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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

No joy in Mudville

The future is looking mighty bleak for the species Republican Moderatus.

Yes, their wayward son Mitt Romney survived to fight another day with a narrow win in his birth state of Michigan. But the real news was happening down east, where Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe decided to hang 'em up.

With her decision, the party once known for moderates like Edward Brooke, Leverett Saltonstall, John and Lincoln Chafee and yes, George H.W. Bush, is nearly extinct. Only Snowe's Maine partner, Susan Collins and, some may argue, Scott Brown, remain from that unique breed of fiscal conservative and social liberal descending from the Party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

Today's Republican Party prefers cultural warriors like Rick Santorum, a somehow fitting candidate to represent an ideology being strangled by its own intolerance.

Snowe had obviously grown weary of trying to stem the tide of immoderation sweeping through the Senate and the GOP, and her departure may actual do more than her presence, opening what had been a solid Republican seat to potential Democratic takeover in a closely held Senate.

And the party finds itself in deep chaos, its libertarian, religious and traditional wings struggling for control and likely to emerge with a flawed nominee in Romney. It is a testament to the violent rightward lurch that began with Barry Goldwater in 1964, that the son of a popular three-term moderate governor could only eke out a 4-point win -- and a virtually split of delegates in Michigan.

Then again, today's GOP would hardly welcome Goldwater, a libertarian who favored gay rights. And they are disproving the infamous words of his acceptance speech:
I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!
Instead, today's GOP reflects the less-remembered warning:
Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tangled web

Scott Brown is quickly seeing the downside of his effort to score points on the contraception issue. Whether he'll learn from the experience is the question.

The Boston Globe has unearthed bills filed by Ted Kennedy that would appear to directly contradict Brown's claim that he and his late predecessor shared a desire for a "conscience protection" to employers who opposed paying for contraception coverage.

Kennedy's son Patrick called Brown out on the issue, asking the current junior senator to withdraw radio ads making the claim. Brown has refused, claiming Kennedy's dying letter to Pope Benedict XVI declaring “I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health care field,’ backs his contention.

But the Globe reports Kennedy sponsored bills in the 1990s and 2000s that would have required all employers who offer prescription drug coverage to include contraception coverage, most recently in 2005.
“Contraceptive insurance coverage is essential for women’s health," Kennedy, then chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said during a 2001 hearing on the bill that would have extended insurance coverage for contraceptives. 
 And former Kennedy staffers involved in writing the legislation -- and knowing the senator's state of mind -- vigorously dispute Brown's claim:
"This thing is outrageous," said Nick Littlefield, a Kennedy aide who served as staff director for the committee that handled health legislation from 1988 through 1999. Littlefield, also a Democrat, supports Brown’s leading Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren. “It’s just breathtaking, the chutzpah."
But chutzpah may be exactly what Brown is aiming for, tossing red meat to so-called Reagan Democrats to keep them from bolting to his presumptive Elizabeth Warren as he moves to the center on other issues.

And for the sake of consistency, it's fair to point out that Brown, who ran on his opposition to "ObamaCare," has yet to square that position with his support for "RomneyCare." Then again, neither has the Massachusetts legislation's namesake.

And we know the problems Multiple Choice Mitt has been facing as a result of his tangled web of positions.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Thought control

The wacky world of Republican politics keeps spinning: Scott Brown is telling Ted Kennedy's son what his father thought -- and chiding Elizabeth Warren for changing a subject he opened.

When last we left the junior senator, he was opening up the can of worms called the Blunt Amendment, the GOP's attempt to turn the clock back almost five decades on contraception. Brown claimed his position was in keeping with Kennedy's dying plea to the pope for a "conscience protection for Catholics in the health field.’’

Not surprisingly, Patrick Kennedy, the late senator's son, took exception to Brown's claim, particularly in his use of his father's words in a radio ad, labeling it "misleading and untrue":
“You are entitled to your own opinions, of course, but I ask that, moving forward, you do not confuse my father’s positions with your own,’’ Kennedy wrote to Brown. “I appreciate the past respect you have expressed for his legacy, but misstating his positions is no way to honor his life’s work.’’
That earned a lecture from Brown, only eight years Kennedy's senior:
“I’d like to think your dad would have been working with me to find an accommodation that all sides found satisfactory.’’
But the strangest aspect of this rightward Brown lurch -- in contrast to the New York Time's suggestion he's moving toward the middle -- is Brown suggesting that Warren's countering of his position is designed to turn the conversation in another direction:
“Job creation will remain my number one priority in the days and months ahead, despite Professor Warren’s attempts to change the subject.”
The Globe has noted the Romney and Brown campaigns both receive strategic advice from the same team (as do the Warren and Joseph P. Kennedy III efforts) and that Eric Fehrnstrom has occasionally forgotten who he was tweeting for.

It would be generous to put this snafu in the same category -- the arrogance and illogic of the arguments certainly measure up to the Romney camp's picking fights on shaky grounds with bad facts.

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Romney Tanking?

What in the world were they thinking?

The grim visual of Mitt Romney speaking in front of an empty football stadium, coupled with his latest foot-in-mouth utterance that "Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs actually" brings to mind a disastrous photo-op from another former Massachusetts governor turned presidential candidate two decades ago, a mere howitzer blast away in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

Michael Shear and Michael Barbaro of The New York Times mercifully fail to bring up the saga of a third Michael as they chronicle the missteps, avoidable and otherwise, that marred the Romney address: the campaign allowing organizers to choose a behemoth venue for a large event; the power of Twitter and Facebook to change a well-planned message; a candidate given to uttering statements that reflect his 1 percent status.

But the Romney campaign cannot simply finger point every which way. A crucial piece of the puzzle was their decision to leak key pieces of the economic message, leaving reporters with very little to do other than pick apart the scenery.

Romney has proven proficient at throwing millions at opponents to bury them under a storm of negatives. And he has been blessed with large target foes who offer themselves as paragons of hypocrisy of 10th Century values.

But left to his own devices, Romney inevitably lays an egg, exposing a stunning lack of awareness of his own life of privilege.

And that's where he veers off course from his Massachusetts predecessor, a guy whose major failing was an inability to project his genuine warmth and humanity -- and who has never been to big to stoop and pick up a piece of trash from a sidewalk.

Romney's resources appear poised to rescue him in both Michigan and Arizona and he will likely continue to run a campaign against a fictional Barack Obama created by the very same advisers who did nothing to nix the Ford Field venue.

But Romney may well be heading to the same fate as the two Massachusetts Democrats who trod the same path before him. Does anyone seriously want to have a ginger ale with him?

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Desperately seeking Beacon Hill

It's Feb. 24. Do you know where your state Legislature is? On vacation.

The State of the State has been stated. The budget presented. Almost two full months into the election year-shortened schedule -- and one month after those two benchmarks -- and the Great and General Court has enacted 32 session laws. An accomplishment? If you are a community looking to create liquor licenses or set up a voting precinct, you bet. If not, meh.

Members of the ways and means committee from both branches are fanning out across the state, holding hearings on the budget while the unsung worker bee analysts on these committees are burning the midnight oil.

But the members, not so much. Maybe they are hunkered down, awaiting the bombshells expected to emerge from Worcester after imprisoned former Speaker Sal DiMasi tells what he knows about the probation department's hiring practices.

Like the promotions struck down by a Superior Court judge as invalid.

And we are told that lawmakers are finally "close" to an agreement on a sentencing reform bill they have been haggling about for months.

Meanwhile, the elephant in the room, the $161 million MBTA deficit, its strangling debt and how to deal with it in a way that's equitable from Provincetown to Pittsfield has drawn virtual silence from Deval Patrick on down.

Legislative bodies tend to act best when faced with a deadline. Just look at Congress. OK, bad example.

Actually it's a pretty good one. Act in haste, repent (or attack) in leisure isn't the best way to deal with the challenges we face as a state and nation.

Tick, tock.

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Channeling Teddy

You know Scott Brown is worried about his reelection prospects when he starts claiming he's following in Ted Kennedy's footsteps.

But that's exactly what the man who won election in part on his promise to turn the "Kennedy Seat" into the "People's Seat" is doing.

Brown is claiming his support of GOP legislation to turn the clock back almost five decades on contraception is in keeping with Kennedy's dying plea to the pope for a "conscience protection for Catholics in the health field.’’
“Like Ted Kennedy before me, I support a conscience exemption in health care for Catholics and other people of faith,’’ Brown says in the radio ad, which began running yesterday.
Those who worked closely with the late senator are crying foul.

“Kennedy was interested in protecting the rights of individuals. Brown is trying to take away the rights of individuals,’’ said John McDonough, a Democrat who served on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions when Kennedy was chairman.

“Brown is taking something Kennedy supported and is exponentially expanding it to something Kennedy never would have supported,’’ added McDonough, now a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

So is Elizabeth Warren:

In a radio ad also released yesterday, Warren said the amendment “threatens women’s access to contraception, mammograms, even maternity care.’’

“It’s just plain wrong,’’ Warren says in the ad. “This isn’t about the rights of religious institutions. We must respect those rights . . . but the president also made sure that women can get the health care they need. That’s the right approach.’’

Polls show a nip-and-tuck race, and Brown has amassed a considerable war chest. A lot of that money came from out-of-staters at the end of 2010 and the start of 2011 supporting someone who promised he was not Ted Kennedy.

It's a flip-flop worthy of Mitt Romney, if only it didn't turn Kennedy's beliefs on their head.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Do As I Say Brigade

One things clear from the Republican debates: the candidates are great at saying one thing while doing another.

Rick Santorum had his turn on the Hypocrite Hot Seat at the GOP debate last night, defending his congressional record from a furious onslaught by Mitt Romney, the unmatched -- and unashamed -- flip-flop king.
“While I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the ‘Bridge to Nowhere,’ ” Romney said, drawing upon a noted symbol of government excess to drive home his point against Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator.
Of course taxpayers had a lot to do with that save, kicking in more than $79 million in earmarked procured through the use of five lobbying firms.

That was good enough for the red meat-eating crowd, that was booing Santorum by the end of the evening. Of course the millions the Romney campaign and Super PACs have spent beating up Santorum didn't hurt.

Speaking of campaign spending, Romney needed something to turn attention away from the fact he spent nearly three times more than he took in during January, hardly the type of credential one would expect from a candidate promising to take a battle ax to the federal budget.

But Our Man Myth made a bad misstep, pointing to his "accomplishment" of "balancing four budgets" during his term in the Corner Office.

That left Santorum a hole big enough to drive a General Motors truck through:
‘‘Don’t go around bragging about something you have to do. Michael Dukakis balanced the budget for 10 years — does that make him qualified to be president of the United States? I don’t think so.’’
Ouchie.

The debate was billed as the last of 20 GOP get-together, leaving some wanting more of the events that did little more than boost the ratings of the outlets carrying them. Esquire's inimitable Charlie Pierce waxed nostalgic:
“They should invite the whole cast back, all the people who left the show for their own spinoffs, the way they brought Rhoda and Phyllis back when Mary Richards got fired at WJM,” alluding to the classic sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Although their man often had a bulls-eye on his back during these jousts, it's likely the Obama camp may miss them too. Some of the arrows aimed at him veered so far to the right the images are likely to resurface during the reelection campaign ad blitz.

As for me, I'll stick with my NCIS reruns.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Isn't this special

Move over soccer moms, here come the church ladies.

The Republican presidential nomination campaign continues to lurch sharply rightward, with Rick Santorum campaigning against Satan and Franklin Graham practicing a hate-based theology that questions the faith of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Instead of taking the easy-to-reach high ground in this "debate," Romney jumps in with both feet, questioning Obama's Christian bona fides.

Was it coincidental this all took place on Mardi Gras?

The race for ayatollah continues its furious pace, led by the amazingly hateful words of Graham, who may somehow believe he is carrying on in his father's role of preacher-in-chief, which ought to be noted was an unelected post.

In one TV appearance Graham hit a daily double, declaring "Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama" and that "most Christians would not recognize Mormonism as part of the Christian faith."

Santorum, who has compared Obama to Hitler, sidestepped a question whether Satan was "attacking America" as "not relevant," before launching into a defense of his beliefs:
"I’m a person of faith. I believe in good and evil. I think if somehow or another because you’re a person of faith you believe in good and evil is a disqualifier for president, we’re going to have a very small pool of candidates who can run for president."
Not to be outdone, an increasingly desperate Romney took the bait when asked at a town hall forum how he would defend religious freedom:
“Unfortunately, possibly because of the people the president hangs around with, and their agenda, their secular agenda - they have fought against religion."
As usual, the would-be moralists offered nothing to back up their hateful spew.

The red meat of religion offers a comforting alternative to Republicans watching the economy improve and Obama's approval rating rise. Given this reality, they choose to pander to ancient prejudices and drive even deeper wedges into an already divided nation.

There's no doubt a special place in H-E-double hockey sticks awaiting them.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Second chances

As Tim "Crash" Murray sinks deeper into credibility gulch, Democrats are scratching their heads about the 2014 gubernatorial race. The alternative may be emerging right before our eyes.

The rehabilitation of Martha Coakley took another major step forward with a friendly profile in Globe, where the loser of the "Kennedy Seat" offers her most visible mea culpa over the perceptions surrounding her defeat at the hands of Scott Brown:
“The thing I feel worst about is people’s perception, and the media, that somehow I felt entitled to the seat, that I hadn’t worked hard enough, that I took it for granted. I knew if I was going to run for reelection I had to face it head-on among constituents.’’
Coakley worked hard to win reelection as attorney general and has compiled a solid record as a consumer advocate. But her name has never come up in electronic water cooler conversations about life in the post-Deval era.

Then came Murray's crash and the fall-out over everything from Michael McLaughlin to changing stories to his cell phone records.

Can Coakley trade her 20th floor office overlooking the city to a third floor corner office with a nice view of the Common?

Conventional wisdom has said no. The loss to Brown made her a national laughing stock. Then there was "The Curse": no attorney general since Ed Brooke has been able to move up to a higher office.

But let's face facts. The 2014 field is pretty weak -- in both parties. Murray may have had a semi-incumbent advantage but was hardly a shoo-in. Name one other prominent Democrat?

Because Coakley's predecessor, Tom Reilly, lost to an unknown named Deval Patrick, it's unwise to rule out another long shot emerging. But Coakley now looks much better when compared to the muck accumulating around Murray's tires.

Flattering profiles certainly add to that luster. And Coakley will know she's on the right road when the Herald moves on from their assaults on Elizabeth Warren and JoeK3 and starts dredging up the past and taking swipes again.

Martha II: The Sequel? Time will tell.

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Gas bag

Newt Gingrich says vote for him and he'll lower gasoline prices to $2 a gallon. If bogus campaign bloviations could do that, we'd be paying the oil companies.

And kudos to the Associated Press for stepping outside what is likely it's normal comfort zone and calling out Gingrich and the GOP chorus for thinking presidents have all sorts of unfettered powers to move heaven and earth.

As we have seen, they have a hard time moving congresses that are as stubborn as jackasses.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Holiday from banks

Once upon a time, "It's a Wonderful Life" was the archetype movie about banking. Today it would be "Jaws."

But somehow that hasn't stopped banks from snatching up storefronts here, there and everywhere, as the Globe's Todd Wallack chronicles today.

Brookline's Coolidge Corner is a great example: at least 10 banks clustered in a tiny space, filling spots once held by by an eclectic mix of retail from boutique wine stores to McDonald's. The banks even outnumber the phone stores!

The question is why? Boston Redevelopment Authority director Peter Meade offers one answer:
“The biggest problem is that local businesses simply can’t compete with the banks’ money. Banks can come in and bigfoot a place so a local business doesn’t have a chance to compete.’’
That's the greatest irony. Back in George Bailey's day, banks and their savings and loan kin were supposed to foster community: take in local deposits and lend them back out to earnest businessmen and women looking to build their lives and the local economy.

Today? Banks headquartered across the country or across the ocean take in money -- not just deposits but endless fees. In return, aside from microscopic interest paid for the right to hold that money, not so much.

The nation's inability to snap out of the Great Recession -- caused, never let us forget, by irresponsible bank lending -- has been a reluctance of those very same taxpayer bailed-out banks to invest in the communities they helped to bring down.

Yet somehow the banks have the cash to throw around to outbid convenience stores and bagel shops and businesses that provide some life for a community after banker's hours.

No wonder neighbors are taking up petitions to keep the sharks out of their neighborhoods.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ayatollah so

Is Rick Santorum running for president or religion czar?

The former Pennsylvania senator decried Barack Obama's "phony theology" at an Ohio campaign stop Saturday, around the same time the media dug up a 2008 speech in which Santorum declared mainline Protestantism "is gone from the world as I see it."

Buoyed by polls showing him doing well as the last, best anti-Mitt, Santorum is stepping up the holier-than-thou mindset that appeals to the GOP base, you know the group that despises Romney for his Mormon faith. It's also the group that clings not only to its guns, but the phony proposition that Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim.

Santorum comes loaded with red meat. His view of the Obama "agenda":
“It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology,” he said. “But no less a theology.”
Karl Marx famously noted religion is the "opium of the masses," and hard economic times increases the desire the run from worldly woes. But it is increasingly distressing that candidates offer not suggestions on how to improve the economy but instead preach sermons on whose beliefs are right and whose are not.

The 1st Amendment does more than simply allow the free exercise of religion. It forbids the state and federal government from establishing an official religion or set of beliefs.

The increasingly shrill debates over abortion and contraception can certainly be viewed as efforts to impose one religion's beliefs on that subject on others -- despite the pious protestations of true believers that the opposite is true.

The views of Santorum and others are also protected by the 1st Amendment. But they would be wise the recall the words of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in describing the limits of free speech:
"The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins."
Santorum's desire to be this nation's ayatollah is a protected right. But his rights to believe in certain things end where mine to believe in other things begin.

That freedom to believe separates us from the types of societies that religious zealots have created to impose their own beliefs.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

There he goes again

Myth Romney either has a really bad memory or a really bad staff. There's very little else to explain his latest pirouette on labor.

OK: he's willing to say or do anything to wins the hearts and minds of the base that powers the Republican Party.

The Boston Globe reports Romney was a staunch defender of the Quinn Bill, that budget-busting law that awarded salary bonuses to police officers who advanced degrees. His support for Quinn -- at the same time he was slashing local aid, and supporting college tuition increases for the blinds and disabled, had its roots in winning the endorsement of police unions in his campaign against Shannon O'Brien.

You know, the same type of labor organizations that Romney accused Barack Obama and Rick Santorum of being soft on. Listen to one of those "union bosses":
As a candidate, he showed up to the office of the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation and asked for the union’s endorsement, said Thomas Nolan, a retired lieutenant who was then vice president of the federation. “There was a firm understanding that the quid pro quo would be his agreeing to allow our Quinn bill benefits to remain intact,’’ he said. “We felt assured that once he was elected, our benefits would be intact for four years and guess what? We got what we wanted.’’
Quid pro quo? Listen to Mike Widmer, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation:
He’d certainly portrayed himself as a reformer. So there was a real contradiction between what he had put forward and then the fact that he didn’t sign off on this very hard-earned reform.’’
It's no shock that Romney has flip-flopped on yet another issue. At this point it is hard to believe he has core beliefs on anything as he has sought elective office in Massachusetts and now nationally.

What is somewhat stunning is that no one associated with Romney, least of all the candidate himself, has the ability to recall, anticipate or even care about his tendency to say or do anything to play to voters in whatever state is on the line.

The latest flip-flop isn't the result of investigative reporting or even the pressure to release tax returns. It emerged from a simple examination of the record from 2002-2003, an era amply chronicled in newspaper archives and on the web.

Regular readers know I am not a fan of the Rabid Right. But I give them credit for being to able to see through an obvious phony. That's always been the reason they have doubts about the Man from Michigan-Massachusetts-New Hampshire-Utah-California.

Doubts he reinforces every time he opens his mouth -- with the full assent of his staff who obviously can't put a governor on the governor's mouth.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Playing with fire

Mitt Romney's not-so-smooth march to the nomination has prompted the candidate to bite the hand that feeds.

Romney is doubling down on his Michigan gamble, not only defending his criticism of the Bush-initiated GM and Chrysler bailout, but also charging the Hard Right's new favorite, Rick Santorum, is squishier on unions than he is.
“I’ve taken on union bosses before, and I’m happy to take them on again because I happen to believe that you can protect the interests of American taxpayers, and you can protect a great industry like automobiles without having to give in to the UAW [United Auto Workers], and I sure won’t,’’ Romney said Wednesday.
Well at least he's showing his dad's business some real love instead of the usual mish-mash of opinions he generates toward the auto industry.

But the slam against unions, whose concessions were an integral part of the restructuring, risks antagonizing a key Republican constituency. That's right, union members.

Exit polls from 2008 show John McCain took almost 40 percent of the union vote. And does anyone remember where the concept of Reagan Democrats comes from? And surely we can't forget the image of Joe the Plumber?

The white, working class has been drifting right since the days of Richard Nixon and the hard hats. If anything, Barack Obama understated their desire to cling to unions as well as guns and religion.

And we need to look no farther than Wisconsin and Ohio to see the line in the sand. Union members turned out in force to try to derail Republican governors Scott Walker and John Kasich's moves to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public unions.

In his usual both sides of the fence straddle, Romney ignores his own 2002 gubernatorial campaign promise to push for annual increases in the minimum wage, tied to the cost of inflation. And like so many Republicans before him, he has courted and won the support of police unions, which traditionally lean right.

Romney is engaging in some sort of strange calculus that opposition to the core industry in Michigan and the men and women who make it run, is somehow a winning strategy in both the primary and the general election. And Democrats are more than happy to let him go on his merry way:
"We don’t want to sabotage their primary,’’ said Albert Garrett, president of the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “We think whoever they select won’t be good for workers in Michigan.’’
Somewhere in Chicago, David Axelrod is smiling.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fare deal?

The MBTA Advisory Board appears to have come up with a compromise everyone can live with to avoid a fare hike and service cuts. But the key questions are: will they and for how long.

A 25 percent fare hike, parceling out costs to other agencies and turning to surcharges and burden-sharing, seems a far better solution than fare hikes that could top 40 percent at the same time service is slashed or eliminated.

But the plan still has the feel of a stop-gap solution that does not address long-term issues, like resolving the debt burden the Legislature placed onto the T as part of the Big Dig bailout.

The Advisory Board proposal targets users who place a heavy strain on the system -- colleges, universities and fans who attend events at the Garden and Fenway Park. A modest ticket surcharge to defray the cost of service to Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and concert fans seems reasonable, despite the inevitable howls of protest.

Same with asking colleges and universities whose students jam up cars, often so tightly they get waved on for free on the Green Line, to pony up a convenience fee. And there is something to be said for asking organizations with stations named for them to pay what are in effect naming rights.

The proposals -- that also include other agencies taking over police and ferry operations -- would generate just about enough to cover the looming $161 million shortfall. But Advisory Board director Paul Regan also hits its major weakness:
"This doesn’t fix the T, but we want to respond to everything that our members have heard about the needs of the system and how important it is to not have service cuts. If people go after these ideas with some enthusiasm and some vigor, we can get through fiscal 2013 without a major service cut.”
In other words, we'll we right back here a year from now dealing with a fiscal 2014 problem -- unless of course the economy improves enough so that the T's portion of the sales tax goes up, and riders don't abandon the system because of higher fares and a host of other what ifs.

It's long past time to deal with this long-standing problem with something approaching a permanent solution.

In the meantime, here's one other revenue-raising idea: charge an extra fare to anyone who takes up space in crowded aisles or empty seats with an overstuffed backpack. The revenue implications are impressive.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Insuring political gain

So much for Scott Brown's move to the center.

The Bay State's junior senator has become a full-fledged culture warrior, opting on to legislation that would strip people of long-established rights in the name of "moral" objections by that favorite Mitt Romney person, the corporation.

Republicans who see a rocky path to the White House are stirring up the culture wars again, not only taking aim at the established precedent of Roe v. Wade, but sliding even farther backwards and looking at Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 Supreme Court decision that established our right to privacy and struck down a state law banning contraception.

Apparently Brown thinks it's moral to deny someone their personal right to privacy because of someone else's religion.

The legislation filed by Missouri Sen. Roy Blount is the latest assault on individual rights in the name of corporate personhood. It would allow employers and insurers to limit specific health care coverage, including contraception, based on religious or moral objections.

Brown, locked in a tight race with Democrat Elizabeth Warren, chooses to frame the issue as one of religious freedom, ignoring the fact that one person's "freedom" is another person's tyranny and favoring one religion's tenets over another violates a First Amendment's definition of freedom.
"No one should be forced by government to do something that violates the teachings of their faith.’’
I'd rather frame it as no one should be denied the right to privacy because of something that is based on the teachings of one faith over those of others.

Political pundits are, well, blunt, about the reasons for backing the Blunt bill. Says Tuft University political science professor Jeffrey Berry, it's all about votes, particularly those of conservatives who haven't already abandoned the Democratic Party:
“He cannot win this election unless he draws some Democrats. There simply aren’t enough Republicans in Massachusetts.’’
That political calculus is backed up by C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts and a lapsed Democrat:
“The principle is people should not be forced to violate their conscience as a condition of providing health insurance to their employees. There is a remnant of socially conservative pro-life Democrats and a larger remnant of former Democrats like myself who would view such a vote favorably.”
The essence of this argument is that corporations are people who have consciences that trump individual rights to privacy. It does not argue that people who object to the policy can opt out. Rather it demands that people without objections be denied an established right to privacy based on corporate "beliefs."

By that argument Citizens United, which declared corporations are citizens for free speech purposes, should actually bar corporate political donations that override individual employee beliefs.

As for Brown, he frames the issue as another example of "elitism" by Elizabeth Warren. But the junior senator is the one guilty of elitism if he opts to favors one religion or belief over that of the many others that define this nation.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Can you hear them now?

MBTA officials have unleashed a tsunami. State leaders had better be listening or they will be swept up by the wave.

It's almost unheard of -- standing room only at public hearings. Yet that's what is happening at location after location across eastern Massachusetts as transit officials bring their proposal for fare hikes and service cuts out for a test drive.

And now the spotlight is being turned onto the ways the transit authority spends its money, particularly the more than 600 people raking in $100,000 or more annually.

The plight of the T was not addressed in Deval Patrick's State of the State address. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who has been outspoken on the fate of workers at Suffolk Downs and Wonderland, has been far less vocal about riders who board the Blue Line at the stations that serve those tracks.
“Right now, I feel like a solution is really a T issue rather than a legislative issue … I would like to see the hearing process go forward and they will present their findings and then (we) will comment on them.”
Senate President Therese Murray acknowledges the obvious, while remaining silent about solutions.
“Everyone knows there’s got to be a fix on the transportation funding.”
With gasoline prices rising again, lawmakers view a fuel tax hike as even more deadly than the T's third rails. But their options are limited.

State transportation officials know they are playing with fire in generating a worst-case scenario of 35 percent higher fares coupled with elimination of weekend commuter rail service. Maybe they think the extra revenue generated by riders getting back in their cars will help ease the crunch.

But they ignore, at their own peril, the fate of people who don't have that option:
“How much do you expect the poor to pay?’’ said Jane D’Angelo, 47, during a public hearing hosted by the MBTA on the proposed changes at the Boston Public Library’s central library in Copley Square.
Frankly, I don't think Transportation Secretary Richard Davey is ignoring them: he is playing them like a violin, orchestrating the furor into a crescendo that will force Patrick and lawmakers to act.

And probably annoy everyone outside the MBTA district already fuming about Big Dig costs. But the fate of the capital city's economy is important to the quality of life in Worcester, Pittsfield and Harwich.

Lawmakers really have no one to blame but themselves for this predicament. And the wiggle room is rapidly disappearing. At hearing after hearing the public is making itself heard loud and urgently.

A reasonable fare hike, judicious trimming of costs like salaries and a search for every available penny of non-fare revenue are part of the solution. But there needs to be an answer, once and for all, to the chronic problems that don't defy solutions, but just require political will.

The public hearings make clear this is not an issue going away anytime soon. As much as elected officials may wish that to happen.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Myth busted

When Utahns turn against Mitt Romney, he's in a heckuva pickle. And some of then are turning.

The one seemingly unblemished mark on Romney's resume is his handling of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. That myth has Romney riding to the rescue to lead an organizing committee that was presiding over a corrupt, out-of-control venue. It required his great managerial skills to put clean up the Games and take them from a likely loss to a nice profit.

Not everyone agrees. Listen to Wayne McCormack, a professor at the University of Utah law school:
“You could have brought Humpty Dumpty in and the same change would have happened. It was inevitable. . . . I don’t mean to denigrate Mitt’s performance by any stretch. But to answer the question, did he cause it to happen? No, the organizational structure was such that it simply had to happen.”
Nor did it hurt that Romney was able to secure an extra $400 million taxpayer dollars for the Games, bringing the federal contribution to an estimated $1.5 billion.

After the Games, of course, Romney took credit for saving the Games and "came home" to graciously accept the Republican nominee for governor, pushing aside Jane Swift, whose interim time in the Corner Office was highlighted by her role as a helicopter parent. His efforts in Salt Lake were a major piece of this campaign pitch.

But Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini, a Democrat to be sure, says Romney's role was, well mythologized.
I don’t remember him as a savior of the Olympics,” she said. “He came in and did a good job. He did a very good job. . . . I would put [former Bain associate] Fraser [Bullock] in with him as having made the Olympics hugely successful. Would it have been as successful without them? It’s hard to say. . . . I think our Olympics would have been good no matter what.”
Another myth busted.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

George W. Who?

Anyone who stays on top of today's political news knows there's a strange disease going around: GOP Amnesia.

Republicans, it seems, have lost eight years from their lives. The calendar jumped directly from Jan. 20, 2001, when Bill Clinton left the nation with a $1.9 billion budget surplus to Jan. 20, 2009, when Barack Obama moved into the White House with a $1.3 trillion deficit.

To hear GOP presidential hopefuls strutting their stuff at the CPAC convention, all the fiscal problems this nation faces started on that day in 2009. Listen to our "severely" conservative former governor, Myth Romney:
“We will remind Americans that during this president’s term we have seen record high job losses and record home foreclosures. We will not be lectured to on values by the man whose ineptitude and failure has created so much unnecessary pain for our fellow Americans,’’ Romney said.
No memory of the two credit card wars or the non-existent regulation that allowed Wall Street executives to make billions off Ponzi scheme-like tools such as sub prime mortgages and collateralized debt obligations. Certainly no memory of the 2008 decision to offer a hand to the millions of men and women employed by General Motors, Chrysler and their suppliers.

It's as if eight years just vanished, all traces of the Republicans who held congressional majorities from 2003 to 2007. We certainly have lost sight of the man who held the keys to the Oval Office during those years.

No Myth, we need to remind Americans about the Man Whose Name You Dare Not Speak, the author of the failed policies that Obama has spent three years trying to clean up while you and your cohorts run from the party's legacy of incompetence.

Here's a hint as you try to wrack your memory: his name is not Katrina.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

What's in a name?

The first poll in the revamped 4th District is out and Republicans already have the heebee-jeebies.

It's no surprise that Joesph Kennedy III garners 60 percent support in the Boston Herald-UMass-Lowell poll. It's long been said that 40 percent of Massachusetts voters would never vote for a Kennedy. so he may be at his ceiling.

What's interesting is that Sean Bielat, who moved back to Massachusetts to run for a second time, is polling at 28 percent. The poll suggests the district really has drastically changed, with only 45 percent saying they had heard of Bielat, the man who claimed he scared Barney Frank in 2010 before thudding like a stone.

Bielat put on a brave face:
‘‘It’s consistent with everything we know about the race, which is that nobody knows who this guy is; they just know his last name."
And the Herald, which served as Bielat's campaign manager last time around, has already brought out the artillery in the form of Holly Robichaud, who declares:

Sean’s strategy should be to be Barn Coat 3.0. Pull a Scott Brown on him. Just as with the state’s Republican senator, Bielat is a very personable guy who has honorably served our nation — he’s a major in the Marine Corps Reserve — and he’s been around the block a couple of times. He is supporting a family and already had a career going when 3.0 graduated law school 21⁄2 years ago.

Sean earned his station in life. He didn’t inherit it.

In case you didn't notice, Senator Barn Coat is reassessing his own tactics in the face of a strong challenger in Elizabeth Warren, tagging her an elitist. Oh wait a minute, I guess it is the same strategy.

Kennedy apparently has that base covered too. While he has yet to declare his candidacy, he has hired a spokesman, Kyle Sullivan. Yep, the guy who works with Doug Rubin, who works for Warren and who helped engineer Deval Patrick's reelection over what once seemed to be long odds.

Early polls do need to be addressed cautiously. Kennedy has name recognition and little else. Other members of his family have flamed out miserably in politics, even in Massachusetts.

And the book to date on Bielat is that while he can get his visibility up, his negatives go up in tandem.

This could indeed get interesting, Dude. And no one knows it better than the Herald, which has started its own campaign early.

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Sorry Charlie

House Speaker Robert DeLeo has one word for people who think the Legislature will come to the rescue of the MBTA. No.

DeLeo ruled out any new taxes in the fiscal 2013 budget that will emerge from his branch in April during an address to this members yesterday. While he was referring to a series of hikes on tobacco, candy and soda sought by Gov. Deval Patrick to support education, social services and local aid, there is a broader undertone to the message.

The MBTA is in the midst of a marathon of public hearings over proposed fare increases and service cuts that make it seem that legislative intervention may be needed to avoid chaos, not to mention jammed buses, trains and highways.

The silence from Patrick and DeLeo is almost as deafening as the unspoken message from T officials and riders staring at a yawning gap that is only expected to get bigger thanks to Big Dig debt hung on the transit agency by lawmakers at the turn of the century.

Obviously it is way too soon for Beacon Hill to signal any support for what would undoubtedly be an unpleasant rise in the gas tax, something far more likely to raise the hackles of a business community that DeLeo says needs predictability and consistency in the tax code.

There's also a political question of whether the House has the stomach for the wrenching debate at the same time it is holding its breath over the impending federal grand jury testimony by imprisoned former Speaker Sal DiMasi.

It's still very early in this multi-act drama and the script now calls for rejecting the suitor's sly advances. But this is work in progress could be hit with a major rewrite once the road tryouts come to a close.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

They Hate Mitt

Rick Santorum's sweep of Tuesday's vote Republican voting brings into sharp relief the key trend so far this season -- GOP conservatives would rather go down with the ship than embrace Mitt Romney.

And that's just among the folks even wiling to get out of the house and vote. Prior to last night's Santorum's victory in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, turnout had been lagging in important GOP states like South Carolina, Florida and Nevada.

To think that Santorum, who lost his Pennsylvania Senate seat in a landslide to conservative Democrat Robert Casey Jr., would be ahead on total states won at this point is nothing short of stunning.

Unless you think about how far to the right the GOP vote has shifted among the true believers who have won the battle for the soul and the votes of the party, leaving those who disagree with the lurch to either wring their hands or sit on them on Election Day.

It had been fashionable in political circles to speak about the enthusiasm gap Barack Obama is facing among those disillusioned over the gap between his soaring 2008 rhetoric and the realities of life in a hostile political world where he oppositions places party ahead of country.

Yet it appears we are seeing an enthusiasm gulch among Republicans, aimed squarely at a likely nominee with chameleon ways who nonetheless represents the only legitimate mainstream challenge to Obama.

Last night's results are still unlikely to change Romney's inevitable march to the nomination and could conceivably even strengthen him for a general election by allowing him to claim he really is a moderate.

But the dents and dings he has accumulated -- and will continue to do because Newt Gingrich has lost any incentive to stop his scorched earth campaign -- have only helped to sharpen the focus of a newly capitalized Obama campaign.

As the GOP continues to emulate its 1964 ritual suicide, we may really be looking at a repeat of 2004, when an incumbent who generated strong animosity among a wide swath of voters still managed to beat out a Democrat who failed to stir the faithful's heart strings.

And Romney should take note that the 2004 loser, who also hailed from Massachusetts, did not generate anywhere near the animus among true believers than he does.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Singing speaker

Who knew Sal DiMasi was a singer?

But reports suggest the disgraced former speaker is Bay State-bound, supposedly en route to a federal grand jury in Worcester that is taking testimony in the Probation Department scandal that centers around John O'Brien.

Neither DiMasi nor his successor, Robert DeLeo, are strangers to the concept of patronage, which O'Brien did better than probation by some accounts. DiMasi testimony could place DeLeo, former Treasurer Tim Cahill and former House leader Thomas Petrolati in what George Bush 41 so elegantly called deep doo-doo.

By all accounts, DiMasi and his family have been bereft since his conviction and imprisonment in Kentucky. A better placement and perhaps time off for cooperation could be in the offing in exchange for testimony, although DiMasi and his family would no doubt become persona non grata.

All speculation to be sure, but the pace of activity around the Legislature has been even slower than normal, suggesting a preoccupation with things other than state business.

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

T is for Trouble

The Globe's Eric Moskowitz's buried the lead in his excellent analysis of how the MBTA found itself in its current fix, needing both fare hikes and service cuts to keep running.
The scary part is that this would be just a one-year budget fix.
Moskowitz offers one of the best explanations to date about the looming challenges the transit agency faces and how the mountain of debt that makes fixing those problems monumentally difficult. In a nutshell, no one saved for a rainy day and it is pouring buckets:
Principal and interest payments on the debt are scheduled to climb higher in the next few years. And then there is the matter of the billions in repair and replacement needs that keep getting postponed. The Red Line carries roughly as many people through Boston and Cambridge each day as Interstate 93, but it has a fleet built partly in the 1960s and a dated signal system that limits how often the T can run trains.
And he quietly notes the failure of leadership on the parts of several governors and/or legislators to address the issue head on.
... yet in the 21 years since the state last raised the gas tax, local Mass. Pike tolls have gone up just twice, while the T is poised for its fifth fare increase.
The MBTA is an integral part of a rational transportation system that includes roads, bridges, commuter rail and the water. The colossal management failure that was the Big Dig has infuriated commuters in all corners of the commonwealth and removed the spines of many elected officials who know the T's woes are part of a broader package that includes repairing crumbling bridges in cities and towns across the state.

Yet lawmakers have seem intent on limiting the solution to Turnpike commuters and T riders. And the problem that won't go away keeps getting bigger -- and harder to solve.

Corruption is not the only thing casting a shadow on Beacon Hill.

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Saturday, February 04, 2012

GOP secret weapon

Unemployment is down and the stock market is up. But Republicans still have a card up their sleeve to stall the positive trends. Remember the payroll tax and unemployment benefit extension?

House Republicans, who fought the Obama-proposed tax cut for working people tooth and nail in December are playing their cards close to their vest as the clock ticks down on the two-month extension approved around Christmas.

The economic good news is clearly troubling to the GOP, who apparent presidential nominee is reduced to spoon-feeding audiences and reporters vague criticism (‘These numbers cannot hide the fact that President Obama’s policies have prevented a true economic recovery. ‘We can do better’’) without facts to back them up.

Notes Steve Schmidt, no Obama fan:
“Those numbers are good news for the country and they are good news, politically, for the president,” said Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s 2008 campaign. “It puts particular pressure on Mitt Romney as the nominee to offer a big, bold, sweeping agenda of reform and economic growth and contrasts with the president’s vision. He’s simply not going to be able to run a campaign built on a foundation of criticism.”
And while the GOP can hope the tenuous recovery can continue to gain its sea legs, House Speaker John Boehner appears ready to re-attach the poison bill of the Keystone Pipeline proposal to the tax cut extension, putting politics ahead of jobs yet again.

Maybe we should revise that old line to "what's bad for America is good for the Republican Party." Clearly what's good for GM is bad for the GOP.

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Regan can't run

It's an unofficial adage: if Walter Robinson has you in his sights, make sure your affairs are in order. The former Globe Mr. Everything has done it again, this time to public relations man George Regan.

And if you are one of the tiny circle of Regan fans it ain't pretty.

In the ultimate in the inside baseball in the tiny world of Boston political journalism, it was a grand slam. Boston Herald columnist Peter Lucas proclaiming "White Will Run" on the very morning when he opted to step down after four terms.

Anyone who knew the situation immediately suspected skulduggery. As a very young reporter, I had yet to meet Lucas so I was not in on the joke. I learned the truth as I also learned a few other things thanks to getting to know Luke.

The controversy blew up again this week when Lucas and Regan did battle on a Greater Boston segment too hot to air. Regan continued to insist Lucas only fooled himself.

Enter Robby:
On Thursday, I reminded Regan that in the days after the “WHITE WILL RUN’’ headline, he recounted for me how he and the mayor had snookered Lucas. He also arranged for me to have breakfast with the mayor, during which White cheerfully took credit for the Lucas takedown.
The incident also serves as a good reminder not to venture opinions when you don't have all the facts. The longtime Boston veterans on the Beat the Press panel immediately took Lucas' side. Not so Tom Fiedler, dean of Boston University's College of Communications, who ventured the Lucas was too credulous in believing that White wanted to make amends.

The same warning about credulity might also extend to Fiedler, who, according to some tellings of the tale, apparently was happy to believe that Gary Hart would only use the front door while being staked out by Fiedler's Miami Herald crew who took up Hart's challenge to "follow me around" as he pursued both Donna Rice and the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.

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Friday, February 03, 2012

Multiple Choice Mitt

How do you flip-flop on an issue of "conscience?" Mitt Romney knows.

While much of the political world focused on the antics of Myth and Sideshow Don, the Boston Globe unearthed yet another major contradiction in the Romney resume: he was against emergency contraception for rape victims before he was for it before he was against it.

This one is really hard to follow, so hang on.

Romney initially vetoed legislation that required Massachusetts hospitals to provide emergency, morning-after, contraception for rape victims. That includes Catholic facilities. Later, after his legal counsel determined the law passed over his veto was valid, Romney put the law in place, offering:
“My personal view, in my heart of hearts, is that people who are subject to rape should have the option of having emergency contraception or emergency contraception information.’’
And of course Romney is now accusing Barack Obama of trampling on religious freedom by implemented the same policy he put in place in Massachusetts in 2005.

Our Man Myth's folks issued a statement declaring “The governor’s position on this law was that it never should have gone into effect in the first place, which is why he vetoed it.’’ Asked to explain the "heart of hearts" remarks, they "did not respond."

Should anyone be surprised that Romney flipped on yet another issue? No. It's hard to keep track of the Kama Sutra candidate's "evolution" on issues. Wait, don't Republicans reject evolution?

The Romney campaign appears to be re-gathering steam, thanks to the $16 million in attack ads they dropped on Newt Gingrich in Florida and yesterday touted the endorsement of The Donald in advance of tomorrow's Nevada caucuses.

The candidate has once again turned his focus onto the fantasy they are inventing about Obama, trying desperately to ignore the record of a man who is neither pro-choice or anti-choice. Nope, Romney is multiple choice.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Context counts

Mitt Romney is scrambling to explain his comment that “I’m not concerned about the very poor," lamenting he's been taken out of context. What goes around come around.

It wasn't that long ago that Romney and his minions were defending an ad in which they twisted Barack Obama's words totally out of context. In the candidate's own words:
"There was no hidden effort on the part of our campaign. It was instead to point out that what's sauce for the goose is now sauce for the gander."
The full context of this gaffe -- sure to make it's way into Obama advertising -- is the Moneybags Mitt saying there's a social safety net underneath the poor so he intends to focus his attention on the middle class.

Of course, in the interest of context, it's important to note Romney and his fellow GOP hopefuls have expressed an interest in ripping that safety net to shreds, slashing Medicare, Medicaid and declaring war on food stamp recipients.

Mush Mouth Mitt's faux pas is perhaps even worse than deliberate advertising distortion because he was speaking unscripted and presumably from the heart -- or as close to it as he ever comes.

Just add this to the list that includes Romney declaring himself unemployed (while collecting millions in low-taxed capital gains); poo-poohing more than $350,000 in speaking fees as "not much"; and declaring he knows what it's like to fear for a pink slip.

No this one's much closer to reality, just like his professed enjoyment of firing people.

Word matter and so does the context. It would be nice to think he might learn his lesson and stop making ads that distort other people's words.

But you want to bet $10,000 that he won't?

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Cash warfare

Carpet bombing remains an effective tool of warfare, as Mitt Romney's blitz of Newt Gingrich proves. And if anyone ever had any doubt, cash, not issues, will determine who sits in the Oval Office next year.

While Barack Obama may draw some hope about a sharply divided GOP emerging from the primaries, the obscene amounts of cash already spent -- and the millions more lining up on both sides -- suggests the 2012 general election will not be decided on either Main Street or Wall Street but on Madison Avenue and its clones across the nation.

It's a particularly hazardous prospect for Obama, because Romney has shown no compunction for attack -- whether the tools are the realities of the Gingrich speakership and beyond or the fantasies of twisting Obama's words and beliefs. The Romney team has clearly shown truth will not be an impediment to their quest.

The insidious nature of the role of cash is magnified by the fact two people -- Sheldon and Miriam Adelson -- hold the key to the direction of the primary. The have already bankrolled Gingrich to the tune of $10 million -- forget the legalities of the money going to a SuperPAC that Gingrich has no legally has no control over. When they say no mas, so will Newt, and not one moment sooner.

And it has been clear from Day One that the Right is prepared to spend whatever it takes to defeat Obama.

Not that the president is entering the general election unarmed. Reports suggest he is preparing a $1 billion war chest to take on the attackers.

Maybe the goal of the presidential campaign is to single-highhandedly revive the economy -- at least for advertising agencies and media outlets.

We are already seeing the worst the Citizens United decision has to offer -- and its only February. The biggest losers ahead are not only the candidates -- but civility and ultimately the truth.

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