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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, January 31, 2011

Running out of places to put the cliches

The TV meteorologists are in full ratings mode today, with forecasts of one to two more feet of snow being offered for midweek. Naturally there's conjecture of where we're going to put it.

But to be honest, I'm worried about a different impending shortage: what happens when we run out fresh cliches?

The Globe has already committed to burying Shaq, a twist on what was a funny measurement when they tried it on Robert Parish a long time ago. The Big Frosty has been a good sport since he came to town, so we can give them a pass on this one.

But what are we going to do with all those live reports where earnest reporters stuck out in the elements struggle to come up with new ways to describe the onslaught of white? Yard sticks are becoming useless. Sidewalks and paths remain snow- and ice-covered days after a storm so kicking the freshly fallen white stuff is less dramatic (and a lot more dangerous for footing).

And how many more times can we learn about the packing consistency of the precipitation?

It seems forecasters and their anchor and reporter colleagues are about to run out of new things to say! Forget the salt and sand and plows, get a fresh stock of thesauruses. Snowmageddeon is upon us!

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Towering Dwarfs

When Mike Dukakis ran for president in 1988, he and his fellow Democrats were derided as Gary Hart and the Seven Dwarfs. That field is begging to look like giants compared to the 2012 GOP wannabes.

On Huckabee and Romney, Palin and Gingrich. On Barber, and Thune, and Daniels and T-Paw.

The first group carries name recognition -- and high negatives. The latter, adding DeMint, Santorum, Kane and Karger, produce head-scratching in most activist homes, let alone a public increasingly fed up with politics and the endless election cycle.

(For translation, see the Washington Post's Chris Cilliza's tout sheet and the Boston Phoenix's David Bernstein's critique).

There's another major reason the traditional 2011 presidential start-up is a little slower than quadrennial's past: the Republican Party still finds itself at war with itself, facing a Tea Party movement that is showing increasing sophistication, not only at in-fighting, but also at the grassroots.

There is a GOP civil war brewing among the religious right that captured the heart and soul of the party nearly three decades ago and the front-burner boil of the Tea Party. The re-emergence of social issues such as abortion and gay marriage as key congressional themes is not going to sit well with Tea Partiers upset over excessive government spending (except for THEIR Social Security and Medicare).

And as that famous Republican, Abraham Lincoln once declared: "A House divided against itself cannot stand."

Same as it ever was.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hero sandwich?

With a thin lead in the polls over his potential GOP 2012 presidential rivals, Mitt Romney dropped by for lunch with a Republican legislative delegation that is only now beginning to put on some weight about a 2004 Romney-led debacle.

Romney was holding a puny excuse for a sandwich as he dodged reporters outside Boston's Union Club. Myth was also typically less forthcoming about his intentions in meeting with the state's elected GOP lawmakers.
“I’m not doing any campaigning, thanks.”
He's certainly not doing any eating. And his interest in promoting Massachusetts and the issues it faces certainly hasn't been a prime topic on his agenda since he backed away from Romney Care and spent his last years as governor bashing the state he was still drawing a paycheck from.

I guess we'll just have to take him at his word. We know how good that is when it comes to the issues.

(Boston Herald photo)

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Con job

All you need to know about the likelihood Massachusetts is going to close two prisons can be found in the fact the Herald's top Statehouse story is the lifting of the Twitter ban.

Despite the earnest protestations of administration officials, it's clear the budget proposal falls into the symbolic category. Why else would there be a lack of details about what could be one of the more explosive, ripe-for-exploitation topics a government can propose?

And indeed, why the virtual silence in the Tea Party Newsletter or on the airwaves?

Word to the wise: either offer up some solid details or drop what has become a perhaps too-frequently used artificial cudgel. There are indeed serious questions raised by the continued strangulation of state services, but crying wolf doesn't help make the case.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

"To the pain"

Budgets are as much political documents as spending outlines. They offer a vision -- and the most recent vision from Deval Patrick brings mind to a monologue from Westley to Prince Humperdinck in "The Princess Bride":
"To the pain means that the first thing you lose will be your feet below the ankles. Then your hands at the wrists, next your nose ... The next thing you lose will be your left eye, followed by your right ... Your ears you keep, and I'll tell you why: so that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish; every babe that weeps at your approach; every is what 'to the pain' means; it means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery, forever."
While Patrick isn't proposing anything quite so brutal, the $30.5 billion budget unveiled yesterday gets to the heart of the reality facing Massachusetts and other states after four years of rising demand and sliding revenues: the moment of truth has arrived and truly painful choices await.

The Patrick plan will undergo total revision first by the House and then the Senate and no one seriously believes two state prisons will close or that streets and highways will go unplowed. But the images are strong ones, stark reminders of where the state spends money and how it is in increasingly short supply.

The other sharply painful reminder in the Patrick plan is the blunt statement that 39 percent of state spending goes to health care in some shape or form. Two-fifths of the budget!

Health care reform is not killing jobs as Republicans in Congress allege. Those jobs are being killed by the choking costs of providing benefits to workers, trying to heal those who can't afford the insurance and the high cost of receiving care. We've already delayed too long in trying to deal with those issues.

Patrick is letting us know there are painful choices ahead. Dealing with those choices will test our values. Here's hoping that in the end no one will be delivering on Westley's unnerving vision.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Divide and conquer

Barack Obama's State of the Union offered a tempered vision for temperamental times. But a more important division was on display in Congress.

While lawmakers and commentators made a big deal out of “date night” and bipartisan seating, there was clear division in the room – and not just between Democrats and Republicans.

Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann anointed herself spokeswoman of the Tea Party and offered her own rebuttal separate and apart from the party-designated spokesman, Paul Ryan.

While the new House Budget Committee Chairman scaled back his own rhetoric about rearranging Social Security and Medicare, he called for deep but unspecified cuts to a budget that has been swollen in large measure because of GOP decisions during the years they controlled the Congress and White House.

That tame rhetoric was obviously not good enough for Bachmann, the self-anointed leader of the Tea Party Express, who spent six minutes in trying to pin all the ills on Obama.

It worked in 2010, but it may not work again. Particularly as the split between the hard tight and the harder right plays out.

You don't have to look very far to see what happens when parties can't agree amongst themselves. For all that Obama accomplished in his first two years -- historic health care legislation and a small start to reining in the excesses of Wall Street -- the divide among Democrats who felt he went too far or not far enough eventually blew up efforts to solidify and extend those gains.

Politics trumped policy, as it always does in a media-fueled society where cable television gins up controversy 24-7-365.

Republicans clearly face those same fissures, but with an added problem -- Americans are all for cutting spending -- when it's someone else's ox being gored. And the depth of the cuts being proposed by Republicans -- along with the sacred cows being spared -- means eventually everyone's ox is in jeopardy.

The reality of having to do something other than saying no -- and offering cheap symbols like health care "repeal" -- is eventually going to hit home.

Liberals and progressives may sneer at Obama "moving to the center," despite the historic changes he brought about. But that center is where most Americans are and it's closer to the left than the right edge from which Republicans are operating.

It's a reasonable bet Americans will reject the hard right Republican proposals once they realize what it will mean to them. Of course, that's as long as liberals and progressives don't get caught up in their own partisan squabbles.

Ryan can't soft pedal his Social Security and Medicare ideas forever. And liberals and progressives should make sure Americans know that's what Republican health care reform and spending cuts are all about.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Good jobs at good wages -- GOP edition

Anyone check the milk cartons for Massachusetts GOP Chairman Jennifer Nassour? She seems to be missing from a dust-up about an unemployed politician getting a cushy public job.

Oh right. That's because Jeff Perry, the failed candidate in the 10th Congressional District, is a Republican, as is the Barnstable County sheriff who appointed Perry to the $110,000 a year job -- that has been vacant for two years.

Perry, if you have been living on Pluto or in Pittsfield, was embroiled in controversy during the campaign over allegations involving his time as a Wareham police sergeant. Once the great hope to win the seat vacated by William Delahunt, he was job-searching instead.

Thanks to Barnstable County Sheriff James M. Cummings, the search is over. He names Perry to the top assistant's job. How "top" that assistant really is may be subject to some dispute since the position had not been filled in two years.

But any way, back to Nassour, who was quite vocal when Deval Patrick named former Sen. Marian Walsh to a $175,000 job a the now-defunct Massachusetts Health Education and Finance Agency, a job that had been vacant more than a decade.
MassGOP Chairman Jennifer Nassour said, "The Massachusetts Republican Party stood up for the taxpayers by protesting the creation of a patronage job for a supporter of Governor Patrick, and we are pleased that Senator Walsh has done the right thing by refusing the appointment. This absurd process has taught us, once again, that we cannot rely on the Patrick Administration to seek real, meaningful reform on Beacon Hill. Unbelievably, Governor Patrick still contends HEFA set the proposed salary at $175,000, when emails from his own staff clearly show a Governor's Office determined to give Senator Walsh a $100,000 pay raise.

"Attention should now be turned to rooting out waste and inefficiency throughout government in order to relieve the tax burden on working families. Thousands of people lost their jobs last month, and I call on the Governor to work as hard at creating jobs for those people as he did at creating a job for a political ally," concluded Nassour.
Why the silence now Madam Chairwoman? Is it patronage when the scenario involves Democrats but simply good jobs at good wages when it involves a star-crossed GOP candidate who clearly still harbors electoral ambitions?

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Don't read their lips

What a difference a month makes. That's about how long it took for congressional Republican rhetoric to go from big spending to big saving -- all with the goal of trying to ignore the sorry history of what they did when they were in charge.

The ink is barely dry on the tax cut for those earning more than $250,000 annually -- a GOP-insisted move costing in the neighborhood of $700 billion -- and Republican leaders are now piously insisting they want to bring fiscal responsibility to Washington.

This from a party, when it was in charge, that took a surplus and ran up a massive deficit by putting two wars on a credit card and approving their own (unfunded) health care bill in the form of Medicare Part D, a move fiscal hawks in their own party questioned as spendthrift.

So a word to the wise: don't read their lips.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

A quick way to save $208,000

Somewhere, Sonny McDonough is laughing.

The late South Boston pol who served as the poster child of all that is wrong with the archaic Governor's Council, probably enjoyed this week's confirmation hearing for Supreme Judicial Court nominee Fernande R.V. Duffly and the breakout performance of the newest councilor, Charles O. Cipollini.

Cipollini quizzed Duffly on her political views -- with F equating liberal -- and harangued her about the SJC's most famous, and clearly settled case, involving gay marriage. The Republican from Fall River thought he was having an, er, gay old time challenging Duffly on her thoughts about polygamy and communal living (bet Mitt Romney wasn't laughing.)

Your state tax dollars at work.

In a time of fiscal austerity, a colonial-era appendage with little to no reason for existence is taking up more than $208,000 in councilor salaries, not to mention the cost of administration and staff.

It's a rather step price to be paying for political theater.

The office is spelled out in the Massachusetts Constitution so eliminating it won't be easy. But perhaps we should revert to colonial-era pay?

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hammer and Machete

Now we know what spending political capital looks like.

Deval Patrick is spending a large chunk of the currency he gained in November by telling municipal unions that they either quickly come prepared to talk about paying more for the own health care -- or have the deed done for them.

And oh yeah, we're still going to cut the heck out of local aid for anything other than schools and roads. Which means you may be lucky to have a job, let along health insurance.

The grim message delivered at the Massachusetts Municipal Association's annual convention probably went over as well as the snow that ate a huge chunk of local revenue to remove.

But the move was necessary, given what Patrick rightly categorized as the "veto" local unions have held over the previously voluntarily effort to shift workers into the Group Insurance Commission programs that mean higher premiums and co-pays for employees and lower overall costs for cities and towns.

Savings those communities can they funnel back into police, fire and trash and snow removal services facing new and steep cuts.

There is about to be a lot of unpleasant substances hitting the fan as the slow recovery inches along and the Republican House in Washington rules that stimulus is bad. Municipal employees and the services they provide are ultimately always the target for savings, because that's where the vast majority of the taxes we pay for go.

But there are no choices left and union leaders are going to have to make the toughest one of all, something they have successfully avoided for years: are their members going to pay higher health care costs? Or are they going to have jobs?

We're all better off if the hard-working men and women continue to patrol the streets and pick up the trash. Let's hope their leaders do the right thing.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Myth-ical matchups

If our Man Myth Romney were a betting man you could say he's placing a high-stakes wager on the 2012 campaign.

Romney's current stance of avoiding Tea Party activists gearing up for 2012 is a general election strategy that is betting not only the Tea Party but also the New Hampshire primary will not be important factors in the race for the White House.

I wouldn't want to have to cover those bets.

Skipping the Tea Party is a logical move for the man from Michigan-Massachusetts-Utah-New Hampshire-California. His shape-shifting on social positions -- not to mention his gymnastic contortions away from "Romneycare" -- are probably even more off-putting to the Tea Party true believers than the mainstream and the left.

If the Tea Party still has strength a year from now, he is dead to them. So why waste the effort. Ditto with New Hampshire, which has lost its lock grip on generating nominees, not to mention there would be a serious discount for the Mittster winning one of his home states.

But Romney is apparently as unimpressed as others are with the gathering GOP field and its collection of regional candidates like Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels and Chris "I'm Going to Disney World" Christie. Those with the highest visibility -- Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin -- have the highest negatives and would be burnt toast in a general election.

That leaves Romney, with the name recognition and the cash, the Republican with the most realistic shot of knocking off Barack Obama in the fall. In times past, when the GOP named the first runner-up the next nominee, Myth would have been golden.

So Romney is attempting to marshal the strength to avoid his favorite campaign pastime, pandering to the flavor of the month, and establish a campaign that would be seen as the only viable alternative by a hopelessly tied up and messy convention.

Risky business. But 2012 does not figure to be a traditional year in Republican presidential politics.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Now what?

John Boehner and his merry band of Tea Partiers have now fulfilled their symbolic campaign pledge to repeal "Obamacare." But we still have no clue what they have in mind to deal with the real world problems of cost and access to care.

The PR types niftily labeled the bill the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." Always better with hyperbole than action, we heard the same fallacious harangues about the law than over the last two years, albeit with GOP leaders showing some sensitivity to recent events in Tucson. Take, for example Rep. Joe "You Lie" Wilson:
“The takeover will cripple small businesses,’’ Wilson said in a steady voice. “The liberal health care takeover destroys jobs, limits freedoms, and expands big government.’’
Proof? Well, as best as we can determine the Republicans answer is telling the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office "you lie" when it came up with a report that said the reforms will lower the federal deficit while, at best the impact on jobs is "difficult to predict."

So now the party that brought you death panels in place of a rational discussion of end-of-life care, says it wants to toss the law on the scrap heap and start all over again. Like every recent Republican initiative, it is all for show.

We begin with the fact the measure has little likelihood to surface in the Senate and even if it that should happen, yesterday's House vote shows there is a huge distance to a two-thirds majority needed to override a guaranteed veto. And you know you can't get a two-thirds majority in the Senate for anything more significant than a hall pass.

In all the GOP sturm und drang I have yet to see a reasoned and reasonable alternative to the current system that truly is running up the deficit and killing jobs.

A real GOP solution would be a much better symbol of civility that reining in Joe Wilson. But I don't plan to hold my breath waiting for it. I'm probably not covered for the health problems that would cause.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Herald on the hunt

The pit bulls at the Herald have belatedly latched on to the Evergreen Solar debacle and don't plan on letting it go.

Heck, we've got foot-dragging, tut-tutting from investment analysts and editorials questioning the wisdom and sanity of state officials.

Nowhere do we find what I suggested last week was an important piece of context: the fact the state made the same bad business deals with Raytheon and Fidelity. I know I can't find clips from the Herald suggesting they took on those titans with intensity over deals made by the Weld and Cellucci administrations.

And there's certainly nothing like a thoughtful piece on the state's overall business tax incentive policy where companies get to keep their breaks even after they shed jobs.

What we need is a top-to-bottom review of policies that shift the tax burden from business to individuals. We don't need an artificial feeding frenzy where a paper gets into a snit because Deval Patrick doesn't have a pile of papers with him when accosted by a reporter.

Somehow I don't expect we'll be getting that from the folks at Herald Square. That's not the ox they're looking to gore.

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What's wrong here?

Deval Patrick has proposed an overhaul of the state pension system that appears to have the support of House and Senate leaders and maybe even the unions. Heck, even the Herald is bored.

Something's not right.

The proposal raises the minimum retirement age, has employees pay more for the own future benefit, outs in a penalty for early retirement and attempts to set the system on a sound foundation.

It would even require Sal DiMasi to pay back benefits when/if he is convicted of corruption charges. Coming on top of a law that closed some of the most egregious loopholes, what's not to like?

I guess we'll find out when an army of lobbyists present amendments to the bill that will exempt their clients from this important step. Here's hoping we'll find out who they are representing and why their clients are "special."

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Na, na, na, I'm not listening....

Behaving more like a spoiled child than a Mama Grizzly, quitter governor and failed vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin took to her safe Fox sandbox and defied the entire media and political world again.

Maybe we should follow the advice of conservative Times columnist Ross Douhat and send both Palin and the media into their respective corners for a time-out.

Like a petulant child who has never seen any discipline, Palin took to the Hannity show to stick her tongue out at the rest of the world who is questioning her overloaded and overheated rhetoric.
"I am not going to sit down, I'm not going to shut up."
Sounds like a defiant teenager to me.

Hannity gave Palin a stage to try and weasel out of her blood libel taunt and generally allowed Palin a Spin Zone to try and repair the damage she inflicted on herself, let alone the nation by her self-centered eight-minute Facebook video offered on what was supposed to be a day of healing last week in Arizona.

Speaking once again from the safety of new Fox News cocoon, Palin and Hannity also seemed to be defying the words of Fox boss Roger Ailes who recently told both "sides" to tone it down.

Maybe it's time for the rest of us to follow Douhat's advice, stick our hands over our collective ears and shout "I'm not listening" whenever the Mama Grizzly rears her head.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Shut up already

I'm hard pressed to remember a sports event -- professional or otherwise -- where so many words have been thrown around through bravado, carelessness or downright stupidity.

I can't recall where so much time has been spent analyzing a player's speech pattern to see if he is sending a subliminal message and where the alleged powers-that-be are talking about clamping down on trash talk even before a coin has been flipped.

But I can't resist a bit of my own to whoever emerges from the Jets-Patriots F-off in Foxboro. Beware of Aaron Rodgers.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

There's no need to fear..

How can Scott Brown be an underdog in the 2012 race for the Massachusetts Senate seat when he doesn't have an opponent and is sitting on piles of cash?

Yet our junior senator is making just that claim as he continues to straddle between right and hard right, now proclaiming his opposition to a federal ban on assault weapons or even the ammunition clips used to power the killing machines.

We've come to expect this lurching from Brown in the year he has been in the Senate, often flip-flopping so he can engage in political deal-making that favors banks and other financial institutions.

But what really leaps out of the page is the self-pity of the man who wore a barn coat and drove a truck to beat what had been considered one of the best Democratic "stars" in the corral. (She certainly thought so by the level of her campaigning).
“Is it any surprise I’m the underdog and the target?’’ he said. “Am I missing something? I’ve been taken for granted forever. I’m just going to keep battling.’’
With Deval Patrick and Victoria Kennedy having already taken themselves out of the race, Democrats are being forced to make goo-goo eyes at Joseph P. Kennedy III, a 30-year-old assistant district attorney who credentials include a political father and grand-father. Period.

Polls show Brown clearly the most popular politician in the state (an oxymoron if there ever was one) yet he felt the need to boast about he collected more votes in a two-way contest than Patrick, a non-challenger, picked up running in a four-person race.

We've had a lot of overheated rhetoric recently. But for a Republican candidate to "target" himself in the face of a reality that any Democrat will start a race as a prohibitive underdog really takes it over the top.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Steady pace to judgment

When the Herald doesn't nitpick, you know Deval Patrick did the right thing. More importantly, he did it the right way.

The decision to fire the Parole Board frankly was a no-brainer. They failed to follow procedures with deadly consequences when the voted to release three-time lifer Dominic Cinelli without even notifying prosecutors the guy was up for parole. As a result, Woburn patrolman John Maguire died.

But rather than cave in the face of public pressure -- including a blue line of police chiefs lined up to lambaste him -- Patrick ordered his public safety people to investigate. The two-week probe confirmed the sloppy practice and the need for a top-to-bottom change.

By acting on fact and not on politics, Patrick did something rare in public life today.

The Globe reports that decision was emotionally tough, because at heart Patrick is a compassionate man as his refusal to yield to the anti-immigrant bloc proves. And the decision has already kicked up dust on the left, where advocates fear no one will ever be released on parole again, as hyperbolic an overreaction as the one claiming all prisoners should be locked up forever.

This is one that should be played closer to the middle. Life in prison should mean just that, particularly if, like me, you don't believe in the death penalty. The board made a serious mess and needed to go.

But that doesn't mean a new board -- even with a tough ex-DA as its head -- won't continue to reflect the views and values of the man who appoints them. At heart, Patrick followed one of the better pieces of advice from the man lionized by the Right

Trust but verify.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Menino challenger emerges?

Not content to be remembered for his papal umbrella-holding, former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn is now wielding a shovel -- and laying it on thick thanks to increasingly bizarre news judgment at the Herald.

The gang at Wingo Square offers yet another Page One opinion piece this morning, with Flynn slip-sliding down memory lane about riding snow plows during his tenure as city chief executive PM (pre-Menino).

And in typical Herald fashion, the headline "We Did it Better" holds little in common with the story -- save for Flynn's unprovable boast that his complaint line folks yearned for scratch tickets during storms because they were so bored by the lack of business. (Now that would b a story!)

Granted snow coverage is as about as predictable as the weather (albeit more accurate). But the Herald bringing Flynn out of retirement to snag one more cheap headline, at the expense of Urban Mechanic Tom Menino, hobbling on crutches after another knee surgery, seems a bit too much like making news rather than reporting it.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Give it back Evergreen

Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Evergreen Solar. Of course, we shouldn't allow the door to open until the company accounts for the $58 million it took from Massachusetts taxpayers under false pretenses.

The Devens alternative energy company's decision to pick up and move to China, taking 800 jobs financed in part by you and me, is assuredly a black eye on the Patrick administration that bought their claims of good jobs at good wages.

But before partisans leap at Patrick's throat, they would be well-advised to recall the same gullibility shown by the Weld and Cellucci administrations in heeding the siren songs of Raytheon and Fidelity Investments, hardly crunchy granola firms easy to deride. It's easy to carp about liberals being anti-business, then pile on when an attempt to create jobs falls flat.

What we should be looking at is the corporate blackmail practiced by firms to get a piece of the public's cash -- and the standards imposed by governors and legislatures to see that the firms keep their promises.

Evergreen, like Raytheon and Fidelity before it, will likely claim with some degree of credibility, that they technically met their end of the bargains. But technically should not be good enough and taxpayers should have recourse when companies make promises with fingers crossed.

Oh, and the film tax credit? Fuhgedaboudit.

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Pouring gasoline on her fire

Who ya gonna believe, me or your own lyin' eyes? That's the crux of the argument being offered by Sarah Palin and conservatives upset at being caught with their hands in the heated rhetoric cookie jar.

Rather than admit talk like "don't retreat, reload" might have been a bit over the top in these politically charged times, the one-time Alaska governor follows her own advice (metaphorically) by accusing her accusers of a "blood libel."

Nothing politically charged with those words.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Do you believe in magic?

How the heck can forecasters decide that 13.1 inches of snow will fall in one place and 14.9 inches will fall nearby?

Inquiring minds want to know.


The definition of insanity

Albert Einstein once said insanity was doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. By that definition, our media culture has gone over the edge.

Here we are around 72 hours after Jared Loughner allegedly shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people and the political rhetoric continues to rise in a flurry of finger-pointing that finds conservatives in a mostly defensive crouch (save the truly incorrigible flame thrower Newt Gingrich).

Can't we wait for some facts before making our minds up? Apparently not in our 24-7 cable society where shouting passes for "news" and ratings depends on who shouts the loudest.

We don't yet know whether it was politics or demons (or little bit of both) that motivated the attempted assassination of Giffords that claimed six lives, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

But with the launch of the weekday, the airwaves were louder than ever, principally with the right insisting they haven't been responsible for the breakdown in civil discourse. And while yes, there have been some on the left who have opened their mouths, the cold, hard fact is talk radio and cable yak shows are predominately coming from the right -- and have always had a harder edge.

While both sides will continue to hammer away at each other, there is one other indisputable fact: we may be slowly inching our way to revisiting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.'s admonition that "free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."

That case, brought against Socialist Party Secretary Charles Schenck, was framed in a wartime setting and raised the standard of "clear and present danger." Let's just hope we are not approaching a time when we are that sort of danger to ourselves and our society.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Overheated rhetoric

We still don't know what demons led Jared Loughner to purchase a Glock 19 semiautomatic weapon and open fire on Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords and dozens of other innocent people.

We do know, however, that overheated rhetoric has dominated what passes for political discourse in the United States, whether it be from Fox News executives saying a rival broadcast network is run by Nazis, a failed Republican candidate suggesting "Second Amendment remedies" or a failed vice presidential candidate placing "surveyor marks" over candidates like Giffords singled out for defeat in 2010.

And there is also something wrong with the false equivalence suggesting the heat from the left in recent year is anything close to a match for the "Thunder on the Right."

Trying to name violent leftist movements, I'm hard pressed to get beyond the 1960s Weather Underground and some elements of the 1930s labor movement. We need to look no farther in our past than Timothy McVeigh to see a persistent vein of violence on the right.

When it comes to words, there's no shortage of right-wing firebrands from Father Coughlin to Joe McCarthy. What's new and most troubling about our current state of disunity is that the overheated rhetoric is coming from "leaders" like Roger Ailes, Sharron Angle and Sarah Palin. Again, I fail to find to find equivalent examples of fire-breathing on the left.

We will eventually learn what drove Loughner -- and it appears he has read tracts on both sides of the spectrum.

We do know that in today's America the left has no equivalent to the heated voices on the right -- and that the future of our democracy rests on turning down the flames before they consume us all.

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Friday, January 07, 2011

They can't handle the truth

We've certainly have become a cynical lot -- Deval Patrick tells the truth and the men and women of the Fourth Estate come apart so badly they need a good slap of Col. Nathan R. Jessep.

What has apparently unhinged both Brian McGrory and Yvonne Abraham is Patrick's declaration that he intends to travel more in his second term to promote Massachusetts and yes, the book he has coming out this year.

Honesty from a governor is indeed a rare commodity in recent state history. We need to look no further than the previous holder of the Corner Office keys, Willard Mitt Romney, who traveled the land for more than 200 days in his last year -- largely trashing Massachusetts.

Or we can set the wayback machine to 1988 and Mike Dukakis, running for president and getting trashed for being from Massachusetts.

So in a sense it's concerning that Patrick plans to take his story and our message on the road. Except of course it's not because these are different times and different people.

There's a reason that Massachusetts appears to be emerging from the recession faster than other states -- a job force concentrated in higher education, technology, and health sectors — professions that attract highly educated workers who are less likely to be unemployed. And which, unlike traditional manufacturing appear to be growing and adding jobs.

One big plus for the state we love to slam. But why not go out and tout it and attract more businesses? Isn't that what a governor is supposed to do?

And while we may have become jaded, Patrick's personal story remains a terrific one: a kid from the ghetto of Chicago who comes to Massachusetts during a time when it's major national image is that of busing and African-Americans attacked by flagpoles, and eventually rises to the top job in the state.

Think that's ancient history? The New York Times apparently believes Massachusetts has a racial problem -- devoting much space recently to outsider Shaquille O'Neal supposedly breaking down still solid barriers.

With all due respect to Shaq, what exactly is wrong with Patrick trying to bury that ancient shame once and for all?

Yes, we've burned a lot by governors who have headed off for sunnier or colder climes, pursuing personal dreams ahead of state business. But Patrick deserves the benefits of constitutional justice, which after all is an apparent cornerstone of the new Republican House.

And that means he's innocent until proven guilty.

So chill out guys. Why not write about another collective group who over promise and under perform: TV meteorologists.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Indicted Speakers on display

There were three rather large elephants in the House Chamber when House Speaker Robert DeLeo declared he would end patronage as part of his ambitious agenda for the 187th Great and General Court.

Tradition and continuity are big parts of the pomp and circumstance that surrounds any legislative body. So it was only natural that the four living ex-speakers would be there for the opening rites.

Unfortunately, the last three carry the adjective "indicted" in front of their names. And the outsized personalities of Charles Flaherty, Tom Finneran and Sal DiMasi were right there, laughing and backslapping and generally making a mockery of DeLeo's words.

DiMasi is still awaiting his day in court on federal corruption charges stemming form a contract with a software firm. Flaherty pleaded guilty to tax evasion and Finneran copped a plea to perjury.

But a larger line on Finneran's resume today is that of patron to John O'Brien, the now-resigned chief of the Probation Department, who did unto others what Finneran did for him -- find a job for anyone connected to a politician who could walk and talk, if not necessarily do the job.

Nor did it help ease their awkward presence when House Dean Rep. Angelo Scaccia, the now longest-serving representative, defiantly offered DeLeo this piece of advice:
“Protect your members,’’ Scaccia said. “Shield them, as much as possible, from the outside world. . . . This institution is being battered from all sides, within and without, and we have to follow that leader.’’
Battered, yes. But by an "outside world" that elected them to do the people's business, to do it honestly and ethically and follow their own moral compasses and not a leader.

There's a lot of work ahead for the General Court, starting with closing a $1.5 billion budget gap. Yesterday was the time for tradition and boyo backslapping. Let's hope the presence of the Indicted Speakers was part of that tradition and not the beginning of an effort by DeLeo to follow Scaccia's bad advice.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Deval on the record

If you looked hard enough, you can find Deval Patrick on your toaster this morning.

There was a testy" Patrick snapping at the Herald on Parole Board's fateful release of Dominic Cinelli. And a reflective one telling WBUR-FM that we need to study the system and its failing before leaping into action.

Patrick talked about more travel with the Globe, immediately raising images of his predecessors whose sense of wanderlust in their second and third terms became issues unto themselves.

If that wasn't enough, you had a grassroots Deval talking to the Salem News about the local state representative off to Iraq at the start of his term or talking about civic engagement (in his own uncut words) with Blue Mass Group.

And if you haven't had enough, check out the Boston Phoenix full-length video interview, complete with answers to readers questions.

With his inauguration for a second term tomorrow, Patrick officially becomes a lame duck, although he will try to put off the problems that go with that status for as long as he can. Making himself more visible is a way to do that.

First-term Deval truly had a testy relationship with the press, starting from the moment he lectured publishers and the press corps about news and cynicism shortly after his first election. The press had been expected to be his biggest liability for re-election until Charlie Baker's own failings achieved equal status.

It would be too much to read into Patrick having a round of Corner Office sit-downs with all comers right before a new swearing-in: that's standard operating procedure under the Golden Dome. But his apparently more relaxed tone (Herald excepted!) suggests he has learned a lesson or two from both the first term and the second campaign.

And it's a simple one: there are some seriously tough times ahead fiscally as the budget gap opens wider with the loss of federal stimulus dollars.

His hope for better relations with the Legislature are simply that -- and Speaker Robert DeLeo's quick pivot to problems in Patrick's Parole Board rather than Legislature's Probation playpen sends the message loud and clear.

But it's not just realpolitik and cynicism that's driving Patrick. It's safe to say he learned a few lessons from a campaign that began with everyone writing him off as politically dead that getting his own message out -- in as many forums as he can -- is a good thing.

And we, his constituents, are the ultimate beneficiaries. Unless he starts going national on us.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Check it out

Ever wonder why the "service economy" continues to falter? It's not just the slow recovery that's keeping people out of stores. It's also the do-it-yourself nature of those "services."

The Globe highlights the latest "convenience" (aka job killer): self-checkout registers that are growing like weeds in many supermarkets and pharmacies.

I'll admit this is a generational rant. I'm not a fan of paying for my coffee with a debit card and prefer to use cash or checks for many purchases rather than risk the wrath of Citibank and its usurious interest rates.

But I really draw the line at not only having to roam ever-changing supermarket aisles in search of what I want buried behind "manager's specials" only to have to scan and bag my loot then figure out how to get the cranky machine to accept my slightly wrinkled bills.

And I really rebel at the thought of a pharmacy that brings in scanners that require more human oversight than a checkout cashier and then claim it is for better "customer service."

But I suppose I am condemned to rage against the machines. I'm more likely to fade away than this new "service" and I suspect cash isn't all that far behind.

In the spirit of the season just past, all I can say is "Bah, humbug."

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Monday, January 03, 2011


Republicans were out in force on the Sunday yak shows, playing to their base and promising repeal of health care. Bring it on.

Opening the new legislative year with a repeal vote may seem like good politics to the Party of No, but the political environment has changed since November -- partly because of their election and also because of the productive lame duck session just ended.

And that's because while warriors on the left and right may prefer battle to results, the broader American public is sick of partisan warfare and likely see agreement on tax cuts, don't ask, don't tell, unemployment benefits and a safer world as preferable to talking points.

The GOP always campaigns better than it governs and that was on full display when the incoming chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee declared the GOP has the votes to make repeal reality.

Said Michigan's Fred Upton:
“If we pass this bill with a sizable vote, and I think that we will, it will put enormous pressure on the Senate to do perhaps the same thing."
Did you ask Harry Reid?

Since many of the Democrats who opposed health care reform were swept out in November, it's hard to imagine the repeal effort as much more than a straight party line vote in both branches. And Democrats still have a Senate majority. Not to mention the likelihood of achieving a two-thirds majority in both branches to override an Obama veto is pie-in-the-sky.

So Republicans will be launching the 112th Congress in full partisan war cry (Obama has the one of the most corrupt administrations in history?), putting aside the gains made by the American public when the rhetoric was toned down last month.

And by doing so, they will be ignoring the No. 1 issue on the minds of voters: jobs and the economy. We know how well that turned out for Democrats when voters thought they did the same thing.

Let's hear it for history repeating itself.

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Sunday, January 02, 2011

The kindest cut

The best thing Deval Patrick could do for incoming legislators is cut their salary -- by as much as possible. And woe unto any lawmaker who pulls an Andy Harris.

The newly elected Maryland Republican, you may not recall, brayed loud and long when he discovered his congressional health benefits would not kick in until Feb. 1.

An anesthesiologist elected on a platform that includes repealing the federal health care law for average Americans, Harris whined about his top-shelf perk:
“This is the only employer I’ve ever worked for where you don’t get coverage the first day you are employed."
Newly elected members of the Great and General Court would do well to stifle themselves from similar outbursts should Patrick take a razor to their (and his own) salary.

While the Globe offers a number of stories this morning on the prospects of an improving economy and jobs picture, the fact remains Massachusetts is only slightly ahead of the national curve and the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center notes there are "significant segments of our population with very high unemployment rates and very low long-term wage growth."

A large influx of new House and Senate members should keep the moaning to a minimum, Harris' example notwithstanding. So a word to the wise to incumbents with chips on their shoulders thanks to bad behavior of some of their recent former colleagues: shut up and take it like the rest of us.

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