Tuesday, August 31, 2010

LITE Right Williams

The noble, highly useful busybodies at JP Progressives have been flogging their legislative forum series...and with good reason. I had noticed highlights of the 2nd Suffolk Senate District and finally dug into the 19 questions, plus 12 yes-or-no lightning round ones.

The geographically sprawling and diverse district includes the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Chinatown, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Roxbury, and the South End.

There's a PDF doc of the questionnaire and all Senate and House candidates in the series here.

It's no secret I have supported the incumbent Sonia Chang-Díaz and endorsed her from her first go at the office in 2006. She didn't make it that time, but did two years later. Dem challenger Hassan Williams would have to show some real stuff to change my mind. He doesn't have it.

I recently moved from the district. I still endorse Chang-Díaz. In fact, with her impressive accomplishments in her first term, she has already shown that being new at the job has not been a problem. I expect even better from her in future years.

You can compare their campaign approaches on their sites:
There's a strong contrast, some from the most obvious factors. She has a legislative record of bills introduced and some passed. He has never held office. She has a detailed platform. He has small, scattered ideas.

It would be glib to say his only record is one in the criminal justice system. His sites don't detail or stress earlier legal troubles long before he became a lawyer. In stump speeches tough, he says he can identify with youth and adults who come into bad habits and times. While was a leader in getting long-overdue CORI reform passed, she can't claim to have an arrest record.

His take on her legislative accomplishments has been unfortunate. In numerous public and press statements, he calls her work plagiarism and claims she only followed up on what previous Senator Dianne Wilkerson started. Unfortunately for his argument, Chang-Díaz actually got the work done, collaborated with other progressive sorts to get key bills that languished in bill stages and committees for many years. He has nothing comparable to suggest he could have done nearly as well much less better.

Keeping it too simple

To the JP Progressives, there's also two hot buttons for me as well as a similar contrast in the candidates' positions. Generally, he clearly hasn't noodled the issues too thoroughly. Where he does state positions, they tend to be much more literal and simple than would befit their complexity.

For example, on the environment, his three priorities would be:
  1. Wind and clean energy technology reducing demand for oil
  2. Reducing emissions, and
  3. Protecting our trees and air quality by planting as many new trees as possible.
She can be specific with references to stuff in her pot:
  1. I will continue to fight for bills like SB388, which I filed this session, that would help identify communities in Massachusetts that suffer disparate health outcomes due to environmental pollution and require certain projects to complete a health impact assessment before approval. Such a measure is a vital first step in ensuring environmental justice for all our communities.
  2. I will co-sponsor and advocate for the passage of expanded bottle bill legislation.
  3. I will continue to fight for improving the financial solvency, scope, accessibility, and environmental impact of public transportation, through revenue reforms including an increased gas tax.
In addition to these specific priorities, I will continue to
work on broader strategies to improve our environment,
increase economic justice and promote alternative energy
and green business, whether it be through alternative energy,
green building, or combinations of the two.
It was similar with the other big issues, like transportation and education. She had specifics and a vision. He was LITE with concepts or something simple. He wants respect for riders from the MBTA, a prettier Dudley station, and more traffic studies that, he claims, will lead to more on-time rides. She addresses improvements that would equalize service to areas of different income level.

Pushing buttons

A couple of rights questions got my attention as well. On a women's right to reproductive choice and same-sex marriage, Chang-Díaz is unequivocal. She strongly supports both. Williams looks reactionary on choice and avoids SSM.

The questions were:
Many states, including Massachusetts, have enacted or proposed barriers to women seeking to access an abortion—from waiting periods to mandatory ultrasounds. Would you oppose any additional legal barriers to women seeking abortion services in Massachusetts?

Do you support same sex marriage?
She replied to each YES. Note that the SSM one was a lightning round, requiring a yes/no answer.

He equivocated on both. For choice, he replied:
A woman has a right to choose whether or not to become pregnant. A child has a right not to be violated. Any conversation that disregards the right of either one is unconstitutional. It is not enough to respond that one is pro choice or not. The conversations must run deeper, looking at every unique situation. Every measure should be taken to honor the right of both whenever possible.
For SSM, his answer was:
Same sex marriage. I believe same sex marriage is well settled law in Massachusetts, and I will not do anything to change that status.
The first one seems suspect and reactionary to me. As an attorney, he should know that early stages of a fetus are not a child, whose rights might be violated. Equating the woman's rights is asinine. It smacks of a strong bias that he doesn't quite have the guts to proclaim.

Likewise on SSM, suggesting that he wouldn't try to undo it here is not the same as active support for existing rights. Together those answers sure look like a fundy hiding behind weasel words. If those are religious issues he can't get over, he ought to speak out on them.

I suggest reading through both candidates' responses. There's a progressive actually doing the work, ready to dive back in for another couple of years of it at least. Then there's the LITE and right guy who implies he could do better, even though he doesn't have a vision or a program.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

No Quarter in Southie

Odious, irrational and hostile well describe the recent Tea Party rally at Castle Island. Anyone unaware of what the anti-gay/anti-marriage equality types are thinking can get a fill at MassResistance's video recap.

Surely the most ear-worthy vid is of the dissenting judge on the MA Supreme Judicial Court when it ordered Wacko Hurley's crew to let LGBT folk march in Southie's St. Patrick's Day parade in 1995. Now retired Judge Joseph Nolan's sole disagreement with the otherwise unanimous SJC ruling in the case is here. While he admits to being from Dorchester and publicly rued not coming from South Boston, he is a local hero in the latter because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned our high court unanimously on my birthday in 1995.

His speech is worth straining through the steady rain and intermittent jets for how he presents the underlying issues. For 15 years ago, note that his long dissent was virtually all about First Amendment rights (of Hurley's group and certainly not of the gay would-be marchers).

Despite Boston paying for massive police details, EMTs and others support services, that Veterans Council held it was a private affair. They paid for the parade permit and organized the event. Thus, Nolan held, "It is important to note that the Veterans Council does not need a narrow or distinct theme or message in its parade for it to be protected under the First Amendment." He comes at that several different ways, but always arrives at this same point.

Tellingly enough, his dissent and the recent speech are entirely different. We don't know whether Nolan was thinking sin and his personal morality back then. He certainly was on Castle Island.

He was recently very much a stereotypical winger and as rigid as any other Tea Party speaker. Listen to his pronouncements as he says that neither dialog (a term he uses with great derision several times) nor debate on the issues will work for homosexuals or their acceptors. He said (unlike 15 years ago) he was not afraid to use terms like sin, morals, good and evil. As he put it, "Don't dialog with people whose morals are no good and who claim that they have a right to be immoral."

The Lord didn't dialog

He justifies the shout-down approach with his version of Jesus. Nolan said, "The Lord didn't dialog. He asserted. He challenged."

Nolan said as a former judge, he had a long history of debate. However he does not view GLBT issues as debatable. "There is nothing debatable about our morals!" He added that these were as provable as math; "We're dealing with the multiplication tables of moral life."

I for one am pleased that his minor but in the end pivotal figure in the Hurley case came out, if you pardon. It's theoretically possible that in his dissent, Nolan really cared about First Amendment issues and not trying to strike out from a personal religious and moral stance. I doubt that though.

The other speaker vids are pretty predictable. For example, the ever risible Brian Camenker mumbled out his usual drama-queen descriptions. Anything related to diversity or supporting teens struggling with sexual identity issues was an "emotional and intellectual assault on kids," "unbelievable," or "beyond sad and tragic." Ho hum. He's been pulling the same phrases out of his bag of wheezes for decades...to smaller and smaller audiences, as the world moves on.

Nolan best illustrated the Tea Party spirit and expression. His socially regressive positions are absolute. That's what we can expect at least through the 2012 elections. He would have us believe that he is moral, with the corollary that anyone who dissents from this dissenter are both immoral and intellectually wrong.

He says he'll not participate in discussion or deal with differing views or facts. He'll assert and presumably either shout you down or walk away if you are to disagree.

How calming that must be to him to be so binary. How tedious for those even a little more open minded.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Back to Black in 2nd Suffolk?

My racism antennae are twitching again about the 2nd Suffolk Senate race. Two years ago, Sonia Chang-Díaz wrested the seat from indicted, now convicted Dianne Wilkerson. We heard such nastiness in that campaign. It appears to be steaming up again.

Back then when the ever ditzy Wilkerson ended up having to run a sticker campaign after not even bothering to collect enough sigs to get on the ballot, she had no qualms about smearing Chang-Díaz with double race dirt. Not only was the 2nd Suffolk by rights an exclusively African-American seat, she held, Sonia supposedly wasn't even Latina enough to suit the JP side of the district.

As I wrote at the time:
Racial and ethnic factors. Wilkerson has done herself no favors casting this contest as black v. other. She continues to say that the turnout for the black Presidential candidate will be huge and suggests that it will automatically translate into stickers for her. In her mind that seems to work because she and her supporters have increasingly framed this election as being for a dedicated black legislative seat, and that somehow a Latina doesn't qualify as of color. After years of winning a lot of Latino votes by calling for diversity and more legislators of color, Wilkerson is likely to lose quite a few votes on this pivot. The Latino community should not be happy about not being dark enough to suit her.
You bet those were cheap, desperate shots. Yet they weren't enough to cost Chang-Díaz the election. However, we have to wonder how divisive they were, particularly in setting up a sense of victimhood in the predominately black parts of the 2nd.

Dem primary challenger Hassan Williams is not overtly racist on his website. He's been less circumspect in his public appearances. Moreover, the Bay State Banner has run heavy handed quasi-editorial pieces pitching the 2nd as the black seat again.

Banner zing: That article had an amusing aspect graphically as well. It led with a large picture of the Senator in a parade, apparently windblown. She's widely agreed to be very attractive (as in my snap of her below) and the weekly must have had to dig deep to find the most unappealing image it could.

Williams is in the unenviable position of rying to unseat an effective pol who is not corrupt. Moreover, he has to play me-to with her record. She led on successful, long-overdue CORI reform. Her long list of voter-favored legislation in the pipeline makes Williams' proposals seem, to put it kindly, derivative.

The Banner has never been subtle nor even handed. It's advocacy journalism can fill in for the our two big dailies in covering issues and the larger communities otherwise ignored. Yet the weekly's coverage too often journeys into innuendo, rumors and emotion.

For example on this race, in writes in supposedly a straight news story:
But whispers continue to plague Chang-Diaz’ campaign. And Williams is only too glad to raise some of them — and try to tap into Chang-Diaz’ thin support in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods.

The 2nd Suffolk District was redrawn in 1974 by court order as the state’s first and only majority-minority Senate district and stretches from Beacon Hill to Mattapan and includes Chinatown, Back Bay, the Fenway, the South End, Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain.

At the heart of the problem is the perception that the 2nd Suffolk includes two distinct districts, a division that was underscored during the 2008 primary that saw Wilkerson earn the votes of mostly blacks, Latinos and Asians in Roxbury and parts of the South End while Chang-Diaz pulled white progressives from Jamaica Plain and other parts of the South End.

Wilkerson lost to Chang-Diaz by just 228 votes in the primary. She won every precinct with a majority of black, Latino and Asian voters. Chang-Diaz won every precinct in the district with a white majority.

In all, the 2nd Suffolk District is about 45 percent white, 25 percent black, 15 percent Latino and 8 percent Asian. While the majority of district residents of voting age are people of color, whites in the district still have higher voter registration rates. And during the last primary, whites had higher turnout.
So here we are again, reducing representative democracy to race, as well as promulgating rumors. Writer Howard Manly oreads like Wilkerson sounded in the last version of this. Neither seems willing to admit that racially and culturally, the Senator is a fair representative of the sprawling district. That she is not black, as Williams is, is indisputable, but so is the fact that she certainly is of color. Arguably, her Latina/Asian makeup as well as her gender more reasonably keeps the balance the Banner article portrays as upset by her victory in the 2nd.

More important, she's proven a solid legislator who works for and gets what her constituents want and need.

As unreasonable as it would be to expect the advocacy weekly to be even handed, we can hope that Williams doesn't fall back on racism and victimhood.

As it is, he had a hard argument to make — specifically that Chang-Díaz has done important stuff, but he could do even better. Not only does she have the record and he does not, he fell into sophistry. First on CORI reform, he claimed she was only taking credit for Wilkerson's work. There, many including Wilkerson had tried and tried. Chang-Díaz took the lead and actually got it done. Williams' slur is plain silly.

On the same subject, he called the groundbreaking accomplishment only a good start. Degrading this with vague futures insults the many who worked on this with her, as well as showing real ignorance of political process.

So, Williams looks at a wired, progressive, accomplished lawmaker and would have us believe his two years would have been much better. I remain to be convinced and Williams using his skin tone as an additional argument won't help.

Let's hope that he's savvy enough not to make this another race-based contest.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

The No-Choice Lie

"I had no choice," "They forced us," and too many similar variations have become the big lies in public life. Scam artists, politicians, murderers, and church officials each and all try to cloak their iniquities with this deceit.

At its worst, we see this with abusers. Low life sorts who beat a spouse or child claim self-defense, hold that the victim forced them to do it. Oddly, when it comes to pols, institutional spokesfolk and the like, media types don't seem to call them to task or ridicule them for it. That has become the job of the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert shows.

The example in today's paper was with Joe the Tree Guy. MA Gov.-Would-Be Charlie Baker spotlights him as someone forced, forced I say, into bankruptcy by the onerous left-wing business regulations here. It turns out he seems to have run up huge credit-card bills on luxury purchases with money he didn't have. Forced, forced he says, by regulations not his profligacy.

In the same mold, but even more convoluted, has been the Roman Catholic claim that its adoption agencies were forced to stop all services in Britain as well as the U.S. Again, "forced" is a lie, more invidious here than in London.

In the UK, the government ruled flat out that all adoption agencies had to provide services to homosexual couples as well as straight ones. In the U.S., we allow virtually all churches to overtly discriminate in adoption, employment, membership and more. However, our government provides grants to agencies that follow federal non-discrimination guidelines.

In England and the U.S. various Catholic Charities organizations halted all adoptions in lieu of having to be equal. Over there, churchy types were direct about itAccording to the Daily Mail, the Catholic Care charity, run by the Diocese of Leeds, said the right to discriminate against homosexual couples was “a principle of Catholic organization.”

From Boston to San Francisco, archbishops and cardinals waved the big lie again and again. The government forced them to stop arranging adoptions.

Of course, the reality is that even in the UK, these agencies had a choice. They could offer non-discriminatory adoptions. If they decided their need to discriminate and follow the clerical politicians' pronouncements was more important than the kids and parents, that was in fact a choice.

They had a lot more latitude in the U.S. Our governments did not require them to be fair to homosexuals. We just won't pay them to discriminate. They were welcome to go about their bigoted version of adoption, but they wouldn't get the same subsidy that non-discriminating agencies would.

Moreover, adoption is not creed or other aspects of religion. It's a side business for the church and as such regulated like all other non-church activities. On top of that, they actually had the funds on both coasts to continue their adoption agencies. The force here was not the secular government, rather from the higher ranking church pols, apparently including the big guy in the Vatican.

Another of my favorites is the parents rights types claiming their own coercion by pinko governments. The most duplicitous among them surely must be MA's own David Parker. As depicted by his most active shill, MassResistance, his young kids were forcefully indoctrinated into acceptance of homosexuality, he and his wife were forced to abandon their religious teaching of their kids, and he was forced to spend jail time because all he wanted to to speak his piece to school officials.

The reality shows the depravity of the they-forced-me liars. Consider:
  • All parents were informed at open meetings and in letters sent home that kids would get sealed bags of several books as part of a diversity curriculum.
  • The kids brought home the bag for parental review and the adults could choose which if any of the books they would read with their kids.
  • Parker's response was to insist that the school change its curriculum and teaching to suit him, that it inform him before even the concept of homosexual marriage in a state where it is legal be mentioned, by students or teachers that his kids be taken out of class.
  • He staged a sit in at the school after refusing any accommodation by the teachers, principal and superintendent.
  • He also refused for four or so hours to leave the building after the police told him to go home.
  • When finally arrested for trespass at night, he said he was forced into action.
  • When offered bail, he refused, claiming instead, he was forced to spend the night in jail.
Most they-forced-me liars are not as crazy as that or perhaps they simply don't have that much time.

Parker has become a special instance through his hyperbole and lies. He travels domestically and even to the Caribbean to lie for his cause. Anti-gay and anti-marriage-equality organizations frequently repeat his lies of indoctrination and imprisonment. His fictitious yarns of being denied the right to discuss gay marriage from his religion's point of view with his kids are spun again and again.

Honestly, all but the most demented of us believes in free will. Actually it is a cornerstone of this country.

How is it that these serial liars make a choice, they insist they had no choice?

If Catholic Charities in Boston takes the Pope's stand that there'll be no adoptions by gay couples, they know what they may lose in grant money. If they choose to stop all adoptions rather than carry on with good work without the grants, who is forcing them to do that?

It's well past time these drama queens stopped the pretenses, stopped the lies.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Two-Wheeled Pirates

THEY want my stuff. THEY want to hurt me. Keep THEM away.

NIMBYism is most obvious and somewhat understandable with the institutionalized — substance abusers, child abusers, convicted criminals, developmentally disabled. Yet many towns put a finer point on it for others.

I've been watching the inane hoo-ha for the past 15 years around here about (drum ratta tatta...wait for it) bicycle/walking paths. These perceived threats separate the sophisticated, civilized and sensible from emotional dunderheads.

Cross-post note: As political and non-political, this post appears at Harrumph! as well.

It was only after 9/11 and the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency's springing full-blown to dominate our thoughts and feelings that a parallel was obvious. Small towns about the country begged for security funding. To big-city dwellers, that is those at real risk of terrorist actions, such entreaties were absurd. Yet on a granular level, you see the motivation.

If you live in Wee Placidville, Idaho, you likely justify your quiet, hermit-like area with its positives. It seems safe and unchanging and folk around you look and act pretty much like you. You don't have to accommodate diversity in almost any form. City folk may think of you as a hick, while you are sure you live in a paradise.

Why wouldn't the terrorists eager to rip the heart out of America attack your ideal example of U.S. virtues? Of course, you need and deserve HSA funding to protect Wee Placidville!

Two-Wheeled Thugs

Closer to Boston, an all too similar dynamic has played out for decades. Think the 11-mile Minuteman Bikeway from Bedford to Cambridge. Proposed in 1974, furiously debated, and dedicated in 1992, it was a demon child to some...but has proven quite the smiling angel.

The asphalt strip runs where trains used to go. The anti-bikeway folk keened portents of certain doom. Noise would be terrible and well into the night. Litter would dot and blot the meadows and woods. Punks from Boston, Somerville and who knows where else would cycle over to rob and harm the gentle folk of Lexington. Property values would plummet while the bucolic life by the path would be no more. Oh, and the bisected towns would go broke paying for additional police, fire and sanitation related to this blight.

Pretty much the opposite occurred. The path is a gem to all the communities. Citizens walk, bike, picnic and otherwise enjoy it. Houses on its length are more desirable and valuable. Literally no one rides five to eleven miles to commit any crime. (Plus, I try to visualize an inner-city teen cycling out to Lexington, breaking into an alarmed house, grabbing a plasma TV or the like and trying to chug it back to a housing project far away.)

Other Times, Places and Loonies

Regardless, the parochial fantasies did not disappear with the Minuteman's obvious, long-term success. We heard the same craziness in Weston in 1997 and just recently a somewhat muted version in Milton. For the former, consider the Weston Rail Trail Task Force Final Report & Recommendations.

Weston's pathetic NYMBYism held the way as they refused a trail extension there. It got wide coverage, mostly ridicule, as in the 1997 LA Times piece with the lead, "Imagine: A bicycle trail through the state's wealthiest suburb. Do you have any idea what kind of people would be pedaling into town? Ruffians, criminals--mountain bikers!"

The Weston task force glued a veneer of reason on their emotions. They rejected the trail because they were "unable to adequately mitigate several serious impacts, thus making the trail unacceptable." The unproven and certainly unprovable impacts would be an annual $162,000 town-services cost, having to pay tax abatements to abutters whose home values would plunge, and "decreases in 'quality of life.'"

Forward to this year in Milton. The town borders Boston starting at the Neponset river. Although our African American governor has a home there, it is not racially and culturally very diverse. It has the nation's highest per capital Irish-American population (38%) and overall is 85% white, 10% black, and about 2% each Asian and Latino. Its median income is roughly twice that of Boston.

There is a short, flat, benign bike/ped trail along the Neponset on the Boston side. The state Department of Conservation and Recreation wants to expand this popular trail just slightly as the parks and paths alone the river develop. Miltonians want none of that, thank you very much.

A full accounting of the opposition appeared in the Bay State Banner recently. For the proposal that the trail include a bridge so Boston and Milton residents could bike or walk over to each other's tennis courts and such, the lingo was familiar. Despite the clean, quiet, pleasant and safe history of the existing sections, Miltonians at a hearing spoke of lowered property value, litter, and crime. While additional lighting as well as bike and foot traffic in fact create a safer environment that hikes property value, the obvious backed up by statistics can't sway the parochial.

Not surprisingly, the Milton selectmen just voted to oppose any bridge or trail on their side of the river. Prompted apparently by a reactionary enclave in the Capen Street area, the selectmen urged the state to put a big bump in the preferred route. While their letter to the DCR said nothing of race or inner-city criminals, its scheme would coincidentally keep the trail in the black-densest areas of Boston's Hyde Park and Mattapan neighborhoods. Hmm.

Town and neighborhood pride has good aspects. Yet as we see in the highly segmented Boston, too much of such identity has other features. You may well distrust and dislike anyone who is not like you and not from where you are. Such is racism, classism, religious intolerance and the like. Not from here too often translates into not good.

There's a fair chance Milton's NIMBYs will get their way. In coming decades people may forget and wonder why there's this odd circuitous crinkle in the popular path.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

MA AG's Tight, Tight New Media

Electrons are cheap, even with paid web/social media developers. Our attorney general, Martha Coakley, did a so-so job with new media in her run for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, but she's full tilt now that she's settled back into her office.

Amusingly enough though, and likely befitting the chief MA cop, her approach is tight, very tight. Get a sense of that from her official Web Communications Policy - Attorney General's Office (or even just knowing that she has such a doc). You'll find she's all over these technologies and outlets, but in a very controlled way.

Among her online presence, include:
Also, outside of the official policy, she has her own Facebook page. It is really a personalized site for the office, with pointers to the blog and fluff for its actions.

As befitting a law-enforcement official, a lot of this social media stuff is not all that social, certainly not intimate. For example, the Twitter functionality is pretty much her keyboard to your eyes. As her policy puts it, "intended as one-way communication with any who elect to watch or follow" the messages. It automatically accepts and follows followers, but her office "will not respond via Twitter to press inquiries, consumer complaints, or other constituent matters." Wait your turn at the door, phone or email, if you please.

As for the blog, it effectively is a PR arm, with nothing personal or revealing otherwise. As a result, it has virtually no comments, even though it allows them. This is not the form of the medium we bloggers love and revile and occasionally abuse.

Oddly for the newsletter, it is not for consumers. That is the alleged thrust of her office and how she positioned herself in her run for the Senate. Instead, its for cops, municipalities and service providers. It is monthly and they don't seem to care whether you subscribe. It is a Constant Contact object and is in that flack spirit.

The Flickr pages are a dump of her official appearances. Nuff said.

Likewise, the YouTube channel is note Emmy material. It is also a PR function, with some archive utility. Some of her short speeches appear. Some of the more useful flicks are such as a six parter of talking heads delivering a cyber-bullying training lecture series to cops.

You can't really say she makes full use of new media, nor that she respects the ideas of them. Yet, look through government in our state and others and in many ways, she's ahead in variety if not execution. You can find Martha online. She may not reveal any great truths and certainly not esoterica or plain old secrets or opinions though.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Slowly Filling Bucket of SSM Acceptance

We impatient sorts can smile a bit looking at the NYT poll analysis of the continuing acceptance of same-sex marriage. A feature today amalgamates various polls to show a steady rise in support for SSM, from 45% to just over 50% depending how the source.

Three Columbia University political science profs note this tend is sure to continue. They mention that three biggies — California, New York and New Jersey — have shifted from just less than half the public supporting SSM to over half...within the past two years. They add that support climbed "in all states, even in relatively conservative places like Wyoming and Kentucky. Only Utah is till below where national support stood in 1996."

Anti-gay and anti-marriage equality types love to cling to and point at the four-fifths of the states who panic passed DOMA-style laws or amendments. In contrast, the current shift follows the dying of the old guard and the increase of more under-30 voters, who support equality. The professors state this will only continue, tipping more states above 50% SSM support.

Now if we only had an administration in D.C. with the guts to tackle DOMA and DADT. Obama and Congressional Dems still seem too cowardly to deal with these and other inequalities at mid-term elections and looking ahead to 2012.

As the rest of the first world marches happily by the more socially conservative United States, it looks like voters are not all that far behind anymore.

Equality Poddy: Over at Left Ahead, we'll hit this topic as well as other LGBT-related ones when we have the new executive director of MassEquality join us. Kara Suffredini starts just after Labor Day and chats with on at 2:30 PM Eastern the next week. You can catch it live then here or go to Left Ahead later to download or listen.

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Bipeds v. Bucks for MA Gov

Like an old lioness, sleepy but beginning to feel hunger and the drive to hunt, the Boston Globe is finally running real campaign stories a month before the primary. Last week, it acknowledged that three are in real competition for a key race, treasurer. Who knows, maybe after the primary, it will belatedly cover the two contenders for Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin's office.

Today's was a fair analysis of gubernatorial campaign expenditures and fund raising. Brian Mooney's piece turned the figures from the finance office this way and that. He didn't strain his brain toward any conclusions.

To me, he buried a nice lead about two-thirds in with a logorrheic single sentence paragraph:
Patrick’s reelection may hinge on his campaign’s ability to duplicate its sophisticated field operation of 2006, which combined innovative technology and old-fashioned shoe leather to turn out his voters on Election Day.
That's the game afoot. Republicans don't have the boots and brainpans. The Dems are only 30-plus percent of registered voters, but they have the humans to campaign and the field operations top down. Baker and his band of marauders are buying air time, image and PR agencies and such to compensate — moderately successfully so far.

For his part, Patrick has bought into a strategy that might work or not. At the least, it will illustrate the campaign's inventiveness, courage and faith in the voters.

What worked four years ago was a combined grassroots and netroots effort that involved voters of all ages, including the 18 through mid-20s ones who were supposed apathetic, disillusioned or both. I for one as a blogger sort swirled in the Charybdis of the campaign, as Patrick himself and his minions treated new media types as real press and showed their willingness to engage well beyond traditional methods.

Unfortunately for the past three years, Patrick lost touch and dropped pretense of grassroots and netroots activism. They surely wouldn't interpret it that way, but it was pretty plain. For example, after ignoring the folk who helped elect him in 2006, Patrick announced a year ago that he'd show up at a blogger BBQ. Some adviser seemed to think that would make bloggers and podcasters love him passionately again after being ignored for a few years.

However, they aren't unobservant. In July, they began hosting organizing meetings in various high-voting neighborhoods. I went to the one in JP, where Reuben Kantor and Rev. Manikka Bowman spoke. He of course is the well credentialed journeyman campaigner, having run field operations for Patrick and worked on campaigns for the likes of Mike Ross and Ayanna Pressley on Boston City Council. He also used to have the title of manager of grassroots operation for Patrick. Bowman is taking over his field operations for the Patrick campaign.

Kantor is always candid. He told the loyalists assembled that they had blown it in the special election to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate. Specifically, they used the old auto-dialers in phonebanking. The volunteers had no idea whom they'd get, how they'd voted or even their party registration. It didn't pan out for the Dems.

It remains to be seen whether college-age and up young adults can get the YES WE CAN fire. Patrick can unroll a long scroll of accomplishments, much more than any recent governor could match. Yet, times are tough and re-election is a harder sell.

A central idea for the current campaign is a version of grassroots. Organizers don't get secret decoder rings, but they can take as many yellow pads as they want. The thing is to personalize the solicitations and not annoy voters with those cold calls. Each pad toter signs up voters who pledge to smear the ovals for Patrick and Tim Murray in November. The organizers then agree to email or call their voters...as needed and not repeatedly...instead. They are counting on engaged voters again, but with less whiz bang, new media.

That's not as inspirational as the last go-round. It may not have to be. Patrick isn't starting as an unknown without a political résumé.

Four-way debates coming up repeatedly, with the general finalists, including GOP Charles Baker, independent Tim Cahill, and Green-Rainbow Jill Stein, are probably not going to determine the outcome. Instead, organizations, retail politicking and advertising should.

The Globe quotes Baker's campaign manger, Tim O'Brien, as predicting his and Patrick's advertising will respond to each other. Even Cahill wheezes the standard that he'll have enough money to be competitive.

The grassroots/networks strategy was huge for Patrick four years ago. The yellow-card version seems a wise variation. Yellow we can?

Two other races: Truth be told, as the biggest paper in the region, the Globe could and should be driving debates for the down-ticket races. Treasurer and secretary each offer clear choices and potential big improvements. So far, we wonky types know and are excited. Meanwhile, a couple of the candidates tell me that no one seems in any hurry to catalyze or host debates.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The British Badgers Are Coming!

Beyond winger media, the BBC style of guest badgering seems rampant. This very morning, I was surprised to hear WBUR's Deborah Becker play silly adversary with Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral. Eh?

If you watch or listen to the Beeb TV or radio, you get the behavior that subsequently became the norm of FOX and more recently even MSNBC (think Hardball). The ill-bred plug uglies like Bill O'Reilly make their living at nasty irrationality and Chris Matthews is not far behind in exhibiting British-tabloid sensibilities.

The routine is to bring on knowledgeable guests, ideally one at a time, and hassle the devil out of them. This is asking a pointed question and then talking over the attempted answer. When the guest does state facts or positions, contradiction is in order, fast, repeated and at high volume. The talking head should act like the expert revealing hidden truth.

Yet what we should have learned from hearing and watching our parents, teachers and clergy sorts holds. Silencing someone with shouted, iterative gainsaying does not mean you are smarter or right. It means you are loud, repetitive and ill mannered.

I want the ideas and information out there. If the host's aim is to end up feeling smug, that is a huge failure.

While it's not daily or two hours at a stretch, we do our interviews at Left Ahead. For the past three and one half years, we've had someone join our podcast about every other week. We tend to have one guest at a time and explore in depth.

Even with those whose political and personal views are quite different, we aren't in the business of gotcha. Perhaps that makes us wimps in contrast to the current style.

Nah, nah, nah

This morning's example related to the Philip Markoff suicide was not as strident as a FOXNews segment, but close enough. You can catch the six-minute segment here.

Becker started out like a real journalist and quickly went tabloid on Cabral. She clearly came in with her conclusions and was not about to let truth or knowledge interfere.

The sheriff said several times and clearly that:
  • Markoff had been on suicide watch over a year ago and exhibited no behavior to justify it since
  • The sole psychiatrist for the jail, holding over 700 prisoners, had cleared Markoff
  • Guards check on inmates every 30 minutes
  • The jail has numerous mental health professionals in addition to the psychiatrist
  • Suffolk's suicide rate is less than half of most other jails - five in eight years
  • Markoff exhibited zero signs verbally or otherwise that he wanted to do himself in
Becker's increasingly hostile questioning showed her bias. One psychiatrist was not enough. 40% of inmates have "some sort of mental health" issues; I'd say that the general population is higher and criminals may arguably be nearly 100%. Becker somehow linked the hypothetical that Markoff might have been married for a year had his fiance not quit him after his arrest to his needing extra attention, even absent any acting out or statements. Becker clearly liked the concept of and term trigger.

To her credit, Cabral was cool in the face of iterative implications. When Becker seemed not to hear her stats and judgments, returning to Becker's view that Markoff was somehow shortchanged of counseling and monitoring, the sheriff calmly said there might be a misunderstanding or that she (Cabral) was not sure "exactly what you're asking."

So it goes with the badgers. Don't listen, come in with conclusions and stick to them, contradict when possible, talk over answers you don't want, and above all, show that you know better than the expert.

It's tiresome and I wish it would run its course. I don't want my ideas pre-digested.

Cross-post: Come to see what I'm writing, I'll plug this in over at Harrumph! as well.

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Stay-Something for Everyone

Each pro-SSM and the anti forces got a bone yesterday in California. A three-justice panel of the 9th Court of Appeals expedited the hearing on whether a different trio of the 27 justice would allow an appeal. Meanwhile, they continued the stay on the Perry ruling.

Previously, the temporary stay would have expired Thursday, permitting SSM to resume there. See coverage at the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle. The hearing is due the first week of December.

Most analysts will wing it and trill their lips. The panel ruled without comment.

However, the master of legal commentary, NYU Law Prof. Arthur S. Leonard, focused the remaining questions and prospects here. Key factors include:
  • The appeals trio is unknown still and will come out of a computer pick late November or very early December
  • The defendants (pro-Prop 8 interest groups) have about a month from now to file their formal appeal arguments on paper
  • The plaintiffs then have a month from that to respond to that in kind, and the defendants (now appellants) a few more weeks to re-respond should they choose
  • The state, in the form of governor or AG, could appeal or not. If they do, that moots the question of whether the interest groups even have standing to appeal.
I don't know that many of us can take Leonard's wise counsel that "...it probably doesn't pay to speculate at this point."

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Murphy Brings It to His Neighborhood

Gladhanding Billy Bulger, I was my usual overly direct self, asking, "Does this mean you're endorsing Steve?" Without a pause, the former Senate President shouted, "Oh my, yes!"

So it was at the bottom of Fairmount Hill and over the Neponset. Steve Murphy, candidate for MA Treasurer was home and welcomed by political friends as well as supporters. He billed it has both a homecoming (after five days and 800 miles careering around the commonwealth) and his Countdown to Victory tour.
Locale Note: Murphy had the good taste to host at Townsend's. Owner Michael Tallon has a keen sense of great beers that go well with his fine food. I wasn't there to eat, although the plated noshes presented looked sapid enough. I do like the food there. I knew that my favorite ale, Dog Fish Head 60 Minute is normally on tap. Michael was pulling the taps but said he had 90 Minute on and 60 Minute returning next week. However, he did have the splendidly bitter Green Flash IPA. It fortified me for political talk and speeches.
The hip to hip crowd of 150 or so were jolly enough. They all knew Steve it seemed and he grabbed those who had not already grabbed him. He's like Mayor Tom Menino — he loves this stuff.

The keynotes of the evening were in order mercifully brief and deliciously entertaining. They would be Bob Crane and Billy Bulger. The long-term Treasurer and originator of our lottery during his 1964-1991 tenure, Crane was there to imply that the legendary office holder approved of the would-be one. (He appears left of Murphy in the top pic.)

Of course, he was never the showman Bulger remains. In his six minutes, the former Senate President quieted the two open rooms of jolly eaters and drinkers, and joked and sang as though it was a St. Patrick's day event in that other Boston neighborhood.

Crane and Bulger charmed the crowd with tales of never having been to Hyde Park and enjoying the flight from South Boston. Bulger even said he wasn't sure his parachute would open on the way to Townsend's.

More seriously, he spoke of Murphy as the ordinary man in the race. Murphy's campaign site and his stump speeches make mild allusions to the money both Dem rival Steve Grossman and Republican nominee Karyn Polito have. Bulger pounded that theme between jokes. I'll be fascinated to see whether Murphy does the same in the month before the primary.

As Bulger put it, "We should not leave it to the people with the means to get their message across." He urged those assembled to counter ad budgets with hard work and electioneering. He said the office "should not and will not go to the rich."

Mostly though, he was simply on. Unlike former President Bill Clinton's self-loving campaigning for U.S. Rep. Steve Lynch last month, Bulger was really there for Murphy.

He even resurrected a 1952 Dem campaign song with the line, "What's a Republican promise worth." He's lost none of his voice or wit.

Not at the podium, but clearly offering support included one of the remaining young Turks on City Council, District 5's Bob Consalvo. Also, District 3's Maureen Feeney flitted about praising Murphy to all. As Councilor since 1993 and former body president, she still commands attention.

The three I didn't see included two Councilors, the activist John's — Tobin (West Roxbury/JP) on his way out and over to Northeastern, and Connolly (at-large). Surprisingly Hyde Park resident Menino was nowhere to be seen. He lives a mile or so away.

I got to ask Murphy when the candidates will debate. I think this race is crucial. He seems as impatient as I and has been agitating for face-offs. The distinctions among the three candidates are strong and need to be out the for voters' consideration.

The brief speeches by Murphy, Crane and Bulger were the only interruptions in the bonhomie of the evening. People were jolly before, during and after the interruptions. A campaign manger was pressed into service repeatedly though like at a wedding. A supporter would pass her an envelope. She turned to me and noted, "Never go to an event without pockets."

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Upenders on Down Ticket

The undercards, those down-ticket races are a very big deal in MA this year. Auditor is the least exciting of the bunch, but treasurer and secretary are particularly worth following and judging.

I remain an impatient sort. Today's (to me belated) coverage of the treasurer candidates in the Globe was most welcome. Even with its diminished circulation and diluted influence, it remains the biggest paper in the state. At the least other media pay attention and try to compete.

The piece does an entirely adequate job of limning the two Dem and single GOP contenders' positions. In fact, until they have a few debates, that may be enough for you to decide on your primary and general elections choice.

This race could have a lasting effect on the financial and jobs aspects of the commonwealth. I like this contest and have flogged it for quite awhile. A key aspect is that voters can choose from a spectrum of positions, from Karyn Polito, who wants to sit tight and be fiscally conservative, to Steve Murphy, who looks to leverage moderate state dollars for business loans, to Steve Grossman, who is much more progressive and activist.

These are big policy and money differences that require debates and some clarity by voters. Beat the drums.

Likewise, the secretary of the commonwealth is important and offers a real choice for the first time in a decade. The incumbent Bill Galvin seems to be playing rope-a-dope by lying low while independent challenger Jim Henderson tries to bring the fight to him.

Henderson says that the secretary's office doesn't provide citizens with useful information, doesn't use technology or even office locations to make data accessible and needs major upgrading. Galvin has not responded to Left Ahead's requests for a podcast, has not put any positions on his website, and seems to be perking along pretending there's no challenger or issues.

Perhaps he can make a solid case to keep him and his processes. We have yet to hear it and would likewise love some debates.

Meanwhile, we did our part. The podcasts with four of these candidates are at:
These are two crucial offices and functions with real distinctions among the candidates this year. Let the coverage widen and debates begin!

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

CA Wednesday=Ring Day?

The Dark Side has six days to prove to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that they deserve a stay on resumption of same-sex marriage in California while they try to overturn the ruling against Prop 8. Chief Justice Vaughn R. Walker has given them until 5 p.m. Pacific time to complete their best pitch to the appeals level of federal court.

For best coverage, see the San Francisco Chronicle and the 11-page stay order.

The effort will be led by the Alliance Defense Fund, which so lamely lost the trial at the federal level. Its site has no immediate comment. Nor does the pro-Prop 8 umbrella group of anti-gay, anti-SSM sorts, Protect Marriage. The article did run a few-days-old quote, "Douglas Napier, an attorney who defended Prop. 8, said that contrary to (Equality California executive director Geoff) Kors' contention, he is confident his side will win on appeal."

On Kors' site, he states:
Today we are overjoyed, not only for all of the committed couples who are finally able marry as well as for their family and friends, but also because a fundamental constitutional freedom has been restored. This case has definitively proven that extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples causes no harm and is in line with our country’s core values of equality and liberty. Today is a monumental step forward for our entire nation.

There is no doubt that this decision was due, in part, to Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown asking the court to lift the stay. To ensure the State of California maintains its position against this discriminatory measure throughout the appellate process, Equality California will intensify its efforts to elect a pro-equality governor and attorney general.

The stay order states the strictures for winning a stay against resuming SSM. Walker cites for factors the Ninth's justices will consider:
  1. whether proponents have made a strong showing that they are likely to succeed on the merits;
  2. whether proponents will be irreparably injured absent a stay;
  3. whether the stay will substantially injure other interested parties; and
  4. whether the stay is in the public interest.
Given the pro-Prop 8's inability to show any harm from SSM, it doesn't look good for them.

Friday Followup: Leonard Link has a nice expansion on the order. It describes how the pro-Prop 8 groups should have no standing in an appeal if the state (AG, governor or other defendants) choose not to appeal. Moreover, it raises new to me, that a county with strong Prop 8 yes votes wants to sue, kind of after the fact of the trial.

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Luck of Draw on Prop 8 Appeal

The certain appeal of the ruling that Prop 8 is doubly unconstitutional goes into a complex and iffy world of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Just as I was about to try to figure out the twists and turns, AP's Paul Elias provided great background.

Among the key points are:
  • The courts reputation for liberalism is undeserved. The 27 sitting judges range from very conservative to very liberal.
  • A computer will randomly pick the three to hear this appeal (like a box of chocolates?).
  • Only if that panel seems way off base to a majority of the 27 will a larger panel rehear the case to finalize it.
Geographically, the court is the biggest, covering nine western states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands are tucked in too.

Many of us have made much of the detailed ruling in this Perry decision. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker clearly made it hard to overturn with his 80-plus findings of facts, which any appeals court has to assume are true unless forced by changed information to do otherwise. That would leave the appeal based on finding of law. He described those with great specificity and with numerous citations to precedence all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. That doesn't guarantee the appeals panel will agree with the latter.

That written, the three-judge panel's make-up is unknown, as is the result of the appeal. Elias adds, "Legal experts said the case could easily end with a politically conservative panel of the 9th Circuit reinstating the marriage ban and the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to get involved. " He wrote that a conservative panel might well prefer to hold off on enabling our most populous state to allow same-sex marriages right now, as a bit sudden.

Likewise, this appeals court has the power to let SSM resume in California while it hears and decides the case. That seems unlikely and a stay of up to a year in implementing Walker's order may well happen.

I keep seeing the flares of libertarianism in this as well. Walker, while often conservative, has such a bent and Elias writes that the Ninth's Chief Judge Alex Kozinski does as well. The concept of individual freedoms unless there is compelling reason to restrict them arises repeatedly. My view of fairness and civil rights is not quite the same, even if they end up at the identical destination.

After the three-judge appeals panel rules, the Ninth could take another stab at this. All the judges can review the decision and if a majority disagree with its finding, Kozinski could impanel and sit on an 11-judge en banc subset of the whole court. It would rehear and re-decide the appeal. This happens rarely.

I for one will be fascinated to see which three end up on this panel.

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Friday, August 06, 2010

You Can Surf to Murph Now

Allllll right! The third MA treasurer's website is finally and long overdue populated.

I'd bemoaned the unfortunate here and here. Murphy's folk couldn't get it together. I had more or less given up, but checked today to find the real thing.

He has it three-quarters together. A couple of sections are still weak, but it's fully functional. It includes:
  • Slow-loading but attractive opening splash
  • Meet Steve tab with a bio
  • Vision tab as a proxy for a platform/issues/positions
  • News with links to articles and sound or video
  • Events probably for scheduled public appearances
  • Contact tab with donate, volunteer, and spread-the-word (social media sharing) buttons
Splash. This is fine, replete with the recurring latest tweet, and links to Facebook, Twitter and RSS following, as well as the tabs, buttons and links to news articles. Here, he might want to the the odd GET INVOLVED slide in the slide show that hyperlinks to the major tabs above. That slide features three cute female teens.

Meet Steve. This is good but not great. It has gray text and no art. It's content is solid though, giving you reasons to find him competent and fiscally savvy.

Vision. We can hope he's not finished with this one. Most politically interested sorts will expect a platform with specifics here, like at Steve Grossman's version. Murphy has covered a LITE set of statements with no detail or proposals. This needs substance.

News. In fairness, Murphy as not gotten huge press, but this has some good stuff. There are pieces that include praise from some newspapers, as well as one TV and one radio clip. I think he probably has as much blog coverage. I can feign hurt that he didn't include our Left Ahead! podcast, wherein he comported and presented himself well. It's his judgment on what content serve his image best.

Events. This is empty and should not have gone live without a few appearances and such. I know from his FB and tweets that he has content for this. He needs to populate it quickly to show that he is out there working for this office.

Contact. This section is complex and well done. The buttons link properly and present relevant forms and choices. The Spread the Word button pops up a list of social media to share the site; some will have no idea what to do with this, but that's a peril of the moment. The Donate button is slick and simple; they use PayPal too — smart, although there's a mailing address on the page as well. The Volunteer button brings up a simple form with a nice set of choices of various levels of involvement.

Overall, with the exceptions of the underpopulated areas, this is totally adequate.

This election cycle, the down-ticket races are unusually important, particularly for treasurer and secretary of the commonwealth. We have a shot at updating and upgrading so-so offices that affect all of us.

I'm delighted that all three treasurer candidates are decked out now. Bring on the debates!

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Rights, Civil Rights, and Hmm

That Obama fella seems to suffer either from too little courage or not enough social conscience. Check last evening's Rachel Maddow segment on same-sex marriage, in which she compares his convoluted statements against SSM, for civil unions, against bans on SSM to a pretzel. (Most relevant mentions are from 3:25 to 5:23 on the embedded clip or at her site.)

Many of us progressive and other lefty sorts are exasperated...still. We all knew before we voted for him for President that he was some of this and other of that. He was a moderate with some right leanings (reminds me of the Supreme Court). He has streaks of social conservatism. He muddles flashes of fundy religion with his legal training and social activism.

Moreover, he is nominal and intermittently active leader of the Democratic Party. He thus does have obligations to raise money for and help elect and re-elect other Dems as well as himself. While that shouldn't paralyze him and make him stifle any sense of what's the right thing, it seems to confuse him and bring out his worst. That may only be more obvious as the mid-term elections color dialog and action (or lack of it).

This week's ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger too clearly highlights his indecision and questionable commitment to civil rights. There is no justification for his equivocation and jumbled messages of LGBT rights, including SSM.

Let's each and all tell Obama to get his act together here. He needs a steady river of emails, calls and even mail on paper. He should feel welcome to believe him religious teachings disapprove of SSM, but it should in no way affect the civil rights of fellow Americans.

Despite spurious assertions by fundies, wingers and anti-gay sorts, this is a huge civil-rights issue. We need a President with some guts and morality here. Morality is not served by intentionally harming and hindering same-sex couples and their kids, withholding what all of us straights can access freely. Morality comes in ensuring equality...with no equivocation or parsing of terms.

It's damned American too.

Your President needs to hear from you.

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Peering into Perry on Marriage Equality

Wowzers, boys and girls, Perry was Clark Kent's editor and a different one is a pop star, but let us revel in Perry v. Schwarzenegger that found CA's anti-gay/anti-SSM amendment unconstitutional.

Led on the plaintiff's against the effects of Proposition 8 by the American Foundation for Equal Rights and on the institutionalize-discrimination side by the Alliance Defense Fund, this Perry goes beyond entertainment.

Let's take a look into the lengthy decision U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker (left) issued yesterday.

Pagination note: For the decision, numbers in parentheses refer to the document pagination. Those are two short of the PDF file's, as (15) would be on the file's page 17, because of the numbering of the cover and ToC.

What's Next?

My favorite legal commentator, NYU Law Prof. Arthur Leonard, was quick on his overview. For the short term, he predicts, ""(F)from the tone of his opinion it seemed unlikely that he would be inclined to stay his ruling. On the other hand, the defendants could seek a stay from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, where defendant-intervenors promptly announced they would bring the case on appeal."

More important, he was impressed with the detail, specificity and extra-state citations. He thinks Walker set up a solid basis to uphold the ruling on appeal at both levels. As Leonard put it, Walker " indicated several times during the proceedings his concern to compile a detailed record, realizing that the case would be appealed no matter which side won, and by pinning down a wide range of potentially relevant factual findings, he would be providing a strong basis for the winning party to defend his ruling on appeal. Appellate courts rarely reject factual findings that are documented by extensive references to a detailed trial record, and factual findings can be the most significant part of a case involving significant disputes about public policy."

He added that "Walker’s conclusions were not novel. As indicated above, they followed the path now well-worn blazed by several state supreme courts. But they are stated with such clarity and directness that they take on enhanced effectiveness and authority, especially since many the state court decisions were not based on extensive trial records but instead were decided on motions for summary judgment based on affidavits and legal arguments."

For commentary from the Dark side, a roundup of pro-Prop 8 reaction appears at Salon. Their lawyers have their own we-shall-return drama here.

Rip 'em Up

Subtlety is wasted on anti-gay folk, and on bigots of any variety really. Walker ended up coming hard, heavy and plain in his discussion and conclusions, and particularly his findings of fact.

Before pasting some of his ruling, I'll note:
  • The defendants, the pro-Prop 8 crew, were truly incompetent in presentation. They basically had nothing, presented minimal testimony and argument. They came largely with because-I-said-so and it's-common-sense arguments. Those do work sometimes in court or the legislature, particularly were folk fear change. Walker would have none of it.
  • The plaintiffs came with their A+ game, with experts, legal facts and arguments, and actual proof of their positions. The contrast was astounding.
  • The ballot initiative/referendum process was surprisingly minor in the sense of its claimed primacy over legislation and representative democracy.
  • While clearly a CA state issue, this case could well end up in the U.S. Supreme Court because of Walker's basis of conclusion. He found the one-man/one woman amendment violated the federal constitution (specifically the 14th Amendment) in due-process and equal-protection clauses. That, as the expression goes, makes it a federal case. That is, if the Ninth upholds Walker as seems likely, this affects Western states beyond California, setting precedence really for the nation and requiring clarification about whether those dozens of DOMA-style laws and amendments remain legal.
Walker left no doubt that he found no basis or justification in the defendants' arguments. I suspect this is the future, regardless of the eventually outcome of Perry. Sweeping and insubstantial claims that homosexuals are all bad, that government has the power to limit marriage even at the state level, that people (only opposite-sex coupled people) who choose to reproduce deserve different laws, and the like are illogical and passe.

According to the ruling's conclusions (137):
Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
There is the short-term present and the long-term future regardless of any setback for Perry. This socially conservative nation is at the point of transcending even this form of discrimination. Whether Walker's ruling pushes us through the door remains to be seen. Surely if the best the anti-SSM folk have is what they showed in this trial, we have new precedent.

Why Plaintiffs Prevailed

Another long citation from the decision is in order. Walker's finding and order don't mess around:
Plaintiffs have demonstrated by overwhelming evidence that Proposition 8 violates their due process and equal protection rights and that they will continue to suffer these constitutional violations until state officials cease enforcement of Proposition 8. California is able to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as it has already issued 18,000 marriage licenses to same-sex couples and has not suffered any demonstrated harm as a result...; moreover, California officials have chosen not to defend Proposition 8 in these proceedings.
That's the nub. Despite years of argument in courts and legislatures. Despite lawyer-decades and millions of dollars devoted to winger thought and preparation, there's nothing behind the curtain.

If you wonder how that might be, dig into the ruling's analysis of what both sides presented. The Prop 8 people had next to nothing and what they did present was risible.

For one, in contrast to the fully fleshed out plaintiffs' presentation and the phalanx of personal, legal and expert witnesses (4 plaintiffs, 4 lay and 9 expert witnesses [24]), the defendants mumbled and stumbled. They ended up bringing only two witnesses, David Blankenhorn, founder and president of the Institute for American Values, and Kenneth P Miller, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. The former is a total BS artist who seems to make up everything he says and simply wants his assertions to be accepted on their face. The latter admitted to no LGBT expertise and spoke lightly of CA and U.S. politics. He admitted to reading only some background and that provided by the defense team.

Among Walker's comments on the defense presentation are:
  • Proponents elected not to call the majority of their designated witnesses to testify at trial and called not a single official proponent of Proposition 8 to explain the discrepancies between the arguments in favor of Proposition 8 presented to voters and the arguments presented in court. (35-40)
  • The defense pretended that possible video in court scared away their experts, although Walker noted, "...proponents failed to make any effort to call their witnesses after the potential for public broadcast in the case had been eliminated."
  • Blankenhorn, Walker wrote, "failed to provide cogent testimony in support of proponents' factual assertions."
  • He likewise found that Blakenhorn seemed an autodidact (my term) on marriage, family and fatherhood. Walker added that "...nothing in the record other than the 'bald assurance' of Blakenhorn...suggests that (his) investigation into marriage has been conducted to the 'same level of intellectual rigor' characterizing the practice of anthropologists, sociologists or psychologists." (43-44)
  • The Chief Judge seemed unnecessarily kind in calling BS on the only real witness. He wrote, "The court concludes that Blankenhorn’s proposed definition of marriage is “connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit” of Blankenhorn and accordingly rejects it."
  • Walker found no support for Blankenhorn's statements. For one, "Blankenhorn’s conclusion that married biological parents provide a better family form than married non-biological parents is not supported by the evidence on which he relied because the evidence does not, and does not claim to, compare biological to non-biological parents." (45-46)
  • For another, "Blankenhorn gave absolutely no explanation why manifestations of the deinstitutionalization of marriage would be exacerbated (and not, for example, ameliorated) by the presence of marriage for same-sex couples. His opinion lacks reliability, as there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion Blankenhorn proffered. " (48)
Walker went into great detail in findings of fact and his conclusions about the plaintiffs' assertions. He held that the defense arguments failed the lowest-level test of rational basis for the overt discrimination in Prop 8. He saw real damages to homosexual couples and their children with no justification. He found that due process and equal protection were clearly violated.

Moreover, he came heavy on underlying assumptions (that ipse dixit again) of the defense. That includes:
  • CA has no interest in forbidding SSM. "None of the interests put forth by proponents relating to parents and children is advanced by Proposition 8; instead, the evidence shows Proposition 8 disadvantages families and their children." (129)
  • Defendants were not harmed, even in their alleged First Amendment interests. "Proposition 8 does not affect the rights of those opposed to homosexuality or to marriage for couples of the same sex...To the extent proponents argue that one of the rights of those morally opposed to same-sex unions is the right to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, as explained presently those individuals’ moral views are an insufficient basis upon which to enact a legislative classification." (130)
  • That CA's domestic partnership is inherently different and inferior to marriage, thus discriminating by both gender and sexual orientation. (116)
  • He dismissed the spurious (my term) claim that SSM would be an administrative burden on the state. In fact, he found that keeping a domestic-partnership track with opposite-sex marriage was the burden. (131)
  • Walker wrote that "The evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples... The evidence fatally undermines any purported state interest in treating couples differently; thus, these interests do not provide a rational basis supporting Proposition 8. " (130-131)
  • Instead, he concluded most strongly, "The evidence shows that, by every available metric, opposite-sex couples are not better than their same-sex counterparts; instead, as partners, parents and citizens, opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples are equal...what remains of proponents’ case is an inference, amply supported by evidence in the record, that Proposition 8 was premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples. FF 78-80. Whether that belief is based on moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate." (132)

Ready for Change?

Forecasts are that this case will perk along for 18 to 24 months before final resolution. We don't even know yet whether CA same-sex couples will be able to marry again while appeals proceed.

Meanwhile, we should note that one flare of irony here is the parallel of the lameness of the defense arguments and the asthenic no-on-8 campaign. All sides should draw the clear lessons about preparation and not assuming anything. Of course, the defense was not only unprepared, but perhaps it would have been impossible to prepare when there is no underlying evidence or legal argument of substance.

On marriage equality, the BS side has gotten pretty much a free ride on their positions. The key question with this ruling is whether that's over above state levels. Despite facts and experience, the anti-gay/anti-SSM forces have found a sympathetic pubic, legislature and judges in many venues. We Americans are slow to spread freedom and equality around.

The discriminators and bigots who claim not to be are running their course. When they have to justify the harm they would visit on other Americans, the increasingly fail.

As a marriage-equality advocate, I'd like to get this done now.

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