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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, February 25, 2007

Private showing

Now we know why the Boston Globe apparently decided not to attend Administration and Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan's budget briefing on Friday.

The Globe has greater detail on Deval Patrick's first budget -- as well as offering a sign that his communication staff indeed knows how to selectively leak. (Although throwing a bone to the Herald might not be a bad idea just so they can come up with a fresh angle of attack).

The budget reflects the tightrope Patrick is attempting to walk between campaign promises and fiscal reality. More local aid and Chapter 70 funding, a one-quarter down payment on his plan for additional cops and level-funded human services.

I can hear the howls already: from advocates, lobbyists and the Legislature, especially over the proposals to close tax loopholes to spread the cost of services among everyone who uses them.

Hey, he wanted the job.

I won't be here to see this start to play out in real time. I'm headed off to a secure, undisclosed location to recharge a bit. Please check back in about 10 days -- especially those of you who may have recently stumbled upon my rants.

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Take my wives, please

Are the chicken coming home to roost for Myth Romney?

It's hardly a surprise that the Christian conservatives are scrambling to find a candidate. John McCain has been persona non grata since he told off Jerry Falwell and his cronies as "agents of intolerance"and no amount of pandering will change those hardened hearts.

Rudy Giuliani? Yeah right. Three wives, tolerant of gays and a supporter of woman's right to choose.

That's why Myth has been working so hard to flip-flop into positions acceptable to the mullahs of the Christian Right. And that's why this story will throw yet another monkey wrench into his plans.
Polygamy was not just a historical footnote, but a prominent element in the family tree of the former Massachusetts governor now seeking to become the first Mormon president.
Ever family tree has roots those who follow would prefer to cut off. And I've said before that the problem with Romney is not his religious beliefs -- but the fact that he doesn't appear to believe in anything except the next election.

But this story about the polygamy roots in the Romney clan -- even after the practice was declared illegal by both church and state -- adds a new element to his problem. And it is called hypocrisy.

Romney's jokes "marriage is between a man and a woman ... and a woman and a woman." But, as the AP notes, in serious moments he has called the practice "bizarre" and noted his church excommunicates those who engage in it.

A Romney supporter would say the same definitions apply to his view of gay marriage. And we are talking a reverse position here -- a legal form of marriage was eventually declared illegal.

But I would argue his insistence on only one true way of viewing things -- in light of his own faith's journey on the topic of marriage -- makes him open to the hypocrisy charge. And of course, that's only after noting all his changes on the topic, depending whether his opponent was Ted Kennedy or John McCain.

You don't have to be a Christian Right mullah to be worried about Romney's intellectual honesty.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Curiouser and curiouser

What if you gave a budget briefing and no one came?

It's really hard to fathom the media strategy of the Patrick administration these days -- if they even have one. The awful response to the CaddyGate and DrapeGate -- allowing the stories to fester and grow for days before the governor came out to meet the cameras -- is just the most obvious sign of not having a game plan. An emergency response effort? Fugedaboudit!

Adam Bernstein at the Phoenix notices a disturbing trend of using late Friday afternoons to hold briefings. The time is usually derisively referred to as "taking out the trash," dumping bad news before the weekend.

One of my favorite memories of that tactic was the decision by a 1986 Republican gubernatorial candidate to call at a late Friday afternoon gathering a week or so before the GOP convention in June. Royall Switzler had a reputation as a lovable blowhard -- and he was in the race because of PR nightmares like the discovery that front-runner Gregg Hyatt liked to be au naturel while in his office.

The Statehouse pressroom was almost empty. Big mistake. Switzler announced he was dropping out because he had embellished his resume.

Fast forward back to 2007. It appears only the Statehouse News Service (subscription required) was around when Administration and Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan offered a sneak preview of the FY2008 budget. A 4 percent increase, no use of the rainy day fund and the likelihood of a "fair amount of cutting."

My much maligned friends at the Herald deserve some props here. They took note, spinning the story to the views of those who were actually working on Friday afternoon. The Globe? Nope. Not even a web-based news update.

Ultimately, the blame lies with the Patrick media team. When announced, it struck me the members were largely lacking in major daily LOCAL news gathering experience. A former network news correspondent, a spokesman with strong public sector PR experience and a campaign aide who labored at Statehouse News. Don't get me wrong, SHNS is invaluable. The Globe or Channel 5 it is not.

Ironically, the most-experience public sector PR person on board right now is "interim" A&F spokesman Joe Landolfi, which makes it even harder to understand a Friday afternoon briefing.

Say what you will (and I have said quite a lot), Eric Fehrnstrom spent a lot of years at the Herald before moving to a combination of Joe Malone and private sector spinning. Ray Howell, Bob Bliss, Jason Kauppi, to name three, also had significant daily Statehouse reporting experience before serving their respective governors.

The team Patrick put together are no doubt good, honest, hard-working people. Right now they are not serving their boss well (although I can also imagine the boss can be a bit head strong in this area).

It's still early, the damage is minor and easily undone. But there is definitely work needed to restore the message Patrick carried during the primary and general elections -- a sharp, caring and committed person who puts the people first.

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Shameless self-promotion

A tip o' the hat back to Charley on the MTA for the kind words. Same rules apply -- we don't always agree but Blue Mass. Group is must-read for me too.

Ditto for Adam Gaffin and Universal Hub, who does have an amazing way with finding some really good stuff. Dan Kennedy's Media Nation makes three.

So Charley and Dan, any chance I can get a link on the blog roll? :-)

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Before you accuse me...

Now we know what Deval Patrick was doing when he wasn't fitting his office for new drapes.

The overly paranoid among us might think there was an ulterior motive to the spitting and moaning about Patrick's Cadillac lease and new office decor (which Emily Rooney, after just a couple of phone calls, determined was needed because the Corner Office was a dump -- even if it never was used).

If you discredit Patrick, you weaken him politically, they thinking goes. It worked for his former boss Bill Clinton after all.

I'm not that paranoid, but there's little doubt these various episodes (and Patrick's poor responses) was a table-setting exercise before the main event -- the budget. Usually the leaks involve policy, this time they involved furnishings.

And with one of Patrick's major proposals now out in the open for all to see, it's easier to understand why we saw efforts to knock him down a peg. He's calling for a shift of the state's tax burden -- from residential to business -- and has come up with an interesting and thoughtful proposal.
As many as 100,000 Massachusetts homeowners would receive up to $870 a year in tax relief under a plan unveiled by Governor Deval Patrick yesterday that relies on the state's corporate community to foot the bill.

The new governor, who made property tax relief one of his signature campaign themes, proposed paying for the $75 million initiative by eliminating what he said were outmoded tax exemptions businesses have been exploiting. If the Legislature agrees to all the tax changes, they would eventually produce about $500 million a year.

And business lobbyists and their friends in the Legislature are not happy.
"I applaud the fact that he wants to standardize our corporate tax policy and have everyone pay their fair share, but you can't entice businesses here if they don't know what our tax policy is going to be next year," [Rep. Daniel] Bosley said. "Every year we're closing loopholes, and good, bad, or indifferent, those loopholes are part of the business balance sheet."
Now we have a better picture of why Dan Bosley didn't take a job with Patrick.

But funny thing. Those complaints may be ringing a bit hollow.

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (you know, the "liberal" one) has a report out that places Massachusetts business taxes in context. And that report concludes that Massachusetts has a significantly lower level of business taxation that most states. But the "liberal" citations include Ernst and Young, which places Massachusetts 46th in state taxes paid by businesses and 41st in percentage of private sector Gross State Product paid in business taxes.

And in other areas, the state ranks 46th or 48th in the nation in corporate tax burden.

Maybe the Drape Gate was designed to cover more than crummy walls? After all it's easier for the media to wrap itself around something with a "gate" attached" than it is to do serious reporting on policy.

Can we now have a full and open debate about burden-sharing in this commonwealth without using attacks? Some thoughtful counterproposals from legislators and lobbyists? And can we have reporters looking at what other states do -- what works and doesn't work -- without leaving it at just dueling sound bites?

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

"We really screwed up"

Which political figure uttered those words?

A. George Bush
B. Hillary Clinton
C. Mitt Romney
D. Deval Patrick

Unless you've been overdosing on Anna Nicole, Brittany, Tom and Bridget and Gisele (in which case you wouldn't be reading this in the first place) you know the answer is D.

It took him too long to personally stand in front of the cameras and speak the words, but Deval Patrick finally acknowledged the obvious -- he committed a PR gaffe of the first magnitude by ignoring symbolism in making purchases for the Corner Office and his transportation.

But by doing that he is now far ahead of other elected officials in that acknowledgment. And he's learned an important lesson about gotcha journalism.

Patrick has been heading to this stare down with the media since he threw down the gauntlet at the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association in December, basically labeling the media part of the problem. But, vanities aside (this is like shooting fish in a barrel) what has the media contributed to this public debate?

Patrick's spending at the same time he is talking about budget cuts and closing tax loopholes is a very powerful and hypocritical symbol. But by focusing on the symbol, while virtually ignoring the nuts and bolts detail, the overall media contribution to the debate is also on the negative side of the ledger.

The recent history of politics is rich in symbols -- and Republicans have been far better at exploiting them. Symbols are a lot easier to understand in a culture where you have 30 seconds to tell a story, cable television "news" is really nothing but verbal food fights, newspaper readership is sinking along with the quality of the reporting and you can find any "fact" or opinion under the sun on the Web.

And where you have live coverage of people fighting over custody of the body of a poor soul whose only claims to fame were her body and her ability to find marry well (financially).

Given this media culture, is it any wonder that a newly minted politician with an impressive bootstraps resume (and unbounded self-confidence) would find the media part of the problem?

Frankly, nobody comes out of this looking good, with Patrick at the top of the list for his tin ear. But he has done what none of the other politicians in the quiz have done -- admit to his mistakes.

Let's look at the real issues facing this state -- soaring housing costs and declining population; the failure of past administrations to generate good jobs at good wages; schools that have gotten better but still have a long way to go.

Not to mention how to pay for those services as well as police, fire and trash removal. And who should be paying their fair share.

I'd love to see those stories on 7News. And I'm all for Brian Dodge for telling me who and how we should pay for things other than Diane Patrick's chief-of-staff.

How likely is that to happen? If we had casinos in Massachusetts I'd put money on "never."

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Let's move along

Deval Patrick has learned a lesson -- that's why he announced he was paying for the drapes before it became another mini-firestorm.

The Herald certainly seemed appeased, after all they focused on the other major "apology" of the day -- Tom Brady's impending fatherhood.

Ironically, it's a sports columnist and not a political one, who has the best view of the situation. Although he focuses on Brady, substitute the name of any public figure.
What a business. We decide what is news and what is not, frequently without any apparent consistency, and we react with astonishment when people do not live up to the impossible standards we have set for them.
Before the critics come crashing down on me, yes, Patrick is an elected official who used public money in a way that jars with public images. Symbolically, a Cadillac sends a different message than a Ford -- even if Brady himself once endorsed the car in commercials.

I'll reserve judgment on $10,000 drapes although I know from personal experience the cost of good drapes is ludicrous -- and it just gets worse when you have a lot of big windows.

And what makes Patrick different from my favorite punching bag, Mitt Romney? A track record. Patrick's missteps are his first and he appears chastened. Romney may have abandoned his salary but he also abandoned his job (not to mention his principles).

People were worried that Patrick was too liberal and would not reflect what he learned in the corporate suites at Texaco and Coca-Cola. Wrong (although he hasn't risen the Dennis Kozlowski levels). Check me out for my feelings about Patrick if this tin ear about spending becomes a pattern.

But the bottom line remains the same -- the American media builds people up to tear them down. It's one of the reasons I got tired of doing the job.

But, dear reader, you and I share blame too. We (collectively) soak up this stuff -- whether the target is Patrick, Romney, Michael Dukakis, Bill Weld, Nancy Pelosi or George Bush. It's worse on the celebrity end to be sure -- Brady's coverage is tame compared to the amount of time and attention devoted to Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton, two individuals whose claim to fame is their claim to fame.

Patrick made some significant early mistakes (but interestingly he has not paid a price for it). Hopefully he will learn from them and this will be nothing more than a blip on the screen.

But spare me the knee-jerk conservative ravings of Jeff Jacoby and Brian Dodge who never piped up with outrage over the absence and philosophical gymnastics of their prodigal governor -- who used Massachusetts taxpayers to further his own ambitions.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Myth Romney

The national press corps is starting to catch on about our not-so-beloved former governor.

This opinion piece by the Washington Post's Richard Cohen captures the essence of the Romney Myth with breathtaking accuracy. Sadly it will be trashed as liberal claptrap by the voters Romney is appealing to, but it could help prompt a more critical look by so-far easy-going campaign reporters at Romney and his shameless transformation.

Here's the money graf:
Romney is not the only Republican candidate to mothball principles for the campaign. Rudy Giuliani is now not as pro-choice as he used to be, and John McCain has hired the very mudslingers he once wanted to garrote. But Romney is in a class of his own. He used to have fairly reasonable positions on gun control. Within the past year, though, he joined the National Rifle Association -- an admission made under some duress Sunday to George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week.'' In fact, to watch Romney on the show was to see a thoroughly counterfeit man. If he were a coin, a vending machine would spit him out.
Then there's this piece from Newsweek, which begins:
There is something a little too good to be true about Mitt Romney.
You just need to turn an educated eye to his first television ad to appreciate the rationale. The Post duly notes that Romney needs to make the transition from candidate with great potential to great candidate -- and that he can afford to make a buy designed to help him catch up the Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

And while the Romney "brain trust" would never admit it, there is a third reason: the intensity of flip-flops is reaching critical proportions. The cynical calculation to join the NRA on the cusp of the campaign reveals his lack of values with incredible clarity

Romney needs these ads to change the subject. And they will -- for a time. But I would be shocked if the blood now in the water doesn't begin to attract the rest of the press corps for a better view of the Man and the Myth.

UPDATE: This clip of "Multiple Choice Mitt" only adds fuel to the idea that the man stands for what seems politically advantageous at any given moment in time.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Here, there and everywhere

A lazy holiday leads to a lazy compilation of thoughts apropos of nothing:
  • Oh, you mean financially bankrupt? The San Diego Archdiocese thinks it may have a way to get out from under the crushing weight of priest sexual abuse lawsuits. Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Remind me again who the "values" voters are?
  • Latest news from the political gymnastics front: Mitt Romney joins the NRA -- after endorsing gun control in previous campaigns. The move made in the last year undoubtedly mirrors that of his life-changing experience that led to his flip-flop on choice: a presidential run. Romney was undoubtedly hoping no one would would ask, so he wouldn't have to tell.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Caddy-wauling

Trying to ignore the sheer chutzpah of Barbara Anderson calling this the "imperial governship" (hard on the heels of the disappearing governorship), it's worth taking another look at the tax trial balloons being floated in advance of Deval Patrick's first budget proposal.

Lost in the hot air emanating from all sides is the fact these proposals have struck a chord among the folks that Anderson shills for (Citizens for Limited Business Taxation would be a more appropriate term for the group founded almost three decades ago). Because those very property taxes CLT swore to reign in have been feeling the strain as corporations and utilities continue shifting the burden onto our backs.

What got lost in the noise? An example:
Massachusetts business leaders reacted with alarm yesterday to reports Governor Deval L. Patrick is looking to raise up to $400 million by closing so-called corporate tax loopholes, with several saying Patrick's proposal is just a tax hike by a different name.
Or, for another example:
To help homeowners with high property taxes, Governor Deval Patrick is proposing to extend a disputed measure that temporarily allows municipalities to collect a greater share of taxes from business properties.
These proposals -- which talk about moving some of the burden of residential property taxes onto business and commercial property -- were designed to foster a debate. Unfortunately that debate has been stifled by Patrick's mishandling of his transportation needs.

It's significant that one of the leaders of the counter-surge is the Massachusetts High Technology Council, which earned its spurs in the '80s working hand-in-glove with Barbara Anderson to label the state as a wildly spendthrift "Taxachusetts."

The High Tech Council is a business lobby exists to keep taxes low on its member corporations. Unlike his CLT namesake, Christopher Anderson pulled down over $700,000 in reportable lobbyist income over 10 years to advocate for the council's tax preferences. And the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce spent about $300,000 on lobbyist salaries.

Barbara Anderson and Michael Widmer have also received payments for lobbying -- although not as substantial as Christopher Anderson and the various Chamber lobbyists. As did folks representing the former Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts and its successor, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

The point is not to begrudge these folks their livelihood. It is to point out they are being paid to take certain positions on policy -- positions that may not match what is best for you and me as an individual taxpayer.

When the tax trial balloons are combined with the pain budget being outlined, we are looking at a significant discussion on what we as Massachusetts taxpayers are receiving for our hard-earned dollars -- and what it will cost to continue those services.

That's what it is advantageous for Barbara Anderson to howl over Deval's DeVille and why it is doubly unfortunate he booted his response.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Feeding the beast

Deval DeVille meet Air Pelosi.

It's a classic recipe. Take one issue that can be exploited for political purposes, add a still-learning or slightly tone deaf politician, stir and presto -- tempest in a teapot. For extra flavor, spice it up with a poor choice of words and a press corps itching to prove its relevance.

The roots of the Patrick transportation "scandal" can be found in the way the administration has conducted business so far. A dearth of "availabilities" contrasted with podcasting and radio call-in shows has the once somnolent political press corps waking up.

Here's a likely scenario. The state Republican Party (another group searching for relevance) drops a dime to the "enterprising" Herald, suggesting they file Freedom of Information Act requests with the State Police on Patrick's use of the Air Wing and his other transportation methods.

The Air Deval story fails to take wing (sorry) despite the Herald's efforts -- partly the result of their own sloppy reporting but also the fact the trips did not rise to the level of Jane swifts Air-ors.

So it's on to the Caddy Caper. I'll leave it to others to explore possible underlying factors, but this one has some legs because Patrick picked a bad time to Meet the Press -- and then botched the performance by not taking the time to adequately prepare for what he knew were inevitable questions. Let's go the tape:

Governor Deval Patrick unabashedly defended his use of a $46,000 Cadillac DeVille for state business, saying yesterday that he abandoned the more customary and less expensive Crown Victoria used by former governor Mitt Romney because "they don't make it anymore."

Hours later his aides acknowledged that the statement was inaccurate. Crown Victorias are still being made, they said, but do not meet security standards mandated by State Police.

At the bottom line this brouhaha shares an important similarity with the Pelosi contretemps: transportation decisions were being based on security needs. Once Pelosi made it clear the House Sergeant-at-Arms asked her transportation questions, the wind went out of GOP sails (OK, mixed metaphor!) A surprising assist from Tony Snow sure didn't hurt.

Patrick on the other hand, was poorly prepared for his encounter and made a non-story into something the Globe could no longer ignore. Flip remarks such as State Police wanted "something with giddyap" don't help in an environment where every move is going to be put under a microscope because of the planned leaks now springing to outline the broad parameters of the budget situation.

The Patrick administration should have had a top State Police official available to explain why the governor can't ride around in a Toyota or Honda hybrid, There should have been detailed breakdowns of the cost of the various vehicles and why the Cadillac was better than Chrysler 300C for their needs.

And for good measure, the media should have compared how these costs compare to Romney hauling state troopers around for two years during his "unofficial" White House run.

Similarly, the administration also turned a blind eye to the appearance of a $72,000 personal assistant to handle scheduling and interview requests for his wife. Diane Patrick is not Chuck Hunt and a case MIGHT be made for an aide -- but not now.

This flurry was predictable. The political press corps has been itching for something to reassert themselves since Patrick indicated he wasn't going to follow the tired old model of Statehouse media coverage.

I remain convinced Patrick is doing the right thing by using podcasts and other "direct to consumer" methods to reach voters. I continue to applaud what I see as a "work horse" model of governance and do his homework before speaking out on major issues.

Call it a rookie mistake though that he didn't do his homework across the board. And it does lend additional credibility to the idea of openness and accessibility to everyone -- including the media -- is the best long-term policy.

After all, Tommy Menino survived his Ford Excursion controversy.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Run silent, run deep

Deval Patrick hasn't just been spending his time flying or driving around on the taxpayers' dime. There are some serious policy discussions going on beyond the scenes, keeping Patrick from showboating.

While Mitt Romney is running around the country trying, as one observer put it, to airbrush out his four years as governor, Patrick has been working to come up with some solutions to the problems the real gubernatorial showboat left behind.

And if Patrick has managed to draw criticism from Sal DiMasi, Barbara Anderson and Michael Widmer, he's off to a good start.

The annual trial balloon festival has begun in a run-up to the unveiling of Patrick's first budget.

The Globe reports Patrick is looking at closing corporate tax loopholes (ironically one of the few good moves made by Romney while he still cared about his job). This follows on the heels of a formal unveiling of a package to assist local governments in raising local option taxes, including an end to the loophole that allows utilities to avoid paying taxes on their poles, fiber optic and other infrastructure.

And with the carrot, also coming is a likely stick: local pension reform. (And yes, Kerry Healey offered this idea and also yes, Patrick said he liked it. Nothing wrong with actually listening to an opponent. What if George Bush listened?)

Then there's the stick of the pain budget -- spelling out what failing to come up with solutions to a chronic revenue shortfall might actually mean. What all these leaks and formal announcements amount to is the real State of the State, spelling out the options available to address shortfalls and shortcomings and provide an accurate accounting of what "no new taxes" means beyond a slogan.

And no that accounting doesn't include the cost of the State Police Air Wing and a State Police-mandated car. It would be nice if the enterprising reporters at the Little Picture Paper compare apples to oranges and tell us the lease price of a Crown Vic or whatever low-mileage vehicle Romney left behind. (Somehow I doubt it was a Crown Vic -- how about an Ford Explorer like Tommy Menino?)

I recognize the Massachusetts Republican Party -- the one with barely enough elected officials to fill out a 25-man baseball roster -- needs its official media outlet -- the one with barely enough circulation to fill out a newsroom -- to raise self-righteous indignation over alleged "excesses."

Anything to change the subject from discussing what things might look like if the party's last holder of the keys to the Corner Office has actually stuck around here long enough to deal with the problems before they got worse.

But he had bigger sheep to fleece.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Friends of Mitt

The prodigal son returns home today and some people are taking notice that it it won't to the warm embrace.

As The New York Times pointedly noted, Romney went to a state where he had not lived for 41 years to make an announcement that was decidedly anti-climatic to residents of a state that elected him in 2002 -- and who he abandoned two years later to pursue his current job.

And now the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost.

Former Gov. Jane Swift is the latest Republican elected official to endorse someone else -- throwing her allegiance to John McCain. She follows Paul Cellucci, who has signed on with Rudy Giuliani.

In fact only Bill Weld, noted for walking away from the Corner Office to run for Senate, then left town for his native state and tried to run for governor of New York, has cast his lot with Romney. Birds of a feather?

McCain has also sewn up support from legislative leaders, political operatives and even one of the city's only conservative columnists.

That brings the usually reliable words from Eric Fehrnstrom.
"We have the majority of the Republican establishment, and they will be on hand at tomorrow night's event where we expect upwards of 1,000 Massachusetts Republicans who will help kick off the governor's campaign."
Personally, I'd look closely at the people with the personal and political experience, not with the cash.

Massachusetts Republicans, however few of them may be left, are steering clear of the guy who made their bad situation even worse by running one way for governor, then reversing policy when he tired of them.

Massachusetts is just a money pit for Mitt. It ain't home, as his formal announcement proved. Mitt Romney has no roots -- personal or political.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"The B Line isn't running"

Oh yeah?

You can add the MBTA messing up in a storm to death and taxes as the only sure things in life.

Trying to get down the staircase on the inbound side at Kenmore proved a challenge with about 30 people trying to cram in. That should have been my first clue. The second should have been when the "ambassador" opened a gate for a handful of people to enter without swiping, tapping or feeding.

But still smarting from my rejection the other night, I was a good doobie and paid my fare and trudged downstairs to the outbound B Line. No one there except a few more "ambassadors," one of whom informed me "The B Line isn't running."

Back upstairs out to the sidewalk again to take the "shuttle" or better yet the 57 bus. Wise move taking the 57 because the "shuttle" didn't bother stopping at Kenmore.

All aboard (free of charge). And imagine my surprise when the bus gets to Blandford Street and there are not one but two outbound B Line trains. We charge up Comm. Ave., eventually three sardine-filled buses filling all three lanes with the trains (you know the line that was "not running") down the middle of the street.

Off the bus into the deepest puddle yet, back up onto the sidewalk and back into the same puddle to cross Comm. Ave. (OK, the puddles aren't there fault -- not pulling up to the curb however...) How much in lost fares?

Can you top that? Somehow I suspect someone can.

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Long overdue debate

I can hear Barbara Anderson warming up on the sidelines already, with the Herald editorial chorus behind her ready to sing the latest version of "no new taxes." And as I look at my property tax bill, my water and sewer bill and my trash pickup bill I might be tempted to join them.

But I won't.

The fact is Massachusetts has a problem -- and it is not high taxes. The Taxachusetts canard was discredited a long time ago. What Massachusetts has is a tax fairness problem that has not been addressed and is driving people from the state.

Deval Patrick appears to be aiming to make the point one way -- the pain budget -- putting out a fiscal 2008 that will reflect the realities of the state's current revenue and tax climate. We're already hearing from the GOP naysayers who insist it's just Patrick reneging on his campaign promises.

But the problem in Massachusetts is with who is taxed and how much, as well as a lack of controls over some of the principal budget busters, health care and pension costs for state and local employees. And those are problems everywhere -- except of course at businesses that don't provide either.

The Boston Foundation report lays out a problem -- where municipalities need to go hat in hand to the Legislature for everything, including tax options. And the story notes the dilemma, quoting House Speaker Sal DiMasi's reluctance to touch the subject,

Then there is the equity issue. This three-plus year-old assessment of state policy is accurate, because nothing has changed -- except to get worse.
The state's business tax ''burden'' -- business tax paid as a percentage of personal income, a commonly used proxy for profits -- is about 16 percent below the national average and has fallen about 15 percent over the last decade. The tax ''burden,'' ... is what businesses want to know when making location decisions, and on that score Massachusetts is competitive and then some.
Boston and other Massachusetts cities and towns have a problem in what they can't do:

Nearly 60 percent of Boston's revenue comes from property taxes, compared with 10 percent in Denver, 20 percent in Atlanta, and 25 percent in New York. "If you're relying on prop taxes as your only source of income, you want to have them increase. Your whole tax structure works against affordability...

Like many other US cities, Boston currently can impose taxes on hotel rooms, jet fuel, and motor vehicles. Other cities have an array of other taxes . Denver, for example, has a car rental tax. Atlanta taxes insurance premiums. San Francisco has a parking tax.

Every other city looked at in the study also collected at least a portion of the sales tax generated in the city. But sales taxes from Boston and other Massachusetts cities go into a statewide pot, and the funds are distributed through local aid that varies from year to year -- removing some local incentives to increase economic activity, according to the study.

What's long past due is a rational discussion of taxes, not one punctuated with cries of Taxachusetts and legislative fear. The Patrick budget sounds as if it will be the first part of the debate -- showing people what their tax dollars pay for. It will be up to the legislators and fair-minded people to discuss whether this is all there is or whether there are alternatives.

My fear is we still won't have that debate -- and people will continue to vote with their feet and leave. And my property tax, water and sewer and trash pickup bills will continue to go up anyway.

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Oops. my bad

Interesting that the Herald found the time to print a correction for story messing up the call letters of where WRKO talk show host Tom Finneran works (truly sloppy, don't you think?) but couldn't find the space to fix a major factual error.

Sharp-eyed readers need to read the caption accompanying today's latest "enterprising" Air Deval to see the weaselly way they try to squirm out of the fact they got it wrong about whose swearing-in Patrick used a State Police helicopter to fly to.

I don't think it's asking all that much for a newspaper demanding accountability of public officials to be accountable itself.

And one last thought (hopfully) on this tempest in a chopper. Flying home, even to care for sick babies, is an abuse. Flying to official ceremonies or acts is not. I can't say for certain whether Patrick really "angrily defended" himself or not because I wasn't there, but he should not allow himself to get sucked into this little game.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mitt's Big Day!

Well, it's finally here. That day he was dreaming about since childhood, when he could get up on stage near his home and announce that he was formally running for President of the United States!

Mitt Romney today make official what everyone has known for the two years since he abandoned his job and flip-flipped on his record. He is in Michigan to formally announce he's in to win!

The Globe reminds us of Romney's commitment to the Commonwealth:
"Running as a Romney in Michigan is golden for a politician," Romney was quoted as saying in a 2005 interview with the Boston Herald. "I would have never thought about Massachusetts, had I anticipated that politics was going to be in my future."
But Romney remains proud of his tenure on Beacon Hill.

Asked about Romney's decision to make his announcement in Michigan, spokesman Kevin Madden said the venue "speaks to the power of innovation and the unlimited ingenuity and working spirit of the American people."

"Governor Romney's campaign is going to be about harnessing that same energy, innovation, and competitive fire in order to lead the nation as we face a new generation of challenges together," Madden said in an e-mail.

I think Mitt may be the first reverse carpetbagger in US history. Massachusetts should be proud. NOT.

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It's all about context

That enterprising Herald reporter is at it again, offering a jaw-dropping front page exclusive that Deval Patrick is... DOING HIS JOB!

The Herald waxes outraged this morning that Patrick had "the chopper fly him from North Adams to Boston so he could attend swearing-in ceremonies for Auditor Joseph DeNucci and Treasurer Tim Cahill.

(Funny I could have sworn it was Attorney General Martha Coakley who was sworn in in her hometown, not DeNucci and Cahill. Oh well, you know what they say about never letting the facts get in the way or a good story).

Anyway, our enterprising reporter finds Barbara Anderson -- eager to speak after not running the state for the last 16 years -- waxing eloquent on what is a benefit to taxpayers. And old friend Eric Ferhnstrom notes different governors do things differently.

Quite true. This governor shows a indication for actually staying in Massachusetts and doing the job he was elected to do.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

The fall guy

Things may be looking up for Scooter Libby. And we may now know the real reason which Ari Fleischer cut himself a deal to testify.

But the bottom line is the Bush administration leaked like a sieve in trying to cast doubts about former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger -- and the role of Wilson's wife and now-outed CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame.

Let's see now -- we have Dick Armitage, Libby, Fleischer and Karl Rove. We also have Scott McClellan's repeated insistence that no one in the White House did anything improper and that if it was discovered they did, there would be consequences.

Fleischer, of course, just adds to his reputation as the opposite of a straight shooter -- apparently lying under oath or conveniently omitting facts -- comfortable in the notion that he can't be touched because he copped a plea to implicate Libby.

Meanwhile, Fleischer knows that Libby is just one of a handful of folks who leaked Plame's name and when that comes out Libby will have a better chance of getting off.

Wish these guys had spent as much time thinking through a strategy of how to tell the public the truth about weapons of mass destruction.

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Simple solution

If the Bush administration has the proof it claims to have about Iran's role in supplying weaponry to the Shiites in Iraq (one mighty big IF of course), then the proposal coming before the House of Representatives this week should be, in the words of George Tenet, a slam dunk.

Why?

That proof would then make it clear that the "democratically elected" government of Iraq, controlled by Shiites, is really no such thing. And that the ongoing battles in Iraq are truly of a sectarian nature, with Shiites fighting Sunnis.

It would also clearly show the Iraqi government is not interested or incapable of achieving what George Bush claims the United States wants -- a free and democratic Iraq where the rights of all citizens are respected.

So what are we waiting for? Show us the proof and pack up the troops. Or could it be W. is not being straight with us -- again.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

A work horse or a show horse?

Is Deval Patrick squandering a valuable opportunity to seize the public stage and imagination? Or is he simply working every day to know what he's facing before coming out of the box?

Count me as among the believers in the work horse model.

Patrick has been, for the most part, working quietly behind the scenes since his election in November -- a low-key introduction of cabinet secretaries and key people. The biggest splash came during the multiple day inaugural ceremonies -- for which he was roundly criticized.

His policy decisions to date have also been low-volume but hardly insignificant -- overturning Mitt Romney's 9C budget cuts, the idiotic campaign stunt call for eliminating most Mass. Pike tolls and the standoffish, go-it-alone approach to regional environmental protection.

He's also signed his first bills and offered his first proposal for government reorganization, earning a dart from the Boston Phoenix for offering that plan late on a Friday afternoon -- time when reporters generally have checked out for the weekend.

Politically, Patrick has found himself enmeshed in a short-lived controversy with Senate President Robert Travaglini about who really has the power on Beacon Hill. And his suggestion that he might horse trade legislative leadership stipend increases for authority to rein in semi-independent agencies also generated howls for a day or two.

Boring? No. Of long-term significance? Yes.

Patrick and his team appear to be hard at work at assessing the state of the Commonwealth's finances -- whether there really will be a $1 billion gap between revenues and wish lists. It is not the stuff of headlines, but is is what voters elected him to do.

When Patrick's first budget is unveiled at the end of the month it will provide a road map to what he would like to do and what is possible. That, by it's very nature, means this interim period is not the time for flashy displays of commitment to this or that cause.

But Patrick has not be invisible. He launched a weekly podcast (I admit I am not among the downloaders) and he ventured onto talk radio to field calls from voters. Venture over to Blue Mass. Group and you will find some earnest discussions about civic engagement.

What he has not done is stage a variety of high profile events in Room 157, giving the Statehouse press corps a chance to question him about this or that topic of concern to them -- a stance that apparently continues to miff.

Patrick used his inaugural -- especially taking it on the road to other parts of the state -- to define what type of governor he hopes to be. Following on the heels of the style over substance Romney administration, it was a wise course.

And when the budget is released in two weeks, the games will begin in earnest.

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But not for long...

Interesting story in today's Globe about Mitt Romney trying to have it all ways on stem cell research.

In the case, the gymnastic former governor of Massachusetts is trying to triangulate in the Clinton mode. You know he's for using frozen embryos for stem cell research if they would otherwise be discarded without being used. using it.

Conservatives believed that type of strategy, trying to be all things to all people, was just so much hooey, In this particular case, they would agree his stance is untenable if an embryo represents a human life, period, end of sentence.

My prediction: Mitt will come down firmly on the no use of frozen embryos side preferred by the right wingnuts he's trying to woo.

Hey what's another principle shift?

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Racing to irrelevancy

Those Granite Staters are at it again -- building stone monuments to stone monuments, fighting proxy wars to dash Boston traditions and last but certainly not least, staring at the end of their quadrennial gravy train.

As both political parties rev for 2008, its becoming quite clear that New Hampshire is not likely to repeat its role of king (or queen) maker. (In fact, haven't they been on the wrong end a lot lately, like Bill Clinton in '92 and John McCain in 2000? And memo to Mitt: Don't they also have a bad habit of picking "favorite sons" like Mike Dukakis, Paul Tsongas and John Kerry?)

So what are our ingenious northern neighbors planning to show they are still relevant? "Big" crowds instead of cozy diner and living room meet-ups.

The bottom line, of course is to grab one last run on the gravy train before it heads to states that are far more representative than the state behind the curtain.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Second class status

OK, now I'm really fed up. Attempting to board the B Line outbound at BU Central tonight, I was told I needed to go the front door by a "customer service agent" without any validation equipment while people next to me were allowed to get on the train.

Does my CharlieCard (pre-paid corporate pass account) somehow give off an aura that allowed this person to determine that my hard plastic card was somehow inferior to someone else's card or CharlieTicket (or nothing for all I know). Does my card have cooties?

It's merely the reverse of the morning drill, when I get on at the front, the card reader belches and a "happy" operator snarls at me to tap the card again. Tap the "proximity" card. Meanwhile others board in back -- even at stops where rear doors NEVER opened inbound.

Is there a system that determines when a rear door opens and when one form of payment is acceptable? Are the ANY rules involved with the Green Line other than the whim of whomever is wearing a T uniform?

Maybe the Globe ought to take a look at the that instead of write MBTA press releases.

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Who's doing your PR?

I guess the MBTA doesn't need to do a press release when the Globe does it for them.

Imagine my surprise when I navigated over to the MBTA site to find the press release upon which the Globe story was based -- and found the story itself, without anything written by the T's crack PR staff.

Mac Daniel did an interview with Dan "I Don't Ride Commuter Rail" Grabuaskas in which he waxed enthusiastic about "acceptance" for the CharlieCard. Daniel notes more CharlieCards are in circulation now than a similar card in Chicago after four years.

What's missing are a lot of numbers and a lot of context.
  • What are actual fare collection and ridership numbers -- not just the number of cards in circulation? Are revenues up or down compared to last year -- using both the old fare collections and an appropriate multiplier to account for the higher fees?
  • How many of those cards are part of the monthly pass system and how does that compare to the number of the old CharlieTickets, used as a monthly commuter passes through December?
  • If these cards represent 40 percent of the system's financial transactions, what was that number when riders depending on tokens and cash?
  • Does Chicago have a similar pass system or are we comparing applies to watermelons?
  • What do some of those riders who use the CharlieCards, particularly on the Green Line, say about the experience?
Say this about Bostonians -- we are smart enough not to pay a premium for the privilege to get on board. It's better to pay $1.70 for a cramped, jostled trip into town rather than $2.

And I keep coming back to the same questions: why do I get hassled using my pass to come in the front door when riders continue to get on for free -- inbound and outbound -- on the Green Line? And why does it seem to me that there are fewer people on the subway?

I don't doubt that things are operating more smoothly on the Red, Blue, Orange and Silver lines, where the only thing people need to deal with is cattle car conditions. But it would be helpful if the Globe took the time to actually ride the system for a week or more -- during rush hour, nights and weekends, do see what commuters deal with, particularly on the Green Line.

I also hope tomorrow's dead tree version of the story contains some of the answers missing from an online love sonnet that the T felt was so good they happily linked to it to tell their story.

UPDATE: Today's Globe story doesn't answer the revenue question with facts -- only projections, with the T "declining" to release January numbers because they have yet to tabulate them. Don't the vaunted new fare boxes do that automatically? And while I'm sure fare evasion was a major problem. my personal observations -- again based on Green Line back doors -- suggest it isn't any better.

And while the Globe fails to answer many of my questions, Charlie on the MBTA raises a whole bunch more. He also answers my Chicago question. It is an apples to watermelons comparison.

Meanwhile, over at the Herald, real riders are heard from, and a soon-to-be former employee steps off the peace, love and happiness bandwagon.

“There’s a lot of changes and a lot of confusion,” Ian Larrabee, special assistant to the T’s general manager, conceded yesterday.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

It all depends on what belief means

While the New York Times took its turn at looking at the electability of a Mormon, the Capitol Hill newspaper "The Hill" took a look at a different sets of beliefs held by the former governor of Massachusetts.

I'm of the opinion that Mitt Romney's Mormon faith should not disqualify him to run for the highest national office any more than John F. Kennedy's Catholicism or Joseph Lieberman's Judaism disqualified them from running for president and vice president. The same applies for Hillary Clinton's gender, Barack Obama's race or Bill Richardson's ethnic heritage.

The segment of the right wing electorate that views Romney as unworthy because he isn't "Christian enough" is as out of touch as the segment of left-leaning African-Americans who think Obama isn't "black enough"

What disqualifies Romney is that while he may have a religious belief, what he actually believes in is fungible. In fact, W. Mitt Romney may share a trait with the Democrat that right-wingers love to hate: Meet Slick Willard.

The Hill outlines the latest in a long line of Romney "attitude adjustments," this one on campaign finance reform. It simply joins his movable positions of abortion, stem cell research, contraception, abstinence, gay rights, gun control and no tax pledges -- so far.

Many of these reversed positions -- a woman's right to choose in particular -- show a craven side to a supposedly devout man of convictions. Sorry, that's an issue you don't switch on, certainly not in that direction. Good Catholic politicians such as Ted Kennedy, Mario Cuomo and John Kerry were always quick to point out that while they support their church they also support the law of the land which calls for a woman's right to choose.

The fact that supposedly devout Christian conservatives rally to Romney's side despite growing proof that he is a world champion serial flip-flopper means only one thing: they are willing to cast aside everything out of mortal fear that this race is already over and Hillary Clinton has won.

Who said a good head of hair and a good suit don't count for anything?

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Makes sense to me

Interesting proposal out in Washington State: if marriage is all about procreation, why not force childless couples to dissolve their marriages after three years?

Although it was offered somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the proposal goes to the heart of those who insist that it is "the defense of marriage and family" that prompts their opposition to gay marriage or civil union.
"We want people to think about the purpose of marriage," says Gregory Gadow, of the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance. "If it exists for the purpose of procreation, they must understand then that these are the consequences."
The point really is simple: if government is to intrude into the private lives of people -- as the Bush wing of the Republican Party believes -- then it should stick its nose into everyone's business, not just those people with whose lifestyles they disagree.

What can be more pro-family than kids? And what can be more un-American than not having them?

What if couples can't have children because of medical reasons? Too bad, I guess, which is of course the same answer the Moral Majority offers to other non-believers, the vast majority of us who don't believe in their sectarian and authoritarian lifestyle.

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Round, round get around...

So let's see. Mitt Romney's fiscally responsible Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, having lost that sick pay patriot Matt Amorello, spent nearly $600,000 on lawyers and consultants in a ill-conceived effort to elect Kerry Healey?

This is the same Turnpike Authority that had four of its own in-house lawyers and a slew of engineers?

And Mitt Romney wants to do for America what he did for Massachusetts?

Romney's ill-conceived mid-October stunt to take down turnpike tolls west of 128 lacked only the classic visual of Bill Weld taking down the West Newton toll booth during his Senate campaign against John Kerry as a cheap political trick.

But to find that his hand-picked cronies squandered cash that could have paid for one Big Dig pothole repair (OK, maybe two) in the interests of electing Healey just adds further tarnish on the White Knight of Belmont.

"Governor Romney believes the tolls should come down," Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's spokesman, said yesterday. "If we use as an excuse to keep the tolls up that we need the revenue to pay for our inefficient transportation bureaucracy, then the tolls will never come down, and Massachusetts motorists will end up losing," he said.

Hardly. I think Inspector General Gregory Sullivan is closer to the mark. He called the whole effort "an expensive and cynical political stunt."

And speaking of transportation boondoggles -- why am I asked to repeatedly tap my "proximity" CharlieCard on readers that don't work while folks slip onto the rear doors of Green Line trains without so much as a wave?

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Billions for defense, but not one cent for us

The disconnect between George Bush's words and deeds are on graphic display in the $2.9 trillion plan he submitted to Congress today.

The plan, most likely dead on arrival in a Congress controlled by Democrats, calls for a $245 billion in NEW spending for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and another $374 billion in NEW tax cuts over the next five years.

But Bush now also apparently embraces fiscal responsibility (as long as he can use it against the Democrats) so he calls for a balanced budget in five years, paid for in part by a $96 billion cit in Medicare and Medicaid spending over those same five years.

It is important at this point to note that Bill Clinton left Bush with a $127 billion surplus in 2001, which Bush has squandered through a misguided war and tax cuts for the richest 1 percent.

For Massachusetts, the proposed health care spending cuts alone would chop $424 million over five years for hospital-based services, despite the fact the federal government already pays less than 100 percent of the costs to care for the elderly, disabled and poor.

One of the greatest fallacies of Bush-o-nomics is that Republicans are looking to shackle runaway spending. They accomplish this ruse by carefully hiding the billions spent overtly (and covertly) to pursue two wars that have killed thousands of Americans and Iraqis, shattered our image across the planet and -- in tandem with reckless tax cuts -- will shackle our grandchildren and great-grandchildren with massive debts.

Bush is well on course to add fiscal bankruptcy to the moral bankruptcy for which his administration stands.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Separated at birth?

Has Mitt Romney been holding out about a brother?

I've always thought Mitt was a clown, but who knew? Maybe Wavy doesn't want the world to know about Mitt?

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Second prize, six years in New Hampshire

Got to love those rugged Granite Staters -- living off New Englanders with a taste for booze, butts and the open road and dumping their detritus on the rest of us.

I did a triple take reading about US Judge Steven J. McAuliffe's ruling that Jeffrey Phillips must leave New Hampshire for three years for threatening him over a ruling in a divorce case. I though trash dumping over state lines was illegal?

And while Phillips opted for the Ocean State, in typical New Hampshire fashion, he dumped all over the state he needed to traverse on his way to exile.
"Northern Massachusetts is a very expensive place, unless you move to a less desirable place like Lawrence or Methuen," he said, talking on the phone yesterday from Providence, where he has landed for the time being.
Those hale and hearty New Hampshire residents must still be looking for outlets for their angst after the Old Man in the Mountain bailed out on them.

Tell you what, northern neighbors. We'll take your rejects if you take ours. And I'm only asking that you keep one: a certain Lake Winnipesaukee resident named Romney.

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Gutless wonder

Back in the '80s, Michael Dukakis took to calling his GOP critics "gutless wonders" for their opposition to taxes and other reform proposals to haul the state out of a deep fiscal chasm.

Those Republicans have amazing intestinal fortitude in comparison to the recently departed governor of the Commonwealth -- who after flip-flopping on all his social positions is now turning on what he also boats is his major accomplishment after four unaccomplished years.

Mitt Romney says the problems besetting implementation of the state's health care law is the fault of, wait for it, Democratic legislators.
"I hope they take action that makes it work even better than I could have thought of," said Romney, who is exploring a campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. "But if they take action that makes it unworkable, I'll point that out. I'm not going to sit on the sidelines and not have a comment to make."
If Massachusetts legislators take any action to make it work better, it will because he left a law in place that was unworkable.

I haven't been shy in pointing fingers at the Mittser for the mischief of his "contributions" to the law: pushing for the individual mandate that everyone must buy insurance -- and vetoing legislative efforts to impose any charges on business that don't meet certain basic levels of coverage for their employees. That left a fee that did nothing to encourage scofflaws from having the state pay for their employees.

So it's fascinating to note that just one day after a small business leader offers a similar critique -- focusing on the adequacy of the $295 per employee assessment -- the Empty Suit starts to walk away from his "accomplishment."

Robert A. Baker , president of the nonprofit Smaller Business Association of New England, said most of his 700 members already contribute more to employee health coverage than the standards require. The reform plan signed last year by former governor Mitt Romney specifies that companies are exempt from a $295 per employee annual assessment if they make a "fair and reasonable" contribution to employees' healthcare. Specifically, businesses can avoid the fee if 25 percent of their workers participate in a company-sponsored plan, or the companies pay at least one-third of the insurance premium.

"Most of our people provide 50 to 80 percent premium contribution, and very few provide less than 50 percent," said Baker. "Thirty-three percent seems to be abnormally low if you want to keep good people working for you." Fifty percent, he said, "should be the standard."

The newly minted social conservative with a new-found belief in personal responsibility sees it differently. And I think I know why.
"When you say 'universal healthcare,' the first person you think of is Hillary Clinton, and the absolute debacle that Hillary-care was," said Representative Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican who attended Friday's forum in Baltimore as a member of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
There are clear flaws in the law that need to be (and are being) addressed: the initial minimum basic packages proposals are unaffordable and would require many people with health insurance to buy additional coverage they may not be able to afford. The imbalance between business and individual mandates still needs to be addressed.

I'll leave it to Dick Moore, Senate chairman of the Health Care Financing Committee and one of the legislative leaders in the effort to sum up the political problem:
"He's setting himself up so he can go either way. If it's a success, he'll take all the credit in the world. If it's a failure, he'll blame everybody else."
Mitt, you've got a ways to go to reach the gutless wonder standard.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Psst, don't tell anyone

The REAL culprit on Tuesday's Mooninite Madness is rapidly coming into view. No it's not the man in dreads and his sidekick. Or even Turner Broadcasting. It appears its a marketer named Sam Ewen and his aptly named company Interference Inc.

The million bucks or so that Turner Broadcasting will pay in restitution is chump change compared to the value of having their name and their Cartoon Network show on the lips of every Bostonian and countless millions who read or watch the news.

And Peter Berdovsy and his sidekick Sean Stevens were vastly underpaid if all they got was $300 each to figuratively and literally give Boston the finger. Or did they get extra for promoting another Cartoon Network program in the performance art that passed for a court appearance?

No the finger, if you will, now appears to be pointing at Ewen, who swore his accomplices to silence as the reaction mounted to the discovery of dozens of "billboards" complete with wires and batteries, hung under highway overpasses and MBTA stations. At least three more hours of "performance art."

I'm sure the debonair Mr. Ewen is having a good laugh at the rubes in Boston today who, with perfect 20-20 hindsight, overreacted to his "gag." Of course, we won't know right away because he hung up on Globe reporters and has refused to acknowledge his role.

The fall-out continues to highlight the generational divide here. Our pair of performers continue to have a great laugh at the public's expense while Turner plays the grown-up and says my bad.

And Ewen gives public relations and marketing yet another black eye by carrying the "joke" too far. His "performance" was not just childish, but irresponsible. And it appears it will be a major feather in his cap:
Interference campaigns have been featured in various media such as 60 Minutes, ABC World News Tonight, CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The London Times, Time Magazine and various other outlets. Mr. Ewen is a frequent speaker and writer on the topic of alternative marketing.
What did Turner pay him? From their perspective I'm sure it is money well spent. Just generating classic Tommy know-it-all while knowing nothing bluster -- asking movie operators not to show the movie -- is worth something.

Immaturity and disrespect for authority are not crimes and Berdovsky and Stevens shouldn't do the time. Self-promotion is not a crime and Turner and its parent Time-Warner won't be seeing any jail cells either. Nor will Ewen.

This obviously isn't the first, or last, stunt of its kind. It dwarfs in comparison to Orson Welles' War of the World.

But the lack of ethics displayed in refusing to call off the "gag" is something that needs to be addressed by the grown-ups. Even Welles offered hints (albeit too few) that he was perpetrating a hoax and tried to calm things after they got out of hand.

Sam Ewen on the other hand, is in a corner somewhere, smirking -- and cashing a big check from Turner.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Generation gap

"Repeat after me, authorities. L-E-D. Not I-E-D. Get it?" one 29-year-old blogger from Malden wrote on his website, contrasting light emitting diodes with improvised explosive devices.

"This is outrageous activity to get publicity for a failing show," sneered Boston Mayor Tom Menino.

The generation that said never trust anyone over 30 is having a very hard time connecting with anyone under 30 these days. It's the inevitable generational thing, but it's a good comment on our times.

As a boomer I missed the "joke" of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force guerrilla marketing campaign that paralyzed Boston yesterday. As a boomer, I'm wondering where the responsible adults were at Turner Broadcasting or wherever the campaign was dreamed up.

But it also says how life has changed so much -- for the worse -- post 9-11. Fed a constant stream of threat levels and how we need to fight them there so we don't fight them here, Americans are a scared people -- whether we like to admit it or not.

My younger counterparts would say I should learn to take a joke, lighten up. Watch Adult Swim.

There's a bigger lesson here than whether Turner Broadcasting has a cool show or are guilty of a marketing ploy that would rank up there with the apocryphal "From the Wonderful Folks who Brought You Pearl Harbor" in the pantheon of bad taste marketing.

In the United States in 2007 we talk at each other, not to each other. We shout on TV, rant on radio and now blast with blogs.

Same as it ever was?

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