Warren, Clark, McGovern skip GOP's Netanyahu exhibition: good for them

Globe:

Senator Elizabeth Warren and two other members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation plan to skip Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress Tuesday, saying they are protesting the invitation made by House Speaker John Boehner.

Representatives Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat, and Jim McGovern, a Democrat of Worcester, also are planning to miss the event.

The Israeli Prime Minister has decided to align Israel with the Republican Party and jab two stiff fingers in President Obama’s eye and, by extension, the 65 million Americans who voted for him, and the Democratic Party in general. That’s his decision but there is no reason Obama’s supporters should be complicit in his effort to puff up John Boehner and attack Barack Obama.

Well done Senator Warren and Representatives Clark and McGovern. Ed Markey, Richard Neal, Niki Tsongas, Joe Kennedy, Seth Moulton, Mike Capuano, Steve Lynch and Bill Keating should follow their smart politics.

 

Just Fund the T, Governor Baker

We had an election just a few months ago where voters elected Charlie Baker on a pledge of No New Taxes and defeated gas tax indexing that would have raised taxes over time to fund transportation improvements. I'd say the Governor has a strong case for resisting this argument, appealing though it may be for the millions who use the T. - promoted by Bob_Neer

March 2, 2015
Just fund the T, Governor Baker

It’s time for Governor Baker to stand up in front of the voters and ask them to fund the T. Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, it will require the expense of political capital. But it must be done, and without the governor’s leadership there will be no change to a system that desperately needs it. This is not just Charlie Baker’s problem: administrations and legislatures have kicked the can down the road for decades, but with this historic snowstorm, the can landed here.

At what point will Governor Baker own the MBTA? This is different from owning the problems at the T. The unprecedented failure of the T is not his fault, although as Administration and Finance Secretary to Governor Weld he played a role by saddling the T with debt that has prevented major investment in the last twenty years. But then none of us is entirely innocent. This is our public transit system, and as taxpayers and voters, we all have a say and a slice of the responsibility.

But by ownership, I mean leadership. He didn’t create the problem, but when the decision was made to shut the public transit system down entirely, stranding hundreds of thousands of workers dependent on it, he was sitting in the corner office (or the little one next to it). It is political calculus that cautions a leader to stay away from problems he or she inherits from previous administrations in the same way that leaders are advised to push thorny budgetary issues down the road. Systemic change is hard, and requires spending political capital, but Governor Baker must ignore political calculus and tackle this problem head-on.

Fox continues to lose ground on O'Reilly

Not that it is likely to have much impact on the fabulists at Fox 25, who wisely claim only a number rather than the ludicrous “News” of their big brother. Guardian:

O’Reilly claimed in a broadcast to have taken part in “a raid” in Ireland, and in a 2013 book, Keep It Pithy, wrote that he had seen “Irish terrorists kill and maim their fellow citizens in Belfast with bombs”.

O’Reilly did not see any bombings or injuries but only saw photographs provided to reporters by police, a Fox spokesperson told the Post.

Last week, O’Reilly qualified his claims of having seen four nuns murdered in El Salvador in 1980, during that country’s civil war. O’Reilly had said he saw “guys gun down nuns in El Salvador” and “nuns get shot in the back of the head”. He now says he was among “reporters [who were] shown horrendous images of violence that were never broadcast”.

O’Reilly was forced to concede that point to the liberal media watchdog Mediaite, which pointed out that the nuns were murdered in December 1980 and that O’Reilly did not travel to El Salvador until he became a CBS correspondent in 1981.

DeLeo strips Hecht of Vice Chairmanship

The punishment of Jon Hecht was, sadly, both predictable and predicted. Commonwealth Magazine reports that "none of the 11 Democrats who opposed DeLeo on the term limits vote received a chair or vice chair position." Surprise. [David] Bumped, for interest. - promoted by Bob_Neer

As clear evidence of the undue amount of power held by the speaker, Speaker DeLeo has removed Representative Jonathan Hecht for the Vice Chairmanship of the Committee on Elder Affairs. This was likely due to the fact that Hecht spoke out against removing the term limits for the Speakership. Representatives should be able to speak their minds without recourse. The speakers actions go against the very ideals of the democratic process, the ideals that every representative has an equal say. I hope the next speaker will be true to the the ideals of the democratic process. (I wish we could get Rep Hecht in there)

Joke Revue: "Republicans Unlearning Facts Learned in Third Grade to Compete in Primary"

(Continue over the fold for a Vine of Fox at its finest.)

Borowitz:

Republicans Unlearning Facts Learned in Third Grade to Compete in Primary

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In the hopes of appealing to Republican primary voters, candidates for the 2016 Presidential nomination are working around the clock to unlearn everything that they have learned since the third grade, aides to the candidates have confirmed.

With the Iowa caucuses less than a year away, the hopefuls are busy scrubbing their brains of basic facts of math, science, and geography in an attempt to resemble the semi-sentient beings that Republican primary voters prize.

An aide to Jeb Bush acknowledged that, for the former Florida governor, “The unlearning curve has been daunting.”

“The biggest strike against Jeb is that he graduated from college Phi Beta Kappa,” the aide said. “It’s going to take a lot of work to get his brain back to its factory settings.”

At the campaign of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, the mood was considerably more upbeat, as aides indicated that Walker’s ironclad façade of ignorance is being polished to a high sheen.

“The fact that Scott instinctively says that he doesn’t know the answers to even the easiest questions gives him an enormous leg up,” an aide said.

But while some G.O.P. candidates are pulling all-nighters to rid themselves of knowledge acquired when they were eight, the campaign of Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, is exuding a quiet confidence.

“I don’t want to sound too cocky about Rick,” said one Perry aide. “But what little he knows, he’s shown he can forget.”

Onion:

Keystone Veto Buys Environment At Least 3 Or 4 More Hours

WASHINGTON—Emphasizing the numerous ecological benefits of blocking the proposed legislation, experts confirmed Wednesday that President Obama’s decision to veto the Keystone XL pipeline bill should buy the environment an additional three or four hours of viability. “Given the negative impact that this project could have had on the planet, we believe that the president’s efforts have successfully pushed back the complete breakdown of global ecosystems from about 3 p.m. to possibly 6:30 p.m. on the final day of ecological stability,” said Peter Grant of the Brookings Institution, adding that, by forestalling the construction of an oil pipeline that threatened to degrade air quality, interrupt species migration, and contribute to global warming, the White House had extended the era in which the earth can sustain life by as many as 300 minutes. “While the suspension of this project will do little to reverse the current damage to our environment, we can say with confidence that we’ve definitely delayed the complete destruction of nature by about the length of an afternoon.” At press time, Grant confirmed that the announcement of a new plastics manufacturing plant in Shanghai had cut their estimate in half.

Last Line Of Obama’s Military Force Request Briefly Mentions Possibility Of 25-Year Quagmire

WASHINGTON—Following pages of subsections that would officially authorize continued airstrikes, rescue operations, and the deployment of U.S. Special Forces in the fight against ISIS, the final line of the military force proposal that President Obama delivered to Congress Wednesday is said to briefly mention the possibility of a 25-year-long quagmire. “There is also a chance that we may become embroiled in a geopolitical nightmare until 2040,” reads the last sentence of the draft, immediately beneath a clause repealing the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq and a stipulation that Obama regularly provide Congress with updated reports on the offensive. “And the cost of such an entanglement could amount to several trillion dollars and tens of thousands of lives, too.” Legal scholars noted that the proposal’s language intentionally leaves the door open for a future president to extend the authorization by one or more generations as necessary.

Daniel Kurtzman:

“Alaska today officially legalized marijuana for recreational use. I think they did this years ago. That’s how the Palin kids ended up with those names, right?” –Jimmy Kimmel

“New research shows marijuana is by far the least dangerous recreational drug. Studies have shown again and again that it leads to virtually no recreation. That’s how safe it is.” –Seth Meyers

“A new CBS News poll shows Chris Christie is ranked ninth out of all Republican presidential candidates. He’s just behind Bobby Jindal and just ahead of a gun wearing a cowboy hat.” –Seth Meyers

“All I could think of all day yesterday while watching all of the Oscar-related shows was how much I miss football.” –Jimmy Kimmel

“The ratings for last night’s Academy Awards hit a six-year low. So few people saw the Oscars that it’s been nominated for an Oscar.” –Seth Meyers

“The Academy Awards are passed out on Sunday. It’s voted by members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Or as I call them, 50 shades of white.” –David Letterman

“Jeb Bush gave a speech yesterday. He had a pretty rough time. He accidentally said that ISIS has 200,000 men instead of 20,000, and then he mispronounced the name of the terrorist group Boko Haram. So if history has taught us anything, Jeb is well on his way to winning the White House.” –Jimmy Fallon

“Yesterday during a speech on national security, Jeb Bush mispronounced Boko Haram and got confused between Iran and Iraq. When reached for comment, his brother George W. said, ‘He sure sounds presidentiary to me.’” –Conan O’Brien

“The Oscars are this Sunday. Host Neil Patrick Harris said he hopes the broadcast will include a ‘Kanye moment.’ Unfortunately a Kanye moment may not be possible because that would require a black person to be at the Oscars.” –Conan O’Brien

Ed Markey investigating climate denial conflicts of interest.

Here I was thinking that the fossil fuel funding for Willie Soon's garbage was old news. But now the big media orgs break it like it's a huge story and Harvard/Smithsonian is all embarrassed. Where have they been? And agreed re: Markey. This is his wheelhouse. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

I don’t know about you, but his willingness to take on this issue and go after those who are self-interested in this regard is a key reason I supported Ed Markey’s Senate bid.  Sunday’s Globe is reporting that he is pushing for the disclosure of connections between scientists who express doubts about climate change and their oil industry funders.

A warning about privatizing the T

London provides an impressive example of failed privatization -- although why anyone would want to imitate much of anything about contemporary Britain anyway is an open question. Read Adeas' excellent review of Transport for London's current structure and recent history here. But there are many other models for quasi-privatization, and the baseline remains: the MBTA is grotesquely inadequate, has been in decline for decades, and is unlikely to turn around or raise the $13 billion it needs without substantive structural reorganization and a way to earn billions in new revenue going forward. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Read this account of the privatization of London, and maybe let’s think again about privatizing the MBTA in Boston.

First, as only a Brit could put it about the overall privatization of Britain since 1982:

It was a free-market frenzy. Everything we owned was being flogged off by pinstriped bastards reeking of lunch.

And this about London’s privatized skyline:

The utter capitulation of London’s planning system in the face of serious money is detectable right there in that infantile, random collection of improbable sex toys poking gormlessly into the privatised air. Public access? Yeah, we’ll definitely put a public park at the top (by appointment only).

In sum, one hundred years from now, historians:

…will wonder why people tolerated this transfer of collective wealth from taxpayers to shareholders.

 

 

The Olympic hits keep coming

Private insurance against cost overruns paid for by Boston 2024 must be part of the bid package, as was ultimately done in Chicago, to resolve or mitigate this issue. Important questions: how much is enough -- $1 billion? $5 billion? $10 billion? -- to instill confidence, and will the bid committee recognize the critical importance of this matter and take proactive steps to address it, or be forced into it with attendant political damage. - promoted by Bob_Neer

The Globe had articles regarding the Boston Olympic bid both yesterday and today.

First, yesterday’s piece reveals that despite promises of private funding, Boston will still be on the hook:

In 2017, as the international competition goes forward, Mayor Martin J. Walsh will be expected to endorse Boston’s blueprint for hosting the 2024 Summer Games and with his signature make a promise that should the plan for a privately funded Olympics falter, the city — and its taxpayers — will step in and fix it.

What is the plan of the organizers?

To protect the city from loss, local Olympic organizers with Boston 2024 say they have already been working on an Olympic plan, to be finalized by mid-2017, that will reduce risk, indemnify the city, and convince Walsh that he can comfortably agree to be the backstop without significant risk to taxpayers.

However…

Still, there is no such thing as a risk-free Olympics.

“This is a big complex project, so there is going to be risk,” said Doug Arnot, an adviser to the US Olympic Committee who is helping Boston 2024 develop America’s bid for the Games. “What we can say is, we will take every step we can to manage that risk, to mitigate it, and relieve the potential for exposure to the city.”

But there is no guarantee.

And today, the Globe says “Despite early pitch, many public projects don’t have full funds in place

Boston Olympic organizers initially pitched the Games by declaring that they would boost an array of public transit improvements, including a $1 billion expansion of South Station, new diesel trains between the Back Bay and Newton, and an upgraded JFK/UMass Station in Dorchester.

Best of all, Olympic organizers said, the projects had already been approved in a $13 billion bond bill signed by Governor Deval Patrick last year. “That money has already been allocated,” John Fish, the chairman of Boston 2024, said last year.

But despite those statements, not all of the projects have been fully funded and others were not even included in the bond bill. In fact, if the state were to pursue all of the projects, taxpayers would have to kick in at least another $4 billion, according to a Globe review.

“The information that is being provided at this stage should be accurate,” said Rafael Mares, a lawyer at the Conservation Law Foundation, “and, unfortunately, it isn’t.”

Do those of us who have been expressing skepticism regarding the info Boston 2024 has been putting out still need to explain ourselves?

Bridging the transit gap

WBUR had a useful recent report on this general subject: "In a board meeting this week, state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack indirectly answered that question when she said, 'If Warren Buffett showed up and wrote us a $2 billion check, we still would not have any new cars for several years.'" - promoted by Bob_Neer

Updated with information discovered on 25-Feb-2015

I want to ask an amateur and thoroughly half-baked question: Has anybody in Massachusetts government explored the feasibility of leasing temporary subway cars to bridge the gap between now and the scheduled 2018-2021 delivery of new Red and Orange line equipment?

The Red Line and Orange Line track is US standard gauge (4′ 8 1/2″). The minimum radius, platform clearances, and such are presumably standard or at least known. The on-board signalling and control equipment would require customization or replacement.

When we replace failing highway bridges, we often erect temporary structures to carry traffic during construction of the permanent span.

Has anybody investigated the feasibility of doing the same for our failing subway systems?

UPDATE

It seems this has happened before. From a historical site (emphasis mine):

By the mid-1950s, the MTA was once again in need of new streetcars with the remaining Type Fives reaching the end of their usable lives. Looking to save money, the MTA turned to the used streetcar market and gained word that Dallas, Texas was ending streetcar service. Accordingly, in 1958, the MTA purchased 25 retired PCCs, numbered 3322-3346, from Dallas, resulting in the complete end of Type Five service in 1959.

Joke Revue: "Forgotten Man Seeks Attention"

Borowitz:

Forgotten Man Seeks Attention

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—A largely forgotten man sought attention on Wednesday night before returning to obscurity on Thursday, according to reports.

The man, whom many Americans had difficulty placing, was making a desperate bid to remind people of his existence, experts believe.

His efforts were somewhat successful, as his widely reported outburst caused people across the country to rack their brains to try to remember who he was.

After briefly attempting to recall where they had seen the man before, many people gave up and moved on with their days, but for others, the desperate man’s remarks left a bitter aftertaste.

“There is no excuse for making comments like those, no matter who you are,” Tracy Klugian, forty-seven, of Springfield, Missouri, said. “Who is he again?”

Still others showed concern for the man, and expressed hope that, instead of future bids for attention, he would find fulfillment in crafting or some other harmless hobby.

Daniel Kurtzman:

“NBC has suspended Brian Williams for six months without pay. Williams said he’s not worried because soon his veterans benefits will kick in.” –Conan O’Brien

“A new report says that last year Colorado collected $44 million in marijuana taxes. Unfortunately, they can’t remember where they put it.” –Conan O’Brien

“Obama chose Joe Biden as his VP because of his energy and enthusiasm. Wait, those are the same reasons he picked his dog, Bo.” –Jimmy Fallon

“Good luck finding a place to park in New York City. And when you do, good luck figuring out the parking signs, restrictions, and prohibitions. It is so complicated. It has gotten so bad, I never park my car without a lawyer.” –David Letterman

“NBC suspended Brian Williams for six months without pay for misrepresenting a story of something that happened to him 12 years ago in Iraq. I have a solution. They should send him up in a helicopter, fire an RPG at it, and if he makes it down, that’s enough. He’s forgiven.” –Jimmy Kimmel

“A lawmaker in Tennessee is pushing to make the Bible the official state book. It would replace Tennessee’s current state book, the menu at Cracker Barrel.” –Seth Meyers

“Chinese President Xi Jinping is planning to make his first official state visit to the U.S. Although I’m worried it’ll be a little awkward when he visits a school and says, ‘This factory is terrible.’” –Jimmy Fallon

“Now people want Brian Williams to resign, but it could have a happy ending. Apparently what he said was such a blatant departure from the truth, today he got an offer from Fox News.” –Bill Maher

“Rand Paul and Chris Christie both said vaccinations should be a choice, not a government mandate. Because when have Republicans ever told people what they could do with their own bodies?” –Bill Maher

Onion:

GOP Builds Full-Scale Replica Of Struggling Ohio Town To Train Presidential Hopefuls

MARTINSDALE, MT—In an effort to improve the party’s chances in the 2016 election, GOP officials announced Thursday that the Republican National Committee has built a functional full-scale replica of a struggling Ohio town in which to train presidential hopefuls.

Top-level Republican sources told reporters they have been using the fake town of Stocktonville, OH, which is located in a remote stretch of central Montana, to rigorously prepare candidates since completing construction of the 18-square-mile facility last month. According to GOP leaders, the recently erected village, which is inhabited by 33,000 actors coached to portray middle-class Americans such as small-business owners and auto workers, replicates every location and personal interaction a candidate could expect to encounter while campaigning in a critical Rust Belt swing county.

“Every morning, we start running our candidates through their itinerary of simulated voter meet-and-greets at Stocktonville’s mock schools, shopping centers, and town squares, having them redo each leg over and over until they get it right,” said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, noting how the locality has been meticulously crafted to reflect an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, a median income of $38,000, and a sense of uneasiness about the direction of the country. “So, whether it’s learning to naturally put on a hardhat and Carhartt jacket to impress the workers at one of our six artificial factories, or tossing out the first pitch at our life-size double-A baseball field, our fully immersive training grounds provide a safe place for candidates to work out the kinks before running for office.” …

At press time, RNC leaders confirmed they had discontinued the leg of training that involved entering Stocktonville’s African-American neighborhood, saying it was simply too difficult for all of the candidates.

Baker Appoints Committee to Tell Us What We Already Know? Maybe, Maybe Not.

If this committee provides Baker et al with political cover for the proper, necessary, and overdue investments, then great. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

I happened to be on Twitter three hours ago when Governor Baker’s team let loose with a number of tweets about his blue-ribbon committee to study the MBTA. I’m not a frequent tweeter, but 5 overlapping tweets in minutes seemed like overkill to me (See below). Is that normal?

It makes sense for Baker to appoint a committee. Politically, it shows him doing something, and it buys him time. It could also put off the elephant in the room: taxes. From the wealth of existing information about the MBTA, we already know the basic problem: underinvestment aka not paying for stuff we needBaker can cross the revenue bridge when he comes to it and stop those irritating questions by refusing to comment until his committee completes its work.

Baker, as our Charley has suggested, may not know what much about the MBTA, but his committee seems to have some serious credibility. It’s is loaded with experience and (probably) expertise in transportation. His experts, who are actually experts, include Jose A. Gomez-Ibanez, a Harvard professor who specializes in infrastructure, and Jane Garvey, who in addition to many things transportational in Massachusetts, ran the Federal Aviation Administration. (She’s also from Hampshire County, where her husband is sheriff and I live). If there’s a partisan hack on this committee, I don’t see him.

The charge of the committee appears sensible:

1. Develop a fact-base from available data and recently published reports to enable the MBTA and the Commonwealth to ground its future plans and recommendations.

2. Undertake a rapid diagnostic on the state of MBTA asset management and maintenance.

3. Make recommendations to improve the MBTA’s governance, structure, financials, and operations in both the short and longer-terms to enable the MBTA to plan, operate and maintain a 21st century public transportation system.

I started this diary trying to find fault with the Governor. After writing about it, I will have to postpone my criticism indefinitely. I’d like to find fault with the political effects of the committee, but there are legitimate reasons for its creation. The members have the experience necessary to provide authority their eventual results will need.

We know the eventual fix will cost money. And regardless of the report results, we don’t know where that’s going to come from. Baker has given every indication that he’s as allergic to new revenue as the rest of his party. Even if he knows how to appoint a committee.

Fixing the MBTA - Governor Baker Announces MBTA Special Panel, Gives Them 30 Days

Meme poster h/t David Bernstein. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

Today Gov. Charlie Baker announced a blue ribbon Comission to study the MBTA’s current state of affairs and recommend changes. While Gov. Deval Patrick also had a commission (Headed by former John Hancock CEO David F. D’Alessandro) study the same question in 2009, there was little if any feedback on this report from Beacon Hill.

“Do you know how many legislators called me after I did that report? Zero.” – David D. D’Alesandro, Boston Globe Feb. 15, 2015

Gov. Patrick did push for a $13 Billion transportation bill that was signed into law last year which funded a number of capital improvements for the MBTA. This includes the GLX Extension into Somerville & Medford, new rolling-stock for the Orange & Red lines, funds for South Station Expansion and money for South Coast Rail. However none of the structural issues of the identified by D’Alessandro were addressed.

To that end during his press conference today, Gov. Baker was quoted as saying:

“We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect a different result,’’ – Gov. Charlie Baker

So we shall see if Gov. Baker can be “The Great Reformer” of the MBTA or if this is just another distraction to throw voters off the scent. A recent poll by WBUR has shown that most voters blame previous governors & the Legislature for the state of the MBTA, so this could be a great moment for the Governor to deliver on his reformer image, or it could be another example of a conservative governor punting and leaving the commuters of Greater Boston to rot.

However, looking at the Gov’s commission, it is stacked with a pretty good set of members who really could deliver the goods for those of us who depend on the MBTA:

  • Jane Garvey, former head of the Federal Aviation Administration under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and the Massachusetts highway department. Had been considered for the Secretary of Transportation cabinet post by Obama.
  • Katherine Lapp, former executive director of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority under Republican NY Governor George Pataki, who served in many other roles in NYC government. Current Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Harvard University.
  • Paul Barrett, former Boston Redevelopment Authority director
  • Robert P. Gittens, a vice president at Northeastern University who sits on several nonprofit boards. Served as Secretary for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services under  Republican MA Governor Jane Swift.
  • Jose A. Gomez-Ibanez, a professor of urban planning and public policy at Harvard University. He teaches courses in economics, infrastructure and transportation policy.
  • Brian McMorrow, chief financial officer at Massport’s aviation division
  • Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan, former co-chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee

The Commission will have 30 days to review the MBTA’s operations. Paul Barrett will serve as the Chairman.

You can read the Governor’s Office press release & bios on the panel members here.

Here is a listing of the MBTA Panel’s objectives:

MBTA Special Panel’s Objectives:

1. Develop a fact-base from available data and recently published reports to enable the MBTA and the Commonwealth to ground its future plans and recommendations.

  • Synthesize the findings and recommendations of the previous reports
  • Prepare a ‘state of the operations’ review on the strengths and areas needing improvement and attention; topic areas to include: maintenance, maintenance planning and preparation, operations, communications, decision-making, and governance
  • Conduct benchmark review of similar transit systems operations

2. Undertake a rapid diagnostic on the state of MBTA asset management and maintenance, including:

  • A review of reports and/or Request for Proposals issued by the MBTA related to asset management, system preservation, State of Good Repair and maintenance planning, budgeting and implementation at the MBTA
  • An investigation of the current size of the MBTA’s State of Good Repair backlog, assessing the extent to which previous report recommendations related to asset management and system preservation were followed and evaluating what information the board received as it relates to these issues
  • A review of the MBTA’s overall capital program to assess the processes for selecting projects, allocating funds between maintenance and expansion projects and delivering capital projects on time and on budget

3. Make recommendations to improve the MBTA’s governance, structure, financials, and operations in both the short and longer-terms to enable the MBTA to plan, operate and maintain a 21st century public transportation system.