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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Money Pags strikes again

It's starting to shape up as an interest Democratic primary: gender wars and the absent voter.

Let's take the easy one first: Steve "Money Pags" Pagliuca's run for the Democratic nomination is one of the worst money-driven political ego trips I have ever seen. A spotty voting record that includes ballots cast for Bill Weld, Mitt Romney and George W. Bush are hardly clarion beacons to the progressive Democrats he now seeks to woo.

But the Globe's Brian Mooney's look at his overall voting record is disturbing:
During a five-year period at the end of the 1990s, he voted only once and, since 1995, has not cast a ballot in any of four presidential primaries or a combined nine local elections in Weston, where he resides, or in Newton, his home until 2000.
OK, I admit I don't usually vote in selectman's races, But four presidential primaries? In your statewide listening tours, you ought to ask people why they consider it important to vote. Maybe you can learn something.

The coming gender warfare is far more troubling -- especially if Senate President Therese Murray continues to equate the word "caution" as a code word designed to slam Martha Coakley.

I haven't made my mind up on this one yet (OK, I'm not going with Pagliuca) because both Coakley and Michael Capuano have impressive records. Alan Khazei has a nice story but I'm not sure he can be a player in this short -- and from all appearances nasty and brutish -- race.

But yes, a woman whose entire political career has been as a prosecutor is, by the very nature of her jobs, cautious. It's reality, not a slur. And Capuano comes across as impassioned, which is not the same as hothead.

I plan to spend some time comparing and contrasting stands before I finally figure out who to vote for. Martha Coakley has a strong record as Middlesex DA and AG -- but where does she stand on war and peace?

Capuano has some rough edges but he too has a solid record as a mayor and congressman. As long overdue and deserving as it would be for Massachusetts to finally elect a woman to the Senate, should gender be the only factor?

About the only disqualifying factor I've seen from anyone so far is the inability to even cast ballots -- and have the handful of those cast go to candidates diametrically opposed to the principles you allegedly claim to follow -- today.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Slow news day

There is a faint whiff of something out of place with the report that Massachusetts is on target to fall $200 million short of revenue projections in September.

No, not the numbers. Despite the tax increase and moderate improvement in August it's certainly plausible that a big drop was likely when the back-to-school sales were over.

No, what bothers me is this: the Department of Revenue has become religious in putting out full numbers days after the books close each month. So why are we seeing projections three days before the end of the month?

It stuck out like the nose on Treasurer Tim's face in the picture that accompanies the online version.

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, a slow day around the Statehouse and many parts of the state. What better way to generate some news (like a lead story in the Globe) than by feeding a new slice of gloom and doom to a hungry press corps?

And sure enough, there's is the independent candidate for governor solemnly intoning:
“It’s looking rather bleak. This should sound the alarm. I certainly would be concerned in terms of spending going forward. I don’t know whether the administration has the time to wait to cut if these numbers are indicative of what’s to come.’’
Our fiscally responsible treasurer sounding the alarm! Gee, without your help we wouldn't have known. OK, maybe not for another couple of days.

While the treasurer is officially charged with keeping the state's books, Cahill has a history of drop-by interest in stories ranging from the Mass. Pike debt to school building funds to pensions.

Drop by as in snag a headline and keep on moving.

There's little doubt that these numbers (and those that preceded them) will be at the heart of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. But I would hope that instead of politicizing revenue projections -- part of the bad old days of the Massachusetts Malaise of the late 1980s -- we would see candidates offer solutions.

And right now all we have from Treasurer Tim is a promise to cut taxes and vague comments about spending cuts in areas like health care. Cuts that need legislative approval by the way.

So it would have been far more newsworthy if, in addition to leaking early revenue projections and tut-tutting about the administration not having enough time to make cuts, that the ever-so-helpful treasurer got specific about where and how.

If you want the job, you'll have to do it eventually. Why not offer more than quick hits that generate headlines and little more?

That would be change we can believe in.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Oh what a tangled web we weave

The Massachusetts health care law may be retaining strong support despite all the blather and lies emerging from Washington, but it does appear to have cost at least one politician his credibility -- assuming he had any left.

Yep, our friend, former Massachusetts resident Myth Romney, is taking it on the chin from the fruitcake wing of the Republican Party for his role in helping to craft a law he was for before he was against.

It seems the "values voters" who believe Barack Obama is the devil incarnate don't take Romney's mythomorphosis seriously. And while the current fruitcake darling, Mike Huckabee, may have his facts wrong, that isn't stopping him from playing whack-a-myth.
It’s going to bankrupt their entire budget,” ... Huckabee said of Romney’s health care program in his address to the summit. “The only thing inexpensive about the Massachusetts health care bill is that there you can get a $50 abortion.”

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It's beginning to look a lot like...

OK, so I underestimated the Globe's calendar obsession.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

The feel of fall

Yesterday it was acorns (no, the oak tree kind). Today it's foliage.

What are the odds that tomorrow's Globe fronts a story about leaf blowers and noise pollution?

Or about the Sox fading.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

“Even though we are joking these are FOIA-able"

If Michael Kineavy is as loyal to Boston Mayor Tom Menino as is widely reported, he ought to think about falling on his sword -- today.

Can you say "obstruction of justice"?

The "discovery" of more than 5,000 e-mails previously thought lost -- some related to the federal investigation into City Councilor Chuck Turner and former State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson -- adds a whole new life to what Menino has tried to dismiss as an innocent mistake by an overzealous clean freak of a top aide.

That and the administration's effort at a classic Friday afternoon bad news dump, one where they tried to hold up the media for the cost of finding public documents that should never have been "lost" in the first place.

Despite the fact that every public employee with a computer, including interns, knows e-mails are public records, we've been regaled with the image of Mike "Windex" Kineavy maintaining a ritual of double-deleting his e-mails before using a glass cleaner to shine his desk and turn out the lights.

How many people do you know who drag their e-mails out of the program and into the computer wastebasket? Rather, how many of us jam their deleted e-mails folder to the gills in case we inadvertently decide it was necessary?

And if you still need a smoking gun, how about this exchange among the newly unearthed missives:
In one e-mail, Kineavy made clear that he knew his messages could be obtained through requests under the Freedom of Information Act. “Reminder,’’ he wrote top advisers who were trying out jokes before the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast by e-mail. “Even though we are joking these are FOIA-able.’’
Darn right it's no joke. We may be escalating from mere violations of the state public records law to questions of the deletion of e-mails related to subjects of ongoing federal investigations.

It remains an open question whether any of this will change the dynamic of Menino's final election showdown with City Councilor Michel Flaherty.

But there is no question we are seeing an ugly side to the administration that was long known but never seen.

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Quote of the week

As a public service, I'm offering up a quote that did not make the cut in the Globe's weekly Quotes of Note column. The topic: the US Senate race.
“This interim appointment just obliterated the regular Senate race, which is far more important,’’ said Jeffrey M. Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. “Candidates will probably try to think of some events and some newsworthy ways of attracting attention next week.’’
Ya think?

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Senator Kirk

Does your last name need to begin with a K to be senator from Massachusetts?

The presence of all those Kennedys up on the rostrum was the ultimate punctuation mark on how the fix was in to name Paul Kirk interim senator to fill the seat of the late Ted Kennedy until January's special election.

Michael Dukakis never stood a chance.

A family with enough clout and good will to slip a $20 million earmark for the Ted Kennedy Institute into a defense bill is going to get its way more often than not.

Deval Patrick was in a lose-lose situation in making the pick. The Kennedys would have been annoyed if they did not get their way -- the same way supporters of Michael Dukakis are today.

And despite the threat by some Dukakis backers of sitting on the sideline next year, Patrick was already looking at taunts from Christy Mihos about using Dukakis as a weapon against Patrick in his own re-election bid.

Now Patrick has to face the issue of Kirk's corporate board appointments and appearing as if he was simply a marionette being controlled by Vickie Kennedy and her late husband's sons.

All of this to fill a job for about 120 days.

No question the seat needed to be filled. And in Kirk, the executor of Kennedy's estate, Massachusetts has a man who knows Washington and can follow the Kennedy legacy.

A political fixer with the demeanor more like Spock than the other well known Kirk (James Tiberius), he may be able to help work the magic that Kennedy often brought to legislative negotiations. But I must admit that as a former Democratic National Committee Chair operating in this current foul political climate I have my doubts he will be seen as a unifier like Kennedy.

The bigger conciliation effort will likely be the one to assuage Dukakis followers that they should not take out their unhappiness on Patrick.

And what of the Duke? As always, the voice of reason. Hiding his disappointment, he told the Globe:
“If it had to be somebody else, believe me, this was the guy. He will hit the ground running, probably even faster than I would, because he was down in Washington. . . . He’s going to be fine.’’
Kirk should weather the sturm und drang from Republicans trying to delay the appointment and while he is not as pure as the driven snow compared to Dukakis when it comes to corporate activity, he should weather that too. It is, after all, a Washington fact of life.

The bigger challenge to his mediation skills will come in January, when he returns home, and begins to repair the rift between Patrick and Dukakis loyalists.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Never a dull moment

Only in Massachusetts can a temporary three-month job bring out the long political knives.

The hot rumor of course is that now that Deval Patrick has the authority to appoint an interim senator he will pick Paul Kirk to warm Ted Kennedy's seat until January. A long-time Kennedy family friend, he is the reported favorite of Vickie Kennedy and the late senator's sons.

And that has set off a firestorm that may be quenched with a scheduled 11 a.m. announcement by Patrick.


Let's start with what is either good reporting, good dime-dropping, or a combination of both in the Herald, which trumpets "serious concerns" with Kirk because he sits on a board that oversees a health-insurance provider and once lobbied for the pharmaceutical industry.

The currency may have come from forces loyal to Michael Dukakis (while the Duke may not personally go in for that sort of thing, let us never forget the saga of John Sasso and Joe Biden).

But if Dukakis loyalists weren't dropping those dimes, they were certainly getting off the sidelines to lobby for their man, getting friendly with the Herald's Margery Eagan and less than subtle with the Globe's Matt Viser and Frank Phillips:
Patrick “needs to have those people feel enthusiastic about his reelection,’’ said Democratic strategist Dan Payne, who worked for Dukakis campaigns in the 1980s. “If he doesn’t choose Dukakis, they will sit on their hands, and he can’t afford that.’’
Counterpunching, Kennedy loyalists tell the Globe that Dukakis is too outspoken on health care issues, espousing liberal positions that could complicate Democrats’ attempts in Washington to moderate their approach on the legislation.

Anonymously, of course. Because Dukakis is far more liberal than Kennedy was?

While I find it hard to believe Dukakis loyalists will rain scorn on Patrick's re-election bid (what are the options?) I have to chuckle at the brass knuckles being used for a short-term job whose only perk is use of the Senate gym (not a huge concern I assume for men 71 and 75 years-old).

Toss in what I hear are incredibly tough terms for taking the gig and you have to wonder who in their right mind would want it.

Patrick loyalists makes it clear he needs these political headaches as much as he needs another artificial hip. Anonymously, of course.

So stay tuned. And don't be surprised if there is a curve ball designed to sidestep the entire Kennedy-Dukakis dust up. And I don't mean Curt Schilling.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Keep the change

So much for change you can believe in.

With Tom Menino facing off against Michael Flaherty in the mayoral final in November, Boston is guaranteed the status quo. A long-time mayor versus a long-time city councilor from a long-time Boston political family.

And by rolling up more than 50 percent of the vote, the odds strongly favor a fifth term for Menino.

In a political climate where voters are fed up with politics and politicians, it is a remarkable performance by Menino, particularly after a preliminary race where the Globe limbered up long-atrophied City Hall bureau muscles and examined Menino's record with developers.

And barring any bombshells among the trashed e-mails of Michael Kineavy, it's likely to formal election will be a snooze.

I'll go back to sleep now.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trash talk with The Duke

With the Massachusetts Senate poised to take up discussion of an interim Senate appointment, both Boston papers offered their thoughts this morning.

The Globe editorial page endorsed Michael Dukakis to warm the seat. The Herald's Margery Eagan trashed him. But in a nice way.

I've occasionally encountered Dukakis on his excursions: while unfailingly pleasant, he power walks while chatting, grabbing every scrap in his path. There's little doubt his principal focus is on the candy wrapper, but yet he manages to come up with something topical, particularly if he knows you.

It's long past time to rehabilitate the image of this man. Hindsight tells us the state's economic malaise of the late '80s was simply a deeper version of a national recession -- something that happened again about a decade later.

Can you recall a more scandal-free administration? Every politician turns up a few clunkers and Dukakis did too -- but from top to bottom, honesty and integrity was the mainstay.

And his personal integrity? Eschewing consultancies and speaking tour riches for a spot at a local university where he has labored quietly for nearly 20 years generating good student reviews?

As for the interim appointment, the Globe nailed it: he knows health care and he knows constituent service. Those are the two prime areas in need of attention in the four months until voters chose a permanent successor to Ted Kennedy.

When Roland Burris was named interim senator in Illinois to succeed Barack Obama it was duly noted that Burris was shopping for another title to add to his mausoleum.

In contrast, Dukakis is so dedicated to public service he gets to work every day with a bag filled with someone else's callously discarded detritus. He deserves one more meaningful opportunity to serve.

And he may just clean up Washington too.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Overexposed, commercialized?

To hear the punditocracy yowl, you would think Barack Obama was Bill Mays hawking the Sham-Wow across the cable networks.

Much has been made by Obama's decision to tape five Sunday morning interviews -- a modified full Ginsburg named after Monica Lewinsky's attorney. But when you look at the 24-7, 140-character environment in which he must compete, is it overexpsoure -- or survival?

The Obama team carefully selected where they would bring the president -- Univision substituted for Fox in addition to the Big Four of news. Each Sunday morning show has different viewers. The odds of someone watching every moment of every interview are slim.

And the need to go straight to the people is paramount. With Obama on the sidelines during the summer, the noise of death squaders, birthers, tea baggers and the Rush and Beck societies overwhelmed the possibility real debate about health care.

The Saturday news shows had already decreed the message would be race relations because Obama touched on Jimmy Carter's remarks about Joe Wilson's uncivil behavior. ABC World News Sunday trotted trotted out pundits to bash the health plan from the left and right.

If the best communicator in the administration doesn't go out and work for his issues, who will?

It wasn't too long ago that we lamented we had a president who shunned talking to voters -- and when he did it was in the controlled environment of town halls where he invited sycophantic questioners.

While the Washington press corps once may have been somewhat tame in their questions, they never sank to the softballs lobbed at George Bush. And they certainly aren't throwing them now.

Nope, by getting out there -- including tonight's session with Dave Letterman -- Obama is doing what we would hope our leaders would do: be up front and make the best case they can for why they think a policy is worth pursuing.

No one is forcing Americans to watch -- and it is a lot easier to take Obama than listening to a dead man hawk products in 30-minute infomercials.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bag Pag

Has Massachusetts ever seen a vanity candidacy on par with the ego-massaging, bankroll depleting effort launched by Steve Pagliuca?

I start by declaring my undying love for the Boston Celtics and the role Pagliuca and partner Wyc Grousbeck have played in restoring the luster. But that's hardly a good reason to vote for him.

Unlike Chris Gabrieli, another multimillion candidate of years past, Pagliuca does not even have a record of laboring in the wonk trenches, tackling issues like education.

Rather Pagliuca presents as the ultimate dilettante. His bid to join Jack Connors in buying the Boston Globe rejected, he appears to have turned his attention to another toy to purchase for his personal sandbox.

And I won't even get into the obvious problem of a man who supported Mitt Romney and Bill Weld in the past can now present himself as a progressive Democrat and heir to the Kennedy mantle.

Joan Vennochi offers a detailed evisceration -- including a look at the Democrats for hire willing to take Pagliuca's cash.

OK it's not all a bad thing. The man is supporting the local economy.
“This would be considered a welcome infusion of a new advertising category, at a time when things have been less than spectacular,’’ said Bill Fine, general manager of WCVB-TV.
I prefer substance over cash. Go Celts!

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Day late, dollar short

Looks like the casino gambling debate is about to heat up again.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo is doing a 180 on the firm opposition offered by his predecessor, Sal DiMasi, meaning the issue of resort casinos will dominate the legislative final months after 2009 (after they finally deal with the interim senator issue).

It's not surprising given the reality that state revenues continue to tank and the 2010 state ballot may be filled with questions to repeal the sales tax.

But the problem is that two years down the road from where this debate started is the fact the picture is far grimmer for advocates who think there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The New York Times recently laid out the lagging revenue picture nationwide. Closer to home, the Globe took a look at the social dysfunction cased by overbuilding and overdreaming.

I guess our legislative leaders are no different than the folks looking to end their own problems with the quick strike at the slots or at the poker table. DeLeo, Senate President Therese Murray and Gov. Deval Patrick should enroll in Gamblers Anonymous too.

Anyone want to take odds on that happening?

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Who's playing politics?

There are lots of hisses about playing politics and threats of Election Day retribution as a bill to allow Gov. Deval Patrick to name an interim senator inches its way through the Massachusetts Legislature.

And the worst offenders when it comes to political gamesmanship is the tiny band of Republicans who consistently offer only rhetoric and not solutions.

Let's agree that Massachusetts Democrats played a hypocritical game of politics in 2004 when they changed the succession law when it appeared Mitt Romney might have had an opportunity to name a Republican to replace John Kerry.

It was a bald, shameless maneuver in anticipation of something that never happened.

Now let's fast forward five years. Momentous legislation on health care, reforming our financial system, maybe even dealing with climate change is working its may through the legislative mill in Washington.

The United States Constitution allows all states to have equal representation in the Senate. Whether you are from Wyoming or California, you get two votes on each of these significant measures.

Oops, not Massachusetts. We only have one.

The political gamesmanship taking place today is coming from the right side of aisle, from a tiny group of legislators representing a party that has been out of touch and out of step with Massachusetts voters for a generation.

How can I say that? Because in a 200-member body, they hold 16 seats in the House and five in the Senate. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

So with no power to speak of, political atrophy resulting from their own failings, this tiny group is attempting to hold up a piece of legislation designed to ensure that Massachusetts has equal representation with Dick Cheney's Wyoming.

A measure, I might add, modeled after their own legislative efforts earlier this decade with Republican input.

The Democratic-controlled Great and General Court is truly a target worthy of scorn: Sal DiMasi, Dianne Wilkerson and Jim Marzilli to name three. Its performance on most matters has been pitiful.

I'd love to see a sensible Republican Party divorced from the Joe Wilson GOP rise as a responsible opposition party to Democratic excess. I've been watching for a long time and it ain't happened yet.

On this issue, the majority party is attempting to do the right thing by citizens of the Commonwealth. And they are being thwarted by the 21 Republicans (and the few dozen Democrats) who choose and put their own electoral fortunes ahead of the needs of Massachusetts voters.

Isn't that the ultimate definition of playing politics?

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Stuck in the '80s

I always knew Massachusetts Republicans were a different breed from their national counterparts. While Joe Wilson and his colleagues are stuck in the Reconstruction politics of the 1880s, the Bay State clan has advanced all the way to the 1980s.

And Dukaka-phobia.

How else to explain the bizarre notion by Republican gubernatorial, er, senate, er, gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos that the potential naming of Michael Dukakis as an interim U.S. Senator is an issue that will enable the GOP to ride to victory in Massachusetts in 2010.

It's true there is a cadre of Howie Carr listeners who are charter members of the Dukakis Hate Club and won't let go of false impressions from 20 years ago that the former governor was singlehandedly responsible for the collapse of the economy because of his poor showing at the hands of Lee Atwater-inspired thuggery in 1988.

But there is probably an even larger group who don't have a clue about Atwater (or Willie Horton) and are far more concerned about the future than the past.

Having moved on from inspiring Mihos to spin heads by jumping between the Senate and governor's race in a single day, political brain Dick Morris seems to have moved on to his oldie-but-moldie Dukakis gambit.

In the Herald's less than neutral observation:

Two years after his embarrassing landslide loss in the 1988 presidential race, Dukakis left the state in shambles, leading to huge GOP gains in the Legislature and William Weld in the Corner Office - the start of a 16-year Republican gubernatorial reign.

“It ushered in a whole new era for state politics for a number of years,” Mihos said. “Bill Weld was the beneficiary last time. This time I hope it’s me."
The paper, which already offered a cover of Deval Patrick morphing into Dukakis, goes for a softer side-by-side photo this treatment this time.

But Morris and Mihos seem to be forgetting a key factor: should Patrick make what I think would be a wise choice to name Dukakis as the interim senator, he would have left Washington and returned to his current love for teaching long before the governor's race heats up.

We already know the GOP is going to try and draw the connection between faltering economies and Democratic governors. What else do they have to run on -- fresh ideas?

But this time the Democrats will have an incumbent defending himself in office rather than an ornery college president who tried -- and failed -- to attract the political anger toward his cause.

Plus an electorate loaded with voters who don't have a fig who Dukakis was -- including all the good he accomplished -- before he became the GOP's favorite whipping boy of 1988.

And unless I'm missing something, both the Senate race -- of which Dukakis will not be a part -- and the governor's race is about the 2010s, not the past.

You keep thinkin' Christy, that's what you're good at.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Urban Mechanic needs a tune-up

Wow, is this what it's like to watch a car crash in slow motion?

For a group seemingly skilled in fixing problems, the daily drips of information about the Menino administration's failure to understand, let alone follow the state's public records law is mind-boggling.

Let's start with what appears to be the center of the storm -- a city attorney who doesn't know the law. Richard Sinnott has already made the mistake of thinking that you don't need to save trivial e-mails.

Now we seem to have discovered that the office apparently doesn't pay much attention to court orders.

And that short-staffing may have its value in telling folks you are running a lean operation -- but not when it comes to applying the law.

It all comes back around to the city attorney's office (and not the state attorney general, at least not yet.) It is the responsibility of Sinnott, not that of the "overworked" Dot Joyce, to comply with FOIA requests, not to mention court orders. And insure that there is adequate and appropriate staff to handle all the lawful requests.

Particularly those that relate to the federal charges against former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson.

Still and all, I'm not ready to go out on a limb about the impact of this incompetence on either the results of next Tuesday's preliminary or the November final. There is a deep and abiding affection for Tom Menino and the administration's ability to plow the snow and pick up the trash.

But the e-mail nightmare certainly reflects what happens when someone hold office for as long as Menino has -- and starts to think l'etat, c'est moi.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stretching credibility

Secretary of State Bill Galvin was trying to show he was hip when he used Janet Jackson as the metaphor to describe his opinion of Boston city attorney Bill Sinnott's explanation in the case of the missing e-mail.
“This is sort of a Janet Jackson response - having a malfunction,” Galvin told the Herald. “What Mr. Sinnott said concerns me more than the fact pattern here because he’s saying there’s a system that allows for the destruction of many public records in the form of e-mail.”
But since I am heading to my dotage (hey so is Galvin, but what the heck), I prefer the fanciful story of how Nixon aide Rosemary Wood accidentally erased 18 1/2 minutes of an incriminating audio tape. I'm not sure if Wood's alleged move ever made it into a workout video, but it was quite a stretch in terms of credibility.

Just like Sinnott's "the public records law is confusing and this was a glitch" alibi.

The worst possible nightmare has beset the Menino administration one week before the preliminary election: The Case of the Missing E-Mail.

An administration that has cruised through four previous elections -- and was only breaking a mild sweat so far on the one -- now has a bona fide problem on its hands. Galvin ordered the seizure of Michael Kineavy's computer and software to track down the e-mail Kineavy apparently deleted in disregard of state law.

This is a double loser for Hizzoner -- either a good computer forensic expert will find the stuff on Kineavy's computer -- because we all know that delete and erase are two different things. Or the expert will find that Kineavy did indeed take the extra steps to wipe the material away forever.

Unanswered will be why the city did not automatically back the stuff up as required by state law -- and considered good business practice by most reputable companies.

And we have a delicious twist in this saga with the realization that it may not only involve crossing the line between constituent service into politics. It seems Kineavy was the sole administration contact during Dianne Wilkerson's alleged effort to secure a liquor license for a Roxbury nightclub.

And the feds subpoenaed Kineavy's e-mail as part of their investigation.

This is just starting to get very interesting.

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The race is on

And they're off. Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca, apparently rebuffed in his attempt to purchase The Boston Globe has turned his attention to another trophy available for purchase -- a United State Senate seat.

Meanwhile, the lone visible Republican in the field has started his race by running against -- Deval Patrick.

It's going to be a strange few months.

Let's start with Pagliuca who, along with co-owner Wyc Grousbeck, stands in high regard among Boston Celtics fans by restoring Green Glory in the form of shelling out big bucks to bring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Boston -- and Title No. 17 along with them.

But Pagliuca seems to be growing restless, first joining forces with Jack Connors on a proposal to buy the Globe and turn it into a non-profit. And with those prospects fading, he thinks purchasing a Senate seat is a good option.

Pagliuca has the cash to buy a good campaign team and flood the airwaves with ads introducing himself. Expect to see the NBA Championship trophy prominently mentioned.

But as political analyst Dan Payne notes:
“There are limits to what people will accept. A TV-commercial-only campaign may not be sufficient.’’
There will also be the matter of explaining his financial support for fellow Bain Capital alumnus Mitt Romney in his 1994 challenge to Ted Kennedy and his wife's involvement as the campaign treasurer. And personal loyalty doesn't explain his contributions to Bill Weld's 1996 run against John Kerry.

And speaking of political albatrosses, Scott Brown launched his campaign by accusing the Patrick administration of some hanky-panky in having state employees spend public time and resources researching if Brown could run for office while serving in the National Guard.

I guess there aren't enough issues to occupy us nationally so Brown feels the need to make Patrick -- the GOP's favorite whipping post -- the center of this campaign too.

That doesn't strike me as the most auspicious way to get out of the starting gate in a race where health care, the economy and how to avoid another financial meltdown are the core issues.

Of course it does get headlines, generate enthusiasm among the tiny GOP primary electorate and raise cash for what will undoubtedly be a sacrificial lamb candidacy aimed at higher office in the future.

But I must admit I am curious -- how will Brown vote on the bill to seat an interim senator pending the election in January?

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Tempest in an inbox?

A week to go before the Boston preliminary election and things finally appear to be heating up. And all because of a sidebar story.

The Globe's major piece yesterday on the melding of the constituent and political operations of Mayor Tom Menino was well-reported and important campaign coverage but hardly earth shattering. Politicians always come close to that line.

But tucked away in the story was the revelation that Michael Kineavy, "Menino’s most trusted political adviser and most effective enforcer," routinely deletes his e-mail nightly.

The result: a major Page One Herald story and a more subdued Globe follow-up. Part of that could be the Herald playing catch up. But is it?

As any Statehouse intern should be able to tell you, deleting e-mail is a major league no-no. The state's public records law clearly requires municipal employees to save most electronic correspondence for at least two years, even if the contents are of “no informational or evidential value."

City Attorney Bill Sinnott apparently needs a refresher course because he seems to be unaware of this definition. He also seems to have missed the part where it says ..."Regardless of the intent to delete the message, as long as it exists, it continues to be subject to discovery."

Equally curious is the apparent lack of backup of old e-mail. Now I am no longer a public employee and I may be something of a pack rat, but I have a 1.5 gigabyte e-mail archive (and my tech support people tell me I need to do something about it before the file corrupts itself).

My company has a formal process to backup and save all e-mail for at least two weeks. Sensitive material is surely stored longer. And we are not subject to the public records law.

So something certainly smells rotten on City Hall Plaza when the mayor's chief constituent services guy can only produce 18 e-mails between Oct. 1, 2008, and March 31 for a FOIA request.

Menino fans will certainly note that councilors Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon aren't exactly brimming with the spirit of openness either -- a judge ruling in 2005 that the City Council was guilty of 11 violations of open meeting laws while Flaherty was president, in a suit brought by Challenger No. 3 Kevin McCrea.

Flaherty at least stood up and took his lumps. And aired the dirty linen when he got into the race and not a week before the preliminary.

Kineavy and Sinnott got some 'splainin' to do. And I somehow suspect this will be an issue beyond next week's preliminary when only McCrea and one councilor be be dumped. So no, this is likely far more than a tempest in an inbox.

(Herald graphic)

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Can you hear me now?

It's now been about 24 hours since Verizon called my out-of-service landline to tell me the problem we reported had been fixed the previous afternoon.

Of course, I only found out by calling my voice mail, since the phone didn't ring because the line was still dead. And there was a Verizon tech, the third in three days, in my basement trying to solve the problem two of his colleagues had failed to fix.

Even though they reported that they had.

This started in mid-August, after a thunderstorm. Verizon dispatched a tech the next day to check outside. We couldn't stay home between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., the only option offered, because we needed to clear the decks for a vacation.

Thanks to cell phones, we could also wait until last Thursday to actually schedule a four-hour window to be home to receive a tech. She came, sat in the truck for 15 minutes before ringing the bell, surveyed the tangle of wires and said it would be fixed. The problem, she said, was in a manhole. A work order would be placed and no one needed to be home.

Friday arrives and the call comes from a different Verizon tech. Will someone be home to let him in? Mrs. OL turned around from her trip to work to let him in. After worrying about having to hire a police detail to oversee his job, she was dispatched to hers.

Only to be called back because he needed to get back into our basement to get the tools he had forgotten there. On to the manhole and a solution.

Friday night arrives and guess what?

No dial tone, so another call to Verizon "customer service" and its truly annoying series of voice prompts that tries to sell you video on demand before allowing you to get to the repair people. Another "customer service" agent offered us another four-hour window. The one thing the company will not waive, she says, was the four-hour window wait.

Tech No. 3 arrives and surveys our basement, reports everything is in order there and starts to do what I can only assume the previous two did not. He traced the lines into neighboring building, which we come to learn is the central point for a series of six brownstones.

You think someone at Verizon would have already known that?

Tech No. 3 finds a nice neighbor to let him into the other building, carefully test lines and wires and says it's up to the "central" office to actually jump start the line. That should happen the same day, but call him back on his company cell to let him know.

Excellent service from one person notwithstanding, I endured voice prompt hell today to be sure the trouble ticket was still active and was informed that not all "central" offices work on the weekends. How does that make them central?

But, we were told, our phone will be absolutely, positively working by 2 p.m. tomorrow.

Great. Maybe state regulators will be able to call me about the complaint I plan to file tomorrow.

Mrs. OL and I have pondered endlessly why we even bother with a landline anymore, a discussion that will gain new focus.

But a word of advice to anyone who listens to Verizon's claims of great service for FIOS. Remember another four-letter word that begins with the same letter before you deal with them. That's certainly what they think of you.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Planned gridlock

Speaking of transportation disasters -- what brilliant person is behind the rebuilding of the BU Bridge-Commonwealth Avenue nightmare.

And do they have a clue how to time traffic lights?

Between the drizzle and the challenging experience of going against Red Sox traffic in Kenmore (when will the elevator be done?) Station, I decided to hop the 57 bus for a trip out to Harvard Avenue in Allston.

It would have been quicker to walk.

The intersection around Carlton Street and University Road -- where inbound traffic circles around to head to either Storrow Drive inbound or over the BU Bridge has never been a piece of cake. But the new situation is a joke of epic proportions.

Light cycles are now set so that folks come streaming over Carlton, stall out on the Green Line tracks and back up traffic on Comm. Ave. almost all the way to Kenmore Square.

And this is all before they start serious work on repairing the bridge.

I asked the bus driver if this was influenced by the Red Sox traffic and the answer was no. When I hopefully suggested it would be gone by the time he returned from Oak Square after 6 p.m. he said no again.

Luckily no emergency vehicles needed to get up Comm. Ave. yesterday evening. But luck eventually runs out.


Aloha Aloisi

Good-bye and good luck Jim Aloisi.

I may not be as critical as the the departing transportation secretary as some other observers -- not that I'm sorry to see him go. Rather I think he served as just the sort of polarizing change agent that was needed to get this state's sorry transportation infrastructure off its oversized duff.

Let's face it -- we had the Big Dig fiasco, the Turnpike Authority follies and the MBTA nightmare -- all with roots that long preceded the arrival of Deval Patrick. And yes, many with roots in the leadership and/or influence of James Aloisi Jr.

But Bernard Cohen, Patrick's first transportation boss, was, um, ineffective. Nine months after his departure, we have a new transportation infrastructure, a clean slate at the top of the MBTA and the pieces in place for someone to come in and start fresh at a new cabinet level agency on Nov. 1.

Did you really want Aloisi to run it?

The rumor mill has Jeffrey Mullan, the man who took over the Turnpike Authority from the ousted Alan LeBovidge, the likely candidate to take over the new superagency on Nov. 1. Probably a lot better choice than a former US Transportation Secretary who is job shopping.

But I hear Andy Card isn't that interested in moving back to Massachusetts after all.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

If a debate falls in the woods...

The weather may be cooling off rather quickly, but things appear to be getting hotter for Tom Menino. But is it going to really matter?

The Globe and the Herald report on a seemingly rock'em, sock 'em debate among Menino, city councilors Michael Flaherty and Sam Yoon and developer Ken McCrea in a debate broadcast on WFXT-TV. It was the third debate leading up to the Sept. 22 preliminary and Menino has taken heavy fire in each of them.

But does it matter?

This one took place at 5 p.m. in a Dedham TV studio. Lots of eyes glues to the set at that hour I'm sure. The earlier efforts took place at 7 p.m., a little better, and an invitation only affair hosted by advocacy groups.

In each debate, Menino was seen on the defensive over where the city is after his 16 years in office. He's also finally attracted the attention of the sleeping giant on Morrissey Boulevard, who has been looking at his record in favoring developers, starting with a major Sunday piece in late August.

I was at the beach.

There have been ample signs the Menino administration is showing the wear and tear of a lot of time in office. The hole on Washington Street where a downtown shopping icon used to be is classic visual proof (although I do think the top to 101 Huntington is a nicely hideous alternative).

The problem is the Boston political system is rigged. Not in terms of vote counting, but in a charter that totally skews power toward the mayor and away from the City Council. In the time I have lived here, and I am eligible for an AARP card, there have been three mayors -- Kevin White, Ray Flynn and Tom Menino.

Add to that a man who, despite some significant accomplishments, takes a decidedly personal approach by remembering slights forever and you have a stagnant mix.

To his credit, Menino takes grudges and not cash, well at least not of the illegal kind. His time in office has been remarkably clean of corruption. But it has also been remarkably clean of innovation, debate and challenge.

The Phoenix's David Bernstein offers a solid view of what is really at stake on Sept. 22 and it's sad the future of the city rests on the 50 percent threshold.

Boston City Hall doesn't need to be torn down, it needs to be swept. And there's only a 50-50 chance of that happening when debates are scheduled for times when the fewest eyes will be watching.

But that's what happens with powerful mayors.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

"First you say you will, then you won't"

Today is Thursday. Does you know what office Christy Mihos is running for?

The shortest-lived U.S. Senate campaign came and went within hours this week with Mihos shifting from the GOP race for governor to the Senate primary and back again. Did he suffer brain freeze from chugging a Slurpee too fast?

Apparently those same unnamed folks who talked up Curt Schilling, urged Mihos to make the race -- or not. Or the entire GOP seem afflicted with Joe Wilson disease.

So anyway, Christy is veering away from Capitol Hill and back to Beacon Hill, while Andrew Card, whose claim to history will be as the man who interrupted the reading of My Pet Goat, is thinking of coming home, sort of, to chase the GOP Senate nomination (and chase Ayla Brown's father out of the race).

I think one of the analysts contacted by the Herald got it right.
This is the biggest opportunity they’ve had in a long time,” said Thomas Whalen, a social science professor at Boston University. “Leave it to the state GOP to take defeat out of the jaws of victory. They’ll blow it. They always find a way.”
Card, who hasn't lived in Massachusetts in more than 20 years, was once an up and coming Republican liberal, teaming with then Marshfield state representative Phil Johnston as a corruption-fighting team.

A dazzling failure in the 1982 Republican gubernatorial primary (against a candidate so unmemorable I can't recall his name), Card drifted away -- and to the right. A loyal aide to George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, he was the man whispering in Bush's ear on Sept. 11, 2001.

But with the state GOP is such disarray, Card is somehow being seen as a savior, even though his last major appearance in Massachusetts, to accept an honorary degree at UMass, didn't work out that well.

Let's see now: a man who played a pivotal role in an administration that failed to take terror threats seriously, then led us into a war with Iraq over non-existent weapons of mass destruction -- not to mention set the stage for the economic collapse triggered by an unregulated Wall Street.

Quite an impressive resume for a carpetbagger.

You might want to stick with Scott Brown.

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The politics of incivility

Whatever happened to the concept of you can disagree without being disagreeable? And why am I not surprised it was a South Carolina Republican who raised political incivility to new levels?

Coming hard on the heels of the conservatives epic flight of fantasy over Barack Obama's speech to schoolchildren, we now have the image of Joe Wilson yelling out "you lie" during Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress.

Not only is Wilson the liar on the subject of whether legislation that hasn't even been finalized contains provisions about health care coverage for undocumented aliens, his total lack of respect for the office, not to mention the man, is hardly the stuff of gentlemanliness -- Southern of otherwise.

And I ask again, hasn't the battle cry of Republicans been -- at least when one of their own was in the White House -- that the president deserves our respect, simply because of his office?

Did Wilson offer a similar response when he listened to his own governor, Mark Sanford, try to explain he was simply walking the Appalachian Trail?

If Wilson were an honorable man, he would resign. I'm not counting on it.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Crazy days

Perhaps you missed an important name lurking the Globe and Herald accounts of Christy Mihos shifting his focus from Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill.

Behind the rhetoric of Massachusetts needing a fighter and Republicans asking him to serve is a cold, hard calculation from political calculator Dick Morris: with Tim Cahill following through on his kamikaze independent run for governor, the Cape Cod convenience store tycoon was most certainly going to be toast in the governor's race.

It is amazing what an open Senate seat does to people. Even normally sane liberal activists think they can win.

Let's start with the ever-shifting race for Senate. Meehan? Out. Mike Capuano? In, probably. Alan Khazei? Who?

So the Democrats will likely field Attorney General Martha Coakley, 8th District Congressman Capuano and 9th District lawmaker Stephen Lynch. Still to be heard from is 7th CD representative Ed Markey, who I suspect is a non-starter, and 6th District lawmaker John Tierney, who I think would be a non-factor in a crowding field. Khazei? Wonderful civic impulses.

Now let's look at the GOP. There's Canton selectman Bob Burr. He can enjoy debating Khazei. Wrentham State Senator Scott Brown, who might be better off if he changed his name to that of his daughter, Alya. Kerry Healey is out and Charlie Baker, as of this moment, is still focused on governor.

Quick, name another Republican with anything resembling name recognition.

Nope, not Curt Schilling. He would run as an independent. That leaves, drum roll please, Mihos.

So much for the passion and commitment to reform Beacon Hill. There's an open seat and the promise of national Republican dollars. Not to mention a very tough race for governor -- even though he would be running in a primary against Baker and Cahill would only loom as a November obstacle.

To poach voters from the Democratic Deval haters who may not want to vote Republican, no matter who he may be.

So credit Mihos and Morris with a smart political move. Just don't fall for this commitment to serve stuff. After all, he can always shift directions again in December or January and run for governor as an independent again.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Game on!

Now we have ourselves a Senate race. Or do we?

With Joe Kennedy's decision to opt out of the race to fill the seat vacated by the death of his uncle, the floodgates should open for a rip-roaring succession battle among politicians itching for a seat that hasn't been vacant in 47 years. Or not.

The last Republican elected statewide -- former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey -- has said no. A Canton selectman has joined the race and Wrentham state senator Scott Brown is thinking about it. Of course his daughter has better name recognition.

The most prominent conservative name in the potential field is a former baseball player who can't run as a Republican.

And to make matters worse, the Republican with the best chance of winning statewide office next year thinks the hoo-hah over the race and need for someone to sit in Washington during the health care debate isn't as important as a new law regulating elderly drivers.

No wonder the Massachusetts Republican Party could hold a convention in a phone booth -- if they could find one.

Many pundits suggest the Democratic race will be wide open -- but the State House News Service (subscription required) reports the potential candidates are talking among themselves to assess their options.

Attorney General Martha Coakley is likely the cream of the field, no matter which of the Washington boys opt in. Ninth District congressman Stephen Lynch will probably climb off the fence, knowing he has the party's right flank likely all to himself.

That leaves a still substantial collection of representatives and one-time congressmen pondering the game: Mike Capuano, Ed Markey, John Tierney and UMass-Lowell Chancellor and former congressman Marty Meehan.

A source told the News Service that some political calculations are percolating:
Excluding Lynch and Tierney from the discussion, the senior Democrat said, "I think there's an acknowledgment at the delegation level … that there's going to need to be one person in the race, or else there's no reason for anybody to be in the race."
But one person is a far cry from half the delegation which has been rumored to be the case for years. For starters, the race would be a distraction to House members who will also have to sit in judgment of health care legislation that would likely be the single most important bill of their tenure.

That would seem to favor Meehan, who gave up his job to move back to Lowell and run the UMass campus there. He's sitting on a substantial campaign war chest kept in reserve for just this eventuality.

But then again, he has a job he would have to quit. Current members would face that decision next year if constituents were upset with their decisions to trade in legislating for campaigning.

My guess is Markey stays put -- too much seniority. Capuano has a history of agonizing over decisions and is too tough to call. Meehan faces a genuine conundrum -- a job he likes versus one he covets. Ultimately I think he goes with his heart and gets in. Tierney? Who?

On the GOP side, I guess the party leaders should only hope a name like Andy Card opts to return home after toiling in DC for many a year for the Bush family. Or maybe not.

Hey, maybe they can convince Bill Weld to come back? Or Myth?

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Waiting for Joe-doe

If his name were Joseph Doe, no one would be so interested in the business dealings of Joseph P. Kennedy II. And we really would not be taking seriously the political musings of an athlete who says he believed in Dick Cheney.

Yet here were are at the Labor Day weekend -- the traditional start of the campaign season -- on tenterhooks at the start of an historic election to replace a legend. And we are awaiting the word from the Hamlet of Brighton on whether he will enter the race to replace that legend who, no coincidence, had the same last name.

I was trying to assess my own seeming indifference to the jockeying for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination -- particularly my lack of enthusiasm for Attorney General Martha Coakley. After all, she would make a terrific candidate.

The it hit me. Until Kennedy makes a decision, all speculation on a likely winner is moot. He is the 800-pound gorilla. If he gets in, it's over.

This is less a prediction that a likely statement of fact. Kennedy won the 1986 8th Congressional District primary over a field of better qualified candidates. That he turned into a good congressman is serendipity, but the die was cast by the sheer weight of his name. I was there and saw it first hand.

And let's take a good look at Senate results since 1962, the year that Edward Moore Kennedy prevailed in the primary over Edward McCormack (a far better political pedigree that he ever acknowledged) with 70 percent of the vote.

Kennedy took the final election from George Cabot Lodge (another strong pedigree) with 55 percent of the vote. Only once thereafter, in 1994 against Mitt Romney, did Kennedy fall below 60 percent.

Unless this state is heading for a phenomenal shift -- one that certainly doesn't seem to be laying the weeds -- the name Kennedy on the ballot is guaranteed to turn off about 40 percent of the voters.

But that still leaves a solid majority who will vote for someone with that name -- particularly if he runs as the standard bearer of the fallen Teddy. The more candidates who enter the race, the smaller the plurality Kennedy would need.

And let's take it from no less an authority on Massachusetts politics than William Floyd Weld, that the Hugo Chavez connection is not going to hurt the head the Citizens Energy, no matter how much Howie or Mitt's Minions want to make a negative case.
“I don’t think you’re going to persuade the public that Citizens Energy and delivering free oil to people who can’t afford it is a bad thing. I really don’t think that’s going to stick. “[Kennedy’s] not loony left at all, and I think he could be very good in office.’’
Toss in the fact that flavor of the week Curt Schilling would have to run as an independent and you have a three-way race that includes no Republican with name recognition to match either of them.

Kennedy undoubtedly has been talking and polling and working through family issues. He knows Coakley has nothing to lose, Mike Capuano, Ed Markey and other wannabes are frozen and that Steve Lynch will pull votes from the right flank of the party he wouldn't get anyway.

But he also knows the window he has -- where silence in honor of his late uncle won't be construed as indecision -- is closing quickly.

And so we wait for Joe.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Go for the jugular politics

Way back in the Stone Age, when I was in school, we had courses called civics. That's where I contracted this syndrome that makes me interested in politics and public affairs. It's been a lifelong affliction, but I have managed to cope.

So I suppose I should applaud the conservative hue and cry over plans by the Department of Education to promote a noontime speech by Barack Obama next Tuesday, aimed at welcoming children back to school.

Start them down the road to civic awareness know and they may not listen to talk radio or fall for the lies being told in the guise of "debate" on health care reform.
“As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education - it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality,’’ said Oklahoma state Senator Steve Russell. “This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.’’
Way to put things in perspective Steve.

The conservatives are crying foul because Education Secretary Arne Duncan accompanied the plan for voluntary viewing with a letter to school officials urging them to watch the leader of the nation address students coming back to school.

The administration stepped into it, a bit, with what they admit was an "inartful" lesson plan suggestion that students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.’’

It wasn't that long ago that some political warriors suggested there was far too much animus against the president and anyone who disrespected him was guilty of treason. These were the same people who used to say that politics should end at the water's edge -- until Bill Clinton came along.

It appears the fumes on which the conservative movement has been running have become so thin they need to work hard to prevent comity and civility from being part of the curriculum. After all, some of those kids might not become Rush Limbaugh listeners if they have a chance to listen to the President of the United States.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Interim appointment -- now!

Tell me again why it's just politically motivated hoo-hah to name an interim US senator?

Forget all the talk of Joe and Martha and Curt. Let's also skip over the self-righteous indignation of those angered by the call to allow the appointment of an interim senator to temporarily fill the shoes of the late Edward Kennedy.

The actions of the Secretary of the United States Senate to close down Kennedy's office will leave hundreds of people in the lurch. People with problems that Kennedy staff have always worked feverishly to overcome.

Massachusetts legislative leaders have been strangely ambivalent in public about the need to move quickly to name an interim senator. Perhaps cowed by all the shenanigans that have disgraced the corridors of Beacon Hill, they somehow think a vacuum is acceptable.

Kennedy obviously had more in mind than simply the 60th vote on health care reform when he asked lawmakers to move quickly. Too bad no one else could see it -- or care.

Any continued desire -- on either side of the political aisle -- to make an issue of getting someone quickly in place to serve the people of Massachusetts will be as big a disgrace as any that has emanated from the Statehouse in the last two years.

It's not about politics. It's about the people.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Mr. Schilling Goes to Washington

It's a measure of the desperation of the Republican Party that it apparently is trying to lure Curt Schilling into the race to replace Ted Kennedy.

I'm assuming the man who made bloody socks famous meant Republicans when he said he's been "contacted by people whose opinion I give credence to and listen to, and I listened" as they suggested he seek the U.S. Senate seat open with Kennedy's death.

I'm sure it's enticing to think of a "non-politician" filling a role like that -- hearkening back to the idyll of Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith, the naive man who discovers political corruption and won't back down.

Well, unless Schilling opts to finance his campaign personally, he'll hardly need to wait to get to DC to witness corruption first hand. And if he can pay his own way, just exactly how of of the common touch does he have?

Great headline for Schilling, who seems to find it difficult to leave the spotlight behind. And I must admit that if Scot Lehigh will let me join Pundits Relishing A Newsworthy Knucklehead I might come around to enjoy a Schilling v. Joe Kennedy race.

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Viral communications

Write two Tweets and e-mail me in the morning.

Our brave new world of viral communications may be about to take on a whole new meaning according to epidemiologists who spoke with the Washington Post.

Instead of running to the doctor at the first sniffle of what what be the swine flu, blog about it. Or Tweet your friends. Or your doctor. Pretty soon they will be able to spot an outbreak -- and you will have avoided sneezing and coughing and spread germs on the bus or subway or in your school or office.

Just make sure you have an adequate supply of aspirin and chicken soup in your medicine chest and refrigerator.

There is, to be sure, a potential loss of confidentiality in sharing every detail of every ache and pain with the Facebook friends and Twitter followers. But I'm sure there is some communications PhD candidate somewhere studying just how many people already happily give up that right to privacy and share things many of us could care less about in the first place.

A bigger concern might be the panic generated by this type of viral communications amid a population already on edge and being fed by the traditional mass media's insistence on overkill coverage.

But with the likely reemergence of the the H1N1 swine flu in the next few months, the people who make their living tracking disease trends may be on to something -- even if their population sample is limited to the geeky subset of people with computer access, handheld devices and a chronic problem of needing to share everything on the web.

Of course, the system will not be foolproof until scientists devise a way to determine if you really are a person and not a dog.

(New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner, Vol.69 (LXIX) no. 20)

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Power politics

Ultimately, the question of who will become the next United States senator from Massachusetts will hinge on power and clout. But not just the kind it takes to get elected. An even more important question is who will be able to deliver.

The Globe looks at the legacy of Ted Kennedy in terms of the sort of clout we all want but don't like to talk about -- deliverables. The legacy is clear:
“He kind of protected us in a sense,’’ said Thomas Glynn, chief operating officer of Partners HealthCare, which includes Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “The question is five years from now will [hospitals] be getting as much money as they would if he were alive. I doubt it.’’
The high tech-biotech sector and higher education have the same issues. Massachusetts is already a net exporter of taxes -- getting back less than we pay in federal taxes. With the loss of Kennedy and the potential to see the overall congressional delegation shrink, that gap could get worse.

The importance of clout on Washington was on vivid display in the allocation of federal stimulus dollars to Massachusetts. And while we love to complain, studies from other states show we are well positioned to benefit from the new economic realities.

The state is also in fairly good shape in terms of clout -- with Barney Frank heading up the House Financial Services Committee and Ed Markey holding down a high House position. Senior Sen. John Kerry (a strange thing to say) chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, but his efforts on behalf of constituents seems to have kicked up a notch during Kennedy's illness.

While it obviously will be hard to replace the power and influence (and the deal-making ability) of a man who held the job for 47 years, the ultimate question on who should hold the job rests on the candidate's ability to get protect our interests.

In the end, it's not the power of the party or the candidate to win an election. It's the ability of the winner to get the job done with even half the success of the man he or she will replace. That makes the job of the handful of Republicans who have even been mentioned tougher in a Senate overwhelmingly dominated (if not controlled) by Democrats.

Let's hope we don't lose sight of that in the acrimony we are about to see over the question of a temporary appointment and in a special election with staggering implications for the future health of the Commonwealth.

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