Monday, March 29, 2010

Flooding getting worser and worser

While watching out my picture window to the East to see if any part of Clinton remains above water, I got this alert from the National Weather Service:
Maybe we ought to start requiring our meteorologists to get an English minor English minors minors in English along with their degree degrees.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mayor Mazzarella's Mad Libs are "Ready for You!"

A quick update on the love shack that is Leominster city hall...the Telegram moved the ball ahead on the story this morning by reporting that the controversy may have begun when Mayor Dean Mazzarella's ex-girlfriend/secretary popped him in the kisser on the steps of city hall:
The mayor's defense of his actions followed months of rumors that his ex-girlfriend, Stacia L. Venturi — upon discovering his relationship with Lisa L. Vallee, the economic coordinator — slapped Mr. Mazzarella on City Hall steps on Jan. 19, the day of the special election to replace the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

The mayor denied that Ms. Venturi struck him, but acknowledged she was upset upon finding out through a series of office e-mails about his relationship with Ms. Valle, who is married. Mr. Mazzarella noted using city e-mail was a mistake, and said they should have communicated via personal e-mail....

“I take full responsibility for everything I do,” he said. “I am not a womanizer.”
Look, tensions were high on the day of the special election, perhaps it is just as simple as one of them supported Senator Scott Brown and the other was a Martha Coakley voter.

But anytime the mayor has to come out and state "I am not a womanizer,"...well, that's just not good. I don't imagine people of Leominster will be thrilled with the description of Mozarella's current girlfriend as "who is married," either, if they weren't already aware.

Anyway, this morning's regularly scheduled post is "Ready for You!"

Scott had the brilliant idea of turning the emails that recently surfaced between Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella and his city hall paramours into a series of Mad Libs. I've created these from the text of the emails, as presented in the Sentinel and Enterprise, you just have to fill in the italicized terms. Feel free to complete them in the comments.

Subject: Poster Board

Paramour: Where is the (noun) for (name of friend #1)? He is (verb) at 1:00 today. Also we need a few (plural noun) for the (noun).

Mayor: It's at my (place). Stop in and see (name of  friend #2) and he will give you (plural noun)…If you wait until I get back, I can (verb) you at the (place).

Paramour: You've got enough to do already. I'll be sure to let you know if I need (noun) and what happens with (friend #1) and the (noun) too. You are too (adjective) to me.

Mayor: Tell you what. Let me know when you get to (place) and if I can, I will (verb) you there.

Paramour: OK. You got it, (term of endearment).

Subject: Co-workers

Paramour: That was by chance (adjective)! (Name of co-worker) came in here and asked me for a (noun) ... ugh, didn't want (pronoun) to feel (part of the body) so I kept it (adjective). He said he (past-tense verb) me; he's (adjective) but we knew that already. I'm thinking of you, can we (verb) later tonight after (name of event).

Mayor: He is (adjective). We can (verb) sooner if you want. You can call me on your way to see (group of people). 4 p.m. Before you go to (place) is fine. Or you could (verb) me when you get out. I stay in (place) until I have to go to (event) so just (verb) me on my (noun). Does any of that work?

Paramour: Nice. 4 p.m. is good. I will absolutely (verb) you to (verb) your (noun) at 4 p.m….

Mayor: (Verb) me at my (place) at 4:00. I have to run out and get some (noun) for my (place).

Friday, March 26, 2010

Leominster Mayor Mazzarella loves the ladies, is "Ready for You"

There is nothing wrong with loving the ladies, except that both of the ladies Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella is (or has been) loving work in city hall. Well, that and that he's emailing them using his city hall account. From the Sentinel and Enterprise:
LEOMINSTER -- Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella defended his decision to enter into a personal relationship with the city's economic development coordinator, saying his typical "18-hour days" leave him no time for a personal life outside of work.

"What you have here is simply a guy who works all day who basically met two people ... in the matter of 17 years," Mazzarella said Thursday afternoon during a telephone interview that his private attorney sat in on. "I didn't plan on the second one, but it happened and when we realized it was serious, we kept it professional."

Mazzarella insisted he has done nothing wrong and hasn't violated any city law or policy and believes his decision to date Lisa Vallee, the city's economic development coordinator -- after having a long-term relationship with another city employee and his former secretary, Stacia Venturi -- hasn't hurt his ability to manage other City Hall employees, nor did it put the city at any legal risk.
That's all. Just a hard-working lonely guy who only leaves city hall to sleep, so if he's going to have affairs, the only place to have them is in city hall. To make it more interesting, he sends emails back and forth with his partners using his official email account. Like this one exchange with Ms. Vallee:
"(City employee) came in here and asked me for a hug ... ugh, didn't want him to feel these boobs so I kept it quick," Vallee wrote in the e-mail. "He said he missed me, he's weird but we knew that already. I'm thinking of you, can we talk direct later tonight after ur council stuff. 10 p.m. ish or whatever."

Mazzarella, according to the e-mails provided, replied at 11:03 a.m., "He is weird. (Portion redacted). We can talk sooner if you want. You can call me on your way to see your kids. 4 p.m. Before you go to PTO is fine. Or you could call me when you get out. I stay in my office until I have to go to council so just call me on my cell. Does any of that work?"

And then Vallee responded to Mazzarella, "Nice. 4 p.m. is good. I will absolutely call you to hear your voice at 4 p.m."
Awwww. Isn't that sweet? Frankly, I'd like to find out more about this creepy city employee who cruises city hall looking for hugs so that he can feel the ladies' boobs. Seems like having a serial harasser in city employ might warrant a follow-up investigation from the Sentinel.

The Sentinel has published a handful of the emails (in keeping with the Sentinel's policy of finding a way to screw something up in every story, they've run them out in an html file instead of scanning them and posting PDFs, so good luck). Looks like Mazzarella was also carrying on conversations with his ex at the same time, for what that's worth.

But the best part of the story might be found at the end of each email. In the one email the Sentinel did post as an image, the signature lines of Mayor Mazzarella and Ms. Vallee include the slogan "Leominster: Ready for You!"

"Ready for You" indeed!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is Scott Brown trying to save face with amendments that aren't his?

When I was putting together my earlier post on Scott Brown's bad day, something that he told WAAF's Greg Hill in his on-air therapy session caught my eye. According to the Herald's account of the interview, Brown claimed that he was going to be trying to change the bill today:
Brown said he is offering several amendments to the “fix-it” bill. Among them is a proposal to repeal a 3 percent tax on medical devices. Brown said there are more than 200 medical device makers in the Bay State that would lose their profit margin if the tax is put in place.
The Herald took that and published this later in the day:
Brown was preparing to file an amendment today that would repeal the medical-device provision, as part of an overall Republican plan to bombard Democrats with amendments as senators vote on a “reconciliation” bill that would make changes to the health-care reform package.
This puzzled me, because I was sure that I saw the list of amendments yesterday. It was my understanding that the debate started last night and the list of amendments needed to be in before the debate started. So I couldn't figure out how Brown was going to file an amendment today.

To satisfy my curiosity, I went to the Senate web site and looked up the list of amendments. I found three things:
  1. Scott Brown is not the primary sponsor of any amendments, never mind "several amendments to the 'fix-it' bill."
  2. Scott Brown is only listed as a co-sponsor to Senator Pat Roberts's amendment to repeal the medical device tax.
  3. All of the amendments were filed yesterday, March 23.
So what's the deal, Senator? Do you think that tacking your name on as a cosponsor to someone else's bill covers you when you tell the media that you are going to be filing several amendments? Do you think voters won't notice when you over-promise then take credit for someone else's work?

We notice.

Scott Brown's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

It has been a really rough 24-or-so hours for the extremely freshman senator from Massachusetts. He doesn't seem to be handling it particularly well.

First, people are starting to realize that Brown's election ended up being the kick in the pants the Democrats needed to actually pass health care reform. I noted it, Massachusetts' top political blog subscribes to the same theory, even the head Scott Brown cheerleaders at the Herald ran a story today wondering what the hell is going on with their hero, complete with an expiration date stamped on his forehead:
“We start to wonder whether we helped a RINO (Republican in name only) get into office,” said Tea Party activist Jeffrey McQueen, who raveled from Michigan to campaign for Brown in the final days of the Jan. 19 special election that rocked the nation.

“If it wasn’t for the Tea Party movement, Scott Brown wouldn’t have gotten that seat. We expect to see a true conservative in there.”

In fact, Democrats now say Brown’s election as the so-called “41st vote” to block Obama’s health-care overhaul inspired them to seek procedural means to bypass GOP efforts to derail the bill.

“Scott Brown’s election actually delivered health-care reform, because we didn’t need the 60 votes to make it happen. He delivered a significant victory in that,” [Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John]Walsh said.
Brown did what any distinguished politician would do when confronted with controversy, he called in to WAAF to whine:
Host Greg Hill asked the Wrentham Republican to respond to Democrats’ criticism that he’s “insignificant” and GOP fears that his election killed their fight against President Obama’s health care overhaul.

“That’s good. Let them keep thinking like that. That’s what they thought last time and here I am doing the people’s business,” said Brown. “They can try to, you know, twist and manipulate and, you know, destroy the message and destroy as much as they want but the bottom line is people are very angry.”...

“You know they can try to pooh-pooh my election and try to minimize it and all that stuff,” Brown said. “I get what they’re trying to do. But the bottom line is they are going to start to carve out folks who are disabled and have some very serious medical issues and say, ‘See the Republicans want to take this away.’ ”
I'm not sure exactly what he means, but I think he's saying that Democrats are going to accuse Republicans who favor repealing the bill as wanting to take away new safeguards for people with preexisting conditions, wanting to take away the right to keep health care and not fear losing it if a patient becomes sick, and wanting to take away tax credits that help seniors cope with the Medicare "donut hole" and help small businesses purchase insurance for their workers.

If that is what he means, then he is right to be worried. Well, he doesn't have to be worried if he favors those provisions. But in yet another mistake, he came out yesterday in support of full repeal. So when we accuse Brown of wanting to take away new safeguards for people with preexisting conditions, wanting to take away the right to keep health care and not fear losing it if a patient becomes sick, and wanting to take away tax credits that help seniors cope with the Medicare "donut hole" and help small businesses purchase insurance for their workers, it is because that is exactly what Brown is calling for when he calls for repeal.

But that is not all. Brown is being widely ridiculed for taking a Walsh tweet and some internet speculation and turning it into a fundraising pitch against a 2012 opponent who is isn't an opponent. From the Senator's fund raising letter:
It's only been a couple of months since I've been in office, and before I've even settled into my new job, the political machine in Massachusetts is looking for someone to run against me. And you're not going to believe who they are supposedly trying to recruit--liberal MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow.
I don't know if this was enough to raise any money, but it did get a response from the TV host:
"It's completely made up by [Brown]," she told Bill Wolff. Normally the executive producer of The Rachel Maddow Show, Wolff took the host's chair as Maddow recused herself "for the first and probably last time."

The bewildered Maddow found herself in two unexpected positions: a guest on her own show and a fundraising catalyst. "The fear of Rachel Maddow is what he's raising money on in Massachusetts," she observed before joking, "Massachusetts donors, open your wallets! Maddow's coming!"...

"Why didn't they just call and ask me if it was true before sending out the fundraising letter?" she wondered.
So to recap, in the last day or so Scott Brown has
  • been blamed for health care being passed
  • been called out for not being able to fulfill his promise to stop it
  • been ridiculed by the Boston Herald, of all publications
  • called for insurance companies to be able to deny coverage to children and sick patients
  • complained that he is being accused of calling for insurance companies to be able to deny coverage to children and sick patients
  • tried to raise money on the fear that a TV personality might run against him
  • been ridiculed for trying to raise money on the fear that a TV personality might run against him, and
  • complained to a DJ on a rock music radio station that he's being treated unfairly.

Hell of a day, Scott. Hell of a day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will Health Care Reform be Scott Brown's legacy?

If Senator Scott Brown represents Massachusetts for decades he will have an opportunity to forge his own legacy as a Senator, but if he is voted out of office in 2012 the health care reform bill passed this week will be his legacy. The bill--especially the House provisions included in the reconciliation package--would not have become law without him.

If you go back to the first of January, the question was whether or not the House would accept the Senate bill as it was written and whether the Senate would approve any changes the House might propose. Because there had been 60 votes for the Senate version, the Senate held all of the cards in that negotiation. Majority Leader Harry Reid had worked like crazy to get a bill that could hold together 60 votes. He was not going to compromise with the House and risk losing his super-majority. At the time there were three options:
  1. The House would pass the Senate bill as is, making the Senate bill the law of the land and shutting out House provisions.
  2. The House and Senate would try to find a solution in conference that would keep all of the House votes and not lose even one Senate vote.
  3. The two chambers could not come to an agreement and the bill would die.
In reality, the only way health care reform was going to be passed was with option 1. Even at that, the Senate bill was unacceptable to the pro-life Stupak group and was also opposed by liberal House members who didn't think it went far enough in it's provisions. Any change to make it more pro-life would have lost liberal votes in both chambers. Any change to make it more pro-choice would have shut out the Sutpak bloc. Any liberalization of the terms of the bill would have lost votes in the Senate.

With the landscape as it was in January, it was going to be either the Senate bill or no bill at all.

But as we know, everything changed on January 19. With Scott Brown's election, Senate Democrats no longer had 60 votes. That meant leadership also didn't have any leverage with the House. If there was going to be health care reform, it would have to go through a reconciliation process that only required a simple majority.

That change put the ball squarely in Nancy Pelosi's court. Now the House had the upper hand in negotiations. It didn't matter anymore what conservative Democratic Senators like Ben Nelson an Blanche Lincoln thought about the bill because their votes wouldn't matter anyway. Pelosi realized that this was her chance to enhance the bill is whatever way she needed to get House Democrats behind it. As long as it was palatable enough for 51 senators, it would work out.

So Pelosi crafted a sidecar bill that made the final product more progressive. The reconciliation bill increases premium subsidies to low- and middle-income families, expands Medicare payroll taxes to capital gains and dividends, closes the prescription drug "donut hole" for Medicare recipients, eases the excise tax on high-cost "Cadillac" insurance plans, and strengthens efforts to move Medicare reimbursement money away from for-profit Medicare Advantage plans and back to doctors and hospitals where it belongs.

The result is that the bill is more progressive than it ever would have been if Martha Coakley had been elected.

If Scott Brown is unlucky enough to take to the floor of the Senate on January 2, 2013 to give his farewell speech, he'll talk about what he has done for Massachusetts. But he won't mention his greatest legacy: ensuring that the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010 became the law of the land.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Forum tonight with Sheriff candidate Scot Bove

Scot Bove, Democratic candidate for Worcester County Sheriff, will speak at an open forum hosted by the Sterling Democratic Town Committee tonight at 7:00 pm at the Butterick Building Room 205, 1 Park Street, Sterling. The committee will hold it's monthly business meeting following the forum.

This is the first of our committee's series of candidate forums. Future forums will include other candidates for office, including candidates for sheriff, state representative, auditor, treasurer, and hopefully governor. If you are in

Each of our forums will be televised on Sterling-Lancaster Cable TV and will be posted on You Tube (and here) as well.

Hopefully you can come down to town hall to catch the discussion later tonight.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health Care debate: Send in the clowns

I can't say that I am a C-span junkie, but I've been known to watch proceedings now and then. Whether for or against the health care reform bill that passed the House tonight--and I am in favor of it, although it could be a lot better--I think everyone can agree that tonight's vote is historic. This will probably go down as one of the most important acts of legislation of the post-war era, and I decided that I was going to watch the debate and the votes tonight.

After watching four hours of "debate" it's easy to see why people think congress is broken.

I must have heard somewhere around 100 speeches this evening and there isn't a dime's difference between them. Every Republican had the same set of talking points. Every Democrat read from the same script.Same thing over and over and over again.

Why? Because of the television cameras. Every last representative has to get up and say their one minute--even if it is the same thing as the previous speaker--so that the local TV station has video of Representative So-and-So imploring his or her colleagues to vote the right way.

Regardless of how our founding fathers thought Congress should work, the fact is that the all of the negotiations are completed behind closed doors. By the time a bill is called for a vote, the speaker knows exactly how many votes she has. Everything done in the chamber is done for the cameras.

So if you tuned in tonight and thought, "wow, what a bunch of clowns," that's why. While they may or may not all be clowns, they have certainly turned the floor of the House into a circus.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Patrick to Supreme Court? Could the ultimate domino fall

Speculation has ramped up over the last couple of days that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens might announce later this spring that he is retiring from the court. Could this be Governor Patrick's ticket out? First, the Stevens news:
WASHINGTON - Justice John Paul Stevens, leader of the Supreme Court's liberal wing, said in an interview that he would decide in early April whether to retire at the end of this court term....

Interviewed March 8, Stevens said he would make up his mind in about a month.

The court's current term is scheduled to end in late June. Justices who are retiring typically announce the news near the end of a term so a successor can be seated by October.
Why Patrick? Lets go back in time to the Summer of 2007. As the presidential campaign was just starting to wind up, the SCOTUSblog took a look at possible Supreme Court nominees should a Democrat be elected president. Here is part of what they wrote:
Deval Patrick may prefer to run for a second term as Governor. More generally, though being named a Justice is obviously an extraordinary and profound honor, a nominee on the left is in all likelihood signing up for ten years of dissent on many of the most important issues of Court confronts....

My ultimate predictions? Kim Wardlaw (2009, for Souter), Deval Patrick (2010, for Stevens), and Elena Kagan (2011, for Ginsburg).
Well, the authors got their first prediction wrong, but they did list Sonia Sotomayor among the candidates for Souter's position. Many are touting Kagan for the position should Stevens retire, but the author has accounted for that by predicting that she will replace Justice Ginsberg.

So, what would this mean for the governor's race? Well, the timing really couldn't be better. Let's assume for a moment that President Obama doesn't announce his pick until mid-June. On June 15 he gets Patrick on the horn and makes him an offer he can't refuse: not only will he be the next Supreme Court justice, but he won't have to risk tarnishing his legacy with a lost election.

If Governor Patrick pulls more than 85% of the delegate votes at the State Democratic Convention on June 6, he will be the only Democratic nominee on the primary ballot. So, if the governor decides to stand down, the state committee would convene to nominate a replacement candidate. That would almost definitely be Lt. Governor Tim Murray. (If Grace Ross qualifies for the ballot as well, I do not know if procedure would allow for a replacement in the primaries, but a Murray sticker campaign could still defeat Ross).

So Murray gets to campaign all summer while Patrick finishes up his work at the state house. Because a new justice wouldn't be seated until August or so, Patrick can do the dirty work on this year's budget, which will undoubtedly be unpopular. After he signs the budget, he turns the keys to the governor's office to Murray, who can continue to campaign as the active governor while being able to put a little distance between himself and the unpopular decisions Patrick will have to make during the budget process.

I don't think anyone has polled a potential Murray-Baker-Cahill race instead of Patrick-Baker-Cahill, but I sense that Murray is a bit more popular than Patrick. Where the governor is currently holding a three- to eight-point lead in the polls, I'd guess Murray's lead would be more like eight- to twelve-points.

Really, what could be better for Massachusetts liberals? Deval Patrick gets to sit on the Supreme Court for the next 30 years and Tim Murray becomes a favorite to win the corner office.

"They Ran Like Rats!"

I don't have the first idea why I was watching C-Span the night of April 1, 1992. My guess is that there was a Bruins game that had just ended and I was flipping around looking for something else on TV. But whatever the reason, I was fortunate enough to witness Congressman Joseph Early's meltdown on the house floor.

Now, C-Span has put over 20 years of their archives on the the web. So, if you missed it the first time or would like to relive the moment again, scroll ahead to the 379 minute mark of the embedded video and enjoy.

If you want to hear Congressman Early's speech in it's entirety, it starts at around 369:10.

"It is already pouring over the spillway."

Today's back of the hand is delivered by State Representative Harold Naughton. An article about the flooding in Clinton and Lancaster included this exchange between Naughton and Lancaster Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco, where Naughton calls Pacheco on the obvious:
[Naughton] said the Wachusett Reservoir was full to overflowing with water pouring over its spillway and down toward the Nashua River.

Flooding problems were also being dealt with in Lancaster and Westminster. Route 117 in the Bolton Flats area, a normally flood prone area, was closed from Route 70 to Bolton. Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco said his concern is that the situation could get worse if water has to be released.

“They don't have to release it,” Mr. Naughton said. “It is already pouring over the spillway.”

To be fair, Naughton probably didn't deliver the retort in person. If he did, then good for him for restating the obvious. If not, then kudos to Karen Nugent for arranging the story in such a way that it looks like a smackdown.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Grad student makes Long-shot bid for state rep

With Hank Stolz jumping out of the race for First Worcester District Representative, it looked like the fight may come down to a heads-up battle between Holden selectmen Ken O'Brien and Kim Ferguson. Not so fast, as the Landmark reports another candidate has thrown his hat in the ring:
HOLDEN — An MBA graduate student from Holden has thrown his hat in the ring to run for the 1st Worcester District state representative seat being vacated by Lewis Evangelidis (R-Holden).

Citing the need for solutions that don’t run along party lines, 23-year-old Jonathan Long of Winter Hill Road, Holden, said these are uncommon times that require uncommon solutions. 
Uncommon times that require uncommon solutions? Oh, Brother. I imagine the young man is young enough to think that's original. Good for him for running, but he's got to be a little less cliched than that. The article is essentially a rundown of Long's resume, but does include this quote:
"Our state as a whole hasn't been hit as hard as the rest of the country, but it's still bad. We have to help and extend benefits to the people who have lost their jobs but we can't increase the tax burden for people either."
If the guy can extend benefits without raising revenues, he certainly will have found an uncommon solution. Politicians have been promising that without success for thousands of years. Perhaps Long can be the guy to find a way.

Updated March 15: the Telegram has more, including a note that Long is leaving the Democratic party to make his run.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Is Clinton sex offender central?

I don't think so, but in a comment to the Item regarding a proposed bylaw to restrict where sex offenders can live, Police Chief Mark Laverdure made this stunning claim:
Laverdure said town safety officials had toyed with the idea in the past of writing a bylaw restricting where Level 3 sex offenders could live, based on their proximity to children, but some of those bylaws have been thrown out in other communities.

“Some bylaws, like you can’t live within 150 yards of a school or playground, will generally be approved. But anything too restrictive is not legal,” Laverdure said. “The purpose is to make people aware. Everyone should know that these people are out there. But for every one who is registered, there are probably 50 who are not.” 
What? The article notes that there are five registered level 3 sex offenders in Clinton. By Chief Laverdure's math, there are actually 250 or so serious sex offenders in Clinton. That would be nearly two percent of the entire town's population.

I hope Chief Laverdure was just being inartful. I don't think he means that there are 245 level 3 sex offenders in Clinton who are unregistered. And I hope he's not suggesting that fully two of every 100 residents is a rapist who has continued without apprehension. 

I think he's trying to make the point that everyone needs to be vigilant about the people around them, but boy, that is a damning way to do it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Thanks, guys.

It's been a week since I've had a chance to write. I've had meetings out of town, been dealing with a couple of family medical know, life. When I've been away, it's tough for me to get back on track. Through the week I've been noting things that I'd like to write about, but then I start thinking, "Well, that's four days old, no one's interested in that any more." Then I look at my stat counter and see that my numbers are way down (because I haven't written anything new) and I wonder if it's worth the effort, etc.

So I was really gratified by some feedback I got today. One of Worcester's must read bloggers, Nicole of Nicole, Worcester, gave me a nice shout out today as part of a critique of the Worcester news scene:
...We’re also looking at a situation where blogs are providing better election coverage than the local daily.  There has got to be a better way, preferably one that involves replacing Robert Z. Nemeth with Lance from No Drumlins.
While I don't have the gravitas that comes with the initial "Z," I appreciate the recognition, nonetheless. Come to think about it, I'll be more available in a couple of weeks, so if the T&G is looking for a local columnist, they know how to reach me.

Seperately, I also got this bit of feedback in my email box this afternoon:
Just checked out your website while doing search on Hank Stoltz (to see what he was up to). You've got some real good political news on Central Mass. You should have an about page to let people know more about you.
I've always tried to keep my identity veiled, if not anonymous (it wouldn't take a whole lot of digging around the archives to find out who I am, but I don't sign my posts with my full name, for instance). But as I alluded to a moment ago I'll soon be "more available," which is a way of saying that I'll be out of a full-time job. The company for which I work has relocated my position out of state and I have elected not to make the trip. Since my reluctance to be fully identified is based in large part on the nature of my job, maybe I'll create an 'about page' and pull back the veil.

In any event, I appreciate the kind words and the support. It's nice to be reminded that people are reading after all.

Friday, March 5, 2010

So this is what the Item calls good news...

In today's Clinton Item, I came across a column asking whether the Apocalypse was near:
Recent events may draw one’s attention to the two apocalyptic prophecies from the biblical Book of Revelation: the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse (apocalypse being the ultimate extermination of mankind) and the sixth prophetic seal of Revelation, which predicts a great earthquake. (Source: Revelation 6).

The Book of Revelation explains that the Fourth Horseman brings with him death by disease and wild animals. While neither of these are particularly new phenomena, they have each made very recent headlines (Source: Revelation 6)...
The column then goes on to outline all of the horrific tragedies of the last couple of months, from the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile to the death of a Sea World trainer at the hands (flippers?) of a killer whale (seriously, this is the example of "death by wild animals.") It concludes:
So conclusively I leave you, the reader, with this final question: Are the seals of Revelation being broken? Are the Horsemen riding? Is the world coming to an impending end?

Or is this all just coincidence?
The kicker for me...note the title of the author:
Vanessa Murray is the calendar and Good News editor for The Item.
The Good News editor? I'd hate to see what the Bad News editor would come up with...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

RMV fee controversy is everyone's fault

Whenever a politician on Beacon Hill says that they didn't know about a fee hike like the Registry of Motor Vehicles' five-dollar charge to do business in person, the siren on my BS detector wails like a fleet of engines headed to a five-alarm blaze. The fact is, the state legislature is so powerful that a selectman in Montague needs to have a home-rule petition passed in order to sneeze at town meeting. So there is nothing more disingenuous than this:
Outraged state senators on both sides of the aisle today will push to overturn a “brutal” Registry of Motor Vehicles fee slapped on drivers who conduct some business in person instead of online after a Herald report revealed the cost hike.

“It doesn’t seem quite fair,” said Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth). “I assume the members might (vote to eliminate the $5 fee). We didn’t even know it had happened until we read it (in the Herald)...”

“I think the element of surprise is what angered people, and rightly so. I’m angry as well,” [Rep. Joseph Wagner (D-Chicopee)] said. “Given the way this has been packaged, I would take a serious look at supporting a rollback.”

Oh, I have no doubt that Senator Murray, Representative Wagner, and others in the legislature didn't know it was coming. But there is a big difference between not knowing something is happening and not being told that it is going to happen. The legislature was told that this increase was coming. It's their own fault if they didn't pay attention.

State law is clear that the Secretary of Administration and Finance must inform the legislature at least 60 days before raising fees and hold a public hearing at least 30 days before raising fees. In the case of this particular fee, it appears that the notice was given more than one year in advance.

According to the Senate Journal of December 15, 2008, "A communication from the Executive Office for Administration and Finance (pursuant to Section 3B of Chapter 7 of the General Laws) giving notice of its intention to amend 801 CMR 4.02: Fees for Licenses, Permits, and Services to be Charged to State Agencies (received Thursday, December 11, 2008),— was placed on file."

On January 6, 2009, the House Journal reports that a communication "From the Executive Office for Administration and Finance (under the provisions of Section 3B Chapter 7 of the General Laws) submitting proposed amendments to 801 CMR 4.02 and 801 CMR 4.08" was "placed on file."

On February 17, 2009, the RMV announced a public hearing would be held March 16 to consider the proposed fee changes. The announcement included a link to the fee changes themselves. The $5.00 "Branch Transaction Administrative Fee" is clearly marked as a change.

The current list of fees posted at the Executive Office for Administration and Finance was amended on January 22, 2010 to include the new fee (see page 42).

The Senate was told, the House was told, a public hearing was held, no one raised a stink, so the revenue projections for the FY2010 budget were made including revenue from this fee. The House and Senate pass the budget, Governor Patrick signs it, and everyone is happy until the fee kicks in, consumers get outraged, and legislators pretend that if they had actually been informed of this despicable fee they would have stopped it.

Again, baloney.

But while legislators have no reason to be outraged, consumers do. The RMV absolutely misled consumers about this change, despite their protestations to the contrary. Back to the Herald:

The RMV has done little to raise awareness of the fee. It was mentioned on an obscure RMV blog posting on Saturday. An internal memo obtained by the Herald says there will not be a promotion of the fee.

“Customer advertising . . . will not include the administrative fee separately, but rather the stated renewal or duplicate fee will be listed as $5 greater,” wrote RMV officials in the memo.
Looking through the RMV's archives, it is clear that they had no intention of letting people know of the increase. There are a number of official releases that specifically promote online usage. While those would seem to be the perfect place to remind customers that using online services would save money because fees will rise in 2010, none mention the increase. In fact, the official fee schedule "revised February 2010" does not even list the fee, even though it was to go into effect March 1.

Obviously, they were trying to hide it. They had an entire year to tell everyone that they had better go online or they were going to be charged a fee. It should have been in every press release about web services, posted on the web site, noted in every mailing, and advertised prominently in each branch. Why didn't they?

Well, I think we all know the reason. The RMV has to balance out the savings they get from having people use the web with the fees they would generate by charging everyone who comes into the branches. Apparently there is more to gain by collecting the fees than there is by saving money through on-line transactions.

Well, today the governor responded by rescinding the fees. It was probably the best thing he could do given the situation. This isn't a bad fee. We should be encouraging our state agencies to be more efficient, and one of the ways to do that is to move people to online transactions.

We should also encourage our legislators to read the communications from the executive secretaries so they know what government is doing. That's why the communications are required. And we should encourage the RMV to be honest with consumers, and worry more about customer service than raising money.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Deval Patrick's lead may be bigger than you think

Friday, the Boston Herald screamed the headline "Poll says race is between Cahill & Baker." It's safe to say that a Herald reader that didn't get into the article would believe that Governor Deval Patrick was getting trounced, or at least was losing. Funny, that's not what the poll said:
Gov. Deval Patrick’s standing with voters is so weak that this year’s race for governor is shaping up as a contest between his two rivals, a new Suffolk University-7News poll shows.

“This race is really between Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which conducted the poll. “Whoever emerges between the Baker-Cahill race is likely to be the winner.”

As for Patrick, Paleologos said, “On paper, he leads.”

The governor’s grip on a precarious lead continues, with the incumbent Democrat taking 33 percent of the vote compared to Republican Baker’s 25 percent and Treasurer Timothy Cahill, running as an independent, close behind with 23 percent.

Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein trails with a distant 3 percent, and 16 percent are undecided, according to the survey of 500 likely voters.
Amazing. Governor Patrick holds a lead outside the margin of error, yet the "race is really between Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill." In the official Suffolk University press release touting the poll there is no suggestion that Patrick is losing, but there is this note on momentum:
Patrick (33 percent) still leads the tightening field, followed by Baker (25 percent), who edges out Independent candidate and State Treasurer Tim Cahill (23 percent). Green Party candidate Jill Stein has 3 percent, while 16 percent are undecided.  In a November, 2009 poll, Patrick led Cahill 36 percent to 26 percent, while Baker, the former Harvard Pilgrim chief executive, was a distant third with only 15 percent.
Now, it looks to me like Patrick's and Cahill's standings haven't changed a bit (their three-point drops would be within the margin of error), but that Baker has picked up 10 points from undecided voters. I'm still not sure how that translates into a Patrick loss, but there you go.

I suppose seeing the incumbent governor at 33% could mean that he is toast. That is one way to look at it. But there are also a couple of other ways of looking at the Suffolk poll.

For instance, looking at the demographics of this poll, one thing stood out to me. According to the marginals posted on Suffolk's web site, the polling sample went 49-36 for Scott Brown in January's special election. That corresponds to a 57-42 advantage when you take out the 14% who did not vote or refused to answer. We know that Scott Brown actually won by a 52-47 advantage, so I wondered what would happen if I weighted the votes for governor based on a 52-47 margin among the 431 respondents who said they voted. (I did not re-weigh the votes of the other 69 respondents).

Here is how the poll looks based on a 52-47 Brown win:
Patrick -- 35
Baker -- 24
Cahill -- 22
Stein -- 3
Undecided -- 16
That changes the Patrick margin from +8 to +11. Not a huge change, but one that could cause a tabloid like the Herald to scream "Patrick cruising with double-digit lead" if it were inclined to ever say anything positive about the governor.

Another way one might choose to look at the poll is that while Patrick continues to do very well with Coakley voters, neither Cahill or Baker have broken through with Brown voters. Here are the numbers (no weighting):
Among Coakley voters:
Patrick -- 62
Cahill -- 15
Baker -- 7
Stein -- 4
Undecided -- 12

Among Brown voters:
Baker -- 42
Cahill -- 28
Patrick -- 11
Stein -- 2
Undecided -- 16
If Baker is going to match Patrick's base, he'll need somewhere around 57% of Brown voters to come even. He also cannot afford to give up Brown voters to Patrick (11%) at a higher rate than Patrick bleeds Coakley voters to Baker (7%).

Here is another way to look at it. Let's take Suffolk's numbers in this poll and compare them to the six previous polls in this race (there may be others, but I could only find seven):

Notice Suffolk's numbers. In their previous two polls, Patrick had his two best showings while Baker had his only two results under 20 percent. In other words, Baker may not have momentum at all; rather maybe the Suffolk poll has been out of sync in its previous iterations and is just now falling into line with the other surveys.

Sure, it would be great if Patrick were polling in the mid-40s, but he's not. Even so, no matter how you slice it, he is winning today just as he has been since the start of the campaign. If Cahill stays in the race and Patrick shores up the rest of Coakley's supporters, he will be reelected.


No Drumlins Copyright © 2009 Premium Blogger Dashboard Designed by SAER