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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Engage with Grace

We make choices throughout our lives - where we want to live, what types of activities will fill our days, with whom we spend our time.

These choices are often a balance between our desires and our means, but at the end of the day, they are decisions made with intent. But when it comes to how we want to be treated at the end our lives, often we don't express our intent or tell our loved ones about it.

This has real consequences. 73% of Americans would prefer to die at home, but up to 50% die in hospital. More than 80% of Californians say their loved ones “know exactly” or have a “good idea” of what their wishes would be if they were in a persistent coma, but only 50% say they've talked to them about their preferences.

But our end of life experiences are about a lot more than statistics. They’re about all of us. So the first thing we need to do is start talking.

Engage With Grace: The One Slide Project was designed with one simple goal: to help get the conversation about end of life experience started. The idea is simple: Create a tool to help get people talking. One Slide, with just five questions on it. Five questions designed to help get us talking with each other, with our loved ones, about our preferences. And we’re asking people to share this One Slide – wherever and whenever they can…at a presentation, at dinner, at their book club. Just One Slide, just five questions.

Lets start a global discussion that, until now, most of us haven’t had.

Here is what we are asking you: Download The One Slide and share it at any opportunity – with colleagues, family, friends. Think of the slide as currency and donate just two minutes whenever you can. Commit to being able to answer these five questions about end of life experience for yourself, and for your loved ones. Then commit to helping others do the same. Get this conversation started.

Let's start a viral movement driven by the change we as individuals can effect...and the incredibly positive impact we could have collectively. Help ensure that all of us - and the people we care for - can end our lives in the same purposeful way we live them.

JustOne Slide, just one goal. Think of the enormous difference we can make together.

(To learn more please go to www.engagewithgrace.org. This post was written by Alexandra Drane and the Engage With Grace team)

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lehman Brothers raising Pike tolls?

Just when you thought the Mass. Pike mess couldn't get worse, it does. The Globe tells us today the authority could be on the hook for a huge chunk of cash because of Lehman Brothers.

If you're like me, you might say "wait a minute, didn't they go belly up? Can they do that?"

In the muddy world of credit debt obligations, market rate auctions, derivatives and swaptions and who knows what else, the answer apparently is "yes we can."

The authority, like many other non-profits, bought complicated debt packages sold with the hook that they could get some control over interest rates. Many of those deals have gone south this year and the credit market collapsed.

In fact, deals the fell apart earlier this year probably contributed the demise of some of the bigger Wall Street players who were forced to repay some of their customers for their losses.

But in what may be the most bizarre twist -- the Turnpike Authority may be on the hook for a balloon payment on some of its debt because Ambac, the company that rates the bonds sold by the investment banks is facing a possible downgrading of its credit.
"The worst case, as far as I'm concerned, has come to pass," said Senator Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat who leads the Senate bonding committee and was briefed on the problems yesterday. "We're looking at a sinking ship and the hole is getting bigger every day. And it's not just the ship at the Pike. It's the credit markets and the economy . . . This credit crisis is not over."
Montigny faults the Patrick administration for failing to investigate fully the complicated investments that led to problems. The administration points out the deals were made before they got there (which means the Legislature should have been looking?)

What is clear is that the authority hasn't done as good a job as others in renegotiating and getting out of the deals. And they apparently haven't done a good job getting repaid for their losses like other agencies.

So in the spirit of the problem, I propose any new tolls come with some name changes. Drivers should head through the AIG Tunnel from the airport, hop on I-93 and head north over the Ambac Bridge or south through the CitiGroup Tunnel. They could get free rides (unless it springs a leak or two or three hundred), just like the companies that made the questionable deals.

But by no means should they head west on the Lehman Brothers Turnpike. The tolls will be a killer.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Blame the media

It's as predictable as snow in winter: a politician doesn't like what happens to him or her and the it's the media's fault.

Memo to Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner: it's the FBI, not the media who are responsible for the coverage you are getting. While camping out outside your house is excessive, they are trying to cover legitimate news.

And make no mistake about it -- the arrest of an elected official on bribery allegations is news.
"I am not being judged by a jury of my peers, I am being judged by the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Fox News, Channel 5 …" Turner said. "News outlets that would not cover my work as a city councilor are now knocking at my door every hour."
The reason the media doesn't cover your day job is, simply put, there is no news there. Constituent service -- when it doesn't involve allegedly taking $1,000 in cash -- is not news.

And as for the work of the Council itself? I'm hard pressed to recall when the body stood up (or stood for) anything.

But the media did cover the bogus pictures you offered as alleged proof that US soldiers raped Iraqi women. And what exactly did that have to do with your day job anyway?

There's no question you are entitled to a day in court. And the Council may have been a bit precipitous in cutting you off.

But if you want to know why you are the focus of such intense interest -- look in the mirror.

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Mr. Irrelevant

As the toll for cleaning up the messes on his watch push upward to $1.5 trillion and beyond, and Barack Obama works quietly behind the scenes to create a new government, we are left with the image of a man who doesn't know when to go away.

OK, in fairness George Bush was acting out one of his final duties by attending a ceremony at the Asian-Pacific Economic Conference, an annual summit that appears to say more about traditional national costumes than anything else.

But Bush, who has never had a good regulator between his brain and his mouth (or anywhere else for that matter), seemed to think the leaders who joined him actually cared for his thoughts on trade and the future of the world economy he has help destabilize through his deregulatory zeal.

It's downright chilling to think that another $500-$700 billion is going to be needed to dig us out of the Bush hole. At least this installment will be spent on putting people to work rather than lining the vaults of banks that still aren't doing what they are supposed to do with the federal largess.

Of course, that's only about half of what it will cost to clean up the latest mess at CitiGroup.

Barack Obama will name is economic team today -- and the sheer anticipation of competence sent the stock market soaring on Friday.

Now all we will need is for Mr. Irrelevant to quietly leave the stage and let people get on with the task of fixing his mess.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Princess Bride comes to life

When Westley and Buttercup tried to make their way through the Fire Swamp they faced three obstacles: flame spurts, lightning sand and Rodents of Unusual Size.

In the face of Buttercup's fears, Westley calmly proclaimed: "I don't think they exist."

Seconds later, a ROUS clamped onto his arm.

Personally, I'm not keen about the idea of walking a rat on a leash, no matter how much potential benefit they may bring to humanity.

I guess I'm just silly that way.

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How we got into this mess

No big surprise that the federal deficit may top $1 trillion (probably even higher if we were to factor back all the war-related spending that George Bush and the GOP Congress took off budget).

Nor is it a surprise that the Republican creed is, was and will always be no taxes, no matter what.

But it's truly rare to see it spelled out so succinctly.

Republican political consultant Spencer Kimball tells the Globe he's organizing an effort to stop the proposed Mass Pike toll hike. No problem there -- I agree.

But in highlighting the total disconnect between budget and reality that has marked GOP-onomics, Kimball says he doesn't have an answer about how to come up with the cash to pay for what the Big Dig cost:
"It's the legislators' jobs to come up with the answers to these problems," he said.
Sigh.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

No laughing matter

Chuck Turner. Dianne Wilkerson. Richard Vitale. Cognos LLC. John Rogers. Robert Spellane. Sal DiMasi. I'm having a hard time remembering the last time Massachusetts politics was awash in so many questions about unethical or illegal behavior.

The arrest of Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner on bribery and corruption charges -- coming on the heels of the arrest and subsequent resignation of Wilkerson and the continuing questions about the friends of House Speaker DiMasi -- represent the worst crisis of confidence in government since the days of the MBM scandal.

And it will require a Ward Commission-type inquiry to even begin to attempt restoring public confidence.

Now is the place for the usual caveat about innocent until proven guilty. A closer reading of the Turner affidavit (PDF) in particular raises questions about how solid the FBI case is and whether Turner was entrapped. The figurative jury is still out on the Vitale-Cognos-DiMasi nexus. Ditto for anything substantive involving Rogers and a mortgage for a Cape Cod house.

But all of these questions -- on top of former Sen. Jim Marzilli's legal problems allegedly related to bipolar disorder -- has put a cloud over City Hall and the Statehouse that won't go away anytime soon. Perception becomes reality and right now the perception is awful.

Let's start with Legislature, where the slow drip of stories about DiMasi and the financial dealings of his friends have weakened the speaker to the point where his underlings are openly jockeying to replace him despite his constant insistence he isn't going anywhere.

DiMasi has compounded the appearance problem by declining to answer Ethics Commission inquiries. While there may well be a valid legal basis to his claim, the appearance adds to the distrust. As does his claim that Massachusetts has some of the toughest ethics laws already.

Over at City Hall, the problem is the City Council is viewed as more or less a toothless joke. Limited in power by the city charter and up against a mayor with no interest in criticism (or a new job), the city is run on the force of personality -- and a lack of new ideas.

It is time for a serious new look at ethics. Not just the panel created by Gov. Deval Patrick, but something deeper.

I've been a firm believer that we do have terms limits -- known as elections. But when, in the case of the city, you have a powerful mayor with strong fund-raising skills and a neutered council, it might be time to consider some form of term limits. Ditto for legislative leaders.

The Patrick panel can also help with a proposal to give the Ethics Commission the one tool it really needs to fulfill DiMasi's contention -- subpoena power.

The silly pictures of Wilkerson and her wardrobe adjustment and Turner's overexposed alleged bribe acceptance are anything but funny. They represent deep problems that finally need to be addressed. Seriously.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Every picture tells a story

The FBI really needs to get a better photographer. The lighting really needs work.

But not enough to hide the distinctive mustache and beard of Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner accepting what they allege is a $1,000 bribe for offering his assistance in securing the same liquor license that prompted Dianne Wilkerson to undertake a wardrobe malfunction.

Turner says he is innocent.

But in what may be one of the more serendipitous moments in recent Globe history, Turner is also quoted as saying "ethics never have had a significant influence on American politics." While Turner may have a case when he is talking about the nation's willingness to condone slavery.

But we do tend to take a rather dim view of elected officials (allegedly) taking cash to perform their duties.

We'll see if a jury of his peers is into the idea of nullification.

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Slow down and think, for a change

As our elected leaders focus on the driving public and how to pay for the massive costs associated with the roads and bridges, it's becoming even more clear that our primary alternative form of transportation also has serious trouble.

Although I've been a strong advocate for a gasoline tax hike over a massive bump in tolls (one we now learn could include the Tobin Bridge too), I agree with Gov. Deval Patrick that we actually ought to take the time and, for once, develop a comprehensive package that deals with all issues. (Sorry Dan).

That's why I also like Senate President Terry Murray's idea to think about legislation putting the Turnpike toll hikes on the shelf for awhile. The bond rating agencies won't like it -- but it beats a rush to a overturn one bad decision with an incomplete one.

And it's become increasingly clear that any transportation review needs to include the MBTA. Two separate media reports in a single day about impaired or sleep-deprived operators suggest that "leadership" at T just doesn't have a handle on how it to deal with the higher passenger volume it is experiencing as a result of the gasoline price run-up.

Massachusetts has a history of quick and expensive fixes that can create more problems than they solve -- the Massachusetts Highway System that has bankrupted the Turnpike Authority or the decision to heap additional crushing debt on the MBTA come to mind.

Let's do it thoughtfully and do it right -- so we don't have to come back in another 10 years to fix it again. That means dealing with transportation in a structured way -- roads, bridges and mass transit.

What a concept.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

And this would surprise you how?

House Speaker Sal DiMasi likes the idea of a gasoline tax as being fairer than the massive toll hikes approved by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

Now there's a surprise.

My only quarrel with Barbara Anderson and the anti-tax army is that I really don't think the Turnpike Authority is smart enough or strategic enough to really have plotted this in some dark corner. Their decision was just another in a long series of missteps.

And I certainly don't agree with them when it comes to the basic issue. I've been beating that horse for years now. A massive toll increase on people who use the Big Dig the least -- MetroWest commuters -- is grossly unfair. And doubling the tunnel tolls spreads the insult to the north while leaving the south off the hook.

No one likes higher taxes -- and there is merit to the argument that you don't raise them in a recession.

But the gas tax is in large measure a user fee (and Mitt Romney would not doubt argue) because you don't pay it if you don't buy gas. If you do, a higher tax is a much fairer way to spread the cost of the construction, repair and maintenance of all roads and bridges.

And you may recall Massachusetts has a rather extensive need for maintenance and repair.

A gas tax at $2 a gallon is also a lot easier to swallow than at $4. Let's hope lawmakers do the right thing this time.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What's good for General Motors...



The auto makers met Congress yesterday and it's hard to figure out which institution is in greater disrepute.

Once upon a time "Engine" Charlie Wilson, a General Motors boss allegedly proclaimed "What's good for General Motors is good for the country" (actually it was somewhat reversed but you know how these things works).

And Lee Iacocca (I Am Chrysler Corporation of America) made his fame -- and company's fortune -- by successfully lobbying an earlier Congress for a bailout.

Yesterday, the bosses of GM, Ford and Chrysler sat before Congress with outstretched hands, looking for a piece of the cash being shoved out the Treasury hand over fist. Congress shows no inclination to go that way again.

Of course, neither does Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, which may be the best thing the automakers have going for them.

It's hard to understand the importance of the auto industry around here -- the last GM plant in Framingham packed up and left decades ago. I've driven a Toyota for years, after the Dodge I once owned taught me all sorts of nasty things about freeze plugs and I could get stuff out of the truck through the rot on the side.

But the automakers are obviously important to Michigan -- heck the whole industry is named after its largest city. And while the Detroit bosses have made some rotten decisions over the years, so have our "leaders."

I can't help but wonder if the current mess would be marginally less so if Paulson and friends had decided not to single out Lehman Brothers for failure while allowing AIG to feast on taxpayer largess.

But I also can't see a federal auto bailout without someone, finally, asking for something in return.

Detroit has made gas guzzlers for years -- and spent millions upon millions lobbying Washington not to raise fuel efficiency standards. Today they have fleets of unsold oversize SUVs and disastrous financial results.

Those decisions are related -- which means change in the way of doing business should be the price of the bailout. And a clean sweep of the executives that presided over those disastrous policies.

But the auto industry employs millions of people and they should not be cast adrift. And that's exactly what would happen if we told the auto industry to stick it. The executives with the golden parachutes would be fine. The folks who made the cars and the parts would not.

We've already spent billions bailing out the "masters of the universe" who engineered financial fraud. We ought to be able to save autoworkers from the sins of their bosses.

UPDATE: Hey, if Myth Romney, son of a auto executive says "let 'em go bankrupt" and screw the people expecting to be paid for services rendered to the Big Three, that's further reinforcement that a bailout -- with tough string attached -- is the way to go.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tim for (fill-in the blank)

Nature hates a vacuum -- and so apparently do politicians.

Here we are two weeks past the end of a two-year campaign for the White House and one ambitious Massachusetts politician is already talking -- well maybe just mumbling -- about the gubernatorial race.

And it's not Deval Patrick.

Treasurer Tim Cahill's open musings about 2010 in the face of questions from the Herald's editorial board isn't exactly flattering. While the headline declares Cahill challenged Patrick, it was hard to find the substance in the story.

Yes, he questioned the shifting the Mass. Turnpike debt to Massport as he questioned an earlier proposal. And while he utters the taxpayer friendly line about “At some point you have to pay the bills,” I haven't really seen an alternative.

We also know Cahill is against lavish spending on public school construction projects. Who isn't?

What has Cahill accomplished in his one-plus terms as treasurer? Pension reform?

But what's most striking is the way he made his point to the Herald:
“I don’t want to say either way, because I honestly don’t know,” Cahill said at a meeting with Herald reporters and editors. “It would depend on the situation that the state faces. Obviously, you’d have to believe you could do a better job, but it’s a huge uphill battle to challenge someone from your own party.”
Cahill is not so naive as to believe that his Hamlet-like response to 2010 would not make it into print. Because he really isn't all that ambivalent. If he was, a better response would have been:
"We have a lot of problems on our plate right now that require our leaders to work together. There's plenty of time for politics after we've fixed them."
So now we face the specter of a year-and-a-half of Corner Office intrigue on top of the soap opera playing out in the House -- where Robert DeLeo and John Rogers are also not waiting for a vacancy to run for a job.

I'm intrigued by a comment from a previous Cahill post suggesting that Treasurer Tim is receiving high level tutoring and grooming for the Corner Office. If that's the case, he needs to take a make-up class.

Can't some of our elected officials roll up their sleeves and try to solve our problems before they start jockeying for a new job? That's really being the boss that Cahill wants to be.

Of course all of this presupposes Patrick is being straight with us about not taking a job in the Obama administration. If not, I'll be the one in the corner washing the egg of my face.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Dianne Chronicles continue

Hey Max Stern, have you ever heard of pro bono?

Just when you thought you've heard the last twist in the soap opera that is Dianne Wilkerson's life, the soon-to-be-ex-state senator comes up with a new one.

Accused of accepting $23,500 in bribes to influence legislation, Wilkerson is claiming indigence and is asking the federal court to appoint Stern as her taxpayer-funded lawyer.

In other words, we can pay her now and pay her later.

Everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence and the right to counsel. But Wilkerson is coming awfully close to making you think about reviving the concept of a debtor's prison.

Or maybe we can take up a collection with the understanding that she doesn't come back.

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There they go again

The Washington Post's Howie Kurtz catalogs the media's effort to chronicle Obamania with a headline that is sure to re-open the "liberal media bias" argument that has been simmering a back burner since Nov. 4 after being a full boil during the last few months.

Some of the material is quadrennial tradition -- Newsweek's detailed look into both campaigns for example. Other examples reflect the fact the White House's new residents will include two little girls and a puppy. That's manna from heaven for People and its competitors.

Even the New York Post gets into the act with a BAM-A-LOT headline.

Are the media simply reporting on (and trying to financially capitalize) on what clearly appears to be a wave of emotion -- and yes, change -- or is this, as some have already suggested, just the latest manifestation of liberal media bias now that "their" guy has won?

I have two words for those who think reporters are immediately in the tank for a Democratic president: Bill Clinton.

It take a pretty short memory to forget the pitched battle between the 42nd president and the media. That battle included the "liberal" New York Times leading the way on investigations into Clinton's dealing in Arkansas and into various White House-based "gates" that came up empty until Clinton tripped over his tongue in hiding a sexual affair, not a financial one.

Liberal media bias is one of the oldest and most effective canards in the conservative playbook. Polls show reporters do tend to skew to the left, but a look at how reporters work reveals a simple truth: they are biased against authority.

Reporters love to challenge the ruling authority and poke holes in its mantle. That was clearly on display during the Clinton years. And there is little doubt in my mind that the relationship between Barack Obama and the press corps will not be as easygoing as these initial stories and books chronicling his historic win.

For starters, Obama has displayed a reluctance to engage. The news conferences became fewer and farther between during the campaign and even the casual encounters seemed tightly controlled.

The president-elect has stayed largely out of sight since his victory -- one short press conference and one 60 Minutes interview that was more revealing from a personality standpoint than from a policy one.

Tightly controlled access is the one sure fire way to get the press corps riled up and ready to go to the mattresses. It doesn't matter whether the politician is liberal or conservative.

So keep the $72 million in taxpayer dollars wasted -- and whole forests killed -- in the pursuit of Bill Clinton before you swallow the liberal media bias canard. But also keep in mind the strongest bleating on the subject is likely to come from GOP-TV, er, the Fox News Channel, whose president, Roger Ailes, cut his media teeth as a campaign advisor to Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush.

I report. You decide.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's DeLightful, it's DeLovely, It's DeLeo

The Turnpike Authority is jacking up tolls that will hit his Winthrop district hard. The state is facing a a very rough fiscal year during which many of the toughest decisions will fall on the House Ways and Means Chairman.

In the wide world, the economy is tanking. People are being laid off around the corner and around the world.

And House Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo is dropping $3,000 in campaign cash to wine and dine 60 or 70 or 80 of his nearest and dearest friends in a campaign for a job that isn't open -- at least not yet.

How utterly clueless can you be?

DeLeo and Majority Leader John Rogers are locked in a pitched battle to succeed House Speaker Sal DiMasi. The job isn't available, despite the Speaker's many legal problems and his repeated denials that he's going anywhere.

No mind. DeLeo and Rogers (who has ethics problems of his own) have been in open war to secure 81 votes throughout the legislative session that just ended. Debate over casinos, budgets, taxes and issues of substance to a back seat -- particularly during the waning hours in July.

DeLeo had the upper hand, if for no other reason that he hasn't needed to hire lawyers recently. But his tin ear performance in Worcester the other night evens up the score.

It's become pretty clear that the Legislature isn't coming back in special session to deal with tax and budget issues because DiMasi fears those will be the last things looked at.

The increasingly open warfare is eating up valuable minutes that should be focused on the people's business, not who gets to wield a gavel that increasingly has become a one-way ticket to being a defendant in court.

It's DeSgusting.

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For Whom the Pike Tolls

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has secret plan to raise the gas tax. And they unveiled it yesterday.

It will now cost west suburban commuters up to $500 a year more to use the Turnpike.

North Shore commuters could see their commuting costs jump as much as $900 a tear if they use the Sumner or Williams tunnels.

It will cost $13.85 just to park your seat inside a Boston cab at the airport before the meter starts its furious upward rise. It may be cheaper to rent a car to get to Brookline from Logan.

They will need to pay Boston traffic reporters hazardous duty pay to announce the delays on the city streets and over the Tobin Bridge. Route 9 commutes, already choked with congestion, aren't going to get better.

If you live on the South Shore though, well, have a nice day. Your trip up the nifty new I-93 through the O'Neill Tunnel and over the Zakim Bridge is courtesy of the rest of us. And if you live in Western Massachusetts, be happy this is one time Boston totally ignores you.

But there is a method to this planned madness.

The Globe notes the increases will go into place after another hearing by the Turnpike Authority in February or March. I personally would book Fenway Park as a location that could handle the crowd of angry people.

Presumably, that would be enough time for Deval Patrick and legislators to get off their, um, sidelines, and approve a comprehensive plan to tackle the transportation nightmare (hey, throw in the disaster known as the MBTA while you are at it.)

Rep. David Linsky of Natick has taken the lead in talking up the one fair solution that will pay off the Big Dig debt and fix roads and bridges in Quincy and Pittsfield -- a higher gasoline tax.

That solution was hard to stomach when gasoline topped $4 a gallon. But now that it's back down to the "reasonable" range of $2 the pain won't feel quite as bad.

And a higher gas tax isn't the only equitable solution. The technology exists today to collect tolls without putting up booths and making drivers stop. You can take some of the extra cash the comes in from the gasoline tax and create a toll collection system for the length of I-93.

And that way, the folks who benefit the most from the project that is strangling the rest of us would have to pay their fair fare too.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

One down, one to go

Better late than never, Jim Marzilli has opted to get off the public payroll.

Dianne Wilkerson, can you take a hint?

Extended middle fingers

I've been pretty lenient on Arlington's Jim Marzilli so far in the discussion of the Beacon Hill swamp that threatens to consume both the House and Senate.

Not any more.

Reports that Marzilli traveled to Germany in an official capacity to attend a conference n the environment, are well, outrageous. As is the defense from Marzilli's lawyer.
"There is absolutely no prohibition to him traveling anywhere but Lowell," his attorney, Terrence W. Kennedy, said yesterday. "He didn't use any taxpayer funds while he was there. He didn't violate any law. He didn't violate any rule. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it."
Uh, yeah there is.

Marzilli pled not guilty to charges of sexual assault, checked himself into a psychiatric hospital and has not shown up for work in months. He did not seek re-election and is under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee -- which will now need to check out how the trip was paid for.

Marzilli is claiming to be bipolar -- and his foray to a conference would seem to exemplify what can be startling shifts in mood and behavior. Conference attendees described him as "a very great speaker."

But his decision to attend an international conference -- on private funds but as a representative of a body which he essentially quit even though he's drawing a pay check -- is inexcusable and unacceptable.

The obvious fact in both his case and that of Dianne Wilkerson is that they are hanging on for the check -- and a pension bump. I'm sure the practices vary in the private sector, but I'd be curious if any company would allow someone awaiting resolution to remain on paid leave pending resolution of the charges.

I highly doubt there is any company that would allow someone to represent them in an official capacity during that time.

Senate President Therese Murray, who has also gone easier on Marzilli than Wilkerson, has changed her tune.
"I find it completely outrageous, given the circumstances of Jim Marzilli's pending Senate ethics investigation and criminal trial, that he would use his elected status in this way," she said in a statement.
Frankly, both Marzilli and Wilkerson appear likely to succeed in running out the clock. And that is appalling.

And yet another reason why the Massachusetts Legislature needs to clean up its act -- and fast.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Little ol' me got hoaxed

I must admit I was feeling pretty good when a link to one of my Joe the Plumber posts showed up on something called Martin Eisenstadt's Blog.

Wow, I thought, an aide to McCain thought that what I said about Joe the Plumber was worth linking to! I even suggested Michelle Malkin should take a look before she blames the left for something -- again.

Um, er, oops!

At least I didn't make as big a fool of myself as David Shuster.

And the band played on

There's a certain surreal quality to what's happening on Beacon Hill these days.

The governor is talking about eliminating the Turnpike Authority and jacking up tolls to pay for the Big Dig -- by putting the extra burden on people who don't use it daily.

The state is starting to feel the impact of the recession gripping the nation, with slashed budgets a reality and service cuts soon to be.

But are our legislators focusing like a laser beam on these problems? Nope. They're talking about Sal and Dianne (and Jim).

Dianne Wilkerson was caught on tape stuffing money in her bra. After first flirting with the idea of continuing her sore loser sticker campaign for her Senate seat, she promises to do the honorable thing as quickly as humanly possible.

I'd hate to see her version of slow.

Actually, that may be what is playing out in the House, where Speaker Sal DiMasi finds himself squeezed between the Ethics Commission on one side and his erstwhile loyal lieutenants on the other.

So the Legislature works on the state's yawning fiscal problems behind closed doors, because to come back into formal session and take a comprehensive stab at the problems we face would risk also shining the light on the internecine battle taking place to unseat the one-time King Sal.

And you wonder why people have a low opinion of government.

Deval Patrick, when he's not swatting off rumors that he's going to bolt for Barack, is trying to deal with the issues facing the Commonwealth. But he can't -- and shouldn't -- do it alone.

For starters, there is a big flaw in his Turnpike rescue plan, something I have flogged at endlessly. The current toll structure -- which he would leave in place for awhile -- places an unequal burden of the cost of the I-93-Ted Williams Tunnel project on the people who use the tunnel and the Mass. Pike.

The folks who use the Zakim Bridge, the O'Neill Tunnel and the rest of the new road are literally getting a free ride on the backs of those who live in MetroWest. That will not change in the Patrick -- and change it must.

That's where the Legislature comes in, to take Patrick's proposal and make it better.

But that's not happening because DiMasi is fighting a two-front war with Ethics Commission would-be loyalists Robert DeLeo, the Ways and Means chair, and John Rogers, the majority leader. They're the two guys who want to replace DiMasi -- sooner or later.

So the House remains caught up in palace intrigue -- silly rumors like DiMasi has actually been targeted by casino interests -- unable and unwilling to do what the state Constitution requires that it does, which is to initiate budget and revenue measures.

At least we know there is one issue where lawmakers will be able to drop their feuds and fights and come together. It's another Patrick initiative, designed to clean up some of the ethics mess.

The governor has charged a special group to present an ethics reform package to him in January. The concept has won the praise of the Globe editorial board, although a Metro columnist thinks the idea is stuck in the slow lane without a transponder.

Both miss a crucial piece of the puzzle though. For any reform to take effect, it will need approval of the very same Legislature at which it is aimed. And which is too busy with its own problems to worry about the broader ones facing us all.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Time Out!

Here we are, one week removed from the election and weeks before the inauguration of Barack Obama and the 2012 speculation have already begun.

Enough!

The Sarah Palin Rehabilitation Show is on the road and on the airwaves. Mike Huckabee has his own show on Fox News (can Hillary be far behind? Just kidding.) and has a book tour slated to launch in Iowa. One of Mitt Romney's top political aides says the Mittser probably won't run again -- but then again we know how he loves to change his mind.

All this brings to mind the fact that historically Republican candidates emerge from the ashes of defeat while Democrats don't believe in second chances and devour their losers.

I think they could use some role reversal right now. But as a liberal, if this is the best the GOP has to offer for 2012, I think the Obamas should get quite cozy in the White House.

Palin is now freed from the shackles of the McCain team that, with perfect 20-20 hindsight, was doing its best to shield itself from the mistake it made in failing to properly vet their vice prsidential choice.

Teaming up with GOP-TV (er, Fox), she is out to offer a hearty "so's your old man" to McCain and crew who have done some serious Palin-bashing since the tea leaves became obvious. The key to her message is that it's everyone else's fault -- McCain, the media, heck even that "anti-America" she rapped in Blue North Carolina.

Palin's concern for her reputation is understandable -- and her off-handed references to 2012 and beyond are not subtle. And in a fractured Republican Party, she is indeed the darling of a small but vocal minority -- one that also hates Romney.

But if the GOP continues to head in the direction of pandering to the Christian Right, it will soon be hlding its conventions in the same telephone booth as the Massachusetts Republican Party -- which has shriveled into nothingness thanks to those very same Christian Right zealots.

The party of Abraham Lincoln needs to conduct a serious reappraisal of who it is and what it stands for. They virtually do not exist in the Northeast -- while Democrats have started to make inroads into the South that was once solidly opposed to them.

As of now, the welcome mat has been pulled up for moderates who believe in fiscal restraint but also social policies not crafted and endorsed from pulpits.

Nor is it surprising that even with efforts to tar Barack Obama as a Muslim radical out to destroy Israel he bested John Kerry's performance among Jewish voters.

Right now, the GOP is in tatters. The base that George Bush pandered to keeps shrinking as he drove away hordes of potential voters. The candidates inching to the starting gate appeal to that dwindling base only. The other "hopefuls" down the road -- Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal for example -- are as untested as Palin.

It's hard to see a "uniter" warming up in the GOP bullpen. So we could be looking at Sarah in 2012. Or even Newt Gingrich.

We shoud all turn away now. It's too early. Not to mention it's not right to stare at the wreckage of a pile-up.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Appearance counts

House Speaker Sal DiMasi has a heck of an appearance problem on his hands.

On the same day the Speaker launches a vigorous public defense of what is becoming an increasingly embattled rule, the Globe obtains e-mails that seem to seriously undercut his argument that he had no role in awarding a software contract to a firm (with the involvement of lobbyists) which have ties to him.

Let's leave aside the question of how the Globe could obtain e-mails the Ethics Commission wants but can't get. What you have here is a picture of a politician saying one thing while apparent "evidence" suggests something entirely different.

DiMasi has long denied he had anything to do with the awarding of a contract to Cognos LLC, a Burlington-based software company who retained people with ties to the Speaker as they pursued the pact. The e-mail exchanges in which his name is mentioned on several occasions suggest that while he may not have played a direct role, his presence was clearly felt.

The Globe acknowledges a crucial fact:
While a batch of Department of Education e-mails obtained by the Globe fall short of saying that DiMasi specifically pushed for the controversial Cognos contract, they do indicate a level of involvement that the speaker has never publicly acknowledged.
While I'm not a lawyer, I think the distinction is only marginally significant under state ethics laws, which forbid both a conflict-of-interest and an appearance of a conflict-of-interest.

And boy things really don't appear too good -- particularly in light of the e-mails.

DiMasi could help clear things up in a heartbeat if he provided the commission with the documents it has subpoenaed. But he has only compounded the appearance problem by citing the state constitution as protecting those materials from disclosure.

North Adams Democrat Dan Bosley offered a spirited defense of DiMasi's position here a few days ago, acknowledging that there are both legal and public relations issues involved here.
Elected officials never win the public relations battle because the idea that something is wrong has already been planted. We know this and realize that we lose the perception issue because it can not be the main element when trying to decide the correct public policy.
But Bosley makes the argument that what is said in the creation of policy deserves protection because the potential for disclosure who limit the freedom of people to offer frank advice.
Once we start to waive that public protection, we can't then use it on other occasions. It doesn't apply to one company or conversation, but to all of our deliberations in our offices or with our colleagues.
And he raises the question of the use of leaks to push for compliance.
While we obviously take our ethics laws very seriously, there are apparently those in the Ethics Commission that are less than rigorous in following their own laws. These deliberations are supposed to be private in order to protect all parties until there is a final decision in these cases.
But in this case the leaks are from the agency that is a party to the investigation, not the investigators.

DiMasi is in a major league bind. While I would give a layman's assent to the idea that public officials need some form of protection in order to frankly discuss policy issues, I see a huge PR nightmare, particularly now with the e-mails.

The problem is enveloping DiMasi's House colleagues, who face endless jockeying between Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo and Majority Leader John Rogers (not without his own appearance problems) over who will succeed him if the problems prove insurmountable.

But the ultimate losers here are you and me, the taxpayers. Massachusetts is facing major league budget and revenue problems. We deserve the undivided attention of our elected officials.

Gov. Deval Patrick has repeatedly addressed the rumors that he plans to slip out for a job in the Obama administration. DiMasi needs to do something to address the rumors and innuendo swirling around him.

Bosley is correct that public officials can't really reclaim their reputations, once tarnished. But it seems DiMasi isn't helping his own cause.

And unless he does, this growing mess is only going to hamper state efforts to cope with the downturn and heap even more mud on his name.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

The September Surprise

I know I'm confused about the size of that financial bailout package. I've heard the number as $700 billion or $750 billion. And that's without throwing in the "sweeteners" like the tax break for the makers of arrow heads.

Nor, apparently, does it include a $140 billion tax breaks for banks, quietly snuck into the mix when no one was paying attention.

Where is the line for my tax break?

I wish I could say this will be the worst example of the types of mischief the Bush administration will create as it limps out the door. My ultimate fear of course is the imperial president will decided the country really needs him and the Constitution provides unchecked authority for a wartime president.

But this stunt comes awfully close. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was apparently so concerned that banks would balk at taking the billions being thrown at their feet to undo the mess they got themselves into that he felt it necessary to toss in another goodie for the survivors.
The change to Section 382 of the tax code -- a provision that limited a kind of tax shelter arising in corporate mergers -- came after a two-decade effort by conservative economists and Republican administration officials to eliminate or overhaul the law, which is so little-known that even influential tax experts sometimes draw a blank at its mention. Until the financial meltdown, its opponents thought it would be nearly impossible to revamp the section because this would look like a corporate giveaway, according to lobbyists.
The deed was apparently done like most Bush administration bombshells: a five-sentence statement issued without any debate, least of all in Congress, to unilaterally overturn a long-standing law.

Did they have the legal right to do this? Who cares? It's the Bush administration.

We're counting the days to the end of our long national nightmare.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Of Mutts and Men

Looking for a sign abut the real Barack Obama? This comment -- in response to the pressing question of how he will fulfill the most pressing campaign promise of all, getting a dog for his girls -- says a lot.
"Obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me."
Labeled a socialist, a pal of terrorists, inexperienced and a whole host of other things, the soon-to-be 44th President of the United States dropped a large hint about the man behind the cool, calm exterior.

And that is he is very much aware of who he is and how comfortable he is in his own biracial skin. That alone promises a major change from the last two men who sat in the Oval Office.

Barack Obama won't feel the need to prove his is the smartest kid in the class. Nor will he feel the need to step out of anybody's shadow.

That's real change.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

"I am not a crook"

It's a variation on the argument that Richard Nixon made to conceal the Watergate tapes and that George Bush has used to avoid talking about waterboarding. It's not something that inspires great confidence when it's used to avoid a subpoena for official records.

House Speaker Sal DiMasi may believe he is standing up for a deep-seated constitutional principle when he invokes legislative immunity in his refusal to comply with an Ethics Commission probe into relating to payments received by Richard Vitale and other associates from Cognos ULC, a Burlington software company that won multimillion-dollar state contracts.

But to the public, DiMasi is performing an act similar to those public officials facing questions about the legality of their actions. Since executive privilege isn't available, legislative immunity seems like a good fall back.

The concept is similar -- and enshrined in Article 21 of the Massachusetts Constitution:
"The freedom of deliberation, speech and debate, in either house of the Legislature, is so essential to the rights of the people, that it cannot be the foundation of any accusation or prosecution, action, or complaint, in any other court or place whatsoever."
There is also a clause in the U.S. Constitution that bars prosecutors or others from obtaining those sort of papers. That is being used by indicted congressmen Rick Renzi of Arizona and William Jefferson of Louisiana.

I'm not a lawyer, so I have no standing to speak on the merits of the legal argument. People with that degree, such as civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate, do see the merits.
"This has been very well respected privilege for centuries," he said. "It dates back to the English common law days. These battles are not new."
But if I were offering political or public relations advice to a politician, I would strongly argue against it. Trying to protect your papers from review in an ethics probe only creates the impression that you have something to hide.

Maybe DiMasi and his House counsel are trying to work out a compromise -- to give the commission what it needs without bending to a legal demand. That would certainly be my advice.

Voluntary compliance looks a whole lot better than appearing to stonewall over a principle, even one apparently ground in common law.

Especially when it puts you in the company of Richard Nixon and William Jefferson.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

To the victor goes the spoiled

Now that the joy of the Obama victory -- and being on the winning side of every vote I cast, a first for me -- has passed, it's time for some reflections on what those victors have to look forward.
  • An argument can be made that Barack Obama has won the booby prize: a recession, two wars and a nation that has been at each other's throats for a generation. He will need every ounce of the skills he displayed as an orator in winning over -- or at least neutralizing -- the forces that still want him to prove his citizenship;
  • Massachusetts still has an income tax -- and still has deep problems that won't be solved by a tax increase. That means there are some very deep, very ugly cuts coming in services that people care about. Add to the fact that declining property values and upcoming local appraisals and revaluations mean local budgets are going to take another hit. People will be hurt.
  • Some victors ought to finish what they start. John Kerry is high on lots of lists as the next secretary of state in the Obama administration. If we were to take a different Washington job, he would open the floodgates for ambitious Massachusetts politicians looking to advance. But the somber fact is the other Massachusetts Senate seat will likely open before 2010 and this state needs someone with seniority in the upper chamber. Kerry bolting now would simply prove conclusively every doubt everyone has ever expressed about him.
  • Maybe I'm a fool, but I believe Deval Patrick when he says, repeatedly, that he wants to stay and run for a second term. He is facing at home what Obama will face in D.C. -- including the disappointment that comes from changing realities that will keep promises from being kept. He has a two-year head start and his best service would be lighting the path for his friend and fellow David Axelrod client.
  • Speaking of fools, Dianne Wilkerson, you need to learn how to pay attention. The Massachusetts Senate wants you gone. Sonia Chang-Diaz took 92 percent of the vote. Clearing out your office would probably require a bulldozer. Hanging on for a $1,400 weekly pay check and another year of retirement is just more of the same old, same old and it is unacceptable. Besides, you'll probably lose the pension after your stay in Club Fed.
  • There are fools -- and then there are fools. Republicans both nationally and in Massachusetts need to get a grip. The national party should be named in the European tradition -- the Christian Republican Party. It is not the media's fault you lost. You put up candidates out of touch with the mainstream to defend an indefensible record over the last 14 years (starting with the Gingrich Revolution on through the Senate Filibuster Years).
  • At least Massachusetts Republicans will have more room in the phone booth that serves as party headquarters. When you put up 82 candidates to stand for 200 legislative seats, you have a problem that goes far deeper than the corruption of a handful of Democrats. Barney Keller certainly learned the gift of hyperbole from his dad. Hey Jon, correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you a boomer?
But on the bright side. It is a new day, with new hopes. The world may well stop hating us. I've always been proud to be an American -- but it hasn't been easy recently. Pride is the ultimate message from this election. We did the right thing, we will turn the page and move forward.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes we did!

Forty-four years ago, a senator from Arizona lost an election -- but ushered in a new political era.

Tonight, another senator from Arizona lost an election and may have ushered in a new era too.

There are not enough superlatives to describe President-elect Barack Obama's victory. There is the obvious -- the first African-American to ever be elected to the nation's highest office -- 43 years after a Democratic Congress and President Lyndon Johnson engineered the Voting Rights Act that ensured African-Americans could actually vote.

Johnson -- who had overwhelmingly defeated Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater -- proclaimed that by his actions Democrats would have lost the South for a generation. Well make that two. And despite some cracks in the solid South, today's results suggest there are still issues.

The same holds true for the "heartland" -- the swath of red states that encompasses the nation's bread basket.

But the fact that Obama was able to pick off some of those states -- Virginia at the moment with the potential for more -- speaks to his potential to rewrite the rules and change the vicious tone that has marked far too much of the "conservative" rule.

The repudiation of George Walker Bush -- a faux conservative who thought swagger translated into authority -- should send thoughtful Americans of all political persuasions into thoughtful conversations about how we can work together instead of fight apart.

Obama has the tools to help us make this transition. It will not be an easy task -- the sniping of The Dittoheads will begin almost immediately.

But the future of this nation requires us to shun the noxious message they have peddled for too long.

I am not willing to give up my beliefs after enduring the sneers offered for people who think like that. But I'm willing to reach across the divide and try to heal the wounds. Join me.

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Nasty, brutish -- and long

Well, Thomas Hobbes got two out of three right.

After a seeming eternity and a race that covered the landscape of triviality from cleavage to Joe the Plumber, we've arrived at the pivotal moment. What David Axelrod and Steve Schmidt say and do is no longer central.

We've seen charges of extreme media bias and extreme political beliefs. We've seen the war in Iraq move from center stage to the wings while an economic mess of staggering proportions is threatening to eat up the rest of the wealth that Iraq has not.

This campaign has ranged from the audacity of hope to sheer audacity as it traveled a literal and figurative bridge to nowhere. We've seen the 21st century version of the worst 1950s political epithet hurled while the target who took it with a form of pan coating the once applied to the GOP hero of the 1980s.

And we've seen a man who once stuck to his principles, no matter what, fall victim to the handlers and manipulators who think fear and smear are the key to the White House. A man who as is first decision upon receiving the GOP nomination, selected one of the least qualified people to serve as his No. 2 and who, bereft of ideas for solving the economic mess, joined her in launching a campaign of innuendo, half truths and lies.

As a liberal, I am fearful of the polls. I've lived through 2000 and 2004. I've had precious few Election Night celebrations.

But as I go out and cast my ballot today, I do have a glimmer of hope that, at long last, our long national nightmare of George Bush is almost over and the sun may be peeking through the clouds.

No matter what else you do today -- VOTE!

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Something to hide Mr. Speaker?

This is not the sort of pre-Election Day headline most elected officials would want, even those running unopposed.

And a headline like this, coming less than one week after Sen. Dianne Wilkerson was arrested for allegedly taking bribes for her conduct of state business, is not the sort of association anyone wants the public to make.

Yet that is exactly where we are with the Globe report that House Speaker Sal DiMasi is refusing a state Ethics Commission summons for documents that may be relevant to its inquiry into the dealings of former DiMasi accountant Richard Vitale.

You recall Vitale -- 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.

The same Vitale who apparently offered counsel (as opposed to lobbying services) for the Massachusetts Association of Ticket Brokers.

Secretary of State Bill Galvin turned Vitale's case over to the Attoney General's office -- and the Ethics Commission is apparently looking at DiMasi.

I say apparently because all proceedings before the commission are private -- including any acknowledgment of what they are doing.

But the Globe picked up the scent of a legal paper trail when commission lawyers went to court last month to force him to comply. Someone noticed the papers filed with DiMasi's name -- before it was changed to John Doe -- and dropped a dime.

Vitale's attorneys have also been busy trying to quash a grand jury subpoena for e-mail records.

I'm all in favor of confidentiality in the investigation of unproven allegations and certainly ascribe to the innocent until proven guilty tradition that is part of American law. And I would be the first to say that politicians are often held to different standards than the rest of us.

Because when it comes to how they conduct the public's business, they ought to be held to tough standards.

The circumstantial evidence surrounding DiMasi, Vitale and the software manufacturer Cognos is not pretty and needs to be properly sorted out. But that can't happen when principals decline to provide the material investigators say they need to do their job.

A judge has already rejected Vitale's request to quash the subpoena. We don't know the outcome of the DiMasi efforts. But we can certainly agree with the anonymous DiMasi ally who told the Globe:
"I do believe it will raise questions among the members about why he isn't cooperating."
A double standard on American jurisprudence? Perhaps. But a case can be made that when we elect people to do the public's work we have a right to know what is going on.

That doesn't mean that damaging allegations can't be investigated outside the public spotlight. But it does mean that nothing can be hidden from those investigators who in turn have an obligation to maintain confidentiality until there work is done.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dusting for fingerprints

Yesterday I speculated the Auntie-Gate was indeed the October Surprise, but that so far no suggestions had surfaced that John McCain and his supporters had a role.

Well, I didn't dig deep enough. (Hat tip to Dan Kennedy too.)

There is still no direct connection to McCain, but as the AP notes:
Information about the deportation case was disclosed and confirmed by two separate sources, one a federal law enforcement official. The information they made available is known to officials in the federal government, but the AP could not establish whether anyone at a political level in the Bush administration or in the McCain campaign had been involved in its release.
Not to worry though. The one-time crackerjack fear and smear machine stepped on its own message.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

October Surprise (II)

Anyone who thinks the last-minute revelations about Barack Obama's half-aunt and her immigration status is not a well-planned, last-minute dirty trick, raise your hand.

I bet you believe in Santa Claus too (although I did see a gent in red with a white beard get on waiting for a bus last night).

My immediate reaction? How low can you go to drag a 56-year-old woman into an international spotlight and destroy her quiet existence in the effort to sway an election? Is this what Republican family values is all about?

The Obama campaign has gone into a quick defensive posture, acknowledging he had spoken to her several times since meeting her in Kenya -- and even inviting her to see him sworn in as a senator.

They have also quickly declared their intention to return the $260 in campaign contributions and to say that while they did not know she was in the country illegally, they believe immigration laws must be followed.

Textbook damage control efforts in the final hours of the campaign.

There can now be little doubt this was The October Surprise. The tip about her living in a South Boston housing development was leaked to a British newspaper, timed to come out in the final week of the campaign. No point giving it to the "ultra-liberal" Boston Globe or even the Boston Herald, now suspect in conservative eyes.

The dime-dropper (does any phone really cost only 10 cents anymore) undoubtedly also knew about her immigration status too.

The Rabid Right is already clawing back in blogs and in newspaper comment sections. The folks who have peddled in smears about where Obama was born, where he attended school, what his religious faith think this is the magic bullet to destroy him.

All they have succeeded in doing is destroy a 56-year-old woman, a bystander in this drive-by smear.

I agree -- if she overstayed her visa and is in the country illegally, she must face the consequences. But I cringe at the depth of the hatred involved in McCain partisans (and to this point there is no evidence McCain himself is aware of this) to play this gutter move.

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What a mess

While ending a campaign is not the same thing as leaving office (in disgrace), Dianne Wilkerson has taken an important step in recognizing the problems she has -- and the ones she has caused.

But as Paul McMorrow points out, the Wilkerson fiasco finally brings into perspective the broader problems awash on Beacon Hill. Until she got caught on tape stuffing her campaign chest, no one really put together all the ill tidings on Beacon Hill into one smelly mess.

I've spent a lot of time on the friends of Sal DiMasi, less on the underground battle to replace him that has involved budget deals from Bob DeLeo and hazy real estate deals focusing on John Rogers. I was going to say I totally ignore Jim Marzilli, but that is not quite true.

Put it all together and it really does smell foul.

Deval Patrick (the Cadillac, furniture and drapes were more tin political ear than sleaze, but must be mentioned) has take an a symbolic step to correcting the mess -- creating a special panel with noted clean government types Scott Harshbarger and Pam Wilmot to find ways to shore up the ethics front.

But Patrick's move may be more representative of an improved political ear than a way to clean up the swamp. After all, anything the panel does would need to be approved by, wait for it, the Massachusetts Legislature.

And this is a body that doesn't feel the need to include itself under such good government efforts such as the Open Meeting Law. Not to mention it was the body that did away with the Clean Elections Law approved by the voters.

The looming financial problems facing this state -- and the expected disappearance of Wilkerson and Marzilli -- will take the spotlight off. But it won't end the problems.

Not unless the organization that is part of the problem is willing to be part of the solution.

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