Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sometimes the obvious explanation is the correct one

The front page of today's Globe bears more bad economic news for Massachusetts, just days after offering an upbeat assessment of the state's prospects for recovery. It seems state revenues (tax collections, primarily) have come in a few hundred million dollars below projections as of the close of September. "Projections" is the wonk word for "estimates" - the figures that the Governor and Legislature use when planning state spending. From the Globe:
With only two days remaining in September, the state has collected $316 million less than anticipated, according to calculations by the state treasurer based on the actual taxes deposited daily by the Department of Revenue. State revenue officials estimate that $92 million will be collected today and tomorrow, which would leave a shortfall of $224 million.
If you read the paper on a semi-regular basis, you may have recognized already that news of revenues coming in significantly below projections has been a common feature on the front pages for most of the Patrick Administration. The budget writers project high to placate political supporters at budget-writing time. Revenues come in low. That forces mid-year, "emergency" cuts. If revenues continue on the current pace, Governor Patrick will be obligated to make the fourth round of such cuts since the beginning of the year.

Although mid-year cuts are - to use the Governor's favorite words - "difficult" and "painful," they are in fact politically easier to make on an emergency basis than during the budget process, when advocates for particular spending items view any reduction as a considered betrayal. At least during mid-year cuts the Governor and legislative leaders can claim to have no choice.

And of course there will be some extraneous force to take the blame. Since last year, the culprit behind repeated mis-projections has been the national economic downturn. The Globe does Patrick a solid by observing, "The projected revenue drop indicates that the effects of the national recession are still being felt deeply in Massachusetts." It then notes:
Last fiscal year, which ended June 30, revenues dropped billions below initial expectations. Patrick administration officials say they have eliminated about 1,400 positions.
Neither Patrick nor the Globe mentions that in the first year of the Patrick Administration, when revenues came in roughly a billion dollars above expectations, the state still spent nearly a billion more than it took in (or $2 billion over the initial budget). Neither the Globe nor the Patrick administration notes that the "about 1,400 positions" that have been eliminated leaves the state with about 5,000 more employees than it had when Patrick came into office.

Digressions, digressions.

Although there can be no doubt that Massachusetts continues to feel the effects of the national downturn, perhaps there is a closer-to-home explanation for why revenues at the tail end of this year are so drastically failing to meet expectations. Globe:
Revenue dropped despite a controversial decision by Patrick and the Legislature to increase taxes by more than $1 billion, including boosting the state sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent. Retailers warned that the state would not raise nearly as much as estimated, predicting that customers would go to New Hampshire or the Internet to avoid additional taxes.
Bolstering that theory is this item from the State House News Service on Friday:
Retail sales at Massachusetts stores declined precipitously in August compared to the same month in 2008, according to the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which surveyed its members to gauge the effect of a sales tax hike that took effect on August 1. Although the state won’t release tax collection data measuring sales tax receipts for August until early October, Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said his organization’s members reported an average over-the-year drop in total sales of 20 percent in August. “Eighty-eight percent of our membership that replied to this survey were down,” Hurst said. “That’s a pretty striking number. If you cut through it a little more and maybe eliminate some of those that would be less injured – food, restaurants, auto service – that 20 percent jumped to 30 percent.” Hurst predicted the state wouldn’t see an increase in sales tax collections that corresponded to the size of the tax hike, a 25 percent increase from 5 to 6.25 percent. “We want to see it as much as anybody else, but I’ve gotten anecdotal evidence from members that have stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, New Hampshire stores were way up in August,” he said. “Not so in Massachusetts, obviously.”
Anecdotal evidence from a political group with skin in the game ought to be viewed with healthy skepticism, of course. But couple the results of the RAM survey with the sudden drop in tax revenues that coincided with enactment of the state's twenty-five percent sales tax hike and... well, as they say, sometimes the most obvious explanation is the correct one.

Tax hikes depress spending. Depressed spending results in decreased tax revenue. Decreased tax revenue = missed projections. Missed projections = emergency, mid-year cuts.

Meanwhile, tonight the Committee for a Democratic Senate holds its annual fundraiser at Joe Tecce's in the North End, with the group hoping to raise $100,000 from lobbyists eager to help it achieve the elusive goal of a Democratic state Senate majority.

Perhaps leadership will realize that 40 of the 45 Senate seats are currently supporting Democrat bottoms, and will decide to donate their haul toward the truly elusive goal of bringing state revenues in line with their budget projections.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A useful political yardstick

Occasionally life provides us with a useful and unexpected yardstick - an event that we can use to more precisely measure, and therefore appreciate, something that we have always perceived but have not previously been able to quantify with any real precision. Like a September trip to Florida that makes us realize that our August 'heat wave' in New England was not really all that hot. Or a wailing toddler at the next table that lets us appreciate just how calm and quiet our own child is in comparison. Maybe 'frame of reference' is a better term than yardstick...

Whatever the terminology, this past week gave us a handy measure of just how far left of center the political elite in Massachusetts has let itself drift.

After weeks of not-so-secret plans to appoint former Governor Mike Dukakis to our vacant Senate seat, and a brief, really-not-so-secret whispering campaign by the Kennedy family and its many allies to undermine the hapless Duke, long time Kennedy confidante (virtually an honorary Kennedy) Paul Kirk was appointed to the interim post.

In a scene evocative of any number of movies set in some ancient feudal kingdom, the late Senator Kennedy's widow and other kin made the choice and then presided over the announcement by Governor Patrick. Because, you know, that's how we do things in the United States of America...

Here's the kicker: the gravamen of the Kennedy-led campaign to undermine Dukakis? He might be too independent.

Take a second to wrap your head around that one. According to the Massachusetts Democratic ruling elite, a group that includes Patrick, the remains of the Kennedy clan, and our now-senior Senator John Kerry, Mike Dukakis is too independent. The guy who secured the Democratic nomination for president in 1988. The Governor who taxed and spent the state into sixteen years of Republican Governors. This man is, according to Patrick & co., insufficiently committed to the cause. Mike Du-flippin-kakis is not enough a Democrat to satisfy our ruling Democrats.

This in a state where unenrolled voters outnumber registered Democrats and Republicans combined by a significant margin.

Massachusetts Republicans like me tell ourselves that eventually every pendulum reaches its apex and begins to swing back toward center. We tell ourselves that, surely, the Massachusetts political pendulum must be set to begin a right-ward swing. At some point, we say, the small and cloistered crew that runs everything in this state will allow themselves to wander too far from their electorate.

Maybe we are almost there. Maybe we are not. I'm not at all sure how long the chain is on our political pendulum.

But the notion that Michael Dukakis is not enough a Democrat for our Democrats is a decent measure of just how far left this state's political elite has drifted.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Spock, Sulu and Scotty were unavailable

Kirk to be named interim Senator.

There is only one appropriate response to the blatant abuse of power exhibited by Beacon Hill Democrats this week.

Actually, there are two. The other is to vote out some of these folks come next November.

He needs a new line if he's going to run for Governor

With every bit of media attention focused on the legislative maneuvering over an interim replacement for Senator Kennedy and the Governor himself mostly holed up in Western Mass recovering from hip surgery, one could almost forget recently that the Patrick Administration exists.

I got a reminder yesterday morning when I attended a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast, keynoted by current Lt. Governor and - my guess/pet theory - 2010 gubernatorial candidate Tim Murray.

Three quarters of the way into the term, and still the same lame excuse to kick off the speech: "Let's not forget," the Lt. Governor admonished, that he and Governor Patrick "inherited" a mess created by "sixteen years of Republican Governors." Then the laundry list: crumbling roads and bridges, underfunded schools, a yawning budget gap. All of this, as the Lt. Gov. tells it, from Republicans who fooled the people into "believing you can have everything and not pay for it."

Does anyone - even the most ardent Democrat - truly buy this line? Without in any way suggesting that those sixteen years of Republican Governors passed without any missteps in the corner office, can a state that has been dominated in every way by one party for decades on end plausibly blame the other party for its troubles?

It is quite literally true that there has never been a time during my thirty-six years of residency on this planet when Republicans have wielded any real power in Massachusetts. Sure, Governor Weld had a brief period during his first term when he had enough Senate allies to maintain a veto, and he combined that ability with a very significant store of personal political capital borne of popularity to push a fiscally conservative agenda. But there is a long distance between the ability to plug an occasional gap or stop a particularly egregious legislative excess, and the variety of unfettered power long enjoyed by Democrats by virtue of their long-standing super-majority in the Legislature.

It is the Democratic Legislature that has held the proverbial 'purse strings' since the middle part of the last century.

It is the Democratic Legislature that has packed the state's various transportation bureaucracies with patronage appointments and no-show employees.

It is the Democratic Legislature that has caved time and again to union demands, saddling the state with pension and benefit obligations that are unaffordable by orders of magnitude.

It is the Democratic Legislature that continually raises our taxes while reducing local aid, leaving our cities and towns underfunded and unable to meet basic service needs.

More recently, it was the Democratic Legislature - along with Murray's Patrick Administration - that dipped liberally into the Commonwealth's 'rainy day fund' over a year before the beginning of the current economic downturn, to pay for levels of spending that were unsustainable even at the tail end of the last economic boom.

Truman said, "the buck stops here."

Uncle Ben said, "with great power, comes great responsibility."

Lt. Governor Tim Murray says, 'Look over there; it's all their fault.'

That is not leadership, it is scapegoating - and patently disingenuous scapegoating at that. Murray will need a new line if he is going to run for Governor next year.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The best argument I've heard for an interim Senator

According to the State House News, debate has started in the Massachusetts Senate on the interim Senator appointment legislation. Here's the first thick slice of baloney:
On the floor, Sen. Thomas Kennedy, chair of the Election Laws Committee, Sen. Kennedy compared the state’s lack of second senator to "taxation without representation." The Brockton Democrat, delivering his maiden speech, said, "That’s what we have right now. That’s what the people are being denied."
In contrast, pinned down by a television reporter and asked about his flip-flop between a 2004 vote to revoke Governor Mitt Romney's authority to appoint an interim Senator and his anticipated vote today to reinstate that authority for Governor Patrick, Senator Warren Tolman explained, "You know how many votes we make?... Lookit, la de da. I mean, come on."

I prefer Senator Tolman's argument to Senator (Thomas) Kennedy's. Tolman's at least has the virtue of honesty.

"Lookit, la de da. I mean, come on." Excellent.

UPDATE: passed.

Is Gov. Dukakis shining up his best pair of shoes?

It looks like today will likely be the day when the Massachusetts Senate votes to join the House in passing the Electoral Hypocrisy Act of 2009, granting to Governor Patrick the authority to appoint an interim Obamacare vote to warm a seat for a few months in the US Senate. Legislative Republicans put up a good fight, national attention on the issue having forced the Democrats in charge to allow an actual debate for a change. But with only 5 (out of 40!) Republican Senators, the noble efforts of Senate Minority Leader Tisei and his bi-partisan group of anti-hypocrites were destined to fail; especially with the White House executing a full blitz on the issue, with direct pressure on Massachusetts legislators and indirect advocacy through President Obama's vaunted grass-roots network. The MA GOP this morning sent out a timely reminder of an earlier statement by the White House, disavowing any intention of getting involved in what Obama's deputy press secretary characterized as a decision that is "is up to the people and representatives of Massachusetts..." Oh well - what's one more hypocrisy on the pile?

So it is very likely the case that somewhere in the Commonwealth, former Governor Mike Dukakis is shining up his best pair of shoes and getting ready for his swearing-in. The Globe is all in favor of interim Senator Dukakis, calling him "a dedicated student of public policy with a record of serving this state honestly and effectively." "Honestly," like when he traveled the country running for president and touting his "Massachusetts miracle" as the Commonwealth sunk into an economic hole unmatched until the current downturn (the result of the last time Dukakis served the state "effectively" - and the impetus for 16 subsequent years of Republican governors). Personally, I think Mike Dukakis is an excellent choice.

As an added bonus, perhaps an interim Senate appointment will satisfy any late-career itch for the limelight that Dukakis might otherwise feel, thereby sparing the world another spectacle like Tom Delay's debut this week on Dancing with the Stars (warning: if you click on that link, perhaps the most painful thing you will ever see begins at the 2 minute mark).

For the record, I do not watch Dancing With the Stars - not even for Warren Sapp. A friend dared me to Google the Delay performance, which I did - to my ever-lasting regret. Those images are now seared into my brain, occupying a place of extreme vicarious embarrassment heretofore reserved for the fictional George Costanza. The concentrated absence on Delay's face of the white man's overbite seems almost an omission, replaced by an insane Grim Reaper's grin that must surely have chilled his unfortunate partner to her core. Whatever could have possessed the former House Majority Leader to so thoroughly and finally jettison whatever credibility he had left, I have no idea. But in any event, we can hope that a few months in the US Senate will erase any impulse the Duke might have had to show up for the next round of American Idol auditions.

On a distantly related topic, this article about Legislative "special license plates" is fun.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Late to the table

Foxwoods is billions in debt and restructuring its finances. Mohegan Sun recently laid off 500 employees.

To our immediate south, Rhode Island's Twin River 'racino' is also drowning in debt and sucking state funds eagerly into its starving maw.

Atlantic City, Detroit and many other urban areas across the country that bet on casinos to save their fiscal bacon are virtual urban wastelands, illuminated by the fitful blinking of gaudy signs that sit atop empty casinos.

Even Las Vegas, Mecca for casino enthusiasts and long held as a model of how gambling can drive a successful economy, is sputtering - with unemployment recently pegged at 13.4 percent.

So naturally this is the perfect time for Massachusetts to build a bunch of 'destination resort casinos.' Or so says Massachusetts House Speaker Bob DeLeo this morning.

We have a "vital need for revenue," you see - and casinos are just the way to get it. If you suspect that a variation of that line - "I need the cash... I'm due for some luck... this has to be my night!"- emanates from countless desperate mouths at countless late-night craps, poker, roulette and blackjack tables at every single existing casino in the country... well, you're probably right.

But never mind that. Let's bet big on casinos. The Legislature needs the cash. They're due for some luck. This has to be their night.

Of course there is an important difference between our grubbing pols and the lost souls who bring their pension checks to the casino - the Legislature won't be betting with their own money.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The slight upside to this whole interim Senator thing

There is a slight upside to the current fight on Beacon Hill over proposed legislation that would grant to Governor Patrick the authority to appoint an interim replacement for the late Senator Kennedy. The Massachusetts Legislature is behaving, for once, like a bona-fide deliberative body. Like, in other words, a real live legislature. Consider:

A debate (a debate!) has been going on for the better part of the afternoon, on the House floor. Early on there was a brief skirmish over problems with the House sound system - buzzing was making Members' remarks inaudible. It is not surprising that the problem was not discovered until debate began - those microphones are so rarely used! It is refreshing to see them getting the kinks out by discussing an honest-to-God contested issue of public concern.

Democrats are splitting their votes. This, folks, is almost unheard of here in the great state of Massachusetts. On a contentious issue, Democrats are voting as they please, and not as they are told. As former Speaker Tom Finneran said on his WRKO radio program this morning, "Democrats are going to pay a price for this politically." He then predicted that seats will be lost to voter disgust should his party leadership succeed in their push to convince a majority to execute a politically-motivated 180 on the equally political vote they took just five years ago to strip the sitting Republican Governor of the appointment power that President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid would now have them hand back to Governor Patrick. There is nothing like the looming threat of the civilian job market, apparently, to frighten Beacon Hill Democrats into independent action. As a result, we're seeing vote splits this afternoon the likes of which have not been seen since... well... probably the 2005 debate over Melanie's Law, when similarly-intense media attention forced the Democratic Leadership to briefly countenance opposing points of view. From the State House News:
By an 89-68 vote, the House stripped a clause from the bill empowering the governor to make an interim appointment to the U.S. Senate that would have required the governor to appoint someone from the same political party as the person who previously held the seat. The vote, shortly after 4:30 p.m., came with unanimous Republican support and a near even split among Democrats.
This was the 'double-down' clause I wrote about the yesterday. Apparently it was too much for roughly half of House Democrats.

The minority is effectively asserting itself. With open debate comes procedural clout, even for a band so small as the five Senate Republicans. Again from the State House News:
Sen. Scott Brown predicted that the Senate would debate the bill Tuesday or Wednesday. He said he expected the Senate to stay in session today to wait for the bill’s arrival from the House. Sen. Jack Hart said he thought Senate leaders wanted to pass the bill today, but expected GOP objections would push the debate into next week.
We will probably still see Interim Senator "Duke" Dukakis before the close of the month. But national media attention to the "debate" in the Massachusetts Legislature has forced what is, in the ordinary course of business, virtually unthinkable: a debate in the Massachusetts Legislature!

Junior High civics teachers of the Commonwealth, take note. Get your students into Boston for an impromptu field trip, ASAP, to see their Legislature in action. They likely won't get another chance any time soon.

Thursday morning miscellany

Worth more than 1000 words.
Look at this photo from the Herald. As the likelihood of a Patrick victory in 2005 became increasingly clear, I recall commenting to a friend that there was an upside to the prospect of a Governor Patrick. Voters had clearly forgotten what one-party government got us the last time we tried it in Massachusetts. Patrick, who despite his centrist rhetoric was and is considerably to the left of even the Bay State's average voter, might well remind them - fast and firmly. A Governor Reilly or a Governor Gabrielli might have muddled through two terms. It might have taken a more liberal successor, elected in 2014, to bring the electorate back around by 2018. But with Patrick, I thought, the process could be much faster. Looking at this photo, and pondering the prospect of an interim Senator Dukakis, appointed by Patrick, I wonder if I've ever mused more accurately than I did in November 2005.

Sometimes, there are no words.
Read this passage from today's Herald. Read it a couple of times:
Jaynes and Salvatore Sicari were convicted of killing Curley, 10, in October 1997 after luring the boy into a car by promising him a bicycle. Prosecutors said the men smothered the boy with a gasoline-soaked rag when he resisted their sexual advances. Jaynes and Sicari took the boy’s body to a Manchester, N.H., apartment where Jaynes molested it. The body was then placed in a Rubbermaid box packed with concrete and it was dumped in a Maine river.
Charles Jaynes, the monster who not only kidnapped and killed a 10 year old boy, but then also molested his body, is scheduled to be "temporarily released" from prison tomorrow to attend is father's funeral. According to the Herald, thus "supervised release" was approved by state Department of Correction Commissioner Harold Clarke.

I have no words.

UPDATE: It would have been fun to listen in on the conversation that must have happened this morning between the Secretary of Public Safety and the DOC Commissioner. Sailors blushing and what-not. In any event, the right result. Next perhaps the Administration can ponder whether it makes sense to have its Department of Corrections headed up by a guy inclined to let a murdering pedophile out on temporary release.

A very tangible example of back-sliding.
When the Romney/Healey Administration came into office, homelessness was one of the issues entrusted to Lt. Governor Kerry Healey, at her request. She was appalled to learn that the state was, and had been for some time, housing hundreds of homeless families in hotel and motel rooms statewide.

For a whole host of reasons, housing the homeless in rented motel accommodations is a lousy option both for the state and for the homeless. Most rooms lack kitchen facilities or access to kitchen facilities. Few hotels and motels are nearby shelters or other facilities where the homeless are fed and provided services. And obviously the practice is far from cost-effective.

Lt. Governor Healey applied herself doggedly to (a) identifying the source of the problem leading to the practice, and then (b) solving the problem. As it turned out, the basic philosophy underlying how the state of Massachusetts addressed homelessness was the base problem. We were, until Healey got involved, a state that "warehoused" its homeless. We built and filled shelters. When our shelters were full to capacity, we started renting out hotel rooms. That is a simplification, obviously, but it is an accurate one.

Healey's notion, radical at the time but now applied with greater frequency across the country, was to focus effort and resources on moving the homeless into permanent housing, and providing the underlying 'boot-strap' opportunities necessary to keep them there. She met with the officials in charge of implementing the state's homelessness policy and tasked them with ending the state's reliance on hotel and motel accommodations. She continued to meet with them on a regular basis, holding them strictly accountable for their results, fighting during each annual appropriations process to ensure the necessary resources were provided, and asserting herself personally, where required, to break long-hardened bureaucratic logjams that resisted her mandated change in philosophy.

The result? By the end of the Romney/Healey Administration, Massachusetts was no longer housing its any of its homeless in hotels and motels. The 'permanent housing first' philosophy seemed to have taken hold. To thank her for her efforts, the St. Francis House, a shelter in Boston celebrating the opening of its new wing of permanent housing for the indigent, dedicated the common space of that wing to Kerry Healey - a small but meaningful acknowledgement of work that ought to have gotten a lot more attention. (Her similarly-successful work on behalf of substance abusive children and battered women likewise received short shrift, but now I am axe grinding).

To those few of us who were privileged to witness Kerry Healey's determination on the issue of homelessness in Massachusetts, and the results of her dedication, the news this week that Massachusetts is again housing over 1,000 homeless families in rented hotel and motel rooms is discouraging to say the least. This example of costly back-sliding in the Patrick Administration will not get much attention. But it is a vivid illustration of how reforms can be un-done when a once-watchful eye is taken off the ball.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Another great resource from the Pioneer Institute

If you care about Massachusetts government - especially about fiscal issues - and you do not keep up with the doings of the Pioneer Institute, you should.

Their latest and greatest contribution to substantive dialogue over how our government spends our tax dollars is MassOpenBooks.org.

Worth a bookmark.

Our Dems are going all in

In the days immediately following receipt by the Beacon Hill Big Three of Senator Kennedy's deathbed request for a change in Massachusetts law to allow Governor Patrick to fill Kennedy's seat with an 'interim Senator'/guaranteed "yea!" on Obamacare, large numbers of Beacon Hill Democrats expressed trepidation about voting for such a nakedly political measure at a time when voter grumbles of discontent are audible even to their cotton-plugged ears.

It seems that trepidation has been overcome. From today's Globe:
Legislative leaders on Beacon Hill believe they have narrow majorities in both chambers to give Governor Deval Patrick the power to appoint an interim US senator, in a sign that the controversial measure may pass.
But it gets even better. Having decided to place yet another bet that Massachusetts voters are jaded enough to forgive yet another textbook example of the arrogance of power, it seems our Democratic supermajority is prepared to double-down. Not only will the bill that passes (in all likelihood) later this week reinstate the Governor's ability to appoint an interim Senator, it will also add a condition. The bill "would require any appointee to come from the same political party as the person who previously held the office. "

See what they will have done here? The first change to the law, five years ago, was a political move to deprive Republican Governor Mitt Romney of the ability to fill Senator Kerry's seat, should the Senator have been elevated to the Presidency. This bill will reinstate that gubernatorial prerogative, but will pre-guard against that eventuality arising again. Future Republican Governors will be bound, in a similar situation, to appoint a Democrat.

Yes, yes. I understand that should the oceans part, the mountains fall and Massachusetts voters elect a Republican to the U.S. Senate, this legislation would, in theory, require a Democratic Governor to appoint a Republican interim Senator in the event of a vacancy in the R-held seat. But it is hard to argue that the Dems are not making a pretty safe bet here. And in any event, if lightning were to strike and they were to be faced with a Democratic Governor pondering a mandated Republican appointment, they can always change the law again. Our Legislature is plenty skilled at changing our laws to suit their political needs.

And why not? Assuming they are correct in their bet, and the voters will either (a) not care, or (b) forget by next November, these changes are all upside for the Supermajority. Heck, there might even be a cash component. According to the Daily Beast, the last time this particular law was changed at the behest of the national Democratic Party, our then-Speaker and then-Senate President asked for and received a $50K infusion from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) [hat tip: MD]. This year, with not only President Obama's signature domestic initiative at stake, but also cap-and-trade waiting in the wings as another possible one vote margin boondoggle, surely the price tag will be much higher.

Of course if their bet is wrong this time... finally...

The Herald is on this topic today, and more succinct than am I .

Monday, September 14, 2009

You've got mail... no you don't!

Amid all the hype about, first, the gubernatorial election that is 14 months off, and then the Senate special election that is three and a half months off, not too many people here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are paying much attention to an important election that will take place in our largest city a mere week from now.

Of course there is a good reason why not too many people are paying attention to the Boston mayoral race: since Bill Clinton was elected to his first term in 1992, Boston has reelected incumbent Mayor Tom "Mumbles" Menino with the regularity of the solar cycle.

This story about deleted emails feels a bit like insider baseball, but it is a big deal. It is a significant understatement to say that Mike Kineavy is Mayor Menino's top aide. Mike Kineavy is Menino's Tom Hagen. In an Administration that has managed to rule the City of Boston for nearly two decades with an iron fist and yet barely a whiff of scandal, Kineavy is the guy who would be expected to be end up with the top secret file containing twenty years of dirt, were such a file to be found.

It is significant to know, then, that for at least the past five years, Kineavy has apparently been deleting his emails on a daily basis, in a deliberate (and successful) effort to prevent those emails from being backed up on the City servers. This is against the law, by the way - no ambiguity about it.

Menino's opponents in the Democratic primary called a press conference today to highlight this brewing scandal. Unfortunately, Secretary of State Galvin has given the Menino Administration ten days to turn over Kineavy's emails. Ten days... that would be four days past next Tuesday's primary - which is, for all intents and purposes, the mayoral general election.

To cast aspersions on Galvin, though, misses the point. Kineavy's emails could contain explicit instructions from Menino to Kineavy telling the latter where, exactly, to hide a suitcase of cash, and Menino would still be reelected by a wide margin. The emails could contain adult material featuring the Mayor himself, and still - reelection by a wide margin.

As incomprehensible as it is (as he is?) to anyone who lives anywhere other than in Boston, the citizens of Boston like having this guy as their Mayor for life.

The bottom of the barrel

Talk about scraping the bottom of the argument barrel.

Apparently, unless Congress passes "meaningful health care reform," the bullies will have won.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Aloisi, we hardly knew ye

I guess soon-to-be-ex Transportation Secretary Jim Aloisi did not have photos of the Governor in a compromising situation after all.

Not everything is about politics

This article from today's Globe about the difficulties Massachusetts school teachers are having in deciding how to 'teach' the subject of the 9/11 attacks puts a knot in my gut. The 14 year old girl, a freshman in high school, who is unsure who perpetrated those attacks ("I forgot - the Muslims or someone") is bad enough. But with the guidance our state education bureaucrats provide to teachers on this topic, this particular young lady can hardly be blamed for her ignorance. From the Globe:
State curriculum guidelines offer little input. The only reference to 9/11 is made in US History II, which is typically taught in 10th or 11th grade. The guidelines suggest that teachers ask students to analyze America’s response to the terrorist attacks as part of a broader discussion of the consequences of the United States’ recent diplomatic initiatives.
So according to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, public school students ought not to be exposed to the seminal event of their young lives and a crucial event in recent US History until 10th or 11th grade, and then only as part of "a broader discussion of the consequences of the United States' recent diplomatic initiatives." The context into which 9/11 is placed is itself profoundly wrong-headed and offensive, implying with little subtlety that the 9/11 attacks were themselves a "consequence" of U.S. behavior. This is a favorite trope on the loony left. A trope - and tripe. That this twisted worldview forms the basis of official state guidance to public school teachers on the topic of 9/11 is deeply troubling - and it perfectly explains the appalling ignorance expressed by the 14-year-old girl quoted above.

Our schools do not ignore the horrors of slavery in teaching the Civil War. They do not brush past the evil of the Third Reich in teaching World War II. It is only as we approach recent history, lived by the blame-America-first crowd, that the historical air brush is deployed with greater and greater vigor. Vietnam becomes a story first of American hubris and imperialism. 9/11, the worst attack on our soil in history, a cold-blooded massacre by Islamic extremists of thousands of innocents, becomes the "consequence" of a diplomatic failure. Iraq is reduced to a bumper sticker (the one that ends "people died.").

I am hopeful that as the Woodstock generation passes into retirement, cooler ideological heads will assume their positions of influence in the vast education bureaucracy that shapes the curriculum offered to our public school students. It is possible that, as people who came of age around the turn of the millennium and experienced 9/11 not as a moment of deserved retribution but rather as it truly was - an unprovoked, deadly attack on thousands of innocent civilians - nonsense like "part of a broader discussion of the consequences of the United States’ recent diplomatic initiatives" will be purged by our schools and U.S. history once again taught as history, not as ideology or politics.

Until then, a generation of kids will have to get their facts elsewhere, as their classrooms are given over to moral relevance and historical revisionism.

On the other hand, there is this.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The health care vote count must be CLOSE

This from the State House News this afternoon:
President Barack Obama pushed Thursday afternoon for Massachusetts to rewrite a 2004 election law and allow Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint an interim senator to fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat, his political operation calling it “a needed vote in favor of real health reform.”... Obama's Organizing for America committee said in an email, "[U]nder current Massachusetts law, Sen. Kennedy's seat will remain vacant until January -- depriving us of full representation in the Senate and depriving the country of a needed vote in favor of real health reform. So we need to make sure that Gov. Patrick can appoint an interim senator until a special election can be held. Please call your Massachusetts state senator and representative today, and tell them health reform can't wait -- we need full representation in the U.S. Senate now."... "Please help make Senator Kennedy's vision a reality, by calling your state senator and representative today, and tell them to allow Gov. Patrick to appoint an interim replacement for our late Senator," wrote John Spears, Massachusetts director of Organizing for America.
So now only is the President of the United States weighing in on our parochial election law dispute; he is unabashed about his motivation. The seat represents "a needed vote in favor of real health reform."

The President is the President. He weighed into a pissing match between a Harvard Professor and a Cambridge cop. It is certainly well within his rights to weigh into our hypocrisy-fest.

What bothers me, as I wrote before, is the notion that the President apparently expects the vote on legislation that will remake over a sixth of our economy to come down to a single vote.

That's bad.

More to the point, think about the not-so-subtext of what Obama is asking (or demanding): 'change the law in Massachusetts to give me a political advantage in DC.'

Put less charitably: 'change the rules, that I might win the big game.'

Welcome to the world's newest Banana Republic.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Postcards from the edge

From yesterday's Boston.com: "Republican Christy Mihos is seriously considering dropping his campaign for governor to run for the US Senate seat of Edward M. Kennedy, a senior adviser to Mihos confirmed today, a pivot that would reshape the two most high-profile political campaigns in Massachusetts."

Anonymous Christy Mihos adviser, still yesterday: "This is a decision that is all but finalized."

Very much not anonymous Christy Mihos official spokesman Kevin Sowydra, still yesterday: "The number 60 drew Christy into this race... this is the biggest Senate race we've seen in decades. This is not a Massachusetts race. This is a national race."

More, from the State House News (STILL yesterday):
Republican Christy Mihos will likely drop his gubernatorial bid and run for the seat vacated by US Sen. Edward Kennedy's death, prepared to spend upwards of $10 million before the January election, campaign aides said Tuesday.

Mihos, a convenience store magnate who waged a losing gubernatorial bid three years ago, will announce his about-face intentions at a Thursday press conference, an aide said. His campaign sought to depict Mihos's decision as an eagerness to boost the GOP nationally...

Mihos's move would add a well-funded candidate to the Senate race, and soften the early going for GOP gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker, who has drawn no other primary opposition.

Sowyrda said Mihos hired GOP fundraiser Carolyn Machado after a "secret meeting" last week at Logan Airport.

Asked where Mihos intended to draw the $10 million, which he called a "minimum" expenditure, Sowyrda replied, "Are you serious? Christy has the ability significant resources on his own."
Finally, here is the man himself, Christy Mihos, to the Globe last night: "just about there."

Now compare all that to this, today (again from Boston.com and a surely-irritated-as-hell reporter Frank Phillips):

But, in a posting on the Republican blog Red Mass Group this morning, Joe Manzoli, a senior campaign aide, said that Mihos would remain in the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2010.

"Contrary to news reports you may have heard last evening and this morning, Christy Mihos is a candidate for governor of Massachusetts not for the US Senate," Manzoli's statement reads. "Christy has made that abundantly clear from the onset. Christy was approached by some representative of the national committee to consider running for the US Senate seat in the special election. As is sometimes the case, the story was leaked to the media and got on the news last evening. I want to assure everyone that Christy is committed to be the candidate for governor of Massachusetts in 2010 as we continue to fight for the citizens of this great state."

Get that? The story "was leaked to the media" and "got on the news." It sure did! - by way of statements from his campaign spokesman and the candidate himself.

Now here's Christy today (from the State House News): "Asked if he’d given a Senate run serious consideration, Mihos said 'not really'..."

In his patented, puppydog-earnest/just slightly 'off' way, he added: "My heart belongs in Massachusetts and it always will be." (Aside: I just realized of who Christy reminds me.)

So now Christy is back in the Governor's race. "I'm running for Governor, number one, and that's the only office I'm running for."

Today, at least. With the raw chutzpah for which he is famous, Christy and his supporters have apparently decided to try and portray the whole 24 hour dance-a-thon as part of a dark conspiracy by the Republican "Old Guard" (really? we have a Guard? in Massachusetts?) to undermine his credibility. Good luck to them with that line.

Personally, I am glad Christy will not be running for Senate. I worried he would end up the Republican nominee solely by virtue of his available cash, the importance of which is amplified exponentially in the compressed timeframe of a special election. Given a contested Senate seat in Massachusetts, I so desperately want the chance to vote for a Republican. With Christy on the ballot, I would have had to settle for writing in my Labrador (who would make a very credible Senator, by the way).

Intimations of 'Old Guard' conspiracy notwithstanding, his day of Senatorial flirtation cannot have failed to diminish whatever small reservoir of credibility Christy might have remaining, thereby making more certain the arrival of a day when he is forced, likely by an overwhelming primary defeat, to return to his day job. So in the end, a good result.

And you thought health insurance was expensive

Just look at the premiums on political insurance!

Yesterday the Massachusetts state Auditor estimated the cost of the upcoming special election to fill the seat of the late Senator Ted Kennedy at up to $12.6 million dollars. Further (to the great relief of municipal officials from the Berkshires to the Cape) he determined that the cost constitutes an unfunded mandate on cities and towns, and so the entire tab must be picked up by the Commonwealth. That would be the same Commonwealth whose budget chief yesterday announced another pending round of budget cuts.

Five years ago, the Massachusetts legislative Democrats saw a potential political disaster looming on the horizon. If John Forbes Kerry were elected President, he would have to give up his Senate seat. Under the law as it stood then, and as it had been since time immemorial, then-Governor Mitt Romney would have appointed a replacement Senator to fill out Kerry's term. A Republican Senator from Massachusetts! Imagine the horror.

So against this potential political disaster, the Democrats took out some political insurance. Exercising the prerogative of a supermajority to do pretty much whatever it pleases, they changed the law, stripping Romney (and his successors) of the appointment power and establishing a special election process to fill any future Senate vacancy.

The disaster of a Kerry presidency never came to pass, of course - one small part of this mess for which we can all be thankful. But that does not mean we do not have to pay for the Democrats' pricey insurance policy. And oh, what a balloon payment! Nearly $13 million dollars, sucked out of a budget that, we have been told time and again, cannot possibly sustain any further reductions. $13 million would pay for a lot of teachers. Or police. Or firefighters. Or infrastructure repairs. Or a little tax relief.

Instead, it will pay for a four month political spectacle the likes of which the Commonwealth has not seen in decades. How's that for a lousy return on a partisan political investment?

In related news, there is a hearing today on Beacon Hill concerning the bill that would re-change the law, sort of, to give Governor Patrick (D-political toilet) the power to appoint a placeholder Senator to warm the seat until the special election (for which we'd still have to pay) and, more to the point, to cast a 'yea' vote for the President's health care boondoggle. No dummies, the Democrats in charge of the schedule have set a 1:00pm start time for this hearing, pretty well guaranteeing that the hearing will be dominated from start to finish by testimony offered by Democratic legislators, who will exercise their prerogative to jump the line and pontificate at their leisure. The highlight of the day will be Senator John Kerry (D-foie gras), who will take the mic to explain why he was for stripping Governor Romney of the appointment power, but has since decided the Governor needs appointment power.

Monday, September 7, 2009

No Joe for Senate. Still Joe for Oil

Thank God. That was my initial and lasting reaction to news of Joe Kennedy's decision to forgo a race for his Uncle's Senate seat. Whether he would have been invincible, as much of the punditry seems to think, I do not know. Personally I think his current reputation has much more to do with his long absence from politics and his name than anything else - Joe certainly is not the political powerhouse that Uncle Ted was.

So my relief stems not from a sense that Republicans have dodged a bullet and, with Joe on the sidelines, might have some slim shot at the seat. No, the cause of my relief is simple: the 'Kennedy seat' is going to have a new, non-Kennedy occupant. At long last, a decade into the 21st century, Massachusetts is going to join the 20th century and end its anachronistic acquiescence to a powerful family's claim to hereditary title. It is about time.

Yes, it is still possible that Ted's widow Vicki could run, but I doubt it. And it is possible that Governor Patrick might (a) win the right to appoint an interim Senator, and (b) put a Kennedy butt back in the seat for a few months. But with Joe out of the running it seems a time is nearing when Massachusetts voters will, like their co-citizens in virtually every other state, have the opportunity every now and then to elect a new Senator. Good for us.

In related news, I am saddened though not surprised to read that Kerry Healey has decided against a run. She would have been an excellent candidate and an even better Senator, but I understand and respect her reasons.

It is looking more and more like state Senator Scott Brown will run. I know, respect and like Scott - he might just surprise a lot of people. After all, the Massachusetts electorate is uniquely positioned to grasp that the shenanigans in Congress seem to be based on the Massachusetts legislative model lately. We know all too well what that model yields: corruption, out-of-control spending and steadily increasing taxes. Could this blue blue state go red for a few months? Stranger things have happened.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

He was for it before he was against it... again

Can he not just stay quiet? Do the words "no comment" taste so bad that he cannot bear to have them pass his lips?

Here's Senator John Kerry (D-the Louvre) on the Great White of a bill lurking in the depths of Beacon Hill that would re-change Massachusetts law to give Governor Patrick the power to appoint a seat-warmer / health care voter to fill the late Senator Kennedy's seat:

In a telephone interview, Kerry said changing the law is important. “It’s not a vote for party,’’ he said, “it’s a vote for the best interests of Massachusetts. It’s better for Massachusetts to have representation than not.’’

Kerry said he is confident an interim appointee will keep his word. He also said he would favor the change even if a Republican sat in the governor’s office, on the theory that any governor would do the right thing, and understand that “a temporary appointment is not a moment to take political advantage.’’

Kerry also said the law, if changed now to allow for this interim appointment, should not be changed again if voters elect a Republican governor. “We will live with whatever happens down the road,’’ he said.

A few voters will recall that the last time this particular law was changed, five years ago, the switch was made because it looked like one John Kerry might be elected President of these United States. At the time, Kerry did not mention his peculiar faith that "any governor would do the right thing." He was not heard to argue, as he traveled the country and missed the vast majority of Senate business for months on end, that "It’s better for Massachusetts to have representation than not." He apparently thought it perfectly kosher to strip Mitt Romney of the Massachusetts Governor's long-standing power to appoint a replacement Senator in the event of a vacancy.

The fact that he feels compelled to clarify that, cross-his-heart-and-hope-to-die, the Dems will not simply change the law back to strip a Republican Governor of appointment power down the line speaks volumes. Even Kerry recognizes on some level what a parody Massachusetts state government has become.

I understand that for John Kerry, hypocrisy is second nature. Or first nature. But must he be so brazen about it? Recognizing his singular role in the events that brought us to this pass, and that in a very real sense the earlier law change happened for his benefit, can he not just step back and, with the dignity appropriate to his new role as our senior Senator, stand apart from the fray and let this thing play out?

Or, barring that, could he not confine himself to statements that aren't pure fertilizer?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dominus noster Bostonesis Globus te absolvat

Senator Kennedy's immortal soul can finally rest. We cannot know whether the Pope put in a good word for the Senator in response to his recent letter, but no matter: this morning by way of an editorial, the all powerful Boston Globe steps in for the Big Guy in the Sky and declares Kennedy absolved of his sins.

Discussing Chappaquiddick, and recent revelations that the upcoming Kennedy memoir contains passages expressing, finally, the remorse over the incident that Kennedy carried throughout his life, the Editors write, "It’s time for others to back off and let him rest in peace, buoyed forever by his many good works." Then the pronouncement: "He has more than atoned."

That last bit of phrasing is what got me. Not only has he atoned. He has "more than atoned." Really?

I was glad to read that Kennedy was haunted by the horrible decisions he made decades ago, when he accidentally took the life of a young woman and then turned immediately to the task of political self-preservation, failing even to report the accident for over eight hours. He would have had to have been a man of singular callousness, beyond even the most egregious caricature of the aloof politician, not to have felt deep remorse over that terrible incident. Remorse and gratitude.

Only the most blinkered Kennedy acolyte could contest seriously the proposition that purely by dint of his last name, the young Kennedy escaped the very significant legal repercussions of those actions that would have been visited upon virtually anyone else. That he also escaped the ordinary and expected political consequences of his actions goes without saying.

Plenty of Kennedy criticism in the days since his death goes way over the line of decency. By seeking to declare the man "more than" absolved of his substantial sins, and by suggesting that those who believe that Senator Kennedy's actions three and a half decades ago were truly inexcusable should just "back off," the Globe goes too far in the other direction.

Can a career in politics, no matter how nobly lived, ever "more than atone" for the unpunished taking of an innocent young life? I doubt it, but that is not any of us down here on the ground - nor the editors of the Boston Globe - to say.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A bloody interesting idea

I get the feeling that this is just a lark, 'this Curt Schilling mulls Senate run' thing. But boy, we Rs could certainly do worse than Schilling for a special election that the 'experts' have all but handed to any Kennedy who might want it or, barring that, to Martha Coakley.

Conventional wisdom holds that in order to make even a respectable showing in the sprint for 'the Kennedy seat,' the Republicans need to put up someone with already-established statewide name I.D.. Preferably such a person who is also what's known as a 'self-funder.' Those qualifiers narrow the list almost to non-existence: you have Kerry Healey, my friend, former boss and the person who would hands-down make the best U.S. Senator of anyone in the field. And you have Christy Mihos, who is a clown and something of a lunatic (my humble opinion), and who in any event seems yippy-doggedly committed to yet another tilt at his gubernatorial windmill.

Enter Schilling. He's wealthy, no doubt - though whether he would devote any of his millions to a political race is anyone's guess. More, though, he has name I.D. in this state to rival anyone. And he has legions of dedicated fans that nobody - not even 'Joe for Oil' - could hope to match (unless Joe convinces his dictator pal Chavez to send up a couple Venezuelan political goon squads, in which case all bets are off). I have never met Curt, but people I know and trust have, and claim he's far from the usual vacuous celebrity dabbling in politics. And anyhow, the Dems kind of deprived themselves of that line of criticism when they shoved Stuart Smalley into the Senate earlier this year.

How many unenrolled voters who ordinarily would not so much as consider standing in line on a cold winter's day to vote in a special election would jump at the chance to don a ball cap and vote for Schill? I'd bet lots. Lots and lots.

To me, it would be worth it just to see how many uses are devised for the 'bloody sock.'

Wear a bloody sock for Curt day.

A sea of bloody socks waving at a rally on the Common.

Telling Joe for Oil to stick a bloody sock in it.

The possibilities are endless.

If Kerry Healey runs, I'm all for her. And sports hero speculation aside, we do have some others with potential who are mulling runs. State Senator Scott Brown is a good guy with a great network and a ton of energy who is heading for bigger things, now or later. There are some lesser known figures whose names I've heard, and who could be dark horses. Any one of them will have a hard time surmounting the bizarre family entitlement the voters in this state bestow upon the Kennedy clan.

If Schilling gets in, though, all bets are off. And let's just say I'll be running tests to see which brand of ketchup looks best on a white tube sock.

Raise a glass to Rep. Rodrigues

There is little I can say that has not already been said (especially now that Howie has weighed in) about the current uproar over Rep. Michael Rodrigues' (D-Hypocrisy) bone-headed decision to do some tax free booze shopping north of the border last weekend, mere months after the House Ways and Means Committee member voted to both raise the Massachusetts sales tax and extend it to sales of liquor.

At the time of those votes, Democrats brushed off Republican claims that the move would prompt Bay State drinkers to head north to buy their liquor. That was an exaggeration, or fear-mongering, or a myth. Apparently nobody explained that to Rep. Rodrigues, though. Also not in on the joke are the owners of the many Massachusetts liquor stores close to the New Hampshire border, now feeling the pinch of the very rational consumer behavior so vividly illustrated by the esteemed Rep. From the Herald:

Mike Cimini, owner of Yankee Spirits liquor stores in Sturbridge, Attleboro and Swansea, said he’s lost about 10 percent of his business since the booze tax went into effect Aug. 1.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable that a Massachusetts state representative would be that hypocritical, let alone be that bold to actually drive his car with political plates to a New Hampshire liquor store,” said Cimini, noting Rodrigues represents communities close to his stores. “He’s up in New Hampshire to avoid the very taxes he approved.”

Ten percent is a lot of business to lose in good times, never mind during a recession.

So let's pause and raise a glass to Representative Rodrigues who, by taking his 'House 29' plate-emblazoned Ford for his New Hampshire beer run, managed both to pull the sales tax hike back into the headlines, and to provide yet another vivid illustration of the rank hypocrisy of the Democrats who gave it to us. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Wisdom at the local level

The Globe can be forgiven the somewhat puzzled tone that runs through its article today about the fact that relatively few Massachusetts municipalities have raised their hotel and meal taxes, as they were authorized to do earlier this year by our wise Legislature. As of a deadline yesterday, only 25 of the state's 351 cities and towns had opted to raise their local taxes. The others, notes the Globe, are "forgoing tens of millions of dollars in potential revenue but holding down prices for consumers."

How can this be? Well, let the local officials, who operate closely with their hometown businesses, explain (all from the Globe):
“The Board of Selectmen didn’t want to visit the state’s problems on local businesses or their patrons,’’ [Mendon Town Coordinator Dale] Pleau said.

Hopedale Town Adminstrator Eugene Phillips explained, "The selectmen decided the businesses were already in tough enough shape that they didn’t want to add to the burden."

Woburn Mayor Thomas McLaughlin said his town did raise the hotel tax but not the restaurant tax, because they "didn’t want to hurt our local restaurants, when other towns may not approve the meals tax. We didn’t want to discourage anyone from coming to our restaurants."
Do you notice a few common thread in those comments? Local officials in the state's many small communities, where those 'in charge' know their local businesses and the people who run them, understand exactly what impact tax increases tend to have in the midst of a recession. They further depress already stagnant business growth. They discourage spending. They do not help - they hurt.

Conversely, according to the Globe "Many of the state’s densest communities voted to increase their taxes, including Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline..." Let Boston Mayor Tom Menino, always more intelligible in type, explain their rationale: "No one likes new taxes, but as I see it, these local-option tax increases will help us diversify our revenue stream, which is crucial in times when state aid is being so dramatically reduced."

His thinking tracks exactly with Beacon Hill's: to H-E-double hockey sticks with your "revenue stream," so long as the government continues to "diversify" (read: expand) its own. And here's something else that "the state's densest communities" have in common with Beacon Hill: they are uniformly governed by entrenched, one-party machines steeped long in tax and spend philosophy.

Overall, though, it is good and heartening to see the vast majority of our municipal governments resisting the siren song of higher taxes.