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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A tree died for this?

It took two reporters, a photographer and who know how many hours of dogged reporting for the New York Times to inform us -- on Page One -- that expensive bicycles get stolen in Paris.

Thank goodness we are on the verge of a shield law that will enable reporters to protect their sources. Maybe we can get some journalism that merits those long overdue changes.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Get a life

Let's see now: the economy is showing signs of life and the House has unveiled a health care bill for debate. There's got to be something new the right can toss at the feet of Barack Obama.

I got it -- his daughters got swine flu vaccinations even while Obama personally flummoxed the manufacturing and delivery of adequate supplies of vaccine.

Yep, our conspiracy-minded friends, you know the ones who H1N1 is a fantasy to begin with, are upset that Malia and Sasha Obama are getting special treatment in the form of a vaccine that they really think is a killer that can do more harm than good.

Did they get them in at school, you know the place where Obama directed the socialist message to work hard and stay in school?

It's beyond frightening how logic and reason are rapidly disappearing in this country.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sacred Cows and the Sacred Cod

Memo to Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill: Underestimate Deval Patrick at your own risk.

Faced with the task of chopping another $600 million from the state budget, Patrick traveled to Worcester to spell out the details (such as they are), which were then concisely summarized by Boston Herald headline writers:

Gov eyes 2,000 jobs, hack holidays, Quinn Bill in cuts

Over at the Globe, due notice is taken at the other gauntlet thrown down by Patrick, the alleged darling of the left.
Almost 1,000 state jobs will be eliminated and another 1,000 are in jeopardy unless unions agree to concessions as the state moves to close a $600 million budget gap, Governor Deval Patrick's top fiscal aide said today.
Take that Charlie and Tim. You too Christy.

But most of all, here's looking at you Bobby and Terry.

The focus on eliminating Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day -- Suffolk County holidays whose demise South Boston Sen. Jack Hart once likened to the elimination of Christmas -- clearly sets the upcoming round of cuts as a battle between Sacred Cows and the Sacred Cod that represents the tradition of the Massachusetts Legislature.

Toss in a few bombs aimed at police and other unions and you have another fascinating chapter in the ongoing saga of Deval vs. The Great and General Court.

Patrick has already made it quite clear he intends to run against the Legislature. His battles against now-indicted former Speaker Sal DiMasi were merely warm ups for this year's fights over ethics, pensions, transportation and taxes. (Let us never forget the highly unpopular sales tax increase was the birthed by current Speaker Robert DeLeo, although Patrick has also been tarred by it).

Not to mention that lawmakers have already said no to eliminating the Suffolk County holidays and blinked in the face of union pressure in rolling back but not ending Quinn Bill benefits.

Telling the leaders of other public employee unions that it's either concessions or another 1,000 layoffs is also going to go over well with a public that has either seen their own jobs disappear or knows a neighbor or co-worker on unemployment.

Patrick was deliberately vague about $352 million in cuts across state government will come. But he wasn't shy about protecting local aid -- and the teachers, cops and firefighters whose jobs depend on it.

And while he was at it, he spared human services the Draconian cuts they feared, leaving advocates to at least hum his praises.

The scene now shifts to the Legislature, where DeLeo and Senate President Terry Murray have been non-committal about giving Patrick the "9c" powers he's asked for the cut beyond the executive branch.

Now they find themselves in the position of giving him that power -- and the taking the heat from the unions and employees who like a couple of extra paid days off.

Or they can stand in support of hack holidays and the Quinn Bill and offer fresh fodder for Patrick's campaign commercials. And Baker and Cahill can only stand by and watch.

Good policy, but even better politics governor.

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Ax me no questions

Things are about as bad as they can get when you have to hold a press availability to talk about all the jobs that federal stimulus dollars have saved in Massachusetts -- right before you swing an ax to eliminate about 2,000 of them.

And that's probably why Deval Patrick is heading to Worcester to do the deed, hoping a press corps that has seen its own ranks thinned in recent years won't have the staff or resources to tag along.

Fat chance.

Patrick's Statehouse show to highlight how the state retained approximately 8,800 full-time jobs -- primarily teachers, police and firefighters -- is the spoonful of sugar to help make the sour medicine go down. Yes, it's bad out there, but just imagine how much worse it could have been.

We won't need to imagine much longer. The cuts to eliminate a new $600 million gap are likely to be deep and wide. -- could be in harm's way.

One area to keep a special lookout for is mental health and retardation services. Advocates have been keeping a vigil outside the offices of Patrick, Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray in fear of significant cuts.

Mental health advocates may have gotten a boost of support in the wake of this week's stabbing and shooting at Mass. General, which highlighted the broad issue in shocking but well-timed way for those deeply involved in the issue.

The depth and breadth of the Great Recession has been staggering. And it ain't over yet. It is about to get even uglier.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Welcome to the sausage factory

I love a good political fight as much as the next person. And I even get enmeshed in the procedural wrangling that is government. But I am studiously avoiding the ins and outs of the Capitol Hill wrangling that I still believe will lead to health care legislation. Why?

Because as a former Statehouse reporter I remember the words (if not the correct order) of Otto von Bismarck's pronouncement: "Laws are like sausages. It's better to not see them made."

I personally think we should be talking about insurance reform as much as health care reform, and that's exactly what's going on with the back-and-forth over the public option. Insurers are being threatened in the traditional ways they do business and are fighting back.

That's also the context in which to view the latest shenanigans of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut. The "I" doesn't stand for independent as he would have you believe. The I represents the first letter of his state's other nickname -- The Insurance State -- pious protests to the contrary.

Usually the sausage-making takes place behind closed doors -- and there is plenty of that ahead when the conference committee gets together to iron out the final version of legislation that will emerge from the House and the Senate.

But now is the time for other lawmakers to get their own little pieces of the sausage -- and which is why Lieberman is being less than truthful if he says the interests of his state's largest industry is not on his mind.

And centrist Democrats are angling for something of value they can offer voters who want to come after their scalp for approving "Obamacare" in spite of the rants of Rush and Glenn. Pay no attention to the men and women in front of the curtain.

If you are looking for clarity, try this piece from the Washington Post's economics columnist Steve Pearlstein.

But if you're looking at a good night's sleep, skip right over the daily rehash of the sausage-making. It will only given you indigestion.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hot and cold running candidates

Victory is in the eye of the beholder in last night's debate among the four Democrats vying for the right to fill the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy. And a lot of that depends on the gender and style of that beholder.

Attorney General Martha Coakley was the cool front runner. Calm, poised, solid answers and good eye contact with the camera and voters. A prosecutor making her pitch to the jury.

Rep. Mike Capuano was the hot insider. Wearing his passion and his congressional experience like a badge of honor, he didn't so much make eye contact as leap into the camera, telling would-be voters he's already doing the job.

It was one of the first things Mrs. O.L. noted. That observation became a trend with Joan Vennochi's analysis.

As for Alan Khazei. Well, his father is a doctor and he opposes casino gambling. The former is interesting, the latter irrelevant to the duties of a United States senator because the question of how many casinos, if any, is something to be decided at the state level.

Of course Khazei is obviously appealing to the vocal group of casino foes on the left who vote in Democratic primaries, so maybe not as irrelevant as it seems.

Steve Pagliuca? He knows congressional service is not rocket science. But he also agreed with Capuano so much that you have to wonder why he isn't running the other guy's campaign.

This was the first broad exposure for the four wannabes and quite possibly the last with no more televised debates planned. If they are the lasting impressions (doubtful, since the barrage of Coakley and Capuano ads have yet to come), Democratic voters may think Coakley needs to dial it up a few notches -- and Capuano needs to bring it down from 11.

The other guys? Khazei's outsider credentials and anti-casino stands could resonate. But enough to catch lightning in a bottle?

Pagliuca's best shot is green: continuing to empty his wallet and hoping for a hot Celtics start.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

No Mangini Magic

As a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan, I had hoped some of the alleged Belichick magic would rub off on his disciples. I'm still waiting.

But I do agree wholeheartedly that the latest prodigal son, Eric Mangini, has made a bad situation worse. Maybe there were a lot of bad attitudes (that would be you Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards) but I sure am not impressed with a "leader" who benches a quarterback after 10 quarters and sticks in a replacement who has even less success.

To me, that makes the issue the talent (or lack thereof) surrounding the QB. Starting with the head coach.

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Let the games begin

I asked for it. Now I hope I make it home in time from work to get it.

The US Senate race begins with some earnestness this evening with a debate among the four principals on the Democratic side. The 7 p.m. start makes it somewhat problematic for people who don't punch out at 5 p.m., but heck, it's a start.

Since Attorney General Martha Coakley fancies herself as the front runner, the focus will obviously be on her -- and Coakley needs to avoid mistakes like saying she has foreign policy experience because her sister lives overseas.

Rep. Michael Capuano, who does have experience, will be quick to pounce on that. But he needs to be ready to defend the fact that he has taken overseas trips on taxpayer dimes despite the fact he hasn't been focused on foreign policy during his years in Congress.

Alan Khazei and Steve Pagliuca? Well they just have to show up. Lightning may strike -- Coakley or Capuano.

And Money Pags should be grateful the debate isn't tomorrow night -- when the Celtics open their quest for No. 18 in Cleveland.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mirror image

Reading Matt Bai's look at the New Jersey governor's race in today's New York Times Magazine, I was struck by one thought: What happens if you go through the article and insert Deval Patrick every time you see the name Jon Corzine?

I suspect the New Jersey results will be analyzed carefully at Patrick headquarters. Corzine has two weeks to turn things around. Patrick has a year.

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This day in trivia

Did Barack Obama fix the economy, fix the health care system, resolve the stand-off with Iran, formulate an Afghanistan policy and manufacture swine flu vaccine in his spare time?

I can only assume these weighty issues have been resolved. After all, The New York Times devoted precious front page space to the absence of women at White House pickup basketball games.

Yep, the self-absorbed Washington press corps is at it again. A week into the navel gazing over of the Fox News strategy (fronted by a woman, it should be noted), we are now listening to pundits opine on the relative invisibility of women in the inner circle.

Wasn't it not that long ago, during the tenure of the last Democratic president, that we were lamenting the presence of women in the Oval Office?

Obviously, this is not a new theme. Earlier this year we were treated to endless discourse on whether Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was being marginalized. It's only a matter of time before Michelle Obama's less-intense focus on health and education will be contrasted to Clinton's First Lady foray into health care reform and stories will pop on the marginalization of Michelle.

The level of education and basic knowledge among Americans has come into question recently. We are facing huge problems in providing basics like health care, jobs and quality education to increasing numbers of citizens.

And yet the media, pushed along by the 24-7, 140-character news cycle, prefers focusing on trivia rather than trying to adequately explain complex issues.

Death panels are far sexier topics than than a frank discussion about end-of-life care. Pickup basketball as a metaphor for whatever fevered idea is rattling around the commentariat's brain pan is a catchier subject than economic stimulus.

It would be laughable if only the stakes were not so high.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Paranoia strikes deep

The Obama administration's declaration of emergency may finally release the real virus that is infecting the American body politic: paranoia.

Reading the comments to the Globe's post of the Associated Press story, you would think the black helicopters are warming up. Obviously those folks don't read (or believe) the real evidence in the form of a sharp spike in H1N1 in Massachusetts.

There's actually plenty of blame to go around here. The media overplayed the initial story of the virus to the point where pork manufacturers got officials to change the name from swine flu. The same applies to the endless drumbeat of stories on vaccine availability.

The screw-ups around getting the right quantities in place swiftly leaves public health officials and pharmaceutical companies with some explaining to do too.

And then there is the political agenda -- from Bill Maher on the left to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck on the right proclaiming the whole things is a hoax.

It's clear there is a novel H1N1 virus and it has been arriving here in waves -- after a "productive" summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Whether it is the second coming of the 1918 Spanish flu remains to be seen.

But equally clear to date is the virus is attacking and in some cases killing young people in greater numbers, so far, than a mere seasonal flu outbreak.

And the virtual disappearance of the seasonal flu vaccine -- even though it is not geared to fight H1N1 -- suggests people, deep down, are taking the threat seriously.

But when a public health precaution gets turned into rants about jack-booted government troops coming to round us up, it's clear America really needs a different form medical intervention.

Like a gigantic Xanax.

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E-mail follies

Jay Rourke obviously never met Michael Kineavy. Otherwise he would not have been so stupid as to write disparaging e-mails about the Allston-Brighton community and then fail to double delete them.

Doesn't anyone have a clue about e-mail etiquette -- especially when they work in the public sector?

This round of e-mail mania can only reinforce the out-of-touch nature of the Menino administration (don't kid yourself about BRA autonomy). All the campaign cash in the world will not make for a smooth fifth term for Hizzoner.

And it should also reinforce the notion that Glove and Herald reporters covering state and local officials ought to be pumping out FOIA requests like there is no tomorrow. Who knows what other juicy gems are out there?

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Faux fears

Spare me the crocodile tears from those poor business executives who will have to get by on just $10 million a year.

Obama pay czar Kenneth Feinberg's action affect only 175 executives -- 25 people at each of the seven companies bailed out by taxpayers who would be lucky to earn that much in a lifetime or two.

There's an argument to be made that the crackdown is really nothing more than a symbolic sop to Main Street America outraged by the bad behavior on Wall Street that has the unemployment rate around 10 percent.

But sop or significant step, it's insulting and infuriating that these clueless types are complaining that the loss of excessive compensation will result in a "brain drain." Puhleeze, it was those "brains" who created this mess and who have been bailed out with taxpayer dollars.

One (very small step) for Main Street. It's a start and I'm happy to take it. And I would love to see Fed try to expand its oversight on the Masters of Greed.

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So long Soupy

Farewell Milton Supman. You made me laugh.

Soupy Sales was a legend, a pie-throwing clown who did kids shows in the 1950s and '60s. With his expressive face and a host of characters like Black Tooth and White Fang, he was great laughs for a little kid.

But it was one pie toss I recall most vividly. In those days, the Mike Douglas Show (where Roger Ailes got his start) was broadcast in Cleveland and Sales was the guest host for the live show that aired right after the noon news.

A dignified local sportscaster was running through the scores when next thing you know, bam, a pie in the face, live.

Interestingly, the Globe-edited version of the obit failed to mention Sales' most memorable moment -- an encounter with an off-camera naked woman brought on the set by a crew out to one-up him.

Thanks for the laughs Soupy. RIP.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

There he goes again

Step right up and listen as the Amazing Timmie sees into the future. Marvel at his fiscal hindsight. Enjoy his second-guessing.

There are so many holes in Treasurer Tim Cahill's analysis of the Patrick administration's handling of the budget crisis that it's impossible to know where to start. I think the Globe does a decent job of fact checking: the administration hasn't sliced and diced jobs but it sure hasn't added them to the extent Cahill claims.

And Cahill probably doesn't know a state employee who got laid off because he likely doesn't associate with social workers and direct care employees.

More importantly, if Patrick and the Legislature should have seen the breadth and depth of the financial crisis and planned accordingly, why did the state pension system, which is under Cahill's control, tank too?

After all, it works directly with Wall Street, the same folks who brought you the fiscal debacle.

Mike Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation sums it up nicely:
“If one knew 12 months ago the scale of this, it would have been best to make a series of cuts all at once,’’ Widmer said. “Revenues dropped more dramatically than anybody had forecast. It would have been difficult to foresee the extent of the problem. It has been the same in state after state. Massachusetts has acquitted itself better than other states.’’
People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones Timmie. You have a record that doesn't exactly reflect glory.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

State of Hate

That big ball of hate consuming the right continues to roll along, gathering momentum in a truly frightening fashion.

The epicenter may well be South Carolina, home of Rep. Joe "You Lie" Wilson, presided over by the honorable Gov. Mark "Appalachian Trail" Sanford with strong leadership from Sen. Jim "Waterloo" DeMint.

Here's the latest from the land of tolerance:
“There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves,” the opinion article stated. “By not using earmarks to fund projects for South Carolina and instead using actual bills, DeMint is watching our nation’s pennies and trying to preserve our country’s wealth and our economy’s viability to give all an opportunity to succeed.”
The remarks are actually authored by two Republican Party county chairman, in a letter to the editor that, in their twisted minds, was congratulating DeMint with frugality. To their discredit -- and frankly that of the editor of the paper -- that age-old insult was supposed to be a compliment.

There has always been a seamy underside of America, a nativist movement that emerges during hard times. clearly spelled out by political scientist Richard Hofstadter in "The Paranoid Style of American Politics."

While Glenn Beck is merely the latest poster child, it has a long and sordid history in America, in traditions such as slavery, Jim Crow and the KKK. Some of its most prominent political practitioners have been George C. Wallace and Strom Thurmond.

At the risk of being guilty of stereotyping, do I detect a trend here?

While not every South Carolinian -- and certainly not every Southerner -- is guilty of embracing the politics of hate, it certainly seems the roots run deep below the Mason-Dixon Line. Let's not forget the "War of Northern Aggression," launched at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, was in defense of the Southern institution of slavery.

We need politicians to start cooling the nativist passions, not inflaming them, starting with the authors, Edwin O. Merwin Jr., chairman of the Bamberg County Republican Party, and James S. Ulmer Jr., chairman of the Orangeburg County Republican Party, whose "apology" reflected the depth of the ignorance passing for political judgment:

The State, a newspaper in Columbia, S.C., reported that Mr. Ulmer had e-mailed a statement explaining that the comment was one he had “heard many times in my life, truly in admiration for a method of bettering one’s lot in life.
I'm sure he heard it many times. But if he thought it was a statement of admiration, he obviously never read Shakespeare.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ho-hummer

Excuse me, but wasn't it about a month ago that we were brimming with anticipation over an historic race to fill a US senate vacated by the death of a liberal lion?

Granted we are approaching a Boston mayoral election where the incumbent's over-under is 16 percentage points. But what about the rest of the state that doesn't live and die by the outcome of Mumbles v. Floon?

Watching paint dry is a more active pastime than Senate race coverage. Bob Burr dropped out of the GOP race yesterday. You may well so "who?" He's the guy who couldn't come up with 10,000 signatures.

On TV, we continue to be treated every few minutes to the sight of Steve "Money Pags" Pagliuca telling us about his mother and father and his pride in helping to restore the Celtics glory.

OK, but where do you stand on Afghanistan? Or the public option? And I might ask the same question of Martha Coakley, if only she would stop to answer questions.

I know circulation and viewership is down and so is staffing, but is it really impossible to cover both the mayoral race that affects about 600,000 people and the Senate primaries that affects the remaining 6 million of us?

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Cleaning my clock

And all this time I thought Greenwich, England was the center of time. Who knew it was Fort Collins, Colorado?

It was a simple enough task -- the kitchen wall clock gave up the ghost after 25 years of service that clocked in (sorry, I couldn't resist) at well under a buck a year. Get a new one -- or stare blankly at the wall in a room with four digital time keepers on the stove, microwave, coffee pot and radio.

With the time change coming and the annoyance of thumbing the tiny wheel to fall back, we decided to take a chance on an "atomic clock" that sets itself.

Sort of.

First, it's not really an atomic clock (I have confirmed it doesn't glow in the dark). It is a radio clock (as opposed to a clock radio). And that's where Fort Collins comes in. If Muslims must face Mecca to pray, radio clocks must face Fort Collins to work.
"Generally the best reception occurs when the clock is located near a window and, if possible, facing the direction of Fort Collins, Colorado."
Those helpful directions are located inside the clock package, available only after you buy it. They also cheerily inform you that you should should "not place in a metal of concrete building unless close to a window with the curtains or other window treatments open."

In exchange for a room with a view, the clock promises to set automatically to the time signal transmitted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in, you guessed it, Fort Collins.

Unless of course:
"Poor signal reception may occur due to close proximity to mountains, tall buildings, power lines, airports, traffic lights and electrical storms between your location and Fort Collins, Colorado."
Glad those digital clocks aren't going anywhere.

Thinking that thumb wheel was starting to look inviting, I nevertheless plunk the battery into the back and it starts whirring until it comes to rest a 8 o'clock. Trouble was it was only 7:45. No problem, real time caught up. And passed it.

No worries:
"If your clock does not immediately receive the time signal do not be alarmed. That is probably due to poor reception and normally this is a temporary condition. Generally the best reception is during the nighttime hours when normal interference with the radio signal is minimal. If the clock does not receive the signal within 24 hours, you may need to relocate the clock to a position with better signal reception."
Or take the tin foil helmet off your head.

I can report that as of this hour, the clock appears to be working -- after a slight adjustment for Eastern Time (I punched the wrong button and it didn't want me to forget). And I assume all is now well, at least until standard time comes in and the clock starts moving back.

That will either be because I'm in the Twilight Zone or there's a bad storm in the Rockies.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Ya think?

Bob Dylan once sang "you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowin'." You can now add to that you don't need a pollster to know people are nervous about the economy.

In a sign the Globe's bottom line must be better, the paper of record commissions a poll to tell us what should be obvious with every shuttered store and in every anxious conversation between friends and co-workers.

Things are still tough out there. And our elected officials are taking the heat for it.

We've long known that jobs are what economists like to call a lagging indicator and that stocks have little to do with our day-to-day lives. And that hasn't changed even if I can now retire at 80 instead of 85 because my retirement accounts have added back some of the losses.

Why not some good old fashioned reporting? What makes a survey a more solid foundation for hitting the street? The Globe ran an architecture piece on the new Legacy Place in Dedham (not Framingham!) yesterday. Why not ask folks there what brought them out -- sightseeing or shopping?

At least the Suffolk University polling operation is doing OK. And the Globe is now looking to Massachusetts operations to conduct its polls.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sucker!

So who's taking bets that someone in some network television office is going to buy the concept of a reality series dreamed up by Richard Heene?

And when are television news networks going to exhibit the backbone and not fall for every to good to be true opportunity?

While it took a couple of days for police to ferret out the details, the initial lack of skepticism by the image-starved cable news networks was just standard operating procedures. The need to fill 24 hours of airtime just overwhelms any news judgment.

It's time for the folks who run newsrooms to remember the line from the late, lamented City New Service in Chicago: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

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Numbers game

Let's note for the record that four times as many people showed up for an flu shot clinic in Jamaica Plain than congregated on the Common to bemoan the state of the union.

The clinic ran out of vaccine. The protesters probably wanted to brew a few tea bags to overcome the chill but we know they won't run out of complaints, no matter how specious. They can always make more up.

But also ponder how much money we can save if they stopped their blustering threats.

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Huh?

I'll give the Globe credit for trying to get to the bottom line of the MBTA's financial structure. But to paraphrase the online headline: "Great complexity of the MBTA adds to its confusion."

By offering the contradictory markers -- low cost per passenger trip but high cost per vehicle mile -- I'm left just as befuddled as the poor tourist trying to get from Charles to Bowdoin.

A very nice effort in terms of multimedia reporting -- using boston.com effectively for a rare change. But in the end, I know just as little about the T's financials as I did before I started reading.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Long overdue accounting

It took awhile, but the Globe has offered us a very preliminary roundup of the impact of budget cuts on cities and towns across the Commonwealth.

While it is clear that taxes are off the table -- and the Deval Patrick and the Legislature need to work on trimming the fat -- today's story by David Abel is the first one I can recall that lays out the direct impact of the cuts in communities across the state.

The short list:
  • Lawrence has laid off 18 police officers;
  • New Bedford laid off 67 police and firefighters (restoring some with federal and state stimulus money) and increased class size to 34 students;
  • Melrose laid off three cops and cut home health care services for the elderly;
  • Medford eliminated 48 jobs, including school positions;
  • Revere has fired nine police officers and 10 City Hall workers, and it has required those remaining to take a 10 percent pay cut;
  • Gloucester has cut overtime for its Fire Department, closed fire stations, and prodded 21 city employees to retire early.
That's just six out of 351. It would be interesting to see a fuller picture of the real impact caused by reduced local aid and a recession that shows no signs of easing up any time soon.

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Big Brother is watching

I admit I'm a bit uneasy about the prospect of the MBTA police watching me on the Green Line.

Then again, I'm not sure I have a presumption of privacy on public transportation, particularly when there's someone's armpit in my face on a crowded car during summer rush hour.

But I am curious if the surveillance will also apply to the operators -- you know the ones who were responsible for two major crashes because they weren't paying attention?

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You can run but you can't hide

Who is running Martha Coakley's campaign for U.S. Senate?

After the bizarre notion that releasing early internal poll numbers was a smart move, the attorney general is now trying to create the bizarre precedent that she can't talk about official business when she's on the campaign trail.

In the process, she's planted a loud bee in the Boston Herald's bonnet, which has taken to hammering her daily about her avoidance of questions about Michael Kineavy and Outlookgate.

As today's installment correctly notes, candidates are proscribed from holding campaign events in public buildings. That's led to the Statehouse steps being the home away from home for generations of pols looking to address a broad array of questions on campaigns and business.

So a memo to the crackerjack staff: uses the steps, particularly right now, and freeze the press corps out the old-fashioned way. Or rent a non-public venue, like the Parker House, and take on all comers.

Besides there's always the standard dodge: "I can't comment on a pending investigation."

Postscript: I swear I didn't read Dan Kennedy before I hit the keyboard this morning!

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Just wonderin'

Now that little Falcon is through upchucking on national TV, is there room in that balloon for Jon, Kate and their eight?

And if there's any extra space, how about Todd English's former fiancee, a downsizing Gisele and anyone else who have far exceeded their 15 minutes of fame?

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Friday, October 16, 2009

"Breathtakingly bad picture"

Unemployment is up. Tax revenues are down. The federal stimulus pot is running dry. And the worst may be yet to come.

Given the double-barreled dose of bad news, Deval Patrick could be forgiven if he cancelled plans for his Oct. 23 fundraiser with Barack Obama and retreated into a corner at Sweet Pea Farm and sucked his thumb for the next year. The Massachusetts economy is in the tank and likely to get worse before it gets better.

And you know what happened to the last governor who had a passing relationship with a tank.

As someone who had a bird's eye view of the late '80s meltdown, my jaw drops in disbelief at the breadth and depth of this recession. Raise the sales tax -- during a month with a federal incentive to buy a car -- and tax revenues plummet for the quarter?

The Massachusetts Malaise was a walk in the park to a picnic compared to this. Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer summed it up perfectly, referring to the fact the law requires a hike on the tax employers pay to help pay for unemployment benefits:

“This is a breathtakingly bad picture. They’re putting additional taxes on employers, and we are seeing our jobs erode. It’s devastating in terms of the state’s competitiveness.’’

Well maybe not. Because no one else is really competitive these days.

And just like the late '80s, instead of stretching out hands to pitch in, we find other key players on the public scene pointing fingers, often the middle one, trying to deflect responsibility and blame.

Take Senate President Therese Murray. A little too much first person singular in this quote:
“We’re obviously in a fiscal morass, and we’re all going to have to come together to figure out how to get through this. He’s asking for further power, but we haven’t seen a plan.’’
Or Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, with the 20-20 hindsight that comes when your party caucus can meet in a phone booth.
“Basic things like a hiring freeze or a wage freeze, or repeal of the antiprivatizing laws - those would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars,’’ Tisei said. “We’re always behind the eight ball on the budget crisis and can’t get ahead of it. It’s clear from listening to the governor that not only do we have a revenue problem, but we have a management problem in the state.’’
Last I looked it took the Legislature to repeal a law. And as for wage freezes, well, there's the matter of binding union contracts. The House did have a management problem of sorts -- an indicted former speaker accused of extortion. But Dianne Wilkerson did have a novel idea for solving her cash crunch.

Nor have I really heard a plan from Charlie Baker, the erstwhile Administration and Finance Secretary and designated GOP savior. Nope, it's not his job yet, but I'd love to hear any new or good ideas right about now.

The pain from a year of deep and regular cuts hasn't really sunk in on folks, except those who joined the ranks of the 9.3 percent of Massachusetts citizens without jobs. Anger over the sales tax hike is more palpable than that over cuts -- but wait until the street in front of your house resembles a skating rink because the highway department has to cut back on plowing and sanding.

We elect two branches of government, an executive who proposes and a legislature that disposes. But that hardly makes the Great and General Court powerless to take an active role, waiting for a plan to be handed down from on high before springing into action.

And lawmakers do seem to have a lot of time on their hands these days -- coming into town, collecting per diems and doing what exactly?

It's a nightmare that will only get worse. But give Patrick credit for one thing.

He didn't wait until Friday to shovel out this bad news.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Price Ain't Right

I guess we will have Young Arthur to kick around some more.

And perhaps we should restart that venture by noting that prospective Globe purchaser Steve Taylor discovered The New York Times decided to take The Boston Globe off the market by reading about it on boston.com.

Tacky.

There is no mystery here -- the Times Co. was looking at $35 million plus assumption of pension liabilities, a figure under readjustment but one destined to bring the price into the neighborhood of $100 million.

Or $1 billion less than it paid for it. I know the bottom has fallen out of the newspaper industry but there was no way the Times board (and Sulzberger family meal ticket) could accept such a humiliating turnaround.

Particularly if they sold it back to the family they paid $1.1 billion.

The no sale is not necessarily a sign of stability for the Globe, which has been through hell and back in 2009. OK, so the idea of a Boston edition of the Times is off the table for now, but the mere contemplation of a launching a competitor suggests the Globe is simply a large piece of the puzzle that is the New York Times Co. bottom line.

Given a more robust bid, the Times would have been glad to slit the Globe's fiscal throat in, well, a New York Minute.

There was and is a certain nostalgia at the thought of the Taylor family reacquiring its once-prize possession, though there is also little doubt more staff turmoil would have followed. The fact they could apparently not rustle up sufficient backing to make the purchase underscores just how unwanted an investment newspapers are.

So it's back to status quo ante. A sharply reduced staff cashing smaller paychecks goes back to writing headlines and not being part of them. The team that Marty Baron has assembled is a good one, even if they have less room to work in.

And the same crackerjack circulation staff bound and determined to aggravate (higher) paying customers remains in place.

Life is OK.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Inside out

It won't show up on the financial ledgers, but Sal DiMasi just offered an unintended major contribution to Deval Patrick's re-election bid. And unlike the alleged shadowy deals by the former House Speaker, this one is right out in the open.

With the calendar dictating he get his campaign underway (and speculation bubbling that he was not) Patrick has been making the necessary moves -- presidential fund-raiser, a GOTV message to the troops.

But the biggest boost yet for an insider looking to run as an outsider is the superseding indictment handed up yesterday by a federal grand jury adding yet another courtroom headache for the man who embodied the entrenched inside opposition to Patrick during his first two years.

Try as they might to call Patrick an insider, the epic struggles with DiMasi in the formative months of his term -- principally over casino gambling -- showed where the true power lay on Beacon Hill. Imagine Patrick campaign ads using sound bites of DiMasi calling him out?

Or how about adding Senate President Therese Murray, in a moment of icy pique, declaring "the governor has decided he doesn't like us."

Yet despite the outright hostility (and aided by the shenanigans of people named Wilkerson and Marzilli) Patrick managed to push recalcitrant lawmakers to pass measures overhauling the transportation, pension and ethics systems.

Now only a blind fool can ignore the impact of budget cuts and tax increases on an incumbent and those are massive albatrosses Patrick will need to shed to overcome the deep reservoir of antipathy he faces. And he's made a few knuckleheaded moves of his own -- hello Marian Walsh.

But since I've never been called blind, I recognize he has tools with which to work and which weaknesses to exploit in each of his foes.

We can probably pass off the shrill bleating of Christy Mihos, who should have enough to worry about in Charlie Baker to suggest he's the one who should "shut up." Really Christy, the Dick Morris playbook won't work here.

It's almost laughable to parse this comment from the spokeswoman for Tim Cahill:
..."Treasurer Cahill is focused on solving problems, not disparaging his opponents in an attempt to raise more money from party insiders."
Two words: Thomas Kelly. True, not a party insider because Treasurer Tim saw his political future outside the party. But people who live in glass houses...

Which brings us back to Baker. At some point we are going to expect more from a former Health and Human Services Secretary and Administration and Finance Secretary than platitudes like:
“The best way to sustain all of the good things in Massachusetts, including a business climate, is to get the state’s finances in control, so people aren’t constantly wondering when the next bomb to fall off of Beacon Hill is going to come.’’
One word: how? If taxes are off the table, where to you cut? As someone who knew the state's finances inside and out, it's appropriate to ask for specifics.

Patrick has an extremely long road ahead. But DiMasi and the Legislature are likely to be the gifts that keep on giving.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sweet and sour

As the bottom continues to fall out of Massachusetts tax collections and yet another round of painful cuts looms, the Legislature has the opportunity to actually do something during its less-than-full autumn session: close a costly corporate tax loophole.

A corporate tax deduction, created last year as a sweetener for businesses in a tax-tightening measure, will cost the state at least $535 million over seven years, according to a new estimate by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.

That projected loss of state revenue - and estimates that more than half of the $535 million would benefit just three corporations - comes at a time when state dollars are already stretched thin, prompting calls to rethink the wisdom of the deduction.

Is anyone really surprised that someone will be making out well during a steep downturn thanks to the efforts of lobbyists arguing their case to lawmakers in what in essence was outside of public scrutiny?

Yes, apologists will argue that this really isn't a tax cut so much as it is a reduction in a tax increase. But frankly the stench of a special interest deal that benefits three companies far outweighs that argument.

It would be as if lawmakers carved out a special exemption in the new sales tax to benefit buyers of high end motorcycles. And you didn't see that special interest happen, did you?

The problem is the Taxachusetts myth. Despite data that shows Massachusetts 23rd among the states, slightly below the national average in tax burden (an 32nd in business taxes) the special interests continue to insist we are overburdened.

The mindset is now spawning bumper stickers declaring "Tax it all, Deval" a cute play on words that obviously will be the centerpiece of the 2010 campaign. But obviously, as this latest revelation suggests, not only is not all of it being taxed, it's being done rather selectively and you and I are not among the select.

So my suggestion to bored lawmakers sitting around with nothing to do while the bottom continues to fall out of our revenue base is take a little time away from the lobbyist-jammed fundraisers, get out to the local events that haven't been canceled for lack of municipal funds and then decide if three corporations deserve a tax break that will also create deeper cuts in the services the rest of us want or need.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Budget blues

Contrary to the prevailing view that the Patrick administration only releases bad news on Fridays, we've got a boatload of it emerging on Thursday. And there's probably more than enough the cover the rest of the work week and the weekends too.

The unrelenting bad news on state finances is a seven-day nightmare over at the Department of Revenue, where Commissioner Navjeet Bal told a public hearing the administration is already projected a $400-$600 million hole in the FY10 budget

Senate President Terry Murray is even more pessimistic, pegging the gap at up to $1 billion for the current year. And recall that's after a year where revenues fell so far off the table lawmakers imposed a sales tax increase.

Going into an election year, it's clear that taxes are off the table. And while Murray says casino gambling is "inevitable" nothing will emerge in time to prevent deeper cuts in FY10 and FY11.

It's not a lot of fun for any elected official who prides him or herself on providing important services for constituents. Because the "waste, fraud and abuse" myth has also run it's course and there's nothing left to cut but flesh and muscle.

Maybe everyone should agree to take Fridays off and allow us to enjoy the weekends.

Speaking of which, I'm taking a long one. Enjoy yours and see you back here next week.

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If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog

I can't wait to see what the right wing attack machine makes of the news Barack Obama has won a Nobel Peace Prize.

I'm sure there will be something snarky like he's going to have to fly off to Scandinavia again.

You thought the Obamas got Bo for their daughters, right?

Congratulations Mr. President.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

The heat is on

Tom Menino has found a way to save a few bucks on energy in City Hall the upcoming heating season. Have the attorney general look over your shoulder.

But things may also warm up on the 21st floor aerie in the McCormack State Office Building with Martha Coakley's decision to get "involved" in Outlook-gate.
Martha Coakley flip-flops, probes e-mails
Headlines like this aren't great for Senate campaigns looking to roll up big margins in the state's largest city controlled by a powerful mayor looking for a fifth term.

The Herald's conversion of a legitimate decision by the office of the state's top lawyer into a political stunt shows just how high the stakes are in an investigation of what happened to thousands of e-mails on the computer of Menino aide Michael Kineavy.

Hizzoner has suggested the brouhaha is a tempest in a teapot, a political stunt dreamed up by challenger Michael Flaherty similar to the one that brought Sam Yoon onto his "ticket." Absent in his calculations is the fact the once lost, now found e-mails include many under federal subpoena.

Menino's minions, including the rather clueless city attorney, have not be cooperating with Secretary of State Bill Galvin's public records investigation to the degree desired. So as in the case of Richard Vitale and Sal DiMasi, enter the AG.

Both proper proper decisions from a procedural perspective. Of course, she wasn't running for a vacant US Senate seat at the time of the DiMasi probe -- and political endorsements were not things that occupied her day.

And that is why this is getting even more interesting -- with major political implications also lying on the Coakley side of the equation.

The Herald headline could have been written by a Coakley opponent in its gross political unfairness. It hardly constitutes flip-flopping to have the AG's office step into an investigation of potential lawbreaking, be it the public records law or obstruction of justice.

It is safe to assume that Menino's ground troops will take the lead from the man with an elephant's memory and a baby's thin skin and work for those foes -- with Mike Capuano reaping the lion's share of the benefit.

But Coakley could also benefit from voters trying to size up her fortitude in the face of allegations she hasn't take stands on tough Senate political issues like the war in Afghanistan and the public option.

Standing up to a bully does take courage -- even if after you make the decision you "made a quick retreat that took her down a long hallway and through a gift shop. All the way, she refused to respond to questions from the Herald about her abrupt reversal on e-mailgate."

If Menino would only have turned the heat up on his own people to cooperate in a legitimate investigation, none of this would be happening.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Frankly Mayor, you just don't get it

What is happening to the vaunted Menino political antenna?

As Outlookgate escalates, Tom Menino continues to be less than appropriate in his response to the revelations that his top aide, Michael Kineavy, seemed to have played fast and loose with e-mails required to be maintained under state law.

Hizzoner is playing a short-term strategy -- getting past Nov. 3 -- while refusing to acknowledge the mess of troubles that could arise before Election Day and most certainly afterward.

The exchange between Kineavy, who announced his unpaid leave of absence, and Menino has always a surreal quality:
“I’ve asked the mayor to grant me a leave of absence until we get by this,’’ Kineavy said. “I’ve become a distraction, and that isn’t good for the mayor or the city so, until this straightens out, I won’t be a part of city government.’’
To which Menino offered:
“It is unfortunate that these things happen during political times but we hope this time will allow Michael to clear his name,’’ Menino said in a statement last night. “The city will continue to seek out information of any deleted items from within Michael’s computers and will continue to work in cooperation with the secretary of state’s office in this effort.’’
"During political times." Do Kineavy and Menino simply think this is a tactic authored by Michael Flaherty and his new worst enemy, Secretary of State Bill Galvin?

Let's repeat once more: e-mails are public records under state law. Deleting them prematurely is illegal.

Then there is the matter of the city attempting to pooh-pooh the search for the missing e-mails as an expensive exercise not worth the cost to taxpayers. Another lovely short-term Nov. 3 strategy that misses the long-term implications.

And if that isn't bad enough, some of those lost, now miraculously found e-mails were under subpoena in the federal investigation of City Council Chuck Turner and former state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson.

Can you say obstruction of justice? If Michael Sullivan were still the US Attorney for Massachusetts I suspect someone would have uttered those words already.

There's more than just mayoral election overtones to this escalating mess. Galvin is just about ready to drop the hot potato into the lap of Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office has the tools and resources to pursue recalcitrant public officials (you know like House speakers and their friends).

Coakley may or may not want this in her lap as she focuses her attention on the Democratic primary for the vacant US Senate seat. And Galvin may or may not want to drop it in her lap as her ponders whether to seek the AG's job should it become available.

I still don't see anything putting a serious crimp in the plans for a fifth term inaugural. Menino supporters are still focused on pothole repair and trash collection.

But Mr. Mayor, this is not an election season tactic dreamed up by your opponent and political enemies. If you want to have any credibility or effectiveness next year, you need to deal with this. Now.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Tales of Pinocchio

I know I never remember when I get a new computer in the office.

That appears to be just the latest tall tale being offered by Michael "Pinocchio" Kineavy, who insisted he couldn't find subpoenaed e-mail because he dragged it out the the mail program, onto the desktop and into the trash, deleting it.

Until of course they found his old computer in another City Hall office -- with most of the sought after e-mails intact.

The busy Kineavy says he reported a slow computer on April 6 of this year. After a few exchanges with tech support he got a new computer on April 24.

He couldn't remember getting the new machine though. Probably like he couldn't remember the Globe Freedom of Information request for his e-mails on April 1.

It's all coincidence, says City Attorney Bill Sinnott, who distinguished himself earlier in Outlookgate by failing to understand the state's public records law.
“There’s been nothing to indicate he hasn’t been up front,’’ Sinnott said.
Oh really? Claiming to double-delete e-mails under subpoena before they turn up intact on another computer he didn't remember giving up because it ran slow?

I know it's such a breeze setting up all the programs just the way I like them when I get a new computer. Only takes about a week of tinkering.

As Pinocchio's nose grows, you also have to start to wonder about the man pulling the strings. In those immortal words: what did he know and when did he know it?

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Monday, October 05, 2009

I'm just sayin...

An interesting juxtaposition of business stories in today's New York Times, including a major piece on a prominent Boston company, really makes you think twice whether journalism is still in the business of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

The major takeout on how buyout firms are still raking in big cash -- while devastating private lives -- reminds you that even in this economic meltdown there are huge profits to be made, for the select few.

But several other stories make you wonder whether, overall, journalists are indeed in touch with what's really going on in America. It raises the all-too-uncomfortable question of whether there is a bias of class, not politics, that can blind reporters and editors.

Let's start with one (of many) that got away. A year after the fact, an inspector general is telling us that Henry Paulson and his pals at Treasury didn't tell the truth about the state of the nation's banking system.

I know we were fighting a financial panic, but where was the critical reporting then? Focusing on the political handicapping of the bad news gushing from Wall Street no doubt.

But that's a relatively tame issue compared to a couple of stories that reflect the large gap between the journalism "elite" and the rest of us.

Witness this Project for Excellence in Journalism report that found Wall Street and a small handful of story lines got the lion's share of the attention from financial journalists -- while the travails of workers at companies like Simmons got the short end of the stick. And when the market went up, the media turned its attention elsewhere.

Or more damning still, that the process of big corporate bonuses getting paid out while people were getting laid off was happening right under journalists' very noses.

I've never been one to buy the right's phony clap-trap about liberal bias. But these reports suggest a blind spot based on class: stock market rises, crisis ends. They also reflect an unusual lack of curiosity about something far more important to the national debate than which politician (or entertainer) is sleeping with who.

At least we've seen millions of words written (with no effect) about the bonuses handed out to AIG, Merrill and the robber barons who stripped the copper plumbing of this society. Why not a peep about Sam Zell's rape of the Tribune Co.? Afraid to be accused of navel-gazing?

Or is because we have to leave room for the birthers, tea baggers, town hall shouters -- who are about as accurate reflection of the real America as the folks who are covering them.

Maybe some good can come out of the meltdown that has also done serious damage to journalism. The birth of hyperlocal coverage is a start. But journalism needs to get back to the roots of the business and how it deals with comfort and affliction.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Cheeseburgee, cheeseburgee

I think I may have eaten my last hamburger.

The New York Times' account of the pathetic state of food safety in the United States is must reading. The only thing worse is that we are still talking about slaughterhouse safety more than a century after Upton Sinclair highlighted the problem.

And no, a vegan diet is not the answer. E-coli infects spinach, fruits and other vegetables. The answer is putting the American public's health ahead of the economic health of those who provide our food.

And if the humane impulse isn't enough, just imagine how much money goes to the health care system to treat and care for people sickened by the shoddy products we pay for to provide our sustenance so that we can work and pay taxes to provide breaks to the businesses that poison us?

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Walking an anonymous line

This is one I probably should stay clear off -- an attack on an anonymous blogger by a less-than-anonymous merchant of venom who spews his bile by the ink barrel and across the (very expensive) airwaves.

Obviously I join with "Ernie Boch III" in cherishing the anonymity behind which I have labored for more than four years. It allows me to express my opinions without getting entangled with those of my employer, friends and business associates.

Where I differ with "Ernie" is that false linkage to real person. I've used a generic moniker rather than one that conjures up images of familiar characters in our daily lives. Until this kerfuffle erupted I assumed he did have a connection to the car dealer cum blues artist.

But that difference is small compared to the problem I have with this assertion from the Globe's Joan Vennochi:
But the issue is also the Internet’s ability to give cover to critics who don’t have to do what Carr does - own their opinions. The blogosphere opened up the public conversation to new, thoughtful voices, but it should not provide a shield to hide biases and private agendas.
Ever read the comments section in Globe or the Herald Joan? Or listen to "Steve from Saugus" or wherever hold forth on Carr or Limbaugh or wherever.

There is little doubt that civility is in short supply these days. Birthers, truthers, tea baggers, LaRouchies, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are pumping it out faster than we can diffuse it. The suggestion a military coup would be acceptable is only the latest over-the-top manifestation of the bile and blather out there.

So it's very disingenuous to single out the blogosphere and its anonymity as the only place where "biases and private agendas" are concealed.

There's a part of me that is jealous with "Ernie" getting this kind of attention. Then again, I've never called for an advertiser boycott of a merchant of venom. But I applaud him for taking the stand and I would never call on him to unmask.

And what he's been writing is far less troubling than the hate-filled garbage that shows up everyday in the Globe's comments section. Maybe they should focus on things closer to home?

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Political stenography

I'm going to move right past Davegate and Obama's Olympics adventures -- stories that top the heap today as non-events. I'm even going to ignore the oxymoron of a controversy breaking out at at a "lighter" event when the sponsors literally could not let politics stop at the front door.

No, I want to focus one of the worst pieces of political stenography I've ever seen: the Globe's report on its editorial board meeting with Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mike Capuano.

You know, the one with headline screamed across the top of Metro front: Capuano attacks front-runner Coakley.

No surprise that the current 8th District congressman, vying for the votes of diehard Kennedy supporters, launched into an attack on Martha Coakley's liberal bona fides. It's been clear from the get go that is the way Capuano will try to cobble together a plurality in a four-person field.

My issue is with Andrea Estes and the editors who allegedly exercise tight rein over their reporter charges. Where is the effort to challenge him on his assertions that "she's not a liberal."

Personally, I'd love to know where Capuano differs with Coakley -- and when I persisted in reading to the almost bitter end I found the public option and Afghanistan are areas I should explore.

On my own without help from the newspaper supposedly devoted to helping its diminishing stable of readers understand the personalities and issues of an historic election.

Reporters, particularly those who cover politics, love to declare they are equipped with BS detectors and that they hold politicians accountable. You sure couldn't prove it with this notebook dump.

Rather, the story is the classic example of the real major failing of political reporting -- the love of the horse race. Polls, attacks and gaffes have become the lifeblood of the business (and the reason I call myself a recovering political reporter.)

I suspect the interview included some discussion with Capuano on specific stands on issues that will face the next US Senator. They will be plopped into a chart and compared and contrasted with the stands of Coakley, Alan Khazei and Steve "Money Pags" Pagliuca.

But by then -- probably early December -- many voters will be turned off by the rhetoric, the allegations and the polls.

There's a chance to do some real journalism here. Let's hope the Boston newspapers don't blow it.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

On the defensive

From the start, the Menino camp's reaction of the Yoon gambit was been over the top. After last night, it's clear the out-of-left-field move by Michael Flaherty to name the third man in the preliminary field as a "deputy mayor" has truly rattled the campaign.

Following up on the allegation the running mate decision was an "illegal gimmick" Hizzoner proclaimed:
I think it’s jobs for votes - telling Sam Yoon you have a job in my administration if I win. You don’t make appointments and deals during a political campaign.”
If that's the case, so is negotiating lucrative public employee contracts (lucrative for the union that is) during an election year.

It's called politics, and in an election year, both are fair game. Problem is, Menino's campaign was clearly caught flat-footed by what is truly a gimmick, but far from illegal.

The Mayor for Life also struck me as off his game, complaining the state's public records law is "questionable" and disingenuous by insisting an "angry tirade" with an environmental activist was par for the course.
Ask any CEO out there: Who, once in a while, doesn’t have a little conversation with some of these people who work with them?’’ Menino said. “I think that’s healthy, because there are issues that are there. . . . I have no problem with that.’’
The focus on these sidelights are good politics on Flaherty's part, scoring some points and getting under Menino's notoriously thin skin. But they should not be the focal point of the race. Education and public safety should.

The schools issue is simple: what percentage of people with young children think about or actually flee the city before the child is of school age? It's a common thought and reflects the problems after all the years of Menino control.

And what has his kid-gloves approach to the municipal unions gotten us in terms of public safety?

I won't even get into the deplorable condition of some streets in neighborhoods like Allston-Brighton.

There's still a month to go and Flaherty has been adept at generating headlines. The questions is can he translate them into enough votes. It may be fun finding out.

And there is certainly no one being "cautious" about it.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

All the potential news that's fit to print

Who critiques the media critics?

That's a worthwhile question this morning when you check out this Washington Post story by media reporter (and leading national media critic) Howie Kurtz:

NBC Universal executives declined to deny a report Wednesday night that Comcast, the cable giant, is in talks to buy the television and movie company from General Electric.

Comcast also did not deny the report that bankers for the two sides discussed a possible deal Tuesday in New York.

So now one of the nation's leading newspapers is publishing stories that sources decline to deny something?

Isn't that the old "when did you stop beating your wife question"?

In fairness, Kurtz wears two hats and a rumor that a cable giant is in talks to purchase a television network is tantalizing to media reporters. The 24-7, 140-character news cycle makes it increasingly tougher to pin down stories with adequate sourcing. Especially when they involves companies like NBC-Universal that own cable television channels that revel in the poorly sourced story.

Kurtz offers an obligatory weasel graf:
Such talks often lead nowhere, but rumors have circulated for months that GE might be looking to unload the news and entertainment company. NBC is stuck in fourth place among broadcast networks, and Universal Studios is enduring a rough movie season.
But it didn't seem all that long ago that the Washington Post excelled in pinning down hard facts with two sources. And I do seem to recall it was those efforts by a couple of cop reporters named Woodward and Bernstein that spawned an entire generation of reporters taught to get it first -- but get it right.

Kurtz may have been the first mainstream media reporter to get it (losing out to a web site run by a former Post and New York Times reporter). And he very possibly will get it right.

But if someone else did this, I know I would be running to his Media Notes column to see how he and other media critics viewed a story in a major publication with the weak sourcing of a web site that "cited sources who have knowledge of the talks."

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Flip-flop-flip

Here's some evidence summer really isn't over. Quite a substantial flip-flop.

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