Manic Monday Markup 8/22/11…

…And the World:

While fighting is ongoing in Tripoli, especially in areas near and around Col. Qaddafi’s compound, it does appear that the rebels, who are technically the US-recognized government of Libya, have all, but defeated the dictator of 42 years.  Meanwhile, three of Qaddafi’s sons have been reportedly captured by the rebels.  The push into Tripoli happened swiftly and occurred only days after the rebels captured a key oil refinery and a few weeks after many questioned whether the rebels could withstand the assassination of their top general.

In Canada, the leader of the Opposition and the New Democrat Party Jack Layton has died due to cancer.  Layton’s party secured 103 (of 308) seats in an election earlier this year by creaming the Bloc Quebecois in their eponymous province and pushed longtime political powerhouse the Liberal Party aside to become the official opposition.  However, as the New York Times writes, the future of  Layton’s party is uncertain without him.  As the prime minister, Stephen Harper and his party, the Conservatives, hold a majority of seats no new elections are likely to scramble Parliament again for several years.

The Feds:

President Obama is vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard.  However, he made a statement on Libya today.

Meanwhile the GOP is shutting down not only talk of job creation within the Super Committee, but extending the payroll tax cut as well.  After all extending a tax cut for the middle class does not help the economy.  However extending a tax cut for the uber-wealthy creates jobs.  That’s why we cannot let the rates rise on the wealthy or even the Super Rich in this country.  However, it is economically inefficient to give actual consumers more money in their pocket.  Point of reference, tax cuts for wealthy have existed for over ten years now.  We’re awash in jobs.  Right?  RIGHT?

The State of Things:

Elizabeth Warren’s listening tour has continued through the commonwealth.  We can confirm she met with activists in Agawam this week and her visit to Pittsfield was reported in the Berkshire Eagle.  There has been some flack about Warren not meeting with the press, but it is largely noise.  It is foolish to think Warren won’t talk to the press when she is actually a candidate.  Right now, she’s laying to groundwork to have a grassroots campaign.  She need not brief the press before she briefs the voters.  Meanwhile, Scott Brown is hawking Bobble Heads again, perhaps unethically (see link), but liberal groups are hitting back.  Lucky for him the resemblance is terrible.  Still, the idea of the Bobble Head Brown in his truck is only more evidence of Scott Brown construction.

The Verizon strike is over pending further negotiations on the contract.  The upside is that workers are going back to work, the down side is that there is still no contract.  Union leaders called off the work stoppage after Verizon faced two weeks of complaints from customers and inadequate response from replacement workers.  Many have worried that it took a strike just to get Verizon to negotiate and not demand, but working is better than not…ad interim.

City Slickers:

Amaad Rivera’s campaign finance disclosure forms are in.  Read up.  They’re pretty boring, if however unfashionably late.  Our story on municipal campaign finance law generally, here.

Eyes are turning to Stephen Lisauskas the Executive Director of the Control Board when Alan Ingram’s side deal was signed.  Meanwhile, some remain uneasy about City Solicitor Ed Pikula judging what public documents from the Control Board are public records and which can be legally withheld.  The preferred choice would be City Clerk Wayman Lee, largely seen as a disinterested third party (and one whose fate lies in the City Council and not the mayor’s office).  The requests have been filed in response to Ingram’s side deals.

Next steps on foreclosure ordinance today at Special City Council Meeting.  Kateri Walsh and John Lysak have resolve urging Governor not the raise gas tax.  (But what about Republicans in Washington threatening to eliminate it and highway funding altogether?)  Formal warrants for elections on agenda as is more special permit for, ostensibly slot parlors.  Our meeting write-up tomorrow.

Twitter Chatter: 
In addition to Libya, Paul Ryan made news by not making news.  The “Punk Who Tried to Take Your Medicare and Turn You Against Your Children” (our quote), has said he will not run for president in 2012.  Republicans not adding another candidate with significant shortcomings to the pile.  Greg Sargent sums it up, pretty well.


Campaign High Finance…

**This post has been updated to reflect new information obtained from the governor’s office.**

Councilor Rivera (Facebook)

It is always hard to measure what impact scandals will have on a politician.  Nobody seemed to care that Rick Perry received a $25,000 donation from Ken Lay and an Enron executive got a seat on the Utility Commission in Texas.  Likewise, prognosticators assessments notwithstanding, it is hard to know exactly what impact Ward 6 Councilor Amaad Rivera’s failure to file his campaign finance disclosure forms will have.  Part of the problem is that there is an open seat and well-known names win.  Another complicating factor is that Rivera courts, more than virtually any at-large candidate has in recent memory, a segment of the electorate that has historically low voter participation rates.

However, the entire affair has spurred us to investigate, not Rivera’s doings, but rather the municipal campaign financing in general.  As we have said for years, and especially during the Biomass debate, the same pool of donors tend to give to anybody running for office in Springfield.  However, what about the laws of disclosure themselves?  How have they changed and what impact do they have?  Just as important, what is the record of Springfield candidates generally?

McCormack Bldg, Boston (Wikipedia)
Campaign finance laws are administered by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.  That agency, headquartered in the McCormack Building next to the State House, enforces campaign finance laws in the commonwealth.  Established in 1973, the office was among many that were established, nationwide, during and after Watergate amid concerns about the influence of money in politics.  While those concerns have erupted once more after Citizens United v. FEC and the Supreme Court’s striking of a Arizona Public Financing Law, disclosure requirements, which exist in most states, remain a crucial, if shaky, foundation of efforts to clean up elections.

Chapter 55 of the Massachusetts General Laws, and nominally 55c, the commonwealth’s emaciated public financing law, are the laws that OCPF enforces.  However, the office is also the “depository” venue for most candidates to file their fund raising, expenditures and other reports.  Under current law, all candidates for State Office, including the legislature, governors council and the executive constitutional officials, must file with OCPF. 

However, before January 1, 2010 only mayoral candidates and city councilors running for at-large seats in the commonwealth’s five largest cities needed to file with OCPF directly.  Even if you were not required to file with the state, candidates raising money for their campaigns for any municipal office had to file reports with their town or city’s clerk, or in the case of Springfield, the Election Commission.  Just as Springfield undertook its first ward-based elections in decades, whose candidates needed to file only with City Hall, the commonwealth’s municipal campaign finance law received a major shake-up

Gov. Deval Patrick in 2008 (WMassP&I)

The laws that changed this came about amid scandals, resignations and public pressure.  After former State Senator Dianne Wilkerson was arrested for bribery, Governor Deval Patrick convened a task force to suggest changes to public integrity laws.  Ultimately the legislature and Governor Deval Patrick enacted legislation that would toughen the commonwealth’s ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws.  However, passage of that bill, along with reforms to pensions and transportation were in doubt until Patrick said he would veto an increase in the sales tax unless the reforms reached his desk first.  At the bill signing, Patrick said at the time, “This law demonstrates our firm commitment to governing with integrity, with openness and with the public’s interest foremost.”

The changes expanded the crop of municipal candidates who needed to file wtih OCPF.  On the first day of 2010less than two months after the last municipal electionmayoral and all city council candidates in Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, and Cambridge were required to file with OCPF.  Mayoral candidates with populations in excess of 40,000, too must now file with OCPF.   For example, a mayoral candidate in Chicopee needs to file with the Boston-based agency, but city council candidates in that city as well as mayoral candidates in Agawam, do not.

Another notable change, though one mostly irrelevant to Springfield, required that city and town clerks put online the campaign finance reports candidates file locally. All of the above revisions to campaign finance law were contained in Chapter 28 of the Acts of 2009.

City Council Chamber (WMassP&I)
Under Springfield’s all at-large system, all council candidates already had to file with OCPF.  Therefore, anybody running for city council would be familiar with the system.  However, the introduction of ward-representation, approved by voters two years before the legislature changed the law, threw a monkey wrench into the process.  While it is true that ward or district councilors in the commonwealth’s other large cities still had had to file with their clerks for years, that a seminal election in Springfield would take place under a fractured campaign reporting process seemed problematic.

For some it was not an issue.  Ward 5 Councilor, Clodo Concepcion was a perennial at-large candidate and had a file with OCPF.  However, his 2009 records at City Hall were quite spare and seemed to rely heavily on less than $50 donations, which need not be reported unless that person contributes again and crosses the $50 threshold.  Ward 8 Councilor John Lysak, too, had run in the past. as an at-large candidate.  Others took their reporting particularly seriously and submitted typed reports instead of handwriting information onto commission-issued forms.  But notably, the reporting requirements were not as thorough as the OCPF’s, which requires more frequent bank and expenditure reports.  Still, were there a violation or omission, the Election Commission could refer the matter to OCPF, who could then audit a committee that does not file with them.  None of the substance of the disclosure, contribution or expenditure laws vary whether a candidate files with OCPF or not.

Chapter 28 of the Laws of 2009 was quite a departure from the previous law in terms of the scale of work needed to be done.  Jason Tait, a Public Information Officer at OCPF, characterized the transition as “lots of work.”  Needless to say, this effort involved working with city clerks in the commonwealth’s largest cities to adequately inform candidates of the change and transition more responsibility away from clerks and to OCPF.  Gladys Oyola, the head of Springfield’s Election Commission described the switchover as something of a relief as her office lacked the legal resources to answer all ward candidate’s questions, whereas the OCPF does generally.

In a memo the OCPF distributed, the office said that all candidates must continue to file if they have money in their committee bank accounts or have outstanding liabilities.  A candidate’s committee can not be dissolved if either of those two applied.  However, if a committee has neither and does not file for dissolution, it can be administratively closed by the OCPF, or for a municipal filer, by the clerk’s office.

Orlando Ramos (Facebook)
The transition in Springfield caught more than Amaad Rivera in the cracks.  According to campaign finance records retained by the Election Commission under the old law, council aspirants Gumersindo Gomez and Michael Rodgers, who ran for the Ward 1 and 7 seats respectively, had yet to file any reports more recent than 2009.  The latest paperwork in both former candidates’ files showed balances in their committee accounts.  Other candidates for the general election in city’s other six wards had closed their accounts with City Hall, or in the case of Orlando Ramos of Ward 8, continued to file with the Election Commission rather than OCPF, as he technically should have.  Tait, the OCPF spokesman, said that letter of the law violations by a losing candidate, like Ramos, would largely be ignored.  Ramos began filing with OCPF earlier this year.  The former candidates were also, to some extent, ignored, although arguably the candidates that closed their accounts with the Election Commission did so after being notified.

Even before the law changed, at-large candidates needing to file with OCPF had problems.  Tim Rooke, an at-large member of the council and presently the dean of the body, faced several thousand dollars in penalties for filing his 2005 year end report 250 days late.  Rooke appealed the finding, and was denied although part of his fine was suspended.  Ultimately, the hearing officer rejected the appeal because Rooke’s excuse that his “intent was not to deceive,” was irrelevant in light of OCPF’s purpose, which is to enforce disclosure.  In addition, they noted that Rooke’s committee had a history of late filing.

Other former candidates have been hit, too.  Morris Jones has two recent violations on file, including a fine for failure to file paperwork on time in 2009.  James Anziano, a candidate in 2005 was likewise behind.  A file for John Lysak, suggests no violations, but OCPF ruled his use of a building for his campaign headquarters an in-kind contribution that needed to be reported.  Consequently, the OCPF found fair market value for that space exceeded the $500 contribution limit.  Lysak’s campaign subsequently paid the difference to the landlord.

As Tait explained to WMassP&I, the OCPF’s primary concern is disclosure.  To that end, OCPF is more than willing, Tait said, to engage with candidates who may not be filing for whatever reason, if it means that their donations, expenditures and committee financial activity is disclosed.  Incidentally, as of late last week, Councilor Rivera’s forms were filed with OCPF.  There is no word yet on what, if any penalty, may be levied against him for the tardiness.

Campaign finance regulations, which also include things like attribution (“I’m X and I approve this message,” is the simplest example), are in flux in light of Citizens United, but they were facing an unknown future anyway.  The advent of Facebook and Twitter has shaken up the campaign finance status quo, which has changed little since the initial push in the 1970′s.  Alaska, for example, has recommended separate Twitter accounts for officials in their capacity as officeholders and in their guise as candidates.  Many, if not most US Senators follow this rule, but it is unclear if this is due to federal law or Senate rules.  Massachusetts has no such rules yet, but it seems likely that no further steps will be taken until the full jurisprudence of Citizens United pans out and further legislation pursued by the feds.  However, under current political conditions that may not be for many years, especially if amendments to the Constitution prove necessary.

Manic Monday Markup 8/15/11…

…And the World

The rebels in Libya, who are technically the government of that country in the eyes of the State Department, have suffered through several demoralizing losses and are plagued by discord and infighting.  Still, developments continue to swing in their favor.  Another defection seems likely as the Interior Minister arrives in Egypt.  Meanwhile, rebels fighting in the west of the country (the provisional capital is in the eastern city of Benghazi) are nearing a major supply point that could choke off the actual official capital, Tripoli.

The Feds:

In the GOP field Texas Governor Rick Perry is in, Minnesota former governor Tim Pawlenty is out.  With fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann in the race, Pawlenty could not stir up the midwest lovin’.  Were this a normal political environment, his now-disavowed moderate record could pose a serious threat to Barack Obama, but with the possible exception of the Mormon Twins, Mittens and Huntsman, moderate is almost as disgusting to GOP primary voters as compromise.

As for Rick Perry (and we will be following this closely), his Texas miracle has been questioned and that skepticism may bear some fruit, especially if he becomes the nominee.  While Texas has weathered the recession better than most states, its unemployment rate is not impressive, many jobs are really low paying, other jobs are public sector, now facing layoffs and much of the economic growth can be attributed to oil prices and military spending.  Put another way, Texas’ economic miracle, if you can call it that, is made on the backs of our gas price misery.  Also, Texas did not fall as low during the recession because of, you guessed it, regulation in the housing finance market.  Finally, Texas had a nearly $27 billion deficit for its two-year budget.  Sorry, but you can’t blame public sector unions for that one, they lack collective bargaining rights.
Meanwhile a shout-out to Democratic Cong. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois for introducing the first coherent jobs bill of this Congress.  The GOP has 0.  They have a nice 10 page report though with full-page clip-art, though.

The State of Things:

Still a regional issue, but the CWA and IBEW remain on strike.  Show your solidarity with working folks today.  Join a picket line at a Verizon Wireless Store or on State Street in Springfield.  Defer a new cell phone purchase or refuse to renew your wireless contract until a new contract is agreed to.

Elizabeth Warren made her clearest signal yet last week when she posted to the blog Blue Mass Group and it was revealed she is working with top Democratic strategists in the Bay State, both former Deval Patrick staffers.  The folksy posting was an invitation to Bay Staters to talk about the issues that matter to them.  The far right hit her position as a Harvard Professor (she’s wicked Smaht, so what?) and the lobbying activities of the Patrick staffers (Find me a politician who isn’t talking gambling in Mass these days).  Because many of the organics we have discussed in the past are suspicious of a candidate being forced on them, talking to the progressive grassroots on their turf is especially canny and could benefit her candidacy.  In a related note, the Boston Globe, unlike virtually every other media outlet, did not refer to Blue Mass Group by name until it wrote an editorial asking Warren to be less coy about her intentions.

In a related item, the Progressive Campaign Change Committee, who fought for Warren’s nomination to lead the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, claims to have raised $100,000 for a Warren Senate run.  They began the effort mid July after Richard Cordray was nominated by the president to lead the CFPB.

City Slickers:

Alan Ingram, the superintendent of schools for Springfield has announced he will resign at the end of next school year.  It seems odd to call it a resignation since his contract expires then anyway.  Ingram has come under fire for accepting a $30,000 side contract for relocating to Springfield.  However, it appears that instead Ingram continued to rent and refinanced his Oklahoma home.  Maybe Springfield should look local next go around instead of national headhunting.

The Springfield City Council does not appear to have any regular meetings scheduled until September 12th.

Twitter Chatter:

Without a doubt, Rick Perry is dominating our feed, now.  However, we recommend @texastribune and @wayneslater for news about the man who followed Bush as governor of Texas.  The Texas Tribune is a non-partisan non-profit news organization in Texas.  Many of its work also appears on the New York Times website.  Wayne Slater is a political reporter for the Dallas Morning News and has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show.  He has followed Perry’s career quite carefully.

Our One Hundreth: Taking on Water…Will Scott’s Heart Go On…

RMS Titanic (Wikipedia)
Two things bookend year one of Scott Brown’s career as the junior Senator from Massachusetts so far.  One, is an image of him sailing out from his front door ahead of  a trip to Washington before his swearing-in a few days later.  The other is his impressive, unsinkable approval numbers a year later, after his party gained little or no traction in his home state.  Despite a rejection of Brownism in Massachusetts, Brown had numbers that were bigger than all the other Massachusetts pols.  From that position, Scott Brown’s maiden voyage in the Senate confidently moved on toward reelection.

It is too early to tell, but with each passing month, his second year in the US Senate is not shaping up to be as good as the first.  Brown seemed to avoided catastrophe after last November or so he may have thought, but the fact is that troubled waters lay ahead.  The ocean between his unexpected win and his reelection is vast and not without peril.  But Scott Brown is unsinkable!  So what if there political icebergs out there, they can’t take him down!

The Titanic parallels are not without their purpose.  As the arc of history has moved forward, it has become possible to see that Brown faces a bend away from further glory and adulation.  What started as a leak earlier this year when Brown thought he saw a dead Osama bin Laden has become an outright flood.  It is not clear or inevitable that the water will overwhelm more than his forward four watertight compartments.  However, if July and August are any indication, it does not look good for the S.S. Scottanic.

Image by WMassP&I from fair use material

For several months now, but with increased fervor recently, the Massachusetts Democratic Party has hammered Brown for holding nary a single town hall meeting.  Indeed, Brown’s interaction with the public has been limited to scripted events, ed-ops, friendly media encounters and fundraisers.  His jobs tour, which we’ll get to in a moment, has been a feeble attempt to counter that argument, by seeming responsive to the fact that Americans care about jobs and not the deficit nonsense.  The wheels began to come off with the bin Laden photo flack, but it becomes so much easier to see Brown’s PR strategy in context following that disastrous interview.

However, Brown’s opportunity to stand out on the debt ceiling was flubbed when he announced he would vote for any plan that raised the debt ceiling.  What was intended to be a declaration of reasonableness amid fiscal lunacy ended up being a pathetic appeal for action from a powerless Senator who made his campaign all about the power of stopping Barack Obama.

Shortly after that, Brown voted for the debt deal that would automatically cut, among other things, funding for disaster relief.  That is the same disaster relief that Springfield and the surrounding communities are applying for in the wake of the June 1st tornado.  Meanwhile, Brown’s website has bellowed out a reminder to victims that now is their chance to apply for such aid.

Brown then got into trouble with the gay community, which he had long sought to neutralize by voting for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (after months of indecision and supporting of filibusters against it).  Last month, nearly every member of the Massachusetts delegation to Washington participated in filming an “It Gets Better” video, the project of Dan Savage and his spouse to help give troubled and bullied gay young people hope.  Brown declined to participate citing his focus on jobs.  Initially, it did not matter.  The gay community was mad Brown, who cares?  
Dan Savage (Wikipedia)

Well, then the National Republican Senate Committee attacked Dan Savage for his past rhetoric and activism (Google Santorum, on second thought, DON’T).  The problem with the attack was it appeared to hit “It Gets Better” as much as Dan Savage.  Nobody cares about Savage’s reputation, but it is fair to say most Bay Staters would support an effort that was started in response to a spat of teen suicide.  The NRSC’s attack, however, inadvertently put Scott Brown on the wrong side of that issue.  The GOP in Washington need to remember that they can’t defend a Massachusetts Republican like they would an Alabama Republican.

Then there is the Brown jobs tour.  Announced to little fanfare, and even fewer details, Brown planned to tour the state to promote jobs.  The tour was intended to deflect the criticism of Brown’s town halls (or lack thereof) and to focus on local issues, since Brown has shown, increasingly, that he is ineffectual in the Senate.  It does not matter that Brown is not trying to work on jobs, he can see Americans are not buying the deficit as issue one so he will talk about jobs, even as he filibusters jobs bills.

However, the jobs tour has been fraught with PR problems.  Although the shots of him playing basketball were innocuous, if irrelevant to job creation, some of the other stops were just strange.  Brown spoke to a largely retired audience at a Jewish community center in the Boston neighborhood of Brighton.  The Globe described the event as not open the public and Brown’s bombshell to his audience was that Medicare would need to be cut.  The Globe did not indicate that he qualified it in reference to future retirees, although that argument did not help Republicans that voted for Paul Ryan’s Medicare busting reforms.  However, there was a statement from one audience member in the story that offered nothing, but praise for Brown.  It was later discovered that Brown had touted a bill that would assist Iranian Jews facing repression.  In all seriousness, who would oppose that?

Rep David Camp (R-MI) (wikipedia)

Then Brown brought his tour to Amherst, the lion den of Western Mass liberalism, but restricted the tour to the New England Scenic Trail.  The location was chosen to highlight tourism’s importance to the state, which was at least marginally jobs related.  However, two things happened there.  One, he was met by protesters and hecklers, who did not have any praise to heap on him.  The other was that he reiterated his opposition to taxes as part of the deficit problem.  Brown could have been splitting the taxes vs. revenue difference, but he has ruled most loophole cutting out, which leaves him to the right of both Paul Ryan and Super-committee member David Camp, both of whom have not ruled out revenue.  To top off last night, Brown continued his jobs tour to Pittsfield where he would lunch with the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.  The public could attend: for $45.

Brown’s jobs tour continues to other densely populated areas including Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.  Those are all separate stops on the tour not one.

Richard Cordray CFPB Nominee (Wikipedia)

However, what may have set Brown off on a jobs tour was not the Democrat’s poking.  Nor did logic or reason bring him to support whatever bill could exit the Senate.  No, it was an announcement in mid-July that President Obama would finally select his pick to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray.  He did not, despite liberal grousing, name Elizabeth Warren.  Frankly, it was one of the canniest political move the president made going into 2012 in the effort to hold the Senate.

The Senate did not take an official recess this summer and will probably not do so until Christmas at the earliest, if at all.  No amount of fighting would get Warren into the directorship before then.  She would be idled until Republican allowed a vote or checked out.  Cordray, on the other hand, had nowhere else to be in a hurry, or any competing interest asking for his time at this moment.  As early as January of this year, Warren speculation for Senate had begun.  That is why Brown did not sign the Republican letter opposing changes to the CFPB.  He wanted Warren nominated, confirmed and kept in Washington.  That did not happen and no doubt Brown HQ went batty that week.

It got far worse today for Brown.  As self-inflicted wounds and the small unexpected ice flows upset Brown’s ship-shape campaign, rumors continued to swirl that Elizabeth Warren would join the nebula of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.  The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, getting over their anger at Obama nominate Warren raised thousands for a still-undeclared Warren campaign.  Then this appeared, as part of a longer post, at Blue Mass Group.

I left Washington, but I don’t plan to stop fighting for middle class families.  I spent years working against special interests and have the battle scars to show it – and I have no intention of stopping now.  It is time for me to think hard about what role I can play next to help rebuild a middle class that has been hacked at, chipped at, and pulled at for more than a generation—and that that is under greater strain every day.

Elizabeth Warren (AFP via ABC)

The news quickly spread throughout the media, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Huffington Post, and Wicked Local’s political blog.  Among other details reported were Warren’s plans to investigate a campaign with two former staffers to Gov. Deval Patrick and a pundits announcement that Warren would announce her campaign sometime after Labor Day.

Unless Scott Brown loses sleep over the suffering thousands of his constituents endure everyday (his behavior at the tornado walk-around does not inspire hope here), then tonight could prove to be quite a sleepless night.  The Brown camp and the State GOP has long fired off attacks against Setti Warren, who along with Alan Khazei and Bob Massie appear to be front-runners of the existing slate of Democrats.  Obviously, it saw Setti Warren as a real threat among the candidates even cobbling together a mission for Scott Brown in Afghanistan, which disappeared off the face of the media this summer.  If it ever happened, none of the publications that promoted it for the Senator reported it later.

The summer has not been kind to Scott Brown and with a record moderate in name only and President Obama at the top of the ticket the senator may be in trouble.  Moreover, if Elizabeth Warren becomes the nominee, she will be able to tap into vast liberal and grassroots fundraising that could reduce or eliminate Brown’s financial advantage.

Not to mention if Elizabeth Warren can parry Brown as well as Republican provocateurs, then Brown may need a fleet of trucks criss-crossing the state.  Then again, to afford such a motorized battalion may only prompt Bay Staters to further question Brown’s everymanhood.


Manic Monday Markup 8/8/11…

…And the World:
Riots have overtaken London after flaring up following the death of a man in the Tottenham area.  The riots have tapped into many of the social ills that has plagued British society for years (class, race, socioeconomics) and have only been exacerbated by the bad economy and recent austerity measures.
The Feds:
Stock Market Tanks on S&P Downgrade, though the immediate effect of that is to actually make US debt more attractive.  With Congress deadlocked, the only option left may be the Federal Reserve engaging in another round of Quantitative Easing.  In short, the Fed buys debt from banks in the hope they put the freed up money into the economy.
The President addressed the economy today.  Kind of sitting and spinning though until Congress comes back and even then…
The State of Things:
Scott Brown has began his jobs tour, which according to the Boston Globe does not include members of the general public.  However, in response a question from one intrepid infiltrator, he said he against taxes because it could harm the economy.  Aside from the fact that NOBODY is talking about raising taxes in this environment, Paul Ryan has even come around to more revenue.  That puts Brown to the right of Ayn Rand-lover Paul Ryan.  (thought: did Brown really support the Ryan plan and opposed it out of political fear)  Brown could be splicing the revenue/tax terminology, but probably not.  He also said bluntly Social Security and Medicare benefits need to be cut.  But he’s so athletic!  Meanwhile, among Brown’s public job tour locales are a lunch with the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.  Only $35 for members.  $10 more for the peons.

This may not be the best place for it, but Verizon landline workers have gone on strike.  Members of the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers walked off the job after the company refused to negotiate on dozens of terms for the next contract.  Hot button demands include elimination of job security.  To support the workers check out some of these tips.
City Slickers:
Questions continue to swirl around School Superintendent Alan Ingram’s contract and its gratuity relocation expense.  This week the School Committee said it would formally ask for the $30,000 Ingram used for financial matters other than buying a house.  Ingram lives in a rented home.  If Ingram refuses…Plan B School Committee?
Arise For Social Justice will hold a rally at Springfield City Hall to protest the minimal interest ward representation races.
Twitter Chatter:
This hashtag says it all. #PrayforLondon

Manic Monday Markup 8/1/11…

…And the World:

Although the impact in the dollar’s value remains an open question, the stalemate over the debt and the brinksmanship forced upon us by the Republican party has cost us in the view of much of the world.  Although our debt and deficit like that of any global power needs to be brought under control, the hysterics of the tea party and paranoid delusions about an American Greece have brought American inertia to a new low.  In short the world cannot trust the US, and Congress in particular, to work in global financial interests.  While that may seem counter intuitive since those that benefit most from a humming system are the uber-wealthy, everybody suffers under rusty machine and as the President said, we may have a AAA credit rating, but hardly a AAA political system.

The Feds:

Congress passed the debt ceiling.  We can ignore Washington otherwise for another week.  If you want solid opinion, versus analysis on this sorry situation, read yesterday’s post.
One more Washington thing.  Gabrielle Giffords returned to the House floor this evening to cast her vote.

The State of Things:

The Legislature has sent a bill to Governor Deval Patrick that will revamp how the commonwealth’s troubled Probation Department makes future employment decision.  Last year the lid was blown off a patronage scandal at the department that began several state and federal investigations.  The legislation is not Patrick’s preferred solution, consolidating the functions with parole under the executive, but he is expected to sign.

Governor Patrick has signed a bill to institute a sale tax holiday the weekend of August 13-14.

City Slickers:

If you missed our earlier post on municipal elections only one Ward race is officially contested in Springfield.  John Lysak and Orlando Ramos will go at it again come November, but the other 7 ward incumbents have no official challengers.  Thirteen have qualified for the five at-large seats including all current councilors (except Jose Tosado who is running for mayor) and Ward 6 Councilor Amaad Rivera.  Incumbent Mayor Domenic Sarno, School Committeewoman Antonette Pepe and Tosado will square off in a September primary as will the thirteen at-large aspirants.

In an opinion piece published today Senator John Kerry and Representative Richard Neal announced a tax relief bill for victims of natural disasters.  It may pass it may not.  If the tea partiers learn that such a bill would be Keynesian then we might be in trouble.

Twitter Chatter:

It’s another visual chatter.
Rep. Giffords tweets had been her staff tweeting updates. However, tonight it seems she made an exception.
Amidst the division of the vote, emotion.
And never truer were spoken.


Debt Deal or No Deal…

**The post has been cross posted on DailyKos and Blue Mass Group.**

President Barack Obama has announced that a deal has been reached to raise the debt ceiling.  It is abysmal.  The unemployed, sick and poor are thrown under the bus.  That there can be no doubt.  However, for all that there are some bright spots to be pried out from under the rear bus wheel.

1. Congress cannot bind itself into the future.  There remains plenty of ammo for Democrats to hang onto as they venture forward into the 2012 Congressional races.  Although hits will probably be sustained in North Carolina new Congressional map and redistricting will protect Republicans elsewhere Democrats have some hope to hang onto in California and Illinois.  So recapturing the House remains possible and holding the Senate is not outside the realm of possibility.  Should both things happen and President Obama wins another term, though not a definite thing, the worst of this can be reversed.  Think reconciliation.
2. Although changes to the tax code are not included in the deal or seemingly allowed to raise revenue in the new Super Congress, the Bush tax cuts expire January 1 2013.  President Barack Obama has ZERO incentive to extend them again for the wealthiest before election day.  If Republicans want to protect the wealthy at the expense of the poor, let them.  Trying the opposite argument  bought Democrats nothing in 2010 and it will do the same in 2012.
3. The White House promises that most of the reduction will be done in the out years.  If true, see point number 1.
4.  Although the president consistently called for a balanced approach, it is worth noting that the tax revenue was really only ever an adamant requirement if the Big Three were cut.  Medicare risks knicking, but Medicaid and Social Security survive unscathed.
5. We finally make seriously cuts to our bloated Defence Establishment.
6. Although no unemployment or payroll deduction was included, we can now (hopefully) move onto job creation as our main conversation, even if this deal could weaken the economy.
7. All the details are not yet out.
Let me be clear once more.  The deal appears to be simply awful.  However, there is some wisdom, however disconcerting, to be taken from the New York Times editorial about the calculation of dealing with extortionists.  Unlike in years past, the extortionists were really willing to destroy the economy and frankly the longer term impact of that would have hurt Democrats and President Obama far more.  For whatever wrath some Republicans in moderate districts may fact, we need only remember that the GOP had higher unfavorables last year than Democrats and still won.  They would have destroyed the economy, but the Republicans that vote against this deal can and will have their irresponsibility shoved in their face either in primaries or generals (preferably the latter).
As many Democrats that can should vote against this deal.  However, the deal must still pass.  President Obama would be inviting political character assassination of an unprecedented degree if he exercised the Fourteenth Amendment option.  The White House could only have plausibly used this method if it lines up individuals affected by the debt ceiling to sue for it to be overturned.  By the time judges would get around to this, the damage may already have been done.
As liberals, it is always troubling to be shoved to the center when the leaders we have placed our hopes in fail to meet our expectations.  Arguably, we have experienced this for decades now.  However, uncomfortable fact though it may be, this situation would have been far worse if Republicans controlled the White House and none of the candidates on the GOP side could be trusted to do anything short of privatizing Medicare, “personalizing” Social Security and dumping the EPA, Medicaid, financial reform and education generally.  Some candidates, including several frontrunners, would even be a threat to the minimum wage, unemployment and virtually all assistance to the poor. 
It does not say much for our society when the alternative to what we have now is the destruction of our post-McKinley society.  Yet we, that is Democrats, liberals, leftists, progressives and indeed anybody who values fairness and compassion, have to keep fighting and NOT STOP fighting.  This time it was a bad budget deal, tomorrow if we give up, it can and will be far worse.

–Matt S, EIC WMassP&I


Moving on Up…

Councilor Rivera (WMassP&I)
The numbers out of the Election Commission indicate plenty of interest in the citywide races slated for this November.  At last count thirteen interested candidates have qualified to compete for the city’s five at-large seats and three candidates have qualified for mayor.  As a result there will be a primary in September for both of those offices.  However, the relatively high interest in the city’s elected offices at-large were only matched by a near-indifference on the ward level.  The only contested ward race will be in Ward 8 where Orlando Ramos will seek a rematch with current Ward 8 rep John Lysak.  Even ward 6, one of the city’s most politically active wards is facing a one man race with Ken Shea seemingly destined to take that seat in January.  
The current occupant of that seat, Amaad Rivera, however, kicked off his campaign for election to one of the city’s at-large seats.  At a somewhat humble, but intimate gathering of core supporters, Rivera formally launched his candidacy.  The event was held in the Hall of Local 108 of the Carpenters Union and attended by twenty-five to thirty people, many of them crucial backers of his  2009 run for the Ward 6 seat.

Several long-time supporters of Rivera spoke.  First up was Katie Stebbins a member of the Springfield planning board and wife to former city councilor Bruce Stebbins.  Stebbins, who described both herself and her husband as big supporters of Rivera, recalled several late-night conversations in her kitchen with Rivera regarding issues affecting the city.  Although her husband is a Republican and not necessarily in perfect political sync with Rivera’s progressive values, she, her husabnd and Rivera are united in fighting for a stronger Springfield and good government.

Michaelann Bewsee (WMassP&I)
Michaelann Bewsee, the head of Arise for Social Justice, a Springfield advocacy group scolded Amaad for not running Ward 6 because there would be no race there after all (she made a point of noting no disrespect for Shea).  The faux criticism aside, Bewsee extolled Rivera’s virtues calling him a “champion for progressive causes” on the City Council.

Arlene Rodriguez, a dean at Springfield Technical Community College called Rivera one of the most “honest, charismatic speakers” that she knows.  She also praised his “passion for people.”  Dominic Basile who has known Rivera for years called him an “intensely loyal friend.”

Rivera, trying not to play the politician with assurances of a short speech, spoke next.  He led off thanking his family which he described as a group of people where, “It was okay to express what you felt.”  He also described how throughout his life in Springfield he felt there existed this (false) notion that there was something wrong with Springfield.  Instead he argued, “We can make a better, stronger Springfield.  
He also shared that in the wake of his original defeat, he felt that “we,” as in he and his supporters had lost despite seemingly effective organization, community outreach, fund raising, and a first place finish in the primary.  However, with Keith Wright’s resignation in December and the gross oversight of the city’s ward representation law, Rivera was given a second chance.
Rivera boasted that, with his allies in the street and on the council, “In six months, we have made history.”  Among the issues advanced, if not always passed, were LGBT causes, the language access ordinance, progress on the city’s revolutionary foreclosure ordinance, and the civilian review board for the police department.  In explaining his decision to run at-large as opposed to in ward 6, Rivera was clear, “We have been working on issues bigger than Forest Park.”  Forest Park makes up an overwhelming majority of Ward 6 save a few precincts technically in East Forest Park.

Also in attendance last night were Justin and Denise Hurst an at-large city council candidate and vice-chair of the school committee respectively.  Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards also attended.  The event broke up a little after eight o’clock as the candidate worked the room thanking supporters for attended the intentionally small event.

Rivera’s shot at an at-large seat may have been unthinkable only five months ago when he forced a delay in a crucial vote for a renovation project at Forest Park Middle School that earned him ridicule and complaints from councilors and residents alike.  Although in the end, from a policy perspective, Rivera ended up achieving his goals and voted for the project overall.  Still, many observers thought that Rivera was wounded and unable to gain reelection in Ward 6, let alone citywide.  Some predicted he would fade into obscurity as an outspoken, but largely irrelevant member of the council.

At-large cand. Justin Hurst and Katie Stebbins (WMassP&I)
That did not happen.  While early moves by Rivera lacked the necessary political finesse that more successfully outspoken candidate usually employ, there is little doubt that he quickly shifted gears.  Rivera, who joined the council as its fourth Hispanic and its first openly gay member, worked with establishment members and its more renegade/good-government members  to pass historic cuts to the city’s budget (unlike the federal government’s access to a central bank, Springfield must protect its reserves lest it suffer even more dramatic cuts in future budget years).  Even more surprising was the consensus between Rivera and at-large Councilor Kateri Walsh (and others) on the issue of equitable employee furloughs.  Back in February, no political enmity in the city ran at risk from turning from simmer to outright boil than that between Walsh and Rivera.

Even outside the council chamber, Rivera’s visibility has benefited his reputation.  He and others in the city’s somewhat invisible gay community were able to reestablish a Pride week in Springfield after a decade-long hibernation.

This added attention bodes well for Rivera’s campaign for an at-large seat.  Traditionally, notoriety (or infamy as Rivera in prone to joke) has greatly helped candidates for at-large seats.  By either measure, Rivera has plenty.  Although assuming all four incumbent at-large councilors take a seat once more, Rivera will be facing several well-knowns from years past including former councilor Bud Williams.
For all the excitement about the at-large races, overshadowing that is the lack of interest in the ward races.  Bewsee lamented that she did not work that hard for ward representation for interest to  sputter out so ignominiously.  Maureen Turner echoed that concern today, although she noted at the very least the council benefits from quality members among the wards, singling out Lysak, Williams and Wards 2 and 7 Councilors Mike Fenton and Tim Allen.  Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola confirmed in an email to WMassP&I that there will be no spot on the September primary ballot for interested write-on candidates for the ward races.  Write-on candidates, Oyola said, could compete in the general, however.

The dim prospects for ward races and the potential for former councilors and also-ran candidates does not appear to slow down Rivera.  His campaign, now slated to run city-wide, will likely once again shake the cobwebs off the city’s democratic institutions (note the small “d”) and hopefully translate that into a win and greater resident participation in civic affairs.

Who Struggles with God…

Coat of Arms of Israel (Wikipedia)

For a moment, we will turn away from the curse upon our House the American people voted in last November and consider the consequences of another far-right movement brought in by a dissatisfied public.  For whatever its faults–and there are many–Israel is the only truly functioning democracy in the Middle East so far.  Although freedom can often be relative if you are an Arab, especially if you live in the West Bank or Gaza, the nation has strong democratic institutions and a largely free and open press.

It seems few Israelis realized those institutions, that they take for granted, yet often evoke, are under attack–from within.  For years Israel has identifed threats to its thriving democracy as country’s like Iran or the terrorist organization turned Palestinian political party Hamas (which still refuses to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist).  For the far right, the threats may also exist in what they call the “Fifth Column” of their society, Arab Israelis.  Although there is debate to what qualifies as the Israeli right-wing now, this latter belief has been a benchmark of hardliner Israelis since the nation was founded in 1948.
First some background.  Israeli politics have always been, er tumultuous.  The Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, was based on the Yishuv that ran Jewish affairs under the British Mandate.  After the UK left Palestine, the independent State of Israel formalized an electoral system in which voters choose parties rather than individual candidates in constituencies or districts (South Africa actually does something quite similar).  The parties receive seats roughly in proportion to the vote tally they win.  The result, is often a situation where no party has a majority, typically a prerequisite of forming a government (by way of comparison, the African National Congress dominates South African elections).  
Israeli Voting Booth (Wikipedia)

As a result, excluding a rare majority held by the Israeli Labor party‘s predecessor and a handful of unity governments between the two main parties, Israeli governments are formed through coalitions.  Per Israeli law the President of Israel, a largely ceremonial figure, usually selects the leader of the largest party to form a government.  This is done via bartering and bargaining with like-minded smaller parties and the religious parties, who often receive plum minister positions, but care little for the back and forth among the secular parties.  Last time, however, this did not happen even though Kadima, led by the former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won the most seats of any party (Livni used to be a member of Likud).  Instead, the former premier Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of Likud, formed a government with the hardliner Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Leiberman, and other like parties.  The result has been a fairly right-wing government.  Early on, it appeared as though Netanyahu, mindful that past hardliners like Menachem Begin had become peacemakers, had the upper hand even getting a freeze on new Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  However, the clock ran out and Leiberman, now the country’s foreign minister, demurred.

Since that time, Israel has rebuffed prodding by President Barack Obama to restart peace talks and shuddered as its neighbor and Egypt underwent a dramatic transformation earlier this year.  There was talk of an absurd oath requirement that would have run aground of the secular principles the nation’s early founders wanted for their country.  Laws were debated and defeated that could have undercut the Israeli Supreme Court’s independence.  Then the Knesset passed perilously anti-free speech boycott bill earlier this month.  It was followed by a measure that would investigate the country’s left-leaning Non-government organizations.  That bill failed spectacularly, due in no small part to several MK’s walking out on the vote.  Political observers noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu bailed on the earlier boycott bill, while coalition partner and one-time Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak skipped the NGO bill.

Organized boycotts of Israel have traditionally been the work of Arab countries in an attempt to harm Israel via economics.  They have not been particularly effective (on paper Israel has been doing pretty well).  However, their intention to punish an entire nation for the sins of some is not especially prudent.  Consequently, when Arab countries boycott Israel, it is often read as out of protest of Israel’s existence and not merely its human right’s record (pot calling the kettle black, hmm?).  While any boycott is questionable, it is more understandable to boycott settlements in the occupied territories as they are a prime example of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Netanyahu (Wikipedia)

Israel’s new boycott law, however, goes well beyond blunting Arab boycotts.  According to Association of Civil Rights in Israel, the law is not focused on the boycotts of Arab countries like American law is, which has been compared to the Israeli law.  Instead it provides for private suits by individuals against anyone that boycotts an Israeli company, citizen or institution in addition to the state itself.  More alarmingly, the legislation does not even limit itself to actions related to the occupation of the West Bank.  Potentially any boycott or speak-out could be subject to suit even if it were on health care or the environment.

The American anti-boycott law refers only to participation in actions that support the boycotts of Israel initiated by Arab countries.  Essentially, if you engage in efforts that facilitate the Arab boycott you may be in trouble.  If you want to organize an anti-Israel boycott in your town and not buy Uzzis in protest, you are almost certainly in the clear.  The parallels, the ACRI points out, are almost non-existant.  Additionally, the Israeli law does not even require direct proof of injury from boycott activity to initiate suit against individuals or groups.  The US law, since it is prosecuted by the government, does.

Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-WI) (Wikipedia)
To make matters worse, a bill pushed by Likud member of  the Knesset (MK) Danny Danon and Yisrael Beiteinu MK’s appeared to be a blatant attempt to resurrect Joe McCarthy.  The bill, if passed, would have “set up panels of inquiry into human rights organizations in Israel.”  Roundly panned by Kadima and PM Netanyahu himself, it failed with only a miserable 28 votes for to 57 against.  Thirty-five MK’s did not bother to show up, which one Israeli blog called “voting with their feet.”  Even if they had shown up it would have in all likelihood put the vote totals over the 60 vote mark by a safe margin, but that nearly a quarter of the Knessett would even consider a new witch hunt is deeply troubling.  This is, after all, the very democracy Netanyahu praised when a heckler interrupted his speech to Congress, using the interruption as proof of democracy’s strength in the US and Israel.

The McCarthy séance died in the Israeli parliament and the boycott bill may be struck down by the courts, but until an election can intervene (if the government collapses, an election could soon follow), there will continue to be the pull of the far-right.  “A dark wind is blowing through the country—created by Netanyahu’s coalition,” Livni the leader of Kadima said.  At the center of that dark wind, appears to be Yisrael Beiteinu.  That party is primarily supported by immigrants from the former Soviet Union and appear driven by a fear of losing their new home—where they feel safe—to Palestinians.  Indeed, Leiberman, the party leader, lives in a settlement (although he has said he would move if it meant peace).  Still, that fear has devolved into a paranoia of even their fellow Jewish Israeli citizens.  Of course YB is not alone.  There are other radical parties, long marginalized in the Knesset, but even if not in the governing coalition, they have had more opportunity to exercise their prerogatives.

US State Department HQ, Washington (wikipedi)
So why does this even matter?  Our own State Department issued a non-disapproval disapproval of the boycott law, although the Anti-Defamation League and J Street, two prominent pro-Israel groups in the US condemned the law.  Well, the squelching of democracy anywhere is a problem, especially in a country that has had a rich history as a liberal democracy, if inconsistently among its Arab population.  However, it also serves to illustrate how fascism and right-wing radicalism can creep into our society, even democratic ones.

We have begun to see this in the United States following last year’s election of so many hard-right hardliners.  Voters cast out Democrats because of jobs, not because of abortion.  They certainly did not vote in Republicans with the intent to suppress the vote with tactics from tight photo ID requirements to proposals that would restrict voting by college students.  The latter was openly defended by the New Hampshire Speaker on the grounds that college students do not vote for the right candidates.  Meanwhile the nation is plunged into a manufactured debt crisis by right-wingers who refuse to capitulate, even in victory, and that threatens America with a true Depression. That should do the trick for the 9.2% unemployment.

Even now, Israel is facing its own domestic problems beyond the Palestinian question.  Protests have ramped up in Tel Aviv over housing prices and the middle class, particularly its youth, are growing increasingly dissatisfied with their meager share of the country’s otherwise booming economy.  Netanyahu has taken notice, but this problem should not be news to him and his response has been tepid at best.  Likewise, when will our country’s right realize that now is not the time to be pushing ideology in a single-minded quest to impose their vision on America.  This is all the more troubling when that ideology threatens the United States’ principles, its virtues and above all, its people.


Manic Monday Markup 7/25/11/…

…And the World:

Okay, so the international segment looks like it will be making frequent appearances.  July has not been the best month for democracy in Israel.  Although the Knesset defeated a proposal that would make Joe McCarthy smile, it did approve a measure that could severely curtail public freedoms in the Middle East’s only liberal Democracy.  The law would provide a mechanism for private action lawsuits against anybody who supports boycotts broadly.  The Israeli right has defended the measure as being like American laws with similar intent, bu the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has a quick guide to how that comparison is wrong.

The Feds:

There are competing plans now to address the debt ceiling.  The House and Speaker John Boehner still want and disastrous Balanced Budget Amendment in its version, all the while playing this fight out for as long as possible.  The Senate Democrats and Majority Leader Harry Reid agrees to cut an amount equal to the ceiling increase, but does not touch taxes or entitlements.  That increase would last through 2012.  Time runs out between the way filibusters run out the clock and the House rules that require a bill to be online 72 hours before it can be voted on

In other news, President Barack Obama certified the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this past Friday.  In sixty days the armed forces will officially no longer require gay service members to hide their sexual orientation lest they face a dishonorable discharge.

The State of Things: 

The legislature will consider another sales tax holiday set for this August.  The state’s sales tax would be waived for the 12th and 13th of August on any purchase up to $2500.  Purchases like meals would not receive the weekend exemption.

Massachusetts may follow Connecticut and approve mandatory paid sick leave for workers in the commonwealth.  At end of its legislative session the Connecticut General Assembly passed and Governor Malloy signed a paid sick leave bill.  This has revived efforts for a similar law here.  However, the bill in Massachusetts goes further than Connecticut’s.  Under the bill as written, workers would need to work less hours per sick leave hour worked than Connecticut, while being eligible for up to seven sick days to Connecticut’s five.

City Slickers:

If you want to run for City Council or Mayor this year, well, you can’t!  The last day to pick up papers was last week.  Only a handful of names appears on the list that were not there when we last reported on the City Council races.  Several have been certified, however.  We will post those who have been, soon.  Notably, Councilors Clodo Concepcion and Tim Allen of Wards 5 and 7 respectively will face no opposition.  Mike Fenton of Ward 2 is very unlikely to face a challenge.  Ward 6 Councilor Amaad Rivera will be running at-large.  Lots of names from campaigns past reappearing.

In the aftermath of the June 1st tornado, anger is resurfacing about the the city’s response to the disaster, particularly its treatment of property owners with regard to permit fees and demolitions/condemnations.

Twitter Chatter:

Debt ceiling.