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The Download: First and goal

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Union matters seem to dominate the 24-hour news cycle these days. From Wisconsin’s governor looking to eviscerate his state’s public sector unions; to Ohio being on the verge of doing the same thing; to conservative New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unexpectedly holding out an olive branch to his unionized workers; to Gov. Deval Patrick showing his love for collective bargaining here, it’s all anybody’s talking about.

Later this afternoon, there will be potentially an even bigger story with unions in the private sector. The National Football League and its players are at an impasse. The players’ association is on the verge of decertifying the union if no agreement is reached by the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement at midnight, a move that could block a lock-out by owners.

It’s a complicated morass but at its core it’s not about health care or pensions or layoffs or the right to bargain or how to close a multi-billion dollar deficit. It’s about how to split up the $9 billion in revenue the NFL rakes in from an adoring public every year.

It’s not about a teacher making $55,000 a year with twice that amount in school loans who is worried about layoffs. It’s about millionaires (players) versus billionaires (owners) but it’s a battle that more people will pay attention to because, well, despite the lip service, we would rather pay to watch Tom Brady give us a chance to celebrate a Super Bowl while each year making roughly what the town of Dracut spends on the district’s  entire teaching staff.

Right now, the owners scrape $1 billion off the top for “growing the game” purposes, with the remainder of the pot split 60-40 in the players’ favor for salaries. The owners want a little more equity by grabbing another $1 billion while the players say hands off. If the owners don’t get what they want, they’re prepared to lock out the players and wait it out. But if the players decertify, that opens up the league to potential anti-trust suits from individual players and the owners don’t have a real good track record in court.

Here, there’s a little more focus on the football negotiations because of the success of the Patriots as well as the involvement of owner Robert Kraft, a former season ticketholder who now has the best view, and Brady’s role as a union official. Kraft is considered a centrist by both sides because of his ability to relate to the fans while at the same time needing the additional revenue to pay off the debt service of his mostly privately funded Gillette Stadium.

In this charged atmosphere of unions versus taxpayers versus business versus Democrats versus Republicans, it’s likely the NFL negotiations will share the front page with many of the other stories. But it might be wise to keep it in perspective; if there are no games being played, no one, beyond the players, coaches and owners, suffers serious consequences. But the impact of collective bargaining changes on public unions could affect whether your son or daughter can advance academically.

                                                                                                                                                                              --JACK SULLIVAN

PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS

In other union news, NECN reports that Maine state workers face off against Gov. Paul Lepage over cut to their retirement plans.

The Christian Science Monitor analyzes national polls on unions.

Firefighters in Lowell agree to a three-year contract with a 5.6 percent raise, the Lowell Sun reports.

WASHINGTON

In a ruling similar to one that the US Supreme Court seems to have to issue every few years, the justices declared that even the most vile, hateful speech is protected under the First Amendment. The case involves the wacky Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, whose members feel it's their Christian duty to protest at the funerals of fallen US troops, whose deaths they believe are divine retribution for the country's tolerance of homosexuality.

Joe Biden will steer high-level budget negotiations aimed at avoiding a government shutdown. 

Many respondents to a new Wall Street Journal poll deemed steep entitlement cuts to be "unacceptable." 

Karl Rove, who is currently seeking employment, warns the GOP faithful not to forget about economic growth while slashing and burning budgetary line items. 

ELECTION 2012

Fox News has dropped presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. The network still has three other White House aspirants - Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and John Bolton - on its roster, although it remains unclear whether any will actually jump in the race.

With Gingrich moving closer to a presidential run, Ed Kilgore, on The New Republic site, explains why he shouldn't be written off. And it starts with Gingrich's odd history as a Rockefeller Republican in the early 1960s.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal can't take corporate cash, but that doesn't mean his wife can't. And so she does. 

Republican Bill Hudak from Boxford says he will challenge US Rep. John Tierney again in 2012, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

MEDIA

The North of Boston Media Group, which includes the Salem News, the Eagle-Tribune, the Gloucester Daily Times, and the Daily News of Newburyport, is eliminating 36 full and part-time jobs. In 2008, the group eliminated 52 jobs. Here’s media critic Dan Kennedy’s view.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The bad weather across the South this winter has had a chilling effect on restaurants up North with the price of veggies such as lettuce, tomatoes, celery, and eggplant doubling while owners hold the line on prices lest they lose customers, according to the Patriot Ledger.

Kendall Square is launching a Davos-like annual summit, which is way better than having a bunch of waterfront parking lots, like some other cities

The Wall Street Journal traces the recent upheaval in the municipal bond market to problems in a few bonds backed by Ohio's tobacco settlement payments, not widespread fears that states and cities are going bankrupt. 

BEACON HILL

Bob DeLeo jokes about taxes, and Michael Graham pounces.

Failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker is venturing into the venture capital world.

The Bay State Banner looks at "packing" and "cracking" strategies in redrawing minority districts. Via the Associated Press.

The Herald can't get any of Blue Cross Blue Shield's board members - several of whom have publicly pushed for lower health care costs in their day jobs - to go on the record about Cleve Killingsworth's $11 million severance. Attorney General Martha Coakley says she'll look into the multimillion dollar payout.

State Rep. Dan Winslow asks Attorney General Martha Coakley whether the state's charity Las Vegas nights statute has already, inadvertently, legalized slot machines in Massachusetts.

EDUCATION

Eight low performing schools in Springfield and two in Holyoke will receive a total of $13 million in federal funds to work on improving student performance.

How the fight over public sector unions complicates the already contentious push for school reform.

Crazy like foxes: President Obama and former Florida governor Jeb Bush to appear at a Miami education event.

POLITICS

A little late to the party: City Year founder Alan Khazei tells his hometown Brookline Tab he’s “carefully” considering another run for the Senate, not a big secret after Gov. Deval Patrick outed him as “in, for sure” earlier this week.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Fall River City Council is considering an ordinance to allow traffic officers to issue $50 tickets for expired inspection stickers. The fines for the infraction would all go to the city’s coffers as opposed to those issued by police, which are split with the state.

Boston City Councilor John Connolly finds expired food in four city schools, NECN reports.

Salem’s Park and Recreation Commission flip-flops on turning management of the city’s nine-hole golf course over to a private firm, reports the Salem News.

Boston magazine asks whether the endless parade of new crime-fighting ideas put forward by Boston Mayor Tom Menino might actually be making crime worse

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA will pay Parsons Brinckerhoff $8.7 million as a subcontractor in its purchase of 20 new commuter rail locomotives, despite the giant engineering firm's checkered past on the Big Dig.

Lots of ideas for transit, but no ideas on how to pay for them at a Metropolitan Area Planning Council-sponsored event in Natick.

RAPE AND THE MILITARY

A Somerville Coast Guardsman, who founded the Military Rape Crisis Center after she said she got no help from superiors after she told them she was raped, talks about her part in a groundbreaking lawsuit charging the Pentagon with covering up sexual assaults in the military services.

ARTS

It's the coda for Boston Symphony Orchestra music director James Levine, who has been hobbled with health problems, reports the Globe.

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