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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, October 30, 2010

Beware the flying numbers

It's Halloween weekend, the last before Election Day, and numbers are flying around like crazy. Polls. Jobs lost. World Series odds. Someone is probably making book on Brett Favre's cranky ankle.

But some important numbers are out that can provide important context in the race for the Corner Office. Because they rely on nine months of activity and not selective one-month fluctuations. And they show that while things aren't perfect in Massachusetts, we are a better off than a lot of other states.

The Massachusetts economy expanded at a 3.7 percent rate in the third quarter,, down from a high of 6 percent growth in the first three months. That's considerably better than the national growth rate of 2 percent for the third quarter.

And it provides important context to the cherry-picked economic data being tossed around by a so-called fiscal expert named Charlie Baker. He's on TV right now with a commercial taking aim at a one-month job loss data point, claiming it somehow tells the full story.

Not surprising, economists who do this stuff for a living disagree:
“It’s a feast-or-famine recovery,’’ [UMass-Dartmouth professor Michael] Goodman said. “It is still largely concentrated in those sectors of the economy considered white collar, while manufacturing and construction workers are continuing to suffer.’’
That reality is what makes the one-month job loss figure attractive to Baker, who hopes to reach the manufacturing and construction workers who vote Republican more and more these days.

Let's also take a broader view of Massachusetts and the nation as a whole.
“We’re coming off a period of very rapid growth, and it’s slowing,’’ said Alan Clayton-Matthews, a Northeastern University economics professor who analyzes a variety of data to estimate the state’s economic growth for the UMass journal. “But it’s still stronger than the US, and I expect we’re going to be growing faster than the US over the next six months."
Good numbers to keep in mind when you pore over the polling data that, for all it's recent sways, remains consistent. Deval Patrick has steered a pretty straight course over very troubled waters.

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Desperate hours

The Mad Hatters of Herald Square are getting nervous as the clock winds down and the latest poll shows Charlie Baker winning -- the race for running the worst campaign.

The front page of today's Tea Party Newsletter and the web site home page are in full booster mode, complete with a Howie Carr column sure to send shivers down Baker's spine: "Don't give up now, Charlie Baker."

And while the latest Suffolk University Poll shows Deval Patrick expanding his lead over Baker to 6 points among likely voters as we drift into double digit hours before the polls open, the Herald offers the spin of Baker pollster Neil Newhouse about how a dead heat in their internal polls is actually an improvement over the 7-point lead in their own poll two weeks ago.

(The Phoenix's David Bernstein expertly demolishes that spin here.)

The Baker camp is hoping for some Scott Brown "magic," but even here the polls let him down: five days out the widely ignored wave in the "cyber buzz" for Brown had broken on the shore in the form of a 6-point lead.

The Baker camp won't be able to fault the Herald for their own failure. The candidate was running around reacting to a resurrected, two-month-old Tea Party Newsletter story that a state agency had considered buying a barge to help place wind turbines in deep ocean waters.

Patrick meanwhile, was out in western Massachusetts, an area with far fewer votes but a place that doesn't hang on the words of the Tea Party Newsletter.

The Suffolk Poll does show some movement for Baker: a drop in support in southeastern Massachusetts, where he has offered tepid support for Jeff Perry; a drop among middle-aged voters and, perhaps worrisome for Patrick as he tours western Mass., a gain in Suffolk County.

Most ominous for Baker though is three-fifths of poll respondents think Patrick will win but only one-quarter expect the Republican to be giving a victory speech Tuesday night.

That means the Mad Hatters of Herald Square are going to be very busy this weekend reporting and deciding.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The 7 percent "solution"

The idea is so preposterous that even the Tea Party Newsletter relegated it to deep within the recesses of its web site. But with less than a week to go, expect Charlie Baker to launch fear ads accusing Deval Patrick of planning to raise the income tax to 7 percent.

We all know political campaigns make selective, out-of-context use of sound bites and headlines to scare voters about the other guy or gal. That's what Baker did in this week's debate when he took an answer Patrick offered to a questioner to suggest Patrick supports a graduated state income tax.

But it's rare to see outright fabrication, which is exactly what Baker did yesterday in a set-up that strongly suggested last-minute commercial material:
“To solve the $2 billion deficit the state faces next year without any reforms or restructuring to deal with the $2 billion problem the governor doesn’t acknowledge exists, you would have to raise the income tax from 5.3 to 7 percent,” Baker said. He added, “The governor hasn’t proposed anything, but what he has done over the past four years is raise taxes.”
Not even the slimmest shred of evidence and note the weasel words that he "hasn't proposed anything," words that can be neatly edited from a commercial that would likely be launched Friday night -- too late for Patrick to respond until the TV advertising offices re-open on Monday.

Patrick has discussed the deficit the state faces next year as well as what he says have been a cumulative $13 billion in cuts that Baker has yet to acknowledge accompanied tax increases. And Baker's own solution to the deficit problem is to roll back the income tax to 5 percent, creating a hole just as large as the one he claims Patrick is ignoring.

Baker needs to change the subject about the real October Surprise, the memo that emerged in 1998 in which he labeled Big Dig costs "surreal," but suggested the solutions be delayed until after that year's gubernatorial election.

However, putting words in other people's mouths to distract from your own words on paper is not an honest or ethical way to do it.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Taxing my patience

How can there be fat marbled through the state budget if Charlie Baker took it all out during his years as budget chief for Bill Weld?

That's the question we need to start with to examine the claims by proponents of Questions 1 and 3 that Massachusetts can eliminate the sales tax on alcohol and slash the overall sales tax to 3 percent, creating what Question 3 author Carla Howell calls a "job-creating machine."

Let's start with Question 1, a special-interest proposal by and for package store owners along the New Hampshire border. Note we never hear about the packies along the Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont and New York borders.

Foes of Question 1 says liquor sales remained level through July, since when they have gone up by 3 percent. Eliminating the tax would take $110 million from the care of 100,000 Massachusetts residents with substance abuse problems.

So where's the problem, other than the possibility of putting additional drunken drivers on the road?

No on 1 is easy.

The allure of Questions 3 is obviously far more significant, as the polls suggest. But lost in Bakers's harping on the state's impending $2 billion shortfall is the cumulative $13 billion Deval Patrick cites as having been cut since the Great Recession dried up tax receipts that fund what Question 3 author Carla Howell demeans as "low-priority" spending like education and public safety.

The loss of teachers, cops and firefighters has been like a steady drip in a faucet, never quite catching your undivided attention while causing harm nonetheless.

The 1.25 percent sales tax increase was designed to deal with the drip. The 3.25 percent cut proposed by Howell would be the equivalent of the 10-foot MWRA pipe that failed earlier this year, forcing a shutdown of the eastern Massachusetts water system.

Fire stations would close, cops would be laid off and kids would be stacked in classrooms like cord wood. Let's also talk about the taken-for-granted pieces of community life -- trash collection and snow removal.

Low priorities? Only if Baker really did eliminate waste, fraud and abuse.

And we all know how that one turned out.

CORRECTION: It would be hard to have 100 million people with substance abuse problems in a state with approximately 6.6 million residents. Thanks to my anonymous copy editor for spotting the error.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Make it stop!

Bill Hudak may be on to something. Where can I sign up to sue to stop outrageous campaign ads?

Interestingly, the 6th District Republican congressional candidate doesn't have a problem with John Tierney calling him a "kook." No, he's upset about Tierney charging Hudak would shift the tax burden onto the middle class.

The suit seems the perfect coda to a campaign season where allegedly "fair and balanced" media moguls like Rupert Murdoch spent a $1 million to arm the Republican Governors Association with the cash they need to attack Tim Cahill and Deval Patrick. And where anonymous donors buttressed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, have launched wall-to-wall blitzes against Democrats with ads far more poorly sourced than Tierney's.

As an attorney, you would think Hudak had at least passing familiarity with the 1st Amendment, the Supreme Court's extension of those speech rights to corporations and the rules that make political spots virtually immune from editing by outsiders.

Read those tiny, tiny credits to newspaper headlines -- some from more than a decade ago -- that are used to justify attacks. As long as one newspaper writes one thing about you, it's fair game for an ad.

Certainly Hudak saw nothing wrong with creating his own ads trying to tie Tierney's recently indicted wife firmly around the congressman's neck. And Tierney has the defense of truth when it comes to Hudak.

More than likely, Hudak is looking for the free publicity that comes with a lawsuit, no matter how shaky the legal foundation.

As for me, I'm dreading the next week when the flood of ads we've already been subjected to opens into a full torrent, washing reason and sanity down the drain.

What a way to pick our leaders.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Didn't you get the memo?

Does a political bombshell explode if the Globe doesn't hear it? We'll certainly find out in the next few hours as the Associated Press story on Charlie Baker's cynical 1998 Big Dig memo moves around the political world.

The AP's Glen Johnson offers up the October Surprise in this race, a three-page memo from the outgoing Administration and Finance Secretary that calls Big Dig spending "simply amazing," foresees "draconian" cuts in other highway and transit spending and suggests the bad news be delayed until after the election in which Paul Cellucci beat Scott Harshbarger.

Under a section labeled "Remedies," Baker writes, "At some point, someone is going to have to take draconian measures to deal with the transportation spending plan."

Writing Aug. 26, 1998, more than two months before his boss, then-Gov. Paul Cellucci, was up for re-election, Baker lists four remedial steps for the governor to propose "after Nov. 5th" -- Election Day in 1998.

Among those remedies is a dip into the state's rainy day fund, a step Baker has blasted Deval Patrick for doing "before it started raining."

But the immediate impact of the story will be hard to gauge -- at least in the hours leading up to tonight's debate. The story appears only in the Globe's online version and its placement in the Herald is hard to tell without a hard copy (though much easier to find than on boston.com)

And Globe columnist Tom Keane certainly missed the memo, writing today in sympathy of the headaches the Big Dig Dig financing mess has caused Baker.

It's a given the newspapers shy away from powerful stories they did not break -- the Herald's failure to deal with the Jeff Perry story the most obvious recent example.

But with a week to go, ignoring a potential momentum-changing story by a highly credible reporter seems to be some pretty awful journalism.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Favorable winds for Patrick?

The most interesting nugget in today's Globe Poll is not that Deval Patrick has opened up a slight lead on Charlie Baker among likely voters. Nope, it's the fact they are within the margin of error on the unfavorability question.

Heading into tomorrow night's final televised debate -- a format where Baker has come across as way too strong and angry -- Patrick has a 49-43 favorable-unfavorable mark while Baker comes in at 38-40.

And the likability question -- the "would you want to have a beer with the guy" question that kept George W. Bush afloat -- is even wider, with Patrick holding a 44-25 margin.

It's hard to come up with the words to describe a campaign that took a candidate that was largely unknown to voters for months and have run a race so that with a little more than a week to go slight plurality holds him in an unfavorable light.

There are still clear rays of light for Baker in the Globe results, which are slightly closer than the WNEC Poll taken earlier this week. More Republicans and independents are "excited" about the election and a near-majority of voters want fresh leadership.

The debate offers the last chance for Baker to close a sale he has struggled to complete since the summer of 2009 when Patrick was given up a a fatally damaged incumbent. His performances in the earlier four-way contests have clearly not done the trick, but to change style and direction on a dime is never easy -- particularly when the candidate doesn't have the same verbal skills as Patrick.

While Tim Cahill has faded into virtual oblivion, he remains the key to the contest. The Globe poll suggests Treasurer Tim is now hurting Baker more, undoubtedly as a result of the ham-handed L'Affaire Loscocco.

And we can't even calculate what impact, if any, Baker's support of embattled 10th District congressional candidate Jeff Perry might have.

Hardly the place we thought this campaign would be when it began.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Makes my head spin

So is Sean Bielat the darling of Wall Street or is Barney Frank a tool of investment bankers? Boston Herald readers have a right to be confused.

The Mad Hatters of Herald Square proclaim today that Frank "raked in $40G from bailed out banks." That's apparently quite a recovery for Frank, who was portrayed yesterday as scrambling for cash while "Wall Street bigwigs" rallied to the side of his Fourth District challenger.

The Herald continues its quest to pump up the volume on what is admittedly the first serious challenge Frank has faced in decades. But for the true test of where the race stands, I prefer to look where the cash is actually being spent.

And it's not on Bielat television ads. And certainly not by the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee or the Fred Malek-led American Action Network. They have been busy double-teaming the airwaves attacking 10th District Democratic hopeful Bill Keating without ever mentioning GOP "darling" Jeff Perry.

When it's not busy leading cheers for Bielat (and ignoring Perry's woes), the Herald is also providing a differing viewpoint on the governor's race. And while this dispute is legitimate, the spin is predicable.

The Herald highlights the job loss total while the Globe focuses on the drop in the overall unemployment rate. The Herald's Jay Fitzgerald is quick to point out "[t]he two surveys’ mixed results ... are not unusual in the arcane world of economic projection."

So it was left to political reporter Hillary Chabot to wield the GOP talking points, declaring:
The crushing announcement yesterday that the Bay State has lost 24,000 jobs in the past two months could topple Gov. Deval Patrick off his frontrunner perch and derail his campaign message of leading the economy in a rebound, experts say.
At least you never have to ask the Herald which side they're on.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Mad Hatters of Herald Square

The Tea Party Newsletter, formerly known as the Boston Herald, has really outdone itself this morning.

While 10th District congressional candidate Jeff Perry faces the public wrath of a woman whose real tale of an improper strip search he failed to stop as a police officer, the Herald leads the paper with the alleged tale of woe of Barney Frank "digging deep into his own pocket to bail out his campaign, even as his rival taps Wall Street bigwigs."

If not for Margery Eagan's own opinions, the Perry story would be virtually invisible to readers of the paper that allegedly fends for the little guy.

The Mad Hatters of Herald Square seem to be reveling in the fact that Frank's current fund-raising efforts trail that of Conservative Heart Throb Sean Bielat, who has had a good run at collecting out-of-state money for his challenge to Frank.

On the surface, Bielat indeed seems to be following the path walked by Scott Brown in his January win over Martha Coakley. But the Herald doesn't like to skim below the surface.

For starters, Frank hasn't followed Coakley's lead of sitting on a lead, running positive TV ads with the $1 million-plus campaign fund he has already amassed and appearing in all corners of the sprawling district. Yes, he's even put his legendary sharp tongue on pause.

And if Frank is the alleged hand maiden of Wall Street, why are financial "bigwigs" spending cash to defeat him?

While I see occasional Bielat law signs and rush hour standouts, I also don't see much beyond rhetoric from the ex-Marine, including a never-substantiated claim he was only 10 points down.

The journalistic standards on display in today's Herald story wouldn't pass muster in most college classes.

Neither would the news judgment displayed in virtually ignoring (Associated Press story) a now adult woman publicly recounting for the first time what happened in a Wareham cranberry bog that night in 1991 when Sgt. Jeff Perry ignored the actions of his partner, actions that led to a prison term.
“He had to hear me screaming and crying,’’ said Lisa Allen, who released the statement to the Globe through her lawyer. “Instead of helping me, Jeff Perry denied anything happened.’’
The fact the Crimestopper's Special was beaten on the story by the Globe -- and failed to try to match it -- speaks volumes. But I guess they were too busy manufacturing a nice tale about Barney Frank.

Or they decided that Perry's Great Conservative Hope campaign was taking on serious water as a results of what happened in the bog 19 years ago.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Promises to keep

Here we are, less than two weeks away from the election and Charlie Baker is already backing away from his promises.

The former Administration and Finance Secretary, who knows a thing or two abut balancing budgets, has been proclaiming in his ads -- or through his spokespeople -- that tax cuts are just around the corner.
“There’s no phasing it down,’’ Baker spokesman Rick Gorka told State House News Service on Oct. 4. “It’s straight to 5. We’re filing the sales and income tax [cut] to 5 percent on Day One.’’
Not so, the candidate says now.
“I’ve proposed reducing that over four years and simplifying it to 5 percent, which I think would be a great thing to do,’’ Baker said at a press conference outside the State House, on another busy day of politicking ahead of the Nov. 2 election. “I’m going to pursue that straight out of the gate.’’
What's changed?

I'd like to think it's the real Charlie Baker emerging from the cave where he's been hidden by his campaign. That Baker is a pragmatist who knows that talk about slashing billions in waste, fraud and abuse is just talk. After all, he had the chance to wield the waste ax during the Weld administration and we know how that turned out.

Or maybe Baker is believing his internal polls showing him with a 7-point lead -- a result contrary to every other survey to date if you want to talk about funny numbers. And by that measure, he knows there's enough trouble ahead without adding to it.

Or perhaps he is seeing the business community, band together in opposition to Question 3, which would slash the sales tax well past its long-time 5 percent mark, all the way down to 3 percent. While Baker opposes the measure too, perhaps he feels too much ground may be opening between him and what should be a natural constituency.

In any event, it's interesting to see the promises roll back even before the vote is taken. Could this be an omen for how the Baker administration would run?

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Roll out the gimmicks

Massachusetts already has term limits. They are called elections. And with two weeks to go until the next one, Charlie Baker appears to be grasping at anything to push himself into the imagination of a public he has failed to stir.

The "outsider" who was also the "genius" when he held two top positions in the Weld administration is now trying on the ultimate in populist outrage wear.
“I’m a big believer in term limits. That’s another one of those things where the voters voted for it and Beacon Hill kind of told them to reconsider. There’s nothing that makes people more cynical than being told by their elected officials to take a walk when they vote on something at the ballot boxes.”
But people also get upset when their elected officials or candidates don't know what they are talking about. The Supreme Judicial Court struck down the 1994 law, a gimmicky plan by the Carla Howell of her day that wouldn't has tossed officials out, it just wouldn't put their names on ballots or have paid them.

And this is an especially bad year to rally for a sweep the bums out law, when fully one-sixth of lawmakers are leaving voluntarily and many others are facing serious challenges. One of them, in case Baker missed it, is his own running mate, Richard Tisei, first elected in 1985.

In fact, it can be argued Massachusetts needs a stronger Republican Party that can actually field candidates for all 200 legislative seats more than it needs a law that could have the effect of playing musical chairs among Democrats.

Even Baker's supporters are skeptical, starting with House Minority Leader Brad Jones.
“Good people are going to get hurt by it,” said Jones, who was elected in 1994. “Basically what we’d be telling somebody is, ‘You’re too experienced to do the job.’ I get that people are frustrated with Legislature, but at end of day that’s what the election is for.’’
Couldn't have said better myself Mr. Leader.

Sorry Charlie. Try something else.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

The fudge factor

The Globe has two of the gubernatorial candidates fudging the facts about Big Dig and MBTA financing today. But while Deval Patrick seems a bit loose with some words, Baker may have a more serious issue -- fudging bond documents.

Patrick appears to have overreached in trying to tie Baker's Big Dig administration to the sprawling MBTA debt problem, with the Globe's Noah Bierman calling out the Patrick camp for not having rock solid evidence to back up the claim.

Instead, Patrick appears to be relying on the commonly held belief that Big Dig costs sucked up all available transportation dollars -- and saddled the MBTA with additional projects to mitigate the massive highway construction.

Where Patrick seems to have stretched is in his contention that Baker is responsible higher bus, subway and commuter rail fares because of his signature on the Big Dig financing plan.

Patrick's overreach is ironic because the Globe nails Baker for a far more serious issue surrounding his signature: the fact the Weld Administration and Finance Secretary signed a 1996 bond prospectus saying the project would cost $7.7 billion when state officials knew that inflation would take it over $11 billion.

Baker has been more honest on the campaign trail -- declaring the project was $11 billion when he got to A&F in 1994 and was $11 billion when he left four years later.

But there are no brownie points for fessing up now when you sign a document under pains and penalties of perjury that shave the truth.

Especially when the most famous cost-waster and truth shaver, former Turnpike Authority boss James Kerasiotes acknowledges he fudged the true costs because he didn't want the inflation factor to become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

In 2003, the SEC found Kerasiotes negligent for failing to disclose a $1.4 billion cost overrun in three 1999 bond offerings, issued by the Turnpike Authority, the Commonwealth and the MBTA. In each case, Kerasiotes supplied the Big Dig cost estimates as he did in the 1996 bond offering by the commonwealth and signed by Baker.

Hindsight has shown trusting Kerasiotes was a bad move. But instead of fessing up to the fact the project was mess during the years when he was the state's finance chief, Baker insists on declaring he was just a little cog in the wheel.

Which is a much bigger whopper than Patrick's stretch.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Acid politics

Anyone looking for a vivid demonstration on how far right the Republican Party has lurched in the last two decades needs to read Michael Kranish's account in today's Globe on how the problem of acid rain was eliminated as a result of bipartisan cooperation.

The centerpiece, of course, was the proposal by President George H.W. Bush to allow companies that had excess emissions to purchase credits from companies that were environmentally friendly.

Today that free market concept is being vilified as "cap and trade" by the GOP warriors who never trusted Bush's credentials. And that vilification is central weapon in the armory of conservatives who still insist on denying global climate change.

Another sobering reminder of what lies ahead if Republicans gain control over one or both houses of Congress, accelerating the backsliding on an of the multiple problems from tax policy to financial regulation that have plagued the nation since Newt Gingrich's Contract On America in 1994.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

We report AND decide

Very convenient of the Herald to sponsor a debate and interpret the results. No need to waste my time reading.

But silly me did just that. And learned that reporter Hillary Chabot thought Deval Patrick mishandled a question from a student about insurance, offering to personally help her through a confusing system rather than turn into computer geek and fix it single-handedly.

Chabot then noted Charlie Baker, super hero, jumped to the rescue, before the story turned back to Patrick and the online and Twitterverse criticisms of his responses.

Not that the story was any more elucidating over at the Globe, where we learned who the candidates political heroes are.

The concept of a debate carried online instead of the stodgy confines of television studios is a good one. But it is marred when one of the sponsoring organizations adopts the dodgy standards of online political commentary and uses its print and online space to promote a favored candidate.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Another day on the trail

First Paul Loscocco, now Tom Reilly. Boy, Charlie Baker is rounding up those major endorsements.

The man who lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary to Deval Patrick in 2006 took to the steps of the Statehouse yesterday to declare his support for Baker -- and to insist he is not bitter, simply angry over Patrick's portrayal of Baker's role in the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care turnaround.

Baker, showing the political instincts that has him scrambling to try and close what should have been an easy sale, failed to show up, unlike when he accepted the backing of Tim Cahill's former running mate.

So is the Holliston turncoat more credible than a former two-term attorney general? Or is Baker concerned the campaign success of attorneys general past and present trying to move up (Scott Harshbarger, Reilly, Martha Coakley) will rub off on him?

Baker aides did round up a number of HPHC female employees, in turn highlighting another one of his apparent problems -- an inability to click with women.

Maybe the Cahill Clique really has gone over to the Baker camp.

And in another sign of concern, the Baker camp offered up two polls, one internal, trying to contradict the Suffolk University Poll that suggested L'Affaire Loscocco is taking its toll on the Republican candidate. That polls somewhat mirrors a Rasmussen Poll, but Baker aides were peddling their own numbers without allowing reporters to look at the underpinnings.

I'm the last person to trust polls, particularly in as volatile political climate as this one, but the actions of Baker's campaign do speak volumes to me about trends. Or at the very least, the concerns they have with less than three weeks to go.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

With friends like this...

If Tim Cahill's Turncoat Trio considers the latest e-mails to dribble out as good for them, then those folks have problems with reality.

You always start with the premise any state treasurer considers the lottery and unclaimed money lists as opportunities for personal political self-aggrandizement. The e-mails among Dane Strother, Adam Meldrum and Scott Campbell are exculpatory only in that they prove the former Cahill aides thought like consultants.
“Get the lottery immediately cutting a spot and get it up,’’ ... Strother wrote to four top campaign aides July 27. Needs to focus on the lottery being the best in the country and above reproach.’’
What is missing, so far, is any smoking gun, in the form of exchanges with lottery advertising officials putting an actual plan into motion.

But the e-mails do fit nicely into the Cahill assertion that his one-time friends were working, deliberately or not, to sink his efforts by putting into writing notions such as the lottery gambit that would be best left to words -- if spoken at all.

More interesting is the appearance of Baker campaign fund-raising material at the e-mail addresses of Meldrum, John Weaver and John Yob, the one-time aides being sued by Cahill. The treasurer's attorney says the only way that would happen is if the Baker camp has data provided to them by the Turncoat Trio.

About the only thing certain is this sordid political soap opera will continue to play out for a few more days as the political clock continues to click down, forcing Baker to play defense during the dwindling time he has to close the sale with voters that he is not about business as usual.

And as for the incumbent? Well Deval Patrick certainly can find a reason to smile with the latest Suffolk University-Channel 7 poll showing Patrick opening up a 7-point lead, at Cahill's expense. More significant, it appears to mirrors a recent Rasmussen poll showing Patrick is moving out of the 30s where his numbers have long resided and topped 45 percent, a key benchmark in a three-way race.

With 20 days to go, nothing is certain, other than Cahill is determined to make life miserable for Baker. And Patrick is the only one who benefits from this politics as usual episode.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Government that works -- in Chile

As the world slows down for a second to watch the rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners, let's stop for a second and think what might have happened if the scenario played out in today's polarized United States.

Would a government led by a right-of-center leader like Sebastian Pinera expended the resources necessary to mount the rescue or would it have pleaded budget woes in offering a half-hearted or no minimal effort?

Would mine safety advocates have raised questions only to be shouted down by industry advocates?

What would the talking heads on cable opine on the rescue's impact on Barack Obama's poll numbers or the Congress' spend-thrift ways?

Would the Tea Party say this is a good thing or that the men got themselves into trouble so they get themselves out without using public resources?

Would we have seen the mine owner take out ads on national television telling viewers all the wonderful things they will do to bring the miners home and make sure it never happens again?

The story is not quite over yet, but the lesson is clear that when government and people work together -- no shouting and no finger-pointing -- good things can happen.

As a nation, we were capable of this Chilean success story less than a decade ago. Now, I'm not so sure.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

You may leave here...

Spend a few days outside Massachusetts and L'Affaire Loscocco seems quaint. Not to mention impossible to sum up in a 30-second commercial, not to mention a brief in the New York Times.

New York television is awash in negatives -- and that's just the commercials before you start looking at the words Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino is saying for free.

The man who would be governor, Andrew Cuomo, is hammering away at his GOP rival with an outsize campaign war chest. Next door, Linda McMahon is running a steel cage advertising match against Richard Blumenthal for the Connecticut U.S. Senate seat.

Heck, there's not even a race in New Jersey but the state's teacher's association is hammering Gov. Chris Christie for playing politics by dumping a rival Race to the Top education grant -- and losing the federal cash.

Lots of anger. Not much in the way of answers. Sounds like the national Republican platform.

Watching our standard of decorum vanish, it's hard not to echo Thomas Friedman's recent comparison of 21st Century America with ancient Rome. But I think a different benchmark may be apt.

We seems to be fiddling while Rome is burning. That is when we are not pouring fuel instead of water on the flames.

It's good to be home and our own little relatively harmless shenanigans.

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Mr. Loscocco's Wild Ride

A week ago, Paul Loscocco was a virtual unknown to the Massachusetts electorate, the ultimate second banana on a political team. Today, he could walk into Cheers and the gang would yell "Paul."

Yep, everyone knows his name. But Good Time Paul has a credibility problem. Which is the same as saying the Red Sox had a few injuries last season.

Mr. Loscocco's Wild Ride through the governor's race continued yesterday with the allegation that the real reason he quit as Tim Cahill's running mate was that his boss and the Deval Patrick campaign were conspiring to run negative ads.

As Tommy Flanagan used to say on Saturday Night Live, "yeah, that's the ticket."

Unlike Cahill, who could produce e-mails showing his former "brain trust" conspiring to deliver Loscocco into the arms of Charlie Baker, the Holliston Republican-Independent-Republican offers us only his word, which has proven rather worthless to date.

Patrick campaign guru Doug Rubin was quick to slam the charges, made knowing that Rubin had once also worked for Cahill, and whose departure for Patrick soured their relationship too.
“When Paul Loscocco stood by Charles Baker last week, he once again proved that his word cannot be trusted,’’ Rubin said in a statement. “His most recent explanation of his actions is a desperate attempt to divert attention from his latest backroom deal and is in fact directly contradicted by numerous e-mails made public recently.’’
I'm sure Loscocco is planning a rebuttal. Something along the lines of the e-mails were manufactured by Barack Obama and Glenn Beck, who are working with Mahatma Gandhi to enslave the universe.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

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Friday, October 08, 2010

"Will definitely make for great PR for Paul"

All you need to know about the sorry state of Tim Cahill's campaign can be found in this e-mail from erstwhile running mate Paul Loscocco's adviser Jason Zanetti talking about Loscocco's political future after abandoning Cahill:
“I like the timing here because if we proceed as discussed, I think Paul will be credited with putting Baker ahead of Patrick in the next poll and hopefully on election day. Will definitely make for great PR for Paul and help repair his standing in the Republican Party for the years ahead.’’
And of course the fact that he made this dunderheaded observation in an e-mail chain with then-Cahill advisers John Weaver and Adam Meldrum, e-mails that apparently lived on the Cahill campaign server.

But the lawsuit Cahill filed yesterday this is starting to look like more than simply the meltdown of the independent campaign for governor. The e-mails make for fascinating reading about what would be one of the most bizarre political dirty tricks since Watergate, perhaps involving Republican Governors Association chairman (and 2012 presidential "hopeful") Haley Barbour, the former John McCain "brain trust" and perhaps "JSM" himself.

Starting with Zanetti's ludicrous misreading of Loscocco's political viability after bolting the Cahill ticket to embrace Baker, the e-mails offer a down and very dirty look at the machinations that apparently transpired before Loscocco played Brutus to Cahill's Caesar.

No one looks good here. Cahill's competence in personnel management is certainly in question for selecting a team of Benedict Arnolds.

The Baker campaign, which had been the recipient of millions of dollars in negative ads by the RGA directed at Cahill at the very least is distracted by what is clearly an effort by Cahill to take Baker down with him. It needs to forcefully respond to Zanetti's e-mail suggestion that GOP campaign's manager was trying to collect campaign dirt from the departing Cahill team.
“I spoke with Tim O’Brien just now,’’ Zanetti wrote ... in an e-mail sent last Sunday afternoon, just two days after Loscocco backed Baker, according to the lawsuit. “He wants to let the Paul story die on the vine. I wouldn’t mind at least one discussion with Adam and a reporter though about the ‘deep divisions’ between the camps, disrespect/distrust of Paul/his team, etc.’’
The GOP-spin version of the story in today's Herald -- that Cahill's suit is simply a ruse to cover up wrong doing in his own campaign -- offers as clear a window as ever into the media-political complex alive in Massachusetts today.

The only winner in this bizarre but entertaining tale of political intrigue is Deval Patrick, which is obvious in the silence out of his campaign.

The public is tired of politics as usual. And while this is truly politics as UNusual, it is going to make it even harder for Baker to close a sale with an electorate that clearly hasn't been convinced after more than a year on the campaign trail and with less than a month to go before decision day.

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Half-bakered notion

Lost amid the usual back and forth about insurance premiums, taxes and Big Dig tolls is this hidden gem: Charlie Baker says the Legislature will agree to his reform plans without a fight. Huh?

Yes, the veteran of two tours of duty in the Weld administration told the Patriot Ledger he thinks the Great and General Court -- which has stymied municipal finance reform and fought tooth and nail before losing ethics and pension reform -- is going to roll over and agree to his Baker's Dozen reform without a whimper.
In the Legislature, there’s “more appetite for (these reforms) than you might realize,” he said.
And I have a tunnel under the harbor I can sell you. Cheap. OK, maybe not the tolls.

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance of the way Beacon Hill works knows the Legislature holds the high cards, for better or worse. Whether it's the constitutional provision that the House, not the governor, initiates tax bills, or the sheer overwhelming 20-year reality of strong legislative leaders, the power today rests in the Great and General Court and is highly unlikely to ebb.

The lesson should be particularly clear to Baker, who saw his boss Weld campaign against then Senate President William Bulger, score enough senators to uphold a gubernatorial veto and yet never made any real progress until he decided to work with and not against lawmakers.

The succession of Republican governors with varying degrees of interest in governing only strengthened legislative power. The four-year history of the Patrick administration shows lawmakers are unlikely to give it back anytime soon.

Despite sharing party affiliation, Patrick had to fight tooth and nail for significant accomplishments in pensions, ethics, transportation and education. But that will forever be clouded by a flip-flop by House speakers on casinos and the damage that fight imposed on his leadership credentials.

Baker may indeed get a few more Republicans in both chambers. I even agree it would be a good thing to try and restore some balance.

But to declare lawmakers will wave through his proposals -- many of which they have steadfastly opposed for years -- is mind-numbing either for its cluelessness or its outright deceit.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Is there a full moon?

A candidate's wife about to plead guilty to tax fraud. Student activists stalking candidate's families. And let us not forget the case of the purloined running mate.

About the only thing missing from this week on the Massachusetts campaign trail is a candidate who dabbled in witchcraft.

Let's start with the serious. Patrice Tierney, wife of 6th District Democrat John Tierney is reported to be ready to plead guilty to federal tax charges involving a bank account that her brother allegedly used to deposit millions of dollars in illegal gambling profits from an offshore sports betting operation in Antigua.


Tierney released a statement saying his wife was duped by her brother. But with 27 days to go, it's hard to imagine a potentially more troubling issue for a candidate.

What makes the situation even more complicated is Tierney's opponent, Bill Hudak, fits quite nicely into this new bizarro world with his roots in the birther movement. North Shore voters have an interesting month coming up.

The same goes for South Shore voters who now have to contemplate what else may be afoot when a Republican activist decides to stalk a county prosecutor and his family to see if he really lives in the congressional district.

Jeff Perry denies the overzealous activists were doing his bidding in using a telephoto lens to watch the former Sharon residence of Bill Keating -- still the home of Keating's 22-year-old daughter.

Let's face it: Perry doesn't need any more attention about others engaging in questionable activity involving young women.

All of this somehow makes Paul Loscocco's jilting of Tim Cahill for Charlie Baker, who first embraced and then spurned Loscocco seem like mere politics as usual.

I was just lamenting the campaigns seemed somewhat flat recently. I guess I should be careful what I wish for.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Rules? What rules?

Karyn Polito was stuck in traffic and a few minutes late to work yesterday, so the House passed a supplemental budget over her objections. But she won't be able to use the same excuse for failing to file ethics statements about a road in Shrewsbury that abuts land her family owns.

The Globe reports the Republican candidate for Treasurer seems to be raging against the machine at the same time she benefits from it. That's because she helped to get the state to fund a road that connects her town with a commuter rail station in Grafton.

A road near where her family owns more than 60 acres of land stands to benefits from development in what ha been described as a "formerly desolate" stretch of town.
“Access is critical,’’ said David Begelfer, chief executive of NAIOP Massachusetts, a commercial real estate development association, explaining that the construction of such a road would generally increase the marketability of nearby property. “If you’re going to have a tenant with employees — if you’re able to provide access for driving or by mass transit — you clearly have a site that would be more attractive.’’
Equally clear are the ethics rules that govern the actions of public officials when it involves actions where there is an appearance that it might affect them.
“There is a presumption there is a financial benefit, and in fact it makes sense,’’ said Pamela Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “If you’re getting new services to your property, you’re going to get a benefit from that.’’
Nevertheless, Polito has failed to file appropriate documentation with the state Ethics Commission, despite 23-year-old guidance from that body not to act on matters affecting property near their own.

Nor has Polito detailed her role in multiple family development companies on annual financial disclosure reports, as required by the commission. Polito has disclosed her position as an employee and shareholder of Polito Development Corp., but not her role in three other entities.

The candidate chose to speak through a spokesman with a written statement, always a telling sign:
“Karyn’s advocating for the interests of the town of Shrewsbury is not a conflict of interest, and Karyn has and always will place the interests of her constituents over her own,’’ a spokesman, Frederick Van Magness, said in a statement.
Polito has been campaigning as someone who intends to shake up the status quo from the treasurer's office -- a claim similar to the one made by Joe Malone when he took the office in 1990. We all know how that turned out.

Perhaps she could have used her commuting time to brush up on the ethics laws?

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Scorched earth time

We're about to discover that angry politicians may match hell and a woman scorned on the fury scale.

The Herald reports Tim Cahill is in the field this week taping for what is expected to be a $1 million television advertising buy. After several September Surprises from his own camp -- particularly Paul "Benedict Arnold" Loscocco's slither over to Charlie Baker -- Cahill is mad as hell and appears ready to settle some scores.

While Cahill campaign manager Scott Campbell promises Deval Patrick will not be ignored in the upcoming negative blitz, it's a safe bet Cahill is aiming for payback against Baker, whose own campaign offerings have almost exclusively targeted Cahill and Patrick without spelling out his own plans.

The Republican Governors Association blitz, launched without Baker's participation, was the first nail in the Cahill coffin, moving him from second to a distant third even as they barely moved the needle for Baker.

The bad news for Baker is Loscocco's craven departure from the ticket and into Baker's arms creates the image of a backroom deal, no matter the candidate's denial of one. That is surely going to be a focal point of Cahill's strategy to empty the arsenal and go down in a blaze of glory.

And that's not good for Baker, still an unknown to 16 percent in one recent poll and coming in with 40 percent unfavorables in another.

With four weeks to go, Baker needs to begin to close the deal with Massachusetts voters. A Cahill blitz -- even one including Patrick -- could make that very difficult by dragging the race even deeper into the gutter.

After all, you know what they say about the Deval you know.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

Those bonuses could buy a lot of tea

Apparently mum's the word in many a corporate pubic relations offices around Massachusetts in light of the Globe's review of executive compensation packages at the state's leading public companies.

And who can blame them with news like this:
So it turns out the boss didn’t share in the pain after all. In a year when thousands of workers lost their jobs or took pay cuts, many of Massachusetts’ top executives continued to be paid as though the recession never happened.
Do I need to mention these are the Bay State brethren of the Wall Street-types who complain they are being treated like pinatas?

Run through Scott Wallack's story and paragraph after paragraph ends with "...declined to comment." Then again, it's hard to defend the indefensible, such as Affiliated Managers Group, where Sean Healey was paid more than $18 million in 2009, up 73 percent, including a $5 million performance bonus and perks, such as use of the corporate jet.

The performance? The company returned to profitability "largely through cuts, including reducing pay for employees at the parent and its independently managed subsidiaries."

Except for the boss.

Healey seems a perfect poster child too. The husband of 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey, he serves as a reminder that, at best, the business community has stood fore square against financial reform legislation.

At worst, billionaires like David Koch are bankrolling the Tea Party movement in a quest to protect their, um assets, first and foremost.

So to my conservative friends and readers, think a little bit about that. What about Tea Party's bankers and corporate supporters? Are they really fighting for "no taxation without representation." Or are as F. Scott Fitzgerald once declared, are they "different than you and me."

And don't be shy like those corporate communications departments. Speak up.

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Saturday, October 02, 2010

Polito-ics as usual

There's not supposed to be any political campaigning in the Massachusetts House chamber. But that hasn't stopped Republican Treasury candidate Karyn Polito.

The Shrewsbury Republican is single-handedly holding up action on a $400 million spending bill. The Statehouse News Service paints an unflattering picture of Polito talking on her cell phone all day-- breaking from routine only to summon a House court officer to get her water or charge her cell phone battery.

Meanwhile, Polito appears to be oblivious to the news of the day and how that spending bill affects it. It would be hard to miss the quadruple homicide in Mattapan this week, not to mention its the drug and/or gang connections. Even so, she apparently has missed the fact the legislation calls for funds to fight crimes related to those scourges.

Or perhaps Polito is unaware that the bill contains the state's share of aid to help Boston Medical Center out of a financial pickle.

She also apparently missed the fact that House Republican leaders, who actually spoke to Speaker Robert DeLeo instead of simply grandstand, have approved the spending bill.

Polito no doubt was conducting only state business from the desk she is leaving in the House chamber, although I am sure she was lamenting the absence of a campaign camera to capture her "one woman against the machine" television spot. Maybe she can recreate the image somewhere else.

And maybe Democrat Steve Grossman can recreate the image of one woman, using a court officer as a personal valet, conducted her own business on state time, leaving in the lurch a number of solutions for vexing state problems that she is either unaware of or ignoring altogether.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

The Fabulous Baker Boys

It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for Tim Cahill. But watching one-time Republicans abandon his sinking ship is ultimately Cahill's own fault for really bad personnel evaluation.

And if anyone is surprised that John McCain is headed Massachusetts to campaign for Charlie Baker, hang your head in shame.

Paul Loscocco (who?) becomes the latest Republican in sheep's clothing to abandon Treasurer Tim, joining McCainiacs John Weaver and Adam Meldrum in walking out that door because they don't want a Republican to lose the Massachusetts governor's race.

If they believed that in the heart of hearts, why did they sign on in the first place?

Loscocco, who will have a hard time finding a job requiring trust (hey, can I interest you in this really sweet previously owned vehicle?) dropped his stink bomb on Cahill without so much a courtesy heads-up.

That fact -- and the reality it came less than a week after the Weaver-Meldrum putsch -- suggests there is absolutely no coincidence involved. Someone is pulling the marionette strings with great skill.

My guess? Republican Governors Association Chairman Haley Barbour, who softened up Cahill with tens of thousands of dollars in televised bombs and is now moving in for the kill.

Cahill, at least for now, refuses to acknowledge he is dead. And short of seeing his fund-raising go bone dry (a distinct possibility) I suspect he will stay until the bitter end and perform the role that supporters of Deval Patrick have long hailed him for -- attacking Baker.

And as for the GOP nominee? Well, he can claim plausible deniability but the stench from one of the most impressive non-lethal political assassinations in history is going to linger around his camp for the next four weeks.

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Where's the *@#&% Green Line?

Kudos to MBTA management for letting us know exactly where buses -- and now Red, Blue and Orange line trains -- are stuck. But you can't help but notice something is missing.

The Globe provides an explanation for why the line everyone loves to hate is among the missing:
The bus data relies on GPS transponders on the buses. For the subway data, the T had to find a way to convert underground train positions, as determined by electric signals on the tracks, into a similar data format that software developers could harness. Because the Green Line lacks the same tracking system, it was not included.
Maybe the T can use the GPS system located within the operators' cell phones? Oh yeah. Never mind.


And the walls came down...

It was inevitable that the Globe, which hemorrhaged talent in recent years as advertising dried up, would look to an option to get more buck for its online bang. Whether the pay wall that will rise next year is the answer remains unclear.

Under the plans announced yesterday, I may not personally be affected. Because I endure the "service" known as home delivery, paying extra cash to get late or undelivered dead trees, the Globe says I will be able to access both boston.com and bostonglobe.com. The latter already exists as today's newspaper and frankly it's what I rely on for most of my Globe reading, whether print or online.

But as others have noted, boston.com is a unique and powerful brand that, while not strong enough to float the Globe financially, has a power of spreading the newspaper's words far beyond the 495 corridor.

Let's take a minor example: this blog is written largely around commentary on stories in the Globe. For reasons unknown I get traffic from some pretty far flung places. If the new Blogger stats are to be believe, folks have recently checked in from Luxembourg, Ukraine and the Philippines.

A click on a link will, more often than not, take them to a Globe story, generating a few pennies, if any, should the reader be so inclined. Multiply that by total posts, and more significantly by all the bloggers who rely on Globe content, and eventually you could generate something approaching significant revenue.

The powers-that-be at the Globe figure there is far more significant revenue in putting it behind a pay wall. In a dollars and sense equation, they are correct. But the intangibles, spreading the Globe's work across the web, they risk losing something that ultimately may have more value than cash -- reputation and influence.

The financial folks will undoubtedly note the Wall Street Journal is behind a pay wall and they haven't lost any prestige or influence (nope, that's coming from its Murdochization). But because the Globe has always aspired to play with the big boys like the Journal and its own parent, The New York Times, the situations are far different -- and the loss of potential sources of visibility is something to consider.

So I'll continue to plug away and comment on Globe stories when the wall comes down. Fewer and fewer people will be able to read my links and see what the Boston Globe is talking about. I'll survive. The Globe may even thrive, financially.

Bu something will definitely be lost in the free marketplace of ideas.

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