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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, July 30, 2011

Tea Party truths

Tucked amid the cheerleading, the Tea Party Newsletter offers a rare piece of honest reporting about the reality behind the Washington brinkmanship.
Hard-bargaining Congressional Tea Party Republicans are rolling the dice in a high-stakes gamble — holding fast to their balanced budget vows in a daring debt-ceiling showdown that could gain them major clout in the next election or cost them big-time if they are blamed for a government shutdown or an economic crash, experts said yesterday.
One of the reasons we have come to the edge of this fiscal cliff is the persistence of the "on the one hand, on the other hand" journalism model that tries to present "facts" even when one side or another is speaking lies.

The Herald, which abandoned objectivity a long time ago, is unencumbered by those outmoded standards as it preaches to its base. So it can offer a refreshingly honest look at what is behind the partisanship that's actually splitting a Republican Party that has refused to accept yes for an answer.
“They’re walking a tricky tightrope between satisfying the voters who elected them and doing what’s best for the federal government,” said GOP consultant Michael Dennehy, noting that many Republicans with strong Tea Party support promised to reduce the nation’s debt when they were elected last year. “The people who elected them last year want certain safeguards in place.”
What's still missing from this and all other analyses is an acknowledgment of the shocking lack of awareness of basic constitutional law among Tea Party extremists. That includes the fact it take two legislative branches and an executive to make a law.

But where the ignorance (or arrogance) is most pronounced is in the rump caucus' insistence on including the balanced budget amendment gimmick into the House-passed bill. Aside from the fact the independent Senate has already rejected it once, the Tea Partiers seem to be unaware it takes a two-thirds vote in each branch and approval of three-quarters of the state legislatures for the amendment to take affect.

Put that reality together with the GOP preference to stretch the debate (and uncertainty) out with a two-step process and it becomes clear how politically driven the fight is.

If only the media would include those facts into the important background and context that should accompany every news story.

But like the proverbial broken clock, even the Herald gets it right occasionally.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Tea Party tax

The Sons of Liberty tossed tea into Boston Harbor. The latter day Tea Party is flinging dollars toward China.

Taxes have a way of being named after the one person or group most associated with the levy, so it's only appropriate to label the cost of conservative dogma over reason as the Tea Party tax. In their steadfast devotion to skipping out on our bills, the Tea Party will exact trillions in costs, among them:
  • Higher interest payments to China and others who hold paper backed by the full faith and credit of the United States;
  • Sharply reduced corporate earnings, putting yet another excuse in place about the lack of job creation;
  • Significant investment losses for average working men and women fortunate to have a job and a retirement fund, based on mutual funds, in which to invest a portion of their wages for the future.
There are also intangible costs, impossible to put a dollar value on, including:
  • The loss of respect for the United States around the world which is seeing us as a quarrelsome, bickering mean-spirited people unwilling to pay its bills;
  • The demeaning of our public life, where facts are annoyances and insults are the coin of the realm.
Remember all of this as the Tea Party leads us off the cliff into a new recession, or worse. And remember it at the polls next year when listening the GOP candidates for president and Congress try to sell us swill and pretend it is gold.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Leading from behind. Way behind

Massachusetts has been used to leaders in the United States Senate. Then it elected Scott Brown.

Whether it is the debt ceiling debate or as simple an act as a video standing against bullying of gay teens, Senator Barn Coat has been AWOL. Silent. The ultimate in followership. No wonder the gang over at Blue Mass Group has taken to calling him the Caboose of the Senate.

Anyone who wants to know where he stands on anything is met with hems and haws -- or words on papers from spokespeople.
“The senator is smart enough to know that once he makes his position known, it becomes highly political, which doesn’t play well with pushing an agenda forward for the country,’’ said Marcie Kinzel.
Even his supposed friends are beginning to notice.
“I would like to see a stronger, firmer position,’’ said Matt Clemente, the Massachusetts director of FreedomWorks, a national organization aligned with the Tea Party. “We worked to get him elected. And whether he’s with us or against us, we deserve to know where he stands rather than be left hung out to dry.’’
I don't think FreedomWorks has much to worry about in the hung out to dry department. Brown has been a good soldier in following their lead rather than what's in the best of interests of working men and women in Massachusetts.

And yes, Ms. Kinzel, things do become highly political when he speaks. That's the idea and Brown certainly wasn't shy about politics when he insisted he was running for the "people's seat."

Brown's action to date certainly reflect a change in the nature of the person in that seat. Ted Kennedy was never afraid to take a position, something that made him beloved or hated, depending on the crowd.

Kennedy was the ultimate leader. Brown is the ultimate follower. Although I am sure he will become more vocal next year when he can speak his piece -- in advertisements he pays for and controls -- telling us what a fighter he is.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The gang that couldn't shoot straight

When John Boehner can't even get his own members to support a cockamamie GOP plan, isn't it time to say enough and get down to reality on the debt ceiling?

The inmates continue to run the asylum, now tossing off bad ideas as well as good in their uneducated march to fiscal chaos.

All the while, options to make our tax system fairer go unused, making sure the Tea Party voters who out the renegades into office are the ones who will suffer most.

Meanwhile, some of the illiterate lawmakers are huffing and puffing about impeaching Barack Obama if he invokes the 14th Amendment to stave off this GOP-inspired fiscal calamity. It's hard to think of a more blatant political power play, or something that more clearly reveals the real motives behind the Washington farce.

And with Boehner, and now even Eric Cantor, having lost control of their own unruly mob, the scenario comes into even sharper focus.

And all it will cost the rest of us is our retirement savings.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Political theater

House Speaker John Boehner appears to have a solution to the artificial debt ceiling crisis of his own making: screw the poor and elderly.

Lost amid the dueling primetime speeches is the reality of Boehner's latest "solution" to a debt problem that neatly corresponds to the size of the Bush tax cuts and other GOP follies. The GOP political two-step is a gun aimed directly at the most vulnerable among us.

"House Speaker John Boehner’s new budget proposal would require deep cuts in the years immediately ahead in Social Security and Medicare benefits for current retirees, the repeal of health reform’s coverage expansions, or wholesale evisceration of basic assistance programs for vulnerable Americans.

The plan is, thus, tantamount to a form of “class warfare.” If enacted, it could well produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history."
It's worth recalling, yet again, the Republican Party's No. 1 priority is not a balanced budget, debt reduction or the creation of jobs and prosperity. It is the political defeat of Barack Obama. Sending the country back into a depression seems to be their tactic of choice.

The Boehner plan makes the Paul Ryan budget seem generous. Instead of the cynical ploy of exempting those nearing retirement, the Boehner plan aims at them -- and those now receiving benefits.

All with the two-step approach designed to kick the political football down the road.

Boehner accuses Obama of a lack of seriousness and a desire for a "blank check." But it's the GOP that continues to play games as it seeks to write "Top 1 Percent" into the blank check they want to raid the Treasury for the benefit of the richest Americans who don't pay their fair share.

(New York Times graphic and accompanying explanation is legible here.)

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Barbarians inside the gate

Another lost weekend filled with talk of grand bargains, super congresses and enough overheated words to extend the heat wave. When will these jokers stop posturing and get serious?

Often lost amid the war of words over the debt ceiling talks are two salient facts: it is a wholly unnecessary crisis created by House Republicans for political purposes, a reality borne out by the GOP's push for a two-step solution that would force another debate like this during the election season.

It was a fact reinforced by House Speaker John Boehner, who reportedly told his fellow Republicans:
“If we’re divided,” he said, “our leverage gets minimized."
Great way to put the nation's interests ahead of your own political ones, Mr Speaker.

Reasonable people agree that it is important to pay for what you have purchased. That's a fact that eludes the GOP caucus. Reasonable people agree squabbling politicians unwilling to meet in the middle is bad for our national standing. Another fact that eludes the GOP caucus.

It's come down to this: an out-of-control band of ideologues has seized one leg of the three-legged stool of government and demanding to get its way or they'll break the whole thing apart. That's not democracy, that's extortion.

With your job and retirement hanging in the balance. Maybe it's time for drastic measures to get their attention

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Your tax dollars at work

Apparently state government, which provides cash for local property tax relief, has lost the resources to provide other types of relief.

File under "Wicked Pissah."

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Senator Symbol

Scott Brown excels at symbols: a pickup truck and a barn coat created an image that helped him capture "the people's seat." But his latest "symbolic" gesture could be a game changer.

Brown voted in lockstep with his Republican colleagues in support of the PR ploy known as "cut, cap and balance" that the GOP is offering in place of a real, balanced solution to a contrived crisis of their own making.

The Bay State's junior senator was his usual vanishing presence. He would no doubt insist all he voted to do was allow debate on the measure that was dead on arrival in the Senate because of its extremism in capping federal spending at levels never even countenanced by conservative icons like Ronald Reagan.

In other words, Brown wanted more words wasted in the seemingly endless political standoff that threatens the world economy -- and our retirement funds.

House Speaker John Boehner engaged in the same gamesmanship when he failed to talk common sense into the inmates now running his asylum.

Brown has tried to portray himself as an independent moderate, a free thinker who will do what is right for Massachusetts. How political posturing during a crisis falls into that category is something that demands explanation.

Given Brown's unwillingness to answer direct questions from voters -- never mind the media -- we can only assume that explanation will never be forthcoming.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Profiting on our loss

Leave it to Wall Street to figure out how to make a killing on the Republican refusal to clean up their mess.

The financial wizards whose excesses triggered the Great Recession are now squirreling away cash to snatch up US Treasury bonds in the event Tea Party Republicans choose to assassinate the economy by failing to pay our bills.

The unspoken terror in this high wire act is what happens to the retirement funds of millions of Americans if default sends stock prices into a tailspin. Many working people have seen their 401 (k) funds tank twice in the Bush era as market dives wiped out large chunks of their future.

Will it happen again? The sad is answer is yes.

Most Americans don't invest in the stocks that comprise the Dow Jones Industrial Average. We hold mutual funds. which in turn hold substantial amount of US Treasury securities. A default would be a double whammy -- falling stock prices depressing mutual fund values and no safe haven like treasuries.

I bet the mattress companies may start to see a booming business.

Yes, Eric Cantor and his friends will probably also see some hit to their own retirement funds but their $174,000 base salary will help ease some of the blow as they rebuild bank accounts.

As for the rest of us, what retirement?

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Unemployment has its benefits

For a guy who labeled himself "unemployed" a month ago, Myth Romney appears to be coping.

The latest campaign spending reports show the Mittser has shelled out $5 million on hotels, security and private jets on his Man of the People campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

One thing seems to be missing from his report: evidence he pays attention to his own words:

News of the flights comes after an April speech in Iowa, during which Romney said his 2012 campaign would be more frugal than his 2008 operation, especially on private jet use.

“Last time around we ... flew around from state to state, very expensive,” he said in the Iowa speech. “Times are a little different right now. These are lean times and if you want to run a hard campaign you need to be lean as well. So I’m not going to be flying all over the country.”

The Herald relays how that's going:
Romney’s presidential campaign paid $62,000 to Marquis Jet and another $64,000 to a Beverly-based corporate jet owner for several trips, including a June 20 jaunt to Idaho and Colorado that cost $11,000, records show. The Beverly-based flights were aboard a 2005 Cessna Citation CJ3, an eight-seat luxury corporate jet with leather interior and a staggering $5.8 million price tag.
Campaign watchers should be most interested in that these fact checks are coming from the Boston newspaper that should be most sympatico with what Romney is selling. So it should not go unnoticed that the Tea Party Newsletter is also offering a newfound awareness for gender bias in the same issue they batter Myth.

Better pull that seat belt a little tighter, Mr. Romney.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

And the race is on



The once and future Democratic foes of Scott Brown met on MSNBC last night, and if Elizabeth Warren opts to take on the challenge, her interview with Rachel Maddow will likely be marked as the launch.

The 62-year-old Harvard Law professor -- and bane to the Republicans for her calm, cool and collected defense of Main Street over Wall Street -- could prove to be an effective campaigner against an incumbent who has become increasingly isolated, preferring fund-raisers and spokespeople to actual voter engagement.

National Democrats have been beating the drums loudly for Warren, concerned over what appears to be a crowded but somewhat lackluster field to challenge Brown. National Republicans are all in high dudgeon:
Yesterday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a news release attempting to undermine her credentials as a true Red Sox fan, pointing out she grew up in Oklahoma. Brian Walsh, communications director for the committee, previewed the Republican campaign against her in an interview, in which he tried to paint Warren as a product of national Democrats and a creature of the ivory tower.

“It’s unclear whether Massachusetts natives believe an Oklahoma native and professor at Harvard best represents their views and values,’’ he said. “If she does get in, it’s clear the Democrats are going to have a very divisive primary on their hands."

There's no book on Warren as a campaigner, although she offers cool TV images in her appearances on such friendly liberal havens as Maddow and Real Time with Bill Maher. And there are questions about her temperament, raised by Republicans who will of course try to get her to offer a comment they can exploit.

But watching Warren it's hard to avoid what appears to be a deep-seated belief in her cause -- protecting consumers against the hardships caused by the excesses of our banking and financial system.

And that's quite a contrast to Brown's position as a leading water carrier for the industry.

Brown has a formidable head start in fund-raising and a much higher profile that would require plenty of national Democratic money for Warren to begin chipping away at the image of Senator Barn Coat.

But Elizabeth Warren has a buzz that none of the current Democratic hopefuls can match.

Let the speculation begin!

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Rupertgate

The last time a newspaper took down a national government was 1974. But in the topsy-turvy world of Rupert Murdoch we could be looking at a reprise.

With Sunday's resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson, the commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police or Scotland Yard, the noose is tightening around British Prime Minister David Cameron, he who proclaimed the now arrested former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks a "close personal friend."

Stephenson's resignation came because he had an extremely hard time answering that famous Watergate question -- "what did you know and when did you know it." The top cop had met for meals 18 times with News International executives and editors during the phone-hacking investigation.

Among those meal time companions was Neil Wallis, a former News of the World editor who became a Scotland Yard public relations consultant after leaving the paper.

There is no direct evidence, yet, that Cameron had direct knowledge or involvement in the phone hacking scandals. His closest connection is the hiring of Andy Coulson, another News of the World editor involve in the scandal, as the spokesman for his government.

But the parliamentary system is far less forgiving than our form of government. Cameron was directly elected by voters in one small district and rose to the top of his party and government, sort of like Sal DiMasi.

All it takes to topple his government is a vote of no confidence by his parliamentary foes. And Cameron formed a government in what now seems like an unholy alliance with the Liberal Democratic Party.

These latest events are making for some very hot times for Rupert Murdoch, who is now seeing his enemies digging up dirt -- both here and abroad. But with the Watergate image looming larger, you can bet that Murdoch is consulting advisers who know a thing or two about Richard Nixon.

You know, like Roger Ailes.

But Ailes' expertise can only go so far. This time, the press apparently has been working in collusion with the government instead of trying to dig out the truth.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Senator MIA

For a man who once appeared nude in a national magazine, Scott Brown has gotten awfully shy.

But as the debate and outrage over Republican political posturing on the debt ceiling mounts Massachusetts' junior senator is, as usual, far from the fray, hiding behind a spokesman and platitudes:
“It’s difficult to get into hypotheticals without seeing what they’re actually moving forward with,’’ Brown said, commenting on which pieces he could accept in any such deal.
Brown has, ahem, some skin in this game, having gone to bat for tax breaks for the financial services industry, a position that fattened his campaign coffers in advance of the 2012 elections. And for someone looking for a full-term next year, it does seem strange to for him to position himself as out of the loop.

But all is not lost because Brown has come out in support of that favorite GOP canard, a balanced budget amendment. Never mind that it will not pass the Senate and under the most favorable of circumstances, would not have the force of law for years.

And another striking difference: while Maine Sen. Susan Collins talks to the Globe about what she hears from constituents during her frequent visits home, Senator Barn Coat appears to be very out-of-touch with the men and women who put him into office.

Things may be a-changing though. With Barack Obama apparently poised to bypass Elizabeth Warren for the job at Consumer Protection Financial Bureau, we may be looking at a very interesting Senate race, one that pits the scourge of the banking industry against one of its protectors.

Maybe then we'll hear directly from from our MIA senator.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's the economy, stupid

Away from the negotiating table, safe within the womb on Republican talk radio, Mitch McConnell finally offered an honest assessment of the debt ceiling talks:
“He will say Republicans are making the economy worse,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview with the conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. “It is an argument that he could have a good chance of winning, and all of the sudden we have co-ownership of the economy. That is a very bad position going into the election.”
"He" of course is Barack Obama and we should never forget his declaration that the Republicans No. 1 goal is to make him a one-term president. Not preserve, protect and defend the Constitution; not provide for safety of the American people here and abroad; not to behave like responsible adults and do the tough job they were elected to do.

With Moody's joining Standard & Poor's in threatening a drop in the US credit rating -- a move that will only add billions to the debt -- Republicans continue to play politics -- even in the face of the obvious chaos that would ensue by a default on the debt.

House Minority Leader Eric Cantor continues to play the role of the nerdy wise ass every high school had and hated. He claimed Obama walked out on the last meeting yesterday in a test mood after declaring:
“Eric, don’t call my bluff. I’m going to the American people with this.”
Let's hope so.

The grand bargain supposedly on the table is 80 percent cuts and 20 percent taxes. Many pundits have declared the House Republicans are prepared to walk away from a major victory by holding out for total capitulation from Democrats, who hold the White House and the Senate.

To the GOP "leaders" it is all about total victory and the chance to serve their masters with deeper tax cuts and an end to federal regulation. Wall Street matters, not Main Street, the folks who get Social Security checks the GOP is angling to have go out late.

Hey, isn't that what got us into this mess in the first place?

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dim and dimmer

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. House Republicans tried to ban the light bulb.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his GOP "brain trust" were playing politics Barack Obama on a debt ceiling resolution, Speaker John Boehner's bunch were declaring war on compact fluorescent bulbs.
“The 2010 elections demonstrated that Americans are fed up with government intrusion,” Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican who proposed the repeal, said in a debate on Monday. “The federal government has crept so deep into our lives that federal agencies now determine what kind of light bulbs the American people are allowed to purchase.”
Way to set your priorities gang.

What exactly is this heinous intrusion on private lives? It's part of a 2007 law, sponsored by a Michigan Republican, that seeks to reduce soaring energy costs -- you know the stuff that has us dependent on Middle East oil.
The first stage of the standards, which will be phased in from Jan. 1 through 2014, requires bulbs to be 25 to 30 percent more efficient. The second stage could require bulbs to be 60 percent more efficient by 2020. The law includes exceptions for specialty lights, like candelabra lamps, three-way bulbs and black lights.
Michele Bachmann, when she's not avoiding questions about her husband's Medicare-supported clinic that also tries to cure" gays and lesbians through prayer, thinks the move toward energy independence is part of a broad Obama plot.
"Instead of a leaner, smarter government, we bought a bureaucracy that now tells us which light bulbs to buy and which may put 16,500 IRS agents in charge of policing President Obama's health care bill."
Fortunately it took a two-thirds vote to pass the repeal.

Meanwhile, the GOP "grownups," acknowledging they don't have the votes to do the right thing about paying the nation's debts, concocted a plan to allow Obama to raise the debt ceiling while making unilateral cuts of equal size.

A real bipartisan solution: make Obama the sole fall guy for cuts while trumpeting to their base that they won't even close tax loopholes on the oil and gas companies that profit on their preference for incandescent light bulbs.

Today's Republican Party: Thomas Alva Edison solutions for the Space Shuttle era. What a bunch of dim bulbs.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Leading by example

Bobby Haynes' virtual silence said it all. And that should set an example for others who want to play government by brinkmanship.
“Finally, in the endgame, we still get to sit down with municipalities and bang out and bargain what health care looks like in that city or town,’’ Haynes said. “That’s all we ever wanted, was to have a voice.’’
The once fire-breathing AFL-CIO boss was reacting to the municipal health care reform measure contained in the fiscal 2012 state budget signed yesterday by Deval Patrick. The lion laid down with the lambs -- after some thoughtful discussions where political talking points were left outside the door.

The dealings had attracted national attention -- particularly in contrast to Wisconsin, where a GOP-dominated government put talking points first. The governor chose politics over savings, because union leaders had already agreed to concessions.

Walker eventually scored his ideological triumph, but the fall-out is just beginning.

No one got everything they wanted in the Massachusetts deal. House Speaker Robert DeLeo had proposed some tougher rules and labor is going to have to make some changes in their health care options.

But government actually governed. No brinkmanship. No political showboating.

All in all a good lesson to the folks down in DC. If they could actually stop posturing for the cameras and listen to someone other than the lobbyists.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Save tax dollars. Don't pay Congress

Here's a simple solution to putting some reality -- and urgency -- into the debt ceiling talks in Washington: No one gets paid until it gets done.

I'm not talking about Social Security recipients now being held as potential hostages. No, I'm talking about John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Harry Reid -- every elected official in Washington who draws a payroll check written on the federal treasury.

I'm talking about taking away their staff, their drivers and federally funded cars, their health insurance. I'm talking about taking the keys to the House and Senate gyms. And I would take away their access to the lobbyists who wine and dine them and meet their every need through fund-raisers.

Actually I would start with the Tea Party Caucus -- the Jim DeMints, Michele Bachmanns and Rand and Ron Pauls who say talk of default is a bunch of hooey. Let them see what it's like not to exist with a federal paycheck.

Let them try to live on an unemployment check or a welfare check. Or food stamps.

No, not even the minimum wage for these jokers. Nothing. I'd suggest they check out the accommodations at the DC homeless shelters but those are probably already packed.

Sadly, I doubt it would make a difference. The median estimated wealth for Senate freshman is $3.96 million; for the House freshman it's $570, 418. Sixty percent of Senate freshman are millionaires and so are 40 percent of House freshman.

That's compared to 1 percent of all Americans.

We have the best damn government money can buy -- a government of the lobbyists, by the lobbyists and for the lobbyists. What the rest of us offer is chump change compared to the Koch brothers.

Tea Party lawmakers claim to be in touch with average Americans, but the reality suggests otherwise. Let them live like us, even for a few weeks, to get their heads out of the sand and see what the impact of their proposed recklessness would be.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pledge of allegiance


As John Boehner blinks over taxes in a proposed debt ceiling agreement, it's an opportune time to recall the guiding "principles" of Republican fiscal policy: "deficit don't matter " and "no new taxes."

The sturm und drang over deficits is a new phenomenon, born of a Democratic president whose defeat the GOP leadership has made its real priority. After all, just a few short years ago -- fresh off the Bush tax cuts and ahead of unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vice President Dick Cheney, in a conversation with then Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, offered an honest take on the importance of a balanced budget to Ronald Reagan and, by extension, the Bush administration:
"You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don't matter. We won the midterms (congressional elections). This is our due."
But more appalling than the casual attitude to the real Reagan economic legacy is the GOP's blind fealty to Grover Norquist, an unelected lobbyist who insists candidates sign a pledge against taxes, come hell or high water.

Well the river is rising, fast. And the Tea Party Caucus' casual attitude toward default could make things very hot indeed.

Although Boehner appeared ready and willing to broker a deal with Barack Obama that would include both taxes and cuts, it's become clear the House Speaker can't control his own leadership team, let alone his caucus.

When his own majority leader, Eric Cantor, opted for a short-term agreement -- one that will leave the issue on the table as election year fodder -- it became clear that politics trumps policy (and the national good) for the GOP zealots.

Progressives have been quaking prematurely at the thought that Obama might give away the store in the form of Medicare and Social Security reforms. And while that may still come to pass in some form, it is now abundantly clear Obama has been setting up the real fall guys for any failure to reach agreement.

And that would be the Norquist automatons, who refuse to acknowledge that the massive Bush tax cuts, renewed at their insistence only last December, are a major piece of the deficit over which they have belatedly expressed "concern."

It's downright frightening that one unelected lobbyist holds so much sway over our national future.

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Look out below -- and above

Motorists may need a helmet to drive through the O'Neill Tunnel but Jeff Mullan could probably do without his Helmut.

It seems Department of Transportation officials have been more interested in covering other portions of their anatomy than in repairing or replacing the fixtures that illuminate the Big Dig tunnel.

Mullan was already on thin ice after his handling -- or should I say mishandling of the faulty fixtures. The secretary was all over the map on what he knew and when he knew it after one came tumbling down in February and the public learned about it a month later.

An appropriate scapegoat was found and we were left to assume that work was moving forward on solving the problem.

You know what they say about assumptions.

But now Helmut Ernst, the engineer with the most direct responsibility for the lights, is airing his and other dirty laundry, even though Mullan clearly chose Ernst's former boss, Frank Tramontozzi as the fall guy.

About the only thing that is clear in this story is there appears to be more finger pointing than fixture-fixing taking place in DOT. And that means bureaucratic heads should roll before motorist heads are harmed.

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Saturday, July 09, 2011

Destroying journalism to save it?

Let me get this straight: The Boston Globe thinks Rupert Murdoch did the right thing closing News of the World to contain a burgeoning phone-hacking scandal?
Murdoch’s decision to close the tabloid is an extreme response, but one that was necessary.
Perhaps the Globe's editorial board should read the work of its mother ship before suggesting that journalism ethics demand killing a publication instead of treating the disease:
...the decision was nearly four months in the making, and was as much an effort to shed jobs and save money in a beleaguered industry and shift resources to broadcasting as it was a response to the outcry over the scandal’s new revelations...
The Globe did get it right that Murdoch's decision "may have had more to do with politics than with preserving journalistic integrity" since it is hard to see where NOTW or the rest of the Murdoch empire has integrity in the first place.

Consorting with politicians is the modus operandi of News Corp., both across the pond and here in the United States. And it's not just politicians with whom Murdoch feels a conservative kinship. He curries favor with anyone who he thinks may be valuable to his business interests.

No, the solution to the ethics stench in Britain is not to shutter the paper and toss out 200 employees. It requires removing the "leaders" who directed or condoned invasions of privacy and paying off police for tips and details.

That means Rebekah Brooks, a "close friend" of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who displayed unparalleled audacity in sanctioning the wrong-doing then standing in front of the troops and telling them they are taking the bullet for her.

And it also includes Les Hinton, who was the head honcho at NOTW when its reporters were hacking voice mail messages.

What's that you say? Hinton is now CEO of Dow Jones & Co. and Murdoch's point man at the Wall Street Journal? Ruh-roh.

But the ultimate answer is most assuredly NOT closing a newspaper and putting its employees out on the streets. You would think a newspaper editorial board would be the first to grasp that idea.

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Friday, July 08, 2011

End of the News? Or the World?

The liberties taken by CBS producers on the Esplanade don't come close to the daily ethical lapses in Rupert Murdoch's media empire. And there's a real question whether abruptly folding one of the principal offenders will change anything.

The chickens are coming home to roost on the media machine that includes Fox News Channel, the Wall Street Journal and some of Britain's raunchier tabloid newspapers. Starting with the now late News of the World, which apparently sanctioned phone hacking on everyone from politicians and actors to terror victims and missing 13-year-old girls.

Rupe shuttered the venerable NOTW without so much as a sniffle. It was clearly an effort to erect a blast fence to a bombshell that exploded today -- the arrest of a former editor (and former spokesman to Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron) on suspicion of corruption and phone hacking.

It also had a lot to do with the pending decision by British regulators to allow Murdoch to take 100 percent control of British Sky Broadcasting and the bags of cash that represents to his bottom line.

The folding of NOTW, a Sunday-only tabloid, is the essence of cynicism. News International immediately announced plans for the six-day Sun to expand into Sundays. New nameplate, same old dirt.
“It was shocking,” says Sarah Ellison, a Vanity Fair contributing editor covering the story. “But when you think about it for two minutes, it’s purely cynical. It’s a way of sacrificing something Murdoch doesn’t care about to save what he does care about, including Rebekah Brooks , his prized News International editor in London. They seem to be sacrificing lower-level people in order to save the people who are in charge.” Brooks was very much in charge as News of the World editor during much of the misconduct, but it is the paper’s 200 employees who are now losing their jobs.
But it may not be that easy. By entangling Cameron, the scandal could threaten the entire Tory government.

And while the laws and rules are different in the United States, it may just prompt a bit closer scrutiny across the pond at the relationship between Murdoch's right-hand man in the Colonies, Roger Ailes, his Fox News Channel and the Republican Party that Fox News seems to direct with daily talking points.

Shuttering NOTW won't end the controversy. Rather, the blood from the corpse is now in the water and the Murdoch Empire is facing a lot of bad days ahead.

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Is it live or is it Memorex?

They promote it a live Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular -- even though the first thing CBS viewers see is a tape delayed conclusion to the 1812 Overture.

So it's a not all that jarring to hear Esplanade concert promoter David Mugar defend his annual event as entertainment and not news as a justification for using altered images of the city during the fireworks.

Silly me thought live means just that, real time viewing of events taking place. I thought the shot of the fireworks over the Statehouse was interesting, though racking my brain to think whether it was possible.

But when they cameras showed bursts above the Fenway Park pressbox, I knew we were looking at an alternate reality. The display would actually have been visible over the Green Monster -- at the other end of the park.

I've already bemoaned the liberties taken since the festivities were auctioned off to CBS. But creating false backgrounds to show off a city during a live event that already does a pretty good job of showcasing itself leaves me pondering the ethics of this particular television production. And I am apparently not alone:

Eric Deggans, a Florida-based media critic and regular panelist on CNN’s media critique show “Reliable Sources,’’ said the altered video presents a potential credibility problem for CBS.

“It is an ethical issue, and to say it’s not because the show was aired through CBS Entertainment is to imply that the entertainment side of CBS has no ethics,’’ Deggans said. “I think - especially in today’s media environment - the most important commandment for media is to not mislead the viewer. . . . If you’re a viewer who doesn’t know Boston, you’re getting a picture of the layout of the city that doesn’t exist.’’

I can wait until next year, when Paul Revere rides across Alaska to warn that Sarah Palin is coming.

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Same as it ever was

The reviews of Barack Obama's Twitter Town Hall are in and the word from the dead tree media: harrumph.

The tweaking was bipartisan: Too verbose, whined the Boston Herald. "For Obama, Brevity is Not the Soul of Twitter," scolded the New York Times in a headline that clocked in at a terse 45 characters.

Well duh.

Ever since Dwight Eisenhower "Answers America" in 1952 by taking questions from "ordinary citizens," politicians have used props to get their message across without the pesky filter of reporters. Richard Nixon moved the bar to new levels in 1968 when held forth among a hand-picked studio audience, a gimmick introduced by a young political operative named Roger Ailes.

Not to mention it's ludicrous to think the problems facing America can be defined and resolved in 140 characters. If anything, we could use more thinking and less posturing, such as the statement, er make that question, offered by House Speaker John Boehner.

It's likely reporters had their knickers in a bunch because another president has found another way to go over their heads and reach voters directly. And yes, the questions may be softballs compared to some of the hard-hitting queries that come from the media -- like what do you think about the latest poll results. But the questions reflect what really is on "average" folks minds.

No one expected Obama to commit news yesterday. And the Twitterverse still has different priorities. POTUS has yet to crack the 9 million follower mark, putting him a distant third behind Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber -- although he did surge ahead of Britney Spears. And he's well ahead of the total number of Fox News viewers.

So a word to my media friends: chill out.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

More myth-making

Most parents teach their children not to play with matches. Mitt Romney's should have focused on not playing with words. After all, both can burn you if you are not careful.

Romney's ever-changing rhetoric about Barack Obama's economic policies and the recession have a child's argument quality to it: Did so. Did not. Did so. Except Romney is taking both sides of the argument.

As usual.

But Our Man Myth has needed to change the terms in order to debate himself. Now he's telling us what the meaning of the word recession is.
“The technical term of recession is not the one the American people recognize,’’ Romney said. “Most of the American people understand we’re still feeling the effects of the recession.’’
This from a millionaire who thinks he's unemployed because his full-time job since 2006 has been running for president.

There's an old line when your neighbor is out of work, that's a recession; when you lose your job that's a depression. And for many people, the slow economic recovery makes the distinction between words meaningless.

But Romney's culpability -- and that of his party -- goes beyond words. He blames a "failed" stimulus that Republicans fought to water it down. And he ignores the fact the stimulus contained significant tax cuts -- something which the GOP has considered the Holy Grail of recovery.

And let's not even get into the GOP insistence on extending the Bush tax cuts -- one of the single biggest factors, along with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- in creating the massive debt Romney and his cohorts now rail against.

Facts to keep in mind as Romney stakes out multiple positions -- again.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Where does it go?

If there's a recurring theme in the fight over taxes versus spending, it's that many voters don't seem to make the connection between taxes and the services they've come to expect.

The Times highlights this divide with an in-depth look at Wilmington, N.C., where firefighters avoided inclines to make it to calls before the truck failed -- which it eventually did.

If that isn't sobering enough, take a look at what's going on in Minnesota -- home to Michele Bachmann and Tom Pawlenty -- and see how complicated and disruptive a government shutown can be.

Personally, I think the first solution to any squabble over paying a government's bills should be withholding the salaries of elected officials so they can get a direct view of where the money goes.

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Saturday, July 02, 2011

They'd rather be right

It might be time to change the symbol of the Republican Party from the elephant to the lemming.

Regular readers know I am hardly a fan of Myth Romney, who has flipped and flopped his way to national political prominence and is now the apparent front-runner for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

That reality probably keeps the planners of Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign up at nights. But it also causes a severe case of agita over on the far right flanks of American political life, where, in decades past, the mantra was "better dead than red."

Listen to Joe Miller, head of the Western Representation PAC:
“Right now [our focus] is making sure that Romney, who’s very clearly a RINO, doesn’t walk away with the nomination,’’ said Miller, using the acronym for Republican In Name Only. “We’re trying to save the country. And with Romney at the helm, it’s not going to get saved. Romney is just going to be a disaster for this country.’’
Romney's sins? Well, there is his acknowledgment that climate change is real and has a human element. And that Barack Obama didn't actually make the economy worse. Of course, the ultimate sin: the Massachusetts health care law.

The last we heard of Miller he defeated Lisa Murkowski for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination only to lose to her in the general election. As for the PAC, it's greatest claim to fame last year was support for Sharron Angle in Nevada.

Those should be comforting thoughts for Romney. But there's also FreedomWorks, the Koch Brothers-Dick Armey machine that has been far more successful in tilting the debate toward the right fringe.

As a progressive, I should thoroughly enjoy this effort by the None Dare Call it Treason crowd. The GOP has long fought with its fruitcake fringe and has occasionally lost big -- Barry Goldwater in 1964 for example.

But the right's virulence this time around is frightening. Goldwater, who supported gay rights, and Ronald Reagan, who raised taxes, would be considered leftist radicals today.

The thought of Michele Bachmann as the GOP nominee does bring a smile to my face. But I would actually be troubled by Romney's defeat in a fundamental way.

That's because just as I believe Michael Dukakis' dismantling by the GOP damaged the idea of competence as a presidential qualification, the destruction of another Massachusetts governor would represent the end of sanity as a qualification.

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Friday, July 01, 2011

Summer whine

You would think with some nice weather and a holiday weekend to look forward to, we would opt for shorts and smiles. But here we are celebrating the fiscal new year with bad case of the cranky pants.

Let's start with the universal snit that comes from Whitey overload. If we're not complaining about tying up traffic on the expressway with his police escort motorcade, we're cheesed off about his chopper rides and $125 an hour public defender.

And just to prove the snark isn't confined to white criminals, there's a buzz about Michelle Obama and her security motorcade, not to mention the fact she used a Teleprompter.

What would John Binienda say? Not to mention Mark Halperin?

Guess I'll just sit back, enjoy a cold one and engage in Hot Barbecue League speculation about the Celtics next season, go for a dip at the local pool and wait for Lionel Richie at the Pops.

Oh yeah.

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