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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Friday, October 31, 2008

Dianne, please go away

Dianne Wilkerson's Massachusetts Senate colleagues want her to do the right thing this time and leave the office that she has shamed (according to a bunch of FBI surveillance photos).

The same apparently holds true for the city's leading black ministers.

But Wilkerson soldiers on, convinced of her own rectitude -- just as she has been through the various cases of tax evasion, campaign violations and brushes with the truth in court.

There have been many examples of Wilkerson failing to obey laws -- some of which she helped to pass. But this time there are pictures.

You know her Senate colleagues are angry. They did everything short of piling her belongings into a box outside her office. They stripped her of her committee assignments, referred her to the ethics committee which rarely meets and unanimously passed a resolution calling on her to resign.

Expulsion can only come after a ruling by the ethics committee.

None of those things (with the possible exception of an ethics probe) happened during her previous brushes with the law, but that's another story.

Wilkerson says the request to quit is "unreasonable."

"Surely the members of the state Senate could not have believed that such a monumental decision would be made within a few hours," she said in a statement.

"A decision to leave this district without representation, even for 60 days, is one that cannot and should not be made in a matter of hours," she said. "Rest assured I am committed to do what is in the best interest of the residents of this district.
No, unreasonable is taking money in exchange for official actions (read the PDF), then expectng that life will go on normally after such an apparent violation of the public trust is exposed.

I took offense when newspapers and others called for Barney Frank to resign after his foolish affair with Steve Gobie, feeling that his constituents had a right to decide his future. Frank got another chance and has acquitted himself rather well.

Fixing parking tickets is a far cry from the crimes Wilkerson stands accused of -- and this is clearly not the first time she has been in trouble with the law. And let's not forget she has not been acquitted of the previous charges.

How many chances is one person entitled to?

In any event, the voters in the Second Suffolk Senate District have a chance on Tuesday to answer that question.

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The October Surprise?

The conservative end of the blogosphere is up in arms of what they feel is the October Surprise that will bring down Barack Obama -- Aunt Zeituni.

The Times on London, owned by Rupert Murdoch, offered a story the other day about Zeituni Onyango, living in a "rundown Boston estate," a housing development in South Boston.

The area has quickly been translated into a "slum" by those looking to find fault with the candidate, something that will no doubt upset a lot of Southie residents, particularly those who aren't Obama voters.

Can we have a sense of perspective here?

As near as I can tell, this is a woman Obama met from the first time 20 years ago on his journey of discovery to Kenya. He recalled her as "Auntie Zeituni" who kissed him on his cheeks and welcomed him "home." We apparently hear no more about her in the book.

The Times spells out the family lineage:
Aunt Zeituni and Uncle Omar are the children of Mr Obama’s grandfather Hussein Onyango Obama, by his third wife – the woman Mr Obama calls “Granny” because she raised his father. Mr Obama’s father, Barack Sr, was Onyango Obama’s son by his second wife, Akumu. That makes Zeituni and Omar a half-sister and half-brother of Mr Obama’s father, or Mr Obama’s half-aunt and half-uncle.
Don't know about you, but I don't have a feeling of obligation to my first cousins, let alone any half-relatives that may exist. I draw my conclusions about Obama's family commitments by his decision to suspend campaigning to return to Hawaii to visit the ailing grandmother who helped raise him after being abandoned by Barack Obama Sr.

For her part, Onyango appears to have great pride in her nephew, keeping pictures on a wall and donating to his campaign.

An obviously proud woman, she wishes to keep her counsel until after the election and not get caught up in a firestorm. Maybe he inherited some intelligence from her.

Can't we respect the privacy she so obviously cherishes?

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Tip of the iceberg?

The arrest of Dianne Wilkerson on charges she took bribes to arrange for liquor licenses in her Second Suffolk Senate district may well turn out to be simply the tip of a very large iceberg.

There is certainly a lot of head-scratching over why a seasoned politician would jeopardize her career over $23,500 in bribes -- no matter how bleak her personal finances may be. Follow up reporting in the Globe and the Herald offer two suggestions of what else may be going on.

One is the case of Parcel 8 in Roxbury, a vacant lot along Melnea Cass Boulevard lot that has been a field of dreams for developers. A major project for her district, the implicit deal alleged by prosecutors is that Wilkerson would help a local team obtain the land in a non-bid process. In turn, they would work with a preferred Atlanta developer.

But it's the second project -- mentioned as an 'oh by the way' in a story about Wilkerson's intention to stay in the race against Sonia Chang-Diaz -- that has eye-popping potential.
Yet even as she sought to salvage her political career, the investigation into her activities blossomed into a much broader investigation as federal authorities blanketed the State House and City Hall with subpoenas yesterday. Agents also delivered a subpoena to the developers of Columbus Center, a major project Wilkerson supported.
Columbus Center. A massive $800 million hotel, residential and retail project that has started and stalled along Columbus Avenue over the Mass. Pike. Why is it stalled? Money. The inability to raise capital in chicken-choking economy. The solution sought by developers? State dollars.

And this is where it could get really interesting.

The Patrick administration initially approved $10 million in economic development grants, then rescinded them. Leading the push to stop the flow of state dollars was House Speaker Sal DiMasi, who labeled the idea "a misuse of taxpayer dollars."

When last we looked in July, developer Arthur Winn looking for help in pleading his case. He was meeting with Wilkerson. And one of the project's major supporters -- even in the face of neighborhood opposition is Tom Menino.

This is by no means a suggestion that anyone else is involved in shaking down cash or paying it. It is a simple statement that some other big names besides that of Senate President Therese Murray and City Council President Maureen Feeney could very well get dragged into what is likely an ongoing Wilkerson investigation.

Especially if the feds think they could get Wilkerson to start talking in exchange for a plea deal.

Fasten your seatbelts.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Even deeper and uglier

If the image of Dianne Wilkerson stuffing cash into her bra wasn't enough, the details behind the sting (Globe here, Herald here) are even worse.

The names being tossed about in federal affidavits aren't small-time players: Mayor Tom Menino. City Council President Maureen Feeney, Senate President Therese Murray. Boston Licensing Board Chairman Daniel Pokaski. Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee Chairman Michael Morrissey of Quincy.

The stuff reads like something out of a Dennis Lehane novel. Wilkerson allegedly takes cash to secure a liquor incense in her district; blackmails Pokaski by holding up his raise; gets everybody's attention then cuts a deal during a meeting in Murray's office.

The Globe sums it up:
The FBI's case portrays a system in which phone calls and pressure from a single, powerful, well-connected state senator got results in Mayor Thomas M. Menino's administration, the City Council, the Legislature, and the Boston Licensing Board.
The feds say they may not be done -- with City Hall a principal focus.

Sadly, this sort of behind-the-scenes horse trading of interests is probably not all that rare. The cash payments probably are, not because city councilors and state legislators are angels. Rather, few would seem to be a financially at risk as Wilkerson.

Or, given her track record, ethically challenged.

At this early stage, I would bet Murray and Menino are not involved except for their offices or their names. But there's probably a lot more photos and evidence we haven't seen yet so I'm not making hard and fast predictions.

The ultimate sadness is that, despite this monumental betrayal, many of her constituents remain loyal for the things she has done that money can't buy. Says Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods:
"When kids were dying in the streets, Dianne would bury them. When children were hungry, Dianne would feed them. It's not that Dianne does no wrong - she's done a lot of wrong. But at the end of the day you had someone whose mission was to help other people."
That real concern about people has become such a rare commodity in today's political world that some people would even tolerate her clearly seamier side may be the ugliest revelation of all. And it is about all of us -- about how we have allowed our political; system to be hijacked.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A whole new meaning to the term "busted"

If I were Sonia Chang-Diaz, I wouldn't sweat the ethics complaint.

The final chapter appears ready to be written in the sad case of Dianne Wilkerson.

This FBI surveillance photo shows allegedly stuffed a $1,000 cash payoff into her bra during a meeting with an informant at No. 9 Park restaurant on June 18, 2007. That's almost a year-and-a-half ago -- and part of what federal prosecutors charge is $23,500 in bribes designed to help a nightclub secure a liquor license and to assist a private developer who wanted to build on state land.

That's about six months after Wilkerson won a closely contested battle with Chang-Diaz for the Second Suffolk Senate seat and well before her supporters launched a scurrilous scorched earth campaign -- questioning Chang-Diaz's heritage -- in what now is clearly a shameful attempt by Wilkerson to hang on to her seat despite losing a September primary recount.

Wilkerson's checkered history is well known -- tax evasion, allegations of lying under oath, campaign finance violations. I admit to being someone who rationalized about her far too long, shrugging it off by saying "it's up to the voters."

But if proven true these charges escalate her misdeeds by an exponential factor. No more excuses -- shakedowns can't be tolerated.

What is most inexcusable though, is her contempt for those very same supporters. City Councilor Chuck Turner and former School Committee member Jean McGuire must decide for themselves if their heated racial rhetoric was appropriate given what they now know about their candidate.

Whether they apologize is up to them and their consciences. But Wilkerson owes a major apology to Chang-Diaz as well as supporters of both candidates for such an apparent violation of trust.

Wilkerson is obviously innocent until proven guilty, but the pictures are hard to ignore. How she plans to answer these charges will be fascinating. And remember, this is Massachusetts, where James Michael Curley was re-elected to Congress from a prison cell.

That fact was no doubt on the minds of the FBI when they engineered the arrest and arraignment one week before an election, a shocking decision in its own right. Wilkerson has beat the odds many times already. Apparently, the feds weren't leaving anything to chance.

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What planet has he been on?

It's only fitting that a campaign which has rejuvenated Saturday Night Live come down to its final days as a reprise of SNL's Bizarro World. Or the late lamented Pogo.

John McCain has met the enemy and he is me. And you. And other readers of this blog who think like me.

Eight years of weapons of mass destruction. Of torture. Of financial abdication where spending goes through the roof while tax revenues plummet through tax breaks for the wealthy. Of Dick Cheney. Of Osama bin Laden. Of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But, my friends, despite all this, the biggest threat this nation faces is -- the liberal.

I don't know whether to be sputtering in anger or sticking my thumbs in my lapels and thrusting my jaw out in pride.

Lindsay Graham, the South Carolina senator and McCain confidante, one of the leaders of the effort to stage a coup through the impeachment of a president over oral sex, says it's urgent for us to "take your country back."

Damn straight.

The GOP fear and smear machine that has been doddering through this campaign is facing the rocks big time. For many acolytes, the conviction of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is further proof of the End of Days.

We have seen corruption -- in the form of Duke Cunningham and Tom Delay. We have seen people who don't practice what they preach like Mark Foley. We have seen George Bush and Dick Cheney -- and minions like David Addington -- treat the Constitution as if it were Charmin. We have been treated to the g-dropping spectacle of Sarah Palin.

But, my friends, if we elect liberals we are all doomed.

To say that the conservative movement has run out of steam is to engage in understatement of the grandest order.

I am proud to be a liberal who believes in the principles of fairness and equality for all citizens, no matter race, creed, color, gender, religion or financial status.

What exactly does a conservative stand for today -- except no taxes? I'd love to hear from those proud conservatives who have seen their principles shattered over the last eight years and have stood up to oppose the fraud being perpetrated in their names.

I've had my shots and I don't bite.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Throwing in the towel

One of the clearest indications of impending disaster is the old image of rats leaving the sinking ships. Haul out those teeny lifeboats.

No. former Bush speechwriter David Frum is not a rodent, even if he engages in a somewhat blind lashing out at the left, accusing the fringes of wanting to use the very same tactics his own zealots have employed for decades.

But an op-ed in yesterday's Washington Post begs the metaphor when Frum suggests it is time for the GOP to abandon the leaky McCain campaign and head to the safety of the Senate.

The words are stark, particularly coming from a GOP true believer:
After months and months of wan enthusiasm among Republicans, these last weeks have at last energized the core of the party. But there's a downside: The very same campaign strategy that has belatedly mobilized the Republican core has alienated and offended the great national middle, which was the only place where the 2008 election could have been won.

I could pile up the poll numbers here, but frankly . . . it's too depressing. You have to go back to the Watergate era to see numbers quite so horrible for the GOP.

A Republican recalling Watergate? I guess it is bad.

The suggestion that Democrats will use their victory to reward friends and punish enemies is a logical one. After all, that's been the GOP's modus operandi for the nearly 30 years of the "Reagan Revolution."

But a partisan to the bitter end, Frum ignores some realities. The Democrats, by choice and necessity, have become the party of balanced budgets and economic sanity. It was the excesses of six solid years of GOP rule (sandwiched between eight years of divided rule where Republicans had the message or the votes) that has brought up to this precipice.

But back to the point about the venal left seeking revenge, starting with the reintroduction of the Fairness Doctrine, the fig leaf that, when eliminated gave rise to Rush Limbaugh and the vitriol on the right.

The idea that anyone would waste significant time in the current national emergency on such blatant score settling is preposterous. Will folks try to settle scores? You betcha.

Will they try to drag the nation through the equivalent of a $72 million investigation of George Bush, John McCain, Newt Gingrich and company? No, that's a Republican tactic.

I happen to agree with Frum that the best thing the GOP could do is the create a viable Senate caucus -- one that works with its colleagues and doesn't try to obstruct through the use of arcane rules.

One that recognizes that marching lockstep in support of phony weapons of mass destruction and torture is not reflective of the basic good of the people they claim to represent.

And most of all, one that recognizes there are diverse voices on issues -- particularly one social ones with religious overtone. We are not a one size fits all society. I respect someone else's right to believe in something different without feeling the need to demonize or destroy them.

The heart and soul of Gingrich-Bush-Cheney Republicanism says the exact opposite. And it is that intolerance, more than anything else that is at the center of where the GOP is heading today.

Yes, it is a good idea for Democrats to stop and consider what would happen if they fell into the same habits that have come to characterize Republican rule. And despite the best slurs being tossed by John McCain and Sarah Palin, the man at the top of the ticket does recognize that.

So hopefully in a week we can echo another theme from Watergate because our long nation nightmare may soon be over.

At least in Fruum's view. I'm not counting any chickens yet. Talk to me next Tuesday night.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Your tax dollars at work

Here are a couple of interesting things that have crossed my path recently.
  • Want to know how the federal government plans to use the $700 billion we graciously authorized them to spend to get us out of the hole their Wall Street pals got us into? Check out the watchdog site created by NetAge Endless Knots. Of course, it probably takes an extra advanced degree just to understand a federal agency organizational chart...
  • Think it's a snap to balance the state budget? The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center has teamed with boston.com to create an online exercise in how to cut $12.6 billion should Question 1 pass. They call it an interactive "game" but I didn't have a lot of fun learning abut the consequences...

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Friday, October 24, 2008

g Whiz

The new Globe is here! Is it any different? Time will tell.

g made its debut today -- a wise move given the weekend entertainment ads. The section felt far more substantial than the late unlamented Sidekick. Let's see what happens on Mondays and Tuesday when there isn't a special theme -- and ad support.

(And they really need to do something about that promo page on boston.com that loads in about 20 minutes...)

The use of spot color in pictures, while new for the Globe, is something my little suburban daily did about 20 years ago, so don't count me as overly impressed. Ditto for color comics.

The real answers to g will come over time -- will eliminating a business front on a regular basis and Health/Science on a weekly basis make a real difference?

But ultimately, it's the fate of the never mentioned fifth section that will control the destiny of this and other newspapers. The classified section was once the life blood of the paper. Today, it is little more than a wrapper for the ad inserts.

The shrinkage of classifieds has been obviously for quite awhile -- Craigslist, Monster.com and its job site cousins and vehix.com and its car relatives -- have devastated the industry's advertising base and is ultimately the reason for the redesign.

The odds of the fifth section bulking up are virtually nil. Continued shrinkage and the new, "improved" Globe will need still more changes.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

The $98 pacifier

At first I wasn't going to weigh in on the blooming frenzy over Sarah Palin's wardrobe selections. Then I got to the $98 pacifier.

That purchase from a children's boutique in Minneapolis reflects the double standard of the Republican Party and its candidates as it tries to win an election by throwing every personal attack in the book at Barack Obama.

Most of the stories have focused on the wardrobe shopping spree for Palin -- the moose-hunting hockey mom who burst in the national scene in late August. The McCain-Palin campaign racked up $150,000 in clothing tabs from Saks 5th Avenue and Neiman-Marcus (AKA Needless Markup).

Fairness suggests that perhaps all Palin did is try on the clothes selected for her by a consultant. Nevertheless, where were the Hockey Mom values?

Apologists are quick say this is all sexist, that no one ever talks about Brooks Brothers suits (not quite true -- I frequently called Mitt Romney a terrific empty suit).

Yes, but men's grooming has been fodder for the right -- John Edwards' $400 haircut (68,000 hits on Google) and Bill Clinton's alleged LAX clipping.

Then there was the incessant attention to Hillary Clinton's pant suits (more than 100,000 hits no matter how you spell it) or the orgy of comment on the dress Michelle Obama wore on The View ($148 off the rack).

But back to the pacifier. Democrats are supposed elitist, but some RNC handler couldn't find anything cheaper? A quick check of Amazon found a high-tech pacifier with a built-in digital thermometer at Amazon for $11 (shipping extra). If germs don't both you, there are used ones from $8.99. And they are two-for $3.49 at Minneapolis-based Target.

This is more a reflection on the handlers than the candidate herself. But it is the handlers who put words into the principals' mouths (maybe pacifiers too?) and encourage them to sound the theme that Barack and Michelle Obama are elitists out of touch with American values.

If John McCain and Palin then parrot those words without pausing to think about the obvious contradictions between their words and their own deeds, then they are fair game for the criticism.

Or, as Joy Behar noted:
“I don’t think Joe the Plumber wears Manolo Blahniks”
Gosh, I hope not.

CORRECTION: OK, so I didn't read. The name of the store where RNC folks bought $98 worth of baby clothing was Pacifier. The premise about the RNC shopping spree remains correct even if that one "fact" is not. Sorry.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Moderating comments

I seem to have caught the attention of a Chinese spammer so I'm turning comment moderation on. Real live honest to goodness thoughts still very welcome.


House rules

For all the questionable reasons House Speaker Sal DiMasi may have for disliking a special session, his concerns about not stirring the pot may be the worst.

The Globe reports that DiMasi is concerned that he won't be able to control the sideshow that has developed between Majority Leader John Rogers and Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo should lawmakers return to take up issues surrounding the growing fiscal crisis.

The succession battle for a seat that still isn't vacant took up a lot of the oxygen during the waning hours of the legislative session in July. Given the tightening screws around DiMasi that isn't likely to change.

While Gov. Deval Patrick ordered $1 billion in cuts and 1,000 layoffs, lawmakers need to approve some of his budget-tightening proposals -- mostly notably an always unpopular House call to raise the health care deductible for state employees and to impose a tax on telephone poles.

To be fair, lame duck sessions can be awful things. Members who have lost or opted to leave can return to create mischief -- willfully or not. Voters don't like the idea virtually unaccountable lawmakers making law.

Not to mention the fact that right now, Patrick takes all the heat for some of the unpopular cuts.

DiMasi has some cover on his reluctance to bring lawmakers back for a lame duck session. Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Mike Widmer, for one, thinks things can wait until January.

But as the fiscal problems deepen (hopefully Question 1 won't add to them) there is the obvious need for leaders to, well, lead.

DiMasi, who has prided himself in retaining control of the Beacon Hill agenda even with a Democratic governor, would now appear to content to let that governor take all the credit and blame -- just so that he could avoid having to deal with internal problems.

That's not a great message to send at the time political backbone is needed.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The enemies of Sal DiMasi

Powerful men (and women) have powerful friends. They also have powerful enemies.

Mistah Speakah, you have surely pissed someone off big time.

The news in today's Globe lead story is not that Attorney General Martha Coakley has convened a grand jury to look into the dealings of Richard Vitale, the erstwhile personal accountant and friend of House Speaker Sal DiMasi.

No, the real story is that someone leaked the word of grand jury proceedings to the media. That someone, whoever he or she may be, so has it in for the speaker that they would violate the confidentiality of the process to spill the beans.

This is a messy story. Vitale, who may have done financial favors for long-time friend DiMasi, has been accused of lobbying without registering. The allegations involve, for the time being, dealings with ticket brokers and Cognos ULC, a software company that received a lucrative state contract through the Patrick administration only to be see the pact withdrawn.

The fact Coakley's office is involved in hardly startling. It doesn't take a fortune teller to know that Vitale, Cognos and the other players in this drama have raised a lot of eyebrows. You don't hire George Regan as a mouthpiece if you are innocent as a newborn babe.

But to drop a dime on the Globe, two weeks before an election, even one in which DiMasi is running unopposed, is a very serious message that someone has the Speaker in his sights.

After all, the odds are strong the Legislature could be called back into special session to deal with the budget cuts needed to meet a tanking revenue picture. At the very least, the session that begins in January will be contentious.

And DiMasi has been a standup guy for a lot of the programs that have or could face the ax.

One of the joys of blogging is you can deal with idle speculation and without a whit of proof to back it up. So here goes.

Our dime dropper is a skilled political player. He or she is also someone with knowledge of the process too. Two people immediately come to mind with the combination of knowledge and political acumen, although the motives -- beyond that traditional Massachusetts sport of revenge -- are murky. Both are former House members who served with DiMasi.

Secretary of State Bill Galvin has a long history of dime dropping. Inspector General Gregory Sullivan ruffled a lot of feathers during his days as a House "maverick." In fairness to both men, it could also be someone in the Patrick administration or in Coakley's office. I suspect both names -- and a few others -- are being bandied about the marble halls of the Statehouse by reporters who can't really right about it.

It is very unclear what either man would gain beyond settling a score. But they have means and opportunity and someone clearly wants DiMasi's seat to get hotter than it already is.

Any other candidates out there?

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Monday, October 20, 2008

You can't spell cheap without AP

The word that newspapers around the country are starting to rebel against the Associated Press and its pricing structure brings back a lot of memories -- and they aren't good ones.

I'm old enough to remember United Press International, the AP's one-time competitor -- until tight financial times prompted newspaper editors to drop UPI and create what in effect is a monopoly that is now facing a challenge from the very members who made it so powerful in the first place.

Wire services are a strange form of media. For much of their history, they collected local news items from customers and repackaged it as their own. Specialized staffers did original reporting in business, health and government, but for the most part, it was a regurgitation service, with overnight staff combing the morning papers papers for news and churning it back out for the afternoon papers.

You can see the problem right there. As afternoon papers (and local dailies) started to disappear, the need for repackaged news and pictures disappeared.

UPI, unlike AP which is a cooperative owned by "members," felt the heat first -- aided and abetted by weak owners and managers who eventually saw the service purchased by News World Communications, owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

UPI's problems accelerated when the New York Times dropped the service, similar to what is atarting to happen now. The AP easily filled an obvious hole, but at a significant financial price, a common characteristic of monopolies.

But the media world today is far different than it was when UPI hit the skids. The web, for one thing, serves as a vast wire service. Google and Yahoo News basically serve the same function without the rewriting -- or the cost. And the AP is the predominant source for both those aggregators.

That has undoubtedly created myriad headaches for the AP's brain trust because they are now, in effect, competing against themselves. And by some accounts, not so well:

...[E]ditors and publishers at some other papers have become vocal critics of the way The AP operates, saying that it charges more than they can afford, delivers too little of what they need and — particularly galling to them — is sometimes acting as their competitor on the Internet.

“They seem to have forgotten that they are there to serve us,” said Benjamin J. Marrison, editor of The [Columbus, Ohio] Dispatch.

The financial realities of today's media means the trend will continue. The AP, like the members it serves, hasn't found an effective way to charge for the free content on the web -- except by charging those very members extra for the right to use that copy in their own online editions.

But bloggers eager to stick another nail in the MSM's coffin shouldn't be too gleeful. If AP copy disappears from the web, we will lose important links too.

There is no doubt some smug satisfaction among Unipressers saying "I told you so." But don't write the AP off. They may be squirming a little, but they will survive.

And by the way, the other half of that headline motto was: "You can't spell stupid without UPI."

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

City Weakly

I have a great idea for the Boston Globe as it looks to consolidate sections to save paper and money.

Get rid of City Weekly.

Week after week, readers in Boston and its neighborhoods -- as well as Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville -- are regaled with squishy soft features. Many, such as this week's ode to panhandling -- leave me shaking my head. Reading between the lines, the story probably sprang from a couple of encounters experienced by reporter Ric Kahn. The sidebar, Basic Begging 101, well, what can you say.

If I were the editor, I would still play the feature about mothers who have lost their children to jail or murder on the section front. It does examine an issue that is all too real to women in Boston's neighborhoods. And a soft story about a street performer on the verge of breaking out makes a nice counterpoint.

But where is the NEWS in the panhandling story -- or in City Weekly for that matter. There is one page for a collection of shorts on city neighborhoods and two pages to handle the three neighboring communities.

The section's regional cousins still manage "hard" news, despite going to press twice a week instead of the City section's one and done. Today, Globe Northwest is the meatiest -- with West and South not far behind.

And, in this observer's view, this is a regular occurrence. I simply can't recall the last time there was a City Weekly Page One story that I had to read. As a resident of one of those three surrounding communities, I wonder why they even bother to check in.

Please don't tell me it's for lack for news. As the other regional sections prove, there is plenty of opportunity to localize state and national stories -- like the impact the faltering economy and state cuts is going to have on communities. It's a staple of community journalism -- something these sections are supposed to practice.

And as the Globe continues to shrink, slice and dice City & Region or Metro or whatever the banner will read next week, does it really make sense to squander this valuable space? Surely there are real issues affecting Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline that can be examined?

Perhaps even more pathetic in this week's city readers' menu is the fact the best local story is the Globe Magazine, a yarn about police, a mother and baby and local bloggers.

So how about turning this section into the equal of its suburban counterparts? Run it twice a week and put some real effort into reporting news.

anyone? It may turn out poorly, but right now City Weekly is already a flop that should join Sidekick in oblivion.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gordon the Plumber

Reporters, pundits, bloggers and various hangers-on, myself included, have been living, breathing and dissecting the presidential campaign for almost two years.

So why did it take David Letterman to bring clarity to an issue that has eluded everyone -- including the Barack Obama brain trust?

My friends, as John McCain would say, in the annals of guilt by association we have Obama and Bill Ayers, a one-time Weather Underground member but now, in McCain's own words, "a washed-up terrorist."

Ayers did what Obama has called his "despicable"deed when the candidate was eight years old, although they served on a committee together -- and share connections to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Ayers contributed $200 to one of Obama's Illinois Senate campaigns, although Obama says he launched his state Senate campaign in a hotel and not Ayers' living room as McCain charges.

Now let's compare that with McCain's association with G. Gordon Liddy, a Watergate "plumber" who help mastermind the break-in of Democratic national party headquarters in the service of Richard Nixon and who served a prison term for his role in what Nixon spokesman Ron Ziegler termed a "third rate burglary."

McCain says Liddy served his time and he is happy to acknowledge his relationship. Heck, he may have even "palled around" with Liddy. He certainly accepted campaign contributions from him.

So, with all due respect to Dave, why did it take his team to uncover something so basic that anyone in the political press corps or the Obama campaign could have found it with a few Google searches?

If we're talking guilt by association, McCain no doubt has as many skeletons in his closet as the younger, "less experienced" Obama. What else is there?

In the end, McCain's relationship to Gordon the Plumber is no more important than the one he may or may not have with Joe the Plumber. Or Obama's relationship with Ayers.

Both campaigns should be run on issues of importance to the nation -- like how many people will suffer because of the lack of oversight of Wall Street, and for that matter, the issues that led to the war in Iraq. Neither should get bogged down in the detritus of fear and smear.

But if symbols and red herrings are what it's all about, let's remember Gordon the Plumber.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

For whom the road tolls

Deval Patrick may be on to something with his offhand remark about border tolls to help pay for Massachusetts' staggering transportation debts.

Toll booths on 93 and 95 at the New Hampshire line? Works for me. It's about time to get something back from the folks who work in Massachusetts and take themselves across the border to "tax-free" New Hampshire every night.

What's that you say -- it's not fair to tax people just for the privilege of using the roads? Fine, if New Hampshire forgoes the revenue it gets for allowing people to pass through Hampton on the way to Maine we can call it even.

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She can't tell right from left

Joe the Plumber, your 15 minutes are coming to a rapid close. Better call your agent.

In the last 30 hours of so we've been regaled by John McCain about a hard-working Ohio plumber who says he won't be able to buy his business because of Barack Obama's tax package.

But since McCain trotted out Mr. Everyman, a few unpleasant facts have come to light. Such as Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher is not a licensed plumber and therefore ineligible to buy the business -- at least if he wants to work with wrenches and not computers.

And Mr, Wurzelbacher does have a tax issue -- he owes them.

The latest, still in rumor and most intriguing of all, is that Mr. Average Joe is not so average. Reports have been flying around that Wurzelbacher is a close relative of Robert Wurzelbacher, who in turn is the son-in-law of Charles Keating. You remember him: the banker who did time for looting a savings and loan, the banking crisis of the 1980s that bears closest resemblance to our financial mess today.

You know, the guy who provided free vacations to John and Cindy McCain.

Naturally the right is a tad unhappy with others doing the vetting the McCain camp should have done. Michelle Malkin questions the connections and its relevance and blames the left wing blogosphere for perpetrating another outrage.

Perhaps Ms. Malkin shoud read blogger Martin Eisenstadt's bio:
Political strategist and conservative analyst Martin Eisenstadt is a senior fellow at the The Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy and Founder and President of the influential Eisenstadt Group. An expert on Near Eastern military and political affairs, Mr. Eisenstadt works alongside Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, offering advice and liaising with the Jewish community in particular. Prior to that, he consulted on the Rudolph Giuliani campaign, as well as numerous corporate and multinational organizations on issues of security and policy development. Mr. Eisenstadt has been an influential voice in Near Eastern policy debate for over a decade.
Doesn't sound like one of ours Michelle. You'll have to do better than this. Hey, maybe the New York Times or Washington Post will bail you out and debunk the connection.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Play it again Sam

If Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher didn't exist, Barack Obama would have to create him.

It seems "Joe the Plumber," the Ohio tradesman who engaged in a debate over taxes with Obama -- and whose cause was taken up by John McCain in last night's debate -- isn't really a licensed plumber. And his name is not Joe.

But he does owe $1,200 in back taxes. No wonder he's upset about the Obama plan that he says would prevent him from buying a $250,000 plumbing business.

I had some doubts earlier today that Joe would become the economic symbol that McCain would need to turn the tide in the campaign. After all, critics have repeatedly said Obama has failed to connect with the public on the topic because he hasn't put a human face to the problem.

McCain thought he could use Joe as the GOP metaphor. But got more than he bargained for.

Wurzelbacher was putting the pipe elbow before the wrench when he lamented Obama would prevent him from buying a business. Why? Because he isn't considered professionally qualified to run the shop.
Association of Plumbers, Steamfitters and Service Mechanics revealed that Wurzelbacher was not a licensed member of their trade.

"That means that he has not completed the training program necessary for him to sit for a license test," said Tony Herrera, market recovery specialist for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 50 in Toledo, Ohio.

Not only is Wurzelbacher only qualified to work for someone else with a master license, but he seems to have an, ahem, tax problem.
According to records on file with the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, the state filed a tax lien against Samuel J. Wurzelbacher for $1,182.98 on Jan. 26, 2007, that is still active.
In other words, Wurzelbacher believes laws and regulations don't apply to him. Funny, that does put him in the company of many Republican business types.

The McCain camp's failure to vet Joe the Plumber before holding him up as an icon is yet another in a long list of snap decisions made for political gain without thinking through the possibilities.

You know, like Sarah Palin.

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Glad to help!

Better late than never I guess.

I'm happy to see the Globe got around to "the rest of the story" on the Massachusetts Republican Party that was missing from Joan Vennochi's recent column. Of course, we've heard this promise from the state GOP before. It will be interesting to see if they deliver -- finally.

But I couldn't help but notice Eric Ferhnstrom lurking in the background of the picture of Barney Keller in the dead tree version. Isn't he part of that past that really didn't care about the grassroots?

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Say it ain't so, Joe

It's not often a presidential debate is aimed at winning the opinion of one voter. But this is obviously no ordinary presidential campaign.

And the last time I forked over a check for a plumber, I think it was for something along the lines of $100 an hour -- enough to make me pay an "insurance" policy so I won't get hit with a $450 charge to show up and deal with an overnight emergency.

With all due respect to the hopes and aspirations of Joe the Plumber, the problems of this nation are a lot deeper than the tax status of one man who hopes to buy a business for $250,000. And they are far more serious than a discussion of when Barack Obama knew William Ayers.

But John McCain is desperate. The polls show the gap widening -- although it is likely to tighten up again in the two-plus weeks before the election. Desperation breeds risk, and risk involves trying to say the other guy started it when it came to nasty name calling.

Let's look at last night as a microcosm. I didn't hear Barack Obama call John McCain erratic. I did hear the Republican to try tie Obama to a "washed up old terrorist."

I also heard McCain claim Obama never apologized for John Lewis' remarks comparing McCain to George Wallace. He did. He certainly never said McCain "palled around" with him either.

And that was far different than McCain's "misstatement" that he never allowed untruths to pass the mouths of his supporters. While he called his rival a "decent man," I never heard the explicit rejection of a voter who declared, to McCain's face, that Obama was an "Arab."

And what does that say of McCain's opinions of Arabs?

On a day when the stock market returned to the downside of the roller coaster, we didn't need to hear Johnnie Mac change the subject.

And we really didn't need to hear that a quarter of a million purchase of a business where hourly rates are something many of us can only dream of is an attack on the middle class.

At least McCain has brought his middle class wealth threshold down from $5 million.

And thankfully my plumbing is OK for the moment, so I don't need to pay a repair bill that would knock me out of the middle class.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Trial run on Question 1?

Although the specifics still remain unclear, there is no doubt that Deval Patrick is eliminating 1,000 jobs and $1 billion from the state budget. The days and weeks ahead will spell out exactly who is losing their job and what that will mean in terms of renewing a driver's license or getting a permit.

Is it just a prelude? The father of Massachusetts Republican Party spokesman Barney Keller certainly thinks so (still waiting to see how the GOP talking points match up).

But frankly, I think so too.

Cynics are already suggesting the Statehouse exercise is merely a campaign ploy that will be reversed if and when voters reject Question 1, the income tax repeal. Those sad souls are the same one who have bought the Republican "you can have it all and not pay for it" philosophy that has helped this nation into the massive debt.

Those cynics are also ignoring that it is Democrats, like Bill Clinton nationally and a raft of governors of both parties who have been living within their means while the Reagan-Bush free gravy train ran on endlessly.

If Question 1 passes, those cynics will be high-fiving, congratulating themselves on teaching big government a lesson on how to live within its means. That would come about by cutting another $12.5 billion in spending -- on "frills" such police, fire and education.

But even if Question 1 fails, I suspect Patrick and the Legislature will indeed be back at in January, looking to take even more out of a budget that will be hamstrung by a massive loss in capital gains taxes that reflect the tanking of Wall Street and the stock market.

So watch the reaction in the days ahead as the various financial oxen are gored. These cuts, while real and painful, really are just a dress rehearsal -- at best for another round in January, at worse for Question 1.

The outcry will be a better gauge than any poll out there.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Heavy weather ahead

You know things are going to be bad when Deval Patrick feels the need to telegraph what is coming.

That's $1 billion budget shortfall anticipated by Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer is now up to $1.5 billion. For now. That means the cuts set to be announced by Patrick tomorrow will be very painful.

Keep in mind Patrick is only working with a percentage of the budget that he controls. And there are several programs that -- for now at least -- are exempt, including health care, local aid and aid to local schools. And we are 3 1/2 months into the fiscal year, meaning a quarter of the money has probably been spent, leaving a smaller pool of cash to cut.

That translates into layoffs, lots of them, in agencies that provide services. But we're talking human services rather than transportation or public safety.

And does anyone really think we are going to see the slide in revenue stop based on how the national economy is faring?

Ironically, this exercise could amount to a major blow against Question 1, the income tax repeal. The cuts being envisioned are merely the tip of the iceberg of what would lie ahead if the ballot question passes.

Batten down the hatches.

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Anybody home?

When people in Boston point at government serving them poorly, they often point to the MBTA. Erratic schedules, surly employees, a sense that they are merely inconveniences standing in the way of quitting time.

The absolute tin political ear of MBTA boss Dan Grabauskas doesn't help.

Crushed by a debt load that, to be fair, was not of his making, Smilin' Dan continues to make decisions that leave the mind reeling. One day after the Globe revealed the MBTA was going with an untried and untested manufacturer for commuter rail cars, the Globe reports today that Grabauskas is planning to move forward with a $1.2 billion proposal to build a tunnel for the last piece of the Silver Line.

Again, fairness demands noting that the project is part of the mitigation package agreed to in exchange for building the Big Dig.

But common sense requires asking why not press for a reopening of that agreement instead of pushing ahead at a time when the MBTA has no money and is already overextended by major capital renovation projects.

Not to mention a time when people are just getting used to traffic patterns after more than a decade of disruption for a construction project that has put the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority on the edge of collapse and promises ever-more soaring costs on a small subset of commuters to pay for it.

To my mind, the Silver Line is a neat idea that has failed to meet it potential.

The concept of a mass transit vehicle with a dedicated right-of-way making limited stops is a great one. It's called a subway or trolley. The reality of the Silver Line is that for most of its dedicated right-of-way, it is struck in traffic.

I'd love to know the user statistics for the grand Courthouse and World Trade Center stations -- and the tunnels that connect them to South Station and the airport terminals. The handful of times I've taken the bus to the Seaport, I have either found myself crushed worse than a sardine on the Green Line or with the whole vehicle to myself.

Building a $1.2 billion tunnel through one of the busiest and most historic parts of the city also strikes me as folly. And I am not alone.
"The people that rely on the T the most, people of low income and communities of color, would mainly be the ones paying for this project, and they can't afford it," said John Cater, a member of the T Riders Union, which is based in Roxbury.
And let's assume, foe the sake of argument, that we somehow miraculously find the money. Does anyone believe the MBTA will bring this project in on time and one budget? Can you say Kenmore Station?

Before we get knee-deep in another disaster, can someone please take the time to talk -- and think?

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Here we go again

They don't have a track record building rail cars and they don't even meet the basic requirements of having an American manufacturing facility. Sounds just about right to Dan Grabauskas.

Smilin' Dan is apparently undeterred by the colossal flop of the sleek, track-jumping lemon cars built by an Italian company -- or even the history lesson in a decision to have a helicopter company manufacture trolley cars with hundreds of moving door parts. He's opting for Hyundai Rotem to build commuter rail cars.

Apparently with massive debt problems, three overdue, overbudget Green Line station renovations and a host of other issues, Smilin' Dan figures he could use a breather. So line up a company with what the Globe calls "scant" US experience to deal with the problem of overcrowded commuter rail trains.

That should stretch the 2010 deadline for delivery of four pilot cars to a point in time when they can actually deal with the issue.

The Globe's Noah Bierman provides a good explanation of why US presence is necessary:
"The European theory on how to keep people safe on railroads is to avoid collision. The American theory is to expect that collisions will happen and to build the vehicles like tanks," [former Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Fred] Salvucci said.
While I prefer the European solution (which no doubt also requires engineers to keep their cell phones off), this won't be a philosophical discussion.

But it will be an effort to raise a basic premise: you get what you pay for. Hyundai Rotem, like AnsaldoBreda before it, underbid the competition. In Boston, the experience was clear:
A 1995 contract to build Green Line trolley cars with the Italian company now known as AnsaldoBreda resulted in accusations of shoddy work - including derailments and leaky air conditioning systems - and a $50 million lawsuit against the MBTA. The T halted delivery in 2004 after frequent breakdowns. The order was completed this year.
Rotem's track record so far is equally undistinguished:
Rotem has fallen months behind schedule on its other two American commuter coach orders, in Philadelphia and Southern California. Officials at Southern California's Metrolink commuter line and Philadelphia's SEPTA said they expect delivery of their trains about six months later than first promised because of problems Rotem has had buying the specific type of steel required on US train cars. [Hyung Wook Kim, president of Hyundai Rotem USA Corp.] said the delays would be no more than three months in either city. Despite those delays, Metrolink and SEPTA officials say they are pleased with Rotem.
You get what you pay for. Except of course when it comes to Smilin' Dan's salary.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Only half the story

Joan Vennochi makes the obvious and logical argument that Massachusetts voters upset over the state of tax affairs can do something short of the political suicide represented by Question 1, the income tax repeal.

But Vennochi is far too gentle on the state's GOP, swiftly passing over the dearth of candidates on the ballot this year and allowing failed candidates to offer excuses without examining the root cause of the Massachusetts Republican Party's problem: too many chiefs and no Indians.

Nor does she examine the fact that mere tag "Republican" can be toxic in this state, despite its tradition of electing leaders like Frank Sargent, Ed Brooke and Leverett Saltonstall, and yes, even a one-time Holbrook state representative named Andrew Card.

It seems that for as long as I have watched Massachusetts politics, the GOP's interest has been the top of the ticket. Charlie Baker -- who is probably the only high quality Republican candidate out there today -- is quite right that 1990 represented a high water mark for the GOP in the Legislature.

Aided and abetted by the state's fiscal meltdown, the party actually recruited and elected candidates for the grassroots office represented by the House and Senate. And they captured the governor's office and the treasury.

But once Bill Weld took the Corner Office and Joe Malone became Treasurer, the focus shifted not toward party-building but personal growth. We know how Weld lost focus and shambled off to challenge John Kerry and then write novels. Or Malone and Weld's No. 2, Paul Cellucci, engaged in rough and tumble battles for the right to succeed Big Red, a battle Cellucci won until he opted for the job of Ambassador to Canada.

Perhaps the most egregious self-aggrandizer was the last GOP governor. After two years and an effort that actually led to the loss of legislative seats, Mitt Romney decided to try his hand on the national stage, kicking the very state he purported to lead.

In the meantime, the party ran through chairs from Kerry Healey (the pattern continues) to Peter Torkildsen, who is part of the last great GOP loss -- when he and Peter Blute lost congressional seats and left the state delegation as 100 percent Democrat.

None of these chairs succeeded at what should be the most basic job of a party leader -- building the ranks. The number of Republican candidates has continually shrunk and we have been left with an apparatus where junior spokesmen hurl meaningless sound bites in an effort to keep the party in the headlines.

Of course, there is a logical question of why anyone would want to run as a Republican in Massachusetts when the party can't help its favored candidate even get on the ballot, not to mention the masochistic nature of running under the McCain-Palin banner.

Yep, voting Republican would be a good alternative to approving suicidal tax cuts. Now all the Massachusetts Republican Party has to do is provide good candidates, not rhetoric.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Stuffing the hate genie back into the bottle

The world's finances aren't the only thing melting down. Things aren't looking too good for John McCain and Sarah Palin either.

We'll leave it to the investigator hired by the Alaska Legislature to state the case against the state's chief executive, declaring that while she was well within her rights to fire the state's public safety commissioner:
"Governor Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda, to wit: To get Trooper Michael Wooten fired."
Far more troubling than the expected shenanigans of small state politicians (and far less troubling than Sen. Ted Stevens' alleged misdeeds) is what is taking place at the top of the ticket.

The visceral hatred being unleashed by John McCain -- through bogus outrage over Barack Obama's alleged "ties" to former Weather Underground member William Ayers -- is truly frightening. I certainly hope the Secret Service is paying attention to the folks shouting "off with his head" and "kill him" at McCain rallies.

It's not really surprising: this has been the underlying message in the rants of Rush Limbaugh. In his pathetic quest to win over the dittoheads, McCain has simply channeled the talking points.

But the effort is now backfiring, with McCain supporters turning on the candidate when he tries to quell the irrational exuberance of people brainwashed into believing Obama is an "Arab."

If McCain truly believes Obama is a decent person -- as McCain once was -- he would not only correct people at rallies. He would also pull the campaign ads that seek to make a bogus tie between an 8-year-old and a bomb maker and acknowledge that the Ayers who Obama has interacted with is a man who evolved into an education advocate and sometime ally of the current Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

McCain has devolved from a maverick with a sense of honor and discipline into a raging faux populist who careens from one desperate scheme to another.

I pray it is not too late to stuff the genie of hate back into the bottle. And I usually don't pray for anything.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Why can't we do this?

I've seen the future. I only hope to live long enough to see it for real.

A trolley car once owned by the Boston Elevated Railway is one of many that run along a right-of-way along San Francisco's Embarcadero. That's the waterfront roadway created after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake made the shaky old highway a safety hazard that needed to be torn down.

The palm tree-lined roadway runs from a renovated Ferry Building along the port to Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. The trolleys actually also head all the way out to the Castro District, making them more than just another tourist lure.

Why am I babbling like this? Because the Embarcadero reminds me an awful lot about the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway -- a strip of city reclaimed from the clutches of a hulking overhead highway.

One thing that is clearly different. San Francisco was able to take advantage of its opportunities. The highway came down in 1991, redevelopment began almost immediately. No massive delays over turf wars.

While the Kennedy Greenway is a major improvement over the no-man's land that existed before the Central Artery came down, it remains very much a work in progress. The ambitions may be greater -- museums are harder to do than trolley lines -- but I can't help but get a sense we should be further along than we are. But then again, this is Boston, where politics and feuding is a way of life.

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The view from the Left Coast

Some notes while cleaning out the mental suitcases after a week in California and getting the full impact of why John McCain wants to change the subject...
  • $10.10 just to sit down in a taxi at Logan? Welcome to Boston, you sucker tourists. I'd expect a yellow rose and some chocolates too for that price.
  • Flying cross-country does give you a sense of how different we are as a nation. The East Coast features lots of clusters of lights and housing, while the Midwest has vast expanses of nothingness at night. But the West is the eye opener. Rugged mountains where little or no one lives hard against urban sprawl that goes on as far as the eye can see.
  • I finally got the full impact of why folks on the West Coast are none too happy with networks calling presidential elections at 8 p.m. A 6 p.m. "national" debate? A lot of folks are still stuck in homebound traffic at that hour. Fortunately, I didn't miss anything.
  • Glad to see not everyone is suffering from the financial meltdown. A 289-foot yacht? No evidence of a bumper sticker that said my other boat is a dinghy.
  • Thank you Deval Patrick, Sal DiMasi and Terry Murray. The anti-gay marriage commercials that are relentlessly pounding the airwaves are also eroding support for the California marriage equality law. It could have been us subjected to that hate campaign.
  • For all the problems experienced lately by the Globe, it's good to get a gut check. The San Francisco Chronicle always struck me as the weaker of that city's two papers. The old afternoon Examiner, owned by Hearst, was a much better read. Today's Hearst-owned Chronicle is better -- but not as good as the incredibly shrinking Globe. It does have an inventive way to deal with a smaller paper. Try having the C section start at the front and the D section start at the back of the same section. Thankfully the Globe hasn't tried that one -- yet.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

This is getting serious

The giant sucking sound you hear is the air being let out of Deval Patrick's ambitious plans to remake Massachusetts.

But Patrick, legislative leaders and Treasure Tim Cahill are to be commended for getting serious three months into the fiscal year -- and three months before the Legislature is scheduled to return -- about trying to cut the state budget now.

A $223 million hole in revenues a quarter of the way onto the year is serious, serious stuff. A large part of those losses were before the Wall Street free fall, a fact that means the state's capital gains tax receipts are heading over the cliff.

The 7 to 10 percent cuts ordered by Patrick, House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Terry Murray in the accounts they control are really short money. There are lots of bigger accounts -- like local aid -- that will be held harmless, at least for now.

But the heart and soul of Patrick's proposals is going to require cashing in huge amounts of political capital -- something he still does not have in vast quantities.

Abolishing the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority would be a big enough task. Legislators have been utterly resistant to that catch during the years it was controlled by Republican governors.

But moving to rework the state employee and MBTA pension systems will make the Turnpike reform seem like small potatoes. There are thousands of people with a literally vested interest in those plans, which have helped blue collar workers enjoy a decent retirement -- and allowed double dippers to enjoy a second career on the backs of taxpayers.

These are first steps. Pension reforms are unlikely to produce great savings this fiscal year -- even if they were approved tomorrow. It's highly doubtful abolishing the Turnpike Authority would forestall a major toll hike.

Then there is the question of the income tax repeal. It would take the shortfall likely to grow to $1 billion or more and explode it by $12.5 billion. The state is already having problems in the short-term credit markets. Repeal would close down long-term borrowing too.

It will also be interesting to see if Patrick revives the casino gambling proposal as a revenue source, and if he does, how lawmakers will view it in the new fiscal reality.

Batten down the hatches. It is going to get really intense around here. Let's hope the Republicans do more than offer the cheap shot words of local flak Barney Keller, who echoed the words of the Washington GOP that put political points over solutions.

And with that prediction, I'm going to slink off for some long delayed R & R. Catch up with you in about a week. And, as always, thanks for stopping by and do come back again.

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Working the refs

I think I get it now: elite means intelligent, capable of writing a book.

With evidence mounting that Sarah Palin is now becoming a drag on the Republican ticket, the Republican fear and smear machine is kicking it up a notch, trying to plant the seeds of bias and doubt in advance of her debate with Joe Biden.

How, you may ask. By claiming a respected journalist is biased because she is writing a book entitled "Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama."

I can see the bias right away, After all Obama is the latest in a long list of African-Americans who have secured the nomination of major political parties. No news here.

The fact that the reporter, Gwen Ifill, is also African-American therefore means it is bound to be pro-Obama, right? And she is moderating tonight's Biden-Palin match up.
Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin complained in an online column that "there is nothing 'moderate' about where Ifill stands on Barack Obama. She's so far in the tank for the Democrat presidential candidate, her oxygen delivery line is running out."
Cute line, conjuring up images of Michael Dukakis no doubt. It appears to be the newest GOP attack line, since McCain attack dog Steve Schmidt recently accused the New York Times of being "150 percent in the tank" for reporting that Rick Davis was getting money to promote Freddie Mac and Johnnie Mac at the same time.

"In the tank" apparently means committed to truth rather than cowed by fear and smear tactics.
“Let’s get real here. What would journalists say if in 2004 Jim Lehrer wrote a book called ‘Breakthrough, the age of Bush?’ ” Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman and now MSNBC host, asked rhetorically on Wednesday morning.
That's why Scarborough should have stuck to being a Republican congressman (we know how responsible they are). What exactly would be a "breakthrough" about Bush winning a second term as the 43rd white male to hold the office?

And of course they are in high dudgeon because the book is scheduled for release on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20. What did they think was a good release date for a book on presidential politics? Ground Hog's Day?

Best of all, the attack machine went into action even before we know how it will turn out. Ifill told the Times:

...she began writing the book, about the new generation of post-civil-rights-era black leaders, in spring 2007, long before Mr. Obama seemed likely to win the Democratic nomination. She said she had yet to write the chapter she plans to devote to Mr. Obama and argued with descriptions of her book as “pro-Obama.”

“Since I haven’t finished the book, it’s interesting people think they know what’s in it,” she said.

Nor do we know how it will turn out. Oh well, so much for facts.

But that hasn't stopped the folks at Fox from offering all sort of commentary. You know Fox, the network run by the man who ran the 1988 Bush campaign. No bias there. They report. You decide.

Seems like they are doing a lot of deciding. And it's not a lot better than the decisions from the Decider in Chief that have gotten us into the mess we're in today.

The problem with the working the refs strategy is that Ifill, is a professional who won't fall to the smear. But the attacks could help hold on to even the conservative stalwarts who are having second thoughts about John McCain's judgment in selecting Palin as his running mate.

Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Citi Seen

I guess one of our nation's banks is rolling in dough.

While people gnash their teeth pro and con over whether to bail out reckless Wall Street bankers, the folks over at Citibank don't appear to understand the climate.

Obviously I can't link to them, but my count there were at least four full-page ads in today's Boston Globe -- touting its purchase of Wachovia and trumpeting its CD rates. I'm not up on the latest advertising rates, particularly in a newspaper that is starving for revenue -- but I would assume each page runs $50,000 minimum.

So let's say that $200,000 in the Globe. There was also one full-page and two quarter-page ads in the New York Times. A full -page ad in the Times ain't chump change. Factoring in a discount for the New York Times Co., I'm guessing Citibank dropped northward of a half-million dollars in ads in just two newspapers on one day.

I'm happy Citibank is doing its bit to help another struggling business. Let's hope it's not money they expect to receive from taxpayers.

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A leadership test

These are times that separate the men and women from the boys and girls., when politicians show they are leaders or finger-in-the-wind followers. These are the times that will prove the mettle of Deval Patrick and Barney Frank.

The Newton Democrat has high marks so far, taking the lead in crafting an ugly but necessary plan to save Wall Street (and us) from greed and excess. Frank is taking some heat at home -- with folks looking back more than 10 years to what Frank did and did not do to deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as the seeds of this crisis were first planted.

Followership was vividly on display when House conservatives chose ideology over national interest and helped to sink the bailout proposal.

The fiscal meltdown also means that it is showtime for Deval Patrick -- elected on a platform that included a pledge to lower property taxes and restore programs slashed in the last recession and who is now facing a nightmare scenario of budget cuts triggered by falling state revenues and the federal fiasco.

And that's the good scenario. A little more than a month from now we could be talking about another $12.5 billion in budget cuts -- and a rush of Proposition 2 1/2 overrides -- to fill the hole created if the income tax repeal passes.

Patrick's plight rings very familiar to someone who lived it:
"Nothing is more difficult for a governor," said former governor Michael Dukakis, who faced two economic crises. "Believe me, nobody's going to give you a medal for this kind of thing. It's gonna be painful. It's difficult."
Voters elect politicians on promises -- and cast judgment on the ability to deliver on them. That's as it should be.

But voters often forget to take into account what happens between the elections -- particularly in our current environment where we have been accustomed to elected officials who promise new programs without ever talking about how to pay for them.

The current economic freefall that is part and parcel of that method of governing is taking a chunk of Patrick's financial and political capital. To his credit, he tried to offer an alternative in what turned out to be a politically unpopular solution to the tax crunch by calling for casino gambling.

Without the gambling revenues, facing a drying up of capital gains tax receipts and a likely drop in sales and income tax revenues as people lose their jobs, it's clear his broad goals such as education spending and putting a mechanism in place to allow property tax cuts are now just dreams.

So far Patrick looks ready to face the challenge, just as Frank did. Voters will surely remember the pain that is likely to flow from the cuts just as they will remember the promises not delivered. How and why those two things happened will be forgotten -- particularly if they add fuel to the fire by eliminating the income tax.

The administration did get a rare piece of good news. After long negotiations and swirling rumors that the federal government was going to play hardball on funding the state's health care reform law, Massachusetts will actually get a slight bump in federal aid over the next three years.

But that is unlikely to cover all the costs of that one growing program -- let alone make up for other cuts yet to come.

I hope they have compact fluorescent light bulbs in the Statehouse lamps these days. They are going to be working a lot of late nights in the offices of Patrick and Administration and Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan, not to mention House and Senate Ways and Means. They can save a few bucks on the electric bill with the bulb change.

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