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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Is anyone listening to us?

Allow me to take a slightly different message away from today's Globe poll than my esteemed friend and colleague Dan Kennedy.

The decidedly mixed messages about gambling and casinos -- and the growing support for Deval Patrick -- suggests that we out in in the blogosphere have created an insular little world that has failed to penetrate the bubble.

To be sure, part of the reason for mixed feelings has been the clearly uninspired coverage of the issue by the mainstream media. The Globe, to the best of my knowledge, has failed to recognize that Middleboro voters delivered a mirror image message in July -- no to casinos but if we have to have to, yes in Middleboro.

And when the best reporting on the Patrick proposal comes from the Weekly Dig, well, need I say more?

There has been an awful lot of heat generated on the left side of the blogosphere -- including a lot of hand-wringing about whether Patrick is selling out the true believers who carried him to victory.

A four-point bump in the polls -- edging back up from the depths of DrapeGate and the Caddy Caper -- also suggests no one is listening to us.

Hopefully, the Globe and Herald are now hard at work at in-depth looks at the economic benefits and social costs of casinos and whether the revenues generated by casinos can make a difference in helping Massachusetts meet an obvious revenue gap.

That doesn't mean we should pull back from offering our thoughts. I doesn't mean we shouldn't we have a key seat at the table. At least not yet.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bay State Hold 'Em

House Speaker Sal DiMasi says he gagging over the attention being paid to casino gambling. Yet he is playing a cagey game of poker with Deval Patrick -- and it's not quite clear who is holding the winning cards.

DiMasi probably made for a few additional upset stomachs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts breakfast forum when he pronounced the casino frenzy "nauseating." While DiMasi continues to say non-committal things about Deval Patrick's vision for casino gambling, it remains pretty clear he is a definite "no" vote when Patrick actually presents legislation.

But as the Herald and the Statehouse News Service (subscription required) report, DiMasi's membership is not quite the sure bet he would hope them to be in lining up behind him.

As I've noted before, I'm waiting to be convinced one way or another. The Weekly Dig's report that Patrick's proposal closely resembles that of casino booster and UMass-Dartmouth professor Clyde Barrow is not reassuring. Nor are the faint protestations of Patrick's aides that the much-awaited report that led to his proposal was never intended to be exhaustive.

But the bottom line to me is, well, the bottom line. This state has a money crunch, now and into the future. Nickel and diming (no matter how justified) isn't going to get it done. Nor is what, based on early reviews, is a successful effort to lure Hollywood to Boston.

Yet the Hollywood tax break appears to be the centerpiece of an as yet undefined DiMasi vision. Yes, he is all for boosting the life sciences as a sound way to invest in Massachusetts' future(as is Patrick). But after that it gets very vague.

To date, DiMasi and the House have rejected Patrick's call for corporate tax reform (while approving piece meal proposals from the municipal partnership proposal). Like Patrick, lawmakers seem squeamish about gasoline tax hikes (even as the Turnpike Authority plans to stick it, once again, to a small subgroup of commuters).

At the same time, the Legislature quietly restored $37 million of the $41 million in budget items vetoed by Patrick.

It's easy to imagine Patrick and DiMasi circling each other like wary animals sizing up their prey and deciding what to do. And to date, DiMasi has held the upper hand as the governor and his staff continue to slowly work their way into the jobs.

But at some point DiMasi is going to have to show his cards. Being against taxes and other forms of revenue to meet needs from transportation infrastructure repair to property tax relief while continuing to spend as he sees fit is a losing hand for Massachusetts.

It's time for me to repeat my favorite question -- what are you going to cut or how are you going to pay for it?

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Just fix it

I wish I could say I was surprised by the bureaucratic bumbling that's taking place between the City of Boston and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority over just one of the 588 structurally deficient bridges in Massachusetts.

It raises once again the question -- where do they find the people that are in charge of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority? Or the city?

Silly me, but I don't understand why there is even a debate over who fixes it, let alone who charges who what amount of money for the right to do the job.

If it is a city owned structure, why is this coming from Turnpike Authority spokesman Mac Daniel:
"If there was any danger to the roadway, we would have encouraged the city to help us with a fix."
Similarly, why does the authority want to charge the city to get under the bridge to check it out?

The seeming stalemate over finding the right contractor and the right equipment to get underneath to install netting to capture falling concrete and to assess the situation would be laughable if it weren't so serious.

And you wonder why people have lost faith in government?

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dynasty

It's the unspoken but never far from the surface issue among Democrats. Last night, Joe Biden said it, sort of.

"There is so much that has happened that people can see with their own eyes now that I believe that we finally have a consensus to do what we should do," she said. But Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware questioned whether she could get the job done, saying Republicans will be more reluctant to compromise with Clinton than with other Democrats.

"I'm not suggesting it's Hillary's fault," he said. "I think it's a reality that it's more difficult, because there's a lot of very good things that come with all the great things that President Clinton did, but there's also a lot of the old stuff that comes back. It's kind of hard."

Sensing some unease over what he had said, Biden quickly added, "When I say old stuff, I'm referring to policy -- policy."

It's the old two-for-one argument from 1992 turned on its head -- and it is the only thing stopping Hillary Clinton from sweeping to the White House.

I suffer from the problem to a certain extent, though I don't include myself among the Bashers of Bill. Yes, he did lie under oath, although I believe he was in many ways forced to give up his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and forced to lie about a "crime" millions of men commit.

But how many people have died for his mistakes, compared to those of his successor -- and for that matter his eponymous predecessor -- who had what can only be termed an obsession about Saddam Hussein?

Bush 41 chose not to go after Hussein (a decision I frankly thought was a mistake at the time, Dick Cheney notwithstanding). Bush 43 has chosen to squander our resources -- human and financial.

And the shame and dishonor he has brought upon the Oval Office because of his lies about weapons of mass destruction, his abandonment of New Orleans and the schisms he has widened in American society as a results of political strategies crafted by his "Boy Genius" far exceed anything perpetrated by Bill Clinton.

Hillary brings her own baggage -- independent-minded women are, sadly, still not considered "appropriate" in large swaths of the country. But that really comes down to the only argument against her.

Personally, I'm still undecided. Barack Obama offers a rhetorical vision that excites and I'm not hung up on the question of experience if it only applies to that gained in Washington. Hillary's claim of 15 years on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is a double-edged sword.

Yet I can't commit to Obama either. And there is something to be said for every Democrat, a real change from years past.

But back to the Hillary question. Dynasty -- 16 years of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton -- is simply a shorthand to raise Bubba's record. Let's be honest about it.

He triangulated his way to eight years of relative peace and definite prosperity -- although critics may say he didn't do enough to stop Osama bin Laden (still living in Afghanistan and Pakistan because of the failure of Bush 43 to follow through).

The economy was strong although the tech bubble burst at the end of his term, much as the housing bubble is bursting now.

American soldiers were in Bosnia on a national building mission for peace, after failing in the same effort in Somalia -- and ignoring Rwanda, much like today we are ignoring Darfur.

But the kicker for me -- Americans, for all our faults -- weer respected throughout the world. We stood for things (even if our President, like many of his European counterparts got a little on the side).

This President squandered all of the goodwill and sympathy the world directed toward us on Sept. 11, 2001. His condoning of torture, coming on top of his lies and economic policies designed to further enrich the super rich, have brought shame and dishonor and disrespect down on this nation.

It has emboldened petty tyrants like Kim Jung Il and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to thumb their noses at us -- knowing a large percentage of the world, particularly those of Muslim faith -- are cheering them on.

I admit my major concern about Hillary Clinton is winnability and the likelihood of the Great Republican Slime Machine to launch a fear and smear campaign which is their only true talent.

But I refuse to accept the notion that another four (or eight) years of Clinton will be bad for the nation because it creates another political dynasty.

If you compare Bill Clinton's accomplishments to George Bush there is no contest. Unfortunately, Biden didn't really misspeak, because the rest of the blather is how elections are won and lost in the United States these days.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pretzel Man

Our man Myth is at it again, with a new ad that proclaims that "change must begin with us."

Like his positions on abortion, gun control and taxes.

The Washington Post's Dan Balz dissects the Mittser's latest ad strategy -- this one predicated on the notion that the GOP must recognize the elephant in the room (I couldn't resist!): heaping praise on the Bush administration and looking to follow in W's footsteps is a sure loser.

So The Man of a Thousand Positions is shifting again -- offering a watered down critique of Bush failures such as Katrina and a slap at the ethics (or lack thereof) of the GOP congressional delegation. Of course he glosses over the issue that is central to the failing of both Bush and their congressional "leadership": Iraq.

There are ominous signs down the road. Yes, the Mittser is leading in polls in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan, polls far more important than national popularity contest numbers that show him badly lagging the field.

But the lead comes with a price. Romney has far outspent the field on early advertising to build up that advantage. We're about to come into the season where you need to spend more than you raise, and Romney's second quarter must have been disappointing, where he had to pump his own cash into it to show a reasonable net gain,

The next reporting deadline is fasting approaching -- and The Phoenix's David Bernstein sees trouble ahead, with Romney showing a surplus only after dumping a lot more of his dough into the till.

Aside from the obvious message that Mitt may be close to tapping out his donor base. we could be faced with Romney shifting yet another position, his belief that it would be "akin to a nightmare" to bankroll his own efforts.

Yet another pretzel twist -- this one with a Freddy Krueger teaser. You can't say he's boring.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sunlight is the best disinfectant

It was Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis who said "sunlight is the best disinfectant." The sun shone brightly on Columbia University yesterday.

A disclosure (as full as you get from someone who blogs anonymously) -- I have a journalism degree from Columbia. So I could not be prouder of that fact after Columbia "welcomed" Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- and gave him an experience he will hopefully never forget.

You recall of course that Myth Romney fulminated about the invitation, saying he should be served with an arrest warrant for genocide. This was the same Myth who objected to Mohammed Khatami from speaking at Harvard by withdrawing police protection.

(The Romney voters can be found in the Times comments section, comparing Ahmadinejad to the worst thing they can think of -- liberals).

But while Myth wanted to bring the dark ages on freedom of speech (not even Bush the Constitution Shredder went that far), Columbia President Lee Bollinger, a First Amendment specialist, had other thoughts. Blast him with sunlight and see what happens.
Mr. Bollinger praised himself and Columbia for showing they believed in freedom of speech by inviting the Iranian president, then continued his attack. He said it was “well documented” that Iran was a state sponsor of terrorism, accused Iran of fighting a proxy war against the United States in Iraq and questioned why Iran has refused “to adhere to the international standards” of disclosure for its nuclear program.
The Iranian president did not disappoint. The man who has uttered such idiocies as denying the Holocaust, proclaimed that Iranian women are the freest in the world; than Iran has no homosexuals and that "freedom is flowing at its highest level" of his theocratic dictatorship.

If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. He will be probably be able to see it from the air as he leaves today.

The Iranian president is an evil buffoon -- in the same league with the "leader of the free world" who sits in Washington. The Constitution that George Bush is trying to shred allows me to say that. It also allows me to see the same things in Ahmadinejad.

All in all, a good reason to be proud to be an American.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

This is only a test...

So, the postal service teaming up with law enforcement can quickly and efficiently deliver life-saving drugs if the United States is hit with an anthrax attack.

Count me as well, er, skeptical.

Forget my belief that the postal service is quite capable of messing up a one-car funeral. Let's look at the reality of human nature and what will happen when or if such a natural emergency takes place.

First, there's the question of how many letter carriers will actually show up for work. That's not a slam on them -- that's a reflection of reality that in every occupation -- trash collection, hospitals, hedge fund trading -- some people will stay home with family and try to avoid catastrophe and panic.

Then there is the other piece of human behavior that dictates a large number of people will not wait for home delivery -- but will take to the streets in panic to hijack supplies.

That was the rationale for police officers accompanying the postal workers on their appointed rounds.

Are there enough cops to shadow every letter carrier? Is that the best use of their time and skills in an emergency?

Then there is the natural ability of letter carriers to mess up.

At buildings with narrow mail slots, the boxes were left on the stoop.

In Philadelphia, carriers skipped those residents and people complained.

We all know how effective complaining to the postal service is.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Breaking early from the gate

With one announcement, the owners of struggling Suffolk Downs have crystallized all the concerns of the anti-casino folks and made agnostics such as me start to wobble.

The suggestion that the East Boston track will try to open a temporary casino as early as next July (if they get a license of course) is, in a word, ludicrous. If nothing else, it suggests they haven't bothered to read the papers and blogs to see just how controversial Deval Patrick's three-casino proposal is.

Thankfully, Patrick spokesman Kyle Sullivan threw cold water on the idea.
"It's contrary to the governor's plan for destination resort casinos, which focuses on economic development and creating good jobs and good wages," said press secretary Kyle Sullivan, who declined to elaborate further. "The administration would not be supportive of temporary casinos."
More to the point, such premature enthusiasm may have cooked Suffolk's goose with legislators already skeptical about casinos. Note to COO Chip Tuttle: Robert Travaglini is no longer the Senate President, let alone your local legislator.

The wisdom of an urban casino has never been proven, as the Globe notes in an auspiciously timed editorial.

But the Suffolk Downs (or for that matter Wonderland) location presents special problems. They start with traffic. It's hard enough to get through the Sumner or Ted Williams tunnels now and we probably don't need to spend a lot of time on the nightmare known as Bell Circle.

The state faces a major task of fixing its highways and dealing with congestion. Adding even more cars to an already overburdened road is not a good way to address that problem.

Then there is the little matter of a busy international airport tucked next door.

One major hurdle for Suffolk Downs could be potential height and light restrictions because the casino would be beneath the flight path of passenger jets taking off and landing at Logan International Airport.

Suffolk Downs is less than 1.5 miles from one of Logan's busiest runways, and aviation specialists say the track owners almost certainly would face hurdles from the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the airport, and the Federal Aviation Authority, which controls its air traffic.

Suffolk's owners should celebrate they have given the track a modicum of respectability again by running the Mass Cap after a hiatus of several years. Then they should sit down and be quiet.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

A truly terrifying airport experience

So while we're worried about the threat posed by Homer Simpson's long-lost daughter, The Washington Post reports:
The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.
Sorry, but I have a much bigger problem with the federal government keeping files on my travel reading (it runs to Dennis Lehane and Carl Hiassen if you must know) than I do with a space cadet MIT student wandering into Logan with a circuit board and some Play Doh.

As previously noted, I have no sympathy for Simpson, now being portrayed in the blogosphere as a left-wing loony or representative of Boston stupidity. As if there aren't enough right wingnuts or Columbus, Ohio student losers.

Her bone-headed stunt also prompted the Herald to raise the public panic level to flaming red with the suggestion that there isn't ENOUGH security at airports (and every public space in a free society). Personally, I don't want those black jump-suited, machine gun-toting cops on the Green Line (there's not enough room already and my name is not John McCain).

But the extent of DHS record-keeping on our habits strongly suggest we are rapidly losing our freedoms in the name of freedom.
"The federal government is trying to build a surveillance society," said John Gilmore, a civil liberties activist in San Francisco whose records were requested by the Identity Project, an ad-hoc group of privacy advocates in California and Alaska. The government, he said, "may be doing it with the best or worst of intentions. . . . But the job of building a surveillance database and populating it with information about us is happening largely without our awareness and without our consent."
Maybe George Orwell's only mistake was not naming his book 2007?

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Friday, September 21, 2007

A constitutional right to be stupid

Is Star Simpson Homer's long-lost daughter?

Proving that not all MIT students are brilliant, the 19-year-old walked into Logan Airport's Terminal C in a black hoodie with a circuit board attached to the front with green LED lights and wires running to a 9-volt battery.

Not surprisingly, she was surrounded by men in black jumpsuits aiming machine guns at her. We'll let Major Scott Pare of the State Police take it from there.
"Thankfully because she followed our instructions, she ended up in our cell instead of a morgue," Pare said. "Again, this is a serious offense ... I’m shocked and appalled that somebody would wear this type of device to an airport."
Me too. But a colleague remarked that he is troubled by a society where our rights are being eroded -- even the constitutional right to be stupid. He has a point.

State Police deserve credit for not overreacting the way they did when the Moonites hit town. They certainly could have put a speedy end to Ms. Simpson -- and shut down the Logan and air traffic across a broad swatch of the nation.

But I know I'm not necessarily comforted when I see the heavy weapon-toting Staties on patrol. Whose benefit is that for? The terrorist lurking in the men's room (the one not tapping his feet)? Or for Mr./Ms. Frustrated and Annoyed Traveler? A recent trip through London's Heathrow Airport showed me security can be done without being gaudy -- or frustrating.

And my colleague has a point. Not only has the Bush administration made us less safe by taking a war to the wrong enemy, it has tapped our phones and eroded our constitutional guarantees -- not to mention condoned torture.

I have no sympathy for Ms. Simpson looking down the barrel of guns that mean business. She pulled a moronic stunt and should not only do jail time but also pay for the cost of the response.

But I most certainly would not have wanted to be the person standing nearby her when those guns came out. Or the person whose conversation is picked up in a broad-brushed eavesdropping.

Whatever happened to our country?

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Can't we all just get along?

I've been taking a little good-natured grief over my firmly non-committal stand over the Patrick casino proposal -- and receiving some helpful advice on how to characterize my position: so here goes:

I have friends on both sides of the issue. I stand with my friends.

While it's obvious the one group who will hit the jackpot in this debate is lobbyists, ultimately we will all win because people may finally start to care about the direction is state is heading. And folks, after 16 years of indifference in the Corner Office, that direction is clearly down.

Actually, the negativity and indifference to the state's slide started earlier, when the Massachusetts Miracle unraveled while Michael Dukakis ran for president. That national embarrassment was aided and abetted by talk radio (that era's answers to blogs), in particular by The Governors -- as Jerry Williams, Howie Carr and Barbara Anderson became known.

We are still living in the swamp of that cynicism -- as taxes rise, schools decline and the jobs and the people who fill them depart over crumbling roads.

Deval Patrick is the man charged with fixing all those problems -- and facing all that emotion. I'm not shedding a tear for him, he asked for it. But I am willing to hold my fire because -- unlike his immediate predecessor, Myth Romney -- he seems genuinely committed to doing something to find solutions. He hasn't repudiated what he has done and he isn't running around bad-mouthing the people who elected him.

And I find some solid comfort in the Associated Press' Ken Maguire's solid effort to cut through the noise and examine the positions of Patrick and House Speaker Sal DiMasi, among others. While DiMasi didn't talk to Maguire, he found this quote that I had not seen before, summing up his stand on Patrick's casino plan.
"I want to know why he came to the conclusion he did, what rationale did he use and is it going to be good for Massachusetts?" DiMasi said. "That has to do with the image of Massachusetts and what we stand for here, and whether or not we want to accept this kind of casino culture and casino economy here in Massachusetts."
That about sums it. I stand with my friends Patrick and DiMasi in trying to make Massachusetts a better and friendlier place to be. If I didn't, I could always move to New Hampshire -- which relies on tolls, booze and butts (and the nation's oldest state-run lottery) to keep its economy running.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Supporting the troops

The next time a Republican slimes a liberal for not supporting the troops, remember this.

No, not John Boehner's incredible statement that US troop deaths were a "small price" to pay to "win" in Iraq.

Rather, it was the refusal of dead-ender Senate Republicans to agree to a Democratic proposal that troops be given as much time at home as they had spent overseas before being redeployed.

Only six Republicans placed the troops over party loyalty -- preferring to back George Bush over the ability of our fighting men and women being able to see their children grow up before being channeled right back into Iraq.

The vote reflects the pathetic need to play politics over doing what the majority of Americans strongly believe is the right thing.

Remember that the next time a Boehner or one of his cronies slimes Democrats for some imagined sin against the troops.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A real flamer

Yet more faces of Myth Romney were unveiled in today's New York Times account of his tenure as head of the Salt Lake Olympics Organizing Committee.

The story paints a stark portrait of Romney as an earmark-seeking private sector CEO -- looking to curry favor and win points for his master plan of running for Massachusetts governor and beyond. It also helps us understand the depth of the animosity between him and John McCain.

The Arizona senator, it seems, was one of the first to see Romney as a say anything necessary for the audience he was courting.
As a Republican presidential hopeful, for example, Mr. Romney portrays himself as a budget hawk who would take a hard line on federal spending and Congressional earmarks, the pet projects that lawmakers insert in spending bills. Back then, though, he lobbied heavily for earmarks, helping extract millions of federal dollars for projects in some cases only loosely tied to the Olympics and drawing the ire of Senator John McCain, a longtime critic of earmarks and now a rival for the Republican presidential nomination.
And of course, Mittser Pristine helped bring us the Official Cake Mix of the 2000 Olympics. That's worthy of his epitaph.

Maybe that's why he feels it is necessary to tell us that he would indict Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he attends the United Nations General Assembly opening later this month. That goes well with his idiotic decision to withhold security for Mohammed Khatami for a visit to Harvard last year.

I probably stand with virtually everyone else who considers Ahmadinejad a dangerous whack job who poses a serious threat to world peace. Almost, but not quite on a par with Romney, who would defy common sense and create an international incident to win points with the right wingnuts he is courting.

Why is this man still being considered a serious candidate for president? Is it because he possesses the same lack of common sense as the incumbent -- who seems hellbent on destroying the world before he leaves?

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Betrayed?

Frankly, I've been a bit put off by the harsh language surrounding Deval Patrick's proposal for casinos -- particularly that coming from liberals. Haven't we learned anything from being on the receiving end of it for decades?

That's why I'm more open to arguments about "economic transfers" expressed by Rep. Dan Bosley than I am to shrill sentiments offered by Sen. Susan Tucker in yesterday's MassInc. forum:
"The fact is that this is an industry that depends on addiction for its revenues," Tucker said, expressing puzzlement over the argument put forth by Patrick, (Treasurer Tim) Cahill and others that money from casino gambling would be set aside to help chronic gamblers with their addiction. "If a medication harms three people, we take it off the shelves," she said.
The fact is we have been living on rhetoric for years -- from both sides. This proposal offers an historic opportunity to make a rational decision based on facts. We don't need another seat belt debate where emotions carry the day.

If, as the Herald suggests, Patrick opts to file the bill in the Senate rather than the House, we stand to get that debate, Tucker's heated rhetoric notwithstanding.

And perhaps we can offer a new model of rational political discourse while we're at it. Sadly, that's the real long shot bet.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Off to a flying stop

I'll skip right past the commenter on Media Nation who summed up Deval Patrick's casino gambling plan as the product of a "spineless unprincipled wimp."

Instead, let's look at the type of myopic, illogical reasoning that passes for professional media commentary in these parts. Here's Jon Keller's initial take on the four-page bullet-pointed summary says:
Thus, Gov. Deval Patrick’s clever political play today, telling freaked-out motorists they can avoid a budget-crushing hike in their gas taxes if they rally behind his casino plan. Either everyone, including you, suffers, or the suffering is voluntary, and you can probably avoid it if you stick to Keno and scratch tickets.
As Keller is fond of telling us, the problems of Massachusetts are the result of liberals like me who stand for "an insular political culture with tunnel vision that ignores the popular will and feathers its own nest when it isn’t collapsing on innocent motorists. All of it driving worst-in-the-nation population loss as disgruntled residents vote with their feet."

Never mind that conservative, part-time governors named Weld, Cellucci, Swift and Romney, each with an R after their name who placed personal ambition over the state's problems "led" Massachusetts for 16 years.

It was that type of astute, sharp analysis on the part of the media that let it happen. Where was Keller then?

Probably in the same tunnel as he is today, arguing that the problem of crumbling infrastructure is somehow separate from the broader economic and social issues facing Massachusetts.

Patrick presented a reasoned proposal that reflects the pluses and minuses of a "destination resort casino" plan.

While I certainly want to see the documentation that supports Patrick's claim that economic models show the proposal can produce 20,000 new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue, I see more substance than in critics' name calling. I also see recognition of the social and personal costs of gambling (and I want to see the documentation for that too!)

I also recognize that our roads and bridges -- neglected by 16 years of corruption and mismanagement on the part of Republican-appointed Mass. Turnpike Authority hacks -- are crumbling before our eyes.

I also see my property tax bill going up, my trash collection fee going up and slower police response times. I see cities and towns starved for revenue by a state government living by the rules created by no tax and spend Republicans and conservative Democrats like Tom Finneran.

Through it all, I have seen a coarsening of the debate -- exemplified by these two random comments and no doubt echoed on talk radio across Massachusetts today. And let me tell you, if Kris Mineau is against casino gambling, I certainly want to take another look.

I'm not sure I buy the trade-offs involved in the Patrick proposals. But I am sure that casinos are looming as inevitable -- thanks to the Indian gaming laws. And I am also sure that the abomination of a deal "negotiated" by Middleborough selectmen is a sign of what can happen without any state input.

So can we have a reasoned and reasonable debate, using facts and not names. I'm all for the idea being put forward over on Blue Mass Group about a referendum that will accurately gauge public opinion (even if the pro-casino forces will far outspend the opponents).

The governor has put forward a thoughtful proposal. I expect the Legislature will offer a thoughtful rebuttal and either turn it down or negotiate to make it better.

What is at stake here is the commonwealth's future. That's far more important than selling copies of a commentator's books.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rolling the dice

Ultimately, the decision was made by Middleborough selectmen.

The Globe (and Herald) are reporting Deval Patrick is going to unveil a proposal to license three casinos in Massachusetts -- a move that is certain to set off what has already been described by one legislative leader as the defining moment of his term.

While Patrick has been publicly silent on the subject through his long deliberations, it's safe to say a major turning point came watching the Middleborough selectmen make a hasty pact with a individual who really may turn out to be a devil.

The travesty of the rushed Middleborough process and the sordid aftermath is probably all the justification he needed to propose a licensing process that could lead to three or four casinos in Massachusetts.

That and the inevitability of at least one casino (and far less revenue) should the Mashpee or Aquinnah Wampanoags eventually succeed in getting one through the federal licensing process.

And I'm sure a call for a 49 percent hike in the gas tax, highway "user fees" and a potential battles with the powerful police and MBTA Carmen's Union didn't hurt either.

I agree that gambling represents a regressive tax on the people who can afford it the least. I also fear for the destruction of personal lives by people who can't control their addiction.

I may play The Big Game when the jackpot tops $200 million -- and I will spend some time at the slots on vacation, but I will not be one of the folks waiting at the door when the first casino opens.

But the cold, hard reality is folks who do enjoy gambling make the trip to Connecticut and Rhode Island (among other places) regularly -- either for fun or in chasing the elusive dream. You cannot legislate that impulse. You can put safeguards into place.

And that, in essence, is the Patrick proposal, at this writing. The Middleborough fiasco proved conclusively there needs to be a system in place to license and regulate the casino impulse so that public officials know who they are getting into bed with.

Yes, the revenue would be nice, no matter how much or how little there will be. And no, I don't think adding three (or four) casinos will change Massachusetts' essential character as a cultural tourism destination.

But after 16 years of love 'em and leave 'em Republican governors who preached tax avoidance and little else, Massachusetts is at a crossroads. Its roads and bridges are crumbling, its human capital is voting with its feet and leaving -- tired of high property taxes and crummy public services.

With his plans for life sciences, education and the environment, Patrick has sketched out a vision that has been lacking. What's still lacking is a way to pay for it (and for fixing the neglect of the last 16 years).

So in a very real sense, casino gambling will indeed define the Patrick administration. It's time to have a frank and honest discussion of who we are, what we want and how we can get there.

It will be an occasionally nasty ands brutish discussion, but it's long overdue.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Now he tells us

Add Alan Greenspan to the long list of Washington factotums who have the courage to say the emperor has no clothes -- after they leave the scene.

It started with Paul O'Neill -- and Bush campaign hatchet man Matthew Dowd offered the sharpest defection. George Tenet was mainly interested in saving his own Medal of Freedom-bedecked butt, yet offered a valuable viewpoint too.

But my question is "why did they speak up only when there were substantial book advances and royalties at stake? " Oh, never mind.

But the truth telling is in sharp and welcome contrast to the kamikaze attacks being launched by diehards still trying to defend the indefensible.

Whether it was MoveOn.org's ill-advised ad (hey, virtually no one but you reads this blog!) or the asinine effort to twist Deval Patrick's words on 9-11, the Great Conservative Smear Machine is cranking up for Armageddon.

Funny thing though -- there's little outrage over House Minority Leader John Boehner's belittling of troop sacrifices (that's surely what the Attack Machine would have called if if a Democrat had offered the same comment).

It all goes back to the premise upon which this blog was founded: the armies of the right will engage in fear and smear, shatter lives and reputations, to cover their own failures. History is repeating itself yet again.

Is anyone listening?

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Words of Mass Deception

If only George Bush were as good in directing wars with bullets as he is in wars with words.

The headlines this morning reflect a perfect end to Operation Snow Job. While the stories I have seen have the important qualifiers -- they are buried deep in the text where many people never tread. (The one exception is the Washington Post, which ran a separate story pointing out the differences between Bush and the facts.

And of course the White House failed to mention the reality last night -- saving it for this morning after the cameras left the Oval Office.

The handful of troops who will make it home by Christmas should be congratulated -- provided they don't go back when their allotted home leave is up. The remaining 25,000 or so "surge" soldiers who were due to come home in July anyway, have been made pawns in Bush's media blitz.

So after an excellent PR campaign -- complete with visits to Iraq and generals in medals -- we are left with the sad reality that that senate will remain short of the necessary 60 votes to force any change in a policy rejected by a majority of Americans.

Bush has apparently succeeded in achieving his true goal was -- leaving the problem for the next president. He has let down the remaining troops and the American public by failing to offer a clear and convincing plan for fixing his Pottery Barn moment.

Unless or until his Republican enablers start to think more about the country than their already poor electoral prospects. Who knows -- maybe doing the right thing might actually be a winning strategy?

Nah, not when you can smear people who disagree.

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"Everyone does it..."

The apologists are out in full force this morning after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell lowered the boom on Bill Belichick.

"Everybody does it" or worse yet, "they did it before and no one cared" seems to be the most common reaction in Patriots Nation to the word that Genius Coach Bill Belichick got caught with his camera exposed to the tune of $750,000 and draft choices when all the dust clears.

So I decided to take a sample of opinion from elsewhere.

There's nary a word in Cleveland, where Belichick was anything but a genius.

The New York Times offers hints on covert spying techniques to avoid the wrath of Roger next time. The disapproval expressed by William Rhoden (sub. required) needs to be taken with a grain of salt. After all, Belichick's cheating was exposed by the Jets -- who he jilted in another moment of honor and whose disciple, Eric Mangini, was in a perfect position to know his ex-boss' bag of dirty tricks.

So let's turn to the shy-and-retiring Michael Wilbon, a seemingly neutral party.

Goodell should have sat Belichick for a game, should have flexed like he has with the players and dished out a punishment that would serve as a deterrent. This isn't, and it's disappointing in the context of his get-tough commissionership.

There's not much of a case to be made on behalf of leniency for the Patriots. The New York Jets' veteran director of security, a former FBI agent, caught them with the unethically obtained videotape. Belichick already has issued one of those phony celebrity apologies that tries to mitigate the circumstances. In another place and time, Belichick probably would have gotten off with a frown and a scolding.

So Patriots Nation, the question is this: is winning really at that important that we can discount the fact that some people who actually looked up to the man and team are genuinely disappointed?

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Winning the war

There are positive signs of movement in the war.

No, not Iraq, where leaders seem to be having problems punching their way out of paper bags.

I mean in Congress, where there is a shift in the war of words -- and a sign that Democrats are going to favor pragmatism over rhetoric.

One thing lost in liberal outrage over George Bush's failure to heed to will of the majority of Americans in their call for an end to US involvement in Iraq is the fact that while Democrats have majorities in Congress, they don't have a working majority.

That means nothing happens without 50 percent-plus one in the House. In the Senate, it's worse. That body's rules require 60 percent.

The blame for the lack of progress in Washington rests squarely on the backs of Republican senators and representatives who have remain hidebound in their support of Bush's dictatorial impulses.

But Democratic leaders deserve blame, not for failing to act within nine months of assuming congressional leadership, but for not trying to find common ground. Until now.

The Petraeus-Bush "plan" really isn't one -- other than trying to dump the whole mess into the lap of the next president. It is an insult to the intelligence of every American to say we're going to remove only the extra troops we stuck in against your will -- because we have to -- and call it the start of the withdrawal.

Shame on media outlets who fall for that snow job.

But at the same time, it has become crystal clear that the man who wouldn't listen needs to be made aware that he is elected and and responsible to the majority -- not just the ever shrinking cadre who believe him.

The way to do that is to put chinks in the armor of the dead-ender congressional Republicans who enable him. Pick 'em off one at a time until Bush is standing alone.

If incremental efforts proposed by congressional Democrats do the trick, all the better.

I too am concerned about more lives being lost while this partisan brawl continues. But I have a feeling that Bush's armor can be eliminated fairly rapidly. A few lost votes and troops will start flowing home.

The mood in Washington has been almost as toxic as that in Iraq, minus the bullets. A good compromise (not a dirty word), that would be the first step to bringing peace at home.

And listening to American voters.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

CE-Uh-Oh

The CEO treats employees with disdain. He cuts corners and hides important facts that are needed to make decisions. He resorts to chicanery, trickery and even cheating.

If that CEO were the leader of a Fortune 500 company he would receive some harsh publicity. In Boston, he is placed on a pedestal, revered as a genius. Why?

Simple. His name is Bill Belichick and he has led the New England Patriots to fame and fortune.

Full disclosure: I am a Cleveland Browns fan, a long-suffering one at that, who has watched Belichick for a long time. I saw him make the same moves in Cleveland with different results on the field. In fact, his coaching led to the total collapse of the team in the final games prior to its "hiatus" after Art Modell sold out the city and moved his players to Baltimore.

So the word he has finally been caught cheating hardly surprises me. Nor does the fact it will be sloughed off because we hold our sports "leaders" to different standards than our corporate or political ones. Just ask Barry Bonds.

Let's start with Belichick's treatment of Drew Bledsoe, an admittedly tough sell for many -- perhaps even me -- given the success of Tom Brady. But let's recall the general rule of thumb in sports is you don't lose your job to injury.

But after Bledsoe recovered from a potentially life-threatening injury, he stayed on the sidelines, even when healthy. Oh, he did come back for a game when Brady got hurt and played a role in one of the Super Bowl wins, but basically he was cast aside. He put in several more productive years for mediocre teams but remains one of the top passers in Patriots history.

Not all that different from the case of Bernie Kosar, who was jettisoned in mid-season as having "diminished skills" to be replaced by Todd Philcox (who?) and Vinnie Testaverde, who had a very undistinguished record with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at that point.

Kosar, meanwhile, re-emerged under former college coach Jimmie Johnson and help lead the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl.

Belichick's playing fast and loose with injury reports is the stuff of legends. NFL rules require that teams honestly assess a player's availability. Belicheck don't believe in no stinkin' rules. Apparently neither do some of his star players.

We won't even get into his cold affect -- I've seen dead fish with warmer personalities.

Which brings us to the latest infraction -- stealing signals on video. There is a long tradition of trying to steal signals -- in baseball as well as football. That doesn't make it right.

I naively grew up in a time when the standard line was "it's now whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." That standard doesn't apply to Belichick.

But back to the analogy. What if the chairman of XYZ Corp. had a similar record? Oh sure, there might be some stockholders who would say 'I don't care as long as he brings me the dividends.' But does that make it right?

Many will pass this off as sour grapes from someone who is watching Romeo Crennel, a Belichick disciple, cope with a totally dysfunctional team and organization -- but one that one ruled the old All American Conference and NFL the way the Patriots do today.

But I ask Pats fans to take a second look and decide whether they truly believe in winning at any cost -- in the world, in business or in sports -- which is supposed to reflect our better side.

And remember that a return to the Patsies of yore is still only an injury (or lost draft choice) away.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

General Betray Us

The Dog and Pony Show has reached the Congress and it's everything I expected.

Now let me see if I got this straight. The "surge" is working and so we will be able to start withdrawing forces in the coming months without a significant impact on the "gains" that have been made.

In testimony before Congress, Bush's latest anointed leader says that we can with draw 30,000 troops by mid-July next year.

That number rings a faint bell. Oh yeah, it's the number of extra troops inserted into Iraq as part of the surge. So by the middle of next year, Gen David Petraeus says, we'll be right back where we started from.

And, and did he mention that withdrawing 30,000 troops is in keeping with the fact that the draft-less military is running short of troops -- especially given the fact rotations are being limited to 15 months.
...Extended tours are wearing the troops thin. Most Marines now deploy for seven months abroad and spend seven at home, instead of the traditional 14 months back. The Army too has dropped its customary 1-to-2 ratio and extended rotations to 15 months abroad and 12 at home.

Democrats like Congressman John Murtha and Senator Carl Levin regularly criticize Bush for running the troops ragged and cite this as an argument for withdrawal from Iraq. But the President is getting conflicting information about the strain of the extended rotations. Two days before he left on his trip to Iraq, Bush got another one of his Washington briefings, this time from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told him "that families, while strained, were able to be supported," says National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

So we're going to drop back down to the 130,000 force we had before the surge -- because we can't sustain the higher troop commitment -- and call it a withdrawal?

Sadly, I see a lot of people falling for that major piece of PR spin.

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Going postal

It's hard to believe anyone can match the MBTA on poor service quality. But truth be told, the T is only living down to the champion of the customer is always wrong. Meet the United States Postal Service.

It's bad enough when the letter carrier dumps mail for multiple recipients in a pile on the stairs for you to sort out. Or delivers mail for someone who moved out months ago with a valid forwarding order. Or anyone who lived in any of the units since the dawn of recorded history. Or puts neighbors' mail in your box or vice versa.

Those are just the petty and annoying mistakes. It gets better.

Recently, Mrs. OL and I took a vacation and decided to stop a newspaper and mail delivery, filing the appropriate forms and making the right calls.

Your businesslike and efficient postal service (you know, the one that keeps jacking up the cost of stamps so it can turn a profit) has a nifty online form spelling out all the details. All that's required is for your letter carrier to read it.

That's where the problem starts.

We returned to a jammed mailbox, every variety of junk mail under the sun jammed into the tiny space, crushing the important pieces. Nevertheless, slightly jet lagged, we trundled on over to our local post office. We had to. The stop order required that we pick up our mail before delivery resumes.

To be fair, for the first time in recorded history, there wasn't a line snaking through the lobby and up to the door. In fact, there was no line at all. Except at the complaint window.

After patiently waiting while a customer who works from home explain she could not possibly have missed three "we tried to deliver your package notices" -- and hearing a postal employee strongly insinuate it was all her fault that the package was returned -- out turn came.

The employee oozed with sincerity. "Let me check with the carrier" about why deliveries continued despite the stop order, he said. "I'll call you tomorrow at 8:30 a.m."

That was about 10 days ago. Good thing we didn't hang around waiting. Oh, but delivery had resumed during the time we we waiting at the complaint window. We came back and found a full box.

In the meantime, the ever-so business-like USPS mailed a survey -- how did we handle your complaint? Oh boy, I thought, a chance to get it off my chest.

Armed with my special code number, I went to the special link to log into the survey. It didn't work. I tried again. Same result.

So I filled in the form, (no there isn't a category labeled "you suck worse than Hoover, Oreck and Eureka combined"). Nor did the form have sufficient writing area to spell out the problem or the response. Too many trees would have to die for that kind of space. But, I licked the seal of the postage-paid envelope and dropped it in the nearest mailbox.

That was a week ago. Maybe they are mailing me a response.

At least a disgruntled postal employee with a Uzi hasn't show up on my doorstep. Yet.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be Democrats

The New York Times does a nice job pointing out the flip-flip duplicity of Myth Romney by offering gay rights positions tailored to the audiences whose votes he was seeking.

But buried deep in the story is a nugget that could do far more damage to the Mittser: his son Tagg thought about becoming a Democrat!

You remember Tagg Romney, whose proud papa says is serving his country by driving around Iowa's 99 counties in a gas-guzzling Winnebago?

Well, his devoted father counseled him through an earlier life crisis when the Son of the Empty Suit was thinking of the ultimate apostasy: changing his party registration.

Mr. Romney’s eldest son, Tagg, 37, says that back in the early 1990s, he told his father privately that he was thinking about becoming a Democrat.

His father sat him down to dissuade him, taking him through the differences between Republicans and Democrats. Tagg Romney says he does not remember his father’s talking about abortion, another issue that has troubled his candidacy, but he does remember being warned that Democrats would lead the country toward same-sex marriage.

“He thought it was very wrong to discriminate,” Tagg Romney said. “But where Democrats are going, they’ll eventually want to extend marriage to gays. I said, ‘No way.’"

So, was Mitt lying to us in 1994 and 2002? Or is he lying to the Republican primary goers now? How could he have run as a Republican with such a wayward son? And is Tagg happier now as a full-time chauffeur?

I report. You decide.

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No excuse

Bob Coughlin and the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council know they have a problem on their hands. Why else do you call in Ray Howell?

But the Patrick administration showed they have learned a lesson that Coughlin obviously did not -- full disclosure and openness cures a lot of ills.

The former economic undersecretary is probably going down for the third time with the release and publication of e-mails that show he was wearing two hats during June meetings with biotech council members -- state official and job seeker.

All of this could have been avoided if Coughlin -- who served in the Legislature prior to joining the administration -- remembered one simple rule of the road: when it doubt, disclose.

The state Ethics Commission has always been there for advisory opinions. In one of my past lives, I used it for just such a situation -- whether I should tell Employer A that I was in discussions with Employer B, which was dependent on Employer A for its budget.

It certainly wasn't pleasant to tell my boss I was looking for another job (even though in the end he was very helpful in me getting that job -- after the potential conflict had turned into ancient history).

But by doing that (a voluntary move at the time) I avoided what Coughlin has stepped into: a gigantic appearance of a conflict of interest.

About the only slack I am willing to grant Coughlin is that right now this looks like an appearance of a conflict rather than a full-fledged one. Not that the ethics law distinguish between the two.

If there's a good story here, it's that the new Patrick team has learned something from the hard lessons of last winter's bad start. Not only did they respond quickly to the Globe's Freedom of Information Act request -- they sent the e-mails and correspondence to the Ethics Commission too.

And this line stands out in the story -- where Coughlin gave a biotech executive Red Sox tickets and then asked him for a reference.
Because the ethics rules are unclear, the governor has instructed the executive agencies to develop a policy over the use of tickets and submit them to him for approval.
Sorry MBC, but it's time to look for yet another executive director. This time, if you're looking for a legislator, find someone who doesn't like to dance close to or over the line.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Bus (ted)

"This bus doesn't have air conditioning. It's not the driver's fault."

That's true. Unless you blame him for the uncommonly bad decision to work for the MBTA.

Well, the T may have been fouled up by a power failure (and I can only say I know the Green Line was fouled up by overhearing a cell phone conversation) -- but the non-electric buses rose to the occasion.

NOT.

I plead guilty to a foolish mistake of not sardining into a 57 bus that was ready to leave Kenmore Square around 5:25. Little did I expect there not be another one for 20 minutes. Not counting the one that left "Not in Service" five minutes before the one I shoehorned on.

The driver did his best without AC (though I always thought there whole idea of the "limited" nature of the 57 meant no passengers discharged before Brighton Avenue.)

The problem was not the lack of AC but the lack of buses. At least three or four other buses headed out "Not in Service" up Brookline Avenue during the wait and at one point there were no buses at all in Kenmore Square.

But my problem seemed to pale in comparison to what Mrs. OL found in dealing with the 66 bus. She learned that her 30-minute wait was exactly half as long as that of another frustrated passenger farther up the line.

How exactly are buses, which run on gasoline, diesel or compressed natural gas, affected by an electric power failure? And why is "Not in Service" the most popular destination for buses?

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Operation Snow Job continues

If only the Bush administration were as skilled at diplomacy and military planning as they are at PR spin.

Operation Snow Job, launched with George Bush's unannounced and unfiltered visit to the Iraqi desert continues to roll out as scheduled. And true to expectation, we now have the top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, offering the little carrot to go with the big stick he's about to use to whack the building consensus that the surge hasn't really made much of a difference.

Only the New York Times doesn't appear to fall for Petraeus' carrot of a token withdrawal of one brigade -- 3,500-4,500 soldiers or approximately 10 percent of the "surge" and not the overall complement of troops in Iraq.

The Washington Post offers a somewhat less reluctant warrior -- willing to do his part to "compromise" with congressional calls for a troop drawdown.

The Boston Globe, particularly the headline writer, offers us a far more magnanimous general, taking time from his busy schedule in Baghdad to offer his view that while he is "frustrated" he is willing to consider a "gradual" withdrawal.

What did our parents tell us about taking candy from strangers?

Despite a steady flow of independent reports this week from impartial analysts such as the Government Accountability Office, the Bush administration is sticking hard to its own "vision."

And if you need confirmation, just check out Fox News.

By the time Petraeus and Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify before Congress next week, the administration's spin warriors will have eliminated virtually any surprises.

Despite the fact the Iraqi government and military we have relied on the stand up so we can stand down has failed at very every benchmark set for it by the administration, the goalposts will indeed have been moved -- and not by the Democratic Congress -- to make the case that with just a little more time we can "succeed."

And to show you that we do hear the voices of the majority, we will throw you this crumb of a token withdrawal. And maybe in a few months we will bring back the rest of the 30,000 soldiers who make up the surge, leaving a mere 130,000 boots on the ground.

Let's hope Congress isn't as gullible as the media seems to be. I don't hold out a lot of hope.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

First you say you will...

I was going to try and avoid saying too much about Larry Craig, the man who has taught America about bathroom behavior. But the man's sheer audacity requires a word or two.

It was a bad enough insult to our collective intelligence that Craig insists he only copped a guilty plea to try and cover up the allegations that he tried to come on to a cop in a Minneapolis airport bathroom stall. Just how big a fool do you have to be to come up with the idea of pleading guilty to a crime you did not commit?

But the next flip-flip is even better. Now Craig is saying "never mind" to his carefully parsed "intent to resign."

As someone who enjoys watching Republican hypocrites immolate on their own contradictions, I should be rejoicing. One more embarrassment to the party that proclaimed they were the favorites of the "values" voter.

But as someone who still holds a sliver of respect for government and elected bodies, I am offended by the arrogance of this elected "leader" who decides his own personal reputation is more important than the dignity of the institution in which he serves -- or the people who elected him.

Go away Larry Craig. And in the interest of a shred of bipartisanship, take William Jefferson with you. If you truly respect the people and process you will go slink under the closest rock.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Fool me 30 times....

George Bush has taken his show on the road and the fix is in -- again.

Far from content to wait to hear from the scripted "progress" reports of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Bush drops into Anbar Province to once again offer his own assessment of the situation on the ground.

The determination of the man who has "decided" everything from weapons of mass destruction to the surge is that -- wait for it, it's working. And with a little bit of luck, we can keep the same level of security with fewer troops.

Any bets now that that reduced number of troops will equal the 30,000 or so men and women who comprised the surge, putting us right back where we were?

It was a good show. Dropping Air Force I into Anbar desert rather than having to corkscrew into Baghdad. It sends a message to the Iraqi leadership -- and avoids the dangerous landing.

There's the obligatory scene with the only group of Americans who welcome a visit from the President (except for veterans of course).

But for all images, here's what didn't get scene on nightly television newscasts:

The air base where the meeting took place is located in the desert in northern Anbar. Captured by Australian troops from former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's forces during the early weeks of the war, it has a 13-mile perimeter and is home to 7,000 Marines and 3,000 Army soldiers.

Although Bush touted the substantial political and security progress made in Anbar, he did not leave the safety of the base Monday to see those changes firsthand.

About as safe as that Baghdad market that John McCain strolled through.

So don't waste a lot of time when Petraeus and Crocker testify to Congress. Do something important, like sort your socks. Karl Rove's parting gift, this show's script, has been road tested and is ready to go.

The Decider has decided. To heck with the elected representatives of the people -- or the people themselves.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

New look, same old Herald

The new-look BostonHerald.com debuted yesterday to positive reviews. But the new wrapper contains the same old class-baiting claptrap that has made the Herald an increasingly irrelevant voice.

A case in point is Michele McPhee blast of Deval Patrick for failing to cut short his vacation to visit the West Roxbury firehouse that had been the work home of the two Boston firefighters who died last week.

Patrick - who has not been seen at work in a month after he took off for a three-week vacation that he extended by a week - did not show up at the scene of the fatal Centre Street blaze, either. Even though, it seems, an obscene state law that does not require fire code inspections for small restaurants could have been one of the factors in the fatal fire.

Leaving aside the fact that the state law was enacted well before Patrick took office, the class-baiting blast (what "real" working person gets a four-week vacation?) was typical of the stretches the Herald must take to get notice.

McPhee righteously observes that Tom Menino -- who as mayor is nominally the firefighters' boss -- showed up in sharp contrast to the Patrick. But let's suppose that Patrick did cut short his vacation. What would have the reaction been?

The Globe's Joan Vennochi offers a hint when she takes a swipe at Patrick for acknowledging a bullet shattering a Statehouse window.
Over that sweltering weekend, the Boston Police Department blog reported seven other nonfatal shootings and 13 nonfatal stabbings. But it was the shattered glass that stirred the vacationing Governor Deval Patrick to anger.
Had Patrick cut short his vacation to run into Boston and visit the Statehouse or the firehouse -- no doubt to be witnessed by the TV cameras set up outside -- McPhee (and probably Vennochi) would have labeled him a shameless grandstander (much like John Kerry, who has also not paid a visit).

As McPhee notes, Patrick has offered words of condolences -- both publicly and in private phone calls with the families of the fallen firefighters. He will attend the funeral services.

But in its quest to stir class resentment, the Herald has opted to turn that gesture of private compassion into a political issue. And judging by the comments section, it was a well-chosen strategy.

Just as George Bush was roundly and roundly criticized for cutting short his vacation to rush back to Washington to score political points with Terry Schiavo, Patrick would have been rightly condemned for trying to make hay of this tragedy -- one that probably has more to do with lax city inspection than any state laws.

Patrick's first nine months in office have certainly not set any records for accomplishment -- but much of that is out of his direct control. Personally I prefer this tempered approach to Mitt Romney's donning of hard hat and safety vest after the Big Dig ceiling collapse to make sure he had campaign pictures.

Maybe that's why I don't buy the Herald any more.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Show me the money

The Globe's news judgment seems to be suffering from the same end-of-summer malaise that afflicts us all. Otherwise, how to explain the fact that the lead story on Page One and the one buried at the bottom of the Metro front really belong side-by-side.

The Globe's snazzy interactive map shows what has happened to property taxes in cities and towns across the state -- and it's not pretty. The stagnation of the housing market hasn't had a comparable impact on local assessments and the bills keep climbing.

And, as the story notes, all this is taking place while cities and towns are being forced to cut services. Not frills, but police, fire and teachers.

Meanwhile, the political pundits are out in force, speculating over what Deval Patrick will decide about casino gambling and what the impact will be on his political future. The story is framed purely around the future of Patrick, not the Commonwealth.
"He has put himself into a box because he has promised a lot to his core constituency and his revenue plan has failed," said Jeffrey Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts University. "In terms of growing the pie, this is a much more politically acceptable manner than raising taxes."
The rising property tax burden and the escalating demands for basic statewide services and infrastructure are at a crucial crossroads. Push has come to shove, and its time for the other key players at the table to show their cards.

Patrick's "revenue plan" has "failed" because so far House Speaker Sal DiMasi has stood firm against corporate tax loophole closing. While the Legislature has enacted some pieces of the Patrick plan to aid cities and towns -- allowing them to opt into the state health care and pensions plans -- it is not enough.

But DiMasi has yet to offer up an alternative -- and he and his key lieutenants are skeptical about gambling.

"We have a state that has a very diverse economy, one of the top five tourism destinations, and that has more cultural amenities than any other state in the United States, and that would all suffer," said Representative Daniel E. Bosley, a North Adams Democrat who is regarded as the House's leading authority on gambling and a vote against it. "I wouldn't want that to be my legacy," he said.

I find it hard to believe that the addition of gambling would hamper the state's economic diversity or would somehow diminish its historical and cultural allure. But it could add some cash to the coffers that are used to support those amenities.

And while it may be true, as Bosley suggests, that resolving the debate could take the rest of Patrick's term, it is imperative that this debate start -- now.

This summer's Middleboro fiasco -- where it is now abundantly clear the quick timetable was a cover a bad, bad deal -- makes it an absolute requirement that the governor and the legislature weigh in with a well though out, well-crafted plan.

And while Globe letter writers correctly point out casinos prey on the Springfields and Pittsfields and not the Newtons and Duxburys -- saying so doesn't change the fact that the issue won't go away. There are other Glenn Marshalls ready to snow other hard-against-it boards of selectmen and city councils.

There's an old saw that says "the executive proposes, the legislative disposes." Perhaps it's time to ask not where our governor stands on paying for his promises but where the Legislature stands on paying for our current bills.

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