions bill. In fact, he fanned the speculation that he caused the delay by having his talking head, Colin Manning, refuse to say if he was involved or even had a position.

Manning mush mouthed, "The governor is certain the Senate will give this bill thoughtful consideration." I am sure Dante could find a place in his rings of hell for such cowardly liars.

This appears to be classic Lynch -- not too bright, very indecisive, and indifferent to side-effects on others. Yet, in the end, the bill will certainly lie on his desk. He'd been a lot better off deciding months ago instead of waiting for that moment. Delaying it can only further decrease his political capital.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Oregon Advancing, In a Daze

The good-hearted, but befuddled editorial board of Oregon's capitol newspaper reveal much about the current angst over same-sex marriage. The Salem Statesman-Journal's lead editorial on related bills there is a sad commentary on how clouded emotions impede social progress.

Even though the piece leads and concludes with same-sex-friendly exhortations, the convoluted and unnecessary illogic in the middle offers insight. Anywhere people are torn over marriage equality, they must fret over some of the same thoughts.

I urge them to get over it and get beyond it. That's easy for me to say. I'm on the other side. Also, I live where benign and healthy-for-society same-sex marriages abound. Meanwhile, the best I can do is comment a bit and wish them speedy clarity.

Just the Facts, Ma'am

The bills that the editorial, in its mush-mouthed way, supports are:
  • Senate Bill 2. With exemptions, this band discrimination on sexual orientation in jobs, housing and pubic accommodations. Religious organizations can still refuse to hire homosexuals and homeowners can refuse to rent spare bedrooms to them.
  • House Bill 2007. This creates domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. It provides some legal rights to registered couples, including separate-but-equal versions of inheritance, hosptial visitation, health coverage and child custody.
Those are fairly gutless and laggard. They are very similar to Maine's laws passed in recent years.

One Toe at a Time

It is ironic that in the eighth year of this century, and from a state with a long progressive history, the political newspaper of record would be so divided and timorous. The editorial reflects its subhead -- Morality can be debated, but legality has clearer focus.

After writing that discrimination in employment, housing and medical decisions is wrong, they add:
However, many Oregonians are uncomfortable with homosexuality, and they certainly don't want it given the same status as traditional marriage. That was evident in voters' 2004 passage of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage -- even as many Oregonians said they could accept civil unions as a compromise.

Good people, of deep religious conviction and moral certitude, can be found on either side of these issues. No matter what the Oregon Legislature does or doesn't do on these matters, it cannot please everyone. Oregon, including the Statesman Journal Editorial Board, remains divided.
Here we have the odor of what we smell in Massachusetts with the current drive to stop SSM. They can say, strongly, that discrimination against homosexuals is wrong on one hand. On the other, they would legislate their private religion.

House Bill 2007 acknowledges that their equivalent of civil unions is a civil contract. Those who waffle or demur on SSM do not want to accept that legally marriage is too. No state requires a religious ceremony. In most states, the majority of marriages are conducted by government officials and agents, such as justices of the peace or town clerks.

More to the point, ministers and other clerics are veneers on the marriage furniture. They were allowed to solemnize marriages, the state-sanctioned and binding civil contract, as add-ons. The state gives a couple permission to marry, in the form of the license. It records the contract with an authorized solemnizer's signature. If a legal separation or divorce becomes necessary, the state allows that or not and records it.

We can pause, very briefly, to consider those who insist on saying that they are married in the eyes of their God, their cleric and their religious community. That's nice for them and may be emotionally soothing. Such heart-based thinking is fine over drinks or in bed, but does not belong in the legislature or courtroom.

Unfortunately, this often gets in the way of legal and rights issues. Legally, marriage is not any church's ritual, rather a civil contract enforced by the state. The key question is not whether a particular religious leader approves of this or that law. Rather, ask whether homosexuals deserve full civil rights and protection from discrimination. The question is not what your preacher says but whom the state allows to get a marriage license.

Another Canard

The paper's editorial notes that both parties in both houses support the bills. It urges passage and says they are common sense. Yet it includes:
Two proposals in the Legislature represent a centrist, Oregon-style approach. Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2007 would provide basic rights for homosexuals without harming the rights of heterosexuals.
That makes an image pop up, of a board table populated by Abe Simpson characters. "By cracky, I remember when..."

Here on the other coast, we likewise hear VoteOnMarriage folk and their buddies saying much the same. They aver some unprovable, unmeasurable, unspecified damage to their own civil contracts that make them legally married, if same-sex couple were to have that right and the legal benefits that come with it.

We can assume schadenfreude on the part of those who want to hold down some other group for no good reason. However, to allege that there is only enough marriage to go around for the straights, that giving this civil right to same-sex couples somehow ruins their own marriages is pathetic indeed.

This month, I have been married 31 years. I have solemnized two marriages of long-term friends, one different-sex and one same-sex. My marriage is unquestionably confirmed and strengthened by joining those couples. Society is stronger for their unions. They personally benefit.

We can hope that after the Abe Simpsons on the Statesman-Journal editorial board chill after these tepid measures become law. Even we old folk can change for the better.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Don't Vote To Limit Civil Rights

Flashing lights and Klaxons should go off when the shameless liars say, "Agree with me or you're unAmerican." Of course, that goes for the current White House's big lies on Iraq. Locally, our version has to do with ballot initiatives.

Here, we have been strongly against such abuses of ballot initiatives in this state and elsewhere. Over at his main blog and a column in IN Newsweekly, Ryan Adams called for the long overdue refinement of the amendment machine as well.

We have been bullied, harassed, tricked and robbed of our money and time that should go to worthwhile pursuits by those liars. Those lying in wait for citizens include VoteonMarriage, Ray Flynn, Catholic Citizenship, and even Cardinal O'Malley. They openly say that unless their evil hearted, fraud-ridden amendment to stop same-sex marriage here goes to a general election, voters have lost their democratic rights.

Emergency Brake

That's doo-doo many levels deep, and the core of the argument, as well as the way to solve it lie in our state constitution's Amendment XLVIII.

This amendment sometimes has a mythic quality. You hear that it came from our colonial times, that Massachusetts had this first, that the original authors of our state constitution inserted this, and blah blah. Reality is that shortly after the United States came into existence, a former colony did have a rudimentary form of initiatives, but that was Georgia. Then in the opening of the 20th Century, Oregon instituted a full-fledged version, which we and other states eventually adopted in similar form. Ours came toward the end of the Progressive Era in 1918.

Some confusion comes from the our Article XIX, which includes, "The people have a request of the legislative body, by the way of addresses, petitions, or remonstrances, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer." That's quite different, but we could argue that it presaged initiatives.

Today 24 states and D.C. have a form of ballot initiative for either bills or constitutional amendments or both. We have both.

Mutant Process

The original idea is pretty sound. Among the thousands of bills a legislature passes, a crazy one will slip into law every so often. The ballot initiative is there as a safety valve. Rather than having to defeat enough legislators in some future election, citizens can petition for the right to overturn the bad law.

Unfortunately, in many states, narrowly focused business or political groups have learned how to game the system. For example, California is famous for unfunded mandates; a group will pass new requirements, but provide no funding. Here, we are more prone to attempting to write religion into civil law.

In the current case here, we had another safeguard failure. Our XLVIII forbids initiatives that seek to overturn court decisions. While a rational person would certainly have agreed that the amendment to stop same-sex marriages here is clearly an effort to reverse the Goodridge decision, our then AG Tom Reilly took a very liberal interpretation on that and then split hairs, agreeing with the amendment proponents that it wasn't completely doing that, rather that would just be a side-effect. Unfortunately too, when the Supreme Judicial Court was asked whether Reilly had the power to do that, those guy-shy justices were still smarting from Goodridge criticism, and they said he could. That was gutless, but this was an unusual case in which both safeguards of the initiative process failed.

Overdue Improvements

Over at Bay Windows, Chris Orchard has a very complete recap of current legislation before the Joint Judiciary Committee that would fix many of the abuses of this process. It wouldn't do anything with the current anti-marriage-equality amendment, but could save a lot of trouble, time and money going forward.

Up for discussion are:
  • Senate Bill 26. This would forbid initiative or ballot petitions on civil rights and matters of equal protection.
  • House Bill 1772. This would flrbid initiative petitions "limiting or abridging civil rights."
  • House Bill 1727. This would require that a simple majority of a Constitutional Convention be required to advance an amendment to the constitution. Presently this takes only one-fourth of the combined members.
The latter, 1727, may be a bit of a harder sell. With the original intent of this process to be a check on the legislature, the idea was that one fourth (at present 50 of 200 members) of the General Court should be able to put a question on the ballot for all voters. Behind that is the concept that if a simple majority of both houses passed a law, it might be difficult or impossible to get them to reverse themselves by letting the public vote directly instead of by representative democracy.

Here, the important distinction for 1727 is that the basic idea may be fine for overturning a law. However, an amendment has more impact and staying power. There is a strong argument that this should require a higher level of support and consideration.

Letting the majority vote to limit other people's civil rights should be right off the table. Apparently the authors of XLVIII thought they had made it strict enough, hard enough, and closely enough defined to prevent such shenanigans. Of course in 1918, they did not anticipate many many women's issues, racial developments, or gay rights.

Who knows yet whether the Senate and House have the courage to refine this process to take out the worst abuses. They are up against the undercurrent of voters who love the idea that they can turn any issue into a town-meeting-style vote.

The dreadful abuses we have seen on both coasts in particular demand improvements. We don't even have to scratch the initiative options. However, we have seen the extent that the basest of our interest groups are willing to misuse our democracy, sometimes for hateful ends. It's long past time to bring this nearly century old process up to date.

Of course, even if we revise XLVIII to forbid voting to limit civil rights, we cannot be positive that some other addle-pated or amoral AG or SJC won't ignore their duties. Yet such simple refinements are a necessary improvement.

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Cirignano Can't Call It Quits

Why are we not surprised that another winger denies all and refuses to accept responsibility for his actions? This is a much lower level than recent D.C. cases. Former Catholic Citizenship head Larry Cirignano appeared in Worcester District Court yesterday for arraignment on charges that he shoved a woman to the ground.

The recap of the not-guilty plea is at Bay Windows. You can find a bit of a refresher here.

The next step is that he shows up May 1st with a lawyer to finish the arraignment and receive a trial date. The charges are misdemeanor assault and battery, and civil-right violations. The latter stems from free-speech issues. Sarah Loy was protesting the anti-marriage equality rally on December 16th in Worcester.

Meanwhile, Judge Robert Gardner ordered Cirignano not to contact Loy and to stay at least 100 yards from her.

You'd suppose that he'd get probation and a fine if he said he got carried away in the moment and "guided her" away from the rally too firmly and quickly. That would require a level of morality and respect for law that he does not seem to have.

Well, that's in line with the current White House policy. As he has moved to Northern Virginia, perhaps he sees a future across the Potomac.

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Cock of the Walk

Censorship Giggle: I was going to use this heading on our next Left Ahead! podcast show, but the host would not allow it, reporting that there was a word there that might offend some listeners.

What's this, The Sopranos on Beacon Street? Salvatore DiMasi is playing thug with our governor and our wellbeing. The house speaker is trying to teach Gov. Deval Patrick has his budget is bigger and better. Here's hoping for all of us that Sal get smacked down.

On many subjects, DiMasi is progressive and a lefty leader. Yet, he makes it plain he's a real cheap date for business interests. He appears to be on a permanent job interview for when he gets tired of playing big shot in Beantown.

For background on the budget chest thumping, start with David's first cut at BMG. He also points to DiMasi's BUR interview.

Our speaker seems to have forgotten that we voted overwhelming for change. His backroom snuggling with business has moved into the front parlor with the budget process. The Boston Globe also breaks down the big issues.

Key concepts include:
  • DiMasi still wants business to pay shamefully low taxes, and no tightening of tax exemptions for them.
  • As a result, the budget balances instead on cuts that affect citizens across the board.
  • Patrick's initiatives and innovations get pushed aside.
Here and elsewhere, we'll discuss some of these in detail as this progresses. Meanwhile, we are still reeling from DiMasi being cool, humane and liberal on civil rights issues, but a real ass on others.

As background and reasons why many of us like him, DiMasi has solid records on many important positions. Bay Windows adores him, as do many GLBT groups. For example, the overview by the Stonewall Democrats when he was coming into his current position, recapped things nicely:
Representative Salvatore DiMasi is a pro-family, pro-gay Democrat who strongly opposes amending the state constitution. The Democratic Majority Leader helped lead the effort in the Massachusetts State House to prevent the passage of the discriminatory anti-marriage amendment. DiMasi also enthusiastically supported the Supreme Judicial Court's extension of marriage equality to same-sex couples. Representative DiMasi was a chief champion of Massachusetts' 1989 gay rights bill, which barred discrimination based on sexual orientation.

DiMasi voted against the proposed amendment that would take away marriage equality pushed by Finneran. It is believed that the show of support for him by House Democrats is the strongest signal yet that the amendment will not make it to voters in 2006.
Groups as diverse as the AFL/CIO and Mass. Audubon Society rate his votes and positions the highest. His only low marks come from conservative groups and Citizens for Limited Taxation.

It looks like when corporate money gets involved, Sal is out for Sal and not for us, though. Unfortunately, his protection of his biz buddies crushes such pressing, long-ignored needs as more police, expanded early childhood education and better public health services.

The Boston Herald reports that Patrick is willing to take on the legislature and claim the cock of the walk spot. We're certainly with him. His positions are so much more progressive and so much more defensible.

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Thing One, Thing Two Out West

On that other coast, a progressive governor strongly contrasts with a regressive one. Those bills heading for marriage equality did pass in Washington and and is headed for passage in California. One breathes and offers hope for full equality, while the other shall die at the hands of a vengeful father figure.

In Sacramento, Assembly Bill 43 passed seven to three, on party lines, in the judiciary committee. This is the same Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) bill that passed the whole legislature last year by a thin margin. This should whiz through and pass by a bigger one this time. Then, as with last year, anti-marriage-equality Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will surely veto it. There won't be enough margin for an override.

It is worth nothing that unlike many states, California has a governor who cares little what the legislature does on big policies. This representative democracy thing is an annoyance to him. He says if the states high courts force him, SSM will happen there.

Up the road in Washington, the legislature is crawling toward SSM. The latest move was both houses passing a domestic partnership bill. Liberal Gov. Christine Gregoire will as assuredly sign this.

The Senate has already passed 5336 and yesterday, the House joined in easily 63 to 35.

Even though this falls far short of marriage equality and full rights, there was weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth by the anti-gay and anti-SSM folk.

We all know where it's headed. Only the schedule is uncertain.

Meanwhile, Washington lags California here and appears ready to leapfrog them in the next step unless Schwarzenegger goes away. The move in Olympia is very similar to such bills elsewhere. SS couples will register with the state. They get some key rights, such as inheritance for the intestate and hospital visitation. It falls far short of marriage or civil union rights.

While the anti folk heavy with moral condemnation, the pro-gay, pro-equality types were rueful. For example:
"I wish we were here to talk about marriage," said Rep. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle and one of five openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature. "Unfortunately we are not. Married couples receive over 400 rights, responsibilities and privileges, but same-sex couples are prohibited from doing this."

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Of twitter and Twits

Harrumpher has a new rant on the stream-0f-consciousness tools like twitter and the like. There's no politics, even lefty stuff. It's one of those posts in the class that no longer appear here.

Overstuffed National SSM Sandwich

This may quickly fall into the block-that-metaphor class. The U.S. is looking more and more like a sandwich on same-sex marriage. The two coasts are very thin bread and the inside of the huge middle are the retarded filling, a lot of stuffing in there, falling over from the South.

Whew. That's as far as we can take this, but consider the implications.

Among the First World nations, we are unquestionably the slowest on social issues, hence retarded. We do get there and the trend toward civil unions first and then leaning, leaning, leaning toward marriage equality follow.

It appears as though the legislative firecrackers that preceded and followed Goodridge and our SSM was the dying throes of our socially slowest and most regressive states. They did indeed dig holes for themselves in rushes to define marriage in law and amendment or both. Fortunately for their self-respect and ability to keep going, most of these regressive sorts have short memories and long records of justification. When it comes time to repeal or replace these limits in a few years or a decade or two, they'll say it seemed necessary at the time.

However the coasts are looking much more civil-rights and marriage-equality minded. New Hampshire is about to provide most marriage rights in their spousal union legislation. Vermont, New Jersey and Connecticut are already there with civil unions. New York is on the lip. Maine passed its gay-rights and domestic partnership laws -- and turned back the Dark Side who wanted to overturn them. Rhode Island is much closer to marriage-equality or civil unions and ready to honor Massachusetts marriages.

Out on the Left Coast, Washington just passed a domestic-partnership bill. The California legislature will legalize SSM again, only to face veto by their sad little governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. There, the majority grows and will be veto-proof soon or they will have new governor with more compassion and intelligence. Oregon too may pass a domestic partner bill or gay rights including civil unions.

Both coasts, filled with the educated, affluent and more liberal voters lead here. This is no more surprising than then opposite political preponderance in the Midwest and South.

Apparently, this war is over and marriage equality has won. However, like some distant jungle battle, the skirmishes will continue. Think the WWII Japanese soldiers who remained and kept ready to fight many decades later in caves and on islands. Likewise, the SSM foes are unlikely to admit defeat or accept that the rest of the nation and indeed the rest of the world has moved on.

This is becoming the Wack-A-Mole of politics. SSM haters say if only the legislature legalizes SSM, they'll go away. They don't. It's the same for ballot initiatives and court decisions. No matter what form of democracy tamps them down, they pop right back up like dandelions.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Massachusetts Rolls Over

A deep irony relating to our nefarious 1913 out-of-state marriage statutes lies in the etiquette issue. New Englanders and particularly Bostonians take great pride in claims of being America's intellectuals. Understandably though, they don't brag about how well mannered they are. Instead, nationwide and even worldwide, we are known for being brusque and for expecting visitors to adapt to us. Thank you very much and do it right now.

It is in this one area -- General Laws Chapter 207, Sections 11, 12, 13 and 50 -- that we humiliate ourselves. We roll on our back like a dog exposing its belly. Please, please, let us be the only state to accommodate whatever marriage laws you have. Pay no attention to our legal marriages. We humbly beseech you for approval.

Let us be plain about this. We are the only state playing this game. The others tell us our marriages they wouldn't have performed are worth less than dirt. We thank them.

Worcester's Telegram had a nice recap yesterday on the appeasers' arguments for keeping these laws. It's worth reading for a chuckle or three.

First of all, unless you are anti-gay, anti-marriage equality or both, there is no reason to offer any defense of these laws. They are entirely one-sided and have always been such. If other states recognize our other civil laws and procedures, down to driving licenses, they need to deal with the rest of them, as we do with theirs.

Beyond marriage, there are others that may be parallel. For instance, states have different regulations about physicians or attorneys or realtors who can practice there. That's different, but the same. It shows how states can create and enforce their own laws and regulations, sometimes honoring another states for comity's sake and other times demanding adherence to local standards.

However, marriage is generally the exception. Until then President Bill Clinton's right-wing pandering support for the the Defense of Marriage Act, state governments had no expectation that they could actively discriminate against homosexuals in marriage. Not only had it not arisen before Vermont's civil unions and our Goodridge decision, but denying comity in marriage among states had only been meaningful when it was legal to forbid interracial marriages in some states.

In 2007, it is outrageous that we alone would become the appeasers. Suddenly, then Gov. Willard Romney and then AG Tom Reilly held that Massachusetts had to shield other states from legal challenges to their marriage laws, to statutes that forbade homosexual marriages.

Yet, from the beginning of this nation, we have advanced often through court challenges and legal interpretations. It is never a continuous climb to egalitarianism and equality, but we do ascend slowly and steadily, albeit with switchbacks.

Not only is it not Massachusetts' job to be the passive and obedient child with bowed head trying not to offend 40 some sibling states. The beach is broad and the tide continues to lap. With many thousands of married same-sex couples legally united here, how is it that we are to protect those delicate Virginia, South Carolina and Wyoming courts from the terror of having to discuss their discriminatory and defensive marriage laws and amendments?

We need to get real about this. Comity rides respect. We honor your laws; you honor our laws; we all get along.

It is not our duty to kowtow to the bigots. When legally married Massachusetts couples move to their states, they may have to deal with it. Perhaps their laws and amendments rejecting those marriages will withstand scrutiny and court challenges. Perhaps they won't.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Moss Grows on VT Governor

Vermont's governor orates loudly about wiring his state for internet and cellphone access. When it comes to marriage equality though, he's a mumbler and a bit of a milquetoast.

At the News(s) England Revolution conference at UMASS-Lowell yesterday, Jim Douglas gave the keynote. He also chairs the region's governor's council. He's a nice guy, in a sort of tax accountant way, in appearance and mannerisms.

I sandbagged him afterward asking about the likelihood of civil unions migrating into same-sex marriage in Vermont. His state was the nation's first to offer the approximation of marriage for homosexual couples, beginning seven years ago. That followed the state Supreme Court ruling in Baker v. Vermont at the end of 1999.

The decision has been great for civil rights. It's worked real well and other states can see how benign and easy it is.

One would think the pioneer would be the next state for full marriage rights in this kind of civil contract. Also, pressure has grown in the state to move from unions to marriage. There is a fair possibility that the legislature will pass such legislation this year or next at the latest.

I asked Douglas if a same-sex marriage law appeared on his desk if he'd sign it. He neither shouted at me nor reached for the smelling salts, although I think he was closer to doing the latter.

Douglas turned from that orator to that mumbler. "I guess I'm for the status quo," he said softly.

He claimed to "remember the angst of seven years ago." He also said that he did not expect (I heard in my head he hoped) that no such bill would pass.

He deflected any philosophic points or legal ones. Instead he would say, "I'd rather concentrate on other issues."

Maybe Deval Patrick can chat him up on this.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Bloggers -- Punks Turning Powerful

If there are data strongly suggesting that blogs did, in fact, have a strong impact in national and state elections over the past several years, I have not seen them. Certainly the consensus is that they did, and a few measurable indicators, such as amounts blogs raised for candidates, support that.

However a funny thing happened on the way to legitimacy. Actually several did, including:
  • Newspapers suddenly switched from unsuccessfully deriding bloggers into adding their own blogs; they ceded the battle and dramatically increased credibility.
  • While a preponderance of blogs still are of the ain't-my-kids-cute or my-daffy-day variety, political, news and citizen reporter sites grow stronger, more read and more sophisticated, even if their number do not grow quickly.
  • Many urban and suburban dailies are slashing staff, driving their prime advertiser-attractive readers to seek additional or alternative news sources, including blogs.
  • Politicians and government agencies increasingly recognize some bloggers as indistinguishable legally from traditional reporters.
  • The public perception of bloggers is shifting from volatile ranters to volatile ranters with a healthy smattering of solid, electronic journalists.

Rapping in Wang Land

In a very intense one-day News(s) England Revolution conference at UMASS-Lowell, our local kind-of reputable bloggers and a mix of scholars, professional journalists and observers huddled, muttered and ranted about their topics of interest -- what they did, what worked, what failed and what's next. Check today's posts here, at Left in Lowell, or at Left Ahead! for short live blogs. Other comments from our fellow travelers will certainly appear.

It looks to be maybe 100 or more of us there today. I was surprised how much of the New England News Forum event had blogger content, both subject and participants.

Many of us came for personal contact with each other, but more for the technology and techniques exchange and education. Some was humbling, as in the session with co-leader Steve Garfield of Rocketboom and his eponymous sites. He had his latest Nokia toy -- HD video camera in a cell phone -- witch which he captured the session. We were not worthy.

Three of us just started our audio podcasts, based online at Left Ahead! It was cruel of him, but understandable to ask me during the roundtable self-introductions if that was all. Why weren't we video blogging? How 2005 we are, he might have added.

At least he's such a slug that he didn't post from Lowell. His sites don't have today's videos up yet. They are less powerful in his phone than on the Net.

High in Lowell

We never miss the Lowell Folk Festival in late July if we can be around. We've been doing that for 15 or may 18 years Otherwise, we don't spend a lot of time in that historic berg. Although, we did trot up specially for a Marcia Ball fund raiser.

I did first meet some of our loudest, surest bloggers, like Lynne and Susan, at a 99 there to plan the BlogLeft gathering. Then, we swarmed there for the lieutenant-governor debate. You can search for either of those here or grab the live chatter at BMG. It was fun and it was Lowell-based.

Six Times Relevant

Not only is U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan's corpse not yet stiff or cold, he's not about to die. He just shifted in his bed, away from the side marked CONGRESS. He has announced only that he's quitting as of May 9th.

Meanwhile, seven candidates to be candidates have announced as much as one can for a non-vacant seat. That may not be surprising, but it is that six of the seven trotted to the conference to present themselves and their positions to the bloggers assembled, plus the smattering of professional media.

That is not purely an expression of rising blogger clout. Much of that is the same quiet force that assembled the would-be lieutenant governor gathering last year. The new personal blogger, long-term registrar of deeds, and Lowell Democratic committee chair Dick Howe rakes 'em in. Dick asks and they come.

See earlier coverage for the rush on the discussion and presentation by the candidates today. Look for catty commentary, minor insights, and more on the candidates in future posts.

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Dozen Legs Race for Meehan's Spot

Six of the seven pols aspiring to fill 5th Congressional District seat held by Marty Meehan attended the the New(s) England Revolution conference. They largely want to bring our troops in Iraq home -- with some spongy wording (no time tables and words about making sure they were safe). Likewise, they offered greater distinction in the way they described their backgrounds than in their positions on hot issues.

David O’Brien, Eileen Donoghue, Jamie Eldridge, Barry Finegold, Jim DiPaola and Niki Tsongas attended.

Donoghue referred to her school committee chair and her service as Lowell mayor. However, she spoke like a U.S. Rep. candidate. She wants to "bring the men and women home safely" from Iraq. She would work for health care for all. She would not support renewing the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, but stopped short of saying where she'd draw the line.

She made her strongest, longest statement about education. She opposed federal unfunded mandates for education, based on benchmarks. She thinks "a first-class education should be a right" for all children and young adults.

She concluded her time by saying not only could she do the job, but that as mayor, "I have done the job."

Eldridge also wanted the bring the troops home from Iraq. He was the first to call for active involvement in ending global warming. He would like to see a rapid move to single-payer health care nationwide.

Finegold painted himself as the independent and principled candidate. For example, "I stood up for (state House Speaker Tom) Finneran. I stood up for gay rights." Among his broader positions was a support for engagement and dialog with enemies, such as Syria. He thus approved of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria and thinks that our best opportunities for peace come with dialog.

Tsongas stressed briefly bringing the troops home too. She was at the disadvantage of following many popular consensus positions. She did say that we as a nation needed to take "concerted steps to solving" global warming.

She did not invoke her beloved, late husband Paul until her most powerful statement -- on immigration. She noted that Paul came from an immigrant family that that he was just one proof of the value of people moving to this country to contribute to the nation. She supports the Kennedy/McCain concepts of earned citizenship.

She also was strong on education, which she said had two great advantages. One is giving people the hope for advancement for themselves and their families. The other is that fully supported and funded education from pre-school through college is our best way to begin reducing the large prison population.

DiPaola was the odd man out. He was an 18-year Malden police veteran, much of that as an undercover narc. He sounded a bit like Tom Reilly in the past gubernatorial election. His tool chest seems to have two items -- enforcement and crime prevention. He attributes crime to a disproportionate amount of our troubles. That's understandable from his background.

He depicted himself as a turn-around manager too. For example, he said he revamped the sheriff's office, buildings, and procedures.

His closing statement also included a call for Gov. Deval Patrick to put a veteran's official back in the cabinet to ensure the welfare of returning soldiers.

O'Brien said that his constituents reported that soldiers no longer understand why they are being sent or returned to Iraq. He wants the troops home.

His wild card was a good way to address the audience. He noted that there were no credentialed bloggers in the U.S. Congress. He wants to change that.

He differentiated himself by saying he was "the opportunity builder." He cited him and his brother working to make a dangerous and decrepit Lowell housing project livable.

Note: Cross-posted at Left Ahead!

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VT Gov. Flogs Internet Access

At the New(s) England Revolution conference, Vermont Gov. James Douglas calls for telecommunications infrastructure for sustainable growth and innovation.

He says his state has the Creative Economy. It has more authors per capital and many artists. Yet both classes as those in addition to business often need broadband to communicate with clients, patrons or customers. Often too, high-speed connections are not available.

He suggests that having the Oxford University library and the like available for his state's isolated colleges would help them enhance their offerings, while maintaining their identities.

Vermont lags the nation in government's ability to service its citizens electronically, moving up to 41st, but still way down. He wanted 90% broadband by the end of 2007. In the past two years,
they have moved up 20%, but "getting to that last remote home up the mountain" will mark success, at 100%.

The state has made last-mile grants, but wants public/private partnerships to complete the job. By a vote of 132 to 2 the state legislature passed Douglas' bill to create the Vermont Telecommunications Authority. This can raise $40 million bonds to fund and help create wireless towers to finish the job of universal access.

All of New England is aging; Maine and Vermont are one and two oldest average aged states in the country. Seniors "don't take jobs; they aren't in the workforce." That means shrinking workforce. So, the right infrastructure is necessary to compensate.

Douglas is also head of the New England Governors' Council. He admits that columnist Neal Pierce is right that all the states here could benefit from more regional thinking. He points to energy as a great way for the New England States to develop such cooperation.

Note: Cross-posted at Left Ahead!

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High Hope for Regional Focus

It sounds like the right goals, but I remain skeptical about it happening anytime soon. At the the New(s) England Revolution conference in Lowell, four machers called for MSM and bloggers to goad politicians and other leader into regional thinking.

Columnist Neal Pierce, policy analyst George Hamilton, UMASS-Lowell academician William Mass, and Montana-based regional publisher Jonathan Weber concurred on what needs to occur. Most will follow in future posts. However, the gist is that the six New England states are wasting time, money, effort and brains trying to solve their issues without a regional view.

One surprising solution would be, according to Pierce, getting newspapers and other MSM to call for regionalism, and to take governors and legislators to task when they fail to act with that in mind.

Note: Cross-posted at Left Ahead!

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Two New Media Pros in Lowell Conference

Working models for new media appeared in the first session at the New(s) England Revolution conference in Lowell. A biggy video blogger and a new-media-orients newspaper honcho left the traditional MSM in their coma.

Steve Garfield of many sites and talents was tehre as video blogger of RocketBoom. His proof was in hand, a pre-U.S. release Nokia phone with high-quality video camera built in. Of course, Steve shot himself, the other speaker, and those who asked questions.

His co-leader, Howard Owens is Gatehouse Media's director of digital publishing. Together, they represent well choreographed ends of new media, particularly video. They are different, but the same.

Howard is in the midst of leading a news-organization expansion into new media. His 78 dailies, over 250 weeklies and over 200 shoppers will all share in the effort and effect.

This includes going directly into the communities to solicit citizen input, particularly video. He was in New England among other reasons to distribute 117 video cameras to about half Gatehouse's reporters as another part of the drive.

He says the successful news organizations will be those that stop viewing what they do as publishing and think instead of being a platform. "I'm hoping to provide teh tools and the knowledge to provide the organic opportunity."

Next session...more on this one later.

Note: Cross-posted at Left Ahead!

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Get Down, Low Down, in Lowell

Ladies and Germs, Saturday, April 7th, promises to be cloudy, maybe drizzling, cold and otherwise New England vernal. Instead of hiding with the TV remote or being sorry you're out, head to UMASS Lowell for the old media-new media conference The New(s) England Revolution.

You can see who's coming and what their choices are here. It's a whole day -- replete with a ta da! box lunch in a genuine box -- for small beer, $10 to $28.

Some of your favorite rabble rousers and loud mouths, such as Lynne, Susan and Lisa from the blog world join salaried news types and academicians. There are competing sessions on technologies and directions of media, citizen journalism, and education.

Beyond the self-absorption, political distractions include an address by Vermont Governor James Douglas and an hour pitting at least five of those who want U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan's seat against each other. And so it begins...

This has to be a more memorable Saturday than you had planned.

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