Lake Champlain


I’m in Burlington, Vermont, on a reporting trip. Not too many tourists (by which I mean none) on the waterfront this morning.

Public-records reform: Start with weak tea; add water

Judging from the tone of coverage, it’s hard to tell whether the Massachusetts House’s unanimous approval of public-records reform legislation Wednesday was a step forward or a setback. But it sounds like the already-watery bill under consideration has been diluted still further.

Bob Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association and a staunch advocate of reform, is everywhere, telling Andy Metzger of the State House News Service that the bill is “a mixed bag”; lamenting in an article by Todd Wallack of The Boston Globe, “My concern is that the bill had just introduced an awful lot of ambiguities”; and describing the legislation as “one step forward and one step back” in an article by Shira Schoenberg of

The problem is that even though Massachusetts’ public-records law is among the worst in the country (the Center for Public Integrity recently gave the state an “F” for public access to information), the bill passed by the House both giveth and taketh away. Here’s Wallack:

The legislation includes a measure designed to reduce the fees for copies. It orders government agencies to publicly designate someone to handle public records requests, and it gives citizens the opportunity to potentially recoup their legal fees if they successfully sue to obtain records….

But the bill also gives agencies significantly more time to respond to requests, allows them to outsource some requests to vendors, and did not go as far as some advocates had hoped to rein in labor charges and penalize officials who flout the law.

The bill also continues to exempt the governor’s office, the judiciary and the Legislature itself from the provisions of the law. A commission is going to study that — although, needless to say, it would be a major surprise if we ever heard about it again.

The only hope now is that the Senate will strengthen the legislation when it comes up for consideration early next year. The danger is that Gov. Charlie Baker will sign a weak bill into law, officials will pat themselves on the back for a job well done, and meaningful reform will be put off for another generation.

Clinton stumbles as Paris changes the terms of debate

It was such a charged moment that I almost expected to see a split screen. On one side: the still-unfolding horror in Paris. On the other: the three Democratic candidates for president talking about how the United States should respond.

CBS News didn’t go that far, though it did rearrange the format to move questions about national security and terrorism to the beginning of Saturday night’s two-hour debate. Bernie Sanders was reportedly none too happy about it, but it’s hard to understand why. He more than held his own with Hillary Clinton, matching her with his command of the details, reminding everyone that she voted for the war in Iraq, and explaining that there’s a clear link between terrorism and climate change. That last bit may cause some head-scratching, but in fact it reflects the thinking of Defense Department experts.

Clinton’s performance was adequate for the most part, but she was not as stellar as she was in the first debate, a triumph that re-energized her campaign. She was strong on the details, but she was also relatively humorless and charmless. She also had two moments that reflected poorly on her political judgment. The first of those two moments was also the more important, since it may make some question whether they really want her to be answering the phone at 3 a.m.

Read the rest at

Live-blogging the second Democratic presidential debate

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10:57. That was so weird. The candidates remained on stage while Major Garrett reported on audience reaction to several key moments. O’Malley was giving a thumb’s-up to the crowd when Garrett said his slam at Trump got a big response.

10:56. And so it ends. Clinton began her campaign revival with the first debate. I suspect tonight will be seen as a minor setback. She wasn’t bad, but she was hardly dominant. Sanders was as good on the details as she was, and came across as more principled — and, needless to say, more passionate.

O’Malley isn’t terrible, but by comparison he comes across as less experienced and kind of wooden.

10:50. It finally occurred to me what O’Malley reminds me of: an official response to a State of the Union address. That’s not a compliment.

10:46. “We’ve been working you hard. Please take the next few minutes to puff yourself up in any way you like.”

10:40. I realize I said nothing about the candidates’ answers to the Black Lives Matter question. Frankly, the answers struck me as boilerplate, so I didn’t see any need to comment. But yes, I wish they had transcended boilerplate.

10:38. I’d like to see someone talk about the responsibility of private colleges and universities to hold down tuition and fees. That’s a huge part of the equation.

10:28. Sanders says again that he’s sick of hearing about Clinton’s emails, and he blames the media for reports that he’s changed his mind.

10:25. I’m going to be writing this up for as soon as the debate is over, so I won’t be able to incorporate any of the pundits’ reactions. But though Clinton has come across as knowledgeable and competent, she’s also been humorless and charmless compared to the last debate. You could say the same of Sanders, of course, but he’s playing a different game. Bernie acolytes won’t want to hear this, but I still think his main interest is in pushing Clinton to the left and influencing the party platform.

I’m also seeing indications on Twitter that the main takeaway for Clinton’s conservative critics is that she wouldn’t agree with moderator John Dickerson that “radical Islam” is our enemy. She was more comfortable talking about “jihadists,” “Islamists” and “extremism,” arguing that invoking “Islam” is too easily misinterpreted as anti-Muslim. Frankly, I’m surprised that Clinton wasn’t better at thinking on her feet. She had to know that she was handing an issue to the right.

10:16. Good to see a Twitter commenter calling out Clinton for wrapping herself in the 9/11 flag when she was challenged on her close relationship with Wall Street.

10:09. We’re now getting the Full Bernie as Sanders goes off on Clinton for her support from Wall Street. It must have stung, because Clinton responds by playing both the gender and the 9/11 cards. As pre-rehearsed as it was, I don’t think it was a good move — it was so transparent.

O’Malley, when finally given a chance to talk, calls Clinton’s Wall Street reform proposal “weak tea” and agrees with Sanders that we need to restore Glass-Steagall financial regulation.

Sanders either just said “The business of Wall Street is fraud” or “flawed.” I’m not sure which, and there’s a huge difference, needless to say.

10:00. It’s refreshing to hear presidential candidates arguing over how high the minimum wage should be rather than how low. As Sanders and O’Malley point out, it’s basic economics that everyone benefits when lower-income workers have more money to spend on goods and services. Sanders and O’Malley want $15 an hour. Clinton takes a nuanced, complicated position — $12 nationwide, but local officials could choose to go higher. But that’s already the case, so it seems like she’s being too cute.

9:50. O’Malley gets some applause for referring to “that immigrant-bashing carnival barker Donald Trump.”

9:45. Clinton wants to improve the Affordable Care Act. Sanders says he supports the ACA, but wants to keep pushing for universal coverage.

9:42. “I’m not as much of a socialist as Eisenhower,” says Sanders, noting that the marginal tax rate was 90 percent under Ike.

9:37. We’re moving on to the financial challenges faced by the middle class. Seems somehow inappropriate, but on with the show.

9:35. Poor O’Malley! The union-sponsored anti-Walmart commercial that just ran mentioned “Hillary, Bernie” and even the Republicans. But not O’Malley.

9:34. Clinton is as good as she was in the previous debate, but Sanders is much better. Interesting that all of them are still willing to take Syrian refugees with the proper screening. Again, the contrast with the Republicans is striking.

9:30. I don’t know why Sanders didn’t want to talk about national security tonight. He’s very good at this — as detailed as Clinton, and with more of an overarching philosophy. He makes a great point about the U.S. military, which has 5,000 nuclear weapons but devotes only 10 percent of its resources to fighting terrorism. “The Cold War is over,” he says.

9:29. It’s interesting to hear all three candidates take care to distinguish between violent jihadists and ordinary Muslims. Clinton even pays tribute to George W. Bush for visiting a mosque in the days after 9/11. Can you imagine what we’d be hearing tonight if the Republicans were debating?

9:23. Clinton and Sanders are having a serious discussion. O’Malley is a distraction.

9:17. Asked if he still believes climate change is our top threat, Sanders not only says “absolutely” but links it to the rise of ISIS. This is very smart. Numerous analysts have linked terrorism to environmental catastrophe, as desperate people fight over increasingly scarce resources. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has written about this quite a bit.

Sanders also rightly associates the rise of ISIS with the war in Iraq, which, of course, Clinton voted in favor of. “These regime changes have unintended consequences,” Sanders says. Clinton’s command of the details is impressive, but Sanders is holding his own and then some.

Martin O’Malley comes across as someone who’s feeling his way. Which he is.

9:09. In opening statements, Sanders quickly switches back to his “millionaires and billionaires” rhetoric. Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley stay on message in talking about Paris and national security.

9:01. The debate begins with a moment of silence — very brief but appropriate.

8:59. You may have heard that the Bernie Sanders campaign was upset at CBS News’ decision to refocus the debate on national security and foreign policy. Seems strange that someone who wants to be president can’t understand the need to switch gears after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Anyway, it will be interesting to see if any of it spills over into the debate itself.


I’ll be live-blogging the Democratic presidential debate starting at 9 p.m. Please check in — and don’t forget to hit refresh to see new content. As you may know, CBS News has refocused the agenda to concentrate on foreign policy and national security following the terrorist attacks in Paris. There should be a lot to talk about.

The Romney boomlet is about to begin

Mitt Romney in 2012. Photo (cc) by Dave Lawrence.

Mitt Romney in 2012. Photo (cc) by Dave Lawrence.

The Romney boomlet is about to begin. He’s tanned, he’s rested, he’s not crazy and he’s not Jeb Bush. Just remember that you heard it here first:

OK, so that one didn’t pan out. But Romney has clearly been the best choice for Republicans since September, when the Bush campaign began to falter.

I also thought Romney would have made a good House speaker if Republican moderates and Democrats had wanted to pursue a consensus choice:

Reality check. Romney is almost certainly not going to be the Republican nominee for president. But it’s absolutely no surprise that the Republican establishment wishes he could be. What a mess.

Conservative pundits spurn Kasich’s strong performance

John Kasich in New Hampshire earlier this year. Photo (cc) by Michael Vadon.

John Kasich in New Hampshire earlier this year. Photo (cc) by Michael Vadon.

Previously published at

Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate was a useful reminder — as if I needed one — that these events are not being staged for my benefit.

Late in the proceedings, John Kasich put the finishing touches on what I thought was a strong performance by name-checking the conservative Catholic theologian Michael Novak in arguing that the free-enterprise system needs to be “underlaid with values.” No, I haven’t read Novak, but I was intrigued. Earlier, Kasich had what I thought was an effective exchange with Donald Trump over immigration. (The Washington Post has published a transcript here.)

To check in with the conservative media today, though, is to learn that some on the right think Kasich all but disqualified himself.

“Kasich espoused positions that can charitably be called compassionate conservatism, less kindly mini-liberalism of the sort that he says he practiced so successfully in Ohio when ‘people need help,’” writes the economist Irwin M. Stelzer at The Weekly Standard. Adds Paul Mirengoff of Powerline: “John Kasich annoyingly kept demanding speaking time. He used some of it to remind everyone that he’s the least conservative candidate in the field.”

A neutral analyst, Boston Globe political reporter James Pindell, thinks Chris Christie’s strong showing in the unwatched (by me, anyway) undercard makes him a good bet to replace Kasich in future debates. Kasich, Pindell notes, “backed increasing the minimum wage, bailing out big banks, and allowing 11 million illegal immigrants to stay in the country. It is hard to see how many Republicans will go along with the sentiment.”

Clearly Kasich — a top lieutenant in Newt Gingrich’s conservative revolution of the mid-1990s — has been recast as a hopeless RINO. And the notion that he might be the most appealing candidate the Republicans could put up against Hillary Clinton is apparently not nearly as interesting to conservative stalwarts as his heterodox views, summarized by the PBS NewsHour.

As the debate opened, all eyes were on the moderators. Would they manage to avoid the anti-media controversies that befell the CNBC panelists a couple of weeks ago while still managing to maintain a firm hand? My answer is that they partially succeeded. They avoided the snarky, disrespectful tone of the CNBC debate, and the candidates responded with a substantive discussion of the issues.

But on several occasions the panelists were just too soft. One example was Neil Cavuto’s exchange with Ben Carson in which he tried to press Carson on questions that have been raised about his truthfulness. Carson didn’t really answer, and before you knew it he was off and running about Benghazi.

Cavuto’s follow-up: “Thank you, Dr. Carson.”

Then there was the rather amazing question Maria Bartiromo asked Rubio toward the end of the debate, which I thought was well described by Max Fisher of Vox:

Who won? After each of these encounters, the pundits keep telling us that Rubio is on the move. And yes, the Florida senator has risen in the polls, though he’s still well behind Trump (who informed us that he and Vladimir Putin are “stablemates”) and Carson.

But Rubio’s over-rehearsed demeanor may not wear well. I thought his weakest moment on Tuesday came when Rand Paul challenged him on military spending. The audience liked Rubio’s militaristic response. Paul, though, appeared to be at ease as he offered facts and figures, while Rubio just seemed to be sputtering talking points.

As for Jeb Bush, well, the consensus is that he did better than he had previously, but not enough to make a difference. “He may have stopped the free fall,” writes Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post’s conservative blogger, “but he was outshone once again by competitors.” The questions about Bush’s continued viabililty will continue.

Carly Fiorina turned in another in a series of strong performances. But they don’t seem to be helping her much in the polls, and there was nothing that happened Tuesday night to make me think that’s going to change.

John Dickerson of Slate, who is also the host of CBS News’ Face the Nation, seems to believe the race will ultimately come down to Rubio’s mainstream conservatism and the much-harder-edged version offered by Ted Cruz, who once again showed he’s a skilled debater.

If that’s the case, let’s get on with it. Tuesday night’s event featured eight candidates — a bit more manageable than the previous three debates, but still too large to sustain a coherent line of thought. (What was that about Michael Novak again, Governor Kasich?)

For that to happen, though, Trump and Carson are going to have to fade. And despite months of predictions (including some by me) that their support would collapse, they remain at the top of the heap. As long as that’s the case, Rubio versus Cruz means precisely nothing.

“The Democrats are laughing,” Cruz said at one point in response to a question about immigration. In fact, the Republicans have given their rivals plenty of comedic material during in 2015. The question is whether that will change in 2016 — or if Hillary Clinton will be laughing all the way to Election Day.

Live-blogging tonight’s Republican presidential debate


11:19. Well, I thought Kasich won by a lot, though if past performance is any guide, Republican viewers will disagree. Rubio was OK but over-rehearsed. Bush did little to help himself. Trump was pretty good — and a lot better than Carson. And that’s a wrap.

11:11. OK. Closing statements.

11:07. I’ve zoned out.

11:02. So what’s going on? “That was fun. Let’s have a third hour”?

11:00. Maria Bartiromo tosses a softball: How can any of you match up with Clinton’s experience?

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10:55. What do you mean “More questions coming up”? We’ve only got five minutes to go, and we’re heading into a commercial.

10:54. You get in an argument with Cruz, you look good. So Kasich looks good. Fiorina: Socialism!

10:50. You know, I would have liked to hear five or six minutes from Kasich on the notion of ethics and values on Wall Street. He cites the Catholic theologian Michael Novak, who’s written a book called “The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” Might be the most important thing anyone has said all night, and it’s said in passing, with the debate clock ticking.

10:45. Dodd-Frank blah blah blah price of soap this is an outrage. Bleah!

10:42. Rather than talking about ordinary people, Bush talks about his deep empathy for bankers. Community bankers rather than mega-bankers. But bankers.

10:40. You know who else has disappeared? Carson.

10:37. Kasich finally gets to talk, and he’s rambling, trying to hit every foreign-policy point that’s been brought up in the last 20 minutes. Worst answer I’ve heard from him. Make one coherent argument that viewers might remember.

10:34. Opposing views.

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10:32. Paul: If we enforce a no-fly zone, we’re going to shoot down Russian planes, and you’ll be sending our sons and daughters to the Middle East. Reminds everyone that he opposed the war in Iraq. Trump gets booed when he criticizes Fiorina for interrupting Paul. Rubio calls Putin “a gangster.”

10:28. Fiorina knows them all.

10:27. Trump is asked if he’ll stand up to Putin. His answer, essentially, is that he and Putin are buddies, and that Russia is useful in the war against ISIS. Bush jumps on him. Trump comes back with a semi-coherent response about not wanting to help Syrian rebels when we don’t know who they are.

10:16. The Bush Campaign Death Watch is only going to become more intense after tonight. If he were otherwise a good candidate, it would be one thing. But he’s been less than compelling on the stump, he doesn’t have a particularly compelling story to tell about his years as governor of Florida, and the Bush brand is pretty badly tarnished.

If Republican voters decide to go with one of the extremists, Bush gets frozen out. If they go with a mainstream conservative, Kasich and Rubio seem like far better bets at this point. It is very difficult to see how Bush can get back into the race.

10:08. Every answer that comes out of Rubio’s mouth sounds totally rehearsed. Rand Paul — remember him? — scores some points by going after Rubio’s tax plan and sounding like he can actually think on his feet. Paul: “Can you be conservative and be liberal on military spending?” Now Cruz jumps in to talk about sugar subsidies, of all things. Fiorina is talking about zero-based budgeting and a three-page tax code (definitely shorter than the Bible).

Bush has disappeared.

10:01. Did Clinton really say we’re going to have to live with 2 percent annual growth, as Bush just claimed?

9:57. Cruz: “There are more words in the federal tax code than there are in the Bible.” A very telling point because — uh — what?

9:56. This popcorn is good.

9:55. Purely from a performance point of view, Fiorina is turning in yet another strong debate performance. Yet despite predictions by analysts that she will start to move up in the polls, she’s stuck within the ranks of the also-rans.

I think the reason is that Fiorina has made a conscious decision to compete for the large share of the Republican electorate that wants and expects to be lied to — the abortion video she’s seen that doesn’t exist, her alternative history of her time at the top of Hewlett-Packard, her demagoguing on the Affordable Care Act. The problem with that strategy is that the free market (as she might put it) has decided, and they’re going with Trump and Carson.

9:46. Fiorina makes a brazen pitch for all those Scott Walker supporters out there.

9:42. “If Republicans join the Democrats as the party of amnesty, we will lose,” says Ted Cruz before making some truly tortured analogies about bankers and journalists. “We’re tired of being told we’re anti-immigrant. It’s offensive.” Of course, it’s also true.

9:38. Kasich and Trump both looked good on the exchange on immigration. Trump was a little more controlled than he usually is, but Kasich nevertheless exposed him as a charlatan (as he’s done before). Bush makes a point that’s both reasonable and instantly forgettable.

9:34. Trump likes Ike.

9:33. Neil Cavuto hits Carson with the first tough question of the night — his trustworthiness regarding his life story. “What I do have a problem with is being lied about,” Carson says. And then, without answering any of the questions about him, he goes after Hillary Clinton for lying about coming under attack in the former Yugoslavia. (As if that wasn’t a huge story in 2008.) “People who know me know I’m an honest person.” Cavuto: “Thank you, Dr. Carson.”

So the panelists are handling themselves with considerably more dignity than the CNBC folks did a couple of weeks ago. But “Thank you, Dr. Carson” is not an adequate follow-up. There has to be a midpoint between the snark and disrespect shown by the CNBC panelists and the failure to press the issue that Cavuto just showed.

9:28. This shingles commercial is disgusting.

9:27. If you’re just checking in, welcome to our steam-powered vintage live blog. If you’re not accustomed to old media, remember that you need to hit refresh every so often to see new content.

9:22. OK, let’s find this mother Carly Fiorina claims she talked with. There’s a pattern here.

9:21. Let’s repeal all of Barack Obama’s rules, Bush says. Among other things, he would repeal net neutrality. And he casts regulation as contributing to poverty and lack of opportunity.

9:18. Bush is whining.

9:16. John Kasich has a shambling, friendly-uncle style that I find appealing. He’s very conservative, but he comes across as less ideological and less hard-edged than some of the other candidates, as well as less prepped than Rubio. I’ve thought for some time that he would be the Republicans’ best bet in a general election. But in the current environment, he’s been cast as a hopeless RINO.

9:12. Nativist Trump opens by saying we can’t have higher wages if we want to compete with other countries. Wonder how that will play with his America First supporters. Carson says a higher minimum wage would hurt African-Americans trying to enter the job market. Marco Rubio says a higher minimum wage “would make people more expensive than a machine.”

“Welders make more money than philosophers,” Rubio says. “We need more welders and less philosophers.” Thus combining populism and anti-intellectualism, which are kissing cousins in any case.

8:58. Stephen Hayes says the most pressure is on Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. My suspicion is that the pundits are poised to say two hours from now that Bush had a good night — as long as he gives them something to hang their hats on.

8:47. What I’ll be looking for tonight: Can the Fox Business Channel rise above the very low bar set by CNBC? Will Ben Carson hold up under what is likely to be a heavy barrage over his tales of dubious truthfulness (West Point, Yale, the belt buckle) and just plain dubiousness (Muslims, the Holocaust, pyramids)? If Carson crumples, can Donald Trump reassert his dominance? Can Jeb Bush get back into the race?


I’ll be live-blogging tonight’s Republican presidential debate on the Fox Business Channel. Why? I’m finding that live-tweeting is more and more dissatisfying, as it becomes a contest to see who can be the most clever and snarky and thus generate the most traffic.

Besides, I’ll be writing something up for tomorrow morning, and it seems to me that blogging is more likely than tweeting to yield useful notes. So tune in here at 9. And feel free to weigh in with your comments — using your real name, of course.