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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Monday, August 31, 2009

The World Series of Revenge

They say the three most popular Massachusetts pastimes are sports, politics and revenge. With all due respect to the Red Sox latest playoff push, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Dropped innocuously within Frank Phillips' front-page look at Joseph P. Kennedy II and the other names considering a run for the Senate seat opened by the death of Sen. Edward M. Ted Kennedy is this delayed-fuse time bomb.
But his clumsy attempt to annul his first marriage, which blew up when the Vatican, in a response to an appeal by his former wife, overturned the Boston Archdiocese’s decision granting it, reflected what his critics say: that he can be at times imperious, temperamental, and bullying.
And they say elephants have long memories.

There's little question the seat is Joe's for the taking. That was the case 23 years ago when a younger (and definitely imperious, temperamental and bullying) Kennedy ran for the 8th Congressional District seat once held by uncle Jack Kennedy and Tip O'Neill.

No matter that he had no experience -- he was a Kennedy. The media ate it up, with an extra helping tossed in because one of the other candidates in the mammoth field was James Roosevelt. Duel of the Dynasties and all that.

Joe actually did a credible job in Congress before walking away to refocus on Citizen's Energy. But you always knew he was keeping his options open with a phone number like 1-800-JOE-4-OIL.

If an untested Kennedy dominated a large field in a slog for the 8th District seat, imagine what he can do in a sprint of five-month race for an open seat vacated after 47 years by his uncle's passing?

And imagine how many politicians who have been waiting their entire career for the chance feel about Kennedy's name recognition advantage.

So let's dredge up the past.

I think I can say most Massachusetts residents have long forgotten the story of Kennedy's divorce and annulment and his ex-wife's lengthy battle to overturn the annulment. I know I did.

But in a state where the church still plays a significant role in secular affairs, the machinations were certainly not forgotten by everyone.

There are any number of potential dime droppers -- from Sheila Rauch to the Machiavellian notion that the Kennedy camp itself put it back into play to test reaction. And that apparently includes loyalists for Victoria Reggie Kennedy, whose name is being bandied about for everything from the temporary appointment to the full-time job.

Any of the potential candidates are certainly capable of it -- simply because the political stakes are so high. This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

In any event, it appears the official mourning period has ended. Let the games begin. And watch out for those brushback pitches.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Man of Mitts-stery

There's a lot to digest in this one paragraph in Sasha Issenberg's look at the latest political machinations from Myth Romney:
This spring, Romney sold his homes in Belmont and Utah, bringing his recession-era inventory of houses to two (in California and New Hampshire). But he may add another: He has started shopping for a condo in Boston. “He’s slowing down a bit, and realized he has more than he needed,” says Tagg Romney, who now hosts his parents in a kitchenette-equipped guest room at his own Belmont home when Mitt and Ann need a place to sleep in Boston. (Romney’s staff is still struggling to capture the language of residential austerity: Fehrnstrom talks of “opening up the house” on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee for summer as though it were a weeks-long activity.) The property shift sets Romney up to claim home-field advantage in New Hampshire, a state he needs to win. But Romney will remain registered to vote in Massachusetts, Fehrnstrom says.
In other words, he doesn't currently own property in Massachusetts -- opting to be a long-term visitor in his son Tagg's home but remains registered to vote in Massachusetts.

In the hands of one of his GOP competitors, the scenario can certainly sound like that of a homeless political carpetbagger searching for his best options.

But don't you need a utility bill or some proof of residency to be able to register to vote? Isn't that what the GOP "anti-voter fraud" effort is all about?

Yet the story says Romney has changed. We'll see. After all he did swear off running for the Kennedy seat -- for now.

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End of an era

The wall-to-wall coverage of the death and life of Ted Kennedy is now over. I strongly suspect the slickly produced cable TV "tributes" to Michael Jackson will once more proliferate like weeds -- while the discussion of Kennedy, who he was and what he stood for, will slide back to the talking (or shouting) head tables.

And I also strongly suspect that as with Kennedy himself, we will never see the equal again -- in terms of non-stop coverage and interest. We have seen the future of media coverage -- and it doesn't involve dead tree news operations or endless hours of obvious chitchat waiting for people to do what they are expected to do. (Or not do, for those of you old enough to remember Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald.)

I spent a week away from Boston -- close enough to plunk down $2 or more for a daily Boston Globe. I certainly saw snippets of the non-stop coverage provided by the local TV outlets.

I commend them for their commitment to the old media and what it does best. But that doesn't mean I soaked it all in.

Armed with an iPhone (and an occasional sneak peek at a laptop) I got by just fine on boston.com, nytimes.com and yes, Facebook and Twitter. Live blogging during the procession to Boston, the time in repose at the John F. Kennedy Library and even the funeral gave me all I needed -- or wanted -- to know. It helps to have reporters as Facebook friends who can actually offer solid reports in 140 characters.

In fact, the only time I sat in front of the TV was for the eulogies, including the moving tribute to his father from Edward M. Kennedy Jr. that is destined to become part of the political folklore. But if I hadn't sat there, I could have always watched it through streaming video or on YouTube.

The death of the state's senior senator is a watershed in Massachusetts' political life. And it is also one for its media life. But for the media the problem is compounded by the dilemma no one has yet figured out how to solve -- how to monetize the new way of doing the news.

When the numbers come in, I suspect the strong TV ratings will be skewed to the 60-plus demographic. Not the folks these broadcasters want for the limited commercials they can sell to earn back a piece of the tremendous amounts of cash spent to hire "analysts" and bring high price talent in on overtime.

And while I am sure boston.com's numbers have and will continue to soar as the official paper of record on the life and death of Ted Kennedy, they face the usual problem that clicks aren't the same as hands on paper when it comes to selling advertising.

But when a diehard old media type like me is ready to cross the line to the brave new world, the problem runs even deeper than that. I'm not ready to chuck the hard copy (unless they want to charge me for online access too). But I got by quite well, thank you, without picking up a skinny collection of typeset words for a week.

And if that doesn't send chills down the backs of media executives, I don't know what will.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Back in business

I'll have deeper thoughts about Ted Kennedy after I unwind from the joy of outrunning Danny and his friends on a southbound journey from Maine.

But I can't help but think about the $4 I plunked down for the privilege of driving through "tax-free" New Hampshire to and from a week away.

But a word to the wise folks, you are probably missing out by not having your state-run packies open 24-7.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"The dream shall never die"

The true Massachusetts Liberal has passed. The campaign for justice has lost a leading light. Let this be a legacy for those of us who want to carry it on.
For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Down time

Heading off the grid for some much needed R & R. As always, thanks for stopping by and y'all come back now, yah hear.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Another fine mess

Chalk up another one for Massachusetts legislative leaders. The messed up in 2004 with a blatant political power move aimed at denying Mitt Romney a U.S. Senate seat and they are now poised to take away state influence at a crucial moment in the health care debate.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray have been largely silent on Sen. Edward Kennedy's request for yet another change in the law governing Senate vacancies. The law was changed five years ago, requiring a special election, to prevent Romney from naming himself in the event John Kerry won the presidency.

Ironically, Kennedy wants to revert to the system in place when he took office. He is asking lawmakers to allow for an interim appointee who will promise not to seek the job on a permanent basis -- much like Benjamin Smith, who warmed the seat between the time his brother John was elected president and Kennedy ran in a special election in 1962.

Elections are the right way to fill vacancies, even if lawmakers -- despite their pious protestations at the time -- changed the law for all the wrong reasons.

Changing it again -- to accommodate Kennedy's belief the state needs two senators when a health care vote can come down to one person -- would indeed be hypocritical. But since when is hypocrisy a new and unusual trait in politics?

Ask yourself this question -- would Massachusetts Republicans, if they had the votes, shy away from doing the same thing on "principle"?

To the victors go the spoils, and this is yet another reason Bay State Republicans should be kicking themselves over the "top of the ticket only" strategy that have followed for a generation. If they had created a base, they might be in a position to contest the move.

Which brings me to the reasoning behind Kennedy's call. With Republicans dug in to oppose everything in the health care debate -- hoping for what South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint called Obama's "Waterloo" -- power politics is clearly a major element of the game.

Lawmakers should sin now and repent in leisure. And Scot Lehigh's suggestion of Michael Dukakis as the seat warmer isn't a bad one. Dukakis has good health care credentials and no real interest in getting back on the political horse.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pool party

I can see we are going to have an educated and uplifting gubernatorial campaign.

The hue and cry over the closing of state swimming pools at the height of the heat wave is one of the finest examples of the concept that people expect much from government -- and they also don't want to pay for it.

I understand the uproar over the decision by the Department of Conservation and Resources to continue shutting down the pools -- on schedule because a shortage of going back to school lifeguards as well as cash. Heck, the agency was once the MDC, home to tone deaf hacks.

I don't know where the public thinks the cash is going to come to pay for it in a state that has had as much success forecasting revenues in a recession as meteorologists have had predicting the rain and the heat this year.

But I do know one of the cheapest shots I have ever seen -- the Christy Mihos campaign and the Herald linking Gov. Deval Patrick's Sweet P Farm pool to shuttered facilities on our cities.

I though the Herald didn't do rich-bashing? I certainly don't recall suggestions that Mitt Romney invite minions up to his waterside manse in New Hampshire (although I certainly would love someone to correct on that if I am wrong).

But perhaps the biggest sin is the decision by Dick Morris, the architect of Christy Mihos' campaign, to start splashing when he represents a candidate who isn't exactly hurting for cash either.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if he opened up his back yard pool?” [Mihos spokesman Kevin] Sowyrda asked. “If he wants to be as generous to sunburned constituents as he certainly was ready to be to Sen. Marian Walsh when he tried to create a job for her, he’ll not only open the pool, but he’ll serve pina coladas poolside.”

Well, they did promise us they would go after Charlie Baker too.

It's hot enough without the inflammatory rhetoric. And by the way Christy -- do you have some nice cool down spot on the Cape thanks to the millions you've made from selling gas and potato chips?

I'll bring the towel. I'm sure you've got some flip-flops.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Amateur hour

Is it just me -- or should you be available 24-7-365 if you are the head of a public agency making enough money to merit a $327,000 buyout?

And, correct me if I am wrong, if you are a communications "expert" for an agency subject to public records laws, should you be discussing strategy in e-mail? Ever hear of a telephone -- or face-to-face meetings?

The new e-mails unearthed by the Globe through a Freedom of Information request add some color to the dust-ups between Transportation Secretary James Aloisi Jr. and former MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas.

But they do little to change the images of two Gangs Who Couldn't Shoot Straight.

Aloisi's decision to compare himself Poland in 1939, overrun by Hitler and sold down the river is, well, appalling. Same for the unnamed deputy suggesting he be "more Churchill than Chamberlain."

Equally pathetic was an apparent e-mail from Aloisi spokesman Colin Durrant saying Grabauskas had been "in a bunker" since the release of a National Transportation Safety Board report highly critical of T safety practices in the wake of the first of two Green Line crashes.

I have no problem with communications people conferring to get their talking points in order. That's standard operating procedure in the private sector too. But how about some discretion?

First rule of e-mail -- whether you work in a corporation or government -- never put anything into e-mail that you would not want to see printed on the front page of a newspaper.

Unless of course you did.

There is a legitimate question that has never received a satisfactory answer: if you are the chief executive of any entity, are you ever truly on vacation? Or furlough? Or are you responsible for the operation of the organization at all times except when under anesthesia (or in some utterly remote outpost where they have never heard of BlackBerries or iPhones, let alone have them).

Was Grabauskas in either of these two scenarios when he failed to be available to comment on a report harshly critical of the agency he was running?

Aloisi was right to ask “Why didn’t Dan respond more forcefully? This looks like we are ducking.’’

And he was right to agree to a media interview. The public deserved a response from the state's transportation officials and the man in charge was nowhere to be found.

Until he surfaced to call his boss a liar.

Grabauskas deserved to be canned, for his performance or lack thereof of an agency that has consistently failed to provide safe, timely service. Bosses need to be accountable for their charges.

The same standards apply to Aloisi. And so far he has made a complete mess of just about everything he has touched from the Turnpike to the T. Not easy to make a bid situation worse -- but he's succeeded with flying colors.

The clock is ticking.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Peace, love and understanding

For those of us inside 128 who are quick to write off the future of Deval Patrick, a gentle reminder, there are people who live beyond the Boston area -- and they don't carry the same venom as the talk show listeners and newspaper commenters.

The Globe's Matt Viser spent some time in western Massachusetts with Patrick and surprise, the rhetorical volume is a lot lower. The cuts are just as painful, but the scorn and abuse heaped upon the governor is far less.

There's Boston-based scorn over the fact that Patrick regularly visits his vacation home in Richmond -- which will become the Corner Office in absentia as he recovers from his hip surgery. He must be dogging it, some pundits suggest.

The problem is the term vacation home conjures up images of a fishing camp, like the one in the Adirondacks where Bill Weld used to disappear. Heck, do they even have running water in the Berkshires? Yep. And broadband access too, although not as plentiful as elsewhere in the state.

And it is in Massachusetts, as opposed to Mitt Romney's New Hampshire getaway.

Nor is Patrick helped by the image of the last governor with western Mass. roots -- Jane Swift. The memory of the governor taking the state police helicopter to North Adams to tend to her sick kids did not do a lot for her image or that of the region.

As the Globe notes, the western counties only provide 13 percent of the vote statewide. Patrick could carry every vote west of Worcester and still lose.

But we are looking at a potential free-for-all -- a GOP primary and/or an independent third candidate -- wild cards that could scuff up his opponent or reduce the needed margin of victory below 50 percent.

And for now, all the talk about Republican Charles Baker is just that -- talk. His intentions to run garnered headlines but little else. He will be running on the record of 16 years of GOP governors, and an eight-year career within those administrations.

Patrick has real problems -- unlike the media-generated hype that now appears to be swirling around Barack Obama. But there is also a year until the next election.

It might be a good idea for all of us to just cool our passions a little and head out past 495. There's a whole world out there. We might just find it isn't as crazy as we are.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

A victory for ignorance

Sarah Barracuda must be laughing up there in Alaska. And Betsy McCaughey is probably have a good chuckle too.

When Iowa's Charles Grassley, one of the few remaining thoughtful Senate Republicans, falls for the "death panels" nonsense and says he wants end-of-life counseling provisions stricken from any federal health care law, we all lose.

The concept is one of the biggest pieces of nonsense I have ever read. That doesn't mean the false argument didn't create a powerful wave among the "keep your government's hands off my Medicare" crowd.

So score another one for Sarah and Rush and the gang. And never underestimate the value of a lie.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

And your little dog too...

What's next Michelle Malkin -- kicking puppies?

The Queen of Right Wing Mean apparently has been out a bit to long in the August heat (hey, it must be hot somewhere!), accusing the Obama advance people of planting a question at the presidential health care town hall in Portsmouth, NH the other day.

Like the astroturf scream fests are spontaneous?

I seem to recall an unwritten rule in the presidential advance manual that says "little girls, especially those with signs of the times, make great visuals." Richard Nixon used a "Bring Us Together" sign quite effectively before he drove us apart.

But leaving aside the question of premeditation -- what exactly is wrong with an 11-year-old interested enough in politics asking a question of the President of the United States?

And, for the sake of argument, so what if it was a softball? I didn't see a lot of tough questions posed to George Bush at his town hall forums. And I've also seen a lot of over-the-plate jobs from the White House press corps. Those are the ones that are fair game for critics.

Hey Michelle. Pick on someone your own size and age. And make sure your side hasn't done the same thing before you go off half-baked.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The gangs that couldn't shoot straight

After the latest round of follies over Massachusetts transportation policy, it's a relief to think (and hope) some grown-ups may be about to sit at the table.

The 60-or-so day cooling off period represented by the top-to-bottom review of the MBTA would be a good time for Gov. Deval Patrick and legislative leaders to sit down, speak calmly and bury the hatchet -- preferably somewhere other than in each others skulls.

There have been so many mistakes here it's hard to keep count: the e-mails between Transportation Secretary James Aloisi and former T general manager Dan Grabauskas are only the latest in a long line.

And not all the screw-ups have come from the Corner Office, as Grabauskas' supporters love to repeat in an effort to deflect attention from the safety, construction and overall mess issues that he created.

The Great and General Court is up to its eyeballs and sinking deeper in the muck as it practices politics instead of policy because of its pique that voters actually chose a Democrat for the Corner Office.

This mess has its origins in the poor decisions of lawmakers and the Weld administration in financing transportation a decade ago. The Turnpike Authority was saddled with increased debt as part of the Big Dig fiasco. Lawmakers also saddled the T with increased debt and earmarked a penny on the sales tax to help it pay for it.

We know how all those decisions worked out.

Patrick has managed to make a bad situation worse with some poor personnel decisions, starting with the ineffective Bernard Cohen and now Aloisi.

The only mistake he made in ousting Grabauskas is not doing it sooner. The damaging of Old South Church by a delayed and overbudget Copley Station renovation comes to find as an appropriate fed-up point.

Nevertheless, these are the cards we've been dealt and we need to live with them.

I would also encourage Patrick to reach out to two of the better transportation experts in the nation for guidance. They live right here. One teaches at Northeastern, the other at MIT.

In addition to the expertise he would get by bringing in Michael Dukakis and Fred Salvucci as consultants, Patrick would also be getting another target for the Republican vitriol. Democrats, after all, have their man in the form of Charlie Baker, who was the Weld administration pointman when this mess was being birthed.

But the best part is there would be some adults at the table along with the children from the Patrick administration and the Legislature..

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The smoking e-mail

New memo to Deval Patrick: Make sure you know what e-mails are out there before you fire someone (assuming you haven't worked out a non-disparagement clause).

And memo to self: you ain't a reporter any more. It's dangerous to state things as fact in a breaking story when you aren't on the ground doing the actual reporting. When you jump to conclusions, know where you are jumping.

The Globe's Andrea Estes and Matt Viser provide us proof (probably directly from Dan Grabauskas) that the former T general manager was a late convert to the idea of forgoing a fare increase -- and contrary to public statements -- Transportation Secretary James Aloisi was the official looking to push ahead.
In a July 6 e-mail to Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr., Grabauskas detailed a plan to delay a fare increase until January 2011, writing that that there would probably be enough new state sales tax revenue and federal stimulus money to “spare our customers, many of whom are poor and transit dependent, a fare increase for an additional year, during the worst economic climate in 80 years.’.
To which Aloisi replied:
“Thanks Dan,’’ Aloisi wrote. “My reaction is that there are too many ‘ifs’ or other risks in the scenario you outline - too many things have to go right . . . My objective here is to set the MBTA on a much stronger financial footing, and moving forward on the fare increase now seems to me to be the best and most certain way to accomplish that for the next three fiscal years.’’
Both men are right. Aloisi, however, is guilty of sliming Grabauskas, making him the patsy. And the most pathetic thing is that hanging the fare increase around his neck wasn't even necessary as a last straw. The deterioration of the T in terms of safety and its inability of meet construction deadlines was cause enough to push him out.

Which brings us to the question of what Patrick knew and when did he know it. Aloisi's already unpopular boss is in the middle of yet another mess. Was he fully briefed by his transportation secretary? His comments seem to indicate he was not -- or that he is a godawful liar.
The governor, asked yesterday who was arguing for the increase, said, “You should ask the T that. It didn’t come from me.’’ Asked directly whether his administration had been advocating for it, Patrick said, “No.’’
While Patrick may not have been personally lobbying, his transportation secretary certainly was. Patrick is either a fool or a liar or both in this scenario.

But I learned enough of a lesson from my own leap into the unknown yesterday that I will leave it to others to answer that multiple choice question. This mess is a perfect example of why blogs -- at least opinion ones like this -- should not be confused with journalism.

I did no reporting yet, based on what others did, I jumped to a conclusion that Aloisi was more credible. Shame on me.

But I'm not leaping to too large a conclusion when I also say shame on Aloisi. His head should be the next one served up on a platter if Patrick hopes to emerge from this with anything approaching credibility.

And this time, make sure there isn't a paper trail.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

As the MBTA turns

Memo to Deval Patrick: When you fire someone, make sure there is a non-disparagement clause in the agreement.

That's about the only thing that is clear in the latest eruption in the story of Deval and Danny: The MBTA Years. OK, other than the fact the T would eliminate its deficit and run a huge surplus if they packaged this as a screenplay and sold it to Hollywood East.

Dan Grabauskas fired the first shot, declaring he lost his job because the Patrick administration, in the person of Transportation Secretary James Aloisi, wanted to blame the impending T fare hike on him.
"He wanted me to rush the fare increase process," Grabauskas said of Aloisi. "And I said I thought it was a bad idea. I'm breaking my silence because to say the MBTA staff was on its own, at my direction, is a lie."
Of course Aloisi is almost as easy a target as Grabauskas, having presided over the calamity known as the Big Dig financing plan before taking over the hot seat in Patrick's administration.

But I see a lot of revisionist history here, starting with Smilin' Dan himself and including members of the Great and General Court who are shocked, just shocked by a fare increase after approving a sales tax hike that carried far fewer dollars for the T than Patrick's gas tax hike proposal.

Let's start with the memory-challenged Grabauskas, conveniently about one year ago.
The MBTA's general manager gave a 9 percent raise to 240 executive employees this week after warning just a week ago that a financial crisis could spur a significant fare increase in 2010.
The fiscally responsible Smilin' Dan says the raises were just a matter of equity, but that drew a rebuke from one of current supporters.
"The agency's broke," said Senator Robert L. Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican who serves on the Transportation Committee. "It's amazing in this day and age [that] management is never asked to sacrifice."
No, that's what the public is for.

Let's fast forward a little to February, where Grabauskas said the T is broke, ruling out a fare increase on one hand while holding the other out to lawmakers.

That was also about the same time Patrick proposed a 19-cent increase in the gas tax -- with six cents of that going to "avoid service cuts or fare increases on the MBTA." Another 1.5 cents would have gone to regional mass transit.

But legislators who now profess to be "hoodwinked" by both Patrick and T management over the proposed fare hikes opted for a sales tax increase that would deliver about $160 million to close the deficit, less than what the gas tax would have brought in.

And of course they failed to hear Aloisi when he said the T would require both the sales tax cash and a fare hike.

A cluster-you-know-what? That would be an understatement.

And while it's really hard to pick the liars from the bozos, I think Aloisi, believe it or not, may be the most honest person here by publicly saying we needed both the fare hike and the sales tax. If he was making Grabauskas the scapegoat why did he go on the record on this score?

And the scapegoat image is a great way for Grabauskas to ignore the other issues that have hung over the MBTA like a Sword of Damocles: two Green Line crashes in a year, a capital improvement program that is a joke and equipment that break down with appalling regularity.

Which brings us back to Patrick. The legislative process has been equated to sausage-making and some of it must be public (no matter how hard our lawmakers try to pull things off behind closed doors).

But the executive process should be cleaner. When you croak someone they should stay croaked. If you can't get that right, are you surprised your credibility is moving in inverse relation to the MBTA fares?

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What's your suggestion?

I've got a simple question to ask the teabaggers and assorted "revolutionaries" who are rising up in protest over Barack Obama, health care reform and proclaiming challenges to truth, justice and the American way.

What's your suggestion?

The conservative puppetmasters pulling the strings on these astroturf protests held the White House for eight years, The also held Congress for 12 years -- six of which overlapped with the Bush presidency.

What did you do to solve the health care access crisis when you held all the power? What did you do to solve the problem of Wall Street ripping off America? What did you do the prevent deficits?

The answers are pretty obvious.

Obama has had about eight months to begin to tackle the mess created by the GOP puppetmasters who think new tactics amount to calling someone a socialist, not a communist. The same folks who once railed at the left for disruptive and yes even treasonous attacks on our elected leader are now carrying the pitchforks they accused us of wielding.

I'd be delighted to carry on a rational argument about an alternative health care proposal. I don't see much value in shout downs that offer nothing concrete, save for lies about "death panels."

Wall Street isn't the only thing that went bankrupt during the Bush years. So did Republican values.

I"m happy to engage in rational argument but spare me the fear tactics and the lies.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Put up or shut up time

Here's a modest proposal for all the public transportation "experts" who think the firing of Dan Grabauskas as MBTA general manager was a political attack on the manager of a smoothly efficient system.

Get out of your cars and try relying on the T for one month for all your transportation needs and check back with us. For one month, starting when everyone comes back from vacation, give this a try.

Take a bus to the commuter rail station or try to find a place in the parking lot. Plunk down the cash, hop on board. If you get on far enough up the line you may get a seat. They finally seem to have fixed the problems that made commuter rail cars rolling saunas so you probably catch a break there.

Just make sure you pick a train that will get you to work on time. That means leave a margin of error for the trains that don't show up or are running late because of "mechanical problems." More on that in a moment.

Now use the Green Line from North Station or the Red Line from South Station to get to the office. And rely on the subway system for all out of office appointments. Again, remember to leave time to compensate for the "disabled train" or the random electrical explosion.

Plan for the fact it can take one one hour from Packard's Corner to Park Street, against evening rush hour, trapped underground and unable to tell people you will be a half hour late.

At least you don't have to worry about the trolley driver texting and ignoring the red lights.

Now reverse the process to go home. Pack into Park Street for the ride back to the train stations. Cram into those subway cars, get to the homebound commuter train. It's not convenient based on your appointment schedule? Tough. It's running late? Tough.

Better yet, ride the bus system. Grab a schedule that says the bus runs every x number of minutes. Really? Learn that buses (and Green Line trains) run in packs. Two, three or four bunched up, followed by lengthy gaps where people pack together like cattle.

Comfy on that bus? Probably not, but hey, that's life on the T. Become very familiar with the person jammed next to you and be grateful they believe in bathing even if they think MP3 players should be played so loud that you can hear it to.

The bus you're on doesn't get you where you need to go? Transfer to another one. Or two. Late for that appointment? Tough.

Learn the joys of the CharlieCard or CharlieTicket (really, who names a fare system after a mythical character who couldn't afford a fare increase and was doomed to "ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston")?

Admire the collection of bottles, cans and discarded newspapers that litter the tracks on outdoor Green Line "stations." Or the overflowing cans inside stations that resemble saunas in summer unless you stand directly in front of a noisy fan that blows dirt in your face.

Experience all those joys and tell me the system is a finely tuned machine and Dan Grabauskas was a victim of a Patrick putsch.

And while I agree that the $327,000 severance package was outrageous, I have an idea where the cash can come from. The governor just gave you $1.5 million back by vetoing your cowardly end run around his initial veto of the zoo extortion fund.

Remember, I'm not asking you to abandon your car with the legislative plates that give you lots of leeway in parking. And I'm only asking for one month, not 12 months like many of the people you claim to represent.

Try it. You won't like it.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

No Times like the present

The New York Times says it has righted the sinking ship and it's in no hurry to sell The Boston Globe.

But allow me to borrow the slogan of the old Crimson Travel agency: Go away. Please.

Speaking from high atop their 8th Avenue monument to excess and waste, Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and chief executive Janet Robinson say they were simply administering tough love in negotiations with the Globe unions and professed affection for the paper and the city it serves.

Then why have they not ventured out of Manhattan to tell us that?

It would be foolish to think new owners will be able to make serious headway in dealing with a revenue problems that afflicts the entire industry. But local owners would automatically have more credibility than distant overlords when it comes to professed love.

Oh and by the way Young Arthur, a piece of advice. Charging for web access to the Times and the Globe may be inevitable. But don't even think of sticking it to those of us who loyally support the dead tree edition and give you hundreds of dollars a year to be aggravated by deliveries that don't come for something you paid for in advance.

I'd be more than delighted to drop the dead tree editions of both papers and save a bundle of cash. That model works quite well for me with the Wall Street Journal.

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Ticket to ride

Bravo to David Filipov for a long overdue look at the other side of Boston bicycle culture.

I will stipulate drivers treat cyclists with contempt and many pedestrians are bozos when it comes to both cars and bikes. But I cannot tell you how many times I mutter "I hope you get doored" after being buzzed within a inch by a cyclist who whizzes past me on a sidewalk, hops into the street to run a red light and the pedals furiously the wrong way up a one-way street.

I have a simple rule -- look both ways before crossing a one-way street. Usually (but not always) the danger lies in a cyclist.

Yesterday I enjoyed the fact a cyclist thanking me for not walking into her when she was making a left turn into where I was walking (and I had started crossing first).

Then there was the time I saw a cyclist do the sidewalk to street and back again routine on a street with a bicycle lane. I'd give the bozo who rode the wrong way in the bike lane more credit than the buzz bomber.

As with everything involving Boston's horrid non-MBTA transportation situation, the solution lies with the police.

Memo to the Mayor for Life: There's money to be made in ticketing drivers, cyclists and pedestrians who flout the law.

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What price failure?

The cost of failure apparently is $327,487.

The MBTA Board of Directors decision to give Dan Grabauskas the heave-ho comes with a hefty but necessary price tag. Hefty, but cost-effective in the long run.

The political grandees like Senate Transportation Secretary Stephen Baddour, who suggest the move by Gov. Deval Patrick to oust the Grabauskas was "trying to settle a political score at taxpayer’s expense when we have so many serious matters that need focus’’ are seriously out of touch with what passes as "public transportation" in eastern Massachusetts.

Let's look at the performance record of a system with maintenance problems out of control. (As if on cue, yet another power failure).

A system, in the words of the National Transportation Safety Board which is plagued by a "lack of a safety culture."

A system where construction projects run, Big Dig-like with endlessly blown deadlines and budgets, when they are not threatening the stability of historic church buildings that was trying to be a good neighbor above an MBTA station under endless renovation.

The only area where I am willing to give Grabauskas a pass is in dealing with the financial problems caused by the debt which saddles the MBTA. Why? Because it was the very same Legislature that expresses oneness with Grabauskas who saddled his predecessor with it.

The political scores on display here are those involving legislators like Baddour who are at war with Patrick, who has run up a few solid wins in the area of pensions and ethics that have undoubtedly chapped some comfortable butts. Perhaps Sen. Baddour could pay closer attention to Boston and not always worry about our New Hampshire neighbors.

Transportation Secretary James Aloisi Jr. is no doubt aware of Colin Powell's Pottery Barn Rule. He broke it and now he owns it. The fate of the MBTA is in his hands -- and those of Patrick. They should be comforted by the fact there is only way the MBTA can go and that is up.

The top-to-bottom review ordered by Patrick is a necessary and long-overdue step. Aloisi is correct to say any final decisions on a fare increase must be made only after that review. I'm not foolish enough to think it will prevent one -- let's not forget the legislatively-assigned debt.

But rider recognize what lawmakers who use cars to travel to work fail to understand. It was necessary to hold someone accountable for the mess. It was imperative to get Danny off the MTA.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

System failure

Here's a question for all those staunch defenders of MBTA general manager Dan Grabauskas -- should anyone be responsible for the seemingly deplorable working condition of the system?

Check out the MBTA section of Universal Hub and observe the litany of daily problems -- which range from usual annoyances to major league headaches. Today it was signal problems on the Red Line and an electrical explosion at North Station. Yesterday it was the usual Green Line follies. And it goes on.

Toss in the not on time and over budget renovations, safety issues on the Green Line as documented by the National Transportation Safety Board, the rising fares and shoddy service and the often-nasty interactions between riders and MBTA employees and you have a system with a problem -- a big one.

You would think someone would be responsible for this -- and that someone would be the man at the top, whose smiling face greets us all and tells us to report the problems.

But this is Massachusetts, so you would be wrong. Our elected leaders -- mayors and legislative grandees say the problem rests with the governor.

I'd say that is as screwed up as the MBTA itself.

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Dog days for Deval

No wonder he got a dog.

These haven't been the best of days for Deval Patrick, dealing with lower budgets, higher taxes, political sniping and now, we learn, a bum hip. And he can't even suffer in peace like the rest of us:

Governor Deval L. Patrick is scheduled to have a hip replaced next month and will spend two to three weeks at home to recuperate, temporarily sidelining him at a time when he is tackling the state’s financial crisis and trying to reenergize his political organization for next year’s election.

Yep, he's selfishly thinking of himself right now. Why he'll be ensconced in his vacation retreat while the state fiddles and diddles. I guess they must not have telephones and computers in western Massachusetts.

If you think about it, Patrick could use a break. Tommy Menino, the man with the elephant's memory but without the protective hide, is on the outs with him. So too are Treasurer Tim Cahill, Senate President Therese Murray, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and even Newton Mayor David Cohen.

Heck, they're even picking Smilin' Dan Grabauskas over him.

So you can see why Patrick opted for a black Labrador as a companion. Even though he been known to nip a finger.

There's no denying Patrick is down in the polls. But let's look at a few other items before declaring the election over 15 months ahead of time.

Let's start with the obvious -- Is it a bad thing to have the state's political "heavyweights" lined up against you? Legislative leaders, the mayor for life of the capital city who is always asking for more money and the Newton mayor who will go down in history as building a high school so over the top it's known as the Taj Mahal?

Menino may have offered a strong endorsement too, even unintentionally:
“He doesn’t come out of the governmental world; he comes out of the business world,’’ said Menino. “He doesn’t understand every word is weighted. It’s something he hasn’t mastered.’’
Thanks Mumbles.

And as for the sales tax hike, one let us not forget was dreamed up and rammed through by legislative leaders, well maybe people more than 10 miles from the New Hampshire border aren't as worked up.
“We have to buy what we have to buy,’’ said Rajendra Desai of Randolph, who was shopping for a mattress at Sears in Braintree.
Words you don't hear from Howie Carr's listeners.

And speaking of Howie, he seems to be setting up a circular firing squad for potential Patrick opponents, just as the strategy was laid out by Myth Romney's pointman Eric Fehrnstrom.

So yeah, things aren't looking so hot for Patrick these days. But he still can say the right things.
“I mean to be respectful to all people, and my first focus is and must be the regular folks who are looking to the governor for leadership, or comfort, or support,’’ Patrick said in an interview. “And that is where I give most of my attention, and that implies nothing about the importance of other elected officials. It just says something about where my first focus tends to be.’’
And let's not forget that with enemies like the ones he's been piling up he may have more friends -- aside from Tobey -- than we may think.

It's going to be a fun 15 months for political junkies.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Like the Green Line on wheels

Attorney Jan Schlichtmann certainly knows how to get attention for his cases.

It's been intuitively obvious for years that the bulk of the drivers who use the Big Dig don't pay for it -- the tolls are levied on traffic coming from the west on the turnpike and the Ted Williams Tunnel while the heaviest volume comes from the north and south.

Now here comes Schlictmann with a study that attempts to quantify that inequity, suggesting that only about 46 percent of drivers pay the tolls.

Schlictmann is bringing a class action suit on behalf of the other 54 percent.
“This is the first time that someone has bothered to calculate the ratio between the toll payers being forced to pay for the entire system, compared with all the people who use the system,’’ Schlichtmann said. “It shows clearly that the minority is paying for the majority to use the system for free. That is unfair, unconstitutional, inequitable, and wrong.’’
Turnpike officials dispute the numbers but won't say why because of the ongoing litigation. I always want to know about the methodology of a study before I wholeheartedly embrace it.

But on the surface it looks a lot like the MBTA fare collection system, where someone slipping in the backdoor can leave the driving and cost to someone else. And it certainly seems to jibe with the obvious lack of tolls across the Zakim Bridge, the O'Neill Tunnel and other expensive pieces of the Big Dig.

See you in court.

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Hot fun in the summertime

Let's skip right past the interesting tale of just exactly how Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was returned to fiscal solvency and take on the more delicious task of the names being bandied about as possible running mates for Charlie Baker.

Two names have emerged so far in the sultry summer silliness: Curt Schilling and Dan Grabauskas. Each could make things fun. I can see the bloody sock campaign logo now.

Schilling would be a risky choice: name recognition yes, but what experience does he have in government? A perfect symbol for the uselessness of the No. 2 job. Of course, given the track record of the recent Republican governors in finishing their terms (physically and mentally) it's not quite that useless.

Grabauskas? He'll do for the Commonwealth what he did for the MBTA. Um, I don't think so.

Somehow I think when all is said and done, Baker will find a serious running mate with credentials to indicate the job of running state government in a crisis isn't a game. I think he will probably also look to the business community -- given there is a dearth of candidates with that experience and GOP credentials in state government.

But it sure is fun to speculate.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Clunkers against cash

You'd think from all the howling coming out of congressional Republicans that the Cash for Clunkers program was aimed at bailing them out.

Motorists are flocking to auto showrooms (some of them even selling GM and Chrysler cars) in unanticipated numbers to take advantage of rebates of up to $4,500 if they trade in eligible gas guzzlers for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Just the sort of stimulus our economy needs, right?

Not if you are a member of the Grumpy Old Party. The No Boys think the wildly unpredictable success of the program is another sign of the incompetence of the Obama administration -- and a reason to vote against health care reform.
The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Monday on the Senate floor that the Obama administration had botched the execution of the program by miscalculating how popular it would be. This was a reason to be more deliberate in acting on a health care overhaul, he said.
Yet McConnell says he has no objections to adding another $2 billion to the program, a far cry from the GOP position on the weekend yak shows, when the Car Allowance Rebate System was surely just another sign of Obama Socialists Gone Wild.

Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said the “cash for clunkers” program was an example of the “stupidity coming out of Washington right now.”

“The federal government went bankrupt in one week in the used-car business, and now they want to run our health care system,” Mr. DeMint said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “This is crazy to try to rush this thing through again while they’re trying to rush through health care, and they want to get on to cap-and-trade electricity tax. We’ve got to slow this thing down.”

And Bill Kristol, the man who brought you both Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin, said it was just a sop to the middle class.
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” William Kristol, the conservative editor of The Weekly Standard, said the rebates were going to middle-class people who would have eventually bought a new car anyhow.
Better check your talking points Bill. The GOP is trying to position itself as the party of the middle class and not the fat cats who got us into the mess.

Maybe the GOP can merge two schools of thought here. Since clunkers are being crushed at overwhelmed junkyards (full employment for everyone!), maybe they can say this is just another way that limousine liberals are mandating death -- just as they are by supporting palliative care in the health care bills!

Is there a junkyard for GOP "ideas"?

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Are we there yet?

Sifting through what amounted to news from a lazy August Sunday -- reading about the Sunday yak shows and speculation whether the economy will rebound quickly enough and whether Barack Obama is bipartisan enough I was reminded of a political cartoon I saw recently.

The cartoonist had Obama in the driver's seat and John Q. Public sitting next to him, questioning every two seconds: "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

The 24-second, 140-character news cycle has really warped our sense of timing.

How many years have we battled over finding a rational system to overhaul or health care system? The only thing I can tell you with certainty is it has been about 15 years since the last real effort failed, thanks to overwhelming efforts by the invested parties to scuttle it. And by invested I don't mean you and we.

How long did it take for the economy to fall into a rat hole? Again, there's evidence the seeds of this debacle go back 15 years or so, but the real collapse was only 10-plus months ago.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but we didn't get out of the Great Depression overnight. In fact, it took a war to do that -- and I'm not suggesting we need a third front to get things moving.

Besides, there really isn't a great military demand for tanks -- as the automakers proved when they fell apart because they were hidebound in their thinking for decades.

So let's take a deep breath, suck some humid air into our lungs and relax. No we're not there yet. It's a long drive and we've just begun.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Is Charlie a snitch?

There was an interesting tidbit buried deep within Noah Bierman's Starts and Stops column this morning that certainly stopped me.

Q. Can a court have access to records of when you enter and leave the T? Can this information be obtained without your CharlieCard, using credit card information entered through an online purchase?

A. The courts cannot subpoena information on CharlieCards that are not registered nor can it be obtained without your card. Our system does not hold personal credit card information for nonregistered customers. The safety and security of our customers is our top priority.

The courts cannot subpoena information on CharlieCards that are not registered???? You mean that my card, registered as a result of my participating in a workplace payroll deduction program is more vulnerable to snooping than someone who just adds fares at machines and would be out a few bucks if they lost the card?

I'd sure love to hear more about this. Because based on this snippet it sure sounds like I have a fed in my wallet, 24-7-365.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Pity the packies

OK, now I have just about seen it all -- the sales tax hike on booze that goes into effect today is unfair and should be the subject of a voter repeal.

Why stop there? Why not repeal the tax on everything. Live free or die, after all.

And die is what we will be doing in large numbers if we start to think that government does nothing. Yep, police, fire, public works, education, social services. All free and provided out of the ether -- some by the same people who will sign the petition.

And while we're at it -- less remove the burden on the poor small business people who have to collect the taxes we pay. So unfair to them to have to collect our money. Some of which goes to paying for health care for the employees they do not cover with insurance.

So let's all drive up to New Hampshire -- where the state runs the packies. Load up on booze, butts and fireworks and just say screw it all.

Last one out of Massachusetts, shut off the lights. After all, there won't be anyone left to pay the utility taxes.

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