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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"A failure of followership..."

So what exactly does the "failure of followership" by House Republicans mean to you and me?

Aside from the massive losses in personal retirement accounts and the shaky nature of one of our largest local banks?

Well, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (and probably many, many more state and local governments) are going to have a hard time paying bills due today and tomorrow.

The recession that Republicans have tried desperately to deny exists is going to get worse.

And the world will continue to shake its head at the absolute idiocy that emerges from Washington, DC.

But is it just the leaders who have failed? Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar (keep those crack about oxymorons to yourself) at the Brookings Institution summed it up quite well in the New York Times:
“I don’t think this was a failure of leadership so much as a failure of followership,” said Thomas Mann, a scholar on Congress at the Brookings Institution. “This is a function of a group of House Republicans who are philosophically opposed to doing anything like this bailout and are prepared to take the risk.”
It's a fact that 40 percent of Democrats deserted the bailout in addition to 66 percent of Republicans. That's a lot of people putting re-election over the right thing to do. And I'm naturally going to single out Republicans anyway, given my political leanings.

But this vote represented the ultimate for the Gingrich Kamikazes, the band of zealots elected under the banner of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with the goal of downsizing government.

Time and again, from shutting down the country over the budget, to spending to $72 million in the wasteful pursuit of Bill Clinton's sexual peccadilloes, this group has sought to destroy the very institutions they were ostensibly elected to lead.

While in power, they ruthlessly cut out Democrats in much the same way they now whine about being pushed aside themselves. This Band of House Brothers has probably also nurtured special wounds as they watched their Senate Republican colleagues bollix up the works by requiring filibuster-proof majorities to enable action.

Nor should we ignore that many in the clique of Minority Leader John Boehner threw the monkey wrenches into the works in the name of John McCain, whose last-second parachuting into the deal caused almost as much havoc.

There is no doubt, as many analysts suggest, that this fit of suicidal pique was also a slap at having to march in lockstep with a failed president who bullied them into a foolish war, expanded federal deficits ad increased spending in ways they could not stomach.

But in giving the entire country a gigantic raspberry so they could carry out their ideological jihad, they stepped over the line. Way over the line.

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How could you tell a difference?

Members of the MBTA Carmen's Union are threatening a work slowdown in the coming weeks if there is no progress in coming up with cash to pay for an arbitrator's award.

And how would we know this is happening?

The grievance appears legitimate in that union members have been waiting for a legally adjudicated settlement of a pay raise and back wages.

But annoying the heck out of the people who pay the fares and whose business provides the jobs seems like a bad way to win sympathy and make your point.

Besides, Smilin' Dan doesn't ride the system so how would he know?

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Party First?

So let me get this straight: I just lost another large chunk of my retirement because House Republicans couldn't take a little straight talk from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi? I thought their battle cry this year was Country First?

Let's stipulate there is enough blame to spread around and that House Democrats as well as Republicans voted against the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. And let's further stipulate that Pelosi may well have been impolitic in blaming Republicans for creating the current mess by allowing Wall Street to run rampant.

But from where I sit -- Pelosi got a lot of facts rights about the lack of regulation over the last eight years. In sum and substance, the sins of the GOP outweigh those of the Democrats.

Here was a grand opportunity for the Grand Old Party to claim the change mantle they so want to steal from Barack Obama.

Simply say: "Madam Speaker, you are wrong. But because we put Country First, we will swallow our pride and anger and vote for a bipartisan piece of legislation that has support from President Bush on the right to Barney Frank on the left. (See we didn't even call him by that name Dick Armey used!) Our country's future depends on it."

Instead, the GOP caucus and the McCain "brain trust" were quick with the finger pointing and blame game.
"We could have gotten there today had it not been for the partisan speech that the speaker gave on the floor of the House," House Minority Leader John Boehner said. Pelosi’s words, the Ohio Republican said, "poisoned our conference, caused a number of members that we thought we could get, to go south."
The stock market fell by 777 points because the Republicans felt dissed by a woman they regularly portray as the devil incarnate?

And let's compare and contrast the responses of Barack Obama and John McCain. You remember Johnnie Mac, the guy who interceded to bring a solution and blew it up instead? What does he have to say?
"From the minute John McCain suspended his campaign and arrived in Washington to address this crisis, he was attacked by the Democratic leadership: Senators Obama and Reid, Speaker Pelosi and others," [economic adviser Douglas] Holtz-Eakin said. "Their partisan attacks were an effort to gain political advantage during a national economic crisis. By doing so, they put at risk the homes, livelihoods and savings of millions of American families."
You remember Holtz-Eakin -- the guy who said McCain invented the BlackBerry?

Contrast that to Obama's response:
“It’s important for the American public and the markets to stay calm – because things are never smooth in Congress – and to understand that it will get done,” Mr. Obama said. “We are going to make sure that an emergency package is put together, because it is required for us to stabilize the markets.”
I think one of the reasons Franklin Roosevelt gained the respect he did was for delivering Fireside Chats that tried to calm a frightened nation rather than try to rip each other's face off.

For those Democrats concerned about Obama's failure to get excited -- this is the best reason I can think of that he should not. To me, this, not finger pointing, is leadership.

What's next? Who knows. The bill voted down in the House had a lot of problems, letting too many people off the hook -- even though it was far better than the 3 1/2-page bare bones proposal offered that would have made Henry Paulson Economic Czar.

Maybe now that John Boehner and company have completed the sabotage effort they launched last week in a fit of pique that a bill would be worked out without McCain (or Obama) can go back to the idea they proclaim -- to put country first.

We're waiting.

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Let 'em eat sushi

John McCain seems to be intent on claiming credit for fashioning the compromises on the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. And why shouldn't he -- it's his people being rescued.

There has not been much of a focus on the wealth and privilege in McCain's life, save for a brief discussion of whether McCain knew how many houses he had. That didn't stop the Navy legacy with the beer heiress wife from portraying the son of a single mother on food stamps and the daughter of a Chicago water department worker as elitists.

Now McCain wants to say that Barack Obama's decision not to inject himself into the legislative discussion on the bailout -- nearing wrecking them for partisan gain -- is another sign of the Illinois senator is out of touch.

Make no mistake -- the compromise legislation to be voted on this week is nothing to be happy about. The Wall Street greed heads who precipitated the meltdown that will delay a lot of our retirements aren't paying anywhere near the price they should.

But all signs suggest that this bitter medicine is better than the alternatives -- which could include selling apples and pencils from tin cups.

After being stung by Obama's criticism that he never mentioned the words "middle class" during their debate, Johnnie "My Adviser Shilled for Freddie" Mac thought it was appropriate to lash out at Obama as uncaring.
“What he doesn’t seem to get is that if we don’t deal with it right now, by working together for the common good, then this crisis could turn into a far-reaching disaster for workers, businesses, retirees, and the American middle class. This is a moment of great testing, when the future of our economy is on the line."
Um, senator, he seems to get that far better than you or your crackerjack staff. After all, he didn't deliver crocodile tears, faux populist remarks and then head off to dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, which is not known for its middle class roots.

Oh well Johnnie Mac. Let 'em eat sushi.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Frankly Jeff, you just don't get it

As a rule, I don't read the Globe's Jeff Jacoby. Too predictable. But there was something about today's headline that made me stop and take notice.

To summarize: this whole financial mess is the fault of Barney Frank and his liberal fellow travelers.

I know knee jerk. Heck, I've been accused of being a knee-jerk liberal although I do stray off the reservation a bit. And like any good opinion monger, I use the facts that bolster my argument while short-shrifting the ones that don't look good.

But Jacoby's total rewrite of history -- going back 30 years while ignoring the last eight -- is just too much to take.

Dear Jeff. Have you ever heard of the "Ownership Society?"

This was George Bush's idea to privatize everything -- from health insurance and Social Security (aren't you glad that turkey didn't fly?) -- with home ownership a linchpin of that effort. Bush's own PR machine trumpeted the fact that home ownership was approaching 70 percent in 2006.

And how did that come about? Not through the Community Reinvestment Act and other dastardly liberal plots to bring socialism to America.

No, it came about through unregulated commerce -- banks floating mortgages to people who had zero resources, packaging those fancy loans into incomprehensible vehicles insured by unfathomable policies.

That recklessness was aided and abetted by a Bush administration that abdicated even minimal regulatory oversight.

Jacoby now tries to paint himself as a lonely voice in the wilderness in 1995 who also railed against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while Frank blithely ignored the warning signs. Maybe that's because everyone was too busy listening to Johnnie Mac's lobbyist/campaign manager Rick Davis.

The intellectual dishonesty in this Jacoby column rises far above his usual screeds. But then again, maybe I should cut him some slack. He is after all an affirmative action hire -- the Globe's token conservative. And we know what Jacoby thinks about affirmative action hires.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

This is your state on fiscal meltdown

Want an idea of what might happen if Congress can't get its act together on a fiscal bailout bill that restores faith in the economy without rewarding those who caused the mess and without punishing those who are its victims?

The early outlines are there in the jockeying between those who rightfully believe the Massachusetts shouldn't stick the burden of the Big Dig on a group that doesn't reap the majority of its benefits versus those who don't want the state to heap the pain on those who drive the state's economic engines.

And looming behind it all are plummeting tax revenues, increased short-term borrowing to pay the bills -- and a proposal to chop another $12 billion out of the state's coffers.

Can you say Perfect Storm?

The chaos caused by an unregulated Wall Street is hitting our pockets in two ways -- through shrinking retirement accounts and rising expenses. Those expenses include the basics, including food and fuel (and just wait until it gets cold!) It also includes what comes out of our paychecks to pay the tabs run up by the state and federal government.

Massachusetts is unlucky enough to have two problems caused by a lack of adult supervision: the other being the Big Dig, the debt shifting to the Turnpike Authority and the MBTA and the refusal to deal with those issues in better times by raising the gasoline tax.

By not biting the bullet then, we are now looking at obscenely higher tolls on one portion of the highway system to pay for rebuilding roads those folks don't drive with regularity.

But if we raise the gas tax to deal with that problem, it will sharply limit options to deal with another looming problem -- a state budget that appears to be too generous right now in paying for programs that people want, like schools, public safety, health care and human services.

And of course we are looking at a proposal on the November ballot to eliminate the state income which helps pay for those "frills."

Part of the cause of the state's higher costs is the Wall Street meltdown has cause jobs to disappear, credit to dry up and borrowing costs to soar to pay the equivalent of credit card bills.

A classic vicious circle is developing, with you and me caught in the whirlpool surrounding the drain. Hang on tight.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Country first?

The blow-by-blow descriptions of how the fiscal bailout proposals came together and then fell apart make for very fascinating reading -- and paint a very ugly picture about the tactics of the party that arrogantly proclaimed less than a month ago that it puts "Country First."

The naked attempt by House Republicans to stall in an effort to save John McCain's face over his stunt to hold tonight's debate hostage is appalling. While it is true there was no broad consensus over the terms, there was wide agreement that something needs to be done to prevent the economy from falling apart.

It's telling that, aside from the creepiness of Democrats actually agreeing with something supported by George Bush, a bipartisan group of negotiators had come close to a plan -- so close that Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah, the GOP's chief negotiator, had signaled success.
"I now expect we will indeed have a plan that will pass the House, pass the Senate and be signed by the president and bring a sense of certainty to this crisis," Bennett said.
That is of course, until the Gingrich Remnant of the House stepped in at the 11th hour. Both Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Deputy Chief Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia cut their teeth under the confrontational style of Newt Gingrich. And we know Newt once shut down the government because he had to get off at the back of the plane.

The House rump strategy was an insurance plan already rejected by negotiators. What's telling is some of the political calculations that were being made:

But a few blocks away, a senior House Republican lawmaker was at a luncheon with reporters, saying his caucus would never go along with the deal. This Republican said Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the chief deputy whip, was circulating an alternative course that would rely on government-backed insurance, not taxpayer-financed purchase of mortgage assets.

He said the recalcitrant Republicans were calculating that [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, Democrat of California, would not want to leave her caucus politically exposed in an election season by passing a bailout bill without rank-and-file Republican support.

“You can have all the meetings you want,” this Republican said, referring to the White House session with Mr. Bush, the presidential candidates and Congressional leaders, still hours away. “It comes to the floor and the votes aren’t there. It won’t pass.”

The Washington Post account also notes the Cantor plan included, wait for it, tax cuts on dividends and capital gains. Heckuva a way to fund a $700 billion plan!

Country First? What appears to have happened is an attempt by the GOP caucus to put Politics First, to make sure that McCain was in town and could claim he stepped in and brought peace where there had been none.

Of course, accounts suggest a different scenario at the table:
Mr. McCain was at one end of the long conference table, Mr. Obama at the other, with the president and senior Congressional leaders between them. Participants said Mr. Obama peppered [Treasury Secretary Henry] Paulson with questions, while Mr. McCain said little...
And perhaps most telling of all, is an exchange between Paulson and Pelosi, which is sure to get great treatment in the made for TV movie of this fiasco:

In the Roosevelt Room after the session, the Treasury secretary ... literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with ... the House Speaker, not to “blow it up” by withdrawing her party’s support for the package over what Ms. Pelosi derided as a Republican betrayal.

“I didn’t know you were Catholic,” Ms. Pelosi said, a wry reference to Mr. Paulson’s kneeling, according to someone who observed the exchange. She went on: “It’s not me blowing this up, it’s the Republicans.”

Mr. Paulson sighed. “I know. I know.”

So what's in store for today? Look for the stock market to tank. After that who knows?

The GOP scenario has St. John riding to the rescue with a plan he dreamed up in his contemplative mood at the table. After announcing his triumph, he boards Straight Talk Air and flies triumphantly to Mississippi where he slays Barack the dragon in debate.

If you believe that script, there's a bridge in Alaska that needs to be built.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Deal or no deal?

Are House Republicans trying to manipulate the proposed Wall Street bailout to benefit John McCain's presidential campaign?

Gee, let me think. Did Republicans play politics with weapons of mass destruction and the "Global War on Terrorism"?

The now you see it, now you don't proposal appears to be a victim of politics, according to Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd, who, to be fair, was running for president himself not so long ago.

“My hope is that we can get a deal,” said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, hours after House and Senate negotiators had announced that an accord was at hand. It had also been President Bush’s hope that an agreement could be announced after the late-afternoon meeting.

Looking tired and annoyed, Mr. Dodd complained that late complications were making the episode sound more like “a rescue plan for John McCain” ... than one for the country’s financial system.

It does no good, Mr. Dodd said, “to be distracted for two or three hours by political theater.”

What makes Dodd more credible is remarks hours earlier by Utah Republican Sen. Robert Bennett:
“I now expect we will indeed have a plan that can pass the House, pass the Senate, be signed by the president, and bring a sense of certainty to this crisis that is still roiling in the markets.”

“That is our primary responsibility, he said, and I think we our now prepared to meet it.”

What changed? The staged White House meeting with McCain and Barack Obama at opposite far ends of a table at a meeting called by George Bush -- a meeting that likely was the face-saving measure for McCain's ill-advised decision to suspend his campaign so he could roll up his sleeves and solve the problem.

Call me skeptical about the reasons for the delay. Republicans long ago shed their concern for Main Street. Lining up to support a bill more palatable to Bush, Wall Street and McCain is just the sort of playing with the nation's future for political gains we have come to know and expect over these last eight years.

John McCain may be trying to distance himself from George Bush -- whether at a table or in general -- but this only makes the ties that bind tighter.

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Sharing the pain

Let me get this straight -- $8.50 to drive through the Williams and Sumner tunnels in your car (probably $10 or more plus pool fee if you take a taxi). No gasoline tax increase and no tolls on I-93.

Just exactly how is this sharing the pain?

Deval Patrick remains squeamish about hiking the gas tax or making drivers using I-93 share in the costs incurred in building their preferred commuting option. So what are we to make of today's suggestion that sticking to Mass Pike drivers is the way to make up for the huge fiscal problems caused by mismanagement at the Turnpike Authority and the Big Dig dumped on it by the Legislature?

Is this a massive trial balloon to generate momentum for an equitable plan that shares the pain?

There is a stark difference even between the plans for dealing for major budget gaps at the Turnpike Authority and the MBTA. Subway and bus passengers are facing the prospect of major fare hikes or service cuts. User fees, if you will.

What about the folks who drive the Expressway daily from Braintree to New Hampshire? Why aren't they being asked for additional user fees?

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The Aha moment

For those wondering what John McCain is up to with his "selfless" call to suspend campaigning and postpone tomorrow's foreign policy debate, the answer can be found in his proposed new schedule.

McCain wants to move the debate to Oct. 2, the day of the vice presidential debate. The Biden-Palin showdown would be moved to an unspecified time.

What's the matter? The Barracuda isn't ready for prime time?

There is a certain unseemliness to this whole thing. After Barack Obama contacts McCain to suggest a bipartisan statement about the economy, Johnnie Mac counters with the debate suspension proposal.

Then George Bush weighs in to invite the candidates to the White House. Conspiracy theory? Maybe. But let's also look at how Bush and his team -- many of whom now run the McCain campaign -- have always injected politics into policy, starting with 9-11.

Frankly, if John McCain can't attend a White House meeting, take part in a Senate vote on a bailout plan that is worked out by others wiser in economics than him and then attend a debate within the space of a few days, then I have serious concerns about his ability to handle the juggling required of a president.

If the candidates were planning to sample endless fried concoctions on a stick at a state fair instead of talking about Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Georgia and America's place in the world, I might see campaigning as frivolous.

As Obama said:
“If it turns out that we need to be in Washington, we’ve both got big planes — we’ve painted our slogans on the sides of them. They can get us from Washington, D.C., to Mississippi fairly quickly.
But postponing a debate to roll the political dice -- or protect a Not Ready for Prime Time Veep -- is hardly presidential.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What's up with this?

John McCain's call to suspend the foreign policy debate to return to Washington to focus on the Wall Street-induced economic crisis immediately hit me as a cheap political stunt.

Seeing him next to Willard Mitt Romney when he makes the out-of-the-blue proposal to shake up the campaign only confirms it.

McCain is clearly seeing the handwriting on the wall that the economic turmoil is hurting his campaign. A major shakeup is needed and this is it.

Position yourself as a "leader" above politics and ready to return to Washington to hammer out a compromise agreement. Label your opponent as a shameless partisan if he doesn't fall for the feint.

But just how exactly does McCain propose to deal with the crisis? Show up and do his job? He and Obama will be in the same position -- voting yea or nay. The negotiations taking place in the backrooms exclude both candidates.

And as McCain has amply noted -- economics is not his strong suit and the work of his guru, Alan Greenspan, helped get us into this fix.

It's a grandstand stunt from a campaign that once again finds itself looking for Hail Mary completions. The jury is out whether the Sarah Palin nomination did more than shore up his base. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

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We're from the government -- trust us

Old habits die hard. How else can you explain Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's insistence that there is only one true way to fiscal salvation.

The sight of the two Bush administration figureheads lecturing Congress that writing a blank check to them for $700 billion to fix the mess they helped to create (especially Paulson) brings back memories of Colin Powell lecturing the United Nations about weapons of mass destruction.

Pretty show -- how much of it is true?

Let's start with Bernanke's description of what will happen of Congress doesn't do what he wants.
“This will be a major drag on the U.S. economy and greatly impede the ability of the economy to recover.”
Wow, compelling stuff. Bernanke also said the US would slide into a recession if Congress didn't act immediately. Funny, I thought rising prices, falling wages and lost jobs and declining consumer confidence said we're already in one.

Lawmakers reacted with appropriate skepticism that the blank check approach is the only way -- and a number of economists have been chiming in on topics with suggestions about things like loans instead of grants.

Actually making the Wall Street companies with a history of fiscal recklessness be responsible for paying back taxpayers for bailing them out? What a concept!

Plus, the insistence that only Wall Street and not Main Street needs help is yet another hallmark of the Bush administration. That's the equivalent of flying over New Orleans and only looking out the window.

No wonder we are starting to see some movement in the polls.

The lesson we need to draw -- doing something is not enough. Doing it right requires careful thought and consideration. Bush administration rush jobs have already cost us upwards of $600 billion on a war in a country where there were no WMDs and did not harbor Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

This time -- let's actually take the time that is needed and do it right. Congress and the American people understand this isn't the time for threats and rhetoric. Those tactics are what got us into this mess in the first place.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Pottery Barn Rule on Wall Street

You have to hand it to George W. Bush -- consistent and arrogant to the end.

The Man Who Wouldn't Leave continues to think he is relevant to the resolution of the financial crisis that his non-existent regulators helped turn into what is widely being referred to as the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression.

W. insists that Congress should buy his three-page solution -- turn all power and authority over to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson -- and go back and tell the voters that all is well.

Meanwhile, the people who created the mess on Wall Street are already looking for ways to profit from the structure put into place to fix the disaster.

Even as policy makers worked on details of a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, Wall Street began looking for ways to profit from it. Financial firms were lobbying to have all manner of troubled investments covered, not just those related to mortgages. At the same time, investment firms were jockeying to oversee all the assets that Treasury plans to take off the books of financial institutions, a role that could earn them hundreds of millions of dollars a year in fees.

Talk about the fox guarding the hen house.

There are serious strings that need to come attached to any legislation that commits upwards of $700 billion of taxpayers money to fix the problems that came as a result of a lack of supervision.

Let's start with supervision -- regulations that tighten up an industry that thought it perfectly OK to lend money to people who had no financial base from which to repay that loan (sort of like the current situation, don't you think?)

The plan must provide relief to the folks who were sold these worthless pieces of paper who were thinking more about their profits than the likelihood of the would-be homeowner living happily ever after. We tightened bankruptcy rules to punish them -- let's loosen them.

And the Wall Street folks who earned upwards of seven and eight-figure salaries while fleecing the folks on Main Street need to be held responsible. At the very least, there needs to be caps on how much they can earn for engaging in Ponzi schemes.

Prosecution might not be a bad idea either, but that's for another day.

This nightmare stems directly from George Bush's "dream" of an "Ownership Society." It's time to start owning this mess. Let's impose Colin Powell's Pottery Barn Rule. You break it, you bought it -- and you clean it up.

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Journalism 101

Memo to Steve Schmidt: Just because a newspaper writes a horribly embarrassing story for your campaign, demonstrating yet another, um, reversal in position, doesn't mean it's in the tank for the other guy.

The continued devolution of the Straight Talk Express into the Lies at All Cost Local took a new tack when Schmidt, a disciple of Karl Rove, blasted The New York Times for bias because it reported facts, embarrassing ones, for the John McCain campaign. To wit:
Senator John McCain's campaign manager was paid more than $30,000 a month for five years as president of an advocacy group set up by the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to defend them against stricter regulations, current and former officials say.
That's rather embarrassing for a candidate who has been running ads trying to tie Barack Obama to a former Freddie Mac official with far fewer obvious connections to the Democratic nominee.

Schmidt, with the deft sledge hammer style he has brought to the fray, lashed out at the Times.

“Whatever the New York Times once was, it is today not by any standard a journalistic organization. This is an organization that is completely, totally, 150 percent in the tank for the Democratic candidate, which is their prerogative to be.”

“Everything that is read in The New York Times that attacks this campaign should be evaluated by the American people from that perspective.”

What, the perspective of a campaign that will stop at nothing to distort, twist and outright lie? A campaign that selected a vice presidential nominee so unprepared for the job that the very same Rick Davis had to demand she be treated with "deference and respect." By the press corps????

McCain once prided himself on his relationship with the media and indeed many reporters were in the tank -- for him. You know the folks McCain called "my base."

The scales have fallen off their eyes, making it necessary for Schmidt to lash out. Besides, running against the "elitist media" is the oldest trick in the book for a campaign that has no fresh ideas and has managed to flip-flop on everything else.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Playing to win

He's come a long way baby.

Critics who suggested Deval Patrick was a liberal do-gooder without the chops to get things done may need to reassess that opinion after discovering the governor's latest actions on police details.

Risking backlash from both labor and municipal leaders like Tom Menino with a history of caving to police union demands, Patrick did an end-around to close loopholes that police unions were using to eliminate the teeth of his proposal to use civilian flaggers at most construction sites around the state.

The reaction from police ranged from disbelief on the part of Boston Police Patrolmen's Association head Thomas Nee to outright anger.
"In my 25 years in law enforcement in this state, I have never worked with a more insensitive and arrogant administration that is simply unwilling to listen on this issue," said Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan, who is also a spokesman for the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs, which represents police chiefs in the state's largest communities.
The issue is as much budget politics and prerogatives as it is public safety. In fact, the public safety questions seem to be addressed in a thoughtful plan that takes into account the volume of traffic and speeds allowed along state roads.

Resistance to civilian flaggers has been a major point in police union politics seemingly forever and many a governor has either sidestepped the issue or caved under pressure. Unions consider the paid overtime details a basic right in supplementing their income. Elected officials, whether they say it or not, see them as a drain on their budgets.

Patrick's win reflects sound coalition-building politics. He worked with House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Terry Murray to present a united front in pursuing the change. And he didn't walk away, like Bill Weld, when the pressure was raised and loophole maneuvers commenced.

Obviously this latest move in the chess match will anger public employee unions. But with a looming ballot test on continuation of the state's income tax, Patrick and state leaders need to show they are doing their best to tackle spending.

And the sight of police officers sitting in their cars -- sipping coffee, munching donuts and talking on the phone -- is a sore point for many, safety issues be damned.

When Patrick runs for reelection in 2010 as he keeps promising, he will face irritated union members who likely will have hand-sitting as their only viable option for revenge. But he will have earned some major points elsewhere for not backing down on an issue where every one of his Republican predecessors blinked and walked away.

(Oh by the way Globe editors -- would it kill you to link to your own stories within the body of follow-up stories and not several clicks away?)

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Playing with dynamite

Well at least the second half of the headline on Carla Howell's op-ed on income tax repeal is correct.

The out-of-state financial backers who are contributing to the personal coffers of Howell and Michael Cloud have nothing personal at stake Question 1, the ballot proposal that would repeal the state income tax.

That's why Howell can be quite glib about the impact of the question would have on the quality of life:

A yes vote will force the Legislature to streamline and cut the waste out of the budget.

It will force the Legislature to get rid of the failed, flawed government programs that don't work - and often make things worse.

It will make the Legislature accountable to Massachusetts workers and taxpayers - instead of to government employees, lobbyists, and special interests who profit from high government spending.

No one will dispute there is waste and flawed programs and that accountability sometimes appear to be at a premium. Chop $12.5 billion, give everyone $3,700 and all will be rosy, Howell says.

Nowhere does she suggest where the waste, inefficiency and flaws reside. The implicit answer is that she will leave it up to that very same Legislature she labels as unaccountable.

'Scuse me? This make sense -- how?

Jay Fitzgerald over at Hub Blog points fingers at the Hack-Progressive Alliance as fueling the Chicken Little mentality about tax repeal questions. There is no disputing that public employee unions concerned about their members jobs are financing the No effort -- and liberals like me have been raising warning flags.

But I have never considered Mike Widmer of the business-financed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation to be a member of that alliance. And Widmer has some of the numbers that Howell glosses right over.
The income tax produces $12.5 billion, or 40 percent, of the approximately $30 billion state budget. What would be the result if it were eliminated? To put it in perspective, if you were to lay off all 67,000 state employees - e.g. correctional officers, highway engineers, college professors, judges, mental health counselors - you would save only $5 billion.
Massachusetts funds a lot of things we expect to be there and take for granted: public safety, education, support for the vulnerable whether they are poor, disabled or elderly. Local aid supplements the services provided by cities and towns and financed through the property tax. Says Widmer:
An upcoming analysis by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation shows that if one were to preserve the 2008 level of spending for Medicaid, health reform, state aid to municipalities, and debt service, then one would have to eliminate every other program of state government - from prisons, courts, and State Police to funding for higher education and the elaborate network of services for the elderly, disabled, and others in need.
Eliminating the income tax would either bring an end to these services or a major rise in property taxes, and the levies on tobacco and alcohol. Heck, we'd start to resemble New Hampshire.

If you think Massachusetts doesn't deliver, I'd suggest moving up north. It's an easier way to vent your anger at the current state of things than to mess with the rest of us who like it here -- despite the obvious flaws.


The donkey in the room

The Associated Press puts into print what has been the underlying answer to the question: why doesn't Barack Obama have a wider lead?

We have heard myriad discussions about religion and sexism in this campaign but few have been willing to tackle the obvious question -- is the United States prepared to vote for an African-American for president.

The unease with the topic is so deep that when a blatant example of old-fashioned racism emerges it is passed off as "satire" and gets far less attention in the media than the wolf's cry of sexism when media or politicians attempt to question Sarah Palin's tenure as mayor and governor.

The Stanford University pollsters found "more than a third of all white Democrats and independents ... agreed with at least one negative adjective about blacks ... and they are significantly less likely to vote for Obama than those who don't have such views."
But I would take issue with this declaration:
Race is not the biggest factor driving Democrats and independents away from Obama. Doubts about his competency loom even larger, the poll indicates. More than a quarter of all Democrats expressed doubt that Obama can bring about the change they want, and they are likely to vote against him because of that.
Why the doubt? There doesn't seem to be equal concern about Sarah Palin's competency and thinner resume? Or George Bush's mile wide and inch deep set of accomplishments?

Regular readers know how I answer the question. But for the record, Barack Obama is extremely qualified to take this country in the right direction after the many years of incompetence offered by the GOP.

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Palin for President

Yes, you heard me correctly.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Economic fundamentals

Here's the fundamental economics lesson to be drawn from the past week: when homeowners get in trouble, the government doesn't care. When the financial institutions who got them into that trouble need life support, the federal government is there in a heart beat.

Take $500 billion to bailout out AIG, Fannie and Freddie and who know else, add in another $600 billion for Iraq and what's left for the rest of us? (oops, make that $700 billion!)

John McCain has been scrambling all week to explain away his repeated insistence that the economic fundamentals are fine -- it's just the greed heads. Well, those greed heads are getting bailed out and the working men and women he then scrambles to define as the fundamentals are going to pay the tab.

That's fundamentally unfair.

Let's face it. There is little alternative but to go forward with the half-trillion bailout for the investment banks and insurance companies that foisted this latest scam on us.

But we've been brainwashed to believe government support for taxpayers is welfare -- unless it is for corporations. And we've been told that government control of industry is socialism -- unless it is to prevent a fiscal collapse caused by unregulated and uncontrolled speculation.

So why is this different? Because John McCain and his army of campaign adviser/lobbyists say so?

Those are fundamentals all right -- fundamentals of the Republican Party. Regulation is bad. The free market is good. Until it gets us into trouble. Then it's not so good and the government needs to step in.

And leave the taxpayers with the bill.

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Globe discovers fiscal crisis

I was almost ready to start one of those countdown clocks keeping tabs on how long it takes for Barack Obama to appear on Fox or John McCain to understand the economy.

But today's Globe front page finally acknowledges a nasty problem on the home front -- the gaping hole in the state's fiscal 2009 budget. But it took the Wall Street meltdown to do it.

State tax collections are in a free fall after two months and, unlike the Dow Jones average, not destined to hop on a roller coaster. That's because, unlike the stock market, there's no federal bailout coming.
Compounding this year's problem is how much the federal government will reimburse the state for health care programs. The state had planned to receive $3.5 billion for this fiscal year, but negotiations have dragged on past the June 30 deadline. If federal aid falls short, that could force more budget cuts.
In fact, regular readers of this space -- or the Statehouse News Service -- know the feds are not feeling at all generous.

Gov. Deval Patrick appears ready to do whatever he can to hold down spending in the executive branch. What's still up in the air is whether the Legislature will come back and deal with this before November.

But at least the Newspaper of Record has finally noticed. The Herald? Well, they're telling us that McCain can win in Massachusetts.

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What are they smoking (II)?

Someone should tell the Massachusetts Republican Party, such as it is, that they are losing any grip on reality.

Thanks to an assist from The Enterprising Reporter, Herald readers are regaled with the idea that "Mass GOP Not Conceding Bay State."

Yeah and I'm sure Gen. Custer wasn't conceding the Little Big Horn.
“The grassroots support in Massachusetts for the McCain-Palin ticket is overwhelming,” said state GOP spokesman Barney Keller. “He’s still pretty popular here. People like him.”
The grassroots"? Exactly how many legislative seats has the party fielded candidates for?

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Wall Street's ransom note

Memo to Gov. Palin: the Bernanke bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac isn't likely to cost the taxpayers anything. The new proposal to bail out the entire bank and mortgage fiasco will. And then some.

I never cared much for economics class and I don't profess to know a whole lot more than my retirement has just been pushed back a few years. But it's clear from yesterday's Wall Street rebound that the folks who got us into this mess think the proposal will bail them out.

But it will be interesting to see if that federal largess extends beyond the investment banks, insurance companies and mortgage brokers who ran amok.

Like for instance, will there be help for the homeowners who got suckered into subprime bait and switch mortgages on true good to be true terms and who have been losing their homes and their own futures?

Given the fact the last change in the bankruptcy laws created harder terms for people trying to get out from under crushing debt, I doubt it.

But apparently helping corporations trying to get out from under their own greed is another matter entirely.

I believe the term is corporate welfare.

Yet the bottom line seems to be bail out Wall Street from its own reckless irresponsibility or we all suffer.

The least Congress can do is print the the legislation with slips of letters and numbers from newspapers and other places. You know -- like a ransom note.

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Worst of both worlds

The vetting John McCain should have done continues and maybe we are now seeing what he did find appealing.

This Washington Post story suggests Sarah Palin combines the worst traits of George Bush and Dick Cheney.
... According to lawmakers, senior gubernatorial aides and others who have watched her closely, the woman chosen by Republican Sen. John McCain as his vice presidential running mate has little interest in political give-and-take, or in sustained working relationships with legislators or other important figures around the state. Nor has she proven particularly attentive to the details of public policy. "She's not known for burning the midnight oil on in-depth policy issues," said Larry Persily, a former journalist who was associate director of the governor's Washington office until the spring.
And who does this remind you of (except for the First Spouse role)?
Her admirers view her as gutsy and sure-footed; her detractors see her as reckless and insular. She relies heavily on a small coterie of senior advisers, and her husband, Todd, an oilfield worker and commercial fisherman, is present in the statehouse to a degree unusual for a first spouse, sitting in on news conferences, occasional Cabinet meetings and private sessions with lawmakers.
Add to that her penchant for secrecy -- trying to run public business on private e-mail -- and you begin to see a dangerous amalgam.

And here's one for you palace conspiracy-philes:
With her independent streak and her method of governing by leveraging her popular appeal, some who know Palin wonder privately how she would adapt as second-in-command in a McCain administration.
Dick Cheney without the experience. A truly scary thought.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Change we can believe it -- not

The stock market's apparently not the only thing melting down. So is Johnny Mac's credibility.

John McCain's change from a free market stalwart to a fiery populist raging against greed isn't working too well.

The latest New York Times poll is not the huge sigh of relief being sought by Barack Obama backers. His strength among key constituencies is not as strong as you would hope -- and you have to wonder whether that strong margin among young voters will actually translate into votes on Nov. 4.

It would appear, at the very least, the post-convention bounce has disappeared for both tickets. And with the economy headed farther south -- and Sarah Palin's actual record and qualifications starting to sink in -- the Obama camp should be somewhat less nervous today.

Besides McCain's flip-flops show now sign of ending.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

End of an era

If the results hold up and Dianne Wilkerson is truly out of the Massachusetts State Senate, we are seeing a sad end to what once was a promising career.

Wilkerson possesses a first-rate intelligence and worked enormously hard for her constituents. But for whatever reasons, her lesser angels led her to one bad decision after another involving her personal and campaign life.

From what I've seen of Sonia Chang-Diaz, the opportunity exists for the residents of the district to have a senator who brings the good without the baggage.

I've always felt it was ultimately up to the voters to decide whether the Wilkerson balancing act was justified. They have now spoken. But I can't help but feel a bit sad for the wasted talent represented by Wilkerson and hope that she can finally get her life in order.

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Another day, another flip-flop

John McCain seems intent on putting to rest one of those underlying questions that no one wants to ask about his campaign. He is showing quite an aptitude for gymnastics, at least of the verbal kind.

In a day marked by the Fed changing its mind about bailing out a major financial institution, McCain performed a double flip -- supporting new regulation of the financial services industry he once opposed while proclaiming himself a populist outraged by the greed of the very people whose favor he has long curried.

And this was also a day when one McCain aide said his boss invented the BlackBerry while another said neither McCain nor Sarah Palin were qualified to run a large corporation.

The fiscal meltdown prompted by the subprime mortgage debacle and the ability of financial service companies to run amok may finally be turning this campaign back where it belongs -- real issues and not the lies, distortions and half-truths being offered by the McCain camp.

The truth behind this debacle is that the failure to regulate and oversee corporate behavior has destroyed billions of dollars in capital, sending prices up and employment down. The prime culprits in this laissez faire disaster are the Republican leaders in the White House and Congress who helped wipe out regulations and regulators:
A decade ago, Sen. John McCain embraced legislation to broadly deregulate the banking and insurance industries, helping to sweep aside a thicket of rules established over decades in favor of a less restricted financial marketplace that proponents said would result in greater economic growth.
A prominent Democrat I know says there is blood on the hands of both parties -- the Glass-Steagall law was repealed under Bill Clinton and his Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin -- is a deregulation messiah too.

Quite true. But it was the failure of George W. Bush and the Republican Congress to act forcefully after the previous display of excessive corporate greed this decade -- Enron -- that makes their hands dirtier in my book.

McCain is clearly groping for a way out of bind he finds himself in. The BlackBerry faux pas undoubtedly was an effort to defend McCain's efforts to deregulate telecommunications, an effort to say it led to innovations and not just higher cable bills.

And Carly Fiorina is no more capable of running the United States than she was in running Hewlett-Packard.

Those of us troubled by the turn of the campaign caused by the McCain assault on the truth can take perverse comfort in the lessons of Al Gore. "Inventing the Internet" and running a populist campaign didn't help him shed the problems caused by trying to avoid running with a lightning rod in the White House.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Let 'em eat Baked Alaska

At least the fiscal shock waves knocked oil under $100 a barrel.

With another domino teetering on the edge in the form of insurance giant AIG, an already unpleasant economic picture turned even darker and uglier. How many times did you look at your retirement account statement yesterday? If you are lucky enough to have one. Or are you trying to tough it out?

John McCain -- who doesn't have to worry about these sorts of things -- channeled yet another persona, the populist crusader.
Speaking in Florida, he said that the economy’s underlying fundamentals remained strong but were being threatened “because of the greed by some based in Wall Street and we have got to fix it.”
Well, aside from challenging him about sound underlying fundamentals when inflation is rising in tandem with unemployment, McCain misses a key point: how are greedy people allowed to run amok?

The lack of oversight, that's how -- and McCain has long been a believer in deregulation. As the Times notes:
He has often taken his lead on financial issues from two outspoken advocates of free market approaches, former Senator Phil Gramm and Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman. Individuals associated with Merrill Lynch, which sold itself to Bank of America Corp. in the market upheaval of the past weekend, have given his presidential campaign nearly $300,000, making them Mr. McCain’s largest contributor, collectively.
You remember Phil Gramm don't you -- the guy who says we're just a bunch of whiners suffering from mental depression.

Let 'em eat Baked Alaska!

I would be remiss to not point out that the deregulation sentiment has been shared in the last eight years by the Bush White House -- aided and abetted by a Republican Congress for six years. Together they engineered massive tax breaks for the Gordon Gekko set that McCain sees as the culprit in this little play.

Obama hasn't been silent on this score:
Mr. Obama set out his general approach to financial regulation in March, calling for regulating investment banks, mortgage brokers and hedge funds much as commercial banks are. And he would streamline the overlapping regulatory agencies and create a commission to monitor threats to the financial system and report to the White House and Congress.
And how is it going over?
On Wall Street’s Republican-friendly turf, Mr. Obama has outraised Mr. McCain. He has received $9.9 million from individuals associated with the securities and investment industry, $3 million more than Mr. McCain, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group. His advisers include Wall Street heavyweights, including Robert E. Rubin, the former treasury secretary who is now a senior adviser at Citigroup, another firm being buffeted by the financial crisis.
The donations part makes me nervous. But it also tells me the people who DO understand economic issues aren't with McCain.

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Masters of our own fate?

Check out this nice piece of reporting in the Herald.
The push to scrap the state income tax - billed as a grassroots movement - is heavily bankrolled by an odd-ball collection of libertarians who don’t even pay taxes in Massachusetts, including a crackpot who’s likened Homeland Security to the “Gestapo” and a “Biblical capitalist” who thinks paper money should be eliminated.
Well, at least you know the bulk of the cash is going into the pockets of Carla Howell and Michael Cloud and not into television commercials.


Monday, September 15, 2008

It's the economy, stupid

The detritus from Wall Street's binging is really starting to pile up: Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch can now we added to the messes named Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Oh, and let's not forget Enron and Arthur Andersen.

Eight years of excess -- businesses running amok without regulation. Billions for the corporate executives, shrinking retirement accounts for the rest of us as Wall Street comes to grips from the destruction of billions of dollars in capital and mortgages foreclosures.

To paraphrase Gordon Gekko, greed wasn't good for the millions who have lost their homes and nest eggs. Nor is it good for the millions more who are paying higher prices for food and gasoline.

John McCain has admitted "The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should." It's in his best interest to change the subject and he's done a bang up job, aided and abetted by a news media that has focused like a laser beam on porcine makeup.

Don't get me wrong. I still think Sarah Palin is thoroughly unqualified for the job of vice president, let alone being No. 2 in line. I await the next installment of the Palin vetting process the McCain camp failed to undertake.

But whether it's talking about Steve Schmidt's faux attacks or spending anytime on "values" as represented by a convicted felon named Chuck Colson, the media in enabling the McCain camp's efforts to change the subject.

The issues we face are serious -- eight years of GOP White House mismanagement, in lockstep with six years of GOP congressional control -- have created vast problems that should be the focus of the presidential campaign.

John McCain is on the wrong side of those issues. His decision to pick an unqualified running mate was an effort to change the subject. But instead, it simply added one to the roster -- questions about his judgment and decision-making.

Let's wake up and deal with the real issues, shall we.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

What would Howie Say?

If this woman were a Democrat?

Between the personal contradictions and the abysmal record as mayor and governor, Republicans and their media cronies would be in high dudgeon is the Democrats had named someone with a similar background.

Change the subject of course.

And we're supposed to believe John McCain has sound judgment?

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Fear and loathing -- 2008 style

Hunter S. Thompson must be wishing he could write about this campaign.

The father of gonzo journalism could well be considered a swing voter in this upside down year -- an advocate of guns and drugs, often at the same time. But his unique take on things would be a welcome change from the real fear and loathing that is the hallmark of Campaign 2006.

Let's start with the day's news: those "values voters" we've heard so much about finally expose the real underlying issue of this campaign. And the campaign of John McCain proves a bit prickly when it their own words are sent back at them. It's not the typing part -- it's the total unfamiliarity with the concept guys.

Which brings me back around to the sad state of Campaign 2008. Where are the issues?

Submerged under the mud being heaped to avoid discussion of the war, the economy and the legacy of eight years of Republican White House control and six years of Republican congressional rule.

Barack Obama caught fire for his call for change. But change from what? In the feeble attempt to co-opt the issue, the McCain camp believes it's simply a change in who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But the millions of idealistic folks who have signed up to vote this year -- many of them young and previously turned off by politics -- are yearning for a change from politics as usual, the politics practiced by George W. Bush and his handlers, a politics now being practiced by John McCain.

What is that politics? Turn them off, they stay at home and McCain wins.

Cynicism is at the heart of Republican presidential strategies -- and has been for awhile. The shorthand of course is guns, God and gays. Divert attention from war and poverty and focus on the raw emotions. It worked for Nixon and both Bush 1 and II. Earnest but inarticulate Democrats named McGovern, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry were no match for the Cynical Talk Express.

Now McCain, the supposed maverick, has caught the same "get elected at any cost" virus. He has flipped on immigration and taxes to bowed at the altar of the Theocons -- all the while proclaiming he still stands for straight talk. Heck, I expect him to proclaim any day now that he's a uniter, not a divider,

I don't rule that a President McCain (the thought makes me shudder) could behave more like McCain 2000 than the current model. But there's one major reason yet another flip-flop would be unacceptable: the governor of Alaska.

By cynically selected a completely untested and unready running mate like Sarah Palin -- bypassing experienced GOP women like Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas or Olympia Snowe of Maine -- McCain chose politics as usual over change.

That's not a change anyone should believe in. And that's they key to the strategy. Alienate the idealistic young base that flocked to Obama this year and have them sit on their hands, fed up over the lack of change in the way we tackle the pressing problems they are inheriting.

At least someone gets it.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Short-term memory loss

I'm delighted to see that Sarah Palin has moved from master executive to foreign policy expert to political pundit in the space of a just a few short weeks.

So as the governor of Alaska waxes thoughtfully on the Barack Obama's decision to by bypass Hillary Clinton as his running mate, it's an appropriate time to recall John McCain's unguarded thoughts about his esteemed colleague, uttered during a campaign stop last year.

Do you really think the GOP ticket would have honored Clinton's presence in the race as either No. 1 or No.2? The McCain camp's efforts to date amount to say, shall we say, putting lipstick on a pig (the very phrase he used to describe Clinton's health care plan).

I'm glad to know Sarah Palin knows about Russia because she can see it from her state. I'm delighted to know she was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. And I'm thrilled that she went to Iraq before she didn't.

I'll let the damn liberal media New York Times sum it all up.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

There she goes again

Well I know I feel better. Sarah Palin says she's ready to be president.

Of course she says she would consider putting us into a third war -- this one with Russia, which has nukes. And like the man she hopes to replace, she says that Saddam Hussein had a connection to the 9-11 attacks.

The McCain camp is apparently so confident in her abilities that it plans to keep campaigning with her, limiting her direct exposure to celebrity situations and away from tough questions.

Palin apparently didn't screw up too badly after being prepped and rehearsed for a week -- although anyone who wants to lead the United States should have at least a passing understanding of the Bush doctrine, the term that is at the foundation of the mess this country finds itself in today.

If the success measurement is "she didn't make a fool of herself" McCain and Palin will be trumpeting today.

But I'd like to see her without the training wheels -- the way she would be if that phone rang at 3 a.m.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

I still want my country back

Seven years ago, the big cities of New York and Washington were under attack and the nation rallied to the cause.

Today, those same cities and values are under assault from a different direction, mocked as somehow un-American locations that fail to share in the values of the Republican Party whose leader has lived Washington's most prominent address all that time.

American history is littered with demagogues who have used people and symbols to attack and denigrate: Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy; President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew; Vice President Richard Cheney among the most prominent of the last 50-plus years.

You may notice a trend here -- one of political party.

Now we have the latest assault, from a war hero and a politically ambitious small town mayor. Truth has been cast to the wind for partisan gain.

We heard this last when the current occupant of the White House (born in a Connecticut suburb of New York but fancying himself a small town cowboy) promised to be a "uniter not a divider," then used the attack on the nation's largest city as an opportunity to do just the opposite.

These fear and smear tactics, this sneering at the supposed lack of values, has been at the heart of the divisions that equate flag pins with patriotism, rigid and specific religious beliefs with morality.

At its root, it uses the cynicism of destroying one person's reputation and life story in an effort to win political office.

I went back and looked at what I wrote three years ago today. I'm saddened how little has changed.

I still want my country back.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Truth or consequences?

Apparently the McCain campaign doesn't believe there will be consequences in their Jane Swift-boating of Barack Obama and the truth.

In a nati0n at war in two countries, prices rising along with unemployment and scandals resulting from the lack of financial checks on Wall Street (not to mention a Republican president with ratings in the toilet) John McCain and Sarah Palin have come to believe the one way to win election is to change the subject.

In keeping with that goal, the Steve Schmidt strategy was to drag out another former Massachusetts governor who had problems with mixing job and family and created -- out of whole cloth -- the ludicrous assertion that Barack Obama dissed Sarah Palin

His sin: using the phrase "putting lipstick on a pig" to describe McCain's claim to be an agent of change.

An "outraged" Swift insisted Obama was dissing all women, including the one who only a week ago said the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull was, wait for it -- lipstick.

The McCain campaign has been surging -- first with the move into attack mode that centered on equating Obama with Paris Hilton then with the nomination of the unqualified governor of Alaska to be his running mate.

The GOP convention made no reference to the man who has "led" this nation for eight horrific years -- George Walker Bush. And it turned logic on its head by saying the evangelical-rallying Palin was more qualified than Obama because she has been a mayor (of a 9,000-person town) and a governor (of a 670,000-person state).

Nowhere do we hear anything of substance. Only denigration of Obama and his supporters as big city elites who disdain the God-fearing (and overwhelmingly white) folks who attend the GOP convention.

(And if you want another take on this, from a one-time small town resident who now lives in the big city, try this.)

The strategy of the Schmidt effort is to channel Karl Rove and Lee Atwater and raise Obama's negatives. After all it worked with Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry. Avoid substance, slash and burn and convince Americans the Democrat is just too risky.

In reality, the risk is that we elect another Republican to carry on in the traditions of the Bush administration, which has run Washington for eight years -- and the GOP Congress that controlled things for six of the eight years.

McCain is betting there will be no consequences for his shameful behavior. Right now I'm not sure I would want to take that bet.

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Don't be fooled

The fund-raising numbers don't look good for the folks promoting Question 1 -- the income tax repeal. Neither does the fact that a lot of that cash is going into the their own pockets and not advertising.

That's exactly what they want you to think.

The income tax repeal question is not going to be won with television ads. It will be won at the grassroots level -- the bumper stickers, yard signs, phone trees and all those seemingly quaint reminders of yesteryear.

It may seem like an odd comparison, because the folks in support of Question 1 and the backers of Barack Obama are strange bedfellows, but they are both relying on the same thing -- good old-fashioned legwork.

Want better proof?
Citizens for Limited Taxation, another nonprofit advocacy group, also plans to get involved, and will distribute red and white bumper stickers that read, "Hell Yes! Question 1."
Anyone want to check out Barbara Anderson's success rate in winning anti-tax ballot questions? And virtually all of that success is built on a foundation of activists who have never met a tax they liked -- even if those taxes helped to pay for police, fire, schools and trash removal.

That's even before we get to the mismanagement of the Big Dig and the MBTA.

This is a question that received 45 percent voter approval in better economic times. Anyone care the suggest things are great these days?

And don't be complacent by thinking the Legislature will overturn the will of the voters as they have in the past -- and have suggested they will do in this case too.

Do you think that Wall Street -- which has plenty of problems these days because of the shaky underpinnings of lots of mortgage financing tools -- will look kindly on bonds being issued by a state that has lost a substantial chunk of its revenue designed to guarantee those bonds?

The Legislature can't act as fast as a bunched of panicked Wall Street types. Or the bond rating agencies.

Don't be fooled.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Feeding at the trough

Evidence of the slipshod vetting job done by the McCain campaign continues to mount.
ANCHORAGE, Sept. 8 -- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a "per diem" allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business.
Nice work if you can get it.
The governor's daughters and husband charged the state $43,490 to travel, and many of the trips were between their house in Wasilla and Juneau, the capital city 600 miles away, the documents show.
Jane Swift's helicopter rides were cheap by comparison.

Nobody, except for conservative columnists and the hate government crowd, begrudge reasonable travel expenses paid to elected officials who live far way from their duties.

But the key here is "live far away from their duties." Being paid to live at home, cook your own meals and pay for your family on your trips is what some might call pushing the envelope on the public trust.

The more time removed from the decision, the more it becomes apparent, protests aside, that John McCain made a rash and uninformed decision to select Palin as his running mate.

Add this to being for The Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it and hiring lobbyists to bring home $27 million in federal pork for Wasilla and you have the image of a standard issue pol -- in lipstick.

McCain went for Palin to shake things up -- and clearly that has worked in the short term.

Hopefully, as more Americans learn just how unqualified this half-term Alaska governor is for the job of No. 2 behind a 72-year-old cancer survivor, things will change.

If not, we stand to go from bad to worse. A McCain with a running mate of presidential stature is one thing. A McCain with a bad Alaska pol is about as scary a thing as I can imagine.

And in hindsight, maybe Palin should never have not have put the state plane on EBay.

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Girl crush

Those darn TV cable TV news types are at it, portraying GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin in a manner that accentuates her appearance over her accomplishments.

“Is it hot in here, or is it me?” asked Fox News’ Trace Gallagher yesterday, loosening his tie behind his “Live Desk with Martha and Trace.”


But the real McCain supporters aren't fooled, are they?

“It’s the whole librarian thing,” says Karl Zahn of New Hampshire, a true blue McCaniac reachable at KarlofNH.com. “People whose dream it is to defile a librarian, we were groveling the other night.”

Bet he never thought of defiling Paula Zahn.

But at least it just those darn straight and proud GOP men.
“She’s like Ann Margaret in ‘Kitten with a Whip,’ ” said conservative commentator Monica Crowley the other night on “The McLaughlin Group,” just about giving elderly host McLaughlin a heart attack.
Um, never mind. I'll quite while I'm behind

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Monday, September 08, 2008

A very mortal Brady

A scary day if you're a New England Patriots fan -- the franchise is hurt.

No one will dispute the talents the No. 12 -- although the cult of personality that has been building around him (c'mon Globe, you don't write two glowing stories a week about anyone!) is a little too much. But Brady's talent and record is indisputable.

Which is what makes Tony Massarotti's online offering worth the read.

Is it the quarterback who has been so successful? Or is it the coach?

I'm no Bill Belichick fan -- I'm a Cleveland Browns fan and the two thoughts cannot live in the same space. So Life without Brady will be exceptionally interesting for me to observe.

I've seen Belichick mishandle two quarterback situations -- not to mention his shameful contract behavior with the Jets and Spygate. There's a harsh irony that Brady suffered a significant injury right after coming off the injury list for the first time in five years.

Granted honesty and integrity are not crucial to winning football games. But my money is on Brady being the linchpin to the Patriots over the years, not the guy in the hoodie.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Not ready for primetime

You want a hint how unprepared Sarah Palin is for the the national stage?
Rick Davis, campaign manager for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., just told Fox News Channel's Chris Wallace that McCain running mate Gov. Sarah Palin won't subject herself to any tough questions from reporters "until the point in time when she'll be treated with respect and deference."
What happened to Sarah Barracuda, the pit bull in lipstick?

Can someone tell me the last time the national media treated a politician with respect and deference? Maybe Hillary Clinton can answer that one.

The thinness of this excuse reflects just how unprepared Palin is for an outing where she can't rely on a script.

Would this be the same standard she would employ, if elected, before dealing with Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin?

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We now return you to our regularly scheduled program....

The conventions are over, we survived the Invasion of the U-Hauls, school has started and life is about to slip back into routine. Let's hope that includes the reporters who cover the ins and outs of politics and government in the capital city.

While the Globe thought it important enough to send a reporter over to Italy to accompany Boston Mayor Tom Menino on a mission of questionable value for the city, the newspaper of record has been pretty silent on a subject that should be capturing our attention: the impending budget nightmare.

Sure, we've seen stories about the problems at the Turnpike Authority and the MBTA and fleeting references to bond prospectuses that spell out a gloomy fiscal picture.

And we've been treated to fleeting references to extensions of a Medicare waiver deadline as the state and federal government wrangle over how much the feds will continue to pay for the state's health care experiment.

Unless you subscribe to the Statehouse News Service, you don't know there is about to be a huge hole blown into the FY 09 state budget.
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, AUG. 31, 2008.....The Bush administration, which plans to deny Massachusetts $2 billion the state says it needs to cover health care costs, has come up with a way to ease the pain, according to a source familiar with negotiations.

Massachusetts has requested upward of $11 billion in federal Medicaid reimbursements over the next three years, but federal officials, while still in negotiations, are expected to slash the request by about $650 million a year. According to the source, Bush budget officials have refused to budge on that reduction but have agreed to allow the Bay State wide latitude in how it spends the funds it does receive.
Note the date -- a week ago. Long enough for the Globe -- which should have sources every bit as good as the plucky News Service -- to match the story either in Boston or Washington.

There's no question that covering the national conventions is the candy that helps justify the long and occasionally miserable hours spent covering politics.

But you would think that with the Globe's shrinking news hole the slimmed down reporting staff should be focused on "hyperlocal" topics and let someone else handle the bulk of the national beats.

Or that the Herald, looking to hit 'em where the Globe ain't, would see the void and move into it. If the state comes up (at least) $650 million short on a budget that is already two months old, the impact of cuts over the remaining nine or 10 months is going to be magnified.

And that same "shame on you" might also be extended to the Politickerma, the new kid on the block that touts itself as "inside politics for political insiders."

The fireworks have exploded and the balloons have dropped. There is a primary election scheduled in nine days (surprise!). Let's get back to business, shall we.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

"Jesus was a community organizer; Pontius Pilate was a governor"

The no-rancor McCain campaign has seized on Barack Obama's past as a community organizer to offer another one of their sneering critiques of the Democrat, his alleged lack of experience and his commitment to what they feel is a "leftist" occupation.

Leading the charge is Sarah Palin, who says he stint as mayor of a 9,000-person town trumps him because she had "actual responsibilities." Like hiring lobbyists to bring home the pork.

But what is community organizing? The Globe speaks with one of the best, Lew Finfer, describes it as reaching out to members of disenfranchised communities, learning about them and their issues, then mobilizing and empowering them to address those issues.

Sort of like payments to the Sons of Iraq to keep the peace in the neighborhoods for a mere $2.7 million a month.

Or the $48 billion spent to renovate 3,000 schools, train 30,000 teachers, distribute 8 million textbooks and rebuild irrigation infrastructure for 400,000 people, as well as fund projects to improve drinking water, bridges, roads, sewage treatment, airports and, of course, oil pipelines and refineries.

All the while the Iraqi government is sitting on a $79 billion oil-fueled surplus.

Imagine if that money was spent in American cities and small towns. To build schools, hospitals and bridges to somewhere. Yes even local hockey rinks.

By sneering at community organizing and community building, Palin, Rudy Giuliani and the cast of non-rancorous Republicans have actually been sneering at the American men and women during community organizing in Iraq. You know, the ones who wear camo and body armor.

But I must admit, this T-shirt design says it best.

"Jesus was a community organizer; Pontius Pilate was a governor."

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Friday, September 05, 2008

No comment necessary

Watch Karl Rove, Bill O'Reilly and Dick Morris debate themselves, courtesy of Jon Stewart.

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