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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Where's Scotto?

Sarah Palin may be having a blast taunting the media, but Scott Brown obviously wants nothing to do with pesky reporters.

The senator himself is nowhere to be found in today's story calculating the lost passion between the Tea Party and himself. Hardly a surprise given the negative undertones of a story quoting a retired West Virginia telephone worker who wants his money back because Brown is "just another liberal."

But anyone notice how little Brown engages the media at all -- depending on spokespeople for pronouncements on both policy and politics.

Could be it because when the junior senator does speak directly these days it gets him into trouble -- witness his comments to the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce on Paul Ryan's Medicare bill.

Brown no longer needs Stephen Colkett's $50 because his votes for bankers and against the unemployed have netted him a substantial war chest that will enable him to afford a televised blitz against whoever Democrats eventually come up with as a challenger.

But Brown's reticence to directly to reporters could become an interesting sidebar -- if journalists ever get a chance to ask him about it.

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Trumped again?

Sarah Palin knows how to play the lamestream media like a violin.

The Biker Babe (or is that Motorcycle Mama) tour is in high gear -- with the once and future (?) national candidate having a grand old time visiting historic monuments, trailed by reporters trying to figure out her intentions for 2012.

There were no fewer than five posts in the New York Times' The Caucus blog over the holiday weekend, the last noting an exasperating Ms. Palin deigned to speak to the media for only three minutes.

Reporters have agita over whether Palin will enter the 2012 campaign -- or whether they will be stuck analyzing Mitt Romney's PowerPoints and Tim Pawlenty's tweets. And Palin who loves sticking it to the boys and girls on the bus is having a grand old time, roaming historic sites in a bus that could pass for a campaign vehicle -- or a high-priced scam.

She surely has noticed reporters have short attention spans and have forgotten George Santayana's admonishment that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

How much time has passed since Donald Trump pulled a similar stunt to capture free attention? Or Mike Huckabee used his Fox News Channel forum to pull in one-night ratings when he declared he wasn't running?

Pundits are quick to point out Palin is mercurial and doesn't like to play by the rules that govern how candidates run for president. But Fox has not been mercurial: Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were fired from their niches for even breathing about the idea of running.

Does anyone really think Roger Ailes would have a fig leaf left to hide behind if he allowed his prize commentator to stay on during a campaign? And does anyone think Palin really wants to forgo that platform -- and the cash that comes with it -- to get into the muck, at least for now?

Instead we are treated to the Palin Parade -- complete with gullible reporters hoping to lap up scoops on a hot and sticky holiday weekend.

PT Barnum knew what he was talking about too.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Killing him softly

It appears the Boston Globe has discovered the ultimate weapon to do in the candidacy of Mitt Romney and highlight how far over the right edge the Republican Party has tumbled. The truth.

In the first of what's promised to be multi-part series on Romney and health care, reporter Brian Mooney digs out some quotes that are likely to be poisonous in the minds of the right wing fringe that decides the GOP nominee. Discussing Romney's advocacy of the individual mandate, the Globe quotes a 2003 governor speaking to reporters:
“No more free riding, if you will, where an individual says: ‘I’m not going to pay, even though I can afford it.’ . . . It’s the ultimate conservative idea, which is that people . . . don’t look to government to take care of them if they can afford to take care of themselves.’’
It certainly looked like conservative theology at the time: Massachusetts liberals, this one included, balked at requiring individuals having to pay while the businesses that did not provide insurance options for their employees walked away scot-free.

The grand compromise of mandates all around got the bill into law -- even though Romney, one eye to the White House. immediately flipped on the business piece only to be overridden, as he knew he would be, by the Democratic Legislature.

Mooney also exhumed the other piece of Heritage Foundation health care orthodoxy that has since morphed into dirty words after adoption by federal legislators: insurance exchanges:
[Romney aide Timothy] Murphy had a “eureka moment’’ after a meeting with officials of the conservative Heritage Foundation. He was raving about their concept of an “exchange’’ to provide one-stop shopping for small businesses and individuals seeking health coverage from commercial insurers. This would also prove a forerunner to Obama’s national plan.
The unkindest cut of all was recounting the thaw -- pragmatic as it might have been -- between Romney and Ted Kennedy, who had eviscerated the man who tried to move to his left in the 1994 Senate race.
“I’ve never been one for individual mandates in the past, but I do think that the way this has been proposed, in that everybody will do their part, that’s a compromise,’’ Kennedy said. “I can buy into that.’’
But perhaps Romney himself delivered the coda in the Faneuil Hall bill-signed, where he was flanked by Kennedy and then Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi:
“My son said that having Senator Kennedy and me together like this on the stage, behind the same piece of landmark legislation, will help slow global warming. That’s because hell has frozen over,’’ Romney said to hearty laughs.
So there you have it: Romney the politician, negotiating his way to a significant piece of legislation he could herald in his 2008 presidential run only to see it become an albatross as his party abandoned long-held principles just to spite a Democratic president they disdain as a socialist.

The irony is that Romney, starting at the other flank, reached the same middle ground as Barack Obama. It really should have been a centerpiece of a presidential run and could serve Romney well in a 2012 general election -- if he gets that far after being chased by right wing zealots and if he doesn't do yet another triple somersault with a back flip on his beliefs.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Talk about a Friday news dump

If former House Speaker Sal DiMasi could have hand picked a day for devastating, send him away testimony in his corruption trial, it would be when the Bruins go to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 21 years.

Ditto for Deval Patrick, who the Herald has been hell bent on linking to DiMasi as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Everyone, starting with the jurors, will be talking about the Bruins 1-0 win over Tampa Bay last night. There won't be much buzz this holiday weekend about Patrick's testimony that will no doubt end DiMasi's concerns about where he may be living.

But yet another Friday afternoon bad news dump will only delay the impact of Patrick's cool testimony about the Speaker's reaction to Globe stories that started his downhill slide to a comfy home in Club Fed.
In a historic appearance on the witness stand, Governor Deval Patrick told a federal jury yesterday that former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi aggressively lobbied him for a multimillion-dollar software contract in 2007, then asked Patrick to publicly deny his involvement when a scandal over the deal erupted the next year.

“I said we couldn’t do that, because it wasn’t accurate," Patrick testified in DiMasi’s corruption trial.
If DiMasi's attorneys thought the key to their defense rested solely on discrediting Joseph Lally, they will be probably spend the weekend thinking again. And again.

Much has been made of the DiMasi-Patrick relationship, which inched up from strained to business-like over the course of its existence. Less discussed is the core beliefs and values of both men -- and that was on vivid display in the Moakley Courthouse.

DiMasi was at the defense table, having insisted on fighting the corruption charges against him, confident of the facts as he remembered them,

But he undoubtedly he either forgot or never counted on Patrick being asked to talk about the time DiMasi asked the governor to lie for him,

That oversight likely means discrediting Lally is an exercise in futility.

If I were DiMasi's attorney, I'd think seriously about asking the prosecutor for a deal, even at this late date. It would probably result in a better outcome than what he's facing once Bruins euphoria fades and the devastation of Patrick's testimony sinks in.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

The engine that won't die

If House Republicans are serious about cutting wasteful spending, why do they insist on life support for a boondoggle jet engine the Defense Department does not want?

But here we are, once again, looking at a new life for the "spare" engine for the F-35 fighter jet, built by General Electric in Lynn and apparently possessing more lives than a House full of cats.

Despite the opposition of both George W. Bush AND Barack Obama (name anything else like that) GE and its congressional friends still come up with ways to keep the spare parts project alive. The rationale for this latest move is a beaut: they want to save the taxpayer's investment after GE and its partner, Rolls-Royce, pledged to fund further development themselves.
“It’s just common sense to protect the taxpayer investment that’s already been made instead of throwing it away, and this way private money can be spent on continued research, so that if circumstances change we’re not starting from square one,’’ [Sen. John Kerry] said.
If common sense had been involved from the beginning, there would be no spare engine. Where does it go? A special trunk where the pilot can take it out and install it in mid-air should the original engine sputter?

And if private money is going to be used to continue development, why do taxpayers need to do anything?

The Democrats in the Massachusetts delegation, joined by Sen. Scott Brown, have obviously played a major role in keeping this monstrosity alive.

But for a Republican House ready to strip Medicare and Medicaid to balance the budget, a move to keep alive a military sweetheart deal opposed by Democratic and Republican presidents shows just how empty their "promise" to cut wasteful spending really is.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Compassionate conservative?

The party that brought you two credit card wars is getting frugal with the people of Missouri.

House Minority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia is declaring that any cash Congress comes up with for disaster relief for the tornado-ravaged Midwest must be "offset" by cuts elsewhere in the budget.

The issue is playing our largely behind the scenes of a national media that can only see the actual storm damage and the fall-out from the New York-26 election without connecting the dots. Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who held the job before the Cantor, has called out his former colleague but no one else seem go have picked up on the rather callous call to make disaster relief subject to partisan bickering.

A good time to remind people once again where the the debt actually comes from and how Republicans are very good at politicizing an issue for which they bear substantial blame.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wave of the future?

There's one clear lesson to be drawn from Democrats winning an open House seat in traditionally Republican district: don't pose on shirtless on Craig's List.

Many trees will be lost and the airwaves jammed with declarations about Democrat Kathy Hochul beating Republican Jane Corwin and a Tea Party candidate in the Buffalo district once represented by Chris Lee.

On the surface, it does appear to be a major blow to the GOP in a district where Carl Palladino beat Andrew Cuomo last year. According to one voter:
“I have almost always voted the party line,” said Gloria Bolender, a Republican from Clarence who is caring for her 80-year-old mother. “This is the second time in my life I’ve voted against my party.”
And it certainly is a setback to Newt Gingrich's prediction of a GOP wave next year.

But let's not get carried away 18 months before the next election.

It's clear the Paul Ryan Medicare proposal is about as popular as the Hindenburg in a match factory. Witness all of Scott Brown's flip-flops before walking away as a case in point of Republicans cutting their losses.

But never forget that while the GOP may not have much taste for governing, they are campaign whizzes, particularly at making people forget things like the fact they are responsible for a vast percentage of the deficit they now decry.

And treachery is also a favorite campaign tool. After all, they ran last year as the party defending Medicare before Ryan proposed to defund it instead.

So Democrats should raise a glass to Chris Lee and savor this one victory. But they should also be on guard against Republicans slipping things into voters' collective drink next year and pretending Ryan's proposal was a Democratic idea.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

No way to talk to someone

Forget The Handshake. Ignore the Full Flip Flop. The most disturbing thing about Scott Brown's Big Adventure is how he chose to inform Massachusetts voters about his final (we hope) position on the Paul Ryan Medicare proposal.

When D-Day arrived, the holder of the People's Seat in Massachusetts chose to write an op-ed in Politico, a publication that thrives as the bible of insider Washington.

Brown has never been shy about attention. But his access to reporters suggests that he believes they are disease carriers, even though he is happily married to one.

Someone is no doubt chronicling the number of times the junior senator has actually answered direct questions from the Fourth Estate but it is likely a short list since he loaded up the truck and moved to D.C.

And it's not a surprise he chose to make his announcement in writing given how many times his mouth has betrayed him since his announcement in Newburyport that "the leaders will bring forward [the GOP] budget, and I will vote for it, and it will fail.’’

No, it's the selection of Politico, rather than say the now infamous front page Boston Herald op-ed space, that has me scratching my head. For a man who claims he has no higher ambition than continuing to serve in The People's Seat, why snub the hometown media?

Maybe his crack press staff will issue a statement and clarification. I doubt reporters will get a chance to ask.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Was Cornel West left behind?

Outlandish statements are often the college professors stock in trade to get students' attention (remember Silber Shockers?). But Princeton's Cornel West has made John Silber seem polite with racial and anti-Semitic jabs aimed at Barack Obama.

There is clearly a disappointment over Obama in some corners of the left (people who seem to have forgotten the damage caused by George Bush and that threatened by Paul Ryan). Yes, we are still in Afghanistan and the the financial reforms are too weak.

But unlike Bush, who took a tainted victory and turned it into a right-wing mandate with massive tax cuts and two credit card wars, Obama has tried to govern as president of all the United States, not just who voted for him.

Apparently not good enough for brother West, who sounded an awful lot like Glenn Beck in declaring:
“I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men,” West says. “It’s understandable. As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white. He is just as human as I am, but that is his cultural formation.
"When he meets an independent black brother, it is frightening. And that’s true for a white brother. When you get a white brother who meets a free, independent black man, they got to be mature to really embrace fully what the brother is saying to them. It’s a tension, given the history. It can be overcome. Obama, coming out of Kansas influence, white, loving grandparents, coming out of Hawaii and Indonesia, when he meets these independent black folk who have a history of slavery, Jim Crow, Jane Crow and so on, he is very apprehensive. He has a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable."
But not content to leave it there, West reprises the battle that had him uproot from Cambridge and head to Princeton:
“He feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want,” he says. “He’s got two homes. He has got his family and whatever challenges go on there, and this other home. Larry Summers blows his mind because he’s so smart. He’s got Establishment connections. He’s embracing me. It is this smartness, this truncated brilliance, that titillates and stimulates brother Barack and makes him feel at home. That is very sad for me."
Sad for all of us that West appears to be using charged language to lash out over the fact "brother Barack" chose Summers for a Washington position while failing to return his phone calls.

It was left to the Rev. Al Sharpton, who played a similar role to West in a generation earlier, to ask the obvious:
My question to Dr. West: Is this personal or it is political? Where has the president’s politics changed since when [West] endorsed and supported him for president?’’
Ultimately the Globe's Yvonne Abraham sums it up best:
This is absolute buffoonery, especially since it comes from a man cosseted in the Ivy League for decades. It would all be laughably over the top, except for the fact that West’s darts reach way beyond his frenemy-in-chief, and right into our neighborhoods.
West, like Silber before him, must learn that shockers are best used on sleep undergraduates at 8 a.m. lecture courses. There is honest dialogue and there is over-the-top demagoguery. Brother West has gone way over the top.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Another one bites the dust

Is it any surprise that a former George W. Bush budget director and pharmaceutical company executive decided not to seek the GOP nomination in 2012?

With Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' decision not to join the "fun" in 2012, it's beginning to look a lot like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are the heavyweights to battle for the right to take on Barack Obama next year.

Daniels cited family reasons for his decision and there's no doubt that his marriage, divorce and remarriage to Cheri Daniels would have generated a bit of agita among the Family Values Crowd. But undoubtedly far fewer headlines than the mocking marital vows of the thrice-married, serial adulterer Newt Gingrich.

While Daniels made googly-eyes at the FVC and his record as Indiana governor may have cheered the Tea Party, I think he realized there were some serious obstacles to going from small state governor to POTUS.

His time at Eli Lilly -- and the scandals that rocked the company during his tenure -- were sure-fire campaign fodder.

But can any one keep a straight face when told that a man running on fiscal responsibility and concerns over the debt was director of Bush's Office of Management and Budget and designed the $1.3 trillion tax cut that, when coupled with two credit card wars, turned an inherited budget surplus into a yawning deficit.

I know I can't. Glad you're Back Home in Indiana, Mitch.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

End of days drill

Do you think the Herald is really mad that the City of Boston is wasting all that money and manpower on a drill right before the End Times?

Yes, our favorite tabloid found another reason to get into high dudgeon -- TWICE IN ONE WEEK!!!! -- assailing the city and its public safety officials for staging disaster and anti-terrorism training during a busy weekend full of outdoor events.

Duh. Isn't that when someone looking to cause massive panic just might strike? Not every terrorist may be like al Qaeda and stage a plot in rush hour during a workweek.

Of course a few paragraphs after invoking images of Armageddon, the Herald offers a classic Emily Littela. Never mind.
Alarmed onlookers and passers-by will be alerted to the 24-hour drill by warning signs and officials stationed at key locations, said Don McGough, director of the city’s office of emergency management.
Rather than invoking fear into the hearts and minds of residents and tourists, odds are the public will view the activity as a valuable public service. Or at the very least some interesting street theater.

Maybe the editorial panic is because the sky is constantly falling over at One Herald Square, where the dreaded Globe is poised to swoop in and start printing and delivering the Amazing Shrinking Paper.

Or maybe with the Rapture now slated to arrive at 6 p.m., the editors see it as yet another waste of public resources?

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Friday, May 20, 2011

So long, it's been good to know you

OK, so it hasn't exactly been 40 days and 40 nights, but what if Harold Camping is on to something? Not to mention Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin?

I mean there are signs. The Other is President of the United States and the leading Republican candidate for president is a follower of Joseph Smith. Most frightening? The Cleveland Indians have the best record in baseball.

On the other hand, Newt Gingrich continues to trip over his tongue and the Greatest Team in the History of Baseball has made it over the .500 mark.

So confusing. I don't even know if it is curtains as of midnight tonight or midnight Sunday. Thank goodness David Bernstein of the Phoenix sets us straight on All Things Rapture. Wait a minute. Bernstein??? Uh, never mind.

So just in case, I want to say it's been a blast. And if we're around to snark another day, y'all come back.

At least until Dec. 21, 2012. Or the rain stops. Whichever comes first.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Martyrdom becomes them

It was as predictable as the weather. The plucky tabloid devoting its front page in righteous indignation over the unprecedented snub to their right of free speech.

Of course it was no such thing. If the Boston Herald was "banned" from Barack Obama's fund-raising events in Boston, how was political reporter Hilary Chabot live-tweeting from inside the event?

There was near unanimity that White House press aides made a monumental public relations goof in how they told the Herald it would not be among the small press pool that accompanies the president and shares his words with reporters.

That duty fell yesterday to, among others, Globe White House reporter Donovan Slack, who regaled the world with the fact that Air Force One served Milano cookies with lunch. Pool duty isn't exactly heavy lifting.

But here now is the Tea Party Newsletter in full outrage mode -- four stories teased on Page One about this monumental snub, including a lead in which journalism and communications professor opine and noted 1st Amendment expert Mitt Romney offers his view that the Herald is "truthful and interesting" in lamenting the White House "barring" the newspaper.

Oh well. Myth has always been a little loose with the facts.

Columnist Michael Graham tells us Obama is being "Nixonian." Actually it's "Bushian." Or "Giulianian."

I suspect that nowhere in the wall-to-wall snub coverage is there any reference to former President George W. Bush actually excluding the media from a speech earlier this year. Or from having ticketed guests excluded from a 2004 campaign event.

Or a credentialed (right wing) reporter being arrested on orders of a press aide to GOP presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani in 2007.

Obama aide Matt Lehrich messed up big time when he opened his mouth and inserted his foot in discussing the Herald's exclusion from yesterday's pool. But he simply joined a vast network of political aides, many who did far more egregious things, in defense of their bosses.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Listen and learn

The Massachusetts Senate is about to debate its own version of municipal health care cost control and one message comes through loud and clear: it's time for labor and management to sit down and talk.

Senate President Therese Murray isn't taking as hard a stance as House Speaker Robert DeLeo in the face-off with municipal unions. The Globe reports:
The Senate’s proposal, obtained by the Globe, attempts to give more relief to unions. Unlike the House plan, which caused a firestorm among labor leaders, this version could give union workers more of the savings from health care changes and more of an opportunity to appeal management decisions they oppose.
Frankly, it's hard to follow the back-and-forth about who gets the savings and under what circumstances. But what is clear in this version -- as well as the House plan and the initial call from Deval Patrick -- is that labor can't just walk away from any talk about finding a way to save municipalities money -- and the jobs of their members

The House plan, despite getting caught up in the sturm und drang of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's efforts to disembowel labor, simply set limits on ow long talks could go before management could impose work rules, a common tactic. The Senate plan calls for a form of arbitration, another common move.

None of these efforts are close to taking away collective bargaining rights. But they are clear signs that labor needs to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Hopefully they are now listening.

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Misplaced annoyance

Regular readers better sit down. I'm about the defend the Herald.

Yes, the Tea Party Newsletter appears to long ago have abandoned objectivity and fairness in the coverage of politics. But the blame for that comes from the top, and the Obama White House should know better than to ban Herald reporters from the press poll for his visit today.

White House spokesman Mike Lehrich cited a front page Mitt Romney op-ed that appeared the day of Obama's last visit in raising concerns about the Herald's fairness.
“I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters. ... My point about the op-ed was not that you ran it but that it was the full front page, which excluded any coverage of the visit of a sitting US President to Boston. I think that raises a fair question about whether the paper is unbiased in its coverage of the President’s visits.
A bit thin-skinned, aren't we? A few basic journalism lessons are in order.

First, editors, not reporters make the decisions on where and how to play stories. The White House stance can be equated to blaming the victim.

Second, the op-ed was clearly labeled as Romney's opinion. A bit unconventional to run opinion on Page One, but the Herald's raison d'etre these days is to tweak convention. There are far better examples of the paper violating objectivity, which I have tried to note when they occur.

Finally, a bit of common sense: Did you honestly think the paper would take the rebuff lying down? So now you have another front page story and headline that takes a whack at the White House.

The Obama White House likes to view itself as cool, calm, collected and in control. But that control can't and shouldn't extend to picking pool reporters based on the paper's editorial policy. Particularly when one act of pique is met with the exact response you are trying to avoid.

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Society made me do it

Let me get this straight: Catholic priests who sexually abused children are the victims of the 1960s culture?

For an organization that supposedly stands for personal responsibility, church leaders ought to reject the findings of study that take blame avoidance to a whole new level while sounding like something straight out of a Newt Gingrich speech.

Researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice begrudgingly get around to the notion that perhaps the church hierarchy may be somewhat culpable by not adequately training priests who were then allowed to exist in a climate of social isolation and job stress.

So why then is the priesthood apparently the only segment society -- around the world -- to have a significant problem with child sexual abuse? Certainly other professionals raised amid the increasingly "deviant behavior" of the era don't have a problem on par with the Catholic Church or even other religious denominations..

Were the authors of this study -- commissioned by the Catholic bishops of the United States -- the allegedly impartial academic arbiters they were supposed to be? If so, why did they change a commonly held definition of pedophilia?

File this under: you get what you pay for.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Brown touches the third rail

So much for being the voice of moderation.

With his declaration of support for Paul Ryan's budget plan -- including the call to turn Medicare into a voucher program and Medicaid into a block grant -- Scott Brown has cast aside the pretense that he is an independent voice in the partisan war raging in Washington.

Brown has managed to live a charmed existence as the truck-driving, barn coat-wearing man of the people despite harsh right stances on financial reform and extended unemployment, to name two. But this is different.

The GOP itself has started to back away from Ryan plan, including no less a flame thrower than Newt Gingrich. And Brown is back to his usual cat-and-mouse game of avoiding media inquiries that might clarify his stance.

That gives some analysts the opportunity to suggest Brown hasn't specifically endorsed the Medicare plan -- just the overarching massacre of federal spending. But it is impossible to endorse the Ryan plan -- with or without a specific nod to the health care provisions -- without offering a tacit endorsement of health care chaos. That has been Ryan's centerpiece.

But while Brown is now out there on a ledge, the big question is who do the Democrats have to shove him off? The national party or an interest group may well run commercials to soften him up, bit so far the field of potential foes is underwhelming.

Maybe that will change when the cloak of invincibility slips further off his shoulders thanks to this outrageous -- and ultimately symbolic only -- endorsement sinks in.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Consider the source

When Newt Gingrich says something is too radical, it's time to sit up and take notice.

But there we have the former House Speaker making the most of his presidential run, telling the Sunday yak shows that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's Medicare is too much.
“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” he said. “I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”
Hope Democrats plan to make liberal use of this opinion.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Commuter rail goes off track

Heck, even Joe DeNucci saw there was a problem. But that never stopped the heads of the MBTA and its dysfunctional commuter rail arm from sticking it to commuters -- and taxpayers.

The Globe reports today on the cozy relationship between the MBTA and Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail -- Jim O'Leary, a former T general manager founded the operation and current T boss Richard Davey worked there -- and how riders and taxpayers have paid the price in lousy service where MBCR was rewarded not just with waived penalties but with actual bonuses.

It was such a sweetheart deal that even our recently retired state auditor blew the whistle -- not that anyone was listening.

The sordid saga is one where contractual penalties for poor performance were reduced while bonuses for the occasional on-time ride were paid. It's hard to say what's the most shocking part of this Massachusetts business-as-usual relationship, although the ho-hum attitude toward on-time bonuses after the recent winter nightmare comes close:
“These incentives were earned and nobody is going to apologize for taking them,’’ said Mass Bay spokesman Scott Farmelant.
Heck, no one has really apologized to commuters for four-hour rides to Worcester or the recent South Station snafu, so why apologize for taking public money under false pretenses?

The account by Sean Murphy and Scott Allen reads like a traditional tale of Massachusetts insider-ism -- from Leary to Mulhern to Davey. Outsiders were discouraged from playing the game and reaping the rewards.

And DeNucci's timing in blowing the whistle was in eerie symmetry with commuter rail -- way too late.

But perhaps the hardest thing to stomach is the MBTA's attitude that it is partly to blame for not buying new locomotives in a timely fashion. No, the MBTA management is fully to blame, by sidestepping its board to make sweetheart changes to benefit MBCR and its T alumni-cronies at the expense of the fare-paying rider.

Davey may be better at PR than his predecessor Dan Grabauskas, but the Globe portrait of insider trading is damning. Perhaps the better compensated leaders of the Department of Transportation should be taking a closer look at the MBTA-MBCR cesspool?

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

What a country!

We were all taught as children that anyone boy (and now girl) can grow up and run for president. Republicans certainly seem to be proving that one.

In the last day alone, a 75-year-old, two-time loser who says he would have voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act tossed his hat in the ring. Some see Dr. Ron Paul as a stalking horse for his son, Dr. Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator who says if Americans have a right to health care, he's nothing but a (well-compensated) slave.

Meanwhile, former Mayor (and one-time loser) Rudy Giuliani was also up in New Hampshire, bringing to two the number of annoying New Yorkers roaming around the Granite State.

Farther afield, we have the thrice-married former Speaker of House declaring himself to be a candidate for the position of Scold-in-Chief.

Not to be outdone, Minnesota's Michele Bachmann is out to prove she does know something about history (if not the Constitution), offering a variation on Paul Revere's one-if-by-land, two-if-by-sea theme, asking donors for $25 if they want her to run for reelection, or $50 or $100 if they want her to chase the White House.

One problem with the fund-raising letter: if Bachmann says the "liberal media" credits her with being a "conservative stalwart" in opposing Barack Obama, why should she believe them?

All of which leaves Our Man Myth in need of orthopedic relief for the contortions he is doing over health care -- and Republican primary voters with a serious case of the grumps.

Only ones winning? Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will NEVER run out of material.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Strike Two

Transportation Secretary Jeff Mullan dodged a budget and kept his job after bungling the public response to Big Dig light fixture fiasco earlier this year. While he promised to get better, Mullan’s tin ear certainly has improved.

The Globe reports Mullan gave raises to 17 senior managers in the months after the light fixture fell. And in a case of bad timing for him, the Globe reported on their Freedom of Information Act request the day after yet another MBTA/commuter rail fiasco left riders fuming and Brian McGrory in high dudgeon on Page One.

Sorta leave you wondering if there are better ways to be spending salary dollars – say perhaps on the secretary?

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Political quicksand

The pounding Mitt Romney is taking from the right on health care is almost enough to make you feel sorry for him. Until you realize he’s in the mess because of his own wanderin’ ways.

Standing up for the Massachusetts law – and the individual mandate he championed – seemed out of character for the master of the political flip-flop. In one sense, the University of Michigan speech was a coming out of a different sort – standing up for what he believed.
"A lot of pundits around the nation are saying that I should just stand up and say this whole thing was a mistake, that it was a boneheaded idea and I should just admit it," Romney said. "But there’s only one problem with that: It wouldn’t be honest. I, in fact, did what I believed was right for the people of my state."
The problem is that Romney may finally be taking a principled, if highly nuanced stance, at exactly the wrong time. He’s calling for a radically different model to replace the federal law conservatives charge him with birthing. It includes no mandate for individual coverage, and changes tax laws to encourage people to buy their own portable insurance rather than relying on their employer’s coverage.

Conservative warriors like Dr. Rand Paul, the Tea Party darling senator from Kentucky, equates believing in a right to heath care to believing in a right to slavery:
"With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have realize what that implies. It’s not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. It means that you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses."
Leave aside, if you can, the fact this is a senator from who hails from a slave-holding state where bookstores have sections labeled "The War of Northern Aggression." Focus instead on the fact this is a man who has made a pretty substantial living by being paid for his services as a medical doctor.

The party of Lincoln has sailed so far off the right edge there aren’t enough flip-flips in Romney to catch up.
"I can tell you right now, that’s not going to satisfy the average caucus-goer here in Iowa,’" said Steve Scheffler, chairman of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition and a member of the Republican National Committee. “A speech defending any kind of mandate is not what caucus-goers want to hear. I don’t know how he can condemn ObamaCare if he’s still defending his plan."
And that is Myth’s ultimate dilemma. He may well be the most adult of the GOP candidates, the one who could give Barack Obama a run for his money. But his chances of emerging from the nomination fight unscarred – or without serious acrobatic injuries – are slim indeed.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Thanks guys

There'll be plenty of time to rant about trading Perk and relying on too many old guys but for now, a simple thanks to the Celtics for another great run.

The Big Three are likely coming back at least for one more year, but the transition to Rondo's team is well underway. Some judicious decisions about a man in the middle (let's call the Shaq move bold but ultimately their Achilles heel) offers some short-term help and a full season for Jeff Green may be a source of longer-term hope.

In the meantime, it's been a great ride, much better than the wasteland years. The credit for that must go to Danny Ainge, the same guy about to be mercilessly pilloried for trading Perkins mid-year to assure some value after the big man was likely to seek greener pastures.

And now -- ABL, Anyone but LeBron.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Arpege Man strikes again

The man who promises them anything is at it again. Yep, Myth Romney has a new health care proposal.

The father of the insurance mandate, the centerpiece of what conservatives loved before Barack Obama adopted it for his own health care law, continues his tradition of standing by his principles as if they were encased in quicksand.

The Globe reports Romney will offer a new outline that includes tax breaks for consumers buying coverage on the open market; a requirement that insurers cover patients with preexisting conditions; and provisions giving states more power in the health coverage arena.

The goal is to try and change the subject from how ObamaCare really is just RomneyCare, a sore point that hurts him among Republican primary voter,

What's more likely is it will highlight, yet again, the um, flexibility, of the Romney belief system and his desire to say and do whatever it takes to close a deal.

Surely the Romney brain trust can see the penchant for promising anything, for squishy values that have run on both sides of controversial issues, are far more threatening to his political chances?

It's probably safe the say the only thing people trust less than a politician is a salesman trying to close a deal on a product with known problems. Sure you might get a good deal, but then what?

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Setti, we hardly know ye

If Newton Mayor Setti Warren wanted to make a big splash with his pre-announcement for his 2012 challenge to Scott Brown he badly miscalculated.

The first-term Newton mayor failed to score a Page One hit in the Boston Globe. Heck, he failed to make it on to the Politico home page -- you know the one that had room for Bristol Palin's new reality show and word of the Schwarzengger-Shriver break-up.

Warren may be correct that he is about as well known at this stage of the game as Brown. But Scotto was running for an open seat against what turned out to be a lackluster and uninspiring Martha Coakley.

And Brown had a political resume far lengthier than Warren, who was waved off from the challenge by no less than Newton's own Barney Frank.

Warren tosses his name into a field that is becoming crowded by a bunch of "who?" hopefuls, with special election loser Alan Khazei probably the best known of the field. And one area where Brown has shown consistency is in raising cash to fend off what he suspects will be a major national Democratic cash dump.

In other words, the reality is that a Brown challenge is a long-shot. But then again so was Brown's grasping for the brass ring in the race to fill the seat left vacant by Ted Kennedy's death.

Warren (or Khazei or Bob Massie) need to hope for another lightning in a bottle moment, like the surge of Koch-generated Tea Party anger that crested over Coakley. It's not entirely far-fetched, given how House Republicans are already retreating from their punitive Medicare "make-over."

But I like the Celtics chances of taking three straight from the Heat better than I like those of the current Democratic Senate field of dreamers.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Wazzup?

Did I miss anything while I was gone?

  • Rajon Rondo solidified his place in Celtics lore with his dramatic return Saturday night. Win or lose the series, this is now Rondo's team -- and the three or four Hall-of-Famers who take the floor with him tonight make for a great supporting cast.
  • While we were all focusing on the Celtics getting old, did anyone notice the Lakers? You may argue about whether they are too old -- but the team swept by the Mavericks, including a 36-point blowout yesterday -- need a serious makeover. Losing that badly in a must-win game suggests deeper problems than ones caused by trying to rejigger a team on the fly so it doesn't repeat thew Celtics '90s swoon.
  • I'm officially on the bandwagon: how 'bout dem Broons?
  • Now that Scott Brown has seen the bin Laden death pictures, what other great discoveries can we expect?
  • Gov. Cahill? What were those people smoking?
  • Probably the same thing as those folks who saw Sal DiMasi as the great liberal hope.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

That didn't take long

The American Exceptionalism crowd is taking exception. Rather than take pride in defeating an enemy who killed thousand of innocents, they'd rather whine about their real enemy.

Yes that would be the "other "O."

Pickup the Tea Party Newsletter today and Howie "free liposuction" Carr offers a sneering screed under the headline "Victory, sure, but U.S. still a mess." Elsewhere we are told "Obama 'got lucky,' say Republicans."

I could have figured out the attribution on that one.

Yep the right wing hate machine is going through the shakes not knowing how to cope with the fact Barack Obama successfully directed a military strike that accomplished the long-held objective to take out Osama bin Laden. No mention of Tora Bora anywhere.

First a long-form birth certificate, now the end of bin Laden. It's been a tough week for Howie, Andrew Breitbart and others who have made careers and money spewing venom on the left and its leaders.

Which really is the Hate America crowd again?

Stay classy guys.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

Savor this moment

And so, just like that, the most hated man in the world is gone, done in by the American military to strike a blow for not only revenge, but more importantly justice.

Foe one brief shining moment, Republicans are lauding the military strike into Pakistan ordered by Barack Obama. The president acted with his usual cool determination in finally bringing about the promise of his predecessor that the United States will take the mastermind of the 9-11 plot "dead or alive."

But in our "what have you done for us lately" society, don't expect the euphoria to last. Al Qaeda was probably already at work on a 10th anniversary reminder and terrorists will be more ready than ever to sacrifice their own lives to the honor someone they consider a martyr.

And I just can't imagine the Obama haters letting up for a day, if that long, in finding faults in the decision and operation.

So savor this moment of unity, a brief time when a nation is desperate need of a victory relishes in the end of a man who has represented pain and suffering and lawlessness met rough justice.

No Gitmo debates, no trials of the millennium. An eye for an eye.

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Blinded by the story line

Conspicuously absent from the Globe's front page thumbsucker about unions and the state budget crisis is a detailed look at how Massachusetts labor managed to become "just another interest group."

What's worse, Globe editors seem to be ignoring their own reporting, with Glen Johnson following Deval Patrick out to Wisconsin where the governor issued a strong defense of labor unions and collective bargaining.

Instead of showing off its local chops, the Globe has fallen victim to the national story line that blue Massachusetts is the latest state to try and crush the labor movement. Never mind the House has limited itself to a narrow provision that would give unions 30 days to negotiate changes to their health plans with local officials, instead of allowing the officials to act without any union input.

And never mind that House Democrats stuck this provision into the fiscal 2012 budget only after labor leaders have steadfastly refused to concede an inch even as their members lose jobs in cash-strapped municipalities.

Instead of leading the way on the story, the Globe is just tagging along -- leaving the best reporting to Charlie at Blue Mass Group.

All sides -- certainly Rep. Marty Walsh and maybe even AFL-CIO boss Bobby Haynes -- recognize the House provision is unlikely to become law. Perhaps the Globe should too?

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Backpack boogie

Once the MBTA takes care of the pram jam, will they do anything about the in your face (and other body parts) attitude of folks who tote backpacks?

Count me among those who think common courtesy and common sense -- not to mention on-time performance -- can do more to solve the jammed aisles than feeble rules enforced by a "stern lecture."

Let's face it, strollers and buses mesh as well as Red Sox and Yankee fans. Even folding up the seats designed to make room for wheelchairs leave little room to manuever aisles that can't handle the crush of passengers that result from long waiting times.

There is slightly more room on Red, Orange and Blue Line trains. As for the Green Line, well...

The Breda cars were designed to look sleek from the outside -- and are dysfunctional on the inside. But I've experienced more inconvenience from the student backpack jammed into my face -- and whipped around a few times during the wearer's conversations -- than anything caused by a mother or nanny with a single-seat stroller.

And women and men with small children have one thing urban backpackers lack -- the sense to know they are taking up extra space. Say something to a toddler toter and you will get an attempt at accommodation. Say something to a backpacker and you will likely get a lot of lip.

So count me among those skeptical about the value of any organized effort to to wrangle strollers -- unless there's a similiar move, say charging an extra fare -- for oversize backpacks.

And keeping buses and subways on regular schedule to avoid sardine car situations would go a long way too.

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