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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, June 30, 2008

New meaning to the term green line

After what seems like years of construction. Commonwealth Avenue near BU is finally rounding into shape -- albeit with a much narrower roadway.

I have no qualms whatsoever about the efforts to snazz up the sidewalks on both sides of the street. But I am curious about the decision to install sod -- sometimes in infinitesimally small strips -- along the trolley right-of-way. Talk about a green line!

And to install sprinklers to keep this tiny patch of grass green.

The big question -- who is paying for it? If it's BU -- fine and thanks for trying to beautify a strip that give a new meaning to the term ugly.

If it's the MBTA -- can we look forwards to a fare hike to pay for the water that gets sprayed in the tracks?

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Modern marvels

For all the wonders of new technology, nothing beats a small town rumor mill.

That's the frightening conclusion of this Washington Post visit to a neighborhood on Findlay, Ohio.

Of course I'm taking a little liberty because the Republican Fear and Smear Machine is planting the rumors thanks to the assistance of that technology. But the ability of fear to spread on whispers and knowing nods, especially in small, tightly knit and somewhat close-minded communities, is a well known characteristic of propaganda.

Food for thought as we ponder Barack Obama's decisions to opt out of the campaign finance system to fund efforts to tell his side of the story and to create a web site to debunk rumors.

Not that the good folks in communities like Findlay, Ohio will find the web site. Heck, their candidate doesn't even know how to use a computer.

So much for any rip-off Mac vs. PC commercials. And maybe we should be grateful for that.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Country club elite

Earlier this week, we were "treated" to Karl Rove's view that Barack Obama was really nothing more than a country club elitist.
"Even if you never met him, you know this guy," Rove said. "He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."
Obviously Rove would not be able to make this observation at the Phoenix Country Club in the home state of Republican presidential nominee-to-be John McCain.

When the men of the Phoenix Country Club saw their feeding ways in peril, they did not tarry. Some sent nasty e-mail messages, hectored players on the fairway and, for good measure, urinated on a fellow club member’s pecan tree.

The targets of their ire were the women, and some men, who have dared to speak up against the club’s policy of forbidding women in the men’s grill room, a center of power dining in Phoenix.

Let's leave aside the audacity of Rove's image, given that many African-Americans are welcome in country clubs only as wait staff. Let's also ignore, for now, the fact that Arizona, with support from McCain, long fought against the declaration of a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Let's focus instead on McCain's silence, particularly since this men behaving badly attitude takes direct aim at women in the Phoenix business community. The very same community in which Cindy McCain is a major player.

McCain certainly won't be a candidate for Profile in Courage Award next year. And yet some women still think he's a better candidate on women's issues than Obama?

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Friday, June 27, 2008

"Not a dime's worth of difference"

George Corley Wallace based his 1968 presidential campaign on the slogan that there's "not a dime's worth of difference" between Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Republican Richard Nixon.

And of course eight years ago, the race-baiting Ralph Nader told us the same thing about Al Gore and George H.W. Bush.

The result? Two of the most venal presidents to live in the White House.

Today, we hear from diehard Hillary Clinton backers that John McCain is a better option than Barack Obama, that noted sexist.

Maybe we should give thanks for the Supreme Court's decision yesterday to overturn the District of Columbia's gun ban.

The narrow 5-4 decision isn't that bad in its own right. I know I have personally never questioned the right of ownership. Hunters don't phase me at all -- although I would hope they at least consume their prey. I'm just looking for a rational plan that can be used to regulate weapons of minimal destruction. If that can be done by the states, fine.

But the decision brings into stark focus yet again that the composition of the Supreme Court is the great undiscussed issue of the 2008 elections. The next president will nominate a potential justice who will shape the balance of the court for at least another generation.

The Bush twins of Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito have been marching in lockstep with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to strip away long-held liberal values. Reagan appointee Anthony Kennedy holds the balance.

The two justices most likely to retire or pass away are stalwarts of the liberal bloc -- John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Hardly a comforting thought.

John McCain has kissed the ring of the "strict constructionist" camp and promised more justices in the mold of GOP appointments.

And the precedent most likely to fall under a McCain Supreme Court? Roe v. Wade, the decision that gives women the right to control their own bodies.

Still think there's not a dime's worth of difference between McCain and Obama?

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Are all lives equal in the media?

The verdict in the Neil Entwistle murder case was on everyone's lips yesterday and not surprisingly at the top of yesterday's television newscasts and today's papers.

The case after all, had everything that sells news -- a double murder, including a tiny child, allegations of kinky sex and a man who claimed that after he discovered the bodies, did nothing except get on a plane and leave the country.

But the high-level coverage brought to mind a debate over on Universal Hub last week -- about the lack of similar attention to a verdict in the case of a man accused of slaughtering four people in the basement of a Dorchester home. Or a number of other city murders where they media did not seem to even care.

Is there a double standard? No doubt. Is is raced-based or otherwise urban-biased? I don't think so.

It is quite true that the news executives at Boston media outlets are overwhelmingly white. And that the history of the discrepancy in how crime is covered in Boston can be summed up in two words: Charles Stuart.

There's certainly a fair comparison to the fact that both murders involved "typical" white suburban families, the kind that make many people say "say but for the grace of God go I."

But Stuart went one step farther and made race a plotline to his elaborately crafted scheme -- and his self-inflicted wound was definitely a sale pitch for his bogus story.

It's true that a quadruple homicide involving a home invasion, like the Dorchester murder, has the same elements that strike fear into every day folks. And its also true that it took place in a city neighborhood and not a leafy suburb.

But I do recall considerable coverage of the case at the time -- and some considerable relief expressed when the murderer was caught.

Yes, nothing on par coverage of the Entwistle case. And I would be quick to agree the coverage in this case was, pardon the expression, overkill. Despite the family's protestation, this verdict was obvious and I'm only surprised that the jury took a little more than a day to convict.

Would the case have drawn similar attention if the victims not been white suburbanites? Doubtful. But we have made gains in the fact that no one fell for Entwistle's defense they way everyone fell over Stuart's.

And today we do have familiar names (and heroes) in the victims of inner city crime. Is the media wrong to raise the story of Kai Lee Harriott and the incredible inspiration she provides?

Here's an African-American city crime victim who will be remembered and admired long after the name Neil Entwistle descends into the muck.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Time out?

Did they or didn't they?

That's becoming the overriding question of what may very well prove to be one of the bigger media embarrassments in a long time.

In one corner is the mayor of Gloucester, a Cape Ann city where the biggest news used to come with the annual blessing of the fleet near the famed fisherman's statue.

In the other, Time Magazine, with the story of a pregnancy pact among the community's bored teenage girls.

The only facts not in dispute are that 17 girls at Gloucester High School became pregnant, an unusually high total for any one school, let alone one in a proudly Catholic community.

Gloucester's Mayor, Carolyn Kirk, faced a battery of reporters and cameras usually reserved for a presidential candidate when she held a news conference to declare she saw no evidence of a pact. The reaction was swift and predictable for this tabloid age: all politicians lie and she doesn't know what she's talking about.

But did she?

Now it appears that Time may be backing off.
Without comment from any of the pregnant students themselves, it may be impossible to determine exactly what they agreed to, and when. So far, the only school official to use the word pact is Sullivan, who reportedly now says he does not recall who told him about the pact in the first place. But what does seem clear based on TIME's reporting is that some of the girls in question did at least discuss the idea of getting pregnant at the same time, and that too little was done to educate the girls on the potential ramifications of that choice.
Well yeah.

Boston University journalism professor Caryl Rivers tells the Herald's Jessica Heslam the new story is unmistakable in its intent.
“Time is clearly backing down because they’re saying it may be impossible to determine whether there was a pact or not. It’s quite clear that everything is hearsay. Nobody has talked to anybody who has said, ‘Yes, I did this.’ ”
Why did Time go with such a definitive story in the first place? The principal's memory appears "foggy" in Kirk's words and no credible source has emerged to confirm the story that Time noticeably labels as a "pact" in the most recent version.

Surely editors at Time, which has a long and storied (and sober) reputation put this story to the same test that they would any story that carries such explosive charges. Or, because the story involved a group of unnamed teenage girls in a small community, were the sourcing rules different?

Let's be clear. This doesn't doesn't even rely on anonymous sources in a position to know because none of those potential sources was ever interviewed.

Time may yet emerge from this without a dozen eggs on its face -- but that would require the cooperation of two or more teenage girls who would immediately become the center of a national media firestorm.

But as of now, you have forceful denials from a mayor who isn't backing down from the center of that firestorm. And you have what can only be called some weasel words and a definite walk back from what was once the nation's premier weekly news magazine.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Almost ready

One of my favorite questions in a political context is: how are you going to pay for it. And it's the one question Gov. Deval Patrick has not answered as he rolls out his Readiness Project for improving education in Massachusetts.

The proposals, 18 months in the making, are grand indeed -- universal prekindergarten, full-day kindergarten for all students, and a drop-out prevention program. There's also talk of free tuition at community colleges and other expensive efforts to raise standards across the board so all schools deliver quality education.

Patrick says everything is on the table when it comes to financing his proposals -- and his special panel of educators, administrators, lawmakers, and public policy specialists will offer recommendations in November. But the lack of specifics has some school advocates annoyed. They feel 18 months is more than enough time to come up with the details.

Tom Scott - executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, a statewide advocacy group - pointed out that several organizations and even the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have done reports on funding public education recently.

"There's a lot of good data out there; let's make this a more expedited process," he said. "We're at points of despair in some communities about meeting current needs."

Normally I would agree. And the Patrick administration has shown itself to be, um, shall we say deliberate, in putting meat on the bones of its proposals.

But this time deliberate is acceptable because of the great elephant in the room -- income tax repeal.

Massachusetts spends billions on education from local property tax receipts to Chapter 70 state funding for local schools and billions more on public higher education. And despite best intentions, the burdens and the results are unequal.

School systems such as Springfield and Lawrence depend heavily on the state because of their low property values. Rich communities are able to supplement with foundation budget with property taxes and deliver higher quality.

In one sense, income tax repeal could be the great equalizer -- putting Springfield and Weston on the same playing field with no state assistance and Proposition 2 1/2-capped property taxes that limit their ability to do anything more than buy pencils and paper (computers would be out of the question).

So in one sense, the decision to wait until November was a logical one. You can't price things out until you know what you have. And besides, the Legislature will be out for the year in another month.

But in a larger sense, the decision was a political one. By rolling this plan out now, Patrick offers a vision that few could argue with. And with the political campaign season getting underway in September, he spells out the stakes.

The repeal question will be on the same ballot as 200 separate races for the House and Senate. Turnout is expected to be massive with a presidential race that has captured the imagination at the top of the ticket.

Patrick and education supporters will never have a better chance to spell out their vision -- and the price that would be paid by repealing the income tax that now already pays for a large percentage of education costs in this state.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Have you seen them?

There's one week left in Massachusetts' fiscal year, a little more than a month before the Legislature wraps it up for the year. You would think Beacon Bill would be abuzz with activity.

You would be wrong.

While Gov. Deval Patrick gets set to unveil another major initiative with the potential to roil the waters, the members of the Great and General Court are top candidates for a milk carton. Public activity has been at a minimum. As the Statehouse News Service (subscription required) notes:
The current iteration of the General Court, to a higher degree than its predecessors, has relied on behind the scenes talks amongst lawmakers and with special interest groups to develop consensus legislation and dispose of amendments. In this environment, formal House and Senate sessions have grown fewer -- the branches have held only two formals each this month after holding only two non-budget formals each in May -- and legislative leaders appear content to limiting formals for occasions when leaders are ready to present colleagues with their proposals.
There have been some notable achievements to date, mostly of the not doing kind: the rejection of the anti-gay marriage amendment and casino gambling. There has also been a life sciences bill and a number of transportation infrastructure bond bills.

But the No. 1 question on most people's minds is taxes -- and there has been no visible movement. A corporate tax restructuring measure will be part of the budget whenever it emerges from conference committee.

But property tax relief -- a top item on Patrick's campaign agenda -- hasn't even been a visible notion on lawmakers' radar screen. Not that there is a lot they can actually do about it. But signs that the Legislature is even noticing the angst have been few and far between in branches that prefer to work below the radar screen.

There have been 135 laws passed so far this year on top of 230 laws passed a year ago. Most of them are decidedly unsexy -- establishing sick leave banks and allowing people to become public safety officers despite civil service age requirements.

Some would argue it is unfair to judge this session of the Great and General Court until it's work is complete at the end of July. Fair point.

But lawmakers need to recognize the media can't live for long on a diet of combating bicycle theft stories and will turn its attention to the 800-pound gorilla in the room: income tax repeal.

Time is quickly running out for decisive action to make a financially strapped public find a reason not to get rid of the tax.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Defense wins championships

We had another reminder this week that while the ability to score points attracts a lot of attention, it's solid defense that wins championships. How's that ring fit Kobe?

Barack Obama beefed up his defense this week by forgoing public funds in his race against John McCain.

The political press, emerging from its week of Shiva over the death of high priest Tim Russert, quickly joined McCain in pouncing on Obama for flip-flopping.

But this instance, as with the Russert Overreaction, is only the latest example of a political press corps seriously out of step with the ebb and flow of the campaigns and daily life. After all, weren't we promised a Hillary Clinton-Fred Thompson showdown not so long ago?

No one really seemed to notice the massive influx of young voters -- and small donors who carried Obama to victory and changed the dynamics of 2008.

Well, almost no one.

You remember Floyd Brown, don't you? Maybe not. Roger Ailes got all the credit (or blame) for the cheapshot Willie Horton ad that helped sink Michael Dukakis in 1988. A Swift Boater before his time, Brown first targeted Hillary Clinton before setting his sights on Obama.

I take little comfort in the fact that Brown has not yet found the cash to launch his smear campaign. After all, e-mail is free (or relatively so) and has been used extensively this year to raise false questions about Obama's religion, birthplace and patriotism. The same machinations have been at work to attack Michelle Obama.

Cash would only make it easier to spread the poison. And Obama wisely decided to play defense and prepare for an onslaught that every intelligent political reporter will acknowledge is going to come.

And maybe that's also part of the problem. The wise men and women of the press corps have become relics of another age. Advertising rules -- and have for every election cycle since 1968. Writing about the falsehoods is like whistling into the wind. No one hears it. But if you can somehow hold back the tide, maybe, just maybe...

Obama made a solid political calculation that a short-term hit -- and allegations of flip-flopping -- can be overcome with the very same cash that will enable him to tell his story. Giving up his one very pronounced advantage over McCain would have raised different questions about his campaign team's wisdom.

I continue to believe this will be a very different general election. This country is stuck in an unpopular war and the economy is tanking as the basic costs of daily life skyrocket. Change, in the form of a president who actually listens to everyone and is not beholden to a narrow base, is indeed the heart of this campaign.

The choice is between a man who has changed his position on campaign finance or a man who has changed his position on torture and offshore oil drilling, to name just two. A man who is still relatively new to political life versus a Washington insider of nearly three decades who embraces much of what is wrong today.

That is a real contrast. And one that will survive a kerfuffle over campaign spending that doesn't interest people who are more concerned about spending on food and fuel.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

They're not that stupid

Say what you will about our state's political leadership (OK, let's skip the unprintable stuff): they may have tin ears but they are not the biggest bunch of buffoons ever to walk the planet.

It looks as if common sense will give way to the chance for a bigger paycheck -- with legislative leaders saying they plan to reject a proposal to give them and judges raises of up to 70 percent. The reason: a ballot question that would repeal the state's income tax.

Lost amid our Green Dreams was the news that supporters garnered enough signatures to secure a place on the ballot for the repeal that attracted 45 percent the last time it went before voters. Also lost (for the time being) was a declaration by House Speaker Sal DiMasi that he probably would not implement the law even if it passed.

But with the gasoline and food prices soaring while the economy is tanking, it's impossible to believe voters won't be tempted to keep an extra 5.3 percent of their paycheck every week.

I agree with DiMasi, Senate President Terry Murray and Gov. Deval Patrick that the repeal is a bad idea. But statements like DiMasi's don't offer voters encouragement that lawmakers see the problems and are working to fix them.

Giving themselves huge pay raises would be like stoking that smoldering fire with $4 a gallon gasoline.

Ironically, the way this pay raise proposal came to life represents an important change in the way business is gone on Beacon Hill. They used to emerge in the dead of night. This time, a commission sat down and studied the idea and will offer a formal proposal.

(OK, on a Friday afternoon in June while we nurse a Celtics hangover, but a formal proposal nonetheless.)

So it's wise that DiMasi and Murray are offering this instead of an alternative:

..."given the state of the economy and the Commonwealth's ongoing budget deficit, any salary increases of this kind will be put on hold. Base salary increases of this kind simply cannot be considered at a time when so many worthy state programs and initiatives must be level-funded or cut."

I cringe every time I open my property tax bill and grumble having to pay extra for trash pickup. But I also know that any hope for property tax relief would fly out the window with an income tax repeal. (Actually they would eventually go down because the value of my home would go down because of the absence of adequate police and fire protection and lousy schools).

If the repeal passes, Massachusetts would begin to resemble Mississippi in short order. New Hampshire too. All we would have left is the Celtics.

It's a somewhat pathetic thought but let's hear it for our legislative leaders and Patrick (who never really liked the idea in the first place) for having some basic common sense.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

We interrupt our celebration...

Breaking news from the Herald: Deval Patrick is skipping a party to do his job.

Yes, the Herald's Enterprising Reporter is at it again with an important item that I'm surprised the Herald didn't headline "Gov snubs Hub for LaLa Land junket"

Here's the lead that appears today:
When the “rolling rally” celebrating Boston’s newest sports champs rolls by the State House today, Gov. Deval Patrick won’t be there cheering - he’ll be meeting instead with Hollywood studio executives and traveling to a Barack Obama rally in Chicago.
Through unreliable sources (such as my imagination) I was able to obtain a rejected draft:
When the Celtics rolling rally kicks off today within earshot of his tastefully furnished (at taxpayers' expense) Beacon Hill office, Gov. Deval Patrick will be thousands of miles away -- in Los Angeles -- planning his own "Escape from Massachusetts" meeting with Hollywood executives before jetting east to meet with his pal Barack Obama.
Patrick's Hub Snub may include talks about screen rights to his own book, set for publication when he is scheduled to leave office in 2010. And a post in an Obama cabinet is potentially on the agenda when Patrick privately huddles with his friend and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee before or after a unity meeting for Democratic governors.
OK, maybe not.

As for me, I'm digging out the only piece of somewhat green clothing I own for an important 11 a.m. "meeting" where I will join thousands of loathed Bostonians in celebrating the return of Celtics Pride.

But don't include me in that roster. I still harbor hopes the Indians can turn it around this season. And who knows, maybe the Browns can emulate the Green in creating a sporting turnaround for ages.

And unless the Lakers develop a heart to go with their roster, pencil me in for doing it again nest year.

UPDATE: In all fairness, I also can't help but wonder how Dan Shaughnessy is going to deal with the dizziness that comes from jumping off and on the bandwagon so much.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

17!!!!!

Rick Pitino is not walking through that door! Thankfully.

It's been way too long and way too much heartache but the Celtics are back where they belong -- after a team performance that exemplified Celtics Pride.

I admit it. There where times in the Atlanta and Cleveland series where I didn't think they would get it done. But the heart of this team is immense -- and the accomplishment magnificent.

There are three people who should celebrate a little louder and longer. Because they took the brunt of the bad years.

Let's start with the MVP. What can you say about Paul Pierce other than his number belongs up there in the rafters. Nine long and mostly bad years. Nearly dying. Losing his temper in unfortunate situations.

But Pierce was the glue this year. The Celtics would never have won without KG and Ray Allen but Pierce assumed the leadership role he had always been uncomfortable with. He carried the team through much of the season -- but especially during the playoffs.

Then there's Doc. The number of doubters were legion. He didn't get his coaching record over .500 until deep into this season. He clashed early with Pierce.

But Doc always played with Celtics Pride -- even when he played for the other guys. He instilled a championship mentality -- and a killer defense -- that carried them to victory.

And finally, let's hear it for Danny Ainge. This ring no doubt is the sweetest. The team he put together this year -- building on just Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins -- was a fabulous collection of team players.

There's also some credit to Kevin McHale -- for agreeing to a deal that brought KG to Boston.

One year ago, the Celtics were 24-58 and dreaming of Greg Oden. When the ping-pong balls let us down, Danny concocted the trade with Seattle that brought Ray Allen. Good, but not enough. So he pulled the trigger on the Timberwolves deal.

In other words, he swapped Al Jefferson for No. 17. It was tough to give up Big Al, but it was worth it.

And closing it out with the Lakers made it all worthwhile. The Boys from the Left Coast may be among the most over-hyped bunch of players I've seen in awhile. Kobe disappeared for large stretches of the games -- and he was head and shoulders their best player.

The Lakers had no heart and no soul. The Game Six humiliation was appropriate for a series that will always be exemplified by Sasha Vujacic's matador defense on Allen in that improbable Game Four comeback.

So light one up for Red! And Reggie. And maybe even Len Bias.


(Boston.com photo)

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Creeping to the finish line

Sleep deprivation. It makes you do strange things. Like read Dan Shaughnessy.

Electronically leaf through the local papers and there's little else but Celtics mania (not necessarily an awful thing) The presidential campaign is on a semi-hiatus and Legislature has shut down for Bunker Hill Day and the BIO convention in San Diego (when have you even seen politicians leave the state for the coast opposite the big ticket?)

And speaking of the Big Ticket, when was the last time you recall an athlete who didn't speak in cliche?
"It was trash," [Kevin] Garnett said after Game 5's 103-98 loss. "I played like garbage. I can do better and I will."
If only we heard The Truth like that from our leaders. They would be Most Valuable People.

There's not much to say as the Celtics and Lakers head into Game Six. The Celtics did what they had to do, win one on LA. They have two more chances to close things out. If not tonight, then Thursday.

But there are newspapers to fill and newscasts to air, so we are treated to Shaughnessy Snark and Bob Ryan lamenting the lack of artistry in an NBA Finals. A line flashed across the screen on ESPN trumpeting coverage with "Pressure on the Celtics?"

No. For LA, it's still win or go home. The Celtics are the one with wiggle room. Home court. And a Big Ticket who is none to happy with his play.

That will allow people to return to more normal schedules and fill the newscasts back up with their staples of fires and murders. Unfortunately, we can't do much about Shaughnessy -- except start ignoring him again.

Beat LA!

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Monday, June 16, 2008

'Til Tuesday

No, I didn't expect the Lakers to collapse like a house of cards. Too much on the line for them to give up and be known forever more as the Biggest Choke Artists West of the Yankees.

But I saw enough in the course of Game 5 (yes, I actually stayed awake!) to feel confident the series will end in the way we want it when Game Six comes around tomorrow. Or Game Seven on Thursday.

For starters, the Celtics will have Kevin Garnett back. KG played a solid game on the boards and contributed yet another double-double, but for all the fire in his eyes, something was missing (aside from two crucial free throws).

Maybe they will even have Kendrick Perkins back too -- although P.J. Brown is proving exactly why the Celtics lured him out of retirement. I remember Brown's presence on Pat Riley-coached teams of the '90s and I didn't like his solid, workmanlike, work the body presence then. But in Green...

Despite the win, the Lakers vulnerabilities were there for all to see: apres Kobe, le deluge. This is a team with even less playoff experience than the Celtics. Sure Bryant and Derek Fisher have multiple rings. But the bench is younger than Boston's -- which had what we now can appreciate as valuable experience battling Atlanta and Cleveland.

Even Bryant admitted the Lakers performance in a back-to-the-wall game won't get it done in Boston.

For the second straight game, the Celtics fell far behind in the first and battled back -- this time wiping out a 19-point lead. Bryant was in flames in the first, then virtually disappeared. After five games, it's clear it's more than simply a shooting slump -- the Celtics defensive schemes play a role.

With home cooking for the rest of the series, don't expect the Celtics to dig themselves into deep holes again. And expect the benefit of the doubt on some of those ticky-tack calls that went against Garnett.

Mrs. OL and I were wandering down Brookline Avenue yesterday after taking in a movie. I was struck by the police barriers, the covered windows, the police presence. We are phasing in a full scale championship protection mode for sometime this week. At Fenway Park, not the Garden.

I guess some old habits might have some merits -- event though this would be the first one I will enjoy.

Go Green.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

"I was crushed on the Green Line and all I got was this lousy T-shirt"

You can tell Noah Bierman, the Globe's transportation writer, hasn't been around here very long. Who else would think the MBTA is a souvenir marketer's dream?

Bierman appears to have carved out a distinguished career at the Miami Herald, where he no doubt first came to the attention of Globe boss Marty Baron. But his stint as transportation reporter at the Globe has been marked by some rocky starts and stops, most noticeably by recently tearing down a three-year-old bridge that really was a 100-year-old one.

So perhaps it's understandable that he wants to change the subject. But I think he's going to get a lot of people T'd off.

Full disclosure: I have a London Underground T-shirt. It's a great tourist souvenir. But apparel celebrating the MBTA?

Hey Noah, you shouldn't buck Brian McGrory on this one. There's nothing romantic about the Miserably Bad Transit Atrocity. Overcrowded cars. Buses and trains that travel in packs. Unreliable schedules. Surly operators more worried about their own image than their riders comfort and safety.

But, if you insist, a few ideas for T marketers.

"I was crushed on the Green Line and all I got was this lousy T-shirt"

"Warning: I brake for sardines"

"Hey pal. Come up here and pay your fare"

And of course, the greatest legacy:

"The Real Story About Charlie: The Man who Never Returned"

Maybe Roger Berkowitz can help the T with the marketing?

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

What is a journalist?

Two "passings" in "journalism" made the headlines locally and nationally today: the sudden and shocking death of NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert and the resignation of WHDH-TV general manager Randi Goldklank.

Huh?

The suggestion that Goldklank was a journalist because she presided over a television station that touts its newscast is jarring. The self-described "tiny lady" was hired as a sales manager, as far away (or as far away as it should be) from journalism as is possible.

Yet, Northeastern University School of Journalism Director Stephen Burgard seems to bestow news-gathering credentials to her:
"One of the givens that goes with being a senior news executive, or a journalist of any kind, is that you do have a higher standard of behavior and accountability than you might in some other walks of life, because news organizations spend so much time holding others up to scrutiny."
When sales and newsgathering blend into the same thing (see, for example, coverage of Texas house fires because they have nice video) we are in trouble.

And to a lesser extent, I am also troubled by tributes to that labeled Russert a "towering figure" in American journalism.

As chief of a network news Washington bureau and one of the best interviewers in TV news, the term has more standing than when applied or implied to Goldklank.

But Russert (and his ABC News counterpart George Stephanopulos) represent the culmination of what has long been a troubling trend in the news business: the blurring of the lines between news and spin and the people who purvey each.

Russert began his career as an aide to Mario Cuomo. No formal training as a reporter, he was a political operative who knew how to ask questions, whether to sources or to interview subjects. He transmitted what he learned to the public.

On a very basic level that certainly qualified him as a journalist. And as many a Democrat will attest, he showed them no favor. Not to mention that in a society that insists on receiving its information through television rather than ink on dead trees, he was an important information purveyor.

I'm also well aware that journalists come in all shapes and sizes. In print you have reporters, writers and editors and often the twain never meet. There's been an endless argument about whether TV news readers are journalists -- and much of the nuts and bolts of TV news is done by faceless producers who toil tirelessly behind the scene before ceding the limelight to the correspondent.

I'm not arguing that journalism can only be learned at journalism schools. But there is a lot to be said for starting at the bottom -- covering the endlessly boring selectmen and school board (and, horrors) zoning board meetings. Starting at the bottom and working your way up so that you can learn along the way.

Russert and Stephanopulos represent the better aspects of that blurred fine line between news gatherer and newsmaker and journalists born with silver notebooks in their hands. George Will, and the saga of Jimmy Carter's missing debate briefing book, represents the worst.

I agree with my friend Dan Kennedy that television news will be much the worse for wear by Russert's passing. He overcame his partisan roots. But the trend represented by his hiring has led us to endless cable talking heads with partisan axes to grind -- and virtually no one to mediate the conflicts inherent in these exchanges.

In the end, that is the job of a journalist. Maybe then Russert was a "towering" figure. Or maybe the business itself is shrinking.

Rest in Peace Russ.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Hindsight is 97-91

I admit it. There is no way I would have stuck with this game even if I could keep my eyes open. Down 21 after 12 minutes?

But sometime insomnia has some value -- like watching ESPN's repeat of Game 4 between 3 and 5 a.m. And even then, it took knowledge of the outcome to stick with it.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Lakers. Two different games. And what an unbelievable turn of events.

In Boston -- and around much of the hoop world -- this game will be known as the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history. In LA, well, there will be references to tight neckties.

And in fairness and as a reality check, I will remind all of us (Yankees fans don't need it) that it is physically possible to come back from 3-0, let alone 3-1.

But watching Laker body language and listening to Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, that would be one incredibly high mountain to climb.

Start with the heroes of Game Four -- James Posey and Eddie "Don't Lock Me In The" House. When this season started, questions abounded, starting with the bench. Sure Leon Powe matured and became a force and Danny Ainge made some nice moves with PJ Brown and Sam Cassell.

But the season started with Posey and House as the best of the bench and last night they showed why.

And to everyone who wrote Ray Allen off earlier in the playoffs during his shooting slump: Pfffffht. If you thought Allen was starting to age before our eyes guess again: 48 minutes and a highlight reel classic in playing with Sasha Vujacic to kill some clock, drive the lane and stick in a killer layup in t he waning seconds.

Then there is the Captain. Paul Pierce has brought his A-plus game. The defense job he did on Kobe Bryant in the second half was immense. After scoring 58 without much help from Bryant in the first half, all the Lakers could muster was 33 in the second half, because Pierce would not allow Bryant to get started.

They would not be where they are now without Pierce, Allen and Kevin Garnett. But Pierce has been the unsung partner. He had seen so many bad times, who could blame people for overlooking his contributions to the new era.

So let's get it done. Pierce, Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo are all banged up. Let them get to healing.

See you Sunday.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Like father, like son?

I'm as big a cynic as the next person -- and I have my issues with WBZ-TV's Jon Keller's slant on things -- but this conspiracy theory goes a little too far.

I'd opt for coincidence over conspiracy in the fact that Keller senior did his hokey Spin-o-Meter test of Deval Patrick's recent pronouncement of his Top 20 accomplishments on the same day Keller junior pushed a similar story with the press.

After all, what else is going on -- at least on the surface -- on Beacon Hill? You can't cover conference committees so reporters are reduced to covering Patrick's sick day, a first in my memory.

Slow news day and the fact the Top 20 List is a reasonable subject for discussion makes the Herald story seem to be a different approach to the same problem of a slow news day. And notice that no "media ethics" expert was cited in the story.

It's true that Keller senior has been one of leaders of the Patrick Skeptic Club. But it's also true he's been using that gimmick probably as far back as when little Keller was still in diapers. Some things are just learned through example -- even hokey ideas that only scratch the surface of analysis.

And it should be pointed out in fairness, much of the skepticism is of Patrick's own making -- we don't need to rehash the litany of "gates." It's only natural for his team to try and put out some positive stuff, particularly in light of a poll showing Patrick's standing with Bay State voters may be a drag on Barack Obama in Massachusetts.

And a story about whether Patrick's claims of accomplishment are real is far more legitimate than the sick day story.

Now if John and Barney both call for Deval to produce a doctor's note excusing his absence, I might be included to get on board the conspiracy train.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Checking out?

Rumor and speculation is always more fun that fact, so the local version of the chattering class (actually it's more like a mumbling class) is awash in the question of whether Deval Patrick is planning to check out of Beacon Hill before his time is up.

First you have guilt by association -- Patrick and Barack Obama share Chicago roots and a political consultant so he must be heading to DC as attorney general. Add in large fund-raising totals for Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and the mumbles get louder.

Does this sound like a man looking for the exits or for a fight? How about this?

The anti-casino folks are already wondering whether Patrick may be suffering from heat stroke. But while full-blown casinos are not in the cards for the foreseeable future, the Mashpee Wampanoags do have the right under federal law to build a facility that would offer whatever is legal is the state -- and that is bingo.

Reopening his worst political sore in what he claims is an effort to have taxpayers share in the tribe's potential bounty doesn't sound like someone preparing to slink out of town.

Nor does taking on the teachers' union -- which is what Patrick would be doing in proposing "readiness schools" that would turn a lot of operating control over to local boards that would not be bound by the current rules involved with union contracts.

Say what you will about the merits of either proposal -- they do not sound like that of someone looking for the door in the next six months or so. In fact, they could be issues that have him sent packing out the door by voters in 30 months.

Patrick has slowly been restoring his sea legs after a number of political and self-inflicted wounds. These ideas suggest he is in it for as long a haul as the people of Massachusetts want him.

But just in case, I will stash away some crow that could be ready to eat in January.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

If your mother says she loves you, check it out

Like other bloggers, let me correct a post that relied on incorrect information from the Globe about the MBTA and a bridge on the Greenbush Line.

Of course, my post may be a bit more egregious than some of the others because I leaped to a second conclusion when I saw the contractor involved was Jay Cashman, Inc. and noted his relationship with House Speaker Sal DiMasi. I owe a definite apology to DiMasi and Cashman for that incorrect leap.

And while I'm at it, I also owe one to my frequent favorite target -- the MBTA.

But I am also struck by how many folks took the Globe story as an article of faith. We assumed it has been carefully reported and thoroughly edited. Never did I or anyone else assume that the Globe could mess up so gigantically and not be able to tell the difference between a three-year-old bridge and a 100-year-old one.

We have learned two lessons:

The cuts at the Globe are really starting to hurt. Noah Bierman inherited this beat only recently While his predecessor, Mac Daniel, left a lot of heads scratching with his coverage of the T -- and a lot more shaking by bailing out of the Globe for the Big Dig -- at least he had covered the beat awhile.

In other words, he probably would have had enough skepticism to really check the story out. Did Bierman report this story from his desk?

And speaking of desks, where was his copy desk? Or the Metro editor? Or old Greenbush Line skeptic Brian McGrory?

Then there's the matter of bloggers believing everything we read in the newspapers. I don't intend to rehash the argument of whether bloggers are journalists, but let's just say whatever little skepticism was registered at the Globe, it was a massive amount more than I (and doubtless my blogging colleagues) displayed.

There are two old lines that apply here: When it's too good to be true, it probably isn't.

And in the great tradition of the late, lamented City News Bureau of Chicago: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

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What's happening?

Is it the heat? Or The Finals? Or a temporary lull in the Endless Campaign?

Scouring the headlines in search of something outrageous to reflect on and the realization hit that there ain't much.

Oh sure, Barack Obama is coming out of the gate hard at John McCain in a political version of the Golden Rule (Do Unto Others as They Would Do Unto You -- Only Do it First). There's the murder trial of the creepy Neil Entwistle. Ted Kennedy is back home in Hyannis Port, showing us what dignity is all about.

But everything else seems to have ground to a halt. The Legislature, we're told, is working behind the scenes on energy, life sciences, child abuse and neglect -- not to mention a budget and corporate taxes. The topic of conversation on Beacon Hill has even swung temporarily, from Sal DiMasi to the creepy Jim Marzilli.

I guess we're in the dog days of June -- high heat and humidity saps a lot of life out of you.

So does staying up well past midnight watching The Finals. For those of us who can.

But even hoop talk seems subdued. Maybe it's because I work in what could be described as Ground Zero of Red Sox Nation. The guys in Green are a mere afterthought, something to discussed with a breezy "that's nice" rather than an in-depth discussion of Ray Allen's earlier shooting woes, KG's intensity or Paul Pierce's rise to the level of The Man during the playoffs.

The heat is certainly topic No. 1, but after you say "what do you mean there's no such thing as global warming?" what more is there to say?

Just like now.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Something's happening here

Ask anyone who was around in 1968 what it was like and the answer will likely be "horrible."

Martin Luther King Jr. shot and killed in Memphis in April. Robert F. Kennedy gunned down in Los Angeles after winning the California primary in June. Riots in urban neighborhoods and at the August Democratic convention in Chicago (the latter being a police riot).

Ask a political junkie when liberal started to become a dirty word and odds are they will answer 1968. Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew (not to mention George Wallace) exploited the turmoil and launched what has been a 40-year run of conservatism.

But is the tide finally turning?

A bunch of talking heads on CNN yesterday suggest that maybe it is.

Why?

The national mood today is probably as sour as at any time since 1968. An unpopular war that has tarnished this nation's reputation abroad. Exploding prices on everything from milk and rice to gasoline and home heating oil. A deeply unpopular president -- but one who lacks the good common sense of Lyndon Johnson and insists on being considered relevant when he is not.

America in 1968 was also at the end of the glory days of the civil rights movement. The successes of the Voting Rights Act and the Great Society had given way to urban unrest and the rise of militant black nationalism. King's murder was symbolic as well as all too real.

The draft kept feeding young men into the endless maw of Vietnam -- and both sides were rebelling. Many conscripts said "hell no, we won't go" and many opted to "turn on, tune in and drop out."

What Nixon would later dub "the great silent majority" didn't like what it saw. Some clashed with the youth. More voted for Nixon and Agnew who ran on a "Southern Strategy" that was designed to exploit that divide.

They won and those forces have held sway for 40 years.

The twin deaths of King and Kennedy thoroughly demoralized the liberal movement. For a young white suburban kid, RFK's death was life-changing, much as King's death must have been to my urban, black counterpart.

Hope was literally taken away by bullets. And forces of darkness (let's not forget the Nixon-Agnew combo represents the only White House team to have been impeached and indicted while in office) took hold.

That's why the 2008 Democratic primary was so extraordinary. Buoyed by a surge of interest on the part of young voters, unlike anything since the late '60s, a woman and an African-American man chased the nomination before Barack Obama claimed the prize. This campaign -- and this outcome -- was inconceivable 40 years ago.

Obama embodies the same set of hopes that Bobby Kennedy carried four decades ago (and what made Hillary Clinton's comments, however they were intended, so egregious). Looking at the images taken by Look Magazine photographer Paul Fusco as the train carrying Kennedy's coffin wound its way from New York to Washington is like watching a funeral for hope.

But there are now faint glimmers that it has returned.

Something is happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear. But to mix musical metaphors, it is a clear that it's been a long, strange trip and we may be reaching an important destination.

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That was close

OK, I admit it. This is exactly why I don't watch these games. No athletic contest is worth the coronary.

I went to bed with the Celtics enjoying an 8-point lead. So the fact they finished with a 6-point win seemed perfectly reasonable. Until I heard the details.

But a win is a win, is a win. Particularly in June when there are, at most, five games left.

It sounds ugly. The guys sound repentant as in lesson learned. Let's hope so.

Going to LA up 2-0 was crucial since the 2-3-2 format effectively strips home court advantage by putting the pivotal fifth game on the other guy's court.

It wasn't pretty. But it counts as a W nonetheless.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Familiarity breeds...

They're baack -- and they want your votes.

One shows up every six years. The other just won't go away.

Let's first dispense with the one who won't go away -- Myth Romney. Say what you will for the man, you can't keep him off the stage. Unless you get a silver stake and a full moon.

Romney's latest conversion is as lead cheerleader of the John McCain for President Club. Quite a far cry from what the Myth Maker was saying back at the end of December and early January.

You remember: he was playing Twister by insisting he was the one true conservative in the race, unlike that apostate McCain who actually tried to find common ground with liberals and moderates on things like immigration.

Until McCain reminded us of the undocumented Guatemalan gardeners. "Sanctuary mansion" was the phrase.

No problem, says Mitt's mouthpiece, Charley Manning.
"I think John McCain's long been known as a person who has a very strong temper, and that sometimes gets the best of him," he said. "I think we saw that in some of the debates and some of his attacks on Mitt Romney, but I don't think Mitt ever took it personally."
And I'm sure McCain won't be troubled by the temper crack when he comes down to selecting his No. 2.

But while Romney panders across the landscape, John Kerry prefers to focus locally -- at least once every six years.

The Bay State's junior senator is up for reelection this year -- why else would he deign us with his presence? You have the 17-year cicada and the six-year candidate.

Long Jawn was in Lowell yesterday to accept the Democratic Party endorsement for a fifth six-year term. Of course it could be a six-week term if Barack Obama bests McCain in November.

I always though the best kept secret of the 2004 campaign was the fact that many Massachusetts Democrats and progressives held their nose in voting for the party's presidential nominee.

Kerry has been aloof as a senator -- focusing on national and international issues. It's true constituent service was less important when you consider the work done by Ted Kennedy. But the once-every-six-year routine is starting to get old.

That's why it's a good thing for Kerry to get a nomination challenge. Not that electing Ed O'Reilly would be wise move.

Nothing against the Gloucester lobsterman/lawyer. He's right to press Kerry for being for Iraq before he was against it.

But with Massachusetts facing the eventual loss of its leading champion (hopefully not until 2012 at the earliest) and another House seat, it would be foolhardy to toss away 24 years of seniority.

Kerry seems to recognize it:
"I'm here with humility to ask for your support," Kerry said, after being introduced by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. "We have literally so much unfinished business. . . . My friends, I have more energy, I feel more focused, I'm more ready for the fight than ever before."
Unless Obama comes calling.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Fluke campaign?

It's heartening to see the MBTA Carmen's Union is worried about public safety -- from bad jokes.

Of course, it would be better if they were concerned about more than the ding on their own reputations.

Not to hake this one over the coals too much, but the campaign launched for Legal Seafood to "adorn" Green Line cars, er, stinks. Hopefully Legal's products are fresher than the lines dreamed up by a New York advertising firm.

The jokes are older than Jack Benny; moldy oldies like "Hey lady, I've seen smaller noses on a swordfish," and, "This trolley gets around more than your sister."

But strangely the only one ripped from the campaign is "This conductor has a face like a halibut."

Frankly, a more creative fish-based campaign would have focused on the resemblance of Green Line cars to sardine cans.

Roger Berkowitz, who has made a fortune selling high-priced fish, thinks the campaign is hilarious.
"They're cute ads," Berkowitz said. "It's hard to conceive of anyone being insulted by them, truly insulted by them, because it's coming out of the mouth of a fish and it's really tongue-in-cheek. For anyone to take it personally, I'd have to sit there scratching my head."
What would you say if your brother Marc offered them up about you?

Then there's the question of why Legal, which prides itself on its Boston roots, went south for a campaign that might work better on the BMT (that's Brooklyn Manhattan Transit).

The ads were designed by the New York ad agency DeVito/Verdi, which vetoed one idea as too crass: "This trolley is a lot like your mother. Anyone with a couple of bucks can get a ride."

"So it's not like we're insensitive," said Ellis Verdi, president of the agency.

Bada-boom! Funniest line of the whole smelly campaign.

But I've floundered around too much. It's time to sign off on this one.

Cod speed.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Pierce-ing their psyche

With all the hue and cry out their in Laker Land about whether Paul Pierce over dramatized his knee pain in last night's Game One, there's one thing that's abundantly clear.

The Los Angeles team -- once known around these parts as the LA Fakers -- is seeing the Ghost of Red Auerbach everywhere. And he is still rattling them from beyond the grave.

It requires a conspiracy theory of the utmost magnitude to assume Pierce deliberately fell to the ground in pain, clutched his knee, agreed to be carried off the floor, placed in a wheelchair and then decided to return to cheers minutes later.

Massachusetts may be trying to give Hollywood a run for its money in the movie business, but no one would buy a script that hokey.

But these Angelenos, despite their protests, are acutely aware of the "shenanigans" Auerbach orchestrated in years past -- cold showers, sweltering locker rooms -- and can't shake the thought from the deepest recesses of their psyches.
"I don't know if the angels visited him at halftime or in that time-out period that he had or not, but he didn't even limp when he came back out on the floor," said [Lakers coach Phil] Jackson. "I don't know what was going on there (laughter). Was Oral Roberts back there in their locker room (laughter)?"
And this bodes well for the Celtics as they work to snag three more games and their 17th NBA title.

Pierce's playoff performance, including his Bird-like performance against Lebron James in Game 7 of the Cleveland series, has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has earned the right to wear the C -- his previous unhappiness with the team leader mantle notwithstanding. He has risen to the occasion more than once to carry the club in a moment of need.

The odds of him stage managing this episode are smaller than the chance of finding WMDs in Iraq today.
“It’s crazy to me," [Pierce] said. "I’ve never been carried off the court. It was sort of embarrassing, truthfully. I should have just laid their for 5 more minutes…If I ever get carried off the court again, I’m not coming back.”
Leave it to Silent Kendrick Perkins to offer the best explanation. Responding to questions about his own availability for Game 2 after ankle sprain, Perk replied:
"Yeah, I'm going to play. It's the Finals."
Bob Ryan is wise to counsel caution. I remember a couple of '80s series that included blow-outs by one team and a victory by the other.

But it is nice to know Red is up there, still working his magic.

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Laundry list

Does the MBTA employ planners?

Our beloved transit system racks up a two-fer today: subway cars on where you become overly familiar with your neighbor and a bridge that can cause a flood.

The problems on the Blue Line sound awful familiar to a regular Green Line rider: fewer, more uncomfortable seats, bumpy, jerky rides that make you struggle to keep your feet.

Did Breda build them? No it was Siemens, but they must have consulted.

Far more ludicrous is the fact the T was tear down and rebuild a $532 million bridge along the Greenbush line. Why? The bridge could raise flood levels by an inch.

It was interesting that T management was quick to absolve the contractors of any responsibility because:
... they could not calculate the flooding problems in advance, without significantly delaying the project with more engineering. A hydraulic analysis pinpointed the flood problems a year after the bridge was built, in 2006.
In an organization that is prone to nonsensical answers, this one is ridiculously high up there. The line was in planning for at least a gazillion years. And it's better to waste hundreds of millions of dollars than the delay the project even more?

Oh, and it's hard not to notice that one of those contractors is Jay Cashman, Inc.

Where have I heard that name before?

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Something to hide, Mr Vitale?

Richard Vitale certainly appears to be a man with something to hide based on his full-court press and refusal to meet with Secretary of Sate Bill Galvin over his alleged lobbying efforts on behalf of Massachusetts ticket sellers.

Vitale, you recall, is the friend and accountant of Sal DiMasi who provided the House Speaker with "gifts" such as a $250,000 third mortgage at reduced interest that would be highly improper if Vitale were a lobbyist before the Legislature.

While the Charlestown accountant is simply exercising his legal rights -- through high-powered criminal defense attorney Richard Egbert -- the scene plays out differently in the court of public opinion.

If you've got nothing to hide, why stiff Galvin and make him resort to Option Plan B -- refer the whole matter to Attorney General Martha Coakley?

Perhaps it's because what Vitale has filed with Galvin's office -- which registers lobbyists -- is in sharp contrast with the information submitted by the alleged client -- the Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers?

Obviously there hasn't been a lot of consultation back and forth between DiMasi and Vitale. While the Speaker hasn't exactly been an open book with information, he recognizes that stonewalling a a very poor tactic to use against someone with the power to refer matters for criminal prosecution.

I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know, as Egbert contends, that:
"We do not believe that [Galvin] . . . has any authority, statutory or otherwise, to conduct such a hearing."
But I do know this looks like stonewalling -- and that taking the matter to the next level of authority, the attorney general, is a bad political tactic because it only prolongs the agony.

The rumblings about whether DiMasi will survive politically -- somewhat tamped down in recent weeks -- is only going to get louder now.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Cour-esy

Hey, operator of Green Line car 3851 this morning on Commonwealth Avenue: I pay your salary. And so do another 1.3 million people a day.

So here's a piece of friendly advice from an old jingle: a little courtesy won't kill you.

In the time it took you to ignore my knocks, shake your head in refusing to open the door in the rain and motion me to run to the front car, you could have opened the door, let me on, closed it and the train would still have been stopped at the same red light.

And you would have received a grateful thank you.

I''m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt that T policy says screw the customer once you've closed the door. Smilin' Dan talks a good game about the paying schlub, but the reality is very different.

But there are many operators who will open the door and let someone in out of the rain. If they are breaking policy, I say bravo to them.

With the increase in ridership, the sardines, er, paying customers need to be treated with basic common courtesy and respect. It's a tough thing I know, but give it a try.

Meanwhile, I know why that train was rushing to get moving. When I arrived in Kenmore, I found a crush of 100-plus people trying to get on the car I was trying to exit. The train I had missed was virtually empty when it left me standing there, meaning it was probably off schedule anyway.

But then operator of car 3851 didn't have to deal with the mob at Kenmore either. It was long gone. Just like the goodwill people have toward the MBTA.

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Death with dignity -- campaign style

It's over. Barack Obama has won an historic victory over Hillary Clinton in a hard-fought Democratic primary that covered 50 states and commonwealths from the Caribbean to the South Pacific.

Obama had a rightful moment in the sun last night in prevailing as the first African-American candidate to win a major party nomination.

Clinton deserves the same when she concedes that she came up short in her quest to be the first woman nominee of a major political party. Her candidacy was as historic as his. The better organization and strategy won.

But when Clinton takes the stage, let us hope her accomplishments are not blemished. Her concession must be just that. No vows to carry her fight to the convention. Nothing that resembles the bare knuckle tactics that frequently marked her campaign.

It's true the Democratic Party has a nasty habit of eating its seed corn. But Clinton is an extraordinary woman with extraordinary talents that can be valuable in turning this country around from the disaster of the Bush years,

But to do that, she must bow out graciously. Let's hope her better angels prevail.

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Together they can't

The campaign strategy is so pathetic that if it weren't for the ever-diligent Statehouse News Service (subscription required), no one would know about the Massachusetts Republican Party game plan for the fall: run against Deval Patrick.

Of course this pronouncement from the mount came on the same day as the GOP's latest, greatest hope, Jim Ogonowski, fell 30 signatures shy of qualifying for the ballot to run against Sen. John Kerry.

And less than a month after the GOP acknowledges it will contest only about one-quarter of the House and Senate legislative seats.

No word of any of these stories on the Republican Party web site, although the state GOP did take them time to issue a "my presidential candidate is better than your presidential candidate" raspberry.

Leave it to the last diehard GOP zealot left in Massachusetts to blame all the state's ills on the one-party domination -- without looking at the myriad reasons the Republican Party in Massachusetts is about as popular as the Los Angeles Lakers. And has been for more than 30 years.

The national party has had a lot to do with the withering of the GOP brand. Newt Gingrich-style slash and burn tactics -- not to mention George Bush incompetence -- doesn't inspire Massachusetts voters to sign up.

But the state party has failed miserably for decades at creating its own brand and candidates.

Oh sure, the state GOP was able to elect four straight governors -- three of whom abandoned the state physically or mentally before their terms were up to pursue better personal opportunities.

But the party has consistently failed to do the work at the grassroots -- building up its legislative contingent and building for the future.

Remember Team Romney's plan to gain legislative seats? Just like Myth himself, it's gone with the wind.

Ogonowski's embarrassment is just the latest sad chapter: here was a candidate who made a heckuva run at an open House seat. With all due respect, all that Niki Tsongas really brought to the special election last year was a golden name in the 5th Congressional District.

Ogonowski ran a solid campaign and came within a reasonable hailing distance. A rematch this year, before Tsongas can claim true incumbent status, would have been a wise move.

But nope. Whether on his own or with the party's blessing (silent or otherwise) Ogonowski opted to go statewide and challenge John Kerry. And wind up 30 signatures shy of the ballot.

Now there is no Senate primary that could have raised the visibility of Jeff Beatty, the sole GOP Senate candidate; only four of 10 U.S. House races and a dearth of legislative races. So the powers-that-be at the state GOP target Patrick and his current unpopularity (according to the polls run by the TV station that employs the father of the party's chief spokesman).

Says state GOP boss Peter Torkildsen:
"Deval Patrick ran on a message of together we can. He's done virtually nothing except spend money, and for a lot of the candidates their communities are suffering. Taxpayers don't have the property tax relief that was promised."
All quite true. And a lot of it caused by Patrick's rookie mistakes. And a lot more of it caused by the opposition of House Speaker Sal DiMasi. Who runs a branch with a solid Democratic majority so that what he wants, he gets.

But you can't help but marvel at the the real heart of this brilliant campaign strategy. Patrick is not on the ballot. And there aren't enough Republicans running for House and Senate seats to make a difference -- even if the GOP weren't destined for a historic shellacking in a year when Republican is close to a four-letter word.

The jury is still out on Patrick's ability to live up to "Together We Can." Not so with the Massachusetts Republican Party.

Even if they could find a "we" they have proven conclusively over the years that they can't.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Limping to the finish line?

And so it ends today, maybe.

Montana and South Dakota vote today, the final two states and territories in a Democratic primary campaign that has ranged from the Caribbean to the South Pacific and thousands of small towns in between.

Hillary Clinton is still making noises that she wants to stick around -- how long is the question -- and Barack Obama is looking to putting the finishing touches on, finally, by securing the remaining uncommitted super delegates.

How much damage has the Democrats' famous penchant for circular firing squads done to the likely nominee?

Unlike previous Democratic nominees, Obama is not finishing with a racer's kick. Potential weaknesses have been exposed, as have the inevitable gaffes and "scandals" of who knew who when and what he did about it.

Call me a fool (you wouldn't be the first), but I think the battering Obama has taken from the Clintons will have made him stronger.

The problem with working class white voters -- as Hillary saw fit to point out -- is real. It is also unsurprising. But let's think for a second. Based on the stereotypes the media love to create about voters, is this group any more likely to vote for her over John McCain in a general election?

By exposing the problem during the primaries, Obama can now devote the resources to deal with it. And if, as she claims, Clinton will work hard on his behalf, the damage can be undone.

The same holds trues for all the idiotic guilt by association garbage -- from Jeremiah Wright to Bill Ayres. Do you honestly think the party that brought you Willie Horton and Swift Boat Veterans for "The Truth" is going to change its stripes as it faces electoral annihilation?

McCain, as you may recall, has his own pastor problems. And lobbyist problems. Not to mention being saddled with the worst possible label -- Republican -- in an election that is a referendum on the disaster of George Bush and his congressional enablers.

Faced with these unappealing problems, the mud is going to flow long and deep. In a twisted favor, Clinton did Obama a favor by starting the flow early.

The long slog has obscured the reality: millions upon millions of Americans have become engaged in the presidential process as never before. Especially young voters who hitched their wagon the Obama's star.

The patently obscene amounts of cash raised by both Democrats came in large measure from small donors, not fat cats. People have had enough and want to take their country back from a team that has wrecked its moral standing in the world along with the economy.

More than 80 percent of American voters think this country is headed in the wrong direction. Obama's key message -- change -- resonates loudly. And history will judge that George Bush's six years as Texas governor, a job he never finished, did not make him fit for hold the nation's highest office.

So call me an optimist, but there are some rose petals amid the glass shards on the road that leads away from the end of the primary season.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

A thousand points of view

Time for a little self-indulgence here -- the 1,000th post in just under three years.

This blog has evolved from its original stated goal as a "vehicle to rant about the outrages perpetrated on a daily basis by the Armies of the Right to distort, demean and cheapen the quality of life in the United States."

No one can stay that outraged that long and not have a coronary -- particularly when it doesn't seem to do any good in changing the behavior patterns in Washington. So call this the formal transformation to a kinder, gentler but by no means more conservative blog.

It's also a good time to thank what appears to be a growing readership. Even if it's not always true, as Sally Field once said that "you like me, you really, really like me," I appreciate the readership -- and the challenges -- even the ones that seem to come out of the right wing manual.

Intelligent debate never hurt anyone.

So now on to the next 1,000 posts. Some will continue to be rants aimed at my favorite right wing targets. Many others will be aimed at the players who comprise the political and media power structure of Massachusetts and the nation.

I'm still not a Red Sox or Patriots fan and won't become one. But I will also continue to yell in the direction of anyone who will listen: Beat LA!

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Taxi!

It's hard not to sympathize with cab drivers lamenting over the cost of making a living. Hard, but not impossible. And the proposal to jack up the cost of sitting down in Boston cab and doubling the per mile rate makes for an easy target.

Boston cabs are already among the most expensive in the country and the gouging that takes place when you get in a cab at Logan Airport is infuriating -- with the cost of $9.75 for just opening the door.

And when the cost of getting to Logan from Brookline at 5 a.m. is about the same as getting from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to La Guardia in heavy afternoon rush hour traffic you really have to question whether another fare increase will convince people to find alternative means to get around town.

But what's most intriguing about today's Globe story is the unexplained mention of how it costs $77 a day to lease a medallion. That's $539 a week. Or $28,028 a year.

From each driver on every shift? If that's the case, double or maybe triple those numbers going to the medallion owners.

Where does that money go? That's certainly more than the cost of a Crown Victoria, one that stays on the road for more than a year. So it can't be the replacement cost of the vehicle to the fleet owner -- who (hopefully) buys in bulk and at a discount.

And what about that Massport pool fee? Who gets that money and what is it used for?

Drivers are far from perfect -- I feel a greater risk getting into a cab than any other form of transportation. But it is certainly obvious they are on the short end of the cost equation here.

Any increase should come with a full public accounting of where the money goes between the time you fork it over up until it reaches the medallion owner -- and what they owners do with it. If cabbies aren't seeing enough of it to make a living, the public has a right to know where the money we are spending on this government-regulated service actually goes.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Back off!

The Democratic National Committee's rule and bylaws committee seems to have come up with a reasonable compromise to resolve the question about what to do with delegates from states that didn't play by the rules -- and now want to change them.

But that doesn't seem to be enough to satisfy the Clintons -- who appear intent on taking down the entire party if they don't get their way.

Let us be very clear: political parties have the right to draw up the rules of how they play their games. Both the Democrats and Republicans opted to allow a very limited number of contests prior to Super Tuesday.

State party officials in both Florida and Michigan -- visions of headlines and tourist dollars dancing in their heads -- decided not to play by the rules. Obama, and once upon a time, Clinton, agreed to play by the rules. The Illinois senator even took his name off the Michigan ballot. Now she has changed her mind.

This is the context of the great delegate seating fight -- two states want a do-over. Under the circumstances, seating all their elected delegates, giving them only a half-vote each and apportioning the total between the two contenders seems perfectly reasonable.

Except to Camp Clinton, which is staged Republican-like faux protests at the committee hearing and is threatening to take their fight to the convention. They need to destroy the party to save it.

No wonder observers with a bit of perspective now label Clinton John McCain's greatest hope.

We have a nation at war, prices for everything from milk and rice to gasoline going through the roof, housing prices collapsing and we find ourselves at loggerheads over preacher comments and whether party rules are as sacrosanct as law.

We have no one to blame but ourselves for the fact the world is laughing at us.

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