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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Monday, March 31, 2008

It's Tribe Time, again

Time to step out of character again. You see, for some of us not into beer for breakfast, today is Opening Day.

And when Peter Gammons is predicting your team will win the World Series, well, its worth taking notice.

When last we looked, the Cleveland Indians had blown a 3-1 advantage over the Red Sox. I heard some rumors about a four-game sweep over the Colorado Rockies, but it hardly mattered to me. Red Sox fans have shed the "long suffering" label. Not so Indians fans.

Our movie is Major League, not Fever Pitch. The Curse of the Bambino has nothing on the Curse of Rocky Colavito. Louis Sockalexis hung up his spikes long before Jacoby Ellsbury was a twinkle in his parents' eyes. Then there's our logo.

So when Gammons, baseball expert and Bostonian that he is, picks the Tribe to top the Braves in a replay of the Politically Incorrect World Series of 1995 it makes you sit up and take notice.

And when Buster Olney takes the Tribe over the Cubs (the only team in America that would make the Indians the sentimental underdog) you definitely get a bit of pennant fever.

Growing up, the Indians were always out of the race by the end of April. The '90s revival was magic -- even though they 100-win Indians lost to the Braves in '95 and choked against the Marlins -- the Marlins -- two years later. Then Manny and Thome and the gang moved on and things returned to "normal."

Now they're back, giving the Red Sox a solid scare last year. And while the Detroit Tigers looks like the 21st Century version of 1927 Yankees Murderer's Row, the old line about good pitching beating good hitting rings in my head.

As long as it is the CC Sabithia and Fausto Carmona of the regular season and not the ALCS.

The Politically Incorrect Ohioan says see you in October.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tales of Globe home delivery

You would think a business bleeding cash would value existing long-time client customers. But if you are the Boston Globe (and its parent New York Times which excels in bleeding money from the Globe) the answer would be: you're kidding, right?

Yet another tale from the seamy underbelly of newspaper delivery -- a business once deemed too important to be entrusted to children who learned about responsibility by getting up early in the cold to meet a deadline.

Those of you lucky enough to get home delivery know that for the privilege of being aggravated, you are required to pay in advance (up to three months for the Times) and tack on a premium for the "convenience" (a $5 Sunday Times costs $5.12 to get it on your doorstep.)

When it gets there.

The Globe is fond of alarming messages when they know they won't meet their own delivery times (and by the way, does anyone besides me get up before 8 a.m. on a Sunday?)

Today's message warned of "extreme" production difficulties. What's up with that? Osama bin Laden running the presses?

But I already knew the message was, um, hyperbolic, when I ventured down stairs and found just one of the three papers that should have been on our building's doorstep. No second Globe. No Times.

Boston Globe -- extreme home delivery.

A schlep to the store for papers (spotting many copies of the Globe and Times on doorsteps along the way) and an hour or so later the phone rings, a "concerned" caller from Community Newsdealers asking if my papers had been delivered. Never mind that I said I wanted a credit and would go out and buy a paper so I could get it before the 2:30 p.m. deadline for re-delivery.

Then there's the credit. Mrs. O.L. says the bill gets paid the same time every month for the same amount -- whether we've been on vacation or the delivery person takes a mental holiday.

It's been pointed out time and again that newspapers are a troubled business, losing circulation to the Internet and groping for a successful new business model. Here's a suggestion: keep the customers you already have happy.

At least they opted for truth in advertising when they dropped the old slogan "The Globe's Here."

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Do Globe editors talk to each other?

The Punctuation Police on Morrissey Boulevard have expanded their horizons.

Today's Page One look at the upcoming road trip of Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson in search of typos and bad grammar sounded vaguely familiar.

Then I remembered why.

It was just last July that the Globe chronicled the Kate McCulley's quest for the Grammar Perfection. Newbury Street meet the Typo Hunt Across America Tour.

I know it takes eggs to make an umlaut, but perhaps the story editors are suffering from phonological diaeresis? I think Pepto-Bismol helps with that problem.

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Can we all just get a grip?

They say word-of-mouth is a great way to build buzz about a book or movie. That means Deval Patrick will have a blockbuster on his hands. Unless we all have a collective coronary before it's published in 2010.

You'd have thought Patrick signed a contract to revise the Kama Sutra based on all the words being tossed around. And with a few exceptions, like this, there has been a certain breathlessness, if not outrage, over the news.

Well, as the Outraged Liberal, I suggest we all chill out.

Patrick has displayed an incredible tin political ear and once again reminded us he has an enormous belief in himself. We have a right to wonder if he was really thinking about doing anything "together."

But as the Globe notes, two of Patrick's predecessors (albeit Corner Office bailers) have written books and carried out their day jobs with greater or lesser degrees of success. What he does on nights on weekends is his business -- as long as it doesn't involve escort services or illegalities. No 3 a.m. calls on red telephones at his pay grade.

It's not hard to understand the dismay of idealized Patrick supporters watch him plow ahead to the tune of his own drummer on casinos.

It's also not hard to understand the Massachusetts Republican Party in high dudgeon over this. After all, hypocrisy is the mother's milk of politics and the party's four previous Corner Office occupants made a mess of things before they bailed out -- leaving a largely irrelevant organization desperate for any attention.

But let's look at the immediate road ahead -- which will be much more of a test of Patrick than casinos and book contracts rolled together.

The Associated Press' Steve Leblanc hit the nail on the head with the only really important issue facing the Commonwealth.
OK, now what?

That's the question dogging lawmakers as they search for new revenues after the collapse last week of Gov. Deval Patrick's plan to license three resort style casinos in Massachusetts. Patrick's bill promised an injection of hundreds of millions of new dollars into the state's coffers at a time when Massachusetts is struggling with a $1.3 billion spending gap. Now, with the nation facing a possible recession and Massachusetts still lagging much of the country in job growth, the drive for new dollars is taking on a new urgency.

The royalties from Patrick's book won't come close to closing that gap. For better or worse, he offered a serious, if flawed proposal to deal with it.

The governor is certainly is own man when it comes to doing what he thinks is right, the heck with everyone else. How he guides Massachusetts in the next few months will be more telling than any book deal about whether he plans to stick around.

But it wouldn't be a bad idea if we came up with some solutions "together."

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Friday, March 28, 2008

This couldn't have waited?

It's not as if he was Client #10. Or that he checked into the Days Inn on W. 94th Street.

The storm of consternation raised by Deval Patrick's decision to skip the casino gambling vote last week to take a trip to New York to pursue a book deal is a bit over the top. The "personal business" wasn't as nefarious as the kind that landed Eliot Spitzer in the unemployment line or started the David Paterson jokes immediately afterward.

Patrick, of course, left the state in the hours before the House killed his casino gambling bill last Thursday. The vote wasn't in doubt. For that matter, neither was the timing after the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies had sealed its fate a day earlier.

No amount of lobbying or arm-twisting was going to change that fate. And Patrick remains a human being, not a prisoner, with the right to have some time for himself and personal pursuits. He was elected governor, not sentenced to the job -- although it may feel like a sentence at times.

With all that said, two questions arise -- where are his advisers? Or, why won't he listen to them? Because appearances DO matter.

You can be sure a book deal was the furthest thing from reporters' minds when they heard that personal business was the only answer for an out-of-state jaunt. The body of Spitzer's political career wasn't even cold yet because of his activities on an out-of-state trip.

And it was the biggest vote yet in an ongoing and increasingly nasty war between Patrick and House Speaker Sal DiMasi. A statement of reconciliation or (from a reporter's perspective) an angry blast across DiMasi's bow, was expected.

He's a governor with an admirable story to tell. Publishing house executives are, well, publishing house executives. They are the ones that usually hand out rejections and this wouldn't have been one of those. It would have been a postponement because something came up at work.

We can be forgiven if we assume, all protests aside, that Patrick is getting wanderlust. Every one of his predecessors since Michael Dukakis (except Jane Swift, for obvious reasons) exhibited an urge for going.

But I agree with Charley over on Blue Mass Group that Patrick does need to get out more: to Worcester and Fall River and Pittsfield and Lawrence and Northampton. Even Florida. The man who showed a great understanding for the yearnings of Massachusetts residents has developed a tin ear, the kind that made Michael Dukakis a temporary one-termer.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Drip, drip, drip

The old line says to the victor goes the spoils. So why is House Speaker Sal DiMasi wondering if he really and truly won his most recent battle with Gov. Deval Patrick?

Sure, Patrick is featured on the front page of today's New York Times is a way that few politicians would relish -- especially when the newspaper is the first or second read of many of his key supporters. Early dazzle, then tough path" is not what the folks at the Patrick campaign committee are looking for to open wallets.

Mr. Patrick is faring better than a year ago, when he was under siege for spending more than $10,000 on drapes for his State House office and upgrading his state car from a Ford Crown Victoria to a Cadillac. (He later agreed to reimburse the state for the drapes and part of the car lease.) By his third month in office, Mr. Patrick had announced that his wife was being treated for depression, and by his fourth, he had overhauled his staff.

But even now, governing is not coming easily for Mr. Patrick, 51, a former civil rights lawyer and corporate executive who came to Massachusetts on a prep school scholarship in the ’70s.

Ouch.

But that same word may apply to Mr. Speaker, who apparently has received the full attention of the Boston Herald, a first or second read of a lot more people than the Times in Massachusetts. With its back to the wall, the Herald is returning to its roots, sniffing out stories that amount to a leaky faucet of annoyance.

DiMasi has already been nicked with stories about playing golf with a casino lobbyist (no traction because it certainly didn't accomplish anything) and intervening in a state contract for a political supporter that was later deemed inappropriate.

Today, the Herald offers up a two-fer: sending political cash to the company of a close friend and how a film festival run by a DiMasi aide and considered a "pet project" of a DiMasi friend netted a $50,000 state grant.

The company in question in today's story sells software that analyzes voters trends and demographics, and helps lawmakers target mailings to their constituents. The film festival grant was cleared by House counsel and the earmark sponsored by the local representative who sees it as good investment to spur tourism in Falmouth and Woods Hole.

But the net effect is a steady drip of stories no politician can relish.

And if that wasn't bad enough, the Department of Revenue has offered a report suggesting that the tax break that has brought the film industry rushing back to Massachusetts is costing the state more than it is bringing in. This is a two-fer of a different sort.

DiMasi has long been seen as the champion of this idea -- and Patrick signed on to increase the size of the tax break. So at least they have something in common they can complain about this morning. That may be the first step to working together.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Here comes that rainy day feeling again

Even when you filter out the politics, the warning signs are ominous.

Treasurer Tim Cahill says Massachusetts is going to need to borrow $400 million on a short-term basis next month to pay its bills. And that the Commonwealth -- just like you and me -- is going to need to tighten its belt as the fall-out from Wall Street Behaving Badly expands across the country.

Cahill, who may have visions of the Corner Office in 2010 dancing in his head, takes a shot at Deval Patrick and legislative leaders for the inability to get ahead of the looming crisis. And there is plenty of blame to go around that the casino gambling fiasco ate up so much of our time and attention.

The heart of that issue was revenue -- h0w do we raise cash for state programs without raising taxes (although gambling revenue is really nothing more than a voluntary tax). The options aren't tantalizing.

In place of casino cash, we are now looking at tightening corporate tax loopholes and raising the ultimate sin tax -- the one on cigarettes. There's also talk about dipping into the rainy day fund again this year.

But that would only be a short-term solution as Massachusetts copes with the ticking time bomb that comes from what is arguably the biggest public policy success of the generation -- health care reform.

The state's insured population has increased significantly as a result of the landmark law. But the looming fiscal nightmare scenario goes to the heart of the overall budget problem -- how do you pay for it?

Right now, that burden falls harder on the individual without coverage than the company that doesn't provide it. This year, the sliding scale penalty for a person not buying coverage can slide all the way up to $912.

For the company that doesn't pay its fair share, the cost is $295 per person.

That employer price tag is controversial to say the least. Mitt Romney was for it before he was against it and tried, unsuccessfully trying to veto it from the compromise bill.

But employers have apparently had the last laugh, according to calculations from Health Care for All.

The law clearly calls for equal sharing of the burden among all the players in the system -- users and providers. Business will argue, with some justification, that they too will feel the impact of the looming recession and tossing people out of their jobs will only tighten the screws on the already shaky system.

But any long-term solution to the state's fiscal problem requires that we address this issue. And the sooner the better.

Before our bridges crumble and the MBTA goes belly up. Or voters choose to eliminate the income tax come November.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hiding in plain sight

Dan Grabauskas can learn a lot from the Miami Herald.

Similin' Dan has been on a PR offensive lately, actually talking to the Globe and appearing on WBUR and NECN to lament the MBTA's financial woes and promising to make things better. And of course he's promising to spend money he doesn't have to prevent ridership from slipping even more.

Today's latest -- a crackdown on fare evaders.

While I applaud the T for going after people who don't pay, here's a suggestion. Just like the Miami Herald learned in its stakeout of Gary Hart, you've got to watch the back door.

The Herald formally introduced presidential politics and "bimbo eruptions" to the voting public. Hart's affair with Donna Rice was chronicled in the Herald with pictures obtained by an all-night stakeout. Hart insisted Rice didn't spend the night, but had left through the back door. No pictures could verify his claim because apparently no one was checking the back door.

While that may have been in dispute, there's very little doubt that the T is hemorrhaging money through the back door of the Green Line. And sometimes the front door too.

Hop on along Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street, through the rear doors, and chances are you will get -- at most -- an admonition to come up front and pay your fare. Many folks will simply raise their CharlieCard high. No test to see if there is actually cash on it.

The problem is obviously most acute along the Boston University stops. Lots of people jamming onto already overcrowded outbound trains. If the spirit actually moves you, getting to the front is impossible.

And of course, sometimes the lost fares are in front. Expensive fare boxes that fail to work, forcing trolley operators and bus drivers to wave willing-to-pay customers through. Or accepting CharlieTickets without the time-consuming slurp-in to the register the fare.

I suspect a lot more cash disappears through the back doors on the Green Line than through the turnstiles in the subway. And a lot more good will as people see free riders enter and leave without much of an effort.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Why people hate politics

Politician supports cause. Business supports politician. Business supports politician's cause. It's a fact of life.

House Speaker Sal DiMasi joked that the House also wins when gambling is involved, but DiMasi and the House may not be as big winners as he joked at the St. Patrick's Day breakfast last week. And that's because he has an appearance problem on his hands.

The Globe reports that Cognos ULC, a Canadian software company that won a disputed contract after DiMasi's personal intervention, also happens to be the "platinum sponsor" of a golf tournament near and dear to DiMasi's heart.

There is no direct evidence of a quid pro quo and no reason, at this juncture, to dispute DiMasi spokesman Dave Guarino when he says "Speaker DiMasi had no control over the list, had no idea who received the letters, did no work to attract tournament sponsors, and did no follow-up solicitation."

But he did personally intervene on Cognos' behalf on a $13 million contract that was rushed through and ultimately violated state bidding laws. Wonder why the bureaucrats rushed?

It looks ugly and sadly, it's par for the course in cities, towns and states across the country, not to mention Congress. In Massachusetts, there's even a law against it -- when evidence can be obtained to show an appearance of a conflict of interest.

Coming on the heels of DiMasi dispensing committee vice chairmanships for votes to defeat the casino gambling bill, the Speaker has a definite appearance problem.

But at least he can be thankful for small blessings.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Men behaving badly

Deval Patrick tried to roll the dice and came up with snake eyes.

That's the easiest pun to describe Patrick's decision not to accept House Speaker Sal DiMasi's compromise proposal to keep the casino gambling bill alive.

A less generous analogy would be to call Patrick's action a Dukakis moment, demonstrating the first-term hubris of the state's last Democratic governor who thought he could work around the Legislature.

Patrick's move to get Rep. Michael Capuano to serve as an emissary to DiMasi was smart politics. His decision to reject DiMasi's deal for a delay -- publicly call for more time, make it clear the speaker was not shutting off debate, and admitting DiMasi had sufficient votes to kill the legislation -- was abject foolishness.

It was made worse by the fact that Patrick had already acknowledged "I can count" and lamented that he did not have enough time. DiMasi took care of the rest by allowing a 12-hour public hearing and a lengthy floor debate -- even if it was sending the proposal to study committee purgatory.

Patrick also did himself no favors by publicly blasting DiMasi in an e-mail to supporters in which he charged the Speaker with not allowing an "honest and open debate." For starters, many of his supporters were already decidedly sour on the casino bill.

And DiMasi has clearly signed on to the life sciences and energy proposals. Slapping him after suffering a resounding defeat is just sour grapes and won't do wonders for the rest of his legislative agenda.

As for Mr. Speaker, the Herald reported yesterday that, despite his claims to the contrary, DiMasi did offer chairmanships and stipends to win votes. It is decidedly business as usual on Beacon Hill -- and neither Patrick nor DiMasi were shy about bargaining for votes to kill the gay marriage amendment.

But unlike my good friend Dan Kennedy, I can't get enthralled about DiMasi as a "bare knuckles do-gooder." The "good" in question here was DiMasi's hold on his membership in the face of Patrick's own "lobbying" and the underlying discontent represented by Majority Leader John Rogers.

As the Globe notes, DiMasi was willing to accommodate Patrick to delay a vote and allow the governor to restructure the legislation. And DiMasi had run for Speaker on a platform that called for changes in the bare-knuckled way that Tom Finneran ran the chamber.

Ultimately though, the big loser is Patrick. He put forward a poorly constructed proposal, gambled he could win it all after DiMasi met his offer to negotiate with a reasonable counter-offer, then launched yet another attack on DiMasi when an olive branch was more appropriate.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

All over the place

The resemblance between the leader of the free world and the leader of Mad Magazine becomes even stronger after W's clueless remarks recently about Iraq and the economy;
  • I'm hard pressed to find a strong reaction on the right calling for the repudiation of Jerry Falwell blamed 9-11 on the ACLU, abortionists, gays and feminists while Pat Robertson just nodded in agreement;
  • Glad to see the Globe trend mavens have caught on to the restaurant tap water craze. Why would I want to pay exorbitant process for a label. And let's not forget what Evian spells backwards. What will I learn next when I pick up the incredibly shrinking newspaper?"
  • Let's go out on a high note. I've been carefully watching the Green Machine this year, waiting and wondering whether to give my heart again. After the Texas Three-Step, I think I'm in. And just how classy is Kevin Garnett in the wake of Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor's classlessness.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Now back to our regularly scheduled program

The casino bill is dead for the year (vampires have a better chance to rise from the grave than bills from study committees). There was substantial debate -- over more than a dozen hours in committee and on the House floor and Speaker Sal DiMasi has a major notch on his belt.

It's now up to the various parties to lick their wounds -- but they better do it quickly because a lot happened while we were immersed in this battle.

Gov. Deval Patrick has to shore things up with his base. Reading Blue Mass Group a year ago, you would have thought its as the official blog of the Deval Patrick Fan Club. Today, not so much.

There's a lot of disillusionment over there. Many of the critics are just the people Patrick needs -- young and idealistic. This was a shock to their system and he has another "transportation infrastructure" problem in rebuilding his bridges. How he does it will be interesting.

Of more immediate concern, he has a $1.3 billion dollar budget gap and a health care reform law bleeding money at an alarming rate.

While DiMasi made sure he rubbed his victory in with a resounding victory, Patrick learned a valuable, if painful lesson. As New Bedford Democratic Sen. Mark Montigny told the Globe:
"In the long run, the governor is stronger. He basically participated and led the way in the very messy process called democracy."
While Patrick is the short-term loser, he has gained valuable experience -- and political chits. There are undoubtedly a number of lawmakers who are seriously disillusioned with the Speaker -- who has had to work very hard to keep his majority leader, John Rogers, from campaigning for the job DiMasi is not ready to give up.

Rep. Brian Wallace may be the poster child for disgruntled DiMasi supporters. The South Boston Democrat took a bullet for the team when he voted to kill the gay marriage amendment. He was upfront in his casino support and told the Herald he was not all that thrilled with the outcome -- and the process.
“This is a sad day for me. Not because the governor’s bill is going to be defeated, it’s a sad day for me because of the way the governor’s bill was defeated.”
All's fair in love, war and politics. But it's good to keep your friends for tough times -- which are now. And the Speaker bruised a lot of feelings -- and probably a few arms -- in claiming his victory.

Which brings us back to reality. Health care costs rising while revenue is static or declining is a bad prescription. And now comes Steve Bailey to rain on the parade he helped DiMasi lead.

While many, including me, have given DiMasi credit for ushering through a rax credit for the film industry that has turned the Bay State into Hollywood East, Bailey reveals that the emperor made be a nudist.
At a time when we are fighting about closing corporate tax loopholes, Massachusetts has opened up a gusher for the movie industry. It would be worth determining what we are getting for our money before we widen the gusher still further as is about to happen, no questions asked.
Large budget gap. Check. Recession eliminating meager appetite for taxes of any sort. Check. Bruised feelings among unions leaders, always hungry race track owners and DiMasi loyalists. Check. The likelihood of a Senate ready to assert itself after being left on the sidelines in the DiMasi-Patrick steel cage grudge match? Check.

It might be worth checking back at the end of July to see who is taking the victory flag at the end of this very ugly race.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Deal or No Deal?

Fashion mavens in the Statehouse today will be checking to see what Wrentham Republican Richard Ross is wearing with his suit. In particular, they will be checking to see if the sling for his twisted arm matches the fabric.

Despite House Speaker Sal DiMasi's insistence that he did no arm-twising and made no bargains to engineer a 10-8 committee vote to kill Deval Patrick's casino bill, the evidence is, how shall we say this, contradictory.

For starters, you have a four-hour or so delay between the time the poll of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies is supposed to be announced. During that time, word spreads the vote is tied with one member reserving his rights.

The Globe reports DiMasi cancelled a public appearance during that time. I don't assume it was for a last-minute dental appointment. Part of the reason for that may have been that casino foes messed up on parliamentary procedure in packaging the bill.

But lo and behold, as the clock struck 4 p.m. Ross has a change of heart, after declaring Tuesday night, "I'm sticking with the governor. I think Sal's very surprised."

Here's how the Globe describes the scene yesterday:
Ross has been a key figure since Tuesday evening when, as hours of testimony continued and it became clear from private head counts that the committee was evenly divided, DiMasi entered the hearing room and sat in the front row, sternly looking over the members for about 15 minutes. Later in the night DiMasi called several legislators into his office, including Ross, to try to pressure them to change.
And while DiMasi insists he made no promises, Ross suggests otherwise. His district includes the Plainridge Racecourse, one of four tracks looking for "racino" status that would allow them to install slot machines.

Ross said he switched his position from agreeing with the governor after speaking by phone with Plainridge president Gary Piontkowski.

"It was down to the eleventh hour, the 59th minute," said Ross, a first-term House member from Wrentham who also said he met with DiMasi twice in 16 hours. "Ultimately I owe my vote to the people in the district, how they wish me to vote."

As Howie Mandel would say "Deal or No Deal?"

I had a private conversation with a casino opponent who compared this vote to the gay marriage amendment and the tactics and maneuvers used to sway lawmakers to take a different vote than they would otherwise be inclined. He has a point.

But although I am comfortable with the outcome in both instances, why do I feel about more squeamish about this one?

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The audacity to hope

We will know in five weeks or so whether Barack Obama's speech about race and American society was an electoral winner. But my early sense is the address is the clearest effort yet to deal with the nagging issue that is never far from the center of our lives.

And not to belittle the unique and awful circumstances of the African-American experience of slavery and legalized discrimination, the sentiments at the core of Obama's speech are probably known in some form or another to a variety of people, be they Hispanic, Asian, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim, to name just a few.

That makes it all the more imperative we address these ills now -- when America's moral standing in the world is weighted down by some of the very real, if overstated complaints of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. Torture is very real.

Tying Obama to the words of his pastor strikes me as wholly unfair. The Illinois senator would be more on the line if he had uttered those thoughts himself. The First Amendment protects speech, but you don't have to agree with inflammatory rhetoric and Obama has condemned the words.

And I have real problems with the continued placement of religion front and center in American politics. In this campaign alone, we've gone from Mitt Romney's Mormonism to whisper campaigns about Obama being a Muslim to attacking him for the words of his Protestant pastor. The First Amendment also protects those religions -- and grants the rest of us the right to our own beliefs without the imposition of someone else's values.

That said, these are the facts of political life in America in 2008 -- and I think Obama did an excellent job in addressing the problems he (and we) face.

His condemnation of Wright's words was unequivocal. His explanation of the reality was too:

“The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through — a part of our Union that we have yet to perfect.

“And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.”

But what was most impressive is how Obama managed to condemn the words without condemning the man, a central part of most religions that our partisan zealots often ignore. And naturally, Obama's words reflect his unique viewpoint as the son of a black man and white woman.
“I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother,” he said, “a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”
We are all imperfect human beings. What a concept.

Obama's candidacy has sparked a new enthusiasm in the United States and around the world, the hope that this country can reclaim the mantle of authority and values leader that has been trampled on during the last seven years.

Let's hope that enthusiasm isn't squashed by the words of someone whose name is not on the ballot and is just another imperfect human being.

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Now what?

As we await the formal burial of Deval Patrick's ill-conceived casino gambling plan, the obvious question arises -- what are we going to do about meeting the long-term needs of this state?

The answer is so obvious that even Howie Carr has figured it out -- taxes. But it will also require a touch more deft than a man who manages to defend cigarettes and belittle Patrick, David Patterson and Barack Obama in a few hundred words.

And those answers are going to have to come from my liberal friends who have been most vociferous in their opposition to casinos. Because we have a huge stake in the programs that are destined to face sharp cuts as Massachusetts grapples with both the national recession and some deeply ingrained economic problems.

For all the swipes I have taken at House Speaker Sal DiMasi about his revenue alternatives, he has at least come to the table with some ideas that may offer some long-term hope. The life sciences bill he touts has multiple parents -- especially Patrick -- and he has come up with a compromise corporate tax loophole closing measure and a hike in the cigarette tax.

Many of my liberal friends, on the other hand, either shrug their shoulders and say it's not their problem -- or propose income tax hikes in a state that will once again be voting this fall on a ballot question to REPEAL the income tax.

The soon-to-depart Steve Bailey rightly points to the proposal offered in nearly media blackout conditions by the third member of the Beacon Hill triumvirate, Senate President Terry Murray. Health care costs are eating us alive, both at the municipal level where communities pay for their employees to the state level, where questions have been raised about whether business is paying its fair share of the costs of the reform law.

We've already seen a backlash against new ways to equitably finance the exorbitant cost of repairing our transportation infrastructure. Gasoline taxes are also a touchy subject because of the skyrocketing cost of oil and the hardships that gasoline already places on household budgets.

Property tax overrides to close municipal shortfalls and pay for education are also becoming increasingly tough (not that they were ever easy to begin with).

So, my liberal friends, let's recall the words of Tim Sullivan, a spokesman for the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, a casino supporter:
“We have to figure out ways to come up with revenue. Somebody better have some pretty brilliant ideas.”

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Shameless self-promotion

Well, the Globe made at least one fan with it's new VoxOp column in today's dead tree version.

But my trusty StatCounter suggests I may be the only one.

I like the idea of the Globe incorporating opinion from beyond the walls of Morrissey Boulevard. I enjoy it even more when a snippet from one of my posts winds up at the top of the debut column. And by including the URL, the Globe seems to be getting the hang of this new wave.

But I got far more traffic when the powers-that-be at boston.com stuck a couple of my items on their front door a couple of months back.

It's humbling that l'il ol' me has caught the attention of folks in the newsroom. Now if that only could translate into clicks.

Nonetheless, thanks for noticing folks!

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Showdown at the Beacon Hill Corral

High Noon arrives at 9 a.m. today.

That's when Deval Patrick addresses a pro-casino rally across from the Statehouse. AFL-CIO President Robert Haynes is promising a good turnout.

Then things move inside, where it will be warmer -- literally and figuratively. The Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies will at long last hold a hearing on the Patrick casino gambling bill which, by many accounts, is already assumed to be DOA.

And while it would be in everybody's ultimate best interests to declare defeat and move on, that won't be the end of it. Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Steven Panagiotakis is suggesting voters have a say in a non-binding referendum.

And then there's the matter of the inevitable -- or not so inevitable -- Wampanoag-backed casino proposed for Middleboro.

Based on its merits, the proposal should be shot down. But the close arms combat between Deval Patrick and Sal DiMasi has masked the fact there are a lot of supporters out there who have a constitutional right to be heard. And I get the feeling that so far, much of this debate has been among a small group of partisan warriors on each flank.

What has also been lost sight of is the Commonwealth is facing a $1.3 billion shortfall in fiscal 2009 in an economy aptly described as being stuck in quicksand.

This economic malaise is affecting all 50 states and there are painful times ahead. Taxes are not a great idea in a recession, which means some significant cuts lie ahead.

In many ways, it would be a good thing for this proposal to die today so that Patrick and lawmakers can get on to the tough business ahead and not be distracted by the personal -- and petty -- politics that have driven this saga to date.

But they also need alternatives. And the burden for that clearly rests with the legislators who vote to kill this plan.

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TMI

I, for one, don't really care whether newly sworn-in New York Gov. David Patterson and his wife had affairs.

But the New York Daily News thought it was important to get the low down on marital rough patches and breakdowns that took place almost 10 years ago when he was a state senator. Important enough to offer a moralistic comparison to the philandering ways of Eliot Spitzer and ex-New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey.

Except that Spitzer was a hypocrite whose every public action proclaimed moral crusader and he got caught in an FBI money laundering sting with high-priced hookers. And that McGreevey is a gay man who outed himself.

If Paterson strays while he is governor, that MIGHT qualify as news, depending on with who, if he pays for it and how. If only our newspapers cared as much about elected officials who do it to taxpayers and the Constitution.

Or corporate chieftains who do it to our retirement accounts.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Brother can you spare a quarter

Next thing you know there will be guys selling pencils and apples on Wall Street.

No, not the CEO of Bear Stearns or Countrywide other financial institutions. Rather it will be small investors like you and me who are simply trying to put together a retirement nest egg.

Remember when George Bush said he didn't want to reward bad behavior in the financial markets? Well, apparently he misremembered. Billions for Bear, but not one penny to help the poor schlub taken in by the mortgage scams unleashed by the Wall Street bank.

Chew on this move by the Federal Reserve Bank to bailout Bear for awhile:

In a highly unusual maneuver, Fed officials said they would secure the loan by effectively taking over the huge Bear Stearns portfolio and exercising control over all major decisions in order to minimize the central bank’s own risk.

Next thing you know, Ben Bernanke will be buying $6,000 shower curtains.

We have a war bleeding billions out of our economy (on top of lost lives), predatory and/or incompetent financial executives making millions on Ponzi-style mortgage schemes and an economy that is bleeding jobs at the same time gasoline and food prices are soaring.

I know, maybe we can open casinos to help pay off the Bear Stearns fiasco.

And can we ask Gorge Bush to pretend that he at least has a clue about the financial house of card collapsing around him.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Iraq plus five

Two good stories to mark the fifth anniversary of George Bush's shocking and awful debacle in Iraq.

The Boston Globe's soon-to-be-departed Charlie Sennott takes a look at the surge one year later. And one exchange says it all:
...Toward the end of the long meeting, a reporter traveling with the unit asked the local leaders whether the gains on the ground will outlive the surge.

The word came back without hesitation or uncertainty:

"No," said the Shi'ite tribal chief, Sheikh Talib al-Rabei, who serves as chairman of the local 10-member reconciliation committee.

"No," said his Sunni counterpart, Fuad Ali Hussein, a former colonel in the military under Saddam Hussein who is now an imam at a mosque.

Down the long conference table, a half-dozen others on the reconciliation committee delivered the same reply. [Lieutenant Colonel Patrick] Frank had a hard time concealing his dismay.

"Really?!" he said, framing the word as both a question and a statement. "I'm a little surprised to hear that. Can they explain?"

I thought the purpose of the surge was the reduce the level of violence as a way to foster discussion and conciliation? Looks like we have a longer way to go than George Bush and John McCain are telling us.

Also noteworthy is a New York Times story on how oil money, which the Bush administration originally said would pay for the war and the rebuilding of Iraq is actually fueling the insurgency.

How many more false promises and false choices are we going to accept?

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Misplaced priorities

Oil has topped $110 a barrel. Gold is over $1,000 an ounce. Wall Street firms are crumbling under the weight of their bad decisions. The dollar is worth about as much as today's newspaper stocks. The official arbiter of recessions says we're in one and its going to be as bad as anything since World War II. And US soldiers are still dying in Iraq.

Meanwhile, George Bush continues to have his head up an appropriate orifice, when he's not systematically stripping Americans of their rights.

But what are we talking about? Eliot Spitzer's bimbo eruptions. Geraldine Ferraro doing unto Barack Obama what Barbara Bush did to her during her trailing blazing candidacy. And whether Obama has appropriately denounced or repudiated his pastor.

At least this should put to rest uncertainty over whether he is a Muslim.

Ferraro's sliming of Obama has been thrashed over the the point of nausea, but little attention has been paid to the fact that is the same woman who denigrated for her gender when she shared the Democratic ticket in 1984.

Meanwhile, the Clinton Scorched Earth Policy continues to link Obama to the words of his pastor -- even as Obama has renounced, denounced and repudiated them without doing the same to the man who baptized his children.

Obviously it's in Clinton's best interests to raise doubts about the man who leads in total delegates. And the news media, after getting slapped around by Saturday Night Live, think they need to focus on Obama.

So we are presented with false choices and red herrings at just the time all three candidates need to be pressed on serious issues -- like what's happening to the financial and moral foundation of the United States.

What a country.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

So's your old man....

Maybe they should hold next week's casino bill hearing in a boxing ring. Or a steel cage. This is about as dysfunctional as state government gets.

Senate Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee Chairman Jack Hart of South Boston -- conspicuous by his silence in the war of words over the casino proposal -- emerges to suggest the fix is in among his his colleagues at the hearing he will co-chair next week.
"It seems they've reached a conclusion," Hart said. "Why are they asking people to testify or members to come? I think it's a sham, and the people deserve better. . . . Give this bill and this idea a fair hearing, because it's our responsibility to do so, no matter how you feel on the thing."
That prompts his normally even-tempered House counterpart, Dan Bosley, to erupt:
"How stupid is that statement," he said. Although he said the committee vote is likely to send the House a negative recommendation on Patrick's bill, he said public testimony Tuesday will be taken seriously.
Um, Mr. Chairman, predicting the outcome before the hearing is not a great moment in democracy -- no matter how obvious it may be. (Oh, and welcome to the blogosphere!)

Meanwhile, Senate gambling foe Susan Tucker crashes a Patrick administration briefing and gets into a shouting match with a casino supporter.
"I think I'm a little outgunned here," said Tucker, motioning to a room of mostly casino supporters.
Well duh.

It's time to dial it down folks.

Regular readers know I come at this from two perspectives: the casinos proposal appears to fall short on its promises of jobs and revenues. And the Legislature needs to come up with alternatives.

In a letter to his colleagues (available on the subscription only Statehouse News Service) DiMasi ticks off what he says are legislative efforts at building the economic base and generating revenues. For the most part they are initiatives in which the governor and Senate President can share credit, with the much-maligned but now obviously successful tax breaks for movie making the only real House-generated initiative.

So let's move on to the obvious personality issue. DiMasi and Deval Patrick have been sniping almost from the get-go. When the Speaker chided Barack Obama as someone who will need on-the-job training, the reference was unmistakable.

So Patrick digs in, takes the unsubtle hint and lobbies House members directly and the Speaker is not amused. That has led to DiMasi's most egregious tactical mistake, in my view.

Despite basing his campaign for speaker on ending the Finneran-era tactic of demanding votes on the basis of loyalty, that is exactly what DiMasi is doing now. As one unnamed lawmaker told the News Service:
"Is a guy with 26 years in this building going to be humiliated by a guy with 14 months and no relationships? Not going to happen."
The ultimate loser in this spitting contest is you and me.

What we need now are cooler heads and real facts. If, as long predicted, the hearing produces an "ought not to pass" recommendation, the sides will only harden. This bill needs to be debated on the Senate floor first. If members of the Upper Chamber are really in favor of the bill, let them speak.

Then, if it emerges from the Senate, we need a full hearing on the House floor. Make the arguments. Clear the air. If it dies, it will be as a result of democracy at work.

Not because someone with 26 years in the building is worried about someone with 14 months and no relationships.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

This time it's personal

The battle over casino gambling is getting personal.

The Globe reports Sal DiMasi is now calling members in for "chats" on casinos, making the issue a key benchmark is his increasingly sour relationship with Deval Patrick.
It's trying to convince you, 'I'm right, the governor's wrong, and we really want your vote,' " said the representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private. "I thought it was going to be on substance, talk about the pros and cons. But it's been made pretty clear that it's more than that."

"He doesn't do this very often, so you know when he does it's personal," the representative added.

Coming the same day DiMasi "lobbed another grenade" but unveiling a legislative report skeptical of DiMasi's casino claims and rammed through a pay raise for key supporters, it's become abundantly clear just how sour the mood is on Beacon Hill.

And how there is a need for cooler heads to prevail before everything grinds to a nasty halt.

Naturally the report by House Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Chairman Dan Bosley takes a skeptical view of Patrick's casino jobs and revenue claims. Bosley has been focusing on this subject a long time.

And the Globe's Steve Bailey took a closer look at the Chamber of Commerce report and found reasons to question the foundation on which the Chamber analysts made their observations that while the construction jobs analysis was wildly off base, permanent job and revenue estimates were closer to the mark.

Toss in the Mass. Taxpayers Foundation report and I am convinced that casinos are a bad idea. But I am troubled by DiMasi's increasingly strident and personal approach to the issue.

Patrick has merely done what a politician would do to legally curry votes (obviously to the surprise of DiMasi, who thought Patrick a "slow learner." It's obvious that letters and brochures to his members has touched off a reaction in DiMasi that is more than political.

And this is where cooler heads need to prevail.

Next Tuesday's hearing on casinos will be the political event of the decade. Union supporters will be out in force, hoping to pack Gardner Auditorium and working the halls find the same lawmakers getting DiMasi's "personal" touch. Members are going to be between a rock and a hard place equivalent to the gay marriage amendment vote.

And that's why I think some independent arbiter may be needed. In this poisoned environment, casino supporters are going to look at the Bosley report with cross eyes. It's time for someone without a dog in this hunt to step forward.

MassINC, you out there? How about you, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center?

And it's also time for Senate President Terry Murray to sit the boys down for a chat. There are too many problem that need to be resolved to be stymied by a personality conflict.

UPDATE: Great minds and all that. Check out Joan Vennochi. Some good thoughts about the ethics challenges being lobbed at DiMasi -- and the important insight about Patrick's appearance at the Globe editorial board.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hillarack Clintama for President

Hillarack Clintama would be a phenomenal candidate to blast John McCain and the Republicans in November.

But alas, it appears the Democrats have not yet learned to play in the same sandbox. And as a result, the specter of Myth Romney looms above the land again.

Leave aside the trash talk from Samantha Power and Geraldine Ferraro and you have two evenly matched candidates with strong bases. Hillary Clinton has been strong in traditional big blue Democratic states, Barack Obama has shown strength in the purple and red states the Democrats usually forfeit.

His strength among young voters and African-Americans has been impressive, as has her supports among women and Hispanics.

And with yesterday's win in Mississippi, Obama maintains a significant, but ultimately insufficient margin to win the nomination.

As a team, they would truly be unstoppable. As Democrats, they don't know to get along and put needs of the nation above their own.

Clinton talking up Obama as a No. 2 was a great example of the audacity of, well something. He has a delegate lead she is not going to surmount without some nasty infighting involving superdelegates, infighting that would like ensure John McCain wins.

The media's turn on Obama after Clinton's calculated but inaccurate assault on alleged bias, has further muddled the picture -- amplifying Obama's tactical missteps. Of course, Eliot Spitzer's idiocy does nothing but remind Democrats and the nation about a certain high-ranking member of the Clinton team.

The result is a virtual deadlock -- in votes and in opinions. The situation has turned the sports metaphors from baseball and football to boxing and chess -- from finesse and tactics to brutality and cerebral solutions to tactical challenges.

There's a lot of time now until Pennsylvania votes on April 22. Enough for Clinton and Obama and their surrogates to rip each other to pieces and ensure McCain and more of the same.

It's time for the candidates to ease off from their rugged campaign schedules and find away to get along. A team that can capitalize on the intense interest generated by this battles -- and the desire for change it represents -- is in the nation's good.

It's time to subsume egos, face facts and unify. As Clinton supporter Ed Rendell has said, Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton, it's all the same as long as the result is an end to the Republican debacle. Maybe they could work alternate weeks in the Oval Office?

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

We're in a bagel (II)

The ultimate proof of the sad state of the economy came shining through tonight -- the price of bagels themselves are soaring!

A baker's dozen at Kupel's in Brookline cost $6 for a seeming eternity. The last time I was in last month, the price had jumped to $7.49. Tonight, about three weeks later, it was $7.99 -- along with a note apologizing while blaming extraordinary increases in ingredients and transportation costs. They offer the hope of actually dropping the cost again, but I won't hold my breath.

But when you need your fix, price is no object!

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Ho Yes!

The Post had a field day. The Times opted to take some credit. The political world could just stand there with mouth agape at the whole thing.

Eliot Spitzer, the crusading attorney general turned governor, who built his career on exposing the dirty laundry of others, who rode his moral streak to Albany and raised thoughts about the first Jewish president, got caught with his knickers down. Literally.

What is it about politicians, who seem to be among the world leaders in saying one thing and doing another? Doesn't matter whether the name is Spitzer or Foley, Clinton or Gingrich. What is it that prompts these men to go off the rails by saying one thing and doing another?

Newt Gingrich will always remain at the top of my list for having an affair while leading the charge against Bill Clinton over Monica Gate.

But hubris comes in many styles, shapes and colors. Michael Dukakis was long on the belief that he was the only one with all the correct ideas. Deval Patrick certainly appears to be a man with little doubt about his own rectitude and the failings of others.

Then there's George Bush. Whether it's hubris or abject stupidity, there are few people who have ever appeared on the American scene so full of themselves to the point where everyone else disappears.

The allegations against Spitzer are mind-boggling. No, not the $1,000 a night hookers, Here you have a man who made his reputation rooting out efforts at financial hanky-panky working furiously to cover the tracks of how he paid for the $1,000 a night hookers!

In the mind of Eliot Spitzer, no one was capable of using the simple, basic detective work he employed to root out shenanigans.

Of course politicians aren't the only ones guilty of saying one thing and doing another (hello Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Bernie Law, a very special case indeed). Recent American history is filled with hypocrites from business and religion, to name two. And there are plenty of unnamed, unknown working men and women who fall into traps too.

But politicians and priests always fall the hardest because they take it upon themselves to tell people how to run their lives. Good reason for all politicians to stop that annoying tendency.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

I want my HD TV

One of the benefits being touted as coming with high definition television is a proliferation of side channels or extra outlets for local broadcasters.

So where, pray tell, are the extra channels?

All Boston stations have been broadcasting in high-def for awhile now, in anticipation of the February 2009 switchover from analog to digital. Some, like WCVB-TV, are offering programs like Chronicle, in full HD.

But with the exception of WGBH-TV, none of the Boston stations are offering the extra digital service. There are three separate WGBH feeds on Comcast's digital tier. A recent vacation led me to discover WNBC-TV in New York offering a Rutgers woman's basketball game on a channel they labeled WNBC 4.4.

So where are the extra digital offerings of Boston's Channels 4, 5, 7 and 25? Is Comcast not playing ball (a distinct possibility) or are the commercial channels milking the extra band width for other (financially lucrative) purposes?

Not that I'm expecting great programming from stations that seem to subsist on game and reality shows. But if we're supposed to be getting extra programming, where is it?

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It could be worse

For pundits who have spent a lot of time comparing the first 14 months or so of Deval Patrick and Eliot Spitzer, finally some context.

This is not DrapeGate or CaddyGate. As Jay Leno once famously asked of Hugh Grant, what were you thinking?

The political future of Eliot Spitzer is no more. At least Patrick can take some comfort that the ethical questions are dogging his opponents (with one major exception).

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Does anybody know what time it is?

Another tale of high quality customer service.

The clock on the phone next to me is running a hour late (and five days behind, but that's another story). Have you ever tried to change the time on a GE desktop speaker phone?

First, I tried the obvious -- going through the settings on the phone's display. Too obvious, I guess because there is no option (at least to normal, clear-thinking human beings) among the menu choices for language, panel contrast, area code and tone/pulse.

So, next step is the owner's manual, you know the thing that says to make the phone work, plug it into the wall jack. Like virtually every human being, I probably included those paper scraps in the box that went into the trash.

No problem, there's always online manuals, right?

A quick trip to the GE site tells you the phone with its name on it is actually manufactured by Thomson. Scroll through the various corporations by that name, come up blank and finally plug in the model number of the phone into Google.

That takes you to Fixya.com, where I discover I am not the first person today to look for online tech support on how to change the date and time. So now, about 20 minutes into the search, I finally find the link to the online manual and think, help is on the way.

Wrong.

Digging out the magnifying glass to read the scrunched-up PDF, I searched for about 10 minutes, in vain, for the answer. I did get reinforcement for my understanding that I needed to plug the phone into the wall, but as for the date and time, well...

Thirty minutes and the phone is still on standard time.

GE. They probably can't or don't want to imagine what I'm think about now.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

We're in a bagel

One of the more humorous exchanges in the Barlet White White involved Josh Lyman talking economics with aides Larry and Ed. Josh was mortified the aides were using the "R" word to discuss the economy.
Larry: "If the economy is heading into a recession--"
Josh: "No, no, no. We don't ever use that word around here."
Ed: "What word? Recession? ...What should we call it then?"

Josh: "I don't care. Call it a boat show or a beer garden or a bagel."

Larry: "So if it is a... bagel, the Fed thinks it's gonna be a mild bagel."
Well folks, despite all the dancing around Wall Street and among the current Oval Office occupants, it's clear we're in a bagel and there is apprehension this one is going to be loaded with everything.

Let's look at the facts:
The Bush administration response? Continue to whistle in the graveyard and insist that good times are just around the corner.

Didn't Herbert Hover also say that? The check's in the mail response of George Bush and Congress doesn't come close to attacking the underlying problems of spending too much on two wars while ignoring the growing domestic calamity coming from the human and financial resources that are being squandered.

Things aren't a whole lot better on the state level, where we have Deval Patrick and Sal DiMasi in an increasingly nasty war of words over the pros and cons of casinos and the potential revenues they may or may not bring.

Here's hoping Rep. David Flynn is correct in saying Patrick's three-casino proposal is about to have the plug pulled. Because then, at least one level of government will be able to turn to reality.

Me, I like my bagel with a schmear.

(Graphic from The New York Times 3-8-08)

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Battle lines being drawn

The publication had more pages and newer numbers -- but it didn't make much of a difference to the warring sides of the casino gambling controversy.

One day after Deval Patrick sent around a glossy brochure touting his casino proposal to the office of every state representative, the Boston Chamber of Commerce entered the fray with an independent study backing up a significant amount of the numbers in Patrick's plan.

Or did it?

While the Chamber study threw enough cold water to drown the construction jobs creation claims touted by Patrick, the report by essentially backed his assertions on the number of permanent jobs that would be created and the amounted of revenue that would be generated.

The chamber, which commissioned UHY Advisors to do the $80,000 study, says it isn't taking sides, yet.
"People in the business community are essentially agnostic on the issue of gambling, but very gung-ho on legitimate ways to generate revenue for the Commonwealth and also to generate jobs," said Ralph C. Martin II, chairman of the chamber, which will be meeting next month to decide whether to take a position on casinos for the first time. "And if this turns out to be a net positive, people will be receptive to it."
But folks with religion on both sides of the spat quickly weighed in.
"It gives some credibility to the governor's numbers," said Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has been arguing for a casino at Suffolk Downs in East Boston. "We can't just continue to say no, no, no. Think about the impact this would have on municipal coffers. You can't do these budgets with hocus-pocus resources."
Not so fast, says the Legislature's casino gambling expert.
"We keep getting these recycled studies done with the same information," said Representative Daniel Bosley, a North Adams Democrat and the chief casino critic in the House. "I don't think it's going to sway anybody's mind."
This is where it gets confusing. While the report apparently referenced only 10 casino-commissioned studies out of the 200 they looked at, the authors also chose not to estimate the impacts to regional economies or on local businesses, because it remains unclear where the casinos would be located.

That's a significant loophole in a work by an otherwise, seemingly neutral source.

One can assume and hope that Bosley will unveil his own detailed analysis at a March 18th public hearing. And one can only assume and hope it will be air tight, considering the level of skepticism among casino supporters that will greet its unveiling.

The Chamber report restored a little luster to the tarnish that had been building on Deval Patrick, although skepticism can and should remain the order of the day.

But it's also clear that casinos will generate millions in annual revenues for cash-starved state coffers. Skeptics need to be sharpening their own alternatives -- new revenue sources and potential budget cuts -- for what is increasingly likely to be a lengthy, heated battle.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Championship tax avoidance

Just when you think you've heard the last of the great Bush era outrages, another one pops up and this one is a doozy: a contractor getting $16 billion in contracts in Iraq has found a perfect way to avoid taxes.

And that company used to be a part of a company run by Dick Cheney.

What a surprise.

The company in question is Kellogg, Brown and Root-- which was a subsidiary of Halliburton until last year. The offshore tax dodge, the Globe reports, costs the government hundreds of millions of dollars in Social Security and Medicare taxes that you and I pay.

And it all derives from the no-bid deal that Cheney's company received to handle many of the basic services that would otherwise be handled by soldiers.

Best, or worst, of all, the department run by Cheney's pal, Donald Rumsfeld, has aware of the tax avoidance scheme based in the Caymans Islands, since 2004 -- but allowed it to go on because they claimed it ultimately saved the Defense Department money because it allowed KBR to perform its contractual services more cheaply.

On the scale of Iraq outrages, this doesn't come close to the deaths caused by this reckless adventures by Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush. But it's yet another reason to remind people that John McCain represents more of the same thing this nation's desperate;y needs to rid itself of.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The next Clinton or Obama ad

Well, at least the body language is better than when Mitt endorsed McCain.

But should we start a lottery now to see how many times this image -- or something similar from today's White House lovefest -- makes it in campaign ads for the eventual Democratic nominee.

The focus of the Donkey Shootout from now until the end will be on the electability of the Democrat. And naturally that focuses on Hillary Clinton's high negatives.

No one has higher negatives than George W. Bush however. And while he (thankfully) won't be on the ballot, his new best friend John McCain will.

Think this picture is a draw to moderates and independents thinking about McCain versus Barack Obama -- or even Hillary?

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Speaking of nasty spats

The oh-so-slight veneer of civility in the relationship between Deval Patrick and Sal DiMasi may be coming off.

The governor launched a direct assault on the speaker with a letter to DiMasi's members that attempts to turn the debate over casinos away from Patrick's shaky data to DiMasi's "just say no" stance.
"Attacking ideas without proposing sound alternatives is not good economic policy, nor what the public expects or deserves," Patrick wrote. "If the speaker has other proposals that will generate the benefits of our legislation, including direct property tax relief for over 1 million households, I look forward to hearing them."
Patrick also notes:
"Regardless of whether the proposal creates 30,000 construction jobs over the next few years or 5,000 to 20,000 construction jobs, as reflected in other estimates, one thing is certain: The speaker's alternative will create zero jobs."
Each side has valid points. But a war of words will not resolve the issue. And make no mistake that going over the speaker's head, directly to his members -- while clearly Patrick's right -- is an incendiary move.

The March 18th hearing will be one of the biggest pieces of political theater in these parts in a long time.

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Buyer's remorse?

The headlines are clear:

"Big Wins for Clinton in Texas and Ohio..."

"Clinton Beats Obama in Texas and Ohio..."

"Resurgent Clinton tops Obama in Ohio, Texas"

But is the message really that clear?

There's no question that Hillary Clinton lives to fight another day after taking three of the four Tuesday primaries. In this topsy-turvy year where a candidate can lose 11 straight contests and still remain alive, it's a given that three out of four is a momentum switcher in the eyes of the media.

But is it? As the Times notes:
Her victory in Texas was razor thin and came early Wednesday morning after most Americans had gone to bed. But by winning decisively in Ohio earlier in the night, Mrs. Clinton was able to deliver a televised victory speech in time for the late-night news. And the result there allowed her to cast Tuesday as the beginning of a comeback even though she stood a good chance of gaining no ground against Mr. Obama in the hunt for delegates.
Or the Post:
Clinton still faces daunting odds in her bid for the nomination. Obama began the day with a lead in pledged delegates that will be hard for her to overcome in the 12 primaries and caucus remaining, despite the results from the four states voting yesterday. But her advisers said that the big win in Ohio alone would force a serious look at both candidates and that the race was far from over.
It's clear we are in the buyer's remorse phase of the campaign. This is not the elusive (and now-dead) Bradley Effect which posited whites told pollsters they will vote for African-Americans than do not. Buyer's remorse is where front-running candidates suffer setbacks as primary voters get second thoughts.

And so we will go through another six weeks of ringing telephone ads and change versus experience debates with the voters of Pennsylvania likely to set things straight in April.

For progressives concerned about a continued split in the ranks, there's at least some cause for cheer this morning: John McCain is picking up George Bush's endorsement.

That need to pander to the GOP's remorseful hard right is just the ticket for the rest of the American public counting the days until the Blight of W is lifted from the land.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Can you hear me now?

The Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board had some good news for Massachusetts taxpayers -- but something that the Verizon may not want to hear.

The board has decided to close a curious loophole and require Verizon to pay taxes on poles and wires that dangle over public property. The utility must now pay taxes only on poles and wire on private property.

For cash-strapped cities and towns -- and their beleaguered property taxpayers -- this could be good news to the tune of about $78 million. That can pay for quite a few police officers, firefighters and teachers.

Our friends at the phone company are likely going to appeal the ruling, so don't spent that savings just yet. And no doubt they will tell us once again about all the wonderful investments they make in our lives.

Sorry, I'm not buying that bridge.

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Safe bet

The only safe bet in the escalating battle of numbers and words between Deval Patrick and Sal DiMasi is that won't be enjoying a social evening any time soon. Particularly in a casino.

The House Speaker has offered his most direct slap at the governor's casino plan -- rightfully questioning the apparent gap in projected construction jobs as offered by Patrick and a recent Globe story based on the type of analysis the governor did not do before unveiling his plan.

That discrepancy follows a similiar one over projected revenues that could be generated by three casinos. It points out yet again the sloppy staff work that went into what has become -- rightly or wrongly -- the centerpiece of the Patrick Administration.

Yet, for all the negativity emanating from the House side -- from both DiMasi and Economic Development and Emerging Technologies House Chair Dan Bosley -- it's significant that Patrick still has breathing room in the lower chamber.

The Globe's informal survey of lawmakers found undecideds and nays tied at 40 votes with yeas trailing but not fatally, at 27. Of course, 41 members didn't respond and five new members will be taking their seats in the coming weeks and that's where the balance of power will lie.

Yet you would think that with DiMasi and Bosley clearly leading the opposition, the margin would be wider. Part of that might be that DiMasi is indeed holding to his promise to let members make up their own minds.

But another factor may be the simple reality that Massachusetts, like the rest of the states, is facing some significant budget pain as a result of the faltering national economy. How else to explain the position of a DiMasi loyalist like Joseph Wagner of Chicopee?

"If the economic benefits outweigh the economic and social costs, I might be inclined to support it. But that case hasn't been made yet to my satisfaction."

With hearings scheduled later this month, the pressure is on Patrick to come up with some real numbers that reflect independent analysis and not the rosy scenarios of casino backers.

But the pressure is also on DiMasi and Bosley to provide clear and compelling evidence of the bad effects of casinos and broader gambling options.

That's probably the only sure bet these days.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

The endless campaign

Being on vacation means getting your news fixes, such as they are, on cable. And right now, there's only one story -- the presidential primaries.

For a political junkie, it's heartening to see so much attention paid to the most important decision Americans will be making in at least a generation. But the wall-to-wall coverage in "Situation Rooms" with a gazillion talking partisan heads leaves a lot to be desired.

For starters, if any candidate not named Clinton had lost 11 straight voter tests, would that candidate still be receiving media attention? Or would he or she have gone the way of Rudy Giuliani?

Instead, you find the week between primaries and caucuses in Texas, Ohio (Vermont and Rhode Island) saturated by total coverage of live speeches, campaign commercials and every conceivable talking point crafted by tired staff.

That includes every crackpot mouthpiece, like Cincinnati talk show host Bill Cunningham, who got his 15 minutes of fame by offering a hate-filled tirade by doing his job as warm-up man for John McCain.

The Arizona senator may have rebuked him, but it was an object lesson of how the fall campaign will be run on the Elephant side of the House. And how much conservatives still despise their likely nominee.

Meanwhile Hillary Diane Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama fight hammer and tong over the barest ground of difference with John Sidney McCain looking on and taking notes. The Democrats' difference on health care are tiny in comparison to the yawning gap between them and the GOP. But you see that informational discussion on cable?

And the experience versus change debate is just a warm up too when the opponent is a 71-year-old man with two decades of elected responsibilities (and a one-sided resume that doesn't really show any depth of interest on domestic issues).

Don't get me wrong, it's heartening to see this level of interest, particularly among younger, first time voters. It's apathy that got us in the mess we're in.

But wouldn't it be nice to be dealing with substance rather than the usual slash and burn that generates talking heads that generates well, apathy?

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Empyting an already vacant mind

Thoughts, random and otherwise, after 10 days of R&R:
  • Speaking of Logan, why is it impossible to get a bag off an airplane and into a person's hands in less than 45 minutes? Doesn't matter the terminal or the time of day;
  • What was that United States of America aircraft doing sitting in a remote area of the Reina Beatrix International Airport in Aruba yesterday? Dick Cheney doing some lizard hunting? Aruba, by the way, is a mere 15 miles off the coat of Hugo Chavez's Venezuela;
  • Vacations are good times to catch up on reading -- for example this New Yorker piece of "the water cure" that sounds awfully familiar;
  • The ultimate sign of Americans' loss of self-confidence has to be the lament that no natives won this year's Oscars. I just dominating world culture somehow isn't good enough.
Back to the world!

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