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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, February 28, 2013

It's on

Who'd a thunk it a month ago that five men would throw their hats into the ring for a job they will need to compete for immediately after getting it?

But that's where we are this morning with reports two Democrats and three Republicans are ready to do battle for the right to squat for a few months in the US Senate seat vacated by John Kerry.

Republicans Michael Sullivan, Dan Winslow and Gabriel Gomez all say they have submitted more than 20,000 signatures in the quest for 10,000 certified voters. The devil is in the details and the certification process could turn up hanky-panky -- Winslow and Gomez paid firms to get signatures -- but it seems we are in for a rousing GOP primary.

Sullivan, a former US Attorney and one-time acting head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is seen as the front runner because of his credentials and the fact he didn't pay signature collectors -- somehow a signal he has more grassroots support.

But as David Bernstein rites in the Phoenix, he also comes in with baggage -- "the Massachusetts GOP mindset from 20 years ago." In particular, Sullivan offers a staunchly social conservative agenda on women's rights, gay marriage and the death penalty, issues Massachusetts has long ago moved past.

Heck, even Democrat Steve Lynch is walking away from his long-time pro-life stance.

Winslow is an interesting amalgam, a post-modern Republican who has served in all three branches as a one-time Mitt Romney legal counsel, a judge and now a state rep from Norfolk. And he tweets!

Gomez is the ultimate tabula rasa. All we know is based on two web videos and a handful of stories that show the former Navy Seal has been all over the political map. His formal unveiling should be fascinating.

The GOP field suggests that Democrats Lynch and Ed Markey will no longer consume all the oxygen as they have to date. That could be a blessing by letting the flavors of the GOP percolate publicly while the Democrats work relatively quietly (OK, six debates) behind the scenes.

The only true winner in the two-month sprint to the primary and the next two-month push to the end of June? Television stations and the folks who will rake in big bucks making the commercials that will likely flood the airwaves.

We're going to find ourselves missing that Slap Chop guy.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Job Killers

As the lemmings head for the cliff, again, it's important to note they biggest threat to our economic recovery: congressional Republicans.

Despite overwhelming evidence in the rest of the world -- Ireland, Greece and the United Kingdom to name three -- that fiscal austerity is the wrong way to cure what ails a world economy weakened by the excess of the aughts, House Republicans are leading the nation up to and likely over the edge again.

While wailing about poor treatment of "job creators" who have been nowhere to be found, the GOP has led a continual shrinking of a major workforce -- public sector employees  ranging from the folks who pick up our trash to the ones who defend the nation. Those losses have offset the solid growth in private sector employment and are seen in our sluggishly high unemployment rate.

The sequester now likely to go into effect will only accelerate that trend, with estimates that at least 750,000 jobs are on the chopping block.
The Federal Reserve and other economic forecasters say that the latest round of government austerity is not likely to return the economy to recession, thanks to stronger private sector growth. But the spending cutbacks and actions to raise taxes could reduce growth by roughly 1.5 percentage points this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office, leaving the sluggish economy operating well below capacity.
Nobel Prize-winning Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been relentless in chronicling the folly and failure of European austerity and its twin cousin of sequester. But the journalism community that covers everything as a political horse race, continues to limits its attention to the halls of Congress and not the hiring halls of businesses around the nation.

The endless game of chicken also harms the economy by creating uncertainty for real job creators, who are ready to press ahead with an idea but uncertain they will have customers because the economy continues at stall speed thanks to the heavy hand of congressional Republicans.

Remember these facts when the fingers of blame sweep wildly as government services shut down and people are furloughed, first from government jobs and eventually from private sector ones as the economy stalls and Congress plays politics.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Media madness

It's been hard dodging fingers in the media as Barack Obama and Congress trade blame for the gridlock that makes it likely a punishing set of automatic federal spending cuts kicks in this weekend.

What's been overlooked in the crush of news conferences and Sunday morning talk show appearances is the role of the media itself in the farce that is playing out in Washington.

But that all changed on Friday when Bob Woodward, yes, the man who helped trigger a new era in investigative journalism, put down his reporter's notebook and offered an opinion that Barack Obama "moved the goal posts" and bears the bulk of the blame for the sequester stand-off.

That put Woodward squarely into Republican talking points, and triggered a rebuttal from a junior Washington Post colleague along with a Twitter storm of controversy.

It also revealed how poor a job the political press corps, already fixated on 2016 presidential candidates, does in covering policy in general and this mess in particular.

Republican strategy since the launch of the Obama administration in 2009 has been one of obstruction. The House has voted more than 30 times to repeal Obamacare -- and for virtually nothing else. The Senate has seen the filibuster used for just about everything.

Yet the media continues to lean on the crutch of "objectivity," an antiquated Joe Friday just the fact's ma'am approach, that attempts to balance partisanship on each side, even when reality shows otherwise.

Even more repugnant is that the reporting focuses more on tactics than realty. Have you seen any serious reporting on the claims of gloom and doom offered by Obama or the layers of fat arguments put forward by the GOP?

The reality can't be explained in 10-second sound bites or 140-character tweets. Why do we need a heavy military presence in Germany and Japan to deal with Cold War threats that evaporated with the collapse of the Berlin Wall? Why do we need tanks and multi-billion dollar fighting machines when warfare has turned to drones as the weapons of choice?

On the domestic side, with oil costing $90-plus a barrel why are we subsidizing oil company profits? And do the massive companies that represent a large swath of the agricultural industry need to help we used to provide family farmers? Why are banks too bring to prosecute?

And why do people only pay Social Security taxes on the first $120,000 or so of income, closing off a source of revenue that can afford to pay for their retirement?

And why has the media repeatedly failed to recognize that Republicans who now preach austerity once declared "deficits don't matter" and blew up a budget surplus to pay for two off-the-books wars.

All good stories, far easier to report than the Watergate scandal that made Woodward a journalism icon. And all stories that have either been short-shrifted or ignored as the Washington press corps has slowly moved from afflicting the comfortable to becoming part of them.

Woodward's abandonment of reporting for some poorly-sourced opinion truly marks the end of an era of journalism. Maybe it will also serve as a wake-up call to the reality that the media needs to be part of the solution, not the problem.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Missing in action

Is there a Republican race for the US Senate nomination? A look at today's media would suggest there is not.

Check out the Globe or television clips sandwiched between endless weather forecasts and you would not be far off the mark in thinking Democrats Ed Markey and Steve Lynch are the only candidates looking to fill the seat vacated by John Kerry. The hottest political offering from the GOP's best friend is whether Scott Brown and Charlie Baker will team up as the 2014 Dream Team for governor.

A look at Twitter at least finds Republican Dan Winslow with a pulse while Gabriel Gomez and Michael Sullivan hover on life support in the shadows.

Is it media bias? Or just bad planning?

The general consensus is the Democrats are shoo-ins to make the ballot, having organizations in place to collect the necessary signatures. The Republicans, so conventional wisdom goes, are scrambling just to get 10,000 certified signatures by the Wednesday deadline, needing the help of professional signature collectors who don't make great media copy.

But that doesn't mean the candidates could not plan weekend rallies to generate both signatures and attention. And plan them within range of the Boston media (something Winslow seems to have forgotten in a western Massachusetts foray.)

No offense to our friends west of Worcester (a magnet for storm-loving TV assignment editors) but if a tree falls in Springfield or Pittsfield or North Adams does it matter -- unless it is uprooted by a tornado?

With the deadline looming Gomez remains a web-based ghost and Sullivan not far behind, with even less print coverage because of the curiosity surrounding the one-time Navy Seal.

That vacuum will no doubt come back to haunt whoever emerges on the GOP ballot. And while media bias charges will no doubt be leveled, the candidate will have no one but himself to blame for passing on what should be a Politics 101 lesson.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Mystery man

Maybe Gabriel Gomez is planning to use milk cartons to advertise his candidacy for the Republican US Senate nomination.

The Cohasset businessman appears to be have identity problems in his so far stealthy campaign for the seat being vacated by John Kerry. The Globe reports the one-time Navy Seal asked Deval Patrick to name him to the temporary seat, something that would have prevented him from running in the first place.

The only face and voice of the campaign, spokesman Lenny Alcivar, offered this:
"Gabriel is not a politician. Like many independent minded people, he believed the Governor had an opportunity to reach across the aisle and appoint a new face to help address our crushing debt, and to represent all the people of Massachusetts. So he had the guts to ask him."
All well and good, except for the fact Gomez, who clearly is showing his political inexperience, is asking for support from a Republican Party that is almost equally torn between moderates and hard-core conservative activists unhappy about the alleged moderation of Scott Brown.

As an unknown who has offered only two web videos and shunned any public presence, Gomez is allowing others to define him. And those definitions won't be helpful -- assuming he even manages the 10,000 certified signatures necessary to get on the ballot.
Eric Haskell, chairman of the Hingham Republican Town Committee, who has decided to support [State Rep. Dan] Winslow, said any of the candidates would be welcome to introduce themselves to his group. He has not heard from Gomez’s campaign.
“I have to say, I don’t really know anything about Gabriel Gomez and what he stands for, except what I’ve seen in the ­media,” said Haskell. “Frankly, it has surprised me because in a short time frame, low-turnout election like this, it’s important not to waste any time. It’s impor­tant to be aggressive about getting your name and your message out there.”
 Ironically, Democrats like long-time campaign strategist Tad Devine are more sympathetic:
“It’s very different even from what he’s done with his life, whether in high finance or military,” Devine said of Gomez, who is not a client. “Even knowing your own position on ­issues. Maybe you haven’t thought a lot about the ramifications of the meaning of ­parental consent as it pertains to the issue of abortion of a young girl victim of incest. It gets very complicated very quickly.”
It's hard to argue wanting to have your ducks in a row before embarking on a political campaign. But coming on top of previous reports that Gomez has supported Barack Obama financially (and attacked him politically) it would appear Gomez has to figure out who he is before he presents himself to the public.

But his Zero Dark 30 moment will soon arrive.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Global positioning

The Boring Broadsheet in the Murdoch stable? That's the juiciest of the rumors afloat as the New York Times once again puts the Boston Globe and Worcester Telegram on the auction block.

The former owner of Boston Herald is one of the last remaining newspaper lovers in the business world and he's also been mentioned as a buyer of the Los Angeles Times as the Tribune Company looks to unload.

Speculation on the final landing spot for the region's largest newspaper is an rampant as guesses on where the Red Sox will end up this year. And we have a list of the usual suspects, the same names were in the mix when the Times primed the Globe for sale several years -- with painful staff cuts.

Murdoch's name is the one real curveball in that list. And while the staff over at the Little Picture Paper reacted with now familiar schadenfreude, even the hint of News Corp. money coming to their hated rival has to be sobering.

It's not as if the rumor is wholly without merit: Murdoch snapped up the Wall Street Journal several years ago. The editorial page has changed since it already mirrored his views but there have been changes in news coverage and writing style, none of which have damaged the Journal's image.

But the reality is Murdoch, who already owns Fox 25, has a strong place in his heart for the Herald and owner Pat Purcell. While the Australian-born newspaperman is a tough businessman, it's hard to see him setting up shop to oppose Purcell -- particularly when the Herald already owns the style Murdoch prefers.

Which brings us back to the usual subjects: the Taylor family that sold the company to the New York interlopers 20 years ago in a deal that will never get Arthur Sulzberger Jr., a return on the investment his family made.

Then there's a local group that was fronted by Jack Connors, the retired advertising executive. And Wellesley native Aaron Kushner, who longed for the paper until he found a new opportunity in the Orange County Register.

The most intriguing name, aside from Murdoch, is that Warren Buffett, a newspaper lover who just purchased the Greensboro, NC, News & Record.

One thing to consider is whether this will end up the same way as last time -- no sale. The Globe has been slimmed and trimmed, slowed leakage with a paid web site that's going to get stingier, and isn't losing money hand over fist this time. But the paper still has a substantial pension obligations that could shy away purchasers unless the Times eats that cost.

The Times has to be reconciled to making far less than the $1.1 billion they paid for the Globe. But how much less was a deal breaker the last time around and any group in the hunt is going to remind the sellers that the overall outlook for newspapers printed on dead trees is not a good one.

So stay tuned. At least we have something else to speculate about other than low low will the Sox finish this year.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Crisis looms!

We are about a week away from major mandatory budget cuts and Congress ... is on vacation.

The latest round of Washington Chicken is in high gear with the March 1 deadline for the imposition of the first round of $1.2 trillion in budget cuts looming. That means its time for our elected leaders to rouse from their slumber.

Barack Obama took a few days of golfing r and r. Congress? Well it's school vacation week somewhere and if Congress is a big place with a lot of people acting childish, why shouldn't they take a week?

Obama took advantage of the unequal stage to a campaign-like presentation of what's at stake if he and lawmakers cannot come to a resolution on the deal they struck in 2011 to delay tough decisions until 2012. And then again on New Year's Day to kick the can another two months down the road.

When last we left, Congress agreed to restore higher income taxes on those earning more than $450,000 annually. Questions about across the board cuts from education to the Pentagon were held in abeyance for two months.

In those two months the GOP congressional leadership has waged open warfare on Susan Rice and Chuck Hagel and attempted to turn the Benghazi tragedy into the second coming of Watergate. They whined and moaned about Obama's "liberal" inaugural address and were left dry-mouthed after his State of the Union address.

But can anyone point to anything concrete they have offered to address the issues facing us?

Oh sure, there's the usual bleating about "the revenue debate is now closed" because it would be unfair to hang everything on the "job creators" who haven't been doing their jobs.

And there is the knee-jerk reaction to oppose anything Obama offers, even if it may have had conservative roots at some point -- from health care to immigration.

Obama has moved into the void as economists offer estimates the first round of mandatory cuts could mean the loss of 700,000 jobs and quarter of a percentage point increase in the unemployment rate.

Which of course means that the federal government is the real job creator, particularly since the private sector is sitting on its hands waiting for Washington to do something constructive.

It's long been obvious that elected officials need deadlines to finally get their acts in gear. But perhaps they need additional incentives -- like the loss of pay, eviction and a steady diet of ramen noodles to get in touch with the reality caused by their preference for political gamesmanship over leadership.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Vintage whine

Don't look now, but the organization that helped trivialize political coverage isn't happy with the state of public affairs reporting.

Politico offers a biting look at the Obama administration's relationship with a press corps, decrying this administration's skills at keeping reporters -- especially traditional print ones -- at bay while skillfully using social media to shape its message.

The story is but the latest in a long line of public complaints that date back at least as as far as Joe McGinniss's Selling of the President 1968 and highlights the reality that politicians, left and right, have long spent considerable time and effort to keep a hostile press corps at bay.

But what the piece ignores is how the adversarial press corps has shrunk and how many outlets, starting with Politico, have trivialized coverage of substance in pursuit of the easy hit, like shots of Obama playing golf with Tiger Woods.

How many stories have already appeared handicapping the 2016 presidential race, one month into the first year of the four-year second term?

And how many reporters have taken a deep dive into the motivation of other key players in the Washington soap opera that has produced gridlock and stalemate?

Yes, there have been a few thumb suckers on how Republican legislators are using obstruction to build up their bona fides against potential challenges from the right in 2014 and beyond. But how may of them put the issues into context -- such as South Carolina's Lindsay Graham's full-scale ammo-less assault on Chuck Hagel's nomination to head the Pentagon.

The Washington press corps has long preferred politics to substance. And when the occasional serious look is done, it's back to the head in the sand.

What's also clearly lacking is context. Each story is treated as an isolated case, with no effort to draw lines that tie things together.

Take for example, reporting on GOP outrage over a leaked administration immigration plan. Why were Republicans so annoyed that the president they once ripped for "leading from behind" was actually planning to offer a package on a proposal that has failed to move the needle in Congress for a decade?

You'd be hard pressed to hear that explained virtually anywhere apart from the major print outlets, sources which do not serve the vast majority of American news consumers.

Is it troubling that politicians pick favorites in their quest to get the best polish on their message? Of course.

But is is equally troubling that much of the coverage that actually appears is trivial and often poorly reported? Yes again.

The conflict is as old as the hills and the politicians will always win it, unless the media and its consumers stand up and demand better, from both sides.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Which side is he on?

It seems Republican Senate hopeful Gabriel Gomez is bringing his SEAL stealth training to politics.

Gomez appears to have either have been confused about the mission of the Special Operations OPSEC Fund, the goals of its members or a little bit of both in what can hardly be an auspicious debut on the political stage this week.

Although his decision to avoid media contact might be a good one, given his performance in the political broadside against Barack Obama.

The Cohasset businessman and one-time Navy SEAL supported a 22-minute video critical of Obama for taking "too much credit" for the death of Osama bin Laden. Democrats compare the effort to the 2004 video that painted John Kerry as a war criminal for his piloting a swift boat in Vietnam.

While Gomez did not contribute financially to the effort, he did “two or three interviews as a favor to the organization,” according to campaign aides. But at least one of those appearances he fully credited Obama for ordering the raid, a contradiction of the video's message.

And he did not acquit himself well in a second interview where he simply referred to OPSEC as a "diverse" group -- one that included a range of right-wing causes, including the thoroughly discredited birther movement that continues to question Obama's citizenship.
“I don’t know how deeply shared that view is,” Gomez said. “Everybody can think for themselves and have their own view on that specific topic.”
Hardly the type of response you would be looking for in a candidate for office in Massachusetts, where Scott Brown's new gig with Fox News is widely regarded as a sign he's given up electoral politics for now.

And Gomez's refusal or inability to stand up for himself and end a tempest before it becomes a hurricane is hardly encouraging for Republicans hoping to make a dent in the special election.
Asked why Gomez did not take the opportunity to clarify his position, [Leonardo] Alcivar, his spokesman, said: “He’s not a politician. He’s not motivated by ­political needs unlike most or all of his opponents in this race. And his word stands . . . Gomez has a former Navy Seal’s belief that we can’t tolerate national security leaks that jeopardize the lives of men and women serving in harm’s way.”
No one will question the second thought about national security. But it strains credibility to suggest someone who has enlisted the support of the state's top GOP braintrust for a run for office is not motivated by political needs.

Or a need for consistency.

His first public appearance should be an eye opener.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Hagelian illogic

Someone needs to tell Senate Republicans they failed in their No. 1 goal to make Barack Obama a one-term president.

Sadly, it's still business as usual with the Senate minority, who took the unprecedented step of filibustering the nomination of Republican Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary -- all the while insisting that imposing a 60-vote threshold for the vote was not a filibuster and besides, the Democrats are to blame for actually wanting to govern as the majority party elected by a majority of American voters.
“We didn’t need to have this vote today,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Senate Republican. “But the White House and the majority leader were determined to have this vote in order to try to get a story in the newspaper, one that misrepresents the nature of the objection on this side.”
I think they've traveled way past double speak here.

It's really not that much different from the obstructionism of House Republicans, who have not had an original idea since Newt Gingrich banged the gavel back in the '90s. Ask John Boehner what his majority party wants, he'll say lower taxes for job creators. Ask him what they intend to do with the proposals put forward by Obama and he'll say it's up to Obama and Democrats to take the next step.

We really may have the wrong colors for party designation in this nation. Republicans are the I'm Going to Hold My Breath Until I Turn Blue Party, the petulant child that refuses to budge until he or she gets their way.

The Hagel fiasco is so deeply rooted in political one-upsmanship it's sad. After failing to get any leverage during the campaign over the death of American diplomats in Benghazi the GOP, led by John McCain-R-Hey You Kids Get Off My Lawn, seem intent on holding Washington hostage, even after countless hearings -- like the one where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spanked them like the children they are.

Hagel, a decorated enlisted man during Vietnam, dared diverge from GOP dogma on the surge. Even worse, he accepted Obama's nomination in the spirit of bipartisanship. That alone was enough to set off a war of character assassination and recrimination that threatens to bring the work of the Pentagon to a standstill.

Iran. Afghanistan. North Korea. There are real issues that require the attention of both a fully engaged Secretary of State and a Secretary of Defense.

Republican senators have marched right up to the line of calling Hagel a traitor. Perhaps they should look into the mirror to see who really is offering aid and comfort to our enemies.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tale of two senators

Scott Brown is on Fox News. Elizabeth Warren is heading for a milk carton.

Despite the high profile campaign that attempted to paint the state new senior senator as all flash and no substance, the contrast between our once and current lawmakers is striking.

Warren has been emulating her predecessor in one important area -- media avoidance. Instead she has been working quietly behind the scenes with Republicans, learning the ropes and perhaps even building some bonds that could serve to advance her agenda on banking and other issues.

Where Warren has been more visible has been on the home front, touring communities hit hard by the blizzard.

That's quite a contrast to Brown, who headed into Washington as the 41st senator, the key to blocking Obamacare, until he failed. Like Warren, Brown shunned the chance encounter with reporters, particularly local ones.

The lure of the national TV lights was a siren song though, a chance to show off the truck and the barn coat. But on substance, there was usually no there there.

But now its on to a big payday at Fox, always friendly territory for Brown and other conservatives. Not surprisingly, Brown's coming out party was on "Hannity," where Barack Obama is a Kenyan socialist and liberals like Warren are out to the harm middle class.

Quite in keeping with a man, who as senator, wooed the banks while trying to proclaim himself a keeper of the People's Seat.

The national punditocracy believes Brown is keeping the Newt Gingrich-Sarah Palin seat warm until he opts for governor (or another Senate run) in 2014.  But locals know better, especially Republicans:
“It’s hard not to take it as an indication he’s unlikely to run for governor,” said Republican political consultant Rob Gray. “A regular gig on Fox likely turns off many moderate voters in Massachusetts. 

“Cable TV ratings tend to revolve around controversial stands and conflict, so it’s hard to imagine he won’t get sucked into some issues that wouldn’t help him in any Massachusetts run in the near future.”
Meanwhile, Warren continues to learn how the Senate does business and how she can be most effective. Her emergence from the cocoon will undoubtedly be a sight to behold.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Big Gulp

Will The Sip go down as the most memorable of the the 2013 State of the Union address, the night the right wing fever broke?

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's water stop seems destined to be the most-talked about moment of Washington's annual gathering of the tribes to hear the President's outline for the coming year.

Barack Obama used the address to reinforce what he has said since his reelection, focusing on improving the lives of the middle class and bringing some movement on immigration and gun control.

The decision to have Rubio, the Cuban-American being touted as the GOP's best hope for 2016 was aimed at offering a kinder, gentler face to the GOP. But the Miami man's message will forever be lost for his dry throat.

Rubio offers a change on the GOP's long-standing opposition to immigration reform, but on the main issue, government spending to help the middle class with jobs and education, he offered the tired old GOP mantra of no taxes.

While the right whined about the media focus on The Sip, the fact is his mis-gulp took away the spotlight from the same-old Wild West show that turned the country off last fall.

There was Stone Face Ted Nugent, in need of acting lessons to fully express his disdain for anything that might quell the insanity of gun violence. The guest of Texas Rep. Steve Stockman, who has threatened impeachment if Obama uses his executive authority to impose gun regulations over Republican intransigence.

Someone should research when the last time someone investigated by the Secret Service for threats against a president was so prominently seated in the gallery.

We also saw very little of Tea Party rebuttal speaker Rand Paul, perhaps an indication the wave that threatened to swamp reason and common sense is slowly ebbing.

Then again, maybe not. Away from the House chamber we were treated by freshman Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's  insinuations of treason against Obama Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, a one-time Republican senator and decorated war veteran.

Rubio's water break maybe have been a subliminal effort to break the fever, So far, it's not working.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Going Gomez

Republican insiders hope they have lightning in a bottle with a rugged ex-Navy Seal ready to assume the mantle lost by Scott Brown last year. But Gabriel Gomez may not be the great GOP hope they think he is.

Touted as one of the people behind a film sharply critical of Barack Obama for taking undue credit over the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the Boston Phoenix reported that Gomez has not always been anti-Obama -- ponying up $230 for the then-Democratic hopeful in 2007. He also dropped $1,000 in the last Senate special election -- on Democrat Alan Khazei.

And that may not sit well with the GOP faithful who will be approached en masse by professional signature collectors between now and Feb. 27, the deadline for collecting 10,000 certified signatures to make it onto the April 30 special election primary ballot.

Gomez may be banking on a GOP "brain trust" that includes national committeeman Ron Kaufman to get him the No. 1 seed in a race that is expected to include Norfolk representative Dan Winslow and perhaps others.

But Winslow, albeit unknown beyond his district and Twitter, has a record likely to appeal to more diehard Republicans, particularly his service as legal counsel to Mitt Romney. And he has a week's head start on Gomez in the signature-gathering challenge that prompted Democrat Steve Lynch to send volunteers out into the blizzard to snag potential voters.

One thing is clear at this early stage. Unlike the high-volume, high stakes race for the "People's Seat" in 2010, this campaign is going to develop slowly. And the conditions that helped to spawn the Brown upset appear to be lacking this time around.

In fact, with the impending budget sequester and other high stakes gambits likely to emerge from the Washington-based GOP, the situation could be setting up to reject anyone who too closely aligns himself with the GOP brand.

Look what happened to Brown, who ran away from the label, aided and abetted by the lack of a primary.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Snowball fight

I love a good political spat as much as the next guy, but seriously.

While the rest of the media focuses on plows and power outages, the Herald offers up a picture of sparring politicians who can't get their acts together.

The tabloid lives to be where no one else treads, and there's no doubt that weather coverage offers very little room for original reporting.

But a story on competing messages from Tom Menino and Deval Patrick? C'mon.

Perhaps still fuming over Patrick's seizure of drivers' civil liberties, the working class hero's newspaper puts the governor and Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce head Paul Guzzi on opposite sides of an artificial divide with Man of the People Menino:
Top public officials sent mixed messages to blizzard-beaten Bay Staters yesterday, as Mayor Thomas M. Menino closed the city’s schools and urged employers to let people work from home today while Gov. Deval Patrick predicted a “normal work day.”
To add insult to injury, Guzzi has the audacity to suggest:
“I think under the circumstances, roads and transportation are going to be as near normal as possible. I would think people will be up and running.”
Can't we all just get along?

Menino wisely closed schools for another day after looking at the sorry state of side streets in the Hub, a decision echoed by many neighboring cities and towns. The dilemma for parents is nothing new and it often means working from home.

To the rest of the workforce without school age children, there's also very little new under the sun. If the roads are open and the T functioning, the expectation is they must slog into the office.

Everyone, particularly those with kids, no doubt agree with Guzzi that after being housebound or tied to a shovel, they are ready to be "up and running."

File this one under journalistic snow job.

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Saturday, February 09, 2013

Live free or get stuck

Today is an historic one. No, not because of the blizzard, but because the Boston Herald defended Deval Patrick. Sort of.

Of course the praise comes with the obligatory slap at Michael Dukakis, who did not have the benefit of modern forecasting or communications tools in belatedly imposing a driving ban during the Blizzard of '78, after Route 128 turned into a snow-clogged parking lot.

But the Herald's praise is not shared by libertarians -- not to mention pizza deliverers and taxi companies -- who are venting against order banning all vehicular traffic except for public safety, health care workers and of course the media. That's because you can't have too many reporters without the good sense to take their yard sticks and snow balls and come out of storm.

In a sense the wails are not shocking. This is a state after all, where drivers have long defended their right to plaster themselves against their windshields by not wearing seat belts. And never mind that it took home-bound commuters hours extra to get through traffic jams on Thursday night before a single flake fell.

The nanny state is protecting people from their god-given right to spin out, cause a multi-car pile-up and shut down a roadway!

I will grant the naysayers the point that a year in jail seems a bit over the top. But I will also note that police officers generally ignore traffic law enforcement on a sunny day.

The jury is still out on whether this storm is one for the ages as the professional forecasters suggested or whether this is just getting back to the reality that this is New England in February after what has been one and a half easy winters.

One of government's jobs is to protect public safety. That's why we pay police, firefighters and public works crew. Patrick's order does not prevent people from opening their doors and walking on unshoveled sidewalks and streets. That would be over the top.

 And we haven't heard the last of the howls. What happens if the ban is not lifted in time for tonight's Bruins game?

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Friday, February 08, 2013

Memories of '78

The hype has been ferocious and time will tell if the impending storm will be a champ or if we will be chumps.

But the timing, 35 years and a few days after the seminal storm for many Bostonians has made this one a little more unnerving, reviving bad memories of the Blizzard of 78.

For me, a young reporter, it was being summoned early to a night meeting that was cancelled by the time I got there.

It took me four days to get home.

There are the memories of riding shotgun up Route 495, head out the window desperately looking for the side of the road. It was finally coming back to the office and finding my car totally encased in the office parking lot. It took a chain on a bumper and a truck to yank it free.

There was the trip down a road that felt like a tunnel that lost its top. The press card on the seat next to me because travel was still restricted.

Those memories are tame compared to the ones of folks stuck in a shutdown Route 128. Or those evacuated by duck boats, before duck boats were cool, from flooded neighborhoods in Revere.

The technology is better today so it's not just one or two lonely TV meteorologists predicting a monster storm. Now just about anybody with a computer can jump into the data stream and offer their own "wisdom."

The problem is the enhanced technology has also become the major selling point of TV stations looking for ratings. Let's not forget the reporting started days before it was even a storm, two separate systems thousands of miles away on the other coast.

As a reporter, I came to rely on the National Weather Service for sanity. Those forecasters have no need to fight for ratings. And that's the most worrisome thing right now as the folks at what is now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency are offered snow totals higher than some of the TV types.

Stay safe and enjoy the outbursts of the cranks who say massive snowstorms are proof there's no such thing as global climate change, aka global warming.

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Thursday, February 07, 2013

Brown goes for green

Scott Brown is definitely doing some fund-raising, but does it translate into a 2014 electoral run?

The former US Senator continues to hold a higher profile than the would-be GOP hopefuls lining up for the open seat once thought to be his for the plucking. And has always been his MO, Brown ain't talking:
When reached Wednesday night, he said, “I am right in the middle of dinner,” and hung up the phone.
Tongues were not waging over Brown's decision to join the board of Kadant Inc., a Massachusetts-based paper processing company that could generate Brown $185,000 in fees and stock.

Rather, attention is focused on Brown's negotiations with Fox News, which is looking for right-of-center commentators since showing Sarah Palin and Dick Morris the door. No deal has been reached but you can assume the former nude Cosmo centerfold will be looking for some nice coin to peddle his brand.

It's a curious choice though for someone widely thought to be holding his powder for another electoral run in 2014. Given the unpopularity of the national Republican brand in Massachusetts, it certainly makes a gubernatorial run unlikely.

But what about the Senate? The Fox gig by no means rules out another run because the news channel has long served as a way station to politicians like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum looking for some cash between campaigns.

There is little question however that Brown's loss to Elizabeth Warren can be laid to disdain for the Fox-GOP axis -- and his record of siding with Senate leadership unless it was safe. Unless Massachusetts slides rightward into the ocean in the pending blizzard it's unlikely that the incumbent Democratic senator will left voters forget.

Why incumbent Democrat? Brown's musings continue to draw more media attention than the tactical efforts by Dan Winslow and other potential Republican candidates to generate a little attention -- and a lot of registered signatures.

There's only so much political oxygen between now and the Feb. 28 deadline for filing signatures. And Brown's hanging up on reporters won't do much to conserve the air for Winslow and anyone else who may want to jump in.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

A sign for GOP

The economy's verdict on Republican austerity was clear as day -- even though we ignored it. Congressional leaders sure as heck have.

Bypassed in the Super Bowl hype and heaven knows what else was the word that the nation's economy shrunk by 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter. Experts say the cause of the slowdown was clear:
"One way or the other, government is going to be a constraint on growth,” said James Marple, senior economist at TD Bank.
Yep, our elected officials playing at the edge of the fiscal cliff caused the economy to contract in the fall of 2012. You would think that would be a 2x4 across the backside of the confused Republicans. But you would be wrong.

Barack Obama has called for Congress to act before the March 1 date when budget sequestration kicks in and pass a smaller, temporary package of spending cuts and tax increases.
“We’ve also seen the effects that political dysfunction can have. We’ve made progress. And I still believe we can finish the job with a balanced mix of spending cuts and more tax reform.” 
 Not that his rational call for action met with anything close to a rational response.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, mocked the president’s demands to close tax loopholes, calling them “gimmicky tax hikes” and said, “It’s time for Washington Democrats to get real.” House Republicans noted that they had already passed their own plans to avoid the sequester.
There's a certain silliness in GOP demands for Democrats to "get real." A party who premised its congressional agenda on making Obama a one-term president needs to reassess its position in wake of solid numerical proof of their own failure.

If the election returns were not enough, the economic contraction caused by the GOP's stalling and dawdling while the economy tanks should be more than enough.

But sadly it appears the lemmings are still insistent in dragging us over the edge.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Tagg, you're not it

The Great Senate Special Election is quickly turning into a yawner. Ask an elected Republican.
“It reminds me of the Three Stooges episode where the sergeant says ‘I need volunteers for a dangerous mission. Step forward,’ and they all step back,” said a flabbergasted Sen. Robert Hedlund 
It was drop-out day for the GOP, with Bill Weld, Kerry Healey and Tagg Romney all saying "hello, I must be going" to the topic of stepping into the race to fill the seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Even a Democrat got into the act. Gerry Leone had second thoughts about reversing Shermanesque withdrawal from electoral politics.

The GOP put on a brave face for inquiries from the Globe, touting the potential of representative, former Mitt Romney legal counsel and former judge Dan Winslow and Cohasset businessman Gabriel Gomez.
“I am feeling better than four days ago,’’ said Todd ­Domke, a Republican political consultant. “I think we are in better shape than people realize because we may well have two very solid candidates.’’
But over in the comfier confines of the Herald, Hedlund and other GOP loyalists felt free to let their hair down:
“I think it’s a combination of the wind taken out of our sails when we can’t beat a guy like (U.S. Rep.) John Tierney when we have a good candidate, coupled with the fact that Scott Brown took us all by surprise.”
There is the reality however that Gomez is a virtual unknown, while Winslow at least has a presence in social media that raises his visibility slightly above zero. As the folks over at Blue Mass Group opine, Winslow:
" ... is almost 100% unknown outside his state rep district and I’d wager 50% unknown even inside it."
Of course the same was true with his predecessor once removed, a barn-coating wearin', truck drivin' man who set off this wave of woe when he opted out of yet another Senate race.

That has the morose GOP needing the services of TV shrink Keith Ablow, who probably wouldn't offer counseling unless he had the couch to himself.

But fear not, there's still Jack E. Robinson.

CORRECTION: Winslow was legal counsel to Mitt Romney, not Bill Weld.

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Monday, February 04, 2013

Lose those loopholes

They're often thought of as the Chicago Twins, and Deval Patrick and Barack Obama are on the same track again.

Obama is following the lead of friend and political doppelganger by telling a Super Bowl audience that there's a lot of tax revenue to be mined by closing loopholes. It sounds an awful lot like Patrick proposed -- even if he didn't talk about it -- in his fiscal 2014 budget.

Of course the devil is in the details and enterprising businessmen and women are always looking for a new subsidy from the government to fatten their margins.

There is serious pork layered throughout both budgets: one need look now further than the breaks for large agribusinesses and oil and gas companies or the Massachusetts tax expenditure budget.

So it''s a little distressing to see the talk around the Massachusetts budget focusing on deductions for college tuition and child care. And nationally, a lot of the talk has been around trimming or eliminating tax breaks on mortgage interest and health care premiums.

Business has the cash to pay for lobbyists to protect their breaks. But true tax reform should hit both corporations and individuals if it is to be fair.

And as of now, there are very few lawmakers looking out for the people who speak in votes rather than cash.

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Sunday, February 03, 2013

Promises, promises

Outgoing Middlesex County DA Gerard Leone may make a swell candidate for the Democratic US Senate nomination. But should he opt in, he would have one major problem:
“I am not running for another elective office. In fact, I intend to leave government service when I leave this office.”
That's what the two-term DA said just last month is announcing he would not seek reelection to a job that has traditionally offered a direct path to the Attorney General's office.

Leone compiled a solid record as a public servant, prosecuting tough and visible cases. His low-key approach suggested he wasn't really interested in anything other than law enforcement, an impression highlighted by his Shermanesque statement.

The Steve Lynch campaign was quick to welcome on Leone's potential candidacy, uttered the same day Ed Markey formally entered the race with a speech from his hometown of Malden. Anyone who splits the vote makes it better for their guy.

But in an era when the public is fed up with politicians who tailor their positions to the time and race and often fail to follow through on promises, how wise it is to pull a flip-flop before even getting into the race?

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There they go again. Neither Syria, nor sequestration nor the debt ceiling can keep "skeeters" from a burning question.

Did Barack Obama really go skeet shooting?

The White House was quick to respond to the doubters, which included White House correspondent with time on their hands, who questioned whether the Commander-in-Chief really shot clay targets at Camp David. Or was he more like his vanquished GOP foe who claimed to shoot "varmints" but never offered any proof.

The picture is sure to raise more questions -- anyone notice Obama really is a lefty? And it reinforces what happens when the media takes the easy road and focuses on fluff instead of substance.

What I really want to know is who he is going appoint to lead the Ministry of Silly Walks.

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Saturday, February 02, 2013

Burned bridges

The desperation of Massachusetts Republicans today can be summed up in one name: Ann Romney.

It's not so much that Scott Brown opted out of the special election for U.S. Senate. It's how he did it -- a tweet to the Herald and dodging cameras -- that has left the state GOP scrambling, turning their lonely eyes to a car elevator owner 3,000 miles away.

Brown has left a lot of bruised feelings within the state GOP that narrowly approved his hand-picked choice for party chair the night before. And tugging on the cape of the state's most powerful media outlet might be fun for a day, but it is not a great way to remain politically viable.

Which brings us to Ron Kaufman floating the name of the former Bay State first lady in an interview with the Herald. Brown's withdrawal shows just how bare the GOP cupboard is -- a few retreads and a couple of potential candidates who hope lightning might strike them the way it did the then-sacrificial lamb candidate in 2010.

Bill Weld. Kerry Healey. Richard Tisei. All left the ring after a knockout, with Tisei's loss to a severely damaged John Tierney the most recent.

Weld remains personally popular but the quirky redhead left the Corner Office in mid-term after losing to John Kerry then embarking on a Don Quixote-like quest for ambassador to, um, Mexico. And let's not mention the bizarre run for New York governor.

Healey may be the most viable of these options but she would have to overcome the ghosts of a failed campaign against Deval Patrick that included an out-of-bounds ad that could come back to haunt her.

Then there are the Brown wannabes -- businessman Gabriel Gomez and state Rep. Dan Winslow, who possesses the smarts and experience to make it a race or even see lightning strike.

With Democrats setting up for a knife fight, Winslow could be the sleeper if he chooses to go.

Brown may have been thinking that he could sit this one out and take on the 2013 winner -- or run for governor -- while making some money in the meantime. But the method of his withdrawal very likely ensures that the campaign finance spigot he thinks he can open at will may not be so easy to access.

And how better for party leaders to express that than by turning the GOP to a name that remains radioactive in Massachusetts and the nation.

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Friday, February 01, 2013

Battle royal

Class lines are being drawn in the race for the vacant US Senate seat -- and Scott Brown hasn't even brought his truck to the fray.

Steve Lynch entered the Democratic contest with a bang, rhetorically donning his work boots to slam colleague Ed Markey as an elitist who can't match his own blue collar roots. Surrounded by iron workers he shares a working kinship with, Lynch declared:
They say I would not fit in as a member of the U.S. Senate. Well, I may not fit in as a member of the U.S. Senate,” he said, “but neither would any of you.”
The South Boston Democrat was clearly taking aim not only at Markey, but the man who isn't there, at least not yet.

Yes, ex-Senator Barn Coat remains the main event, even as his GOP colleagues appear to be prodding him to commit to two more Senate races in the next two years.

Lynch's rhetoric ensures a nasty fight for the seat being vacated by John Kerry. The conservative Democrat - who voted for abortion restrictions and against Obamacare -- is definitely not in step with the Democrats who vote in primaries.

Markey, who has remained virtually silent during the Kerry nomination process, finally sprang to life, robo-calling voters to attend a campaign kickoff in his native Malden and touting his version of the American Dream:
“My father drove a truck for the Hood milk company, and he gave me the opportunity to drive a truck for four years when I needed to pay for my school at BC.”
The edge that has already developed in this race makes Brown's class-tinged battles against Martha Coakley and Elizabeth Warren seem like a walk in the park.

Ironically, Brown appears to be having problems in his own world, His hand-picked candidate for party chair narrowly squeaked to a win and an unknown 47-year-old former Navy Seal and fighter pilot is thinking about jumping in on the GOP side, perhaps even if Brown ends his Hamlet routine and gets in.

But the nasty edge Lynch brought to the first day of the three-month primary season sets a clear tone that Democrats are going to have a knife fight this time around.

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