Sacred Cods and Holy Mackerals

I’m confused…
February 23, 2009, 2:27 pm
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I keep reading all these stories about this terrible recession that we are in. Some economists are saying we’re on our way into a Depression. The Nit-witsphere is predicting widespread civil unrest as socialism dawns. 

Yet has a story up right now that says ski resorts are having a fantastic year. The Boston Herald ran a story today that quoted the CEOs of Samuel Adams, Harpoon, and Cisco Breweries all saying business remains great for micro-breweries. Hotels in New Orleans are nearly fully booked for Madi Gras. Upscale cosmetic shops continue to sell out of $1,400 skin cream. Pet owners are still pampering their pooches. Christ, even US Airways  says business is so strong that they are able to keep drinks free for coach passengers.

Also, Wal-Mart is posting big profits, as is McDonald’s and KFC.  

So what’s going on???

My take is that this has been primarily, and remains, a recession predominately for the working-class brought about by the contraction of credit. Because that’s how the working-class has been able to survive the last few years. They weren’t the beneficiaries of the latest economic boom. They were surviving on credit! And now that ever-expanding credit limit is gone, and so is their buying power. And their homes. And their 401Ks.

Look at what’s struggling: mid-level retailers and chain restaurants. Families can’t afford to go to JC Penny, so they go to Wal-Mart. Families can’t afford to go to Cheesecake Factory, so they go to McDonald’s. Casinos are struggling lagely due to a drop in their biggest money-makers: slot machines. And I ask which economic class plays slot machines?  

I’ve yet to hear of very many Nordstrom’s going out of business. Or Elizabeth Grady salons. Sure, Locke Ober cut back on its lunch schedule. But let me know when it, or No. 9 Park, or Brasserie Jo goes out of business.  How many foreclosures have there been in Wellesley? Or Dover? Or Cohasset?

Am I wrong? If so, please set me straight…


Gov. Patrick ready to battle (updated)
February 20, 2009, 1:43 pm
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Well, Massachusetts State Legislature, consider the gauntlet having been thrown down.

Gov. Patrick has just wrapped up his transportation reform press conference (more a speech, really, since he didn’t take questions), and he’s made it clear he’s going directly after the MBTA employees union. He name-dropped the “23-and-out” policy, predicted that there is going to push back from both the union and certain legisators, and said “You wanna bump? Let’s bump.”

It’s one of the few times that Gov Patrick has been able to argue from the moral highground and with popular opinion on his side. I argued a couple months back that Patrick is placing his re-election bet hard on this transportation reform plan. If he wins, it will go along way towards getting him a second term. If he fails, he’ll join Ed King as a one-termer.

The main difference right now between Gov. Patrick’s plan and the Senate plan is that the Senate plan does not contain any revenue proposals. Patrick’s plan also would give the Transpotation Secretary much more direct management authority over the new transportation system, while the Senate plans places that authority with a board and a CEO.

One possible strength of Patrick’s plan appears to be his willingness to spell out specifically where every cent of the tax hike would go, i.e., Big Dig debt, MBTA debt, etc. It’s the type of transparency that the average voter/taxpayer will latch onto, although my gut still tells me that the 19-cent hike won’t fly.

UPDATE: BlueMassGroup has posted an interview it conducted with Trans. Secretary Jim Aloisi from last night that was apparantly embargoed until a few minutes ago. The post contains a specific breakdown of the gastax hike, as well as an explanation of the proposed employee benefit changes.

Meet the new boss(es)
February 19, 2009, 10:26 am
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David Bernstein again brings it/stomps the yard with his analysis on House Speaker DeLeo’s new leadership team.

Basically, Loren & Wally and Oldies 103.3 is out — WZLX is in.

 The key dynamic change isn’t just the age-shift, but also the personality shift. The new leadership team is not content with being back-slappers. They are, largely, activist and advocates at heart and have every intention of being movers and shakers. You think Rep. Alice Wolf, finally becoming a committee chairwoman after spending years as a backbencher, is going to suddenly become a yes-woman? And Charlie Murphy, the new Ways and Means Chairman, has never been one to sit idly in the corner.

Judy Meredith over at BlueMassGroup asks whether DeLeo’s appointments will restore the public’s faith in the Legislature. My response was “no.”

Simply putting able bodies in top seats won’t “restore confidence” — that will only be done through actions such as pension reform, transportation reform, lobbyist reform.

What could be accomplished, however, is combating this public perception that centralized leadership is the law-of-the-land within the House of Representatives.  

If the public truly feels that legislation is advanced through a true democratic process, rather than by armtwisting and “what leadership wants” THAT will go a along way…

What has been striking in the first couple weeks of the DeLeo tenure is how pitch-perfect his public statements and actions have been. Nobody thought 6 years ago that Bobby DeLeo would be speaker. And so far, he has been putting himself in a good position to carve out a similar legacy like the one left behind by his good friend Robert Traviglini, someone else who made an unexpected leap into power. Could this really the beginning of a Pax Domus?

Legislative priorities
February 18, 2009, 2:11 pm
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As I promised way back, here’s a story that you won’t find anywhere else: some of the Legislature’s top priorities this year, according to lobbying groups organized well-enough to arrange for Email blasts from their members.

Transgender rights – This bill is likely THE top priority for MassEquality and Mass Transgender Political Coalition. Essentially, it would specifically prohibit discrimination based on gender, or the change thereof. Its lead sponsors are Reps. Carl Sciortino of Medford and Byron Rushing of Boston, and Sen. Ben Downing of Pittsfield. Needless to say, they are all Dems. More than half the Legislature has signed on to the bill – 83 House members and 21 senators, which would seem to guarantee its passage. Right? I mean, legislators would never publicly support a bill, but secretly tell House or Senate leadership to kill it. Would they?

I certainly do not support discrimination based on any characteristic. Except maybe for ignorance. Those people suck.

My concern with this is that, well, frankly, I just don’t trust people. Unlike with other forms of discrimination, being transgender isn’t necessarily something that’s easily visible or proven, like, say, race, or ethnicity. It would be like trying to guarantee rights for conservatives or liberals. How do you prove that someone who claims to be liberal isn’t actually a liberal? The fear that some have is that it would prevent businesses, for example, from preventing pre-op transgender men from using the women’s changing rooms. How easily would it be for a perv to enter a woman’s dressing room, claiming he’s just transgender? Would he have to have a note from his doctor? At what point does the right of the transgender not outweigh the rights of private individuals?

Driscoll bill – This bill, filed by Rep. Joseph Driscoll, would require police details at all roadway utility work sites. Obviously the police unions love it. And it’s easy to defend against “waste of taxdollars” claims since the details are paid for by private companies, with towns receiving a 10% bonus for “scheduling and administering” the details. Sure, we all end up paying for it in the end through higher cable, gas, and electricity bills, but its virtually unnoticeable when writing out the monthly check.

Animal rights bills – The pro-dog lobby has been very active this winter. They have pushing for sponsorship of the Devocalization Bill filed by Rep. Harkins, which would ban ripping the vocal cords out of yappy dogs. Yowch. And why no ban on carrying around Chihuahuas in purses? That seems much more cruel to me. They also have been pushing for a ban on “puppy mills” as sponsored by Sen. Hedlund. And yes, Sen. Hedlund has once again filed his elephant protection bill. Ringling Brothers says if it passes they will stop coming to Boston, and Bay Staters will be left with only the Cirque de Soleil and the dudes who flip over rows of people down at Faneuil Hall.

“Negotiate, don’t legislate” version 1 – The MBTA employee union is a-scared that the Legislature might start listening to the voting populace and move to reduce some of their contract perks as part of a major transportation reform plan. Ya know, perks like retiring at 45 with a full pension. They do have a point – they negotiated these perks fairly and squarely. It’s the MBTA management and board of directors who are to blame. On the other hand, I don’t like this idea of having 48-year-old MBTA retirees taking home $45k a year for life, while I’m stuck in a Red Line car in a tunnel because yet another rail switch is broken.

“Negotiate, don’t legislate” version 2 – The municipal unions (teachers, firefighters, clerks) are opposed to a possible attempt to mandate that all cities and towns join the GIC. But as a local teachers union official explained to me over the longest cup of coffee in my life, the issue has less to do with money, as the percentage breakdown would still be subject to collective bargaining. It has more to do with the actual GIC policies themselves. HMOs don’t work very well 25 miles outside of Boston. Try getting a primary care doctor or an approved specialist in Halifax, or Franklin, or Littleton.

Charter schools – Turns out, parents who send their children to charter schools really like charter schools. They aren’t too thrilled with Gov. Patrick’s plan to increase the cap on charter schools based on a formula that involves Fibonacci number sequences, or something like that. But they definitely don’t want the cap lowered or frozen. Here’s my theory on charter schools. Any student who has parents who will take the time out to fill out the paperwork to send their kid to charter school, and then drive them to school every day, is going to succeed regardless of what school they attend. The real test would be how charter schools do with students with absentee or uninvolved parents. There are those other bills you’ve heard about — pension  reform, transportation reform, sales tax hikes — but only average voters are calling in about those.

New leaders in the House
February 12, 2009, 1:01 pm
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Big changes coming in the House…

Rep. Vallee is the new Majority Leader, with Ron Mariano and Patricia Haddad rounding out the top leadership posts. Petrolati remains Speaker Pro Tempore.

The other big winners are Reps. Charlie Murphy and Barbara L’Italien, your new chair and vice-chair of Ways and Means. “Times” are being scheduled for them as we speak.

The biggest demotion may have been reserved for Rep. Bosley, who goes from chairing the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies to sitting second seat on the Bonding and State Assets Committee.

More to come later…

And now for something completely the same…
February 11, 2009, 12:47 pm
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Just like I predicted the oncoming downfall of Sal DiMasi, I am predicting that today’s story on the pension-doubling, ex-senator Brennan has all but guranteed that the Legislature will pass significant pension reform within the next six months.

I mean seriously, dude…doubling your pension because you sit on the city library baord of trustess. I mean, at least have the decency to show up to the meetings, or even serve a few months beyond the exact minimum date that qualifies you for a pension boost. It’s stories like this that cement every cynical emotion held by every Howie Carr fan in this state. Seriously…you can’t make this stuff up.

It is worth nothing that the vast majority of these pension abusers don’t belong to a state employee’s union — they’re all former legislators, or high-level managers. (Ignore the MBTA employees system for now…) The average state pension right now is about $24,000. We’re not talking a heck of a lot of money. It’s only a few dollars a day above the poverty line, and the average state employee actually contributes about 74% of what he/she ends up receiving in the end.

If I was runnig one of these state employee unions — the ones that represent the average state worker making about $20 an hour — I would have every member call their state rep and state senator demanding an end to this garbage, because its’ going to ruin it for the rest of them.

I think there was little doubt within the building that House Speaker DeLeo was being honest when he said pension reform would be a top priority. But now, instead of just some window-dressing, I think we’re going to see some significant changes. Otherwise, this will be a big part of the GOP’s gameplan to reclaim relevancy.

Holy high days in the House
February 7, 2009, 12:46 pm
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Sorry for the long delay between posts: I’ve been busy preparing the sacrifice to commemorate the ascension of House Speaker DeLeo.

OK, you probably don’t know what I’m referring to. But it’s very clearly laid out in the Book of Finneran, Chapter 23, Verses 40-48.

“And on the 13th day following the ascension, the multitude shall gather at the tent of ML Strategies, in the presence of Thomas, the Son of Tip the Prophet.  At which time a proper sacrifice shall be prepared to give thanks. And they shall burn three Bird books, along with seven hairs each from the Swan, Fox, Wolf, mixed with the essence of Basile and Rice, and he blood of three prime ribs from Fleming’s. The ashes shall be offered to the North and East and then spread on the foreheads of seven lobbyists of criminal records pure. The lobbyists shall then be accompanied by a corps of drummers and pipers, all Sons of Ireland, and they shall march 12 times around both the Herald and Globe of Boston, until the occupants shake and tremble in fear. A collation shall be held afterwards, thrown by the Senate President, and held at Tecce’s in the North. It shall feature a cash bar. Suggested donations shall be $125, $250 and $500.”  

(Personally,  my goal is to make just one editor at the Globe tell an intern to make a couple phone calls to make sure I made all that up, ya know, just in case…)