Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happy New Year

Thank you for visiting 'For Attribution' online.

We're taking a few days off this week to enjoy the holidays. However, we're keeping tabs on the latest news, and we look forward to resuming our regular blog posts on January 3, 2011.

We have no doubt that 2011 will be full of interesting political stories to talk about. In particular, we'll be keeping our eyes on the new Congress, how Massachusetts deals with its looming budget deficit, and how newly-minted GOP House members assert their fresh ideas.

It should be an interesting year.

Until then, we wish you and yours a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and Saint Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Saint Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The US national debt: $44,918 per person, and growing...

The Web site made a very interesting observation the other day.

This was the headline:

DEBT: $13,868,461,000,000

PEOPLE: 308,745,538

Drudge was basically making the point that the national per capital debt burden in this country is a staggering $44,918.

To put this in perspective, the size of this debt is roughly 95% of the United States Gross Domestic Product. And, according to the web site, it's also about 20 percent of our national assets (personal, non-profit, corporate and non-incorporated business assets).

In other words, if we liquidated all of the property in the United States, roughly one out of every five cents we collected would go toward repaying the national debt.

This is a crushing burden that presents a clear and present danger to the United States. The financial well-being of our country depends on resolving this problem. And, with so much of this public debt being held by other nations (about $4.4 trillion), it's a growing national security issue.

We sincerely hope that lowering the national debt will be a top priority for the next Congress.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Educating our kids is a state concern

Most political watchers were busy following news about congressional redistricting yesterday.

But, it's worth noting a separate political story that could have a much greater impact on the future of our state's residents.

According to the Boston Globe, the Massachusetts Board of Education voted unanimously yesterday to use national education standards instead of our existing state curriculum frameworks. (Please click here to read the full Globe/SHNS story online.)

Supporters will argue that adopting national standards is good because it brings Massachusetts in-line with other states and it helps us to get federal funding. And, to be fair, we're sure there are probably some parts of the national curriculum that will improve what Massachusetts already teaches to its students.

But overall, adopting national standards is a bad idea. We think there's something decidedly important about Massachusetts choosing what's best for its students, whether or not they do the same thing in Texas or California. Adopting national standards naturally inhibits our ability to make those choices and takes away beneficial parts of our unique curriculum.

Massachusetts has always distinguished itself by taking the lead in public education. We are home to some of the finest and richest educational facilities in the world. Public education is part of our state constitution. We pride ourselves in our teachers, dating back to the work of Horace Mann in the early 1800's. Why, then, are we now choosing to be a follower by ceding our educational authority to national concerns?

And, for that matter, why do we need a Board of Education anymore? With a national curriculum in place, exactly what is it that they are deciding for our students?

True leadership would be for the Board of Education to examine national frameworks and import worthy improvements into our curriculum, while preserving our state autonomy and ignoring whatever we don't like.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Massachusetts needs to come to its census

'Twas the week before Christmas
and at the Statehouse
not a creature was stirring....

Wait a minute, we interrupt this holiday rhyme with news that, indeed, there IS activity at the Statehouse in Boston - right now.

As we speak, Massachusetts lawmakers are anxiously waiting for news whether data from the federal census will result in the Bay State losing one of its ten seats in Congress due to a loss of population.

Say it ain't so.

And, while the census won't change the size of the state Legislature, state lawmakers are starting to wonder how their own districts will be gerrymand... uh, 'redistricted'... after the final numbers are in.

The consequences of redistricting are clear and well-known.

Brace yourself:

Redistricting of the state into nine congressional districts instead of ten would force one or more of the state's incumbent Congressmen to run against each other, unless someone leaves voluntarily.


And, the same is potentially true for some incumbent members of the state House and Senate, depending on how lines are drawn to reflect in-state population trends.


Then, there's this - losing a Congressional seat would mean that Massachusetts would also lose a vote in the Electoral College, a vote that could shift from this 'blue state' to a corresponding 'red state' that gained population recently.

Oh, the humanity...

Sarcasm aside, redistricting is a very serious matter for our state. It has long-term consequences for how every person here is represented in policy decisions, as well as dramatic effects on policy itself.

But the bigger question here is not about representation. It's about the fact that, whether or not Massachusetts clears the benchmark to retain its ten seats in Congress, we still seem to be losing population to other states. That's why there is concern in the first place.

No matter what the census numbers say, Beacon Hill politicians must take this as a clarion call, showing clear need for a new direction in state policy. We desperately need to change the mindset of how Massachusetts opens its doors to businesses and how it treats working families. That's the only way to keep jobs - and the Bay Staters who work at them - here in Massachusetts.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback Quick Hits

Here's just a sampling of the things that are on our mind this morning:

  • NEW SJC CHIEF - Today, Governor Deval Patrick will swear-in Roderick Ireland as this state's first African-American Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. We think it's a milestone worthy of applause, and we wish Chief Justice Ireland well as he assumes his new position. We also wonder who will be Patrick's nominee to fill Ireland's now-vacant Associate Justice slot. (For more, read the Boston Globe / AP story here.)
  • PER DIEMS - Did you see the story in the Boston Herald on Saturday about state legislators raking in per diems? (If not, you can read it here.) We've said it before and we'll say it again: we think the practice of paying per diems to legislators has got to stop, and we hope legislation will be passed this session.
  • LT. GOV. MURRAY - Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray went "On the Record" on WCVB Channel 5 yesterday. He had lots of interesting things to say about his political future and the fiscal climate of the state. Check out the video here to see what he said.

What do you think of all this? We'd love to hear your thoughts. Please post a comment below.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What does an apple go for these days?

We're guessing that you've probably heard the old saying about the student bringing an apple to the teacher in order to curry favor.

What you might not have known is that, these days, state ethics law would require the recipient public school teacher to file a disclosure that they received the apple with their appointing authority.

The state ethics commission has filed regulations that govern how all public employees accept, reject or report their receipt of gifts. The basic rule is that a public employee has to report the receipt of any gift under $50 where there is the perception of a conflict of interest. Receiving a gift over $50 is generally banned.

There is a special carve-out regarding class gifts for public school teachers. Teachers can accept a class gift of up to $150 (or several gifts with that aggregated value), if any such gift is identified only as being from the class, and the identity of givers and amounts given are not identified to the recipient. Parents may also give unlimited gifts to the classroom or the school, through the teacher, in accordance with the rules of the school district.

We're strong supporters of good government, and we think that starts with strong ethics laws. In this case, we can see the need for reporting or prohibitions when it comes to large gifts; in fact, we assume most teachers would feel at least slightly awkward receiving such a gift from a parent. But, doesn't it seem a little extreme to make teachers file paperwork every time they get a small thank-you or holiday present from a student? Don't they already have enough to keep track of? Is it worth it to have teachers report to the authorities every time they receive a scented candle or a refrigerator magnet?

We say, let's give teachers a break. The reporting requirement for trivial gifts to teachers ought to be removed. Let's let teachers focus on grading papers and planning lessons instead of filing ethics disclosures for small holiday gifts from their students.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Two billion reasons to pay attention to Beacon Hill today

You might say that it's not particularly glitzy or glamorous. Some might say it's truly boring. Most people probably don't know it's even happening.

But, the so-called "consensus revenue hearing" at the Statehouse today is probably the most important (public) meeting that Beacon Hill politicians will hold all year long.

State law requires Beacon Hill leaders to meet each year to reach consensus on how much revenue they estimate the state will take in during the next fiscal year. This estimate forms the basis for how much money will be on the table when leaders craft the state budget over the next few months.

Here's the inside track on what's at stake.

By most accounts, the state is looking squarely down the barrel of a $2 billion budget gap going into FY2012. Much of this is due to the fact that state leaders plugged holes in the state budget with more than $1 billion of one-time federal economic stimulus funding in recent years. That money will disappear next year. State leaders have also spent down the state's Rainy Day Fund to the point that Wall Street is starting to wonder if we're spreading ourselves too thin.

The consensus revenue estimate is just that – an "estimate." By it's nature, it's basically a guess as to what revenues will be like in the coming year. And, although it has the appearance of being an objective, almost academic review of state finances coupled with scientific forecasts of revenue, make no mistake about it: the hearing is just as charged with political considerations as any other hearing on Beacon Hill.

So, how will state leaders react today?

One option would be to paint an overly-rosy picture of state finances at the consensus revenue hearing. Projecting higher revenues would create a smaller gap to fill, thereby lessening the need for cuts or tax hikes. The problem with this option is that it only works for a certain amount of time unless higher revenues actually materialize. Budget writers would have just kicked the problem down the road and postponed action on it. But, from a political perspective, this option is attractive because a problem delayed is a problem saved (so to speak).

Another option would be to emphasize the size of the gap as a way to create political support for making budget cuts and/or raising taxes. This is a more responsible option. However, there is a separate trap if revenues are understated because it creates a mid-year budgetary surplus - which is inevitably spent on supplemental items.

The best outcome from today's hearing would be if political leaders leave politics at the door of the hearing room and do their best to give taxpayers their honest and accurate account of the budget crisis looming next year. If there's really a $2 billion budget gap awaiting us, say so. Then, there needs to be a comprehensive review of state spending over the next few months, coupled with a substantive overhaul of the way the state provides essential services. This stem-to-stern review is the only way to make the large-scale cuts that will be needed to fend off a sizeable tax increase next year – a tax increase that no one in this economy would be able to afford.

That's what we think. How about you? What are your thoughts? Please post a comment below.

Monday, December 13, 2010

And the race is off...

The new Congress hasn't even been sworn in yet, and one of our family members (a male Republican) already received a robo-call survey asking about the presidential election last night.

The call led off asking if he would vote for Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour for president if the election were held today, and then asked the same question about President Obama. It also measured support for the tea party, second amendment rights, abortion, same-sex marriage, "Obamacare" and lower taxes.

The call came in on a cell phone, which was a first for us. It was also on a Sunday night, just following a big football game.

We're speculating about who was responsible for the call and what they're getting at. Any thoughts? Do you think the point was the presidential race itself, or rather a way to find out support for some hot-button issues?

Friday, December 10, 2010

If I hear that $!%&^#@ hippopotamus song one more time....

These days, it seems like the only place to go for some optimism and holiday cheer is one of those radio stations that play holiday music 24/7.

But even there, this holiday season, the timeless melodies telling us it's "the most wonderful time of the year" ring hollow because the underlying chorus is anything but joyful.

During a time that is otherwise supposed to provide a break from their daily lives, the headlines are making it virtually impossible for anyone to relax.

Just today, we got news that "Framingham-based TJX Co. says it plans to eliminate 4,400 jobs and shutter it’s A.J. Wright discount stores." ( story). State Street, Raytheon, Genzyme and Biogen all made similar announcements in recent weeks. (Read more.)

These aren't anonymous people. Just log into Facebook and you're likely to find a friend announcing that they've lost their job. One friend recently posted that they were about to head out to the "office holiday / job security party" at his company.

Please pass the egg nog.

During this past election year, politician after politician told Massachusetts voters that creating jobs was their number one concern and priority. So, what are they up to these days? Turns out, not much.

We learned this week that a special commission created in 2008 to create jobs never even met. In fact, when asked by the press about the commission's status earlier this week, Governor Patrick's response was, "The who? The commission that I created?" (Hear his comments at this link.)

But rest assured, just because state officials aren't finding jobs for most Massachusetts residents, they've been having no trouble finding jobs for their cronies in the Probation Department. According to the Report of the Independent Counsel released on November 9, the hiring and promotion process within the Probation Department is so bad that it "represents a pervasive fraud against the Commonwealth." (For the full report, click here.)

It's beginning to look a lot like Massachusetts politicians are too busy stuffing their own stockings to worry about the fact that countless people this year are struggling to fill the empty space beneath the tree in their living room. And, no matter how loud you crank those holiday tunes, that reality isn't going away any time soon.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Eloquence and leadership from power hitters

If you're a sports fan, you know that Adrian Gonzalez is best known for power hitting and Tedy Bruschi is best known for power defense.

Yesterday, both were known for a completely different sort of power - the power of the spoken word. And, we think aspiring leaders should stand up and take notice.

Newly-acquired Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez wowed the Boston news media with his personal reflections about iconic slugger Ted Williams. And, it didn't hurt a bit that one of the first lines out of his mouth as a Red Sox player were the words, "I’m very excited to be in Boston and ready to beat the Yanks." Check out Herald columnist Steve Buckley's description here.

Meanwhile, Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi charmed fans with his eloquent halftime talk of playing for the team during some of its most successful years. Check out the full text of what he said at this link from blogger Mike Reiss.

What's the common thread? Well, both Bruschi and Gonzalez spoke humbly and simply, without prepared remarks. They captured the essence of what matters to people and they spoke about it from the heart. No frills, no exaggeration, just plain talk.

It worked. It got us talking this morning. And, we think it's a style more politicians should adopt if they want to inspire people with the power of their words.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Take the politics out of redistricting

Three cheers to MA Secretary of State Bill Galvin for his proposal to implement an independent commission to help redraw the state's congressional districts.

You can read all about his plan to take politics out of the process here.

There has never been a more important time to do this, since Massachusetts could very well lose a seat in Congress this year. The way the district lines get redrawn will make a huge difference in the way Bay Staters get represented in Washington, D.C., not to mention the influence it will have on the political process for the next decade.

Just take a look at the existing map. Look at the snaking configuration of districts like the 4th District and the 10th District. How can anyone say those districts are compact and cohesive?

The only way to solve the problem is to take political self-interest out of the equation and to let objective consideration prevail. In fact, we think Galvin's proposal is so good, it ought to be extended to cover state legislative districts, too.

Let's be honest. Massachusetts politicians aren't just good at Gerrymandering - they invented the art. It's time to take politicians out of the redistricting process for good.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

"Hiring pickup?" What hiring pickup?

The headline of an AP story that broke on this afternoon caught us off-guard:

"Two-year low for layoffs hints at hiring pickup"

For real? We're not economists, but this just seems a little too good to be true.

Just yesterday, the Globe ran a feature article about how the clock is about to run out on many people's unemployment benefits and about how difficult it is for many of them to find a job.

"The Globe has been writing about Massachusetts residents who have relied on these [unemployment benefit] extensions, and reinterviewing some yesterday underscored how bad the labor market is. Nearly all were still looking for work," said the Globe story.

Also yesterday, State Street announced that it started a round of 400 layoffs here in Massachusetts. And they're just the latest example.

Does this AP headline today somehow suggest that things have changed overnight?

We are wary of economists and government officials who seem so eager to say the economy is on an upswing. It's easy to play fast and loose with economic data, especially unemployment numbers.

Yes, it's indisputably great news if the number of first-time filers for unemployment drops. But it's not necessarily a signal of a turnaround. There's only one number that makes any difference - the unemployment rate, which nationally remains unchanged at over nine percent. Even in the AP story, economists say they don't expect those numbers to improve anytime soon.

"The economy would need to consistently add 200,000 to 300,000 a month to make a noticeable dent in the unemployment rate.... It could take until near the end of this decade to drop the unemployment rate to a more normal 6 percent," says the AP.

Check out the stories yourself. What do you think? Please post us a comment:


BOSTON GLOBE 12/1/2010

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Dude... so, like, what's a high school student to do these days?

One of us is the parent of small children and visited school this morning for a teacher conference. When the two of us got into the office later on, that experience got us talking. In particular, it got us thinking about what it must be like to be in high school these days and to be looking out at the prospects waiting for you after graduation.

What does a guidance counselor tell high school students these days? Well, at least when we were in school, kids graduating from high school had three basic options to choose from:

Behind door number one, you can pursue a higher education, whether it's college or some sort of trade school. There's never been a more expensive time to try to get a college education than now. And with millions of Americans out of work, the prospect of having Mom and Dad pay for school or being able to co-sign loans is increasingly bleak. This makes the promise of a college education more difficult than ever before to access.

That brings us to door number two – going straight into the workforce and getting a job. This is indeed a bleak prospect, with a national unemployment rate of about 9 percent. It's particularly difficult because some older Americans are underemployed as a way to get work after being laid off. As older Americans take these jobs, it's tougher for less experienced workers to obtain entry-level work.

Finally, there is door number three – serving your country by entering the military. This time-honored career is still a viable option for youth graduating from school. But, with America engaged in several ongoing conflicts and with trouble spots spanning the globe, it's a more dangerous option than it has been for years.

So, what's the solution? We don't really have one to offer, that's not the point of this post. It's mostly just an observation that for many high school students today, one of the most important promises of the American Dream (that you will inherit a world that is better off than it was in your parents' generation) is an increasingly-empty promise.

Are you or someone you know a high school student right now, looking at these options? Care to share your story? Any high school guidance counselors? What are you telling your students? Please post a comment below. We'd love to hear from you.