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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

DC Daze

Good times must be here -- Washington is in the throes of "gate" fever.

The trio of "scandals" range from ludicrous to serious, but that hasn't stopped Republicans and the media to pack up all of our real troubles to focus on headline grabbing.

At the bottom of the food chain is Benghazi, a tragedy made into a farce by the same "leaders" who rejected funding for State Department security. All in the name of trying to stop a 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign before it starts.

Of more serious concern is the decision by the IRS, the agency that inspires more fear and loathing than any other, to target political groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in their name.

There's a scandal to be sure over the millions of dollars that wash through the political system with tax protections, but the small groups targeted by the revenuers are not the ones that should be the focus of investigations.

The White House and Attorney General Eric Holder have labeled the actions "outrageous" and promise to follow it back to its roots, which should include asking former commissioner, Bush appointee Douglas Shulman, what he knew and when did he know it.

But what truly sends chills down my spine is the decision by Holder's Justice Department to subpoena two months of phone records of Associated Press reporters, including their home phones. Anyone up there ever hear of the 1st Amendment? Or is phony concerns about violations of the 2nd Amendment all that motivates Washington?

Holder claims not to have been aware of the actions of a deputy looking into an alleged national security leak. That's hard to swallow given the zeal by which he has pursued similar cases.

The IRS and AP cases are serious and require an open and honest investigation. The only question is how will that happen in the hyper partisan Washington atmosphere?

Americans deserve answers. I fear all we will get is rhetoric.

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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Talking points war

What's all this I hear about Ben Gazzara?

Hours before the House of Representatives is set to vote for the 30-something time to repeal Obamacare. Washington and its lapdog press corps is hot and bothered by the revelation that the White House thought political considerations and heavy editing was necessary in releasing talking points about the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi.

To quote Capt. Louis Renault of the neighboring Casablanca prefect of police, "I'm shocked, just shocked" that public relations is going on in here.

When Republicans are not trying to stall an already painfully slow economic recovery with a misdirection look at the nation's now shrinking deficit, the tragic loss of four lives in the attack on the consulate has become a new political hobby horse.

An election where voters roundly ignored GOP partisan sniping has failed to deter Republicans from loading up their daily talking points on the subject.

And that is the crux of the childish game being played out in Washington between a do-nothing Congress and a bored press corps -- a talking points war over talking points.

Ask any public relations professional the first step in preparing for the release of a tough news story and the answer ought to be "get the talking points ready." A series of bullet points highlighting key messages, buffed, polished and shined through endless rounds of rewrites and edits.

Political parties go one step further -- sending out memos for the troops to make sure that no one strays from the message of the day.

It's business as usual in Washington -- and across most of America. Especially in the Republican Party, which traditionally does a better job than Democrats in staying on message.

But with nothing of substance to offer the American people to resolve the real issues facing the nation, our Republican "leaders" have been forced top step up their talking points war. And with little to no incentive to break news, the press corps meekly follows along, offering "exclusives" that reveal the White House practiced PR in trying to manage a difficult story.

I can't wait for a call to impeach the flacks.

As for me, I'd much rather sit back and watch Ben Gazzara re-runs. Never mind.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Poll-ution

He's down. He's up. He's down again. The first round of polls in the US Senate special election make yo-yos seem stable. And offer once again, a solid reason for voters to ignore the media's obsession with "news."

A WBUR-Mass Inc. poll suggests Democrat Ed Markey holds a 6-point lead over Republican Gabriel Gomez in their June 25 showdown. That's an 11-point drop from the 17-point margin Markey held in a Suffolk University-Channel 7 poll released a day earlier.

But wait: Markey held just a 4-point margin over Gomez in a PPP survey a mere week ago.

So what's someone to make about the volatility of the race to replace John Kerry? Not much, at least based on the numbers so far.

Start with the the wide range. A general rule of thumb is thrown out the extremes. You can certainly look with skepticism on the Suffolk poll, despite the assurances of pollster David Paleologos:
“I’m not saying the race won’t be close or it won’t get closer, or that Markey or somebody won’t gaffe,” said David Paleologos, the Suffolk pollster who conducted the survey. “But in terms of the starting point, this isn’t a handful-of-points race.”
But if you turn the wayback machine to October, there's this little matter of presidential polling gone awry:
“I think in places like North Carolina, Virginia and Florida, we’ve already painted those red," David Paleologos, the president of Suffolk University Political Research Center told Fox host Bill O'Reilly on Tuesday. "We’re not polling any of those states again. We're focusing on the remaining states.”
When the dust settled, Mitt Romney squeaked out a narrow win in North Carolina after dropping both Virginia and Florida. I don't ever recall an explanation for that infamous failure.

The point is polls are only as good as the data that go into them. And I am not a statistician who relishes reading tabs so I can't tell you what's right or wrong. Like 99.999 percent of the electorate.

So we have two polls showing narrower leads of four and six points. Which is it?

Who cares?

The general election is slightly more than two weeks old. Reporters are just beginning to dig into the meaty stories about Markey and Gomez. More voters are focused on Red Sox numbers than Gomez's.

Markey has already hit the airwaves with commercials that seem far more impressive than the batch that ran during the primary. Whether that's a sign of prudence or "running scared" is in the eye of the beholder.

I guess we'll need to wait for the next poll to find out.

Or not.

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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Markeyed man

Ed Markey is trying to strangle the Gabriel Gomez campaign's financial pipeline. He may wind up strangling the life out of the Senate special election too.

The Democratic nominee continues to focus like a laser on Gomez's refusal to take the "People's Pledge" keeping special interest money out of their June 25th election.

Markey appeared live before Massachusetts reporters yesterday to reinforce the theme he first echoed on primary night -- that Karl Rove and the Koch brothers have their eye on buying the seat for the GOP newcomer:
"The people of Massachusetts have a right to know who is backing each of the two candidates, so they can make an ­informed judgment about the source of funding. That is key,” Markey said.
Gomez restricted his response to the friendly confines of Fox News:
“My opponent is effectively talking about everything but the economy and running a negative campaign.”
Why is Markey ignoring the economy -- fairly good in Massachusetts -- and other issues likely to appeal to Massachusetts voters?

Ask Nate Silver. The computer model that enabled Silver to correctly predict the outcome of the last two presidential elections may hold the key.

The model suggests Markey could win by a 15-point margin, quite a wider gap than the 4 percent lead he's said to hold in a PPP poll released last week. A major part of that model is a candidate's ability to raise cash from outside sources.
Of the 15-point lead that the fundamentals model assigns to Mr. Markey, eight points are attributable to his edge in public fund-raising.
That's because Gomez lent his campaign considerably more resources than he raised. And of the cash he did raise, more than half came from private equity investors like himself.

So for Markey, the task is simple: paint the virtually unknown Gomez as a 1 percenter with ties to the right wing attack machine. Think Mitt Romney, not Scott Brown.

There's a risk for Markey too, who is not well known beyond greater Boston and who could be open to an attack as an out-of-touch liberal who has spent his public life in Washington.

But the Democrats intent on not allowing Brown-like surge to develop believe the road to victory requires shifting the dynamic to the Massachusetts candidate who lost the Bay State by an even larger margin than Brown.

That of course could raise disgust levels among an electorate already voted out. Which in turn may reduce interest in the race to primary-like levels where a party's ability to pull its loyalists to the polls is the mark of success.

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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Alien invaders

It's time to ask: what planet do the denizens of Washington, DC come from?

While the Marathon bombing and the FBI's failure to heed to warning signs about Tamerlan Tsarnaev has occupied the attention of most rational people, the Washington establishment -- including the press corps -- has already moved on.
“Just because the government might have had a document about how to handle extraterrestrials doesn’t mean there were any,” said Merrill Cook, a Republican from Utah who was twice elected to the House.
Yes, our nation's capital is discussing the issue of very critical issue of immigration -- from another solar system.

To be fair, this appears to be a bipartisan example of Unbelievably Foolish Obtuseness. And there may even been a reasonable discussion to be had about government transparency.

But coming amid the questions about the performance of the FBI and customs officials in protecting our borders from real or potential human dangers, the utter irrelevancy of our so-called leaders has never been more obvious.

Nor is it limited to the once and future elected class. Media pundits have once again been blathering about the relevancy of the Obama Administration given its inability to sway an obdurate Republican minority from behaving like responsible officials.

After ABC White House correspondent Jonathan Karl questioned Obama on whether he was "out of juice," Obama reminded the journalist that we have a government of checks and balances.

Not good enough for Maureen Dowd:
Actually, it is his job to get them to behave. The job of the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants them to do. It’s called leadership.
Dartmouth College government professor Brendan Nyhan calls this the "Green Lantern" theory, that Obama somehow has magical powers to bend Congress to his will.

Actually, it might take a superhero to solve the chronic irrelevancy of Washington, DC. Either that or a hefty supply of Kryptonite.

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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

History repeating?

It's deja vu all over again in the political punditocracy. Scott Brown II is back, and this time he's Hispanic!

Gabriel Gomez's strong win in the Republican US Senate primary over favored Michael Sullivan has set off waves of predictable reporting that the Cohasset business and former Navy SEAL will repeat the GOP surprise, this time over Democrat Ed Markey.
“You’re hitting all sevens in the slot machine once again,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican public affairs specialist “This time you have a Hispanic Republican who has the potential for staying power in Massachusetts. Brown won, and lost his election. [Gomez] would have the potential to stick around for longer.”
But the year is 2013, not 2010.

Let's start with the obvious. Brown lost last year to Elizabeth Warren, the sheen of the truck and the barn coat giving way to the reality of his positions. And that's because Democrats were not going to be taken by surprise again.

The common wisdom is Brown won because his initial foe, Attorney General Martha Coakley, was asleep at the switch. While that may have been somewhat true, the reality is the Tea Party movement was just beginning to sweep the nation and Coakley and Democrats were not prepared.

The same cannot be said this time around. If anything, the Tea Party is somewhat disgruntled over the prospect of Gomez, who first beseeched Deval Patrick for the temporary appointment by painting himself as a moderate.

But Markey made crystal clear that he won't been caught off guard, invoking the specter of the right wing money men like Karl Rove and the Koch brothers who will likely pour millions into the race:
“This campaign is about standing up to the special interests and the extreme Tea Party Republicans who want to stop progress and send our country in the wrong direction.”
That's not to say Markey is in for a cake walk. Gomez collected just shy of 93,000 votes in his 15-point win over Sullivan. Markey captured a little short of 307,000 votes in a 16-point win over Stephen Lynch.

But Lynch had strength in parts of the state that have been far more open to moderate "independent" candidates. Those moderate voters hold the key to whether the June 25 final election offers any excitement.

If the South Boston Democrat lines up behind Markey, it could be a snooze.That's a big if since Lynch has always been somewhat of a loner in the delegation, casting the sole vote against a Democratic mandatory aye called Obamacare.

Life will not be easy for Gomez though, particularly if Rove and the Kochs bankroll the race. While the money men are smart enough not to paint Gomez as the next Todd Akin, their presence will be an issue, a major component of a Markey campaign asking voters not to be fooled again.

Then there is Gomez's record, or lack thereof. He will rail against Markey's 36 years in Congress but Gomez could not win a local selectman's race. Brown had experience with wins at the local and state level before taking on Coakley.

Gomez also starts off with a major flip-flop. In his infamous letter to Patrick, he offered his support for Barack Obama, whom he had accused of "taking too much credit" for defeating Osama bin Laden.

An assault weapon ban? He was for it before he was against it.

Gomez will surge early, a new flavor to be sampled. Whether he retains those curiosity seekers largely depends on Markey and Democrats. Rest assured, this time around, no one will be asleep.

Listen to Michael Dukakis:
“I think it’s going to be a very tough next seven weeks and we gotta take it very seriously,” he said. “I hope and expect [Markey] is gonna win, but we can’t take anything for granted. That’s particularly true with these special elections as we have learned a number of times. So it’s gonna be intensive. House to house. Street to street. Precinct to precinct.”
The alarm clock is ringing. Loudly.

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