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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Cheap whine

Three jeers for the liquor store owners who staged a tacky victory celebration by dumping "wine" into Boston Harbor to mark the end of the 6.25 percent sales tax on booze.

“With a wine like this, you’ll be able to save $1.50 now," crowed Tina Messina, owner of Wine Connextion in North Andover, holding up a bottle that once held Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Tapestry, which Wine Spectator declares "sows excellent structure, intensity, depth and concentration, with a mix of spice, dried currant, blackberry, mocha..."

And sells in the neighborhood of $40-50 bottle.

Meanwhile, the substance abuse programs funding by the tax are scrapping for ways to make up for the estimated $100 million. But that seems of little or no concern to the packie owners who traipsed downtown to rub the wine bouquet in the nose of who became addicted to booze or drugs.

After all, they were losing money to New Hampshire, where the state-run liquor stores pocket all the profit, a move you would expect these Tea Party-wannabees to equate to socialism.

In a year of classless political stunts, this may well have been the lowest. At the very least these celebrants should be considering a voluntary donation to aid the underfunded services -- unless they expect to reap more from backsliders who prefer Thunderbird to Beaulieu Valley Reserve.

Next time, if there is one, try dumping your bile into the Merrimack.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Get out of jail card

At least there's no evidence yet that Dominic Cinelli's probation officer messed up.

But the Massachusetts Parole Board is in plenty of (justified) hot water for freeing the convicted killer who this week shot and killed a Woburn cop while fleeing from a jewelry robbery. And now we come to find out the Parole Board didn't even notify the Middlesex District Attorney's office about the hearing.

The two employees assigned to notify the DAs are already gone but the mess they left is going to serious entangle efforts to clean up the even bigger mess that is the state's post-prison system of parole and probation.

That's because the Massachusetts Parole Board is under the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the cabinet agency to which Deval Patrick wants to assign control over the patronage-riddled Probation department.

Already a long shot move given the opposition of both the Judiciary and the Legislature, it seems appropriate to pull the plug on that idea -- even though there doesn't seem to be a better alternative, so far.

And the murder of John Maguire is also likely to put a harsh spotlight on the six-member panel that unanimously agreed to parole a violent offender who was serving three concurrent life sentences. (Hint: You may want to fix that rosy notice that "In 2009, the agency's success rate for individuals under community supervision was 78%!")

As someone who opposes the death penalty, I have no problem with the concept of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Even if the judges who sentenced Cinelli left the loophole, the board still has some explaining to do about why it apparently fell for the "I'm reformed" act of someone serving three concurrent life terms.

And you can't help but wonder if the absence of prosecutors opposing the release had a big something to do with this deadly mistake.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snow cops

We start with the praise: Boston and New England does a much better job dealing with snow than Yankeeville or Old England. And as a walker, I appreciate the push to get sidewalks clean and in a hurry.

But there's something rather unsettling to see huge mounds of plowed snow blocking sidewalks in my neighborhood, probably until spring. Put there by town plows. And I will spare my town the embarrassment of mentioning how, in years past, one of the worst-kept sidewalks I could find was right in front of a school.

But the idea of snow cops judging my work could produce enough heat to melt that plow mound all by itself.

Let's be honest. How many people have cleaned their sidewalks or driveway aprons only to find a plow has dumped more heavy icy chunks in the path? It's only made worse by a large storm that dumps so much snow the legal sidewalk spots to create piles disappear.

New this year in my neighborhood is the need to clear a path and a sidewalk spot for the huge recycling bins that have replaced the small, easy-to-carry baskets that could be placed on top of a snow mound. Some of my neighbors don't clear paths to the street for walkers, and you can go for blocks down major streets like Comm. Ave. and Beacon Street without being able to find a curb from which to step off.

There's a shared responsibility here and if Boston (or other communities) is looking to add snow tickets to parking tickets as a revenue source -- without considering the particulars of each storm -- there could be a Boston Snow Party brewing.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blinded by the hindsight

Regulars know I am far from a cheerleader for Massachusetts Republicans, so fair warning, have those angina pills ready. I'm about to say something nice about the chairwoman.

The party around these parts clearly took what some might call a shellacking, losing just about everything, starting with what was once considered a lead pipe-certain win of the Corner Office. They failed to capture one imminently winnable congressional seat and the phone booth that holds the state Senate delegation just got roomier.

So why does Jennifer Nassour deserve another chance? Because she finally focused the party where it needs to focus -- on the grassroots. There will now be 32 Republican House members, twice as many as last year.

And after three straight indicted Democratic speakers, the House is where the action will be as 2011 heats up and the probation scandal continues to grow.

Besides, it's hard to sympathize with a challenger whose major complaint stems from 20-20 hindsight. Worcester state committeeman Bill McCarthy says the party funneled too much money into Charlie Baker's unsuccessful effort to oust Deval Patrick:
"We lost that race miserably,” he said.
No argument there, even though the three-way contest was competitive down to the end, a finale that stemmed more from Baker's shortcomings as a candidate than anything else.

McCarthy claims the GOP needs to focus more on the grassroots -- something Nassour clearly agrees with. Big difference is he has rhetoric, she has results.

The Massachusetts Republican Party has been floundering for more than a generation, betting the ranch on the top of the ticket with mixed success. It has now made a down payment on grassroots building that could generate better results down the road.

They'd be fools to toss the chairwoman who started the process. But foolishness is a familiar trait of the state GOP, so let's wait and see.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Shoveling out my brain

Random thoughts while waiting for the plows to mess up what I already shoveled:
  • What exactly, is the problem with fewer lawyers elected to the Legislature?
  • If patronage is defined as hiring your friends for jobs, what to make of some of the Herald's most recent additions of former broadcasters?
  • Everyone into the pool on how long it will take for the Tea Party Newsletter to try and make an issue of Deval Patrick handling his duties from western Mass. and not the Framingham bunker?


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Are you serious?

We interrupt our tidings of comfort and joy for this moment of grinchitude.

Are we really supposed to take this newspaper as a source of serious journalism when it devotes a cover story to its star columnist and what sounds like a gimmicky weight loss "solution?

Hey Howie, was it covered by your health insurance?

No, actually it was a freebie, a front page unpaid advertisement for a local cosmetic surgeon. Carr may have disdained journalistic ethics awhile ago, but I thought the Gang at Herald Square still had a fig leaf.

Buh-bye to that notion.

We now return you to holiday cheer while awaiting Snowmageddon.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

All we are saying...

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Oh what a tangled web

Glad to see that it's not just liberals who eat their young.

The Tea Party is boiling mad at Scott Brown and are thinking about running a challenger in the 2012 primary. Despite the near Kamikaze nature of that challenge against a candidate with a $6.2 million war chest, that news is a Christmas present for Massachusetts liberals.

What's raised the ire? Apparently not his getting into bed with the financial services industry. Nope, it's his vote for the financial regulation bill he weakened, not to mention his support of don't ask, don't tell repeal and the new START treaty.

The out-of-state money and people power that pushed him over the top is thinking of staying away next time and the local Tea set is clearly annoyed too.
“I think that there will be a primary challenge,’’ said Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party. “There’s enough of an underground movement in the Tea Party movement as seeing him as not being conservative enough. There probably will be multiple people who attempt to run against him.’’
In the words of George W. Bush, bring it on.

There's little question anyone, left or right. will have a hard time unseating the Truck-drivin' Man when you combine the cash with his aw shucks personality. First and foremost, Democrats have to find a viable candidate, a problem that eased somewhat by congressional redistricting and the loss of a House seat.

Then any challenger needs to contend with the fact that a majority of Massachusetts voters agree with those votes that annoy the Tea Party, no matter how Brown flipped and flopped and horse traded to get there.

But incumbents would always prefer no primary challenge, particularly from the flank from which they rode to initial victory. Even an underfunded challenger would get national media attention, given Brown's own meteoric rise.

And we simply can't assume a Tea Party-backed challenger would be underfunded. The out-of-state cash that flowed to Brown could easily go to someone else.

Of course, that someone else would need to be a viable alternative -- and they seem as scarce as Democrats. Bill Hudak?

But it's nice to have visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads right now.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Calm before the storm

It's all over except for the shouting on cable.

Congress is going home after what should be seen as an enormously successful two years for liberals and progressives. Historic health care legislation. A start at reining in Wall Street excesses. The beginning of a recovery from the economic havoc caused by the Bush years.

And now add to that repeal of don't ask, don't tell. A treaty to rein in some of the excess nuclear weapons that threaten our security. And, after exposing Republican hypocrisy about the heroes of 9-11, help for them meeting the cost of the health problems tied to their rescue efforts.

So why aren't we feeling better about ourselves?

Aside from a seemingly innate ability to reject success by squabbling amongst ourselves because we allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, the next two years don't seem to offer any sense of improvement.

Listen to the GOP talking points:
“They have been enormously successful in one sense in passing their legislative agenda,” Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said of Democrats. “The problem is the country just doesn’t like it very much.”
Says who? The verdict is still mixed on the historic law, despite the equally historic lies about "death panels" and "government takeover of health care." There is little doubt that the reforms are more popular than the men and women of Congress who passed it (and those who lied about it).

Republicans are vowing to spend the next two years repealing the good work accomplished so far. Don't count on it. Democrats still hold a majority in the Senate and there are nowhere near the two-thirds majorities in both branches required to override a presidential veto should backsliding legislation ever emerge.

Instead we should expect two more years of GOP blustering. Except now with a place at the table the expectations for the Party of No should be higher, although it's up to the politically-obsessed press corps to hold GOP feet to the fire in the face of the inevitable screech about liberal bias.

We should celebrate what has been accomplished, knowing a tough road lies ahead.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

When the music stops

The posturing began even before the announcement. No knives are being shown yet, but they are surely being sharpened. One member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation is going to be out of a job in 2013 and the next year should provide ample entertainment for the viewers.

That the stakes are high was already obvious. Before the first census count was released the two western Massachusetts representatives announced their 2012 intentions. And with both John Olver and Richard Neal holding potentially powerful posts should Democrats storm back, their message was clear: don't mess with us.

While the Herald gleefully recited the weaknesses of each eastern Mass. Democrat, there is a dearth of qualified Republican challengers to topple the incumbents (Bill Hudak anyone?). And in any event, the Legislature's Democrat-dominated redistricting committee is hardly going to start by looking for a sacrificial lamb.

That means some a lot of "caucuses" where the members either come to agreement on their own for a course of action or force Sen. Stan Rosenberg of Amherst and Rep. Mike Moran of Boston the chance to engineer a steel cage match on par with the time Barney Frank beat Margaret Heckler in 1982.

So don't count on the bloodbath that would ensue with two Democrats pitted against each other.

My money is on either Mike Capuano or Steve Lynch (despite his early denial) voluntarily giving up his seat to take on Scott Brown.

The junior senator's now-obvious connections to out-of-state cash is a blessing and a curse. He has the cash to barrage an opponent but it's a form of Kryptonite as Tea Party supporters learn he is beholden to the same bankers who created the mess that help spark their movement in the first place.

Lynch is ambitious but his vote against health care reform is a double-edged loser for him. Shunning the bill allegedly for being two weak hurt him tremendously among liberals who already hold him in suspicion. And "too weak" is exactly the wrong reason for those opposed the law as creeping socialism.

Capuano made a less-than-spectacular debut on the statewide stage as the last angry man to Martha Coakley's calm and competent plodder. There are many Democrats wishing they had a do-over on that one and Capuano has no doubt learned from his mistakes.

Let's say I'm seeing a Capuano-Brown tilt in 2012 -- with a lot of relieved Democratic incumbents holding on to their seats.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sno' excuses

When are TV meteorologists ever going to learn to stop hyping snowstorms?

The "surprise" storm that snarled traffic and turned once rational drivers into idiots really wasn't a "surprise" at all. TV crews were perched at the Bourne rotary at 5 a.m. to make the obligatory snow balls and forecasters had talked about 1-3 inches in Boston.

But since they had also spent the better part of the previous week blathering about a potential snowpocalypse on Sunday, no one was really paying any attention on Monday.

Shame on us. But even greater shame on them.

Weather is obviously a major rainmaker for television stations (sorry, couldn't resist). Why else do stations in this sports-mad town have more meteorologists than sportscasters on staff?

Local radio stations sell the endless school closing announcements -- even though robocalls to parents, not to mention text messages, web sites and continuous TV screen crawls make listening to the annoying lists obsolete.

I admit I'm not immune to the call of the wild, flipping through the channels to see who is predicting how much and rating forecasters on their accuracy to hype ratio. In the end, I prefer to rely on the National Weather Service, a throwback to my own reporting days where I could get good quotes without the hype, because they had nothing to sell.

The forecasters didn't screw this one up, and local governments who rely on private services for their weather data would probably acknowledge that. But Harvey and Todd and Pete and Kevin and Matt all deserve a share of the blame anyway for being the boys who cried wolf.

And we all know how that turned out.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

None dare call it politics

At least give Lindsay Graham brownie points for honesty that Republicans are blocking the START treaty because of don't ask, don't tell.

While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Arizona Republican John Kyl blather on about a lack of time (even though Kyl apparently had at least 29 conversations with the White House), Graham offers an honest reason for GOP pique:
Mr. Graham cited the sour mood engendered by Democrats forcing votes on other topics in recent days, including the bill on gays in the military that passed Saturday. “If you really want to have a chance of passing Start, you better start over and do it in the next Congress because this lame duck has been poisoned,” Mr. Graham said on “Face the Nation” on CBS.
Poisoned? Because a solid majority of nearly two-thirds of the Senate -- including Republicans who went with their conscience and not the party line -- voted in agreement with a similarly large-sized American majority to end a discriminatory policy?

I cannot claim to be an expert in the minutiae of the treaty. But I know it was fairly arrived at in joint negotiations and such GOP stalwarts as Colin Powell, Condelezza Rice, George Schultz, James Baker and Brent Scowcroft are in favor of ratification.

None of whom have declared the No. 1 goal to be making Barack Obama a one-term president.

Back in the day, Republicans declared "politics stops at the water's edge." Later, some declared it treason when Democrats would raise objections to foreign policy decisions.

Vladimir Putin must be laughing his butt off over American calls to make Russia a true democracy, if this is the best example we can offer about how it works.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

How ya like him now?

How's that political bargain looking now, my liberal friends?

Those on the left who were ready to string up Barack Obama because of the admittedly odious extension of the millionaires' tax cut are now celebrating repeal of an also odious vestige of discrimination in the military, don't ask, don't tell.

It's likely to be the final success of what history will acknowledge was an historic two-year session that included a landmark (if imperfect) health care reform law and a necessary (if imperfect) overhaul of financial industry regulation.

And let's not forget the helpful (if imperfect) stimulus bill that temporarily derailed the pain that now looms because liberals and progressives fought among ourselves and didn't focus on the Big Lie Party that wanted to only help Wall Street bonus babies and other millionaires.

They say campaigning is poetry and governing is prose. Obama did indeed fail to live up to the soaring rhetoric of 2008 that lulled many into believing change would happen overnight.

But change did come, too slow for some unaware of the reality of the political process. Let's hope the skill the White House team showed post-election continues in tempering a new, even more hostile Republican Party.

Otherwise there will be change all right, but one we can't believe in.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

T'is the season?

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas up on Capitol Hill -- if you are an Ebenezer Scrooge fan.

Fresh from bestowing its gift on millionaires, the Big Lie Party is preparing to distribute lumps of coal to illegal immigrant high school graduates who came to the United States before they were 16, 9-11 responders, gays in the military and anyone opposed to nuclear war.

What's most laughable is the party that has wielded the filibuster like a blunt weapon is objecting to Democrats using parliamentary tactics of their own to secure agreements.

Let's be honest. It's in the Republican DNA to use immigration and gays as culture war weapons. That's why our very own "moderate" Scott Brown calls the DREAM Act "backdoor amnesty" even if it offers a path to citizenship on people brought here by their parents only after serving in the military or attending college for two years and avoiding a criminal record.

In reality, backdoor amnesty is what Brown and his GOP colleagues provided the Wall Street moguls who brought down our economy, the one who collected fat bonuses while they held extended unemployment benefits hostage to a millionaire's tax break.

Nor is it really a surprise to see Republicans use restoration of equality in the military as a weapon by holding repeal of don't ask, don't tell hostage. But using a nuclear weapons reduction treaty, jeopardizing our diplomatic relations with Russia?

It's clear what any Democrat who tried to use a treaty to score political points would be called by our noble GOP. Traitor.

But the most unfathomable lump of coal of them all is the Senate Republican refusal to take up discussion of health benefits for true heroes -- those who responded to ground zero on 9-11.

So beware if a Republican wishes for peace on Earth and goodwill to all. There's probably a catch somewhere.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Learning from the master

There must be a storm coming, because I sure can't tell which way Scott Brown is blowin' in the wind today. But when it comes to putting a finger to the political wind, our junior senator can't hold a candle to our former governor.

It appears Brown's on-again, off-again support for repeal of the military's don't ask, don't tell policy is on again, not that we get the word directly from Senator Weathervane.
“If and when a stand-alone repeal bill comes up for a vote, he will support it,’’ said Gail Gitcho, Brown’s spokeswoman.
If and when he supports it, that would amount to the fourth stand in Brown's flip-flop-flip-flop journey. And that means Brown needs a less in pandering from the master, our very own Mittster.

As Scot Lehigh points out today, Our Man Myth left Brown in the dust with a pandering trifecta: slithering on taxes, the START treaty and, the grandaddy of 'em all, the health insurance mandate.

And all in just one week.

Brown has much to learn about shameless political posturing. It's a good thing he has such a good teacher to emulate.

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The French Toast is up

Adam has kicked the French Toast Alert up a notch and our meteorologists are in a tizzy: it's December and gosh darn it, it may snow!

Yes, it's part of our seasonal rites of passage. In spring, it's the crocuses, followed by the first (non-political) flip-flop sighting of summer. In the fall, it's the first leaf to imperceptibly change from green to brown.

And in winter, the community that averages 42-something inches of snow annually marks the occasion of the first flakes with a frenzy once only reserved for Red Sox victory parades.

There's something about this hype that leaves me a bit more cynical than usual as we await our Sunday fate:
Meteorologists are certain today that a nor’easter will develop off the mid-Atlantic coast and move northeast on Sunday. But the extent of the storm and whether it will actually hit New England are still -- pardon the expression -- up in the air.
Think about it for a second: we are in full battle mode over a storm that doesn't even exist yet, let alone on course for anywhere in particular.

Welcome to New England.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Common ground

Who says Congress can't do anything? A new poll shows our nation's lawmakers have indeed unified us -- in contempt of them.

Only 13 percent of the American public approves of the job Congress is doing. Which raises two questions -- what are those folks smoking or how did the pollsters manage to reach so many congressional family members?

Despite the substantial gains they made in November, Republican support for Congress is in single digits. It's a pity no one put Osama bin Laden in the poll. I suspect his popularity might track a bit higher.

And small wonder when you have examples such as Mississippi's two senators declaring their opposition to pork, larding up the bill with their own pet projects and then vowing to vote against those earmarks.

The problem, as proven time and time again, is we have the best damn Congress money can buy. Not to mention individual members. It's government of the highest bidder, for the highest bidder.

The public says it is fed up, but then turns out people like Wisconsin's Russ Feingold who united with John McCain (before he contracting Palinitis) to author campaign finance reforms that were gutted by the "non-activist" conservative Supreme Court.

And that doesn't begin to discuss the billions more funneled into. Congress by special interests during legislative sessions.

So the ultimately perplexing question: if left and right, liberal and conservative, can agree that we have a corrupt, ineffectual branch of government why can't we fix it? How do we get the upper hand over the greedy monied interests who are leading us down the rathole?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

To the victor go the headaches

Now we know Deval Patrick had 1.5 billion reasons not to take Charlie Baker's challenge to talk about the budget.

It's hardly surprising state officials see yet another miserable budget year ahead despite signs of life in the Massachusetts economy. It's all part of the national Republican mantra that stimulus is a four-letter word and everyone (except Wall Street and defense contractors) needs to share the pain.

The end of the stimulus program for state and local government means the dam holding back the flood of cuts in education, public safety and public works is about to break. The soaring cost of health insurance will also take more solid root, even as conservatives attempt to gut the law designed to start bringing down costs.

It's the ultimate trickle down theory -- with the pain from congressional gamesmanship flowing downhill to states and then communities.

For Massachusetts and its cities and towns, which spend heavily on health care, the only major pots of cash left are local aid and education.

Much of the debate in the coming months will focus on legislation to allow cities and town to set their health care rates for employees without approval from the unions with which they have collectively bargained.

Unions to date have balked, but the time has come for them to make some concessions on this score. After all, their members are the ones to be laid off. The question is simply how many.

If unions balk, it's simply another place for Patrick to spend that newly amassed political capital and embrace legislation making the change.

And it's also time for the "waste, fraud and abuse" set to acknowledge that a fourth straight year of deep cuts means it is unlikely to find much left of their favorite hobbyhorse.

All parties have also said new taxes are off the table. That also puts an extra burden on the newly doubled Republican House caucus to come up with constructive ideas for dealing with a nonpartisan problem.

Another ugly year is setting up on Beacon Hill.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

In his own words

The past is starting to catch up with Mitt Romney, but only after a ruling by a federal court judge that doesn't pass the Antonin Scalia smell test.

Judge Henry Hudson's ruling that the health care law's individual mandate is unconstitutional -- the first among three cases so far -- sets up a constitutional battle that will likely be eventually resolved by Scalia's Supreme Court.

And as with every judicial ruling these days, there are some short- and long-term political implications.

First -- and the one getting media attention -- is the tortured dance of Our Man Myth, who was for the mandate before he was against it, making it the centerpiece of the Massachusetts reform law only to walk away before his signature was dry because the campaign trail beckoned.

The compilation of clips already getting attention on YouTube was put together by Democrats. But it could be considered an in-kind contribution against the candidate they perceive to pose the greatest threat to Barack Obama in 2012.

Romney's 2008 opponents can be seen jumping all over him in one of the clips -- and that was even before "Obamacare" became law with a mandate foundation attributed to "Romneycare." With the 2012 field listing even farther to the right, Myth is going to be facing seriously rough seas and his own words are going to be biting at his backside with increasing regularity.

But the longer term implications are even more troubling. Yesterday's ruling came from a judge who holds a financial interest in a political consulting firm that has made repeal of the health care law a major part of its business line for Speaker-elect John Boehner, Minnesota's Michele Bachmann and John McCain, the man who brought us Sarah Palin.

Apologists will argue that its was a silent interest and he has no role in running the daily operations. But judges are expected to hold a different standard of ethics than others in the political realm, even though Scalia's action proves otherwise.

The fact there is even an appearance of a conflict of interest in Hudson's ruling has yet to pierce the mainstream media. Let's hope it was just an oversight in the rush to report the decision. Because we know recusal will become a household word when the case reach the Supreme Court and conservatives will be howling for Justice Elena Kagan to recuse herself because of her role as US Solicitor General when the law was passed.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Deval in charge

The Globe seems fascinated that Deval Patrick, fresh off a surprising and strong reelection, is shaking things up on Beacon Hill. Why? Could it be because he is the first governor in decades not to appear bored by the job?

Think about it. You need to go back to Mike Dukakis's second term in 1982 to find someone seemingly energized by having the keys to the Corner Office in his possession again. And that enthusiasm came in large measure because of a four-year hiatus, compliments of Ed King.

By the start of his third term, Dukakis had the wanderlust that led to his 1988 presidential campaign. Then came Bill Weld, one full-term, a Senate loss and a resignation to pursue a quixotic bid for Ambassador to Mexico.

His designated hitter, Paul Cellucci, finished the Weld term but bolted late in his own less than four-year turn for the Canadian ambassadorship, leaving a lame duck Jane Swift to bail out at the return of Mitt Romney.

Then there's Myth, who lost interest halfway through his four years and set out to run for the White House -- without turning over the keys to Kerry Healey.

So it is somewhat unusual for Patrick to not only reject suggestions that he will challenge Scott Brown in 2012 but to actually make moves like an executive who has learned from his rookie mistakes and intends to take a stronger role in the next term.

Second chances don't come around that often and most of his predecessors threw them away. Thankfully he doesn't appear to be as cynical as we are. Yet.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

The best senator money can buy

What's the price of a U.S. Senator? Apparently $46,667 a week.

The Globe reports this morning that Scott Brown took in that amount of cash from the financial services industry over a three-week period last summer when he was doing their bidding to kill or weaken the financial service reform bill.

For point of reference, House Financial Services Committee Chairman -- and bill author -- Barney Frank managed only $4,000 a week over that same time period. And, the Globe notes, Brown's haul:
... is 400 percent more than the $28,000 received on average by all Republican senators during the same three weeks.
Brown was everywhere during the summer earning his money, telling anyone who would listen to the bankers' talking points that restraining the industry that caused the Great Recession and triggered massive unemployment was actually a jobs killer.

Again, the Globe:
As the money poured in, Brown and his Senate staff were working both publicly and behind the scenes to scuttle $19 billion in fees on the financial industry that would have paid for part of the regulatory overhaul, and to weaken a provision intended to curb certain types of investment activities by banks and insurance companies.
The usually mute Brown trotted out a spokeswoman to issue a written statement that declared:
“The changes Senator Brown pushed for in the legislation were designed to protect jobs in Massachusetts and keep taxes low. “There is absolutely zero connection between policy and fund-raising. To insinuate otherwise is just plain wrong.’’
People who don't earn a living on Brown's payroll disagree:
“It definitely raises one, if not two, eyebrows,’’ said David Levinthal of the independent Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finance.
It's been clear since Day One that the man with the truck and the barn coat was independent only in his campaign literature. He continues to "distinguish" himself today with straight party line votes such as flip-flopping on don't ask, don't tell and denying health assistance to 9-11 emergency responders.

Brown's rhetoric has never matched his actions. It's nice to finally get an idea of how much it takes to buy his vote.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

How did he get there?

Delvonte Tisdale didn't put up with virtual strip searches or the TSA grope when he boarded a Boeing 737 jetliner from Charlotte on Nov. 15. It appears he made it into the plane's wheel well without attracting the attention of the blue shirts charged with protecting our air travel system.

If the 16-year-old had not fallen from the sky into a quiet residential neighborhood when that jet approached Logan Airport we may never have known about one of the most serious security breaches -- one with shuddering ramifications -- since the Transportation Safety Agency started telling us to talk off our shoes and belts and submit to demeaning searches.

Says Norfolk County District Attorney -- and Rep.-elect William Keating -- TSA has some explaining to do:
“It appears more likely than not that Mr. Tisdale was able to breach airport security and hide in the wheel well of a commercial jet airliner without being detected by airport security.’’
We've just experienced another massive round of what's been derisively known as "security theater," full body X-ray scans that leave little to the imagination and pat-downs some equate with sexual assault. All because a ticketed terrorist was able to get on board with explosive underwear.

But what about the apolitical runaway who was able to sneak past the blue-shirted checkpoints, through supposedly locked doors where baggage and material is stored, across a tarmac and hop into the underbelly of a waiting jet?

We don't know if he had somehow commandeered the paraphernalia that would have enabled the ruse, although I would actually be comforted in knowing he was just a determined teenager who was able to slip through the cracks on guile.

Nor am I comforted by the thought that the temperatures in an aircraft wheel well during flight are cold enough to kill. We are talking about suicide bombers after all.

Charlotte/Douglas Airport is a major hub for US Airways. I recall running through it a number of times trying to connect from Boston for another flight to Florida or points south. A security lapse of this proportion is nothing to laugh off.

Tisdale's former neighbor and "uncle" thinks it sounds all pretty off-the-wall:
“It seems pretty far-fetched to me,’’ said [Norman] Brown, questioning how he could have made it across the tarmac and onto a plane with the increased scrutiny of the TSA. “He would have to go into the terminal, find out where the plane is, and he’d have to go to TSA to get to where that plane is. Then he would have to orient himself once he got on the field. That’s just too much for a child to do."
Good questions all. Yet somehow it appears that he did just that, at a time that TSA was cranking up the Thanksgiving security theater -- and maybe not looking at the obvious holes in its net.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Gutless wonders

I expected the flip-flop on "don't ask, don't tell," but Scott Brown, how can you vote against health aid for 9-11 responders?

But there was our "moderate" junior senator, falling in line with his Republican colleagues to prevent action on a bill to help the heroes who rescued thousands when the Twin Towers fell. This came on the same day he dishonored a less than week-old pledge to support repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Republican "leadership" has shown its true colors this week -- siding with millionaires on tax cuts while rejecting as potential pork the provision of health aid for men and women who worked in the toxic environment of ground zero.

Let's remember these are the same people who oppose an Islamic cultural center a few blocks away as a sacrilege against hallowed ground.

Brown was typically mute about that straight party line vote, but his spokesman trotted out a feeble rationale for the procedural DADT vote, a decision that one ups John Kerry because Brown was against it before he was for it before he was against it. Again.

Republicans insist nothing can happen in the Senate until there is a vote on the millionaires' tax break and Brown will flip-flip again once that happens. Assuming of course the bill can be revived from the legislative limbo to which they consigned it.

Equally appalling is the GOP complaint that they would have allowed a vote on DADT if only Democratic intransigence over a lengthy debate. This from the party that is holding up all business until it gets what it wants.

To borrow Joseph Welch's statement to Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy 56 years ago:
Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Not your ordinary academic battle

A politician trying to keep politics out of the college president search process? And the trustee chairman quitting in protest? That's their story and they're sticking to it.

Robert Manning is officially mum about his reasons for resigning from the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees, but the Globe reports he's apparently miffed at Deval Patrick objecting to the allegedly greased skids for UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan.

Manning, originally named to the board Mitt Romney and reappointed by Patrick, is reportedly upset over concerns raised by Patrick's other appointees that naming the former congressman would raise concerns about political favoritism.

This follows other concerns, that apparently left Manning "bristling," over Patrick’s staff urging the board to keep tuition and fee increases low despite endless state budget cuts and weighing in on personnel decisions.

Excuse me, but isn't the governor of a state-funded university supposed to advocate for lower student costs and have a voice, if not the final one, in personnel decisions? Isn't he ultimately responsible for the perceived success or failure of everything on his watch?

But here's the most fascinating quote for tea leaf readers:
“The governor has politicized the university and that wasn’t what Rob signed up for,’’ said a one trustee who, like others interviewed, insisted on anonymity to share private conversations. “He’s a very strong, smart businessman, and he was frustrated with how this thing played out.’’
Patrick politicized a university that once appointed a Massachusetts Senate President to the top job and was apparently headed in the direction of naming a former congressman, neither of whom had lengthy academic credentials?

That would be hilarious if it weren't so off the planet in terms of self-serving hogwash.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Declare victory and go home (II)

One reason progressives can never sustain their agenda is a preference for circular firing squads.

The tax cut compromise negotiated by the White House, to the apparent annoyance of congressional Democrats who failed to take a vote when they held a firmer grip on power, is far from perfect. I've railed as much as anyone about tax breaks for millionaires.

But there is something for everyone in that measure -- from millionaires to those qualifying for the Earned Income Tax Credit to the long-term unemployed who have been removed from hostage status for awhile.

The estate tax has even been reinstated after a year of freebies for the families of the wealthy.

Yet just as during and after passage of historic and long overdue health care reform, my friends on the left are in a snit, threatening to walk away and blow up the agreement. And leave us all with higher taxes, especially those of us in line for payroll tax cuts that can be used to try and stimulate a sluggish economy that needs one more jump start.

Liberals and progressives have a tendency to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, as Barack Obama noted during a news conference:

“So I pass a signature piece of legislation where we finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats had been fighting for for a hundred years,’’ he said. “But because there was a provision in there that they didn’t get that would have affected maybe a couple of million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people and the potential for lower premiums for 100 million people, that somehow was a sign of weakness and compromise.’’

OK, maybe a tad too much self pity, but a reality. Same as this fact of political life:
Obama said if that is the type of standard Democrats expect, “then let’s face it, we will never get anything done.’’
Democrats failed to celebrate their accomplishments in health care, financial reform and stimulus and got a "shellacking." There is good in the deal, even if it is not total victory. Take credit for standing up for the vulnerable who would have gotten bupkis from Mitch McConnell and friends.

It's a basic truism: Democrats govern better than they campaign, while if Republicans
brought half the skill they show in politics to governing we would not be in the GOP-dug hole we're trying to climb out of.

When the going gets tough, Republicans grab talking points and rally around their leaders. Democrats grab verbal rifles and start shooting each other.

Until that changes, Republicans will be able to exploit the disunity and push an agenda that is bad for every one, even while they present it as nectar of the gods.

ADDENDUM: OK, so the Times did some better reporting than the Globe. But my premise holds true that Democrats squandered their opportunity to shape the package before the election and continue to be their own worst enemies.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Politics is the art of the possible

Congressional Democrats and many of my liberal compatriots are up in arms over the deal Barack Obama appears to have struck to extend both tax cuts for the rich and unemployment benefits.

My question, particularly for elected Democrats, is: why did you wait this long for a vote?

The capitulation was preordained, particularly especially after House and Senate leaders opted to wait until a lame duck session to vote, a session they knew wold like come after a bad election loss.

But even worse than this capitulation was the one that took place in allowing the deep cuts to become law in the first place.

I'm not cheering Republicans who have used the long-term unemployed to win riches for their pals on Wall Street. And the depth of their crass cynicism knows no bounds.

But I also have no huzzahs for my liberal friends. What's the alternative -- shut down government and hurt everyone, not just the unemployed hostages being held by Mitch McConnell and John Boehner?

Are visions of the 1995 shutdown dancing in your heads? If so, you forget history.

It was the Newt Gingrich and his band of crusaders who melted down because of their overly aggressive tactics. It's a fair bet the same scenario is building now in the bowels of the Republican caucus, with the same likely outcome.

Yes, the tax cut extension for Wall Street is hideous. But so is the manipulation of the unemployed by the alleged fiscal conservatives.

Democrats were mute about their signal accomplishments in the stimulus and health care and financial reform, time when they should have stood up and shouted. They were weak in the face of the bogus GOP assault on death panels and Fannie and Freddie.

The time to have developed a backbone has passed. It's time to allow the GOP to self-immolate.

But don't use the unemployed as hostages either.

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Wall Street wins again

If you ever had a doubt who are the beneficiaries of the millionaire tax cut battle, rest assured Wall Street has never had a doubt.

Congress is debating tax rates, and that has Wall Street nervously eyeing the calendar. Worried that lawmakers will allow taxes to rise for the wealthiest Americans beginning next year, financial firms are discussing whether to move up their bonus payouts from next year to this month.

Yep, the folks who brought you the Great Recession with a confusing maze of sub prime loans, credit default options -- and staggering bonuses -- are out to protect their gains.

And the Republicans who shielded them from the type pf regulation required after that debacle are considering whether to toss a few bones at the long-term unemployed who are suffering from the jobs destroyed by Wall Street greed.

Yes, the very industry whose reckless irresponsibility allowed the destruction of millions of jobs is the one GOP leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner see as the engine to get the economy going again.

It's not the first time -- these are the folks after all who reaped the biggest windfalls when the Republican Congress implemented the cuts during the first Bush recession. And they are the ones who used federal dollars to pay their own bonuses even as we paid to clean up their mess.

And they are the same one who will hold up repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and stymie a nuclear arms control treaty because their principal concern is the defeat of Barack Obama and not the safety and well-being of the United States.

You get what you pay for -- and the corporate titans who have bought and paid for the Republican "leadership" should be grinning broadly as they plan to use the tax savings on their bonuses on yachts and mansions and $6,000 shower curtains while the rest of us struggle to clean up after them.

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Which side are you on, Scott Brown?

Forget the down-home image of the truck drivin', barn coat-wearin' man of the people and consider these two facts:
  • Scott Brown voted with his Republican colleagues yesterday to kill a bill that would provide tax cuts to 98 percent of Americans to show their solidarity with the upper 2 percent, those earning more than $250,000 annually, a move that would add $700 billion to the deficit;
  • Just days earlier, Brown voted with that same Plutocrat Caucus to block an effort to extend long-term unemployment benefits because they are not supported by current revenue and therefore would blow a hole in the deficit.
It's a good thing the senator only has two sides to his mouth. That makes it easier to track the hypocrisy.

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Equality is not a political bargaining chip

Scott Brown says he will support repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," but only after the Senate acts on tax breaks for millionaires. Sadly it sounds like a Pyrrhic victory, since Senate Republicans have made it clear that greed trumps equality.

Nevertheless, Brown's shift is a significant piece of the puzzle being pieced together by congressional Democrats while their Republican counterparts continue to play ideological games. It could help clear the way to some sort of grand bargain compromise involving extending unemployment benefits too.

The true shame rests with the conservative "leaders" who have used the military as a pawn in the political and cultural wars that have become blood sport in Washington.

The arguments being used against openly gay soldiers are eerily familiar to the used by conservatives to make African-Americans second-class soldiers even as they fought and died for their country.

The military led the way then in doing the right thing, even as their leaders are trying to do now, despite the blatant flip-flops of so-called "leaders" like John McCain.

There is no asterisk after "land of the free and home of the brave" allowing exclusions for bigotry. And no good reason why equality should take a back seat to tax cuts for those who can afford not to serve.

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Friday, December 03, 2010

He's not on probation

Some politicians like to talk about spending political capital. Deval Patrick is doing it by picking a fight with the legislature and the judiciary over probation.

While House Speaker Robert DeLeo chose the friendly confines of the Dan Rea Show to offer his most extensive comments about the probation scandal (he's angry!) Patrick went before newspaper publishers to challenge DeLeo and his hand-picked choice for chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.

Arguing for legislation to take the department out of the judiciary (with legislative domination) and into the executive branch, Patrick threw down the gauntlet:
“I’m prepared to be responsible for that, but I want the authority that goes with that responsibility because, in my life experience, separating those two is fatal. The court has had a chance to oversee probation, and I respect the court, but most other states — I think 37 here in the United States — have probation within the executive branch.’’
Given the track record to date, it's a compelling argument for combining authority and responsibility.

Aside from expressing his anger, DeLeo did explain the rise in the department budget went beyond merely feathering its nest for patronage hires. But the lack of oversight -- something the legislature is clearly empowered to do -- suggests taxpayers need someone actually willing to look for hands in cookie jars.

This should be an interesting constitutional scrape.

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Final fling

Like drunken college kids getting ready to graduate, Republicans are taking one last chance to be, as their former leader once said, "young and irresponsible."

Railing against deficits and unemployment benefits on the one hand, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising one last filibuster unless Democrats capitulate to a $700 billion Christmas present to people earning more than $250,000 annually.

Oh, and while they're at it, forget about a nuclear arms treaty and repealing a "don't ask, don't tell" policy considered outworn and useless by top Pentagon brass and 70 percent of active duty soldiers alike.

You need to remember, of course, that McConnell is on the record as saying the GOP's No. 1 priority is making Barack Obama a one-term president.

Which doesn't instill confidence the frat boys are likely to straighten up and fly right when the calendar changes again.

CORRECTION: Thanks to the sharp-eyed copy editor who noted I was giving a tax break to extremely wealthy people. Obvi0usly that was people earning over $250,000.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Scrooge wears a barn coat

Charles Dickens could not have scripted a better story if he had tried -- Christmas tax cuts for millionaires, coal for the long-term unemployed.

And Ebenezer Scrooge wearing a barn coat.

Scott Brown joined fellow Republicans in blocking a Democratic effort to extend benefits for approximately 60,000 Massachusetts residents who will have run out of their 99-week allotment.

Brown is pushing to take cash from funds allocated but not spent by federal agencies. He bloviated:
"Are we going to do it from the bank account, or are we going to put it on the credit card?’’ Brown said on the Senate floor last night. He added, “I’ll use the bank account. Let’s use money that’s already in the system and put it to good use immediately."
All well and good, if he didn't plan to use the credit card by standing firm with extending the Bush tax cuts, including the $700 billion deficit creator that is extending the cut for those earning more than $250,000 annually.

His colleague John Kerry, among those who would benefit from the millionaire's tax cut, sees things differently.
“It’s inexcusable to kill unemployment benefits for people who have been working their whole lives until the economy hit the skids.
Merry Christmas Sen. Brown. Glad to see you remember the people who supported you last winter. Oh yeah, they were out-of-staters with fat check books who don't need unemployment benefits.

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