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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Anatomy of an MBTA fire

I thankfully missed the mess that ensued after an electrical cable caught fire in the Red Line last night. But after reading a series of tweets I felt like I was in the middle of chaos and confusion.

And I can't say I got the same feeling from stories in the Globe and Herald. In fact, I pretty much skipped right over them in an online perusal of the morning papers.

Just another reason to understand the mysterious power Twitter has on society.

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Cahill wind

You really have to love the way Treasurer Tim is classing up the governor's race with his thoughtful remarks about important issues.
“We all think of the Netherlands, and we think of all these windmills,’’ the independent gubernatorial candidate told a downtown meeting of business executives yesterday. “It’s really quaint. And it seems so much nicer than a big, bad energy plant or nuclear power. At the end of the day, it’s an industrial opportunity.’’
I somehow don't think anyone considers 130 turbines, several hundred feet high, piles driven deep into the ocean floor are "quaint." That's a significant part of the argument of Cape Cod residents opposed to the project.

And, as has become par for the course, whether the topic is the budget or health care. the independent candidate offers opinions but not solutions.
“I don’t think it’s the real solution,’’ he said. “It will make us feel good about ourselves, just like covering every citizen in Massachusetts with health care made us feel good. On paper and mentally, it’s the right thing to do. "
So I pose a simple question Mr. Treasurer: what is your solution to our energy needs? Any ideas on how we can harness your hot air?

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

A mighty wind

If political rhetoric could be captured and used to generate energy, yesterday's decision to go ahead with the Cape Wind turbine project has the potential to light our homes for generations.

The Globe labeled the decision by the Obama administration a "political victory" for Deval Patrick while gubernatorial challengers Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill -- not to mention the basketball-spinning Time Magazine Most Influential" Scott Brown -- all chimed in against.

I've never followed the debate closely. Opponents, mainly Cape residents, fear the visual impact of 130 turbines five miles off the coast. There's obviously no way to answer that without actually building the project.

What's more interesting is two factoids I just learned. Buried deep within the Globe story is a reference to the project's 21-year lifespan. What happens after that? Do the turbines stop spinning and become home for birds?

And the Herald reports no one except the developers know the real cost of the project. How much will taxpayers shell out in subsidies and what is the impact on ratepayers?

The approval is indeed a win for Patrick and his pal, Barack Obama. The president needs an environmental achievement in the face of Congress' inability to pass a climate bill. It's no surprise the Senate bill co-author, Massachusetts senior senator and wind surfer John Kerry is on board.

The timing of the long-awaited announcement is also fortuitous as an out-of-control oil well in the Gulf of Mexico spews 42,000 barrels a day into the water and slowly creeps toward the Louisiana coast line.

Can a large wind turbine project wreak as much environmental havoc? Doubtful.

Until we learn to control our energy appetites, we are faced with a series of unpleasant choices: Persian Gulf oil; nuclear; coal; offshore oil. Wind and solar are more expensive now -- but there is a potential payoff down the road -- from the reduced need for war if nothing else.

Now if only we had a technology to harness political hot air...

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Not-so Fabulous Baker Boy

I don't think this is the way Charlie Baker thought he would introduce himself to Massachusetts voters.

The Republican gubernatorial nominee has hit a rough patch in his run for the Corner Office. A recent poll showed Baker running third behind Deval Patrick and Tim Cahill -- with more than 60 percent of respondents having no opinion of him.

The Republican Governors Association responded to the poll by running negative ads against Cahill -- hardly the best way to introduce yourself to the public, even if someone else is paying for it and you have no control over them.

And now, you find yourself making headlines for tossing out an acerbic campaign manager while having your reputation for fiscal management dissected in the news pages and skewered on the editorial page.

Little wonder he took to Facebook to like himself. Friends seem a bit scarce these days.

A lot of this is the normal ebb and flow of the campaign. How many people have declared Deval Patrick dead and buried as a candidate? But the Frank Phillips look at Baker's track record of relying on revenue increases -- while touting himself a tax cutter -- has the most potential to hurt.

It's widely recognized but little remembered that Bill Weld's initial success in making over the budget after the Massachusetts Malaise came courtesy of a whopping tax increase backed by Mike Dukakis and approved by lawmakers.

And Baker may be able to walk a tight rope about Swampscott tax increases during the his tenure as selectman coming in the form of Proposition 2 1/2 overrides.

But he is on very dangerous ground in saying that higher premiums didn't play a significant part of his efforts to change the direction of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. And it's even worse when he suggests that people have an option to paying higher premiums.

As Alan Sager of Boston University’s School of Public Health told Phillips, the only option to higher premiums is going without coverage.
“Health insurance premiums are essentially privately raised taxes.’’
With health insurance a potential third rail issue this election season, Baker can easily be portrayed as today's Marie Antoinette saying "let them eat cake."

And we all know what happened to her.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Beacon Hill Big Top

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and see the the biggest show in town. No, not the circus taking up residence on City Hall Plaza, the continuous one that's underway on Beacon Hill.

See the human cannonball -- the Republican Governors Association is launching an ad campaign against Tim Cahill.

Watch the twisted logic -- Charlie Baker calls for cutting taxes and 5,000 jobs while also supporting the Quinn bill and police unions angry over civilian flaggers.

Amaze yourself as the upstart treasurer rails against the Baker "dog and pony show" while the embattled incumbent snaps about "the lack of integrity out of that campaign."

And some people were wondering the source of the fireworks heard around town last night!

Where to begin? A national Republican group seeing a need to put down an unspecified amount of cash to attack an independent and not a Democrat?

That should certainly stick a few barbs in Cahill's side but will it substantially change the dynamic where Cahill's over-the-top tactics -- like courting the Tea Party -- give him polling strength while Baker is unknown to more than 60 percent of the electorate?

Going negative so early in a campaign is always dangerous, particularly before the public gets to know the players. And while this may be an independent source of funding the public will hear "paid for by the REPUBLICAN Governors Association."

That announcement certainly overshadowed the press conference held by Baker and running mate Richard Tisei prior to the start of the House budget debate where they called for cutting 5,000 unspecified executive branch jobs and ripped Patrick for signing the sales tax increase into law.

Of course they also didn't say where the additional cuts would have come from in the current, already-tight spending plan. Nor did it stop them from backing two of the police unions most prized boondoggles -- the Quinn bill and paid details at construction projects.

That contradiction no doubt prompted Patrick's return fire. While initial returns show the use of civilian flaggers has actually raised costs, the elimination of police details had been a GOP talking point as far back as Baker's old boss Bill Weld. And Big Red ultimately blinked at making any change, while Patrick has taken serious union heat for it.

The response for Patrick was a no-brainer:
“Until they propose what . . . the public will do without, then we’re not going to have a serious conversation.’’
Cahill was quick to slam Tisei for voting an proposed income tax reduction in 2000, but has been proud to proclaim his lack of knowledge about specific budgets issues claiming he needs to actually get in there and see how things work. After serving as treasurer for seven-plus years.

The budget under debate in the House was already a rewrite of Patrick's specific proposal. Baker (and Cahill) seem to be unburdened by the need to offer specifics, their right as politicians but a problematic stance if they want to be serious parts of the solution.

The only thing wrong about the day from this political junkie's viewpoint? Too much good stuff condensed into such a small window. Spread it out!

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Monday, April 26, 2010

-30- for for high school journalism?

High school journalism appears to be another casualty of tightening budgets and closing minds and it's a trend we should all worry about.

I had a rush down memory lane reading Peter Funt's column about the disappearance of high school newspapers and the courses that support them (whatever happened to civics classes?) My life choices were shaped by experiences as a reporter and editor for an award-winning school newspaper.

And that includes walking away for four years in college to pursue a political science degree because of a young, immature adviser who selected editors based on personal favorites instead of qualifications.

It's a sad but inevitable truth that journalism classes -- along with music, art and physical education -- are victims of the twin scourges of tight budgets and the need to teach to the standardized tests students need to graduate.

Yes, we all need to know how to read and write, add and subtract. But what about those students who answers to different muses?

Obviously I have a bias toward journalism -- working as a reporter and then teaching it. I can say it made me far more aware of the world around me and provided me with the tools I needed to make a successful and comfortable living. And it has blessed me with a wealth of great experiences and connections to good and fascinating people.

And yes it is true that journalism remains a lucrative and popular course of study in college -- undergraduate and graduate.

But I am here to argue that the high school experience -- putting out a weekly newspaper while juggling a lot of other classes and responsibilities -- was the right experience at the right time. Not having that opportunity would have changed my life path and I venture to guess, not for the better.

In addition to learning how to write and opening my eyes to the world around me, I learned hard lessons about people and disappointment. I gained the experience of a broader education in college and learned not to let my own immaturity stand in my way when I gravitated back to journalism.

Journalists and the media have long been among society's favorite things to kick around -- and I've done a fair bit of it in this space. But to cut off the option to learn how to observe, analyze and write -- either because it is a "luxury" or we don't like the medium or message is beyond foolish.

It's a sure sign we are giving in to our own worst impulses. And I can see that by watching and reading the very media many have come to loathe.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why people hate Washington

I'd seen the advance online version of The New York Times Sunday Magazine's profile about Politico uber-reporter Mike Allen and even read some of the early reviews.

But nothing could prepare me the utterly depressing picture of a a reporter and a town that is totally absorbed in its own little dramas -- and so out of touch with the big, wide world.

I've always considered myself a political junkie and I religiously scour news websites every morning for the latest from my business world. This blog is usually written at an ungodly hour when smart people are asleep.

But while Mark Leibovich presents a portrait of a man happy with himself and his place in the DC political firmament, I can't help but alternating between being saddened and being appalled by the lifestyle of the reporter -- and the community he covers like a glove.

Do you need any better proof for the giant disconnect between Washington and the rest of the world?

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Where's the plurality?

The New York Times continues the Democrats are in Trouble meme today with a front page story declaring "Democrats Long-Held Seats Face GOP Threat," declaring "nearly a dozen well-established Democrats" face a serious challenge.

Problem is I read the story once and scanned it numerous times and couldn't find "nearly a dozen." Maybe nearly a half-dozen, with a focus on one in particular.

Washington is an increasingly insular and alien place for many Americans, to be sure. It's laudable the Times ventured outside the Beltway to check on one of two districts. But a trend worthy of such a definitive Page One headline?

Maybe inside the Beltway. But I need a lot more proof.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Scott Brown Watch: campaign finance

Scott Brown ran as an "independent Republican," someone who wouldn't be in lock step with his party's leadership. He record so far is mixed -- a couple of votes to break filibusters but decidedly in lockstep when it comes to the financial reform reform that the GOP says is a Wall Street bailout.

But now we are getting a glimpse at another sources of where the "independent" Brown is getting his direction: Wall Street.

The Herald continues what some in the Twitterverse have called its "bipolar" behavior toward the new senator they helped to elect. The paper notes a report from the Center for Responsive Politics finds Brown has received $354,000 from Wall Street groups, including $5,500 from Goldman Sachs.

That four-month totals dwarfs the $110,000 -- including $10,000 from Goldman Sachs -- that House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, whose written a bill Wall Street despises, has received since 2008. And it's also more than senior senator John Kerry has received over the last two years.

It perhaps also helps to explain that inexplicable comments from Brown on Face the Nation last week where he claimed the Senate bill would cost Massachusetts as many as 35,000 jobs, citing sources who claim they said no such thing.

Brown at least showed his independence from the TV political pundits who somehow thought that he would abandon his 2012 bid for a full six-year term in the Senate to run for president instead.

Even then, Brown didn't offer much in the way of independence -- almost offering his support for his mentor Mitt Romney while declaring Sarah Palin qualified.

The week started on Face the Nation and ended on The Today Show. The days in between were hardly great examples of independent leadership.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

The vision thing

Tim Cahill has been a candidate with multiple personalities throughout his political rise from Quincy City Councilor to treasurer to his bid for governor. In the last few years alone he has morphed from moderate Democrat to independent to Tea Party wannabe.

And he apparently thinks alliances are fungible and details non-essential.

That picture is reinforced in the Globe profile of Cahill's rise from smoothie shop owner with big ambitions to challenge Starbucks to a politician with ambitions. There is a certain consistency to Cahill's method of operation: think big picture, make temporary alliances and abandon them when the next big thing comes along.

The most intriguing remark comes from one of Cahill's erstwhile partners in the failed smoothie business:
“We had disagreements about how to go forward. We were all convinced we knew what was right.’’
A belief in himself remains the key piece of the Cahill political profile. Details? That's for someone else.

That trait was on display again yesterday in an interview with the editorial board of Gatehouse News Service.

Time and again when asked for specifics -- how many people need to be laid off to balance the commonwealth's budget, what does he think about the casino bill, why he didn't oppose the health care in 2006 -- Cahill responded with some form of "I don't know" or "no one asked."

As Gatehouse editor Greg Reibman noted later on his Twitter feed:
"He was like the kid who comes to class saying, 'I didn't study that part.'"
Some discretion is always appropriate and it's true it's hard to make specific cuts until you know the details (assuming you have time to study them).

While it's also true that half of life is just showing up, candidates who want to lead the state out of the fiscal wilderness should take the time and trouble to bone up on the proposals out there.

And Cahill, like Charlie Baker, would prefer to lay the entire blame at the doorstep of Deval Patrick without acknowledging the 800-pound gorilla of the Legislature that is more than an equal partner in digging out of the mess.

Smart politics because you run against a person. But suggesting all of our problems will wash away with a change in the Corner Office is avoiding the most important detail of all.

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The dog ate my homework

What if they gave a tea party and nobody came?

That's the essence of the story at yesterday's dud of a hearing on proposed ballot questions to rollback the sales and alcohol taxes.

Even less impressive than the turnout was the excuse offered by anti-tax activist and perennial candidate Carla Howell that lawmakers broke the law and didn't notify her about the hearing.
“A reasonable person would assume that they would notify you,” said Howell, who said she didn’t attend the hearing because she didn’t know about it. “They are supposed to set up a meeting with the sponsoring committee and lawmakers.”
Committee chairman Jay Kaufman says lawmakers posted public notice in a timely fashion. More importantly, Howell makes the usual mistake that anyone does when they "assume" and don't take important matters into their own hands.

Maybe the person who was supposed to give Howell her personal invitation was laid off.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dump this teabagger

So the head of the Tea Party movement is the professional spawn of Jerry Williams. Why am I not surprised.

The Globe's profile of Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams paints a stunning picture of what appears to be a racist, homophobic bigot -- with roots in talk radio -- who is trying to take the hatemeister role to the next level beyond that of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

Without any of their charisma.

There's no doubt that a vast majority of Americans are fed up with the direction this country has traveled over the last 20 years. Many of us on the left have nothing but disdain for the fraudulent, credit card wars waged by the Bush administration that cast aside our civil liberties in a misdirected pursuit of a terrorist who truly is an enemy.

A spineless and corrupt Republican congressional leadership only added insult to injury.

The right has been steaming even louder over the last few decades -- and with far more destructive tools -- like the attempted coup in the form of impeachment of a president they despised over stupid personal indiscretion. And with the election of Barack Obama they are back with a vengeance.

But what exactly are they angry over?

"Leaders" like Williams spout the rhetoric of grievance of an old way lost. Yeah, woe unto us because there is no more segregation, Jim Crow or slavery. It is the rhetoric of those who once had power -- and abused it.

The financial problems in this nation today are largely of "conservative" making. The first large bill of debt was run up under Ronald Reagan, eliminated, for a time, under Bill Clinton, and came roaring back under George Bush.

The president who waged a phony war proclaimed himself to be a conservative -- even as he charged those wars on a credit card for future generations to pay. He showed disdain for average folks -- like those in New Orleans he abandoned after Katrina.

And now that we have someone attempting to right the wrongs created under the conservative, he is blasted in no uncertain terms -- for the color of his skin.

The Tea Party majority has the same problem as the Muslim community. It needs to speak out against the renegades who are tarnishing their broader image.

As long as "leaders" like Williams represent the movement, the legitimate issues of income inequality and a bought and paid for political system paid for by special interests will be lost to the heat of hate speech.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lamestream political party

Sarah Palin may have been on to something when she coined the termed "lamestream." But she's pointing the derogatory term in the wrong direction. If you want to talk about out of touch, you need to start with her own cultish political party.

Evidence keeps mounting that the Republican Party has a death wish involving ideological purity. In recent days we see it at the national level with lock step opposition to a bill to reform the worst Wall Street excesses that brought down our economy.

On the state level, it's the effort to force moderate Republican Charlie Crist out of the Florida Senate primary. Closer to home, it's an effort to box in moderate Republican Charlie Baker on holding back the inevitable with opposition to transgender civil rights, wrapped up in the demeaning name of the bathroom bill.

And despite all the hysteric media gum flapping over the the GOP's supposed surge (I never said the media are blameless!) the numbers that really count in elections suggest Americans aren't buying what Palin and her pals are peddling.

We've seen how badly Scott Brown has tied his tongue in knots -- inventing dramatic job losses -- trying to justify his support of a Republican filibuster over financial reforms opposed by Wall Street.

And Baker has found himself in a similar mess as he tries to cater to the even smaller far right wing of Massachusetts conservatives who continue to insist government has a role in the bedroom but not the boardroom. Like the effort to halt gay rights -- and African-Americans before them -- the push to vilify transgenders is ultimately doomed to failure because human nature cannot be put into boxes to comfort the small-minded.

But by trying to avoid ceding anything to Democrat-turned independent-turned Tea Party chameleon Tim Cahill -- from human rights to climate change -- Baker exemplifies the lamestream Republican impulse.

The political suicide impulse is most vividly on display in Florida, where a Republican popular enough to be elected governor a few years ago is now being pushed out of a primary because he's not conservative enough and "can't win."

The fact that he could win a race against a Democrat isn't good enough for the lamestream warriors of the right. All I can do is I applaud their foolishness and hope Crist makes it a three-way race.

And despite polls claiming Barack Obama is in trouble two years before an election -- and triumphal Republican rhetoric -- people who vote with the checks are saying otherwise. After passage of health care reform, supposedly the Democrats' Armageddon, fundraising has surged and Republicans are left to insist they have "momentum."

But in what direction? Is it time to consider slightly adjusting the party symbol to say, a wooly mammoth?

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wicked pissah decision

A 19 percent raise to pee in a cup? Where do I sign up?

I'm oversimplifying the arbitrator award that granted Boston firefighters a 4-year, 19 percent raise in exchange for random drug testing, but the upheaval from this decision should be amazing.

Not just what this kind of raise will do to already shaky city finances -- starting with demands from the other unions to match it. Or the squeeze that it will put on other city services, like libraries. Or what this will mean in other cities and towns.

There's also something a little unsettling to the precedent that public safety employees can now exchange wage concessions for meeting what should be basic demands of the job -- namely that they report to work clean and sober.

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Senator Fiction

When your alleged source backs away from you, you've got problems.

And that's exactly where Sen. Scott Brown is today after his Face the Nation performance declaring Massachusetts could lose up to 35,000 jobs if the Senate passes its version of financial reform.

The Globe's Steve Syre dissects Brown's claim -- and MassMutual's swift walkaway -- with surgical precision. Matt Viser looks at the reaction to the um, exaggeration. And the New York Times looks at what is really driving the debate.

What's clear is Brown needs to spend more time doing his job and less time running around cashing in on his 15 minutes of fame as the GOP's fair-haired boy. Voters have made it clear they don't like business as usual and Brown's making it up as he goes along is definitely standard operating procedure among today's Republicans.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Snapshot in time

The timing could have been better for the Charlie Baker victory tour.

Fresh off a resounding win of the GOP gubernatorial nomination in Worcester, Baker is being greeted this morning with a poll showing he is now running third, behind both Deval Patrick and Tim Cahill for the keys to the Corner Office.

The obvious proviso is the poll was taken before the convention. Those events should at least help with the 62 percent of respondents who said they never heard of Baker or have no opinion of him.

Patrick continues to hold the top spot in spite of a 34 percent approval rating. I guess it's the Deval you know.

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Scott Brown Watch: financial reform

It's ironic that our junior senator had 13 minutes on Face the Nation yesterday. It does seem that he is getting close to using up his fame allocation. And with his GOP talking points script, we should probably be grateful.

"Independent Republican" Scott Brown didn't have a lot of time to study up after his Massachusetts GOP convention stop Saturday. So he fell in line with the 40 other Republican senators in parroting talking points that leave a thinking person scratching his or her head.

Starting with the declaration that reforming Wall Street. the people who brought you the Great Recession, is actually a bailout of the boys at Goldman Sachs and Citibank. The proof? A provision that creates a $50 billion fund -- paid for by the financial services industry -- to deal with crises like the ones that swallowed our retirement accounts.

Brown's parroting of talking points was crystal clear in his declaration that it was actually Barack Obama and the president's "political arm" taking over the debate. That declaration was almost a world for word match of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's declaration that Obama was "trying to politicize the issue."

I see, bringing 41 people of one political party into lockstep over a bill proposed by the other political party is not politics. No wonder three-quarters of the American public doesn't trust Congress.

But back to #41.

Brown offered a claim that the reform bill -- which would add regulation to the unfathomable thicket of derivatives trading, among other things -- would actually create a "big web" of investing rules. Um, that's the point after the lack of rules allowed financiers to play roulette with our money.

And he also offered up an twisted claim that the bill would cost Massachusetts jobs.
The regulation, the bill that’s being proposed by the banking chairman, dramatically affects businesses, Mutual, for example, Liberty Mutual, Mass Mutual,’’ Brown said. “These folks are caught in that regulation as well. It’s going to cost potentially 25,000 to 35,000 jobs.’’

“Well, now, wait a minute, Senator,’’ [Face the Nation host Bob] Schieffer said. “How can you say that?’’

“Well, I can say it very clearly because the regulations that are — they’re trying to reel in with some of the risky hedging that bets are doing also affects companies like I just described in Massachusetts,’’ Brown said.

So in one sentence Brown concedes the bill would rein in the "risky hedging that bets" which caused the crisis, and that it would affect insurance companies and not banks. Oh, and the job losses would stem from paying into the bailout pool over the next decade so taxpayers don't have to foot the bill. No wonder a spokesman for Mass Mutual is distancing the company from Brown's made-up numbers.

One thing Brown does truly seem to be good at is positioning himself firmly on both sides of the fence. After announcing his fealty to McConnell's talking points, he declared it was still possible he could support a compromise.

Brown's erratic performance suggests he should read the bill and not the talking points. Or George Orwell's 1984. Although he would have a future as a spokesman in the Ministry of Truth.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Premature victory lap

The skies were gray in Boston yesterday but the sun was shining brightly in Worcester yesterday, at least in the DCU Center where the beleaguered Massachusetts Republican Party overwhelmingly nominated Charlie Baker.

And while the Baker team had much to celebrate for squeezing out Christy Mihos and avoiding a primary, the jury is still out on whether happy days are really here again for the Grand Old Party, Massachusetts division. And the reason can be summed up in two words:

Martha Coakley.

Yes, the attorney general whose name has become a punch line for the inept campaign that put Scott Brown into "the people's seat" once held by Ted Kennedy. And whose electoral loss doomed health care reform.

Nothing should symbolize the snapshot nature of politics and polls better than that reality. Except for the the equally harsh reality that the state GOP failed to produce a challenger for Coakley in an attorney general campaign where she could be vulnerable among Democrats furious over her pathetic Senate run.

But the real test will come with the filing deadline later this month for legislative seats. Has the traditionally up ticket party actually attempted to build a grassroots squad to add to a caucus that could fit into a Statehouse phone booth -- if those hadn't already disappeared like the caucus itself?

Baker and Richard Tisei will make a formidable team to challenge Deval Patrick and Tim Murray (and compete for anti-incumbent votes with Tim Cahill and Paul Loscocco.) And the party may have some candidates to mount a challenge and actually send a member to the U.S. House of Representatives.

But real "change" of the type being promised will never happen without changes in the Great and General Court, where Democratic dominance is so strong it doesn't matter that a fellow Democrat is sitting in the Corner Office.

After all, we just saw a show of strength from House Speaker Robert DeLeo which amounts to a collective extended middle digit to Patrick's uneasiness over bringing slot machines into the state's tracks.

We saw what a legislative caucus could do when Bill Weld swept into office in 1990 during the last big economic downturn. But the GOP could not hold those gains and when Mitt Romney tried again in 2004, his "team" actually lost ground and Mitt began the Long Good-bye.

So congratulations to Baker and Tisei. Hello Mary Connaughton, Kamal Jain, Karen Polito and William C. Campbell.

But I will hold my applause about the Massachusetts Republican Party rebirth until I see how many contested legislative races there are -- and how many candidates actually win.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Parachute journalism

David Broder is the dean of political journalism, the man who set the example of using shoe leather instead of telephones to get the story. But sometimes even a little shoe leather isn't enough to tell the whole story.

Broder visited Boston this week
to size up the governor's race on the eve of the Republican state convention in Worcester. And surprise of surprises, after his short visit, we have a race that has deep nuances re-framed as a simplistic story of Scott Brown Redux.

The national media missed the story of Brown victory over Martha Coakley even more than its local counterparts. They weren't here so they could not see how Brown worked while Coakley snoozed.

So hoping to make up for lost time, they immediately branded it as a victory for the Tea Party and a rebuke of Barack Obama's health care effort. And despite all efforts to suggest otherwise, that's their story and they are sticking to it.

Broder got many of the facts about the governor's race right: Baker is no Brown because he supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage (though he misses Baker's flirtation with the anti-climate change crowd.)

But as is always the case with parachute journalism, Broder missed the nuance. He lumped Tim Cahill with Christy Mihos -- even though Mihos may be gone by sundown and Cahill's bizarre moves (and campaign war chest) could keep him around until November.

Broder also ignores the larger context: Republicans controlled the Corner Office for 16 of the last 20 years. They've been scarce in the Legislature, and that's where a major story has played out as Democratic leaders have sparred with the current Democratic incumbent and might, just might be happy to see a Republican back in the governor's chair.

And because he's missed that context, he's also missed the undertone of successes that Deval Patrick has accomplished either in partnership or battle with lawmakers -- and which he is finally starting to articulate after months of silence.

Most of all, Broder failed to notice the substantial fund-raising advantage Baker has enjoyed to date and allowed the challenger to portray himself as the underdog in spite of polls that show a tight race and where conventional wisdom, at least to date, makes Baker the favorite.

Broder concludes a Baker victory "would signal that Brown's upset win was not a fluke." Hardly.

I'd define a fluke as when a Republican claims a seat held by Democrats for 47 years, not when they reclaim one they held for almost two decades.

That would be true if the dean of Washington journalism had spent more than a short time on the ground in the real world.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Gaming the system

I'll leave if for the lawyers to decide if House Speaker Robert DeLeo's decision to use campaign cash to pay for a gambling consultant passes the legal test. But it sure doesn't pass the sniff test to me.

While it is certainly magnanimous of the Speaker “to save taxpayers’ money’’ having Spectrum Gaming Group on the DeLeo campaign payroll to help him engineer a massive flip-flop is just the sort of maneuver that leaves people fulminating about politics.

For the sake of argument, let's accept at face value the disclaimers about the group providing policy counsel and not political advice -- or the campaign's insistence the arrangement passed muster with the silent Office of Campaign and Political Finance and the Ethics Commission.

You are still left with an undeniable fact: political fund-raising, cash from people with a potential stake in the outcome, helped push through a controversial piece of legislation while the public had no direct voice in the debate.

That's gamy, not gaming.

If DeLeo campaign treasurer David Martin is so certain of the rightness of his actions he should release the contract with Spectrum and the advisory opinions he claims to have received from the watchdog agencies.

Meanwhile, let's give some praise to the Senate, which has gone through it's own spate of ethics challenges of late. The upper chamber appears to be ready to slow the DeLeo freight train down and let some sunshine -- and public debate -- into the process.

By having Amherst Democrat Stan Rosenberg putting the Senate bill together, Murray opted for sound policy over politics. Rosenberg doesn't gamble; he's a workaholic and has a sound understanding of fiscal policy from time spent as chairman of Senate Ways and Means.

That's not to say gambling is going to die in the Senate. There's too much of a fiscal need for lawmakers to overlook any potential pot of cash, no matter how over- or under-estimated it may be. And there is a uniformity of opinion among DeLeo, Murray and Gov. Deval Patrick about destination casinos.

But the railroading of slots through a compliant House -- with the assistance of "counsel" from DeLeo's political committee -- is about to hit a red light which will allow the public to climb aboard.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

"This is the stupidest tea party..."

The crowd that assembled on Boston Common yesterday certainly didn't seem strange. No one had more than one head, they were courteous and polite and carried signs expressing love for Sarah Palin and disdain for the state of the union.

Perhaps because they assembled near the site of the one and only Boston Tea Party, the demonstrators were mindful of history -- even though the descendants of men and women who arrived in boats from foreign shores railed against immigration.

And they took pains to insist they were not kooks, toting signs that declared “I am not a racist. I just disagree politically.’’

But a poll in today's New York Times suggests they need to touch base with the hard reality of what appears to be the state of the Tea Party these days.

Only 41 percent of those responding think that Barack Obama was born in the United States. It's a finding consistent with similiar polls, including one where 14 percent of respondents thought he was the anti-Christ.

It's an understatement to say it's disturbing that significant minorities of people ascribe to such ludicrous propaganda being spouted by talkmeisters like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

The poll also reaffirms previous ones -- and basic observation -- that the movement is a direct descendant of the Reagan Revolution:

Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.

What also became clear they are comfortable with what they have an fearful of sharing. Social Security and Medicare are just fine, thank you very miuch for this anti-government crowd.

But consider extending benefits to those who don't have them, well, we might as well start a revolution to protect "us" against "them." The "I got mine, f-you" philosophy.

As the caravan rides into Washington this morning for a Tax Day protest, it's important to keep some perspective. And that warning is especially true for the media that have made a vocal minority into the political stereotype of the day.

But don't just take it from me. Go ask Alice:
"Of all the silly nonsense, this is the stupidest tea party I've ever been to in all my life."

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The Flip-Flop Express

While Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express were down the block on the Boston Common complaining about taxes and government (but not their Social Security and Medicare), members of the Massachusetts House were under the Golden Dome, having arrived on the Flip-Flop Express.

It's hard not to call a 64-vote swing in a 160-member chamber in two years a rather massive shift of opinion. The cause of is equally clear: the absence of former Speaker Sal DiMasi and the lobbying of the current Speaker Robert DeLeo:
“This is the bill he has cared about more than any other bill,’’ said Representative Ellen Story, an Amherst Democrat and member of the speaker’s leadership team, who voted for the bill after voting against casinos in 2008. “My sense is that there may well be consequences for people voting against this bill — particularly people in his inner circle.’’
So it is encouraging the Massachusetts lawmakers have health insurance to cover the twisted arms and twisted logic on display as DeLeo flexed his own political muscle and they reversed the supposedly well-thought arguments from two years ago.

There's little doubt Massachusetts needs a new revenue source, although lawmakers were quick to make sure no potential revenue was included in the $27.8 billion spending plan that emerged from House Ways and Means on the same day.

But the deep cuts looming for teachers, police and firefighters spoke loud enough. This is an election year after all and you can bet that lawmakers are frightened at the prospect of losing their jobs and will do whatever is necessary to keep them.

It's still uncertain what the Senate will do. President Therese Murray favors casinos but not slots and her top priority these days appears to be health insurance reform.

Should be an interesting next few months.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tea and not a lot of sympathy

As the name says, I'm one of those people who Sarah Palin and the Tea Party set disdain (although despite Howie Carr's tired cliche I don't own or use a limousine.)

So come 10:40 this morning, I'll be at work, perhaps raising a cuppa, as the newest millionaire political star takes to the stage for what promises to be one of the more interesting orations to grace Boston Common in awhile.

Organizers are promising the largest rally in the history of that venerable patch of land. We'll see. I was there in 1969 when 100,000 antiwar protesters jammed every inch of space and then some. If the Palinistas do likewise in Blue Massachusetts I'll need to reconsider my thoughts about their popularity of their movement.

But it will be hard for me to change my mind about the underpinning of their anger -- or the tactics of Republican politicians who will say or do anything for a vote.

While Jeff Jacoby offers the mainstream conservative punditocracy take on the Tea Party crowd, a look at the picture that accompanies that column puts me more in the word the go with the Peter Gelzinis worldview of what drives the Tea Party set.
A little more than a generation ago it was called busing. Those who railed at government-ordered desegregation of the city’s public schools then - and are able to make it downtown this morning - will be on the Common to cheer Sarah Palin and a host of Washington-loathing back-up singers.

Back in 1974, a federal judge named Arthur Garrity became the vessel into which embittered white parents poured their rage. Ironically, they never focused any blame upon those local pols on the Boston School Committee, who sat on their hands for years in defiance of the federal government
But the key to Gelzinis' argument between then and now rests in this unchallengeable observation:
Had the school committee members shown leadership, to say nothing of courage, in those years before the buses rolled up G Street in South Boston and Bunker Hill in Charlestown, perhaps much of the racial ugliness that surrounded busing could have been mitigated. But they did not.
Fast forward to 2010 and the pandering bunch of politicians known as congressional Republicans, who will say anything and do anything to attract a small group of voters who feel dispossessed because an African-American man beat their favorite Alaskan and her running mate by more than 9 million votes. It's doubly galling because he is leading this country out of the morass created by a GOP team that for 14 years was in charge of some subset of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives.

The Party of No should take up permanent residence in Wonderland (I hear Alice has a nice tea party) with their latest political twist: imposing regulations on our nation's banks is really bailing them out. That bankers are resisting those efforts -- with great gobs of cash on lobbying and contributions to those very same Republicans -- should tell you all you need to know about the um, bankruptcy of the GOP leadership.

So welcome Tea Partiers. Rest assured if you get a less-than-warm reception that rudeness is the norm for many Bostonians. Try not to trample the flowers and pleas leave the place the way you found it.

I understand your desire to turn the clock back because change can be scary. But we like living in 2010 and intend to keep it that way.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Which side are you on?

Barack Obama may call himself a "national Rorschach test" but if you are looking for someone who is different things to different people, you don't really need to look much further today that Sarah Palin and how she is viewed by editors at the Boston newspapers.

The Globe fronts s story today on how leading Republicans like Charlie Baker and Scott Brown plan to steer clear when Palin's Tea Party Express rolls into town tomorrow.

The Herald looks at the "bitter taste" she for Bay State liberals, downplaying the storm of controversy that sprang up after their story yesterday that Brown wasn't planning on paying obeisance to the group that claims to have elected him.

To be fair, part of the editorial decision may have been to advance the story with which they cleaned the Globe's clock yesterday. But as the Phoenix's David Bernstein points out, Tea Party organizers were less than amused with the junior senator's decision. As radio yakker Michael Graham said:
... the main reason Sen Brown should be there is to remind everyone of the character of his supporters. Those Democrats and independents didn't vote for him out of hate, or concerns about Obama's birth records. I'd love to see Scott use this megaphone to announce or shared positive values and maybe even call out a kook or two in the crows and tell them they've come to the wrong place.
Problem is, as Bernstein notes, the kooks are running the show:
That would be Mark Williams, chairman of the Tea Party Express, who does indeed express concerns about Obama's birth records -- and also has stated that Obama is a Muslim, that Obama is implementing a "philosophy of fascism and national socialism," and much, much more.

Just yesterday, Williams wrote on his blog: "B. Hussein Obama took power on the same kinds of hateful ideology and is engaging in nothing different than did mass murders like Stalin and Pol Pot."

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Party like it's 1994

Conservatives are usually characterized by a nostalgia for the past, for the good old days when life was somehow better. This time around, they aren't focused on the Fabulous '50s or some other misty memory -- it's 1994.

That of course is the year that Newt Gingrich emerged from the back bench of Congress and armed with a Contract for America (or was that a contract on, I forget) swept to power in the House and Senate.

Today's Republicans -- led in some measure by the Lazarus-like Gingrich -- think history is about the repeat itself, led by a Democratic Party that went off a cliff over health care.

Far be it from me to remind people they shouldn't replay the last war.

The scenario builders like to point out that a liberal Democrat over extended himself on health care, aided and abetted by a tired legislative leadership and the House banking scandal.

There's one huge difference: 16 years ago, Gingrich and company were fresh faces, offering a litany of popular-sounding changes. Angry voters gave them a chance.

Today, few remember the mixed results of the contract. But the conservatives have a track record that includes war, massive deficits and abuses of civil liberties. Gingrich has been tarnished by his own peccadilloes. And the GOP has its fingerprints all over the Great Recession thanks to the credit car war effort.

The economy was and is the Democrats greatest vulnerability. The calendar is their best friend. Signs of economic life are sprouting like spring flowers although the most toxic issue, unemployment, is not yet among the signs.

It's foolish to equate the status of health care simply because 1994's failure for Democrats has turned into the year's signal accomplishment. Getting the facts out on what health care reform is -- an end to denials of coverage for pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps, starting to close the doughnut hole -- and what it is not -- death panels -- will slowly start to turn the tide.

The biggest wild card -- the Tea Party movement -- has yet to prove its real clout at the polls, their alleged role in Martha Coakley's loss notwithstanding. While it's fairly clear it is an angry white folks movement, it's not yet clear whether the rage is purely partisan or aimed at all incumbents.

And it's also clear that many of the candidates with the most to fear are pulling out of races, creating a sort of survival of the fittest winnowing.

Whether that is enough to spare Democratic majorities in the House and Senate remains to be seen. But Republicans miss the most obvious lesson of 1994 -- it provided Bill Clinton with an opportunity to retool and win a second term, even with the Republican Smear Machine on hot pursuit.

It's a long way to November and polls can be a dangerous crystal ball.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Here we go again

The thank yous to Associate Justice John Paul Stevens are still reverberating and the war cries from the right are already full throated. Another year, another pitched ideological battle.

I've always thought if conservatives could govern as well as they campaign -- and liberals could only campaign with half the success of conservatives -- this country would be far less divided than it is today.

But as we look to replace a moderate appointed by a Republican president we can see how badly the left-right split has become in today's United States. While it is true Stevens anchored the left side of the court, it is largely because subsequent Republican appointments have threatened to plunge the court off the right wing, er, edge.

And let's be blunt: the twaddle being offered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is just that:
Republicans will “make a sustained and vigorous case for judicial restraint and the fundamental importance of an evenhanded reading of the law.’’
Judicial restraint? Um, Senator, have you ever heard of Bush v. Gore, one of the most blatant pieces of judicial activism this nation has ever seen, where five people opted to end a disputed presidential election in which the majority of Americans in all 50 states voted for the other guy?

The conservative minority proved it will stop at nothing when it launched a major assault on Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor based solely on her reference to a "wise Latina." That's not political restraint, much less judicial restraint.

It is important to note that the ideological s-t storms that no categorize the Supreme Court nomination process did start with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and his opposition to the nomination of Robert Bork. But Kennedy had some substantial legal beefs with Bork. The Sotomayor attacks were pitiful in comparison.

The hallmark of the Bush years and the GOP control of Congress was an assault on our civil liberties and right to privacy through the Patriot Act and the illegal use of torture to pursue a war launched on false pretenses. Even the conservative majority acknowledged the grotesque overreach of their political brethren.

The Republican game plan, first during the Clinton years and now with Barack Obama has not been simply opposition. It was and is an effort to delegitimize anyone who dares disagree with its talking points.

Barack Obama has an opportunity to hold back that tide of regression. If he nominates anyone marginally close to Stevens in stature it will be a significant appointment.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Trolling for dollars -- and votes

House Speaker Robert DeLeo is apparently among the majority of who think the media are a bigger problem in American politics than money. And that makes it a no-brainer for DeLeo to line up votes and campaign cash at the same time.

An astounding 55 percent of Americans think media bias is a bigger problem than the billions spent winning friends and influencing people -- and lining up votes on Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill, 49 other statehouses and countless city and town halls across the United States.

That reflects the ability of money to change the subject and deflect attention from the real problem. A problem is vividly on display in Beacon Hill's annual fund-raising season.

Yeah, DeLeo is right when he calls his April fund-raiser "somewhat of a tradition, if you will." That's because the House traditionally debates its budget in April. This year, lawmakers are looking to put the a new revenue source in place to help cope with the continued massive cuts.

DeLeo has yet to indicate he is trodding the same path followed by his three immediate predecessors who saw their careers banging the gavel ended by a judge using their own. And while I don't believe the money buys actual votes, access is a different matter.

The easy (make that uneasy) relationship between politicians and lobbyists should be a much bigger concern -- both for the folks who rake in the cash from special interests and those who continue to believe the conservative Big Lie that attempts to blame the media for everything.

But in a twisted way, maybe the public is right. With the conservative Supreme Court's ruling that corporations are people when it comes to spending their cash to spread their message in paid announcements, the media will become an even bigger part of the dysfunction that is today's American political system.

Because the prime time cesspool that is cable "news" will only echo its master's voice.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Scott Brown Watch: Spending

It didn't take long for Sen. Scott Brown to learn the ways of Washington. While calling for restrained spending from one side of his mouth, he's engaging in one of the most wasteful traditions on the other by pushing for earmarks with the other.

Brown is pushing for the building of an alternate jet engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which would be built in at GE plant in Lynn. The junior senator is not alone among the Massachusetts delegation in pushing for engine. He's mirroring the position of his predecessor, Edward Kennedy, who believed the engine would bring a few hundred jobs to Massachusetts.

But let's recall that Brown ran as the anti-Kennedy -- a position he solidified when he voted against extending unemployment benefits foe 9,000 Massachusetts workers until he and fellow Republicans would not further unbalance the budget.

So benefits for 9,000 is bad but jobs for several hundred is better?

But even more to the point, why does the federal government need to spending billions on an alternate engine? If Pratt & Whitney, which is building the jet, can't get it right -- the presumed reason for an alternate -- why do they have the contract to build it in the first place?

I suppose Brown is no worse than his hero, John McCain, whose straight talk says he is against the engine but for basing the jet in Arizona. Even if the jet is another example of out of control spending they both rail against.

The bottom line -- which is what this is all about after all -- is that up to $5.3 billion could be spent on a backup engine.

Maybe we should get it right the first time Sen. Brown?

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Myth-tery woman

For those of you who thought the days of Mitt Romney pandering to the GOP right was over, think again:
“She brings a lot of energy and passion to the party, so her involvement in the state brings the silent majority to their feet and brings them a voice. It’s a positive energy in the conservative movement.”
She of course is Sarah Palin, who will be bringing her Tea Party tour to the home of Scott Brown. Positive energy? Perhaps Our Man Myth should take some time out from signing reading material to check out these efforts by the Phoenix's David Bernstein and Northeastern's Dan Kennedy.

Positive is not a word I would describe to the roiling hate she has been stirring with the tacit (and sometime overt) support of so-called responsible Republican leaders.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Anatomy of a non-story

One of the values of new media options, like Twitter and the blogosphere, is that you learn about stories before they actually happen. Here's a tale I'm looking forward to learning more about.

Checking out the Twitterverse yesterday, you find the Boston Chamber of Commerce pushing a study saying Massachusetts has the eighth highest corporate tax burden in the nation as a percentage of gross state product, according to the Council on State Taxation.

A few hours later, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center tells us Massachusetts is 43rd overall in business tax burdens.

Who's right? Probably both. I suspect the business-supported Chamber looked at only one aspect of the levies on Massachusetts business while the left-leaning Budget and Policy Center took a broader brush.

And maybe that's why neither side made a strong enough case to merit a story. At least not yet. And that's why we still need journalists to sort things out -- even if they get to the story a little later than the folks in the Twitterverse.

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He's alive!

The Globe seems to be reading up in the Twitterverse. How else to explain today's front page story that Deval Patrick isn't dead meat politically.

The most intriguing piece of information in today's dispatch is the non-specific details of an internal Patrick poll that claims the governor has opened up a lead on Charlie Baker and a wider one on Tim Cahill. Other than that, the story simply catches non-new media types up on what's been a Twitter tong war between Baker and Cahill.

Sure, Baker has been raking in the bucks. But political history is replete with well-financed candidates who couldn't make the grade with voters and we have seen stories about Baker's struggles in that area.

As for Cahill, well, he's not returning campaign brain trust e-mail but I've thought no one has been home for a long time.

There's a long road to November and the Patrick ought not be measuring the Corner Office for new drapes (oops, he did that already). But it would be foolish to count him out, even if the Globe is just discovering that.

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The War of Northern Aggression

It seems conservatives are not simply content to fight culture wars or the last war. At least one Republican governor is looking to go back back almost 150 years and rewrite history.

While it is hard to argue against honoring the men who laid down their lives in any war, it strains credulity to issue a proclamation marking Confederate History Month and ignore the reason that war was fought -- slavery. But that's exactly what Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell is trying to do:

McDonnell said Tuesday that the move was designed to promote tourism in the state, which next year will mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the war. McDonnell said he did not include a reference to slavery because "there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia."
Now it's been chic in some Southern circles to label the battles as The War of Northern Aggression and the states rights theme is certainly a popular battle cry in today's political wars. But as a tourism promotion it certainly leaves this Yankee cold.

Just a thought: is the newly elected but already term-limited governor thinking bigger thoughts? After all his two predecessors, Mark Warner, now the state's junior United State Senator, and Tim Kaine, the Democratic Party chairman whose name was floated as a possible vice president, rode the governor's chair to higher office.

But they didn't try to sugarcoat the past either.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Heckuva job Brownie

More than 9,000 Massachusetts unemployed residents will be scrapping to get by while Senate Republicans hold their unemployment benefits hostage to their political agenda. And their "district time."

I wonder how many of them voted for Scott Brown based on his promises to help put people back to work.

Yep, ol' 41, who promised to blaze an independent trail in Washington, was right there with Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma conservative, in declaring that the GOP's fight to balance the federal budget should begin with finding a way to pay for the $10 billion it will take pay for the benefits to more than 200,000 Americans.

How about not buying one or two jet fighters that are of no value in fighting against the Taliban? Or at least kicking in some of the tab the RNC ran up at Voyeurs in LA?

Brown, as usual when he parrots the party line, preferred to offer comments through a spokesman:
“Senator Brown believes it is important for colleagues on both sides of the political aisle to work together next week to come up with a fiscally responsible way to extend unemployment benefits without adding to the national debt."
Funny but the GOP certainly didn't feel that way when they passed billions in tax cuts and extended Medicare prescription benefits without having the cash to pay for them. If Brown wanted to help change the tone in DC, this is a strange way to go about it.

Brown's colleague, John Kerry, used the velvet glove approach in chiding his counterpart:
“This has nothing to do with liberal or conservative. This is common sense. We’re talking about people who have been working their whole lives until the economy hit the skids.’’
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Tea Party's favorite target, was far more direct:
"What in the world do they have against the working class families in this country in demanding the budget be balanced on their backs?’
What in the world indeed Scott. How about giving up your salary until the budget is balanced?

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Haven't you left yet Rush?

Memo to Rush Limbaugh: You need to have character in order for it to be assassinated.

Our favorite Oxyhead was back at it over the weekend, proving what mothers have told children since time immemorial -- bullies can dish it out but can't take it.

The King of All Bloviators (even with Glenn Beck breathing down his neck) was terribly offended that Barack Obama called him out as a source of division.
"I think the president is trying to distract me, to get me talking about ME on my show instead of talking about him and the regime's agenda. But it won't work. I'm wise to their tactics," he wrote. "I know that a majority of Americans are angry at the regime's (and the Democrats') constant attempts at character assassination of their opposition. They want no part of engaging us in the Arena of Ideas. They seek instead to discredit and marginalize us, and it has gotten old."
It's the classic old technique of turning the mirror on your foe. But what's even more interesting for a dims store analyst is Rushbo's obvious ego mania: it's about trying to distract him. But heck, you do love to talk about yourself.

Hey Rush, you promised to leave the country if health care reform passed. Time to live up to at least one promise. Or we can keep swatting you on the nose with a rolled up newspaper...

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Sunday, April 04, 2010


Apparently Joan Vennochi has selectively offended hearing.

The Globe columnist devotes a whole Sunday piece to Vice President Joe Biden's ill-timed f-bomb. Somehow she seems to neglect to mention the N-word, the other F-word and other forms of vulgarity (and spittle) that were directed at John Lewis, Barney Frank and Emmanuel Cleaver during the run up to the health care vote.

Did the vice president f-up with his mistimed expression of exuberance? D-straight. Was there hatred and angry attached to it as in the other examples of vulgar behavior in Washington? H-no.

A college student on a job interview will not get very far dropping an f-bomb. But he or she could get do far more damage to their future by using the other examples of foul language.

And that's the uncensored truth.

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It's about time

It's been one of the stranger snubs in NBA history. A multiple All-Star with two rings who was called the best player he ever took the court with by a man considered one of the best to play the game. Yet somehow he wasn't good enough for the Hall of Fame.

Finally, the wrong will be corrected. It's just too bad it couldn't happen before Dennis Johnson passed away in 2007, at a much too young an age.

Congrats DJ.

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Cool the rhetoric

The ultimate third rail is not Social Security, as some pundits would have it. It's religion -- and here I go brushing it.

But I find myself sputtering with disbelief at the conflation of anti-semitism and valid questions about the efforts to stem child sexual abuse by Catholic Church in general and Pope Benedict XVI in particular. And on the holiest day of the Catholic calendar that carries its own burden of blood libels.

Comparing media attention to real cases of abuse and a real record of inattention is in no way comparable to the mass extermination of people based on their religion. Even hinting at a connection is unbecoming of someone who purports to live a holy life.

And whenever this issue crops up I can't help but think of Barney Frank (yes a gay Jew) and his great line about the attention span of many "pro-life" advocates:
[they] believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth...
Best wishes for happiness for whatever you may celebrate this weekend.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Rolling craps

The phrase "what we have learned from Scott Brown's election" may be the most overused political meme in the United States. But it seems clear that House Speaker Robert DeLeo hasn't heard the term or thought through the meaning.

How else to explain one of the most politically boneheaded ideas I have ever heard: declaring there will be no public hearing on his proposals for casinos and slots because “everything has been studied thoroughly, and we’re ready to go."

And saying it will standing in front of an endless seas of suits lining a Statehouse staircase. On a day that Deval Patrick entered the lion's den and sat down to take verbal abuse from Howie Carr.

Perhaps we need to refresh the speaker's memory that a few short years ago a very different gambling bill -- one that did not call for slot machines at two race tracks in his district -- went down to defeat in the very same House of Representatives.

The political tin ear undoubtedly has a lot to with the fact that both Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray have concerns about slots. And that DeLeo has concerns about mustering a two-thirds, veto-proof majority to secure his own personal political victory.

But back to my point. If there is indeed a single lesson to be learned from Brown's victory it would be that people are angry and suspicious about government and its motives. They feel shut out of a process dominated by men and women in suits who proclaim they represent "the people" while actually standing for select special interests.

While the public's elected representatives will have a voice in the floor debate, the public will not. Shutting them out of a traditional part of the process makes Brown's lesson with a resounding amen.

Is the racino proposal really so shaky it cannot stand a public discussion? Or because the bill's new provisions really only affect your own district and a couple of others, do you think no one else need bother themselves with the details?

Let the sunshine in Mr. Speaker. That's the lesson from Scott Brown's election.

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

It's not a gambling bill, it's a jobs bill

The first thing that strikes you about the new casino gambling bill before offered today (did they pick April Fool's Day for a reason?) is the new packaging: now this is really a bill that would create as many as 15,000 jobs.

And as if to highlight that fact, members of the state's construction unions just happened to hold a rally outside the Statehouse to offer support for a proposed piece of legislation that hasn't even been formally introduced.

What a difference it makes when the Speaker of the House is the prime author of the bill instead of the prime opponent.

Robert DeLeo's proposal will apparently make less extravagant claims about potential new revenue for a cash-starved state while offering hope of jobs -- both in construction and in two resort casinos.

But the most immediate benefits if this bill were to become law would be felt by two struggling businesses in DeLeo's district -- Suffolk Downs and Wonderland Greyhound Park. It will take time to site and build casinos, the slot machines called for in the DeLeo bill could be installed the day after the law is signed.

Word has it DeLeo's forces are searching for a veto-proof majority in the House. That's because while Gov. Deval Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray are destination casino fans, they're not so into race track slots.

Whether DeLeo has the super majority of votes in a still divided House remains a big question -- although rumors are afloat of an elaborate political deal to get it done.

Where the public is on all of this is also a great gray area. A recent poll suggests more than half of Massachusetts resident favor DeLeo's racinos concept. There's no indication that the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth poll used the same methodology (counting license plates in out-of-state casino lots) as it uses to determine revenue lost out-of-state.

But with even more cuts due in the fiscal 2011 budget now being crafted in House Ways and Means, the vision of jobs and revenues may be tantalizing no matter how big a distant dream they may be.

UPDATE: Here's another interesting look at the potential (not-so-good) impact of gambling -- this time on the arts.

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