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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Act II

Boston Mayor Tom Menino has dropped the first shoe in the inevitable move toward a broader solution to MBTApocalypse.

It's been clear since transit officials first announced a Draconian plan of fare hikes and service cuts that they were angling for a higher authority, like the Legislature, to step into the fray. The school of thought no doubt recalls that lawmakers got them into the mess, at least partially, by saddling them with Big Dig debt in 2000.

It was equally obvious the idea of extra money on the sales tax or, heaven forbid, the gasoline tax, would spark outrage outside the MBTA district. But never let it be said Menino lacks for the courage that comes from asking people outside the capital city to pitch in.
“I understand the difficult decisions facing the MBTA. Many administrations have simply passed the buck,’’ Menino wrote to state Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey, copying in the governor, Senate president, House speaker, and Boston lawmakers. “However, riders should not be forced to shoulder the entire weight of this debt.’’
Davey, as he has been throughout this staged drama, was non-committal.
"At this point, [we] are trying to offer solutions that are in our toolbox. Revenues from the state side do not seem to be forthcoming, in large part because there are significant budget pressures on the state as well..."
The audience for this play really numbers just three people: Deval Patrick, Robert DeLeo and Therese Murray. The governor has been on record in the past for a gas tax to help pay not just for the T but the entire, crumbling transportation infrastructure. DeLeo opposed it, opting instead for the 1.25 percent hike in the sales tax. Murray has kept her views largely to herself.

The regular tableau of riders at hearings warning of personal chaos is part of the script designed to open, if not change minds. But the sweeteners must reach beyond the T's service area to convince folks in Charlton and Northampton and Pittsfield that they should care.

That's where the gas tax comes in -- again. There remains a vast backlog of rotten roads and buckling bridges across the commonwealth, projects that were, to be fair, deferred to pay for the Boston Big Dig (financial) boondoggle. They are not receiving the attention they need either.

Because times are still tough, no elected official looking for continued employment -- or certain of his or her prospects -- is going to call for higher taxes. So we see the traditional slow motion dance of presenting a problem, creating angst and building a groundswell for action.

Davey is already telegraphing the final act:
“We do need a broader solution,’’ Davey said. “No doubt about it.’’

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Monday, January 30, 2012

The 140-character campaign (II)

The New York Times, the Gray Lady of Mainstream Journalism, has discovered what the rest of us have know for awhile: Twitter has shoved civil discourse in this nation into the gutter.

Once upon a time, in the heyday of Theodore White and Johnny Apple, political campaigns were lengthy narratives to be dispensed in thoughtful daily doses by the boys on the bus. With the rise of TV, that slowly began to fade into 40-second sound bites, then 10-second sound bites until we reached the point today of the 140-character instant attack.

Twitter has rightfully been hailed as a voice of democracy, a key component of the Arab Spring. But less attention has been paid to the corrosive downside -- on display in American politics today.

It's a perverse tribute to today's political operative to acknowledge the venom and misinformation that can be harnessed in such tight quarters. Combined with the explosion of attack ads financed by unfettered corporate cash, Twitter has contributed to a cheapening of already coarse campaign "discourse."

The solution? That's perhaps the most frightening thought of all. I'm open to suggestions.

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I object!

Hey Newt, I know Massachusetts liberals. and I am here to tell you Mitt Romney is not one of us.

The fast-and-loose-with the facts Republican primary season is grinding on and Newt Gingrich was paying a visit to Fantasy Land on Sunday, letting loose with a couple of whoppers that typify the unhinged basis of what passes for debate in 2012. First:
“I am, in fact, the legitimate heir to the Republican movement -- not some liberal from Massachusetts,” Gingrich told a sprawling crowd of hundreds at a strip mall parking lot in this enclave of senior communities.
We know Republicans have managed to turn the word liberal into a synonym for "devil incarnate." But seriously. Trying to apply it to a man almost universally scorned in the Massachusetts progressive community cries out for a visit from Politifact and consideration for its Lie of the Year.

Of greater relevance is this piece of unbridled hypocrisy:
“I have an opponent with money power, and we need people power to offset money power,” he said.
Perhaps you should read the "elite" media Newt. Or at least check your own campaign accounts.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Of Kevin and Mitt

They were as stylistically different as night and day. The visionary Boston pol and the Michigan-born businessman. One had a passion, the other a checklist.

What they shared was an overwhelming political ambition and a desire to play on the national spotlight. And for one fleeting moment, they pass each other on the stage they both craved.

Kevin Hagan White and Willard Mitt Romney shared little politically other than having their ambitions thwarted (at least for a time) by Edward Moore Kennedy. White stood watch as Boston struggled to climb out of its parochial past -- sliding backward a bit over the busing nightmare that defined his epitaph outside Massachusetts.

The visible monuments to White are quite real: Quincy Market, Copley Place and the Back Bay. Yet he was a man who ironically led more in a style similar to Romney than to his own hands-on successors Ray Flynn and Tom Menino.

White nurtured a generation of politicians and functionaries -- Barney Frank, Fred Salvucci, Peter Meade to name three. Romney? Does Eric Fehrnstrom count? I guess so since White did bring us George Regan.

The world will little know nor long remember the direct impact Romney had on Massachusetts during his one term as governor. Many saw it for what it was at the time: a way station on the road to the White House he has trod since midway through that one term.

True, neither White nor Romney was afraid to take the reins in his hands directly when times demanded: White when anger in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination threatened to burn American cities; Romney when the roof of the Ted Williams Tunnel came crashing down.

It will not be their accomplishments that many will recall, but rather the intangibles that separate the men: White, the loner in love with his city; Romney, the man who strapped a dog carrier onto his car roof during a family trip to Canada.

Two men who grew up in political families and sought to follow in the family business -- whether they admit it or not. White has a clear legacy and a statue to mark that passage. It's doubtful we will be building monuments to Mitt.

But Romney may yet have the last laugh, a chance to fulfill the ultimate goal that eluded White.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Seriously?

War. Foreclosures. Income inequality. And the political press thinks a staged campaign stunt by an Arizona governor is news.

Even when there's proof it was all hype.

Politico offers us a story about Barack Obama looking to redress a "months-old insult" in a book by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer confronting her on an Arizona tarmac.

Funny, but from my vantage point, the finger-wagging governor is doing the confronting. And a Republican Arizona mayor agrees.

But in our 24-7-365 conflict-obsessed media, everything gets blown up into scandals, especially when it involves Barack Obama. Look no farther than Bruins goalie Tim Thomas' decision to put the "i" in team and steal the thunder from his teammates White House honors.

No wonder the media is right down there with politicians on the public love list.

(Washington Post photo)

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Hedging his bets

Mitt Romney is the 0.0001 percent, as the outpouring of details from just two years of taxes show.

The latest look at the Romney investment portfolio show he is what the Globe calls an "aggressive" investor in hedge funds, funneling upwards of $100 million into those mysterious accounts must of the public know are available only to institutional investors and the super-rich. And whose manipulation or occasional collapses can trigger worldwide financial problems.

The tax returns have shattered the image Romney has tried to cultivate as a down-to-earth family guy who has been successful but not really different from average Americans. The give lie to his pathetic claims to being unemployed or fearing a pink slip.

The hedge fund investments point out the gap, as Joshua Dorner, an official with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a Washington group that has been critical of Romney’s low tax rate, tells the Globe. Romney's investments are:
“a special loophole enjoyed only by private equity and hedge fund managers.’’
The Romney campaign correctly points out they pay all the taxes required by law and the investments are in a blind trust over which they have no control.

Not the point though. It's clear the Romneys just try to play average Americans on TV. The reality is Romney is among the very class of people who helped to dig America's financial hole and who have escaped responsibility for their actions.

Think things will change for the better under a Romney presidency? You may want to hedge that bet.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Messed up priorities

Millionaires drop cash on candidates like candy, while elected officials look to tax candy to pay the bills. How did our priorities get so messed up?

While our nation slowly, slowly emerges from the depths of a Great Recession triggered by lax government oversight, governors are looking in every nook and cranny to find ways to pay for services that are necessary and/or expected -- without the resources to pay for them.

Patrick administration budget chief Jay Gonzalez told the Globe Massachusetts the state will never again be able to pay for the level of services it provided before the recession, citing long-term debts, including $40 billion in unfunded liability for current and future state and municipal retiree health benefits.

To close the gap, Deval Patrick is asking to extend the 6.25 percent sales tax to candy and soda, raise cigarette taxes again and make water bottles subject to the bottle law. In other words, nickle and dime people, many of whom are already stretched to the limit.

In part because it's a safe election year assumption have no stomach for a broader, fairer proposal. After all, this is a nation that steadfastly refuses to ask millionaires to pay their fair share toward the common good.

But millionaires have no compunction about dropping obscene amounts of cash to buy, er, support their favorite candidates.

Exactly what are Sheldon and Miriam Adelson getting in their $10 million purchase of, er, investment in Newt Gingrich? GOP critics may ask the same question about the $23.7 million George Soros dropped on Democrats in 2004.

Guesstimates are Barack Obama may raise upwards of $1 billion to defend the White House against the attack of plutocrats who have already bought and paid for Congress and are driving it ever farther away from dealing with the root causes of the recession -- the mortgage scandal, two credit card wars and massive tax cuts for their financial backers.

Meanwhile, kids are being asked to dig deeper in the pockets for a candy bar or a can of soda.

How did we go so far off the rails?

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Game On

If George Bush's budget director is the best person Republicans have to counter Barack Obama than the State of the GOP is awful.

I admit opting for sleep over the verbal showdown and by all accounts watching the DC extravaganza would simply have sped up the process. But after a less-than-exhaustive review of online resources, it's obvious to conclude Obama has stepped back into the ring to rebut the months-long assault on his record by Republicans -- and who have offered him ample targets of opportunity.

The timing of Obama's call for a minimum 30 percent tax on Americans earning more than $1 million annually is clearly not coincidental. Nor is his rhetoric:
“You can call this class warfare all you want. Most Americans would call that common sense.”
The whole SOTU process has become political theater where opponents issue prebuttals as well as rebuttals, neither of which can respond to real time proposals. It is long on theatrics and campaign lines, short on specifics.

But for incumbents, the speech offers a clear shot at stating their best case -- and for Obama that means picking up the income equality banner raised by the Occupy movement.
"We need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes. Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires. In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions.’’
It also calls for yet another lip-service acknowledgment that Americans are tired of the bickering and posturing that flows from Washington.
“What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. And we have to reclaim them.’’
And it also requires a call to action for progressives who have complained Obama hasn't gone far enough to carry the fight:
“As long as I’m president, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum. But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.’’
Obama was helped immeasurably -- even if it wasn't obvious to the average viewer -- by the squabbling GOP opting for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to deliver the formal rebuttal: the man who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget as George W. Bush squandered the surplus left by Bill Clinton and acceded to the mad policy of financing two wars on a credit card while cutting taxes on the 1 percent.

Ultimately, the speech was about Obama getting onto the field against the GOP assaults that have dragged down his favorability ratings. Whether it is salvaging the auto industry or starting the process of rationalizing our health care system -- not to mention the challenging prove the negative of preventing an even worse financial situation -- Obama has a solid record that he has failed miserably at trumpeting.

For a man who seems to be a better communicator as a candidate than as a leader, the stage is set for a two-sided battle. How Obama seizes this moment will go a long way to determine who takes the oath of office next January.

The bumbling GOP field has been heaven-sent, but it's time for Obama to state his own record clearly.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Great jobless benefits

When Republicans berate unemployment benefits, they ought to remember Mitt Romney.

The man who told us he was "unemployed" in 2011, had pulled down a cool $45 million a year earlier, a year he spent getting ready to run for president. His income did suffer in 2011, down to a mere $20.9 million. Romney paid $6.2 million in taxes for 2010 and 2011, an effective tax rate that ranges from of 14 percent to 15.4 percent.

Great jobless benefits to help his efforts to extend his 17-year political career.

Romney correctly insists he was simply paying what the law requires and like all Americans, he isn't interested in paying a penny more than that.

But the reality is the tax laws are horribly skewed in favor of "job creators" and against men and women who work to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. And for his 15 percent rate, the only jobs Romney has created are for the people working to get him elected. With the assistance of people offering their time for free.

Congratulations Myth. You are now the poster boy for the myth of tax breaks for "job creators."

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Taking it to the House

The hundreds of people who rallied on the Statehouse steps angry over proposed MBTA fare hikes and service cuts knew exactly what they were doing.

Protests by MBTA officials notwithstanding, the Legislature is going to have to step in with another bailout of a transit agency onto which they dumped a portion of the Big Dig debt.

The outpouring of people -- and the stories they tell -- has been dramatic given that public hearings usually generate more dust bunnies than speakers. Last week's hearing in Newton no doubt saved bus Route 52 from elimination.

With the Legislature stirring from its midwinter nap, T Riders Union member Lee Matsueda spelled it out clearly:
It was easy for [state lawmakers] to drop the Big Dig debt on the backs of the T and its riders, so they really need to consider how important of a service this is for our region and for the state as a whole,’’ Matsueda said before leading the group in a march to the hearing.
The Draconian combination of higher fares and service cuts has never seemed sustainable. The state's fiscal situation -- and resistance from those who don't benefit from the T to prop it up -- complicate the task.

But only the Legislature can fix the problem it created in the first place -- and that includes asking for help from people who benefit from the roads and bridges and turnpike subsidized by T riders.

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Silent treatment

Who let the air out of the House Chamber last night?

After a rousing start touting how Massachusetts leads the nation on job growth and education, Deval Patrick got down to a short list of business for the second year of the two-year term -- and there were probably corners of the ornate chamber where you could hear a pin drop.

That's because lawmakers have other things on their mind beside overhauling, community colleges and reining in health costs. To be fair though, they are focused on crime -- within their ranks.

The looming indictments from the probation department patronage scandal is undoubtedly weighing heavily on House leadership in particular.

The result was a low-impact speech with few applause lines and little of the exuberant whoops and hollers that typically greet the speech.

And come to think of it, what do lawmakers have to cheer about?

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Too little, too late?

It took a voter slap in the face but Mitt Romney will now share a sliver of the details of his 15 percent taxable income. But the greeting in store for Newt Gingrich from the "elite media" he despises should be the tale of the next week.

It what may be too little, too late to stem the damage, Romney plans to release one year of tax returns along with his current year estimate. And he plans to do it tomorrow -- after a GOP debate tonight and the run-up to tomorrow's State of the Union Address. Making you once again wonder what he has to hide.

But the scrutiny of Myth's taxes will be far less intense than the review in store for South Carolina victor Newt Gingrich who threw down the gauntlet toward the media, forgetting the ancient proverb that once should never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.

Gingrich's anti-media stance certainly plays well with GOP primary voters who receive all their news and misinformation from Fox News. But a rehash of Gingrich's checkered personal and political past will serve as a rallying cry for the GOP establishment looking to buck up Romney.

And bucking up he will need as he tries to clean up following a week where he lost both a caucus and a primary, not to mention the aura of inevitability that has long been his major calling card.

The tax decision was a first-class bungle -- and despite trying to bury it in a busy news cycle -- it is unlikely to go away. Obama released eight years of returns when he ran in 2008 retrenchment compared to Bill Clinton's 12 years released in 1992.

Romney will try to turn the upcoming Gingrich rehash back onto the former House Speaker, but the question has always been how effective can an attack Myth be?

Stay tuned as we find out.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

The new War Between the States

George W. Bush talked about "soft bigotry." Newt Gingrich embraces the hard stuff.

It seems appropriate the state where the Civil War began handed a demoralizing loss to a "Massachusetts moderate." That's because Gingrich swept to victory on the wings of a campaign that pushed every conservative hot button, particularly the one we are squeamish to talk about except in code words like "Kenyan socialism."

The right's refusal to let go of the birth certificate issue, even after Barack Obama produced documentation of his Hawaiian origins, reflects how deeply the issue of the president's skin color resonates in the minds of conservatives and the people who vote for them.

It resonates even louder in exit polls that show people who identify themselves as evangelical Christians overwhelmingly supported Gingrich, despite his well-known disdain for traditional marriage that is allegedly revered on the right.

Gingrich, who is a key player in creating the polluted tone of today's politics, knows how to use words to sow discord. His attack on Obama as the" food stamp president" is thinly-veiled racism. In his victory speech, he dressed it up a bit to pull in others who still harbor grudges over losing The War of Northern Aggression:
The American people feel that they have elites who have been trying for a half-century to force us to quit being American and become some kind of other system.
Gingrich is the latest in a long line of "populists," who include Charles Coughlin, Joseph R. McCarthy and Pat Buchanan to prey on the fear of those who are "different" from "real Americans."

His victory no doubt sends shudders down what's left of the spines of "traditional" Republicans who encouraged the rise of the Tea Party as a tool to victory, only to see the hard right hijack the party.

Expect the next 10 days to be spent furiously bucking up Mitt Romney with a barrage of negative ads aimed at Florida voters who go to the polls on Jan. 31. Thanks to South Carolina, the soul of the party of Abraham Lincoln -- and the nation itself -- is on the line.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Myth-making

I usually pull out the G section to read the Globe comics. Today, the funny papers are on Page One.

I'll give Globe editors a minor slap on the wrist for poor work by allowing this factually incorrect paragraph to appear before the jump:
A week ago, propelled by a narrow win in the Iowa caucuses and a convincing victory in the New Hampshire primary, he steamed into South Carolina with a double-digit lead over his rivals. He hoped that three successive victories in the first three states would swiftly seal the nomination for him and allow him to begin focusing on the general election.
It was only one paragraph later, to be sure, that editors noted the fact Romney had actually lost Iowa. Let's call it a literary device that ignores the fact the lies retold often enough overshadow the truth.

Besides, trail reporting by solid journalists like Matt Viser and Michael Levenson provided enough comic relief to make me want to forget about Pooch Cafe. For example:
Pointing to [Newt] Gingrich’s ethics violation, Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who is leading Romney’s efforts in Congress, noted that Romney had won 64 endorsements from current US House and Senate members, compared with only 13 for Gingrich.
Let me get this straight: the Romney campaign thinks endorsements by congressional Republicans is a good thing?

But that wasn't it for the belly laughs:
John Sununu, a former New Hampshire governor and Romney supporter, also sought to raise alarms about Gingrich’s character. “This is a guy who is a megalomaniac, whose own leadership kicked him out as speaker because they got tired of the megalomania,’’ he said.
Takes one to know one, eh governor?

The best news of the day, at least for progressive bloggers, is win or lose, we will have Newt to kick Myth around a little longer.

Oh, and great double entendre in the headline folks. Makes up for the editing lapse.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

As the GOP Turns

Who says the Republicans primaries are dull: Rick Perry dropped out; Marianne Gingrich dropped a dime on her ex. And Mitt Romney lost the Iowa caucuses -- 17 days late.

At least no one talked about Romney's taxes. Oh, wait a minute.

When last we left the GOP soap opera Our Man Myth was struggling to cope with a rising tide of stories about his tax-paying privileges and I opined the media was on the verge of devoting their full attention on the increasingly likely GOP nominee.

But that was before one of the wildest days in any primary I can recall. Let's start with the Gingrich squeeze play.

With polls suggesting the Newtster was closing in on Romney in South Carolina, Perry's withdrawal and Gingrich Wife #2's decision to open up about their "open marriage" threatened to change the equation.

After all, it's not easy to believe evangelicals will be comfortable with the revelation that the Speaker of the House was having an affair with an aide "in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington." While leading the witch hunt to impeach Bill Clinton over an affair.

OK, they'd be fine with the last part.

So with Gingrich is full mad dog mode, you would think it would be a red letter day for the Mittster, a break from the look at his 15 percent tax rate and offshore tax shelters.

Except for the part where Iowa's Republican Party decided to do a recount after all -- and award Rick Santorum with a 34-vote win. So much for Romney's historic sweep of the first two voting tests.

About the only thing that's clear is Romney's chances of delivering a knockout blow in South Carolina tomorrow have faded and Florida's Jan. 31 contest takes on added importance.

Including 10 more days to delve into the Romney tax question.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

A tax add

Just when Mitt Romney thought he'd weathered his tax problems, a major new issue is emerging as a possible feeding frenzy moment.

ABC News reports Romney has taken advantage of Cayman island tax shelters available through his Bain capital retirement package. While the Romney campaign adamantly denies the candidate is into tax avoidance, the steady drip of tax-related issues is threatening to become a torrent in the days before South Carolina votes.

And Romney has only compounded his problem by refusing to release his tax returns, as the New York Times cheekily notes:
"If there is one thing Mr. Romney has been consistent on over the years, however, it is taxes. In his campaigns for the United States Senate, governor of Massachusetts and president, he has never once released his tax returns — not even in 1994, when he made a major issue out of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s refusal to release his own returns."
On successive days Romney has been forced to address questions about using offshore tax shelters and paying a 15 percent rate, one enjoyed either by lower-middle class couples or venture capitalists able to take advantage of the carried interest rule that treats management fees as capital gains rather than income.

The tax shelter question can be especially troubling from an image stand point. as does the fact the legal tax avoidance options available to higher income Americans amount to a $100 billion loss to the Treasury, as Rebecca J. Wilkins, a tax policy expert with Citizens for Tax Justice, told ABC.

Romney maybe hoping a win in South Carolina will make the issue go away, although it could also affect what appears to be a shrinking lead.

But it is clear he is approaching the blood in the water phase of a political crisis, with the media doing the type of reporting the frequently comes as one candidate emerges from the pack. The only way to stem that bleeding is through releasing his tax returns, not just for this year but for a substantial period in the past.

And no matter what he does, it's equally clear Barack Obama will remind voters about the larger $100 billion hole created by legal avoidance -- and the price less-well off citizens pay in higher taxes and reduced services to support the lifestyles of the rich and anonymous.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Multimillion Mitt's mess

When Rupert Murdoch takes a swipe at you over taxes, you have a problem. And when Multimillion Mitt is paying a rate equal to someone earning $17,000 to $69,000, that problem is huge.

Mitt Romney's acknowledgment that he pays "closer to 15 percent" is sure to revive the income inequality debate that finally took flight during the Occupy Wall Street fall campaign. And for a man who has shown remarkable tone deafness to questions of privilege, this one may take the cake.

It's not as if Romney is doing something illegal, as his defenders are quick to point out. But the fact the "unemployed" man has been able to live comfortably off the proceeds of deals made up to two decades ago puts a very real face to the problem of the "carried interest."

That's the tax law provision that which allow venture capitalists a share of any profits that the general partners of private equity and hedge funds receive as compensation, despite not contributing any initial funds. And the 15 percent rate on dividends and capital gains they pay is well below the 35 percent top rate on income ordinary Americans face.

As Robert McIntyre, the director of Citizens for Tax Justice, says:
“The low taxes on capital gains and dividends are why people who make a ton of money, which is largely from investment income, do awfully well. The Warren Buffetts, the hedge fund managers — they pay really low tax rates.”
Romney only compounded his problem by dismissing the $375,000 earned from speaking fees in 2010 as "not very much."

Barack Obama, who paid an estimated 26 percent rate on his salary and book proceeds, was surely going to make the issue of income inequality a centerpiece of his fall campaign. That Republicans have started that argument for him has likely been met with unbounded glee in the Obama camp.

And I suspect Mitt would not want to bet $10,000 on that.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Couple inches of partly cloudy

I didn't think they had to plow rain. So why are there snow plows making passes this morning with the French Toast Alert at low?

Despite sage predictions all day that the snow and sleet would stay far to the west, Bostonians are waking to the first white ground of the season. And like any good politician, meteorologists are cheerfully ignoring their earlier promises.
A quick shot of moderate to heavy snow moved through much of the area between 9pm and 1 am, depositing anywhere between 1/2" of snow all the way up to 2 1/2" of snow.
Which is a cautionary tale about taking seriously any November presidential match-up involving the presidential campaign. Lots of things can change, especially when only one side of the debate is being aired and pollsters are talking to people who don't have all the information they need to make an educated decision.

Of course the pollsters would never have French Toast alerts. Way too elitist.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Spin-out patrol

The tale of Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and the overnight ride is now spinning as wildly out of control as the Crown Vic did on that fateful night.

The Globe reports that an independent investigator it hired to review the black box data supports Murray's original contention that he hit some black ice before careening across I-190 and into a some rocks early on the morning of Nov. 2.

State Police -- and Murray -- later changed the story to the former Worcester mayor falling asleep at the wheel around 5:26 a.m. But traffic safety researcher Jeffrey Muttart begs to differ:
“It is highly unlikely that anyone would be sleeping,’’ wrote Muttart along with coauthor Jon Northrup in their 10-page analysis. Muttart added that Murray could have been sleepy before the accident, though “only the Lieutenant Governor knows for sure.’’
That's because they say black box data suggests Murray tried to steer the vehicle twice during the 14 seconds it took for the accident to happen. And although he was clocked at a maximum of 108 mph, the experts say data suggests Murray's foot was not on the accelerator.

State Police are getting a bit testy over the back and forth:
“Since the day the lieutenant governor crashed, we have investigated 16 fatal crashes on state roads - two of them double fatalities,’’ said State Police spokesman David Procopio. “But it is the lieutenant governor’s crash that so dominates the public discourse. Something’s wrong about that.’’
Yes and no. While Murray immediately offered to take a Breathalyzer test and passed, his story has spun out of control, so much so that he has had to hire professional spin doctors. Let's review:
  • He said he was surveying damage from the freak October snowstorm. In the dead of night.
  • He said he clambered out of bed when his kids climbed in because he couldn't sleep.
  • He said he was out looking for a Herald and a cup of coffee.
  • He said he thinks better in solitary drives.
Murray has steadfastly refused to release his cell phone records, which would indicate if he were talking or texting at the time of the accident. While he says he is standing on what he perceives as principle, the stance suggests there is something to hide.

Like it or not, precedent or not, this crash will not go away until he releases the phone records. Elected officials know their lives become open books when they take an oath of office. If he was texting while driving -- against the law in Massachusetts -- he may just reinforce his image as a regular guy. If he was talking to someone with whom he has a secret relationship, he would joining a large fraternity of politicians.

And if he comes clean, voters may just forgive and forget. If he doesn't, they won't. Hopefully that was the first thing his high-priced crisis communications consultant told him.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Haley's hijinks

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is now the poster child of the hypocrisy of Republican politics.

The supposedly law and order Republican offered 193 full and unconditional pardons -- including 17 convicted murders -- on his way out the door and back to his lucrative lobbying business.

The right was inflamed when Bill Clinton issued pardons as he headed out of the door. As for Barbour, listen to GOP strategist Alex Castellanos, who ran Mitt Romney's 2008 campaign:
“Haley is so well respected in the party that he still remains a hugely powerful force. He built the party that we have today from Reagan on, so there isn’t a better fund-raiser, a better organizational leader in the Republican Party.”
Apparently not all sins are created equal in today's Republican Party. What a shock.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

In his debt

The rush to look at Mitt Romney's career at Bain Capital has prompted a quick lesson in modern capitalism -- one that can hold deeper political trouble for the likely GOP nominee.

The Globe's Beth Healy offers a simple primer on venture capital -- which Romney loves to tout with stories about Staples -- and leveraged buyouts, the focus of the searing King Of Bain video that is just beginning to makes its presence felt.

Romney has boasted about Staples for years -- how a small investment was turned into a thriving chain that has produced about 88,000 jobs, virtually all the 100,000 in job growth Romney claims to have fostered.

That's the bright side -- investing your money and those of other capitalists to make businesses grow.

There's also a dark side and that's leveraged buyouts, where the targeted company is purchased with a combination of capital and debt, which the new company is expected to pay off quickly, often by taking on additional debt.

And instead of building from the ground up, the firm bought by leverage is expected to slim down, shedding jobs and operations to get there. The investors take their profits quickly and move on, leaving those left behind to fend for themselves

Here's the pitfall ahead for Romney: he wants to run on a record of a businessman who used debt creatively to wield profit for investors -- and secondarily, if at all, for companies, their employees and communities.

But if leveraging debt to build is an accepted business practice, why is it so wrong on a governmental level when the goal is the same: to build an economy, communities and jobs?

Just one more flip-flop for Our Man Myth to negotiate.

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First you say you will...

Rick Perry now loves the Commerce Department.

The agency has been on the Texas governor's hit list of three (or was that four?) federal departments that he'd ax if we won the presidency. But here's betting on a change of mind, now that Barack Obama has that same department in his sights.

And expect the do-nothing Republican leadership to rush to praise the department and bemoan Obama's attack on small business and commerce.

To be honest, Obama's call to fold the Small Business Administration, United States Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade and Development Agency -- plus the business and trade functions of the Commerce Department -- into one agency is a campaign year ploy.

A Republican leadership that balks at extending payroll tax cuts for the middle class because Obama proposed it, certainly isn't about to get on board for a plan that would save $3 billion over 10 years and result in reductions of 1,000 to 2,000 jobs.

And that's the point about the mindless, knee-jerk opposition from a group that puts politics and party above the needs of he nation.

But it will be delicious watching Mitt Romney defending bureaucrats against the ruthless tide of Obama's attack on small business.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

The joke's on us

Stephen Colbert is trending in South Carolina -- and the favorite son is looking to capture the primary.

Our favorite Comedy Central blowhard is thinking about running for President of the United States of America of South Carolina, giving up control of his own Super PAC to launch the exploratory campaign. He's currently trailing Rick Perry, but has a leg up on Jon Huntsman.

He can't possibly be a bigger joke in a field that includes Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum as exemplars of rectitude and compassion.

Colbert and Jon Stewart have been skillfully skewering our dysfunctional political system for years. There's only one fear: a Colbert victory would certainly highlight what a joke our highest bidder democracy has become.

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Unkind contribution

I thought the Tea Party Newsletter was supposed to be the voice of the "little" people?

Yet here is the unfair and unbalanced voice of the Mitt Romney campaign bashing working people who lost their jobs thanks to the deals negotiated by Romney's Bain Capital.
Vengeful Mitt bashers laid off by Bain Capital nearly 20 years ago are dogging their old nemesis again as Mitt Romney faces a familiar old storyline — first trotted out in his 1994 campaign against U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy — that he is a heartless, predatory capitalist.
The Herald's schizophrenic coverage does allow the "displaced workers" featured in the "King of Bain" documentary promoted by Newt Gingrich to speak their piece.

But the paper also trots out "old rivals" like Rudy Giuliani and Rush Limbaugh to protest the attacks on the GOP nominee apparent.

At least you know which side of the aisle the Herald stands on.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Money talks...

The double talk coming out of the Scott Brown campaign suggests the junior senator is definitely getting concerned about the challenge he faces from Elizabeth Warren.

Wall Street's favorite senator is in a tizzy that Warren apparently counts reformers from the financial sector among those who contributed $5.7 million to her campaign in the last quarter of 2011.

While the Warren campaign says the average contribution she received from 23,000 Massachusetts contributors was $64, the Brown campaign continued the Karl Rove-financed assault claiming she is a tool of the same Wall Street folks she has taken up arms against. Says Nate Hodson, a spokesman for American Crossroads:
“Professor Warren’s double-talk on Wall Street campaign funds is brazen hypocrisy — she decries campaign cash from Wall Street while simultaneously asking them to contribute to her campaign. Professor Warren’s Wall Street hypocrisy is stunning.”
And the candidate is not shying away from the fact there may be some Wall Street money in her coffers:

“There are people on Wall Street who actually believe we need better rules, fairer rules. That’s what I stand for. I’ve gone toe-to-toe with these financial institutions. A lot of people understand if you don’t have tough rules and a tough cop on the beat, the whole system is going to come down around us.”
While the actual list of contributors will tell the tale when it is released, the two-quarter Warren fund-raising numbers of $8.8 million are eye-popping, particularly since she has come out of virtually nowhere as a candidate to out raise Brown, who set his own fund-raising records thanks to Wall Street and out-of-state contributors two years ago.

Democrats are quick to offer their own spin. According to John Sasso, the man behind Michael Dukakis:

“This has to do with her embodiment of that message of standing up for the middle class and fairness. She says it in such a compelling and authentic way that she is getting an overwhelming response,’’ he said. “She doesn’t sound threatening or angry. She comes across as very committed and at a time when people are looking to somebody who embodies that commitment to fairness.’’

One interesting triviality. While the Brown campaign was unavailable to the Globe, offering up only blather from the state GOP about "extreme liberal special interests " from outside Massachusetts, they did find time to respond directly to the Herald, using the "professor" meme to raise latent Tea Party hackles about elites.

A case can be made that Warren is taking Brown to school right now in terms of fund-raising, even though the incumbent continues to hold a sizable lead not only in actual dollars but in the support of super PACs like Rove's, which ponied up $1.1 million alone last fall to attack Warren.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Holding service

The Man from Winnipesaukee took one of his home states by a comfortable margin and appears ready to take on Barack Obama in November. Not so fast.

The road to the Republican nomination has been kind to Mitt Romney so far, with New Hampshire giving Landslide Mitt a more comfortable victory margin than Iowa. And GOP primary voters still feel inclined to support a non-starter like Ron Paul than a more viable challenger, whoever that may be.

But Romney's shift to Obama attack mode may be premature with two Southern states coming up in the next three weeks, starting with South Carolina, where politics, to quote Mitt "isn't beanbags."

Our Man Myth currently leads in the Palmetto State, birthplace of Lee Atwater and home to the nasty and brutish 2000 primary between George W. Bush and John McCain. And a newly refinanced Newt Gingrich may be ready to repeat history with a savage video campaign featuring Romney as corporate raider.

Then there's the matter of religion. As we saw in Iowa, fundamentalist Christians are less than enamored with Romney's choice of faith, opting for the bottom of the barrel in Rich Santorum.

Romney's recent gaffes has also provided fodder, if not for his GOP challengers, but also to Obama, who has made an effort to be visible if not dominant during the GOP campaign.

Despite his long time upon the national stage, Romney remains a man with many missing pieces in his personal story, allowing challengers to offer their own portraits. Expect that to step up dramatically in the next few weeks.

Romney has always been the GOP's likely nominee since the day he conceded to John McCain four years ago. But do not expect the upcoming stops on the campaign trail to be a victory lap. And don't expect his perfectly coiffed hair to remain perfectly in place.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Of primary concern

Random thoughts while waiting for the exit polls:
  • Why was Mitt Romney channeling Donald Trump with his declaration that he likes to fire people? Romney again proved his inability to be spontaneous -- and the disastrous results that can emerge -- when he goes off the cuff because he his flustered or otherwise distracted. Want to bet $10,000 he'd like that comment back?
  • Anyone looking for a clue how far right the national Republican Party has lurched need look no farther than the new epithet -- Massachusetts Moderate. No longer content to vilify liberals, the hard right is now taking off against what they view as the squishy center. It could be damaging through the primaries, but helpful should Romney emerge the winner as expected. But then the Massachusetts part of the label will emerge as a problem.
  • Romney's emergence on the other side may well be decided after the reviews come in on the GOP's efforts to Swiftboat one of their own. The $5 million lifeline Dorchester-born casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is throwing to Newt Gingrich has the ability to sink the Romney campaign faster than John Kennedy's PT-109. The difference between this attack and the one that damaged John Kerry in 2004 is the Romney venture capital story doesn't need distortion. It's been playing continuously since 1994 for anyone willing to listen.
  • Dixville Notch is already in and it could be a harbinger of November. The three wings of the GOP split their vote, putting Jon Hunstman in a dead tie with Romney at two votes apiece, trailed by Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. The winner in overall votes? Barack Obama.

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Monday, January 09, 2012

Pious baloney

Only Mitt Romney could make fellow Massachusetts millionaire John Kerry seems comfortable in his own skin.

Our Man Myth, who over the course of the campaign has said he is unemployed and lamented French plumbing, now tells us he feared losing his job during his days as a venture capitalist, putting people out of work.
“I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re gonna get fired,” Romney volunteered during a mid-day rally of several hundred inside an ornate opera house here. “There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.”
Of course, Romney could offer no examples from his career at Bain Capital, a company he created and successfully ran, making millions for himself and his partners. The closest you might come is his decision not to seek reelection as governor in 2006, knowing that by losing interest in the job as he began eying the presidency, Bay State voters might toss him out.

The personal reinvention of a millionaire's son is akin to the political metamorphosis from running to the left of Ted Kennedy in 1994 to his current spot on the right edge of American politics.

And it only magnifies what Newt Gingrich has brilliantly labeled "pious baloney" from the man whose rare honest moment came after he thought about the immigration status of his lawn care team because "I'm running for office for Pete's sake."

I'll bet you $10,000 Romney wishes he had that back.

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Grand Old Phollies

For a party with only 11 percent of voters, the Massachusetts Republican Party sure has a way of keeping us amused. And the split among Bay State Republicans should serve as a clear marker for the perils that await presidential nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney.

The Massachusetts Republican Assembly -- the "Republican wing" of the state GOP -- is calling for the ouster of newly installed state party boss Robert A. Maginn Jr. over the discovery that he donated cash to both Deval Patrick and New York Sen. Charles Shumer. A reasonable gripe to be sure, even though Maginn says he supported and voted for Charlie Baker in 2010.

But was really cheesed off the wingers is Maginn's open support for Willard Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee (No word yet if they are equally annoyed by Maginn's backing of Scott Brown). Says Assembly president David Kopacz:
“There’s very, very little grass-roots support for Romney at this point.’’
The dispute mirrors the split in the national party between the Tea Party and establishment wings. But if Romney's home state band of brothers and sisters are divided, what does it say about the Mittster's ability to weave the factions together in a general election?

Pundits are saying one of the biggest challenges Barack Obama faces in his reelection bid is the enthusiasm gap among new voters who rallied behind him in 2008.

But there appears to be a similar gap growing between pragmatists and true believers on the right, one that could only be exacerbated if the Tea Party opts for a third way -- or sits on its hands come November rather than support the "Massachusetts Moderate."

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Saturday, January 07, 2012

Lies, damn lies and Gingrich

Newt Gingrich holds an important place in creating the hateful tone that has afflicted American politics for a generation. But why has the media been his biggest enabler?

Gingrich's latest outrage is a doozy:
"I'm prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I'll go to their convention and talk about why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps," Gingrich said.
The problem, aside from the inherent racism? It's a gross distortion of reality:

About 40 million Americans (in 18.4 million households) receive food stamps, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released in September, using the latest (2010) data.

Among the food stamp recipients 33 percent (13.4 million) are white, 22 percent (8.9 million) are black, 16.7 percent (6.6 million) are Hispanic, and 2.8 percent (1.1 million) are Asian.

Almost half (47 percent) of all Americans who receive food stamps are children. Another 8 percent are elderly. About 20 percent are disabled.

And where did I find these facts? Certainly not on the mainstream media outlets like local television stations that played his soundbite without any of the fact checking they like to tout in their promotional ads.

The fact is politicians know how to play the media like a violin: polls, sound bites and ads drive coverage and smart consultants are the ones who know how to play to the media weaknesses.

This weekend, we are being buried with daily polls tracking phantom movements. We are getting ads making outrageous claims. And we are about to get network sponsored debates that will rehash the same sound bites we've been accosted by for weeks.

Every four years, the media big feet get together, lament how things did not go as they would have liked and promise change. They've become as reliable as the men and women they cover in failing to deliver on their promises.

And the tone of our discourse continues to sink deeper into the mud.

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Friday, January 06, 2012

The People's Seat, redux

The time was 1986. A congressional legend was retiring. An inexperienced man with a famous name decided to jump in, amid a chorus of jeers.

He won.

It's clear that 2012 is not those thrilling days of yesteryear, when Joseph P. Kennedy II moved from Marshfield to Brighton, took on a big field of Democratic hopefuls and won the right to succeed Tip O'Neill in the 8th District.

But decision by Joseph P. Kennedy III to follow in his father's footsteps, move from Cape Cod to Cambridge to the newly redrawn 4th District certainly has a familiar ring to it.

And despite the Herald's declaration that voters won't roll out the red carpet for the "dude" (did you see an actual voter quoted?), young Kennedy has set the real first marker in a field that has been slow to form since Barney Frank decided to step down.

The scorn directed at his father was far more intense. He had a somewhat checkered past at the time, both academically and with the family's driving talents. He challenged a field that included a well-known state representative in Mel King and an up and coming state senator in George Bachrach. That race also attracted a "scion" of a prominent political family, Jim Roosevelt.

Quick -- who's the best known political name living in the 4th District these days? Who exactly has announced for this seat so far, other than two Republicans mentioned by the Herald? Speculation has centered on Alan Khazei, who lost to Martha Coakley in one Senate primary and opted not to challenge Elizabeth Warren once she picked up a head of steam in the next one.

Scott Brown's mad dash to The People's Seat once held by Kennedy's grand-uncle changed the political face of Massachusetts -- at that moment in time. But it was a short race and featured a Democrat who didn't give it her best effort.

Brown's scramble back to the center suggests he may not have rewritten the rules as much as he thinks.

If Sean Bielat opts to return from Philadelphia to run for the seat he lost to Frank by 11 points in 2010, he starts with better name recognition -- as well as baggage from a race that was long on bravado and short on substance.

There are two familiar bromides to keep in mind as Kennedy lays down his marker: history does have a way of repeating. And those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Anyone remember the name of the Republican to lost to Joe Kennedy by a 72-28 percent margin?

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

"Time for a U-turn"

You can say this for the Tea Party Newsletter: there are no little minds afflicted by hobgoblins like consistency running the place.

One day after proclaiming a clear path ahead for Mitt Romney following his eight-vote landslide over Rick Santorum, the Herald scrambled off the Romney band wagon -- at least for a day -- to acknowledge serious unhappiness in the ranks for their favorite son.

But no one noticed the unintended graphic "oops" that resulted on the home page when Margery Eagan's column on the travails of our lead-footed lieutenant governor was slotted to the left of the box housing the Santorum mea culpa.

"Time-for-a U-turn."

The tabloid headline writers certainly had a better sense of place, teasing the column at the top of the page with "Tim's mess -- "come clean now."

Good advice for the Romney cheerleaders too.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Landslide Mitt

The Mitt Romney Newsletter should really wait until the polls close before writing their stories.

Our Man Myth is a huge loser in the expectations game, edging out Rick Santorum by a mere eight votes in the Iowa caucuses. Yes, let that sink in: the conservatives who dominate the Iowa GOP dislike Romney so much they opted for someone who was washed up and left for dead by the political professionals months ago. In the words of the New York Times:
Mitt Romney's quest to swiftly lock down the Republican presidential nomination with a commanding finish in the Iowa caucuses was undercut on Tuesday night by the surging candidacy of Rick Santorum, who fought him to a draw on a shoestring budget by winning over conservatives who remain skeptical of Mr. Romney.
Romney once again failed to generate 25 percent support among the party faithful, who opted for Mike Huckabee over Romney four years ago.

But the stunning slap in the face to Romney certainly has failed to register with his boosters over at Herald Square, who offered up this rousing analysis:
A soaring Mitt Romney has the wind at his back as he hits the Granite State today following his strong finish in Iowa — and his double-digit lead in most New Hampshire polls means he could clinch the nomination early, say pundits.
Yes, Santorum and Paul have little to no chance to win the GOP nomination. But the humiliation of barely edging Santorum has to be giving the party elders heartburn. Just when they though they had beaten down that pesky Tea Party wing, the wing came back and slapped them across the face.

Romney may indeed eventually emerge with the nomination. But the race just became long, nasty and brutish.

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Leadfoot Tim

So who's the favorite for the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nomination? I wouldn't put a lot of money down on Tim Murray.

Our lead-footed lieutenant governor appears to have been asleep at the wheel literally and figuratively when he smashed his state-owned Crown Vic on Nov.2. A story that already had holes -- he was surveying storm damage at 4 a.m. and returning home after buying a Herald when he hit black ice -- is now as wrecked as the car.

Murray complicated his own political fate by refusing to authorize the immediate release of the car's data recorder which yesterday offered up the new story of the high-speed crash. And by insisting he was only trying to spare the State Police undo political pressure by acceding to the Freedom of Information requests, he made their situation even worse.

Now the troopers need to explain why they bought into Murray's black ice defense.

The ever-helpful Herald finds an expert who casts doubt on the latest story too:
“The evidence would indicate he’s not sleeping at the time because he’s actively pressing the throttle,” said Bruce McNally of New Hampshire-based McNally & Associates and a former Maine police officer with 25 years of crash-reconstruction experience. “Just a couple seconds before losing control, he floors it. That’s not typical of a driver who falls asleep. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it occur. A typical driver who falls asleep, their foot would come off the pedal.”
Damage control this is not. Murray was lucky to escape the crash with his life. His political life, however, is in critical condition right now.

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Death wish

The MBTA has certainly figured out how to put an end to those overcrowded trains and buses they've been bragging about.

We've been warned that the fare hike proposals likely to emerge would be Draconian, leaving room for a new proposal that would be more palatable for commuters who have abandoned their cars in the face of high gasoline prices. Well that proposal can't come soon enough.

The powers-that-be at the T have have two plans, each worse than the other: a 35 percent fare hike that eliminates 101 weekday bus routes or a 43 percent hike that eliminates 23 weekday and 19 Saturday routes. Both plans eliminate all commuter ferry service and commuter rail service on weekends and after 10 p.m. on weeknights.

Would you like to be burned at the stake of have your head cut off?

It seems pretty obvious Transportation Secretary Richard Davey and his successors at the T really do have a third plan in mind: a legislative bailout, a reality acknowledged by board member Ferdinand Alvaro in referring to the now failed effort to shift the T to a "forward funding" system and give it 1 percent of the sales tax to prevent regular fare hikes.
“Until the forward funding formula is fixed, we are going to have financial problems,’’ Alvaro said. “So it’s like we keep putting Band-Aids on every hurt, but we never really deal with the root cause. The only folks who can fix that are the governor and the Legislature."
Davey says that bailout is unlikely in the state's current climate, which can mean only one thing: change the climate with a proposal that is so awful lawmakers will have to cave.

It's a scenario more reliable than the bus and subway schedules that stand to be blown up.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Great Expectations

You can win for losing. That's the political reality to keep in mind as the Great Straw Poll known as the Iowa caucuses kicks off the 2012 election season in earnest.

The presidential run-ups are unique in the ability to make or break candidates who defy conventional wisdom (no pun intended). Remember Eugene McCarthy's 1968 New Hampshire primary win? I didn't think so. But McCarthy beat conventional wisdom and the real winner, Lyndon Johnson, eventually dropped out.

What's fascinating about today's caucuses is the growing optimism of Mitt Romney in a race that polls show is within the the grasp of several people, including Rick Santorum who has come out of nowhere to become the latest Anyone But Mitt.

Since caucuses are particularly creatures of organizational turnout, the Romney forces no doubt feel comfortable in their numbers and their ability to get them to the caucus sites tonight.

But with polls showing Ron Paul, another well-organized candidate, within the margin of error and headlines touting a Santorum surge, you can assume there are at least a few sweaty palms in the Romney camp.

And given the fact that Romney has flirted with 25 percent support throughout the campaign, let's just say his margin for error can be a lot more hazardous.

But, as Sherlock Holmes would say, the game is afoot and its time for about 100,000 to 150,000 white, evangelical Christian rural Iowans to tell us what America is thinking.

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