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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Leadership failure

Lots of fingers are being pointed, but only one man is responsible for the government shutdown: John Boehner.

The House Speaker has consistently and repeatedly put politics and party above the greater good as he has catered to a rump faction of his own party.

And despite his pious protests of being ready and willing to compromise, he has failed to do the one thing which could end the stalemate in the House caused by the extremists on the right.

The Hastert Rule is a little known piece of legislative roadblocking invented by Boehner predecessor Dennis Hastert. It dictates that nothing can go before the House for a vote unless it has the support of a majority of Republicans.

By its very nature it prevents negotiation and compromise and places party interest before national interest.

If Boehner were serious about being a leader -- and not worried about keeping his job in the face of the diehard obstructionism of the Tea Party extremists -- he could have brought to the floor a "clean bill" to keep the government open.

Instead, he has foisted more than 40 votes to repeal or defund ObamaCare before the chamber, surely a record if for no other reason than most sane "leaders" know when to move on.

But Boehner's fear is personal:
"... he also knows that if he gives in and/or is perceived by cast-iron conservatives as giving in, his speakership is all but over."
The fixation on a law already passed by the House and Senate, upheld by the Supreme Court and implicitly approved by the American people who reelected Barack Obama is nothing short of irrational. And it is a direct result of Boehner's quest for job security.

So when you hear the Republican "leader" of one of two chambers of one branch of government declare that he is not responsible for the current gridlock that threatens the nation's fragile recovery, don't believe him.

If, on the other hand, he dumps the Hastert Rule, sends his children into a corner for a timeout and works with Democrats to resolve the shutdown and impending debt ceiling vote, then he become credible.

I'm not holding my breath.

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Greater expectations

Will Jeff Bezos' purchase of the Washington Post kindle a new era of journalism? Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

The announcement that the founder of Amazon.com will purchase the Post has set off an unusual round of optimism about the future of reporting the news. Note I did not say newspapers, that dying relic of a bygone era whose future may truly have been sealed by this deal.

Coming just two days after John Henry's purchase of the Boston Globe, some are seeing this as a watershed moment. But tons of new questions emerge.

Henry toured the Globe newsroom yesterday and hinted that future visits will be symbolic rather than an effort to shape coverage. Time will tell.

Bezos also promised to be a hands-off newsroom presence, saying he has no plans to give up the reins of Amazon, which is not part of the deal, to move across country to run the show.

It's easy to see the differences in the billionaire owners -- one who earned his cash through shrewd investments, the other in putting a vision for a new business into place. One will be a local owner, the other transcontinental.

The Post's new boss is clearly more a man of the wired era than Henry, sparking the hope that he will bring innovation to an industry in drastic need of fresh ideas.

But any observer can't help but feel a bit queasy at the increasing movement of media properties from long-established companies to individuals none of whom, with the exception of Rupert Murdoch, have any knowledge of the basic tenets of journalism.

On second thought, maybe that's a good thing.

Bezos is taking over a newspaper that brought down a president and ushered in a new era of investigative reporting. Today's Post is far different, centered in the capital of lazy journalism that bends over so far to avoid the partisan taunts of bias that it has been hijacked by the politicians it claims to cover.

If he lives up to his pledge to keep his hands off the newsroom, Bezos will ultimately play no role in effecting the most important change that newspaper reporters -- and their broadcast and Internet kin -- need the most. That's a renewed focus on comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Great expectations

John Henry didn't just fall off the soybean truck. The chances of him messing with the Globe's Red Sox coverage are nil.

And it's highly unlikely that in today's deadline every millisecond media society any effort to muffle the Globe's voice with a Red Sock would escape notice. Just ask the denizens of Fargo Street, whose main focus these days is the tweak the powers-that-be, or at least the ones that don't meet their editorial or ideological standards.

So we can assume the glowing portrait of Henry that adorns today's Globe front will quickly fade and that the focus will turn to a deeper look at the life, times and business ventures of a man who is now on the threshold of owning two of the city's most iconic, talked about businesses.

Hopefully that will include a retrospective on the Red Sox' role as corporate citizen which, on the surface, appears to be commendable. Except for some interesting deals surrounding the leasing of public land.

A deal first reported by a student journalism program.

There's a lot more to the Red Sox than a beloved sports institution. It is a billion-dollar for-profit organization valued as the second-most profitable in Major League Baseball. It is a significant taxpayer, with valuable real estate, an expansive payroll and a thriving refreshments and memorabilia business.

It's safe to say the Herald will flood the zone to root out anything untoward in this (and other) Henry ventures. What will be telling is whether the Globe will be as aggressive.

My guess is yes they will. But the point is there will be a lot more at stake in Henry's Globe ownership than the fate of Dan Shaughnessy and fawning coverage of the Old Towne Team.

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Saturday, August 03, 2013

Oh Henry!

You think John Henry waited until after midnight to seal the deal just to scoop the Herald? Or force them to report on something other than their Internet radio station?

Whatever the motives, the Reign of Sulzberger appears to be at an end, the scion of Eighth Avenue heading back to Manhattan with a huge financial loss and a rationalization that he needed to "end the drag" on the New York Times Co.

Time will tell if the Globe is just another trinket for the man who owns the Red Sox. And it opens another era of anxiety for the staff that has endured years of shrinking and downgrading at the hands of the Times.

But to read the Grey Lady is to feel the unmitigated sense of relief in taking $70 million (and keeping the pension expenses) for a property for which they paid $1.1 billion two decades ago.
“The trends at The Globe have been a drag on the company,” [UBS analyst John] Janedis said. “The New York Times has performed a lot better over the past several years. To the extent that you can refocus on a paper with massive global appeal that has still a very strong core readership and then expand the product offerings, there’s probably more long-term value creation there versus having The Times and The Globe long term in the same portfolio.” 
You think they guy may also be working for Pat Purcell?

Henry for one, is touting the value of local ownership, even though by Boston standards he is a carpetbagger who blew into town only a decade or so ago and has his escape vehicle prominently berthed at Rowe's Wharf.
“This is a thriving, dynamic region that needs a strong, sustainable Boston Globe playing an integral role in the community’s long-term future,” he said.
Similar words have been uttered by local business executives with no experience in journalism who have purchased once-seemingly iconic properties and run them into the ground (are you listening Sam Zell?)

To be fair, Henry and his partners have been good stewards of the Red Sox and have helped bring on an era to revitalization to the once moribund area around Fenway Park.

But the business scenario is quite different: Henry can't open his wallet and bring in high-priced free agents to staff the city desk and the Statehouse. He also has nowhere near the leverage to raise ticket prices, particularly on the every dwindling coterie of loyalists who have sustained higher costs and poorer service as home delivery customers.

And unlike the team he puts out on the field, there has been a steady shrinkage of news hole and serious journalism to fill the dwindling space.

Henry undoubtedly knows the future rests online -- and even here the results to date need to be a bit unnerving.

So fasten your seat belts and stay tuned for more upheaval on Morrissey Boulevard.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Secession?

The headlines this morning suggest it may be time to rethink the once unthinkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, the nation was at war with itself. The War Between the States reflected a house divided, half slave and half free. Hundreds and thousands of lives were lost in a battle to end the "peculiar institution" known as slavery.

Today, the death toll is far lower, if not less dramatic, and the campaign to define "otherness" has not lost much of its punch in places like Mississippi and Texas. Instead of bloody battlefields, the war is played in out in county courthouses, state capitals and the United States House of Representatives.

It's hardly a surprise that a senator from a Confederate state, having failed in his goal of making Barack Obama a one-term President, has rewritten the Constitution to declare that 60 votes is now the working majority in the Senate.

Nor is it a surprise to see Deep South states that banned black marriages and mixed race marriages now throwing their lot against same-sex marriages.

But what is troubling is that this is not a fair fight. Residents of Northern states -- liberal and conservative alike -- are subsidizing the Alabamas and Mississippis with our tax dollars  while they continue to practice the same closed-minded, holier-than-thou brand of public policy that led to what they call the "War of Northern Aggression."

As Mother Jones points out:
A look at 2010 Census and IRS data reveals that the 50 states and the District of Columbia, on average, received $1.29 in federal spending for every federal tax dollar they paid. That means that some states are getting a lot more than they put in, and vice versa. The states that contributed more in taxes than they got back in spending were more likely to have voted for Obama in 2008 and were more likely to be largely urban. (There are some clear exceptions: For instance, New Mexico, a rural, Democratic state, gets more federal money per tax dollar than any other state.)
That's how we get a farm bill rich with subsidies for agribusiness and devoid of food assistance for urban needy (of all races). It's how we have the continued hypocrisy of declarations that government should get off the backs of people even as lawmakers pass measure to regulate the bedroom and a woman's body.

And how we have a segment of a nation that believes life begins at conception -- and ends anytime a person with a gun or a governor with an on-off switch decides the time is right.

Perhaps it really is time to go our separate ways again. I know that a lot of the money funneled down south could be put to good use improving education and infrastructure up north. I also know the Red States of America would likely turn up its nose at foreign aid. After all, don't they do that already?

Except of course when it comes from the Blue States of America, those damn aggressive northern Yankees.

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Saturday, July 06, 2013

Let's get real

John Kerry is facing heat because he took an hour off to take his grandson out on a yacht. Seriously?

While spokeswoman Jen Psaki should learn to get the facts before she speaks, the reality that someone tried to make an issue of a holiday timeout reflects just how far the concept of civil discourse has fallen in the United States.

But then again, what more can you expect from a political opposition that points with pride to its failure to repeal ObamaCare -- going on 38 times. Without ever offering a serious alternative to a problem that confronts millions of Americans and which is contributing to our nation's ailing fiscal health.

Or a political opposition that offers either silence or even outright indifference when one its vaunted "scandals" turns out to be nonpartisan bureaucratic ineptness?

Kerry may have portrayed his vaunted political tin ear by heading out for an hour on a holiday while Egypt was descending into political chaos. But does anyone truly believe he was not in regular contacts with aides and the White House?

If you do, your smartphone isn't as smart as you may believe.

And, as the Globe notes, Kerry has already devoted more time to the Mideast this year than his predecessor did in four years -- no disrespect:
In six months, Kerry has spent more time meeting with Israelis and Palestinians in the region than his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, did in her entire tenure — four trips since March, with a fifth as early as next week. Leaders on both sides of the standoff have said Kerry is close to bringing them back to the negotiating table for the first time since 2008.
Anyone looking for an end to Washington dysfunction need only look to the source of that problem: an opposition long on talking points and short, if not totally bereft of solutions.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bleating hearts

To hear Republicans and conservative pundits tell it, Gabriel Gomez was the victim of the Democratic "machine" in his 10-point loss to Sen.-elect Ed Markey.

The fine whine ignores the reality that Massachusetts Democrats are an organized political party and Massachusetts Republicans would have a hard time organizing a one-car funeral. Which may be its fate.

Gomez's loss to a lackluster Markey in a low turnout election is not the worst GOP setback in state history. That would probably belong to Richard Tisei, a far better candidate than the newcomer businessman, who fell to a severely damaged John Tierney.

The fact of the matter is Massachusetts Republicans have as precious few ideas as their national counterparts. A pledge to change Washington was the heart of Gomez's final push. It marked the 1,911th campaign (conservative estimate) by a candidate to make the city the centerpiece of an anti-incumbency campaign.

But that hasn't stopped the laments in print and on the air that Gomez was a victim of the big bad Democratic machine.

Party leaders did what their name implies -- led. The goal of elections is to identify your voters and get them out to the polls. It's actually something the GOP did successfully for 16 years through a series of governors named Weld, Cellucci, Swift and Romney.

Also overlooked is the "machine" failed in its ultimate goal of this campaign -- clearing the field for Markey. Who knows how the Malden Democrat would have fared without a campaign against Stephen Lynch, who defied the "machine" and put himself before voters.

The bleating hearts ignore the systemic problem with the Massachusetts GOP. It has historically ignored the grassroots in favor of the top of the ticket. That has produced fewer and fewer seasoned candidates able to play at the highest levels.

Gomez, whose first foray for the Senate job was to ask Deval Patrick for the temporary one was not ready for prime time. He won a three-way primary against two as unknown Republicans after Scott Brown opted not to run for the fourth time in three years.

His lack of experience (and substance) was clearly visible as he tried to substitute his bomber jacket for Brown's barn coat and offer a limited-time free trial to see if he could handle the job. His complaint that he was up against full Democratic national apparatus conveniently ignores that the national GOP did not think he was worth the investment.

It goes without saying that national Republican help would have been the kiss of death -- imagine the commercials about Mitch McConnell and John Boehner that the Democrats would have served up.

The state GOP was of no help, having just survived an ideological contest for chair that Brown's "moderate" faction barely won.

So no, if you are a Massachusetts Republican, the fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in yourselves.  No organization, no bench.

It's not something likely to be resolved next year when the Corner Office opens and Markey has to take off the training wheels and run an effective and visible statewide campaign.  Gomez joins Brown and Charlie Baker, who can make Markey seem charismatic, as party standard bearers in a race where the Democratic stable seems almost as empty.

But the "machine" will likely find a way to do what it needs to do.

NB -- Thanks for some of the comments wondering where I've been. No illness or personal woes, just a need to step away.

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