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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

We have met the enemy...

As we dodge the whirlwind of fingers being pointed over the latest intelligence failure and a, mercifully, failed terrorist attack, it's time to drag out that old swamp philosopher Pogo, to analyze the situation.
"We have met the enemy and he is us."
Let's go back to the summer of 2001, when the media was crazed over sharks and the disappearance of Washington intern Chandra Levy. Lost in the shuffle at a vacationing White House was the infamous 'Bin Laden determined to strike in the US' memo.

While the jury is still out on what this president knew and when he knew it, is is clear that intelligence agencies failed to take appropriate heed of warning signs.

But then again, was terrorism and vigilance high on the list of issues for the media, or for that matter the rest of us.

Let's look back at some of the major stories of 2009: Tiger Woods; Octomom; Jon and Kate; Michael Jackson. With two wars, the Great Recession and a decade of bad news we were all to willing to allow ourselves to get lost in the trivia.

Republicans who were in charge when the 2001 attack happened are quick to point fingers about a supposed lack of proper vigilance on the part of the Obama administration. It's campaign rhetoric pure and simple, as obvious as Jim "Waterloo" DeMint's hold on the appointment of a TSA new director.

But we all share a piece of blame for allowing the hyperpartisan, score political points uber alles mindset that continues to fester. We includes the media that focuses on horse races and tactics and polls instead of analysis.

It will be interesting to see if this incident sparks another effort at actual reporting -- and what the results will be in terms of the Obama administration's handling of the issue none of us really wants to think about.

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A burning question for the new year

As we prepare to ring out 2009, there's a question that has bothered me for some time.

Is the new year Two Thousand Ten? Or is it Twenty Ten?

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ka-ching! (redux)

Deval Patrick is about to find out that you should be careful what you wish for.

After struggling for a year before ultimately losing a battle with then-Speaker Sal DiMasi over casinos, Patrick and current Speaker Robert DeLeo have a fundamental problem with the latest iteration of a gambling proposal: racinos.

DeLeo, who has Suffolk Downs in his district and two idle dog tracks in the state, is for the idea of putting slot machines into horse and dog tracks. Patrick says no, preferring destination casinos.

Given the current state of the commonwealth's finances and the sour relationship between the governor and lawmakers, guess who will win?

And that will put Patrick in the awkward position of opposing a variation on a theme he originally introduced, not to mention rejecting what DeLeo envisions as a quick $200 million for a fiscal 2011 budget that is already bleeding badly.

Senate President Therese Murray holds the ultimate cards here (sorry) with the ability to broker a deal. But what ought to be more interesting is how gubernatorial challengers Charlie Baker, Tim Cahill and Christy Mihos line up on the issue.

Do they opt for the cash? Weigh into the argument that already divides Patrick's base and reject the bill? Or sit on the sidelines and watch with silent glee as the Beacon Hill leadership engages in another round of open warfare?

Stay tuned for another fun-filled year on Beacon Hill.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Doublespeaking the truth

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is a late but strong entrant into the PR Nightmare Award of the Year (though probably still not good enough to oust Tiger Woods).

Napolitano, of course, infamously said the airport security system worked in the aftermath of the Briefs Bomber's failed attempt to bring down a Northwest Airlines flight. A day later, she backtracked and said the system failed.

But admit it -- based on your own experiences with the Transportation Security Administration, aren't both statements correct? Isn't your experience with TSA maddeningly inconsistent?

It's one of the things no one wants to admit, particularly when we are in those long, snaking lines. Yes, for the most part the system does work -- in the sense we get on our plane and get to our destination.

But do you harbor doubts when you have a sealed jar of fruit preserves, weighing less than 3 ounces, confiscated as contraband "gel"? Particularly when you read about the guns and knifes that make it through the screening process and onto the aircraft?

And don't you have really mixed feelings about a security scan that probably can detect explosives stashed in underwear -- at the price of exposing your private parts for the screeners?

Or when, as some travelers were apparently told this weekend, the rule about nothing in your lap for the final hour of the flight included no reading material? As details of the plot emerged it became obvious why the there was a blanket-pillow prohibition. But a book?

The biggest gap, of course, is the failure of authorities to properly handle the tip they received from the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, how they could not rescind his visa or place him on a no-fly list.

Military and terrorism experts like to tell us we are fighting an asynchronous war -- the equivalent of smashing a flea with a 500-pound bomb. Those who are out to do us harm have the element of surprise and a wide world in which to operate -- and conceal themselves. That applies to all battlefields, including the airport.

Overall, the system works -- until it doesn't as was so visibly on display this weekend. And because the potential price for failure is lost lives, the desire for a perfect system is understandable.

Understandable, but not possible. And that is a non-partisan fact. Which doesn't mean I want to be Napolitano or her media handlers today.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

No Sal-vation in these allegations

The response from indicted former Speaker Sal DiMasi's attorneys to the details of federal charges against their client perhaps says more than the charges themselves:
“While the indictment contains many page of factual allegations, it never crystallizes them into a coherent theory."
Are they conceding the facts and just putting the puzzle pieces together another way? That's awfully different from saying the charges are baseless and not worth the paper they are written on.

The most interesting new allegation is that DiMasi and Richard Vitale allegedly conspired to profit from peddling the contract to maintain the state Transportation Building. Think about that one.

While the feds obviously didn't have enough to prove the allegations (score one for Sal's side) prosecutors contend the allegations are helpful:
“...to fully explain the chain of events that unfolded as part of the charged conspiracy, to show the nature of the illegal relationship between Vitale and DiMasi, and to explain some of their motives and conduct...’’
Critics of the prosecution also focus on the use of "honest services" charges, which appear to be vague and could disappear after a Supreme Court decision later this term.

While the picture outlined by the prosecutors may or may not pass the legal test, it certainly doesn't pass the smell test. DiMasi did not have the public's interest at the top of his mind when he ran the House. We are far better off with him out of office, whether he ends up behind bars or not.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Keeping it real

With the end of the year come both the obligatory politician interviews and media countdowns of the biggest events. Trying to keep 2009 to 10 items or less is far too challenging and I'm not about to try.

But I am struck by the Globe's look-back at Barack Obama's first year and I have to ask my fellow liberal/progressives -- what the heck have you been smoking if you are dissatisfied? The same stuff Howard Dean encountered before The Scream?

It's only been one year, so how can you have forgotten what the dawn of 2009 held after eight calamitous years of Bush-Cheney: an economic implosion, a government-sanctioned wholesale disregard for civil liberties and personal freedom, and a world that viewed us as if the United States were nothing more than something that needs to be scrapped off the bottom of their shoes.

A year later, the economy is on the road to recovery (but not there yet), our Constitution has been preserved (although Gitmo isn't closing fast enough) and Barack Obama got an undeserved but still symbolic Nobel Peace Prize.

What's more we are on the verge of historic legislation -- on par with Social Security and Medicare -- that will begin to address the health care and insurance inequities that continue to make us an outlier in the world.

A half loaf compared to the hopes and dreams of liberals? Perhaps. A major improvement over the current system? Beyond a doubt. Same applies to a recovery plan that did not center on tax cuts for fat cats.

Yet there remains a faction on the left that believes half a loaf is stale bread that ought to be tossed into the trash. It's the kind of thinking that mirrors the wing nuts on the right -- an absolutism that adopts the motto of "my way or the highway."

We can see how the right fringe of the Republican Party has pushed out or marginalized clear-thinking people who may differ with the left on the means but agree on the ends, These folks make Richard Nixon look good for heaven's sake.

But, to borrow Tom Finneran's phrase, "the loony left" isn't doing the rest of us progressives much good. Dogmatism in the pursuit of perfection is, in a word, idiotic.

My wish for 2010 is for those on the left who have spent their careers fighting for what they believe is correct to stop, take a breath and savor what has been done in a year with a president whose philosophy tracks theirs but also believes success is more important than style points.

And while you're at it, take another deep breath and avoid "The Scream."

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Am I missing something?

I admit I pay attention to those McDonald's ads with folks trying to prove themselves to be true New Englanders. So imagine my surprise to read this line in Johnny Diaz's Globe story:
The men in the ads are actors based in New York City, although one, Gavin Lodge, is from Connecticut.
You mean New York-a-chusetts?

Real New Englanders? Fuhgetaboutit.

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Who watches the watchers?

So if Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab is on a terrorism watch list, how did he get on an airplane bound for the United States?

Does the rest of the world go through the same rigorous screening we face? I can attest to Heathrow, but the latest incident makes you wonder, once more, about the effectiveness of the elaborate process that has made certain contact lens solutions contraband.

And if he hid a fluid in a syringe, what is the future for diabetic air travelers?

Glad I'm home today with no flights in the immediate future.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Wee fish ewe a mare egrets moose

Wee fish ewe a mare egrets moose
Wee fish ewe a mare egrets moose
Wee fish ewe a mare egrets moose ...
Panda hippo gnu deer!

(With thanks to Sandra Boynton)

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

The GOP reaches Waterloo

I have a feeling we have seen the Waterloo of the Republican Party, a time when politicians put the potential for short-term electoral gain up against the greater good of the public.

The health care bill passed by the Senate this morning, like the House counterpart, is far from perfect. It accurately reflects Otto von Bismarck's comparison of legislating to sausage-making. The compromise that will eventually emerge from conference may be further flawed.

But for all the faults that have been highlighted through political gamesmanship and horse race-like reporting, there are some historic changes that will serve people well after Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn start collecting their government-paid pensions that include health care coverage.

The legislation will provide access to health care to millions more Americans, in part by ending the practice of allowing insurers to deny or cancel coverage for people who are sick and seek to use it. It is a giant, if imperfect first step.

What history will note is the complete absence of Republicans on the playing field. Spare me Olympia Snowe's lament about no opportunity to amend the bill, a statement that is laughable in the face of the efforts by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus' summer-long courtship of the Maine Republican.

A look back through the years will show us that the issue of health care has never been high on the GOP's wish list -- certainly not in comparison to their desire to coddle the financial industry that brought us to our economic knees.

Where exactly, in the time the GOP controlled the White House, House and Senate during this decade, did they offer a solution to the high cost and spotty access to health care that has plagued us for years?

And please, no braying about budget-busting and deals cut with industry. What was Medicare Part D other than a giveaway to the pharmaceutical companies, one that created a gigantic hole in the budget and a huge doughnut hole for the people supposedly being helped.

Thanks to media coverage that has focused on the politics -- and the admitted ugliness of the legislative process -- Republicans believe they will benefit at the polls in 2010.

That's entirely possible. But it's also a reflection of putting political self-interest ahead of broader public interest and why, in the end, the GOP will be seen as far more morally bankrupt than whatever strains are put on the federal treasury.

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have a lot of hard work ahead. My only question: can Reid pull off the same magic for our beloved if occasionally hapless Cleveland Indians?

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The gift that keeps on giving

I'm sure Bob DeLeo and Terry Murray know, to the second, how much time is left in 2009. And I somehow envision them standing on Murray's Statehouse balcony a week from now as the seconds tick down.

But unlike Tom Finneran and Tom Birmingham. these legislative leaders wouldn't be haggling over budget details. More likely they would toast the end of a true annus horriblus, a year that will be remembered in both branches by the involvement of county, state and federal prosecutors.

The Speaker and the SP each received an additional lump of coal in their stockings in this season of giving.

Federal prosecutors are now saying they have no problem with DeLeo making public details of the legal bills rung up in the effort to produce materials they subpoenaed in their investigation of now indicted Speaker Sal DiMasi.

DeLeo of course resisted the effort of four dissidents (whose sights are clearly aimed at his crown) to detail how almost $400,000 in taxpayer dollars were used in the DiMasi case. It turns out, or so we have been told -- that the money was used on document searches at what could be considered bargain legal rates.

The pre-Christmas letter from prosecutors could hardly be welcome in the Speaker's wood-paneled lair.
“Given the facts presented in the materials which accompany your letter, it does not appear that the government’s case would be affected in any way by such a release,’’ Brian Kelly, chief of the public corruption unit in the US attorney’s office, wrote back Tuesday to the lawmakers, led by state Representative Lida Harkins, a Needham Democrat.
Of course that amounts to spiked egg nog compared to the lump of coal handed Murray by Anthony "Pepsodent" Galluccio, who failed his blood alcohol level tests, claiming toothpaste intoxication.

While there appears to be some evidence, somewhere, that the defense is not total foolishness, Galluccio's insistence to press on politically just adds to the nightmarish time that, until now, would be remembered more for the ongoing saga of Dianne Wilkerson's undergarments.

The Cambridge senator, who caught a break by being confined to his house and not the house of correction, didn't help his cause in a scene described by the Globe:
“I have and will continue to live up to every commitment that I have made and every agreement that I have made,’’ he said as he left the courthouse with two public relations consultants at his side.
In fairness to Murray, she has done everything she can, short of convening lawmakers to oust Galluccio after he pled guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. But maybe it is time for just that, although Galluccio can't be there since he isn't even allowed in the Senate chamber before his Jan. 4 court appearance.

So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Bob and Terry. Next year has to be better. And a special thanks from me for all the wonderful opportunities for blogging.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

He'll be home for Christmas

Just wondering, would any other schlub caught in an apparent probation violation so soon be able to stay home for Christmas -- even under 24-hour "house arrest"?

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The only thing we have to fear

For a man in need of all the friends he can get to win a second term in the Corner Office, Deval Patrick sure seems to have a strange way of going about winning them back.

I sometime feel like the last man standing in defense of the beleaguered governor, who had the misfortune of being elected right about the time the national economy collapsed under the weight of fiscal shenanigans enabled by the lack of federal regulation.

Add to that the fact he must deal with a Legislature that grew quite comfortable as the power center during 16 years of Republican governors whose interest in governing the state ran from slim to none.

But to unofficially launch his 2010 reelection bid by warning about "fear mongering" is called getting off on the wrong foot. It's not fear mongering when opponents point out the facts that transpired on your watch -- no matter how out of your control those events were.

Patrick would be better advised to follow the approach the Herald sought fit to highlight -- acknowledging he lost touch with his base and alienated a lot of them in the process.

Despite his basement-level poll numbers, Patrick does stand a chance. Tim Cahill continues to raise cash even as he repeatedly inserts his foot into his mouth. Christy Mihos has his own cash to spend to challenge Charlie Baker for the GOP nomination.

Baker appears to be a formidable opponent, but he is not battle tested. His mantra of no new taxes, however foolhardy a solution to the current problem, is an overwhelmingly popular position among voters.

Patrick needs to stand up and proclaim that yes, he has made a few blunders (expending all that energy on casinos) But he also needs to point out that he has stood up against the Legislature and forced real changes in ethics, pensions and transportation.

And that whoever is elected will have to deal with a Legislature that only he has shown a willingness to stand up and fight -- for the duration.

Facts are a great antidote to fear.

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Gallucio must go

State Sen. Anthony Galluccio has now traveled from a tragedy to a joke. Not even a change in toothpaste can save his career.

Galluccio, who pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident -- within hours of getting taxi service from Cambridge police who found him too drunk to drive the night before -- has already received a lot of special treatment as he battles his addiction.

After he manned up and took a plea, he dodged jail by getting house arrest. He was stripped of his committee assignments and is allowed to leave only for church and to vote in the Senate. That work schedule means he's probably staring at the same walls a lot.

There's been a lot of discussion elsewhere about the sorbitol defense, whether toothpaste or mouthwash can cause a positive blood alcohol content reading. The consensus seems to be that it is unlikely if the proper precautions are taken after cleaning your mouth.

But the fact we are even having this discussion points to the absurdity of the situation in which an elected public official can't seem to stay on the right side of the law.

Yes,it is a double standard -- there should be higher requirements for someone elected to serve our interests.

And those higher interests require the Senate Ethics Committee to meet immediately -- I know Christmas is Friday -- and prepare a bill of particulars to oust Galluccio.

After the examples of Dianne Wilkerson and Jim Marzilli, removing Gallucio is the very least Senate President Therese Murray and her members can do to begin rebuilding the institution's reputation.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Generating heat and no light

The three candidates for US Senate squared off last night is a semi-civilized affair.

But the real action took place hours earlier on WTKK, in which Brown accused Coakley of "lying," an item amply covered by the Associated Press and the Herald, but something that seems to disappeared from the face of Boston.com, where I first read it as a Metrodesk brief but now seemingly unsearchable.

That disappearance is all the more interesting given the intemperate nature of Brown's remarks:
"She’s either lying or she doesn’t understand federal tax code because, as somebody who makes what she makes, she got an across-the-board tax decrease, and she also benefited by the marriage penalty not being in effect," Brown said.
How does he know? Did he see her tax return?

The AP quotes Coakley spokesman Corey Welford calling Brown’s charge “ridiculous,” insisting that she was referring to those tax cuts that benefited the 1 percent of wealthiest Americans - “those earning $1 million or more.”

Whether it was the marriage penalty or the millionaire's tax cut, the harsh nature of the charge seemed worthy of additional questioning -- of both candidates.

But I was immediately struck by the use of the word lying. Shades of Joe Wilson!

There are so many good examples of lying out there in the political world: weapons of mass destruction; birthers; death panels, to name three. I'm sure my GOP friends can name one of two examples they consider tall tales but I doubt they could rise to the level of the death panel whopper and its close cousin, the Obama birth certificate "controversy."

But more to my point: what possessed Brown to resort to such an angry (and unprovable) allegation? And why is the Globe seemingly willing to let him off the hook?

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Deck the halls

Hey, did you hear Martha Coakley and Scott Brown are debating this week? Joe Kennedy too. No, no that one. But sorry to say I'm going to be otherwise occupied tonight and tomorrow. I'm rearranging my sock drawer.

If there ever was an anti-climatic political contest this one is it. You would think the race to fill the seat left vacant by an historic figure like Ted Kennedy would generate some heat and light. But you would be wrong.

After a lackluster Democratic primary, we are now being "treated" to a contest that spans the holiday season. Like you, I know that watching or listening to debates is right up there with grousing about the Patriots and wondering about Jason Bay. Not to mention dashing through the slush to get the presents bought and wrapped and the holiday dinner menu in order.

Oh and there are so many good reasons to pay attention to the contest. The battle over the 60th vote in the Senate for example (how do those codgers manage to stay up so late?) Not to mention that Brown, emulating the mentor of his political brain trust is spending so much time flipping and flopping on positions.

Or the celebrity that Kennedy brings to the race. No, not that Kennedy.

With talk already rampant that Brown is really just the latest version of Joe Malone (another candidate shaped by the current brain trust) setting his sights on the Corner Office in 2014 -- or Coakley's office next year -- how can you not be enthused?

By the prospect of your sock drawer.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Declare victory and go home

With the 60th Senate health care vote negotiated, it's time to look at what we are on the verge of accomplishing -- not look back at what is being left on the table.

For all my left side of the table positions, I am acutely aware of the problems posed by a dogmatic insistence on purity over reality. I cut my political teeth by voting for then Cambridge Mayor Barbara Ackerman in the 1978 Democratic gubernatorial primary. I was hoping to send a message to first-term Gov. Michael Dukakis for his handling of the '70s fiscal crisis.

That "message" resulted in the election of Edward J. King as governor. Message received.

So I am here to applaud Barack Obama and the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate for working to what is possible -- on health care and on climate change.

Paul Krugman has already eloquently stated what the alternative would be to blowing up the Senate health care measure as punishment for the apostasy of Lieberman and Nelson.

The same agonizing incrementalism on climate change may also be less than satisfying as we witness yet another blockbuster storm barrel up the East Coast.

But a victory is a victory -- especially over an opposition that refuses to take its head out of the sand, offer alternatives and resorts to lies and delaying tactics.

And yes, it's not over until it's over. But we are a lot closer to a result than we were when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney ruled Washington.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Holidays on Capitol Hill

'Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the Senate -- nothing was happening. All the creatures were feuding, all dug into their talking points, with dreams of filibusters stuck in their head.

When up on the Dome, there arose such a clatter, the members awoke with a start. The sky was falling no doubt.

Nope only the snow. And if there was ever a fitting Christmas present to a bunch of feuding septuagenarian adolescents it was to be stuck together without marshmallows and hot cocoa and forced to deal with themselves -- and reality.

While the aptly named Olympia Snowe asked what's the rush in a bill that has been inflated, debated, exaggerated and conflated -- all with homicidal intent by opponent nearly to death -- Democrats were reporting progress in the latest extortion, er, negotiation with a leaning small state member.

All the while people with physical and mental illness are forced to struggle and cope with a system that finds it easy to spends cash on lobbying, advertising and paperwork but bogs down over the basics.

Here's a suggestion for the DC plow drivers. Push all that snow up against the Capitol steps. Lock the doors and force them to stop wasting still more time and come up with a bill that serves the people and not special interests.

'Tis the season after all.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Cahill-o-nomics II

It's Martha Coakley's fault.

That, in essence, is Treasurer Tim Cahill's answer for running up DiMasian-like legal bills to defend himself and the Lottery Commission against a lawsuit charging them with rigging the bidding process for a contract.

But at least DiMasi's law firm was charging bargain rates compared to the clock being run on the taxpayer's dime.

Treasurer Tim, who acknowledged a day earlier that an economic recovery wouldn't be the best thing for his independent gubernatorial candidacy, also mans up when the Globe takes a look at his legal bills.

Grace H. Lee, Cahill’s in-house legal counsel, said the decision to hire outside counsel in February was forced on Cahill because Attorney General Martha Coakley, concluding that her office faced potential conflicts, decided it could not defend him or Cavanagh. At the time, the State Ethics Commission was investigating Cahill and the contract issue and could have referred the case to Coakley for prosecution.

“The attorney general made that decision out of an abundance of caution,’’ Lee said. “This is not a situation we sought.’’

But, as the Globe notes, Cahill and Lee neglect to mention that:
The potential conflicts that prompted Coakley to decline to take the case have not existed for some time. One of those investigations, the Ethics Commission’s review of Cahill’s role in the Scientific Games contract, ended several weeks after the contract with the private law firms was signed. The other potential conflict involved Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s review of possible lobbying activities by Thomas F. Kelly, Cahill’s close friend and political associate, who was secretly paid by Scientific Games to help win its contract. Galvin has not referred the case to Coakley.
But the clock is still running on the taxpayer's dime -- clocks at politically well-placed law firm who are charging in the neighborhood of $500 an hour. I'm sure that's a lot more than we are paying Lee or her office's attorneys who are no longer chained by conflicts.

No wonder Scott Harshbarger wasn't available for comment.

Cahill and the Lottery Commission may well win the lawsuit on its merits. But when you consider that lottery receipts are a major source of local aid, don't you think that money can be better spent -- particularly when the conflicts no longer exist?

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The real cost of budget cuts

Fewer cops. Closed firehouses. Shorter library hours.

The Globe's Brian McQuarrie takes a look at what state budget cuts have meant to the Town of Walpole. It offer a nice counterpoint to Chris Rowland's look at at the $1 billion being spent on the federal level to block change.

I'm sure someone will point out the we are talking a difference between taxpayer dollars and money spent by private enterprise to spend on protected commercial speech to promote their interests.

But what if their interests don't match those of the vast majority of citizens who will not benefit from lobbying to prevent caps on Wall Street salaries and bonuses? Especially when taxpayers will have paid for the bonuses this year.

Billion for lobbyists. Dregs for the rest of us. Not much of a seasonal message.

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Change doesn't come easy -- or cheap

Hats off to the Globe's Chris Rowland for taking a look at the reason why change has come so abysmally slow in climate change, health care and financial reform.

Can you imagine what good could have been done with the $1 billion spent (through October) to stymie changes -- particularly in the financial industries responsible for the Great Recession?

Shows how much easier it is to buy a politician (can you say Joe Lieberman?) than it is to do good work.

It also reinforces that until "regular" people can get a voice in government as loud organizations with money to burn that Congress will continue to spin its wheels as we slip backwards down the Hill.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cahill-o-nomics

The cloud of gloom and doom seems to be parting a little bit around Beacon Hill as fiscal experts agree the recession is over and revenues will rebound in fiscal 2011.

Everyone except Treasurer Tim of course.

The Man Who Would be Governor veered from the consensus to declare "we're not out of the woods yet" while acknowledging the impact of a recovery on his candidacy “...would make it more difficult, but I’m not wishing the economy to do worse."

Gee thanks Timmie.

But Cahill's fiscal expertise was really on display elsewhere on Beacon Hill yesterday, when he told a Suffolk University panel discussion that the state's tax structure was so uninviting he feared the colleges and universities would up and move away.

“The universities aren’t going to go away – for now – unlike some of the businesses that have left, unlike some of the banks that have left,” Cahill said during keynote remarks at Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute forum on the state’s competitiveness. “The two most important parts of our economy ... educational talent, university system and our health care, we may not have that competitive advantage going forward if we’re not competitive.”

Let that sink in for a moment. Universities and health care, institutions with a large investment in tax-free real estate, may not have a competitive advantage and decide to follow the banks of-state.

Yep, Harvard, Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern are going to move to tax-free New Hampshire. And did you hear about all the great things happening at New Hampshire General Hospital?

And either his hosts were rude to not clue him in on the findings they presented yesterday or the treasurer didn't bother to read it.

The Beacon Hill Institute, which has long believed supply side economics works, unveiled a report that ranks Massachusetts first in the nation in competitiveness. According to the Statehouse News Service:
Researchers for the institute relied on 43 metrics and found that despite Massachusetts’s high cost of doing business – benefits and energy prices are often a drag on growth, they found – the state’s advantages in technology, business incubation and human resources outweighs the negatives.
Yeah, but does it apply to Cahill's own experience as a small business owner -- a sandwich shop owner in Quincy almost two decades ago?

You keep thinkin' Timmie. That's what you're good at.

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Was that so hard?

House Speaker Robert DeLeo went a long way to defusing a crisis that should not have been by outlining what taxpayers footed the bill for in paying an outside counsel to review documents in the federal investigation of former Speaker Sal DiMasi.

Now we know the firm of Gargiulo/Rudnick received $378,000 to identify and review documents that might fall under a federal subpoena. The firm was paid $237.32 an hour for 1,242 hours. No word on whether that includes the cost of No-Doz.

From what I know, that's probably a fairly low rate, meaning the review involved junior members of the firm. Nice dough but not unreasonable in today's context.

Despite the histrionics, including a letter from acting House counsel insisting that any disclosure could impede a federal investigation, no harm was committed by this act of sunlight in a chamber facing the probe because of the dark shadows in which the former speaker is alleged to have operated.

No one wants or needs to know the exact nature of the documents -- it is an evidence discovery motion after all. But the stonewalling to even document the broad outlines of the what the money went for is more revealing for the way business is conducted in the chamber.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hands caught in the cookie jar

So let me see if I got this straight: House Speaker Robert DeLeo is hiring a private attorney to take a look at the amount of money that the House has spent on private attorneys? And he won't make a commitment to letting the public know what the latest private attorney found?

While the Herald continues to mewl over a $31,000 painter and blast Deval Patrick for a net reduction in jobs, the House leadership is doing all it can to gloss over a sweetheart deal signed by former Speaker Sal DiMasi before he walked out the door last year.

The lawyers from Gargiulo/Rudnick were paid just south of $400,000 to represent the House in any legal matters arising from the investigation that led to DiMasi's indictment. The Patrick administration spent zero, using in-house resources for the same task.

When four disgruntled DeLeo foes held House business for a second straight day, the speaker offered a sop: spending more taxpayer dollars for another private attorney to see what the first private attorney spent taxpayer dollars on.
“If this review uncovers any inappropriate activity - and there is no indication at this time that it will - [Speaker DeLeo] will seek the strongest possible action under the law,’’ the statement said. “House members and Massachusetts taxpayers deserve nothing less. Speaker DeLeo believes that at times like these, Massachusetts taxpayers have the right to know that their tax dollars are being well spent.’’
Of course, as the Globe wryly noted, there was no indication of whether the results of this review would allow the public the "right to know that their tax dollars are being well spent."

Sadly, taxpayer dollars likely need to be spent -- just to ensure just the kind of impartiality that won't be available through a Speaker-paid exercise. An independent auditor, selected by a neutral party (if such a thing exists in state government). Or maybe State Auditor Joe DeNucci's team can do the job in a reasonable amount of time?

Meanwhile, I'd love to see more than a skim-the-surface effort from the Herald on Patrick's hiring practices. I see a net reduction of jobs and payroll despite the addition of a painter, a librarian and a game biologist.

Perhaps we can learn why there was the addition of a six-figure education commissioners? Did people leave, resulting in crucial jobs unfilled? What do these folks do for the job?

Innuendo about hack salaries won't do. Give us some facts to decide whether there is something real here -- or an opportunity for political opponents to score some points.

For example, how about taking a look at Treasurer Tim Cahill's assertion "he also made new hires in 2009, but said it was 'only a handful' and that he’s left positions open."

Investigative journalism only works when you investigate everyone's claims. And don't forget the great City News Bureau line: "if your mother says she loves you, check it out."

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

From a tiny acorn, a mighty oak grows?

It's may be like a faint wind on the hottest, most humid day -- and it way be emanating from almost as pungent neighborhood -- but there could be a fresh breeze stirring in the Massachusetts House.

The mini-protest over House Speaker Robert DeLeo's refusal to air out the particulars of a $378,000 legal bills rung up in defending the House from the mess left by Sal DiMasi, probably makes no sense to most folks focusing on Christmas.

"They're all crooks," most will mutter. And while the protesters, led by Needham Democrat Lida Harkins don't have the purest of motives, they are good enough.

Harkins and three of her colleagues are annoyed with DeLeo over the way House staff layoffs were handled. The four all supported John Rogers, the Norwood Democrat who was DeLeo's No. 1 rival in the unseemly chase to replace DiMasi before the erstwhile speaker stepped down and was indicted.

The ire is principally aimed at the fact it was their staff who got axed a couple of weeks before Christmas. These folks aren't reformers -- they backed Rogers after all. But in true the enemy of my enemy fashion, they may be on to something.

The legal deal DiMasi negotiated on his way out the door seems totally out of whack. After all, the notorious spendthrift Deval Patrick handled all the legal bills associated with DiMasi investigations in house with lawyers he was already paying.

And DeLeo's decision to stonewall legislation calling for an audit of what the money paid for, adds to the stench, particularly when claiming they were constrained by a subpoena.

Aren't subpoenas what got the House into this mess in the first place?

The practical effect of shutting down the House in the final weeks of December is practically nil. DeLeo decided to do that when he ignored a request to handle an education reform bill after formal sessions ended for the year, triggering a six-week vacation.

The loophole is the constitution requires lawmakers to meet at least somewhat regularly -- hence the tradition of "informal" sessions, where supposedly non-controversial business is transacted -- unless one member objects.

It appears the new Gang of Four -- Harkins, William Greene Jr. of Billerica, Matthew Patrick of Falmouth and Thomas Stanley of Waltham -- intend to do just that. At least until a caucus, a closed door meeting away from the media supposedly to discuss the education bill, takes place.

As a reporter, I used to stand outside Gardner Auditorium and wait to pounce on members to emerge so we could find out what happened. I suspect there will be voices loud enough to be heard in the hallway when the caucus meets this week.

Hardly reform -- but maybe a start of something bigger. It really doesn't matter who sits in the Corner Office until the winds of change blow through the House and Senate.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Majority rules

It's one of the basic lessons of civics -- majority rules. Somehow it has been twisted in the "World's Greatest Deliberative Body" so that it takes an uber-majority to get things done, a legislative rule that lies at the heart of why it's impossible to get things done in amid partisan bickering and deal making.

And with Sen. Joseph Lieberman I-Insurance Industry, doing his best to gum up the works by protecting his home state's largest industry in Senate heath care talks, it's time to take his power away.

Bob at Blue Mass Group
reminds us that the Senate has a process, called reconciliation, that allows for simple majority votes, the process favored by the Constitution. It stems from 1974 and has a number of "victories" under its belt - particularly the Republican Congress passing Bush tax cuts that eliminated the Clinton budget surplus and are the foundation of our current deficit nightmare.

Senate leaders have always held reconciliation is abeyance in the hope they could attract Republican support and create at least the cover of "bipartisan" support for health care. With the exception of Olympia Snowe's massively hedged committee "yea," those have been in serious shortage.

We're now also seeing the impact from swing state conservative Democrats like Nebraska's Ben Nelson and the ego-driven Lieberman, who wants to hold his erstwhile party up for ransom to exact some measure of revenge for his rejection by Connecticut primary voters.

Except of course Senate leaders have already handed Lieberman a plum committee chairmanship and other goodies to keep him the 60-vote fold.

In any other sphere, what Lieberman and other Blue Dog Democrats are doing would be seen as extortion. In the genteel Senate, it's "negotiation." But the time for negotiation is past.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid needs to develop some steel and make it very clear that reconciliation -- a 50-plus one majority the way the Constitution intended -- is a very real option.

Reconciliation has been described as a "nuclear" option because it will destroy any sense of collegiality. Well, you already have to look pretty hard to find civility and collegiality (and Republican votes for anything originated by the majority party).

If Reid has 51 votes, dropping the bomb will end the partisan bickering. And send the bill back over the House for some majority decision-making on a long overdue piece of legislation.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wanted: New England map

No, this is not a snarky jab at Sarah Schweitzer for her Page One story about how New Englanders are coping with the loss of treasured downtown landmarks.

But do the Metro desk editors talk to each other? Or know that Boston is in New England?

It seems more than just a bit strange that a virtually identical story -- focusing on the hole in the ground in Downtown Crossing that was Filene's -- runs the same day, a section front away, with no effort to even tie the two stories together.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

What did they know and when did they know it?

The Globe seems to be hot on the trail of the miscreants on governor's staff who approved Deval Patrick's appearance before the Clover Club last week -- until the governor backed out upon learning it was a male-only affair.

But the search for people to blame should really extend to the editorial suites at the Globe -- and even the halls of the Statehouse and One Ashburton Place.

The existence of the Clover Club was hardly a secret among the prominent men and women of Boston. Or to Globe editors. As Alice Richmond pointed out, the difference was this club had legal cover because it was like a floating craps game -- no building, no bar or dining room.

But while it may have been free of legal challenge, it certainly would have made for an interesting story to pursue for Globe reporters or columnists like Joan Vennochi, whose recent columns continue her hard-hitting look at the unequal status of women in Massachusetts politics.

It would have also been an interesting angle to at least mention in today's front page story on Martha Coakley's challenge to the old boy network.
Because the roster at the Clover Club reads like the network clubhouse: Recent speakers have included Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley; Larry Lucchino, chief executive officer of the Boston Red Sox; Charlie Baker, who is currently a Republican challenger to the same Patrick now under the Globe's spotlight; and Andy Card, former chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

Besides the Globe, it's fair to ask where the elected woman have been. Senate President Therese Murray has never been a shrinking violet. Nor has Coakley, who has a prominent career as a Middlesex DA and attorney general prior to the Senate run.

And if governors have traditionally addressed the club, what about Jane Swift?

The search for culprits in the governor's scheduling office seems a lot like the Globe trying to change the subject on where have they been all these years.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Can you top this?

Will Rogers once said "I'm not a member of an any organized political party. I'm a Democrat." Anyone looking to identify with the GOP today might correctly declare: "I'm not a member of a sentient political party. I'm a Republican."

The morphing of the Party of Lincoln into the Party of Palin is painful but amusing, in a twisted way. If the folks who churn out the daily talking points could govern as creatively as the oppose, we might not be in the mess we are in today.

Two items stand out this morning: According to the GOP blabberati, Barack Obama is dissing American Jews because his Hanukkah party isn't as big or as inclusive as that of George W. Bush.

In an opinion article published by JTA, the Jewish news agency, Tevi Troy, a former Bush administration liaison to Jewish groups, warned that the Obama White House had given Jewish Americans “a number of reasons to fear that it takes its votes for granted.” Mr. Troy cited as examples the administration’s call for a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the decision to honor Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, who has been accused by some Democratic lawmakers of anti-Israel bias.

Mr. Troy said the reduced guest list created “a nagging sense that there may be a studied callousness at work here.”

The Times dutifully notes the raging controversy over the number of invitations sent by Obama and the number of actual guests at Bush bashes. They also helpfully note that while the Obama invitation only mentions a "holiday reception" at least it is not adorned with Christmas trees as one Bush invitation was.

But the GOP has an even tougher sell if it wants to convince the American public that the long overdue bill to regulate Wall Street amounts to coal in the collective Christmas stocking.

As the Globe notes:
The sweeping legislation is the most significant overhaul of financial regulation since the 1930s. It would create a federal agency to protect consumers from questionable loan practices, give government the power to seize control of financial institutions under certain circumstances if they are deemed “too big to fail,’’ and require hedge fund traders to register with the government."
Considering the fact that even Goldman Sachs finally figured out they may have gone to far with their bonuses, you would think there might be some consensus on how to tackle the worst recession since the 1930s.

Guess again.
“The Democratic plan for regulatory reform is nothing more than a permanent bailout and a job-killer and it must be opposed,’’ said Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the chairman of the House Republican Conference Committee.
Consumer protection, an end to the "too big to fail" doctrine that allowed Citibank and Bank of America trade recklessly then turn to taxpayers for a bailout and an effort to rein in hedge funds is a job killer?

No, Rep. Pence, the wild unregulated cowboy mindset of Wall Street, aided and abetted by an SEC that failed to even check out Bernie Madoff is a job killer.

Has someone spiked the GOP's latkes? Or are they readying for the move to Cuckoo, Va.?

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

He's baack!

He's got the male model looks (he was a Cosmo centerfold after all). The is hair not quite as great, though certainly not bad for a middle-aged man. He's got a campaign braintrust that includes Eric Fehrnstrom. And he wants to go to Washington. Is Scott Brown a long-lost cousin of Mitt Romney?

Not completely. Brown came out of the box yesterday as the Republican US Senate nominee and signed the "no-new tax" pledge. Romney refused to do that and Fehrnstrom called it "government by gimmick."

Then again we know about Myth Romney and his um, flexibility on issues.

Brown came out swinging against Martha Coakley yesterday in the sprint to the final election on Jan. 19, ignoring a wacky weather day to head to Holyoke -- to a factory and Soldiers Home -- to promote a jobs program.

Great example driving in a snowstorm that delayed travelers all over the state (a fact that also seemed to elude Bill Belichick.) And aren't we trying to eliminate some of the patronage jobs at the Soldier's Home?

In a somewhat risky move, he is attempting to promote the fact he has children -- including an American Idol star -- over an opponent who married later in life.

Asked whether he was claiming that being a parent made him more qualified than Coakley, Brown said, “You take the total package and it’s a different presentation than what Martha offers.”

It's fine for him to promote his photogenic family but there's something in that statement which leaves a poor taste in my mouth.

But here we are. Coakley and her vanquished Democratic rivals pledged unity (and a merciful end the the Steve Paglicua advertising blitz). Despite Brown's assertions, Coakley is certainly in step with the the state and national mood on health care reform and stimulus -- even if the Democratic primary at times seemed ready to fall off the left side of the table.

The best marker of what lies ahead will be an impending decision by the Republican Senate Campaign Committee to bankroll some of Brown's expenses. If they take a pass, that will suggest the party thinks independent Joseph L. Kennedy has a better shot based on name recognition.

And it's not so coincidental that some are already whispering that Brown would make a fine GOP candidate -- to replace Coakley as attorney general.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

On to the final

In the end, the only real surprise on the night that Martha Coakley vanquished her Democratic rivals for the Democratic US Senate nomination is that 11 percent of voters in the Republican primary thought Jack E. Robinson was a qualified candidate for anything.

And while Democrats are saying and doing all the right things regarding the potential threat offered by Republican nominee Scott Brown, the real interest among political junkies will be what happens after the Jan. 19 final election.

That's when House Speaker Robert DeLeo gets to handpick the person who will serve as attorney general until he or she gets to run as an incumbent next fall. And given the most recent disclosure of the House's inability to get it, it's a frightening prospect for the Commonwealth.

Start with the fact that Coakley appears to have not only broken a glass ceiling but also a courtroom one. She is the first Massachusetts attorney general since Edward Brooke to actually win a race for higher elective office.

Many factors can go into that dubious distinction, but AG's office doesn't usually win friends and influence people in the Legislature. After all they prosecute things like public corruption.

You need look no farther than former Speaker Tom Finneran -- the middle of the three indicted speakers -- who went a long way to torpedo Scott Harshbarger's gubernatorial bid by labeling the then-AG a member of the "loony left."

So the speculation is rife over who DeLeo will appoint to warm the seat -- and who will challenge that incumbent in the primary. One of the more interesting names to emerge has been that of Secretary of State Bill Galvin, who was a prominent if subterranean member of the House for many years before moving on to his current job.

Would DeLeo reward a friend looking to end a career with what amounts to an interim appointment (and a better pension) to back a House alum? Or will he reward a member of his leadership team with a plum?

The one thing I suspect won't play a deciding factor is the appointees legal skills.

So while all eyes (OK, maybe a handful) are focused on the Senate campaign between Coakley and Brown, the real attention will be on the backroom jockeying for the office with the great views at One Ashburton Place.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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The gift that keeps on giving

It's nice to see that in this holiday season -- when state employees are taking furloughs and human services are being slashed -- that the Massachusetts House of Representatives is helping out an unemployed former member by providing his friends with a holiday gift.

The fact that the House has paid for $378,000, and counting, in legal bills to defend itself in the mess created by former Speaker Sal DiMasi -- in a deal signed the day before DiMasi stepped down isn't really a surprise. That we found out about it is.

Nor is it really a shock that the law firm of Gargiulo/Rudnick was handpicked by DiMasi. After all the heart of the case against him is that he remembers who his friends are and takes care of them just as they take care of him.

Quick questions -- how many attorneys are there in the House counsel's office? And why did the House have to hire outside counsel when the governor's office did not?

It's frightening to think this is the office that will be responsible for naming the next attorney general should Martha Coakley beat Scott Brown in the final election for the vacant US Senate seat.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

21st Century Tom foolery

Tom Finneran doesn't understand what the problem is. That's because he is the problem. Ditto for Bob Quinn, Tommy O'Neill and the host of aging white males who make up the Clover Club.

The felonious former speaker was referring to Deval Patrick's last-minute decision to cancel an appearance before the Clover Club, described by the Globe as somewhere that:
For more than a century, ... has been a bastion of backslapping, brotherly bonhomie. Judges, governors, cardinals, and mayors have accepted the club’s invitation to hold court over dinner. Club members, wearing clover-leaf pendants over their tuxedoes, sing ribald songs, perform farcical skits in wigs and dresses, and roast their honored guests.
Farcical skits in wigs and dresses? That really begs the question about what the old boys thought about black face once upon time.

It is entirely appropriate that Patrick, the first elected African-American governor and a one-time assistant attorney general for civil rights, ended a "tradition" that is as outdated as spats and running boards.

If the club is supposed to represent the "power elite" it has certainly failed to take note of one former female governor (did Jane Swift address this august body?); a couple of female lieutenant governors; and a state treasurer. Oh yeah, and did I mention an attorney general who could very well be the junior senator for Massachusetts in little more than a month?

I won't even begin to try and name the leading women in business and the non-profit world.

Finneran, who thought nothing of cooking the electoral books to disadvantage minority voters, lie about in federal court then seek a pardon from George W. Bush before earning a new living as a radio talk show host, is shocked, just shocked at Patrick's snub.
“I’ve never heard of anybody who thinks it’s inappropriate,’’ said former House speaker Thomas M. Finneran, who said he has attended about 10 club dinners over the years. “Neither my wife nor my daughter, who are grown and very intelligent women, were ever offended that I was going to a guys-only event.’’
Listen more carefully Tom.

“I’m glad the governor did what he did, and he absolutely did the right thing,’’ said Cheryl M. Cronin, a prominent Boston lawyer and Patrick supporter who called the male-only tradition “just misguided.’’

“It’s one thing for people to socialize with their own gender - those are personal decisions - but to have institutionalized clubs or facilities that expressly exclude certain people based on gender or race and to have the governor participate in that is . . . not the place he wants to be,’’ Cronin said.

See the problems you get into by not listening to your lawyer Mr. Speaker?

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Get out and vote

So the final tally yesterday was Bill Clinton, Mike Dukakis, Max Kennedy, my local state rep and heaven knows who else. It's time for the robo calls to end and the voting to begin.

Lost amid the sometimes uninspiring debates (and endless Steve Pagliuca ads) is the fact this is an historic election. We are replacing, if such is possible, a legend in Ted Kennedy. The stakes are significant for Massachusetts' continued clout in Washington.

I've opted to go with someone who already knows his way around Congress. In reality, three of the candidates are legitimate options. Choose whoever you think can do the job best.

But the most important thing is not who you vote for but the fact that you did.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Robo call this!

It's not often you get to hang up on a former President of the United States. But if I play my cards right, I will today.

What political wizard has a Caribbean vacation home because he told candidates that they should bombard voters with "personal" calls from themselves and various "celebrities"? During dinner.

Thanks to caller ID I had the pleasure of ignoring at least a half-dozen calls yesterday. I can't be sure because one constant annoyance came from an 800-number that declined to give the campaign name, despite federal law.

At least the Alan Khazei campaign was upfront about it. Of course, I only figured it out on the second call five minutes after I mistakenly answered the phone, expecting a real call and I didn't wait for the ID. I hung up on them twice. It's easy when you don't have to pretend being polite.

Then there is the question of the value of political loyalty of the callers. Bill Clinton's robo-call for Martha Coakley is no doubt in return for her strong support of Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign.

What does Mike Capuano get for his support for Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and his decision to stay loyal to Bubba during the Republican coup attempt known as impeachment?

Sorry Big Dog, don't take it personally. I could say if a man answers hang up because he's going to do it to you. But that's only because I've already given the telephone hook to Capuano, Steve Pagliuca, Mike Dukakis, a local selectman and countless volunteers.

Next time I may decide on a candidate based on how few times they call me.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

T stands for turmoil

When the folks who run the MBTA can't agree on the most pressing needs, what are we supposed to do?

The Globe's closer look at the D'Allesandro report -- and the conflicting responses of T management to the seriousness of the problems -- also reveals the rot within the operating structure of the agency.

The Globe highlights the problems better than I ever could:

These are among the 51 unfunded Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority projects, categorized by the agency itself as dangers to “life and limb,’’ that were referred to in an alarming independent review last month but never publicly listed or explained.

A Globe review of the specific projects, obtained through a public records request, reveals numerous potential hazards as a result of inadequate funding in a system where many cables, signals, and other pieces of equipment have been in service well beyond their recommended life span.

But the agency, whose own staff previously ranked the projects as essential, now says some are not as urgent as once suggested. And following the release of the report, the agency said 10 of the projects would be funded from either the yearly operating budget or federal grants. William A. Mitchell Jr., the interim general manager, said last week that all pieces of the transit system identified in the review by former John Hancock chairman David F. D’Alessandro have been addressed or monitored and are in at least “stable condition.’’

Why should we plunk down our hard-earned money for bus, subway or commuter rail when we can't be assured of a safe ride -- or even the small comfort that the system's "managers" have the problems under control?

Maybe the Legislature can pull out some of that cash for the probation department and ship it over to the T?

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Friends of the General Court

Sal DiMasi. Dianne Wilkerson. Marie Morey.

Huh?

The first two names are well known for the allegations (not yet proven in a court of law) that they enriched themselves at the Commonwealth's fiscal coffers. Morey, the Lawrence District Court probation officer accused of pocketing more than $2 million, might seem a stretch to join the pantheon of public misdeed.

But wait, tucked in the Globe story chronicling how court officials seemingly overlooked warnings about lax cash oversight, is this little gem about probation department run by the state's trial court system.
The Probation Department received a major funding boost two weeks ago, when the Legislature voted to override a veto by Governor Deval Patrick and restored a $4.3 million cut to its budget. O’Brien, who has close ties to many lawmakers, including House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, and employs several legislators’ friends and relatives, also would not explain why the Probation Department should escape the kind of budget cuts most other state agencies have suffered. Records and recent studies show the department’s budget has ballooned over the past several years.
Programs for the homeless and for violence prevention hang in the balance until the state pulls out cash from hidden corners. A public infrastructure investment into a private project that has generated jobs and tax dollars is withdrawn after whispered suggestions of a political quid pro quo.

And the probation department gets $4.3 million restored to its budget.

One of the worst kept secrets on Beacon Hill is the use of the court system as a dumping ground for political plums. It would be fascinating if the Globe or Herald took a look at the number of former lawmakers or top aides salted away as clerks, deputy clerks and deputy assistant clerks in the district and superior courts.

It's the kind of back scratching that enables the probation office to keep its appropriation (and payroll) while human services get ravaged and savaged.

The virtual silence from legislative leaders is deafening.

DeLeo refused yesterday to be interviewed about the Lawrence case, but his spokesman, Seth Gitell, said in an e-mailed statement that prosecutors had painted a picture of “a disturbing financial scheme.’’

“The charges reinforce the need for strict financial review procedures and adequate oversight,’’ the statement said.

Senate President Therese Murray issued a statement saying the allegations “underscore the importance of having the best possible system of checks and balances in place to account for payments throughout the system.’’

In the meantime, 21 members of the House -- on a six-week end-of-session break -- refuse to take the five unpaid furlough days being asked of their employees. And 28 members of the House were laid off in a move that one member suggested reeked of political payback.

Glad the Great and General Court has its priorities straight.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

I Like Mike

It takes a certain amount of conceit for a newspaper to endorse a candidate, presuming it has the wisdom to select the right person for elective office.

The thought of individual endorsements is almost as laughable, although a well-placed or highly regarded individual backing some is a little more reasonable. Oprah certainly didn't hurt Barack Obama.

Throw in the fact I used to be a reporter and the thought of endorsing seems stranger still. But I have been slinging opinions for four years so there's no need to pretend I am objective.

That said, I realized Mike Capuano and I share a comment trait -- we are both outraged liberals. Passion is not a bad thing when it comes to fighting for what you believe in. Especially when you have the pragmatism needed to accomplish your goals.

So from one Outraged Liberal to another -- Mike, you have my vote.

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Throw a TARP over it

Now that Citigroup will be standing alone as the last major bank to still be on federal life support, aka, TARP, it's time for a few questions.

How has the federal treasury done? The money was supposed to be repaid with interest -- what has that been worth to taxpayers?

If the treasury has benefited, what does that mean for the ability of the government to finance a lifeline program for real folks who need jobs?

If the banks are solvent enough to return the cash, have they also responded with easing credit? If not, why not? That will be a particularly interesting question with Bank of America, since the published reasons for their decision to pay the money back is to ease the restrictions on what they can pay their next CEO.

Left unsaid too is what, if anything does Congress intend to do to rein in the excesses that led to the financial crash.

I have questions. Who has answers?

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Enough already -- just vote

When the (mercifully) final debate of the Democratic US Senate primary includes comparisons to Sarah Palin and Mr. Spock I think I made a wise choice to spend my hour somewhere else other than taking in the discussion.

The only thing I can say I have truly learned since the start of the debates is the Steve Pagliuca no longer agrees with everything Mike Capuano says.

Although some internal polls suggest the race may be tightening (hardly surprising if not exactly solid evidence), the only clear message is that none of these gabfests have featured an egregious gaffe, particularly on the part of front runner Martha Coakley. So while she may not have moved voters to her side of the ledger, she hasn't chased them either.

The same can't be said of either Pagliuca or Capuano after their attacks on each other last night.

And no one has lit a flame under likely primary voters. The turnout is probably going to make the 30-something percent turnout in the Boston mayoral election seem high -- particularly if there are any flakes or rain drops in the air.

This race will clearly be determined by turnout -- and Coakley is the only candidate who has an long-established statewide organization. While Alan Khazei has a history of grassroots organizing and a committed base, it hasn't been battle tested.

Capuano has been strong in the 8th Congressional District but was unknown across wide swaths of the state. Union endorsements (and workers) will help, but some union members will also cast their support for and with Coakley.

Pagliuca? Well he has an organization of about 30, if you count Danny Ainge and Ed Lacerte. He's lavished millions on radio, TV and the web but that's mainly bought name recognition. Whether it bought an organization remains to be seen.

Yes, I know I lamented there was too little happening in the race a mere six weeks ago. I plead guilty to be careless in what I wished for.

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Unhealthy sexual obsessions

I figure that headline alone is worth a few clicks. After all, I'm only following the example set by much of the media -- tabloid and otherwise -- who just can't seem to get enough of the foibles and failings of famous human beings.

I'm not a golfer and I am not a Nike fan so Tiger Woods' "transgressions" won't change my sporting or purchasing habits. I have admired his on-the-course intensity and competition and as a casual observer I admire his accomplishments.

And I don't give a rats-patoot about his personal life or his early morning driving habits.

Americans love to build people up just to tear them down. Couple that with a an openly prudish demeanor that considers all references to love and sex both dirty and exciting and you get this obsession with the love lives of celebrities.

Most of the time the obsession has been with politicians -- and there may be at least a sliver of justification. Gary Hart and John Edwards were not just liars. They were reckless gamblers whose out-of-wedlock misdeeds exposed character flaws that could have proven dangerous.

Bill Clinton? Well, $70-plus million of hard-earned tax dollars couldn't prove anything dangerous about his childish and dangerous liaisons. And the history books will treat Clinton's lies about Monica Lewinsky far less harshly than George W. Bush's lies about weapons of mass destruction.

But when it comes to celebrities, the waste of time and attention is ever more staggering. For the sake of argument, let's say David Letterman's philandering could be seen as a form of workplace sexual harassment.

Who has Woods harmed other than himself, his wife and children?

The economy is still in trouble and we are about to expand our military obligations half a world away. Maybe we do need some diversions, but is sticking our noses into someone's personal life the appropriate one?

Score that a double-bogey -- one for Tiger and one for our holier-than-thou society.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The heart-head conundrum

The contrast could not have been more stark -- while Mike Capuano, Martha Coakley and Steve Pagliuca squabbled over abortion, health care and the home of the Whopper, Alan Khazei stood above the fray, offering hope instead of heat.

Heck, at one point a question from the otherwise superfluous panel suggested Khazei was emulating Deval Patrick's 2006 campaign in terms of rhetoric -- a potential deadly comparison in today's political climate.

But here I am, less than one week before the election, wondering if a vote for Khazei is the ultimate in wasteful self indulgence or whether he actually stands a chance of winning.

Regular visitors know I am not enamored of Pagliuca, but I have deliberately tried to avoid tipping my hand about the other three contenders.

Coakley has been a fine attorney general but I have questions about her heart. Capuano's heart isn't the issue, it's whether the bull in the china shop approach can continue to be productive.

Khazei's roots as the founder of CityYear suggest the inner core of the man is equal to his non-venture capitalist opponents. And his quiet confidence seems to have created the question for many -- can he win and if so can he be effective?

The Globe apparently thinks so, having dropped that stunning endorsement on his shoulders. But as 100th in seniority in an ever-more partisan and divided Senate does it take a prosecutor or a bulldozer to get things done? Or can a quiet and thoughtful man from Massachusetts make himself heard and his presence felt?

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Furlough or money

I may be arriving a little late to this one, but I think the Herald has struck upon a nifty idea: if legislators won't come back into formal session until January, why not take a week of their vacation as an unpaid furlough like many of the commonwealth's other employees?

Oh yeah, what WAS I thinking?

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Cuckoo, Virginia

Back from a few days in the rolling hills and farmland of central Virginia -- a trip into a smaller version of the "heartland," where a Republican governor-elect ending eight years of Democratic control of a statehouse is somehow considered a national trend.

And yes, there is a community named Cuckoo, Va., named for a clock. But from what I read and heard it might be a good home for the Republican National Committee as it continues to be pulled and tugged over a cliff.

First there was the mini-van, festooned with handmade bumper stickers that proclaimed "love my country but hate my liberal fascist government." Prodded by Rush and Glenn, it's understandable the fellow wearing his heart on his bumper didn't really understand fascism is generally an ideology of the right.

And while the folks who thought Dede Scozzafava was a flaming lefty may not seem to be any better versed at ideology, the sharp rightward yank they propose for the party of Lincoln would make them right at home in Cuckoo and vicinity.

The 10-point purity test they promote may be one of the best Christmas presents ever presented to Democrats. Let's leave aside the irony of the party that once scorned opponents for "litmus tests" on issues like abortion and taxes is now proposing one.

Rather, let's look at the issues and the language that calls health care and a clean environment part of a "socialist" agenda.

Many Republicans consider the proposal suicidal. Yet the ability of the sentient wing of the party to rein in the wing nut fringe has been notably lacking. Notes columnist Kathleen Parker, hardly a flaming lefty:
It's too bad that "elite" and "nuance" have become bad words in the Republican lexicon. Elites are viewed in Republican circles as "those people" who are out of touch with "real Americans." And "nuance," the definition of which suggests a sophisticated approach to understanding (as opposed to "Because I said so, case closed") has come to be viewed as a Frenchified word Republicans successfully hung on presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004. His flip-floppery on issues became associated with nuance, a.k.a. lack of decisiveness. Ergo, a lack of leadership skills.
That gets to the heart of it: "Real Americans," aka the Palinistas and Joe the Plumber, are upset that people with other thoughts might have something to say. Never mind that eight years of "because I said so, case closed" has led to the economic and military mess we are in today.

It will be interesting to see if the GOP "brain trust" has the nerve to stand up to the Palinistas. I have no deep and abiding affection for the Democratic Party: it is simply the only semi-sane choice in the current two-party system.

But if the GOP and its chairman doesn't develop some steel for its own spine, we will no longer have a two-party system. And what's left of the GOP can move to Cuckoo. It's beautiful country.

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