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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mass. always liked you best

We are about to witness a rarity in presidential politics -- a candidate who actually needs to wonder if he can capture his "home" state.
While Myth Romney has as many homes as he has positions, he did allegedly serve four years (well, actually only two) as governor of the Commonwealth and his primary residence is in Belmont. So the "favorite son" concept should be in play. Right?
"It will be a very close race here," said Todd Domke, a veteran Republican analyst who is unaligned in the race.
Romney mouthpiece Eric Fehrnstrom likes to point out 18 of the 19 Republican House members support him (skipping right over the fact that only two of the five GOP senators are in his corner.) Of course no one mentions that under Romney Republican registrations dropped more than 5 percent while Democratic enrollments rose by just under 5 percent (subscription required).

Also little mentioned is the fact that of Romney's three GOP gubernatorial predecessors, only one has backed him -- none other than Bill Weld, who abandoned the state to pursue his dream of becoming ambassador to Mexico.

No problem says Fehrnstrom, reflecting the viewpoint of a man, who like Romney, has spent a lot of time the past few years with Massachusetts in his rearview mirror.
"People locally take pride in Governor Romney," Fehrnstrom said. "They remember what it was like when he took office - the economy was losing jobs, the budget was out of control, and state government was a mess. Mitt Romney turned the state around, and he can do the same for our country."
Yeah, sort of like the pride of being a vegetarian at a cattle convention. And by any chance Eric, do you mean this record?

Romney's biggest saving grace might be the depth of the antipathy toward him -- and the fact that the Democratic race actually means something this year as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fight tooth and nail.

That's because unenrolled voters who may have otherwise been tempted to take a Republican ballot and vote for John McCain as an act of mischief now have an incentive to vote on the Democratic side.

But what do the former governors think? Paul Cellucci offered no words of wisdom on the day his guy, Rudy Giuliani dropped out.

Jane Swift, who Romney submarined on his way to the Corner Office and who is no doubt relishing her role as McCain backer, offered this:
"There is a sense that Governor Romney lost his enthusiasm for Massachusetts and people like me and like my neighbors, who are raising our children here and building businesses here," she said. "This is the first time I won't have voted for Mitt Romney when he was on the ballot."
So the last word goes to Big Red, the last Republican to abandon Massachusetts for "greener pastures" and who many speculate backed Romney only to get back at Giuliani for dissing Weld's failed bid for New York governor:
Asked whether his State House successor has to win Massachusetts in his bid for the presidency, Weld, a Romney backer, said, “Not in my view.”
Personally, I prescribe to this view:
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Romney would be “laughed out of the race” if he can’t carry his own backyard.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain


Wasn't it just a couple of months ago that John McCain was being left for dead by the national press corps? And Rude-Y Giuliani hailed as the likely Republican nominee?

And wasn't just about three weeks ago when a certain Massachusetts Liberal was suggesting Myth Romney was toast? (You can look it up but I'd rather have the clicks that provide the link to that gem).

So take what follows with a shaker of salt...

McCain's Florida win, the implosion of the Guiliani campaign and Myth's one-time "nightmare" about self-financing have left two men standing (OK, Mike Huckabee is still there for a moment), a race between Dead Man Winning and a man whose credibility is approaching that of George Bush.

Our Man Myth has the money to continue soldiering on -- same as after his "silvers" in Iowa and New Hampshire. And he has the possibility of snagging a few Super Duper Tuesday states. But as a confirmed Myth basher, I'm now concerned.

Not that I'd be sad to see him slink off the Utah or Michigan or New Hampshire -- or even his well-manicured Belmont mansion. But Romney would be like shooting ducks in a barrel for the eventual Democratic nominee.

McCain combined an effective flip-flop commercial with the increasing weight of Romney's rush to "change" (but not in a good way) to seize a lead many pundits thought he would not survive politically to see. The rock Romney is pushing uphill next week is huge, particularly if Giuliani, who folded faster than a New York Minute, throws his support behind the Arizona senator.

That sets up potentially the worst Democratic nightmare, McCain versus... If it's Hillary Clinton, you have a Lazarus-like Republican against a woman with 40 percent negatives. If it's Barack Obama, it's youth versus experience.

Of course, there's a lot of time between now and November. McCain's legendary temper has yet to really surface and Rush Limbaugh may hate him almost as much as Hillary. The backlash against the Obama endorsement by Senate President Terry Murray, like the seeming New Hampshire backlash against the polls, suggested Clinton can overcome those numbers.

Democrats have also out-raised Republicans financially and the turnout on the Democratic side of the ledger has dwarfed that of the GOP voters. The press corps actually loves McCain more than either of his potential Democratic rivals, which, in as twisted a year as this, could be significant.

And let's never forget George W. Bush's ability to inflame things by placing his "judgment" against the law.

After all, remember that McCain was washed up in last summer.

(Photo by New York Times)

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The State of the Union...

... I believe the appropriate words is "sucks," but we'll be polite and say is "fragile."

Admit it, did you watch W. last night? I did not. I had more important things to do -- like anything. My blood pressure didn't need one last round of President Denial say how much he has accomplished in the world.

Nope, the man's legacy is visible throughout, from the war in Iraq to the failing economy to people at each other's political throats over whether torture really is a helpful interrogation tool. The divisions he will leave will -- economic, social, political -- will take decades to heal.

Besides, Bush's State of the Union addresses have always reflected the wide gap between the man's words and deeds. The compassionate conservative elected in 2000 (see the problem?) promising to be a uniter, not a divider, has a near perfect record in doing one thing and saying another.

George Bush frequently says history will be his judge and believes the verdict won't come until long after he passes. Wishful thinking.

I can honestly say that Richard Nixon had a respectable domestic record and would have been a respectable president if not for a simple character flaw that prevented him from distinguishing right from wrong.

And in a Barack Obama moment, I can agree that Ronald Reagan had a vision and a will to implement that vision -- even if I didn't agree with much, if not all, of it.

George Bush has sown dissension, foreign and domestic. He has spit on the Constitution, shattered America's moral standing in the world by his blind faith in torture. The gap between rich and poor, black and white, make and female will be wider when he leaves than when he arrived.

Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce move over and make room at the bottom.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Mittsterpiece Theatre




John McCain has launched a last-minute assault on Myth Romney, highlighting his gymnastic ability on the issues and leaving the Mittster to splutter about "distortions and flailing attacks."

And if that wasn't enough for Floridians making a last-minute decision, the Patriot Ledger weighs in with a look at Romney's economic record in Massachusetts. For example:

Romney’s claim that he balanced the state budget ‘‘without raising taxes’’ needs plenty of caveats. Romney and his revenue chief, Alan LeBovidge, presided over a steady series of what they referred to as measures to close ‘‘tax loopholes’’ for companies. To many of the companies that had to pay more taxes, those loophole closings sure felt like tax increases.
Nothing new under the sun for Our Man Myth.

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Mr. Saddam and Mr. George

If you didn't get a chance to watch 60 Minutes last night, the 23 minutes you need to spend watching this interview with FBI agent George Piro, talking about his experience interrogating Saddam Hussein is absolutely worthwhile.

Piro, an Arabic-speaker, was Hussein's only human contact for seven months. The story he tells spells out the fallacy of torture as an effective interrogation technique. It also points out once again the impact of the failure or inability to recruit Arabic-speaking agents and analysts.

And the conversations, that took place after Hussein's capture in late 2003 through the months before he was turned over to Iraqi authorities in 2004, once more raise the question
"what did George Bush know and when did he know it" about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

We know Bush and Darth Cheney used the image of Hussein's and a weapons stockpile as one of the fallacious justifications to launch the war. They also used the specious argument as a bludgeon against critics and a key message in the 2004 presidential campaign against John Kerry.

What Piro confirms is that we learned in early 2004 what we formally learned from the chief weapons inspector in the weeks prior to the election: that the weapons were either destroyed by U.N. inspectors or Hussein himself.

But check out the reaction to the formal report in October 2004. We see Bush and and John McCain sharing talking points that make the argument that if Hussein were still in power and if the U.N. had not imposed sanctions on him after the 1991 war, Hussein would have liked to restart his program.

Piro agrees (and for that matter so do most rational people). But there remain an awful lot of ifs, starting with the fact that there was very little disagreement over the use of sanctions and the weapons inspectors in 2002 and 2003 had turned up no evidence of new stockpiles before we rushed into war.

So in essence, we went to war to get rid of weapons that didn't exist and now justify the years of violence and bloodshed and tarnishing of our good name to prevent an isolated and discredited dictator from rebuilding stockpiles.

And of course, in the meantime, our ally Pakistan, exported nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

And speaking of our tarnished standing, do check out the results of our failed policies on our position in the world.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

The elephant in the room

If you think race in American politics is a simply a bad memory of the past, can I interest you in buying a Bridge to Nowhere?

Pundits and exit polls have been quick to label Barack Obama's resounding win in South Carolina as somehow less than impressive because he relied on a heavy African-American turnout.

Better yet, there are already suggestions that something may be amiss because Obama received a higher percentage of support from white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire than in the Palmetto State.

Puhleeze!

The spin, like the final days of the campaign, reflect the influence of William Jefferson Clinton, who was roundly criticized for the tone and substance of his efforts on behalf of his wife. But while Clinton may have behaved more like a vice presidential hatchet man that a former president, he wasn't doing anything the the eventual Republican nominee will do -- with far less subtlety.

Starting with Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy right through Karl Rove's microtargeting, Republicans have been electing presidents by playing the race card. Some of the finest purveyors of that strategy have even hailed from South Carolina (a reason to look askance at the spin about Obama doing better in lily white Iowa and New Hampshire than in a state still embroiled over whether the Stars and Bars should be on its flag).

The Republican Party is in serious trouble. The presidential hopefuls are running away from the current two-term occupant of the Oval Office, a man pushing the record for longest time without majority approval. It's a standard line in the GOP playbook that when the going gets tough, the tough go negative.

If the nominee is Hillary Clinton, the race will focus on the 42nd President. If it is Barack Obama, it will focus on his resume and his skin color (and the intersection of the two when he was a community organizer).

So while it is appropriate to lament the Clintons' injection of race into the campaign, it's also appropriate to note they were simply acknowledging The Elephant in the room. It's better to bring out the trash now, sift through it and hopefully move on than wait until the fall campaign.

It will also prove a test for Obama's ability to deliver the message of hope that the majority of Americans are ready to accept after decades of government based on fear and smear.

So on to Super Duper Tuesday.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Can't we all just get along?

Once more we turn to Rodney King for inspiration...

  • What a marvelous journalism exercise. My initial sneers at what I perceived as a waste of space and trees turned to resigned sighs of bravo when I read Matt Viser's story about people having the time to hate -- over the trivial.
  • Bill Clinton's over-the-top performance as a vice presidential hatchet man doesn't obscure the fact that Barack Obama faces far worse should he vanquish the Clinton machine.
There, I feel better.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Post-game analysis

The (not so) early reviews on Deval Patrick's budget and speech are in and their are some interesting tidbits to add to the mix.

  • Speaker Sal DiMasi may have gotten louder applause but Patrick enters year two of the battle in far better shape than his critics assume, Herald snark notwithstanding. The Statehouse News Service poll, found the governor's personal image still strong with 52 percent of respondents favoring his overall approach to major issues, while 28 percent preferred the Legislature’s, a split at least partly attributable to Patrick's stronger name recognition. He also won almost majority support (49 percent) in the question over whether he should take on the Legislature more aggressively, compared to 41 percent said he should be more cooperative.
  • That acknowledgment, and DiMasi's comment that "I was very happy about is that he focused mostly on the similarities we have, not the differences. He focused on the commonality of issues that the Legislature and he envision as being core issues for Massachusetts." suggests a far-more conciliatory tone that makes action possible.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

The cost of inaction...

One thing we can all agree is on that the phone company is not going to win any Massachusetts popularity contests.

Gov. Deval Patrick's call for the phone company to pay its fair share of property taxes got the loudest cheer of the night during his first State of the State address.

Patrick displayed the type of rhetoric to catapulted him to the Corner Office -- although this time he may have been a little too self-referential in equating his rise from poverty to the challenges that await others in Massachusetts.

But not surprisingly, Patrick crafted a solid speech, offering selected examples of where Massachusetts was "on the move." I will leave it to the paid reporters and analysts to contrast rhetoric to reality (for now). But to the casual viewer, Patrick could very well have dispelled the notion that Massachusetts spent the first year of his watch stagnating.

That laundry list was also an effective counterpoint to the second half of his address -- where he laid out the "cost of inaction" and the required sacrifices he is looking for in his own budget, state employee paychecks and from corporations he has spent the past year in fruitless efforts to pay what he says is their fair share of the cost of government.

There was only a cursory mention of the elephant in the room -- casino gambling and its revenues.

The camera angle for his speech was appropriate -- focusing on House Speaker Sal DiMasi and never catching a glimpse of Senate President Terry Murray. That's much the way the first year played out -- DiMasi respectful (for the most part) in public while often sitting on his hands; Murray out of the picture.

As expected Patrick laid down a gauntlet to DiMasi and Murray. The spin also started early, with some Patrick opponents blaming the new-to-politics governor of not being cooperative.

The cards are now on the table -- a budget plan and a matching vision of words. How his challenge plays out in the days and weeks ahead will truly determine whether Massachusetts is "on the move." Or on the road to nowhere.

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Deval to Sal: Put up or shut up

Budget documents are as much political statements as they are financial ones. Deval Patrick's fiscal 2009 budget offers a loud statement to House leaders who have pooh-poohed his proposals to finance campaign promises on such wasteful things are education, health care and property tax relief.

There were few surprises in Patrick's $28.2 billion spending plan revealed yesterday. In time-honored tradition the highlights dribbled out in staged press events. Suggested use of as yet (and probably never) realized casino revenues forms the centerpiece of the upcoming legislative debate.

There's also likely to be very little new in tonight's State of the State address -- except the opportunity to directly reach whoever tunes in to hear Patrick's vision of how to meet his commitment to voters.

But the underlying message in both the budget and the speech is simple. House leaders have been scornful of Patrick's proposals, including corporate tax reform, to pay for public safety, health, education and environmental proposals. It's time for them to put their money where their mouths are.

To date, however, they have offered nothing of substance. Here's a joint statement from House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Ways and Means chief Robert DeLeo:
"Recent news from Wall Street and fears of a serious, national recession tell us we must tighten our belts, restrain spending and, very likely, make painful cuts," the statement said. "We must be concerned about placing additional new burdens on our taxpayers and businesses amid this economic uncertainty."
No kidding. And the next few months will be spent in their efforts to put some meat on that bare-boned statement, including where to make "painful cuts."

Only a fool would support major tax increases in a recession
-- and Deval Patrick is not a fool. But the only guaranteed things in life and death and taxes and rising costs. And you need to skip down to the end of the story about rising costs for providing health coverage to find an interesting fact:
Separately, the state is counting on $5 million in revenue from businesses that don't provide insurance for their employees, down from the $24 million included in this year's budget that has not materialized.
Shared sacrifice doesn't seem to be at work here when the $295 per person business assessment is not bringing in the expected cash -- but remaining stable -- while the penalty on individuals is rising from $219 to as much as $912 per year

Patrick's speech tonight is an opportunity to get a clean shot at the public. Since many folks think his talents now begin and end with soaring rhetoric, expect it to be a doozy -- including its call for legislators to lay out their own vision of what is important, how it can be paid for or what must be jettisoned in hard economic times.
"There's a political negotiation going on here," said Stephen P. Crosby, dean of McCormack Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. "The administration is learning how to use the budget as a negotiating tool and saying to everyone else, 'It's put up or shut up time.' "
DiMasi lamented the other day that the nation doesn't have the time for a new president to learn the ropes -- and took a broad swipe at Patrick's failure to learn the ways of Beacon Hill.

Memo to Mr. Speaker: He's learned.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Should I sue?

Nice to see someone trying to capitalize on this blog's name.

Too bad he wouldn't know a liberal if he tripped over one. Myth's a flip-flopper, a salesman extraordinaire and a lot of other things, but to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I know Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney's no friend of mine. But Mitt Romney is no liberal!

And Selwyn, happy to take a cut of anything you make from this free plug. Capitalism lives!

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The gloves come off

OK Sal, tell us how you really feel. The simmering tensions between House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Gov. Deval Patrick has come to a full boil.
"I think Massachusetts will look at it to find out what they can see in Obama with respect to what they did with their vote for Governor Patrick," DiMasi said in response to a question. "To be perfectly honest, I really don't want my president to be in there in a learning process for the first six months to a year. It's too important."
Few but the most diehard Patrick loyalists will dispute that he had a tough 2007. The lingering effects of the Cadillac and the Drapes can be felt along with the antipathy raised by Patrick's push for casinos.

A sub-current to all of this has been the relationship between the rookie governor with the soaring rhetoric and the veteran legislator who knows where the bodies are buried on Beacon Hill. The tension between the two has been clear even from a distance and Patrick's missteps have made it easy for DiMasi to assume a stronger leadership role.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are perfect surrogates for this political pas-a-deux. Obama and Patrick share Chicago roots and even the same political adviser in David Axelrod. Heck, the even believe that together we can.

DiMasi and Clinton are also two of a kind. Both have operated slightly removed from the center of power, but wield wide influence. Both know how to mix it up in the corners. And both have a penchant for overstatement.

For Clinton, it's the claim that she was in effect the co-president, deeply involved in many of the issues, particularly foreign policy ones, made by her husband.

For DiMasi, it's the representation of his chamber's activities over the last 12 1/2 months.
DiMasi clashed with the freshman governor on a number of major issues throughout 2007, posing the biggest challenge to Patrick's efforts to tighten corporate tax codes to prevent business from avoiding state taxes, win a bill licensing three casinos in the state, and pass a $1 billion stimulus bill for the state's life sciences industry.

Asked yesterday how he would judge Patrick's first year in office, DiMasi offered a laugh, and said, "I say that the Legislature did a great job."

The record shows the Legislature (which let us remember, includes the Senate) passed 230 session laws, an increase from the 190 passed in the 2005, the first full year of DiMasi's speakership. Of course, lawmakers passed 452 session laws in 2006.

And take a look at those 230 session laws. How many are sick leave banks, land transfers and easements and suspensions of civil service provisions? How many of them dealt with the economic and financial questions plaguing the Commonwealth? Why hasn't there been a meaningful debate on taxation and the property tax?

The old adage is the executive proposes and the legislative disposes. And there is no question Patrick has been slow on the draw in presenting bills -- from casinos to transportation infrastructure.

But why, in an age of electronic bill filing and printing, were lawmakers still holding hearings on major bills in December? And why are they still holding to a languid pace that offers ample time to campaign for the national ticket when some of these delayed filed bills are now before them?

At least in 2005, lawmakers were visibly tackling issues like health care reform and the the proposed amendment to ban gay marriage. It's hard to think of a singular accomplishment from 2007 -- aside from defeating that amendment, in a vote that took place on June 14.

Yes, there has been piecemeal successes, portions of the municipal partnership act to provide some relief to cash-strapped cities and towns. And legislatures by the nature, run on inertia so the ball really won't start running down the hill until late June this year, when the end of the session comes into clear sight.

But DiMasi's words are a real disappointment. You would think that legislators who chafed under 16 years of Republican governors would have an interested in working with a politically like-minded colleague -- and help show him the ropes.

Another old adage is politics ain't beanbag (though I never quite understood the analogy). Obviously, it's all about power, who has it and who wants it. John Rogers sure knows that now.

But I for one would prefer a bit more legislation and a little less rhetoric. This state is at a crossroads. It's time for the governor and the legislative leadership to roll up their sleeves. You don't have to like each other or vote for the same presidential candidate. But you do owe it to the folks who are backing your paychecks.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Eyes on the prize

At first blush, it had all the makings of the traditional Democratic circular firing squad.

Hillary Clinton accusing Barack Obama of working for a "slumlord," Obama firing back that Clinton was sitting on the Wal-Mart board while he was community organizing in Chicago.

Those carefully culled resume selections -- coming on top of the exchange over whether Martin Luther King Jr. or Lyndon Johnson played a greater role in passing civil rights legislation -- left me fearful that the Democrats ability to destroy themselves was rearing its head.

Then came what may have been the best light moment of any debate:

Obama was also asked whether he agreed with a statement by African American author Toni Morrison about Bill Clinton that "this is our first black president. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime."

Obama paused for several moments, then responded: "Well, I think Bill Clinton did have an enormous affinity with the African American community, and still does. And I think that's well earned." He went on to add: "I would have to, you know, investigate more of Bill's dancing abilities, you know, and some of this other stuff before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a brother."

Clinton responded well:
"Well, I'm sure that can be arranged."
It's a fairly safe bet that with the albatross known as the Bush years on his shoulders, the eventual GOP nominee is coming after Clinton and Obama with lots more than Tony Rezko and Wal-Mart. The Monica-plus 10 anniversary stories and the hideous 'Barack is a Muslim' e-mail are simply at the top of the GOP dirty tricks bag.

Still, I find myself wishing for a bit more civility. Democrats were devoid of ideas for quite awhile and trashing Ronald Reagan is not the way to win over disgruntled Republicans, whether you agreed with the Reagan years or not. (He certainly looks better in comparison to the current occupant of the Oval Office.)

At the same time, as someone once wrote, "it takes a village" -- much like the village that combined the inspiration of Dr. King and the legislative arm-twisting ability of LBJ (not to mention the assassination of John F. Kennedy) to achieve the 1963 Civil Rights Act.

Lee Atwater, the late South Carolinian who honed modern day GOP black political arts, knew the only way George H.W. Bush could beat Michael Dukakis was to pump up that former Massachusetts governor's negatives. It's a safe bet the GOP's oppo research team has been working overtime on both Clinton and Obama.

Taking a few shots at each other probably doesn't come close to what the GOP nominee has in store for them. Better to get some of that stuff out there now.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

T is for Truth

Deval Patrick unveils his fiscal 2009 budget this week, complete with proposals to end homelessness, support the environment and infuse casino gambling revenues into the debate.

What will be missing from what minimal media attention there might be is a look at one of the largest consumers of state sales tax revenues -- the MBTA -- and how that operation is meeting its public obligations.

Lost amid the hype of CharlieCards and the constant image of Smilin' Dan Grabauskas asking to hear from riders is a deep look at what kind of job the T is doing with our money. It's been one year since fares were raised and I continue to search in vain in the Globe and Herald for signs of what that has meant in terms of revenues and ridership.

If you dig deep enough though, it's there. But the fiscal management of the MBTA should be as much a part of the discussion the state transportation future as the Turnpike Authority and the Big Dig and not hidden away in green eyeshade documents to be used as sleep potions.

Based on audited statements for fiscal 2007, the T's revenues rose to $386,488,000 for the fiscal year ended June 30. That's up from $333,096,000 from the previous year -- and reflects only half a year of the new higher fare collections.

For the same period, the T's expenses rose modestly to $538,382,000 compared to $534,682,000 in FY 2006.

Yet despite the infusion of more than $50 million in revenue and just a $4 million jump in expenses, the MBTA's operating loss rose to $881,265,000 compared to $879,572,000 the previous year.

The gap was covered by the dedicated 1 percent revenue stream from the Massachusetts sales tax -- meaning the T received $733,963,000 in fiscal 2007, up from $712,586,000 a year earlier.

Of course, if you check out the MBTA's "Historical Statement of Revenues and Expenses" (SORE) you get a different picture. In this view, operating revenues were $431,621,571; operating expenses came in at $980,475,100 and the deficit at $4,700,400. (Apples to oranges I know, but it's their data).

No mention in either of these documents about ridership so we have no way of knowing exactly how much of an impact higher bus, subway and commuter rail fares had on the willingness of people to abandon their cars (along with higher gasoline prices) to take public transportation.

Smilin' Dan confesses to BostonNow that ridership is down and the T is structurally broke. In all likelihood, the interview was granted with the smallest possible audience in mind -- although neither the Globe nor the Herald seem overly interested in the transit system's operation anyway.

The ever-helpful general manager passes the buck, literally:
Instead, closing the gap will be up to Gov. Deval Patrick and the state Legislature, Grabauskas said. Patrick has proposed casino revenue and a cost-saving state transportation merger. All Grabauskas can do is work on the one factor that may be within his control - ridership, he said.
How's he doing? Renovation on three Green Line station is progressing at the pace of well, the Green Line at rush hour. Kenmore Square, due for a total makeover in 2004, is looking at late 2008. What that means for the 2009 completion dates for Copley and Arlington is anyone's guess. (Anyone with roses or stinkweeds from other lines, please feel free to share).

The T is also alleged trying to do something about the problem that was supposed to be solved by the fancy new toll collection system -- fare jumping. The current system, however, remains a nightmare for collecting outbound Green Line fares. All the efforts right now result in even slower rides along the surface Green Line routes -- while the T scrimps and saves by insisting traffic light synchronization isn't a proven solution.

So here's another challenge for Massachusetts budget makers as they prepare to look over an increasingly bleak fiscal 2009 spending plan. Are the state's taxpayers -- who after all are shelling out nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars to operate the system according to the T's own auditors -- getting a proper bang for their buck?

And if not, why is Smilin' Dan still employed?

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Upping the ante

Deval Patrick may have finally gotten the attention of House leaders.

By including projected revenues from casino gambling in his fiscal 2009 budget, Patrick has clearly forced the hand of House leaders who have seemed indifferent if not outright hostile to his proposals to raise new revenues for a cash-staved state.

Take, for example, the fuming reaction of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Robert DeLeo:
Forget the cart, this is putting the entire wagon train before the horse. Moreover, even if this money did become available this year - which is a big if - it may not be there the next year.”
To strain the analogy, it's taking a 2-by-4 to the horse's backside to get its attention.

A few caveats. Administration & Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan says the budget doesn't depend on the projected $300 million for balance (although she does say lottery funds will fall short of projections and this cash could make up the difference).

It's also important to note that I have become less and less convinced that casino gambling is the salvation for all the state's budget ills.

But gubernatorial budgets are as much political documents as they are fiscal documents. And with his second spending plan, Patrick is upping the heat on legislators who say we can spend our rainy day fund and put off the tough decisions until the roof leaks.

The current budget relies on that fund to bridge shortfalls -- after legislators rejected Patrick's call for corporate tax relief and have dealt in piecemeal fashion with his municipal partnership proposal.

And Speaker Sal DiMasi was famously quoted as saying the House may not be able to get to casinos until 2009.

With this proposal, Patrick has laid out a way to pay for some of the expensive vision he has painted for the Commonwealth. And he has also laid out a sharp challenge to DiMasi (after all, spending measure must originate in the House).

Fish or cut bait.

The House and Senate will send Patrick a budget sharply different than the document he has prepared for them. That's the nature of the game. But by spelling out yet another plan to pay for his vision, it's time for legislative leaders to come up with another answer besides "tomorrow."

This could be fun to watch.

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Clear as mud

One year to the day when we are finally freed from Bush bondage, there is still a total lack of clarity on who will be put in the unenviable position of cleaning out the stalls he has mucked up for the last seven years.

John McCain -- given up for dead last summer -- and Hillary Clinton -- given up for dead two weeks ago -- are very much alive and kicking. But so are Myth Romney, after winning the virtually uncontested Nevada GOP caucuses and Mike Huckabee, coming in a close second to McCain in South Carolina.

Democrats in Nevada opted to recreate Florida in 2000, giving Clinton the win among caucus goers while giving Barack Obama the win among total delegates.

It's probably well past time to say adios to Arthur Branch, er, Fred Thompson, who at least managed to squeak past Romney in South Carolina. And it's time for Rude-y Giuliani (remember him?) to put up or shut up in Florida.

There may be a few drips of Hollandaise sauce around my mouth after yesterday's Southern showdown. Huckabee, short on cash and organization, will need to make a stand in Florida. He should be helped by Thompson's (literal or physical) disappearance, but his time -- if not his message -- is running short.

For the Democrats, Nevada confirmed what we already know. It's down to two people. Notwithstanding John Edwards' return to his birth state, it's time to say so long.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

... not the guy who laid them off

Making predictions the day of the South Carolina primary and Nevada caucuses is a foolhardy venture, but I've been called worse in my life. So as Myth goes for gold in the Silver State...

Conventional wisdom
says religious, military and economic conservatives each have a separate dog in the increasingly Democratic-looking circular firing squad campaign. John McCain has the military minded, Mike Huckabee the religious right and Myth Romney is the man for the economic conservatives.

But that overlooks a magnificent line crafted by the Huckabee campaign:
"I believe most Americans want their next president to remind them of the guy they work with — not the guy who laid them off."
Gee, who could he be referring to?

Romney clearly is the choice of the old-time country club GOP set -- he is one of them, his pandering to the other wings notwithstanding.

But in a race where none of the factions seem to have what it takes to close the deal, the candidate who can siphon the most support from one of his foes stands the best chance of emerging on top.

The arrival of Ed Rollins to the Huckabee campaign coincided with the emergence of a second front to complement the evangelical vote that seems locked into the former Arkansas governor. Rollins is known as a bare-knuckled brawler, and the emergence of the economic populist streak in Huckabee's message is a clear sign of that.

Both sides claim to disdain the populist message -- and Al Gore didn't do well with it in 2000, while it's not working for John Edwards this year.

But neither of them had an audience like the working- and middle-class Americans who comprise the evangelic movement. And neither of them had as juicy a target a Willard Mitt Romney, scion of a capitalist automobile manufacturer and venture capitalist who has raked in enough cash in his career to self-finance his campaign whenever needed.

If George H.W. Bush was born with a silver foot in his mouth, Myth Romney had a silver tea service, delivered straight from Plutocrats 'R Us.

Let's not forget Romney's South Carolina efforts were a bust, despite the early time, attention and cash he lavished on the state. That's why he headed west to Nevada. (And isn't it interesting there's no one else in the AP picture of Romney in his plane?)

Huckabee has a good chance to snag a substantial portion of the economic conservative voter who worries about the next paycheck, not what Wall Street is doing. South Carolina is the first test of the strategy.

If it fails, I'll have Eggs Benedict on my face in the morning.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Rush Limbaugh is a big fat Oxycontin head

I don't get it. How does an admitted drug abuser continue to hold sway with the "Values Voter"?

Rush Limbaugh, the radio arm of the Republican Party, is at it again in his role as kingmaker -- talking up Myth Romney while trashing John McCain and Mike Huckabee, much to to love of his slavish devoted fans.

Joel has already called the nomination for Slick Willard as a result of Rush's backing and while I was initially skeptical, I'm not entirely convinced that Joel is wrong. The Limbaugh phenomenon is real.

Right wing demagogues and radio go together like mint and julep. Father Charles Coughlin. The Rev. Carl McIntire. Aimee Semple McPherson. These were among the pioneers who mixed radio, religion, politics and morality to sway people -- particularly through hard times.

Ironically Limbaugh appeals to the same crowd, but without even the patina of religious credentials. In fact, he and fellow right wing yakmeister Bill Bennett -- who lectured on virtue while gambling away millions -- seem to be going strong simply by admitting their sins and moving on. Sort of like Redemption 'R Us.

The forgiveness (or tolerance) they engender may seem to reflect the Christian love they claim to espouse, but somehow it doesn't translate into their view of fellow men (and we can skip right over Donovan McNabb and African-American babies).

No, it's the fury that Limbaugh in particular, heaps on anyone who fails to adhere to his narrow world view. Working his wrath in the name of Romney, Rush has heaped the ultimate epithet, liberal, on Huckabee. He worked his magic earlier on McCain over immigration, ticking off the Moralizer-in-Chief in the process.

Somehow Rush roils on, basking in the power of redemptive love.

But there could be a light at the end of the tunnel. Leave it to a Brit to offer a more rational view of the irrationality that is gripping Limbaugh Nation -- McCain Derangement Syndrome:
The proof of the power of McCain Derangement Syndrome is that its sufferers have flocked in their madness to Mitt Romney as the only decent conservative alternative. Mr Romney, an immaculately coiffed and coutured 60-year old with a beguiling smile and a dreamy look, is a kind of Dorian Gray figure. But somewhere in an attic there must be a portrait of him that reflects the intellectual contortions, moral compromise and shameless dishonesty that has characterised his bid for the presidency.

If Myth Romney is Limbaugh's last best hope, there may be hope for the rest of us instead.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Must See TV


Great exchange between Myth Romney and the AP's Glen Johnson today direct from a Staples in South Carolina.

Johnson opts to question Romney about his declaration that he has "no lobbyists tied to his campaign," reminding him about registered lobbyist and Republican National Committee member Ron Kaufman. Romney insists otherwise and the two go toe-to-toe.

Stick around until the end on the CBS site when Eric Ferhnstrom opts to lecture Johnson about his reporting technique.

Then head on over to David Bernstein's Phoenix post that lists the lobbyists in the Romney campaign.

Naturally the media bashers are having a field day on the CBS site, complaining not about a reporter calling Romney on another one of his myths, but, like Fehrnstrom, raising red herrings about bias.

I see -- calling someone for being fast and loose about the facts is biased -- unless the person in question is a liberal.

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Taxachusetts is dead

One of the enduring Massachusetts myths (no, not the former governor but he's certainly a part of it) is that Massachusetts taxes are crippling business and economic development and damaging the state's competitiveness.

That canard is being rolled out again as business leaders bemoan Deval Patrick's proposal to reduce the corporate tax rate as part of a package deal to close corporate tax loopholes and raise some revenue to pay for sorely needed services -- like education.

Patrick's proposal to trim the rate gradually from 9.5 percent to 8.3 percent. As the Globe explains:
While the corporate tax codes would be tightened in January 2009, Patrick wants to delay his corporate tax rate reduction until 2010, and it would be phased in over three years. Closing what the governor describes as loopholes would generate $297 million in the next fiscal year and $490 million a year after that.

But that would be offset by about $210 million a year in lost revenue, once the tax rate reductions for businesses took full effect. The net increase in new taxes for the state would be $280 million.

The cries of "no fair" were quick.
"This isn't any meaningful reduction," Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said yesterday. "We need to do things that are pro-competitive. In our view, this package doesn't fall under that category."
Yes, anti-competitive. The cry has been very successful. Its most recent victory was in limiting the per employee cost to small business for failing to provide health insurance to $295 annually. The cost to the individual who fails to buy care on the other hand, is rising as high as $912 annually.

But perhaps the leading Massachusetts expert in state taxation has rejected the idea that corporate taxes are anti-competitive. The conclusion by Robert Tannewald of the Federal Reserve Banks of Boston (pdf):
In debating Massachusetts business tax policy, protagonists have cited many different indicators purporting to assess the fairness, adequacy, and competitiveness of the Commonwealth’s business taxes. These statistics actually reveal very little about the degree to which Massachusetts business taxes achieve these widely accepted tax policy goals. The author explains why these indicators are misleading and presents new indicators of business tax competitiveness that, although imperfect, are more accurate than those most widely quoted.
The article concludes that the fairness of Massachusetts business taxes is unclear and that the Commonwealth’s corporate income taxes are inadequate. The clearest conclusion drawn is that Massachusetts business taxes do not harm its competitive standing.
And while we're at it, let's recall where the state really stands in terms of overall personal taxation: 28th, right in the middle of the pack.

No, a stronger argument for the Massachusetts Malaise (the real Romney economic record) is deteriorating quality of life caused by decaying infrastructure, deteriorating public elementary, secondary and higher education, the higher cost of basic public services like trash collection, water and sewer. Toss in high housing costs and an unfriendly climate and viola, business (and employees) are leaving in droves.

Republican policy since the Reagan days has been "no tax and spend." The largest federal deficit have been rung up under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Heck, we ran a national surplus under Bill Clinton that W. squandered on war.

Locally, 16 years of Republican governors -- and the Reagan-era Proposition 2 1/2 have squeezed tight and, despite those limits, property taxes are high once again and part of the season people are leaving.

Efforts to create a fairer income tax instead of a flat tax that hits the millionaire with the same rate as the laborer have been resoundingly defeated -- by the same interests fighting corporate tax reform.

But hey, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. A proposal to eliminate the income tax totally has made it to the ballot and has a better than equal chance of winning as of today.

If passed, the last one out of Massachusetts (forced out by the lack of services and a horrid quality of life) could turn out that light.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mitt Happens

The good news is I will have Myth Romney to kick around some more.

The Man from Michigan-Utah-New Hampshire-Massachusetts actually won one of his "homes," with a message that pandered to the economic fears of a state seeing its major economic engine drive away. (Memo to Mitt: New Hampshire would have been a better move).

The Romney victory -- in tandem with the decision of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to bury the hatchet somewhere else in the battle of who contributed more to civil rights -- means the the GOP candidates will continue to defile Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment as they maneuver through South Carolina and Florida on into Super Tuesday.

A McCain victory in Michigan may have ended the GOP race before the feudin' got good. After all, there's been very little attention paid to the South Carolina spitting contest between Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson (remember him?) How about this?
"Fred Thompson talks about putting America first, and yet he's the one who is a registered foreign agent, lobbied for foreign countries, was in a law firm that did lobbying work for Libya," Huckabee charged Sunday morning on CNN.
Or this?
"On the one hand, you have the Reagan revolution," Thompson said during the debate. "You have the Reagan coalition of limited government and strong national security. On the other hand, you have the direction that Gov. Huckabee would take us in. He would be a Christian leader, but he would also bring about liberal economic policies, liberal foreign policies. ... That's not the model of the Reagan coalition. That's the model of the Democratic Party."
Huckabee a liberal? I know liberals. Liberals are friends of mine. Mr. Huckabee, you're no liberal.

So now we have three winners converging on South Carolina to be joined by Thompson's Last Stand. And just down the road is Florida where Rude-y "Subject-Verb-9-11" is waiting in the wings.

If Romney had lost in Michigan these fun times may not have happened.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Arpege campaign

Those of you of a certain age will remember TV commercials for Arpege perfume, offering up a tag line as stale as last week's toast.
Promise her anything, but give her Arpege.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Romney Michigan campaign.

As the clock ticks down on the Wolverine State's erstwhile homeboy -- who polls show with a chance to snag a face-saving win, Our Man Myth is at it again, promising them anything. (We know what he's giving them, but they haven't found out yet.)

Former Massachusetts Governor Romney was all about eco-friendly, fuel efficient vehicles.
Romney imposed tough emissions standards in December 2005 that added Massachusetts to a growing list of states seeking to force the auto industry to produce cleaner-burning cars - which automakers considered a back-door attempt to raise fuel standards. Under the rules, cars sold in the state after 2015 must emit 30 percent less carbon dioxide, 20 percent fewer toxic pollutants, and as much as 20 percent fewer smog- causing pollutants than under federal standards.
Today, the son of former Michigan Governor (and American Motors president) George Romney is a champion of the auto industry, saying it's darkest days are behind and clear, smog-free skies are ahead.
“There are some people who don’t think there’s a future for the domestic automobile industry,” Mr. Romney said. “They think the industry and its jobs are gone forever. They are wrong.”
"Some people" of course really is John McCain, who is joined by many, including many in Detroit.

But Our Man Myth, that old business turnaround specialist, disagrees. He thinks the industry is just fine -- as long as muddled-headed Washington politicians and bureaucrats don't meddle with things like higher fuel efficiency mandates.

Earth to Mitt: Have you checked out the price of a gallon of gasoline or a barrel of oil? Or the fact that Toyota now outsells GM and Ford by building cars that last?

All it takes is the same sort of economic leadership he brought to Massachusetts.
...During his four-year term as Massachusetts governor, which began in the depths of a recession, the number of jobs grew by just 0.5 percent, compared with 5.5 percent nationally, according to Labor Department statistics. Only three states did worse: Ohio, Louisiana, and Michigan.

Manufacturing employment in Massachusetts slid 12 percent, more than double the national average; the state fared only slightly better than Michigan, which lost more than 15 percent of manufacturing jobs during that period.

And of course, this is the same Romney who, while running in Massachusetts in 2002 said he wanted to lower excise taxes for fuel-efficient vehicles. McCain's campaign said yesterday that because the plan was designed to be revenue neutral, that would have resulted in higher taxes on sport utility vehicles.

The excise tax plan, which was never adopted, "would have hurt the same American auto industry in Michigan that he now claims to champion," said Jane M. Swift, the former acting governor of Massachusetts who is backing McCain.

Some aren't buying this latest "education" of Mitt Romney as they haven't bought his "education" on a woman's right to choose, guns and gays. Hopefully Michigan voters won't be falling for the love songs of their (and our) not-so-favorite son and follow the lead of the folks in Iowa and New Hampshire.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

The Chicken Little Storm of '08

All memorable storms have names: The Blizzard of '78. The April Fool's Day Blizzard; The President's Day Storm (OK, so some wiseguy named the Halloween 1991 nor'easter the No-Name Storm until a wiser guy made megabucks on The Perfect Storm.)

Historians will look at Jan. 14, 2008 and call this one "The Chicken Little Storm."

With an admittedly city bias I can only ask: why did the world stop for this? In terms of intensity, snowfall totals and slushy inconvenience this one wouldn't make my top 50.

Actual snowfall totals run 4-8 inches in a large part of the metro area. Those other snowstorms were two-footers-plus.

The biggest complaint from my inbound commute was getting wet while waiting for a bus under the artsy Kenmore bus "shelter." And even that was far drier than during last week's torrential morning commute downpour. (And OK, I do have issues with bus drivers who apparently don't understand the phrase "Stop Requested.")

Now Hizzoner, the Mayor for Life, will no doubt say calling off schools last night at 11 p.m. was the crucial element in saving the world from itself. After all, about 600 schools, colleges and other businesses took the day off.

Obviously the panic is the result of the fact everyone messed up when the 10-inch midday white-out hit in December. No one took forecasters seriously (wonder why?) and waited to leave town all at once, setting up a gridlock far worse than justified by the totals.

If workers had been released on a staggered schedule it's likely the inconvenience wouldn't have been as ridiculous as it was.

But Hizzoner and scores of school superintendents, taking heed of Harvey and Dickie's Sunday night tag team, decided that instead of staggering school openings they would say "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."

For those of us who made it into the office, it was casual Monday -- jeans, late arrivals and early slides.

But there was something rather unsettling about having to tell a caller from the Washington, DC area -- where business is called off by the threat of flurries -- that I may not be able to find someone for them to speak to because we had a little snow.

Yes, The Sky is Falling. It happens in January. And take your weather forecasts from the National Weather Service. They're not in it for the ratings (although they could pay closer attention to their web site).

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Putting your money where your mouth is

With the polls still all over the place, one of gauges over political support can be found in reading the fund-raising figures. And Myth Romney has a problem there.

It is significant enough that many leading Massachusetts Republicans have cast their lot elsewhere (Paul Cellucci with Rudy Giuliani and Jane Swift with John McCain).

But the Herald reports that even those who are with Myth don't seem interested in putting their money where their mouths are.

A Herald review has found only nine out of 27 Bay State GOP politicians who are supporting Romney actually ponied up money for his campaign. None came close to the maximum donation of $4,600 allowed under federal law.

The excuses range from, “I’ve got kids in college,” to “I just got married,” to those who hadn’t “gotten around” to writing a check.

Several officials contacted by the Herald said they “thought” they had contributed but couldn’t say when. After being reminded that donations made before Sept. 30, 2007, are posted publicly on the Federal Election Commission Web site, most of those officials remembered they had not donated.

“It just shows that (Romney’s Republican supporters) are paying lip service to him, but deep down they really feel no connection to him,” said Thomas Whalen, professor of politics at Boston University.

And the other way around. Another reason why he probably hasn't been leaking his fourth quarter fundraising numbers.

Meanwhile, the Mittser can take mixed messages from polls showing him slightly behind or ahead in Michigan -- but slipping behind Mike Huckabee nationally, with his favorability dropping.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Blame the Media

Now that I have your attention...

Charlie Pierce has a nice Globe Magazine cover story today on the trials and tribulations of Deval Patrick's first year in office. It rehashes much of what has been bandied about in this space and elsewhere -- the difficulty in going from outsider to insider to get something accomplished.

Pierce has the luxury daily beat reporters do not -- time. He used a year-end interview with Patrick to buttress other reporting and note that the governor has had a tough first year in learning the right balance of working inside The Building while staying loyal to the people and ideas that got him there in the first place.

But I'm here to argue the this sort of perspective is not a luxury. It is a necessity and one that the Boston media in general -- and the Globe in particular -- has failed to provide.

Let me state right off that I am also a refugee of The Building -- six years as a reporter and a few more working in the Legislature. I'm a recovering political reporter who committed many of the sins I am now railing against.

So, to the heart of the matter: where do you go to find out what our elected officials are doing? If they are running for office, you have loads of coverage in the Globe and Herald and some of the TV stations.

If it's about the nuts and bolts of paying for the essentials like education or public safety -- or looking to future economic growth -- well, um, uh, er, gee, you are stuck by a decided lack of interest in the mainstream media.

The are a number of blogs out there which try to cover state and local issues in thoughtful manner -- The Eisenthal Report is an example of a one-man effort to provide thoughtful commentary while holding down a day job. A number of sites, including Ryan's Take to Media Nation opine broadly or narrowly on topics in the public domain. Blue Mass. Group is a clearinghouse of opinion. There are similiar options on the right side of the dial, but I'm obviously not a devotee.

But where do you go for the day-to-day give and take of the sausage factory that is government. Unless you fork out cash for the venerable Statehouse News Service, the answer is nowhere.

The Herald will parachute in with an occasionally thoughtful enterprise story on some narrow aspect of government and its database of salaries is a decent research tool. But the staff-deprived Herald fails to provide a broader context beyond "all these crooks are stealing your hard-earned dough."

So the spotlight inevitably turns back to the Globe, "the paper of record" as it likes to be viewed. And how has the Globe covered Patrick's first term? In a word -- poorly.

Frank Phillips, the Globe's Statehouse Bureau Chief, is one of The Building lifers that Pierce refers to. He has broken his fair share of deliciously scandalous tales of hypocrisy or sloth. But the Globe's Statehouse Bureau has been pretty much AWOL in doing the hard day-to-day work.

And that daily story is the battle of wills between the Executive and Legislature, personalized in the struggle for dominance between Patrick and House Speaker Sal DiMasi. As Pierce rightly notes, Patrick hasn't been shy about tossing out major proposals in life sciences, education, transportation and finances. Oh yeah, and casinos.

Nor has DiMasi been shy about rightfully exerting the prerogative known as the executive branch proposes but the legislative branches disposes.

The coverage, such as it's been, has focused solely on Patrick, starting with his missteps and moving to his failure to move his lengthy laundry list. Less attention has been paid as to why there has been so little movement. Again, it's easier to focus on one high-profile individuals than on an amorphous body of 200 souls.

And to this less-than casual observer, there's a lot going on (or not going on) behind the scenes that requires attention. The House's pace of business has been, to be charitable, glacial. And because the state Constitution declares revenue questions must originate in the House, when that chamber moves at a snail's pace, the Senate moves not at all.

This amounts to a cry in the dark because, truth be told, there's no great appetite out there for details of how government works. After all, there's the Tears of Hillary, the Britney soap opera and concern that the already meager television offerings are going to get worse because of the writers' strike.

And besides, we have talk radio to distort what's going on -- the blogosphere can only wish to have the clout of Right Wing Radio.

There's no question Patrick's first year has been a disappointment, especially when matched at the soaring rhetoric and promise. But there are other players in this drama and so far the Legislature's "disposal" rate has been less than stellar.

And we all lose as a result.

CLARIFICATION: Thanks to the Blue Mass Group's Charley on the MTA for linking. He's right about political coverage. What I really meant to say was that you get blanket coverage of presidential campaigns -- look at all the local reporters enjoying the fine Michigan winter :-) The coverage of local races is pretty anemic beyond the same sort of show horse, event-based stuff you get nationally. The Globe's coverage of legislative races in 2006 was pathetic.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mr. Grumpy wonders

Getting ready to make the French toast run after all the blankety-blank dirt-encrusted mounds finally melted...
  • What happens to political sources who decline to be identified because they aren't authorized to speak? Water-boarding? A raise?
  • Are you really surprised about the state of political journalism when the big feet these days are all one-time political operatives? Let's talk about Chris Matthews and Tip O'Neill? Or George Stephanopoulos and Bill Clinton? Or how about Bill Kristol and Dan Quayle? Or the granddaddy of them all, Roger Ailes and Richard Nixon. The first mistake in Wikipedia's Matthews profile is calling him a journalist.
  • What exactly was George Bush smoking or drinking in proclaiming there would be a Middle East peace treaty by the time he leaves office? Seven years of neglect on his part, 60 years of failure and he's talking a deal?
  • In a related vein, how come the MBTA is "broke" after the major fare increase last year? Why haven't we heard how much money it generated or how many riders it sent to their cars? And why hasn't Deval Patrick canned this guy yet?

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Myth marches on

Our man Myth is no quitter. So what if he's taken his gold and two silvers. It's on to his birth state and continuing to fight the good fight to preserve truth, justice and the American way.

Only trouble is, there are a lot of potholes on the road to the White House.

Let's start with the Romney voter. According to exit polling:
Romney won only among: those "enthusiastic" about the Bush administration; those wanting the next President to be "more conservative" than Bush; those who "strongly oppose" civil unions; those who want to deport all illegal immigrants; those whose household income is $200,000 or more; those who "strongly approve" of the Iraq War; and those self-described as "very conservative." Perhaps most important, Romney beat McCain 55-16 among those who said that immigration is the most important issue.
Great he's got the Bush vote locked up.

The twin losses in Iowa and New Hampshire were devastating, no matter how you try to spin it (sorry "senior strategist" Alex Gage) but you need independents to win the White House:
"Gov. Romney actually beat John McCain among Republicans" on Tuesday, 35 percent to 34 percent, Gage wrote, "and most of the upcoming primaries and caucuses attract an electorate far more Republican than New Hampshire's.
So that means reaching out to a wide variety of voters, say in South Carolina, where he once proclaimed that being Massachusetts governor was like being a vegetarian vegan at a cattle convention. Or take on Rudy Giuliani in Florida, where the former New York City mayor is making his first (and maybe last stand).

Wrong.

The money woes Romney has been trying to hide by declining to discuss his recent personal investment of cash, is on full view: Yanking ads in South Carolina and Florida is not the tactic of a flush campaign.

But fear not, the man of change is changing his focus again. He's going all out in Michigan by tapping into the memory of his father, the liberal former governor, and making a subtle appeal to Hillary Clinton voters.

“We’re going to make sure this state gets on the move again,” Mr. Romney said. “I care about Michigan. For me, it’s personal. It’s personal for me because it’s where I was born and raised.”

Earlier in the day, after hearing from a voter who recalled his father, Mr. Romney choked up momentarily, according to a pool reporter who was present. “He was a great man, and I miss him dearly,” Mr. Romney said.

That's what you have to love about Myth -- an authentic change agent. Hope he cares about Michigan more than Massachusetts.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Where the bounce?

In the end, Mark Penn was right: there was no bounce. And that's why he still has a job today.

There will be lots of beer and pretzels consumed in the next few days trying to figure out what pre-New Hampshire polls were so far off in suggesting Barack Obama would walk all over Hillary Clinton. While not an embarrassment on the scale of the John Kerry 2004 exit poll debacle, lots of questions remain about how so many got it so wrong.

First, it's important to note that this time the exit polls were not the culprit. They showed Hillary Clinton the recipient of real strong late support from women -- while also showing Barack Obama taking a sizable chunk of the under-30 vote.

There will be two automatic guesses to how things apparently changed so fast: "The Tear Up" and the "Voters Aren't Honest About Black Candidates" canard.

Academics may well spend the next few years parsing Hillary Clinton letting down her guard momentarily and speaking from the heart and not the program manual. That split second offered a glimpse into what Clinton supporters have long insisted is a warm, witty and shy woman.

Conventional wisdom long suggested tears crush campaigns: Ed Muskie's 1972 New Hampshire moment (was it tears or was it snow?); Patricia Schroeder's weepy exit from the 1988 race.

While cynics will suggest it was all part of the programmed Clinton play book, it very likely made a difference. As one woman voter told the Times:
“Women finally saw a woman — perhaps a tough woman, but a woman with a gentle heart,” said Elaine Marquis, a receptionist from Manchester, who had been torn between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton but was leaning her way when she bared her feelings.
Less plausible is the liberal guilt theory -- that voters tell pollsters they would vote for a black candidate, then don't. Two words discount this theory: Iowa caucuses. Throw in two more: Deval Patrick.

While this factor could conceivably come into play again this year, it was not on display in New Hampshire. Obama scored strongly, as expected, among the under-30s and the crowds at his events were not aberrations.

A few other general observations after Iowa and New Hampshire:
  • Oh Rudy, where art thou?

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Comeback Kid, Part Deux

I just heard those magic words the Clinton campaign was praying for -- comeback.

With the race too close to call at this hour, more than 1 1/2 hours after everyone expected a quick call for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton can now claim a moral, if not outright, victory.

Obama mania has been everywhere the last few days. Yet, Clinton hung on to a slim lead well past the time polls were suggesting she should be conceding. No matter who comes out at the top of the ballot, Hillary Clinton can justifiably claim the "comeback" mantle that launched Bill Clinton to the White House in 1992.

The spin patrol immediately turns to the impact of Clinton's show of emotion on Monday. I thought it was a potential breakthrough when the woman criticized for her cold demeanor, showed a vulnerable side.

Cynics will quickly proclaim it was a calculating act designed to turn the tide. Even if they are correct on motive, it appears it may have done the trick.

Unlike the Republican battle, this race was not going to be settled tonight. The length of time it has taken to determine a winner reinforces that -- particularly if she defies the polls and wins outright.

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Mitt Mash

Mitt Romney is the ultimate salesman. But I think he's going to have a real problem convincing people he has spent all this time and all this money on a couple of "silver medals."

The Flip Flop Express came in second in New Hampshire, following up on its disappointing finish in Iowa five days earlier. The one constant in the two races is that voters preferred someone else over the former Massachusetts governor.

Conventional wisdom says Romney will remain in the race -- if for no other reason than the remarkably unsettled GOP field. Iowa winner Mike Huckabee trailed a distant third in New Hampshire, a mirror image of John McCain's Iowa showing. Huckabee remains anathema to the GOP mandarins who fear his nomination would decimate the party in November.

Meanwhile, John McCain defied his political obituary writers to handily win New Hampshire from the former governor of a neighboring state (and New Hampshire taxpayer). But while McCain will undoubtedly get a fund-raising boost based on his death-defying performance, he also faces challenges revolving around how he is viewed by party mandarins.

Romney has been their choice based on his wealth, fund-raising ability and the intangibles, including his presidential-like appearance. That enabled them to overlook things like his pretzel-like ability to be all things to all people.

But Romney has now lost in a state where evangelicals dominated the caucuses. The disdain for his Mormon faith certainly played a role in that.

Maybe worse, Romney has now lost in a state where he is very well known. The first Massachusetts candidate to fail to win New Hampshire, Romney was able to unite the Boston Globe and Union-Leader as no one before.

Romney will undoubtedly soldier on, spending his sons' inheritance and looking for redemption in his real home state, Michigan. But his fund-raising ability is likely to dry up and he now carries the mantle of two-time loser. In every past election, that has been fatal.

So where do the Republicans turn? McCain lives to fight another day and could very well end up with the nomination -- even as his positions on the surge and immigration alienate different ends of the voting spectrum.

Rudy Giuliani will likely re-emerge from his cocoon -- and has a good shot at Florida and the Super Tuesday states. But Bernie Kerik is never far from the picture.

Huckabee should not be counted out in the move southward. Romney can also play the spoiler.

A fractured GOP might just turn to someone not currently in the race. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been extremely flirtatious and could be very susceptible to a draft movement -- especially one he launches.

And here's a real long shot wild card. Republicans could turn to a man who has a war record, a distinguished if not unblemished career as a Cabinet officer and who has served as a role model to the point where he was once considered a candidate to be the first African American president.

Colin Powell, will the GOP turn its lonely eyes to you? It's as crazy as any other scenario where Romney thinks he is still the front runner based on winning the caucus in Dick Cheney's home state.

Stranger things have happened. What ever happened to Hillary's inevitability?

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Spinning out of control

As the clock winds down the hours to the New Hampshire primary, our Man Myth continues to unwind too. A few examples, courtesy of an interview with The Politico:
  • Mitt Romney, a dominant favorite in New Hampshire just weeks ago, said Sunday that a "close second" to Arizona Sen. John McCain would be a significant feat on Tuesday ... Romney said that would be impressive considering the attention McCain has paid the state over the past eight years.
Accept the obvious truism of the poll numbers and reflect on the fact that Massachusetts candidates, whether they win the nomination or not, must win New Hampshire to be considered viable. Especially one who owns a summer home in the state.
  • Romney acknowledged that the “flip-flop” label has hurt him, though he said it is unfair.
Good thing we know that his religious tenets prevent him from drinking and smoking. Otherwise, he sounds like Roger Clemens. I suspect his advisers suggested that he not say that he believes that his positions have evolved.
  • Romney said tension inside his campaign over strategic decisions has not been a big deal. He blamed reporters — not his advisers — for forcing him to focus intensely on his conservative views instead of the message of change he is carrying to every event in New Hampshire.
You know they are in trouble when they drag out the "blame the media" trope.

Now, toss in the fact the Myth Man was forced to concede that ads where he says "I approved this message" were "simply incorrect" in defining John McCain's stance on immigration and you find a candidate in a deep pickle.

There is no question that Romney has the personal financial resources to soldier on past Tuesday should he lose New Hampshire as poll suggest. Nor is there little doubt that he has the hubris.

But it's likely that he will be sinking only personal funds in the campaign with a second major loss -- donors will not buy the "one gold, two silver" strategy, particularly if the silvers came in states that were his to lose.

The wealthy Iranian-American supporters probably won't be as eager to lend their digs to a fund-raiser who can't raise funds. Or win elections.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Fear and loathing: 2008 edition

Watching the Flip Flop Express head for a snow bank reminds me once again about how the Republicans plan to run 2008 general election.

The model was perfected in 1988 when Lee Atwater, recognizing the ennui that greeted GOP nominee George H.W. Bush, promised to "strip the bark off the little bastard." By driving up the negatives of the then-unknown Michael Dukakis, the elder Bush prevailed.

The model worked well in 2000 and 2004, when Junior -- with an assist from Al Gore's breathing patterns and the Swift Boat Veterans for 'The Truth' -- won himself eight years in the White House.

Today, we're seeing the same dynamic at work as Myth Romney fights for his survival. Romney, whose campaign hallmark is saying anything and everything, is now trying to claim he's the victim of attacks even as he launches broadsides at John McCain and Mike Huckabee.

This is simply following the the footsteps of Rudy "subject-verb 9-11" Giuliani and Junior himself, who used every opportunity to sow fear and uncertainty in his bid for re-election.

And it explains why the Democratic race has come down to the question of who is in the best position to take the barrage when the Republican Fear and Smear Machine heats up for the November tussle.

When Hillary Clinton says she has "the experience," many pundits have translated that to her time in the Senate -- coupled with her time in the White House as First Lady -- gives her the policy expertise.

In a sense, that is what she has been selling. But in a broader sense, Clinton is claiming she's had the bark stripped off and lived to tell about it. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is too "unknown" and too "nice" to survive the onslaught.

The GOP general election strategy is clear: immigration, terrorism and and an effort to paint the Democratic nominee as a threat to mom, baseball, and apple pie. What else is there for a Republican to run on? The Bush record?

Clinton believes her ability to withstand the fear and loathing directed at her and her husband makes her uniquely qualified.

And that's what is so appropriate about the title of Obama's book -- The Audacity of Hope. It is indeed an audacious thought in 21st Century America, riven by the culture wars and the Ayatollahs of the Right, that there might be hope, that in the words of Rodney King "can't we all just get along."

I've bloviated many times, starting with my very first post, about how the Right uses fear as an (effective) weapon in winning and holding power. Obama is the first politician of the Left in a very long time to try and offer a counterpoint.

"Experience" is a mixed model. Look at Bush's history, whether as Texas governor or all the jobs daddy helped him get. Or Romney's decidedly unimpressive term in Massachusetts. Experience was certainly shown the door in Iowa when Chris Dodd and Joe Biden trailed the field.

What's wrong with a little hope?

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