Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Question of the Evening

Didn't Andrea Silbert already do this in her run for Lieutenant Governor last year? How'd that work out for her?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Weekend Baby Blogging

Just in under the wire.

Friday, July 27, 2007

More Tunnel Trouble

Earlier this week, I expressed my skepticism as to whether the state could be trusted to replace the Storrow drive tunnel with a new, wider tunnel that could accommodate both directions of traffic. This Herald story detailing how state engineers knew they used the wrong epoxy in the section of tunnel that collapsed last year makes me even more reluctant to have the state embark on another tunnel project -- no matter how much simpler it would be. From the article (via BMG):

The documents, disclosed yesterday by attorneys for the epoxy supplier, reveal a chain of communication in which state officials were clearly informed of the deficiencies of the glue that failed and caused 26 tons of concrete to crash onto the roadway of the Interstate 90 Seaport connector tunnel on July 10 of last year. [Milena] Del Valle was a passenger in a car crushed by the falling concrete ceiling.

The documents also show that those engineers called for a more robust standard epoxy, but that either the contractor or another Big Dig firm still failed to use the right product.
Of course, don't forget that the media has been burned by phony memos before. This memo is being produced by the epoxy manufacturer to protect them from any liability. It also does not seem to be in the document dump the state sent to the National Transportation Safety Board in the course of their investigation. Was the memo lost, simply overlooked, or was someone engaged in butt-covering of their own?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Second MA-05 Ad Goes Live

Fifth District candidate Rep. Barry Finegold (D-Andover) has launched what I believe is the second television ad in the race to replace former Congressman Marty Meehan. Fellow candidate Niki Tsongas was the first to go on TV with an ad that aired a month ago. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that there hasn't been more activity on the air in the race given how much money the candidates have and how close the election is getting. I expect that Eileen Donoghue will join in before too long and perhaps we'll see a second offering from Tsongas.

As far as the ad goes, there's an art to using humor in political ads, and Finegold's effort in that regard falls flat. The dancing Congressman is just weird and off-putting. Perhaps memorable, though, and that may be what Finegold is after. For me, it reminds me too much of one of our local furniture store ads (sans furniture, of course).

That said, I do think that the spot gets to the nut of why Congressional approval ratings are so low. People are frustrated because Congress is unable or unwilling to bring about the changes in policy that they thought they were voting for last November. In reality, however, electing Barry Finegold does not promise to change that, nor would electing any of the other candidates for the fifth district. To be sure, Finegold is not claiming he can change that, and he's at most promising that he'll listen to voters.

Blue Mass. Group has more commentary.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tackling Health Care Costs

Dave Denison has an excellent article in the Summer issue of CommonWealth magazine on the lack of attention paid to controlling costs in last year's landmark health care reform law. It's becoming apparent as the state works to implement that law that it does little to address the rising costs of health care and there's little political will to change the status quo, even as cities and towns, not to mention private sector employers, struggle to keep up with those costs.

The cost argument at the time, if I recall correctly, was that if we were able to achieve universal health coverage, costs would magically lower themselves as hospitals would no longer have to cover the costs of care for the uninsured and people who would under other circumstances end up in the emergency room would now be able to afford to go to a primary care provider before a health situation worsened (and therefore became more expensive).

Of course, if that were the case, Massachusetts should have already had low health costs. Even before the new reform law took effect we were already insuring 90% of the population, which was enough to put us in the top ten, tied for fourth with five other states. If a low percentage of uninsured individuals was enough to keep costs down, we should be among the lowest cost states, not the highest.

Denison notes that the group nominally in charge of reducing costs is the state's Quality and Cost Council, but according to the article, they are focusing on creating a public database of local health provider costs and, presumably, outcomes. That, however, is still in the brainstorming stages and won't see the light of day for another two years according to council member Charlie Baker. I for one remain unconvinced that individuals would use such a tool to comparison shop for doctors or hospitals. Baker points out that the real benefit would be in third parties, such as insurance companies, legislators or journalists who would use such a database to ask tough questions of care providers that were out-of-step with the rest of the market. It seems to me, though, that we're relying on those very people right now to ask these questions, and they don't seem to have the stomach to come up with answers. A database would be nice -- more sunshine on these matters would be a good thing -- but don't our legislators have the power to compel providers to give them this information now without linking it to a public database? Don't insurance companies have the incentives and the leverage to get this information from hospitals? Why do we have to wait for the state to put together a big web-enabled database that we can search ourselves if the savings are going to come from experts using that data anyway? Could we not get those same results just by commissioning a study of current costs and investigating the differences between providers?

New Tunnel or No Tunnel?

Today's Boston Globe brings us two pieces of tunnel-related news. The first is that the Storrow Drive Tunnel may be beyond repair and need to be replaced. The Globe notes that it was not waterproofed when it was constructed over fifty years ago and it has, perhaps unsurprisingly, suffered extensive water damage over the past half-century. This means, of course, that the planned rehabilitation of Storrow Drive will be neither cheap nor quick.

In addition, a local activist has shown that there are more accidents in the I-93 tunnel than in other tunnels in the area. This news, in my opinion is less important given that I would expect the O'Neill tunnel to have more accidents than the Sumner or Callahan tunnels given that it's longer, wider, less straight, and more heavily traveled than the two older East Boston tunnels and that area residents are still not used to the traffic patterns on the relatively new road. Frankly, I would have been astonished if there were not more accidents on I-93.

The Globe also presents two alternatives for replacing the Storrow tunnel. One would put the westbound as well as the eastbound traffic underground, allowing the city to expand the nearby Esplanade. The other would get rid of the tunnel altogether, and bring the eastbound traffic above ground. Here's my question: After all we've gone through with other area tunnels in not just the past year, but the past 15, does anyone in the Greater Boston area really have an appetite for more? Sure, it would be nice to connect the Esplanade with the rest of the city by burying that portion of Storrow, but what assurances do we have that such a project would not just turn into a Mini-Dig?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Weekend Baby Blogging

This week was spent mostly tending to work-related items, rather than blog-related items and next week promises to be similar. Expect the irregular schedule to be even more irregular. Here's a picture of the baby to tide you over:

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How Not to Avoid Jury Duty

"The trick is to say you're prejudiced against all races."
--Homer Simpson's advice on how to avoid Jury Duty
In further proof that Massachusetts, not Vermont, should be the true home of the Simpsons, a Falmouth man took that advice to heart on Monday. He's now looking at possible charges for perjury. Here's a partial transcript of his interview courtesy of the Boston Globe:
"You say on your form that you're not a fan of homosexuals?" Nickerson asked Ellis, according to the preliminary transcript.

"That I'm a racist," Ellis interrupted, according to the transcript. "I'm frequently found to be a liar, too."

"I'm sorry?" Nickerson said.

"I said I'm frequently found to be a liar," Ellis replied.

"So, are you lying to me now?" asked Nickerson.

"Well, I don't know. I might be."
The punchline of the story is that the man's mother is now forced at the end of the article to stick up for her son by claiming that he really is a racist liar. Now that's motherly love.

MA-05 Poll Update

In my post Monday on the latest Fifth District poll commissioned and released by candidate Eileen Donoghue, I posted a few questions that one should keep in mind when reading any internal poll put out by someone running for office. Today, I heard from the Donoghue campaign, who wanted to reassure me that their poll was legitimate.

First off, I wondered why they had used a different polling outfit than they did in their last poll. I speculated that perhaps they had commissioned two polls and released only the more favorable one. Donoghue's people assured me that this was not the case, and that they only switched polling firms because their campaign manager has worked with the new pollster before and was particularly happy with how he targets his regional breakdowns. They said that the campaign has commissioned two polls and released both of them. In addition, I noted that we had no information about what kind of questions were asked. I was told that in this case, it was a "straight horserace poll" without any biographical information and without any push. The only caveat to that is the poll was on likely voters, and as I've said in the past it's hard enough to predict who is likely to vote in a regularly scheduled general election, let alone a special primary -- especially one the day after Labor Day.

That disclaimer about likely voters aside, I feel more confident about Donoghue's poll than I did earlier in the week. Candidates depend on honest information about the electorate to craft their message or plan their targets. They do not benefit by paying someone to lie to them. The campaign that relies on misleading numbers will find itself in for a shock on election day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tuesday Night Links

I've had a busy week at work and at home, so I've once again been on a too-light posting schedule lately. Here are a couple of things that I've come across that are worth passing along, but I haven't had the chance to write a full post on.

  • Congressman Barney Frank (D-Newton) leads the pack in number of trips paid for by private entities with 84 trips at a total cost of over $100k. The prize for the costliest travel, however, goes to the former Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) at nearly $221k. When ranked by cost, Frank isn't even in the top 50 (via Political Wire)
  • Below Boston reminds us of the previous remarks of Senator David Vitter (R-LA), frequenter of brothels, in which the Senator trashed "Massachusetts Values" at the same time he was seeing prostitutes.
  • Tomorrow, July 11, Governor Deval Patrick is hosting a Volunteer Expo in the Great Hall at the State House from 11AM to 2PM. Just once, I'd like to see them schedule these sorts of things at times people who work for a living can make it. In any event, they're supposed to be holding more of these around the state in the coming months.
  • Governor Patrick's Insurance Commissioner is reportedly considering deregulating the auto insurance rate-setting process even as insurers ask for lower premiums. This seems counterintuitive to me. If rates are going down for everyone under the current system, why guarantee that they will go up for some people by deregulating? It would make more sense, I would think, to push for deregulation in a time of increasing premiums to give some drivers a break on rates.
  • Former Green-Rainbow Party gubernatorial candidate Grace Ross is now seeing an at-large Worcester City Council seat. It will be tough, despite the name recognition she gained from last year's run since all of the incumbents are currently still running. She'd have to knock one of them off. If she does, though, she could find herself Mayor of the city and the highest ranking Green-Rainbow elected official in Massachusetts.
  • The Boston Globe had more examples of why the telecom property tax exemption is bad policy. Telecoms have been abusing the law since a 2005 SJC case decided that telecommunications companies that were organized as limited Liability companies were exempt from taxes on polls, wires and other property. After reorganizing, Verizon Wireless' tax bill in Boston went from $3 million in 2004 to $8,984 in 2005. In Newton, their bill went from $118,000 to just $296.15.

Question of the Day

Does Senator John Kerry really think this has a chance of passing over the President's veto? I would be surprised if there are enough Republicans willing to vote for cloture to send this to Bush's desk anyway. Not only that, but every Senator looks in the mirror and sees a future president. I'm sure there are a few who'd like to save the power to ignore the law for themselves.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Latest Fifth District Polling

Over the weekend, the Lowell Sun reported on a Fifth District Congressional poll taken by candidate and fomer Lowell Mayor Eileen Donoghue. The poll shows Donoghue second behind Niki Tsongas, but by a smaller margin than a similar poll taken in early May. Here are the results for the whole district:


Donoghue's poll also showed her winning Lowell with 35.4% and with six points of Tsongas in Greater Lowell. The only candidate from the Southern end of the District, Rep. Jamie Eldridge, apparently does best in that region, though he still is behind Tsongas 20.7% to 26.6% in that region. Of course, given that the poll as a whole has a margin of error of 4%, the subsamples will have a much smaller sample size and have an even larger MOE. It's not clear how useful any of those individual regional numbers might be since we don't know the regional breakdown of the poll.

Of course, the usual caveats apply to this data because it is an internal poll, paid for by one of the candidates. It's true that Donoghue would benefit from having an accurate picture of the electorate as it stands now, but it's also true that her team has control over the questions and the decision whether or not to release these numbers. It's interesting that this poll was done by a different firm than the last one, which makes me wonder whether she is commissioning multiple polls at a time and only releasing the ones that show the most favorable results. In addition, there's no indication of how the questions were asked and what information led up to the selection of a candidate. I know that some polls in low-profile races give short bios of each candidate before asking the respondent to choose one. That may not be the case in this poll, but the Sun article makes no mention either way.

In the end, what the poll really shows is that more people are undecided than support any particular candidate. That may mean that the race is more up-for-grabs than the Tsongas team would like. Of course, what will really matter is which candidate can drag their supporters out to a special election the day after Labor Day. It seems to me that the undecideds will be less likely to schlep out to vote and that number is only important insofar as one candidate or another can gain the support of people who have not yet made up their minds. That may be a tough job over the summer when so many people are on vacation and thinking of other things than politics.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Weekend Baby Blogging

First visit to Grandma and Grandpa's

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Gee, Thanks

Following up to Friday's Question of the Day, yesterday was the drawing for the lottery's Star Spangled Sweepstakes, the one with the $20 tickets. The Herald reports that eleven people became millionaires thanks to the sweepstakes, which paid out $40 million in prizes, despite not selling that much in tickets. The Herald also notes that 35% of the 4 million tickets were sold, along with this:

All revenue generated from the sweepstakes will be divided among Massachusetts' townships and cities.
By my back of the envelope calculations, there were only 1.4 million tickets sold, netting a total of $26 million (not counting printing and advertising costs, etc)

That means the sweepstakes cost cities and towns at least $14,000,000. Do you think they'll send us the bill?

Update: The Boston Globe has more on the sweepstakes, including the reaction of ticket-buyers to the news that the Lottery extended the sales deadline over the weekend. They're upset that their chances of winning were lowered. They have a point, but the idea that lottery players are complaining that the odds of winning the lottery are too low is hilarious to me.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Keller on 2006 Gubernatorial Spending

Last week, Jon Keller had a blog post where he confessed his love for Michael Dukakis. He took issue, however, with the Duke's comment at South Shore Democrats party for former Massachusetts Democratic party chairman Phil Johnston. Keller calls Dukakis "flat wrong" when he said that then-candidate Deval Patrick was outspent by, overall, some huge number. Here's the quote that gives Keller so much trouble:

Turning to John Walsh, the new state Democratic Party chair who managed Deval Patrick's run for governor last year, Dukakis says: "Yeah, you raised some bucks in the end John, but I don't know what he was outspent by, overall. It was huge, and he won by 21 percentage points. And it had everything to do with that grassroots precinct-based organization... We have the most dramatic example of the effectiveness of this right here in the Commonwealth because of what happened last fall."
(Keller also commits an Internet faux pas by not identifying where he found the Dukakis video -- I assume he found it through BMG, and not by trolling around YouTube looking for former Massachusetts Governors)

Keller then goes into the numbers from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance and shows that Patrick spent $8.9 million and Kerry Healey spent $13.2 million, but when you take independent expenditures into account, the difference between the two was not "huge" and therefore you can't say for sure that grassroots organizing makes more of a difference than spending.

Here's the problem, while Keller adds the amount that the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Service Employees International unit 1199 (a total of $3.418 million) to Deval Patrick's spending total, he neglects to add the amount the Republican Governor's Association spent on Kerry Healey's campaign (nearly $1 million). You could make the argument that you can ignore the RGA expenditures because they didn't make a difference, but if you do that you may as well ignore all of Healey's spending -- after all, she lost. Keller also omits the $8.5 million that Christy Mihos spent trying to become Governor. If the premise that "Patrick was outspent" is what Keller is disagreeing with -- remember, Dukakis never mentioned who he was outspent by -- then it seems like leaving out the massive amount Mihos spent in his own quest to become governor would mean you're getting an incomplete picture, particularly when Dukakis uses the word "overall".

I also think it's important to note that Patrick was significantly outspent on the airwaves. While Patrick may have achieved near parity in total spending, at least in Keller's eyes, the premise of Dukakis' speech was that grassroots organizing wins out over TV ads. Healey's camp spent $9.6 million on media buys, while Patrick spent a paltry $4.3 million in comparison. Even after adding in the third-party issue ads, Patrick still was outspent by nearly $3 million dollars in the media. That's not nothin', and when people talk about campaign spending, this is generally what they're talking about, not payroll or field events. Dukakis' point was that Patrick focused on field instead of media. Field isn't necessarily cheap, and Patrick's spending there made a huge difference overcoming his lack of TV presence.

In addition, I think that it's important to note that Patrick had two elections to win, while Healey (and Mihos) only had one. Patrick was massively outspent in the primary by Chris Gabrieli. If you count only the money spent before the primary, Gabrieli outspent Patrick two to one. It's not clear which election Dukakis is talking about when he says Patrick "won by twenty-one percentage points". While Patrick won the general by 20 points, he also won the primary by a similar margin -- 22 points. Everything Dukakis says is equally applicable to the primary as it is to the general election, and it would be laughable to say that Patrick was not outspent in the primary. When you take into account how much Patrick was outspent overall, it's clear that the primary should be part of the picture.

Happy Fourth of July!

The front page of today's Boston Globe suggested heading to a high place to watch the fireworks. So, I went up today to Mount Auburn Cemetery, and climbed Washington Tower, which is may well be the highest one can go up in Watertown (Yes, the Cemetery's street address is in Cambridge, but most of the actual land, including the tower falls in Watertown). You won't be able to watch fireworks from there, unfortunately -- in closes too early -- but there's a great view from the top:

Boston Skyline

Here are the rest of the pictures I took today.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

MA-05 Hopefuls on Libby

I'm not entirely sure why an aspiring Congresscritter needs to trumpet their reaction to President Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence, but I got statements from two of the candidates in the Fifth District race to replace the now former Congressman Marty Meehan (D-Lowell). I hate blogging-as-stenography, but I'm trying to get back in the swing of things after a busy couple of days in the real world.

The first statement came in yesterday from Rep. Barry Finegold (D-Andover). Here's what he had to say:

"This is a display of the cronyism that has infected Washington. Lying under oath is illegal, unacceptable and unethical. And now the protection racket has swung into action yet again to avoid accountability for this administration. President Bush has, once again, shown his contempt for the rule of law. The American people deserve real leadership. They don't deserve more of the same."
Fellow candidate and former Lowell Mayor Eileen Donoghue followed with this:
"President Bush is once again proving that he has no respect for the office and the people he represents by pulling special favors for his staff. We demand more of our public servants. This action mocks the system we have in place, and flies in the face of efforts to make it better."
Meanwhile, our one-time Governor, Mitt Romney, has predictably gone the other direction and defended the President. This, despite the fact that Romney never once issued a pardon or commutation himself in his four years as Governor, saying that he did not want to overrule a jury.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Weekend Baby Blogging

"Ask not what a baby can do for you; ask what you can do for a baby."