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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Sunday, March 31, 2013


We're doomed, says David Stockman, shouting from the top spot of the New York Times Sunday Review. The fiscal follies of the Fed from Alan Greenspan to Ben Bernanke have set us up for financial Armageddon.

There is certainly truth to Stockman's concerns about the impact of crony capitalism on our economy. But those concerns would be far better expressed from someone who wasn't present at the creation of the fiscal irresponsibility that now threatens our existence.

Stockman blithely notes about halfway through his magnum opus:
The destruction of fiscal rectitude under Ronald Reagan — one reason I resigned as his budget chief in 1985 — was the greatest of his many dramatic acts. It created a template for the Republicans’ utter abandonment of the balanced-budget policies of Calvin Coolidge and allowed George W. Bush to dive into the deep end, bankrupting the nation through two misbegotten and unfinanced wars, a giant expansion of Medicare and a tax-cutting spree for the wealthy that turned K Street lobbyists into the de facto office of national tax policy. In effect, the G.O.P. embraced Keynesianism — for the wealthy. 
Stockman -- who "installed himself" as CEO of an automobile interior parts manufacturer, was ousted days before the company declared bankruptcy, was indicted for securities fraud only to see the charges dropped in the waning days of the Bush administration -- seems oblivious to his own role in this debacle.

His resignation came after four years as Reagan's budget chief and his famed trip to the "woodshed" for telling Emperor Reagan that supply side economics had no clothes is unvarnished hooey.

The Times is also gracious in its memory lapse, allowing him to trumpet his new book without much interest in dredging up Stockman's complicity.

It's unfortunate the messenger is so flawed because it is worth repeating his finger-pointing at the Bush actions, which include Bernanke's appointment, two "misbegotten an unfinanced wars" and a sweetheart deal for insurers and pharmaceutical companies with the Medicare prescription benefit, not to mention the tax-cutting spree, has taken us from the budget surplus of the Clinton years to the massive deficits we are dealing with today.

Maybe we ought to be taking Times' editors to the woodshed today.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Now what?

He was notoriously thin-skinned and stayed too long. But now that Tom Menino is moving on, the political void he leaves behind is obvious.

Of course the same could be said after Ray Flynn headed to the Vatican and an obscure city councilor from Hyde Park moved into the grand office overlooking Faneuil Hall. It was certainly said when Kevin White opted out and paved the way for Flynn.

It appears at least half the council, separately elected but often looking as if it serves at the mayor's discretion, is mulling a run. Speculation will be the parlor game of choice up to the May 13 filing deadline.

The changes in Boston over Menino's reign have been stunning -- architecturally and culturally. The Seaport was born and cranes have been the city's official "bird." True, developers who didn't do his biding found themselves outside looking in (hello Don Chiofaro) and thankfully some of his "visions" like a 100-story tower never left the drawing board.

The changes in the city's soul have been even more profound. The city once seen as the face of Northern racism is now majority-minority and young urban professionals living in South Boston had no experience with Whitey Bulger's neighborhood.

Some of that was simply going to happen on its own. But Menino did help make the city more welcoming.

One of the most amazing facts took awhile to sink in: City Hall was virtually scandal-free (a dust-up about disappeared e-mails and a few minor officials doing wrong). Not even a whiff of personal misconduct from the man who went home to Hyde Park every night.

Age and infirmity have caught up and forced Menino to do what no political sacrificial lamb could do -- leave office. In the end, Menino didn't even overstay his welcome, something a 6th term certainly would have accomplished.

The shoes he leaves behind to fill are almost as large as the oversize bronze footprints of Kevin White visible from his office.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Scene stealer

What if they had a Senate debate and nobody cared?

The five candidates vying for two nominations to replace John Kerry squared off in televised debates last night. But the political world could have cared less. Five-term Boston Mayor Tom Menino is reportedly calling it quits.

The decision has no direct effect on the 625,087 residents who live outside the city's 22 wards. No one in Cambridge, let alone Provincetown or Pittsfield, has ever voted for the man.

But his rumored retirement (kudos to former Phoenician David Bernstein who had the freedom to run with it) just about sucked out the political oxygen from the five men hoping to get some much needed exposure in last night's debates. If, like me, you didn't see the twin debates, they just as well may not have happened.

It's not so much that the Boston dailies will be all Menino, all the time between the yesterday's rumors and today's scheduled 4 p.m. Faneuil Hall event. But when the story plays high on website of The Springfield Republican, with nary a word about the Senate debate, then the five hopefuls have reason for concern about losing even more time to make their names and positions known to voters.

And that's just print media. With Boston television and radio dominating what passes for news outside Route 128, it might as well never have happened. Even WCVB-TV, which hosted the debates, gave Menino the top spot this morning.

That's not to say the planned retirement is not major news, nor that Menino planned the timing. But in a news media obsessed with the pursuit of rumor, particularly juicy ones like this, it was the worst nightmare come true for the Senate wannabes, who lost a valuable opportunity to dominate office and Internet chatter for several days at least.

Unless the wily Menino has something up his sleeve.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Vote for who?

The clearest result in the latest US Senate poll is that voters have election fatigue.

The WBUR-MassINC poll released in advance of tonight's twin debates show undecided is the clear leader on both the Democratic and Republican sides.  That makes tonight's televised meetings crucial for all five hopefuls.

But will anyone be paying attention after non-stop Senate races since the death of Ted Kennedy in 2009?

In one sign of just how topsy-turvy the races are, Democrat Ed Markey leads his Republican challenger Steve Lynch by 11 points but Lynch comes out ahead by 25 points on the favorable side. Yet 19 percent of the respondents had never heard of Lynch compared to only 12 percent who don't know Markey.

Either knowing Markey makes him less favorable or not knowing Lynch does the same. And in any event,  41 percent of Democrats are undecided a month away from the primary.

On the Republican side, any of the candidates would treasure that kind of visibility. Former US Attorney Michael Sullivan is still unknown by about one-third of the GOP electorate, far outpacing Gomez and Winslow. The Norfolk state representative is still a cipher to 56 percent of voters.

For Markey, the task is easy. The poll suggests Lynch is benefiting from a healthier run of television ads to date. But the South Boston Democrat remains highly vulnerable among the liberal Democrats who vote in primaries because of his positions on abortion and Obamacare.

Expect Markey, who has been somewhat removed from the campaign trail recently, to focus in on those points.

For the Republicans, the need is to be noticed, period. But it is exceptionally important for the nearly invisible Winslow, who did pick up an important endorsement from Citizens for Limited Taxation founder Barbara Anderson.

Yet there remains a real question of how many people will be paying attention. The Passover seders are done and Easter is looming, not a great time to enter living rooms with political chatter. Add to that general numbness to anything involving Washington insanity and the fact this is the umpteenth Senate race and you have strong indifference.

At least they're not going up against March Madness.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Where's Eddie?

Looks like the media wants to spark some controversy into the special US Senate race that's generally been rated a yawner to date.

The Herald offers a front page headline (almost as long as the story) about AWOL Ed Markey, who spent the weekend raising cash in California, a sin the Herald equates with Martha Coakley's infamous dismissal of shaking hands outside Fenway Park.

The only similarity is the candidates were tending to campaign business away from the cameras. But when you want to spice up a dull race, I suppose any analogy in the storm.

Not that Markey and his campaign are innocents here. Markey aides were nowhere to be found when Channel 5 called looking to include them in a weekend story. And a campaign Facebook status at least briefly posted showed a Brooklyn, NY location.

There's little doubt that Massachusetts voters are tapped out -- emotionally and financially -- from Senate campaign that have been virtually non-stop since Ted Kennedy died in 2009. And any candidate worth his or her salt should be willing to head out of state to rake in dollars -- particularly when the the three Republican hopefuls have refused the "people's pledge" not to accept support from outside PACs.

A televised midweek debate will step up the action as well.

So let's not get too far out ahead of a candidate choosing to spend Palm Sunday weekend hustling for bucks a continent away instead of touring the state for a short sound bite. The bigger issue is the staff  hanging out the "gone fishin'" sign with the candidate out-of-state.

That's complacency which needs to be addressed, pronto.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

News judgment

Does anyone truly think Deval Patrick would announce for a third term at a routine appearance in the middle of a Wednesday?

Yet that's exactly what an unnamed NECN staffer thought -- and prompted tweeted -- to thousands of followers. The resulting firestorm reinforces the wisdom of the old journalism rule "if your mother says she loves you, check it out."

In one sense it was understandable: Patrick is not known for his humor, at least when media is around.

So when he told at audience at UMass-Boston that "Thank you very much for the warm welcome and for hosting us today and for the setup to the announcement that I’ve come here to make, which is that I intend to run for a third term as your Governor" it seemed real enough to at least one person.

In the old days, that would have triggered a run for the phones, calling editors who would exercise the appropriate skepticism over a statement from a man who says he promised his wife he would only run for two terms.

Instead, the smartphone-toting journalist opened his Twitter feed and repeated the (lame) joke that launched a short-term #mapoli frenzy.

Let's be honest here. If Patrick was going to reverse himself, was this the venue, away from Statehouse reporters who in my day, considered the Parker House a long way to go for a story?

No. They would have a formally staged event at a hotel with plenty of warning offered to media that something big was coming and they shouldn't ignore the event. More than likely that heads-up would have taken the form of a leaked exclusive to the Globe.

Twitter has proven to be a marvelous tool for staying informed -- as long as the tweeps are responsible. You learn who is and isn't by trial and error, and NECN has dinged its brand as a result of the unfiltered reaction.

And they also struck a blow for editors everywhere.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fares most foul

The MBTA needs legislative action in three weeks or else fares will rise and service will fall. Given that lawmakers move as quickly as the Green Line is rush hour, brace yourself for a collision.

Despite annual promises of change, the slow speed shuffle continues on Beacon Hill with riders caught in the grinding wheels of a Legislature that has been in session for more than two months and has churned out exactly three laws -- one of them calling for the special Senate election.

The first two months of the legislative session are an exercise in gridlock, much the same as Boston traffic. Lawmakers are more focused in finding their office than on substance and committees don't usually get around to holding hearings on bills until spring.

That's especially true of things more substantive than land-taking and sick bank adjustments. You know things like a major transportation proposal from Deval Patrick two months ago that includes income tax hikes and sale tax cuts.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray have made the rounds saying we need to deal with the transportation issue and something will most certainly emerge from the General Court this year.

And in the meantime, trains and buses don't run on time, break down in bad weather and generally send commuters into rage.

Oh, and the Legislature's schedule doesn't even come close to the one the MBTA has to put a budget in place.

That means new general manager Beverly Scott in the same place as her predecessor, staring down a $140 million deficit (because lawmakers didn't do a permanent fix last year) and threatening more fare hikes and service cuts without the influx.
“I’m praying it’s a timing and figuring-it-out issue,” Scott said.
You might as well try prayer because nothing else has worked so far to get lawmakers to deal with a yawning annual gap they helped create when the stuck the MBTA with paying some of the bonds from the Big Dig boondoggle.

The good news, if there is any, is that the MBTA isn't looking to close the gap with massive service cuts. The bad news is they are looking for another major fare increase -- on top of the 23 percent jump that went into place last July.

The silly news? T officials say they will roll back the increase when and if lawmakers act.

The Legislature has been talking about dealing with a transportation package to deal with the MBTA as well as the crumbling highway and bridge system for years. There has been a decided lack of backbone in addressing the reality the improvements will require serious spending.

Lawmakers have been happy to let the users of public transportation pay increasingly higher fares for increasingly bad service while letting highway users off the hook by not hiking a gasoline tax last raised in 1991.

That's simply not fare.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Shooting the messenger

The verdict is in: The Republican Party would have won the 2012 election if only it had a better candidate.

A 100-page report commissioned by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus refused to acknowledge them, ahem, elephant in the room when it painted the failings as largely the fault of Willard M. Romney:
“There’s no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement."
Notably, Priebus gave a pass to the message, a mean-spirited attack on immigrants, gay and lesbians and the "47 percent."
“I think our policies are sound. “But I think in many ways the way we communicate can be a real problem.”
But Romney's defeat was born of a primary process that communicated intolerance toward broad section of the American public, segments that the census show are gaining numbers and strength.

And Priebus himself acknowledges:
Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow-minded,’ ‘out of touch,’ and ‘stuffy old men. The perception that we’re the party of the rich continues to grow.”
The leading stuffy old man would have none of this clothes-rending reflection:
Rush Limbaugh, the radio talk show host, accused Republicans of being “totally bamboozled” and lacking in confidence. 
And the legions followed suit:
“Americans and those in the Tea Party movement don’t need an ‘autopsy’ report from R.N.C. to know they failed to promote our principles, and lost because of it,” Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, said in a statement.
But the party did promote Tea Party values, the dream of returning to the 1950s when taxes were lower, jobs were more plentiful, immigrants were from Europe and gays and lesbians remained deep in their closets.

They even nominated Ward Cleaver to top the ticket and Eddie Haskell as his running mate.

That head in the sand philosophy was reinforced by a primary season in which bad candidates competed in lurching right.

Fewer primaries and a shorter convention will not help a party that does not represent American realities and values of the 21st Century.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Keep the day job

The reviews are in and counting my socks proved to be a wise move.

The annual St. Patrick's Day Bomb, er, breakfast, held forth yesterday and the clear winners were those politicians wise enough to stay away. That includes Republicans who were wise enough to head to Scituate instead of Southie (yes, I'm talking about you Big Red).

Skimming the "jokes" offered by attendees, I'm struck in particular by the absent Deval Patrick appearing in a video wearing the vest he dons every time he is out at the MEMA bunker.  The stale jokes are not as bad as a blizzard, but the term disaster does seem an appropriate one to hang on the event.

The only one who actually seemed to relish the event was former Gov. Bill Weld, who has never missed an opportunity to ham it up when amber- or green-colored liquids flow. His presence set off speculation that he planned to let Gabriel Gomez, Michael Sullivan or Dan Winslow do the heavy lifting and soften up either Ed Markey or Steve Lynch for a 2014 challenge.

While you should never rule out what might emerge from Weld's fertile mind, that would be one of the longest of long shots. So upon further review, maybe that's exactly what Weld has up his sleeve.

For the rest of us, time to step away from the corned beef and cabbage and green bagels.

Happy Evacuation Day!

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gimme a break

Hey Whirlpool: Will you write my check to Uncle Sam? Or use your clout to make it go away?

The Michigan appliance maker will be reaping tax rewards from the federal government this year, thanks to a $1.8 million investment in lobbyists that netted them $120 million in energy tax credits -- a 6,700 percent return on their investment and more than their entire bill for being a corporate citizen:
“Energy tax credits required that Whirlpool Corporation make significant investments in tooling and manufacturing to build highly energy-efficient products,’’ Jeff Noel, Whirlpool’s corporate vice president of communication, said in an e-mail. “If you look at our 101-year history, we have definitely paid our fair share of US federal income taxes.’’
The old line used to be "don't tax you, don't tax me. Tax that fellow behind the tree." But in 21st Century America, that fellow behind the tree has enough clout to get tax breaks in a bill supposedly designed to rein in our federal deficit. And you and me are paying that fellow's tab.

In the case of Whirlpool:
Its total income taxes — including foreign, federal, and state — were negative-$436 million in 2011, negative-$64 million in 2010, and negative-$61 million in 2009. It carries forward federal credits as “deferred tax assets’’ that it can use to lower future tax bills.
Where do I go to sign up their lobbyist?

The subject of corporate subsidies and taxes is always missing from discussions about the current state of tax and budget policy in Washington. But the "job creators" Republicans like to talk about so much are making our like bandits without having to worry personal income taxes.
Private equity firms, for instance, fight each year to defend the tax treatment of “carried interest’’ payments for investment managers. Those payments are treated as a capital gain by the Internal Revenue Service, and thus taxed at a much lower rate, 20 percent in 2013, than the top income-tax rate of 39.6 percent.
Instead, Washington's "leaders" are talking about ending tax breaks for home mortgage deductions and health insurance as a way to make the system "fairer."

To be fair, some Republicans recognize the problem, including Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn:
“It’s not about tax policy, it’s about benefiting the political class and the well-connected and the well-heeled in this country. We’re benefiting the politicians because they get credit for it. And we are benefiting those who can afford to have greater access than somebody else.’’
But not enough Republicans -- or Democrats -- will acknowledge the inherent corruption of the system, where cash speaks louder than the vote of the people.

And it won't change the fact I will be writing a check to the United States Treasury today. Maybe Whirlpool can take the vacation I'm not -- and send me the pictures.

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mush from the wimp

That conservatives welcomed Mitt Romney and shunned Chris Christie says a lot about the state of the movement.

Romney's appearance at CPAC won him the applause he long sought from conservatives who typically had a hard time hiding their contempt. His appearance was hardly front page news (except in his hometown) and his message was the usual collection of blah.
“I left the race disappointed that I didn’t win,” he said. “But I also left honored and humbled. We’ve lost races before in the past but those setbacks prepared us for larger victories.”
But it's hard to see how prepared conservatives really are. The story of the annual DC ritual is not the men who were there -- Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Karl Rove -- but the one who was conspicuous by his absence.

Christie was shunned for his embrace of Barack Obama during the aftermath of Sandy. For the conservative warriors, the only appropriate embrace is opposition to the second-term president. And to the issues that Obama and an increasingly large percentage of the American public supports.

The division is even wide within the party where old bulls like Newt Gingrich continue to rail while the more realistic members of the party embrace change.

It seems appropriate a schism on gay marriage re-opened on the same day as Romney's farewell to CPAC. No one has taken more positions on the same topic as our Man Myth.

But the divide is symbolic of the wider rifts in the party between those who have led them to the precipice of irrelevancy and those looking to pull back before the party goes the way of the Whigs.

Social issues are not the only place conservatives refuse to face reality. From Paul Ryan's budget to the perorations of Mitch "Make Obama a One-Term President" McConnell, the movement continues to target repeal of Obamacare as their No. 1 priority.

That refusal to accept the clear mood of the public should give liberals some hope -- but not too much. Just as Democrats finally got their own act together, it is possible the GOP will too. But they have a long way to go in coming closer to the mood and tone of a younger, browner nation that finds their bona fides as something out of the Neanderthal Era.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Flight of the Phoenix

It hits you a little harder when a newspaper you grew up with comes to the end of the road.

The death of the Boston Phoenix is a huge loss for Boston, journalism and a sign of personal mortality. The fact that it probably won't hit a vast majority of Bostonians the same way is one of the reasons it is folding.

I'm partly to blame, me and thousands if not more like me. I didn't pick up a copy of the paper for years, certainly not until it shifted to a free publication. And I am one of those folks who consider ads necessary evils, space fillers to be glossed over and definitely not clicked.

But the Phoenix was always on my to do list, from the late, lamented Don't Quote Me column that launched media criticism in Boston to the fact that the incomparable David Bernstein's Talking Politics blog is listed in my iPhone's web browser.

There were times when I thought about working there, even though my vow of journalistic poverty was more than adequately fulfilled by a news organization that bit the dust as a credible outlet two decades ago.

The Phoenix was not doomed when it shifted from newsprint to glossy magazine six months ago. It was not even doomed when it became a free publication financed by the sex ads (among other things) in the back.

The genre was always shaky (anyone remember the Real Paper, erstwhile competitor until it faltered and was swallowed up by the then thriving Phoenix).

It was more likely doomed by the shift in society and technology. Conceived as an arts newspaper with listings and reviews, it added hard-hitting journalism and did itself proud with a fair number of scoops.

But the march from newsprint to television, to desktop, laptop and eventually hand-held -- and the concurrent change in America's desire for any kind of journalism, let alone the "alternative" kind -- was glaring hand-writing on the wall.

The mythical Phoenix had the ability to rise from the ashes, Sadly, that is not likely to happen with the Boston Phoenix.

But some journalism outlet ought to snatch up its talented writers. Fast.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Identity politics

Gabriel Gomez is gambling he can win the war, but there are questions whether he can survive the initial battle.

The Cohasset businessman took the bold step of using the "M Word" in asking Deval Patrick to appoint a moderate Republican to fill the temporary vacancy left by the resignation of John Kerry.
“I fully understand that naming a moderate Republican like me would be completely unconventional,” Gomez says in the two-page letter dated January 17. “However, given the partisan and acrimonious atmosphere in the US Senate today, this is even more of a reason to consider appointing a moderate Republican with my background. I supported President Obama in 2008. I strongly believe that this appointment would be good for the Democrats as well since it is in everyone’s interest to have the two parties at the negotiating table.”
And when Patrick never responded, Gomez opted to seek the permanent job -- as a more conservative Republican seemingly at odds with the position on gun control he staked out in the letter:
“I support the positions President Obama has taken on these issues and you can be assured I will keep my word and work on these issues as I have promised.”
But that word seems a bit tarnished by his new stance opposed to a federal assault weapons ban. The flip, more the sign of a novice politician than a Romney pretzel twist, complicates his quest.

Democrats and independents could be more inclined to cast their support for the fresh-faced former Navy Seal, over more established GOP candidates like one-time US Attorney Michael Sullivan or Rep. Dan Winslow.

That may well have been the motive of Democratic Party Chief John Walsh in trying to set Sullivan up as the front-runner. The last thing Democrats want is another candidate who might possess the same spark as Scott Brown.

But Gomez's support for Obama and Patrick -- who he praised for "bold and thoughtful leadership" -- may not go over too well with the party faithful, who barely installed Brown's more, ahem, moderate, favorite in the state party chair.

It certainly did not go down smoothly for his rivals:
“How can voters ever trust Gomez again when he tells Gov. Patrick one thing in a private letter, that he never thought would see the light of day, and then tells Republican primary voters something completely different on very important issues?” said state Rep. Dan Winslow’s spokesman, Charlie Pearce.
By releasing the letter now, Gomez is betting he can light a spark and capture the nomination. But given that the party faithful are the ones more likely to show up on primary day, he may have made a serious misstep on timing.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Turnout the lights

The annual South Boston St. Patrick's Day breakfast has become as stale as day-old green beer. Now, after snubbing the three Republican US Senate candidates, it's time to call it a day.

Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan, the new host of the event, admits he didn't even invite the three GOP hopefuls to what has traditionally been a bipartisan event where Republicans offered as many bad jokes as they received.

That included candidates for office outside the commonwealth's confines. But with the departure of former Sen. Jack Hart, new rules apparently apply. Only Democrats Ed Markey and Southie's own Steve Lynch has a place at the table this time around.
“I’m not barring them because they are Republicans,” said Linehan. "If they contact us we’ll get them in the room. Those that are elected have a certain place at the breakfast.”
The breakfast used to be the must-do event of the political calendar. But as it has grown to encompass the cavernous Boston Convention and Exhibition Center ballroom, it lost its charm and spontaneity.

Take last year's disaster. Please. Or the one before it. The event that once welcomed President Ronald Reagan by telephone is now as inclusive as the parade that follows it.

Republicans Michael Sullivan Dan Winslow and Gabriel Gomez, who squared off in a debate last night, are taking the high road. Says Sullivan spokeswoman Lisa Barstow:
“We weren’t invited to the party. No corned beef for Mike Sullivan."
I'm sure his digestive system will thank him.

But no thanks should be directed toward Linehan. The only blarney now being served is that this "time-honored tradition" ought to be an important stop on any politician's calendar.

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Ryan's revenge

Vice President Paul Ryan presented his budget to the House yesterday. Oh, wait a minute. Didn't the GOP lose the election?

The House Budget Committee Chairman's proposal seems to have ignored the voice of the American people, offering up the same old stale mix of gutting Medicare and Obamacare in order to provide tax relief for the "job creators."

Ryan seemed oblivious to the message behind the voters' rejection of his slate.
“The election didn’t go our way — believe me I, I know what that feels like. That means we surrender our principles? That means we stop believing in what we believe in?” he said, continuing: “We think we owe the country a balanced budget. We think we owe the country solutions to the big problems that are plaguing our nation: a debt crisis on the horizon, a slow-growing economy, people trapped in poverty. We’re showing our answers.”
No, that means you listen to the people who said "no" to the idea of messing with Medicare. And you begin to work to achieve at least some of your goals with the understanding that your viewpoint is not the will of the people.

What's more the tone-deaf GOP continues its mindless pursuit of deficit reduction uber alles in spite of clear evidence from Europe that austerity has resulted in a second recession. Not to mention ignoring what has already been sliced from the federal budget through the mindless process of sequestration.

Almost as tone deaf is the press corps that continues to portray the Washington stalemate as a pox on both their houses.

Expect the weekend talk shows to be filled with the usual GOP suspects offering the same stale talking points and the journalists who question them gliding past the single largest symbol of GOP intransigence.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me a thousand times, welcome to Washington.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jumping to conclusions

Will he or won't he? Only Scott Brown knows for sure. The Boston dailies sure don't.

Speculation about Brown's political intentions has been the local political parlor game around here ever since he lost to Elizabeth Warren and John Kerry's name was whispered as a Secretary of State nominee. It stepped up dramatically when Long Jawn departed for Foggy Bottom.

But the game has never been as much fun as today, with the Globe speculating Brown's decision to accept a job with the Nixon, Peabody law firm means he won't jump into the 2014 governor's race and the Herald suggesting just the opposite.

My money on a no-go.

The Herald declares Brown "left the door wide open" based on a one-sentence response:
“Not quite sure what the future holds. I’ll make that announcement, I would think, in a while.”
Meanwhile, the Globe offers an unnamed source who indicates it's Baker's race if he wants it:
“They’ve had a conversation and Scott’s turned to other things. He’s not running for governor in 2014,” said one prominent Republican with knowledge of the exchange, which took place last month.
And the Globe backs it up with a second unnamed source:
A Republican fund-raiser with ties to both the Brown and Baker camps confirmed the February conversation in which Brown indicated to Baker that he would not seek the corner office next year. Governor Deval Patrick has said he will not seek a third term, leaving a wide-open race.
Two unnamed sources trumps one direct evasion in my book.

We know election speculation is the local political pastime (Pope Sean anyone?) And Brown, who has enjoyed toying with the media, has no incentive to shut the door publicly, particularly when it comes to his other job as a Fox News commentator.

So expect the stories to continue, even if Brown does not.

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Mr. Originality

I know conservatives prefer tried and tested ways, but Michael Sullivan's campaign may be taking it too far.

The Globe reports Sullivan's website was a virtual carbon copy of the one used by Richard Tisei in his unsuccessful campaign against John Tierney.  It even uses language about a trip Tisei took to Israel, without clarifying whether Sullivan did as well.

Paul Moore, who runs Sullivan's campaign and did the same for Tisei, says it was just an oversight and has been remedied in part:
“The issues in this election are very much the same issues — jobs, economy, and debt — as in 2012, and in this case, the campaign manager was the same person, and campaign managers typically write these things,” said Moore, referring to himself. “It would have been great in a longer election and with more staff to have more time to recreate the wheel, but in this case adding placeholder issues at the start was the goal.”
The Sullivan campaign was proud of the fact it collected the signatures it needed to get on the ballot on its own and didn't need to pay professional collectors. Maybe some of the cash saved there could have been applied to creating fresher web content than a cut-and-paste job from the Tisei campaign?

As gaffes go, this one is more embarrassing than disqualifying. And at least Moore had the common sense to use Sullivan's bio instead of Tisei's.

But Sullivan is now wide open to wisecracks about not having any original ideas. You can bet the gagwriters for the St. Patrick's Day breakfast are hard at work crafting what they hope will be originals.


Saturday, March 09, 2013

Snow foolin'

They have international computer models and air time that would make most Hollywood stars jealous. So how come meteorologists can't do the job for which they are paid -- accurately forecast the weather?

It wasn't quite as bad as ending up with two feet of partly cloudy, because our crack weather teams did predict precipitation. But for yet another time this winter they were grotesquely off the mark, causing a nightmare Friday morning commute and sending thousands of kids to schools in the middle of a raging storm.

Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who has been known to call off classes at the drop of a flake, wasn't about to take the blame on his shoulders, saying he has received forecasts that clearly failed to measure up to reality.

Gov. Deval Patrick, who wisely banned traffic during February's blizzard, was forced to label the storm a "nuisance."

The real nuisance is the out-of-control nature of weather news, breathless forecasters blogging and blathering about storms before they are born, cranking up the hype machine in search of rating points over their competitors.

It's sparked an online tradition that may soon rival the weather beacon on top of the old Hancock Building for New England lore -- even if it just a beacon of one season (and should probably include amber-colored liquids in the commodities New Englanders stock up on in addition to milk, bread and eggs).

It would also be fine if the forecasts were at least accurate, something that has failed to happen with increasing regularity.

At least one brave (former) TV forecaster was willing to fess up to the snafu, but the usual course of action is to laugh it off as a rather large "oops."

It wasn't an "oops" to folks who slogged through the slush, dropping kids off at school, then arriving to work late only to be dismissed early.

I wish I had a job in which I was allowed to be wrong half the time and still keep working. Plug that into your European model.

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Friday, March 08, 2013

Damage control

The three Republican US Senate hopefuls combine for 46 percent visibility, but that didn't stop the GOP chair from riffing on the 49 percent visibility of Democratic front-runner Ed Markey.

And his challenger, Steve Lynch, is probably wishing for a little less attention this morning as the Globe shines a spotlight on his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, a touchstone if there ever was one on party loyalty.

Newly installed GOP chair Kristen Hughes put on a brave face in telling the Herald that Markey's relative anonymity is a telling thing:
“That speaks volumes about his years in service. Thirty-six years and he’s not very well-known in the state.”
Mostly that he represented one congressional district in the greater Boston area with colleagues named O'Neill, Moakley, Kennedy and Frank. And that was just in the House. Not a lot of oxygen, even for someone like Markey who could go to great lengths to seek attention.

But Hughes had few options since the most well-known of the GOP trio is Michael Sullivan, at 21 percent, followed by Gabriel Gomez at 15 percent and Dan Winslow at 8 percent. The Kingston Trio probably still has greater visibility.

But that virtual anonymity may be exactly what Lynch (40 percent) may be looking for after a rehash of his back-and-forth posturing on Obamacare, flips that found him on the side of Republicans when the final vote was taken.
“It was a profile in both moral and political cowardice,” said Richard Kirsch, then the national campaign manager for the progressive coalition that urged Congress to pass the legislation.
Lynch has tried to explain has flexible position as "thoughtful and deliberative," adding:
“I didn’t make everybody happy, but I certainly did what I thought was right.”
But that didn't pass muster with many, even those who are now backing him:
“Ted Kennedy doesn’t test the wind,” Mike Monahan, business manager for Local 103 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said back then. “He knows when something has to be done regardless of its popularity.”
The one thing that Lynch and Markey share with each other -- but not with the eventual Republican nominee -- is an extensive record that can be reviewed. Sullivan did serve as a state representative and US attorney, while Winslow currently sits in the Massachusetts House and has sat on the judicial bench and in Mitt Romney's inner circle. But there's nothing similar when it comes to a paper trail.

That will give them -- or the up from nowhere Gomez -- plenty of votes to sift through and obfuscate. And it would serve to get their names and faces on TV to raise visibility ratings usually reserved for parking clerks, not candidates for the World's Greatest Filibustering Body.

But it will also raise the visibility of Markey or Lynch, who are already lapping the field.

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Thursday, March 07, 2013

None of the above

What if you threw an election and voters didn't have a clue who anyone was? Welcome to the race to replace John Kerry in the US Senate.

Ed Markey appears to be the clear leader in the Boston Herald-UMass Lowell poll. That's because about 50 percent of the potential voters have heard of the Malden Democrat, a 10 percent advantage over his Democratic foe, Steve Lynch, who is known to 40 percent of the electorate. And its a landslide over the three Republican hopefuls whose names register with at best 20 percent of the electorate.

No wonder Gabriel Gomez, Michael Sullivan and Dan Winslow are willing to accept out-of-state special interest cash. They are going to need a lot of television time to make their names known -- or tarnish the names of their foes.

Of immediate concern for Lynch, the South Boston Democrat, is a yawning 50-21 percent gap between him and Markey in the Democratic primary, where presumably the committed, active Democrats plan to cast ballots.

The thing that has to trouble all the candidates is they can't say it's early. Yes, nominating papers were only due last week, but we are less than two months from the April 30 primaries. That's not a lot of time to do the grassroots work necessary for success in a primary.

And based on the totally non-scientific standard of Twitter, there is varying degrees of success at that with Markey and Winslow leading the pack.

But Winslow's efforts don't seem to be carrying much weight, given the fact he is unknown to fully 92 percent of voters. That's about the same percentage of people who hate the institution he hopes to join.

The numbers are by no means a sign that Markey will win in a cakewalk. In addition to his own visibility issues, his support is squishy among independents, who will hold the key to winning in June.

That means we are once again going to be bombarded with commercials, introducing candidates and trashing their positions. The importance of advertising is Markey's greatest advantage because he has a reported $3 million in resources he can spend to introduce himself to the public before Republican special interest groups try to tear him down.

But he is also the most vulnerable to negative attacks with a 36-year voting record to be pored over for inconsistencies. In that sense, Gomez and his blank slate is the early leader.

So stay tuned, this race isn't anywhere near over, despite Markey's yawning leads. The next major milestone: who can come up with an identity like Scott Brown's truck and barn coat persona.

As we have clearly seen, in short races gimmicks count.

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Middle road

That silence you've been experiencing on Deval Patrick's grand transportation plan is about to be broken.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo is throwing cold water Patrick's $1.9 billion plan to raise taxes to fix our transportation and education systems. The biggest fly in the ointment: a 1 percent increase in the state income tax.
“I’m worried that the administration’s proposal places too heavy a burden on working families and businesses struggling to survive,” DeLeo wrote in the text of the speech, to be delivered to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “If we are to pass a new revenue package, I believe it should be far more narrow in scope and of a significantly smaller size.”
The only surprise is that it has taken this long for someone in a leadership role to utter those words.

And while DeLeo promises the House will develop a plan to trims the transportation infrastructure and raises revenues, the address is a sobering response to the MBTA's latest budget plan that, once again, calls for some combination of fare hikes and service cuts to close a budget shortfall of $130 million.

DeLeo rightly points to the high cost of borrowing to pay for the road system, including the idiocy of borrowing money to pay highway department operating expenses.

The biggest question though, is will the Legislature do anything about the strain on the T budget it created when it saddling the bus, subway and commuter rail system with the cost of the bonds used to pay for burying the Central Artery and building the Zakim Bridge and Ted Williams Tunnel.

It was a quick fix dreamed up at a time of financial strain and designed to kick the can down the road. But that can is now blocking the train tracks and needs to be removed and allow the MBTA to clean up its own messy house without paying for the sins of the Big Dig.

Whether lawmakers even try to address that issue will be the thing to watch for in any House proposal.

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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Sullying his name

This is not your father's Massachusetts Democratic Party. And it's certainly not Martha Coakley's.

A day after the three Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls declined to sign on to the "People's Pledge" against outside money, Democratic Party Chair John Walsh prepared a little home-grown attack against perceived GOP front-runner Michael Sullivan.

Walsh's plan serves clear notice Democrats learned the lessons of the Scott Brown Affair, where they focused so heavily on battling each other that they lost sight of an opponent who then stepped into a moment of time and humiliated them.

While the party is taking a neutral stance in the looming showdown between Ed Markey and Steve Lynch, it plans to train its guns on a Republican field just starting to take shape.

The strategy is as old as the hills, in large part because it works. In a field of relative unknowns, set up one of the candidates as the preferred opponent and hope you can sway the electorate.

In this case Walsh has focused on Sullivan, who is against same-sex marriage and a woman's right to choose -- and a ban on assault weapons.

Those positions and a resume that includes US Attorney for Massachusetts are likely to make him more popular among rank-and-file Republican voters than the (relatively) more liberal Dan Winslow and Gabriel Gomez.

And they are also stances that will not sit well in liberal Massachusetts and the broader cross-section of voters who will turn out for the June final election.

Sullivan also demonstrated more rank-and-file clout by collecting the signatures he needed to get on the ballot the old-fashioned way -- using shoe leather and not cash. That would suggest more of an organization than his primary foes, even the collection of GOP operatives assembled by Gomez.

It's clear Walsh and company learned a very hard lesson from Coakley's loss and are going to do everything they can to prevent a repeat. And that's likely why the GOP candidates decided they need every bit of help -- and outside dollars -- they can scrape together.

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All's fare

It was as inevitable as the first crocuses -- or the last snowstorm. The MBTA is threatening fare hikes or service cuts without state aid.

And while new T general manager Beverly Scott may not like the suggestion the proposals for a 33 percent fare hike with no service cuts -- or a 15 percent jump coupled with steep reductions -- it's hard not to take the proposals as worst-case scenarios designed to jump start the legislative debate on Deval Patrick's massive transportation overhaul -- and tax hike.

There's no denying the T has fiscal problems -- a lot of it caused by the Legislature dumping the Big Dig debt into its lap. And it there is also little doubt that lawmakers are skeptical about Patrick's solution -- raising the income tax by a point, then cutting the sales tax but allocating every penny to transportation infrastructure, including the T.

But riders -- and others -- have every reason to be skeptical after last spring's fare hike theater, which included the same bad options and the same prediction of sharp drops in ridership, only to be followed by an increase in travelers.

Equally tiresome is the suggestion by conservative lawmakers that the T needs to focus on "low-hanging fruit" before coming to to Beacon Hill for more money. The almost daily breakdowns caused by a severe lack of maintenance is ample proof there are serious problems that need to be addressed.

Most of all, lawmakers need to address their own role in creating the annual rite of spring by saddling transit riders with the paying off $1.7 billion of the sins committed by highway builders gone wild.

It's time for all sides to get serious about solving the broad range of transportation problems -- from crumbling, overcrowded highways to crumbling, overcrowded subways and buses. And do it in a fair and rational way that doesn't kick the can down the road.

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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Going for gold

They had me at reliable public transit system.

It's certainly not a crime to aim high, but the idea of greater Boston hosting an Olympics 11 years from now is enough to make me laugh hysterically -- or cry uncontrollably. Or both.

For a city that hasn't had what it takes to host an NBA All-Star Game since Lyndon Johnson was president to consider bidding for one of the biggest public boondoggle around is, to be generous, nuts.

The public investment required would total in the billions. The disruption would be Herculean. And what, exactly, would be the return on that investment?

We live in a state (and let's not forget this event would likely swallow up much of eastern Massachusetts) that still is not ready for the conversation, let alone the reality of what it will cost to create a "reliable public transportation system," let alone a highway system that isn't crumbling.

Similarly, we haven't really talked about some officials' dream of an expanded convention center, the only thing that would justify a one-third increase in hotel rooms in greater Boston.

Then there's the history of the Olympic Games themselves: public works boondoggles constructed over years for two weeks' use. Think of how many years it took to get Gillette Stadium built and the public acrimony -- and private money -- surrounding a venue which is only guaranteed to be used dozens of times a year.

Do we really need an ornately constructed sports stadium that becomes a white elephant?

Civic pride is a good thing, but there are far more long-lasting things we can invest in with the billions it would take to get a couple of weeks of good international PR.

But at least we have someone with experience in Olympic organizing efforts to spearhead everything.

Um, on second thought, never mind.

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Monday, March 04, 2013

Jump ball

Has the solution to the partisan impasse in Washington been in front of us all along?

As John Boehner and Mitch McConnell continue to huff and puff about no taxes to resolve the budget impasse triggered by reckless Republican spending, other events a half-world away suggest there is a diplomatic solution to the stand-off.

The Republican poobahs should give some serious thought to getting on the same wavelength with Barack Obama by anointing Dennis Rodman as their ambassador to the Hoopster-in-Chief.

Obama, after all, is a Chicago guy and is more than familiar with the blonde-, green-, purple-haired rebounder who played for the Bulls, among others, during his long strange trip through the NBA.

And Rodman is just coming off a trip to North Korea and a sit-down with the mysterious Kim Jong-un, leaving the workers' paradise by declaring the young leader is misunderstood.

If Rodman can get through to Kim, imagine what he might be able to do in the employ of Boehner and McConnell?

And it would be in keeping with the Washington tradition of obscuring the forests with trees. Something, anything, to get off the ludicrous debate over whether Obama aide Gene Sperling "threatened" Bob Woodward.

Or better yet, why don't McConnell and Boehner enlist the services of Mitt Romney? We know he's a man who says what he believes and it "kills" him to be on the sidelines.

With Romney in tow, this could be resolved in no time. In Obama's favor.

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Sunday, March 03, 2013

Tanned, rested and ready

Just when Republicans thought they won a PR skirmish, their worst nightmare reemerges. Yes, Myth Romney is back.

When last we heard from Mr. 47 percent, Romney was blaming "gifts" from Barack Obama as a reason for his loss in November. There was the odd look at Romney pumping gas (though no shots of his parking in his car elevator.)

With Romney on the sidelines, the GOP lost two skirmishes -- the manufactured fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling "crises" -- but seemed to be feeling their oats by playing to a stalemate over sequestration.

Cue Our Man Myth:
“No one can think that’s been a success for the president,” Romney said in an interview excerpt aired on Fox News. “He didn’t think the sequester would happen. It is happening, but to date what we’ve seen is the president out campaigning to the American people, doing rallies around the country, flying around the country and berating Republicans and blaming and pointing. Now, what does that do? That causes the Republicans to retrench and to put up a wall and to fight back. It’s a very natural human emotion. The president has the opportunity to lead the nation and to bring Republicans and Democrats together. It’s a job he’s got to do, and it’s a job only the president can do.”
Leadership lessons from Romney? Been there, don't that, tossed 'em in the trash.

What's next? Good citizenship pointers from Shelly Adelson?

If Republicans were even 1 percent as good at governing as they are with playing politics we would not be a nation in gridlock.

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Saturday, March 02, 2013

A farewell to Tim

Tim Cahill never wants to see Suffolk Superior Court again and no doubt many voters feel the same way about him.

The Saga of Treasurer Tim has ended with a whimper and not a bang, but in the end there is a sense of justice as the Quincy Democrat admitted he inappropriately used public resources in his ill-fated run for governor in 2010.

The admission of a civil offense and an agreement to pay a $100,000 fine -- out of his own pocket and not campaign funds -- is also a vindication of sorts for Attorney General Martha Coakley, who had come under fire for first failing to aggressively attack public corruption and then failing to win the criminal case against Cahill.

The agreement also brings back into focus the 2009 public corruption law passed in the wake of the scandal involving former House Speaker Sal DiMasi. Some, like former Ethics Commissioner George Brown, think the Cahill case and not the law was flawed.
“I think the problem was more, could the attorney general prove the requisite intent? Cahill had a plausible story. … She picked a hard case.”
 But if you can't go after the hard cases isn't there something inherently wrong with the law's structure?

There certainly were shades of gray in the case: lottery and campaign staffs that seemed to be working together tacitly if not openly. But at the core of the case was the fact state-paid commercials touting the lottery miraculously appeared about the same time the Republican Governors Association took off after Cahill.

If that posed such a threat to his good work, why didn't Cahill use campaign funds to pay for the ads? After all, he, not the lottery was under siege. By admitting to a civil offense, the former treasurer now acknowledges the error.

What's become crystal clear with this case, as well as DiMasi's -- is that it is far too hard to hold elected officials responsible for wrongdoing. The legal foundation upon which the DiMasi conviction is based is somewhat shaky, after the Supreme Court redefined the federal crime of bribery.

The ultimate judge and jury for any elected official is the voter. In Cahill's case. they rendered an appropriate verdict in rejecting his effort to become governor.

But there does need to be reasonable standards of ethics and conduct -- and an enforcement mechanism that does not require Herculean leaps -- to hold those officials accountable between elections.

That may be the most important outcome of the Cahill case -- using substantial civil fines and penalties rather than criminal ones -- to uphold the integrity of a system of laws and fallible humans.

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Friday, March 01, 2013

Blind justice

The US Supreme Court which "elected" George W. Bush, is again trying to influence the vote. And facts are not about to get in the way.

A case before the Court this week seeks to end provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act put into place to stop Southern states from efforts like poll taxes that were used to keep minority voter turnout down.

And while the modern GOP is using somewhat more subtle tactics -- shortening early voting windows and crying voter fraud from every nook and cranny -- the Court appears ready to eliminate this vital piece of law that was renewed by Congress as recently as 2006.

And nothing, not even outright lies, is off limits to aid the voter suppression efforts, as Chief Justice John Roberts showed this week.
“Do you know which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout?” Roberts asked Donald Verrilli Jr., solicitor general for the Department of Justice, during Wednesday’s arguments.
“I do not know that,” Verrilli answered.
“Massachusetts,” Roberts responded, adding that even Mississippi has a narrower gap.
That should earn a "Pants on Fire" from PolitiFact.

According to Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, who oversees state and local elections:
“The concept of black communities in Massachusetts not voting is an old slur, and it’s not true,” Galvin said. “I guess the point [Roberts] is trying to make is Mississippi is doing so much better they don’t need the Voting Rights Act. He can still relay that conclusion, but he shouldn’t be using phony statistics. It’s deceptive, and it’s truly disturbing.”
The effort rests on the creative use of data. In the case of Massachusetts, other voting experts say, the Current Population Survey, which tracks voter statistics annually, has a margin or error that runs to double digits.

Roberts, of course, won't say where he got his factoid or explain his declaration. It's hard to defend the indefensible.

The conservative majority's likely decision to gut a key section of the Voting Rights Act needs to be seen in the context of other efforts to fight the demographic reality that the United States is on track to be a minority majority nation. And that African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans have had little reason to vote for a party that runs on exclusion.

There's a strong case to be made the court started the suppression effort when Bush v. Gore ruled against a complete recount of all Florida voters and upheld Bush's 537-vote margin.

There's an equally strong case the high court is where the GOP's suppression efforts are most likely to find solace -- unless Barack Obama gets an opportunity to appoint replacements for the partisan warriors.

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