Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's in Store for Marriage Equality in 2011, Part 1

As I'm sure everyone noticed, the 2010 elections were a massive disaster for the Democratic Party, and something of a victory for the far-right wing of the Republican Party. With the Republicans in the majority in the House of Representatives, there's very little chance for any movement on even the most incremental advances in gay rights before the 2012 elections. At the state level, however, the picture actually looks surprisingly good for supporters of marriage equality. While the elections went badly in general for the more supportive candidates, there were a few important victories that should make a real difference over the coming year or two.

The map above shows where we stand right now as far as marriage laws go. The dark blue states already have full equality, lighter blues are for civil unions and domestic partnerships. Reds are for same-sex marriage prohibitions. Some states have banned marriage yet allow for lesser options. Let's see if we can get an idea of what the map will look like a year from now.

Probably the most positive news is that Rhode Island is very likely to pass a marriage equality bill this year. Former Governor Donald Carcieri, an opponent of gay rights, has been replaced by the Independent (former Republican) Lincoln Chafee. Chafee called on the state legislature to pass a marriage equality bill in his inaugural address this year, and it seems to be likely to pass. While not a sure predictor of support for gay rights, the Democrats have a 65–10 majority in the House and a 29–8 (and 1 Independent) majority in the Senate, which ought to be a decent sized cushion against the possibility of anti-equality Democrats.

The next likeliest state to move forward on marriage equality is Maryland. Already, the state recognizes out-of-state marriages, as well as providing for domestic partnerships itself. It isn't certain whether the votes exist for full equality, although it seems likely, with a supermajority of Democrats in both houses of the legislature. The two seats the Democrats picked up in the Senate are thought to seal the deal. If the votes aren't there, the Republican Minority Leader has also proposed a civil unions bill (which doesn't have the support of his caucus, and he stepped down as Minority Leader afterwards), so at least one of the two is very likely to pass. Governor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, is a supporter of marriage equality and would sign a bill if it were to pass the legislature.

New York is an interesting and complicated case, as the Republicans have regained control of the state Senate, but at the same time the situation for marriage equality has likely improved somewhat. Back in 2009, the Senate rejected a bill to allow same-sex marriage in New York, by a vote of 38–24. At the time, the Democrats held a small majority of seats, but 8 Democrats joined all Republicans in opposing the bill. After the 2010 elections, the Republicans hold a small majority, but, by my count, supporters have gained two votes. Andrew Cuomo has replaced David Patterson as governor, and while both are strong supporters of marriage equality, Cuomo enjoys high favorability ratings and would be much more effective champion of a bill. New York state politics is weird (and mostly not in a good way), but I think I've got a decent grasp of the situation, and will try to write it up in its own post where I can cover the details a bit better.

On the civil unions front, Hawaii seems in as good a situation legislatively now as it did last year when the legislature passed a civil unions bill. This time around, however, the governor is Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, who has promised to sign such a bill, rather than Laura Lingle, a Republican, who vetoed it last time. As far as I know there aren't any plans to try for full marriage equality.

Even ahead of Hawaii is Illinois. Acting Governor Pat Quinn, who took over after Rod Blagojevich was impeached, narrowly won reelection in November. He will sign a sign a bill providing for civil unions in a ceremony in Chicago on January 31st. Quinn is a supporter of full equality, but a bill to that effect has never made it out of committee. The Democrats have majorities of 64–54 in the House of Representatives and 35–24 in the Senate currently, although it's entirely unclear (to me, at least) where they stand on marriage equality.

That's all I can really think of for good news that's likely to happen this year from state legislatures. Given the Republican gains in the last election, and especially given the gains made by far-right extremists in this country, I think it's impressive that we can still gain ground on this issue this year. Seriously, the Republican Party of 2010 had re-criminalization of sodomy as part of its platform in at least Texas and Montana, and lost all three openly gay state legislators out of the 4,000 it has countrywide, the first time in years it's been down to zero. Yet progress manages to push on despite them. I'll get to where our current gains may be in danger in Part 2, and maybe get a Part 3 where I can discuss what's currently working through the court system, and what we might see this year.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Richard Daley, Sun King Mayor of Chicago

Looks like I've got a streak of posts on urban issues going here. I do have other interests that I intend to get to as well. In any event, this article on the Urbanophile blog was rather fascinating to me:

It's a look at how the power to get things done in Chicago is concentrated in a ‘nexus’ of entrenched interests, and the ramifications that this has for the city. Often referred to as the ‘Chicago Way,’ the city has established itself during the administration Mayor Daley (the son, Richard M. Daley, who has been mayor since 1989, not his father Richard J. Daley, mayor from 1955–1976) as a city that Gets Things Done. On the other hand, its economic growth has been stagnant for years, even as the city's prestige has increased.

Much of the article describes the totality with which the Chicago Way permeates every aspect of doing business of any sort in the city: “I believe the Nexus resulted from the culture of clout combined with the fact that, with the exception of the interregnum between Daley pere and fils, power has been centralized on the 5th floor of city hall for decades. The Nexus may have come into being around the mayor, but now it has become a feature of civic life, one that practically longs for what Greg Hinz has labeled a ‘Big Daddy’ style leader to sustain the system.”

This stands in contrast to many of the problems New York City has had over its history, which often involved a mayor unable to deal with with competing entrenched interests. For many years, for example, Robert Moses built his own empire of sorts through controlling various city and state agencies, accumulating more power than most of the mayors he theoretically served under. (Robert Caro's book The Power Broker is a highly recommended read on all of this.) It would be a fascinating study to see how power is accumulated and used differently in different major cities.

The one quote in the Urbanophile article that struck me was in this comparison: “The ultimate dream of the clout seeker is a centralized unitary state like Louis XIV’s France. In Chicago, we’ve come amazingly close to achieving it. It’s not that there’s no conflict, but it is all of the palace intrigue variety, not true conflicts between rival power centers.” In a way, I think Louis XIV is the right example here. While much is made of the opulence of Versailles and the excesses of the nobility, what gets rather less attention is the fact that Louis XIV managed to set everything up that way to consolidate his own power.

I'm far from an expert on France during the 72 year reign of the Sun King, but it was a similar story of putting himself in the center, and slowly working to keep all conflict between others for his approval. The French nobility were kept in perpetual competition with each other, spending vast sums just to maintain the lifestyle expected of them at the palace. And Versailles itself was designed to literally put Louis at the center, with the nobility arranged outward from him, vying against each other for the attention of the king. Mayor Daley might not have that sort of absolute power, but it does seem the model.

And like modern day Chicago, France in the early 18th Century, has been able to accomplish things that would have been impossible without the ability of its leader to keep everyone in line. On the other hand, France's great rival at the time, Great Britain, where during the long reign of Louis XIV, one king was beheaded and another fled the country, was able to innovate much better, despite a much smaller supply of people and natural resources. So, whoever wins the upcoming election, now that Daley's retiring, has his or her work cut out. I'm ever the optimist about such things.

And, in case you're wondering, I'm not going to say anything right now about our own mayor-for-life situation here in Boston.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Trailer for Upcoming Documentary on Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project

The Pruitt-Igoe was a notorious housing project built in the mid-50s in St. Louis that came to represent everything wrong with mid-20 Century urban renewal, and even everything wrong with the modern architecture of the time. It was demolished by the federal government in the mid-70s (the demolition is featured in the movie Koyaanisqatsi). In any event, this documentary looks really interesting. I'm not sure what the "myth" they're referring to is, though. Probably the tendency among some critics to blame Pruitt-Igoe's problems solely on the architecture of the place, if I had to guess. That part does get overstated a lot.

Trailer – The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: an Urban History from the Pruitt-Igoe Myth on Vimeo.

Amazing Fact of the Day

All those bike lanes they've added all over the place in New York City (and if you aren't familiar, they've popped up everywhere)? Apparently, the total cost has been only $8.8 million, of which the city itself only paid for about $2 million. (via Streetsblog):
“One question about the cost of building bike lanes yielded an answer that will be of particular interest to Streetsblog readers. All of the current DOT’s bike projects combined have cost a total of $8.8 million, including analysis, design, outreach, and construction, Sadik-Khan said. When you factor in the 80 percent federal match, the city has spent less than $2 million from its own coffers on the major expansions to the bike network we’ve seen the last few years."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Our Cities Are The Engines That Will Propel Recovery

Harvard economics professor and author Edward Glaeser had an article in the Boston Globe last week about the economic importance of cities. This has long been a topic that's interested me. Last year, I finally got around to reading Jane Jacobs' Cities and the Wealth of Nations, which makes similar arguments to Glaeser's article. The main thrust of the book is that cities are the places where new ideas are made, and where the sustained economic growth of a nation occurs. It suffers for Jacobs never having been a trained economist, and generally seems overly pessimistic to me. Still, a worthwhile read for the ideas it brings up.

Glaeser brings these ideas to bear on our current situation:
“DURING ECONOMIC downturns, we begin to fear that we are entering a permanent period of decline. But we can avoid that depressing prospect if we recognize that a revival will not come from federal spending or another building boom. Reinvention requires a new wave of innovation and entrepreneurship, which can emerge from our dense metropolitan areas and their skilled residents. America must stop treating its cities as ugly stepchildren, and should instead cherish them as the engines that power our economy.

America’s 12 largest metropolitan areas collectively produced 37 percent of the country’s output in 2008, the last year with available data. Per capita productivity was particularly high in large, skilled areas such as Boston, where output per person was 39 percent higher than the nation’s metropolitan average. New York and San Francisco enjoy similar per capita productivity advantages. Boston also seems to be moving past the current recession, with an unemployment rate well below the national average of 9.8 percent.”
Interestingly, though, these cities where productivity per capita is highest are losing people relative to the Sunbelt area, where per capita productivity is much lower. In a post on the New York Times' Economix blog, Edward Glaeser (who apparently likes to spread his ideas around*) blames this on housing regulations. I'm not sure I'd single it out as the primary cause, but it would be nice to see cities like Boston take a more laissez-faire attitude toward building and zoning regulations. Which was the primary lesson I took from Jane Jacobs' masterwork, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, whereas the "New Urbanist" movement seems to have decided to ignore the process and create regulations to achieve a result that looks the same. But that's a rant for another day.

*Actually, I'm guessing it's because he's got a book, The Triumph of the City, coming out.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Things I Didn't Realize Existed: A Tory Anarchist

Over at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, whose bloggers seem to be all be libertarians of some sort or another, E.D. Kain has a fascinating interview with Daniel McCarthy, who has a blog at The American Conservative magazine's webpage called Tory Anarchist. He tries to explain what this label means in terms of what it's not:
“It’s very contradictory, but they’re two dispositions that aren’t liberalism…

Tory anarchism isn’t really an idea at all, just a intuition, but it’s meant to hint that tradition and authority are different from state power, and being right-wing doesn’t have to mean — and shouldn’t mean — being pious and meddlesome. It’s liberalism that’s damn near synonymous with the worst kind of piety and meddling.
Now, certainly, this is not exactly a philosophy that particularly appeals to me, but the whole discussion is very interesting. There's a bit of discussion of Edmund Burke, often described as the father of conservatism. I've been meaning to get around to reading up on Burke's ideas. I've got a late nineteenth century copy of Letter to a Noble Lord lying around here somewhere. In the interview, Kain and McCarthy mostly discuss Vindication, though, which I am thoroughly unfamiliar with.

They gloss over a number of different political philosophers in the discussion, which does get a good bit beyond my understanding of such things. I can't really even figure out whether they're praising or criticizing Murray Rothbard, who I understand to be an anarcho-capitalist. So I can't quite make out what differences there might be between anarcho-capitalism (which I was into for a bit many years ago) and Tory anarchism.

I'll give Daniel McCarthy the last word here. As much as I doubt Tory anarchism is a great idea, I do like to see ideas presented this honestly and intelligently.
“[T]he way to bring about economic decentralization is through political decentralization; otherwise you’re just going to have some D.C. or Wall Street mastermind’s grand plan for what economic pluralism should look like. Politics and economics are tangential categories, and each can have a destructive influence on the other. I suppose what I would argue for as a big picture is to reduce the influence of concentrated economic and political power and thereby increase the relative sway of cultural, non-utilitarian, and non-coercive institutions. Ultimately, I’m enough of a free marketeer that I think much freer markets are compatible with a much richer culture, but even apart from the way I’d like things to work out, simply getting some variety back into America’s political economy — or political economies — would be a great thing.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year's Resolutions, They Seem To Be The Same Every Year

It seems like it's always the same list. This is the year I'll get a better job. Or at least take some sort of vacation. How hard could it be to get my beautiful Serotta back in rideable condition given a twelve month timeframe? Etc.

Well, actually posting stuff on this here blog thing I've got is one of them. Activity seems to peak in early January, then I get distracted with other stuff. What can I say, I'm lazy. Anyways, I figure I can use the space to resurrect something along the lines of the "Link of the Day" thing I had going on Facebook. And to show off pictures I take.

Taking pictures more is another perpetual New Year's resolution of mine.