Friday, October 31, 2008

No Surprises from Wilkerson

This isn't Fitchburg news, but it's tough to ignore. And if you're someone who ever covered the State House, none of this is exactly surprising.

Sen. Dianne Wilkerson (D-Roxbury), caught stuffing money into various articles of clothing, isn't leaving the Senate. Instead, she's fighting to the end, which will likely include defeat in next Tuesday's election (UPDATE: Wilkerson said today she's dropping her campaign). She's going down in flames, just like you kind of always figured would happen.

I first met Wilkerson in 1992, when I registered to vote last-minute at Boston City Hall. She was standing outside the clerk's office meeting voters. I happened to be from her district. She lost that year, but won in 1994.

Since then, she's been one disaster after another. I covered her federal court visits for her income tax problems. When my buddies and met at the best Northeastern campus pizza place before the odd hockey or basketball game, we'd giggle that maybe we'd see her come out of the halfway house next door. She never was able to get her campaign finance reports just right. The financial problems, the skirting of the laws, just never seemed to stop.

But Wilkerson somehow managed to keep some measure of goodwill in the Senate. She kept just enough people -- and the right people -- on her side so that she could go home and get elected every two years.

Reporters didn't seem to deal with her very often. Part of that stems from the fact that as she marginalized her position by losing good chairmanships, she dealt with fewer and fewer big issues from a leadership role. She had minimal influence for a long-time senator. That, and she was difficult to get a hold of. Almost impossible, even on issues you'd think she'd want to talk about. Maybe it was a bunker mentality. Maybe she had as little use for reporters as she did the law. I don't know. I just know that you didn't see her much, and didn't talk to her much.

It would disingenuous for me or anyone else who has watched Wilkerson over the last 10 years (and much like a car crash, you can't help but be drawn to looking) to say they saw this coming. This is about as heinous an act a politician could (allegedly) pull.

Considering her past, however, the arrest and the charges aren't an overwhelming surprise. But what has happened since then shouldn't be a surprise at all. There was no way Wilkerson was going to stop her sticker campaign. There was no way she was going to agree to the Senate's call to step down. It could get worse for her today, if the Ten Point Coalition comes out today (as reported) and calls for her resignation.

Wilkerson is out of options. Her colleagues want her gone and one of the most influential organizations in her district wants her gone. Surely she is surrounded by a core group of supporters who continue to enable her bunkered-down, entitled, absurd attitude. On Tuesday she'll be out of options for another term, and then the Senate can either continue to press her to leave, or let her die a slow political death.

No matter the final steps, Wilkerson is going down in flames. While the details may have been surprising, is the end result really unexpected?



Thursday, October 30, 2008

The McCain Numbers Crunch

The national polls have shown a presidential horse race that is stagnant or maybe slightly moving toward John McCain. But national polls are useless in a presidential election.

It’s all about the state polls, and Electoral College delegates. John McCain might be a great closer (although a lousy candidate the other 90 percent of the time) and Barack Obama might be a lousy closer (remember New Hampshire, Indiana, et al), but the map and the numbers are not kind to McCain right now.

Sure, McCain might be able to turn the slow-moving national numbers into a steady stream in the next five days, get state polls going his way, and pull off the upset, but I wouldn’t count on it.

First, the Save Fitchburg theory on polls. Yes, they can be wrong. But over time, with multiple pollsters using multiple methods, it creates a good snapshot on what’s going on. Might polls be wrong? Yes. The 2000 exit polls were a disaster. But these aren’t exit polls. In battleground states, there are so many polls that over the course of the last few months they should be considered pretty reliable.

Let’s break it down. The projections below are from, a fantastic, scientifically solid site. It’s run by one of those baseball sabermetrics/Moneyball guys. Check it out for all the details. But the theory here is they have a formula that goes over poll results and spits out percentages on probable results. It’s a step beyond poll numbers and looks at probability. Great stuff.

At the bottom of the post is a state-by-state rundown to go digging around the numbers.

Obama has 214 Electoral College votes that are considered 100 percent in the bag. Something crazy would have to happen there. We’re talking California, New York, and yes, Massachusetts here. They aren’t going anywhere.

At the next level, Obama can count on 50 EC votes with 95 percent confidence. The biggie in this group includes Pennsylvania. This gets him to 264. McCain is in trouble. Obama has 22 more EC votes with 90 percent probability. That’s 284, and we’ve got a winner. He’s got 25 more at 80-plus probability, for 319 Electoral College votes.

For McCain, he’s got 118 votes in the 100 percent column, and another 24 at 95 percent. He’s got 18 at 90 percent probability or better, and 3 at 80 percent or better. That’s 163, 107 votes short of the presidency.

The rest are the close battlegrounds. It’s four states, 64 Electoral College votes, including the 27 in Florida. If McCain were to win all of those, he’s at 227, still 43 away from the White House. He’d have to win all of the Obama states at 80-95 percent probability to get 47 votes. Those are Colorado, Virginia, Nevada and Ohio. Obama wins his 95 percent probabilities, and one of those at 80 percent or better, and he wins the presidency. That doesn’t include the 64 EC votes in the close battlegrounds.

The options are very few for McCain. He pretty much has to with both Florida and Ohio if he wants to pull this out, and then do more. Even if he loses both Florida and Ohio, fivethirtyeight projects Obama having a 73 percent chance of winning if he loses them both.

Florida and Ohio would pump another 47 into the McCain column. That gets him to 210, based on the above 163 for McCain lead-pipe cinches. Now he needs to find 60 more. The other closes races – North Carolina, Indiana and Missouri are 37 votes. He needs 23 more. Virginia and Colorado are 22. Now he needs one more state. Any state. Nevada and New Mexico would be likely targets, but we’re dipping into states that are 90 percent probable for Obama.

So, to summarize, McCain needs to figure a way to win Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia, Colorado and Small State X. If he loses either of the first two, he’ll need to find two states to cover for that loss (unless he absolutely steals Pennsylvania).

It’s been interesting the last week or so. You go to some of the big general-interest Websites (I’m thinking Yahoo! in particular here, although isn’t too far behind), and they’ve been headlining the little changes in the national polls in McCain’s favor. The media has loved the Good Story above all else, and a last-minute comeback by McCain would be the ultimate Good Story. Why not keep it alive until the end?

There are a number of variables that can change between now and Tuesday – about 50 to be exact – but there appear to be too many “ifs” and “got tos” for McCain to pull this off. It should probably be a relatively late night, at least until 11 p.m. California’s 55 delegates are a big chunk of the Obama tally, so he might need those to get to 270. If it’s called earlier than that, wow, is it going to be a blow out.

Here’s the list. The number after the state is the Electoral College delegates for that state.

Obama, 100 percent projections: 214
California 55, Obama 100 percent
Connecticut 7, Obama 100 percent
DC 3, Obama 100 percent
Delaware 3, Obama 100 percent
Hawaii 4, Obama 100 percent
Iowa 7, Obama 100 percent
Illinois 21, Obama 100 percent
Massachusetts 12, Obama 100 percent
Maryland 10, Obama 100 percent
Maine 4, Obama 100 percent
Michigan 17, Obama 100 percent
New Jersey 15, Obama 100 percent
New York 31, Obama 100 percent
Oregon 7, Obama 100 percent
Rhode Island 4, Obama 100 percent
Vermont 3, Obama 100 percent
Washington 11, Obama 100 percent

Obama, 95-plus projections: 50
Minnesota 10, Obama 99 percent
New Hampshire 4, Obama 97 percent
New Mexico 5, Obama 98 percent
Pennsylvania 21, Obama, 99 percent
Wisconsin 10, Obama 99 percent

Obama, 90-plus projections: 22
Colorado 9, Obama, 93 percent
Virginia 13, Obama 94 percent

Obama, 80-plus projections: 25
Nevada 5, Obama 83 percent
Ohio 20, Obama 80 percent

McCain, 100 percent projections: 118
Alaska 3, McCain 100 percent
Alabama 9, McCain 100 percent
Arkansas 6, McCain 100 percent
Idaho 4, McCain 100 percent
Kansas 6, McCain 100 percent
Kentucky 8, McCain 100 percent
Louisiana 9, McCain 100 percent
Nebraska 5, McCain 100 percent
Oklahoma 7, McCain 100 percent
South Carolina 8, McCain 100 percent
Tennessee 11, McCain 100 percent
Texas 34, McCain 100 percent
Utah 5, McCain 100 percent
Wyoming 3, McCain 100 percent

McCain, 95-plus projections: 24
Arizona 10, McCain 97 percent
Mississippi 6, McCain 99 percent
South Dakota 3, McCain 99 percent
West Virginia 5, McCain 98 percent

McCain, 90-plus projections: 18
Georgia 15, McCain 92 percent
North Dakota 3, McCain 90 percent

McCain, 80-plus projections: 3
Montana 3, McCain 89 percent

The rest: 64
Florida 27, Obama 70 percent
North Carolina 15, Obama 57 percent
Indiana 11, McCain 56 percent
Missouri 11, Obama 53 percent



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Death of the Boston Sports Fan?

Is this the obituary for the Boston sports fan? You know, the real fan who did the right thing? It just might be.

I haven't been to a Patriots game since they lost to the St. Louis Rams in 2001 (it was the last game that team lost on their way to the first Super Bowl). I'm not a Pats fan, and tickets are so hard to get, so whatever. But for the last few years you've heard some complaints about the crowd not being what it once was.

In the two games I went to this month, I'm thinking that comfort level has leaked into two other teams.

Earlier this month, I went to Game 3 of the ALCS. The game, frankly, stunk. The Sox lost, 9-1. The game was out of hand by the middle innings. It was a nice day in Boston, but by the 4:30 start time the wind was up and it was getting cool. By the middle innings, it was downright cold. Some fans -- likely people who never go to Fenway -- wore shorts or no heavy jackets. They were gone by the 6th. The exodus only picked up in the 7th and the 8th.

There's probably something to be said for leaving early when your team is getting smoked. But I'm willing bet for every person at that game (roughly 39,000), there were 100 who would gladly take their spot. Instead of sticking it out, it got awfully empty late. By the 9th, I was sprawled over about three rows and 10 seats. And no one was even close to me.

Of course, the big stories revolve around Game 5. Mayor Lisa Wong admitted -- awkwardly, uncooly -- at last week's press conference that she left early. She tried to laugh it off, but it was a really uncomfortable moment. As Wong rambled on, Andy Roy (who went to another beating in Game 4) and I were not amused. On the other hand, by brother who also lives in Fitchburg stuck it out. He was a happy boy when he called me leaving the ballpark. Wong wasn't alone in doing the wrong thing. At least my brother did the right thing and was rewarded for it. How do you leave early what might have been the very last game of the season?

That brings me to last night, when the Celtics handed out rings and raised Banner 17 to the rafters. It seemed like a good crowd -- the place was packed in advance of the ceremony, and it was good and loud from the get-go. But the posers were outed halfway through the fourth quarter, when the place started to empty out. The Celts were only up by 6 or so at that point. The real drain began in the last two minutes, even with it being a one-possession game for much of that time. Yeah, it was 11 o'clock, and the national TV timeouts were painfully long, but it was the home opener for the defending world champions (no, I can't write or say that enough), and the place was more empty than full by the final buzzer. There wasn't even the usual backups on the stairways getting out.

Outside of New England, the sports world hates our guts. Our teams win, a lot, to the point where we shrug off an ALCS appearance as nice, but not really special. Last night's display was really lame. It would be borderline for the Bobcats in January. But the Cavs on banner night? Good Lord.

It's frustrating to have to clear out a winter weekend and hope you get lucky just to get two crappy seats to a crappy mid-week Sox game. I can't remember the last time I went to a weekend game for the Sox, tickets are so hard to get. It stinks that Mrs. Save Fitchburg and I spent a good hour poring over the Celtics schedule and made a gameplan just short of D-Day to score three or four Celtics games this year. It stinks to beg, borrow and steal your way into a legitimate, unqualified Big Game, and see the collective crowd treat it like just another random game.

So, this month may have signaled the death of the old Boston fan. The ones who didn't stay late at Fenway just to sing "Sweet Caroline." The ones who stuck it out just because that's what you do. The ones who appreciated the moment, the opportunity, and the specialness of the times.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Back to the Money

Presumptive state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan closed her primary campaign against former Rep. Brian Knuuttila by raising over $14,000 in campaign contributions in the first half of September, according to campaign finance reports filed this week.

Going into September, Flanagan, who blew out Knuuttila in the preliminary election, had spent over $72,000 on her race, and had over $20,000 in the bank. Knuuttila had spent nearly $40,000, and had a slight advantage with $23,000 in the bank.

But in the first few weeks of the month, with the election looming, Flanagan raised almost all of the $15,205 she took in from the end of August through the middle of October. In the meantime, Knuuttila raised about one-tenth of Flanagan's amount, with $1,550.

Those amounts do not include over $20,000 in independent expenditures on Flanagan's behalf by a number of special interests groups. Knuuttila did not benefit from any independent expenditures, according to Office of Campaign and Political Finance reports.

In the meantime, Fitchburg Rep. Stephen DiNatale, who does not face opposition on the ballot, reported little campaign activity. He received five donations from officials from Charles George Trucking Co., all maximum $500 donations. He took in no other money during the latest reporting period. DiNatale spent $1,240, on donations to local groups and one donation to Jamie Eldridge, a fellow lawmaker who is running for state Senate.



Sunday, October 26, 2008

Somewhere, Andy Dufresne Smiles

Andy Dufresne, of course, was the protagonist in "Shawshank Redemption." You know the line about hope and being a good thing. And no good thing ever dies.

Barack Obama had a chance to knock the hope out of John McCain, and didn't do it. There's be just enough twitches of life in recent national and state polls to keep the door open for McCain. Considered an excellent closer, McCain has to knock the door down, but at least it's not padlocked shut.

The problem for McCain is there are so many "he's gottas." He's gotta protect a slim lead in Florida, and he's gotta steal Penn. or Ohio. He's gotta come back in traditionally GOP states like Virginia or Colorado. Out of six to eight states, he's probably gotta find his redemption in probably three-quarters of them.

Can he do it? Absolutely. In most of those states the polling numbers are close enough that their not lead-pipe cinches for Obama. I'd also assume there's some soft support for Obama out there that might chicken out at the last minute. We're 10 days away from electing the first black president in this country. That is a monumental sentence. Will some folks stumble on that? It's certainly possible.

You can go to good websites like Real Clear Politics and and get details on polls and projections (538 is especially good. It's done by a statistician and is excellent) and see the crystal-ball reading of Obama winning 340 to 350 Electoral College delegates -- or more. But I don't think so. I think it tightens up between now and Nov. 4, and it's a Late Night for Natalie come Election Night. Obama certainly has the easier road, but McCain has hope. And that's the best of things.



Friday, October 24, 2008

The Unevenness of the Q1 battle

One of the more under-reported stories of Question 1 – and an area the proponents have egregiously ignored – is the ironic money disparity between the two sides.

It’s not too surprising that the no side – funded predominately by state and national public-employee organization – is absolutely crushing the woefully funded yes side. It’s really brutal, and no one talks about it much.

In the first half of October, the “Coalition for our Communities” raised $2.4 million. $1.5 million came from the Mass Teachers’ Association. Another $750,000 came from the National Education Association. AFT-MA was good for $70,000. A passel of other public employee unions were also in the show.

It also spent an eye-popping $2.9 million. The New Media Firm, Inc. in Washington, D.C., earned nearly $1.6 million in consulting fees, which would appear to pay for the tidal wave of TV ads you’ve been seeing. A company called MSHC Partners, Inc., also in D.C., was paid $1.2 million for design and printing. I’m guessing that’s a mailer coming your way.

None of the above includes the $76,000 in in-kind contributions given to the no effort, mostly from – yup, public employee unions. In all, they’re up around $4.5 million in money raised up to this point.

In the meantime, the Committee for Small Government raised $25,891 in the first half of October. That’s after just over $40,000 in September. There’s a lot of consulting and some printing expenses, but obviously nothing too substantial.

You’d think if you were on the yes side, you’d be screaming non-stop about big-money interests doing its big-money thing in an effort to keep up big-money spending. But, alas, I have heard very little of that. It’s worth whatever embarrassment being outspent whatever-to-1 to note that it’s this kind of reliance on big bucks that is what they’re trying to stop. Seems obvious.

None of this should be a surprise. I worked on the beer and wine in supermarkets question in 2006, and both sides raised and spent millions. The money came from the usual suspects, and both sides were pretty even.

I don’t know what big-pockets person or group would come out in favor of 1 and pour money into it. Who with wads of cash – or relies on wads of cash from state government – would support Question 1? Obviously, no one.

If nothing else, it’s illustrative that in the context of this question, public information and spin is working. In 2002, the no team ignored the question, thinking it would die a quick and easy death. Of course, that didn’t happen, with the question getting 45 percent of the vote.

But this time, the no squad showed up, and in force. I think the yes crew has done a pretty good job of corralling free media, but that’s getting drowned out by the paid media. The no side is taking no chances this time. A poll yesterday had it 59-26 against, not good news for the yes side.

It gets to the point now that you have wonder what number allows them to fight on another day. It lost once, nobly. If it gets killed 60-40 or worse, can they come back and put this out there again in six years and gain any kind of traction? Or will they have to come up with something else?

But there’s more than money at play here. The no side has wisely harped on the potential loss of local services as the main fear factor here. It works, and works well. I’d make the same argument if I was working that campaign. The message on the other side isn’t as sharp. The now-infamous “41 percent of state government is waste” line has been mocked all over the place (it’s not an actual figure, it’s from a survey). If your jumping-off point is false, where do you take your argument from there.

They also have refused to point to areas for cutting. Any. The no side has rallied support around local services. The yes side has no cause, no illustration of waste to rally around. If they could point to some big-ticket areas to get the ball rolling, they’d have something for their potential supporters to identify and rally around. Specifics are easier to get riled up for than the non-specific “waste” they keep talking about.

Part of the problem might be that there’s always one good story to illustrate the need for a particular program or budget item. There might not be enough good stories to mandate all of the spending for a state or local program, but there are enough good stories to make the argument that fundamentally the program or service is good.

But enough. Go to the OCPF website and dig around for a few minutes (learn about Carla Howell’s trip to Vegas!) if you desire to learn more. There’s a lot of money being spent on this race, and it’s not even close to being a fair fight.



Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Turning off the Lights

As you may have read today, Mayor Lisa Wong talked last night about turning off some streetlights to save some money.

Of course, the immediate reaction is that this will create further lawlessness in the city and we're all doomed. A silly overreaction.

This isn't an unusual idea. Communities all over the place are considering turning the streetlights off at night, and some are doing it. I'm not sure how many are urban communities like Fitchburg, but it is something that thoughtfully planned makes sense.

There are obviously some high-crime areas that shouldn't be touched, but there are plenty of quiet, peaceful side streets that would likely be unaffected if the streetlights were out. I'm thinking of my street. I don't think I'd mind if the lights were out. How about some high-traffic streets like John Fitch? There's always traffic on that road. How about creating a random turn-off system, where there's no distinguishable pattern? (What, are the bad guys going to drive around town and find the area with the lights out?) How about turning lights off all night in some areas, but only for a few hours -- like maybe 5-8 p.m. in the winter when there's still a lot of traffic or 3-6 a.m. year-round when no one is out -- in others?

From what I can tell, no one is calling for a blackout of the city. With some planning, some common sense, and some logic, it makes no sense not to try it. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work, and the lights go back on again.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Back to Question 1

Based on numbers before last week's cuts...

The District Attorneys are budgeted $102 million in this year's state budget. A 40 percent cut via passage of Question 1 would mean a reduction of roughly $40 million (my math is awesome). What would that mean? Probably not much, because the $600 million trial court budget would be slashed by $240 million. Fewer judges, fewer courtrooms, mean less need for DAs, so this all works out perfectly. At the same time, the State Police would be cut about $114 million out of its $285 million. Which is fine, because the courts wouldn't be able to handle the backlog, so the police don't have to worry about it.

But wait, all those bad guys wouldn't need to go through the court system anyway, because the sheriffs would cut about $114 million out of its $286 million, so there would be fewer jails and guards to watch the bad guys. Which is fine, because there would be fewer DAs and judges and so forth. Better news: DOC would cut about $200 million out of its $540 million, so the state prisons would also be cut back. But that's OK, because the court system will be processing fewer bad guys, so there won't be that big of a need.

In the meantime, UMass would be cut about $200 million out of its $497 million. But that's OK, because UMass could get around it with fees. If a kid can't afford it, they can go to a state college. And they'll get cut about $88 million out of $222 million. But that's OK, too. Not everyone can afford Harvard. Not everyone can afford FSC. They can go to a community college. Which will lose about $96 million of its $222 million. But that's OK, because not everyone can afford to go to college. Those kids should just get a job. And business will be streaming in and hiring all these kids because there's no income tax. Businesses can train 'em, no problem.

Forget what I wrote before Question 1 makes so much sense.



Monday, October 20, 2008

CoCo Key Opens on ...

Although it seems like there's been an endless list of bad news regarding the economy in general and Fitchburg in particular, there is some good news. CoCo Key is opening up soon. The indoor water park may even offer some kind of discount for Fitchburg residents. You can find out when the park is scheduled to open, see some photos, and more by going here. Did you really think I was going to tell you here?

And while I'm pimping the website, it's worth noting, again, that you really should sign up for e-mail news alert updates. You're missing so, so much. Go to the link above, click on "Get News Updates," and you'll start getting notices when we're doing stuff not in the paper. I won't use your e-mail address for other stuff. Promise.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

See You Saturday Night

The scene, the Save Fitchburg mansion. The inning, the bottom of the seventh. Me: "If they don't score four runs here, I'm going to bed." A few minutes later, "Papi could hit 10 times between now and tomorrow morning and not get four runs across." A few minutes later: "Papi's going to f--- me here, hit a home run, and I'm gonna have to stay up."

It's already cost me a good 90 minutes of shut-eye, and probably another half-hour or so to settle down, but if you bagged it after six, oh, baby, did you miss a miracle of a finish tonight.

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Question 1

There's a story in tomorrow's Fitchburg Pride about Question 1. You've probably heard about it, you might have even seen the ads on the old TV in the last few days.

There's bad ideas, and there's really bad ideas. Question 1 is a really bad idea.

You're in one of two camps on this one: State government is way bloated and they need to learn a lesson. Or, this will destroy services and probably lead to higher property taxes.

State government is probably bloated, and has some waste in it, even legislators admit to that on this one. But $12 billion? I don't think so. And as the fine folks at MTF point out, the Yes folks are delirious with their $48B state budget figure. It's closer to $31B.

Mass Taxpayer Foundation figures after the state makes payments it has to make and does what it has to do to get federal funding, everything else in state government would get a 70 percent cut. Holy cow, the sky is falling.

The biggest problem with Question 1 is there's no moderation. It would make perfect sense to get the Legislature to lower the tax rate from 5.3 to 5 percent, like it was supposed to a long time ago. It would even make some sense to devise a long-term plan to lower it to 4 percent or something.

But knocking it all out in two years is a recipe for disaster. Education funding and local aid would take a pretty severe cut. And if Q1 were the pass, why would there be any appetite for an override (over/under for a Fitchburg override the first year, $5 million. Like that would ever pass)?

There are a lot of folks in the city (and who comment here), who are frustrated by the library changes, the lack of raises for police and the lack of cops of street. They're not pleased to hear the Fire Department might be closing a station. That would likely be the tip of the iceberg if Question 1 were to pass.

The same question got 45 percent of the vote in 2002, and a majority of voters in Fitchburg voted in favor. But the question was ignored then because opponents thought it was so crazy that no one would vote for it. But they overestimated the wisdom of the electorate. And this go-around, people are a lot more pissed off about the economy and their state of affairs than six years ago.

So, ironically, the big money is rolling in for the no campaign, which will be well past $2 million when it's all said and done. In the meantime, the yes folks are hanging their hopes on public bloodlust and misleading figures (like the total budget number, and the infamous "41 percent of the state budget is waste" line, which was actually a poll result, not any kind of real budget analysis), and about $20 to their name (not really $20, but you know what I mean).

I told one of my friends who works in the Legislature a few weeks ago that might vote yes on 1 just to watch the chaos and see what they'd do. He wasn't pleased. And in the end, there's nothing funny about Question 1.


Quickly, on last night's debate: McCain was somewhere between aggressive and over-the-top angry. I thought there were times he was so angry that he couldn't talk right. It was his best debate performance, but I'm not sure it did him a ton of good. Obama was on the defensive, but defended well enough. If anything, McCain should have given both barrels at the last debate, and then either come back with similar last night or -- more likely -- found a middle ground of looking ahead while smacking Obama again. Too little, too late.

Sometime soon, like in the next week or so, one of two things is probably going to happen. The polls will reflect that Obama peaked too soon, and this thing will tighten up quickly, or Obama will hold onto his leads and they will firm up to the point that he'll cruise to the presidency. I'm not sure McCain did enough last night for that performance to change things, but we'll see, I guess.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

John Stinks. Jeanne Does Too.

As most folks wait for John McCain to go nuclear on Barack Obama, those who like splattered blood with their politics need simply look north for a taste.

The Sununu-Shaheen race for U.S. Senate out of New Hampshire doesn't much here, except the ceaseless advertising has clogged our TV viewing for weeks now, and will only grow in the next few weeks. And good lord, has it been nasty.

Shaheen and her friends (there's so many ads I've lost track which are from the campaign and which are from 527s) want you to think Sununu and George W. Bush all but camp out together in the Rose Garden. Sununu and his friends want to remind you that Shaheen is a dirty tax lover.

There have been a few competitive races in Massachusetts since I moved here in 1989, but I don't think any of them come close to matching the bomb-throwing in this race. Romney-Kennedy was pretty heated, especially when Kennedy starting bringing in union folks from Indiana, but it certainly didn't reach this level. Weld-Kerry was downright gentlemanly, and Romney-O'Brien was pretty heated, but again, not to this level. Kerry Healey certainly held up her end of the bargain, but Deval Patrick didn't take the bait. In this New Hampshire race, both sides are firing away mercilessly.

For what it's worth, Shaheen is up in most polls, but the average seems to be in the 5-7 point range, certainly close enough for Sununu to keep gunning, and for Shaheen to keep returning fire.

It's interesting in that we have to stake in the race, but most folks I've talked to have obviously noticed the horrific tenor of the ads, and are turned off by it. I wonder how folks in New Hampshire (ahem, Derek) view the campaign to this point. Are they also turned off by it, or is it such a contested race that people are getting swept up in it?

For those interested in politics, it's certainly a good lesson in modern politics. There's a ton of money being spent, and 527s are playing a big-money, bash-away role. It's also an interesting look at the national map, where there's growing talk of Democrats consolidating power in the House and Senate. You'd think if that were the case Republicans would be looking to preserve and incumbent who is in a tight race. Who can come to N.H. to make an appearance that would be a big, late splash for Sununu? I wouldn't think Bush. McCain is losing in polls in N.H. currently, and his own fish to fry.

Eh, I'm rambling. But with all those ads I've seen (they're absolutely pounding Sox games), how can you ignore it?



Friday, October 10, 2008

Drugs and Taxes

As you probably know by now, the Police Department dropped warrants on 30 street-level drug dealers this week. Also, Councilor Dean Tran is advocating for a tax cut for homeowners and businesses.

First, the Tran proposal. Tran has been an advocate of returning tax money to property tax payers since the got into office. He has always been very upfront and very honest in that he sees that as a top priority, and that he'll do whatever he can to make that happen.

However, Tran said this week money shouldn't be placed in free cash or stabilization, and instead returned to taxpayers. It's not a crazy idea, but is this the time?

The municipal finance geeks say a community's stabilization fund should equal 10 percent of the annual budget. I'm no economist (of course), but that seems very high, and pretty much unattainable for most communities. Hell, Leominster isn't even at that level. Fitchburg, in the meantime, is just over 1 percent.

That stabilization figure plays into bond ratings and all that stuff, and is supposed to be around for when times get bad. Sure, times are bad now, but you get the drift.

Here's the rub: Is the stabilization fund a luxury, or a necessity, like other parts of the budget? I'd say a stabilization fund of the above-mentioned 10 percent is a luxury. I think a realistic stabilization fund of several million dollars is a necessity (imagine if the city had a good stabilization fund before now. Could the library have stayed open? Could contracts and raises be settled?).

Complicating the thinking here is the relatively small discount of $5. It's the point that counts perhaps (and if you make that argument Tran here, shouldn't it apply to Wong's pay cut proposal?), but at this point, I'm willing to pay $5 for the prospect of some fiscal stability.

As for the drug sweep, it's good news that 30 drug dealers were targeted. The better news is that Police Chief Robert DeMoura is pushing other city departments to smother the buildings they live in with any building infraction they can find.

Pride reporter Karen Mann hit Wednesday's press conference, and when she was filling me in, I muttered "He didn't just steal from the Lowell playbook, he just took a copy with him." Karen said DeMoura has admitted as much.

When I worked in Lowell, these efforts were big deals. The city manager, the chief (maybe even DeMoura, for all I remember), the Building Department, the Board of Health, the Fire Department, and some others all stomped down the street, taking notes, writing tickets when possible, and later sending out letters. I tagged along as they pointed out what was wrong and what they were going to do about it. I took some time -- a year or more -- but I'd drive those side streets later and it was obvious things improved dramatically.

DeMoura noted that change won't come overnight, that it takes time for the landlords to get the message and get their act together. But hopefully city departments make it a priority and help the PD out on this one. It would be huge for some neighborhoods if this was done the right way and got the potential impact that is there.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Two Men Enter, One Man Leave?

8:53 p.m. -- We're live at the Save Fitchburg Mansion, ready for this little meeting, the second of three between Obama and McCain. Sounds like the storyline leading into tonight is "How nasty?" The ill will has built quite a bit in the last week, and there's a chance it might bubble up tonight. It would be kind of surprising, considering the format and the room. The audience is very close to the candidates, and the atmosphere is fairly intimate. Attacks will be magnified if they come tonight. Will it happen? Who knows.

We're likely watching on CNN, if for no other reason than force of habit, and I've found it to be hilarious to watch the stupid pie-chart graphic thing their poor analysts are forced to do. We're less than 10 minutes from game time. Grab a beverage and a snack, and get ready.

9:01 -- I'm gonna kick your ass. No, I'm gonna kick your ass. That handshake had all the warmth of my car this morning.

9:03 -- Is it just me, or does Barack Obama have two microphones? One on his coat, one in his hands. Is that necessary?

9:07 -- This is clearly the best stage for McCain. I though for a second there he was going to climb into old Alan's lap, but he's certainly more energized than last go-around.

9:09 -- For some reason, I didn't grab a beer before I sat down. If you have one, have a sip at every "my friend(s)." That's my advice.

9:10 -- Meg Whitman and Warren Buffet for treasury. Huh. McCain clearly loves Whitman, the former CEO or something of eBay. Buffet? Seems unlikely. I'm a bit surprised both mentioned an actual name here, though. Pleasantly surprised.

9:12 -- While we're establishing the drinking game rules, finish your beverage when "Wall Street" and "Main Street" are in the same sentence. While I'm here, McCain should probably stop mentioning the whole "I suspended my campaign" stuff. That one, um, didn't work.

9:14 -- At least Obama answered Oliver's question about what the bailout -- sorry, rescue -- plan does for most people. And of course, he has to flip it into "no, no, no, Republicans bad." Can we just all agree here that they're all to blame and move on?

9:18 -- Mrs. Save Fitchburg chimes in for the first time "They can't help themselves," as McCain lights into Obama again on the bailout and whatnot. She's right. They really can't. Mrs. Save Fitchburg is so smart.

9:20 -- "Nobody's completely innocent here," sayeth Obama, but George Bush is really, really craptacular. Mrs. SF strikes again.

9:22 -- It's time for a stupid CNN "analyst scorecard" update. We'll add up the plusses and minuses, and give a score: Plus-3 for McCain, plus-24 for Obama. I have no idea what that means, really.

9:23 -- Fitchburg's future, I wanna watch the next debate with you. Maverick! indeed. Unfortunately, Palin's done on the debate stage.

9:25 -- McCain mentions his good friend Joe Lieberman, who takes that opportunity to curse McCain for picking Palin. So close, Joe. So close.

9:26 -- Oooh. Good prep work by the Obama campaign to drop him today's gas price. Either that or the candidate noticed as he was being driven around town today. Or not. I'm betting on the not. Yeesh.

9:27 -- Obama rolls out the horrible "go through the budget line by line" poopie that is just so unbelievable. The dude's got a nerve. And he says he's going to find programs that don't work. Shouldn't he have a specific or two at this point?

A 78-year-old on the Internet? Right on.

9:29 -- Mrs. Save Fitchburg doesn't like aimless talk about going through the budget. I told you she was very smart. Pretty, too.

9:30 -- We're at the one-third pole, and this has been relatively boring. No new ground, and no sniping. Certainly not the nuclear attack from McCain some were predicting. We've still got an hour, but so far, so bland.

9:31 -- Obama: "A lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11." "A lot?" I think a few more than that, there Barack.

9:35 -- Where do you think Mitt Romney is watching tonight? And how pissed is he? Suddenly, this campaign is about the economy, and he's the bestest businessman there every was. And what's he doing? Uh, I actually don't have an answer to that question right now. But if the sentence includes "2012," it's probably accurate.

9:37 -- Whoa, did McCain just drop news on the doubling of the kid deduction? I don't think that came up at the last debate. And I'm not sure about this, but I think I'm better off the way things are now, paying my health care through work and not paying taxes on it. Just saying.

9:38 -- "I think the Straight Talk Express lost a wheel on that one." And there's the worst line of the night. Take a bow, Barack Obama.

9:41 -- McCain says fixing Social Security isn't that tough. I think I'll disagree on that one, thanks. Two "my friends" so far in this answer. Someone take Fitchburg's Future's keys away.

9:42 -- Another "my friends." Fitchburg Future is calling into work tomorrow.

9:43 -- What's a green job? Time for a useless CNN "Analyst Scorecard" update. McCain, still plus-4. Obama, plus-42. Wha? This debate is so mediocre and even right now, it's ridiculous. Yet CNN has Obama up 38 points? Ugh. It pisses me off that "the media" gets lumped together too much, without any thought or depth, and unfairly. But it's stupid crap like this that makes me wonder.

9:46 -- I'll admit, I'm intrigued by nuclear power. Has the technology gotten better since Three Mile Island, or is the old Seabrook scare factor too much to overcome? Is there someone, somewhere, who can discuss this logically and with some intelligence? Or it just a bad, bad idea?

9:47 -- Brokaw is pissing me off. If they're going over time, he needs to cut them off. He needs to stop this passive-aggressive stuff. Although I like the "Manhattan Project-like" nuclear power question.

9:51 -- A slight tangent: In all this health insurance talk, no one says "hey, look at Massachusetts." I wouldn't expect it from McCain. Maybe it's one of Obama's little secrets. That said, the missed story of the week: The Globe's story on how ER visits are still pumping, even with so many more people insured. This was supposed to lower the costly ER visits, and so far, not so good. Great story that I didn't pay enough attention to.

9:53 -- Here's one thing for sure: These guys have different ideas, different philosophies, and different plans for what to do. There's no "these guys are pretty close. I don't know." McCain is on his insurance plan again. Someone needs to tell me if I win in this or not. I keep reading I wouldn't, but I haven't been sold.

9:55 -- Doing the math in my head, there's no way McCain's plan is good for me. I pay a sizable chunk of my health care, and that $5,000 deduction is worth what, like $1,700? It would be a loss for me, I think.

9:58 -- I know what you're thinking: "This health care talk is a waste of time, because it's too damn to fix." I'd agree with you, gentle sir/madam.

10:01 -- Time to put the hammer down. Three drinks per "surge."

10:02 -- Here's a question that won't get asked tonight: What's our responsibility in Iraq? Leave when everything is ironed out? Leave when they're well on their way? Leave now and let the dice fall where they may? How much is our long-term staying there guilt for ripping that place apart? I think McCain will talk about "victory" soon, but what's "victory?" Al queda was never there, and Hussein is gone. We've won already, in some aspects. Is the equivilent of a two-point a win a "victory," or do we have to win by 20? This is some fundamental stuff that seems to get lost in the rhetoric.

10:07 -- Hey, kids, what time is it? CNN "Analyst Scorecard" time. Yea! McCain: plus-11. Obama, plus-60. I'd say this thing is making me stupider, but I'm still able to the maths in my head, so maybe not.

10:09 -- Do I want to be the "F section?" This is broadcast TV, right?

10:11 -- For the second debate in a row, Obama said we will "kill" Bin Laden. Not "get him," or "capture him," or "hunt him down." "Kill." That doesn't seem very, how do you say, presidential.

10:16 -- We've got 14ish minutes left, and it hasn't gotten ugly yet. They both clearly feel the other is wrong on Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan, but it's been more slap-fight than bomb-throwing tonight.

10:17 -- Barack Obama is an international name-dropper. Elitist swine.

10:24 -- One more CNN "Analyst Scorecard" count. Because you're wondering. McCain: plus-18. Obama: plus-59. I still don't know what that means, but I do know Obama wasn't three times better tonight.

10:24 -- Obama doesn't want to call Russia an "Evil Empire." McCain says "maybe." That's diplomatic. However, the right answer is everyone knows the Evil Empire is in The Bronx.

10:25 -- I thought McCain might hug Terry the former Naval officer. Instead he gave him a pat on the shoulder. Just one more disappointment tonight.

10:26 -- What's the highlight tonight? What's the clip everyone is going to show tonight and tomorrow? I admit I'm dog-ass tired, and my attention was divided between TV and keyboard, but there's not a good one that comes to mind. Anyone?

10:28 -- In the unasked questions category: How much money have you lost in your investments in the last three weeks? I'd love to know.

10:30 -- This last question sucks, and will lead to non-answers. Enjoy.

10:34 -- McCain's closing is very, very good.

10:35 -- At least on CNN, I missed McCain and Obama shaking hands because of a lousy camera angle. In the end, much of the same from a few weeks ago, no real big winner. Big loser? Brokaw. He stunk. Good night, Fitchburg.



Live-Blogging Tonight

I'm 80 percent sure I'll be live-blogging tonight's presidential debate showdown. I mean, it is "Debate Night in America," after all.

80 percent? Well, between early tee times and late-night baseball, I'm not at the top of my game. In fact, I'm thinking sitting at the ye olde keyeboarde will get me through this mess. But I might just totally pack it in and sit on the couch. But clearly, I'm thinking ye olde keyeboarde.

So, join me, won't you, for the second prezzie debate. I'll check comments regularly throughout during the boring parts, so send along a note, a term of endearment, or whatever.



Wong Asks for Pay Cut

Mayor Lisa Wong is going to ask the City Council tonight to cut her pay by 2.5 percent. The money would be used to keep a fire engine operational.

You can read more about it here.

You'd have to think the Council will have no problem approving the request, right? More importantly, in the letter to the council seeking the change, Wong notes the city might be seeing a reduction in state and federal funding, and that annual raises might be a thing of the past. Or at least not of the near future. It's all in the story, which might be updated later, so peek back if you feel the urge.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

About Last Night

I ended up undergoing a fairly interesting experiment last night. My basketball game in Waltham ended at 8:55, which meant I listened to the first half of the vice presidential debate on the radio, and watched the second half on TV (and after sticking out the Sox the night before, DVR-delay wasn't an option).

This was something of an unscientific experiment, because the first half of the debate was pretty domestic, and the second half pretty foreign. But from my listening/viewing, Sarah Palin was much better in the first half. Here's why.

After watching for a few minutes, I turned to Mrs. Save Fitchburg and asked if she had been reading her answers all night long. She had scribbled down her memorized bullet points while Joe Biden gave his answer, and then looked down and clicked right through them. On the radio, I though she was just sifting through the audio files and coughing them up as needed. Coming home and seeing that she was heavily reliant on her crib sheet lessened her performance.

That said, she did what she had to do. She didn't implode, she made some points, and she ran out the clock as necessary. I thought her answer on global warming was completely false and a real stretch. You could just tell that her programmed response wasn't really what she feels on that issue. That said, I didn't believe either her or Biden on same-sex couples (I think she secretly has no use for same-sex benefits of any color, and I think Biden secretly would approve of gay marriage. Just a hunch).

If you're a clear-thinking observer, you think Palin did fine. C+, maybe a B-. You didn't turn off the TV and think "I underestimated her." You didn't turn it off and think "Wow, was she a disaster." If you're a Palin hater, there was plenty of grist for the mill (I'd say, specifically, the "I've been at this for five weeks" line was particularly troublesome). If you're a Palin fan, you're thrilled with her effort to paint herself as a regular person (personal note: Is the vice presidency a job for a "regular person?"). You're happy with her attack lines, which were solid. You're feeling a little bit better about things.

I thought Biden was solid. B, maybe a B+. I watched on CNN, where he won the ridiculous analyst pie chart thing. More interesting, I thought he did better on the scrolling line graph of uncommitted Ohio voters. Even more interesting, the way that thing spiked every time Biden took off on George Bush. I thought Biden was better, but not by light years.

Finally, if you didn't know any better, Gwen Ifill gave no hint of bias, impropriety, or anything else. In fact, even if you did know better, and were looking for it, Ifill was perfectly fine as moderator. Dead issue (not that it ever really had much of a life).



Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Return of Dan Mylott?

Former Mayor Dan Mylott told the Fitchburg Pride today that he's considering a run for City Council next year. Read the story to get some more info.

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About Tonight, And Last Night

When was the last time the country was so into a vice presidential debate? When was the last time a veep debate had so much promise for drama? When was the last time we cared this much?

I'm not sure about the answers to any of the above, but I do know this: More people than usual are very intrigued by tonights Palin-Biden faceoff.

Much of it, of course, is wrapped up in the Curious Case of Sarah Palin. From mega-star to mega-worry in a month, this is Palin's big night. She struggled through her hyped interview with Charlie Gibson, and she absolutely bombed in her much-hyped interview with Katie Couric (a chunk here. You can find the rest if you haven't seen it).

Palin has proven to be everything you kind of thought she'd be: Overly scripted, short on details, and trying so hard to stay on message that she blows it when pressed on specifics. Her inability to name one newspaper or magazine she read regularly was disturbing. Her insistence on answering follow-up questions with the same programmed response is even more disturbing. In short, I think she's sucked so far in her one-on-ones.

Biden, of course, is a whole other ball of fun. He says the wrong thing quite often (the whole debacle over him saying a campaign ad was terrible, then backtracking was particularly bad), and can stray off the talking points too much and get into trouble.

All that said, I think by tomorrow morning the storyline is going to be "the return of THE Sarah Palin." Debates offer the opportunity for more generalities, with little follow-up for specifics. Palin can stick to the message, and work her charm and likability. While she offered little depth in her convention speech, it was a winner. I expect that kind of performance tonight. I think Biden won't go for the jugular, and will instead hope she hangs herself. I also think it's more like Biden makes a big mistake than Palin.

While Tina Fey and "Saturday Night Live" have been absolutely killing Palin -- and I'd say more people have watched that online than on TV -- it might be the best thing for Palin. Expectations are low for tonight for Palin, and I think she's going to surpass them easily.


I haven't written one word this year about the Red Sox. A big chunk of that is due to my unhealthy obsession for the first half of the season with the Celtics (by the way, Mrs. Save Fitchburg wins the award for Wife of the Year/Decade/Century/Eternity with her procurement of C's opening night tickets. Unbelievable). There was also kind of a, you know, complacency in the Sox this year.

That said, I was up until 1:30 this morning watching the Sox put the Angels to bed in Game 1 of the AL Divisional Series. Jon Lester was massive. Jason Bay was clutch. Jacoby Ellsbury was great.

I need a nap, but before I hide under the desk for a snooze, I've thought for about a month now that if the Sox can somehow get past the Angels, they're going to win the World Series. I think the White Sox are flawed, and I'm gambling that at some point the stage gets too big -- and the collars too tight -- for the Rays. Although the Cubs are damn good, I have little fear of the NL. Too many World Series sweeps, I guess.

So, here we go. Hopefully another month of late nights and big wins. Much of it likely depends on Josh Beckett staying healthy, and getting the rust off J.D. Drew and keeping Mike Lowell on the field wouldn't hurt. But after last night, you can't help be excited by the potential.

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