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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cliff walk

There we go again. We are peering over the same precipice we faced a year ago, aided and abetted by a media that has largely failed to go beyond the canned sound bites we've been spoon fed.

Aside from an occasional enterprising look at reality versus the rhetoric of austerity offered by Republicans, the media has been content to repeat talking points without bothering to analyze the credibility of the speakers.

That's no doubt why Barack Obama opted to face David Gregory on Meet the Press today, looking for a similar platform to offer his own talking points.
“Now if we have raised some revenue by the wealthy paying a little bit more, that would be sufficient to turn off what’s called the sequester, these automatic spending cuts, and that also would have a better outcome for our economy long-term,” Mr. Obama said. “But so far, at least, Congress has not been able to get this stuff done.  Not because Democrats in Congress don’t want to go ahead and cooperate, but because I think it’s been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican Leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit, as part of an overall deficit reduction package.”
Republican talking heads will surely respond that Obama has refused to compromise, what can only be called a bald-faced lie in the reality that while Obama has been willing to raise his no new taxes threshold from $250,000 to $400,000 while the GOP set $1 million as a base in a laughable fraud of a "Plan B" that was rejected as too much hardship for the wealthy by the Tea Party radicals who have hijacked the House.

But back to the matter at hand. The media may share almost as much culpability as the partisans by failing to sort out fact from talking point and assigning false equivalence to the claims -- by paying to attention to the men behind the curtain.

No one has covered themselves in glory in this insult to the American taxpayer, and that includes the Fourth Estate that has come to view stenography, not reporting, as their calling.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Markey-d man

Ed Markey must be feeling pretty good this morning. Flood-the-zone coverage in the Herald about his interest in the 2013 Senate special election is like a delayed Christmas present.

In addition to the mandatory Howie Carr bile, and handicapping five "dark horses," the Herald sends out their "truth squad" to sample Republican consultant opinion about the congressional delegation's senior Democrat's declaration of interest in the seat that will likely open when John Kerry becomes Secretary of State.

As the unofficial cheerleaders of the Scott Brown campaign, it's clear the Herald brass see Markey as the biggest threat in the absence of a run by Victoria Kennedy.

While the Globe offered front page coverage, the story was in keeping with the holiday doldrums. In fact it is somewhat odd that Markey chose this week. True there is very little else happening, but attention to news is likely to return only after a few choruses of Auld Lang Syne.

Markey may have been staking out his turf against fellow House members Mike Capuano and Steve Lynch, but I would venture most Massachusetts residents are dreading the return of yet another Senate campaign, the third in four years. One that will be followed by yet another one in 2014.

But you know the old saying: the only sure things in life are death, taxes and Massachusetts Senate races.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Transit cliff

Even if Congress and the White House resolves the fiscal cliff, Massachusetts residents face another showdown over taxes and services.

New MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott is warning those sardine-like vessels jammed with commuters may become even more crowded unless Deval Patrick and the Legislature spell out by March exactly how to reduce the system's $132 million budget shortfall -- a fiscal reality that takes into account the 23 percent fare hike last year.
"These first 60 days are going to be very, very critical,” Scott said. “The last thing I want to have to do is start off the year scaring people.”
Given the fact ridership has risen nearly 2 percent despite the last fare hike, she's not doing a great job averting fear.

Patrick is poised to proposal some solutions for the state's multi-billion dollar transportation problem that includes crumbling roads and bridges (and highway tunnels). The problem will be getting the Great and General Court engaged in what surely will be a discussion of new taxes.

The focus on the T's troubles are sure to set off a regional battle, with communities outside the transit system's reach balking at paying the freight for the capital city. Ditto for another dime toward anything associated with the city's commuter web, even the decades-old tunnels that have nothing to do with the Big Dig fiasco.

But it's hard to imagine the problems are limited to the Boston area -- if only because the rest of the state got the short end of the transportation stick during Big Dig construction.

Perhaps chastened by his first effort to raise the gasoline tax, Patrick intends to offer a plan, not a blueprint, showing what it would cost to handle transportation problems from Provincetown to Pittsfield.

The specifics will be in the budget that Patrick submits to lawmakers later in January and, as we all know, the governor proposes and the Legislature disposes. And House Speaker Robert DeLeo disposed of Patrick's rejection of adding another penny to the sales tax to pay for transportation.

Of course lawmakers didn't do that either.

House Transportation Committee Chairman William Straus of Mattapoisett isn't offering hope for MBTA commuters, but he's also keeping his cards close for now.
“In no sense should people think the T is out of the woods,” Straus said, underscoring that last June’s fix was a temporary solution.
It's long past time for lawmakers to come up with a comprehensive solution that fixes the T (which, let's not forget, is shackled with Big Dig debt) and the state's crumbling roads, bridges and tunnels.

But as the ongoing Washington melodrama shows, it's easier to kick the can down the road.

Until it falls into a sinkhole.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

In the Mitch of time

The man who made the defeat of Barack Obama the Republicans' No. 1 goal in 2012 is now the man who can avert the fiscal cliff.

In the wake of John Boehner's abdication of responsibility for his runaway charges, the nation now turns its lonely eyes to Mitch McConnell, a man who appears to be fighting a permanent dyspepsia.

It's sort of like Louise asking Thelma if this is the right place to careen over the edge or if there is a better spot.

McConnell, the man who controls the Senate filibuster, is playing his usual coy self, suggesting he cannot dictate to his members whether or not to hold up any proposed temporary fix to the artificial crisis created when Republicans cut taxes too deeply and boosted spending to eliminate the Clinton surplus.

Ho, ho, ho. That's a good one.

A few members of McConnell's caucus are ready to jump ship and support a temporary fix to the current mess created and abandoned by Boehner and the Tea Party. Listen to Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson on ABC's "This Week."
“The president’s statement is right. No one wants taxes to go up on the middle class. I don’t want them to go up on anybody, but I’m not in the majority in the United States Senate, and he’s the president of the United States.
“The truth of the matter is, if we do fall off the cliff after the president is inaugurated, he’ll come back, propose just what he proposed yesterday in leaving Washington, and we’ll end up adopting it. But why should we put the markets in such turmoil and the people in such misunderstanding or lack of confidence? Why not go ahead and act now?” 
Isakson, along with retiring Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson are among the tiny handful of members of the reality wing of the GOP.  But it may be too much to expect McConnell to provide any leadership on this issue, given the political reality being faced by the Senate Minority Leader.

His own internal polls suggest he is a mere four points ahead of actress and current Tennessee resident Ashley Judd.

Then again, this is the season of miracles.

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Blinders full of Republicans

Move over Mike Dukakis, you no longer ran the worst presidential campaign ever.

The Boston Globe offers excruciating details on the utter ineptness of Mitt Romney's presidential bid, a tale full incompetence, self-delusion and outright prevarication (Ann, not Mitt wanted to go in 2012?).

The vaunted data-driven businessman was outplayed and out-managed every step of the way by a Barack Obama campaign that perfectly highlighted all of Romney's faults and blunders.

Mike Kranish's tale makes clear Romney really, really believed internal polls that gave him and easy win despite virtually all national polling -- impartial and skewed alike -- that saw the race as Obama's to lose. It was the final mistake by a team that made a slew of them.

Whether it was the ground game or the air game, Romney's team was repeatedly outmaneuvered by Obama, which targeted voters through techniques pioneered by a George W. Bush campaign that laid waste to yet another under-performing Massachusetts hopeful.

Many members of Team Victory (oops, that was his 2004 effort to elect Republicans to the Massachusetts Legislature) remain shell-shocked, insisting if only Romney had revealed his true self, all would have turned out well.

Except that Romney never agreed to that approach -- in his 1994 Senate campaign, 2002 gubernatorial run of 2008 presidential bid. And that's because, as long-time Bay State observers know, there has never been a political core to the man who wore a suit well but did not wear well with voters.

The hardest declaration to believe is Tagg Romney's insistence that it was his mother, not his father, who burned for a 2012 campaign. The man whose resume made clear he was grooming himself for the job if for no other reason that to succeed where his own father failed didn't want to try again?

The Globe account simply reaffirms what Massachusetts voters long knew (and demonstrated with a 61-38 shellacking): Romney's suit was perpetually empty.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

It's a blunder-full life

After the Plan B debacle, conservatives would have been advised to lay low. But the NRA never lays lows.

Just an hour after a national moment of mourning for the victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre, National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre leveled both barrels at anyone who though the school shooting means we need to control the availability of assault rifles.

Calling for armed police in every school. LaPierre declared:
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Coming just one day after the Tea Party torpedoed House Speaker John Boehner's bargaining chip of higher taxes only for those earning more than $1 million annually, the speech (sorry, no questions) has to amount to the most tone-deaf right wing outburst yet.

Let's not even look at the $5.5 billion annual price tag being proposed by the armed wing of the less government crowd. Grover Norquist, an NRA board member, will undoubtedly offer another dispensation for that spending.

What was LaPierre thinking to say guns in every school make children safer?  Did he not do his homework well enough to know an armed guard failed to stop the Columbine massacre?

The outrage at the performance was not limited to just liberals. Thinking conservatives chimed in:
In an interview with MSNBC, Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, called the gun group’s press conference a missed opportunity “to create another conversation at a higher level where the American people are right now.” He called LaPierre’s comments “very haunting and very disturbing.”
There is one point on which thoughtful liberals and the gun lobby can agree: there is far too much glorification of violence in our society, from video games to action movies starring the former Republican governor of California. But we separate on next steps.

Making deadly killing machines easily available to easily influenced violence lovers is not a good move. And an armed guard in every school is an invitation to an unstable person to get even bigger guns and escalate the danger to innocent people.

And one wonders whether the right thinks Santa should pack serious heat as he makes his rounds this week bringing joy and cheers (and expensive packages) around the world.

Except for the coal in the stockings of right wing extremists who plunged over their own cliff this week.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Teapocalypse

You want to bet John Boehner wasn't too thrilled to see the sun rise today?

While the Mayans may have been off in their predictions for the end of the world, the Tea Party is still very much alive and well in its efforts to destroy the economy. The inmates have taken over the asylum and are working hard to push the nation over the fiscal cliff.

Boehner has been preaching to every TV camera that would listen that we could solve all of our problems if only Barack Obama would "get serious" and surrender to the GOP demands to spare millionaires while sticking it to granny.  Never mind the election where a disappeared vulture capitalist managed to garner only 47 percent of the vote.

After avoiding any concrete proposals for months, Boehner and his "leadership" team offered "Plan B," a cynical maneuver that extended the Bush tax cuts that helped get us into this fiscal pickle to anyone earning $1 million annually. You know, those elusive "job creators."

He even trotted out St. Grover to offer a dispensation that raising taxes on seven-digit annual income earners wasn't even a violation of Norquist's Holy Grail.

And what does Boehner get for his troubles? He can't even get his own caucus to support him.

There's actually little difference between this disaster and the previous cases of GOP obstinance that has brought gridlock to the Capitol, not to mention a downgrading of America's credit rating. The one significant change is Obama no longer has to back down in negotiations that have essentially been with himself.

The scene brings back memories of Massachusetts circa 1990, when Speaker George Keverian failed to wrangle his own unruly members to agree upon a solution to the state's fiscal crisis. That brought a not-so-great change at the top -- three successive speakers imbued with so much power that they wound up on the wrong side of the law,

While that's not likely to happen here, it does point out the dangers associated with a failure of leadership, not being able to make members swallow a bitter but necessary pill in order to avoid poison. This latest debacle virtually ensures Boehner will be near the top of the list when history records the worst legislative leaders.

In the meantime, Plan C anyone? Unless the Mayan prediction has a 24-hour window.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Boehner's bluff

The Republican Party is running on fumes, with bluster the chief coin of its realm as we stare at the fiscal cliff.

House Speaker John Boehner showed his hand this week by calling for protecting everyone earning up to $1 million annually from higher taxes -- eve after Barack Obama offered a small victory by upping his own threshold to $400,000. The millionaire balm came with a call for cutting the Social Security benefit increase for the elderly.

Obama did not mince words, saying any House-passed millionaire tax break was dead on arrival, should ever emerge from the Senate.
“They keep on finding ways to say ‘no’ as opposed to finding ways to say ‘yes,’” Obama said. “And I don’t know how much of that just has to do with, you know, it is very hard for them to say yes to me. But, you know, at some point, you know, they’ve got to take me out of it and think about their voters and think about what’s best for the country.”
Boehner was his usual bluff and bluster, the principal tool he has used through the endless scrums over our nation's future.
“Then the president will have a decision to make,” he said. “He can call upon Senate Democrats to pass that bill, or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history."
House Republicans have been nothing but consistent in the face of last month's election results and polls that show the public favors the Obama approach. Like little children, they are insisting on holding their breath until they turn blue and Boehner is their enabler.

He has even enlisted the true leader of the Republican Party, Grover Norquist, to offer his imprimatur that voting for Boehner's Plan B would not violate the mindless pledge that has created the cliff.

Obama has been rightly accused of negotiating with himself in the past, but things appear different this time around.
"What I said was that the ultimate package would involve a balance of spending cuts and tax increases. That’s exactly what I have put forward. What I have said is, in order to arrive at a compromise, I am prepared to do some very tough things, some things that some Democrats don’t want to see, and probably there are a few Republicans who don’t want to see them either.”
And he added the ultimate twist to the breath-holding caucus:
“When you think about what we’ve gone through over the last couple months — a devastating hurricane, and now one of the worst tragedies in our memory — the country deserves us to be willing to compromise on behalf of the greater good,”
Perhaps we should rephrase Boehner's remarks: he can call on House Republicans to vote for a reasonable package of tax increases and spending cuts or he can be responsible for a Republican Recession that would be totally avoidable if only the zealots put their country above their ideology.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stick it to granny

Republicans are out with a "Plan B" that looks to save millionaires at the expense of Social Security. And John Boehner still insists on calling Barack Obama's proposal "unbalanced."

Amid grumbling among Democrats over Obama's concessions on taxes and Social Security cost-of-living increases, Boehner and the GOP unveiled an alternative whose centerpiece is preserving the perks of the 1 percent.

Obama has eased away from his long-standing call for tax hikes for those earning more than $250,000, upping the threshold to $400,000. Not content with a very symbolic backtrack from his campaign pledge, Boehner offered more red meat to his band who were on the losing end of November.

Preserving tax breaks for those earning $1 million annually.

But that's apparently not enough for the Fruitcake Caucus, who are concerned that Boehner won't address the looming mandated Pentagon budget cuts.
Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was not sure he could support a bill that would allow $500 billion in military cuts over the next 10 years and indicated that other Republicans on his committee shared his concern.
There's no similar concerns being expressed on the GOP side for the proposal to limit the growth of future Social Security benefits, the so-called "chained CPI."

Worcester Democrat Jim McGovern laid out the GOP position succinctly:
“Asking Donald Trump to pay a dollar more is not the same as taking something away from an old lady or an old man in my district who is just squeaking by,’’ McGovern said.
Except in Tea Party Land, where the mantra is billions for the military industrial complex and coal in granny's stocking.

Another thing that has not changed is Boehner's talking points. After months of not even putting a specific offer on the table and insisting Obama is not serious, the Speaker now puts out a laughable plan that can't even win the support of his ow caucus and takes swipes at Obama.

What's in that egg nog Mr. Speaker?

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Wrong target

Armed guards in schools. Muzzles on the media. These have been the calls since a gunman carrying terrifying firepower broke into a Connecticut school and massacred innocents.

The nation's chief gun cheerleader, the NRA, has been silent since Adam Lanza and his Bushmaster assault rifle changed life forever in Newtown. Bullies are like that.

But the right is slowly rousing from its self-imposed slumber and is pointing its fingers and what they think are they true culprits of the nation's paroxysms of violence.

Yep, the media.

Journalism has not covered itself in glory. The list of the reporting errors is long as reporters forget the first rule of breaking news: get it first BUT get it right. And the swarm of cameras and network news stars that have descended on a bucolic New England town is historic.

Yet there are folks who choose to engage with the media  and the swarm understands it needs to behave with circumspection.

Not so for 2nd Amendment absolutists, who have been turning their verbal weapons on a straw man.

Retiring Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman who says Hollywood and video games are responsible for the tragedy. Yes, we live in a society that not only condones violence but celebrates it.

Except joy sticks don't kill people.

Then there's a Daily Caller columnist who sees a potential solution to our mass murder problem: muzzle the media not the shooters. Constitutional protections? Pish-posh!

And in the wake of our inability to deal with a crisis not inflicted upon one other nation in the world, we turn to the ultimate solution: stick it to the victim.

It's likely our schools will follow airports and government buildings in becoming prisons. Instead of enacting reasonable measures like taking killing machines out of the hands of unstable people we will impose lockdowns -- no matter that Lanza broke into the locked Sand Hook Elementary School,

That sadly is America today. Gun shops outnumber McDonald's outlets and yet we blame everyone except those responsible and expand the opportunity to inflict grievous bodily harm.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Enough

Baseball. Hot dogs. Apple pie. Mass Murder. It's time for us to recognize that in our "exceptional" society murder at the hands of a firearm is apparently accepted as part of daily life.

The Second Amendment crowd has been holding its fire for now, although they will surely point out the weapons used by Adam Lanza to perpetrate his evil at the Sandy Hook Elementary School were legally purchased by his mother, no doubt for her own protection -- until he turned a weapon on her.

And we will also inevitably hear that "guns don't kill people. People kill people." But it does not take much effort to blow a hole in that rationalization.

Since their invention in China, firearms have known one purpose, as weapons. Knives can be used to open things or to cut food. Axes can be used to chop wood to generate warmth. Guns were not invented to crack open nuts and I doubt they are widely used for that purpose today.

Our exceptional society is the only one in the world where these weapons of minimal to moderate destruction are as easily available as baseballs, hot dogs and chewing gum. Ours is also the only society where absolutists have taken an incredibly narrow reading of the 2nd Amendment to place the right of gun ownership over a child's right to go to school without fearing for their safety.

Our exceptional society takes greater offense at the discussion of the role of the gun in the murder-suicide of a football player and his girlfriend than it does to the discussion of the on-field violence that may ultimately prove to be a factor in Jovan Belcher's hideous act.

And our exceptional society -- where four presidents were assassinated and an icon of the right was seriously wounded by guns -- has allowed itself to be cowed into inaction by a well-financed lobby that operates with non-lethal intimidation using cash and the ballot box.

Yes, murder and evil are as old as the planet and there will always be people who think nothing of taking the lives of others. But what is unprecedented is ease with which weapons are available, particularly those that serve no purpose other than killing.

There are sadly no profiles of courage here, left or right. If recent history is any judge, we will hand our heads in shock, weeping at the particular savagery of this crime, then move on until the next time.

And there will be a next time is as sure as the sun will rise in the morning. Unless the Mayans are right and we all pay for the the lack of humanity of the few.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Here we go again

Just what we needed -- another election.

Now that Susan Rice has been Swiftboated out of contention for Secretary of State, the Republicans are no doubt salivating at the thought of a yet another special election in Massachusetts to replace John Kerry, who is now expected to be Barack Obama's choice to replace Hillary Clinton at Foggy Bottom.

First, the irony. The victim of the original GOP Swift boat attack is now the darling of the same party that lied about his record to torpedo his presidential hopes in 2004. While they got their man, don't expect kid glove treatment from the Gang That Can't Speak Straight.

Assuming Obama nominates Kerry -- the man who elevated him to the national stage at the 2004 convention and a man who hungers for the job -- we will be facing a US Senate delegation with no seniority clout and a vacancy that has already been ceded to Scott Brown.

Except this time, no one will have to be polite about lusting after the job.

The Democrats will face the same problem they faced when Brown was first elected in a special election in 2011 -- the lack of a candidate so strong he could blow away the competition and avoid a lengthy intrapartty fight.

Then again, that was the same problem until Elizabeth Warren emerged from the national spotlight and was introduced to Massachusetts voters.

Presuming there are no new miracles, the roster includes the usual suspects: Ed Markey, Mike Capuano, Stephen Lynch. Not to mention Setti Warren, Herb Robinson and Alan Khazei. About the only name you can remove wouyld be Martha Coakley. OK, you probably can drop Tim Cahill too.

Deval Patrick has just swept out four cabinet members in a reaffirmation of his pledge to serve out the rest of his term. His principal role will be the name the interim senator to hold the seat until a special election. The wild card is will he, like last time, ask that seatholder not to run for the permanent job

On the GOP side, everyone expects history to repeat itself with Brown. Sure, there's a mild bit of amused speculation that Bill Weld will step forward, but remember Big Red has a short attention span.

Brown would clearly have an advantage, but it would not be a mirror image to his first campaign. Or his failed reelection bid either. Brown is no longer the charming unknown running at the height of the Tea Party wave and Democrats would no longer take him lightly.

Of course, Obama could surprise us all and go in another direction, unwilling to lose a Senate seat in a chamber that still insists on a three-fifths majority to say Gesundheit.

Or the Massachusetts Legislature could change the law again and eliminate the requirement for a special election and allow Patrick's appointment to run as an incumbent in 2014.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mixed message

Why is Tim Cahill smiling after a hung jury could not reach agreement on ethics violations charges against him? And why are the leaders of the Hate the Hacks movement laughing?

The former treasurer and gubernatorial candidate is claiming "total vindication" after a Suffolk Superior Court jury gave up after 40 hours of deliberations.

Really? Thousands spend on lawyers, a political career in tatters and at best found not guilty because he behaved as we have come to expect politicians to behave?

Meanwhile there's chortling over at the new Herald Square, where Attorney General Martha Coakley is the subject of the usual derision we've come to expect after her premier prosecution under the state's tougher ethics law failed to convince a jury of 12 men and women.

The law was enacted after a parade of malfeasance on Beacon Hill, including former House Speaker Sal DiMasi and one-time state senator Dianne Wilkerson. Voters were fed up and demanding an end to business as usual.

In the interim, a man who cut his political teeth pursuing Ahab-like quests against politicians poo-poohed the mere fact the case was brought against what we have all come to decry as the politics we love to hate.

So who's to blame here? An overambitious and failed prosecutor? Lawmakers who booby-trapped the law demanded by voters?

Coakley has yet to decide whether to re-try Cahill, making his vindication claim at the very least premature. And she took the high road against critics -- the same ones who would probably calling for her scalp if she chose to do nothing about the fact Cahill used public money to pay for ads defending the lottery while being attacked, but not over the lottery -- as a gubernatorial candidate.
“I continue to believe in the strength of this case and the strength of our justice system,” Coakley said.
On her side was a stash of e-mails and other messages that showed Cahill and his aides discussed the timing and content of lottery ads scheduled to run at the same time he was running for governor.

Treasurer Tim claimed he was simply trying to defend the lottery against the attacks. But in my mind, the real question is if that was the case, why did his campaign aides handle the issue instead of treasury staff?

There's no disputing the words of one juror:
“It was a complicated crime, and the definition of conspiracy is complicated,” said the juror, who declined to give his name and said he believed Cahill was not guilty. “The jury worked really hard and really long to come to a decision, and, at the end, we couldn’t.”
There's an old line I don't quite understand that declares "politics ain't beanbag." I suppose that suggests there are consequences for every action. Coakley's political future is now being seen as damaged because she did her job in using a law demanded to deal with political corruption.

It may not be beanbag. And it certainly doesn't follow logic. But if I had ambition for public office I would rather be Coakley than Cahill this morning.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Falling dominos

There's an inevitable grumbling over the announcement that Amazon will start charging Massachusetts sales tax next year. But don't count the Bay State's small business owners among them.

The decision to level the playing field, particularly for small, locally owned bookstores, is probably also just the first of several more barriers to fall that have given out-of-state online retailers an unfair advantage of local folks trying to make a living.

Being the moonbat liberal that I am, I did the vast bulk of my holiday shopping at Brookline Booksmith, a local treasure. I could have avoided the crowds and done my shopping there online, but under the quirk in Massachusetts law, I would have paid sales tax on my purchases, one way or another.

That's because as a local business, Booksmith has invested in "bricks and mortar," a physical presence that makes it part of the community. It also means it has a far smaller footprint than an national behemoth like Amazon.

Local competitors take it on the chin in at least three ways that online companies do not: they pay local property taxes; they pay for health insurance and other benefits for the people who they employ. And until next November, they alone will charge sales taxes on their customers' purchases to help the Commonwealth provide services to our neighbors.

No, I'm not angelic. I have done business with Amazon and other online retailers. But I've looked for products I can't find here: LL Bean and Eddie Bauer, to name two, have far more extensive catalogs than what they offer in local stores.

Neither Bean nor Bauer are mom-and-pop operations, yet they too have an advantage over locally based retailers who sell similar goods. The decision by Amazon to charge sales tax means the time is coming for Bean and other catalog operations too.

Amazon may or may not have agreed to establish a bigger physical presence in Massachusetts, right now they have an office in Cambridge and a technology firm in North Reading. Maybe there's a distribution center down the road that might employee dozens or maybe a hundred people offering us a chance to get our stuff the next day.

We'll probably also be used to higher taxes all around by the time next November comes around. It's the price we pay to live in a society that provides us with goods and services.

And now if we can only get our banks, oil and gas companies and Wall Street bazillionaires to pay their fair share.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

D'uh

'Tis the season. For silliness.

How else to explain the such random foolishness as the Republican National Committee launching an "investigation" into why the GOP lost the 2012 election.
RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who is seeking another term, announced Monday that he is forming a committee that will examine a number of areas that were crucial during the campaign, including the execution of the field organization’s “ground game,” messaging, fundraising, demographics, and lessons learned from the Democratic campaigns.
How about the fact you nominated a cardboard cut-out candidate who can't empathize was the "47 percent" and who weakened his already poor position by being saddled with viewpoints that are unacceptable to a majority of Americans.

But some consultants are going to get fat contracts financed by some of the fat cats who bankrolled the presidential hate fest. Heck, there's got to be something left over following the $8 million golden parachute the Tea Party offered Dick Armey.

And I do hope the RNC takes a poll or two to get to the facts. I hear Public Policy Polling does some whizbang stuff, even though they are Democratic-leaning.

But then again, you could probably figure that out when Stephen Colbert topped their list of voter favorites to fill the South Carolina US Senate seat opening up with the resignation of Jim DeMint.

Of course PPP came through with an even more astounding result. It seems a guy who wears a red suit and hands out "gifts" must be a Democrat.

Ho, ho. ho.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

JADED

Let me get this straight: Barack Obama hasn't even been sworn in for his second term and there are polls on on 2016 GOP front-runners? And front page New York Times stories on leading Democrats?

Someone really needs to address this massive case of Journalist Attention Deficit Extreme Disorder.

And don't tell me that it's just a side light to the real focus of attention -- the fiscal cliff. Coverage of the serious fiscal challenges ahead have been reduced to the same JADED horse race coverage that highlights our selection of leaders.

Reporting on who's talking to who while a clock ticks ominously in the corner is not a serious look at the substantive questions of how we got here and what's really at stake in the various talking points being flung publicly while aides labor in back rooms try to craft a solution.

Every quadrennial journalists solemnly gather to review the election coverage, concede their sins and promise to change. Every four years later, things have not changed, except maybe for getting worse.

The explosion of cable television talk shows, web-based media and yes, blogs and Twitter have turned an even larger segment of Americans into political junkies, desperate to know whose doing what to who and how they are doing it.

Originally, politics was a means to and end, a way to find leaders who wished to serve people by holding the reins of government.

Today it's one of the largest businesses around, a politico-media complex that needs to be constantly fed -- with gossip and high-priced ads if necessary.

Once upon a time, a term-limited official had two years or so to accomplish things before the political world started to sap his or her relevance.

It's only a matter of tie before some Republican leader suggests Obama is a lame duck with no authority -- and some JADED scribe posts it on the web or in a blog.

I think we need to start a 12-step group for political reporters -- Journalists Anonymous. Of course the location and the process will necessarily need to be on deep background to protect the sources.

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Saturday, December 08, 2012

Grassroots rot

When I defend Scott Brown as a consistent voice of reason, you know his critics are out there on the fringe.

They are in fact members of the "conservative wing" of the Massachusetts Republican Party, the ones who think the party would do better if it put up candidates to the right of Brown and Richard Tisei.

You know, two guys who lost last month because Massachusetts voters have a hard time dealing with anyone who wears the Republican tag these days, even candidates nowhere near as extreme as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.

Scotto's apparent apostasy was the suggestion that Kirsten Hughes, his deputy campaign finance director might be a good successor to Robert Maginn, who decided to step down because he has "not heard the voice of the Lord calling me to seek reelection as chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party at this time."

Hughes candidacy is being seen as a sign of end times by some Bay State Republicans:
"We don’t want an establishment candidate shoved down our throat,” said Steve Aylward, a conservative-leaning member of the state committee and an unsuccessful candidate for state Senate. “We’re looking for someone who will bring the change that we need and make it a healthy party, which is about all candidates . . . not about one candidate at the top.”
There's certainly a grain of truth in Aylward's complaint. The Massachusetts GOP has been a top-down operation for as long as most can remember. It has had moderate success at the top of the ticket with candidates like Brown, Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci and Joe Malone.

There was even a guy who moved from Utah to spend a couple of years in the Corner Office before heading off to bigger challenges.

All that while, party chairs have ignored the grassroots, to the point where Republican representation in the Legislature has dwindled, even as scandal has left three consecutive House speakers on the wrong side of the law.

But the grassroots, at least the one envisioned by activists like Aylward, is at the heart of the root rot being experienced by the GOP nationally -- and one long rejected by voters who elected Brown and company.
“I have a real hard time reconciling how he campaigned and the positions he took with that desire to get back involved with party politics,” Aylward said. “He kind of ran away from Republican values.”
Brown campaigned as an independent because he shared a belief common among Massachusetts voters of all persuasions.

That's the belief that the phrase "Republican values" is an oxymoron.

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Friday, December 07, 2012

Where's Weldo?

It's come to this for Massachusetts Republicans. A guy who quit his job midterm and left the state for a dozen years is now seen as a potential candidate for high office. Or at least an elder statesman, a voice for an increasingly conservative party that would consider many of his stands apostasy.

One thing you can say about William Floyd Weld -- he believes consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. The man who cut his political teeth pursuing Kevin White like Ahab pursued the whale, Weld now believes Martha Coakley is only playing politics in her pursuit of Tim Cahill.

Big Red (with hefty touches of gray) has returned to Massachusetts after a dozen years in New York, which only Weld could say was to pursue anonymity. Of course, that required Weld to forget his own unsuccessful flirtation with moving to Albany. Not to mention the questionable time at the helm of a for-profit vocational education school in Kentucky.

But with Scott Brown driving off into the sunset, at least temporarily, and Richard Tisei losing an eminently winnable race against John Tierney, the state GOP has no real shining lights.

Enter Weldo -- and amnesia. John Carroll catalogs the Herald's flood the zone coverage of the man who walked out of the Statehouse on a quixotic mission to become ambassador to Mexico. And David Bernstein reflects on Weld's apparent flip-flip on public corruption.

But the newspaper that serves as the unofficial voice of the state GOP is having none of that in the face of the weak bench. And they are happy to allow Weld to declare "all is forgiven"for his wanderlust.

Would they have been so forgiving of a less-charismatic Democrat? Say Michel Dukakis?

Just sayin'.

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Thursday, December 06, 2012

Hamlet in a pickup

The spotlight continues to shine on Scott Brown even as he packs up to return to Wrentham.

Our Lame Duck Hamlet continues to keep his own counsel as Congressional Republicans creep toward to decision on whether to acknowledge the will of the voters to raise taxes on the rich as part of a deal to avoid going over the fiscal cliff they created through reckless Bush-era tax and spend policies.

Unlike fellow lame duck New Englander Olympia Snowe, Brown won't say what he's thinking or doing on what will be the most important vote of his short DC stint. It's the familiar stance he used in his glory days as a deciding vote in favor of a softened Dodd-Frank bill and other measures.

The choice is stark: Brown can maintain his allegiance to Grover Norquist or he can do what is best for Massachusetts -- and not so coincidentally is the policy favored by the people who voted him out of office.

The facts are also clear: the Obama administration has cataloged some of the Massachusetts fallout if a middle class-friendly deal isn't reached: tax hikes for the lowest folks on the income scale and for small businesses -- the very people Brown claimed to represent.

And that's just at the federal level. As Deval Patrick noted, with Republican agreement, the fiscal cliff is hurting the state budget as decisions are postponed because of the partisan obstinacy in Washington.

There's also bad news from Brown if he hopes to ride to the rescue again: he may be thoroughly irrelevant. The action is all in the Tea Party-tinged House and the zealots there appear to be in no mood to acknowledge electoral reality.

If Brown hopes to have a positive legacy, it would behoove him to raise his voice in moderation now, rather than wait until the game is decided.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Uncompassionate conservatism

Just when you think Senate Republicans cannot stoop lower, they prove you wrong.

The Lunatic Right, no doubt seeing United Nations black helicopters flying over the Capitol Dome, cast what may be the single most shameful vote ever recorded in the Senate, voting down a treaty that would ban discrimination against people with disabilities.

Why? The measure, modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, might lead to more abortions.

No one, not even chief conspiratorialist Rick Santorum, was willing to utter than outright. Instead it fell to Arizona's John Kyl to offer this slap at the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“Just as with many treaties before this one, the CRPD would offer cover to regimes that have no intention of actually helping their citizens, while needlessly tying the hands of countries like the United States that have actually made great strides in this area,” Kyl said in a floor speech.
This vote was egregious, even by Senate standards, where 41 votes can block someone from saying Gesundheit after a sneeze.

The treaty garnered 61 votes, five short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass a treaty. Even the presence of Bob Dole, a disabled World War II vet now 89 and using a wheelchair after a recent hospitalization, could not melt the icy hearts of his former colleagues.

Clearly the mere whisper of the UN sets the right off like so wolves howling at the moon. But to reject a treaty based on a model created by former President George H.W. Bush, and negotiated by his son George W. Bush is the apex of idiocy.

Even John McCain, R-Grumpy Old Man, dropped his recent belligerence to stand with his disabled brothers and sisters. And a tip of the hat to the Republicans, including Scott Brown, who did not join in this shameful act.

Once upon a time in Washington, Dole, with his sharp dry wit and a willingness to say what's on his mind, was viewed as the angry Republican. The Man from Kansas is a cuddly teddy bear in comparison to the hard-hearted zealots who now wear the title Republican.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

"La-la-land"

After endless blather and delay the Republicans have finally served up a budget proposal: Son of Ryan.

The latest GOP plan repeats the tired old canard of trimming Medicare and Social Security to salvage tax cuts on the richest one percent. It is as if the November election had never happened.

The major difference between this plan and the one that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan proposed last year is that it has been test-driven -- both by Senate and the American voters. And it is a lemon that can't move.

The new Republican version retains the Bush tax cuts in their entirety. It also calls for a change in the way inflation is calculated so that Social Security benefits rise more slowly in the future. Last I looked, folks in the upper ends of the tax table don't rely on Social Security to put food on the table and pay the heating bills.

The proposed Republican savings in Medicare and Social Security will cost recipients more than they will save the federal budget. They do not come close to closing loopholes created by such yawning entitlements as subsidies for large agriculture firms and oil and gas subsidies.

Even Erskine Bowles, one of the co-authors of the plan (the commission member Paul Ryan rejected) is calling out Boehner over his assertion the GOP plan is similar to their roadmap.
“It will be necessary for both sides to move beyond their opening positions.”
The essential point of the Republican proposal is the failed argument that tax cuts for the rich will spur "job creators" to do their thing. The clear evidence from the now 10-plus year history of these cuts is well Bushwa.

Take it back 20 more years beyond that and it's clear the most significant period of economic growth was when Bill Clinton raised the marginal rates on that top tax brackets.

The Republican tax cuts for growth mantra has a clear record over 30 years: it does not work, Or in the words of a different Bush, they are "voo-doo economics."

It's time for some serious reality lessons for Boehner's bunch.

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Monday, December 03, 2012

"Flabbergasted"

We're waiting John Boehner.

It's long past time for Boehner and his GOP colleagues to put forward a substantive proposal to resolve the fiscal cliff. Rhetoric and hot air, which Republicans have offered in abundance, won't do the trick.

Boehner hit to Sunday yak shows to declare he was "flabbergasted" by the Democratic proposal, which includes:
... $1.6 trillion in new revenue from upper-income taxpayers; $600 billion in reduced spending for Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies and other programs; $1 trillion in other spending cuts that he and Congress committed to last year for the coming decade; and $800 billion from projected war spending reflecting the winding down of combat operations overseas. Obama’s plan also contains $200 billion in new spending on unemployment benefits, public works, and aid for home­owners.
In contrast, the Republican proposal calls for, um, er, uh, stable tax rates for "job creators."

Perhaps Boehner and his colleagues have been in deep denial over the voters' choice of Obama over Mitt Romney a month ago. That's apparent for the GOP's failure to get serious about offering their own concrete proposal.

And Boehner's shock may also be caused by Obama's resolve this time around.
Disciplined and unyielding, he argues for raising taxes on the wealthy while offering nothing new to rein in spending and overhaul entitlement programs beyond what was on the table last year. Until Republicans offer their own new plan, Mr. Obama will not alter his. In effect, he is trying to leverage what he claims as an election mandate to force Republicans to take ownership of the difficult choices ahead.
It has always taken two to negotiate. Earlier in the term now ending, Obama offered a position, then blinked in the face of GOP intransigence in a fruitless effort to foster bipartisanship.

He was rewarded by having the GOP use the $716 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts to providers used as a bludgeon against him in the campaign, even after Paul Ryan baked the very same cuts into his own draconian House budget.

Obama holds all the cards now and he knows it. If January rolls around without an agreement, the Bush tax cuts expire for all Americans. Obama will then swiftly file legislation to restore them for all but those earning more than $250,000 annually.

Are Republicans going to vote against that tax cut?

In the end, Boehner, Ryan and crew will be forced to put their cards on the table. Until then, we wait.

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Sunday, December 02, 2012

Cliff notes

Business leaders and their Republican friends tell us middle class taxpayers will need to give up some of our tax breaks and entitlements to prevent the nation from going over the fiscal cliff.

Somehow they never mention the massive amount of "incentives" they receive from local, state and the federal government -- often for promises they fail to keep.

There have always been easy targets of "corporate welfare"-- subsidies for big agriculture, the oil and gas industry and of course the preferential tax treatment of Wall Street profits.

The New York Times takes a much deeper dive into corporate feeding at the public trough and finds governments at all levels are turning over  at least $80 billion annually to subsidize manufacturers, oil and coal conglomerates, technology and entertainment companies, banks and big-box retail chains.

And here's the scariest part:
The cost of the awards is certainly far higher. A full accounting, The Times discovered, is not possible because the incentives are granted by thousands of government agencies and officials, and many do not know the value of all their awards. Nor do they know if the money was worth it because they rarely track how many jobs are created. Even where officials do track incentives, they acknowledge that it is impossible to know whether the jobs would have been created without the aid.
Remember this when House Speaker John Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declare President Obama and Democrats are not being reasonable by insisting on higher taxes for the top 2 percent or no major cuts in entitlements as part of negotiations to avoid plunging over the artificial cliff created by massive GOP tax cuts and credit card spending on multiple wars.

And Democrats, emboldened by the reelection of Barack Obama and increasing their seats in the Senate, should stick to those guns while also insisting that the corporate welfare "entitlements" that have been ignored in this debate be put on the table as well. It appears there is enough fat there to cure most of our ills.

A fair-minded person can see some value in restricting mortgage interest deductions on multimillion dollar McMansions. Perhaps there are cogent arguments to be made for restricting the deductibility of employer-paid health benefits  or even for limiting the deduction for charitable contributions.

But only after our overstuffed corporations are put on a diet.

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Saturday, December 01, 2012

Upon further review

Maybe Martha Coakley didn't really botch her first really high profile political corruption case.

That certainly has been the popular viewpoint as the trial of former Treasurer Tim Cahill made its sleepy way through November. As prosecutors methodically laid out their case, some political observers yawned; others ignored it completely.

Count Cahill's defense team among the yawners. Putting their client on the stand to defend himself can be seen as the ultimate sign of confidence in your chances. And in his first day of testimony, Cahill did nothing to change that thought.

But it appears Coakley's team saved their best for last.

For those of us who may have forgotten, Cahill is accused of using public funds, in the form of Lottery advertising dollars, to finance commercials touting the benefits of state-sponsored games of chance. The ads never mentioned Treasurer Tim, but they aired while he was under fierce assault by the Republican Governors Association for his independent gubernatorial bid.

Under the cliched "withering" cross-examination Cahill was forced to admit that his campaign indeed had direct talks with the advertising firm that was preparing the commercials.

One day after a campaign focus group determined that association with the Lottery would be a plus for Cahill, campaign consultant Dane Strother got marching orders from Cahill to talk with Hill Holliday CEO Mike Sheehan about how to spend the Lottery's $2 million in advertising dollars. Strother then followed up by text with campaign manager Adam Meldrum:
"I just got the go-ahead on everything we discussed,” Strother wrote. “Yes, on the lottery ads, and he has plenty of money. Cahill thinks most of $2 million is there. We just found a million for extra publicity, but Cahill can’t be in the ad. But we run ads about the lottery being well run and putting money back in communities. I’m going to speak with an ad company about copy. Cahill agreed.”
Cahill then got personally involved and agreed to a plan where the ads would run until Nov. 4, two days after the election.

Former Treasurer Tim insisted under cross-examination that everything was on the up and up and Strother was just doing research to make sure everything was factual. But the scenario laid out by prosecutors begs the question:

If this was a true Lottery ad campaign, why weren't the folks in the treasurer's office involved in the efforts as opposed to those in the campaign?

That question does not appear to be asked -- or answered. But it stands out as the crux of the prosecution case and one Cahill's attorneys will need to provide a plausible answer to as the fight off Coakley's late-game touchdown pass.

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