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The Download: Coarse correction

Posted in: Current Affairs   Massachusetts Legislature   Housing   Education
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The horrific shooting that took place Saturday morning in a Tucson parking lot has set off wide-ranging debate on everything from the toxic tone of political discourse in the country to gun laws so lax that a deranged loner was able to able to walk in a purchase a semi-automatic handgun a little more than month before unleashing his fury at US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others.

The reactions do not all follow predictable lines.  Media critic and Northeastern University professor Dan Kennedy says he’s “put off by those who try to politicize [Saturday’s] carnage in Arizona.”  Kennedy adds, however, that he was “appalled” to learn Giffords’ district was one of 20 targeted by Sarah Palin’s “gun sight” map that affixed a rifle scope’s cross hairs to House members her organization was targeting following last year’s health care vote.  (And he has a new post this morning calling out a Palin aide for attempting to characterize the cross-hairs as “surveyors marks” and letting the New York Times have it for letting the aide’s claim go unchallenged; Kennedy has little trouble finding online evidence that the cross-hairs were meant to be exactly what they seemed.)  But the liberal-leaning Kennedy is not much taken with Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik’s statements over the weekend that connected the shooting with the lawman’s view that Arizona had become “the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

The Boston Herald's Joe Fitzgerald, on the other hand, adds Dupnik to the pantheon of truth-tellers who are in short supply these days. Fitzgerald, whose expiration date for fresh thought often seems long past, does predictably reach back a few decades for inspiration, citing a sportswriter's anguished words following the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy. But if Fitzgerald is a moralizing voice of the right, as some might label him, it is a conservative voice of a different kind than is in vogue today.  “We vilify those with whom we disagree,” he writes, “inciting passions, stirring rage, fomenting an explosive atmosphere in which madness is nurtured and bloodshed conceived.” Fitzgerald’s take stands in sharp contrast to that offered by his paper’s editorial page, which, in characteristically caustic fashion, pronounces all the talk about the need to temper the vitriol of our political discourse the usual PC pabulum.

Fitzgerald offers the seemingly reasonable arguments that it’s our political culture, not our gun laws, that needs a makeover.  To which the New York Times's Gail Collins has a pretty reasonable response that even 2nd Amendment types might consider:  The blanket extension of gun rights to weapons like the semi-automatic handgun used in Tucson means a crazed shooter bent on this sort of attack can hit nearly two dozen people in a matter of seconds, rather than one or two who might be tragically struck by a conventional weapon.

In an editorial, the New York Times dismisses the idea that any coherent political ideology can be

attached to someone as deranged as Arizona shooter Jered Loughner. But in the next breath, the paper says he is “very much a part of a widespread squall of fear, anger and intolerance that has produced violent threats against scores of politicians and infected the political mainstream with violent imagery.”

Reports of threats against members of Congress and federal judges are up sharply, so it's hard to dismiss the idea that ours has indeed become a particularly toxic time.  Whether any causal connection can be drawn between an increasingly uncivil political culture and the mad acts of an unstable 22-year-old isn't clear.  But surely no harm could come if Saturday's horrors prompt some introspection and a dialing back across the spectrum of rhetoric that equates opposing views with treasonous villainy. 

                                                                                                                                                                    --MICHAEL JONAS

TUCSON, CONTINUED

In The Weekly Standard, Stephen F. Hayes, like many conservatives since Saturday's shootings, says it’s irresponsible to tie the actions of a crazy man to political discourse on the right – or left, for that matter. Andrew Klavan, writing in City Journal, takes much the same tack. Eleanor Clift, in Newsweek, weighs in with her thoughts on Giffords and her comments on political polarity at a conference just a week ago. Time wants to know why the mentally ill are able to buy guns. On NECN, Jim Braude and Margery Eagan discuss the blame game.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Jared Loughner appears to have long obsessed with the Arizona lawmaker. When prosecutors raided Loughner’s home, they found an envelope on which the words “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords” were written. In the shooting’s aftermath, the New York Times writes, politicians have been performing an awkward dance – disavowing excessive partisanship, but advancing clear ideological points.

Western Massachusetts lawmakers, state and federal, weigh in on the Arizona shootings.

BEACON HILL

House Minority Leader Brad Jones, leading one of the largest Republican caucuses in the Legislature in recent memory, sits down with Jon Keller for a talk about legislative and political priorities.

Gov. Deval Patrick has cooled to casino gambling because, he says, casino legislation sucks all the air out of the State House. So Leominster’s Jennifer Flanagan has filed a casino bill early, hoping to run it through the legislature before budget season gets rolling.  Meanwhile, a Springfield Republican editorial calls for teamwork on Beacon Hill, especially with perennial sticking issues such as gambling. Senate President Therese Murray talked job creation and other goals, notably not casinos, with the Cape Cod Times.

HEALTH CARE

Paul Levy, who is stepping down as CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says he’ll continue to write his “Running a Hospital” blog, but likely with a different name, as a way to offer some insights and opinions, including his constant drumbeat that transparency is the best disinfectant for hospital errors.

Robert and Myra Kraft are donating $20 million to support Partners HealthCare’s recruitment of doctors and nurses to community health care centers.

MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS

In an interview with the Globe, Boston Mayor Tom Menino says never mind the constant talk of late about his various maladies, how they've slowed him down, or how the Menino reign seems to be entering its concluding chapter.  Menino, due to deliver his umpteenth State of the City address tomorrow night, says he's full of vim, if not exactly the same level of vigor as always. (Hizzoner's upbeat self-assessment did not, however, prevent him from refusing to be photographed leveled off in a recliner at his Hyde Park home, where he's been recovering from knee surgery.) 

Scott Van Voorhis likens the boundaries of Boston’s downtown business improvement district – which took a detour at Downtown Crossing to swallow up several financial district towers – to “a Washington Street mugging.”

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua wants to remove the city’s fire chief job from the civil service system, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Lowell Sun struggles with how to convince city workers live in town without requiring them to live there.

Governing magazine reports on Philadelphia’s open-door immigration policy.

Brockton’s DPW head says the tsunami of error-ridden residential water and sewer bills, some as high as $100,000, is a “perfect storm of failure.” But the city is still filing liens on those with the bogus bills, putting the homeowners on the cusp of losing their houses.

GAMBLING

“60 Minutes” took a look last night at the explosion of state-sponsored gambling, with a focus on the slot machines that critics say are as addictive as crack cocaine – and which are the real cash cow for casinos. Getting prominent face time: Sue Tucker, the former Massachusetts state senator who left office earlier this month and was the leading anti-casino voice in the Legislature, and Les Bernal, her former aide who now runs the national organization Stop Predatory Gambling.  The leading pro-gambling voice in the piece was Pennsylvania's outgoing governor, Ed Rendell, who pretty much came unhinged when Leslie Stahl continued to press him on the social costs of gambling. 

HOUSING

The Globe reports that Boston's Pine Street Inn is shifting its focus to finding more permanent housing for some of those it serves. It's an approach that some have long advocated, including Phil Mangano, the former Bay Stater who took up the “Housing First” cause when he went to Washington in 2002 to become the Bush administration's point main on homelessness issues.  CommonWealth profiled Mangano's DC efforts here.

EDUCATION

CommonWealth contributing writer Phil Primack offers a lesson in Sunday's Globe Magazine on the declining focus in schools on social studies and civics education – including the state's delay in adding a US history component to the MCAS exam.  “We’re now getting into a third generation of people who probably lack the foundational understanding of the principles and values of our government they need to make the right choices as citizens,” retired Millbury social studies teacher Roger  Desrosier tells Primack.

A Cape Cod Times editorial lauds a Massachusetts Teachers Association decision to support linking student test scores to decisions about teacher promotions and dismissals.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Gloucester Times calls US Commerce’s Secretary Gary Locke’s decision not to raise groundfish limits “insulting” and “indefensible.” A separate story in the Times says Locke based his finding on the fact that a report from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth contained no new scientific data.

PAROLE

Peter Lucas, writing in the Lowell Sun, says Gov. Deval Patrick’s inaction on parole is absurd.

ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Underwater tidal power plants may be the next great energy source, according to Jon Chesto’s Mass Market blog. Chesto says there’s a plan afoot that could site underwater turbines in the channel between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

A Becket resident applies for state grants that would allow him to erect a wind turbine on his property. Under the new net metering regulations, the man could supply electricity to his neighbors and organizations like the Jacob Pillow Dance Festival.

The Pentagon is barred from purchasing Chinese-made solar panels.

ELECTION 2012

A Magellan Strategies poll finds Mitt Romney holding a ginormous lead over other prospective Republican candidates. But Slate's Dave Weigel says he has nowhere to go but down.

New York examines the maybe-candidacy for president of Jon Huntsman, the ambassador to China and former governor of Utah.

REDISTRICTING

The Christian Science Monitor provides some fast facts about the redistricting process nationwide.

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