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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, February 28, 2011

Kiss of death

Pundits generally agree that Mitt Romney may be the most formidable Republican jockeying for the 2012 presidential nomination. Apparently Barack Obama does too, which is why his team ordered a nationally televised hit.

The unusual thing abut the attack is it varied from the routine political modus operandi. Romney was killed with kindness, a blow delivered by Deval Patrick, his successor in the Massachusetts Corner Office -- and someone ticketed to play a key role in the re-election bid. Speaking on ABC's This Week, Patrick said of his predecessor:
“One of the best things he did was to be the coauthor of our health care reform, which has been a model for national health care reform."

Our Man Myth has been busy backpedaling from "RomneyCare," which his conservative opponents label the parent of "ObamaCare," the health care reform law they oppose as a matter of faith if not fact. Listen to Mike Huckabee, the "nice" 2012 contender, put words in Myth's mouth without worrying about the facts:
"We thought this might be a way to fix the crisis we had in health care. Our experiment did not turn out as we had hoped. It cost more, waiting times were higher, quality of care went down, people were greatly dissatisfied and it ended up having almost the polar opposite effect of what was intended."
Polar opposite? Come take a look Huck.

Enter Patrick, who has taken a much more confident tone since the star of his second term. A key piece of the new Deval has been sweeping out of the heads of many of the state's quasi-public agencies, some of whom were run by Romney appointees. He has also agreed to take on an advisory role to his fellow Chicagoan, having already walked the same path at the state level that Obama now treads.

Patrick continued the damning with faint praise later in the day, insisting there is no political scheme at play:
“It’s just the truth,’’ he said, and insisted that he was doing nothing more than paying Romney a deserved compliment. He signed our bill. That’s all I said, and I congratulated him for it. I told him so at the time, and I’ve said it publicly,’’ Patrick said. “It was a great thing. It showed that there was another choice than the usual two, which is the perfect solution or no solution.’’
Republican Party political tradition suggests the runner-up in the previous campaign gets the presidential nomination four year later. But the sharp rightward lurch within the GOP makes that proposition dicey for the Mittster, who as we all know has managed to take just about every stance possible on every issue.

The usual flip-flop has been more pronounced with health care reform, as Myth attempts to walk a fine line with taking credit for accomplishing something during his four years as "leader" of lefty Massachusetts without becoming the bete noire of the Tea Party.

Removing the one "adult" in the race, someone who is already suspect to the hard right true believers, is undoubtedly a foundation of the Obama reelection effort that Patrick discussed with top adviser David Axelrod a couple of weeks ago in Chicago.

Stay tuned. This is going to be fun.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Waiting for the other sneaker to drop

Well, the Celtics certainly solved the backup small forward problem. But for the moment, at least, there's a very big hole in the middle.

The trade the shipped Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson off to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic certainly has caused a lot of talk among those of us who bleed green. The major question is how to you fill a gaping hole in the middle left by Perk's departure?

The answer, I suspect will be coming today or tomorrow -- let's not forget there are now three other open roster spots thanks to the departure of Luke Harangody, Semih Erden and Marquis Daniels.

What had started as a log jam in the middle, made necessary by Perkins' Game Six injury last year and the need to really beef up at center, is now a twig jam. Jermaine O'Neal may literally be on his last leg and Shaquille O'Neal had better be rehabbing the Superman tattoo as well as his Achilles. A committee that may eventually include Leon Powe or Rasheed Wallace, to toss out two names, will only be a short-term solution.

To play devil's advocate, the Celtics made it to the top of the East this far basically without Perkins, whose expiring contract clearly must have been on Danny Ainge's mind. And since the Celtics like to feel they don't get enough respect this will certainly have pundits anointing the Heat as the future kings.

But let's look at the bright side. The Celtics have solved their short-term and long-term issues at small forward. In Jeff Green they have a 24-year-old good enough for them to draft in 2007 as trade bait for, ahem, Ray Allen.

Not only does Green spell both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett right now, he's a name that can be penciled in years down the road when 34 decides to hang them up.

Krstic? He certainly won't take up the space Perkins did, but if he can hit from the outside maybe he can unclog the middle just a little. I don't think he's much more than a long body right now.

Robinson? Shrek and Donkey was fun but a 5-9 dunker was not a priority and if Delonte West is truly on the straight and narrow, the minutes are now there for a guy who was one of the few spots of sunshine pre-KG and Ray.

And I can't wait to see what Danny has in store for us today.

So long Perk, it's been good to know you. Good luck, but not too much.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Good legal move, great politics

Barack Obama's decision to abandon the Executive Branch's legal support for the Defense of Marriage Act places the burden for supporting this unconstitutional law in the hands of those who pushed it through Congress.

If it comes at an inopportune time for Republicans embarked on a crusade to strangle the recovery by busting unions, abandoning the environment, forcing women to abandon control of their bodies and starving program they oppose well, all the better.

You know it's gotten under conservatives skins when Scott Brown takes time out from his busy book tour to issue a statement:
“We can’t have presidents deciding what laws are constitutional and what laws are not,’’ Brown said in a statement. “That is a function of the judicial branch, not the executive.’’
Well actually this president, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Chicago Law School, is in a pretty good place to make that judgment. Particularly when his own personal beliefs still don't mesh with what he is now proposing.

But Brown misses the point that it will still be the judiciary's decision -- if the legislature that pushed through the 1996 law still believes in it and wants to mount a defense.

GOP leaders, who play politics with every decision they make, are really fuming that Obama has played "gotcha." The timing for the Republican congressional leadership to announce their defense of the indefensible just happens to be the exact same time they are threatening to shut down government over what they describe as runaway spending.

Of course they never mention the reckless tax policy they espouse that turned the Clinton surplus into the Bush deficit. Or the two credit car wars they launched. No politics in those decisions.

There's a whiff in the air that presages more than the impending arrival of a desperately needed spring. The GOP's overreach in Wisconsin -- where Gov. Scott Walker's refusal to accept the union's agreement to pay more for health care and pensions is a major political power play -- is peeling the edges off an agenda that is far more activist than anything Democrats have ever offered.

And the public is none to happy with Walker, particularly as his lobbyist-fueled campaign account is reviewed.

The tide is also clearly turning on gay rights issues, as the acceptance of the recent repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy clearly shows.

Conservatives who have made major gains on divisive culture wars issues are now finding themselves on the defensive over one of them and are reacting like classic bullies who get a little taste of their own medicine.

They whine.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Which side are you on?

Scott Walker, you have a problem: you've lost the Mad Hatters of Herald Square.

Scan the news section of the Boston Herald web site and you won't find any aid and comfort for the union-busting Wisconsin governor. Knowing their readership demographics, the Tea Party Newsletter leaves the attacks to the op-ed pages while Peter Gelzinis glowingly quotes Mike Capuano and Steve Lynch on the importance of unions to American lives.
“There’s a difference,” Lynch told the crowd, “between compromise and surrender.”
Might as well move to Illinois yourself, Gov. Walker.

Tea Partiers scratching their heads about why our own Deval Patrick is a resource Barack Obama is looking to tap should look no farther than Patrick's surprise cameo at a Beacon Street rally where union backers outnumbered Tea Party types by an estimated 10-1, despite equal amounts of time to organize.
“I’m here to deliver one very simple message, which is we don’t need to attack public sector workers to make change for the people of the Commonwealth.’’
This is the same man who antagonized unionists by promoting civilian flaggers and is trying to generate similar savings from public employee health care and pension costs -- without trying to bust the unions. Listen to the grudging reality:
“The governor, at least, is someone we can sit down and negotiate with,’’ said Harris Gruman, an official with the state chapter of the Service Employees International Union.
Here's betting he makes headway on his latest push -- which he had already backed up with a little more threat than in the past.

The folly of Walker's stand became glaringly apparent in his own party when Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, heretofore a frequently rumored presidential primary candidate "caved to fleeing Democrats" and suggested Indiana Republican lawmakers drop their own union-busting efforts.

Losing Fox News may hurt Daniels' already slim presidential hopes (he was George W. Bush's budget director after all) but but his bow to reality is a clear sign the Koch-backed Tea Party agenda may have finally overreached.

And it's also a sign that Obama has a pretty savvy strategist aboard, even if those skills are unappreciated by people not named Charlie Baker or Tim Cahill.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Astroturf campaigning

The men pulling the strings on the Tea Party "uprising" in Wisconsin and across the nation are coming into clearer view -- and to no one's surprise they are right-handed.

The New York Times takes the closest look yet at the furtive Koch Brothers, funders of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Americans for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks, the "grassroots" organization run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey that has been said to be waging a "war against Obama."

At stake? Control of the political dialogue in the states and across the nation. If the secretive brothers succeed in crippling the labor movement, they succeed in crippling the strongest source of people power and money to stand up to their hard right agenda.

The Times story is a solid move away from the sleep-walking reporting to date, typified by an ABC News segment that equated Wisconsin teachers with a Republican Party activist, riding a "grassroots" funded bus to a rally the paled in size to the union effort.

But the mainstream media is still slow in reporting the fact that Wisconsin's labor leaders have already acknowledged a willingness to tighten their belts without abandoning collective bargaining -- and that the Koch-funded Walker is refusing to budget from his union-busting position.

The scenes being played out in Madison are as important to American democracy as those on the streets of Cairo or Tripoli. The Koch-backed Tea Party -- coupled with the fallout from the Supreme Court's Citizens United corporate speech case -- are threatening to overwhelm true voices with paid, phony "astroturf" organizations that claim to represent working men and women.

We need better reporting of those realities than that offered so far by most of the mainstream media.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Budgetary brinksmanship

If anyone thought things would change in Washington with a change in House "leadership," the political brinkmanship of the Republican brass should set those thoughts straight.

Note the timing: The House votes to approve $61 billion in spending cuts in the current fiscal year as a stick in upcoming negotiations on raising the debt ceiling. Then, after voting in the wee small hours of Saturday, then leave Washington for a week's vacation, handing Senate Democrats a calendar problem as well as a budgetary one.

Locally, the political gamesmanship is best represented by the fact that junior Sen. Scott Brown is now fully into his book tour as the clock ticks on the looming March 4 deadline to extend budget authorizations or face a government shutdown.

Republicans have long campaigned better than they have governed, and the tactics on display in Congress and in Wisconsin confirm that reality. But is the GOP overplaying its hand as they accused Barack Obama of doing with the passage of health care legislation?

The New York Times takes a good look at that question today. Only the Times and the rest of the mainstream media needs to take a look at how we got here (gee, did extending the Bush tax cuts increase the deficit?) and how the $61 billion package is a potpourri of Republican red meat issues that will have little long-term budgetary impact other than harming Democratic priorities.

And they should also be asking if this is so important why is Congress slinking out of town on book tours and vacations after only a few weeks on the job when they should be working to resolve a crisis of their own making.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Adult conversations

Tea Party-backed Republicans swept to victory at the state and federal level by promising to have "adult conversations" about taxes and spending -- all the while promising to focus on job creation. How are they doing so far?

House Republicans opted to chop $61 billion from the current fiscal year, not by focusing on defense, farm, oil and gas subsidies or other areas where out-of-control spending has benefited those with high-paying lobbyists.

Instead, the party of adults has taken an ax to its long-time ideological bogeymen -- Planned Parenthood, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Environmental Protection Agency. Chump change from a group promising champ efforts. Window dressing over substance.

But the biggest bogeyman assault is taking place in Wisconsin, where a Republican governor backed by the uber right wing lobby, Koch Industries, is following in the sainted Gipper's foot steps by attempting to bust unions.

The fact little noted by the media that have been flocking to Madison as if it were Tahrir Square, is that Gov. Scott Walker is only taking aim at unions that did not endorse his gubernatorial bid.

Adult behavior? Only if you are into pornography.

Regular readers know that I have taken issue with some union behavior -- particularly the Boston firefighters insisting on raises in exchange for drug-testing and the recalcitrance of other public employee unions in agreeing to help bring down municipal health and retirement costs.

A unilateral elimination of the right to collective bargaining is another matter entirely. Particularly when the motivation comes from deep-pocketed ideologues who are willing to condone petty backroom politicking like Walker's to achieve their ends.

It's been six weeks or so since the "adults" took over and I have yet to see anything that approaches a serious discussion about who we are, what we can afford -- and how to share the pain equally.

It would be nice if the media actually looked at the reality behind the rhetoric spewing from Washington and Madison.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Double standard?

The elected official criss-crosses the country, a Massachusetts success story raising funds for members of his party. A national book tour is on the drawing board with high profile network television interviews involving details of his personal life.

Is he shirking his job? If his name is Deval Patrick, the Boston Herald would like you to think so. If his name is Scott Brown, not so much.

Brown has been garnering the national press this week with advance promotion of his book, including the revelation he was sexually abused by a camp counselor at the age of 10. An interview on "60 Minutes" is coming up as the road show gets into high gear.

This follows a 2010 when Brown was the conservative darling, constantly on the road to raise cash for fellow Republicans and himself.

So with news that Deval Patrick is creating a federal political action committee to finance what is expected to be considerable travel on behalf of Barack Obama and Democrats in 2012, the Tea Party Newsletter trots out the usual Republican suspects to suggest Patrick is intent on abandoning Massachusetts.

OK, there are a few differences. Brown has a $174,000 part-time job in the United States Senate. Patrick gets $140,000 for a full-time job. And virtually all Massachusetts governors elected since 1986 have traveled extensively (or phoned it in) for parts of their terms.

But the Mad Hatters of Herald Square are apparently worried their campaign to ideologically cleanse Massachusetts would suffer a major hit if America is exposed to Deval Patrick and the progress that has been made here in improving access to health care and now trying to tackle the cost issue.

Everybody's favorite whipping boy emerged from an election he was expected to lose with a message that his friend Barack Obama thinks more of the country should be exposed to after the false picture Mitt Romney painted of the Bay State.

Not to mention the fact that Patrick's victory neatly counters the GOP argument that Brown represented a sea change in Massachusetts politics.

So the Right Wing Road Warriors are seizing on Patrick's ambitious plan to travel to promote Massachusetts, Obama and his book in an attempt to discredit him before he leaves the gate. Meanwhile, Scotto gets a pass for the same activity.

They decide, then report.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Off the Grid marketing

How much of our monthly natural gas payments are going to pay for National Grid's over-the-top marketing efforts?

Kudos to the Globe for unmasking what looked, felt and smelled like a scam -- a demand notice to pay up to $200 for an optional program to repair furnaces and boilers. I purchased the coverage one year as a naive new homeowner, then dropped it quickly after realizing it didn't cover much -- certainly not the plumber who would come out in the middle of the night if necessary.

But the clearly deceptive "bill" got me to thinking about what has become a monthly "neighbor comparison home energy report" that National Grid plunks in my mailbox, spending postage that is no doubt baked into the rates.

The first one was mildly interesting, telling me I was doing "good," offering a smiley face and telling me while I used less natural gas than "all" my neighbors, I was less thrifty than my "efficient" ones. Same story in the second and third notices, which quickly went into the trash.

But I took a closer look after the insurance scam mailing and notice National Grid only offers three categories, including "great" and "more than average." It offers me a 12-month view of energy use that shows, shock of shocks, I use less in the summer when the heat is off.

And I really can't tell me if my "efficient" neighbors use less because they are truly energy efficient or because they have less space to heat or keep the thermostat at polar levels.

Granted there is no hard sell, like the insurance come-on. They offer homey tips like let the sun warm the house, install a programmable thermostats and seal leaky ducts (hard to do with forced hot water).

So why the same mailing, month after month? Don't they have better things to do with our money than spend it on postage? Like making sure that transmission lines are safe and won't explode?

Let's hope marketing costs get a real close look the next time the Department of Public Utilities is asked to approve a National Grid rate hike.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011


Health alert: I'm about to say something nice about the Republican House that voted, with bipartisan support, to kill that superfluous and expensive back-up jet engine manufactured in Lynn.

But I don't intend to jump for joy just yet, because congressional funding has more lives than cats and at least one prominent Republican in the state delegation (oh wait, there's only one) has been on record supporting the billion dollar boondoggle.

It was left to John Tierney, who represents that 6th District where General Electric has been holding taxpayers hostage, to carry the ludicrous argument that more is less.
“Competition helps keep costs under control, ensures better performance, spurs innovation, and holds contractors accountable.’’
Not when the competition is for a billion dollar spare part. And cue the laughter about this holding the contractors accountable.

And I am truly baffled by the GE spokesman's contention that we need to spend more money to save it. Did he serve in the Department of Redundancy Department?

The lineup of those who say this is massive waste begins the Defense Secretary Robert Gates and now includes a number of Massachusetts Democrats. It will be interesting to see if the state's two senators, including the fiscally responsible junior senator, change their tune and oppose the boondoggle when the appropriation reaches them.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hoop dreams

Is it Boston or is it basketball? Whichever the reason, our Pickup Player-in-Chief is on to something when he says it's long past time to erect a tribute to William Felton Russell, the greatest athlete on the greatest team in Boston history.

Barack Obama got himself into some hot water when he injected himself into now infamous tussle between Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the Cambridge Police. The White House Beer Summit that ensued eased some of those jangling racial nerves.

So it's probably not surprising that the Harvard Law School graduate jumped in with both feet to address one of the longest avoided subjects in Boston race relations -- the hate turned to love relationship between Russell and the city he brought 11 NBA championships in 13 years.

Russell was never shy about his feelings -- toward Bostonians or anyone else -- during the late 1950s and through the '60s. As Obama noted in presenting Russell with a Presidential Medal of Freedom:
“Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men. He marched with King; he stood by Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players, and made possible the success of so many who would follow."
Adds teammate Tommy Heinsohn:
“Bill Russell became the villain of Boston, which is totally unjustified after he did more to bring praise to the city than anybody. He was standing up as a black person in the Boston area, which was very difficult in those days, and somebody ought to recognize that ..."
Russell left Boston with a bad taste in his mouth, just as the city entered its final paroxysm of racial turmoil, busing. The Celtics kept on winning -- although without the same amazing frequency -- until it seemed unlikely we would ever make peace.

It took the death of Red Auerbach -- he of a Faneuil Hall statue -- to begin a thaw in the relationship with Boston and Russell has once again become a visible ex-Celtic.

But in a city that named a tunnel after a Red Sox player who never won a World Series but did spit at fans, the lack of recognition of Russell's professional and personal accomplishments is still a sore point. A statue would be the ultimate example of how far we have come as a community in healing our self-inflicted wounds.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Less is more

So let me see if I got this right: The MBTA is proposing to put fewer trains on in bad weather -- when the need to keep people off the roads is paramount -- so they can run on time?

When did the Department of Transportation cede control of the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail to the Ministry of Truth?

In classic doublespeak worthy of 1984, the powers-that-be who can't run the railroad are proposing to jam commuter into tighter quarters at less frequent intervals so they can make their schedules. Next thing you know they'll say the only way to make schedules is to not pick people up at all.

Following this logic, we should spend more the save money and the profits should go to those who don't do the work (wait, isn't that already the Wall Street compensation model?)

But in fairness, the honchos at the MBTA and MBCR still have a long way to match the brilliance of unnamed US military officer in Vietnam who allegedly declared "we had to destroy the village to save it."

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Cutting edge

Scott Brown says Barack Obama's budget contains "mixed up priorities." But he's not revealing his own just yet and that's because a major decision is right around the corner.

Our junior senator was quick to agree that a proposal to cut home heating oil assistance would be bad news. But he was silent on another proposed Obama cut -- a $225 million appropriation for a back-up jet engine manufactured by General Electric. That would be another piece of partial funding for a $5.3 billion boondoggle that Obama, the Pentagon and hawks like John McCain have called for eliminating.

Brown has been an ardent backer of the Lynn-built backup engine -- as has much of the state's congressional delegation -- despite the utterly lunacy of the concept of allowing the primary contractor to build a bad engine.

Nor has GE been a model citizen
in lobbying for the engine, threatening to eliminate 150 jobs unless they get another $25 million in tax breaks.

The vote on the wasteful spending should be a key yardstick on how Tea Party rhetoric matches reality. Some newly minted lawmakers say they will vote to eliminate the engine, others have already waffled.

But the ultimate comparison will be coming from deep in the Massachusetts delegation, which has traditionally stuck together to protect the project.

Barney Frank, yes the Tea Party's supposed No. 1 target, is bailing out.
“I don’t want to just cut the second engine, I want to cut the whole plane,’’ he said.
Which side are you on Scott Brown?

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Conservatives' bad hair day

When a 75-year-old conservative whose leading issue is abolishing the Federal Reserve wins a presidential straw poll, you can assume the party in question has problems.

And when a New York City real estate mogul whose greatest asset is his ego, "fires" the only viable Republican general election candidate, those problems become huge.

Welcome to the Conservative Political Action Conference, fast replacing Ringling Bros. as the greatest show on Earth -- or at last the political universe.

The conservatives who gathered in Washington over the weekend to lambaste Barack Obama were not about to let anything get in the way of their own peculiar world view. Certainly not the remarkable revolution that shook Egypt and portends great upheaval in the Middle East.

Instead conservatives were treated to Hair Bowl 2011, where Donald Trump and Mitt Romney vied for best hair and best message -- and anyone outside the group the New York Times sagely noted "are not representative of Republican primary voters" were left to scratch their heads at the display of irrelevancy.

From Michele Bachmann to Romney, 12 wannabes flung red meat at the crowd, a small percentage of whom rewarded their hero, Ron Paul, with victory in the 2012 straw poll. It could be seen as a sentimental salute to the libertarian icon -- except he has already run twice, once as the standard bearer of the Libertarian Party, again in 2008 in the GOP primary.

In the meantime, conservative activists (and Trump) were setting out to do damage to the one relatively mainstream candidate who might appeal to voters in 2012 -- yep our friend Myth. I say relatively because the Mittster is once again flip-flopping all over the landscape -- attempting to walk a fine line between the despised ObamaCare and the RomneyCare on which its is based.

Conservative readers think I do Romney a favor
by busting him. It's possible in the event Romney secures the GOP nomination. But the depth of unease, unhappiness or downright disdain in which Myth is held by conservative activists -- and not just CPAC attendees, makes that outcome dubious right about now.

Look no farther than Nevada, a state that was and should be Romney-friendly, but which has changed its caucus rules in a manner that could hurt the Mittster in the early going when perception and momentum -- not to mention states you don't have to fight hard for -- are key.

So now we return you t0 our regular programming: a new federal budget, upheaval in the Middle East, the effort to prevent House Republicans from short circuiting the economic recovery.

But I relish the day that voters have the opportunity to tell both The Donald and Myth "you're fired."

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Transparent fraud

Sean Bielat insists he kept a secret because he didn't want it to be a "distraction" from his campaign against Barney Frank and the "politics as usual" he claimed Frank represented.

Yep, it would have been quite a distraction to learn Bielat was using campaign contributions to pay himself a salary, using the cash from out-of-state people who had been ginned up by the right wing yak machine to think Bielat was a breath of fresh air.

Bielat was in full excuse mode when the Globe caught up with his post-election filing of what is, to be fair, perfectly legal under our corrupt campaign finance laws:
“The fact you are calling me is indicative of how much of a distraction from the campaign and from the discussion of the issues of the economy and jobs it would have been,’’ he said. “I did not want that distraction.’’
In other words, Bielat did not has own unpleasant truths hampering his attacks on Frank's own alleged lack of transparency.

I've written at some length about Bielat's preference for hyperbole over reality but I must say I never expected such an outright piece of deception, particularly from someone who based his whole campaign as being different from today's grimy political scene.

But maybe I am being a bit too harsh. After all, Pam Wilmot, the longtime director of Common Cause Massachusetts, which monitors political finance issues, says:
“In all my time of observing Massachusetts campaigns, I have never heard of this happening before."
Bielat, who gave up a $162,754 salary, offers the usual poor mouth that he is "not wealthy" despite a salary most working men and women would consider quite substantial. And he shows no remorse in collecting cash from true believers who would likely rebel if they knew how he intended to use their cash.

It's also interesting to note there is not a peep today from the Mad Hatters of Herald Square, who used their Tea Party Newsletter to build up Bielat while attacking Frank.

I guess they only look at Republican campaign filings.

Bielat says he's still undecided about another challenge to Frank. I think a lot of potential supporters may have made up their own minds today.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

We speculate, you decide

The disclosure that Deval Patrick may be called to testify in the high profile corruption trial of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi could generate enough heat to melt some snow around here.

It's truly fascinating to try and decipher the chess moves of who has what to gain from this PR move, starting with the fact that only the prosecution, defense and potential witnesses have access to what was supposed to be secret lists.

DiMasi is slated to go on trial in the spring over his interest and role in the awarding a $13 million contract to Cognos LLC, a Burlington company that had close ties to former DiMasi accountant and friend Richard Vitale. The contract was later rescinded.

Patrick is on the prosecutor's potential list -- certainly a better place for him to be politically than on the defense list. And it is a puzzle to think about whose benefit it is to leak the name, knowing that not all witnesses are called.

Defense? It's hard to see what DiMasi gains from leaking the fact the governor is going to testify against him, other than somehow making Patrick squirm. If there were a smoking gun involving Patrick and his team don't you think it would have come up during the course of last year's campaign?

Patrick? No advantages whatsoever to raise this issue again.

Prosecutors? Well we certainly know there was no love lost between the men, particularly at that time in Patrick's term. And its hard to find a quid pro quo of value the administration received, certainly not Patrick's casino gambling legislation that DiMasi thwarted almost singlehandedly.

The governor has declined to discuss the content of his FBI testimony but the principals undoubtedly know what he said. Prosecutors may feel they can leverage DiMasi into a plea bargain, knowing the broad charge of "honest services" fraud did not survive a Supreme Court challenge, even though Judge Mark Wolf allowed the case to continue.

So there you have it political theater fans. We speculate. You decide.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fighting the last war

Journalists, like most human beings, like the comfortable and familiar. That's why we often get canned stories that reflect the last great trend.

Which brings us to the suspicious coverage of Deval Patrick's trade mission to Britain and Israel and the dire warnings that Democrats are in danger of losing the US Senate in 21 months because one Democrat has announced his retirement.

Like any political pundit, I start with the proviso I could be wrong. OK, so maybe they don't. But I'm not ready to jump on bandwagons just yet.

The Patrick cynics have good reason to feel that way. After all, every governor since Michael Dukakis has checked out physically or mentally for part of their term. But Patrick has not been shy about announcing his plans to travel on state business -- and on a book tour. He has steadfastly insisted he will serve out this term with no intentions to seek a third.

I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt -- at least until the next slow week on Beacon Hill rears its head.

The national political press corps is even more of a creature of habit than the local one. So it's no surprise the Pollyannas are seeing the sky fall already. Only the cries are ignoring clear signs already on the ground that Republicans are not marching in lockstep.

And that maybe, just maybe, new will take place in the ensuing months that could alter the political equation.


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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Public people, private lives

One of the more common laments these days is where have all the good people gone in our public life. Deval Patrick's autobiography gives us a good insight.

The official media punditocracy and the blogosphere will no doubt follow true to form and scoff about the revelation that Patrick considered resigning early in the first term as the coverage of mistakes sent his wife Diane into a depression.

It was clearly a bad time -- inappropriate calls to Ameriquest, symbolic missteps in refurnishing the Corner Office and adhering to State Police to get a Cadillac as his official car. But Patrick reveals the mistakes were amplified by the go for the jugular mentality that defines today's media-politician relationship.

It was apparently the Ameriquest call and the reaction that pushed Diane Patrick over the edge:

“Diane awoke after a fitful sleep,’’ he writes. “She nudged me awake and said she just couldn’t face another critical story. She began to cry and shake.

“When I asked her what was wrong, she said, ‘I just hate this. I hate this. This is what the next four years are going to be like.’ ’’

Diane Patrick is not the first person to react to the nasty, brutish and often short shelf life of politicians and their spouses. She's not even the first Massachusetts First Lady.

The need to personally destroy candidates -- made into garden sport by George H. W. Bush advisor Lee Atwater and practiced by dark arts masters of both left and right -- is one of the major reasons the quality of debate in our country has plunged, along with the quality of candidates.

It is no longer enough to criticize policy: there's a need to demolish the individual (birther anyone?). Right wing radio has been especially adept at this practice from the early days of the medium, but has sharpened its skills -- and fangs -- in the last two decades.

We often wonder what has happened to the real leaders of this nation. The answer is we have pushed them out of the arena by unrelenting and frequently personal attack, questioning not just their policies but their very existence.

Barack Obama correctly characterized his portrayal as that of a fun-house mirror image. It's time we leave the amusement park and return to the real world.

But someone I suspect we won't.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

T took heavy toll on passengers

I'll give MBTA General Manager Richard Davey points for honesty -- January was indeed a disaster for the service and the rest of the year doesn't look like a picnic either.

It may have just been reporter oversight, but I find little to no mention of the two legs of the T that I need to use when walking becomes impossible (or in this case impassable). Both the Green Line, particularly up Commonwealth Avenue, and the 57 bus, have been, um, horrid.

It's almost become the norm for one-hour commutes that take 30 minutes to walk in good weather. The consistency of service on the BC trains, never great to begin with, has deteriorated to the point where sardines have more room in their cans.

To be fair, not all of the nightmare is the fault of the T. Traffic has had a midsummer, Red Sox-snarled feel. And when you get off the bus or train, good luck crossing the plow mounds to find sanctuary on the sidewalk.

But these are exactly the sorts of conditions under which the T should be expected to excel. Getting commuters out of their cars and reducing traffic jams is what public transportation is all about.

And for all the right promises Davey is making, the odds of success are poor. Boston Magazine looks at the state of the transit system and the picture is downright ugly. Aging infrastructure. Outdated equipment. And massive debt.

Davey and Gov. Deval Patrick are promising improvements -- without a far increase. That may be an even bigger miracle than all the snow melting this morning and the Green Line running on time with enough room that passengers don't to know each other better than they want.

Any realistic solution also involves engaging a Legislature that has historically taken the easy way out -- punting toward the future.

The future is here. It's high past time for our leaders to get on board, ride the buses, trains and commuter rail, see what the problems are first hand and come up with realistic fixes that don't bankrupt our grandchildren.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

The joys of busting Mitt

The Massachusetts parole saga is turning out to be another one of those cases where Mitt Romney will need to explain Republican primary hard liners why he used to be reasonable.

It appears our favorite flip-flopper didn't sign on to the "joy of busting rocks" theory offered by the decidedly more liberal Republican Bill Weld. The Globe reports a Romney-dominated parole board paroled lifers at the same rate as Deval Patrick.

And we all know how popular Big Red was with conservative Republicans.

With the GOP seemingly intent on falling off the right edge in 2012, Romney did not need one more thing to explain. Falling in line on crime statistics with Barack Obama's favorite governor is not going to be an easy one to explain.

But it will sure be fun to watch.

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Trivial pursuit?

Watch out second graders. The Boston Herald is on the trail of your "trivial" class projects.

The Mad Hatters of Herald Square apparently forgot to read the Massachusetts Constitution -- and the unique right of free petition, where anyone can ask an elected lawmaker to file a bill -- before singling out second graders at the Crocker Elementary School in Fitchburg.

The Tea Party Newsletter is in high dudgeon this morning, mocking lawmakers over the host of strange bills filed annually -- and that never go anywhere. For example, Jim Stergios, director of the conservative Pioneer Institute think tank, harrumphs:
“We’ve lost hundreds of thousands of jobs over the last decade, and we are talking about these things. Many of them are so low on the scale of priorities as to be laughable.”
Funny, I spent many a year covering the Massachusetts Legislature and I don't recall covering a lot of talk about these perennials.

Many of the 5,388 bills -- down considerably from years past -- are not worth the paper they used to be printed on. But they are filed because citizens have the right to petition the Legislature and most die every two years when a legislative session ends.

Others, like the Crocker School's effort to recognize the spring peeper as the official state amphibian, are great class projects on how a bill becomes law. It's a great civics lesson that apparently don't get taught much any more -- certainly not to newspaper editors.

The Herald's decision to include a picture of an earnest class and teacher as part of its snarky putdown of the Massachusetts Constitution does suggest we may need to amend another state law: the anti-bulling statutes.

Clearly newspapers should learn to pick on someone their own size.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

Herald "stunner"

OK, someone help me out here -- anyone see any experts "stunned" by Barney Frank's decision to announce for reelection this early?

The Mad Hatters of Herald Square are in full hyperbole this morning -- touting a rematch between the liberal curmudgeon and Sean Bielat, who got more words than votes in their November face-off.

The piece de resistance of the Tea Party Newsletter coverage is a subhead declaring: "GOP rival, experts stunned by reelection bid." I always thought a headline was supposed to capture the essence of a story, but I struggled to find anyone, except the "surprised" GOP hypeful, who was "stunned" by what is clearly a brilliant political move by Frank.

With this move, Frank puts considerable pressure on his Massachusetts House colleagues facing redistricting musical chairs. And he begins his own national fund-raising efforts to either match or top Bielat's out-of-state efforts -- or make him think twice.

Bielat is either more forthcoming with the Globe -- or the Herald more antsy to follow it's script -- saying his own plans are fluid based on "personal issues" and the outcome of redistricting.

Two years is an eternity in politics, particularly now when we experience a "wave" election every two years. But at least we know the Herald is ready to fight the last battle, making sure they report and decide, even when the facts aren't there to back them up.

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Business as usual

Egypt and the Mideast in crisis. A monster storm cripples the eastern United States. And Senate Republicans playing politics.

Neither rain, nor sleet nor Molotov cocktails could deter Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from his avowed goal of making Barack Obama a one-term president.

The Republican political apparatus is no doubt already cranking up the attack ads on Democrats they see as vulnerable in 2012 for their vote against repeal of the federal health care law. There are priorities after all.

Never mind the United States may be reaching a turning point in its relationship not only with Egypt and the entire Arab world, a demographic that conservatives are quick to lambaste as the source of all terror and evil -- and equally quick to ignore when it can't be used to score political points.

McConnell once again proved Republicans campaign better than they govern, using Groundhog Day no less to rehash what they view as their latest electoral wedge issue.

I suppose it was a better use of their time than an effort by their House colleagues to redefine rape as part of a continued Contract on America.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Your tax dollars at work -- and not

The front bumper of a car perched atop at 10-foot high plow mound on what used to be a sidewalk around the corner will be my lasting vision of the Winter of Our Discontent-2011 version.

Streets plowed. Check. Appropriate care taken along the way. No (and I'm not sure I will ever figure out where the car was parked and why someone thought tossing it on top of the mound, license plate attached was a good idea.)

Cities, towns and the Commonwealth are plowing through cash like it was, um, snow, to try to keep up with the onslaught. We complain loudly if it's not done (or when the plow messes up hours worth of shoveling) but the last month has been a perfect example of the unappreciated ways in which our tax dollars are spent. And spent.

While kudos should be going out to the folks sitting behind the wheels of the urban version of a conga line, there are some raspberries to be parceled out to a familiar target -- the MBTA.

Not to folks like the Green Line operator who tried to take his trolley express to Aruba yesterday. But a management that has apparently failed to prepare for what really may be the worst case scenario of transportation madness, forcing people into their cars during wretched driving conditions.

I'm not just talking about buses and trolleys that are packed to the gills when (or if) they arrive. Or a web site that can't handle its own traffic issues. I'm looking at what has to be an epic fail on commuter rail.

Watch the early news every morning and you have to ask the question: how in the heck can the first train every morning out of places like Franklin/Forge Park be 20-25 minutes late? And why does the MBTA have to cancel service to make it run at all?

Someday the sun will come out, the snow will melt and the sidewalks will allow me to personally return to the safest and sanest mode of transportation -- my feet. But the folks who run the MBTA, using our tax dollars, will have to answer the question of why when the going got tough the best they could offer us was a fantasy Green Line trip to Aruba.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

This is what judicial activism looks like

One of the bedrock rants of the conservative movements is aimed at liberal judges who "make law" from the bench, overriding the "will of the people."

My friends, meet Judge Roger Vinson, a conservative judge who overrode the will of 535 people duly and properly elected in on of the most breathtaking judicial overreaches we have seen as a nation.

He even took it one step further than a conservative judicial colleague in Virginia, striking down the entire law over one provision. I believe that is called legislating from the bench.
“The act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker,” Judge Vinson wrote.
To ask a favorite conservative question: Who elected him?

It is important to remember that Vinson, appointed by Ronald Reagan, just evened the score at 2-2 in terms of judicial rulings on the law's constitutionality. His ruling and that of a George W. Bush counterbalance those of two Bill Clinton appointees.

So now its inevitably on to the Supreme Court, where the law's fate will be decided by yet another Reagan appointee. But first we can rest assured that conservatives will attempt to unlevel the playing field by calling for the recusal of Justice Elena Kagan because she served for a time as the Obama Administration's solicitor general.

Hardly the same level of conflict as having dinner with one of the key players in a case.

Nor is it comforting that a Supreme Court with many of the same justices authored the single large judicial overreach in the nation's history -- ignoring the national popular vote and overriding Florida's laws (so much for state's rights) to install a president.

And let's not forget that conservative president appointed members such as Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito who have taken judicial activism to a new level on the high court.

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