Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Loitering in Chaos Alley

Finally! Red Mass Group has a post I can link to. Click on over for a brief, LITE but still telling Q&A with Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.
Boner Note: This post has a dead link (extraneous quote at the end of the URL) to the first in this What Happens Next series by garrett3000 — an interview-ette with resigned commonwealth GOP head Peter Torkildsen. You probably shouldn't bother; Torkildsen makes no predictions and says largely that the party needs more social moderates to thrive. If you want to see that, use this link.
To me, MFI is most decidedly on the wrong side of history, morality and humanity. Mineau is not about to concede that.

A typical citation on this blog ridicules their absurd predictions of disaster following gay-rights and same-sex marriage. Simply being obviously wrong again and again does not seem to deter Mineau and similar folk, as the RMG answers show too plainly. In that way, MFI seems like a doomsday cult, one that does not specify the date of THE END.

Then too, such groups have clearly dwindled in number, contributions and influence. Having repeatedly lost efforts to overturn SSM here, they no longer get the crowds of bused-in protesters. It's a sure bet that many who gave them money for years for anti-gay/anti-SSM causes don't any more. Even they eventually see the pattern of failure even if their emotions remain.

So, the Mineau on record seems too like an old Confederate sympathizer. Instead of the South rising again, it will be Republicans, social conservatives, and anti-gay forces.

Mineau reports:
  • The state of Massachusetts politics is "Despicable!...ultra-liberal Democrat agenda controls everything."
  • The local Republicans have largely "deserted our principles."
  • MFI will throw itself into fighting the bill to protect transgender rights.
  • SSM will not stand. "We sincerely believe that this is a radical and delusional social experiment that will ultimately fail when people see the tragic results on the traditional family and most of all, children."
The latter is the crux and why I link to it.

First, it was if SSM starts, Massachusetts will spiral down immediately, the good people will leave (Atlas Shrugged, anyone?), and marriage will virtually end here. Then it was all those things will happen soon. Then, chaos and disaster will happen...just you wait and see.

Meanwhile, of course, after four years, our divorce rates are one of the very lowest in the nation (even lower among SS couples). More kids are being adopted, expanding the number and percentage of stable families. We have increasing numbers of straight and gay marriages, making us about the best state for the institution in the country. It looks like SSM is pretty damned great for marriage.

So, Mineau waits and watches. He says at least that he expects tragedy. It appears he'll have to wait a long, long time.

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Effusive Chuck (Sort of) Talks

Last evening, Chuck Tuner was one of his two selves on BNN-TV's Talk of the Neighborhoods. He left the outraged, illogical Chuck somewhere and showed with the let-me-teach-you-how-to-think one.

The City Councilor has claimed since his arrest on extortion and lying to the FBI charges last Friday that he can't talk, details at least. Of course, we all know he cannot not talk. That's his skill, his craft, his need, his style.

It worked pretty well. While saying again that he can't telegraph his defense, he telegraphed his defense. He makes a lot of stuff up and he tortures reality mightily, but he is so charming, so open and seems so sincere doing it.

Not There Note: BNN doesn't seem to put its archives up. Its sibling NNN at BU offers selective ones, plus Chris Lovett's excellent blog. Nothing appears yet, but if Turner's segment does, I'll link to it here.

The short of it is that I can see the possibility that the feds rushed this and that Turner has a shot at either walking or converting this to the old campaign-finance violation routine. If you don't mind a slightly disturbing image, consider that he might tap dance away.

He was on the show about a half hour yesterday and had no problem finally stating that he was innocent of the charges. His denial included:
  • He and his staff see lots of folk, but don't recall businessman Ron Wilburn, the cooperating witness.
  • If (a word Turner used many times) Wilburn was in his office as the tapes show, his appearance was a cameo, fleeting as Turner said, also several times.
  • If Wilburn did really slip him $1,000 and there's no corresponding tape proving Turner inspired that money transfer, it wasn't extortion, no quid pro quo.
  • If Turner took $1,000 from Wilburn, the worst you could call it would be a campaign-finance violation, not a crime.
There was no indication in the FBI charges that Turner told anyone that he would do deeds for cash. In this case, it would have been ensuring or at least expediting a liquor license for a not-yet-open nightclub. If the FBI has tapes of that, Turner is hosed. Then again, if they did have such proof, it should have been in the affidavit.

Our own Andy of Mayberry.

Individuals can't contribute more than $500 a year to a candidate. Plus each contribution of $50 or more must be specified with the Office of Campaign Finance. It looks like he'd have until either December 3 or January 20th to include an August contribution, depending on how it would be classified.

Seeing ex-Senator Dianne Wilkerson's bungled contributions and filings in the press and her subsequent plea bargain with commonwealth AG Martha Coakley, we all know the drill. Over $500, return the excess. Agree not to misfile or skip filings. Pay a fine. Present a plan for compliance. Coakley's a law enforcement officer the way Andy Taylor of Mayberry was.

For his part, Turner made it clear to host Joe Heisler that he expected the same from Coakley, if things are as they seem, that he took $1,000 from that guy. He was jovial, but still in the prove-the-crime or get-out-of-my-face mode. He was convincing.

On the other hand, Heisler was fawning and not only with Turner. He had two other guests on for a few minutes at the end, minister and activist Bruce Wall and South End quasi-politician Kevin McCrea. Heisler defined all guests as old friends and busted no chops. He assumed integrity among those before him. It was bar stool reportage.

However, he kept coming around eventually to the unanswered question of the evening, is the city system per se corrupt. The horse that McCrea rides when he tries (so far unsuccessfully) to become a Council himself is corruption. The idea includes that short election cycles require constant fund raising for campaigns and that the closed-door-deals culture at local and state levels encourages exchange of favors or money for favors.

We have a damned good idea of how Turner will defend himself at a probable cause hearing, scheduled at the federal (Moakley) courthouse for December 10th. Unless the FBI has more goodies in its bag, he may (again forgive the image) skip out of the building.

To the larger issue of how you keep politicians clean, that's less clear. McCrae and Wall are among the many pushing for open meetings, particularly any that deal with such lucrative arrangements as liquor licenses or construction projects. Put the public in public hearing and public meeting.

We could also use an AG with some guts and crusading attitude (Teddy Roosevelt comes to mind). Coakley isn't one of those and the last guy, Tom Reilly, wasn't either.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Chuck Turner as Abe Simpson

Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner is only 68, but today on the plaza, he seemed much, much older. He had an embarrassing Abe Simpson moment, lots of contradictions, and a single, massive failing.

You wouldn't know any of that from the crowd. He had them an hour before he shuffled onto City Hall Plaza. When he did show and speak, all he had to say were keywords to feel the bricks quake. Oppression ... media ... rights ... constitution ... Feeney ...

His game of hating-the-media was just that. He stood before a rack of over a dozen mics, with a comparable number of news video cameras on tripods in a semicircle. His nearly an hour today was for and about the media, disguised as an address to his supporters.

My takeaways include:
  • His huge blunder was never saying directly or indirectly that he was innocent.
  • His clown skit was blaming the media when he paraded around in the pre-dawn with his fly open.
  • His stupidity was in speaking to the unfairness of losing his committee roles, only to come around 20 minutes later saying Council President Maureen Feeney had the power to take them and he accepted that, which he clearly did not.
  • His foolishness was repeatedly blaming the MSM for everything evil.
You needn't take my word for anything. He lured enough media into his sideshow that you can see and hear it yourself. Pick your favorite paper or broadcast outlet. For detail, head to, say, WBZ Radio, which has his whole rambling speech as well as Feeney's rejoinder.

Turner may drag out the process beyond the ability of others. I can imagine the progression of presumed innocent to innocent until charged to innocent until indicted to innocent until put on trial to innocent until found guilty to innocent until all appeals are exhausted to innocent until sentence served to innocent until all requests for pardon are exhausted. Turner started with the reasonable request not to be condemned as guilty in the MSM when he hasn't even been indicted. Yet, he quickly turned today's scheduled Council session into a witch hunt and trial. He had asked his supporters to meet on then plaza and go with him to the chambers and demand a public hearing instead of a closed session.

In light of all that, Feeney's postponement of the session seemed sensible. However, Turner characterized it as nefarious. Her statement started, "It has been clear to me that Councilor Turner and his supporters are prepared to turn this session into something it is not. This body is not and will not become a stage for political theater."

Those of us who recall such clown princes as Dapper O'Neil, Jim Kelley and Fred Langone, and know of such legends as James Michael Curley and others may quibble with Feeney's recollection if not her intent. The Council has long been the stage for hams and their histrionics. In fact, Turner is not that good at it. He is prone to polemic. Today, I lost count of the number of times he used oppression, oppressed and oppressor.

Feeney claimed credibly that the Council was on new turf. They hadn't had Councilors headed for indictment and certain trial for felonies. Their vague rules and the spongy city charter aren't much help, which is where Feeney wanted to head today. The rules don't cover such cases, pointing instead to the latest version of Robert's Rules for things they don't cover; those say a body can punish members, including expelling them. The charter has a section (17), which is queerly broad:
The city council shall be the judge of the election and qualification of its members; shall elect from its members by a vote of a majority of all the members a president who when present shall preside at the meetings thereof; and shall from time to time establish rules for its proceedings. The member eldest in years shall preside until the president is chosen, and in case of the absence of the president, until a presiding officer is chosen.
Either way, what is stated is that Feeney is the boss of committees. She can appoint, reassign or remove folk for any or no reason.

The Council has long been the stage for hams and their histrionics.

Unfortunately, Turner made an ass of himself on the bricks on that today. Earlier he had claimed without basis that his office had lost its computers and phones. Some media and blogs picked up on that. He hasn't made an apology for that accusation (trial in the media, as the expression goes). He was right though that he had lost his committee chairs (Education, and Human Rights) and seats.

Even on this, Feeney explained what was behind his hyperbole.
  • She had temporarily suspended his committee roles because he has been arrested on several felonies.
  • She asked the city lawyers what to do and what they could do.
  • She scheduled the session for the Council to discuss how it should act in any such case.
  • She said that if Turner is indicted, which I think he almost certainly will be, she'll appoint a fact finder to make a recommendation to the whole Council.
She added that she "appreciates(s) his concern about due process" and that there would have been "no discussion, debate or vote on his fitness to serve." Moreover, she said, "Today, I will empower the City Council Committee on Rules and Administration, of which I am chair person, to investigate these questions of qualification and report back to the full body."

All of that is far less crowd pleasing than claims he was locked out of his office or found guilty by Feeney and punished by being made committee-less. His folk were there for just such claims, to judge by what made them cheer or chant.

To the Abe Simpson moment — and it was a long one — Turner took what could have been a humanizing and sympathetic experience and twisted it into another rant, to ill effect. According to him, a TV station was outside his house with its truck at 4:30 a.m. It filmed him with an open fly and reported that he should be ashamed. He used that as yet another chance to vilify the media. Instead of making light of the stress that led him to leave the house a spot indecently, he blamed the TV crew for his inability to zip himself. For someone whose arrest charges include several counts of not taking responsibility for his actions in lying to the FBI, that was probably not the best tack. He sounded more like 98 instead of 68 years old.

For the serious stuff, the crowd that grew from a few dozen to probably over 200, without including media, Turner was all victim, all oppressed, all wronged. To those of us who'd like to reserve judgment, he didn't help.

He claimed that the judge in his Worcester arraignment forbade his speaking of details of his case. He claimed that his defense attorneys said he was not the lawyer and should not present his defense to the public or media.

He either extrapolated those far too broadly or he's in a lot more trouble than it looks from the outside. He never once said what you'd expect and what is certainly allowable under the requests of the judge and his lawyers. How about, "I am innocent. I have never taken a bribe or extorted money from anyone"?

The innocent, the guilty who want others to consider that they might be innocent, and even those who are unsure whether their actions or words constitute crimes are wont to claim innocence. I was left wondering what it means that he did not and would not do so. That was not very reassuring to constituents or other city voters.

He had an odd audience, but then again, it was 2:30 p.m. on a Monday. He had a contingent of what appeared to be older, unemployed black supporters. They were obvious by their large posterboard signs all with slogans in the same large green marker block lettering. There was a larger contingent of 30 to 60 something lefty-looking sorts. Some handed out fliers for the Green Rainbow Party (Turner's registration). Others had one with info.

The latter included a URL for That is a real and new (as of Saturday) site. The registrant is secret. It has the look of a legal-defense shell site. That doesn't even whisper plea bargain.

On the plaza, the media dominated hours before the scheduled 2:30 show. Down at the Congress Street level, a battery of jolly coppers stood near their choppers...just in case. They weren't needed.

Amusingly enough, after stoking the folk to assemble them, and then repeatedly calling out the media, the investigators, Feeney and others, Turner talked the group down. He alluded to his Creator, cited the Golden Rule, and said his chanting minions shouldn't act the mob. They should show respect and decorum.

They seemed to as they tagged along with him to the door of City Hall, where he entered and only a handful of them did. There'd be no storming the Bastille today.

The next shot is three or four miles south, at his district office at 51 Roxbury Street, Wednesday at 10 a.m. He made it sound like it would be a review of the glories of his 10 years in office. The new site bills it as a rally as well as a press conference though.

I hope by then that someone makes it plain to him that if he wants deniability and believability that he'd better start asserting innocence.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Two Crooks Are More Than Enough

Let this not be the eclipse of black pols in Boston. City Councilor Chuck Turner follows ex-Senator Dianne Wilkerson with extortion and lying to the FBI indictments. We simply don't have enough elected officials of color to lose them in bunches.

Since Wilkerson's arrest, many have speculated who'll be next. Today, David Bernstein in his Talking Politics blog is asking for best guesses. It's grim humor, but not uncalled for, considering the circumstances. We can all recall in September and October how Wilkerson repeatedly campaigned on "This district is not for sale!" It looks now that she meant that she is the only one who can sell out the district.

I sincerely hope that these two sets of charges are the end of this mess. Minority communities in Boston and all of eastern Massachusetts need better representation, ideally by officials they can identify with and trust. That trust has suddenly become crucial again.

Many of us noted that Wilkerson came to office by saying "We can do better" about then Senator Bill Owens, a convicted felon. Now she's moved onto her own irony scale.

Over in yesterday's Bay State Banner, Deputy Editor Dan Devine put out a call for commentary on the Wilkerson events and causes. That would be a comment on his blog, letter to the editor or email. I put in my own about her resignation as another indication that we need more black and other minority officials.

I do hope that this is not the Republican-izing of minority legislators and other elected officials here. The old elephant party has reduced itself to sounding like Uncle Scar in Lion King — "Life's not fair, is it?" They give voters no reason to support them and then whine when they lose. They are cameo players while their role is played by conservative Democrats.

I stopped myself from speculation about whether other black, Latino or Asian-American pols might be dirty. I came up short immediately thinking of Rep. Willie Allen. I do like her and I want her to be clean. I thought of her only for her strange comments during the recent campaign at a candidate forum. She spoke well of Wilkerson, saying she had advised her. Allen also said that Wilkerson taught her that grabbing pork for her district is the way politics is played here. I hope that's the outer limit of what she learned.

May these two be the only politicians of color brought down. In theory of course and despite witnesses, video and tape recordings, both Wilkerson and Turner may never be convicted. I'm not betting on that.

What I am counting on is that if these two go down, the communities they represent will want to replace them with honorable public servants...and will then watch more closely and skeptically. There are already too few elected officials of color. They don't need to disappear the way Republicans have.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Prop. 8...Zipping Right Along

Both sides apparently are looking for a win in the court challenges to Prop. 8 in California. The ballot initiative that redefined marriage, this time back to one-man/one-woman, there won on Nov. 4th with 52%.

This afternoon, the state Supreme Court agreed to decide three constitutional issues related to it. These are:
  • Does amending the constitution for this constitute a simple amendment or is it a weightier revision, which would require bicameral legislative approval?
  • Does it violate separation of powers by limiting judicial review?
  • What is the effect, if any, does it have on the roughly 36,000 who married since legalization of SSM in May?
By agreeing to hear the suits (apparently in a manageable lump to simplify this for everyone) the court is not promising a Christmas present. In judicial time, this is fast. All parties with standing will have until January 21st to submit their briefs. That likely means oral arguments in March. A decision should not be any earlier than June.

The San Francisco Chronicle collected the hopes of the various involved groups. Among those who want to stop SSM, an attorney for the sponsoring group, Protect Marriage, was confident the vote will withstand a challenge. Andrew Pugno said, "This is a great day for the rule of law and for the voters of California." He was pleased that the court refused to stay implementation of the amendment pending trial.

On the other side, various interests, including the city of San Francisco (and 10 other cities and counties) hope to have the court invalidate the vote. City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, "This goes far beyond same-sex marriage. It's about equal protection of the law for all Californians."

Equality California has more background. Arthur Leonard has his first take on it as well.

The Supreme Court's May decision ends up not being the key factor in the suits filed on narrow legal points. Then, the court defined homosexuals as a suspect class deserving legal protecting, which formally turned the marriage issue into a civil-right one. Before this, the state legislature had twice passed SSM, only to have the governor veto the new law. Now having lost repeatedly at both legislative and court levels, the anti-marriage equality side has all of its intent riding on the upholding of the initiative vote.

As in our podcast yesterday, when Ryan held forth on the intensity of public protest nationwide against this initiative vote, it certainly got people's attention, and likely not in the way the anti-SSM forces wanted. Stripping existing rights from any group of citizens seems on the face of it as un-American as you can get. Interestingly enough, the suits the high court there will hear in March attack just this brutal process that permits that.

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Deval Preview for Barack

Chums Deval Patrick and Barack Obama have so many parallels the similarities are not even worth cataloging. Perhaps the President Elect has had the spare moments to reflect on — and plan on avoiding — Patrick's obstructions.

Locally, the Deval version of a progressive river has trickled instead of swept us along. In addition to their sharing considerable politics and philosophy, Barack can like look to the same sort of roadblocks.

Deval has and Barack will face the same, but differing, what sales types call opportunities.

The Money. The progressive agenda each campaigned on takes cash from all its sources — continuing government income from taxes and elsewhere, enabling legislation, bonds and so forth. Neither chief executive can appropriate funds solo. At best, he'll get what he asks for. At second best, he can use or alter the use of existing appropriations. Otherwise, it's game playing with the legislators to deal.

One key difference here is that Deval entered a game underway in which a primary rule is we won't raise taxes. That has proven wildly imprudent as the General Court, often in concert with the previous Republican governors deferred essential expenses repeatedly. Each time increased the cost and didn't make the need vanish. Now infrastructure improvements and maintenance have become absurdly high as a result.

Barack's version will be turning the great ocean liner of expenses. It has been sailing along since in an unbelievable borrow-and-spend party for eight years. Even when Bill Clinton showed how to balance a budget, the current President has seen no need to and Congress went along. Couple this with the two-front war expenses and cap it with the recent ongoing financial chaos.

Barack has to lead us toward financial stability before anyone will support progressive goals. The exceptions may be the twofers — a New Deal-style investment in jobs that helps the economy at the same time. All but the stupidest of us must have learned that the trickle-down fantasy of giving rich people more money does not create jobs or help the broad economy.

Deval has a bit of an easier set of demands. He can't do anything meaningful for the national or world economies. The closest he can come is fostering high-tech and green companies and industries here that help with energy independence and licensing like the early software and computer industries. On the other hand, he was already in a money pinch before this fall's international and national crises.

The Pols. Deval certainly got the worst gang to rumble with. The General Court is a snake pit with entrenched vipers. Everything he promised and then proposed has been a fight, battles he has lost more often than won.

A complicating factor is that despite a nominal huge Democratic majority, Patrick struggles constantly with the real second party — not Republicans, rather the Democrats in Name Only (DINOs). They are often anti-progressives and socially conservative. They typically represent small cities, suburbs and exurbs. Each of these either opposes progressive goals on principle or wants some bacon to bring home for a vote.

The real roadblock has been with the leadership, particularly the local satrap, a.k.a. Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi. He repeatedly held up enabling legislation for progressive programs, programs that could have had financing in place and even been totally in motion before the current money crisis. He has been the worst of those who promise no new taxes, while letting necessary expenses soar.

Barack will need all his Democrats, plus a few Republicans, in each chamber to redirect expenses. Getting us out of Iraq will save many billions, perhaps one or two trillion, mid- to long-term. Yet, he has already made it plain in his debates and speeches that he wants bold strokes as well. He wants Congress to accept deficit spending, but only as investments. Big projects, like FDR-style jobs programs, should put money in workers' pockets and provide paychecks for those presently without. This flows back into the economy. Unlike the fantasy of giving the biggest companies and wealthiest individuals huge tax cuts and subsidies, and then believing they'll create new American jobs and companies, Barack's style of investment has a proven record here and elsewhere.

He and Deval face the same problem and promises they made running for office. Each claims to have a great record of bipartisanship and getting differing sides to work together. So far, Deval really hasn't proven that ability in the harsh Massachusetts political environment. Barack has a similarly demanding set of legislators. However, he also has ground-level pressure from a fearful public and wants and demands action on financials and on his progressive pledges.

Back in Massachusetts, it appears as thought DiMasi may be on his way out soon. A new speaker may play nicer, but again, that will fall to Deval to prove he can work with difficult people here. In Washington, it remains first things first for Barack.

The Vultures. Many want both Deval and Barack to fail. Even before Deval was in office, conservatives and regressives fairly drooled in predicting failure. Some didn't want change. Some wanted to keep or get power. Some wanted to see the Democrats do no better than the Republicans. A few were just ideologues who wanted anything progressive to tank.

Barack can expect the same as Deval here. They'll sit like tukey vultures in the field, eager for any stumble. They'll conveniently forget how long the previous "management" took to screw things up and go ah-ha! when correction and reversal are not immediate.

This schadenfreude vulture group may actively hinder Barack or some of it may be content to gloat and point fingers. I think Barack will likely be as calm about these characters as Deval has been.

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Dianne, Last Guest to Leave

Today's Globe and Herald sites report that now ex-Senator Dianne Wilkerson resigned. Click on the image to see for yourself.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

As Maine Goes...

Mainers lack Southern graciousness and Midwestern timidity, but they remain a hard sell on fundamentals. Whether it's high fashion or the latest in politics, Portland and even Orono aren't where trend spotters congregate. As famous as the state used to be as Presidential bellwether, it still means quite a bit when its residents move together.

I predict that this year or next, we're going to see a lot of meaningful marriage-equality action up North.

Some of the most serious nasties up there are asthenic miniatures of their former anti-gay growlers. Yet, the state is small enough and traditional enough that it never leads the social vanguard.

There's a slim chance though that the legislature could pass same-sex marriage. It is statistically possible; Equality Maine tallies 23 of 35 senators and 82 of 151 representatives as pro-marriage equality.

However, leaping from the 2004 form of domestic partnership to SSM would not be easy. For a bit of history, Mainers overturned pretty basic gay rights (minimal anti-discrimination wording in credit, education, employment, housing and public accommodation) on ballot initiatives. This June, however, citizens soundly rejected a new effort to undo the work of the legislature and governor in this area. Going the Massachusetts/Connecticut route may be too fast.

On the other hand, the group who led the anti-gay forces has fallen badly out of favor. The Christian Civic League of Maine tucked itself under the wing of Focus on the family and changed its name to Maine Family Policy Council. It can no longer raise the funds or primitive outrage among the locals. Not only did its Doomsday prediction for SSM-tainted Massachusetts prove totally wrong again and again and again, but Mainers came out to friends, congregants, co-workers and others, revealing themselves to be the same likable and similar peers, as they were when folk assumed them straight.

For fellow travelers, the fundy churches are pretty small and weak as a group. Moreover, the Roman Catholic one, under Portland's Bishop Richard Malone is not big or powerful either, certainly a wan version of Massachusetts God/politics machine.

Pic note: The image is from an uncopyrighted site, but apparently by Lois Czerniak. The bishop was blessing a two-nun hermitage — a baked goods and prayer shop, replete with on-line store and Super Hot Sauce -- "many people tell us it's by far the best they've ever tasted!

His smallish influence doesn't stop him from trying to remain the opinion former. He decries SSM, although someone needs to tutor him on the grammar of using quotes for slurs. For example in the link, he puts "same sex" in quotes instead of "marriage." He need to remember whom he's trying to insult here.

In his recent homily on the subject, he falls back on the old your-sexual-organs-prove-my-point argument. A man and a women fit together sexually. This can lead to babies. That's God's intent and all you need to know.

This theology by genitalia is a subset of what I heard at the winger The Future of Marriage lectures yesterday. The procreation thing is much like "it's only common sense" and such that you say when you don't have real reasons and refuse to think about the question. It also overlooks that gay and lesbian couples can adopt, or have aided child creation as straight couples do, or choose not to have children, also as many, many different-sex couples decide.

In addition, the anti-SSM crowd likes to have the reproduction thing several ways. For one it says that homosexuals make up a tiny fraction of us. For another, if we permit SSM, birth rates will plunge, imperiling the future of humanity. In reality, a far greater controller of births is different-sexed couples who cannot or will not make babies. Coupled with the high divorce rate for that group, there are areas that the what-God-intends folk need to concern themselves with instead.

Once you get up with the colorful cassock crowd, you don't see to get a lot of dissent. The bishop doesn't even has a wife to keep him alert and honest. To his credit, he doesn't pretend as many other anti types do that modern marriage predates formal society, going back many thousands of years. Yet, he does assert that a couple of verses of the gospels directly translate into a totally analogous definition and support for a form of marriage that has only been common for a couple of hundred years. Also, perhaps understandably considering his profession, he conflates the civil contract we have always used in America and which we inherited from England and Europe with his church's rituals.

Seemingly cynically, he uses an infant's baptism to insinuate his politically based homily. He led with, "Marriage, as it has been known and lived for millennia, is under attack in our country, and now, in our own state." He claims that the diocese "has been unwavering in its support of hospital visitation rights or the sharing of health insurance benefits between household members, people choosing to live together whatever their sexual orientation. That only seems fair. However, to insist that complementarity of sexes is a fundamental prerequisite for marriage is not to be unfair." In that vein, he works to the zinger in citing "the Catechism of the Catholic Church, stating the Church’s authoritative teaching when it declares that homosexual persons “…must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

We must assume that to support marriage on the bishop's terms, we can and must discriminate against homosexual couples. After all, his homily delineates among types of discrimination.

We can look to him as well as the previous opponents of gay rights and SSM. Both draw from the same well of weak arguments and unsupported claims. I can't surmise whether marriage equality will come before the Maine legislature this session or the next, nor how those chambers will act on it. I can say with some assuredness that the anti-equality forces will have to do more than pretend civilization ends if a couple whose genitals don't plug in just so get married.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

SSM Morality Play at Suffolk Law

Skeletor, Walter Mitty, Fred Flintstone, the hungover grad student and Aged Smurfette took the podium in turn today at The Future of Marriage: Five Years After Goodridge session. They are also known as:
It's not polite to comment on other's features. However, short, round Gallagher started the main address by noting that she was too short to use the podium. All in all, it was a motley appearing crew, or perhaps we should say it a distractingly physically diverse table.

Raggedy further were their comments. Each spoke for 10 to 20 minutes on a specialty. I had not heard Moran before, just seen his name on numerous law suits and amicus briefs; he sues lefties for almost anything to do with women's reproductive choice. The others all have standard raps and they hardly varied what they said.

Yet, a few tidbits emerged during the Q&A that followed. The event was in a lent hall at Suffolk Law. Among the roughly 100 attendants, maybe 30 were student age. They held their hands straight up when Gallagher asked who favored same-sex marriage. They also asked related questions. Nearly everyone else was middle-aged or older, with lots of gray hair, many thick-soled sensible shoes, bald or thinning hair on men and women, and the couple in front of me even brought their own seat cushions to use on the padded chairs.

Gallagher uses very unconvincing shtick. You can see it in detail at her FAQ on SSM. Read the whole thing. For a taste, consider the first:
1. Are you a bigot? “Why do you want to take away people’s rights?” Isn’t it wrong to write discrimination into the constitution?”

A: “Do you really believe people like me who believe mothers and fathers both matter to kids are like bigots and racists? I think that’s pretty offensive, don’t you? Particularly to the 60 percent of African-Americans who oppose same-sex marriage. Marriage as the union of husband and wife isn’t new; it’s not taking away anyone’s rights. It’s common sense.”

That kind of circular reasoning, with the added smoke screen of extraneous material, is fairly comical. To her credit, she returns to it relentlessly. She smiles, thanks the questioner for bringing up what a decent human would be embarrassed to confront, and then rephrases the I'm-not-a-bigot-and-SSM-is-not-a-civil-rights-issue routine, with a big grin.

She even knows how to bait the net for this. She fed the question about whether anyone thought they had heard anything bigoted during the presentations. Numerous students played into her hands and provided the examples she requested. One pretty articulate student, Josh, she was valuing same-sex relationships less and that was bigoted.

She thanked him for his sincerity (a feature she seems to lack entirely) and returned to the one-man/one-woman theme. The two key variants are:
  • Marriage must be that way for procreation, the continuation of the species
  • Children absolutely need a dad and a mom to thrive
Each of these is laden with irony and contradiction, as the panelists blissfully blurted out repeatedly. For the criticality of a mom and a dad, even Gallagher put the lie to it. She admitted in passing that she was an unwed mother for a decade, that it was hard, but she did a good job. Moreover, she said that homosexuals could be good parents. None of the panelists or audience drilled into physically and sexually abusive different-sex parents, the myriad research showing that homosexual couples produce homes and kids at least as stable and smart, or that having no dad around is almost certainly better than a bad one.

The procreation one is even more loaded and has failed in debate countless times. Of course, a solid plurality or depending on your time horizon, majority of couples could not marry if that was a limit. Those who cannot, can no longer, or choose not to have children would be out of luck. Moreover, gay couples can use the same surrogate and IVF techniques straight ones do to have biological children. They can and do adopt, rescuing kids of institutions and foster care. These anti-marriage-equality sorts must really offend the millions of adoptive parents by devaluing their marriages with such slurs.

Several of the panel engaged in logical fallacies, even Jacoby, who is a lawyer and loves to parse phrases and pick nits. Again, Gallagher offers the strongest examples. In particular, she was very smug in saying there are dire consequences of SSM. That's rather amusing in a state with five years of history and nothing but good results — higher marriage, low and lessening divorce, more married couple available to adopt, more stable homes for children conceived or adopted.

Gallagher kept returning in her lecture and answers to red herrings about severe oppression of religious freedom and First Amendment rights of those of her ilk. In fact, she had not U.S. examples, but referred to one Swedish and one Canadian case of prosecution for hate speech. Even without any American examples, she was positive they were coming. Don't tell her that there is no harm. She just knows there will be, in the form of government mandated re-education camps for those to SSM, revoked or denied licenses and tax exemptions, which would result in unemployment and devastation for good-hearted folk, and parents such as Parker forced to flee public schools in disgrace.

Even with Parker there dragging out his tired and half-true tale, the victimhood of parents who have to tell their young kids that gays exist and can legally marry here is a tissue-thin garment. (By the bye, Parker likes to be called Doctor nowadays, saying he has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. ) His school battle was one he picked stupidly and clumsily, one he lost repeatedly.

At its center are parents rights a key winger term to listen out for, along with its counterpart adjective Judeo-Christian. Boiled down, Parker and his wife didn't want any mention, even in early-reader and picture books of same-sex couples. That to them, they claim, is sex education (you see, homosexuals have sex, therefore...). The underlying legal assertion is that if schools include such in diversity education this removes the parents as primary moral teachers for their own children.

Of course, the courts found again and again in this case alone that the parents had the kids much more and vastly more in terms of moral teaching. In fact, it is the parents' duty to provide such training by word and deed. They remain the primary moral teachers, but that also includes answering questions about the real world and in places like Massachusetts, where SSM is legal, saying that mommy and daddy don't approve of this. Now, how hard is that? Aren't there dozens or instances where parents should differentiate what they believe from what other kids and parents do?

Parker feigns oppression, as Gallagher imagines what possibly could happen, adding that therefore, it surely shall.

Another of her repeated logical fallacies is that SSM and one-man/one-woman marriage cannot co-exist. The latter "has to be rules of the table to make room for same-sex marriage." She made no attempt to justify that irrational and unjustifiable statement, although she repeated it in small variations many times. Not only can it, it does here.

Many marriage equality folk have noted that the folk at today's session want to redefine marriage from the civil contract it has been for centuries into its religious ritual ancillary form only. They note that SSM advocates do not want to change one-man/one-woman marriage, rather expand it. Meanwhile, the other side wants to limit marriage, and therefore the couples and their children who would benefit.

Jacoby had his own indefensible arguments, which readers of his columns have already seen. At its worst was his support for courts being ineffective in expanding civil rights (therefore, rely on ballot initiatives, even though only half of states have them). He cites 1883 and 1896 decisions form a reactionary U.S. Supreme Court that limited civil rights for blacks. Thus, he risibly expounded, later laws and court decisions giving black folk rights was real civil right because it was returning that they had lost (even though it was never realized until the 1960s). As homosexuals have not had marriage rights, their cases do not qualify as civil right, he holds. I would love to see the reaction of even a conservative court if he tried that crap there.

Back to the tidbits:
  • Jacoby admitted in the Q&A that if California voters reverse Prop. 8 in two or fours years on another ballot initiative, he'll affirm that SSM would become a civil-right in California. That's typical amoral lawyer talk of course. He was certain to qualify it with California as well as noting that voter approval would make it a civil right. Meanwhile, he has no qualms about dragging out marriage equality until each state in its own time beats that process to death and skins it to get there.
  • The most trivial was a little giggle from Mineau. He introduced himself at the podium by dragging out his last name's pronunciation. He apparently doesn't like the French-ish tone many of us ignorantly use and said slowly and clearly that his name is mean'-oh. Sorry, but that sounds too much like mean-ole, as in mean ole man. He should stick with minnow or men-eau.
  • Probably the most fun was when an elderly winger MassResistance hanger-on called MFI's director of public policy, Evelyn Reilly over. They stood right beside me while South Boston's Bill Grant identified himself and wanted to talk about the 2,000 to 3,000 who protested Prop. 8 at City Hall on Saturday. (The Globe reports about 4,000. Meh.) He said the MR folk numbered about 15 and started on how they were roughed up by the GLBT folk. She interrupted him. He went on to ask if MFI would work with them to get a show of 6,000 or 7,000. Evelyn lost it on that and said, "If Brian Camenker would stop attacking public groups, maybe we could get together. (Brian promises full coverage with pix and video of "Enraged activists swarmed MassResistance counter-protest. Police protection needed to stop violence".)
  • At the end of the questions, Gallagher apparently had forgotten that she foretold dreadful suppression if SSM advances. She said "I'm not worried that I'll be arrested for speaking publicly."
  • Parker made people a little quesy with his repeated insistence that he "deeply loved men." The point was that homosexual men were sexual with each other, descending in Eros as he put it. Two older guys sitting near me looked painfully at their wives and one kept shuffling his feet as Parker returned to his man-love theme. Too much information, David...
  • The only real response from the audience came during a question. There were tiny bursts of applause at expected times. However, when one law student said that following five years of SSM here, "there has been no moral decay in Massachusetts, " the audience in their way went for it. The majority moaned, one hooted, and quite a few put their fingers to their glabellae in outrage-like reaction.
I have digital recording of the two hours. They also filmed it. Perhaps MFI doesn't and won't realize how this represents the worst of the inadequate arguments against SSM. A series of film clips would make great comic history in a decade or two after this all settles.

Follow-up: Shucks, Bud from MassResistanceWatch was there. I've never met him. We've just swapped electrons.

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Now, What's a Social Activist To Do?

On the verge of moving onto Obama Standard Time (OST), we have a great chance to take the best of the left to replace the worst of the right we've experienced. For the past eight years — and really since the ascendancy of the Christian Coalition in 1988 — religion was been a cudgel applied to most of America.

Instead, progressives, reformers and other lefties need to and can step up and speak out. Out of favor for so long, many of us have forgotten what we need to be about. In contrast to fundies and wingers using religion to hold people down and back, we have a long and pretty noble tradition around these parts of liberal religion doing other than keeping the rich, white guys on top.

I'll use Unitarian Universalists (UUs), first because I am one and second because I heard an impressive lecture Saturday on the topic. The good stuff from the recent and far past, we can replicate. The bad stuff we may be able to avoid. The introspection we can build on in OST.

Cautionary Note: UUs are not alone in performing social activism from privilege. That goes back to colonial times, as well as other era and locations. They continue, as many bases of such activism, to have an earned stereotype of comfortable white folk helping the poor, those denied opportunities and the other in general. While that does not diminish any good they do, as the lecturer noted, many of them likely miss out on the passion and intellectual growth from a two-way relationship with those they help and other activists.
It's wise for social activists, religious or not, to examine what they do, why they do it, and what they expect to get out of it. Like seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey with a solid background in Greek and Latin classics, UU activists can see more in the lecture, but there's plenty for anyone.

I'll provide a few key points and my take on them. The UU Urban Ministry folk say they'll put up either a recording of the lecture or a doc of it. I'll update this post with a link when that appears.

While many churches, particularly R.C. and Protestant ones, do social outreach, many do so with questionable motives. In addition to checkbook and checklist do-gooders, there's that conversion and proselytizing thing. (I recommend getting Peter Holloran's Boston's Wayward Children at the library, which includes documentation of heavy-handed 19th and 20th Century soul stealing.)

Straight social activism to advocate for the disadvantaged and undereducated is another matter. A few groups try to pick up the slack for their own religion's adherents, but largely provide some meals and clothes with no effort to change the underlying conditions.

Saturday, up at First Church in Roxbury, the UU Urban Ministry, the new Emerson chair holder of the Harvard Divinity School, Senior Lecturer Dan McKanan asked what the religious liberal should be doing now — how and why. While designed for UUs, his points are meaningful for any social activist.

Had he been a typical religious booster for his people, he would have stayed on the plus side of UUs:
The small Unitarian and Universalist congregations dominated social activism and thought for many decades. However, as McKanan added, "We also have much to regret...Unitarians made great abolitionists but they also made great slave traders."

Even in Channing's Federal Street Church (sketch left), not only was it dominated by wealthy white parishioners (typical still of most UU churches), but some owned fleets that carried slaves. They could feel pious while still profiting from distant disgraces.

Channing suffered under the church's trustees, who forbade his abolitionist sermons there. As in his famous Baltimore sermon that defined modern Unitarianism, his anti-slavery lectures and work did not happen at or with the approval of his church of 37 years.

McKanan stated that some UUs could "burn with prophetic zeal (but others) have also been stone cold and complacent." There he entered the ground strode in common by non-UU and non-religious reformers and social activists.

His scolding of UU activists carries a broad admonition. Their work "typically involves persons of privilege working on behalf of those less fortunate." In contrast, he pointed to the civil rights activities of the 1960s when many UUs and others visited and lived with black communities and others in disadvantaged areas of both South and North. They reentered their former world changed and charged up. The resulting vitality and fire for activism that resulted from such exposure cannot be duplicated by trying to recruit congregants from poorer areas and those of different races and cultural background.

I would call the exchange a frisson. He referred to it as a sacred struggle. "The idea of a sacred struggle challenges the widespread assumption that the causal relationship between religion and social change runs in just one direction." As a theologian, McKanan claims that some UUs are unusual in being able to "not only bring our faith to our activism (but also) find our faith in our activism."

As many UUs identify as atheists or agnostics, that faith is not reserving a heavenly ticket for them. Clarifying what you're about and maintaining the fire for it does not require warming a pew. That's where I see the larger lesson for all progressives and reformers and social activists. You needn't be a UU or churched at all. Instead, consider whether it is sufficient to help the other, the less fortunate and skip safely home. McKanan would say no.

In fact, he notes that "Both the black church and Roman Catholic traditions offer powerful models of how oppressed communities can work for their own liberation. To the extent that UUs have ignored these other traditions or imagined our own tradition to be self-sufficient, our prophetic witness has been impoverished."

You don't even need to use or identify with the religious lingo to benefit from his main points. McKanan holds that it is the set of interactions with other activists as well as the people you want to help that provides the energy, the drive. That was the power sparking and maintaining abolitionist, women's suffrage, child labor and other movements of the past three centuries. Social activists, face to face, mouth to ear, eye to eye, stoke each other and their movements' fires.

As McKanan put it, "For us, the revelation is not out there, but right here wherever we are asked to engage in the struggle."

Personal Connections and Disclaimer

I ordained two ministers for the UU Urban Ministry. That's of little significance because it was a happenstance of position. As chair of the board (the Prudential Committee) of the Arlington Street Church, I was the crosier-less functionary who called or ordained ministers at that church. In addition, from the Federal Street/Arlington Street congregation connection, I represented the lead church that founded the Benevolent Fraternity of Unitarian Churches.

The Ben Frat was a unique social activist organization that should have been duplicated hundreds or thousands of times in this country but has not. Started in 1834, it is a consortium of churches to bring social services to the underprivileged. It has grown from 9 to over 50 churches, from Unitarian to Unitarian/Universalist members, from the Ben Frat to the UU Urban Ministry, but its basic function has remained.

The frail Joseph Tuckerman was apparently not a particularly good preacher, yet an extraordinarily good man. Under the influence of the definer of American Unitarianism, William Ellery Channing, he took his ministry to the streets in 1826, insinuating himself with Boston's poor, one family at a time. He bettered their lives through education, social programs and lobbying for them. He worked with children and adults in reformatories and prisons and established the modern and more humane youth facilities at Thompson Island. He was the force behind the Ben Frat, an effort to make the most of Unitarian churches' combined social activism.

At the Mendelsohn Forum lecture Saturday, I greeted and chatted with several key ASC ministers, each of whom has been seminal in civil-rights, anti-war and social-activism causes for many years. They included:
  • Jack Mendelsohn. At 90 and using a walker, in the 63 years since ordination, he has been a steadfast and effective noodge. He has made a lifework of fostering the inclusion and increase of black ministers and congregants in UU churches as well as women in their pulpits. He's author of key books including Being Liberal in an Illiberal Age and Channing: The Reluctant Radical. He was senior ASC minister for a decade and is known to many Americans as the minister who started draft-card turn-ins (some resisters also burned theirs). The forum named for him is in its fourth year.
  • Victor Carpenter. The ASC minister when I started in this church, he is both heroic and singled-minded in his quest for social justice. He had decades of civil rights actions in South Africa, Boston and the American South.
  • George Whitehouse. He has long been a social activist. He works with Boston's street people, is a driver in the ASC/Dignity supper program, he leads programs to advance laws for poor women and children, and he rings and maintains the 16 steeple bells at the ASC.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Wearying Prop. 8 Lessons

Candor may be what you get from the guy on the next bar stool or a talk radio host or a blogger. We've long ago learned not to expect it from many others, including politicians and ministers.

My chum Ryan came hard on the no-on-8 folk, writing that they failed to match the other side's doorbell ringing and outreach to unconvinced voters. Over at Black Commentator, theologian Rev. Irene Monroe doesn't want any blame on black voters in California.

I'm old enough to recall the similar recriminations and distrust we see between some GLBT and some black activists. Back in the late 1960s and for about a decade, some blacks and some Jews went at it, generally just verbally. I was in New Jersey, in a city (Plainfield) that had race riots.

Here we were in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, but we were all a ways off from any resolutions. The nastiest talk seemed to come from the WWII generation. Parents of Jewish friends would say things like, "We got on a bus and went to Alabama to march for their rights. Now they accuse us of being racists!" In a black family, I heard the parents say that the Jews owned the stores in the poor neighborhoods, and gouged the resident. On the other side, I didn't hear it but I read interviews in the press of Jewish merchants saying they were the only ones who would put stores in the black areas.

And so the accusations went. The stores were looted and burned in the riots. There was no real resolution until laws began to change, and improved but not fully equal treatment inched its way into daily life.

Today, despite demonstrations (notably against the Mormon church), we're not back 40 years ago. Yet many of us are disappointed in the Prop. 8 passage. It can be tempting to hang that on:
  • The Democratic Party and specifically Barack Obama...for whispering only that marriage equality is a civil-rights issue and no on 8.
  • Voting groups who by exit polls strongly favored Prop. 8...for example, white men in absolute numbers and middle-aged Latino men and most black voters in percentages.
  • The no-on-8 side in California...for somehow not changing enough hearts.
Each has its own defenses and reasons. It's convincing that Obama might have lost had he come out for marriage equality instead of the separate and not even equal civil unions. It's virtually impossible to believe that as a self-identified progressive as well as a lawyer that he don't recognize this as a key civil-rights issue.

For blocs of voters, there are numerous ways of parsing the numbers to suggest that some other groups is "to blame." In reality, nearly all groups went slightly in favor of 8. It was by a far smaller margin than the 61% for Prop. 22 a decade ago. That changed family code to read that marriage was one-man/one-woman and was what the state's Supreme Court overruled in legalizing same-sex marriage in May.

Here in Massachusetts, the marriage-equality side beat back a similar initiative for an amendment to halt SSM. There were many simultaneous tactics, but the one that seemed to be pivotal here was visits to legislators by SS couples and families.

That worked in large part because Massachusetts' ballot initiative system is much tougher than California's flamethrower of populism. A vote like Prop. 8 would have required legislative approval to advance to the ballot. Trying to apply town-meeting direct democracy to complex questions involving civil rights can easily backfire. It is democracy in the same sense that mob rule is.

California's form is extreme and most people there embrace it. Half the states get along quite well without ballot initiatives, but that's what California has and they aren't about to give it up or even make it fairer. The question becomes what to do in that environment.

It's quite possible that the courts there will rule to overturn the new amendment and require legislative approval. See the Leonard Link analysis.

If not, the trend definitely favors marriage equality on a ballot initiative, but several years out. That brings up the annoying truth of equal-rights advancement. It often comes in halting lurches and often over a much longer time than those deprived of rights want.

In that vein, over at Slate today, William Saletan jumped into the blame cauldron. He does love his controversy and paddles right around. He cites several sets of data showing black voters repeatedly are against marriage equality, at 10% or more higher rates than white are. In light of mixed-race Barack Obama's election, he asks, "Why, then, are the people targeted by those laws (forbidding interracial marriage) supporting bans on same-sex marriage?"

He concludes that many black voters are not driven by religion as much as they still view homosexuality as a choice. Meanwhile, white voters have increasingly been convinced by science and court decisions that homosexuality is inborn or at least not changeable. He ends up writing:
Here we have a left-leaning constituency (blacks) that has become politically pivotal on an issue (homosexuality) and is susceptible to a reframing of that issue (seeing sexual orientation, like color, as inborn) in accord with ongoing scientific research...(As scientists continue to nail down homosexuality's biological origins), it will become easier and easier to persuade African-Americans that being gay is a lot like being black. The lesson of Proposition 8 isn't that blacks have stopped the march of gay rights. The lesson is that when they turn, the fight in blue America will essentially be over.
Of course, that's somewhat true of white men too, although they are already headed that way.

Whether Prop. 8's amendment withstands court challenges, there is that other key lesson to learn from this. While other states like New York and New Jersey look to join Massachusetts and Connecticut soon, the anti-equality folk aren't resting. They have announced that they want to attack SSM and even civil unions everywhere.

They make the changing of minds and hearts no less pressing than before the Goodridge decision. The outreach to friends of course, but also the hostile and undecided, can't stop.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Who Hates Kids, Families and Marriage?

People need to be overtly aware that opposing marriage equality is anti-marriage, anti-family and anti-child.

Nothing changes when an anti-equality and anti-gay group adds family to their name, like the Massachusetts Family Institute. They are anti-family and we need to say that until others hear it.

Nothing is different when marriage-equality opponents phrase their nefarious aims as wanting to protect traditional marriage. They know as well as anyone that they are talking about specific churches' religious rituals, not civil marriage. They gleefully redefine civil marriage, the actual traditional marriage, in narrow religious terms. That excludes many and protects nothing. They are anti-marriage.

Marriage-equality champion, sex columnist and adoptive dad Dan Savage has picked up on the underlying contradiction of the anti folk. In his New York Times op-ed column, he focuses on the just-passed Arkansas ballot initiative banning homosexual couples from being adoptive or foster parents. The 57% of voters who approved that were not swayed by the solid evidence that same-sex couples make excellent parents nor that the need for both foster and adoptive parents has never been higher. Those pushing this ban are unquestionably anti-family and anti-child. We need to say it aloud.

Moreover, as Savage projects:

Most ominous, once “pro-family” groups start arguing that gay couples are unfit to raise children we might adopt, how long before they argue that we’re unfit to raise those we’ve already adopted? If lesbian couples are unfit to care for foster children, are they fit to care for their own biological children?

The loss in California last week was heartbreaking. But what may be coming next is terrifying.
As all this goes on, a bitter, defensive bit of humor arises as Mormons, African Americans and others who as a group supported Prop. 8 say in effect, "Who, us?" The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints officials seem genuinely surprised at protests following their bankrolling the initiative and providing thousands of street and phone volunteers. The official statement from them says they were just doing their First Amendment protected civic duty, only to be unfairly singled out.

In a recent WGBH Greater Boston segment, Gary Daffin, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, discussed the 70% black voting in California for Prop. 8. He is black. He seems sure those voters went with their church position. He adds that Barack Obama among many others conflates civil marriage with church ritual. He believes Obama likely will get it in addition to his pre-election opposition to the ballot initiative.

On the role of black voters, theologian Rev. Irene Monroe writes in the current Black Commentator:
The blame of the passing of Proposition 8 should not be placed on the shoulders of blacks, Latinos or even religion, but rather the blame should rightly be placed on the shoulders of our government. To have framed our civil rights as a ballot question for a popular vote was both wrong-hearted and wrong-headed. If my enslaved ancestors had waited for their slaveholders to free them, predicated on a ballot vote we all wouldn’t be living in the America we know today. And Barack Obama would not be our president-elect.
Her defense is fairly weak though. It relies on the we-weren't-the-only-ones reasoning. She does, however, call on some stereotypes that seem to have basis in reality. She figures both the GLBT community and the black one can get their acts together and work together. The GLBT side "needs to work on its racism, white privilege, and single-issue platform that thwart all efforts for coalition building with both straight and queer communities of color, the African-American community needs to work on its homophobia."

More communication and confrontation are in order here. As part of that, stripping the pro-family and pro-marriage cloaks from the anti-gay and anti-marriage equality folk is key. Denying marriage equality and rights to foster or adopt are anti-marriage, anti-family and anti-child. Say it.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Arnie Looking for SSM

Arnold Schwarzenegger's comments resolve nothing, but indicate much. Unlike Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, John McCain or Sarah Palin, California's governor finally groks marriage equality.

Evolving from opponent (tradition and then veto) to neutral (let the courts decide) to proponent (no-on-Prop. 8), he made his strongest, most hopeful statements yesterday. Speaking with CNN's John King, he said of the passage of the amendment:
"It is unfortunate, but is not the end because I think this will go back into the courts. … It's the same as in the 1948 case when blacks and whites were not allowed to marry. This falls into the same category."
As is the wont of such manly men, he apparently dragged out a sports analogy from his earlier life. He compared the ensuing struggle to overrule the amendment to a lifter who cannot raise a heavy weight. "I learned that you should never ever give up. . . . They should never give up. They should be on it and on it until they get it done."

We can forever kick around Obama's complicity in Prop. 8's passage. Many say he may even secretly be for marriage equality, even as he mouths the separate-but-(un)equal civil unions pablum. The underlying concept is that he could not have gotten elected had he been for civil rights for homosexual couples. Unless he admits to that kind of expediency, we can't know.

Meanwhile though, it is telling and a bit inspirational that Schwarzenegger nails up a poster of truth with compassion. He expected SSM supporters to attack the amendment. As he put it, "I think that we will again maybe undo that, if the court is willing to do that, and then move forward from there and again lead in that area."

NYU law professor Arthur S. Leonard reported on three immediate court filings here. He separately analyzed what might happen to about 18,000 SSMs conducted since the state high-court ruling here.

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Trumpet, Don't Whine, GOP

Highly effective pinko Saul Alinsky is not an inspiration most wingers would list. Yet his tactics and rules, as well as his seminal activist tutorial Rules for Radicals, might help liven up the woebegone Massachusetts Republican Party.

What if they advanced — surreptitiously if they are cowardly — the Democrats in name only (DINOs)? In as few as two elections, the statehouse and perhaps some commonwealth-wide offices, not-really-Democrats would color the political environment more to their liking. Then in that world, they would surely stand a better chance of 1) getting legislation and regulations they want and 2) creating a milieu more amenable to electing Republicans.

There are plenty of DINOs. During the same-sex-marriage wars, I was astonished at positions, statements and votes from nominal Dems. Also, I'm left enough that neither Deval Patrick nor Barack Obama is progressive enough to suit me. At the commonwealth level, I find far too many DINOs, social conservatives who vote anti-choice, anti-marriage equality and against the interests of the working poor.

Of course, calling themselves Democrat is Massachusetts is politically savvy. Particularly in suburban and exurban areas, they have a much better chance of being elected against a Republican even if their platforms are pretty much the same.

Consider a few aspects of Republicans here:
  • Our General Court just went from 24 to 21 Republicans
  • Our Congressional representation is fewer than one
  • The national GOP has seemed to work hard to earn an un-American reputation, in the sense of advancing intrusive and large government that strips citizens of freedoms from the Bill of Rights
  • Here the GOP has been pretending that if they only muddle through long enough that the pendulum will swing their way
  • For most offices, the GOP here didn't even field candidates

You got to earn it to own it.

Alinsky's neatest fix may work here, adapted. I used the idea in college, in a pretty reactionary South Carolina. To establish a presence, don't just have your radically different organization. Instead, infiltrate and take over an existing and accepted group, alter its goals and emerge like our old friend the old mole.

That Marxist scheme doesn't map directly to this case. Literally trying to take over the Democratic Party won't work either. However, leveraging the common ground with many non-Republicans is better than helpless bitterness.

The alternative is a more parochial and provincial set of attitudes, including the self-defeating:
  • Supporting any Democrat, even with the same political aims, cannibalizes the small Republican potential.
  • Working with any Democrat, even to increase the number of conservative legislators, likewise lessens any drive to elect Republicans.
  • Culling the herd of the most vulnerable Democrats is the preferred (although clearly failing) strategy.
  • More and more voters will eventually come to their senses and go for Republicans.
  • Extreme, stereotypical calumnies (e.g. tax-and-spend, one-party-government autocrats and corrupt Democrats) somehow will catalyze GOP victories.
  • Likewise, a confrontational verbal assault (√† la Jeff Beatty v. John Kerry) is the best chance for victory, not yet another example of their candidate being an ill-bred, overly emotional jerk.
Unfortunately for Republicans, here as well as nationally, they don't seem to have much short-term chance of expanding beyond their base by convincing the independent and Democratic voters. For me, this is not surprising because of the weak arguments they offer for change.

The biggest problem is the shift from a Reagan and post-Reagan environment with real differentiation. Certainly the class-based trickle-down/tax-cuts-for-the-rich economics have been a drastic failure. Moreover, the previous distinctions of looking for small government, having high moral postures, and being fiscally prudent are risible for Republicans in Congress and the White House since 1988. Circling Bill Clinton and his cigar pointing has limited impact. More important, big-government, borrow-and-spend Republicans have been as fiscally imprudent as any political group in the history of our republic. Less easy to measure but with great impact on non-camp followers, the illegal, unethical and immoral behavior of politicians and their aides from Nixon to Rove to W. to McCain does not provide a convincing haven for the voter seeking assurance and trust.

I have seen and heard many in newspapers, magazines, broadcast and blogs — left, right and squishy — giving the same message. The cheap shots and Karl Rove strategies that got the Bushes into power have outlived any utility. The failure to do what they say in governance and their own lives has been at levels of hypocrisy that exceed voters' tolerance. Most significant, if you say small government and prudent finances, do it or at least have a specific set of plans.

The independent as well as the moderate and conservative Dems need more than trust me and because I say so. You got to earn it to own it, as the hip hop lyrics go.

Trumpet. Don't whine.

Honestly, it's somewhat boring to have to look to the right-leaning Democrats for a political debate with the mainstream and lefty ones. It is more boring to hear Republicans whine about being so outnumbered in registration, not to speak of representation. There are enough Republicans and moderate or conservative voters in Massachusetts for a good debate and good contests.

Thus, my proposal is for augmenting the revamping of the party with piggybacking on the Dems.

Massachusetts Republicans can address their two fundamental issues at the same time. They need to give voters a reason to believe that their platform and programs would be better than what we have. They also need to convince voters that there's a reasonable chance they will finally begin to do what they say — walk it like they talk it as the older clich√© goes.

Without putting too fine a point on it, the victim act doesn't do well for local Republicans. It recalls the nursery school rules of equal division and sameness. My eldest son and his chums discovered different and same. From then on, they'd delight at school and home discovering and exclaiming, "We have the same!"

Alas, there's no teacher in the adult world dividing the brownies into equal squares. There are fewer Republicans here and many fewer Republican legislators.

A futile and annoying response to these discoveries of difference is to cry foul. It's unfair and unequal. Of course, when people gain their public offices not by the largess of the head teacher, rather by the response of the voters, the remedy is also different.

Fortunately for the local GOP, the nationwide party will be re-evaluating and revamping. Those here can benefit from their work and coordinate with them. Of course, given their pathetic representation in office here, even with 36% (1,104,085) of the voters being registered Republicans), the locals need to tailor their campaigns, candidates and positions for the commonwealth and region.

Again, I hold that their greatest chance for overall and individual election success is recognizing the constituency's bent. They can start with leveraging the huge identification with fiscal conservatism. Both major parties and the ranks of the unenrolled here are rife with voters who would proudly say they want what the Republicans used to stand for in money terms. At the moment, from considerable history, they need to be convinced that the new, improved Republicans really, finally mean it again.

I won't reveal too much about how to work with center to right-leaning Dems. Perhaps pointing them to Alinsky's rules is already too much.

On the other hand, shifting from self-pity to action would be a great improvement. Crisp and clear debate will attract many more voters than unprovable slander. Smug reasoning beats bitching and whining any time, just look at how well the Dems used that this year.

The woe-are-we Republicans need a new shtick. Aren't elephants supposed to trumpet?

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