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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

While the cat's away...

Anyone who needs reminding that a Massachusetts governor holds far less power than they think should take a look at Beacon Hill this week.

Under the cloak of informal sessions, where one person can gum up the works, Republican treasurer candidate Karyn Polito (with an assist from colleague George Peterson) has been holding hostage a $400 million measure aimed to make sure some important state services continue. The cash comes from the federal stimulus money that Scott Brown earlier tried to derail, no doubt a factor in Polito's effort to carve out a campaign issue.

But lest we think it's only Republican lawmakers who are trying to slow down or shut down state government, retiring House Dean David Flynn is looking to use the spending bill to revive the nearly dead casino bill.

Governors may come and go. The Legislature lives forever. Now where is that silver stake?

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Shameless pandering

Tim Cahill is getting desperate, pulling one of the lamest tricks in the political bag by grandstanding on the news of the day and trying to blame Deval Patrick for the Mattapan murders.
“He’s not been committed to public safety, it’s not been one of his values, and now we have bad repercussions,” Cahill said.
Cahill tries to blame Patrick for not hiring enough cops and favoring public defenders over prosecutors. Then he offers the inevitable weasel words:
“It may not have prevented this crime, but it will make it much harder to apprehend and convict this person.”
Not with half the Boston Police Department looking for him or her.

With sagging polls numbers and a rising animus to Charlie Baker, Cahill remains a force for mischief. But using a tragedy to make mischief is even lower than politics as usual, something Cahill says he doesn't practice.

Yeah, right.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stealth campaign

While the gubernatorial candidates slog through a series of debates that have become a sort of dull noise, a real potential game changer is taking place largely out of the public's attention.

For those of us who believe the real power in state government lies with the Legislature, the challenge to Senate President Therese Murray could affect the Beacon Hill power balance far more an any change in the Corner Office.

Murray, never one to mince words, inflamed the right with a speech last spring -- and unearthed this week -- calling the Tea Party "nutcases."

While I personally have no great issue with Madame President's pronouncement, the right wing echo chamber is ramping up their outrage.

What makes the situation ripe for acknowledgment is that despite Murray's significant advantage on dollars, the Cape Cod-South Shore district she represents is part of what passes for Republican territory in Massachusetts. It went for Scott Brown in January.

Murray's challenger, former Sandwich Board of Selectman Chair Thomas Keyes, is making the obligatory suggestions that the no-nonsense Murray may be vulnerable. It's the same argument being offered by 4th Congressional District candidate Sean Bielat about Barney Frank -- and on the surface seems equally thin.

Murray shares Frank's biting wit. But despite the power she has by being the first female Senate President, I'm not ready to call this case closed given the volatile mood of the southeastern Massachusetts electorate and the heated contest for the vacant 10th Congressional District seat that overlaps Murray's district.

She is a lightning rod, principally through her visible power and links to many of the state's toughest calls. Her ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time is considerable given her comfort in her own skin.

It's a long shot. But any upset, no matter how unlikely, would rearrange the power structure on Beacon Hill far more than any change in the Corner Office. And that's why it's worth paying attention to what's happening in Cranberry Country.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Herald Square bookies

Who knew the Herald's interest in words ran longer than the 300 or so usually offered up on a story?

Yet the Herald offers front page, a pre-publication thumbs-down critique of Deval Patrick's upcoming autobiography while touting Scott Brown's own impending literary debut.

Imagine that!

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Keep the bums in

A month before an election many pundits expect to unleash a high level of anger, polls seem to be suggesting Massachusetts voters are annoyed but, in the words of one pollster "more supportive of the devil they know."

It's a fair conclusion to reach when a proposal to cut the sales tax by more than half is barely squeaking by with a 46-43 percent margin before an expected onslaught of advertising likely to hit the airwaves and begin to change voter perceptions about the real cost of sending a message to Beacon Hill.

Equally if not more curious is voter sentiment to leave the sales tax on alcohol in place, even though that would represent a much cheaper way to send that message, depriving state coffers of only $100 million.

The same certainly hold true with the previous day's Globe Poll showing Charlie Baker finally pulling into a statistical dead heat with Deval Patrick after a year on the campaign trail, with Tim Cahill's angry voter message fading away and an incumbent who has barely moved the needle on his own standing after four grueling years in office.

The physical embodiment of that sentiment may well have been on display in Taunton yesterday, at dueling rallies for the 4th Congressional District.

Estimates suggest 2,500 people crammed into Taunton High School for a Barney Frank rally that no doubt was replete with the security that goes with an appearance by former President Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, as the Herald notes, "on the other side of this hardscrabble city," Sean Bielat drew 250 supporters to an open air rally on Taunton Green, where he continued his signature issue that Clinton's appearance suggested Frank was running scared.

Frank has hardly made a secret of the fact he learned the Martha Coakley Lesson and doesn't intend to take this election for granted. The turnout variance would seem to suggest voters are annoyed, but not ready for tumultuous changes.

Of course, there's still five weeks to go, so stay tuned.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Poll dancing

The news on the front page of today's Boston Globe wasn't all that welcome to Deval Patrick and his supporters, with the latest Globe Poll showing Charlie Baker closing the gap to 35-34, a one percentage point dead heat.

But, wait a minute. Didn't a survey taken by Western New England College show Patrick up by a 39-33 percent margin? And didn't Baker's own internal poll show the race at 38-34?

What's more, the polls were all taken in roughly the same time period. So why are they different?

In one sense, they are not. All are roughly within a 4 percent margin of error, meaning each suggest a virtual dead heat.

The WNEC poll could be considered the outlier because of the six-point spread. But so can the Globe poll, given it's the only one to bring the race down to a point.

But because the headline in the region's largest newspaper reads 'Baker catches Patrick" you know which will get the lion's share of attention.

While all the polls spell bad news for Tim Cahill, hovering between 11 and 15 percent, there are still a number of factors that make this race extremely volatile. One of the fact Baker remains an unknown to 30 percent of the electorate five weeks out.

Another is that voters who may abandon Cahill are mixed whether to support Baker or Patrick, defying conventional wisdom.

Baker does benefit from Republican enthusiasm and the anti-incumbent mood. But Patrick still has a chance to do an effective job in telling his positive story.

The real lesson from this poll is that five weeks are a long time and things can change.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cut and run

Regular readers beware: I'm about to offer sympathy for Tim Cahill.

No, I'm not about to become Treasurer Tim's biggest booster. But I am about to suggest former advisers John Weaver and Adam Meldrum are two of the largest snake oil peddlers in politics today.

Both surely had to know Cahill was a long shot at best, even when he was riding ahead of Charlie Baker in the poll. But they took his money and crafted a strategy that brought a little bit of the Tea Party and Fox News to a candidate who, while on the right side of the ledger, was still a lifelong Democrat.

And now, with Nov. 2 approaching and Cahill holding steady, at best, the McCain "brain trust" opts to jump ship, declaring they don't want a Republican to lose.

If that was true, why get in here in the first place?

Nope, this is all about rats deserting a sinking ship.

And while I obviously don't intend to vote for Cahill, he has a better reason to stay in the race that Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein. Her interview with Brian Mooney cements the view from the debates to date: Stein is clueless about Massachusetts issues and presents the best chance to elect a Republican.

Maybe Weaver and Meldrum should sign on with Stein.

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Don't walk past any big holes in the ground

Don't expect Boston to show a lot of charity to Faith Hope Consolo.

The spokeswoman for Prudential Douglas Elliman in Manhattan probably didn't win many friends around her with her punditry on why Vornado Realty Trust is about to lose its opportunity to hold up city officials for more cash to fill that hole in the ground in Downtown Crossing formerly known as Filene's.
“Beantown is very conservative. It’s a different town. It’s a town of relationships," Consolo opined from The Big Apple. “And I don’t think [Vornado] took the time to do that."
And to cement the notion that she didn't take the time either, Consolo offered the following advice to Mayor-for-Life Tom Menino.
“You have to give your mayor a Xanax. He’s got a developer that knows how to do things right. Everyone is in a holding pattern. It’s just a sign of the times.’’
It seems there is only one appropriate response to the Muse of Manhattan:

Yankees Suck.

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The truthiness about Congress

Some members of Congress and the Washington press corps are a bit perturbed by Stephen Colbert's testimony about immigration yesterday before a House subcommittee.

These, after all, are the same people who didn't get it when the Comedy Central "commentator" did a rousing turn before the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006.

The truthiness hurts, but I think the real fear is that Colbert is crowding out the 535 jokers who already call Capitol Hill home.

Bada-boom.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Bubba agonisites

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Bubba? Well supposedly confident Massachusetts Republicans.

For the second day in a row, GOP candidates are trying to play psychological games with the news that Bill Clinton will be in Massachusetts stumping for candidates.

Today's Herald tells us GOP Treasurer candidate Karyn Polito sees Clinton's fund-raising appearance for Steve Grossman as a sign the former Democratic National Committee Chairman is "too compromised" to be treasurer.
“He was one of the select few invited to sleep over for large contributors. He’s steeped in Democrat politics.”
Grossman of course is having none of it, taking a shot at Polito, whose support of the Question 1 sales tax rollback is being questioned by those at the top of her ticket.
“The only person who has ever questioned my integrity was Karyn Polito. I’ll let the people and the voters make the decision which candidate has the judgement, experience and character to be the next treasurer.”
This follows the laughable suggestion by Sean Bielat that Clinton's decision to stump for Barney Frank is a sign of weakness from the House Financial Services Committee Chairman.

Frank responded in a way only he can:
“If I don’t campaign I’m arrogant. But if I campaign effectively it shows I’m desperate. Why is it a sign of desperation to bring in a popular figure to say something nice about me?’’ Frank said in an interview. “Unless his view is that I should only be bringing in ineffective campaigners. Maybe next time I should bring in Jimmy Carter.’’
Bielat has a ready-made issue if he were serious -- the Dodd-Frank Act that reined in the financial services industry. If Bielat was opposed to limits on Wall Street he should say so rather than hide behind a campaign that appears to rest on the premise of huffing and puffing.

Or maybe he's a bank backer like Scott Brown?

If the best these candidates have to offer in a year with significant issues is Bubba bashing, what does that say?

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fiscal insanity

Carla Howell is right about one thing. There is "government waste, pork, patronage, overspending, and sweetheart deals" in Massachusetts.

Now before my liberal readers have agita and my conservative readers welcome a wayward child to the flock, Howell is wrong that the solution is to chop the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent.

For starters, Howell is beyond hyperbole in declaring the evils amount to "tens of billions" in a state that spends about $30 billion. Unless you consider education and public safety to be pork or patronage.

True, layered within those structures are bad hires of Superintendent So and So's niece as a hall monitor. And there's always the Quinn Bill.

And that's the point. Excess spending is layered through municipal and state spending like fat marbling a fine cut of meat. The sales tax rollback is a guillotine chopping off the head. Wrong tool for the wrong job.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation is right to label their report on Question 3 "Heading Over a Cliff." After the significant cuts of the last few years -- and the restrictions on where cuts can be made -- Massachusetts would head straight over the edge.

Without an available rescue team.

The unspoken 800-pound gorilla of state spending -- and a place where attacks on waste could be targeted -- is an obscure section of the annual spending plan called the tax expenditure budget. It details where declining state personal, corporate excise and sales taxes are spent, or rather not received -- whether it's the sales tax clothing exemption or the motion picture tax credit.
Tax expenditures are provisions in the tax code, such as exclusions, deductions, credits, and deferrals, which are designed to encourage certain kinds of activities or to aid taxpayers in special circumstances. When such provisions are enacted into the tax code, they reduce the amount of tax revenues that may be collected. In this sense, the fiscal effects of a tax expenditure are just like those of a direct government expenditure. Some tax expenditures involve a permanent loss of revenue, and thus are comparable to a payment by the government; others cause a deferral of revenue to the future, and thus are comparable to an interest-free loan to the taxpayer.
Picking through those exemptions to eliminate provisions that have outlives their usefulness or unfairly benefit individuals or corporations would seem a saner approach than a guillotine.

And speaking of special interests, the same notion should apply to Question 1, which would eliminate the sales tax on alcohol In this case, the special interests are the package store owners who want to chop another $110 million out of state coffers so six-packs could cost a few pennies less.

Times are indeed tough, but I'd rather plunk down the extra change. Who knows, it may even make sobriety checkpoints unnecessary and save a few bucks that way.

Wishful thinking.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The perils of instant analysis

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to revise and extend my remarks.

Last night's gubernatorial debate produced a swirl of instant analysis, 140-character bits of wisdom that may not seem so wise in the light of day. Take this for example:
Baker does well but Patrick is a very calming presence. Charlie has improved, but enough?
I smiled as a saw several retweets and thought to myself what a successful evening of punditry.

But then I awake to headlines in the Globe and Herald and on WBZ-AM, focusing on some of the harsh words between Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill -- "Charlie, you're lying" -- and think "did they watch the same debate?"

And the answer is yes they did. Only they watched the whole thing without the distraction of providing of 140-character bon mots.

Because in the clear light, the Globe's Brian Mooney hit the nail on the head:
Before the largest audience of the campaign thus far, the two top challengers in the governor’s race had an opening last night to make up ground on incumbent Deval Patrick. Instead, Timothy P. Cahill and Charles D. Baker spent much of their debate time carving each other up on live television.
The Baker-Cahill exchanges were electric, rarely does one politician call another a liar, no matter how true it may be. It was clear that Baker, playing the role of of King Henry II to Cahill's Thomas Becket, was looking for someone to "rid me of this turbulent" politician and end Treasurer Tim's political life.

But unlike Becket, Cahill fought back, using the L-word and getting under Baker's collar.

As did Deval Patrick.

Knowing the analysis after the last debate was that Baker was a bit too hot a candidate, Patrick dug up the Big Dig again. Baker had some good retorts, particularly blaming former Patrick transportation Jim Aloisi for being the only person around the project for its lifetime.

But, as one tweep noted, most of the viewing audience probably had no clue what Baker was talking about.

In the end, all three gave as good as they got. I doubt there will be much movement in the polls -- bad news for Baker. My analysis wasn't bad -- but it wasn't even skin deep.

And I learned that I needed to think before I tweet.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Charlie, we hardly know ye

No real surprises in the Suffolk/Channel 7 poll -- except that here we are seven weeks from the gubernatorial election and, as the Herald not-so-delicately notes "Voters clueless about Charlie Baker."

What that means for Deval Patrick as he heads into tonight's installment of the Great Debate is that he needs to continue to push Baker's hot buttons while staying cool himself. If there ever was a time for one candidate to define the opposition, this is it.

At the same time, the Baker camp has to be wondering what it takes to make an impression on Massachusetts voters. Although the candidate has been on trail for more than a year, it appears that 50 percent of the electorate either don't know him or haven't made up their minds.

And that's after his own introductory ads as well as a small flood of negative ads from the Republican Governors Association and the state Republican Party aimed at the "Patrick/Cahill" team.

That's got to be ominous for a couple of reasons, as the Phoenix's David Bernstein notes, principally that Baker's refusal to lay out a serious plan showing how he can cut taxes and balance the budget at the same time is making reporters forget how much they dislike Patrick.

It's not the best possible world for the Republican if the media joins Patrick in defining Baker as a hard-to-pin down angry man. Let's never forget that George Bush "won" in 2000 because Al Gore sighed.

The other thing to take away from the newest survey is never get too up or down over a poll. Less than a week after Rasmussen left Tim Cahill for dead with 5 percent with leaners tossed in -- and Baker and Patrick in a virtual dead heat -- Suffolk finds Cahill breathing, if only slightly more deeply, at 14 percent and Patrick with a 7-point spread.

But Patrick shouldn't get too cocky either. About the only thing that has remained constant through the surveys is the governor running in the lows 40s while his opponents jockeyed for second . He has a lot of selling to do too.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Hacking at the hacks

Hey, what about the Governor's Council?

The Herald offers a quick start guide to potentially unnecessary government agencies today -- aiming at the environmental police, the lieutenant governor's office and county government. But what about the granddaddy of all worthless appendages -- the Governor's Council?

Here's their own web site description of that colonial-era group of eight who pull down annual salaries of $26,025 each:
The Council generally meets at noon on Wednesdays in its State House Chamber, next to the Governor's Office, to act on such issues as payments from the state treasury, criminal pardons and commutations, and approval of gubernatorial appointments; such as judges, notaries and justices of the peace.
Heavy lifting it is not. The agency is so obscure you search in vain for a line item in the state budget. Instead it is rolled into the Office of the Governor.

No so its members, from the legendary Patrick J. "Sonny" McDonough to Marilyn Devaney, who manage to get headlines for actions that give new meaning to the term "questionable."

As for county government, what a survivor. The Legislature, actually abolished it in 1997, but like the undead, it continues to thrive. Putting it and us out of its misery would be merciful -- although it would eliminate a spawning ground for candidates like former Norfolk County Treasurer Tim Cahill.

As for lieutenant governor, whose occupant "partner" Michael Dukakis once labeled a "second banana," the argument is a little less clear. After all, who would have filled the Corner Office after first Bill Weld, then his own-second banana, Paul Cellucci took hikes before the end of their terms?

Under the state Constitution, the job would have been inherited by Secretary of State William Francis "Prince of Darkness" Galvin.

Maybe we do need an elected second banana.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Civics lesson

My favorite elementary school class was civics. Reading political coverage today makes it clear it is no longer being taught.

The Globe's lengthy look at Deval Patrick's record -- not to mention Charlie Baker's "positive" television commercials -- seem to ignore the first lesson of civics, that of three co-equal branches of government. As I learned in civics, the executive proposes and the legislature disposes.

By the way, the same cluelessness about how government works, or doesn't, applies to those on the left who castigate Barack Obama for failing to bring sweeping change overnight.

Part of the problem is we are electing more than a chief executive officer. We are looking for a leader, someone whose vision moves us. Patrick certainly did that in 2006 and Obama followed suit two years later.

But chief executives have boards of directors to whom they must answer. In the case of elected executives, it's even more complicated because they have to get things approved by independently elected "directors," each with their own rules, power bases and sources of funding.

Obama's problem is a walk in the park compared to Patrick. He must deal with a Congress where one branch's rule are so skewed that it takes a three-fifths majority to get a "gesundheit." The minority is openly dedicated to his defeat. All it takes to improve Obama's poll numbers would be a willingness to drop the pretext of bipartisanship and lay out the facts.

Patrick faces a board run amok. The Great and General Court, dominated by one party, has held a firm grip over the commonwealth's business for decades. So strong is its power that we've seen Lord Acton's aphorism about "power corrupts" brought to life in the indictment of three successive House speakers.

It's worth recalling much of the power was accumulated through 16 years of power-sharing, where three of the four Republicans physically or mentally walked away before the end of their terms, leaving an even bigger vacuum for legislative leaders to fill.

It's this sort of context that the media need to fill in assessing the promises and realities of political leaders. And it has been just the sort of context that has been lacking in the 24-7 cable television cycle of polls and gaffes.

Tea Party critics like Sarah Palin like to lambaste the "lamestream media" who don't swallow their fantasies whole. But there's certainly a heavy dose of "lame" in the media's abdication of the basic journalism principle of putting actions in context.

Investigative journalism is a dying art. With resources drying up, television now favors consumer scams and hidden cameras. Local print has the Globe Spotlight Team, which has done some good work around the edges of government, particularly the probation department.

It would be fascinating to see Spotlight tackle the Massachusetts Legislature -- the people, the money and the intersections of both. There's probably a Pulitzer Prize there -- and a chance for the public to understand that a lot goes between campaign promise and reality.

And it would provide a benchmark against which to gauge Baker's promises if he should win in November.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Frankly speaking

Speaking of truthiness, does anyone seriously believe the escalating hype that Democrat-turned Sean Bielat poses a serious threat to Barney Frank's re-election?

Oh that's right -- the Herald.

The Little Picture Paper is at it this morning with a story and a Howie Carr screed about the meaning of Bill Clinton's decision to campaign for the 4th District congressman.

Let's be, um, frank. If Steve Gobie and a Boston Globe editorial calling for Frank to step down didn't sink Barney it's hard to envision what will. And since those dark days 20 years ago, Frank has put together a solid record not only in steering through financial reform legislation but in serving the needs of a broad constituents that ranges from the fishing industry of Fall River and New Bedford to the liberal "elites" of Brookline and Newton.

The fact that Frank is actually campaigning should surprise no one. Even Martha Coakley has learned the lesson she taught local politicians about taking things for granted. Frank even debated the "dining room table" before allowing Rachel Brown continue her quest to reach Mars.

Conservatives are feeling their oats after Tea Party candidates upended sitting Republicans in a number of states, including blue Delaware. But the jury is still out on whether the ultra-right will do more damage to the right or left come November.

The GOP may have Frank in their sights, but the reverse is true. I'd consider Frank a pretty safe bet to return to Congress, no matter the buzz for Bielat.

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Truthiness or consequences

If you ever needed proof of the mainstream media inability to understand the current political dialogue, you need look no farther than today's coverage of the "dueling" pre-Halloween rallies planned in Washington by Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

The Associated Press struggles to present its usual even-handed pronouncement on Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity’’ and Colbert's counter “March to Keep Fear Alive." (second item, after serio-humorous brief about Sarah Palin in Iowa).
Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show’’ is hosting a “million moderate march’’ in Washington — for people who think shouting is annoying — but faux political nemesis Stephen Colbert will be nearby to keep fear alive against those “dark, optimistic forces.
So far, so good. But can anyone take this seriously after the following paragraphs?

Colbert is encouraging “all freedom-loving patriots’’ to bring an overnight bag and five extra sets of underwear to challenge Stewart’s “dark, optimistic forces.’’ He said the nation cannot afford a rally to restore sanity in the middle of a recession.

He wrote the United States is built on three bedrock principles: freedom, liberty and fear.

“They want to replace our fear with reason,’’ he wrote. “But never forget ‘reason’ is just one letter away from ‘treason.’’’
In answer to my own question -- yes. The Boston Globe's editorial board for starters:
Stewart’s rally concept is to tell the maddened ranters of Right and Left to stop acting so crazy. Were they to follow his advice, they would be depriving him of the source material for his comedy. Colbert, on the other hand, is telling the [Glenn] Becks and Sarah Palins, facetiously, to please go on rousing rabble.
It's a frightening commentary on the state of the media today that three comedians are among the most influential cable commentators today -- followed closely by a not-even one-term former Alaska governor who is the living embodiment of "truthiness."

What's even more frightening is that Beck apparently believes his own shtick and has assembled a legion of followers who would join him over the cliff.

Personally, I'm betting Stewart's "million moderate march" and Colbert's "counter" rally far outdraws Beck's "Restoring Hope" Washington stand-up routine.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

What's wrong with peace, love and understanding?

Perhaps the group Americans for Peace and Tolerance should change its name.

Tolerance seems to be the furthest thing from their mind as they put Wellesley students in the middle of their fight against the Islamic Society of Boston Community Center. And shame on Wellesley school superintendent Bella Wong for caving to the criticism of what appears to be a voluntary learning experience.

After all, we can't have any lessons learned in schools.

But we can learn that politics and religion is a volatile mix in the United States in 2010.

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Those pesky facts

No wonder Charlie Baker is getting angry. The facts seem to be getting in the way of his campaign.

Seven consecutive months of job growth in Massachusetts is not a sign that the clouds have parted and peace and love will prevail. It certainly would be better if the jobless rate didn't drop because discouraged workers gave up looking.

But seven months of slow growth is still better than the national record and does a real number on Baker's contention that Deval Patrick has single-handedly botched the Massachusetts economy.

Obviously Baker's campaign mode is straight out of the national GOP playbook that looks to stoke up emotions without offering practical solutions.

Maybe he can ask the Herald's "Power Hitters" for some advice.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tea (Party) leaf reading

Barney Frank trounced a dining room table. Martha Coakley gets a primary pass despite widespread dismay over her Senate run. Three gubernatorial candidates and zero primary. Is it any wonder voter turnout was lackluster?

Yet the day after the day after we are regaled with stories in the Globe and Herald that tell us Democrats had an "enthusiasm gap" and Deval Patrick pulled more voters in Swampscott than former town selectman Charlie Baker. Never mind they were running against each other Tuesday.

The Globe offers the disclaimer, aka weasel words, "That is not necessarily a predictor of victory in November — there’s a seven-week campaign to be run" then regales you in numbers.
and urges you to read on.

You wonder why newspaper readership is declining?

Of course the Globe immediately reports on the 10th District primary, where Republican Jeff Perry beat Joe Malone in a contest where 47,700 votes were cast between the two leading candidates. The story line calling this the GOP's best chance to capture a seat supposed drove the enthusiastic Republican turnout.

So why did the supposedly dull Democratic primary draw about 57,700 votes?

Voters are always more interested in the top of the ticket and a lack of primaries at that level was likely the only significant reason for the lackluster turnout. We are about to be bombarded with seven weeks of debates and commercials, charges and counter charges among Patrick, Baker and Tim Cahill.

While the thought is depressing, turnout probably won't be.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Moonbats on parade

Moonbats ruled the day on Tuesday. But not the ones that Herald columnist-GOP fund-raiser Howie Carr loves to mock.

With wins by Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Carl Paladino in New York and Massachusetts' own Jeff Perry in the 10th Congressional District and birther Bill Hudak in the 6th, the Tea Party was triumphant on Tuesday.

Whether or not they set the stage for victory or debacle in November is another question.

Meanwhile, the so-called loony left held its nose and picked incumbent Steve Lynch in the 9th District, rejecting the challenge of Mac D’Alessandro from the left.

In O'Donnell, Delaware Republicans passed up a sure thing in Rep. Mike Castle, a moderate who has been a prominent fixture in that state for decades. Paladino beat Rick Lazio, a perennial who lost to Hillary Clinton in 2000 and has been job-hunting. The Buffalo multi-million will face Andrew Cuomo for governor.

Here at home, all eyes will be on the 10th where Perry vanquished former Treasurer Joe Malone and will face outgoing Norfolk County District Attorney Bill Keating. It will be an interesting showdown between a prosecutor and a one-time cop.

A cop without an exemplary service record.

The national mood, according to the punditocracy, is that angry voters want change. Particularly angry conservatives who somehow feel Barack Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonial socialist who hijacked American values.

And they have nominated candidates for Senate like Rand Paul, who has issues with the Civil Rights Act. Sharron Angle, whose taken a stand in support for the rights of domestic violence abusers.

Meanwhile, O'Donnell was dogged by reports — many of them generated by members of her own party — that she had trouble with personal finances and had fudged her educational history. She also equated looking at porn with cheating on a spouse (better than beating them (I suppose).

Paladino called New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an observant Jew, the anti-Christ.

Perry's record as a Wareham cop is fair game as is Hudak's extremism.

Tell me again -- who are the moonbats?

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Scott Brown Watch: Deficits

Well at least Scott Brown isn't going to stay on the fence and keep us in suspense: the federal deficit isn't as important to him as tax cuts for millionaires.

One day after House Minority Leader John Boehner showed weakness by suggesting he would vote for a tax cut package that excluded those families earning more than $250,000, Brown and the Senate minority rose to the defense of their friends on Wall Street and Easy Street and insisted they were all in for the richest 5 percent who have already received more than their fair share.

A spokeswoman for Brown said yesterday that the Massachusetts senator remains opposed to any measure that does not include tax cuts for those the president wants to leave out: individuals earning more than $200,000 per year and families with income totaling more than $250,000.

“Tax increases will kill jobs and hurt the chances for an economic recovery,’’ Gail Gitcho said.

Brown, who already rose to the defense of Wall Street by keeping new taxes on banks out of the financial reform law, knows where his friends really are.

Keep these positions in mind when he rails about the size of the federal deficit, a deficit that was created from the Clinton surplus through the votes of a Republican Congress to cut taxes by almost $2.5 trillion over the last decade.

Tax cuts that did not benefit the majority of us -- only Brown's Wall Street friends.

Listen to Barack Obama:
“We could get that done this week,’’ he said. “But we’re still in this wrestling match with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell about the last 2 to 3 percent, where, on average, we’d be giving them $100,000 for people making a million dollars or more — which in and of itself would be OK, except to do it, we’d have to borrow $700 billion over the course of 10 years. And we just can’t afford it.’’
And then ask Brown a question: Which side of your mouth are the words coming from Scott?

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Boehner of our existence

Is John Boehner about to be excommunicated from the Republican Party?

The lobbyists' best friend signaled he would be willing, gasp, to compromise with the Obama administration and agree to higher taxes on his pals on Wall Street if that's what it takes to extend the Bush tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or less.

Boehner's "concession" would mean an additional $700 billion for the Treasury, about the cost of the $787 billion stimulus program that Republicans now label as the biggest reason for the nation's whopping deficit.

Funny how Tea Party types railing about the "socialist" Obama never mention how their friends in the Republican Party created most of the mess by turning a surplus into a yawning chasm as a result of almost $2.5 trillion in tax cuts (PDF), with 52.5 percent of the benefits going to the richest 5 percent of taxpayers in the course of the decade now ending.

In contrast, health care reform will cost approximately $1 trillion in the coming decade, with benefits aimed largely at the other 95 percent.

Nonetheless, Boehner's apparent willingness to compromise is likely to have repercussions in the diehard crowd who put Republican political success ahead of the national interest. And what will it do to his own campaign coffers as his soon-to-be-"impoverished" friends are forced to cut back?

Stay tuned.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dear Globe, wish you were here

My oh my, what could possibly cause both the Boston Globe and New York Times to have "production problems" at the same time?

Problems that don't seem to affect the ability to deliver the papers to newsstands and street corners, but not the people who pay in advance --and with a premium -- for the "privilege" of home delivery.

At least the Times offers to call you back when they leave you stuck on hold for 10 minutes.

FAIL.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Don't ask, don't tell Terry Jones

Perhaps Terry Jones will now shift his attention to burning the Constitution.

The Summer of Hate promises to end with a bonfire, not a whimper following a pastor with an undersized flock and an oversized media contingent trying to stoke up a level of hatred not seen around here since Sept. 11, 2001.

The days leading up to that solemn anniversary have certainly been strange, with the Florida pastor holding the international stage hostage over his plan to burn the Koran. Jones first resisted mass entreaties -- from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus to name three -- as he pursued his small-minded stunt.

He finally relented, maybe, after allegedly brokering a deal to move the other symbol of Right Wing Hate, the Islamic community center several blocks from the former World Trade Center site, known universally and incorrectly as the Ground Zero mosque.

Seem the not-so-good reverend doesn't understand the difference between someone agreeing to talk to him and someone agreeing to take action.

All the while this pathetic farce has played out on television screens, aided and abetted by a media contingent larger than the 60-member church congregation.

But the prayers have been answered for those who revel in right wing hate and feared the future when Jones' 15 minutes end.

A federal judge in California has struck down the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy as a violation of the First and Fifth Amendments. The ruling was made after the close of business of the East Coast media cycle so the Hate Speech crowd hasn't really had a chance to react yet.

One fervent request when they do: please don't ask Terry Jones what he thinks. I've had enough of his hate-filled screeds. Heck, he might even burn the Constitution in protest.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

"What state aid?"

Deval Patrick is trying to dance on the head of a pin in trying to take the glow off Charlie Baker's turnaround of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. And vanquished foe Tom Reilly is helping to shove him off.

Patrick would not find himself in hot water this morning if he had uttered the words "Wall Street bailout" instead of "state aid" in Tuesday night's televised debate. OK, maybe tepid water.

Harvard Pilgrim apparently received an $80.9 million tax-free bond through the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority -- a quasi-public agency that, ironically, Patrick abolished this year and merged into MassDevelopment.

The authority then created a nonprofit entity to buy Harvard Pilgrim's Kenmore Square property and lease it back.

All of that was on top of state receivership under then-Attorney General Reilly.

That prompted this retort from Reilly, the receiver who supervised the turnaround.
“Charlie Baker never asked for a dime of state money, and there was no state aid as part of the turnaround.’’
The Patrick camp attempted a semantic revision yesterday that would have been far more effective had the words come out of the candidate's mouth the night before:
“Charlie Baker figured out how to get a government supported bailout before even the guys on Wall Street figured out how to get their bailout from the federal government.’’
But as Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Mike Widmer notes, words count:
" ...Yes, there was a state role, but not state aid. And that is, I think, an important distinction.’’
Who would have thought Patrick would be the one to have his mouth betray him in a debate?

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Who won? Who watched?

Even though the barbecue grills remain in the backyards and the kids are only now putting together their book bags and heading off to school, the powers-that-be are telling us it's time to think about November.

Despite pronouncements in the Globe and Herald that Deval Patrick and Charlie Baker sucked up all the oxygen, I'm not sure much has changed after last night's official kick-off to the gubernatorial campaign (except of course that Jill Stein has used up her 15 minutes of fame).

Baker entered last night's debate down six points according to the most recent Statehouse News poll. Despite 13 months on the campaign trail and a million or so bucks dropped by the Republican Governors Association and the state Republican Party, Baker remains a cipher to 62 percent of Bay State voters.

It will be interesting to see if that changes at all after last night, when he maintained the obvious line of attack on Patrick while offering a standard GOP platform of tax cuts and balanced budget -- without concrete examples of what he will cut to accomplish that.

Patrick entered the night with the albatross of a tough incumbency and three people ready to pull it tighter around his neck. He didn't do anything significant to loosen it -- nor did he botch up anything to increase the percentage of people ready to run him out of town.

Cahill offered the same round of platitudes that has him stuck firmly in third, more of a thorn in Baker's side than Patrick's.

And can the dynamic change if no one watches? The most important number from that debate will be the ratings. The 7 p.m. start one day after Labor Day and one day after the Red Sox kept hope (temporarily) alive was not an ideal opportunity for Baker's introduction.

My guess? The Sox won the time period. And Daisuke Matsuzaka would lose to any of the candidates, including Stein.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Labor Day dance

Massachusetts AFL-CIO boss Robert Haynes is a committed advocate for his rank-and-file and knows how to hit the high notes in speeches. But the ability of labor to deliver massive numbers of votes for Democratic candidates is a now but myth from a bygone era.

And that was the reality that Deval Patrick was addressing when he stood before the annual Labor Day breakfast and delivered a declaration of independence from Haynes' veiled and not-so-veiled threats that labor would sit on its hands between now and November.
“I am proud to be a Democrat and proud to be pro-labor. But I am not the governor of the Democrats. I am not the governor of labor.’’
Union leaders are in a snit principally because Patrick has stymied the casino bill, that ode to House Speaker Robert DeLeo's overreach. Police union members have also picketed Patrick angry over the loss of cushy overtime guarding some of the state's highway construction sites.

Patrick has a clearer picture of labor clout in 2010 than Haynes. Rank and file have been ignoring leadership and abandoning Democrats for at least 40 years. Remember Nixon's hardhats? Reagan Democrats?

It's likely many union households will cast their lot with Charlie Baker based on his siren song of of tax cuts and balanced budget. Those 30-second spots don't talk about the program and job cuts that will be needed to achieve that goal and struggling families aren't going to be thinking it through.

A fair number of union households will also back Tim Cahill with the Fox News platform he has adopted.

The reality of American politics today is that while labor leaders may espouse the progressive agenda, their members don't -- and they also don't blindly follow those leaders.

What labor brings is bodies -- people to work the phones and knock on doors and that is the essence of what Haynes and other union leaders are threatening to withhold. It's not a loss to be underestimated.

But Patrick showed in 2006 that he could harness his own ground forces -- and whether that is still true in 2010 is a far more significant unanswered question than the impact of a labor endorsement.

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Thin Skin Baker

What the heck is Charlie Baker talking about?

The beneficiary of endless Republican Governors Association ads excoriating Deval Patrick and Tim Cahill over their records is now whining to the Herald that Patrick has gone negative on him. The apparent evidence?
Baker’s ire was raised by a Patrick campaign mailing last week knocking the former Cellucci administration finance chief for the Big Dig “financing scheme” as well as “skyrocketing” premiums while a CEO at Harvard Pilgrim. The ad also targets independent Tim Cahill.
Better yet, Baker categorized these well-aired themes on Baker's record in the Cellucci administration and with Harvard Pilgrim as "personal."

Excuse me? When your own commercials tout your role at Harvard Pilgrim -- one of the state's largest health insurers -- the subject of that tenure is far from "personal."

Baker's tenure in state government is certainly a fair subject for scrutiny. So is his stewardship of a health insurer in a state that is looking at ways to rein in health care costs,

I tend to agree with UMass-Boston political science professor Paul Watanabe that Baker's whine is hardly clueless, but simply an attempt to inoculate himself when he shifts into his own advertising mode.

Sorry Charlie. If Patrick and Cahill are vulnerable to a review of their record, so are you. Man up and stop whining.

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Sunday, September 05, 2010

Which side are you on?

Little noted in the post-Earl holiday lull is a Boston Herald story yesterday that goes beyond "we report, you decide" straight to a partisan declaration.
Republican Charles D. Baker, surging in the latest poll, is bringing in the heavy artillery next month when maverick Arizona Sen. John McCain and underdog poster boy Sen. Scott Brown hit Boston to raise money for the GOP gubernatorial hopeful.
Surging in the latest poll?

Not even pollster Scott Rasmussen reached that conclusion in announcing that Baker has shaved yet another percentage point off Deval Patrick's lead,
The current figures are little changed from a month ago and the race remains rated as Leans Democrat in the Rasmussen Reports 2010 Gubernatorial Scoreboard.
At this pace, Baker past Patrick sometime around January.

The Herald's partisan spin no doubt has its roots in the declaration that when "leaners" are apportioned, the race tightens a bit more:
As a result, when leaners are included, the race at the top becomes even closer—Patrick 44% Baker 42%, and Cahill 8%. Leaners are those who initially indicate no preference for either of the candidates but answer a follow-up question and say they are leaning towards a particular candidate. The approach anticipates the fact that support for third party candidates typically declines as Election Day draws near. This is the first Election 2010 survey in Massachusetts to include leaners.
Seems to me the Herald is doing a lot of leaning on its own.

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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Their name is mud

Once again the meteorology community has egg on its face. They better hope it's not of the salmonella-tainted variety.

Since his birth off the coast of Africa a week or so ago the weather community was eager for Earl, anointing him as "The One," a swirl of clouds, rain and wind that was destined to wreak havoc up and down the East Coast. The Weather Channel raced crews and satellite trucks up the coast to record the impending doom.

Locally, breathless forecasters joined the fray. Their dire messages led to a rash of Labor Day weekend hotel and motel cancellations, rooms quickly filled by TV and electric company repair crews.

Heck, it even prompted the issuance of the first-ever summertime French Toast Alert.

For what? The four-day August Nor'easter generated a lot more rain and wind, and set the stage for air almost as hot as that which filled the airwaves.

It's no secret weather forecasting is a major source of local television loyalty -- and revenue generation. Most local outlets now employ more meteorologists than sportscasters. And when you can sell radio school closing announcements, it's easy to drone on with New Hampshire delayed openings even though most folks can find what they need on the web in far shorter time.

Sadly, Earl is the latest example of hype outweighing reality. Yes, there was a need for vigilance. No, there was no need for breathless coverage, hour-long specials with the same backdrop of high Nantucket waves and and walkers along not-so-windy Chatham beaches.

Earl was no innocent. He had a strong start before fading at the finish (sounds like many a Red Sox season). If he had lived up to the hype and if public safety officials had ignored the warnings, there would have been hell to pay.

But we need to find a middle ground -- and that effort needs to start with the television hype machine that is fast resembling the boy who cried wolf.

At least folks have plenty of eggs for weekend French Toast breakfasts.

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The more things change

This is probably not the message Daniel Breen meant to convey in writing about a dust-up involving a colonial-era visit to Boston by a Tunisian ambassador Sidi Soliman Mellimelli and his delegation. Their presence apparently created quite a stir:
When he and his retinue arrived in Boston, the local Republican committee invited the garishly-attired Tunisians to attend its Fourth of July celebration on Copp’s Hill. Mellimelli was quite a draw, and gawkers at the feast were so numerous that Eben Eager, the beleaguered tavern-keeper who was supposed to feed everyone, had to come up with twice the amount of plum puddings and meat pies as originally planned. But the Republican committee would not pay him the cost of the extra provisions.
Is this the first recorded instance of Republicans ginning up interest in something (like a war, for example) and then not paying for it?

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Friday, September 03, 2010

Somethin's happenin' here

If they ever wrote a fable about the 2010 Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign (heaven forbid!) it just might be called "The Tortoise and the Hare."

With Labor Day and the serious part of the race almost upon us, there is a clear change in tone and momentum, with the "tortoise," aka Deval Patrick, doing just fine while the "hare," aka Charlie Baker, is spinning his wheels like a cartoon character.

As for Tim Cahill, he's starting to more closely resemble the wolf in the Roadrunner cartoons, looking up as the Acme safe comes hurtling toward him.

Patrick's August fund-raising numbers are a clear turnaround from the campaign meme established when Baker came charging hard out of the gate last year with impressive fund-raising totals.

(Full disclosure: You won't find a check from Outraged Liberal in the Patrick campaign coffers but that doesn't mean I have not made a donation. And that should come as a surprise to absolutely no one who reads this blog.)

Despite the Baker campaign's in-your face response, the facts are pretty clear: the challenger out raised and outspent the challenger for a year, blowing the cash for now-departed staff and ideas that have failed to light a fire. One year later, the Republican State Committee is running pre-Labor Day ads still trying to introduce the candidate.

Poll movement has been infinitesimal, garnered mainly from the negative ads launched by the Republican Governors Association.

Patrick, on the other hand, has climbed out of his grave, aided by strong public performances in reassuring the public after the Times Square bomb incident and the water main break. He's off to another good start in dealing with Hurricane Earl -- declaring a state of emergency while simultaneously trying to tamp down TV hype.

Things could obviously go south during or after the storm. And the debate season begins in earnest next week, even though it is Patrick who is the skilled debater and Baker who is the plodder.

So in fairness, we could be seeing a shift to a Rocky meme, where the amiable, slow-footed lunk takes out the challenger.

I wouldn't bet on it. And the September fund-raising dollars will tell us how many people will.

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Taxing accounting

Who knew political campaigns were a source of tax revenue? Apparently not a growing list of candidates.

The Globe tells us two more Democrats
-- Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and Auditor hopeful Guy Glodis -- have been snagged for failure to pay state taxes on investment interest generated when campaigns park contributions in bank CDs. And we discovered that Martha Coakley's AG campaign also had some issues too.

Yesterday, erstwhile Democrat Tim Cahill apologized for his lapse and ponied up $24,000.

It should be extremely embarrassing for any and all candidates to have employees who don't know the rules. But there may be a little extra embarrassment for Glodis, running for an office that will monitor the state's books, to continue to insist he's right -- at least as far as federal taxes are concerned.

I can only imagine it won't be long before someone calls for a tax break for these poor beleaguered souls.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Tim for Tax Cheat

As if it weren't hot enough already, things just got torrid for Tim Cahill. And I'm not talking about the Globe basically calling his new commercial lacking in fact.

Nope, the man who has kept the state's books for the past eight years -- and is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility -- has been shown to be a tax cheat when it comes to running his campaign.

But a selective cheat it appears. The Cahill committee has been paying its federal taxes, but somehow seemed to miss the fact it also needed to shell out state taxes.

Did it somehow think he was running in New Hampshire?

Campaign manager Adam Meldrum was quick to take the heat and say the committee has filed amended returns and made a "good faith" payment.

But faith is something that should be in short supply among voters, particularly since Treasurer Tim has been running on a platform of promising to bring fiscal reform to a "mismanaged" state government.

Hope he can do a better job with our tax dollars than he has with his campaign's cash.

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