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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Critical mass

The sour economy has brought out some of the best reporting on public spending that I can recall -- with reporters at the Globe and the Herald singling out police details, public employee benefits and court system abuses just today. (And you can't ignore the good reporting on the probation system at CommonWealth Magazine.)

Based on my own experience of making less as a public employee than I could in the private sector, I was once inclined to tolerate better benefits as a tradeoff for salary. But when Deval Patrick is only the 1,295th highest paid state employee, that argument begins to sink like a stone.

And it become an even more precarious argument when you learn:
... municipal health plans, which cover employees, retirees, and elected officials, provide benefit levels largely unheard of in the private sector. Copays are much lower. Some communities do not force retirees onto Medicare at age 65. Many citizens on elected boards - some after serving as few as six years - receive coverage for life, too.
A lot of these benefits are the result of collective bargaining agreements and a legislature that was more than happy to look after their friends in good times. But it's obvious times are no longer good. Less obvious is that friends may no longer be friends.

A great example are the police unions -- who continue to fight tooth and nail to retain overtime-paying construction details in the face of efforts by Patrick to substitute civilian flaggers. That earned him a threatened picket line at an AFL-CIO conference, prompting a cancelled visit.

Yet, even if Patrick had attended the event, it's doubtful it would have translated into meaningful political support for him. Union rank-and-file has been ignoring endorsements for decades -- most recently turning out for Scott Brown despite the heavy support from the top of the labor ladder for Martha Coakley.

But now it should get really interesting.

Public anger at all things government is threatening to sweep elected officials out en masse. Many are getting the hint and hitting the road. Fixing a continued deep hole in the budget by dealing with some of the repeated and regular disclosures of waste and inequity should seem like a no-brainer for those who want to keep their jobs.

Of course, many voters accuse elected officials of having no brains. And those accusations may be proven again this budget season.

To be fair, many hands are tied because of the collective bargaining agreements that can't be undone overnight even if there was political will. But it's a safe bet when Patrick signs the fiscal 2011 budget into law later this year, lawmakers will have done little, if anything, to fix the problems outlined just today.

And ironically, many of those same beneficiaries of government largess will vote against their benefactors.

Somewhere there might be some justice in that. But the problems will remain and the cycle will start over again with newly elected officials who were courted by campaign dollars and promises of union support from labor leaders who can't deliver their own members.

Is this the classic definition of a vicious circle?

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dam it Deval!

The Herald has a story today taking the Patrick administration to task for cutting money to the agency assigned to dam safety.

I'm not going to try to get into the specifics of this proposal or the overall safety question. Rather to me it's just another example of how we complain about state government -- and seemingly obscure agencies -- until we need them.

Damned if you and damned if you don't so to speak.

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Maybe the Mayans were a little off?

Massive earthquake in Chile, after a huge earthquake in Okinawa. Tsunamis unleashed. Following just weeks after devastation in Haiti.

"Bombogenesis" in the Northeast, leaving Washington, Philadelphia and New York buried in snow while Boston is soggy and brown (and forecasters red faced).

What the heck is going on here? Were the Mayans a bit off in their calculations?

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Friday, February 26, 2010

The Deval is in the details

Even the most die-hard Deval Patrick supporter will need a deep breath to absorb the impact of the latest Suffolk University Poll. But backers of Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill shouldn't be planning how they will redecorate the Corner Office either.

Patrick continues to hold a nominal lead over his two main rivals for the governor. But only 29 percent of likely voters said they thought he deserved re-election, compared to 60 percent who wanted to give “someone else” a chance. And Patrick pulls a job approval rating of 35 percent,with 68 percent of voters viewing him a “weak leader.”

Tough stuff for even the most cheery and optimistic sorts.

In cases like this, the tried and true method of gaining the upper hand is defining your opponent before he or she gets the chance to do so. In the overwhelming majority of cases, that means going negative, something that would seem to contradict the Patrick method of operation.

Yet the poll does provide a roadmap for the Patrick campaign to thread a needle of definition without a barrage of negative ads -- something Baker, with his cash reserves, could easily match.

The survey suggests the former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care executive is riding the Scott Brown wave -- up 10 points among independents since November. And that's with 35 percent of the respondents who have never heard of him. Yet that high "don't know" leaves room for Patrick to maneuver.

And Treasurer Tim (oops, Tim in '10) has little beyond catchy slogans going for him in the eyes of the public. Other than a record of seven years with few if any noteworthy accomplishments and a broad portfolio into which investigative reporters can rummage.

Not to mention a public that seems to have caught on to the fact that Cahill is an IINO -- independent in name only -- a lifelong Democrat who dropped out to improve his political chances for the ultimate race.

The governor will also need to heavily promote the fact the has has a substantial record of accomplishment -- ethics and pension reform and a transportation overhaul in one year -- over the objections of the Legislature.

With lawmakers strongly arrayed against him, touting those accomplishments would seem to be the logical first step in advertising. It could also serve to inoculate him, somewhat, against the anti-legislature mood that will likely be a major factor.

Patrick has made a belated effort to re-energize his strength in 2006 -- the grassroots. Whether that will be too little to late is the ultimate question. But almost half the respondents saying they don't think a Republican is the answer, Patrick has two powerful tools in his arsenal -- the words "Republican" and "insurance executive" to slap onto Baker and "opportunist" to slap onto Cahill.

But it will require a lot of skill to thread the needle without stabbing himself, something he has shown a propensity to do.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Slow news day

I like to think I am a fairly sophisticated news consumer and political analyst. So I am scratching my head this morning after reading the Herald's blaring front page story about Sal DiMasi's upcoming trial on corruption charges and its potential impact on Deval Patrick's re-election bid.

And the question that keeps recurring is: whose water is the Herald carrying in a story that fails to really break any new ground? I mean let's look at the facts:
  • Incumbent politicians are an endangered species to begin with;
  • Patrick has more problems than most;
  • As for the timing, all we have is a statement by DiMasi's attorney that he is prepared to go to trial in the fall.
WTF?

We do have a killer quote from BU "political professor" Thomas Whalen that's a real two-fer: talking about the "death blow" a trial would be for Patrick and comparing him to Joe Malone, who he called a "boob."

On the inflammatory scale, that one rates an 11.

The story then offers the history of the sordid Cognos case, mentioning the administration officials who have and have not testified before a grand jury, after offering "Neither Patrick, whom FBI agents interviewed about the federal corruption case, nor members of his staff have been implicated in any criminal misdeeds connected to the case."

Let's look at the the potential suspects.

DiMasi attorney Martin Weinberg could be looking to put some heat on the governor in the hopes of working out some sort of deal. Except Patrick has nothing to deal with -- the trial is in federal court and even if a governor could use some leverage in a case like this that act would be more damning than a trial.

Not to mention that Patrick appears to score a lot higher on the ethics scale than Weinberg's client.

So on to the political foes: Charlie Baker? It's not his style. Tim Cahill? Too risky because it would dredge up his own connections to lobbyist Tom Kelly. Christy Mihos? It sounds like a Dick Morris stunt, but Morris is no longer on Mihos' payroll.

So dear reader, a request for help. Whose water is the Herald carrying? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Your cash ain't nothin' but trash

For all the talk about the Loony Left and the Red Meat Right, there's a bigger problem with the American political system today -- the fuel that fires the wars. And it's vividly on display on the front page of today's Boston Globe -- along with a possibly overly romantic hope for a solution.

Globe reporters dipped into campaign finance reports and discovered that the grassroots that launched Scott Brown to Capitol Hill were quite deep, stretching to Georgia and the Virgin Islands.

In another time, those kinds of folks might have been called outside agitators, but today the folks from all 50 states who contributed to Brown and Martha Coakley were only exercising their constitutional rights to political speech -- to influence things far from their home.

A far more worrisome trend is the $600,000 poured into local pockets over the last two years to influence legislation that backers say would make it less expensive for Massachusetts consumers to repair their cars. The money is coming for corporations who make the cars and from those who fix them. It's safe to say they don't want to see the flow of your money into their pockets change directions.

Both forms of speech are constitutionally protected, even more so after the recent Supreme Court decision that give GM and Toyota virtually the same speech rights as you and me.

But there can be little doubt that the amount of money flooding the system, for candidates and issues and lobbying, is the root cause of the current dysfunctional system -- and the anger people feel on both sides as lawmakers react to those who talk louder.

I'm not saying all politicians can be bought (a few, yes, some like Dianne Wilkerson for veritable chump change.) Nor am I saying all lobbyists or corporations are corrupt although once again a few stand out in ignominy like Jack Abramoff.

But the unfettered flow of dollars into the system is a huge problem, drowning voices in a sea of cash. And I wish I could share the optimism of folks like Shaun Casey and Adam Winkler that the flow of dollars will reach "the good guys."

Conservative activist judges who blew up the dam last month
in the alleged defense of "free" speech" have only assured things will get worse before they get better.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do the math

If elections were decided in the same way as votes in the United States Senate, Scott Brown would still be on Beacon Hill and Paul Kirk would not be back on the Cape.

Keep that thought in mind as you cheer Brown for his cloture vote on the Senate jobs bill and as you put into context his warning about Democrats using the "nuclear option" in offering a new health care bill that would rely on the reconciliation process to squeak through the Senate.

Brown polled 52 percent of Massachusetts voters in defeating Matha Coakley last month, collecting 1.1 million votes, about 100,000 more than Martha Coakley. If we needed a 60 percent majority to elect a person, we would be gridlocked, much like the Senate is virtually every day.

Both parties have played the Senate rules to their advantage. Republicans have insisted on supermajorities -- up until a jobs bill -- as a measure of party unity. Let's recall the GOP opposed an Obama proposal for a bipartisan commission to deal with the debt problem -- an idea they first proposed.

What's lost in all the heat and noise over Brown's win is Democrats still hold a 59-41 advantage over Republicans in the Senate. And unlike their counterparts, Democrats don't know how to march in lockstep, offering a broader diversity of political beliefs. (That they may also be genetically incapable of getting their act together is another matter!)

With some belated prodding from Barack Obama, Democrats have finally been doing some math of their own. Senate rules allow for a simple majority -- 50 percent plus one -- on any bill that carries financial implications.

Fifty percent-plus one -- the concept of majority rules everywhere else in the world, from student council races to corporate boards except the United States Senate.

By unveiling a new version of a bill days before a televised health care summit, Obama is indeed forcing Republicans to come up with something other than saying "no" or "let's start over" -- a position they have taken for roughly 100 years (ironically opposing a Progressive who left the Republican Party).

Is Obama playing politics? Yes. Has the GOP put politics first since Jan, 20, 2009? Yes.

If Brown thinks this is a "nuclear option" he's been reading too many of his press clippings. This is what legislating and democracy is all about. Using parliamentary maneuvers to gain the advantage

It's called doing the math and Democrats now simple need to corral 51 of their own members, an only slightly easier task than reaching 60. That'a what happens when Barack Obama beat Jon McCain by slightly less than 10 million votes.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Keeping the faith

I always thought religion was a private matter between a person and his or her own god. The injection of religion into mainstream political discussions may be the most damaging of the many trends that have dragged down civil discourse.

After all, the wars we are waging have, at their root, a difference over a supreme being. And the Constitution clearly states that freedom to believe -- or not believe -- is one of our core rights.

So it's encouraging that Barack Obama -- who got caught a lot of grief over his former pastor's words -- has ratcheted down the public phase of his faith.

And it continues to be discouraging that some preachers seem to think that wearing religion on your sleeve is the only appropriate stance for a politician.

After all, doesn't the bible say let he who is without sin cast the first stone?

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Must be a conservative plot

Breaking front page news in today's Globe -- bluefin tuna is become endangered and chefs are scrambling to find new sources for sushi.

Maybe we should check out and see if Republicans are behind this?

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

I have seen the past

The blogosphere has been aflame and it's been hard to keep up with the tweets. The national media has been on the scene, with some even doing some live stand-ups. Glenn! Newt! Anne!

Yes, the Conservative political Action Conference has Ground Zero for the political world the last few days. With that in mind, the chattering classes were well, chattering, over who will win the presidential preference straw poll.

And the winner is -- Ron Paul! Yes, the 74-year-old, two-time presidential campaign loser (as a Libertarian and a Republican) smoked the competition that include Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty.

And they say liberals are out of touch?

After being treated to the hilarity of Newt Gingrich preaching bipartisanship (like shutting down government because he had to exit the rear of the plane?) and Anne Coulter preaching intolerance, the true believers were treated to Glenn Beck being well, Glenn Beck.
Blaming President Obama for the nation’s problems was “too simple an answer,” Mr. Beck, a popular conservative talk show host, told thousands of cheering supporters at the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference. The real problem, he said, is progressivism, scrawling the word with chalk on a portable blackboard, a prop from his television show. “This is the disease in America,” he said.
No wonder he's again health care reform!

Launching an attack that ranged from Theodore Roosevelt to John McCain, the latest conservative darling was at his wild-eyed best, feeding red meat to the faithful that then cast its lot with Paul (give 'em points for seeing through Palin).

The off-the-charts wackiness should hold some clear messages both for the Republican Party (progressivism lite?) and the media that has been enthralled by the Tea Party movement, Beck's 9-12 movement and other thunder from the Right.

Yes these people are mad as hell. And mad as hatters. When Newt Gingrich comes across as a voice of sanity for "principled bipartisanship" this is a movement that has clearly left the rails and is headed into a ditch. They may take the Democrats with them, but picking Paul over Romney can only recall one other great moment in conservative history.
"I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!
Barry Goldwater, if you recall, lost 44 states and by late in life had come to view the current conservative platform as out-of-touch with his own beliefs.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

No bench strength

For all the sunshine and lollipop scenarios being offered for Massachusetts Republicans there's one very sobering reality, on vivid display in two separate stories today. The state GOP has been moribund for so long the list of credible candidates is slim to begin with.

And then there is Christy and Joe.

Let's be serious -- a GOP gubernatorial candidate, running on a platform of fiscal issues, who self-finances his candidacy and bounces checks? It's highly unlikely the Republican state convention will allow Christy Mihos to make the ballot, leaving Charlie Baker to continue racking up big bucks.

More problematic is the potential congressional candidacy of former state Treasurer Joe Malone. A hail-fellow well-met type, Malone left some serious trash behind when he turned his office over to Tim Cahill.

Malone left office amid the stench of an embezzlement scheme where top aides and associates manipulated systems within the office of the state treasurer for seven years, stealing $9.4 million through various schemes.

Kevin Sowyrda, among Mihos' creditors, it should be noted, rightly observes the problem for the one-time fresh-faced reformer:
“Joe’s political predicament is acute,’’ he said. “It’s inevitable that the old embezzlement scandal gets dug up like an old corpse and used against him. I don’t see how he maneuvers around it.’’
Often overlooked in the media meme that voters are ready to take it out on Democrats is the fact that voters are bipartisanly peeved -- there are just more Democrats to take aim at. A Republican with a history such as Malone's is sure to be tarred with the same brush.

And here is exactly where the state GOP's single-minded focus on the top offices comes to hurt them. Change begins at the grassroots, and in Massachusetts, the GOP has only crabgrass.

Yes, Rep. Jeff Perry gets high marks as a potential candidate for the 10th Congressional District seat now held -- and soon to be abandoned -- by Bill Delahunt. But what good is that if the Old Guard refuses to step aside?

What will really be telling is how well the state party does in recruiting for the grunt seats -- the House and Senate. That's where the stench is worst right now and that's where the chance for success lies.

That and convincing Malone to step aside.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Shank rides again

The venom and disdain drips from every word.
In the weeks after Christmas the Celtics became a wounded and unlikable band of underachievers. They were big on attitude, small on work ethic. Impressed with past achievements, convinced they could summon the old dominance any time they pleased, they blew 10 double-digit leads. They became the kind of team we scorn here in Boston. Now they are in the process of trying to earn our love again.
The Curly-Haired Assassin rides again.

Meanwhile, Celtics beat reporter Gary Washburn, who has been unflinchingly honest in his assessments of the team during his rookie season on the beat weighs in thusly on the deal that moved Eddie House to New York in exchange for Nate Robinson.
It may take Nate Robinson 30 seconds, maybe a minute, to become a fan favorite at TD Garden. Boston fans adore players who maximize their talent and relish the dramatic and critical moments.
He reports. Shank decides.

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Party of Two

Apparently no one told Mitt Romney he's so 2008.

Romney was one of the featured speakers at yesterday's kickoff of the Conservative Political Action Conference, ready to unveil Myth 3.0, someone less dependent on the red meat eaters who attend this conference.

But the reddest of the red staters were one step ahead of the man from Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Utah and California, bestowing far more love and affection on his doppelganger, Sen. Scott Brown, R-Cosmo.
The attendees stomped and screamed at the appearance of the surprise guest who introduced Romney: Scott Brown. "I'm the newly elected Republican senator from Massachusetts," Brown said. "Let me just say that one more time. I am the Republican senator from Massachusetts."
The difference in receptions is a reflection of the trend noted by the Globe's Susan Milligan (in a Freudian slip?) that "the conservative movement has changed radically in a year."
Dave Smith, 57, praised Romney as one of the cornerstones of the American conservative movement. But he wondered whether Romney’s experience - being governor of Massachusetts and steering the 2002 Winter Olympics - would be seen as political baggage by activists eager for a less conventional leader.

“That almost looks establishment," said Smith, a law enforcement trainer in Oswego, Ill., who has not settled on a favorite for 2012. “One of the things he’s going to have to do is keep an emphasis on the grass roots."
The Mittser did try to keep up with the parade, decrying liberals as "neo-monarchists," a head scratcher that can only leaving me wondering if he really meant neo-Marxists. That, after all, the war cry for the CPAC set.

It's also worth noting the love in the room for another speaker, former Vice President Richard "Darth" Cheney, who elicited cries of "Run Dick, Run." No mention of a similar Romney shout-out.

The tone lends credence to the Phoenix's David Bernstein's Myth 3.0 theory, that Romney will need to run a northern strategy to win the 2012 nomination. But even that's not a sure thing.
“I don’t think he understands the philosophy of freedom that motivates the tea parties,’’ said Sean Ryan, a 29-year-old Boston Latin School teacher. “I haven’t really heard Romney speak eloquently about freedom and liberty.’’ Romney’s criticism of the Democrats’ health care proposal is disingenuous, he said, since as Massachusetts governor he signed a similar program that conservatives do not like.
Boston Latin School? I believe that's in Scott Brown Country.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

None dare call it terrorism

A plane is deliberately flown into an office building in an apparent protest over the Internal Revenue Service.

By any (ir)rational definition, that sounds like terrorism to me. And while I actually think it is commendable that the cable news alarmists were initially careful with their words, it will be intriguing to me to see how the Obama is Soft on Terrorism Right deals with the suicide attack on one of the right's favorite bugbears.

Nope, it's not Osama and his boys. It's the Tim McVeigh wing of Terrorism, Inc. It will be fascinating to hear how Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh and the gang try to draw distinctions over the pilots of the flying bombs.

Do you think they will be calling to lock up his enablers in Gitmo? More likely, they'll try to link it to Obama's "softness."

What's most frightening is the how the hate that has consumed the right has morphed into violence on the homeland they profess to venerate.

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Tim the Tool

I noticed the other day the author of the "Tim for Treasurer" slogan that got our state treasurer elected has come up with a new slogan: Tim in '10". After reading his secret plan to close the budget gap, I'd like to propose another one instead.

Tim the Tool.

I applaud the Globe for challenging the gubernatorial hopefuls to come up with the open budget-balancing schemes. While they may fall short in some regards -- Charlie Baker's tough on jobs approach will be hard to implement and still not close the total gap -- they represent some thought on the part of the candidates and their staffs.

Except for Tim the Tool.

Cahill, an independent who left the Democratic Party in July, said he would not raise taxes and would consider cutting all “sacred cows,’’ including health care, education, and local aid. But even though he has managed state finances since 2003, he declined to offer more specific cuts, saying, “It’s hard to do when you’re not in the [governor’s] office.’’

He blamed Patrick, saying the governor has not given him enough information to differentiate “real spending’’ from agencies merely “defending their turf.’’

On a Lame Scale of 1-10, that's just off the charts. The only bit of truth in his "plan" is some surprising political honesty.
“I know it sounds like I’m avoiding, but I don’t want to make the mistake this guy did, by promising things that aren’t doable or real,’’ Cahill said of Patrick. “I don’t want to fall into that trap, especially without all the information.’’
Not surprisingly, Baker, a former administration and finance secretary and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care chief, had the most details, proposing, among other things, a consolidation of health care agencies and eliminating 5,000 jobs. Even then, he acknowledged, there would be a gap.

High marks on the truth scale. But as Stephen Crosby, who was Jane Swift's A&F secretary and a Patrick supporter in 2006 pointed out, it's not easy to slash 5,000 jobs in an environment where union rules protect the highest-paid employees.

Not to mention the Donkey in the room -- the Massachusetts Great and General Court, whose members have been patrons to many of those job holders Baker would like to cashier.

Nonetheless, it was a good exercise to see which of the candidates have given serous thought to the job and what will be needed -- and which are looking to move up to another job by offering the same old political pablum.

I'm looking at you Timmy.

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Political Posturing Caucus

Glad to see that one of Sen. Scott Brown's first acts in Washington is to form a caucus with the catchy name of the Take Back Washington Caucus.

Of course since he won't tell us who is in it or whether it has a bipartisan makeup makes it sounds as if it will be the same old, same old Political Posturing Caucus. And our new senator is quikcly becoming adept at that.

Like a stubborn child, Brown continues to ignore his own words, insisting the stimulus bill that marked its one-year anniversary, did not produce a single job. Apparently saving jobs like teachers, cops and firefighters that would have been lost to the Great Recession don't count.

Any more.

Democrats quickly blasted Brown’s comments yesterday and distributed press releases that Brown’s state Senate office sent out in recent months touting the positive impacts the stimulus had on his Wrentham-based district.

“I’m very pleased that the North Attleboro Fire Department will be receiving this important funding,’’ Brown said in a statement distributed last October.

The release pointed out that 127 firefighters who had been laid off - including three in North Attleboro - would be rehired as a result of the federal funding.

Brown also sent out press releases in recent months praising federal stimulus money that went to small businesses, homeless prevention, and seniors.

If Brown really wants to approach a proposed new jobs bill with "open eyes" he should start by looking at his own press releases and stop parroting the GOP line. Heck, even Dr. Supply Side himself, David Tuerck, acknowledges there's been a "puny" gain.

The best way to "take back Washington" is to put a stop to mindless, blinding partisanship. This is not a promising start.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's good to have friends

Massachusetts legislators should be thrilled to discover they have a friend in Bobby DeLeo. Because they probably have enough fingers left on that first hand to stop counting.

Mr. Speaker has laid down the law against the gubernatorial candidates, telling them they can't expect a free ride if they run against the Great and General Court.
“I’m, as speaker, not going to sit back idly and not fight back in terms of what we’ve done,” DeLeo told the Herald yesterday. “I think everybody wants to run against the Legislature . . . (but) I’m proud of the progress we’ve made.”
Proud? Remind me again how you got the nice office. Oh yeah. Your colleagues voted for Sal DiMasi despite all the legal headaches swirling around him and then watched him walk away a few weeks later -- and a few steps ahead of the feds poised to indict him.

Yes, lawmakers did approve ethics and pension reform and an overhaul of the state transportation system. After watering down even tougher standards proposed by Deval Patrick.

Some small comfort for the speaker though is he had fewer personnel headaches (so far) than his counterpart, Senate President Terry Murray. And to be fair, our lawmakers can't hold a candle to the parade of bozos in Albany.

Running against the Legislature is a popular concept these days. It should be. There's so much to run against.

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So long Citi

Citibank finally made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Cut up the cards and tell 'em to stick it.

The last straw in the saga came last night when I opened the mail and discovered not one but two friendly letters telling me I would now have the pleasure of paying a $60 annual fee on a credit card.

But, if I only spent a mere $2,400 a year "on purchases you already make like gas, groceries, cell phone plans and your cable bill" I could get it back.

The scissors came out pretty quickly.

The earnest customer service representative told me, in her pleasant Indian accent, that I had been a loyal customer for 20 years. And she repeated the "only spend $2,400" come-on. Sorry I hit you with my rant about how as a taxpayer I was already doing my fair share to bail out an irresponsible company.

So that's it. The romance is over. No more high interest rates. No more paying for front pages ads in the Times. No contribution to the name for the Mets home field.

Although suspect I may get stuck with a foreign currency transaction fee for a purchase I made on vacation in US dollars.

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I oughta sue for plagiarism

Hey Mr. Mayor, that's my line about weathermen getting it wrong and laughing about it. Although I give them a 50 percent accuracy rating so I may not have a case.

But Tommy and I agree for a change about the lack of responsibility borne by meteorologists when their forecasting hysteria goes wrong.

It was bad enough sitting in our tropical retreat watching cable television coverage of the "February Fury." (I know, you would be right to say why the heck were you watching? Smug satisfaction would be the answer.)

We were mildly shocked and surprise to return to browns and greens upon landing at Logan. But that became stunned upon returning to the real world (and shovels) yesterday and learning of the pre-cancellation of Boston Public Schools and the mass evacuation that preceded a few flakes.

It's long been obvious that forecasting is a television news money maker and that is the foundation of the French Toast Alert system. But there are legitimate questions about TV stations making good money helping other businesses lose their own productivity.

Hey Adam, maybe you a need a new level, approximately the color of Tommy Menino's face when he learns he's been had by Harvey?

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not my cup of tea

The New York Times' look at the Tea Party movement is a frightening must read.

Reporter David Barstow heads into the traditional haunts of the anti-government movements that have lived on the nation's undersides for decades. And what he finds is similar to the scene painted by Richard Hofstadter almost 50 years in "The Paranoid Style of American Politics."

No one is suggesting that all is well in the body politic. Staggering economic turmoil, fostered by a non-existent government hand that allowed a housing bubble to build with the aid of unregulated subprime mortgages, has created a lot of pain in the form of foreclosures and unemployment.

The institutions responsible -- Wall Street and the Congress that took its hand off the tiller -- go merrily along, awash in taxpayer-funded bonuses and campaign cash.

But the worrisome part is the effort to exploit the anger by many of the same folks who stood on the sideline and cheered when George Bush and the Republicans ruled Washington by launching wars, trimming civil rights and turning greed loose. That includes not only conservative political activists but media creations like Rush Limbaugh and the man who threatens to eclipse El Rushbo, Glenn Beck.

The reemergence of the John Birch Society and the Patriot movement that spawned our own domestic terrorists named Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols is frightening enough. Toss in the nonsense of the birther movement and the fact this virtually lily white movement equates the nation's first African-American president to Adolf Hitler, and you start to wonder if you may need a clean pair of underwear.

All of this is separate and apart from a Republican Party that has adopted obstructionist tactics (impeachment anyone) to stymie duly elected Democratic presidents. And it is also separate from the Democrats inability to govern with an 18-vote majority because of the perverse rules of the United States Senate.

The recent Supreme Court decision opening the door to greater "corporate speech" is only going to make things worse.

We all have a reason to be angry with the partisan gridlock that has brought the economy crashing to its knees and government to a standstill. But the Tea Party movement appears to offer all the wrong messages. Rather than bringing us together, they're looking for scapegoats to tear us further apart.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ease back slowly

So did I miss anything (except two non-snowstorms that from the perspective of the New York- and Washington-based media were the more horrific storms on record)?

I had really intended to take it slow in getting back up to speed but then, lo and behold, I was presented a softball in today's Globe coverage of the opening of Tim Cahill's gubernatorial campaign headquarters.

The deliciousness of the contradictions in this statement by reporter Eric Moskowitz, citing Caill's effort to tap the Scott Brown magic, was just to hard to pass up:
Like Brown, Cahill said he wants to cut taxes on individuals and businesses to help revive the economy, and he talked about ending “business as usual’’ and taking government back from those in power, in the name of the people.
Taking government back from those in power in the name of the people? Did Moskowitz or his editors check out Cahill's occupation for the past 24 years? It's elected official, serving in increasingly more powerful positions from Quincy city councilor to one of the state's six constitutional officers.

Plus, we find the usual spot news story reporting -- long on what is said and short on context. For example, how about this bon mot from Cahill running mate Paul Loscocco:
“Tim is not somebody that’s been around recently singing ‘fiscal responsibility.’ He’s been somebody with a strong record,’’ said Loscocco, a former Republican state representative from Holliston who, like Cahill, changed his registration to unenrolled recently. “He’s about fiscal responsibility, about making the tough decisions, about bringing some accountability to government on Beacon Hill.’’
Call me silly, but I have a hard time calling for tax cuts in the face of massive budget shortfalls as "fiscal responsibility," particularly when the tax cuts aren't matched with proposals on where to cut the spending to make up the difference.

And a run through some of Treasurer Tim's finer moments certainly leave me searching for making tough decisions made or accountability practiced.

Appreciate the chance to shoot fish in a barrel as a way to get me back on the treadmill.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Mr. Brown goes to Washington

Congratulations and good luck to Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. You're going to need it.

I suspect President Barack Obama's first meeting with the Wrentham Republican will include a quick thank you for plucking the target of "The One" off his presidential shoulders. After all, Brown now carries the hopes and aspirations of the free world on his hunky shoulders. For example:
Scott Philip Brown became the 50th US senator from Massachusetts yesterday, completing his historic transformation from little-known Republican state lawmaker to a national phenomenon who personified widespread voter unrest and changed the direction of American politics.
And you better hurry up Senator. Those restless voters don't have much patience for anyone who can't wave a magic wand and change things overnight.

To be fair, he is did not seek the hype. Then again, Obama never sought the outlandish expectations heaped upon him by the John McCain camp. But since when is anything fair in politics?

Brown's "three week victory lap" was starting to strike even Howie Carr as noteworthy. Between Barbara Walters and lobbying to return Ayla to Idol it's a wonder he managed to pick a staff.

And I did find it noteworthy that the good ol' boy truck was replaced by a Cadillac Escalade for the trip to his swearing-in yesterday. Hmm, I seem to recall another politician getting pilloried for that choice of vehicle -- even if it was selected for him by police for security reasons.

As the 100th person in seniority in a sclerotic, dysfunctional debating society Brown has a tough enough job without the weight of expectations heaped upon him.

But, my conservative friend(s), think about the standards you set before you accuse me of not giving the man a chance.

I'll be taking some much-needed r & r and will be checking out for awhile. As always, thanks for stopping by and y'all come back now, y'hear.

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Amazing Grace

You have to hand it to Grace Ross -- she loves chasing windmills.

The Green Party candidate for governor is 2006 is trying again, this time as a Democrat. It's likely to be a quixotic challenge to Deval Patrick right up the the time she needs to get 15 percent of the convention delegates to get on the Democratic ballot.

Ross becomes the sixth person in the race -- I guess the job market really is tight. I also suspect Patrick's folks are mildly amused at a challenge from the left.

It could actually be a good thing to help him sharpen messages -- as long as he can start raising enough cash to compete in a multi-front battle.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Drama King

Maybe I ought to add Lauren Beckham Falcone to my reading list.

I suspect her Tuesday column in the Herald had a lot to do with yesterday's sudden "demand" by Sen.-elect Scott Brown's lawyer that the Wrentham Republican be seated immediately.

I'm sure it was just a "coincidence" the letter was written just as state officials were finishing up the election certification process and were ready to seat him today.

Let's not forget it was Brown himself who had targeted Feb. 11 for a swearing-in. All that talk about the Democrats trying a try through a heath care bill evaporated with the loss of heat from the campaign.

WBZ's Jon Keller suggests the date was set for Brown's convenience -- enough time to get a functioning office staff together.

But with the Brown presidential boomlet gaining steam with each passing day -- and the senator-elect clearly enjoying his 15 minutes of fame, something had to give. Beckham Falcone hit the nail on the head:

Yes, Brown’s meteoric rise is fascinating. He hasn’t even resigned from the state senate and he’s considering a 2012 run for president.

But he’s this close to overexposure. And that never ends well.

Just ask Britney Spears. Or Lindsay Lohan. Whitney Houston. Charlie Sheen. Michael Jackson. Tara Reid. John Edwards. Not even for Barack Obama, who, like Brown, was a three-term state senator-turned U.S. senator who seduced the nation and became president. But a year later? Like the bank bailouts, he’s about as popular as a root canal. Even Amber Lee Ettinger, aka “Obama Girl,” told Sean Hannity that she’s over him.

Scott Brown and John Edwards (not to mention Lindsay Lohan) in the same breath? Now that's trouble.

While Beckham Falcone fails to mention her own newspaper was part of that overexposure -- though surely not in the same league as Barbara Walters -- the daily fawning headlines about his modeling career, his lobbying for daughter Ayla to return to American Idol -- were not, um, senatorial.

Enter Dan Winslow with a letter demanding Brown be seated "without delay." No matter that the certification calendar had been clearly spelled out and the process was nearing completion.
The real goal was for stories in national media portraying the chomping-at-the-bit senator-elect fighting against still more Democratic delays.

Overly dramatic but probably necessary for a story line that was careening out of control -- started by the media but tolerated by the Brown camp until the criticism came from inside the cheerleading squad.

But the fame clock keeps on ticking.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The 100th senator

Gosh, golly gee whiz. Scott Brown got into his truck and drove to South Boston to have a few beers with a radio talk show host to fulfill his first campaign promise. Hope he didn't drive home buzzed.

Actually it seems his political handlers are the ones who are hung over after the upset that catapulted Brown into the national spotlight as the 100th member in seniority in the United States Senate. Right behind Al Franken.

You remember Al, the Saturday Night Live comic whose recount victory dragged on endlessly. It was in all the papers and on TV. He was the decisive 60th Democratic vote. Disappeared off the face of the political earth.

Which is exactly what will happen to the 41st senator if he continues to eat up his 15 minutes of fame in large chunks before he ever gets sworn into office.

Take for example the now famous Barbara Walters interview. A humbled Brown coyly sidesteps Walters' question about his interest in the 2012 presidential race, humbly noting:
I don't even have a business card. I haven't even been sworn in. And it is very humbling and flattering but my job is to do the best possible job I can, very quickly -- hopefully sooner rather than later -- to represent the people of Massachusetts."
Good answer but not great. Not for a man whose principal focus in 2012 is seeking election for a full six-year term. Ever hear of a Shermanesque statement? You can bet that handlers for Democrats who will be checking out their prospects to reclaim the seat have duly recorded the failure to deflate the trial balloon being tossed up by smitten Republicans.

Yeah, there may well be a few competent political handlers out there making a list of Brown's verbal gaffes since Election Night. And candidates capable of running a better race than Martha Coakley.

A large part of the problem is the lack of substance available between the victory and the swearing-in. This is likely to be the last time Brown has such an unobstructed forum to spell out who he has, what he believes in and what he plans to make his priorities. Even the star-struck Herald might listen.

By squandering the limelight, and by failing to squash political dangerous rumors, Brown becomes open to sentiments like this searing op-ed by the Globe's Scot (hey only one T? Get on the band wagon) Lehigh, who has a lot more readers than me.

But Brown actually has an opportunity to avoid the abyss that has claimed Franken. With the Obama political team reawakening, aiming to challenge Republicans to do more than say no, Brown could indeed be relevant.

Of course he runs the risk of being dead to his 40 Senate GOP colleagues and bursting the presidential balloon.

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Real health care reform

Just when you thought the subject of health care reform could not go farther off track we are treated to the brilliance of some states looking to cope with the primary care physician shortage by piling yet another responsibility on them.

Writing prescriptions for cold medication.

I've already railed about the criminalization of getting a cold, forcing you to go to the pharmacist, produce your diver's license and swear the one box of pseudoephedrine is really for your clogged nasal passages and not some under-the-counter plot to brew up a batch of crystal meth in your basement.

But now, at least in some states, the powers that be think it should be even harder for the cold sufferer. Proposals in some states would require you to call the doctor and involve an already over-burdened health care system in one of the most basic and easy-to-solve problems in medicine -- the common cold.

The logic of the move suggests the next step after that, being denied health insurance coverage for a pre-existing condition -- the sniffles.

Here's a suggestion for all those folks who think the overburdened system can stand a little more trivialization -- pick on the real lawbreakers. By requiring people to sign for their over-the-counter remedy you already should have a good idea who the abusers are. And if not, why not?

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Looks who's on that bandwagon

As the Herald's Scott Brown Bandwagon continues its inevitable roll to the White House (apparently with Mitt Romney under the wheels), it seems appropriate to take a look at who else is on board.

The Herald sidestepped the substance of Brown's interview with "doyenne" Barbara Walters to focus on the burst of national attention the senator-elect has received since beating Martha Coakley two weeks ago.

The cheerleaders also missed the fact that financial executives were on the same bandwagon, showering $450,000 in cash in six days to make sure Wall Street would be heard (and perhaps drown out) Main Street.

Richard Hillman, an analyst for First Wilshire Securities who lives in California, said he was following the Massachusetts election only casually, and decided to give to Brown at the last minute, when a friend told him the race was unexpectedly close. “I ended up giving money through my credit card that afternoon,’’ said Hillman, who contributed $2,400 on Jan. 16.

“Basically, I thought making him the 41st Republican vote in the Senate would prevent some really terrible legislation from getting through,’’ he said.

Obviously the jury is still out on what Brown will actually do when he gets sworn in and casts real votes. But it's time for the fevered promotion of the grassroots phenomenon to pull back in light of the fact there is obviously some serious landscaping efforts as well as some AstroTurf under the wheels.

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