Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Acton Youth on The Laramie Project

The MetroWestDaily/Acton/Wicked Local online thingummy has a nice set of comments on The Laramie Project play in their feature on it. The actors are much cooler than some of the parents.

By the bye, they did not interview the student who has been getting blog coverage. The actors they did quote seem to have a similar sangfroid though.

The student at the top, Meghan Veno, describes herself as a conservative Christian and not a liberal sort. She and her parents read the play and decided that she should audition. She got parts and concludes, "I don’t agree with everything in the play, but at the core it has a good message."

There are a few crackpot comments at the bottom of the article. One goes so far as to suggest that the school admins and the drama coach seem to want the kids to risk getting AIDS. Another says the director is simply publicity and money hungry. The other comments are rational.

The article also has a link to the local view of the protest forum by a couple of anti-gay groups who came to "educate" the parents on the evils of the play. Yada yada.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ms. MassResistance Says Lesbian Daughter "Confused"

In a bloggy coup, Mark Snyder runs his interview with Claudia, the daughter of MassResistance blogger in chief, Amy Contrada. Among her comments is, "I am a lesbian, which my mom still does not get. She just says that I am confused."

Check QueerToday here for the whole thing. It's worth reading. She looks like a very together person, particularly for a teen.

Sounds like a job for the Irony Squad.

Also, praise Mark for getting through his post without throwing News you won't hear anywhere else back at them.

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No Kicking Sarah Loy

I don't know how I missed it (yes, I do, and I blame it on PodcampBoston), but the frivolous charge against Sarah Loy for walking into a VoteOnMarriage rally in Worcester went bye-bye Friday.

In her nah-nah-nah-nah moment, Worcester winger Shari Worthington did not follow through on her complaint scheduled for a judge magistrate hearing yesterday. She had waited until shortly before the Larry Cirignano trial opened to try to intimidate Loy into not testifying. Apparently Worthington thought Larry walking on assault and battery was enough damage.

Also, in a slick move, Cirignano notified KnowThyNeighbor's Tom Lang of the easing of vindictiveness. So, while I was off geeking out, I missed the post over there. I like being somewhere with enough happening that if you snooze you lose. Ban boredom!

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Press Pumps Irish Pols

It can't be more than timely coincidence, but the local rags held forth today on next week's Boston City Council. Globe and Herald editorials and the Phoenix' sag wagon comments followed my comments yesterday.

Note: We'd do our rambling rants on the issue at Left Ahead! today at 2:30 p.m. on our weekly podcast. Catch it then or download it later.

Sue-Prize, Sue-Prize. The two dailies like the Irish-American guys in the at-large race and steer clear of the Team Unity members. The Globe endorses only John Connolly. The Herald goes for Michael Flaherty and most conservative councilor, Stephen Murphy, plus almost-made-it-last-time Connolly. At Talking Politics, the Phoenix' David Bernstein quickly and pretty gently takes them to task for their pasty-faced endorsements. He does note that the elision of incumbents Sam Yoon and Felix Arroyo is a real slight.

The Herald one is a hoot too from my view. It calls Flaherty the loyal opposition, not afraid to speak up. That title equally or more reasonably belongs to Arroyo. Moreover, I have to wonder whether their editorial scrawlers have read Connolly's platform. He is as liberal and equality minded as Murphy is old school. Maybe this is their version of having one lover for good looks and another for good cooking.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

City Council Claw Contest

I've never seen stolid Tom Menino literally running and he certainly isn't figuratively in a mayor's race this year. Yet the whole City Council is up for grabs, without the powerful draw of a big election.

Question number one, will Team Unity survive a low-interest contest?

Two of the four Councilors of color, as they describe themselves, look to be at risk. They have done a fine job, in city business, constituent services and proposing laws. More risk comes from having nine candidates for eight fields, one who just missed two years ago.

You can check links to websites and emails for candidates who have them at this Boston Online post. You can see nearly everyone's responses to a specific GLBT position poll two years ago at this In Newsweekly one.

Sitting Pretty

The two district councilors are opposed, but in great shape. In District Four, Charles Yancey is up against chronic candidate for the spot, Joseph (J.R.) Rucker. Over in District Seven, Chuck Turner's opponent is Carlos Henriquez.

Rucker is an old hand, having lost six times to Yancey. He seems to like the Sisyphus thing. He doesn't have an organization, doesn't respond to position requests, and doesn't even have a website. Meanwhile, Yancey says he will take any challenge seriously and is out campaigning. For him at least, this is another chance to renew contacts or make new ones with his voters. That can't do anything but make him better at what he does.

Henriquez is an aide to Michael Flaherty, and is decidedly not Chuck Turner or anything like him. You can get a hint of that from his website, which is the only Council contender's on MySpace. He is a 30-year-old ward heeler, but his profile and campaign pitches make him seem much younger. For example, his general interest are:
Politics, Money Investment, Writing, Music, Internet, Poetry, Love, Family, Dancing, Education, Real Estate, Social Justice, Sustainable Economic Development, Youth Development, Basketball, Xbox 360, Football, Dancing.
About the race, he concludes:
What this means to me is that we all have something in common. We’ve all politicked with one another. We have all connected. We have done it socially, to find out where the party is, maybe get on a guest list or even for marketing and promotion. That’s all good. But now, I want to take those politics to the next level. Politics is simply about people connecting to do business. Many of us younger people have left this to our parents and grandparents, thinking that it is something complex that comes with age. It’s not. We are the best at it. We have the vision, the knowledge and the spirit to continue on the work our parents and grandparents have done before us. It’s time we work together to change Boston.
It's not his year.

Nine for Four

Two Team Unity members, Sam Yoon and Felix Arroyo, are at risk though. As at-large candidates they face a crowded field. Again, turnout should be light and interest has been low, with scant attendance at and coverage of fora.

The present at-large Councilors are:
  • Stephen J. Murphy
  • Sam Yoon
  • Felix Arroyo
  • Michael F. Flaherty

The field also includes:
  • John R. Connolly
  • David James Wyatt
  • Martin J. Hogan
  • Matthew Geary
  • William P. Estrada
The real spoiler is Connolly. In 2005, he came within 1% of the vote and was edged out by Murphy. He's personable, he's pretty progressive (particularly for an Irish-American sort from West Roxbury), he's a teacher, he has a long, deep reputation for good works. He can talk reform. He can talk education. A lot of voters can identify with him.

Murphy has been elected four times, but at least one blogger at Municipally Wasted figures Connolly has his best shot at Murphy and that the other four newbies are also-rans-to-be. Murphy is a good buddy of Albert (Dapper) O'Neil, the long-term, retired, ill, and socially reactionary Councilor. His hard-line politics are at odds with Team Unity members, and Connolly as well.

There's no race for President, Governor or Mayor. There are no huge ballot questions. I'm betting both Yoon and Arroyo are working hard and are nervous. Both are wildly popular with their voters, although Arroyo is infamous for missing Council sessions. They deliver for their folk and are top-notch committee chairs (Yoon chairs Housing and Arroyo Economic Development and Planning).

Can they get people out?

Well, they'll get me out. and I'll either bullet vote Yoon and Arroyo, or depending on how it goes when I spend a little time with Connolly down the block on Sunday, add him.

Meanwhile, Sam and Felix are likely visiting every public gathering they can and ringing those doorbells. That's the final risk, their other challenge — they have the whole damned city to cover.

Add-on Note: The Boston (né Bay State) Banner has a good analysis of the risks.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Podcamp Boston Snippets

My Sunday was jammed, but I did get do the whole Saturday Podcamp Boston 2 at the Boston Convention Center. It was about as non-political as you can get. Lots of fellow geeks (about 1,300) spoke of vlogs and such, two kilt wearers acted out, and virtually no one was talking Iraq, Bush, or Presidential candidates.

So, I learned quite a bit over there and shall post some. Those rightfully belong over at Harrumph! There's a short with links to recommended Web 2.0 freebie tools here. There's also a personal tech-related one here. I'll likely do a few other short write-ups for more technical sessions.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

More Playing Jimmy Olsen

That Nieman Foundation seminar on reporting with a local slant was full of how-to as well as philosophy, and nearly as useful for bloggers as for its target audience of weekly newspaper reporters.
  • Constructing a narrative tale is here.
  • Coverage of finding the time to do the meaningful stories is here.
  • More general talk about bloggers as reporters is here.
  • A personal tale of white folk at Black papers is here.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Free Speech, Ours...Not Yours

Still gulping their political pain pills, The Mass Family Institute (MFI) keeps its focus on afflicting others. Since June when they lost their two-plus year crusade to stop same-sex marriage here, they have been relentless in reframing themselves.

Along the way to their goals of promoting sexual abstinence, keeping kids safe on the internet, and pushing for enforcement of statutory rape laws, MFI is perfectly happy to jettison such inconveniences as free speech — for progressives and liberal sorts. For their own demonstrations, rallies, and sidewalk protests, however, they claim absolute rights to declaim, fulminate and verbally accost others.

They are, if you pardon the expression, snugly in bed with anti-women's rights organizations and protesters. Aborting inviable fetuses is murder in their loaded lingo.

Pushing All Limits

Consider two recent matters — related claims in the Cirignano trial in Worcester last week and a call to action on a Massachusetts Senate bill that would keep protesters from getting too close to women entering Planned Parenthood clinics. Free speech was the pivot for both.

In the trial, the defense position asserted an absolute right of free speech to MFI for its anti-SSM rally. That is, their permits (assembly and sound) to the city hall plaza gave them total control to that area. This meant that anyone with an opposing view had to stay out of the designated rally area. The defense further held that this included the right "to use reasonable force" to remove anyone speaking or carrying a sign with a different viewpoint...even if they did not ask nearby police to help.

Moreover, in heavy-handed efforts to intimidate the woman whom Cirignano pushed across the plaza and who ended up injured, the permit holder for MFI, Shari Worthington, filed a complaint against her for disrupting the rally. Even though she had known since April that the trial was coming up, Worthington waited until just over two weeks before the trial to file. In her blog, she openly bragged that "But this causes a big problem for Loy. If she testifies against Larry on Oct. 16, she risks incriminating herself in a trial against her!"

Free speech...not yours.

That complaint comes before a judge magistrate next Monday. It seems without merit and is unlikely to lead to any charges.

Too Clever by Half

Worthington, who refers to herself on her blog in the third person, was more involved in this than just being the front woman for MFI at the rally. She and Cirignano worked together for two years and she was a sort of witness at his trial. Not only did she not see the incident, but she was so wrapped up in her attempts at cleverness, that she came off as duplicitous. She seemed to have missed the part of her oath about "whole truth and nothing but the truth."

For example, on her closeness to Cirignano, she couldn't say they were buddies. Rather "I worked with him through Catholic Citizenship, but we do not socialize." Likewise, when the prosecutor asked whether she "kept on top of the case," rather than answer, she dissembled with, "I'm not sure what you mean." When pressed about whether she had blogged about it and kept up it, she said, "Roughly, yes."

Moreover, her husband provided police with a video almost entirely of the protesters' separate area. As a result of apparently trying to get the pro-equality folks doing something they could point to later, they missed the incident where Cirignano pushed Loy. As a result, conflicting witnesses had various accounts of how hard he pushed her. When the prosecutor asked her how she could deliver the video to police and never mention that she was a witness or offer her account, she was at her most disingenuous. She said as justification that the investigating officer "didn't ask me for any (details)."

The Lord's Business

No MFI tale can avoid irony. One passing twinge of it came at the Cirignano trial. The defense attorney, Michael Gilleran, first repeatedly conflated that political action of the campaign with "doing the work of the Catholic Church." Neither the prosecutor nor the judge called him on that. Then during the motions portion before jury selection, Gilleran capsulized the amendment drive as trying to "overturn Goodridge."

I found it fascinating to hear someone supporting the anti-SSM side admit that. Everyone related to MFI's campaign carefully avoided that before and during the drive because that aim would specifically violate our commonwealth's constitution. Even our then Attorney General Tom Reilly ruled that the obvious was not the real by declaring that the amendment would only stop SSM going forward, so it wasn't really, not really, overturning the court decision.

35 Feet

Yesterday was another trumpet call to action by MFI on a different matter. Yet this too was about free speech, theirs, not everyone's. In an email alert, MFI asked for folk to flood the House calling for no support of Senate 1353, which it called "a violation of the First Amendment rights of these sidewalk counselors who calmly attempt to give women considering abortion information to help them choose life...'This infringes on the prolifers' ability to reach out to women in crisis who need vital information,' said Marie Sturgis, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. 'These are prayerful people who want to help in some way.'"

You may insert your own sound of derision here. If you have been around the screaming, threatening gangs of them near a reproductive clinic, you know what they are about and how they abuse the concept of free speech. Whether a woman arrives for a birth-control checkup, an abortion, or even to discuss keeping a surprise baby in the works, the wails and accusations of "Murder!" are not civilized or humane.

Analogy alert: Over at BMG, Bob promoted a post by ShillelaghLaw that notes the Mass Citizens for Life and MFI decry Senate Bill 1353, which passed yesterday. If a similar bill passes the House, it would define and expand the buffer zone around Planned Parenthood and similar reproductive clinics from 18 feet to 35 feet. It also provides for the first time specificity by including "a radius of thirty-five feet of any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway". There have been no successful prosecutions of threatening screechers and rosary rattlers in large part because of the vagueness of the existing Chapter 266, Section 120E.

Safeguarding Rights

What we end up with is surely a portent of MFI and related groups' attacks on your free speech and mine. They shameless use the Hurley decision and extreme interpretations of laws two ways. They claim absolute free speech, including those rights to "reasonable force" to physically move protesters. At the same time, they are looking for reinforced limits on the rights of others to protest or even to display a sign with a differing viewpoint.

Left, right or just special interest, no one should be able to stifle others. Nearly all of us grew up with a strong belief in our First Amendment rights to whisper or rant publicly about matters important to us. In this era of a sharp right turn in the U.S. Supreme Court, we have to watch MFI and their ilk.

Hurley was only to let a parade permit holder limit who could march in a private parade on public streets. Nothing gives protection to act as police officers and decide whom to roust and eject.

Senate Bill 1353 was not a reaction to Hurley, but it might have that effect. When extreme ideologues show that they are willing to abuse free speech to attain their political goals, they need legal limits. The specificity in this bill that MFI so bemoans is necessary in that case and likely in many related ones.

To expand to a larger, differing analogy, this effect has ripples like the 1982 Tylenol poisoning. Some murderous type put cyanide in pain pills and now we have sealed everything. Previously, we opened tablet bottles or jars of mayonnaise without the protective layers and seals. We may have to revisit many state laws to keep free speech for all.

Now I expect that we'll see more groups citing or trying to stretch case law and statutes to get around our Bill of Rights. That will require state and federal tweaks or new laws to restore our understanding of free speech and other previously commonly understood principles.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On Playing Jimmy Olsen

How amusing it remains that some TV talking heads, as well as newspaper reporters and even columnists, continue to denigrate bloggers. They often phrase that disingenuously as a blanket assertion that bloggers are not reporters.

To those of us who came out of journalism schools and newspapers, that is to laugh a bloggy laugh. They might ask more reasonable and more easily answered questions, such as:
  • Do some bloggers do reporting?
  • Are bloggers' analyses and comments any less worthwhile or insightful than a paper's columnists'?
  • Do blogs fill in the ever widening news and reporting gaps that ever penurious newspapers leave?

Dummy Down

Let's get real, boys and girls. Consider the TV news anchors. We pretend that the teleprompter blurbs they read are real reporting. Yet, the last major TV anchor who reported was Roger Mudd, over 20 years ago. While he later ran Meet the Press and did essays on PBS, his ouster tells us too much about mainstream media. He was the rational replacement for Walter Cronkite, but one of his networks chose the much inferior Dan Rather and another the very LITE Tom Brokaw.

I occasionally wonder if Mudd didn't have such a long, horse face and had been more of a pretty boy, if he would have gotten his deserved spots. MSM news coverage would be much better off if he had.

When I interviewed Mudd while he was still on CBS, he stood out from his TV peers. He said that he would never report a story on the air that he had not done the original work on or vetted personally. He was a reporter and from doing that had the insight the rest of TV news lacked then and lacks even more so now.


Blog bashing is an amusing sport played by MSM. Yet, some bloggers are ignoring that and doing their business. As a result, you likely get coverage of events and ideas from blogs that either never appear in MSM or received the lowest-common-denominator treatment days, weeks or months later.

One of the most encouraging trends in the future of news and analysis is the increasing number and quality of how-to sessions for bloggers.

You don't have to think too deeply to notice that the criticisms of blogs has a very defensive tone in general. Considering how newspapers and broadcast have decreasing staff and thus fewer and fewer meaningful stories, it's not surprising that they knock the much more numerous bloggers who do report and do analyze. Increasingly, some bloggers have the interest and focus that strapped MSM lack to notice and cover local events and trends.

Die Hyperlocal!

That written, I confess that hyperlocal gives me the willies. I suspect this trend will play itself out badly and quickly, even though its intentions are good enough. The concept is that the bloggers go down to the neighborhood, block or house level with coverage.

The effect too often is to present trivia as substance. It resembles a facebook page or the far too common ain't-my-kitten-or-boyfriend-cute blog. That kind of self-indulgence gets real stale real fast, and consequently drives most viewers away quickly. The Internet makes hyperlocal coverage possible, but that doesn't mean it's worthwhile.

Doing It Right

In contrast, consider community journalism. If you don't know what that is, click over to H2Otown and see it done right. There, dedicated and savvy bloggers and other volunteers do play Jimmy Olsen. Some want to grow into paid reporters elsewhere. Others have a passion for reporting the unreported news, what they want to see in MSM and local weeklies but don't.

You don't have to go that far or treat blogging as a separate career that burns all your spare cycles. Yet, for those who didn't come out of a reporting background, some smart groups have recognized that:
  • Community journalism and reportage on blogs can only help us news-hungry sorts.
  • Knowing how to go about it makes it much easier and more effective.
  • You can teach the little that folks need to know.
In the past couple of years, I attended several such sessions, as conferences or seminars. I'll do more when they appear. Even with my background, it didn't hurt me and I learned things. Moreover, ye olde networking is great at these. I spoke with and have contacts with professional and blogger sorts from the commonwealth, region and country.

In particular, I cite the Media Giraffe/New England News Forum conferences in Amherst and Lowell, and last weekend's Nieman Foundation seminar in Cambridge. The former blended MSM and new media sorts such as bloggers. The latter was mostly weekly newspaper reporters and editors. (I may have been the only blogger there.)

There's a far amount of coverage of the NENF conferences in this blog, including this. I posted one personal view of the Nieman one here, and shall do one or two more on the sessions last weekend.

Meanwhile, the key concepts for those new to news is that you can do this. You don't have to quit your day job or even stop your regular blog posting. You can pick a topic, do a little research and interviewing, and voila! you can be Jimmy.

Cross-posting: This also appears on Harrumph! Plus, there's finally more.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

How About That Trial, on Left Ahead!

Over at Left Ahead!, we're looking beyond, "Just the facts, Ma'am," on the Cirignano trial. You know the ending, but do you know what's next for all of us what grew up thinking we had a right to free speech.

The guest will be Mike Benedetti, of Pie and Coffee and WCAA-TV. He was at the whole trial. He's a lot more pleasant about it all than I am. Together, we have opinions of what it may mean the next time we want to pick up a placard or march in a protest.

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Courting Equality Flick Ready

Keen. The promised Courting Equality movie is ready for screening in a week. From the website:
October 29, 7:30 pm Concord Festival of Authors. Trinitarian Congregational Church, 54 Walden St, Concord, MA 01742. Join the authors for a screening of an iMovie of photos from Courting Equality and a reading illustrated with photos. The authors will update the marriage equality movement in MA and sign copies of Courting Equality. Special Guests Rep. Cory Atkins, a marriage equality supporter, and Bonnie Winokar, a local marriage equality activist and leader.
That's next Monday. I must add that from the Courting Equality functions I've attended, it would be worth the trip. It's politically and emotionally satisfying. It may be more so after the defeat of the amendment to halt same-sex marriage.

The guys whose marriage I solemnized were over again last weekend for dinner. This is nothing but good.

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Pale Men in at Black Papers

I hadn't thought about it a long, long time, but I suppose that most African-American oriented newspapers in the U.S. probably have at least one white editor or reporter. Having been one, I did think about it Saturday when I met and chatted with Dan Devine from the Boston–Bay State Banner.

He's not the Packer's football coach anymore than I am the musical star. What we do share other than famous names is stumbling from college to a Black paper.

Our occasion to meet was the day-long seminar Making the Most of Your Local Advantage: Community Reporter Seminar. Its sponsors were Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism and the Alliance for Community Journalism.

I've done a lot of reporting for newspapers, magazines and in a new-media sort of way for several blogs. Yet, I thought it was well worthwhile, well worth the $25, and useful to blogger sorts as well as the primary audience of reporters for weeklies. If it rolls around again, bloggers as well as weekly reporters should grab spots. It focuses on how to research and write local stories, but the emphasis is definitely on how to write.

If any other bloggers were there, I'm not yet aware of it. I would have suspected that someone from H2Otown would have taken the bus to the square for it. They certainly do a lot more reporting than the type of political blog I favor does.

I'll put up some of what I took away from that seminar here and at Harrumph!

Before we started, Dan approached me and said he liked this blog. There a bit of a love fest, as I try to get the Banner from the box every week. Like Bay Windows, its stuff seems much easier to find on paper. Online, some of the small article aren't obvious and much of the art is gone. I get more about the Black communities in this area from the Banner than any other paper, and with its coverage ad supplementary stories from the South End News and the JP Gazette, I get Latino news that seems to be beneath the Globe or Herald.

At lunch, I sat with him and mentioned that I had run a Black paper for a year a long time ago. His spot and mine are surely not all that unusual, but odd enough to be remarkable. He's the deputy editor of the Banner and I was editor-in-chief of The Palmetto Post, the Black weekly in South Carolina's capital, Columbia. The board folded it after I left and a young Black editor too over, but that's another part of the story.

He was not having much luck finding a reporting job in Rhode Island when he looked around in Boston. I know from experience how hard it is to get job at papers here, even at indentured-servant style wages. They have waiting lists of friends and relatives of owners and employees, thank you very much. Eventually, the Banner offered him a clerical position and promoted him a few times to where he is now.

My case was a little stranger, but along the same lines. At our awards dinner for the college newspaper (honest-to-Zenger, the Gamecock), we heard the Palmetto Post board chair say they were struggling and had a very small pool of anyone Black with any newspaper experience. He asked any of us with some time to do volunteer reporting and maybe help teach neighborhood people.

I was the only one who volunteered. When I met a couple of board members at the office to say I was finishing and would do some reporting for them. He leaned deeply over the desk, took my forearm and said, "What we really need is an editor-in-chief." The board of business folk and academicians had been doing the work for which they were ill prepared.

I told them that I felt uneasy as a white person. He said I was more experienced than anyone they could find and that my writing convinced him that I had solid politics as well as expertise.

There's lots more to both of my story and his. Neither of us really owns the full tale of each other yet. To the central question everyone understandably asks, for the largest part, the community, sources and certainly the almost entirely Black staff are very accepting for him as they were for me. I did have to laugh when I told him of the white folk though.

There were no regular or alternate weeklies in Columbia. The same company owned the morning State and afternoon Record. There was no other Black publication. When I went to press conferences, it was as the representative of the Black community. Quite a few white politicians, including Gov. Robert McNair and the mighty long-term House Speaker Sol Blatt, would stutter and almost cross their eyes when they met me. They didn't get it.

Everybody else gets it here as they did then and there.

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Larry Slides in Worcester

Mike Benedetti apparently knows Worcesterites better than I. He called it when he told me the jury would let Larry Cirignano off on assault and battery. He just got back to his office and posted the news here.

Follow-up: The Telegram also has a short here. No one has gotten any comments from the jurors or parties to the case yet.

Follow-up Follow-up: Now Ethan over at Bay Windows has filed his story here. It includes this prepared statement from defense attorney Michael Gilleran:
We believe the overwhelming evidence was that the complainant in this case, Sarah Loy, tripped over someone’s foot and was not pushed by Lawrence Cirignano. In addition, the law is clear that since the Let the People Vote rally had a permit to hold its rally and therefore Ms. Loy did not have a right to disrupt that rally by bearing her contrary message into the permitted rally. The judge agreed with our position on this point and dismissed the violation of civil rights charge again Mr. Cirignano. Now the jury has agreed with the defense’s position on the assault and battery charge and exonerated Mr. Cirignano. This is a fortunate result for Mr. Cirignano and the law.
In contrast, I think the law took a dirty bath on this, but he's a pro and knows how to spin.

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Cirignano Today — Slap or Slide?

Surely within six hours, by lunchtime, the Cirignano jury will have finished its work on what has become a simple assault and battery case. I'll stay on record that the result by all rights should be guilty.

Of course even if the fine would be a few hundred dollars (max. of $1000 by law and surely no jail time for a first offender), it is plain that an appeal would immediately follow. A fund raiser for right-wing causes would have to see a record for violent crime as a marketing minus.

I am more concerned about the Hurley decision's appearance as a justification for roughing up a protester. In the Cirignano case, Justice David Despotopulos did his best to keep it clean and distinct by components. He eventually agreed with the defense attorney that a counter-demonstrator pretty much ceded freedom of speech on the matter at hand by trespassing into a rally area where the demonstrators held a permit. However, just short of a directed verdict in the A&B aspect, he made it plain too that permit holders (or in this case, someone who was sympathetic to the cause of the permit holders) did not have a right from that to act as bouncers or police in manhandling anyone.

I'll investigate more and like elaborate on this. Combined with our current regressive U.S. Supreme Court and Justice Department, this could become a problem for everyone. If judges do begin allowing precedent for what they call "self-help" even when police are around, free speech would definitely suffer.

I won't rant on about this today. The verdict is at hand.

Mug and Fling

I did promise to expand on why the A&B should be certain. Justice Despotopulos touched on various aspects of that charge in his opening, throughout the trial and in his instructions to the jury. The criteria for the charge are there:
  • Touching someone without reason or justification, and that the person did not want
  • Intentionally doing the touching
  • Touching in such a way that might cause damage
In multiple statements to the police on December 16th, 2006, Cirignano said he "pushed" or "pushed lightly" Sarah Loy. He tried his best to wordsmith that in testimony to ""guided her", but the description was the same — he admits putting his forearm on her lower back and moving her some 10 or more feet into a hostile crowd. Clearly he could have caused harm and the prosecution did not have to prove he actually tried to hurt her.

Previously some of the folk at the main rally trotted out patent lies. They had Loy watching Cirignano leave before throwing herself to the ground to hit her head and play act. The defense had the good sense not to put them on the stand. At the trial another incredible story emerged of Loy on her own stopping before moving farther into the crowd and tripping on a teen girl's foot.

All of the word tricks don't mitigate against Cirignano meeting the low bar of A&B here.

Back to the Hurley case and its implications, Cirignano is certainly extreme in both his background and his attempted justification for mugging Loy. He said on the stand that he received his catch-and-release training from the U.S. Secret Service when he was an advance man for the elder President George Bush. We should note that those are law enforcement professionals, authorized to protect politicians and others with force.

Larry is not, but he apparently continues to think of himself as a double-oh agent, still empowered to enforce the law. To complicate his current case, as the judge said a few times, the police were close and should have been the people enforcing order against a trespasser, Loy was moving away from the rally speakers and no threat to anyone, and while Cirignano testified that he was pushing her to avoid a confrontation, he was doing so directly into an angry crowd.

Because this is only a district court in one county, this case is not going to have overly strong legal implications. On the other hand, statewide and nationwide political extremist such as the Massachusetts Family Institute grab whatever weapons they can and push and push and push.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Cirignano Don't Need to Share Rights!

The flying fingers of Mike Benedetti captured the fourth day of the Larry Cirignano trial. He and I hung around the new Worcester court house (as did Bay Windows' Ethan Jacobs).

The jury got the case about 12:25 today and deliberated for four hours before Justice David Despotopulos sent them home for the weekend. Check back at Pie and Coffee and Bay Windows for truth and knowledge about the verdict. Mike figures acquittal and I'm leaning toward guilty. More on the reasoning follows tomorrow.

For what it's ended up as — a third-rate assault and battery misdemeanor — we've put in a lot of electrons on it.

There are several levels of assault and battery. The heavy ones are with a deadly weapon, against someone over 60, sexual on a child, for intimidation and so forth. The simple version looks like Cirignano's charge. It carries a maximum penalty of 2½ years in jail or $1,000 fine. For someone like Cirignano with no violent crime convictions, it would almost surely be a fine he wouldn't even blink at (Although we're all sure he'd appeal the devil out of any penalty. So there!).

This started out with real promise of being a seminal trial. The relatively trivial A&B charge carries underlying significance, but mostly in its relationship with the pretty plain abrogation of the rights of the victim, Sarah Loy.

Such a political agon would be nothing without a tinge of irony. In this case, one group gets freedom of speech and Loy gets literally and figuratively tripped up in pursuing the same.
As background:
  • The Mass Family Institute got a permit to use the public plaza by Worcester City Hall (actually two permits, one for sound) to hold a 12/16/6 VoteOnMarriage rally to urge a plebiscite on the amendment to stop same-sex marriage here.
  • Cirignano was not part of the group, although he was the sympathetic head of Catholic Citizenship at the time. He came to the rally to offer the prayer. Instead, it appears he preyed.
  • Loy walked near the rally group holding a pro-SSM sign to her chest, facing the rally.
  • Cirignano took it upon himself to come behind her and use his forearm to push her into the crowd to get her out of the way, in effect to neutralize her message.
  • Loy hit the ground (how is a matter of some dispute).
  • Cirignano ended up with the A&B charge and another for violating Loy's freedom of speech.
The meme for this trial has become catch and release. Cirignano used it on the stand with hubris. He is delighted that he learned (from the U.S. Secret Service, he claimed) how to push people in the small of their back and maneuver them where he wanted. It was the braggadocio of the bully from the witness stand.

It looked like a great test for freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, with a little gratuitous violence tossed in for spice. Instead, the defense lawyer, Michael Gilleran, convinced the judge that case law, particularly, Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, in which the U.S. Supreme Court let a South Boston Irish-American group forbid gay Irish-American groups from marching in a privately funded St. Patrick's Day parade, gave the MFI the right to roust protesters from their rally.

Before finally agreeing to a directed acquittal on the civil-rights charge, the judge brought up the salient points of vigilantism and of avoiding the police who were handy and who had been redirecting pro-SSM demonstrators for hours before the incident. His sentiments clearly were that removing a protester in the rally was the job of the police if they were present, which they were.

In addition, even after he quashed the civil-rights charge, he noted that Cirignano was not a permit holder, not part of MFI, and that the defense argument suggested that any of the anti-SSM folk at the rally would then have had a right to rough up a protester and toss her off their plaza. Gilleran continued to hold that absurd position, but the judge did not buy into that aspect. To that point though, he did accept that Loy could not claim free speech rights when use of the space temporarily belonged to the MFI.

Those are really not picayune points either. With our present repressive U.S. Supreme Court, we can likely expect more such efforts to trample the rights of protesters, particularly lefties.

Here's hoping and anticipating that the jury will agree that taking the law into his own hands in such a case earns Cirignano a conviction. Shoving anyone around because you disagree with their message or where they display it is not what we should be about.

I'll cover trial impressions, likely Sunday, but that's a rant that can't wait.

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EXTRA! (Nah, Cirignano Jury Still Talking)

I just arrived off the 5:38 p.m. train from Worcester after the last day of testimony in the Larry Cirignano trial. After the jury considered the evidence in his assault and battery charge for four hours, the judge sent them home for the weekend. Deliberations restart Monday morning at 9.

I'll have more Saturday late or Sunday (PodCamp tomorrow for me). Meanwhile, check Pie and Coffee and Bay Windows. Both aces Mike and Ethan were there too. I expect glories from Mike, who squirreled up with Cirignano for a long time at a recess.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cirignano Half Way Off

The news from Worcester is not all good. In the Cirignano trial, the defense finally convinced Justice David Despotopulos that the case law should let a permit holding rally organizer physically remove a protester. So, he accepted a motion to drop the civil-rights violation charge.

By reading other accounts, it appears the Assistant DA Joseph Quinlan is not the experienced pro that defense lawyer Michael Gilleran is. In particular, the defense brought up a binder full of case law on the civil rights side, with no real rebuttal.

I confess that I had a vision that this would be a good lesson for the vigilante wingers who don't like that free-speech stuff — for others. So, the other charge of assault and battery against pro-equality demonstrator Sarah Loy is what's on deck.

According to those there, Larry will testify tomorrow morning, along with a few other defense witnesses. So far, it may still come to whom you can believe. Gilleran seems to be a real amoral pro, which may be the prime reason to hire an experienced trial lawyer. When I saw him arguing motions, Quinlan was competent, but no more. In fact, he seems a bit shy and timid. I suspect Gilleran would ask for your first born on a platter and when you turned him down, he'd continue on the next item on his list. He's tough.

Whine: This has been eating me up. I have not been able to go to the testimony phase of this trial because of a conference I have to attend.

You can get your info the same way I do.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tsongas Sinks the Og

No honest person can call it a rout, but that wasn't required. Niki Tsongas' 51% of the 5th Congressional District's vote to lead challenger Jim Ogonowski's 45% is what we call a win in the political biz.

She was not particularly inspiring and he was a relative dullard and often cheap-shot artist. The special-election campaign to replace the status hungry, office quitting U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan was in many ways awkward. It was the political equivalent of a first date, first dance of high-school freshmen. Neither Democrat Tsongas nor Republican Ogonowski had political experience or even had run for office before.

Tag Ends: For the record, the final included three also-ran politicians. The report in the Lowell Sun ranked them at 2%, 1% and about 0%, for independents Patrick Murphy and Kurt Hayes, and Constitution Party Kevin Thompson.

On the face of it, both lead candidates played emotional cards again and again. One is the widow of a beloved U.S. Representative and Senator, and the other a brother of a pilot whose plane was hijacked and flown into a World Trade Tower on 9/11. More people voted for the widow.

Moniker note: In many blogs and even MSM, Ogonowski's mouth awkward Polish name has morphed into rock musician style Ogo for brevity. However, this gives him more punch along with more pronounceability. His gruffness makes me think of his as Og or the Og. Feel free to call him the great and powerful Og.

Family Lessons

As I am wont to ask my three boys, when we look at this election, what can we learn from this? I figure quite a bit.

You could start off real LITE and simple. Even though fairly progressive (but not real progressive) Dems have held this seat for a long time, the district is damned conservative by Massachusetts standards. Even voters who self-identify as socially liberal may be fiscally conservative, like guns, favor continuing the Iraq war to the end, and maybe even fear undocumented immigrants, even though that is a negligible problem there.

So the six percentage point victory is, on the surface, really a failure for the Dem. After all, many local and national Dems endorsed her and campaigned for her. So, did virtually all the big newspapers, except for very right wing Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, endorse Niki. Without thinking at all deeply about it, you could claim that her inability to skunk the Og in these circumstances is as much a failure as Democratic Rep. Chester Atkins who won reelection for this seat by an almost identical margin. The party replaced him in the next election (1992) with Marty Meehan, who ran much stronger.

If that's as far as you want to go, you can check out the low-thought, low-brow version at Hub Politics with This Tsucks: Tsongas Declares Victory and We Made Them Sweat. These are similar to the Og's whiny response to his loss. On the other hand, if Republicans or anyone is to learn real lessons from this defeat, they need to do a lot, lot better than these.

Getting Real

Republicans throughout the commonwealth, but particularly in such conservative areas should in fact take heart from the close race, even against an unproven amateur. They should be inspired to challenge incumbents as well as running for open seats. That would be a positive and welcome change from the many uncontested local, state and national seats, with no Republican or independent challengers.

The Og showed solid strength. While his support did not grow, it did hold steady for the several months of the short campaign. His ending up as whiny and mean should not obscure a victory nearly in hand.

It is unfortunate too that toward the end he ended up with a hypocritical public persona. His speeches and ads were unnecessarily nasty and dishonest. At the same time, he called Niki's ads out, even when they quoted him in context about S-CHIP. I can't believe that that alone cost him the election, but I would hope that future GOP candidates would be savvier and more honorable.

That kind of duplicity can occasionally work in town or other localized contests. It doesn't hold up well for a Congressional seat and would not weather a typical long campaign cycle. Then again, he was a much a first-timer as Niki. Mistakes were made.


Particularly for such relative unknowns, comportment and presentation account for a lot with many voters, more the older the voters are. Other Republicans can learn a bit from the Og here.

He was not entirely graceless in announcing concession, but close. This was the time to leave the best impression with those who voted for you and against you — powder for the next political shot. Of course, winner Niki had the better task; it is much easier to play nice when you are on top. The Og should practice his social and therefore political skills if he wants to run for this or another office.

Watch the clip and see how he is sadly cold. Then, he unfortunately makes no effort to stifle his crowd's chorus of boos on announcing his loss. Someone needs to dope slap him for that.

Throughout the announcement, he comes off as very chilly Midwestern, like one of Garrison Keillor's Lutherans. Although the Poles and Polish-Americans I have known are openly expressive, clearly his family culutre is not.

Consider that if there was ever a moment to show modest but sincere public display of affection, such a speech was it. You would expect him to look tenderly at his devoted wife and press a warm kiss of thanks on her lips. Instead, he went all Hollywood on her, turning his cheek for a quick, emotionless peck. In fact, in all his contacts with his family, he kissed no one. He gave a son a hug-like motion, but laterally. It was incidental quasi-affection.

The only real emotion he exhibited was in mentioning his late brother. He gave a gasp and seemed to have moist uvea in at least one eye. Considering that he used images of his brother's plane crashing into a skyscraper in his campaign, even that was somewhat blunted.

In contrast, Niki's speech seemed warm and gracious. While my sense from seeing her in public repeatedly is that she's not the world's most sincere person, but she's fine and in contrast to the Og's stiffness, she was positively charming.

While the Og remained to the end prickly and overly competitive, she was conciliatory (another lesson for the GOP guys). The Og said in his speech that "we taught them a thing or two." That came across like a bloodied sixth grader who lost his schoolyard slug fest but has to play tough anyway.

Interestingly enough, both used the phrase "hard-fought campaign." He played little soldier, while she thanked him as well as the also-rans, them for enriching and contributing to the discussion and debate in the campaign. Likewise, she stressed working together and cooperation for the betterment of the people of the district. He offered nothing remotely resembling that.

He seemed to have that mindset that a gracious loser is still a loser. He should mature a bit and grow out of that.

Underlying Themes

So how is it that a Dem candidate, even an unproven and inexperienced one, could eke a narrow victory in a solidly Democratic victory over an unproven and inexperienced Republican? Plus, this district is not permeated by a history of lefties, with the union exceptions of places like Lowell. Even in those, many voters are relatively conservative on many subjects.

The Og and Niki started after the primary in nearly the same position they finished. Neither seemed to gain or lose many votes. There were even some obvious contrasts. She wants the Iraq troops as soon as practical; he's a stay-the-course guy. She favors liberal naturalization for undocumented immigrants; he offers no quarter.

The biggy is that Dems were tired and disappointed. The Og had no competition in the primary, but Niki was in a bruising and confusing primary. In particular, Eileen Donoghue, Barry Finegold, and Jamie Eldridge each had passionate followers. (Remember that I was strongly for the only progressive, Eldridge.) As a result, I suspect that quite a few disaffected Dems didn't bother to vote.

Lessons Learned

Yet, we shouldn't get tied up by the Og's gruffness. There's plenty for all sides to learn.

First and most obvious, GOPpers and indies should not assume that Dems will win such seats. There are tons of DINOs there. Just as some politicians join the dominant party for the best chance of election, many voters join for such perks as voting in primaries. There are lots of mugwumps who are nominal Democrats. Some of those uncontested offices are missed opportunities. The tricks are figuring out which ones and putting up the right candidates.

This may really be a blue state, but there are many shades and some damned pale pastels around. Massachusetts is not homogeneous, not universally liberal, and not all voters are liberal across all their political positions.

Many of us saw Niki as a relatively marginal and immature candidate. She was spongy on some issues and wrong on others, such as her fantasy that big medical concerns will give consumers reasonable prices if only the free market operates with minimal regulation. (Save me, nurse!)

This left plenty of chance for strong candidates with well articulated position and citizen benefits to run. Likewise, future races should see non-Dems step up in risky and undecided precincts, towns and districts. The Og didn't handle it well in toto, but his relative success against an inexperienced candidate should nonetheless be heartening.

The Og was surely in one of the best possible congressional districts to play social conservative and hawk. In fact, in immediate retrospect, he may have done even better if he hadn't qualified his war support. He always started with saying we shouldn't have gone in and followed up with, but as long as we're there... An unqualified position would certainly have played better with the conservatives, Dem and GOPpers alike.

Dems too damned well should pay attention. Most obviously, stay focused and don't assume that a Republican or independent can't win.

Moreover, they need to differentiate their positions and articulate them clearly. "Mumble, mumble, trust me" does not play as well as specific platforms and promises. Niki for one was short on those. Fortunately for her, the Og was even more of a waffle, not even saying how he'd vote on the highly visible S-CHIP override. Honk. Wrong answer, Jim. Thanks for playing.

Finally, it would benefit the Democratic party to grow some 'nads and stake out the progressive side of the future. As shown in the seminal Pew study from March, Congress has gone pretty far right of most American voters. This is the time to articulate progressive views and stop being so fearful. Americans think we ought to take care of each other, feed the poor, educate all and on and on.

The biggest plus there would be that Democrats would again be clearly distinctive from the mean-spirited and rich-favoring Republican Party. That's a lot of platform to stand and run on! That could be the future and it could once again start here.

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Cirignano Trial By Pie and Coffee

Larry Cirignano's trial begins in earnest today, following motions and jury selection yesterday. I was in Boston for a conference all day, but Mike over at Pie and Coffee covered the morning here and the afternoon here. It's the next best thing to being there.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Little Larry Cirignano Visits Court

I don't believe locking eyes with jurors is going to cut it, not for the middle-aged guy charged with tossing a young woman to the ground and saying his rights are worth more than hers. Yet today in Worcester District Court, he tried and that was just one peek into Larry Cirignano.

Unfortunately, neither the prosecutor nor the judge called the defense attorney on his conflation. Cirignano was executive director of CatholicVote, a private political advocacy group centered on reversing marriage equality in Massachusetts. His lawyer referred several times to his client doing the work of the Catholic Church. Of course, legally, the church cannot involve itself in such "work." In addition, while local Archbishop and Cardinal Sean O'Malley poses with Cirignano for pictures, the latter is not an employee of the archdiocese or any church arm. He may be up to dirty tricks that Pope Benedict approves of, but he's on his own as far as the church must be concerned.

My Fabulous Worcester Adventure

People pluses for the trip to today's opening of the trial include:
  • Chatted with some nice folk I seldom see, like Bay Windows' Ethan Jacobs and Pie and Coffee's Mike Benedetti, who are each very pleasant and bright.
  • Did not have to share space with the bad karma guy, Brian Camenker of MassResistance and Petulant Parents or whatever he calls it. (He walked in as court recessed for the day.)
Short the motions, we did not have a lot of action in courtroom 23 (fourth floor of the new Worcester court at 225 Main Street for those who can attend Wednesday, Thursday or Friday). There was time and proximity to gawk and surmise.

Varied Agonists

Sarah Loy, in her late 20s, is not threatening by anyone's standards. She is quiet, mousy, full bodied, with a warm smile and gentle mannerisms. In court on Tuesday, she wore a heavy gray sweater over a white shirt with black trousers. Her shoulder-length hair had a pony tail held by a scrunchie.

I spoke briefly with her to introduce myself, but intentionally did not interview her in case she was not to talk about the trial until she had given her testimony. She seems as pleasant and sincere as she looks.

Larry Cirignano gives a very different impression. He is what my grandparents' generation called slick, not a nice description. He gives the sense that he wants an advantage, the kind of guy you count your fingers after shaking his hand.

He arrived early and alert. He was black — wingtips, suit, and hair. He wore lawyerish wire rims and a dark tie with strong diagonal stripes and what appeared to be geese on the wing (probably those pesky Canada geese). His fashion statement was a GQ pocket square. His handkerchief had four points and seemed to have been pressed by a stream roller to wafer thinness. His thick hair was trimmed to a flatness that looked like you could roll out pie dough on top of his head. His appearance screamed, "Control!"

In this chair for most of five hours, he was still and seemingly relaxed. Larry is cool. He turned his head only when it was to his advantage — facing the judge, facing the jury, and even once smiling at Bay Windows reporter Ethan Jacobs. Also, perhaps it was the training of masses and standing, genuflecting and crossing at the right times, but whatever, he was eager to stand respectfully whenever it might please Justice David Despotopulos. There's no fault here; Larry is savvy.

The attorneys for prosecution and defense were not as remarkable. Assistant DA Joseph Quinlan is short and slender, with a winning smile and an odd scar in the middle of his right cheek. He dresses like he was in the old Filene's Basement picking up $100 suits at 65% off before that location clothes. Larry was much snazzier.

For the defense, Michael Gilleran (Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge) is stout and nearly bald with a white tonsure. Larry outdresses him too.

Legal Jousting

Mike was no jolly fellow though. When it came to making motions, he was brutal, or tried to be. He wanted to ask juror qualifications with heavy political portents of the trial, such as did potential jurors have beliefs about not letting the public vote on the anti-same-sex marriage amendment.

The judge denied that and denied both of their requests to insert religious queries. Instead, he got them to agree to general questions to be resolved at the sidebar for any juror who had concerns with those.

Gilleran also tried to control the plaza rally permit question. On the one hand, he cited numerous vaguely related case laws to suggest that if MFI had a permit for a rally, they could use reasonable force (shoving protesters instead of motioning for the cops?). On the other, he wanted to exclude the actual permit the group received, which did not use such exclusionary wording. The judge was nice about saying so, but he said the trial would mix it up and sort 'em out. He added that the city definitely had the right to limit activities by permit.

Justice Despotopulos was also a bit of a caricature physically, in a good way. From his robe to his head, he was all in black — hair, eyebrows, glasses and five o'clock shadow. When he was amused by Gilleran's more absurd requests, you could see it in his raised brows.

He seems to have fun on the bench. At one point, Gilleran intoned that Cirignano was entitled to a jury of his peers. While this was surely not news to Despotopulos, the eyebrows popped up again and he chuckled in asking whether this meant they had to share Larry's beliefs on gay marriage.

The jury seemed benign enough, but aren't there any Black people in Worcester? The pool of three dozen had two, one of whom ended up impaneled in the six plus two alternates. It was a very blue-collar looking group, not at all slick. After the sidebars and a couple of peremptory challenges by each lawyer, Larry ended up with five men and three women.

As they were seated, Larry turned his gaze to the jury box and stared, apparently going for a human connection.

More Than A Misdemeanor

This trial is one of many opportunities to inform the extreme right wing sorts that they can't count on getting away with stifling others, much less physically attacking them. We who disagree with them and watch them have obligations too. First among those is to draw attention to what they are about. When they want to strip other Americans of the rights and privileges they relish, we must say that plainly. Everyone from voters to their peers to lawmakers to police need to see them for what they are and what they do.

If the Larry Cirignano sorts want to do their evil while pretending to be quintessential Americans, we must point out when they want to rob real Americans of their rights. That has been what Cirignano has been about professionally for a long time, earning a living trying to deprive homosexuals and others of equal rights. I call Larry out. That's not what America is about.

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Scary Strategies Open Anti-Equality Civil-Rights Trial

The crisply ironed four-point handkerchief and the wingtips belie the savage and unkempt mind of Larry Cirignano and his crew. In room 23 on the fourth floor of the new Worcester court building, his lawyer, Michael Gilleran laid some pretty heavy tracks. He pointed to where his client comes from and is headed.

Sadness: I have a conference in Boston on Wednesday and a meeting on Thursday morning that prevent me from attending the anticipated three days of argument and testimony. Fortunately for us all, Bay Windows' Ethan Jacobs should be there and deliver his reportage and analysis. Watch that space.

Background: Cirignano's arrest in December. His tortuous claims of innocence. The results of the investigation. A similar mentality from the woman who was photographed and seen by police coming around a street barrier separating pro- and anti-equality demonstrators to hit a pro-equality one in the face.

Alas, No Witnesses Yet

The first day in Worcester was motions, conferences and jury selection. The latter had no surprises, but the lawyer talk was most revealing.

Perhaps most fascinating in all these are two incredible glimpses into the minds of Cirignano and the face-hitting anti-SSM protester:
  • Each claims justification in using physical force, even in these two cases where there were police present to ask for help and law enforcement. Both have held a he/she-made-me do it. We can't escape that this is the refuge of spouse and child abusers. "If they hadn't been there or said that, I wouldn't have had to beat them." Harrumph.
  • Freedom of speech is for one side only, their side. This singularly unAmerican and unconstitutional attitude gets wrapped in Cirignano's package of having a permit to use the space. Yet, try as hard as Gilleran did to cite federal case law, including the shameful concept that the anti-SSM rally folk could use "reasonable force" to physically remove people instead of turning to the police, who were there. I think that's also called vigilantism.
Fortunately for reason, civility and legality, Justice David Despotopulos did not let the outrageous motions of Cirignano/Gilleran pass. He has a great sneer and chuckle. Without losing his cool, he repeatedly brought Gilleran back to planet Earth.

For example, Gilleran moved that everyone in the courtroom be forbidden from talking about the case during the trial. That would include the press, bloggers, others in the audience, everyone. The judge raised his eyebrows and asked if he expected an order that everyone not read newspapers or watch TV. Denied.

License to Mug

The scariest motion though centered on excluding protesters. Of course, it cited the Wacko Hurley case that wingers love to death. That is Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, in which the U.S. Supreme Court let a South Boston Irish-American group forbid gay Irish-American groups from marching in a privately funded St. Patrick's Day parade. It is rare to hear a First Amendment argument from an anti-gay lawyer that does not try to use and expand on this.

In this case, Gilleran held that Hurley gave the anti-SSM rally organizers an absolute right protected by the higher court and U.S. Constitution. That would be to keep anyone with differing views away from the Worcester City Hall plaza and distant from their rally, regardless of what the city permit stated.

As soon as he got into it, he began citing other case law claiming that the group could use that reasonable force to "self-help" as the expression goes. The judge again raised eyebrows and asked if there was a police detail there, which Gilleran admitted there was. The judge seems not to be a big fan of self-deputized private police forces.

He returned from a recess to allow testimony of the parks official who issued the permit, which does not license the Massachusetts Family Institute to physically remove anyone they choose.

I can see Gilleran trying (surely unsuccessfully) to appeal this absurd extension of the parade ruling to physical violence in forcing one group's freedom of speech to trump another's.

This Must Stop

This should be a seminal trial with implications far beyond central Massachusetts. For many years, particularly with the increasingly conservative Supreme Court and the past seven of POTUS who aggressively favors right wingers' rights over rights for all, the Cirignano and Gilleran sorts have pushed and nibbled. This looks like a clear instance of going to far and trying too many bluffs.

I'll do another post on some personal observations. For the legal matters, Cirignano's only hope in this jury trial is that Assistant DA Joseph Quinlan has big lapses when it comes to cross-examining witnesses. A lot of folk say they saw Cirignano run across an open courtyard to push a quiet and sincere woman to the ground. The evidence all points to his losing it in efforts to prevent her free speech. His I-had-the-right-to-because-she-didn't-belong-there defense sounds damned lame. I'm betting the jury doesn't buy it and three days from now, there is a guilty finding on both assault and battery, and civil rights violations.

We can be equally sure there will be unsuccessful appeals...followed by months and years of martyr talk. The rest of us though can say that he shouldn't have done it, and after he did, he should have taken a responsibility. That's what adults do, Larry.

Related coverage: Surprisingly, the Worcester Telegram had some good background and updates. They have been weak on this case. Look there for news on their reporter who is fighting being a witness.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Craig Earns Clown Nose

Squeeze the wheeze, Larry.

Nuff said.

Overpaying for Baa-d Management

Ovine owners and shareholders may bleat quietly, but they follow and herd. Whether they're sports fans or stockholders, they accept their fleecing.

The baseball version is particularly amusing in Boston. Now that the Sox won the World Series after a long hiatus and are back regularly playing with the big kids, the local fans are more passive than ever. (As a friend said after being in several consecutive bad relationships, "Beat me. Kick me. Make me write bad checks." Anything for love [or reflected athletic glory].)

The numbers should be sobering, enough to make even sheep rebel. We have by far the highest ticket prices in the world for baseball right here in Beantown. Boston's prices are more than double the national average. They have had the nation's highest prices for the previous nine years.

The big boys in what appear to be opaque pantyhose are certainly overpaid and the team owners treat the Sox as cash flow not a gentleman's diversion. A key irony here is that local management, media and fans have decried buying championships. That, of course, has been directed at the perennial winners, the Yankees. Unfortunately for us though, we are number two in the salary list and have no valid claim to higher ground. The Yankees at nearly $190 million and our Sox at over $143 million are the pigs at the trough contrasted to the Marlins ($31 million) and Devil Rays ($24 million).

The corporate parallel is CEOs. They are similarly overpaid to sluggers and hurlers. Some important differences are that they don't have short careers, injuries can't knock them out of play permanently, and there are only one or two top guys per corporate team.

Most CEOs, it seems, are not as gullible or delusional about their self-worth as pro athletes. They also take the compensation though.

As one example, in a report coming out today, two thirds of the company biggies admit they are overpaid. The Financial Times reports that investors and politicians through our current President G. W. Bush (himself a previously grossly overpaid sports executive) can't ignore the findings on this one.

In July and August, the National Association of Corporate Directors surveyed 70 CEOs and presidents. "Only 2.2 per cent of the nearly 70 chief executives and presidents involved in the survey said compensation was too low, while a third deemed it 'just right.'" That huge majority — two of three — "said the compensation of top executives was high, relative to their performance."

Amusingly, passive shareholders join boards and the executives in trying to justify irrational and excessive packages based on easy-to-obtain goals. They seem to love sports metaphors and compare the top guys to great athletes.

If fans are willing to pay the better part of a week's salary to take the family to see the Sox, that speaks to a free market. In fact that is much more like a free market than many of our cartel and oligopoly-like businesses, such as gasoline and cable services.

All of this reminds me of a friend's Harvard MBA thesis of several decades ago. His conclusion was that "the typical company would be better managed by an oak tree." Mid-term and longer performance (and sometimes even short-term) hardly ever exceeds stock indices and often is below that of the best bank returns for high-end savings. Putting the millions or billions into those handlers would outperform the CEOs' results.

Despite our plunging dollar and the extreme national debt racked up in the past seven years, we remain a relatively wealthy nation. If our ovine citizenry want to piss away large amounts on diversions, they can and do and will.

Corporate shareholders on the other hand expect to get decent returns for their investment. When the boards diminish their net with absurd CEO packages, the shareholders are seldom in a position to force change.

However, the FT suggests that this has gone on too long, too far. Along with lots of other data, this new report may well catalyze improvements, changes easy to understand and implement. Key, for one, is:
Nearly 60 per cent of the directors polled by the NACD said the reason for excessive pay packages was the absence of objective ways to measure an executive’s performance. Nearly half criticised the use of options and equity awards that reward executives when the company’s share price goes up, rather than when its operations improve.
It is ironic but positive that President Bush is joining this all to stop boards from rewarding the top guys for failing their companies.

Cross-posting: This seems like a natural for Harrumph! I'll put it over there too.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

MassRidiculous Pimps Dirty Trick

Lackaday for the intellectual poverty of self-righteous. They can be so blinded by their single-minded hate that they let supposed cleverness substitute for reason and experience.

Consider if you will, Shari Worthington. This blogger, Republican, anti-gay, anti-same-sex marriage sort has been reduced to referring to herself in the third person. She also seems to be figuratively wetting her Depend™ disposables, thinking she's really pulled a fast one on those equality types.

She waited until October 29th to file a criminal complaint related to the Larry Cirignano trial, which starts this Tuesday. A really good recap of the complaint with a link to it is at Pie and Coffee. Also check the serious flaming at MassResistance on this trial.

You may recall that Cirignano goes on trial in Worcester, charged with shoving pro-equality demonstrator Sarah Loy to the ground. That would be assault and trying to deny her freedom of speech.

Worthington in her Worcester County Freedom Trail posting suffers from a bad case of Wingnut Cleverness Syndrome. She figures that her (not the DA's) filing a complaint that Loy disrupted a public assembly, will force Loy to refuse to testify against her attacker. As Shari wrote (exclamation point hers), "But this causes a big problem for Loy. If she testifies against Larry on Oct. 16, she risks incriminating herself in a trial against her!"

Pardon me while I laugh into my fedora. The likelihood of a sincere pro-equality woman such as Loy in being cowed into submission by the likelihood of 1) going to trial at all, 2) not having the charge tossed at the onset of trial, 3) being convicted, and 4) paying the maximum $50 fine is absurd.

I laugh again into my hat.

Follow-up: John over at Live, Love and Learn has a superior take on this filing and its motivations. As a bonus, he was an eyewitness, who can put the lie to the claim that she was at the podium area blocking anything.

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Read 'im and Wise Up

If you don't rifle the entire Sunday Boston Globe, you miss Careers, and if you miss Careers, you miss The Corporate Curmudgeon. Woe to those who do so.

I'm invested in Dale Dauten (that's he at the right). I had a source for many years, my mother. She was always a big reader, of magazines and newspapers as well as books. The Corporate Curmudgeon appeared in both the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican. She got both and always clipped Dauten's column from one to send me in her batch processing junk boxes, as she said, filled with such treasures, as well as chili ristras and her fabulous Scottish shortbread.

When she suddenly dropped dead (at home, as she had always wanted ["I don't want anyone wiping my bottom."], one of the collateral loses was no more Dauten columns. He is syndicated, but much bigger in the West. No one around here carried him.

Disclaimer: I am a huge fan of Dauten and was most certainly instrumental in getting his column in the Globe. Repeated letters, emails and a couple of calls did the trick. Well, I confess that getting multiple clippings of his very wise and often risible columns to a few key editors was certainly the real catalyst. After the fact, he sent me thanks, including one of his books.

With some exceptions in the Financial Times, business columns in the Globe and elsewhere are tedious, not too useful and certainly neither well written nor amusing. Dauten is quite the exception.

Check out today's on keeping your stereotyping from stunting your mind. Then there was last week's on the drivel of facades and trappings. That one had me laughing as it took me back a couple of decades to an interview I did with Mortimer Levitt, the founder of The Custom Shirt Shops. He was a prissy and highly opinionated sort, convinced that that an ill-fitting shirt doomed your public life. Like a shoemaker, barber, dentist or any such folk convinced that their trade defines society, Levitt showed slides of the famous, including John Kennedy in bad shirts. Kennedy wore a shirt much too small in the apparent delusion that he hadn't porked up. Fat oozed over his collar. Yet, as I recall, that somehow didn't hinder him professionally or in societal acceptance.

Do bother to find this column every Sunday.

The Globe puts The Corporate Curmudgeon in the now tiny tabloid supplement with the want ads. They then bury Careers in car or realty back pages. Apparently the idea is that folk out of work will tear apart the paper to find the ads. Unfortunately for the rest of us, they also bury what is usually the best column of the whole paper for the whole week. I wonder whether the business editors also dig a whole in their back yards and put favorite foods there.

I've run across numerous folk who weren't aware this column was there. Invariably, they thank me, always with a chuckle as they recall a column, when we meet next.

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