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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Half a choice

So apparently Sen.-elect Scott Brown, who won the endorsement of the anti-abortion movement, says he is for a woman's right to choose.

Except of course if they are too poor to afford private insurance.

That's a choice that's guaranteed to get everyone annoyed. Is that what a "Scott Brown Republican" is?

It should at least end all the silly talk of him vaulting ahead of Mitt Romney in the 2012 GOP presidential nomination sweepstakes.

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There they go again

I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but I continue to be amazed at the insistence of the national media in drawing broad conclusions about the Massachusetts Senate race -- without spending any time on the ground here.

Today's New York Times features not one, but two stories talking about the GOP's potential resurgence based on Scott Brown's win over Martha Coakley. The story about a national resurgence is datelined Honolulu. The New England story is datelined Washington.

When I was trained as a young reporter I was told I should get out and talk to real people in the community to understand what's taking place. What I see here is echo chamber reporting, made even more egregious because these self-same experts didn't even see the the results coming.

And a case can be made that the Times' Adam Nagourney is guilty of seriously burying his lead. The premise of his piece is Democrats are vulnerable in part because of the Tea Party impact on Brown's last-minute surge. But Nagourney buries the words of Dick Armey.
“This is not a situation where the grass-roots activists are saying, ‘What can we do to make ourselves attractive to the Republicans?’ ” he said. “It is ‘What can we do to help the Republicans understand what they must do to be attractive to us.’"

Considering it was the grass-roots movement that helped lift Scott Brown to victory in the Massachusetts Senate race, losing that source of support would be a setback [GOP party chairman Michael] Steele presumably would not welcome at what would seem to be such an auspicious moment for his party.
Isn't that a direct contradiction of his lead?

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Get a truck!

Wow, you would think Charlie Baker was a Democrat or something with the bad press he's gotten in the days leading up to his formal announcement that he's seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

With Scott Brown mania continuing to grip the world, the solid ground work that Baker has laid to date seems to be evaporating like Martha Coakley's poll numbers. First you have the Herald hitting him over the head with the fact he's raised a slew of cash from the folks who worked in his former industries -- health care and government.

And now we have the GOP faithful saying he's um, dull. How long will it take someone to call him an oversized Mike Dukakis, a right-leaning wonk?

Heck, the next thing we know, Christy Mihos will be calling himself the average guy in the race -- because he can't pay his bills.

Can any of Charlie's kids sing?

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Barack and the lion's den

You know it made great political strategy and boffo theater -- Barack Obama venturing into a House Republican retreat to speak (somewhat) with a cadre of his principal antagonists.

Personally I think the high moment came when Republicans complained the administration had launched its "attack machine" against them. If Democrats had an attack machine (or at least one equal to the power of the GOP version) the Democratic Congress would have three-quarter majorities in each and not be cowering in the corner fearful of the Party of No.

And personally, I have a hard time thinking the GOP had much of an interest in real dialogue when they opted for talking points of questions like this gem from Texan Jeb Hensarling (why do I also get an image of a sneering chicken when I read his name?)
“Will that new budget, like your old budget, triple the national debt and continue to take us down the path of increasing the cost of government to almost 25 percent of our economy?
Nothing like an open mind pal. What have you done for us lately (other than trigger the Great recession of course?)

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Where the Outraged Liberal comes from

The passing of Howard Zinn was almost like the loss of a family member and the volume and tone of comments I have seen and read suggests that I'm not alone. Like one of the interviewees in today's Globe story I can say he truly changed my life.

As a BU political science major in the turbulent Vietnam War era, it was also more than a passing relationship. In all, I took three courses with Zinn, including a directed look at United States foreign policy after World War II. I was at BU during his celebrated clashes with John Silber.

Zinn opened my eyes to a reality you didn't learn about in high school civics classes. He was a great lecturer -- his classes were never dull. But don't let anyone tell you he wasn't a tough and demanding teacher.

Howard Zinn was responsible for the outraged part of my political persona, although as the Globe points out, rage and anger were not his things. But graduating from college and entering the real world meant I needed to add a little pragmatism to the idealism. And for that, I can thank Michael Dukakis.

His 1978 primary election loss to Edward J. King was a searing moment that suggested perfection isn't possible and an imperfect vessel is a lot better than no vessel at all. It's a lesson my fellow progressives should heed as they evaluate Barack Obama.

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Sorry Charlie

Not sure you will be able to replicate this (and for the candidate's sake I hope you can't), but it was a bit disconcerting to say the least to be reading the Globe's story about the relationship between Massachusetts health insurers and its hospitals and have an advertisement interrupt my reading.

Particularly when the image was that of Charlie Baker, the former head of one of those insurers and now running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Needless to say I didn't click to hear what he had to say about whatever topic he might have had in mind. I was more annoyed that the ad blocked the text and I couldn't find the "close" button."

It's certainly not the candidate's doing but I would suggest the Globe's advertising whizzes at least figure out better placement for these annoying intrusions into our reading.

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Fiscal facts

There's a clamor in Washington coming out of the Republican Party over the size of the US budget deficit, which has indeed ballooned as part of efforts to deal with the massive economic meltdown.

But as always, there's something missing from the GOP arguments: context:

The budget surplus when Bill Clinton left office to George Bush: $236 billion.

The budget deficit when George Bush left office to Barack Obama: $490 billion.

Republican claims of fiscal credibility in the face of a near three-quarters of a trillion dollar turnout: Priceless.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

A day in the life of Deval and Barack

Deval Patrick laid out a budget proposal yesterday morning that calls for help from his friend Barack Obama. By the end of the day it didn't sound like that help was coming.

Quite a day for political junkies and bloggers -- the kind of stuff you wish were spread out over a couple of days. But c'est la vie.

Patrick told us in the morning that the price to level fund education and local aid is cuts across the spectrum -- including some sales tax exemptions and business tax breaks -- along with a sliver of what's left of the rainy day fund and new federal stimulus money.

As Mike Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said:
“If the federal government gives another chunk of money to the states to balance their budgets, then I think this budget will hold together. If they don’t, then it will open up a major hole, and the Legislature will have to deal with it.’’
A major if and several hours later as Obama stood before Congress to talk about the State of the Union, it didn't sound as if the cavalry was riding in tomorrow.

While Obama talked about shifting his focus to jobs creation and putting people back to work, there didn't appear to be a lot of talk about a second stimulus plan. If states have to rely on the incomes and sales taxes generated when people get back to work and spending, then it could be a cold budget -- and election -- year for Patrick.

But there was a striking similarity between the scenes on Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill: the total lack of new ideas from the men and women who want to defeat Patrick and Obama. The national GOP was full of tweet as the Obama speech went on but as usual there was little of substance from the gang who held the levers of power as the economy swirled down the toilet.

And back home, Charlie Baker may not have been as prepackaged as when he offered a State of the State rebuttal before the speech, but his comments about Patrick's plan pretty much echoed own his alternative:
“It’s the same old, same old,’’ he said in an interview [with the Globe]. “I don’t see the hard work of reform, which is the way out of this."
Such as Mr. Baker? If empty words were cash, this state and this country would be swimming in a surplus.

But Baker did a lot better than Treasurer Tim Cahill, who declared local aid should be not spared because cities and towns have to share the pain.
“If we’re paring back in state government, then local governments have to share that, just like they share in the revenue when it’s growing."
Take a look at your property tax bill lately Mr. Treasurer? Seems there's been a lot of pain sharing to maintain basic services like public safety, which is supported by local aid. Further local aid cuts mean higher property taxes -- or fewer cops. You decide.

I'm eagerly awaiting the day when the rhetoric is replaced with the reality of specifics. But I don't plan on holding my breath.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It's always about us

There's an old joke in the newspaper business about what is now praised as hyperlocal coverage. It's exemplified in the gag headline: "Massachusetts man dies as world ends."

The Globe's Washington bureaus may need some fresh reminders about hyperlocalism as they offer up a State of the Union thumb sucker that offers up all the stales Beltway "wisdom" that Barack Obama has retooled his State of the Union message as a result of last week's special election.
Until Brown had so successfully tapped into voter angst over Obama’s health care overhaul, the president had been expected to make its passage a key point in the address. But with Brown’s victory last week and with efforts to rescue the initiative stalled and in danger of collapsing yesterday, the president was not expected to lay out any specific plan to jump-start the legislation, once his top domestic priority.
Maybe they should get out of Washington and come home a little more often. Or at least read their own paper.

The chattering class has been abuzz with the spin that the election of Sen.-elect Scott Brown is all about health care and tea party anger. An exit poll of Massachusetts voters clearly suggests the picture is far more complicated. But with perception being reality, we are stuck with the punditocracy peddling their spin.

You would think the hometown paper would do a better job of trying to separate the wheat from the chaff.

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Cheerleading squad

Memo the Herald editors: the election is over.

While the Globe offers us a front page story about Sen.-elect Scott Brown's efforts to get down to work and try to convince skeptics, the Herald regales us with yet another flossy piece about Scott Brown as a "piece."

I suspect Brown's camp may have a few words for the cheer leading squad at Herald Square. The will be far better positioned for his 2012 re-election campaign if he establishes a record as a sober leader and not as a pin-up.

And it's worth repeating a question heard often since the election: Just how in love with the story would the Herald be if a woman candidate had posed nude?

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Deval Patrick and the Supremes

And you thought Deval Patrick challenged the court system to a duel with a budget proposal to take the patronage-laden probation system out of the courts' hands and into his own.

The Herald is reporting the Supreme Judicial Court itself is the target of a pension loophole bill the governor plans to file today. a key provision of a pension reform package. That should spark some interesting discussions high above Pemberton Square.

It seems the state's top judges don't pay into the pension system under a 1970s law. That doesn't mean they don't collect a pension, mind you. Everyone else has to contribute 5 to 11 percent of their salary for the retirement benefit that replaces Social Security among Massachusetts government employees.

One of those helpful unnamed sources tells the Herald:
"It’s basically a question of fairness. We all have to contribute to our pensions.”
It will be interesting to see whether the justices agree.

An obviously less helpful source told the Globe the bill is designed to close the loopholes that lawmakers left in the pension reform legislation approved last year. The proposal would cap the amount a retiree can bring in annually and put an end to bills that benefit specific individuals by name unless they include a detailed cost analysis from state and local pension officials.

The courts as personal employment agencies and nice pension arrangements have traditionally been two of the perks of legislative service. Lawmakers swallowed a lot of things they didn't like in last year's bill but drew a proverbial line in the sand at some sacred traditions -- like sucking up to the courts.

It will be interesting to see if this bill sees the light of day anywhere -- except the campaign trail.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Hold on to your hats

The pre-election blitz of robocalls, third party ads and the general bombardment of our senses on display here recently is the likely outcome of last week's Supreme Court decision to loosen limits on corporate campaign spending.

I feel like I'm a johnny-come-lately to the topic and my friend Dan Kennedy offered a great look at the inherent contradictions I feel. Let's just say that I've never seen corporations as sentient beings with the right to speak, but I do know they have deeper pockets than you and I do. Just look at what they already spend on lobbying and" issues management."

But I suppose the bright side is the billions on corporate cash that will now come cascading into the political system and drown out single voices at least offers a life vest to our ailing MSM.

Too bad it won't be used to weed out the lies, distortions and half-truths that are now a staple of our political "communications."

Oh, and tell me again that conservatives believe the courts should not be in the business of judicial activism?

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Talk softly and carry a big stick

Now we know why Deval Patrick seemed to be holding out a carrot to the Legislature during Thursday night's State of the State address. He was about the bash them with a big stick.

Patrick, with an assist from the Spotlight Team, is ready to force a closer look at one of the more patronage-infested areas of state government: the court system. In particular, the aim is a probation system characterized as "the fastest-growing but most secretive state agencies."

It's one of the worst-kept secrets in the budget process: stashing former lawmakers and their aides in the system as court clerks, assistant court clerks and assistant to the assistant clerk. Toss in the probation system and you have a system steeped in politically connected employees with varying interest in showing up for work.

Not to mention the fact the system appears to be run in such slipshod way that a low level clerk can allegedly embezzle $2 million without anyone noticing.

For a governor running for re-election in a bad budget year on a promise to level fund education and local aid funding, it's a slam dunk move, proposing to consolidate probation and parole into one unit at a cost saving of $40 million.

But, as the Globe notes, Patrick is taking aim at a sacred cow of another kind -- a system whose patrons include House Speaker pro tempore Thomas Petrolati and Senate Transportation Chairman Steven Baddour, a persistent gubernatorial critic.

Toss in a challenge to Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall and Chief Justice of Administration and Management Robert Mulligan -- vocal critics of previous court system budget cuts -- and you have a three-ring donnybrook (subscription required).

Just the prescription for a candidate setting himself up as still outside the system despite three years at the helm.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spine time

It's been a sobering week for Democrats locally and nationally.

Scott Brown has been proclaimed the master of the universe (except by some of his Massachusetts Senate Republican colleagues).

Ayla Brown got a singing gig on the CBS Early Show (how did she pull THAT off?)

And members of the New England congressional delegation, from Olympia Snowe to Joe Lieberman are trying to express their independence -- with Snowe still smarting over what she insists was the majority party's refusal to negotiate with the GOP and Lieberman, well being Lieberman, a smarmy, self-righteous jerk.

Memo to Congressional Democrats: You still have significant majorities and the ability to frame issues to your advantage. Grow a backbone and get things done.

That's particularly true in the Senate, where arcane rules seem to require a 3/5ths majority to get a sneeze blessed. But 59 members in a 100-member body is still a significant majority anywhere else in the sentient world. So start thinking.

There have been suggestions the best approach is to break the massive health care bill into parts and bring each to a vote, requiring the GOP and "41" to actually take a stand on real issues rather than ponder and obfuscate.

Can anyone see the value of bringing a vote on a requirement that ends the insurance industry's ability to deny coverage to people based on pre-existing conditions?

Think Brown wants to run for re-election in 2012 having cast a vote against something we have already have in Massachusetts -- opening him to attack from a competent opponent who could use that as a weapon to show he is nothing but a tool of the No Caucus?

Democrats have tried to achieve a spirit if not a reality of bipartisanship -- only to have it turned on them by Republicans who, in the case of health care have peddled the same "socialist" message since the 1930s. The world did not end with the passage of Social Security and Medicare and it won't implode if Democrats offer up a massive bill in digestible chunks that can't be demonized and demagogued.

All they need to do is show a little spine.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

The State of the State ain't so hot

One thing is clear after the Deval Patrick's potentially final State of the State Address -- he's a decent guy who won't pander. But in a state seeing and voting red, telling voters “Be angry, but channel it in a positive direction’’ doesn't look like a winning strategy.

While Patrick copped to mistakes and avoided costly promises (other than protecting education funding) in a budget that continues to project red ink as far as the eye can see, he didn't hit the home run he needed to kick off his re-election campaign.

The obvious indicator was the tepid applause from the assembled members of the House and Senate who could be seen twiddling their thumbs and and taking catnaps. And it could be heard in the silence that greeted Patrick's list of triumphs in 2009 in shepherding transportation, pension and ethics reform through a resistant Legislature.

We know at least some lawmakers were upset. A new Gang of Eight delivered their version of the Martin Luther's 95 Theses, demanding that House Speaker Robert DeLeo open up the chamber's doors and books by offering greater transparency with the radical notion that the House play by the same rules as other elected bodies - including laws on public records, open meetings, and competitive bidding.
“We want the House to become a functional democracy.’’
Well at least 5 percent of the House may be listening to Patrick and channeling their anger in the right direction.

It's been suggested here and elsewhere that Patrick needs to run against the scandal-plagued Great and General Court if he is to have a fighting chance in November. Some have even suggested he emulate his beleaguered New York colleague David Paterson and use the speech as a harsh jeremiad against wayward lawmakers.

Instead, he tried to celebrate their joint successes -- even if lawmakers had to be dragged kicking and screaming into some of them. His reward was for them to sit on their hands at key applause lines.

Patrick tried to inspire with tales like the Boxer Buddies at Brockton High School. But lawmakers, at least, aren't into aspiration. They are looking to channel their anger by directing voter rage at Patrick and not them.

Not that Patrick's opponents offered substance. Charlie Baker was out with his analysis before the speech even started. Tim Cahill was at campaign fund-raiser (great symbolism Timmie!) and offered criticism that Patrick offered no specifics about how to clean up the mess. Did I miss your solution Mr. Treasurer?

In a sense, it is commendable Patrick offer hope instead of red meat. But with his political future as the main course in this election year, he needs to channel his own anger at circumstances largely out of his control shattering his plans and reconnect with Massachusetts voters who swept him into office on waves of hope.

Deval could use some of his own Boxer Buddies.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Feeling blue

There's no question yesterday felt like a bad dream for someone who claims the name of Massachusetts Liberal. Scott Brown's victory was a sobering event.

And there is also no question that the results reflect a number of factors -- from a bad effort by Martha Coakley to concerns about health care reform and yes, even the bubbling up of the Tea Party movement in the state from where they take their grandiose name.

But there are plenty of flashing yellow lights ahead -- for the left, the right and the media. Failing to pay attention can be hazardous.

Let's start with the most ridiculous first -- the national story out there asking if Brown will follow in the footsteps of an obscure Illinois state senator and run for president in 2012. Get a grip folks -- he has to run for election to a full six-year term in 2012 and you can rest assured there will be a lot of Democrats not named Coakley lining up for the challenge.

It's the same sort of parachute journalism that failed to take into account the situation on the ground in Massachusetts -- unpopular incumbents, rising taxes and shrinking services. And oh yeah, corruption.

And while the results surely served as a warning shot across the bow of Democrats on Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill, it should not be taken as a sign that the Republican "can't do" strategy is the key to victory in November.

There's a reason that the symbol of the Democratic Party is the donkey. They can be stubborn and mule-headed. But like the old line goes, it's nothing that can't be cured by a quick smack from a two-by-four across the butt.

Massachusetts voters delivered that smack. And because one of the principal complaints about Barack Obama is that he is too cerebral, Obama and his team have more than ample time to recalibrate and expect them to do so quickly.

For the outliers on the right and left, the messages are equally clear: cool off.

The Tea Party crowd claims to be about stopping "socialism," hyperbole of the maximum order. And that doesn't even get into the birthers and other racist-driven drivel.

Some of my friends on the left accuse Obama of being a sell-out because he hasn't closed Gitmo, turned the economy around on a dime, produced a perfect health care bill in lobbyist-infested congressional waters and hasn't prevented earthquakes. In a year.

As I said frequently in the past few months -- back off. The results on Tuesday are a clear sign people are tired of extremes on either side of the partisan divide. Barack Obama was not the perfect champion of all that he surveyed nor is he the total bum he's being made out to be today.

There is something to be said for compromise and for pragmatism. Whether we get that is an open question in a 24-7-365, 140-character media environment. But it's worth trying.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Waterloo or Watertown?

That's a lot of red in that New York Times map of Blue Massachusetts.

And since I've long been a believer that perception is reality, the reality is an ugly one of Barack Obama -- not to mention Deval Patrick and a host of local Democrats.

The reality is that the GOP, rejected by voters in the last two national elections, set about on a campaign to drag the Democrats down with them. And in Scott Brown's convincing win over Martha Coakley yesterday, they have succeeded.

The Republicans have once again been rewarded for their standard position -- do nothing. During eight years of the Bush-Cheney. they did nothing about the economy save passing tax cuts for the rich. They did nothing about reining in the cost of health care. They did nothing about regulating the financial excesses of Wall Street. They did nothing about managing the budget surplus left by Clinton -- except to blow it up in oceans of debt.

And for one year after losing the keys to the White House they did nothing to work with the new majority, preferring the now famous tactics uttered by South Carolina Sen. Jim Demint. Voters short on patience and long on temper expected miracles in a year, the ability to clean up eight years of messes in record time.

And in the process created yet another mess.

I'm not sure what will change after yesterday's vote. It's doubtful the GOP will change what appears to be a successful tactic of sitting on their hands. It's easier to bloviate than it is to legislate.

In Massachusetts, the results should send icy chills down the spine of Deval Patrick. After all, he is the only Democratic incumbent with a serious challenge -- although the GOP might now be able to raise a few quality candidates for the other constitutional offices.

What will be interesting to see is whether the party can also start fielding legislative candidates and begin to finally take on the source of the local rot -- and anger -- the Great and General Court.

For a political observer, the next year will not be lacking for things to write about. For a citizen concerned about the gridlock -- fostered by the 2010 strategy equivalent of what an Edward J. King crony once described as "putting all the hate groups in one pot in letting it boil" -- it will be ugly.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hail to the victor

Congratulations are in order for Scott Brown, who proved the polls correct, defied the odds and captured the "Kennedy seat" for the first significant Republican win in Massachusetts in decades.

But the national pundits who are proclaiming the victory as the death knell for health care reform and the Obama administration are sorely off the mark. While the sausage-making involving the health care debate surely played a role, the results reflect an abysmal effort by Attorney General Martha Coakley, who in turn was saddled by the ongoing stench on Beacon Hill.

We may have seen an influx of national tea baggers but the local members of the Hate Obama chapter did not have a decisive role in the turnout or in the margins Brown rolled up in town after town across Massachusetts.

The results are a sign of deep, deep trouble for Gov. Deval Patrick, whose only hope is the third party candidacy of Treasurer Tim Cahill has more substance than that of independent Joseph L. Kennedy.

The cold hard facts are that Democrats still control 59 percent of the United States Senate. That's a resounding majority anywhere else in the thinking world. If Brown chooses to be the 41st obstructionist, content to block action without offering constructive alternatives, congressional leaders still have substantial majorities with which to work.

They should get on with it.

And as for Coakley, the lame last minute finger pointing at the national party for "abandoning" her smacks of a total loss of reality. She should seriously think twice about running for re-election after the awful effort she was guilty of putting forward.

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The phone calls have stopped and the ads will follow shortly. The only thing remaining is the endless national punditry on why Massachusetts loves/hates Barack Obama. No middle ground. No grays.

Tomorrow, we will be back endlessly debating how Martha Coakley snatched defeat from the jaws of victory or how she managed to hang on by her finger nails. We will debate what the results means for the future of health care reform and for Deval Patrick.

But to earn the right to participate in that debate you need to do something the national media and the out-of-state Brown Brigades can't do -- Get Out To Vote.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Working Class Hero?

It's almost over except for the shouting -- and the endless ads and the constantly ringing phones. The folks from outside Massachusetts who have taken an increasingly vocal role on both sides of the election will pack their bags and let us do our thing.

So, for those of my readers who haven't made up their mind yet (yeah, you, over there on that laptop), I'd simply like to point to the Globe's chart of where the candidates stand on issues and highlight three in particular:
Brown opposes tighter regulation of the financial industry.

Coakley supports new, tighter regulation on financial industry.

Translation: Brown favors business as usual on Wall Street, where financial industry executives collect major bonuses as a reward for collapsing the economy.
Brown opposes the wind farm proposed off Cape Cod. Opposes a federal cap and trade plan to limit greenhouse gases though as a lawmaker, he voted for Massachusetts to join a similar regional plan.

Coakley supports the wind farm. Supports a national cap and trade program on greenhouse gases.

Brown supports the continued head-in-the-sand approach to the environment -- something not even China does anymore.
Brown opposes President Obama's proposal to tax large financial institutions to recoup taxpayers' investment in the economic recovery, saying raising taxes will kill jobs. Wants to extend Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers and reduce tax rates across the board.

Coakley supports President Obama's proposal to tax large financial institutions to recoup taxpayers' investment in the economic recovery. Supports letting Bush tax cuts on the top 2 percent of taxpayers expire.

Translation: Brown, again, puts Wall Street ahead of Main Street.

Brown tries to project the working class hero image, driving a pickup and getting (rich) sports stars and entertainers to rally around. But let's not forget it is the Chamber of Commerce, not the unions, who are buying Brown ads.

A Brown win would be bad for the real working (and middle) class heroes who try to make it day to day with a deck stacked against them in favor of business interests. And it would be a vote to intensify, not end, the animosity and gridlock that envelops the nation's capital.

Martha Coakley deserves no praise for her campaign. But she deserves a vote to continue the important things that Ted Kennedy stood for and fought for.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

While Coakley Slept

Was it really just three weeks ago that local Republicans were furious that the Republican National Committee was allowing Scott Brown to twist slowly, slowly in the wind?

But here we are, polls all over the place and with Barack Obama scheduled to make a campaign stop for Martha Coakley (following on the footsteps of a Bill Clinton visit and robo calls). And with the national media asking whether Massachusetts will be the president's "Waterloo."

What the heck happened? My guess is a combination of factors.

I'm firmly with Joan Vennochi in believing this is more about Sal DiMasi and Deval Patrick than it is about Obama and health care. To most Massachusetts voters, the image is that of Beacon Hill fiddling while the Bay State burns. Rising taxes and fall services cast against a background of penny ante corruption.

Nor did lawmakers help themselves by engaging in machinations over who will fill Coakley's seat as attorney general when she moves on to Washington.

Pundits will also endlessly dissect Coakley's strategy to lay low, take the holidays off and insist on only debating Brown in the presence of independent Joseph L. Kennedy. Bad move with everything else swirling around.

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and the Romney-seasoned Brown team pounced. Many point to the Brown ad where the candidate morphs onto the screen from and old black and white campaign commercial of John F. Kennedy as the starting point.

Brown parrots JFK's call for an across-the-board tax cut, a common GOP rallying cry and one the public will always listen to, no matter that GOP tax cuts are a big part of the reason for huge deficits we have today.

But a more apt JFK analogy is to his senior thesis at Harvard, examining the British failure to adequately prepare for the Nazi buildup, with the Coakley "braintrust" serving as the British government.

It was that somnolence, which also missed the small but virulent influx of the Tea Party movement, that turned the yawner into a nail-biter. And forced Obama to appear to be wagering his presidency on the punditocracy's "conventional wisdom" they helped to create from a 30,000-foot view.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Promises, promises

As we watch Scott Brown's last-minute surge, fueled by pretty GOP campaign promise words like tax cuts and security, it seems appropriate to take a look at an example of how pretty Republican words translate into action: the parole of Edward Corliss.

Can you imagine the uproar if Corliss, accused in the shameful murder of an immigrant Jamaica Plain store clerk, had been tried and convicted under Martha Coakey or another Democrat, not to mention if he had been paroled by a Democratic-picked Parole Board?

Actually I can. Does the name Willie Horton ring a bell?

Let's review the facts. Corliss was paroled in 2006, by a board dominated by Mitt Romney appointees. Chillingly, his crime had been killing a convenience store clerk. And despite a prison record that included a couple of breakouts, a refusal to admit to his crime or his addiction to alcohol, Corliss was paroled, sweet talking a supposedly law-and-order board member:
“I know I ain’t going to do no harm to anybody. I just want to get out and try to start a good life."
Four years later, Corliss stands accused of gunning down a Nepalese immigrant who did not resist during a hold-up.

What's different from the Horton case, which was hung around the neck of 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis by a supposed tough law-and-order George Bush?

Well, aside from the fact Corliss is white and the victim is a dark-skinned immigrant (and whose family had visa problems trying to attend the funeral)?

For starters, Jonathan Blodgett, the Democratic district attorney of Essex County, objected to the release:
Essex prosecutors successfully argued four times before, as recently as 2004, that Corliss had not accepted responsibility for killing an unarmed store clerk in Salisbury in 1971 and presented “a risk to commit further crimes’’ if paroled, according to a letter to the state Parole Board made public yesterday.
And members of the board, who claimed to have been overworked, were all appointed by Govs. William, Weld, Paul Cellucci and Mitt Romney. Not a weak-kneed liberal among them.

Romney, who named four of the six board members, protected by law from fingerpointing at their actions, was his usual stand-up self when confronted with the facts:

Romney’s political action committee, Free and Strong America PAC, issued a statement yesterday saying that Romney “didn’t have a vote on the matter, but if he did, he would have voted to keep this man behind bars.’’

So it's important to remember this broad gap between words and reality when listening to the promises of Romney clone Brown.

It's also worth recalling the massive deficits we face today are the results of the pie-in-the-sky, "no tax and spend" fantasies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. And to also remember that Republicans did nothing to control the high cost of health care when they controlled the White House and Congress during the a portion of the Bush years.

Frankly, it's wise to reject the 1960s line hung around many of us liberals like an anchor of shame.

Just because it feels good doesn't mean you should do it.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Lies, damn lies -- and polls (II)

Come Tuesday night we are either going to have the biggest upset in Massachusetts political history or the biggest scandal involving political polling we have ever seen.

And while my gut, based on years of observing Massachusetts politics, suggests we are going to be dissecting the polls, don't ask me the put any cash down on it because there is a weirdness in the national psyche.

In the space of hours yesterday two polls with diametrically different results: Survey 2000, commissioned by Blue Mass. Group, shows Martha Coakley with an 8-point lead. A Suffolk University-Channel 7 poll then shows Brown with a 4-point lead -- with all parties quickly noting that result is clearly within the survey's 4.4 percent margin of error.

BMG's polls was taken Monday's televised debate. The Suffolk poll encompassed the day of the showdown and the following two days.

Trying to make sense of polls that have bounced from 15 points up to 4 points down within the space of a week is impossible. Volatility doesn't begin to describe the seemingly schizophrenic results.

One thing that is clear is that neither survey takes into account the massive commercial ad buy we saw hit the airwaves on Thursday, mainly from Democrats and their surrogates. In my unscientific view, the needle swung from Brown dominating the spots to Coakley pushing harder. But that was just last night.

There's little doubt media advertising offices will be cranking late into the night to schedule all the radio and TV spots they sell today. This late Christmas present for them will leave many of us wondering if the Colts are playing the Browns and not the Ravens.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Meet the new Myth, same as the old Myth

He's got male model looks. An attractive family. And, on the surface, comes across as the voice of reason and moderation promising to work for the everyday Massachusetts man and woman.

Sound familiar? It should because the people who are bringing you Scott Brown today are the same folks behind my favorite chameleon and presidential poseur, Myth Romney.

Joan Vennochi and Yvonne Abraham spell out compelling details of Brown's flip-flops (or outright lies) on abortion, gay rights and health insurance.Vennochi also looks at the Bush administration legal views on waterboarding and torture.

And then there's a health care, where he stands to undo the life's work of the man who seat he is hoping to fill.

That's what is bringing millions of out-of-state dollars into Massachusetts to fund commercials about of the New Myth.

Brown is also building off the anger many in Massachusetts have to the current state of budget affairs in the commonwealth -- and the anger people hold to its institutions, including the one that pays him. Crisscrossing the state, the Globe portrays a man who would give Deval Patrick a good campaign -- even though he is running for a seat that has no say about the state's spending and taxes.

It's all familiar tactics for a team that helped Romney win election as a "moderate" governor who then turned his back on the state and walked away, using Massachusetts as the butt of his jokes. And once again it is the siren call of national Republican policies -- and cash -- that is playing the song and paying for the tune.

The former Cosmo model is photogenic, as his his family. But we all know about the art and artifice of modeling, the makeup and set design that goes into creating the picture.

Scott Brown is presenting his painted side to the audience. We should be careful not to make the same mistake again.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is reality?

One of my favorite comedy bits involves Firesign Theatre's More Science High School graduation where some stoner yells out "what is reality" during Principal Poop's speech to students.

Somehow I think that has become a fitting image for the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race. Principal Poop, er, Scott Brown has changed the perception of reality during his extended time on the stage and, like it or not, that will be the subtext as we head to next Tuesday's election.

Brown obviously is the hot candidate with the sleek pin-up magazine looks and the glib rhetoric. Martha Coakley is the cool, emotions-in-check prosecutor summing up for the jury why she deserve to win her case.

Brown trots out his American Idol daughter to try and defend dad by claiming an amendment to legislation about emergency contraception he filed didn't really mean what it meant and besides, it failed and he voted for the bill anyway.

Coakley, well she continues to calmly makes her case in ways that have worked for her in the past.

The Wing Nuts, sensing a chance to derail the Obama administration, are sticking their noses in a race they gave up for lost weeks ago. Now we get to be treated to the rants of Rush and Michelle Malkin, who give not a fig about the Blue State but seek to set us up for a fall.

Polls are all over the map -- the latest GOP-influenced Rasmussen Poll given Coakley a 2-point lead, down from nine last week. The Globe Poll's 15 point margin increasing seems like the outlier.

Perhaps Martha Coakley believes staying true to her script and herself is the one path to victory and an impressive Get Out the Vote effort will prove this anxiety for naught. I hope so.

As for me, I am truly questioning what is reality and glad I will still have health care next Tuesday night -- just in case.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

No tears formula

The normally verbose Tom Finneran has been rather silent since the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the decision to strip him of his license to practice law after pleading guilty to lying under oath.

Smart move. His friends should try the same approach.

John A. Stefanini, Finneran’s former legal counsel in the House, said Finneran had been “presented as a trophy’’ by the US attorney’s office because of his prominent position in public life.

“It’s sad that public pressure and the substantial and significant long arm of the Justice Department have forced the court into this posture, owing to his public visibility,’’ Stefanini said. “It’s sad for him; it’s sad for the system.’’

Sad for the system? Let's see now. The Speaker of the Massachusetts House tried to use the redistricting process to redraw the lines to dilute the votes of black and Hispanic residents in districts much like his own. He then lied under oath about his participation.

What is sadder for the system?

The public does not trust elected officials to work on their behalf. Finneran was caught in a lie in a case where it could be argued he was working on his own behalf. It came during a time when he was the most powerful elected official in the Commonwealth, even though he was elected by voters in one district and therefore unanswerable to anyone else.

So he tried to fix the game so he wouldn't have to worry about answering to his own constituents.

Tommy should wisely continue to keep his own counsel -- and advise his friends to do the same.

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Keep on truckin'

Here's what I learned yesterday: Scott Brown's truck has more than 200,000 miles on it; Martha Coakley likes to ski and cook. Mark McGwire lied about taking steroids.

None of those insights -- or the exciting news that Sarah Palin is going to contribute to Fox News -- is going to make me any better informed about the issues in next Tuesday's election.

I'm obviously not the average voter and, equally obviously, I am not undecided. But if I were to fall into either of those categories I'm not sure I would have learned anything in last night's debate other than Brown would kill the health care bill an Coakley would take it over the top.

And somewhat incongruously, Joseph L. Kennedy would cast the decisive vote against it and then work to repeal it.

While that vote is an important milestone, there will be lots of other issues facing Massachusetts' junior senator casts the historic vote in the next month or so. And if I were just tuning in to the race I don't think I would have learned an awful lot beyond political rhetoric and that Brown can be smug and Coakley can be icy.

The race has inflamed the passions of true believers -- a look at the Twitter chatter from Brown supporters is proof of that. But will it encourage people to take the time next Tuesday to brave the cold and/or other elements and cast a vote?

The jury is still out on that one.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Let the games begin!

The latest Globe poll setting the baseline for the 2010 gubernatorial campaign has lots of bad news: for Charlie Baker.

While political junkies marvel at Baker's fund-raising prowess and have virtually anointed him the next governor, the folks who do the actual voting have a different viewpoint so far:
“I don’t even know who Charlie Baker is,’’ said Pam Siano, a laid-off convenience store manager from Springfield who said she is searching for a candidate.
Granted there is little good news for Deval Patrick, he of the 52 percent disapproval rating, and even worse news for the Commonwealth in the fact a small plurality of voters trust the Legislature over Patrick to handle the state's budget woes. And as the song says, sorta, it's a long, long time from January to November.

The poll reaffirms the previous numbers that Patrick benefits from a three-way race with Baker and Treasurer Tim Cahill, who appears to be most popular politician in the race, a thought as sobering as the fact the Legislature is more trusted than Patrick.

There is good news for Patrick and Baker though. That GOP primary battle with Christy Mihos may be the best thing that ever happened to Baker.

Mihos pulled a 33 percent unfavorable rating, meaning the September vote should like amount to a warm-up for Baker against a candidate almost as unpopular as the governor, allowing him to raise his visibility and test his strategies.

The downside of course is spending cash against Mihos instead of Patrick. And dealing with the ideological schisms in his own party by his selection of Sen. Richard Tisei, a newly out gay man, as a running mate in a primary where, based on the current Senate race, we could see a teabag turnout.

Patrick, whose fund-raising lag has raised eyebrows, could have some strategic advantages, depending on when Cahill opts to start spending cash. Without a primary opponent, he can focus on trying to repair relations with his base and use the free and easier method of campaigning against the Legislature.

His New York counterpart, David Paterson, leveled both barrels against his state's lawmakers, who shenanigans were more political than the criminal problems facing the Great and General Court's recent members.

And part of Patrick's message should be that despite deep reluctance to act, he was able to get a working majority in the Legislature to pass ethics and pension reform as well as get rid of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

Ultimately, I'd rather be holding Baker's cards instead of Patrick's. But there is a needle that can be threaded and Patrick has shown himself more adept at campaigning than governing.

Should be fun!

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lies, damn lies -- and polls

Either the Massachusetts Senate election is the most volatile in history or there's some serious shenanigans going on among the people who ask the questions and crunch the numbers.

Depending on who's doing the asking, Martha Coakley is 15 points ahead or one point behind Scott Brown in the Jan. 19 election. And she is clearly trailing in the race for Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers, long an accurate bellwether of election results. (I follow Brown, enough said?)

I'm not a pollster or a statistician, but I'm inclined to go with the Globe's findings. Why? They include a link to the full poll, offering everyone an opportunity to see the questions and instructions to the humans who administered the survey.

I've never heard of Public Policy Polling, despite the Wall Street Journal plug on their blog, and then became immediately suspect when I saw the survey is automated, relying on people to punch buttons rather than talk to humans. Call me funny that way.

Either way, there is something increasingly problematic about telephone surveys. We often hear about cell phone bias, excluding the increasingly larger segment of the population that doesn't bother with a landline.

We hear less about Caller ID bias. I know I never pick up a call whether either the identity of the caller or the number is blocked. If you want to talk to me identify yourself.

That's not to say there isn't some common threads in the 16-point spread between the two polls. The Globe-UNH survey notes Coakley and Brown are running dead even among undecided voters who said they were “extremely interested’’ in the race.

But even there, the Globe survey suggests Coakley picks up a few points when you factor in the leaners to each candidate.

About the only thing clear is that Brown has motivated a segment of the population by running aggressively while Coakley has been in a protective crouch. I doubt anyone -- Democrat, Republican or Independent -- will give Coakley's team high grades for running an insprired campaign.

That reality -- whether triggered by incompetence or hubris -- has given Brown the opening to create the impression of momentum. And it remains a fact that perception often trumps reality.

What Coakley needs to do is come out of hiding and engage Brown forcefully on issues that really matter in this Blue Heaven -- health care, Brown's antediluvian positions on waterboarding and gay marriage and his use of scare tactics on terrorism.

Oh, and did I mention the opportunity to be the vote to make or break Ted Kennedy's dream about health care reform?

There are 10 days to go. The long-range forecast suggests the weather will actually be decent (even though I trust long-range forecasts even less than political polls). While Coakley has emerged from the cave, she needs to energize her base the way Brown has energized his.

That's the ultimate bottom line. Given this state's proven political profile, Coakley cannot lose if she manages to generate the excitement and the turnout to match the effort by Brown.

Whether she can and will is the only question that counts over the next 10 days.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

We shall fight them on the beaches...

Move over Winston Churchill. It's time for some southeastern Massachusetts politicians to rewrite your famous speech.

Churchill, you may recall, offered a stirring oration in the early days of World War II to reflect the British determination to take on the Nazis:
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender,
Listening to Scott Brown and Foxboro Selectman Paul Feeney, a bit of rewriting may be in order:
We shall fight them in the shopping malls,
we shall fight them in the cheap seats,
we shall fight them in the parking lots and on the roads,
we shall fight them on the gridiron;
we shall never surrender!
Brown, of course, has become the darling of the Teabaggers in part to the somnolent campaign being waged by Martha Coakley for the US Senate seat from Massachusetts. Buoyed by the attention from the likes of Sean Hannity, Brown offered this gem in a debate broadcast on public television.
“We’re at war,’’ he said. “We’re at war in our airports. We’re at war in our shopping centers. We’re at war all over the world. Al Qaeda is coming here to try to kill our American citizens.’’
Hmm. Maybe he shouldn't say that given the overflow crowds at the Wrentham Outlet Mall is his town. Then again, maybe I could finally get a parking space if all those Rhode Island shoppers stay away.

Not to be outdone, Feeney sees more than unshoveled snow in the bust of undocumented immigrants on their way to dig out Gillette Stadium for tomorrow's playoff game.
“My ultimate concern is that no one knows the true identity of various workers that have been hired to perform work in Gillette Stadium, which by its nature is also at risk of potential coordinated attacks and terrorist activities.’’
And I thought it was about dry butts in seats.

What the heck was dumped into the water down there?

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Musta got Lost

Equal time for NCIS fans. If the State of the Union is going to be worked around the season premiere of Lost, the least NCIS fans can ask for is equal treatment.

After all, how many times is the show bumped or delayed because it has the misfortune of being scheduled for 8 p.m. on Tuesday?

Better yet, may be we need to change the time of election poll closings?

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Haste makes waste?

There's a lot of good to be found in the growth of Twitter as a news source -- and a lot that leaves me shaking my head.

As a wire service reporter, speed was of the essence to me. So was the motto get it first but get it right. Twitter has exploded the definition of speed. But is all of it right? Or worth getting first?

After David Carr's look at our 140-character phenomenon, I signed up to follow a few of the tweeps he singled out. And while I'm not sure I have much more interest in The New Yorker's Susan Orlean's serious travel headaches, I am impressed how CBS News' Mark Knoller can summarize breaking news into tiny chunks.

But with that speed comes some serious downsides -- beyond the obvious question of getting things right when you are reporting on something not as highly organized as a presidential press conference of briefing.

And that's the boredom factor.

On the one hand, I can understand that there are folks even more news-obsessed than I who were probably counting the seconds until Barack Obama stepped up to the podium to discuss the intelligence breakdowns surrounding the Christmas Briefs Bomber.

But when I see blog posts about "Delay of Game" in The New York Times and snarky tweets about crashing speechwriters by the Washington Post's Howie Kurtz, I wonder if we are breaking the news cycle down into even more damaging chunks. After all, the 24-hour cable news talking heads cycle has created enough nightmares.

Oh, but then again, don't forget to check out this blog post on Twitter.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

A position for every season

Two interesting opinion pieces -- both on Massachusetts' highest profile Republicans -- clearly bring to light to a problem I view as even more insidious than the excesses of the tea bag movement,

In GOP terms, it's clear Mitt Romney and Scott Brown were for health care reform before they were against it. The cause of the change from working for and voting for the Massachusetts bill and slamming it today? Political expediency.

Romney's case is quite clear cut. The ink had barely dried on his signature when he pulled up stakes and turned his attention to Washington, where compromise is a four-letter word. But in the teabaggers eyes, Myth has a problem he can't walk away from -- being the parent of the individual mandate that requires every one to purchase health insurance.

Brown could claim his new-found opposition is because the Massachusetts system doesn't work. But it does. Efforts to control cost were not part of the initial legislation -- access was key. And this law has clearly increased access.

Both Romney and Brown took what were responsible and principled stands that have helped more Massachusetts residents get access to health care. Disavowing those stands in contradiction of evidence simply to pander for votes -- is irresponsible. It's why people do not trust politicians.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Red Dawn over Blue State?

The political news this frosty January morning must make Democrats happy that voters don't go to the polls until the fall.


Massachusetts Republicans must hope today does not mark the high water mark of the year, what with reports showing Charley Baker raking in the bucks for his challenge to Deval Patrick. That, along with Patrick's basement level poll numbers and the continuing misdeeds of the Great and General Court is destined to make Democrats squirm.

But the news putting the brightest smiles on GOP faces is a Rasmussen Poll showing Scott Brown within 9 points of Martha Coakley in the Senate election to be held in less than two weeks.

It's odd that what is likely the biggest, most-talked about political story of the day ran online in the Globe, but buried as one paragraph in a spot story about a debate.

Maybe it's because the Globe has its own poll slated for the weekend, as David Bernstein suggests, or because there are various levels of skepticism about the accuracy of Rasmussen polls.

Nevertheless, the results amount to a double dose of bad news for Coakley, in tandem with a major Globe front-page look at her handling of a controversial rape case during her time as Middlesex DA.

It was interesting the water cooler chatter I heard yesterday included a professed coolness to Coakley, who has run a low-to-no visibility final campaign. The air of aloofness that has always surrounded her seemed likely to make this a race where only the truly believers will turn out, particularly if the weather is bad.

And those true believers are with Brown.

The timing of the poll's release may be the worst news of the day for the Republican challenger, serving to light a fire under the butts of the Coakley campaign hierarchy who assumed her smashing win over her Democratic rivals would be a harder test than one against a less well-known Republican.

Fasten your seat belts. And prepare to be barraged by television spots. It won't be dull.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Riding the crest of problems

"Just what I needed," Senate President Therese Murray likely muttered upon hearing the decision by District Court Judge Matthew Nestor to lock up yet another member of the Massachusetts Senate. "I need this like a need a root canal."

The new year brings new legal problems for the Great and General Court. Less than one year after former House Speaker Sal DiMasi pulled a "first you say you won't, then you will" by winning re-election, then quitting before indictment, Sen. Anthony Galluccio brought new dishonor upon the Legislature by violating terms of his very lenient sentence for leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident.

In the process, the Cambridge Democrat set the new standard for laughable defenses, blaming toothpaste for a blood alcohol content of .037. Skoal!

Galluccio follows Sens. Dianne Wilkerson and Jim Marzilli in bringing disgrace to the chamber, just as the Senate and the House need all the credibility they can muster at the start of yet another pivotal year for the Commonwealth.

The public has had about enough of the budget cuts and tax increases required to shore up a national economy that has suffered mightily. Naturally they are focusing on anything and everything that can be done to root out waste, fraud and inefficiency.

Right now the Legislature is looking like the poster child for that unholy trinity.

The Senate Ethics Committee is likely to meet tomorrow and set in motion sanctions against Galluccio that can range from censure to expulsion -- assuming he doesn't do the honorable thing and resign today.

Toothpaste jokes aside, the whole thing is incredibly sad, both on the personal level and the institutional one. Galluccio obviously has an addiction that he can't shake.

The overwhelming majority of legislators are decent, hardworking and well-intentioned individuals. The vicious and unproductive partisan acrimony that has paralyzed Washington has never taken root here.

But the actions of the few are tainting the many -- and swift action is needed to prevent this being another year where precious time is lost while a lawmaker puts his own interests ahead of the Commonwealth's.

Galluccio cannot serve his constituents from the Middlesex County House of Correction (though the image of him showing up at his desk for a vote in an orange jumpsuit would be one for the ages.) He has already crippled them by his less-than-full attention to the job.

The honorable thing would be the resign. Today. If not, the Senate should expel him. Tomorrow. There's no need to study anything. A judge already has.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Stealth fighters

The B-2 bomber wasn't the only stealth fighter in the Fenway Park area on Friday for the Winter Classic. Scott Brown and his supporters were there too.

While Democratic US Senate nominee Martha Coakley has been taking it easy over the holidays, Brown has been busy in the blogosphere, Twittersphere and in regular campaign mode, pumping up his troops.

Conventional wisdom has it that Brown is pulling a Joe Malone -- being a sacrificial lamb against a strong Democrat, hoping to run a strong race that will catapult him into higher office much as Malone parlayed a 1988 race against Ted Kennedy into the state treasurer's job.

The true believers don't think so -- or at least won't admit it publicly. Not that an endorsement by John McCain will sway a lot of voters in true blue Massachusetts.

One can assume Coakley supporters are being even more stealthy -- identifying their voters and doing all they need to do to get them to the polls in two weeks. At least you hope so.

The weekend-long snowstorm should serve as a reminder about what is truly different about this election -- the date. When can you recall an election for all the marbles (as opposed to presidential primaries) taking place with snow on the ground?

What if the weather two weeks from tomorrow matches that from the weekend? An already tiny primary turnout is likely to shrivel even more.

And true believers are likely to turnout no matter the weather.

Coakley has the lead in name recognition, fund-raising and on positions that appeal to the majority of Bay Staters. What she doesn't appear to have is the same core of stealth fighters willing to get their feet wet and cold.

Harvey Leonard should not be a deciding factor in the Senate race.

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Know thine enemy

If al Qaeda is the No. 1 threat facing the United States, why do we still have billions of dollars in weapons aimed at destroying a country that hasn't existed in nearly 20 years?

The Globe's look at the Obama administration's review of our nuclear "triad" is a sobering look at the impact of the military-industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about almost 50 years ago.

How many billions of dollars are still be spent on a "deterrent" to an "enemy" that no longer poses the end-of-days threat that was all too real to those of us who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis?

And just how effective are bombers, submarines and land-based missiles in battling the all-to-real threat of terrorism -- foreign and domestic?

But it is a safe assumption that any effort by the administration to trim back the nuclear overkill will be met with cries of "weakness" by today's Strangeloves, Republicans (and Democrats) who have skin in the game as a result of the defense contracts that come to their states.

And how could those billions be better spent? How about for education, health care and other worthwhile domestic programs that are being starved by a military budget whose appetite for tax dollars is way out of control.

Dr. Strangelove

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

High yawn campaign

We stand on the cusp of health care reform. The economy is slowly recovering but may need an extra push. One war is winding down while another is slowly ramping up. These are the issues that will face the new junior senator from Massachusetts.

But instead of dealing with these issues, we are treated to barbs about taking time off the campaign trail, the number of Facebook friends, and grainy black and white footage designed to hide a specious argument about tax cuts.

Oh yeah, and some headline writing that seems like cheerleading. But give the Herald some credit for paying attention, unlike the Globe or most of potential voters for this month's special election.

There's no great shock in Martha Coakley taking it easy during the holidays -- does any one really want political rhetoric mixed with their cup of kindness to the days of Auld Lang Syne? And yes, I did notice Scott Brown's near dominance of the twittersphere.

But Facebook friends and Twitter followers aren't the strongest marker of voter support, at least not yet. Money is -- and Coakley has that squared away, despite the efforts of Herald headline writers to buy Eric Fehrnstrom's spin in the face of a five-to-one Coakley advantage.

So count me among the folks who plan to curl up with some good reading, interspersed with turns at the shovel, and happily go back to ignoring the non-campaign.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Geography and work-life balance

As Republicans get their knickers in a twist once more over Barack Obama and his family returning to his roots for a winter break, I think I can finally offer some carbon dating as how far out of touch Obama's detractors actually are:


Yep, they have no clue that Hawaii is actually a state and has been for more than 50 years.

So why haven't we had the same uproar over Sarah Palin, whose home state celebrates its 51st birthday on Sunday? After all, each state has been the setting for a TV series (Hawaii 5-0 and Northern Exposure), a sure sign of American roots.

And while we're at it, has anyone seen her birth certificate? After all, are we sure she is from this planet?

Happy New Year!

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