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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, May 30, 2010

Cheez-It: it's the salt cops

What do R.J. Reynolds and Frito-Lay have in common? A lot, according to a New York Times look at how the salt and processed food industry has consistently and repeatedly resisted efforts to reduce the amount of salt they impose on American palettes.

Do the arguments sound vaguely like those offered by the tobacco companies that the nicotine in their products really wasn't a carcinogen?

Reading the description of how Kellogg's Cheez-Its fail visual and taste tests without salt makes it amply clear that junk food sales -- and not quality and health concerns -- drive the processed food marketplace.

Salt sprinkled on top gives the tongue a quick buzz. More salt in the cheese adds crunch. Still more in the dough blocks the tang that develops during fermentation. In all, a generous cup of Cheez-Its delivers one-third of the daily amount of sodium recommended for most Americans.

As a demonstration, Kellogg prepared some of its biggest sellers with most of the salt removed. The Cheez-It fell apart in surprising ways. The golden yellow hue faded. The crackers became sticky when chewed, and the mash packed onto the teeth. The taste was not merely bland but medicinal.

A quick buzz? So is that first Dorito like that first puff of a cigarette?

One of the big differences of course, is that hypertension is known as the "silent killer." There are no marathon bike rides or star-studded telethons urging viewers to make a pledge to fight high blood pressure.

Doctors know and tell us constantly what we need to do to reduce our blood pressure: diet and exercise. They happen to be two of the least popular words in the English language to folks who think the KFC Double Down is the greatest thing since sliced bread -- because it lacks bread.

But just because Americans lack the willpower to take care of themselves, doesn't mean that industry can aid and abet their bad habits and shorten their lives. Or help raise the cost of health care.

Now, as I head off to snack on a handful of blue corn tortilla chips, let's be clear that salt is not nicotine. But if the powers that be running the processed food industry continue to behave like the executives who ran the tobacco firms, I will relish (no salt) the opportunity to see them hauled before Congress and explain why they knowingly aided and abetted in killing people and jacking up health care costs.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Stay classy Boston

Like a proverbial broken clock, even Dan Shaughnessy can be right once in awhile. And remind us there are even more irresponsible sports columnists in town.

Amidst all the mindless angst over the Celtics somehow doing what forever more will be known as "pulling a Bruins," the Celtics took care of business and dispatched the Orlando Magic last night in six games. And they really did beat the Magic at their own game -- behind the three-point line.

The day got off to a bad start when Herald columnist Ron Borges -- dumped by the Globe for plagiarism -- urged the Men in Green to emulate what he suggested were the cheap elbows of Magic center Dwight Howard.

In a reference likely lost on any Celtic fan under the age of 25, he suggested one good Rambis incident would do the trick. That of course is a reference to Kevin McHale's 1984 clotheslining of Laker enforcer Kurt Rambis.

The Celtics management did everything short of producing a cadre of Rambis Youth before last night's game to echo the sentiment: reproducing the Herald front page and clips of the McHale takedown. Said CHB:
... Promoting this theme on the scoreboard was pretty bush-league stuff by Boston standards. Better at times like this to remember that we are not Yahoo Orlando or Raleigh. Fans in Boston know what to do without coaching from the videoboard.
And so did the Big Three plus One

So it's on to The Finals, something I, like many in Celtics Nation outside the locker room, thought was highly unlikely the way they limped through the regular season. Another match-up with the Fakers or a showdown with Los Suns await.

And a reminder to Borges: Rambis eventually got the last laugh, replacing McHale as coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves after McHale wore out his welcome up north when he traded Kevin Garnett to the Celtics.

Go Celtics!

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Bringing us together

Who says Tim Cahill is running a divisive campaign? With one blast at Deval Patrick, Fox News Tim has managed to bring together Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jew -- with the common theme of blasting his hot button attack.

Way to reach for the Tea Party vote there Timmie.

Cahill, of course, accused Patrick of "pandering" by attending a meeting with Muslims at a Roxbury mosque last week. The treasurer accused Patrick of being soft on terrorism, certainly a major issue in the race for the Statehouse Corner Office.

The multi-faith religious response, on the steps of the same mosque, was pointed:
“Those running for the gubernatorial seat, those at the State House, and anybody else that might think about it: not in Massachusetts! No bigotry!’’ the Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, president of the interfaith organization and pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, declared to applause. “We will stand with one another and protect one another and fight for one another.’’
Not surprisingly, Cahill said he was being misquoted.
“It is unfortunate that some are misrepresenting my remarks, but I will not allow this important discussion on the issue of terrorism to be dragged down that path,” Cahill said in a statement.
The path you started down.

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Wanted: campaign spokesman

Rep. Michael Rush of West Roxbury must be running a lean and mean campaign for the Senate seat being vacated by Marian Walsh.

Rush has two massive PR problems. One is the rub-off effect of the controversy surrounding Walsh, who briefly took then rejected a $175,000 job in a quasi-public agency that had been vacant for 12 years.

Then there's the bigger problem of a hostile budget amendment moving trial court administration to Charlestown in pique over the treatment of his father. The chief probation officer in West Roxbury District Court.

Not surprisingly, Rush's opponent wants to make it an issue, asking for a "full accounting of his involvement" with the probation department and his political maneuvering. All the makings of a tricky press story that a candidate needs to prepare for with, at the very least, a classic non-response response.

Give Rush at least a few brownie points for eschewing the obvious and offering a direct, if unsatisfying answer:
Rush responded in an e-mail to the Globe, writing, “I have no comment.’’
Word to the wise: spend a few bucks to get a better answer. You're going to need one. And maybe spring for a telephone too.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

"Whoo hoo! ... Must be an election year"

Tim Cahill, gasping for air in his faltering gubernatorial bid, saw Deval Patrick reach out to a group of Massachusetts residents with different religious and ethic backgrounds and cried "pandering." But it's the Massachusetts Senate that wins the Pander Prize this week.

The so-called upper chamber overwhelmingly passed a crackdown on illegal immigrants and those who hire them as an amendment to the fiscal 2011 budget. The provision, which needs to survive a conference committee with the House, would toughen or expand rules that bar illegal immigrants from public health care, housing and higher education benefits.

It would also offer tools like anonymous hot lines to report "suspicious" people or companies. This in a state founded by people fleeing what they thought was religious oppression in England.

The motive was so blatant that Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, could barely contain her glee -- and cynicism -- at a measure that exceeded her expectations:

“Whoo hoo! They voted for it. Must be an election year. I’m surprised it passed in the Senate. I really am.’’

It sure is. And coming the same day that Fox News Tim blasted Deval Patrick for meeting with local Muslims, it presents a sorry picture.

Cahill sought to inject toughness on terrorism into the mix of issues the next governor will face with his blast at Patrick, suggesting it was "political correctness run amok" to meet with 1,000 Muslim leaders. What a governor has to do with fighting terrorism is beyond me.

But in today's climate the politically correct approach -- at least from candidates with little to offer -- is to play to fears that people from other lands are here in this country to steal our jobs and kill us. Of course without offering proof on either score.

Tough times have always brought xenophobia and virtually every ethics or religious group has felt the sting of discrimination. Remember "No Irish Need Apply" Mr. Cahill?

Massachusetts already has in place a system to ensure that benefits go only to those people who are qualified for them. Should the Senate provisions actually become law, it is likely they will actually cost taxpayers more money by forcing the state to hire bureaucrats to police the new regulations.

Of course, then the anti-immigrant crowd can add the creation of hack jobs to their litany of complaints.

I've heard racist bile and incredible blather come out of the mouths of Tea Party members since the movement sprang up. But no on has come as close to Varley in speaking unadulterated truth about the correlation between election years and the lack of political spine.

Should this provision emerge from conference, and count Speaker Robert DeLeo as skeptical, I would hope that Deval Patrick will do the politically (and morally) correct thing and veto it, pandering to the ideals of a nation built upon immigrants and equality and standing up for an end to scapegoating by scared politicians.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

They wouldn't. Would they?

The Herald is out today with a story that's been rumbling in the weeds and on the radar screens of junkies who thrive on the Statehouse News Service: the Speaker and the Senate President are playing a game of high-stakes chicken and the consequences could be major.

It's the ultimate in inside baseball and nothing really new under the sun. And they would have to go a long way to match the epic battles between Tom Finneran and Tom Birmingham, whose 1999 budget standoff stretched into November and included negotiating sessions on office balconies.

Time is the enemy here, with the formal sessions set to expire when the clock strikes August. And the issues are weightier than "just" a budget.

DeLeo is fuming the Senate has slowed down the runaway train called his casino proposal, which is undergoing serious rewrites in anticipation of a debut next month. So he in turn is talking about holding up Murray's health care cost control bill, the equivalent jewel in her crown.

Who blinks first? It's anybody's guess but don't underestimate Murray's will or the important hole card she just drew: the probation department scandal.

Judiciary Committee Chair Cynthia Stone Creem has come up with a plan to rein in the rogue department without turning oversight over to the executive branch.

That's in sharp contrast to the shoulder shrug offer by DeLeo, whose godson is the state's young chief probation officer and whose trusted sidekick, Speaker pro tem Tom Petrolati, has had a productive career matching his supporters with probation jobs.

It is the silly season on Beacon Hill and the level of cluelessness has been high as speakers and senators get indicted while the public anger builds. I somehow doubt this latest standoff between the House and Senate will end badly for their respective leaders.

I wish I could be as sure about the public.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Don't pander, don't delay

After Scott Brown voted with the majority to pass the Senate version of financial regulation reform, some observers suggested that Brown was, at his roots, just a traditional moderate New England Republican. Don't believe it.

The junior senator continues to carve out a conservative record on social issues, in direct contrast to the mold of fiscal conservative, social moderate that characterized Frank Sargent, Ed Brooke and Leverett Saltonstall and other leaders of the now virtually extinct breed.

I've been a skeptic, thinking Brown has been more interested in the national stage he has been afforded than the serious business of navigating his way through the thicket of shrill arguments that characterize politics today. Now, we have additional proof with Brown's high-profile rejection of repealing "don't ask, don't tell."

The plan put forward by congressional Democrats is timid on its face: take a symbolic vote now and give Barack Obama and the gay community a victory over fear, then formally repeal the policy in December after a Pentagon study. And midterm elections.

What more can we learn in a study of 17 years in which the United States has fought two overseas wars where gays served alongside straights and have not undermined "good military order and discipline"? Does anyone truly believe there are horror stories that have been covered up?

It's significant that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen are not calling for delay because of concerns over lifting the policy but rather to devise a plan to avoid turmoil. And I suspect they know that turmoil will be whipped up by conservative politics, not military considerations.

Yet our very own National Guard JAG lawyer apparently believes this already over-studied policy needs his own personal review above and beyond that of the Joint Chiefs.

At least Brown is consistent: he opposed gay marriage. The error in that stance has been proven by the fact Massachusetts has not become Sodom and Gomorrah in the wake of extending human rights to all citizens.

There is also no evidence that don't ask, don't tell, has kept gay bashers out of the military -- not that excluding them would be a bad move.

The policy was a fig leaf devised 17 years ago when the last Democratic president needed an excuse to address a fundamental grievance while keeping baying conservatives away from his door. It has outlived its usefulness and should go, sooner rather than later.

Even if another baying conservative, this one from Massachusetts, thinks otherwise.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

More vicious than what?

Ron Kaufman is in high dudgeon over Deval Patrick's suggestion that Republican rhetoric aimed at Barack Obama borders on sedition.
“Today’s criticism is nowhere near the vitriolic and vicious rhetoric that was aimed toward the last president,” said Bush family confidant and GOP national committeeman Ron Kaufman, referring to former President George W. Bush.
Check it out Ron. I don't believe anyone questioned where W. was born, then continued to pound the issue after it was repeatedly proven. Nor do I think there were repeated calls for Bush to go back to his New Haven, Conn. birthplace.

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Has anyone seen the Herald?

The Supreme Judicial Court suspends Probation Commissioner John O'Brien while Deval Patrick, Robert DeLeo and Therese Murray continue to squabble over the proper way to run the department, while O'Brien takes aim at Chief Administrative Judge Robert Mulligan.

Tim Cahill, meanwhile, who employs the wife and two children of the now-suspended O'Brien assists his staggering campaign as it swirls ever closer to the drain by denying any role in their hiring and utters words that will live forever in the lore of Beacon Hill by uttering:
“Does that not happen in government all the time?" Obviously, it is part of the political process. It’s an unfortunate part when it’s been brought to this level."
And while all this turmoil roils on Beacon Hill, where's the Herald? Telling its readers about the Twitter war that's been raging among the candidates' surrogates. And Deval Patrick's provocative choice of words about the national Republican strategy.

It's always hard for a news organization to cover exclusives generated by the competition. Both pride and resources come into play. But when the three branches of government focus on just one issue -- and a gubernatorial candidate seems to find himself in the middle of the mother of all patronage scandals, one that may well consume his campaign -- it's hard to justify pride.

Unless, of course, they expect their readers to learn about Cahill's political demise on the Twitter.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

A battle joined over probation

Notice anyone missing from the gubernatorial candidates' call for the attorney general to investigate allegations raised by the Globe Spotlight report on the probation department?

We know Deval Patrick has authored a bill to take control over the rogue department and Charlie Baker apparently has had "enough." But where's Tim Cahill -- who has been identified as an "ally" of Probation Commissioner John O'Brien, and the employer of O'Brien family members?

Taking slaps at Baker, for "trying “to politicize issues for their own benefit without having a full understanding of the matters at hand." The man who the Globe reports has received "substantial" contributions from Probation Department employees, sees O'Brien as the victim.
"Rather than villainizing one individual without having a full understanding of the situation, perhaps we should try to fix the root case," Cahill said in a statement.
After reading the latest installment of the Spotlight series, I think villain might be a good term to describe a probation chief who had such such major political mentors that he could stand in a courtroom and defy judges and issue demands that would have landed lesser-connected bureaucrats on the unemployment line if not in a jail cell.

But more significant than Cahill's defense of O'Brien is the silence -- at least so far -- from legislators who control the purse strings to O'Brien's agency.

To date, the promise of patronage jobs has trumped any effort to rein him in -- even after one political patron passed away and a second was indicted and left the House in disgrace for a job in radio.

Whether the silence and hands-off approach will continue amid the rising chorus of Baker hand-wringing remains to be seen.

My initial guess is that it will, at least initially. After all, the Legislature has already been forced into pension and ethics reform. Asking them to give up a dumping ground for rewarding supporters, in an election year no less, is a huge hurdle -- until the heat gets too intense.

Patrick's bill, calling for the department to be controlled by the executive branch, is also seriously dead. At best, lawmakers will grudgingly restore power to the judicial branch, although Chief Administrative Judge Robert Mulligan should probably count on calling the movers to get his office over to Charlestown.

The executive proposes. The legislature disposes. The public fumes.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010


Careful observers of the Massachusetts political scene know today's Globe Spotlight report on the state's probation system isn't really news. What is different is the impact a story can make when it's on the front page of a major daily instead of a highly regarded public policy magazine.

That means tougher questions for independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill, named as an "ally" of Probation Commissioner John J. “Jack’’ O’Brien, "who employs O’Brien’s wife and one of his daughters."

And it poses yet another test on Republican Charlie Baker, who is attempting to place all the blame for all that is wrong with Massachusetts today on Deval Patrick without acknowledging the donkey in the room -- The Great and General Court of the Commonwealth.

And boy are there issues with the Legislature, starting with West Roxbury Democrat Michael Rush, who is using the Trial Court -- which once directed the probation system -- as a personal whipping post for revenge in the name of his father. A father named chief probation officer in the West Roxbury District Court who, the Globe reports:
...clashed with five female employees who alleged that he threw tantrums, tossed papers at them, and slammed the door in one woman’s face. He abruptly retired in September 2006, leaving behind a sex and race discrimination lawsuit filed by two of the women, but taking home a boost in his pension thanks to his late-career promotion.
Rush, with the blessing of Speaker Robert DeLeo, is trying to move the Trial Court out of leased space in close proximity to courts they run and into dingy space in Charlestown.

In fairness to DeLeo, this patronage grab didn't start with him -- Tom Finneran was first to hanker for the ability to dole out cushy jobs. But the current speaker, who is ready to hold health care cost containment up as a price for casino gambling, isn't even bothering with Patrick's proposal to take control of the probation system.
So far, the Legislature has shown little interest in reform proposals — the joint Judiciary Committee didn’t even ask questions when Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan presented the administration’s plan to bring probation under the governor’s control.
The Spotlight report shines a much needed light on the patronage abuses made in the name of the Legislature. It's yet another sign that there's little that can be done without a House (and Senate) cleaning -- and little likelihood anything will happen on that score until Massachusetts Republicans start thinking at the grassroots.

Hold your applause

There's really no need to belabor the obvious for those ecstatic fans who think the Celtics hold a stranglehold on a return trip to the NBA Finals. One word should suffice.


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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tea stains

While the Massachusetts Republican Committee Talking Points Tabloid makes a poorly defined case for Barack Obama's toxicity, there appears to be trouble brewing in the GOP's love affair with the Tea Party movement.

Ron Kaufman -- who's been spinning for the state GOP since brother-in-law Andy Card was an up-and-comer and who prefers amber-colored liquids of a different type -- offers up the loss of multiple-turncoat Arlen Specter as the latest example of Obama's "toxicity" on the campaign trail. Of course, his prime example is Obama's fruitless support for the clueless Martha Coakley over Scott Brown.

Closer to home, there's only Steve Lynch, already in trouble with progressives for walking away from Obama on health care, as the only Massachusetts example the Herald can offer of a skittish Democrat uninviting the president.

But wait. The truck-drivin' hero himself has chips in his tea set over his multiple flip-flops on the financial reform bill -- and the movement itself is in danger of boiling over with the chronic foot-in-mouth affliction of Kentucky GOP Senate nominee Rand Paul.

A day after dissing the Civil Rights Act and the Americans for Disability Act (and wisely reneging on a Meet the Press interview), Rand Paul has stood proud with BP (you know, British Petroleum) as a victim of the Obama administration's "un-American" approach to business.
“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,’ ” Mr. Paul said, referring to a remark by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about the oil company. “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it’s part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen.”
Tea Partiers are not part of the blame-game society Dr. Paul?

I think we all need a refreshing, relaxing chamomile and a chance to adequately survey the constantly changing political landscape and cool the rhetoric.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Lobbying exercise

Scott Brown was against financial reform legislation before he was for it, before he was against it, before he was for it. And the reason he is now for it is because Barney Frank and John Kerry told him they intended to protect Massachusetts interests.

Boy, what a campaign commercial that will make for whatever Democrat opts to challenge Brown in 2012.

Brown wisely told reporters “I’m done making news today’’ after he voted to shut off a filibuster that he personally extended by one day after reneging on a promise to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

But Reid apparently sicced senior Sen. John Kerry to reason with Brown over the course of an early morning 40-mile bicycle ride. You could say Kerry took his colleague for a spin.

That piece of exercise lobbying followed an earlier one where Brown spoke to Barney Frank while the House Financial Services Committee chair was on an elliptical (another great metaphor for a legislative body that seems to move a lot while standing in the same place).

Both senior lawmakers seemed to be able to overcome centrifugal force and pull the wayward lawmaker back into the fold.

Some commenters wonder why I singled out Brown over Democrats Maria Cantwell and Russ Feingold for backing the GOP-led filibuster. It's simple: neither Cantwell or Feingold won election in Massachusetts by campaigning on a theme of ending business as usual.

Bolstered by $450,000 in contributions from financial services industry lobbyists, Brown has quickly become part of the business as usual crowd, even as he continues to wow journalists as easily as he won over Norma Nathan.

And oh yeah, for those keeping score, that's two major legislative victories for Barack Obama in the first five months of the year -- or since Brown was elected. How ya likin' that changie thing?

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Tempest in a Tea Party

So Rand Paul, you just won the Republican nomination for the Senate in Kentucky as a card-carrying member of the Tea Party. What are you going to do?

"I'm going to cram booth feet in my mouth and awkwardly remove them."

The ophthalmologist son of libertarian hero Ron Paul made quite a debut on the national stage, telling Rachel Maddow that while he was fine with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provisions related to public accommodations, he did have trouble with it applying to private entities.

Asked by Ms. Maddow if a private business had the right to refuse to serve black people, Mr. Paul replied, “Yes.”

“I’m not in favor of any discrimination of any form,” Mr. Paul continued. “I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race. But I think what’s important about this debate is not written into any specific ‘gotcha’ on this, but asking the question: what about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking?”

“I don’t want to be associated with those people,” he said, “but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it.”

Quite a difference from the folks with the tri-cornered hats who carry Obama is Hitler signs.But troubling nonetheless.

One reason is the shelter this libertarian reasoning provides to outright racists, who won't get past his support of closing lunch counters. The other is the total lack of mouth-brain coordination that one requires from elected officials.

Why in the world would you choose to open up a settled piece of 46-year-old legislation, one that was helped to life by another Kentucky Republican who helped break a Senate filibuster? On a TV yak show hosted by one of the visible and outspoken liberals in the nation?

Toss in Paul's support for a higher Social Security retirement age (not a bad idea by the way) and unravel the New Deal (almost 80 years of settled practice) and you have a candidate who spouts ideas unpleasant to both liberals and the tea partiers who think everything would be fine if government just took its hands off their Social Security and Medicare.

I believe Paul is not a racist. But I do believe he provided them with aid and comfort. And in 2010, the question is why any elected official would do so, wittingly or through careless exposition of a political philosophy.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

It's a matter of trust(s)

There he goes again. The junior senator from Massachusetts who campaigned upon being honest and direct and ready to work for the best interests of all Massachusetts is um, revising and extending his remarks.

Brown's been caught in a broken promise -- this one to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he would vote with Democrats to move along the Senate financial reform bill. I'll let the Herald's Jay Fitzgerald spell it out:
Sen. Scott Brown yesterday opposed allowing a final vote on a massive financial-reform bill, saying he’s determined to kill a provision that he said could harm Massachusetts insurance companies.
Let that sink in. Brown, the man of the people. is worried that the bill would harm Massachusetts insurance companies who create bank trusts to invest income from premiums you and I pay.

This is not the first time on this legislation that Brown has opted for the MassMutuals and the Liberty Mutuals over the need to regulate a financial industry than ran amok and triggered the Great Recession that has left thousands without jobs and crippled the housing market.

In case Sen. Brown hasn't noticed, voters are upset about politicians who make promises they don't keep. Does he think a promise to a senator from the other party is somehow different than one made to a voter?
“A senator broke his word with me,” Reid said, though he declined to identify the culprit.
Maybe Reid didn't see Brown cross his fingers behind his back when we gave him his word?

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Reading the tea leaves

The loss of a an 80-year-old Pennsylvania Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat will be read endlessly as by the national media for deeper signals of of voter mood. So will the Kentucky victory of the scion of a libertarian hero.

But the ultimate lesson that should be taken from these results and the media over-analysis of Scott Brown's victory over a lifeless Martha Coakley in January, is that driving conditions may change and your mileage may vary.

It's likely Arlen Specter's loss to representative and former admiral Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania is being hailed on both sides of the political aisle. Specter was anathema to liberals from his performance in the Clarence Thomas nomination hearings. He was dirt to the right for his embrace of Barack Obama's stimulus package.

If anyone embodied the popular image of the finger-to-the-wind, stick around too long pol it was Specter. In a year of voter anger at the status quo, he had a target on his back from the get go.

Over in Kentucky, Rand Paul embrace of the Tea Party makes him topic du jour on the blogs and talk radio, an affirmation that the movement is more than just Sarah Palin and a lot of wind. The fact his opponent Trey Grayson, was backed by Mitch McConnell and Darth Cheney suggests, they say, that tea partiers are not beholden to the GOP either.

But unlike Pennsylvania, where Democrats now have a strong candidate who can stand up to the Club for Growth candidate Pat Toomey, Paul is likely to be painted as out-of-the-mainstream by his Democratic foe, Attorney General Jack Conway.

In fact, the story that won't be told until November is whether Tea Party candidates like Paul and Florida's Marco Rubio can stand up to middle-of-the-road voters who usually decide elections.

It's a long time until November. The economy is showing signs of life, jobs appear to be slowly returning and popular health care provisions will kick in during the fall. Be careful how you read today's tea leaves. They could be tomorrow's dregs.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Got a clue?

One of the first rules in political advertising is that a candidate's advertising should define him or herself. That's especially true for a candidate without broad name recognition or visibility.

That's just one factor that leaves me scratching my head over Charlie Baker's attempt to coin a phrase and light a fire under a political campaign where he still lacks broad awareness -- even when slightly more voters who view him very unfavorably than those who rate him very favorable.

What's even more disconcerting is Baker's first major ad push is a negative one -- trying to tap into the rampant public unrest with slogans rather than a plan. Every voter, including myself, has grumbled about taxes, services and the peculiarly out-of-touch group called the Legislature.

But Baker has offered no solutions to the problems -- no new taxes has not and never will mesh with the idea of providing services the public has come to demand. The Reaganesque free lunch mantra is largely responsible the huge hole in the federal budget and the layoff of police, firefighters and teachers locally.

And have you really eliminated "half the senior management team" on Beacon Hill if Robert DeLeo and Therese Murray continue to collect pay checks next January? No change is possible with a dramatic turnaround in the legislative delegations.

Voters are indeed very angry -- with Arpege politicians who promise them anything and fail to deliver. Patrick's property tax cut pledge from 2006 is high on the list here.

In one sense, Baker's ads promise nothing, just an empty slogan around which inchoate anger can rally. But for a candidate who was once full of promise himself, a clear-thinking adult who placed pragmatism over politics, the ads are a huge disappointment, a reflection of a campaign in chaos because it has still failed to connect with voters.

Yeah Charlie, I have had enough. Enough of pandering politicians who offer words, not deeds; who go negative before they offer sensible plans that can translate into majorities in the House and Senate; who squander goodwill and common sense in a volley of empty words.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Bloody Pathetic

Anyone want to know why Barack Obama actually got angry about the finger-pointing over responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill debacle?

Watch this.

Listening to Mike Williams describe his ordeal and miraculous escape -- and listening to him recount the litany of violations of good practice and common sense to keep the oil pumping -- makes a thinking person want to scream.

It does help explain the inability to cap the well -- and the inane ideas like dumping old tires and golf balls down the well.

Williams makes clear that BP's principal concern was the keep the oil and the cash flowing. It's an attitude that should be penalized by making the oil company and its enablers -- and not the taxpayers -- responsible for the financial cost of the cleanup We will all pay the price of the environmental damage.

And how's that drill, baby drill thing workin' out for ya Sarah?

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

No respect

Hey, did ya hear that the Cleveland Cavaliers aren't playing the Orlando Magic for the Eastern Conference finals?

Yes, I do hail from the one-time Mistake on the Lake and I am loyal to its other sports teams, no matter how poorly they've done in recent years. And my heart is with them in coping with the fact there has not been one victory celebration since Dec. 27, 1964 when Frank Ryan and Gary Collins combined to stun the Baltimore Colts 27-0.

I suffered through The Drive. And The Fumble. I even felt a little of angst about The Shot, coming as it did during the twilight of the Bird Era when the Cavaliers were No. 2 on my hoop list.

I generally avoid ESPN and have become faint-hearted about actually watching games. But after reading today's New York Times three-peat coverage about the loser in the Eastern Conference semi-finals I am about to scream: who are the "old guys" who dismantled King James and the Cavs?

How about a little respect (if not love) for the Boston Celtics, who unlike the Garden counterpart, showed up, laced up their footwear and went out and did what the needed to do?

The Magic have been playing great basketball and will be a real challenge for the Team that is not the Cleveland Cavaliers. But I have faith that Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and their teammates on the non-LeBrons will continue to play well.

Here we go Celtics. Here we go.

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Unwanted distraction

The facts are murky. But the facts are less important than the appearance that once again, Massachusetts Republicans have failed to do their homework.

The Globe reports today that Rep. Jeff Perry -- the Sandwich lawmaker considered a strong shot to fill the 10th District congressional seat being vacated by Bill Delahunt -- was involved in some questionable actions when he was a sergeant in the Wareham Police.

Perry was never charged in cases where an officer under his supervision conducted illegal strip searches of teenage girls. The officer pleaded guilty and served four years in prison.

But Perry named in two civil lawsuits, whose settlements are sealed. Which leaves the candidate in the uncomfortable place of declaring:
“I did not observe anything inappropriate.’’
Perry's problem is similar to that of his principal rival for the GOP nomination, former Treasurer Joe Malone. While personally clean, Malone must face the fact that several of his top aides and associates manipulated systems within the office of the state treasurer for seven years, stealing $9.4 million through various schemes.

In a time when Tea Partiers and Republicans are throwing the kitchen sink at incumbents over business as usual -- which includes abuses of power and turning a blind eye to reality -- it would seem the GOP would have vetted their candidates better.

We know the party apparatus is active in touring "the time is ours" meme. No less than the New York Times bought into the story that Rep. Niki Tsongas is facing a slew of challengers for her 5th District seat. Of course none of the seven Republicans or four independents have anywhere near the name recognition or resources of a Perry or Malone.

The GOP appears to be living on the national media's declaration of the "Scott Brown effect" -- even as voters on the ground in Brown's state have yet to figure out what the junior senator really stands for.

We don't know if Perry drives a pickup truck. But we do know he was a party to a civil lawsuit surrounding improper police conduct involving an officer under his command who served time for his offense.

Not exactly a poster boy for change.

Maybe the party should focus as much attention on checking out its own candidates as it does is in touting its chances.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Here we go Celtics...

Admit it, you are more than a little stunned at how easily the Celtics dismantled LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Are these really the same guys who stumbled through the regular season?

You scoffed as I did when the eternal optimist Doc Rivers kept saying he loved this team. You fretted about the inability to win at home, particularly on Friday nights. You thought the Big Three should be fitted for rocking chairs in Springfield.

Well the shoe is on the other foot now: the much-vaunted, built-to-win Cavaliers slink back to Cleveland amid much finger-pointing, almost all of it directed at King James and his very tarnished crown.

Regular readers know my native-born loyalties to the hapless Indians and Browns did not extend to the boys in wine red and gold. But as I rejoice over the Celtics moving on, I do shed a tear for my hometown, now championship-deprived for 46 years with little hope on the horizon.

And as for the Green? Not much time to celebrate. The Orlando Magic has been the team everyone loves to ignore -- even though they finished second in the East and have swept their first two playoff rounds.

This will be the battle between the overlooked and the written off. Bring it.

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Deval gets his mojo back

Political forensic scientists who pick over the bones of the 2010 Massachusetts governor's race may circle May 13 as a key date: when Deval Patrick stood before a live, televised press conference with a phalanx of public safety officials to assure Massachusetts residents the commonwealth is not under a terror threat.

Meanwhile, independent candidate Tim Cahill, meeting with the Herald editorial board, fought for his political life after a barrage of Republican Governors Association ads stopped whatever momentum his candidacy may have built up.

And over at the Globe, Brian McGrory slices and dices Charlie Baker's descent from the Great Republican Hope to the Typical Republican Hack.

No elected official ever wishes for a crisis, but those who handle them well can often benefit from the impression left by their performances.

Patrick has now played the soothing voice of calm twice in as many weeks, first with Aquapocalypse, now with his reassuring words after FBI raids in Watertown and Brookline that “The Joint Terrorism Task Force has identified no immediate threat to persons or property in Massachusetts.”

The best campaign strategy for Patrick right now is to be himself, flaws and all. The increasingly nasty battle between Baker and Cahill only benefits him.

There are a lot of pitfalls and major potholes between now and November -- the yawning budget gap and the painful cuts likely to come largest among them. But there are also numerous opportunities for showing leadership with a legislative agenda that includes casinos, economic development, gun control, criminal offender record reform and a municipal management bill.

For now, Patrick should enjoy the breather from the relenting criticism he has faced. Eventually Cahill and Baker will stop going after each other and focus on him.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Campaign musical

What a difference a day makes. You know, 24 little hours.

That's all it took to upend the Massachusetts gubernatorial race, where a new poll suggests Treasurer Tim is slip, slidin' away like the Bruins in the face of an aggressive negative ad blitz on the part of the Republican Governors Association.

But all was not sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for Charlie Baker, even though the poll helped him win a small skirmish with a hard-right clique of the Republican National Committee. The GOP nominee, ridin' high in April after obliterating Christy Mihos at the state convention, was shot down for at least one day in May by a Herald examination of campaign spending habits to date.

And that's no bull.

As for Deval Patrick, who might have been excused for thinking the sun ain't gonna shine any more after a tough three years, the Rasmussen poll showing him with a new 14-point lead -- including a 10 percent jump after his handling of Aquapocalypse -- had to make him feel glad all over.

But Patrick would be well-advised to remember that while Good Time Charlie currently has the blues, it's a long, long time from May to December. And the days grow short when you reach September. Just ask the Red Sox.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What, Me Worry?

If a candidate's goal is to get his name in the paper and on TV, then Tim Cahill should be grinning from ear to ear today.

Treasurer Tim found himself on the front page of the Globe -- lined up for target practice yet again by the Republican Governors Association over his votes on the Quincy City Council and spending at the Treasury.

Then there's the Herald's look at his proposal to help small business start-ups with a three-year hiatus in paying state taxes.

Finally you get to Scot Lehigh's devastating look at Cahill's Chamber of Commerce speech where he offers all dessert and no vegetables -- reiterating his call for rolling back the income and sales tax and walking away from specifics over the cost and the program cuts need to make it work.

Even as the Patrick administration put a $4 billion price tag on those cuts and the lost federal stimulus funds.

Judging by the comments of Herald readers (always a dicey proposition) Cahill may be on to something.

Cahill's steady diet of what Lehigh labels "cotton candy" certainly seems to be having a positive effect on his campaign, where some polls have shown him running second behind Deval Patrick. And the amount of time and cash the RGA is targeting at an independent in April and May is likely unprecedented.

So far, Cahill's "What, Me Worry?" attitude toward the facts seems to be a successful one. After all, it mimics that of the Keep Your Government Hands of My Medicare crowd. And that should have all us worried.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lights! Cameras! Action!

Back by unpopular demand -- the Supreme Court Summer Confirmation Show!

With the nomination of Elena Kagan to fill the upcoming vacancy on the Supreme Court, Barack Obama has set in motion what has become a tired and annoying ritual -- the confirmation fight. This year's battle, like recent several recent ones, is likely to be a snooze punctuated by intense focus on the trivial.

While pundits speculate about her non-judicial background, her negotiating skills and even her religion, the battle, such as it is, will be tepid compared to the monumental struggles over Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

Rather than discussions about Coke cans and public hairs or an America of "back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids..." we will be subjected to the steady drip of inanities. Wise Latina writ large.

Republicans had already stockpiled the talking points, trotting out ranking Judiciary Committee member Jeff Sessions (a one-time Kluxer lover) talking about her qualifications or seeming lack thereof.

That was followed in quick order by Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy offering a well-rehearsed riposte that the Party of No would oppose "Moses the Law Giver."

Who says Democrats are anti-religion anyway?

Certainly not the folks over at Comedy Central who immediately upped the ante by calling Kagan a "wise Jewish Latina" who "appears, at first blush, to be a woman."

The only real troubling part of this first round is that Comedy Central is the only one in the full-time comedy business and the Senate seems intent on stepping into their turf.

Can't we all just get along? And talk about serious issues like the rise of corporate rights over basic individual civil liberties?

Hey I can dream can't I?

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Kagan on the court

Barack Obama's apparent selection of Elena Kagan as the next associate justice of the Supreme Court represents the ultimate solution to shutting down the a Senate confirmation process that has gotten totally out of hand.

Why? Because as a lawyer who has never served as a judge, she doesn't have a record that opposition researchers can pore over in search of decisions that can be twisted out of context. Although I am sure she has given scores of speeches that will provide ample fodder for the Party of No.

Kagan, the current solicitor general, also has a record as dean of Harvard Law School, sure to bring out the snarkmeisters. And it is that tenure -- which includes making accommodations to conservative faculty -- that seems to unhinge some of my friends on the left.

Yet it is that trait which appears most important in succeeding John Paul Stevens. The retiring justice is a moderate Republican -- a nearly extinct breed. He used wisdom and accommodation to build majorities, something that is in otherwise short supply on this bench.

Medical fact says Obama will have still more opportunities to shape the court. What we currently know about Kagan suggests she is a wise choice to stand firm against the current onslaught of conservative activism.

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Fully-automatic delay

I have a hard time understanding why anyone needs to hold, let alone fire a fully-automatic machine gun (plinking cans?). But I have an even harder time understanding why the Massachusetts Legislature needs to study a bill that would keep the weapons out of the hands of untrained children.

The recreational use argument falls short for this weapon that would appear to have only one use -- kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. Machine guns conjure up the image of John Dillinger and Al Capone, not hunting deer for dinner.

But I am also willing to accept that in a free society there are people who wish to collect exotic weapons and are willing to maintain them safely.

I draw the line however at condoning irresponsible behavior such as allowing an 8-year-old to handle a powerful weapon. And I also draw the line at the Legislature suggesting there is a rationale for continuing to allow that after an 8-year-old died by his own hand because he could not handle it.

When machines guns are regulated properly, we will all be a little safer.

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

The first 95 days

The Globe certainly didn't break any new ground today with its look at the first 95 days of the Scott Brown Era. Unless you wanted confirmation that our own truck drivin' man is a nice guy who has been the center of a media love fest.

But anything more than a superficial read would bring you to a conclusion that the attention being paid is well, superficial. We learn that he posed with a basketball for Time Magazine to highlight his being among the Top 100 most influential people in the world, beating out Ashton Kutcher and Seth McFarlane but finishing 40 spots behind Lady Gaga.

And in his first 95 days days, he was against an unemployment extension before he was for it; opposed earmarks while lobbying for General Electric and an expensive backup jet engine that somehow isn't an earmark; inflated job losses to justify opposition to Wall Street reform.

Last but by no means least, the JAG lawyer has signed on to a bill that calls for stripping the citizenship of any American, natural-born or not, if someone says they have a tie to terrorism.

Maybe Brown should spend more time reading the "stupid"bank bill and less time enjoying his ever fleeting 15 minutes of fame.


Saturday, May 08, 2010

Fat Fingers vs. HAL 9000

So now we are learning that "fat fingers" may not be responsible for the Wall Street roller coaster ride that made our hearts skip a beat and our retirement funds sink lie stones. Nope, it may be computer programs run amok.

Meet HAL 9000, the ultimate in artificial intelligence, the one who would be running our lives on the way to some distant planets in 2001. Instead, he may be running our life savings into the ground.

If you want to have your heart skip another beat, explore a little more about HAL, short for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic Computer.
A heuristic algorithm, or simply a heuristic, is an algorithm that is able to produce an acceptable solution to a problem in many practical scenarios, in the fashion of a general heuristic, but for which there is no formal proof of its correctness. Alternatively, it may be correct, but may not be proven to produce an optimal solution, or to use reasonable resources.
Sound like Wall Street these days?

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Scott Brown Watch: Terrorism

When Glenn Beck and John Boehner agree your anti-terrorism bill is unconstitutional, I'd say you have a rather significant drafting error.

That hasn't stopped Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown from shifting his laser-like focus on Massachusetts to walking the GOP talking points and trying to make hay off the attempted Times Square bombing. Brown took to the podium with Connecticut's Joe Lieberman in what was no doubt an attempt to promote bipartisan independence.

But the former Connecticut attorney general and the National Guard JAG lawyer would have been better advised to spend a little more time in the law library.
“Citizenship is a cherished right and we can’t have Congress deciding at the spur of the moment to strip citizenship,’’ said Francis A. Boyle, a professor at the University of Illinois Law School. “Any United States citizen can be prosecuted to the limits of the law. They could be prosecuted for treason, up to the death penalty. . . . What more could you want than that?’’
Flush campaign coffers?

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Typing lessons

Now let me get this straight: Wall Street went on a terrifying roller coaster ride because some trader at Citibank typed a "b" instead of an "m"?

Leaving aside the delicious irony of the mixed-up letters, let me suggest that the Wall Street financial regulation legislation should include typing lessons.

There is no dispute that serious underlying issues -- like the Greek debt crisis -- are at play here. Or that stocks were due for a correction after a steady rise for the past year.

But if we are at the mercy of an uncorrected typo, there are still very serious issues that need to be addressed about the way Wall Street works.

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Identity crisis

A new survey suggests New Hampshire lacks an icon of its own ever since the Old Man in the Mountain crumbled, not the greatest image in the world for The Granite State.

In the spirit of cross border cooperation, let me suggest that's far from the case.

There's always the Hampton Tolls and the miles-long back ups that ensnare you and your hard-earned cash on the way to Maine.

Then there are the charming roadside ways stations like the one pictured above where you can fuel up on booze and butts on that same journey.

And maybe we should add Mitt Romney's Winnipesaukee manse.

I'm open to suggestions.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Yazoo City, Mass.

Tim Cahill may be on to something with his latest slap back at Charlie Baker. Massachusetts (at least its conservatives and Republicans) may have moved south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Treasurer Tim, who lurched far right after he launched his independent gubernatorial bid, brings the thought to mind with his shot at Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association that funded a major attack on Cahill. Barbour is proud of his roots in Yazoo City, Miss.

But the rhetoric from Cahill, Baker and junior Sen. Scott Brown suggests they may all seem comfortable with the "good ol' boys" mocked in Cahill's ad.

Let's start with Brown, the "independent Republican" who is now in bed with "independent Democrat" Joe Lieberman in sponsoring a bill that would strip naturalized Americans of their citizenship if they are found to have aided a foreign terrorist organization.

The cutely labeled Terrorist Expatriation Act (TEA, get it?) is so simple-minded a response to the recent Time Square failed bombing that even that noted Constitutional scholar Glenn Beck is against it.
"He has all the rights under the Constitution. We don’t shred the Constitution when it’s popular.”
And never mind that Faisal Shehzad has apparently been singing like a canary since he was read his Miranda rights, spilling details on who help finance his botched bombing.

Not to be outdone with the immigrant-bashing, Baker, a once moderate Republican, first declared, and is now furiously backpedaling, from a proposal he made that would require anyone seeking help from a Boston homeless shelter to prove he or she is a legal resident of the country.

Asked by a reporter whether that would mean turning away people needing a bed at the Pine Street Inn, a shelter in Boston’s South End, Baker said, “Yeah, I think we should require it for everything.’’

“I mean, I don’t think it’s appropriate for people who are residents of Massachusetts to be on waiting lists,’’ he continued, “when people who aren’t residents and citizens are taking advantage of services.’’

But now apparently the lamestream media and Deval Patrick are to blame for taking him out of context. He really only wants to crack down on long-term homeless.
Emergency situations, nobody will ever be turned away,’’ said Baker campaign spokesman Rick Gorka.
Add this to Baker's climate change skepticism, his support for highly paid cops and the Quinn bill over fiscal sanity and you have the essence of pretzel logic that is a common trait of Haley Barbour Republicans.

So Cahill may have it right when he says y'all come down here to Massachusetts. Just don't forget the sunscreen to avoid getting a red neck.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The governor proposes...

Charlie Baker chose the middle of a water crisis to lay out proposals he says could save the Commonwealth $1 billion and accusing his opponents of not having the "political will" to get things done.

Sorry Charlie, they don't have the votes. Just ask your running mate, Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, who can have his Scott Brown-less caucus of four meet in a phone booth if they existed anymore.

It's as old as political campaigns: candidates make promises they cannot fulfill for a variety of reasons. Take Deval Patrick's property tax cut pledge. It would have been a hard one to begin with without a worldwide economic collapse.

In Baker's case, the difficulty will come because of the age-old maxim "the governor proposes and the legislature disposes."

There's really nothing new in the litany -- eliminating rules requiring the use of union shops in public construction projects; changing state law to allow cities and towns to design their own health plans without union approval; consolidating the state agencies that award professional licenses and certification; and requiring proof of legal residency for state benefits.

What's required are votes and those simply are not there.

Nor does Baker aid his credibility or cause by opposing two of the more recent efforts at restraint: reining in spending on Quinn bill benefits for law enforcement and criticizing the move to civilian flaggers.

Unless and until the Massachusetts Republican Party fields a substantive slate of candidates, wins House and Senate seats and makes itself a legitimate voice in the Legislature, they can promise 'em anything -- and fail to deliver.

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Crazy like a fox

While Massachusetts Democrats have been beside themselves examining junior Sen. Scott Brown for flaws to be exploited to cut short his run on the Time Magazine Top 100 influentials, a not-so-humble, left-leaning preacher from Chicago has found an ideal solution: praise.
“We’re all impressed with his sense of independence,’’ said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was at the Park Street MBTA station to advocate for mass transit funding. “Somebody has to go look at the republic, not just the Republicans. Somebody has to look at democracy, not just Democrats. He seems to have a broader view of politics than just party politics. That’s where I come in. I respect his vision he shares.’’
So let's see now: Jesse Jackson praises Brown for his vision. Do you think there's a bit of confusion in Tea Party Nation?

But a question Jesse -- what independence? Like in opposing health care and Wall Street regulation in lock step with Senate GOP leaders?

Just sayin...

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Clamp it

How do you lose a 10-foot diameter, 1-ton piece of metal?

The clamp that left Greater Boston high and dry over the weekend is floating somewhere in the Charles, carrying the answer to the mystery of how a specially constructed metal device less than 10 years old can give way.

Hearing engineers speculate about phantom earthquakes and soil unsettled by two 50-year rain storms within weeks lead the untrained observer right back to what will likely be the obvious answer when the part is recovered: manufacturing failure. Especially if it is found in shattered pieces.

Right now, there's an eerie deja vu to the ceiling hangar failure in the Big Dig tunnels. And with many of the same companies involved with that disaster also part of the Metrowest Tunnel project -- like Modern Continental and Parsons Brinkerhoff -- it seems like a very good place to start.

In the meantime, a hat tip to the folks -- from Deval Patrick to the welders who did the dirty work getting it back in operation quickly as they did with as minimal disruption as possible. Unless you didn't know that boiling water could be used to make coffee.

CLARIFICATION: Thanks to be reader who rose before me and reminds me that one-ton objects only flat metaphorically.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

GOP drops "Twitter bomb" on Massachusetts

So much for the notion that Scott Brown's election was the result of a spontaneous grassroots movement in Massachusetts among voters upset over the Obama health care plan.

While Martha Coakley made her more than fair share of campaign gaffes, a pair of Wellesley College professors say there was another, out-of-state, factor that helped push Scott Brown over the top in the January election.

Twitter. In the hands of an Iowa-based conservative group with principals who cut their political teeth in the Willie Horton and Swift Boat attacks that helped two sink two other less-than-stellar Massachusetts campaigners.

Anyone paying attention to the race around December (which excludes the national press corps) knows that Brown's campaign was far more active in the Twitterverse. But even those pundits, such as yours truly, did not know that was the result of an astroturf effort to crank out 929 tweets over two hours attacking Coakley.

As co-authors Panagiotis Takis Metaxas and Eni Mustafaraj told the Globe, the tweets reached approximately 60,000 people before servers saw them for what they were: spam:
“It was a very cheap way of reaching about 60,000 people with limited resources and a limited amount of time,’’ Metaxas, associate professor of computer science at Wellesley College, said yesterday in an interview. “We’re going to see a lot more in the next election. I believe everybody will aggressively do everything they can with the social network.’’
So we see yet another in a long line of "innovative" Republican attack vehicles, this one showing the conservative movement has closed the "Internet gap" that progressives enjoyed for a few years.

It will be interesting to see if the message reaches the national political press corps that used the Brown election to paint what has become an increasingly inaccurate picture of the state and national mood. I'm not hopeful.

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Where have I read this before?

Hmm, this sounds familiar? Where did I read that before?

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Monday, May 03, 2010


It hit me as I got off the train in Park Street, the smell of an electrical fire still in the humid early May air, headed in search of the oasis called Cambridge.

Are we nearing the Hubpocalypse, when life in the Greater Boston area as we know it ceases to exist? The evidence is troubling.

Since March, Greater Boston has seen two 50-year rain storms that left us with too much water. Now, thanks to the failure of a seven-year-old pipe, we're left with too little water of the drinking variety, leaving many without the wherewithal to boil water for a cup of coffee.

(Note to Globe ad department: a Dunkin' Donuts coffee ad in the middle of those online stories amounts to unnecessary cruelty).

In between, we've seen the MBTA electrical system fry itself, shutting down three lines even though the fire was only on one of them.

Archaeologists studying this era may find some other clues along the way. Some may say it started on Jan. 19, when Ted Kennedy rolled over in his grave after the election of Scott Brown to the United States Senate.

Think about it -- that event brought epic snows upon much of the Northeast -- except for Boston. Washington and Philadelphia shut down by blizzards and Boston schools closed for a few random flurries.

Still skeptical? I offer my proof of concept. The Red Sox have a virtually identical record to the most-hated team in baseball, but sit farther out of first place.

The End Times are near.

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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Brown out

A must-read this morning from the Herald's Peter Gelzinis about the senator now occupying the "people's seat" and his focus on press coverage.

Gelzinis tells the tale of Karen Schneiderman of the Boston Center for Independent Living and her efforts to secure an audience with Sen. 41. And he notes that when his call to Scott Brown's local office was bumped up to Washington, the DC flak was well aware of the Herald columnist:
“You’ve never written anything positive about Sen. Brown,” she snipped.
Mighty thin skin for someone the media has basically fawned over.

CORRECTION: OK, so the column I found this morning ran on Friday. Doesn't make a difference in terms of his message.

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Big Spill

Watching Deval Patrick in command at the MEMA bunker in Framingham, it was almost inevitable for a political junkie to start thinking about the politics of a massive break of a six-year-old water line that serves metropolitan Boston.

A cool head in a crisis is no guarantee of electoral success -- just ask Mike Dukakis about the Blizzard of '78. But it's more than the face time as a leader in charge that works in Patrick's favor. It's the fact the water line in question was conceived in 1995 during the Bill Weld administration and put into service during Mitt Romney's term. With a construction team that included Parsons Brinkerhoff.

In other words, Big Dig Redux.

The MWRA boasts about the Metrowest Water Supply Tunnel, proudly proclaiming:

Until now, MWRA has relied on a single 1940's-era surface aqueduct, the Hultman Aqueduct, to serve all of Metro Boston. With its leaks and aging valves, the Hultman needed to be taken off-line for major repairs.

Before the Metrowest Tunnel, failure of the Hultman could have caused nearly complete interruption of Boston's water supply. This would have been a disaster for the region's public health, safety and economy.

Well guess what: the failure of the 2003 Metrowest has caused a serious interruption of Boston's water supply. The saving grace is the ancient City Tunnel and the once-seemingly redundant, now vital Chestnut Hill and Spot Pond reservoirs.

Expect a "stem-to-stern" review similar to the one that followed the ceiling collapse in the Central Artery Tunnel. And expect a renewed look at the role of the Weld administration and its administration and finance chief in the cost and quality of those projects. You know, a guy named Charlie Baker.

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Number please

I've read through today's Globe story on the number of state jobs added or subtracted during the Patrick administration twice now and decided filling out my own tax return is easier to understand. Let me summarize:

  • Deval Patrick has indeed cut the number of state employees under his control.
  • Charlie Baker agrees, but doesn't think Patrick was clairvoyant enough to see the Great Recession coming and get out in front. Baker says he would 5,000 executive branch jobs -- but does say where.
  • Tim Cahill, the man who cuts the checks for state employees, charges Patrick with using "phantom numbers," then proceeds to lump everything into what Patrick administration officials say is a "statistical sample" that includes state agencies not under the executive branch.
And Cahill of course has been offering phantom solutions to how to close the budget gap.

If that wasn't confusing enough, let's skip over to the Massachusetts House, which approved a $27.8 billion budget yesterday. That's a 3.2 percent increase over the current year, including cuts in local aid, higher education -- and about 1,500 jobs.

Wait a minute -- more money yet we get less? See how easy this is?

Plus the House budget has a special goody tacked in for Boston: keep all 26 branch libraries open or lose about $3 million in funding. Which of course would lead to even more job cuts and other reductions in service across the system.

No wonder my head (and yours) must be reeling from all the spin emerging from Beacon Hill.

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