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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, February 22, 2008

Sleeping around

While the New York Times left a rather large innuendo hanging out there on anonymous sources, the heart of yesterday's story about John McCain wasn't really about what our national dirty mind thought it was.

And today's Washington Post, following up on its own story of the day before that focused more on the lobbyist angle, gets to the heart of who John McCain really is in bed with:

But when McCain huddled with his closest advisers at his rustic Arizona cabin last weekend to map out his presidential campaign, virtually every one was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington's lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways.

Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O' Lakes, UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae....

Even before McCain finished his news conference, uber-lobbyist Black made the rounds of television networks to defend McCain against charges that he has been tainted by his relationship with a lobbyist. Black's current clients include General Motors, United Technologies, JPMorgan and AT&T.

The relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman -- who represented a client with business before the Federal Communications, which received a questionable letter from Commerce Committee Chairman McCain -- is really about influence.
In McCain's case, the fact that lobbyists are essentially running his presidential campaign -- most of them as volunteers -- seems to some people to be at odds with his anti-lobbying rhetoric. "He has a closer relationship with lobbyists than he lets on," said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "The problem for McCain being so closely associated with lobbyists is that he's the candidate most closely associated with attacking lobbyists."
The single biggest "error" in the Times' story was the ill-sourced innuendo. That allowed McCain's backers to make it about sex rather than hypocrisy. And allow them to run against The Times.
Later in the day, one of Mr. McCain’s senior advisers directed strong criticism at The Times in what appeared to be a deliberate campaign strategy to wage a war with the newspaper. Mr. McCain is deeply distrusted by conservatives on several issues, not least because of his rapport with the news media, but he could find common ground with them in attacking a newspaper that many conservatives revile as a left-wing publication.
But it may not be working as well as they hoped:

The article drew conservative commentators, many of whom have attacked Mr. McCain throughout the campaign, to join in the criticism of The Times. Rush Limbaugh opened his radio program on Thursday by saying that “if you let the media make you, you are subjecting yourself to the media being able to destroy you.”

“The important question for John McCain today is, Is he going to learn the right lesson from this, and what is the lesson?” Mr. Limbaugh said, according to a transcript posted on his Web site. “The lesson is liberals are to be defeated. You cannot walk across the aisle with them. You cannot reach across the aisle. You cannot welcome their media members on your bus and get all cozy with them and expect eternal love from them.”

I'll be taking some time away. As always, thanks for stopping by and I hope you come back when things start up again in about a week.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

"I did not have financial relations with that woman..."

OK, John McCain may have opted to take the time-honored approach in reacting to a New York Times article examining his relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. He blamed the liberal media for stooping to "gutter politics" instead.

But the questions about McCain and Iseman serve to level the 2008 playing field about closets and skeletons. Iseman will join Tony Rezko and the Whitewater portfolio in raising questions about candidates who move in the high-powered world of money and power.

Leaving aside the sexual undertones of the McCain-Iseman relationship, you have a clear case of what the Times labeled the "enduring paradox" of John McCain:
Even as he has vowed to hold himself to the highest ethical standards, his confidence in his own integrity has sometimes seemed to blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest.
It was either naivety or hubris to presume the media would not look into the ethical background of a man who has transformed from a member of the Keating Five to the "champion" of campaign reform.

Hillary Clinton's campaign raison d'etre comes down to her closets have been emptied of skeletons. Barack Obama continues to have questions raised about his dealings with Chicago businessman Antoin "Tony" Rezko (or slumlord as the Clinton campaign has called him).

It's also somewhat humorous that the McCainiacs are focusing their wrath on the Times when the story, er rumors, er, whatever, first surfaced on The Drudge Report. You know that liberal media organ that shills for its advertisers by asking "Will Obama get another free pass from the liberal media?" You know, Monica Central?

What I find most ironic is the timing -- tied to the most recent campaign finance reports showing how awash the system is in money. What's worse -- Myth Romney squandering the five boys' inheritance to the tune of $42.3 million or $167,000 per delegate or Obama raising about $138 million from almost one million contributors?

Both reflect a problem with the power of cash -- but neither Romney nor Obama would seem to be as dependent on large donors as McCain, who seemed to be skillful in the art of saying one thing and doing another while he campaigned for campaign finance reform.

You know, straight talk.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Man from Hope

I guess it all depends on the meaning of the word Hope.

If you are a small town boy with big dreams, hope is a good thing, especially when it plays off the fact that you hail from a place in Arkansas by the name of Hope.

But if you are a man born of an African man and a white woman from Kansas who attempts to appeal to our better instincts after a generation of political and ideological warfare -- and offer the hope as an agent to break the vicious cycle -- well that's another thing entirely.

The doubts were being cast broadly last night as Barack Obama ran his win streak up to 10 with victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii.

John McCain, the 71-year-old mantle bearer of the Fear and Smear Party, road tested his lines after he also celebrated two victories over that other Man from Hope, Mike Huckabee. Avoiding the GOP record of the past seven years, McCain dismissed Obama as delivering an:
"...eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and a return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than people."
Seems to me the "false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy" pretty much sums up the legacy of George W. Bush and Republican Congress who created a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich that plunged working people into debt and foreclosure and their children into war.

Camp Clinton offered a surrogate who took his gloves off in also trying to launch a class war. Machinists Union President Thomas Buffenbarger made McCain seems tame in trying to open a rify between key constituencies of the Democratic Party. After labeling Obama a “wunderkind” as a speaker but a coward when it came to standing up for workers’ rights, he let a Clinton crowd know what he really feels:
“There he is with his nose in the air pontificating when the coast is clear and as soon as anyone throws a punch he’s in a bum’s rush to get away from a conflict,” he said.
This from a surrogate of a candidate who decried the "politics of personal destruction" when it was aimed at her and Clinton 42.

Perhaps that is at the root of The Washington Post's Dana Milbank's image of the Obama Souffle:
The Clintons in the past couple of weeks have done all they could to cook him up into an airy souffle, a candidate so light in substance that he collapses when speared. They exposed him as a guy who copies others' speeches and makes lofty pledges only to break them. And yet: The Obama Souffle continues to rise.

The lack of substance charge is a red herring. All candidate web sites are full of candidate positions on every issue known to human kind. The lifting of words? Another red herring.

Heaven knows we've all been burned by campaign rhetoric like "compassionate conservative" and "I'm in a uniter, not a divider." Maybe Obama's rise could be in keeping with the notion that we elect candidates we'd like to have a beer with.

It's becoming pretty clear as Obama wins red states and blue states, eating into Clinton's demographics while McCain wrestles to rein in the diehard 30 percenters that support the George W. Bush Follies that "change" really is the issue in 2008. Iraq, the economy, the erosion of our civil rights and moral standing in the world need to change.

The choices: a Washington veteran with a maverick streak that hides his belief in the status quo agenda; a woman running on her ties to a successful but controversial two-term presidency; or a man with a fresh face, moving rhetoric and a vision of moving us past the nightmare we've lived for the past 16 years, courtesy of the Republican Fear and Smear Machine.

Still wonder why he's on the rise?

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Together We Can

Let's start with the basic statement that it's always wise to give credit where credit is due.

But the kerfuffle being raised by Camp Clinton's plagiarism allegations is a sign of desperation as she struggles to close the perception gap with Barack Obama. And a sign that the fall campaign will be waged on non-substantiative issues by a GOP nominee who will be running away from the record of the current incumbent.

Let's see now: Obama is an African-American man with Chicago roots who has a campaign adviser named David Axelrod and who gives a mean speech. His campaign theme is "Yes We Can." Deval Patrick is an African-American man with Chicago roots who had a campaign adviser named David Axelrod and who gives a mean speech. His campaign theme was "Together We Can."

Obama's use of Patrick's phrasing about the power of words comes in defense of Clinton's charge that it takes more than words to run a government. Patrick used the phrasing when defending himself against similiar charges by Kerry Healey.

The story is not new
-- as the Globe itself notes. If anything, Obama should have shied away from the sharing because of the undercurrent of concern among Massachusetts liberals that Patrick's words do not match his deeds. But then again, nobody really cared all that much about we thought about John Kerry either.

Patrick sought to downplay the matter:
"There are always candidates out there who will trivialize the ability of Barack Obama to mobilize people and energize people" with language, Patrick told the Globe.
Comparisons to the Joe Biden 1988 episode are also somewhat overblown. In addition to paraphrasing the words of British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock, Biden had also plagiarized a law school paper.

And let's not forget that the revelation -- in the form of an attack video, hurt the attacker -- Mike Dukakis and John Sasso -- as much as Biden.

Hillary Clinton's main line of defense these days is that she's taken the full force of the GOP Fear and Smear Machine and Obama has not. So perhaps she should be thanked for taking one potential non-issue out of the McCain armory.

Or is Hillary plagiarizing Kerry Healey?

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Straight Talk Local

Conventional wisdom has it that John McCain's popularity with independents is his unwillingness to pander. After all, isn't this the guy who told Michiganders that the auto industry jobs they lost aren't coming back?

Leave aside the fact that he backed away from that one almost immediately. Instead, reflect on the "new" McCain, the one who says torture may be acceptable if the alternative is limiting CIA options.

Now McCain is venturing into an area he admits isn't his strength: the economy. The Straight Talk Express just about ran off the road with McCain's latest pronouncement that he is against any taxes, any time, for any reason. In fact, he's all for more tax cuts if it would stimulate the economy.

How are you going to pay for your 100-year war in Iraq? Or Bomb Iran? Or meet your promise to solve the problem of the alternative minimum tax?

After being greeting with boos by the Red Meat Assembly known as the Conservative Political Action Conference, McCain has been taking the Straight Talk Express on a series of right turns. And so it's appropriate to ask who's the real McCain: the "maverick" or the panderer?

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

All this -- and a penny more

The Globe has had a thing recently for trend stories -- everything from Vermont cheese makers to mausoleum builders. Let's see if they can spot a new trend.

Today's City Weekly includes a story about a Hyde Park neighborhood without consistent delivery service by the US Postal Service. Reading the story I recognized many of the excuses:
  • An "eight-hour" route that no one wants;
  • It arrives it different hours every day, if it arrives at all;
  • It's dark!
Mrs. OL and I have been in a pitched battle with the Postal Service for about six months now. The sins include failing to honor a vacation hold; delivering mail from other streets; leaving first class mail on the stoop and the granddaddy of 'em all -- failing to deliver a card with a $1,200 check inside.

Calls to the local branch were met with what can only be called condescension. Multiple follow-up calls with "customer service" folks downtown resulted in no change. Even after the complaint was kicked up to a "higher" level I was greeted by phone tag and an administrative assistant who never seemed to allow word of my returned calls to get through her filter.

I bet if the Globe dug a little deeper they would find this scene repeated in lots of neighborhoods around greater Boston. The timing would be right too -- considering we are now about the shell out yet another penny for "first class" delivery.

The only "forever" about the postal service is the lousy service.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Truth at the T?

First the MBTA announces it is going to improve service time on commuter rail -- by being honest about the schedule.

Now Smilin' Dan Grabauskas reveals a deep dark secret -- known to anyone who has stood at a subway platform or bus stop -- the T has actually not run all the scheduled trips it says it does.

Our public transit system is a certifiable basket case. It has been leaderless and clueless vile comments by angry riders don't change the fact that the man who has been in the forefront of the fiasco needs to be held accountable.

Smilin' Dan has GOT to go -- and soon.

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I smell a rat

Memo to Globe page designers: Rats are not the best breakfast company.

What possessed you to place not one, but two rodents in prominent places in today's newspaper (Page One tease and Sidekick cover -- no links on this one!)

The Page One decision was particularly egregious -- placing the rodent on top and a 'Beagles Rule" story -- complete with cute Bobby the Beagle (right) -- below the fold.

And you wonder why you are bleeding readers?

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Friday, February 15, 2008

El Rushbo for President?

Is it possible The Mouth that Roars would actually put some money behind his rants?

Obviously not. Why trade an 18-carat gold-plated microphone and a Gulfstream jet for the Oval Office and Air Force I? It's much easier to pontificate than govern. Besides, there's that little matter of a plea deal on drug charges.

Besides, he's got more power as the Mouth that Roars, as the New York Times demonstrates in paying homage to his ability to make grown men do things they don't believe in just to curry his favor.

John McCain has a base problem, which is easily demonstrated by the fact that Mike Huckabee continues to pick off primaries here and there even though, as he has said, he needs to rely on his roots in the miracle business to win the GOP nomination.

That base problem is exemplified by the daily Rush Rant about McCain's ultimate apostasy, a willingness to reach across the divide and attempt to find common ground.

Talk shows are not about common ground. They are, as The Times notes, about ratings, which Limbaugh is the first to admit are more important than silly things like national unity.
What people in the mainstream media — which Mr. Limbaugh refers to as the “drive-by media”— do not realize, he said, is that he is less concerned with being viewed as a national precinct captain who can deliver blocs of votes, or someone with the power perhaps to scuttle a presidential campaign, than with being seen as a broadcaster who can hold a huge audience.
If the choice is the good of the nation or the good of Rush, the answer is simple: the most important thing to Rush doesn't involve McCain, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, or even the ability to say "I told you so."

“Honestly, I don’t look at it that way,” he said. “If I were to look at it that way, then I’d be admitting that the entertainment quality of the program or the content in general is dependent on others. And it’s up to me. People listen to this program for me.”

Truly frightening stuff.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

The ultimate flip-flop

Say what you will. The man is consistent in his inconsistency.

The body language between the two says all that really needs to be said about the sincerity of Myth Romney's endorsement of John McCain. Political viability in 2012, not a deep and abiding desire to be a team player undoubtedly motivated the Mittser.

That and the fact he probably would love to torpedo Mike Huckabee in return for the Huckster's ability to knock the $50 million man out of the race -- at a fraction of the cost.

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Melon Head Follies

When Dan "Melon Head" Burton is your biggest defender, perhaps Roger Clemens should reconsider his strategy.

Burton, you may recall, is the Indiana congressman who didn't acquire his nickname because he looks like Barry Bonds. No, the former Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, earned his by taking a pistol into his backyard and firing it into a melon to allegedly prove Vince Foster was murdered -- by someone acting as an agent for Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Nonetheless, the good people of Indiana have kept returning him to Capitol Hill where he had been fairly quiet -- until yesterday. Burton emerged as one of the Clemens' most vocal defenders in the four-plus hour hearing that could be aptly titled Roger and Not Me.

The erstwhile ace of the Red Sox, Yankees and Houston Astros insisted everyone -- friend Andy Pettite, former trainer and accuser Brian McNamee. even Pettite's wife -- "misremembered" details around his alleged use of steroids and human growth hormone.

McNamee -- who would go to jail if he lied because he would be breaking an agreement -- took the brunt of Burton's wrath.
"This is really disgusting," Burton of Indiana told McNamee. "You lie when it's convenient for you. I don't know what to believe, but I know one thing I don't believe, and that's you."
Interestingly, the hearing broke down along partisan lines, with other Republicans rushing to the defense of the Yankees icon while Democrats poked holes in his story -- which apparently also included some good old-fashioned witness tampering.

The hearing also featured an allegation that Mr. Clemens coached another possible witness, his former nanny, over what to say about a 1998 party at the house of José Canseco, then a Toronto Blue Jays teammate of Mr. Clemens.

The nanny, whose name was not disclosed, was seen by the panel as someone who could resolve contradictory accounts by Mr. Clemens and Mr. McNamee about whether Mr. Clemens attended the party.

Committee staff had asked Mr. Clemens’s lawyers for the nanny’s name last Friday. Mr. Clemens found the nanny, whom he had not seen since 2001, last Saturday and invited her to his house, his lawyer Rusty Hardin said. On Sunday, Mr. Clemens talked to her, saying he had not been at the Canseco party, and Mr. Hardin’s investigators questioned her. On Monday, they gave her name to the committee.

“Mr. Chairman, I was doing y’all a favor,” Mr. Clemens said in testimony about the nanny. “And as far as I was concerned, I hadn’t seen this lady in a long time, she’s a sweet lady, and I wanted to get her to you.”

I bet you did Rog. You didn't earn the name The Texas Con Man for nothing. Maybe you and Dan should go melon hunting down on your ranch.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Trouble ahead?

It's the story behind the story that grabs your attention in the "Potomac Primary" results.

As the Washington Post notes:
Obama won among men, among women and among union voters. He won big among the affluent, educated voters in the District's suburbs, but he also won convincingly among rural voters and small-town Democrats.
In other words, huge hunks of groups who had solidly backed Hillary Clinton.

And on the flip side, The Post notes:
But even as he dominated the Potomac Primary, McCain lost conservatives in Virginia, as he has across the South and parts of the Midwest -- trailing Huckabee among that group and evangelicals as he attempts to unite a fractured Republican Party behind his candidacy.
The 2008 dynamic may be starting to come into sharper focus.

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Mr. Speaker Speaks

And on the 12th day of the second month, the inner sanctum opened and thus was heard:
"He should take this as a victory; they should be very happy."
House Speaker Sal DMasi has finally found a revenue solution he can live with to deal with the state's fiscal problems.

Actually it is more than an "olive branch" as the Globe describe it, less than "DiMasi bows to gov" as the Herald weighs in. And it is a solid foundation for a compromise, if for no other reason than the Herald editorial page is squirming.

"It" is a proposal to make changes in the corporate tax structure, dropping the rate to 7 percent over the next three years while tightening loopholes that enable some firms to avoid paying their fair share. No word yet from Verizon on their opinion.

DiMasi is also calling for a $1 per pack increase in the sales tax on cigarettes to close the gap on the money needed to finance health care reforms. He would also freeze unemployment insurance rates, a victory for business.

It is indeed heartening to hear DiMasi finally offer some concrete alternatives to the proposals put forward by Patrick from the municipal partnership to casino gambling. But I'm not sure I agree with the Globe that it's time to sing Kumbaya, because of the tone of King Sal's remarks.

DiMasi has been taking some heat (at least in this corner) for the leisurely pace of House business and his publicly disdainful attitude to our rookie governor. The compromise proposal he offered yesterday is just that, a compromise and not the tablets from on high. It is still subject to revision by the Senate, agreement by a conference committee and signature by the governor.

However welcome this move away from stalemate is, it isn't the last word, no matter the fact the Speaker has offered his own view that Patrick has "won." The ultimate winner needs to be the taxpayers who all pay their fair share.

Hey, can't well all just get along?

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cutting edge journalism

I was going to leave this one alone, really I was, until I started to see chatter here and came to the realization that chronicling Deval Patrick's new hair style is the closest thing the Globe has had to a breaking Statehouse story in eons.

It's not the most ridiculous story to be sure, but really. There has been virtually zilch about the Patrick budget proposal, even less about the internal workings of the administration's casino push or his spitting contest with House Speaker Sal DiMasi.

But we now know the gov's sister cuts his hair (and probably doesn't charge him $400.)

I can sleep easier tonight.

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Bush v. al Qaeda

Admit it, are you the least bit surprised the long-delayed military tribunals involving six Guantanamo detainees are expected to begin this year and take some of the spotlight off the presidential race -- and the candidates running for and against the Bush administration.

As the lawyers like to say, let's stipulate the people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are bad guys. And if proven guilty of their crimes, they would deserve a penalty similiar to being strapped into a building where a full-loaded drone aircraft crashes. And let's also stipulate that I don't believe in the death penalty or torture.

But I will take the White House denial that it had nothing to do with the timing of the trials with a shaker or two of salt. The Bush-Cheney axis has controlled every scintilla of the GWOT from the decision to hold people as enemy combatants to the effort to move the trials to the military and away from the rules of the legal system we are ostensibly fighting to defend.

You must also admit it will be some great theater. No, there won't be Jack Nicholson thundering "you can't handle the truth" at Tom Cruise and likable Commander Harmon Rabb Jr. won't be asking the questions either.

But on the one side, the government will be arguing they have masterminds of the 9-11 conspiracy (forget the fact the real mastermind is still prowling around Pakistan and Afghanistan). The crimes they are accused of are truly heinous. The evidence must be compelling or they would bring them to trial. Right?

Just when John McCain supporters might be thinking they will get free publicity during the trials, along will come a defense to put the interrogators on trial. Illegal wiretapping, torture, the tribunals themselves.

Bush will respond it's all part of the process of defending the homeland.
“Six and a half years ago, our country faced the worst attack in our history,” Mr. Bush said late last week, speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference. “I understood immediately that we would have to act boldly to protect the American people. So we’ve gone on the offense against these extremists. We’re staying on the offense, and we will not relent until we bring them to justice.”
Others beg to differ:
“I wish they had as coherent a strategy for fighting the war on terror as they do for politicizing the war on terror,” Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said on Monday.
And how will the defense make that point?

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said the strategy for the military attorneys assigned to defend the men, and any civilians who volunteer to help, would be clear: Focus on the government's harsh treatment of them to call into question the validity of the prosecution's evidence.

"By hook or by crook, you would try to get evidence of improper interrogation techniques, or coercive interrogation techniques, on the record - not just in front of the trier-of-fact, but before the court of public opinion," said Fidell, who has been a critic of the administration's detainee policy.

In the end, the American people will decide -- not just in the court of public opinion but also at the ballot box. No Oscars or Emmys. Just a Constitution, the biggest prize of them all.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

New front-runner?

Barack Obama certainly tried to downplay talk he was the new front-runner in his 60 Minutes interview last night, (Hillary Clinton here) but the results of this weekend's primaries and caucuses tell a different story.

As does the change at the top of the Clinton campaign. Not to mention the Divider-in-Chief's embrace of John McCain -- and his slap at Obama.

Obama still needs a victory on a media-designated "big state" primary to overcome conventional wisdom that he is a small state, caucus-organizing type of candidate compared to Hillary Clinton's "mass" appeal. That could come tomorrow in the "Potomac Primary" when Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia vote.

Or it may not, because CW may decide there are too many African-American voters participating.

But Camp Clinton certainly sees things headed in one direction (and not the right one), as acknowledged by the decision to replace Patti Solis Doyle with Maggie Williams at the top of the campaign.

CW may also read too much into the fact that Solis Doyle is a Latina, a demographic that solidly backs Clinton, while Williams is African-American. Personally, I simply love the fact there might even be that sort of speculation, taking it as symbolic od the importance of both voting blocs long ignored by the GOP.

Speaking of the Divisive Party, the Lame Duck took to GOP-TV (Fox News Channel to the uninitiated) trying to appeal to the red meat brigade to back John McCain:
“I know him well,” Mr. Bush said. “I know his convictions. I know the principles that drive him. And no doubt in my mind he is a true conservative.”
By reaching out to solidify McCain's conservative credentials, Bush does either Democrat a huge favor. November is all about breaking away from the man with the 30 percent ratings.

And whether he planned to or not, Bush gave Obama a boost with a calculated slime:
"I certainly don't know what he believes in. The only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he's going to attack Pakistan and embrace Ahmadinejad," Bush said.
And as The Politico's Ben Smith noted, the Obama campaign took immediate note of the opportunity:

"Of course President Bush would attack the one candidate in this race who opposed his disastrous war in Iraq from the start. But Barack Obama doesn't need any foreign policy advice from the architect of the worst foreign policy decision in a generation," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.

The signs of front-runner status are also appearing in the form of deeper looks into Obama's background. The Times last week examined his performance in proposed legislation to regulate a nuclear power plant.

And Sunday produced the very strange look into Obama's youthful drug use that produced this very strange conclusion:
Mr. Obama’s account of his younger self and drugs, though, significantly differs from the recollections of others who do not recall his drug use. That could suggest he was so private about his usage that few people were aware of it, that the memories of those who knew him decades ago are fuzzy or rosier out of a desire to protect him, or that he added some writerly touches in his memoir to make the challenges he overcame seem more dramatic.
The perils of being a front-runner.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Be careful what you wish for (II)

House Speaker Sal DiMasi is profiled in this month's Boston Magazine, where he makes it clear that while governors may come and go, the Legislature goes on forever and governors better get used to it.

DiMasi offers faint praise to Deval Patrick, similiar to slaps along the campaign trail where he suggested we don't need a president with a learning curve. As reporter Paul McMorrow writes:
The sooner Patrick resigns himself to this, DiMasi would have him believe, the easier things will get for him. If he tries to buck the speaker, well, things will just get harder.

"There are people," says a source close to the administration, "who believe [DiMasi] would not be unhappy if the governor were not successful, and everything returned to the way it was. The governor believes he has gone out of his way to be deferential to the speaker; I don't think the speaker can say the same."

A second administration insider is even more succinct. The speaker's single biggest point of contention with the governor, says this person, is that "he doesn't ‘get it.' Which means: He doesn't do it Sal's way."
Well, according to the Herald's Scott Van Voorhis, Patrick is learning his lessons:
Gov. Deval Patrick’s personal push to get a casino bill passed has resulted in more than a dozen lawmakers switching their votes on the issue despite powerful House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s opposition.

As many as 15 House members have changed their positions and now plan to support the governor’s proposal, said state Rep. Brian Wallace (D-South Boston), a Patrick ally on the casino issue.
DiMasi is simply the latest in a long line of string powerful legislative leaders, including Speakers Tommy McGee and Tom Finneran and Senate President Billy Bulger. Spitting contests are inevitable and lessons usually get learned. Who would ever think that Bulger and Bill Weld could have found common ground?

But the lesson for DiMasi is obvious: if the Speaker was hoping to be Patrick's tutor, he should be aware that his pupil is a lot faster learner than he may have thought. And the roles of tutor and pupil may be flexible.

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Be careful what you wish for

A quick question to Somervillians and Medfordians eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Green Line to their communities: Why?

First, you need to recall that promises, particularly when it comes to the Green Line, are notoriously flexible. Enjoy riding those three-car trains? Notice how service has improved on Commonwealth Avenue since they closed those four stops?

This is a line that currently only extends one route as far as Lechmere, which will simply be a midpoint on the road to Medford and Somerville. While that can and will no doubt change, it's worth noting it's the shortest route -- originating at Heath Street. Nonetheless, it takes forever.

And let's not forget the MBTA has been making and breaking promises about service along Centre Street and out to Arborway on that same Heath Street route since they took that part of the line down in 1985.

The Green Line currently has too few cars running too erratic service. Smilin' Dan Grabuaskas has shown no inclination that he knows how to make the trains run on time. Do you think those problems will be solved by 2014 or 2018 or 2525?

Buses may be slow, messy and unreliable. But so is the Green Line.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

While you were out...

With all the attention we devoted to the race to rid of us George Bush, Ol' 43 managed to slither around and do those things he does that makes us count down the days:
  • Bush continues to defy Congress and the Constitution with signing statements that in effect say "nyah, nyah, you can't make me"on topics ranging with Iraq and Darfur (not to mention torture);
  • Meanwhile, Senate Republicans stonewalled efforts to add "luxuries" like unemployment benefits and heating assistance to an economic stimulus bill. Noticeable by his absence on the cloture vote was putative GOP presidential nominee John McCain, not wishing to be recorded on a tough vote.
All in all, another good week to recall that whatever difference may exist between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, they are marginal compared to the ways in wish Bush and McCain are united.

Had enough yet?

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Conservatives behaving badly

My goodness, from their behavior you would think they're Democrats. Two hours after Myth Romney left the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference, John McCain, the Republican heir apparent took the stage:
In a moment that will long be remembered by Republicans, he was greeted with jeers as well as cheers.
Now that it's all over except for the shouting, it's clear that Myth Romney's treason monkeys withdrawal sets the baseline for the Republican defense of the White House. And while Subject-Verb 9-11 failed to capture the hearts and minds of the Red Meat Eaters, it was his tangled personal life and not his message that was the root of the problem.

With the economy heading south with the efficiency of the Red Sox equipment bus, the Elephant Party knows it's in trouble when George Bush's endorsement is necessary to buck up the hearts and minds of the party's conservative core.

And that means Fear and Smear is on the agenda for the fall. It is, after all, the Republican Party's tried and true victory tool. Jack up the other guy's negatives to make your own seem the lesser of two evils.

McCain echoed the treason monkeys theme:
McCain suggested Al Qaeda had plotted the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks during Bill Clinton's presidency, and that electing a Democrat to the White House would return to an era of "timidity and wishful thinking at a time when we averted our eyes from terrible threats to our security that were so plainly gathering strength abroad."
Barack Obama countered Romney (and the argument) head on, for what will definitely not be the last time.
"That's the kind of poorly-thought-out statement that led him to drop out. It's a classic attempt to appeal to people's fears that will not work in this campaign. And I think that's part of the reason he was such an ineffective candidate."
But what is now clear is that once again, the GOP will cater to their own very special interest, those who consider McCain's record of military service, support for conservative policies and own history of kowtowing to them insufficient.

That means that the smell of fear will be spread across the land this year. We deserve better. But for the Elephant Party, self-preservation is more important that comity. Or solutions.

But at least we can enjoy Rush ripping McCain.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Mitt, we knew ye too well....

Fraud to the end, Myth Romney told the American people that he is suspending his presidential campaign because of treason monkeys like me.
"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win," he said. "And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."
And so it is that the pro-life, pro-choice, gun control-backing, varmint shooting, gay tolerant gay basher who was for health care reform in Massachusetts before he was against it, bows off the stage -- for the good of the nation.

That presumes of course, that he won't change his position -- a foolhardy presumption to be sure. And naturally Myth left himself some wiggle room by suspending the campaign rather than withdrawing -- holding his delegates just in case.

Some might question what I have left to blog for now that the Man Who Flipped So Much He Flopped has left the stage. By conservative estimate, this is the 292nd post (out of a total of 857) in which the Mittster has been mentioned.

Easy. Despite the best efforts of Rush Limbaugh and his gang to paint John McCain a liberal, the senator from Arizona is anything but.

And a press corps that is taken by McCain's openness -- as opposed to the tense relations maintained by both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- may tend to avoid McCain's flaws as the bask in his folksiness (can anyone say George W. Bush vs. Al Gore?)

And flaws there are aplenty. Star with the Straight Talk Express backing away on his accurate thoughts about Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell in pursuit of the wingnut vote.

Or his less than gracious personality in a "collegial"2006 letter to Obama. Or backing off that fit of pique. (Hat tip to Jon Keller for that one.)

And with speculation running high that Mike Huckabee is really running for No.2, personally I like the man a heartbeat away from the presidency to believe in evolution.

So I'll find a way to carry in without having Mitt to kick around any more. And I wish him well at home in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and/or Utah. Practicing acrobatics.

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So why bother with casinos at all?

Good move by Deval Patrick to formally oppose the Mashpee Wampanoag bid for a casino in Middleboro. But if there's no Indian gaming there, why do we need casinos at all?

I haven't jumped into this issue with the fervor of others -- and my insistence on the House taking up Patrick's casino proposal is based more on the need to address revenues questions than it is a desire to sit in front of a slot machine.

There was something truly rotten in the process by which Middleboro residents were forced to sit out on an open football field in July and approve a proposal that would have brought traffic nightmares, over development (and questionable financial rewards).

And not that it would mean a lot in court, but the process leaves a lot to be desired, witness this comment from Dennis Whittlesey, an attorney specializing in Indian gaming:
"The governor can complain all he wants, but it does not matter," Whittlesey said. "He has no input."
But not so fast. I recall a comment a couple months back from House Economic Development and Emerging Technology Chairman Dan Bosley suggesting that there is no inevitability on the subject of full-blown casinos:
Yes, the Wampanoags can do anything we legally do now. However, they still have to get land placed in trust and that is not automatic. They then can only have the so-called "bingo slots". These are not only slower, but you play against the pool of players, not the house, so they are less profitable. That calls to question as to whether the financial backers will stick around...
So the bottom line? Patrick is right to oppose the Middleborough proposal because it stinks to high heaven. But the let's get the best deal because it's inevitable argument is fading fast and the cost-benefit analysis is leaning to the cost side.

But the Legislature needs to get off the dime and hold hearings about the three-casino proposal. Kill it outright and let's move on to other ways to shore up our sagging financial base.

Like closing corporate tax reporting loopholes. Wal-Mart doesn't have the legal standing Indian tribes do. Just a similiar amount of cash as the tribes and the casino operators -- and way less than the rest of us.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Smilin' Dan has got to go

Leave it to MBTA boss Dan Grabauskas to finally talk to the Globe about the T's deplorable financial condition on Super Tuesday. It wasn't a bad strategy: a story that should have topped Page One got bumped below the fold on Metro.

I know I'm far from the only person who has a hard time buying the fact that despite $70 million in fare increases on buses, trains and subways in 2007, the T is still looking at a $75 million deficit in fiscal 2009-- and this admission was the first volley in a plan for a legislative bailout.

It's also really clear -- any bailout must come with the strings that Grabauskas must go.

Smilin' Dan has run the T since May 2005. Before that, he was Secretary of Transportation for Mitt Romney and before that, in an ominous sign, he was the head of the Registry of Motor Vehicles. He has played an integral role in the state's thoroughly dysfunctional transportation system since the turn of the millennium.

Enough is enough.

Regular readers know what I think about his "management" of the T. Higher fares accompanied by longer waits both for buses, trains and trolleys but also for completion of multiple construction jobs that drag on over time and over budget. Buses and Green Line trains run in pairs -- with long waiting times in between. Fare evasion remains a problem on overcrowded trolley cars where rear doors are opened to let sardines out.

Smilin' Dan -- who admitted to the Globe in a magazine article that he didn't used commuter rail because it wasn't convenient to his schedule -- got a pass for a long time because of the "other" transportation nightmare, the Big Dig. But his time is up.

Yes, the T is saddled with high debt. But it also gets a penny from the sales tax. Excuses for poor management AND poor service are no longer enough.

Deval Patrick should have fired Grabauskas the day he took charge. Today would be late but acceptable. The system has already been leaderless for too long. At least there would be some salary savings.

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True befuddlement

If anyone insist they know exactly what's happening the the presidential nomination process, they are lying.

About the only thing clear this morning is that John McCain has momentum and a delegate lead heading out of Super Tuesday. Myth Romney's millions have managed to put him into a psychological tie with a resurgent Mike Huckabee.

McCain finally hit the 50 percent mark (in the blue states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) but he still faces significant challenges from of all people, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham.

As for our man Myth, he says he's soldiering on, but as always, you don't know which side of the mouth he is speaking from.

On the Democratic side, there's no clearcut winner, although Hillary Clinton certainly can take bragging rights by winning the bluest prize of all, Massachusetts -- despite the decision by our two senators and governor to back Barack. Winning California certainly doesn't hurt either, but the delegate allocation process is a lot harder to call a win that getting into Teddy's face.

Democrats never like to do anything easy and 2008, despite all the obvious advantages, will prove no different. Already out there is a scenario where Obama wins the elected delegates, but Clinton takes the super delegates and the nomination.

McCain-Clinton could be a Democratic nightmare (not that the Arizona senator would win New York over her but let's look where he was strong enough to actually top 50 percent). Hillary seems to be able to draw the white working class vote, but what about all those men who despise her? But what if Limbaugh and Co. are true to the bluster and support Hillary over McCain, who hasn't been able to collect a majority in any of the Red States?

It's also entirely possible that large numbers of voters could simply sit on their hands in November, unhappy with both choices.

Confused? You're not alone.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What the huck is goin' on?

Waiting for California, it's clear that Mike Huckabee has had a very good night and Myth Romney, not so much. As of this writing, Romney has taken his home states of Massachusetts and Utah, while John McCain and Huckabee have cleaned his clock elsewhere.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton proved I have to broaden my circle of friends, none of whom said they were going to vote for her. Nonetheless, Clinton -- backed by Mayor Tom Menino, House Speaker Sal DiMasi an Senate President Terry Murray, thrashed Barack Obama dn his team of John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and Deval Patrick.

Nationally, Clinton appears to be a bit stronger than Obama, but the big unknown is delegate distribution.

The most interesting comment I heard on ABC (and can't find on their website) are exit poll numbers that show Obama and McCain with significant crossover appeal -- that is the ability to pull independents into their column. For the Democrats, it was something along the lines of 58-31, which means Obama will definitely live to fight another day.

As for Romney, that will hinge on his ability to take California and other Western states. No one foresaw the re-emergence of Huckabee -- but that will be the takeaway message of the night.

Off to sleep.

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What's goin' on?

There's an interesting feeling in the air as primary day dawns in Massachusetts, a day after three of the four top contenders stopped by to campaign in the Bay State (are you surprised that Myth Romney didn't know the way?)

But there's more to it that just the presence of John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It's one of those rare times when the Massachusetts primary actually means something.

And as usual, in Massachusetts, the meaning is more significant for the Democrats.

In one corner Clinton, escorted by House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Terry Murray, makes quick stops in Worcester and Dorchester. Her reliance on the heavy political armor even caught the notice of the Washington Post, which dispatched a reporter on pub crawl to get a feel for what's going on and came away with the notion the legislative leaders combined with the Menino Machine may carry the day.

The Post also found younger voters unaware of Obama and as loyal to Clinton as one supporter who told the Globe:
"I feel so passionately about her being the next president. She knows the issues better than any of the candidates on either side."
But that's not the same story as last night. I can't help but wonder that when thousands of people line up four deep, waiting for a rally that started 2 1/2 hours late that Massachusetts may be Obama Country.
"If Obama was going to come here at 3 a.m., I would stay here," a rally-goer told the Globe.
And let's not forget Obama has some significant backing from Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Deval Patrick, who also know how to turn out the vote.

And of course, the feeling of change isn't just limited to the Democrats.

Meet Mitt Romney, the anti-insider populist with a feel for the common man and woman. Polls suggest McCain is trailing Romney although the former governor would very likely lose in a two-man race without Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul.

And the Democratic excitement also deprives McCain of a valuable weapon -- the unenrolled Romney hater who might otherwise grab a GOP ballot and stick it to the Slick One.

There's a level of excitement about politics I can't recall, not just here but around the country. The desire to put the Bush years behind us is palpable.

The analogies of Obama to John and Robert Kennedy hold true and the historic nature of the Clinton candidacy is nothing to ignore. McCain and Romney are engaged in a steel cage match up with the Rabid Right starting to get nervous about McCain as the GOP nominee. An upset here could be a game-ender.

Secretary of State Bill Galvin is predicting a significant turnout and the polls, such as they are, suggest an uncertainty over who can pull this off.

This could be a fun night.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Life imitates sports

There are lessons for the candidates in The New York Giants stunning win over the New England Patriots -- starting with that big one of inevitability.

Which is why Hillary Clinton should have been a bit more diplomatic in her post-game razzing of Patriots' fans after Eli Manning found Plaxico Burress all alone in the end zone. Told that Barack Obama was lining up with endorsers Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Deval Patrick. she declared:
“They can redeem themselves on Tuesday – they can vote for a winner.”
Let's see if anyone reminds her of that comment -- or the parallels to her race with Obama -- at her two Bay State rallies today.

The there's the matter of trash talk. Some people obviously have no business trying it and that includes that other "front runner."

It sounds as if Mitt Romney backer Bob White committed the cardinal sin of celebrating too early, handing out Patriots' victory hats to the traveling press.

And Mitt, who appeared to pass up the chance to watch the game on AP reporter Glen Johnson's laptop, apparently has gotten used to missing obvious outcomes, waiting until the 35-second mark to decide “I think we better start getting nervous.”

But alas, like CBS reporter Bob Conroy, Romney was forced to accept another silver.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Irritables

The Globe had an interesting collections of stories in City Weekly today about the primary, including a look at a group labeled the "Irritables" because they have consciously decided to sit out elections because of their disenchantment with the political process.

Well you can label me an Irritable (in a different context) after checking out the other regional editions and finding uplifting stories about first-time voters in Everett, Lowell, Marlboro and Brockton.

No mention of the disillusioned (mostly) lefties who live in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville to mar the suburban good news stories. And of course, no cynicism to mar the pastoral suburban landscape.

What's up with that?

I actually read the City Weekly story (and the trite sidebars about Republicans in Cambridge and conservatives on campus). The unreconstructed lefties who shun the system are indeed valid stories (would George Bush have been elected in 200o if not for Ralph Nader?)

But come on, aren't there any newly naturalized immigrants voting in the City Weekly area?

Do Globe editors presume that hip, with-it and slightly cynical urban dwellers won't give a rat's patoot about the fact that the irritables can be matched or outvoted by inspirationals, many of whom are living and working not in leafy, green neighborhoods but in communities as gritty and working class as Dorchester and Roxbury.

The Globe's news hole has been shrinking precipitously in recent years and coverage of Boston and its immediate neighbors has been shrinking along with it. But that's not a good reason to ignore "the other side" -- particularly in a community like Everett that sits astride the city but not within the Globe's random designation of "City."

And while we're at it, why has the Globe opted to start running Brookline stories in GlobeWest? I doubt it has anything to do with needing more outlets for the overwhelming non-existent coverage of the town in City Weekly.

Isn't there any obligation to present a broad view of issues -- and not just circulation-restricted snapshots?

Maybe some of the small army of reporters out on the national campaign trail can be spared to look at political trends in Boston -- with its mayor for life -- and Massachusetts -- where the governor's inspiration is draining rapidly?

Probably not.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Don't count those chickens yet

Many of us up here in the Northeast are rejoicing about the fact we have good choices rather than false ones when we head to the voting booths. After all, George Bush is becoming an increasing irrelevancy and a Clinton-Obama choice is an historic one.

Not so fast.

Down there in the Heartland, as we like to call it, things look different, as a reporter from the liberal New York rag found in a visit to Columbia, Tenn.
I wish there was somebody worth voting for,” said Buford Moss, a retired Union Carbide worker sitting at the back table of Bucky’s Family Restaurant here, with a group of regulars, in a county seat that — as the home of the 11th president, James K. Polk — is one of the ancestral homelands of Jacksonian Democracy.

“The Democrats have left the working people,” Mr. Moss said.

“We have nobody representing us,” he continued, adding that he was “sad to say” he had voted previously for Mr. Bush. He was considering sitting out this election altogether. “Anyone but Obama-Osama,” he said, chuckling at a designation that met with mirthful approval at the table.

That not so mirthful moment was followed up with another snide remark:
“You get Peloski up there and they say we’ve lost the war, and that just fuels our adversaries,” said Mr. Hickman, incorrectly pronouncing the name of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Remember, these are the "values voters" (as opposed to the rest of us heathens) and they usually turn out to vote, although that may be tested if the Republican select John McCain. These have been the voters who decide elections -- shenanigans in Florida and Ohio would have been irrelevant without them.

Whether they were just playing with the reporter from the Yankee rag, or as clueless as they appear, their votes count, something liberals should remember as they pick sides in a personality conflict between two Democrats who would be just fine.

And it's something those Democrats should recall as they (and one spouse) keep slashing and burning the other.

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Globe discovers the T

Good golly Miss Molly. The paper of record has discovered the MBTA doesn't work too well.

Not only does the Globe recount the tales of leaky subways stations, it also discovered the "intermittent disruptions of service" that afflict the $192 million CharlieCard system when passengers wanted to do unusual things like purchase fares.

While there's been a lot of discussion here and elsewhere about the mess known as our public transit system and the failure of Smilin' Dan Grabauskas to do anything about it, the Globe has been rather silent.

And there is still a little to much equanimity toward statements from T officials like Joe Pesaturo that they are working to improve a system that has glitches every day, not just the first of the month.

How about fare boxes on buses and trolleys that are broken? Or a fare system that requires outbound Green Line passengers to pay for their ride -- but doesn't have an efficient or effective way to do it?

As for the leaks, I'm not ready to accept Pesaturo's throwaway line that subways stations are like your basement that also leak. Or that there's nothing to worry about in terms of long-range structural damage.

Isn't that why Bechtel Parsons/Brinckerhoff is paying out $458 million to fix leaks and avoid long-term damage?

What about it, Smilin' Dan?

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Money makes the world go 'round



The big news today (for sleepyheads like me who actually slept in!) is the release of the campaign finance reports. And there are two very disquieting trends.

The Five Brothers may not have to stand on street corners with tin cups just yet, but Daddy Myth is spending down their inheritance at a frightening rate -- $35.4 million in 2007, almost half in just the last three months of the year.

And Barack Obama shattered a record for one-month collections in a primary, raking in $32 million in January from 170,000 donors.

Obviously 170,000 people forking over cash in varied size increments is a lot better than one man trying to buy an election. But neither trend is heartwarming.

Consider that Romney's personal fortune is estimated to be in the $250 million range. That means he spent roughly 14 percent of his wealth in one year. And that doesn't count his January expenses nor the estimated seven-figure sums he is expected to fork over for Super Tuesday advertising.

In contrast, he raised $54 million in 2007.

Romney's spending puts him just behind President Ross Perot ($63.5 million) and President Steve Forbes ($38 million) in the vanity sweepstakes. It's certainly Romney's money to do with as he pleases, but think about what else $35.4 million can buy aside from elections.

Obama's January haul puts him right behind President John Kerry, who took in $44 million in March 2004 after sewing up the nomination.

While it may be somewhat reassuring that this take come out to roughly $188 a person, it's still distressing as a reflection of just what a negative force cash has become in our political system -- whether buying candidates or buying influence.

The oceans of cash being spent in Congress and state capitols is perverting our system to the core. Can anyone say Jack Abramoff?

While I'm personally heartened by what the haul might mean for Obama -- and appalled that Romney is running as a fiscal conservative who can "fix" the economy -- the dollar signs that will be forever attached to each man's name are scary.

Well at least the going rate for buying an election or a congressman is starting to get out of reach for everyone other than oil companies.

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