Pope Francis caused quite a stir this week when he held an unprecedented 80 minute no-holds bared Q & A session with the press on the papal aircraft. The pope covered a wide range of topics but most of the focus was on his comments about gay and lesbian Catholics. The pope when asked about the alleged "gay lobby" in the Vatican curia answered that he personally doesn't have a problem homosexuality saying, "Who am I to judge them if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?"
Many took this as indication that the Church was changing their long held position on homosexuality when the pope was just reiterating it but in gentler tones than his predecessors. Not all progressive Catholics are caught up in the excitement surrounding Francis though. Jamie Manson at the National Catholic Reporter, a noted progressive Catholic, is very disappointed in the pope's short reign:
I think he has an authentic warmth. I appreciate his desire to be among the people. I laugh at some of his jokes, and there are themes in his sermons that genuinely move me. I share his desire to break down clericalism and the injustices of capitalism, and I believe wholeheartedly in his vision of ecological justice.
More substantively than even all of this, I share with him a deep passion for the poor and marginalized. Like Francis, I, too, have my most vivid encounters with Jesus among those who are homeless, mentally ill, incarcerated or suffering with addictions.
But Francis and I part ways on the topics of women's equality and the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in the church. The pope's statements on the plane only reinforced the depth of my disagreement with him.
Traditionalists, too, are weary of the new pope not just because of his more off-the-cuff approach but because of his "stripped down approach" to the Mass.
Reports are also coming out that Francis has, in principle, reversed the one major effort of his still-breathing predecessor, which was to give liberty to all priests to say the traditional Latin Mass, which had been practically suppressed after 1970. Benedict’s ideal was that priests should be able to choose between the traditional and the new mass, in hopes that the beauty and dignity of the old might counterbalance the banality of the new. On Monday, it was reported that the Vatican has decreed that one religious order’s priests are now forbidden from saying the Old Mass unless they get explicit permission. The ruling reflects the pope’s style; Francis personally embraces a “strip-the-altars” mode of worship, which, of course, no one asks about. Is the policy restricting the Traditional Mass returning for the rest of the church? Was Benedict wrong?
What does this Catholic think of Francis? It's too soon to judge his papacy but so far I am impressed with his relaxed and carefree candor, it's very likable and refreshing. John Paul II permanently changed one of the unwritten requirements for the papacy: a warm and caring pastoral approach. Pope Benedict, as much as I liked his zest for the pomp and circumstance of the traditional Church, was too old and too scholarly to be the face of the Church in a modern era that demands an almost-showman. Benedict, for as brilliant as he was, never had a shot at filling the shoes of John Paul II but Francis does.
It’s hard to remember a campaign as terrible as the one currently before us.
In 2010 we had a race between a popular attorney general, Martha Coakley, and a backbenching state senator that once posed in Cosmo, Scott Brown. Coakley imploded in spectacular fashion and Brown did everything right and pulled off an upset for the ages. Later that year we watched Charlie Baker, Deval Patrick, and Tim Cahill slug it out in a three-way deathmatch for governor.
In 2012 we saw a race between a one time national Republican darling in Brown and a liberal icon in Elizabeth Warren. Both candidates were interesting, exciting, and could hold our attention for more than five minutes. They were two polarizing figures that everyone seemed to have an opinion on. The race was intense but in the end it was never that close. Of course that year a former governor from Massachusetts was challenging the sitting president of the United States for the most powerful office in the world, too.
In 2013 we have, quite possibly, the most lackluster statewide election in recent memory.
Congressman Ed Markey, a fossil that’s spent more time in Washington than I have on this planet, could not be more pedestrian in his candidacy and his campaign. His candidacy is as exciting as wallpaper. Markey gives the impression that he is genuinely annoyed that he actually has to run for the office he is seeking. Even when he’s trying to connect with people on the trail he appears detached and longing for the Beltway.
Businessman Gabriel Gomez, a young and possibly promising Massachusetts political figure in desperate need of some seasoning, often seems astoundingly canned in his public appearances. Gomez just looks lost a lot of the time and unsure of how to be a candidate for a major public office. The awkward usage of his valuable bilingual skills and Scott Brownesque flight jacket only adds to the pandering desperation of his candidacy.
Voter fatigue, something we are all suffering from, can often be overcome by interesting and dynamic candidates that have captivating messages, even one candidate with some combination of these things can energize a race but these two have neither. They’re dull, milquetoast, and bring little to the table in terms of fresh ideas.
The attempts by both campaigns to make this race appear close, for fundraising purposes or volunteer morale, are comically bad. Markey has had an all but commanding lead in this race since he won the Democratic primary.
Even the attacks from outside groups are tired and mailed in. This week voters across the Commonwealth received a mailer blasting Gomez for his time as a “Wall Street guy” and likened him to a Yankee fan. No, really. Take a look:
The injection of pro sports into our political campaigns has increased every cycle and it is now beyond patronizing. The insert of that mailer even includes a photo of Markey in an L.L. Bean style jacket with a Red Sox poster over his shoulder. I guess injecting a Bruins reference or two to make things more timely was a step too far.
This is truly the most depressing chart you will read all week:
This chart tells us how partisans are, generally, OK with a massive government surveillance program as long as their team is in the White House. It's not surprising as much as it is disturbing. The sudden outrage from Republicans and conservatives over a program that started during their watch appears driven more by their disdain for the Obama administration than a genuine support for civil liberties. The surge in support by Democrats for the government's monitoring of ALL OF OUR PHONE CALLS appears to be driven by their support for the president. It's almost as if these people really have no principles beyond beating their political opponents over the head with whatever the outrage of the day is.
These numbers were part of a broader poll on surveillance in America conducted by the Pew Research Center. A startling majority of Americans, 56 percent, approve of the tactics used by the NSA when it comes to monitoring phone calls. The public is more opposed to the tactics the NSA uses to monitor e-mail, possibly because nobody really talks on the phone anymore. Even more frightening is how little my generation cares about the this story.
Then there are the people that are truly scoundrels: the ones that defend institutions of power and authority no matter what. Matt Welch at Reason outlines all the people trying to tear down whistleblower Edward Snowden. It includes the usual suspects like do something authoritarian David Brooks, the New Yorker's Jeffery Toobin, and Richard Cohen.
...the massive machinery of American police power will be focused on making the renegade look like a maximally traitorous deviant. You do not have to pre-emptively declare Snowden a saint (indeed, we will almost certainly hear word that he is not), to be repelled by both the status quo he aims to challenge, and the enthusiasm with which Fourth Estaters enable the executive branch.
The scandal has brought together unusual pairings like Glenn Beck and Michael Moore , two media radicals unified in their praise of Snowden but not much else. More establishment types like Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Lindsey Graham, two people that were on polar opposite ends of the gun control debate, have come together to heap scorn on Snowden and even demand he be face penalties for his actions.
Commencement speeches are the worst part about college graduation because they are unnecessarily long and generally terrible. They are filled with empty Mitch Albom style feel good life advice that nobody will remember five minutes after it is said. Their existence is meant to impart some kind of “your first day in the real world begins now” wisdom on young minds but all they really do is move our attention to our phones where we play Words With Friends.
Political commentator David Gergen spoke at my graduation and I don’t remember a single thing he said probably because stories about the Gerald Ford administration weren’t particularly interesting at 22 when all I could think about was the economic maelstrom I was walking into after picking up my degree. I was a bit focused on where I was drinking that evening, too.
Universities should spare students the wasted 20 minutes or so and, instead, just give them their degrees so they can go off into the world and figure out what the heck they’re going to do with the rest of their lives. Or, better yet, maybe devote that 20 minutes allotted for some important speaker with real world experience to a stand-up comedian of some kind. At least make ‘em laugh moments before they’re stuck with decades of indentured service to these fine institutions of higher learning.
Two guys on YouTube under the name SuperSecretProject posted a video medley of memorable Boston advertising jingles from recent decades. Some of the jingles featured include Giant Glass, StarMarket, BayBank, Ernie Boch, Papa Ginos, and the Lottery.
The SuperSecretProject had a minor cult hit three years back with the video Granite State of Mind.
WATERTOWN, Mass.—Boston-based civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate told Reason.com he is very troubled by the measures taken by law enforcement officials during the manhunt for alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. His views contrasted greatly with what this reporter came across during dozens of man-on-the-street interviews conducted across the greater Boston area last week, where residents voiced overwhelming support for the actions of local, state, and federal officials.
“It was only after people were allowed out of their houses did somebody spot the guy, proving that an alert citizenry is more capable of ensuring safety than an army of militarized police,” said Silverglate, who described Gov. Deval Patrick’s advisory to “shelter in place” as “outrageous and counterproductive” and likened it to something out of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World.
“The whole shelter in place was symbolically very bad; it gave the people the notion that we were under some kind of military attack,” said Silverglate, who said Boston was more closed down last week than London was during the German bombings in World War II.
As for the huge outpouring of public support for law enforcement in the wake of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s capture, Silverglate called it “very dangerous” and bordering on “adoration.”
“There’s a difference between appreciation and adoration, this has moved into adoration. We have learned that there is a vast militarized law enforcement establishment at the state, federal, and local levels. I actually feel like I am in an occupied country and I don’t know how many other people share my view on that. We have seen the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and it is very scary,” said Silverglate.
The police do have the authority to enter homes without warrants in emergency situations, he added, but the house-to-house searches by militarized police with heavily-armored vehicles only added to the siege mentality of the situation while threatening to set a dangerous new precedent in such investigations. “Every time there is some enlargement of the military industrial national security state it becomes the new normal and I would say we’re in a new normal and this is a very disturbing new normal,” he said.
The executive director of the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union, Carol Rose, was more reserved in her comments about last week’s events, noting that the command to “shelter in place” was not an order but advisory. “It wouldn’t be constitutional for the government to issue that kind of an order absent other kinds of circumstances,” said Rose.
Rose said her office has received reports from people in Watertown and elsewhere that their rights were violated during Friday’s manhunt. They are currently verifying these claims. “We need to get more facts to find out what happened so we can get a better handle on what exactly went down in Watertown and, for that matter, Cambridge,” said Rose, adding this is something that ACLU cares deeply about.
“This is not the time to give up our constitutional rights and civil liberties. This is the time that they become most important. It is in times of crisis and fear that they are most tested,” said Rose.
During the course of my reporting, I was unable to locate a single Watertown resident that admitted to being uncomfortable with the government asking them to “shelter in place” while 9,000 armored police descended on the Greater Boston area in search of a single suspect. In my estimation, the support for law enforcement appeared to be nearly universal, with phrases like “110% support” and “they did a great job” thrown around by virtually everyone I interviewed before, during, and after the manhunt. As one woman told me, “If it were ever to happen again, I'd hope they take the same precautions.”
A petition to the ban the crazy people at the Westboro Baptist Church from picketing the funerals of the victims of the Boston Marathon has already 7,640 signatures. The WBC has announced they intend to picket the funerals whenever and wherever they happen.
Another petition calls for the the Presidential Citizens Medal to be awarded to Carlos Arredondo for "exemplary deeds at the Boston Marathon."
You probably noticed a lunatic shouting questions about a "false flag operation" at Governor Patrick at yesterday's press conference at the Westin. Various outlets are identifying the man as part of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' website Infowars. It's inevitable that there will be more people claiming that yesterday's bombings were the work of some evil government conspiracy to take away our civil liberties or some other such nonsense. The mechanical fire at the JFK Library and a handful of misstatements from the local authorities just add fuel to the conspiratorial fire. Of course nonsensical conspiracy theories about government agents secretly plotting to bomb the Boston Marathon are the last thing angry Boston residents and victims want to hear right now.
For what it's worth I've never been able to jive how people like Jones and those who follow him can think the government can't run a nationalized health care system but can somehow successfully orchestrate secretive actions that kill and maim innocent civilians without any of us catching on.
Anyway, a gentleman in California named Jaimie Muehlhausen purchased the domain "BostonMarathonConspiracy.com/" and place the following statement on the site:
I BOUGHT THIS DOMAIN TO KEEP SOME CONSPIRACY THEORY KOOK FROM OWNING IT.
PLEASE KEEP THE VICTIMS OF THIS EVENT
AND THEIR FAMILIES IN YOUR THOUGHTS.
Reached via email, Muehlhausen declined an interview but did say the following:
Buying the domain name was an impulsive action in anticipation of the inevitable reaction from a certain group of people. Nothing more. This story isn’t about me. I did not do this for any sort of media attention. I did this out of respect for the victims and the families of those affected by this horrible tragedy. I think it would be best to keep the emphasis there. I did this as a private citizen and have no ulterior motives or business angles to it. Just trying to do the right thing.
I have decided not to do any further interviews about it. I think we should focus more on helping the families and victims and not so much the guy who bought a domain name.
Dave Weigel spoke with Muehlhausen earlier.
The recent shifts in public opinion on hot button issues like gay marriage and drug legalization reflect the ascendancy of Generation Y and the struggles of modern day social conservative activists. The changes shown in the charts below did not take place overnight but gradually as more and more people have grown tolerant of gays and lesbians while recognizing the abysmal failure of the War on Drugs.
It may be a few more years, possibly even a decade, before marriage equality and marijuana legalization become a national reality but there is no denying that these two major public policy changes will happen.
As we reflect on the anniversary of the Iraq War we should take a look back at how one of the most controversial American foreign policy decision in history came about. Massachusetts had 10 congressmen, in addition to its two senators, on Captiol Hill at the time, all Democrats. Half of the delegation that voted on the authorization of the Iraq War is no longer present. Here's how they voted:
NAY D Olver, John MA 1st
NAY D Neal, Richard MA 2nd
NAY D McGovern, Jim MA 3rd
NAY D Frank, Barney MA 4th
YEA D Meehan, Marty MA 5th
NAY D Tierney, John MA 6th
YEA D Markey, Ed MA 7th
NAY D Capuano, Michael MA 8th
YEA D Lynch, Stephen MA 9th
NAY D Delahunt, Bill MA 10th
YEA D Kerry, John MA
NAY D Kennedy, Edward MA
Kerry and Meehan have departed the steps of Capitol Hill for greener pastures but Markey and Lynch are still around, currently jockeying to fill Kerry's old seat. Here's what Markey had to say on his vote:
"Ten years ago, the Bush administration perpetrated a fraud on Congress and the American people and launched an invasion into Iraq even though the administration knew that there were no nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction," Markey said. "As a result, we fought a conflict that cost thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and untold damage."
“Before they had one strongman, Saddam Hussein, who made all the decisions and through force and through oppression he pushed his agenda. They never had the responsibility of sitting down across the table and arguing out their issues,” Lynch told reporters.
“I think our error, which I do regret, is that we moved too quickly,” he said.
The Republicans in the race leave much to be desired, too.
State Rep. Dan Winslow issued a statement saying we're all better off Hussein is gone.
‘‘They ended the reign of Saddam Hussein who was a destabilizing presence in the Middle East,’’ Winslow said in a statement. ‘‘There is no doubt that the world is a better and safer place with the end of this dangerous dictator who was an exporter of terrorism.’’
Sullivan had something similar to say in a statement on his website:
Mike Sullivan supported the goal of helping to build a free Iraq that would respect the human rights of its people and create a more peaceful and secure Middle East -- benefiting not only that region but the world.
Gomez, the only Republican in the race with military experience, was pretty vague about where he stood on the war when talking with the Springfield Republican. He issued a statement, too, where he talked about care for returning veterans.
“You can talk about it differently now, because obviously there’s been evidence that maybe he didn't have weapons of mass destruction,” Gomez said. “But leading up to that point, the right thing to do was to go into Afghanistan, go after al Qaida, its safe haven, and if you really thought there was weapons of mass destruction like a lot of people did…You've got 30 plus Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq.”
Who knows if the cardinals will actually send up a puff of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel today but if they do here’s hoping that they pick our own Cardinal Sean O’Malley. Nobody in the College of Cardinals is more capable or qualified to lead the Roman Catholic Church than Boston’s humble Franciscan Capuchin. He took the reins at one of the biggest institutions in town during a time when it was in the worst possible sexual abuse crisis and has slowly but surely turned it around. Is there any doubt he couldn’t do the same at the Vatican?
O’Malley’s arrival in Boston after the departure of the disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law was a breath of fresh air in the Hub. Law was flashy and glitzy, known to show up to events in black cars while O’Malley is more prone to make quiet entrances in his brown robes and sandals. O’Malley even to sell Law’s lavish living quarters, opting to live in a simple apartment near the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
In addition to his humble and unassuming presence on the Boston scene he has managed to restore the churches finances to a sound condition in a transparent way, quite an impressive feat given the damage caused by the sex abuse crisis and Law’s mismanagement. O'Malley has tackled the tragedy of sex abuse in Boston, Ireland, and other deeply Catholic areas by meeting with victims, releasing names, and cracking down in a way that his awful predecessor couldn't have imagined.
O’Malley and his team have taken advantage of technology, too, by building up a sizeable social media presence and daily blog that give us a more personal view into O’Malley’s daily life. His time as cardinal here has been more open and transparent than his predecessor
O’Malley’s work as the CEO of the archdiocese is just one part of his many qualifications for Holy Father. Like pretty much all of the Catholic hierarchy, O’Malley is a social conservative but he has not made it the central focus of his existence like other Catholic leader as Christopher Dickey at the Daily Beast explained in a post yesterday. O’Malley has spent time as a community organizer for the downtrodden and is a champion of the poor and immigrants that have struggled to get by:
The people who came to him for help often had no papers and were living on the edge of personal disaster, far from their families and homes in Nicaragua and El Salvador, Peru and Bolivia. But this bearded Franciscan friar in the long brown robes, the pointed hood and the sandals of the Capuchin order, who looked so strange on the streets of the nation’s capital at the height of the disco era, seemed wonderfully familiar and reassuring for the immigrants. He was an unabashed icon of the church they knew, the human embodiment of the charity they hoped for, the worldly and wise friend who could help them straighten out their lives. “Padre Sean,” they called him.
When we first met, it was in the center’s offices, if that’s what they could be called. Big maps of Central and South America were pinned to the wall with letters cut out of colored paper like in elementary school. They read PAZ (peace), JUSTICIA (justice), and AMOR (love). He seemed so at ease with the people there, and they with him, that I asked uncertainly where he came from.
O’Malley may not bring about change on some of the typical social issues that the contemporary media focus heavily on but he would bring about a major change in the way the Vatican is run. I wouldn’t doubt that O’Malley, if he becomes pope, would jokingly try to sell St. Peter’s Basilica to raise money to help the poor and hungry. With his solid blend of social justice work, advocacy for immigrants, and defense of the unborn, O'Malley does a pretty good job of bridging the divide between the various factions in the Church
O’Malley is pastoral and would be a pope of the people in the way Pope John Paul II was but with more administrative chops. O’Malley can manage large bureaucracies that are in shambles like the Vatican is now but he can give one heck of a homily, too. O’Malley may not have the deep theological scholarship background like Benedict XVI but that isn’t one the Church needs right now and it isn’t what the Church need for the last decade either.
My fellow practicing Catholics, the Church is in disarray and right now it needs somebody to go to Rome, bang some heads and clean house.
O’Malley is just the guy to do that.
There are plenty of great arguments in favor of the Modern Lover’s Roadrunner being enshrined as the official rock song of Massachusetts but what about those who, for some inexplicable reason, don’t like it and want to make Dream On by Aerosmith the state song?
State Rep. Josh Cutler, a backer of legislation to make Dream On the official state rock song, told the State House News Service that it should be considered because it’s a “classic ballad about holding on to your dreams and seizing opportunity.” State Rep. James Cantwell, another support of the legislation, said that Aerosmith’s stature as “the best-selling American rock band of all time” and their close association with the Bay State are why Dream On should beat out Roarunner.
Cutler is right that the Aerosmith ballad is a classic tune but it has nothing to do with Massachusetts. Cantwell is just wrong when he says they’re the best-selling American rock band of all time as The Eagles took that title many eons ago. Yes, Aerosmith is “from here” but there are many better and more influential bands that are “from here” like The J. Geils Band, The Lemonheads, The Pixies, Passion Pit, Dinosaur Jr. and The Cars just to name a few. Oh, and we can’t forget that pesky group of guitar nerds from Cape Cod named Boston.
The legislators don’t really have much of a leg to stand on in this argument so what about some of our local media figures?
Fox 25’s morning man-on-the-street guy VB trashed Roadrunner during an interview with Braden from WZLX’s morning show Karlson & McKenzie last Thursday outside their Beacon Hill studios.
During the interview Braden sounded like he wasn’t really sure why he was supporting Aerosmith’s Dream On as the official state song but VB jumped in to help him.
“Roadrunner sucks! It’s the kind of song you hear at a coffee shop,” said VB.
On another occasion VB called it, "Horrendous" and said the Modern Lovers are "terrible."
Ah, so thoughtful. I can’t remember the last time I heard a punk song at a coffee shop but whatever you say, VB!
While Braden weakly defended Roadrunner even though he was there to support Dream On VB suggested Shipping Up To Boston by The Dropkick Murphy’s and Smokin by Boston in addition to Dream On. The problem with Shipping Up To Boston is it is about Boston (and pirates or something) not the entire state. Smokin fails to mention Massachusetts and is about dancing and smoking, presumably pot.
The negative reaction by some to Roadrunner’s front-runner status as official state rock song was inevitable. If you’re not familiar with the history of rock music in the Bay State or the early days of punk rock it’s safe to assume you may have overlooked the genius of Jonathan Richman. So, of course, some have turned to Dream On by Aerosmith as the official state song because they’ve heard it a bazillion times on our all but dead terrestrial radio rock stations even though it has nothing to do with Massachusetts.
There is, perhaps, no song that describes traveling around the frustrating highways of Massachusetts in such a fun and uplifting way as Roadrunner. In the many different version of Roadrunner , Richman takes listeners for a trip around Route 128 and the MassPike while blasting the radio in his car. He’s having fun talking about how he is full of life and “in love with the modern world” as he drives by Massachusetts landmarks. According to The Guardian’s Laura Barton, an unofficial Roadrunner expert, Richman talks about
Over the course of the various recordings he refers to the Turnpike, the Industrial Park, the Howard Johnson, the North Shore, the South Shore, the Mass Pike, Interstate 90, Route 3, the Prudential Tower, Quincy, Deer Island, Boston harbour, Amherst, South Greenfield, the "college out there that rises up outta nuthin", Needham, Ashland, Palmerston, Lake Champlain, Route 495, the Sheraton Tower, Route 9, and the Stop & Shop.
Good luck finding a rock song that touches on that much Massachusetts in a positive, fun, and enjoyable way. The Dropkick Murphys could make a case with their song
The State of Massachusetts but I doubt it would go very far with its focus on broken families, family court, and the Department of Social Services.
Aerosmith made great records, as did Boston and The Dropkick Murphys, but they did not produce a song about Massachusetts like Roadrunner. We don’t need a state rock song that is some throwaway top 40 hit that blends in with all the other classic rock hits.
The debate agreement between Democratic US Senate candidates Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch calls for six debates across the state including, for the first time since 2002, one in the central Massachusetts city of Worcester. For the last several cycles there have been debates in Lowell, Springfield, the South Coast, and of course, Boston. Somehow Worcester and the central part of the state has been ignored for over a decade.
In addition to Worcester, the cities of Lowell, Boston, New Bedford, and Springfield will host debates between the two candidates for US Senate.
During the 2012 campaign for US Senate between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown the Worcester Telegram and Gazette published a strongly opinionated column from the Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty on why they should host debates:
A debate between these two candidates in Central Massachusetts would recognize the importance of the region to the commonwealth and in the general election this fall.
Our economic, medical research, educational, and cultural contributions play a significant role in the health and competitiveness of the state and in our reputation on the national stage. Forbes has ranked Worcester as one of the best cities for business and careers, the second-happiest city in the nation to work and the ninth most livable city in America. The voters deserve the opportunity to host a debate for these reasons alone.
So now that Worcester is finally getting the attention it deserves what other regions of the state are being ignored? Where should the sixth debate be held?
Here are three possible locations for a sixth debate that immediately come to mind:
Cape Cod has not been home to a major debate in recent memory and is a huge economic engine for the state, particularly when it comes to tourism. Surely there are some suitable venues near Route 6 that could host the candidates. The Cape is a mixed region politically as it is split between blue and red towns.
The South Shore, a region that's home to the largest mall in the state, the South Shore Plaza, and the largest town by area, Plymouth. The South Shore is one of the more conservative pockets of the state, consistently voting for Republicans in statewide elections over Democrats.
Pittsfield is an hour west of Springfield but for some reason we so often forget that the state keeps going after junction of the Masspike and 91. It is the biggest city in the most rural part of the Commonwealth and a gateway of sorts for the Berkshires.
SOMERVILLE – Hurricane force winds and sideways snow could not stop two Stephen Lynch supporters from gathering signatures in the middle of Davis Square this afternoon. Jay Fraiser and Joe Kelly set up a table on a traffic island across from the Somerville Theatre around 10 a.m. with hopes of getting about 100 signatures.
By 1 p.m. they had over 250.
“I didn’t think there’d be this many people out right now. I did think people would be out walking their dogs. We love Jack Williams but how much more of Jack Williams can we take? It’s been like 48 hours straight of Jack Williams,” said Kelly, 32, a Somerville based union electrician and avid fan of the WBZ news anchor.
Kelly, layered up with Carhart pants, said they had to be out there to get signatures for Lynch because they did not have much time to get him on the ballot.
While Kelly spoke with me Fraiser appeared to know every plow truck driver that passed us by.
“Hey Leo! Can I get a signature for Stephen Lynch? He’s running for US Senate!” he yelled before a truck stopped.
“You’re Somerville, right?” Fraiser asked before handing the driver a clipboard with nomination papers.
Fraiser spent Friday night at Kelly’s house outside of Davis Square just for the purpose of gathering signatures for Lynch on Saturday morning. They are both members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103.
Fraiser, who says he has gathered around 2,500 signatures for Lynch, chalked up his support for the South Boston congressman because “he’s a regular guy.”
“We want to put this guy in the Senate. I wouldn’t be out here in this blizzard for anybody else,” he said.
Lynch campaign press secretary Conor Yunits said the campaign is pleased with their efforts but wants people to be safe throughout the weekend.
“We want all of our supporters to be safe and use caution throughout the weekend if they are going to campaign. Their efforts to gather signatures during this storm speaks volumes about our volunteers,” said Yunits.
Yunits said that Kelly and Fraiser were not being paid by the campaign.
I reached out to the campaigns of Ed Markey and Dan Winslow on their signature gathering process earlier this week as well but neither disclosed their field plans for this weekend.
Candidates for the special election for US Senate have until February 27 to submit 10,000 valid signatures of registered voters to secure their place on the ballot.
The accelerated calendar for the special election for US Senate makes signature gathering all the more difficult for candidates, particularly the ones just getting in the race. This weekend's blizzard is only contributing to the stress that field directors are surely feeling as it all but eliminates a major signature gathering weekend. At the handful of public forums I attended this week signature gatherers were out in full force for the campaigns and that's a smart move by them because people that go to civic gatherings are almost certainly registered voters.
While out hoarding assorted canned goods and batteries for the blizzard of doom I did not come across anybody gathering signatures for any of the candidates. This is baffling because the stores are jammed with people right now stocking up on goods like they are doomsday preppers.
Stephen Lynch's campaign said that they are going the full volunteer route when it comes to getting on the ballot. Dan Winslow's campaign is using a mix of volunteers and paid gatherers. I have seen many Ed Markey volunteers out in the field gathering signatures but his campaign has not stated how they are approaching the ballot access issue.
There's nothing wrong with campaigns paying people to gather signatures to get on a ballot. It's a pretty common practice not just in Massachusetts but across the country for candidates and political organizations to pay people to obtain the required to signatures for ballot access.
The declared and potential candidates for the special election to fill John Kerry's Senate seat.
Congressman Ed Markey
Congressman Stephen Lynch
Democrats On The Fence
2012 Senate candidate Marisa DeFranco
Former City Council candidate Doug Bennett
Psychiatrist Keith Ablow*
*Ablow says he will run if certain conditions are met.
Republicans On The Fence
State Representative Dan Winslow
Former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez
2010 Republican Senate candidate Jack E. Robinson
2012 Congressional Candidate Daniel Fishman
The immediate challenge facing any candidate running on a major party line in the special election for US Senate is steep: 10,000 signatures must be submitted to 351 city and town clerks across the Commonwealth by the close of business on February 27. On March 6 those papers must be submitted to the Secretary of Commonwealth’s office for final certification.
Ballot drives are a herculean task with several moving parts that require extensive discipline and organization. Campaigns have to make sure their nomination papers are in near mint condition, signatures line up with the correct town and ward, deal with a local elections officials, and most importantly they have to collect enough valid signatures to sustain any challenge.
There is little doubt that some prospective candidates, particularly on the Republican side now that Scott Brown is out, included this hurdle in their decision to opt out of running in the 2013. Losing any election is embarrassing but committing to run for office and then failing to make the ballot is humiliating. It last happened locally in 2008 when Jim Ogonowski came up short in his efforts to make the ballot to challenge then Senator John Kerry.
When making the ballot candidates have really just two options when it comes to qualifying for the ballot. One option is paying an outside firm to collection petitions to get on a ballot, an effort that sometimes costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. This process is usually faster and frees up staffers to focus on other efforts but it drains campaign coffers of valuable cash.
The other option is organizing volunteers to get on the ballot. This method is cheap and can yield valuable data to campaigns that know how to use it efficiently. Volunteer led signature gathering gives organizers an opportunity to plug volunteers into a campaign at a very early stage, something that can prove valuable on Election Day when they need every warm body they can find to turnout voters.
Third party candidates and independents have a little more time to get their act together and on the ballot with an April 3 deadline.
The clock is ticking.
Former US Senator Scott Brown emailed the media earlier today to inform them that he is not running in the 2013 special election for US Senate. Brown had been quiet on his plans about running until today.
The only declared candidates for the race are two Democratic congressman: Stephen Lynch and Ed Markey.
Here is the full statement from Brown:
“Representing Massachusetts in the United States Senate was the greatest privilege of my life, an experience that takes second place only to my marriage to Gail and the birth of our daughters. It was a higher honor than I had ever expected, and in the time given to me I always tried to make the most of it.
“When I was first sent to the Senate in early 2010, it wasn’t exactly welcome news for President Obama or many other Democrats. Yet among my best memories from those three years in office are visits to the White House to see the President sign into law bills that I had sponsored. I left office last month on the best of terms with colleagues both Republican and Democrat. I had worked well with so many of them, regardless of party, to serve the public interest just as we are all supposed to. All of this was in keeping with the pledge I made at the beginning to do my own thinking and to speak for the independent spirit of our great state.
“Over these past few weeks I have given serious thought about the possibility of running again, as events have created another vacancy requiring another special election. I have received a lot of encouragement from friends and supporters to become a candidate, and my competitive instincts were leading in the same direction.
“Even so, I was not at all certain that a third Senate campaign in less than four years, and the prospect of returning to a Congress even more partisan than the one I left, was really the best way for me to continue in public service at this time. And I know it’s not the only way for me to advance the ideals and causes that matter most to me.
“That is why I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for the United States Senate in the upcoming special election.”
So with Scott Brown out of the race for John Kerry’s old seat what other options do Republicans have left that would stand a fighting chance?
Former Governor Bill Weld
The former governor was quite popular during his time in office before leaving for what he thought would be the job of Ambassador to Mexico but he was never confirmed. Weld later worked in New York for several years and made a failed bid for governor in 2006 there before returning to Massachusetts in 2012. A shorter election cycle may hurt Weld as he may need to reestablish name recognition throughout the Commonwealth after being away. A run by Weld, a man who last held public office here in 1997, shows that that Republicans still have some work to do when it comes to building up a bench of possible candidates for 2014.
Former Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey
A run by Healey in this special election would give her an opportunity to make up for her disastrous run for governor in 2006 when she ran what many considered an overly negative campaign against Governor Deval Patrick. Healey’s close association with Romney could be a real burden for her as he remains very unpopular. Healey does have a considerable fortune that she could tap into if she runs as well as a national fundraising network developed from her time in national Republican politics.
State Representative Dan Winslow
Winslow has nothing to lose in a longshot run for US Senate and would be a perfect proving ground for a guy who hints at aspirations for higher statewide office. Winslow benefited from Brown’s 2010 special election win as it triggered the domino effect that led to his election as state rep. Winslow is a common fixture on social media as well as local television and radio.
Former State Representative Karyn Polito
The central Massachusetts based pol has been out of politics for three years but could resurrect her political career with an impressive run in a special election. Polito lost to Steve Grossman in a race for treasurer in 2010 by nine points.
Psychiatrist Keith Ablow
The Newbury resident floated speculation that he would run if Brown or Weld stay out of the race in a statement in early January. Ablow is a frequent contributor to Fox News and was heard often on former talk station WTKK. Ablow has a practice in Newburyport.
The all-but-confirmed next Secretary of State and current US Senator from Massachusetts John Kerry once had a brief part on Cheers. Kerry was mistaken as a newscaster from the fictional "Channel 8" on the episode "Bar Wars VI: This Time It's for Real" that first aired in 1992.
All of Kerry's mostly newsish TV appearances can be found here.
Part of Governor Patrick's budget proposal reportedly includes expanding the reach of the sales tax to non-traditional tobacco products like smokeless tobacco or, as it is more commonly known, chew. The combined tax revenue from cigars and smokeless tobacco was $23.8 million in FY 2012 according to Department of Revenue projections. Here's a handy chart detailing the growth of tax revenue from cigars and chew:
- Taxes on cigars and chew were last raised in 2002.
- The tax is levied on the wholesale price that retailers pay to distributors.
- Massachusetts law considers cigarillos, or little cigars, to be cigarettes and taxes them as such.
In 2009 Patrick presided over one of the more challenging reorganizations of state government in recent memory when he merged all of the state’s transportation entities into one body now known as MassDOT. Reorganizing government agencies is easy to sell as it sounds like you’re streamlining departments and making them operate in a more efficient manner. Who can argue against reorganizing government to eliminate waste and abuse, right?
Now Patrick has a much tougher sell on his hands with his latest transportation proposal calling for “routine, regular increases in fees, fares, and tolls” and an increase in the state income tax. In addition to these increases Patrick’s plan includes a decrease in the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent and a dedication of all its revenue to infrastructure projects. In short: this new plan will take more from your paycheck, hit you with all kinds of new user fees but it will take less from your wallet at checkout.
If Patrick is going to get this package through the legislature and please a public that is still weathering the Great Recession he’s going to need to explain in a visually appealing way what it is the public will get in return for paying more. MassDOT is familiar with transparently explaining what they are doing and why but the information available on their website is not in the greatest format or frequent enough for the uninitiated. The data released by the MBTA is more frequent and thorough plus its monthly scorecard is a model that MassDOT should consider replicating for other areas of transportation. Steve Poftak proposed a uniform report card for the entire department in 2011 when there were rumblings of a gas tax increase.
Another place MassDOT could look for inspiration is the state of Washington. Their Department of Transportation releases information in an easily accessible and user friendly format called the Gray Notebook. It’s a downloadable quarterly PDF chock full of data that does not require a degree in urban transportation studies to understand.
In the run-up to putting this extensive proposal together MassDOT held a series of public forums on transportation around the Commonwealth. These forums were a key factor in the crafting of the proposal and getting a better idea of the transportation needs in the different regions of the Commonwealth. Patrick should consider something similar where he tours the state and uses his political organization to make the case for these proposed reforms directly to the public. Patrick should not limit events to a series of town halls though. He should bring people to bridges that are in need of repair and ride the buses of the regional transit authorities. If the public sees what he says needs to be done their completely understandable resistance to higher taxes and fees may change.
Since Patrick is not running for reelection the risk he faces by putting on this kind of a full court press for a major proposal is minimal. The Patrick administration has made significant strides in transparency when it comes to transportation policy but if they are to successfully implement their new plan it is likely they will need to do more to convince the public to pay more.
State Senator Ben Downing, a young rising star in the Massachusetts Democratic Party, is not running in the special election for US Senate.
Downing, a Democrat, said Friday that he spoke with friends, families and colleagues about a possible run and the response was “overwhelmingly positive.” “I will be forever grateful for their words of encouragement, advice, and endorsement,” Downing said in a statement.
However, Downing continued, “I wish their faith in me was enough to sustain a campaign, but I know that every consideration – especially financial – must be made before a race of this type is undertaken. After considering every aspect of a possible campaign, I have determined that I will not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in the upcoming special election.”
A run in the special election would have been very difficult for Downing because he has no federal campaign funds to speak of and his base of support is in a rural part of the state. All of his potential competitors for the seat, particularly Congressman Ed Markey, have intimidating federal war chests and bases of support in dense areas that give them a huge advantage in such a short a race.
As of now only Markey is the only declared candidate making him the front-runner.
Hoo-ray! The lockout is over but that doesn't mean the NHL has solved its many institutional problems that have plagued it throughout the Gary Bettman era. Over-expansion into non-hockey markets and a tendency to screw up a good thing are just a few of the problems that NHL still faces. Here are five ways to improve the NHL right now:
1. Move struggling clubs in non-traditional hockey markets to American and Canadian cities that actually support hockey. Teams like the Phoenix Coyotes and Florida Panthers should relocate to Quebec City and Hamilton. (Plus, as Boston fans wouldn't it be nice to take road trips to Europe-on-the-cheap for Bruins-Nordiques games again?) The NHL’s insistence on backing struggling clubs in horrible American hockey markets is baffling. Additional teams in smaller Canadian cities would only pad their incredibly lucrative TV deal in the Great White North.
2. Keep the current All-Star Game format. The All-Star Game is one of the few things the NHL gets right that helps differentiate it from other sports. The pond hockey style selection of teams is entertaining and exactly what a glorified exhibition game should be all about. Hockey officials haven’t been afraid to tinker with the All-Star game for but it appears they have finally found a format that’s fun and exciting.
3. Make sending NHL players to the Olympics permanent. We’ll probably never see a return of the legendary Summit Series so it’s for the best that the NHL continue the practice of allowing players to participate in the Winter Olympics. It’s hockey played at the highest level that tugs on patriotic heartstrings and it is the best marketing tool that the NHL doesn’t have to pay for. More Americans watched the Canada vs USA gold medal game than several Stanley Cup finals combined. The NHL would be out of their minds to end this practice.
4. Reform the “instigator rule”. The instigator rule has led to a diminishing role for so called enforcers in hockey while making it easier for cheap shot artists like Matt Cooke to get away with what they do best. Want to cut down on cheap shot artists and illegal hits? Make players more accountable by making them face team enforcers.
5. End shootouts. The shootout is a cheap gimmick for casual hockey fans that messes with the record book. Not only do shootouts unfairly reward teams but they add little to regular season games. A move to playoff style sudden death overtime periods of 20 minutes would be a vast improvement over the current sideshow. Sometimes nobody deserves to win.
If Scott Brown passes on the 2013 special election for a gubernatorial run as some have speculated he will what does that mean will happen in 2014?
It would result in a potential primary showdown for a statewide office the likes of which the Republican Party hasn’t seen in decades, possibly replicating the tumultuous battle between Joe Malone and Paul Cellucci. Who in the GOP could really cause problems for Brown in a statewide primary? Charlie Baker, the party’s 2010 nominee for governor. Since losing to Patrick in 2010 Baker has remained an active presence in state Republican politics going to fundraisers all the while maintaining a public profile on radio and television. A nasty statewide primary between two moderate Massachusetts Republicans in 2014 could be disastrous for a party that is desperately trying to distance itself from a more conservative national party that has a toxic brand locally.
A brutal slugfest in 2014 coupled with the fact Brown maintains impressive statewide name recognition and popularity even after getting his clock cleaned by Elizabeth Warren makes me doubt he will stay out of the 2013 special election. For Brown to win in 2013, though, is another matter entirely.
Brown probably couldn’t have done anything differently to change the outcome of his failed reelection bid because of the huge institutional advantages that a presidential election affords Massachusetts Democrats. All the weird sideshow negativity from his campaign about Warren’s self-proclaimed American Indian heritage didn’t help or hurt him that much in the end as he was dragged down by the hardcore national social conservatives in his party that couldn’t stop saying dumb things about rape. This election was largely Warren’s to lose as soon as Obama announced he was formally won his party’s nomination in Charlotte and Todd Akin started saying crazy things on camera.
The special election before us throws many of the advantages the Democrats have out the window even though they’ve hired Doug Rubin and Kyle Sullivan, two of the smartest people in Massachusetts politics. The Democrats will not have all of the typical local get out the vote operations they normally do plus they won’t be able to rely on a popular president or governor driving Democratic turnout statewide. Democrats will still have a huge registration advantage over Republicans but they will still need to identify those voters and make sure they vote. Turnout will rest solely on the ability of the two parties to drag their identified voters to the polls and the likability of the two candidates. Brown certainly has the second part of the equation locked up.
Brown has earned a reputation as one of the best campaigners in the entire state is because he has been through the special election grind twice and came out a winner each time. The guy knows how to work specials like nobody in this state does. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a natural when it comes to working a room and crowd. He’s arguably the second best retail politician in the state after Governor Deval Patrick.
As the country becomes increasingly unhappy with what they see as a “broken” hyperpartisan political system Brown’s self-proclaimed and demonstrable independence is something that could help in a special election. Plus, it will be impossible for Democrats to nationalize the election by playing up the fear that Brown would caucus with Akin and other extreme social conservatives as he would only up the number of Republicans in the Senate to 46.
Whether Massachusetts Republicans like it or not they only have two known statewide entities that are battle-tested for the two highest profile statewide offices: Baker and Brown. Unless a Republican with deep pockets enters the race a Brown run for Senate in 2013 would only feature token opposition in a contested primary from the party’s hard right (think a Mike Franco or Jeff Beatty type) and benefit the party in the short term. A 2014 run for governor against Baker could result in a lingering bitterness that only prolongs the time Massachusetts Republicans have spent in the political wilderness.