PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, JULY 30, 2013) — You may have missed it, though it was hard to miss. Check out these words from Pope Francis, from an impromptu press conference as he was flying home from his visit to Rio de Janeiro:

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis told journalists, as he flew from Rio de Janeiro to Rome. “The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem…They’re our brothers.”

The Pope’s words were warmly received by gay activists in Italy and abroad. “From now on, when I hear a bishop or a priest say something against me, I’m going to say, ‘Who are you to judge?’” says Franco Grillini, president of Gaynet Italia, the association of gay journalists in Italy. (quoted in Time online).

These remarkable words, and the Pope’s statement that he does not judge gay priests, exemplify the dramatic shift not so much in Catholic doctrine — Francis has kept that intact — but in how he communicates the Church’s position on various issues. Since his election, Francis has steered the Church away from the dense, self-righteous, self-referential, and pompous expressions that have been typical of the pre-Francis Vatican. The new Pope wants to de-fossilize a Vatican bureaucracy that in its petrified distillations of a simple message have turned so many people away from the faith.

This can clearly be seen in the way the Pope has moved the Church away from its fixation on sexual morality (e.g., gay rights, procreative choice) and into reason, common sense, and humility when discussing these matters.  Homosexuality and abortion driven by the extreme right wing became practically the sole issues of the public face of “political Catholicism.” This was a great misrepresentation of a faith much more diverse and rich.

As Pope Francis has demonstrated with his recent trip to Rio, the authentic political stance of Catholicism lies with its identification of the downtrodden and the underdogs. Unlike his two previous predecessors ( dating back to the late 1970s), Pope Francis has no problem with the social radicalism of Liberation Theology, though we doubt he would ever use that term.

Another example: In May, Francis made headlines by saying that there’s no reason why atheists can’t make it to heaven. He communicated this in direct words, not using volumes of tortured parsings to murk it up. Here is a section from Catholic Online:

Francis delivered his message by sharing a story of a Catholic who asked a priest if atheists were saved by Christ. 

“They complain,” Francis said, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” He explained that Jesus corrected them, “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” 

The disciples, Pope Francis explained, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong… Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation.”

“Even them, everyone, we all have the duty to do good, Pope Francis said on Vatican Radio. 

“Just do good” was his challenge, “and we’ll find a meeting point.” 

Francis explained himself, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart, do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” 

After John Paul II‘s doctrinaire, right-wing presentation of Catholic dogma and following the dense, pedantic style of Benedict XVI, Francis comes as a fulfillment of Pope John XXIII‘s desire to throw open the windows of the Church to let the mold and mildew out and fresh air and sunshine inside. It’s more than symbolic that Francis broke with calloused Church tradition when he declared John XXIII a saint, waiving the subjective requirement of two attributed and accepted miracles.

If this guy keeps it up, you never know: We might actually be proud again to be a Catholic.



Our fearless lawmakers on Beacon Hill have decided that the Berkshires are not contributing enough in taxes to keep the gold dome of the statehouse in Boston polished to sufficient luster, and they have done something about it. Who says these politicians are good-for-nothing bums who don’t take action?

The state legislature approved an order that the state Department of Transportation shall, get this, “devise and implement a fair and reasonable fee structure” on the current stretch of “free” Turnpike tolls — from exit one to exit six in Chicopee. At least Gov. Deval Patrick tried to prevent this further example of highway robbery, but the House (125-33) and Senate (35-5) over-rode Patrick’s veto.

When the state planned and built the Mass. Turnpike (opened in 1958), the funding provision called for making the entire stretch, “from Stockbridge to Boston,” free of tolls, beginning in the Orwellian year of 1984, when the bonds would be paid off. As we all know, 1984 came and went, and the tolls remained in place for the residents of Taxachusetts. The bastards proved they were lying to us.

Twelve years later, Republican Gov. Bill Weld, said enough! The folks living in Western Mass., living between exits 1 and 6 need a break. Weld lifted tolls for that stretch. Every since, the Democrat-dominated legislature has been looking to reinstate the exit one-six tolls.

“We’re hopeful that [the new tolls] are going to be added. We don’t know 100 percent for sure, but we’ve proposed it as part of our budget going forward, it’s been discussed with the state Legislature, and we’re confident we’ll be able to reinstate the tolls 1-6, which were taken out a number of years ago,” MassDOT Chief Financial Officer Dana Levenson told WBUR radio, recently. “That will add approximately $10.5 million to the tolls collected throughout the system.”

What he means: “That will take approximately $10.5 million out of the pockets of Pike users from Western Mass.”

Our local reps — Cariddi, Farley-Bouvier, Mark, and Pignatelli — couldn’t possibly support this. Right? They live here. They represent the people most affected by this crass money grab by the politicians. They could not go along with this pocket picking — not in a million years. Right? Right?

State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, a Democrat from Lenox, thinks the reinstatement of tolls is a great idea.

“I support it. I’ve been advocating this for several years now. In a state that needs revenue, and a transportation system that definitely needs revenue, 1 through 6 is a loss leader,” Pignatelli told WBUR news. “I think that it’s foolish not to try to catch some revenues.”

But Smitty, what about the promise that the Turnpike would become a toll-free road once the bonds were paid off?

“When the Turnpike was built, one of the selling points to the taxpayers of Massachusetts was when the bonds are paid off, it will become a free way,” Pignatelli said. “But you know what, there’s a cost to maintenance.” In other words, “We lied to You The People to sell it, then we broke our word. No big deal.” As for Smitty’s claim about maintenance, that why we have the gasoline taxes. It was supposed to pay for maintenance and then some.

In the 1980s, after the initial bonds were paid off, the state went out and took our more bonds, “creating an environment where the bonds could never be paid off.” That quote is from a website you must check out: There, we learn that only half the United States, 26, have toll roads.

LegiScan, an online service that provides roll call on votes in the Statehouse, had no roll-call record information available on H-3415. The Senate version is S-1770. What are the odds, ladies and gentlemen, that anyone from the Cariddi-TFB-Mark Gang of Three voted against the reinstatement of tolls? How about Sen. Ben Downing?

Finally, may we present the real reason why these stinkin’ politicians will not eliminate the tolls? Here it is: Tolls create a lot of patronage jobs for politicians to hand out as favors (to secure votes). This is Massachusetts, remember. The Little Guy hasn’t a chance.
“Take your delight in momentariness, / Walk between dark and dark — a shining space / With the grave’s narrowness, though not its peace.”Robert Graves, “Sick Love,” final stanza. (1931)


  1. C.J.
    July 30, 2013 at 4:37 am #

    Wonder if Mr. Pignatelli, TFB, et al, researched the impact of toll increases on all Bay State consumers ? Have they ever seen a transportation carrier rate matrix ? Most carriers and brokers use a state to state cpm rate foremat and have an increased rate level to areas of high toll costs or a toll surcharge provision in their rules. Inbound MA rates are among the highest in the nation as it is a consumption state without an outbound balance of mfg. goods. Increased tolls anywhere in the state, especially affecting inbound products from the Western gateway are going to drive rates up and the costs will eventually be passed on by retailers and suppliers.

    • danvalenti
      July 30, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

      I can guarantee they did not do this level of due-diligence.

  2. Bull Durham
    July 30, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    It’s always easy for lawmakers to vote for higher tolls and higher gas taxes, because they don’t have to pay for them out of pocket. We pay that for them through the reimbursement they receive from we the taxpayers for that long commute to and from Boston and their other ‘expenses.’ I don’t know about you, but in the dreaded private sector, my employer doesn’t pay for me to drive to and from work, and doesn’t fill my car with gas every week. I have to pay for those out of what’s called a salary.

    Shame on our local lawmakers for siding with the leadership and abandoning the people who elected them.

    As for ‘maintenance’ costs, are we supposed to actually buy the notion that when the Turnpike was built that no one at the state level ever thought it would need regular maintenance after the bonds were paid off? What nonsense. This is just another money grab.

    By the way, the famous excise tax was also supposed to disappear at one point, and never did, and that’s pretty much a double tax on your motor vehicle. First you pay a full 6.25% sales tax when you buy it, and then you pay a ‘property’ tax on it every year thereafter, as if it’s your house. I’m waiting for one our genius lawmakers to come up with a plan to tax us every time we use a toaster at home, too.

    • danvalenti
      July 30, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

      I’m afraid your idea at the end will give the “geniuses” an idea for a new tax! Toast Tax. Brilliant!

  3. Blinded Justice
    July 30, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    Think Smitty, or the other twits from Bacon Hill pay ANY tolls?

  4. Toland
    July 30, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    I am outraged, how much I can’t even express, that our local reps would go along with this shakedown especially Smitty, who has forgotten his roots. Shame. When he first started out he was one of “us.” Now he’s one of them. He sold us out. That’s what it feels like, a Tony Soprano-type shakedown. Thanks Planet for brging this up and out.

    • danvalenti
      July 30, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

      “Shakedown. Good word for it, TOLAND.

  5. Still wondering
    July 30, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    They all kiss up to the power structure in order to get committee assignments and quasi-leadership positions. These mean a much bigger paycheck. Simple really…

    • danvalenti
      July 30, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

      It’s amazing how many people see through the bull, but apathy perpetuates and worsens the nonsense. The LAST thing they would ever want is for citizens to channel their upset into political activism.

  6. The Kraken
    July 30, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    ” In a state that needs revenue, and a transportation system that definitely needs revenue…”
    Bullshit. Neither needs revenue, they just want it to make gov’t larger. I am neither Democrat or Republican (I despise both parties – they both turned this country into the mess we are in), but we have way too many liberal Dems in our state gov’t.

    • danvalenti
      July 30, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

      Well said. Both parties are out only for themselves and the special interests. This state makes it worse via left-of-left Dem hegemony.

  7. tito
    July 30, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    ,,,,,,,maybe our voting privilege should be taken away from us, that way we’ll stop voting for these clowns,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  8. Jonathan Melle
    July 30, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

    Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, Republican, is a trust fund baby who was given $80 million from his wealthy family that dates back to the Mayflower. When Weld was Governor, the “Big Dig” doubled in cost from around $5 billion for nearly $11 billion. Weld’s successor, the late Argeo Paul Cellucci, falsely promised that the “Big DIg” was on time and on budget. Two years later, the “Big Dig” had a $2 billion cost overrun. So much for Weld and Cellucci defending taxpayers!