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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Drip, drip, drip

Elizabeth Warren needs to end the Cherokee saga. Now.

I still count myself among the majority of Massachusetts residents who don't have a problem with family lore that told her she has Native-American heritage.

But with an admission she has told two employers about that heritage, in apparent contradiction of earlier statements, I do see a campaign in disarray, either unable to get at the bottom line or unwilling to face reality that this issue simply will not go away until they address it thoroughly.

Voters may not care about her heritage or even whether it helped her get jobs from employers looking to fill diversity needs. But they will care about a candidate and a campaign that can't seem to shoot straight.

The state Democratic nominating convention seems to be the perfect time to air all the laundry, dirty or otherwise.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trumped

It's hardly the auspicious moment Mitt Romney envisioned when he set out to win the Republican nomination.

With his victory in the Texas primary, Our Man Myth finally secured the prize that he had to wrestle away from a cast of characters like Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. He has already shifted into Etch a Sketch mode and polls suggest a tightening of his race with Barack Obama.

So why or why is Our Man Myth hanging out with The Donald? Or Sheldon Adelson?

Let's deal first with Adelson, the man who singlehandedly propped up Newt Gingrich. There's nothing inherently problematic with the Las Vegas mogul with Dorchester roots -- other than his desire to buy the White House with his millions. Or the fact he and his wife pumped $20 million into a loose cannon in the hopes of owning a president.

What should raise serious questions about Romney's seriousness is his continued flirtations with Donald Trump, a self-serving dilettante who has the ability to embarrass at the drop of a hat. Which he did to Romney through his continued pandering to the unhinged birther movement.

In case you missed it, Trump chose Romney's big day to try and reopen a controversy he took credit for closing when he claimed to be the reason Barack Obama authorized the state of Hawaii to release his long form birth certificate.

Now, The Donald is back pedaling -- and Myth is standing silent.
“A lot of people do not think it was an authentic certificate,” Mr. Trump said in a combative interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN. “Now, you won’t report it, Wolf, but many people do not think it was authentic.”
Not report it? I seem to recall a lot of attention paid to the Arizona Secretary of State who threatened not to put Obama's name on the ballot until he was satisfied that Obama was not Kenyan born.

Romney, as usual, tried to take what he thought was the high road but in reality serves only to  mollify the right wing fringe he must keep happy in order to win the White House.
“You know, I don’t agree with all the people who support me, and my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in,” he told reporters. “But I need to get 50.1 percent or more, and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”
The Boston Globe once labeled that type of comment "Mush from the Wimp."

The continued attack on Obama's heritage -- along with Scott Brown's questions about Elizabeth Warren's Cherokee roots -- suggests the nativist element of the conservative movement is still alive and well. And that the GOP candidates are so uncertain of their own policies and promises -- that pandering to fear remains a key tool in their electoral arsenals.

After all, it's hard to back policies that caused the Great Recession as a tool to get the nation out of those doldrums. Appealing to baser instincts is surely the path of least resistance, which is why neither Romney nor Brown are willing to give it up any time soon.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The L word

It's the civil convention of journalism. No one is ever called a liar, even when the falsehoods come fast and furious.

That's why it's somewhat refreshing to see Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson lay it on the line when it comes to Mitt Romney. Not only does Our Man Myth have more positions on issues than there are days of the week, he's unashamed to just fudge things too.

GOP prevarications run the gamut from the Obamacare is socialized medicine tripe to the falsehood that the president "apologizes for America." Republicans have conveniently forgotten George W. Bush and the fact he ran up huge budget deficits after inheriting a surplus.

The latest lie centers on federal spending under Barack Obama.  Read the facts and then contrast it to growth under Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and the Bushes.

Various truth squads operated by the media confirm the facts cited by Market Watch, although they exhibit a desire to dance on the head of a pin to maintain an appearance of "balance." Too bad conservative outlets like Fox News show no such interest in being fair and balanced.

And therein lies the problem. While the talking heads on Fox spout GOP talking points, the mainstream media has an aversion to truth-telling in the form of calling out "facts" that are not and politicians who spout them.

That allows lies to bloom like weeds, while facts get lost in the clutter.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Insecurity complex

Think Mitt Romney's not concerned about the shellacking he is likely to get in Massachusetts in November? The howitzer aimed at the Ron Paul slate in his own congressional district says otherwise.

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the Massachusetts Republican Party on behalf of the Mittster will not amount to a hill of beans come November -- or even in Tampa in August when Romney accepts the GOP nomination. He will have all the delegates he needs from GOP strongholds in the South, even if they have to hold their collective noses.

So here's something a bit unsportsmanlike in trying to overrule the grassroots efforts of the Paul loyalists who worked their way to the GOP convention by following the rules. Something, shall we say Romneyesque.

True, its a bit embarrassing to have his neighbors support someone else. But it's a scenario the Romney campaign -- one never to overlook the small details -- should have thought about at the time of the GOP caucuses.

Instead we are offered an Etch a Sketch moment. The latest of many more to come from Our Man Myth.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Family feuds

Two good yarns involving sex, intrigue and downright nastiness offer themselves up this morning.

Is Boston Globe on the auction block because New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.'s girlfriend does not like former Times CEO Janet Robinson? The Globe offers a short synopsis of a New York Magazine opus that has the makings of a good movie involving wealthy families and huge egos.

Bottom line: the Globe seems to be the centerpiece is a power struggle that will no doubt see the newspaper part company from its New York management sooner or later.

Then there's the Globe's look at the other side of the evidence in the defamation lawsuit filed by former Boston founder Tom Scholz against the Boston Herald.

The Globe reviews depositions and other court filings to paint a sharply different picture of what might have prompted frontman Brad Delp to take his own life. The plot twists can be tricky but suffice it to say it involves a hidden camera in the bedroom of the sister of Delp's fiancee's bedroom.

What wasn't hard to understand with the reaction of Herald's reaction:
In a statement, Herald spokeswoman Gwen Gage said the Herald’s coverage of the matter has been “both accurate and excellent” and assailed the Globe’s coverage as “journalistic rivalry getting the better of editorial judgment.”
Oof. Grab the sunscreen and the beverage of your choice and check both pieces out.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Scotto speaks

Scott Brown has been a virtual stranger from live media on the important issues throughout his tenure. But when it comes to Elizabeth Warren's heritage, Scotto seems to have found his voice.

The state's junior senator faced cameras to call on Harvard to correct its records about Warren Cherokee heritage or lack thereof. It's an issue he has been relentlessly pursuing for a month -- now throwing himself and not sure surrogates into the fray:
"She needs to answer the question ... about why she claimed Native American status when in fact she is not."
In fact, Warren did, in a story in the Herald that Brown must have missed:
“... my mother told me so. This is how I live. My mother, my grandmother, my family. This is my family. Scott Brown has launched attacks on my family. I am not backing off from my family.”
Brown makes it a habit of being publicly unavailable to talk about the real issues that face Massachusetts and the nation, operating through press releases and controlled appearances. He has not faced real questions, whether from media or voters in town hall forums, questions on substance like his support for and from the financial services industry, an expensive and unnecessary "spare" jet engine or student financial aid.

The focus on bogus issues has finally caused Boston Mayor Tom Menino to wade into the fray. Hizzoner has been noticeably cool to Warren and continues to refuse to endorse the Democrat. But Menino has weighed in:
“I think she has come clean but nobody has let her off the hook,” Menino said. “It’s not relevant at all in the campaign. Let’s talk about the real issues: education, housing, crime. Those are the real issues we should be talking about. This is one of the issues that you [use to] try to divert as a candidate because you can’t deal with the real issues.”
The media is as culpable as Brown in keep the issue alive, even if voters don't seem to give a fig about it.

Of course it's the same media that focused on the barn jacket, the truck and Martha Coakley's praise of Yankee Curt Schilling (maybe she knew something we didn't?).

Maybe, just maybe, the media should start to hold Brown's feet go the fire on real issues during those rare times he emerges from his protective bubble?

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Friday, May 25, 2012

It's alive!

Voters may not care but the media continues to be enthralled by the question of Elizabeth Warren's heritage. Separate stories today clearly delineate two distinct questions -- one answered, the other still swirling around Harvard Law School and its now most-famous professor.

Warren, at long last, provides the correct answer to the constant baiting of Scott Brown and his newspaper surrogate. Questioned yet again to prove her roots, Warren declared:
"Because my mother told me so. This is how I live. My mother, my grandmother, my family. This is my family. Scott Brown has launched attacks on my family. I am not backing off from my family."
Family folklore is often just that. It is passed down from generation to generation, with all the inherent flaws that can develop. Being asked to prove your family tradition is akin to being asked when did you stop beating your spouse. There is an inherent assumption of guilt that is unwarranted.

Then there's the question of the law school's listing of Warren as a minority for diversity purposes. And the issue is not her declaration but rather the school's decision to list her as a Native American even though the guidelines they must adhere to suggested otherwise.

The Globe notes the administrator who filed those reports was:
... "a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who, like Warren, has fair skin, blue eyes, and Oklahoma roots."
But he was working for a law school that had come under sharp questioning from within about its own commitment to diversity.

Warren has now answered the question of her roots satisfactorily to the 69 percent of Massachusetts voters who think it is a non-story. Harvard Law School has not yet offered a good answer for its regulatory filings. But that should not be an issue for a U.S. Senate race.

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It's not a game

The apparent demise of 38 Studios, with the loss of 400 jobs and Rhode Island taxpayers on the hook for millions in a major league tragedy. And it's an instructive tale about "welfare" in today's society.

First, let's stipulate that Massachusetts made a similar bad bet on Evergreen Solar. And that the future prospects for solar energy and gaming companies suggest each of these cases may just be the natural course of business.

But it is hard to ignore the high-profile founder of 38 Studios and his behavior in this saga, from his attempt to hold up governments in two states to finance his dream, then walk away without so much as a courtesy of telling Rhode Island officials he was throwing in the towel.

Schilling's greatest sin, as previously noted, is his preference to criticize government handouts unless it involves his own hands. There were also serious questions about the viability of his company, questions former Republican Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carceri failed to ask in his bid to gain what he saw as a PR coup in snatching a company away from Massachusetts.

The saga leaves a bad taste in the mouth of those who believe there is a role for government to play in encouraging businesses to build successful ventures that can create jobs and tax revenues. And it leaves an even worse taste about the business practices of a former Red Sox star who has come to personify the "do as I say, not as I do" mentality that afflicts all too many in our society today.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Where's Elizabeth?

The Warren campaign has finally found a way off the Herald's front page. It's called good news.

Word of a Suffolk University/7 News poll showing Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown in a virtual dead heat was nowhere to be found on the front page of the tabloid that has been on the warpath over her Cherokee roots or alleged lack thereof. A lengthy search of bostonherald.com failed to turn up any word either at this early hour.

Small wonder. While three-quarter of the respondents said they were aware of the Herald-generated controversy, 69 percent said it was an insignificant story and for what ever it's worth, half believe her claims.

More significant is the number of undecided voters in this race is infinitesimal, with another 5 1/2 months to go before voters finally get their say. Warren closed 9-point gap in what had been an outlier Suffolk poll.

Brown and the Herald have been throwing the kitchen sink at Warren -- whether it is Native-American roots or elitist professor. It has resulted in a slight increase in her unfavorable ratings, offset by a slightly larger jump among those who view her positively.

Maybe that's why Brown is now on the air with campaign commercials looking to burnish his own good guy image.

Warren's biggest challenge -- short of dodging the kitchen sink -- appears to be getting voters to focus on the sharp contrast between Brown's close ties to Wall Street and her status as persona non grata in the financial community. The poll found only a third of voters believe a vote for Brown is a vote for Wall Street, compared to 55 percent who did not.

And it should come as no surprise that Brown won't be riding Mitt Romney's coattails. The former governor is heading for a bruising here, trailing Barack Obama by a 59-34 percent margin.

You would hope that snuffing this latest manufactured controversy would signal a start of a real campaign based on real issues, such as Brown and his work for Wall Street interests over those of consumers.

You might also hope for the Red Sox winning the World Series this year. Anything is possible, but reality suggests otherwise.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Grasping for controversy

We've hit a lull in the pundit season -- the GOP primary is over and the big guns of the fall campaign are yet to be drawn.  The crunch to keep newspaper columns (and blogs) full is on.

But amid the endless analysis of campaign contributions and nationwide polls (when we count electoral votes by states to determine a winner) one story really grabs me as reaching: Barack Obama is not winning Democratic primaries by record-shattering numbers.

His margin over victory over minor candidates in two Southern states was attributed to one obvious factor:
Obama’s struggles in Appalachia and portions of the South is simply that some white voters will not vote for an African American for president.
But there's another reason too -- beyond "the broader cultural disconnect that many of these voters feel with the Democratic Party."

Anyone check on how many Democratic voters, let alone Obama voters stayed at home rather than bother to leave the house to cast a ballot in a contest where the outcome is a forgone conclusion?

Just sayin'.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Beaten LA

We interrupt this political campaign to share the happy word that the Los Angeles Lakers have been eliminated from the NBA Playoffs.

I know, I know, it's not quite the same as the Celtics winning it all. But every time the hated purple and gold fail is worth a moment of celebration.

And as for the Celtics, a team that leads the league in cardiac surgeries, and a guard with two dislocated shoulders, this magical post-season run continues.

Sure they have played down to the competition at times. But rebounding from what could have been a soul-sucking loss in Game 4 puts them one game closer to an East Conference Finals showdown with the hated Miami Heat.

For all their own injuries, the Celtics have been in the receiving end when bad fortune strikes others. This round would have been quite different had Derrick Rose not gone down and with it the Chicago Bulls chances against the eight-seed Philadelphia 76ers.

And there is a question mark about the Heat's Chris Bosh, not to mention that team has been anything but overwhelming against the Indiana Pacers.

Things are far from over: a return to Philly for starters. But there's enough hope from this fifth year of a three-year plan to dream about a Geezer Bowl Finals with the San Antonio Spurs, who will probably break out their first sweats in facing off against the young Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Celtics do match up against the Spurs, do you think AARP will sponsor it?

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Operation Cheekbones

If only conservatives really cared out Native-Americans as much as they do about defeating Elizabeth Warren.

The Boston Herald has been on the warpath over the likely Democratic challenger to Scott Brown and her belief that she has 1/32 Cherokee blood. The obsession has bordered on ludicrous, digging into a family cookbook in an attempt to keep the story alive.

But today's installment in manufacturing controversy heads into new ground, even for the Tea Party Newsletter, ignoring polls that show the public isn't looking for her scalp in this "crisis."

There is little question that Warren mishandled her initial response and has allowed the critics free rein to continue the diversion. And conservatives make a good case that the quest for diversity in academia should also make liberals a bit uneasy.

But manufacturing a story that Warren is a fatally wounded candidate -- in defiance of evidence to date that suggest otherwise -- can only be called a diversion aimed to take the spotlight off Brown and his own record.

Virtually every human being is curious about his or her roots and tracking them down is not easy. Family folklore often suffices in the absence of documented evidence. Stories passed down by generations is a natural phenomenon, and stories inevitably mutate over time.

But these stories are not more important than the issues this nation faces.

This is a pivotal election that should focus on the record of both Barack Obama and Congress. Brown has clearly staked himself out as a friend of the Wall Street community, while Warren is viewed by that same group as the devil incarnate.

The Herald-led crusade is clearly designed as a piece of the conservative thrust of inflaming class, race and gender tensions that takes our minds over real problems. It has nothing to do with remedies to what ails us and everything to do with exploiting tensions that allow the status quo to continue.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Brown and blue

Inconsistency, thy name is Scotto.

That's the picture that emerges from the Boston Globe's lengthy look at the first two years of junior senator Scott Brown's tenure on Capitol Hill. Elected as what he claimed was a fresh voice, the profile suggests the Washington hell hole has worn him out.

Regular readers will no doubt be unsurprised that I don't think the Globe's picture is complete. And once again it's a failure to really look at the former basketball player's insider moves before signing on to the Dodd-Frank law that Brown touts has a hallmark of his bipartisanship.

The Globe glides over the deal Brown brokered for his vote, one that watered down the Volcker Rule, saying it would hurt companies like Mass Mutual and Liberty Mutual. A vote that has made Brown the apple of the financial services industry campaign finance eye, particularly against that industry's most-hated and feared candidate, Elizabeth Warren.

Overall, the image of Brown is that of an erratic freshman, looking to curry favor for the make or break campaign that he faces today. Brown is for things before he is against them, sliding from one side or another with political expedience being the top priority. A one-time aide to Edward Kennedy and Harry Reid offers the perspective on whose favors Brown is currying:
... [I]t makes sense in the context of internal Senate politics, where Republicans seeking to blaze a centrist path must carefully choose when they part ways with McConnell and other GOP leaders and when they toe the line.
“To his credit, I have to say he has done a pretty good job of threading the needle,’’ said James P. Manley, a former top aide to Reid and to Kennedy.
Omitting the financial services two-step notwithstanding, the Globe's piece is worth your time if you want to try and get a better handle on a candidate who prefers communicating through national TV interviews and paid ads rather than meeting with constituents and the media.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Go away. Please

Boston would be better off if three folks in the news recently faded into oblivion. So would they.

The clubhouse leader is Curt "Do As I Say, Not As I Do" Schilling. Mr. Bounced Cheek clearly snookered Rhode Island leadership, who we now learn may be entitled to even more of that struggling state's taxpayer cash.

The honorable thing would be for 38 to renounce the extra cash and try to make a go if it they way Schilling expects lesser mortals to act -- without government handouts. I'm not holding my breath.

Running a close second at the clubhouse turn is Josh "The Texas Chicken Man" Beckett. Read between the lines of today's Globe story about season ticket holders left, um, holding the ticket, for the Red Sox malaise and the name Beckett is sure to emerge.

Maybe he can help his old teammate out with a little chicken feed?

Then there's Todd English, whose trash is talking. You would think after all the endless delays in reopening one restaurant damaged by a grease fire (ouch), he would know enough to avoid headlines about shuttering another.

The silver lining? He's got a million bucks (in unpaid back rent and other charges) that might be available to loan poor old Curt.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Job creation: Schilling style

From bloody sock to bouncing check. Curt Schilling should have quit while he was ahead.

Instead, the man who played a key role in the Red Sox 2004 World Series win today stands as the poster child of the arrogant conservative businessman who moans about big government intrusions, until he wants a taxpayer-financed handout for his business.

What makes Schilling's apostasy even worse was, when that business ran into trouble, he put his hand out yet again, then tried to stave off the end by offering a $1.1 million check to meet his loan payment that was as rubbery as the toe plate he stepped on at Fenway Park.

The man who was quick with words when he extolled New England about the small government virtues of George W. Bush, John McCain and Scott Brown was unsurprisingly mute when called to task for his own mess.

Schilling claims to have put $30 million of his own money into the venture, a claim that now should be taken with as much faith and credit as the rubber check he tried to pass. Even so, as the Globe's Brian McGrory notes, Schilling ought to have some cash to cover his debt, having earned $114 million over his career.

There's plenty of opprobrium to heap on the leaders of Rhode Island who fell for Schill's shell game.  You can argue they also cut him a break by returning the check before it actually bounced and would have left him with legal problems for passing a bad check, something I'm sure the state would not do for the average bad paper passer.

But in the end, it's all about Schilling, the pampered athlete who had millions playing a child's game, then sought to make millions more creating a different form of diversion for children and adults. Someone who had things handed to him on a silver platter because of an ability to accurately throw a ball, but who expected that special treatment continue.

Schilling can now stand as the face of the "job creator" so revered by the Republicans. Except of course he jettisoned those jobs to save his own skin.

The silver lining? He's Rhode Island's problem, not ours.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Citizens Disunited

It's not often that a Swift boater has the tables turned on him.

But that's exactly what has happened to Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade and the patriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs, who was outed to the New York Times on his scheme to spend $10 million to slime "Barack Hussein Obama."

The assault, based on relinking Obama to former pastor Jeremiah Wright, is a direct outgrowth of the Supreme Court's cancerous decision to allow unlimited spending by corporations and Super PACs. Far worse is the depth and breadth of the hateful message it aims to spread in the name of "leadership."
“Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed,” the proposal says. “And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”
It would employ as a spokesman an “extremely literate conservative African-American” who can argue that Mr. Obama misled the nation by presenting himself as what the proposal calls a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln."

The proposal complains voters “still aren’t ready to hate this president” and looks to inflame racial passions to achieve that aim.

As we all know, PACs are allegedly independent of candidates and cannot coordinate their actions. But the depth and breadth of this take down, even more damaging than the 2004 assault on John Kerry's war record, demands a swift and uncompromising signal from Mitt Romney.

Given Romney's previous responses to right wing hate spewed toward Obama I'm not holding my breath that he will take the sort of stand required to scuttle this hate missile.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Curt-o-nomics

It's not often that the governors of two states get to say "I told you so." But Deval Patrick has chosen quiet satisfaction while Lincoln Chafee is scrambling to save his taxpayers $75 million.

That's the chunk of change Rhode Island economic development officials waved in front of Curt Schilling to move his business from Massachusetts. The former Red Sox pitcher's video game development company was on the verge of faltering in the Bay State at the time.

The Patrick administration, which took quite a lot of grief for its support of the now-failed Evergreen Solar, wasn't ready to pony up that level of support, so the famously outspoken conservative Schilling packed up his toys and moved to Rhody.

Across the border, then-candidate Chafee shared Patrick's reluctance but the state's development team secured the move with a promise he would bring 450 high-paying jobs to Providence, and help establish the city as a major video game development center.

Now Schilling, who did invest $30 million of his own into the venture, is having trouble coming up with  a $1.1 million loan payment. If the deal ultimately goes south and 38 Studio fails, Rhode Island taxpayers are on the hook for the loan.

That's proven too much for the former Ocean State official who had already left state government when the deal was made.

Gary Sasse, former director of administration under Governor Donald Carcieri, Chafee’s predecessor and a strong supporter of the loan guarantee, admitted the deal was a dud.
“We were putting a lot of our eggs in one basket,’’ Sasse said. “If I was there, I would probably have advised the governor against doing the deal.’’
Hindsight is always 20-20. And silence is the word for 38 Studios.

It also can't go unnoticed that the famously "independent" Schilling, who has not been shy with political commentary, dropped his anti-government animosity long enough to take a check that he now appears unable to repay.

I wonder what he would say if a Democratic celebrity spoke out of both sides of his mouth.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Let's move along

Scott Brown has gotten downright cheeky about Elizabeth Warren's cheekbones. After all, it's a great diversion.

The junior senator and his campaign have been focusing like a laser beam on the questions they have raised about Warren's Native-American heritage. You half expect Brown to call for a congressional hearing on the topic, something his Republican colleagues would no doubt endorse.

And why not. After all it is an effort to take the spotlight off the tough questions Brown and the GOP ought to be facing as enablers of Wall Street and the financial services industry.

Brown has been a major recipient of Wall Street's campaign largess for carrying its water through the debate over Dodd-Frank. He has pulled in considerable recent support from New York and shows no inclination to give it back.

 Quite an incentive to change the subject, don't you think?

By framing their ceaseless questions about Warren's ancestry as a test of "integrity" and "truthfulness" Brown and his campaign are raising questions about his own.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Split personality

Wow, did you see how hard Eric Fehrnstrom is running away from himself?

The evidence is all over Page One of today's Globe, where the Scott Brown campaign worked a story declaring just how little the junior senator has in common with Mitt Romney. Except of course for a campaign adviser named Fehrnstrom.

The Brown camp is obviously concerned Romney's deep unpopularity in one of his home states is going to rub off on Brown, particularly as the high cheekbone gambit appears to not have moved the polling meters.

The result is we are offered a side-by-side comparison of Brown's difficult upbringing to that of Mitt "Cranbrook" Romney; told that Brown's website features images of the candidate with Barack Obama and not the man, who in 2004:
"... agreed on virtually every major issue - opposing gay marriage, abolishing bilingual education, rolling back taxes, instituting the death penalty, cutting budgetary waste and inefficiency."
We're also treated to this quote from an anonymous "insider who has worked with both men."
“I just think they’re different people. They function at a different level. Their friends are different. Their backgrounds are different. . . . Who they are as political figures is very different. Scott is so much more moderate. So I don’t know why they would be walking down the North End in the middle of Hanover Street together.’’
I wonder who that insider could be?

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Deja vu all over again

Joseph P. Kennedy once famously told his son "all businessmen are sons of bitches." And John F. Kennedy never even met the "masters of the universe."

Yet here we are, less than four years removed from the epic collapse of Wall Street -- and the promises of better behavior by those masters -- with another sign that old Joe Kennedy may have been understating things.

In one of those obtuse and opaque maneuvers that only traders understand, the whiz kids at JPMorgan Chase bet against themselves and lost, to the tune of $2 billion and counting.

Chase boss Jamie Dimon, once considered the "good guy" on Wall Street had no choice but to admit the deal was “flawed, complex, poorly reviewed, poorly executed, and poorly monitored.’’

Peter Cohan, who teaches at Babson College, was much more direct in speaking to The Boston Globe:
“It’s like playing with nuclear waste,’’ he said, “and hoping you have enough protection.’’
The timing of this debacle could not have been worse for Wall Street and its GOP enablers. Dimon and his fellow Wall Streeters have been lobbying hard against the July implementation of the Volcker Rule, a key provision of the Dodd-Frank law that is designed to prevent such a trade from happening in the first place.

As Barney Frank noted, the $400 million to $600 million it would have cost JPMorgan Chase to comply with the rule is chump change compared to this loss. It's probably still true when you factor in the cost of lobbying against the rule and contributing to elected officials who would back up Wall Street's pledge of good conduct.

Officials like Scott Brown.

Brown, you may recall, carried the financial industry's water in weakening Dodd-Frank before voting for it, a vote he now likes to tout as an example of his independence. That role earned him another million in campaign cash at that time, generosity that continues today.

And that in turn brings us to the scariest character Wall Street can think of: Elizabeth Warren, who has made her reputation as a consumer advocate battling the friends of Scott Brown.

When even Brown's head cheerleader takes time out from its genealogy quest to suggest this is  golden opportunity for "Liz" you know it's serious.
“This has been Elizabeth Warren’s mantra and she should take advantage of it — the risky exploits of big bankers coming at someone else’s expense,” Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos said.
These may be trying days for the GOP: Mitt Romney is pinned down by questions surrounding high school hijinks and trying to balance conservative passion for a gay marriage ban with a need not to offend moderates.

This will be another balancing act between his Wall Street pals and consumers tired of Wall Street misbehavior. Rest assured the Obama camp, already smarting from the loss of Wall Street support, will try to exploit the situation.

Eric Fehrnstrom, the guru behind both Brown and Romney, will certainly be earning his pay. He just needs to be careful where he invests it.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Still waters run deep

I don't think this is what Ann Romney had in mind when she called her husband "a wild and crazy man."

The Washington Post offered a lengthy look at Romney's time at Cranbrook School, where the son of an auto industry executive apparently felt a need to compensate for American Motors' status as No. 4 in the auto world.

The portrait seems to foreshadow the Romney of today, a guy just trying to fit in. Just like today, he awkwardly tries to connect to people by trying to guess where they come from.

And just like today, he can turn on a dime and show a callous and hard side. Today it comes in the form of comments like lamenting he does not have a job or that he likes to fire people.

But Our Man Myth really stepped into it at Cranbrook, where he apparently was a willing participant, if not a ringleader, in what can fairly be called bullying. And that's only because gay bashing was not something one talked about in the 1960s. But Romney's conformist mindset was in full bloom:
“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!"
Sadly, in keeping with Myth's multiple choice reality, the candidate says he can't remember the time he and his pals pinned down John Lauber and Romney clipped his bleach-blond hair. But Romney is also quick to apologize for something he doesn't recall.

The bright side, if there is one? The story quickly consumed the media universe and took attention away from a damning headline that offers visual proof of Romney's multiple choice options on gay rights and marriage.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Out of the closet

Barack Obama dropped a bomb on a Republican Party already splintered into fiscal and social issues conservatism.

Obama's long-delayed and hardly unexpected decision to publicly declare his support for gay marriage comes as the GOP attempts to repair the rifts between its wings from a primary battle that pitted Mitt Romney against social conservatives.

The lingering damage was apparent when Rick Santorum, the darling of the Troglodyte Right, offered an overnight, e-mail "endorsement" of the man who in GOP minds gave the nation both Obamacare and gay marriage.

They were no doubt unimpressed by Romney's mild rebuke of Obama compared to that of Santorum.

The pundits and the GOP insist the fall campaign will focus on the economy and Obama's stewardship of the mess left behind by eight years of George W. Bush. And it likely will.

For Romney to succeed, he needs more than the votes of moderates, who would likely applaud Obama's decision if they react at all. But he also needs the votes of the committed conservative cultural warriors.

These folks would never vote for Obama and his announcement will do nothing to change that reality. Romney needs them to show up. A tepid response, which is what many no doubt see from Romney, will do nothing to push them to the ballot box.

A more fiery response and those moderates slide to Obama.

Obama's reversal also comes a day after North Carolina became the latest state to declare a ban on gay marriage, a decision ratified by conservative turnout in a GOP primary in a state that Obama captured in 2008.

On the surface it would seem to be a bad sign for the incumbent looking for a purple state to latch on to. But a recent poll suggests it is Obama's positions on social issues, among others, that would attract voters beyond the partisans who cast ballots in primaries.

So yes, as Republican "leaders" are moaning, Obama's timing is political. Anyone who thought he would sit back and continue to endure endless GOP attacks was clearly delusional.

And by timing his decision around the North Carolina vote, Obama energizes his base, both in terms of fund-raising but also by reminding them of what is at stake with a GOP takeover of the White House.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Educating debate

It looks like you need a college education to understand the debate over college student loan interest.

Junior Senator Scott Brown took time out from his search for Native-Americans at Harvard to author a truly acrobatic one-day flip-flop -- voting with fellow Republicans to defeat a proposal to keep interest on college student loans low before turning around and proposing a bill to keep interest on college student loans low.

Ow my head hurts!

Brown is proposing the lower interest rates be paid by using money the government already has but mistakenly spends, an amorphous pool he says amounts to $115 billion and includes money sent to the wrong recipient, incorrect amounts, and improperly disbursed funds.

One unanswered question: if it's already been spent how can you spend it again?

This is newfound fiscal responsibility among a party that did not think twice in spending trillions on two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor did it bat an eye on giving away trillions more to millionaires and billionaires in the form of tax breaks that were supposed to help the "job creators."

Rather, the GOP is now banded together against college students and their parents, playing a game of high stakes chicken with the resources they will need to afford higher education.

Could that be because polls show that the higher a voter's education level, the less likely they are to vote Republican -- unless they are among those in tax-favored groups?

Brown cultivates an image of an average Joe looking out for the average man and woman. A careful review of his voting record will reveal the opposite: a man who has consistently sides with the financial services industry and against homeowners and parents trying to make ends meet and attain a better life with a nice home and a good education.

Despite all the flips, it's clear which side Brown is on.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

None dare call it treason

Even John McCain, who thought Sarah Palin was qualified to lead the nation, publicly called out an Obama Derangement Syndrome sufferer who suffered a public nutty. Not our Man Myth Romney.

Instead, Romney embarked on what Washington Post political writer Melinda Hennenberger called a Mormon Moment, offering an off-topic constitutional defense to the town hall commenter who declared Obama "should be tried for treason."

Faced with a similar heckler, you may recall, McCain forcefully rebutted a heckler who declared Obama was an "Arab":
“I have to tell you, Senator Obama is a decent person and a person you don’t have to be scared of as president of the United States,” McCain said. And when the woman persisted, so did he:
“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man ... I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about.”
 Not so Romney, who offered this seeming non sequitur.
“As I’m sure you do, I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired.”
Only later, on a reporter rope line, did Romney offer a coherent, if still inappropriate response:
“No, no, no, of course not,” Mr. Romney told reporters, vigorously shaking his head, when asked on the rope line after the event if he agreed with his supporter’s assertion. 

Explaining his reluctance to correct the woman publicly, Mr. Romney told CNN: “I don’t correct all of the questions that get asked of me. Obviously I don’t agree that he should be tried.”
"I don't agree he should be tried? " Does that mean that he believes Obama is guilty of treason but should get a pass?

The Fringe Right, with spokespeople like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck at the Fox gang have done great damage to the tone and substance of debate in this nation. A candidate who does not have the backbone to stand up to that fringe, in a friendly crowd no less, does not have what it takes to lead a divided nation. Period. End of sentence.

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Saturday, May 05, 2012

Revisionist history

It's a monthly journalistic ritual, tracking the jobs and unemployment rate, one politicians love to use to make headlines. But the methodology behind that data should make any good reporter sit up and ask tougher questions.

True to form, Mitt Romney blasted April data that showed the 115,000 jobs created came up short of what the fortune tellers predicted for the month. Lost in the headlines, as they are every month, is how many actual jobs were created the month before, a number that has been consistently low-balled in its initial report.

Revised numbers showed there were 53,000 more jobs created than originally reported, not predicted.
... both March and April job figures were revised higher, by a total of 53,000 jobs. Had there been no revisions to past months, the report for May would have shown a gain of 168,000 jobs, a bit better than the consensus forecast. Instead, the reported rise is 115,000, which is the lowest gain since October.
 That reality led respected New York Times financial reporter Floyd Norris to note:
The revisions have been consistently positive in recent months, and that in itself is a sign of relative economic strength.
Norris also pulls the curtain back on how thew data are collected:
The source of the revisions is late responses by companies to the Labor Department survey. The department at first estimates numbers for the missing companies, and it appears those early estimates have been too low.
This on top of the less than scientific way the data are collected in the first place: rather than sift through new jobless claims and new hires, the Census Bureau conducts a random survey of 60,000 households to determine the jobless rate. It says the survey is more accurate sample than political polling, but you get the idea.

In essence, the government conducts revisionist history every month, taking guesstimates on who is working and which companies are hiring or firing.

Jobs and unemployment are indeed important benchmarks of an economy and political stewardship. And the most important fact that should be taken away is that employment has returned to the level Barack Obama inherited from George Bush, despite the massive loss of state, local and federal government jobs that have offset private sector growth.

The monthly numbers? Great political theater but just like political polls, a somewhat accurate snapshot in time that barely scratches the complexities involved.

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Friday, May 04, 2012

Reign of error

Mitt Romney appears ready to take flip-flopping to unprecedented -- and costly -- levels to the state that thrust him into political prominence.

The Boston Globe reports the former Bay State governor has a secret plan to overhaul Medicaid funding. It would gut the signature law he thought would catapult him into the White House -- at least until the GOP's Obama Derangement Syndrome determined that maintaining our crippled health care and insurance system was the best approach to put politics ahead of people.

Secret because "the specifics of Romney’s plan are not public." But it appears Romney is signing on to the Paul Ryan budget plan to create Medicaid block grants -- and then slash funding for both Medicare and Medicaid.

Federal Medicaid funding has been a major part of making the Massachusetts health care access law work, But the Ryan plan would change the formula from one that reacts to recessions and increased enrollment to one based on a set dollar amount that would increase each year with inflation and US population growth.

It would also amount to a one-third cut in funding by 2022, simply by falling behind inflation and demand.

The Romney camp is at its usual vague best, telling the Globe:
“There are a number of details that would need to be addressed regarding the exact design of the block grant."
John McDonough, a Harvard School of Public Health professor who played a major role in creating the law as an aide to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, is far less restrained:
"It would have been impossible for Massachusetts to do what it did without increased federal Medicaid support.’
Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, who leads Health Care for All in Massachusetts, an organization McDonough helped found, is even more direct:
“What he’s proposing is in direct opposition to what he did as governor.’’ 
She notes block grants give states more flexibility in spending federal money, but restrict funding increases.

The silver lining in this looming nightmare, one that surfaces as the Massachusetts Legislature is about to take on health care cost control measures, is that Romney's track record on following a straight line on pronouncements and policies is well known.

So "states rights" Republicans would cripple one state's imaginative and so-far successful effort to increase health care access in order to defeat Obama, maintaining a status quo that benefits no one except insurance companies.

Unless Myth changes his mind yet again.

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Tempest in a teepee

Scott Brown is clearly anxious to talk about something other than his campaign benefactors. Elizabeth Warren is apparently eager to help.

The presumptive Democratic U.S Senate nominee poured gasoline on a fire started by Brown over Warren's listing herself as part Native-American in a law school directory:
“I listed myself in the directory in the hopes that it might mean that I would be invited to a luncheon, a group, something that might happen with people who are like I am,” Warren said. “Nothing like that ever happened, that was clearly not the use for it, and so I stopped checking it off.”
Brown, who was typically mum about a joint fund-raising effort with the National Republican Senatorial Committee that raked in financial service industries cash, was far more vocal about Warren's 1 /32 Cherokee heritage.
“I think that she needs to answer the questions that are still lingering out there that’s for sure,” Brown said.
Warren's clumsy response to the question feeds right into Brown's efforts to raise one of the GOP's classic hot button issues, affirmative action.  It is such a tempting target that Brown was happy to ignore the fact the taunt flies into the face of his long-time effort to paint Warren as an "elitist" professor.

There appears to be no evidence that Warren was hired on any basis other than her academic record. And genealogical searches for family roots drives many people, either as a serious quest or a hobby.

But Warren has done a horrible job in addressing what should have been a one-day sideshow launched by Brown. Opening the books on her hiring process would be a start.

Given the talent she has assembled, it may be a safe assumption she rejected their advice on how to respond.

If not, she needs some new blood, ethnic origin irrelevant.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

History repeating

Beware of Bielats bearing polls.

That should be basic common sense for political reporters and editors after the 2010 congressional race between Barney Frank and Sean Bielat, when the challenger touted polls showing him closing in or leading the incumbent.

Even though we all know how that turned out, the once-and-future GOP hopeful (should he win the primary) is at it again, aided and abetted once more by the Boston Herald.

This time Bielat is facing Joseph P. Kennedy III,  who comes bearing a name -- and little else. That name catapulted Joe K III into a huge early lead in the reconstituted 4th Congressional District.

The son of former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II is the first to acknowledge he offers little more than his family's history (good and bad) and, like Bielat, he has been conducting a tour of the district to learn the people and issues.

Yet despite his supposedly remarkable but unsuccessful challenge to Frank, Bielat was trailing by a 2-1 margin in February in a UMass-Lowell poll commissioned by, wait for it, the Herald.

By touting the newest survey, commissioned by Bielat himself, the Herald not only violated a basic tenet of political journalism, it also ignores the history of the GOP hopeful's internal poll hype.

Of course, real news would be made if the Herald didn't serve as head cheerleaders for Republican candidates.

This race is going to tighten, considerably, as both candidates get out and talk to people and try to buy ads in between the wall-to-wall blitz of the Elizabeth Warren-Scott Brown battle.

In the meantime, can we rely on impartial surveys and not those paid for either of the candidates.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Let's get serious

Which is more important: Whether Elizabeth Warren is 1/32 Native American? Or that she represented an insurance company at the Supreme Court?

Despite the Herald's breathless coverage of Warren's family tree, I'd clearly opt for today's Globe look at her counsel to Travelers Insurance in a 2009 case involving asbestos trust funds. On the surface, it's not a great looking way to make a buck for someone running as a consumer advocate.

But even here looks can be deceiving, at least according to the likely Democratic challenger to Herald favorite Scott Brown.

The Globe reports Travelers was fighting to gain permanent immunity from asbestos-related lawsuits by establishing a $500 million trust. The trust would have been divided among current and future victims of asbestos poisoning who had claims against the nation’s largest asbestos manufacturer, Johns-Manville, which had been insured by Travelers before it went bankrupt.

Warren, a bankruptcy expert, told the paper that in her view, there was a bigger, consumer-centered reason to back Travelers position:
The issue I was focused on like a laser was the constitutionality of preserving the trust, because the trust is a critical tool for making sure that people who’ve been hurt have a fair shot at compensation,’’ she said. “Without it, millions of people who’ve already been injured will get nothing, and millions more in the future will get nothing.’’
Issues, like heritage, are more than skin deep. There is a far more significant issue involved in the Travelers case than in whether Warren's great-great-great-grandmother was of Cherokee descent and whether the candidate or Harvard Law School touted that.

Brown needs to fend off legitimate questions about his deference to the financial services industry. Changing the subject to heritage trivia is not the way to do it, especially when a more legitimate issue has raised its head.

Then again, name calling is easier than a serious and complex discussion of the law.

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