Monday, November 30, 2009

Is Martha Coakley Blue Dogging Massachusetts?

Martha Coakley was supposed to have an enormous advantage in the Democratic primary race to replace Ted Kennedy in the United States Senate.

As the sitting Massachusetts Attorney General, mid-way though her first term, she started as the only candidate with statewide name recognition. As the only woman in a race against 3 men, she was supposed to have the gender advantage. And when the influential political action committee Emily’s List endorsed her, it was thought that she would not want for money to wage her Senate campaign.

All of that has been true, yet in the past couple of weeks the election has been slipping away from Martha Coakley. She got a large number of endorsements from state legislators and labor unions. But the big endorsements that might have made a big difference on primary election day, Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino, eluded her. Now the Boston Globe has endorsed Alan Khazei, one of the other candidates.

There is just something about Martha Coakley that doesn’t sit right with the Massachusetts electorate. But just what is it? We thought we’d dig a little deeper.

Let’s start with Martha Coakley’s position on health care reform. One would expect her to be out there trumpeting health care reform, bragging on the success we’ve had with reform here in Massachusetts, touting our MassHealth program as a model for the country to follow, and asking for the improvements that would make MassHealth a better program. Instead, cautious is the word a lot of commentators use in describing Martha’s position on health care.

Indeed, Martha threw caution to the wind, going out of her way to say that she would vote against the health care reform bill that passed the House of Representatives on a very narrow but historic vote in early November. We won’t get into her technical reasons for that position just yet. Yes, she has her reasons, but we think the real reason is that Martha Coakley is against meaningful health care reform.

There is an uncanny similarity between Martha’s goals on health care reform and the principles of the conservative Blue Dog coalition:

Martha Coakley’s GoalsBlue Bog Principles
expanding coverageimproving access
improving qualityincreasing value
reducing costscontrolling costs

Those are laudable goals, so far as they go, but the one important goal that is missing is universal access to health care coverage for all Americans.

And who are the Blue Dogs? The Blue Dogs are a coalition of conservative Democrats who hold the balance of power in the House of Representatives. In the recent health care vote, 23 Blue Dogs joined with Republicans in the House to vote against health care insurance reform.

In the Senate, Blue Dogs aren’t officially identified as in the House, but it’s not too difficult to figure out who they are:

Mary Landrieu of Louisiana
Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas
Kay Hagan of North Carolina
Kirsten Gillibrand of New York (a declared Blue Dog)
Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (former Republican)
Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (the “Independent Democrat”)
Ben Nelson of Nebraska
Evan Bayh of Indiana
Bob Casey of Pennsylvania
Jim Webb of Virginia

There are 10 names on that list, and if you subtract them from the 60 seat majority Democrats have in the Senate, that would leave the Democrats with just 50 of 100 votes. Now you understand why it has been so hard to get health care reform through the Senate.

With one more vote, Blue Dogs will control the balance of power in the Senate between Democrats and Republicans as they already do in the House. Is that why the Senate is delaying a final vote on health care reform into next year? Yes, I think the Blue Dogs may be stalling until Martha Coakley can be elected their 11th vote.

Is there other evidence to support this view? We started by noticing that 4 Senators on this list are women, and sure enough all 4 were supported by Emily’s List, just like Martha Coakley. So who is Emily and what is she up to?

There is no Emily. Emily’s List is a political action committee operating nationwide. “Emily” stands for “early money is like yeast” (it helps raise the dough). The idea is that by providing lots of money through PAC contributions and encouraging additional direct member donations, Emily’s List will help prochoice Democratic women get elected to offices around the country.

A woman can be conservative and get money from Emily’s List, as long as she says she is prochoice and a Democrat. It’s not clear that the members of Emily’s List around the country know this. They think their money is electing progressive women.

Who is behind Emily’s List? It’s a woman named Ellen Malcolm. Ellen is an heiress, the great-granddaughter of A. Ward Ford, a partner in Bundy Manufacturing Co., which in 1911 merged into the company that would become IBM. So it’s the old story of what if you had $100,000 invested in IBM stock in 1911, what would it be worth today. Ellen got an MBA from George Washington University in Washington, DC after getting her bachelor’s degree in 1969 from the small, all-women Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia - a debutante armed with an MBA.

Come to think of it, Ellen Malcolm is Like Yeast too - I suspect that is what Emily really means.

Ellen Malcolm has been at this since 1985, and has helped a number of women get elected. During the 2008 Presidential Campaign, she and Emily’s List were strong supporters of Hillary Clinton. Ellen created a stir in April 2008 when she suggested that her group might not back some Emily’s Listers, such as Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota and Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri, who supported Barack Obama during the primaries. The threat angered many in progressive Democratic circles.

However, it’s clear that Ellen Malcom isn’t cracking the whip to support health care reform. Three Emily’s Listers were among the 23 Blue Dogs and 16 other Democrats who voted against health care reform in the House.

Indeed, if you visit the Emily’s List website, you’ll find Ellen flogging a Stop Stupak campaign, which has to do with the way the Stupak amendment prohibits public subsidy of abortion in the new health care reform legislation. It’s easy for prochoice women to fall for Stop Stupak, but the problem is that it threatens to hold up health care reform over the single issue of abortion funding. And the mostly Republican supporters of Stupak have no real reason to compromise because they don’t support health care reform. The right response is to fix Stupak before it comes to a vote in the Senate. Unless, of course, you don’t really want health care reform, then Stop Stupak is genius.

And it’s not just health care reform. Martha Coakley was also called out for signing on to a friend-of-court brief in an Alabama death penalty appeal. Martha sided with 18 other attorneys general from more conservative states in the South and Midwest. All but two others states signing allow the death penalty, Massachusetts does not. Her Senate primary opponent Mike Capuano has this to say:

“It would be one thing if she was standing with all the attorneys general in the country or the progressive ones in New England. She’s standing with Alabama, Texas, Georgia … I don’t get it.”

I get it. Martha Coakley is a conservative who supports the death penalty. I support the death penalty too, in cases of Nazi war criminals, mass murderers like Tim McVeigh, and serial killers like Ted Bundy. However, I don’t support the death penalty in cases involving prosecutors like Martha Coakley, but that’s another story. Life in prison without parole works for me too.

So what is Martha Coakley up to when she is not making lots of bread with Ellen Malcolm and volunteering to write briefs supporting Alabama executions? Playing with her two Labradors named Jackson and Beauregard. We can see from Martha’s facebook pictures that these are two beautiful dogs. Until we realized they were named after General Stonewall Jackson and General P. G. T. Beauregard, southern heroes of the Civil War.

In a state famed for its abolitionists and with both the memorial to the all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and the historic African Meeting House just around the corner from her Beacon Hill office, that’s just not right.

It’s not that we don’t get the joke. Martha Coakley is Massachusetts Attorney General, her two dogs are named after generals. Maybe she didn’t want to name them Eisenhower and MacArthur, heroes of World War II, because they were Republican. But what about World War II heroes General George Marshall and General Omar Bradley? They were good Democrats.

Or maybe she could have named them Wesley and Clark, after General Wesley Clark, the hero of Kosovo as Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO from 1997 to 2000 and Democratic Presidential candidate in 2008. Oh wait, General Clark has just endorsed Alan Khazei.

Seven Reasons Martha Coakley Will Never Get Our Vote

We've had several opportunities over the last ten years to not vote for Martha Coakley. Another is coming up in the Democratic primary to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat on Tuesday, December 8. Our reasons:

(1) The Louise Woodward case, in which a young British girl working as an au pair in a suburban Boston home was charged and convicted of second degree murder in the death of an infant, only to have the judge in the case reduce the conviction to manslaughter and sentence her to time served awaiting trial. The prosecution medical expert later recanted the crucial piece of testimony, that the inured happened while the infant was in her care: “The science we have today could, in fact, have exonerated Louise. There is certainly, in retrospect, reasonable doubt." This was the case that brought Martha Coakley to the public eye.

(2) The Fells Acres day care case, which was documented by both the conservative business newspaper The Wall Street Journal and the liberal magazine The Nation to be a grave miscarriage of justice. After lengthy interrogations including use of Sesame Street puppets, pre-schoolers at the family-run day care center were led to describe being raped with knives, sticks, forks, and magic wands; assaulted by a bad clown in a secret or magic room; forced to drink urine; tied naked to a tree; and many other acts. Martha Coakley may not have been involved in the original case, but one commentator has described her as a "very, very good soldier who showed she would do anything to preserve this horrendous assault on justice."

(3) The Father John Geoghan child abuse case, where Martha Coakley was applauded for a successful prosecution in 2002, only for it to come out later that she had plea bargained similar charges against Father Geoghan in 1995, letting him off with probation in a deal that was kept secret from the public.

(4) The Big Dig tunnel collapse, where Martha Coakley pursued criminal charges as leverage to win a large civil settlement against one of the small firms involved, but not against the large firms. I thought that was unethical, and not just on grounds of unequal treatment. Either the defendant is guilty and should not be allowed to buy out of the criminal charges, or the defendant is innocent, and the criminal charges should not be used to extort a higher monetary settlement.

(5) The Henry Louis Gates arrest in Cambridge last July. Harvard University Professor Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct when he lost his cool after police responding to a 911 caller reporting possible burglary in progress instead found him at what turned out to be his house. Martha Coakley was ideally positioned to defuse that situation, as she is the state’s top law enforcement officer and her husband is a former Cambridge deputy police superintendent. She doesn’t appear to have even tried.

(6) The Menino “emailgate” affair earlier this fall where Martha Coakley first announced she was leaving the investigation of deleted emails by a Menino underling to the Secretary of State’s office and later saying she was investigating herself, all handled in a manner suggesting backroom political dealing in the middle of a hotly contested mayoral race. The alleged email offense: the underling was routinely emptying his deleted items folder. Emailgate came to nothing after Menino released a ton of these emails recovered from other computers.

(7) The financial disclosure mistake, where Martha Coakley failed to list $200,000 to $250,000 in assets on her financial disclosure forms for the Senate race. I know that these forms may sometimes require a law degree to fill out correctly, but Martha does have a law degree and other candidates have managed. Once again the smart woman tries to play it too cute on the legalities.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jeff Jacoby Endorses Khazei and Pagliuca

Jeff Jacoby, the conservative columnist for the Boston Globe, has written a new op-ed titled Anybody but Coakley or Capuano.

His thesis is that Martha Coakley and Mike Capuano are career politicians, and Washington has too many of those already, but Alan Khazei and Steve Pagliuca have spent their lives in the real world:

"They know what it means to build something from the ground up, to risk their own assets on a goal they believe in, to bring a dream to reality without being able to pass a law ordering others to do it."

I agree, but worry Pagliuca may have exited the real world 15 or 20 years ago when his net worth crossed the $100,000,000 mark.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and Polling Statistics

We’re looking at the latest Boston Globe poll on the Senate race in Massachusetts and something doesn’t add up.

On the one hand, this poll purports to show that Martha Coakley has a commanding lead, with 43% for Coakley, 22% Capuano, 15% Pagliuca, 6% Khazei, and 13% Don’t Know. On the other hand, the poll states that 75% haven’t made up their minds. That all adds up to way more than 100%. So we took a closer look at the numbers. Once the huge undecided vote is properly factored in, it is clear the race is still wide open:

79%Undecided (plus Don’t Know)
11%Martha Coakley
5%Mike Capuano
4%Steve Pagliuca
1%Alan Khazei

Now, here is where it really doesn’t add up. If you apply the 1% for Khazei to the 450,000 voters that might be expected for the special election primary on December 8, that translates to 4,500 votes. However, Citizens for Alan Khazei has 4,348 friends on Facebook. And over 3,400 citizens have contributed to his campaign. It’s simply not credible that 97% of the people who intend to vote for Alan Khazei have friended him on Facebook and 75% have given him money. This poll must have a huge Khazei undercount.

So what gives? I have two theories. The first is that it is impossible to poll most Khazei supporters. If they are not working at their day jobs, Khazei supporters are out knocking on doors to canvass for votes, or making phone calls, or not answering their phones to avoid calls from the Khazei campaign to go out and canvass or make calls.

The second is that the Khazei campaign may be playing a great game of Build, Hide, and Overwhelm (BHO). This strategy is based on the difference in dynamics between a head-to-head race with two candidates and a multi-candidate race such as we have with four candidates in this race.

In a two-person race, it makes sense to compete head-to-head, competing for strength in every poll up to election day, with a strong dose of negative advertising to undercut your opponent’s support, who will have nowhere else to go but to you.

In a four-person race, any head-to-head competition or negative advertising may drive voters to one of the other candidates. In this type of race, if you are not the frontrunner, it makes sense to hang back and build your strength quietly, hide your strength while the other candidates battle it out, and then bring out your strength in an overwhelming final push.

Mike Capuano may be playing BHO too. He got his current job as 8th District Congressman by winning a 10-person Democratic primary in September 1998. His strategy was to let his opponents battle it out until the final week or two of the election, then he came on strong with a series of TV ads positioning himself as a man of accomplishment in his years as Mayor of Somerville. He may be playing to let Martha Coakley and Steve Pagliuca slug it out with their TV advertising buys, then come on strong at the end. It worked for him in 1998, but so far Coakley and Pagliuca are not slugging.

All of this raises the question, just how many votes will be needed to win this Senate primary? In a two-way race, a candidate needs 51% to win. But in a three-way race a candidate can win with 40% and in a four-way race with around 33%. Theoretically a candidate in a four-way race needs just 25.1% to win, but that assumes the other three candidates are tied at 24.9% (unlikely).

How does that translate into votes? The primary winner will need to get 150,000 to 300,000 votes on December 8. Shannon O’Brien won a four-way primary for Governor in 2002 with 33% and 243,039 votes. John Kerry won a four-way primary for U.S. Senator with 41% and 322,000 votes in 1984. However, those were regular election primaries held in September with candidates running for a number of offices. This is a special election primary for a single office to be held in December where turnout could be as low as 450,000. That means 150,000 votes could win this Senate primary.

None of the candidates are there yet. Based on the Boston Globe poll, I count just less than 50,000 solid votes for the putative frontrunner Martha Coakley, well short of what is needed to win. But the real frontrunner is Undecided, and how the undecided voters of Massachusetts make up their minds in the next 2 weeks will determine this Senate primary election.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Alex Beam Goes Negative on Senate Race

Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam is bored by all the positive TV ads the Democratic contenders in the Senate primary are airing. He has written his own negative ad zingers to spice it up:

Martha Coakley: "She won't vote for a health care bill she doesn't like."

Mike Capuano: "Massachusetts doesn't need two waffle puppies in the Senate."

Steve Pagliuca: "He gave money to George Bush. He gave money to Mitt Romney. Steve Pagliuca -- Which side is he on?"

Alan Khazei: "Not Hazy, Daisy, Lazy, or Jaz-Z -- he's Crazy!"

I'll take crazy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The New Monday at Toad

Toad in Porter Square Cambridge has a new Monday residency, Jen Kearney & the Lost Onion.

We caught the first set at 10pm. Jen plays keyboards and sings, while the drums, guitars, and trumpet blow out the windows. We would say something about finding the lost onion amid the layered sound but we would not know what we were talking about.

We will be back.

The Blue Dog Balance of Power

The conservative Blue Dog Coalition is ostensibly part of the Democratic Party but could be regarded as a third legislative party that holds a crucial balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives.

By Party, here is the breakdown in the House:


But a number of Democrats identify as members of the Blue Dog Coalition, which has its won leaders and whip. The Blue Dogs can perhaps best be thought of as a third party that is currently aligned with other Democrats on many issues but which can and often does align with Republicans on others.

When split into three parties, the Democrats do not have an outright majority of 218 in the House:

Regular Democrats206
Blue Dog Coalition52

Moreover, there are a number of Democrats who are not officially members of the Blue Dog Coalition but tend to vote with them. So the exact balance of power is difficult to peg.

The coalition with the Democratic Party is an uneasy one. Iowa Blue Dog Leonard Boswell faced having his rural congressional district carved and divided during redistricting after the 2000 census. He responded by moving to Des Moines and won in that district. Then he was primaried in 2008, being forced to run against a more liberal Democrat, Ed Fallon. But he beat Ed 61% to 39% in the primary and fought off Republican Kim Schmett in the general 57% to 42%.

The Blue Dogs even have a muse, cajun artist George Rodrigue. His Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over (2008) can be found at this link.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

House Health Care Vote

Health care insurance reform passed the House on Saturday night 220 to 215, with members voting mostly on party lines, Democrats for and Republicans against. However, 39 Democrats joined the Republicans in voting No:

Bobby Bright
Age 57
Blue dog coalition member
Alabama 2nd

Parker Griffith
Age 67
Blue dog coalition member
Alabama 5th

Artur Davis
Age 42
Alabama 7th

Mike Ross
Age 48
Blue dog coalition member
Arkansas 4th

Betsy Markey
Age 53
Emily's List member
Colorado 4th

Allen Boyd
Age 64
Blue dog coalition member
Florida 2nd

Suzanne Kosmas
Age 65
Emily's List member
Florida 24th

Jim Marshall
Age 61
Blue dog coalition member
Georgia 8th

John Barrow
Age 54
Blue dog coalition member
Georgia 12th

Walt Minnick
Age 67
Blue dog coalition member
Idaho 1st

Ben Chandler
Age 50
Blue dog coalition member
Kentucky 6th

Charlie Melancon
Age 62
Blue dog coalition leadership team
Louisiana 3rd

Frank Kratovil
Age 41
Blue dog coalition member
Maryland 1st

Collin Peterson
Age 65
Blue dog coalition member
Minnesota 7th

Travis Childers
Age 51
Blue dog coalition member
Mississippi 1st

Gene Taylor
Age 56
Blue dog coalition member
Mississippi 4th

Ike Skelton
Age 67
Missouri 4th

John Adler
Age 50
New Jersey 3rd

Harry Teague
Age 60
New Mexico 2nd

Mike McMahon
Age 52
New York 13th

Scott Murphy
Age 39
New York 20th

Eric Massa
Age 50
New York 29th

Mike McIntyre
Age 53
Blue dog coalition member
North Carolina 7th

Larry Kissell
Age 58
North Carolina 8th

Heath Shuler
Age 37
Blue dog coalition leadership team
North Carolina 11th

Dennis Kucinich
Age 63
Ohio 10th

John Boccieri
Age 40
Ohio 16th

Dan Boren
Age 36
Blue dog coalition member
Oklahoma 2nd

Jason Altmire
Age 41
Blue dog coalition member
Pennsylvania 4th

Tim Holden
Age 52
Blue dog coalition member
Pennsylvania 7th

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
Age 38
Emily's List member
Blue dog coalition leadership team
South Dakota

Lincoln Davis
Age 66
Blue dog coalition member
Tennessee 4th

Bart Gordon
Age 60
Blue dog coalition member
Tennessee 6th

John Tanner
Age 65
Blue dog coalition member
Tennessee 8th

Chet Edwards
Age 57
Texas 17th

Jim Matheson
Age 49
Blue dog coalition member
Utah 2nd

Glenn Nye
Age 35
Blue dog coalition member
Virginia 2nd

Rick Boucher
Age 63
Virginia 9th

Brian Baird
Age 53
Washington 3rd

Note that 23 of the 39 Democrats who voted No are members of the conservative blue dog coalition, including 3 of 4 coalition leaders. Another 29 members of the blue dog coalition voted Yes. And all 3 women Democrats who voted No are on Emily's List (including one blue dog).

1 Republican voted Yes on the Democratic reform plan :

Joseph Cao
Age 42
Louisiana 2nd
Cao was born in Vietnam and is the first Vietnamese-American to serve in Congress.

1 Republican voted No on both the Democratic reform plan and the Republican substitute plan:

Tim Johnson
Age 63
Illinois 15th
Johnson is a West Point dropout.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Store That Isn't There

We have been somewhat perplexed watching what has been going on at the old Crate and Barrel location on Brattle Street.

For a while it looked like a new store was opening, with colorful displays of housewares you could see through the big windows. And then came the signs saying that you can't come in.

As near as we can figure, the iconic firm Design Research (D/R) had a store at this location in the 1970s, before making way for the more commercial Crate and Barrel.

Now with Crate and Barrel gone, they have reclaimed the space temporarily as a window showroom. You can walk by and look but you can't go in except by special invitation. We suspect this will continue until a paying tenant is found.

Could unmanned stores that never open except for private parties be the next big trend in retail? Having no sales clerks would definitely cut down on costs, but wouldn't sales suffer too?

But instead of a sign of the future, this may just be an ode to the past. We don't remember Design Research on Brattle street, but judging the baby boomer crowd at a recent reception there, older Cambridge residents do.

All the pretty textiles are also a reminder that New England used to be a textile center, back in the not-so-distant days when Berkshire Hathaway made fine men's shirts.

There is a Kennedy Connection here. The photograph of Jacqueline Kennedy on the December 1960 cover of Sports Illustrated shows her wearing a dress purchased at D/R.

You can still shop the Marimekko product line at 350 Huron Avenue in Cambridge. Customers are admitted Monday through Saturday 10am to 6pm (Thursdays until 7pm).

Note: click pictures for full resolution.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Lyle Lovett at the Orpheum Theatre

Just when you think Texas is all about pickup trucks and high school football under the Friday Night Lights, Lyle Lovett rolls into town with his two tour buses holding his large band, his small band, and four male backup gospel singers.

Going into the Orpheum, you walk down a narraw alley past the parked tour buses. At the appointed time, Lyle just followed the audience in, emerging into the orchestra seating through the audience entrance. The show got started around 7:45 pm and carried on for two and a half hours through 10:15 pm. Lyle and his bands cover every manner of music and play the audience too.

A little blurry? I guess you had to be there. It was great!

Goodbye Brother Blue

Brother Blue, the legendary storyteller of Harvard Square, has passed away.

You would often see Brother Blue walking through Harvard Square in his trademark blue garb with his wife Ruth. In recent years he did more audiencing than performing, but that was appreciated too.

The official biography is that Hugh Morgan Hill was born in Cleveland, Ohio, served in the army in both Europe and Asia during World War II, and was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant. Then he then earned his bachelor's degree in social relations from Harvard University, a master's of fine arts in playwrighting from Yale School of Drama, and a doctorate in storytelling from Union Graduate School.

The unofficial biography is that Brother Blue never held a "standard job" and made his living telling stories. He was an unofficial professor at Harvard University and its oldest unofficial undergraduate too.

He passed away this Tuesday at age 88 after a short illness. While the illness has not been publicly identified, I'm guessing it was what I am now calling the Blue Flu. Wife Ruth reports that just before he died, he told her a love story.