Jim McGovern Dreams the Impossible Dream: Surtax to Pay for Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

You hear all the time from Tea Party Republicans how the United States has a "spending problem, not a revenue problem."

In this vein, presidential candidate Michele Bachmann declared the other day that the federal budget is morbidly obese and needs to be put a radical diet. As the winner of the recent Iowa straw poll, Congresswoman Bachmann is considered a leading candidate for the Republican nomination.

The Tea Partiers mean by this kind of talk that they will not, under any circumstances, ever support tax increases to deal with our staggeringly unbelievable federal budget deficit. No Sireee! Spending got us into this mess; cutting spending can get us out of it.

As we saw during the prolonged stalemate/fiasco over raising the federal debt ceiling, in July and early this month, the Tea Partiers put on their tri-cornered hats every morning along with an impervious coat of moral superiority.

Ever seen a big Tea Party guy at a microphone answering a question about making a deal with the Democrats to pair a bit of tax increasing with a lot of budget slashing? Their contempt for the other side is as thick as the humidity in D.C. this time of year.

They may not say it, but you know that many of them believe those calling for higher taxes are traitors to the founding principles of America, and that patriots like themselves are the only ones standing between America and ruin.

To maintain the sheen on that armor of righteousness, however, they must avoid certain grubby realities, like the huge cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which accounts for more than $1 trillion of our current deficit.

Despite the big defeat the Republicans handed President Obama on the debt ceiling, there are still some Democrats in Washington who have the effrontery to keep pushing taxes. Jim McGovern, the Congressman from Worcester whose mentor was Joe Moakley, recently made news by saying that Congress's new debt-reduction "Super-Committee" (of which our senior senator, John Kerry, is a prominent member) should definitely have a "war surtax" on its agenda.

"These wars ought to be paid for and not put on a credit card so that our kids will have to pay for this in the future," McGovern told the Washington Post. See http://www/washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/a-war-tax-its-still-not-a-bad-idea/

"It's morally wrong," McGovern emphasized, "for members (of Congress) to call for support of our soldiers and then not ask the rest of us to pay for it...or have it left to the poor and middle-income and seniors to bear the sacrifice along with our soldiers and their families. That's wrong."

Who does McGovern think he is, talking morals when this deficit is all about spending?

Having Fun on Twitter at Khazei's Expense, Fehrnstrom Couldn't Resist Himself

Friday, August 26, 2011

If you've been following the story about Eric Fehrnstrom impersonating senate candidate Alan Khazei on Twitter, you have to be wondering why.

Why did Fehrnstrom risk embarrassing himself and the high-powered Republicans served by his Chestnut Hill-based consulting firm, The Shawmut Group, by writing a series of tweets that aimed to undercut just one of the eight persons currently vying for the honor of challenging Scott Brown in November, 2012?

Khazei is a likeable and accomplished gentleman, but he he has never held elective office. He was unable to win the senate nomination the first time he tried (2009) and is not exactly busting out of the pack in his second attempt. When's the last time you heard someone say, "That Khazei guy has 'Senator' written all over him."

Why would Fehrnstrom, a top advisor to both Brown and Mitt Romney, go to the trouble of setting up a false Twitter account and spend time composing pretend tweets under the rhyme-name "CrazyKhazei" ?

No one following this account could have believed it was the candidate actually speaking when Fehrnstrom wrote stuff like, "I promise to devote all my time in office to making gay videos. Shame on Scott Brown for focusing on jobs!" or this, "Just got back from sunny California. Thanks to all the elitists for donating to my campaign."

There was no strategic value in this endeavor.

When Fehrnstrom revealed his identity this week by mistakenly sending a "CrazyKhazei" tweet through his own Twitter account, there were the predictable cries of "dirty politics" from the Democrats. Crocodile tears of outrage flowed in the bastions of the elite.

To his credit, Fehrnstrom did not try to cover up, deny or explain away his involvement, nor did he put on a show of mortification and sorrow. "Sometimes we take our politics too seriously," he said, "and this was my way of lightening things up."

We should take him at his word.

Fehrnstrom started his professional life (if you can call it that) as a newspaperman, and he headed the Boston Herald's State House bureau for several years before becoming a press aide to former State Treasurer Joe Malone. My theory is, he was simply using "CrazyKhazei" as an escape valve for his wit.

These were the funny lines that came to him unbidden at all hours of the day, the thought bubbles that popped over his head as he racked up the billable hours in those office towers with the big-paying clients. Once they came to him, he had to share them. Reporters can't resist this kind of thing. They're possessed by a demon insisting to be read and appreciated for his cleverness.

Good thing Fehrnstrom couldn't resist. We do take our politics too seriously nowadays.

Geography, Not Ego, Explains Why Olver Is in No Hurry to Take His Pension

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Massachusetts will have to give up one of its 10 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives next year as part of a national redistricting process related to population growth and population shifts that occurred from 2001 to 2010.

Unless one person now sitting in the Massachusetts Congressional delegation voluntarily retires, the redistricting process will result in two of the incumbents running against each other.

The committee charged with drawing the lines of the nine new Congressional districts, composed of representatives and senators now serving in the Massachusetts legislature, is rushing to complete its work and is disinclined to provide sneak previews to anyone.

Speculation is intense. Will the ultimate death match pit rookie Bill Keating vs. veteran Steve Lynch, or will it be Nikki Tsongas, the only woman in the delegation, vs. John Tierney, who many feel was weakened by the money laundering case involving his wife and brother-in-law last year?

Meantime, many people look at 75-year-old John Olver, who has represented one of the state's two western districts for many years, and wonder, Why will he not retire? Why will he not spare his fellow office holders much redistricting pain and forestall a hard-fought election between a Keating and a Lynch, or a Tsongas and a Tierney?

The temptation is to regard Olver, who has considerable clout as a ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, as selfish and power-hungry. It's wrong to succumb to that temptation, not because one should avoid unflattering thoughts about people in public life but because one should avoid obvious thoughts. The obvious in politics (or any endeavor for that matter) is so often wrong.

Olver's reasons for staying put, in my opinion, have almost everything to do with geography and practically nothing to do with ego. He's a Western Massachusetts guy (with a capital W) standing up for his region against the perennially more powerful and entrenched interests in the east.

If you're from Boston, or anywhere in eastern Massachusetts, (say any place within Route 495), you're likely to be oblivious to how folks in western Massachusetts, (say everywhere on the other side of the Shrewsbury), feel disadvantaged and overlooked by the more heavily populated and self-absorbed east.

Have you ever heard the old line about Boston being the only place where a person can stand at sea level and look down on the rest of the country? Well, a lot of the people who feel looked down upon live between the Connecticut River and the New York border.

So when a John Olver is told it would be good for Massachusetts if he would shuffle quietly from the scene and start to partake of his Congressional pension, he rightly asks himself, "Good for whom in Massachusetts?" And he quickly answers, "Not good for the people where I'm from, the people I am sworn to serve."

Today, western Massachusetts has two Congressman: Olver and Springfield's Richie Neal.

If, in 2013, they have only Richie Neal protecting their interests in the U.S. House, they will be worse off than they are today. Simple. You don't need to be a college professor, as John Olver once was, to understand something like that.

Olver is fortunate to have a powerful ally in this regard, Amherst State Senator and Massachusetts Senate President Pro Tem Stan Rosenberg, who is the Senate chair of the redistricting committee. Before he entered politics, the Revere-bred Rosenberg was an aide to Olver when he was in the legislature.

Skeptics are saying Rosenberg will not consent to a one-district western Massachusetts because he harbors dreams of one day soon succeeding Olver in Congress. Maybe he does. But I say that Rosenberg is doing what's best for western Massachusetts today and letting politics take care of itself tomorrow. Indeed, this is likely one of those not-unusual instances where good policymaking is good politics.

It doesn't hurt Rosenberg's chances of successfully defending a two-district west that he undoubtedly has the support of another powerful Western Massachusetts politician in the legislature, the lovable Steve Brewer of Barre, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Lesson of the Lawrence Recall: Don't Sign Your Name If You Can't Take the Pain

Friday, August 19, 2011

Many people in the City of Lawrence are unhappy and upset with the way their mayor, William Lantigua, is doing (or not doing) his job.

The anti-Lantigua sentiments are deep and widespread, such that organizers of a recent drive to recall Hizzoner in a special election had little difficulty gathering thousands of signatures on a recall petition, 5,483 signatures to be exact.

Of that number, 1,117 were ruled invalid by local election officials, leaving the petition with 4,366 good signatures -- far short of the 5,232 needed to bring about a recall election.

Mayor Lantigua was naturally overjoyed. A former member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the city's first-ever Latino chief executive, he couldn't help gloating a bit. His antagonists were taunted for, among other things, not doing their homework.

The mayor and the people around him are good at hardball politics, and it wasn't long before a pro-Lantigua/anti-recall group, YoNoFirmo.com, posted on its web site the names and addresses of the 4,000-plus Lawrence residents whose petition signatures were deemed valid. (YoNoFirmo is Spanish for "I do not sign.")

Intimidation, recall forces immediately cried!

"We've been getting oodles of e-mails and calls from people saying they're concerned or afraid," Anthony DiFruscia, a lawyer for It's Your Right, the group leading the campaign to depose Lantigua, was quoted as saying in the Boston Globe on August 17.

DiFruscia also reportedly declared, "This just isn't the American way. This is not democracy as we understand it."

And Wayne Hayes, an It's Your Right organizer, said, "There's real fear from residents that people will start coming to their houses and trashing them or assaulting them. The fear in their voices is heartbreaking," according to the Globe.

It's never good to see people trembling in fear. And if any recall petition signers are ever directly threatened or harmed, they deserve our sympathy and support. Everyone should rally to their defense.

YoNoFirmo.com, nevertheless, should not be villified for publishing those names and addresses on the web.

That information is a public record; anyone is entitled to scrutinize it in any format.

With all due respect to Atty. DiFruscia, the methods of YoNoFirmo are emphatically "the American way." Democracy is best conducted out in the open, where everyone can see what everyone else is doing.

There may be some people who signed that petition not realizing their names and addresses would be made public, but it's hard to feel sorry for anyone in that category, no matter how old or weak they may be.

In our system, you don't deserve to be counted unless you're willing to stand up.

We have largely forgotten that citizen participation in a democracy is not risk-free, that it fundamentally requires some backbone. It is a truth our ancestors naturally understood and accepted.

Pauline Maier, for example, describes in her book, "American Scripture, Making the Declaration of Independence," how the Continental Congress in the Spring of 1776 asked the citizens of the 13 British colonies that became the United States of America if it should declare the American people and territories free and independent of what was then the world's most powerful empire.

She tells how the Massachusetts assembly, in May of that year, "asked the inhabitants of each town in the colony to debate, 'in full Meeting warned for that Purpose,' an extraordinary topic: if the honorable Continental Congress should decide that, for the safety of the United Colonies, it was necessary to declare them independent of Great Britain, would 'they the said Inhabitants...solemnly engage with their Lives and Fortunes to Support the Congress in the Measure"? (Bold facing added.)

The Assembly deliberately proposed the question to the people of Massachusetts in this "unusually personal way," Ms. Maier writes, "and chose its words carefully," because, "In British law, death and forfeiture of estate were the punishment for treason."

Thus warned that they could be executed and their properties seized if this experiment in freedom went badly, the men of Massachusetts (only male property owners could vote at that time) convened in scores of town meetings across the colony and voted in every recorded instance to endorse a declaration of independence.

If, 235 years ago, our forebears had succumbed to the very real fear of death, there would be no U.S.A. for us to enjoy today.

If they could risk their lives to claim and declare publicly their rights as a free people, how can we allow anything to inhibit us from acting on our political beliefs when our consciences are telling us to do so?

It's Not Easy, but Please Try to Endure the Suspense of Warren's 'Listening Tour'

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Elizabeth Warren is conducting a "listening tour" in Massachusetts as she wrestles with the question, "Do I see a United States senator when I look in the mirror?"

Warren, a Harvard Law professor who was President Obama's unconfirmable choice to head the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, (Republican poohbahs in D.C. hate her), has also formed an exploratory committee to raise funds for a "possible challenge" to Scott Brown.

"Elizabeth has spent the last week listening to people from across the Commonwealth as she considers a campaign for U.S. Senate," said Kyle Sullivan, her spokesman. (Yes, she already has a paid mouthpiece.) "She wants to continue this conversation and the exploratory committee will assist her in doing so."

There are almost as many artificial devices in politics as there are in Orlando, Florida, and one of the greatest (and most harmless) of these has to be the listening tour.

A would-be candidate descends, with entourage, on a small town and pretends for a few minutes that his future is being decided then and there by the Average Joes on Main Street: the dog catcher, hair stylist, store clerk, letter carrier, local crank or curmudgeon.

Or the would-be candidate appears in someone's living room after supper one night to introduce himself to a hand-picked audience of sympathetic neighbors and activists from whatever party the "listener" happens to belong to.

Do you think we'll ever see the day when someone returns from a listening tour, calls a press conference, and announces, "People think I'm a jerk. I better not run. I'd get killed."

There is some potential real value in a listening tour, I guess. If the would-be candidate finds he can't handle the softball questions in those living rooms, for example, he might decide that campaigning wasn't his cup of tea and return quietly to the private sector.

Professor Warren, as you would imagine, is having no difficulties in those rooms filled with Dems who want Brown gone from The People's Seat.

The chances are higher that I will compete in this Saturday's Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Boston Harbor than Elizabeth Warren will decide not to run for the senate at the end of her listening tour.

Pro-Life Group Has Reason for Targeting Universal Health Care, and It's a Killer

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Massachusetts Citizens for Life (MCL) wants to blow up the state's unique system of universal health care coverage.

The organization known for its pro-life/anti-abortion activism is pursuing a question on the 2012 ballot that would ask voters to repeal a key provision of the 2006 universal coverage law: the mandate that all citizens obtain coverage or pay a penalty.

"Repeal Romney Care" is the name MCL has given to its ballot initiative. See http://www.repeal-romneycare.com/

"Currently health care is much more embedded in state law than federal," MCL says on this site. "We cannot just repeal the whole law...so we are repealing the individual mandate, which we feel will be the start of bringing down the whole law."

From a positioning standpoint, it makes sense for MCL to say it's dead set against "RomneyCare" rather than "universal health care." The former sounds like a scheme foisted on the public by a misguided politician, as in the pejorative "ObamaCare," while the latter sounds like a populist's dream come true.

MCL says its opposition is based on the belief that the Massachusetts system has produced unsustainably high costs and that these costs are leading to the rationing of health care.

"When a program runs out of money, or imposes price controls, as Governor Patrick did, rationing occurs," MCL says. "ObamaCare is intentionally designed to cut funding and impose rationing. In Massachusetts, rationing is the unintended consequence of funding with general revenue.

"We are not saying the individual mandate, in and of itself, causes rationing. We are saying that the whole law causes rationing and repealing the individual mandate is the best way to start to repeal the whole law."

MCL notes that Massachusetts has the highest per capita health care costs in the nation. That situation, however, existed long before universal health care coverage came along.

"We still want quality health care for all," MCL asserts on its web site, (bold facing added), "so it is time to learn from our mistakes and move on."

Let's consider that statement closely.

MCL wants to repeal the universal health care coverage law, which has resulted in nearly 98% of the population of Massachusetts having coverage. Among children and senior citizens, those coverage rates are even higher: 99.8% and 99.6%, respectively.

They want us to kill a system that has brought about health care for virtually all citizens for the first time ever in any part of the U.S. And they are offering us the hope that, at some undefined point in the future, we will be able to create a new system that will: (a) deliver quality health care to everyone, and (b) guarantee that health care will never be rationed.

Human life is precious, and every life has incalculable value.

I respect what MCL does in advocating for the rights of the unborn.

But I struggle to understand the logic, never mind the morality, of pro-lifers seeking the destruction of something that has made life-saving care available to a large group of our fellow citizens who never had it before, including some the most vulnerable members of our society, little kids.


The government compels us to purchase insurance if we wish to own and operate a motor vehicle. And the government, to ensure the health of schoolchildren, compels us to have our kids vaccinated against various diseases if we wish to enroll them in school. So why can't the government compel us to purchase health insurance?

Here's another way to think about this:

None of us would say that a 25-year-old man or woman badly injured in an accident should not be able to obtain treatment at a hospital because he or she lacked health insurance. In fact, the law compels hospitals to provide emergency care to all who need it. The injured, uninsured person, therefore, benefits from the legal compulsion hospitals operate under to provide emergency care. Why is that compulsion good and the compulsion to purchase health insurance bad, especially when taxpayers are ultimately forced to subsidize the "free" emergency care that an injured person may receive?

I Think I'll Be Scratching My Head Till the Day We All Go Bankrupt with Our Non-Socialized Medicine

Friday, August 12, 2011

There are lots of things in life I don't understand, and the more I try to understand them, the more perplexed and frustrated I become.

"Mental progress seems to elude me," I said to my wife the other night.

"You're just realizing that?" she replied.

I was thinking once again of the world's-most-expensive health care system, which we happen to have in the U.S.A, and of how we pay for health care, and of how other nations seem to have their health care acts together more than we do.

I had just read a column by Ezra Klein on the Bloomberg news service, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/print/2011-08-11/in-washington-gridlock-is-more-costly... and was furiously scratching my head.

Klein wrote, "If the U.S. simply had the per-person health-care costs of Switzerland, which hosts the second-most-expensive health-care system in the world, we would spend $3,000 less per person and save about $900 billion a year. Assuming we need to reduce deficits by about $4 trillion over the next 10 years, those savings would do the heavy lifting with about $5 trillion to spare."

We can't have a health care system like Switzerland's, however, even though it would wipe out our federal budget deficit and almost certainly improve our economy in myriad ways, because Switzerland is in Europe, and Europeans have socialized medicine. We can't act like Europeans because we do everything better than Europeans, and we hate socialism. Yeah, we're Americans.
Socialism leads to the destruction of freedom, as we have seen not only in all those European countries, but also in other countries that have socialized medicine, such as Israel, Japan and Canada.

A columnist in the Boston Herald, Holly Robichaud, struck this chord earlier this week when putting the knock on some folks who had the crazy idea of organizing and participating in a conference on single-payer health care at Framingham State University, including State Rep. Tom Sannicandro of Ashland and State Senator Jamie Eldridge of Acton.

"What do Beacon Hill politicians do on summer vacation?" wrote Robichaud. "They hold a meeting to talk strategy on how to implement single-payer health care, more commonly known as socialized medicine, or postal care. 'Exploring the Single-Payer Option,' a conference last week at Framingham State University, brought together local postalized health-care enthusiasts to plot how they can foist it on us."

Robichaud added, "It is not enough that we have Obamneycare, now they want a full takeover of health care."

Here's what I don't understand, though:

All of the Europeans, Canadians, Japanese and Israelis that I have ever met or done business with do not seem to be terribly burdened and/or disadvantaged by their socialized medical systems. Nor do they seem to have lost their personal liberties under the yoke of these systems.

None of these folks has ever asserted to me that his respective health care system is perfect. No system is perfect.

But maybe, just maybe, these are systems that work better for the vast majority of their citizens than does the system in our country, while having the distinct advantage of being less expensive.
I also don't understand how you can stop so many otherwise reasonable people in this country from even considering a single-payer health care system for all citizens (like we already have for the elderly in Medicare) simply by labelling it "socialized medicine" or "postal care."

And I don't understand our apparent willingness to bankrupt this nation through excessive and unsustainable spending on health care under our system rather than consider an alternative like the one used in Switzerland or Japan or Israel or Canada, or a mixture thereof.


In a recent press release on the appointment of a new member of the board of directors of a quasi-public development agency, the Patrick administration described the appointee as a "serial entrepreneur."

That term always tickles me, evoking as it does the image of a robotic overachiever locked in a pattern of selling one business and immediately starting another. ("Stop me before I incorporate again!")

I can't help but think of these serial entrepreneurs as free-ranging nuisances, barging endlessly into loan officers' cubicles all across the U.S.A., eyes afire, to demand million-dollar loans, Stat!

Serial is an adjective for killers and adulterers, not the calm, intelligent, buttoned-down folks produced by our graduate schools of business.

I also don't like how "serial entrepreneur" manages to flatter the subject by setting him apart from your average, garden-variety entrepreneur, who may only be involved in two or three successful businesses over the course of his lifetime, the slacker.

Who Are You Going to Believe on the 'Tea Party Downgrade?' Palin or Kerry?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Democrats like our senior United States senator, John F. Kerry, are "shamelessly cynical" and "dishonest" for blaming the Tea Party for Standard & Poor's downgrading of the country's credit rating from AAA to AA+. Those are Sarah Palin's words from a message posted on her Facebook page last night.

"Blaming the Tea Party for our credit downgrade," the former Republican candidate for vice president also said, "is akin to Nero blaming the Christians for burning Rome. Tea Party Americans weren't the ones 'fiddling' while our country's fiscal house was going up in smoke."

I wonder if ex-Alaska Governor Palin, before approving that message, actually read Standard & Poor's "research update" on the downgrade, which appeared Friday afternoon, August 5, under the title, "United States of America Long-Term Rating Lowered to 'AA+' On Political Risks And Rising Debt Burden; Outlook Negative" ?

I've read that update, (it's only seven-and-a-half pages long), and it was clear to me that the prolonged impasse in the Congress over raising the debt ceiling, a quagmire designed and constructed by the new Tea Party Republicans in the House, was the main reason, but not the only reason, Standard and Poor's dropped the credit rating of the U.S. for the first time in history.

The downgrade alone will cost our nation -- and we its taxpayers -- billions of dollars more in longterm borrowing costs over the coming years, so Democrats are hardly out of line when they point to this irony: Tea Party Republicans wouldn't compromise with President Obama because they're opposed in their marrow to any tax increases, ever, regardless of how fabulously wealthy the taxpayers in question may be. By not compromising, they helped bring about the equivalent of a tax increase on Americans in every income bracket.

Don't take my word when I say Kerry is right and Palin is wrong. Consider instead these actual words from the Standard & Poor's research update:

"We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenue is less likely than we previously assumed, and will remain a contentious and fitful process. We also believe that the fiscal consolidation plan that the Congress and the Administration agreed to this week falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade...

"The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year's wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently...

"In our view, the difficulty in framing a consensus on fiscal policy weakens the government's ability to manage public finances and diverts attention from the debate over how to achieve more balanced and dynamic economic growth in an era of fiscal stringency and private-sector deleveraging...

"A new political consensus might (or might not) emerge after the 2012 elections, but we believe that by then, the government debt burden will likely be higher, the needed medium-term fiscal adjustment potentially greater, and the inflection point on the U.S. population's demographics and other age-related spending drivers closer at hand."

"Prolonged controversy."

"Political brinksmanship"

"Less stable," "less effective" and "less predictable" governance and policy-making.

Debt ceilings and default threats used as "political bargaining chips."

Who brought those to the sausage-making party?

Consider also this: Senator Kerry and President Obama reacted to the credit rating downgrade by calling upon leaders of both parties to return immediately to the bargaining table and create a new, much more comprehensive fiscal consolidation plan that would address precisely the concerns raised in Standard & Poor's research update. This is the kind of "grand bargain" that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner were close to reaching at one point, roughly two weeks before the debt limit deadline of August 2, but which Boehner was forced ultimately to disavow by Tea Party Republicans because it would have raised taxes on citizens earning more than quarter-of-a-million dollars a year.

As Kerry said this past Sunday on Meet The Press, "This is the Tea Party downgrade because a minority of people in the House of Representatives countered even the will of many Republicans in the United States Senate who were prepared to do a bigger deal, to do a $4.7 trillion, a $4 trillion (deal), have a mix of reductions and reforms in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, but also recognized that we needed to do some revenue."

In answering a question from Meet The Press host David Gregory, Kerry also said:

"I think this is one of the most telling, important moments in our country's history right now. We've had a fairly straightforward economic road throughout the 20th Century. But now, David, this poses a set of choices. It's not just about a recession, it's about a financial crisis and a structure of our economy, which really has been misallocating capital.

"We've had an enormous amount of capital going into arbitration over these last years -- phony deals, commissions, not creating jobs. And the real problem for our country is not the short-term debt. We can deal with that. It's the long-term debt. It's the structure of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid measured against the demographics of our nation. That, then juxtaposed to the lack of jobs and job creation and growth.

"That's our problem, structural. And what we need is a Washington that stops this bickering, that gets rid of these hard positions that I noticed even in Speaker Boehner's comments about the downgrade, politicizing it in the sense that, you know, sort of blaming it on the Democrats and the lack of decision.

"Three times he (Obama) was refused that (grand bargain) deal because there were some people in the Republican Party, and Mitch McConnell even admitted this, who wanted to default. He said there were people in his party who are willing to shoot the hostage. In the end, they found that the hostage was worth ransoming.

"This is not about ransom. This is about our nation. It's about our country. It's about growth. It's about statesmanship. I know John McCain and many of his colleagues in the Senate are prepared to sit down and be serious about how we deal with this quickly because our nation's security, our nation's future, is at stake in an unprecedented way."

To Sarah Palin, that sounds like fiddling. To me, it sounds like a very sad friend trying to stop you from killing yourself.

If You Agree with Senator Moynihan, You'll Like This New Judicial Reorg Law

Friday, August 5, 2011

In the past week, both branches of the Massachusetts legislature enacted, and the governor signed into law, House Bill 3644, an act "relative to the reorganization of the judicial system of the Commonwealth."

A response to a 2010 special investigation and report that found "systemic abuse and corruption" in the hiring and promotion practices of the Massachusetts Probation Department, H.B. 3644 is a truly serious effort at reform.

As long as H.B. 3644 is on the books, legislators will never again be able to use the Probation Department as a personal hiring service for their relatives, political supporters and constituents.

And no citizen with a directionless 20-something son or daughter will be able to secure a lifetime job in Probation for the kid simply because that citizen's state representative or senator happens to be in a position where he exercises considerable influence over the Probation Department's budget.

The new law stipulates that every applicant for the job of probation officer shall pass a written application that tests his/her "knowledge, skills and abilities which can be objectively and reliably measured and which are required to perform the duties of the position of probation officer."

Only after passing that test will a probation officer candidate be officially considered for hiring, a process that will involve, one, an "inquiry into and review of the applicant's education, prior work history and other accomplishments to ensure that the applicant is well suited for the culture of the organization and will further the organization's stated goals;" two, "behaviorally-based interviews;" and, three, "candidate assessments, including case study, presentation and writing assessments, provided, however, that the candidate assessments shall focus on the specific requirements of the position."

Job recommendations for probation officer candidates will not receive any consideration whatsoever until the candidates have successfully completed this process. And all recommendations given to candidates will be available for review by the public. The same goes for any recommendations made for Probation Department employees who seek promotions.

H.B. 3644 further requires that all applicants for jobs within the three branches of state government, not just the judicial branch, must submit in writing the names of all immediate family members who are state employees. For those who are hired, this information will be permanently available to the public.

The legislature faced a huge challenge in the wake of the Boston Globe Spotlight Team investigation into Probation Department hiring and promoting, and the resulting investigation by the special counsel appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court, Attorney Paul Ware: Restore public trust in the department, and thereby improve the standing of the legislature itself, which had definitely been diminished by these revelations.

H.B. 3644 is a worthy response to that challenge because it sets new professional standards for probation officers and other court personnel and makes the hiring and promition processes transparent.

In the sense intended by the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who always asserted that "secrecy is for losers," one could say that this bill aims to guarantee that only winners secure these important jobs in the Probation Department.

Give the legislature and governor credit for honoring the spirit of Senator Moynihan, God rest his soul.

Most legislators, I am sure, are pleased that they have reformed the court system and its subsidiary, Probation, in this way -- and also pleased that they have mainly taken themselves off the hook for getting some not especially qualified people into the system. Now, when somebody calls, hoping to get their mediocre (or worse) relative a job there, legislators can honestly respond, "Sorry. The law says I can't stick my nose into this. There's very little I can do."

Since I Agree with Senator Moynihan, I'm Ready to Step Right Up for My New Lobbyist Badge

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My mother never raised me to be a lobbyist, but that doesn't mean she was disappointed when I became one in 1998.

While she may have had the kind of doubts about the lobbying trade that most people seem to have, she had such faith in me that, when I registered to lobby for The Companies for Demutualization Fairness, a national group trying to protect policyholders in mutual insurance companies, she figured it must be a good cause and that my lobbying was based on valid principles. (It was.)

That's the thing about lobbying: your view of it changes depending upon the purpose or goal of the activity. If you support, say, stricter gun control, the people lobbying for it are your heroes, doing God's work, and the people on the other side are dissemblers at best, devils at worst.

In any event, lobbying is entirely legal, a protected activity under the U.S. Constitution's right to free speech. There's no reason to feel bad when exercising your Constitutional rights.

And if you happen to find yourself employed to advocate for a client before a legislative body, there's no reason to walk around like you have something to hide if the client is legitimate and the action he seeks is sound -- legally, morally and ethically.

Good lawyers do not skulk about courthouses, hoping to escape notice, hoping no one will ask them who they are representing. If lawyers can advocate proudly for their clients, lobbyists can too.

So when Republicans in the Massachusetts House of Representatives recently floated some changes in House ethics rules, one of which would have required lobbyists to wear identifying badges at all times within the State House, my reaction was: Fine. Give me a badge. I'll be glad to wear it.

I'm not sure exactly what would be accomplished by having every lobbyist wear a badge, but I suspect that the badge believers among the Republican cohort think it would do two things:

One, let every legislator and legislative staff person know immediately that the person they are dealing with is a paid advocate for some company, organization or cause, and

Two, let every passerby at the State House know when a lobbyist is buttonholing a legislator or legislative staff person in the lobbies outside the House and Senate chambers or in the hallways of the State House.

If that is so, I have no problem with either result. The more we all know about what's going on at the State House the better. When it comes to hiding things in government, I agree with the late, great senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who declared, "Secrecy is for losers."

I also agree with the conservative newspaper columnist and television commentator Charles Krauthammer, who wrote a good piece about lobbying in Washington, D.C., which appeared in late-February of 2008. The things that Krauthammer finds wrong on the Washington scene, re: federal meddling and usurpation, do not really have a parallel in Massachusetts. His thoughts, nevertheless, are worth pondering. Here's an excerpt from that column:

"Of course it (the First Amendment to the Constitution) doesn't use the word lobby. It calls it the right 'to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.' Lobbyists are people hired to do that for you, so you can remain gainfully employed rather than spend your life in the corridors of Washington.

"To hear the presidential candidates, you'd think lobbying is just one notch below waterboarding, a black art practiced by the great malefactors to loose upon the nation every manner of scourge: oil dependency, greenhouse gases, unpayable mortgages and those tiny entrees you get at French restaurants.

"Lobbying is constitutionally protected, but that doesn't mean we have to like it all. Let's agree to frown upon bad lobbying, such as getting a tax break for a particular industry. Let's agree to welcome good lobbying -- the actual redress of a legitimate grievance -- such as protecting your home from being turned to dust to make way for some urban development.

"There is a defense of even bad lobbying. It goes like this: You wouldn't need to be seeking advantage if Washington had not appropriated for itself all kinds of powers, regulations, intrusions and manipulations (often through the tax code) that had never been imagined by the Founders. What appears to be rent-seeking is this redress of a larger grievance -- federal meddling in what had traditionally been considered an area of free enterprise.

"Good lobbying, on the other hand, requires no such larger contextual explanation. It is a cherished First Amendment right -- necessary, like the others, to protect a free people against overbearing government."

I only ask the House Republicans to grant me one thing before I pose, and pay, for my new lobbyist badge: Please guarantee that it will exempt me from going through the five-minute security scan every time I enter the State House. I'm tired of being pulled aside and having a guard "wand" me all over, while I stand there like an idiot with my arms outstretched, because I forgot to take every penny out of my pockets or remove my wristwatch before going through the metal detector.