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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

No excuses?

The right wing talking points writers have been hard at work today, declaring Democrats no longer have any excuses for doing what they want -- and by implication rolling over poor conservatives -- now that Al Franken has finally been declared the winner of the Minnesota Senate seat.

Spin again. Does anyone remember the words of Will Rogers, offered almost 80 years ago?
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
From Blue Dogs of the South to the solid blue Northeast, Democrats have exhibited a diversity of thought and opinion that Republicans have successfully quashed. In what party would a man once destined to be the Obama administration health czar leave the reservation when left to his own?

Yet we've seen this specious analysis from my friends on the left, citing the flip of Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, as another sign of Democratic lockstep success.

Arlen Specter? Lockstep?

Efforts by either the right or the left to say 60 equals victory either haven't paid attention to history -- or are too busy playing politics. The concept is a set-up. That's something I expect from the Party of No. But I sure as heck don't want to see same blinders being applied from the left.

By the way, congratulations Senator Franken.

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Ugly reality

Give Deval Patrick credit for not dodging the question. But I can't see gasoline taxes going up anytime soon.

The ugly reality of the state's fiscal 2010 budget is higher sales, meals and assorted other levies is there are insufficient funds for finding permanent solutions to the state's transportation problems. There won't be a massive hike in Mass. Pike tolls tomorrow but as a CharlieCard holder, I expect to see my costs jumping in the not-so-distant future.

And while the Turnpike Authority will soon disappear, problems it left behind in the form of financial nightmare caused by one of the unfathomable credit deals cooked up by Wall Street and which helped to bring the economy down are about to bite us hard.

The unpopular 19-cent a gallon gas tax preferred by Patrick never a had a chance in the Legislature. We can speculate why to a fare-the-well -- gasoline prices as a political third rail perhaps. And it would have been targeted to only one area of the state budget -- as desperately as it was needed.

The sales tax hike conceived by the Legislature will be equally unpopular when the full impact is felt (I know I'm going to complete a long-delayed major purchase before it kicks in). It offers smaller relief in a lot of other areas in addition to transportation but it will literally feel like we are being nickeled and dimed.

None of the state's problems are going to disappear until the national economy rights itself. And that's not going to happen anytime soon. That means we're looking at Band-aid solutions in many areas. Like the MBTA.

Solving the turnpike equity problem was important. But can anyone tell me that the fix is permanent as long as the massive Big Dig debt works its may slowly through our system like a rat through a snake?

And we've not even scratched the surface of the massive debt and service problems on the T.

So give Patrick credit for being honest enough to say this massive tax hike and spending cut package is only a start on the solution. But don't expect any more good answers anytime soon.

Happy Fiscal New Year!

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Ain't Mitts-behavin'

Warning: Republicans are heading for a major crackup. The Piety Police appear intent on holding the reins which means the last man standing in 2012 may just well be -- our (former) Man Mitt.

And the one-time Massachusetts resident is doing all he can to attain the top spot, becoming a regular fixture on the Sunday yak shows, offering his bon mots on what Right-thinking people should be thinking.

Romney -- who swooped in from Utah to take out Jane Swift before winning the Corner Office, abandoning both it and Massachusetts for the national stage -- is a firm believer that governors need to "live by a higher standard."

I guess that applies only to personal life and not the oath of office. And certainly not to raw ambition.

Of course there's a problem that dares not speak its name if he hopes to achieve the GOP nomination in 2012. No, not that. Rather it's that pesky little problem that the Piety Police have issues with his religion.

Forget the polls. As long as the GOP remains in the thrall of the Piety Police, Romney will have a hard time closing the deal -- no matter how self-righteously he portrays himself.

Or how frequently he changes residences to secure a shot at electoral votes.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cap and trade -- politicans

Here's a short and simple solution to the air pollution problem: cap and trade the words of politicians who spew on endless about taxes without considering -- or even denying -- the real impact of pollution on the world's climate.

I hereby bestow the first cap on House Republican Leader John Boehner, who it was reported, spent more than an hour bloviating by reading an amendment.

I still think the best way out of just about all of our financial problems as a state and a state is the imposition of a blustering and dithering tax on legislators.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Whole new meaning to "stimulus" funding

So Mark Sanford, that staunch defender of the family values and taxpayers used a public-financed trip to Argentina to visit lover?

I guess I now understand why he was against taking federal stimulus dollars this year. He already got his.

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Hope they're not spending bailout money

I have the perfect solution for Wall Street's reported desire to clean up its image against "populist" backlash. Persuade Oliver Stone to rewrite the script for Wall Street 2 so that someone knocks off Gordon Gekko.

Bloomberg News reports the same folks who advised former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (you know the guy who wanted to spend $700 billion of our cash with no oversight) are now looking to drop about $85,000 a month to tell us that Wall Street and Main Street really aren't so different.

Except no one on Main Street would pay that kind of tough to peddle this sort of pablum:
“It is imperative that in this historic period of reform, the industry be recognized as playing a positive role in seeking change and providing solutions to the problems we face,’’ one document said. “There is currently widespread skepticism about the industry’s commitment to this needed change.’’
And if you believe that (other than the widespread skepticism part), I have this credit debt obligation I sell you for a song.

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"It wasn't him. It's us."

I have a question for Wrentham Republican state Sen. Scott Brown in his declaration of pique over Gov. Deval Patrick laying claim to action on ethics, transportation and pension reform:

“He’s going to have a press conference saying how he’s done all this wonderful work,’’ Brown said on the Senate floor before yesterday’s event. “It wasn’t him. It’s us.’’
By "us" do you mean former Speaker Sal DiMasi and former Sens. Dianne Wilkerson and Jim Marzilli? Or do you mean the miniscule band of Republicans in the House and Senate that can't even force a quorum call?

There's little doubt the passage of three landmark pieces of legislation was a strong collaborative act between the legislative and executive branches. The governor proposes and the legislature disposes, after all.

But the Great and General Court has been in a disposing mood (as is trash removal) for far too long -- the result of four consecutive Republican governors who did not have the will to stand up to lawmakers who hold an overwhelming majority over the figurehead leader.

Deval Patrick -- for all his gaffes and missteps -- stood up for what he wanted. And as the signs placed on easels at his made-for TV press conference show -- he intends to remind voters that he got it too.

Of course he could have better timing that trying to compete with the death of one of Charlie's Angels and the King of Pop.

You have to be slightly delusional not to acknowledge the rather large shadows of DiMasi and Wilkerson in all of this. Questioning the wisdom of a Cadillac over an SUV or how to refurbish an historic office fail in comparison to the accusation -- and image -- of elected officials taking cash.

Or trying to grab a larger pension after resigning from office because you've been accused of groping people in public places.

I would not disagree with Republicans who suggest that a few more of them in elected office might make a difference too. If only they would do more than talk about -- for more than 20 years -- and actually try to find some competent candidates to challenge Democrats who just hiked the sales tax by 25 percent.

Patrick is definitely gearing up to run in 2010 as the man who has brought about change. The ethics and pension pieces would never have happened without the pressure he brought to bear after the recent cases of lawmakers behaving badly. Transportation had reached such a crisis that something inevitably would have happened.

There's a lot of time between now and next November and Deval Patrick has shown time and again he has the ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But he has a triple crown of reform to boast about now -- and a seemingly fractured field of potential challengers.

Hope he saved one of those cigars he sent to Speaker Robert DeLeo. It may never be as enjoyable as it would be today.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thanks Timmie

It seems Treasurer Tim has been spending so much time telling everyone else how to do their jobs, he's neglected to do his own.

The new state budget already has a $25 million hole in it, thanks to Cahill, who failed to tell lawmakers that an agreement to bring Massachusetts in the Powerball lottery failed to materialize. The Herald has the luscious details, including the fact that Cahill was alerted to the fact that Massachusetts was banned from party -- on May 27.
"Once that was not approved we should have been called the very next day,” said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven C. Panagiotakos (D-Lowell). “It makes things more difficult. We’ll have to find cuts to make up the difference.”
Treasurer Tim was upfront, as usual.
“It was a mistake not to let them know it wasn’t approved,” said Cahill last night. “But they shouldn’t have put any of that money in the budget. That was their mistake.”
Yeah, it is a huge mistake to take anything coming from the treasurer's office as accurate. Just look at his track record.

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Golden Domeology

Back in the old days, academics made careers out of watching who lined up with the Soviet leaders during military parades and funerals. Kreminology turned out to be a dead end business.

These days, the next best thing may be Golden Domeology -- reading the signs and symbols among our less than happy family of Statehouse leaders.

While it's hard to say at first blush whether the ethics reform package reported out of conference committee yesterday will be the key to restoring legislative peace between Gov. Deval Patrick and lawmakers, it's clear cordial personal relations are a long way off.

And that may be what both sides want.

The governor's silence on the ethics bill is logical in one key respect: lawmakers didn't bother to share the details with him until the last minute, a clear cut slap. And the parades of personages parading from Senate President Therese Murray's office -- including Attorney General Martha Coakley and officials from the State Ethics Commission and the Office of Campaign and Political Finance -- was also designed to send a message to Patrick.

You better get on board because this ship is sailing whether you like it or not.

But if you dig just a little bit under the surface, it's not to hard to figure out what happened here. The parade was the Senate President's face-saving opportunity in light of the fact Patrick has won a major spitting contest: he challenged lawmakers to pass pension, transportation and ethics reform before he approves a sales tax. And they did.

Murray needed the face-saving opportunity because the Senate version of the reform bill was an out-and-out joke. It weakened the ethics commission rather than strengthening it. And while the final version doesn't give the commission the subpoena powers Patrick wanted, they do have more authority than when this all started.

So Murray gets her face time with other leaders in the ethics push while giving Patrick the back of her hand. And a bill that continues to allow lobbyists to donate campaign cash while closing a loophole Patrick found and exploited. Score One for Terry.

Patrick gets to sign the pension, transportation and ethics bills as well as a budget that contains a veto-proof sales tax and have cameras rolling for his campaign commercials about how he stood up to the Legislature and won. Score One for Deval.

Taxpayers get long overdue pension, ethics and transportation reform. They also get slapped with a 1.25 percent increase in the sales tax but also a chance to prevent even deeper cuts in local aid, education, social services and public safety. Score 1.75 for us.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Take a hike governor

Well, we have a new euphemism for adultery (and hypocrisy) these days: hiking the Appalachian Trial.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has become the latest holier-than-though Republican to not practice what he preaches for others, breaking at least two of the 10 Commandments in his tryst with an Argentine lover.

Between Sanford and Nevada Sen. John Ensign the Republicans have either locked up the philandering infidelity vote or seriously crippled an already weak presidential field. But hey, Sarah Palin is still around.

And the GOP has already crafted their message: Do as I say, not as I do.

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Back seat Timmie

You all know it: that obnoxious commercial where a little kid plays virtual dodge ball with his images until all that's left is a dorky looking "Spaghetti Jimmy" to ask "what's in your wawwet?"

Well Spaghetti Jimmy, meet Back Seat Timmie. And welcome to the official kickoff of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

Yes indeed, our beloved Treasurer Tim Cahill is at it again, telling us what's wrong with the Commonwealth. Not how to fix it mind you, just what's wrong.

In a meeting with Globe editors, Cahill says tell us that he would make deep cuts in health care and education to spare taxpayers $1 billion in new taxes.

Of course in typical Cahill fashion, he fails to tell us where he would make specifics cuts, what the impact would be and what alternatives he would offer to pay for people using expensive emergency rooms for care or dropping out of school without the skills needed to find a good job.

Or maybe the Globe editors simply forgot to ask?

The two faces of Timmie have many folds, too many to repeat here. So just a quick sampler. He was opposed to "Taj Mahal" schools, the life sciences bill and the Turnpike Authority. He was for pension reform before dropping the ball, a major oopsie since as treasurer he is the head of the state retirement system.

If empty words could pay the bills, Massachusetts would be running at a surplus thanks to Treasurer Tim, who accuses Patrick and legislative backers of health care of playing politics. Yep, sure has helped Mitt Romney and Sal DiMasi all right.
“Everyone wanted it to pass, to get it on their resume,’’ Cahill said of the state’s 2006 healthcare law. “Nobody asked the tough questions. It was expensive, even in good times. In tough times . . . it just doesn’t seem doable.’’
Is it overkill to note that "nobody" includes the state treasurer?

I do see one area where Deval Patrick may be overspending though. His campaign is shelling out $7,800 for opposition research. Heck, all the need to do is subscribe to an RSS feed of this blog.

Hey Timmie, what's in your wallet?

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Playing games over ethics reform

It's June 23rd -- do you know where your ethics reform law is?

I'm beginning to think I misunderestimated, to quote George W. Bush, the Massachusetts Legislature in its pettiness when I suggested I didn't think they were Machiavellian enough to hold up ethics reform long enough to force Gov. Deval Patrick's hand on the sales tax increase.

Patrick certainly made his feelings known over the weekend when he repeated his insistence that lawmakers present him pension, transportation and ethics reform before he signs off on a sales tax rather than his preferred solution, the gasoline tax.

Patrick received the budget calling for a 6.25 percent sales tax from lawmakers on Friday and has 10 days to act. That followed receipt of pension and transportation bills that are also under review and awaiting signature.

But where's the ethics bill? The Statehouse News Service reported that it could emerge on Wednesday -- at the earliest. That would put us halfway through the window for action, a not insurmountable barrier but something that could keep the lights in the Corner Office burning even later than they are now.

But more to the point: is this a legitimate effort to craft the best bill imaginable or is it a cheap political stunt? Given the Senate version of the measure -- which gutted the Ethics Commission and overloaded an already burdened agency -- pardon me for being suspicious.

Lawmakers are fuming that Patrick won't roll over and that he has targeted them as the opponent in the next gubernatorial election. The concept of co-equal branches seems alien to them after decades where the Legislature has run roughshod over uninterested governors.

But the nasty little secret is that lawmakers do not hold all the cards (no casino pun intended). They make a nice inviting target -- what with the DiMasi and Wilkerson indictments and the Marzilli embarrassment. Those allegations of illegal behavior put Caddygate to shame.

Legislative leaders would be making a huge mistake if they opted to play political hardball over ethics reform. Far too many voters already feel they can't reform something they don't have. Holding the budget hostage to settle a political score would only prove it.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

"He did it. So what?"

The lawyers representing Sal DiMasi, Richard Vitale and two other defendants appear to working on a rather unique defense in against the federal charges they deprived Massachusetts residents of their "honest services" by allegedly transferring $57,000 from Cognos ULC to the former House speaker.

Ignore the facts and attack the law under which the charges were brought. After all, the same tactic succeeded in getting the state Ethics Commission to to drop its lawsuit against DiMasi in its examination of the relationship among the speaker, Vitale and the Massachusetts Ticket Brokers.

But the focus on the law and not on the facts -- something defendants generally try to rebut -- can't help but raise questions in the public's mind about the accuracy of the facts.

The also appears to have a pretty good track record snagging politicians and lobbyists who stray from the straight and narrow: Connecticut governor John G. Rowland, disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff; and Canadian-born media baron Conrad Black.

Waiting in the wings to try it out in Massachusetts is former state senator Dianne Wilkerson, who also produced a state Ethics Commission opinion proclaiming at least one of her gifts, for $10,000 was legal.

Maybe I'm reading too much into words by Martin Weinberg, Vitale's attorney, that in effect say "He did it. So what."
“There was no pattern of gifts to the speaker that caused him to deviate from honest services, there was no concealment that was illegal.’’
Parsing that sentence is key: Are the most important words "no pattern of gifts" or "caused him to deviate" or "no concealment that was illegal."

Folks who loved Bill Clinton's "it all depends on the meaning of the word is" defense will enjoy spending hours on this one.

Personally, I would rather hear the facts of the case and not a challenge to the efficacy of the law. Maybe it's just good lawyers earning their keep. But maybe it's just trying to change the subject when the facts aren't on your side.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Here, there and everywhere

Bits and pieces of my brain seeping out. Is it the wet weather rot?
  • Just caught up with a Tom Doyle "Townie Tune" on WROR-FM: "I'm so Indicted," sung by the simulated stylings of Sal DiMasi. Priceless.
  • Query to all those folks irate over the tax hikes contained in the state's new budget: who do you think pays for schools, public safety and the ability to get frustrated at the Registry? The tooth fairy?
  • Another reason the New York Times needs to exit Boston fast. Even when they try to write a thoughtful piece -- about the plight of triple-deckers -- they screw up with gross generalizations. "Dorchester, a tough neighborhood of Boston." Maybe at 135 Morrissey Boulevard?

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Friday, June 19, 2009

No Christmas goodies in this budget

If you are looking for an Enchanted Village -- head to Jordan's Furniture. You won't find anything quaint and charming in the fiscal 2010 state budget -- unless you are looking for a retro period piece penned by Charles Dickens.

Higher taxes (the jump in the meals tax being the unpleasant surprise); a 15 percent cut in local aid; the elimination of 50 line items and 500 local projects. Hopefully lawmakers will have more detail than that when they vote on it later today.

Of the approximately $900 million in new revenues, about one-third will pay for transportation -- and expected increases in Mass. Pike tolls and MBTA fares.

Conventional wisdom suggests there is enough in the transportation package to meets Gov. Deval Patrick's reform demands:
“You have lots of language allowing you to do lots of great things,’’ said Stephen J. Silveira, a lobbyist who led an influential commission that released a major report on the state’s transportation crisis two years ago.
Patrick himself was keeping his powder dry:
When approached later by a reporter on a State House elevator, Patrick said with a laugh, “What part of no comment do you not understand?’’
The political chess pieces are moving with deliberative speed here. Patrick has now seen two of the three bills he demanded before he would consider the sales tax increase. Pension reform, at least the initial version, was a home run. He had lukewarm praise for the transportation items.
"The bill, on first review, contains a lot of the efficiencies and the changes that we were looking for."
The great unknown is the last leg of the reform stool -- ethics. And the clock will be running as soon as lawmakers approve the budget today (after no one gets a chance to read the details). Patrick will then have 10 days to sign the plan and veto sections he objects to (although you can rest assured the budget will pass by a veto-proof margin).

The Machiavellis among us might suggest that lawmakers will hold the ethics bill long enough that Patrick will have to commit on the sales tax before the full picture comes into play. Politics -- and the governor's moves to set a 2010 re-election campaign against the Legislature -- will no doubt be on the minds of a public officials. Or so the thinking will go.

I'm at least a bit skeptical about that. The Legislature is not under pressure just because Patrick is annoyed with them. The public is none too amused over a body that, until recently, produced more indictments and criminal charges than law. A watered down ethics bill will hurt them more than the governor.

And lawmakers have shown some true courage in the two most recent bills: the budget contains deep cuts for the Quinn bill, sure to infuriate police unions. And labor in general is fuming over the transportation bill they say would "eviscerate the rights of workers to collectively bargain."

The political calculus is tough. Republican strength in the Senate is that of a starting basketball team -- with no bench. The House GOP could not fill a baseball roster. There have been precious few signs that they are capable of fielding legislative candidates to make incumbents break a sweat.

But the depth of this twin crisis -- of cash and confidence -- offers them a unique opportunity. Patrick isn't thinking about an anti-Legislature campaign without sound reasons. If lawmakers play into that strategy by delaying an ethics bill in the hope of forcing Patrick into contradictory actions, they would just be adding another argument to his arsenal.

I'm guessing we will see a compromise that would justify cigars and flowers all around -- even if those gifts may not be legal under ethics laws.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Beacon Hill to Voters: Trust Us

Legislators will vote today on a massive bill to overhaul the state's transportation system, eliminating the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, producing an estimated $6.5 billion in savings over 20 years; end the MBTA's "23-and-out" pension system and bring harmony to the chaos of the state's transportation infrastructure.

Of course, few people who vote on the bill today will have actually read it since it was filed last night just before the deadline for enabling action today. And there is no mention of how much money will be applied to either prevent tolls hikes slated to take place July 1 or the threat of a 20 percent MBTA fare hike.

Those pesky little details will be handled in the FY2010 budget that lawmakers hope to wrap up by the end of this week.

As someone who has spent time covering Beacon Hill and working on it, I can sort of understand lawmakers' penchant to work behind closed doors to hammer out a compromise. The opportunity for political grandstanding is reduced when those negotiations take place away from the hot lights.

But I have a problem with working out conference reports in private then rushing them to the floor for votes less than 24 hours later. Who -- other than the conferees and their staffs -- have any idea of what really is included?

By the time the goodie packages that are inevitably stashed away appear, the bill has become law and some special interest has been served.

And I find it a real stretch to ask people to vote on an overhaul that has serious financial implications from people who drive or take the T (or just about everyone in the state) without knowing exactly how the changes will be financed and what it will mean for individuals trying to get to work without the benefit of per diems that cover their lodging and transportation costs.

It's nice to see lawmakers are actually clearing the decks of business so they can get on with their summer vacations. I just wish I knew the details of what the heck they are doing and what it will cost me and you -- before they do it.

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I can't wait for this trial

Are you kidding me? Attorneys for former House Speaker Sal DiMasi say their defense in his upcoming trial for allegedly taking $57,000 to arrange for a software contract between the state and a firm represented by his friends is that his actions were perfectly legal under state law.

Of course DiMasi is being tried in federal court, something that I think may make a difference in the argument.

DiMasi attorney Thomas Kiley declared:
“We will argue to you that all the speaker’s actions were expressly authorized by law and permitted by law."
Martin Weinberg, the attorney for DiMasi friend and associate Richard Vitale, says the feds are the one who are stretching the law here:
... [P]rosecutors are pursuing “an unorthodox and extraordinary expansion’’ of corruption laws governing the “theft of honest services’’ of public officials.
It kind of takes your breath away for sheer audacity. Something like Dianne Wilkerson saying the ethics commission authorized her to take cash.

I eagerly anticipate both trials.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Battle for Bunker Hill Day

Col. William Prescott would be proud to know how many people are talking about the Battle of Bunker Hill. He might not be all that thrilled to realized how much of that conversation is muttered under the breath of people calling the Massachusetts Legislature a bunch of buffoons.

Yes, it is Bunker Hill Day in Suffolk County (some stirring description of the battle for those of you, like me, who forgot the stirring details of the loss of Charlestown to the British in 1775.) Here's guessing it may be the last time it is celebrated as a day off for public employees in the capital city.

Sadly, the battle famous for the phrase "don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes" has become a pawn in a new battle -- pitting residents tired of the old legislative ways with those hellbent on retaining them.

It's likely South Boston Sen. Jack Hart's lament "Why don't we think about getting rid of Christmas?" may stay in more people's minds than that epic phrase.

Gov. Deval Patrick, Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Terry Murray are all vowing their offices will be open for business as usual today. It's likely television crews will make a rare foray to the Statehouse to see for themselves. Whether the gates will be unlocked and folks allowed to tour the building is another matter entirely.

It's a shame it has come to this because there is real history in what went on in Charlestown that day 234 years ago. But excessive rhetoric in the face of a budget crisis where taxpayers are going to be asked to pay more for less will ultimately be the cause.

So it is good to know that at least some of our lawmakers will be at their desks, awaiting final versions of pension and transportation reform and an ugly state budget. And one of the the rarest of commodities these days -- a sunny and warm day.

Maybe we should check the whites of their eyes after lunch?

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Could peace be at hand?

History tells us Henry Kissinger was a bit premature when he announced "peace is at hand" during the talks to end the Vietnam War. So it may be daring to make similar predictions following a marathon session between the Boston Newspaper Guild and its management overlords.

But a lot has happened in the week since Guild members narrowly voted down a company proposal: management imposed a 23 percent wage cut; potential buyers emerged; and those buyers were being told (by the Times media writer no less) they should bid anywhere from $250 million to asking the Times to pay them $25 million to take it off their hands.

And of course the ever helpful Howie Carr and snarky Herald headline writers were offering barbs to drive the price down even more.

Yet it was within the pages of the Herald where the shape of what may be transpiring at the table emerged. According to reporter Scott Allen, who is not part of the formal talks:
“We can work more, we can take fewer holidays, we can have less vacation time, we can give up some of our sick days. There are a lot of ways that we can help the company to reduce costs and get more productivity that is not a direct vacuuming out of our paycheck.”
There is a new urgency in resolving this mess -- the mere existence of potential buyers, one even named Taylor -- must have Young Arthur Sulzberger scratching his head at his good fortune. After messing up the franchise and playing his own hand badly with less-than good faith bargaining, a light at the end of the tunnel can only be welcomed with unbridled glee.

His negotiators have to be careful that any new agreement doesn't upset the balance with the other unions that accepted offers without the visible drama that surrounded the Guild talks.

But he can count on a newly motivated Guild team who did an almost equally poor job at the table and thought they could call the Times' bluff and avoid a shutdown or a 23 percent cut. The initial package looks pretty good right now -- and maybe with just a modicum of tinkering it could be presented by Guild boss Dan Totten as the victory he promised.

Saving face is important on all sides. Maybe as important as saving the Globe itself.

But lest anyone get too happy should that come about (we know Howie won't be in that group) it is important to recall the words of John Morton, one of the experts tapped by the Times for his analysis:
[A]ny Globe employees still employed after the deal goes through will recall the contract they have just rejected as paradise compared with what a new owner will impose in cost-cutting."

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Takes one to know one

When it comes to spotting frauds, I can't think of anyone better than Mitt Romney. He can speak with first-hand authority on that subject.

But it doesn't take the man once loving labeled Fraudo to know there are issues with the Iranian election results. So are the network Sunday yak shows so desperate for guests that they tap a half-term Massachusetts governor who never dealt with foreign governments as an expert on the subject?

Just askin'...

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Bringing in the big guns

I'm all for police preparing for a possible Columbine -- but a grenade launcher? I seriously doubt al Qaeda has a clue where West Springfield is.

It was bad enough to imagine the MBTA Police hauling out their assault rifles to handle fare jumpers, but the thought of Salem State police having a couple a M-16s for a color guard is enough to make your stomach churn.

It really doesn't matter to me that the Salem State weapons are unloaded or that West Springfield has long since mothballed the grenade launchers. Where is the thinking that goes into getting these weapons in the first place?

Or in placing them in a surplus program to begin with? If they still work, why shouldn't the military keep using them?

Second Amendment advocates note -- I am not calling for a ban, even though these things give me the heebie-jeebies. I do think police have challenges that go beyond plinking tin cans with powerful weapons.

But with all due respect to Framingham Police Lt. Paul Shastany, there is a need for the public to understand why your department needs 16 M-16s. To control the mobs at Shopper's World?

There are bad people and crazy people carrying all sorts of firepower that require police departments to be prepared (getting the guns of out the hands of whackos is something I do support). But wouldn't the State Police be called in to deal with those situations anyway?

The ultimate question about responsible behavior lies with the military authorities who give them away like toys. Escalating potential incidents into local firefights is not my idea of security.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Due to production problems..."

Memo to the folks who distribute the Boston Globe and New York Times -- your home delivery customers are now your priority.

The tired and worn excuses about "production problems" won't wash in the new environment when you are charging us a king's ransom premium to be the only guaranteed customers you have. No more "we will deliver your paper tomorrow" bull bleep.

I know that when I walk out the door to a store to purchase the newspapers I have paid you for in advance I will find them. I am equally sure I will not find them on my doorstep before I pull up the hood on my jacket as shelter against the rain.

There are a lot of reasons the Globe and Times are troubled. Abysmal customer service is one that is rarely touched on.

No more excuses.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

New York still tops Boston -- in sleazy pols

This likely falls into the small comfort department, but Gov. Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts Legislature smell like roses compared to the stench emanating out of Albany, NY.

Say what you will about Sal DiMasi, Dianne Wilkerson and Jim Marzilli, but none of them come close in word and deed compared to Hiram Monserrate, a Queen Democrat, er, Republican, er Democrat, who help engineer a coup in the New York Senate leadership.

His political standing should hold up as long as he avoids jail on charges he slashed a women with a drinking glass.

This is all in a state where the current sitting governor, David Paterson, has polling numbers lower than that of the man he replaced. And you recall Elliot "Client No. 9" Spitzer, had to step down after issues far more significant than offering cigars and flowers to legislative leaders.

Boston may have finally claimed superiority over New York when it comes to baseball. But when it comes to sleazy politics, we have a long way to go.

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Guild do-over?

Are the Boston Globe's management and the Boston Newspaper Guild heading for a face-saving compromise? Or is the Herald simply having some fun at its rival's expense?

The usually reliable Jessica Heslam, citing "sources" says the company would be open to a revote on the $10 million package of concessions that went down earlier this week by a 12-vote margin.

Guild President Dan Totten on the other hand says that a do-over is not in the cards.
“We are focused on getting back to the table and negotiating an agreement."
I have a better chance of getting elected president than that happening.

It's been widely acknowledged that mistakes have been made on both sides of the talks. Knowing that all it takes to get to yes is changing seven votes must be enticing to The New York Times overlords as they try to unload what has become an increasingly larger albatross.

Putting an even deeper wedge in an already divided Guild, where members are angry over the 23 percent pay cut would be a plus. Not to mention sidestepping an NLRB hearing on which was their "last, best offer" -- the 23 percent across-the-board cut or the rejected package.

Clearing up union strife would eliminate a major roadblock to a potential sale.

Stay tuned.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Real but sensible ethics reform

One thing missing in all the justifiable calls for an overhaul of the state ethics law is the fact the current statute has a few provisions that really can leave you scratching your head.

Taking $10,000 in cash as a "personal" gesture from a "friend"
who also happens to do business with the state is OK, according to the Ethics Commission.

Accepting a box of cigars and a floral arrangement as a peace offering from a political rival is not.

Public officials have long complained Chapter 268A of the general laws can be hard to navigate and the state Ethics Commission snags them on niggling things. It is hard to get up a lot of sympathy for most of those complaints. The law is simply the cost of doing the public's business.

But the contrast in the apparently legality between Dianne Wilkerson accepting cash and the apparent impropriety of Speaker Robert DeLeo accepting a box of cigars from Deval Patrick is enough to get you to take notice.

I'd hate to think significant reforms of the law, like giving the commission subpoena power so it can rightly adjudicate serious issues may fall by the wayside because Senate President Terry Murray felt she had to insist on her chamber's commission-gutting version of the bill because of Patrick's bouquet.

Mend it. Don't end it. And above all, make it rational.

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The incredible lightness of the GOP

In a way it's quite sad that the Republican Party has come to this: they can't even remember the basic childhood adage that sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me.

But name-calling seems to be the only thing left in a party that once dealt in ideas (bad ones from my perspective, but ideas nonetheless). Witness this Limbaugh-ism from Eric Cantor, the House Minority Whip from Virginia speaking about the Obama administration and the GM bailout.
"They said, 'Set aside the rule of law, let's strip secured creditors, bondholders, of their rights. Take them away outside of the bankruptcy process and give them to the political cronies and the auto workers' unions."

"It's almost like looking at Putin's Russia. You want to reward your political friends at the expense of the certainty of law?"

I guess the Party of Ideas figures that if renaming the opposition the Democrat Socialist Party won't work they can take the next step and call Obama a Commie. Too bad that no one under the age of 30 grew up with the Red Menace and could care less about Russia.

And name calling is so much easier than coming up with a solution to prevent the wholesale destruction of the economy by putting even more people are out of a job than are unemployed today because of Bush-onomics and the dunderheadedness of Detroit.

If Republicans want to climb out of the hole, they need to come up with something other than name-calling. But when the head of the party, the aforementioned Mr. Limbaugh, built his career on baiting Democrats, it's hard to see a change coming.

And believe it or not we are worse off for not having a credible opposition party.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

That's one small step...

I wouldn't propose a new state employee holiday, say pension reform day, just yet.

The compromise bill crafted by a legislative conference committee makes a significant number of symbolic changes. But the measure also shows how intertwined ethics and transportation reform bills are the the process of cleaning up state government.

Conferees eliminated the most egregious failing in the House version -- the ridiculous effort to grandfather all current public employees. But they didn't address the granddaddy of all pension outrages, the MBTA's 23-and-out rule.

That, leaders tell us, will be coming in the transportation reform bill.

Nor does it address the other bad behaviors that would probably continue to fester under the Senate version of the ethics reform bill also still in conference.

Thankfully, there is a realization, if not among legislative leaders then at least various interest groups, that this overdue legislation is just a start.

Listen to Ralph White, president of the Retired State, County and Municipal Employees Association of Massachusetts:
"There are few people in an elite category who have taken advantage of these loopholes."
Or Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer:
“This is an important first step, but these are mostly symbolic. They don’t address cost savings for cities and towns in the long term.”
For example, there was little electronic ink spilled on the question of Group 4 pensions and the games that go on there -- so amply illustrated by another friend of Tim Cahill.

And I get downright nervous when I see something like a provision in the bill that calls for a special commission to meet and report on broader changes by Sept. 1.

Aren't special commissions generally political graveyards?

So legislators and Gov. Deval Patrick are entitled to some back patting. But let's not forget this is the first significant piece of legislation to emerge in a session that began with the House overwhelmingly re-electing Sal DiMasi as speaker only to see him resign two weeks later -- and be indicted four months later.

There's still a very long road ahead if state government wants to begin to address to damage caused by three indicted speakers, a cash-in-bra-stuffing senator and a park bench groper.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Communications breakdown

The Boston Newspaper Guild's members salaries are on the chopping block and the Globe is on the selling block.

Did anyone really think the outcome would be different?

The narrow no vote Monday by the guild's membership was the final impediment for the New York Times to put the troubled property on sale. Not that it becomes a prize, given the contentious labor relations between the 8th Avenue Overlords and the folks who fill the ever-shrinking pages with news and advertising.

And while I have been sympathetic to the argument that the Times has not played fair with its largest union, I do have to ask Guild members -- did you really think you could successfully call their bluff and force new talks?

Did you really think management would consider risking the wrath of the craft unions who labor along side of you and who went along with their proposals?

There was a total breakdown within the Guild -- between the newsroom and the advertising side, exacerbated by a leadership that failed to take the interests of all of its members to heart. The results are visible today in the wreckage of the budgets of Guild members and in the plaintive plea for justice from Young Arthur Sulzberger.

Filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board will only prolong the drama and pain. The best outcome they could hope for is that a resolution of the action MIGHT be part of any sale.

Certainly no new owner would come in with a pending complaint. As long as it is hanging on the air, no potential buyer would consider the Globe to be at labor peace.

The Globe finds itself in the mess it is in today because of intransigence and poor negotiations -- on both sides. It didn't have to happen this way.

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Two faces of Tim

Treasurer Tim Cahill may need to retire and apply for a pension soon. His memory seems to be failing him.

The Great Reformer, who appears ready to walk away from the Democratic Party to challenge Deval Patrick next year, just can't seem to recall details around his approval of an enhanced pension for Josephine E. Shea, who retired from the Norfolk County Sheriff's Office in 2000 at the age of 49 with a pension of $47,000.
"It was almost a decade ago, and I don't remember the specifics of the case," Cahill said in the statement.
I can imagine. The specifics aren't pretty.

Shea, a friend and political supporter, collect the hazardous duty pension of a prison guard -- even though she retired as deputy superintendent for administration and finance. Oh yeah, and as a "temporary special sheriff." She declined to discuss her duties with the Globe so there is no way to know if she was injured by rowdy paper clips.

She also has a touch of amnesia, declining to tells the Globe details such as how often in her career she had contact with inmates, one measure for determining eligibility for enhanced benefits, or to give details of her duties.

But don't feel sorry for her. Today she has a successful new career as a broker for, wait for it, firms seeking to invest state and county pension funds. Isn't that the kind of work that Cahill oversees?

One thing about Timmie -- he's always entertaining as an elected official and a politician. You just never know which side of his mouth the words will come out.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Did the Times cook the books?

I'm reminded of the childhood gag about whether you would like to be executed by a hot stake or a cold chop. That essentially was the choice offered to the Boston Newspaper Guild. The narrow vote to reject a $10 million concession initially appears to be a third option -- a poison pill.

In a late-breaking development, it appears we have some confirmation that the New York Times Co. was dealing from the bottom of the deck. Whether that admission comes too late to make a difference is the ultimate question.

I'm rather fascinated that Catherine Mathis' admission that the Times really isn't on track to lose $85 million at the Globe became public only after the polls closed on the 277-265 vote to reject the "last, best offer" and the company decision to impose a unilateral 23 percent wage cut.
The New York Times Co.'s first quarter financials show a company-wide depreciation and amortization charge of $35.2 million. The Globe is roughly one-sixth of the company, so figure it for roughly $6 million D&A for the quarter, or $24 million for the year. Keep in mind these are losses only on paper, not cash going out the door. The first quarter report also includes a special charge of $25.2 million for severance, mostly in the New England group (the Globe and its sister Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, Mass.). The company will pay that money out, not necessarily all in 2009, and thus will realize substantial payroll savings going forward. It seems odd, to say the least, to count that severance as a loss in the context of negotiating pay cuts and layoffs.
As the Guild looks to the courts to reject the Times' claim that they are at impasse, allowing for the wage cut, the inevitable question becomes "did the Times cook the books?"

Without having been at the table, it's impossible for me to know whether the company gave the Guild an honest accounting of its own financial situation. Given the fact there was a $4 million"oopsie" when the company apparently failed to account for the savings from those very same cuts and layoffs you really have to wonder about whether the Times has bargained in good faith.

The only thing clear today is 135 Morrissey Boulevard will be an even less enjoyable place to work. There will be questions about what would have happened if a mere seven votes had changed. There will be nasty looks from craft union members who agreed to cuts only to see labor peace blown up by their white collar colleagues.

And there will also be questions about why 140 Guild members didn't have the time or interest to cast a vote.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

It's going down

I'm not a gambler and my record on political prognostication is, to be generous, rotten.

But I think the Boston Newspaper Guild is going to scuttle the contract offer from management when they vote today. And the can of worms they open will be messy.

The rumblings coming out of Morrissey Boulevard in the past few weeks have been ominous. The complaints put forward by Brian Mooney, while a bit intemperate, resonate -- and they are simple: Guild member are disproportionately taking it on the chin in relationship to managers.
"The people who work with us, who supervise us, why can't they take the same hit as the rest of us?
Combine that with the the intention of Guild boss Dan Totten and the negotiating team's sole editorial member, Beth Daley, to vote no, and the die has been cast.

The final factor is the proclamation -- at least today -- that New York Times Co. has no plan to follow through on its threat the close the newspaper. Not that it doesn't have a powerful weapon up its sleeve.
“If the proposal is voted down, the Globe will have no alternative other than to take all steps necessary to implement a 23 percent wage cut for all Guild members,” [spokesman Bob] Powers said.
Losing almost a quarter of your salary, permanently is a pretty powerful tool, one that clearly has some reporters rightfully questioning how they can meet their obligations from rent or mortgage to putting kids through college.
"I think the company is out of time in terms of needing to get these savings," [reporter Erin] Ailworth said. "I can't afford to gamble."
The uncertainty is heightened by the rift in the Guild itself. Totten comes out of the advertising side and from day one made the lifetime job guarantees the one non-negotiable issue. The newsroom members took issue with that, something that only exacerbated the natural rifts between the two parts of the newspaper's white collar employees.

Newsroom members hope to force the Times company to reopen negotiations. The company, which has behave more like a union-busting machine that the fount of liberal political thought it like to portray itself as, responds it will simple declare an impasse and impose a 23 percent cut.

There's little doubt that the 8th Avenue Overlords have taken a hit in this crisis -- from its hardball stance against the guild to its failure to adequately cover the story.

But ultimately Arthur Sulzberger Jr. holds the cards and has issues of his own to contend with.

The next round in this saga will be even uglier that the current one. And we're not even talking about what the newspaper will look like when it emerges from this battle.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Breakfast fare

I think Globe editors may transitioning into the brave new world of online readership a bit too quickly.

I know there were several things I would rather read about at the breakfast table ahead of an in-depth look at the sanitation standards at local schools.

Um, but that would not include a takeout on a $300,000 public toilet.

Oh well. After all I am trying to lose weight. Anything to help me lose my appetite.

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Treasurer Phineas T. Bluster

If words were dollars, Massachusetts state government would be running a surplus. Especially if we put a premium on bluster.

Witness Treasurer Tim Cahill, who takes to excoriating fellow Democrats on the eve of the Springfield issues convention (Why do you need a convention to know the state is flushing down the rathole and the political culture is corrupt? But I digress...)

“I think the party is exclusionary. The party forces you to make deals, and those haunt you in the end,” said Cahill, referencing recent scandals surrounding ex-Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, ex-Sen Dianne Wilkerson and Sen. Marian Walsh’s controversial job offer from Patrick.

“When you cook the books and take kickbacks for legislative decisions on software contracts or alcohol licenses - or you create faulty resumes and job descriptions to justify an outrageous salary - those all go to the core of the public questioning if anything is on the level here.”

I have no quarrel with the message. I do have certain issues with the messenger.

So, in the interest of fairness, can someone please come to the defense of Treasurer Tim? What has he accomplished in his six-plus years in office other than make comments about pension reform, school building assistance and other topics he never followed through on?

How has Cahill challenged the system he holds in disdain -- except through words?

Until then, he sounds like a man who knows he can't scrounge up the minimal 15 percent of support he needs to run against Deval Patrick. And given Patrick's weakened and unpopular state, that rings even louder than Treasurer Tim's hollow words.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Shot across the bow

A 20 percent fare hike? Seems only natural since I think I'm spending 20 percent more time on the Green Line as it creeps its way up and down Commonwealth Avenue.

But there's a whiff of political gamesmanship in Transportation Secretary James Aloisi's pronouncement that MBTA fares will rise 15-20 percent in the fall as a result of the Legislature's failure to pass a gas tax or provide what he views as sufficient funds to get the T through the next few years.
"We need to have a multiyear solution," said Aloisi, who is also chairman of the MBTA board. He said he wants to raise enough money to avoid another fare increase for a "minimum of two, hopefully three fiscal years."
And House Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph Wagner is pushing right back:
"It is unreasonable to think that there wouldn't be adjustments in fares periodically."
Wagner, a Chicopee Democrat, also seems unmoved by the sturm und drang over higher Mass. Pike tolls. How doe he get to work? Helicopter?

The timing of the announcement -- along with the suggestion that service cuts may nor may not accompany a fare hike -- has all the feel of a political power play.

That's totally unfair to the millions of people who depend on inconsistent service to get to one, two or more jobs -- and who are being asked to pony up more on the sales tax.

Make an equitable decision and spare us the public histrionics. I agree with Stacey Jones-Walker of Dorchester.
"It's getting out of hand. It's crazy."

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Guilt by association

It's payback time.

That's the first thought I have reading today's Globe report that Deval Patrick's deputy chief of staff was warned about "political pressure" over the eventual warning of a contract to Cognos ULC, a deal that resulted in this week's indictment of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi.

Political pressure? Well duh! Any indication that DiMasi was taking money? Any suggestion of improper behavior in the administration?

The warnings came from Henry Dormitzer, who eventually was pushed out as undersecretary for administration and finance, or as the No. 2 to Leslie Kirwan.
Dormitzer also told Morales that there were rumors in the department that the contract was being pushed by the House speaker at the time, Salvatore F. DiMasi, say the former officials, who spoke on the condition they would not be named.
Note the key word -- rumors.

Patrick acknowledged he had personally been interviewed by the FBI and the US Attorney's office seems to indicate its job is done here. That part of the story has played out -- except for the rumors.

That said, Patrick shouldn't dance around the issue. He personally acknowledged the FBI visit, then declined to talk more. Morales has not been made available to reporters -- a decision that would be reasonable in most circumstances. But not this one.

The stench emanating from Beacon Hill is likely to taint everyone who doesn't open the doors and windows. Patrick and Morales should sit down with reporters, tell them what they knew and when they knew it.

If there are a few nicks, tough. The cat and mouse going on right now is not helping him. Patrick already recognized the re-election challenge he faces, hiring an architect of the Obama win to get him through the next one.

Clearing the air here -- particularly if as it appears the administration was warned about simple political pressure and nothing improper -- is crucial in this climate.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Watch out for those flying fingers

I suspect they need eye protection in the Statehouse these days, what with all those fingers being pointed.

We've got folks saying the governor's staff caved into Sal DiMasi when the former speaker made it clear he was interested in purchasing perform management software for the Department of Education.

And while dodging fingers there, be sure to look out not to get poked in the eye by those upset that the Ethics Commission aims only at small potatoes.

And by all means, watch out as former speaker and convicted felon Tom Finneran tells us that reform is coming to the Legislature.

All of these sentiments are likely true (I'll believe in significant ethics reform when I actually see it. The Senate version doesn't cut it.)

But what is missing from the discussion is a reflection of reality. The culture on Beacon Hill is in serious need of an overhaul too -- and prospects for that happening are probably worse than the Globe and its Newspaper Guild kissing and making up tomorrow.

It's also interesting that the fingers doing the pointing mostly belong to members of that tiny band of Massachusetts Republicans, who insist that, try as they might to stop it, bad things keep happening and all you need to do is put them in charge and things will change.

Sorry, but that's part of the culture that needs changing too.

I'm all for hearing from aides to Deval Patrick about what they knew about DiMasi's interest in the Cognos contract and when they knew it. But the finger pointed at senior aide David Morales shakes very hard without any context around it.

Administration and Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan's job is to manage the money. Morales' job is to manage the Patrick agenda. Without clear indications that something was awry, Morales' goal was to remove one roadblock in what was then a highly rocky relationship between Patrick and DiMasi.

He was doing his job and Kirwan was doing hers. If he ultimately had won, after she raised concrete concerns over cost, then the fingers might have been pointing in the right direction. The US Attorney's office agrees.

The ethics commission fishes for small fry because that's all it really can do. The lack of subpoena power and significant fines leaves it weak. Giving it some significant teeth is something that can only be done by the Legislature.

Let's see if we get something better than Senate President Therese Murray's vision of an ethics commission.

It's tempting to applaud the plucky band of Republicans emerging from the phone booth where they caucus to champion reform. But let's look at the record.

Republicans held the state's top office for 16 years. Some, like Bill Weld and Mitt Romney, were elected on reform platforms. Others like Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift, were legislators before being moved up.

We know what happened. Nothing.

Yes, I know the argument is they were stymied by the small number of Republicans in the House and Senate. But they answer is: who repeatedly failed to muster up candidates to even try and challenge for seats?

The problem can't be solved by finger pointing. And legislative culture change is not an easy thing. After all, one of the more famous lines on the topic comes from Otto von Bismarck.
Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.
The Globe's Joan Vennochi is right about the "band of enablers" who allow legislators like DiMasi, Finneran, former Speaker Charley Flaherty and one-time Senate President William Bulger to accumulate power and lose sight of reality.

But we need to recognize that we are part of that band -- because we elect them, complain about the body as a whole and cheer them when they bring home the sausage.

Until we engage more fully in the process we should avoid finger pointing, or risk poking our own eyes out.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Legislative ethics: the ultimate oxymoron

When the third consecutive Speaker of the Massachusetts House is indicted, you have to start to wonder if the Senate is on to something by gutting the Ethics Commission.

After all, the body is already so toothless, why not put it out of our misery?

I offer two standard disclaimers: a defendant is innocent until proven guilty and a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. But in reading snippets of the indictment filed in US District Court you get a sense of deja vu. The only difference between Sal DiMasi and Dianne Wilkerson is that former speaker didn't stuff cash into a bra.

But like Wilkerson, DiMasi did succeed in foiling the Ethics Commission charged with overseeing the public's interest in good government. Wilkerson produced an ethics commission ruling she claims sanctioned her taking gifts for "personal" reasons. DiMasi challenged the commission and won on a question of legislative privilege.

It's hard to imagine the "reforms" passed by the Senate could make the agency any more ineffective than it already is.

So what's the alternative? Allow lawmakers to collect cash on the side at will? Gov. Deval Patrick proposed a solid reform that, among other things, would give the commission subpoena power it now desperately lacks.

Given Senate President Terry Murray's belief that Patrick is "irrelevant," I don't think that's going to happen.

What about stepped up enforcement by the attorney general? Neither Scott Harshbarger nor Tom Reilly won a lot of fans with their efforts and you will notice neither of them are the governor or former governor they hoped to be. And the current occupant, Martha Coakley, also has future political ambitions.

So do we just take it? I'm guessing that lawmakers assume the public is more worried about taxes than corruption and simply expect them to disregard the wish to clean up the Beacon Hill swamp.

And that is exactly why there needs to be an urgent reminder to Murray and DiMasi's successor, Robert DeLeo, that reform before revenue is not an idle phrase. And if they don't hear it now, may they will next year -- at the ballot box.

The time is long since past for this nonsense to end.

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What would you give up?

The Massachusetts Legislature has gone underground, the work of important conference committees on the budget, transportation, pension and ethics reforms all working behind closed doors.

But that hasn't stopped the lobbying -- whether it is the cops working to restore yet another perk, advocates highlighting a good program targeted for elimination -- or just plain budget season silliness like a civil war over Suffolk County holidays.

These programs represent a tiny fraction of the money spent using Massachusetts taxpayer dollars. They get a high volume of the attention because the advocates know how to play the media. And they get attention because legislators for all their electability skills, are often sadly lacking in common sense.

There's also no question that police details, Quinn Bill and legislative pensions are, to be blunt, special interest items going to players who know how to use the system to their own advantage.

But it has started me to wondering. Everyone has some stake, something they really need or don't want to give up. For cops, it's extra pay. For lawmakers it's extra holidays and fat pensions.

What is it that you and I don't want to give up?

For many, it's high quality public education (although in many poorer communities they'd love the high quality part). For others, it is the knowledge they can be safe on the streets and in their cars. Still more people would find comfort in the social safety net of health care, social services, job training and yes, unemployment benefits.

All of these things -- public safety, education, the safety net -- are competing for scarce and getting scarcer public dollars. What gives?

Based on the way our political system works, those who have the bucks, in the form of lobbying dollars, usually get what they want at the expense of those who do not. It's no secret that the major fund-raising season on Beacon Hill coincides with budget season.

But what about those without the cash to be heard?

And the obvious question is what would I personally give up? Well, I don't have kids in schools so that is tempting. But schools are an important part of the reason people live in my community and if they suffered my property value would probably drop.

I'm healthy and employed so I have my own insurance, so I don't need the safety net. This week. Perish the thought about what the future will bring, so I want to keep them in some semblance of quality.

So I guess I'm willing to give up 1.25 cents more on every dollar I pay for things (or at least those subject to the sales tax). Some may say that's a cop-out. Others would call it a trade-off.

But I also want to see the pain spread fairly. And that means no more perks like extra pay for sitting in a car with coffee and donuts while roadwork goes on next to you. And it means that legislators or MBTA workers can't retire in their 40s at full pension, ready to start another life. And it means the end to "holidays" celebrated in one county that shut state government down needlessly.

What would you give up?

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Monday, June 01, 2009

You can't make this stuff up!

With much pomp and circumstance, the MBTA unveiled the newly handicapped accessible Arlington Street station. Of course they may have been delayed because of switching problems at the very much not-ready for prime time Copley Station.

And of course, you have to love it when the judge in the "Clark Rockefeller" case feels a need to commiserate with two jurors who were late be case they had to walk to the Suffolk County Courthouse because they got on the Green Line.

But what I would like to know is: how did Arlington's handicapped access come on line faster than Kenmore -- which is still waiting for the elevators? Didn't Arlington renovations begin several years after Kenmore?

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Business as usual

It's hard to get a good head of steam up over the Globe's most recent look at the Friends of Tim Cahill.

No, not because I think it's a grand idea that the state treasurer -- whether named Shannon O'Brien or Tom Cahill -- is able to hit up people and companies they deal with for cash to finance public events.

Rather, it is because this basic appearance of a conflict of interest is so deeply ingrained in our public culture that removing it borders on impossible. Even when that appearance of a conflict is a violation of our ethics laws.

And the players -- former House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Haley for example -- are so much part of the culture that it would be easier to make motherhood illegal than end the practice.

It is also sad that a program that, on its surface, appears to be something valuable for the public, is not something that we can finance through public dollars. It would be so much healthier for everyone. But then some snarky blogger or anti-government zealot would probably write about the waste of public resources.

So while I love to bash Treasurer Tim at every opportunity, this isn't one of them. Too many unnamed others need to be bashed as well -- for fostering a pay-to-play culture where raising cash for campaigns and other political purposes reigns supreme.

Somehow I don't think this will be banished in the new ethics bill, even though it should.

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