Slow-motion train wreck

There has always been a Through the Looking Glass unreality to how things work (or don’t) on the MBTA. So think of oversight of the moribund transit agency as something akin to the Pottery Barn rule — stretched out strangely by a funhouse mirror into a slow-motion spectacle playing out over decades.

The rule, which entered the popular lexicon when the US was considering invading Iraq, stipulates that if you break something, you must buy it and own it. (Never mind that the upscale furnishings store doesn’t actually have such a policy.)

For the T, however, applying the commonsense dictum is hardly a simple proposition. Instead of the pottery getting shattered in a single slip from the hands of a butter-fingered customer, it’s been chipped at relentlessly for eons. So just who owns the broken down system, saddled with billions of dollars in debt and so much deferred maintenance the agency seems to have given up on even keeping track of it? It’s a joint ownership arrangement among a succession of governors and legislative leaders, none of whom has wanted to be the bearer of bad news telling the public that they are the ultimate owners of the tumbledown system and need to pony up if the trains — and the regional economy — are to remain on track.

That is the backdrop to the news that the T’s current general manager, Beverly Scott, after a theatrical press conference on Tuesday where she said “God Jr.” wouldn’t be able to make the aging system work in current conditions, abruptly announced her resignation on Wednesday, just hours after the state transportation board that oversees the T offered her a unanimous vote of confidence.

Gov. Charlie Baker has had harsh words for the system’s performance in recent days, though his administration gamely tried to say it wasn’t knocking Scott’s performance. Baker’s transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack, who serves on the MassDOT board, even joined in the vote of support for the 63-year-old transit chief, who was widely expected to retire when her contract expired in December but now says she’ll leave in April (about when the snow might finally be gone from the troubled tracks she manages).

Scott’s announcement came on the same day Globe columnist Tom Farragher made clear that sacking her would do nothing to solve the T’s problems. If there’s one currently state official who owns the biggest share of the broken transit pottery, argued Farragher, it’s House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who has been in power for six years while the system has continued to slide down. In his address yesterday to House members outlining an agenda for the coming session, DeLeo acknowledged the T’s woes and vowed to help address the problems, but hardly sounded a note of contrition about bearing any responsibility for those problems.

The Legislature surely does bear responsibility for the dilapidated state of the system. But with Scott on her way out, it is now unambiguously Charlie’s M(B)TA, as Baker becomes the clear lead owner of this money pit of a property. If the T were a house, it would be 50 feet underwater.

Joe Battenfeld doesn’t have a master plan for what Baker should do. But he suggests that perhaps the governor — who oddly found himself fielding a constituent phone call yesterday from a confused and weary T rider — bundle up against the cold and join those who must rely on an entirely unreliable system and ride the T to and from work for a month. DeLeo should give it a try, too.

It’s not just a matter of misery loving company (though there is that, too). It might turn the abstract talk of deferred maintenance and debt overload into an on-the-ground appreciation for the everyday (ugly) reality facing the system’s users, a wind-whipped realization that gives the leaders the frostbitten backbone to stop kicking the transit can and actually do something about it all.

–MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

In an opinion piece for WBUR, Simon Waxman, the managing editor of the Boston Review, says Scott’s departure reflects the poor management style of Baker.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo says no to new taxes as he lays out a handful of legislative priorities and the House passes a tweaked budget balancing bill for the current year, CommonWealth reports.

The Bay State Banner looks at the Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Cape Cod towns look at their snow removal budgets and think ouch. Berkshire towns are singing the blues, too.

Governing asks: Do cities need kids?

Tax bills in Gloucester are rising sharply because of higher assessments and a special surcharge for water debt, the Gloucester Times reports.

SNOWMAGEDDON

For low-wage workers, the storms have not just been an inconvenience but a huge hit to their income, a hard blow for those who often live paycheck-to-paycheck.

However bad your commute might be, it could be worse — if you rely on the Red Line’s Braintree branchHorror stories from the South Shore commuting fields.

The National Guard and heavy equipment from out of state arrive, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A 36-foot yacht clogs traffic in downtown Boston, the Associated Press reports.

Fed up with winter, Merrimack, New Hampshire, police have issued an an arrest warrant for Punxsutawney Phil, the notorious Pennsylvania groundhog who predicted six more weeks of cold weather.

CASINOS

Aides to Steve Wynn clarify what he meant when he said the state will receive $50 million a month from his casino, CommonWealth reports.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The House approves the Keystone XL pipeline project and sends it along to President Obama, who has vowed to veto it, NPR reports.

ELECTIONS

American Spectator columnist and conservative blogger Emily Zanotti tosses cold water on the Run, Warren, Run movement to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the presidential race, saying nobody is really ready for the first-term Massachusetts senator..

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The owner of the South Bay Center in Boston is proposing a huge mixed-use development on property just north of the shopping center.

Four major retailers pulled herbal supplements from the shelves after the New York attorney general sent subpoenas demanding they support health claims made on the labels.

Vibram, a Concord-based running show manufacturer, is being sued by the family of an Ethiopian marathoner who won the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics while running barefoot. The suit says the company’s minimalist shoe uses Abebe Bikila‘s name without permission.

And you thought it couldn’t get worse? Be prepared to spend more on chocolate for Valentine’s Day and hot chocolate as the price of cocoa beans rises because of increased demand in Asia.

EDUCATION

A report commissioned by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education says MCAS test results do not reflect whether a student is ready for college. The report says a new test, the PARCC test, may do a better job, the Lynn Item reports.

New studies show that many college graduates are losing faith in the value of their degrees.

HEALTH CARE

A new study finds smoking is even worse than previously thought, adding five more diseases and 60,000 deaths to the toll.

Paul Levy calls attention to a piece on New England Public Radio where the reporter followed several primary care residents over most of last year and offers a good look at why fewer doctors are going into the field.

TRANSPORTATION

The Herald reports that MBTA general manager Beverly Scott, who announced her resignation yesterday, made good use of an expense account, taking 30 trips during her 24 months on the job and racking up more than $56,000 in charges.

JetBlue will add island destinations near and far to its Logan service, with new flights to Martha’s Vineyard and Port-au-Prince.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Jeff Jacoby offers a valentine to fossil fuels.

Marion officials dispute the science behind an EPA decision that the town has to eliminate the retention pools at its wastewater treatment facility to eliminate leeching nitrogen into groundwater or face $37,500 daily fines.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

William Lisano, the long-time clerk of courts in Lowell, is arrested on domestic assault charges, the Sun reports.

John Lakian, who made headlines as a Republican candidate for governor in Massachusetts in the early 1980s when it was revealed he had exaggerated details of his education, military service, and business background, is back in the news for allegations of deceptive ways. This time he’s been arrested in New York and indicted on federal charges that he bilked investors out of $11 million and tried to defraud banks of a further $8 million.

A worker for the Chelsea-based anti-gang nonprofit Roca was killed in a daytime shooting in Jamaica Plain.

Six Merrimack Valley residents are accused of participating in a nationwide money-laundering scheme, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The state Appeals Court has upheld the manslaughter convictions of two Quincy brothers who owned an illegal multi-family house where a father and his two young sons were killed in a fire in 2009.

MEDIA/CULTURE

Bob Simon, the long-time 60 Minutes and foreign correspondent, dies in a car crash in New York, CBS reports.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Lester Holt moves into the NBC News anchor seat at in the wake of Brian Williams’s suspension. TheNew York Times has a tick-tock of how it all went south for Williams and the network.

Anne Hawley, the longtime director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, is stepping down after 25 years at the helm.