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Manic Monday Markup 4/2/2012…

…And the World:

We start off today in Burma.  In elections held this weekend to fill mid-term vacancies in the Burmese parliament, Democracy Activist Aung Sun Suu Kyi and her party appeared headed for a blowout scooping up as many as 43 of 45 contested seats.  Only two years ago Suu Kyi was in the midst of her endless house arrest after winning an election in 1990 that the military nullified, now she is on her way to Parliament.  There is concern, given the rather rapid pace of reform in the long-time military dictatorship, that these results could freak out the generals who remain the powers behind the throne.  However, for now this victory for Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy, if it follows through will give her a legitimacy in her own country after years of enjoying international support.  Of course, being a politician versus being an activist carries risk and reward.

Over the last week, a major upset turned Israeli politics upside down.  Tzipi Livni, the leader of Kadima, the opposition party in the Knesset was defeated in a primary in her bid to remain the head of the party.  Shaul Mofaz won the primary election in a near landslide beating Livni almost 2-1.  The result seemingly killed a career that had seemed bright even after she failed to form a government in 2009’s elections.  However, her stewardship as opposition leader had come under attack and Kadima has flagged ever since.  Some doubt whether or not Mofaz will be any better at reviving the party formed after Ariel Sharon shifted gears and left Likud.  The Israeli left appears to be returning to its natural home in Labour and other leftist parties.  However, the left remains bitterly fractured and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been more canny politically cautious than expected including veering left to deflect right-wing attacks on Israel’s democracy and judiciary.

The Feds:

The Paul Ryan budget is unlikely to go anywhere beyond the Chief House Punk’s fantasies.  However, that is not stopping Democrats from hammering it for being a grossly unfair giveaway to the wealthy.  Illinois Democratic Represenative Jan Schakowsky, mindful of the impending Passover holiday suggests that the Republican’s own budget violates the bible.  No, Ms. Schakowsky is not taking up the cause of the religious right, but rather is throwing in back in the faces of a party that has held up God as a sword for decades.  Indeed, it would seem Republicans who can quote chapter and verse tempered by a surreptitious interpretation have difficulty with the more unambiguous commands God offered in scripture.

As the Republican primary winds down and Mitt Romney tries to switch back to attacking Mitt Romney, recent polling news suggests some pretty hefty damage to our one-time governor.  In a poll of several swings states, Mitt Romney is losing to President Barack Obama.  The demographic turning most harshly against Romney?  Women!

As Democrats listened in horror to the skepticism from conservative justices on the Supreme Court, some states have begun looking at ways to keep the law going regardless of what SCOTUS does.  Indeed, insurers, who actually stand to lose the most if the mandate falls, are looking past the law, too.

The State of Things:

Former Treasurer and one-time Independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill has been charged for using state funds in an effort to boost visibility ahead of his race for governor.  Attorney General Martha Coakley announced the indictment making Cahill the first statewide official to face charges since the 1950’s.  Cahill is alleged to have used lottery funds for commercials that boosted his visibility around the time of the election.

More than a decade after the Internet became a way of life for much of Western Civilization, the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office is going digital.  More than a year after Mark Mastroianni came into office, the digital presence came online.  The Hampden County District Attorney’s office is the last in the state to open a website, which probably speaks more to the legacy of Mastroianni’s predecessor than himself.

City Slickers:

Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton and Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen have proposed a big package of crime-fighting measures that were brought before the Springfield City Council tonight.  We will have a write-up, but here is the Republican’s preview from Sunday.

Former Springfield Police Officer Jeffrey Asher was sentenced to prison for the beating of Melvin Jones.  The case showed a spotlight on the less than marvelous relationship between the police and the city’s minority communities.  However, Jones’s troubled past provided ammunition for Asher supporters to paint the former cop as a victim.  The Retirement Board will vote this month to revoke Asher’s pension, an action they are believed to take given that body had postponed their decision pending Asher’s sentencing.

Twitter Chatter:

The entry of Joe Kennedy III to the race to succeed Barney Frank not only gave Frank’s 2010’s challenger, Sean Bielat, a new target to focus on.  Bielat was always thought to run again, but attacking a Kennedy was at least as good as attacking Frank.  Clearly, the media agrees and does whatever it can to further that agenda (and by extension implicitly crown Bielat the GOP nominee even though he has a primary opponent).  The Conservative media like the Boston Herald’s Holly Robichaud seem perfectly at ease bending reality to meet their own agenda.  It is true that Bielat until he decided to run again lived in Pennsylvania.  It is also true that Kennedy did not live in the 4th Congressional district before decidingn to run for Congress from there.  He did, however, at least live in Massachusetts consistently prior to announcing.  For pointing out another right-wing absurdity, we award Right Wing Watch Massachusetts the week’s tweet prize.

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Renovations Underway…

Welcome, once again to Western Mass Politics & Insight.

As you can probably see we are undergoing some renovations at this current time.  We hope that this process will be finished within a couple of days.  Although all of our prior posts should be available on this new, incomplete them, you can view full archives, with cleaner images, etc on wmasspi.blogspot.com.  Our old theme will be fully displayed there.  For now we thank you for your patience and urge you to send any concerns, questions, comments or critiques about this transition to editor@wmasspi.com.

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Manic Monday Markup 3/26/2012…

…And the World:

Another Tory scandal in Britain over being too close to influence peddlers.  British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party have been caught, seemingly selling out once again.  After being caught too close to Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers (a former New International Exec worked for Cameron as a press aide), new revelations Murdoch’s own Sunday Times put the PM in another sticky wicket.  In a report in the Paywall protected Times, the Conservative Party was caught offering high-profile dinners with Cameron and other higher-ups in the party for generous donors.  Cameron has distanced himself from the scandal and offered public lists of visitors to Number 10 Downing Street, his official residence and his private residence nearby.  The party official behind the access-selling has also resigned.  The new scandal has reignited debates about party funding in Great Britain and the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, has called for an independent inquiry (rather than a Conservative-run internal investigation) into the propriety of donors’ access to high-level party officials.

Cameron is not the only English-speaking premier facing the heat.  After devastating losses for Labor in Queensland, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard may face an uphill fight next year when her party faces reelection next year.  Consequently, Gillard is already beginning a new offensive to change the public’s perception of her.  On Saturday, Labor lost 43 seats in the Queensland State Assembly, a shocking loss since the state is usually seen as friendly to Labor.  While they had been expected to lose control of the assembly, the bleeding included traditional Labor strongholds like the City of Brisbane.  The leader of the Labor party resigned both her leadership position and her seat in Parliament following Saturday’s results.

A peaceful transition comes to Africa.  In elections held yesterday, Senegal’s president since 2000, Abdoulaye Wade, whose controversial run for a third term sparked outrage in this West African country, conceded to his opponent, Macky Sall.  This region of Africa is not known for the best adherence to democratic principles, although Senegal has been better than most.  Sall is a former protege of Wade, but differs greatly from the president in demeanor.  He came back from a second place finish in an earlier election round to defeat Wade in the second round held on Sunday.

The Feds:

The High Court takes on health care reform.  Today is only about whether or not the Court has any jurisdiction over the bill now due to its tax implications.  Under the Anti-Injunction Act of 1867, the Courts are not to halt a tax until it is collected, which in the Affordable Care Act’s case would not be until 2014’s taxes are filed in 2015.  The justices seemed unreceptive to that argument.  The justices appointed an outside attorney to argue for the delay as both the plaintiffs and the defendants in the case rejected the notion that the nineteenth century law.  Still it provided for some legal ju-jistsu for Solicitor General Donald Verrilli who argued that the penalty individuals must pay if they fail to get insurance is not a tax for the purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act, but is a prerogative of Congress’s taxing power under the Constitution.

For more info about the Supreme Court case on Health Care or really any Court watching, we highly recommend SCOTUSBlog.com.  It is non-partisan (no, really!) and is staffed by experts in the Highest Court in the land.  And for a rundown of various viewpoints about the case, Greg Sargent’s Morning Plum and Happy Hour roundups today has some prime links!

The Federal Trade Commission is seeking legislation to better regulate the collection of people’s data that gets scooped up by Internet companies.  This occurs as efforts by Senator John Kerry and others gather steam for a similar push from within Congress.

The State of Things:

A report from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting highlights how flat lottery sales coupled with legislative raiding of the account to shore up the commonwealth’s budget has left communities with less and less local aide.  Communities have lost billions in local aide over the last several years resulting in yawning budget gaps, cuts in services or hefty rises in taxes and fees.

Another third party expenditure obligates Scott Brown to write a check to a Warren approved charity.  Time to start raising eyebrows, as least preliminarily.  There are two possibilities starting to develop.  After the first non-entity of a SuperPAC was caught breaking the campaign pledge, Brown jumped to pay the fine.  Some suspected that it may have been a plant.  Now the American Petroleum Institute’s latest ad is triggering the second one.  It seems possible that is evidence of further efforts by Brown’s allies to polish his halo by giving him a chance to look so honorable.  By contrast, it is possible that Warren’s campaign may have taken the right risk in agreeing to the pledge since it could bleed Brown’s campaign little by little.  However, these ads have been relatively small and not dented much of Brown’s $13 million war chest.  This one was also a twofer for Warren’s campaign as it highlights Brown’s past support for oil and gas subsidies that cost taxpayers $4 billion a year.

Also on the Senate campaign front, the Republican claimed in a lazy, bogus online-only Editorial that Elizabeth Warren has not spent enough time in Western Massachusetts.  Cow Excrement we declare!  Here’s the proof!

Federal indictments finally come out of the US Attorney’s Office in the Probation scandal.  Other than O’Brien and his deputies, nobody else is facing prosecution by the Feds…yet.  However, the wife of State Rep. Thomas Petrolati, Democrat of Ludlow, who had a Probation Job for which she was allegedly not qualified, makes an appearance in the indictment along with other legislators alluded to by their titles.

City Slickers:

Technically a county-wide story, but the job is based in Springfield so it counts, but Clerk of Courts Brian Lees’s decision to not seek another six year term could set off a hell of a scramble.  Among the possible contenders are Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette, Springfield at-large Councilor Thomas Ashe and assistance clerk Magistrate Laure Gentile of Springfield.  John DaCruz of Ludlow has already announced for the race.  Also mentioned in the article is the race for Governor’s Council.  Western Massachusetts-based councilor Thomas Merrigan is not running leading others to consider the position, including hardly-missed and barely unindicted former Springfield mayor Michael Albano.

Again another regional story, but it hits the urban centers the hardest and that includes Springfield.  The PVTA is facing a budget gap of its own and with no appetite for more taxes legislators are looking for a way to close it through means other than cuts as ridership has actually been ticking up in this notorious non-mass transit region of New England.

Twitter Chatter:

Okay, we admit it.  This week is kind of a cop out, but it is still pretty funny.  Reports have surfaced that Dick Cheney had a heart transplant leading this tweet from Jon Stewart at the Daily Show.  Perhaps the most disturbing thing is that it can be believed.

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Tardy Tuesday Takedown 3/20/12…

Our apologies for no Manic Monday! Plus we will be back this week with some new local stories including an edition of “Take My Council, Please!”
…And the World:

Last summer in what was one of many dress rehearsals for the Occupy movement that shook the world, young Israelis took the streets in opposition to a society that offered opportunities to only the few.  The results culminated in some of the largest protests in the country’s history.  Now it seems, that the movement also had a positive impact on race relations in the Jewish state, which includes a sizable Arab minority, if temporarily.  Studies now show attacks on Arab Israelis by Jewish Israelis fell to the lowest level in a few years time.

It is 2012 and no, that does not just mean that it is election time in the US, it is also the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.  Among many events, the queen addressed a rare joint session of Parliament in London.  The Guardian has a decent smattering of the events and celebrations that have marked and will mark this 60th year of her rule.

Elsewhere in Britain, where the economy has seemingly ground to a halt, George Osbourne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what Britain calls its finance minister, is expected to make his seasonal budget statement.  Britain, fearing the effects of a high debt load slashed its budget when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took office.  However, combined with Euro-crisis unease, the austerity has frozen the British economic recovery, which incidentally lowered tax revenue and kept the deficit outside the government’s targets anyway.  Now Osbourne, his fellow Tories and very likely angry Lib Dems, who have been forced to swallow cuts they would never normally support, is looking to close the gap a different way–taxing the rich.  The coalition government had planned to roll back a 50% tax rate instituted by the last Labour government, but appears to be taking it much slower especially in light of polling that shows, even among Tories, the tax is popular.

The Feds:

Speaking of budgets, Paul Ryan, the Chief Punk Chairman of the House Budget Committee, is at it again.  Except this time, he is proposing to renege on last year’s debt deal and lower, LOWER, the tax rate on the rich to 25%.  There would be only two tax brackets, but it would come at a ghastly price to discretionary spending (which is actually a small part of the budget), Medicare and Medicaid.  Medicare would face virtually the same privatization and voucher scheme as in the past.  Also confounding is how the plan proposes to maintain the same revenue as under current law, while slashing tax rates.  Republicans are gambling people will care more about cutting the debt that assuring Medicare is secure.  Right.  There’s nothing serious about Paul Ryan.

In Illinois Mitt Romney is expected to defeat Rick Santorum in the Republican primary, but that is not expected to end the race.  Instead, we will focus on someone else in Illinois.  Twenty-five year old Ilya Sheyman of Waukegan, Ill. is running for Congress.  Today is the Democratic primary and the former community organizer and MoveOn.org issues director is trying to turn the recent turn in progressive energy to his side and take the nomination from the arguably safer Brad Schneider.  The district, which had been somewhat safely Republican for decades was contorted into more Democratic territory during redistricting.  If Sheyman captures the nomination tonight and then defeats Republican Robert Dold in the general, it may be a fascinating turning point for both progressive and youth politics.  This Nation piece is a little old, but sums up the stakes for the left well.

The State of Things:

‘Twas a day of zingers at the annual St. Patrick’s Day roast in Southie with fun for all the lads and lasses.  Well, maybe not everyone.  However, our favorite line has to go to, of course, our gal, Elizabeth Warren.  “I actually heard that Scott Brown’s barn jacket cost $600. Wow, here’s a guy who could use a consumer advocate.”  That and her revealing her own magazine spread for…Consumer Reports.  Scott Brown’s jokes ranged from sophomoric to edgy (DiMasi going to jail).  While some of it was funny others think the breakfast has lost its luster.  And yes, Ernie at Blue Mass Group is right, Scott Brown didn’t really laugh at any of the jokes about him not told by him.

Oh, and Elizabeth Warren is back on top in a new poll.  Whew!  Oh, and apparently Bay Staters like Harvard.  Not surprising since it is actually in the State Constitution.  No lie!

Governor Deval Patrick, Treasurer Steve Grossman and Attorney General Martha Coakley jointly announced the last two picks for the state’s gaming commission.  James McHugh, a former Appellate Court Judge and Bruce Stebbins, yes Springfield’s own Bruce Stebbins, will round out the five member panel.  Stebbins, you may recall, served on the Springfield City Council from 2006-2010 and most recently served as the city’s business development administrator.  Despite his Republican political affiliation, we can think of few better individuals from this region to adequately serve our interests on the gaming commission.
WBUR has a story on a new report about Massachusetts’s susceptibility to political corruption.  Massachusetts does pretty well, scoring 10th place nationally due its campaign finance laws and redistricting, but flunked on access to public documents and budget transparency.
City Slickers:
Budget apocalypse at City Hall.  Declining property values, increased mandatory spending and flat or falling local aid from the state continues to bedevil city finances.  Layoffs, increased fees, and zero wage increases for city workers among other horribles will likely be necessary to remain in balance while weaning off reserves to balance the budget.

Elsewhere the council voted in favor of a resolution to reform the state’s tax code to reverse cuts in education, local aide and infrastructure.  Of course, the City Council also voted on a resolution urging a temporary suspension of the gas tax, which would leave road repairs in the state unfunded.  Good one, folks.  More on that when we do Take My Council, Please, later this week.
And a nod to the Republican’s Pete Goonan, the paper chief Springfield Political Reporter (of sorts).  After the Springfield School Committee gave initial approval to distribute free condoms to students 12 or older, Goonan was interviewed by Greta van Susteren.  Since Van Susteren’s on Fox News, we can only assume that the Network will try to wedge this one (although she seemed somewhat even handed during the interview), but good for Goonan anyway on the exposure.

Twitter Chatter:

Despite the enthusiasm for Ilya Sheyman’s campaign, there certainly remains a distinct possibility he may lose. However, already anticipating the need for party unity after this rather raucous primary, Sheyman (and we assume his primary opponents, too) are already thinking ahead. Rather than letting whispers and complaints dog the campaign from now until November (a long primary season, no?), Democrats in the Illinois 10th will come together. Not only is it the best thing to do to defeat the Republican, if that is your goal, but it is also mature. Ilya Sheyman who has been attacked for his youth, wins this week’s tweet prize for having the right attitude, no matter what happens tonight.

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Manic Monday Markup 3/12/2012…

…And the World:

In Afghanistan an army sergeant allegedly killed sixteen Afghan civilians including many children in an attack that has been described as the worst war crime of the US’s ten year military involvement with the country.  The attack comes after protests riled Afghanistan following the burning of the Koran and subsequent killing of six American military personnel.  Afghan and US officials in Kabul and across the country have been bracing for a violent response from the streets as the Taliban, which had been inching toward negotiations promised retaliation.  Condemnation has come from across the world as US officials continue to investigate.  Some reports are surfacing about the sergeant’s mental health, which interestingly may explain why the Afghan response has, thus far been muted.

Elections!  After the coalition government of Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radicova fell as part of a deal with the opposing Smer Party (which actually had a plurality in Parliament), new elections were scheduled for this weekend.  In those elections, former Prime Minister Robert Fico, leader of Smer, emerged with an absolute majority, beating his party’s success in 2006 when he first came to office and 2010 when his party secured the most seats, but lost out on forming a government to Radicova’s coalition.  Radicova had to agree to new elections after her right-wing coalition parties refused to back further efforts to support Greece with which Slovakia shares the Euro.  Fico was amenable to the rescue, but refused to offer his party’s support unless new elections were scheduled.  The squabble caused a minor freak-out for markets and likely due to pressure from all sides, Fico and Radicova agreed to new elections.  Radicova’s government seemed fairly unpopular anyway as it had engaged in an austerity program before it came into fashion in Europe writ large.  Indeed, while Fico has pledged to maintain EU deficit commitments, he has opposed putting more of that burden on rank and file Slovaks.  Complicating the election was a the revelation of corruption scandals among Slovak politics that cut across all political parties.

The Feds:
Another week another primary.  This time it could be a real three-way as Newt Gingrich finds another electorate that actually thinks the looney curmudgeon could make a good president.  Although, confirming the sanity of any who are enthralled by ANY of the Republican presidential candidates may would probably be a challenge for even the greatest of mental health experts.

Two somewhat opposing views on Mitt Romney and the press.  First some background.  Mitt Romney lies.  Not like a politician with grandiose over-the-top hyperbole.  He does that, too, but Mitt Romney and his campaign casually spew falsehoods with such regularity that it becomes less surprisingly that Romney is listed as antonym to consistency in the dictionary.  Anyway, David Bernstein at the Boston Phoenix says Mitt Romney’s act may be wearing thin with a press corp that his staff keeps away with a ten-foot pole.  In response, Greg Sargent at the Washington Post says the media is still treating it like the same campaign nonsense.  And important note for the folks at home.  That $500 billion “cut” Medicare, referenced in Sargent’s link, is not a cut.  Never was and never will be.  It is savings achieved between reduction in waste and abuse and through early detection and prevention.  Savings used to pay for the tyranny of “Obamacare” like covering health screenings for senior citizens. 
Gah!
The New York Times has an interesting profile/analysis of Chief Justice John Roberts.  Essentially, Adam Liptak, the Times’ chief Supreme Court reporter argues that Roberts is likely to be on the majority side of the Health Care law case regardless of its outcome.  If the Court strikes down the law, it will likely be 5-4, but if it upholds, the law, the article suggests it will probably be at least 6-3.  The article also discusses Roberts’ apparent decision to keep the Court away from barn-burning issues (with only moderate success we might add), but that the Health Care ruling could be one of those rulings that only comes along once in a generation.
Finally, in the Feds today, Glen Greenwald’s look at the legacy of Cong. Dennis Kucinich.  Last week, Kucinich, a victim of redistricting lost his party’s nomination against fellow Democrat Marcy Kaptur.  The fight was brutal and to some extent, Kucinich may have himself to blame, in part for his predicament.  However, Greenwald defends the Ohioan for his pacifism and unimpeachable record on Civil Liberties, while knocking the so-called “serious” Democrats that are the un-Kucinich.  He further tears down several publications and liberals who were also boosters for the Iraq War.  For what it’s worth, while we have not always agreed with the one-time Cleveland Mayor and Presidential candidate, his voice will be sorely missed in Congress whether it ever was really wacky or not. 
The Justice Department blocked Texas’s voter ID law because the harm it would do to disenfranchise voters outweighs its goal to cut voter fraud.  Such fraud is nearly nonexistent, leaving the measures to appear as little more than efforts to keep Democratic leaning voters away from the polls.  Less insidious than requiring an ID itself are the onerous steps necessary to secure an ID.  Such steps may seem like nothing to any driver in the suburbs, but become considerably more difficult for the elderly or the public-transit riding poor.
The State of Things:
The Springfield Republican takes a look at the trials and tribulations of homeowners and residents in Springfield and other communities ravaged by last year’s tornadoes, trying to rebuild their homes.  The process has been grueling for some as they work with contractors and the housing courts.  However, in some parts of the city, the process has barely moved at all.  Anecdotally, this seems particularly true in the poorer areas of the city hit.
Also from David Bernstein this week, a story on Scott Brown’s success at getting the Massachusetts public to look past the policies Brown supports and instead just like him.  While there is no denying that constituent services are critical to ANY elected official’s work, it seems unfortunate that Brown would decide that he would make this election all about personality and not about the issues.  When his staff is not untangling the government for constituents he’s playing basketball with little kids so they have some fond memories before they inherent the crappy world he has helped create.  Sorry, that slipped out.  We would contest that Brown handled the Blunt Amendment thing well because polling has only yielded a muddled view from Bay Staters, who are unlikely to fall behind the national backlash against Republicans on this.  Anyway, if the election is purely about “politics” (in the broader sense of the word) Brown will probably win.  If it is about policy, he will probably lose.

City Slickers:

In exclusively Springfield tornado news, DevelopSpringfield, the public/private partnership formed to facilitate recovery in the City of Homes announced team leaders to ensure accountability.  Leaders will be equally divided among public and private sectors and given specific tasks to focus on.  The push for accountability through leaders is said to be different from prior master plans for the city that have historically gone nowhere.

Twitter Chatter:



In Wisconsin today, a judge overturned that state’s new voter ID law is unconstitutional.  Now it is important to note that that is under the Wisconsin constitution.  Still, the force and energy of the ruling and its operative language tweeted by the Nation’s Washington Editor John Nichols, speaks to the risks of voter suppression in attempting to correct the nearly non-existent threat of voter fraud.  Wisconsin’s law has been fraught with other problems including a decision by the state to try and not tell voters they could request a free ID to the lack of accessibility of some places to get the ID to documentation requirements some American citizens may be unable to meet.  Voter ID’s have been ruled constitutional by the US Supreme Court, but they cannot impose any cost to voters in keeping with Constitutional prohibitions against poll taxes.  Wisconsin officials are likely to appeal the ruling and given the circus last year with the collective bargaining law, one would be wise to not assume this ruling will stand, however important it may be.



Nichols also tweeted about the Justice Department’s decision to block the Texas voter ID act. Between the succinct capture of the Wisconsin judge ruling and for noting the critical importance of both these events, Nichols wins this week’s tweet prize.   

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Manic Monday Markup 3/5/2012…

…And the World:

In an election that few saw as suspenseful, Russian Prime Minister and one-time President Vladimir Putin was elected once more to be the nation’s president with nearly 64% of the vote.  Despite new allegations of electoral fraud, it seems doubtful that Putin did not grab a majority of the votes cast.  Still many say the entire process is and has been flawed for some time.  Opponents of Putin gathered for fresh demonstrations in Moscow.  Recent news reports have detailed arrests and detentions of protesters and opposition leaders.

Before coming to the United States for the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israeli President Shimon Peres offered strong praise for President Barack Obama. The Nobel laureate said security ties between the US & Israel “are the best we’ve ever had.”   At the AIPAC conference, President Obama announced that Peres, long-time fixture of Israeli politics who has served as the head of several ministries and as Prime Minister, will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  The award has been given to foreign leaders in the past.  Israel’s president is more of a figurehead in the country’s government.  Power is in the hands of the Prime Minsiter, but the role nevertheless has considerable visibility and especially so for somebody with Peres’ credentials.  Peres said of the Israeli Presidency in an interview with the New York Times covering a broad range of topics, “the president is to charm.”

The African National Congress, the ruling party of South Africa since the end of Apartheid, faces a new challenge after it expelled the party’s youth leader Julius Malema.  Malema is thought to have been plotting a coup to upend Jacob Zuma’s leadership of the party ahead of elections next year.  Zuma, who as party head also serves as the nation’s president (the president is elected by Parliament which is firmly controlled by the ANC), came to power in the ANC after a similar coup with Malema’s help against Thabo Mbeki in 2009.  Malema, promised supporters that the fight is not over after the expulsion which came after an appellate board upped the penalty for Malema’s sowing divisions with the party.

The Feds:

Super Tuesday, tomorrow and Rick Santorum’s lead in Ohio is gone, courtesy SuperPAC air raids.

Meanwhile, President Obama, hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged restraint over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  He noted the day before in a speech to AIPAC that further sabre-rattling has only helped Iran by inflating the cost of oil ahead of the phased implementation of a new European oil embargo.  During his meeting with the Prime Minister, Obama pressed Israel to wait for sanctions to take effect before contemplating an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.  Netanyahu only reiterated his country’s prerogative to defend itself.  Notably, election year politics in both the US & Israel were hovering in the background.  Republicans have attempted to paint the president as weak on Israel, an outright falsity, but one that has made the White House posture in such a way to keep often reliably Democratic Jewish vote from straying to the right.

Last week, Olympia Snowe announced she was not running for reelection to the Senate.  While the Republican field has been muted at best (only unelected Constitutional officers in the state seem to be serious contenders so far), the Democratic field appears whittled down to Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and ex-governor John Baldacci.  However, a big name from the past, former Independent Governor Angus King is expected to get into the race.  King’s entry has the potential to scrub the easy flip of Snowe’s seat into a nail-biter.  King, despite his “Independent” moniker, is on the left side of the political spectrum is likely to split the vote potentially giving Republicans room to hang onto the seat.  If elected, it seems likely King would caucus with the Democrats unless he did not want any organizational support backing his efforts.  However, we opined last week that it is naive to think that King, who supported President Obama in 2008, would be any more able than anybody else to heal the partisan divide.

In other New England Senate news, Connecticut Democrats vying for the seat met for a spirited “conversation” with former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and State Rep. William Tong going after frontrunner Cong. Chris Murphy.  Video available via the Norwich Bulletin’s Livestream.

In California, Governor Jerry Brown is fighting for a temporary tax proposal in order to close the “ever-present” budget hole, which has bedeviled the Golden State for several years now.  After failing to get Republicans to agree to put the measure on the ballot, Gov. Brown is pursuing a referendum.  There’s only one problem.  His will not be the only one on the ballot, raising fears voters may reject all of moves to raise taxes temporarily.

The State of Things:

This could go under the Feds, too, but its our Senator saying it, soooo.  John Kerry, in a speech before the New England Council, a non-partisan group, tore into Republicans for their “ideological rigidity and stupidity.”  The remarks seemingly came, in part, as a response to Olympia Snowe’s decision to retire.  Kerry also noted that the real source of the problem is not Senate parliamentary procedure, but those who have abused them.

A new poll confirms what other more suspect polls have only alluded to.  The Republican and Western New England University released a poll showing Scott Brown leading Elizabeth Warren 49-41.  Notably, Brown does not have a majority, which puts it in line with earlier polls and the results are within the margin of error.  Still, the results seemed odd given Brown’s support for the overly broad Blunt Amendment, which failed last week in the Senate.  Additional questions raised include Brown’s high preference among 18-29 year-olds and the week-long polling window, which seems odd.  The youth preference for, Brown, however, seems driven at least in part to less knowledge of Warren.

After redistricting, the hearts of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Massachusetts Congressional districts were combined leaving Cong. Richard Neal with virtually all of Hampden County, Berkshire County and the western limits of Hampshire and Franklin Counties.  Neal held a coffee hour in West Springfield to introduce himself to his new constituents on Saturday.  Meanwhile, James McGovern of Worcester, whose new district covers Amherst, Greenfield, Deerfield and Northampton, is also in the process of meeting new constituents since new districts were announced.  However, like Neal, he may have some competition for the Democratic nomination.

City Slickers:

The Springfield City Council meets tonight.  Based on the agenda as is, most of its work appears to be housekeeping.  However, new items may make it before the council and even the most piddling order or resolve can be made into the next municipal Armageddon.

However, the committee process is humming along with the General Government committee in particular looking at revamping the City’s Residency Ordinance.  However, the strict penalties in a draft ordinance written by Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton and Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen are drawing the ire of unions.  Moreover, there is still no consensus on what a revamped bill would look like.  At-large Councilor Tim Rooke criticizes it all as politics, itself a political statement.  A full report is here by the Valley Advocate’s Maureen Turner.

Meanwhile, opponents of Biomass, including local activist Michaelann Bewsee and Jesse Lederman and others involved with Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield and Arise for Social Justice are being recognized for their efforts.  Lois Gibbs an activist who organized her community during the Love Canal disaster, presented the award given out by the Toxics Actions Center.  In both the Republican and Valley Advocate blurbs, Palmer Renewable Energy, the group behind the plant, remain committed to fighting both the City Council and Zoning Board of Appeals decisions favoring opponents.

Twitter Chatter:



Among other controversies from last week were conservative talk shown air horn Rush Limbaugh’s characterization of Georgetown Law Student-turned women’s health advocate Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute.”  Now Limbaugh is not new to the “crossing the line” category of right-wing vitriol, but in this case, he may not come out unscathed.  While Limbaugh offered a weak apology over the weekend and attempted to clarify it further today, the damage is already done.  Republicans are scrambling to find a way to distance themselves without upsetting Limbaugh while advertisers are jumping like rats off a sinking ship.  The speed of the advertiser exodus has been such that for not the Twitterverse, the well-connected journalist could quickly fall an advertiser or two behind.  New York Times Media Reporter and New Media wunderkind Brian Stelter wins this week’s tweet prize for well-illustrating the pace of the sponsor evacuation, which quickened even as he stepped away from his desk/laptop for a daily dose of exercise.