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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Monday, April 30, 2007

More dissin' and data

As Mike Barnicle used to say (at least I think it was his line), not that it really matters, but...

  • Did Bechtel Parsons/Brinckerhoff design the highway? Glad to know Boston isn't the only home to truly odd traffic nightmares -- a highway interchange that melts? I'd probably want to avoid any road labeled "The Maze" anyway. The biggest problem the Bay Area may face? Mitt might want to put on his orange vest and investigate.
  • Yo Adrian? Much has been made Eileen McNamara's departure from the Globe and Brian McGrory's move into her Sunday-Wednesday slot. But where's Walker? Check out his home on the Globe website and there's nothing since April 5. And I don't recall any "Adrian Walker is not writing today" notes. Let's see what tomorrow brings?
  • You light up my life? Apparently not. Check out what apparently is the latest in gender-based conflict. Somewhere, a Republican strategist is no doubt plotting how to reach the Soft White Mom.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Dissin' and data

A few odds and ends get tied together today:
  • Meanwhile, back in Baghdad, the focus of all federal humanitarian efforts, it's SNAFU. The New York Times reports that in a sampling of eight projects declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle. Add that to the millions rejected in Katrina help and you have the squandering of billions while helping no one.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

House bets on the future

The Massachusetts House's $26.9 billion budget belies Speaker Sal DiMasi's insistence that lawmakers would not consider gambling as part of their deliberations. That's because this spending plan is one huge roll of the dice.

Lawmakers, who have rejected any form of new revenue, added $175 million in new spending to the bottom line offered by Ways and Means. That brings to $675 million the amount that House lawmakers plan to draw from one-time revenues and the state's rainy day account.

Maybe they're looking at a report that says the Massachusetts economy is finally growing, even faster than the national one. Maybe they think 'don't tax these growing businesses and their sales will generate new revenues in the form of personal income and sales taxes.'

Maybe they think businesses will stop taking advantage of the opportunities they have to shelter income that average citizens don't have.

No, casino gambling wasn't on the agenda as the House considered spending proposals to a mariachi accompaniment. But lawmakers were betting our future nonetheless.

I've got no complaints with the spending they put back in during the week. I just wish they weren't falling to same siren calls that attract people to subprime mortgages. Let's hope the Senate has a better idea.

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Double standard

"I lied about my credentials. I didn't go to the schools that I said I did."

Jon Keller and at least one of his viewers think MIT admissions dean Marilee Jones is a victim of "credentialism," apparently the newest sin of political correctness in liberal academia.


Imagine what Jon and Al would be saying if the faker was a politician. The tar would be bubbling and the feathers would be collected in a neat pile. Reservations would have been secured for the next rail out of town.

I'm one of the last people to defend the haughty standards of academics who frequently (but not always) reflect the old adage of "those who can't, teach."

But Jones was charged with vetting student applicants for admission to one of the most prestigious schools in the nation. Toss in the fact she was a crusader for reducing the stress of the credentials chase and the hypocrisy is overwhelming.

And yes Jon and Al, I do care if my plumber and electrician are who they say they are. Maybe you will change your mind the next time the pipes freeze.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Where's the beef?

Try as hard as I might, I'm having a hard time seeing the problem with Patrick transportation chief Bernard Cohen seeking input from people who know a subject.

The Globe's front page headline "Transport chief seeks advice from inside trade" brings images of hush-hush backroom dealing, and even conjures up images of Dick Cheney's secretive energy task force or Hillary Clinton's health care task force.

But when you get to the story, you are reminded of Walter Mondale's appropriation of a line from a Wendy's commercial: Where's the beef?"

Cohen has apparently called together, informally, a group that includes the executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority; the executive director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority; the finance director at the Massachusetts Port Authority; the governor's assistant secretary of administration and finance; the president of A Better City, an organization formed to address business concerns during the construction of the Big Dig; two transportation engineering and planning firms; and a transportation consultant hired by a Washington lobbying firm that recently created a special division to help construction companies and developers compete for public projects.

After that last stretch, toss in a loaded (if unsubstantiated) quote from a conservative think tank and stir:
David G. Tuerck -- executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative think tank -- said the financial interests of members of a task force often drive the panel's agenda. "They're teeing up a massive tax increase without a care, because they are going to benefit no matter what," he said. "You can always expect from a group like that, that they will carve out a wish list."
Should a Boston area commuter be on that list? Of course -- if they have the necessary expertise. Where's the smoking gun? This is a story that should have stayed in a tickler file, awaiting the day that one of the consultants got a state gig that it wasn't qualified for.

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But mom, Johnny did it. Rudy too.

That in essence is the latest whine from Myth Romney, that his flip-flopping is no different from his rivals. As usual, the Man from Massachusetts, Utah and Michigan is wrong.

“Senator McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts,” Mr. Romney told The A.P. “Now he’s for them. He was opposed to ethanol. Now he’s for it. He said he was opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade. Now he’s for overturning Roe v. Wade.”

“Mayor Giuliani has made a number of changes over his career, and there are places where I’ve made changes,” Mr. Romney said in the interview.

Of course, two of the three issues he hit McCain on are policy questions and not core beliefs. And McCain disputes the abortion flip-flop, saying he has always opposed abortion, just not repealing Roe v. Wade -- once again, a policy position.

Romney on the other hand has shifted core beliefs on abortion, gun control, stem cell research and gay rights in addition to his "policy shifts" on taxes.

And interestingly, Romney offers no specifics against Giuliani, hinting on that he's more anti-choice than the former New York mayor. That's probably true, because Giuliani has been shifting on this position for a shorter period of time than the Mittser.

No wonder his campaign is "failing to gain traction." Slippery slopes are send you straight down.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Chickens roosting, DC edition

One person's "fishing expedition" is another one's long-overdue investigation. Congressional Republicans never could tell the difference.

The subpoenas issued yesterday by the House looking for answers on the phony yellow cake, the missing e-mails -- as well the immunity grant to the former Justice Department official doesn't understand the 5th Amendment -- is most assuredly a long-overdue into the abuses, foreign and domestic of George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney.

Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee 's ranking Republican, whined the subpoenas were “an effort to get high-profile administration figures under oath, before the cameras, for the sake of political theatrics.”

Funny, I'm sure he didn't think that way when Dan Burton, who previously chaired the committee, demonstrated head shots on watermelons in a farcical effort to prove Bill Clinton could have ordered a hit on his friend Vincent Foster.

The GOP Congress thought nothing of wasting $72 million in taxpayer dollars investigating Bill Clinton. The search for the "truth" came up with a lie about sex. They thought nothing, literally, about lies related to weapons of mass destruction, al Qaeda connections to Saddam Hussein or the folly of ending the search for Osama bin Laden to topple Hussein without follow-up plan.

They thought nothing about the bribery and corruption of their members that has led to jail time for several and disgrace for a few more, like the disgraceful Tom DeLay. And they thought nothing about the politics uber alles agenda of Karl Rove who believes in shouting treason in place of honest debate. The dishonor roll is lengthy.

What should be even more troubling for the "values" people at the White House is the investigation by the Office of the Special Counsel (led by a partisan Republican) into the apparent Hatch Act violations.

If you can get past the irony of Scott Bloch investigating anyone, this probe strips the White House of the "partisan politics" cover. At the very least, it is delicious irony.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Overstepping the bounds

The battle between Deval Patrick and legislative leaders is really taking on an intensity that hasn't been seen around here since then-Senate President Kevin Harrington publicly challenged Michael Dukakis during Duke I.

The Legislature has always "enjoyed" the right to offer names for various open government positions (it's called patronage). But in circulating a letter calling on Patrick to reinstate a commissioner of an executive branch agency, lawmakers haven't just stepped over the line, they have offered a defiant challenge to Patrick's leadership -- something he needs to slap down in no uncertain terms.

Angelo Scaccia, the Hyde Park Democrat who chairs the rules committee that decides what legislation makes it to the floor for debate, is calling in favors for former Department of Mental Retardation Commissioner Gerald Morrissey, who has worked for the state for 30 years and done a myriad of favors over that time.

Without much subtlety, Scaccia is circulating a letter to colleagues during the House budget debate and as one unnamed lawmaker told the Globe "You don't say no to Angelo."

Well, the state Ethics Commission did. In the 1990s, when Scaccia served as vice chair of taxation, the lawmaker was found to have accepted free meals and rounds of golf from tobacco and insurance industry lobbyists without disclosing them on his statement of financial interests.

Scaccia went to court and the Supreme Judicial Court gave him only the narrowest of moral victories:
Because the administrative record fails to establish a link to any official act performed by Scaccia, we vacate that portion of the Superior Court decision regarding the gratuity statute. The record, however, clearly supports a finding that Scaccia violated the gift statute, the financial disclosure law, and the public officials' code of conduct statute, and we accordingly affirm those portions of the Superior Court judge's decision.
Perhaps emboldened by surviving his near-death experience, he has been a major part of the Flaherty, Finneran and DiMasi leadership teams with the power to determine if individual lawmakers get their priorities onto the floor for debate.

The bold power grab here is unprecedented. Naming court clerks is one thing, naming executive branch commissioners is entirely different-- and inappropriate.

Scaccia obviously has the approval of his boss, Sal DiMasi, who apparently is taking a few shots of his own at Patrick.

In an interview on New England Cable News, DiMasi stung the governor and his staff when he spoke of Patrick's inexperience, which he said had led him to make mistakes. Savvy lawmakers know not to drive "flashy" cars, he said, a reference to Patrick's controversial lease of a Cadillac. He also referred to Patrick's decision to spend $27,000 to refurbish his office, money he later agreed to reimburse.

"We don't buy curtains," DiMasi told interviewer Jim Braude. "My office has the same curtains there for about 25 years. My furniture, my floor is a mess, but I haven't changed anything, because I know there's criticism coming. He didn't know that. That's the problem."

Aside from the fact no one will confuse the Speaker's ornately wood paneled digs as a redesigner's dream project, DiMasi apparently has a short memory about his own problems in making the transition into the top job.

As Scot Lehigh noted toward the end of DiMasi's first year as Speaker:

For months, the question on Beacon Hill was, what will Sal do? But that has long since given way to a different query: When will Sal do something?

Why has DiMasi's House had the very soul of molasses? Early on, the word was that furious Finneranians toppled from leadership posts refused to go gently into smaller offices.

Next, that the Legislature's new committee structure had created jurisdictional confusion.

Then, that DiMasi's leadership team needed time to learn their roles, the power of independent initiative having been all but extinguished during the iron reign of Thomas Finneran.

But as winter surrendered to spring, spring warmed to summer, and summer turned to fall, it has become increasingly apparent that DiMasi himself doesn't feel much urgency to do anything.

What are the speaker's priorities? Well, travel would certainly rank as one.

The Legislature always treats itself to a leisurely summer, but this speaker has set a new standard.

In mid-August, DiMasi took a trip to Israel. Then, just after Labor Day, when most people were refocusing on work, he departed for a golf vacation in Ireland, a birthday gift from his wife.

His excellent Emerald Isle adventure over, DiMasi decided that duty called him to Las Vegas to attend the National Speakers Conference -- and spend a few extra days. As far as lodging went, that trip was partly a gift from the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, the conference host.

People who live in glass Houses shouldn't throw rocks at Cadillacs.

The Patrick people clearly got off to a poor start and are paying the price. But the House leadership is stepping so out of bounds -- especially when their own less-than-pristine history is recalled.

It's time to get on doing the public's business and not focusing on helping their friends and scoring political points.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Buried lead

You've got to get virtually to the end of today's Globe story on a budget battle over abstinence education story before you can really understand why the Massachusetts House is opting to retain a Mitt Romney-era program that funds abstinence-only education in schools.

Last year, the House stripped authorization for the grant out of the budget, but the Senate objected; a compromise was reached in a conference committee that included the caveat requiring the provision that the abstinence programs could only be taught if accompanied by a separate comprehensive sex education class. This year, after the governor stripped out the authorization, the House put it back in with the same condition.

Last year and this year, Raymond B. Ruddy -- president of the Gerard Health Foundation, which has given millions to antiabortion and abstinence groups -- hired lobbyist John Bartley to persuade lawmakers to include the funding in the budget for the program. Ruddy paid Bartley nearly $50,000 last year for his work on this single issue.

What we don't see is often more interesting than what we do.

On the face of it, the idea of abstinence-only education is absurd -- a Theocon-driven dream of a perfect society that exists only in Ozzie and Harriet re-runs. Teenagers and sex go together naturally -- quite literally -- and to think you can teach someone to ignore hormones is ludicrous.
"These programs are prohibited by federal regulation from discussing the prevention benefits of birth control, other than to emphasize the failure rate," said Angus McQuilken, vice president for public relations and governmental affairs for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. "That is a dangerously unrealistic and irresponsible approach.
There's no harm in teaching abstinence -- in conjunction with a curriculum that also covers the facts of life. The decision by the Patrick administration and other states that refuse to buckle to yet another absurd federal mandate (in an area where states traditionally have greatest leeway) is appropriate.

So is a House amendment to contest the policy. But only if that amendment is offered in the clear light of day -- which this one was not. Or if the pros and cons are debated on the floor, which has not happened.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

The dishonor roll

A tip of the hat to the Associated Press for starting the lengthy process of recording George Bush's efforts to restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office. (And a tip too to Jim Morin and Slate)

--Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in a grand jury investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. His trial also implicated top political adviser Karl Rove and Cheney in a campaign to discredit her husband, Iraq war critic and retired ambassador Joe Wilson. Libby, who plans an appeal, is awaiting a June 5 sentencing.

-- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is fighting to hold onto his job in the face of congressional investigations into his role in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Two top aides have resigned in the investigation into whether the firings were politically motivated. Emails and other evidence released by the Justice Department suggest that Rove played a part in the process. Other e-mails, sent on Republican party accounts, either have disappeared or were erased.

-- Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank and a former deputy defense secretary, acknowledged he helped arrange a large pay raise for his female companion when she was transferred to the State Department but remained on the bank payroll. The incident intensified calls at the bank for his resignation.

-- J. Steven Griles, an oil and gas lobbyist who became deputy Interior Secretary J., last month became the highest-ranking Bush administration official convicted in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, pleading guilty to obstructing justice by lying to a Senate committee about his relationship with the convicted lobbyist. Abramoff repeatedly sought Griles' intervention at Interior on behalf of Indian tribal clients.

-- Former White House aide, David H. Safavian, was convicted last year of lying to government investigators about his ties to Abramoff and faces a 180-month prison sentence.

-- Roger Stillwell, a former Interior Department official, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for not reporting tickets he received from Abramoff.

-- Sue Ellen Wooldridge, the top Justice Department prosecutor in the environmental division until January, bought a $980,000 beach house in South Carolina with ConocoPhillips lobbyist Donald R. Duncan and oil and gas lobbyist Griles. Soon thereafter, she signed an agreement giving the oil company more time to clean up air pollution at some of its refineries. Congressional Democrats have denounced the arrangement.

-- Matteo Fontana, a Department of Education official who oversaw the student loan industry, was put on leave last week after disclosure that he owned at least $100,000 worth of stock in a student loan company.

-- Claude Allen, who had been Bush's domestic policy adviser, pleaded guilty to theft in making phony returns at discount department stores while working at the White house. He was sentenced to two years of supervised probation and fined $500.

-- Philip Cooney, a former American Petroleum Institute lobbyist who became chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, acknowledged in congressional testimony earlier this year that he changed three government reports to eliminate or downplay links between greenhouse gases and global warming. He left in 2005 to work for Exxon Mobil Corp.

-- Darleen Druyun, a former Air Force procurement officer, served nine months in prison in 2005 for violating federal conflict-of-interest rules in a deal to lease Boeing refueling tankers for $23 billion, despite Pentagon studies showing the tankers were unnecessary. After making the deal, she quit the government and joined Boeing.

--Eric Keroack, Bush's choice to oversee the federal family planning program, resigned from the post suddenly last month after the Massachusetts Medicaid office launched an investigation into his private practice. He had been medical director of an organization that opposes premarital sex and contraception.

-- Lurita Doan, head of the General Services Administration, attended a luncheon at the agency earlier this year with other top GSA political appointees at which Scott Jennings, a top Rove aide, gave a PowerPoint demonstration on how to help Republican candidates in 2008. A congressional committee is investigating whether the remarks violated a federal law that restricts executive-branch employees from using their positions for political purposes.

-- Robert W. Cobb, NASA's inspector general is under investigation on charges of ignoring safety violations in the space program. An internal administration review said he routinely tipped off department officials to internal investigations and quashed a report related to the Columbia shuttle explosion to avoid embarrassing the agency. He remains on the job. Only Bush can fire him.

-- Julie MacDonald, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service but has no academic background in biology, overrode recommendations of agency scientists about how to protect endangered species and improperly leaked internal information to private groups, the Interior Department inspector general said.

We'll just have to wait some more for Kyle Sampson, Monica Goodling, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. But I'm patient.

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Shoot pigeons, not stool pigeons

Discussions about the power of Washington lobbyists focus on the K Street gang, with their $1,000 suits and their connections (often purchased through sports tickets and vacations) to the people who write the laws.

Left out of these discussions is the name of the nation's most powerful lobby -- capable of defeating elected officials with a call to its 4.3 million members with the use of rhetoric as strong as a shotgun blast.

The National Rifle Association takes no prisoners -- and people are dying on our streets as political timidity and feeble efforts at reform are offered as meek substitutes for action.

And the NRA has some powerful help from unexpected quarters in making the case for guns -- and a lack of respect for law enforcement.

The NRA has thrived as it adopted the most unwavering reading possible of the 2nd Amendment:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Any effort to make any change so much as a comma has been fiercely resisted, backed by slick lobbying and calls to arms (sorry) to members with hysterical and trumped up warnings that the real goal is confiscation of all weapons -- even those used by legitimate hunters and sportsmen. By demonizing the "enemy" the NRA has controlled the debate.

Ironically they find themselves as brothers and sisters in arms with those who are using weapons not for sport, but for "protection." The urban culture, with its focus on violence and "respect" has become the NRA's partner in an absolutist position that guns as as American as apple pie whether your quarry is quail or a homey who disrespects you.

A meeting of the minds would somehow seem to be in order -- shoot pigeons, not stool pigeons seems catchy. But no one seems to be listening. The NRA's power to dominate and intimidate with extremist rhetoric is matched by similar extremism on the streets (and in the offices of record promoters).

And when the slaughter of 32 innocents at Virginia Tech has no power to change that culture (just as the shooting of presidents, high school students and innocent children on street corners has failed to move the debate) it's time to ask if there will ever be an end to the cycle of violence that this country seems to revere.

Is it possible there will be No Reform Anytime?

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Random thoughts

A few thoughts banging around the brain after perusing the press:
  • The Herald in bed with personal injury lawyers? How else to explain the latest from the Enterprising Reporter that Worcester wasted money on removing a foot of snow on St. Patrick's Day because it all melted anyway "the following day." Pols may have their snouts in the trough but we can only guess where our reporter has his head;
  • Culture of Life? "Right-to-life" advocates rejoice over a narrow Supreme Court decision on a rarely used and tough to defend abortion technique that would place value of the fetus' existence on par or over that of a mother's life. Where are their voices over laws that provide loopholes permitting people “adjudicated as a mental defective” to purchase guns that led to the slaughter of 32 innocents?
A few more...
  • Is it the water? What makes Republican presidential candidates flop all over the place, backing off on long-held beliefs and trying to pretend they never said something? Rudy Giuliani's shifts on abortion and immigration still don't come close to matching the gymnastics of Myth Romney though.
  • Aren't broken clocks right twice a day? It's about as usual as the Globe and Herald hitting on the same theme in the same day -- our broken criminal justice system. The Globe looks at how the Department of Correction keeps people in jail after their terms have ended; the Herald looks at how people who should be inside are not. No wonder Romney appointee Kathleen Dennehy is being shown the door.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Boston -- at some point

I never thought anything could make the Metro look substantive.

I wanted to give the new BostonNow a few days before offering up a critique. And I admit I am a newspaper snob who likes something with depth and heft (like the Globe used to be). So even though the Metro shows up in the hands of virtually every subway rider, it doesn't rub off ink on mine.

Let's start with how easy it is to find this new paper. Not. And the problem is actually more significant on the web where, after all, this "bloggers' paper" is supposed to thrive. After the first week, do a Google search and you get either a British newspaper or the home of the Boston National Organization of Women.

Oh, you do get BostonNow's blog and after a little searching you find a link to the newsroom and from there to the front door. But it took me awhile to find that, because the lead blog item on my first visit was how the paper lifted content from bostonist.com without attribution. You know -- plagiarized it.

Of course it was hard to find the offended story in Bostonist because editor-in-chief John Wilpers had the wrong URL (it's a dot-com, not a dot-net).

If you can figure out the navigation, the site has promise -- linking by tags to allow a reader to get exactly what he or she wants. Works for the web if not exactly the concept that drives dead tree editions.

And after all, the web is where this paper is supposed to make its mark (how that squares with the challenging the freebie dead tree Metro is another contradiction I haven't figured out). So then the next question arises, where are the bloggers? Wasn't that innovation/free labor the key that was supposed to set this publication apart?

I know, I know, it was just the first week and it was so slow. Let's see: the Boston Marathon, flooding rains, a Supreme Court decision on "partial birth abortions" and a mass murder in Virginia. Nothing much to talk about.

So BostonNow's dead tree edition proceeded to tell us how hard it was to get around Boston by plane, train and automobile. And in a layout blunder worthy of the journalism layout textbooks, it butts the headline "A different runway disaster" against "Campus shooting leaves 33 dead" (on pages 8 and 9). Which was the disaster again?

I'm all for good enterprise reporting and counter-punching might be a good idea for a specialty paper. But where is the news value in the fact that travelers back up at Logan, especially in bad weather? Or that there is crime on the T -- when you can actually get on a train or bus or into a station? Or that getting out of Boston on an "Evacuation Route" in a disaster is sick joke?

Thankfully they got back to the tried and true model of newsstand sales -- a pretty face -- for their Friday edition. But Maria from Medford ain't Jennie from the block.

Let's just say I'm not canceling my Globe subscription anytime soon. But I am a little more tempted to pick up the Metro.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Reality bites

The education of Deval Patrick continues.

The Globe reports the governor has put together a "kitchen cabinet" to help market the issues he ran on last year. Reality set in that the talk of a different kind of administration -- where politics and ideology gets left at the door -- just won't work in today's horribly polarized world where attorneys general can insist they will stay on the job despite all evidence that says only one person believes he is competent.

Sadly, Patrick has learned what Michael Dukakis did before him: in running a government, it is about ideology, not competence.

Some of the initial team Patrick assembled failed politically in that second category -- and his own lapses have been well documented. None of the failures has risen to Albert Gonzales levels, but a shake out was needed.

The start came with the naming of Joe Landolfi, David Morales and Doug Rubin. Now it's time for Patrick to work on the "walruses," Bill Weld's terms for political hacks who populate the bureaucracy taking up salaries and space and trying to foil his agenda.

We've already seen their efforts at work with the effort to slime labor secretary Suzanne Bump.

The Globe hit the problem on the head:
Patrick, whose campaign challenged the political establishment and eschewed traditional political and media strategies, tried to bring that philosophy to the State House ... But within the first few months, as he focused nearly exclusively on the state budget, he faced a furor caused by several controversial decisions...

His critics and supporters also said he had failed to use the traditional honeymoon period to dramatically champion several well-defined initiatives, an important political step for any new governor.
So it's time to do what he should have done in the beginning: root out leftovers from the 16 years of GOP rule over the Statehouse and do things as they have been done before.

Sadly, the institutions with the greatest need for overhaul in this nation -- the governments -- are the most resistant to change. Whatever change comes must come from the inside. Patrick is learning this lesson.

The one big difference from his predecessors, particularly Weld and Romney, Patrick isn't likely to lose interest and walk away. That alone will be a reform worth attaining.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Human rights

With a particularly stark sense of timing, the Supreme Court has clearly laid out what Barney Frank has always declared to be the Theocons' view of the right to life: it begins at conception and ends at birth.

One day after a sick gunman used his two legally purchased handguns to to massacre 32 people (stopping only to preen for the cameras) the US Supreme Court delivered the first of what Theocons hope will be the fatal blows to a woman's right to choose.

Now a "partial birth abortion" is a particularly gruesome (and rarely used) procedure that is difficult to defend. It could only be justified in the most extreme of situations, when the fetus is so deformed it has no chance of survival outside the womb and the mother is at risk by continuing the pregnancy.

But by eliminating a provision that has always allowed the procedure when a mother's life in danger the court has finally said what "right-to-life" advocates have always wanted to hear -- the fetus triumphs over all. The child and the mother, that's another story.

The situation only becomes more stark with the realization that many of the same people who will cheer this Supreme Court decision as a protection of life will rise in protest at the thought that we, as a society, do something to protect other innocent lives.

The students and faculty at Virginia Tech were innocents until they unfortunately crossed paths with Cho Seung Hui. But their right to life did not rise to the same level of importance has his right to purchase semi-automatic weapons monthly without an even cursory examination of what we now know is a twisted angry "soul."

Unfettered access to guns is apparently part of the right-to life culture in this nation. The contradictions, the hypocrisy, is stark

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

From Baghdad to Blacksburg

We are a nation of extremists, let's face it. My country right or wrong. My way or the highway. Use or or lose it. And that extreme, uncompromising contempt for things we disagree with is what's gotten into so much trouble in the world.

The sins of George Bush are numerous and have been repeated almost to the point of nausea: the swaggering cowboy who went AWOL on his military career putting American soldiers (and Iraqi civilians) in harm's way for a war fought on a pack of lies.

And yet today, Bush will sit next to legislative leaders and defy the will of voters who sent a loud message that we want an end to the US role in Iraq. My way or the highway, says W.

Meanwhile the tragic events in Blacksburg have the 2nd Amendment absolutists in high dudgeon, once again claiming that "they" will take their gun away only from their cold dead hands. Use it or lose it.

There's no problem, they will say, that a dark and twisted individual could use a driver's license and a credit card to purchase two guns in two months -- as allowed by Virginia law. No problem that there are more regulations on driving a car than purchasing and using a gun.

And then there's my side -- the 1st Amendment crowd -- that closes its eyes to fact our society is awash in violence from video games, movies and television series (not to mention newscasts from Baghdad) where the gun is the centerpiece.

Freedom of expression means we cannot do a thing to put a halt to the climate of message of violence that permeates our society, that starts when little kids dress up as cowboys and aim their six-shooters at friends and pull the trigger.

Where do you think the kids who pull guns on friends on Boston buses or the streets of any American city get the idea that guns are cool and simply a play thing?

So how about some effort to move back from the edges. The NRA could start by dropping their myth that people in favor of gun control want to remove all weapons for all reasons. No we don't.

But guns need to be regulated at least as much as cars. There's a reason why we don't let kids drive until the age of 16, then with supervision and with a whole lists of laws and regulations to govern their use. Why aren't we as strict about guns -- even if they kill fewer people than cars?

And my fellow liberals, particular those in Hollywood, need to recognize that our culture is awash in violence in some measure because of the horrifically violent images we condone each day in the name of freedom if expression. Mend it, don't end it. One less car chase, one less shoot-out or horrific explosion wouldn't kill you at the box office?

I'd be the last to call for all Mary Poppins all the time -- there can be good action adventure programming without blood running through the gutters. Try scaling back.

Go ahead. Make my day.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

It takes a village idiot

Myth Romney did it again. The master acrobat of the 2008 campaign has changed his mind yet again -- this time on the question of how to raise children.

In 1998, Myth told the Boston Globe:
"Hillary Clinton is very much right, it does take a village, and we are a village and we need to work together in a non-skeptical, no-finger-pointing way..."
But today, Reversible Man offers a different answer when facing the prospect of supporting something promoted by a potential Democratic rival.
"I think it's time for us to recognize every child deserves a mother and a father," Romney said during a speech to New Hampshire Republicans this weekend.... "It takes a family."
Not as earth-shattering a reversal as abortion, guns, anti-tax pledges and gay rights, but one more on the list.

As a public service, I'm offering Myth a few more options to tell us where he stands.
  • Paper or plastic?
  • For here or to go?
  • One scoop or two?
  • For extra credit -- do you want sprinkles with that? (We can expect Myth to know what Jimmies are after all!)
Eagerly awaiting your positions Mittster.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Guns don't kill people...

It's way too early to jump to any conclusions about the motives of whoever took up arms against Virginia Tech students. But it's not too soon to say that once more, the United States finds itself embellishing its dubious record as the gun murder capital of the universe.

It's also clear this may be THE week for violence in the United States: Let's start with the historic battle of Lexington and Concord, celebrated today as Patriots Day.

But the roll call should really reflect what else happened on April 19th, the day the shot was really heard 'round the world. On April 19, 1993, the siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco ended in a battle launched by the FBI to end the standoff with the arms-bearing cultists. When it was over, more than 80 people had died.

Two years later, Timothy McVeigh sets off the explosion that killed 168 people in the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City -- apparent retribution for Waco.

Four years and a day later, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 13 people, then themselves at Columbine High School in Colorado.

The ultimate question is whether the Virginia Tech massacre has ties to these killing --or whether it is simply the result of the free and easy access to weapons that makes seemingly tranquil places in America killing fields.

And why we continue to insist that unfettered access to weapons is as American as apple pie.

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Inoperative -- and out

The White House spin machine is in high gear in advance of tomorrow's testimony in which Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will tell the Senate Judiciary Committee what he knew and when he knew it regarding the firing of eight US Attorneys.

Here's the short version, based on leaked testimony and an op-ed in yesterday's Washington Post: Mistakes were made and I've asked the Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate. And I can't comment further on a pending legal matter.

Gonzo is going to take what Nixon henchman John Ehrlichman once called the "modified limited hangout" route. The method was used to describe a report to the Senate Watergate Committee on White House involvement in the Watergate burglary.

The White House report sounds suspiciously similar to Gonzales' planned testimony as outlined in his op-ed.
I know that I did not -- and would not -- ask for the resignation of any U.S. attorney for an improper reason. Furthermore, I have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason.
But facts are funny things. They tend to get in the way of stories that must later be declared "inoperative."
The former Justice Department official who carried out the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year told Congress that several of the prosecutors had no performance problems and that a memo on the firings was distributed at a Nov. 27 meeting attended by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, a Democratic senator said yesterday.
This hearing should be some of the best political theater since those Watergate hearings. Who says history doesn't repeat itself?

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

101 Days

Think about it: would you be expected to totally change the culture in your work environment in the first 100 days on the job? Or would you be happy to have found the washroom and the cafeteria in the first three-plus months?

No denying Deval Patrick has made some whoppers that would be noted on the permanent record: improper use of telecommunications equipment by calling an old friend and offering a positive evaluation of a former employer. And the new transportation and decoration plans were a bit over the top.

But as Patrick settles into the second 100 days we need to stop and reflect on what a monumental change has taken place in the Commonwealth. Not only do we have a new governor, a Democrat who actually cares about his job and stays in Massachusetts, we have a man who is open and accessible -- to students and neighbors with cell phone cameras in the vegetable aisle.

And in an instant gratification, what-have-you-done for me lately society, we have a novice executive who needed to hit the ground running with a $26.7 billion spending document bound to please none of the myriad people clamoring for new services and no new taxes.

And now, with a little breathing room, an administration that plans to take a common sense approach to public safety -- one designed to hand out punishment without being so punitive as to eliminate all hope.

Mandatory minimum sentences are another one of those conservative Republican issues designed to pander to the public (remember Bill Weld wanting to reintroduce inmates to the joy of busting rocks?) Guess what, there's another side to the story.

In Massachusetts, punishment has overwhelmed rehabilitation. And rehabilitation is not just a gooey liberal concept. If you can rehabilitate a criminal, he or she may not commit another crime when they get out.
"The concept of the revolving door -- the governor and the secretary want to look at how we stop that," [undersecretary of public safety for criminal justice Mary Elizabeth] Heffernan said, referring to Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke. "People are moving away from the breaking-rocks portion of the program. This administration is going to take a more thoughtful and appropriate look at what works and what doesn't."
How about that: a thoughtful program that allows judges to use experience (and the facts) to make a decision on a case-by-case basis rather than a knee-jerk reaction that doesn't allow room for judgment (guess where that word comes from?)

Does this mean, as some on the right will be quick to suggest, the Deval wants to let 'em all out? No. But it does mean that people released from prison be watched carefully as they try to rebuild their lives.

If they mess up? Throw 'em back into jail -- maybe even throw away the key if necessary. But treat them on the basis of the facts in hand and not on some campaign script.

That's the kind of effort we were expecting from Deval Patrick (Kerry Healey's fear-mongering notwithstanding). And it only took 100 days, a budget submission and a few missteps to see it.

Not a bad start when you look at the whole picture.

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Hire locally...

The Globe should really consider hiring local copy editors/caption writers. Or at least those who know where the Green Line is.
On Marathon Monday, commuters can board the Green Line at Arlington station or from the normally closed Berkeley Street entrance (above) at the Hynes Convention Center/ICA station.
A Green Line sufferer, er, rider, would recognize this is the normally closed Boylston Street entrance to the Hynes Convention Center station. The name ICA was dropped when the Institute for Contemporary Art moved to the Waterfront last fall. The Globe covered it.

Oh yeah, the Arlington Street entrance to that other station has been closed for months for renovations, resulting in the use of the normally closed Berkeley Street entrance to Arlington.

Better yet, try walking.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

I feel a rant coming on

What's wrong with this picture?

A racist, homophobic misogynist has lost his job, replaced temporarily by serial plagiarist Mike Barnicle. Among those who took umbrage to Don Imus' foul-mouth ranting were Jesse (Hymietown) Jackson and Al (Tawana Brawley) Sharpton. Playing supporting roles in the demise of Imus are the advertisers who pulled the plug on his life support system.

I've tried to stay away from this topic (except for two brief hits) because I think it's an Anna Nicole Smith-like sideshow in a world where suicide bombers have penetrated deep into the "secure" Baghdad Green Zone; where presidential aides lie, cover-up and destroy evidence while young men and women die for the follies. Oh, let's not forget Iraq War architects engineering sweetheart deals for their sweethearts.

But the number of trees that have died and electrons scattered to discuss whether Imus was a misunderstood good guy and whether his removal is a blow for the Democrats is truly over the top. There are far more crucial issues facing us -- and far more outrageous swill spewing from supposedly significant mouths.

Yes, Imus and his counterparts like Rush (Oxycontin) Limbaugh and Anne (Trashmouth) Coulter are well-compensated for their outrageous and outlandish commentary and have ready audiences for their swill.

I prefer turning the dial off and let them starve for lack of audience. But since that's not the way the game is played in 2007, my question is -- why are Limbaugh and Coulter still able to spew their venom while Imus searches out a satellite radio deal?

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Friday, April 13, 2007

The circle is complete

A year after sitting on stage at Faneuil Hall and basking in his glory while signing the Massachusetts health care access law, the Man of his Convictions is shifting gears again.
As Mitt Romney aggressively courts conservatives in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, landmark health-care legislation that the former Massachusetts governor signed into law about a year ago has been largely left out of his pitch.
Let's see -- conservatives don't like the idea of government intrusion into the free market of health care -- you know the one that works so well (unlike the government-run Medicare program). No problem!

So the Mittser, who championed the individual mandate provision that is proving so hard to make work, is now backing away from what many consider to be his ONLY accomplishment.

But after flipping on abortion, gay rights, gun laws and tax pledges, what's one more?

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Scandal du jour

No, not Imus (good riddance). This one is of far greater significance to the concept of "preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States." Let the Washington Post summarize:
A lawyer for the Republican National Committee told congressional staff members yesterday that the RNC is missing at least four years' worth of e-mail from White House senior adviser Karl Rove that is being sought as part of investigations into the Bush administration, according to the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Oh yeah, some missing e-mails also relate to the Bush administration's firing of the US attorneys.

Not since Rosemary Woods' famous 18-and-a-half-minute stretch has the White House been caught in such an obvious effort to cover its tracks. Think about it: what do you do with important e-mail? Archive it or delete it?

The moral values crowd has definitely been caught with its fingers in the cookie jar -- again. The e-mails that have not been lost talk about being "loyal Bushies" as one of the requirements for keeping your job as US Attorney.

They also talk about whether the Bush appointees have done enough to track down and prosecute "voter fraud" -- code words for going after potential Democratic voters.

And of course you have the jailbird Jack Abramoff fretting when one of his e-mails made it into the White House system instead of the parallel black ops system run by the Republican National Committee. (You know gwb43.com).

The Bush mouthpieces try to blame Bill Clinton for this one -- saying their systems tries to clean up sloppy practices by the 42nd president. His was the first administration to really deal with e-mail and key aides carried dual laptops for official and political business.

But everything in the Clinton White House went through White House servers, as required by law. Not so the Bushies, who are trying out a novel legal claim. In the words of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers:
“The White House position seems to be that executive privilege not only applies in the Oval Office, but to the R.N.C. as well. There is absolutely no basis in law or fact for such a claim.”
Next week's testimony of Albert Gonzalez is shaping up as the best show since Fred Dalton Thompson, the Watergate Committee Republican counsel, asked Alexander Butterfield if he knew about the existence of the Oval Office taping system.

And let's not forget that the man defending the White House now, Fred Fielding, was brought in for his experience -- during Watergate, when he was a deputy to John Dean.

Who says history doesn't repeat itself?

UPDATE: Karl Rove's lawyer says he assumed the e-mails were being archived and he didn't delete them. I believe everything Karl and his mouthpiece say -- don't you? And you know what they say about what assuming does to you and me?

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Beacon Hill surge

Deval Patrick is gearing up for a surge to reclaim Beacon Hill.

On the eve of his 100th day in office, Patrick has swapped a hardball player for an administrator, bringing campaign adviser Doug Rubin aboard as chief of staff after Joan Wallace-Benjamin engineering a face-saving transition back to the Home for Little Wanderers.

The move is both symbolic and substantive, swapping an earnest head of a not-for-profit social service agency unfamiliar in the ways of Beacon Hill with some who undoubtedly knows where some bodies are buried. Think John Sasso.

Rubin served as a top adviser to the Patrick campaign after cutting his teeth as a consultant to some ballot questions and as adviser and First Deputy Treasurer to Tim Cahill. His departure from that office came after some eyebrows were raised over the signing of confidentiality agreements with terminated employees -- not including Rubin.

In short, Rubin knows how to play the game, something Wallace-Benjamin, through no fault of her own, did not. That fact becomes crucial in light of the House Ways and Means Committee's decision to treat Patrick like a Republican governor -- ignore his budget and create their own version that omits the corporate tax loophole reforms Patrick has championed.

If Sal DiMasi threw down the gauntlet with that budget, Patrick has just picked it back up, slapped DiMasi across the check and challenged him to a duel -- with someone who knows how to wield a sword.

But rather than taking offense, my guess is Sal may be saying privately that Patrick is a faster learner than he appeared at first.

With the addition of Rubin and communications aide Joe Landolfi, Patrick has seriously raised the Beacon Hill experience level in the Corner Office.

And by adding folks who know how to play in the trenches, he has enabled himself to continue to take the high road -- support tax fairness, slam Don Imus and proclaim his belief in civic engagement -- while others do the slogging for him.

That should make Day 100 seem a little sweeter than it might have two months ago.

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Remember this quote

Deval Patrick's fiscal 2008 budget is likely to be remembered more for this quote than for the actual dollars and cents within it:
"The budget . . . from the House does not address that structural problem," Patrick said. "We will be right back here next year if we don't address that problem. Nobody's looking to raise taxes for the sake of raising taxes . . . but facing reality means we've got to face the fact that there is much more demand for services -- including from businesses, by the way -- than there is revenue to pay for it."
The spending plan offered by House budget writers is a classic of the "executive proposes, legislature disposes" variety. The question of who is more fiscally responsible remains central. More money for local aid is a good thing -- but at the expense of public health? Public safety?

What's also curious is what now appears to be a $400 million gap between Patrick and the House in terms of "maintenance," the figure calculated to determine what agencies need to do the same job as last year.

By using rainy day funds and tobacco control reserves to fill a maintenance gap that they say is smaller than Patrick, the House is gambling on a good year -- despite estimates that revenues will grow only 3 percent. You really hope they are right, but is is sound policy?

No one likes higher taxes because it can stunt plans to buy a dream house or expand a business (even multi-billion dollar businesses like Verizon). This standoff on revenue is natural, but it will be most interesting to see what the Senate comes up with.

While Senate President Terry Murray has ruled out taxes as part of the budget debate, the Patrick plan remains open for debate in the Upper Chamber.

It's interesting to note the House also dumped the $1 million Shannon anti-gang proposal as well as the Patrick plan for more cops on the beat in favor of community policing funds. This might be a good time for someone to actually explain what the differences are -- and what would make the public safer. Brian, you want to climb out of Tommy's SUV and take that one up?

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Different, not better

Some initial thoughts on the House budget proposal while taking some time to maybe, possibly think about it in more depth.
  • So who is Brian McGrory going to blame for the House decision to overturn Deval Patrick's proposal for more cops? Or is he going to be happy that the House restored special grants for gang-related programs?
  • Is it really wise to be dipping into the reserves to the tune of $300 million when the economy is looking wobbly but still on the plus side this year. What if the bottom falls out next year?
  • What message is being sent by chopping the restoration of public health programs? It was bad policy when Mitt Romney reduced them. It's bad policy now. Do House leaders really think that new health care access law is all that's needed now?
  • Is it real or is it show to proclaiming a gap that's only $800 million compared to the Patrick $1 billion estimate?
  • The overall question: is the House, by foregoing new revenues, whether through corporate tax reforms or casino gambling -- while using rainy day accounts to make up a reduced shortfall -- pushing the problem to another day?
I need to sleep on these questions and many more.

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Imus-ta missed something

Don Imus is a hate-spewing bozo. Rush Limbaugh makes two.

Frankly I'd like as much attention paid to Limbaugh enabling the Cheney hate speak effort as that which is being directed to turning the the rantings of a washed up cokehead into a national campaign issue.

And here's the best solution to both problems: turn off the radio.

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Billions for Baghdad and not one cent for Boston

Leave aside the bluster and false bravado that comes as a man of the people rides through the mean streets in someone else's SUV and Brian McGrory may be on to something. Let's simplify it: billions for Baghdad and not one cent for Boston. Or New Orleans. Or fill-in-the blank.

There is something inherently wrong with a leader who squanders national resources -- but human and financial -- on a ill-conceived, poorly executed war that has degenerated into random spasms of violence on the streets of the capital city of a country we invaded under false pretenses. All the while, this "leader" ignores the home front except to make life better for his fat cat cronies.

McGrory, riding high above the din along side Tom Menino in the mayor's not-quite-as-pricey as-Deval's-Cadillac-Ford SUV, takes his obligatory shot at Deval Patrick for the "paltriness" of his proposal to allocate $900,000 to try to stop the random spasms of violence that are gripping Boston.

A few miles away on Beacon Hill, in broad daylight, House Speaker Sal DiMasi tells the Legislature he opposes a Patrick tax proposal that would focus on closing loopholes that allow large utilities to avoid paying local property taxes. DiMasi says requiring municipalities to save $200 million by pooling the cost of health insurance and pension costs is a better way to go.

Oh yeah, and expect deep budget cuts in state programs for Massachusetts residents.

And at that same Beacon Hill hearing, a regional vice president of one of the nation's largest and wealthiest telecommunications firms, threatens higher phone rates if the Patrick proposal goes through.

This is the same utility that purchased a full page ad in yesterday's Globe to tout its neighborliness and whose television commercials appear multiple times per hour in every network television show.

What's wrong with this picture? We fight over "crumbs" at the same time as Moqtada al Sadr rails against the "forces of darkness led by the occupiers" who are spending our billions in a futile effort to follow through on what Colin Powell called the Pottery Barn Rule.

Hey George. There are a lot more Pottery Barns over here. Sal and Deval: How about pooled municipal costs AND closed loopholes?

And memo to Brian: Don't be stingy with blame-placing. There's more than enough that can go around. Maybe you'll see that when or if you get a ride in the Caddy.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I've got a bridge for you...

As we gear up for Boston's unofficial top holiday, Opening Day, everything and everyone not named Matsuzaka seems to be fading from the headlines. So it seems like a good time for one of the state's underdogs, Verizon, to plead for tax fairness.

You know that small business -- the one that provides you with telephone, wireless, broadband and maybe television service. The company, as it progressed from New England Telephone the NYNEX, Bell Atlantic and finally Verizon, got more arrogant and started charging even more for directory assistance.

The company whose CEO, Ivan Seidenberg, made $109 million over the last five years while its shareholders saw a 0.5 percent drop in return on investment. The company that proclaims 2006 a "strong year of organic growth" with $88.1 billion in operating revenue, up 26.8 percent.

Well, they and their downtrodden business associates need a tax break, at least according to Donna C. Cupelo, the regional president of Verizon in Massachusetts and Rhode Island
Just last year, Verizon invested $600 million in Massachusetts to continue efforts to transform its network to a technologically advanced all-fiber network. At the same time, it generated $180 million in state and local taxes. Counting payroll for its 14,000 employees, pensions, healthcare costs, and almost $500 million spent with Massachusetts vendors, in 2006 Verizon alone poured over $2 billion into the state's economy.

Together, the major carriers generated almost $500 million in state and local taxes last year, including $221 million in sales taxes that are not assessed on other companies.

To hear Verizon tell it, they need to cash to invest in new lines and equipment to keep us in our high-tech communications mode. Feed our addiction, as it were. Part of the way they receive that cash is by being exempt from property tax on the poles, lines and other equipment located in your city and town.

You know, that community looking to cut police, fire or teachers to avoid raising YOUR property tax?
So while it's true that some (but not all) of Verizon's property is exempt from property taxes, that policy generates an extremely good return for the Commonwealth. That is not a loophole but a deliberate state policy that encourages companies like Verizon to stay and build, create more jobs, and grow the economy.
Of course without adequate resources to provide the basic services we need, Massachusetts cities and towns aren't going to be able to keep the residents we need to buy those Verizon services. You know residents, like Verizon employees.

Oversimplified? Of course. Same as the Verizon argument. But taxpayers should consider sending a message that asks the phone company "can you hear us now" when it comes to being a good neighbor and sharing the burden imposed on their neighbors


Monday, April 09, 2007

Showdown at the Beacon Hill Corral

OK. a little dramatic to be sure -- and certainly nothing that will happen this week. But the irresistible force of expected state services is about to hit the immovable object of tax avoidance. And right before the income tax filing deadline.

The House will unveil its version of the fiscal 2006 state budget this week and all signs point to them making it balance through cuts. Speaker Sal DiMasi has said "no" to Gov. Deval Patrick's proposals for closing corporate tax loopholes and a package of local option taxes. DiMasi and the House are also on record against casino gambling proposals, while Patrick has not yet made up his mind.

Once again, the public may be ahead of its leaders (and know-it-alls like me).

The second piece of the Globe poll finds more of an openness to the proposals among the public than legislators (of course we're not talking about raising the sales or income taxes).

Massachusetts residents appear to favor Governor Deval Patrick's proposals for raising revenues to bridge the state budget gap and ease the property tax burden, with a small majority expressing support for closing what he described as corporate tax loopholes, and for giving communities the right to impose a local tax on meals and hotels, according to a new Globe poll.

The survey also found significant and growing interest in expanded gambling as a source for state revenue, an option Patrick is currently studying. Two-thirds of residents, 67 percent, said they would support putting slot machines at racetracks in the state , compared with 54 percent four years ago. Support for a casino has grown to 61 percent.

The numbers aren't overwhelming -- 56 percent approve of the corporate tax loophole closing, 53 percent say OK to things like local option hotel-motel taxes. These levies also represent the classic "don't tax me, don't tax thee, tax the man behind the tree" philosophy that governs the United States.

Nevertheless, it's mildly surprising to see a majority of Massachusetts residents -- attuned to 16 years of the GOP free lunch -- to support any tax increases.

And it will be interesting to see what these numbers look like in a few weeks after the House budget -- and its cuts -- have been around long enough to digest.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Not the best timing....

Say it ain't so Myth....

The Associated Press reports that Myth Romney has never taken out hunting licenses in the four states he has called home.

But that's OK, says Romney -- you know the "lifelong" NRA member who signed up last August. He says he says into small critters.

"The report that I only hunted twice is incorrect," Romney said in a statement issued Friday. "I've hunted small game numerous times, as a young man and as an adult. I'm by no means a big-game hunter. I'm more Jed Clampett than Teddy Roosevelt," he said, referring to the "Beverly Hillbillies" character.

I'd say Jethro Bodine is more like it.

But this is really a bad day for news to come out that Myth had a thing for wascally wabbits.

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So what else is new?

The Globe is out with a new poll that shows the public is smarter than many editors believe -- certainly those class warfare types at the Herald.

By clear margins, the public told pollsters that stories about drapes, helicopters and Cadillacs aren't that big a deal -- but that payroll padding and appearances of a conflict-of-interest is.

Those numbers parallel results from the less visible but respected Statehouse News Service poll (OK, they also polled on whether the Red Sox would win the World Series!) And both surveys reflect the reality that Deval Patrick is tarnished but still held in high regard by voters who put him into the Corner Office in November.

What I find frustrating about the Globe poll (and media coverage in general) is the focus on the personalities rather than the policies. Asked by the Globe what the most important issues are, respondents said, taxes, crime and health care, in that order.

Crime and health care are obvious from the headlines. But what about taxes? Are they too high? Or are people unhappy about the value they get for their tax dollars? Do they even know about what they get for those hard-earned bucks?

The News Service does a better job pinpointing the question -- focusing on business taxes as a means to close a budget gap:

There is no clear consensus concerning how to close the state budget deficit, and there is certainly no groundswell of support for balancing the budget on the backs of businesses. When asked what they think should be the first tactic employed to balance the state budget, tax increases on businesses, or tax increases on individuals, or cuts to state services, responses were almost evenly divided between business tax increases and state service cuts, fueled by a strong gender gap:

The SHNS survey found tax 36 percent of respondents favored increases in business taxes while 31 percent favored cuts in state services. Only 7 percent favored increase in personal taxes and 8 percent backed a combination of all three. Men were more likely to favor cuts in services than woman and the genders reversed on business taxes.

All this points to the theme I've been flogging for a long time: people don't know what their tax dollars pay for and the media fails miserably in telling that story. Drapes, Cadillacs, antiques and no-show employees are used as symbols to avoid the deeper and more complex examination of what our dollars actually buy.

The story is terrible television -- no fires, no police tape and a requirement for depth in a minute and 30 seconds (if you're lucky). The Herald model of "enterprise" reporting bumps up against the twin barriers of lack of staff and lack of space.

Which brings us back to the Globe. Admittedly now also facing shortfalls of both space and staff the local paper of record has failed to make a commitment to even a modicum of in-depth reporting.

The Statehouse bureau this year has been among the leaders writing in gaffe stories -- even where none exist. The departures of Walter Robinson, Steve Kurkjian and Bob Turner, to name a few, means that reporters and editors who knew the importance in-depth reporting are heading to the exits faster than TV cameras race to a fire.

The web remains the great untapped resource at the Globe -- databases waiting to be tapped and analyzed to show how our dollars are spent. And the failure to use this resource is not the result of waves of buyouts. The Globe has lagged in this area for as long as the web has been in business.

As long as this continues, it makes it a simple task for the Howie Carrs of this world to flog hacks in print and on the radio. And for the right side of the blogosphere to chime in mindlessly.

And the public to complain about "taxes" without knowing what's really at stake.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Old chestnuts die hard

The news is so old and unremarkable it failed to find a spot in the news hole-challenged Saturday edition of the Globe. But a new study finds that yet again, Taxachusetts is a doddering old myth that gets revived every time we try to have a discussion about services and how to pay for them.

Anyone who wants to check out the Tax Foundation's annual report will discover the Bay State ranks in the middle, in 28th place, is terms of state and local tax burdens. And the report finds that burden is increasing nationally -- probably because of the Bush tax cuts and the soaring home values that take property taxes up with them.

Taxachusetts reached its peak in 1980, the year that Proposition 2 1/2 hit the scene. The law has worked fairly well, even from the standpoint of this skeptic, thanks largely due to the continued run-up in values that fed the local tax base. But the breaking point has been reached and it's time to deal with a law that was right for its time -- 27 years ago.

It's also interesting to note that Massachusetts indeed ranks in the top 10 nationally (No. 7 ) thanks to an ever-increasing federal tax burden (No. 4 overall). Again, pure speculation, but I suspect the alternative minimum tax (aka the Blue State Tax) that eliminates federal deductions for state and local income and property taxes.

So, instead of fighting Beacon Hill, let's try Capitol Hill, where GOP presidents and Congresses have loaded up on us.

There is the alternative of "tax-free" New Hampshire (49th overall, 6th federal). Of course you also pay major league excise taxes on booze and butts and highway tolls every 30 feet. And a town tax, local education tax, state education tax and a county tax ranked among the nation's highest.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about the Tax Foundation's leanings -- these are the folks who bring you Tax Freedom Day calculations.


Never buy a used security system...

At least Iowa resident has gotten Myth Romney down cold.

The man of the people had this exchange with a caller on a Q&A hosted by his campaign.

"You sound like a guy who sells home security systems," said the man, identifying himself as 18 and from Pottawattamie County.

They grow them smart in Pottawattamie.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

In the line of fire

With the "victory" comes the scrutiny. Let's see if Myth Romney can stand up to it.

Fresh off his vault to the top of the GOP money leader board, the New York Times takes two looks at the Mittser this morning, where his cash came from and -- more importantly -- his penchant for saying things that, um, reflect the spirit of the moment.

Romney's hunting prowess won't be an issue in this campaign, though his acrobatic policy tendencies will be. And the latest in the series of Mitt "refinements" has caught the campaign press corps just as it is beginning to take a closer look at him.

And that huntin' man of the people is anything but, if you look at where his cash came from. Romney wisely invested cash and other resources to pick off rich, low-handing fruit like business associates and fellow Mormons. His renting of the the Boston Convention and Exposition Center for $2.35 million to raise $6.5 million garnered priceless publicity.

Drilling deeper, Romney, it is not quite so impressive.
Mr. Romney’s financial support is deep but narrow. He amassed $20 million from fewer than 33,000 donors, according to figures disclosed by his campaign. By comparison, Mr. McCain raised $12.5 million from nearly 50,000 donors while Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, raised $25 million from more than 100,000. Their average contributors each gave about $250; Mr. Romney’s gave more than $600.
So John McCain, the "loser" in the money race, had more donors who contributed less. Looked at another way, Romney snagged the fat cats, while McCain and Obama worked at the grassroots.

The fat cats won't care to much about Mitt's policy acrobatics. But let's see how he does with the grassroots when the white hot spotlight hits him. I bet it leaves a few strands from his well-coiffed head out of place.

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You can't please everyone

I'm not the kind of person who sniffs media conspiracy everywhere, but I admit to be taken aback by the tone of the Globe's lead story.
Under pressure to respond to a surge of violence in the state's capital, Governor Deval Patrick announced an array of measures targeting crime yesterday, including a statewide anticrime council and new restrictions on gun purchases but only $900,000 in immediate funding for Boston.
Stand back for a shocking statement from a liberal: you can't fix every problem by throwing money at it. And this problem requires more than dollars to hire more cops. It also requires a commitment of parents, teachers and people like you and me.

Not that this is insubstantial cash, according to what the Globe says it will buy: 60 cops about six months sooner than expected, and an 18 percent increase in summer jobs funding for Boston.

Throw in some cash from the MBTA to buy security cameras for buses and we're talking about a decent initial response.

It's clearly not good enough for Adrian Walker either, but in a climate where it is clear the state has more priorities than dollars -- and where taxes are off the table -- it is not insubstantial.

But the Globe's copy desk should realize that while Walker, as a columnist, has a right to an opinion, the lead story is different and the tone here clearly is loaded -- especially when the facts seem to indicate that this will be money well spent. It may be a "drop in the bucket", according to one advocate, but it's a start.

JOURNALISM ALERT: That last paragraph may have been as inelegant as the Globe lead. What I meant to say is the lack of attribution in the lead makes it appear as if the clearly loaded "only $900,000 in immediate funding for Boston" was the opinion of the reporter. Two sources are clearly cited as offering that view, but it doesn't come out that way when you read it. But I probably shouldn't be complaining about unclear writing in this particular instance.

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