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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Monday, August 30, 2010

Holy Wars

At least Glenn Beck acknowledged Barack Obama isn't a Muslim.

The Fox News host, who now claims his weekend rally in Washington wasn't a political event but a religious revival, fessed up on yet another Fox show (imagine that) that he somehow misspoke when he called Obama a racist. What he meant to say was the president was a captive of black liberation theology.
"You see, it's all about victims and victimhood; oppressors and the oppressed; reparations, not repentance; collectivism, not individual salvation. I don't know what that is, other than it's not Muslim, it's not Christian. It's a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it," Beck said.
Interesting comment from a coreligionist of Mitt Romney.

You almost have to wonder what is prompting Beck's alleged drift from secular to a latter-day Father Coughlin. Tough economic times produced the anti-Semite who became a leading fan of Adolf Hitler, so the mood is for another broadcast-based demagogue to prey on people's insecurities.

But it also represents a significant shift in the Tea Party movement that has, to date, eschewed religion in promoting its "save the rich" platform.

Beck is saying the vision to go religious rather than political and claim the mantle of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to him through God.

And that either says the TV host is losing it -- or is simply crazy like a Fox (News).

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bobby in Wonderland

The last few days haven't been kind to House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

It's only been 10 days since the speaker and his team have been exposed as emperors without clothes on the subject of Wonderland Greyhound Park. Today's Yvonne Abraham column brings to the Metro section what Paul McMorrow's piece did for the op-ed page: the fact the track was a goner no matter what happened on Beacon Hill.

But far worse than DeLeo's transparent effort to blame Deval Patrick for his own overreaching is word that DeLeo's No. 2 -- Thomas Petrolati -- is using the Sal DiMasi defense to avoid testifying in an independent counsel investigation into the state's patronage-ridden probation department.
Petrolati argues that [independent counsel Paul F.] Ware doesn’t have the authority to investigate legislators and could even provoke a “constitutional crisis’’ if Petrolati is forced to testify. In documents filed with the Supreme Judicial Court on Friday, Petrolati said the state’s highest court originally appointed Ware to investigate wrongdoing within the court system, but Ware now appears to be going after Petrolati, too.
The argument mirrors one by DiMasi in fighting an Ethics Commission lawsuit demanding he turn over documents related to the ongoing questions that eventually led to DiMasi's indictment While the former speaker won that legal battle, he ultimately lost the war.

Petrolati risks the same problem -- principally that of legislative transparency -- and in an election year. In fact, you have to wonder if he is merely stalling for time to push the probation mess past November.

And the same may be said of DeLeo. When asked by the Statehouse News Service last week about any impending leadership changes next session, DeLeo demurred:
"I don't know. I’m not even thinking about that. We’re worried about elections, making sure that the Democratic members that we have are elected, and then we’ll go from there.”
Hardly a resounding endorsement of a team that didn't serve him well in rolling snake eyes on casinos. Or stands to put him into even hotter water next year among a potentially restive House.

After all, there are far m0re jobs at stake in the probation department than at Wonderland.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Counting his chickens...

By George I think I've got it! A plan to deal with both an ugly hole in the ground in Downtown Crossing and raise much needed cash for Boston.

It's simple: move the Boston Public Health Commission's new chicken farm from Long island to the Filene's hole. Then market the eggs produced there as a substitute for those recalled by the FDA for salmonella contamination.

OK, there are some problems, like who would guard the foxes that naturally migrate to hen houses. And the Downtown Crossing pigeons may not cotton to the competition.

Otherwise, what's there to squawk at? Other than Tommy getting nervous about Jim Perdue challenging him when he opts for a sixth term.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Free the SFIs!

In a past life as an alleged state policy maker, I had to fill out the dreaded Statement of Financial Interest, laying bare (within ranges) my somewhat meager income and assets. It wasn't pleasant, but it was a fair price to pay for working in the public sector.

Back then Massachusetts also had a somewhat progressive law -- even if the filer was told who, if anyone, requested the document.

But time changes and the law has not. In the most significant lack of change, forms are available only on paper and only for a $1 fee. In an Internet age when information -- especially about those who spend taxpayers dollars -- is yearning to be free, the situation isn't healthy.

Significantly, when legislators -- arguably among those most unhappy at laying bare their finances -- passed major ethics reform legislation last year, guess what area wasn't addressed?

Which brings us to the effort by CommonWealth Magazine to force some changes in the state's disclosure law

All I can add is go for it.

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Off with his head!

It's hard to tell some times which Alice in Wonderland character best describes Sarah Palin.

Is she the Queen of Hearts, vanquishing Alaska foe Lisa Murkowski and demanding the removal of Scott Brown's head?

Or is she the Mad Hatter, the well-paid titular head of the Tea Party, dragging the Republican Party even farther to the right, perhaps even enabling Democrats to survive a November trouncing because of the extreme views of candidates like Rand Paul, Sharon Angle and Joe Miller?

Aside from providing Brown a boost for his 2012 Massachusetts re-election effort, the Sage of Wasilla's comments decrying Brown's moderation won't have much impact. Frankly, it strikes me as a move in a 3-D chess board where one rumored 2012 GOP presidential candidate is launching a preemptive strike against the media's flavor of the month Republican who will no doubt line up behind Mitt Romney, a significant rival for party affections in two years.

And as for the national punditocracy's latest roller coaster assessment of Palin's power in the wake of the Miller upset, let's get serious. Right now, all it proves is that she still has some clout in the internecine world of Alaska politics where the Palin-Murkowski blood feud has been Topic A for years.

Let's take a deep breath here It's August, a deadly slow news month that spawned the Palin phenomenon two years ago and was the first month of the rest of her political life when she pulled a Romney and walked away from her job last year.

Palin's popularity remains a sometime thing (except, apparently, among the small subset of GOP potheads, where she hold a narrow lead over Newt Gingrich) and it's unclear whether political power or financial riches is her ultimate goal.

That's the light in which we should be viewing her refudiation of Scott Brown and the Massachusetts electorate she knows so well.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Joe the Plumber meets Joe the Tree Guy

Charlie Baker continues to showcase his financial superiority in the governor's race, launching a new TV ad in the ultimate dog days of summer when most candidates save their dollars for a time when people are focusing on more than their vacations.

And today's Globe highlights another question about a strategy that, so far at least, has failed to generate any positive momentum for the candidate: sloppy work on the part of the staff and consultants benefiting from Baker's fund-raising prowess.

Joe the Plumber meet Joe the Tree Guy.

Not since John McCain offered the world Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher has a candidate offered such a tainted example of a small business guy allegedly screwed by the government. In fact, Baker's poster boy, Joseph M. DiStasio, makes Wurzelbacher almost seem credible.

Baker trotted put DiStasio as an example of a guy trying to earn a living in the tree business but who was ultimately strangled by red tape.
... DiStasio, a former owner of two Quincy tree companies, described what he said was a long struggle with state agencies that ended up drowning his businesses in red tape, fees, and rising taxes. He filed for bankruptcy for himself and for both companies in January.

“I was forced to close the doors," he told reporters as Baker, the GOP gubernatorial nominee, stood by his side. “Regulations and never-ending rules are ever changing; taxes are going up. I’m scared to try to grow another business in Massachusetts. . . . I got the rug pulled out from under me."

But court filings and other civil actions, as easily available to the Baker staff as to the Globe, adds some important facts missing from the staged press event.

American Express has filed a petition with the bankruptcy court, saying that DiStasio ran up more than $40,000 in bills on his personal card for luxury items in the weeks before the January filing.

Last month, Attorney General Martha Coakley fined one of his companies nearly $100,000 for significant wage law violations.

And, in a lawsuit, his former business partner asserts that DiStasio siphoned company funds to purchase luxury items and to cover personal expenses.

His personal bankruptcy petition outlines liabilities of $3.6 million. He lists assets of $4.1 million, but $2.7 million of that is money that he said he was owed as part of a counter-lawsuit against his partner. A judge has already dismissed two-thirds of that amount.

One of Baker's well-paid staffers, spokeswoman Amy Goodrich, brushed off the problems, suggesting the Globe speak directly with DiStasio, who didn't return their calls, and defended Baker's overall message.
“This is a guy who has been negatively affected by the state’s regulatory policies for the last four years, and we are happy to provide a platform for him.’’
But not as "negatively affected" as the employees stiffed out of $288,000 in wages. Nor apparently the small businessman personally, who is still is leasing a 2008 RS 60 Porsche Boxster convertible, at a cost of $798 monthly, according to his bankruptcy filing.

Unless of course we should feel bad that he hasn't been able to lease a 2010 model.

Baker's spending and the bang he's getting for those bucks -- and the window that opens into how he might operate as the state's chief executive officer -- is really tarnishing the can-do image he created as Bill Weld's right-hand man and as the boss at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

Lucky for him no one is really paying attention, yet.

Except of course the Deval Patrick Committee, which has just been handed another juicy topic for when they start to run ads after Labor Day. You know when people do pay attention.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fair and balanced Herald

Today's Herald offers some insights for tea leaf readers curious about the changes possible now that Joe Scaccia has taken over the top slot from Kevin Convey. And the initial impulse is to say "not many."

First and foremost, there's the really strange decision to lead an editorial board interview with Democratic treasurer candidate Steve Grossman's indifference to an endorsement "snub" from Scott Brown.

Let me get this straight: the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee is going to expect support from a hot Republican property -- and it's news when he does not?

What's more curious is to almost virtually ignore what really should matter to readers with the line "Grossman vowed to push for reform and transparency if elected, including an $85,000 pension cap and requiring lottery contracts be put out to bid every two years."

At the same time, there's not a staff-written word online about the $250 million Race to the Top education grant -- and Massachusetts' No. 1 ranking -- a story that stripped across the top of the Globe.

Could it be the grant represented another political feather in Deval Patrick's cap -- and hence not worth a mention?

They decide. And report.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Seamus gets ready to hit the road

It's obvious why Seamus Romney is getting antsy. The man who threw the dog carrier on the car roof and his principles under the bus for a 2008 presidential run is getting ready to hit the road again!

Yep, like the proverbial seven-year itch, only on a shorter cycle, Willard Mitt Romney is about to embark on a coast-to-coast tour, a 25-state midterm jaunt ostensibly to help the Republican party lay the groundwork to take back America from the socialists and the Muslims.

Only with Myth Version 3.0 (or is that 6.0?) -- a kinder, gentler soul downplaying his ideological warrior side for the inner wonk he suppressed in his unsuccessful quest to convince the True Believers of the GOP that he was one of them.

His biggest problem is the True Believers (defined as believing Barack Obama is a foreign-born Muslim) control the minds of an increasingly larger percentage of the Republican Party and prefer to dance with Sarah Palin.

But Romney may have a secret weapon among those who have had their brains snatched: one of his predecessors as Massachusetts governor, Michael Stanley Dukakis:
“Mitt Romney’s the biggest disappointment I think I’ve ever seen,” Dukakis said. “He was a lousy governor. After a year and a half, he just walked away from the job. He just bounces around depending on the way the wind blows.”
Pretty good 10-second spot as far as I can tell, but probably unlikely to help Obama in a world where we argue endlessly over Newt Gingrich-fed non-issues like a "Ground Zero mosque" near the Pussycat Lounge two blocks away from the World Trade Center site.

But as a blogger, I welcome the return of Myth Romney. As George Bush said, "bring 'em on."

Only be nice to Seamus.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Trending to conclusions

Aha! I think I have the secret formula: one example is a potential oddity. Two examples are more than mere happenstance Three? It's a trend!

The Globe gloms onto that formula today with a story about how three Massachusetts Democrats in swing districts are sliding to the center in the House and Senate races. Under the prominent Page One headline, the newspaper of record declares:
"For Democrats, a tempting tack to the right"
Only when you dig deeper into the story do you hit the really salient fact about this year's race for the Great and General Court:

This year, Republicans chose to recruit a smaller crop of qualified candidates, cognizant that they lost seats in 2004, when Governor Mitt Romney drafted a slew of candidates to run in any legislative race possible.

The quality-not-quantity strategy this year means 96 of the Legislature’s 179 Democrats are unopposed and will coast to victory in November, according to a State House News Service tally.

A better strategy? Perhaps. A tidbit totally missing that could have made for a more interesting story is a look at the number of vacant seats and the contests to fill the openings left when long-time lawmakers opted to hang 'em up rather than try again.

Oh well, it's late August. Even editors take vacations. Do I detect a trend?

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Not a lot of bang for the buck

There's a very simple message behind Brian Mooney's story today about the fund-raising and sending habits of the Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates.

Charlie Baker, the Republican running on his managerial talents and his promise of making government lean and mean has out-raised incumbent Deval Patrick by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, while more than doubling Patrick's spending.

And after a year of tapping the wallets of the high and mighty of Massachusetts, he remains a cipher to large percentage of the voters and still behind an incumbent once left for politically dead.

If campaigns are a microcosm of governance -- and to be fair the 2006 Patrick campaign and the 2008 Obama effort suggest they may not be -- Baker's lack of bang for his substantial buck is a frightening omen of what may lie ahead.

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New Hampshire blues

You would think that for the four bucks they snag for each to and from Maine that New Hampshire public works officials could fork over a few dollars for directional signs when the muse actually strikes someone to stop in the Land of Booze and Butts Taxes.

After experiencing a Saturday backup from Salem to Kittery on the way north, Mrs. OL and I decided to stop off in Portsmouth to break up the trip home. Delaying the high speed insanity for a bit, we opted to head south by way of Route 1. Big mistake of you are looking for downtown Portsmouth.

There was nary a (visible) sign directing you off Route 1, so after passing Water Country, we hauled out Google Maps and plotted a course heading back north. All seemed well until we found ourselves stuck in traffic -- slowly and inexorably heading back over to Maine on the World War drawbridge that looked as if it hadn't been painted since the Great War.

After a couple hours wandering around town, we decided to head south and home. Only problem -- no signage showing the way to 95 South. Again, thanks to the glories of Google Maps, we found our way back to the highway.

And out of state, without plunking down hard-earned cash for cut-rate booze. Or anything else.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Circular firing squad

There was always a grain of truth to Tom Finneran's blast against "the loony left."

No, we don't make up lies about Republican in power and spew racial and ethnic hatred across radio and cable TV. We don't set out for Day One to destroy the agenda of GOP elected officials. We adhere to the old-fashioned notion of a loyal opposition.

Our preference is for circular firing squads, taking aim and weakening our own in the face of the swill coming from the other side.

This is the essence of the latest kerfuffle emerging from Washington where presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs got himself into hot water with the White House press corps-- again -- by speaking the truth.

And much as when he said Democrats are in danger of losing the House, then men and women of the politicotariat couldn't handle the truth when he took a few swipes at the "professional left."

Yeah, we mean y0u Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow and your print colleagues who are paid to generate controversy and disagreement. That you are more civil and humane than your counterparts on the right is a good things, but you are no different that Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck in how you make your living.

And while there is some truth in the words of fellow pro-leftie Robert Kuttner that the critiques are out of "tough love," the motive doesn't change the fact it amounts to piling on when the other side is looking to rip Obama from limb to limb.

As my friend Dan Kennedy tweeted the other day, did anyone really think Obama was the second coming of Dennis Kucinich?

The health care reform law may not be perfect but it is LAW, something we have worked for over decades.

The economy is still in critical condition, in part because of the depth of the problems inherited and in part because of the half measures required by the outright hostility exhibited by congressional Republicans who put Obama's failure ahead of the public good -- aided and abetted by weak-kneed Democrats.

Ditto for financial regulation reform and the auto industry bailout.

After after putting to two solid women on the Supreme Court, the professional left is annoyed there won't be climate change legislation this year. Maybe because we still need to deal with the Bush tax cuts and Republicans who once declared "deficits don't matter."

Yes the Afghanistan surge is looking more and more like a recipe for disaster, but on the whole very impressive accomplishments for 20 months in the face of irrational opposition from the right.

So a word to my friends on the professional left: back off. There's a time for tough love and this isn't it, not when the other side is looking to carve you up and have you for lunch.

Let's undo that circular firing squad.

I'm heading off for some much-needed R&R. Play nice while I'm away and please come back again.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

The 10 percent solution

I really need to understand Charlie Baker's math -- why is he only responsible for 10 percent of Big Dig financing? Why not 7.65 percent. Or 56.23 percent?

As yet another neglected bridge crumbles, Baker, Deval Patrick and Tim Cahill sent fingers flying in a flurry of charges and counter charges that provided enough air to affect global warming. But amidst all the usual rhetoric was this curious comment by Baker about the Big Dig:
“I have taken responsibility for the 10 percent of the financing plan that I worked with the Legislature and the federal government and others to put together,’’ he said. “But the Big Dig was a 25-year project, bipartisan in nature, and there were lots and lots of people who owned a piece of that project, and I’ve taken full responsibility for the part I owned.’’
For a man campaigning on his leadership skills and a pledge to take responsibility for the "mess" he is seeking to inherit, it's a really curious declaration of independence from the mess he left behind.

Not to mention his math is as baffling as the grant anticipation notes and other fiscal gimmicks he helped to craft to push the financial problem -- not to mention the maintenance of roads and bridges now crumbling before our eyes -- off into the future.

And that future is now, part of the very same mess he is trying to pin on Patrick.

So Charlie, what percentage of this problem is your doing?

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The name not spoken

I wonder what Jim Kerasiotes is thinking right about now as the pathetic mug shot of Matt Amorello becomes yet another reminder of the failings of the Big Dig.

The blustering Kerasiotes was at the helm of the project for the bulk of the period when bad decisions were made, leading to the not-on-time, over-budget, poorly constructed project that literally collapsed on Melina Del Valle in 2006, crushing her to death.

Amorello, well cataloged as over his head, was simply the guy who had the misfortune to be holding the keys to the office when the roof came down after more than a decade of bad decisions, many made by Kerasiotes. Amorello was convenient scapegoat for the fourth consecutive Republican governor to preside over the project -- a Republican with much greater ambitions than the Corner Office.

As far as we know, Kerasiotes didn't complain about the Globe's 2006 headline "The real builder of the Big Dig." And while he denied responsibility for the engineering and safety decisions, the Globe notes:
He considered himself the project's chief taskmaster, responsible for demanding on-time and on-budget construction from the project's private management consortium, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff. And he defended his tough focus on cost and schedule as the only to way ensure that the project would succeed when many doubted it could ever be built.
And we all know how that turned out.

The fall of Amorello could turn out to be very bad medicine indeed for another Big Dig-era manager who has also tried to distance himself from the role he played in the financing of the project.

The Globe recently documented the facts of Charlie Baker's involvement in creating the financial underpinnings of the never-on-time, never-on-budget project, puncturing the myth he was trying to peddle.
“There were a lot of other people involved in it, all the way through,’’ he said. “And I was looking to build consensus with all those other people who ultimately had to sign off on whatever we were doing."
The words sound vaguely familiar to those of Kerasiotes.
"Those kinds of issues were never brought up to my level," Kerasiotes said. "The only time you ever had technical review was on a matter of making a change: We're going to eliminate a ramp, that sort of thing."
The Bg Dig buck always stopped somewhere else. And apparently that somewhere was Amorello and some dark streets in Haverhill over the weekend.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Alien invaders

As this year offering real proof of climate change simmers on, I've come to the realization the the mainstream media has missed the boat on the real illegal alien problem facing this nation -- invaders from outer space who have taken over the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

I mean what else but moon men or body snatchers can be to blame when once rational Republicans like Lindsay Graham and John McCain embrace the concept of "fixing" the 14th Amendment in response to tripe like this aimed at Graham:
A Greenville County Republican committee voted last week to bar the two-term senator from future meetings and events, censuring him “for his cooperation and support of President Obama and the Democratic Party’s liberal agenda.”
People who resolutely believe that Barack Obama is an alien of a different sort hold sway among a frighteningly large plurality of Republicans in a recent Gallup Poll.

Rewarding those with such a skewed worldview seems to be an odd choice, but the failure of the mainstream media to push back -- hard -- against the combination of drivel and venom is only aiding and abetting Obama Derangement Syndrome and pushing our elected officials even farther off the right-handed cliff.

Heck, it can even affect those of us on the left who think maybe some of George Bush's ideas weren't all that crazy. For example, former Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon.
“The 14th Amendment is a great legacy of the Republican party. It is a shame and an embarrassment that the GOP now wants to amend it for starkly political reasons,” McKinnon told POLITICO. “Initially Republicans rallied around the amendment to welcome more citizens to this country. Now it is being used to drive people away."
Just what was in those rocks the astronauts brought back when they didn't go to the moon?

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Monday, August 09, 2010

Some other Constitutional changes

Here's a suggestion for "conservative" Republicans who think changing the 14th Amendment is a legitimate idea to deny citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants.

From there, we can strip the 4th Amendment of protections against illegal searches and seizures in your home or the 5th Amendment protections against self-incrimination. And while we're at it, maybe we can eliminate the words in the 1st Amendment that prevents Congress from establishing a national religion.

There's nothing conservative about any of these proposed changes to the Constitution, each one as plausible as the tinkering with the 14th being bandied about about party "leaders." Pandering to the undirected rage they have ginned up isn't leadership. It's a shameless and shameful hunt for votes in the Arpege model of promising them anything.

So in the "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" spirit, let me offer my own change: Let's tidy up the 2nd Amendment so it's clear that only "well regulated militias" have the right to keep and bear arms.

Changing the Constitution is too serious a business to be the focus of idle Sunday morning yak show blather.

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

First they came...

What's with the conservative disdain for parts of the Constitution they tell us they so fervently believe in?

The New York Times today focuses on an apparent new view of the 1st Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion. A few sections back, Matt Bai reflects on the GOP's apparent retreat from portions of the 14th Amendment.

Perhaps it's just the expansion of sources peddling the sort of hard-right wackiness that's been out there for decades. But when one of those sources is a cable news channel that specializes in talking points over events, it's a frightening turn of events.

And perhaps it's an appropriate time to recall the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller about the inactivity of German intellectual following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.
"THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up."
And on a personal aside, it's ironic to note this is my 2,001st post, perhaps an appropriate time to reflect on what has happened to American ideals since that sunny day in New York almost nine years ago.

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

When bat meets broom

The Globe's Beth Daley told an important story yesterday in relating how bats in the Northeast are at risk extinction because of white-nose syndrome. But alas, Daley missed another source of peril for the winged creatures who eat their weight in insects.

The common house broom.

One of those critters had the misfortune of finding its way into our home after midnight -- you know the time that Bela Lugosi emerged from the coffin and turned into a blood-sucking, um, bat.

Awakened from a deep sleep, I reached for the broom that has done battle several times before in the man versus bat contest that is supposed to be rare in urban climes.

I recalled the words of health officials who say you really should capture the creatures live so they can test it for rabies, And then I did what any normal human in that situation would do when confronted with the sight of a flying creature in the kitchen.

I swung. Hard. Again and again. Eventually bat met broom. The ordeal proved too much for both bat and broom, which snapped. Literally.

As the victor, I scooped up the limp bat and send it out the window I had left screen up in the hope it would avail itself of an exit on its own terms.

Almost as ignoble a departure as that which awaits the broom at the next trash pickup. But there is a future for a seemingly forgotten staple of housekeeping

Try doing combat like that with a Swiffer.

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Just when you thought it was safe...

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls. Hide your children and definitely hide your wallets. They may be coming back.

Like a vampire in need of a silver stake, there are rumors afoot that the casino bill, not to mention the 186th Great and General Court, is not as dead as we once thought.

The reason for the speculation centers around the potential $655 million in federal aid that could be coming soon to the Bay State now that Scott Brown has lost his effort to block it. And therein lies the potential for political mischief among the tiny band of GOP Republicans.

Lawmakers are slated to meet in informal session for the rest of the year, dealing only with non-controversial issues. That's because just one objection can block action during informals.

Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, who is still drawing his legislative salary while running as Charlie Baker's No. 2, is thinking that disbursement of any additional federal aid should be a controversial issue.

He believes the federal stimulus cash should be put away into the Rainy Day Fund, even though terms of the grant will be that it should be spent now, you know as a stimulus.

That GOP plan is apparently prompting speculation a formal session will be needed to vote on an appropriation Patrick and the Legislature most outlined during the budget debate. And if lawmakers opt to come back to vote that, is there anything else they could do?

When last we left Deval, Bobby and Terry they were all busy dodging fingers over the failure of Speaker Robert DeLeo's all-in on racinos gambit. Deval Patrick called the Speaker's bluff and sent the bill back to lawmakers as a casinos-only measure.

Senate President Therese Murray was last seen declaring she did not have the votes to override a Patrick veto and her members had no interest in a special session.

Well what better GOP plan to sow pre-election chaos than to tear the scab off that Democratic wound?

There is a slight downside in that the debate would flash a new light on the Tisei's running mate's lack of viable alternative. Baker says he's for one casino and one racino and would push forward on that. Only problem is Baker's plan totally ignores the reality that he must deal with legislators to win approval and his idea is a non-starter.

Still, it seems like sound political mischief to force Democratic lawmakers to spend dollars they aren't allowed to save and to renew their internecine warfare over slots.

Now if only Republicans governed as well as they play politics.

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Righting a civil wrong

Now conservatives have another reason to repeal the 14th Amendment.

Thanks to a good, solid decision on the part of federal Judge Vaughan R. Walker, the Party of No will be able to play politics with the absurd concept that voters actually have the right to meddle into the private lives of people.

By tossing out California's Proposition 8 -- where voters, backed by out-of-state, religious money, used a referendum to strip gay citizens of the right to marry -- Walker added a few more arrows to the GOP's Hate Quiver.

The most immediate reaction will come in the confirmation vote of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Walker's ruling, when tied with that of Judge Joseph L. Tauro in Massachusetts -- firmly sets into motion the process that will take the gay marriage question to the Supreme Court.

And with all the innuendo about Kagan's own sexual identity, it's a given the GOP will make an issue of the ruling, even if they do not have the votes to block her elevation to the court.

While Walker's decision is the correct one, as with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's 2004 Goodrich ruling, the political timing could not have been better for the hate movement.

The irrationality level among conservatives is at a fever pitch. A full 41 percent of Republicans responding to a recent poll believe Barack Obama was not born in the United States. No word in this poll about the percentage who think he is the spawn of Satan.

In recent weeks, the wing nuts have come upon a new idea, this one targeted at the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. Repeal the 14th Amendment. You know, the equal protection clause of the Constitution that was made necessary after a Civil War where Southerners thought it was OK to enslave people.

Even John McCain, once the lone voice of rationality on the GOP on immigration, found himself on the fence about the Constitution he was sworn to preserve, protect and defend.

Count of the Limbaugh-Beck axis to add the Walker ruling into the mix of reasons for repeal. After all, the party opposed to judicial activism sees no problem with activism in promoting their own causes.

It's going to get really ugly.

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Fixin' a hole

Apparently Charlie Baker can't handle the truth, even when it is only referred to obliquely.

The years of neglect to Massachusetts' other roads and bridges -- the ones not part of the Big Dig -- have been coming home to roost in a Big Way the last two days as the bottom falls out of I-93 in Medford.

Deval Patrick danced around the obvious in explaining why the project to fix the 50-year-old roadway was on a priority list of accelerated projects:
“We have all these structurally deficient bridges and this extraordinary backlog of deferred maintenance because of the way we financed the Big Dig and how it starved infrastructure all across the Commonwealth. “We’re trying to catch up, and we’re making good progress.’’
But the Baker camp, which has been trying to claim he was at the heart of all important Weld-Cellucci administration decisions has also been trying to pretend the Big Dig fiasco didn't happen during the Welducci years.
“When is Deval Patrick going to take responsibility for anything?’’ said Amy Goodrich, a Baker spokeswoman. “The next thing you know, he’s going to be blaming Charlie Baker for raising taxes eight times during the last four years."
Yep. Patrick and the Legislature have been forced to raise taxes and slash spending to make up for the excesses in spending and tax cutting during the Welducci and Bush eras. When is Charlie Baker going to take responsibility for anything?

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Putting Massachusetts first

In the end, Scott Brown chose multinational corporations over Massachusetts school teachers.

As he has before in favoring regulating hedge funds over consumers and corporations over the long-term unemployed, Brown voted against ending a debate in the Senate that will now clear the way for Massachusetts to receive $655 million in federal aid for Medicaid and education.

The Man of the People was upset the bill will save thousands of Massachusetts jobs raises money by taxing some multinational corporations:
“We can pay for that by not increasing taxes in the middle of a two-year recession.’’
Apparently by laying off 2,400 teachers.

The vote is at one with his rejection of $19 billion in taxes on banks and hedge funds -- tied to the level of risk they take -- to pay for a law that will attempt to put an end to the excesses of the financial sector that triggered the recession at the end of the Bush administration.

And it is of a piece with his joining forces with the Republican minority that believes the long-term unemployed are using benefits to buy drugs.

Much has been made of the fact Brown drives a pick-up truck while John Kerry berths a $7 million yacht in Rhode Island. But when it comes to really understanding what is happening to the average working man and woman, Kerry clearly has a better view than Brown, who is a captive to the banks and a party whose philosophy is to put those men and women last.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Fantasy Land

You would think House Speaker Robert DeLeo had lost on his bet to bring a theme park to Winthrop after all the time he is spending in Fantasy Land.

DeLeo's revisionist history tour continued yesterday with public appearances and chats with the Globe and Herald, insisting yet again that he had been the one to compromise on casino and slots legislation and Deval Patrick was he one playing politics.

I don't want to repeat myself, so I'll just refer you here.

The quick summary? When you have the interests of four businesses uppermost in your mind and they are all taken care of, it doesn't look like you compromised. It looks like you greased the wheels for your friends in what amounts to a no-bid contract.

Let's move along. There's nothing to see here anymore.

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The Big Shamrock?

Start from the basic fact -- he shares the local loathing of Kobe Bryant. Maybe even serves as the club president. And averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds is hardly anything to sneeze at, particularly while Kendrick Perkins recovers from knee surgery.

But it is definitely strange to contemplate the presence of Shaquille O'Neal in Green. The Diesel, the Big Aristotle, as the Biggest Leprechaun? Is there that much green fabric available?

We learned to cheer for Rasheed Wallace. Why not Shaq?

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The spotlight shifts

An anonymous senior House leader said it best in describing the detritus left by Speaker Robert DeLeo's high-stakes gamble on slots:
"It's a lose-lose situation."
After going all or nothing on slots at two of the state's four race tracks (the other two joining forces for a casino), DeLeo finds himself left holding an empty bag after Deval Patrick called his bluff and sent lawmakers back a bill that includes only casinos.

Patrick, who seemed to waver a bit throughout the process, found his voice when he was placed in the driver's seat by the Legislature's slow-motion process. Repeating his contention that the "compromise" was nothing more than a "no-bid contract" to track owners, he declared:
“We do this over and over again in the Commonwealth: We yield to the short-term interests of a few powerful people, and we set aside the long-term, best economic and social interests of the Commonwealth.’’
And expect to see that quote again in a campaign commercial near you.

Even staunch casino supporters -- and Patrick loathers -- acknowledge DeLeo may have gone too far. In the words of Tom Menino:
“You need to call the Legislature back into session. It’s too important.”
That's because both DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray have closed the door on taking up the amended bill that would allow three casinos. Murray is saying no because she doesn't have the votes to override. DeLeo is nursing a political hangover:
“This decision has the same practical effect as a veto.’’ The governor, said a statement from DeLeo, “is killing major legislation over 1,000 slot machines. With today’s amendment, he has backed away from even that gesture of working together.’’
That, to put it mildly, is a pile of something left behind at race tracks.

The "compromise" that emerged from the conference committee looked far more like the House version than the Senate, particularly since the upper chamber's bill had no racinos. And DeLeo held up action on important Senate priorities to apply the pressure to get his way.

Working together?

Patrick, who offered one competitively bid racino in exchange for action on all his priorities -- which he did not get -- showed leadership here, despite the inevitable carping from political foes who were forced to stand idly by on the sidelines.

DeLeo, on the other hand, put the interests of his district and his personal loyalties ahead of the needs of his members and the entire Commonwealth.

Hardly the mark of a leader.

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Let the finger-pointing begin

The Great and General Court has headed out of town and the political recriminations and the analyses have begun. But looking beyond casinos, what's the outlook for Deval Patrick and Democratic legislators?

A decent number of accomplishments on which to run actually, plus a campaign theme for Patrick that clearly puts him in the position of saying he can get results while standing up for what he believes.

It's no surprise that Tim Cahill and Charlie Baker immediately came out with statements ripping Patrick for the legislative stand-off (although it is surprising the Globe could not get a Cahill statement).

Nor is the political analysis of the risks and rewards of the Patrick strategy much different from what has appeared here or here.

But Patrick has a much broader record on which to run, provided he brings his A-game to the campaign. And the centerpiece of that record is the love-hate relationship with lawmakers, an ability to get things done while holding the line of excesses of a legislative body that had almost as many indictments and scandals as significant accomplishments.

For starters, there are the victories for ethics, pension and transportation reform last year to go with at criminal records reform, an economic development package and a limited health care cost control measure this year (subscription required).

And by standing his ground and saying no to casinos after lawmakers failed to deliver the full package of bills he sought, Patrick also gains.

Running against the Legislature has clearly been an arrow in Patrick's quiver ever since Sal DiMasi quashed casinos (and any of jobs Robert DeLeo has been touting) in the first two years of the term. Look for DiMasi and his indictment to be a theme of the campaign in some shape or form.

Toss in the names Dianne Wilkerson, Jim Marzilli and Anthony Galluccio and lawmakers are going to have a hard time on their own in a climate when voters are sick of the status quo.

Not that the campaign will be a cakewalk for Patrick, who carries significant liabilities into the contest, starting with the fact he held the keys to the Corner Office when the Great recession hit.

So expect to hear a lot about how the Massachusetts economy has grown twice as fast as the nation's as we dig out of the Republican-inspired collapse.

But the biggest wild card is the one never spoken out loud: how Baker, despite a year on the campaign trail and all the political wind at his back, has failed to capitalize.

Unless or until he does, Patrick holds the cards. Just like he does with the Legislature.

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Sunday, August 01, 2010

DeLeo rolls snake eyes

House Speaker Robert DeLeo went all in on a bet to get a casino and a slots parlor in his district -- and lost by a single vote in the Senate. Or by a single word (subscription required) in the legislation authorizing three casinos and two racinos.

DeLeo may not just be tripped up by the fact the Senate failed to muster a two-thirds majority to override any action by Deval Patrick. The Statehouse News Service is reporting that under language in the conference committee report, Patrick could use a regulatory board he will appoint to control the issuance of slots licenses.
The compromise sent to his desk shortly before the midnight end of formal sessions says the regulatory commission created in the measure "may issue not more than 2 category 2 licenses," which permit racinos. If the language had said "shall," rather than "may," the commission would have been required to issue two licenses.
As a source told the News Service:
"Essentially, the governor can just sign the bill and not worry because he can just do the one license, because he controls the commission," a legislative source said after midnight Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity. "He can do one if he wants. He can do zero."
In essence, DeLeo may be done in by a drafting error.

It would be an amazing end to a stormy day and stormy session in Beacon Hill where DeLeo and Patrick went hammer and tong over gambling legislation that the governor first proposed in 2008, only to see it shot down in the House of predecessor Speaker Sal DiMasi.

But while DiMasi opposed the move into gambling, DeLeo saw it as a full employment measure for his district, which includes Suffolk Downs and the Wonderland dog track. DeLeo made it personal and won big majorities in the House.

Patrick (and Senate President Therese Murray) had drawn the lines at racinos -- and Patrick continued to balk at the conference report that did not include language he had wanted calling for competitive bidding on one slots license.

Now he may not have to worry at all, thanks to language that no one picked up until after the circus closed its gate.

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