Field Notes on the House Budget Debate

The Massachusetts House of Representatives held its annual budget debate last week. It was a three-day event this time like it was last year (down from what once was the usual four).

To the extent there was any press coverage, the story once again was that House leadership made nearly all the budget debate decisions by way of what it calls the “consolidated amendment” process. The first step in this process is for House Ways and Means Committee staff to sort the 1307 amendments that members filed into subject matter categories. The second step is for House leadership, after a brief opportunity for advocacy by amendment sponsors, to winnow each of those categories (there were nine this year) into a multi-page consolidated amendment that adopts some of the originally-filed amendments and rejects many others.

If you were thinking that amendments with very broad support, like this one to increase funding to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, would have an excellent chance of being adopted, you would not necessarily be right. Notwithstanding its supermajority of 92 sponsors (out of 160 members), it  went down. Conversely, an amendment to tinker with the distribution of revenues at greyhound racing simulcast sites made it past the finish line with only a single sponsor.

May BMG Stammtisch -- tomorrow!

Cheers! - promoted by Bob_Neer

The Saloon

May day, only a few days late. Come, enjoy some libations, and talk politics. Or just enjoy libations and sustenance.

Our now-regular monthly BMG Stammtisch will happen tomorrow — 4-May — at The Saloon in Davis Square at 7p.

Hope to see you there!

Party Unity Should Start Now

A very worthy discussion. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Aside from the fact that it ain’t over until it’s over, Democrats are sitting in a pretty good position for the general election.

The Republican brand is at an all-time low. The presumptive Republican nominee is widely reviled by women and people of color. He’s looking at testifying in a law suit against his Trump University scam and a convention that promises to be a circus. Big money donors are sitting out the presidential election. Even Charles Koch is expressing doubts. Republican voters are so pissed, they are ready to punish down-ticket GOP candidates. (See more here and here). We still have a long way to go, but the headwinds are favorable.

The root of the Republican problem is that the base has caught up to the party establishment:

Their party has historically won elections by appealing to racial enmity and cultural anxiety, but its actual policy agenda is dedicated to serving the interests of the 1 percent, above all through tax cuts for the rich — which even Republican voters don’t support, while they truly loathe elite ideas like privatizing Social Security and Medicare.

As far as Democrats are concerned, our

party defines itself as the protector of the poor and the middle class, and especially of nonwhite voters. Does it fall short of fulfilling this mission much of the time? Are its leaders sometimes too close to big-money donors? Of course. Still, if you look at the record of the Obama years, you see real action on behalf of the party’s goals.

We’re in good position, but there are always wild cards, the most important being Bernie Sanders and the Sandernistas. Bernie has inspired a lot of voters, but they aren’t all typical Democratic voters. There are the conspiracy theorists and the revolutionaries, the biggest revolutionary being Sanders himself. I wrote previously, one of the biggest differences between Sanders’ side and Clinton’s side of the primary was a theory of change. Kevin Drum says much the same thing in Mother Jones:

if you want to make a difference in this country, you need to be prepared for a very long, very frustrating slog. You have to buy off interest groups, compromise your ideals, and settle for half loaves—all the things that Bernie disdains as part of the corrupt mainstream establishment. In place of this he promises his followers we can get everything we want via a revolution that’s never going to happen. And when that revolution inevitably fails, where do all his impressionable young followers go? Do they join up with the corrupt establishment and commit themselves to the slow boring of hard wood? Or do they give up?

If Sandernistas were to change democracy for the better, I’d happily eat my words. But I’m worried that they truly don’t understand American politics. All the talk of revolution sounds great, but we haven’t had a revolution since 1776. As Drum says in his article, we’ve never had a revolution since then.

Ed Kilgore writes in New York Magazine that a group of laid off Sanders campaign staff has started what amounts to its own party with the political initiative A Brand New Congress:

the closer you get to the Sandernistas’ Brand New Congress initiative — the new project by recently laid-off Bernie staffers to create a revolution in Congress beginning with the 2018 elections — the less it looks like the instrument for a difficult but achievable task and the more it looks like the product of a very strange set of beliefs about American politics. It’s not focused on boosting progressive turnout in general elections, but on recruiting and running candidates in Republican as well as Democratic primaries who meet a rigid set of policy litmus tests. The idea is very explicitly that people alive with the Bern can literally elect a “brand-new Congress” in one election cycle to turn public policy 180 degrees.

President Obama began his presidency believing he could work with Republicans. We know how that worked out. If that weren’t weird enough, A Brand New Congress also believes it can work with tea party activists.

Corbin Trent, another former Sanders staffer, said bringing Republicans on board is “the key to it being a successful idea” and there’s enough overlap between Sanders’ platform and tea party conservatives to make the PAC’s goals feasible.

Reality television star Donald Trump’s current status as the Republican front-runner demonstrates that GOP voters are eager for candidates who, like Trump, criticize the corrupting influence of money in politics and the impact of free trade deals on American workers, Trent said.

“This will allow Republicans to say ‘Yeah, I’m a Republican, but I believe climate change is real and I don’t believe all Muslims are terrorists,” he said. “It will allow people to think differently in the Republican Party if they want to pull away from the hate-based ideology.”

Bernie Sanders and the Sandernistas have an excellent opportunity to change the Democratic Party. They won’t affect a revolution, but they can exert the force necessary to reorient the party. Sanders can get concessions on party platform, convention speakers, and DNC operations. They can work for progressive Democrats already running for office. Maybe they’ll make enough money from this initiative to keep themselves employed, but in the end, we need them to work on the presidential election.

Bernie will continue to run and make appearances. That’s okay. But we need to start working on party unity. Half-baked political initiatives won’t help.

I wonder if they would let me in for a donation of $27?

Additional discussion on the subject "Clinton and Sanders" - promoted by Bob_Neer

I received an invitation to attend a fund raiser for Hillary Clinton.  All I needed was $1,000 dollars and the ability to free my schedule for Wednesday May 4th, from 6:00 -8:00 PM.  In return for my $1,000, I’d be able to have a conversation with with John Podesta, Campaign Chair, Hillary for America.  The event is hosted by Bob and Liz Pozen.  I assume Bob Pozen is the guy from Fidelity.  His name rung a bell.  Wasn’t he the same guy who served as a member of President George Bush’s Commission on Social Security?  I always get nervous when Republicans want to  tinker with Social Security.

So what does Mr. Pozen say about the projected shortages for Social Security and his cure?  In short, “we can’t raise taxes on the rich so we must cut benefits and raise the age of eligibility”.  Well, he does not come out and say it directly. But read Why my plan to fix Social Security will work and Why liberals should back Social Security reform and tell me what you think.    To his credit, he does say that  ”Contrary to popular opinion, the structure of federal retirement programs today favors middle and high earners over less well-off retirees.” but what he leaves out it the middle class wage earners are dwindling in this nation and have been for 40 years.  He does say this No one has a legal entitlement to the current schedule of Social Security benefits.  That’s rather chilling, eh?

Sorry Bob and Liz, sorry Mr. Podesta and Secretary Clinton, but while I can clear my schedule for Wednesday, I make $12 an hour at a part time job and at the age of 61, I simply don’t have $1,000 to spare.  I used to be a middle class earner, I really was.  Will those days return?  The prospects don’t look good, do they?  If we keep the same political positions, the return of a vibrant middle class is just a theoretical debate over something that will never, ever happen.

Joke Revue: Cruz Hopes to Tap Into Immense Popularity of Carly Fiorina

Update: remarks of the Comedian In Chief at this year's White House Correspondents Dinner.

- promoted by david

Borowitz owns Cruz’ feeble imitation of McCain’s choice of Palin, once again proving Karl Marx’ dictum that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. Hat tip to esteemed BMGer jasiu:

Cruz Hopes to Tap Into Immense Popularity of Carly Fiorina

INDIANAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report)—In choosing the former Hewlett-Packard C.E.O. Carly Fiorina as his running mate, Senator Ted Cruz hopes to tap into the immense popularity of one of the most beloved public figures in America.

Minutes after the news of Cruz’s selection leaked, political insiders called the choice of the wildly adored Fiorina a game-changer for the Cruz campaign.

“It’s no secret that Ted Cruz has some trouble with likeability,” the Republican strategist Harland Dorrinson said. “What better way to fix that than by choosing Carly Fiorina, a person everyone is absolutely crazy about?”

Fiorina’s reputation for winning the hearts of everyone she comes in contact with dates back to her days as the incredibly well-liked C.E.O. of Hewlett-Packard and, before that, Lucent Technologies.

“At Lucent, she could light up any room with her smile,” former Lucent employee Tracy Klugian said. “If you had to say what people loved about working at Lucent Technologies, it all came down to two words: Carly Fiorina.” …

Borowitz also has this gem:

Ben Carson Says He Has No Memory of Running for President

WEST PALM BEACH (Satire from The Borowitz Report)—Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, stirred controversy on Thursday by saying in a televised interview that he had no recollection of running for President of the United States.

Appearing on the Fox News Channel, Dr. Carson responded to host Sean Hannity’s question about his ten-month-long candidacy by saying, “I do not recall any of that occurring.”

“I’ve been told that I did it, but I find it impossible to believe,” he said. “I don’t think I’d forget a thing like that.” …

While Carson insisted that “there is no way I ran for President,” he did not rule out running for the Republican nomination in the future.

“I think I’d be really good at it,” he said.

Daniel Kurtzman:

“Today, Carly Fiorina was announced as Ted Cruz’s running mate. Fiorina said it’s always been her lifelong dream to lose twice in the same election.” –Jimmy Fallon

“According to a new poll that just came out, 50 percent of Republicans say they could support Donald Trump. The other 50 percent are a group calling themselves ‘Women.’” –Conan O’Brien

“Yesterday, Donald Trump said, ‘If I lose, I don’t think you’ll ever see me again.’ So finally, a Trump campaign promise we can all get behind.” –Conan O’Brien

“A woman who looks exactly like a female Ted Cruz has been asked to star in a porn movie. So finally, a cure for your porn addiction.” –Conan O’Brien

“If you think that you’re worried about what is going to happen in this race, just consider Reince Priebus, RNC chairman and man whose name is an anagram for ‘crisp bee urine.’” –Stephen Colbert

“House Speaker Paul Ryan this afternoon issued a formal statement ruling himself out as a potential replacement candidate if there is a contested Republican convention. And you know things are bad in the Republican Party when people who aren’t even running are dropping out of the race.” –Seth Meyers

“After losing in Wisconsin, there has been a big shake-up in the Trump campaign staff. In fact, the guy in charge of racist comments is now in charge of sexist comments.” –Conan O’Brien

MA pols suck at controlling health care costs

Bumped, for glory. - promoted by david

Why do we have high prescription drug costs? Because over and over again, our political system — including and especially Democrats — decides that it’s going to enable it.

Example 1: Richard Neal. The Obama administration tries to scale back the incentive (!) that docs get for prescribing expensive drugs. Richie Neal writes a letter!

House Democrats Push Back On Obama Plan To Cut Drug Prices.

WASHINGTON — A group of House Democrats is organizing an effort that could slow down an Obama administration plan to reduce drug prices, according to a letter obtained by The Huffington Post.

The Department of Health and Human Services is working toward finalizing a new rule that would experiment with ending the financial incentive doctors have for prescribing some extremely expensive medications. The rule has been well-received among some patient advocates, but congressional Democrats have been largely silent, while the pharmaceutical industry and medical community have waged an aggressive campaign to stop it.

The campaign is bearing fruit. The letter from House Democrats, according to Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), was made necessary because Big Pharma and oncologist lobbyists had pushed many Democrats to the brink of signing a much more aggressive Republican letter. The letter expresses concerns with the proposed rule, but doesn’t call for it to be withdrawn.

… Hammill said Pelosi is urging members to sign the letter, which is being circulated by Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.).

Well how about that. Glad someone is looking out for the little guy.

And look at what happened to poor Sen. Mark Montigny a few weeks ago – who actually was trying to do something about profiteering pharma companies? Smacked down left and right, he had to back off of price caps for stuff like life-saving hepatitis-C drugs because bad for business!

This is in a state where we can’t even sustain a ban on small-time bribery of doctors and their offices, with sandwiches and presentations. Yes, Dr. Purity Yale Cabot Lowell VIII, all your protestations to the contrary, the PhRMA gang knows precisely what a cheap date you are. They have departments for this stuff, with the numbers to prove it. They know what docs prescribe what drugs. It’s their job!

Of course we have obscenely high prescription drug prices. That’s what we voted for, apparently.


Veepstakes Starts Early

This strikes me as an exceptionally silly move by Cruz, and it seems to have been widely perceived as such. - promoted by david

Ted Cruz announced today in Indiana that Carly Fiorina will be his running mate.  (I swear, The Onion is not my source for this!)  Talking heads seem baffled by this strategy.  Nobody seems sure if and how this helps him with delegates.  Not since 1976 when Reagan tapped PA Senator Richard Schweiker in a failed bid to woo not only PA delegates, but others who thought Reagan too conservative (RS was firmly in the Rockefeller Republican wing.), has someone selected a running mate without having clinched the nomination.  Maybe it’s to get under Trump’s skin, or pressure him to name someone.

I can’t help but think, though, that if Clinton had done this even though she IS almost certainly the Dem nominee (Cruz, of course, isn’t even his party’s frontrunner.), she would have been slammed for being presumptuous.  It’s looking like the conventional wisdom is settling on the idea that she should take advantage of the fact that Republicans go first this year and wait until after their convention to name someone so she can take what happens in Cleveland into account.

[Your editor adds the following trenchant commentary:] 

Trump MA campaign stumbling into caucus showdown

Pogo is unimpressed with the Trump campaign's organization for the delegate caucus coming up on Saturday and has some evidence in support. Meanwhile, on Politico, Trump's Massachusetts co-chair and state Representative Geoff Diehl offers this determined if somewhat confusing message about the caucus results: "Until that ball is in the end zone, we’re not stepping our foot off the gas." - promoted by hesterprynne

As I wrote about earlier this month, there is big MA GOP showdown this weekend to elect loyal Trump delegates to the RNC Convention between the Real Donald Trump camp and the Cruz camp, who are running as Trump delegates and will then abandoned Trump if he doesn’t win on the first ballot.

I’m on Trump’s email list and just got their “all hands on deck” call to attend one of the nine caucuses this Saturday. The email had three links, all bringing you to the same webpage, where you’re supposed to be able to learn where your caucus will be.

Just below the video on the page, the first line reads: “Find your caucus location here” and takes you to the Secretary of State’s page to find your local polling location…not your caucus location. Whoops.

Even better, the email ends, “and then join us this Saturday at 7AM at your local caucus location to vote for the Trump slate of delegates.”

Hmm…7 am sounded awfully early for me, so I checked the MA GOP site, which listed the start time for each caucus at 10 am. And it kindly lists the location of each caucus. (And I suppose by writing this post, I’m giving them enough time to correct it…but the Trump organization is hapless and I’m pretty sure they’ll screw up the second chance they’ve been given.)

Can't Solve Transportation Without Addressing Housing

"Free market, not free parking". And affordable housing. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

Charley already wrote up WBUR’s transportation poll, but WBUR did a sidebar story on some non-highway transportation ideas.

Reporter Steve Brown talked to State Sen. Tom McGee about his idea to relieve traffic & help people get around – expanding the Lynn-Boston ferry service:

“We started off with 13,000 riders the first year from May to September. Up over 15,000 last year, so there’s definitely an interest,” McGee says. He’d like to see the ferry become permanent and run year-round, to give commuters on the North Shore another option for getting into town.

“We’ve got a state-of-the-art facility with two berths for ferry boats and other operations,” McGee explains. “This is also land that’s also part of the project. [It’s] city-owned, for extra parking spots. Parking’s free, with a building here as planned as a terminal and then a restaurant on the top. You can see how beautiful it is here.”

McGee says the ferry terminal — located a short walk away from a commuter rail stop and parking garage in Lynn Center — could become a major transportation hub for the entire North Shore, especially if long-ago shelved plans to extend the MBTA Blue Line to Lynn were revived.

In general, ferry service is a great idea! Lower carbon, you don’t have to build & maintain new pavement, and it’s just plain way more fun than driving.

But there’s a big problem in Lynn that’s a great example of how we can’t solve our transportation problems without also dealing with housing and development policies.

The problem is the ferry’s location. Here, take a look:

Confederate memorial in Boston

The Southern Poverty Law Center has released Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy that “catalogs 1,503 examples of monuments and statues; flags; city, county and school names; lakes, dams and other public works; state holidays; and other symbols that honor the Confederacy.” Here is their press release.

Amazingly, one is in Boston. The Center’s report links to this 2013 photograph and accompanying article on Civil War Memory, a website by local historian Kevin M. Levin:

Today my wife and I spent the day on Georges Island in Boston harbor. I gave a brief presentation for the National Park Service on Boston’s Civil War memory, which went really well. Afterwards, we spent some time walking through Fort Warren.

A number of prominent Confederate officials, including James Mason, John Slidell and Alexander Stephens were held as prisoners for various periods of time. In addition, Richard Ewell, Isaac Trimble, Simon Bolivar Buckner and a small number of Confederate soldiers were also held as prisoners during the war.

I knew all of this, but what truly surprised was this monument to those Confederates who died as prisoners, which was dedicated by the Boston chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1963. Yeah, that’s right, there was a UDC chapter in Boston.

Kudos to Levin for breaking the story, in a sense.

The Law Center urges community members to “organize campaigns to remove these symbols from public spaces and place them in museums or similar venues where a full account of the history can be provided.” Noted Civil War historian Eric Foner has argued it is more effective to leave such memorials in place, but add additional material that puts them in historical context. WaPo:

“In the south, I don’t think they should take down statues of Confederate leaders,” Foner continued. “They should put up statues of black congressmen and senators. It makes the public history more accurately reflect our entire history.”

At a minimum, such additional material should be added to this memorial. For a start, it might mention the 13,942 Massachusetts residents who died in that awful conflict, and the millions of people enslaved by the brutal government whose seal is featured on the memorial.

Then again, Foner did preface that comment with “In the south.” Maybe here in the North, we don’t need a relatively recent confederate memorial complete with the seal of the CSA and its motto “Under God, Our Vindicator” on George’s Island, and it would be better off in a museum as the Center recommends — complete with additional contextualizing material. The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common says more, better.


A response to Senator Lewis on marijuana legalization

Food for thought... - promoted by david

As many of you saw, last week BMG had some great discussions on the ballot initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol that will be voted on this November. It began with my post asking why progressive organization ActBlue was working with the campaign to continue prohibition, and a petition I created for progressives to ask them to stop. Senator Jason Lewis then issued a detailed response explaining his opposition to the initiative. Both of these posts generated tons of comments (47 and 92, respectively, as of this writing), and I’m really thankful to the BMG community for a great discussion. Someone asked that I make my comment responding to Senator Lewis’ points into its own post, so here it is (small edits to add links):

Potency & Edibles
Senator Lewis is absolutely correct that the average potency of marijuana today is higher than it used to be (which it’s worth pointing out was driven by prohibition, as more potent drugs are easier to smuggle – same reason we had “rum runners” and not “beer runners” during alcohol prohibition). While it does come with more potential for dosage mistakes, education about these products is the most important thing. People know that you drink 12oz of 5% beer but only 1.5oz of 35% liquor – many tourists in Colorado don’t know that 5mg is the standard dose, so seeing a 30mg label means nothing to them. Education like the industry “Start Low, Go Slow” campaign is the best way to alleviate this problem. And while it is a problem, luckily it’s impossible to fatally overdose on marijuana, unlike alcohol – people who consume too much will have a bad time, but their organs won’t shut down and they won’t die. Additionally, a legal marijuana market allows for greater variety of dosages, as many people prefer less THC, just like many people prefer beer or wine over shots of liquor. The black market incentivizes potency, legal markets incentivize variety. There are many low-THC products on the market in CO and other states, as there will be in MA post-legalization.

Stuck in traffic? Or on the T? #nohopeever

WBUR is doing a fine series on traffic and transit this week. From yesterday — If you think your commute is getting worse, you’re not alone …

WBUR Poll: Boston-Area Residents Say Traffic Is Getting Worse, But MBTA May Be A Solution | WBUR.

Traffic is getting worse. That’s the conclusion of Boston-area residents surveyed in a new WBUR poll (topline, crosstabs).

Fifty-seven percent say it’s gotten worse in the last five years. You could point to the rebounding economy, but whatever the reason, almost 2 in 5 residents say traffic has caused them to be late for work. And 14 percent say they’ve considered leaving the area to get away from the traffic.

And what’s the solution? 79% of those surveyed in Greater Boston say “repairing and modernizing” the MBTA! This is the MBTA with a $7 billion repair and maintenance backlog.

This is, of course, completely at odds with our Governor and Speaker DeLeo, who insist upon the strategy of “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Budget cuts, austerity, no vision, no hope ever.

I stipulate that the politics are exacerbated by the unavoidable, structural regional rivalries for transit dollars; and the looting by the T’s contractors and unions; absurdly outdated procurement; so that even approved money gets lit on fire. Better procurement is obviously necessary, but it’s not sufficient.

That $7 billion is never going to come without … ahem … a “political revolution.” Even our vaunted progressives vote for DeLeo for Speaker-for-life and hold fundraisers with him, for the scraps he throws their districts. (Of course, it’s not just transit that suffers under the current leadership.)

Again: Gov. Baker can be Mr. Fixit or a “fiscal conservative”. But not both. It’s pretty apparent that DeLeo just doesn’t care.

If this seems like a cynical, impotent rant … well, it is. But with scant leadership from electeds on this, I suppose we’re left to complain and bang on the table. Someone show me a better way.