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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Where's Tommy?

Four murders in Dorchester in three weeks, one a daylight shooting on an MBTA bus. Mayhem on the Orange Line. The publicity-seeking Guardian Angels patrolling the streets. It all begs a simple question.

Where's Tommy?

OK, so maybe the mayor for life wasn't luxuriating at the Ritz-Carlton in New York on the public's dime this week. But a search of Boston media this week finds Hizzoner strangely mute on topic No. 1 on everyone's lips.

Instead we hear about ongoing plans for the development of the South Boston Waterfront -- including a new City Hall -- which really is nothing more than the Menino Memorial. (Why does he get a building when Curley and White only get statues?)

Oh, there was a sighting in a story about a new Morton's Steakhouse for the Waterfront.

Our much-maligned governor -- who grow up in the mean streets of Chicago -- was front and center on the issue, urging adults to get more involved in the youth-led wave of violence.
"I realize it's a different time; it's not the '50s any more. But every once in a while, when that adult says, 'You know what? You're not supposed to come to work with your pants down there,' ... even when that kid rolls their eyes, they hear you. It gets through."
Patrick has also tried to walk the tightrope of meeting his campaign promise for more cops on the beat, keeping taxes stable and dealing with rising youth crime by shifting funds from antigang programs to beat cop programs. Advocates for the antigang programs were naturally dismayed.

But at least Patrick was visible. Check out cityofboston.gov and you see lovely tourism shots and word about a late April clean-up. Check out the news release section and you are greeted with urgent word about a free solar panel program.

It's entirely possible Hizzoner or a family member is under the weather. There's a fierce cold going around. And if it is anything more serious, that would be worthy of sympathy and concern.

But his invisibility this week as the city resembles a folding house of cards is troubling. If he's too ill to be out there personally (as, to be fair, he has been in the past) how about at least a statement on the website?

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Well duh!

The Globe reports today that devalpatrick.com has "hit a few stumbling blocks" because people who don't agree with Patrick positions are posting their opinions in online forums.

I guess that happens when you have websites and blogs that are open to comments from readers, a problem the Globe doesn't have with its collection of briefs.

Not that I am enthralled by the Wild West spirit that inflames the blogosphere. The shoot from the lip tendency -- including endless bashing of a person's parentage and physical attributes -- is childish and doesn't foster the type of debate Patrick and others (like bloggers) hope to engender.

The Washington Post has wrestled with this in the most public fashion
. But Patrick still deserves credit for trying something the Globe has been unwilling to do in its blogs. (And of by the way, have we all forgotten the Globe's own security breach issues?)

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Liar, liar, pants on fire

The truth is starting to seep out and its becoming unmistakably clear: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is the biggest law-breaker to be the nation's top law enforcement officer since John Mitchell.

And it's equally clear that George Bush seriously understates matters when he calls Karl Rove a "Turd Blossom." The man has managed to pollute every corner of Washington.

Or that the Republican Congress' failure to oversee this administration is one of the most egregious lapses of responsibility in this nation's history.

While the handful of remaining Bush apologists try to say the US Attorney purge was "business as usual" and no different than when Bill Clinton came into office, the evidence laid out in e-mails and now in sworn testimony under oath suggests a very different picture.

Kyle Sampson, the former Gonzales aide who was grilled yesterday, has already been caught in writing that the review was focused on "loyal Bushies" and initiated by Rove right after the 2004 election.

The former chief of staff also revealed how political the judgments were when he suggested removing Patrick Fitzgerald, then in the process of investigating Scooter Libby. Not that his suggestion won great support:
“They looked at me like I had said something totally inappropriate, and I had.”
Ya think?

The testimony points with great clarity that this is not politics as usual and that Bush's "compromise" of allowing Rove and former White House Counsel (and Bush toadie) Harriet Miers to testify behind closed doors, without an oath or a transcript is a mockery of the system.

And I can't wait for the final outcome over the role of Bush's Monica problem. Now that will be a definition of justice.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cold comfort

I'm expecting the knock on the door at any minute. The Pseudo-Feds ready to take away Mrs. O.L. for buying cold pills twice in one week.

Anyone who has the current cold making the rounds knows it rates a 15 and a scale of 1-to-10. A cough that will shake the foundation of your home. Stuffed sinuses that pound (when you are not making disgusting noises trying to breath).

Once upon a time there were ways to deal with colds -- solid medications sold over-the-counter (go to a doctor for a cold? Puhleeze.) Take them for about 10 days and you feel better.

But that's before the long arm of the law opted to come down on crankheads by it taking out on cold and allergy sufferers.

You probably know that pseudoephedrine, the most common decongestant in recent years, is the favorite of those looking to brew up their own homegrown batch of crystal meth. It takes about 1,000 60 mg pills -- the average dose for four-to six hours of relief -- to make an ounce of crystal meth.

That means you would need a semi-trailer to haul away enough decongestant to get high for about 10 seconds.

So what did our authorities do? One, they put the cold medicine behind the counter. Of course you have to present a driver's license (with social security number) and sign a log saying you are a law-abiding but sick individual. No sneezes are required. Face identity theft at your own peril.

One problem -- stores have policies designed to make you sick to your stomach. CVS, now the largest chain the country, puts a limited selection behind the cash registers -- not the pharmacy counter. If they have what you are looking for -- doubtful -- you have managed to annoy the long line behind you.

Or you can take the substitute rolled out to foil the crankheads: phenylephrine. Sort of a pseudo-pseudofed. Problem is -- it doesn't work!

So Mrs. O.L. graciously went out on a cold morning to pick up a box of the real deal (complete with triprolidine, an antihistamine -- you know the thing that knocks you out cold to stop sneezes?) Signed the register, refused to leave a fingerprint but walked away with the goods.

Lo and behold, it's several days later I have ungraciously shared my illness with Mrs. O.L. So off I trudge for the above mentioned CVS run-around.

Admitting my failure to adequately provide, she gets some nice people to find some stashed behind a counter in Walgreen's and she signs away our property rights. But she got what we need.

I fear what will happen if one of us gets a cold again this year. Are we on the Pseudo-Feds Ten Most Wanted Cold Tablet Users list? Will we suffer and go without?

Somewhere, a crankhead would be laughing -- if they were only coherent enough or haven't blown up their house. I, on the other hand, am still sneezing and wheezing and mumbling under my raspy breath about the Pheds.

Gesundheit.

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Read my lips...

It's not news if you ride the MBTA, drive over potholes formerly known as roads or still hold your breath as you race through the Turnpike airport tunnels, but the price for 16 years of neglect of our transportation infrastructure is coming into plain sight.

And even as they spell out a situation so dire that the Massachusetts Highway Department is paying salaries through money raised by a bond issue, the commission members charged with drafting the report Mitt Romney didn't want you to know about faced the cold reality in talking points obtained by the Globe:
"Please remember, even a discussion about the gas tax still gets us a headline we don't want, so try to deflect the question entirely and just focus on needs ... and not get into a debate about tax increases."
A spokesman for transportation secretary Bernard Cohen heeded those words when he declined to talk about gas tax and toll hikes.

The something for nothing mentality that marks the Republican philosophy on governing has never been more fully on display here. And yet Myth Romney is taking heat from the conservatives he's flip-flopping to woo for "overtaxing" us.

I've expounded long and loud about the MBTA's policy of jacking up fares and alienating customers while reducing frequency and quality of service. The shamefulness of Romney's effort to eliminate turnpike tolls has also been a frequent topic.

Yet here we are with a projected $15 billion to $19 billion transportation shortfall over the next 20 years, every state transportation agency running a deficit and resorting to short-term fixes and obvious answers no one wants to address.

With the price of gasoline shooting back up without any apparent good reason in advance of the summer driving season and MBTA service just as mediocre at the higher fares no one wants to talk about higher taxes, fares or highway tolls.

Talk radio and the wrong side of the blogosphere will be awash in outrage today at the thought of shelling out more for less -- but we are in this position because that's the same tired old message they've been peddling for years. They'd rather talk about Deval Patrick's latest "screw-up" than face the fact they are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

But it's time to face reality. You wonder why people are leaving this state in droves? High housing costs, generating high property taxes that don't manage to cover the shortfall left by inadequate state funding for basic services caused by an unfair tax structure. You don't get what you pay for (except when you actually elect pandering flip-floppers.)

Read my lips: it's time for a fair and equitable tax and fee structure. Not as simplistic as George H.W. Bush, but just as much to the point.

UPDATE: Kudos to the Herald's Casey Ross for breaking out some of the reasons for the financial problems plaguing the transportation infrastructure. Anyone who has ever dealt with a surly T operator ot toll taker knows personnel is part of the problem that needs to be fixed. But why wasn't this in the dead tree edition, where more people would see it without trolling the blogs.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Drip, drip, drip

Another day, another bad headline. Is this about to become the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight? Too soon to tell -- but the clock is definitely running.

There's a lot more than meets the eye to this latest Page One "bump" for the Patrick administration. Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Suzanne Bump is no novice around state government and has the Ethics Commission scars to prove it.

I'm inclined to ascribe the allegations that she improperly attempted to influence the actions of the labor relations board as pure political hardball, particularly in light of that Ethics Commission agreement related to an appearance of a conflict-of-interest when she served in the Legislature.

Few people step on the same land mine twice and the labor commissioners are holdovers from the Romney administration. The 'he said, she said' dust-up may likely be no different than other efforts by the Patrick administration to gain control over quasi-independent boards such as Massport and the turnpike authority.

Frankly, if commissioners Paul T. O'Neill and Hugh L. Reilly feel Bump acted improperly, they probably would have hauled her her back before the ethics panel, not the Globe. Frank Phillips has a long history of stories that are exquisitely embarrassing -- but often have no long-term impact.

But the steady drip of headlines is having just the impact that the non-friends of Deval Patrick are looking for. Coming on top of a well-meaning but seriously messed up effort to encourage citizen participation -- not to mention the Caddy, the drapes and the helicopter -- its time to ask what the administration has in store to staunch the bleeding and take high ground.

A public used to daily horror stories out of Washington, and happy to wallow in the "exploits" of Britney and Anna Nicole, is not likely to sympathize with growing pains much longer. They will tune out and that worthwhile effort at citizen involvement will be left to citizens of the Legislature, special interest groups and the Republican Party.

UPDATE: What's with that picture? How inappropriate is it to use a picture of Bump and her husband in formal wear? Are they going to use pictures of Deval in a tux? What's wrong with the head shot they used in the dead tree dition?

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Alternative reality

I think Stephen Mindich may be ready to tear out his ponytail.

In a lengthy thread over at Blue Mass. Group I stumbled upon this line:
Governor Patrick ruffled a lot of feathers with his comments, shortly after his election, at a meeting of MSM types at which he said that some reporters "never did get" what his campaign was about. Commentaries like [Boston Phoenix political reporter David] Bernstein's today make me wonder whether Patrick's comments weren't pretty close to the mark.
Am I reading this correctly? Is the Boston Phoenix, one of the first "alternative newspapers" in the country, now part of the MSM?

OK, so Phoenix alums are in rather prominent media positions, particularly Globe editorial page editor Renee Loth, op-ed columnist Scot Lehigh and Channel 4's Jon Keller. And many others have gone on to bigger if not necessarily better things than tugging on the cape of the powers that be.

We are in the middle of a realignment of how we communicate with each other. The blogosphere is at the heart of the realignment. And while I happen to disagree with a lot of what Bernstein said (in a blog post, not a dead tree edition I might add) we need to respect what came before.

The Phoenix has always had that respect when it provides an alternative view. That's because it has built a reputation on solid reporting. There's still way too much shoot from the hip (and shoot the messenger) in the blogosphere, despite the efforts of people like Josh Marshall to bring facts along with the opinion.

For this new medium to succeed, those who came before need to get their props. The Phoenix isn't mainstream and never has been -- and if that day comes I stop reading it.

But Stephen, about that ponytail....

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Growing pains

Oops. Apparently there's is a problem with using voter registration data to create a account on devalpatrick.com.

Secretary of State William Galvin correctly brought the hammer down on the use of street addresses and apartment numbers in the voter registration data used by the new site to sign up participants in Patrick's attempt at civic engagement.

His concerns about the misuse of that information against people with restraining orders -- not to mention basic privacy issues in this age of identity theft through phishing -- are legitimate. Kudos to Channel 5's Janet Wu for following up.

And I still don't like the idea of linking that information to a site that solicits campaign contributions.

Then there's the law the law of unintended consequences. The gang over at Red Mass. Group (they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery) is urging supporters to sign up and push for their own issues -- such as the income tax rollback.

Good for them. Maybe the Patrick folks expected an echo chamber, maybe not. Hopefully the discourse will be civil.

There's far to much effort to turn this into another gaffe. The concept of trying to promote public participation in cyberspace is a good one. Allow them some growing pains.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

The fish rots from the head down

As if starting a war under false pretenses -- lying about weapons of mass destruction and al Qaeda connections were not enough -- we're now seeing the depth of corruption that marks an administration elected to "clean up the mess in Washington."

As Attorney General Albert Gonzales' role in Purgegate become more clear -- and GOP senators start to bail on him -- we are about to see a similar scandal play out at the General Services Administration. Once again, we are looking using the federal government's apparatus to the benefit of "loyal Bushies."

This, of course, is the second round of questionable dealings at the GSA, the federal government's chief purchasing agency. David Safavian, the agency's former chief of staff, was found guilty of lying and obstruction of justice for his efforts to help administration fixer Jack Abramoff.

Unlike Purgegate, -- where Republican talking points stretch to compare the removal of eight US attorneys for not being "loyal Bushies" to the normal changing of the guard -- there's a real law involved here: the Hatch Act. That 67-year-old law restricts executive-branch employees from using their positions for political purposes.

Throw in the Scooter Libby conviction for lying, the cast of characters from Tom DeLay to Bob Ney to Duke Cunningham accused or convicted of corrupt practices, and the stench emanating from the GOP is overpowering.

And that doesn't even begin to deal with the the actions of W. himself to to pervert and upend the Constitution -- whether it involves illegal wiretapping of American citizens, declaring the Geneva Conventions "obsolete" and "quaint" to condone torture or stealing elections in 2000 and 2004.

History will long remember this administration that professed "moral values" as the most corrupt of all time -- right down there with Richard Nixon.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Fraud is spelled R-O-M-N-E-Y

Another very revealing look at the Myth Romney record in today's Los Angeles Times (and a tip of the hat to Blue Mass Group from pointing me there).

A quote from Eric Fehrnstrom that is destined to go down in political history as weaseling Mr. Romney is exposed for all to see:
"People's memories change with time, and change depending on which way the political winds are blowing."
Wind blown indeed. And nothing that would muss up that perfectly coiffed, un-dyed head of hair either, right?

Where do these guys go for Pinocchio -ectomies?

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Lobbying for the people

I've always been a firm believer that the only people who don't have a voice in government are the voters. Lobbyists have access to the corridors of power, and so do campaign contributors (often one in the same). But John and Jane Doe are frequently left with their noses against the window panes.

So it's refreshing to see someone try to do something about that -- and the consternation it is causing in some quarters.

The launch of Devalpatrick.com got attention in both the Globe and Herald (and of course Blue Mass. Group, the spiritual base for Patrick's call for more civic engagement). Yet I was struck by a suggestion from Dan Kennedy over at Media Nation that the site really is nothing more than a permanent online campaign.

In one sense, he is 100 percent correct -- especially with the "contribute" button placed so prominently on the front door. But let's leave aside that obviously self-serving design issue and look at the site.

While there is obviously no mention of Cadillacs, helicopters and drapes there are a number of issues featured on the home page and more still on the My Issues page. OK, "dirt bikes in our state parks" isn't at the top of my issues list, but it's important to one person who has now gone on the record.

I was first somewhat concerned about needing to "create an account" to offer thoughts. But when I realized the database draws from registered voters, some of that reticence faded. (Still, it's probably not a good idea to do that on the same site that contains a prominent contribute button -- because if you really want to start a dialog, you need to hear from non-supporters.)

Dan asks a good question: why not just use mass.gov, the official state site which has become more user-friendly since Mitt officially blew town.

Simple answer: the taxpayer-funded site is not an appropriate place to have what we hope will be a civil discussion about issues. Patrick's official home page is everything you would expect there: the official PR viewpoint (although there is a "Tell Us Your Story") page too.

It was inevitable the Globe would characterize the unveiling of the site as a town hall meeting cum political rally. There certainly was that element to the gathering. But the message he delivered was hardly all self-congratulatory.
"Governing is about power," Patrick said. "And my power has never come from the insiders with connections and the powerful special interests. My power comes from you. Own it."
The web remains an underutilized resource for learning about what goes on at the Statehouse and City Hall -- particularly among our city's leading media outlets. Instead of fighting Web 2.0, -- and offering endless stories about Britney and Anna Nicole -- why not join it?

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What's the secret handshake?

It looks as if the "moral values" crowd is at its again -- skulking around behind the scenes in the hopes of anointing the chosen one to represent them in 2008.

The Globe's Scott Helman has an interesting look at the innocuously named Arlington Group and its effort to find the Theocons' choice to carry the "moral values" banner that will be relinquished by George W. Bush.

Perhaps nothing better reflects the tarnished image of ayatollahs such as James Dobson, Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer that they feel they need to ride under the radar screen -- and as a 501 (c) 3 group that cannot officially endorse anyone.

A little sunlight never hurts and kudos to the Globe for providing it.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Disgraceful

The airwaves were aflame with Republican reaction to the House vote yesterday to set a deadline for the withdrawal of troops from the Iraqi civil war zone.

GOP critics (you know the ones who let soldiers languish in squalor in Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other Veterans Administration facilities) accused Democrats of abandoning our troops.

But the real disgrace was playing out elsewhere in Washington, where the curtains were slowly being pulled back on the real depths of corruption of the Bush administration.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales met with senior aides on Nov. 27 to review a plan to fire a group of U.S. attorneys, according to documents released last night, a disclosure that contradicts Gonzales's previous statement that he was not involved in "any discussions" about the dismissals.
Excuse me, isn't this the same guy who told the media:
"I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on," Gonzales said.
Any wonder why W. is resisting an effort to have people testify under oath in open sessions before Congress. For the GOP, perjury only counts when it's about oral sex.

The systematic demolition of American law and civil liberties by Bush, Gonzales and his cronies -- in the name of a war waged under false pretenses -- is what is truly disgraceful.

And while it may not be politically wise to offer an impeachment resolution directed at at the Prevaricator-in-Chief , it is most appropriate to consider such action against his consigliere.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

What's up with that?

The journalist vs. blogger debate has been well hashed out here and elsewhere, but one recent post by a journalist who blogs has me scratching my head.

Channel 4's Jon Keller -- whose journalistic credentials are lengthy and solid -- offers this observation:
I Hope We Never ....learn that there were political considerations behind today's awkward, invasive press conference by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife to discuss her recurring breast cancer. Because as someone who's lost a beloved friend to that awful disease, the notion that some slick pol-on-the-make might exploit it for political gain is way off the scale of acceptability.
Keller is certainly entitled to his opinion -- in fact he has long made his living as a commentator/columnist who backs up his opinions with facts.

So Jon, is there something you're not telling us about John Edwards? If you don't have the facts to back up a gut suspicion, why are you going public?

The argument that journalists have made is that unlike bloggers, we traffic in fact (and time for another disclosure: I was trained and worked as a journalist before moving on to other pursuits and taking up my blog). Gossip, hearsay and innuendo are left for those guys and gals of the pajama brigade, or so the argument goes.

And there certainly needs to be a different standard. Witness the debate over journo-blogger Ben Smith's erroneous one-source report on Edwards.

It's no wonder then, we have another lively debate on this topic over at Blue Mass. Group. This one raises some serious questions about what and when journalists can and should put up on blogs.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Changing of the guard

Well, the boys won't be meeting weekly with the fate of the state in their hands.

The oldest, stalest secret in state government came into the open yesterday when Robert Travaglini completed his long good-bye and turned over the keys of his ornate office to Therese Murray.

After endless speculation over where where he will land, Trav announced he's going into business with his lawyer, a move that rightly raised eyebrows with Common Cause. Not that it is illegal mind you -- just ask yourself where the last two House Speakers, Charlie Flaherty and Tom Finneran landed -- just that it is one of the unfortunate facts of life in today's public world. At least Trav does have any legal clouds hanging over his head (that we know of).

Travaglini always struck me as an odd fit for the job. He has accomplishments to be sure, but his strength is at convincing people to back a policy crafted by others. Perhaps that indeed makes him the ideal CEO, but I think the new job is a better one for his talents.

Murray's ascension is another historic moment for a state that, up until November, was an exclusive white male preserve. Only Evelyn Murphy and Jane Swift cracked that ceiling -- with Swift an accidental governor.

Now we have an African-American governor and a single mother in two of the three power positions. It's a change that obviously is going to take some getting used to on the part of the last remaining white male.

Murray, in what is the first of what will be many painful by necessary efforts to speak to the public, suggests she's with House Speaker Sal DiMasi in taking the closing of business tax loopholes off the table.

It appears she intends to focus on health care and housing policy (if the cranky Boston.com headline is accurate). It's hard to believe she could focus on anything but the top two issues to quality of life and the survival of the job base here. The proposed solutions will be fascinating.

Unlike Trav, she is a do-er -- she played a major role in crafting the state's welfare reform law and four budgets. She's not afraid to get her hands dirty in the policy shop.

Murray comes in with a cloud of sorts over her head -- although we don't know if it's a passing sprinkle or a thunderstorm. This too could be simply the way business is done in government these days -- not illegal, but certainly unsightly.

Then again, it doesn't involve starting a war under false pretenses and treating the Constitution as Kleenex.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What hath Pinch wrought?

The Boston Globe is about to undergo another round of buy-outs that will be devastating to what was once a great newspaper -- before The New York Times came to town.

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eileen McNamara is bolting for academia. That moves follows a similar one in the last round from investigative reporter extraordinaire Walter Robinson. Also rumored to be looking to the door are veteran reporters and editors such as Steve Kurkjian, Charles Radin, Bob Turner and Peter Howe.

The only good news is that rumors about the demise of business columnist Steve Bailey are false.

Bitter comments from Globe haters aside, this round cuts even deeper into the muscle of a newspaper that could once proclaim itself among the nation's elite. The impact of the previous cuts can be found in a drastically smaller news hole, the demise of the national desk and all foreign bureaus and a brain drain that has robbed the newspaper of its institutional memory.

The cuts all stem from the desire to protect the Mother Ship on West 43rd Street. To stave off the expectations of Wall Street that newspapers earning less than 20 percent profits are disasters, Arthur O. "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr. is starving the subsidiaries.

The Wall Street attack mirrors the ones that eliminated the once-esteemed Knight-Ridder chain, weakened the Los Angeles Times and driven more and more news consumers to the web instead of dead tree versions of the papers.

In the case of the New York Times Co., the focus of the "savings" has fallen heavily on the New England division, which includes the Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Part of the problem in New England is consolidation in other sectors. Remember Jordan Marsh and Filene's? Their advertising clout is a distant memory.

I fear the constant cost-cutting is starting to represent a death spiral: eliminate staff to make up for lost advertising revenues, shrinking the news hole and experience level of the reporters filling it, and so on and so on.

What's even more frightening is the lack of alternatives to the penny Pinching.

Remember the boomlet for local ownership that turned up interest on the part of former GE head honcho Jack Welch? Remember Welch's view on the necessity for anything other than local news? Think Herald.

Ink on paper is a dying form of news delivery -- even if the writing style is more necessary than ever in this world of 10-second sound bites and the hysterical focus on Britney and Anna Nicole.

Encouraging the talented people who can help newspapers make that transition by bringing their sharp questioning and bright writing should not include helping them out the door.

And it also means all parts of the company should share the pain in transition. Hey Pinch, you're close to destroying the Globe. Isn't it time to look elsewhere?

UPDATE: Here's the official word from the Globe and a surprisingly unsnarky account from the Herald.

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The imperial presidency

It's as if the robbery suspect tells the cops they can only ask him about what he had for breakfast -- and then only if the cops promise not to keep him locked up.

The sorry story dripping out of Washington these days is much more sobering that drapes and Cadillacs. The Attorney General of the United States, either under the direction of the President of the United States or with his acquiescence, fired eight United States Attorneys -- two of who were investigating wrongdoing by prominent Republicans.

And in the face of those facts, George W. Bush is telling Congress they can interview key people in this constitutional scandal -- but not under oath and without making transcripts.

Just what is W. hiding?

We've learned in the last few days that San Diego U.S. Attorney Diane Lam had displeased the powers that be in DC by prosecuting former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for taking more than $2 million in bribes from defense contractors -- and then going after the well-connected bribers.

More ominously, we also learned the Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor who nabbed Scooter Libby was on the hit list -- until cooler heads, perhaps recalling the Saturday Night Massacre -- prevailed.

Fitzgerald was targeted, according to released e-mails, because he ranked below "strong U.S. Attorneys . . . who exhibited loyalty" to the administration but above "weak U.S. Attorneys who . . . chafed against Administration initiatives, etc."

With Attorney General Alberto Gonzales playing Sergeant Schultz while conceding "mistakes were made" we've also seen fingers pointed at the hapless Harriet Miers and the venal Karl Rove (you know the guy who dodged the Libby bullet).

After six years of supine Congress (which of course followed eight years and $73 million to investigate oral sex and unproven allegations) W apparently believes he still has what it takes to stonewall. Whether he does will be telling.

The Prevaricator-in-Chief, sounding as if he thought he was still at 90 percent in the polls, has told Senate investigators they can interviews Miers and Rove, but only his terms: no oaths and no transcripts. In other words, no record that could be used against them in a court of law not directed by a Bush appointee.
"It will be regrettable if they choose to head down the partisan road of issuing subpoenas and demanding show trials when I have agreed to make key White House officials and documents available."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (you know the guy Darth Cheney told to do a physically impossible thing) wisely isn't buying.
“I don’t accept his offer. It is not constructive, and it is not helpful to be telling the Senate how to do our investigation or to prejudge its outcome.”
The Bush Administration will go down in history right along side the Nixon White House for abuse of power, lying and misrepresentation. The only difference, so far, is this abuse of executive privilege, has not led to impeachment. I guess lying about sex is the only thing that reaches that level.

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No Newt Axes

One of the better word games in politics was this tricky little shift of capital letters that described how liberals felt about the Republican Congress' insistence on accepting all tax cuts during the reign of the former House Speaker -- and what that insistence meant for programs near and dear to them.

The words seem worth recalling today as Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi takes the Patrick administration's proposal to close corporate tax loopholes off the table.

It also seems worth recalling some of my favorite words -- how are you going to pay for what DiMasi says will be a House budget that contains more aid for schools?

The Speaker is looking at the rainy day fund, and surprisingly, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation head Michael Widmer agrees. But I'm with Widmer's old position that the rain isn't falling hard enough to justify tapping the reserves when property owners are most in need of relief.

The change in Senate leadership will make this a very interesting year. The Senate Ways and Means Committee is already well into its work, even as it readies to see Chairwoman Terry Murray move upstairs to the President's office.

Because Murray has been press-shy, no one really knows if she shares outgoing President Robert Travaglini's tax concerns.

But whoever moves into her old office will inherit a staff and a document that she has already shaped. That chairman -- and rumors suggest it will be Steven Panagiotakis of Lowell -- will take a back seat even as he sits at the conference table with his House counterpart Robert DeLeo.

If Murray differs with DiMasi, we may be looking at a tough budget season, bringing back bad memories of Tom Finneran and Tom Birmingham negotiating well into the fall. And axes that fall somewhere.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

This changes everything

The Patrick pinata is about to come down (despite the Herald's best effort to take one word out of a Washington Post story and make it a furor.)

Why? Because the long and public Travaglini job search has apparently come to a close and major changes are coming to the Senate.

Check out some of the "controversial" quotes:

  • The governor was quoted as describing his troubles as “hazing” by the state’s political elite, although the article did not include a more complete explanation of the context in which he was speaking.
  • “What I’m not interested in, but I have to get more interested in, is government by photo-op.”
  • “The rest of it pales in relation to what’s going on at home.”
  • “When I ran, I said I would make some mistakes. “I didn’t run for saint. None of them are fatal."

  • One the Herald ignored: "We screwed up on spending."

    I'd call it honesty -- particularly the realization of the need for "government by photo-op." And the Herald is far too modest in thinking that the media does not hold membership of the state's political elite.

    But it's time to move along because we're about to have another political milestone: a woman Senate President.

    The significance of this change for Patrick is hard to minimize. Not only does it provide a new target for the Herald (Murray has a long record of accomplishment in the Senate and with that comes activities worthy of some scrutiny, particularly her most recent stint as Senate Ways and Means Committee chair), she brings a distinctly different attitude toward the new governor.

    Travaglini, you may recall, firmly planted his foot in his mouth in December when he used a breakfast speech to tell Patrick to play ball with the Legislature or face a rough road (I believe that would constitute hazing?). The Senate President was forced to backpedal immediately.

    Trav has spent the last year looking for a good job at good wages. He has also been the principal opponent of a full review of the budget (read that considering tax reform) and he earned the enmity of many by allowing the gay marriage ballot question to come to a vote.

    Murray is no flaming liberal but she has experience few in state government do (except maybe for Patrick). A single mother who received welfare, she is the principal author of the state's welfare law that sought to create compassion where the federal government did not.

    As keeper of the state's purse strings the last few years as Ways and Means chair, she knows how to say no. And as the person wielding the gavel in this year's Constitutional Convention, she probably sends chills up the spines of gay marriage foes.

    Travaglini has clearly had his attention elsewhere and the chance to make big bucks as a lobbyist eventually proved too much to resist. The business will come knocking fast and furious -- even if he is not allowed to lobby the Legislature for a year.

    A good and decent man who has had health issues and a family to put through college, the move is the right one for him -- and for the Commonwealth.

    With Murray's elevation, Massachusetts will have a more progressive leadership but also one that has a better understanding of what it is like to climb that ladder of success. And Patrick will have someone to target the target off his back.

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    Monday, March 19, 2007

    Humble pie for breakfast

    Deval Patrick wasn't kidding when he said he was on the menu, although 22 Caddy and drapes jokes in a two-hour period seems almost mild.

    Patrick got just the environment he needed to try and put the recent past behind him. Cracking wise about the Boston Convention and Exposition Center having enough parking for both the Caddy and the helicopter was just the medicine the governor needed.

    His No. 2, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, playing the loyal second banana, also got a couple of preemptive shots in, with my favorite being his concern over what he would be doing this summer, considering he presumed he'd be acting as Patrick's caddie.

    The breakfast has lost some of its sharpness from day's gone by when Billy Bulger presided in a social club where you had to climb in through the window. The fact Treasurer Tim Cahill spent taxpayer dollars to buy jokes from an advertising agency show how far we are stretching.

    There were needles to be sure, including some jabs at the media from Rep. Stephen Lynch and Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral.

    But don't forget that Patrick brought this on himself for the lack of forethought about the message sent by leasing Cadillac and buying expensive draperies for the Corner Office. And as for the Ameriquest call....

    The media was only reporting the facts. Did they perhaps enjoy it a tad more because of the lecture Patrick delivered to newspaper publishers in December? You better believe it.

    On the other hand, making a front page story out of the common practice of creating talking points for supporters -- and comparing this to the tactics used by Karl Rove -- shows an amazing lack of a sense of proportion. Let me know when the Patrick Committee breaks the law by outing secret agents and uses religion and other wedge issues to flaunt the Constitution. The Globe really needs to learn about modern campaign methods, including podcasts.

    The ultimate takeaway lesson? Never flaunt a red cape in front of a bull unless you are prepared to kill it.

    Can we now get back to talking about serious things -- like how are we going to pay for everything we need and want?

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    Sunday, March 18, 2007

    How do you pay for it?

    The Herald (you know the newspaper that believes in all tax cuts, all the time) offers a prominent defense today for a program that counsels gamblers and is apparently facing a state budget cut. It follows some impassioned blogging about the future of school sports in Stoneham.

    The stories show how advocates of programs and services lobby for their (very legitimate) needs out of context -- and why it is important for the media to provide that basic understanding of how things fit in the larger context.

    The Herald offers a solid news hook but a shaky context -- office pools that mostly provide small-change entertainment around the NCAA college basketball tournament -- to make the case for the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling. The agency draws its cash from the Massachusetts Lottery.
    “It’s a particularly bad time,” said Kathleen M. Scanlan, Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling executive director.“There’s increased pressure on the lottery to increase profits. They need to provide some sort of safety net.”
    No one disputes the good work the council does. But it is interesting to note that the "cut" isn't really that, at least according to Patrick administration spokesman Kyle Sullivan.
    The council is “traditionally” funded at about $650,000 annually. “Last year there was a one-time supplemental appropriation that brought its total budget up to $1 million. Facing a $1 billion-plus deficit this year, the decision was made to fund this program at its normal level,” Sullivan wrote in an e-mail.
    What's also missing is any mention of where the bulk of state lottery dollars go -- to cities and towns. The dollars are not earmarked, so communities are free to spend it on their priorities.

    In Stoneham's case, the town received $2,166,441 in lottery dollars. On its website, the lottery commission notes the town used FY02 revenues to reinstate two firefighter positions that were cut via an early retirement incentive program.

    There is indeed pressure on the lottery to increase profits -- so it can return more money to cities and towns. There's even more pressure on the state to raise overall revenues -- with casino gambling being offered as the prime savior.

    Short of those tools, it would be up to Deval Patrick and legislators to raise statewide taxes like sales, income, corporate or gasoline levies. Or cities and towns would need to raise property tax rates to finance police, fire, education and public works programs.

    The Herald has long been on record against that type of action. In fact, it has long insisted the state's spending is bloated and taxes should be cut.

    So how do you pay for state and municipal services that are important to quality of life? Despite the season, I don't think we should be chasing leprechauns and rainbows in search of that pot of gold.

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    Saturday, March 17, 2007

    All over the place

    Catching up on a bunch of things after a week on the Deval Watch:

    • I'm beginning to think Myth Romney changes positions as often as he changes his undergarments. We can now add immigration to the list of things he was for before he was against.
    • Kudos to Boston-based New York Times writer Pam Belluck for taking a look at Romney's Massachusetts economic claims. For someone who promised to be a hands-on governor who would actively woo new business to the state, the stagnation (actually the outmigration of people and jobs) is telling. And remember, as Republicans like to say about Mike Dukakis' claims, Massachusetts law requires governors to balance the budget.
    • Absence makes the heart grow fonder for the Boeing-Vertol cars that will ride the Green Line no more. Yes, they were infuriating, especially with those blankety-blank sliding doors. But at least they had more seats and more standing room than the designer-chic lemon Breda cars. And what ever became of the MBTA's pledge to run three-car Green Line trains? Is that why they are taking the Boeing cars out of service?
    • The Right likes to talk about the Culture of Life. The Bush administration apparently adheres to the Culture of Lies. It's not enough to use signing statements thumbing their nose at Congress' constitutional authority to pass legislation. Now they just lie to Congress. There is a big difference between a new administration sweeping out political appointees and using the "loyal Bushies" standard.
    • Valerie Plame Wilson, the spy who came in from the heat, made a pretty compelling case showing the Culture of Lies. Let's see, who do I believe in describing her covert status: Gen. Michael Hayden or Scooter Libby?
    • And please tell me what's up with gwb43.com? Sure seems like a calculated and deliberate attempt to get around laws requiring White House communications be in the public domain. Does this mean we elected the Republican National Committee in 2004?

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    Friday, March 16, 2007

    The cavalry has arrived

    You know it must be a good move. The Herald is already complaining about the "shroud of secrecy" surrounding Diane Patrick.

    I can't add anything new
    to my belief that her mental health is not a fair topic for conversation -- unless it's in the context of explaining what depression REALLY is. But I can see signs Deval Patrick and his administration may be ready to turn the corner.

    One of the biggest myths about government is that it is packed full of hacks, crooks and ne'er-do-wells, looking to live off the public trough. There are plenty of them (just as in corporate suites) but they usually get rooted out.

    Most people enter government because they want to make a difference. Even conservatives enter government with a goal -- to reduce or eliminate it. It's not about the perks.

    That's why it's good that Deval Patrick (who has that same idealistic streak)
    finally saw the light on the need to include people who share that vision -- but also know how government works.

    By adding Joe Landolfi to help out with press and David Morales to help out with policy and staff (people already on the public payroll) Patrick had added folks who know how to work in the Statehouse and across the Commonwealth to get his vision implemented and get the word out.

    Landolfi has worked in government for the better part of two decades -- for people as hugely different politically as Michael Dukakis and Andrew Natsios. Heck, he's been around as long as Frank Phillips! If you Google him, nothing comes up, the mark of a communications person who knows how to work to attract the proper attention to his boss.

    Morales comes over from Senate President Robert Travaglini (a sure sign that Trav is very seriously considering job offers, protests to the contrary), meaning he knows how to work in the building -- and knows where the bodies are buried. It's an inspired move considering how Patrick and Trav started out.

    And of course, the departure of the possibly necessary but politically ill-advised appointment of a $72,000 scheduler for Diane Patrick is addition by subtraction. Like the Caddy and the drapes, it sent a terrible message, even if there was justification.

    What of the survivors? Joan Wallace-Benjamin, a well-respected administrator with no government experience, will benefit greatly from Morales' arrival. He knows when to stroke and when to bring the hammer down.

    But Nancy Fernandez Mills still as a credibility problem that can't be eliminated by the arrival of Landolfi. It probably can't be fixed, period.

    While some observers are correct that it's refreshing Mills could admit she wanted to retract something until she learned the facts, it is also fatal to her credibility. Adding someone else, whether as tutor or overseer, guarantees no reporter will treat her word as the final answer.

    It's entirely possible she can forge a solid record behind the scene in creating messages for Patrick, but her value on the podium (where she was prominently located the other day) is marginal, at best.

    Can we move along now to important things like the budget and figure out how we can have the services we want without raising revenue, whether through taxes, gambling or a shiny pot of gold at the end of a rainbow?

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    Thursday, March 15, 2007

    ICE-y hot

    What we have here is a failure to communicate. At multiple levels.

    The circular finger pointing over the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raid on a New Bedford factory -- and the subsequent separation of parents from children -- has gotten so confusing we may never know the truth. But here's one person's effort at sorting out this mess, which has taken on the trappings of an international incident.

    Let's start with the timing. A high profile raid at roughly the same time as George Bush is making a Latin American swing is hardly an accident.

    Bush may not have necessarily known from which country the snagged immigrants would come from, but it's a certainty he knew this was going to take place. The fact he was well briefed for an encounter in Guatemala City speaks volumes:
    The president was pressed by local reporters to defend his approval of a border fence law and workplace raids in Massachusetts last week that sent hundreds of illegal Central American workers home. Some were forced to leave their U.S.-born children behind.

    Bush said that one answer to the immigration problem is the unfettered commerce embodied in accords such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which Guatemala joined last year.

    "I also believe most citizens in Guatemala would rather find meaningful jobs at home instead of having to travel to a foreign land to work," Bush said. "
    Another sure sign of the political pre-planning was the reaction of Tom Tancredo, the voice of the anti-immigrant right in the House.
    Tancredo, who opposes legal status for illegal immigration and favors a sharp reduction in legal immigration, told college students that the government did the right thing.
    "As if it were our fault that they came here illegally,” he said at Thomas More College. ”We are so into blaming America for everything.
    If it’s a law, it’s a law, There are consequences.”
    Less clear is the political pre-planning at the state level.

    The Patrick administration insists the feds would not let them accompany ICE agents to New Bedford to tend to the families disrupted by the raid. ICE officials agree it was a law enforcement action, not a social service one.

    There are two major problems here. It's hard to decide whether the Department of Social Services or ICE is the most dysfunctional agency. DSS and its commissioner Harry Spence still haven't adequately explained their failings in the death of a South Shore girl whose parents are accused of overdosing.

    I'll break that tie in favor of the Patrick administration, largely on the reputation of Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke, the long-time Essex County DA with a huge pool of credibility. He told the Globe:
    "They were very nice, but very vague," Burke said. "We were assured there wouldn't be any problems. . . . Next time, the state will press more for details in the beginning."
    But communications breakdowns continue to plague this administration. Both Spence and Burke's undersecretary for law enforcement Kurt Schwartz say Spence didn't know about the raid until March 2 deputy -- and was banned from telling any employees on the ground until after the raid began.

    But that is severely undercut by the Globe revelation that Patrick's communications director, Nancy Fernandez Mills, spoke before she knew the whole story.
    As late as (Tuesday) afternoon... Mills... was insisting that "the governor was not told and did not know the raid was happening until it was going on" and that "DSS did not know about this raid until it was in progress."

    Told that, in fact, members of Patrick's Cabinet had briefed him about the operation weeks ago and that Spence had participated in a conference call with ICE the day before the raid -- a fact the commissioner himself acknowledged in yesterday's newspapers -- she reconsidered: "I'd like to retract that statement until I talk to someone who actually knows something about this timeline."

    Mills, a former network TV journalist with no experience in the rough and tumble word of political PR, violated the cardinal rule of public relations: the first thing you do is tell the reporter "I'll get back to you."

    By asking to "retract" her comment, Mills proved conclusively she is not deep enough within the inner circle. That is Deval Patrick's fault as well as hers for not insisting on total access.

    It also brings into stark relief, yet again, that the problems of the Caddy, the drapes and every other PR misstep to date is in part the result of a communications staff that does have what it needs to do the job.

    Two clear personnel decisions need to be made now. Harry Spence, no matter his reputation for being able to handle tough challenges, is a liability who needs to go as part of a comprehensive effort to overhaul an agency that has proven itself impervious to overhaul.

    And Mills needs to take a very public bullet for her boss here. It will take forever, if at all, for her to regain her credibility. She needs to resign.

    UPDATE: Now that the Globe has worked out the kinks in boston.com, it's clear this situation is muddier than ever. Deval Patrick and his folks need to learn -- and fast -- how to speak in one voice. My money is still on ICE as the culprit here.

    FURTHER UPDATE: The cavalry has arrived. I may actually think about this a bit, although Joe Landolfi is an excellent choice on the media side. And hopefully someone will clarify whether Mills is taking a graceful exit.

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    Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    Deja vu all over again

    So Marty Meehan was a little late in delivering n his term limit pledge.

    The soon-to-be former 5th District representative had pledged to step down in 2000, after four terms. Instead, he will leave just short of eight full terms -- and a record to be proud of -- to take the reins of UMass-Lowell.

    This will not be a screed about the appropriateness of politicians as university leaders. Despite suggestions to the contrary, it is rarely wrong to install an alum with commitment and vision to lead a university. And today's fiscal realities suggest a strong-fundraiser is the best thing that can happen to a higher education institution, particularly a state-funded one.

    But for the political junkies, this is all about an open seat, something that raises blood pressure and gets adrenalin flowing. And this one should capture national attention for one very prominent name: Tsongas.

    Niki Tsongas is probably the automatic front-runner simply based on name recognition and the respect and affection the name carries in Lowell, the political base that Paul Tsongas rode to the Senate and a White House bid. In a field likely to be crowded and with a short campaign window, she emerges immediately from the pack.

    But her qualifications also jump out. She has been dean of external affairs at Middlesex Community College and a participant in boards of a health maintenance organization, a bank and a repertory theater. In other words, active in the community.

    Her candidacy is bound to attract national attention (hey, do you think Mitt will endorse her?) Little is known outside the district about her opponents and the spotlight that will land on her will likely keep it that way. That type of attention worked wonders for Joe Kennedy is 1986, when he was not the best horse in the field.

    The special election also presents a real challenge and opportunity to Republican State Chairman Peter Torkildsen. The delegation has been GOP-less since he lost to John Tierney in 1996.

    While Jeanne Kangas, the party's vice chairwoman, offers the obligatory "We want the seat back," -- Paul Tsongas started the Democratic grip in 1974 -- the odds are long. While the district may have gone for Mitt Romney in 2002, it is a victim of the Romney legacy: no strong candidates.

    So sit back and watch. It should be a fun ride, politics fans. But a suggestion: I don't think any campaign debates should be held at the Tsongas Arena.

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    Tuesday, March 13, 2007

    Clueless

    I re-read this story several times because I could not believe my eyes. But there it is again. And again: Deval Patrick facing questions about whether he will step down because of his wife Diane's now very public battle with depression.

    And, even more appalling -- facing insinuations by the "enlightened" talk radio crowd that this is all a ruse for sympathy because of political missteps that have eaten into one-third of his popularity ratings.

    Perhaps the only thing more appalling is that we remain totally uneducated -- to this very day -- about depression, its causes and treatment.

    I tried to pass off the resignation question to that of a young reporter, unsophisticated in the ways of the big media. But then I remembered when I worked as a reporter out in the hinterlands, the big shot visit was too important to pass off with anything less than your best table manners. The White House certainly knows that fact -- why else do they bypass the big feet for regional press?

    So we are left with a couple of explanations for this ludicrous question. I call one the Sam Donaldson moment, after the former ABC News White House reporter who used to ask outrageous questions (with helicopter rotors thumping) to elicit visual reactions from Ronald Reagan. Maybe someone wanted Patrick to scowl.

    Another answer is far less flattering. Reporters have a knack for smelling blood in the water and going in for the kill. Perhaps someone thought this was a chance to get Patrick -- in his own funk about the bad publicity and harried home life -- to throw in the towel because he was, wait for it, depressed.

    Then there's the most likely explanation. Political reporters don't usually have a clue about what happens outside their beat. Health topics are alien (except when it involves policy) and mental health, well, that's someone else's beat.

    The ignorance that surround depression is terrifying -- all the more so because of efforts by highly visible people like Kitty Dukakis and Mike Wallace to eliminate the stigma caused by a society that used to lock people up as a way to treat them.

    That's why the best writing to date on this topic comes from Herald columnist Margery Eagan.
    Here’s what Diane Patrick’s much-maligned $72,000-a-year appointment secretary should do: start scheduling the first lady to crisscross the commonwealth talking about depression, a disease afflicting one in five Americans, including, as many of us apparently do not know, but should, men and women who achieve at the very highest levels at work and at home and within their families.
    Eagan also notes Diane and Deval Patrick are not unusual.
    So Diane Patrick suffers from depression. So did Alma Powell. Yet Colin somehow managed to win Desert Storm I. So did Tipper Gore, no matter what you think of her husband. So did the great Betty Ford, who admitted to depression, cancer, alcoholism and addiction 30 years ago, when the stigma was even more devastating than when NBC’s Jane Pauley went public with her manic-depression last year.
    Maybe we should let Deval Patrick do his job (it could stand some improvement). And we should allow the Patrick family some privacy -- after all she is not Britney Spears. And most of all, maybe we should learn about depression so the stigma will eventually go away.

    Let's see some probing questions on that topic.

    UPDATE: A belated update (and thanks) for the folks at Blue Mass. Group for soliciting an explanation of the medical definition of depression. Sure wish I had seen it in the media.

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    Monday, March 12, 2007

    Who's in charge?

    Have we really descended to such a level in society that a family crisis is subject to political analysis?

    The commentary and speculation surrounding Diane Patrick's illness and Deval Patrick's work schedule is a bit frightening in terms of what is says about our attitude toward elected officials. Particularly unnerving is the line in the Globe citing comments on its own message board (comments I have no real interest in reading, thank you very much).

    I'm left to wonder -- would the reaction be the same if it was announced Diane Patrick had multiple sclerosis as Anne Romney or a different type of chronic condition? Everyone has been straining to avoid Dukakis comparisons in describing Patrick's early missteps, but the parallel here is just too clear to avoid.

    Michael and Kitty Dukakis closely held the fact the former first lady suffered from depression. It was a less-intrusive political era to be sure, but the public was none the wiser (or worse for wear) by not knowing about her bouts.

    It was only when Dukakis took to the presidential campaign trail that the family opted to make the information public -- on its own terms. That included a very early in the day news conference and a series of one-on-one interviews by the first lady that stretched across the rest of the day.

    Kitty Dukakis had tried to stay out of the spotlight, but nevertheless had a public image -- and a less-than-flattering one at that. Personally, that day shattered the image as I got a little insight into a woman who remained gracious despite a white-hot spotlight and the requirement she answer the same intensely personal questions over and over again.

    Yet, despite her personal efforts to reduce the fear and stigma around mental illness, it remains misunderstood. We've come a long way, thanks in large part to Kitty Dukakis, but politics is the one arena where depression is used against you.

    Look no further than the awful juxtaposition of her condition and the vicious line (albeit from a different campaign) of Bush Senior aide Lee Atwater about electroshock therapy. Or how the therapy became the first line of Thomas Eagleton's obituary.

    No speculation here about the root and source of Diane Patrick's illness. And really, does anyone think in this age of cell phones and Blackberries that Deval Patrick will be out of the loop just because he's out of the office?

    Can we let this family deal with its own crisis and expect that it will muddle through just like every other family facing a crisis? Or do we strip politicians of that one last remaining bit of humanity -- knowing that each time we do that we lose good people who have every right not to be dragged through the political mud for their personal struggles.

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    Sunday, March 11, 2007

    Worth reading

    I've been quick to hit the Herald early and often for what I perceive to be bad reporting.

    So it's nice to actually point to some good work by media reporter Jessica Heslam, who is far more understanding of the Patrick media team than I have been.

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    Money can't buy me love?

    You really gotta love this one: not only is Myth Romney flip-flipping all over the place, he's managed to buy the affection of some of his new found friends. Boy, principles are a wonderful thing. Nor am I really surprised that Barbara Anderson is the only one among the trio of Massachusetts right-wing organizations to receive Romney largess not to be easily rolled.

    The New York Times notes today how the Mittser opened his check book to Citizens for Limited Taxation, Massachusetts Citizens for Life and the Massachusetts Family Institute over the past year as he lined up his ducks for his presidential run.

    Some operative words:
    The recipients of Mr. Romney’s donations said the money had no influence on them. But some of the groups, notably Citizens for Life and the Family Institute, have turned supportive of Mr. Romney after criticizing him in the past.

    Coming on the eve of his presidential campaign, Mr. Romney’s contributions could create the appearance of a conflict of interest for groups often asked to evaluate him. All the groups said he had never contributed before, and his foundation’s public tax filings show no previous gifts to similar groups. Its 2006 contributions will become public with its tax filings later this year.

    This space has amply chronicled Mittsy's conversion from an open-minded gay-friendly, pro-choice, non-gun nut gubernatorial candidate to his fire-breathing right wing persona of today. (And a belated shout-out to Scot Lehigh for putting the Romney "conversion" in such entertaining form).

    But it's worth noting the role money can play in his acceptance by those "principled" folk he's been courting.

    Massachusetts Citizens for Life was critical of Mr. Romney, who was then a supporter of abortion rights, during most of his tenure as governor. But over the past few months, its officials have issued favorable statements about his record on abortion issues that have become an integral element of his appeal to social conservatives.

    At a conference of conservative activists in Washington last week, Mr. Romney’s campaign passed out a statement from the group.

    Marie Sturgis, executive director of Citizens for Life, said his donation had no influence on her group, which has an annual budget of about $600,000.

    “Granted, when he began his role as governor he certainly was not with us,” Ms. Sturgis said. “But toward the end, if you look at the record, especially in the stem cell debate, he certainly took the pro-life position consistently.”

    Glad we got that straight.

    Meanwhile, it's also worth noting the lengths to which all the GOP candidates are pushing family values (or lack thereof). The Globe takes a good look at how the Romney family has become stage props.

    Coming on the heels of the ever-so-hypocritical Newt Gingrich admitting he had an affair at the same time as he was leading the impeachment charge against Bill Clinton, it's nice to be reminded about conservative principles.

    I guess it all depends on the meaning of the word "sexual relations," Newt?

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    Saturday, March 10, 2007

    Is he qualified?

    I'm not a believer in media conspiracies. I don't think reporters and editors sit around and say 'let's get Mikie.' The bias in newsrooms is against power and authority and is not a slave to ideology or party.

    But two stories in today's Globe made me stop and think for a second.

    First up is the incredibly convoluted story involving the naming of a judge to the Industrial Accident Board, an obscure agency that administers the worker's compensation law. The Page One headline blares: "Patrick ally's spouse gets a pension boost." But the name of Deval Patrick appears for the first time in the fifth paragraph, and on the jump page of the dead tree edition.

    That's because you need to wade through a thicket of explanations that include the fact the retired District Court Judge Paul Buckley's wife is state Sen. Marian Walsh, who went to the state Ethics Commission and then abstained from acting on proposed legislation (which died) that would have enabled Buckley to count military service toward his pension.

    Confused? Well by now you should feel good about both Walsh and Senate President Robert Travaglini who croaked the bill because he thought it was a special interest measure.

    But Patrick then named his "ally's spouse" to a board that adjudicates disputes about the worker's comp law (the position is that of administrative judge). Here's what former Bristol County DA's office said about Buckley when they hired him as an assistant district attorney:

    Buckley retired as an Associate Justice of the Quincy District Court on February 6, 2006 and was sworn in as an Assistant District Attorney the next day. Assistant District Attorney Buckley will be in charge of Grand Jury screening, the Major Violators Unit, and the Motor Vehicle Homicide Division.

    Buckley began his career as a public defender, moved to the Suffolk District Attorney’s office where he became First Assistant District Attorney to Newman Flanagan, then went into private practice in Milton, Massachusetts.

    In 1999 Judge Buckley was named to the bench by Governor Paul Cellucci and sat primarily in the Quincy District Court.

    Sounds qualified doesn't he -- even if he was appointed by a Republican governor. Not a special interest sinecure position either. There's real work involved.

    No one is disputing there has been hanky-panky involving legislators like Marie Parente trying to boost her pensions by counting the cost of her daily parking space as part of the base. And there is certainly no question that plenty of hacks have been appointed to no-work, no-show jobs.

    But what proof, if any, is there that Buckley is one of those people? He took a job (that also did not sound like a no-show) after a forced retirement. His wife abstained from any involvement and the Legislature showed wisdom in not producing a special interest law.

    Is Paul Buckley qualified for this job? Sure sounds like it. Is it a no-show job or is he someone who wants to keep working and remain active? Why not observe him first and come to a conclusion based on facts?

    The story suggests to me we are clearly in one of those media feeding frenzies where a candidate (or elected official) enters a downward spiral and everything he or she is involved with gets pulled into the vortex. If that story doesn't count, this one surely does.

    As someone who has not downloaded any of Patrick's podcasts, I'm surprised there was THAT much initial interest. Most of it has come from media concerned about Patrick trying to "talk over their heads." Playing the story so prominently on the front metro page strikes as so much self-absorbed overkill -- on the Globe's part.

    Let me clearly restate: Patrick deserves a lot of this grief. His wounds are self-inflicted, caused by lack of thought and poor staff work.

    But the Buckley "pension" story is, at the very least, extremely premature and therefore unfair. Let's see if he's guilty of resume padding or whether he truly wants to keep working before writing the story.

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    Friday, March 09, 2007

    Those who know him best

    It has the potential to create some significant damage for Myth Romney.

    "It" is the decision by members of what's left of the Massachusetts Republican Party to take to the campaign trail as a "truth squad". The truth about the former Massachusetts governor will not set him free. Says consultant Holly Robichaud:
    “It’s a matter of trust. When somebody changes their position on so many different issues - taxes, minimum wage, abortion, gay marriage, gay rights - you’ve got to start to wonder, where are his core beliefs? If you don’t have any core beliefs, you shouldn’t be president of the United States.”
    To think I once questioned her credentials? :-)

    The truth squad comes on top of the decisions by other Republicans to sign on with the Guiliani and McCain campaigns, including former governors Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift (Bill Weld and his natural affinity to not finish the job means he's a lock for Myth).

    File this under "they were for him before they were against him." I can't wait to check them out.

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    Thursday, March 08, 2007

    The education of Deval Patrick

    Personally, I don't think I'm a moonbat. But then again, I consider the Herald to be a publication for right wingnuts.

    Insults aside (something incredibly tough to do when engaged in politics), the continued meltdown of Deval Patrick -- he now needs to urge people to "don't give up on me" -- is a sorry thing to behold. Especially when compared to his newly elected counterpart next door, New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer.

    Then again, Spitzer is being assailed by the Service Employees International Union and a lot of the state's political establishment for proposed cuts in state health spending. The TV ads are vintage negative campaigning.

    But at least that discussion is over substance. Spitzer is using his political capital to argue for an unpopular change he believes will help the state financially. Patrick is squandering his political capital over Cadillacs, drapes and telephone calls.

    Perhaps we were a little starry-eyed over the new man on the political scene. Sixteen years of Republican governors, culminating in the fiasco of Myth Romney using the office as a stage set for his national ambitions, created an awful lot of cynicism.

    Patrick represented real significant change -- from the color of his skin, the contrast of his upbringing to that of Romney's and, most of all, the tone of his lofty rhetoric. We were willing to overlook the lack of specificity in his proposals.

    The grassroots nature of the campaign certainly worried entrenched interests -- from Senate President Robert Travaglini to Massachusetts High Tech Council President Chris Anderson -- and those guns have been drawn over tax policy statements. The media has been highly wary of his desire to go around them and use modern communications tools.

    But to overuse the gun metaphor, the greatest damage has come from self-inflicted wounds to the feet. And the Phoenix's David Bernstein is spot on in looking at the lack of Beacon Hill experience in the team Patrick assembled. I previously noted that communications team in particular is short of veteran reporters used to playing Beacon Hill hardball.

    Symbols cannot be overestimated in their importance -- why else is Barack Obama coughing up cash for 19-year-old parking tickets? And the Bartley Burger Cottage "Cadillac of Burgers" is something he's going to have to live with.

    OK Governor, I won't give up on you -- yet. But you really need to stop squandering your political capital, start thinking and get some experienced Beacon Hill voices on your team. You don't need to sell out those principles that attracted us -- but you do have to live in the real political world.

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    Wednesday, March 07, 2007

    Guilty, guilty, guilty...

    No, not Deval Patrick (unless you are talking about extremely poor judgment)...

    Back in the day, Megaphone Mark Slackmeyer summed up the Nixon Administration and it's role in Watergate (now there's a real political scandal) with a three-word appraisal of then- Attorney General John Mitchell.

    Yesterday, a jury of seven women and four men added a fourth guilty in a long-awaited decision that will send Lewis "Scooter" Libby to jail and finally brings at least some accountability to a White House that has been as reckless as Nixon's in its disregard for the Constitution and the law.

    Leave it to the former reporter on the panel to be the group's spokesman and sum it up with a tight lead:
    "We're not saying that we didn't think Mr. Libby was guilty of the things we found him guilty of," said the juror, Denis Collins. "But it seemed like he was . . . the fall guy."
    For a GOP team that has steadfastly (and arrogantly) insisted it was right, no matter the topic from Iraq to Katrina to its flexible interpretation of the laws of the land, the verdict is a cold slap in the face, something the diehard team that surrounds Vice President Dick Cheney continues to deny.
    "Scooter didn't do anything," said former Cheney counselor Mary Matalin. "And his personal record and service are impeccable. How do you make sense of a system where a security principal admits to stuffing classified docs in his pants and says, 'I'm sorry,' and a guy who is rebutting a demonstrable partisan liar is going through this madness?"
    It's called the legal system Mary (who is referring to the former Clinton administration national security adviser Sandy Berger, who copped a plea for an action that Bush probably admires at some level. A jury of citizens heard evidence and rendered a verdict holding someone accountable, an action Bush has repeatedly demonstrated he doesn't admire.

    Fingers should now point even more directly at Darth Cheney, who unleashed Libby to attack the credibility of Joe Wilson and in the process helped out a CIA operative (something far more serious than stuffing documents down your pants).

    Cheney stands at or near the top of every Bush action that has defied the Constitution (warrantless wiretaps, damaging checks and balances) or the will of the American people (the "surge"). His own lack of accountability has been on display since he so famously said he had "better things to do" than serve in Vietnam.

    Sadly, this will probably end here, because Libby, the ever-faithful fall guy, will probably not roll on his boss. But Cheney will probably be the topic, once again and real soon, on the Marc Slackmeyer NPR program.

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