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Dysfunction or just democracy in action?

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With all the complaints about partisan gridlock and the polarized political atmosphere in Washington, Peter Baker asks in yesterday’s New York Times “Week in Review” section, “Is this any way to run a country.”  His answer to his own question: “As it happens, yes.”

Baker argues that, for all the carping over hyper-partisan politics and the policy paralysis that has set in since the Republican takeover of the House brought divided government back to the capital, this is, more or less, how democracy is supposed to function. “Not to be fatalistic about it,” David Hobbs, the White House legislative affairs director in the George W. Bush administration, tells Baker, “but at the end of the day when a deal has to get done, I still think they find a way. The system finds a way when you have to find a deal.”

Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff to former Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt, offers Baker much the same view. “Gephardt used to say, ‘Congress is a substitute for violence,’” say Elmendorf. “When you go around the world, they kill each other. Here we go down to the floor and argue with each other.”

Baker includes a couple of dissenting voices, but for a full-throated counter to the idea that all the rancor just represents the messy business of democracy, check out this essay by Mickey Edwards in the current issue of The Atlantic. The former Oklahoma congressman, who hung his hat at Harvard’s Kennedy School for many years and now serves as vice president of the Aspen Institute, says the Washington stasis is corrosive and has gotten worse.  And much of it, he says, can be tied to internal Congressional rules and partisan political primaries, whichl serve to magnify the power and control of political parties at a time of waning party loyalty among voters.  Edwards offers six steps to help fix the problem, and they’re worth at least pondering, even if they don’t all merit full embrace.  

                                                                                                                                                                        --MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Keller@Large has veteran political observers Glen Johnson of the Boston Globe and David Bernstein of the Phoenix dissecting what Sal DiMasi’s conviction means for and on Beacon Hill. Meanwhile, CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas and UMass Boston political science department chairman Maurice Cunningham consider the “culture of corruption” label that some have affixed to Beacon Hill in the latest “Face to Face” video conversation. Boston attorney Dan Small dives deep into that same topic.  Kevin Peterson, in a CommonWealth  “Voices” column, takes stock of how the DiMasi verdict played in Boston’s black community, which had a particular interest in the case.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo continues to duck questions about the December 2007 meeting at which Sal DiMasi handed him the keys to the House, and the Herald notes that casino gambling talks -- driven in large part by DeLeo -- are unfolding against the backdrop of an active Probation-linked grand jury. Also: David Bernstein recalls DeLeo helping DiMasi repeatedly push legislative language that would have handed DiMasi pal Jay Cashman a wind farm in Buzzard’s Bay. At least Doug Rubin has nice things to say about the current speaker.  

MassDOT overestimated how much money the state would save by eliminating the Turnpike Authority by, um, billions. New England Center for Investigative Reporting via the Springfield Republican.

The Globe runs this story today on the earlier ouster of former state representative Michael Festa as president of the Carroll Center for the Blind. Today’s story, written by Globe columnist Brian McGrory but appearing as a news story, is a follow-up to -- and something of a retraction of -- this McGrory news story from March, which suggested Festa’s ouster was related to an internal investigation of possible improper conduct between Festa and two female employees at the Newton school.  

TORNADO AFTERMATH

The Springfield Republican considers why most Springfield residents affected by the tornado have decided to stay rather than moving elsewhere.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

North Adams should vote “yes” on the city’s upcoming override, says the North Adams Transcript.

The Lawrence School Committee asks for an investigation into the use by administrators of school computers and resources for non-school purposes, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Nantucket considers a downtown valet parking program.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

WBUR reports on an unflattering analysis by the Center for Public Integrity showing how those who raise money for President Obama tend to get jobs in the administration.

The New York Times turns up the heat on Clarence Thomas.

ELECTION 2012

Mitt Romney explains in a National Review op-ed why he won’t sign the conservative Susan B. Anthony List anti-abortion pledge -- it could mean defunding hospitals that perform abortions -- but uses the piece to tout his pro-life bona fides. He doesn’t say anything about his pro-choice stance when he first ran for governor.  Meanwhile, Joshua Green, on The Atlantic’s site, wonders whether it will hurt Romney that, in more unscripted moments on the campaign trail, he is, well, just plain weird.

The Times highlights Jon Huntsman’s China years.

Rick Perry is hammering out the logistics of a possible late entry into the White House race. But does he hate Washington too much to want to run it?

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Lexington-based 1366 Technologies wins a conditional $150 million federal loan guarantee to help develop a cheaper way to produce silicon wafers for solar panels, the Lowell Sun reports.

Saugus rolls out the welcome mat for a new Walmart store, the Item reports.

The Gloucester Times reports that Rockport shipwright Leon Poindexter is building replicas of three American merchant ships for the Boston Tea Party Museum, which is currently under construction with financial help from the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. More about the financial arrangement.

A Woburn company developing a “flying car” -- yes, we said a flying car -- has pushed back the release date for the first vehicle from late this year to late 2012.

EDUCATION

In the wake of a damning state report on New Bedford schools, the Standard Times has committed serious resources and launched an ambitious seven week series looking at what’s working at other schools around the country that had also been failing their students.

By several measures, school achievement and productivity has decreased even as the cost of educating students has tripled even after adjusting for inflation since 1970 and much, though not all, of the blame lies with unions, according to the Cato Institute’s Andrew J. Caulson, writing in the American Spectator.

HEALTH CARE

Paul Levy points to a New York Times piece over the weekend that shows a number of hospitals regularly overexposed some patients in CT scans, and Levy calls on the state, which collects all payer data on medical procedures, to publish the information.

As part of the reforms the health care delivery system, hospitals move to attract primary care doctors.

The enrollment deadline for Commonwealth Care gets pushed back after the state distributed an out-of-date list of primary care doctors.

TRANSPORTATION

On Universal Hub, a mother tells of a harrowing situation on a defective escalator at the Back Bay T commuter-rail stop.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Gas prices are down across the country for the fifth consecutive week but still about $1 a gallon higher than a year ago.

The Berkshire Eagle wants regional leaders to weigh in with the EPA on the ongoing clean-up of the Housatonic River.

Nuclear regulators are working with power plant operators to keep aging plants going by weakening or ignoring safety safety standards. Associated Press via the Cape Cod Tmes.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND THE COURTS

The FBI plans to announce today a new approach to their search for fugitive Whitey Bulger that focuses on his girlfriend, Catherine Greig.

Pittsfield gets help from the attorney general to fight blight.

MEDIA

Tom Ashbrook talks to the director of the new documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times.

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