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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Swiftboating Susan Rice

Republicans were against John Kerry before they were for him. And therein lies a trap.

We've already noted the seemingly irrational Republican attack on Susan Rice, Barack Obama's presumed nominee to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. But now the full Machiavellian nature of the gambit is coming into clearer view.

Our own John Kerry, he who the GOP impugned as a war criminal eight short years ago, has emerged as the Republican's No. 1 choice instead of Rice. Leading the charge is Kerry's friend, John McCain, R-Hey You Kids Get off My Lawn.

The flip-flop has not gone unnoticed:
Gone are the criticisms of Mr. Kerry as a waffler who tried to have it both ways on the Iraq war and the caricature of him as a windsurfing symbol of privileged East Coast liberalism. Instead, Mr. Kerry, a Democrat, is depicted as a deeply knowledgeable statesman who would breeze through confirmation on his way to Foggy Bottom. 
The reason behind the sudden embrace of Long Jawn is pretty easy to figure out too. The Republicans smell a chance to reinstall their favorite "moderate" Scott Brown, R-Barn Coat.

Republican senators, who lost two seats amid the rejection of Mitt Romney, are still putting party over country in their machinations. And they are not even being subtle:
Yes, he should run again!” said Senator-elect Jeff Flake of Arizona, flashing a smile. “I’m not saying that’s why I would support John Kerry’s nomination, but we always want more Republicans around here.” [Alaska Republican Lisa] Murkowski said she, too, would like to see Mr. Brown run again. [Maine Republican Susan Collins campaigned heavily for Mr. Brown in his failed re-election bid, and was crushed by his loss.
There has been an assumption that Brown would be a front-runner to fill any vacancy left by a Kerry appointment to the cabinet, either to State or Defense as has been speculated. That's because of the seeming dearth of candidates who could oppose Brown in a special election like the one which brought him into office in 2011.

That's not quite true as some of the same (unsuccessful) contenders last time around like Mike Capuano say they are holding the fire.

But even more important than any eventual Democratic nominee is the fact the situation in 2013 is likely to be very different. Brown was the recipient of a quiet wave, built by the AstroTurf-managed Tea Party uprising that crested at the right time and caught Martha Coakley and Democratic leadership by surprise.

Tea Party fervor is waning, witness the trouncing of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock in what should have been winnable Republican seats.

And even if a unexpected surge should begin next year, Brown now has a record as a nice guy who went unnecessarily nasty. The legislative record he would now have to defend is not what he claimed it to be either. His defeat was pretty substantial and there would be required rehabilitation.

And this time around, Democrats will not be left standing there mouth agape. No more People's Pledges.

For this intrusion into Massachusetts politics to succeed however, the first step is to swift boat Susan Rice they same way the GOP turned their weapons on Kerry eight years ago.

It's a shameful piece of power politics at the expense of a president's right to choice his own team. And it shows Republicans have learned nothing from the voters' repudiation of their extremism.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Beacon Hill Blues

While all the talk these days is about casinos, we are a judicial scandal away from a public official trifecta.

Deval Patrick is wrestling with a variety of headaches -- from a failure to oversee pharmacies to a state drug lab that faked results that's led to a major court system nightmare. There's also the matter of a former highway safety chief who was unclear of the concept. Oh, and the budget may be coming up short.

Then there's former Treasurer Tim Cahill quietly standing trial on charges he used state lottery ads to promote his failed gubernatorial campaign.

But it's likely none of the past or present headaches rival the one looming over House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

While DeLeo says he will not be the fourth consecutive speaker to be indicted, Tom Finneran, is said to have been granted immunity from a federal grand jury investigating the patronage practices of the probation department. Another predecessor, Sal DiMasi has already made the long bus ride from federal lockup to meet the grand jurors.

The focus of the probe is said to land on one-time Speaker pro tempore Thomas Petrolati, but DeLeo is by no means a totally innocent bystander. Former probation boss John O'Brien is a DeLeo friend and already under indictment.

The speaker's godson, Brian Mirasolo, became the youngest chief probation officer in the state under O'Brien's watch. And, as the Globe notes, Leonard Mirasolo, was a top DeLeo aide -- handling the Probation Department budget -- before retiring this year.

What was the name of that show? Too Close for Comfort?

All of this portends poorly as Patrick and lawmakers get back to business in January. Aside from the looming budget shortfall, there's no shortage of issues for them to tackle, starting with the state's crumbling transportation infrastructure and the lack of funds to fix it.

Instead, the focus in the early months of 2013 is likely to be centered on the grand jury room in Worcester where the latest chapter of As the Speaker Turns plays out.

Entertaining grist for blog mills? Yes. Good for the Commonwealth? Hardly.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Here we go again

Any hope that Republicans may drop their obstructionism is flying out the window with the manufactured crisis over Susan Rice.

What is most distressing is not the GOP's invention of an issue over the terrorist attacks on the Benghazi consulate in September. Nor is it that the current UN ambassador now concedes she made an error in discussing the attack in a five TV talk show tour.

And it's not even the possibility that all 45 Republican senators in the next Congress will vote not to confirm her if Barack Obama nominates her as Secretary of State.

What is most appalling is the implied threat that Republicans will use some of the Senate's many arcane, anti-democratic rules to prevent her nomination from even being discussed.

The Benghazi incident has always left a foul taste in my mouth: politicizing a tragedy in the hope of scoring points in what was then a not-so-close presidential campaign. Any lingering doubt about the affair was obliterated when Fox News cut off military reporter Tom Ricks after he dared declare that emperor had no clothes.

And does Rice's now-admitted error in using CIA-produced talking points even come close to Colin Powell's shameful lies about weapons of mass destruction?

Nonetheless, the 1st Amendment guarantees that sore losers like John McCain, R-You Kids Get Off My Lawn, have the right to speak out.

But there's a very real possibility that Rice and her Democratic supporters will not be afforded the same rights and that Obama will be denied his constitutional right to nominate a secretary of state with the advice and consent of the Senate.

That's because senators have rules that allow them to place secret holds on measures -- and to demand a 60-vote super majority for the simplest of actions. And underlying this whole assault is the threat of doing just that unless Obama backs down.

The tyranny of the minority, best exemplified by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's infamous and now inoperative vow to make Obama a one-term president -- was the underlying factor in the stalemate American voters sought to end on Nov. 6.

It was bad enough when obstructionism focused solely on domestic policy. But there's a word Republicans would use if Democrats employed the same tactics in foreign affairs, where partisanship long ended at the water's edge.

They would be screaming treason.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tone deaf

Just because House Speaker Robert DeLeo has horrible timing doesn't mean he's wrong. But his largess to staff should also be extended to human service workers.

DeLeo and Senate President Terry Murray announced they intend to offer 3 percent raises to staff (Murray's holiday spirit extends only to her direct staff and not all upper chamber employees). The announcement comes as Deval Patrick said state revenues are running behind projection and budget cuts may be in order.

DeLeo says there are fewer House employees than when he took over nearly four years ago and they have not seen a raise since September 2008. The vast majority earn between $33,000 and $42,000 annually, meaning the increase will cost $764,000, taken from the existing House budget.
“When you consider that it’s been at least four years, and you’re talking about a 3 percent raise, something had to be done,” DeLeo said. “A lot of these folks are having difficulty that I hear from them and the reps paying their own bills now. So I consider it something we needed to do so they could continue to exist themselves.”
A noble sentiment to be sure, especially in this season of giving. Contrary to popular demonization,  most legislative employees work hard, often for extended hours -- something that cannot always be said for their much-better paid bosses, the elected representatives.

And while there's never a good time to announce pay hikes, this timing has managed to offend those on both the right and left.
“The Legislature shouldn’t be giving their staff pay raises,” said Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “They should be dealing with mass deficits that are going to get worse.”
Anderson's reaction is entirely predictable. So too is that of Michael Weekes, president and chief executive of the Providers’ Council, which advocates for workers making $25,000 while caring for the infirm and who also have not seen a raise since 2008.
“There’s no sense of a shared sacrifice here. Why are the lowest-paid people taking it on the chin?”
The difference is that Weekes has a strong case. If lawmakers are truly concerned about hard-working people struggling to pay bills after four years of a tough economy, they should offer the same opportunity for those whose provide direct care for our most vulnerable citizens.

The looming budget issues on the state and national level are serious. But workers should not be made pawns in that game. I'm sure there's enough to cut from tax breaks for businesses who do not need them to put food on the table and keep the lights on.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Dixie musings

What does it say when you seen more Romney-Ryan signs and bumper stickers post-election than during the campaign?

That was the reality during a recent break down in central Virginia, which prompted me to realize I'm not sure I saw one sign of support for our former governor over the course of his seemingly endless run.

The Richmond area was certainly a different location to see Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," a great tale about when our nation was divided over far more substantive reasons than taxes and spending.

Oh sure, there was one letter in the local paper lamenting that the movie about the waning days of the Civil War was filmed in part in the area that served as the capital of the Confederacy. But that was just an outlier in a community that welcomed the film crews.

But the story of the politics and horse trading necessary to win passage of the 13th Amendment to ban slavery -- and the nature of the men who took that vote -- shows how our government has not really changed much over the past 150 years.

And that may have been a more unsettling thought than anything else.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Benghazi bluster

Where was the GOP "Truth Squad" when Colin Powell was lying to the United Nations about weapons of mass destruction?

The ongoing GOP Sunday Jihad against UN Ambassador Susan Rice use of talking points in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya is in sharp contrast to their response to Powell's speech to the UN in 2003.

To refresh their memory, Powell presented "evidence" of Saddam Hussein weapons caches that simply did not exist. The speech to the United Nations laid the ground work for a lengthy war, financed by credit card, that cost thousands of lives -- both American and Iraqi.

No one in the GOP hierarchy, which included the leadership of the Republican-controlled Congress, offered a peep of protest over the trumped up "evidence."

Fast forward to now, where Republicans seized upon the attack of the lightly fortified consulate -- on Sept. 11 -- as a campaign issue against Barack Obama. And the focal point of their assault has been Rice, who is expected to be named to succeed Hillary Clinton at the State Department.

Rice did the talk show rounds immediately after the attack, using CIA-developed talking points that downplayed the terrorist roots of the attack. Rather, she was told to say it may have been related to a video purporting to be a movie attacking Islam.

In a fit of amnesia unworthy of elephants, GOP partisans have alleged a cover-up, worse than Watergate, to protect the White House in the final days of the campaign.

Leading the charge has been Arizona's John "Hey You Kids Get Off my Lawn" McCain, whose lingering bitterness over his 2008 loss to Obama makes Mitt Romney look downright gentlemanly.

McCain, who if he had won would have plunged the US into additional combat roles in Libya and Syria, is in high dudgeon over Rice's TV appearances.
"She has a lot of explaining to do," the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
And he's peeved at Obama's defense of Rice over the hyperpartisan attacks.
"I wish the president wouldn't get mad me," McCain said. "I wish he would spend our time together in finding out what happened, what caused it."
I wish McCain and his pals felt the same way after Powell and the first Rice to serve in high diplomatic office lied about WMDs. I might make their bleating a little less hypocritical.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

End of days

The Mayan calendar is ticking to our Dec. 21 countdown with oblivion and a troubling signpost has appeared with a month to go.

A supposed indestructible baked good is poised to disappear. Unless it is saved by a Mexican bakery.

Word that Hostess will go belly up, much like many of its baked "treats" might mean taking the Twinkie, described by one wag as "a loofah sponge you can eat," with it. The "edible" expected to join cockroaches as the sole survivors of a nuclear holocaust, is currently out of the oven.

Capitalism being what it is, some enterprising organization will buy the trademark or the recipe out of the Hostess bankruptcy. One potential suitor could be Grupo Bimbo, described as the world's largest baking company with brands such as Arnold and Sara Lee.

Which raises the question: if Twinkies become part of the same family, will it still be true that nobody doesn't like Sara Lee?




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Friday, November 16, 2012

Uncivil war

For as man with a lot of houses, Mitt Romney sure seems like someone without a political home.

Romney's former friends are casting him off like so much stale cheese after his latest -- and probably last widely broadcast -- verbal misstep in which he analyzed the reasons for his decisive loss to Barack Obama.

In the words of one headline writer: GOP returns Mitt Romney:gifts".

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, an Indian-American, let loose with a well-targeted broadside:
“We have got to stop dividing the American voters. We need to go after 100 percent of the votes, not 53 percent,” Jindal said in Las Vegas at a meeting of the Republican Governors Association, which Romney once led and used to raise his national profile. “We need to go after every single vote.”
 Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a hero to the right for his attacks on collective bargaining, clearly focused on the messenger too:
“It’s not that our beliefs are wrong. We’re not doing an effective enough job articulating those beliefs.”
Sorry but no.

It's quite true the GOP fielded a flawed candidate in Romney, he of homes with car elevators and a 13 percent tax rate. But the fact remains he was the best of an incredibly flawed field that included Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and, ahem, Donald Trump.

And this is the same party who fielded a "hey you kids, get off my lawn" standard bearer in 2008, someone who also failed to successfully perform the 180-degree flip required for a candidate to appeal to the Republican base and the vast majority of the electorate.

The last two Republicans who won the Oval Office used words like "kinder," "gentler" and "compassionate." Those are not GOP core beliefs any more, certainly not as they are represented by their candidates for president -- and by the policies favored by their congressional leaders, including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the party's newest front-runner.

To quote a controversial line from the 2008 race, "you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."

Jindal comes closer to the mark than any one of his GOP colleagues when he acknowledges the GOP's war on the 47 percent. That's a more candid assessment of its beliefs than Walker.

Given the GOP tradition of awarding the the next nomination to a standard bearer who was first runner-up in came in the previous round, that means Walker's Wisconsin teammate and Ayn Rand acolyte Ryan is next up. And that means the GOP is likely to continue its war on the majority of America.

But to offer another 2008 quote, we can hope for change.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gifted

Mitt Romney's best talent may be shoving his well-polished shoes deep into his mouth. You might call it a gift.

Just when I thought I wouldn't have the man who fueled this blog for years to kick around any more, Romney came through with the most graceless, tone-deaf utterance of a loser I have yet to hear, saying Barack Obama's triumph was based on "gifts" to African-Americans, Latinos and young people.

In a conference call with his fund-raisers, Romney offered what hopefully will be his last oration on Obama and the 47 percent:
"In each case, they were very generous in what they gave to those groups," Mr. Romney said, contrasting Mr. Obama's strategy to his own of "talking about big issues for the whole country: military strategy, foreign policy, a strong economy, creating jobs and so forth."
On what planet does this person live?
"With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift," Mr. Romney said. "Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents' plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008."
As for his own platform of a strong economy and creating jobs -- show me any substance he offered other than a foundation-less promise of 12 million jobs and tax cuts for the rich.

Romney's self-pity party is truly on par with Richard Nixon's "last press conference." Let's hope he's at least more honest than the Trickster.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Blissful cliff

Barack Obama holds as press conference today, fresh from setting a new, higher line in the sand on new taxes to avoid the fiscal cliff. Want to wager that's not going to be the prime topic on journalists' minds?

That's because Washington is awash in bimbo eruptions, a hot and juicy scandal involving sex, spies and shirtless rogue FBI agents. You know, reporters just can't pass up a juicy scandal.

Obama set the tone for new negotiations with Congress, telling labor leaders his opening gambit in negotiations with Republicans would be for $1.6 trillion in new taxes. That's twice the amount House Speaker John Boehner was willing to accept last year.

Of course, an entirely new number -- 332 electoral votes -- have changed the equation dramatically.

But the looming financial showdown will be small potatoes in today's session with reporters-- Obama's first since dispatching Romney and the first since the bizarre story of David Petraeus and what could be a love pentagon gripped the nation's capital.

There are, to be sure, some serious issues behind L'Affaire Petraeus -- online privacy and the threats to personal and national security. Not to mention the nagging feeling the whole thing was an effort at an electoral dirty trick by the enlisting of said shirtless FBI agent who sought out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor a week before the election.

The FBI certainly has some 'splainin' to do.

You can expect the media will pepper Obama with "what did you know and when did you know it" questions, trying to raising the specter already awash in right wing conspiracy circles that the White House somehow had a hand in covering up the affair -- or manufacturing it so Petraeus was not able to testify to Congress about what happened in Benghazi -- you know the cover-up the right thinks is worse than Watergate.

The campaign lacked any substantive discussion of the right mix of taxes and spending cuts needed to set the nation back on firmer footing. Too much boredom (not to mention fireworks) in the numbers. The presumption was a deadline and political clarity would force the adult discussion.

No one counted on a juicy sex scandal to divert the media's attention. Then again, it may allow Obama and Republicans to negotiate quietly, out of the bright klieg lights that generate bluster and posturing.

Maybe that's exactly what that sinister Obama had in mind. You're welcome to run with that Rush.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Love Pentagon

What Did David tell Paula? Did Paula threaten Jill? What was going on between Jill and John? And what about poor Holly?

The admission of an extramarital affair between former CIA Director (and one-time super general) David Petraeus and his biographer was enough of a post-election bombshell to explode in Washington.

Throw in the FBI investigation that revealed "threatening e-mails" between biographer Paula Broadwell and Petraeus family friend Jill Kelley and you have the makings of a first-rate potboiler.

Now add in an investigation of Gen. John Allen, the top US and NATO general in Afghanistan for "inappropriate communication" with Kelley and you have a full-fledged mini-series.

As Langley Turns is a certainly a full-blown scandal, but who gets smeared in the end still remains a mystery. The career of Petraeus, to be sure, is toast -- and so may be his 38-year marriage to his wife Holly.

Broadwell's journalistic career may also come to a screeching halt, especially if and when we learn what she wrote in those e-mails to Kelley that were found by FBI agents investigating the case.

Of course there's the larger question of why the FBI was investigating an extramarital affair in Washington? And did Broadwell get her eyes on sensitive documents that Petraeus let slip in a moment of passion?

Was Kelley a rival for Petraeus' affections? Or his secrets? What about Allen? And will John Kerry wind up as Defense Secretary as part of an elaborate shuffle?

Then there's the question of why an unnamed FBI agent disclosed the investigation to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor?  A week before the election? Why did Cantor sit on the revelation? Especially when congressional leaders were annoyed they did not receive timely notification?

Sex. Military secrets. Presidential and congressional politics? Heck, this is a full-fledged TV series. Not sure yet if it's ticketed to Fox though.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Whistling in the graveyard

Maybe Republicans should change their party symbol to the mastodon. On their present course it is heading for extinction.

GOP leaders nationally and locally are wringing the hands over losing imminently winnable aces, blaming everything from inauthentic candidates to the lack of a conservative enough message.

While it is certainly true that Mitt Romney was as phony as a three dollar bill, the soul-searching has apparently failed to brush up against the reality: The Republican Party in 2012 is the Party of No. It was against Barack Obama, women, gays, immigrants and the 99 percent.

But what was it for?

A party that had different ideas in 1980, enabling the election of Ronald Reagan has refused to see how those ideas -- like cutting taxes on the rich will jump start the economy -- have failed miserably. At the same time, in a desperate search for votes, the party sold its soul to its religious and paranoid wings.

The results? As America continues its inexorable move to a minority-majority nation, embracing people of all races, religions and sexual orientations, Republicans are shrinking into a corner occupied by angry old white men who want the federal government to cut spending but keep its hands of their Medicare.

Let's recall this is a party where one of its top elected officials declared it's No. 1 priority to be the defeat of Barack Hussein Obama. Not ending the wars in Iran and Afghanistan or dealing with the yawning gaps between income and spending caused by their failed supply side fantasy.

And to many on the right, what was Obama's crime? The clues begin with his middle name and his background. Post-racial society that can drop the reins against voting suppression efforts? Hardly.

Leaders of the rightward lurch insist all is fine, all they need is candidates with a backbone:

As Gary L. Bauer, a socially conservative former presidential candidate, told the New York Times:
“America is not demanding a second liberal party."
Leaving aside that many on the left believe the nation needs at least one liberal party, the cluelessness is apparent. Obama was as vulnerable to defeat as any incumbent in American history, yet he survived not because of his center-left orientation but because Romney caved to every demands of the hard right and offered no credible alternatives to the "job creator" tax fantasy.

Locally, Scott Brown and Richard Tisei fell victim to the right's overreach. Tisei in particular was a thoughtful moderate running up against a severely damaged Democrat. But it is safe to say the "R" after his name was all that many voters saw.

What Republicans need more than anything else is a good hard look in the mirror. The party has become the home to the Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks who support rape over women's rights.

It is a party that calls for fiscal sanity while urging the spending of millions of dollars to build a fence along our southern border.

It is a party that ignores the First Amendment protection of religious freedom to call for a version of theocracy at home.

And it is a party with its head in the sand at home and nationally in thinking a move even farther to the right is the answer.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fit to a T

Doesn't anyone do background checks on potential new hires any more?

The Globe offers two front-page stories today that highlight the inadequacy of reference checks. In one case, more than 30 people have contracted Hepatitis C because of a breakdown in a regulatory system that should have caught an addicted health care technician as he spread his infection across multiple states.

But that systemic breakdown, while inexcusable, is somewhat understandable given the complexity of multiple states and third party agencies. The same cannot be said of the MBTA's failure to do a deep dive into the background of the top candidate they selected to take the $220,000 reins of the chronically underachieving and poorly managed public transit system.

The Globe reports MARTA, Atlanta's regional transit system, paid a business psychologist $144,000 to help Beverly Scott and her leadership team improve their management styles:
After a preliminary, two-month round of interviews with board members and Scott’s senior staff, the business psychologist reported back to the board that Scott’s performance could significantly improve if, among other things, she met monthly with the psychologist “for individual coaching and consultation.”
Not surprisingly Scott opted not to seek a renewal of a five-year contract, paying her $370,000 and come north for a pay cut slightly larger than the consultant's services.

Anyone who has been through the job search process knows the cat-and-mouse game involved in accentuating your positives and doing your best to sugar coat your negatives. And we all hate the question "what could you do better?"

There are also legal and other constraints on former employers telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as the David Kwiatkowski case highlights.

But when you are hiring for a leader to take the reins of a transit system drowning in debt and known more for breakdowns than great service, should you not dig deep?

Yet the Massachusetts Department of Transportation only learned about Scott's Atlanta history from the Globe -- and only after she signed her new contract.

The results of a  MARTA audit -- also unknown to MassDOT, should have set off warning bells to the system:
The KPMG audit found MARTA to be in deep trouble, with a operating budget deficit of as much as $33 million a year, a shortfall that is being made up by dipping into reserves. The audit projects complete depletion of the system’s reserves in 2018. The “current economic model is unsustainable,” the audit said.
KPMG itemized tens of millions of dollars in potential savings that could be realized if MARTA privatized certain functions, restructured excessive compensation to employees, and curbed high absenteeism among its 4,500 workers.
In other words, on the surface Scott appears quite skilled in creating exactly the sort of problems the T hired her to solve.

At least no one has been physically harmed as a result of this failure to do a thorough background check. Yet.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fiscal curb

If nothing is done about the"fiscal cliff" before January, the Bush tax cuts expire and Barack Obama can propose new tax cuts on his terms. Think Republicans will vote no?

For all the GOP bluster about standing firm against higher tax rates for the wealthy is this simple fact: time favors Obama and Democrats, who have until at least February to hold their ground before the only real threat to the nation's economic health looms large. That's when the nation runs smack up against the debt ceiling the GOP has already held hostage once.

This is not a call for obstruction. Rather it is one for hard bargaining which Obama seems ready to finally do now that his last election is behind him:
“I just want to point out this was a central question during the election,” he said in brief remarks in the East Room. “It was debated over and over again. And on Tuesday night, we found out that the majority of Americans agree with my approach.” 
While it would be painful for 2013 to dawn with payroll tax cuts restored and higher income tax rates, it is clear long-term higher taxes is in no one's best interests -- starting with the economy. And the cuts contained in the sequester that accompanied the previous debt limit solution are designed to phase in slowly.

More like stepping off a fiscal curb rather than a cliff.

Changes are clearly needed. That includes overhauling a tax structure that favors "job creators" who have been spectacularly unsuccessful in that task despite the favorable treatment they have enjoyed for a dozen years.

And we certainly don't need expensive weapons systems designed for a Soviet nuclear threat that no longer exists. Nor do we need to remain mired in a credit card war in Afghanistan, one of two military excursions launched by supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans.

We certainly don't need to doubly subsidize the oil and natural gas industry with tax subsidies for the companies and their high-priced executives. Ditto for the money "managers" on Wall Street who live the high life on "carried interest" and capital gains tax rates lower than income tax rates on the working and middle class.

And liberals must recognize it also requires changes in a social safety net that was designed in the 1930s and 1960s when people did not live as long as today, in large measure because of expensive medical interventions that were only dreams back then.

Social Security has already begun a gradual pushback of the retirement age. There are efficiencies to be found in the health care system, efficiencies that Obamacare is designed in part to create.

The intransigence of the House Tea Party Caucus was, is and will be the largest stumbling block. John Boehner may find it easier to negotiate with Obama than with the Tea Party, where Eric Cantor may be tempted to continue leading the GOP lemmings over their own cliff.

So be prepared for more bluster, perhaps a new round of television ads from corporations still licking their wounds from backing the wrong guy.

But in the end, Obama holds the winning hand. And as of now, he doesn't seem ready to fold.

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Honeymoon's over

The Boston media is in a snit that Elizabeth Warren didn't perform on demand. Well, not all of it.

Brian McGrory is in high dudgeon today, chastising the senator-elect for being a woman of few words at a post-election news conference.
It was Warren’s chance to rest her ­elbows on the podium, tell the gathered crowd that she’s never felt this exhausted in her life, and then share a bit of her exhilaration over the prospect of standing up for the working class in the most important ­deliberative body in the world, talking points aside.
Surprisingly it was the Herald, the newspaper that served as Scott Brown's unofficial communications arm, that rose to Warren's defense, enlisting Suffolk University political science professor John Berg to spell out the reasons for Warren's muted responses:
“She’s been concentrating so hard on the campaign, I’m sure she’s pretty tired. I also think she doesn’t want to go into the Senate having made commitments she regrets.”
There were indeed ample reasons that a woman elected after a year-long marathon in which she was rarely at a loss for words might want to exercise discretion.

For starters, Brown is still the senator and he will be the one to take the tough vote should Congress come up with a fix, even a temporary one, to the fiscal cliff before now and Jan. 3. She is wise to leave the verbal sparring to the John Boehner and her future boss, Harry Reid.

Warren is also not likely to wax expansive on personal questions after the shellacking she took for her response to Brown's attacks on her heritage. She will no doubt weigh the impact of any comment, no matter how honest, knowing that in the Fourth Estate may choose to put a spin on it.

It probably should not have come as a surprise either. The event was held in Deval Patrick's office. Warren and Patrick share a political brain trust and he has never been shy about telling the media to bug off if he thought a question irrelevant or inappropriate.

And let's not forget the Brown barely deigned to speak to media in Boston or Washington unless it was in a tightly defined cocoon with a specific message.

The Globe's snit-picking reflects the type of arrogance that drives elected officials and the public wild when it comes to the media. Warren has never displayed timidity about speaking her mind in the right forum.

Catering to the media in a pro-forma event was not one of those times.

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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Endangered species

The real message of the 2012 election is not simply Barack Obama's victory. The Republican Party is a huge loser -- and faces extinction if it does not change its ways.

And there's an unnoticed winner -- we the people -- who managed to sidestep an attempt by rich conservatives to buy the White House.

The GOP's woes are obvious, at the state and national level. Massachusetts Republicans have always been a top of the ticket party, ignoring the grassroots that have now shriveled to near nothingness.

The GOP lost four House members and remain a lonely Gang of Four in the 40-member Senate, incapable of challenging any rulings without the goodwill of Democratic leadership.

Richard Tisei, the GOP's best hope to capture a seat in the U.S. House in a generation, fell short in his effort to oust tattered incumbent John Tierney. It's probably a safe assumption that the "R" next to his name hurt as much as the Libertarian candidate who siphoned off precious votes.

And while speculation is rife about next steps for Scott Brown after losing his Senate seat, he, Tisei and Charlie Baker make up the entire GOP bullpen. One of them could very well capture the Corner Office in 2014 given what is now a less-than-overwhelming Democratic field.

But the same notion held true in the Senate race until Elizabeth Warren emerged to save the Democratic majority.

Nationally, the GOP is older, whiter and angrier than it was on Tuesday. The most prominent conservative voices are that of Rush Limbaugh and the New York City real estate megalomaniac.

Of the four states where non-whites make up the majority of the population, the GOP can claim only one, Texas, an advantage more than matched by an ever-deeper blue California.

During the 2012 campaign, Republicans stumbled over each other to see who was more anti-immigrant, with Mitt Romney winning the dubious prize by coming out in favor of "self-deportation."

Tea Party rallies have been vast seas of white faces whose principal call has been for reducing all federal spending -- except of course for their Medicare and Social Security. It's a dying demographic, literally.

In its place is a fast-growing younger cohort, one that rejects some of the party's other cornerstones, a fervent embrace of (selective) religious beliefs, a party that wants government out of the boardroom and into the bedroom where it can dictate who can sleep with who and how they live their lives.

If that wasn't enough trouble, there's a likely backlash coming over the effort by one-note billionaires -- from the Koch brothers to Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess -- to try to buy the election.

The billions that flowed into SuperPACs, overwhelmingly on the Republican side, were an outright assault on a democracy modeled on the one person, one vote model.

We should rightly be thrilled that the assault failed, even as we recover from the fatigue of the endless commercials that spewed venom and outright lies.

That failure, along with the collapse of the demographically challenged vision, rests firmly on the shoulders of a man who was an even bigger loser than Romney -- George Bush's beloved Turd Blossom.

Karl Rove's on-air Fox News meltdown, challenging the propaganda outlet's surrender flag in calling the race for Obama, was a vivid representation of the failed effort.

The fact it came despite the GOP's triumph in creating Citizens United and its subsequent kidnapping of political speech, makes that loss even more bitter for a party and a movement that is barely operating on fumes.

Politics is a process of change and liberals have had similar low points. They listened, learned and adapted. A rebirth is possible for conservatives if they do the same thing,

The big question is whether they can honestly look themselves in the mirror, cast out the crazies and come up with a strategy that appeals to more than a dying demographic.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

4 More Years

In the end, Mitt Romney kept the nation waiting while he wrote the concession speech he never expected to deliver.

It was clear from Karl Rove's meltdown on Fox News that Republicans were unprepared for Barack Obama's historic second term victory, a stunning defeat for a party that made its sole legislative priority to deny that from happening.

But Republicans must now face the reality of Obama in the White House, Mitch McConnell's continuation as Senate Minority Leader and John Boehner presiding over a smaller majority in a House that has been intent on sending the nation over a fiscal cliff to defeat Obama.

The GOP is now an older, whiter Southern party, riven by divisions between a somewhat pragmatic faction represented by Boehner and a Tea Party fringe that deserves the blame for keeping McConnell in the minority.

The refusal to concede the numbers, typified by Rove's stalling over Ohio's results, reflects an ungracious, unrepentant gang that has continually placed party over country. Contrast this response to the 180-degree different reaction by Rove when his man needed the Supreme Court to snatch away a popular vote victory by Al Gore.

Boehner's has already blustered that nothing will change because his party holds a weakened grip on the House. Whether that will indeed be true when the new Congress is seated in January remains to be seen.

But it is a truly bad sign as his lame duck members stare at the fiscal cliff they created by refusing to compromise on new taxes as part of a balanced package of revenues and cuts to begin the ending the fiscal disaster they created with their unrelenting, 30-year support of voodoo economics.

That means that Obama once again must reach across the aisle to try and restore some sanity to our nation's affairs.

Obama's victory forestalled an even bigger crisis, one that would have happened if the malleable Romney had won the White House and abdicated executive authority to a GOP-led Congress.

Don't buy the spin that voters opted for the status quo. Extremist Senate candidates were rejected in Missouri and Indiana and another malleable Massachusetts man was tossed out when voters opted for Elizabeth Warren over faux moderate Scott Brown.

Obama took just about every important swing state (and will likely emerge the victor in the banana republic known as Florida). When the people at whom the billions in advertising dollars was aimed assessed the situation, they clearly opted for the sane choice.

Boehner needs to recognize that reality and work with Obama to end the single largest threat to the nation's economic recovery.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Brown out

If Scott Brown had run as positive campaign as the concession speech he delivered, he would be heading back to Washington. But his contemptible low road attacks played a major role in Elizabeth Warren's victory.

And the soon-to-be-former senator from Massachusetts knows it quite well, dropping a very loud hint that he is not through with Bay State electoral politics. The only question is what and when.

Rumors started floating early on Twitter that Brown would be a candidate to return to the Senate if or when John Kerry was selected as Secretary of State in a second Obama Administration.

But that mill also tossed out the interesting possibility that Brown might jump into the 2014 gubernatorial race, challenging 2010 loser Charlie Baker. It would set up an interesting battle between the gregarious Brown and the buttoned-down Baker.

Brown's defeat means Massachusetts has finally elected a woman to statewide office, a tough-as-nails consumer advocate who has already given Wall Street bankers a reason to lay awake at night.

Warren defied many pundits -- including myself -- by persevering against Brown's baseless challenge to her heritage and her bona fides. The relentless door-to-door effort by the candidates and her supporters proved to be the correct formula.

Her combative, populist battle cry during the campaign and in her victory speech hit all the right notes, although you have to wonder how she will adapt to the partisan gridlock that appears likely to continue to stymie efforts for change.

So congratulations Senator-elect Warren. And good luck. You -- and we -- are going to need it.

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Just do it

The last poll has been taken, the final ad aired. The absurdly long, horrifically expensive campaign in American history is all over except for the counting.

It would be nice to think that when the victor emerges the United States will get down to the business of healing -- our economy, our bitterly divided psyche.

Nice but unlikely given all the bile that was purged without ever addressing the reality facing us all: a nation that takes in less than it needs to care for anyone who doesn't have the clout to buy it -- from legislators to the election itself.

When the last bill is paid we will, as a nation, have squandered billions of dollars in singing the praises and shouting the curses about the men and women who seek office. I would say represent us, but in too many cases, they will represent the special interests who put the most cash in their coffers.

Perhaps prophetically, Wednesday will not dawn with sunshine and blue skies, especially not along the East Coast where another powerful storm is poised to wreak more havoc on communities battered by Hurricane Sandy.

Climate change of the type that may have been responsible for superstorm Sandy was not addressed during the endless months of campaigning -- although we did talk about whether the government had a role in helping those who lost everything in the storm.

And there was also no discussion of the Elephant in the Room, the train wreck that that looms unless Congress and Barack Obama can come to some sort of agreement on how to deal with the "fiscal cliff" that threatens to send us back into recession unless we find a way to spend within our means while addressing the inequality that finds many billionaires not paying their fair share.

Elections are supposed to be a timer of renewal, when we voice our opinions and bury the hatchets and work together. But the likelihood that Congress, the most unpopular institution in the nation, will change its ways and work together is not promising.

Is it any wonder that more and more people are throwing up their hands and walking away, the biggest waste of all.

Depressing? Yes. But Election Day should still inspire people to remember that for all its myriad faults, this system of government is still the best around. And while I may be disheartened I won't stop caring.

And neither should you.

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Monday, November 05, 2012

Traffic jam: priceless

We interrupt our political rants for this question: why is a busy major Boston street (and even busier public transit line) being shutdown to accommodate a "free" concert by aging rockers selling a new album?

Yet that is exactly the reality faced by commuters in Boston as city officials shut down Commonwealth Avenue and the Green Line branch to place a plaque and allow a concert by Aerosmith, who launched their career in what was no doubt then (and maybe still is now)  a student roach trap.

A few disclaimers: I am about as old as the band and probably haunted many of the same dives. I have lived in or around that area for decades. Allston still has a somewhat raw charm.

The idea of a free concert like the Beatles legendary performance atop Apple Studios -- after a plaque dedication and a Grauman's Chinese Theater cement ceremony -- has a certain amount of marketing genius.

But not at the start of a work week on a busy "Evacuation Route" and a streetcar line whose service is questionable on a good day.

The city, which has known about and cooperated with organizers for months, has been mum about this until the weekend. Their best advice: be nice and suck it up:
"There’s always inconvenience when you do this, but it also creates an excitement for the city that is priceless,” [Boston Mayor Tom Menino spokeswoman Dot] Joyce said. “It’s a challenge, but obviously the city is very proud of the boys from Boston.” 
Joyce says the concert is organized by the band who will assume the costs and an introduction by New England Patriots President Jonathan Kraft suggests team involvement.

But taxpayers will foot the bill for police and fire details?

So why a workday Monday, one day before the election? Could it have anything to do with promoting the album being released the very next day?

Maybe the band can contribute some of its profits from the new work to defray the costs in terms of time and inconvenience to the thousands of current and potential fans whose Monday will be thoroughly disrupted by this publicity stunt for a bunch of aging rockers who really don't care all that much for each other any more?

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Sunday, November 04, 2012

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

In the final hours of the endless campaign, Myth Romney has pulled yet another chameleon move -- calling himself the true change.

At long last Mitt, have you no shame?

Romney, the man with more positions than the Kama Sutra, the human Etch a Sketch, is finally acknowledging his true nature. But in typical Romney fashion it's in the form of shape shifting into a role that he thinks voters want.

Let's recall this shameless metamorphosis

Romney was for a woman's right to choose, before he was against it, before he was indifferent to it.

He was for healthcare reform -- before he was against it.

He was for gun control  -- before he was against it.

He was against the auto bailout -- before he was for it.

He lambasted Obama's foreign policy -- before he agreed with it.

Romney's political odyssey is indeed all about change, from left of Ted Kennedy to "severely conservative" and back to the middle. He has exhibited a total lack of core beliefs and values, swinging whichever way the prevailing political winds may take him.

Romney represents change in the worst possible way.

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Saturday, November 03, 2012

Bushnesia

In GOP World, the United States of America went directly from Jan. 19, 2001 to Jan. 20, 2009. It's not just Romnesia. It's as if George W. Bush never existed.

Listen to Mitt Romney's closing "argument" and you are struck by its tone-deafness, its failure to acknowledge what the eight years of the Bush administration created: wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; a budget surplus turned into a yawing deficit thanks to tax cuts for the wealthy, an expensive Medicare drug program not paid for -- not to mention the credit card bills coming due for the wars.

And when the economy collapsed because of the reckless behavior of an unregulated Wall Street, there was additional spending by Bush (and a Democratic Congress) trying to prevent what has been called the Great Recession turn into the Great Depression II.

That included the much-reviled TARP program, a product of Bush's Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to bailout evil-doers like AIG. There was also a stimulus program aimed at slowing an explosion of unemployment in the final months of 2008.

At the same time, the auto industry, led by General Motors, where a chief executive once declared "...what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa," collapsed largely of its own incompetence but threatening millions of jobs in the process.

While Wall Street ran amok and Detroit ran into the ground, Osama bin Laden ran free. Bush, who once declared bin Laden was "Wanted: Dead or Alive," six months later came to view the man who launched the worst terrorist attack on US soil, after Bush ignored the intelligence reports, as unimportant:
"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."
Today, as the Obama campaign notes, GM is Alive and bin Laden is Dead. The economy is growing, albeit very slowly and unemployment is also creeping downward after the explosion of joblessness in early 2009 after Obama took the reins from his incompetent predecessor.

A stimulus program -- too small to really do the job but insisted upon by Republicans whose principal goal was to make Obama a one-term president -- prevented worse economic devastation.

A health care law that will begin to spread coverage to millions of Americans and wring out some of the excess cost and waste of the system is in place.

Bush is the Man Who Never Was. Ignored by his party, defended only by his brother, he mercifully retreated from the chaos and destruction he caused. All that's left is his political spawn, a man he nicknamed Turd Blossom, who coordinates attacks on Obama and other Democrats for failing to clean up, well, the turd blossoms Bush left behind.

That's a short history lesson for those "stubbornly unconvinced" voters who are also unaware of Romney's own history of shape shifting to ponder this weekend.

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Friday, November 02, 2012

Storm warning

Hurricane Sandy was a blessing for those climate change deniers looking for sand in which to bury their heads.

A storm that flooded lower Manhattan with record tidal surges, then took a sharp left turn at the coast and roared hundreds of miles inland, generating near hurricane force gusts as far west as Cleveland and dumped snow measured in feet in Kentucky and West Virginia, is not your typical late October storm.

Except that it is. All you need to do is rewind the clock to last October for the massive snowstorm that snapped tree limbs and power lines through a wide swath of New England.

Yet not a word has been said in this year's campaign about that elephant in the room, which Republicans in particular are hellbent to ignore:

Experts insist this is not a fluke:
“How many times have you heard the words unprecedented, record-breaking, ‘We have never seen anything like this’ in the last three years?” asked Ellen Douglas, associate ­professor of hydrology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Working with the ­Boston Harbor Association, she helped prepare map scenarios for the city that show large swaths of South Boston and East Boston and parts of the North End under 1 to 4 feet of water during high tide if there is a 5-foot storm surge, about half the wall of water that inundated Manhattan. “Sandy is a wake-up call,” Douglas said.
The question is whether anyone intends to listen to that wake-up call or roll back oer to sleep and let the alarm keep ringing.

It's clear large swatch of the evangelical party believes flooding is just like rape -- just part of a higher authority's plan.

Alas it is too late for that crew to get their heads out of their respective orifices. But if the rest of us continue to deny the obvious, there will only be more Sandys, not to mention Katrinas caused by government ineptitude in facing reality.

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Thursday, November 01, 2012

Running on empty

Our long national nightmare is almost over. And journalists and bloggers are rejoicing.

As the campaign approaches double-digit hours, a spent press corps is reduced to writing stories not just about polls but why they have been all over the map. Or why deceptive advertising is a good strategy.

Of course that's when they are not finding polite ways to describe Myth Romney's metamorphosis from "severely conservative" to a puppy-loving moderate. OK, even Romney hasn't shape-shifted that much. Yet.

But the best sign that all life and creativity has been sapped out of scribes is when they turn the mirror on themselves:
Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign says it still has momentum. President Barack Obama’s campaign says that’s all spin.

Meanwhile, there isn’t a single well-informed pundit between them who can tell you who’s right.
This corner is no different. I got into blogging thanks to the excesses of George W. Bush and the studied indifference of Willard M. Romney to the job of governor that the people of Massachusetts gave him in what now appears to be a moment of great regret. Yeah, I know, a poll. It's a disease.

Yet I have found myself searching for something new to say in the last few weeks. Efforts to dissect the lies of the GOP standard bearer (and his Massachusetts sidekick Scott Brown) seem labored and for good reason: you can't repeating yourself endlessly.

That's not to say reporters with pages to fill and bloggers with clicks to seek won't try.

See you tomorrow. Even if it's likely that just like my former colleagues in the press corps I have nothing more of consequence to add.

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