Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, October 23, 2014 8:45 pm

Someone needs to cut the legs from under Lieutenant Dan

As if we have not been subjected to far too much of Teh_Stoopid already with regard to same-sex marriage in North Carolina, now comes Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest to try to make political hay off the issue:

If you’ve been paying attention to the media, you’ve been told numerous times from opponents of North Carolina’s Marriage Amendment that the fight is over, and that they have won. That is not the case. The following is a realistic scenario that could lead to a constitutional showdown between the state and federal systems as to which court, outside the Supreme Court of the United States, has the legal authority to rule on North Carolina’s marriage amendment.

Last week, the Administrative Office of the Courts directed magistrates that they could not refuse to perform a same-sex marriage, no matter what the reason, including their personal moral and religious objections. This directive informed them that failure to comply could result in removal from office and criminal penalties. In response, our state needs but one magistrate to legally challenge the edict sent down from the Administrative Office of the Courts on two grounds.

The first ground is that the memorandum directs him to violate his religious conscience, thereby violating his right to religious freedom preserved by the North Carolina and United States Constitutions. In particular, the North Carolina Constitution provides that “all persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.”

The second ground is to assert that the memo directs him to contravene the North Carolina Constitution by performing a ceremony that is not recognized by law, and is in fact, prohibited by the marriage amendment. You may wonder how that is possible after Judge Cogburn’s ruling purporting to strike down our amendment. That is one of the beauties of federalism. As succinctly stated by North Carolina’s Supreme Court in the case of State v. McDowell: “A state court should exercise and apply its own independent judgment, treating, of course, decisions of the United States Supreme Court as binding and according to decisions of lower federal courts such persuasiveness as these decisions might reasonably command.” North Carolina case law is clear. Decisions of the Fourth Circuit and federal district courts, while persuasive, are not binding on state courts.

Should this case reach the Supreme Court of North Carolina, a vote by our honorable justices exercising their own independent judgment to uphold the amendment overwhelmingly approved by the people would set up the very real possibility that the United States Supreme Court would hear arguments, having a split on the issue between a state court and the Fourth Circuit.

The constitutional showdown is a very real possibility. Supporters of marriage should not lose heart. The voice of the people will be heard.

So much legal FAIL here.

Just for starters, the mere fact that the wording of Amendment One, which banned same-sex marriage in this state, nominally remains a part of the N.C. Constitution does not mean that the prohibition has any legal force. Sodomy remains a felony under North Carolina law, even when it involves married heterosexual couples, but the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas rendered that statute unenforceable. The high court’s refusal to hear appeals of federal appeals courts’ strikedowns of same-sex marriage bans has the same effect on Amendment One, and no amount of clapping by Dan Forest changes that legal fact.

It’s entirely possible that Forest is ignorant of that fact, but the likelier scenario is that he’s playing to the mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging GOP base — to primary McCrory from the right if McCrory goes squishy on the Koch/Pope agenda between now and 2016, or to run in 2020 when McCrory is term-limited out (assuming McCrory wins re-election, which is by no means a lock at this point). The fact that this approach is about as cynical and disingenuous as a politician can get anymore without bringing up voter fraud is just icing on the cake for Forest.

Unsurprisingly, his blog isn’t accepting comments on that post. The good news, my Greensboro friends, is that we have an opportunity to speak directly to Dan Forest on this issue.

He’ll be holding a town hall at 6 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Oak Branch Conference and Events Center, 23 Oak Branch Drive (map). The purpose of the event is to drum up support for a Constitutional Convention — a gathering of the states for the purpose of wholesale rewriting of the U.S. Constitution. That way lies madness — no limit need be placed on any such convention’s agenda, so who knows what insanity might get put up to an instant vote without care or consideration — but it also is highly unlikely that anyone can rally enough votes to make such a convention happen anytime soon. Instead, this town hall offers the sane among the populace the opportunity to get up in Forest’s face, live and in concert, and ask him:

Just how goddamn stupid do you think we are?

 

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Saturday, May 5, 2012 6:40 pm

Fire Robin Saul.

My friend Ed Cone has ragged on the News & Record in recent days because of its (lack of) coverage of Amendment One, the proposed amendment to our state constitution now before North Carolina voters that would deny legal recognition to any union except the marriage of one man and one woman. (If you’re not from around here and want to know more about the proposal, Google is your friend.)

He’s particularly annoyed that it hasn’t taken an editorial position on the issue. I’ve been annoyed, too, but only a little. First, the referendum isn’t ’til Tuesday, so I figured there was still time for the paper to take a stand. (Which stand is irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion, although obviously I have a preference.) Second, I left the N&R more than three years ago, and while I miss the people, I don’t miss the job. So I don’t worry overmuch about its internal politics. Third, the place is so short of resources now that major gaps in its coverage no longer surprise me.

So I wasn’t inclined to get involved in online discussions about the N&R’s coverage. What prompts my involvement now is that apparently, in the past few days, multiple people contacted media blogger Jim Romenesko, who for years covered media for the Poynter Institute for Media Studies before going out on his own several months ago. Could Jim inquire, they asked, why the N&R hasn’t yet run an editorial on Amendment One?

So Jim did.

This is the email I sent to [publisher Robin] Saul and editorial page editor Allen Johnson III:

Good afternoon Robin and Allen,

One of my readers sent this email:

“I would be grateful if you could get publisher Robin Saul on the record regarding whether he has banned editorials on ‘moral issues,’ including but not limited to the upcoming referendum on Amendment One, which would add a ban on all civil unions besides heterosexual marriage to North Carolina’s constitution.”

I’d appreciate a response to this.

Johnson sent this reply:

Jim, thanks for your note.

Here’s an official statement:

The News & Record editorial board could not come to a consensus on the marriage amendment issue. Therefore, we’ve elected not to officially support or oppose it. We’ll leave this highly personal decision to individual voters.

Note that the statement does not address the alleged “moral issues” ban.

* * *

I have a number of problems with the response Romenesko got. To explain why, I’ll provide a short bit of background for non-newspaper folks, starting with an explanation of what a newspaper editorial board is and does.

That board is the people who, at most medium-sized and large papers, determine a paper’s editorial position on an issue. (At smaller papers, it might be just one person — editorial-page editor, executive editor, even the publisher — who does this.) Who’s on the board varies from paper to paper, but at most papers with boards, the board includes everyone who writes editorials for the paper — the unsigned opinion pieces that represent the opinions of the paper as an institution. And it also typically includes the publisher. Some publishers take part in the daily discussion, some just want to know what the rest of the board has decided before anything goes to press, and some fall somewhere in the middle. Each paper and each publisher chooses the arrangement that seems to work best for the institution’s unique circumstances.

Editorial boards, particularly large ones dealing with complex issues, commonly fail to reach a consensus. But if the issue or election is of any import, lack of consensus is just a step in the process, because from the standpoints of journalism, ethics and business, ignoring the issue is not an option. The culture of newspapers says that on big issues, you find out all you can and you render a considered, informed opinion based on the facts and what you see as your public’s best interests because that’s why Jefferson, Madison et al. put freedom of the press into the First Amendment and the First Amendment into the Constitution.

So the board haggles until it reaches consensus, or the majority wins, or in extreme cases the publisher may break a tie or even overrule the majority. All these mechanisms are accepted and considered ethical in the business as mechanisms, even when a publisher overrules his united staff. People might disagree bitterly with the publisher on a particular issue, but everyone knows that he has the right to impose his viewpoint as the official, institutional opinion of the paper. What’s not an option, what’s not OK, what’s never acceptable, is to let a major issue slide by without comment and just hope that nobody notices.

So that’s the editorial board. Now a little bit about the job of publisher. Being a newspaper publisher in a market this size is a pretty sweet gig. Even as your paper in particular and the industry in general circle the drain, you get paid very well, and among the local establishment you’re considered a player, which is a benefit if that sort of thing matters to you. If you make your numbers, then generally you can keep the job as long as you like, and as long as you don’t actually commit fraud, no one whose opinion matters to you is going to care much how you make your numbers, even if it means destroying the paper’s credibility and laying a lot of people off and ruining their lives. Sucks for your employees and your readers, but for you, life, in short, is good.

But once every few years, a candidate or an issue comes along that a newspaper simply has to take a stand on — in its news pages, its editorial pages or both — or else it is committing malpractice and undercutting an intangible but very real part of its already-dwindling financial net worth. And that’s the one time when being the publisher can get sticky. The guy who runs the bank or the insurance company or the factory has his own problems, but at least he doesn’t have to deal with this one.  The newspaper publisher does, and in most of those situations, no matter what he does, he’s going to make a lot of people very angry, and some of those people may be quite wealthy and powerful. Most of the publishers I worked for during a quarter-century in journalism did a more than fair job of this, which is why, in general, I’ve never particularly begrudged the publishers I’ve worked for their pay and perks.

With that background perhaps you can begin to see where Robin Saul has gone wrong.

First, the decision not to publish an editorial on this proposal is cowardly. (As Ed notes in the comments on Romenesko’s piece, the story of a blanket ban on editorials on “moral issues” appears to have been just that: a story, and one intended only for internal consumption at that.) Amendment One is the most important statewide ballot initiative in my 52 years of living in this state; it could have serious and negative everyday implications for my fellow citizens and appears likely if enacted to generate a whole passel of lawsuits. As I just noted, newspaper publishers don’t get a pass on things like that.

But Robin Saul did just the opposite (and I’ll explain in a second why I single him out rather than blaming the paper as an institution). He took a pass. He chickened out. He dismissed as a “highly personal decision” what is in fact the most important public-policy issue to go before my state’s voters in more than half a century.

That’s bad enough. What’s more, by issuing the statement that the paper did, Saul is trying to deceive readers in such blatant fashion that one can’t avoid the inference that he thinks his readers are idiots. Now, here’s why I say this:

First, recall what I said above about editorial boards and their duties. Now note that the News & Record’s editorial board, according to the box on page A10 of Thursday’s print edition, consists of only three people: Robin Saul, editorial page editor Allen Johnson and editorial writer Doug Clark. Nobody else. Allen and Doug have taken individual stands in their respective signed columns. And those stands agreed. Therefore, if the editorial board “failed to reach consensus,” it was because Robin Saul disagreed with Allen and Doug and is overruling them not by making them run a pro-Amendment One editorial, which at least would be consistent with industry ethics, but by making the paper sit this one out.

That’s being a coward.

For Robin not only to obscure his role in this dynamic but also to dismiss Amendment One as a “highly personal decision” suggests that he thinks readers are stupid.

And if he had stopped there, that would have been bad enough. But he didn’t. Instead of taking a stand himself, accepting the responsibility that goes with the pay and perks, he sent Allen Johnson out to lie to Romenesko and the world for him.

That’s being a bully. Indeed, to paraphrase a federal prosecutor in the closing arguments of televangelist Jim Bakker’s fraud trial, it was the kind of thing only a person who is used to exploiting, manipulating and humiliating human being after human being, without ever suffering any consequences, would even have had the guts to try.

I haven’t talked to Allen about this. But he and I worked together for 22 years, disagreeing often but respectfully. Allen is smart, proud, dignified and honest, and I don’t care how bad things are at 200 East Market, he deserves better than this. What could he possibly have done to make Robin choose to humiliate him in this way?

Of course, almost no one will care. Journalists like to pretend otherwise, but the truth is that no one much cares what goes on in a newspaper office as long as the paper arrives on time, dry and accurate, and most days that’s only for the best. But this is not one of those days.

We now have incontrovertible evidence that the man running the News & Record is a liar, a coward, a menace to the human resources he is paid to steward and a man who believes his readers are idiots.

I quit mourning for the News & Record and the journalism business a long time ago; most of their wounds were self-inflicted anyway, and they started long before Robin Saul came to town. But outrage at bullying is an evergreen for me, one that transcends era, job, industry, geography, race, class, gender and all the other things that divide us. Bullying enrages me as much at age 52 as it did at age 12. And almost everything that’s wrong in this country today and that has gone wrong throughout our nation’s history essentially boils down to bullying, whether it’s slavery or driving the Cherokee to Oklahoma or robosigning mortgage documents or, for that matter, arrogating the power of a secular state government to tell gay couples they can’t have the same rights you enjoy, because the Bible says so.

And while Jesus had nothing to say on gay marriage, he was clear on bullying. He said the most important thing you can do is to love God, and that the way that you love God is by loving that part of God that is in every other human being you meet, even — especially — the people who are lower on the totem pole than you. That’s as clear a ban on bullying as you can find everyanywhere. And everything else, he said, depends on that, nothing else you do or refrain from doing matters unless you do that, and he made it that easy to understand because he knew how hard it would be for us to do, how very much against our paranoid, selfish, fearful, clannish, sinful natures it would be for us to obey those two simple laws.

And he was dead serious about it: When he came into the temple and found the banksters of his day ripping off the devout, the Prince of Peace put his sandaled foot up their asses.

I have no idea what religious beliefs, if any, Robin Saul holds. But if he thinks of himself as a Christian, he had better pray that Jesus doesn’t come back tomorrow. Otherwise, the fact that he ought to be fired will be the least of his problems.

Friday, April 13, 2012 5:50 am

Vote Against Amendment One

For those of y’all who aren’t from around here, North Carolina will vote May 8 on a proposed amendment to its constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman, and refuse to recognize any other type of civil arrangement. Not only does this push the state even farther into the marriage business, a place I’ve believed for years it has no business, it also would undo arrangements some localities have here that allow for domestic partnership benefits and would eliminate the possibility of civil unions. (Same-sex marriage already is banned by statute.)

It’s bad business, it’s facially violative of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, and it’s bigots and bullies being mean just because they can. (In a state with double-digit unemployment, this is how our GOP-controlled legislature chose to spend its time.) I was born here, I”ve lived in this state all but 18 months of my 52 years, I’ve been listening to this shit my whole life, and I am sick and tired of it.

A lot of my friends and neighbors took part in this video. It calls North Carolina to be its best self, something with which this state has struggled all my life, and the victory, when it comes, will be all the sweeter for that struggle.

And here, recorded just yesterday, is a cover by Triad musician Jeffrey Dean Foster, whom those of you of a certain age will remember as guitarist/singer for the late, lamented The Right Profile:

http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F42915177&show_artwork=true

UPDATE: I do not entirely agree with the sentiment my friend Fec expresses here, but I know where it comes from and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally feel this way myself:

It is obvious to those of us who value all our brethren that the Christian fundamentalists give us no choice but leave them behind in the pursuit of a more just society. I’m going to keep saying this because it is true: just as they seek to demonize those not like them with hatred and lies, so then must we judge the social retards as evildoers. Life is hard and we have difficult choices to make. The easiest one is to disregard those who go out of their way to unnecessarily make life harder, especially for those who are already suffering the most.

It isn’t just states that struggle to be their best selves. It’s also you and I.

Thursday, February 16, 2012 7:54 pm

Vote for Marriage NC: Liars, liars, pants on fires; or, Botherers, but not god-botherers

As some of you ’round here know, the Greensboro City Council had a discussion on Feb. 7 regarding Amendment One, a referendum item on the ballot here in May that would rewrite the state constitution to outlaw civil and domestic unions other than marriage. Among speakers from the floor was a woman named Rachel Lee, who identified herself as communications director for Vote for Marriage NC, a political action committee that supports the proposed amendment.

Which would be fine, except that Ms. Lee told the City Council something that I and others confirmed to be untrue. She said that “70 percent of citizens here in Greensboro support the marriage protection amendment [sic] as cited by Public Policy Polling.”

The only problem is that there was no such poll. Not by PPP. Not by anyone else, insofar as I could determine through searching both Google and the wide variety of commercial databases available to me by virtue of my status as a graduate student at Carolina.

As Roch Smith reported at his blog the next day:

In fact, the latest poll from Public Policy Polling, released on December 9, 2011January 12, 2012, does not provide specifics for Greensboro. It does break out results for area code 336, which includes Greensboro, Guilford County and fourteen other surrounding counties, an area extending from Asheboro north to the Virgina state line and from Burlington west to the Tennessee state line, hardly a sampling of Greensboro.

Nonetheless, within this expanse, the poll found that 56% 53%of respondents favor some sort of domestic union for gay and lesbian people, either marriage or civil unions.

I wanted to find out why Ms. Lee either maliciously or negligently gave false information to the City Council in an attempt to influence the public policy of my city. So I visited the PAC’s website and, finding no email address for her, used the generic contact-us email address, asking in the subject line that the email be given to Ms. Lee. I wrote as follows:

Ms. Lee:

As a longtime Greensboro resident and taxpayer, I’m curious as to why you apparently stood up last night and attempted to influence our city’s public policy by saying something that you either 1) knew to be false, or 2) recklessly asserted was true without having done your due diligence.
I’m referring to your assertion that Public Policy Polling — a respecting polling operation, and deservedly so in my experience — had polled Greensboro residents on Amendment 1 and that 70% of respondents supported the amendment. As you no doubt know by now if you did not know last night, no such poll has been conducted by PPP nor, as nearly as I can tell from both web and commercial database searches, anyone else.
So I’d like to know: How is it that you came to be standing in front of my City Council and saying something that was utterly untrue in an attempt to get them to reject a resolution that was in opposition to your position?
A prompt response would be appreciated.
Sincerely,
Hooper “Lex” Alexander IV

Needless to say, I have not heard back from her.

I bcc’d a couple of friends, including Roch, who posted the letter on his website. (I hadn’t realized he would do that, but I’d meant to do it myself anyway here and just got interrupted, so no harm, no foul.) As you’ll see if you follow that link, the post drew some comments from someone purporting to be affiliated with V4MNC. I asked him if he’d be kind enough to ask Ms. Lee to respond directly to me, rather than having a flunky respond to me on someone else’s blog.

Ed Cone, to whom I also sent a copy of the letter, actually got hold of Ms. Lee. His account of their conversation is enlightening.

More than a week later I have had no response from Ms. Lee or anyone else at V4MNC, nor, at this point, do I expect one. I can only presume that the PAC employs a professional liar, and a bad one at that.

I’m not sure where and how people like Ms. Lee and V4MNC got the idea that they could arrogate for themselves a right they would use the force of law to deny others without violating the Golden Rule. But such attitudes certainly suggest they haven’t been reading their own sacred texts attentively.

As to the larger issue, my encapsulated thoughts on gay marriage, civil unions and the like are at the bottom of this post. With regard to Amendment 1 in particular, I oppose it because it would outlaw civil unions of any kind, including existing domestic-partnership benefit programs offered to employees of Greensboro and some other N.C. cities.

In closing, I have observed with dismay the growing use among online liberals of the pejorative “god-botherers” to describe religious conservatives like Ms. Lee who believe their personal religious beliefs should be universally imposed by the power of government. I deplore the use of this term as inaccurate. They’re not bothering God — certainly not on the scale that, say, war criminals and investment bankers do. But they’re annoying the hell out of me.

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