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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Heck of a job, Joey

There's a certain familiar odor emanating from the Citi Performing Arts Center.

Despite five straight years of losses, program cutbacks -- including a drastic shortening of the popular Shakespeare in the Common program -- the board of directors sought fit to grant president and CEO Josiah Spaulding Jr. a $1.265 million "retention" bonus while praising his selflessness in taking a 25 percent pay cut -- down to a mere $409,000 and $23,135 in benefits.
"Was it justified or not? Boy, I'll tell you it was," said [board chairman John William Poduska Sr. of the bonus. ] "Joe was being courted by everyone under the sun. . . . He stayed and did a heck of a job."
And this heck of a job included hiring his wife as web site manager (salary undisclosed) and a PR firm run by a trustee who declined to answer e-mailed questions ($43,109 annually). Nor did the organization reveal whether anyone else was included in the retention bonus program.

A 25 percent pay cut may seem impressive on the surface, but it gets easier when you know there's a big bonus just down the road.

But why are you looking to "retain" someone who has presided over five straight years of budget deficits, programming cuts and drops in performances?

Spaulding may very well have performed yeoman's service in turning the moribund Music Hall into a viable venue. But in recent years he has favored touring road companies to pay (some of) the bills -- opting for the Rockettes over the Nutcracker for example.

Bonuses, particularly in the not-for-profit world, should be rewarded on performance. Retention bonuses for productive CEOs are appropriate too.

But not for someone whose salary and benefits are slightly less than the revised costs for a popular production that was slashed from three weeks to one.

Arts organizations are in a constant battle for cash (and survival). State and federal support is an iffy thing because, for all the value of the arts in quality of life and education, there are bigger priorities. Like public safety, housing and health care.

They depend on the loyalty and generosity of people like you and me -- either to attend their performances or maybe, hopefully, write a check.

Don't hold your breath waiting for one from me folks.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Service quality

Another one of the those days for the MBTA to shine -- like a bad penny.

Here's the scene. A Green Line train is sitting (and sitting and sitting) at Packard's Corner. It's about a minute or two before the light changes so it can continue its inbound crawl. The operator of the second car looks at the passengers assembling outside in the rain, trying to board, shrugs her shoulders -- and refuses to open the door.

But hey, it all worked out well (after some choice suggestions about how that operator should be splashed by a bus doing 50 through a puddle).

But then again, everything turned out fine. The next train was there in about a minute. And if I had missed that one I could have gotten on the next one a minute behind that.

Good thing I wasn't left in the rain by that well-spaced collection of trains.

Whatever happened to that concept that Danny was taling about. You know customer service?

And let me ask again -- why can't the T tell us, after seven months whether the Charlie system and it's jacked up fares have increased revenues? The Department of Revenue can do it monthly, why not the MBTA?

What are you hiding Danny?

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Myth-making

Some must reading in today's Globe, something to counter the Page One New Hampshire poll story showing Myth Romney's time, money and attention have put him into the lead.

The real read though is back in the op-ed section, whether Northeastern University economists Andrew Sum and Joseph McLaughlin analyze his four years as governor in terms of the economy.

The bottom line? During the Romney years, Massachusetts led the nation in people packing up and moving out -- driven by national-leading increases in housing prices and sluggish job growth.

As readers of this space know all too well, the Man, the Myth and the Legend in His Own Mind left behind a terrible record, particularly after he essentially quit after the 2004 legislative election debacle. If only he devoted the same time and attention to the job he pledged to fill for four years.

We all know how Myth has flip-flipped all over the place on social issues. It will be interesting to hear him squirm his way out of this one.

Perhaps it's time to bring back a favorite line of the George H.W. Bush attack line on Michael Dukakis. "He'll for to America what he did to Massachusetts."

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What really happened in Middleboro?

I'm confused about what went on at the Middleboro Town Meeting yesterday.

No, not the vote to approve the deal selectmen negotiated with representatives of the Mashpee Wampanoags. Rather I'm confused about what I read -- and didn't read -- about a non-binding vote that in effect rejected the concept of casinos in the town while agreeing to this particular casino proposal.

I've scoured the lead story in the Paper of Record three times for a mention of what I've read in The Herald, on Blue Mass Group and in Media Nation -- namely that right after voting 2-1 to approve the deal, those left at the high school held a non-binding vote turning thumbs down on casinos in general.

What gives Metro Editor Brian McGrory? Why is there a paragraph in the online version but not in the dead tree version? Is everyone else wrong and the Globe correct? Or are you planning a major takeout follow-up on Monday?

This is a story in need of a lot of follow up. Why the rush -- less than a week between public posting of the documents and a town meeting on a overwhelmingly humid late July Saturday? Whose numbers are correct on the hotel taxes? Why did all of this need to be done before Deval Patrick and the Legislature finally take up the question of a coherent statewide policy?

In the end, casinos are coming to Massachusetts. But who will be the ultimate winners? A) The owners? B) The Town of Middleboro? C) The taxpayers of Massachusetts?

The ultimate answer must be "all of the above" -- but I have a bad feeling after the past week the answer will be A.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Not a big fan

Once upon a time, I lived and breathed sports (and I know it may be hard to believe but my sun, moon and stars did not revolve around the Red Sox or Patriots. The Celtics, on the other hand ... but that's another story.)

Actually it isn't. The decline and fall of the Celtics, the sad passing of Reggie Lewis and a realization that there was more to life than figuring out how to avoid weddings and celebrations that conflicted with the playoffs all played a role.

So too did the attitudes of the little boys who played the game.

It all started with the whine of Jody Reed, a marginal Sox infielder who said he was insulted that he didn't make a million bucks a year to hit a ball with a stick. I was insulted by the public display of stupidity.

Pro sports struck me for the longest time as being more honest than college -- at least the pros were upfront about the dollars involved -- even as the escalated to levels most of us will only dream about.

But lately, it has just become intolerable.

We are on the verge of Barry Bonds, aka the Steroid King, breaking Hank Aaron's home run record. Also on the illegal substance front, we have the "Tour de Farce," where you can't tell the cycling doper without a scorecard.

On the illegality front, we have Tim Donaghy, an NBA official accused of point shaving, and Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback accused of torturing and killing dogs for sport. That doesn't even get into his football compatriots like Pacman Jones, half the roster of the Cincinnati Bengals and Super Bowl hero Ray Lewis. Or the NBA's Portland Jail Blazers.

So swing away Big Head Barry. Pedal away all you dopers. I will continue to scan the sports pages for a few morsels but I've pretty much had it with overpaid, under matured gazillionaires behaving badly.

Of course if Danny and Doc actually manage to pull of a a miracle...

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Friday, July 27, 2007

"I would suggest to you that that is isolated"

FBI Director Robert Mueller believes the criminality of Boston's FBI office, reflected in the decision to make taxpayers spend $101.7 million to atone for that lawlessness, is an isolated incident. The facts suggest otherwise.

Mueller was testifying before Congress during an agency oversight hearing. Ironically, he was more forthright in characterizing the behavior of his boss, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in effect saying Gonzales lied to Congress in testimony about the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping efforts.
"I would suggest to you that that is isolated. Day in and day out over the years, FBI agents have been undertaking investigations and done them lawfully."
Mueller, who was an assistant US Attorney in Boston under Bill Weld in the 1980s, was less than forthcoming in his description of the Boston office's behavior in those years.

At that time, as anyone with even minimal knowledge of Boston's crime scene knows, the FBI had two snitches -- named Whitey Bulger and Stevie "The Rifleman" Flemmi. They were controlled by Special Agent John Connolly, who retired in 1991 and was convicted 11 years later of racketeering, obstruction of justice, and lying to an FBI agent.

(And interesting factoid I learned today -- Stevie Flemmi's brother Vincent "Jimmie the Bear" Flemmi was involved in the set-up of Teddie Deegan, whose murdered was falsely pinned onto the Joseph Salvati, Peter Limone and two other men who, along with their families, will be on the receiving end of the taxpayers' payment for FBI crimes.)

It can hardly be overstated: the FBI gave free rein to men to murder, run rackets and do as they please in exchange for their cooperation in ratting out their rivals -- Raymond L.S. Patriarca and Gennaro Angiulo. In effect, the FBI decided the law was flexible to achieve their obsessive pursuits of their narrowly defined goals of "justice."

The similarity to today's FBI and Justice Department is stark. Laws (and constitutional guarantees) are being broken in the Bush administration's pursuit, not of terrorists but of the unitary executive.

Today's criminals include Gonzales, who has clearly perjured himself. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are also complicit in perverting the Constitution in pursuit of their version of the White Whale -- all the while leaving America more vulnerable to the problem they claim to be working to solve.

Mueller should join the parade of Bush administration officials who should step down and disappear because they have dishonored themselves and this nation.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

High rollers

The Mashpee Wampanoags are painting the "chump" sign on the town of Middleboro, at least in the view of a number of top state officials. And those officials ask the very good question "why the rush?"

From Secretary of State Bill Galvin's questions about the ability to hold a legitimate outdoor town meeting on a short notice on a hot weekend in July to Treasurer Tim Cahill's more significant challenges to the substance of the agreement between Middleboro and the tribe, this is getting serious.
"It will change the entire fabric of the community, but it's the tribe and the investors who will make the lion's share of the money," he said in an interview with the Globe. "There are a lot of holes in the agreement. I don't see where it helps the town financially."
To borrow Middleboro selectman Adam Bond's love for metaphors -- this train is either not leaving the station or is about to become a runaway, smashing through the board and splintering the town.

I see the inevitability of casino gambling in Massachusetts -- and while I won't be stopping off at the slots on a regular basis, I have no great qualms about introducing it is a source of entertainment and revenue in a state that needs both. The Globe has now weighed in too.

But there is definitely a runaway train feel to this. First the tribe and town think they have a deal, but residents object. Back to the table and a new, allegedly sweeter deal. But in leaving a little less than one week between public posting of the documents to the town meeting the obvious question is "why the rush?"

Middleboro obviously feels it needs the resources. But why rush to a vote on a hot summer weekend -- especially when even a yes vote is not a signal for the cha-ching to begin? This proposal still needs state and federal approvals and that won't happen before Labor Day. Make that Labor Day 2010.

Cahill's comments may also represent those of a man representing an entity seeing its own dreams of riches wash away. Indian gaming is not as lucrative for the Commonwealth as privately developed gaming. A state can't stop an Indian casino -- and Connecticut has done very well with two of them -- but this is some of the "self-interest" motivating Cahill.

And in this instance, the self he represents is you and me.

Ditto for House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Gov. Deval Patrick and their own perhaps conflicting views on the subject.

We know this deal is good for the tribe. After that it is all conjecture.

Massachusetts has spent too much time fiddling and diddling over casinos, torn between its Puritan heritage and its shrinking resources. Mr. Bond would agree it's time to fish or cut bait.

But not with 10,000 people sweating in a tent on the high school football field in July.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

T is for Terrible

Now let me get this straight. You're not allowed to take pictures on MBTA property. Unless you are employed by the T and are looking to nab fare evaders.

While there is some sense to the the T's decision to train their evil eye on fare evaders, here's a handy-dandy suggestion: you can accomplish almost as much by going back to the old system on the Green Line -- namely open only the front door on inbound trains and drop the outbound fare. Or, actually have "validators" present to check Charlie Cards in both directions and let people with pre-paid cards board through any door.

You don't need a camera to know there are a raft of fare evaders getting on at middle and back doors on the Green Line surface streets. All you need is a pair of eyes -- and the time the T requires you to spend while they try to board people on overcrowded sardine cans.

Ever try to get to be honest and get on an outbound train through the front door? You can't -- the narrow aisles of the Breda cars are too jammed to create any room. "Sneak in" the back or wait. And wait.

And while we are at it, here's a question for our revenue conscious T executives like Dan "Commuter Rail Isn't Convenient to My Schedule" Grabuaskas. How has the new fare system impacted MBTA revenues?

We are now almost eight months into the new fare structure -- has the T increased revenue, lost riders or both?

The Department of Revenue releases monthly reports on the state's tax collections. The MBTA relies on a chunk of those revenues (a penny on the sales tax) to fund the system. Why aren't they reporting monthly on the success (or failure) of the new fare structure?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Your money is no good here

At first I thought it was a joke. The person at the register across the way at Best Buy was saying she would take credit and debit cards. I laughed when I told the guy at the register I went to that that I had the old-fashioned green stuff.

The joke was on me.

"I don't have a cash drawer," he said.

No signs, by the way, to warn you that anyone with that filthy, germ-laden paper was destined to be shuffled off to some special line somewhere in the nether regions of the store. Out came the credit card and we were off.

It's now a running gag with a younger colleague. I'm the guy who messes up the smooth and swift lines in those Visa commercials. She swipes lunch, snacks, you name it on her debit card.

Cash? Only when she goes out to dinner with a group and needs to settle up her tab. No need to worry about balancing a checkbook, she says. It's all on line.

I, on the other hand, am the Neanderthal. My Declaration of Financial Independence was getting a checkbook. It's tough enough to do the math, let alone cope with a gazillion small pieces of paper to make sure the darn thing is balanced. But I learned it that way and I will welcome the electronic age in every way -- except one.

OK, I am a devoted follower of ATMs -- seeing an unhappy bank teller got old a long time ago. Ditto direct deposit of the paychecks. I just spent too much time shredding old pay stubs to even want to see them.

But I draw the line on paying my bills on line. Perhaps it was the psychic scars when a former employer (in Chapter 11 at the time) decided upon direct withdrawal. It all worked out fine in the end, but I have no great desire to give NStar or Citibank or some corporate giant the keys to my cookie jar.

So I carry around pictures on Andy and Alex (and Abe and George). Getting old sucks. But not as much as getting ripped off. Or even worrying about it.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

All the facts, please

Interesting column today by Steve Bailey and his experiences with the gun lobby. Nice analysis by Dan Kennedy over at Media Nation about the NRA wannabe that is calling for Bailey's firing.

But in re-reading what ran yesterday before Bailey's "confession," I was struck by one missing piece from the Herald's take on this story: Isn't it relevant that Bailey's accuser, Alan Gottlieb, is a convicted felon (filing a false tax return) who had his gun purchasing privileges revoked and then restored under a "second chance" program.

A lot of questions arise from that, all questions the Herald did not answer (not to mention did not report).
  • The most obvious ones go to credibility of Gottlieb (he was convicted of lying after all).
  • Why was he given a second chance?
  • Did the ATF investigate him as thoroughly as they investigated Bailey and his associates?
I would have thought those would be important questions responsible editors and reporters would ask before printing a story.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Peace in our time?

So Deval Patrick, Sal DiMasi and Terry Murray have kissed and made up. Or have they?

Reading today's lead story in the Globe, you might think war is breaking out yet again over the Patrick administration's decision to give a $10 million economic development grant to Boston's Columbus Center project. A letter from DiMasi and others asserts:
We intended for the money to underwrite targeted investments by companies and governmental agencies to help the state's economy expand. We did not set the money aside to help a private developer build million- dollar condos."
Jump to the Metro section though and it's all sweetness and light.

Patrick's relationship with DiMasi remains somewhat volatile, but they have developed a better relationship as they have gotten to know one another.

Despite the occasional flare-up, both leaders have made an effort. They have gone out to dinner twice together -- once alone, and once with their wives -- and they have grown familiar enough to speak directly when an issue arises.

Well duh.

Coverage of government is very different than the coverage of politics, as arcane a thought as that may be. There are clear winners and losers in an election. There are a variety of positions and winners in governing. One of the most classic clashes is between the legislative and executive branches.

Clearly there is a new dynamic in place with a Democratic governor in place after 16 years of Republicans in the Corner Office (well, maybe 14 or 15 unless you count absentee tenants).

A Legislature, used to having its way because of the overwhelming lack of Republicans who serve there isn't keen about giving up that power. A governor elected by people in all 351 cities and towns believes he has a mandate that is broader than that of 200 separately elected people.

Perhaps it was personal with the frequently absent Romney. And there is very little doubt Patrick has been slow off the mark. But it is about the natural tension built into the system by checks and balances.

These constant melodramatic stories overstate the reality. It's not personal, it's not necessarily even politics (neither DiMasi or Murray harbor statewide intentions). It's about governing.

Otto von Bismarck had it right. You can disagree without being disagreeable, but reporters (myself included for the longest time) who would rather focus on the nastiness of politics than the frequently boring but ultimately more important art of governing.

And that's why you get seeming contradictions like this.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Into the belly of the beast, redux

Last week brought the surreal experience of making into the Official Conservative Love-In Society, hosted by the friends and acolytes of Hugh Hewitt. Today, I had the experience of listening to the man himself.

I can only think of one thing: I have heard the latter day version of Joseph Goebbels.

Harsh? Yes. Excessive? You be the judge after listening to the hour-long podcast hosted by ABC senior national correspondent Jake Tapper.

Hewitt -- whose extensive resume includes being the first director of the Nixon Library (long before its recent excursion into reality-based exhibits) -- browbeat Tapper from the get-go, after the earnest reporter opened the usual 20-minute podcast with the political question of the day: what to make of Louisiana Sen. David Vitter's straying from the path he urges on others.

When Hewitt wasn't trying to trap Tapper into confessing he was a non-Christian liberal zealot, the right-wing blogger and talk show host was daring him to air the podcast, complete and uncut (he did).

Of course, he spent a lot of time and effort trying to pillory Tapper for not sticking to the supposed subject of the chat -- a book looking at Myth Romney and his religion. When they did get into that near the end of the hour (after taunting him over the "dishonesty" of as pitch letter seeking to focus on the Romney book) Hewitt was sure to posit that only liberals have made an issue of Romney's faith.

Among the more outrageous assertions offered (aside from the truly laughable statement that Rush Limbaugh is a journalist), is that reporters possess liberal DNA (hence the inevitable leap to compare Hewitt and Nazi stalwarts like Goebbels and Josef Mengele); that conservatives are far more tolerant of religious differences than liberals; and that anti-Mormonism is a greater threat to society than either racism or antisemitism.

Hewitt possesses a voice for radio and a calm delivery that would tempt you to believe anything. His insistence that only liberals are to blame for the ills of modern-day society will go down like sugar to his true believers.

Tapper did a more than credible job in handling the Hewitt onslaught -- although he came close on several occasions to losing it in the wake of the browbeating.

The true bottom line to me was that Hewitt was able to blithely skip over the fact that it is the right which has injected fundamentalism into American political life, a right that includes leaders who denigrate Jews and who certainly don't hold back in their views of Muslims.

A master manipulator, Hewitt represents the dogma that has cleaved American society into believers and traitors. But then again, he learned at the feet of a master, Richard Milhous Nixon.

Listen to the hour. Then decide.

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I guess failure WAS an option

Disheartened. Disenchanted. Dismayed. Or how about Disgusted.

For almost six years we've heard George Bush pontificate and bloviate about how he was fighting terrorism over there so we wouldn't have to fight it over here. And how the battle in Iraq really was about terrorism and not an ill-conceived and ill-executed sidetrip to eliminate a tyrant with no direct connections with the REAL enemy , al Qaeda.

And of course how Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are our friends in the Global War on Terror.

I suspect Our Clueless Commander-in-Chief will find a way to distort this latest piece of bad news, that Osama bin Laden and his boys have had a chance to refresh and reinvigorate under the less-than-watchful eye of our ally, General Pervez Musharraf.

I suspect Colonel Klink will seize upon the section of the National Intelligence Estimate that says al Qaeda in Iraq has helped to "energize" extremists and has been a boon to bin Laden's recruiting.

Ignoring the fact that the Iraqi offshoot's biggest recruiting tool has been the United States' occupation of that country.

But at least we can be comforted in knowing our Department of Homeland Security is looking out for us and our "high value" targets like LNG facilities. Can't we?

Maybe we can all move to Tora Bora?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Let the battle begin

There's already some teeth-gnashing over a plan for "managed competition" of our auto insurance system, even when the announcement was timed for well past the end of the business day.

Well, here's what many will perceive as a decidedly un-liberal view: it's about time. I'm tired of subsidizing bad drivers.

I say that with the understanding that my rates could be kicked up based on where I live -- probably about 500 feet from the city line in one of those leafy liberal enclaves. If the system being proposed by Insurance Commissioner Nonnie Burnes places a heavy emphasis on where a car is garaged, I'm toast. I don't even have a garage.

What I do have is a good driving record and I am tired of covering the rates of the Massholes who weave in and out of traffic, run lights and make me stop short when they cut me off at 70 (I'm not an angel, but I'm not an idiot either).

I was around for the disastrous competition experiment and, as a younger, less experienced driver, I did the logical thing. I moved farther away from the city.

I'm not here to defend the insurance companies -- heaven knows I have no love for an industry that wants your money and until they have to pay a claim and then drops you like a hot potato. I still remember what Allstate did to my parents after an accident for which they were not at fault.

But there is something seriously wrong with a system where those who are careful and play by the rules wind up paying for those who do not. The current system frankly is a disincentive to good drivers -- what happened to merit credits?

And don't hand me anything about this ruling being a payback to Deval Patrick for insurance industry support in the election. At least until you have some proof other than campaign contributions -- which in this state can maybe buy a politician a cup of Starbuck's.

Competition failed when it was tried in 1977, but dude, it's 2007. The current system is just as broken. I say trust but verify.

Did I just quote Ronald Reagan? This might be a more serious problem than I thought.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Those who know him best

An interesting turn of events in a Republican presidential fight that seems to have no clear winners at the moment: Myth Romney is tapping out in Massachusetts and Utah.

With the John McCain campaign approaching death spiral status and Rudy Giuliani's minions faced with legal and zipper problems, you old think this would be Myth's time to shine.

But the best face someone can put on the fund-raising plunge is he maxed out early from a small group of wealthy friends and acquaintances in two of his home states. The worst face (and Myth is obviously the man of many faces) is that his constant image re-engineering is starting to take a toll, starting with the people who have known him the longest.

At least now we know why he funneled so much own cash to his coffers at the end of June. Like McCain (and George Bush) fiscal conservatism is a phrase, not a reality.

Oh and speaking re-engineering, check out this lovely face lift, courtesy of Massachusetts Democrats. Is it any wonder is most prominent Bay State supporter is Bill Weld, his role model for leaving a job undone?

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Friday, July 13, 2007

$26.8 billion for what?

There's an amazing lack of controversy (or coverage) surrounding Deval Patrick's $41 million in vetoes or even the overall budget.

A quick look at the veto message suggests very little in the way of major battles with the Legislature (even the local district earmarks amount to chump change in a spending plan this size.)

While the Herald tries to make noise where there might not otherwise be any, the fact is the Romney-era abstinence education funding is unlikely to generate enough noise for an override. A more likely source of fireworks is the veto of travel and tourism grants shepherded by Senate President Terry Murray.

But when two of those grants are targeted at a dental program and a $35,000 engineering study of a Seekonk landfill, Patrick at least has some room to maneuver in public.

More interesting though is the reaction from House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation chief Mike Widmer, who has sparred off and on with Patrick over the months.
In a statement yesterday afternoon, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi commended the governor for working with the Legislature, and for embracing nearly 100 percent of the spending priorities to provide local aid, sewer rate relief, and money to implement last year’s health reform law, ‘‘all without new taxes, fees, or fines.’’
And Widmer offered only a "time will tell" response to what the future holds for a budget balanced on one-time revenues and reserves -- rather than the closed corporate tax loopholes Patrick would have preferred.

All in all, this is a budget that suggests the Legislature is eager to get out of Boston, backs to the hills and the beaches and barbecues. September is soon enough to launch the next battle.

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Fight them over there...

I have a "gut feeling" about the Bush administration's terrorism policy: the shakier things are looking on the home front, the more likely it is for the Bushies to ratchet up the "chatter."

Of course there is absolutely nothing new and original here, except for the way the charade was unmasked this week by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in the face of evidence that the "real" al Qaeda is getting stronger thanks to our ally, Pakistan.

It's reassuring that Chertoff, who ignored all the hard evidence that Katrina was going to be a catastrophe, is now relying on his gut.

The report -- and Chertoff's blatherings -- make it clear that after nearly six years Americans can't really feel certain about anything except that when the heat is on (in London and Glasgow for example) and Democrats in Congress are again putting pressure on Bush (who can't even pass his own "tests"), our crack national security team will pull out all stops to scare us.

Oh yeah, and George Bush will lie through his teeth, ignore real crimes, and accuse those of us who are true patriots with treason.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Into the belly of the beast

I should have known something was up when I spotted the tie covered with tiny elephants.

Who knew what was really in store when a colleague invited me to join her at a forum about blogging. "Great," I thought. A chance to learn some tips that would help me market my own efforts and maybe help out at work too.

Little did I realize we would step into the Wayback Machine and hurtle back into the 195os, politically and socially.

The guest was a blogger and radio talk show host of some prominence, I'm told. I've certainly heard of his site. The guy with the elephant tie was at the Weekly Standard. At least one other gentleman has a blog on townhall.com, home to Bill Bennett and Hugh Hewitt, among others.

The liberal-bashing started before the salad. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the New York Times and the rest of the MSM was the main course. The dessert wasn't snickers, but might just as well have been and the other guests bemoaned the likely fate of their beloved movement -- without much finger pointing at the men and the decisions that have placed conservatism in the mess it's in today.

Nope, it was just a chance to sit back, with the equivalent of a virtual cigar, and reminisce what it was life when the movement was young and had its future ahead of it. And how John McCain did himself in by supporting the immigration bill and how Mitt Romney was the guy to lead them out of the wilderness (at least in the guest-of-honor's view).

And what did I do? Like any good Outraged Liberal in the enemy camp, I kept my mouth shut. There was no likelihood of making a point in this gathering. Better to be silent and live to blog another day.

But an eye opening look at the other side? That's an understatement.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Dollars and sense

If the Legislature won't do it, let's hear it for the Appellate Tax Board.

The ultimate proof of the fallacy in telecommunications companies' arguments for the continuation of a nearly 100-year-old law designed to help a new industry is the claim a wireless phone company needs poles and WIRES to perform its task. (Cell towers are another subject entirely!)

Naturally it is Verizon Wireless (which to be fair, has a slightly different corporate history from its eponymous cousin Verizon) who is at the center of this absurdity. It was "the phone company," you will recall, who pleaded poverty earlier this year by saying that without this tax break they could no longer afford to invest in Massachusetts.

Acting Administration and Finance Secretary Henry Dormitzer makes a counter argument brilliant in its simplicity in calling for enactment of Deval Patrick's proposal to close the loophole:
"One-hundred-year-old tax policy can hardly be called up to date," said Dormitzer. "Governor Patrick's proposal to remove the exemption from the personal property tax for telephone company property such as telephone poles is primarily based on fairness to cities and towns."
The Globe's Carolyn Johnson also offers some interesting numbers, minus data from AT&T, formerly known as Cingular, formerly known as AT&T Wireless:
For Verizon Wireless, it's the difference between being taxed on property worth $4.1 million in fiscal year 2007, versus $492.8 million in fiscal year 2008 according to a central assessment by the state Department of Revenue. Nextel Communications of the Mid-Atlantic saw the state's assessment of its property rise from $1.9 million in 2007 to $55.5 million in fiscal year 2008. The state found that Omnipoint Communications, also known as T-Mobile, had $142,900 worth of taxable property in fiscal year 2007, versus $101.2 million in fiscal year 2008.
Bringing it to the local level:
The city of Boston, for instance, taxed Verizon Wireless on $93 million worth of property in 2004, and collected $3 million. The following year, when Verizon Wireless reorganized and qualified for the exemption, it had only $274,900 worth of property and its tax bill dropped to $8,984.

Verizon Wireless's assets in Newton were valued at $6 million in 2004, yielding $118,000 in taxes, but in 2005 with the exemption, the company's property was valued at $17,400 and the city collected only $296.15. For 2008, the state's central assessment of the company's taxable property in Newton is $6 million.

Who pays the difference? Let me guess.

While lawmakers have taken a couple of steps to helping cities and towns by giving preliminary approval to letting municipalities join the state health care and pension systems, they haven't taken the hugely important step of asking corporations to share the burden of living and working in Massachusetts.

Right now, corporations make money off us twice -- first from the sale of services, then from the tax breaks not available to others (Fidelity is small, family-owned company?)

Steve Bailey is correct in pushing for an answer to Deval Patrick's call for property tax relief. Spending one-time surpluses and rainy day accounts to pay for ordinary spending is bad practice. Rebates would be a good idea.

So would tax fairness.

For those of you who have been paying attention lately, I'll be off the grid for a couple of lazy, hazy days.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Declaration of Scooterpendence

... We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
It's an appropriate day to stand back and assess the state of American democracy on this, the 231st anniversary of the declaration and focus on the phrase "whenever any form of government becomes destructive ... it is the Right of the People at alter or abolish it..."

In the last 48 hours, a president elected with a mandate ranging from questionable to non-existent has declared he is both judge and jury -- overruling a properly-seated jury and declaring that a sentence handed down to one of his cronies (one who took part in a conspiracy to cover-up the outing of a CIA agent) was "excessive."

And not content with that outrageous personal application of justice, he declares he is still open to wiping the crime off the books.

This is, of course, is the same government that launched a destructive war under false pretenses, has spied against its own citizens without the even bothering with the legal process and has smeared anyone who dissents with as a "traitor."

Then off course there is the Vice President who decides he is his own fourth branch of government, not bound by the rules that apply to either the executive or legislative branches he ostensibly claims to be part of.

Dick Cheney, of course, knows a thing or two about sidestepping the law -- he shot a friend in the face and suffered not one bit.

Contrast this to a man who shot, but did not injure a friend with a BB gun, served his country in Iraq and was denied a pardon that would allow him to become a police officer.

That tough man is Myth Romney, who defends Libby as the victim of unjust prosecution.

Then there's Fred Thompson, who served as a mole to the Nixon administration during the Senate Watergate hearings -- leaking information to the White House all the while insisting Nixon was the victim of a spiteful media.

And what is Thompson today (other than another flawed GOP presidential candidate)? Why, a leader of the Scooter Libby Defense Fund.

We are indeed two Americas, as John Edwards often points out. But the gap is far more than economic. There is a justice gap -- whether in the courtroom or in the prisons. The privileged, like Libby and Cheney -- do not suffer the consequences of their actions.

We have strayed too far afield from the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It is time to alter this form of government and remove the criminals who use the levers of powers to reward their friends and harass their enemies.

Impeachment probably would take too long in the dying embers of this administration. But the need to throw out the crooks and liars in 2008 should be the No. 1 priority in the months the remain in the rule of King George IV.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

You spent it on what?

The Massachusetts Legislature has approved a $26.8 billion plan to spend out tax money. On what?

The Globe tells us the budget raises spending 4.2 percent -- higher than the 3 percent revenue estimate -- but that Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation chief Mike Widmer thinks they'll win that gamble and not need to dip into reserves.

The Associated Press tells us that while there now appears to be peace between Deval Patrick and the Legislature who know what his use of the budget on will due to relations between Democratic lawmakers and the first Democratic governor in 16 years.

The Herald doesn't even bother with $26.8 billion, focusing on a little item in a supplemental budget that would benefit the district of a gay marriage voter. They repeat Kris Mineau's unsubstantiated allegation the money for a community center is a payoff for the vote.

Call me quaint and old fashioned, but when I reported on this stuff, you were expected to tell readers what the money is being spent on -- if only in broad categories like education, health and public safety. Over time, you drill down for interesting specifics.

We've had a lot of discussion in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere about Patrick's priorities and whether they were sound. We've had a lot of discussion about what needs to be done to make Massachusetts competitive again. We've had a lot of discussion of where taxpayer dollars actually go.

So where is it in the budget stories? The document was available on Friday. The Legislature made the report and a separate document detailing the differences among the House, Senate and final versions available for review to the public and the Statehouse News Service had it for its subscribers.

Even accounting for the possibility that no one wanted to work on the weekend, what stopped reporters from poring over those documents on Monday while waiting for the votes? Even a bullet-pointed laundry list of where the money is going?

Reporters should not be complaining about the lack of sunlight in government when they seem unwilling to open their eyes.

CORRECTION: If you make it to page B3 of the dead tree edition of the Globe you do indeed get a bullet-pointed laundry list. No details, no discussion but there are bullet point comparisons.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

You do the crime, you do the time...

... unless you are an FODC (Friend of Darth Cheney).

The Declarati0n of Scooter-pendence stands in sharp contrast to the rules that apply to other people indicted by grand juries and convicted by juries of their peers. And we won't even get into how it contrasts with the denial of basic American judicial principles such as habeas corpus for accused terrorists.

By unilaterally declaring that Scooter Libby's 30-month sentence for four felony convictions was "excessive," George Bush has once again made a mockery of the justice system. It's just the latest -- and probably least egregious Bush crimes against the Constitution that include illegal wiretapping of American citizens.

But coming from a man who proclaimed his belief in the concept of "do the crime, do the time," this special favor for a crony stings even more. (Forget the fine -- it's pocket change for the Scooter Defense Fund).

It's worth noting that all of the "Law & Order" types -- like phony New York prosecutor Fred "Arthur Branch" Thompson -- are all for sparing poor Scooter.

And I suppose a case could be made for this action if the real criminal behind the outing of a CIA agent for political purposes actually paid for his criminality. But we all know Darth Cheney will walk away scot-free.

And to really put this in perspective: Paris Hilton did more jail time for drunken driving than Scooter Libby did for lying to a grand jury.

George Bush should be ashamed -- if he only knew what shame is. At least he had enough sense not to wait until the 4th of July.

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