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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Profile in Cowardice

Students at Anna Maria College have received an unexpected lesson in the First Amendment -- and the stunning hypocrisy of the Catholic Church.

Administrators caved into the political views of Worcester bishop Robert J. McManus and cancelled the commencement address of Victoria Kennedy, apparently because her views were not politically correct enough. Of course, we can't know what those objections are, because the bishop refused to sit down with the widow of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

We can only assume that the leader of the local diocese objected to her positions on abortion, gay rights and insurance coverage for contraception. No word if he was also perturbed about her views about pedophilia.

Of course, since Kennedy hasn't made those issues the centerpiece of her talks we can't be sure what they are. No need to worry about details. Kennedy noted his open mindedness:
“He has not consulted with my pastor to learn more about me or my faith,’’ she said. “Yet by objecting to my appearance at Anna Maria College he has made a judgment about my worthiness as a Catholic. This is a sad day for me and an even sadder one for the Church I love.’’
 Not that her words matter to the church leader:
McManus declined to comment, but diocese spokesman Ray Delisle said his actions were consistent with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2004 statement “that Catholic institutions should not honor Catholics who take positions publicly which are contrary to the Catholic faith’s most fundamental principles."
 The church's arrogance in lay matters like freedom of speech is well known. More troubling is the craven capitulation of an educational institution, a supposed "liberal arts" one at that. In its statement announcing the dis-invitation of Kennedy, they whimpered:
"...as a small, Catholic college that relies heavily on the good will of its relationship with the bishop and the larger Catholic community, its options are limited.’’
A.J. Liebling once famously noted "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Ronald Reagan brought it into the modern age when he declared "I'm paying for this microphone." Anna Maria College's weak-kneed submission to the Worcester Diocese offers a unique view of the intersection of the freedoms of religion and speech. At two institutions that we as taxpayers subsidize no less.

But college administrators can take some sort of perverse pride that they have given their students an unforgettable educational moment.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Lotto fever!

Just how big is the Mega Millions jackpot? At least twice the size of Mitt Romney's fortune.

What are the chances of winning the $540 million? Well, I may have a better chance of winning the White House.

Yet I will probably plunk down some cash by day's end, lured by that elusive pot of gold that seems to perfectly represent the American political mindset: we'll do a lot of ill-advised things in the hope of being able to being unspeakably rich.

That includes voluntarily shelling out cash to the government while rebelling at the thought of paying taxes. And giving a pass on millionaires paying their fair share in the face of unbelievably long odds of joining them.

Maybe Congress should abolish all taxes and replace them with a lottery? Or open a casino? Only problem is there isn't enough cash to pay out jackpots.

I'd wish you luck, but there's not enough of that to go around either.

As for me,  I'll be back here tomorrow. Unless I'm negotiating to purchase a Caribbean island.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Patches and plugs"

The proposed MBTA fare hikes are exactly what people hate most about government: higher costs without a permanent fix.

The 23 percent fare hike, combined with some service cuts, is bad enough. Some estimates suggest commuter rail fares could rise $74 a month, while weekend schedules on some lines would be eliminated. Fares for The Ride, a service for the handicapped, would double.

But worst of all the proposal, built on $61 million in yet-more one-time fixes, is simply kicking the can down the road for yet one more year.

At least Deval Patrick, whose silence has been notable throughout this process, didn't mince words in describing the product of endless public hearings "patches and plugs." In masterful understatement, he added:
“This is neither a permanent nor a comprehensive solution."
Nope. It is a plan to designed to push the issue off until after the November elections. And if it that wasn't obvious enough, House Transportation Committee Chairman William Straus put it out in neon lights when he tried to throw Patrick under the bus, declaring it was the chief executive's responsibility to offer a permanent fix:
“The fact that he had one unsuccessful at-bat, so to speak, on the issue doesn’t take him out of the lineup,’’ he said. “We’re still looking forward to his next time up at the plate . . . to see what we as a group can accomplish.’’
Patrick, who proposed a comprehensive transportation package, including a gasoline tax hike to pay for the T as well as road and bridge repairs in 2009, didn't take the bait and threw it back at lawmakers:
“They’re going to have to be receptive to something."
Lawmakers own a large piece of blame for the problem by tying the can of Big Dig debt onto the MBTA, then offering an inadequate fix to the problem. They have consistently turned a deaf ear to fixing and funding the state's broader transportation issues -- like potholed roads and crumbling bridges. And we have the clear looming war between those living in the MBTA district and those who do not over how to fix the multitude of problems.

Patrick has not been a profile in courage during this soap opera. But he looks positively engaged compared to lawmakers who created the problem and have behaved like ostriches ever since.

And to a large percentage of voters, that's even worse than paying higher taxes.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rush to judgment

Shouldn't we wait until there's a decision before opining about the dire consequences of the Supreme Court overturning the health care mandate?

The airwaves and print are alive with speculation that the tough questions posed to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., was a sure sign the Obama administration's signature legislation is destined for the trash heap.

Now I'm not a lawyer or a veteran court watcher, so I am prompted to ask: don't they always ask tough questions to poke holes in legal arguments to see if they stand up?

But in our 24-7-365 news cycle, tough questions are automatically translated into provocative comments meant to signal doom and gloom. And even the most seasoned and reasoned writers can fall into the trap.

I'm thinking principally of Jeffrey Toobin, a lawyer by training and a legal affairs writer for The New Yorker, a publication not known for haste or overstatement.

But Toobin also collects a check from CNN, the allegedly sober member of the cable news fraternity -- and also the ratings trailer. And Toobin wasn't wearing his New Yorker hat yesterday:
"This law looks like it's going to be struck down," Toobin said earlier today on CNN. "All of the predictions including mine that the justices would not have a problem with this law were wrong."
Toobin may indeed qualify as an experienced court watcher, but his prediction of doom includes an acknowledgment that he's already got a shaky track record on this case.

Shouldn't we all take a deep breath and recall the famous words of life observer Lawrence Peter Berra?

"It ain't over until it's over."

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Four-car walk-up

You cannot make this stuff up: Mitt Romney plans to install a car elevator in the "vacation home" he is building in California.

The split-level, 3,000 square foot "beach house" (with a new 3,600 square foot basement) apparently won't require tandem parking and juggling for the four Romney vehicles. Glad to know the West Coast Cadillac has company.

I guess Myth needs space for his friends, the NASCAR team owners, when they drop by.

Yet somehow you can expect the pickup owner to pledge his allegiance anyway.

File under: conspicuous consumption.

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Character assassination

Usually enemies attack a person's character before they take his life.

This time around, the attorney representing Florida cop-wannabe George Zimmerman appears to be teaming up with the Sanford police department to besmirch the name of Trayon Martin, the 17-year-old gunned down in February.

A police report saying Zimmerman had a broken nose and injuries to the back of his head magically emerged after the intense national spotlight shone on the case. Also "unearthed"was a report the teen had been suspended for a trace amount of marijuana was found in a baggie inside his backpack.

The smokescreen is designed to obscure the fact Zimmerman was stalking the teen, who was "armed" with iced tea and Skittles. And the confrontation took place after police told Zimmerman to stay in his car and not pursue the teen he had reported for allegedly suspicious behavior.

Those facts are not in dispute. And attempting to smear the teen after his death is as questionable as a law that allows someone to fire a deadly weapon without so much as an investigation into the circumstances.


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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Have a heart

The American health care system, as beleaguered as it is, certainly came through for Dick Cheney.

The former vice president is reported to be resting comfortably in the intensive care unit of a Virginia hospital after receiving a new heart yesterday. (Cue the joke: New heart? I didn't know he had an old one? Bada-boom!)

All joking aside, the transplant reflects the current state of health care access in America, where a 71-year-old man in failing health for years, was able to hang on through the use of expensive interventions while waiting for a life-saving operation.

Paid for by health insurance, probably through coverage available to him as a long-time federal employee or through Medicare. In other words, by taxpayers.

And obviously there were no death panels sitting in judgment of the ailing former vice president opining, in the words of John Silber, that he was "ripe and it's time to go."

Dick Cheney is the living embodiment of the inequities in the American health care system that the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, was designed to fix: to make it possible for all Americans to receive the best care available, no matter their income level or employment status.

Cheney received his transplant at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va., after receiving ongoing care at George Washington University Hospital, an academic medical center that receives federal funds to train future doctors.


In other words, Cheney received the best care available, thanks to the American public that supports access to quality health care for current and former federal employees -- and the elderly.

The announcement of Cheney's good fortune comes just hours ahead of the Supreme Court opening arguments on the constitutionality of the individual mandate that requires everyone to purchase health insurance if they can afford to, so that they won't leave it to taxpayers to pick up the tab when they get sick.

Just sayin'.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Etch-a-sketch journalism

Political coverage has a tendency to pay far more attention to the occasional moments of truth compared to the constant lies.

That's why Eric Fehrnstrom's memorable misstep in comparing the upcoming switch from primary to general election campaigning to an Etch-a-Sketch is still reverberating around the airwaves and in print. And why the overstatements and lies -- about things like gasoline prices -- go on and on, snuffed out in the competition for our short attention spans.

The New York Times makes one of those rare efforts at truth-finding today, taking a look at the state of the nation's energy supplies and production efforts. It follows a separate look yesterday by Globe columnist Juliette Kayyem at the beehive of activity at the northernmost trip of Americas.

But what we bound to see and hear on the airwaves in the coming weeks are an incessant look at the upward creep of gasoline prices and the bleating of Republican candidates attacking Barack Obama for stifling domestic oil production that would lead to $2.50 a gallon gas.

The Times story could not be more direct:
In 2011, the country imported just 45 percent of the liquid fuels it used, down from a record high of 60 percent in 2005.
And Kayyem paints a picture of an Alaskan community bracing for a potential black gold rush for which it seems ill-prepared:
The United States Geological Service estimates there are about 25 billion barrels of oil in the Arctic; it could net a federal tax haul of $200 billion. Isolated Barrow, a place that has no road access in or out, will serve as the primary land location for all exploration activity. It is ground zero at the top of the world.
Yet it seems likely that the electronic media that spews out "news," particularly cable television and talk radio, will little note or longer remember this fact. After the current Fehrnstrom fascination fades, we'll be back to the rote repeating of Romney, Gingrich and Santorum lies and misstatements about energy.

If only those words could moulder and rot in the ground to provide fuel to future generations instead of simply polluting today's political environment.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Foot-in-mouth disease

Has there ever been a political campaign as skilled as Mitt Romney's in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

Just hours after Romney decisively took Illinois, top aide Eric "Crazy Khazei" Ferhnstrom, committed one of the finest verbal bloopers in a campaign plagued by them, explaining how the ever-flexible Romney will adjust when it wins the GOP nomination.
“You hit a reset button for the fall campaign," Fehrnstrom said in explaining why the campaign is not concerned about alienating moderates as Romney tacks to the right to attract primary conservatives. “Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch - you can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again."
The firestorm was immediate, boosting toy sales among rival campaigns.

It is truly remarkable how a campaign noted for its discipline has come to treat the mornings after as would partiers coming off a bender. The candidate has been the biggest offender, talking about his lack of concern for the poor just hours after taking the Florida primary.

Fehrnstrom's verbal gaffe came as Romney won what some in the GOP considered the most important endorsement -- former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But instead of a storyline talking about Romney's inevitability, we find ourselves talking yet again about ill-conceived remarks.
“How many times have they had a big win, only to step in it the next day? They can’t win for losing,” said Chip Felkel, a Republican strategist from South Carolina who said the Romney campaign is developing a bad habit of stumbling near the finish line.
It's doubtful anything bad will befall Fehrnstrom, who has been with Romney since the beginning. But you can't help but wonder whether he will be asked to spend more time with Scott Brown's campaign in the near future.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ryan's hope

It's never been a secret that government budgets are more political than financial, a road map of where the candidate or party hopes to go. Paul Ryan's latest House budget proposal is a document aimed to take us back to the days of poor houses for the sick and the disabled.

The Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it, throwing millions of Americans into the clutches of the private insurance industry that has helped precipitate our coverage crisis. It would slash taxes across the board and pay for it by about $3 trillion in cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and entitlements like welfare, food stamps, agriculture subsidies and transportation.

In addition, experts suggest the massive size of the cuts required would also mean the elimination of the earned income tax credit for the poor.

Equally important, the Ryan budget reneges on the deal Republicans made last year as part of the reckless debate over the debt limit. Negotiators agreed to a schedule of cuts over time that Ryan threw out the window.

Ryan, a representative of a party that professes to want to get government off people's backs, sounds more like someone who thinks government should offer the less-well off a lecture.
After recalling his family’s immigration from Ireland generations ago, and his belief in the virtue of people who “pull themselves up by the bootstraps,” Ryan warned that a generous safety net “lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency, which drains them of their very will and incentive to make the most of their lives. It’s demeaning.”
Nor does the Ryan budget do anything about the national debt the GOP claims to care about. When you weigh all those cuts against the tax breaks for the 1 percent, Ryan adds another $3.1 trillion in red ink.

All in all, a terrific budget for a party looking to nominate a millionaire who loves to fire people and doesn't care about the poor.

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Professorial poll

Well, at least a majority of Massachusetts voters have a positive image of Harvard.

The latest poll in the looming showdown between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren turns the most recent conventional wisdom on it head. That's after a string of polls overturned the previous CW.

Perhaps the most significant finding of the PPP poll is that Brown's insistent references to "Professor" Warren don't appear to be having the intended impact of making the Harvard Law School faculty member appear to be an elitist who can't find her way out of Cambridge.

While Republicans are split on Harvard (after all Mitt Romney has two degrees from there) Democrats and independents are favorably inclined to Crimson. Then again, maybe its the glow of the recent NCAA appearance.

The only certain thing in that race right now is that a number of polling operations are getting attention for their products.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gored ox alert

Christmas is arriving early for Massachusetts lobbyists with word the state wants to look at cutting back special interest tax breaks. But the advice for the rest of us? Hold on to your wallets.

Prepare yourself for tales of woe -- and threats to move out-of-state -- if state lawmakers take heed of the Tax Expenditure Commission's expected recommendations that the Commonwealth reduce the number and amount of the $26 billion in tax breaks available in Massachusetts. The current state budget consumes $29.4 billion.

The wailing has already begun:
“The idea that there are $26 billion in giveaways is unrealistic,’’ said Joe Donovan, a tax attorney with the Boston law firm Sullivan & Worcester.
There is a ring of truth to that. The breaks include the standard income tax deduction and the sales tax exemptions on on food and clothing.

But there is also an exemption on sales taxes on jet engine parts. And the more infamous include those for failed companies like Evergreen Solar and for the movie industry.

Expect a concerted effort by those whose oxen may be gored to raise a hue and cry about the unfairness of losing their benefits -- and the joy of doing business in "tax-free" New Hampshire. And make sure to check the lobbying reports to see who is looking to save a buck at your and my expense.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Laying a green egg

The ultimate joke of the annual St. Patrick's Day breakfast is that politicians paid good money for jokes as flat as green beer.

OK, Scott Brown may have appropriated his best laugh line from Conan O'Brien, but other breakfast celebrants -- with the possible exception of Lt. Gov. Tim Murray -- ought to be asking for a refund after slinging not-so-funny blarney at an event that may have outlived its time.

Murray,  who has yet to adequately explain the early morning crash that totaled his state-owned car, arrived in the hall in full NASCAR gear, toting cups of Dunkin' Donuts coffee and copies of the Herald. Damage control (political, not automotive) demanded that entrance of the 2014 gubernatorial hopeful.

That's "goober" as Rep. Steve Lynch later reminded State Treasurer Steve Grossman, another rumored candidate, a line recycled from another roast a day or two earlier.

At least that was an attempt at humor.

Brown dished out barbs to all -- including his O'Brien line about Rick Santorum and "protection," Mitt Romney and Cadillacs, John Kerry's Rhodes Island-based yacht and of course "Professor" Elizabeth Warren's success in finding her way from Cambridge and wagering a "Dom Perignon" that she wasn't an elitist.

The Democrat's likely nominee was equally sharp-edged, suggesting Brown needed a consumer advocate after paying $600 for his "everyman's" barn coat.

By the time Joseph P. Kennedy III arrived to poke fun at himself, I was deeply engrossed in matching my socks.

Two pols were noticeable by their absence -- at least live. Gov. Deval Patrick made a cameo on a video mocking his decision not to cut a vacation short to attend the roast. His predecessor Romney did not even make the conciliatory phone call.

His Cadillacs were probably in the shop.

But given the lame quality of the rest of the fare, Patrick and Romney may have had the last laugh.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Three chairs for NSTAR

It's a good thing Massachusetts doesn't have a death penalty or someone might propose the electric chair for NSTAR boss Tom May.

Of course, the power would probably fail before they could carry out the deed.

May was anything but contrite the day after power was restored for most Back Bay residents (and hours before it was taken down again):
“If it’s a normal situation, we do not typically, when there is an outage, provide for losses. We do not typically do it for an event that lasts for a day, a day and a half. . . . People normally have their own insurance.’’
For most normal people a typical outage is when something happens to a transformer on a pole, either from a car or a big wind. Transformers blowing up and burning down a building are not what most normal  people experience.

Nor are multiple-day outages, whether caused by wind, snow or explosion.

May must have been reacting to falling stock prices when he said the company capitalized at $4.95 billion won't help out small businesses like a Newbury Street restaurant out between $5,000 and $10,000 through lost food and customers, a problem exacerbated by the company's failure to correctly estimate the damage or the time needed to repair it.

Never fear, May had the answer:
“When a car hits a pole and knocks it down and hits a transformer, we’ve done that 1,000 times," May said. “But we had never . . . jump-started a grid off of another grid. We were learning, to some degrees, as we went along."
How's that again?

And skipping right over the rest of the contrition section of the crisis communications manual, May says there's no need to investigate further:
"We have nothing we could do that we could think of that is going to tell us why this happened," May said. “It is not an indication this puts us at risk’’ of similar failures.
Unsurprisingly, the opinion is not unanimously shared:
“It may not happen in Boston every year, but it happens all over the country; I’m not surprised,’’ said William H. Bartley, a principal engineer at the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co., a leading equipment insurer. He said the failure could be attributed to a wide range of reasons, from vermin chewing on the seals to weakening insulation.
It's safe to assume NSTAR does not consider this an act of God. After all, Tom May didn't do anything wrong here. Just ask him.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

This time they mean it?

While the battle of the Republican base rages on, the unanswered question is: what about Barack Obama's base?

Pundits have long suggested the flames have been ebbing on the passion that drove Obama to victory in 2008. That fear may have recessed a bit as the Tea Party, libertarian and traditional wings of the GOP tear each other to shreds, but Conventional Wisdom suggests all wounds will heal in a common desire to oust the president.

A key element of the Obama base has undoubtedly been motivated by the GOP's attack on contraception. But what about a major piece of that foundation-- labor?

In years past, the support of Big Labor -- contributions, campaign workers -- has been touted as a solid foundation of any Democratic push. The reality is not quote as clear as blue collar men and women are more likely to answer the GOP's "values" siren call.

Is this year different? Vice President Joe Biden has been widely credited with a pithy, succinct description of the campaign's theme:
"Osama bin Laden is dead,” Biden said, “and General Motors is alive.”
Certainly the across-the-board hostility of the GOP candidates, particularly the son of an automobile industry executive -- may make things dicier for Republicans in key battleground states like Ohio and Michigan. So too may Romney's description of union leaders as "stooges."

But the forgotten factor, at least for now, has been the GOP assault on collective bargaining rights, exemplified by the battles in Wisconsin and Ohio, Equally forgotten is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is now facing recall and Ohio voters tossed out that state's legislatively imposed rights stripping.

The working class vote turning out in the GOP primaries and caucuses has likely been long lost to Democrats, driven more by social issues than paycheck ones. But those labor "stooges" are likely to have far greater success this time around motivating not just money and infrastructure but actual voters to cast Democratic ballots this time around.

That puts two highly motivated groups into Obama's column if and when the GOP reunites.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Seeing the light

We take it for granted until it goes away. Apparently so do city and state officials.

The massive power failure in Boston's Back Bay is focusing the spotlight -- again -- the operations of the state's large electric companies. TV reporters are declaring "it's taking a little bit longer than expected" to restore power to the last of the 20,000 customers who lost electricity Tuesday night.

For anyone who has lived through Tropical Storm Irene or any of the other natural disaster, the refrain is familiar, though some may substitute National Grid for NSTAR. And that doesn't even take into account the day-to-day indignities suffered at the hands of our supposed regulated utilities.

The hard and cold fact is that while the rates the companies can charge customers are regulated (hard as it is to believe), there is very little oversight over the nuts and bolts of the systems that bring electricity and natural gas to our homes. Says State Sen. Mark Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat:
“There’s a huge investment that needs to take place across the system to bring about a smarter and more efficient power grid in general. What we’d like to know is, what happened and how can we prevent something like this from taking place again?”
It's hard for a layperson to judge what, if anything could be corrected in the complex web of transformers and cables that power a city. It's certainly harder than knowing a transformer and wires on poles are vulnerable on heavy wind or snow.

But untrained ears do perk up when you learn that the massive transformers in question are, in some cases, 40 years old or more. And we are all familiar with the concept that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Likewise, we know that maintenance is always the first thing to slide, whether it's in our own home or in large companies that pay close attention to their bottom lines.

It's only logical that public inspectors keep a closer eye on the public utilities on which we rely for power and heat. And for anyone skeptical about the ability of government to handle anything like this, let's recall how quickly the much-maligned Massachusetts Water Resources Authority got the water flowing after a massive main break in 2010.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Evitability?

Well at least Mitt Romney took Hawaii, you know the alleged birthplace of Barack Obama.

But in the contests that mattered Tuesday night, it's hard to imagine a worse scenario for the one-time inevitable GOP front-runner who lost to both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in Alabama and Mississippi.

As Gingrich proclaimed:
“Both conservative candidates got 70 percent of the vote. If you’re the front-runner and you keep coming in third, you’re not much of a front-runner.’’
Not that the Newtser is anything more than the Undead Candidate, whose path to the nomination is  doomed, no matter how hard his campaign tries to spin things. As the Globe's Glen Johnson notes:
A string of wins not just in the South but also the Midwest has lent credence to Santorum’s claim that, rather, he is the true right-wing alternative to Romney. It also buttresses his argument that he could fare even better in his quest for the nomination if Gingrich quit the race so he could go head-to-head with frontrunner.
So the three-man GOP campaign rolls on, fueled by animus to the former Massachusetts governor and Sheldon Adelson's millions.

The mess heightens the turmoil in the Grand Old Party, which seems to be totally devoid of leadership since the much-maligned Michael Steele rode off into the sunset after the 2010 congressional elections. Can you name the man who replaced him?

The party "establishment," such as it is, has nightmares over either Santorum or Gingrich as standard-bearers and has been quietly working to reinforce the ultimate Myth -- Romney inevitability. The results from the actual electorate -- you know they ones who think Obama is a Kenyan Muslim and evolution is a fraud -- clearly suggest otherwise.

If there were such things as party elders, they would be working to convince Gingrich that two second-place Southern showings mean he should do something honorable -- such as end his personal Romney Bashing Tour and step aside for Santorum. Anyone want to give odds on that happening?

Then there is Santorum, a devout Catholic who has managed to turn off his co-religionists with his strident theology that rejects concepts like birth control and prenatal testing.

And so the GOP band wagon rolls on, a carny show that distracts people from the real issues facing the nation by spewing lies and venom that are likely to depress turnout in November, leaving the White House to the candidate who can do the most to energize his base.

And that is clearly looking like Barack Obama, tired old 2011 spin notwithstanding.

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Let the games begin

The hearings may be over but the maneuvering over MBTA fare hikes and service cuts has just begun.

While transit officials say they have been listening to commuters who voiced their concerns at public hearings and e-mails,  they have also made it clear that some combination of hikes and cuts are still on the table -- to resolve just this one-year problem.
“Massive debt costs, coupled with increased operating expenses for things like energy and health care, are overburdening our system. The system we have today we cannot afford,” Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said in an open letter to riders. “Our final proposal will include both cuts and a fare increase.”
The only sure thing is that T officials will be unveiling their final proposal before members of the Great and General Court, looking for legislative assistance in stanching the red ink.

Next stop: Beacon Hill.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fare exchange

They listened. Now the only question is what alternative will MBTA management and state leaders cook up?

Buried deep in the Globe's story on the last of the public hearings on the T's proposal for fare hikes and service cuts is this declarative statement:
MBTA general manager Jonathan Davis said Monday night that neither of the two previously released scenarios will be selected by the agency’s board.
That's good news for the 6,000 people who have attended the seemingly endless hearings on the T's initial call for fare hikes of up to 43 percent, accompanied by crippling service cuts.

What the bad news will be depends a great deal on whether legislative leaders and Deval Patrick have been listening to the concerns expressed by commuters who work and personal lives depend on the already maddening system.

With gasoline prices on a steady northbound path, the last thing state officials want or need is a surge of people forced into their cars because of inadequate public transportation. But they also need to recognize a serious objection from communities outside the MBTA district to paying for the capital city's transportation needs, no matter how important Boston's health is to the rest of the state.

To date, legislative leaders have been publicly non-committal to any possible solution to the T's short-term and long-term woes, despite their culpability in exacerbating the problem.

Hopefully the silent period has been used to craft a solution. Although experience suggests it has not.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

No change

There was a moment during Game Change that I almost felt sorry for Sarah Palin. But it passed.

Unlike the former Alaska governor, I waited to watch the HBO Films presentation before critiquing it. Julianne Moore made Tina Fey look like an amateur with her portrayal of Palin and Woody Harrelson was terrific as Steve Schmidt, an easier task since he is hardly a household name.

But back to my near sympathy. Moore was terrific in giving us a Palin overwhelmed by the tumult she had created, particularly as she attempted to cram knowledge in the aftermath of a disastrous interview with Katie Couric.

The McCain team looked like heartless bullies who tortured her by withdrawing access to her family until she learned her lessons, only to unleash the "real" Sarah by reuniting her with the brood --and turning her into an actress and not a candidate.

But alas, the "real" Sarah did emerge, a demagogue ready to play on the unfounded primal fears of Barack Obama that still drive the GOP electorate today.

That Palin is still around today, offering her narrow view of the world from the safe perch of Fox News and continuing to tweak the GOP establishment by vision of a brokered convention where she would ride to the rescue of a party about to be taken over by, shudder, moderates.

The film was far more entertaining that reality. After all, it ends with Palin and her narrow worldview vanquished.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Name Game

Perhaps Mitt Romney would have known Massachusetts legislators names if he had stuck out his full four years.

The New York Times' review of Romney's governing style focuses the spotlight on an aloof CEO who didn't bother getting his hands dirty with the nitty-gritty of governing.
“People often talk about Romney’s leadership ability, but a lot of it went unused because of his attitude toward the legislature,” said Maurice T. Cunningham chairman of the political science department at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “With better relations, he would have been able to do so much more.”
The story glosses over a couple of key elements of Romney's tenure in the Corner Office: his willingness to make a deal on the one piece of legislation that now haunts him -- health care reform -- and his effective abandonment of the office once his efforts at "reform" failed.

Romney allied himself with now-disgraced House Speaker Sal DiMasi and long-time conservative nemesis Ted Kennedy to draft the law which he himself touted as a national model for reform. That's hardly the company Romney now wants to be seen in and the Times story gives him a pass.

Equally troubling would be Romney's Palinesque move onto the campaign trail after his efforts to elect more Republicans to the very legislature he disdained failed miserably.

The Globe has reported that Romney was out-of-state for 212 days during his last year in office, traveling to 35 states and eight countries as he kicked off his presidential campaign. The big difference with Palin is the former Alaska governor formally relinquished power to pursue her outside interests.

Romney's lack of back-slapping skills is hardly news: Barack Obama isn't big into that either. And barring another congressional tsunami in November, negotiating with Congress isn't going to be a requirement for either man.

But readers deserve a better look at Romney's successes and failures in the Corner Office than this somewhat cursory look at his personal style offers.

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Friday, March 09, 2012

(F)utilities

What electric company schedules a "maintenance" outage on five hours notice on a school and work morning? NSTAR, that's who.

As I sit here after a fast shower and with flashing clocks, wondering if the eight hours was a merely a window for a 15-minute outage or whether there's more to come, I can't help but think back to a mere four months ago and another scheduled "equipment upgrade" that stretched on endlessly with an accompanying  communications outage.

Gosh I hope that equipment was still under warranty if it needed heavy maintenance so soon.

Not that National Grid is any better. Our wonderful gas utility continues to fill my mailbox monthly with a "home energy report" for my condo and my unit. And as usual I'm "Good" but not great compared to my neighbors, a problem I suspect I could solve with the purchase of a new boiler through National Grid.

And have they never heard of e-mail? Actually they have, so I get both e-mail and snail mail come-ons monthly.

Does National Grid know postage rates have gone up? Or do they simply bake the marketing costs into their rates?

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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Gas bag redux

Has anyone noticed how the Republican Party is driving up the price of gasoline?

With the economy slowly recovering, the GOP candidates have seized upon rising fuel prices as their latest weapon, insisting our problems would go away if we just followed their advice to "drill baby, drill."

Ignoring the reality that domestic oil production is on the rise,  GOP candidates insist they can bring the price of gasoline down to $2.50 simply by dropping rigs into environmentally sensitive areas like the Alaska Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

What they ignore is the impact of the capitalists they tout, Wall Street speculators who bid up the price based on fear of disrupted supplies.

Disruptions premised on the fears of war generated by rhetoric directed toward Iran and Syria.

So think about Mitt and Newt and their rhetoric the next time you fill up.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

No sale

Mitt Romney is going to win the war, but the GOP's Death March isn't about to stop any time soon.

Our Man Myth took Ohio, barely, thereby assuring Rick Santorum will live to fight another day after capturing Tennessee, North Dakota and Oklahoma. And a disenchanted Republican electorate is the real story behind the Great Slog.

Republicans gamely try to compare this year to 2008, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton slugged it out for months in an often acrimonious contest.  But the Democrats were two sides of the same coin, agreeing more often than not.

The current GOP battle is for the party's soul: the establishment backs Romney while the social conservatives are lining up behind Santorum as they did Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Donald Trump and Sarah Palin before him.

In other words --Anyone But Mitt.

The unhappiness is represented by slumping turnout to date, with all indications that last night that the trend is continuing. GOP voters in Massachusetts seemed downright bored by the "favorite son" on their ballot.

What is up, way up, is Romney spending, including a 4-1 margin that produced a 1-point Ohio win. Romney's scorched earth tactics may be helping to fuel the turnout, keeping the faithful on their hands.

The campaign now heads to the South, hardly Romney country, and despite the best efforts of party bigs calling for unity, resolution is not likely. The best example is Palin, who cast her ballot for Newt Gingrich and once again left the door ajar to speculation about a convention draft.
"Anything is possible. I don't close any doors that perhaps would be open out there, so, no, I wouldn't close that door. My plan is to be at that convention."
Romney may or may not continue to draw on deep-pocketed supporters or the largess of "independent" super PACs. But even if the money lasts, the damage to the eventual nominee will be significant.

Obama and Clinton buried the hatchet and worked together after their rough and tumble primary battle.  At this point in the GOP contest, the question is who is going to bury their hatchet into Romney when all is said and done.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Bush-wa

Barbara Bush appears to have a failing memory.

The former First Lady of the United States offers her view that 2012 is the "worst campaign I have ever seen."
“I think the rest of the world is looking at us these days and saying, ‘What are you doing?’
Apparently she has forgotten 1984, when she thought she was being ladylike in a response to a question about her opinion of Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, declared:
"I can't say it, but it rhymes with rich."
And she must certainly fail to recall 1988, when her husband entrusted his campaign to Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater. Ailes needs no introduction, but it's worth reminding her what Atwater said of the strategy employed against Michael Dukakis, declaring the campaign's goal was to:
"...strip the bark off the little bastard."
That sorry campaign brought us Willie Horton and rumors about Dukakis' mental health and marks the first real plunge off the cliff to the abyss we find ourselves today.

So is this campaign the worst because the GOP is aiming its opprobrium against fellow Republicans?

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Monday, March 05, 2012

How low can you go?

While Republicans candidates have been perfectly adapted to play the Limbaugh limbo, but they may finally be forced to develop a backbone in the wake of advertiser defections.

The saga of El Rushbo and Sandra Fluke has been documented extensively. The only thing that has been missing has been reaction from the "leaders" vying for the GOP nomination. As George Will, hardly a flaming liberal, noted:
"They want to bomb Iran, but they're afraid of Rush Limbaugh."
Rick Santorum, who has an opinion on every moral issue facing the nation, has been silent, declaring "That’s not my business." Mitt Romney attempted to brush the topic aside, declaring simply "it's not the language I would have used," sparing himself another 180-degree turn down the road.

But that time may be coming as Limbaugh's advertisers appear to have more spine, at least for now. Declaring the "apology" insufficient, sponsors continue to bail out, applying good old American free market pressure.

The losses to date are pocket change for Limbaugh and he has faced short-term boycotts in the past.

But the landscape is changing with successful Internet-based campaigns on everything from bank fees to the Occupy movement. And while they may not silence the mouth that has been spewing hate for two decades, it can certainly put a crimp into profits -- and venues.

Just ask Glenn Beck.

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

Romney 17.0

The attempted re-invention of Myth Romney continues apace.

As the Globe tells us about Romney's obvious inability to relate to working men and women who have become increasingly marginalized -- and radicalized -- The New York Times talks to GOP operatives who play Professor Henry Higgins in offering suggestions on how to turn Romney into a refined Eliza Doolittle.

Personally I'm partial to a different analogy.

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The rest of the story

While Steve Wynn regales Foxboro with pretty pictures of an idyllic "rural" casino off Route 1, linked to a mall, a far different picture emerges across the world.

The New York Times tells us of a feud between Wynn and Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada, a tale rife with accusations of bribes and payoffs that has begun to get the attention of the Nevada Gaming Control Board. which the Times notes:
Under its relatively taut regulations, allegations of corruption raise the risk that a person or company can be declared unsuitable, lose their licenses and be barred from the gambling industry.
With Massachusetts only two-fifths of the way to its own regulatory body, it's a cautionary tale to be sure.

Caveat emptor.

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Friday, March 02, 2012

Kabuki theater

With the economy showing signs of life, Republicans did what they know best yesterday: stage diversionary theater to gin up their base fretting over the prospects of Myth Romney.

So-called moderates like Scott Brown and Susan Collins marched in lockstep to support the Blunt Amendment designed less to create a "conscience exemption" for contraception coverage and more to offer a national stage for the GOP's war on women and ObamaCare. Of course that's not how they framed in in the midst of a campaign where one GOP hopeful is running more for ayatollah than leader of the Free World:
“The president is trampling on religious freedom,” said Senator Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska.
Democrats obviously saw things differently during a Senate debate that included a relatively silent Scott Brown, worn out no doubt from his  efforts to have Ted Kennedy spin in his grave. It's doubtful the late senator would have said it better than this:
“The Senate will not allow women’s health care choices to be taken away from them,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington.
Perhaps the most distressing sign of the Republican game plan of party uber alles was the sight of Maine's Collins jumping into the fray:
“I do this with - with a lot of conflict because I think the amendment does have its flaws,’’ she said, adding that she hopes “the Senate will begin to address the many important pressing issues facing our nation and stop engaging in what is clearly an election-year ploy.’’
To her credit, Maine's senior senator, Olympia Snowe, stayed away from the vote that seems to typify why she walked away from a likely fourth term. She also saw a clear election year ploy and her party's demand for unconditional loyalty.

In contrast, three Democrats were allowed to stray from the reservation for "conscience" reasons.

It's also obvious that the GOP has no interest in letting go of this hobby horse anytime soon. With the Senate's rejection, the measure is effectively dead, but that's not about to stop House Speaker John Boehner and the House's Wild Bunch.
“It’s important for us to win this issue,” Mr. Boehner said.
Finally some straight talk from Culture War Party.

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

First you say you won't...

Myth Romney just retired the gold for serial flip-flopping.

The man with more positions than the Kama Sutra managed to be against and for the Blunt amendment within the space of an hour, first telling an Ohio reporter he opposed the Senate Republican effort to create a "conscience exemption" allowing employers to exclude medical services from workers’ insurance on moral or religious grounds.
“I’m not for the bill,” Romney told ONN-TV, when asked if he had a position on the legislation. “But look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a women, husband and wife, I’m not going there.”
After a mini-firestorm over staking a position in sharp contrast to Rick Santorum, the campaign furiously backpedaled, blaming the reporter for asking a confusing question:
“The way the question was asked was confusing,” spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. “Governor Romney supports the Blunt bill because he believes in a conscience exemption in health care for religious institutions and people of faith.” 
Romney himself took to the friendly confines of Howie Carr to say he thought the reporter was asking about "some state law." You decide:
“Blunt-Rubio is being debated, I believe, later this week. It deals with banning or allowing employers to ban providing female contraception. Have you taken a position on it?”
Let's see: Marco Rubio is being touted as one of his potential running mates and you would have to live on the moon not to get the reference to Roy Blunt in this context. Apparently Romney was confused because the amendment would not "ban" providing female contraception.

The Obama campaign was quick to pounce:
"In one hour, Mitt Romney showed why women don’t trust him for one minute. It took little more than an hour for him to commit his latest flip-flop. Even worse, he ended up on the wrong side of an issue of critical importance to women."
The incident opens a window into what passes for a Romney soul. His first inclination, not to get involved in a relationship between a man and a woman, reflects an instinct for privacy.

But as a candidate for the nomination of a party that believes government should stay out of the board room and not the bedroom, he can't take what is a libertarian position everywhere else in the world.

File under pretzel logic.

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Old news

Flash: Scott Brown leads Elizabeth Warren by 10 points. Or at least he did a month ago.

The Globe and the Herald are both touting a Mass Insight poll showing the incumbent senator with a 52-42 percent lead over the likely Democratic nominee.

The Herald hangs its story on a tweet by Brown aide Eric Fehrnstrom, who labeled the results "new." The Globe "obtained" the results out of a broader survey on other topics.

Neither seem to place much value on the fact the survey was conducted between Jan. 31 and Feb. 4, or as the Globe notes:
...around a period when Brown had a string of legislative victories. It predates the recent controversy over mandatory contraceptive coverage.
Political journalists have a thing for poll results -- sometimes the horse race is the only thing advancing a story as compelling as the Brown-Warren tilt.

But reporters are also trained to understand polls are snapshots in time. A survey on the presidential race today may be wildly off by the time voters go to the polls in November. And a poll taken a month ago accurately reflects the situation well, a month ago.

There's some validity in noting the Mass Insight poll was the second to put Brown in a comfortable lead after others gave an edge to Warren.

But if you wrapped fish from that time period into either one of today's dead tree editions it would still stink as badly as this ancient history.

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