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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A man with a plan. Not.

Tim Cahill has spent the past few weeks lashing out at the Massachusetts health care law -- telling everyone from Drudge to Glenn Beck how it will bankrupt Massachusetts.

So you would think a gubernatorial candidate who has overseen the state's books for seven years would have some solid ideas on how to cut the cost of health care? You would think wrong. As he told the audience listening to Tom Finneran's radio show yesterday:
“I don’t know exactly how you do it.”
This is not exactly the first time Cahill's brain failed to match his mouth. Perhaps he thinks it's disarmingly honesty to admit he doesn't have all the answers because he doesn't recall being asked the questions.

But a candidate running for office on a platform of changing what he says is ailing us should at least be able to speak in something beyond generic sound bites about the problems -- and potential solutions.

Treasurer Tim had a similar non-answer when asked about balancing the state budget, another area where he has pleaded innocence of the facts. Yesterday he offered cuts in the state's sales and income tax and "across the board" spending cuts to make up the difference.

Simple answers for complex problems, with a few "I don't knows." Heck, we expect more from our talk show hosts in terms of preparation. And they never admit to not knowing what they are talking about.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Faces of hatred

Sarah Palin may think the politically correct language police are having a hissy fit, but a couple of police actions yesterday reveal just how hot the rhetoric is getting with the potential for serious violence rising.

The arrests of nine apocalyptic Christian militants in Michigan and a lone self-proclaimed Shia Muslim in Pennsylvania reflects the simmering hatred being stirred by the over-the-top rhetoric being aimed at Barack Obama and Democrats by Republicans seeking to discredit health care reform and the presidential agenda.

Ironically, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor had tried to suggest the stray bullet that entered his Richmond, Va. office was a sign that the left was equally prone to violence as the right in the wake of thrown bricks and cut propane barbecue lines that heralded Obama's signature on the health care law.

But the arrest of Norman LeBoon Sr. actually reveals the depth of anti-Semitism still awash in this nation.

LeBoon's rant had little to do with health care and a lot to do with Cantor's heritage:
"Remember Eric . . . our judgment time, the final Yom Kippur has been given," he says in the profanity-laced video. "You are a liar, you're a pig . . . you're an abomination. You receive my bullets in your office, remember they will be placed in your heads. You and your children are Lucifer's abominations."
Similarly, the seeming oxymoron of a Christian militia plotting the death of police officers in the hopes of fostering an anti-government uprising is not the work of someone concerned with political correctness.
The court filing said the group, which called itself the Hutaree planned to kill an unidentified law enforcement officer and then bomb the funeral caravan using improvised explosive devices based on designs used against American troops by insurgents in Iraq.
Palin likes to point out she got a journalism degree from one of the colleges she attended and that she knows something about words. Nevertheless, her choices have often been inflammatory, starting with the wholly fallacious concept of death panels.

But urging already agitated supporters to "reload" comes perilously close to shouting fire in a crowded theater.

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The Willard Shuffle

Mitt Romney is clearly getting back into presidential campaign mode -- he's pulled another flip flop -- with an acrobatic twist.

The former governor, who spent the 2008 campaign running from his rather small record of accomplishments (including most days spent out of state) has now actually embraced his abandoned health care reform efforts.

But of course what's right for Massachusetts is not right for most of the other states that Romney has lived in.
"People often compare his plan to the Massachusetts plan,’’ Romney said in an interview last month. “They’re as different as night and day. There are some words that sound the same, but our plan is based on states solving our issues; his is based on a one-size-fits-all plan.’’
So the words are the same but they are different? Neat trick. Is that somehow still trying to disown the idea that you put forward requiring everyone to purchase insurance, the very Republican-like responsibility provision that has set Tea Partiers off?

Let's here it from an expert:
“Basically, it’s the same thing,’’ said Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who advised the Romney and Obama administrations on their health insurance programs. A national health overhaul would not have happened if Mitt Romney had not made “the decision in 2005 to go for it. He is in many ways the intellectual father of national health reform.’’
So in other words, Myth was for it before he was against it before he was for it. And he's not returning some attention to his unloved child, sort of. I'm getting dizzy.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

You can't make this stuff up!

The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight had better aim than Michael Steele and the Republican National Committee. Or maybe these GOP operatives simply weren't straight shooters.

The Mane Stream press is going to have a lot of fun with the revelation that the RNC paid almost $2,000 "for meal expenses at Voyeur West Hollywood, a lesbian-themed California nightclub that features topless dancers wearing horse-bits and other bondage gear."

Someone is going to have to bite the bit on this one. Not exactly what you want to see from the family values party.

Any neigh-sayers out there?

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Ending March on the wrong note

Are the wheels starting to come off the Cahill campaign?

Treasurer Tim is sending all the wrong signals to the Tea Party crowd he's trying to lure his way with heated (and belated) rhetoric on health care and his alleged role as protector of the state purse. Two major campaign finances stories in little more than a week -- including an outright violation of state law -- doesn't bode well for the newly aggressive Fox News fan.

It will be mighty interesting to see the next poll and gauge what the combination of heated rhetoric and major gaffes will mean.

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House rules

Pro-casino gambling forces have launched their first foray in what should be a very different debate this year.

OK, so the tactics are the same -- University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth professor Clyde Barrow counting license plates instead of cards -- coming up with a tantalizing figure of how much cash Massachusetts residents drop in regional casinos.

While the methodology -- dividing casino revenue by the number of plates to determine state spending -- is somewhat rough, the bottom line neighborhood of about $1 billion is enticing. Especially for lawmakers less than thrilled about yet another round of budget cuts as they face an electorate that is both angry and unwilling to give up services.

And of course the biggest difference between Deval Patrick's failed bid for resort casinos in 2008 and today (aside from billions in cuts) is the face of the man holding the gavel in the House, whose budget is due out next month.

Speaker Robert DeLeo -- whose district includes Suffolk Downs and Wonderland -- has made casinos and slots a centerpiece of what he says is an effort to restore blue collar jobs. And he will certainly say a billion dollars in potential receipts is nothing to sneeze at.

The release of Barrow's study is perfectly timed to launch DeLeo's offensive. Look for a long-promised bill to surface very soon, giving House lawmakers a new revenue source that would justify a slightly less painful budget when debate opens on that legislation later in April.

At the very least that could mean continued jobs for DeLeo's charges. And isn't that what employment bills are all about?

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Celebrity politics

The candidate has already had a book tour and is embarking on another whirlwind nationwide swing. Then there's the reality television series. And the regular gig as a "commentator" on a cable channel.

The making of a celebrity candidate?

Remember one of the slurs aimed at Barack Obama at the start of the fall campaign in 2008 was that he was merely a "celebrity"? Well it appears Sarah Palin has decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em is the best approach as she sorts out her plans after walking away early from the Alaska governor's mansion.

In one of the greater political ironies, the pupil is out there stumping for the teacher as John McCain braces for the fight of his political life in the Arizona Senate primary. That's after she pulled down a cool $100K for speaking to the Tea Party convention earlier this year.

Now she's on the road, 44 cities in 20 days, urging the right wing faithful to "take our country back." She doesn't say from who, but the New York Times' Frank Rich does it for her.

All pretty remarkable selling of a person who is clearly the most polarizing candidate of our new social media era and perhaps of all time.

Obviously we have seen this before in our history when the economy was weak and Americans were frightened for their future. It goes all the way back to the Salem witch trials and into the modern era with Father Coughlin, Joe McCarthy and Spiro Agnew.

A prediction: I suspect Palin will reap her financial rewards and head on back to Wasilla without another campaign. Too much to lose by actually throwing her hat into the ring.

A shame too: a "celebrity" 2012 presidential race would be a blast, matching her smaller group of zealots against Obama's core supporters who will be backed by a substantial record of accomplishments.

And by the way governor, I beat you to the wanting my country back line.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Who ya gonna call?

It's been widely reported that Massachusetts public employee unions are unhappy with Deval Patrick because of his support for civilian flaggers, efforts to rein in the Quinn Bill and to bring some sanity to the municipal employee benefit system.

Somehow I don't think Charlie Baker is going to answer their prayers.

The problem with the benefits system is real and isn't going to go away. While unions are correct that they bargained for them in good faith, their obstinacy in refusing to give anything back is generating a backlash that will eventually swamp them under waves of a ballot question.

Right now, the only thing standing in the way of that movement is the fact the Legislature is not about to force changes on unions in an election year.

Union leaders face the pay me now or pay me later conundrum. Anyone who sits in the Corner Office next year, even the suddenly silent Tim Cahill, is going to go after them. They can temper their demands and achieve a fair deal for themselves and taxpayers now.

Or they can see unilateral action -- not in their members' best interests -- after a ballot question passes in 2012.

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And in the beginning

As the Globe cashes a nice $68,544 check from MSNBC I hope they think fondly of me -- and a friend who suggested I become a fan of Rachel Maddow for Senate.

The emergence of the Maddow-Scott Brown food fight has been credited in large part to an errant tweet from state Democratic Party chairman John Walsh. But its real origins are very simple: A March 5 post in this tiny corner of the blogosphere. It was immediately snapped up by Universal Hub (with far better attribution than shown by the mainstream media).

It was shortly thereafter that Walsh's errant direct message unleashed #walshgate. The rest as they say is history. Even if the role of blogs has been thoroughly ignored.

Hey Globe, I'll accept a finder's fee on that ad. And I'd be happy to split it with Adam.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

"Ride to the sound of the guns..."

The rising tide of violence incidents in the wake of passage of health care reform -- thankfully little more than petty vandalism so far -- has produced the usual partisan finger-pointing with liberals and conservatives trying to say the other side started it.

The weight of reality, not to mention history, suggests otherwise.

The paranoid style of American politics documented by historian Richard Hofstadter nearly 40 years ago at the birth of the modern conservative movement, sounds familiar today:
American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.
And while the Weather Underground, Black Panther Party and today's anti-globalization anarchists certain fill the bill from the left, the tone of paranoid politics today has a distinct rightward slant, with leaders like Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin sounding the call.

Ad it's that last fact -- paranoia being fed by Republican "leaders" -- that is most ominous.

A Harris Poll this week has some stunning findings about the mood on the right about Barack Obama: from 40 percent who think he's a socialist to 32 percent who think he is a Muslim, to 25 percent who think he is foreign born to 20 percent who compare him to Hitler in actions to 14 percent who say he is the anti-Christ.

Let's think back for a moment where many of those ideas -- socialist, Muslim, Kenyan -- come from: the 2008 Republican presidential campaign of Palin and John McCain.

Then let's toss in the fact the Tea Party movement has as much astroturf as grassroots, springing from the efforts of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey -- Gingrich's top henchman and a man who slurred Barney Frank and tried to pass it off as a slip of the tongue.

And let's not forget current House Republican leaders, calling Democratic staffers "punks" and egging on protesters during Saturday's climactic health care debate.

It's clear the GOP sees the Tea Party as electoral salvation: a Gallup Poll found the angry white men who predominate the movement were mainly McCain voters to start with.

But with half-hearted slaps at the so-far non-lethal violence and childish responses to Democrats using the same parliamentary tactics the GOP used when it had the majorities -- top Republicans are behaving nothing like leaders.

Let's not forget the worst recent case of domestic terrorism came from Timothy McVeigh on the right. And that we have also had an anti-tax protester fly a plane into a Texas IRS office -- a political act that failed to get the attention it deserved as a warning sign.

The lesson of democracy is simple -- if you win the election you control the agenda. Democrats will need to face voters in November. Republicans should focus on that and stop encouraging the heated rhetoric that seems to think they should face firing squads now.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Political food fight

Deval Patrick will probably chalk this week up as a winner in his re-election effort. A fund-raising trip to California -- a state in truly worse shape than Massachusetts financially and politically -- ending with a return to a major war of words between his two main rivals.

He probably should enjoy it while he can. The pitched battle between Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill will probably produce a victor sooner rather than later -- and that candidate will emerge stronger against an incumbent who still needs some significant shoring up of his own.

For an observer who enjoys watching political theater from a distance, the Baker-Cahill battle is a blast.

Long-time readers know I haven't put much stock in the intersection of word and deed of Treasurer Tim. But I have to admit I truly enjoy watching his recent plunge off the right edge of the table in search of the elusive Scott Brown Tea Party vote.

Not to mention enjoying the smackdowns he is getting from more traditional voices as the disconnect between his current rhetoric on health care reform and his own admitted lack of voice as the law was debated and went on the books. While he served as state treasurer with an obligation to speak out on financial issues.

The Globe has apparently marshaled its current efforts to unmask Cahill's rhetorical inconsistencies -- not to mention the legal ones like a securities firm that crossed the line between "support" and "pay to play."

But the gift for Patrick -- at least for now -- is that Republican Charlie Baker is also taking on Treasurer Tim with some gusto, perhaps to take some of the attention away from his own fund-raising prowess among executives from an industry in which he once worked.

Nevertheless, Patrick ought not enjoy the scene for too long. Cahill is in trouble (even if he doesn't know that either) because of the sharp contrast between his Tea Party rhetoric and business and usual method of operation. The likelihood of him making it intact to November would be a popular bet if Massachusetts had the resort casinos Patrick supports.

It's likely a Cahill flame-out would speed up a media deep dive into Baker's eight years in state government -- particularly in questions surrounding the Big Dig -- as well as the intersection of his time as Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO and the relationship of that insurer to health care costs.

Those stories, when they emerge, while likely take some of the knight riding to the rescue glow off Baker's image. But it will still leave Patrick and his own problems fully exposed in a one-on-one race.

This may be as good as it gets Deval. Cherish this week in political warfare.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

You can fool some of the people (II)

They way I see it, Treasurer Tim is guilty of securities fraud or voter fraud.

The Globe nails Tim Cahill this morning with the classic case in the difference between words and deed, producing his statement attached to a recent Massachusetts bond offering that makes no mention of his apocalyptic campaign view of Massachusetts health care reform.

The document is an important tool used by Wall Street to assess the creditworthiness of an entity such as a government looking to raise significant cash. Misrepresentation can amount to securities fraud (I'll just gloss over the irony of that in light of the recent history of Wall Street and credit rating agencies...)

Cahill, who found a home for himself on Fox News at the end of last week, including face time with Glenn Beck, has been importuning anyone who would listen on the campaign trail that health care reform was bankrupting Massachusetts.

Of course in typical Cahill fashion, he wasn't sure if he felt this way when the law was first passed because no one asked him.

The recently loquacious Cahill was absent yesterday when the Globe came to ask about the discrepancy between his rhetoric and his actions.

Cahill’s top deputy, Grace Lee, said the treasurer was not obligated to make further statements to potential bondholders because the rise in health care costs is outlined in great detail in the March 2 document. She said Cahill, in his stepped-up rhetoric, was merely highlighting those numbers.

“Treasurer Cahill fulfilled his fiduciary obligation to the market by signing the Official Statement, which showed by the numbers, the tremendous growth in health care spending in our state since the enactment of the 2006 state law,’’ Lee said in a statement.

So again, the question is: did Cahill lie to investors when he failed to mention his fears that health care was "bankrupting" the commonwealth -- or is he lying to voters trying to catch the Tea Party spark?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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You can fool some of the people (I)

When your most prominent Republican defender is Jane Swift, it's safe to say the bloom is coming off the rose.

That's the place Sen. Scott Brown finds himself in today, his 15 minutes of fame on the national stage ticking away.

His rapid rise to national stardom as the new conservative hero is taking a hit among Tea Party types, who ironically invested false hope in him as the man who would single-handedly stop health care reform. To those supporters, credited by the national media if not Bay State voters, with turning the tide, he was, in Joe Biden's words, a BFD.

Funny how that turns out. First the Democrats figure a way around #41, then he forgets his own lines and needs to be prompted by John McCain that the war wasn't over.

But there is a silver lining. After Rep. Steve Lynch's precarious flip flop against the bill, Democrats who may have thought him a better option than he was six months ago are reassessing their thoughts.

But Lynch could now run as a Democrat who bucked his own party because he heard the Tea Party cri de couer.

And there's always Rachel Maddow. Or not.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The day after

Reading mainstream media and trolling the blogosphere the day after health care reform became a reality, I think we need a new formal title for the legislation: The Republican Full Employment Act of 2010.

And not because I think it will sweep Democrats out across the commonwealth and the nation, but because a lot of Republicans consultants are going to get rich advising their candidates to oppose it -- in the face of emerging facts that fly in the face of the bazillion words of scorn already heaped on the soon-to-be-signed law.

Let's start in Massachusetts -- where the Globe published a chart yesterday that shows Massachusetts stands to gain $2 billion in new Medicaid assistance over the next 10 years to help pay for coverage for low-income residents. On top of that, the law, the law extends subsidies moderate income residents, lowers the tax penalty for not having coverage and raises the threshold where small businesses are required to buy coverage for their employees.

Despite these pluses -- both Charley Baker and Tim Cahill insist the law is bad for Massachusetts. I'm challenged to understand how a many who earned a living as a health insurance company executive can find these changes onerous to people who need coverage.

Then there is Scott Brown, who needs a clearer connection to Talking Points Central as he veers from independent thought to programmed responder #41.

Brown went from options open to party line "bad for our state" in a matter of hours, thanks in part to prompting from GOP "leaders" like Mitch McConnell and John McCain. Not the the sort of independent thinker voters thought they put into office

Then there is the matter of simple reality: as more Americans learn the truth of the legislation as opposed to the GOP spin, the endangered species may just be the peddlers of bunk.

I'd love to see a poll in the field asking people if they objected to being able to get insurance if they had a pre-existing condition or whether they would be happy to have coverage end because their own treatment is too costly. Let's also ask if the dislike the idea of being able to keep their children on their own insurance plans until age 26 or if they object to making prescription coverage more affordable for seniors.

Do you think people are going to want to give this up after they learn the bill is about serving them and not killing granny?

A party that once brimmed with ideas -- many if which I didn't agree with -- is no so devoid of any that they continue to hammer away at the foundation of the most significant social program since Medicare.

And of course a majority of Republicans opposed that because it was a government-run health insurance program. Are they now prepared to give that up in protest?

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Monday, March 22, 2010

This is change we can believe in

I guess it all depends on the meaning of the word change.

The historic vote by the House last night to adopt the Senate health care reform bill represents a significant change from the current system where who you work for determines what type of health insurance you get.

A system where people people without insurance wait until they are sicker to seek health care.

A system where insurance companies often have more say than doctors in treatment plans.

A system that says you can't get coverage if you are sick and where you can get cut off from coverage if it costs too much.

It represents a significant push-back at the forces of the status quo that fought against Social Security and Medicare. Forces that have sought to protect the haves by convincing the have-nots that what's bad is good and what's good is bad.

And it is a push-back against the small but vocal voices of hate that have plagued our country for generations. In the words of Barack Obama, the focal point of much of that hatred:

“We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. We didn’t give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear. Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things. This isn’t radical reform, but it is major reform.”

With its vote, the House stood up against voices that sought decried government-run health care while receiving Medicare. Voices that made up fallacies like death panels. Voices that lied and distorted the truth to protect the special interests that have allied against making changes that will begin to bring America in line with the rest of the world in providing quality health care at an affordable price.

Republicans insist the votes are the turning point, the fulcrum on which they will leverage the voters and retake Congress and make change. Except their change would be back to the status quo.

To the Democrats who took that courageous vote -- congratulations. You put principle above re-election.

Somewhere this morning, Ted Kennedy is looking down and smiling.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Not their cup of tea

Treasurer Tim has launched a blitzkrieg run at Tea Party voters recently, presenting himself as the original Scott Brown -- a crusader against business as usual. The eight-year incumbent has been trying to fashion himself as the ultimate outsider.

All it took was a class of college journalism students to puncture that myth.

Read the work of Northeastern journalism students -- under the direction of Walter Robinson -- and you see the classic call and response of a politician caught soliciting campaign contributions from the people and firms he does business with.

First the classic disclaimer -- nothing involved with the bundled $500 donations from real estate lawyers, property managers, and Realtors in Texas, Missouri, Colorado and Florida is illegal. Just good government types interested in Massachusetts government.

And it's pure coincidence that the firms which work with Michael Ruane's TA Associates Realty had some of their most generous impulses around the same time that Ruane landed a $100 million job from the Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management board.

Treasurer Tim, of course, likes to tell us he oversees the pension system, except of course when he doesn't. And that Ruane raises funds for him. Except when he doesn't.

The Globe story offers several faces of Cahill and should be required reading for anyone buying the Beck-blitzing bull being offered up by Cahill.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

In your heart you know he's right...

Barry Goldwater became the godfather to the modern conservative movement was a proud unbending ideology, so firm in his principles that he uttered the memorable phrase, "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

A more apt phrase for Tim Cahill as he pursues an independent bid for governor of Massachusetts would be: if it feels good, do it.

True Believer Tim has now completed an astonishing flip flop, sliding off the right edge with an appearance on Glenn Beck on Fox News Channel to denounce the Massachusetts health care law.

The first question anyone listening to the one-time moderate Democrat turned independent should ask relates to his street cred. After all, he was in office as the state's principal bookkeeper when the landmark law was passed in 2006 under the then-evolving conservative Gov. Mitt Romney.

So when did Cahill have his revelation that the bipartisan effort could take a terrible toll on Massachusetts? The summer of 2009.

It no doubt came to him at the same moment he decided to pursue an independent candidacy for governor, knowing he wouldn't stand a chance for the Democratic nomination, even against an incumbent who high negatives among voters.

Now Turncoat Tim is trying to position himself as the "new" Scott Brown, hero of the Tea Party movement for slaying the Massachusetts liberal dragon. In fact, Tim wants us to know Brown was the copycat.

“I recast myself back in July, long before Scott Brown was even a candidate for the Senate,” the state treasurer told the Herald yesterday.

“I am just following my ideals, which I’ve had since the first day I was in politics: We’ve got to control the size of government and be careful how we spend people’s money,” he added.

I guess that's why he was such a strong voice in trying to resolve the problem of pension abuse -- an area under his direct supervision through the retirement board and the pension investment system.

But enough about facts (although I do like that Cahill admits he "recast" himself). So there was Tim yesterday with Beck, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum in the heart of the lack of reality-based community, slinging arrows at Obamacare and saying "be careful country."

The message for those of us at home is equally simple: "Be careful Massachusetts." Vote for someone who actually has a firm set of beliefs, not a Timmy-come-lately to the swirling winds of feel-good politics.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

The 140-character campaign

The Patrick administration announced at $295 million hole in the current fiscal year budget and it didn't take long for the critics to pounce.
Its getting worse. Patrick Admin now admits new $300 million budget gap. @TimForGovernor + @massGovernor hurt taxpayers
Now think about what's loaded in that 140 characters: "worse" "admits" "hurt". Any explanations about what happened?

Tweets are fast replacing the 30-second television commercial as the attack of choice on the campaign trail. No time or inclination for context or nuance. Attack and move on. (And I would be remiss if I didn't also give a shout-out to my newest follower BigDigBaker).

But what's the real story here?

The administration, as part of a budget management process that led to a recent reaffirmation of the state's bond rating, says spending was up for MassHealth services for the homeless while projected state fees and federal aid were under budget.

Hmm, sounds like we're in a recession where people are out of work and may have lost health care coverage pr a place to live. By gosh, nice of Deval to "admit" that!

And oh yeah Treasurer Tim, that's MassHealth, formerly known as Medicaid, not what you claim is the expensive new boondoggle that is bankrupting the Commonwealth and the nation.

You know, Medicaid, the program that perpetually causes state bureaucrats nightmares. I'm sure you have your own horror stories, former Health and Human Services Secretary and Administration and Finance Secretary Baker.

Of course you got to manage through them thanks to a major tax increase passed by the Legislature under lame duck Gov. Michael Dukakis. Rest assured there won't be a bailout if you oust Patrick.

Took a little bit longer than 140 characters, didn't it?

I'm not a Luddite and I certainly don't begrudge campaigns for using the latest tools. Look with social media did for Scott Brown.

But for anyone looking for more clarity and less rhetoric in understanding how Massachusetts and the nation got to this point I'd suggest Twitter ain't the way to go.

For example, about to appear on Twitter near you: Politicians use Twitter to avoid the facts and go right to attacks. TV commercials offer more substance.

See you around the Twitterverse.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

We badger, you decide

Barack Obama ventured into the lion's den -- Fox News -- in his quest for passage of health care reform.

By all accounts it was a feisty affair, with Fox anchor Bret Baier repeatedly interrupting Obama, looking for answers on procedural questions, like the House's "deem and pass" tactic while Obama wanted to talk about the bill's impact.

No surprises there -- reporters always like process over policy. And I suppose Baier deserves some props for trying not to allow Obama to conduct his own filibuster.

The right wingnuts of course were thrilled that Fox was going to get at the "truth" not heard in the billions of words already expended on the topic.

But I also admit I find it interesting to wonder what it would have been like if roles had been reversed. For an answer, I probably don't need to venture much beyond the time when Roger Ailes' Richard Nixon engaged in a testy exchange with Dan Rather that had the right ranting about the disrespect the media showed for the office of the president.

What's good for the goose...

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It's a great day to evacuate

You have to hand it to Massachusetts Democratic legislators -- they stick to their guns, even if it mans shooting themselves in the foot.

While Deval Patrick used the day to engage, among other things, in an online chat with Herald readers from his office and legislative Republicans took the time to entertain bored reporters with green-sprinkled cookies, the Democrats did what they are doing increasingly more of -- staying away from the marble corridors.

But it probably wasn't a great day for interacting with the non-public employee voters outside of Suffolk County who didn't get the day off.

It really should not take a rocket scientist to figure out that special holidays -- which may once have had some significance -- are the kind of perk that drives taxpayers wild. And if they want to continue to be members of the Great and General Court after this volatile election season, they really should figure that out before Bunker Hill Day.

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Been there, done that

As House Democrats creep ever closer to cobbling together a majority to pass health care reform, the Party of No is gearing up to repeat one of the biggest blunders in the nation's long saga of trying to provide adequate access to health care: repealing a law not even on the books.

Step into the Wayback Machine. The time is 1988 and Congress has passed legislation -- proposed by President Ronald Reagan -- expanding Medicare to provide catastrophic health care benefits (PDF) for seniors. Among other benefits, the bill would help seniors meet their prescription drug expenses.

Armed with misinformation about the bill -- and unwilling to pay for the extra protection -- elders turn on Congress and force repeal a year later. It wasn't until George Bush's convoluted and expensive Medicate Part D expansion more than a decade later that older Americans got help with prescription costs.

Republicans seem to be setting up for the same scenario today. We've more than emulated the misinformation end of it -- death panels being the most blatant lie hurled out in the course of the debate.

And once again elders -- who already have federal health insurance coverage are among those most vocal critics as Republicans whip up controversy to ensure that ill-informed seniors blurt out inanities like "keep your goddamn government hands off my Medicare."

Starting with Teddy Roosevelt -- who felt the need to leave the Republican Party to try to bring about health care reform -- up through Social Security and Medicare -- the same forces at work today have tried to stymie the ability of people to live better lives with the help of a federal social safety net.

Today, we are looking at a starved Social Security and Medicare system, slowly being strangled by an inability to deal with the fact we need to all chip in pay taxes to cover costs. As before, the Party of No leads the charge in fostering fear and loathing among the folks who already take advantage of the benefits.

Sadly we've seen Republicans are far better at tearing down than building up. So even if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi corrals the majority she needs, no one should rest on their laurels.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Transparent Tim

There are apparently three givens in life -- death, taxes and Tim Cahill's desire to be all things to all people.

Treasurer Tim is once again setting the standard for the wrong sort of transparency in government. With new found fervor (where was the elected keeper of the state's purse during the original debate?) Cahill is attacking not only the health care debate in Washington but the passage of the Massachusetts law on which it is based.

And the lifelong Democrat (until it was expedient not to be) also tells us he really is a closet John McCain voter who is to the right of lifelong Republican Charlie Baker.

This is not the type of transparency we are looking for in our elected officials.

I've amply cataloged the um, evolving positions of the treasurer on things like pensions and school building assistance, among other things. But his concerns about health care legislation are somewhat new -- and somewhat uniformed by facts.

For example, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation report that found the law actually works in providing access to more people at a relatively low cost.

Nor has the fact the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector Authority which has created a dizzying array of options for purchase, stopped him from declaring it has "totally failed" in creating competition and connecting people to coverage.

Rather we have the sound bite language of a man in danger of sliding off the right edge.
“The real problem is the sucking sound of money that has been going in to pay for this health care reform,’’ Cahill said. “And I would argue that we’re being propped up so that the federal government and the Obama administration can drive it through’’ Congress.
Sucking sound? H. Ross Cahill?

Tim later expounds to Howie Carr that he saw the hand writing on the wall in 2008 -- and saw McCain as the solution.
“I was afraid of what we had already been getting in Massachusetts, and at that point in 2008, I was aware that it wasn’t working,” he said.
That apparently led to his ouster from the Democratic Party -- or as he tells it, being barred from the Democratic convention. And his apparently inability to speak on the issue until he started his gubernatorial campaign.

Cahill obviously sees a pool of support from the same angry voters who coalesced around Scott Brown and he's driving toward them. Except he doesn't have a pickup truck or even the Straight Talk Express.

Just a lot of shifting positions and empty words not backed up by his own actions from eight years in statewide office.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Legislative suicide

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has proven herself to be a solid political operator -- savvy in tactics and with sharp elbows she's not afraid to use. A scheme she is purported to be thinking about to win passage of Senate health care bill would destroy that reputation -- and any Democratic chances at retaining Congress.

The Washington Post reports the speaker is thinking of using a common parliamentary tactic that would "deem" the Senate bill passed and avoid a vote. Yes, voice votes and similiar dodges are common legislative maneuvers, frequently to spare members tough votes.

But it would also give Republicans yet another, probably even more damaging weapon to use in their attempts to play the politics of health care -- a tactic that would be the foundation of each and every commercial and stump speech from Washington to Wasilla for the rest of this year.

The Party of No has done a pretty good job already in delay and obfuscation. They hammer endlessly that the Senate decision to use reconciliation -- a simple majority -- is a bad way to pass legislation.

Never mind that they used it to ram through the Bush tax cuts or, more significantly, the bill already won 60 votes PS (pre-Scott). The next Senate vote will be on how to reconcile the House version with its own.

And similarly, Pelosi could argue that the "self-executing rule" is not unusual when bringing two versions of legislation together. In normal political times, she would have a case.

But a public -- left and right -- already fed up with the inability of Congress to get anything done would be highly sensitive to the GOP charge that Democrats wouldn't even stand up and vote on something that is important them.

Frankly, it is long past time for the majority party to stand up and stop behaving life the animal which is its symbol. They have already cast votes yea and nay and those recorded votes will be used against them by the Party of No.

Wouldn't it be better to say I stood up and put my voice and my name behind what I believe will be a major step forward to help all Americans -- rather than slink into the shadows and cower in fear over the name calling?

Courage can be a potent campaign tool.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Missing in action

The jokes were as corny as the beef -- or as stale as some of the beer consumed later in the day. And the new rules of politics must include a ban on campaign staff access to Photoshop.

But when politico non grata Martha Coakley shows up -- to the strains of "You're as Cold as Ice" -- while the leading candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination begs off on a "prior commitment" it says something about the importance of the annual South Boston St. Patrick's blarney fest.

My friend Dan Kennedy thought it was appropriate for Charlie Baker to skip out on the time. It was clear the tall Yankee was going to be a target --much as the shorter African American and the barn coat-wearing junior senator.

It can also be argued with some justification that breakfast is an anachronism, now so much "the event" it is housed in the convention center rather than the small stuffy rooms it once resided it.

But for politicians, particularly those in election years, it is a rite of passage, where you appear to dish it out and take it. And the message from his absence in the minds of many is that Baker can't do either.

That's probably far different from the image the campaign hoped to cultivate -- that he isn't into the "fun and games" that marks business as usual in Massachusetts.

And by breaking the unwritten rules it can be argued Baker needed a smackdown. You have to admit is is interesting timing that the Herald chose today to print an analysis comparing the increase in rates for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care customers -- tracking it to Baker's salary -- in the same issue that notes his absence at the Southie festivities.

Compare that to the coincidence of a profile on Tim Cahill's independent challenge grading the Globe's front page.

Baker admits he's not great on the stump. Showing up at yesterday's Wacko Fest would have gone a long way to humanize him. And while a commenter over at Media Nation suggested I would object to Baker's choice of wheat bread for breakfast, I'd respond that what he really needed yesterday was Irish soda bread served up with ample doses of corn and blarney.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Give me a break

There's a cautionary tale in Todd Wallack's look at the impact of state programs aimed at keeping business in Massachusetts with tax breaks attached to the promise of new jobs. The message of course, is businesses should be held to their end of the bargain.

The saga of Nortel Networks, its $2 million in state and local tax breaks and the net loss of more than 2,000 jobs -- but not the tax break -- is certainly instructional.

But frankly I'm more cheesed off at the Town of Ware offering $8,000 in tax breaks to a local pizza joint that had no intention of leaving town to begin with. Thankfully for the taxpayers, if not for the competition, they failed to provide a similar break to a competitor.

Lessons like this one -- and whatever tomorrow's installment provides -- should serve as a counterweight to the constant chattering by business about how tough a place Massachusetts is to do business.

And it should serve as a backdrop to Senate President Therese Murray's plan to offer still more business tax breaks.

Methinks Tommy Menino had the right idea for businesses that don't practice what they preach.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Friday news dump

There was a lot of sturm and drang in the media last year whenever Deval Patrick opted to release bay news on a Friday afternoon. But it appears what's good for Deval is also good for Bobby and Terry.

The House and senate Ways and Means committee chairs opted for a Friday afternoon statement to alert local officials about a 4 percent, $200 million cut in local aid in the upcoming fiscal year.

Funny, no push back on the timing of the announcement although there was the obligatory effort to say legislative action will wind up putting egg on Patrick's face.

Somehow I think the big headlines about school cuts and library closings aren't about to go away anytime soon.

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Scott Brown Watch: Jobs

Mass. Sen. Scott Brown took to the airwaves today for a Republican response that castigated Barack Obama for not following through on his promise to focus on job creation instead of health care.

So imagine the irony that the junior senator didn't follow through on his own commitment to jobs, voting against a summer jobs bill -- sponsored by senior Sen. John Kerry -- that helped to pay for 7,000 summer jobs in Massachusetts last summer.

Brown argues he would vote for it if it had a better funding mechanism. A counter argument is that you can pay for it now by adding the deficit or pay for it later in the social costs that come with out-of-work teens.

Besides, I thought Brown said he was for legislation that will help Massachusetts. I guess $16 million for jobs from a $21 million package doesn't count.

Especially if is called "stimulus."

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It's not easy being green

I guess global warming isn't the only green initiative that doesn't have Charlie Baker's wholehearted support.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate has opted out of tomorrow's South Boston St. Patrick's Day political breakfast, citing "prior commitments."

You really mean to tell me the scheduler did not know months in advance that there's a breakfast and a parade in Southie around St. Patrick's Day? And that the meeting with Scituate Republicans couldn't have been adjusted an hour or so either way?

Baker was also a phantom in the first political dust-up of the campaign season, when Deval Patrick pointed to his role as Harvard Pilgrim Health Care executive and the state of health insurance premiums.

The candidate, who admits he's not great on the stump, unleashed campaign manager Lenny Alcivar, then and now.
“We think that a month before an important Republican primary convention it’s important to honor our commitment to those who stood with us from the beginning of our campaign,’’ Alcivar said.
But it was Rep. Richard J. Ross, a Wrentham Republican, who gave the honest spin to Baker's decision.

“The St. Patrick’s Day event might not be filled with a lot of Baker supporters, and his focus will be on campaigning where he can attract votes,’’ Ross said. “So I think he’s going to be in the right place.’’

Maybe (although you have to check the legislative support for Patrick before offering a firm answer). But more importantly, it is a venue where candidates prove their mettle and humanity by taking a punch -- and delivering a few too.

Heaven knows there's a shortage of humor these days -- in life and in politics. The ability to poke fun at yourself and others is a humanizing -- and that's something Baker needs.

Maybe he'll surprise us and show up unannounced. That would be a good political environment move.

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RIP Plucky

So many bad puns, so little time. Rest in pieces.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Where's Scott?

Remember when our newly minted senator declared he was against the national health care reform law because it would only hurt Massachusetts? It was a position he repeated again this week (in a talk to insurers), as he continues to eat away at his 15 minutes in the spotlight.

But it's obviously a selective spotlight, because the junior senator from Massachusetts wasn't taking reporter calls when the Globe came asking about efforts to make sure Massachusetts gets its fair share in efforts to cobble together legislation that can win passage in the House and Senate.

I guess it's hard to comment on why you want stick Massachusetts with another $500 million budget hole by taking away money that has been set aside to help pay for the health care reform bill you voted for in the Massachusetts Senate.

Or maybe you've been too busy working on that new book? I know I want to read more about the pink leather shorts.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Politics in the Statehouse?

There's shock in both the mainstream media and the Twitterverse this morning: Deval Patrick practiced politics in the Statehouse!

The decision by Patrick to stop being a punching bag and jabbing back at his opponents was immediately characterized by the head of Charlie Baker's political team as somehow desperate. The local TV media pundit who recently made the governor a pinata saw, horror of horrors, an effort by Patrick the governor to coordinate with Patrick the candidate.

What is the world coming to?

The trigger point was Patrick's declaration, after testimony at a Statehouse hearing, that Baker, as head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, was in a position to have done something about health care costs in the Commonwealth.
“While we’ve been dealing with this crisis, at least one of the candidates in this race has been in the middle of this industry and hasn’t offered any solutions yet ... They talk about why it is they can’t help but charge double-digit increases every year to small businesses and families. Those small business and families don’t have a voice at the table. They have my voice at that table.’’
Um, sounds like a lot of facts wrapped in the jab: hardly meltdown material in my mind.

This, on the other hand, smacks of overreaction:
"Sad. @massGovernor reduced from testimony to meltdown, to empty campaign fundraising ploy in minutes."
When Lenny Alcivar cooled down himself, and offered more than 140 characters, he was a little more substantive.
“The governor had 3 1/2 years to take action on health care costs, but he didn’t,’’ Alcivar said. “For 3 1/2 years, Deval Patrick had the existing authority to do something, anything to address this problem, and he wouldn’t. Today, hours after waking up to polling results that show his reelection prospects dwindling by the minute, Governor Patrick was forced to testify on a proposal aimed more toward salvaging his political career than helping small businesses.’’
We were also treated to this astounding observation from WBZ-TV's Jon Keller:
From Gov's mouth to campaign web site in minutes! http://bit.ly/dah5Mb But has nothing to do with elex
I'm shocked, just shocked. There be politics here!

Meanwhile, Baker is being presented above the fray -- despite the fact he was indeed in the middle of it for the 3 1/2 years of the Patrick administration and more. The candidate was not made available to reporters, a somewhat curious decision in my mind, especially contrasted to Patrick's announcement he will enter the lion's den.

Obviously there's a long campaign ahead and spots are picked carefully. But I find it curious the Baker campaign did not bring out there candidate to directly answer questions aimed at the heart of one of his former jobs.

Baker candidly admitted he's "not a very good candidate" at this point in the race. But he's going to need to face the music soon enough.

Alcivar and Keller can't hold down the fort forever.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tickle me Eric

Mike Barnicle once used a throwaway line (I assume he didn't "borrow" it from someone else) that if you take the Massachusetts Legislature out onto a barge and sank it, all you would lose is the barge. In the case of the United States Congress, you'd probably need to lose two or three.

Witness the case of Eric "Tickle Me" Massa, former Democratic congressman from upstate New York, who wove a tale so tall to explain his bad behavior that even Glenn Beck didn't believe him.

It certainly captivated the Twitterverse yesterday, with live tweets flying fast and furious. Massa, apparently caught with his pants down, was regaling Beck and his faithful with a story claiming he was outed from Congress by the Obama administration because he was a Democrat who planned on voting against health care reform.

As if the administration has shown that much power over the gang on Capitol Hill.

It was only the latest pathetic story for a decision that lurched from health problems to "salty language." What the good congressman failed to mention was he under investigation for sexual misconduct -- a 50-year-old having tickle fights with male staff members.

Apparently he didn't want California Republican Roy Ashburn to have all the fun.

Massa would only acknowledge "poor judgment" to Beck (seems appropriate).
“No, no, no!” he said. “I did nothing sexual ... [T]hey are saying I groped a male staffer. Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him. I tickled him until he couldn’t breathe, and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday. It was kill the old guy. You can take anything out of context.”
I hate to think what the right context is.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs didn't see the joke either.

“Last week, he on Wednesday was having a recurrence of cancer,” Mr. Gibbs said during an appearance on “Good Morning America” on ABC.

“On Thursday,” Mr. Gibbs continued, “he was guilty of using salty language. On Friday, we learned he’s before the ethics committee to be investigated on charges of sexual harassment.”

Congress is drowning in special interest cash, a situation that will only get worse with the Supreme Court decision that says corporations have the same free speech rights as people.

The folks who funnel billions down the rat hole to buy and sell congressional influence have helped foster a culture so out of step that it has now fostered two beverage-fueled movements -- the Tea Party and the Coffee Party.

The major difference -- one group wants to tear everything down, the other wants to try and fix a broken system that used to work well. The problem is that one of the parties that has helped to create the mess -- the one with the elephants -- views this as an opportunity to return to the bad old ways that helped get us deep into this mess.

You can't be the solution when you are the problem.

Oh, an adios Eric.

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SS Beacon Hill taking on water

It's gotten so bad on Beacon Hill that people would be advised the wear safety lenses before venturing down the marble corridors to avoid getting a flying finger of blame in the eye.

Mayors are blaming legislators for the burden of municipal health care contracts. Senate President Therese Murray fires right back with Speaker Robert DeLeo watching her back, saying it's their own damn fault.

This is your government in action when money runs low and tempers run high.

The mayors are upset that they and their previous colleagues have collectively bargained away the store over the years resulting in some gold-plated health plans that would be the envy of the private sector.

And since lawmakers didn't stop them from being themselves, they now want either a legislatively-mandated change to reduce union say over a switch to the less expensive state GIC system. And if they don't get their way, they plan to take it to the ballot.

Murray was not amused.

“It’s time for the mayors to step up to the plate,’’ she said. “They have to look in the mirror on this. For years, they have been putting together their budgets, and now it is reaching a peak.

“It’s about time they managed their own funds better . . . instead of coming in here and saying, ‘You got to do A, B, C, and D.’ ’’

Of course, this is the leader of the same chamber that voted expensive local mandates like the Quinn Bill -- and can't bring itself to make a symbolic step like working on Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day like their constituents.

It's sort of like the fiscally irresponsible pot calling the profligate spending kettle black.

And you wonder why people are fed up with elected officials?

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Last one out, turn off the lights...

... because you probably can't afford to pay the bill.

The drip, drip destruction of Christy Mihos' campaign for governor continues with the latest installment of Deadbeat Candidate.

Does this guy really think anyone will trust him with the state's tax dollars?

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Because that's where the money is

Two interesting -- and some might say politically tinged -- looks at the dollar drain from state government in today's Boston papers.

The Herald's payroll crusade looks at cashed out vacation time and singles out former Deval Patrick chief of staff Doug Rubin, who cashed out $11,000 in unused vacation pay. I know Rubin stops by here occasionally so I'd be happy for a comment.

On the other side of the political aisle, the Globe looks at the pension policies of Bristol County Sheriff John Hodgson, "a tough-talking Republican renowned for trying to charge inmates for room and board" and the generous pensions he is doling out. Those include a number of "Group 4" lifetime prizes which are only supposed to go to folks with hazardous jobs in the correctional system -- not administrators.

State government certainly appears to be a much more lucrative field for pensions and benefits than when I toiled in the vineyards. I know the retirement benefit policies appear to be better than the private sector, but how do the vacation cash out rules compare?

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No!

Can't offer a lot more in response to this billboard that's a centerpiece of a Stanley Fish blog post in the New York Times.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Laboring for support

News flash: Massachusetts public employee unions are unhappy with Deval Patrick, who they accuse of trying to balance the state budget on the backs of their members.

Old news: labor rank and file votes far more conservatively than leadership, dating back to the days of the hard hat supporters of Richard Nixon, to the Boston Police Patrolman's Union endorsement of George H.W. Bush over Michael Dukakis in 1988 up to their support for Scott Brown over leadership-endorsed Martha Coakley.

So, the proper context to view the clash taking place these days is to ask what does labor bring to the table, aside from votes? And how credible are leadership threats when they can't deliver their members?

Union support of course brings campaign cash and a corps of members who will make the calls and stand out with the campaign signs at key events. Even when they plan to vote for the other guy (entry for Jan. 11).

But they also can bring baggage -- and in this campaign there's a lot of talk around the cost of the some of the victories labor obtained for its support of legislative and gubernatorial candidates.

The Quinn Bill. Generous health insurance benefits that continue into retirement. The battle over random drug testing in the face of deadly examples of abuse. There is a strong undercurrent that the waste, fat and abuse that many people want to see stripped from government comes from collectively bargained benefits.

And that undercurrent comes from many of the same people who are receiving those benefits.

So where, exactly, is union leadership going to turn? Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill are talking about cuts even deeper than those already implemented by Patrick and the Legislature. Grace Ross?

In the end, I suspect we will see a loveless marriage. Union leaders will offer tepid support for who they view as the least of all evils. And rank and file will continue to do what they have been doing for 40 years and vote against leadership-backed candidates.

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

What's in a name?

The leading candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination is known almost universally as Charlie. But today's Globe profile suggests candidate Baker is really more of a Charles, and he needs to make some adjustments if he hopes to really connect with voters -- particularly those expecting another free-speaking Scott Brown.

I've had a few personal encounters with Baker and I find him an affable guy and a pragmatist, not an ideologue. He's more a behind-the-scenes guy than an inspirational leader. And that could be the biggest problem he faces in chasing Deval Patrick and Tim Cahill for the Corner Office.

That and a campaign that seems intent to make him an outsider instead of acknowledging his many years of experience on Beacon Hill in the Weld and Cellucci administrations tackling problems from health care and the budget to yes, the Big Dig.

The Globe's Michael Levenson portrays Baker in full policy wonk mode during a visit to an Ipswich restaurant.
“If you’re going to change the system at all, you need a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, an analysis to find what the cost of the change is, and then an identified revenue stream to pay for it, so you don’t make the problem for anybody who is already vested any worse,’’ he told the crowd.
Good thing they just woke up. And that is the real Baker. The one that has attracted megabucks from an impressive list of donors, particularly in the health care industry he worked in for years as the head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

Baker is also refreshingly honest.

“I’m probably not a very good candidate,’’ at this point in the race ...“I think, by nature, I’m a data-driven person."
But data doesn't drive campaigns, well except for the data contained in polls. So Baker has hired a campaign team that handles the rough edges for him, particularly campaign manager Lenny Alcivar who is trading barbs with any and all comers on Twitter. Sometimes to his detriment, as the Cahill camp has shown (last item).

And while I remain less than impressed with Treasurer Tim's record, he has shown he intends to be a player in this race, hiring out some of John McCain's braintrust to run his campaign in an obvious effort to pull votes from the right that would seem destined for Baker.

Baker has been riding a wave of cash and good press surrounding the election of Brown. But a fact really lost in the Patrick is losing with an 8-point lead poll was the fact that Baker is unknown to 35 percent of voters.

It would seem the best approach the candidate could take would be to use some of the ample cash lead to go on the air with commercials introducing him to voters -- before Patrick and Cahill do.

But that would expose the still sometime-wooden public Baker to a broader audience before he is ready for prime time.

And with Patrick looking for votes among high school students...

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

And we're not stuck with the Yankees...

One governor resigned in disgrace and the second is hanging on by his nails -- facing investigations into alleged tampering with a domestic violence charge against a top aide and getting World Series tickets for free.

Meanwhile over in the Legislature, dysfunction would be viewed as a step in the right direction. After a coup in which Republicans hijacked two Democrats to take control of the Senate -- only to lose them and the majority -- one of the principals in the shenanigans was expelled after being convicted of domestic violence.

Memo to Massachusetts angry voters: I wouldn't sweat the Cadillac and the drapes.

It's true that for pure visuals New York can't top the image of a bra-stuffing Dianne Wilkerson. Or the sadly pathetic saga of Anthony "Toothpaste" Galluccio. And three straight indicted House speakers is a unique "accomplishment."

But Massachusetts has, somehow, managed to keep its head above the fiscal floodwaters that have left New York with a $9 billion budget deficit and no hope for the equivalent of a balcony summit that marked the worst of the battles between former Massachusetts Speaker Tom Finneran and Senate President Tom Birmingham.
“The State Senate can’t get 32 votes to agree that today is Thursday,” says Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat.
And for all the PR missteps by Deval Patrick, from the official state car to the Corner Office drapes to the book deal and a late-evening trip to the publisher, he and his administration haven't come within a thousand miles of the depths of what is taking place in Albany.

Yes, Bobby DeLeo and Terry Murray are probably plotting ways to wreak political revenge on a governor who dragged their chambers into action on pension and ethics reform. And the parties may be fussin' and fumin' over how to bring gambling to the Bay State.

But we are also not looking at a governor who needs to declare:
“We have no idea what we’re going to do when the state would be projected to run out of money, somewhere in May or June,” Mr. Paterson said. “These issues are going to affect the people of New York a lot more than my problems.”
And let's not forget: they are also stuck with the Evil Empire, aka, the Yankees.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

That didn't take long

Early riser that I am, my eyes sometimes play tricks on me when I scan the online headlines looking for daily fodder.

I thought that was the case when I spotted "Brown answers McCain's call for help" and saw our junior senator of one-month tenure was taking a campaign swing in Arizona. Nah, couldn't be. Our wet-behind-the-ears, still waiting for a formal office to work out of senator is sticking his nose (and neck) into the nasty, brutish business of national conservative grudge matches?

Nope, my eyes were not playing tricks on me.

Fresh from committee assignments that will take him far from the day-to-day financial concerns of the Average Joe and Jane who elected him to be a breath of fresh air in Washington, Brown is now on the campaign trail for the endangered Johnny Mac.

Maybe it's a move by Downtown Scottie Brown to show he's not in league with the tea baggers who funneled cash into the race to push him well past the already nearly moribund Martha Coakley, creating the impression in 49 states that his election was a sign of Tea Party might.

If his goal is to move away from the tea baggers, he probably couldn't have picked a better symbol than backing McCain, under attack in Arizona for being too liberal. Between the attachment to McCain and the disdain of Glenn Beck, Brown should hang on for dear life.

Problem is, it won't help him all that much with those of us who proudly wear the liberal tag. And it will probably help create a wave for those Facebook folks touting Rachel Maddow as a Democratic challenger for Brown in 2012.

Here's a suggestion Senator. Turn that truck north and tend to your knitting.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Kaching! redux

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes (or a vampire rising from the crypt) the issue progressives love to hate is about to return. In the midst of a deep recession that has defied all efforts at bringing new dollars to state coffers, gambling is moving back to the front burner.

And this time the debate won't be about whether we should expand it but only about where and how.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo is expected to outline a plan today at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. The obvious significance is that his predecessor, Sal DiMasi (D-Looking at Hard Time), was Horatio at the bridge when we last debated the topic and DeLeo represents a district which includes Suffolk Downs and Wonderland Greyhound Park.

That's why DeLeo is expected to call for slots at tracks in addition to opting for the idea of resort casinos, arguing no doubt that slots at the tracks can inject instant dollars into the economy while we take the time to site and build what supporters like to call "destination" casinos.

And boy does the Commonwealth need cash.

The reemergence of casino gambling in an election year represents a mixed blessing for Deval Patrick, who alienated much of his progressive base with his advocacy on the issue last time around. You know the base he needs to turn out in droves if he hopes to keep the Corner Office out of the clutches of Charlie Baker.

But did I mention the state desperately needs cash? And that Senate President Therese Murray, though decidedly cool to Patrick does seem to share his idea that resorts are good but tracks are bad for slots.

And, in the privacy of the voting booth, will probably vote for Baker.

I noted the other day that while the polls hold a lot of bad news for Patrick, there is a way that he could thread a needle to victory. If he can successfully maneuver his way around and through this issue, he won't be needing one of these gadgets.

Oh, and did I mention that we need the cash?

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Where's the Straight Talk Express?

It's long been clear that Republicans don't like Democrats. What has become blatantly obvious is that the don't like democracy, the kind with the small D.

Barack Obama got to the heart of that issues by demanding a "straight up or down vote" on health care reform.
“I believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final vote on health care reform,” Mr. Obama said during a 20-minute speech in the East Room of the White House. He said there was no point in starting over, as Republicans are demanding, and called on nervous Democrats to stick with him, declaring there was no reason “for those of us who were sent here to lead to just walk away.”
After all, isn't that what "small d" democracy is all about?

So borrowing a page from the Grumpy Old Man who was the GOP presidential candidate in 2008, it' time for some straight talk. Obvious? Maybe. Overdue. For sure.

Republicans do not have the votes by majority rules used in every free society except the United States Senate, to stop the Democrats push for a reform bill. So they have used every parliamentary trick in their toolbag to foil, delay and prevent a vote.

There's no guarantee there is even a 50 percent-plus one majority of Democrats who will line up behind reform as it is currently packaged. Yet Senate Republicans have resisted even taking a vote as a centerpiece of their political strategy -- which is to deny Obama any victory.

For the sake of argument, what's the downside to a political strategy that allows a vote and in turn allows American citizens to cast their own votes in November on whether they support reform or not. If the Republicans are looking to return to power, that should be a winning strategy.

But alas, it's not about people and their best interests, it's about power. It was never more clearly on display when doddering Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning refused to even countenance a vote on extending unemployment benefits.

And if that wasn't clear enough it was reinforced when Straight Talkin' Johnny McCain's Arizona cohort Jon Kyl put a new face on the old welfare argument when he claimed jobless benefits were a disincentive to work.

The straight talk is Republicans don't care about the public but only about their own political future. Let's have a vote and let the public decide which is the right approach.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Problems with new math

There must have been some changes in math since I went to school because I'm getting confused. How does subtraction equal addition?

Here we are with the state running a budget gap north of $2 billion for the upcoming fiscal year and all I see are proposals to cut taxes: foreign firms; homegrown firms; Hollywood firms protecting previous cuts.

OK, there's the $5 break on Registry counter service (so much for the thought of from my lips to Deval's ears). And the potential granddaddy of them all -- a roll back of the sales tax and elimination of the new sales tax on booze.

Um, what's going to go to close the gap?

The Globe just completed a nice two-parter about the staggering cost of health and pension benefits for municipal employees and retirees and the Boston Foundation is coming out with a report talking about the potential cost savings to cities and towns if they switched over to the state's health insurance system.

All that requires is action by the Legislature. You know the same folks who will be considering all those tax breaks for business.

And figuring out how to make even deeper cuts than they already have in services people have come to demand -- even if they don't want to pay for them.

Any thoughts Charlie?

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Fiddling while Massachusetts burns

OK, pop quiz time: who likes going to the Registry of Motor Vehicles? The harsh lights, the long lines, the cheerful friendly help. You can put you hand down now Registrar Kaprelian.

Now, what if you could save $5 by doing your business with the Registry by mail or online. Any takers?

And oh yeah, at the same time you would be doing an ever small part to close a potential $5 billion budget gap that would like close all the registry offices in the state, forcing you to do your business by mail or online.

Welcome to Bizarro Massachusetts, where Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Baddour of Methuen worries about "nickel and diming" people for mandated services while state and local treasuries bleed cash to pay for the gold plated health benefits for public employees -- like himself.

And where the head of the state Republican Party bemoans a "backdoor tax" that “burdens those people who can least afford it, like the poor and elderly who often don’t have Internet access."

Never mind that you can also transact your business by United States Postal Service. And that even the poor and elderly can get Internet access and know how to use it. Or that many industries -- banks, airlines to name two not-so-popular examples -- also charge what amounts to a convenience fee to transact business in person when it can be handled in other ways.

But this latest outcry of "heck no we won't pay" is positively astounding in the face of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation latest bulletin that we would be facing a structural deficit of $5 billion in fiscal 2012 if a pair of sales tax rollback proposals reach the ballot in November.

Says MTF President Michael Widmer:
“We’ve got this huge structural deficit in fiscal 2012 even if the ballot questions aren’t approved by the voters,” Widmer said. “If they are, it’s a $5 billion hole."
Not all lawmakers are apparently as clueless as Baddour.

House budget chief Charles Murphy said passage of the two proposals would leave the state budget “in a world of hurt.”

“I get the sense that this is something that people are just starting to think about,” he said.

Let's be honest. Baddour and the state GOP have a similar goal -- pin the tail on Deval. The difference is Baddour an elected officials who still thinks he can demagogue about fees while the state's battered financial infrastructure continues to melt.

It's a great way to sidestep discussion of and responsibility for things that have happened under his watch in the Senate. Even if he is lighting a match to torch what is left of citizen services in Massachusetts.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

What's wrong with majority rules?

A bill is making it's way to the floor of the United States Senate after considerable debate. The majority party knows it won't be able to secure the 60 votes necessary to win passage opts to use the Senate rule that allows a 50 percent-plus one vote to secure passage.
“Is there something wrong with ‘majority rules’?” Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, once said of the reconciliation process when his party controlled the Senate. “I don’t think so.”
That was in 2005, when Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats objected to a move to push through a measure about the opening the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Later that year, Gregg lamented Democratic refusal to go along with GOP efforts to cut Medicaid spending:
“You can’t get 60 votes because the party on the other side of the aisle simply refuses to do anything constructive in this area.”
It would be nice if media outlets other than the New York Times took a closer look at the hypocrisy (practiced on both sides) as the GOP attempts to portray Democratic efforts to get around their partisan roadblock as a threat to the nation's freedoms.

And it's not a bad idea that Democratic congressional leaders use far less troubling sticks -- threats to reduce re-election financial assistance -- to secure the votes of wayward Democrats.

The whines of Blue Dog Democrats that there's nothing in the bill for them rings hollow. Darn right there's nothing about the public option because they opposed the idea.

Not content with a victory to claim, they worry about re-election, something that would be even harder with the party cash to help them point out their concerns were heard and, oh by the way, they took a major step to prevent a full-fledged meltdown of the health care system.

FDR had it mostly right: the only thing we have the fear is fear itself. He should have mentioned the fearmongers.

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