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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Truth is the victim

It feels like screaming into Sandy's awesome winds, but the depth of the lies emerging from Republican campaigns is appalling.

Campaign ads from Mitt Romney and Scott Brown have fallen below even our diminished expectations as Election Day approaches. Fabrications and outright lies have replaced straight talk in a way I cannot recall after years of being a campaign junkie.

Let's start with Our Man Myth, who has long hard a hard time sticking to a set of core beliefs, is at his best (or worse) on the subject of the auto industry bailout. An original supporter of letting the industry fail,  Romney has wavered back and forth along the truth line as he has scraped for votes in Ohio, which appears to hold the key to next Tuesday's election.

Not content to obfuscate his position,  Romney has moved on to rumor-mongering and outright lies, implying with a straight face that Chrysler intends to pack up jobs and move its Jeep operations to China.

He one-upped it with a commercial stunning in its lies and cynicism:
“Barack Obama says he saved the auto industry, but for who, Ohio or China?” 
The lie was so enormous that executives of the industry in which Romney grew up called him out:
“The ad is cynical campaign politics at its worst,” Greg Martin, a spokesman for General Motors, said in an interview late Tuesday. “We think creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back in this country should be a source of bipartisan pride.”
But that has become standard operating procedure for a party and a candidate that has shunned the "reality-based community," and that proudly proclaimed "we're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."

The campaign of fellow GOP-er Brown hasn't been much better. Senator Barncoat has been on the air with as commercial in which supporters proclaim his women's rights cred because of his support for choice and equal pay.

All it takes is a simple search to discover Brown supported the Blunt Amendment to overturn established practice deny women birth control services through employee health care. Or that he actually voted with fellow Republicans to block paycheck fairness legislation while claiming he supports the Lilly Ledbetter Act that, conveniently, was passed before he was elected.

The onslaught of lies, coupled with the billions washing through the political system, have produced incredible cynicism and corruption. The consequences of this perversion of our system is far greater than the election of a pair of liars.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Big Government

As millions recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, they will be thankful for the helping hand of the government. If only they remember that when they go to the polls next week.

Local, state and federal agencies, from police departments to the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been and will be mustering taxpayer-supported resources to coordinate and assist with the clean-up.

It's government that will be looking over the shoulders of the regulated utilities that failed to do their jobs adequately last year during Tropical Storm Irene and the Halloween snow storm in Massachusetts.

Yes, it's even government in the form of Hurricane Chris Christie who belittled people who failed to heed evacuation orders from hard hit New Jersey communities.

Political leaders either earn that title or scorn based on their response to mega storms and other disasters (are you listening, George W. Bush?)

For all the hand-wringing over what impact the storm will have on early voting and Barack Obama's chances for re-election, the more powerful television images in the next few days will not be attack ads but Obama's response to Sandy's wrath.

That's no doubt why we will see Christie will invite Mitt Romney to tour storm damage and look presidential.

The Republican mantra against taxes and Big Government is a well-orchestrated rant that fails to take into account what government does. Remember that when police or firefighters risk their lives to help people put in harm's way by a storm.

Or when the road crew comes around to clear the muck that clogged the storm drain that caused flooding in the streets.

Or when the National Guard, which has been doing double duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, helps with the rescues and restorations.

Conservatives may think they can live without government's "heavy hand." They ought to think again. Or maybe for the first time.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Model candidate

This view of Scott Brown is even more revealing than his infamous Cosmo spread. The senator who won on his looks, barn coat and pickup is all style and no substance.

The Globe takes a little deeper dive into the folksy candidate who admits a love for the glad-handing and back-slapping of retail politics and offers a view the candidate and the campaign have clearly tried to conceal:
Both political parties employ so-called trackers to stalk the Senate candidates with video cameras, hoping to catch misstatements or awkward moments that can be weaponized into attack ads. Brown tends to stiffen up around the Democratic tracker, and his campaign goes to great lengths to frustrate the enemy, often holding events on the property of Brown supporters, who are free to ban trackers from their land. In the final weeks of the campaign, event staff have begun asking reporters to show media identification at Brown appearances, to keep out trackers or moles who could infiltrate the press corps and ask partisan questions at press conferences.
It's also clear that Brown makes the most of his smile and charm in person (while leaving the trash-flinging to his commercials):
First-time voter Matt Corwin, 19, visiting the fair from Hingham, has already made up his mind in the race, voting absentee for Brown because he will be out-of-state, at the University of Alabama, on Election Day.

Why Brown? Corwin cities no specific Senate vote or policy, just simply: “I can relate to him.”

How so?

It takes him a few tries to organize his thoughts, but he gets there: “He can afford anything he wants but his truck has a dent in it,” says Corwin. “I can relate to that. Washington hasn’t changed him.”
It's not that personality, likability, charisma or connecting to voters is meaningless. Elizabeth Warren is portrayed doing the same effort at retail politics in a companion piece.

Maybe it's just a difference in writing style, or my own admitting leanings, but to this eye Warren seems to be more sincere -- and not necessarily as successful at Brown in making those one-to-one connections.

Cafe owner Joshua Van Dyke listened intently to Warren during an event at his shop, where she touted her support of small business folks. Then:
He has yet to decide whether to vote for her or the Republican she is trying to unseat, US Senator Scott Brown. Both have ideas that appeal to him, but he likes Brown. Plus, he knows him a lot better.
"He knows him a lot better." How?

The saddest truth about our broken electoral system is that voters believe they know the candidates they are selecting based on 15-or-30-second snippets of rhetoric that often have only the remotest link to reality.

Records are obscured or ignored and reputations besmirched in the one-act mini-dramas that pass for voter information. The most blatant Etch a Sketch artist of our political lifetime is proof that facts are fungible in our truthiness society, where we continue to insist that race does not matter.

That will be an ever harder problem to fix that preventing a tumble over the fiscal cliff.

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Friday, October 26, 2012


Imagine what we could do with the billions being dropped on the presidential campaign and the host of elections across the nation?

Yep, billions. The New York Times is reporting the candidates have or will raise $1 billion each on the 2012 campaign. That doesn't even count the millions more raised and being spent by the super PACs or by candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown.

How many teachers could be hired with that cash flowing into attacks ads? How many hungry people could be fed? How many doctor visits could be paid for?

With the nation mired in an economic malaise caused by reckless behavior in our financial industry, that community's response has been to funnel millions into the campaign of candidates like Mitt Romney and Scott Brown, who they firmly believe have their backs in their effort to rollback the regulations designed from allowing it to happen again.

It's not enough to blame Citizens United, the horrific Supreme Court decision that equates cash with free speech. Barack Obama raised and spent $740 million in 2008 before the decision opened the spigots for the secretive funds, many of which don't need to reveal their contributors.

But the decision did allow the super rich to open their checkbooks to push for their interests. The classic case may be that of Las Vegas mogul Sheldon Adelson, who may spend as much as $100 million on candidates ranging from Newt Gingrich to Mitt Romney in an effort to influence the vote.

In Adelson's case, the payoff may be as high as a $2 billion tax cut. In his mind, it's probably a wise investment, knowing you have to spend money to make money.

What's even more sobering is the $2 billion in this campaign is chump change compared to what industries have dropped on influencing legislators and legislation over the last 14 years.

What we could do with this money -- as individuals or as a nation -- is mind-boggling. But not anywhere near as depressing as the realization of how we are squandering our wealth on legalized corruption.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Idiocy redux

Will someone give Donald Trump a new hair weave and make him go away?

The one-time front runner for the 2012 Republican nomination continued his assault on political sanity with his latest self-aggrandizing stunt of offering Barack Obama $5 million for charity if he would release his college records.

Fortunately most of the MSM found a backbone to resist The Donald's latest plea for attention and Obama took to an appropriate forum, the Tonight Show, to offer a response that should have Leno's writers green with envy:
Mr. Obama told Mr. Leno that the beef dates back to when he and Mr. Trump were growing up Kenya.

“We had constant run-ins on the soccer field,” Mr. Obama said. “He wasn’t very good and resented it. When we finally moved to America I thought it would be over.”
The jury, er make that judge, is still out, on whether attorney Gloria Allred is just as daft at Trump.

She will be in Norfolk Probate and Family Court this morning for a hearing on her motion to unseal the divorce records of Staples founder Tom Stemberg. Reports are swirling Our Man Myth may have fudged his testimony on the company's value while under oath.

Frankly, that's a hard one to swallow even for a man who changes his positions as often as his socks and has played close to the line on his ownership and control of Bain Capital.

But hey, it shifts media attention away from the polls for at least a day.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Make it stop!

Just when you think it couldn't get worse it does. With two weeks to go the candidates and the media are spent.

On the one hand, we are treated to straight-faced reporting from the stump on topics that should produce ennui if not outrage: campaign stump speeches like Myth Romney -- defender of 30-year-old failed supply side economics while failing to offer any concrete new ideas -- claiming Barack Obama is "barren" of ideas.

If that's not your cup of tea, how about one contradictory poll after another leading to prominent speculation that the race could be a repeat of 2000 when one man won the popular vote, the other guy the electoral college (with a hearty push from the Supreme Court).

Now, more than ever, journalists should be doing in-depth stories about the people and policies that got us here, the reality of the solutions being offered and holding the candidates' feet to the fire when they tell whoppers. We should be getting a strong look at how money that could be better spent on addressing our problems is going to buy candidates.

Instead we get poll after poll after endless contradictory poll and fact-checking that often fails to see the forest from the trees.

The American political system is corrupt and journalism is broken. It's obvious every time you pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV or fire up your computer or tablet.

I'm tempted to say wake me when it's over. But the stakes are too high and like most human beings, I find myself unable to turn away from a train crash.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In the Navy

It may rank as one of the best put-down lines in recent presidential debates.

When Mitt Romney blasted Barack Obama for leading a Navy "at levels not seen since 1916," Obama was ready:
“Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed,” he said. “We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”
Romney, who earlier this year labeled Russia, not al Qaeda as our biggest threat, knew he had to back away from stances he has taken this year that implied he would US troops to support rebels in Libya and Syria.

Pundits who watched the debate suggested Romney was a weak tea version of Obama, essentially agreeing with him while trying to pick nits on the policies that have been carried out.

That's because Obama has the ultimate weapon he will likely to use more in the final two weeks of the campaign to highlight the administration's accomplishments:
"Bin Laden is dead: GM' is Alive"

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Monday, October 22, 2012

There's got to be a better way

You mean we're putting up with this campaign for nothing?

The broken nature of the American political system has been on vivid display from it endless length to the billions wasted on ads that could have spent on getting someone other than political consultants and ad makers back to work to the lack of honesty on how we got here and what it will take to get us out of it.

But perhaps the most depressing thought of all is the outcome will depend on "undecided" voters in 106 counties scattered across the nation.

You know, those "low-information voters" who have been living under rocks and have no sense of what has led up to this point: what Barack Obama has done after walking into a George W. Bush, GOP-led train wreck and how Mitt Romney will say or do anything without the courage of convictions.

The presidential election -- as many taking place in individual states around the country -- has become a play toy of the rich to purchase a better situation at the expense of the rank and file who work. Money has corrupted our system and politicians, in both parties, are available to the highest bidder.

It's a truly sad statement on what has happened to what had been a marvelous system born to avoid the class inequities of a monarchy.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Don't blame me

I voted for George McGovern. And I didn't vote for Mitt Romney.

The passing of McGovern, the former South Dakota senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, reflects the true closing of era that has shaped our politics, good and bad. McGovern was the first vote I cast in what proved to be a spectacularly unsuccessful campaign in which he carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

And while McGovern ran such a poor campaign, marred by liberal divisions and horrific campaign planning such as a 3 a.m. nomination acceptance and the unvetted Thomas Eagleton vice presidential nomination, the 1972 election also planted the seeds the seeds of Watergate and the only resignation of a sitting president in the nation's history.

McGovern's lonely triumph also help cement Massachusetts' current status as the oddball "liberal boutique" that has produced three presidential nominees in the last 24 years, including the rudderless Mitt Romney who began his political career running to the left of Ted Kennedy only to fall off the right edge of the spectrum today.

The 1972 campaign established a range of sentiment toward the Bay State nationally that runs somewhere from bemusement to contempt, much of it built upon conservative vilification stemming from that vote and the turn of events that led to Nixon's downfall.

It was the foundation of the Watergate dirty tricks effort -- initially aimed at what was expected to be a Kennedy presidential run. It escalated to Lee Atwater's efforts to "strip the bark off" Michael Dukakis in an effort to make the unlovable George H.W. Bush more palatable to voters in 1988 and to the swift boating of John Kerry eight years ago.

It was even at the core of Romney's 2008 and current campaigns until Our Man Myth made a sharp left turn in the first debate and embraced his own gubernatorial record.

All this flowed from a decent and honorable man who jumped to the national spotlight in 1968 as an unsuccessful stand-in for the slain Robert F. Kennedy; a man who turned his attention to fighting hunger after being dumped from the Senate in the Reagan 1980 landslide.

McGovern's honorable life stands as testament to the man. But his place in American history books will be as someone whose flawed presidential bid raises a raft of unanswerable "what if" questions.

Thank you for your service and rest in peace senator.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Giving back

Scott Brown may be trailing Elizabeth Warren in collecting campaign cash, but he appears to be the leader in raking it in from special interests. And returning it.

Federal reports show Brown has collected five times as much money from political action committees than Warren, with strong support from the financial services and pharmaceuticals industries. Warren is drawing support from labor PACs.

Brown's friends have also proven to be somewhat more troublesome. We've already learned he donated a $10,000 check from a fund-raiser held at the home of New England Compounding Center owners.

The fund-raiser was held six weeks after Brown signed a letter urging less federal regulation on firms like the one at the center of the fungal meningitis outbreak linked to tainted  pharmaceuticals manufactured in its Framingham plant and distributed nationally in an apparent overstepping of regulations on how it should operate.

And this week we learned Brown "quietly returned" $7,000 to the Travelers Insurance PAC just days before he started distorting Warren's work for Travelers on behalf of the families of workers who contracted cancer and died from asbestos poisoning.

Brown hasn't thought of returning donations from another PAC associated with Chubb Insurance, which worked for insurers against the interests of workers in the asbestos litigation.

And lest you think Brown was only being fair to a company he was about to attack for his own political gain, he did not give back cash from a Dow Chemical employees PAC even though he also slammed Warren's legal work for Dow.

Brown has tried to paint Warren as a hypocrite for her work, going so far as to claim Warren used paid actors in one of her ads defending her asbestos work, a lie for which he was forced to apologize.

But his own record on accepting (and returning) cash from corporate PACs offers a solid picture of hypocrisy from the man who claims to represent Main Street.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

The binders vote

Mitt Romney's claim to be a women's rights champion might be stronger if he had known the first name of his gubernatorial running mate. Or not forced a women out of the Statehouse Corner Office  in the first place.

With the woman's vote becoming central to the outcome of the election, Our Man Myth has turned his focus in that direction, responding to a question about support for pay equity legislation with his now infamous recollection that he asked for "binders full of women" to join his administration. It has become an instant sensation -- and his most vivid example of myth-making:
"... a UMass-Boston study found that the percentage of senior-level appointed positions held by women actually declined throughout the Romney administration, from 30.0% prior to his taking office, to 29.7% in July 2004, to 27.6% near the end of his term in November 2006. (It then began rapidly rising when Deval Patrick took office.)
The Phoenix's David Bernstein, who wrote about the issue during Romney's term, notes the former governor received those "binders" from a bipartisan group of women, not as Romney has claimed, on his request. Bernstein also notes Romney placed women in positions with little power in his administration.

It was a story that could be clearly foreshadowed by his relationship with his running mate, Kerry Healey. It was a pairing pretty much dictated by the fact that Romney has abandoned his Utah home to seek the GOP gubernatorial nomination, forcing out the unpopular Republican incumbent Jane Swift.

Romney, who now professes to be a Healey fan, holing up in her Vermont second home for debate prep, hardly got off to an auspicious start, repeatedly referring to her as "Sherry."

And of course anyone inclined to forgive Romney his "truthiness" on his support for women in his administration should also consider Multiple Choice Mitt's many and varied positions on a woman's right choose.

Those flip-flops would fill a lot of binders on their own.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rumble in New York

You knew it was a momentous evening when the earth shook in one of Mitt Romney's home states hours before the debate. And you can have little doubt about the outcome after looking at the headline in one of his hometown's cheerleaders.

The post-debate spin clearly suggests the campaign narrative remains on track. That script calls for the poll leader to re-find his mojo after a close encounter with defeat. The commentariat on the left and right agree that last night's debate on Long Island followed the script.

The Boston Herald spent more time attacking moderator Candy Crowley than Obama, castigating her for acting as journalist by trying to hold both debaters accountable, That clearly is a tough standard for Our Man Myth, who shook his Etch a Sketch at the first debate in an effort to emerge as a Massachusetts Moderate.

On the left, Bob Kuttner scored it decisively:
Obama needed to remind voters that Romney is a very rich man out of touch with regular people, and he did that well. He got in Romney’s face and he got under his skin, but stopped just short of being overly aggressive.
He did just that as Romney churned out his latest version of reality, from the economy to foreign policy.  In a particularly pointed exchange over the administration's handling of the Benghazi consulate attack, Obama leveled the challenger:
“The suggestion that anybody in my team — whether the secretary of state, our UN ambassador, anybody on my team — would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, governor, is offensive,” Obama said.

“That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief.”
Apparently the only person who didn't read the script was Crowley, who ignored the pre-game rules and asked both men follow-up questions, a tactic that doesn't sit well for Multiple Choice Mitt. Score one for journalism reborn.

The Great Narrative suggests polls will now start to level off, perhaps even start rising again for Obama as he calmed nerves. The instant polls that gave him the win will certainly be a factor in driving the punditocracy -- and Obama supporters -- off the ledge.

But if it takes a mild earthquake to rouse Obama again...

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reading tea leaves

Polls are one way to read an election's direction. So is money, which offers hopeful signs for the Obama and Warren campaigns.

Despite predictions of being inundated by a GOP financial flood, Barack Obama out-raised Mitt Romney in September, a month that may be seen as a high water mark of the presidential campaign. Romney still hold an advantage in PAC spending, but there had been signs of Democrats ponying up to that bar too.

Perhaps more revealing is the wide gap in third quarter fund-raising between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown despite the relatively deeper pockets of Brown's fans in financial services, who double as Warren foes.

In honesty, the only way to describe the ringing cash registers is disgusting: elections are clearly for sale to the highest bidders. Small fry like myself (full disclosure: I've written checks to Obama and Warren) are almost like icing on the cake baked by the law firms, insurance companies and other major institutions that bankroll candidates in both parties.

But that said, the flow of dollars can be an important sign of voter interest and the flow suggests a move toward Obama and Warren.

The money goes for more than the virtually non-stop ads that are beginning to make us change the channel. All four organizations have built a campaign infrastructure to identify and get out the vote, an area that Warren appears to hold a substantial lead over Brown based on the highly unscientific look at weekend tweets from folks knocking on doors.

The presidential race may well be at a pivotal moment as Obama hopes to restore the campaign narrative -- a front-runner knocked off stride by an event, in this case his first debate, silencing the doubters and restoring the initial Conventional Wisdom.

Cynical? Yep. But the media knows what the script and Obama has the resources, particularly in fund-raising, to get back on it.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Fool me once

There they go again. In the face of a 30-year record of deficits, Republican snake oil salesmen continue to peddle the discredited idea that cutting taxes will raise revenues.

Add in the fact the Romney-Ryan ticket is talking about back to the future responses in Syria and Libya and you have to wonder whether they think the nation is suffering collective amnesia about the realities of GOP presidencies since Saint Gipper.

The Boston Globe is the latest to take on and debunk the mathematically impossible GOP scheme known as supply side economics (and correctly labeled "voodoo economics by George Bush 41 in a moment of honesty).

Supply side was a novel concept when unveiled by the anti-tax crowd in the 1970s and embraced by Reagan. But a look at the bar chart offers a stark image of reality: tax cutters Reagan and George Bush 43 ballooned the national debt with a no-tax and spend policy that has left us staring at a fiscal cliff.

As the Globe notes:
A report by the Congressional Research Service last month examined the historical relationship between top marginal tax rates and economic growth going back to 1945 and found none. “Top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie,’’ according to the report.
In fact, there is at least one recent example where bumping the top rate -- higher -- triggered an economic boom.

A stimulus package proposed by Bill Clinton an approved without a single Republican vote, raised the top rate and triggered growth throughout the 1990s that, in the end, created a budget surplus for the first time in decades. That surplus was wiped out with passage of the Bush tax cuts which are the foundation of where we are today.

Yet Republicans continue to cling to the fallacy, tied to Grover Norquist's pledge to starve the beast,"and are intent to solve the problems they created by shredding the safety net they have largely opposed since Social Security and Medicare.

And it's not just "ancient history." Republicans voted by a 98 percent plurality for Paul Ryan's Medicare proposal that has been disavowed, for now, by Romney.

George Santayana was right:
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
 But Santayana never had to deal with billions in false advertising.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Compound interest

Scott Brown may be facing his October Surprise with word he signed a letter of support for the compounding pharmacy industry.

It's not so much the $10,000 he received in a fund-raiser in the home of New England Compounding Center's executives. Brown wisely donated the cash to the Meningitis Foundation of America.

Rather, it's the fact Brown took the side of the industry in opposing the Drug Enforcement Administration's interpretation of law related to the shipment of controlled substances.

New England Compounding is at the heart of a scandal in which more than 100 people have contracted fungal meningitis -- and at least 14 have died -- as a result of tainted pharmaceuticals shipped nationwide in apparent violation of regulations.

Gov. Deval Patrick has said the company misled state regulators because it was only supposed to mix and deliver liquid steroids to relieve back pain directly to patients. Instead, it shipped its product to at least 23 states.

And it is the method of delivery which is at the heart of the industry's beef with the DEA.

The Globe reports:
For years, compounding pharmacies have delivered controlled substances, in bulk, to clinics, veterinarians, and other health facilities for use there, according to two specialists in the field. But in recent years, the DEA has interpreted federal law as requiring those pharmacies to deliver the drugs to ­patients whose names are on the prescription, or to owners, in the case of animals. The DEA argues that it is not a change in interpretation, enforcement, or policy and that agents pursue leads about violations when­ever they are known.
Brown and the industry contend the DEA is creating a safety concern because medical professionals are better equipped to handle controlled substances than individuals, an argument with some merit.

But the industry's standing to make that argument is severely compromised by the way it is operating in dispensing non-controlled substances like the steroid solutions. And there are clearly questions about the oversight of manufacturing process as well.

The issue, ultimately, is one of regulation -- and the Republican belief that industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to financial services don't need the heavy hand of government holding them down.

In the case of Wall Street, no one died but millions have been hurt by that attitude and the lack of Securities and Exchange Commission oversight. In this tragedy, questions are clearly raised about the Food and Drug Administration's oversight of the manufacturing and delivery process.

Brown clearly comes down industry over individual in both examples. And that's quite a contrast from the image he tries to present in his commercials attacking Elizabeth Warren for her work as a consumer advocate.

Can you say hypocrite?

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Truth or dare

Politicians often lie, but they are far more adept at either stretching or ignoring facts in an effort to sell their candidacy.

Mitt Romney is in a class by himself of course, veering left, right and all over the map in his effort to close the deal. The latest myth-making of his abortion position is classic Romney. So too is the denial of his own $5 trillion tax cut.

Paul Ryan should remember that denial is a river in Egypt. His walking away from his own vote against the Simpson-Bowles budget compromise -- not to mention his misrepresentation of his own Medicare proposals are classic mendacities.

But we frequently get confronted by the omissions and embellishments, which were on vivid display in the  back-to-back debates between the vice presidential and US Senate candidates.

Ryan took a swing at Barack Obama's response to the attack on the Libyan consulate in his showdown with Joe Biden last night, accusing the administration of failing to provide adequate security.

What the House Budget Committee Chairman neglected to mention was that his own party not only refused to provide the funds sought by the Obama administration for embassy security, they cut them, and blew the CIA cover story in the process, an "inconvenient truth" that Ryan overlooked.

Which brings me to the King of Embellishment, Scott Brown.

The man who met with kings and queens, wasn't simply willing to stand on the facts of his 32-year career as a National Guard lawyer, service of which he should be rightly proud.

But Brown had to take it to the next level, talking about "when he served in Afghanistan," a significant embellishment of a two-week tour in which one analyst said involved Brown being "in the rear with the gear."

The Globe's Brian McGrory takes on Sen. Tommy Flanagan for that stretch and others, noting:
He had to stretch reality, to try to put himself on the same plane as thousands of other guardsmen and women who have been called to active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Problem is, he’s not.
There are enough real problems requiring real solutions to make this game of truth or dare irresponsible. What we really need is a return to the old quiz show Truth or Consequences.

Because there will indeed be consequences if the lies, half-truths and embellishments that pass for GOP talking points are swallowed whole.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hammer time

Stripped of his attack lines, Scott Brown tried to drop the tax hammer on Elizabeth Warren, but came away with some bad bruises to his claim as a woman’s right activist. 

With moderator Jim Madigan in full control of the verbal sparring, Brown was forced to discuss issues in his third showdown with Warren. And after leading a self-guided tour of western Massachusetts (where polls show he is substantially behind), Brown centered on taxes as his claw
“When you talk about getting hammered, Professor Warren, I suggest you put down the hammer, because it’s your policies that are going to be hurting middle-class families,” Brown said. “It is about whose side you’re on, it is about fighting for the middle class, and I want to continue to do that. "
But Warren, using her ball peen, relentlessly returning to the Brown who claims to be a pro-choice woman's rights advocate but one who is endorsed by Massachusetts Citizens for Life and continues to cite Grover Norquist and Antonin Scalia as role models. 
“He has gone to Washington and he has had some good votes,” the Democrat opened, “but he has had exactly one chance to vote for equal pay for equal work. And he voted no. He had exactly one chance to vote for insurance coverage for birth control and other preventive services for women. He voted no. And he had exactly one chance to vote for a prochoice woman, from Massachusetts, to the United States Supreme Court. And he voted no. Those are bad votes for women. The women of Massachusetts need a senator they can count on, not some of the time, but all of the time.”
Overall, the debate was a genteel affair, thanks to the control displayed by Madigan in parceling out questions asked by voters, not moderators imported from Washington. There were no knockout punches.

We're now left with the relentless media wars, where Brown continues to, well, hammer, Warren's claims as a consumer advocate in the face of overwhelming evidence in her favor. But if her new assault on Brown's claims as a woman's best friend takes hold, he will have exactly one chance to redeem himself in an Oct. 30 debate.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Wasn't it just a week ago that conservatives were becoming unhinged over polls showing Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren pulling away? Now they are loving the same polls, while the agita is on the left.

Can't we all just get a grip? And remember that public opinion surveys are simply snapshots in time -- and that daily tracking polls have always been known mainly for their volatility.

As polls have multiplied so too has the likelihood that partisans will cry foul when one survey or another tilts against their candidate.

Monday will be recalled as a classic in poll angst. Several -- Gallup and Rasmussen -- showed Mitt Romney's debate bounce fading. But a Pew Research poll upended Conventional Wisdom several hours later by declaring a major Romney surge.

In a similar vein, a WBUR poll defied the recent trend line and put Scott Brown ahead of Elizabeth Warren in the state's US Senate race.

At times like these we should turn to the Times, or at least Nate Silver, who attempts to put it all in perspective using math instead of emotion. And the bottom line, while Romney's chances of winning the Electoral College have doubled in recent days, the road is a long one and:
... the gains that he made on Monday in particular were all because of a single poll.
Pew has a better reputation than Rasmussen, which helped fuel the overblown response. But I personally wonder about all outlier polls -- like the New Hampshire survey that gave Obama a 15-point edge.

The poll mania highlights a problem I've long railed about: the tendency of the media to focus o the fluff at the expense of a serious look at issues and candidates. The counter-argument goes the nature of news requires freshness, and that once you've covered a candidate's positions you can't go back.

That attitude has helped entrenched campaign coverage that focuses on polls and gaffes -- and helped create an environment where the nation's fiscal future is on the edge of a cliff because of a lack of a serious, extended examination of how tax cuts did not fuel the surge predicted by supply side economists 30 years ago.

Oh that's right, we can rely on the candidate's television ads to tell us the truth.

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Saturday, October 06, 2012

Myth rides again

If Mitt Romney was half the success as governor he claims to be, why is he losing Massachusetts by as much as 2-1?

The New York Times fact checks Romney's debate claims of being a bipartisan workhorse and comes up with the same conclusion that's the foundation of this piece of the blogosphere: it's a Myth. Romney is a Fraud.

And you need to look no further than presidential polling results for confirmation. The state that elected him in 2002 has turned against him in resounding fashion: the Real Clear Politics average finds Romney trailing Barack Obama by 24 points.

Take it from those of us who know him best.

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Friday, October 05, 2012

Twitter give Romney Big Bird

Mitt Romney may have won the debate, but it sure looks like Big Bird is winning the spin.

The mainstream media may have liked Romney's performance, but over on social media, the reaction was quite different with #PBS a trending topic on Twitter and posts referring to Sesame Street's yellow presence flowing from a fire hose.

For those of you who slept through the debate (like me) Romney singled out PBS funding and the lovable mascot as the type of non-essential federal funding he would eliminate to help balance the federal budget. Referring to debate moderator Jim Lehrer, a long-time PBS employee, Romney declared:
"I'm sorry Jim. I'm gonna stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm gonna stop other things," Romney said. "I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too."
For a man who has been decidedly short of specifics on how to make a real dent in federal spending apart from PBS' $445 million federal appropriation, the remark did not sit well. Ask Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of NOVA ScienceNow:
Cutting PBS support (0.012% of budget) to help balance the Federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive
There's also the potential fall-out for the campaign that said it won't let fact-checkers get in their way. It's clear they lived up to their promise Wednesday night. While both men may have a few the want back, the clear winner of the Fib Factory debate was Myth Romney:

Conservatives have dismissed the Big Bird uproar as so much liberal bushwa and it's true a large segment of the public -- particularly potential Romney voters -- may not even read or know Twitter. But the potential fallout is great when comedians pick up the meme.

While Jon Stewart concedes Obama lost the debate, he is probably not through mining the comedic gold of the Yellow One. And there was no doubt a lot of paper ripping in the Saturday Night Live writers' room as scripts got rewritten.

My money is on Big Bird by TKO.

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Thursday, October 04, 2012

The reviews are in

Apparently I wasn't the only person to sleep through last night''s presidential debate.

The consensus view that Barack Obama lost the match to Mitt Romney will certainly change the media narrative -- at least until the next Romney-Obama face-off. And a changed narrative is almost as important to Romney as votes these days.

Our Man Myth has taken a battering since Republicans high-tailed it out of Tampa a month ago -- much of it self-inflicted. While not reflected in daily tracking polls, the state-by-state numbers moving toward Obama were no doubt causing indigestion down at Romney's Commercial Street HQ.

It is likely that narrative would have changed even if Obama had not delivered what many have called a lackluster performance. That's part of the script of covering a presidential campaign: challenger appears on stage and exceeds downplayed expectations (Chris Christie not withstanding).

Not to mention a media ever fearful of a potential blowout would have shifted its attention onto Obama, his record and his travails. It's right there in the script of how to cover elections.

By apparently stumbling through his effort, Obama will now have the spotlight turned back on him. From observation, I think it is a position he prefers, appearing an underdog who needs to feel challenged to do his best.

It's not an unusual situation for him: coming out of Iowa in 2008, hailed the greatest thing since sliced bread, only to fall to Hillary Clinton after saying she was "likable enough."

And while the air will certainly be filled whoops from the right and frets from the left, it's important to note that individual debate performances can often leave misleading impressions.

Many had written off Ronald Reagan after his first debate with Walter Mondale in 1984 following a performance in which the incumbent appeared old and distracted. It was quickly forgotten after Reagan opened the next debate with the memorable line:
"I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."
We all know who won that election.

The 2012 campaign continues to roll out as expected, unless Obama turns in another rocky performance. But that's not likely in the script.

And can you make the next one start earlier so lots more of us can stay awake to watch it?

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012


The showdown between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tonight in Denver is, in George Bush's memorable phrase, suffering from the soft bigotry of low expectations. At least among the crowd feeling increasingly worried about their Man Myth.

While spinmeisters have been furiously at work in the perverse task of lowering the bar for their man, the GOP machinery seems to be particularly hard at work, offering advice, feints and red herrings aimed at altering the perceived outcome.

Some are easy to ignore: Newt Gingrich's bloviating advice or the silly "zinger" ruse. Does anyone believe Mitt Romney can casually lob a barb at Obama in a natural way at the appropriate moment?

And are singers even good strategy? Witness the reaction to Scott Brown's pre-programmed snap about not being a student in Elizabeth Warren's classroom. It may have been the loudest boo of the night, aside from his homage to Antonin Scalia.

But the best sign of GOP discomfort with their man is the Drudge-to-Hannity-to headline proclaiming they have unearthed a six-year-old video of a speech in which they claim Obama is trying to divide the nation along racial lines. Talk about a Hail Mary pass.

Aside from the old Shakespearean line that methinks they dost protest too much about their own racial misgivings about an African-American president, the shallow attempt at an early October Surprise they think can change the narrative and unhinge Obama is a sign of just how nervous the right wing attack machine is about their candidate.

Their expectations can hardly be softer for a Romney "victory." which by the way is one likely scenario in an evenly-matched face-off. That's because the media is not ready to throw in the towel with 34 days to go, a death march that would be too much to bear.

Given that -- and the soft and hard bigotry of right wing attack machine -- I expect good headlines for Mitt. Unless he trips over an untied zinger.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

And the loser is...

It was nasty and brutish and when the smoke cleared there was one clear loser in last night's US Senate debate: moderator David Gregory.

From an opening question that focused on an issue more than 70 percent of voters consider irrelevant to an inane closing query about the fate of Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine,  the Meet the Press moderator did a rancid job of generating a civil, enlightening debate.

Not that viewers want civil and enlightening. But that is what voters deserve.

Offered the opening by Gregory, Brown continued his assault on Warren's heritage and her record as an attorney,  Anything to avoid talking about his own record, which Warren attempted to hang around his neck like an albatross.

Or like Mitt Romney, the name that Brown dared not speak.

Warren (finally) has a good answer about her heritage and developed a better response to Brown's thrusts against her legal work for two controversial clients. She released a list of clients right before the debate, something Brown claims to have done although no one seems to have seen it.

The incumbent also trotted out an old and disrespectful line, declaring “Excuse me, I’m not a student in your classroom. Let me respond,” during one heated ­exchange. It was in the same vein as a zinger he launched at Martha Coakley during one of their debates.

I guess the woman's best friend has some issues he isn't dealing with too well.

But the more revealing look at Brown's stance on women's issues was his naming Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as a model of the type of judge he favors. Realizing his gaffe, he rattled off a list of other names, including Anthony Kennedy and John Robers before landing on Sonia Sotomayor.

Warren flubbed a chance to name a Republican senator she could work with, opting for the Tea Party-retired Richard Lugar over Maine's Susan Collins. And she lost a few points among Twitter followers by suggesting Valentine deserved another season (though heaven forbid she pass on answering a jock question).

But expect to see ads, and soon, superimposing Brown's professed admiration for a justice who typifies the anti-woman, ethically challenged conservative nature of today's Republican Party.

And as for Gregory. I can only imagine Tim Russert is rolling over in his grave. The clueless Washingtonian could not moderate a traffic jam, let alone carry on Russert's tradition as a respected journalist.

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Monday, October 01, 2012

Two faces of Scotto

Scott Brown must be looking in a mirror when he says a Massachusetts US Senate candidate is not who they appear to be.

Mr. Bipartisan is anything but in his fund-raising pitches -- and looks to change the subject when his campaign is called on its hypocrisy of saying one thing to Massachusetts voters and something quite different to national Republicans he's asking to help bankroll his personal attacks on Elizabeth Warren.

Brown has attempted to hide his record as he goes after Warren's heritage, running commercials linking himself to Barack Obama and ignoring Mitt Romney like he had the plague. But on his own website, it's a different story from the man who proclaims himself a voice of moderation:
One fund-raising Web page linked to Brown’s website calls his fight against Warren “the number one Senate race in the country” and urges supporters to donate to Brown because he is “opposed by Professor Elizabeth Warren, the liberal media, Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Obama White House.”
The Globe's Noah Bierman had do so some deep diving on the Brown website to unearth the fund-raising pitches:
Brown’s more partisan pleas for money are not easy to find on his main website, which is dominated by photos of his family, press releases, and his latest political advertisements.
In a section called “Why I’m running,” Brown says that “partisan bickering and political gamesmanship won’t help us save that America, and I refuse to participate.
When called out on the contradictory message, the Brown campaign changes the subject. Says spokesman Jim Barnett:
“Elizabeth Warren has raised millions claiming in her fund-raising letters to be a fighter against corporations, and yet it has now been revealed that she has worked on behalf of giant corporations against the interests of the middle class, retirees, and victims of asbestos poisoning. Elizabeth Warren’s routine may be good for fund-raising and campaign trail sound bites, but the facts show she is not who she says she is.”
In the jaded world of politics, partisans, pundits and fund-raisers slough it off as business as usual:
“He’s doing what he has to do,” said Peter Berlandi, who was the chief fund-raiser for Governor William F. Weld, a Republican, and for Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti, a Democrat. He said some of Warren’s criticisms of Brown on the topic ring hollow, because both candidates depend on wealthy donors.
“She’s out there accusing him of kowtowing to millionaires and billionaires. Where is she raising her money from?” Berlandi said.
 Not from the financial services industries which she has taken to task for the role in bringing the American economy to its knees.

Warren pulled some punches on tying Brown to a Republican majority Senate in their first debate. You can assume she won't be quite as reticent to mention that or the enormously unpopular Romney is tonight's face-off in Lowell.

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