Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ayanna Pressley: Watch This Space

Impressive and not ready for prime time are my first judgments on Boston At-Large Council candidate Ayanna Pressley. I'm betting that if she doesn't have a come-to-Jesus moment soon, it will be a more short-term useful come-to-James-Michael-Curley moment.

Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub fame and I sat with her and and her campaign staff at Doyle's round table today. Note that I speak for myself and not also for Adam here.

First, let's say clearly that she a a big bucket of virtues — smart, intense, politically connected, personable, well spoken, pretty, sincere. Yet, she sat with a backdrop of clips and pix of Mayors Ray Flynn, Kevin White and Tom Menino. Two of those had been Councilors who moved up. She could easily have touched their images, but not yet their political acumen.

I do have a tape of the session, albeit useful only for transcription or quote verification. The middle room at Doyle's is no sound studio, so it's not going directly onto Left Ahead! as a podcast. So, more of a real report may appear later, but likely after she begins debates and forums.

Right now, you'll find an almost empty website for her. The Agenda tab has only a promise of content. Therein lies her problem that speaks to her newness to Boston politics.

She's obviously plenty bright and I'm pretty sure she'll get it. It will be a systemic shock to her though. Today, she figures she can finesse voters with generalities and big-picture ideas.

There's a good argument that those got Gov. Deval Patrick elected at a state level and President Barack Obama elected nationally. However, she's going to have to mix it up and expose her specific plans and platforms to win at a city level. Her opponents certainly will and several are certain to expose her sponginess with questions and comments like, "Do you stand for anything!?"

In a less rarefied atmosphere

Like Patrick and Obama, she portrays herself as a change agent. She has worked for 11 years for U.S. Senator John Kerry, much of that running constituent services. Both Patrick and Obama said they were new and different in much the same way. They could get disparate parties to work together, to compromise, to collaborate. Pressley sounds much like that, but I hold it won't work in Beantown.

Adam and I each asked her about big issues we know voters in various neighborhoods as well as the other candidates will pound on. They'll want to know what she intends to do for this specific neighborhood or housing project. They'll say the local public schools suck and how will she fix them. They'll tell her their kid was shot, stabbed or killed and ask how she'll prevent that.

We also tried some wonky versions of issues, all of which she ducked in the nicest and most sincere way. Did she think Boston should be able to raise its revenues with meals taxes and such? Did she believe that busing should continue to charter and other non-proximate schools? Would she draw on her high-level political ties to get the T out of its absurd debt structure? Would she consider herself as a member of the Council's Team Unity?

Ever specific we offered received a similar response. She could gather the views of constituents. She should get the key parties together and facilitate the best solution. In other words, she showed her long experience with Sen. Kerry. That is the way most big legislation passes nationally. Unfortunately, it's not how Boston determines its local pols.

It's worth nothing that she is not the only politician who reaches into the old listen-to-the-voters bag. Consider Mayoral Would-Be Michael Flaherty. He has all the trappings of populism in soliciting input from his target constituents. He is the kitchen-table candidate.

However, his website also has a beefy list of issues with moderately detailed solutions. We like pols who pretend they hear us, but we also don't want the major responsibility. We want a leader who leads, someone who has positions prepared for us. Then, of course, we and opposing candidates nitpick and complain about this or that detail like we know better. We just don't want to blaze the trail.
Shameless plug: Over at Left Ahead!, we interview Flaherty this Tuesday, June 2nd. It streams live at 2:30 on our BlogTalkRadio channel.
Pressley has impressed quite a few among the politically savvy though. Her boss, Sen. Kerry, has given her his blessing she says. "He's been very supportive," she told us. "He says if I win, the city wins." Likewise, according to Politicker last December before Pressley announced, politician consultant Joyce Ferriabough (link opens video) gushed:
With her experience at the highest rungs of government and with the kinds of relationships that she has made throughout the city and state, she would not only be a formidable candidate in terms of the widespread support she would garner, but she would be the kind of candidate who would cut across racial and ethnic lines in bringing people together around her candidacy."

City politics demand specifics

Meanwhile, Pressley is not entirely a creature of connections to powerful national figures. In a future post, I'll hit on her compelling background and powerful drive for public service, as well as her list of personal virtues.

I can't wait for some substance on her website and from her mouth. If she's going to be competitive for the Sept. 22nd primary, she'll have to make the big leap to clarifying, stating and defending political positions. After spending a little more than hour with her, I firmly believe she has it in her to do so.

Amusingly enough though, in her generalized sort-of answers she repeated several times that the problems remained the same, but real solutions would require cultural change. She's going to have to start that closer to home. Her personal style is one of statesmanship and diplomacy. She has seen Sen. Kerry and others model those to great effect for years.

Now she's in a less rarefied atmosphere though. City politics around here demand specifics. You need to make yourself a target by putting up strong positions. That's bound to be a shock for someone so nice. Here's hoping she gets over it quickly.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

N.H. Finally Ready to Get Same-Sex Marriage

With loopholes big enough for trained dogs to jump through, the New Hampshire legislature and Gov. John Lynch look like they have a workable compromise all can approve. It's likely that Wednesday this coming week will be the day for a tweaked bill to get to Lynch and him to sign it.

To placate the anti-gay and anti-marriage equality sorts, the revised bill ended up today with wording even stronger than Lynch proposed when he sent it back to the lawmakers for revisions. The concurrence committee of both houses put in broad conscience exemptions for nearly anyone connected with the wedding business.

As the AP writer put it:
The new version, which is expected to come up for a vote Wednesday, adds a sentence specifying that all religious organizations, associations or societies have exclusive control over their religious doctrines, policies, teachings and beliefs on marriage. It also clarifies that church-related organizations that serve charitable or educational purposes are exempt from having to provide insurance and other benefits to same sex spouses of employees. The earlier version said "charitable and educational" instead of "charitable or educational."
That could very well end up in Law Suit City if enough regressive sorts put their hands to their foreheads sighing that they sensibilities are being ravished by having to deal with homosexuals. Or, as Rep. Anthony DiFruscia put it more colorfully, "Hypothetically, if I'm a Nazi... do I now get an exemption because my conscience says if you're not blond and blue-eyed, I can discriminate against you?"

Regardless the governor was looking to pretend that he forced religious protection into this bill. Pretty much what he was asking for was already law and it was the fringe added to the canopy he proposed. The range of the compromise committee was a single sentence, plus one more word to the entire bill.

It looks like Wednesday will be wedding day.

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Would-Be Mayor One and Two

Amusingly, Left Ahead! and Blue Mass Group are plunging into the Boston mayoral race. The MSM apparently will twiddle its figurative thumbs until near primary time (Sept. 22).

This week, both blog-like objects interviewed City Councilor Sam Yoon. Next week, we both go for City Councilor Michael Flaherty. That is coincidence, but not a bad one. For Yoon, there was overlap, but at BMG, Bob and David and at LA, Ryan and Mike covered some different ground. I suggest listening to both.
Pic Note: Art adapted from an AIA image — no copyright, so fair use.
For Yoon's shows:
For Flaherty's live streams:
The files will be available on the on-site players afterward. BMG lists its call in number on its site. The LA call in number is on the Flaherty show page.

I am pretty sure, that againwe'll both came at him from different angles.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cure the California Disease

Yesterday's California high court decision affecting marriage equality was not based on marriage equality. Instead, it zoomed down to narrow points of law. It also illustrates clearly that it is past time to overhaul the badly broken ballot initiative system there and elsewhere.

Let's return to those thrilling days of 2006, at least thrilling to me. Then and here I called for such an overhaul of this flamethrower of populism.

In the half of the states, including Massachusetts, that allow such plebiscites, they often are badly abused. California's system is the loosest and they suffer the most. Perhaps most obviously is the ability of voters to force unfunded mandates on the whole state as well as cutting revenue sources like taxes without compensating budget changes. Much of California's economic disaster was many years in the making from just such mass stupidities.

In the recent decade, we have seen more and more anti-gay and anti-marriage equality groups try to conceal their bigoted let-the-people-vote petitions to prevent or wrest from homosexuals getting rights the rest of us take for granted. The claim that they are not haters because they say they aren't doesn't hold in light of their bigoted actions. A wolverine pretending to be a cuddly kitten is still a wild beast.

We need to revisit two related ideas. First, large governmental units like states are not town meetings and must not be treated as such. We have representative democracy in the forms of elected legislatures to ensure that laws are based on knowing the consequences and understanding in full. Running around them for the emotionally based result is simply bad or terrible government.

Second, we don't necessarily have to scrap ballot initiatives entirely. However, most states enabled these during the Progressive Era, largely in the early 20th Century. There have been minor improvements and seeing the political and economic abuses recently, there need be more. The most obvious would be to make clearer exemptions for what is subject to popular vote.

Yes, keep the safeguard for the once-in-a-century crazy mistake by the legislature out of their many thousands of laws. However, exempt minority groups rights very clearly. Likewise, even in Massachusetts, which has pretty sensible initiative procedures, we can use a tweak. Make the rule about what would constitute an effort to overturn a court decision stronger and clearer. Don't allow haters to wheedle and sneak in with ballot poison.

Equality California is going to be busy planning a 2010 or 2012 initiative to restore SSM there. They may also have a second front if couples challenge the surely unconstitutional aftermath of Prop. 8 and yesterday's decision. That would be three-class set of marriages — heterosexual couple, homosexual couples grandfathered in, and homosexual couples forbidden to marry.

The drive for prophylaxis against such madness should then come through the legislature. They do the same for other areas of law that need repair and cure.

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Boston Rally for California - Video Version

Copley Plaza was the site of our first rally for the new campaign for marriage equality in California. You can sort of be there, thanks to John Hosty-Grinnell's complete series of videos.

Look to Live, Love, and Learn for details on the rally and upcoming coverage of the campaign.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Yoon's Ready to Mix It Up with Menino

Sam Yoon joined us at Left Ahead! this afternoon to say why he'd be a better mayor than Da Mare, Tom Menino. We still hope to have all the candidates on our podcast, but so far the others have yet to agree to chat with us or set a date. I'll post any future podcasts here in advance.

Meanwhile, head to Councilor Yoon's campaign site to see his positions on key issues.

He figures that with or without Menino's cooperation, the other candidates can drum up excitement about the most crowded mayoral race in the past three decades. Yoon noted that when previous Mayor Ray Flynn ran head to head with Mel King, there were 70-plus debates, saturating all neighborhoods. That election in 1988 had very high turnout, shaming the aesthetic ones of Menino's terms.

So, Yoon's calls include talking up the election and demanding more debates and public forums. Voters are complacent, yet they are unhappy with the schools, crime and housing. In his podcast today, he specified some of his solutions in these and other areas. Now, he'd like everyone in on the discussion.

Follow-up: Over at Blue Mass Group, David and Bob also interviewed Sam today. Catch their podcast here.

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Prop. 8 Still the Law

By a six to one majority, the California Supreme Court did rule that Prop. 8 halted its mandated marriage equality. Also as expected, it said that the roughly 18,000 same-sex marriages conducted before the amendment passed last November will remain legal.

We'll watch for Arthur Leonard to analyze how setting up two classes of marrieds works and what it means. I suspect his legal comments will appear today. I'll link to them when they do.

Wednesday Follow-Up: Sure enough, Prof. Leonard has a detailed and insightful analysis here.

Meanwhile, we can assume that the pro-equality forces will continue their planning for a ballot initiative to reverse the discriminatory amendment. While that is possible next year, the 2012 general election is a more likely time.

The Bee reports:
State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in a statement, "I view today's decision by the California Supreme Court as a temporary setback for the cause of equality for all people."
Locally in Boston, the protest starts tonight, Join the Impact will lead a rally at 7 p.m. in Copley Square.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Prop. 8 Ruling Tuesday

The California Supreme Court will release its ruling on Prop. 8 on Tuesday, according to the SF Chronicle. The article judges from the judges during the hearing that the court will uphold the overturning of same-sex marriage there, that they will keep the 18,000-plus SS marriages legal, and that the pro-equality folk will have to start the slog for a 2010 or 2012 drive to overturn that amendment.

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Bring Cheney to Book

Dick Cheney must be held accountable for an unnecessary war, approving and ordering such war crimes as torture, and abuse of office in deceiving Congress with false intelligence.

A classic bad joke (I think I first saw in Boy's Life at 12) foreshadows Cheney's safety claims. One man is selling tiger repellent. The next says, "There aren't any tigers within 8,000 miles of here." The first one quickly replies, "See. It works."

Thus George the Lesser Bush and Dick Cheney insist that we believe war on a nation uninvolved in the 9/11 attacks and subsequent years of prisoner torture have kept us safe. See. We haven't had a repeat of 9/11 since. Ha!

Even in my pubescent form, I saw the joke in the tiger repellent. Much but not all the nation sees the joke, or rather, lie in Cheney's assertions. As my chum Elias notes, "...he is desperate to cover up his own complicity in a tall stack of crimes."

And so it is with the lesser Bush and even his increasingly pathetic wife Laura. They claim all the horrors and blunders that have brought the death of thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of others were necessary. They hold, as Cheney does, that history will record what a great President this wee, bumbling Bush was.

Unfortunately for them, the depth and breadth of the Bush/Cheney incompetence and destructiveness have accelerated reckoning. History has, if you pardon, historically been slow to weigh in and judge. Not with this administration.

Perhaps that explains the fervor and repetitiveness of the PR campaign by Cheney and the Bushes. The damning judgments abound already. Perhaps they think if they create enough smoke and propaganda that they can stall or minimize the looming conclusions. I don't think so.

President Barack Obama does not seem willing to have Bush or Cheney prosecuted. It is hard to believe that he is right in thinking that he would alienate the GOP legislators. They have already been so hostile and obstructive that they are likely to attack anything he and the Dems want. I don't think it could get worse.

Moreover, the GOP never seems to have forgiven the Dems as proxy for the nation in driving criminal, freedom-destroying President Richard Nixon from office. It is obvious that was the prime motive for impeaching President William Clinton for lying about adulterous fellatio.

With those in mind, ask how much worse Cheney and Bush's crimes were than Clinton's. While they can no longer be impeached, what of the abuses of the Constitution and the thousands of U.S. lives lost and over a trillion dollars gone and those repugnant war crimes?

Cheney in particular has made his claims and continues to do so. He holds that everything he did and ordered done kept us safe as a nation and was totally justified. Those claims cannot stand unchallenged. If Obama lacks the will, it should be for Congress to investigate. Let's evaluate his claims and the classified docs behind it all.

Writing of PR, much of the world now sees us justifiably as a hell hole of anti-liberty. Our government has a provable record of spying on its citizens, ignoring our guarantees in our Bill of Rights, and acting onshore and offshore as a totalitarian regime. Forget the PR campaign to paint Bush and Cheney as competent. Let us make it right domestically and to the world by restoring our reputation as a land of liberty and honor and respect for humanity.

We can do that by bringing Cheney first and then perhaps Bush to book.

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N.H. Equality Folk Hoping

Click over to today's Brian McQuarrie article in the Boston Globe for a fine recap of the status of SSM in N.H. This is just a pointer to his work.

The short of it is that after the surprise narrow loss in the House, the bill holding up marriage equality there may come of out a two-chamber conference in a form that the wishy-washy governor can approve. Pro-SSM legislators and marriage-equality groups figure they can tip the few voted needed in a vote early in June.

Meanwhile the anti-SSM lawmakers and the anti-gay lobbying groups are screaming for a veto and go get onto important business. Apparently fundamental human rights aren't really that important to them, at least if they don't fit with the particular flavor of Old Testament religion they want to legislate.

So, N.H. may join the civilized portion of New England and return to its historic tradition of liberty and respect. If they edge out an SSM victory there, that would leave only Rhode Island as the boil on the butt of the region.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

N.H. Marriage Out of Extra Innings

...and so back to Gov. Lynch in Concord. While the Senate this morning (14 to 10) squeezed in the minor tweaks to the same-sex marriage bills and the House minutes ago this afternoon rejected (186 to 188) concurrance.

At 3:20 p.m., it looks like a joint conference committee will return the original House version of HB73 (the religious protection stand-alone). If that returns without his cosmetic silliness to Lynch and he is as good as his word, he'll veto it.

I'll go soak my head and add more as it develops.

Follow-up: The House also refused to kill the bill. The vote for a compromise meeting with the Senate was 207 to 168. They don't even get paid a premium for overtime in the legislature, but they seem to love it.

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Newspapers Await Genius: 2 of 2

When publishers are not blaming, they are waiting...waiting...watching...waiting.

As I recently ranted in part 1 of this, economic woes did not sneak up on them. The thundering, stomping reality shook them with the rest of the world over many decades. Yet today as in the past 15 years, newspapers retract or die, book houses combine or fold, and all feign surprise at what they claim are the sudden and inexorable attacks on their noble selves.

It is all too reminiscent of a Rockbiter scene from The Neverending Story, below.

Not everyone will sit and wait for the Nothing to take him away. Among papers at least, none seems to have the brilliant answer, a panacea. Yet many are slowly and haltingly trying or thinking about trying. Simplistically, they as a group seem to have decided that some form of micro-payment system is their best bet.

Papers were certainly clumsy and arrogant on payments from the beginning. Some dailies and weeklies have tried:
  • Running only a small teaser section of articles and requiring subscription payments for the whole things.
  • Having whole articles online for a week or less, with subscription or individual payments for older ones.
  • Allowing a limited number of article views per month to registered free users and requiring some payment for additional ones.
Lackaday, the publishers cry. We just can't figure this out. Would-be readers (a.k.a. ad-rate bases) wouldn't pay for an online subscription. They would come for free online content, but, sob, advertisers hesitate to pay us a fair rate for those readers' clicks. If we make them have a delivery subscription for the paper, we have a diminishing reader base and ad rates drop again, moan.

There is an idea out there that someone, somewhere might be trying to get something for free. The business and legal humor in that, of course, is that papers in general and wire services in particular have openly stolen from writers and photographers for over a century. They have it in the contracts for payment that they can reprint and recirculate in any form without additional compensation. They fail to see the irony in their current assertions of being underpaid.

Certainly, it's true that publishers are on a seesaw. They need more ad revenue. That requires more readers.

However, pinning their hopes on income from micro-payments is another atavism. They used to have fantasies that they could increase their profit margins with high home-delivery fees too. That didn't, won't and can't work. In fact, the more they jack up the prices, the fewer readers they keep and the less likely advertisers are willing to spend. I suspect the micro-payment models they are considering will be the same.

A few seem to be getting the hang of it, but they may be special cases. Back to the Financial Times, the blend of a lot of free, some restrictions, and subscription or payment is working. The big difference between the FT and typical city daily papers though is the nature of the content.

The FT pays for the most insightful and gutsiest columnists. It also is a must-read for those in international markets. Simply put, the FT offers content you can't get elsewhere and some of it you can make money from — it's an investment.

Contrast that to the Boston Globe or Herald's content. Here we are like LA or Chicago in deep love of sports; a few readers might pay small premiums for just the sports coverage, but not enough to make administrating a system worthwhile. Then consider the columnists, business, op-ed or elsewhere in our papers. None is an essential read, none is the best in the field, and most important, none is a must-read for investors.

On the other side of the seesaw is the weight of cultural change. We are very accustomed to free online contents. While readers increasingly hear that if newspapers drive their reporters away there simply won't be enough content to satisfy us.

That may or may not be true. This change is slow in coming and papers have been letting us acclimate to that over many years. They have closed foreign, then domestic, bureaus. They have pared original reporting throughout the papers. They have driven readers as well as reporters away, losing readership as well as ad money in the process.

The Next Bill Gates

Generations X, Y, Millennial, Z or whatever the latest names are as bad as their parents in readership. Well under half of American home get dailies. We older folk may decry how the younger ones don't read, but we were there first. We grew up with TV and have lately turned to cable-TV crap, news-like objects and internet site blurbs instead of substance. Yeah, it's true that those under 25 don't read much paper or magazine news, but we were there first.

So holding the papers' seesaw seat high in the air is the need for a cultural shift if they are to survive as we know them. Many people made the shift from LPs/tapes to CDs to buying individual tunes online. Papers fairly wet themselves anticipating such a salvation. If it happens, they 1) will have to make it happen with a system that is so easy and sensible it is painless to readers and 2) provide content that is superior to what they can find elsewhere.

Together, those factors could make that cultural shift. Newspaper publishers do not have a record of such innovation or willingness to risk. Thus, it may be new providers that figure this out and benefit.

The most simplistic and dispersed option would be that as newspapers fold into their own black holes, others will develop the useful and distinctive content. That could be the best of the bloggers and citizen journalists. More likely, it could be groups of displaced reporters and editors beating the stodgy newspapers at their own game. None of that would happen today or tomorrow, but we can be sure that either would occur much, much more quickly than it has taken newspapers to allow the Nothing to overtake them.

Another possibility is one or more strokes of brilliance. At the recent Freedom of Information forum by Northeastern in the Globe building, the exec of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press had such a grand, and possible, vision. Addressing the 150 or so, who seemed to be at least half J-school students, Lucy Dalglish challenged the audience.

She said that the first one who figures out how trained journalists can make money on the internet will make tremendous amounts of money. She suggested that innovation might produce the next Bill Gates.

That was refreshing to hear it from the reporter's viewpoint. It was more so to hear it without the self-pity typical of publishers.

Rather than swim with the current and come ashore on a good spot, publishers have too long tried to blame others, villifying TV, the internet, blogs or anyone instead of taking responsibility. Perhaps most current papers won't and don't deserve to survive.

Not everyone is a sofa-riding, sound-bite hound. A terrific appetite will remain in a world with increasing amounts to know. People will follow and report news. They will disseminate it. How and who pays in what ways remains to be determined.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Newspapers Await Genius

If you haven't formulated your revolutionary and brilliant solution to publishers earning online, you're too late. It seems millions have realized this is the new perpetual-motion machine of economic opportunity, with the exception that this one is surely possible.

The waddling, ponderous publishers — papers, maggies and books alike — are too hidebound to figure this out themselves. They've had two decades of head start and are still looking at their cuticles while they stand still.

Unfortunately publishing has had a too long tradition of ensuring mediocrity through business, hiring and management. As a group, they are nepotistic as any. They are similarly prone to the stereotypical managers' trait of hiring friends, alumni from their schools and others without rational qualification. Who can know how many worthier reporters, editors, authors and columnists have been driven away by such blundering?

Less defensible, publishers have mired in business incompetence. Consider books, where the norm is to page huge royalties for a few famous or infamous authors. Otherwise, it's churn out tons of me-too novels and non-fiction with hopes that a few will become the messianic blockbuster profit source.

Then newspapers have been kind-of manufacturing, but without the complexities of storing expiring products, shipping basically on consignment, and waiting months for payment. They have been relative cash rich with wide profit margins contrasted to most manufacturers. Rather than use the cash flow for investments in efficiencies and insightful planning for future markets and customers, paper owners have sat on the cash, paid themselves huge packages, and piddled it away on sports teams or other diversions of the simple-minded rich.

Shocked. They are Shocked.

The most recent few decades have been far crueler and more exacting than many previous ones to publishers though. You would have to suspend reality to imagine that should have been surprised by changing technologies and times. That pesky radio was followed shortly by TV, each competing for readers or former readers — and the related copy purchases and advertising dollars.

Publishers had less than a century to acclimate to those when computers, the internet and the WWW crept up on them over a 40 year period. What a shock that has been! How could they ever have know these were coming?

Here and now in the 21st Century, publishers want the unified or even partial fix to:
  • Two new generations who are not interested in reading newspapers and books
  • Overpriced and barely legible geegaws like Kindle readers cutting into sales of tangible books
  • Ad revenues bled by TV, radio, cable TV, commercial internet sites and even blogs
  • Dwindling readership
  • Dual pressures to cut staff/expenses and need to add new and attractive content
The failure of publishers to anticipate or even react well to such problems (what sales sorts call opportunities) is not surprising. As an industry, they are not alone in letting the comfortable advantages they know so well blind them to relentless changes.

Having been a newspaper reporter and editor (and at comparable spots in magazines), I am more surprised that they seem incapable of reasoning and experimenting out of their troubles. Like herd animals, they head pell-mell in one direction. This time, the stampede is in the nebulous direction of profiting from a switch from paper to online.

Were it that simple. Consider a few efforts so far:
  • The New York Times sold its Select program to non-subscribers, granting full access to the contents, including archives. Subscribers got that thrown in with the cost of the delivery of paper. That failed when they didn't get enough takes to justify the trouble.
  • Various dailies have tried and failed or are failing at charging for online access to anything older than a week or so.
  • The Financial Times gives limited access to a few articles and then requires free registration. For full access, you must subscribe to the print edition or the electronic one. Its content is both entertaining and an aid to investing, so they are doing OK with this model.
  • Some newspapers are weighing breaking down their online offerings and charging for the most wanted sections, such as sports.
  • The Kindle reading (and speaking) system allows downloading of new books, and the newer version is big enough to work with the new choices of periodicals including newspapers. These are vastly overpriced gadgets for trendy sorts who are willing to, in effect, rent a book for $9.99. This is not the mass market that will save any level of publishing. In fact, authors and book publishers already scream it could just undercut profits.

Mega-Hope for Micro-Pay

Now the talk has become micro-payments from everyone. Various publications, including the NYT are plotting their version of pay per article or by time period. They don't know how much is too much to charge and what would be too little. They don't know the choke point of different target customers. They are lost in the digitized sea of Gen-Y folk and younger, but they are positive they somehow must get these non-readers to need to read their stuff.

All levels of publisher also don't know how hard the micro-payment technology will be to create and manage. What they really seem to want is for a few of their number to figure it out, implement a profitable system, and let them copy it. Again, this is embarrassing for someone who used to be in the business. Where are leadership and decisive action?

Meanwhile, newspapers and some magazines are amputating their own limbs. From a recent rant here, I see that we paper and online readers share a big problem as the publishers buy out or simply fire their reporters and editors. What the publishers say is necessary cost cutting to survive means they have less and less news and opinion to attract advertisers and readers. At the same time, there is less and less for links, search engine results, and stealing by cable, magazines and blogs.

Newspaper heads talk about ad revenue and circulation as though their product would remain vital with a quarter of the news staff. This is taking most of the chocolate chips out of the cookies and saying they are the same as ever.

Even if micro-payments or other new-money solutions work, the big problem remains of how to attract enough readers to justify advertising rates as well as earning from the delivery system. Particularly for the under 30 groups, the content has to be better than the free material out there, a lot better.

In a great report on converting to paid, A want to break free, by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, the Financial Times burrows right down into what has to be done. They've been struggling and experimenting with this for seven years.

The FT piece cites a PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP report on the subject. The report author, David Lancefield, bluntly said there are limits to trying to break out and sell subsets of a paper's content. That content "can’t be just repackaged and repurposed. To tip people into the fee-paying world, it will have to be distinctive and new."

Look at today's newspapers to see how well they do distinctive and new. Typically, a paper's editors and owners think that means adding color to the comics or having the staff churn out their boring blog-like objects. That approach won't do it.

Part two of this will cover a bit of what publishers are hoping and looking for in terms of salvation.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

NH Bulletin Bulletin Bulletin

Just in from John Hosty-Grinnell and not available elsewhere, the N.H. legislature will make some of the cosmetic tweaks Gov. John Lynch demanded. However, they'll change the religious-rights amplification bill and not the same-sex marriage one.

After a phone chat with Speaker of the House Terie Norelli, he reports that HB73 will get those changes. Then the governor will get the package back.

We'll provide more as we get it.

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Rights to Wrong

As revealed in the slow and indecisive N.H. Gov. John Lynch, there are only two ways to please the anti-same-sex marriage crowd. Obviously, the first would be to forbid SSM. Second and at the very least to them, give every business owner, realty renter, school administrator — everyone — the legal right to discriminate against LGBT citizens.

Lynch's pathetic inability to sign or veto or even ignore the SSM bill until it becomes law shines a high-powered light on the underlying issue for the anti-SSM people. The head of a gay-hostile lobbying group may have said it most clearly speaking to the Union Leader.

Kevin Smith, executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research, said the change still would not give legal protection to businesspeople frequently hired for weddings, such as photographers and caterers, who refused to participate because they have religious convictions against gay marriage.

"The fact remains that by signing this bill, he will have broken his trust with New Hampshire voters after repeatedly stating that he opposes gay marriage," Smith said, lamenting that Lynch has sided with "radical special interests."

There is no gubernatorial term limit law in New Hampshire. DINO Lynch clearly wants to keep his office. He's had it since 2005 and must win re-election every two years to stay there.

Yet, his efforts to compromise and in effect unite polar opposites has failed at every turn. The latest was a hold-up of the SSM bill to 1) add pretty meaningless religious exemptions that are already implicit in existing laws and the original bills and 2) put in a probably unconstitutional fraternal-organization exemption from overt anti-gay discrimination.

The latter is the more amusing. Not only would it surely not survive a legal challenge, it is a throwback to the 1950s private-club concept of grandfathered bigotry. Moreover, he attempts to make men's frats religious organizations. Maybe he intends to hand out mitres and crosiers to the Elks and Lions.

So, the pro-equality types would chuckle and look aside to get this bill into law. The anti-SSM sorts are not likely to forget nor to forgive in their lifetimes. Plus, all sides see him for the milquetoast he is. It would be hard to count how many votes he has lost by least until November of next year.

The quiet current running under all this is the libertarian streak in the live-free-or-die state. That's good for SSM prospects in that most voters polled think it's nobody's business if homosexual couples want to wed. They have been abutted by Vermont with nine years of civil unions and Massachusetts with five years of SSM; they know there truly are no downsides to it.

What's bad for civil rights is that the same streak carries a dose of leave me alone and let me do what I want. That can be okay unless you are a Unibomber sort or an atavism who wants the right to harm others in employment, housing, marriage rights and such.

Those hoary and unobservant sorts run up against modernity. As a nation, we have progressed. We are nowhere near the most socially advanced nation, but we are not where we were in the 1950s or even 1980s. No matter how politely you ask or how firm and loudly you assert imaginary right of God or statute, it is not alright to do many things anymore.

If you don't like gay men or Asian Americans or many other classes of citizens, there are now laws, regulations and cultural conventions covering that. You can sit in your living room and mutter nasty incantations all night long. You can't refuse to rent to people filtered by your bigotry. If you want to earn your living the off the public, you can't discriminate, unless you have a religious exemption.

There is the big compromise and one that is as secure as any in law and custom. Our U.S. Constitution's First Amendment gives wide authority for churches and clerics to live their dogma. They can underpay either gender, refuse to hire by race or religion and on and on. That is a cost we have accepted from the start of this nation.

What is astonishing is how many would conflate religious privilege with personal feelings (a.k.a. faith). That winger conference I went to last November downtown had five of those wild conflaters at one table. As a group, they allowed that the laws did not interfere with religion, but asserted without evidence or reason that it was bound to come. This just-wait-and-see melodrama was the same sort they pushed when Massachusetts started SSM. It did not and won't happen, but that doesn't stop the crazy predictions.

Lies and Liars

We saw a variation when Catholic Charities decided to halt all adoption services rather than continue to place a small number of children with gay couples, often the ones who were already their legal foster parents. The anti-gay sorts frame this as CC being forced out of the adoption business by evil laws. In reality, they chose to stop all adoptions if they would have to be non-discriminatory as any other adoption agency. Doing so meant they would not be eligible for state and some federal assistance for adoptions.

In other words, they made a business decision. Rather than stand on their principles and continue to do their Christian duty here, they quit. They could have picked up the difference for the loss of government money that came with regulatory strings. Instead, they lied by saying the law, not their cold calculations, drove them from the business.

Now in New Hampshire and elsewhere, we hear business owners and others asking why they can't continue to discriminate against gay couples, as they always have. They seem to have missed the past 20 years of history and legal advances.

They could move to a state that has DOMA legislation and no gay-rights laws. That pretty much drives them from the region, but they still have some options.

What's pretty clear to others around here is that where homosexuals are a protected class and in states with domestic-partnership, civil-union or same-sex marriage laws, the era of discrimination in business has past. Alternately, the bigots can think of switching from the restaurant, car dealership or realty office to founding a church. There are still groups who can be as nasty as they want to homosexuals, short of physical harm or threats.

If the question is, "Can't I continue to discriminate against homosexuals, which I claim is part of my religion," the answer in New Hampshire is, "No."

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NH Lawmakers Likely Lynch OK

To follow up with yesterday's games of hot potato, both houses of the New Hampshire legislature seem ready to approve his hats and frats changes to the main marriage bill (). The Union Leader reports:
Speaker of the House Terie Norelli and Senate President Sylvia Larsen said they will move "expeditiously" to get a workable gay marriage law on the books. That could mean action by both bodies as early as next Wednesday.
This is really a three-fer. Lynch wants somewhat crazy accommodation for fraternal organizations who want to retain the rights to discriminate against homosexuals. He also throws in language to cross-my-heart ensure that religious organizations and their employees or volunteers don't have to touch queers perform same-sex marriages. These tweaks would have to appear in three bills:
  • HB436, the main marriage bill
  • HB310, the clergy-specific exemptions one
  • HB73, one detailing marriage ceremonies

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lynch Bwaking and Balking

Oh, my. New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch has me thinking macho and sexist thoughts — like he needs gonads.

Today he is speaking with reporters saying he will/he won't sign the same-sex marriage bill he got at the end of last week. His latest have-it-all-ways tactic is saying he'd approved it with some changes. I'll update here when those become clear.

It seems he can't stand the idea of having to stand. The reactionaries and fundies want him to veto it and put the Old Testament into marriage law. The equality and civil-rights types want him to cut the crap and sign it already. He apparently thinks that if he adds some more pseudo-religious veneer, he'll satisfy both sides.

He's bound to anger everyone.

The way I read the state constitution, this becomes law without his signature. It would take agreement from both houses to reconsider the content of the bill if he doesn't veto it. Good luck with that, Johnny Boy. I bet he's going to have to veto it or let it become law.

Follow-up: He claims to have provided language he wants added or altered. Those words have yet to appear on the news sites.

Follow-up to Follow-up: Lynch's changes would be:

I. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if such request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage, the celebration of a marriage, or the promotion of marriage through religious counseling, programs, courses, retreats, or housing designated for married individuals, and such solemnization, celebration, or promotion of marriage is in violation of their religious beliefs and faith. Any refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges in accordance with this section shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state action to penalize or withhold benefits from such religious organization, association or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society.

II. The marriage laws of this state shall not be construed to affect the ability of a fraternal benefit society to determine the admission of members pursuant to RSA 418:5, and shall not require a fraternal benefit society that has been established and is operating for charitable and educational purposes and which is operated, supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization to provide insurance benefits to any person if to do so would violate the fraternal benefit society’s free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States and part 1, article 5 of the Constitution of New Hampshire

III. Nothing in this chapter shall be deemed or construed to limit the protections and exemptions provided to religious organizations under RSA § 354-A:18.

IV. Repeal. RSA 457-A, relative to civil unions, is repealed effective January 1, 2011, except that no new civil unions shall be established after January 1, 2010.

To my reading, this is much ado about squat. Lynch wants to rephrase what is already law and already covered in the kind of mealy-mouthed bill the legislature passed. This likewise lets religious and now fraternal organizations be as bigoted and discriminatory against LBGT citizens as they are now. Making sure the Elks and VFW are covered is trivial.

It appears as though he thinks he is protecting is perceived lifetime job by:

  1. Making noises about vetoing the bill
  2. Adding inconsequential refinements to pretend that he accommodated all sides.

What a bozo. Then again, the votes to override a veto are likely unobtainable this legislative term. Plus the Senate has already added crazy lingo pretending there are two types of marriage in New Hampshire. They can probably make Lynch feel he's done something substantial. I suspect voters all around will know better next election.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

GOP's Empathy Mirror

How tight and bitter and sad must be the lives of those piling on President Obama for his call for empathy among the traits for a Supreme Court nominee. This is only the latest of many examples of how the right wing can be out of touch with Americans, indeed, with humanity.

Personal note: I have my own homegrown thoughts on empathy.

The reading on the aftereffects of his remarks has been in many sources and often with considerable insight. A solid overview of the winger extreme came from Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, who cited numerous examples of disdain hurled at Obama. As she puts it, "...Republicans have gathered up their flaming torches and raised their fists to loudly denounce empathy and all empathy-based behavior as evil."

She disagrees and continues:
When did the simple act of recognizing that you are not the only one in the room become confused with lawlessness, activism, and social engineering? For a group so vociferously devoted to textualism and plain meaning, conservative critics have an awfully elastic definition of the word empathy. It expands to cover any sort of judicial malfeasance they can imagine. Empathy—the quality of caring what others may feel—signals intellectual weakness, judicial immodesty, favoritism, bias, and grandiosity

...the opposite of empathy isn't rigor. It's pretty close to solipsism, or the certain conviction that everything you'll ever need to know about judging you learned from your own fine self.
From his perspective as a neurologist and author, Salon regular Dr. Robert Burton looks at what makes for decent humans in terms of empathy. In his view, "Indeed, it's this wise approach to recognizing the limits of pure reason that we want in our justices, not folks with the blind and scientifically unjustifiable belief that they can keep emotions out of their decisions, or that empathy is somehow a dirty word. But then you need a heart to appreciate how empathy is the basis of good law."

A more legalistic view appeared in the Roman Catholic weekly America by Douglas W. Kmiec, Pepperdine University's chair and professor of constitutional law. He writes there is a place for the cold eye and one for empathy on the high court.

In terms of candidates for SC justices, "...talent pools give almost exclusive emphasis to the law’s doctrinal development--the “footnotes in a casebook” as the president put it, rather than the impact of those developments on individual citizens. A few theoreticians in the mix makes sense, but the Supreme Court is now entirely their domain. Empathy has a wider, more open-minded nature, asking how law interrelates with the larger culture."

He recalled that at law-school graduations, speakers have been known to quote the prophet Micah. In the King James version of the Bible, Micah 6:8, the key idea is that "...what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

Burton concludes that those criticizing Obama's call for empathy and understanding in a fair-minded and independent justice have erred. "By (their) rubric, there would be no Court seat for the prophet Micah," he wrote.

For those disgruntled outsider Republicans and right leaners, such strident criticism can be expected. Many continue to throw as many darts as possible at the President, hoping to draw blood and rouse more level-headed voter's animosity. On the other hand, some may be others out there who honestly believe that thinking like another and considering the effect of decisions on fellow humans is merely weakness — emotionally as well as intellectually.

The opposite of empathy isn't rigor

For them, the empathetic can feel the confusion behind their facade of harshness. This seems yet another example of the intolerance of ambiguity (one of my regular rants) that so typifies many conservatives and some libertarians. The need there instead is for a glib certainty, couched in terms of "it's only common sense" or "it's obvious." Those really are expressions of "I don't really have anything, but just take me at my word."

Let's me be plain, empathy is more work emotionally, intellectually and even legally. Rather than being a filter that excludes rationality, it is another layer. Compare it to reading or seeing some allegorical work, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey. We can enjoy and interpret movies and books on their face value and for the most obvious features. Yet, in the case of 2001, those with classical educations in Greek and Latin masterpieces will also have insights and even chuckles from the allusions.

So, I would hold that a justice who brings empathy into the high court along with the conventional traits is a valuable addition. I am with Mr. Obama on this one.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Who'll Report the News?

Quite reasonably, much is said and written of news gathering in this era of dying daily papers. Extremely unreasonably though, many media types deride online sources, particularly blogs.

Every conference I attend and in MSM reports, there is a triple lament:
  1. Newspapers are disappearing.
  2. As reporters go to other work, less news will be available, including for online links.
  3. Bloggers do a piss poor job of original reportage.
The paper and electron worlds are increasingly full of this. You can get your own fill after the last week's Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing chaired by Sen. John Kerry. The subject was the grandiose and morose "The Future of Journalism."

The dual stereotypical villains who attended represented online competitors to papers, as well as that future. There was a VP of Google Marissa Mayer and glam blog lady, co-founder of the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington. Their counterweights were not the MSM guys; they did their predictable whining. Rather, The Wire producer and ex-paper fellow, David Simon defamed blogs and other online media.

Links note: Those three links are to their opening statements to Kerry's subcommittee.

With a combination of disdain and admiration, I note that Simon is a relentless self-promoter and a self-styled gadfly. He's no one's intellectual or prophet. You can get a sense of the coverage of his remarks here, and other reports of the various testimony here and here.

Simon typifies the current cliché about blogs and other online news sources. That is, they don't do a very good job of citizen journalism. The corollary he and other detractors like to get to is that as newspapers fail, blogs are so bad at covering local news (think municipal meetings) that news as we know it will die with the papers. There'll be nothing for any online sites to link to without the reporters.

I remember from my own J-school classes and working dailies how little newspapers actually printed. Particularly those typical rags with AP and UPI full subscriptions performed constant triage. The term for setting aside news never likely to be in print was spiking. That came from the old fashioned desk accessory with a base and a pointed rod sticking up; editors would push a clip of wire copy onto the spike just in case they ended up with a hole at layout time.

The rule we were taught was that with all the hard news, state, national and international stories, plus the sports, soft features and the short brights of filler material, 10% of wire copy would appear on a given day. So back then when there were multiple highly competitive wire services on top of the local reporters, readers never knew how little news, noise and opinion they got.

Now when the blog haters go on with their tripartite lament, a bit of context is necessary. Saying that blogs don't do news anywhere near as well as newspapers is pitifully simplistic and quite naive. It's like damning a toddler who's learning to walk for not being able to perform ballet or tap dancing.

Newspapers have been failing and firing local reporters in clumps for decades. Local reportage has telescoped down pitifully. The spike is no longer the evil prop on the city editor's desk. There isn't enough local news for decent triage. There aren't enough reporters on the street and phones to provide the news.

In fact, recently I have found that our local dailies and weeklies in Boston do decent coverage only in areas they can sell ads against. Think music, restaurants and such.

When I want nits and grits of local color, gossip, crime reporting and what used to be a daily's business, I click over to UniversalHub or H2otown for it. Those and similar sites have a ton more local interest news, opinion, photos and more than either Boston daily. In fact, even area and neighborhood weeklies have picked up for the dailies.

So far, such sources make no effort to cover the State House or such thoroughly. You still need to pick up the Globe or Herald (or their sites) for full sports coverage and timely state and national government too.

Yet like my non-dancing toddler example, bloggers haven't had to do that. Almost to a one, they haven't been paid more than a few dollars in online ad revenue to do so either.

Let's not stop with the sophistic argument that online media don't do news very well and only a few of them do it at all. The real question lies far beyond such simpleminded analysis.

Instead, let's ask what happens when enough newspapers in a market have folded or have canned enough of their news staff that they are no more insightful, timely and pertinent than a CNN or FOXnews. If the Times closes the Globe and the Herald remains the pale and asthenic little critter it is, where will people get their need-to-know and voyeuristic fixes of local coverage?

The answer almost certainly is from blogs and other online media. They'll learn to dance, or in this case, to cover more news and extract money from advertisers, subscribers, both or some new model.

Blaming blogs for not being real newspapers is too silly. Newspapers in the main are no longer real newspapers either.

Instead, I predict more muscular online media as newspapers dig their own graves. Because the old model failed does not mean no one can succeed.

Look for blogs or blog-like objects here and there to create workable business models and for others elsewhere to copy and then improve on what they do. This could get exciting.

Meanwhile the blog haters wail that newspapers failed to make a living off their online offerings. Even the New York Times blew its Select system of some paid content. Somehow the anti-online media types conclude that this proves no one can do it. They don't seem to have any sense of technology shifts or of entrepreneurship.

I don't have a great example of the future. We have seen a few blogs making money and many scattered about covering real news and not just commenting on newspaper and magazine articles. They are likely the seeds from which the new models will sprout.

I give this toddler a few, very few, years to start dancing.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Kicking the Gays Again in Maine

How very odd that the people's veto in Maine is yet again in play. This possible referendum in November this year or June next is schadenfreude at its crudest.

The anti-gay and anti-same-sex marriage folk lost their political butts in the legislature, including endorsement from the governor. They can't and won't stand for it.

They can call it democracy. What it truly is remains wanting to see homosexuals suffer more and longer. It may be enough for some Maine conservatives to know that they delayed implementation of this new reality for months or a year. The public is almost certain to reject an attempt to overturn SSM there, by polls and their behavior on the failed efforts to stomp on gay rights protections recently.

Yet, this abuse of the democratic process in the state constitution says much of the anti-LGBT side.

The totally disrespectful and dishonest Maggie Gallagher in her NOM persona typifies the worst of the anti-gay and anti-SSM folk. She makes only the thinnest passing effort to hide her hatred behind let-the-people-vote and don't-call-me-a-bigot-for-hating lingo. She talks over and shouts down more rational debaters.

Mostly what she shares with the Mass. Family Institute, no longer the Christian Civic League of Maine, and MassResistance sorts is the Whac-A-Mole behavior. Typically, this might involve:
  • Lobby and advertise to influence the legislature.
  • If the lawmakers pass gay rights or SSM, turn to the courts or a referendum.
  • If the courts mandate gay rights or SSM, turn to the legislature or a referendum.
Just as they seem devoid of compassion and humanity and fairness, there is no such thing as taking a loss. If they win at the court level, its self-righteous calls of the rule of law. If they lose at the court level, it's activist judges legislating from the bench. If they win in the legislature, it is democracy proving their point. If they lose in the legislature, it is liberal agenda thwarting the will of the people. If they lose in multiple venues, it's a Prop. 8 call for a ballot initiative.

Oh, and they love to scream that the LBGT people take out-of-state money for political campaigns. This effort on their part is likely to find funding in huge majority from just such carpetbaggers. We won't be hearing them saying they can't take foreigners' cash to hurt homos.

I must confess that I'm older than the average blogger and that I spent much of my childhood in a home and region that inculcated both New Testament ideals, Boy Scout principles, and gentility in children. The Golden Rule was mandatory. Thank you very much.

It is somewhat shocking still to watch the level of hatred and the vitriol of the anti-SSM sorts. Consider too the pretty raw exchanges among trolls on KnowThyNeighbor and SSM supporters on one of my recent posts there. There simply remain some who are determined to harm, hamper and hinder homosexuals.

For the anti side, each of their political victories is a reason to ridicule the pro-equality folk and predict endless losses in this struggle. When it instead is a win for SSM or gay rights, the response is more wait-and-see, you're-going-down. It must be tough particularly now after years of their grabbing anti-SSM amendments to see the surprisingly swift wins for equality numerous states. In fact the future must look alarmingly fair and equal to them. Lackaday.

I am sorry for them. They want marriage to be their private club with new (redefined) rules as religious ritual instead of civil contract. In the mid-term and long-run they are certain to lose that position. They won't go without trying every procedure, trick, lie, and gimmick though. Nothing is too base when they want to control what rights are available to homosexuals.

Meanwhile, check the coverage of the equality folk in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. When they win, it's not rub-in-it time. Instead, it's joy and open arms...for all. Most of us would take that sweetness over the bile of the other side.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Maine People's Veto Maze

Quaintness in Maine is not limited to model lighthouses, the people's veto referendum procedure adds many deep convolutions to lawmaking. The Dark Side could use these wrinkles to push out implementation of same-sex marriage there into next year. If they can, you know they will.

For a humorous view, check the Portland paper's pinko Bill Nemitz. He channels a church lady.

For the steps and timing, the Bangor paper ran the tedious details.

The state constitution covers it thus:
Section 17. Proceedings for people's veto.

1. Petition procedure; petition for people's veto. Upon written petition of electors, the number of which shall not be less than 10% of the total vote for Governor cast in the last gubernatorial election preceding the filing of such petition, and addressed to the Governor and filed in the office of the Secretary of State by the hour of 5:00 p.m., on or before the 90th day after the recess of the Legislature, or if such 90th day is a Saturday, a Sunday, or a legal holiday, by the hour of 5:00 p.m., on the preceding day which is not a Saturday, a Sunday, or a legal holiday, requesting that one or more Acts, bills, resolves or resolutions, or part or parts thereof, passed by the Legislature but not then in effect by reason of the provisions of the preceding section, be referred to the people, such Acts, bills, resolves, or resolutions or part or parts thereof as are specified in such petition shall not take effect until 30 days after the Governor shall have announced by public proclamation that the same have been ratified by a majority of the electors voting thereon at a statewide or general election.

2. Effect of referendum. The effect of any Act, bill, resolve or resolution or part or parts thereof as are specified in such petition shall be suspended upon the filing of such petition. If it is later finally determined, in accordance with any procedure enacted by the Legislature pursuant to the Constitution, that such petition was invalid, such Act, bill, resolve or resolution or part or parts thereof shall then take effect upon the day following such final determination.

3. Referral to electors; proclamation by Governor. As soon as it appears that the effect of any Act, bill, resolve, or resolution or part or parts thereof has been suspended by petition in manner aforesaid, the Governor by public proclamation shall give notice thereof and of the time when such measure is to be voted on by the people, which shall be at the next statewide or general election, whichever comes first, not less than 60 days after such proclamation. If the Governor fails to order such measure to be submitted to the people at the next statewide or general election, the Secretary of State shall, by proclamation, order such measure to be submitted to the people at such an election and such order shall be sufficient to enable the people to vote.

In this case:

  • The outraged anti-gay sorts first need to file an application to challenge the law.
  • The secretary of state has 10 days to write a description of the challenge for the petitions.
  • This keeps the law from taking effect unless it was an emergency law, which it was not.
  • Within 90 days of the end of the legislative session (likely June 17), they need 55,087 valid voter signatures on petitions to reverse the law.
  • The petition drives could start sooner though, before the end of May if the application goes on file now.
  • The challengers have 90 days to gather the signatures (likely the middle of September).
  • The secretary has 30 days to verify the signatures.
  • General election ballots must be printed 45 days before the election, so it is very unlikely that if there are enough signatures that this would go on the November 2009 ballot.
  • If it does not, the law still is on hold until the next election (the next primary [June 2010] is possible, as is the November 2010 general).

Among the possibilities are that the voters, even older church-going ones will be sick of this mess. They might not provide enough signatures, even if squeezed while sitting in the pews. More important, the polls and recent experience suggest that this would lose badly in an election. Only petulance could drive the recall effort.

This happened last year, when the then Christian Civic League (now a humbled arm of Focus on the Family and recast as the Family Policy Council) tried the rally. Over the years, they had repealed lightweight gay-rights wording in anti-discrimination laws a couple of times. They failed last year, not even getting 5,000 of the 15,000 signatures they'd need for a vote.

They have gone to the well many times, several with the support of the reactionary Roman Catholic bishop there. They have pretty well emptied the reservoir of anti-gay money and emotion. There is also a question of whether Focus on the Family would spare cash for advertising and staff when the CCL folk have already proven themselves such losers and drains on resources. Even with the help of the tiny Jeremiah Project folk, they would need out-of-state resources.

Equality Maine has won against the same crew. They claim they're ready this time too. Executive Director Betsy Smith told the Washington Blade that her organization is "fully prepared to run and win that campaign."

She noted the low threshold of signatures and expected a delay on implementation and a vote.

Follow-up: Tip of the toupee to Pam's House Blend for getting and publishing the National Organization for Marriage's promise to support a people's veto in Maine. NOM is using this as yet another fund-raising ploy and there is some question about their sincerity in giving money and other support to the anti folk in Maine. Yet, Maggie Gallagher and her motley crew will at least crow about this.

Friday Follow-up: At the end of Thursday, the application for a people's veto was filed.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Is the Redefining Game Over?

In a double kick in the butt for anti-gay types, today Maine's governor signed same-sex marriage into law and neighboring New Hampshire's lawmakers completed passing their version. Now it's on to their governor for action.

In this small flurry of equity and reason, we should wonder if this foretells the demise of some of the big lies we have heard in recent years. The worst among those is redefining marriage.

In the moving public testimony and legislative debates in both states, the anti-gay and anti-SSM side had little ammunition. On one hand, numerous lawmakers pointed out that they were talking about civil marriage, and the religious rituals were unchanged. Some noted that various religious groups and clerics disagreed about SSM in particular and homosexuality in general. Thus, there was no justification for legislating one religious view over another.

On the other hand, the increasingly desperate anti forces repeatedly fell back on claiming that expanding marriage to include homosexual couples would be redefining marriage. Some were melodramatic, adding that it would be redefining it out of existence.

Of course, on planet Earth, that is so much hooey. The concept of marriage between two adults of different genders existed before Goodridge here and after. Marriage was then open to more. There were more marriages. Kids in those homes were better off and safer for it. SSM in Massachusetts was about as pro-marriage as any change.

The underlying irony of the anti types' comment is how anti-marriage it is. They actually would redefine marriage away from its long-standing meaning as the civil licensing, marriage ceremony and recording process that lends stability and continuity to such unions. Trying to redefine it as a Catholic or Protestant ritual is a huge leap.

I was among the many who thought that the years would wear the edge off the screaming by the drama queens. Well, in places and ways it has. The phrase "the sky hasn't fallen" is common in the news as well as on the lips of comedians. The larger culture realizes, albeit slowly, that SSM doesn't cause problems, doesn't affect existing marriages in the slightest, and is only good for society. That may well be a huge factor in the steadily growing public support for SSM as reported in the polls.

Again, I am impatient. I shouldn't be. I was also pessimistic about the drive for 6 by 12, the New England states all with SSM by 2012. It looks almost certain now, even if there is backpedaling in Maine or New Hampshire and if we have to wait until Rhode Island's reactionary governor leaves office next year.

Meanwhile, nailing the redefining-marriage lie to the wall is long overdue. It was never accurate. In fact, it doesn't really make sense. Expanding something is just that and not a destructive act. This is one chant that we should call out as a lie whenever we hear it.

The morally and intellectually impoverished anti-SSM sorts have those 40 some states with various anti-SSM laws or amendments. They can cling to them, at least for the time being.

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Praise to the Kind and Wise Maine Governor

Bypassing huge opportunities for theatrics and cowardice, Maine's Gov. John Baldacci took his pen to the same-sex marriage bill this afternoon. Within a half hour of receiving the bill (LD 1020), he made it law.

With so many, including the sitting President, cowardly about the fairness and equality and hiding behind, "Duh, well, I always heard in church that marriage was between one man and one woman," Baldacci tore the rag off the bush.

He said:

I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.

This new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs,. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of church and state.

It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine’s civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.

There may still be an effort for a plebiscite by the dirty nasty sore losers. I wish them failure in trying to get over 55,000 Mainers to sign for a vote in November. Short of that, they are bound to see that a majority of their peers wants strong marriages and equal rights.

Afterthought: As so often has happened, this occurred while I was away, pedaling beyond Harvard Square to meet two other aged pinkos for brew and philosophy. It was a good reward for returning.

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