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Unemployment down; political intrigue up

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The economy, bit by bit and with all sorts of caveats, appears to be improving, which could reshape the political landscape next year.

The national unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent in November, its lowest level in two and a half years. And yesterday Massachusetts reported that its state rate had fallen to 7 percent, the lowest level since December 2008. If this keeps up, the whole dynamic of election-year politics could change.

Of course, a lot could go wrong. The European debt crisis continues to linger, the Middle East remains in turmoil, and the stalemate in Washington continues. But the US is continuing to add jobs, albeit slowly. It’s getting out of Iraq. And down in Washington there are even some signs that Democrats and Republicans can work together.

It’s still early, but never too early to start the political speculation. Unfortunately, most newspapers ran the state’s unemployment numbers and little else. What would an improving state economy mean for Republicans trying to pick up a seat in the state’s shrinking congressional delegation? What would it mean for the race between US Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren?

My guess is a rising economy will help most Democrats in Massachusetts. Brown could also benefit because of his focus on jobs. But any improvement in the national economy has to help President Obama and, in a presidential election year, Warren could sail along on his coattails.

                                                                                                                                            --BRUCE MOHL



BEACON HILL

The state is set to certify the first reduction in personal income tax in a decade -- from 5.3 percent to 5.25 percent -- starting January 1 because tax collections rose enough to trigger the cut.

The Lowell Sun questions why it’s taking Secretary of State William Galvin so long to name a new public records chief. The Boston Herald endorses a Galvin proposal to increase casino campaign disclosures.

CommonWealth’s Back Story asks whether the state’s film tax credit is vulnerable to fraud.

The embattled wind siting bill finally meets its maker.

CASINOS

The Mashpee Wampanoags are in talks with the owners of a business park in Bridgewater on the Raynham line on Route 104 to build a casino on the site.

The success of casinos lies in keeping the competition honest, says The MetroWest Daily News.

Steve Wynn asks Foxborough to hear him out, via full-page ads in the local press.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Lowell Sun squares off with the Lowell Housing Authority Board over a story about renovation work done without permits. Lowell Sun Editor Jim Campanini weighs in with a very strong editorial.

New Bedford became the latest community to give local businesses a break by holding down the commercial property tax rate.

Two Fall River residents are mounting a recall effort against recently reelected Mayor Will Flanagan for what they say are politically motivated appointments.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Lessons learned from the war in Iraq. Time offers its analysis, while the discussion on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point is fascinating. The Patriot Ledger gets some local reaction to the official end of the Iraq War, including the views of a father whose son was killed in Iraq and an Iraqi-American professor.

The fascinating Christopher Hitchens, who took on Mother Teresa, Henry Kissinger, and even God, dies at 62. The Daily Beast has a good package. NPR also offers a look at the life of Hitch. The New York Times obit is here.

Congress averts another government shutdown.

ELECTION 2012

The dust-up over Mitt Romney calling Newt Gingrich “zany” in a New York Times interview is manufactured because, as Dan Kennedy points out, it was actually the reporter who used the term in the interview.  However, former New Hampshire senator John E. Sununu, writing on today’s Globe op-ed page, does call Gingrich a bigot.

Though Gingrich once called the Obama stimulus package “entirely a pork-barrel bill,” his consulting business got big payments from firms that will benefit from stimulus spending to support the development of electronic medical records.

Jay Nordlinger has some stream of conscious observations about the final GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses, including his realization that Fox News’s Megyn Kelly is pretty. The Weekly Standard says, with a few exceptions, everyone played nice.  The Globe says Mitt and Newt kept things “civil.”

The American Spectator’s Quin Hillyer foresees a surge by Rick Santorum to the top because, well, it’s his turn. Santorum hits the airwaves in Iowa, and his ad pairs the now-common “not divorced” factoid with stirring quotes from Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee.

Keller@Large wonders when the vile attacks on Romney’s religion will end.

Somebody is polling for Jeb Bush in New Hampshire.

Mother Jones goes inside a Mitt Romney fundraiser in New Jersey. Romney hedges his bets, campaigning hard in small, late-voting states.

Dueling anti-Ron Paul op-ed columns! Paul Krugman says the guy’s economics are nutso, while the voice of the GOP elite, the Wall Street Journal opinion page, mourns his opposition to big, expensive wars.

Rick Perry’s favorite lawman gets into trouble for unconstitutionally targeting Latinos for arrest.

EDUCATION

In the last in a series of editorials on the Boston’s school assignment system, the Boston Globe says the city can have a system of excellent schools for all that is built primarily on students attending schools in their neighborhood.

A Boston school principal neglected to notify state authorities about possible inappropriate contact between a teacher’s aide and a student, the Globe reports.

HEALTH CARE

With less than a week to go before the official start of winter, here’s something to keep in mind: A new study finds snow shoveling really does raise the risk of heart attacks.

A revised federal assessment of safety issues at the controversial proposed Boston University biolab is greatly improved, says an independent oversight panel.

TRANSPORTATION

The new concourse diverting traffic around Quincy Center is creating dangerous backups because of badly timed signals. Here’s a video.

The Berkshire Eagle supports the National Transportation Safety Board’s call for a complete ban on the use of personal electronic devices while driving.

The North Adams Transcript salutes Gov. Deval Patrick, MassDOT, and even the contractors for getting a section of Route 2 reopened on time after Tropical Storm Irene damage.

US Rep. Mike Capuano lays out a way forward for the Green Line extension in a Somerville Journal op-ed.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The head of the state’s Clean Energy Council joins the discussion on CommonWealth over the value of the state’s green laws.

The EPA is cracking down on coal pollution, Time reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Patriots player Julian Edelman has quick hands, but not that quick, concludes the DA in deciding not to proceed with groping charges against him. NECN has the surveillance video.

The shooting of the Andover couple: “Nothing makes sense,” a close friend and neighbor tells the Eagle-Tribune.

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