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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Monday, December 31, 2007

I'll have a bagel

Or maybe a Chicken Little Sandwich. And I was so stocked up for French toast.

Not that I'm really complaining, but as I sit here typing, I notice that even the Globe -- with all the maneuverability of a battle ship -- fell for the winter storm warning. I started to get curious about it when the Weather Channel forecast at mid-afternoon called for 1-3 inches. And I was scratching my head when the Channel 7 crew called for 5-10 inches.

And while the folks over at the National Weather Service are usually the most level-headed when it comes to storm predictions, let's just say I'll take the Globe quote forecast for another 6 inches tomorrow night with a dose of powdered sugar for that French toast.

Here's looking at the ice sculptures though.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Myth Master

This is not something you want to have surface on the weekend before the Iowa caucuses.

The revelation that the Romney administration gave initial approval to a tax exempt bond for a Planned Parenthood clinic two months before formally walking out the door is a double disaster for a campaign that is now going negative to stave off potential disasters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The obvious problem: How can someone who claims he is against a woman's right to choose approve a $5 million financial deal for a woman's health organization that performs abortions?

But further complicating the mess is the failure to catch what the administration would obviously consider a political and policy problem rips at Romney's claims of being a strong manager.

Not to mention the fact it really highlights how nobody was watching the store during the last two years of his time in the Corner Office.

Maybe he was too busy pandering on the anti-gay marriage amendment to notice this major chink in his "right to life" armor.

Mouthpiece Eric Fehrnstrom offers the Sergeant Schultz defense:
Mitt Romney is prolife. He did not know about this loan. It was made by an agency that does not report to the governor. If it did, he would have told them not to do it."
This gaffe will probably seal the deal with Iowa GOP caucus voters who have been streaming to Mike Huckabee as the Anti-Mitt. Their whole point in taking up with the former Arkansas governor is a deep distrust of Romney's "conversion."

The Mittster already knew he was in trouble by launching the risky attack on Huckabee in Iowa, questioning, ironically, his foe's management of state government in Arkansas.

At the same time, the large headline in today's Globe is hardly going to go unnoticed in New Hampshire, where John McCain is lashing out at Romney for being a phony. QED.

Happy New Year Myth.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

A "policy" in shambles

The Bush administration's failures were on vivid display in Rawalpindi, Pakistan yesterday as we saw just how well one of our "friends" takes care of our interests.

Consider this passage from the New York Times story about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:
The attack bore hallmarks of the Qaeda-linked militants in Pakistan. But witnesses described a sniper firing from a nearby building, raising questions about how well the government had protected her in a usually well-guarded garrison town and fueling speculation that government sympathizers had played a part.
George W. Bush has staked our foreign policy and the "global war on terrorism" represented by al Qaeda on Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan. The president and former general -- who seized power in a military coup and who recently declared then lifted emergency rule in advances of elections -- is the Bush vision of "democracy."

That makes Bush and his foreign policy and national security "teams" complicit in Bhutto's murder. They lured her back to the country only to see her killed in full or in part because of the actions of those fearful of what her election as prime minister would mean to their rule.

And it would have meant something all right: a woman prime minister in a country trending to the radical Islam?

The Republican presidential candidates are sure to launch their fear-mongering screeds in the days leading up to Iowa and New Hampshire -- touting their desire to follow the path Bush has charted toward "world peace."

Fight them over there and all that garbage. And Bhutto's assassination clearly points out what a load of garbage that is. Pakistan is now even more of a tinder box, ready to crash and burn into failed state status -- particularly when Musharraf likely re-imposes emergency rules and cancels the election.

Let's carefully examine the fat-headedness of the Bush policy:
  • Rushing headlong into Iraq while leaving the real terrorist haven of Afghanistan to simmer and bubble and slowly envelope its neighbor Pakistan (with the complicity of Musharraf and his intelligence apparatus);
  • Ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian tinderbox that is at the root of all Islamic policy issues until virtually the last minute;
  • Coddling our "friends" in Saudi Arabia, a nation which provided 15 of the 19 9-11 hijackers and which has stood on a platform of radical Islam that nurtured none other than Osama bin Laden.
Consider this the next time Rudy bloviates or Mitt machinates. The world was in tough shape before the Bush-Cheney team took over our foreign policy "leadership." Now it teeters on the edge of something as frightening as I can recall since the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Quite a legacy W.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ho, ho, no

Have you ever seen a better image of a man who is clueless on how to lighten up? And can we assume the picture is a PhotoShop product?

Some thoughts and reflections upon returning to the world (sort of):
  • Why did the MBTA feel the need to place bus shelters on the newly re-opened busway in Kenmore Square? Is it because the $32 million project features a canopy that may (stress may) look nice but is incapable of keeping riders dry when the rain and snow trickles in between the glass plates?
  • Are the baggage handlers at Logan among the slowest on the face of the planet? And even if they aren't, how hard is it to post which planes bags are arriving on which carousel?
  • We may be witnessing the incredibly shrinking Globe and Herald, but the Richmond Times-Dispatch makes BostonNow look like the New York Times.
  • I think Myth Romney got more than coal in his stocking. Not only do the Globe and Herald endorse John McCain (getting both endorsements national attention) but the Concord Monitor and the Union Leader go out of there way to trash the guy. When was the last time the Globe and the Union Leader agreed on anything?
  • And if you think I'm too grumpy right after Christmas, this news out of Pakistan is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

It all depends on the meaning of the word 'saw'

Myth, you ought to stick to being an automaton.

Kudos to David Bernstein for unearthing the fact that our man Myth only "saw" his father match with Martin Luther King Jr. in a "figurative" sense. Picked up by the Times blog and now the Globe, Myth and his minions are now in full damage control mode.

Not since Bill Clinton have we heard a politician expound on the dictionary.
"If you look at the literature, if you look at the dictionary, the term 'saw' includes being aware of in the sense I've described," Romney told reporters in Iowa. "It's a figure of speech and very familiar, and it's very common. And I saw my dad march with Martin Luther King. I did not see it with my own eyes, but I saw him in the sense of being aware of his participation in that great effort."
At issue is whether George Romney ever physically participated in a march with the civil rights leader. The elder Romney, of course, was a far more qualified presidential candidate until he tripped up on his description of a visit to Vietnam.

There's little doubt in my mind that the elder Romney was a supporter of King's mission. There's a lot of doubt about whether he and King ever matched in the same place at the same time.

But then, Myth compounded his semantic ramble by declaring both he and his father Mitt marched with Dr. King.

Mitt Romney went a step further in a 1978 interview with the Boston Herald. Talking about the Mormon Church and racial discrimination, he said: "My father and I marched with Martin Luther King Jr. through the streets of Detroit."

Yesterday, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom acknowledged that was not true. "Mitt Romney did not march with Martin Luther King," he said in an e-mail statement to the Globe.

Of course, Mitt's supporters are up in arms over the liberal media attacking their boy.

Is this it? How petty can reporters be? His father was cleary for civil rights and Romney came up with two sources to support him on that fact. And for the NRA they gave him a B+ rating and apparently made calls for him. If that isn’t endorsing him then what whas that? And Rpmnney tried to pass a tougher penalty for meth. Who cares if it failed or not. We all know his positions here and it is clear he is against meth.

This is clearly the media making running out of real issues with Romeny trying to make mountains out of mole hills and apparently some people fall for this stuff hook line and sinker. Truly amazing. lol

Funny I believe Bill Clinton was impeached for his "sins." I believe that's the definition of petty you may be searching for.

Romney is clearly in trouble. The polls show Mick Huckabee has clearly moved past him in Iowa and in the same ballpark with Myth and an equally fading Rudy-E in the national beauty contest polls. Iowa evangelicals seem to be buying the Huckabee story, no matter how full of holes it is.

And that in turn has brought us to the effort to repackage Myth as warm and caring -- a man not afraid to shed a tear or stand up for what is right.

The only problem, Myth doesn't know what is right unless it is presented to him in a poll. Ask Massachusetts voters in 1994 and 2002.

I'll be away for a few days. Merry Christmas and, as always, thanks for stopping by and y'all come back again real soon!

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

There's something happenin' here...

He's the stealth candidate, a failed presidential aspirant with a small but intensely loyal following who may just make the biggest mark in 2008.

While Mitt sheds some crocodile tears in an attempt to warm his image up compared to Mike Huckabee -- and Rudy sheds polling points -- Ron Paul is raking in cash. Lots of it. Some of it from not very nice people, but the overwhelming amount of it from honest people donating small amounts over the Internet to make their voice heard over the din of the front-runners.

And because money talks and you know what walks, Paul -- who has raised about the same amount Romney has taken from his sons' inheritance -- is being heard. Unlike 1988, when as the Libertarian Party presidential candidate he was barely a blip on the screen.

Campaign cash isn't necessarily proof of anything. Just ask President Phil Gramm. Nor is the ability to raise large sums on the Internet. Right Presidents Dean and Kerry?

But there is something about the way Paul has gone about doing it -- using symbolic moments like Guy Fawkes Day and the Boston Tea Party re-enactment to make his hauls. And those cash hauls will make him a factor at least until February's Super Tuesday contests.

The appeal is baffling to many. He is the only Republican to oppose the war in Iraq but his strength (financially at least) appears to be growing as the war fades as an issue. His libertarian beliefs? When was the last time a Libertarian was elected to any major office?

A quiet unassuming doctor, Paul didn't generate anywhere passion the last time around. His ideas -- abolishing the income tax, supporting private property rights, ending international trade agreements -- are standard libertarian fare.

His support of the Constitution -- in the face of the Bush administration's contempt for the document -- stands out in addition to his anti-war positions. But one person, taken from random in a Washington Post online chat that generated scores of responses, seems to sum it up well.
I dont think Rons support is a democratic or republican thing anymore. I think its about We The People. I think Ron Paul is the only candidate that is interested in restoring our country to what it was designed to be. This country wasnt supposed to be controled by big business and special interests groups. Ron Paul supporters can have a lot of differing oppinions and can still belong to the only group that stands for Truth,Liberty,& Freedom for We The People.
Paul is not going to get my vote, but he will be a factor in this race because he has tapped a long-simmering resentment in ways that Dennis Kuchinich has failed to do.

And besides, he doesn't have perfect hair.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's all about the Benjamins

About the only person missing was Wayne Newton (thankfully).

The casino industry showed up in force yesterday, actually forced to jockey for room in a overstuffed and threadbare Gardner Auditorium to speak about the vast riches that await if Massachusetts adopts casino gambling. Of course, no one really answered the question "riches for who?"

The hearing was a chance for Deval Patrick to marshal his arguments and some troops for his proposal to build up to three casinos in Massachusetts. Personally, the fact that John Hancock held a lottery to rebuild Faneuil Hall wasn't a compelling reason to rush to slots.

Even less compelling was Tom Menino's belief that a Suffolk Downs casino would cure a lot of ills. Then again the mayor lives in Hyde Park, not East Boston, and wouldn't have to deal with the traffic nightmare on a regular basis.

But at least Patrick and Menino have a proposal to deal with the state's financial problems. Patrick in fact, has two.

That puts him two up on House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei.

Actually, only Tisei seems to be lacking in ideas besides unspecified "fiscal discipline."

To my surprise (and his credit) the film industry tax breaks engineered by DiMasi will probably generate some new revenue. Or did Tisei miss the fact that Morgan Freeman, Steve Martin, Kate Hudson and Anette Bening, to name just a few, took up temporary sojourn in the commonwealth to work?

I guess he must have:
Big-shot Hollywood producers already received their gift last summer when Patrick signed into law expanded tax breaks for the motion picture industry. Isn't it nice to know your hard-earned tax dollars are being used to support the multi-billion-dollar film industry, at a time when local businesses are struggling under the weight of high taxes and regulatory red tape?
The disingenuous Tisei links Patrick's wish list for such spendthrift ideas as education, public safety with a stagnant Massachusetts economy. But he neglects to mention that the problems in Massachusetts stem from Republican leadership in the Oval Office and the Corner Office, where billions have been squandered in Iraq -- and where Republican governors do little except to scope out future jobs as ambassadors and president.

Tisei laments that Patrick's proposals to fund worthwhile things -- like property tax relief -- calls for shifting and adjusting the tax burden. Yes, they may even call for gambling. But what has Tisei offered in return, aside from boilerplate language that has been part of every Republican campaign since Ronald Reagan popularized the GOP philosophy of "no tax and spend"?

Nothing.

Patrick's proposals, while they cost money, are designed to create a commonwealth where people would like to stay and live after the graduate.

Tisei's call is to turn Massachusetts into another New Hampshire, a "tax-free" paradise where property taxes where are among the worst in the nation.

Or better yet, maybe we shouldn't just roll the income tax back. Maybe we should eliminate it.

While my friend Dan Kennedy may disagree, I think bad ideas (even the hare-brained income tax repeal) are better than no ideas at all. At least they generate discussion. Tisei offers classic bankrupt Republican rhetoric -- all ear candy and no alternatives.

That's one of the safest political bets of all time.

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It ain't me babe

Kudos to the Herald's Jessica Van Sack for cataloging some of the myriad of ways Boston's Mayor for Life manages to deflect criticism.

Try these on for size.

It's also a sad state of affairs that would be challengers for his City Hall throne don't seem to have the courage to speak on the record.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Give him an incomplete

The Herald is out with the first of the year-end interviews with Deval Patrick -- and the inevitable report card.

And while Patrick doesn't appear ready to close the books on 2007, a willingness to compromise on corporate tax revenue would appear to be an acknowledgment of one of the lessons he should have learned in his less-than-stellar start.

Swept into office on the strength of his positive rhetoric -- by voters tired of being a political pinata for their erstwhile governor -- Patrick had lots going for him. His failure to take ample advantage of it should make him happy he has three more years,

It wasn't the missteps like Drapegate and Caddygate so much as the failure to put together a solid team that was ready to go even before Mitt Romney walked down those steps. The pace of last November and December was too languid and invisible.

And it was bad staff work by that inexperienced team that caused his PR nightmares.

And there was a sense that by running on the concept of civic engagement -- and building a grassroots base -- Patrick didn't need to work with the Legislature to make things happen.

That, more than anything else, was the largest rookie mistake. That and failing to really engage and mobilize the grassroots base as way to let lawmakers know he brought considerable resources to the table.

Look at all of Patrick's signature proposals -- property tax relief, more police officers, job growth. Not the stuff of controversy. Yet one year later we are no further along, with House Speaker Sal DiMasi, not Patrick, setting the agenda and the tone of the debate.

And nothing exemplifies this state of affairs as well as the casino proposal. Like putting together his team, Patrick took too long, didn't do enough homework (on the potential revenues) and failed to consult and draw strength from his grassroots base to push it forward.

It's only today, 13 days before the end of the calendar year, that the Patrick team will make its case to lawmakers -- a legislative panel that, by its open skepticism, has not been on the receiving end of Patrick lobbying, either public or private.

The hostility to the proposal in the left-leaning blogosphere is an equally clear sign that little to no effort was made to inform and rally that vaunted base.

The bill was crafted in isolation, presented in a vacuum and left to moulder. It was very likely dead on arrival in the Legislature. And that's simply the proposal which forms the foundation to build the revenues needed to accomplish everything else.

By all accounts, Patrick is an inspirational man, but his time in the corporate world did not really prepare him for the rough and tumble reality of day-to-day governing.

That's not to say Patrick has been without accomplishment. Joining forces with DiMasi and Senate President Terry Murray, he helped defeat the noxious anti-gay marriage amendment and helped to clear the air fouled by Romney placing his personal agenda above that of the Commonwealth's citizens.

But for someone who promised so much, who represented a new day and a new way, his first year has been a major disappointment.

Ironically he could get a new start today -- reaching a compromise that will begin to resolve the revenue issue and spelling out a clearer, more robust vision of what he sees as the cultural and economic benefits of casinos.

I'm hopeful on the first, skeptical on the second. But most of all, I'm hopeful he will use the opportunity to engage both lawmakers and the base to work together to fix the problems that continue to dog this state.

Who was it who said Together, We Can?

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Monday, December 17, 2007

What the Huck is going on?

Everywhere you turn, there he is: the former governor of Arkansas, the man from Hope, now lined up in the sights of every Republican presidential candidate.

No. not that one. The other one.

Gosh, it's gotten so desperate for Mitt Romney that he is now uttering that which no Republican dares to speak.

No, not that. The name of George Bush.

With just days to go until the pre-Christmas campaign black out Mike Huckabee is all the rage. While Myth may feel the need to defend the indefensible to capture a key segment of the wingnut vote, the Huckster is all the rage withe the home-schooling crowd. And with the operatives of the other GOP candidates who are looking for fresh attacks.

The Huckster is feeling the heat too -- why else would he bash the Bush approach a week or so after declaring "I may not be the expert that some people are on foreign policy, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night. "

All in all, this will be a bleak Christmas for our man Myth. Slipping in the polls despite the injection of $17 million of his own cash (and despite saying that self-financing would be "akin to a nightmare.")

The Flip-Flop Express may be heading off the rails, especially when, as usual, he tries to have it both ways:

Romney has also at times criticized US policy in Iraq. On "Meet The Press" yesterday, host Tim Russert read aloud a quote from September in which Romney said that Iraq "is a mess."

"That's no reflection on George Bush?" Russert asked.

Romney said it was not the same as Huckabee's criticism, which the former Massachusetts governor said went over the line.

"I've been saying for months, and I think all the Republican candidates, in fact, have been saying for months, if not years, that, that following the collapse of Saddam Hussein our policy was, was unprepared, unplanned, understaffed, under-managed," Romney said. "But it's very different to point out the mistakes that have been made - and the president's pointed out the mistakes as well - and then to say that the Bush administration, our president, is arrogant with a bunker mentality."

Yeah, the difference is called the truth. Republicans should try it sometimes.

As for me, the Romney campaign's current path means Santa may be getting me exactly what I want. I better not be naughty.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snow mas!

Those of you dreaming of White Christmas -- enough! Check back in January when this black, icky mess is still piled up on street corners and in parking lots.

The plows were doing their things in my little corner of the world -- a little too good maybe. That little cut-out from the sidewalk to the street has been plowed over several times. In fact, it probably required shoveling into the middle of the street to break through. Once again pedestrians will find a relatively easy walk -- assuming they can reach this tiny outpost on foot.

Thankfully the plow drivers around here take pity on folks who have shoveled out their driveways and lift their blades as they go by. Throw in some illegal overnight parkers and we may emerge relatively unscathed for Round Three.

It will be interesting to venture into Boston tomorrow and see what the Mayor for Life has in store for us. Personally, I'm hoping it includes a crackdown on merchants in busy areas like Kenmore Square who haven't bothered with their sidewalks.

Or is Kenmore only an April to October priority?

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Here, there, everywhere, again

Thought while waiting to dig out the shovel again...

  • Bill Galvin is running for governor. Michael Flaherty is running for mayor. How else do you explain the great political interest after a storm some have called the Blizzard of '78 without the snow. The interesting stories don't outweigh the nightmare commutes -- or the reality that those little blue "Evacuation Route" signs are a fraud.
  • Will Major League Baseball do anything about the stain that tarnishes it and every sport while multimillionaires use performance-enhancing drugs to get an edge? The fact that fingers left over after whining about the snow were pointed the Mitchell Report tells me all I need to know.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Inching through the snow

Maybe we should change the symbol from French Toast to Snow Plows. Then again, its unusual to see a meltdown occurring at the same time as it snowed instead of weeks later.

Yesterday's storm certainly packed a wallop not usually seen around here -- 10 inches in nine hours. I don't remember going from wispy flurries to coated streets that quickly. But it's also hard to recall a time when we all took leave of our jobs -- and senses -- at the same time too.

The fingers are already pointing at the state Highway Department -- and Deval Patrick -- for the chaos on the highways and the T, not to mention the aisles of Shaw's, Stop & Shop and Roche Brothers.

Call me silly, but what the heck do you expect when a million or so people are released from work at the same time in a city where the transportation system is shaky on it best days. Change rush hour from its normal 4-6 p.m. to 1-1:o5 p.m. and guess what happens.

Combine the first major storm of the season with the usual televised hype one-upmanship and an official "heavy snow warning" and what happened yesterday was predictable, even if we had 40,000 pieces of snow removal equipment clogging the highways.

Toss in our usual courtesy while commuting and, well, yesterday would have been a good day to be held captive on a Peter Pan bus.

It's obvious Boston's Mayor for Life (including a gazillion snowstorms) knows the political fallout from this. Why else is his finger wagging in the direction of Beacon Hill?
"It's the turnpikes and expressways," Menino said at an afternoon press conference. "As one state official said to one of our commissioners, 'We didn't have the equipment to deal with this emergency.' "
Sorry, but the turnpike and expressway is a parking lot on a normal day. One thing about the Pike is they have always known how to stay ahead of snow. And of course, as the Globe notes:
Menino declined to specify which state official, and Massachusetts officials downplayed Menino's criticism, saying their entire fleet of almost 4,000 plows, salt and sand spreaders, and other vehicles was out clearing roads.
Plows and sanders were part of the problem this time -- because everyone left at the same time. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a traffic engineer to figure that out. And while Patrick told everyone to take the rest of the day off, it would have certainly been easier if companies thought about staggering those departure time.

This storm was hyped, er, predicted days out. If there was a lack of planning the blame needs to be shared, including those companies that opened the doors all at once.

But Menino and Patrick no doubt are very aware of what happens to politicians seen as falling down on the job when the snow flies (can you say Blizzard of '78?) Not to mention it's bad when the "Urban Mechanic" can't keep his city humming along as promised.

Expect a large snowball fight.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Baseball's Hall of Shame

If Eric Gagne took performance-enhancing drugs, I'd hate to see what he looked like without them.

Of course Gagne wasn't the No. 1 surprise on the list of Major League dopers, er, players, named in a report by former Sen. George Mitchell. That honor belongs to Roger Clemens the $15,047 per pitch man who failed to deliver the Yankees to the promised land this year.

Come on, is anyone who watched how big Roger has gotten over the years surprised? He will now join Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmiero in the Major League Baseball Hall of Shame.

But an equal dose of shame should haunt Commissioner Bug Selig, who has held the top job since 1992 and had his head up his posterior for all of that time -- which includes the Bonds and McGwire (and Sammy Sosa) home run chases and this year's *record-shattering effort by Bonds.

We already knew that lying to Congress is not big deal in America today. But who would have ever thought that Jose Canseco would wind up the hero?

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Campaign morsels

Thoughts from here and there as the holiday news slowdown approaches like a Nor'easter. Maybe the candidates can lend us their shovels for a few days?

  • One of the many reasons to fret about the impending weekend storm is the potential to ground one of the stranger, quirkier campaign stunts -- the Ron Paul blimp. Re-enacting the Boston Tea Party from the air? What kind of tea are they using?
  • The former governor of Arkansas (no not that one) does seem to have a gift for words. Still I don't really think a presidential campaign is a place to learn about good (and bad) theological concepts.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mr. Grumpy's lament

You know those Visa check card commercials where the sun shines, flower bloom, people work in perfect syncopated motion -- until the dork with the cash runs everything?

Yeah, right.

I admit to old fart tendencies. I would much prefer to write a check than give Big Bad Co. access to my checking account. I also tend away from using a debit card for one simple reason -- I'll forget to enter the transaction and then my checkbook won't balance. (Yeah, I know that's also a retro concept to many non-boomers).

But life is smoother with plastic? Not in the 7-11 (or was it the Store 24) this morning. Five people in line. One cashier. Swipe debit card. Wait for receipt to print out. Rip it off the printer and hand it to the customer.

Meanwhile, the cashier appreciated the fact that five people in line (with a Dunkin' Donuts right next door) is not a good business move. So he used an adjacent register for, what's the concept, cash.

Take paper currency. Open register. Remove change. Basically in the same time or less as the debit transaction.

He then repeated both processes leaving me at the head of the line. Meanwhile Debit Customer #2 tried juggling purchase, waiting for the receipt, putting it away safely and figuring out what comes next.

Me? Cash and go.

Of course there's another problem with these lines. And that's the bozo who waits until he or she gets up to the register to decide how they will pay for the items, then rifles through wallets, purses and other storage options (pockets) for the pennies, nickels and dimes to pay.

Or to find that debit card.

And of course, these are the same people who then stand at the register, carefully counting their change, neatly tucking the receipt just right in the wallet, then readjusting themselves while the line behind them grows out the door.

Mr. Grumpy feel better -- at least until he can rant about snow, bad drivers, people who don't shovel their walks and the joys of autumn in New England.

Sounds like that lament is coming soon.

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Of politics, neighborliness -- and revenge

Things are certainly getting interesting on the right side of the dial as we move into the homestretch in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The surge everyone is talking about these days is far from Baghdad, It's centered in Iowa and involves the once roly-poly former governor of Arkansas. And while we may be partying like its 1992, the decorum will be different.

After all this man from Hope is a Baptist minister.

If all these similarities seem weird -- how about a Massachusetts politician staking his claim to the presidency in New Hampshire, all the while dogged by the border expectations game and the sniping of political foes, often from the same party.

Mitt, you're no Mike Dukakis.

Let's start with Myth, holding a lead and holding on for dear life with the expectation of a win in New Hampshire. He'd better win there. He owns property in Wolfeboro and Belmont which, as much as neighbor he or we would like to admit it, makes him a New Englander.

And as such, the Granite State is simply a must win. Which could make the next couple of weeks very interesting, because two out of three former Republican Bay State governors agree Mitt is not to the one.

While Bill Weld says Mitt's his guy, Big Red's quirkiness makes him a less than ideal proxy. Paul Cellucci is with Rudy, since they both like to project tough but are moderates at heart.

Then there is McCain's proxy -- Jane Swift -- who proves once again that revenge is a dish best served cold.

Swift skewered Mitt in yesterday's Union-Leader, still an important player in New Hampshire politics. So much to choose from but I like this:
In a Romney-Clinton match-up, Democrats need only take a page from the George W. Bush playbook: Undermine the voters' sense that Romney can be trusted by highlighting the number of times he's conveniently changed his mind. And don't forget: He will have to do some more flipping if he becomes the party's nominee. Romney would have to tack back toward the middle -- where most American voters comfortably sit -- in order to win. That might just be a flip-flop-flap.
Meanwhile, speaking of Clinton, we need to shift back to that other man from Hope, who has evolved into the hottest candidate in the GOP field. Oops, scratch that, Mike Huckabee doesn't believe in evolution.

Polls show Huck moving up the national ladder as he builds a stunning large lead in Iowa. In fact, the expectations game are now in full race mood in Iowa too. The Huckabee surge could be his biggest problem, putting him square in the spotlight of the expectations game.

But that leaves Our Man Myth so on edge that after his religion speech failed to attract the sliver of fundamentalist Christians who control this race, he is launching the political nuclear bomb -- going negative.

We're told that Iowans don't like negative campaigners -- and the presidencies of Richard Gephardt and John Dean could stand as testament.

But the sheer risk or the Romney move is audacious. A man viewed with suspicion, rightly or wrongly, for his Mormon beliefs, launches a broadside on a man who has shot up in the polls largely on his Baptist beliefs being the anti-Romney.

It strikes me the Iowa question comes down to: does Huck fall apart for other reasons (like all the second looking at his gubernatorial record on taxes, prisoners and housewarming gifts). Myth is not going to be able to stop a surge designed to stop him. The Iowa race is Huckabee's to blow.

Stay tuned political junkies!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Deval is in the Details

First, like the lawyers say, let's stipulate that Deval Patrick has had a disappointing first year. The promise of "Together We Can" has faded amid the day-to-day business of government and a few banana peel moments known as DrapeGate and Cadillac Deval.

Now the Globe reminds us that instead of relying on the grassroots network that he put in place to drive his historic victory, the governor and Lt. Gov. Tom Murray are out raising cash from the same folks whose clout they promised to rein in.

We are also offered the standard sound bite from Common Cause director Pam Wilmot:
"Special interest cash is like quicksand - it traps you and pretty soon it drowns you."
But as is often the case with campaign and political reporting -- in the Globe and elsewhere -- we are missing some crucial context -- namely what exactly has all this cash gotten Patrick?

The same lawyers, lobbyists, developers and insurance company executives who are ponying up for him are doing the same thing for House Speaker Sal DiMasi, Senate President Terry Murray, the chairs of the two branches ways and means committees and key panels such as financial services, economic development and emerging technologies and telecommunications, utilities and energy.

The Legislature didn't exactly cover itself in glory for its frantic pace of business in 2007.

The system is awash in cash, same as it ever was. The solution, suggests Wilmot, is for the governor to champion campaign finance reform and public funding.

Great idea. Has she forgotten "Clean Elections"? You know the voter-backed public funding system that former House Speaker Tom Finneran left to wither and die on the vine by failing to fund it.

Where exactly is the legislature's stomach to take on this issue again? Clean Elections was the result of voters tired of lawmakers avoiding the issue. But when push came to shove and the prospect of diverting money for education and public safety to campaigns, the whole topic faded from view. Even voters didn't rise in defense.

And instead of just offering an annual story on gubernatorial special interest fund-raising, why not match it with a look at how legislative leaders are doing? Or how Patrick continues to raise cash from the grassroots and his 71st Fund which can take donations of up to $1,000?

Or how he has failed to take advantage of that grassroots base -- and turned many against him at least on the issue of casinos.

The problems Massachusetts face are systemic -- with the media being a key part of the system. Instead of looking for new solutions, we are relying on the same old debates that will get us nowhere.

Actually, give Patrick credit for the casino plan. A bad idea is better than nothing at all, which is what we have been getting from our elected and civic leadership.

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Going postal, part deux

Awhile back I noted my problems with the US Postal Service, and its failure to implement a mail hold during vacation. I also received some sincere advice that I should pursue this with management.

Well, I'm here to tell you it did exactly what I expected.

After waiting two months for the call that was supposed to come the next morning, it finally did -- one day before the call from the "complaint department" downtown. Coincidence?

They were responding -- in a snail mail fashion -- to a written complaint and a follow-up notice. (I say written because the web site wasn't working, but that's another story.)

Back and forth we go -- lost bills, mail left in my box that was supposed to be delivered from two streets over, the usual stuff. Earnest calls from the complaint department, patronizing follow-ups from the branch.

Well I guess our letter carrier was really up against it yesterday. Poor soul didn't have the energy to open the box. Instead, he or she dumped, on a stoop on the outside of a locked door, at bare minimum, three bills, one financial statement and a host of holiday cards. The partridge must of flown out of the pear tree.

Haven't they ever heard of identity theft? Or customer service?

I'll be picking out the best lumps of coal for this hard-working soul. And calling the complaint department yet again.

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Second class status

Fishing the Comcast e-mail out of the trash (smart junk mail evaluation system) I find a subject "Important: Get Your New McAfee Security Benefit," telling me to go to the Comcast Security Channel and download my $120 package "compliments of Comcast."

Sorry, I have a Mac.

Apparently the honchos in Philadelphia haven't been reading the trades -- or the MSM -- showing the Apple's market share is rising, helped along by such popular products as IPods or IPhones (I guess you can't Comcast Digital Voice on an IPhone).

It is truly annoying that at this stage of the game, a company as large as Comcast ignores a small but growing (and vocal) segment of the market, relegating us to second class status.

Memo to Comcast: I'll take the $120 instead. And your "Important" e-mails will continue to be filtered as junk.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Lipstick on a pig

The Republican candidates tried to conjure up the spirit of Ronald Reagan last night, proclaiming their love for immigrants -- at least those who enter the country legally.

It was left to John McCain (among the group who showed up) to cut to the chase:
“I’ll give you some straight talk,” he said. “I think some of the rhetoric that many Hispanics hear about illegal immigration makes some of them believe that we are not in favor, or seek the support of Hispanic citizens in this country.”
Ya think?

More to the point was the message from the man who wasn't there -- come to think of it, why is he still a candidate in the first place?
One candidate, Tom Tancredo, who has based his campaign on heated rhetoric about illegal immigration, boycotted the debate, saying in a statement that the very idea of having the forum in Spanish was un-American and that those who participated were simply "pandering" to Hispanic voters. The debate was originally planned for September, but most of the candidates declined to appear then, citing scheduling conflicts.
We saw Willard Mitt's pirouette on tough love -- claiming to fire his "friend" Ricardo Saenz because he didn't take advantage of the second chance he offered to legalize his work force. And Mr. Tough Love Giuliani saying he really had the immigrants in mind:
"This isn't a harsh rule, this isn't a cruel rule," the former New York mayor said of his plans to enforce immigration laws. They make sense, he said, "so people don't hurt themselves, as well as us. It's no picnic to be living as an illegal immigrant."
Would that be a picnic (with a police detail) in the Hamptons?

All the Republicans were very aware of a recent Pew Center poll that shows Hispanic support for Republican is on a down elevator and the buttons don't work.

But when all is said and done, Tancredo is the winner of this round. At least he didn't pander by showing up after airing ads linking immigrants to terrorism and crime. At least he is honest about where he thinks.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

The saga of Eliot and Deval

They could hardly be less alike.

The governor of New York
, the son of a real estate magnate who dresses down his roots by saying he is from The Bronx, not its upscale Riverdale enclave.

The governor of Massachusetts, the son of an absentee jazz musician who rose from his roots in the projects of South Side of Chicago.

Eliot Spitzer is a hard-charging, take no prisoners politician, shaped by his time in public service. His calling card to winning office is the actions he took as his state's attorney general against Wall Street and other miscreants.

Deval Patrick is a laid-back, inspirational politician, reflecting his formative years in corporate board rooms. His ticket to the corner office was an inspirational style that trumpeted his belief that "together we can."

What they share, as the first year of their much-anticipated terms come to a close, is the harsh reality of unmet expectations. That's because they both expected to shake up the entrenched political culture that rules Albany and Beacon Hill.

Spitzer, battling with an independent-mind, partisanly-split legislature is licking some self-inflicted wounds caused in large part by an over-zealous press aide who may have tried to peddle a story designed to destroy the Republican Senate President.

Patrick, at odds with a Democratic-controlled legislature used to having its way after 16 years of GOP governors, is still dealing with fallout of "scandals" about car leases and office furniture that could have been better managed by a more experienced press aide.

Spitzer started fast and cooled off after "Troopergate." He then stumbled badly with a proposal to provide undocumented immigrants with driver's licenses -- a topic that earned him nightly derision from Lou Dobbs and became a factor in knocking Hillary Clinton off the inevitability pedestal.

Patrick started slowly and has really failed to gain third gear. He did get a budget that included most of what he wanted -- except of course for a revenue package that would allow him to make good on a campaign promise about property tax relief.

And casino gambling -- Patrick's signature proposal coming nine months into his first year -- seems to already be on life support with local opposition building to join excessive skepticism if not downright hostility from House leaders.

What happened?

A New York observer of Spitzer uses a baseball analogy:
"I see Spitzer as a young Koufax. Early on, Sandy Koufax had great stuff but was inconsistent, until he was advised to loosen his grip on the ball. If Spitzer learns to relax his grip a little, trust his stuff, he’ll be fine. Get ahead of the hitters."
Patrick's problem, at least to start, was, to overdo the analogy, poor coaching. But that problem was remedied by March and he still is taking too much off his fastball.

It's also worth noting, as The New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten observes, that lots of effective leaders have had bad to worse first years -- Michael Bloomberg, Bill Clinton, even Spitzer hero Teddy Roosevelt.

Maybe the expectations for both men were too high. George Pataki did not evoke the same level of disdain as Patrick's absentee predecessor, Mitt Romney.

And Patrick faced what Spitzer did not -- a capital city press corps capable of blowing up his gaffes at least one news cycle sooner than the reporters squirreled away in Albany.

Each man has two more years to get things rolling before getting serious about the next election and Patrick is not likely to face a challenger as ambitious and strong as New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

But both could learn from the observation of a New York legislator:
“Tip O’Neill said all politics is local. In Albany, I say, all politics is personal.”
Just change that to "On Beacon Hill." Bill Weld learned that after running against Senate President Billy Bulger. Unless both men learn to play nice, they may end up envying Weld's record of accomplishment.

And who knows, Spitzer may even have to run against him.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Obstruction of justice

Title 18, Part I, Chapter 73 Section 1515 of US Code is quite clear about what constitutes obstruction of justice (even if the legal citation drives you nuts!) And if you skip on down paragraph b you will find:
(b) As used in section 1505, the term “corruptly” means acting with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another, including making a false or misleading statement, or withholding, concealing, altering, or destroying a document or other information. (Emphasis added).
So who's going down for the CIA's decision to destroy videotapes of the "aggressive interrogation?" No one, if George lives up to his script.

But it's clear that the contempt for the law that has permeated every pore of the Bush administration is on vivid display in this breathtakingly lawless act. Why else would even congressional Republicans and the Bush-appointed CIA chief proclaim they were against the act?

The ultimate legacy of the Bush administration will be that it was a time of men, not laws. For the good of the Constitution he was sworn up "preserve, protect and defend" it's time to hold somebody accountable for the utter lawlessness that has blackened our reputation around the world.

Congressional Democrats may not have the votes to stop war funding. But if it can't find some Republicans with enough moral courage to punish these reckless acts and actors, then we really should throw all the bums out.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

You're no Jack Kennedy...

The crisis facing America today is morality, not religion in general or Mormonism in particular. And so, in the end, the crucial issue wasn't addressed and no minds have been changed.

Mitt Romney's "Kennedy speech" at the George H.W. Bush Library was designed to assuage the concerns of evangelicals that he was a true Christian. Early returns suggest he has a long way to go to convince the Ayatollahs and their "values"-voting flock that he is one of them.
"His delivery was passionate and his message was inspirational," Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson said in a statement. "Whether it will answer all the questions and concerns of Evangelical Christian voters is yet to be determined, but the governor is to be commended for articulating the importance of our religious heritage as it relates to today."

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said Romney's remarks "were well-delivered and he offered many compelling thoughts," but like Dobson he warned that it "would be an illusion to think that any single speech could assuage every concern or end the thriving discussions Americans have about these issues."
And far less diplomatic in his thoughts was this Iowa Thompson supporter.

Steve Carlson, a board member of the Iowa Christian Alliance and a member of a Pentecostal church in Sioux City, said there was little Mr. Romney could have said today to allay his concerns about Mormon theology and his candidacy.

Mr. Carlson said he had been leaning toward (Mike) Huckabee or Fred D. Thompson in large part because of problems he has with Mormonism. The speech, he said, did nothing to change that.

“He didn’t sway me one way or the other,” he said. “I don’t know anything he could have said.”

On the flip side, his defense of the current place of "religion in the public square" didn't win over any converts either, so to speak.
"While it's good for Americans to hear a Republican candidate talk about the value of religious diversity, and the ways that church-state separation supports America's vibrant religious life, Romney undermined that message with his appeals to the Religious Right," People For the American Way said in a statement. "One thing is for sure, Romney is no Jack Kennedy."
In the end, I actually have a bit of sympathy for Myth, believe it or not. He was in a no-win situation.

The inherent contradiction is too hard to overcome: win the hearts and minds of a group of voters/zealots who proclaim their devotion to one god while at the same time holding people in disdain for not falling into lockstep with their beliefs, That core "values voter" attitude is a repudiation of the concept they claim to hold dear -- loving all human beings, no matter their frailties.

(We won't even get into the whole issue of how some evangelicals view Muslims and what that says about their tolerance levels).

But at the same time, Romney scored no points with voters like me who believe religion should be a private affair, not to be worn on the sleeve like a wide receiver scoring a winning touchdown.

Morals, not religious doctrine should dominate the public square. By their silence on the issue of torture, these "values voters" have also contradicted their supposed core beliefs.

And Romney didn't even attempt to address this crucial distinction in an attempt to win over a sliver of voters in one state.

Maybe he can now go back to taking the time to check out the credentials of he people he hires for his home. Or those he throws under the bus.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Everett Now?

I thought my eyes were deceiving me. A gasoline tanker creates a living Hell in Everett and the biggest headline in the print edition of the newspaper known as BostonNOW (download PDF) reads:

Massacre at the Mall

Memo to staff: Everett is a working class community in the Boston area. Omaha is in Nebraska. Nebraska is not Massachusetts.

I guess that's why you can't get a screenshot of this amazing piece of journalism.

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Religion in the public square

The buildup is probably more dramatic than the speech will be -- we're talking about Mitt Romney after all.

Some bill it a crucial test of of his political future. Others suggest it is a moment for Romney to prove his faith. Still others see a chance to explain their faith to others.

And of course, there's a contingent of Iowa voters who plan to support a Baptist pastor over the Mormon deacon simply because of his faith.

Romney himself has said only the speech will not be an explanation of his Mormon traditions but about religion in the public square. And that is as good a topic as any, because the role of religion and values has overwhelmed our secular society -- and not for the better.

We can breeze right past the flagrant conflict between faith and values represented by George Walker Bush, who wears his faith on his sleeve, using it as a political cudgel -- all the while mocking what it stands for by lying, condoning torture and soiling this nation's reputation for morality and doing the right thing.

Members of the world's second largest religion, Islam -- itself distorted by the action of a small minority of radical fundamentalists -- has come to despise what we claim to stand for in the name of the world's largest religion.

In the process, millions of Americans who do not share the narrow tenets of evangelical Christianity or prefer to pray to Yahweh, Buddha or other deities, are dragged into the mud because they are not part of the so-called "values voter" coalition that succumbed to the fear and smear tactics of George Bush.

Romney is right to look at the role of religion in the public square. It's role is out of control. Faith is something that should be private -- acknowledged in the home, houses of worship and in daily conduct that matches deed with Word.

It should not be a battle cry for Crusades against anyone who disagrees with The One True View, though history shows that sadly that happens far too often.

Yet in America in 2008, religion is worn on a sleeve. We've reached the point where race and gender are receding from the forefront of qualifications for the presidency while faith is becoming the new divider.

It would be wonderful if Romney focused on all of this in his remarks. But he won't. Romney is the ultimate salesman, who shifts his beliefs (as opposed to his faith) to close the deal. And right now, fundamentalist Christians are in his sights.

Romney's speech will be designed to pry voters away from Mike Huckabee, the good-natured Arkansan who does not believe in evolution despite a century of scientific proof.

For Romney, this is not about faith. It's about votes -- and whatever he needs to do to get more than the competition. He has proven himself capable of saying and doing anything in that quest. I would be shocked if today were any different.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dodging a bullet

The words "Everett" and "gas" seeped through the brain fog this morning. Those thoughts were quickly followed by relief after absorbing that scenario that was made for Jack Bauer at 24.

Think about it: two buildings, 21 cars all destroyed by a wall of flames rolling from an overturned gasoline tanker carrying 9,400 gallons of fuel. A speeding driver, not carrying proper documentation.

Miracle doesn't begin to describe the lack of injuries.

Now, add the words "liquefied natural" to the equation. Make the tanker a ship instead of a truck, the ship working its way up the Mystic River to the Everett LNG terminal.

It's really is a Jack Bauer nightmare.
(A) study concluded that attacks on an LNG vessel would create a rupture of between 6 and 39 feet. It used a 16-foot hole as a standard measure. The study said a spill from a 16-foot hole, if ignited, would create a thermal blast that would set buildings on fire and melt steel out to 1,281 feet and give people second-degree burns up to 4,282 feet away. A 39-foot rupture would burn buildings out to 1,975 feet and burn people up to 6,299 feet away -- well over a mile. The worst-case scenario measured by the report was three 16-foot holes. That would set structures aflame out to 2,067 feet and burn people as far as 6,949 feet away.
Yet the Bush administration believes our ports are secure and federal Homeland Security money is no longer needed.

Let's consider ourselves duly warned. Next time, the firefighters from Everett and 15 surrounding communities may not be so lucky.

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The importance of being Mitt

Not since Gary Hart told reporters to "follow me around" has a presidential candidate displayed such an amazing degree of arrogance, indifference and abject stupidity.

It may well be time to stick a fork in the candidacy of Mitt Romney after today's Boston Globe report that Romney continued to employ a lawn company that relied on undocumented workers. In fact, the day after Romney absorbed Rudy Giuliani's line about Romney's "sanctuary mansion" the Guatemalan lawn care crew pulled up to rake leaves on the lawns of both Mitt and Tagg Romney.

What is this guy smoking?

First things first -- I think the Republican focus on immigration is overblown. Yes, we should be concerned about our borders after the ease with which 19 Saudis made it in here and moved around freely while plotting to destroy the Twin Towers.

But those Saudis did not enter the United States on foot or in the back of a coyote's pickup looking to make a better life for themselves. The focus on Latin American immigration is a misplaced priority, perhaps made even more striking by the one terror plot that was foiled at the Canadian border.

No, the true importance of the fact that Myth Romney got caught, again, employing undocumented gardeners, is the cavalier response from the man who holds himself up as the model of the perfect American family:
"After this same issue arose last year, I gave the company a second chance with very specific conditions," Romney said in the statement. "They were instructed to make sure people working for the company were of legal status. We personally met with the company in order to inform them about the importance of this matter. The owner of the company guaranteed us, in very certain terms, that the company would be in total compliance with the law going forward.
The fault, therefore, rests with the company deceiving him. Whatever happened to Ronald Reagan's "trust but verify" motto?

But, wait, there's a back story.

In a telephone interview last night, Tagg Romney confirmed that he met with Saenz on a warm March day on his front yard, with his brother, Craig, a fluent Spanish speaker, translating over a cellphone. The Romney brothers said they told Saenz they would no longer use his service because of the prior Globe story, but Saenz urged them to reconsider. He vowed there would be no undocumented workers on the property.

"He came over and he was very apologetic for what had happened and asked if he could continue with us," he said. "He asked for a second chance."

Asked if he was reluctant to rehire Saenz's company, Tagg Romney said he was not.

Compassionate conservative to the rescue.

And as for company owner Ricardo Saenz:

Saenz said Romney took no action against his company after the Globe reported last December that he had employed three illegal immigrants to work on Romney's lawn. Saenz repeatedly denied having illegal workers at Romney's property at the time.

Saenz said he contacted the Romney family in the early spring and offered them his services, and they accepted. In May, he began the landscaping work.

He said he usually spoke about the work with Romney's wife, Ann, or one of his children, and that no one asked for papers for his workers. "What papers, if I'm a company?" Saenz asked. "I don't understand why they have to verify anything. Their job is not to check up on my company."

He said he pays his workers $10 an hour and would hire them periodically for one or two days. He said he paid them by check using a computer system to ensure that he deducted taxes.

"I do everything legal," he said.

In a technical sense, the stories match, so there's no lying here. And there's something vaguely laudable in the notion of the Romney clan giving him a second chance.

Except in the context of Romney the candidate not believing in first chances, let alone second ones, for people trying to make a better life for themselves.

The unfortunate victims here are the workers caught up in the national politics.

But the incident shows, as with virtually every other issue Myth Romney touches, there's always multiple angles. Romney believes that he can say or do anything to close a sale -- in this case one with the American voters.

I somehow suspect tomorrow's speech about his faith will take on a new meaning. The question of religious faith revolves around a belief system after all.

And Myth Romney has proven, perhaps with clear cut finality -- that no one should believe a word that comes out of his mouth. And he believes in only one thing -- himself. Everything else, including the truth, is negotiable.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Burying the lead

One of the sins you are taught to guard against in Journalism 101 is burying your lead, putting important facts in the wrong place. Herald editors editors should not expect a good grade today.

Here's the lead of today's Casey Ross story on executive branch spending:
Gov.Deval Patrick has hiked his office payroll by $1.1 million since taking charge, a 33 percent jump over what former Gov. Mitt Romney paid his staff in 2006, a Herald review found, even as a top House lawmaker now warns of deep cuts to key state services.
Here's the last paragraph:
Part of Patrick’s payroll growth from 2006 is due to the fact that neither Romney nor former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey accepted salaries because of their substantial personal wealth. That accounts for about $265,000 of the increase, with Patrick taking a salary of $140,000 and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray earning about $125,000 a year.
Let's see: $265,000 out of $1.1 million comes from the governor and lieutenant governor taking salaries that the predecessors rejected. That, by my back of the envelope calculation, is roughly 25 percent of the increase. And leaves $835,000 to go for what the Herald said is a quadrupling of the governor's staff.

And it would be helpful to tell us what quadrupling means: is it going from one to four or 50 to 200? Who are the members of the $100,000 club are and what they do for their paycheck -- how many hours do they work and are they are in state more than the former Republican governor and his wandering staff. It's all in your database, why not share it -- or are you looking for clicks?

And while we're at it -- that is a quadrupling over Romney's 2006 staff, a point where the administration had already hung out the "gone campaignin'" sign. How does it compare to 2003, the first year of the term when the former governor led people to believe he cared about his job?

There may very well be a case to be made for too many highly paid staffers. But it would certainly be more honest to not "cook the books" with distorted numbers. Otherwise, all you have is cheap political posturing masquerading as a news story. And the Herald wouldn't do that?

Sorry, but I have to hand out an F for this assignment.

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The Lies of George Bush

The mainstream media has been far too polite to say the obvious: George Bush is a pathological liar who will say and do anything to achieve his political ends.

We'll gloss right over his shame-faced insistence that a Democratic Congress is responsible for all the ills in the world today (including, according to Karl Rove, the rush to war in 2002).

No, let's go straight to the main event: Iran is an imminent nuclear threat.
President Bush got the world's attention this fall when he warned that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to World War III. But his stark warning came at least a month or two after he had first been told about fresh indications that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons program.
Let's face it, this administration has a horrific record with intelligence estimates -- from ignoring "bin Laden determined to strike US" up through George Tenet's "slam dunk" about Saddam Hussein's cache of weapons of mass destruction.

But rarely if ever has the leader of the values voter movement been caught in as blatant lie as in his declaration that Iran poses a threat of World War III -- weeks after he discovered that Iran -- like Iraq before it -- had stopped its nuclear program.

First, a traditional caveat: calling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a fruitcake is an insult to everyone's least-favorite holiday gift. His bluster and delusional, warped world view is probably only matched by George Bush himself.

But it is really hard to decide who presents a more dangerous threat: the Iranian armed with words but no nukes or the American who has both (and perhaps a command of the English language no better than I'm a Dinner Jacket.)

That's because in Bush's Bizarro World, the fact they have been caught in a lie is actually a good thing. Quoth National Insecurity Advisor Stephen Hadley:
"On balance, the estimate is good news. On the one hand, it confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it tells us that we have made some progress in trying to ensure that that does not happen."
Sorry, but both hands tell me you've been pumping up a petty tyrant as a foil to achieve political ends -- adding yet another level of shame and disrepute to the American reputation and virtually ensuring all Muslims will despise Americans for generations into the future.

I still want to know why lying under oath about oral sex is an impeachable offense and pathological lies by a delusional recovering alcoholic aimed at bringing Armageddon is not.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

It's not about faith, it's about beliefs II

It took watching Mike Huckabee looming in the passing lane for Mitt Romney to do the right thing.

Right in this case means end the murmuring and snickering about his religious faith. because in the the narrow-minded intolerance of the Religious Right and its self-appointed Ayatollahs, Romney's Mormonism is suspect.

So much for the constitutional protections against the establishment of religion.

I've said it before -- I have no problem with Romney's faith. I do have problems with his beliefs -- he doesn't have any. He adapts his positions to whatever political crowd whose vote he seeks.

The rap against Mormonism is that it isn't really Christian. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints is not Christian enough. Says who?

The naysayers suggest it has odd rituals and symbols. Turning water into wine for example? Or extending a small vial of oil so it will last for eight days? Religion requires a leap of faith, a belief in miracles.

Who is to say which miracles are legitimate and which are bogus. To borrow an appropriate line, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

No, the problem with Willard Mitt Romney is not his faith, but that he has no beliefs. He was for gay rights and a woman's right to choose before he was against them. He favored gun controls before he joined the NRA right before the start of the campaign. He is for burying terrorists at Guantanamo while consulting lawyers about using military force.

Myth Romney believes that he can say and do whatever he has to say and do to get elected. He doesn't care what it looks like, as long as it works. He is the ultimate salesman.

And so now he will deliver the "JFK speech," using the interesting forum of the George H.W. Bush Library at College Station Texas to put to rest the myths and realities of his religion.

Is it a coincidence that the speech is taking place after Huckabee, riding the doubts of those "true believers," surged ahead of Romney in Iowa?

Does the overly retentive Romney do anything by chance?

It really shouldn't come as any surprise that bigotry -- and let us be clear in giving it a name -- is driving this action. The need for scapegoats -- be they immigrants, Jews, Muslims, people of color, long-haired men wearing robes and sandals -- is the core of this hateful offshoot of brand of intolerant conservatism.

There's much to criticize Romney for -- playing those very same "ism" games for example. But his religious faith is not one of them. The Constitution -- or what's left of it -- guarantees him his right to choose and practice a religion.

It is also a warning that the time is clearly here to get religion out of the voting booth and the Oval Office and back into the churches, synagogues and mosques where it belongs. Otherwise, how different are we from Iran?

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Where have you gone Shelby Scott?

And other imponderable questions as the TV stations roll out the troops to cover the impending calamity known as winter...

  • The saddest thing about the Rochester, N.H. standoff at the Hillary Clinton headquarters is the fact it was a desperate cry for help with health care needs from a victim of the Boston clerical abuse scandal.
  • Yet another example of the fact that MBTA employees don't use the system -- do you really need proof that traffic light synchronization will help Green Line riders on Beacon Street, Commonwealth Avenue and Huntington Avenue?
  • We're winning? Actually it does sound as if the government in Baghdad is building on the Bush model. I guess it all depends on the meaning of the word corruption.
  • Speaking of the Bush model -- just what is Karl Rove smoking in trying to blame a (Republican) Congress for a rush to war. I'm not sure I have ever seen a more shameless liar.
  • What the Huck. As long as Myth and Rude-Y continue to behave like Democrats and do the circular firing squad, it seems appropriate the Republican Party's new darling should be someone who doubts evolution. That party certainly seems to be regressing back to Neanderthal Man anyway.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

This is journalism?

Consider this passage from Washington Post media critic Howie Kurtz's look at a day trying to follow Hillary Clinton around on the campaign trail -- and the personal travails of ABC News correspondent Kate Snow:
Earlier this month, Snow ignored the speed limit as she chased Clinton from Manchester diner to a Concord state office where the candidate was filing to run in the primary. "I parked seven blocks away," Snow says. "I ran up the street in my high-heel boots. I got there out of breath, and the Secret Service stopped me and said, 'You can't come in.' "
Or this hard-hitting exchange involving Boston's own Joe Battenfeld:

When Clinton stepped away from the microphones, Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" began blaring from the speakers, which effectively drowned out any attempted queries from the journalists sprinkled throughout the room. Battenfeld, the Boston reporter, launched his horse-race question during a brief lull between songs.

"It's kind of an art form," he said afterward. "I would have asked her about Obama, but I figured she would have turned and run."

The technology has changed dramatically since I last covered a presidential campaign in 1988, when laptop computers gave you three line screens and cell phones were in their infancy and weighed you down (assuming your news organization would even spring for one).

But very little else has changed. Reporters continue to focus on polls and gaffes and candidates continue to avoid "stepping on their message" and answer questions about polls that can lead to gaffes.

The result of this "exercise in democracy" is on gaudy display in the White House.

After every election cycle, the sages of political journalism gather in conferences sponsored by the Pew Center for Journalism or Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy and promise to do better.

And during every subsequent election some TV reporter continues to play Sam Donaldson shouting out questions and some network star worries about broken heels.

The technology has brought new toys -- the YouTube debates, for example or better yet the technology that enables me to vent my spleen as I'm doing now.

And yes, journalists can screw up using the new toys -- witness CNN, Anderson Cooper and the gay general -- as Dan Kennedy has accurately noted. (Less well chronicled is how much the same thing happened at the Democratic version -- without the heavy mouth breathing reaction from the Right.)

So what's the solution? Simple. Stop wasting time, energy and effort to chronicle every word -- and every potential gaffe -- in excruciating detail. Use this new technology for some good.

Readers of ABC's brightly written "The Note" have become familiar with attributions to obscurely named reporters. These are the young men and women who trail the candidates with the tools of the trade but who recede into the background when the "bigfoot" reporter shows up.

Why not leave the daily scripted shows to these folks and see how quickly the campaigns adapt by not having to come up with nightly images? They may even turn to substance (nah, that's too much to hope for).

And what should the "bigfoot" do? In the language of Woodstein, "follow the money." That's exactly what The Politico's Ben Smith did in coming up with one of the more substantive stories to date -- Rudy Giuliani's attempt to hide the travel costs of his trip to the Long island home of the then Judith Nathan.

Giuliani was quick to grouse the story was a "hit job" and it's entirely possible Smith did benefit from an oppo research tip. But he also did the legwork, filing Freedom of Information Act requests and examining documents -- the things reporters are supposed to.

Part of the problem, to be fair, is that campaigns are way too long and news holes are tough to fill with new material. The Globe reported on Mitt Romney's gardener eons ago. And while the public claims to want the details about a candidate and his or her positions, the substance can often be tedious -- as the Globe's endless series on Romney proved.

But there's lots more out there about the candidates and how their words don't necessarily match their deeds. All that's needed is the time to do the digging the journalism is supposed to be about.

And that requires editors with courage to use junior staff or no staff on some obvious campaign media events. I know I could have done without joining George H.W. Bush at a 1988 visit to a Greenland, N.H., truck stop where the candidate asked for a "splash" more coffee while reporters bought out the stock of "Shit Happens" hats.

And I seriously doubt any reporter would object to not having to stand knee-deep in an Iowa pig sty in December while Candidate Z prattles on about agriculture -- without having a clue about what the issue really is.

Venceremos! Free the political reporter! Free the American people!

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