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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, April 30, 2012

Barbarians at the gate

This ought to become the most read opinion piece in politics today, for the simple truths it lays out.

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein are among the eminence grise of the Washington political culture, frequent sources of comment for two think tanks that often set the tone and agenda of political reporting. Their thesis is stark and direct:
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
Republicans have long been masters of the talking points and their resolve to stay on message is unrivaled. It is a tactic as obvious as the day is long, and one that plays into the journalistic weakness of striving to provide "fair and balanced" coverage -- and an unwillingness to call a lie a lie.

Going into a final campaign where presumptive nominee Mitt Romney and his cohorts have already concocted tales of things Barack Obama has not said or done, and where a GOP leadership has done all in its powers to stifle economic recovery, it's important to remember the warning of two men who are key players in Washington culture:
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
The coming election is simply one for the soul of America.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Nerd prom

Friends. Romans. Countrymen. I come to bury the White House Correspondents Dinner, not to praise it.

Like Boston's St. Patrick's Day Roast, the lovingly named nerd prom has become an exercise in self-absorption, a chance for media, politicians and celebrities to mingle in formal attire and crack jokes at the others expense.

It's even a chance for Eric Fehrnstrom to spin that his boss is a wild and crazy guy.

The truth is this extravaganza was exposed in 2006 when guests just didn't get host Stephen Colbert's jokes because it was on them and the bubble in which they live, unperturbed by the real world.

Heaven knows we can use a little humor in our public discourse. A lot actually. But nerd prom is ultimately a joke on its participants.

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I told you so

So the Green Line has figured out that a whole bunch of people are sneaking in the back doors. And they are about to close the barn door.

By treating us like common cold criminals, made to pay for the offenses of the few.

Obviously any move to cut down on fare scofflaws, especially along the Green Line's Commonwealth Avenue branch, is a good thing as we face higher fares. And the front door only policy applies during non-rush hours, so riders have less of a chance of becoming a statistic on the Breda car stairs as they wend their way to the front through aisles only less clogged than normal.

But what happened to the "validators" who were supposed to stand guard against the scofflaws? And more to the point, why has the T virtually ignored the problem to date, tossing out tickets it didn't have the ways or means to enforce?

Maybe the Lottery Commission can start a new game to see how long this policy is enforced. Proceeds go the paying of the T's debt.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Taxing narrative

The tax returns say Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren are no Mitt Romney. And definitely not Ted Kelly.

The senator and his challenger have both lived The American Dream, rising from humble roots to good jobs at good wages. Both pay effective tax rates far higher than Mitt "I'll Have Someone Feel Your Pain" Romney, who has lamented that he supplemented his 15 percent bracket capital gains income with "not very much" speech income of $375,000.

It's time to end the class warfare rhetoric about "elitists" and look at the meaning behind the words and the barn coats. Yes, this means you Scotto.

The jabs at Warren's success as a law professor seem aimed at turning the discussion away from the junior senator's positions of financial reform and the source of his campaign income.

Warren, on the other hand, has devoted her legal career to studying bankruptcy law and her public career to taking the side of consumers in the wake of the debacle left by the financial misdeeds of banks of mortgage brokers.

While Brown has not led a lavish lifestyle, the returns do reveal that our Cosmo Man apparently does have a streak of vanity, deducting job-related expenses of $1,401 for TV makeup and grooming." And questions do remain about the cost of the barn coat and whether Brown needed his equally famous pickup truck to haul a horse trailer for his daughter's hobby.

This election should not be about either candidate's personal wealth and status. It should be about two very different public careers: one that has focused on working with the financial service industry, the other working for the consumers who have been harmed by that industry's irresponsibility.

Brown and Warren have both climbed the ladder of success. One of them has a clear record of trying to keep that ladder available to all. The other appears to be on the side of those trying to pull it up.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

School daze

Just when you thought congressional Republicans couldn't stoop lower,  you find they have an amazing ability do scrape the pavement.

The newest battleground: student loans. The GOP, which has shown as much concern over underwater students as they have underwater homeowners, ignored the issue of dealing with the looming possibility of a doubling of the interest rates for federally backed student loans in Paul Ryan's budget.

Only after being called out by Barack Obama on the campaign trail has the GOP decided to address the issue, but imposing the usual line in the sand, insisting cuts elsewhere, not higher taxes for the 1 percent, finance the move.

And politically, the House Speaker John Boehner doesn't have the good common sense to stay clear of the fight,  arguing Obama is trying to use college as a wedge.
“For the president to make a campaign issue out of this and then to travel to three battleground states and go to three large college campuses, on taxpayers’ money, to try to make this a political issue is pathetic,” said  Speaker John A. Boehner at a news conference Thursday as he leveled some of his harshest attacks to date on the president. “This is the biggest job in the world, and I’ve never seen a president make it smaller,” he added.
No, for a better look at smallness, one only need look at former GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum's views on the importance of college:
"President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college," Santorum said. "What a snob.”
 The GOP's fear about education? An educated public would easily see through their rhetoric.

The true GOP mantra: Billions for Wall Street. Everyone else for themselves.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Unequal justice

John Edwards is guilty of being despicable. But why is he sitting in a court of law before a single Wall Street banker?

The one-time North Carolina Senator and presidential candidate cheated on his dying wife, allegedly with the support of campaign true believers. He had a close political aide lie about the parentage of the child born from this tryst. As a result he's sitting in a courtroom charged with federal campaign finance violations.

Meanwhile, Richard Fuld, who presided over financial shenanigans at Lehman Brothers, a firm whose bankruptcy is considered the pivot point of the the economic meltdown, goes about his life, slightly less enriched after presiding over a firm that routinely cooked the books to hide its true problems.

And that's only a slice of the financial crisis that has upended not just the nation but the world, causing massive unemployment and pain.

Edwards' life and reputation is in tatters because of his own arrogance. But the folks who brought you the meltdown -- and the international upheaval --  have not yet had to answer for their own actions in a court of law.

Only in the United States is using taxpayers money to cheat on your wife and cover it up a bigger crime than raping the world economic system.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Man bites dog

There's an old saying in journalism that it's not news when dog bites man. So what are we to make of a study suggesting Mitt Romney has gotten better news coverage than Barack Obama?

It's been a GOP talking point for so long no one can remember when Republican candidates did not complain about the media's liberal bias. So what are we to make of this observation of coverage coming from the Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism:

Of all the presidential candidates studied in this report, only one figure did not have a single week in 2012 when positive coverage exceeded negative coverage—the incumbent, Democrat Barack Obama.
While a sitting president may have access to the “bully pulpit,” that does not mean he has control of the media narrative, particularly during the other party’s primary season.
In Obama’s case, his negative coverage was driven by several factors. One was the consistent criticism leveled at him by each of the Republican contenders during primary season. The other involved news coverage of issues—ranging from the tenuous economic recovery to the continuing challenges to his health care legislation—with which he was inextricably linked. An examination of the themes in Obama’s coverage also reveals that the coverage placed him firmly in campaign mode. His coverage that focused on the strategic frame exceeded that relating to policy issues by 3:1.
I've long believed that while reporters may indeed have personal opinions (who doesn't?) they manage to keep them out of their work -- unless they work for Fox News. If there is any innate journalistic bias it is against someone holding the reins of power.

The line has been blurred in recent decades as cable television has become a 24-hour opinion fest that requires fresh fodder and more and more reporters have been sucked into the vortex. Add to that the right-leaning slant of yakkers on Fox and the left-ish drift on MSNBC and you have opinion tainting everything.

The report will certainly not dissuade the true believers who have built a Faux News empire to combat their obsession -- and cheapen the debate. But it is worth considering -- in its entirety -- something else the right is often to do.

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

He said what?

We're in the silly season, where political news turns trivial. But one item caught my eye as deserving more attention.
US Senator Scott Brown says he has given up drinking throughout his long reelection campaign.
This is not the same sort of throwaway line like blasting Elizabeth Warren for being a "hypocritical elitist" for not paying extra state income tax or Brown claiming to be the sole stand against the lack of progress in Washington.

And it's certainly more significant than a GOP attempt to take a line about dog meat in Barack Obama's book and have once-serious presidential nominees try to compare it to the misadventures of Seamus Romney.

Brown says his decision was "one of those New Year’s things" that he did "on a stupid bet."

We've all done those "new year's things" like promising to give up smoking or drinking or go on a diet. And if you are like most normal people, there's usually a foundation for making the pledge.

I'm not a teetotaler. My pledge to cutback (but not go dry) was directly related to an effort to drop some weight. Perhaps that's what Brown had in mind, just in case Cosmo calls again.

But alcohol consumption has been a recurring theme in American politics, and it certainly reared its head on several occasions in races for what Brown relabeled The People's Seat.

I think this "stupid bet" needs a bit of clarity.

UPDATE: Dan Kennedy and Politico go one better, showing Brown imbibing a week ago. Either there is a problem or Scotto is taking Mitt Romney lessons.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Loving the tote bag pitch

If you think public broadcasting pledge drives are annoying, consider the options: campaign ads.

That's a very real possibility as the courts look to eliminate the last bastion of sanity against the excess in election years as candidates and PACs bombard us with innuendo and venom.

Local public broadcasters are taking a non-committal attitude toward the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that an existing ban on such ads violates the First Amendment, and that running them would not undermine public broadcasting’s mission.

But images of the giant pots of lucre opened by the Citizens United decision have to be dangling in the eyes of executives who now hawk tote bags and DVDs to raise cash,

The ultimate irony could well be yet another market for conservative candidates to peddle their messages, an outlet they have fought tooth and nail, trying to deny any remaining glimmer of public funding. While it amounts to small change on the balance sheets of some large operations, it is vital aid in small markets.

It's undoubtedly also an appealing thought that they might puncture what many conservatives consider the last outpost of liberal thought.

I have my issues with public radio -- esoterica interspersed with begging for cash. But I would much prefer that to the seepage of politically financed bile into the last redoubt of quasi-civility in American life.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Of Mitt and Mass.

Polls says Mitt Romney has a likability problem. But it's more than just the awkward white shirt and tie at a picnic table problem. It's us.

 Think about it. When was the last time Massachusetts offered the nation a presidential hopeful (or pretender) who was not charisma-challenged? John Kerry? Nope. Michael Dukakis? Puhleeze. The late Paul Tsongas? Un-uh.

Nope. We need to go back 60 years to John Fitzgerald Kennedy. And the betting here is if JFK were to emerge today he would be subject to a blistering attack on his roots and his accent.

Face it. Massachusetts doesn't win a lot of popularity contests in the other 49. Call it jealousy over our health care and education resources or a standard-of-living that generally rates among the tops in the country.

The state's liberal mindset only deepens conservative unease with Multiple Choice Mitt.

Toss in for good measure folks who have heard way too much about the Red Sox and Patriots and you begin to see the problem.

Even if Romney were a hail fellow well-met, a George W. Bush have-a-drink with kind of guy he would be starting with a Massachusetts discount of at least 5 percentage points.

But Our Man Myth has another problem. At least the other Bay State hopefuls could count on adding the state to their electoral vote count. The Bay State's 12 are firmly in Barack Obama's column, a fact that will no doubt be pointed out on a regular basis.

Maybe that's Myth's ultimate weapon. You can vote for me because my home state, Massachusetts,  hates me -- and you hate them.

You heard it here first.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Don't tread on mom

Who says Social Security is the third rail of politics. Challenging motherhood is far more lethal.

Hilary Rosen, a Democratic talking head and Washington lobbyist, stepped into deep doo-doo the other night on CNN by declaring Ann Romney "never worked a day in her life." After universal condemnation from Barack and Michelle Obama on down, it's likely Rosen's work life as a pundit is about to go into eclipse.

Or is it?

In the nasty, brutish and downright ugly world of cable campaigns, Rosen may well become a hot property. After all, to succeed at the pundit game, the more inflammatory, the better. You need look no further than the ultimate misogynist, Rush Limbaugh, and what his rants against women from Hillary Clinton and the current FLOTUS to Sandra Fluke have done to cheapen the discourse.

Republicans, naturally, have been quick to pounce on Rosen's words. Ever since Limbaugh pounced on Fluke as a "slut" for testifying before Congress about contraception coverage, the GOP has been fighting a ferocious rear-guard action to close what is emerging as a yawning gender gap.

GOP pundits looking for solace have equated it to the Etch a Sketch gaffe, but that's a stretch.

Rosen is a hired mouth for a variety of causes while Eric Fehrnstrom is a trusted and close Mitt Romney adviser. Rosen quickly disavowed her words and apologized. Fehrnstrom has not.

More to the point, Fehrnstrom's indelicate utterance tracks far closer to truth that Rosen's cable TV moment. There is virtually no one in the United States who would suggest stay-at-home moms don't work. But there are clear differences between well-to-do families like the Romneys and the vast majority of American families where a decision to stay at home comes with real financial costs.

And we don't even need to get into the obvious fact that Ferhnstrom touched the rare nerve about Romney's lack of core beliefs in the way the loudmouth working mother's outburst do not reflect on the family that actually lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue -- who were lucky enough to gave grandma watch the kids.

Here's hoping this tempest in a teapot blows over soon and we can return to the real issues this nation faces. Oops, did I say return? I meant to say we might finally have thew cable talking heads talk about something of real importance to our national health and well-being.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Justice delayed

At long last, a Florida special prosecutor did the right thing and brought second-degree murder charges against George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

But the inexcusable delay that allowed the case to be played out in the court of public opinion instead of the legal one has only served to deny justice to both Martin and yes, Zimmerman.

Let's be honest: would there have been such a lengthy delay in the case if the accused shooter was black and the victim white?

But by plastering Zimmerman's face across national and international media as an accused but uncharged shooter, Florida authorities have made it incredibly hard to have this case play out in court as our legal system intends.

There's also the culpability of the Florida Legislature for passing a law giving all rights to gun owners to take a life with seeming impunity, a reality that was well on the way to fruition before a handful of African-American journalists took up the cause of the 17-year-old shot to death in a gated community, hood up on on a rainy night in February as he returned to a Sanford home where he was a guest, armed with Skittles and iced tea.

Questions also need to be raised about a police department that seemingly shrugged its collective shoulders and decided the law tied their hands too. And about a nation where blame the victim -- or defame him -- is still too much of a reality.

Now, the case is exactly where it belongs, in a court of law where testimony will be heard, evidence can be examined and a jury will decide Zimmerman's fate as prescribed by the Constitution.

In the end, it's a no-brainer, which is what makes the lack of brains exhibited by Florida authorities all the more vexing.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Santorum agonistes

That sound you hear is the Mitt Romney campaign shaking that Etch a Sketch.

With Rick Santorum's decision to suspend his campaignRomney's endless quest for the Republican presidential nomination has reached the finish line. Romney must now begin what Eric Fehrnstrom indelicately labeled a "reset" of what have already proven to be malleable positions over the course of Romney's political career.

Our Man Myth's slog to Tampa leaves him in the public mind as a less-than-likable member of the 1 percent (complete with an elevator for the cars at his vacation mansion) atop a party that has sought to turn the clock back decades on women's rights while touting policy positions that favor Romney's fellow 1 percenters.

But there is a clear risk in Romney sliding back toward the center to try to repair damage to his brand among the moderate Americans who will decide the election. The conservatives who hitched their wagons to Santorum -- who preferred going back not just decades but centuries -- are still not much in like, let alone love with Romney.

Any move to the middle to appease the center will simply be viewed as a betrayal by the hard right, another reason to sit things out come November and reaffirm their burning hatred of Barack Obama.

It should be noted that Romney's attacks on Obama rather than his erstwhile opponents, haven't done him a lot of good to date among the hard core. Whether stepping up a stream of invective -- often far removed from reality -- will gladden the hearts of either conservatives or moderates remain to be seen.

But Romney should be congratulated for finally achieving the goal he shoved aside Jane Swift to take the Corner Office, only to quit in mind if not body two years later to start his presidential run.

Sometimes naked political ambition is rewarded.

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Foul territory

This is not what democracy looks like.

Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen may have been politically foolish or just downright stupid to profess his love for Fidel Castro, but the team's decision to suspend him without pay for five games is a penalty that Fidel is probably chortling over.

After all, the retired Cuban leader has never been overly fond of people speaking their minds without fear of retribution.

The Marlins knew what they were getting when they hired the loquacious Venezuelan as manager for a retooled team in a new stadium located in Little Havana.

Guillen's decision to speak before his brain kicked in was and is a PR nightmare. But management's decision to banish him from the dugout over a poor choice of words is different in style if not substance from dictators who lock up those whose language offends them.

We all know professional sports are big businesses with images to protect. But gagging people for speaking their minds is not the best way to go about protecting that image.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It's in the air

That gloom afflicting liberals for the past two years may slowly be lifting.

The signs are faint, and subject to change over the course of the coming months, but they are unmistakable.

National polls show Barack Obama slowly building a lead over Mitt Romney, paced by a gender gap and a yawning likability gap. Locally, Elizabeth Warren smashed records in the "poll" that really matters in 2012, cash.

The Republican drive to Gender Armageddon that began in the primaries with an attack on a settled practice like contraception is now showing up as a significant gender gap. Obama leads among women by 19 points while Romney has an 8-point lead among men.

The incumbent also holds yawning advantages on who would do a better job of protecting the middle class, addressing women’s issues, handling international affairs and dealing with health care.

More significantly, he also holds 2-1 leads on "friendly" and "inspiring" as Romney continues the tradition of charisma-deficient Massachusetts nominees. And we know that played a major role in the losses of Mike Dukakis and John Kerry.

Obvious a lot can happen between now and November -- gas prices, war and economic slippage to name three. But a dispirited GOP may now hold the enthusiasm gap once assumed to be Obama's undoing. And the Supreme Court's health care ruling will be galvanizing.

In Massachusetts, Scott Brown may be holding slight leads in the see-saw polls but the fund-raising prowess Warren is showing may be sending them to the ad drawing board sooner rather than later to try and step up their attacks on someone they are trying to paint as a Hollywood-loving Harvard elitist.

Warren tried to silence one line of attack with her bifurcated announcement showing she raised more money than Brown within the Bay State -- and a lot more money outside.

Let's never forget Brown's own out-of-state fund-raising prowess during the special election that won him his Senate seat -- nor his dependence on corporate donations. This one is going to definitely set unfortunate records for spending and televised negativity.

Again, it's early and much can happen to change the equation. But I suspect there are just a few more faint smiles on liberal faces these days than one would have otherwise guessed.

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Sunday, April 08, 2012

"Lopsided recovery"

It appears we have a reverse Robin Hood recovery: the rich keep getting richer and the rest of us, well we're supporting them.

The Globe offers two interesting looks at today's economic reality -- wages that aren't keeping pace with the recovery, unless you are a CEO.
“This is the most lopsided recovery I’ve ever seen,’’ said Andrew Sum, an economist and director of the Northeastern [Center for Labor Market Studies]that is releasing the study this week. “The average American worker has gotten virtually nothing in their paychecks from this recovery, even though jobs are slowly starting to come back and profits are up.’’
 That study found "nearly 90 percent of the economy’s real income growth during the current recovery has gone into corporate profits, after companies slashed payrolls, kept wages down, and squeezed additional productivity out of existing employees."

That work is backed up by Equilar Inc., a California compensation research firm that compiled data for The New York Times. It found:
Overall, pay for the top 100 highest paid CEOs at major companies rose 20 percent to more than $2 billion, from 2010 to 2011, largely because of outsize packages to [Apple CEO Timothy] Cook and a few other top executives. ... The data are based on filings by about 300 companies with at least $5 billion in sales that publicly reported their annual compensation numbers by March 31.
We've certainly seen a reflection of the gap on the campaign trail where likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney bemoans a mere $374,000 in speaking fees as "not very much" and blithely goes about plans for a four-car garage, complete with car elevator, for his "second home" in La Jolla, California.

The reality is the issue should unite the Occupiers of the left and the Tea Partiers of the right. Yet that has about as much chance of happening as the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl any time soon. Our divide and conquer political system has been quite good at creating diversions.

A key reason for that separation is ably demonstrated elsewhere with the Globe today, reminding use that the Sheldon Adelsons of the nation are willing to spend substantial (yet ultimately insignificant) chunks of their wealth to preserve the status quo.

So what's the solution? Darned if I know. As long as the wealthy create the playing field and put the ball at our 10-yard-line we are all the  guaranteed losers.

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Global solutions

When the Sunday paper fits folded into a plastic bag you know it's missing something. Only the Globe doesn't seem to want to hear about it.

When I called the "customer service" number I was treated to a loop-de-loop, AKA voice mail hell. No humans were available so I was invited to use the automated system. I dutifully punched in all the numbers, including "0" when I was prompted to report an incomplete or damaged paper.

I should have known better. I got kicked right back to Square One.

Hey Globe -- we pay good cash money in advance, including a premium for the "privilege" of home delivery. Yet year in and year out you treat this group of paying customers like a petty annoyance.

You'll never wise up. Maybe I finally should.

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Saturday, April 07, 2012

A peek behind the curtain

The call was vague and somewhat menacing: "this is a serious business matter. It is not a sales or marketing call." What followed was a brief but revealing look at the seamy underside of the banking system.

A Delaware-based outfit named Harvard Business Services had gotten my phone number in their database. It quickly became obvious they were debt collectors and I was immediately guilty until I could prove myself innocent -- by giving them my phone number, a key they could use to unlock my life.

Knowing my bills were all current, I obviously wasn't inclined to sacrifice my privacy for what I well knew was mistaken identity. My call was kicked over to a supervisor who quickly reinforced my notion in what became a rude exchange that ended with him hanging up -- and me filing a complaint with the Massachusetts Attorney General's office.

And the calls continued -- morning, midday, morning again after the initial evening call. I realized the best chance to stop the nonsense short of legal action was being home for the call that arrived last Saturday morning.

They asked for someone whose name that wasn't even close to mine. And with that the calls stopped. For now.

A few days later, a representative of a local consumer affairs council tasked by the AG's office called. What I had experienced was routine -- fishing expeditions backed by menacing tones and bullying. I was told the Division of Banks regulates these outfits should the calls resume.

For those four days though, I stood in limbo, accused of something that my own bank could easily attest was a bald-faced falsehood. I had to prove my own innocence and to do that short of being in the right place at the right time, the only way I could do that was give up my privacy to a total stranger.

1984 doesn't seem that long ago.

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Friday, April 06, 2012

Ego-a-go-go

Keith Olbermann must have been looking in the mirror when he accused his former bosses of being "dilettantes."

The blathering blowhard of the left has filed a $50 million lawsuit against his latest former employer, Current TV, upset that he was nothing more than a "$10 million chandelier" at a television operation so dysfunctional it did not have a place for him.

Where have we heard this before? Oh yeah here. And here. And here.

Since I have never bothered to watch Al Gore's obscure channel I can't speak to the validity of the complaints Keith O offers. And I've never watched the channel because I've never much cared for Olbermann's schtick since he was a local sportscaster.

Do I have a penchant for his politics? Yes. Do I think his enormous ego and self-righteous demeanor gives that politics a bad name? Yes again.

I suspect someone, somewhere will eventually hire Olbermann and his act again for the temporary ratings boost. But they best be prepared to have an enormous room to hold his baggage.

There's certainly no place big enough to contain his ego.

As the travel agency signs says: Please go away.

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

No fare

This probably was not what MBTA officials hoped for as they raised fares by 23 percent while also cutting service.

No, I'm not referring to the trash fire that shut down the Red Line for several hours.

Rather it was another reminder of the Big Dig legacy and the impact of that project's vast overruns on all aspects of the state's beleaguered transportation infrastructure.

Technically, the $54 million price tag will be paid by the contractors who messed up in the first place. But does anyone think a $500 million settlement will cover all the ills left behind?

And it certainly doesn't come close to dealing with the debt payments saddled on the T and its riders as a result of the massive overruns that bankrupted the late, unlamented Turnpike Authority.

Nor is it comforting to hear transportation officials explain why the company responsible for this particular fiasco, isn't being asked to step up to the plate. According to state highway administrator Frank DePaola:
“You can’t get damages from a company out of business.’’
At least track fires can be put out. This fiscal fire seems unquenchable.

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Mitt's World

You can't handle the truth!
What bizarro world does Myth Romney live in?

The Man with a Million Positions is at it again, claiming Barack Obama is running a "hide-and-seek" campaign, obscuring his positions until after he is elected.
"He wants us to re-elect him so we can find out what he will actually do,” Romney told a group of media executives in Washington. “With all the challenges the nation faces, this is not the time for President Obama’s hide-and-seek campaign.”
Say what?

Romney is trying to make hay from an Obama open mic conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” on foreign policy after the election.

Aside from shining a spotlight yet again on Romney's own flexibility when it comes to policy, the remarks also serve to remind us of the former Massachusetts governor's naivete when it comes to foreign policy.

After first catapulting us back to the Cold War by ignoring al Qaeda and declaring Russia our biggest "geopolitical foe," Romney then added insult to ignorance by demanding Obama release transcripts of all of his conversations with foreign leaders.

Quite a stretch for an openness advocate who sanctioned the destruction of the official record of his gubernatorial term.

The remarks also reinforce the necessity of the media playing truth squad on all candidates, rather than rotely report the "he said, he said" back-and-forth without providing background and context -- and calling out fantasy.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The scolds aren't all right

The thundering voices who love to lash out at politicians are offering an interesting take on Tim Cahill. Everyone does it.

The Herald's Joe Battenfeld was the first to offer sympathy for the indicted former treasurer:
So, will President Obama be next? How about Mitt Romney, Deval Patrick or the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation? All of them have engaged in the practice of what Attorney General Martha Coakley is calling criminal behavior — using their public office to give themselves a political “edge."
Today's it's the Globe's Brian McGrory:
As I watched Martha Coakley announce criminal indictments against Tim Cahill this week, one simple thought kept banging around my head: This doesn’t feel right.
The tough guys going soft on Treasurer Tim?

There is something to be said for what appears to selective enforcement. Cahill and his predecessors have labeled the Treasury's Unclaimed Money List as their own public service as opposed to the law since the days of Bob Crane. Bill Galvin emerges from the darkness to talk about the Secretary of State's mandate to oversees securities trading and voting.

Why hasn't Coakley hauled their butts into court? Or gone after Obama, Romney or Patrick?

A little matter known as state ethics law.

In the past, violations like the ones Cahill stands accused were treated as civil infractions, met with slap-on-the-wrist fines and a wag of the Ethics Commission's finger. But that changed in 2009, when the conflict-of-interest provisions became criminal.

I do recall reading a thing or two about ethics and former House Speaker Sal DiMasi in the pages of the papers where sympathy flows for Cahill.

So shed no tears for Treasurer Tim. His case will serve as a test for the law just about everybody thought was necessary in the wake of the DiMasi debacle.

And don't bother with the cuffs for Mitt, Barack or Deval. But do keep an eagle eye out for future Galvin commercials.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Coakley comeback

Don't look now, but the leading Democrat for governor in 2014 is still the butt of national jokes about her campaign skills.

With yesterday's indictments of former Treasurer Tim Cahill, Attorney General Martha Coakley may have taken the final steps of a comeback few would have thought possible after her humiliating loss to Scott Brown in early 2010.

Coakley has already returned to the top of the heap of Bay State officials, polling higher than either Brown or Deval Patrick. And she's definitely doing better than Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, the presumptive clubhouse leader until his lead-footed misadventures.

In reality, the most talked about rival to Coakley right now is the far less well-known US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who bagged for House Speaker Sal DiMasi and has her sights trained on the probation department.

Which brings us to the winning issue of 2012 and beyond: public corruption.

While Cahill obviously merits the reminder that someone is innocent until proven guilty, the evidence forming the foundation of the indictments can be seen as a form of political suicide. E-mails written by his then campaign manager suggest Cahill approved using lottery funds to pay for an advertising campaign.

While the counterargument is the ads were designed to rebut a Republican Governors Association ad blast trying to force Cahill out of the race by damaging the lottery's reputation, the trail seems pretty clear -- at least in the court of public opinion.

The case will play out in the media over the course of the 2012 election and likely beyond.  Republicans can and will make their case for more representation in the Legislature to serve as a counterbalance to Democratic dominance elsewhere.

But their track record beyond a couple of constitutional offices is not great and Cahill will be in the history books by 2014, when Patrick's successor is elected.

And let's not forget the GOP's gubernatorial cupboard is almost as bare. The presumption is Charlie Baker can get the nomination again if he wants it. But Baker would come to the campaign with black marks on his own campaign skills after failing to defeat a then unpopular incumbent in Patrick.

Of course Coakley's upward trend could be reversed if the Cahill case falls apart. But the attorney general has atoned for her political sins against Brown and would be holding the largest political scalp of them all if she bags Cahill.

Sorry Charlie.

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Monday, April 02, 2012

Close call

It's not the slam dunk that it may appear.

A Globe poll that found 40 percent of Massachusetts voters support an state-financed MBTA bailout is being trumpeted by the survey takers as a strong voice raised in support of legislative solution to the transit agency's problems.

Leaving aside the question of how the message is clear when 34 percent are opposed (a gap much closer to  the 4.2 percent margin of error), the story overlooks the fact a bare majority of 52 percent of respondents with Route 128 support a statewide solution. That's among those who may actually use the services.

Yet the Globe quotes a public policy expert  -- and the pollster -- hailing the results as significant.
“That’s a good sign, because I think that this conversation that’s been unfolding over the last few months has really made [many] more people aware of how important the MBTA is,’’ said Stephanie Pollack, associate director of Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy. “Even people who don’t necessarily use it themselves have heard and read a lot about how important it is to other people and to the economy and employers.’’
A few paragraphs later, the Globe offers what pollster Andrew Smith thought would be the majority opinion -- and often is in the comments section here:
“Boston should stand on its own two feet,’’ said Mark Riley, a West Springfield resident questioned in the random survey of landlines and cellphone numbers.
 That is likely to be the sentiment of legislators representing the solid majority of folks outside 128 who, as the survey notes, either outright oppose state action of need some convincing.

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