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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Beat LA!

Beat LA! Beat LA! It still rings fondly in the ears after two decades. The old Garden is gone and it's been way too long -- but the Celtics are back in the NBA Finals and what a way to get there.

There's always something special about basketball in June. Against the Lakers. By way of Detroit. (Oh, and toss in Atlanta too).

What's most satisfied is who has been The Man during crunch time. With all due respect to KG and Ray Allen, Paul Pierce has been the heart and soul of this team during the playoffs. And no one says it better than No. 34 himself.
"It's been a long process. I could write a whole book on my emotions right now. But I'm just happy to be in this position, still with the Boston Celtics. It makes me think about a year ago today what I was doing. To be in this position with the same team going to the Finals, it's nothing I can really put into words."
It won't get easier, nor should it. The Lakers dethroned the defending champion Spurs and they did it in convincing fashion.

But the Celtics snapped out of the road funk -- winning two games in Detroit, including a sixth game close-out.

So on to the Finals -- and reliving the memories like Kevin McHale's clothesline of Kurt Rambis. That's what basketball in June is all about. Beat LA!

CORRECTION: It must have been my own misspent Rambis Youth. I mistakenly confused current Laker GM Mitch Kupchak with the one-time Laker forward as the recipient of a Kevin McHale forearm shiver. It was of course, the black-glassed Rambis who took the hit.

(Boston Globe photo)


Friday, May 30, 2008

Long overdue scrutiny

Sadly, it has taken a death for the MBTA -- and the rest of the world for that matter -- to take a look at the Green Line. And what we are seeing should give real pause to the idea of expanding its reach.

At least until it can be made safe and reliable.

The National Transportation Safety Board has barely begun its work and already we've learned that Green Line trolley operators have little in the way of training and that there are no fail safe devices to stop trains when operators run through stop warnings.

The requirements for running the complicated trolley cars are spare. Operators are required to be at least 18 years old, to have been driving a car at least three years, and have a high school diploma or its equivalent, under MBTA rules.

Following seven weeks of training, including classroom and field experience, they must pass a test with questions about signals, switches, safety rules, and defensive driving techniques, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

If they pass, they spend three days with an experienced operator. After another day in the classroom, they are on their own.

In other words, the Green Line is no better than any street in Massachusetts where drivers have managed to build a reputation as cowboys who do what they want, when they want with little fear of punishment in the form of tickets or license suspensions.

And the Herald reports the course requires only a 70 percent grade to pass. MCAS is tougher -- and no one's life depends on it.

It's also ominous that reports say investigators will be examining the cell phone records of Terrese Edmonds. We know about all the efforts to clamp down on the use of phones by car drivers. Wasn't there a similiar rule in place at the T -- where operators are a lot more lives under their watch than in a passenger car?

There's also the question of the equipment -- and here the T caught a break. It appears all the vehicles involved were the reliable, 20-something year old Kinki cars rather than the lemon Breda cars that have a tendency to jump off the rails and which appear to have been built for sleek looks rather than safety and passenger comfort.

Then there's the matter of MBTA management, Smilin' Dan Grabauskas and his predecessors, who, according to one legislator, have put expansion on the top of the list -- ahead of the safety and convenience of current passengers:

“They ignored all the warning signs,” said [Robert] Hedlund, who sits on the Legislature’s transportation committee. “There’s been a lot of warnings, but the MBTA has gone on with unprecedented capital expansion at the expense of maintaining the existing system.”

A blue-ribbon panel issued a report in 2000 alerting officials that expanding the Green Line would put the infrastructure at risk, Hedlund said.

“We’ve had hearings on this, but it’s all been window dressing to date."
Those expansion talks revolve around extending a line that runs on Commonwealth and Huntington Avenues and Beacon Street -- three major city thoroughfares with many, many traffic lights -- into Medford and Somerville. Same number of cars, same traffic impediments. Longer distances to travel.

Yet the T was too cheap to spring for a system that would give trolley cars the ability to control traffic lights along Beacon Street.

Heck the operators can always run the lights.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

T is for tragedy

The tragic crash on the MBTA Green Line last night that resulted in the death of a trolley car operator will properly be reviewed by federal investigators. But what will this mean to passengers who must now wait more than a year for the cause -- and wonder?

This is the second major incident on the Green Line in the month of May alone. A little more than two weeks ago, a car jumped the tracks on the turn at Commonwealth Avenue and Chestnut Hill Avenue, struck a power pole and caught fire.

The last train of the night incident didn't draw near the attention as the rush-hour crash involving a rear-end collision.

It didn't have the (dis)advantage) of wall-to-wall coverage on Boston television stations, complete with dueling helicopters and uninformed speculation, like the Channel 4 anchor who declared it was a head-on crash when the pictures and logic said otherwise.

That was a problem apparently shared across the board and points out what happens when the mindless competition for viewers butts up against the newsgathering process -- a very messy thing that once had safety valves that prevented impressions and mistakes from being reported as fact.

But even an untrained observer can see one immediate similarity between the two Green Line accidents -- speed.

The Boston College line car no doubt jumped the rails because it took the corner too fast, a common experience to any rider on that line.

The Riverside accident at Woodland Station had to involve speed because of the extent of the damage and the fact cars jumped the tracks. Whether it was a faulty signal or operator error will be determined by the National Transportation Safety Board.

But when you throw in a track fire at Park Street that fouled up the Tuesday rush hour, it inevitably raises serious question about the safety of riding buses, subway and trolley lines.

And with gas at $4 a gallon and rising, it's incumbent upon the MBTA to get a handle -- right now -- on a May record that would rightly leave many people wondering just how safe it is to commute.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

California dreamin'

Hey, Bill Weld had the same idea.

This Associated Press news item last week got scant attention:
BOSTON—Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has reached a deal to buy a home in southern California.
After all, what's another home, a place to indulge his wife Ann a chance to ride horses? It would only join homes in Utah, New Hampshire and Massachusetts (and a recently rediscovered native urge in Michigan) for the man of the people.

And maybe a way for him to boost his Second Banana status in the eyes of John McCain.

But no one ever said Myth Romney was a fool (just an inconsistent, pandering salesman). It's part of his 50-state strategy for the White House.

And it just so happens that the governor's office will be available after 2010, when the term-limited, Constitutionally-restricted-from-running-for-president-Governator will need to leave office.

So here's the deal: Massachusetts swaps Mitt and Ann for Ahnuld and Maria. Myth gets to emulate Weld's efforts to be governor from two different states and the Schwarzeneggers get to return to Maria's home state and ponder a run for the US Senate. (But he would have to learn to how to pronounce Massachusetts better than Cahlifornia).

And Myth would have someplace to drive that white Mustang with racing stripes.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Transportation puzzles

How does a fire on the Red Line mess up the Green Line?

Or turn Commonwealth Avenue outbound into a parking lot where walking is faster than the bus?

I guess all those shuttles to Harvard Square from Dorchester just play havoc on Allston-Brighton.

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On the spot

OK, the Ocean Spray cranberry ads -- you know the ones with the dorky guy who spills sugar in the bog -- are kind of cute.

But not this cute.

The jury is still out on the value of the value of a film tax credit that draws celebrities to Massachusetts to work -- but costs taxpayers more than in brings in. But subsidizing the production of TV commercials so Massachusetts companies can fatten up their bottom line?

I happen to drink both Ocean Spray cranberry juice and Samuel Adams beer. I pay for the product when I consume it. I pay a sales tax on the beer. This, pardon the expression, is hard to swallow.
Even companies that would owe little or no corporate income taxes in Massachusetts stand to benefit by selling the tax credits to other companies - at least $12 million of credits have already been sold to financial institutions - or back to the state, which pays 90 cents for every $1 in credits.
Can you say corporate welfare?

And someone should really explain the facts of political and tax life to the William Earon, the managing director of Coastal Capital Advisors LLC, a Boston private equity and consulting firm that serves the film industry. He suggests:
...the state should reimburse companies for a portion of their travel costs to fly in actors and crews, because there isn't enough talent in Massachusetts...
Maybe we should help them through TSA lines and pay for their rental cars and hotel rooms too?

Building a new industry, which Massachusetts is trying to do with television and film production, is not easy. And we all know you have to spend money to make money.

It might be easier to swallow losing cash to lure Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz to work here in the off-chance hope that we might one day have a thriving new industry in a state that seems to export more industry than cranberries.

But I don't feel like paying the salary of idiots who dump sugar into the bogs.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

I feel better now

I can see those gasoline prices plummeting right now. OPEC and those speculators have met their match.

Oh, and we aren't about to raise tolls or gasoline taxes.

Yes indeed, it is an election year.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mr. Grumpy wonders

Here, there and everywhere on this Memorial Day Weekend...

  • How can we miss you when you won't go away Myth? Seriously, have you ever seen a politician who can stand for so much -- and so little?
  • Funny how the best intentions seem to fade at the slightest hint of political push back. Oh well, I guess we'll have to do without teachers instead.
  • But do you think the change in travel might have something to do with not wanting to spend time with you CHB?

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Why can't they do both?

Health warning: This blog is about to say something complimentary about MBTA boss Daniel Grabauskas. Those with weak hearts who might not be able to take the shock should turn away now. Guinness Book of World Records fans, take note.

Yes indeed, the embattled (at least with me) MBTA boss has it exactly right when he rejects the MBTA police union's insistence that they can't deal with gropers and fare jumpers at the same time.
"They have an oath to uphold, to enforce the law. And if they're not, they're in violation of their own code of honor."
The MBTA's Boys (and Girls) in Blue say the crackdown on fare evaders deters them from their real job of keeping the subways, buses and commuter rail free from sexual perverts. -- and terrorists.

And besides, transit police union boss Robert Marino says, this is about chump change.
"This is all over $1.75 or $2 as opposed to someone being sexually assaulted."
At least he knows the fare structure, as opposed to Mitt Romney.

On the one hand, it's not hard to understand. Police from various forces in Massachusetts see infractions like jaywalking, speeding, stop sign running as unimportant. And we don't want a city like Rudy Giuliani's New York where squeegee men are hauled off in cuffs from over enforcement.

But I suspect if someone were to delve into MBTA crime statistics they would find that fare evasion happens at a much higher rate than violent sexual assaults -- or even groping. I suspect they would also find that the crimes happen in different locations at different times of day.

In other words there are plenty of opportunities to pursue both perverts and deadbeats.

And for the argument that it's dangerous to approach fare jumpers while undercover, here's a suggestion: wear uniforms. That should reduce the volume of violations -- and lead to a reduction in tickets -- while protecting the officers. Especially if they are decked out in the full State Police uniform.

And as for Smilin' Dan, er, Mr. Grabauskas, let me just say a broken clock is correct twice a day. It was inevitable we would agree on something eventually.


Friday, May 23, 2008

It doesn't look good

Massachusetts law is pretty clear when it comes to setting down the standards of conduct for public employees when it comes to matters in which friends or family could have an interest:
Section 23. (a) In addition to the other provisions of this chapter, and in supplement thereto, standards of conduct, as hereinafter set forth, are hereby established for all state, county and municipal employees. ...

(3) act in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly influence or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties, or that he is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person. It shall be unreasonable to so conclude if such officer or employee has disclosed in writing to his appointing authority or, if no appointing authority exists, discloses in a manner which is public in nature, the facts which would otherwise lead to such a conclusion.
Which means House Speaker Sal DiMasi has a major problem on his hands:

Boston contractor Jay Cashman met privately last fall with House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi in a bid to ease permitting rules for wind farms in Massachusetts waters, a meeting that appears to contradict DiMasi's earlier assertion that he never spoke with Cashman, a close friend, about legislation affecting Cashman's business.

Asked last week about Cashman's previously undisclosed presence at the Oct. 18 meeting in DiMasi's State House office, DiMasi confirmed that Cashman was there, but said that they did not specifically discuss Cashman's pending plan to build a wind farm on Buzzards Bay and that he never influenced legislation to help Cashman. In addition to being close friends with the speaker, Cashman has a business relationship with DiMasi's wife, Deborah DiMasi.

DiMasi says he is OK because he has disclosed his relationship with Cashman. But the ethics laws deals not only of actual conflicts of interest, but also appearances of a conflict. Let's recall some specifics words of the law:
...act in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly influence or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties...
Relationships have to not only survive the fact test, they have to survive the sniff test. Reasonable people having knowledge of the relevant circumstances surrounding the relationship between DiMasi and Cashman might be forgiven for sniffing a few extra times over this one.

That's especially true if the Speaker is now backing away from his initial answer by saying he only meant to say they never discussed business in a social setting.

New England Cable News should certainly understand the appearance issue in its decision to host a regular program created by DiMasi's spouses, particularly since there has been a refusal to disclose the financial underpinnings of the program.

Appearances count. And things are not looking terribly good right now.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

What were the odds?

What's House Speaker Sal DiMasi up to?

In a hard-to-fathom move, the man identified as single-handedly putting a halt to casino gambling legislation in Massachusetts is now proposing voters get a (non-binding) say on the issue.

The announcement comes as the Senate rejected a Republican ploy to endorse casino gambling as part of its fiscal 2009 budget proposal.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Steve Panagiotakis proposed a November referendum earlier this year -- at the height of the controversy. DiMasi didn't buy it then, but now he says he would be inclined to let voters offer a preference.
“I remain opposed to casino gambling,” DiMasi said in a statement issued this morning. “But, given the magnitude of what the Senate is considering, I would support as a compromise Senator Panagiotakos’ proposal to put an advisory question on casinos before voters this fall.”
Clearly a head scratcher, since DiMasi won this one hands down. Gov. Deval Patrick, who tossed away a lot of political capital on this fight, has been met with snark when he suggested the issue is not dead.

DiMasi has been battered of late over a series of unseemly looking activities involving friends and legislation. More importantly, those controversies have failed to still jockeying in the House to be his eventual replacement.

Is agreeing to a referendum a quid pro quo to end that back room maneuvering for his crown? It would certainly be interesting to see how House votes against the bill shift in support of placing a question on the ballot.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Not so free speech

It appears free speech only applies to people who don't work at large cable companies.

Barry Nolan, host of a number of Boston-based programs on Comcast's CN8 Network told Emily Rooney tonight that he was let go -- for criticizing the presentation of a New England Emmy Chapter Governor's Award to noted bloviator Bill O'Reilly.

Nolan was apparently cheesed off at the decision to honor O'Reilly -- a Boston University graduate who practiced journalism around town before hitting the big time as a loud-mouthed bully at the Fairandbalanced News Channel. Nolan told the Herald's Inside Track:
“I am appalled, just appalled. He inflates and constantly mangles the truth . . . and his frequent target is the ‘left-leaning’ media - the ones who do report the news fairly. And those are the same people who will be sitting in the room honoring him.”
Nolan told Rooney that he passed out leaflets at the banquet, listing some of O'Reilly's better insults. But it seems O'Reilly has friends in the right places justifying the "honor," like that noted free speech advocate John Silber:
... I weigh in on this issue because five years ago as chancellor of Boston University I was pleased following the vote of the BU alumni board to present O’Reilly our Distinguished Alumnus Award. Had there been any truth to the allegations of Nolan, we would never have considered it.

Bill O’Reilly was then and continues to be a remarkably evenhanded journalist of whom we at BU continue to be proud. He is a credit to our school and a worthy mentor to students.
I'm not advocating Nolan as a master journalist. I never watch CN8, mainly because I have no interest in Philadelphia programming. But I am curious about Comcast's reasons for firing Nolan for, in effect, exercising free speech rights.

O'Reilly is notorious for pursuing vendettas against those who dare to diss him. I would never want to get into a knife fight with Mr. Fairandbalanced Roger Ailes. So let me throw out a possible suggestion about why Comcast canned Nolan.

Could it be that News Corp., the owner of the Fox Network, Fox News Channel and sundry other Fox properties -- not to mention the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post -- may have suggested it was in Comcast's economic interests to can a D List personality in the hopes of retaining decent relations with a large source of revenue?

One thing Ailes, O'Reilly and Rupert Murdoch know is overkill. And John Silber doesn't know good journalism.

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The torch has been passed...

The irony is heavy: on the day the world learns Ted Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor, the voters of Oregon eliminate what little doubt remains that Barack Obama will become the Democratic nominee for president.

The torch passed to John F. Kennedy 48 years ago -- and which was only briefly held by his brother Robert -- will now move on the Obama. The 46-year-old senator from Illinois will now be the leading symbol of the progressive ideals of this nation.

No, this is not a premature obituary for Kennedy -- a fighter who has overcome many but not all obstacles in his path. But the patriarch of the clan has a much bigger fight on his hands than passing legislation, or even carrying a vision.

The Kennedy in the family picture in the linked Boston Globe story doesn't exude his usual strength and determination. There seems something strained in the smile -- a brave front put on for the camera.

So it may be time for him to at least delegate the task of leading the charge for freedom, equality and justice in a nation that seems to clearly have lost its way under the "leadership" of George W. Bush.

His legacy can be best seen in the exhilarating fact that an African-American man will receive that torch, When JFK took up the cause, that dream was still several years away from even being voiced by Dr. Martin Luther King. It took a great deal of struggle -- and much pain and blood -- some of it shed in states that are the focus of this year's primary election battles.

And it is just as much time for Hillary Clinton to recognize the obvious -- continuation of her own historic effort will only continue to divide the party as it works to overcome the forces that stand in the way of progressive and humanitarian solutions to the nation's and the world's many ills.

Obama captured that reality in his remarks:
"No matter how this primary ends, Senator Clinton has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and yours will come of age."
Clinton has revealed the deep fissures that afflict the Democratic coalition built by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and nurtured by JFK and Ted Kennedy. White working class voters have been used as political pawns by the Republican Party, which has come up with one wedge issue after another to create a culture war to distract voters from their economic interests.

It's long past time for Democrats to unite and show they reflect the needs of average Americans better than the party of George Bush and Newt Gingrich.

Do it for Ted.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

For whom the road tolls

It's no surprise that Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen's proposal to count car volume on the Zakim Bridge and has earned the tsk-tsks of legislators from the north of Boston. Or the cold shoulder from his boss.

It means the time may soon be coming when they pay their "fare" share for the $15 billion in highway improvements they use daily for their commutes into Boston.

And while Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Steve Panagiotakis of Lowell and House Transportation Committee Chair Steve Baddour of Methuen are correct that this is a tough time to be raising commuter costs -- I have one response: Times are tough all over.

A Toll Equity Working Group put together by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has developed a remarkably detailed report, listing 37 issues surrounding turnpike and tunnel tolls. And to no one's surprise, the majority deal with equity issues.

Simply put, commuters from Metrowest, who use the turnpike or its extension, pay the lion's share of the cost of the Big Dig -- even if they don't travel on the new 1-93, use the O'Neill Tunnel or Zakim Bridge.

Commuters from Lowell or Methuen -- and Duxbury and Milton -- are being subsidized by those from Framingham and Natick. And there's only one way to describe that: wrong.

But that's the sad fact of life since the Legislature took the easy way out in the way way out, created the Massachusetts Highway System and dumped all escalating Big Dig costs on western commuters -- except those beyond Exit 6.

And let's not forget Bill Weld's grandstanding move to level the Newton toll booth -- a stunt that probably benefited him more than the commuters who did not use that entry point.

I have no dog in this hunt. I walk, or take the other form of transportation that has been hit with regular cost increases -- the MBTA.

Everyone is being hit with the exorbitant cost of oil and gasoline -- even T riders. But except for Big Dig users, they don't have the latest in technology (Green Line Breda cars, puhleeze!)

And in case no one noticed, the state's roads and bridges are in a mess -- in some measure because of all the money that was poured into the Big Dig. It's going to take BILLIONS to fix those bridges before they crumble.

Cohen and the Turnpike Authority are simply doing something that was never done during the years the state's highway system was being directed by a series of hacks named Kerasiotis and Amorello. It's called contingency planning.

And it's a welcome change in the way of doing business.

So by all means, go look for efficiencies and savings. Eliminate the payroll patriots who have larded the Turnpike Authority's books during 16 years of GOP rule.

But don't make a decision based on the unhappiness of people who will see an end to their gravy train. Who knows, maybe they can even try commuter rail to keep their costs down.

Mike Dukakis took the Green Line. Mitt Romney didn't even know the cost of subway fare. Maybe Deval Patrick should park the Cadillac and set an example by getting a Charlie Card?

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Potholes for the Straight Talk Express

Why did the lobbyist join the campaign?

No it's not another chicken joke, but a good question as yet another aide to John McCain bails out because of his ties to lobbyists.

Lobbyists join campaign so they can be in a position to win friends and influence people. That's their job. Raising large chunks of cash through lobbyists money is all part of the influence peddling process.

It's more than ironic that McCain is staffed up with so many lobbyists in high places considering his entire candidacy is based on the premise that he learned his lessons from his Keating Five days -- when a top Arizona banker bought five congressmen.

It's all the more reason to laugh hysterically when McCain tries to declare that mentioning the Keating Five would be dirty campaigning.

Barack Obama continues to raise campaign cash hand over fist -- despite the dire warnings that the extended campaign has exposed fatal weaknesses. And Obama continues to do it in a way McCain is not -- through small donations from people who never used to give.

That's a fundamental difference that will loom large -- and will prompt McCain to try and fall back on a publicly funded campaign that limits spending. But it will be for strategic reasons, not "straight talk" principle.

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Why a duct?

Glad to see the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has found another way to waste taxpayers' money -- and that they are inefficient when it comes to shaking down contractors.

But don't you find it a tad ironic to hear Big Dig spokesman Mac Daniel say "This was bad planning on the part of the Big Dig's designers and past administrations, and another example of the lack of oversight at the project."

Sounds like it would have been a good story for Noah Bierman's predecessor on the Big Dig beat to chase. You know, Mac Daniel?

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Truth set them free

Admit it. You're not always sure you are a Paul Pierce fan. Just when you get comfortable he does something -- like toss his headband and scowl. Often a loss is close at hand.

But No. 34 -- filling the same small forward position formerly owned by No. 33 -- earned his permanent respect today. Pierce's 41 points in Game 7 against the very good Cleveland Cavaliers evoked two memories from Celtics glory years:

Like Cedric Maxwell in 1984, Pierce told his teammates to climb on his back. And like Larry Legend himself in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals in 1988, he went mano-a-mano with The King -- and won.

Pierce was matched up with King Lebron James throughout the series, resulting in less-than-stellar offense statistics. But with everything on the line today, Pierce turned in what may prove to be his best performance in Green -- and allow the Celtics to move on to Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals.

This season has all been about KG and Ray -- and they certainly deserve an enormous amount of the credit for moving the Celtics from the outhouse to a chance at the penthouse. Pierce is well, Pierce. He's been around for 10 years -- many of them truly atrocious.

But it's no mistake that Pierce remained the captain, even if he he has always lacked the vociferous intensity and vocal leadership of Kevin Garnett. He's been the one to keep the flame alive and his new teammates recognized his importance.

Pierce responded by having a standout season.

But trouble always seems to be around the corner with No. 34 -- from his stabbing to his occasional fits of pique that made him appear childish. Often times, he and former partner on crime Antoine Walker made you want to cringe. And his scowl is intense.

This playoff season has been perplexing. The road losses in Cleveland, standing on their own, can be explained. Piled on top of three inexplicable losses in Atlanta, it's a lot harder.

But today, The Truth set himself and his teammates free with a tremendous win.

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Buddy, can you spare some compassion?

I guess it all comes down to the how you define "compassionate."

"Compassionate conservatives" have left me scratching my head these days, starting with Mike Huckabee's incredibly unfunny crack about Barack Obama and a loud noise at the NRA convention to the stream of vitriol greeting word of Ted Kennedy's seizure.

I'm not saying lefties are not above an occasional off-color or totally inappropriate remark about a political opposite. But frankly, when I look at the sad state of American society today, I see the price we have paid for the bile of the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters who gracelessly make millions exploiting the foibles of their foes.

When they aren't questioning their patriotism or humanity. And honestly, do they have really counterparts on the left?

And it has exploded all over again on the Internet, where people don't think twice about making vile comments urging Kennedy's death. Maybe it's the anonymity, the chance to bare your deepest, innermost prejudices without having to face the consequence.

I chose anonymity in my posts for professional reasons. But, given my training as a journalist who would not allow anonymity for derogatory comments, I try to keep my criticisms to facts backed up by links proving my argument.

And I like to think I keep away from personal insult, although some of my comments about George Bush and Dick Cheney may come close to the line. But then again, they don't exactly have pristine records on that score either.

I cringe at the comments likely to be generated in a general election campaign that will feature an African-American and a 71-year-old white male (or, to be a fair, a 60-year-old white woman.) Of course, most of the trash will be hurled at the black man, not the aging one.

We've been fighting the culture wars in this country for far too long. Isn't it time for a cease fire and show me have some culture -- and compassion?

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What he said

As a Cleveland Browns fan, I'll let Bob Ryan's words speak for themselves.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Vital(e) statistics

Richard Vitale has filed paperwork saying he isn't a lobbyist and hasn't take any money to get the Massachusetts House to change the way tickets can be re-sold in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers says it paid Vitale $60,000 in 2007 -- and will file a 2008 spending report later this year.

It appears someone has some 'splainin' to do. And it better a whole lot more convincing than George Regan's insistence that Vitale was a "strategist" and:
“No apportionment has been made to determine what amount, if any, is attributable to any lobbying, or if such lobbying activities were in fact performed.”
Vitale's filing with the Secretary of State's office did not include a list of clients but he has said he was paid to plot strategy help win passage in the House of a bill that would essentially deregulate their industry.

Secretary of State William Galvin has already declared that the law sees no distinction between providing strategy and lobbying. Sounds like lobbying to me too.

This is only getting worse for Vitale and his friend, House Speaker Sal DiMasi. The Charlestown accountant has already been shown the door by the firm he helped to found -- Regan's insistence on a "long-planned retirement notwithstanding. DiMasi is now getting drawn deeper into a vortex that, this time, appears not to be of his own making.

It would seem the wisest course of action would be for Vitale to file an amended lobbying report -- and pronto. List all clients and payments and let's not split hairs over strategy, counsel and lobbying.

If this lingers until the deadline for the 2008 reports, the damage to Vitale's friend DiMasi will be irreparable. And we know the vultures are already circling over him too.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Let the smears begin

George Bush, the man who brought you weapons of mass destruction and Abu Ghraib, is looking to impart his wisdom upon the American people. Fool me three times, shame on everyone.

The man who is singlehandedly responsible for the deplorable status of the United States around the world, chose to inject himself into the 2008 presidential contest by offering his "words of wisdom" from the dais of the Israel Knesset (whatever happened to the man who only wanted to sleep in his own bed? I guess you go searching for love.)

“Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have an obligation to call this what it is: the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”
Yes indeed, who do have an obligation to call his speech for what it is: the launching of the Politics of Fear and Smear, using harsh words and overblown rhetoric in an attempt to scare the American public into voting the Republican.

And to make sure no one missed his point, he added:
"We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
Bush mouthpiece Dana Perino disingenuously denied the Slanderer-in-Chief was referring to anyone in particular:
“I understand when you’re running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you — that is not always true and it is not true in this case."
However when you match the Bush smear against the tactics of John McCain and the Republican Party -- everything from the invocation of Barack Obama's middle name to McCain's attempt to say Obama has Hamas' endorsement -- the pattern of the emerging smear becomes vividly clear.

With polls showing a small but virulent subset of the Democratic-leaning voters displaying racist tendencies, let's throw in a little xenophobia and outright distortion too. Straight from the GOP Swift Boat playbook.

One problem though: St. John McCain falls into the appeaser category too. In an interview on British Sky News a few years ago, here's what McCain had to say about talking to Hamas, which had just won the Palestinian elections:

"They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it's a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that."

In other words, McCain is an appeaser who wants to talk to terrorists -- even those who "endorse" Obama.

The real lesson to be learned from Bush's performance is the fact he has no shame. Launching a partisan political attack on the dais of a foreign government's Parliament -- far away from people he is attacking -- is the ultimate in cowardice.

Bush has deluded himself and, for a time, a majority of the American people, to think he knew what he was doing. He took a just cause -- fighting those who attacked us on 9-11 by pursuing them to Afghanistan -- and turned it into a misguided misadventure to topple an unrelated tyrant.

He did that without a plan for peace for the nation we have helped to descend into a religious civil war. He squandered precious lives and untold billions in his foolish pursuit, besmirching our reputation in a tangle of torture, illegal domestic spying and partisanship that clearly doesn't end at the oceans edge in what used to be an American tradition.

It is his refusal to speak -- and more importantly to listen -- to those who may have a different idea that has gotten us into this mess. His credibility is in tatters, with only 28 percent of the public supporting his misbegotten policies.

It's equally important to note that Mr. Straight Talk failed to address the smear head on:
“I think that Barack Obama needs to explain why he wants to sit down and talk with a man who is the head of a government that is a state sponsor of terrorism, that is responsible for the killing of brave young Americans, that wants to wipe Israel off the map, who denies the Holocaust. That’s what I think Senator Obama ought to explain to the American people.”
Perhaps you can start by explaining why you think that "new reality" in the Middle East has morphed back into the same old you know what in just a few short years.

The 2008 general election campaign has just gotten off to an appalling start. Divide and conquer. Fear and smear. The hallmark of the Bush-McCain Republican Party.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

The House of Cards

Boy, it was sure good timing on Sal DiMasi's part to repay the loan he got from long-time friend and accountant Richard Vitale.

Vitale could probably use the $178,000 leftover balance now that he has "retired" from the accounting firm he helped to found 30 years ago.
“This has been in the works since last July. It was a perfect storm,” Vitale spokesman George Regan said. “He cashed out and a new partner was named to take over his accounts. That was his intention, to retire all along.”
Why don't I believe Regan that this action, days after Vitale belatedly registered as a lobbyist -- and just one day after Ace Ticket did what he did not and acknowledged they were his client -- was in the works for a long time?

Is it because the IRS paperwork for the golf tournament that Vitale runs in his brother's name and hosted by DiMasi is still not up-to-date? Aren't accountants and the IRS supposed to work hand-in-hand?

I guess that all amiable, "phased-in" retirements include the abrupt decision to take the founder's picture and profile off the the company web site.

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That helpful GOP

Massachusetts Senate Republicans are graciously lending Deval Patrick a hand with the state's impending fiscal problems by promising to offer an amendment to that chamber's fiscal 2009 budget that would enable casino gambling.
"We want to fortify the governor's efforts going forward if he intends to refile the bill in the new year," said Senator Michael Knapik, Republican of Westfield. "Plus, we need the money."
Here's a sure thing: ain't going to make it.

While senators of both political persuasions may be annoyed they never got a chance to weigh in on the initial casino bill, I'd like the chances of the amendments success more seriously if the author was someone like Quincy Democrat Michael Morrissey.

It's a safe bet this little piece of mischief won't even make it conference. The House may currently be in chaos with House Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo more interested in counting votes than dollars, but a gambling proposal would make the Finneran-Birmingham balacony budget meetings look quaint.

Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Terry Murray would be wearing long coats and snowshoes if they repeated that saga.

For anyone interested in the details of the Senate plan, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (PDF) runs rings around the daily newspapers for details.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Et tu Johnnie?

So much for Hillary Clinton savoring her West Virginia trashing of Barack Obama. The Illinois senator may have gotten the ultimate white man endorsement.

John Edwards has held his counsel for quite awhile, looking to play kingmaker. It's highly doubtful he wants to play second banana on another national ticket.

But by jumping on the Obama bandwagon they day after Clinton's West Virginia landslide, he has helped change the tone once again. You know Clinton was courting Edwards just as hard. His decision to move today is a loud signal to Clinton that it's time to roll up her tent and help unify Democrats.

(Washington Post photo)

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So predictable

The radio clicks on at 6 a.m. with the news of a Green Line derailment. I didn't really need to do more than mutter "Breda" and give thanks the day was nice so I wouldn't need to ride the Green Line Cattle Car, er, bus shuttle.

And I can save the MBTA a lot of time and money. The derailment at the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Chestnut Hill Avenue early this morning was caused by the last train of the night whipping through the turn at something approaching warp speed so the operator could get to Boston College and go home.

That a Breda car would jump the rails is hardly news -- even thought it has been awhile since it happened. The damn things are lemons as Smilin' Dan Grabauskas acknowledged in one of his few good moves when he cancelled the contract. Until he reversed himself and started buying them again.

Then there is the fact that operators are either oblivious to the whiplash potential in the rear when they speed up as the front end of the train whips through curves at Brighton Avenue and Chestnut Hill Avenue.

Or they just enjoy tossing people on their keisters.

But this derailment is especially troubling. How could the car become so unstable as to hit a power pole? And what kind of safeguards are (or are not) in place to prevent it from going up in flames.

The T is extremely lucky there were only 30 people at 1:30 a.m. Imagine what would have happened at 1:30 p.m. Or 5:30 p.m.

(Boston Globe photo)

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That elephant is still in the room

A few months back, I wrote about the Republican Party's use of race as a wedge issue in presidential elections, a trend that had been foreseen by Lyndon Johnson after signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

A conservative Republican from Arizona was running for president that year and lost, badly. But he became the first Republican to win the South, a fact that laid the foundations of a "Southern Strategy" that came of age in brutal fashion under Richard Nixon.

At its core, the strategy was to use race as the ultimate wedge in American society -- part of the shameful legacy of Nixon and the party that has strayed a long, long way since its birth as the party of Abraham Lincoln.

With the first African-American man poised to capture the nomination of a major political party, it's rearing its ugly head again -- exploited by the likely Democratic also-ran who said what every so-called expert has been thinking:
"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," [Sen. Hillary Clinton] she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."
Certainly race has been key factor in coverage of the outbursts of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The hateful sayings of white conservative religious "leaders" such as John Hagee -- not to mention the smarmy quotes over the years by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson -- have been dismissed far more easily than Wright's over-the-top rants.

Race is also still clearly on the minds of Southern state voters who participated in Clinton's late-season shellacking of Obama in West Virginia.
The number of white Democratic voters who said race had influenced their choices on Tuesday was among the highest recorded in voter surveys in the nomination fight. Two in 10 white West Virginia voters said race was an important factor in their votes. More than 8 in 10 who said it factored in their votes backed Mrs. Clinton, according to exit polls.
But is it really that simple?

On the same night in a congressional district in Mississippi, a battleground state in the nation's race war, a Democrat, albeit a conservative one, won a traditionally Republican congressional seat -- even when the GOP tried to hang Barack Obama around his neck like an anchor.

That followed by 10 days a similar party shift in Louisiana. And in a campaign without racial overtones, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert's seat went Democratic earlier this spring.

So what's the stronger feeling in this nation -- anti-black or anti-Republican?

There's obviously been a deep-seated duality in a nation that declared that all men are created equal while prohibiting women from the vote and allowing blacks to be owned as human chattel. We have slowly but surely overcome most of those dark angels.

But this Democratic primary, pitting an African-American man against a woman, has really brought home all the contradictions. Two important parts of the Democratic coalition are battling each other over who is more aggrieved.

In short, it should be Karl Rove's dream. The man who perfected the Nixon Southern Strategy -- and who now takes the airwaves as a conservative pundit -- must be feeling pretty chipper. Right?

Not so fast. Call me naive, but I believe when the Democratic family argument ends (mercifully) in the next few weeks, it will not be something the GOP savors.

Despite all the current divisions between black and white, men and women there remains a deeper chasm -- created by Turd Blossom in the name of his ex-boss Boy Blunder -- the divide over everything else in this nation. That fact will unite feuding Democrats.

It's hard to ignore the fact that four-fifths of the American people feel this country is heading in the wrong direction. But this is not 1988, when a campaign based on flag (or flag pins) and race and the use of liberal as an epithet worked because our country had a popular retiring president and relative prosperity.

That year we had a Bush seeking a third term for a popular Republican president named Reagan. This time around we have an Arizona senator seeking the third term of a different Bush, one destined to go down as the most unpopular president in history.

We have a war without end, crippling gasoline prices and an economy in trouble with the Republican candidate on the wrong side of those issues.

West Virginia is typical of many of the state's facing these problems -- but they really didn't have a chance to vote the issues here. Except for the gasoline tax, there's no real substantive difference between Clinton and Obama.

So West Virginia voters had some fun at Democrats' expense. Call it the traditional buyer's remorse stage of the campaign.

Mississippi and Louisiana are the real bellwethers of the Southern Strategy of 2008.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mr. Speaker speaks

House Speaker Sal DiMasi has broken his silence about allegations swirling around him, his friends and his would-be successors. There's little doubt that he is outraged over the litany of problems that has led to his doorstep.
"Like any of us, I do not control the conduct or actions of others," wrote DiMasi, without mentioning names or specific instances. "As elected officials, we in the Legislature are all subject to the unfortunate inclination of others to use our name without our knowledge or authorization."
But outrage only works when you are a blogger who can sit back and cast judgment on the actions of others. You need specifics when you are an elected official under fire for actions that look shaky to outside observers.

DiMasi probably opted not to address specifics under advice of counsel. Good legal strategy but it does have holes as a PR move to quell questions. We look to the efforts of Geraldine Ferraro and John McCain to take questions from reporters publicly until they ran out of things to ask as an example of how to do it right. Call it the Tylenol strategy.

Instead, DiMasi sought to bring reporters in one by one, into his impressive office. Rather than a take-all-comers, no holds barred session (that no doubt would have been broadcast live somewhere), DiMasi opted for what he knows and does best -- bringing someone onto his own turf to use his considerable charm and powers of persuasion on them.

Of course, neither Ferraro nor McCain had four separate legal cases going against them. While DiMasi may feel snappish about the complaints brought by the Massachusetts Republican Party, there are real facts that can be found by the state Ethics Commission.

That body doesn't have overwhelming enforcement and punishment mechanisms. But they can most certainly make his political life miserable if they find in favor of even one complaint.

He also issued a two-page letter to his members that is long on assertions and short on specifics.

"I have made my decisions based solely on the best interests of my constituents and the people of the Commonwealth," he wrote. "I have never, ever conducted myself in a way that would favor the interests of any individual.

"All my personal relationships and financial transactions have been at arm's length from any state business, have been fully disclosed to the public, and have never influenced my decisions on any legislative matter," he said. "I am outraged that my reputation, my integrity, and my good name have been called into question."

DiMasi has clearly been damaged by these episodes -- which are far more grievous than Deval Patrick's failure to take into account how his decision on office decor, official transportation and personal time activities will look to the public.

Yes, there were public dollars involved in at least two of Patrick's poor decisions. And there was the very shaky Ameriquest call. But none of them rise to the level of potential conflict as conducting public business with friends.

If DiMasi was aware of those actions, he will pay a significant price. If, as he insists, he was unaware of the various matters involving Richard Vitale, Jay and Christy Scott Cashman, he at least needs to find friends who won't stab him in the back.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

CHB fact checking

I normally don't bother with Dan Shaughnessy. In fact it took me years to figure out what CHB stands for. I saw his contrarian streak a long time ago.

But as a native Clevelander (and a loyal, non-band wagon Celtics fan) I was drawn to his stuff recently -- especially Sunday's non-slap at the erstwhile Mistake on the Lake.

So I started out on today's column, and made it no farther the fifth paragraph:

The Celtics will be transported to the arena on a Duck Boat. The tour guide will tell them that Lake Erie is the Charles River. They'll be told Cleveland's historic Key Tower is actually the Custom House Tower. Jacobs Field? That's Fenway Park. Janet Marie Smith has really made the place over, no?

Historic Key Tower? Now I've been away a long time, so if it was built after I left, it ain't historic. Does that look historic to you? Does it look like the Custom House? Competed in 1991? He no doubt was thinking about historic Terminal Tower, built in the 1930s. That looks like the Custom House Tower.

OK, so he's not a history buff. But Jacobs Field? That's so 2007. Granted the home of the Indians was named after former owner Richard Jacobs when CHB last set foot in Cleveland last fall.

But now it's Progressive Field, named after the city's big insurance company. Personally I liked The Jake better, but money talks and well, Shaughnessy provides the rest.

The Prog (ugh!) is right next door to the Quicken Loans Arena. You know the place where Game Three was played. You might have seen it when you walked in the door on Saturday?

As for the rest of the piece -- well I do like the idea of the Celtics trying to create the comforts of home on the road. It's hard to understand why the best road team in the regular season has turned into this group of stumblebums. Anything to restore a sense of normalcy.

Go Celts!

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Not your grandfather's tax cut

I don't know about Barbara Anderson, but repealing the Massachusetts income tax would mean real money in my pocket. A lot more than the 18 bucks she envisions getting. And a lot more than the 30 bucks that most folks would see from Hillary's gas tax holiday.

And when you look at the people circulating and signing the petitions, you can't help but notice they are normal moms and dads -- no extra heads or limbs -- who are struggling to make ends as the economy goes south.

Anderson's comments about the impact of the proposed initiative to eliminate the Massachusetts income tax seem oddly out of sync for our state's most famous tax fighter. Because the proposal put forward by Carla Howell, the Libertarian candidate for governor in 2002, dwarfs anything she has done, cutting state revenues by something in the $12 billion range -- from a total state budget in the $28 billion range.

How would the state cut $12 billion? That's three times the sum the state sends cities and towns for public schools. Laying off every state employee would only save about $5 billion, said Cam Huff, a private policy consultant who studies the state budget.

Hardly chump change.

What do you realistically think will happen? Are schools going to close? Will police and firefighting services end? Will trash no longer be picked up or streets no longer plowed in winter?

Of course not. People have become far too accustomed to the no tax and spend snake oil offered by "supply side" advocates for the last 30 years. I always come back to what may be an apocryphal story where someone got up on a TV talk show and lamented "why do the taxpayers have to pay for it. Why can't government pay for it?"

So how does "government" pay for it?

The property tax is not the answer -- it's capped at 2.5 percent annual increases.

Sales tax? Not unless you are looking at double digits, a sure way to end the business we get from Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York, where sales taxes are higher.

Hike the corporate tax rate? Not a chance. They are already lamenting they are overtaxed and do you seriously think corporations would stick around in a state without quality schools or services? What do you think this is -- Mississippi?

Higher taxes on beer, booze and butts and tolls? What do you think this is -- New Hampshire?

Nope we would be looking at a serious new way of life. The assessments you pay in some communities for trash collection would be expanded to includes police, fire and schools. User fees, if you will. Add the plowing fee in winter. The leaf cleanup assessment in the fall.

Parks -- a luxury. Plow 'em under and build houses and stores that will add to the meager property tax and sales tax base.

Public transportation? You must be kidding. More cars means more gas tax collections. And we can add a pollution control assessment to the cost of the driver's license and tags. Not that it would control pollution. But look at the bright side -- traffic would ease off as people move out.

Petition backers will scream that this is all fearmongering, that the world did not end when Proposition 2 1/2 passed despite similar dire threats.

But the cuts then were quieter -- people laid off. We are talking about either wholesale elimination of services or the imposition of "user fees" that would make the current assessments for things from trash pickup to school sports seem like vending machine coinage.

And this is serious. The proposal received support from 45 percent of the voters the last time it was on the ballot. People are worried about their jobs and their homes in an economy where foreclosures are growing as fast as war spending. You can't do anything about the ineptitude and inaction at the federal level, so you lash out where you can.

Plus many voters like Anderson are annoyed because they haven't received the money they were due from the income tax rollback pushed by Canadian Ambassador A. Paul Cellucci in 2000.

A tanking economy prompted legislators to suspend the rollback in 2002, although there are signs revenues has returned to healthy enough levels that another reduction -- from 5.3 percent to 5.25 percent -- could kick in this year.

A word of advice to Deval Patrick and legislative leaders: let this reduction go through, no matter how tight the fiscal 2009 budget may look.

That is of course if the House can focus on anything other than speaker succession planning. Or the governor can take a few evenings off from writing his book.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fighting the last war

While we can argue endlessly about liberal versus conservative journalists and media bias, I am willing to give one point in that debate: journalists (pundits in particular) and Democrats tend to fight the last war.

Case in point: Joan Vennochi's lament that Barack Obama is a politician (horrors!) who, now having been exposed by his former pastor will dissolve into a Dukakis-Kerry-like puddle of Jello when faced with the McCain Machine.

Vennochi takes umbrage with Obama's shift in positions in an number of areas, starting with Wright, and reacts with dismay that he actually worked to pass legislation that could benefits all parties in the debate.

But the "Washington Problem" is not that the players are politicians. It is that they have put party above country and refused to seek common ground. The pointy-headed Washington bureaucrat argument is so 1968.

The Globe's Mother Ship offers three very good examples that they have started to recognize there is a new war that needs to be confronted -- while also demonstrating that this time around it's the GOP that may opt to fight the last one, simple because they have no weapons left in their arsenal except for fear and smear.

For starters, yes Obama is a politician! But he is a pragmatic one, someone who will try to get to yes and not a George "Hold My Breath Until I Turn Blue" Bush type who thinks principles (he truly believes in torture) are more important than accomplishments.

As a result of The Theocracy Wars of the last 20-plus years this country facing $126 a barrel oil, a faltering economy and overwhelmingly unpopular war that is squandering our human and financial resources.

That's why people are registering in record numbers to vote in Democratic primaries (the small number of Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" bloviating bitter-enders notwithstanding.) There's far more at stake here than Jeremiah Wright's Rants.

The Punditocracy has gotten it wrong at virtually every step along the way, so it should come as no surprise that it could be heading down that road again -- as Mark Leibovich crisply spells out. The at-times infuriating tactics of Hillary Clinton have served as a dress rehearsal for the "Swift Boat Times Five" campaign being planned by McCain.

As GOP lobbyist Ed Rogers said to Leibovich about the Clinton effort:
“Yeh, like we couldn’t have thought of that.”
Last but not least is the basic observation, as spelled out by Frank Rich, that it simply is not 2004 or 1988 any more. Mike Dukakis and John Kerry are not walking through that door. A politician trained in the rough and tumble of Chicago is, a man who has tasted defeat sown from too-early ambition.

So sorry Joan, the change Obama is speaking about is coming, led by Americans tired of the fiascoes of the last 20 years of hyper-partisan battles involving Clintons and Bushes. He's been smart enough to tap into it.

Don't be bitter.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Friday news dump

There's a theory in public relations that the best way to minimize coverage of bad news is to dump it late on a Friday afternoon. Fewer reporters may be paying attention and smaller, less well-read Saturday papers make it less likely that people will notice.

The most glaring example I was involved with came in 1986, when Republican gubernatorial candidate Royall Switzler decided to take a sleepy Friday afternoon in June to call a news conference and tell the world he had kited his resume, claiming he was a captain in the Green Berets. Memory fails on some of the details, except that I was pretty close to alone in that large Parker House room.

Nevertheless, with a couple of weeks, Switzler was out of the race. The Friday afternoon news dump couldn't have his fatally flawed candidacy.

Which brings us to yesterday's double-barreled news dump: the announcement that Richard Vitale has registered as a lobbyist at about the same time as his financial planning client Sal DiMasi paid off a $250,000 third mortgage line of credit tendered by Vitale.

The timing of course was crucial: politicians can't accept anything of value from lobbyists. Even close personal friends who offer "strategic advice" to groups with business before the Legislature.

While the facts speak for themselves, there are a couple of points worth noting:
  • Vitale now employs the services of both George Regan and Richard Egbert, Regan handles clients such as former Providence Mayor and convicted felon Buddy Cianci. Egbert also represented Cianci and DiMasi's predecessor, Tom Finneran;
  • Secretary of State Bill Galvin, whose job includes overseeing lobbying activities, doesn't seem terribly impressed by the defense mounted to date by Messrs. Regan and Egbert;
  • Vitale's connection to some of the other DiMasi troubles -- notably as the brother of the slain police officer in whose memory a golf tournament is held and which has as a prime sponsor a company promoted by Vitale and which received a questionable state contract -- are not easily explained (as this sentence proves!)
I have a running debate with a colleague about the effectiveness of the Friday news dump. She thinks people do notice. She wins this round hands down.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Sympathy for the devil

Want to know why the Massachusetts Republican Party is starting to resemble a dinosaur? How about legislation aimed at helping to sell more cigarettes?

A Republican-sponsored amendment stuck inside the Massachusetts Senate's corporate tax reform law would eliminate a minimum pricing law tacked on in 1945. Opponents say it would negate the cost of the $1 per pack planned cigarette tax increase and keep prices on a par with butts sold in New Hampshire.

Helping the convenience stores along the border? That's their story and they're sticking to it.

The Herald explains:

The pricing law now dictates that a pack of Marlboros, for example, cannot be sold in the Bay State for less than $4.97 - or a store owner faces a $500 fine. If minimum pricing is flicked away, prices could mirror New Hampshire, where the same pack sells for about $3.75, and no rules or fines apply.

Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei says his idea is simply to "end corporate welfare" by repealing an archaic rule that helped tobacco companies. He doesn't think it will do much of anything because said federal anti-trust and predatory pricing laws prevent retailers from selling cigarettes below cost.

Not so, says Kevin O’Flaherty, director of advocacy for the Northeast Region’s Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, who says young potential smokers are the ones most sensitive to pricing.
“(The) amendment actually benefits the tobacco companies - not public health.”
So, does the GOP strategy to attract new voters include luring young voters by making smoking more attractive? It would certainly compensate for the loss the party has seen from supporters dying from lung cancer.

We know where this idea should go during conference. But if you stuff paper down those skinny smoking troughs will it fit -- and will it catch fire when the ashes hit?

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Strange day in Packard's Corner

Everything seemed pretty normal on Comm. Ave. tonight as a strolled up to a sub shop to grab a sandwich while Mrs. OL was working late. The only thing that seemed unusual was the street cleaner making endless passes on a street that is usually neglected.

That and the six TV satellite trucks parked on the median to the service road and across the way in front of Comm. Ave Associates. At least there wasn't an SUV still in the window.

It appears Timothy Newton is about to become a three-time loser. The 38-year-old trick driver is a good bet to lose his job -- and his license -- for playing bumper cars in Packard's Corner this morning. Fortunately, I missed most of it -- even if I was getting on a Green Line train in Packard's Corner around 7:15.

We made it all the way to Babcock Street, one stop, when, in typical T fashion, the operator says simply, "this train will be standing by. Take the 57 bus across the street." He mumbled something about an accident.

With the kind of focus you get when you are trying to make a tight deadline and the T breaks down, I didn't notice a thing as I started walking down Comm. Ave. Imagine my surprise when I came home tonight and saw a piece of the fence missing. I know I couldn't miss a pickup truck on the tracks.

Anyway, I kept walking while turning to look for a bus. I saw a lot of black smoke -- must be at Harvard and Brighton Ave. or Union Square, I thought. Besides, I now saw a trio of buses approaching. All of them full to the gills. None of them stopping.

Head down, marching ahead, trying to get to work on time. What was the noise? Oh well, keep on movin'.

A quick call to Mrs. OL informs me about the havoc Mr. Newton is alleged to have caused. I'm in a state of disbelief. I'm a former reporter, trained to be observant. I sure as heck noticed the fire engines and ambulances screaming up the street -- even noting two fire vehicles cam from as far away as Ruggles and Huntington.

About the only thing I can assume is I wasn't telling time too well -- annoyed at being tossed off the Green Line without an adequate explanation, seeing full buses pass by and certain I would need to dodge raindrops all the way to the office.

Catching up on the coverage at work, a few other thoughts hit. Covering news is a lot like making laws and sausages. It ain't pretty. Traffic helicopters where the pilot/reporters don't know the street names, saying the mess was at Comm. Ave. and Harvard Ave. Obviously that guy never went to BU.

Those kinds of running mistakes -- natural on breaking news -- used to be hidden from the public. Now all your mistakes are there for everyone to see and judge. Most won't care, but it still doesn't look good.

By tonight, there was nothing to see -- except for the satellite trucks. I always knew that intersection was a disaster waiting to happen, a dangerous mix of cars and trolleys and drivers who pay no attention to lights and traffic laws.

I always thought a car would drive up onto the trolley right of way and smash into a train or into people. The traffic light at the stop is long gone. Traffic Department must have gotten tired constantly replacing it after it got regularly knocked over. Let's try again, shall we?

A few key questions too: how in the heck could Newton play bumper cars for two blocks? How in the heck could he get a job driving a truck with hazardous materials? How could I have been so lucky to miss it, by a whisker.

Strange day indeed. Happy to be inside and away from the insanity.

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Give it up!

Just when you think Deval Patrick may have turned a corner and figured out how not to run his administration into the ground, he comes up with a doozy.

Patrick told the Brookline Chamber of Commerce that ideas killed in one legislative session can often resurface in another -- pointing to casino gambling as an example.

That is true. But a word to the wise, don't be the source of the legislation.

The depth of opposition to the idea goes beyond the arms that may or may not have been twisted by Speaker Sal DiMasi. Whether DiMasi is around next session or not, there remains a deep reservoir of hostility to the idea on Beacon Hill among people who aren't going anywhere.

And if you do insist on bringing the proposal back next year, it's imperative you do a much better job of public education -- and support-building.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Taxing my patience

I don't get it.

Voters in one town vote a $6.2 million tax increase and the Globe gives it a full story. The Massachusetts Senate follows the House's lead and passes a nearly $500 million plan raising cigarette taxes and closing corporate tax loopholes and it gets buried at the bottom of a briefs package.

One tax increase affecting one town is more significant?

Editors would probably argue that this is something voters did and it's final -- the House and Senate still have to work out their differences. We'll run it when it really over.

Maybe, but that works only if the Boston papers have been providing detailed coverage -- either in print or on the web -- about the nitty-gritty stuff on Beacon Hill. Have I missed that?

I've enjoyed the travails of Sal and Deval as much as the next guy (although I think the Truth Squad has better things to do than check on the veracity of a 12-year-old campaign contribution Deval may or may not have written to Barack Obama).

But the Paper of Record virtually ignored the House's approval of a $28 billion spending plan while focusing on Sal's questionable legislative decisions and the words of his supporters.

Yes, the budget was crafted largely behind closed doors and out of view of reporters -- and the public. All the more reason for a story, maybe even putting it in the context of doing the people's business while focusing more heavily on internal battles.

Once again, the editors would probably respond that they'll cover the budget when Patrick signs it.

By then it will be too late to know the details -- good and bad -- of what's in the budget or the tax package.

There's something seriously wrong when Metro is outreported by the editorial page.

UPDATE: It's even more appalling when the paper of record is outdone by the Statehouse News Service, which discovers a late-night $189 million raid on the rainy day fund (subscription required) approved about the same time as the Jennifer Callahan controversy is heating up.

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Deja vu all over again

These Tuesdays are starting to get boring.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are offering up the National Democratic Beat Your Brains Out Tour, careening from state to state, trading charges and jabs and victories. Not a pretty sight.

Obama should have quelled a lot of his recent, new found critics with a resounding 56-42 victory over Clinton in North Carolina, while holding her to 51-49 in Indiana. Time and delegates are getting short and the Obama performances should put to rest concerns about his electability after the Jeremiah Wright debacle.

And simply put, Hillary lost her own spin expectations game -- badly:
Although she managed to squeeze out a victory in Indiana, the night produced a far different outcome than the Clinton campaign had hoped for. In the closing hours of the campaigns in the two states, her advisers expressed confidence that she was gaining ground on Obama in North Carolina rapidly enough to hold his anticipated victory margin to single digits. They also thought she was positioned for a solid victory in Indiana.
It's time for the Democratic Party's grown-ups to step in.

Clinton has ever right to battle on. But it is becoming increasingly clear she can't prevail without tearing down Obama and taking the party with it.

Her focus is on Florida and Michigan -- two states that broke Democratic Party rules and voted earlier than the party requested. Might seem unfair to penalize folks, but the parties make their own rules and the courts have been loath to touch them.

Obama played by the rules. He avoided campaigning in both states. And in Michigan, his name didn't even appear on the ballot.

It's that last point that is the most important. How can it be a fair fight if the contestants didn't play by the same rules? Clinton argues voters in those states were disenfranchised. Maybe. But the real injustice is Obama supporters weren't even given a chance to play the game because their guy agreed to the spirit and letter of the rules.

The party's delegate apportionment system is a wonk's dream and has become a nightmare. But even under these circumstances, it works. Obama has built a slim but solid and seemingly insurmountable lead by playing within the rules.

It's time for the superdelegates to declare victory and go home. Let Obama get started on dealing with the GOP Fear and Smear Machine. More states than ever before have had a chance to weigh in this year. You won't be disenfranchising them any more than the folks in Florida and Michigan -- especially Obama backers.

And you won't be giving John McCain a head start -- and ammunition.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The heat is on

Soaring gasoline prices are giving Smilin' Dan Grabauskas a chance of a lifetime. Let's hope he's up to the task.

It's now official: MBTA ridership is up 6.2 percent since the first of the year. Soaring fuel prices and scarce and expensive parking have combined to push people on buses and subways like never before.

Well, some buses. Yes, the T has an obligation to serve communities that otherwise might be isolated. And they actually appear to be trying to keep better track of where buses actually are.

But here's a quick suggestion: put them where people are. Buses that carry an average of seven passengers or less per ride don't need to run as frequently as the sardine cans that actually handle paying customers.

Fair warning to folks in Medford and Somerville: be careful what you wish for.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Listen to the people

Let's start with a basic fact: the pundits have been wrong on virtually everything this campaign season. Otherwise we would be looking at a Fred Thompson-Hillary Clinton showdown in November.

There is no question that the furor over Jeremiah Wright has slowed Barack Obama's march to the Democratic nomination. And there's also no question that a certain percentage of the American population would never vote for him -- or Clinton -- based in their race or gender.

But the latest CBS News-New York Times poll suggest the American public has a better handle on the importance of this election than the bloviating heads that fill our television screens.

Let's repeat: Milk and gasoline are both in the $4 a gallon range. The economy, try as George Bush might to downplay it is, as his father would say, in deep doo-doo. People are losing their jobs and their homes.

Soldiers are still dying in Iraq and W and Darth Cheney are still making noise about starting another war with Iran before they head out of town. If they leave. We continue to squander human and financial resources in the Middle East for a cause that few, save John McCain and Joe Lieberman believe in.

Young voters are registering by the thousands in state after state -- and they are signing up as Democrats.

Yes, this is a party that has an amazing ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And Clinton's focus on softening up Obama has left a bad taste in many people's mouths.

But whether it is Clinton or Obama, one thing is clear. The American public has a clear focus -- 81 percent say the country is on the wrong track. Barack Obama is not Michael Dukakis or John Kerry, ready to be Swift boated over a flag pin. Jeremiah Wright and John Hagee are two sides of the same coin about the improper intrusion of religious zealotry.

So chill out Tim, George, Keith and Sean and listen to the people and not yourselves. For a change.

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The Cleveland Indians hat goes away for the next two weeks.

No Cleveland sport paraphernalia until the Celtics and the Cavaliers finish their business. Don't want anyone to mistake where the loyalties are here.

The Green survived a series that should never have been as tough as it turned out to be. Call it a character builder. Or a playoff challenge for a team that doesn't have a whole lot of playoff experience as a unit. Or a team that didn't face a lot of challenges all year.

It remains mystifying how the Celtics could utterly dominate at home -- and produce their worst road performance and defensive effort of the year -- in the span of seven games.

No matter. Call it a win and on to Cleveland.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Transfering the blame

If only Smilin' Dan Grabauskas was as good at running the MBTA as coming up with excuses as why the system is a mess.

That's the major conclusion I draw from the MBTA general manager's recent emergence from his underground bunker to deal with the local media. The most recent -- and best -- examination of the state of public transportation can be found in this week's Phoenix.

In a series of stories that range from subway art and Green Line Gropers to dealing with leaky tunnels and hungry unions, the most intriguing piece is Adam Reilly's suggestion that Smilin' Dan is probably best positioned to fix problems not of his own making.

(A side comment: I prepared for this item by spending yesterday getting squeezed by too few toll collection machines at Copley while marveling at the small army of machines at Porter and Davis; walking needlessly out of my way because no one bothered to post a sign in Harvard Station that the 66 bus stop had been moved; and generally figuring out work-arounds to get home while not getting crushed by inadequate service in Red Sox Green Line traffic -- one of the few sure-fire revenue generators the T has.)

I've amply chronicled the failings of our public transit system -- where construction and bus and trolley schedules both fall behind with frightening regularity. Yet I never cease to be amazed at how the general manager stays in place. Lack of responsibility goes straight to the top, I guess.

Reilly is correct in noting some of the T's problems are not of Grabauskas' making: the debt dumped on the system by the Legislature without, as it turns out, adequate resources to deal with it, is the most glaring example. And the system did not degenerate to one of poor equipment and surly employees only on his watch.

But unlike Reilly, I am unwilling to give Grabauskas a pass on an overpriced toll collection system that acts as a choke point whether in stations or on cars and trolleys. Nor am I willing to say "huzzah" because he copped to what everyone knows -- that the system would regularly skip runs to achieve the appearance of "operating on or near schedule."

The inability to produce a new Kenmore Station in a reasonable period of time -- while embarking on massive, albeit ADA-required overhauls of Copley and Arlington -- is also on his head. (And who is the joker who included swimming to the list banned activities in the Kenmore busway?)

I strain to find the roving "service ambassadors" promised when the fare system freed toll collectors from their booths. Mostly I see them inside their new Charlie-covered shelters.

Reilly is the first to make clear why Grabauskas hangs on -- two years left on a contract. And implicit in his persistence is the suggestion that no one else can handle the tough job.

Is that why Massachusetts used to export people to handle far tougher urban transit systems?

It's possible that Deval Patrick and Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen have bigger transportation headaches -- like the Big Dig and crumbling roads and bridges -- to afford to be able to shift their focus. And the $2 billion price tag on improvements is daunting when we can't pay for what we already have.

But with gasoline prices in the stratosphere and heading higher, more and more people are shifting to the T -- and discovering what's not to like about a system that leaks water and fares with equal regularity.

In the meantime, why not an incentive system for Smilin' Dan -- tie his $255,000 salary to the ability to make the trains and buses run on time, with room for all and personnel who treat the paying public as customers and not annoyances.

And make him ride the system every day.

He'd probably be paying us a weekly stipend pretty quickly.

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