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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pyrrhic victory

Memo to Medford and Somerville residents: be careful what you wish for. You think the good news is the Green Line is coming. The bad news is the Green Line is coming.

And for all the people who have complained about how long it has taken to fix Cambridge Street down near Mass. General, have no fear, it will happen soon. Why? Because the Blue Line-Red Line link is coming to tear up the streets once more.

Seriously, the state's decision to settle long-standing lawsuits and upgrade public transportation is significant. Unfortunately, the reality is turning these projects over to the MBTA sends shivers down my spine -- particularly Green Line expansion.

What do you do when a method of transportation is already overpriced and unreliable? Why raise the price and extend it the service so it takes longer to get from Point A to Point B!

The trips down Commonwealth Avenue, Beacon Street and Huntington Avenue are already excruciatingly long. Lots of passengers and lots of traffic lights that don't work in sync means people can walk faster between stops than the trains can move.

Add new fare cards that require a rocket scientist to figure out how to properly insert them into the fareboxes and you have a recipe for chaos. Require outbound fares so that passengers must shove past bulky backpacks down narrow aisles to get to the one available exit door is a guarantee of insurrection (and dropping ridership).

Throw in the inability to buy quality vehicles for the Green and Blue lines and you have a profile of an agency totally incapable of planning (or providing quality service at reasonable prices).

So what do you do in this situation? Give them more responsibility of course.

I suspect the Somerville and Medford extension will be more like the Riverside line (at least I hope so) -- limited stops along a dedicated rail corridor. But given the brilliance of people who brought you outbound fares, I strongly suspect we will see trains that run from Medford out to Riverside and 128. Or worse yet, Boston College.

After all, this is a system that requires you to change trains if you are going from Comm. Ave. to the Cambridgeside Galleria because only the E Line -- which merges into the main line at Copley -- runs to Lechmere now.

So good people of Medford and Somerville -- you got what you wanted. Now be prepared to live with it, like the rest of us.

We failed in fighting the fare increase. But let's get Danny on the Purple Line.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Rocky time ahead

Kevin Convey puts up a brave front in talking about his plans for the Herald, But the financial reality from this double blow makes you wonder how much he is whistling past the grave yard.

I do believe Convey is an improvement over Ken Chandler, a likable chap with a Murdochian view of newspapers that has never worked here (see the circulation numbers). As Adam Reilly notes, Convey is basically a Herald lifer with good leadership skills -- a must with a shrinking and demoralized staff.

This unnamed observer for the Phoenix expertly sums up what he faces:
"The Herald’s basically irrelevant now. People don't give a shit what the Herald says anymore; they don't care whether they're in it any more. They have bursts where they come out with something good — when they try to set the agenda for the week's coverage for a couple days — but they can't sustain it.”
Throw in their refusal to touch Globe stories -- even classic Herald yarns like pols at the trough -- and you are left to wonder whether Convey may have the necessary magic.

And then we get to the triple whammy of the financial hits (let's not forget this rather strange Pat Purcell move). It truly makes you wonder if the ultimate goal is to close the shop, sell the valuable real estate abutting the Expressway and leave Boston a one-newspaper town.

Openness in government

I hate continuing to beat a dead horse (OK, maybe not in this case) but you can certainly learn a lot about someone's character by watching their actions. And with Mitt Romney, the inability to give a straight, honest answer is telling.

Our soon-to-be-former governor, who runs around the country saying he hasn't made a final decision about a presidential campaign, continues to prove that actions speak louder than words. Whether it is hiring a campaign strategist in South Carolina, naming a team of economic advisers, or checking out space for a campaign headquarters the moves are as clear as the two yeares he has spent running around the country using Massachusetts as a foil.

Yet when questioned, Romney lieutenant Jared Young offer this pablum:
"The governor hasn't made any decision yet and has said that he won't until after the holidays and he talks with his family," Young said. "All of this is predicated on what decision he makes."
It's hard to remember when a straight word came out of this man's mouth -- whether it was serious issues like gay rights and choice, his reasons for naming loyalists to pension-earning posts or his happiness over choosing Massachusetts as his home.

The Washington press corps and the pundits who continue to heap praise on this guy from a distance really should get an up close and personal look before falling in love.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A civil decision

Kofi Annan thinks it might be. Matt Lauer says it already is. Who's right? Does it matter?

Two newspapers spend precious front page space this morning to discuss "it" -- whether Iraq is in a "civil war" or whether the country is merely in the middle of "sectarian violence." The New York Times weighed in the day before with a story defining civil war that makes it clear where it stands.

Naturally, the White House, which has tried to define every inch of the political debate for six years (often with astounding success) is on full alert. But deprived of Donald Rumsfeld, the Great Intimidator who would bully Pentagon reporters into accepting his world view, the second string response was not as convincing.
National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley told reporters traveling to Estonia with President Bush: "Obviously, everyone would agree things are not proceeding well enough or fast enough." Washington must find ways to "adapt," he added.
So why does this semantic battle demand so much attention? Let's call it the Uncle Walter Factor.

Lyndon Johnson knew things were over, in a political sense, when the CBS anchorman took a reporting trip to Vietnam and came back with a bleak assessment of US military success. The story goes that Johnson turned to an aide at the time and
said "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."

Lauer is hardly Cronkite, but in today's media world the clout of The Today Show
rivals that of any show (look who's sitting in Cronkite's old chair after all).

More significantly, as the Globe's Bryan Bender notes, other media outlets, from the Los Angeles Times, to the Christian Science Monitor to the McClatchy Newspapers are also showing their independence from the Tony Snow spin show.

It's far from a revolution, but it is a turning point. And it's a sign the nation's media may finally be coming out of the tank in which it has resided for too many uncritical years as Americans fought and died for a cause that has never been clear, except to one man.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Herald death rattle?

The word that Ken Chandler is stepping down as the Boston Herald's editorial director for a "media consultancy" in New York can't be good news for the folks at Wingo Square.

No disrespect to Kevin Convey, who is taking over the reins of the struggling tabloid. In fact, Convey may be somewhat disposed to reverse Chandler's decision to take the paper sharply downscale several years ago. The move was thought necessary at the time to revive sagging circulation numbers. It didn't work.

You couldn't help but notice a little glee in the Globe's website story. After all, the Herald has pumped every sneeze in the Globe's own travails into a case of raging pneumonia. Yet all the while you knew the Herald was covering its own backside.

There's no denying the massive bleeding. Kimberly Atkins departure from the Statehouse, along with layoffs of Beth Teitell, Dana Bisbee and Terry Byrne, is a big loss for just one month. Chandler's departure will shake many of the remaining staffers to the core.

And the Herald's insistence on ignoring stories where the Globe has beaten it can make for some pretty foolish situations -- most recently the sorry failure to even mention the foiled hack attack by Herald alum Eric Fehrnstrom.

Don't take any of this to mean Boston would be better without the Herald. For all its infuriating hypocrisy and the vicious prattle of Howe Carr, the Herald keeps the Globe honest. And no community is better with only one newspaper voice -- no matter how 20th Century that may seem.

Good luck Kevin. You're going to need it.

A more realistic view

The national press corps salivation over Mitt Romney has hit a dry spot -- a promising first step -- but much more skepticism is needed.

The Washington Post profiles our soon-to-be-former governor and decides he leaves office with a "mixed" record. National political reporter David Broder, long the exemplar of what this type of reporting should be, lists Romney's successes as budget balancing, resistance to tax increases, health care reform and taking control of Big Dig management.

The first two are hard to claim. State budgets, as opposed to federal ones, must be balanced by law. There are only two ways to do that: raise taxes and cut spending. Holding the line on spending is a decision that carries consequences and in this state that includes significant reductions in public health and public safety and increases in local aid as the balloon was squeezed and water ran elsewhere.

"Holding the line" on tax increases is also not a solitary task, especially when the Legislature was led by House Speaker Tom Finneran for the first two years of Romney's tenure. And the fact that lawmakers have refused to follow through on what Romney would no doubt tout as his greatest accomplishment -- and income tax rate rollback -- is a sign that others had greater understanding of state budget that Romney.

And Broder completely ignores Romney's recent round of budget cuts -- and the claim they are necessary to balance a budget. This episode will be seen as the ultimate proof of the emptiness of the Romney term, yet no mention at all.

Hoopla over his handling the Big Dig crisis needs to die down after looking at the Romney transportation "record" before the dumping of former GOP state Sen. Matt Amorello. That includes questions about performance of his hand-picked successor John Cogliano and whether the Commonwealth misrepresented its own role in tunnel inspections when filing a bond prospectus.

The final word is also not in on health care reform. Yes, the law includes Romney's call for mandatory purchases by citizens. But the work of state agencies -- particularly Romney's insurance and health care financing officials -- leaves gaping questions about its future.

To date, the people who can afford to pay -- businesses that don't provide coverage -- are being asked to chip in far less proportionally than those who can't afford it, namely the people who need it. Unless that tension is resolved, the admirable effort is doomed to fail.

Broder does look at "Team Reform" and its abysmal failure in 2004. But he fails to delves into the ultimate sham of the Romney 2002 claim to be a moderate, his decision to renounce positions on choice and gay rights. In other words, he was for them before he was against them.

And if Broder had done what he often has said is the most important thing a political reporter should do -- talk to the voters, not the loyal functionaries -- he would have discovered that virtually no one saw Romney's repeated absences as merely Republican Governors Association duties.

Massachusetts was seduced by Mitt Romney, the socially tolerant moderate, then abandoned by the ''pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly"doppleganger hungry to feed his own ambitions.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mission Accomplished

The Bush administration has long proclaimed that "as Iraq stands up, we will stand down." From the looks of a "secret"report, leaked to the New York Times, it is time for us to go.

The report documents how Iraqis are now self-sufficient in coming up with the resources they need. One problem, the Iraqis in question are the insurgents, not the hapless government we continue to prop us despite the best efforts on the part of Iraqi politicians to fall down.

Equally annoying is the fact that the insurgents are doing more for less. They have managed to create this level of chaos, anti-Americanism and sectarian strife for a mere fraction of what the United States spends on enabling corrupt contractors.

But what more should you expect from an administration that can't even recognize a civil war when it sees it?

Happy Holidays from Mitt

OK, so the Herald was paying attention to something while ignoring the great Fehrnstrom Fiasco. It seems that our soon-to-be former governor wasn't quite as generous with Republican candidates for office in Massachusetts as he was in finding pension perches for his cronies.

The Mittser showered Commonwealth PAC largesse on four states -- Michigan, South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire -- while ignoring candidates for federal office from Massachusetts. Now grant you the federal field here was awful, but the goose egg is reflective of Romney's lack of attention to his alleged home base after the great Team Reform fiasco of 2004.

Equally intriguing to the stiff arm is the apparent memory gap between Commonwealth PAC flak Jared Young and the candidates who allegedly received generous personal backing from Team Romney.
A Herald review of contributors to the four Bay State candidates revealed no personal donations from Mitt Romney or his family.
Maybe Mr. Young was brainwashed?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Following the script

The Romney presidential campaign continued to hew closely to the script calling for him to milk his final two months in office -- filing a 10-taxpayer complaint to force the Legislature to vote on the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Leaving aside the delicious irony of asking for judicial activism from the same court which declared gay marriage legal (wonder if Reagan the role model is spinning over that one), the lawsuit is a grandstand of massive proportions as I've noted before in this space.

But there was the Mittser, backed by papal umbrella holder Ray Flynn and civic activist Eric Fehrnstrom, declaring it was wrong for the Legislature to deny people the right to vote and by gosh, the courts should order them to do so.

Those who actually know what's written in the Massachusetts Constitution suggest Romney will get little more than his TV commercial.

Even if lawmakers failed to act that day, it would not violate the constitution, said Renee M. Landers, who teaches constitutional law at Suffolk Law School and predicted that the SJC would side with the Legislature.

"The constitution requires them to consider the petitions that are proposed by initiative, but they don't have to vote to put them on the ballot," she said.

We can only wonder what his legacy would have been had he labored half as hard on any other issue -- such as proper treatment of the mentally ill.

Murdoch mania

There's an interesting amount of pop psychology kicking around on about who is to blame for Fox's stunningly tone deaf (and since abandoned) decision to publish the OJ book along with a two-part interview with the Glove Man.

My gosh, Bill O'Reilly even went so far as to deny the link between his TV circus and the parent network even though Roger Ailes is the (lowest) common denominator.

All of that prattle ignores the Great Enabler, the man who brought the world topless models on Page Three and the News of the World and the "do as I say, not as I do" moral code so best exemplified by O'Reilly: Rupert Murdoch.

The media guru of the moral values voters has sneered at those voters time and again with a downscale philosophy that has long been visible at Fox. For all the raves and laurels heaped at American Idol, let's not forgot the foundation of the show is the Simon Cowell sneer, the putdown of the average Joe or Jane with a dream -- but without the talent to match.

Despite his recent cozying up to Hillary Clinton, Murdoch remains the patron saint of the sneering Theocratic movement that has brought us such upstanding hypocrites as Bill Bennett and Ted Haggard.

So you really don't need to look too deeply to find who "greenlighted" this abomination of an idea, do you Rupe. P.T. Barnum (or Joseph Bessimer) is probably smiling down approvingly.

Friday, November 24, 2006

New look, same old song and dance

I've never been quite happy with the look of my template, so I decided to experiment with the Blogger beta while also adding some new links. I thought an upcoming new political era should offer a less dark background.

Not quite what I had in mind, but the content in the same. As I get more daring working with code, things may change again.

Day Three: Herald held hostage by hack

Still no word in the Little Picture Paper about the plight of its former Statehouse reporter turned Romney hatchet man Eric Fehrnstrom.

OK, there was an AP story on the website, but no staff-written story about the Herald's favorite subject -- pension patriots. Howie did take a few shots at hunters, but nothing about his old pal Eric feeding at the public trough.

In the meantime, Frank Phillips delivered what hopefully will be the last word on the subject -- Fehrnstrom resigning from the board he never sat on. Now's he got to find another way to earn his last two years. Maybe Billy Bulger can lend him some time?

But Eric's got important things to do this day after Turkey Day. Mitt will be grandstanding yet again on gay marriage by asking the SJC to force the question onto the 2008 ballot. One problem -- the legislative session is not over and legally they can still vote on Jan.2. As the Herald notes, that effectively kills the measure. But not legally. There's no case here for the Wanderin' Utahn.

Check back next year -- when you're not governor.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


Went searching through the Herald online this morning, eager to read about the latest outrage of a pol naming a crony to a no-show job to burnish his pension (you know, like Billy Bulger). A careful search through the archives and the columnists failed to turn anything up. No indignant editorial. No snarky Howie column.

Instead, I needed to read the Globe to discover that (former) Gov. Mitt Romney said politics played no role at all in his decision to name Eric Fehrnstrom to the Brookline Housing Authority. And that he was unaware that his hatchetman needed some additional public payroll time to earn his pension.

Pinocchio has nothing on this guy. We're going to need to lock up the silverware on the night before he leaves office. I can't recall a Massachusetts lame duck ever doing quite this much malicious damage (outrageous budget cuts topping the list).

But some special umbrage needs to be directed toward the Little Picture Paper, which Fehrnstrom called home for many years before heading into the Dreaded Private Sector and working for former Treasurer Joe Malone. (Notice there is no housing experience mentioned.)

This is the type of story the Herald feasts on -- often unfairly. I find it hard to believe they consider this one unfair. No, I think this one falls into the category of what's good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. Conservative media bias perhaps.

I eagerly await Howie's next column (and you will never hear me say that again). Maybe he'll focus on former Globie Richard Chacon working for Patrick instead.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Lame-o duck

Be careful what you wish for. That's the only conclusion I can come to after castigating our (former) governor for not paying attention to the state. Because with only weeks remaining in his term he's turned his attention to fulfilling his personal and political agenda.

We can glide by his cronyism in placing a loyal mouthpiece in a public job so he can get his pension. An aide's denial that putting Eric Ferhnstrom into the five-year (low-paying) job on the Brookline Housing Authority would allow his pension to vest is well, lame -- or it could be retribution for the authority suing the Romney administration for failing to provide adequate funds.

Someone needs to make sure Ferhnstrom shows up for the board meeting. And remember about all the time you wrote about pension hacks while you were at The Herald.

In the meantime, one can only marvel at the audacity of this some-time executive unfurling an activist agenda in the final two months of a term noted mainly for his indifference. Cutting tolls (and highway repairs dollars) in the middle of an election will cost additional cash in fending off a lawsuit filed because his hand-picked board met behind closed doors to do the people's business.

His decision to unilaterally issue painful budget cuts without real evidence of the need -- then turn around and accuse his critics of grandstanding is truly audacious. Of course, using the Statehouse grounds for a rally aimed at promoting his presidential campaign platform asvtough on gay marriage is not grandstanding in his mind.

Whatever happened to the rules that the Statehouse cannot be used for partisan political purposes? Why was the gate opened for the first two since 9-11? Who paid for the security details? Perhaps Romney or his soon-to-be Brookline Housing Authority crony spokesman can address those issues.

Romney has been running around the country, positioning himself as the most conservative GOP presidential candidate, much like he tried to run to the middle in Massachusetts before taking a sharp right turn when the political winds seemed favorable. The outrages he has perpetrated as a lame duck in the name of that campaign are, well, outrageous.

Aside from creating a mess for Deval Patrick -- whose election was a true repudiation of the Romney-Healey administration -- to feather his own political nest, what has Mitt Romney accomplished in Massachusetts?

These tactics may work for the right wingnuts who populate the GOP primaries and have a visceral distaste for Massachusetts. But we will not forget -- and will choose to remind national political reporters -- of the duplicity of this fraudulent empty suit who speaks out of at least two sides of his mouth.

Mitt, we celebrate tomorrow in your honor. You are a turkey and we are giving thanks you will soon not darken our door.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Romney Legacy

This speaks for itself: laying off 170 people from the Department of Mental Health and ending admissions to state mental health hospitals.

The callousness of the Romney budget cut ploy -- in a state enjoying fiscal good times -- is stunning, Equally callous are the words of Romney mouthpiece Eric Fehrnstrom:
This is the 'Washington Monument'" strategy on how to respond to a budget cut - you take something highly visible and shut it down so the public will complain and funding will be restored," Fehrnstrom said. "We will work with DMH to put forward a more realistic plan on how they can absorb their reductions."
For a better analysis of the impact of this supposed "ploy", check in here.

The holiday season gift to people with mental illness and their families is indeed monumental. Shame on Romney and his "compassionate conservative" henchmen.

MEMO TO BRIAN MCGRORY: Perhaps you want to change your mind again on the question of whether you are naive or Romney is a fraud. Are you ready to wring an editor's neck because they didn't prevent you from looking like a fool?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Campaign commercial

The Romney '08 campaign staged a one of its first campaign commercials yesterday -- unlocking the Statehouse gates for one of the only times since 9-11 and unfurling a huge American flag to allow the Mittser to play his role as defender of marriage.

With cameras rolling -- gay marriage opponents waving their mass-produced signs and chanting "let the people vote" -- Mitt Romney presented himself as the defender of the faith. He declared he would demand that the Supreme Judicial Court force the Legislature to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

One problem with this perfectly stage-managed rally: it was an exercise in futility.

The Massachusetts Constitution -- the same one Mitt wants to amend -- empowers each branch of government to set its own rules. Romney acknowledged as much when the Constitutional Convention recessed on Nov. 9, declaring, "My options are limited, but we will explore any other alternatives that may exist to protect the constitutional rights of our citizens."

The SJC has traditionally allowed the Legislature to set its own rules -- and nothing requires lawmakers to vote. A majority of lawmakers outsmarted Romney by recessing rather than adjourning -- making it impossible for him to call them back into session.

Let's break this down. Some 170,000 people signed petitions to put the marriage question on the ballot. That's in keeping with the requirement that supporters gather signatures from at least 3 percent of voters. To move before voters in 2008, the measure requires the support of 25 percent of legislators sitting in convention in two successive years.

That's a pretty low bar, which often can be a good thing. But given the intense nature of this debate, focusing on civil rights, a case can be made that it enables a tyranny of the minority.

And let's get pragmatic too: the number of marriage opponents in the Legislature is shrinking with each passing election. Isn't that a sign people are voting on the issue -- and rejecting those who would push this divisive issue to the forefront?

Which bring us back to Romney. Gay marriage will be the defining issue of his four fruitless years in the Corner Office and he is hungering for a victory -- any victory -- that will play well with the Theocons who rule the Republican presidential primary process.

Look at the too-cute words of Romney mouthpiece Eric Fehrnstrom: "The governor has a constitutional role to play in making sure that the Legislature votes on matters that are brought to them by the people. He is using the bully pulpit of his office to get the Legislature to uphold its constitutional obligation."

The Legislature has failed to vote on other matters brought to them by the people. That is the nature of the process. And a non-vote is action -- particularly after the number of hours that have been spent in debate.

The bully is the person who plays with the emotions of people to score political points. And a case can clearly be made that the Legislature is upholding its obligation to defend the constitution's Declaration of Rights.

Romney is spending a lot of time and state resources (who paid for the police details at yesterday's rally?) to promote his own political agenda. This is the same governor who slashed spending on mental health services, HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, nutrition programs for woman, infants and children, immunization and domestic violence prevention programs. He's also reneging on the Commonwealth's collective bargaining agreements.

Is it too late to recall him from office for wasting taxpayer resources for personal gain?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Let the debate begin

Sen. McCain, meet Rep. Rangel. And I assume you know Sens. Biden and Levin. Not to mention that guy Kerry.

The first post-election clash of ideas (as opposed to snarky backbiting) is revolving around should we stay or should we go. And if we stay, do we do it right (and fairly).

McCain is one of the few voices calling for an increased troop commitment to Iraq. He makes some compelling arguments -- or at least something presented more cogently than George Bush's hollow mantra of "fight 'em there or fight 'em here."
"The consequences of failure are so severe that I will exhaust every possibility to try to fix this situation. Because it's not the end when American troops leave. The battleground shifts, and we'll be fighting them again," McCain said. "You read Zarqawi, and you read bin Laden. ... It's not just Iraq that they're interested in. It's the region, and then us."
Rangel, the incoming House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, offers a different and interesting take on the argument -- one that leaves his ultimate intent open for discussion.

In calling for restoration of the draft, Rangel said:
"There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way."
So is he for or against additional troops?

The commitment of additional US forces to what has clearly degenerated into a civil war (semantics aside) is the No. 1 item on America's plate next year. For critics who insisted the Democrats didn't have a plan, here is one certain to get people thinking: do you increase the pain and sacrifice beyond the same military units who have been called upon time after time to bear the burden?

It basically comes down to what McCain is saying. If you want to do this, do it right. And that means shared sacrifice.

But Rangel steps it up a notch by saying that sacrifice should includes the sons and daughters of all Americans -- not just the ones who, for whatever reasons, opt for a life in the military.

Call me naive, but I think that was one of the things John Kerry was trying to get at when he botched his "joke." W., after all, was one of those sons of privilege who avoided service in Vietnam.

At its root, I believe that is the message Rangel is trying to send. Reinstate the draft, opening combat up to those of privilege too -- and watch how quickly Republicans and Democrats find common ground in creating an exit strategy.

But McCain has a point. Without putting something in place to clean up the mess we created, we only delay the day of reckoning. It is way past time for the Iraqis to stand up so we can stand down. It's also way past time for the president and Congress to deal with our "allies" in a manner that makes it clear it is their fight.

How we do that of course is the challenge. And don't look to me for answers. I'm a liberal, not a magician.

Let's move along

Memo to Herald editors: Wishing won't make it so. Perhaps it's time to update the page and concede that Kerry Healey lost?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Tell me something I don't know

In striving the stave off irrelevancy, the Herald prides itself on looking at different stories than the Globe or looking at the "other side." Sometimes, those efforts are worthwhile, tweaking the Globe's tail. Other times, you struggle to avoid laughing at the agenda-driven drivel that is produced.

Compare the Globe's report on the naming of the Deval Patrick transition team and chief of staff with that of the Herald.

The Globe notes the Joan Wallace-Benjamin is an "outsider" who has spent her years leading organizations such as the Urban League and the Home for Little Wanderers but, they pointedly note "no experience in the rough and tumble of Massachusetts politics."

The Globe also makes note of the fact there are no current state legislators or other government officials but a handful of veterans with the requisite experience in knowing how Beacon Hill works.

It is also worth noting the team includes representatives from health care, the arts, education and finance, sectors which form the foundation of the Massachusetts economy.

A pretty straight forward story -- not particularly earth shattering except to give the first glimpse into the thinking of a someone who ran as a person not beholden to the power structure.

That's not the picture you get from the Little Picture Paper, which indignantly announces that the transition team consists of "deep-pocketed campaign contributors who come from diverse backgrounds but share one key fact in common: They gave heavily to Patrick's cause."

Well duh. Did they really expect it to be stocked with Kerry Healey's financial backers (which consisted principally of Sean Healey.)

Further down in the double-bylined story we learn that "notably absent are legislators or others immersed in Beacon Hill politics" and are reassured "it's certainly not uncommon to draw from the pool of people . . . who have supported you."

Feisty journalism is telling readers something they don't know that can or should make a difference in their lives. Sometime the Herald does that. Other times, like this, the produce stories that offer nothing beyond fish wrap.

For the paper to survive it needs far less of these obvious stories that reflect faux populism and more substantive looks into real issues that affect real people.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Toll fight

Wow, "secret plans for a massive toll increase on Boston commuters to pay for the dismantling of Western Turnpike tolls, an increase that the administration had hidden from the public." Is this Tollgate?

The partisan sniping between the Romney administration and Inspector General Greg Sullivan would be quite amusing -- if the stakes were not so significant.

It started with the characterization by Sullivan's office about the ultimate result of the Romney-Healey pre-election pander of tearing down toll booths.

Common sense favors Sullivan because anyone who can count (which leaves out most Republican budget makers) can figure that losing $114 million in tolls (minus some salary costs) is not going to pay for the bloated not-on-time, grotesquely over budget Big Dig.

So it was a bit over the top when Romney Administration and Finance Secretary Tom Trimarco leveled this blast at Sullivan:
"Your letter can only be viewed as an insincere, politically-motivated attempt to protect a bloated and inefficient authority and the patronage jobs that are involved."
Sullivan spokesman Jack McCarthy, he of the "secret plans" quote fires back that Romney continues to:
"hide key details of this plan by failing to release the information we asked them to make public in our letter. That is an embarrassment."
The Globe reports one scenario presented to the board says that eliminating the western tolls would increase the $5 toll on a trip from Logan International Airport to Weston by as much as $1.50. Tolls are scheduled to go up by 25 cents on the Boston extension of the turnpike and by 50 cents in the harbor tunnels in 2008. But Trimarco said there would likely be only a 15-cent increase at the Weston and Allston-Brighton tollbooths.

I guess there is a dime's worth of difference here.

But isn't it interesting Trimarco didn't focus on the larger increases? I guess because fees are not taxes, especially when you levy them on people as you head out the door in the hope of working your magic in Washington.

Mitt you've taken more than your toll on us. Just leave.

UPDATE: Steve Bailey offers a better view of the Romney-Healey toll flim-flam here.

Straight talk from the Mittser

Will Mitt Romney ever just admit the obvious -- that he checked out as governor two years ago after losing legislative seats and is headed straight for the presidential campaign trail?

Romney's too cute by half evasions of his plans are made even more stark by bald-faced political decisions like hiring political ad hatchet man Alex Castellanos. Why would he do that unless he were running?

The Mittser has had a barely passing relationship with the truth -- with the biggest whopper being his stance on choice (''He's been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly").

Slick Willard rolls off the tongue as easily as Slick Willie and there is a marvelous compendium of Willard's say one thing, do another thing modus operandi. He may be trying to wow the Theocon Right, but it's only a matter of time before reality catches up with him.

UPDATE: More straight talk from Mitt here. Does this foretell his openness in government model?

I'm not a member of an organized political party...

Will Rogers famously talked about Democrats and organization. The party is quickly showing he was correct -- and why the jackass, er, donkey is the party symbol.

The internal spat of Hoyer vs. Murtha and some of the under card matchups show the party really prefers circular firing squads. Instead of putting forth a united game plan, the House has degenerated into a spat that raised questions about one candidate's ethics and the other candidate's long-running feud with the Speaker.

But it's also time for the Washington press corps to take a deep breath. With the election now a fading memory to most people, the average American has moved on to who won Dancing with the Stars and how many people will be at the Thanksgiving table. And of course, how are they going to snag that Play Station 3 for junior.

The leadership fights are the ultimate in inside baseball and of little interest for most folks. So my suggestion for the Capitol Hill press corps? Grab an extra turkey leg, check out the football games and chill out.

Actions speak louder than words

A seemingly chastened George Bush talked about bipartisanship the day after the House fell to the Democrats. He did it again when Burns and Allen gave the Senate to the Democrats too.

But as always, it's more important to track the deed, not the words of the Prevaricator-in-Chief. His decision to put forward six previously blocked judicial nominees shows how shallow the promises were. Particularly since the nominations don't stand a chance in the lame duck session, let alone in a newly reconstituted Senate next year.

But if that isn't enough -- how about the speculation that he intends to bypass the process altogether and keep John Bolton at the UN.

This may be a case of don't trust and verify.

Loud message

Gov.-elect Deval Patrick should have ended any questions about his intentions of being beholden to the Bay State power structure with his announcement that patronage will not guide his decisions in filling positions in state government.

Ironically, it's a move that does raise the charge repeated during the campaign that he was a Mike Dukakis clone. But changing times and a serious mandate should help prevent what happened when Dukakis made the same pledge in 1975.

The last Democratic governor suffered the slings and arrows of outrage from the Legislature, which went out of its way to disrespect him. It also led to the emergence of conservative Democrat (and later Republican) Ed King to beat him in a classic primary in which, a King aide memorably said, "we threw all the hate groups into one pot and let it boil."

But it is important to remember that bad fiscal times and Dukakis' breaking of his "lead pipe guarantee" about not raising taxes is eventually what weakened him to the point of losing the race, not his anti-patronage stance.

This is a governor-elect with a strong mandate in a climate where the Legislature is held with suspicion if not outright disdain. And he projects a warmer image than the Duke, something else that will help his public image.

That said, it is also worth noting that Bill Weld made similar noises about "walruses" before shifting direction. But somehow, this one feels different.

Time will tell.

Same as the old boss

Glad to see the Republican Party has learned its lesson and is changing its ways.

Trent Lott's election to a Senate leadership position is proof the party wants to reach out to minorities, just like his hero Strom Thurmond.

Coming on the heels of the naming of Mel Martinez as GOP chair, it shows a consistency of GOP message.

(Tongue now removed from cheek).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cold feet?

Are the Romney Rubber Stamps, aka the Massahusetts Turnpike Authority board, getting cold feet?

You've got to believe something is up when they decide to "move forward" without formally committing themselves to tearing down the toll booths west of 128.

Maybe it was the scintillating logic of Romney mouthpiece Eric Fehrnstrom, who argued eliminating toll collectors is an important step in closing a $16 billion projected gap in financing over the next 20 years. Let's see: eliminate tolls (and revenue) to balance the budget. The sounds Bush-o-nomics and just what this country needs in candidate Mitt Romney.

The nonsensical pre-election stunt of the Romney-Healey team will hopefully receive the death it deserves. Any effort to deal with the cost of transportation infrastructure must be a complete plan -- that includes mass transit as well as highways and involve all residents of the state.

Yes, Mass Pike drivers are getting a raw deal. But the rest of us -- who either use the roads or don't use specific roads -- should also be part of the equation.

This plan should be turnd into road kill.

$50 million to talk?

People say politicians are irresponsible spenders. But $51.1 million for the right to talk to someone who you might pay $40 million? How many people can you feed with that?

I suspect George Steinbrenner is laughing his you-know-what off.

But hey Theo, I don't charge anywhere near as much for a chat.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Eliminate rubber stamps, not tolls

Deval Patrick says he won't be a rubber stamp. The turnpike authority should prove it won't be the same for its lame duck patron.

The flashes were flashing and reporters scrumming as Patrick, Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Robert Travaglini had the photo op they wisely avoided during the campaign. Fox 25 wins the award for lucky by capturing Trav's words.
"Lots of people are rooting against us. They're hoping we'll fumble the ball after the first play."
Not sure they are legislative Republicans though. Probably not enough of them to field a football team.

While the leaders got down to business discussing the unilateral Romney cuts -- with Patrick promising he won't be a rubber stamp for lawmakers, work was also going on elsewhere over a Romney-Healey grandstand election move: the stunt to eliminate tolls on the Pike west of 128.

A report to be issued by the special commission looking at the state's transportation needs pegs basic infrastructure needs at $16 billion over the next 20 years. That's without the billion dollars that would be lost with the toll elimination proposed as a campaign stunt.

It's important to recognize this is a panel looking at funding gaps in a transportation plan proposed by Romney himself.
The report says the state could be as much as $7.3 billion short on funding basic repairs and upkeep on state and local roads and bridges over the next 20 years. The MBTA, the report says, is facing a $4 billion to $8.4 billion shortfall over 20 years. The figures used by the commission do not include any major new road or transit projects.
To close that gap, the T is raising fares on subways, buses and commuter rail, the most recent of a series of what will likely become biannual events that drive commuters to the crumbling highways.

Ever helpful, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom says the state will reap $40 million annually by eliminating toll booths. Of course he didn't mention that only somewhat reduces the $114 million annual revenue loss. And I know I believe him over other experts in saying their will be no environmental impact from more cars on the road.

The turnpike board is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Romney for President, using its independent powers to dump whipping boy Matt Amorello so Mittsy doesn't get hung too badly nationally on the Big Dig fiasco.

I wish I could be reassured by their insistence that they will exercise due diligence in reviewing the report of the Romney commission. But their track as a rubber stamp is already clear with the dumping of Amorello. Turnpike drivers deserve a fair shake. But so do T riders -- and state taxpayers.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Who's the extremist?

Theocons have been quick to assert it's the Republican Party and not the conservative movement that has lost its way. We hear the same blather from soon-to-be really former Gov. Mitt Romney to anti-tax "guru" Grover Norquist and everyone in between. Leaving aside for the moment how they two entities have truly been one and the same for 12 years, let's look at some crucial facts.

We've lived for decades with the notion that liberals are dangerous nutcases, untrustworthy in national defense and economics. Liberals, we are told, would appease our enemies while taking from the rich and giving to the poor (so was Robin Hood a liberal?) They are amoral or worse, immoral, unbelievers and libertines who live by the motto "if it feels good, do it."

Overstated? Perhaps, although diehard Theocons believe in every word -- if not more. And Liberals are embodied in this morality play as Democrats -- the party of amnesty, acid and abortion.

Conservatives in contrast stand for all that is good and right in the world: God, family, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Keeping the government's nose out of our personal lives. Conservatives believe in individual responsibility and moral virtue. Again, perhaps a little overstated but with Republicans holding the mantle of appealing to the moral values voter.

But let's look at who has really taken the "extreme" view over the last generation -- defining extreme is out of step with American values and culture which in turn is defined by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The rise of political preachers -- Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell -- and the increasing role sought by religious-minded activists in local affairs saw the first break in recent times. (I've discussed McCarthyism at greater length in my sign-on and at other junctures here.)

The First Amendment declares "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." So far, so good as parents are free to run for school boards to assure their children are "properly" educated.

But that religious motivation, whether in the hands of "conservatives" or "Republicans" has resulted in a rush to impose one group's defined set of values on others -- something I would argue is an attempt to establish a religion. I applaud anyone's right to live by a set of values, religious or otherwise. But I resist having those values imposed upon me. That is the establishment of a religion and barred by the Constitution.

Then there is the matter of living by those values. We've seen the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart brought back to life recently by Ted Haggard. And of course one of my personal favorites is the author of the Book of Virtues, Bill Bennett and his ability to live a double life as the exemplar of virtue and a high-stakes gambler.

But let's really get down to it (or this post can go on forever). I fail to comprehend how it is "conservative" to stand for individual liberty while asserting the government's right to tell you who you can marry or when you can have babies. How is that more extreme than declaring abortions should be safe, legal and rare?

How is it "conservative" to allow corporations to engage in war profiteering paid for by American taxpayers in the name of defending democracy?

How is it conservative (let along "compassionate") to reverse Robin Hood -- take from the poor and give to the rich in the form of major tax breaks that bankrupt the treasury in a move designed to "starve the beast" and reduce spending on human needs.

Maybe conservative and Republican have been unfairly conflated as terms as some would suggest. But from my vantage point, the extremist tag belongs on the right side of the political spectrum -- where advocates are guilty of eroding the liberties spelled out in our governing documents.

I'd be eager to hear from conservatives and Republicans (who of course will be eager to tell me how I am wrong. Or worse!)

Great expectations

Deval Patrick knows what there are a lot of hopes and dreams riding on his shoulders -- as well a significant number of people hoping he will fail. As he continues to lay out his thoughts, the parameters of this first Democratic administration is 16 years is coming into view.

By responding first and foremost to Kerry Healey's soft on crime mantra, Patrick makes it clear safety begins at home with cops on the beat. The debate about who did what ignored the fact that image counts -- and the perception was the Romney-Healey cuts in local aid forced cutbacks that in turn encompassed less public safety. Patrick is making a symbolic stand -- one likely to win quick support from legislators.

Same applies for his emphasis on early childhood education -- as a way to counter the questions about commitment to education raised by his refusal to say MCAS is the be-all and end-all solution to educational quality.

And let's not ignore the sleeper dropped in the middle of the interview -- his belief the Romney administration may indeed be leaving him with a fiscal mess.
"The problem with the surplus, to the extent there's a problem with the surplus, is it's based mainly on capital gains and not on higher wages or more people working. And it's the latter -- that's the real sign of sustained economic growth."
Notice how this differs from Mitt Romney's grandstanding budget cutting maneuver. In using his executive powers to reinstate $425 million in ideological cuts, the Mittser was trying to shift the subject.
"State revenues are at an all-time high, jobs are being created by the thousands and the stock market is at historic levels," Romney said in a written statement. "... The state is not in a fiscal crisis, but a crisis is looming if the Legislature continues to overspend."
The facts are the Massachusetts economy is finally growing, belatedly after a deeper recession in Massachusetts that was hurt by a failure to aggressively recruit new businesses as Romney had promised. Anemic job growth for much of the Romney years is a clear factor -- as is the fact that people have been voting with their feet by leaving the state for better jobs and lower costs elsewhere.

Romney inadvertently makes the same point as Patrick when he points to the high stock market levels -- and the capital gains tax receipts that usually grow as a result.

There is little disagreement that the economic future is uncertain, (MTF here; MBPC here). But let's leave aside the dismal science and turn to the political one. With that statement Patrick is also drawing a line in the sand. Romney's moves said "don't blame me, I cut spending." Patrick is responding "Not so fast. Spending is only part of the picture."

Throw in the challenge of making the health care law work and, for policy geeks, these promise to be interesting times.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fixing the Blue State Tax

An encouraging sign from new congressional leaders -- talk of tax reform with a twist that helps those who helped to elect them.

The alternative minimum tax was designed to capture those who paid nothing to the IRS. Instead, thanks to 12 years of Republican congressional rule it has snagged an increasing number of couples with children earning $100,000 to $500,000 who pay high state and local taxes.
In simple terms, the AMT is sort of a flat tax with two brackets, 26 and 28 percent, and fewer deductions. Credits for dependents, medical expenses, and state and local taxes are all disallowed. Instead, taxpayers get a single big deduction, called the AMT exemption, which is set this year at $62,550 for married couples and $42,500 for singles. Taxpayers must compute their taxes both ways and pay whichever is higher.
In effect a Blue State tax because of the higher costs for medical care, higher property costs and values and the greater willingness to accept a state and local income tax to pay for services.

And while the $100,000 to $500,000 range seems like it encompasses the rich, those are moderate to good incomes for two-earner couples living along the coasts where the cost of living is also higher. Like Massachusetts.

In today's America, it encompasses at least some of the elusive "middle class." And it will get worse, according the Tax Policy Center
"The AMT will become the de facto tax system for filers in the $200,000 to $500,000 income range, 94 percent of whom will face the tax. About half of tax filers making $75,000 to $100,000 will have to pay the tax, including 89 percent of married couples in that income bracket who have at least two children."
Both Republicans and Democrats have paid lip service to changes, but there's been no action. Why? Because in the words of George Bush, "it's hard." And because fixing it would likely have a greater impact on those who have benefited from the Bush tax cuts.

The longer the AMT has remained in place, the greater the dollars it has taken in. Estimates say it would take $1 trillion over the next decade to get rid of the tax and bring about greater equity. And equity has never been the goal of the GOP congress.

Here's an interesting exchange between Barney Frank and Ann Coulter (now she's a tax expert too?) on the nature of tax policy over the past decade.

That "debate" symbolizes the risks in taking on the issue. Demagogues like Coulter will rail that the Democratic Congress is going to embark upon a tax-raising spree, ignoring the fact that the effort is part of an effort to reduce the AMT burden and bring greater tax fairness to the middle class.

In the simplistic world of television talking heads, the AMT burden is a lot harder to explain in sound bites than the fact that tax brackets will likely need to be adjusted -- and some people will wind up paying more.

Those people are the same ones who have benefited from the GOP cuts that -- along with Iraq war spending -- has looted the federal treasury. But Ann Coulter, Larry Kudlow and the GOP media warriors aren't going to let you know that.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Playing for a different audience

Mitt Romney does not plan to go quietly into that good night, unfortunately.

The Mittser unveiled a November surprise, chopping $425 million from the current budget in a continuation of his game of chicken with the Legislature. Lawmakers overrode vetoes for many of the items, planning to pay for it by tapping the state's rainy day fund.

But because they didn't get their work done on time, Romney was able to block a $450 million transfer to pay for the spending. And now he's used his emergency powers, in effect declaring a fiscal crisis -- even as he admits there isn't one.
State revenues are at an all-time high, jobs are being created by the thousands and the stock market is at historic levels," Romney said. "This is not the time to be dipping into the rainy day fund."
The language is somewhat convoluted, but makes sense at a state fiscal geek level.

As has been his game plan throughout his four years, the money comes in large measure from public health -- a department he has devastated with cuts and by ham-handed conservative ideology-driven policy.

Here's a review by Health Care for All,which notes he is taking money from HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, nutrition programs for woman, infants and children, immunization and domestic violence prevention programs. He's also reneging on the Commonwealth's collective bargaining agreements.

What's up? Romney is certainly looking to burnish his national credentials as a fiscal conservative -- after all didn't he say the Republicans lost this not because the voters liked Democrats better but because Republicans strayed from their true path? (Think Christy Mihos commercial!) And better late than never to the cause.

But I can't help but wonder, given the timing, whether this is some grand machination to taunt lawmakers back into formal session to deal with his action (although he used his unilateral powers to make the cuts). Once back, he can try to spring a trap on them to somehow force an up-or-down vote on the gay marriage ban.

I will admit this is really convoluted and conspiratorial thinking. But not for a politician who is always thinking about himself -- and how to shine his national image -- no matter who gets hurt.

A Farewell to Macacawitz

Blue suits and blue ties were the order of the day when Senate Democrats marked the George Allen's concession in Virginia yesterday. Let's hope that's not the color our mood in two years.

It is no small irony that Jim Webb -- a virtual lifelong Republican turned Democrat over the war in Iraq -- should be the candidate who flips the Senate, and Congress, to a blue hue. And it is rewarding that finally, a decorated military veteran was able to hold his own against the attacks of the Chicken Hawk brigades who brought down the hapless John Kerry and the heroic Max Cleland.

Let's face it -- Sen. Macacawitz was his own worst enemy -- a mouth that operated at light speed without a firm attachment to his brain. It was a campaign first -- self-destructing in full view of a video camera uttering words in direct opposition to his message. Allen only added to his problems by his inept response to learning his mother -- and therefore he -- was Jewish.

But this time, the attack on a person's military service did not work. Webb fought back in a campaign that degenerated into questions about who uttered the n-word and whether Webb's military novels contained pornographic passages.

A Democratic Senate -- one with a razor-thin margin and which still includes Joe Lieberman -- is not a place for seeking revenge. The most significant impact of this switch is the improved potential to prevent a GOP takeover of the Supreme Court by the hard right.

And any Senate where Ted Kennedy is a chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is clearly a better institution.

But Democrats can't become the hypocritical partisan zealots exemplified by outgoing majority leader Bill Frist's spokeswoman, who had the audacity to proclaim (apparently with a straight face):
"Democrats must step forward as partners, not partisans. To do any less is to damage, perhaps irreparably, our ability to act as one government, together, in one of the largest callings of our time."
The next few months will be especially challenging as George Bush continues his two-sided mouth approach to "bipartisanship" -- which to his mind means a lame duck Congress acting on his most divisive proposals like domestic wiretapping and John Bolton as UN ambassador before the Democrats take the gavel.

I think Ronald Reagan said it best: "trust but verify." Democrats are now in charge of the legislative branch in Washington, They should try to reach out and avoid the divisive tactics that has marked the reign of George 43 and his congressional do-nothing zealots.

But they should also recognize that the GOP rhetoric still doesn't match the reality and should be prepared to lead -- to a logical solution in Iraq, to a just and fair distribution of resources and to a climate where fear and smear are not the marching orders of the day.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

T(one) deaf

Mitt's minions are poised to do some serious damage to the state's transportation system in the dying days of this administration.

The MBTA, personified by Republican factotum Dan Grabauskas, has defied the will of the people -- not to mention Gov.-elect Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino -- by jacking up bus, subway and commuter rail fares (but not service).

The second piece of the puzzle to push commuters back into their cars is the pending decision by the new (and not-so-improved) Turnpike Authority to eliminate tolls west of Route 128.

So the game plan is to hike tolls (for budget-balancing purposes) on commuters within Route 495, sending them into their cars for a (partially) free ride. The $114 million likely to be lost by eliminating tolls will be partially offset by firing toll takers. And it will be subsidized by commuters using the rail system. And by the increased take on the gasoline tax because more people will be on the road rather than the rails.

I've said before that Turnpike users are entitled to relief because they have been forced to foot the bill for the Big Dig -- a project they don't really benefit from. Neither do T riders.

The folks who benefit most from the Big Dig -- commuters from the north and south -- have not paid their fair fare throughout this process. The plans hatched by Mitt's minions assure that they will still get as free ride.

Sound logical to you? Didn't think so.

Good move

The Constitutional Convention has recessed to fight (or not) another day, in the process denying Mitt Romney one last chance to grandstand.

By voting to adjourn rather than recess, the Legislature prevents Romney from a grand stand move of calling lawmakers back into session. When they do return, Jan. 2, there will be hours left in the session and a new range of parliamentary tactics open to opponents of placing the question on the ballot.

Not to mention Romney will be heading down the center stairs within those same few hours.

Talk about a mandate

The view from 30,000 feet is impressive.

Deval Patrick won every major Massachusetts city, including Kerry Healey's hometown of Beverly. He won on the Cape in spite of supporting the Cape Wind project. He won Worcester County and the Merrimack Valley -- key areas for the GOP in their 16-year strangehold on the Corner Office. And of course he won the Happy Valley going away.

Numbers like these are a major tool in Patrick's arsenal as he begins the shift from candidate to governor. They are numbers likely to make Sal DiMasi and Robert Travaglini take notice in moments of disagreement. That and the fact Patrick is looking for ways to keep his grassroots coalition alive.

DiMasi undoubtedly has that same thought in the back of his mind as he maneuvers to adjourn the Consitutional Convention. In this particular case, it means there's now some additional steel behind an idea that surely sprang from his own beliefs.

That's not to say the relationship between the executive and the legistive branches will be smooth. It's not supposed to be. Remember the line is the executive proposes and the legislature disposes.

So now it's on to governing -- and some candor from the state's chief executive. That alone will be refreshing.

Do the right thing

Kudos to House Speaker Sal DiMasi for his efforts to kill the gay marriage ban amendment by killing the Constitutional Convention. It's a perfectly legitimate maneuver and has been used before by both Tom Birmingham and Billy Bulger.

Ban supporters took the easier road of an initiative petition, requiring just 25 percent of legislators present and voting, to approve a measure for the ballot. Notes gay rights activist Arline Isaacson:
"In democracy, a majority is supposed to rule. We have a majority on our side; that should suffice. But it doesn't in this circumstance."
The decision to go the petition route was a parliamentary tactic. So is adjourning the ConCon.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Romney Revolution

At long last the book is about to close on the short, nasty and brutish tenure of Gov. Willard Mitt Romney as (Utah's) favorite son strikes out to do to America what he did to Massachusetts.

The Mittser was an upbeat soul the day after the election, declaring Republicans have heard the message voters were sending: "Americans spoke last night and Republicans are listening. Americans have not become less conservative, but they believe some Republicans have. As a party, we need to remember who we are and the principles that have always led our party and our country to success.

Mitt certainly wasn't listening to Massachusetts voters who elected him four years ago as a pro-choice moderate Republican who would bring business skills to the job. Well, if the business man was Dennis Kozlowski, he succeeded -- looting trust instead of cash.

Let's look at his record, the one he intends to present to the nation's conservatives in the hope they will select him as the next president.

The Massachusetts Republican Party -- a fairly weak entity to begin with -- has been destroyed. There are 31,000 fewer registered Republicans than four years ago. The GOP's legislative delegation -- a robust 24 members out of 200 -- can fit in a large phone booth. The party's leading candidate in 2010 is a three-time loser.

After the failed effort of "Team Reform" to make over the Legislature two year ago, Romney bailed out on the voters who elected him in 2002, focusing on avenging his father's humiliation and winning the presidency (where have I heard that before?)

To do that, he assumed the "leadership" of the Republican Governors Association, charged with adding more state capitals to the red column in 2006. Not so much.

But Mittsy didn't leave Massachusetts totally. He did refer to us on the campaign trail, dropped in occasionally for photo ops like the Big Dig collapse and engineered the free pass for his loyal second banana, Kerry Healey.

Oh yeah, and short circuited the political ambition of the ONLY potential star in the state GOP firmament (sorry to forget you earlier Charlie).

So the Mittser is preparing to take a walk down the center staircase of the Statehouse, ready to devote his efforts to lead our nation they way he led Massachusetts. Be afraid, be very afraid.

And Mitt, don't let the tomatoes hit you on the way out.

Who do you trust?

George Bush says he's back to the "uniter" mode offering an olive branch to Democrats and insisting he can work in a bipartisan fashion. This of course is the same George Bush who last week suggested that Democrats who rejected his Iraq "strategy" were traitors.

The "new" Bush was on display at a press conference where he announced the long, long, long overdue sacking of Donald Rumsfeld. And true to form, Bush lied. The only thing unusual is that he admitted it.

While saying he had been thinking about the decision to replace Rumsfeld with former CIA chief Robert Gates last week, the Prevaricator-in-Chief also acknowledged last week that he told reporters Rumsfeld was staying.

But now, the Decider, said, "Win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee."

It would be nice to think there could really be bipartisan cooperation that would end the revolting nastiness that has dominated Washington since the GOP took over the House in 1994 (and actually during the first two years of the Clinton presidency.) The track record of the Bush-Rove team suggests otherwise.

Whether it was shading the truth about a controversial personnel move or playing strategic games by insisting he was seeing different polls than reporters (not to mention "minor" details like weapons of mass destruction), the Bush-Rove team plays fast and loose with the truth.

Seeing is believing on bipartisanship. And all the evidence I've seen to date says it's not going to happen.

President Bush, meet Speaker Pelosi

All the scare tactics, all the fear-mongering and all the lies have resulted in exactly what George Bush had tried to avoid: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Be careful who you demonize.

Democratic control of the House
(and amazingly still a chance to control the Senate) is the first step putting this country back on the right path, And that surely means avoiding what Bush and his gang has done so well -- marginalize the opposition.

The first Democratic priority in the House is accountability: oversight of the misdeeds and possible illegalities of the Bush administration. That does not mean impeachment. It does means tough oversight hearings where people like Don Rumsfeld, Condi Rice and other functionaries are hauled into sworn sessions to explain why they pursued a war under false pretenses, condoned torture and abuse and squandered America's good name.

Democratic control also means fair play for the rest of us: requiring big pharma to receive a fair price for its products (not sweetheart deals) and that average Americans can enjoy a good lifestyle and a livable wage while those with the cash pay their fair share.

Democratic control obviously means good things for Massachusetts: Financial Service Committee Chair Barney Frank for one. A return of clout to a 10-member Democratic delegation that has sufficient seniority to end the neglect fostered by a Republican Congress and a string of Republican governors.

It will be interesting to see detailed exit polling -- who voted Democratic and why. And it will be interesting to hear how George Bush (aided by his Turd Blossom) try to spin this. Personally, I'm skeptical of any promise of bipartisanship. Those are among the emptiest of promises W. has made over the years.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Now comes the hard part

It was inspiring. It was emotional. In many, many ways it was unbelievable. Is this the same Massachusetts that has borne the scars of intolerance? Is this the same Massachusetts mocked by its soon-to-be-officially former governor.

Deval Patrick's words tonight were uplifting and send a signal he indeed plans to be different. And it's no mistake that he uttered words guaranteed to get the attention of legislative leaders -- mandate.

A victory margin on the range of 20 percent. Pulling more than 50 percent in a four-way race. Grabbing independent voters for the Democrats for the first time in 16 years. Patrick has changed the political face of Massachusetts.

House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Robert Travaglini (if he sticks around) are not fools. They read election results as well as any. They will give Patrick a wide berth -- but they will look for signs of weakness.

Patrick will not be a tool of liberal Democrats -- even if the lineup for jobs on Beacon Hill includes a lot of familiar faces. But this relationship is bound to be friendlier than the one that has existed for the 16 years. The Legislature will no longer be the prop, the whipping boy for Republican politicians looking for a base from which to launch their broader ambitions.

Deval Patrick has made history in Massachusetts. But winning was easy compared to the task of making the broken political dynamic that has seen us lose residents, jobs and pride.

Whither the Massachusetts GOP?

Kerry Healey showed more class and dignity in her concession speech than in the previous seven weeks of the campaign. Given the sorry state of the Massachusetts Republican Party, she may have succeeded in scraping a little of the burnt edge off the toast of her political career.

To be clear: Healey is a figure in the future of the Massachusetts GOP because there is no one else. She is a three-time loser -- two state rep races and one of the most poorly run statewide campaigns in Massachusetts history.

But because Republicans have ignored grassroots building for more than 20 years, preferring to pick off the top of the ticket -- who do the GOP have in reserve? Reed Hillman?

The highest ranking Republican in Massachusetts come January is likely to be a county sheriff. The fault for this pathetic state of affairs rests with party leaders who put all their eggs in the constitutional office basket. It particularly rests with elected officials who used the governor's office as a stepping stone. You know the names: Weld, Cellucci. Romney.

In a very real sense, Massachusetts voters divorced the Republican Party tonight. The grounds: irreconcilable differences caused by being seduced and abandoned.

UPDATE: Kudos to Brian Mooney for a much-better reported view. The GOP operatives he spoke see the hand writing but can't read it. The task at hand is not sharpening messages or acting as the outsider. It's building a party from the ground up.

And hopefully one that is not beholden to religious zealots or ambitious businessmen. That model came under serious attack, finally. Unfortunately, it took the loss of some good people like Lincoln Chafee to make the point.

Early returns

The ease with which Deval Patrick has captured the Corner Office will make this a night to look elsewhere. And right now, the murmurings and undertones coming from the exit polling is encouraging.

Reports in the Times and Post analyzing exit polling data suggest a long night for Republicans. Polls that mention Iraq and corruption clearly work against the GOP. The economy and terrorism obviously would appear to work for them -- but you have to wonder whether Republican insistence in the rising tide lifts all boats theory is what voters have in mind.

Stay tuned.

Random thoughts

Things to think about while waiting in line to vote:
  • Will anyone ever make Mitt Romney responsible for his language?
The man who has spent the better part of the last two years running around the country, making Massachusetts the butt of his jokes, drops in for a day and proclaims "The untruthful attacks on Massachusetts that Deval Patrick's campaign has put forward over the last three or four months are going to do irreparable harm to this state."

The Mittser blames Patrick's ads: "Millions of dollars in ads have gone out telling our businesses here that this isn't a great place to do business. That's wrong. And that our schools aren't good. That's wrong. These are the kinds of attacks on Massachusetts that I'm afraid are going to have a lasting impact."

I guess he isn't seeing the same ads in South Carolina and Iowa that we are seeing here. And kudos to Patrick for the simplicity of his response: "This is from the same guy that's going around the country using us as his laugh line."
  • They don't like her, the really, really don't like her.
Kerry Healey has spent $12.8 million to finance her negative barrage of ads, of which $9.4 million has come from here -- and $2.2 million in the last two weeks of October.

Patrick, on the other hand, has raised $8.2 million on donations capped at $500 annually. He has spent only $348,000 of his own money, for a total of $8.4 million.

The donations reflect the polling -- a grassroots candidate who has captured the imagination of a large number of voters tired of the rhetoric and mismanagement they have been subjected to by an absentee governor and his second banana.
  • Why remain anonymous while kissing up?

Enterprising Herald reporter Dave Wedge has one of the more classic anonymous quotes.

One GOP observer said a loss by Healey would be viewed largely as a reflection of the uphill battle faced by Republicans in Massachusetts. "She"s run a tough race in a tough environment," the observer said. "She's certainly not damaged goods."

Generally the rule of thumb is you let someone hide in the shadow when they take a swipe at someone (and good journalists refuse to do this.) But someone needs to be pretty self-serving to want to hide behind this big wet kiss. Someone in the Healey "braintrust"?

The race and environment were tough because of her tactics and message. Longtime observers (that dodge means the writer -- me) give Healey "credit" for running an expensive race totally out of step with what voters were looking for from a candidate. Those observers think Healey's political future is toast.

Add this to two losses in a local state rep race and you have a candidate who has underwhelmed at every level. She's likely to join Jane Swift on the board of directors circuit.
  • John Kerry should not entertain any ideas of a second chance.
Daniel Ortega is not the image Kerry should focus on. His comedic talents may yet have an influence on the 2006 election and he joins the other Kerry in the political toast category.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Promises, promises

Desperate times call for desperate measures. How else to explain Kerry Healey's decision to campaign with three of her four predecessors -- the ones who checked out early from the job they were elected to do.

Today, the Queen of Mean traversed the state with The Empty Suit. Always the gentleman, Willard let Healey answer for him when reporters questioned where he has been for her (and the rest of the Commonwealth too) during the campaign.
"Governor Romney has a lot for responsibilities," Healey said. "He's done everything I've asked of him."
Obviously that hasn't been much, given how unpopular he is with the voters of Massachusetts.

Yesterday, it was Paul Cellucci's turn, with the GOP pair launching the D-bomb and trying to smear Deval Patrick as a Dukakis clone. Never mind that Patrick has already managed to annoy the Bay State's two Democratic senators by supporting Cape Wind and affirming John Kerry's comedic failings. That alone should make people question how much of a Dukakoid Patrick will be.

The former ambassador to Canada raised the classic GOP red herring of the promise to roll back the income tax. Funny, he never mentioned his own promise that it wouldn't hurt -- or his failing to carry out his oath of office and finish our his term. I guess some promises are more important than others.

And of course who can forget Big Red's return -- and the fact that top members of the never-was ambassador to Mexico's braintrust are now Patrick backers.

Three former governors -- two who physically abandoned voters in mid-term the third who checked out mentally at about the same time. What a sorry group of people to be talking about commitments and promises to voters.

Thankfully it's almost over and our intelligence can begin to heal from the insults.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

There they go again

When I was trained as a reporter, I learned that "new" is the root of news and it's designed to signify something noteworthy that has happened. I guess things have changed.

How else can you explain this stunning piece of "enterprise" from the official house organ of the Kerry Healey campaign?

In the continuing effort to make mountains out of molehills, the Herald kills trees in search of an explanation of why Jesse Jackson has not been actively involved in the Deval Patrick campaign.

I know I have lost sleep at night pondering that question and so I thank the Herald for telling me that it may something to do with the race-related issues the two have been involved with together over the years.

Maybe, just maybe, the answer is similar to that of why Mitt Romney has been absent from the Healey campaign? Namely, both are controversial figures who do nothing to advance the cause of their respective candidates.

But then again, Romney is Healey's boss, so his absence is far more revealing than that of Jackson. To my training, Romney's absence is news, Jackson's is not. But hey, what do I know?