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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

If you've got nothing good to say...

House Speaker Robert DeLeo seems intent on pushing his wing tips deeper into his mouth. Why else does he continue to defend what the public views as indefensible?

As the lawyers say, we will stipulate that hiring recommendations are part of the legislator's job. But as DeLeo insists his godson got a promotion based on his own work -- and not the initial push he provided -- the speaker misses the broader point, framed perfectly by Gov. Deval Patrick:
“I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with people making recommendations, just because they work in this building,’’ the governor said. “The question is, is the public’s interest first?’’
Yes, the public interest. Something legislative leaders like House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Murphy seems to miss when he reduces the Probation Department scandal to a question of whether jobs were for sale.

It's only been about 10 days -- and a holiday-shortened period at that -- but legislative leaders seem woefully unprepared to deal with the fallout from the Ware Report that confirmed published reports about the Probation Department Jobs Program and the role key legislators played in creating and maintaining it.

Rather than constantly returning to the "it's natural" theme, you would hope some thought has been given to crafting a legislative response to the abuses that clearly have not been in the public interest.

And when you hold a publicly scheduled meeting with the governor, knowing full well the press corps will be waiting outside the door, don't you think some thought should have been given to how you will answer the explosive question -- other than saying your godson is a great worker?

Patrick certainly did. It's time for DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray to stop wishing this will blow over. It won't.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Diplomatic voyeurism

Forgive me if I am less than impressed with the latest batch of documents made public by WikiLeaks and left wondering if there are better targets for our journalistic curiosity.

The latest trove of words from Julian Assange's website are a far cry from the suppressed videos of soldiers mistakenly opening fire on innocent Iraqis. Or even the after-action reports from Afghanistan.

Learning that the Arab world is concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions or that Hamid Karzai's brother is a drug kingpin hardly qualifies as news.

Reading through the first of nine days of promised stories (with the assumption the best comes first) you feel not as if you are learning important secrets, but rather like a fly on the wall of history. Or reading a first draft of a Bob Woodward book.

Embarrassment, not outrage, seems the appropriate mood.

There's a legitimate argument to be made that the United States government uses the "Secret" and "Classified" stamp way too much. But all governments have used similar methods to enable a frank discussion of issues like the ones outlined in this latest document dump -- executive sessions at selectboard and school committee meetings a prime example.

No one is likely to die of anything, even embarrassment, because of Assange and his leakers. But you also have to wonder if anything will be accomplished as a result of learning that diplomats say one thing in public and another behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, truly closed anti-democratic societies such as Iran continue to trample on the rights of their citizens and threaten world stability. And the Karzais continue to plunder our financial resources.

Maybe we should focus our ever=decreasing journalistic resources on prying open their closed societies?

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And don't call him Shirley

Let's take a serious moment to recall a man who didn't take himself seriously.

Leslie Nielsen made us laugh, whether as the bumbling detective Frank Drebin or as Dr. Rumack, the doctor who eventually convinced Ted Striker to get out there and "win just one for the Zipper."

In a world that is often too full of itself, Nielsen played characters who made us laugh -- at him and ourselves..

Asked why Drebin lasted only four episodes on TV, Nielsen offered an accurate description of our culture:
“It didn’t belong on TV,’’ Mr. Nielsen later said. “It had the kind of humor you had to pay attention to.’
We did. And we will surely miss you.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Please pass the gravy

With the annual Black Friday madness upon us -- and suggestions it might be a good year for retailers -- maybe it's time for American business to give thanks? By hiring people?

The Globe's Steve Syre paints a very unflattering picture of corporate America, one that has feasted on the carcass of American workers. How? It's as plain as the "productivity gains" on the fattened bottom lines.

A good way to measure the results of productivity gains is to look at a company’s profit margins. Those same big companies that make up the S&P 500 have reported an after-tax profit margin of 5.95 percent, on average, since 1993, says Howard Silverblatt of Standard & Poor’s.

The S&P 500 companies reported a profit margin of 3.63 percent during the third quarter of 2008, below average as you would expect as the economy tanked, but improved to 6.49 percent in the same quarter last year. The margin ballooned to 8.31 percent during the second quarter of this year, not far from the record high of 8.95 percent recorded in 2006.

So as our lame duck lawmakers prepare to go back to Washington, with Republicans calling for extending the tax cuts for millionaires, perhaps it's a good time to remind our Tea Party friends that the folks they voted in -- with their ties to a fat and happy Corporate America -- are intent to do whatever they can from helping you reach your dream of joining them.

So Happy Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. After all, isn't that what the holiday season is all about?

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Le Jour de Merci Donnant

With everything polarized these days, it's inevitable there's going to be some controversy about the holiday designed to celebrate the arrival of our first immigrants and their interaction with real Americans.

As for me, I prefer to sit back with two Turkey Day traditions (and I don't mean this year's editions of the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys).

First, for holiday cheer, let me offer you a classic childhood story I read about a dashing young man named Kilometres Deboutish. And when you're through with that, stretch back and relax like Rosemary Woods with Alice's Restaurant.

Joyeux Jour de Merci Donnant tous le monde!

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Speaker speaks. Finally

Bristol Palin. Full-body scans and pat downs. A budding war in Korea. Thanksgiving Tuesday. Bobby DeLeo sure tried hard to bury the news.

It didn't work. Whether anyone is paying attention is still an open question, but the Probation Department scandal isn't going away any time soon.

Using a variation on the Friday afternoon news dump, a "saddened and upset" DeLeo used the Tuesday before Turkey Day to jettison Rep. Thomas Petrolati from his leadership team and offer his first minimally significant comment about the Ware Report and the Probation Depart Department patronage machine that has its roots in his House.
“The findings of the Independent Counsel . . . are severe, significant and disturbing,’’ said DeLeo. “It is clear the Probation Department cries out for reform and, as the speaker of the House, I intend to lead those reforms.’’
That's quite a different tone from the testimony he offered to independent counsel Paul Ware, when questioned about the hiring policies at a agency that served as an full-employment service from friends of lawmakers.
I look at it as my role as a legislator to be of any assistance that I can with my constituency, whether it’s a recommendation to — for a job, whether it’s to give whatever assistance I have because they’re down and out with housing or they’re trying to go through a state agency to get some help,’’ DeLeo testified.

“That’s my job as a legislator. I mean, it’s to recommend people.’’

I recommend a good lawyer. Dumping Petro is not going to be enough.

But all is not lost for Mr. Speaker. He can always count on the Hack Herald for support.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One step ahead of the law

Middlesex County Sheriff James DiPaola must be glad he's still carrying a badge for awhile. That's the only way he stays one step ahead of the law.

Days of stepping down after an alleged pang of conscience over a legal scheme to double dip his salary and pension, the keeper of the Middlesex County lockup, we learn he is also facing investigations by the Ethics Commission and Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

DiPaola is denying he pocketed cash campaign contributions of that he pocketed cash for meals that were eventually paid by the campaign credit card. And he tries to make it a virtue that he used a department employee as a designated driver.

Where do these guys get the chutzpah?

With the latest revelations of an alleged one-man crime ring, it's become even more apparent we need to tighten a lot of the laws surrounding elected and public officials. And it is more apparent than ever -- given the silence of legislative leaders that the Great and General Court is going to need to be dragged kicking and screaming into that task.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Guilt by association

Marty Meehan may have the potential to be the greatest president in the history of the University of Massachusetts. Unlucky for him, the job is open at just the wrong time.

Coming on the heels of the twin scandals of the probation department and the "retirement" of Middlesex County Sheriff James DiPaola -- not to mention the Marian Walsh debacle -- this is not a good time to be an insider for a state paycheck.

Even if you are qualified -- as Meehan certainly seems to be after three years as chancellor of the UMass campus in Lowell.

The search committee has apparently conducted the proverbial nationwide search and seems to be leaning to the well-connected former congressman. Between his current stint in higher education administration -- and his depth of knowledge in the hard knock realities of the higher education funding at the state and national levels, Meehan has perhaps the most important asset required of college presidents today.

The ability to open doors and wallets.

That was also true of UMass President once-removed William F. Bulger who, his family relationships notwithstanding, did a good job of leading UMass between pushed in by Gov. Bill Weld and pushed out by Gov. Mitt Romney.

And that is an important point to ponder before jumping all over Patrick for raising questions about the selection process. Like it or not, governors do have a say in helping to fill some of the higher-paid jobs in Massachusetts.

Patrick is right to raise questions, particularly in light of his own problems with Walsh and the growing outrage over the shenanigans of elected officials in feathering their nests and the nests of their friends.

Putting the spotlight on Meehan now -- and letting him win or lose the job openly and not in a backroom deal -- will best serve Patrick, Meehan and UMass students.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Enough already

I come not to praise James DiPaola. the scheming soon-to-be-former Sheriff of Middlesex County who had a pang of conscience as his hand was being caught in the cookie jar.

No, I'm here to rail about the system that allows this type of plot to even hatch, a system personified one day earlier by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Murphy, who passed off the importance of the Ware Report on the Probation department precisely because there were no fingerprints on the cookie jar.

The ingenuity -- and deceit -- of the DiPaola plan is breathtaking. He discovered one of the many loopholes in the pension law and was well on his way to double-dipping a salary and a pension. The fact his work involves law enforcement makes the con all the more disgusting.

It was only after the Globe unearthed his scheme -- and after he won reelection -- that DiPaola seems to grow a conscience.

There's a lot of that same attitude in the remarks of Murphy -- and the silence of House Speaker Robert DeLeo -- about the corrupt system in place in the probation department. In the case of commissioner John O'Brien, lawmakers' initial response has been "no one has proven any laws have been broken."

Same as DiPaola, never mind the fact he was running for a job for which he had just submitted retirement papers.

The scariest fact of all? Despite the overwhelmingly need to change the culture -- and change the laws -- there really isn't anyone to do that. The House and Senate fought tooth and nail and succeeded in watering down changes offered by Deval Patrick. Does anyone of sound mind and body trust them to do it now?

The crisis in confidence in our elected officials has probably sunk as low as in the late 1970s when Sens. Joseph DiCarlo and Ron McKenzie were unearthed at the center of scandal surrounding contracts for public construction. The Ward Commission report led to the creation of the Inspector General's office, which is supposed to tackle waste, fraud and abuse in contracting before it happens.

It's clearly time for another independent body to take on a job the Legislature is clearly unable to handle on its own -- the oversight of pensions and patronage -- tools that when left in the wrong hands enrich anyone not foolish enough to get caught with his or her hands in the cookie jar.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Frankly Charlie, I still don't think you get it

Listening to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Murphy talk about Ware Report on the probation department reminds me of an ill-fated conversation Mike Dukakis had with Ted Koppel in 1988:
"I still don't think you get it."
Faced with a report showing a department out of control, run by a dictatorial leader who spent much of his time rewarding friends and punishing foes, Murphy chose to dance on a head of a pin and talk about what was not included in the 337-page laceration of the agency controlled by the Legislature.
“Is there any evidence to suggest that jobs are for sale?’’ said Murphy. “Did Paul Ware say in his report that any legislator got money for jobs? The answer is no. He didn’t. It is not there. He says there is a statistical probability of something like that, a chance. That’s not evidence. And he was very clear to state that.’’
To call the response defensive would be a mild understatement. To call it clueless comes closer to the mark.

The outrage over the probation department stems from its overall sheltered status. It serves the judicial branch but it is controlled by the Legislature. The Executive branch, which should have a role, does not -- and Murphy makes clear that Gov. Deval Patrick should not count on getting his hands on the mess any time soon.
“It’s 337 pages, and we’re going to take our time to go through it,’’ Murphy told reporters outside the office of [House Speaker Robert] DeLeo, who has not spoken publicly about the scandal. “We’re not going to make rash judgments.’’
There is no need for rash judgments. Things are crystal clear. The office was run in a manner so out of touch with basic management skills, awarding convicted felons with jobs and banishing those who opposed it, that it needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up.

And that rebuilding process must include removal of the political component injected into it when former House Speaker Tom Finneran pushed through a change in the law in 2001 to give soon-to-be-ex-commissioner John J. O'Brien the keys to the candy store.

More than anything else in recent history, the probation department scandal represents everything the public finds wrong with government. When Murphy tries to parse sentences and insist this is not a Statehouse problem, as he did on one radio interview, he only reinforces the image of a politician who speaks out of both sides of his mouth.

Murphy's committee is charged with finding solutions to a likely $2 billion budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins in July. He and House leadership should read quickly and have a plan ready the day the new Legislature is sworn in, one that would cede control of the agency to either the executive or judicial branches.

They have a lot more important work to do that defend the indefensible.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Dancing with the Hacks

It's one of the most explosive investigations into the Massachusetts political patronage system in decades. But to the Tea Party Newsletter, it might as well be taking place in Alaska.

On the morning after the Supreme Judicial Court issues a scathing 300-plus page report by independent counsel Paul Ware exposing the state probation department -- and the elected officials who corrupted it -- The Herald leads with a paean to Palin and a Howie Carr grumble that it would have been nice to know about this before the election.

We did. Because we read the Globe.

We know Herald Editor Joe Scaccia has declared the understaffed newspaper is now in the business of doing exclusive content you can't get anywhere else. So I am truly gratified to know that a cyclist can get to Park Street faster than the Green Line C train. Wait a minute, I knew that too, because I actually use public transportation in this city.

The Ware Report will rumble the underpinnings of Beacon Hill in the new legislative session, with a number of lawmakers, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo mentioned as beneficiaries of the patronage nest created by his twice-removed, once-convicted predecessor and radio talk show host Tom Finneran.

And the heat continues to rise DeLeo's not-so-trustworthy No. 2, Tom Petrolati.

But Herald readers can remain entranced by the conspiracy theories surrounding Bristol Palin and whether the voting for Dancing with the Stars is rigged.

Far more important I guess than knowing the job creation system in the probation department really is rigged.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Greedy Extortionists

Give me $25 million or these 150 jobs get it. That's the essence of the message behind the General Electric "offer" to the Commonwealth, a ransom that should really be referred to prosecutors and not economic development officials.

And the Massachusetts congressional delegation that has been working in overdrive to save a boondoggle $5.3 billion backup jet engine that will supposedly be built at GE's Lynn facility, should take the lead in removing the gun the company is placing at the head of its employees and the Commonwealth's taxpayers.

I had to read this twice: give us a $25 million tax credit and we won't layoff 150 people. This from a company that had already laid off 600 employees in Lynn, a facility where they did $1.8 billion in military work in fiscal 2009.

Not to mention a company that reported reported $11 billion in profits on $157 billion in revenue. And which did not pay a dime of federal income tax, but received a $139 billion federal bailout for its GE Capital unit.

A company that has also gotten the Massachusetts congressional delegation to carry its water to build a backup engine in case the F-35 Joint Fight Striker's original engine doesn't work, a project Defense Secretary Robert Gates considers a boondoggle.

Earlier this year, to secure that congressional backing, the company promised to create 4,000 jobs, a pledge that Sen. Scott Brown thought was more important than actually providing continued unemployment benefits to men and women who had already lost jobs.

It's hard to tell which side of the corporate mouths that GE speaks from.

Thankfully, those who don't benefit from GE's campaign largess can see the hypocrisy of the corporate threat.
If the market is not working for them in their current location, I don’t see how the state incentive is going to change that fundamental reality,’’ said Benjamin Forman, research director for the MassINC, a Boston public policy research firm. “I don’t think there’s an economic case for that.’’
Obviously GE thinks it has the Patrick administration over a barrel. But GE doesn't intend to bring good things to life in Massachusetts. This is an "offer" the administration really should refuse.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Spending political capital

It's a rare pleasure to see a politician stand up for what he believes, even if he knows it is unpopular and likely to end badly. And that describes Deval Patrick's pledge to pursue change for immigrants living in Massachusetts.

Seeking to be inclusive in a wildly divisive political climate, Patrick used one of his first public addresses since reelection to push for changes that include in-state tuition and driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

A newly energized House Republican Leader Brad Jones predicts defeat and Patrick himself acknowledges nothing can happen without changes in federal law.

Some might call that a hollow promise. But to remind people of a controversial political stand -- even in the face of certain defeat -- is actually somewhat refreshing in the current climate of offering only poll-tested pablum.

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Grow up!

I won't come to your house because you might call me names! That's the apparent reason Congressional Republicans are postponing a meeting with Barack Obama. Can't we get some grown-ups around here?

Not surprisingly, it's an "unnamed top Republican Hill staffer" who's calling out the president. Who would actually want their name associated with a political hissy fit over a long forgotten skirmish in a verbal war with Obama by a party that has declared his political defeat their top priority in a nation coping with two wars and The Great Recession.

Republicans appear to miss the point that just because they benefited from the most recent of three consecutive "wave" elections doesn't mean the American public wants continued obstructive partisan behavior.

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell need a time-out in the corner for this childish fit of pique.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Shut up and take it"

Has the Herald lost its mojo? Why else would the 'up the establishment' gang tells airport passengers to accept full-body scans and gropes?

The Transportation Security Agency may well be No. 1 on everybody's least favorite government agency list and certainly anyone who has had a unopened, smaller-than-three-ounce jar of fruit preserves confiscated as contraband "gel" knows it is not as if they're doing a perfect job protecting the homeland.

But it is curious that the wild bunch over at the Tea Party Newsletter have suddenly turned tame in the face of one of government's most intrusive forays into our personal privacy.

Me? I'll put up with the scan because I recognize the trade-off is important. Then again, I'm a liberal.

But I can't help but wonder why a situation that cries out for a little righteous anger about the government always being one step behind the enemy we are spending trillions to defend against produces little more than a whimper from the most self-righteous of them all.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Senator Fluffy

I'm not sure where Scott Brown has been looking -- or how he is counting -- but I suggest he needs to redo both activities in the face of his assertion that Congress has been obsessed with "fluff" and has only spent 12 days on job creation.

Heck, he's probably spent more days than that trying to protect the jobs of his friends on Wall Street. And we know he has spent many a day working hard to prevent the extension of unemployment benefits.

I'm curious what Brown considers "fluff." The stimulus package that prevented the loss of thousands of jobs? Or the propping up of GM and Chrysler so that thousands of additional jobs were not lost with the demise of an industry that once identified America?

Is health care reform, with the reality of the end of discrimination against preexisting conditions fluff? How about efforts to rein in health care costs so that people with jobs will be able to afford to get sick?

Is putting some controls on Wall Street -- albeit watered-down with Brown's tax gifts to the folks who caused the Great Recession -- also fluff?

Brown's proposals for creating jobs by cutting taxes for the rich are the same old, tired and unsuccessful ideas touted by Republicans during the years they controlled the White House and Congress. To assume they will work now is to believe that fairy dust exists and will make everything right.

Brown appears to be feeling the heat from the Tea Party, who longer swoons at his presence and a reinvigorated Massachusetts progressive community that has come to view his January win as an aberration after the elections two weeks ago.

And personally, I prefer my marshmallows in s'mores.

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The high cost of college (presidents)

It's become hard enough to afford college with the cost of tuition, room, board and books. Paying to support a college president living like a business tycoon is a bit much.

OK, so I overstated things just a tad -- no Wall Street executive would work for a shabby six-or-seven figure salary. But education, particularly higher education, is supposedly different. It is about the pursuit of knowledge, not dollars. (Yeah, another overstatement.)

And spare me the rationale that these are multi-million or billion dollar enterprises that need skilled business leaders. I'm not necessarily ready to believe someone trained in philosophy or quantum physics has the right set of tools to lead a business of this size and complexity.

It's hardly surprising that my alma mater, Boston University, is once again a member of the seven-figure club. Kant scholar, political candidate and all-round alumni denigrator John Silber helped lead the salary inflation march -- and still lives rent-free in a BU mansion next door to current millionaire boss Robert Brown.

And I'm a bit puzzled about what Drew Gilpin Faust did to earn her $822,000 annual salary -- other than preside over the dismantling of a North Allston neighborhood, thanks in part to the poor financial oversight of the Harvard endowment by her predecessor, Larry Summers.

That's why I support my graduate school with donations earmarked for student scholarships. And why I am proud to be a member of NOPE, Not One Penny Ever, at BU (if only it existed!)

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Budget balancing is easy!

The Times offers a great interactive exercise for all would-be fiscal watchdogs who think balancing the budget is child's play.

I'm happy to say I pulled it off -- by whacking the military budget through reducing the nuclear program, and the number of ships and bombers, all unnecessary tools in the fight against al Qaeda.

In addition to raising the retirement age to 68 for Medicare and Social Security -- and raising the income cap on payroll taxes to finance the programs -- I also raised carbon and bank taxes and eliminated the Bush tax cut for those earning over $250,000.

It's a great tool. Maybe Congress should try it instead of simply mouthing slogans.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Empire Strikes Back

We may be about to embark on a brave new world of Massachusetts politics and media. Hours after the Herald socked Senate President Therese Murray with one of its new "enterprise" features -- straight from GOP talking points -- Murray socked back, tweeting a link to a three-year-old Globe feature about this supposed Herald exclusive.

In case you missed it, Herald editor Joe Sciacca told CommonWealth Magazine earlier this week that chasing the Globe's tail wasn't in the cards for the tabloid.
The overarching goal I have for the Herald is that we start the daily conversation, whether it’s in the coffee shops or the boardrooms or the governor’s office. That we bring something each morning that people are going to be talking about, buzzing about throughout the day. We try to be very proactive and very agenda-setting, forward- looking, exclusive in a lot of things that we do each day in the paper.
In keeping with that mission, the Herald continued its election season efforts of zeroing in on a Republican talking point and getting comment from "concerned" Republicans. Occasionally they would note the action in question is thoroughly legal.

That's the gist behind today's story about Murray taking a trip to Russia on campaign funds, a thoroughly legal practice. Of course you would be hard pressed to know this given the "fair and balanced" lead:
Senate President Therese Murray — who vowed to focus on Bay State job creation after narrowly beating back a GOP challenger — is packing her bags for an eight-day jaunt to Russia in her second European excursion this year.
The Tea Party Newsletter then quotes Murray's unsuccessful challenger lamenting her trip. It also includes comment from traveling partner Sen. Stan Rosenberg saying the trip will include a stop at the Abandoned Children’s Hospital in Pskov.

So we have a hard-hitting "exclusive" on the Senate President making an annual trip to a Russian orphanage, legally employing campaign funds, but ostensibly ignoring problems at home.

Nothing out of the ordinary here. Except for Murray striking back on Twitter:
Learn more about my annual humanitarian trip to Russia.
That link takes you to a 2007 Globe story that begins:
When Terry Murray held orphaned babies last year at the Abandoned Children's Hospital in Pskov, Russia, they were empty-eyed, lethargic. "There was nothing going on, nothing at all," says Murray. "It jarred us into action. When she returned to the same hospital this summer, the babies were happy and active toddlers. Even better, many had been adopted. The change was thanks to an innovative program introduced by Murray and her friends.
Yep, rotten Globe-trotting pol.

In an even better twist, the tweet appears just above one noting the Herald's endorsement of her, reelection, an apparent show by the Tea Party Newsletter that it is fair and balanced.

It's fun to imagine what might happen if Murray and other Beacon Hill heavyweights opt to tweet back every time the Herald twitches.

And who knows, a little pushback might even prompt the Herald to take a look at the party with four Senate members, all of whom will be collecting leadership bonuses next year.

Which is a better "exclusive" about wasting dollars?

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The bill is in the mail. Not.

Those customer service wizards at the Globe are at it again, antagonizing the hearty and dwindling few who help prop them up by paying a premium, in advance, for home delivery than can sometime be an ordeal.

Except of course when they aren't paying because they aren't being billed -- but getting past due notices for charges that weren't assessed in the first place.

Actually it was a surprise to receive a mailed statement because the Globe said months ago they bills were going to be stuffed into the papers on some sort of regular basis -- weekly, monthly -- that was never specified.

That's because the bill stuffing is apparently about to begin now, at least according to the past due notice. And with it will come all the confusion inherent when papers are dropped randomly on doorsteps without names or unit numbers for the condos subscribing.

It's pretty clear the Globe 's tactical plan is to force all customers to pony up credit cards to make their lives easier and more profitable.

At the expensive of the Golden Geese keeping them afloat.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Art is in the eye of the beholder

They say politics is the art of compromise. But when does art become pornography?

The sharp reactions on both sides of the political aisle to the draft proposals of the bipartisan commission on debt reduction suggest we may be at that point in Washington. At least as the term was defined by former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who declared "I know it when it see it."

The proposal certainly appears to have no redeeming social values to anti-tax zealots like Grover Norquist or the newly empowered Tea Party Caucus. And if blue liberals are allowed to see red, then the Times' Paul Krugman is certainly a shade of, well, crimson.

But that's the nature of our government today, where Republicans who were once capable of simply saying no without offering responsible alternatives now have to put up or shut up.

Sadly, I don't see that happening with a party that favors both deficit reduction and a $700 billion new hole in that deficit by extending the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year.

But I also don't see much in the way of compromise on the part of Democrats, loudly labeling the proposal "unacceptable." Much of that may simply be political posturing, knowing they will be stuck with whatever they accede to while Republicans pull out the rug on them by backing away from the plan entirely.

I think I can safely predict not much will happen -- again. Unless our leaders decide to tax pornography, particularly in its political form.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Something for everyone to hate

The outline of likely recommendations by the bipartisan commission to reduce the debt is hardly rocket science. What happens with the suggestions to cut spending and raise taxes will be revealing about our elected officials -- and ourselves.

It's interesting that congressional Republicans have held their fire -- so far. Speaker-elect John Boehner will take the gavel in January with a majority pledged to reduce the federal deficit, voted in by a public that has grown impatient with both parties failure to address our nation's major concern -- a lack of jobs. And this won't do anything on that score.

The commission headed by former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson is calling for a massive dose of castor oil: deep cuts in domestic and military spending, a gradual 15-cents-a-gallon increase in the federal gas tax, limiting or eliminating popular tax breaks in return for lower rates, and benefit cuts and an increased retirement age for Social Security.

There's clearly something for everyone to hate: higher taxes and reduced defense spending for Republicans; domestic spending cuts and changes in Social Security and Medicare for the Democrats.

But there's also some tough stuff for Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizen, particularly the senior citizens and Tea Party folks who rail against health care reform while yelling "Keep your god-damned government hands off my Medicare" and Social Security.

These folks, after all, were the base that catapulted Republicans -- who have talked about deficit control while promoting the free lunch of low taxes and high spending for three decades -- into the House leadership role.

In the end, I strongly suspect a gridlocked Congress will be unable to muster the courage to do the hard work. And they will be aided and abetted by constituents who, in the words of former Sen. Russell Long, think: "Don't tax me and don't tax thee. Tax that man behind the tree."

After all, can a tree fall in Congress if no one is behind it?

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Denial is a river

A week after Charlie Baker failed to achieve his preordained destiny, the folks who ran his campaign are still in a state of denial. If not for Tim Cahill, says campaign adviser Rob Gray, Baker would be making inaugural plans.

But the reality of the 2010 election dynamic was neatly summed up by the Globe's Frank Phillips at an election post-mortem sponsored by MSL Boston, a local PR firm.
“I always say Charlie Baker reminds women of their ex-husbands, and why they left them. As a candidate, I know Charlie Baker and that was not the Charlie Baker I’ve known for almost 30 years. Charlie’s not that person.”
I must have been deja vu all over again for Gray, who ran Kerry Healey's unsuccessful campaign against Deval Patrick in 2006. And Gray was willing to hand Patrick (and his campaign adviser Doug Rubin) props for running an excellent race.

But Gray focused largely on Cahill's numbers that he insists spelled Baker's doom from the start. And while it is true Republican candidates in Massachusetts have a narrow window in which to operate, it was more than Cahill's mere presence that doomed Baker.

Let's start with the Republican Governors Association ads that inundated the airwaves starting in the late spring. The RGA is an independent expenditure organization and Baker could not control their content. But he was tarred early by the vitriol aimed at Cahill.

That problem was compounded by the Baker camp's failure to effectively introduce their own man -- a problem that persisted late into the campaign with surprisingly large percentages of voters who had no opinion about the candidate.

But if Gray really wants to point a finger at the Cahill effect, he need look further than his own campaign's botched response to L'Affaire Loscocco, and when Baker embraced the turncoat Cahill running mate.

Those voters who weren't amused by the follies were likely appalled by the open and vivid display of "politics as usual." While Gray cites numbers showing that was truly the end of the Cahill candidacy, he skirts over numbers that showed his own candidate tarred by the same brush.

With less than a month to go and an unusually high percentage of voters still uncertain about Baker it was lethal.

Which brings us back to Phillips' observation. We now have a candidate who came across as the angry white man (targeting that very voter demographic), applauding rather than condemning blatant power politics. At that point, no amount of soft focus, warm and fuzzy commercials about the real Baker could change an image the campaign worked so hard to create in the first place.

Cahill was Baker's downfall only in the sense that Gray and his team worked to neutralize him by creating a candidate who wasn't very likable and running him against one who, while saddled with his own baggage, was perceived by the public as empathetic and sincere.

Like Ahab with Moby Dick, Gray's obsession with the whale was his downfall.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Miss him yet? No!

It came too late for the election, but Barack Obama may have just received a significant boost in his approval ratings. W is back.

Yes, the man who brought us Iraq and Afghanistan, waterboarding and the search for non-existent WMDs; Katrina; tax cuts, TARP and the Great Recession is back flogging a book and reminding of us the things that happened during his eight years as The Decider.

Like deciding not to act on a memo entitled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S," because "We didn't have any clear intelligence that said that, you know, 'Get ready. They're gonna fly airplanes into New York buildings.' "

A basically decent human being who was in way over his head, George Bush left a legacy on par with that of Herbert Hoover. Perhaps more troubling is the fact this basically decent man presided over an era where incivility became the calling card of his party and its sycophants.

And he did nothing to change that tone, which has reached the level where talk shows today will undoubtedly feature "discussion" about "Barry from Jakarta" and why he should stay where he came from.

We can and will argue into the history books about what George Bush did or didn't do and whether he ranks among the best or worst in history. What won't be in doubt was the coarsening of discourse during the Bush years has helped us descend in banana republic status.

How can we miss you when you won't go away?

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Monday, November 08, 2010

Brown out?

Boy, that didn't take long. One Election Day whuppin' and Scott Brown and his minions are getting nervous enough for the Herald to suggest he ditch the Bay State for the Oval Office.

The Bay State's Fair-haired (and only) Republican started poor-mouthing his re-election chances almost as soon as the polls closed last Tuesday. And no wonder, after throwing his support behind such stellar candidates such as Bill Hudak and Jeff Perry.

But it was the loss of Mary Connaughton that probably made Brown start thinking about his options. That and finding himself on the Tea Party hit list.

Brown was in full self-pity mode by the end of the week, telling the Globe that he found it hard to have his outreach to the middle unrequited, a fantasy debunked over at Blue Mass. Group.

Now we have reached a new level, with the official Republican Party organ floating the trial balloon that Brown shouldn't waste his talents on an ungrateful Bay State but rather should go national.

Next step of course is for Brown to say he is flattered by the Herald and re-pledge his loyalty to Mass. (and Mitt). And a grateful state GOP promising undying loyalty should a Tea Party challenge emerge.

Just sayin'.

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So good, so good, so good

Bill Belichick and Dan Shaughnessy eating humble pie on the shores of Lake Erie. It doesn't get any better.

Let's face it -- any victory is something to savor for a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan. But yesterday's 34-14 trouncing of the Patriots was extra special. You could tell that when the coach of a 3-5 team gets doused with Gatorade.

Yes, Browns fans have a problem with the bloodless Belichick -- and not as Shaughnessy suggested yesterday because we think he is a "dumbbell." No the problem with Smilin' Bill is he treats people like dirt, denigrating them as he runs them out of town, often ahead of their time. (Oh yeah, and he cheats too.)

So beating Belichick -- in the house built after he left town -- is always special. Toss in the Spygate whistle blower and it's something to savor.

But add a classic Shank flip-flop -- a shiv into the Brainy one's back -- and you have a trifecta for a Browns fan who made his peace with Cleveland decades ago.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

One-time only offer

There's some real news buried deep within the Globe's post-election sit-down with Deval Patrick: The barely breathing casino gambling bill sitting with House leaders is his last, best offer.

It's too bad the Globe didn't really pay attention to what must be an interesting thought process: why did the man who saw resort casinos as an economic and jobs development tool decide to drop it from a second term agenda that he says is all about jobs?

The interview offers some real insight to the political growth of Patrick -- and an explanation, albeit a sorry one, about why he allowed his grassroots organization to wither. It should be a valuable lesson for Barack Obama too -- although a Republican House and a Senate Minority Leader focused on his political failure makes the situation very different.

Patrick clearly sounds older and wiser politically -- a reality highlighted by his refusal to blame lawmakers for being the root cause of many of the issues Charlie Baker tried to hang around his neck from taxes to less-than-optimum ethics and pension reform laws.

While he offers an olive branch to House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, his refusal to rein in his own troops this time is a very loud message. But so is pulling back from casinos, a topic that created friction among those supporters.

Patrick clearly made rookie mistakes that hampered effectiveness. It's also pretty clear he has learned from those mistakes and, yes, has become an insider. After all, it's hard to get anything done from the outside.

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Medium: rare ethics

The yawning chasm between news and propaganda has never been more vividly on display this week. Just ask Keith Olbermann. Or Barney Frank.

While Rush Limbaugh and friends spread tall tales about the cost of a presidential visit to India, lies that were quickly spread by the Fox "News" operation, Olbermann felt the wrath of MSNBC -- staying true to the values in the "NBC"-- by being suspended for making campaign contributions to Democrats.

On the home front, Frank has become the central target for the Herald's GOP talking points transmission belt, an assault likely to get even more vituperative because Frank doesn't have an off button either.

And in stark contrast MSNBC's disciplinary actions, Fox, Rupert Murdoch and Sean Hannity get off without so much as a "tut-tut" while the Herald ignores Howie Carr's "off-duty" hosting of Republican political events.

You really don't have to look very far to find a major reason for the demise of moderates in today's America. Starting with the demise of Fairness Doctrine, conservatives have been pushing the news-commentary edge farther to the right, all the while yammering about media bias.

It's the ultimate big lie of propagandists and it has split this nation like at no other time since the Civil War.

The most disheartening thing is there is very little that can be done in a constitutional democracy -- where the Supreme Court has equated money with speech and the media are properly protected from government intrusion.

But it surely leaves you sad for the future of this country, seemingly doomed to the domination of shouting heads from a telescreen.

We have met the enemy is he is us.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Mitt's back!

That didn't take long. Less than 72 hours after the polls closed on 2010 and up pops our special friend Willard Mitt Romney, with thoughts of 2012 in his head.

You see, Myth has a problem. The Tea Party is obviously suspicious of the man who changes positions as frequently as others change shirts. And they are concerned that Romney may be next in line for the GOP nomination based on the time-honored tradition in how the party chooses candidates.

It has the makings of a fun time.
“It is wide open,’’ former House majority leader Dick Armey, one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement, said of the potential field of candidates. In a twist of GOP tradition, the nominee could be someone Americans know little about, he said.
Wait a minute, let's back up a second. A former House majority leader is a leader of the "grassroots" Tea Party movement? How could that be? Oh, I forgot.

But back to our story. The idea that the man from Michigan-Massachusetts-Utah-New Hampshire-California-Massachusetts could be in line to claim the 2012 crown from the Red Queen of Alaska just doesn't sit right with some on the right. And they point to the latest "I was for it before I was against it" line on the Romney resume, health care reform.

Romney has been trying to live down the role he played in the Massachusetts debate, a slide he started even as he signed the bill that is the model for the federal law that is firmly in line as the No. 1 hate in the national GOP platform.

One more flip-flop could be problematic for the Mittser, except for the fact that GOP nomination fight that is already heating up should be a doozy.

Tea Partiers like the "grassroots" Armey adore the Red Queen, who is of course claiming victory in the GOP's retaking of the House. Never mind the fact that some of her prized Senate candidates, like Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle fell.

That fact is unlikely to be missed by the GOP braintrust -- and I don't mean Michael Steele. No I mean Karl Rove, good old Turd Blossom, who bought and paid for this year's results.

So my fellow liberals, sit back and watch as the right engages in what has been a time-honored Democratic tradition -- internecine warfare that softens up a nominee.

It's good to have Mitt to kick around again.

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Having it both ways

Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. And newspapers.

The Herald is at it again this morning, ripping Deval Patrick for hiring 40 seasonal toll booth attendants to work through the holidays.

How quickly we forget, particularly when there's a press release from the state Republican Party to rewrite.
“Families and businesses are cutting back while state government just keeps on hiring,” said Jennifer Nassour, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party. Nassour, who had warned of spending hikes if Patrick was re-elected, added a defiant: “We told you so.”
And Massachusetts voters told you so Jennifer. Too bad you and the Herald haven't noticed.

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

No surrender, no retreat (II)

Barack Obama lunched on the obligatory piece of humble pie yesterday, talking about the "shellacking" Democrats took in 49 states Tuesday and promising to work closely with Republican House leaders, who offer the same sweet words.

He ought to get that pledge in writing.

While voters were in a surly mood this fall, it's an open question whether rank-and-file Republicans are going to follow the path laid out yesterday by Speaker-to-be John Boehner. We've all heard the talk about repealing health care, shutting down government and launching investigations -- the MO the last time the GOP held power in one or both branches.

The New York Times' Matt Bai looks at the split within the GOP on the question of cooperation and leaves us pondering just how far that olive branch should be extended.

After all, the GOP refused to cooperate on just about anything over the last two years, despite the fact Obama was elected with one of the most solid majorities among presidents in recent years. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to retract his pledge that the No. 1 Senate goal will be Obama's defeat in 2012.

The Wednesday offer was an obligation that presidents must make when their parties take it on the chin in midterms. But Obama needs to recall recent history -- and what he got for his previous efforts at bipartisanship.

Democrats still control the White House and one branch of Congress. The GOP is the new kid in town and needs to put their cards on the table first. Two years of outright opposition won an election but it didn't solve our problems.

It's time for them to put up or shut up. And Obama needs to make sure he is carrying a pair of brass knuckles inside those velvet gloves.

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No surrender, no retreat

If Barney Frank thought his biting but accurate comment about the Herald would be the last word, he forgot Mark Twain's admonition to "never pick a fight with someone who buys in by the barrel."

Frank took the regulator off his tongue in full view of the cameras Tuesday night in lashing out at the newspaper that practically invented Sean Bielat. You saw it coming, but just like a car crash, you couldn't turn away.

"One of the things we can acknowledge tonight," Frank said in his victory speech, "is that Massachusetts has reaffirmed the complete political irrelevance of the Boston Herald."

Naturally the Herald was back at it today, not content with yesterday's slam by Margery Eagan, an admitted resident of "the capital of Moonbat-stan." This time we are treated with a front page Eagan sulk.

"After 30 years, Barney Frank finally lost my vote. On election night, he lost my respect as well."

I somehow doubt the flowers and chocolate of apology are in the mail. But the Herald is probably buying a few extra barrels of ink so they too can speak "frankly."

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts

Move over Lazarus and make room for Deval, whose amazing survival after being left for politically dead a year ago should bring hope and a road map to his friend and soul mate Barack Obama.

The solid wall of blue that remains in place in Massachusetts today is a tale that Obama and House Democrats should take to heart in showing that you either work together or sink separately when impatient voters come looking for instant answers to complex problems.

Patrick, despite nearly lethal disapproval ratings, somehow managed to lead wire-to-wire against Charlie Baker, who may well have been the best and brightest of the GOP governors and wanna-bes of the last two decades.

The Chicago native accomplished the seemingly impossible, a second term with 49 percent of the vote in a four-way race. That passes for a mandate in these times. The results came about by talking about his successes and working with instead of fighting other Democrats to generate massive turnout among their supporters.

The lessons should not be lost on the adopted son of Chicago, who saw his working majority shattered in the House and weakened in the Senate -- in large part because of his failure to trumpet the clear successes achieved in two years in the face of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Now faced with Republicans emboldened by the rush of a Tea Party caffeine high, Obama must deal with an assault on his signal accomplishments in health care and financial reform and preventing a further economic collapse. And those same Republicans will provide him the tools.

Speaker-elect John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have clearly stated their goals are not to finish the job of digging out of the Great Recession. Rather than have made making Obama a one-term president Job One.

They will be aided by what will likely be continued ideological excess of the Red Queen, Sarah Palin and her Tea Party courtiers, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. The next two years will be about tearing down and gridlock even worse than we have already seen, tactics likely to make the angry voter apoplectic.

Start with the fact Republicans still can't muster a majority on the Senate, let alone a two-thirds majority in the House required to override presidential vetoes. So repealing health care, their No. 1 priority, is dead on arrival.

Option No. 2, defunding the law, means gumming up the fiscal works. There's already talk about a government shutdown next spring. We all know how well that worked for Newt Gingrich.

Let's not even dwell on the expected investigations into non-existent scandals.There's even mumbling about impeaching the Kenyan-born impostor.

For Democrats, the challenge is to overcome the self-inflicted wounds of failing to take credit for what they accomplished. And they also need to sit back and watch as a highly divided and divisive party feuds with itself.

Left to its own devices, the economy will continue to struggle, although it will likely be better two years from now when Obama stands on his own.

Which brings us back to Deval, who numbers were far worse and who faced voters unaware of his own successes in education, ethics, pension and transportation reform, yet still managed to win a second term by appealing to our better selves.

It's said Democrats campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Republicans campaign and govern with brass knuckles. It's time for Democrats to find some brass of their own -- and work rings around their opposition while appealing to our better selves.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Big Hype

Now that Barney Frank has easily defeated Sean Bielat, the question on every journalist's tongue should be "how were we so gullible to believe the hype?"

I can accept the tweets of GOP partisans -- that's what they do, just as I offer encouragement to liberals (although I like to think I have some facts and not undisclosed internal polls to work with.)

But I have real issues with the performance of a so-called major metropolitan newspaper that threw facts to the wind to lead cheers based on little more than non-existent lawn signs.

Even more troubling than the performance of the Mad Hatters of Herald Square may be that of the national media who bought the long-distance hype. That is even more troubling than the debacle in January when they missed the real Scott Brown wave and then piled on Martha Coakley for sins real and imagined.

The cardinal rule I followed as a reporter was get it first -- but get it right. The second half of the adage doesn't appear to hold true anymore as reporters now can succumb to the sweet siren calls
of the tweet.

Next time a brash candidate offers claims that his internal polls show him 10 points down to a powerful incumbent, reporters should recognize that internal polls are always going to be slanted in favor of the person who commissioned it. But at a bare minimum, they have an obligation to say "prove it," something they certainly failed to do this time around.

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When the shouting ends

The PACs are packing up and Christine O'Donnell has put away the eye of newt. Tea leaves have been read and bellwethers have been rung. It's game time.

One of the more fun ways to wile away the hours on Election Day is to scour for clues. The exit polls traditionally offered insight for insiders, but their accuracy has dimmed in recent years. So that leaves people with lots of time on their hands until the madness of real results begin.

The pundits have pretty much spoken nationally, with predictions of Speaker John Boehner running rampant. Locally, the feeling is a small blue wave is likely, despite the best efforts of the Mad Hatters of Herald Square to pump up the volume.

In the interest of discussion, allow me to revise and extend a now somewhat discredited predictor: the World Series. Tradition had it that American League victories meant Republican presidents while National League champions presaged Democratic Oval Office occupants.

It's fitting the tradition fell into disrepute after 1976, right about the time our politics starting to really pick up its nasty tint. And of course it was turned on its head by the 2000 election where George Bush beat Al Gore, thanks to a save by the Supremes, while the Yankees ruled baseball.

Given Major League Baseball's desire to showcase the Boys of November, we may not get another presidential test. But thanks to the quick work of the Giants, let's try this out:

San Francisco, home of Nancy Pelosi, the bete noire of the right, defeated Texas, formerly owned by none other than 43, the devil incarnate of the left.

Does this mean Madame Speaker may actually squeeze out another two years? Or like the Punxatawney Phil, are we looking at six more weeks (give or take) of Pelosi?

Don't forget to vote.

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Monday, November 01, 2010

Best damned election money can buy

As we ignore the robocalls and cringe over the final round of nasty ads, it's time to consider exactly how the greatest democracy has deteriorated -- thanks to the unprecedented and corrupting influence of cash at the state and national levels.

While liberals and conservatives can agree on the fact there is too much money flooding our government and political system, we disagree on what the problem is. Liberals target campaign spending, which has hit truly obscene levels thanks to the horrid Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

Conservatives target "entitlements," even those they benefit from key programs like Medicare and Social Security.

But the real problem is the spending triggered by those contributions: Upwards of $1 trillion on defense to fight two wars and maintain a nuclear bomb and missile defense system against a country no longer considered our enemy == and six time larger than that of a country which could.

Of that total, at least $80 billion in spent on intelligence, at least as far as we know. The Washington Post spelled out what we get for that spending in earlier this year: a system that involves more than 1,200 government organizations and nearly 2,000 private contractors, employing more than 850,000 people and occupying space larger than three Pentagons. A system the Post describes as:
"...so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work."
A deep dive into the campaign contributions we can examine -- as opposed to the ones hiding behind Citizens United -- would show vast contributions from what Dwight Eisenhower warned about a half-century ago, a military-industrial complex of organizations who profit from the $1 trillion, not to mention the massive waste.

Yet listen to the right and you would think waste, fraud and abuses exist only in social programs. That narrow-focused look at government waste is what unlimited campaign spending can buy.

And I haven't even begun to raise the problems caused by the lack of government oversight of the financial industry that wrecked our economy aided in large part by the same shameful flow of cash into political influence peddling.

So let's focus on he one thing right and left can agree on: our system is rotten. But unless or until we can get our heads around where the true rot lies -- and allow our elections to be bought and sold to by the highest bidder -- our national discourse will continue to wallow in the nasty finger pointing and partisan warfare is slowly destroying our nation.

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