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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Suds Summit

Henry Louis Gates Jr. apparently does have a way with words:
When he’s not arresting you, Sergeant Crowley is a really likable guy.”
And Sgt. James Crowley was a credit to his uniform:
“What you had today was two gentlemen who agreed to disagree on a particular issue. We didn’t spend too much time dwelling on the past, and we decided to look forward.”
With that, the White House Suds Summit has come and gone -- without a chance to hear from Jim Koch about his happiness to discover that Gates quaffed a Sam Adams Light to represent American brewers under the magnolia tree in the White House Rose Garden.

I would have a been shocked if the most-hyped after work beer in history had turned out any other way. Gates, Crowley and Obama all acted and spoke in unscripted ways on the afternoon in Cambridge and the press conference in Washington. Yesterday, the script was king.

I can't possibly know what went through either of their minds because I am not an African-American man. Nor can I know what Crowley thought and felt because I am not a cop. But it's clear they were all acting as real human beings -- albeit one with some particular training on how to react in escalating tension situations.

As Crowley said, we can agree to disagree on whether it was appropriate to arrest a man in his own home after he produced proper identification. I still think we have a constitutional right to mouth off in our own home, even if Gates would have been better advised to shut the heck up.

And I think Obama spoke from the heart, as a black man in America. I'd much rather have a president speak honestly, even if it leaves him with foot in mouth disease, than have one who concoct stories about weapons of mass destruction or parses the meaning of the word is.

Obama chose yesterday's words carefully and well. Ultimately, it was about:
" ... having a drink at the end of the day and hopefully giving people an opportunity to listen to each other. That's really all it is."
I think Rodney King, someone who knows a thing or two about making bad moves in a police encounter, may offer the best words:
"Can we all just get along?"

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The news that David Ortiz tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug doesn't hit me as hard as some because I'm not a member of Red Sox Nation, although I had come to admire Big Papi for his clutch hitting and for being a seemingly upright role model.

Not like Manny.

But when you add his name to that of Manny -- and of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick -- you have a pretty solid local foundation to what is really a very sorry national reality. Despite what your mother told you, cheaters do prosper, even if they eventually do get caught.

Sports, politics and finance seem the worlds that breed the most dishonesty in modern America (hello Mark Sanford and Bernie Madoff). But it's especially tough to take in sports, which is supposed to be where you learn the values of honest competition and and yes, good sportsmanship.

It's especially disheartening now when you need to plunk down three figures for a ticket, a hot dog, a beer and parking -- all to pay for the sky high salaries of the "heroes" who are teaching you about how to win and more particularly lose, with grace and dignity.

The image of New York Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle on his knees in personal pain after losing the NFL title now seems like a quaint relic indeed about the lessons that sports can provide.

Ortiz will be a loser in the tarnish his once-solid image will take -- especially after his tough words about juicing earlier this year.

But we are all the losers when the games we enjoy for fun and relaxation become tainted by real world realities like drugs and cheating. Heck, why do we need to pay the outrageous costs for a game when we can get that stuff simply by reading about Hollywood, Washington or Wall Street?

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Showdown at the MBTA Corral

If Charlie Baker needs any additional proof that the real power center of Beacon Hill rests in the Legislature and not the Corner Office, the building hurricane heading toward MBTA boss Dan Grabauskas should be the ultimate proof.

With Deval Patrick belatedly calling for Smilin' Dan's head, our legislative leaders are riding to Grabauskas' rescue. And ironically that includes House Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph Wagner of Chicopee, who gave MBTA riders an extended middle finger on the debate over transportation restructuring.

But Senate President Therese Murray deserves the award for the most disingenuous line, barely cloaking her animosity toward the governor by accusing him of playing politics because Grabauskas is a GOP hack instead of a Democratic one.
“He’s been a good head of the T,’’ said Senate President Therese Murray, speaking at a lunch forum on the Boston waterfront. “But he’s from a different party, and the governor and his people would like a different person in there.’’
Adds Wagner:
“What I am watching unfold here strikes me as very political. I have a concern that the focus of the administration should be to try and move forward and implement the new transportation reform law.’’
What you should be watching Mr. Chairman is the service quality, the inability to be on time and on budget with capital projects -- not to mention the real elephant in the room, the abysmal recent track record for safety.

Smilin' Dan offers his own Reaganesque retort:
“Well, there you go again. They’re vague and unsubstantiated allegations, and I continue to think, as do many others, that they are politically motivated.’’
Vague and unsubstantiated? Let's just single out two Green Line crashes in a year. A major power outage that shut the system down. Stations forever under construction -- particularly after one project threatens to destroy a landmark church.

Smilin' Dan has got to go. Patrick has finally seen the light. Too bad his legislative defenders have not. Perhaps they should actually use the MBTA before they rise to Grabauskas' defense?

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Let the games begin!

I expected more out of you Charlie, I really did.

A man with that much experience in the bowels of state government should be able to come up with something than “I would start with a head count" as the first thing out of his mouth when asked how he would close a gaping multi-billion dollar budget gap.

Charlie Baker formally entered the 2010 gubernatorial race with the words and platform of Bill Weld, another tall Republican who was advised by Rob Gray. That's probably why he also took the really foolhardy step of uttering the words of the "good" Bush: "read my lips, no new taxes."

Baker is obviously trying to make a complex issue fit into a slogan or sound bite. It's much easier to make grandiose promises than to level with people about the tough realities ahead.

So here's a couple of simple questions in return to your sound bites:
  • Assuming there is still a vast stash of "walruses" (hey it's Weld time!) on the payrolls of cities and towns and the commonwealth, how much will you save by eliminating them?
Assuming the best case scenario for Baker, that number will begin with an "m", as in millions. The budget gap created by the unprecedented free fall in revenue caused by the (Republican-manufactured) recession begins with a "b" as in billions. As Jed Bartlet liked to ask "what's next?"
  • "Everything should on the table" including health care.
What about the zoos? Or the gazebo in the town square in a small western Massachusetts town?

The declaration, when you get past its overwhelming vagueness, shows a total disregard for the dynamic on Beacon Hill over the last quarter-century or so -- which includes the Weld years. The governor is but one player, one vote if you will, in the fiscal situation. There are 200 votes in the House and Senate that frequently override the wishes of the governor.

Baker is offering standard issue Republican pablum -- cut waste, fraud and abuse, keep taxes level or cut them -- and provide all the education, public safety and social services voters have come to expect. Not pay for, mind you, just expect.

It's been the GOP mantra since the birth of Reaganomics that you can get everything you want without having to pay for it. The elimination of straw dogs and red herrings is all that's required.

That's combined with getting government out of the boardroom (not the bedroom though) because business is better able to manage without nasty government regulators on their backs. Except that's the recipe for getting us into a mess shared by 49 other states.

All in all, a very disappointing opening salvo from Baker, who I had come to believe was the ultimate pragmatist.

Rhetoric can and does win elections. But it can hamstring you when you actually try to govern (remember Deval Patrick's promise to cut property taxes?)

Baker is a blank slate with lovely rhetoric to most voters, which is why he leads Patrick in early Globe polling. He is encumbered by having to deal with the reality brought on by a national recession as bad as any since the 1930s. He has not had to deal with a Legislature that has a mind (and the votes) to do what it wants.

Just remember Charlie that you will be bound by that rhetoric if you succeed. And I strongly suspect if you fire each and every employee in every city, town and the commonwealth you will still not be able to close a budget canyon that opened up.

And that's not because Patrick "let the budget get away from him," but because the effect of nearly 30 years of GOP-onomics caught up with our economy.

So let the games begin. And we should be reading lips for promises that sound like malarkey.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eve of destruction?

Those of you with a few miles on your tires may remember the uproar surrounding '60s protest song "Eve of Destruction." No, things aren't that bad. But I was struck by some lyrics as I perused the headlines today:
You may leave here for four days in space. But when you return it's the same old place...
Well, I didn't go into space, but four days away leaves me with the same conclusion. Let's take 'em in no particular order:

Cahill postures while economy tanks

Good headline for a campaign commercial, dontcha think. My friend Timmie was busy while I was gone, offering up his opinion, yet again, this time that the sales tax increase that goes into effect on Saturday more than meets the needs of the soon-to-be-gone but never forgotten Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

Regulars know I am no fan of the toll hike, reminded once again when it cost an extra $8.75 just to sit down in a cab at Logan and avoid Fenway Park traffic for a trip home. It may be seen as noble that Treasurer Tim thinks South Shore residents like himself pay some of the cost for the construction. But I find the position somewhat jarring at the same time I see a story that talks about the horrific year for the state pension funds.

Why? Because, unlike telling everyone what else what he thinks they ought to do, managing the pensions is actually his job. Yes, everyone's pension fund tanked. But most administrators kept their nose in their own business, not everyone else's.

Lawmakers play politics

Yes, shocking just shocking. But our ever nimble lawmakers appear ready to override Deval Patrick's sensible veto of $4 million in zoos funding -- and hide behind an inadequate restoration of health care for legal immigrants.

Naturally advocates are professing happiness with some piece of the pie. And lawmakers will probably be grinning from ear to ear about stickin' it to Deval.

In the process, they will be rewarding bad behavior by the zoo officials who were eventually forced to admit no animals will die if the state pulls funding. And we'll probably never know how many people -- in this country legally -- will die as a result of inadequate health care.

Grabauskas "out of touch"

Ya think? For starters, the picture shows Our Man Dan standing on a Green Line car with empty seats and no one cramming to within an inch of his breathing space. The photo, if its designed to show he actually does ride the T, falls short of reality.

The MBTA board of directors is belatedly coming to realize that Smilin' Dan has been a rolling disaster, better at PR than performance. Until, of course, he gets caught in a spitting contest with his boss, transportation secretary Jame Aloisi, about whether Danny was or wasn't available when the National Transportation Safety Board lowered the boom over the first of the two Green Line crashes.

Better late than never. Welcome to the Smilin' Dan Has Got to Go Club. The membership cards are in the mail.

Menino eyes sixth term

It's enough to make me a supporter of term limits. Mr. Mayor, at least have the common sense not to talk about a sixth term until you win a fifth.

Boston has some significant issues that don't seem to be getting addressed. Like a giant hole in the ground on Washington Street where a downtown shopping area used to be. Or development projects in Roxbury that have been stuck in neutral since time immemorial.

Sadly, I'm not sure any of the three other candidates vying for the job in the September primary are up to the challenge. But it is possible Menino has given them a little extra ammunition by his foolish comment.

It's good to be home.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Slow news day

Let's see now: Gatesgate -- and the very real question of why black and white men see the police differently. Health care reform. Higher taxes and falling services. A war in Afghanistan.

So, in the middle of all this mid-summer real news, what does the Herald find room for on its front page? A puppy biting the hand of someone playing with him.

I need a break for a few days. That sort of carnage taxes my soul.

Play nice.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Turning down the volume

Kudos to Barack Obama for doing what a president has not done in a long time -- admit fallibility.

By calling Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley -- and joking about having a beer with him and Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Obama showed a side that neither George W. Bush nor Bill Clinton every showed.

No swaggering before saying he can't think of a mistake he made. And no parsing words to a fare the well.

Nothing changes the fact the nation needs a frank discussion about race and the widely disparate views of black men and white men about what constitutes bad behavior. But let's conduct that discussion with some civility.

I know it won't stop the Obama haters who will do the verbal parsing and note he never apologized, But for the rest of us, it's more than good enough.

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Our national Rorschach test

OK, all of you who thought the election of Barack Obama ushered in a "post-racial" period that solved all of our problems, raise your hand. Come on. I know you're out there. Now, go stand in a corner.

The loud and vigorous debate that has erupted here and elsewhere over the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. should put that notion to rest. We have the very real feelings of African-American men who have experienced the humiliation on one side. And the equally aggrieved who feel the Cambridge police acted properly in arresting what they described as a belligerent man.

Personally, I'm on the side of Barack Obama, who revised and extended his initial commentary after seeming to pour gasoline on the flames.
“I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably don’t need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who is in his own home."
That said, I had a conversation yesterday with a Cambridge native -- as liberal as they come I might add -- who knows her hometown inside and out and offered this observation.
"If that had been Harvey Silverglate or Larry Tribe, the cops would have done the same thing. The issue isn't race. It's town-gown."
Silverglate and Tribe are, of course, Harvard Law professors. Like Gates, they apparently share a certain arrogance that comes when you are tenured faculty at a place that likes to think of itself as the world's greatest university.

And Cambridge, unbeknown to many who only know about Harvard, Kennedy accents and snide remarks about liberal boutiques, is a complex place. Working class neighborhoods not all that far from the Brattle Street mansions. The type of class gap that breeds classic town-gown conflict.

It wasn't all that long ago the "other side" of Cambridge had a loud champion in government. One-time Mayor Al Vellucci loved to tug at Harvard's cape. As his obituary noted:
Mr. Vellucci's proposals to turn the Harvard Lampoon building into a public urinal ("Well, that's what it looks like, doesn't it?"), to force Harvard to secede from Massachusetts, and to convert Harvard Yard into a parking lot for public buses kept his name in the headlines for years.
It's an important point to remember as both sides spin furiously. Friends and co-workers say Sgt. James Crowley really doesn't have a racist bone in his body. He was simply acting as all cops are trained to do, and had the extra satisfaction of getting the upper hand over a haughty Harvard professor.

Never having had to endure the real and humiliating slights inflicted on African-American men because of irrational fear (or outright racism) of others, I can't say I have walked a mile in their shoes.

But I do know that the class divide in the United States is a big one, made even bigger over the Bush years. The antipathy for the upper classes is huge -- witness the near universal joy at Bernie Madoff's 150-year prison term. The Brattle Street neighborhood where this took place is probably home to a fair number of Madoff's victims.

While I think Obama's only mistake in weighing in on the Gates affair was to step on his message about health care, I actually applaud him for offering his opinion. As an African-American man who lived in Cambridge for four years he speaks from personal experience.

And ultimately his comment -- and the whole sad affair -- will be one of the healthiest things America can do. We are not living in a post-racial society. The inflammatory comments of a Chicago preacher are not the same as the heartfelt grievance of a "middle-aged man who uses a cane, who is in his own home."

And the pain of a working class Cambridge native who labored to save the life of a basketball hero is a lot more real than those of radio loudmouths who live in Palm Beach mansions and who make their fortunes stirring the pot of hatred.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's not a black and white issue?

It's nice to know that Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley tried to save the life of Reggie Lewis and that his neighbors think he's a great guy.

But what if someone walking down his street saw Crowley dealing with a stuck door in broad daylight? Would that passerby have called the cops? Or tried to help him? And would those officers have persisted in questioning him after he produced two forms of identification, one proving he lived there? And would they have called the Cambridge Police Department to verify his employment?

I doubt it. And that's the heart of the problem and why Barack Obama, who assiduously avoided discussions of this sort on the campaign trail, weighed in during a nationally televised news conference.

Cambridge police acted "stupidly" in not backing down and not offering an apology. Crowley may be a swell guy and he may not be a racist but his department's policy (and those of many other local police departments) is stupid.

The circumstances sure smell of racial profiling. And the outright refusal of Crowley -- or more appropriately his department -- to acknowledge something went awry here is the ultimate in stupidity.

Once triggered, no one would dispute the events required police to respond and check it out. But it is the refusal to exhibit common sense in the face of the facts -- a 58-year man with a cane and multiple proofs of residency -- that raised this contretemps into an international stain.

Gates probably should have held his cool -- an easy thing for me to say knowing I probably would have reacted as he did if I was faced with the same situation. So in the interest of a false sense of balance, I'll call his reaction stupid too.

But would I have been arrested? Or simply given a verbal dressing down like the warning you get instead of a traffic ticket?

And I suppose we should acknowledge that Cambridge Police could have reacted differently too, as Obama noted:
“Here, I’d get shot,” Mr. Obama said, referring to his new address of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The ultimate stupidity is the refusal to acknowledge that the whole thing is a phenomenal screw up that has embarrassed Cambridge and the greater Boston area and has stained Crowley (rightly or wrongly).

A mistake was made -- whether out of policy or innocent motives. What in heaven's name is wrong with admitting that mistake, apologizing and trying to figure out how to prevent it from happening again?

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Tunnel vision

Can we have a little common sense here?
The state set aside $29 million last week to design a subway tunnel under downtown Boston that planners concede they cannot afford to build - either now or any time in the next two decades.
The Blue Line-Red Line connector may be a smart idea and it may be worthwhile. But the idea of committing $29 million today to plan a project that won't be get funded before 2030 is sheer insanity.

Something like spending $46 million to plan to Silver Line tunnel that won't get built at all.

Exactly how much of the MBTA fare increase could be trimmed if we got that $75 million redirected?

It doesn't have to be this way. The parties that negotiated the agreement that made sense at the time could go back to the table and talk again.

But that would be too easy.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Comment moderation is on

I've turned comment moderation on full-time to discourage a pesky new spammer. While I appreciate the hits, I could do without the clean-up. I'll go back to the old way as soon as he gets tired.


What's the matter with Cambridge?

I wanted to hold my fire on the bizarre case of Henry Louis Gates and the Cambridge Police until all the facts were. Thankfully it didn't take long. Unfortunately, my suspicions were true.

After the great strides Boston, Cambridge and the rest of the Massachusetts has made in living down the bitter past of busing and racism, it's still out there. And the actions of a handful of people still make us all look awful.

This one is bizarre from the get go. Who called the police at the site of Gates trying to get into his own home? A neighbor, who ostensibly should have known him? A passerby?

Accepting that a call may have been appropriate, the police response was not. Once Gates produced identification, the whole thing should have ended. Even if Gates was (justifiably) outraged at being challenged to identify himself in his own living room, the police officer should have had enough common sense to apologize for the inconvenience, say he was doing his job and walk away.

That's where things get truly bizarre in the "he said, he said" phase -- and why the matter should not be dropped with charges.
  • Did Sgt. James Crowley refuse to identify himself?
  • Did Gates, who says he had bronchitis, really shout at the sergeant?
There seem to be some basic discrepancies between Gates account and the police report. And the speed with which the charge was dropped suggests rather clearly whose story was more believable.

I sighed with frustration when I heard that Rasheed Wallace, like Kevin Garnett before him, questioned Boston's past before agreeing to sign with the Celtics. Ancient history, I thought, but still out there.

Maybe not so ancient after all.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

This is news?

The Globe headline link almost begs you to skip over it. What, pray tell, is newsworthy in a story "Green Line project costs grow as state funding shrinks"?

At least it isn't as premature as Kenmore renovations of nearly complete while the elevator works churns on endlessly. Wasn't it about handicapped accessibility?

Or a half-finished Arlington station is considered a success because the elevator is actually in operation?

And the less said about Copley, the better.

But there is an important difference here. The Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford is required to be complete by 2014. Part of the agreement surrounding construction of the Big Dig.

Which as we all know was on time and on budget. Not.
The Green Line expansion, estimated to cost $600 million in recent years, is now listed by the Patrick administration at $934 million, with hopes that the federal government will pay half the costs. And that money will build tracks and stations only to Union Square and Tufts University by 2014, a legal deadline set to meet clean air requirements.
It's commendable that state transportation planners want, in the words of one, to "get real." Unfortunately it comes about a decade too late.

But look at the bright side. The delays on the Green Line won't get that much worse. After all, there doesn't seem to be any talk about new cars to beef up capacity on a line that is already slow and overcrowded. Just think what it will be like when you need to wait for a train from Medford and not just Lechmere.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

That's one small step...

Where were you when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon? (Presuming you were anything more than a glimmer in a parental eye or not a member of the "it's a hoax" crowd).

I was with a group of co-workers in what might politely be called a break area in an un-air conditioned store in Cleveland. We packed around a small black and white television as the grainy images appeared. Forty years of advances in television technology can make you question the reality of those images, but we sure thought it was real.

The moon walk (not that one) may have been one of the last times Americans were so united with a common purpose. A lot has happened since then, most of it bad. Three wars. Republican presidents named Nixon and Bush who treated the Constitution like Charmin. The rise of the Theocons who brought us culture wars and the attempt to impose their values on the rest of us (while not following their own path). Fill in your own blank.

But in those heady days, it seemed there wasn't anything Americans couldn't do if they put their minds to it.

So what happened?

Some might say it was the NASA's failure to find a philosopher. Others (myself included) would look at the cost and suggest it would have been better spent elsewhere -- if only it had not been on wars and to line the coffers of companies as it was during the long reign of GOP presidents.

Whatever the reason (again, fill in your own blank) we messed up and hit a bad patch. The culture warriors like to blame the '60s for the breakdown on our national character and it was indeed a tumultuous time (just watch the CBS tribute to Walter Cronkite.) I think it was a time when we stood up for the ideals in the document later besmirched by Nixon and Bush.

But it's hard to deny that the "space race" united hippie and laborer, liberal and conservative, even for a brief moment, in ways that are unthinkable today.

It was a small step for man (and woman). Too bad we've fumbled the giant leap for mankind. Hey. there's always tomorrow.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

A tales of two attractions

There's an interesting -- and probably unintended -- juxtaposition of what makes for a successful cultural organization on today's Globe front page.

Read Matt Viser's look at what makes Providence's Roger Williams Zoo a worthy attraction over its two Boston competitors. Then read Geoff Edgers' look at how the Institute for Contemporary Art turned itself into a must-see attraction on the Boston waterfront.

The difference? The ICA learned what it takes to attract cash-paying visitors -- interesting exhibits and pleasant surroundings. They had a vision and implemented it, including a move from a conveniently located but cramped Back Bay police station to an avant garde if harder-to-reach waterfront showpiece that is as much a work of modern art as what is housed inside.

Zoo New England? Despite a good location and an attraction that is a potential license to print money among parents and school groups, it continues to struggle, trying to come up with yet another plan to "get it together."

Both groups also receive state funding through the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Both have had facilities needs addressed with public dollars.

So what's the difference? Leadership. The ICA went out an attracted a leader with a vision in Jill Medvedow. Zoo New England has futzed and scraped and come up with a "leader" who excels in issuing extortion threats to the governor.

Maybe Zoo New England needs someone who knows how to do more than write press releases demanding appropriations? That way we could actually keep the dollars in Massachusetts instead of exporting them to Rhode Island.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Big Brother really is watching

Here's an item that really makes me think twice about ever getting a Kindle.

Someone either has a sick sense of humor is is totally clueless to the contents of the books they sell.

I think I'll stick with dead tree books. Easier at the beach too.

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Recession-proof industry

Momma, don't let your babies grow up to be lobbyists...

Not quite the same flavor as Willie Nelson's ode to cowboys -- and it would be bad advice if Momma wanted her sons and daughters to make good money.

No better proof than the latest Massachusetts lobbying report, which shows the money has flowed like wine on Beacon Hill so far this year -- where the agenda was heavy with discussions about "reform."

The word attracts clients to lobbyists like moths to a flame. Because, as they like to say, politics is a zero-sum game. Someone wins, someone loses. The person with the most money to influence that decision usually comes out on top.

There us nothing inherently wrong with lobbying -- it is the practice of free speech after all. As Nancy Stirling of ML Strategies correctly points out:
“There are so many changes in laws and regulations being made across the board, including in the lobbying disclosure rules themselves; it’s really important for clients to have a guide through the process. That’s what ML Strategies and other lobbying firms offer.’’
The problem is that people without the money to retain people to guide them through the process lose. People like you and me.

The system that has been put into place to conduct the people's business is also a bit unseemly. The practice of politicians holding breakfasts, lunches and dinners in "intimate" settings to schmooze about issues -- and take in checks -- is not really a good thing when it comes to holding that food down.

And no matter how well intentioned the recipients might be, they are only fooling themselves and others if they say practice provides access and not influence. But just how much access do we get without the check?

It doesn't have to be totally one-sided. (Full disclosure: I have not been lobbied for this plug by a regular reader). There's a nice little book called "Lobbying on a Shoestring" that can help guide people through the process in Massachusetts.

And you will note Judy Meredith's name only appears in the One Massachusetts blog and the comments section here and not on the top earners list highlighted in the Globe.

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And that's the way it was

They don't make 'em like that any more. And that, in a nutshell, is what's wrong in journalism today.

The passing of Walter Cronkite at the age of 92 marks the end of an era. But that time really passed when Cronkite signed off as anchor of the CBS Evening News 28 years ago. Millions of news consumers -- and thousands of journalists -- have no real idea what news, particularly the network variety, was really like.

They would scratch their heads and wonder how a television anchorman was known as the most trusted man in America, a man of such stature that Lyndon Johnson said "If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America."

In Cronkite's era sound bites ran 40 seconds. Today, if we're lucky they run 10 seconds. Not enough time for a full thought, let alone a coherent one in context.

Many TV reporters and anchors rely on their appearance, not their training. Few if any will have the background of Cronkite, who cut his teeth as a war correspondent for United Press. And while he was known to America as "Uncle Walter," his physical presence would just not pass muster with today's on-air standards.

Those who followed him in the CBS anchor chair reflect the changes. Both Dan Rather and Katie Couric have rock solid news credentials. But Rather's eccentricities often got into his way and Couric's "perky" TV personality has been turned as a weapon against her.

Ironically, I was a Huntley-Brinkley guy as a kid. The NBC duo had the same gravitas and I am hard pressed to come up with a reason say how they were any better. Perhaps that's the ultimate fact of television news -- if you start with someone you stick with them.

The Washington Post's Howie Kurtz sums up how towering a figure Cronkite really was:
It's been 28 years since Walter Cronkite last told America that was the way it is, more than enough time for him to fade from our collective consciousness.

The fact that he didn't speaks volumes not just about him, but also about an era when an anchor could presume to tell the country -- without contradiction from bloggers, Twitterers and other carping critics -- that what he had just presented was indeed a definitive picture of reality.

And that's the way it is, Saturday, July 18th, 2009. Good-bye Walter Cronkite and rest in peace.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Can't buy me love

You would think someone in political office as long as Boston Mayor Tom Menino would understand the line between politics and journalism -- and business.

You would also think he would understand the concept of an appearance of a conflict-of-interest.

But you would apparently think wrong.

Menino insists he has the purest of motives in his offer to use the Boston Local Development Corp. fund, a private nonprofit administered by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, to help keep the Bay State Banner afloat.
“This is about me helping a business that is very important to the minority community,’’ Menino said. “I will step up any time and help any business in this city. I’m trying to help a business survive. Tell me if that’s wrong.’’
That's wrong.

Mr. Mayor, the Banner is not just any business. It is a newspaper, one that has whacked you pretty good over the years. Keeping it alive is a noble goal. That way it can continue to whack you and you and your successors (if it survives that long).

And every step it takes, every story it writes with your name in it, will be examined for potential bias if the city helps prop it up.

It's heartening to know there is a group of potential investors led by Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree trying to step up and purchase the paper from longtime publisher Mel Miller. It is disturbing to think that they apparently also do not see the potential for headaches in a city-sponsored loan.

After all, let's just think about the precedent if the city sponsored a loan for other struggling new outlets.

Can you see Jack Connors, Steve Pagliuca and Steve Taylor approaching the mayor's office as "representatives of the Banner's interests" apparently did.

"Hey Mayor, can you tide us over in trying to buy the Globe?"

The Banner has been an important voice in Boston media for four decades. It is important that it's voice not be stilled -- whether by closure or by the perception that it is a house organ paid for by City Hall.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Another day, another T mess

Ho hum. Yet another story about the MBTA and something questionable on the front page.

This time, we're looking an an initial investigation by Auditor Joe DeNucci into why the MBTA is sometimes losing money in a deal where it is supposed to be earning cash through leasing space in South Station.

And as usual, the blame lies elsewhere, according to Smilin' Dan Grabauskas. And this one is pure genius -- he's blamed someone who hasn't been in office for almost 20 years.

It's relatively simple. The T leases South Station to Equity Office Properties, and the two are supposed to split the annual profits. But DeNucci's initial inquiry found that Equity Office claimed such high expenses that the T got little or no money in the profit-sharing arrangement.

Smilin' Dan says he's stuck with terms negotiated more than two decades ago by then-state transportation secretary Fred Salvucci.
“I have neither a detraction nor a defense of the lease,’’ Grabauskas said. “I didn’t enter into it. If other parties want me to reexamine it to see if there is good reason to try to renegotiate the terms prior to its conclusion, then I will do that.’’
So if this is a problem of 20 years, why hasn't anyone noticed it before, least of all the crackerjack MBTA management that is trying to pinch every penny to avoid fare hikes?

Reader Chris Rich wonders just what is in the severance deal that Grabauskas negotiated for himself that leaves Deval Patrick unwilling to pull the trigger and dump Danny early? Obviously Grabauskas must has some contract skills.

Just wonderin'?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Asleep at the switch

The National Transportation Safety Board has come down pretty hard on the MBTA in its official report on the 2008 Green Line crash that killed train operator Ter’rese Edmonds. And while they believe she may have suffered from a sleep problem, the real one lies with MBTA management.

The ultimate problem, they say, is the "lack of a safety culture" that includes things like missing fail-safe technology on the Green Line that would have stopped the train if Edmonds suffered a "microsleep" problem that caused he to temporarily nod out at the wrong time.
“If technology exists - and it exists on the other lines - why would the Green Line not have everything possible that is going to prevent the accidents from happening?’’ Mark V. Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said during a hearing in Washington, D.C... “I don’t understand that, as an operator,’’ Rosenker said. “I just don’t.’’
Good question. What say you Dan Grabauskas?

Um. Nothing.
MBTA general manager Daniel A. Grabauskas and state Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr., chairman of the T board, declined requests for interviews yesterday.
It was left to "unnamed" T officials to defend the T's safety record pointing to "a number of measures the agency has taken since last year’s crash, including a more frequent and formal system to observe drivers’ speeds and safety compliance on the tracks."

I have a two-word response to that claim: Aidan Quinn.

Grabauskas' defenders have been recent visitors here to stand up for the T's general manager. I look forward to hearing from them in the absence of any official response.

Nothing has changed my mind that Smilin' Dan has got to go as part of any fare increase.

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The Big Mattress

It's pretty ironic that Mrs. OL and I go out an buy a new king size bed days before the Big Mattress leaves town.

OK, while technically Charles Laquidara and the Big Mattress pulled up roots from WBCN a long time ago -- and Charles and Duane Glasscock are enjoying themselves in Hawaii -- it truly marks the end of era.

My musical needs, such as they are, changed through the years and I haven't been a regular listener for a long time. But 'BCN was an integral part of my college years and its passing -- for yet another sports talk network -- is a cause for sadness.

And yet another unwanted reminder that I'm getting old!

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Who's zoo-min who?

Five days into the great Put a Gun to the Lion's Head saga, Zoo New England boss John Linehan boss finally surfaced to insist he really didn't mean to cause such an uproar.

And he has a point.

While I and others have been pretty harsh in noting this isn't the first time zoo officials have pulled this publicity stunt to get the Legislature to cough up more dough for the operation, this entire fiasco need not have happened.

All that would have been required is for the Globe reporters and editors to check the clips to find the pattern of serial sensationalism that has passed for legislative relations by the organization.

Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. Fool us three times?

Meanwhile, it appears some level of sanity is returning to Beacon Hill, where lawmakers may be spared the embarrassment of putting the lives of animals ahead of people. While Gov. Deval Patrick is ordering zoo officials to take another look at their options, override fever is subsiding in the House.

“A lot of people generally feel that we’d like to see the funding go to the zoos; they’re important,’’ said state Representative Martin Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat. “However, doing that at the expense of these other programs - it could be a very difficult vote for folks. If a choice comes between voting to fund the zoo or funding people with mental illnesses, I’m going with people with mental illness.’’

There are a lot of lessons to be learned. One of the big ones is that organizations representing people as well as animals make rather large claims about the impact of budget cuts. Reporters and editors should do some basic work, like checking the clips and talking to other people, to verify them. Even on a Friday afternoon in the summer.

If they had, this story would not have been so ridiculously overblown.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Beacon Hill Zoo

You don't need to spend $10 and change on a movie to get great entertainment around here. Visit the Beacon Hill Zoo. It's free.

Responding to the media-created furor over the threatened closing of the Franklin Park and Stone zoos -- and the potential euthanizing of some residents -- legislative leaders say they will step up and override Gov. Deval Patrick's veto.

The move strikes me as similar to what gorillas do to express their displeasure. But that's apparently all part of the game on Beacon Hill these days as the war between Deval Patrick and the Legislature simmers at a low boil.

The Phoenix's David Bernstein offers multiple scenarios of what may lie in store when other advocacy groups employ Zoo New England's apparently successful veto override tactic. The Globe, which started this furor because it reported on Zoo New England's threat with some major context missing, belatedly weighs in too.

Yeah, there is a lot of blame to go around here -- Patrick, the Legislature, the Globe, Zoo New England all should help clean out the cages.

But if lawmakers override the veto based on phone calls, I'd give the head zookeeper badge to Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray to largest shovel if they roll over without so much as a whimper. There is a history here they are ignoring too.

As an anonymous reader correctly points out, (but probably not with the same context I'm using it), the Stone Zoo actually did close between 1989-1991 during a previous budget crisis, incurring costs without generating revenue.

Then there was the much ballyhooed arrival of Brian Rutledge in 1996 to once again save the zoos. His 2001 firing, "despite success," got a lot less attention.

The point is there is a pattern here -- of a private, not-for-profit entity falling into the same hole repeatedly. These are admittedly tough times for the sector -- witness the North Shore Music Theatre -- but how often can an organization like this fail and be bailed out?

The ultimate irony is Zoo New England was created in 1991 after one of the previous scares to secure a more solid future for the animals. How they doin' so far?

I think you can all the information you need to know when both president John Linehan and PR master Marlo Fogelman opt to go silent in face of the false storm they created.

Where, exactly, is the accountability that should be demanded in exchange for taxpayer dollars? Or does that only apply when certain ox are being gored?

I have no desire to see innocent animals put to sleep because humans can't manage. But I also have no interest in public policy by press release and peeved behavior. I hope lawmakers study Bernstein's scenarios carefully. I'm sure advocates will.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Anatomy of a PR disaster

Whoever does PR and legislative relations for Zoo New England deserves a raise. And it should come from the pocket of the folks who do crisis communications for the Patrick administration.

The Tempest in a Zoo saga we were treated to over the weekend should be required reading for reporters, PR folks and public officials. We were spun so hard we're still dizzy.

Let's start with the basic facts -- missing from the stories. Anyone and everyone receiving public support is taking a trim because of the massive cuts needed in the state budget. That includes cities and towns -- and the police, firefighters and teachers they employ. That includes health and social service providers -- like Boston Medical Center.

The likelihood is that at some point someone is going to die because of a closed firehouse or reduced mental health or social services.

The folks at Zoo New England took the classic approach to deal with the $4 million sliced from their budget. They drafted a letter with dire predictions about euthanizing animals and sent it to legislative leaders on Tuesday. And they handed it to the Globe on a Friday afternoon of a lazy summer weekend.

The reaction was as predictable as a fire over African grasslands. But despite several days head start, the Patrick administration was caught flatfooted.

“These are extremely difficult times across the state, and there have been tough cuts in every area,’’ a Patrick spokeswoman, Cyndi Roy, said in a statement. “This is an example of an unfortunate cut that had to be made in order to preserve core services for families struggling during the economic downturn.’’

That doesn't seem quite strong enough when contrasted to this from Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who is looking at closing firehouses and other budget-cutting nightmares.

“This is just another bad decision on budget cuts, affecting working families. ... It’s a big deal,’ It’s a great resource for the community. The zoo is an inexpensive place to spend a day in tough economic times.’’

On the second day, zoo officials up the ante and say that state bureaucrats - and not animal-care professionals - would be responsible for deciding whether some animals would have to be killed if the zoos closed.

Game, set, match. Zoos win.

Finally, on the third news cycle, the administration -- and the media -- catch on to the world class PR effort.

“As a supporter of the zoo and a parent who has visited often, the governor is disappointed to learn that Zoo New England has responded to this difficult but unavoidable budget cut by spreading inaccurate and incendiary information,’’ Kyle Sullivan, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement.

And a second Patrick aide emphatically ruled out the killing of any animals.

“There will be no consideration given to euthanizing any animals under the state’s watch,’’ said Joe Landolfi, Patrick’s director of communications. If the zoos were to close, Landolfi said, the state would work to find new homes for the animals.

Oh yeah, and this piece of important context missing from two previous stories.
Zoo officials have used the prospect of euthanizing animals in prior fights against state budget cuts. Faced with similar funding reductions in the early 1990s that forced the closure of the Stone Zoo, officials initially said many of those animals would have to be euthanized. But none were. Instead, most were moved to the Franklin Park Zoo until 1994, when the Stone Zoo was reopened.
Think that the bleeding of veteran reporters from the Globe hasn't made a difference in terms of what is sometimes called institutional memory?

One other point worth mentioning. Leading the charge for the animals is Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, you know the guys who leads that rag-tag little group of lawmakers standing up for taxpayers. See, even Republicans aren't as heartless as Deval!

There is usually a fleeting mention to the fact that the cuts would also affect the Stone Zoo -- which happens to be located in Tisei's district. All politics really is local after all.

So relax, no bureaucrat is going to bump off Little Joe. But money is going to get sliced somewhere else to pay for it. All budget politics is a zero sum game after all -- and you can't spin that fact.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

I don't believe in coincidence

As NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs likes to note "I don't believe in coincidence."

So with that in mind, what are we to make of the sudden emergence of reports that the CIA was conducting a counter terrorism operation so secret that it was even withheld from Congress?

And that former Vice President Dick Cheney was behind the decision to keep a co-equal branch of government out of the loop?

And that Leon Panetta, the man Barack Obama brought in to clean up the mess, spilled the beans?

Or that Attorney General Eric Holder is leaning toward appointing a criminal prosecutor to investigate whether CIA personnel tortured terrorists?

I'd say the most media savvy administration in history is on its game.

After all, polls are showing the short-memoried, immediate results-oriented public is showing signs of frustration that an economic mess with roots in the Clinton era isn't going away in six months. Certainly the Republican "leaders" who helped preside over the worst of the debacle are spinning that story 24-7.

So while the administration is taking heat because they didn't accurately forecast unemployment rates (isn't that like forecasting the weather?), it has been working to open a new front on the narrative.

And that narrative stars the man virtually everyone loves to hate -- Darth Cheney.

As I said, I don't believe it is a coincidence that we are now being let in on another deep, dark secret of the Bush administration -- like the fact the warrantless wiretap program that attacked our basic liberties were also largely ineffective.

With overheated rhetoric on the unemployment rate and shock, just shock over the fact Congress can't agree on health care reform in five months after five decades of trying, it was imperative the administration open another rhetorical front.

And with heat coming from the left flank on health care, the economy and the environment, Cheney was the perfect foil. We may be a squabbling family that can't agree on much but we do know that Cheney, even more than George W. Bush is the perfect lightning rod.

I'm not saying these issues aren't important ones to address. I'm just saying the timing is certainly, um, fortuitous.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

"Where are we supposed to get our sticky buns..."

I kept reading the story like many a Tweet, a morbid curiosity about why the Globe would write about restaurants and cafes that take time off in the summer.

Then, right after the jump in the hard copy came the killer quote:
"Where are we supposed to get our sticky buns from..."
And from the mouth of that nameless customer came the phrase that may just sum up America in 2009. Days after Al Franken took the oath of office for the Senate we can truly confirm it really is "about me".

It then became as easy as catching fish in a barrel after that. The Quincy College employee who said she would consider Charlie Baker as governor because Deval Patrick is "taxing us to death." Exactly how many tax dollars flow into the college, a public institution operated by the City of Quincy?

Or even the heart-wrenching story of the threatened closing of the Franklin Park and Stone Zoos -- and the potential euthanizing of animals. Maybe we should be "taxed for life?" Or do we cast aside the welfare of children and seniors for the animals?

None of this is getting through into the brain pans of most folks. Why? Is it the media's focus on trivia? Or the ability of anti-government types to repeatedly trick people into long-term memory loss?

Taxes are the big bugaboo in all of our lives (And that includes me. I plan to make a major purchase before the higher sales tax kicks in on Aug. 1 ). But we always fail to consider the broader picture -- like what happens behind the scenes. In government. In our daily routines.

I hope the person in need of the sticky bun fix can survive the inconvenience while work goes on behind the scenes to make the place that sells them cleaner and better.

And I hope we survive our own shortsightedness.

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Friday, July 10, 2009


When I started this little exercise just shy of four years ago, I was writing for myself.

But as with all bloggers, ego entered into it. About three or four months later, I learned about Statcounter and began the urge to speak to someone other than myself. I guess I succeeded.

Today brings with it the 100,000th hit. Chump change for many, particularly bloggers like Dan Kennedy at Media Nation, Jay Fitzgerald at Hub Blog and the folks at Blue Mass Group who are kind enough to link to my rants. And especially for Adam Gaffin at Universal Hub who probably counts, indirectly, for up to half those hits.

Ultimately, thanks to all of you who stop by, agree with me when I'm right (which of course is all the time, it's my blog!) and offer suggestions when you think I'm wrong.

Please keep coming and as the boys from Bartles and Jaymes once said "Thank You for Your Support."


Same old song and dance

Massachusetts Republicans are giddy with excitement over Charlie Baker's decision to take the plunge for governor in 2010. And they should be.

But any thought of effecting any real change is just a thought unless and until the party does what it has either refused or failed to do for a generation -- build from the ground up.

The saga of Deval Patrick and the Legislature should make abundantly clear that true power in the Commonwealth presides in the Great and General Court. And with the track record of the last three speakers it proves Lord Acton correct:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
Not that Charlie, Tommy and Sal are bad men, just that they got carried away with their authority.

Let us also not forget that the dynamic today is not all that far-removed from that of the 16 years between 1990 and 2006, when Republicans named Weld, Cellucci, Swift and Romney called the Corner Office home (at least part-time).

And we could probably take a good guess that what gave them wanderlust was their inability to take a chunk out of the Democratic stranglehold in the Legislature. Not, of course, that they or the state party ever tried.

As someone who covered the Statehouse during the late '80s and 1990, I can tell you with great assurance the mood today is not similar. It was venomous then -- fury at Michael Dukakis for embarrassing Massachusetts in the 1988 presidential election and a state economy that was far worse than the national one.

Today, the embarrassing governor is the last ex, the one who used Massachusetts as the butt of his jokes. And there is no doubt that Massachusetts is in the same hole as everyone else. In fact, a little better off because our leaders actually managed to get a budget in on time and have avoided the nightmare that is California (you know, the one with the Republican governor?)

What is the same is the imbalance in D and R numbers in the Legislature. The fury of 1990 prompted enough candidates to run for legislative seats that Weld actually got enough Senate votes to sustain vetoes. Today, the Gang of Five can't even call for a quorum.

Does anyone realistically think that Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray will change should Baker or even Tim Cahill get the keys to the Corner Office?

So while I don't want to dampen the spirit of Massachusetts Republicans, who have a candidates who has the potential to win over Democrats and independents, I do think they need a dash of cold water.

Recruit strong candidates to win legislative seats or nothing is going to change. And that will inevitably include the next Republican governor throwing up his or her hands in frustration and walking away.

Just call this some friendly advice from a stranger.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

It's all downhill from here

Memo to Charlie Baker: It doesn't get better than this. Enjoy it while you can.

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Get Danny off the MTA...

MBTA commuters are about to get stuck. Hard. But in exchange for forking over more cash for the same crummy service (and avoiding the threat of even worse service) riders need to demand one major concession in return.

Smilin' Dan Grabauskas has got to go.

After all, the entire Turnpike Authority is heading out to pasture as part of the deal to avoid a massive toll increase. Shouldn't T riders expect some similar quid pro quo in exchange for higher costs? What about the concept of accountability?

Grabauskas inherited a mess -- and he has contributed to an even bigger ones. Schedules are a sometimes thing, whether for buses and trains or subway station renovations (when exactly will Kenmore be finished?)

And while the T, like the soon-to-be-late and unlamented Pike Authority, was saddled with debt by a Legislature that has excelled in putting problems off until tomorrow, Grabauskas has excelled in doing little to nothing to advocate for riders.

And the same charge can be hurled at Transportation Secretary James Aloisi (ditching him might not be a bad idea either, but Danny has been around a lot longer.)

Let's face it -- no one lobbied as hard for T commuters as for Pike users (and I agree the proposed hikes were ludicrous.) Instead, Smilin' Dan held a gun to his riders head -- saying pay more or I cut out night and weekend service.

Legislators like House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Wagner of Chicopee had no concept of the T's importance in the scheme of things. Their outright refusal to consider a gasoline tax -- which would have provided bailouts for both Pike drivers and T riders -- shows a total lack of effective advocacy for riders.

And to make matters worse, the $160 million in relief that Grabauskas sought and won from lawmakers was clearly not enough to get the job done.

So, while riders will be shelling out even more for lousy service they have one last arrow in their quiver: Let's get Danny off the MTA.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Now it gets interesting

First things first: Charlie Baker is not Tim Cahill. Or Mitt Romney. He is a serious policy wonk who knows his way around two of the toughest portfolios in state government -- administration and finance and health and human services. He presided over the turnaround of a major health insurer.

But while the Massachusetts Republican Party has good reason to rejoice over Baker's decision to throw his hat into the 2010 governor's race, they shouldn't be getting ready to measure the drapes and select a new official gubernatorial chariot just yet.

While Deval Patrick has presided over the state during the most serious financial downturn in recent history, it's not his doing. He can make a legitimate claim that the fiscal house collapsed thanks to the mistakes made at the federal level under a Republican president.

And he can -- as he already has started to do -- pin the tail on the donkeys who run the Massachusetts Legislature for not reacting more quickly and efficiently to meet the challenges.

But most importantly, Patrick has, after taking serious lumps, learned how to play the political game. That is something Baker is the first to admit is not his strong suit. It will require a steep learning curve.

He is also not getting an immediate mano-a-mano showdown. He may face a GOP primary with Christy Mihos -- something that may actually help toughen him up. But when he emerges on top in the primary, he would have a short sprint to the finish in a three-person race.

And as long as Soon-to-be-UnTreasurer Tim stays in the hunt -- as a fiscally conservative, socially liberal candidate, much like Baker -- it means that Patrick needs only 34 percent to win-re-election.

Plus, while Baker can truly claim deep knowledge about health care and fiscal policy, he is not a wizard. He cannot singlehandedly turnaround a state that has been brought to its knees by a federal disaster. Rest assured Patrick will remind voters of that.

Let us also not forget that Baker has been an insurance executive for the last decade. That's almost as popular a job as an elected official.

And in our rush to bury Deval, we ignore at our own risk the reality: Patrick issued an ultimatum to the Legislature: pass ethics, pension and transportation reform or I croak the sales tax you guys proposed without considering other options.

And when all is said and done it was the Legislature, not Patrick, who blinked.

So 2010 just got a lot more entertaining for political junkies. There are two serious candidates (and a spoiler) for governor. Let the games begin!

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The view from the tank

Wait, there's a message coming in on my secret Doug Rubin decoder ring -- "lob a grenade at Tim Cahill."

Treasurer Tim is gearing up for his not-yet decided run for governor in a chat with the Herald's Hillary Chabot -- and his message is the upcoming battle that he hasn't decided on yet is a personal crusade being led by Doug Rubin, who helped him into the treasurer's office before signing on with Deval Patrick.
Rubin has “already thrown many grenades,” he said. “It’s part of the business. It’s not nice when the people you were in the trenches with start throwing things at you, but it’s part of the business.”
Time for a disclosure: I was in the same room once with Doug Rubin. He would not know me from Adam. I believe I am a member of the same party Cahill soon plans to join: Unenrolled.

Yet Cahill believes those who are lining up against him are in the tank with Patrick and the Democratic Party.

The only thing that is in the tank is the Massachusetts economy. And I haven't really heard anything constructive from the Treasurer and Receiver General of the Commonwealth, the independently elected person charged with keeping the books, offer a serious plan to deal with that reality.

Oh sure, he's against taxes and thinks health care may be too costly. So what's his alternative to filling a $3.2 billion revenue gap caused by an imploding national economy?

Cahill came into statewide office on the basis of name confusion and a slogan thought up by his daughter. There hasn't been a heck of a lot of substance since. A lot of posturing, yes. But substance. Un-uh.

To now claim infer that the only thing standing between him and the office for which he hasn't decided to run is the state party apparatus is laughable.

Did I get that right Doug? If not, I may need a new secret decoder ring.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Truth -- or consequences

Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

That's the essence of the message Massachusetts Democrats are offering Treasurer Tim Cahill as he promises to change his party affiliation -- but insists he may run for re-election and not governor.

The potential field for treasurer is growing -- with Democratic honcho and one-time gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman tossing his hat into the ring for the job Cahill holds. The one-time state and national party chief may not be the most formidable candidate, but the symbolism is impressive.

A host of other Democrats eager for a rare vacancy in a statewide office are also being mentioned for the job.

Cahill was too coy by half in suggesting he only wants to express his Independence as a fiscally conservative Democrat -- but not forsaking his current job.

The Quincy pol has lusted for the top job and knows that it's up or out time. He would lead you to believe the fact he probably could not get the 15 percent needed to win a spot on the Democratic primary for governor at a convention controlled by Deval Patrick has nothing to do with it.

An independent bid by Cahill would only strengthen the incumbent's chance in a three-person race that could include Christy Mihos or Charlie Baker as the Republican. After all, he only needs 34 percent. So Patrick is alternating between neutral to feisty, telling the Statehouse News Service:
"If he’s going to be a candidate, then fine. We’ll talk about all that during the course of the campaign. He should bring his A game.”
If Cahill's support is deeper than his record, Patrick would have something to worry about. Count me a skeptic right now.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Treasurer Tim has a lean and hungry look

Yond Treasurer Tim has a lean and hungry look.

Julius Caesar may have been talking about Cassius
, but the phrase applies equally to Tim Cahill, who may also be considering the political equivalent of what Cassius had in store for the emperor -- assassination, with Deval Patrick playing the role of victim.

But like Cassius, Cahill "thinks too much; such men are dangerous." Why? Because he can't even come up with a straight-faced reason for his decision to switch from Democrat to unenrolled -- the first step to a Patrick challenge. As Cahill advisers told the Globe:
... the move doesn't necessarily mean he will run against the sitting governor; he has told them he will either campaign for governor or treasurer as an independent candidate.
Why, pray tell, would a two-term sitting treasurer, elected as a Democrat, switch parties to run for re-election?

Like Cassius, Cahill appears motivated by political ambition. In the process he has proven himself transparent. And while a government that is transparent is a good thing, a politician who lets his ambition shine through is not.

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OK, I admit. Rasheed Wallace has always been one of those NBA players you love to hate. The scowl. The whine. The technicals. Oh the T's!

So what can you say about word the Celtics have apparently convinced Wallace to come aboard for two years at, for NBA standards, short money?

I believe Marv Albert said it best: YES!

After a gritty 2009 run that was doomed by Kevin Garnett's knee, the Celtics had seemingly dropped off the contenders list. The Cavaliers snagged Shaquille O'Neal. The Lakers are going to add Ron Artest (now that's a temper you can dislike even more!).

What's worse, the talk was drifting negative: is Rajon Rondo a liability? No, he's a competitive kid who has seen his career blossom. Does he need a little more maturity? Perhaps. A problem? Give me a break.

We all knew the initial window for a return to glory (and No. 17) was narrow. The new Big Three took care of that in short order and produced another 60-plus win season (albeit after raising thoughts about a 70-win schedule) before Garnett's knee betrayed him. I have firmly believed the Celtics already improved themselves next year with a healthy No. 5 back in action.

Bringing Wallace aboard means the Celtics are firmly committed to avoiding the dark days when the Original Big Three aged in place. Grant Hill would be a nice addition too.

But what is needed in tandem with retaining complimentary pieces like Eddie House and signing new ones like Wallace is a commitment to the future. To that end, re-signing Rondo and Big Baby is a must.

For those of us getting longer in the tooth, Wallace is the best Detroit import since a towel-waver by the name of Michael Leon Carr. With a healthy Garnett back under the basket, the Celtics will remain among the elite as the contend for No. 18.

And with Wallace, Garnett and Kendrick Perkins, they will also contend for the team with the most technicals. Hope Steve Pagliuci has some cash around after buying the Globe to help the guys out with the fines.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Ca$h-$pangled 4th

Is it just me, or was the televised version of the Boston 4th of July celebration just one large commercial?

It wasn't just the "live" show opening with the final minutes of the 1812 Overture, taped a good 10 minutes earlier. And it wasn't just the pre-packaged segment of one Craig Ferguson joke followed by one Neil Diamond song followed by about five endless minutes of advertising.

In some ways that was an improvement over when WBZ-TV killed time up to the 10 p.m. network join by interviewing their weather man.

The Esplanade is an experience everyone should have at least once. We actually went twice and were cured. The first year, a bench supposedly anchored along the Esplanade toppled when we got up and hit Mrs. OL in the ankle. She saw fireworks all right, not the same ones I did of course.

Year Two was the Bicentennial -- you know the year that Jack Williams said did not produce a turnout as large as the one last night that varied from a half-million to one million people over the course of the broadcast. Standing in the middle of the closed Storrow Drive, dodging the fireworks launched by the idiot nearby, was the ultimate cure.

So we've opted for other ways. There are some great fireworks viewing points in Brookline, but lately we've opted for the TV version. And it was terrific -- until organizer Stephen Mugar, looking for extra cash to finance the extravaganza -- sold the rights to CBS several years ago.

I can't blame the guy for trying to make a few extra bucks to defray the cost of the spectacular he gave birth to and has supported. But there should have been some quality controls.

Like not pretending to join the 1812 in progress. And I could swear the fireworks were joined in progress and were on a slight time delay (longer than the normal explanation of physics that says light travels faster than sound).

And not running five-plus minutes of commercials every 10 minutes.

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Where's Sarah?

Is the governor of Alaska hiking the Appalachian Trail?

Maybe we should buy all elected officials GPS units that we can implant under the skin in their neck in case they get lost?

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Does this include the B Line too?

One thing about Smilin' Dan Grabauskas -- he knows the T and "hassle factor" go hand-in-hand.

Not that I have a problem with the T cracking down on fare scofflaws. I just wish it were uniform. Like outbound on the Green Line, particularly on Comm. Ave?

Lot of cash is slipping through those open doors Danny Boy.

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Sarah, we knew ye too well...

At this rate, Mitt Romney will get the 2012 Republican nomination by default.

Sarah Palin added another line to her political resume yesterday. In addition to mayor, governor and vice presidential candidate, she can now add quitter to the litany, walking away from an unfinished job in the middle of a term.

After a news conference that conjured up images of Richard Nixon (and a little Mark Sanford) Palin announced she was resigning at the end of the month, a little more than halfway through her term.

Taking the advice of Harry Truman, Palin decided she couldn't stand the heat and got out of the kitchen. The buck will soon stop with Alaska Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell.

The trajectory of this shooting star is stunning: from unknown small state governor, to white hot media star, untested No. 2 candidate, center of political firestorm and back to unknown small state governor (and mother) in less than one year.

Palin has loudly complained of her treatment by the GOP elite and the media, while simply forgetting the fact she agreed to be sucked into the limelight -- and the price that decision carries. The debates whether she was the manipulator or the manipulatee will continue after she leaves Juneau (or is that Juno?).

The punditocracy is awash this July 4th with "will she, won't she" speculation. The Vanity Fair piece that hasn't plunked in my mailbox yet, sounds savage -- but let's not forget the worst barbs come from within her own party.

And the Palin faithful are surely the segment of the party the GOP has to push out of the driver's seat if it hopes to escape the fate of the Whigs.

I suspect the ultimate verdict may also rest in a comparison to Our Man Myth. While he also quit in the middle of his term, he didn't give up the office. He had the face-saving ability to say he completed everything he started.

Palin walked away before the end of her term because the going, largely of her own making, got too tough.

Not exactly a strong credential for a would-be Leader of the Free World.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Whatever happened to...?

As the Division of Insurance and MassPIRG do verbal battle over the state of auto insurance premiums in the Commonwealth, I did started to wondering -- what ever happened to the predicted Armageddon that was going to follow "managed competition?"

Coverage remains costly (eliminating Massholes would probably help on that score) but all the fears that greedy insurers would redline poorer communities has yet to materialize and we are two years into the effort.

I admit I am suspect of any report claiming success that is released right before the start of a holiday weekend. But I also have seen very little to no evidence that the Chicken Little predictions offered by advocates have come true either.

Yes, there have been the usual back-and-forth battles with the attorney general fighting for better rates. But that battle is taking place with companies that once abandoned Massachusetts.

The Patrick administration would be wise to offer up the supporting information being sought by MassPIRG.

And the consumer group should show us the chaos they predicted would arise when insurers were allowed to set their own rates within guidelines. The worst thing I've seen is that ditzy Progressive saleswoman.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Facing the challenges

Say what you will about Deval Patrick, his popularity and personality, but the guy doesn't seem afraid to take on the challenges.

Jay Fitzgerald rightly suggests that Patrick seems to have a pinball approach to reforms -- although he would not have been the first governor to try to work with a Legislature before discovering they actually require gubernatorial subservience.

Governors with a legislative background persevered because, as former members of the club, they knew the rules. Those without the background -- Bill Weld and Mitt Romney -- bailed.

While I have been accused of being Patrick's No. 1 apologist, it is hard to deny that he has taken on a lot of sacred cows in his two-plus years: ethics, pensions, transportation represent significant wins.

But dealing with the Legislature will be child's play compared to what lies ahead -- tackling unions. Here too there are some triumphs -- particularly the Legislature-assisted cracking of the Quinn Bill and the transportation infrastructure. The fall-out, especially from the Quinn and pension successes, may get messy, but it's a feather in the cap of someone aiming to change the culture.

There is little doubt the state's teachers unions are simply holding their fire until they see the details of the Patrick proposal for the state to take over under-performing schools. But there is equally little question they will not be happy:
The Patrick administration, in a sharp deviation from previous state policy, will seek legislative approval to take over about 30 of the state’s worst schools and dramatically weaken their teacher contracts, as part of the governor’s effort to overhaul public education.
The verdict is still out on how successful the administration has been in saving dollars by implementing a modified change to police contracts and allowing civilian flaggers on selected state highway projects. The teachers will resist as strongly as the police in accepting change.

We can comment on Patrick's aloofness, take snide jabs at his retreat to his Richmond home and constantly dredge up CaddyGate and the furniture. And we certainly won't be forgetting his unpopular push for casinos, about to be taken up again, this time by the Legislature.

But if we get past them, it's clear he is someone who is focused on the job itself and not -- like some of his predecessors -- someone who sees it as a mere stepping stone to something else, whether a a cushy ambassador's job or a run for the White House.

Patrick has been taking hits because he has been taking on tough, entrenched problems. Those stances have cost him popularity and may cost him his job next year. We may not need to love him, but he deserve some props for trying where those who came before him did not.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The wayward son

It's not often a resident of La Jolla, California drops by the Statehouse for a visit, let alone for the the unveiling of his portrait.

But there he was, in a sight rarely seen in 2006: Willard Mitt Romney, captured at his desk. Not working mind, just standing there.

It's amazing he found his way to the office at all. It is rumored he did have a few problems because he kept making sharp right turns once her entered the building.

It's a noble Massachusetts tradition, honoring the former governor with a portrait. It's even more noble since Myth paid for it out of his Massachusetts campaign account -- which has a whopping $9,165 left in it.

The appearance was a grand time for Deval Patrick critics to drag out polls claiming to rate Romney as the better chief executive. Of course Romney didn't do anything -- literally -- in his last year in office other than build the foundation for a national election run.

And of course, bad mouth the one significant accomplishment to occur during his term -- health care reform.

Absence may make the heart grow fonder, especially when long distances are involved. But the nostalgia for the Drop-By Governor, the Man who took a detour from Utah to "run" the state before flying the coop to bad mouth us, is really misplaced.

I'd venture to guess he isn't even missed by the ever-shrinking band of Republicans he seduced and abandoned. Like the rest of us.