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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mitt's watching

So the Mittser sees the value in cultivating bloggers to spread the word about his wondrousness as the soon-to-be-the-really former governor. Hope he's also paying attention to those of us on this side of the aisle.

First of all, let's pay tribute to the blog that really got me started. Without the inspiration provided first by Ben's daily efforts and then his semi-retirement, I may not have morphed into the Mitt-igator I am trying to be. And before I move on, a quick mention of a new one I hadn't seen until my latest visit to Ben -- Mormons against Romney.

So as I new year dawns, I resolve to keep on the Mitt's tail as I continue to opine on other topics of interest and outrage to those of us on the left.

Happy New Year and thanks for visiting. Come back again, frequently!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Mitts-placed priorities

All eyes will be focused on the Massachusetts Legislature on Tuesday to see how it handles an issue of major importance to the health and welfare of Massachusetts citizens -- pandemic flu planning.

Sorry. I don't know what came over me.

Imagine if the soon-to-be-the really-former governor had spent even a fraction of the amount of time on legislation to help the state prepare for the flu and he did on gay marriage? How many more people would have been affected by that emphasis? How many fewer people may not die as a result?

Romney even emerged from his vacation home in Utah to tell the conservative publication Human Events that he believes he has cowed lawmakers into taking up the marriage ban. Even gay rights activist Arlene Issacson is worried -- at least for public consumption to prevent her troops from falling into complacency.

But what of the public health bill? Pandemic flu is inevitable. It may not come in the form of the widely over-hyped bird flu, but it will come. If not this flu season, another one -- and soon.

Despite authoring a $36.5 million piece of legislation, Romney spent much of this past year using the Department of Public Health as part of his ideological crusade for president -- focusing on abstinence, stem cell research, and the sale of drug needles to prevent AIDS.

That left a vacuum that no one sought to fill on a common sense issue like flu preparation. For that both Romney and the Legislature deserve harsh criticism. But it won't be forthcoming because of all the heat and light generated by the gay marriage amendment.

Maybe we should withhold flu shots based on how people vote on Tuesday?

Show me the money...

... or the special interest treatment. Or at the very least, the source of the aspersions.

The Globe and Herald both offer a short list of contributors to the Patrick inaugural (you need to go to Blue Mass. Group for full list).

The Herald, as is its modus operandi, shares the view of Brian Dodge, the chap with the task of directing a state Republican Party that doesn't have enough elected representatives to fill out a professional football squad. Dodge offers the usual low-key response:
"This list represents nearly 150 businesses and special interests that stand to directly benefit from decisions made by Governor-elect Patrick,"said state GOP chairman Brian Dodge. "This is blatant influence peddling. Who knew 'checking back in' would be so expensive."
While Mr. Dodge should switch to decaf, the Herald at least has a named attacker. The Globe violates one of the cardinal rules of political journalism by letting an anonymous source do the attacking.
One insurance industry insider said the four insurers were clearly trying to get into Patrick's good graces.

"There's no question," said the insider, who has an interest in the outcome and would speak only on on condition of anonymity . "We're all interested to see what new governor does."

Well duh. Insurance companies, lawyers, labor unions and other special interest (often referred to by another name, employers) are among the list of virtually every Massachusetts citizen who wants to see what Deval Patrick does. And as of this moment the answer is: nada. Even Dodge recognizes Patrick hasn't taken the oath yet -- even if he believes Patrick must have some magic decision-making powers.

Watchdog journalism calls for reporters to keep an eye out for things that are not right. But (at least in the olden days) that requires something called evidence.

Right now, you have a quid without the pro quo. Show me the favor that has been received and I will be among the first to scream loud and long. But today's stories represent attack dog journalism. That's something the Herald has long practiced (if only with limited targets). But Globe editors should consider switching to decaf too until they have the goods on something bad.

Friday, December 29, 2006

T to Green Line Riders: Stop Whining

It appears the only thing wrong with the MBTA is that Green Line riders have been getting a free outbound ride since time immemorial -- and that's about to stop.
T officials say the overhaul will make the fares equitable for all riders. "If you get on the train, you should know that it's $1.70, and it's the same as if you're on the Red, Green, Orange, Blue, or Silver Line," Daniel A. Grabauskas , general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said yesterday. "It's a simplification of the system."
So said the man who doesn't ride commuter rail, let alone know the joy of having a backpack in your face as you squeeze into the narrow aisles of the Breda lemons, er, cars trying to make your way to a door.

The T promises the hand held "validators" will enable them to check fare cards at the middle door of the three-door train. Of course this is the same T management that promised three-car trains on the Green Line would speed service and that eliminating four stops on the B Line would speed service.

This is also the same T management that has never addressed the crush caused by the fare-paying Red Sox fans who jam onto trains at Government Center and Park Street during rush hour -- leaving little room for regular fare-paying commuters to sandwich in.

And it is also the same T management that has come up with scheme after scheme to try to collect fares except for the one that would have worked best: make sure cars operate with adequate headway so that 100 people don't jam up at a street level platform during the morning rush and force drivers to open all doors to avoid a riot.

The end of outbound "free" rides will slow an already slow homebound commute, particularly on student-heavy lines like the B and E trains for what is probably only a marginal number of riders (mostly those same students who will probably walk the three-five blocks now that they will have to pay).

A couple of asides to Mac Daniel: the system of no outbound fares dates at least to the 1970s, when inbound fares were doubled on the Green Line. The principle is still in play on the D Line, where you pay the full $3 inbound, for a ride that averages $1.50 if you didn't have the proper pass (and that included everyone with a subway pass).

And the reason few people are complaining -- except of course for bloggers here and here -- is because people know that it will fall on deaf ears.

A requirement for the next T general manager should be living somewhere s/he must use the buses and "rapid" transit system to get to the office. Find out what it's like to build extra commuting time to wait endlessly for a bus or Green Line car only to have them come in bunches.

Find out what it is like to walk to the office on exceptionally hot or cold and snowy days because the stop is not in the garage underneath your building (what is the closest stop to 45 High Street?)

Then perhaps complaints will be heard. And that there's no such thing as a free ride.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Civil disobedience

The Supreme Judicial Court has ruled unanimously that the Massachusetts Legislature has an obligation to vote on all matters placed before it during a Constitutional Convention and failing to take that action violates the lawmakers' oath of office.

Let's deal with three issues quickly. Over at Media Nation, Dan Kennedy has raised a proper question: how does the presiding officer deal with a valid motion to recess?

Based on my admitted non-lawyer reading of the decision, every Legislature since the creation of Article 48 has violated the state Constitution because, to the best of my knowledge, items have been pending on the calendar when every Constitutional Convention expires.

Finally, what would the SJC have done if lawmakers had simply placed the question at the bottom of the calendar and never taken it up? That action also falls within the Legislature's rules. If those rules violate the Constitution, as the SJC seems to suggest, what is the remedy?

So, on to the ruling itself. The SJC made crystal clear it's belief that lawmakers who fail to vote on the question will have to answer to a higher authority, the voters:
Today's discussion and holding on the meaning of the duty lays any doubt to rest. The members of the General Court are the people's elected representatives, and each one of them has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the Commonwealth. Those members who now seek to avoid their lawful obligations, by a vote to recess without a roll call vote by yeas and nays on the merits of the initiative amendment (or by other procedural vote of similar consequence), ultimately will have to answer to the people who elected them.
For legislators voting their conscience in refusing to allow a final vote the response should be "bring it on." Because they can make a compelling case they are rejecting an effort that can clearly be labeled "tyranny of the minority."

First, let's deal with the argument that 170,000 people signed petitions seeking a ballot test. That's about three times the minimum of 65,825 registered voters but still a sliver of the 4.1 million people signed up to vote, roughly 4 percent. There have also been some serious questions raised about the legitimacy of the signatures collected by an organization that collected $1.50 each in this act of "citizen participation."

Then we have a requirement that 25 percent of the Legislature present and voting in two successive sessions approve the initiative before voters pass judgment. The low thresholds were designed to encourage voter participation, but as is clearly the case here, those thresholds can be used by ideologues (left and right) to manipulate the system.

Legislators voting their conscience and refusing to place on the ballot a question clearly designed to strip a group of people of the rights granted to them by the very same SJC are therefore practicing a well-respected action known as civil disobedience.

It's a tactic used honorably by people through the history of this Republic to oppose legally-sanctioned slavery, the refusal to grant women the right to vote and to assure equal rights denied to African Americans in the South during the 1950s and 1960s. It was also used to protest the previous unjust war waged by the United States.

What's different in this case is the effort being made to use the law to strip existing rights. That's why the sides are reversed and elected officials are making a stand -- apparently against the law -- to protect a higher principle.

They should be applauded for their courage to stand up to bullying and intimidation from a small special interest group seeking to impose its own religious viewpoint on the rest of us. The voters of Massachusetts should not have to make a decision about what is right or wrong -- we've elected people to do that. This is one of those rare and courageous times where they have done the right thing -- despite the abuse heaped upon them.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Hope is not a four-letter word

It's pretty clear Republicans are working off the same script as we prepare for Democrats to take over the Massachusetts governor's office and the U.S. House of Representatives.

For example, this from New England Republican:
Ever notice how everything Governor-elect Patrick does is for the people? That’s the latest from Camp Patrick as more negative attention is focused on his special interest funded, budget busting inauguration. But he doesn’t want you to get the wrong idea by the $50,000 per special interests are plopping down to fund the bash because he’s making government more accessible to you through these parties. It’s your bash, Massachusetts.

Compared to this from Romney and McCain honcho Mike Murphy:

"What? No fireworks?" he said. "I'm glad they canceled the tickertape parade. They probably couldn't find biodegradable tickertape and a hybrid convertible."

Massachusetts is about to swear in its first African-American governor, the second in the nation. It's an historic moment particularly given Boston's history of race relations. The US House of Representatives in about to swear in its first female Speaker.

Genuine historic events -- things will be live forever -- much like the follies of the Bush administration's Global War or Terror.

But Republican advisers and their minions are already out sowing seeds about doubt about the moment and the people who are making history. True to the GOP that talked about Defeatocrats and cut-and-run Democrats, these disciples of Lee Atwater thrive on disunity and anger. Hope is the ultimate four-letter word to them.

Party on Deval and Nancy. You (and we) have earned it. To my GOP brethren -- plan an out-of-country trip on those days. And above all, get used to it.

I'm already planning a trip and will be leaving the blogosphere for a few days. Politically correct holiday greetings of your choice to everyone.

"It is hard to figure out what he does believe"

The folks in New Hampshire are starting to kick the tires -- and it may not be great for the son of a former auto industry executive.

The past and his "record" may finally be catching up with Willard Mitt Romney as the long-time disengaged and soon to be divorced governor of Massachusetts take his show ion the road to the first primary state (at least this week). The Globe says its best:
In what was billed as a friendly holiday get-together organized by his political committee, Romney faced questions about his evolving views following reports in the Globe and other publications that examined his positions on abortion, stem cell research, and gay rights.

Some audience members walked away from the encounter still uncertain of his conservative credentials.

Romney continues to insist his Massachusetts records speak for him. It does. What was accomplished (no tax increases and health care legislation) was accomplished with the help of legislators, particularly former House Speaker Tom Finneran -- who stance on taxes pre-dated Romney's arrival at the Statehouse. And Gov.-elect Deval Patrick is already talking about reversing some of his presidential campaign grandstanding.

As for health care, the follow-up regulations from Romney appointees are raising serious questions whether the law can function as planned when it raises to much from those who can't afford it and too little from those who can.

Still Mitt accurately summed up his campaign, even if his inflection may have been different.
"Talk is cheap, but action is not."
Actually, talk isn't that cheap when you try to be all things to all people and have a record of those words on paper.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Spin City

Is Mitt Romney dodging the Patrick celebration or allowing the governor-elect his time in the sun?

Is Deval Patrick kissing up to legislators or freezing them out -- literally?

Comparing approaches by the two Boston papers is always a fun exercise in media criticism.

So is the Legislature "gratuitously hostile" to Patrick because he's trying to establish some distance from lawmakers in the face of campaign charges that he would be in Sal and Trav's hip pocket.

Or do the same words apply to Patrick, making legislators "buy long underwear" to attend the outdoor inaugural in an effort to open the historic moment to more people.

For that matter, is Romney trying to "accommodate" Patrick by agreeing to move to the night before the historic customs surrounding the transfer of power -- including the passage of a
pewter key and a set of the 1860 Massachusetts General Laws?

Or is he concerned about the reception he will get from a large, Patrick-friendly crowd if he takes the traditional "lone walk" through the center doors and down the Statehouse steps at the traditional time?

You can safely guess Romney's video crews will be doing their campaign commercial footage at night -- and Patrick's will be out in full force during the daylight.

All in all a good metaphor for the likely differences in the two administrations -- future Herald hack-a-rama stories notwithstanding.

Romney reassessment?

The first in-depth look at the chameleon-like career of our soon-to-be-former governor appears on the front page of the Washington Post. Willard Mitt may well be correct in skulking out of the Statehouse in the dead of night.

The nation press on Romney for the most part has been uncritical to downright fawning as has been noted here on many occasions. Profiles have accepted at face value the claim uttered by Eric Ferhnstrom in describing the Romney "legacy,"leaving aside for the time being whether this is a "mainstream conservative" stance:
The governor should be judged on his four-year record in office in one of the most liberal states in the country," he said. "He has governed as a mainstream conservative. He's gone after wasteful spending; he's defended traditional marriage; he pushed to bring abstinence education to the classroom; he fought against embryonic cloning and stood up and vetoed an emergency-contraceptive bill."
But more significant are the second and third paragraphs of the story, which takes on the Romney "mainstream" claim much more prominently than anything else to date.

It was not always so. Twelve years ago, Romney boasted that he would be more effective in fighting discrimination against gay men and lesbians than Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), distanced himself from some conservative policies of the Reagan administration, and proudly recalled his family's record in support of abortion rights.

The apparent gulf between the candidate who ran for the Senate in 1994 and the one getting ready to run for president has raised questions as to who is the real Mitt Romney. Is he the self-described moderate who unsuccessfully challenged Kennedy in the year of the Republican landslide, the self-described conservative now ready to bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, or merely an ambitious and adaptable politician? The answer could be crucial to Romney's presidential ambitions.

A good smile, a healthy head of hair and nice suits can only take you so far -- even in the popularity contest that has become the presidential campaign. Romney has been adept at avoiding accountability for his record in Massachusetts (lackluster is a word that comes to mind) and his penchant for shifting in the mind is now being thoroughly examined at home and even "out there."

The nation has suffered a lot at the hands of the "compassionate conservative" who touted himself as a "uniter, not a divider." It would be devastating to elect yet another politician who offers platitudes that mask inherent intellectual and political dishonesty.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

...The rest of world wears bifocals

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has laid out a vision for a sustainable city. Boston Mayor Tom Menino is telling a large national retail chain how to do its marketing.

Bloomberg is talking about a city where:
The goals include a massive increase in affordable housing; the pledge that every New Yorker will live within ten minutes' walk of a public park; and an overhaul of public transport, including a subway extension. Mr Bloomberg wants New York to have the cleanest air of any big city in America and to reduce emissions that contribute to global warming by 30% by 2030. And he wants to open 90% of the surrounding rivers, harbours and bays for recreation by reducing water pollution and preserving natural spaces.
Menino on the other hands, plans to stop talking to the local all-news radio station because they didn't cover a story he thought important and they thought was a promotional stunt.

Anything wrong with this picture?

Since the Mayor for Life started his fourth term, he has called for a 1,000-foot tower to be built downtown and for City Hall to move to the waterfront. He has lost a police superintendent, a school superintendent and the chief urban planner as well as a host of key people to keep City Hall running. He even lost his personal physician to the governor -- who named her head of the Department of Health and Human Services.

In the meantime, the murder rate is up, the quality of roads is down and the downtown shopping district is a ghost of its former self as the retailer he lectured closed the doors on one of the two stores it ran in Downtown Crossing.

The Menino administration is a textbook case of political fatigue. The Urban Mechanic was never big on the ideas front but his city ran well -- for while. But things are heading south and we have a mayor better known for his thin skin and long memory than for offering a coherent vision for what Boston will look like a year from now, let alone 20 years from now.

And when he sticks his nose in places it does not belong while failing to tackle the issues that truly affect Boston residents and the suburbanites who work in town and spend their cash, it raises the obvious question of where Boston is headed -- other than nowhere fast.

Uh Tommy, if you think you're a news director, there's this debate about what Greater Boston said about bloggers that might warrant your attention....

Knee jerk conservatism II

No heavy lifting for the Herald's crack political team. One source reporting from the usual suspects on a narrowly focused agenda.

The team that missed Fehrnstrom hack-a-rama is just aghast that Deval Patrick has named someone with experience in dealing with the Statehouse press for a job as, are you ready for this -- spokesman. You know, the person who deals with the Statehouse press.

The hiring of Kyle Sullivan, who has worked for John Kerry and, mostly recently Sal DiMasi, shows that Patrick is cozying up to the Legislature.
"He’s going to try to buy off the Legislature,"GOP Strategist Holly Robichaud said yesterday. "It’s a major sign that he hired someone right out of Sal DiMasi’s office. This is not a new way of doing things."
By taking away the speaker's spokesman?

So it got me to thinking -- who is Holly Robichaud and what successful Republican campaigns has she run in Massachusetts. Here's her bio. I report, you decide how authoritative a voice she is.

In the meantime, I operate on the theory that a gubernatorial spokesman is supposed to work well with the media and deflect trouble away from the governor. One of the ways to do that is direct it toward the Legislature. Eric Fehrnstrom did that well. At least the blame the Legislature part.

I'm sure we'll read a lot about Sullivan's payroll patriot pension job if he ever gets one. Unless his pension is already vested, in which case of course he's already a hack.

You see, I don't even need to read the Herald to know what will be in it.


The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board is so desperate for cash they want to drop to Fast Lane discount provided to regular Pike users within 495. Why? So they can eliminate the tolls entirely for drivers who live farther to the west.

Never mind that the enabling legislation says "the authority shall appropriate the funds necessary to provide said discount on a permanent basis." Romney-omnics.

The board is putting off a decision for two months but that should be no comfort for the beleaguered commuters who almost single handedly pay for the Big Dig project used by north-south commuters. Deval Patrick won't be able to take control of this board until late in his term.

We've discussed this many times before
. Western drivers -- from Pittsfield to Framingham -- have been paying the freight for road improvements that mostly benefit drivers from Plymouth the New Hampshire. That's unfair.

But equally unfair is splitting the pain so that only those drivers inside 128 pay the freight. The solution requires a comprehensive plan that assesses fair costs on those who use the underground artery through Boston. Jacking up tunnel and bridge tolls in a vacuum isn't the answer either.

The toll elimination scheme was a hare-brained proposal to try to breath life into the moribund campaign of Kerry Healey. The plan itself should be eliminated until a fair solution is devised.

Until then, those Metrowest commuters can always save money and ride the MBTA. Oh yeah, I forgot.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Knee jerk conservatism

Got to love Ginny Buckingham's column today. She makes a strong challenge for Jeff Jacoby's title of knee-jerk conservative who does not let facts get in the way of the party line.

Granted we are talking some familiar faces -- a state representative who served North Adams for more than 20 years is hardly a fresh face. But a practicing physician (even if she is Tom Menino's personal one) to head up a sprawling health and human services bureaucracy? Familiar face? Maybe. Outside-of-the box choice? Yes.

And Ginny -- what about your Welducci and Massport friend, Leslie Kirwan, as secretary of administration and finance? It certainly riled up some of the people (like you) expecting Deval Patrick to be the big spender they are expecting him to be.

Buckingham expresses admiration for Weld plucking friends from his federal government days. Rest assured you know what the Herald headlines and columns would read like if that happens: "Patrick plucks Clinton hack to lead such-and-such."

Picking people with knowledge on a subject and lack of experience in the public sector represents fresh thinking -- at least from where I sit. Better than selecting political cronies to run agencies for which they had no experience.

Any Patrick appointment represents a breath of fresh air after 16 years of GOP control of the executive branch. And he's not done yet either. There are still several significant cabinet jobs to go and a whole host of positions in agencies that actually make the government run on a daily basis.

You sound awfully defensive to me.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"Quod erat demonstrandum"

One phrase kept going through my head reading the latest post on Media Nation -- upset bloggers taking swipes at Dan Kennedy-- an old phrase from high school math: "quod erat demonstrandum" or "this has been proven."

This" is that bloggers are not journalists who don't follow the basic rules of, well, fact checking. The attacks on Kennedy as a supporter of the war were vituperative -- and wholly off the mark, if only anyone had bothered to check for the reality as journalists do.

The irony is thick, of course, because this attack is based on Kennedy's position in the Greater Boston debate that the media cannot and should not fact check everything written by others in preparing a commentary.

The blogosphere -- at least many of the folks taking part in the debate on Blue Mass. Group -- feels otherwise. Fact checking is crucial to media credibility because why should we trust the New York Times.

But when it comes to characterizing Kennedy's position on the war, some bloggers didn't feel the need to, as journalists say, check the clips. If they had, The Boston Phoenix, where Kennedy toiled for many years before turning to academia, would have provided a treasure trove of clips to disprove that theory.

But the attacks do suggest I am correct in saying journalists can be bloggers, but bloggers are not journalists.

"Quod erat demonstrandum."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Anatomy of a flipflopper

Mitt Romney was for gay rights, sex education, a woman's right to choose and stem cell research before he was against it. He insists he made a heartfelt conversion as he learned the "facts." Others say it was pure political expediency.

Guess which side I'm on.

Let's just say I have used this forum to document my belief that Willard Mitt Romney is a political creature, an empty suit with good hair who will say and do what he believes is necessary to get elected. The Globe's in-depth look at Romney's "evolution" on basic social issues shows it in stark relief. (By the way Mitt, where are you on the origins of life?)

Romney has proclaimed himself to be a man of longstanding faith, a committed member of the Mormon Church. Principled believers generally ascribe to a set of values espoused by their church, even if they disagree or quibble with specific tenets.

The Church of Latter Day Saints does not believe in abortion or gay rights. Its view on embryonic stem cell research is far less clear, with Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch among a group who see the value of stem cell research to perhaps find cures for adult diseases.

But this is not a theological posting. I respect anyone's firmly held beliefs, even if I may not agree. This is a political posting. I don't respect anyone who shifts positions on so many basic tenets of faith in such a short period of adult life (12 years), when the one common thread appears to be political campaigns for the US Senate, the Massachusetts governor's office and President of the United States.

Romney has been both for and against a woman's right to choose. He's supported gay rights and led a jihad against the right for a gay couple to share the legal rights and obligations of marriage. He has supported and opposed emergency contraception and sex education.

But beyond the time line, my cynicism is rooted is Romney's own words. This says it all:
Governor Mitt Romney's metamorphosis from social moderate to self-styled conservative presidential candidate, Nov. 9, 2004 , stands out as a seminal date.

On that day, Romney and two aides met in his State House office with renowned Harvard University stem cell researcher Douglas A. Melton. In Romney's retelling, Melton coolly explained how his work relied on cloning human embryos.

" I sat down with a researcher. And he said, 'Look, you don't have to think about this stem cell research as a moral issue, because we kill the embryos after 14 days,' " Romney recalled on " The Charlie Rose Show " last June, characterizing the meeting as a watershed moment for him. "That struck me as he said that."

Melton remembers the session differently.

"Governor Romney has mischaracterized my position; we didn't discuss killing or anything related to it," he said in a statement last week. "I explained my work to him, told him about my deeply held respect for life, and explained that my work focuses on improving the lives of those suffering from debilitating diseases."

Melton is a well-respected Harvard Medical School researcher with a personal mission behind his work: find a cure for the Type I diabetes that requires him to measure every item of food consumed by his son and daughter -- who both have Type I diabetes.

He believes so strongly in his mission that he undertook the intensely bureaucratic nightmare of creating a separate lab to allow him to continue his work despite the ban on federal dollars for that type of research.

It is highly unlikely a man who spoke of his research by saying "There are many who believe that there's a moral imperative to use that potential to try to help living sick people. I hold with them" is the same person who said "Look, you don't have to think about this stem cell research as a moral issue, because we kill the embryos after 14 days."

Add to that Romney's conversion on choice, on gay rights -- and even the respect for the adopted state he purported to lead -- and it's easy to decide who's version of the truth I believe.

Massachusetts will soon be well rid of him. I fervently hope he does not succeed in imposing his valueless ambition on the rest of the country.

Boston blues

The Mayor for Life has his mind set on a new City Hall and a 1,000-foot skyscraper. He should be focused on dirty, potholed streets and empty stores.

Holiday shopping brought us into town yesterday, catching up with lots of changes on Cambridge Street and Beacon Hill. The new Charles Street MBTA station is a highlight of major changes on Cambridge Street, where development around Mass. General is starting to make a difference.

Highlight of that jaunt was the Liberty Hotel -- hey guys, is it going to have the best cell reception in town?

Then you get to Downtown Crossing. Macy's already had taken the Jordan Marsh tradition and flushed it down the drain -- exiling the Enchanted Village and other holiday traditions. Now they are about do do the same for the Filene's tradition. Barnes & Noble bit the dust and discount retailers like Marshall's dominate the stretch in one direction.

Head back the other way and not even the Ritz can change the gloom of lower Washington Street heading toward the Combat Zone. Dark storefronts on the second-to-last Saturday before Christmas?

Trash on the sidewalks and uneven rutted streets are the norm through Allston-Brighton, the Back Bay and Downtown. But Tom Menino is focusing is attention on a new City Hall and a monument to his reign.

What happened to the Urban Mechanic?

UPDATE: Michael Jonas does an even better job on the topic than me. And this is not what I would call a livable city.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sorry state of affairs

Harry Shearer has a feature in his radio show entitled "Apologies of the Week." We could fill that up all by ourselves, just from the last 48 hours.

The easy ones first: Senate President Robert Travaglini apologizes to Gov.-elect Deval Patrick for firing a warning shot across the bow that the Massachusetts Legislature isn't about to give up the authority it had over a Republican governor and a body that doesn't have enough Republicans to field a baseball team.

A no-brainer (basically the same thing that allowed Trav to open his mouth in the first place.) This activity was akin to male dogs marking their territories. He said in public what he should have demonstrated in private by muscling some piece of legislation through.

Who knows. Trav could still have the last word if he actually allows a vote on the gay marriage ban -- dropping a hot potato in Patrick's lap two days before he is sworn in. That would get the same message across in a far more forceful way than mere words.

John Carroll and Greater Boston apologize to Blue Mass Group.
The big bad MSM admits it got something wrong in a segment last week. The blogosphere erupts in triumph.

Not quite as simple as that. Carroll and Emily Rooney concede that Carroll failed to see the satire in a MyDD posting (frankly so did I). Far less consensus on whether a pre-taped segment with BMG's David Kravitz had his words taken out of context in a taped segment of the previous show (he did not. It's called editing.)

Bloggers who had been calling for Carroll's job, head and assorted body parts (sarcasm alert!) seem satisfied with his mea culpa and an acknowledgment of their value by Carroll and host Emily Rooney.

But there's still a call for Dan Kennedy to offer a supine admission of error when he continues to insist (as do I) that the real culprit in this is a New York Times op-ed that was not (and should not) have been fact checked for the purposes of a five-minute segment.

Two root issues here: craving for respect by the blogosphere, which is often portrayed as pajama-clad citizen journalists who do a better job than the MSM at holding politicians accountable, while at the same time offering a disdain for the MSM, because of the errors it makes. That's because the standards are different.

As I stated before, while journalists can be bloggers, bloggers are not journalists. Some can break news, but for the most part the blogosphere is yet another interest group working to shape policy and opinion. Something like what Andrew Card labeled the MSM in a New Yorker piece.

But if bloggers want to be considered journalists, they need to practice what they preach. I find fact-checking in many blogs to be non-existent. There are bloggers paid by candidates or companies and some don't disclose those connections. If ethical standards are good enough for journalists, they ought to be good enough for serious bloggers.

But there doesn't seem to be anywhere near the same amount of interest in self-policing (my opinion and happy be be shown facts to the contrary). Until that happens, bloggers need to develop tougher skins if they dish out criticism.

As for the Eileen McNamara-Scott Allen Miller tussle, I'm staying clear of that one.

Oh, I should have mentioned that Apologies of the Week are a copyright featured of Le Show. I'm so sorry.

Friday, December 15, 2006


They must have had a special on crow in the Statehouse snack bar. The Senate President certainly had a heaping serving of it today.

Robert Travaglini must have realized pretty quickly after this morning's Globe hit the stands that he had a problem. You don't pick a public fight with a newly-elected governor looking for ways to keep his field operation active.

At least Trav had the common sense to practice damage control, unlike a certain former House Speaker, who insistence that he did no wrong landed him with a perjury charge.
"I misspoke yesterday and I want to acknowledge that publicly to you...'' Travaglini told reporters this afternoon. "The position of the senate continues to be standing ready to partner with the new administration in its efforts to demonstrate that we can conduct the people's business in their absence in a positive way and that's the reason for the visit here this afternoon.''
Misspoke is a polite euphemism for throwing stink bomb that lands in your face. There's no doubt he meant what he said -- given the audience of real estate and business leaders. But at least he realized the error of his ways.

Deval Patrick was, well politic.
"This is my friend and my new partner and we are looking forward to and have started on building a very strong relationship,'' Patrick said. "We are going to have conversations from time to time that are private and where there are differences. But I've said before and we've said to each other -- not every difference is a controversy. We don't have any significant differences today. What we've been doing is trying to work through our respective... legislative agenda and as much as possible get on the same page from the start."
Score a big one for the governor-elect, who will no doubt recall the old line about keeping your friend close, and your enemies closer. As former Sen. George Bachrach correctly noted, Patrick is in a classic lose-lose situation.

Say what?

The barbarians were already surrounding the gates, criticizing Deval Patrick for his inaugural plans and his rumored appointments. No doubt there was a contingent of critics ready to assail his wife's inaugural dress and his decisions on what personal mementos to put into the Corner Office.

And then came Trav.

In a what has to be an unprecedented attack -- weeks before the inaugural -- the Senate President dropped the gauntlet at what was expected to be just a routine breakfast speech, telling the governor-elect: my way or the highway.

What was in your coffee, Bobby?

The Globe reports:
According to the notes of one audience member, Travaglini said: "I told the governor-elect, if you're willing to share and you care and you prepare and are ready to deliver, then everything will work out. If not, I have senators across the state who share my vision and my approach and if forced to choose, I'm comfortable with whom they'll choose."
It's an astounding display of power politics and an unbelievably undiplomatic maneuver from someone who rose to power by choosing his words carefully. The back story that prompted a Senate President rumored to be heading out the door only to change his mind -- allegedly to work with a Democratic governor -- must be truly amazing.

Travaglini cannot be unmindful that he has just turn the spotlight back onto the Legislature and made Patrick, who appeared to be floundering in some eyes, the landslide hero once again. I strongly doubt that was Trav's intention though.

Speculation runs to Travaglini's disappointment over the handful of appointments either announced or rumored. If he wanted to make a case for his friend James Aloisi, to be the next transportation secretary, he probably could not have done him more damage, with the Herald now in Day 2 of Aloisi as hack-a-rama.

Trav puts up a feisty exterior, saying he knows senators forced to choose will back him -- and that he and Speaker Sal DiMasi as close as "Velcro brothers."

But the Senate President, at least in these remarks, appear to be totally blind to the reality that the public may like their own lawmaker but holds the Legislature in something close to utter contempt; and that Patrick received a lot more votes than any other person on the ballot.

Plus, nothing will unite the right wing nuts of talk radio and the lefty blogosphere more quickly than a common target like the Legislature -- which didn't acquit itself admirably last year by failing to finish its business, allowing Mitt Romney a partisan cheap shot in the form of 9C cuts that hurt their constituents.

Old fashioned power politics, like that practiced by Senate President Billy Bulger and House Speaker Tom Finneran is a thing of the past in the online age. I suspect this post may be one of the kindest receptions Travaglini gets.

Patrick holds the keys to power as a landslide winner with an appealing public persona, a significant grassroots organization that has just been re-energized and most significantly, the keys to Corner Office. Travaglini and DiMasi would lose any public spitting contest -- and the pressure on their individual members to buck them would be intense.

Trav should probably stick to decaf and come up with a very public kiss-and-makeup session with Patrick -- and soon.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Priorities -- II

We don't bat an eye over a $100 million transaction for a baseball player but raise concerns about $1 million for a series of parties to inaugurate a new governor. Not to mention hear the whining of legislators who don't like the idea of being out in the cold.

And I won't even get into the unseemly uproar over the future of the Senate when word comes down that one member has taken ill.

I guess 'tis the season for some, not others.

The Patrick campaign is suffering the fate of all winning efforts and they are to be blamed for not getting out on this story in the first place by detailing all the inaugural events they have planned, where and why. That's left plenty of of room for critics and cynics, myself included, to fill in the blanks.

Yes, the litany of fund-raisers mentioned in the Globe -- Jack Connors, Cheryl Cronin, Nick Littlefield -- are among the major political players in town. Connors, for one, is also visible for what he does on the charitable or civic side, namely the Archdiocese of Boston. Have we become so cynical to believe someone might be willing to something for the public good? Or should I change my name to Naive Liberal?

What we know of the Patrick plans sound good -- bringing the celebration to the people. That apparently means bringing his speech outside where the public won't need a ticket to hear him. But, no, it's too cold.

Forget the fact the presidential ceremonies in Washington are always outside (and only one president died as a result). Yes, Boston is colder, but it's amazing what you can do to bring heat to an outdoor event these days. (Just ask talk radio!)

Deprive Mitt Romney of his ceremonial walk down the front stairs? As tempting as it is to say he walked out on us a long time ago, you can maintain that tradition and start a new one. How about an inaugural address from Ashburton Park? No harm to Beacon Street traffic (and Mitt's campaign videographers) that way.

As for the ghoulish speculation over South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson's illness and whether the balance in the Senate will change -- for shame. Get well is the only appropriate reaction in our "Christian" nation.

And some advice to the newest member of Red Sox Nation -- be careful what you wish for. Things will change quickly if you hang a curve ball with the bases loaded in a game against the Yankees.

Welcome to Boston!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Two people flew into Boston from the West Coast today after spending considerable time in the Far East. One is staying (probably). One is going (thankfully).

Check out the online versions of the Boston papers and its clear there's only one story -- Pennant Fever Grips Hub (Japanese version). The return of the Prodigal Son, wandering 20 days around the world rates barely a mention in the briefs.

But one wonders what efforts state troopers went through to check Daisuke Matsuzaka's papers to see if he was eligible to work here. After all, at virtually the same time, Gov. Lame Duck decided to impose his political agenda on the state once again, even over the concerns of Gov.-elect Deval Patrick.

Mitt's not that much of a hate Massachusetts show boater, is he? But imagine what it would do for his popularity in New York?

The vision thing

Tom Menino has heard the complaints that he has run out of good ideas in his fourth term term as mayor. So Hizzoner for Life decided he needs a major vision -- and a legacy: sell City Hall and move it to the Waterfront.

I think bringing the Enchanted Village back might be a better legacy.

What a whacked out idea.

You start with the obvious -- City Hall is a hideous monstrosity. What is lacks in beauty in matches in a lack of functionality. The plaza has always reminded me of Tienanmen Square, minus the tanks (but a good place for Celtics championship rallies for those of you over the age of 20). The packing crate that Faneuil Hall came in? Close.

But there's a reason the building's location is called Government Center. Federal building on one side. Local courthouse across the street and another down the block. Statehouse and office buildings just a short walk up the hill. Ample (if not excellent) public transportation.

Our restless mayor is running out of ideas in a hurry. How else to explain his call to move the seat of city government to an area now home to a waterfront music pavilion (what's wrong with that?) served by a Silver Line that in rush hour makes the Green Line look good.

The city could reap a small bonanza is selling the prime acreage to a developer for luxury condos (what else do you think will go there -- a new department store?) Residents from Allston-Brighton, Hyde Park and West Roxbury would have a nightmare trip to get there -- although there may be ample parking for awhile.

The Waterfront is definitely Boston's extra room and while it's taking awhile for the neighborhood to fill up that progress so far is good -- the Convention Center, the Moakley federal Courthouse, new ICA.

The plans for mixed use residential and commercial development that eventually will be built will enhance the quality of life -- making it a 24-hour area. Government buildings are 8-hour structures that empty at 5 o'clock and leave an area vacant.

Maybe Tommy's thinking of naming it the James Kelly Memorial City Hall at the South Boston Waterfront. It would be fine honor for a man who did his best to separate South Boston from the rest of the city. A lot better than naming a bridge for him.

Better yet. Drop the idea. And see someone about you edifice complex.

A final thought: Would the location have anything to do with the next door neighbor: the Harpoon Brewery?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Chill out dudes

Memo to Brian Dodge: the election is over and you lost -- badly. Chill out.

Dodge was in a huff over reports that the Deval Patrick transition team was asked to sign confidentiality agreements. The figurehead leader of the party in a state where the governor has been absent for two weeks while pursuing a presidential campaign he's unwilling to acknowledge told the Globe this was outrageous:
...Brian Dodge, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party, accused Patrick of backing away from several campaign pledges, including his promise to make the new administration as open as possible. Dodge also said Patrick is cozying up to interest groups, despite his campaign pledge to remain independent."He's establishing a trend of backtracking," Dodge said. "His actions of late cast real doubt on his willingness to follow through on promises he made during the campaign."
The move does seem a bit strange -- particularly the decision/mistake of recycling forms that state the agreement covers the campaign and not the transition team.

Sunlight is always appropriate in government but some shade pulling is OK in establishing strategy and finding people to carry it out. If the shades are drawn after Jan. 4, we may have more reason to be concerned.

But before the Massachusetts Republican Party tells us how much they support openness in government, perhaps they should answer this question: why is secrecy is OK when it involves Dick Cheney and energy policy but not Deval Patrick and creating a new team?

We'd ask Mitt but Mr. Openness is out of state, again. Not that that is a bad thing.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Greater Boston -- Part Deux

In an effort to disprove to Peter Porcupine that I am a typical reporter, I went back to take a look at the Greater Boston segment on blogging for cash -- the commentary that I did not watch and didn't discuss as I did with the John Carroll set up piece.

Sorry, I still feel the same -- even when I take into account the carefully worded correction from producer Mark Mills.

There's no doubt Carroll, host Emily Rooney and panelist Callie Crossley are not blog fans. That was crystal clear from the talking heads segment that followed the Carroll set up. But you know what, that's their right.

The set-up remains fair, despite Carroll's mixing up the author of the satirical piece on the identity of MyDD owner Jerome Armstrong. It's incredibly convoluted and as Dan Kennedy notes, satire is almost always bound to get you into trouble.

I'm not troubled by how David Kravitz sounded, even if he believes he was cut and pasted inappropriately. He comes across as a strong believer in the value of blogging and in the ability of the blogosphere to police its own.

So upon further review, I still believe we need to develop thicker skins if we want to dish it. out.

The many faces of Mitt

It's been noted elsewhere, but it's important to mention it here too. Solid evidence is mounting to prove Mitt Romney changes his positions to match audience he seeks to woo.

This bald-faced hypocrisy (a much nicer term than lying) requires fresh air now more than ever as he continues to snooker national Republican leaders.

The words from the 1994 letter seeking the support from Log Cabin Republicans sought to position Romney to the left of Ted Kennedy on gay rights:
I am more convinced than ever that as we seek to establish full equality for America's gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent. If we are to achieve the goals we share, we must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern. My opponent cannot do this. I can and will."
Romney sycophants will no doubt mention that the word "marriage" does not appear in the text of the letter. But the tone is unmistakable: "If we are to achieve the goals we share, we must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern."

As I have noted here repeatedly (to the point of nausea no doubt to many) Romney has blown in the wind on issues such as gay rights and freedom of choice as it suited his political goals. In his runs against Kennedy and Shannon O'Brien, the middle seemed appropriate. For this national race, the farther right the better.

There is NO consistency in his "evolution" (which he no doubt will soon tell us he doesn't believe in). Mitt Romney is the ultimate pandering pol -- telling people what they want to hear. In that sense, he makes the stubborn but consistent George Bush seem like a paragon of virtue.

Obama mania

This is really getting out of hand. And while it may have been a case of self-promotional "modesty," the only one who seems to realize that the hype is already at ludicrous levels is the man in the middle of it.

Barack Obama has already been described as a "rock star" as he travels the country on his book/self promotion tour with an eye to running for the White House in 2008. But front page treatment in the Washington Post and Boston Globe and national front attention in the New York Times? It really was a slow news day.

Obama is an intriguing character but the facts remains: the new Congress hasn't even been seated yet and its pre-Christmas 2006. There's a lot of time for stars to rise and fall and -- truncated primary season notwithstanding -- it's way too early for the average American to focus on 2008.

Obama may be the only one who has it in perspective (or he may be a master of self-image control, or both). In describing the audiences who greet him, he said:
“It is flattering to get a lot of attention, although I must say it is baffling. I think to some degree I’ve become a shorthand or symbol or stand-in for a spirit that the last election in New Hampshire represented,” he said, referring to the losses of two incumbent congressmen here in November. “It’s a spirit that says we are looking for something different — we want something new."
That is true. We are weary of George Bush and his refusal to admit error -- a stubbornness that continues to kill American soldiers -- and we are weary with his Amen Chorus and our "allies" who continue to enable his dangerous "policy."

But the media star-making, star-trashing machine is revving up way too early -- even if Obama is doing nothing to slow it down. Candidates should not be made and broken before the overwhelming majority of Americans start to focus even faint attention on the race.

The 2008 election is way too important to fall victims to all of the bad habits that the political media bring to the table. Let's calm down and let the guy sell a few books in obscurity.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Thin skins

An interesting conversation is taking place over at Blue Mass Group: are bloggers journalists and are journalists lazy and careless? My quick thoughts -- no and sometimes.

First things first. Journalists can be bloggers, but bloggers are not journalists. Simplest reason? Journalists, despite what you might have heard from the "fairandbalanced" folks at Fox, really do try to be objective and present both sides of an issue. Sometimes they get used by sources exploiting that bias, but journalists are scribes, reporters on the first draft of history.

Some journalists -- under appropriate labels or on designated pages -- do write analysis and opinion. But being trained as a journalist and having spent more than a decade working a daily beat, I can tell you that is not the root task of most reporters.

Are some journalists lazy and careless? Yes. As with every job, you can get cozy and comfortable and come to expect handouts instead of working for them. Or you can be a slave to your organization's overall philosophy (yes there are liberal publications -- as well as conservative ones).

At the other extreme, you can get careless in the crush of deadline and accept things as "facts" because you don't have the time to check it out.

Bloggers, on the other hand, traffic in opinion. Oh, we may "break" information here and there but for the most part we are pundits, prognosticators and thumb suckers. I try to link to stories that back up or verify my opinions, but I am no longer a journalist and make no claim to be. In fact, I feel liberated by blogging and and sharing the opinions I always kept out of my daily reporting work.

Now back to Davis Kravitz's lament. Without having watched the segment, I can see one serious flaw in his argument: John Carroll attributed everything about paid bloggers and MyDD to The New York Times. If Carroll is guilty of anything -- and I don't think he is -- it would be he did not check out the Times' original reporting.

If Kravitz has a beef, it's with the Times. And I don't think he does have a beef. Rather he is learning the uncomfortable fact of life when a person shifts from opinion giver to opinion leader. It's something I experienced when shifting from journalism to PR and I know first hand how unpleasant it is to see something in print or on TV that's not quite what you meant to say.

Journalism should be added to the lineup of things you should not see being made -- along with sausage and the law. Things do get sliced and diced, as some BMG commenters note.

But for people who traffic in opinion -- as do the guys at BMG -- it rings a little hollow to talk about not liking how someone slices and dices you in what is NOT a news story in the classic sense but a set-up piece to lead in to an opinionated discussion on a topic. All sort of cliches come to mind, such as one about dishing things out.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy blogging as much, if not more, than reporting and would be thrilled have to take a little heat because that means people are reading. And this is not a rap at BMG, which has become a daily stop for me (and whose Blog Roll I would love to join!).

What this is really all about is that if bloggers want to be "players" in the political world, we better learn to develop a thicker skin. Although a thin skin doesn't seem to have hampered Tom Menino. :-)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Do Harm Congress

The 109th Congress disappeared into the history books early today -- thankfully. It will live for all time as one of the worst examples of "representative" government.

Contrary to the oft-applied label it was not a do-nothing Congress, although its work schedule would certainly suggest that to be the case. It was a do-damage body -- reflected right up to the last minutes when it passed tax breaks, created a political minefield for incoming Democrats by shirking its constitutional budget obligations and failed to face up to its own legal and ethical misdeeds.

This was a Congress that cheapened its own constitutional prerogatives by refusing the investigate a mismanaged war and all the faulty premises, war crimes, civil liberties violations and profiteering that went along with it.

It was a Congress that plunged its own children and grandchildren deeper into debt by reckless spending while pushing a reactionary social agenda that aimed to divide the country for the sake of political gain. It mocked the term democracy by refusing to allow the participation of an opposing political party that clearly represented half of a sharply divide country.

The Hall of Shame will induct many new members from this Congress: Delay, Cunningham, Ney, Foley as well as their Great Enabler, Jack Abramoff. Denny Hastert starring as the lovable Sgt. Schultz who "knows nothing" will be an apt image for the ages.

Starting with Delay's K Street Project right through to the end, this was the best damn Congress money could buy.

But it didn't stop there. It chose to debate Terry Schiavo rather than Abu Ghraib; fetal pain instead of weapons of mass destruction. It promoted its right wing agenda through the appointment of judges while mocking the courts when called up short on its own failure to adequate safeguard American privacy and civil rights.

The stench from this Congress will last a long time. Incoming Democrats may face a burden to prove they can lead but they will have a handy crutch by pointing the dysfunctional, disreputable and now thankfully dissolved 109th Congress.

Piling on

Oh I resisted jumping all over the Wandering Mittser yesterday when Bay Windows outed him as a gay rights supporter only when the political winds demanded. And I ignored it when the Globe followed suit -- figuring Dan Kennedy tied it up nicely.

But the word is spreading -- finally -- about Romney's penchant for being for something before he is against it.

How does “We must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern" mesh with his almost Messianic zeal to oppose same- sex marriage. Not even the verbally gymnastic Eric Fehrnstrom could reconcile these opposing concepts.
"Governor Romney believes Americans should be respectful of all people. What he opposes are the efforts of activist judges who seek to redefine the longstanding institution of marriage being between a man and woman."
Nope, Mitt appears to be facing a problem with the very people he has been ardently wooing. Take for example, the words of Paul Weyrich:
Unless he comes out with an abject repudiation of this, I think it makes him out to be a hypocrite. And if he totally repudiates this, you have to ask, on what grounds?”
He'll just probably have someone come out and say he's a gay-bashing Mormon faking it as gay friendly.

News judgment

This isn't about rejoicing at bad news. It is about applying the same set of standards.

The Herald loves to trump every sneeze at the New York Times and how that in turn makes it's arch-rival the Boston Globe catch a cold. The Herald has never given the same attention to its own plight -- or that of just about every media operation in the country.

But loyal Herald readers have a right to hear about what's going on at their favorite media outlet. And today, they are in the dark.

The Globe offers a brief here. The blogosphere offers more here and here. But I've searched the Herald website thoroughly and failed to find a mention.

The slow and steady drop of talent is frightening. If the Dig is correct that night and weekend coverage is about to be cut back, the fear escalates. Don't the loyal readers who plunk down their change deserve to know as much about financial woes of their own paper as the do about the Boring Broadsheet across town?

Friday, December 08, 2006

The "New" Bush

You didn't really think George Bush would ever offer a shred of evidence that he is willing to admit he was wrong in the face of overwhelming evidence, did you?

The Decider is making it very clear that the Iraq Study Group will go the way other efforts to inform US action in the face of the colossal failure that is his policy not only in Iraq and the Middle East.

After all, the group's report calls for diplomacy, an ability to speak to people across a gulf of mistrust and misinformation and a recognition that "stuff happens" in ways we do not intend it to.

None of this is within George W. Bush's capacity.

It also fits with the calls for "bipartisanship" while futilely trying to ram John Bolton's name through a lame duck Congress and renominating hot button judges. The man is simply not to be trusted to speak the truth.


The Herald could feel pretty comfortable bannering their Page One story as an exclusive. No self-respecting news organization (note that qualifier as you analyze anyone who picks it up) should touch this dead horse they are beating long after it was buried.

If the "enterprising" Dave Wedge and his editors believe this is the most important story of the day, perhaps they should take up the cause of every other inmate in the system who believes he or she is wrongly accused.

LaGuer already has had more than his 15 minutes of fame, having snookered lots of people, including John Silber. I guess the infallible Herald leadership really is part of that group if they feel his request is so important as to warrant this sort of front page treatment.

Memo to Herald editors: It become news is Deval Patrick agrees to the request or takes any action that would assist him before the court process plays out.

Unless of course you are doing someone else's bidding. But that doesn't happen in newspapers that believe in the "fair and balanced" ideal of its former owner Rupert Murdoch. Does it?

If you're looking for something to wrap today's garbage in, the Herald is the perfect choice.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Darn liberal readership

I'm generally very skeptical of statistical studies that attempt to make great comparisons about political or ethical issues. But this story in today's New York Times is worth noting in passing.

The study claims that any political bias reflected in the media comes from the readers or viewers and not the reporters. At its most basic level, it suggest that newspapers and television news tell readers what they want to hear.

Well duh.

But if it takes a weighty academic time to stick a sock in Bill O'Reilly's mouth count me when these guys come up for tenure.

Purity Supreme?

I keep foolishly thinking you can teach an old dogs new tricks. But after just two days of stories about the incoming Patrick administration, I realize I'm wrong.

The Herald's front page look at the Patrick committee's inaugural plans (complete with an insulting illustration of Deval Patrick in a party hat that has mysteriously disappeared from the web site) was the first example that political reporting will continue with a business as usual approach.

The Globe's look at how lobbyists and lawyers are "throwing open their doors" to the incoming governor says ideology does not play a role in this old-school approach.

The Herald has always championed class resentment; the Globe a level of purity that cannot be achieved by mere mortals.

If the price tag for the Patrick inaugural bashes result in events that are open and inclusive and bring in people beyond the lobbyists and lawyers they will reflect a start at opening the process up to the people. And the size of the Patrick grassroots -- large enough to generate stories about how the "establishment" may be nervous -- suggests that people may well just return to the political arena.

If it costs $1.6 million in privately raised funds to do it -- including dollars from lobbyists and lawyers -- then it is a good investment. The question with campaign cash is always what exactly does it buy.

One reason the Republicans are out of power in Congress is because it was clear the K Street Project bought an actual place at the table and keys to the word processors writing legislation. Let's keep the smoke alarms working but wait for actual wisps of smoke before we yell fire.

The same caution applies to the Globe look at the efforts whose business is government and politics to ingratiate themselves to the incoming team. Hosting receptions and offering space (in exchange for rental payments) is indeed about access. But access does not necessarily translate into action.

The best cautionary story was raised in the comparisons of Duke I and Duke II. The ideological pure, some said sanctimonious, Dukakis of the first term decreed friendship was worthless and that term ended in failure. A chastened Dukakis returned with a message of friendship in the context of honesty and he was rewarded.

Patrick should be judged by deed, not word. And the initial deed, selecting an administration and finance secretary with links to Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci and potential 2010 rival Charlie Baker suggests a different mindset.

So let's be vigilant to make sure deed match word. But the premise of the Patrick campaign was to change the toxic political environment -- at least in Massachusetts. The burden to accomplish that is immense. Let's not weigh it down with cynicism or old school reporting ways until we have to.

To quote that liberal icon Ronald Reagan -- trust but verify.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

And this would surprise you how?

Kerry Healey emerges from her cave on the same day a report demonstrates the lack of diversity at the upper levels of the Romney administration.

Ever truthful Eric Fehrnstrom mixes apples and by declaring the overall executive branch breakdown is more reflective of Massachusetts. You see, it's only those within the Romney inner circle who are white men.

To be fair, Healey didn't really get to pick her spots. She was indeed a "diversity appointment" when she was added to the ticket four years ago and treated like a lower level functionary unless she was needed to make a point.

And give her credit, at least she's showed up for work while Romney jets across Asia on a "Massachusetts trade mission."

When can we shut the gate behind them?

I'm watching you

This has been an especially cranky day. That always happens when I get woken up and can't fall back asleep. Especially when the cause of the lost sleep is a junk fax at 11:45 p.m. So word of warning to Exceptional Roofing of Southboro -- I'm coming after you.

It's been eye-opening since we switched to caller ID at the OL household. The number of calls labeled" unknown caller" -- usually from someone trying to sell you something and who block their number to avoid reprisals.

Those reprisals come from people who are on the "do not call registry," which is designed to block such annoying phone calls. Federal regulation being what it is, the law is toothless. The same applies to Massachusetts, where the attorney general maintains online forms for consumers to complain about junk calls and faxes.

But there are calls and there are CALLS. An autodialed junk fax around midnight to a home is an egregious violation of the law -- and basic civility. A company pushing flat roof repairs undoubtedly purchased calls in zip codes with many apartment buildings -- you know ones with flat roofs.

Hardly a slip of the autodialer, don't you think. And putting the onus on you to call to get your name off a list is outrageous when they should not be calling in the first place.

So watch out guys, I'm coming after you. Your flyer says the company is family owned. Maybe I'll call you at 3 a.m. and wake up yours to make my point.

T is for Terrible

Out with the old -- only the old is looking better all the time.

The MBTA ceremoniously sold its last token today, ringing the curtain down on one era and ushering in the CharlieCard -- where some riders will be paying through the nose for the "service."

I've already observed that Green Line outbound riders will be verging on insurrection when the new outbound fare takes effect. One open door per car and many, many backpacks clogging narrow aisles filled with weary homebound commuters is in the finest tradition of MBTA customer service.

But Mrs. Outraged Liberal points out a fact that may keep some of the backpack bunch off the outbound trains. What used to be a free ride will be $1.70 or $2 -- making a round trip that began in the subway and currently costs $2.50 will soar to $3.40 or $4 depending whether you get a card or a ticket.

So maybe I missed the goal (at least on Commonwealth and Huntington Avenues): make BU, BC and NU improve student commuter services. Nah, they're not that bright at the T.

And that doesn't even begin to take into account Beacon Street riders who just get gouged. And Riverside riders will actually see their costs go down from the current $4.25 round trip for anyone who didn't have the "right" pass.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Much ado about what?

I know this may come as a shock but I can't quite make out what's going on with this latest twist in the state's budget saga.

Up until now, it's been clear. Mitt was grandstanding for the national press by imposing unilateral cuts where they didn't seem necessary or justified. After sufficient hue and cry, he reinstated some of them by saying the state had a better November than expected in tax revenues.

Now along comes Treasurer Tim Cahill -- warning legislators that the state needs to borrow money to pay its bills and that could b a sign of things to come.
"I want to prepare the incoming administration and the Legislature for what could be some tough times," Cahill said in an interview yesterday. "They need to know the truth, and the truth is we have a cash-flow crunch, maybe not a crisis, but certainly a cash-flow shortage. It's not good for a household, and it's not good for government."
But cash flow crunches or shortages are normal this time of year. Local aid payments to cities and towns go out around the first of the year -- as do income tax forms. The dollars from those forms flow into the state from January to April.

To cover that gap, there's a financial tool called a tax anticipation note. Investors buy those short-term notes to help state and local government cover their cash needs.

Yes, there are issues surrounding the fiscal 2007 budget -- largely caused by the Legislature's decision to dip into the stabilization fund to pay for some expenses today instead of the proverbial rainy day. But those issues were caused by Romney's decision to veto the transfer and the Legislature's inability to override the late veto.

There are legitimate questions about the wisdom on dipping into that fund -- but they are separate and apart from what's going on now. As Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation says:
"It's certainly a yellow flag, and it reflects the fact that the spending increases in [fiscal year] 2007 were . . . larger than they should have been," he said. "But at the same time, tax revenues are likely to cover the spending increases in 2007 when the year ends."
So the thoughts naturally turn to politics -- namely what is Cahill up to? On the surface this is weird: the treasurer is a Democrat who supported Deval Patrick and Doug Rubin has been a top aide to both men (although he left Cahill under weird circumstances involving a non-disclosure agreement). As we've seen once already, tax revenues generally meet or exceed expectations because of the conservative tendencies in projecting them.

So what's the story here? Muscle flexing? And to what end? Stay tuned for the next installment of "Under the Golden Dome."

So that's how they'll cover the deficit

If you're a certain age, you'll remember Choo-Choo Charlie, a cartoon kid who peddled Good and Plenty candy. The jingle included the line "Charlie says..." Dan Grabuskas is probably humming that line this morning after the debut of the CharlieCard -- and given the fact it is the T -- another foul-up.

I think we've learned how the MBTA is going to pay for its shortfall -- and that of the Big Dig too -- make commuters pay for rides they don't get.

Yes, everyone and everything is entitled to a few glitches when they roll out a new product or service. But here are the important words:
T officials made no public disclosure about the problem, caused by an overloaded computer network. The Globe learned of the issue from riders.
So forgive me if I spend the day humming "Charlie says: pay up!"

Monday, December 04, 2006

We've been down this road before

So John Cogliano, Tokyo Mitt's appointee to head the Mass. Turnpike Authority, says Deval Patrick can still bl0ck the plan to take down the tollbooths over most of the Mass. Pike.

That's good news on the same day that Dan Graubauskas gets up at 5:30 a.m. to tell Dudley Station commuters that the CharlieCard carries a smaller fare increase than the CharlieTicket.

It's nothing short of infuriating that this blatant stunt designed to revive the Healey campaign is still alive. Eliminating Mass. Pike tolls in a vacuum is poor policy -- even if Pike users should not be forced to pay the freight for the Big Dig.

Coming at the same time the T is raising fares only encourages people to get of the Mediocre Bad Terrible Atrocious (MBTA) system and back into their cars.

Thankfully, Patrick doesn't look like he's buying.
"He hasn't seen enough of the homework that would make the case for that, that would make it fiscally responsible especially about how the road would be maintained and plowed," Patrick spokesman Richard Chacon said.
Cogliano (you know the guy who approved payments for Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff to repair the tunnels they didn't build right in the first place) acknowledges this runaway train can be stopped.

Under a key section of the plan, after the tolls are removed, the roadway must be transferred to the state highway department for maintenance -- something that the state highway commissioner will have to sign off on. But once Patrick takes office in January, he will be able to appoint his own highway commissioner, who could refuse the offer.

Cogliano said that such a refusal would derail the toll plan. "That could be an obstacle," Cogliano told the Associated Press.

A comprehensive transportation plan must include funds to repair roads and bridges neglected as a result of Big Dig spending, It should encourage, not discourage, public transportation. But above all, it should not affirm cheap campaign stunts that will only bankrupt the system and shift the burden of road repairs from drivers to public transit.

I have seen the future...

... and it's scary.

I received traditional journalism training and I continue to watch where my former profession is going. It certainly has come a long way from the days of typewriters and carbon paper and compositors creating words from slabs of lead.

I'm not overly alarmed by the transition from dead trees to electrons -- though I do wish the major conglomerates would stop whining just because their profit margins have fallen below 20 percent as technology shakes things up.

And I'm obviously a fan of "citizen journalism" as I blog away and live the career of opinion columnist that never panned out in the real world.

But this is scary. On the other hand, this has possibilities.

The idea of "mojos'' or mobile journalists is a little redundant. The process of reporting demands mobility. What's changed (for the better) is the technology -- enabling one person to report, write and illustrate a story for print, broadcast and web.

What hasn't changed -- or should not -- is the definition of news. And this Gannett philosophy, as expressed by Fort Myers News-Press managing editor Mackenzie Warren is frightening.
"Whatever you spend your time and money doing is news."
Sorry, but a calendar signing attended by two people who happen upon it by chance is not news. Just because a chamber of commerce holds an event doesn't make it worth noting.

What's more troubling is the teaming of "mojos" and marketers to sell advertising.
As part of their training, mojos get a three-hour session with the paper's vice president of marketing. If someone out in the community complains that ad rates are too high in the daily News-Press, mojos can and should tell them that rates are lower in the paper's community weeklies.

It would be "morally wrong" for a reporter not to pass along such information, said Warren, the managing editor for information distribution, a new position. The paper also has a managing editor for information collection.

"It's like rolling down your window and giving someone directions," Warren said. Keeping reporters away from the business side is "old-school snobbery," he said.

No it's not. It is ethically wrong and incredibly damaging to the reputation of a profession that is already seen as more concerned about money and power than truth. You don't actually give people the ammunition to say "All they care about is selling papers."

On the other hand, enlisting "reader experts" to review documents or data or relying on citizens to provide on-the-spot still and video images has a good feel to it -- as long the editors trained to decide what's newsworthy and what's advertising fluff --- don't give up their responsibilities.

Thankfully, there appears to be a greater level of professionalism among folks with their fingers in this pie, like Steve Rosenbaum, who created MTV Unfiltered and now runs Magnify Media, which helps Web sites post video contributions:
“If you are asking your audience to know what is a national news story of interest to the world, it seems to me there are only two results: whether you get flooded with lots of car fires, or you get nothing. Neither is a particularly good effect.”
There's a difference between Reuters and America's Funniest Home Videos and YouTube. The experiment in citizen participation has promise as long as "managing editors of information and information distribution" are among those who know the difference.

The example from Fort Meyers suggest there's still a lot of work to do in that area.