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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pretzel logic

Republicans were against freeloaders before they were for them.

That's the only logical conclusion to draw from the new talking point attack against Obamacare in light of the Supreme Court's decision to declare the law constitutional under Congress' taxing authority.

Republicans are now charging the health care mandate is an Obama tax on "the middle class," while ignoring a basic reality: the current system -- in "the middle class" pays both higher insurance premiums and/or actual higher taxes to subsidize those who can't or won't get insurance -- is a much greater burden on families.

Deval Patrick, who has been working to implement the system put in place thanks to Mitt Romney's signature, sums it up well:
“I just want to respond to the, frankly, bizarre attack, which is the claim this act represents a big tax increase on the middle class,” Patrick said. “First, this is a penalty. It’s about dealing with the freeloaders — the folks who now get their care without insurance in high-cost emergency room setting. And all the rest of us pay for it today.”
That was at the heart of the penalty (or is that now the tax?) Romney championed as part of the law designed to expand coverage and begin to tackle the high cost of care. It is a counterpoint to the mandate that emergency rooms treat everyone who comes through their doors, regardless of their ability to pay.

For conservatives who scoff at unfunded mandates, the Affordable Care Act's requirement to get coverage or pay a penalty is simply an effort to find resources to support the right to treatment.

It's worth mentioning, for about the millionth time, that the mandate was initially the idea of the conservative Heritage Foundation and the GOP's flip-flop -- without offering any proposals on how to deal with the staggering costs of health care -- is yet another unprincipled example of party over country.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

When will they learn?

It wasn’t a train wreck as big as Dewey defeats Truman, but coverage of the Supreme Court’s health care decision should convince the media to quit the prognostication game.

It won't.

The endless predictions that surrounded yesterday's decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable  Care Act were almost uniformly wrong.

Almost simply because of the whispers that began this week, from corners I can't even recall, that Chief Justice Roberts would uphold the constitutionality of Congress' tax-writing authority as the foundation.

But from the tea-leafing reading after days of oral arguments that said the bill was doomed up to the rush-to-air mistakes of CNN and Fox to call it wrong -- virtually everything that appeared in print and on the air and on the web was wrong -- based on the endless appetite of the 24-hour cable news cycle and the partisan spinners willing to feed the beast.

It swallowed up good journalists like Jeffrey Toobin and ideological warriors like Bill O'Reilly. And the rush to get it first produced the stunning embarrassment of CNN getting on the air with the wrong result. (It's notable that no one is wringing their hands over Fox News making the same mistake).

I've read a court opinion or two as a journalist not trained as a lawyer. It's not the kind of thing you want to do on the fly because the opinions are often densely written with background crammed up top.

In the case of the Roberts opinion, it appears the real result was in the seventh paragraph, and some reporters only made it to paragraph three before rushing to report.

As someone who worked for a wire service that wrongly upped the Chernobyl death toll, the potential damage to an already reeling CNN is significant. But the risks are even worse for the news business as a whole, which is already held in serious disregard by a growing segment of the public.

Shouting heads are bad enough. Toss in ill-founded speculation and factual errors and it could be deadly.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

There he goes again

Health care's future is on the line but what did Scott Brown focus during his "debate" with Dan Rea? Yep, CherokeeGate.

A few hundred miles away in New York, Elizabeth Warren sought refuge on an equally partisan stage, trying to talk substance about underwater mortgages with Rachel Maddow.

It's easy to understand why Warren ducked the one-on-one "debate" with the right-wing talkmaster. Some bon mots:
“She wants to raise your taxes and take more money out of your pocketbooks and wallets,” he said.
Brown also weighed forth on the GOP witch hunt involving Attorney General Eric Holder and, of course, his challenge to Warren's family lore of Cherokee roots. He also declared, without any apparent facts at his disposal, that Warren would make the immigration problem worse.

Warren appeared to try to address real issues, declaring;
"Massachusetts is recovering better than much of the rest of the country, partly because we have made a lot of investments in our people.”
The nation hasn't been this sharply since the Civil War. It is time to deal with substance and not jibes and insinuations abouit personal heritage. It's also time for commercials that go beyond what a great husband and dad the candidate is.

We're electing someone to represent our interests in the Senate, not someone who's a nice guy or gal. The time for b-s is over.

Hopefully both candidates get it. The one that refuses to talk about his record in supoport of Wall Street over Main Street certainly doesn't, at least not yet.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Oil's well

That darn Barack Obama just keeps lowering gasoline prices.

Republicans, who reveled in roasting Obama as fuel prices went up, have been mute as they have headed back down. If pressed, they would no doubt point to the fact the demand is down because China's economy is slowing and tensions are down in the Middle East -- the reasons prices spiked in the first place earlier this year.

But there's a group as intellectually dishonest as the GOP, and that's the media, particularly local television -- although the thought of using the concept of intellectual anything when it comes to local news purveyors is laughable to begin with.

It's almost equally true for the big boys and girls at the national level, who mindlessly repeated the "Drill Baby Drill" chants of 2008 without looking at the realities behind that GOP mantra.

Which is why today's story in the Wall Street Journal is refreshing.
America will halve its reliance on Middle East oil by the end of this decade and could end it completely by 2035 due to declining demand and the rapid growth of new petroleum sources in the Western Hemisphere, energy analysts now anticipate.
Actually the increased drilling has been noted in major publications, but without the full context. The New York Times has reported extensively on the drilling in North Dakota and Pennsylvania, focusing heavily on the fracking -- the fracturing of subterranean rocks holding the fuels -- and the environmental perils that poses.

No one that I can recall has ever really taken on the entire complex story of the relationship among the environment, geopolitics and economics that is at the root of the fuel price swings we face.

It's much easier to show a guy changing the price on a gas station sign and repeat GOP talking points than it is to tell a complex story with no clear heroes and villains.

And journalism today is more about angels and devils than it is about explaining our world. That's an even bigger loss than a few extra pennies a gallon.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Whitey's deal

It seems like a desperate act by a man who has proudly lived the life of a murderer. But in the bizarre case of United States v. Bulger, it can't be dismissed out of hand.

James "Whitey" Bulger claims he has a deal with the federal government that gave him immunity from any crimes committed while he served the feds ass a snitch. That, his lawyers says, includes the 19 murders of which he stands accused.

Bizarre? No doubt. Plausible? Don't laugh it off.

This of course is the case where the FBI agent to which Bulger reported has been doing a lot more time than the formerly elusive South Boston crime boss. John Connolly is behind bars in part because he was convicted of tipping off Bulger to a planned imminent arrest.

And that does not do justice to the fact Bulger had a deal with the feds to snitch in the first place.

Defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr. is hinting at a show trial in which a parade of high profile Justice Department officials -- including presiding Judge Richard Stearns, former U.S. Attorney and Massachusetts Gov. William Weld and FBI Director William Mueller, who served with Weld -- will be called to talk about the agency's relationship with Bulger.

Attorneys often pack witness lists with names designed to elicit outsize reactions, but this one is an all-star one, since the men had key roles in the Boston legal community during the height of Bulger's reign of terror.

And Carney has a simple question that would be worth the price of admission:
"...why wasn’t Bulger charged?”
The court filing may simply be a smokescreen to cover a defense that really can't be mounted in the face of overwhelming evidence.

But when it comes to the Justice Department and Whitey Bulger we've already found out there is no such thing as impossible.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Off the script

Maybe House Republicans should investigate what they knew and when they knew it.

Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa was forced to roll back Speaker John Boehner's inflammatory statement that the White House's declaration of executive privilege was an admission of a "cover-up" in the Fast and Furious witch hunt.

The House, you may recall, is probing why the Obama administration continued the ill-advised "gun walking" caper started by the Bush administration. Of course, the committee in charge ought to be called the "overlooked" committee because they has have not recognized anything happened before Jan. 20, 2009.

Issa in turn has called this the "most corrupt administration" in history, overlooking Republican presidents named Nixon, Harding and Grant, for starters.

But Issa had to acknowledge there is no evidence the White House had anything to do with Fast and Furious and they are really limiting their investigation to harassing Attorney General Eric Holder.

Don't you think the fact Republican leaders aren't even on the same page when they level politically loaded charges shows how little the "oversight" relates to government and how much it relates to politics.

Fill under "your tax dollars at work. Not."

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sticks and stones

There he goes again.

Sen. Tommy Flanagan, er, Scott Brown, took time off from his secret discussions with kings and queens to lob a few more consultant-tested buzzwords at Elizabeth Warren and her effort to provide some thoughtful comment on the Dream Act and the nation's immigration woes.

Warren offered her comments during an online chat with Boston.com:
"I believe in the Dream Act,” Warren said. “When Scott Brown voted against it, he ­denied the dreams of young people who did nothing wrong and who are trying to get an edu­cation or serve in the military. I thought that was wrong. I support the president’s recent actions to help these kids.”
The Brown campaign, which has shunned this sort of voter interaction until promising Friday to do one, responded with a full-on talking point attack rather than explain his vote:
The Brown campaign later called Warren “an extreme liberal on illegal immigration who supports amnesty and even wants to reward illegal immigrants with low in-state tuition rates financed by taxpayers.”
All of this takes place in the shadow of Brown having finally been caught exaggerating in the style of the inveterate liar brought to life by Saturday Night Live's Jon Lovitz.

The state Democratic Party unveiled a video that makes Brown spokesman Colin Reed's declaration of a one-time misspeak "inoperative." The party was kind by not including a clip of Brown making the same statements on the Senate floor.

(And extra points to anyone who notices the Globe's picture selection for the story, particularly the online version.)

This may well be an Etch a Sketch moment for Brown, who continues to fill the airwaves with commercials of his wife praising his fathering skills. But it could serve notice that if Brown wants to focus solely on trivia there's ample opportunities for rehashing things in the Cosmo Man's background.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Of royalty and roots

While Scott Brown was hob-nobbling with royalty, Elizabeth Warren was confronting her enemies.

Our junior senator took time off from "secret meetings and with kings and queens and prime ministers and business leaders and military leaders" to speak to local radio hosts about how he really is doing substantial things and not just dodging debates and raising ethnic heritage questions.

In sharp contrast to Brown's refusal to attend a debate sponsored by Vicki Kennedy for fears of her neutrality,  Warren accepted a challenge for a showdown with Brown sponsored by an organization that has already made its endorsement -- in its news pages.

Brown's camp quickly backed off from the comments he made in a phone interview of WTKK-FM that his meeting schedule included "kings and queens."

But the slip of the tongue offered the greatest insight yet why Brown is frequently absent from town hall meetings and reporter scrums where he can't control the message and speak from talking points.

Brown also explained his rejection of the Kennedy Institute debate was a result of being blind-sided when Vicki Kennedy endorsed Martha Coakley days before the event.  Somehow he managed to get through that trauma with little damage.

There won't be any similar surprises when Warren takes the stage at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell on Sept. 27 to face-off with Brown in a debate sponsored by the Boston Herald, which has hardly been shy in operating as a platform for Brown and his challenge to Warren's claim of Native-American roots.

Until then, we will likely see a steady diet of Brown in controlled settings where he can tout that he is a good father and husband and someone who looks to work with people. But don't expect him to discuss the issue that is really at the heart of this campaign -- his well-documented support for and from Wall Street in contrast to Warren's support of people harmed by the seemingly beyond control financial services industry.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Contemptible behavior

Jobs bills are blocked and student loan rates are poised to double. But a Republican House that can't seem to act on those pressing issues has somehow found the time to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over an obscure partisan witch hunt.

The House oversight committee led by Rep. Darrell Issa voted to issue a contempt citation after  President Obama cited executive privilege in refusing to turn over documents related to a botched ATF operation that has become a cause celebre in right wing circles.

Issa, whose own history includes allegations he stole a car and pumped up his resume by claiming to sweep for bombs ahead of a Richard Nixon presidential visit to the World Series, has already determined the Obama administration is "the most corrupt in history," in the processing affirming he never spent any time around Nixon.

It appears clear the ATF fouled up in losing track of guns used in a sting operation in Mexico, a mistake that led to the death of a Border Patrol agent. Usually not mentioned is the Bush administration employed the same tactics, although with less disastrous results.

But in a House chamber overcome by Obama Derangement Syndrome -- and a chairman who likes to appear with Bill Maher -- we have a "crisis" that propels action ahead of anything proposed by the administration to improve the jobs climate or to find common ground on a bill that would prevent a July 1 doubling of interest rates on Stafford student loans.

There is clearly contemptible behavior here -- on the part of out-of-control congressional Republicans. They have put Obama's defeat ahead of anything that would help the nation break out of the Great Recession brought on by the irresponsibility Bush and his GOP colleagues created by cutting taxes for millionaires while conducting two credit card wars and running up massive budget deficits.

There's probably not enough time left for the GOP to trump up impeachment particulars against this "most corrupt" administration and for that we ought to be grateful.

The clowns will soon be abandoning the Capitol. Only not soon enough.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Brown out

Well at least its been a diversion from CherokeeGate.

The Great Debate Debate is over for now after Vicki Kennedy stood her ground and refused to buckle to Scott Brown's demands that she refuse to endorse Elizabeth Warren in this nationally watched tussle.

Theories and viewpoints abound but one thing remains clear: the Brown campaign continues its issues-less approach that includes soft commercials the declare he is a good father and husband while offering personal comment only to raise questions about Warren's family history.

Aided and abetted by a media that seem averse to doing any real reporting on issues and positions, voters blissfully unaware of the real differences between the candidates.

Some will argue there's plenty of time to get into those questions, because voters won't even begin to concentrate until after Labor Day. And while that is quite true, what is troubling is the ability of the Brown campaign to dictate to pace and terms of the race.

And that reflects poorly on the Warren brain trust that has been caught flat-footed too often -- whether on their less-than-stellar response to the heritage question to raising a debate challenge but allowing Brown to outmaneuver them.

Is it too much to ask for a campaign based on very real and very different views of the roles of Main Street and Wall Street? Right now, it appears the answer to that is yes.

In the meantime, shall we guess what the next faux issue will be?

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My way or highway Mitt

If at first you don't succeed, forget it. That seems to summarize the record Mitt Romney compiled during his one term (sort of) as governor.

The Boston Globe looks into some of the previously unexplored nooks and crannies of the Romney administration, which is best known for health care reform and dealing with the collapse of a portion of the Ted Williams Tunnel.

Take education policy. Please.

Romney's singular accomplishment in higher education will be remembered as shoving out former UMass President William Bulger. The merits of that move can be debated elsewhere, but the net impact on the quality of the state's higher education is clearly negligible.

The Globe paints the usual picture of Romney as the state's CEO, a man who sets policy and then expects others to carry it out. But the business leadership model has always been flawed as a governing model, which requires negotiation and compromise to reach consensus and results.

And Romney was never one to roll up his sleeves and work for what he wanted as governor, a vital clue to how he would behave as president, where cooperation and negotiation with Congress is crucial.

And make no mistake, even if the GOP sweeps and Romney gets a Republican Congress, his style is sure to generate friction. Legislative bodies are not boards of directors that take orders from the C-Suite.

In the end, the Massachusetts Legislature did implement some of the ideas Romney put forth. But by then he had moved on to stoking his presidential ambitions and was an uninvolved bystander.

Much as a President Romney would be when he used the same style on a Congress that is likely to be just as dysfunctional as it is today.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Victoria's secret

What is it about Victoria Kennedy that makes grown men want to shred the First Amendment?

Scott Brown has become the latest man who wants to muzzle the widow of the man he succeeded in the United States Senate, saying he would agree to a debate sponsored by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute -- only if Vicki Kennedy did not endorse Elizabeth Warren.

Brown's Profile in Cowardice comes only months after Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus forbade Anna Marie College from having her as a commencement speaker.

Brown, who also wants MSNBC out as debate sponsor, is in an even shakier position than that the bishop. He showed no similar reticence to a debate sponsored by the Institute in 2010 when he took on Martha Coakley in a meeting he famously declared was for "The People's Seat."

Nor has Brown been shy about imposing litmus tests for venues that would favor him -- immediately accepting an invitation from right-wing radio host Dan Rea and chiding Warren for not following suit. Nor has he accepted a debate sponsored by local media, even though he declared he would prefer a Kennedy Institute debate with a local moderator rather than Tom Brokaw, who was proposed for that encounter.

The debate debate is rapidly getting old. And it would suggest Brown has a real concern about meting Warren in any venue that he can't control. It's a stance virtually identical to his shunning of voter encounters where he can't be assured of a friendly audience. Or his avoidance of reporters unless the topics are limited to those of his choosing.

It's the proposed muzzling of Vicki Kennedy that leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It would take a real leap of imagination to think the endorsement of Kennedy's widow would make any difference whatsoever in a race that polls show to be exceedingly close and with virtually all voters decided.

But the sheer audacity of the position that Kennedy be denied her free speech rights before he would even agree to talk about a debate suggests Brown is looking for any excuse under the sun not to meet Warren on any playing field that is not sharply tilted in his direction.

Brown's demands should be unequivocally rejected -- and the forum should go on whether he shows up or not.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rafalca's free ride

The man who claimed a $77,000 tax loss on a dressage horse says Barack Obama is out of touch with average Americans.

Buried deep in the story about Ann Romney's horse (and rider) making the Olympic dressage team is this tidbit:
The Romneys declared a loss of $77,000 on their 2010 tax returns for the share in the care and feeding of Rafalca, which Mrs. Romney owns with Mr. Ebeling’s wife, Amy, and a family friend, Beth Meyers. 
That loss is more than most Americans pay in taxes and larger than the median household income of Americans in every state of the union. Not to mention the $1,000 saddles and what most average Americans could purchase with that Romney pocket change.

That has not stopped the man who poo-poohed $374,000 in speaking fees as "not very much" from trying to paint Obama as a clueless naif when it comes to needs of Americans.

When will the media generate a little horse sense?

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Obama plays politics!

The media seems shocked, just shocked that Barack Obama is fund-raising and waging a political campaign.

The venerable New York Times offers the mostly blatantly "well duh" lead in a long time, observing:
In many ways, President Obama’s unilateral shift in immigration policy was a bluntly political move, a play for a key voting bloc in the states that will decide whether he gets another term. But as political moves go, it held the potential for considerable payoff.
Ya think?

But it's all part and parcel of the decline in political journalism, which has been receding at a particularly rapid pace this year. When we are not being treated to explanations of the obvious, we get a steady diet of unchallenged twaddle and claptrap from those who are on the other end of the moves. You know, the Republicans who would like Obama to shut up and go away.

Perhaps even more disconcerting than the rote "he said, he said" brand of reporting that allows lies to stand as equal to facts, is the incivility that is now flowing from alleged members of the Fourth Estate.

How does someone attend a news event without some sort of method to record what he or she observes? Yet we see Neil Munro of the Daily Caller, hands in pocket, no pad or recorder in sight, hurling questions at Obama before he even had a chance to finish his remarks.

When Geraldo Rivera and Fox News diss you for your behavior, you know you have overstepped the bound.

Yet this is what passes for political news coverage these days. Rote dictation and gamesmanship has overtaken a profession once known for providing background and context for the events it records, even it that means calling out statements as bald-faced lies.

Coverage is dictated by the campaigns and real reporters (unlike Munro) eat what's put in front of them without raising a stink. And heaven forfend they actually revisit their stories to examine whether they hold up over time.

I'm still waiting for the story about how Obama lowered gasoline prices.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Wasted paper

News flash: a U.S. Senate race that has focused on Pow Wow Chow lacks substance.

And if you make it to the second to last paragraph of the Globe's front page look at Scott Brown-Elizabeth Warren race, you finally get an inkling about the major reason, courtesy of Democratic political consultant Dan Payne:
Payne lays part of the blame on the media. But he says the candidates are the ones who have to elevate the discourse.

“It’s up to campaigns to change the subject and get the debate on to important issues,’’ he said.
And if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it?

Actually, Brown has been the beneficiary of soft coverage since the days when he was he truck-driving, barn coat-wearing upstart challenging the Democratic establishment for the "People's Seat." And he has managed to maintain that image despite a record (chronicled in this blog and elsewhere) for favoring Wall Street over Main Street.

And he has been aided and abetted by at least one media outlet that has served as a full-time PR firm, focusing like a laser beam on Warren's heritage while ignoring the issue of Brown's actual voting record.

The Globe is hardly an innocent in the battle, entering Cherokeegate late. But at least it attempted to raise a real issue about diversity and preferences over the Herald's thinly veiled barbs aimed at fueling conservative outrage.

Nor has either paper pressed Brown over his reluctance, if not downright refusal, to face the media to address questions about his votes. The only time Brown is available for cameras has been to add fuel to the heritage fire. Other than that, we see him only in his gee whiz, aren't I a great guy commercials.

Warren's camp has not covered itself in glory either, failing to swiftly and adequately address the heritage issue, despite running ads that tried to introduce her to the Massachusetts voter.

The real story of what many consider to be the most important Senate race in the nation is the gap between Brown's rhetoric and record when it comes to addressing the financial crisis the nation finds itself in.

The media is deeply complicit in allowing that to happen. Thankfully there are nearly five months left before voters decide, more than enough time for reporters to cut through the detritus about heritage and where and how many times to debate and start holding both candidates accountable.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Buying of the Presidency

When one individual can spend $35 million (and counting) to purchase a presidential candidate, we have a government of the highest bidder, by the highest bidder, for the highest bidder.

And does anyone believe that a husband and wife who can throw around cash like candy have the slightest clue what the average American is experiecing? Let alone care? After all, they dropped the first $25 million on Newt Gingrich.

But Sheldon Adelson and his wife Dr. Miriam Adelson aren't even the post children of the purchasing of America That honor goes to David and Charles Koch, who have pledged to spend $400 million on behalf of candidates and issues.

Yet when the Supreme Court justices who foisted this abomination to democracy upon us convene today to again discuss Citizens United, they won't be looking at that they gave birth to. Instead, they will whether lower courts can even interpret their collective "wisdom."

The right's purchase of power in the United States is coming perilously close to complete.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The People's Debate

It seems the Scott Brown campaign is in a snit having been caught up in its own the debate game.

Brown's folks were proud of themselves when they immediately took up Elizabeth Warren's debate challenge with a call to meet on the turf of conservative talk radio host Dan Rea. And when Warren failed to pick up the demand, they pounced.

Now the shoe appears to be on the other foot and the Brown camp in howling.

Victoria Kennedy and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute offered a venue for the two candidates to stake their claim for what Brown famously declared to be the "People's Seat" during his campaign against Martha Coakley. In fact it was at that exact forum and location in January 2010 when Brown made the claim.

The campaign, which is noticeably reticent to let the candidate speak for himself expect to attack Warren's heritage, went the surrogate route again to express its displeasure:
Vicki Kennedy gives money to Democrats, runs an institute led by major Democratic donors and former Ted Kennedy aides and campaigned against Scott Brown in 2010.
There is not a living soul who does recognize that Kennedy is the widow of the senator Brown succeeded and that she shares his passion for social justice. But the Brown campaign seems to be forgetting that he played off that reality quite well the last time around.

 I believe Rea can host an unbiased forum, and so can the Kennedy Institute. And what's good for the gander.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Shut the front door!

Entering Middleborough: Wash Your Mouth Out.

The mothers and fathers of Middleborough will be stocking up on soap after passing a bylaw making it a civil offense to use profanity in public.  No word if law enforcement will now also be armed with George Carlin routines.

Town leaders say the move is designed to replace a rarely enforced criminal measure that attempts to cover the same offense. And ultimately they say, it's aimed at loud teenagers.

Says Mimi Duphily, a store owner and former town selectwoman she's looking out for customers of her auto parts store who might be offended by the foul mouths:
"They’ll sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language. It’s just so inappropriate."
Sort of like customers who find their car repairs are going to cost an arm and a leg?

We've seen some recent examples of the nanny state, with most critics aiming at New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban of Big Gulps.

But the big difference is that O-D'ing on sugar is not constitutionally protected by the First Amendment.

And there are real remedies that are far superior than a $20 fine. If the conversation gets too loud and offensive, there are statutes like disorderly conduct and creating a public nuisance that more than do the trick.

And then there's the ultimate nanny -- mom and dad.

We have way too many complaints about the government sticking it's nose where it doesn't belong. It certainly should be keeping its blue nose to itself.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Country first?

A scenario is playing out in Washington that will say a lot about the loyalties of congressional Republicans. The early returns are not encouraging.

Quiet talks are underway in the Senate about avoiding the "fiscal cliff," the Dec. 31 deadline when taxes will rise and spending gets slashed.  The deadline was imposed to avoid the last cliff, when the GOP was ready to plunge the nation into default.

What's discouraging about the current talks, as low-key as anything can be in politics, is that the main participants seem to Democratic leaders -- and GOP backbenchers. It's the usual recipe, one that ends up with a deal scotched by Republican leaders more interested in politics over policy.

And of course the talks are not taking place in the House, where the Wild Bunch resides.

But at least the few Republicans in the loop appear to be talking about the Elephant in the Room: The Pledge that lockstep Republicans sign, offering allegiance to Grover Norquist and the fiscal irresponsibility that has led us to the cliff.

The GOP has been clear, from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on down, that the party's priority is making Barack Obama a one-term president. They have placed party over country and its highly unlikely they will countenance any rational solution --  certainly not before an election.

After all, what would Grover do?

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hail and farewell?

Not bad for a team that led the league in cardiac surgeries.

There's disappointment today as the Boston Celtics season ends with a loss to the Heat. And that's compounded by the reality that they may be breaking up the band.

But the reality is this wacky season was a gift, from its disastrous, lockout-shortened start through the ride to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Let's start with the fact that not one but two key big men ended their seasons earlier in a cardiac surgery suite. Who knows what sort of difference Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox would have made down low. Not to mention Jermaine O'Neill.

Their absence did lead to the delightful rebirth of KJ, er KG, who took over the "5" and made it his own in a truly unexpected way.

And who would have thought when the season started that the loss of Avery Bradley would be soon keenly felt?

So now we're facing the end of the contracts of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. And Paul Pierce has mused about retiring too. There's lots of uncertainty about the season ahead.

But none of that should distract from a truly magical season -- the fifth year of a three-year plan.

Oh yeah, go Thunder. Perk needs another ring.


Saturday, June 09, 2012

Gaffer's tape

Anyone every notice the campaign press corps resemblance to the easily distracted dog in the movie Up?

Just as our poor pooch got sidetracked by squirrels, so the media seems to fall for well-produced sideshows, like the GOP's focus on Barack Obama's quickly walked-back oops moment declaring the “the private sector is doing fine" 

And the key here is "well-produced." There's far less attention being paid to Mitt Romney's declaration that:
“He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”
Aside from the massive slap in the face to public employees who keep us safe and educate our children, Romney's remarks show a decided lack of understanding of the data underlying economic doldrums.

The intersecting lines show a upsurge in private sector employment since 2010. On the other hand, public sector jobs -- police, firefighters and teachers -- which surged thanks to the federal stimulus spending that prevented a recession, have been on a steady downward slide since the plug was pulled.

So yes, in terms of jobs the private sector is doing OK, if not hunky-dory. Job creation continues and stocks, which fuel the retirement funds of millions of Americans, are slowly recovering.

But the elimination of public sector jobs, combined with the GOP's European-style austerity, is dragging down employment growth and leaving the economy hovering slightly above neutral.

Find that explanation in mainstream media.

Political reporters continue to pursue the "fresh" story, no matter how stale or contradictory it may be to the facts. Hand them a simple package, ready for air and publication and you have a group as easily distracted as our intrepid friend Dug the dog.


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Friday, June 08, 2012

Mr. Grumpy returns

We're bracing for a Supreme Court coup on health care reform and Congress remains gridlocked on the time of day. Our Constitution is being battered by partisanship and gridlock.

And the media? Well, they are focused once again on what Bill Clinton said. And how much Mitt Romney and Barack Obama raised.

Is it any wonder the American electorate doesn't really understand what has happened in our business and financial communities or the impact of the European austerity crisis on our own economy?

Journalism vows to improve after every election cycle and falls into the same trap over and over again.

Whatever happened to the concept of giving people what they need?

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

A tree grows in Allston

There's an interesting experiment in a student neighborhood where green refers to skin tone after a night of hard partying.

A landlord is looking to convert a small, treeless and somewhat industrial area of Allston known mainly for student housing and bars into an environmental oasis for rents between $1,700 and $2,850 a month for one- and two-bedroom units with roof decks and yoga classes.

And while the Mount Vernon Group says it has rented 70 percent of its first building, I can't help but think: good luck with that.

No not the idea of a green enclave. Although that begins about a two blocks away with a Brookline park.

The problem, as they say in real estate, is location, location, location. The neighborhood around Brainerd Road is the heart of the student ghetto, heavily concentrated with BU students and bars that let out at 2 a.m. with varying degrees of noise and chaos.

The rents are hardly conducive to student assets (absent help from mom and dad). And they may be a stretch for young professionals on the lowest rungs of the salary ladder.

Then there are the green amenities, like electric car charging stations. Ever try to park a gasoline combustion engine vehicle in the neighborhood at night?

And I can't wait for the reaction when the tenant gets the water bill, not included in the steep rent.

The idea of a green enclave is appealing. In Brookline, the South End or Beacon Hill, where young professionals move after getting a job good enough to get them out of Allston.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Brilliant diversion

It's time to declare the obvious: the Scott Brown campaign is running circles around Elizabeth Warren on tactics.

In a magnificent feint, Brown votes to reject an equal pay for women measure and the headlines talk about candidate debates. The Globe headlines of course: the Herald didn't even bother with the vote.

Warren's camp of course is highly culpable for this piece of journalistic misdirection, having hemmed and hawed for a couple of days after Warren dropped the debate gauntlet herself at the Democratic nominating convention.

Brown immediately picked it up and offered to meet on conservative radio talkmaster Dan Rea's show. Warren balked, a strange move since Rea's audience is a step or two above most yak shows, leaving her in a defensive crouch on an issue she raised.

And while Brown is anything but consistent between rhetoric and action, his campaign has shown it consistently thinks one or two moves ahead on the tactical chess board. Which brings us to the pay equality vote.

Senator Double Talk, who has proclaimed the importance of the women in his life, joined the Senate Republican minority in rejecting the Paycheck Fairness Act, designed to close a gap where women get paid 77 cents for every dollar received by a man,

Brown and the GOP declared the measure would impose "unfair burdens" on employers when called upon to explain and lead to "frivolous" lawsuits. Oh, those silly women.

In a brilliant tactical move (again), Brown trotted out Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins as cover in declaring they really are for the bill even though they voted against it.
“It’s the right cause but the wrong bill,’’ Brown said after the vote.
Brown has based his Senate career on saying one thing while doing another: rejecting equal pay for women while supporting Wall Street is perhaps the biggest contradiction of all.

And unless the Warren campaign gets on the stick and starts thinking better strategically, they are going to let him get away with the doublespeak.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Fair game

Why oh why is Mitt Romney's record in Massachusetts not subject for debate?

Just because the half-term governor doesn't want to shine a spotlight on his less-than-scintillating accomplishments (short of health care reform) before heading out in the campaign trail after the 2004 legislative election debacle, doesn't mean it is not worthy of vetting.

OK, so David Axelrod wasn't quite prepared to be shouted down by the Romney backers at a Statehouse event last week. The national press corps chose to take that as an Obama gaffe rather than focus on the substance of the message, which can be summed up in one fact: During Romney's tenure in the Corner Office, Massachusetts was 47th in job growth. As Matt Yglesias notes:
I was living in Massachusetts during the 2002 campaign and it's definitely the case that he ran around the state promising to jumpstart job creation. I didn't believe him at the time, but voted for him anyway since I preferred his approach to education and thought he'd be fine on other fronts.
Since Romney has made his case against Obama that of job creation, his record during his own time with his hands on the reins is assuredly fair game. As is his mixed record as a job creator at Bain Capital.

Is it too much to ask for coverage grounded in facts, not gaffes?

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Monday, June 04, 2012

Two faces of Scotto

Money talks -- and Scott Brown is still listening the the financial services industry,

The Bay State's junior senator remains a favorite of Wall Street, which tops the list of his campaign contributors. And Brown continues to return the affection,  working to further weaken the law he stripped down before finally famously telling us he voted for it.

The Globe reports that Brown is working to further weaken the Volcker Rule, something he was instrumental in weakening before casting what his commercials say was his "tie-breaking vote for Wall Street reform." That involved negotiating language allowing banks to invest up to 3 percent of depositor money in riskier investments such as hedge funds and private equity funds, and to own up to 3 percent of an individual fund.

But e-mails suggest Brown wasn't done:
... as regulators began the less publicly scrutinized task of writing rules amid heavy pressure from the banking sector, Brown urged the regulators to interpret the 3 percent rule broadly and to offer banks some leeway to invest in hedge funds and private equity funds.
A banking industry lobbyist told the Globe that Brown's work give banks "maximum relief around the margins." As Lawrence D. Kaplan adds:
“They’re trying to make sure it’s being interpreted in the best light for them, which is appropriate,’’ he said. “They’re not going to say, ‘Please, sir, can I have some more?’ They want to have the best scenario.’’
MIT Professor Simon Johnson was far more direct:
“This is a treatise on how to gut the thing.’’
Not surprisingly Brown was not available to personally comment to anything unrelated to the heritage of Democrat Elizabeth Warren. A spokeswoman offered the usual platitudes Brown has offered since those votes, declaring his work for home state businesses like Mass Mutual and State Street.

Brown's interests in the law focus on areas far from the daily concerns of the men and women he's seen palling around with in coffee shop commercials, particularly the carried interest rule that allows Mitt Romney and others to pay far less in taxes on capital gains than most Americans pay on earned income.

Brown also rallies for banks being allowed to risk more taxpayer-insured depositor funds and pool those resources with non-banking customer cash to heighten the rewards to banks -- and risk to depositors.

It seems those commercials where Brown is offered a coffee refill should really be shot at a white linened table where the coffee comes from a silver carafe.

And bought and paid for by Wall Street.

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Sunday, June 03, 2012

Parallel universe

Do Democrats and Republicans live in totally different realities? Coverage of Elizabeth Warren's Senate nomination win makes a strong case that they do.

The steamrollering of virtually unknown North Shore lawyer Marisa DeFranco reflected a "reinvigorated" Warren campaign in the eyes of The Boston Globe. Warren's call to arms for direct debate combat with incumbent Scott Brown included a warning she could take a punch, as a five-week pummeling over her family history could attest.

Meanwhile over at the chief cheerleader of the Cherokee saga, "Landslide Liz" Warren is portrayed "warts and all" as the real bully who pushed an under financed opponent off the ballot for fear of competition.

Can you say Christie Mihos?

Deputy State Republican Party Chairman Peter "Nauticus" Blute was in high dudgeon over Warren's 95.77 percent support, totally forgetful of the 89-11 percent shellacking GOP leaders pinned on a far more visible Mihos in an effort to clear the field against Deval Patrick.

And Blute's takedown of Warren's out-of-state financial support manages to overlook both the outpouring of Tea Party money for his special election victory over Martha Coakley and Wall Street's current largess.

But you know they say foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

One thing is certain. The time is rapidly arriving when Scott Brown will no longer be able to hide behind the word processors of GOP advocates who have managed to frame this campaign about hot button non-issues like affirmative action to avoid talking about Brown's record as a defender of Wall Street over the Main Street residents who Warren champions.

Brown has been a virtually invisible candidate -- opting for control appearances before friendly crowds and avoiding reporters or public forums where he cannot control the questions.

Warren, with a clear field, has now thrown down the debate gauntlet. While she has a pretty good track record in articulating her causes, Brown proved himself to be no slouch in sharing the debate stage with Martha Coakley.

It's time for Brown to stop hiding behind phony issues and soft and gauzy commercials professing love for the Red Sox and Celtics and face the voters with an honest discussion about the real problems facing Massachusetts and the nation, how he has voted on them.

It's equally incumbent on the independent media to stop taking the candy thrown in its direction and ensure that Brown can no longer continue running away from a discussion of his voting record.

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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Lies, damned lies and polls

She's up! She's down! She's OK. She's in trouble. If you know what will really happen in November's U.S. Senate race, please remain standing.

The polls on the Scott Brown-Elizabeth Warren Senate race are as solid as the numbers on whether Warren will be able to avoid primary battle against Marisa DeFranco in September -- and in turn whether that is a good or bad thing.

The only thing that is clear is that after five weeks of incessant coverage of her heritage and her past life by the media arm of the Republican Party, is that no one has an obvious advantage.

And that includes the widely popular incumbent whose radio commercial today proclaimed Celtics love.

Warren's glow has certainly been diminished by her inability to effectively answer and end the brouhaha over Indian heritage. And it has served the purpose of taking the spotlight off Brown's record as a Wall Street friend.

Time lost? Perhaps. But given the majorities in the most recent polls show the public unimpressed with Cherokeegate it, like everything else in this contest, is impossible to predict.

Today is the chance for Warren to shine -- particularly since the sun won't. With the Celtics off, her speech will likely lead newscasts tonight and tomorrow. A strong and stirring speech introducing her to many media consumers for the first time is crucial.

And while there is certainly truth that a primary test might be a good thing, a Warren team that has allowed a one-day story to morph into a five-week headache needs to prove itself. Convincing delegates to give Warren a clear shot is what Doug Rubin and company need to do to earn the right to put their feet up with a few cold ones tonight.

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Friday, June 01, 2012

Wealth of material

Some days you scrape for stuff, some days it pours down from the sky:
  • Three cheers to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals  and to Attorney General Martha Coakley for taking the next important steps in reversing the official discrimination represented by the Defense of Marriage Act. One more small step in getting the government out of the bedroom and into the board room where it belongs.
  • It's truly amazing to watch Mitt Romney's minions speak out of both sides of their mouths simultaneously. Romney's troops were out in force Thursday to heckle and disrupt an Obama event taking aim at Mittens' record as governor. Yet on the other side the country they staged an anti-Obama event they shrouded in secrecy -- out of fear they would be silenced.You can't have it both ways.
In a letter to supporters, Warren wrote:
“What kid asks their grandparents for legal documentation to go along with their family stories?’’ Warren wrote. “But that’s not good enough for Scott Brown and the Republican Party. For several weeks now, they have orchestrated an attack against my family, my job qualifications, and my character."
And how did the chivalrous, nice guy Scotto respond?
"My mom and dad have told me a lot of things too, but they’re not always accurate.’’
Classy don't you think. Call her parents (and his own) liars. Warren clearly was not taking it:
"Don and Pauline Herring are not fair game and Scott Brown should apologize,’’ she said in a statement. Brown’s campaign called the accusation “an attempt to escape personal responsibility for spending five weeks misleading the press and public.’’
With that quip Scotto went from the nice man in the barn coat to the bully who doesn't know when to quit. A line of attack that was always a mean-spirited one descended into outright nastiness from someone who didn't have enough sense to declare victory and walk away,

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