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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Which one is not like the other one?

Attention: You are entering a Manny-free zone.

Here's a headline and lead from the New York Times:

G.D.P. Grows at Tepid 1.9% Pace Despite Stimulus

The American economy expanded at a weaker-than-expected 1.9 percent annual rate between April and June, the Commerce Department announced Thursday, while numbers for the last three months of 2007 were revised downward to show a contraction — the first dip since the recession of 2001.

Now here's one from the Washington Post:

U.S. Economy Grows at Solid Pace in 2nd Quarter

The U.S. economy grew at a solid pace in the second quarter, the government said today, despite being buffeted by a financial crisis, a deep housing slump, high fuel prices and a weak job market.

And you wonder why they call economics the dismal science?

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A Better Way

Bill McKay, the camera-friendly US Senate candidate played by Robert Redford in the 1972 movie "The Candidate" (notable for Mike Barnicle's performance as a toady sycophant) ran on the slogan "A Better Way."

There surely must be a better way to run a government. But no one has found it yet. Or is too busy to try.

The Globe's Matt Viser offers a solid representation of the last-minute frenzy that surrounds a legislature that is watching every second of the clock tick down on its ability to do business. I lived that gut-wrenching experience as both a reporter and legislative staffer and it is all too nightmarishly true.

Make sure to check out the video of Charlie Glick, an earnest lobbyist, plying his trade.

And the Herald's Enterprising Reporter also reflects a the reality, looking at the other things that lobbyists do to contribute to the session-ending chaos.

So with less than 24 hours left in a session that began in January 2007, legislators are facing a number of significant measures -- including a Mass. Pike bailout, bond bills, health care cost control, land takings necessary for cities and towns to develop projects and veto overrides in a budget that is already precariously balanced, if at all.

To name a few.

It's a time that reporters and staffers dread, because you have no idea what will happen and when. It will take days for the hard-working House and Senate clerks to sort through it all. If we are lucky, there will not be any nasty surprises.

Dorchester Rep. Martin Walsh (not to be confused with the state senator from Arlington who tried to slime him in avoiding arrest) summed it up well:
"Everyone panics. You have so much stuff that's moving. It creates this perception of craziness."
Why does this happen -- every single time? Let's turn to Joseph Driscoll of Braintree:
"Most people work better on a deadline. It's when inspiration comes."
I'd opt for a different sort of "-ration," desperation.

I liken it to a form of torture. It's not as inelegant as waterboarding to be sure, but members are not in control of their lives, at the beck and call of leadership on when to vote and on what. Often they don't have much more information on what vote the leaders want.

Another metaphor is they are mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed manure.

To pass the time, they engage in games. In 2000, we had the Animal House budget debate, complete with chants of "Toga, Toga." This year we have the DeLeo-Rogers speaker battle.

Yes, Bill McKay was right when he said there has to be a better way. But fans also know what McKay's first act was when we found out he won:

He turned to his campaign manager and said "What do we do now?"

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More friends of Sal DiMasi

Oh what a tangled web we weave.

The Globe's latest revelations about the friends and business associates of House Speaker Sal DiMasi are confusing and definitely need that nifty graphic for help in following the people and connections.

But the basic story line is clear. Richard Vitale, the personal accountant under investigation for allegations that he worked as an unregistered lobbyist and Cognos ULC, a software company at the center of an Inspector General's office review of a questionable state contract with alleged links to DiMasi, were doing business with each other and another DiMasi associate, Steven Topazio.

And the name next to Topazio's on the door of his law office: Salvatore DiMasi.

What's even more interesting is that this time no one -- not DiMasi, not Cognos and not Vitale through high-priced mouthpiece George Regan -- is willing to talk.

Well, for starters this one is so tangled it will take me a long time to figure it out. But all those arrows come and go from DiMasi -- and that's not a good thing for the speaker.

So we'll need to settle -- for now -- for a written statement to his House colleagues earlier this year.
"Like any of us, I do not control the conduct or actions of others," wrote DiMasi. "As elected officials, we in the Legislature are all subject to the unfortunate inclination of others to use our name without our knowledge or authorization."
Yes, but this is not Uncle Frank we're talking about here. We're talking about arguably the most powerful man on Beacon Hill whose job depends on knowing who's saying what to whom, when and why. And particularly when they are his friends.

Can there be any doubt why the succession battle between Majority Leader John Rogers and Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo has heated up again in the waning hours of the session?

Sit back and relax. The political machinations and fun are just starting. Except if you are Sal DiMasi. For him, the summer is about to get a lot hotter. And don't except a September cooldown.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Catch 22?

Whoever thought gasoline would join booze and butts as a subject for sin taxes?

Word that Massachusetts drivers are putting fewer miles on their cars and less gasoline in their tanks -- and fewer dollars in state coffers -- is hardly surprising with fuel now just edging back from $4 a gallon.

Nor is it surprising, if you really think about it, that the amount the state is taking in to try to pay for the ever-growing list of bridge and road construction projects is shrinking. But the reality is clear.

Sin taxes, to belabor the obvious, are paid on "guilty pleasures." There has always been an obvious understanding (and hope) that tacking so many taxes on top of a pack of cigarettes would serve as a motivation to change a bad behavior.

But I seriously doubt anyone thought that gasoline would soar to its current price level and serve as a deterrent to driving. After all, isn't the cliche that Americans love their cars more than their spouses?

But with Massachusetts watching its roads and bridges crumble before our eyes, at the same time we are starting to see a love affair heading toward the rocks. And that only suggests we are heading for one of those classic vicious cycles -- higher prices means fewer miles means less maintenance, which means less driving, which means fewer gasoline purchases which means...

You get the picture. And it's not pretty.

But at least we have the MBTA.

If we can't remake Joseph Heller's classic Catch 22, I can at least see a plot for a Stephen King novel.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

A Manny splendored thing

It's really not my business, but it's hard to ignore the drama swirling around the Boston Ramirezes, er, Red Sox these days.

I start with a proviso: as a Cleveland Indians fan, I was not happy when Manny Ramirez fled Cleveland, where he professed to be happy, lured by the $20 million annually waved in his face by the Red Sox.

And with the two World Series rings during his tenure, Red Sox fans think the move was worthwhile overall.

But from where I sit, Ramirez is the epitome of the overpaid, underthinking spoiled athlete. I'm delighted he's no longer Cleveland's problem. Who else would utter this gem in discussing his latest "slight" and where he wants to play next year.
“I don’t have any preferences: I could choose a team that offers me the best conditions or one in the chase for the postseason. I don’t care where I play, I can even play in Iraq if need be. My job is to play baseball.”
Let the inappropriateness of that sink in for awhile.

This is from a 36-year-old man who considered it appropriate to shove a 67-year-old man who could not come up with enough tickets for him to purchase for a game.

Where I come from, that's called assault. No matter that some Manny apologists point out the 67-year-old was a former cop. He is somebody's father and grandfather and isn't being paid to take crap and physical abuse from a spoiled jock making more more in one year to play a child's game than I will make in my lifetime.

And who then turns around and says he is hurt by the reaction to Manny being Manny.

This Indians fan is quick to acknowledge the Red Sox have an extremely classy organization. But by continuing to tolerate this obnoxious behavior, in the name of "winning" they take a chance on sullying that reputation.

Manny Ramirez is not simply a disgrace to a Red Sox uniform. His childish, irresponsible, arrogant behavior is a disgrace to his profession and to the people who cherish it.

Now batting cleanup for the Baghdad Bombers, No. 24, Manny Ramirez...

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The importance of being Timmie

As Treasurer Tim Cahill rests up in his Tim Mahal, working out an answer to what happened to the pension-loophole closing "working group" he enlisted four years ago, someone else has surfaced to fill in the blanks on the treasurer's tirade about what is wrong with the Mass. Pike bond bailout bill working its way through the Legislature.

And it's a pity no reporter pressed Cahill or Deval Patrick about the relatively simple terms (but not necessarily easy) and conditions laid out by Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Mike Widmer.

The Legislature has four days to wrap up its business. Let's hope they can do this before heading out for the year. And let's hope the press corps holds their feet to the fire.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Timmie come home

Quick Lassie -- go find Timmie!

We've heard a lot from state Treasure Tim Cahill recently -- about school construction costs, Mass. Pike bonds and the life sciences bill.

But when it comes to the cost of "special" pensions at the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, the Globe notes the voluble treasurer:
...whose office has broad oversight over the state retirement system, declined to comment, even though in 2004 he talked tough about overhauling the law in an interview with CommonWealth magazine.
What's up with that?

The Globe story today is not a Herald pension watch -- going after public officials collecting pensions from a state job while working at a federal job or something similar.

Nope, this is a story that looks at using loopholes to loot the public purse. And in this case, we're talking about former Massachusetts Turnpike Authority employees whose bad decisions and lackadaisical oversight helped jack up Big Dig costs that require the bonding gyrations that Cahill is vocally opposing.

The Globe notes the system was created to protect longtime public employees from politically motivated purges. But in recent decades, it has been the subject of considerable gaming:
...the law has allowed some employees whose jobs are phased out, typically because of money-saving efforts by government, to start collecting pensions immediately. That has enabled some to move on to second careers in their 40s or 50s, with lifetime pensions that are extremely rare in the private sector. The typical profile is midlevel manager, not a rank-and-file worker.
Here's what Cahill had to say (registration required) four years ago:
"It bothers me because termination means termination," says Cahill. "Quitting or leaving is not being terminated." A broader question asked by Cahill is whether termination benefits should be available at all to those who have opted to pursue high-profile positions in state government, whether elected or appointed, that make no pretense of promising job security.

"The law was originally passed to protect the lower-level person from being hurt by the political changes that happen up here on Beacon Hill," says Cahill. "I think it's been twisted to help the higher-up people, to benefit those who choose to move up knowing they might only be there a few years."

The Globe story notes that the beneficiaries of the Commonwealth taxpayers largess are now all gainfully employed elsewhere, particularly Michael Lewis, pulling down $130,000 as Rhode Island transportation secretary -- on top of his $72,578 Massachusetts pension for service as a Big Dig manager. And let's say that title is a major oxymoron.

Just imagine applying that $72,578 annually to paying off the Mass. Pike bonds that Cahill is so concerned about.

Why the silence today Mr. Treasurer? Whatever happened to "working group" you established in 2004 to look into this? Are they still working? Or are they collecting pensions?

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Phoning it in

WHAT IS Joan Vennochi thinking?

Let me start by noting my respect for the Globe's op-ed columnist. She is a solid reporter and a must read columnist.

But even must-read columnists have off days and Vennochi certainly had one yesterday in finishing up her biweekly opus.

Vennochi seems to forget the basic rule of American government -- we have a series of checks and balances in which executives propose and legislatures dispose. Every now and then legislators propose things too and executives -- who can count votes -- go along.

The argument Vennochi posits in today's column is a sound one -- the sales tax holiday that has emerged from the inky bowels of a legislature rushing to get out the door for an election is a bad idea. The state is too short on cash to afford even $15 million.

Patrick acknowledged the problem with a slew of budget vetoes targeting earmarks for hometown projects -- vetoes you just know will be overridden before lawmakers dash out the door.

So Patrick can count. He can also count votes, as Vennochi notes:
This year, it passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives by a vote of 139-15 and in the Senate by 31-6.
Last I looked those were veto-proof margins.

So in effect, Vennochi is lambasting Patrick for not making a futile stand as a grand political gesture in the face of the Legislature's grand political gesture to sugar coat the loss of some local projects by giving voters a break on the purchase of a refrigerator.

If Patrick had been elected as Official Windmill Tilter of the Commonwealth, there would be merit in her suggestion. After all, by vetoing something sure to be overturned, Patrick would earn Brownie points with voters in the 2010 election.

So, by failing to follow the futile path, Vennochi reasons:
What's Patrick really thinking? Maybe that his friend Barack Obama is going to be president, that he will be going with him to Washington, and that the Massachusetts budget mess will be someone else's problem.
Whoa. That twist in logic leaves me positively dizzy.

There's a name for stories and columns that praise/criticize an individual for an action that requires group action, then uses the standard political rumor of the day as an explanation for said action.

It's called phoning it in. And it's not an exclusive failing of journalists. Heck, Manny does it all the time.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The great divide

Check out the Boston dailies on a regular basis and you will see their Beacon Hill focus locked on the friends of Sal DiMasi, the political maneuverings of Treasurer Tim Cahill or those nasty pols double dipping at the pension trough.

But read the suburban papers and the view is quite different. Readers are worried about the cost of gasoline and home heating oil, the quality of their schools and the safety of their roads and bridges.

The divide becomes more apparent still when Beacon Hill ventures into the cities and towns -- and the journalists shift from old and cynical to young and earnest.

Case in point? Deval Patrick's "town hall meetings."

Check out this report from yesterday's Patriot Ledger, a daily that once upon a time had a very highly regarded Statehouse bureau that turned out reporters who established national credentials.

But here we have a local reporter -- complete with video camera, an alien concept to most Statehouse reporters -- covering Patrick's most recent town hall, which happened to be a short drive away from his Milton home.

The Globe has paid short shrift to these local forums -- I think they may have actually covered one. The Herald, hard pressed to cover Boston, hasn't ventured forth at all to the best of my recollection.

The general consensus has been these are part of the Patrick political effort and just another stunt by a politician looking to shore up sagging popularity. And to be sure, gubernatorial communications guy Joe Landolfi was present -- standing out like a sore thumb in a white shirt and tie in a crowd wearing shorts and sitting on lawn chairs.

But just because Patrick's advisers were with him doesn't make it a farce. Listen to the questions: when are our bridges going to be fixed? How will be we able to heat our homes and get to work this winter?

The pension question was raised too: by a teacher wondering about their own ability to retire. As the Ledger headline writer noted "no softballs" from his neighbors.

This isn't a screed against Statehouse reporting -- it is important (and remains a fond memory of my own career). And it's not to say that community journalism is better. It's where I learned, which of course means it's where I made my mistakes.

But the cynicism that has washed over American political life in the last generation finds itself on display in media coverage of government and politics that focuses on the gaffes, personality conflicts and polls. Coverage of public policy, when it happens at all, is usually clouded by political cynicism.

Is it any wonder that people are turned off by politics and politicians, particularly those who promise 'em everything and say taxes are a mere nuisance we can eliminate?

There will be no Pulitzer Prizes won for the coverage of Patrick in Milton. Yes, he could pick up a few votes from his visit. He was among friends after all.

But who knows, there are no doubt a number of Republicans in Milton who may have turned out, realized the Patrick they heard from that night is not the caricature that appears in the Boston media and is capable of giving straight answers to straight questions.

So here's hoping that the same malaise that is affecting newspapers trafficking in community journalism doesn't silence their occasionally imperfect but always important voice.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I'm gonna hold my breath...

John McCain may be putting the age issue to rest this week. His behavior is something like a petulant child upset because a classmate got a better piece of candy.

McCain was in New England to obtain the only Bush endorsement that won't make him squirm like a schoolboy. Chauffeured around by Bush 41 while Barack Obama makes a grand tour of Iraq and Afghanistan, Johnnie Mac and his friends were cranky:
“It is what it is,” Mr. McCain said with a hint of exasperation at the side of the first President Bush, who acknowledged that he, for one, was “a little jealous” of all the commotion over Mr. Obama’s trip this week to Europe and the Middle East.
Apparently McCain forgot about the attention he received touring a "safe" marketplace in Baghdad -- with an armed-to-the-teeth escort.

McCain's playmates were less restrained:
“There is nothing you can do about it,” said an acerbic Mark Salter, one of Mr. McCain’s closest advisers, while standing at the back of a modest crowd assembled to hear Mr. McCain speak at a picnic in South Portland, Me. “ ‘The One’ went to Europe and homage must be paid.”
The sight of Obama on an overseas tour alone (rejecting McCain's suggestion that they travel together), trailed by Brian, Charlie and Katie has to be galling. So much so that the man who regales reporters on the Straight Talk Express is claiming the media likes Barack best.

(Just curious, did he miss the New Yorker cover?)

But what has to gall McCain even more is the fact that even our so-called allies are turning on him. How credible is McCain's insistence on staying until we "win" when Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki endorses the concept of Obama's 16-month timetable for withdrawal and even the Pouter-in-Chief is now willing to consider a "time horizon."

Not to mention the fact he won't define what "win" means.

No wonder he's riding around in golf carts with 41.

Can Myth come out and play?

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Write your own caption


What's the blessing -- forgive him father for he has messed up?

Who would "appropriate" a former president's golf cart?

At least John McCain is willing to be seen with one Bush.

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Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer (journalism-style)

Summer time, and the rumors are easy...

Nothing like a sultry summer Sunday to bring out the journalism "evergreens." You know, the timeless stories that pop up like weeds. Often they have meaning and relevance.

At other times, they just rehash items, offering little or nothing more than keeping the rumor mill churning.

Like this story, for example:

Speculation that Governor Deval Patrick could wind up in a Barack Obama presidential administration has been rife, and lately political and legal observers are pointing to the Supreme Court as a potential destination for the Harvard Law grad and former Justice Department official.

Legal blogs have been spreading Patrick's name as a potential Supreme Court pick for at least a year. In recent months, both The New York Times and The Washington Post have mentioned Patrick either first or second in stories handicapping potential Obama high-court nominees.

Check out the qualifiers and lack of hard news in this gem. Speculation. When the first word of a news story is speculation, I speculate most people head for the comics.

Lately. Quickly backed up by the words "for at least a year." Followed by attribution to other newspapers, as if that confirms things that otherwise appear in silly old blogs.

But here's an interesting twist. The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about liberals looking for the the "anti-Scalia." It includes this paragraph:

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), a former Justice Department official and prominent Obama friend, has also been mentioned as a potential court appointee, and such a move would not be unprecedented. There is a substantial list of justices who once held political office.
And well what do you know. Patrick's name is second in the speculation -- right after that of Hillary Rodham Clinton!

Funny how that paragraph disappeared in the Globe's editing of the story which runs in tandem with Drake's. Why demonstrate exactly where your own lazy-hazy-Sunday-make-a-couple-of-follow-up calls story came from?

Or demonstrate the Globe story is speculating about rumors about rumors.

I'm not blaming John Drake. He made calls and tried to advance somebody else's effort to advance musty and stale rumors as news. I'm probably not as sanguine about a Globe editor who assigned the story in the first place and I have questions about the editors who chopped the sentence from the Post story to make their own editorial laziness seem less offensive.

Reminds me of a 1990 book with the title supposedly gleaned from a telegram sent by an editor to a far-flung correspondent (not sure if it was in the lazy, hazy days of summer).

"If No News, Send Rumors."

I won't even add my own speculation about how the assumption that Patrick may be a classic liberal may be way off.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

You can't make this stuff up!

What more can you say?
The head of the MBTA's diversity office is accused of discrimination in a state lawsuit, with a former employee contending the office's chief described Latinos as "sneaky" and said that lying is part of Hispanic culture.
We'll throw in the obligatory caveats, such as these are allegations, the MBTA has denied them and they have not been proven. But we will also note that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has found probable cause, making the claim credible.

Where else but at the MBTA will you find the office pledged to fight discrimination engage in it?

Smilin' Dan has got to go!

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

How can we Myth you when you won't go away?

Ah, summer. Deep bronze tans and flip-flops. That can only mean one thing. He's baaaaaack!

Yes, Myth Romney, the man who has as many positions as the Kama Sutra, is returning to the political stage, touted as a potential running mate for John McCain.

You remember Myth, the man Johnnie Mac displayed open disdain for in the Republican primary season -- largely because he was now against everything he used to be for. Like a woman's right to choose. Or gay rights. Or gun control. Or immigration (or at least landscapers). And let's not forget how he mentally checked out on his job after two years of a four-year term.

Oh, and who once equated spending his own money on the campaign as being "akin to a nightmare" before slowly sidling over the other side and saying he will treat the $45 million of his sons' inheritance he dropped on his own quest as a contribution and not a loan.

But Johnnie Mac has a problem. He knows this campaign is going to focus on economic issues and, by how own admission, he doesn't know a lot about that topic. Myth, on the other hand, was a successful venture capitalist, building and breaking businesses.

And then there's the matter of the inheritance.

With Barack Obama foregoing federal campaign cash, McCain is going to need someone with the ability to come up with the dough he can't raise because he's staying in the federal system. If Romney only dropped $45 million on his own campaign, that leaves up to $205 million he can bring to bear on this race -- if you believe the estimates floating around out there. There are no limits on what a candidate can spend from his own personal funds.

Besides, as Richard Nixon used to say, Myth appears tanned, rested and ready, apparently unaware of the importance of sunblock. Once an Empty Suit, always a well-tailored, telegenic Empty Suit.

Of course, the McCain camp would probably love that New York Times image back, given how the Arizona senator, who has a history of skin cancer, is the appropriate pasty shade he should be after his encounters.

But doesn't that also suggest Myth is the answer to the unspoken age question?

While regular readers know how I feel about Myth, I must say there is a part of me that would welcome his revival. Between Romney's own checkered, flip-flipping past to the mental gymnastics McCain would have to perform to to get away from his own words about his potential partner, I would have daily fodder.

I may not be tanned and rested, but I am ready!

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Friday, July 18, 2008

That pesky elephant is back in the room

Treasurer Tim continues to tell us what he's against. But I still haven't heard him tell us what he's for.

We know know Tim Cahill is opposed to "Taj Mahal" schools as well as the proposal to have the Commonwealth co-sign the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority's latest debt sale.

OK, the treasurer has kindly informed us that "off-the-shelf" designs may be one way to achieve the noble goal of preventing more disastrous school construction projects like Newton North High School.

But he was less than forthcoming, again, with any solutions to the problems facing the Pike during a Statehouse hearing yesterday.
He called for unspecified changes to be imposed on Turnpike Authority operations if the deal moves forward.
Cahill has been in office for six years -- and his job is to make sure the books balance. The Pike has been a problem throughout those years, but I don't seem to recall him speaking up as frequently or as loudly as he is now.

Why the absence of firm suggestions? He certainly has an interesting idea for the school building problem.

Could the answer be that he doesn't want to take the heat for the remedy?

Another critic, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation president Mike Widmer spelled it out in simple English.

"This is one of the most irresponsible proposals I have seen seriously considered by the Legislature in my 16 years," said Widmer, whose organization is backed by business. "We are just heading off a cliff, Thelma and Louise, with a smile on our face."

Widmer called for a gas-tax increase and new tolls to help the Turnpike Authority meet the terms of its Big Dig-related debts.

Aha!

Cahill preferred a less direct approach:
“We cannot allow ourselves to operate with a blank-checkbook mentality,” Cahill said, adding the plan will hurt the state’s credit rating.
Widmer was part of a special panel assessing state transportation infrastructure needs and has been on the record about the need for taxes for awhile.

The Patrick Administration has also been shying away from the tax proposal -- they recognize the income tax repeal question on the November ballot makes it an even worse subject to discuss right now. So no Profile in Courage Awards there either.

But Treasurer Tim is playing a more cynical game, calling for decisive action while avoiding any mention of what that alternative might be.

No wonder Turnpike boss Alan LeBovidge snarked:
“Maybe I missed it. They all said they had other options, but there were none that I wrote down.”
While LeBovidge should have jotted down Widmer's suggestion, the sarcasm still seems appropriate directed at Cahill and Sen. Marc Montigny, who said "It is the worst of both worlds for the taxpayer and the toll payer" and apparently left it at that.

This button's for you Tim. You can share it if you like.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hidden taxes

We're starting to get an idea of what a "free lunch" looks like.

Let's face it, Americans are tax-averse. And the heart of the "conservative revolution" that began with Ronald Reagan and is wheezing along on fumes today is the concept that taxes are evil things that inhibit growth.

Heck, cutting taxes to raise government revenue is the heart of supply side economics that is a cornerstone of the Reagan Revolution. The philosophy's mantra is you can have the program and services you want -- and you don't have to pay for them.

It's a philosophy that rang up huge deficits in the 1980s and again in the first years of the new millennium. George Bush has brought it to the extreme: the way America can pay for its war against terrorism is to shop more.

The price for that tax phobia is clear: billions of dollars in red ink in Washington -- and in Boston.

The Globe reports the price tag for the Big Dig isn't really the outrageous $15 billion we thought it was. No, it's $22 billion when you factor in the cost of borrowing to pay for it. Oh yeah, and to pay for the salaries of the painters and secretaries who work in the transportation agencies that are sucking fumes to survive the drain caused by the Big Pig.

And we've learned a dirty little secret too:
Contrary to the popular belief that this was a project heavily subsidized by the federal government, 73 percent of construction costs were paid by Massachusetts drivers and taxpayers. To meet that obligation, the state's annual payments will be nearly as much over the next several years, $600 million or more, as they were in the heaviest construction period.
Let's be blunt: this fiasco is the result of 16 years of Republican control over the governor's office and the transportation agencies that thought the bullying of James Kerasiotes was somehow equal to competence as he ran up costs while spending like a drunken Republican. It was aided and abetted by installing political hacks like Matthew Amorello to run the system.

Democrats are not without dirty hands. They stood by as the cost of "mitigation" soared. They were directly involved in the creating the latest fiasco by agreeing to a bailout plan in 1996 that shifted the burden to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority with the goal of making toll payers coming from the west bear the burden of a north-south highway system.

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't note that they also gave the MBTA a penny of the sales tax then abandoned it to deal with its crushing debt load only by using the farebox.

And they have dirty hands today -- when they quietly sign off on a rescue plan in April, then stand in front of a camera to criticize that plan today. Or fudge about the need for taxes to pay for our crumbling bridges and public transit system.

So we find ourselves looking over a steep cliff, one transportation agency looking at a massive bailout to avoid fiscal ruin, the other unable to consistently deliver basic services.

And with a political structure that still avoids talking about taxes to fix it.

I know I don't like the idea of paying higher gasoline taxes when the Bush economy-induced price per gallon is more than $4. And I certainly don't want to pay more for the bad service and bad attitude that is the MBTA.

But we've been moving those shells around way too long and it's time to pick one.

The reality of course, is things will not get better soon. In fact, it's likely to get worse. The Legislature's is heading out the door in a couple of weeks and won't be around to take decisive action. (OK, maybe that's not such a bad thing!)

The business community is in a snit because they've been asked to pay their fair share of taxes.

And the rest of us, who pay sales and property taxes, subway, bus and train fares and highway and bridge tolls are feeling the pinch of a plummeting stock market eating away our retirement nest egg, rising prices and stagnant wages (when we can keep our jobs).

For many of us, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, a way to lash out and reaffirm the Golden Rule of the Reagan and Bush Revolution: There is a Free Lunch. That light is repealing the Massachusetts income tax.

You think things are grim now? Why in heck does Tim Cahill even want to be governor?

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Missing pieces

It's clear that Treasurer Tim is eying the Corner Office in 2010. Other than not, everything else is as clear as mud in today's Globe story on emergency legislation that would "bailout" the Mass Pike by having the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in effect co-sign for a loan.

I for one have no problem having all taxpayers, rather than only Mass Pike users, be ultimately responsible for the debt. As I've written countless times, there's a real inequity in having drivers from the west bear the $15 billion burden of the Big Dig that substantially benefit drivers from the north and south.

But beyond that, I have a couple of questions that aren't answered in the story:

Aren't taxpayers already on the hook for the Turnpike Authority debt? It gets into arcane stuff like "full faith and credit" but I thought that ultimately the Commonwealth is there to hold the bag for any of the "quasis", the semi-autonomous agencies like the Turnpike Authority and the MBTA that can issue their own bonds?

Did Cahill -- or Sen. Mark Montigny offer reform suggestions? And how can they be implemented in an agency that operates somewhat independently with a board appointed on staggered terms so that it is not supposed to be in the thrall of one governor.

Both Deval Patrick and his predecessor have attempted to bring the Pike back under control. Patrick succeeded where Mitt Romney failed. While Patrick was able to oust Matt Amorello, there are still Romney appointees on the board who may (or may not) be working with chairman Alan LeBovidge. There have been some efforts to change. We, toll payers and taxpayers, need more information.

What reforms or safeguards are needed? It's easy to toss off remarks about fiscal recklessness. If Cahill offered specifics, shame on the Globe for not including them. If he didn't, shame on the Globe for not challenging him to put his mouth where our money is.

This is a very real and very serious problem, Our transportation infrastructure -- roads, bridges, public system -- is a mess, victims of years of neglect and the massive amounts of money vacuumed up by the Turnpike Authority and its long-gone "leaders" who brought the Big Dig in not on time and way over budget.

It's going to take time and real money, to fix this. If, in the meantime, the Turnpike Authority collapses under the weight of its own bad past decisions, we will only be worse off.

Note to Treasurer Tim. You were elected in 2002, which means we've had six years to hear from you on a responsible bailout plan. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

And then there is the little matter of repealing the income tax...

CORRECTION: Thanks to Joel Patterson for catching the fact that Matt Amorello resigned in 2006, under Mitt Romney, when the SJC refused to block a hearing called by Romney for the purpose of firing him. As they say, we regret the error.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's so funny I forgot to laugh

Where's Gilda Radner when we really need her?

I was going to ignore the Tempest in a Teapot du Jour until by copy of The New Yorker arrived today (what you didn't think I was an elitist liberal to boot?)

Taking a good close look at Barry Blitt's cover, I thought Barack Obama should have responded to the cliche- (or, for the sake of argument, smear-) ridden drawing and said something along the lines of:
"My ears are all wrong and Michelle couldn't get her hair into an Angela Davis-'fro even if she wanted to."
Instead, Obama and his aides responded with an answer that brought make memories of Radner's Lisa Loopner:
"It's so funny I forgot to laugh."
It's clear that after 7 1/2 years of a president who would be a joke if it weren't so serious that this is a nation that has forgotten how to laugh. Obama seems especially humor-challenged -- whether it's because of the fishbowl in which he lives or maybe he really doesn't know how to give and take a joke.

Blitt's cartoon is clearly satire, freighted with every slam aimed at the Kansas-born, Indonesia and Hawaii-raised son of an African man and a white woman. Yes, the rumors and innuendo floating around about the Obamas are nasty and refuse to die.

But by raising the protest, Obama and his aides succeeded in only making sure the cover cartoon would be seen by people just over the Hudson River in California (recalling Saul Steinberg's famous satirical cartoon).

Presidential candidates are now apparently judged by whether Americans want to have a beer with them. George Bush (a recovering alcoholic) got that vote over Al Gore and John Kerry. Obama will need to buy a lot of rounds to get that vote.

But imagine what he could do if, when the next slight surfaces, he reacts like Emily Litella, the frumpy, hard-of-hearing editorial reply maven who waxed indignant about "presidential "erections until she was set straight by anchorman Chevy Chase.

Or better still, how about the gum-chewing Roseanne Roseannadanna, who would go off on a mind-bending screed on some topic raised by a Mr. Richard Feder of Fort Lee, New Jersey, until, in the end, she would come to a conclusion something like this:
"If it's not the Muslim rumor, it's about his anti-American priest. If it's not about the flag pin he doesn't wear, it's about the flag in the fireplace. If it's not Osama, then it's Hussein. It just goes to show you, it's always something."

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Another fine mess

Billions for business, but when it comes to helping out the little guy, times are tough.

Once more the federal government has moved with lightning speed to prop up the financial system that it has played a central role in weakening -- promising the Federal Reserve will support Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the absurdly human names applied to semi-private agencies that buy and sell mortgages.

The key words to take away from the New York Times story about the second Fed bailout -- the first involving Bear Stearns:
The warnings of a potential systemic failure led to the resulting rescue package, and one of the most striking — though unspoken — regulatory shifts in modern times. For decades, Treasury secretaries and Federal Reserve chairmen have insisted that the government did not stand behind the debt of Fannie and Freddie. But the safety net [Treasury Secretary Henry] Paulson announced on Sunday sends the opposite message: that the government is determined not to let either one fail.
The Globe's Steve Syre makes a good case for why this distasteful action is necessary:
In 2008, the year of the government bailout, no other federal rescue plan has become more important to the nation's economic health. The modern mortgage system would fall on its face without Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and home prices would plunge with it.
The Wild, Wild West of home mortgage business under the Bush dream of an "ownership society" is at the root of the fiscal meltdown that is eating away at the foundations of the American economy, sending the stock market plunging and wiping out millions in retirement savings of ordinary investors who have purchased mutual funds through 401 (k)s at work.

That and the abdication of regulators in the face of the greed and scheming to sell mortgages to people who probably couldn't afford a car, let alone a house.

So, far, it doesn't appear as if anyone involved in foisting this fiscal nightmare on the American public has paid the price.

And while a case can be made that the collapse of the investor-owned mortgage bundlers is too high a price, this is the second Fed bailout of a player this year. Meanwhile, efforts to help the little guy languish in Congress, attacked by the Right Wingnuts as a dangerous bailout.

Because the money doesn't go to prop up billionaires?

And the election of John McCain would change this how?

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Warning signs ahead

One thing you have to love about political spin -- it is creative.
"I am pleased the governor has lent his approval to 99 percent of the appropriations the Legislature approved as part of its Fiscal 2009 budget plan."
With those words, House Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo heralded the next phase of the state's annual budget show, which promises to be an affair to remember this time around.

That's because Gov. Deval Patrick vetoed $122.5 million in legislative spending, much of it prized local earmarks that legislators want to take back for their fall election campaign. Patrick also asked for special emergency "9C" powers to make cuts anytime during the fiscal year.

(For a great visual of how earmarks are layered into the budget, check out this Blue Mass Group post.)

DeLeo sounds as if he's pleased that Patrick didn't do more damage to the perfect masterpiece he co-authored with his Senate counterpart Steven Panagiotakis. Members who saw their pet projects redlined may be less forgiving.

But there are serious questions about whether even these cuts will be enough to keep the budget in balance. Says Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation head Michael Widmer:
"It's a good first step, but I think it's highly likely that he will use the emergency powers this fall to make additional cuts to deal with the state's fiscal realities."
Realities like a $300 million federal waiver that will pay for health care reform. Or the fact that the nation's economy is heading south (why is it we are only on the cusp of a recession when things are so shaky?)

Patrick signaled the fact he knows this won't be enough by asking the Legislature to give him the authority to make unilateral cuts along the way. Lawmakers granted Mitt Romney the same power -- and for a very good reason -- any additional pain can be blamed on the governor, not them.

It will be interesting to see how lawmakers respond to the vetoes in the remaining two weeks or so of the legislative term. Veto overrides have to be done now. Any veto still standing when the session ends at the end of the month is law.

Will they accept Patrick's first pass, go back home and say they tried but that nasty governor didn't want them to have that bandstand?

Or will they get the cut restored and then sit back and let Patrick take the heat when the crunch comes?

(Note to Patrick: that's what is called a lose-lose scenario for you).

And what would be a better scenario come November: Bring home the bacon and get re-elected? Or bring home the bacon, get re-elected and give harried taxpayers (yeah, the same ones who want the bandstand) a chance to get even by eliminating the income tax and forcing both legislators and Patrick to have a special year-end budget machete session?

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Quand vous dit Budweiser....

The Clydesdales are going to get a makeover.

OK, it may not be the same as the Rockettes toiling for the Japanese, but another foreign group has taken to heart the phrase "Buy American"and an institution considered as American as apple pie is seeing its corporate headquarters head out of the US.

Anheuser-Busch's decision to sell to InBev certainly won't affect me. I moved on to fuller body beers along time ago (American brewed too!) And the brewery's chief competitors are already owned by South Africans and Canadians.

But Bud always tried to project the All=American image, with the Clydesdales and the dalmatian at the heart of the Fourth of July Parade image.

Business is business. But somehow this one is a sign of the further weakening of the American brand.

Besides, how many frat boys speak French? Or Flemish? Especially when drunk?

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

How could this happen?

The Globe today offers us this headline:

Budget deadlines is flying under citizens' radar
Patrick set to ink document but few may notice

Maybe because it has pretty much flown under the editors' radar too?

A quick search the Globe's own archives finds a dearth of stories about the $28.2 billion plan to spend our tax dollars this year. The ones that you can find usually talk about earmarks like the $200,000 targeted for the Boston Symphony Orchestra to help with repairs at Tanglewood.

What about the other $28,199,800,000?

With that as a backdrop, is it any surprise that the people reporter Megan Woolhouse found echo the common theme you would expect to hear -- it's late again.

I'm one of those apparently rare people who really give a darn about government budgets. (Let's hear it for the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center and yes, Citizens for Limited Taxation).

Budget documents are policy road maps -- and they spell out how we are going to get there -- and how much of our tax dollars are going to what program. Sexy? Not really. Important? You bet!

But that certainly doesn't seem apply to the "newspaper of record."

Do a search of the Globe online and the stories about the state budget process are few and far between. The ones that do appear are formulaic. The governor proposes. The Legislature holds hearings and then crafts a House budget. When that budget is approved, it goes to the Senate, where they do their thing. Then to conference committee. Then a quick enactment vote followed 10 days later by a signing, replete with veto messages.

Nothing to kick that fire or traffic accident or in-depth view of lobstering off Metro front.

Fair's fair -- the Globe does more than the TV stations. And earmarks are certainly worth noting.

But is it any surprise that thousands of Massachusetts residents have banded together to put a question on the November ballot to eliminate the state income tax -- and the $12 billion in brings in?

What does the state spend $12 billion on anyway?

It's not easy to work your way through, but it's all there for you if you want to plow through it. Roughly $4 billion is plowed back to cities and towns for Ch. 70 and 76 school aid; $1.1 billion to higher education funding; $1.66 billion to support health care reform. Examine the various items at your leisure (or as an insomnia cure) and you will find substantial sums allocated to the courts, public safety and homeland security, the environment.

A million, here, a million there and you are talking real money.

Many taxpayers would no doubt quibble about the spending priorities. But they do not have a chance because of the failure of our media outlets to provide the information -- or a forum for debate.

I've lamented before how the Statehouse bureaus have shriveled in size and I've complained about how the Globe has failed to take advantage of its online resources to provide readers with information that can't appear in the ever-shrinking pages of the daily broadsheet.

But they and others have also failed to put all the financial information into context. The Herald makes a nice stab today -- looking at how soaring energy costs are forcing cities and towns into tough choices.

But is there any mention of how the state provides a major piece of municipal budgets through Chapter 70 (limited to education) and other forms of local aid? Money, by the way, that serves as something of a check on the need to RAISE property taxes but doesn't come close to providing the kind of help that would enable Deval Patrick to live up to his promise of relief.

As we head into November, we can only hope the Globe will step up its effort to cover the income tax repeal in a proper -- and objective -- way. That would involve addressing where the money goes, how effectively it is spent and what would happen if $12 billion is taken out of the state budget.

We can hope -- but I don't plan on holding my breath.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Quiet victory

Call it a stealth victory for Deval Patrick.

There were skeptics aplenty when Patrick and Insurance Commissioner Nonnie Burnes announced plans for a "managed competition" auto insurance system to replace the regulated system that sprang up after a previous unmitigated disaster of reform in the 1970s.

Heck, some legislators were even afraid about losing their jobs over the reform.

A couple of caveats: I am not involved in the insurance industry and my own wacky situation calls for my policy to renew around Dec. 30, so I won't be seeing a new bill or options for quite awhile.

But I do think the decision by a couple of major insurers to start selling policies in Massachusetts again is a good sign. Yeah, I know that means they think they can make a profit while sticking to someone with a minor accident or moving violation.

But even more to the point is this:
So far, Burnes said, the division has received numerous reports from consumers praising the system and saying they have saved money - and only four complaints. There are no statistics available on how much consumers are saving, but some drivers say they cut annual premiums 20 percent to 40 percent.
Even though the Boston media has been virtually denuded of consumer reporting, it's highly unlikely that widespread pain would elude the attention of Channel 5's Susan Wornick.

Quite a different scenario than the one being painted when Patrick and Burnes embarked down this road -- to the scorn of many of my fellow lib, er, progressives (no, not the insurance company).

But check back with me when I get my bill. Because I still don't want to subsidize the insurance of the Masshole who cuts me off while lane changing through heavy traffic while he's doing 90 and chatting on his cell phone. Wherever she lives.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Let's get real

So far in the interminable campaign we've killed trees over $400 hair cuts and bowling scores. The airwaves have been cluttered with words about pseudo-presidential seals, cackles and cleavage.

Then there were the kerfuffles over advisors' words about monsters and the political advantages of terrorism strikes. Today, we're into medicine with concerns about male anatomical surgery and the emergence of a pseudo-Dr. Phil to tell us we're a bunch of whiners.

Did gasoline drop to 99 cents a gallon when I wasn't looking? Will I be able to retire on time again because the stock market has miraculously restored my nest egg and my home's value has shot back up? Does the world no longer hate us?

No wonder fewer and fewer people are voting.

I stop paying attention to Jesse Jackson a lot time ago so his desire to politically castrate the presumptive Democratic nominee is meaningless. A gifted orator, yes. But he sealed his fate as a political leader 24 years ago when in another allegedly "off guard" moment he "slipped" in a conversation with a political journalist and referred to New York City as "Hymietown."

In fact, Jackson's poor taste comments could be the equivalent of a Sister Souljah moment for Barack Obama (although a Google search suggests it could only be the most recent!). Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign's trajectory rose when he responded forcefully to her remark that "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?"

Jackson's disrespect for Obama, for allegedly "talking down" to African-Americans, may only help Obama in the eyes of people who see the Illinois senator as too liberal.

Or for people who bought into Clinton's 2008 theory that Obama was simply another Jackson when he won the North Carolina primary. Or Clinton's contention that Obama "played the race card" on him.

I'm tempted to spend less time on Phil Gramm's observation that America "has become a nation of whiners" and it is suffering only a "mental recession." Gramm, after all, still holds the record of most money spent per delegate in a losing presidential campaign.

His remarks on behalf of John McCain's candidacy were truly unhelpful -- particularly when McCain had to deal with them in Michigan, where the meltdown of the US auto industry has created truly tough economic times and where Obama could face problems because of the Michigan primary brouhaha.

Gramm's refusal to back down (yet) certainly didn't help either.
"I'm not going to retract any of it. Every word I said was true."
Not so McCain.
"He does not speak for me. I speak for me. I strongly disagree. The person here in Michigan who just lost his job isn't suffering from a mental recession."
The stakes in this campaign -- economic, military, judicial to name a few -- are far too important to be sidetracked by this nonsense. Can we finally get serious and elect someone on the basis of what they say about the issues facing us -- and not because they seem like a guy you'd want to go have a beer with.

Remember how much trouble that got us into.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Like shooting fish in a barrel

Maybe he needs that quarter of a million dollar salary to pay for the gas?

Smilin' Dan is back in the headlines again, one day after admitting the MBTA didn't set aside a reserve to pay for an expected collective bargaining agreement. The MBTA's cracker jack boss says he doesn't know how the T will pay for the raises.

Taking away his big honkin' SUV and getting him a CharlieCard would be a good place to start.

Says Dan:
“I do try to set an example by using the T within the city, but my schedule tends to be erratic. I need to be able to go anywhere at all times,” he said.
Um, so does every MBTA commuter suffering with erratic schedules on overcrowded buses, trolleys and subways.

And automatic climate control? I'm sure his overheated passengers are envious.

Naturally his North Shore neighbors, unwilling or unable to pay to fill an SUV tank (even a 4-cylinder job that gets 34 highway) aren't impressed either.
“What?! Either practice what you preach or get out,” Jeff Ries huffed recently as he waited for the commuter train at the Ipswich station, a 10-minute drive from Grabauskas’ home.
Hey Deval, it's really long past time to get rid of this guy.

And speaking if fish in a barrel -- the Registry isn't doing its job to keep bad drivers off the road? Who knew?

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A profile in courage



Millions of words have been written about Ted Kennedy and millions more are poised in word processors the world over. His triumphs and his tragedies -- and his screw-ups have been noted many times over.

But Kennedy's decision to take some time between his daily brain cancer treatments and hop a plane to Washington to cast a decisive vote to break a filibuster over an important health care issue may be his ultimate triumph.

Nothing, not even brain cancer, was going to stop the Massachusetts Democrat from pursuing his career long question to improve health care in America. It's especially poignant now that he is dependent on those very same doctors he rose to support.

Bravo Teddy.

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That old MBTA magic

Gasoline prices are soaring and MBTA ridership is rising. General Manager Dan Grabauskas continues to smile his way through one accident after another service glitch with new luster on his armor. Some of you even wonder why I am so hard on him.

How about this, tucked in as the fifth paragraph of today's Globe story on an arbitration award granting T employees a 13 percent raise over 4 years:
While the T knew that raises were likely as part of these contract negotiations, it had not set aside money to cover the cost.
The depth of incompetence to not budget for a collective bargaining wage increase that is in arbitration simply takes my breath away. Yakking on about the concessions he has obtained as part of those talks can't hide the act that Grabauskas and his team failed basic accounting.

Did they really think the arbitrator would not award salary increases and make them retroactive to the start of negotiations?

And we're not talking about excessive compensation. We are talking about roughly 3 percent annually, which I would venture is probably par for the course in just about every business. The usually nasty commenters at the Herald are off base in directing their jibes at the union, which will make some significant givebacks -- beyond elimination of the asinine time off to cash a check.

No, it's Smilin' Dan who should be facing the music. How many people would be calling for Deval Patrick's recall if he uttered these words at the end of a two-year bargaining process:
"I don't have an answer for you today. It's going to be very difficult, and that's one of the things that we're going to have to figure out."
You can rest assured the answers break down into two categories: fare hikes and service cuts. Back on the Green Line the last few days -- because the humidity makes it unpleasant for my co-workers if I walk -- I am struck once more by the number of fares that never make it into the box because of trains (and buses) that refuse to run on a coherent schedule.

We were promised improved fare collection with the CharlieCard system that dramatically slows things up on the Green Line and buses. So why the need to roll out a new system on commuter rail?

With fuel costs climbing to the stratosphere and eating up every larger chunks of the additional fares that are collected, how will they pay for it?

Here's one suggestion: Smilin' Dan has got to go. That will free up a neat quarter of a million dollars.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The rich are different from you and me

Now we know why the call it the Horribles.

Displaying all the sensitivity of Thurston Howell III and his wife Lovey, the folks of Beverly Farms opted to celebrate our nation's independence -- a day predicated on the concept that "all men are created equal" -- by offering a poor taste float denigrating Gloucester and the teenage pregnancy story that has rocked the town.

Beverly Farms, despite the "blighted" Pride's Crossing area, is one of the state's wealthier areas. Gloucester, the famed fishing community, is on the other end.

But of course all stereotypes have inherent flaws and this one is no exception. Gloucester has some lovely neighborhoods and a summer community exists (quite contentedly by all accounts) right alongside the fishing community.

Beverly, for all the wealth conjured up by the name, has its grittier side. And its own teen pregnancy issues.

Satire is the lifeblood of society and there is a question about whether coverage of the Gloucester pregnancy "pact" went overboard. There is absolutely no question that the makers of the Beverly float went way overboard -- and they shouldn't expect any Gloucester fishermen to rescue them.

But let's see now, conservatives love saying that liberals are the ones who create class envy and class warfare...

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Monday, July 07, 2008

All's well at One Schroder Plaza

Glad to see that Boston Police have time on their hands to investigate things like blogs.

I made my first and last trip to Badgewars -- just to see what has the department's internal affairs folks, pardon the expression, up in arms. Let's just say it's not the appropriate cup of tea for someone of my political persuasion. But this is, last I looked, a free country that just celebrated its 232nd birthday proclaiming it's support for things like "...no laws abridging freedom of speech..."

And there is absolutely no mistaking the fact that the anonymous bloggers who populate that part of the site are freely offering their opinions in the spirit of the rough and tumble blogosphere.
This site is for the purpose of frank and open communication in the form of parody, jest and pastiche in keeping with the First Amendment and in the spirit of Hustler Magazine Inc. V. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988).
So, with an investigation into the death of a Celtics reveler, murders keeping pace with the thermometer, lots of issues with officers doing things they shouldn't be doing, why are our men and women in blue investigating things that should not be their concern -- particularly on a national web site?

And I do find it ironic that the heads of patrolman's and detectives' unions -- who are supposed to be charged with sticking up for the rights of their members who are probably among the anonymous bloggers -- are in effect siding with the brass on this one.

Yeah, Badgewars is pretty nasty stuff. Just the sort of thing we should be defending in a society that values free, frank and open discussion. I seem to recall a line from childhood too:
Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me.
Bullets and knives on the other hand....

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Road trip

It didn't merit more than a brief in the Globe and a short story in the Herald. And that's exactly why Deval Patrick is doing it.

Going on the road -- and in Massachusetts. It's a standard tactic for a politician or leader who is having a hard time getting his message out over the filter (or impenetrable indifference) of the MSM. Especially one that seems more interested in replaying Caddy Gate or Drape Gate than dealing with the nuts and bolts (and inherent ugliness) of actually governing.

But you can rest assured it will be news in the communities where he holds his town hall meetings. If for no other reason than the folks who are angry with him based on coverage in the Boston media will get a chance for a pound of flesh.

Patrick is starting to put together a string of accomplishments -- the latest being a green energy bill. There's also a life sciences bill and transportation bond bills that promise change.

Even taxes -- with the approval of the scarcely noticed corporate tax reform bill. That bill represents a significant political victory for Patrick who overcame the opposition of House Speaker Sal DiMasi to share the tax burden more equitably between business and residential property owners.

Ah, but about that property tax promise he made in the campaign.

You can expect Patrick to be peppered on the score, because with the end of the legislative term looming, there will be no property tax relief this year. And there is also the question on the November ballot to eliminate the state income tax.

Voters are worried and angry and on the tax score and Patrick has not lived up to his promises (although he will surely answer that he has two more years to deliver). These local meetings are what (he hopes) is a way to answer that question in a way that will actually be noticed.

Covering cities and towns is far different than covering Boston or Beacon Hill. The visit by a dignitary (even a politician) is news. One-on-one meetings with reporters, editors and publishers. Major front page news.

Then there is the meeting itself -- and the chance for local folks to sound off.

No better way to get a better feel for the mood of people -- and trying to get on their good side -- than hitting the road.

And hitting the road is exactly what I'm about to do -- get out beyond 128. As always, thanks for stopping by, have a Happy 4th watching your privately-financed fireworks displays and see you next week.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Par for the course

The $28 billion state budget -- chock full of money to pay for health care, education and public safety -- is hung up over what to do with a golf course?

You're kidding, right? In a state with more rich and storied weird legislative tales than golf courses, this one may be at the top of the list.

The Senate apparently is looking to literally bail out Ponkapoag Golf Course in Canton, where fairways have apparently turned into swamps under the care and maintenance of the Division of Conservation and Recreation (you remember, the MDC don't you?)

They are also looking to maintain the $25 weekend greens fees.

House Speaker Sal DiMasi, a member of the Ipswich Country Club, is apparently not enchanted with "Ponky."
"Have you ever been to Ponkapoag?" he said, laughing as he repeated the question. "Have you been to Ponkapoag?"
Senate President Therese Murray ain't talking, but her words speak volumes.

Sources who were briefed on the talks said Murray was pushing hardest for a lease of the course. When approached yesterday in a State House hallway, however, Murray adamantly declined comment.

"Who told you that?" she said. "No comment on the Ponkapoag. I don't talk about what goes on in conference."

One full day into the fiscal year -- with a tax package chopped up in a way that created confusion, uncertainty over the future of more than $300 million in federal Medicare dollars and a recession looming on the horizon, these guys are dickering over a golf course lease?

I'm not saying there isn't a need for reasonably priced recreation options. What I am saying is there is a time and place for priorities.

And at this point in this state -- with the major economic pressures that lie ahead -- this is neither the time nor place for rescuing Ponky.

And I suspect voters looking to repeal the state income tax will agree.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Happy fiscal new year

Another fiscal year dawns on Beacon Hill without a state budget -- and while lawmakers actually have a decent reason this time, their inattentiveness to detail makes them look bad.

It's easy to compare blowing past the June 30 deadline as the state's equivalent of Manny being Manny -- and it happens about as often. The process involves big money and big egos looking to protect precious initiatives. Look no further than the infamous Finneran-Birmingham negotiations of 1999 to see a broken down process fueled by both.

This time there is a third party at the table -- the federal government. The discussions over the Medicare waiver have also gone into overtime and there is serious money -- and problems -- under discussion.

Without a firm answer on the billions that will finance a part of the health care law, nothing else can be finalized.

But there aren't any good reasons for the decision to pull the cigarette tax increase out of the package and pass it at the last minute.

No sympathy for smokers here. But there is something to be said for the hassle to retailers -- although we know that gas stations certainly have an ample supply of numbers available to stay up with their own daily changes.

No, the problem is more that of inattentiveness to detail. The cigarette tax was something lawmakers agreed to on early on as part of the financial discussions. Were they hoping against hope there would be a budget deal in place on time so they could just slip this one in with everything else?

If the revenue is important enough -- and right now every penny is -- legislative leaders should have pulled this one out of the budget talks earlier. It's not as if they've been burning the mid-morning oil up on Beacon Hill.

Instead, they wait until the last second of the fiscal year and create extra buzz around the action.

What a way to run a commonwealth.

UPDATE: It sure would be nice if Globe editors talked to each other. Casey Ross has the scoop on the corporate tax bill. That's in Business, and a good lesson for those of us who don't really scan the online version as thoroughly as the dead tree edition that has Matt Viser's budget story as the Metro lead.

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