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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Professor" Mitt Romney

Oh we got trouble, right here in Mason City, that "historic" location where another traveling salesman tried to fleece the good folks of Iowa. And Mitt Romney's equation of fantasy with history accurately sums up this year's GOP presidential field.

Our Man Myth was in the Iowa river town, enthralled by a stop at Music Man Square, described by the Globe as "a faux 1912 streetscape inspired by the musical, with gaslights and a candy shop." He jumped upon a metal chair (he must have RomneyCare) and declared:
“What a thrill this is, at this historic spot today,’’ he gushed. “I feel like breaking into ‘Seventy-six Trombones.’ ’’
Only in today's GOP does Mason City, Iowa join Concord, NH as an historic site.

But Romney may have inadvertently stumbled on a scenario that mimics his own story of a salesman who will say and do anything to close a deal. Let's recall the plot of the Music Man, shall we:
Set in July 1912, a traveling salesman, "Professor" Harold Hill arrives in River City, Iowa, intrigued by the challenge of swindling the famously stubborn natives of Iowa. Masquerading as a traveling band instructor, Professor Hill plans to con the citizens of River City into paying him to create a boys' marching band, including instruments, uniforms, and music instruction. Once he has collected the money and the instruments and uniforms have arrived, he will hop the next train out of town leaving them without their money or a band.
Scary, ain't it?

Of course Hill ultimately failed because of Marian the Librarian, a scenario less likely to happen in modern-day Iowa which has undoubtedly closed a number of libraries because of struggling local budgets. And closed or cutback libraries lead to less access to history books, which leads to the equation of fiction to history. And that leads voters to make electoral choices based on personality and not policy.

Oh yes, we got trouble.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Tell me what democracy looks like

Religious fundamentalists are fond of looking for signs foretelling the end of days. Is Rick Santorum surging in Iowa one of them?

Santorum, the two-term incumbent who polled just 41 percent in losing to moderate Democrat Bob Casey Jr. in the 2006 Pennsylvania Senate election, is now being seen as the last, best hope of fundamentalist Christians looking to derail Mitt (25 percent) Romney in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses.

Santorum is jockeying with Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul for the dead end vote among the 150,000 or so registered Republicans who will schlep out Tuesday night to cast non-binding votes on who they would like to see named GOP convention delegates later this year.

Nevertheless, the eyes of the media will be focused on this New Year's tourism exercise, ignoring the context of the caucuses and results that have included George H.W. Bush in 1980, Bob Dole in 1988 and Mike Huckabee four years ago.

For the cynics who questioned the efficacy of the Occupy movement: this is what democracy looks like?

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

This just in...

We learned something new from Scott Brown today: he likes his hot chocolate with whipped cream.

The state's junior senator emerged from his cocoon long enough to sip hot cocoa with the Globe and Herald at a Southie diner, lament the media softballs thrown at Elizabeth Warren and complain about the terrible treatment he receives from the media he dodges at every turn.

Brown, who at last count held a 5-1 advantage in campaign funds (not counting the freebie ads he receives from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS) told the Globe's Frank Phillips he was the underdog in the race even though, as Phillips noted, "[Brown] has been drawing on a national fund-raising base that has given him one of the largest campaign accounts among US senators."

In an interview with the Herald's Hilary Chabot, Brown must have mistaken his drink topping for the campaign to date, declaring that the questions aimed at Warren are "... all fluff. It’s all fluff."

Maybe he missed the time the almost-as-absent Warren was hurled hard questions like when did the Red Sox win the World Series.

Brown did take a semi-stand on tax reform, one that GOP demi-god Grover Norquist admits won't keep him up at night: he's willing to consider dropping his allegiance to Norquist's pledge if Congress "can show that it will manage taxpayers’ hard-earned money responsibly."

Scotto also upped the ante on the class war theme, declaring people that the Herald would consider payroll patriots or overtime gougers would be harmed by Democratic efforts to levy a small surtax on those making more than $1,000,000 annually.
“Remember those are the policemen and teachers and nurses who are working overtime to pay the bills and have the mortgages and the two cars and two tuitions, in Massachusetts especially...’’
Now it's undoubtedly back into the cocoon for Brown, who continues to avoid public forums where voters can ask him the tough questions he apparently thinks he gets from the media everyday.

You know, the ones answered in writing by his designated spokespeople.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rolling snake eyes

Casino gambling proponents seemed to have forgotten one of the key features of locating "destination" resorts: the ability to divide and antagonize the destination.

It's instructive how divided and angry the Town of Foxboro already is before the first blueprint is even laid out -- let along the first scoop of dirt turned. The community can't even agree on whether it is appropriate the listen to Robert Kraft and Steve Wynn before sending them straight out of town.

Not that the unhappiness failed to register on the Casino Cousins, who have bankrolled their own PR operation, labeled Jobs for Foxboro -- to compete against the spontaneous grassroots opposition that sprang up after Kraft and Wynn unveiled their idea of a "bucolic" destination resort where the gambling is hidden behind dancing waters and erupting volcanoes.

It's only going to get uglier from here.

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Hold the trail mix

Gosh, I hope those urban pioneers can handle a Whole Foods without a fresh trail mix bar.

The folks at Whole Foods, Wegmans and Walmart are offering their stories of hardship and accommodation as they try to cram big boxes into spaces that cannot accommodate 138,000 square feet and cafes seating 300 people.

But at least Whole Foods and Walmart seem to have come closer to the mark of "urban" by offering outposts in Jamaica Plain and Somerville. Wegmans seems to believe Chestnut Hill -- with an average household income of $109,043, and a Bloomingdale's across the street -- is a daunting new urban environment.

Has anyone introduced these urban pioneers to Roxbury and Dorchester, where Stop & Shop seems to have a monopoly?

This isn't an effort to reopen the JP Whole Foods imbroglio. Nor is it a swipe at Walmart's big box mentality. But let's not equate the inability to serve 300 patrons "chef-driven meals" or forcing people to forgo picking the own trail mix as somehow making accommodations to the needs of city dwellers.

Opening an affordable supermarket in Dudley Station would be more along the lines most people are thinking. But as Wegmans' media relations director told the Globe, in an obviously different context:

"We haven't quite figured that out yet."

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A very Pogo Christmas

The MBTA should not reprimand a dispatcher for running Deck the Halls lyrics on a message board. But they may want to do some education on the proper lyrics.

The earnest dispatcher may have been too young to appreciate the proper lyrics that should accompany that tune at Park Street Under:
Deck us all with Boston Charlie, Walla Walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!

Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo.
Then again, the powers-that-be at the T may not want Nora, or anyone else, freezin' on the trolley.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Inmates run the asylum

The kamikaze wing of the Republican Party may not be ready to accept defeat, even after humiliating Speaker John Boehner. And that raises questions about whether our gridlocked government is capable of accomplishing anything in 2012.

Boehner's glum concession to putting a two-month payroll tax and unemployment benefit extension on the House floor was a huge blow to what was left of his credibility as leader. Let's review:
  • Boehner asks Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to negotiate a temporary extension with Majority Leader Harry Reid that cut put the issue on hold for two months. The Senate approves the compromise 89-10;
  • The Tea Party Caucus forces Boehner to walk back the agreement, setting off a week of political chaos in a Washington where senators had already spread to the four winds;
  • Boehner is forced to change direction again -- by fellow Republicans like McConnell -- and put the measure before the full House today.
Still required is unanimous consent to end his nightmare -- and as of this writing Boehner is not sure he has that.

Much has been made of Barack Obama's leadership, or lack thereof. But what has finally become crystal clear is that it is Boehner who has failed to exercise leadership, allowing party politics to trump the national interest. That leaves Obama alone as the only adult in the room looking out for the greater good.

Yeah, it's tough to compromise when only one side is willing, but someone has to make the hard choices. And we are far better off than we were when Republicans and their Wall Street puppet masters drove the economy over a cliff.

There's still a long way to go until November and predictions are foolish, if not downright dangerous. But it is clear the Tea Party has offered their opposition a treasure trove for political commercials by opposing a tax cut and jobless benefit extension aimed at the people hurting the most from the Bush Recession.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Naughty cuss returns

Old talk show hosts don't die or fade away. They become state political party officials.

Yes, Peter Blute, a one-time congressman whose career as Massport director was shipwrecked after an encounter with his own Ginger aboard the Nauticus following a Boston Harbor booze cruise, is back as No. 2 in the state Republican Party.

What, Greg Hyatt or Royall Switzler wasn't available? I guess Republicans do believe in selective unemployment benefits.

It's been more than a dozen years since Blute took his own infamous three-hour tour of Boston Harbor, shattering his political career and launching his radio gigs. By all accounts he was a hard-working type, but his rebirth this holiday season points up the lack of depth up on the GOP bench.

Blute is doing a volunteer gig as a booster for Scott Brown in what is expected to be a hard-fought battle with Elizabeth Warren. And he is certainly earnest about the task ahead.
“I am a committed Republican and want to see Republicans succeed - including Scott Brown.’’
Never mind that "committed" may be the wrong term to use in discussing a party that favors tax cuts for the rich but blocks them for working people. And a question for new GOP boss Robert Maginn: do you really want someone Howie loves to poke jokes at? Oh I forgot, he's a Republican. He's off-limits.

So in that spirit, and the spirit of season, let me thank the state GOP for a gift that keeps on giving.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The unseen hand

Flinty New Englanders, we are told, like to berate the federal government for too much spending intruding on their lives -- even when that government is shoveling money in their direction.

The Globe's Sarah Schweitzer shines a spotlight on that contradiction today in a story where we learn that even town mothers and fathers of Ashland, New Hampshire, have no idea of how federal tax dollars fill local coffers.

The tiny town of 2,076 receives approximately $11.7 million in federal dollars -- for Medicare, Social Security, education, home heating assistance and food assistance under the WIC program. The Globe breaks that down 0.51 percent of the $2.3 billion the state receives from Washington, even though it comprises only 0.16 percent of the state's population.
“I am just shocked,’’ said Jeanette Stewart, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, when told of the federal figures. “I didn’t figure the federal government was paying that much for all those programs for Ashland. That’s a lot of money.’’
Indeed it is, particularly in a state that doesn't like to tax its own, preferring sin taxes on cigarettes and alcohol -- gladly paid by border state residents -- and sky-high property taxes to assessing a fair share.

And it's also significant in a state that likes to claim it is a proper first test for presidential candidates, despite its small size and non-diverse population, one that believes in so-called conservative values and independence.

In one sense, New Hampshire is a microcosm for the harmful state of politics today, where candidates blithely throw around lies and distortions and fail to level with us about who caused our problems and how we all need to share in the solutions.

If New Hampshire takes its responsibility as a bellwether as seriously as it claims, that would require a vote for "None of the Above" on Jan. 10.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Brownie points

Memo to House Republicans: When you lose Scott Brown, you've lost the war.

Sen. Brown (R-Triangulating for Reelection) has blasted as "irresponsible and wrong" the latest move by House Republicans to declare war on the middle class by torpedoing a vote on a payroll tax cut that would largely bypass their rich clients.
“I appreciate their effort to extend these measures for a full year, but a two-month extension is a good deal when it means we avoid jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of American families,” Brown said.
As some wags have noted, it's amazing what having Elizabeth Warren breathing down your neck will do for latent Tea Party sympathies.

The Self-Righteous Right is insisting the Senate, which did the nation a favor by leaving Washington for the holidays, come back to re-negotiate a compromise between Democrats and Republicans reached at the behest of their figurehead leader, John Boehner.

Boehner, who lost control of his own caucus months ago, appears ready to bend to their whims and force yet another political showdown that holds millions of hard-working Americans hostage with the threat of a $1,000 pay cut as the holiday shopping bills start to roll in.

And speaking of leadership -- where are the GOP's presidential candidates, those exemplars of looking out for the little guy and gal?

The saddest thing about these theatrics is the desire by the GOP to place partisan gain ahead of the best interests of all Americans.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Moonbat alert

Just when it appeared the Republicans had cornered the market on primary wackiness, the loony left awakened. Or has it?

Imagine my surprise to come home to a robocall from an outfit called Run Hillary 2012, urging our Secretary of State to cast her hat into the 2012 race. The text, transcribed by Politico so I don't have to, declares:
America would be better off today if Hillary Clinton was our president. The Wall Street robber barons would be jailed, young people could afford college and find jobs and six million homeowners wouldn't face foreclosure. We need to change our course. Please sign our petition to draft Hillary Clinton for president.
No word who they are or where the came from other than a declaration it is a "project of the 99 percent."

Shades of Nixon dirty tricksters?

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Early Christmas present

Are House Republicans really going to croak a middle class tax cut the week before Christmas?

There certainly is truth to Speaker John Boehner's assertion that the two-month extension of payroll taxes is "kicking the can down the road." That has been the GOP strategy since Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the GOP's No. 1 is making sure Barack Obama is a one-term president.

But to allow taxes to go up on New Year's Day for the millions of Americans who do not benefit from the GOP's largess to the rich?

Somewhere in Chicago, David Axelrod is grinning brightly, like a Hanukkah menorah on the eighth day.

The decision by Boehner to cave to his unruly mob of a caucus and allow them to reject a short-term bipartisan solution, will be electoral disaster for his party, which is why I suspect rogue Tea Party Caucus members may yet be using their nice congressional health insurance to pay for straightening out their twisted arms.

And Boehner will need to see his doc about the knife twisted into him by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“When we met last week, Speaker Boehner requested that Senator McConnell and I work out a compromise. Neither side got everything they wanted, but we forged a middle ground that passed the Senate by an overwhelming bipartisan majority.”
But faced with a mob rule mentality, it appears even McConnell is caving.
“The House and the president both want a full-year extension,” Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, said in an e-mail to reporters. “The best way to resolve the difference between the two-month extension and the full-year bill, and provide certainty for job creators, employees and the long-term unemployed, is through regular order, as the speaker suggested.”
Boy does the GOP have egg nog on its face now.

Is it possible for congressional approval to shrink any lower? How do you think a Christmas Eve tax hike for working people will play?

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Season's bleatings

I bet people on the receiving end of cuts as a result of the dip in the Massachusetts income tax rate won't be snarking about its size.

Yes, the Applebee's tax cut, as the Globe sniffed, is microscopic -- 0.5 percent. Yes, it is a long delayed delivery on a vote to roll the income tax rate back to 5 percent. And oh yeah, since Massachusetts has a flat tax, the 1 percent will benefit more than the 99 percent. The Department of Revenue estimates:
... an average family of four people that owns a home and makes a combined $100,000 would see a reduction of $39 a year. A single parent with two children living in a rented home would get about $9 in relief.
The tax cut will take $114 million out of state coffers, also chump change in a $30.6 billion budget. But the expected growth in the coming fiscal year is probably not enough to keep up demand for services required as a result of the Great Recession.
“We are concerned that this move could end up hurting the 1 in 10 individuals who receive vital human services from our state,’’ Michael Weekes, president and chief executive officer of the Providers’ Council, said in a statement. “But we must not mislead taxpayers that we have more than enough revenue in a sector where nearly 60 percent of organizations have had cumulative deficits on their state activities since 1993.’’
So to sum up: better for the 1 percent than the 99 percent. Likely to mean cuts in social services. Citizens for Limited Taxation director Barbara Anderson in grudging acceptance mode.

What's next? Jeering over the drop in unemployment?

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Distrust and verify

The lure of casinos is the thought of riches beyond belief. Apparently developers believe the same message works to locate them.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn are dangling a $10 million annual sugar plum over the heads of Foxboro residents -- many of whom are so dead set against the plan they barely allowed selectmen to even hear Wynn's proposal for a "bucolic" $1 billion casino.

The money is simply the next phase in a proposal designed to deliberately downplay the life-changing impact a "destination" casino will have on a town already home to a massive stadium. And the steady stream of enticements should serve as fair warning.

Let's review:

Wynn promises "dancing waters and fountains and volcanoes that erupt." The casino will unobtrusive and out of sight. There will be free day care for employees. Kraft says the leasing the land is no different than a transaction he would have with Staples.

State officials estimate
three resort casinos would generate 15,000 jobs, including 6,000 in construction and $300 million in revenue to the state, cities and towns. Wynn says his plan alone is good for 10,000 jobs.

Of course no mention of the cost of crime and traffic mitigation that comes with a project of this size.

It's been a tough couple of years for many people because of the damage done by the Great Recession and the thought of lower property taxes thanks to Steve Wynn is an appealing Christmas present. But the sheer size of the enticements being dangled by Wynn recall the words of that GOP philosopher Ronald Reagan: Trust but verify.

Actually in this case, the better suggestion is distrust and verify.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

There they go again

Congressional Tea Partiers have a message for Americans this holiday season: let them eat cake.

Doing their best impression of Marie Antoinette, House Republicans loaded down a bill to cut payroll taxes and extend long-term unemployment benefits for the 99 percent by adding a Christmas tree of ideological special interest goodies for the 1 percent they know will doom the measure.

What exactly will the Keystone XL pipeline or dirtier air do to help people struggling to work their way out of the Bush Recession?

At the root of the problem, as always, is the GOP's insistence that tax cuts for the 99 percent be paid for, unlike those they rammed through Congress during the Bush years. Why? Because the Democrats propose a surtax on the 1 percent, those making $1 million a year.

House Speaker John Boehner undoubtedly prompted some of his members to use their congressional health insurance coverage to pay to repair their twisted arms -- getting members who opposes the very idea of a payroll tax cut to vote for the goodies grab bag. That's what passes for compromise in today's GOP.

To do that, the Boehner grab bag would reduce the maximum number of weeks of jobless benefits that a worker could receive; block certain air pollution rules for industrial boilers and incinerators; freeze the pay of many federal employees through 2013; increase Medicare premiums for affluent beneficiaries while preventing a deep cut in Medicare payments to doctors; and eliminate more than $20 billion of spending planned under the health care law.

In other words, the rich get richer and the sick get sicker.

Ho, ho, no.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The gift of the GOP

David Axelrod must be chuckling in his Chicago campaign headquarters, thankful for the gifts coming his way from Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

The Final Two spent yesterday creating campaign commercials for Barack Obama, violating the Republican 11th Commandment with zinger upon zinger. It started when Our Man Myth lobbed a shell at Gingrich for taking $1.6 million from Freddie Mac. Newt responded with a fury:
“If Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain, then I would be glad to then listen to him,’’ Gingrich said, referring to Bain Capital, Romney’s private equity firm.
Axelrod must have turned cartwheels after hearing that sound bite. But Gingrich wasn't through:
“I would bet you $10, not $10,000, that he won’t take the offer,’’ Gingrich added. The challenge echoed Saturday night’s debate, where Romney proposed a $10,000 bet with Governor Rick Perry of Texas.
At long last the GOP field is settling in, and things do not look great for Romney at the moment. Iowa Republicans appear to prefer Gingrich's hypocrisy over Romney's apostasy.

And with New Hampshire voting one month from today, Romney's lead has shrunk to single digits in some polls, bringing to mind the old truism that winning New Hampshire by less than expected is tantamount to a loss.

Ironically, Romney's worst nightmare is also his greatest weapon: Newt's mouth. That grandiose braggart is back in full flower after his near-death experience last summer, and he is reacting true to form, picking up on Romney's generous offer of front-runner status:
“I’m now, by a big margin, the front-runner,’’ Gingrich said in Londonderry, citing two new polls that show him ahead in Florida and South Carolina.
While Axelrod and the Obama brain trust are no doubt thanking their lucky stars, what passes for wise men in the GOP are no doubt sweating bullets:
In a University of New Hampshire poll of likely Republican primary voters released on Nov. 23, 57 percent said Romney could beat Obama; only 10 percent said Gingrich could.
That means a redoubling of the supposed New Hampshire firewall in the coming month in the form of a barrage of negative ads from both sides.

For Axelrod, it's the gift that keeps on giving.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Mitt 3.0

A day after making a sucker's bet, Our Man Myth is trying to clean up the damage and "humanize" himself and his campaign.

The once aloof venture capitalist was out in New Hampshire yesterday, regaling potential voters with the hygiene challenges attendant to his Mormon mission in France, as if that would somehow take minds off of his privileged childhood and monumental gaffe in wagering $10,000 in Saturday night's GOP debate.

Most of the apartments I lived in had no refrigerators,” Romney told a crowd of 300 at a VFW hall here Sunday afternoon, launching into a long anecdote about life as a Mormon missionary in France that touched on the difficulties of shopping before every meal and living in buildings without a shower.

“If we were lucky, we actually bought a hose and we stuck it on the sink and we’d hold there with the hose and the big bucket underneath us in the kitchen and wash ourselves that way,” Romney said. “And so, I lived in a way that people of lower middle income in France lived and said to myself, ‘Wow, I sure am lucky to have been born in the United States of America.’”

TMI. And the temporary experience in another country is somehow supposed to give him insight into the lives of Americans living in poverty, many not so far from his boyhood home of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan?

With just about three weeks to go until Iowa, things are getting sticky for the man ho was running what amounted to a Rose Garden strategy as one opponent after another flared like a Roman candle only to flicker and die.

The depth of the unhappiness with Romney -- who has flirted with 25 percent support throughout the campaign -- has only come into sharp relief with the surge of New Gingrich, a candidate with as many if not more flaws.

But a looser Mitt, even a scripted one, is dangerous thing as handlers found out with the $10,000 bet, a mistake that, depending on where things go form here, could be seen as the beginning of the end of the Mittster.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

You betcha!

Not to inject religion into the 2012 GOP presidential primary, but I thought Mormons did not gamble? So why did Mitt Romney wager $10,000 for Rick Perry to prove edits to a Romney book that can be found here?

That wager appears to be the sound bite moment in yet another of the endless GOP debates, this one taking on a bit more importance because we're less that a month from the Iowa caucuses with a narrowing field.

The Romney gambit was foolish on so many levels, despite the protests of Eric Fehrnstrom. It's a change from the usually cool, collected and rational businessman. It seems jarring coming from a strait-laced Mormon. And it reflects how out of touch Romney is with the 99 percent, for whom $10,000 is not an insubstantial sum of money to be frittered away on a wager.

Democrats were quick to pounce on Romney, but there's so much more fodder here: Newt Gingrich reigniting flames in the Middle East; Ron Paul raising the obvious questions about Gingrich's personal and political hypocrisy; Michele Bachmann's catchy but desperate effort to create "Newt Romney" (isn't that Obamaney?).

But back to the $10,000. The wager is in sharp contrast to the image painted of Romney by the The New York Times in a feature outlining the thrifty businessman who drove beat-up cars. And that in turn reflects Romney's desperation in the face of a lifelong political problem of plummeting polls numbers as people get to know him.

There's one safe wager here: Romney is feeling the heat and shifting out of his automaton mode. That can make the weeks leading up to the caucus entertaining -- but potentially devastating to Our Man Myth.

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Friday, December 09, 2011

Pants on fire

Wall Street has made beating Elizabeth Warren Job #1 in 2012. So why should we believe she is actually bankers' best friend?

But that's exactly what Karl "Bush's Brain" Rove wants you to believe with a Crossroads GPS ad that makes the deception behind Mitt Romney's twisting of Barack Obama's words seem like true facts.

The latest piece of fiction aimed at Warren portrays her as Wall Street's best friend on Capitol Hill, directing the TARP bailout.
“Congress had Warren oversee how your tax dollars were spent, bailing out the same banks that helped cause the financial meltdown, bailouts that helped pay big bonuses to bank executives while middle class Americans lost out."
Huh? It was Congress and Rove's very own George W. Bush who approved the bank bailout that rewarded banks that misbehaved.

Warren was on the outside looking in in 2008, getting involved to lead an oversight committee that put the bailout under a microscope, a task that led to the creation of a consumer financial protection agency that the GOP kept Warren from leading (and which they continue to obstruct).

Truth in advertising is among the foundations of consumer protection. But that same basic foundation does not apply to political advertising, allowing for whoppers by candidates and the independent political action committees that have flooded the airwaves.

Political advertising has always been a cesspool and both parties have been guilty of sensationalism. And campaigns have often used the trick of "previewing" the ad for journalists -- insuring free exposure -- without ever paying a dime to air them.

But the level of fraud this early in an election cycle is unprecedented. And there's little we can do except raise our own voices against this corruption of the political system and hope it is heard above the din of the lies.

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Tea for Who?

The Party may be coming to an end, if you take a look at two polls suggesting the Mad Hatters have finally arrived on the political scene.

On the left hand, there's the Boston Herald-University of Massachusetts-Lowell poll showing Elizabeth Warren opening up a seven-point lead on Scott Brown in the race for "the people's seat" Brown snatched last year.

The Tea Party started to sour on Brown last year despite his work for Wall Street and bankers. And it's still quite early in the 2012 Massachusetts tussle, with millions in Karl Rove-financed attack ads yet to be launched at Warren, who has yet to truly emerge from her protective cocoon.

But it's the surging support by the Tea Party for Newt Gingrich, the ultimate Washington insider, that makes you realize the movement may be losing its coherence -- and (in)sanity.

Gingrich is obviously the last man (and woman) standing in the Anybody but Mitt sweepstakes that passes for a GOP presidential preference primary. The fact that Gingrich's flip-flops are as easy to catalog as Our Man Myth's doesn't appear to be relevant to voters who claim to be not only wary of Romney's flexibility but also skeptical if not downright hostile to anyone who has held elective office.

Speaker of the House of Representatives is chopped liver? Pollsters try to explain the Gingrich boom:
“Obviously, he’s really kind of taken over among that group,’’ said Jeff Jones, the Gallup Poll’s managing editor. “They’ve been casting about, looking for someone who is a better fit for them than Romney is. It looks like everyone’s had their chance and basically squandered it, so that leaves Gingrich.’’
Newt's rise comes at the same time the GOP establishment is trying to reassert control over the party, the Tea Party has lost faith in the GOP and the movement itself is faltering in the minds of the broad cross-section of American voters.

The result is the political schizophrenia we are seeing in Iowa -- and the first glimpse that sanity may be returning to the state that hosted the first, real Tea Party. And while it may be too early for Warren, it's almost showtime in Iowa.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Prince of Darkness feeling at home

The automatic deletion of records from the cabinet secretaries of the last three governors may not be illegal, but it's sure not right.

The Globe tells us today that state computer systems automatically purged the e-mails generated during the Cellucci, Swift and Romney administrations and because no one thought to back them up, the public no longer has access to the process used to reach decisions affecting them.

Like the apparently legal but dubious process of allowing departing staff to purchase individual hard drives, the vanishing public records reflect a very callous disregard to the rights of people who elect officials who appoint others to conduct the people's business -- ostensibly in the open.

The root of that disregard rests with Secretary of State Bill Galvin, the official keeper of public records, and the Massachusetts Legislature, which manages to exempt itself from every law requiring openness, whether in meetings or in record-keeping.

As a result, we have no records on the machinations that led to the making of significant milestones (and political millstones) like RomneyCare.
No one came over to me and said, ‘Do this, do this, do this, do this,’ ’’ said Tim Murphy, who as secretary of Health and Human Services helped formulate the state’s landmark health care law. “I just turned my computer off and went home. That’s the end of it.’’
Galvin tries to slough off blame on the Romney record debacle onto the Patrick administration, questioning why the incoming team didn't ask about the electronic records.
“The premise seems to be no transition with electronic records,’’ Galvin said. “I find that impossible to believe. Of course you’d ask.’’
Sorry, but most rational people buried in a jungle of transition details, would presume that the Supervisor of Public Records, whose face is plastered all over his website and on TV, would establish policies, backed up by force of law if necessary, to ensure there is an orderly transition of records about the people's business.

Then again, he's not known as the Prince of Darkness for nothing.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Hide and seek

Whether it's the promise that children "can't see the equipment" or interviews taped in the Patriots studio for local airing, there's a sense team owner Robert Kraft is worried about losing control of his casino land-lease deal.

Rep. Dan Winslow, the local state lawmaker, certainly thinks so:
“We have to be very careful to ensure an open, transparent, public process and to avoid even the appearance of undue coziness between casino advocates and public officials.”
The carefully controlled interviews involving Kraft and casino mogul Steve Wynn may well be the tip of the iceberg of the lobbying efforts designed to enable Kraft to lease land across the street from Gillette Stadium to enable Wynn to build a casino that “fits in the woods’’ of Foxboro.

Kraft and Wynn triggered a firestorm with the announcement of their idea for a destination casino across the street from the stadium and Kraft's shopping mall. The idea has floated like a lead balloon in the town that finds itself battling traffic gridlock on game days and fears what would happen in a 24-7-365 scenario.

Wynn, who has made his career based on glitz, glamor and grandeur, appears to be channeling a new personality in saying its really about the experience, not the slot machines:
"The casino helps pay for it,’’ he said “That’s really what casinos have meant to me for the past 40 years, a chance to build dancing waters and fountains and volcanoes that erupt, tigers and sharks that swim behind the front desk.’’
How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Foxboro, eh Steve?

Kraft is equally disingenuous, banking on his 25-year relationship with town officials and residents in proclaiming the land lease is just business and the project would create 10,000 construction jobs -- double that of the Big Dig at its peak :
“It’s just like Staples coming in and renting space from us,’’ said Kraft, who is chief executive of The Kraft Group, which owns businesses in real estate, sports, paper and packaging, philanthropy, and other sectors.
Staples with sharks that swim behind the front desk?

Residents of Foxboro and neighboring towns are understandably furious about this sneak attack and what would be a dramatic and traumatic overhaul of their town. The scenario proves all the concerns raised by casino foes in the relentless march to enabling legislation.

Deval Patrick and the lawmakers who supported the concept as a jobs and revenue program can't shrink to the sidelines now as the chaotic process to site casinos begins. They owe it to communities to ensure that dreams don't turn into nightmares with sharks swimming wherever they want.

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Monday, December 05, 2011

Occupy High Ground

With the City of Boston ready to bring the hammer down, it may be time for Occupy Boston to declare victory and move to the next phase.

The Tent City in Dewey Square is now one of the last encampments left from the movement that began on Wall Street this fall. Despite critics who question the motives or seeming lack of goals, the Occupy movement has succeeded in raising the issue of income equality to a level unseen in the US and around the world during the run up to Great Recession.

Even the confrontations with police have silver linings, whether from pepper-spraying showdowns or the mumbled words of encouragement from cops doing their jobs.

With public opinion divided, largely over the ramshackle nature of the tent cities and the bad actions of the few, it may be time to get out of the cold and build a new strategy on the very real sentiments they have tapped.

And while it goes against the almost anarchic form of democracy the Occupiers practice, that strategy should take the form of working with the political system many distrust.

It would not be selling out. Rather it would be a sign of maturity to a movement that has come a long way in a short time and has the potential to become the force for change it strives to be.

Occupy the Statehouse, Congress and White House with elected leaders who understand your goals and can work to bring them to fruition. The base is already there to work with you.

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Sunday, December 04, 2011

The many faces of Mitt

Mitt Romney's handlers like to call him the anti-Michael Vick, but they may need to slap down comparisons to another Michael -- Dukakis.

Robert Draper's New York Times profile of one former Massachusetts governor draws memories of an earlier version who ran for the presidency under the tag line it's not about ideology, it's about competence.

It's not a new theme, as a quick Google search will attest. Both former governors are cool managers, more into the nuts and bolts of deal-making rather than the white-hot rhetoric of campaigns.

The profile is but one of three about Our Man Myth this weekend: the gauzy soft-focus look of the softer aide of Mitt, and the nastier (and password-protected) look at the campaign offered by Time Magazine's Joe Klein.

While not deliberately timed to the demise of Herman Cain's campaign or Newt Gingrich's surge, the blitz does seem to represent the mainstream media's belief that Romney is the GOP's The One, this time around and we better get ready.

The contrast between the Times' Romney and the one in Parade is about as stark as you would expect from the difference in publications. The Parade profile seems to be an effort by the campaign to win the hearts and minds of Iowa voters a month out from the caucuses -- while the Times profile is the one that will likely have more staying power in its portrayal of Romney as the rational, cool technocrat who can get the job done.

Which brings us back to Michael, Dukakis that is. (I suspect the campaign wishes it had the Vick reference back, poor Seamus and all).

The Dukakis message played well for a few weeks until the Lee Atwater-Roger Ailes attack squad hit its stride with a kitchen sink full of negative ads aided and abetted by Citizens United co-founder Floyd Brown's infamous Willie Horton ad. It hardly mattered that George H.W. Bush wasn't a gifted orator.

This time around, the Democrats have a skilled speaker (when he tries) in Barack Obama and what is likely to be a billion-dollar war chest from which to launch "comparative" ads at Romney. It won't be hard -- look at what Jon Huntsman did this week.

How will the cool technocratic Romney respond in the face of this onslaught? Given his prickly response to an interview with GOP-friendly Fox News, not well.

In the end, Mitt may need to be more like the old Michael Vick. The one with pit bulls.

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Cain's not able

Let me get this straight: Herman Cain suspended his campaign not because he's not a fighter but because the big, bad media keeps hurting his family by reporting his bimbo eruptions? Or that he is tanking in Iowa?

I thought conservatives believe in personal responsibility?

So this bizarre "Anyone But Mitt" primary season continues with Newt Gingrich now secure with the serial philanderer vote in Iowa, where religion is the supposedly the foundation for all GOP caucus-goers. So why is the monogamous Romney do despised?

The rise and fall of Herman Cain may well be a centerpiece when historians write the history of the Tea Party. The Georgia pizza magnate symbolizes the movement: a huckster who used targeted rhetoric to tap into the inchoate anger for his own benefit. In his case, it was books. For the Koch brothers, it's been preferred tax treatment.

Cain's record is astounding: a tax policy that calls for raising rates for those at the bottom; the outright denial of charges from women who gave up their privacy to tell stories of his infidelity; and ultimately, a slickly packaged withdrawal in which he not only denies responsibility but opts for a "solution" that allows him to continue to collect taxpayers' dollars to promote his own website crusade.

This certainly is the land of opportunity --for those who know how to bend the rules. And that is the central tenet of today's Republican Party.

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Saturday, December 03, 2011

High rollers

Who would you put your money on? Only Roger Goodell knows for sure.

The commissioner of the National Football League holds the winning hand as Patriots owner Robert Kraft injects himself into the battle to site a casino in eastern Massachusetts. Against no less a pair of heavyweight contenders than Boston Mayor Tom Menino and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

Given the NFL's seeming aversion to anything that smacks of gambling associated with its teams or league, it's hard to believe Kraft did not at least consult with Goodell and fellow owners about how they would view his plan to lease land across from Gillette Stadium to Las Vegas high roller Steve Wynn

Officially both sides are mum about the donnybrook that lies ahead.
“More competition is better for our state," DeLeo said in a prepared statement.
"Nothing has been presented to us concerning the specifics of any arrangement. If and when that occurs, we will evaluate the transaction under our policies," league spokesman Greg Aiello told the Globe in an e-mail.
You can only imagine what's going on behind the scenes.

Although the Globe notes there are casinos located near NFL stadiums in New Orleans, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the league forced members of the Rooney family -- the equally powerful family that owns the Steelers -- to divest from the team because they owned race tracks. Can such a fate await the Kraft family?

Meanwhile there's the inside-outside tandem of DeLeo and Menino, with an incredible arsenal of political and legal tools at its disposal. That's why Menino's taunts about the traffic problems around Foxboro on game days sounds like nothing more than a pre-game warm-up.

Lost in all of this is the view of residents of East Boston, Winthrop and Foxboro, to name just three. But we expected that, didn't we?

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Friday, December 02, 2011

Scotto's problem

You thought the chill in the air was winter coming in? It may be the collective chill of the banking industry looking at a poll showing Elizabeth Warren already in a dead heat with Scott Brown.

The UMass Amherst online poll suffers from the same problems any voter survey has at this point in the electoral cycle -- there's way too much time to go. But what is significant here is time in the other direction: how quickly Warren has come from virtual anonymity to a very serious challenger in just a few months.

Brown and the GOP have certainly been aware of the potential and have been working to seed the debate with doubts. Just look at the words used by respondents to describe her:

The Brown is doing its best to work on the "socialist" epithet while trying to minimize the damage of Brown's support for the 1 percent's opposition to Barack Obama's call for an extension of payroll tax cuts.

Brown is clearly beholden to the financial services industry, just as Warren is its worst enemy. There will be millions in cash flowing into Massachusetts between now and next November as the showdown draws nearer.

Polls are always snapshots in time, But if bankers have any doubt about the appeal of Warren's message about her differences with Brown this rapid rise from obscurity to dead heat should eliminate them.

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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Battle of the shape shifters

As the calendar flips closer to the start of the primary season, Republican presidential hopefuls are starting to behave like Democrats, rejecting Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment.

Regular readers know I have tried to catalog the twists and turns of Myth Romney, the man who has more positions than the Kama Sutra. But now comes the Ron Paul campaign with documentation of the flexible positions of the last man standing against the Mittster -- Newt Gingrich.

Is this really the best the once Grand Old Party has to offer the American people?

As we enter December -- with the Iowa caucus five weeks away and New Hampshire's primary immediately following -- GOP field is starting to solidify. Or maybe just melt down. As improbable as it once seemed, Gingrich has emerged as the anti-Romney.

And as we all know, Newt is not shy about speaking his mind, even on topics where his own position is not wrapped in glory:
"I wouldn't lie to the American people. I wouldn't switch my position for political reasons ... I don't claim to be the perfect candidate. I just claim to be a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney and a lot more electable than anybody else."
While the Paul video gives lie to Gingrich assertion of honesty, there is a basic truth in his statement. He is a lot more conservative than Multiple Choice Mitt and his basic fault is hypocrisy rather than inconsistency.

And to the true believers who drive the Iowa caucuses -- and make up the GOP's Tea Party wing -- it's better to be a hypocrite than a liar, which is how they view the core-less Romney.

So while Michele Bachmann closes non-existent embassies and Rick Perry struggles with the difference between the voting age and drinking age, those true believers may well decide to suck it up and go with the devil they know rather than the shape shifter they think they know, today.

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