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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Just say no

Deval Patrick should call the Legislature's bluff and veto the casino gambling bill heading to his desk.

In the latest round of wills and egos, House and Senate conferees crafted a bill that will give House Speaker Robert DeLeo what he most wants -- job protection for workers in his district who labor at Suffolk Downs and Wonderland. That's because the district is likely to get both a casino and a slots parlor.

And that's called loading the dice.

Patrick offered a significant compromise on slots -- with several important caveats. He would accept one, competitively bid, if lawmakers also moved on a number of key pieces of legislation jammed up behind casinos.

Conferees chose to call on the bet and Patrick holds the cards because the session ends when the clock strikes 12 tonight.

And Patrick has more to lose than gain by signing the bill as is. For starters, the political fact is his careful efforts to sharpen his image as a leader crumbles if he goes for two racinos. Even if lawmakers give him everything else he wants, it will leave a foul taste in the mouth of Patrick's base.

Then there is a separate political fact: Union leaders may sit on their hands, but rank-and-file rarely vote with their leaders anyway. He doesn't have the union vote and the loss of labor help in canvassing and contributions could well be offset by a surge from a renewed base.

But finally, there is the financial fact:

On Wednesday, Moody’s Investors Services offered mixed news on the health of the industry. Yesterday, Morgan Stanley released a new analysis of the Massachusetts market, warning that the Legislature’s plan could over-saturate the Boston area, which is considered the state’s most potentially lucrative region.

Morgan Stanley estimated that a single destination casino in Boston would generate $600 million to $700 million in annual revenue, or about half the total potential gambling revenue for the state. But allowing two additional slot parlors would reduce that estimate by 35 percent, which would limit the interest of investors, the report said.

Senator Stanley C. Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat and the Senate’s point person on gambling, agreed there is only a limited pie to divvy up among the gambling halls and that more venues is “just dividing the pie into smaller pieces.’’

DeLeo is stacking the deck in his -- and his district's favor. Bobby may win with jobs but the jury is still out for the rest of the state.

Signing the bill would be a sucker's bet. Just say no.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Riverboat gamble

We've come to the second-to-last day of a two-year legislative session, one in which Deval Patrick, Bobby DeLeo and Terry Murray all agree that casino gambling is the answer to the state's economic woes -- and none of them can get together on a plan to make it happen.

Imagine if we had a two-party state with the cooperation skills of Congress?

It may not be all that imaginary if voters take their wrath out on Patrick and lawmakers as union leaders and Republicans are threatening.

Patrick has offered an innovative but risky proposal to end the logjam: one slots parlor, subject to competitive bidding and only under the condition that lawmakers move on other important pieces of legislation on crime, economic development and health care costs stuck behind the impasse.

The silence from lawmakers is deafening -- which actually may be a good sign.

So for verbiage we turn to those outside looking in. AFL-CIO chief Robert Haynes has led the bluster, promising political retribution for wayward lawmakers who don't tow the union line. House Dean David Flynn was a tad more specific, saying it was the Senate's fault and they should pay.

Really helpful political tactics for an electoral sick of finger-pointing instead of instant results.

Meanwhile the ineffectiveness of Massachusetts Republicans was highlighted by the fact they were standing on the outside looking in, ready for all the world to throw a tantrum to gain recognition.

Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei was sniffling, aiming his barbs at Patrick instead of the Senate colleagues who have made a mockery of his title by freezing him out.
“He’s running around the building frantically looking for the Senate president, trying to craft an agenda when he didn’t do that for two years."
At least she's taking his calls, Mr. Leader. It's looking his a sorry ending to his two-decade tenure in the Great and General Court.

As for his running mate, Charlie Baker was also left to fume, offering a popular criticism that fails to understand how things are done in the building where he worked for eight years, namely the executive proposes and the legislative disposes.
“Beacon Hill should be ashamed for wasting the last few weeks in a gridlock.’’
Yep, there's a bulletin. Think it will be any different with you in the Corner Office?

Patrick holds all the cards on this one. He can veto anything he doesn't like and lawmakers will not be in a position to override. They are all hugely aware of the political fallout from failure. And it has always been true the Legislature works best under pressure of deadlines.

This is the mother of all deadlines.

But what is truly irritating about this four-year ordeal is whatever the economic benefits -- which have been debated almost as much as the number of slots and casinos -- that could be just passing.

Under a bill being offered in Congress by Barney Frank, web-based gambling may finally become legal.

That would mean a lot fewer license plates to count in casino or slots parking lots.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Elephants who live in glass houses

Over the past few days, John Kerry has taken quite a self-inflicted beating, principally in the Herald (but here too) over the questions of Teresa's yacht, where it's berthed and how much taxes, if any, he owes on the boat.

The Globe, which approached the story as if it was picking up after a dog in the park, tried to move it forward today with a story looking at the potential damage to his political career. The strongest concern they found came from Rob Eno, of Red Mass. Group, who paints a broad brush in comparing Kerry to the barn-coated, truck drivin' man who voted for bankers and against extended unemployment benefits:
“It’s another instance in which the Democratic machine makes laws for themselves that they feel they don’t have to follow."
Aside from the fact the legalities of Kerry's gaffe have yet to be determined, you don't have to go far to see a contrarian view about the deadliness of political blunders, on the very pages of the newspaper that lives to torment Live Shot:
Former Bay State Gov. Mitt Romney is a “major player” nipping at the heels of President Obama and stands as the GOP’s best shot to reclaim the Oval Office in 2012, a new national poll shows.
Yep, our very own Myth Romney, he of multiple homes in several states, who had undocumented immigrants landscaping one of those homes at the same time he was railing against immigration. Uh Rob, was that ignoring a law he made a big deal about following?

In the end, Romney was done in not by the landscapers but because his policies (and sadly his religion) did not meet with the approval of Republican primary voters.

And so it will be with John Forbes Kerry, he with the ability to stick both of his Topsiders in his mouth. At least Kerry has never tried to present himself as a human Rorschach test, twisting himself up into knots to please a select group of voters based on whatever election it was.

Nor has he tried to portray himself a man of the people while voting against their interests (you listening Scott Brown?).

Kerry has plodded along as a solid legislator, interested in foreign affairs, oblivious to the perceptions of his fabulous wealth and pursuits like wind-surfing. He's tried for the brass ring and failed and should be fine by 2014 if he seeks another term.

And that's probably a more solid place than Romney when he re-enters the national arena against Sarah Palin in 2012. The (equally hypocritical) alleged differences between Romney and Palin will be played out on a much broader screen that this Kerry blunder.

And Kerry bashers on the right will have to pick sides among their own.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I'm in a Rhode Island state of mind

The I-95 corridor between Providence and Boston was quite busy yesterday with the movement of rich people and cash. John Kerry and Curt Schilling were heading in opposite directions in strange tales proving the wealthy are different from the rest of us.

Kerry opted to end the self-inflicted nightmare that began when he tied up a $7 million yacht in Rhode Island, thereby avoiding $500,000 in Massachusetts taxes. After a series of moves that can only be described as tragicomic, Long Jawn opted for a "voluntary" tax payment to the Commonwealth.

But Curt Schilling is heading south, taking his personal millions to Little Rhody to accept $75 million in taxpayer largess from of one of the states hardest-hit by the Great Recession.

The Rhode Island bureaucracy didn't apparently know the Red Sox ratings are down when they decided to welcome the hero of the 2004 World Series. OK, gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee may have.

Yep, the rich are different.

Now I said it before, but it bears repeating: Kerry is a political idiot and Schilling is a hypocrite. In today's Andrew Breitbart-media world, when every word has to be evaluated for how it can be twisted, neither man used his brain.

Kerry didn't need a Breibart edit. The tone deafness of docking Teresa Heinz Kerry's yacht out of state was something straight out of Thurston Howell III and Lovey. If aides didn't warn him about that, they should be fired. If he did ask, well...

The excuses don't matter. The ignominy of Jeff Jacoby agreeing with him doesn't matter. It was a political blunder of immense proportions, one that could hamper his ability to campaign for fellow Democrats this year.

Schilling is equally tone deaf, but in the reverse direction. The man who wore his support for John McCain proudly tried to get two states into a race to make him the best offer of how much they could pay HIM to run a business.

That strikes me as opposite of the GOP "lift yourself up by your own bootstraps" mentality that sees unemployment insurance as welfare that should require drug testing.

As most conservative Republicans, Schilling believes government handouts only belong in Republican hands. And the shakiness of this deal is evident in the way Rhode Island officials laundered the grant so it involves bonds, not a direct handout.

In the end, Massachusetts is at least $500,000 richer for Kerry's check and who knows how much better off without Schilling's outstretched hands.

Strange days indeed.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Welcome to the sausage factory

A Facebook status message from a reporter waiting for a Statehouse meeting to break up brought back a lot of memories -- none really pleasant -- about how business is done under the Golden Dome. At the end of a legislative session, you spend a lot of time sitting on the cold marble floors waiting for doors to open.

The stalemate over casinos is truly a doozy. It has brought business on everything else -- health care cost reform, economic development, criminal offender records reform -- to a grinding halt. The sands of time run out at midnight on the 31st and it's a fair bet lawmakers will be hanging out late Saturday night and into wee hours of Sunday.

And now is when we are getting to the nitty-gritty -- when not only Republicans, but rank-and-file Democrats, do the equivalent of the cold marble sit as a handful of top lawmakers and Gov. Deval Patrick meet behind close doors to thrash out a deal everyone can live with. Even one that requires them to pinch their noses from the stench.

I remain convinced a deal will emerge. It will probably be the ugly stepchild, loathed by all, but it will emerge. The political fallout for failing to act is even greater than the problems that will come from launching the casino age in Massachusetts.

Not to mention the heapings of venom for failing to act on everything else stuck in the pipeline. And woe unto anyone who declares -- as former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy infamously did during a budget and taxes stalemate while Michael Dukakis was out of town -- that he or she broke "the logjam."

If I were back at the Statehouse these days, I would make sure I had a nice floor pillow -- and give thanks for an iPhone to while away the hours of hurrying up to do nothing.

And is the right time to mention that my political predictive powers have never been all that hot?

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Playing games

Isn't it funny how conservatives rail against public "handouts," until they or their businesses are on the receiving end?

Bye Curt. Don't let the Massachusetts taxpayers door hit you on the way out.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Uncle Sucker's wild ride

While the New York Times examination of Wikileaks-provided secret military field reports doesn't feel as rock solid as the Pentagon Papers two generations ago, it's hard to escape the conclusion that the American government has been playing the fool to our "friends" in Pakistan.

Allegations of double-dealing by Pakistan's spy service have been rampant for years and the documents do nothing to clamp a lid on that. And while some of the information detailed in the reports may not have been 100 percent accurate, there's enough validity to strike home.

And that brings us around to the billions of dollars we pour into Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and the the military budget -- not to mention the trillions spent on duplicative and ineffective intelligence gathering at home -- and and the results they bring.

What would have been the outcome if a fraction of the cash funneled to Pakistan was spent on economic stimulus programs here? What if we built hospitals in Detroit instead of Baghdad or schools in Louisiana instead of Kabul?

And where would our exploding national debt be without two credit card wars launched by George W. Bush?

We have squandered our human and financial capital in ways we cannot recover. Think about that the next time Republicans call for tax cuts and deficit reduction in the same breath.

The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, it is in ourselves.

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Damned if you do

You know it's silly season when a trip to visit Massachusetts troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany is criticized.

Treasurer Tim and a collection of Republicans
have done just that though, arguing the trip was a taken by three Republican and one other Democratic governor was a poorly timed stunt.


Aside from the fact the trip's timing and itinerary was dictated by the Pentagon, there still is one week left on the endless legislative session.

Yes Patrick has declared he planned to be deeply involved in negotiations around casino legislation. But saying he wanted a seat at the legislative table and actually getting one are two different things. And Patrick has the advantage of holding a pocket veto.

Now imagine the outcry if people later learned he passed up a trip so he could babysit DeLeo, Murray and the gang.

I guess Tim's faltering campaign could use a boost beyond the barbecues and parades he's been dealing with in an effort to stem his plummeting numbers.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Move it or lose it

The abuses in the probation department being cataloged by the Globe says volumes about the power of patronage and long-term problems in state government. But you can rest assured lawmakers spending a frantic final week in formal sessions won't be talking about that.

Nope. They will be laughing and shaking their heads at the absolute cluelessness on the part of the state's senior United States Senator -- and the Herald's flood-the-zone coverage.

"Political shipwreck" seems a mild description for Kerry's decision to purchase a $7 million, made-in-New Zealand yacht and berth it in neighboring Rhode Island to avoid an estimated $500,000 in Massachusetts taxes.

Not since his infamous "I was for it before I was against it" comment has John Forbes Kerry managed to remove the silver spoons from his mouth and insert two over-sized boat shoes. And the Herald is certainly not about to let him forget his self-Swift boating, with by my count, six stories or columns to fill an otherwise dull Sunday newspaper.

Liveshot Kerry only made matters worse with his defense of the indefensible. Hint: It's Teresa's fault:
“My wife is the majority stockholder of this, eh, holds it and she’s a Pennsylvania taxpayer so let’s not get silly here. We pay enormous taxes to the state of Massachusetts and there is nothing illegal here. . . . “I’m not going to get hounded by a bunch of politics in this . . . and that’s the way it is.”
Nope, nothing illegal. It's just the kind of political hypocrisy that fuels Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. Do as I say and not as I do.

Here's a bit of damage control advice Long Jawn: Move the yacht to Massachusetts or sell it and buy American.

And be grateful you're not up for re-election until 2014.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Seems fishy to me

The Globe tries to offer city slickers ways to beat the heat today -- but one of them seems to raise my eyebrows -- or at least turn up my nose.

A fish store? I'm sure the owners of Brookline's Wulf's Fish Market appreciate the plug. But personally I'm not sure my idea of a good time includes standing around watching someone cut up fish.

Then again, maybe I don't know how to enjoy life to its fullest.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Manufacturing the news

The economy is running in neutral. Unemployment remains too high. The Gulf remains polluted through mismanagement by a company that coddled a terrorist for the sake of a good deal with Libya. The extremes of the climate are as pronounced as they have ever been.

A common thread that unites these themes is a conservative mindset that rejects growth, punishes the unemployed and coddles big companies. Oh, and is a master at changing the subject.

Washington was caught up with this week with the latest scandal of conservative manufacturing: Obama racism. Yep, the president is a racist, the theme that Glenn Beck has been peddling since Jan. 20, 2009, if not earlier.

And the proof -- the sudden termination of an African-American Agriculture Department employee accused of being a racist herself in a video clip.

The right wing echo chamber and the Twittersphere become inflamed and the mainstream White House press corps follow.

Only one problem: the alleged incident never happened. Shirley Sherrod's words were snipped from a longer video and twisted totally out of context by a member of the vast right wing conspiracy.

There are guilty parties in the middle and on the left: the NAACP for buying the distortion hook, line and sinker and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for sacking Sherrod without a speck of due process.

But the real culprits here are Andrew Breitbart, who has freely admitted his role as a conservative propagandist and the mainstream media that swallowed this exercise in fiction without a speck of introspection.

Maybe we should edit the No. 1 rule of journalism: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. And if Andrew Breitbart says it's true, assume it is not.

And maybe, just maybe, focus on real news.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Change at the top

Margaret Marshall's decision to step down as Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court bring a swirl of thoughts about her role in the landmark Goodrich gay marriage decision; the health of her husband, the legendary New York Timesman Tony Lewis; and the unique opportunity presented to Deval Patrick to shape the campaign and his own legacy.

Not to mention give the anachronistic Governor's Council are major moment in the sun.

Marshall's legacy is huge: the first women chief of the state with the Constitution on which the US Constitution was modeled was at the helm when Massachusetts declared that same-sex marriage was a right under law. Despite all the sturm und drang the state is still standing and others are slowly but inexorably moving in the same direction.

As a journalist, I am also a bit saddened that Lewis, a giant during the Times era of Reston and Wicker, is ailing with Parkinson's disease. That Marshall is stepping down ahead of mandatory retirement to spend more time with her husband reflects the real meaning of marriage, not the artificial definitions tossed around before and after Goodrich.

What's also interesting is her timing: during the summer when Patrick can make a nomination to replace her without having potential lame duck status hanging over his head.

Thankfully the process is different in Massachusetts than in Washington, where court nominees must thread the review process of eight-member Governor's Council rather than the 100-member Senate. Ninety-two fewer blowhards. And the tie-breaking vote held by the lieutenant governor.

Once upon a time, in the colonial era, the council had power. Today it's an archaic vestige of the past the principally agrees to pay the bills. The only true power is confirming judicial appointments from the district court to the high court.

It is a power they will exercise with great relish, but in the end the Massachusetts process should be more civilized -- and less polarizing.

The timing does leave off two possible candidates though: I suspect Elena Kagan will be working elsewhere in a few months. Nor do I think that Patrick will name himself. He's got bigger thoughts on his mind right now.

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Where in the world is Deval Patrick?

The last time Deval Patrick slipped from sight with during a debate over gambling, he went to New York to negotiate a book contract.

So naturally tongues were wagging when Patrick's public schedule took him to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington -- and then off the grid -- as House and Senate conferees battled over the latest gambling proposals.

This time the trip turned out to be Iraq. And it sounds as if Beacon Hill offices saw more combat.

Patrick had little say in the timing of the took with four other governors to visit with soldiers from their home states. And accounts, it was appreciated by the men and women he spent time with.

Meanwhile, the battle of Beacon Hill continues to be stalemated, leaving Patrick with the cards to play as lawmakers have allowed negotiations to slip into pocket veto time -- the waning days of the session when a governor can kill anything he doesn't like simply by not acting.

While conferees are slipping closer to compromise -- based on the leaked proposals about some combination of casinos and slots parlors -- the heat is clearly rising by way of leaks declaring one side has rejected a compromise while the other side denies it.

Pointed fingers are being sharpened. But in the end it's still hard to see how we reach the end of next week without a compromise. Too many other key pieces of legislation -- economic development, health care cost and criminal record laws reform to name three -- are on the line. Too many political necks as well.

And ironically Patrick is in the driver's seat to shape whatever agreement is finally reached.

A day in Iraq may have seemed like a nice break from a day on Beacon Hill. It might have even been a bit cooler.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The joker is wild

Who says they don't like gambling on Beacon Hill?

With the days rapidly flipping off the calendar (and the hours whizzing by until Deval Patrick gains pocket veto power), legislative leaders and business leaders made their way in and out of the Corner Office to talk about the host of issues still pending and the one giant roadblock to action: the casino bill.

While Senate President Therese Murray said the business delegation talked about economic development and not gambling, it would have been a hard subject to avoid all together. The endless talk about casinos is starting to wear on everyone and everything. The Globe has editorialized the Big Three should fold its hands and move on to pending economic and health legislation.

The Statehouse News Service (subscription required) sagely noted the stakes are high for House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who is all in on delivering the bacon for his district that is home to Suffolk Downs and Wonderland. DeLeo is clearly looking for a legacy beyond that of his three immediate predecessors, who all carry "indicted" or "convicted" in front of their names.

Reports trickling out from the Big 3 or the legislative conferees talk of discussions without resolutions. Rumors have emerged like the Senate offered -- and the House rejected -- a one racino option, subject to the bidding process.

Today is a pivotal day, which is what likely brought yesterday's visit from Robert Kraft, Jack Connors and John Fish. The power will noticeably shift to Patrick as we enter the final 10 days of the session. He will be able to veto anything he dislikes and lawmakers will be powerless to override.

The business leaders are anxious for movement on other issues Murray has been pushing to promote jobs and growth -- and take some of the pressure of rising health insurance premiums for small business. DeLeo has clearly held those issues hostage to casinos and while slots may not have been discussed openly, you know they were on everyone's radar.

And while DeLeo has a lot riding on the final days, the stakes are just as high for Patrick, who knows what transpires in the next 10 days will help or hurt his re-election bid enormously.

Caving to DeLeo would be disaster, but stalemate would only be slightly less problematic. A solid record on ethics, pension and transportation reform would be lost in yet another gambling debacle, the second in four years.

Two cards really matter here: the pocket veto may well be the Aces of Spades, the card that gives Patrick the chance to take the jackpot, show he is a leader who can bring people together to hammer out tough decisions.

The other is the Joker -- and who, if anyone, will get stuck with it on July 31.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Clueless in the Capitol

It's long been clear that "Washington." that overall epithet for government and politics, has been out of touch with the the world "beyond the Beltway." The flap over "Gibbs-gate," where one side can't handle the truth and the other tries to turn it into a scandal, proves the disconnect is deep.

Now comes Politico, which many believe has helped make the nation's capitol more self-absorbed and out-of-touch, has come up with a poll that shows, in economic terms at least, just how out of touch district denizens really are, at least economically.
Roughly 45 percent of “Washington elites” said the country and the economy are headed in the right direction, while roughly 25 percent of the general population said they felt that way.
The figure that jumps out the most is 6 percent unemployment.

The problem is nonpartisan. Democrats and Republicans are both clueless to the inanities of their warfare in the face of the real problems out there. My bias shows up in declaring that Democrats have at least tried -- and succeeded -- to put in place at some measures to undo the damage of the Republican years when feeding at the trough -- without regulation -- went wild.

But when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a fit over White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs simple declaration that Democrats could lose their House majority -- an obvious fact to any politically sentient individual, including Pelosi -- Democrats are behaving like their party symbol, the jackass.

Earth to DC. Earth to DC. You wonder why both MoveOn and the Tea Party has it out for you?

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Give it a rest

Nine hundred seventy-seven.

That's the number short-memoried critics should keep in mind when they bloviate about Barack Obama and his vacation days or golf outings. Because George Bush spent all or part of 977 days, -- that's 2.6 years -- at either Camp David or the Crawford ranch. It apparently doesn't count the time spent with Mom and Dad in Kennebunkport either.

If you're looking for an apples to apples comparison, it's 120-65 based on time served.

And the Obama family mixes with real human beings (as best they can within the protective Secret Service cocoon) in places like Bar Harbor, Yellowstone, even Martha's Vineyard. It's a far cry from the isolation of presidential retreats.

It's called trying to live a somewhat normal life with two young children while also dealing with a 24-7-365 spotlight.

I think we have bigger issues to deal with than vacation spots. And for the record, Obama has dealt with those too -- the Great Recession, health care and financial regulation -- even taking a few hours or days to recharge.

Chill out. It's good advice for Obama and for his critics.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Crocodile tears

Our media hungry junior senator appears to be having a hissy fit:
“Why is it that I’m always the one that has to vote with the Democrats? Bipartisanship is a two-way street, you know? Why can’t they also work together to pay for these things within the budget, within the monies that we already have? Why is it that we always have to add to the deficit?’’
But Scott Brown's self-pity is unmasked a few paragraphs later when the Globe's Matt Viser comes up with the killer quote explaining why Brown's "compromise" unemployment benefits bill is going nowhere.
“There’s no Republican plan at this moment that I’m aware of,’’ Senate minority whip Jon Kyl, said this week.
While Kyl's comment could apply to virtually every piece of legislation that has come before the Senate in the past two years, it's especially noteworthy in the case of Brown's cosmetic proposal to cover up his consistent effort to side with GOP "leaders" in using the long-term unemployed as a pawn in the GOP's "Just Say No to Barack" effort.

A closer look at Brown's "plan" explains why it has nothing for no one and has failed to pick up any sponsor -- Democrat or Republican.

For Democrats, the problems include the fact it cuts off stimulus money, targets food stamp and earned income tax credit recipients and imposes a tax on workers who want to convert 401 (k) retirement accounts to Roth IRAs. This of course from the man who opposed $19 billion in taxes on high-risk banking maneuvers.

On the Republican side, the reason is even simpler. It would represent any effort to engage, to legislate. That would do serious damage to the GOP strategy of giving no ground and win back Congress by being obstructionist.

Obama called out the GOP
on using the unemployed as pawns in their cynical game in his weekly address today.

If Brown were truly serious about compromise, he should start by talking to his own "leaders" instead of whining about how Democrats won't sign onto his cynical "solution."

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Happy Anniversary

A small moment of congratulations -- to me.

It's been five years -- and 1,972 posts -- since Massachusetts Liberal made its debut to zero attention.

If anyone wants an explanation -- the difference between the blog's name and the URL is simple: a typo in filling out the registration material. And for my own moniker, it fit at the time and still does on many a day.

Since then, I'm pleased with a small but steady audience that visits and have been the recipient of a kudo or two.

Yes, I still ride Tim Cahill even if he's shifted over to the "independent side." And I am sincerely grateful to Scott Brown for providing me fresh material on a regular basis.

Most of all, I'm grateful to those of you who keep checking in.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fox and "Friends"

There's been a disturbing wave of wacko making its way across the country this summer, a frightening combination of ignorance and hatred that really tests the limits of the Fox News mantra and the mainstream media's tolerance of the Tea Party movement's fringe.

Let's start with the Iowa billboard, since removed, comparing Barack Obama to Vladimir Lenin and Adolf Hitler. The Iowa Tea Party co-founder says it was intended to send the message "radical leaders prey on the fearful & naive."

Leave aside the poor reading of history and politics that Tea Partiers are guilty of by believing that a fascist philosophy is somehow alive in the heart of what the consider to be a left-wing socialist, and you are still left with a stunning message of hatred in comparing Obama to a mass murderer.

Needless to say, that type of virulent hatred has caught the attention of the NAACP, which passed a resolution declaring the Tea Party to be racist. Hardly surprising for an organization, despite its anachronistic name, has championed the cause of fighting racism.

But that in turn triggered the Queen of the Tea Party.

In an appearance with Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin offered a defense of the Tea Party, claiming that personally they don't care if President Obama is “half white or half Black.” Not the language of a careful and considered speaker.

The paid Fox "analyst" backed it up in a rambling Facebook message in which, with a straight face, she declared ..."Isn’t it time we put aside the divisive politics of the past once and for all."

Meanwhile, Glenn Beck, the man who declared Obama "hates white people," is raising red flags about the New Black Panther Party and it's "disturbing agenda against white people." The group, which Newsweek aptly described as the new ACORN, makes a marvelous vessel in which the right can pile its assertions that the mainstream media ignores real threats to our freedom and safety while picking on the Tea Party.

But we may have finally seen a bit of an effort by that very same mainstream media to take a closer look at the Tea Party cheerleaders.

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, in a profile of Fox's America's Newsroom anchor Bill Hemmer,notes the program's penchant for leading every newscast's first solo guest with a conservative. And while Hemmer claims to be a straight down the middle newsman, insisting that Karl Rove can be a neutral, doesn't lend to his credibility on that score.

It's a start, a small one at that. But it's way past time for the rest of the respectable media to take an in-depth look at the hate coming from the right.

Although in fairness, we should note the University of Texas has had second thoughts about naming a dormitory after a Klansman, who happened to be a popular law professor.

I report. You decide.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The heat is on

As if the temperature and humidity weren't high enough lately, Deval Patrick is doing his best to raise it even more under the Golden Dome.

With one eye on the July 31 end of the legislative calendar and the other firmly planted on Nov. 2, Patrick is raising his rhetoric in an effort to either get the Legislature to move on some of his key initiatives or make them the scapegoat if nothing happens.

And meanwhile, Charlie Baker can only sit back, look at news that cuts credibility from his claims and dream up budgetary solutions that are just dreams without legislative concurrence or a statewide ballot initiative.

But back to Patrick, who is engaging in an ever-increasing war of words with House Speaker Robert DeLeo over slots at the track, even as he decries the rhetorical escalations.
“We’re not going to get a bill without a compromise between the House and Senate, and there isn’t going to be a compromise until folks start trying to engage with each other and dial down some of the rhetoric,’’ Patrick told reporters. “To the extent that this stuff is stuck on the gaming bill, it’s really important we take a deep breath and start talking to each other, instead of about each other, and try to find the compromises that get this stuff done.’’
For a governor accused of being too aloof and disengaged, hypocrisy is a charge he can live with when the headlines show him to be active and passionate.

But DeLeo is no innocent here either, having told the Statehouse News last week that his intention was to gum up the works until he gets the racinos he wants, ostensibly to boost local aid.
"I just can't be persuaded," DeLeo said. "As the governor and others may have trouble being persuaded about having the slots, I can't be persuaded that we shouldn't have the slots. The casinos are going to have slot machines, so I really, really can't understand the difficulty with it."
Senate President Therese Murray, who agrees with Patrick on racinos, is wisely letting the boys engage in their own spitting contest.

From a political perspective, this is golden time for Patrick. He is showing himself as deeply engaged, fighting an entrenched legislative leader. He was also handed a free gift when a judge reinstated the pension of DeLeo's indicted predecessor, reminding voters about the corruption stench emanating from the House and Senate in recent years.

And while all this is playing out, Baker needs to gin up attention. Hence his chat with the Herald in advance of an announcement that he will impose new caps on Beacon Hill spending and rebuild the state’s rainy day fund. All part of an effort to lay the blame for the Great Recession at Patrick's feet:
“I want Massachusetts to learn from the mistakes of the last four years,” Baker told the Herald. “Let’s try to make sure we do something going forward where we’re not leaving these gigantic deficits.”
While it's true voters don't discern between culprits and tend to blame the easy target when they're angry, those pesky facts do tend to get into the way. Facts like the new CNBC survey listing Massachusetts at No. 5 among America's Top States for Business.

Or the fact that the Legislature ultimately decides spending levels and rainy day fund use. Good luck getting them to agree to your plans Charlie, short of launching a ballot initiative that could appear no earlier than 2012.

There's a long way to go until November. Heck, there's a long way to July 31 and legislative logjams have a way of rapidly breaking, even as late as July 30. The posturing now is not really different from the words before the Legislature passed ethics, pension and transportation reform last year.

Patrick is building his own campaign credibility as someone who can get things done -- or setting himself up as the someone with both the willingness and the experience in challenging an entrenched Legislature that has stood in the way of progress.

These are good days for Deval. Whether he can keep them going is clearly the big question.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Friends, Romans, Countrymen...

I come to bury Scott Brown, not to praise him.

Marc Antony may have had it closer to the mark than the Rev, Jesse Jackson in describing Scott Brown's latest flip flop on the financial reform package. This "yes" (let's wait for an actual roll call) came after Brown -- who saved banks a cool $19 billion in the conference report-- said he needed to sleep on his decision over the July 4th recess.

More Hamlet than Julius Caesar, but we'll plod along.

Jackson, ignoring the water Brown carried for the banks, immediately leaped to sing Brown's praises:
“Brown is sort of oxygen to Washington’s stale political process."
Staleness reflected no doubt by Jackson -- in a conciliatory statement that was a far cry from the rant he leveled at Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, whose own somewhat over-the-top denunciation that LeBron James' move to Miami was somehow equivalent to that of a "slave master" berating a "runaway slave."

Yeah, except for the millions of dollars James has and will continue to rake in.

But Jackson appears mute on the subject of Brown's solidarity with that "stale political process" that has equated the long-term unemployed with drug addicts and cut off benefits to an estimated 1.4 million Americans who don't have James' lucrative options. All as part of a cynical Republican game to deny Barack Obama victories going into the midterm elections.

The evil men do live after them -- the good is oft buried with their bones. So let it be with Brown, who has stood up for the banks and financiers who fuel his campaign while proverbially running his truck over the working men and women who supported him under false pretenses.

And Brown is an honorable man.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Two Minutes Hate

It was just a passing comment in a story about the state of media today, but it struck a long-lost chord.
..."[L]ots of folks seem oddly resigned to living in a culture where anyone who is even remotely a public figure must expect to be defined by the least flattering thing they've ever said or done. Let the public mask slip for a moment . . . and you've only yourself to blame when, predictably, it becomes the focus of today's Two Minute Hate. Is this a culture anyone actually wants to live in?"
Two Minutes Hate. I hadn't even thought about that term since I put down a copy of George Orwell's 1984. Lefties have always held up Orwell as one of their shining literary lights and sadly, many of the ideas he conceived in 1949 came to fruition either by 1984 -- or today.

With security cameras on many corners and flat screen TVs all the rage, we have the makings for the telescreens that dominated life in 1984.

But that technological similarity doesn't come close to the what might be more accurately called the Two Hours Hate, the daily rants of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck at selected targets, repeated on a regular basis until they stick like glue.

Even if they may not be true.

Life imitating art. It's enough to send a chill up your spine, not matter how hot and humid it may be.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Off with their heads

The Herald is in high dudgeon this morning over the protest that greeted Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer during his visit to Boston for the National Governors Association Conference.

No less than two stories and one column take aim at the controversial immigration policy and liberal agita with it. Brewer is pictured as a victim of liberal overkill.

The editors down at Wingo Square might have done a better job of looking at her track record before leaping to her defense. You might even say they've lost their collective head.

Much like Brewer, whose claims about marauders decapitating law-abiding citizens seem to lack um, credibility.

Where's the Queen of Hearts when you really need her?

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Drug tests for Senate Republicans

While Scott Brown enjoys his new job -- even while going back to his old job and lobbying for slot machines for a family friend's race track -- other folks aren't so lucky. They'd like just one job, or the opportunity to support themselves while looking for one.

But Brown and his Republican Senate colleagues have decided to take a stand -- on the throats of the long-term unemployed -- and say those benefits are wasteful, contribute to the long-term debt of the United States and have to be paid for right now.

The venality and wackiness of the "compassionate conservative" movement that rang up the deficit through two credit card wars and tax cuts for the rich is vividly on display here. David Tuerck of the Beacon Hill Institute and a firm believer in the supply side economics that created the Reagan deficit, thinks benefits only discourage job seekers.
“If the goal is to get people back to work, why tie the money to the condition that you stay unemployed?"
Yet that's a more charitable thought than the one offered by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, who think the long-term unemployed are fakers who should be drug-tested.
"A lot of people are saying, 'Hey, it's about time. Why do we keep giving money to people who are going to go use it on drugs instead of their families?'"
Brown, as usual, needs more time to think about a Hatch proposal to do just that. Maybe he could use the time spent lobbying for slots to think about it?

Maybe it's time to drug test anyone who just says no to helping real people with real stories of searching for jobs in an economy devastated by Republicans who couldn't just say no to fat cats who feasted at the twin GOP troughs of no regulation and no taxes.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Scott Brown lobbies for jobs

Oh, never mind.

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Part of the problem

Let's start with the fact that police are the backbone of a civil society, protecting us from those who believe the laws are not meant for them. Beat officers start shifts without a 100 percent guarantee that they will walk out the door and head for home when it ends.

And as citizens, police officers have the right to practice politics. But they don't have the right to practice hypocrisy. Nevertheless, Boston Police Patrolman's Association President Thomas Nee is very good at that.

Nee was a leader of the blue wall aggregating outside the Green Monster last night, hoping to embarrass Deval Patrick at a National Governors Association soiree at Fenway Park. It's a familiar tactic for Nee and the BPPA who endorsed George H.W. Bush over Michael Dukakis in 1988 and held Tom Menino and John Kerry hostage before the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston.

But when Nee blusters about Patrick breaking a promise to put a thousand more cops on the street, he's ignoring a big reason for that not happening: a sharp drop in state revenues that has meant an increasingly larger percentage of that scarce cash going for Quinn Bill benefits and expensive police patrols at many construction sites.

Nor have police, firefighters and the municipal employee been willing to help out by going back to the bargaining table and talk about the pension and medical costs that are strangling cities and towns and forcing layoffs, not hirings.

Keep all those facts when you listen to Nee and remember he's not part of the solution, he's part of the problem. And he loves playing politics as much as he loves policing. Maybe more.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

Kagan's moment may be on the horizon

Judge Joseph L. Tauro has really raised the stakes for Republicans looking to somehow block the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court.

The high court traditionally takes cases when they get conflicting decisions on controversial issues. Tauro's ruling yesterday that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional certainly fills the bill on the second part of that equation -- even if it is technically applicable only to Massachusetts.
“This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status.’’
But the reality is that Massachusetts' stance on gay marriage is central to this debate. And Tauro added more fuel to the fire by attacking the stance by opponents that judges can't interfere in allegedly sacrosanct traditions about marriage -- and he even tweaked Tea Partiers who like to hang everything on 10th Amendment states rights arguments.
Tauro wrote that, for many years, laws barring interracial marriage were at least as contentious as the current battle over gay marriage.

“But even as the debate concerning interracial marriage waxed and waned throughout history, the federal government consistently yielded to marital status determinations established by the states."

“That says something. And this court is convinced that the federal government’s long history of acquiescence in this arena indicates that, indeed, the federal government traditionally regarded marital status determinations as the exclusive province of state government."
Meanwhile, 3,000 miles away, another federal district court judge is weighing arguments against California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage there. Either way the ruling goes, advocates on both sides of that case see it as the ultimate test case to wind up before the Supreme Court.

Which brings us back to Kagan.

While Republicans have maintained their usual petulance to any and all things Obama, there has been no indication they intend to filibuster her nomination and require Democrats to rustle up a supermajority to secure her place on the court.

Nor has the California case been something lost in their deliberations. But the Tauro ruling could create a new sense of urgency -- certainly for the rabid right that fears gay marriage much as they opposed interracial unions.

Things may get even hotter in Washington.

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High stakes games (II)

House Speaker Robert DeLeo really upped the ante on slots yesterday. Too bad no one without subscription access to the Statehouse News Service will know about it.

In a nutshell, DeLeo said that without race track slots as part of a final casino bill, the House will probably jam up every other piece of legislation pending between now and the session's close on July 31.

The speaker also has some good cards with which to play: legislation dealing with health care cost control that has been a priority of Senate President Therese Murray and a campaign trail issue for Gov. Deval Patrick and Charlie Baker.

Let's hope some enterprising Globe or Herald reporter can match this story on a steamy Friday.

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Mad dogs and politicians

Must be the heat. What else can explain the low blows offered by Tim Cahill and Charlie Baker's campaign.

Treasurer Tim must have been feeling a bit light-headed when he "misfired" with a blatant lie about Deval Patrick's stance on immigrants. Actually it's just another sign how Cahill has lost his way on a variety of things.

And to the juvenile member of the Baker campaign staff who thought people needed a "sense of humor" to appreciate a web ad with a purloined copy of a technically plagued WFXT-TV interview with Deval Patrick, a word: grow up.

And a suggestion: if the Patrick camp stoops to your level by running a web ad mocking your candidate's wooden stump performance, suck it up. Or get a sense of humor.

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Follow the money

I thought I would take the day off from the Scott Brown Watch, but Joan Vennochi has kindly done the work for me.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
said it best:
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."
I guess our junior senator is not a little statesman.

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High stakes game

You think it's been hot outside? Just imagine what it was like in the Statehouse yesterday.

As House and Senate negotiators began the process of reconciling two different versions of gambling legislation, Gov. Deval Patrick fired a warning shot across the bow of House Speaker Robert DeLeo, suggesting that any plan that puts slot machines at race tracks is a "no-bid contract" for private developers.

And just to push up the thermostat a bit more, Senate President Therese Murray -- who often has a hard time hiding her disdain for Patrick -- immediately climbed on board:
“I think a no-bid, noncompetitive contract isn’t where the Senate wants to go.’’
Glad they don't hold conference committee negotiations in public!

But the double-teamed DeLeo still may have an ace of his sleeve, two questions placed on the November ballot, rolling back the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent and eliminating its extension to alcohol.

If approved, those measures could trim more than $2 billion from already shrunken state coffers -- and by extension, city and town budgets too.
“How can we forgo $100 million in local aid for the next fiscal year?’’ DeLeo told reporters. “If someone can come up with a better plan that’s going to bring $100 million to local aid next year, then so be it, I’m willing to discuss it.’
Touche. Mr. Rock meet Ms. Hard Place.

Elected officials and hopefuls (that means you Charlie Baker) face a plate of unappetizing choices going forward. There's deep public unhappiness over higher taxes on the right and a strong undercurrent against casinos and diminishing human services on the left.

Supporting tax cuts is a no-brainer for most non-incumbents, who can only hope the problems won't happen when or if they take office. For someone like Baker who touts his budgetary prowess, the stretch is bigger still.

Patrick is walking an even tighter rope, because his base probably hates casinos more than Baker's base hates taxes. And since Patrick needs every one of his loyalists, opposing free-standing slots at race tracks -- using loaded words aimed at the bad behavior of some legislators -- is indeed a rough balancing act.

So stay tuned. While forecasters promise some relief by the weekend for those of us sweating in our sleep, the perspiration is just starting to flow on Beacon Hill as the Legislature careens to its July 31 expiration date.

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Pin the tail on the elephant

With a vote expected soon on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, observers are speculating yet again on which way the wind will blow our junior senator, Scott Brown.

Follow the money.

Brown has zigged and zagged his way during his five months in office -- against health care, for (and against) financial regulatory reform, for jobs but against extended unemployment benefits. The Globe has labeled him a "fiscally conservative moderate" who favors abortion rights (sometimes) but opposes gay marriage.

But the rubber is about to meet the road in the ideologically charged confirmation vote. The party line is simple to observe simply by looking at how the red meat crowd took off after her mentor, Justice Thurgood Marshall.

So back to the money.

Finance and real estate executives are among the major contributors, their handiwork show in his devotion to eliminating a $19 billion in taxes on the banking industry to pay for the regulation package aimed at ending their excesses.

Not far behind though "Republicans/conservatives," the largely out-of-state ideological warriors who helped sweep Brown into office over the sleeping Martha Coakley. Brown was also the No. 1 destination for the "retired," an ideologically hard to pin down group that has been clearly leaning right in in the most recent election cycle.

Brown has defied lock step prediction and has perversely offered in-state solidarity by joining Democrats in support of the back-up engine boondoggle for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

But if I were a betting man, I would probably follow where the campaign contributions lead me -- particularly since Kagan is not likely to be filibustered and has enough Democratic support that voting the political line could generate Brown more cash.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Good jobs at good wages?

It breaks down to $121,250 per job.

Doing the math, General Electric's pledge to create 4,000 jobs to build a backup engine for the F-35 Joint Fight Striker already seems out of whack, no matter how much skill is involved in the tasks.

And then you get to the fact the company acknowledges that ultimately the job total will be a wash when you tally in the positions that will be lost by expiring contracts.

But our congressional delegation apparently isn't doing the math in pushing for the engine that has cost $2.4 billion so far for development and estimates suggest will actually cost another $2.9 billion over the next six years. And you know how accurate those defense spending estimates are.

Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a host of others are opposed to this boondoggle. And they should. Why build a backup engine? Why not get it right the first time?

Massachusetts Democrats have pushed for this engine in the face of logic and common sense, and GE's own shrinking estimates of new jobs.

But the stance become even dicier when you consider the position of the delegation's lone Republican, Scott Brown, who has also stood foresquare against extending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless without a source to pay for them.

Here's a rather big pot of money Senator. And the benefits are far less than $121,250 per worker.

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

More mush from the wimps

I know, it's hard to use the words "Republican" and "intellectual" in the same sentence, but here goes.

Senate Republicans are once again displaying massive intellectual dishonesty in objecting to Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court. Let's start with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:
“I do not have confidence that if she were confirmed to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court she would suddenly constrain the ardent political advocacy that has marked much of her adult life,’’ said McConnell, of Kentucky.
I guess that would have ruled out William Rehnquist, right Senator?

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Campaign budgets

It doesn't take super skill to discern the underlying political values of Boston's two newspapers. But the message is certainly loud and clear in today's coverage of Deval Patrick's signing of the fiscal 2011 budget.

The Globe leads with what's there: the pain of a $27.6 billion spending plan that slashes "funding for services across state government, including public education, dental care for the poor, and developmental services for toddlers."

The Herald looks at what's missing: a no new taxes pledge from Deval Patrick.

Looks like it's right out of the talking points of Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill.

Like the Herald, neither of Patrick's opponents let the facts of the day get in the way. The fact that Patrick bit the bullet and nixed a legislative balancing act that tried to paint a best- and worse-case scenario if federal stimulus dollars held up by Scott Brown and company ever come through.

Patrick opted for the tough medicine lawmakers will very likely sidestep when they take up his vetoes next week.
“The pain is widespread. Our budget reflects the difficult economic times.’’
Baker and Cahill were quick to pounce (before the ink was applied, let alone dried), laying all the blame at Patrick's door naturally.

For two creatures of Beacon Hill, they both seem blissfully unaware of the real problem Patrick or one of them would face in crafting a budget: a Legislature with the votes to do what it wants.

Baker loves to attack Patrick for approving the sales tax increase -- and the governor did sign it into law, after lawmakers trashed his own proposal to close the budget gap. Would a Gov. Baker or Cahill rip themselves in similar circumstances?

But the most annoying habit of this annual political dance is that the critics are not asked how they would do things differently. And if pressed, he offer just a vague mantra about waste, fraud and abuse.

Heck, you would have thought there would have been little of it left after Administration and Finance Secretary Baker slashed it all from the Weld budgets and tough Republican governors named Cellucci, Swift and Romney carried on in his image.

And as for the no new taxes gimmick? Let's see how long it takes for a sober and reasonable chief executive to cut off his options when presented with cold, hard reality.

Happy Fiscal New Year!

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The importance of being Scott

Scott Brown is like a kid in the candy store, trying to sample everything he gets his hands on, leaving his fingerprints over everything.

The now the supposed working class hero, who forced Democrats to remove a $19 billion tax on banks from the financial reform legislation says he still isn't sure he will vote for the bill, prompting the Senate to delay a vote and not so coincidentally, preventing Barack Obama from achieving his goal of signing he major reform package into law before the Fourth of July.

In his usual direct approach, House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank declared:
“I don’t know what his problem is.’’
So now after serving his banking masters, Brown and lawmakers are off on (yet another) vacation, one that he and his fellow Republicans have made sure will be unpleasant for the millions who no longer have unemployment benefits to get them through the weeks and months it has taken to find replacement jobs for the ones they lost thanks to the bankers.

And Brown? Well he'll have more time to revel in being "the populist hero." He may even reflect that it's time to stop playing coy games and vote for the banker's giveaway he created.

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