Friday, September 28, 2007

Can't Happen in Massachusetts!

"Vote for me. I'm inexperienced and that means I'm clean!"

That's the gist of the two leaders in the special election to replace U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan in the Fifth Congressional District. On a tale of the tape, Democrat Niki Tsongas and Republican Ogonowski are disturbingly similar, expect on a couple of policy positions. Either could take this race in one of the commonwealth's most conservative areas.

This race illustrates the risk of political clichés. Consider that other one, that people and businesses are overtaxed here in contrast to other states and nations. Taxachusetts has a literary ring, but is not accurate. Likewise and to this race, the tired theme that this is a state of liberals based on party registration and our national elections shows a real lack of observation and understanding.

On paper in the most literal sense, this is a Democratic state and the majority of Democrats report they are liberal or progressive. For example, after the 2006 election, we had only 13% (about one in eight) of the General Court seats help by Republicans. That fairly well reflects voter registration of 14% for the GOP.


Yet, don't get me started with DINOs (Democrats in name only) and unenrolled voters. They can range like nomadic goats all over the political desert and are the reason we are so slow to enact progressive legislation here.

The few big Massachusetts cities are in fact pretty solidly left wing in voting. Yet even in Boston, it's easy to pick neighborhoods where the majority of the registered voters are Democrats, yet the votes are socially and fiscally conservative. This is more the case in the Fifth.

That SW to NE diagonal from next to Worcester to Haverhill includes quite a few wealthy suburbs and towns, Lowell and other industrial and blue-collar areas, and enough rural communities to edge toward red. We see that now as recent polls have had Ogowonski within 10% of Tsongas.

While this quickie summer race was supposed to be a promenade for Ms. Niki, she's having to shed her pumps to wade in the mud. She could lose this one.

We think of this same seat in 1990 when the incumbent, Democrat Chester G. Atkins, scraped by over Republican challenger John MacGovern. The other votes could have gone either way, with totals being 110,232/101,017/9,891. This less-than-4% margin prompted the Democrats to put Marty Meehan up two years later. He started with a 52.2% to 37.5% victory over Republican Paul Cronin and got stronger from there, and ran unopposed three times.

Insider Smears

The current fight is not one where we need the Mr. Smith character to bring integrity to the office. Meehan was fine and in many areas better than fine. This is not a case where people should be saying the resigned candidate was an example of too many white lawyer guys — fresh blood, a new perspective, and an outsider, please.

Yet, ironically because of their backgrounds, both leading candidates are trying variations on such themes. On the face of it, neither has the experience for jump-on-the-treadmill performance. Both have high name recognition in our little world because of deceased relatives as the number one asset.

Niki wears her last name or that of her late husband, the well respected U.S. Rep. then Sen. Paul Tsongas. Yet, she kept a double-arm distance from his work when he was in office. Instead of legislative savvy, she was been on hospital boards and a middle-of-the-pack community-college dean.

Jim is very similar. He dresses in the name and heroic patina of his brother John, a pilot of AA 11, hijacked and flown into a World Trade Tower on 9/11/1. He has a background as a farmer and 28 years in the USAF and Guard, retiring as chicken colonel. His actually has somewhat more of a managerial and political résumé, given the nature of the military.

On the Democratic side, primary voters went with Tsongas over several highly qualified state legislators. They seemed to favor the emotional links and name recognition.

In the first debate of the candidates, last night, fairness muddled things a bit as the two were joined by surely also-ran to be candidates Kevin Thompson (Constitution Party), Patrick Murphy (independent) and Kurt Hayes (independent). Yet at every chance, Niki and Jim went over variations on nearly identical attacks.

Each claimed that it was the other one who was the insider. Niki pointed to Jim being a pro-Iraq War Bush lapdog (my term). Jim said that Niki was supported by D.C. insiders and that was proof she was same old-same old.

I question Jim's wisdom on this. Stressing how much beloved elected officials favor your opponent may not be the best strategy. Moreover, Niki is playing to a strong base of voters tired of burying local soldiers in a largely unpopular war.

Issue Differences

Jim has a better wedge with immigration. The district does not have a big immigrant voter populations except in a few places like Lowell. This relatively conservative district also seems to have lost the sense that its ancestors were immigrants, mostly before there was any regulation on entry. Jim is strongly agin' 'em and uses loaded terms like Congress trying to "sneak benefits" to immigrants. Niki wants a way for undocumented aliens to earn citizenship.

That other big issue, the war, is even clearer. Jim is a stay-the-course guy, until Iraq is "safe and secure." Niki wants a specific timetable to get troops out within six months, shifting the situation to other Iraqis and other nations.

What's fascinating is that this confluence of factors for the pair probably won't lead to the first Republican to hold this seat since 1975, but it could.

Fortunately for Niki, Jim is no mellifluous orator. She's not the silver tongue herself, but she more than holds her own against his few rigid themes. Unlike the primary, the issues are stark. During the summer, no one issue stripped the veneer off Tsongas. Health care and her affiliation with big medical interests was there, but voters were not stirred. State Rep. Jamie Eldridge was clearly the most liberal and progressive of the Democrats, but again, this relatively conservative district was apparently the wrong audience for that theater.

This one could very well be like Meehan's first win. Niki might get the seat by 15% or 10% or 5%. Once in, the spot should be hers as long as she can stomach it.

Follow-up: Over at, Tony notes that the Fifth has moved in a major poll from solidly Democratic to leans that way.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Five Steps Forward, One Back

A cold, bitter reality splash came at this week's local annual meeting. Bay Windows was there when a GLAD attorney provided examples of how the anti-gay/anti-same-sex-marriage folk in Lexington had achieved one of their objectives, while losing the battle.

Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders' Nima Eshghi noted a profound chilling effect in some schools, where administrators and boards are frightened. She cited examples, including Watertown. There, lesbian moms asked that school return the early reader And Tango Makes Three.

This case was not the same as in Lexington, where diversity-friendly books were part of the curriculum. Rather, the schools had pulled the cutesy book on its own after some anti-gay parents complained, apparently to avoid lawsuits by wingers. When the moms said they wanted their daughter to have the choice, they were denied.

This can't surprise anyone. Neither volunteer school board members nor paid administrators and staff are known for courage. In the main, they are bureaucrats, in this case about the business of educating kids with all that entails. We may have had false confidence catalyzed by Lexington Superintendent Paul Ash. He showed very unusual courage and insight in standing firm against the Mad Dad forces, including the outside legal dogs.

As the BW article puts it:
"What these parents groups, who are really fueled by a larger right wing establishment, are trying to do is take very, very narrow opt-out and parent notification rules that exist at the middle school and high school level purely for sex education, and only to be used in certain narrow circumstances, and they are trying to take that, bring it down into the kindergarten, first and second grade level where kids are not talking about sex. They are talking about who’s in a family. … They’re not objecting to studying families. They’re objecting only to certain families. They want their children opted out of learning about certain families," said Eshghi.
She also cited a kind of weariness factor that religious fundamentalist can rely on. In this case, if the teachers and administrators are scared, they may start filtering books and other educational material for GLBT references and pull them prophylactically. Not everyone can be ethical and heroic, at least day to day.

On its part, GLAD is filing an amicus brief in the appeal that the Mad Dad crew is making of its loss in U.S. District Court. Eshghi said the intent is that schools "can have some language coming from our briefs that we hope will make it into this case so they can offensively say, you know what, it’s not just that we’re permitted to teach this material; it’s that we are mandated to teach this material. This is our mission, and this mission is actually rooted in larger constitutional principles about what the role of public schools is."

Hey, if a piece of paper can provide backbone, let it be so.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Larrry Craig Will Sit and Wait

This time though, he has no more say-so.

The U.S. Senator, Republican-Idaho, will have to wait at least a week to hear whether he will be allowed to humiliate and disgrace himself further through the legal system. The Hennepin County (Minneapolis) District Court Judge Charles Porter heard orals today from Craig's lawyers but won't rule immediately.

If you pardon the expression, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a blow by blow of the hearing. Craig's attorney claimed that no crime had occurred, so the plea should go. Among his skeptical comments, Porter said, "Seeking to have a guilty plea overturned is nearly impossible and it should be." Its looking bad for the bozo from Boise.

In case you were in a coma, you should know that in June the august Senator was caught in a men's room sex sting in the Minneapolis airport. They could have charged him with peeking in the stalls, soliciting public sex and such. However, he agreed to plead guilty to the misdemeanor of disorderly conduct. He thought about it for nearly two months before signing the plea and sending in his $575 fine. He subsequently has denied: 1) being gay (and by implication bi), 2) signaling in common ways for sex in the public stalls, and 3) doing anything at all wrong.

He's the leper in the hot tub back at the Senate, but he can't seem to stop pretending on this. He might have been able to beat the sting charges. As it is now, if the judge rules that he can withdraw his guilty plea, all bets are off. It's no longer disorderly conduct. He'd face the original public-sex solicitation and invasion of privacy charges.

There's a ton of background in this blog throughout September. I'm sick of it and suspect everyone except Larry is.

The amusing aspect and why it's still news is that while he was denying everything, he also said that if he could withdraw his plea by the end of the month, he would not resign from office. The former isn't about to happen. Whether he makes it easy on the Idaho governor to name his replacement by quitting right now remains to be heard.

Next Day Follow-up: Idaho Gov. Clement Leroy "Butch" Otter assumes that Craig will resign as his self-scheduled promise would indicate on Monday, according to the Statesman. The governor has a short list of the replacement candidates and is just waiting to roll. However, over at Ridenbaugh Press, speculation is that Craig will flop around like an injured bird on the highway. "Every additional day Craig stays in office, and continues voting and otherwise working, is a slight improvement on the odds that Craig decides he won’t resign after all."

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Air Nannies

My annoyance over in-traffic strollers has long morphed into amusement.

My supposition, which some shrink friends say seems plausible, is that someone who saunters across an intersection or between two is acting out his or her powerlessness. They like to make the drivers and passengers wait for them because they feel like they aren't in charge of their work and daily lives. Here is a chance to be in control over others.

They savor every instant.

So it appears to be with too many flight attendants. The flood of news stories in recent years shows many acting out, perhaps for similar reasons as those amblers. Particularly since 9/11, what we and they themselves used to call flying waitresses have a new lawman persona. They kind of, sort of, a little bit are helping protect the airborne public from terrorists and other bad guys.

While that is a good aim, it also gives the outliers in the group the excuse to play sham sheriff. Recently, it's become absurd, as in the several cases of Southwest attendants enforcing unwritten dress codes on women with short skirts or what they arbitrarily decide is too obvious cleavage.

Other less frivolous cases involve passengers pulled off planes and interrogated for seeming to attendants — sometimes egged on by other passengers — to be somehow threatening. Search in Dogpile, Yahoo or Google for terms like flight attendant and arrest to find such cases of (horrors) Arabs speaking Arabic, for example.

I suppose we can't expect attendants to show better judgment than the general flying public, or can we? One would think that if the airlines and government want to use attendants as a fourth or fifth line of defense, they would train them. Also, they'd need guidelines to keep them from overreaction or arbitrary judgments.

With all of nervous about safety, particularly in the air, we don't need to change the term flight attendants gone wild to man false arrest and harassment of passengers. "She meant well" or "He was just trying to keep the passengers safe" doesn't cut it in these extreme cases. Attendants who clearly violate passengers' rights need retraining or to face civil action or to explain themselves to the district attorney or at the least a dope slap.

This nation has plenty of petty bureaucrats and self-appointed controllers of others' lives. In places like the Registry of Motor Vehicles, they may just lengthen your wait while they play big shot. When they can trigger flight delays (and missed connections) for hundreds of passengers, and make poor saps they pick on go through elaborate, time-consuming, humiliating and stressful detention and questioning, they go too far.

When a flight attendant loses it and causes a serious and unnecessary problem, we can't hide them behind the only-following-orders shield. When they put on their shiny name tag, they shouldn't be allowed to check their brains at the cabin door. The worst of the outliers are happy to hold passengers accountable for imagined transgressions. They need to know if they leave common sense behind, they'll be accountable for their very real ones.

Cross-post note: This may actually fit better on Harrumph! I'll post it there too.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Taser c'est la même chose

In my self-absorbed old guy mind, I have enjoyed the minimalist obscene college newspaper editorial dust up.

Nearly 40 years ago, I was involved in a too similar incident...of my own making. It was very much the same and very different from the Colorado State University Collegian one. For a bonus, it orbited around the same word.

In this century, Editor in Chief J. David McSwane stands before the Board of Student Communications in two days to defend his publication of the four word editorial. That wee prod related to the Florida college student electrically stunned for ranting at a John Kerry speech. In its entirety, the Collegian editorial reads "Taser this … F---BUSH" and was in very large type.

Puerile, yes, and it was also age appropriate, emotionally appropriate, politically defensible, and wholly in a solid context of academic freedom.

There's been the predictable hooha about this, including angry alter kaker alums and a short-term loss of $30,000 in ad revenue. This too happened in my case in that last century.

WABAC Machine

Journey back with me to the thrilling days of yesteryear, the late 1960s. I also don't care if you were not born yet. You weren't alive when Socrates rambled on in the agora or the American Revolution raged. History accepts no excuses.

My incident was the same in that:
  • The same single obscenity infuriated the university hierarchy and many students who brought their parents' brains in their baggage.
  • There were lost advertising and outraged alumni.
  • The editors begged, cajoled and threatened to keep their spots.
The background of mine was that:
  • I was in Cambridge, Mass., studying underground newspapers on a Ford Foundation grant.
  • I was enrolled in the University of South Carolina's news-editorial journalism program and wrote for the newspaper, the Gamecock.
  • While down in Columbia for several days to confer with my adviser, I agreed to spend a night with the campus cops for an expected boring feature story -- none of the on-campus writers had any interest in tailing a 55-year-old ex-Army guy for the night.
  • The circumstances made for a good feature and solid generalizations about campus policing.
  • The Gamecock editors failed the courage test and I was forever labeled as fuck-article guy.
There was a misty rain that evening when I got into the small white police car as the second occupant, riding shotgun. In retrospect, the guy was cool enough to not flip over my long hair and earring. He still had his military crew cut.

This USC is only a few blocks from the capitol building. Columbia was a planned city, designed in the late 18th Century. That's only significant because it has broad, rectangular main streets, great for rampaging youth. The old campus of South Carolina College (from 1801) is a picturesque horseshoe of classrooms and the first separate college library in the nation. Gen. W.T. Sherman spared the horseshoe when he burned the city at the end of the civil war. It was where the trouble brewed.

Cruising with the Cop

The short version of the evening was that the cop I was with let a panty raid get out of hand. He pulled up beside a big group of tipsy boys and asked what was up. He let them go ahead and gather others on a parade to the women's dorms. We then ended up across campus after a radio call when the raiders got to Capstone, a high-rise women's dorm.

Seeming to realize that things were out of hand, in no small part because of his passive initial contacts with the raiders, my guy got out of the car by the big group. He told them to go back to their dorms. Some guy from the crowd called out, "Fuck you!" and my cop responded three ways. He spun to face the crowd, he pulled his side arm, and he yelled, "I"ll fuck you if I get my hands on you!"

On the plus side, he didn't point his weapon, much less fire. However, he had clearly lost it.

As additional campus cops showed, the silly drunks began drifting away and everyone went home a little damp and vaguely energized.

Power of a Word

My resulting article recorded the facts and drew several conclusions. First, assuming ex-military and even military-police guys could just plug into the USC police force was naive. Second, a large campus requires specific training and active management of emerging situations. Third, crowds should never result in drawn guns by hot-headed officers.

The article included the two obscenities as well as the analysis.

Back at the ranch, I turned in my article and notified the triumvirate of the embedded words. Then I flew back to Logan for life, love and scholarship. At USC, the editors decided to spell out the loaded word. However, the middle-aged women at the printing company called the newspaper adviser, who called the university president saying what was about to appear.

The prez (honestly, named Tom Jones) called the editors and said if they went ahead with my article, they were in big trouble. For reasons understandable only to undergraduate journalism majors who had studied Zenger, they ran a hole where the article should appear as the front-page lead with only the 128-pt word CENSORED.

Of course, they weren't censored, just threatened. They didn't have the 'nads to take their lumps. If it had been my call, I would have run the article. They later published the offending piece with asterisks in the middle of the word in both instances.

The aftermath included what the Collegian is experiencing. To compound the adviser and advertising ramifications, at USC, everyone in power either graduated from the school or its law school. They read the three-times-a-week publication as though they had never left. State and U.S. lawmakers, CEOs, advertisers and plain old rich folk all read the Gamecock. The outrage was palpable and silly.

In the end, it was positive nationwide. Other colleges picked up the angle of underqualified and undertrained campus cops and many, including USC improved both aspects. That's what journalism should be about, eh?

So here we are back to this century. The same old word is now about free-speech without the trappings of investigative journalism. That's fine.

Yet in another way, it's sort of sad that we have not matured much since. You already know my prejudice, coming out of J school.

I'm pleased that McSwane is willing to stand up for such an inane and unnecessary posture. Distilling the popular and political cultures in four words speaks well of his staff's cleverness and insensibilities.

In case you have never been on the staff of a major college paper, be aware that such editorial decisions are not some caprice of a rogue editor. They almost always are kicked up and down the hall like a discussion at some UU church. The majority of the staff surely was on board with this and felt strongly about the four-word statement. As crackpot as he may be, the Florida student was denied his rant by force.

They can take their punishment. The paper can temporarily lose its $30K (that will come back -- campus-paper advertisers need the college rag exposure). Alumni can play the get-these-students-off-my-lawn game and let it vent.

The more things change...

By the bye, a chum who also knew President Jones saw him two years later crossing the horseshoe. The article in question was not my only anti-establishment article or column during my four years. Tom asked whether I was coming back and hearing that I had finished, Jones just replied with a big grin, "Good!"

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Cracking Craig's Cache

Let's climb down off the Larry Craig Joke Train. An Idaho combo-blogger is running an excellent journalistic series of the not-so-much-longer-Senator. Starting 9/22, Randy Stapilus started a four-part set going back to his political beginnings. It's running in the Ridenbaugh Press.

Props: He's owner of the publishing company.

For one example, in Craig in review: Roots of panic, Stapilus foretells Craig's current troubles with an analysis of an earlier, unnecessary version:
In 1982, scandal erupted in the U.S House on reports that several male pages, high school students, had been sexually propositioned by congressmen. Craig wasn’t, and never has been, among the congressmen accused; but unlike other members of Congress, he reacted publicly by declaring that he wasn’t guilty. That raised immediate eyebrows. As a matter of politics, it was a foolish move: Even if he had nothing to do with the page scandal, it suggested that Craig might be hiding something. Craig himself acknowledged later that he’s made a mistake. Why had he, alone among the 435 members of the U.S. House, made that mistake? He had panicked. Crisis had arisen and, in the pressure of the moment, he had lost the ability to deal with it rationally.
The latest installment, Craig in review: Rights and wrongs, centers on a detailed analysis of how the local media, newspapers and bloggers, covered Craig, or avoided doing so before and after the toilet mess.

I'm looking for the next two posts on this. It's all great stuff, and has lessons politicians, MSM and bloggers alike can use.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Death by Cop on 93

The Boston rags have not gotten with the program yet. The Patriot Ledger, however, is on the latest developments in the peculiar case of Michelle Vibert.

She is the 29-year-old mother who died 13 months ago at 2 a.m. when an off-duty Boston cop drove his SUV into her stalled car on Route 93 near the Dorchester gas tank. Not only did state cops not give him a sobriety test, they did only the most cursory site investigation, far less than is typical. There have been no charges against Thomas Griffin.

There was some public outcry after the wreck, including a couple of mentions in this blog here and here. Afterward, the state cops either did their job or got out the whitewash, depending on how you consider the circumstances. The report of the Suffolk County DA's office laughably claims "An intensive five-month investigation into a fatal crash on Route 93 South last August has led authorities to determine that criminal charges are not warranted in the case..."

At the time of the wreck, there was no field sobriety test nor a blood test and the state cops got a two sentence statement from city officer Thomas Griffin. Apparently that intensive investigation involved finally doing detailed interviews with Griffin and his two passengers and looking at the state police reconstruction report of the site examination, which was done in 40 minutes, starting almost eight hours after the fatal crash. You likely are aware that typical accident reconstructions take many hours and close off highways...when a cop is not the driver.

The Patriot Ledger addresses a consultant's report by Stephen R. Benanti, whom they ID as "a retired State Police accident reconstruction specialist." A major conclusion is "It appears the report was written in a manner as to protect Mr. Griffin and blame Michelle Vibert." Her father, Joseph S. Mogan, paid for the report and has asked commonwealth AG Martha Coakley to investigate.

The state police aren't commenting and the Suffolk DA's office claims it did its job and was unbiased. Nothing suspicious about cops investigating cops and clearing them. Move along. Move along.

A special feature in a November Patriot Ledger has the known details of the wreck, including a diagram. Among the salient points are:
  • Her Camry stalled and she pulled it next to the guard rail.
  • There was no full breakdown lane, but her car was four and one-half feet off the right lane (plenty of space for a driver there to pass safely.
  • Her blinkers were on, as she telephoned for help.
  • The road was dry and the skies clear.
  • Griffin and two women left the Purple Shamrock on Union Street, but he claims not to have had any alcohol, none, nada.
  • Right before he drove his Ford Explorer into the subcompact, he switched from the middle lane to the right lane.
  • He smashed into the rear of the Camry and spun it 180 degrees, as well as tipping the SUV on its side.
Without even being conspiracy minded, you would suppose that the cops would say, "Oh you left a bar at 2 in the morning, but were not drinking. We need to do a blood test so you can prove you were sober when it comes up." Instead, they concluded that their visual scan of his indicated no tests were necessary. Nothing to see here.

One of the two women with Griffin mentioned the bar. The other did not. No one said anything about whether Griffin was drinking or doing any other drug elsewhere before. We're never likely to know.

It would be hard to invent a clearer set of circumstances to scream, "Cover-up!" This has all the appearances of one of the two worst types of police corruption. One is taking money to do something illegal, and the other is failing to do your sworn and paid duty in order to help a friend or someone like you.

This needs to continue. The AG needs to look at both the Suffolk DA work and certainly what the state cops did and did not do. At this date, there's a good chance Griffin will continue to get a free pass on vehicular homicide. However, there's the little matter of the investigating agencies in what clearly seems to be cops letting a cop get away with a serious crime, a fatal one.

Those involved have not done nearly enough to convince people this is not a cover-up. In fact, they seem to have gone out of their way to raise questions and doubts.

This goes to the vitality of the AG's office as well. Martha needs to do her job here. This appears to go to high levels of both the state police and a county DA.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

J-Hooks Are No Accident

J-hook turn
After being J-hooked (see pic at left), I have biked to the offender's window and asked what the devil he was thinking. Usually they speed away to my trailing curses, but twice I caught up to the offender. Both times, the driver has looked dumbly with an open mouth. Once he said nothing and the other time he said he thought he had lots of time to make the turn.

Biking downtown and around, I am finding this more common than twits opening their doors into traffic without looking. That does happen and I literally always watch windows of parked cars before I get close (I hate heavily tinted windows). Even claim-a-lane guys like me have to learn lots of techniques for cycling amidst inattentive and even hostile Boston-area motorized-weapon drivers.

J-hooking is a serious problem. It is plainly illegal and should, but rarely does, bring tickets or serious punishment, even when drivers maim or kill cyclists. Yes, it is reckless driving (and here the more serious driving to endanger when it involves injury), but we are left wondering what the drivers are thinking, if anything. We would very much like to get judges, prosecutors and cops on board to stop this madness.

Crossposting: This also appears at Harrumph!

You can meet and listen to some of the good guys next month at Moving Together 2007, the ped/bike/car conference. It's for serious transportation geeks and includes policy and practice at the state and local level to encourage and maintain safety for walking and cycling. Plus, there are also very pleasant surprises from the new cycling advocate mayor in city hall.

With upwards of 800 American cyclists killed and over 40,000 injured annually by drivers, you'd think — inaccurately — that cops and judges would bring the hammer down on J-hookers and such. Instead we face such ingrained problems as:
  • Judges and prosecutors seem to suffer from the there-but-for-fortune-go-I syndrome.
  • Police don't bother enforcing traffic laws or aiding in prosecution of motorists who injure or kill cyclists
    In a personal example, an unregistered, uninsured driver turned left suddenly across three lanes and broadsided me on a bike. The Hyde Park cop investigating gave her a pass and did not notify me of her court appearance as required and agreed to. She was an unwed mother working at a downtown department store. Apparently because she was irresponsible in bed, she was also allowed to be irresponsible behind the wheel. She paid something like a hundred dollar fine. The other cop who handles such wrecks sort of apologized and said that was SOP there and throughout Boston.
  • Most drivers look in front of their hoods instead of at the whole front and peripheral scene. That leads to tailgating, running into or in front of foot, bike and car traffic coming from the side. This may be the toughest because it requires a different way of thinking and a lot of brain power to process the flood of visual and aural data. Most of us just aren't that bright and we can't add more RAM to humans.
Of course in sheer numbers motor vehicle operators are more dangerous to their peers and themselves. They kill each other by the tens of thousands annually. So you'd think that cops, DAs and judges would try to shift attitudes by prosecuting and punishing the reckless and inattentive to change the culture. Enforcement does not prevent crimes of impulse or passion like most murders, but sure punishment for drivers likely would.

Instead, what we generally find is the attitude that it is too much trouble. Likewise the whole culture, particularly the mass media, terms inattentive and reckless driving that kills a cyclist as an accident rather than the irresponsible crime it is.

One example of how this works was clear from a 2003 study of the issues by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. They followed up on such crashes and reported:
(D)rivers are seldom charged in fatalities involving pedestrians and cyclists. Three out of four at-fault drivers were never even cited for hitting and killing pedestrians. The two-year study revealed that 22% of fatal pedestrian crashes involved hit and run drivers, yet, none of the run-away motorists were found or charged.

According to Russ Westbrook, past president and co-founder of Walk San Jose, "The high percentage of hit-and-run crimes are just one symptom of an auto-centric culture we have created through five decades of cars-first public policy. These policies have relegated pedestrians to second-class citizenry, and turned our neighborhood streets into get-away freeways for traffic outlaws. Every year hundreds of pedestrians are left bleeding in the streets while the perpetrators just go home and wash their cars and pick up the kids."
That rhetoric is not melodramatic either. Many of us recall Douglas K. Richardson, whose killer walked. In 2002, the Beth Israel physician was biking the eight miles from Newton when he suffered an ignominious death by BFI garbage truck. The driver raced by and J-hooked him, and crushed Richardson. The Brookline DA actively prosecuted but the case went no place in court.

In contrast, this week's death of a 13-year-old girl cyclist in Walpole has brought charges. From the reports, this looks like another J-hooking. The NStar truck driver wasn't wearing his corrective lenses as required. We know that seventh grader Justine Trainor was riding legally on the right side and place when he drove by her, turned and rode over her, dragging her and her bike.

My cynicism suggests that he may do a short prison sentence, pay a fine and lose his commercial license because of the circumstances. The victim was a young girl, not a 30-year-old tattooed messenger. This was suburban. They don't cotton much to murdering their kids.

One such prosecution is the right thing to do. Particularly because the penalties remain light, less than other types of homicide and less than pot sales, consistency is key here. Drivers need to be aware that killing cyclists will surely mean loss of license, high fines, a huge jump in insurance premiums, and maybe jail time. Nothing else would make for the necessary alertness and attentiveness.

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Menino, Heaven on Wheels

The lamest and most specious cliché about humans has to be that they don't change. Our mayor is most recent, most excellent proof to the contrary.

His personal road to Damascus seems to have benn more localized — on Hyde Park Avenue in old Beantown. As detailed in today's Globe, he is no longer a vélocipèdiphobic (surely not a real word; substitute old guy who hates bicycles, cycling and cyclists).

I shall happily continue to eat as much crow as he can feed me on this issue. I certainly ragged on him enough during his anti-cycling years.

Now, I hope that he shows at Moving Together 2007. I have attended these annual ped/bike/car conferences for years, and until this year, some sessions and comments had always been about what a bad cycling city Boston is and how the government seemed bike hostile. Let the praise begin with me.

He has announced the city will shut up people like me by providing virtually everything we've been screaming and whining for all these years. Specifically:
  • New bike racks everywhere, starting with 250.
  • Rehiring a bicycle overlord (the new czar, as they like to call it, is to be Olympic and pro cyclist Nicole Freedman, who has been working on the Hub on Wheels event).
  • Online bike-route maps.
  • Bike lanes on currently dangerous-to-bikes avenues, including Mass Ave and Commonwealth.
Deliciously, Da Mare has changed his bike bent, but not his competitiveness. It appears that he wants Boston to outdo cities like Cambridge and New York. Get 'em, Tommy!

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Arthur Leonard on Maryland Ruling

Well, Arthur S. Leonard did come through for us all with his fast, yet thorough analysis of the Maryland Court of Appeals decision upholding DOMA wording in state law.

The court could have gone in favor of marriage equality with a vote switch on the 4 to 3 decision. The dissents and partial dissents show the subtle shifts. Yet, this is mainstream judicial thinking reflected on other states recently. In contrast to the winger stereotype of activist courts and judges eager to make law, this decision showed the deeply ingrained fear of appearing to make law in doing their jobs of interpreting it.

Leonard recaps the gist of the decision before hitting the main points in the various judges' opinions:
In a ruling sharply reminiscent of last year’s decision by the Washington State Supreme Court, which was similarly sharply divided, the Maryland Court of Appeals, that state’s highest court, ruled by a vote of 5-2 on September 18 that the state’s denial of the right to marry to same-sex couples does not violate the Maryland constitution. By an even narrower vote, 4-3, the court also implicitly ruled that same-sex couples are not constitutionally entitled to the rights and benefits associated with marriage through some alternative arrangement, such as a civil union.
The progress to marriage equality is crawling, not bounding.

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Avast Ye Lubbers and Sea Dogs!

This be Talk Like a Pirate Day. Step lively and load your canon with pirate phrases!

Scurvy curs under the Golden Dome (arrr, gold) and merchant varmints purloin your purse all year...without raising the Jolly Roger in fair warning. Curses be on them!

Put in your largest earring and let there be swagger as you walk the decks at work.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Maryland — Back to You, Legislature

By one vote (four to three), Maryland's Court of Appeals said no to same-sex marriage. Rather, they denied a suit brought by 19 homosexual plaintiffs in December challenging the state statute defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Title two of the state law (2-201) on the subject reads simply "Valid Marriages Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State."

The report in the Baltimore Sun of today's decision includes that the ruling agreed with Assistant Attorney General Robert Zarnoch that any change in the 1973 law had to come from the legislature. This is in keeping with the majority of courts so far where the judges seem terrified of resolving conflicts between equal-rights laws and gender-specific codes.

The case got perking when town clerks around the state refused to issue SS licenses in 2004. Then a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ruled that doing so violated the state constitution's equal-rights provisions.

The majority opinion author, Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. stopped short of writing that couple had a duty to reproduce. Instead, he couched the decision with:
In declaring that the State's legitimate interests in fostering procreation and encouraging the traditional family structure ... our opinion should by no means be read to imply that the General Assembly may not grant and recognize for homosexual persons civil unions or the right to marry a person of the same sex.
Interestingly enough, this is the opposite view of those who say this is not the legislature's business, like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He'd have the courts decide and vetoes marriage-equality laws.

Note: I have not looked into the 244-page decision. There are two detailed dissents, plus one multi-judge concur in part and dissent. With a bit of luck, the Leonard Link will get to this before the rest of us. He has a teaser up now.

The executive director of Equality Maryland, Dan Furmansky, called on the state's General Assembly to act, "to honor Maryland's tradition of tolerance and justice, and to strike down the ban on marriage for same-sex couples."

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Clueless Governors North and West

Maybe it's what a friend of my wife's family calls olds-timers disease, when you are forgetful and just don't get it anymore. Governors in Vermont and California seem to have caught it.

We had a pretty good idea that Arnold Schwarzenegger would veto the marriage bill on his desk, yet again. He iterated that in Sacrament yesterday. Seven years ago, a ballot proposition returned that the majority wanted marriage to be between a man and a woman. A lot has changed since, but wimpy Arnie continues to hide behind that, despite the legislature voting for marriage equality twice.

In picking which form of direction from the people he'll follow, he said, "It would be wrong for the people to vote for something and for me to then overturn it. So they can send this bill down as many times as they want, I won't do it." Here's another sad, strange little man stuck in a shameful past pattern.

Yet, here in New England, we have our own version. Our governor is for full equality, but not Jim Douglas just up Route 93. In running for re-election, he too has dug in his heels, saying that civil unions are far enough, pardner.

According to the Brattleboro Reformer, his fund-raising letter slams the push for same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, the state Commission on Family Recognition and Protection is studying SSM, held its first formal meeting last month, and will hold public hearings to find out what the locals think and want. Heavy hitters House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin head the group. The 11-members are supposed to report to the full legislature in April 2008.

Whether it is a power play with the lawmakers, anti-gay feelings surfacing or that old-timer's flaring, Douglas isn't even interested in hearing what the people want. He calls the whole commission "a distraction," and part of "a far-left agenda that is not in line with the real needs of working Vermont families."

The published rejoinder stands tall, with no need to augment it:
But Symington said Monday, "This is part of a pattern of the governor's consistently misrepresenting the work of the Legislature. It's taking an issue about minority civil rights and looking for an opportunity to create divisions and way overstating what Sen. Shumlin and I have done."

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Craig Gets a Big Wet One

I can't pretend that I haven't enjoyed ragging on barely-still-Senator Larry Craig recently, even as others and I have questioned the sting operations for soliciting sex, gay or otherwise. Well, apparently it's no joke to the ACLU.

He is yet another righty outlier getting help from the civil-rights folk. In his case, the national ACLU asserts the sting was unconstitutional, too broad and entrapment specifically. It filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Craig's attempt to withdraw his guilty plea bargain.

The arguments are specific to the Minnesota laws, including:
  • The disorderly conduct law Craig pleaded [609.72(1)(3)] to "is unconstitutionally overbroad." It "punishes 'offensive, obscene or abusive language' which reasonably tends to arouse 'alarm, anger or resentment' if the speaker knows or has reasonable grounds to know it will tend to 'alarm, anger or disturb' others."
  • It is overly broad as applied to sexual speech.
  • Even considered narrowly, this law may not apply here. The ACLU cites, "The Minnesota Supreme Court has already rules that two men engaged in sexual activity in a department store restroom with the stall door closed has a reasonable expectation of privacy."
  • The prosecution has to prove police weren't trying to entice to entrap.
The ACLU's press release puts the group in the camp that questions both motives and methods of the vice cops.
"If the police really want to stop people from having sex in public bathrooms, they should put up a sign banning sex in the restroom and send in a uniformed officer to patrol periodically. That works."
I have my doubt that this kind of support is what Craig will want in the end. It might be like in To Kill a Mocking Bird when Scout was rescued by Boo Radley, her former symbol of terror. It worked for her, but the ACLU for Craig...?

There is no sign that a substantial number of Senators of either party want to associate with Craig, much less defend him. He has kept his dubious activities in the public arena for a long, painful spell. Next week's request to withdraw will keep the spotlight on his circus ring. Now the number one liberal rights group is on his side. How much free speech can his reputation stand?

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Remedial Patrick Cartooning

Looks like Dan Wasserman should forage around for the matchbook and take some more drawing classes. The cartoonist provocateur did a terrible job, whether accidentally or intentionally, with Gov. Deval Patrick today.

Wasserman sketched a flabby, jowly sort of pre-stomach-operation Al Roker. Patrick in contrast actually has a rather chiseled face and is fairly trim.

Moreover, Wasserman went through a great deal of trouble to crosshatch the drawing for a variety of grays. Yet, he ended up with absurdly thick white lips on the governor. (It's good he labeled the image; perhaps he knew how little it resembled the subject.)

I'm certainly no artist and should not go on about it. I recall years ago having to bring in a pro to do the hands in some telecommunications manuals I was producing. I am terrible with fingers.

Yet, isn't it odd that well over a year from Patrick's candidacy and governorship that a local cartoonist can still publish what looks like a 1950 stereotype of a Black man. Perhaps they all look alike to Wasserman. I'd be willing to buy him a sketch pad and some pens to practice with for the next time.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Casinos Revivify Skeletor

Strange bedfellows is far too delicate a term for the ménage Gov. Deval Patrick has thrust onto the big mattress of gambling opposition. I fear that my prediction that Mass Family's Kris Mineau will slither away quickly may be delayed as a result. This could be a real good chance for fund raising for MFI.

Several local rags gathered casino opponents for target practice at Patrick yesterday. The Globe piece is a good recap.

Notably among the anti forces were MFI and the state League of Women Voters. Of course the highly unethical, situation ethics MFI played the morality card, and on tonight's WCVB Chronicle he had brief appearance claiming that gambling addiction would double statewide if there were three casinos. Meanwhile the LWV has its action alert calling for solid tax policy instead of blinking lights and booze.

A huge irony is that after the colossal defeat to the marriage-equality forces, MFI was gonzo. However, Patrick had been thwarted by the legislature at everything he proposed to fix our deficit and pay for progressive politics. He turned to gaming -- a solution I have also opposed as a resort, if you pardon the pun.

Now we have all the bluenoses, wingers, and assorted loons out for his hide. Plus the Speaker of the House, Sal DiMasi is strongly against casinos.

It's not going to be a dull fall.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Insert bee, buzz, honey of pun here

I confess that it took me several weeks to get back to the honeybee story in my neighborhood, disguised as a light-blogging note. Over at Harrumph! there's a piece with a few pix on local hives and apiarist Mike Graney.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Married in MA, Pension in NY

Oo, creeping Massachusettsism...

The New York State decision related to Canadian same-sex married couples, but let's be provincial and put a Boston spin on it. Lambda Legal gets a double high five. It skunked the Dark Side's Alliance Defense Fund and got a widely applicable ruling on SSM and the state pension fund.

Don't you love it when the bad guys overreach and set precedent?

For a lesbian couple married in Canada, Peri Rainbow and Tamela Sloan, Lambda intervened in Godfrey v. Napoli. The same Court of Appeals in Albany that had ruled the state had the right to ban SSM, said it could not restrict state pensions because of that.

This never should have been an issue, except for the mean-spirited suit. In 2004, then state AG Eliot Spitzer backed up the state comptroller, Thomas D. Napoli, who had said that a legal marriage is a legal marriage as far as a pension is concerned. Some anti-gay sorts in Westchester County apparently figured to piggyback on the SSM decision and challenged extending retirement rights to Canadian SS couples. The new comptroller, Alan Hevesi, stepped right in and defended the call.

Judge Thomas J. McNamara wasn't swayed by the bad guys. He said the questions had nothing to do with each other. New York recognizes legal out-of-state marriages and the present AG and comptroller are right in supporting the previous decisions.

This is very Rhode Island-like in opening the window for marriage fairness and comity.

Evening Update: Leonard Link has the legal analysis, supporting the comity principles for foreign and Massachusetts SSM in the NY pension system.

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Santa Craig Keeps Giving

...and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

So wrote Charles Dickens of the reformed and chastened Ebenezer Scrooge. Yet that character was but a harbinger of Santa Larry Craig. He literally cannot stop himself from doing many things — most public of those has recently been giving and giving to the Democratic Party.

Today, there are new wire and newspaper stories of his latest frivolities. You can get all you really need from the 9/11 and 9/7 items in the Washington Post Capitol Briefing.

That column details yesterday's development in trying to withdraw his guilty bargain in his toilet string. The best part is not that Craig is letting his darkened heart flutter with the joy of going before a different judge, not the one who accepted his plea, on September 26th. No, it is that if he can withdraw the plea, he will vigorously — and publicly — defend himself in a following public trial and before the Senate Ethics Committee.

At least the Hennepin County district courts require such chicken-scratch misdemeanor cases to go to trial within 60 days. The ethics version could be well into the winter.

What is this sad, strange little man thinking? Someone who likes him should tell him what the documents and witnesses already public point to and then describe what he could expect from questioning in both those venues.

The very best the Dems can hope for is for Craig to get his withdrawal and keep parading his ragged comedy before the public. If he manages to last his term, he'll be handing them their first U.S. Senate seat from Idaho since Frank Church in 1974.

Generous guy, this Santa Craig.

Update with Joke: New West/Boise news site wins the best line in this far-too-easy mess. Its coverage includes:
D.C. Republicans are white-hot with fury at Craig, a Senate staffer told NewWest.Net/Boise. "He’s like those trick birthday candles that won’t blow out," she said. "Of all the times for a Republican senator to break ranks and fall out of formation, this wasn’t a good choice."

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hives and Zucchini Saturday

Those who aren't afraid of large squash, the inner city, or maybe even bees should head to a hidden garden in Mattapan Square Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Boston Natural Areas Network hosts its annual festival there. Details at Harrumph!

Santa Craig Visits Democratic Chimneys

What a generous man...stupid, dishonest, but generous. Infamous U.S. Senator from Idaho Larry Craig, Republican of course on all counts, keeps on giving to the Democratic Party.

Yesterday, he had his lawyer file an absurd and totally laughable motion to withdraw his guilty plea for shenanigans in a Minneapolis airport men's room. This was a gift within a gift, because doing so had two hidden gifts itself. First, it kept the lurid details and patently false denials in the public ear and eye, and second, it included not-widely-publicized aspects that what illustrate vividly what an unbelievable liar he is.

Note: The motion link opens up a manageable, 39-page PDF file.

Somebody Else's Fault

This was the lesser version — just another corrupt Republican Congressman — of imagining G.W. Bush snorting cocaine at a press conference. The filing does not strain credulity; it atomizes it.

To cut to the latest self-inflicted bleeder, Craig claims that he behaved like a toilet-trolling slut because he was afraid the local newspaper would claim (without basis, of course) that he was a toilet-trolling slut. That's the ticket. The Idaho Statesman made his do it. By investigating long-standing, rampant rumors of his bisexuality, it made his so anxious that when he was arrested for what looked and looks to everyone else in the sane universe like gay cruising that he pleaded guilty just to keep the paper from claiming he cruised.

That's right, boys and girls. He paid the fine and admitted guilt because he anticipated being falsely accused.

Let us pause for just a brief moment to ponder what manner of lower life form you would have to be to accept Craig's claim. Okay, now to the news.

Monday, September 10 AD 2007, Craig files a motion to withdraw plea-oral argument requested in Hennepin county Minnesota.

The introduction to Craig's latest filing recaps his incredible defense. He became aware that the Statesman's investigative reporters were thoroughly and carefully checking the long-standing reports of his homosexual activity, remarkable for a moralizing, anti-gay politician. The paper made no secret of checking with his friends, requesting his FBI files and going to gay cruising areas with his picture. In fact, the Statesman repeatedly sought Craig's responses and interpretations, as well as asking for interviews.

Chronic Panic

As the filing puts it:
Senator Craig has denied any allegations that he is a homosexual or has engaged in homosexual conduct...he willingly participated in a meeting with the investigating reporter in which he vehemently denied the allegations. That meeting, along with the underlying investigation weighed heavily on the Senator's mind. In fact, the Senator requested that the Statesman cease i& activities. but the Statesman continued its efforts. Based on these circumstances, however, the Senator had reason to believe that, without additional corroborating evidence, the Statesman would not publish these false and unproven allegations.

Shortly after Senator Craig's meeting with the Idaho Statesman, in June 2007, Senator
Craig was arrested and charged with interference with privacy and disorderly conduct, based on an arrest stemming from an undercover operation targeting gay men in a public men's restroom at the Minneapolis International Airport. Despite Senator Craig's denial of any inappropriate behavior, he was panicked that such allegations would be made public and that they would provide the Idaho Statesman with an excuse to publish its baseless article. While in this state of intense anxiety, Senator Craig felt compelled to grasp the lifeline offered to him by the police officer, namely that if he were to submit to an interview and plead guilty, then none of the officer's allegations would be made public. Thus, rather than seek legal advice from an attorney to assist him in publicly fighting these charges and potentially protract the issue, Senator Craig's panic drove him to accept a guilty plea, the terms of which offered him what he thought was a private, expeditious resolution of this matter.
The police report and interview are pretty damning. Craig's filing include those as Exhibits B and C, following his sparse, nothing-happened-in-there Exhibit A.

Craig has D.C. lawyers (William R. Margin and Kathleen H. Sinclair, of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP) and a local one (Thomas M. Kelly of Kelly & Jacobson). Martin specializes in white-collar criminals. He is splashy and his represented Monica Lewinsky, Chandra Levy's parents, Wesley Snipes (tax fraud) and numerous professional athletes. Sinclair is his junior, in litigation practice.

Post-capture or public disclosure, winger offenders tend to deny all, unless there is too much evidence. Consider the David Vitter/multiple-madam connections. That U.S. Senator, a Republican of course, from Louisiana, has never admitted anything, much less entered a plea bargain related to a morals charge.

What is the point at which a majority of these bluenoses' constituents tire of being lied to, of being made fools of, and constantly having to reset their own moral precepts to accommodate these clowns?

Well, fortunately for the Democratic Party, the hits keep on coming. Craig clearly has a politician's ego. If he cared for his party and its loosening Senate stranglehold, he would have said he was a distraction and worked with his governor to get the most politically similar appointee to replace him.

Instead, Santa Craig continues to fill the Democrats' stocking with his trinkets. Consider timing alone. He slunk back to Boise and told no one of arrest. He held the plea agreement for nearly two months before signing it and returning it with a check. Now, his filing would ask the court to believe that he acted in an irrational panic and did not have the time to seek an attorney's advice. Let us listen to the calendar pages turning as his panic state lasts week after week and he does not act.

Gay Stalking Horse

Craig is eager to blame his guilty plea bargain on the Statesman. Yet, he denies (that word again) any blowback from the GOP's anti-gay-rights/anti-gay-marriage politicking for the past two decades.

In a fine analysis, the Boston Globe's Peter Canellos points out this this is the petard that blew up under Craig. With no anti-Black card to play safely, Republicans and wingers have leveraged their anti-gay platforms with fair success and impunity. He notes:

Opposition to gay marriage, along with other forms of gay rights that emphasize the equality of gay and straight relationships, is a key point of connection between Republicans and voters who might otherwise oppose the GOP agenda.

In recent years, gay issues have functioned to help build a Republican coalition in a way similar to the role once played by race issues. In the '70s, '80s, and '90s, the national GOP came out strongly against programs to create special opportunities for racial minorities, thereby gaining substantial support among white social conservatives.

So now, here is Craig so invested in this combination of bigotry and expedience that he claims to have panicked (for two months) at the mere idea that a newspaper might quote the numerous sources about homosexual activities.

This would have been a great chance for an honorable person to recant. Even if he continued to feign about any specific extra-marital activities, he could have said that now he understands the irrational, emotional cruelty of anti-gay bias and prosecution.

Instead, from Craig, the Statesman investigating numerous reports of his toilet tricks becomes "a witch hunt." In contrast, Statesman editor and VP Vicki Gowler kept to the high road with her response:
The Statesman has taken great care in investigating these serious allegations about Sen. Craig. From the start, it was important to us to do a thorough and responsible investigation, outside of deadline pressures. We did that. Because of the allegations made last fall, a necessary part of a thorough investigation did include trying to determine whether the senator was regularly cruising restrooms for anonymous sex. The length of the investigation was due in large part to difficulties we encountered getting information from the senator.
I'm an old guy. So I recall not all that long ago when a man who didn't marry until he was almost 40 and then didn't father any children after he did would be presumed to be gay. Yet, even back when homosexual acts were illegal, that man would likely not have any problems, like feeling forced to resign public office...unless he acted out.

In contrast, we now have a man who apparently did act out in public repeatedly, all the while playing the anti-gay-rights knight. This suggests that our society could use a big leap forward, hopping over all this silliness.

Meanwhile, Craig's motion to withdraw his plea apparently is the best a great white-collar-crime litigator can do with the circumstances and facts. Unfortunately for both the GOP and Craig, the 39 pages show the wispy lace of defense he has to cover himself. You would be hard pressed to read it without concluding a range of facts both the party and Senator deny.

Craig's replacement may well be as conservative and anti-gay as he is. With the exception of Boise, Idaho is real short of blue politics and blue politicians. Yet nationwide, Santa Craig may be the best long-term gift the Dems get in the current election cycle. Ho ho.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Issues Beyond Larry Craig

Idaho's own Sisyphus, barely-still-Senator Larry Craig, has been condemned to carry his toilet association with him. Certainly, he has terrible and discriminatory politics, as well as being in a position to help implement them. Yet, beyond all his current dishonor, dishonesty and clumsiness, he has, if you pardon the expression, opened the door on police ethics and investigative techniques.

Now that his guilty plea to disorderly conduct has become known, Craig scrambles to withdraw that. Of course, were he to succeed, he would not begin to clear his name as the expression goes. Only the most doctrinaire could believe that he was doing anything other than trying to hookup for sex in a public place, a bathroom stall in a busy airport. The implications of that are largely a matter for him and his wife to create their own plea bargain and sentencing.

I believe that people would feel some sympathy or even empathy were he not so deeply into denial and delusion.

Almost certainly, his appointed replacement will share his politics. Idaho and the GOP right wing just loses some seniority.

Many of us who use phrases like victimless crimes and police entrapment kick around the collateral issues. A tip of the toupee to Mark over at QueerToday for a pointer to a great overview on these by Max Follmer in Huffington Post.

Meanwhile some righties have made absurd leaps. Some write that because it appears he was just trying to have sex with the cop, it shouldn't be a crime — they didn't actually have a public sex act. Others even write that he wasn't a hypocrite about homosexuality because he didn't ask the male cop to marry him while he has a strong anti-same-sex-marriage voting record, as though his discriminatory and mean-spirited votes were not anti-gay. Some say that cops should be finding terrorists instead, overlooking what vice cops are charged with doing.

Fortunately for us, the New York Times seem to have its own toilet reporters. They did, if you pardon, the dirty work of gathering background on the solicitation of gay sex sting operation at the Minneapolis airport johns. Among their facts is that there had been public complaints about this and follow-through activity in these restrooms, prompting the operation. Another is that in three months, the officers arrested 40 men in the sting. In other words, it was an issue and Craig was just another apparent cruiser caught in it.

The NYT includes a chart of what the 40 were arrested for, what they were prosecuted for, and what's happened with the cases through 9/5/7. The charges and number prosecuted on them are:
  • Interference with privacy — 14
  • Disorderly conduct — 10
  • Both of the above — only Craig
  • Loitering — 8
  • Indecent exposure — 4
  • Not yet charged — 3
The most serious of the offenses is interference with privacy, a gross misdemeanor by state law. Bathroom cruising was not the seeming purpose for the law, which was strengthened in 2005. Among the relevant sections of this carefully defined statue is:
(c) A person is guilty of a gross misdemeanor who:
(1) surreptitiously gazes, stares, or peeps in the window
2.2 or other aperture of a sleeping room in a hotel, as defined in
2.3 section 327.70, subdivision 3, a tanning booth, or other place
2.4 where a reasonable person would have an expectation of privacy
2.5 and has exposed or is likely to expose their intimate parts...
This law actually exists to counter those who might use hidden camera in women's restrooms and only recently was applied to such cases as Craig's. There are debatable aspects, but one that is not is that a reasonable person would expect privacy sitting on the can.

Yet, in our overly lawyered world, not everyone stung by this pays the fine as Craig did. The NYT reports that only 10 pleaded guilty. Another 28 chose a hearing. The other two cut deals that suspend prosecution and clear the record in a year of they are not similarly charged.

The Times reporter, Duff Wilson, spoke with some of the lawyers fighting these charges. The main assault of Jeffrey Dean, who is defending four of the men, is, "There can be no invasion of privacy of a person who is inviting the conduct. The undercover officer, by his on account, sits there in an adjacent stall and signals the person that he wants this contact."

Back to the reasonable person, I don't believe that person would interpret the arrest and questioning of Craig that way. Then again, that is up to a judge or judge and jury if it comes to that to decide.

Craig seems to have earned his double charge by his touching. He apparently played footsy under the stall to come on to the cop. He also seems to have put his hand under the stall repeatedly to advance the contact. Also previously, he was apparently peeking through the door of the stall where the cop sat.

With all that, we come to the political problems. Enforcement of this law centers on gay men in such stings. In addition, these stings did not advance to where those arrested tried to fellate the officers, and rarely had those arrested exposed themselves in their come-ons.

So, was the underlying offense soliciting sex in a pubic place when it did not get to the point of sex? Is this law too broadly applied and only against gay men? Are the decoy cops "causing" the men arrested to behave in illegal ways?

Private sex clubs are one kind of locale. Free public restrooms have different rules and expectations. It may be a thrill for some people of either gender to perform sex acts where they may be observed, caught or overheard. Yet, I think everywhere such public activities are illegal at the misdemeanor level.

We can certainly let Craig pretend that he is 100% heterosexual and that rubbing the foot of the cop under the stall partition was totally accidental, and that repeatedly putting his hand under that partition was in attempting to pick up paper from the stall floor. Again that is his and his wife's concern.

I do wonder though about the professional ethics of police officers sitting on toilets in case someone wants to hit on them, even in a restroom where public sex has occurred and people have complained about it. This would have much cleaner if an officer had simply walked into the stall to use it and someone actively and plainly requested a sex session. Likewise, if an officer entered a restroom and became aware of two men having sex in a stall, there is an obvious violation.

That is not exactly what happened and the lawyers apparently will try to make the most of it. According to the Huffington Post piece, that may be a hard sell in court:
Jon Davidson, legal director at Lambda Legal, the gay and lesbian public advocacy law group, said that it is very difficult to prove entrapment because a defendant has to show that it was the undercover officer's idea to commit a crime, and it was something they were not ready and willing to do before the officer induced them.
We can certainly understand why someone who felt compelled to seek sexual contact in a public restroom would feel tricked and angry if the lust object turned out to be a cop. We hear the same complaint from men arrested for soliciting prostitution from undercover cops on the street. In these recent cases in contrast, there was no plain offer of money and foot and hand signals substituted for words and leering.

So, we remain wondering, is the intent of the Minneapolis-airport sting:
  1. To stop men from having sex in public areas
  2. To save people from being hit on in johns
  3. To make vice hits and look busy
  4. To entice the weak into acts that they normally would not do
There will decidedly be a spotlight on this and similar operations. Craig copped a plea and paid a fine, made a huge deal claiming both innocence and heterosexuality, made a huge deal of saying he'd resign, made a huge deal of saying he might not resign, and made a huge deal claiming he'd try to withdraw his guilty admission. He has focused attention on sex in public stalls, on the stigma still associated with homosexual activity in his circles, and on sex stings beyond prostitution.

Ass that he seems to be, he will likely continue force this issue and his role. It will be quite a distraction from all this if other men come forward claiming that he solicited and partook of sex with them. The key issues of what constitutes reasonable enforcement versus entrapment is enough to start with.

We can let the politicians and their party officials figure out, as churches have had to, what to do with moralizers who engage in adultery and other behavior they publicly decry. I don't really care, but it must be really tough to be a self-identified social conservative with such representatives.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Traditional Pizza Humor

Yes, yes, it's illogical, but click over to Live, Love, and Learn, where John will have you guffawing and nodding. His Defending Traditional Pizza is a splendid parody of the anti-gay/anti-same-sex-marriage crowd's argument.

I won't spoil it for you, but I promise lots of laughs in a splendidly tortured metaphor.

Anti-Equality Trolls Get New Name Tags

The anti-gay/anti-equality trolls will still take your money, but you'd have to write the check to a different name. In defeat, the Vote On Marriage haters recast themselves as the Coalition for Marriage and Family.

As VOM, they did their worst, while claiming that everything the good side did was immoral or illegal, while all their unethical and maybe illicit tricks were justified. Of course, it was the pro-same-sex-marriage and pro-same-sex-adoption people who were actually for marriage and for the welfare of the children and families.

The specious misnaming continues, but after their huge amendment defeat in June, the VOM arm of Mass Family Institute was reduced to sputtering, "Just you wait." The best they could come up with was an impotent threat to defeat the 11 legislators who saw the future in fairness and not in discrimination.

Note: I predicted that MFI head Kris Mineau is on his way out. I stand by that. He was useful as the key fund raiser. That ability has diminished manifold.

Last week's email blast shows the further lessened expectations. You can also see the no-longer-VOM goals on the renamed group's website. As they put it there:
Our five goals are simple . . .


We will let the citizens of Massachusetts, particularly those who attend church, know the real-life consequences of same-sex marriage, AND simple steps they can take to get involved in our battle, right in their communities.

We will continue to let our grassroots know what issues impacting the family are currently being debated on Beacon Hill, and provide easy ways for them to contact their state representatives and senators.

Our volunteers want to learn more about the nuts and bolts of how to effectively lobby their elected officials, how to run a campaign for public office, and how to organize their fellow parishioners to be more involved. We need to provide them with the expert tools and training to accomplish these goals.

We will expand our base of volunteers, so when we are ready to begin another petition to restore traditional marriage, our army of grassroots supporters is larger than ever.

We can assist candidates who favor traditional values and provide the kind of support they need to win election. We need to turn the State House around and bring people with strength of character, who cannot be bribed or threatened, into public office.

If you agree with us that a strong grassroots pro-family movement is necessary to turn our state around, please volunteer and donate.

There's a trove of tiny gems there, including:
  • A promise of continued propaganda and lies, as in telling citizens "the real-life consequences of same-sex marriage." In the real world, of course, that would be that life goes on, with couples, their kids, whole families thriving. Then there is the MFI reality.
  • After getting out-lobbied, out-reasoned, and out-organized by MassEquality and its friends, the no-longer-VOM tries on the good guys' clothes. They claim to be a real grassroots organization with widespread voter support, able to convince lawmakers and run for office themselves. Clearly, saying and doing are very different.
  • The recruiting goal is particularly poignant. this renamed Coalition wants to "expand our base of volunteers (to have) an army of grassroots supporters..." That too would be MassEquality in real life. The day when it was okay to discriminate are past, as seen in the last elections and last ConCon.
  • They have also reframed themselves throughout their website as a primarily Catholic organization, instead of that broad, grassroots one in their goals. Check out their links and their call to become a rep for them in your own parish. Here's betting that Catholics who might have considered donating would rather give to a charity or project that helps people instead.
The goal set also includes a major shift. There is no more promise to defeat any of the 11 legislators who came to the pro-equality side. They failed even worse at trying to unseat pro-SSM lawmakers in the last election than they did in trying to gather a paltry 25% of the General Court to advance their amendment to stop SSM.

Now they say they want to elect reps and senators who "favor traditional values." They say they will "turn the state House around and bring people with strength of character, who cannot be bribed or threatened, into public office." That is, this group who was unable to defeat a single pro-equality candidate claims that it will, in effect, slowly replace over half the legislature. I guess they operate in geologic time.

The recurring theme seems to be that last phrase, "volunteer and donate." Lackaday for them, they jerked their supporters, including the local Roman Catholic clerics and prelates, around to the point of whiplash. It's going to be near impossible for them to get enough people to keep them in business, much less mount another petition drive. In addition, legislators are not stupid in a the main. They know people are sick of the vitriol, particularly when a trip with MFI and VOM led nowhere good.

Humiliation by association is not what politicians like or repeat.

This Coalition of a decreasing number of the befuddled and ill-meaning has vastly lowered its ambitions. Yet there is still a lot of bluster there. They have tasted defeat and they can smell the end. They just can't quite face reality.

Lapsed liberals, like Ray Flynn, and defeated legislators, like Marie Parente, were big supporters of the aims and tactics of VOM. The old group promised much, produced little and ultimately failed. The new version is the asthenic offspring with even less ability or attraction. Even VOM's old fart supporters must be too gun shy to align themselves with the watered down reincarnation.

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