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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dynasty revisited

He's 31, a prosecutor who earns somewhere just north of $50,000 and splits his time living with his divorced parents in Brighton and Cambridge. And he's being considered prime congressional material for a district that just chased a 16-term Democrat into retirement?

Oh I forgot one thing: his father was a member of the House and his grandfather held a seat in the United States Senate. And there's a library commemorating his grand uncle's presidency that sits along Boston Harbor.

Joseph P. Kennedy III has been here before. His name was bandied about when Bill Delahunt announced his retirement. Kennedy was a Barnstable assistant district attorney then, so he at least lived in the district. Moving out from under his folks' roof would not be that blatant.

And changing addresses to run for Congress is nothing new. Bill Keating did it to replace Delahunt and is doing it again to avoid a showdown with Steve Lynch. His father moved from Marshfield to Brighton and his grandfather moved to New York.

In a race with a dearth of names, the surfacing of a Kennedy is inevitable.
“I think virtually everyone I know assumes at some point he’s going to be a candidate,” said Democratic strategist Michael Goldman. “No question he’s incredibly articulate. His entrance in the race would change the dynamic dramatically. He’d be the only candidate with a significant name recognition. ... The real question is: Is this the race that is a good place to run?”
But 2012 is not 1986, when his father won the seat vacated by a retiring Tip O'Neill, a campaign that also drew a Roosevelt into the fray labeled by some as the Duel of the Dynasties. Sen. Scott Brown, R-People's Seat, shattered the notion of history of Kennedy inevitability.

And no less an authority than the retiring Frank acknowledges the district has changed with the addition of towns from Scott Brown country. Speaking of delegation dean Ed Markey and his sway with the legislative redistricting committee, Frank says:
‘I talked to Ed Markey, and frankly I was a little disappointed there. I think Ed had some influence with them, but it was spent mostly on his own district ... There was stuff that Eddie got that, if I could have shared some with Eddie, it would have been a better district.’’
We knew Frank's announcement would set ambitions soaring and tongues wagging. Let those games begin!

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Try it. You won't like it.

The 1 Percent who run the Republican Party are taking aim at the 99 percent again: those people who would rather collect unemployment benefits than take a job.

Yep, the no-longer compassionate conservatives are turning their wrath at the long-term unemployed, placing them in the same category as Ronald Reagan's infamous "welfare queens."

According to James Sherk, a labor economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation, benefits have grown too generous and should be cut back to encourage people to take jobs they would have otherwise shunned because they were unfamiliar, paid less, or were below their qualifications.

“Workers have in mind the certain job they’re looking for, the location, the kind of work,’’ Sherk said. “As you have longer and more generous benefits, workers are more selective.’’

What economy is he looking at? The mythical one where the GOP's "job creators" have created a cornucopia of positions to sift through?

Or the real one where the unemployed need not apply?

Perhaps a better way to generate more federal revenue is to stimulate the economy so people can find jobs and pay taxes rather than cripple it by reducing buying and spending power even more than it has been already.

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Who's next?

How do you replace someone larger than life?

As a young pup covering the race that sent Joe Kennedy to Congress in 1986, I joked I didn't want him as my congressman so I up and moved from the 8th District to the 4th because Barney Frank was more my taste. At that point Barney had already been in office for three terms, having replaced a legend, Father Robert Drinan, then ousting Republican Margaret Heckler in a classic redistricting face-off between incumbents.

Now the scramble is on to replace Frank, whose retirement announcement set off shock waves here and in Washington. And at first blush, the potential field is incredibly unimpressive.

For Democrats, the problem is a short bench, much as it was after the passing of Ted Kennedy. Whoever gets the nod in the new 4th District won't carry the burden of needing to run statewide, like the field that trickled to the starting line until Elizabeth Warren emerged to face Scott Brown.

But as a longtime district resident, I'm hard pressed to name anyone, except perhaps for Alan Khazei who has name recognition in the northern end. Setti Warren has wisely opted out and there are several less than inspiring local office holders and wannabees who may opt to see if lightning can strike.

And as for the newly reconstituted southern end, there's even less to chose from at first blush aside from Republican Rep. Dan Winslow, who has already issued a Shermanesque demurral.

Sean Bielat, who produced more wind than votes in losing to Frank in 2010, would also represent the southern end, having moved to Philadelphia while appearing to keep his options open.

It's rare for a state to have one nationally important election and Massachusetts already has the preeminent Senate race between Brown and Warren. With the House likely to be a battleground in a nation fed up with a do-damage Congress, we can add the 4th District to that list, no matter who emerges in either party.

The departure of liberal legends has a tendency to focus attention.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

For what it's worth

Can't wait to see what kind of ad Mitt Romney creates to mark the Union-Leader's endorsement of Newt Gingrich.

Our Man Myth has been doing a pretty good job twisting people's words, but it will require spinmeister Eric Fehrnstrom's best efforts to make something out of this rebuke.

While the Union-Leader's history of picking winners is spotty at best, the newspaper remains a clarion of conservative thought, such as it is. And their words should hardly comfort either man:
"We don’t have to agree with them on every issue. We would rather back someone with whom we may sometimes disagree than one who tells us what he thinks we want to hear."
Ouch.

Let's reflect here. The U-L is backing the serial philanderer who called Paul Ryan's budget "right-wing social engineering" and made his fortune as the ultimate insider over the Lake Winnipesaukee homeowner and ever-earnest next door governor who courted them assiduously, both this year and in 2007 when they went with John McCain instead.

Pundits are of course correct the New Hampshire endorsement holds little sway over Iowa caucus goers -- except perhaps for the shrill tone the U-L could adopt toward Myth. But the endorsement does point out, once again, that Romney, barely able to crack the 25 percent mark, is unloved in his own party.

Forecasters are suggesting a warmer than usual winter for New England. That doesn't seem to be Romney's fate in his own backyard.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Oops, he did it again

Our Man Myth Romney is out with a new Medicare plan that is long on rhetoric and short on specifics. And this should surprise us how?

Romney, trying to ignore polls that show only a quarter of Republican primary voters support him, hopes to look and sound presidential and take direct aim at Barack Obama. He apparently thinks tired, rejected Republican ideas are the way to go.

The solution to the high cost of Medicare, he says, is to privatize the system and let market competition rule.

Excuse me, but isn't the market's failure the reason why our health care costs are higher than anywhere else in the world?

RomneyCare II is a voucher plan straight out of the Paul Ryan playbook. Well, it appears to be even though Myth decided to put forth a plan without details. Perhaps so he can change his mind if things get too hot?

Even more telling than the lack of details is the lack of availability to talk about it:
Romney’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for details and comment. A Nov. 4 press release issued about his plan said that the candidate “continues to work on refining the details of his plan.’’ In a fiscal policy speech that day, Romney said seniors on Medicare and those close to retirement would not be affected by his proposal.
The Mittser always has his painted side to the audience.

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JFK Remembered

Out-of-town guests, a beautiful day and an historic date added up to one thing yesterday: a trip to the John F. Kennedy Library. And it ended with a question: how did it all go so wrong?

Roam the exhibit halls and you are reminded of heady times, a young, dynamic Massachusetts politician with an appealing message of social justice and uncertain foreign policy credentials taking the reins. Toss in an attractive wife and a couple of kids and well, you get the picture.

Kennedy was tests the foreign policy arena were many: the misguided Bay of Pigs invasion; Khrushchev in Vienna and again in Cuba. For anyone who recalls the 13 days of October in 1962, terror has a second meaning from the one we have today.

Then there was the domestic front, with the battles in the South over the integration of the universities of Mississippi and Alabama and the bold, appalling declaration of that generation's Tea Party leader, George Corley Wallace:
"Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
The overwhelming emotion I carried out of that library was anger. How could we have regressed to the point where we are today, where birthers won't quit, where a call for humanity toward immigrants is met with disdain and derision? Where the forces opposed to growth are calling for a rollback of a law that took millions of seniors out of poverty?

To many, it all started on Nov. 22, 1963.

Yes Kennedy and his brothers were far from perfect. But what they stood for and what they tried to accomplish for this nation are worthy of remembrance -- and praise.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Buried lead

The Tea Party Newsletter offers up a "exclusive" today about RomneyCare, complete with blaring headlines and scary graphics. But you need to get to the 10th paragraph of the 13-graf story to see the real "scam."

The Beacon Hill Institute, that staunch defender of voodoo economics, in a report "obtained" by the Herald, is in high dudgeon over a loophole in the state's health care law that allowed people to get insurance right before a major operation, then drop it afterward,.

Screaming about "dumpers and jumpers," the TPN warns about the perils ahead for the nation.

Only problem with the dire warnings? Ancient history. The loophole was spotted and closed in 2010. Not before causing some extra spending, to be sure, but not the money pit the folks at BHI stay awake at night worrying about.

When confronted by that reality by Amy Whitcomb Slemmer of Health Care For All, the Herald triumphantly notes she "acknowledges" it is too soon to tell whether it has worked, and offers up this gloomy assessment:
And the study raises serious doubts. “It is unclear if these changes will discourage individuals from skirting the mandates in the face of surging insurance premiums,” the report says. “This is especially true for individuals seeking non-emergency treatment, who can register during the open enrollment period and still cancel their plans after receiving treatment.”
File under: Chicken Little journalism.

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Slow news day


Really New York Times: Mitt Romney's hair? And it took two reporters?

I guess that's what Howell Raines meant about flooding the zone.

File under: news I can't use.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving thanks

As we celebrate the kindness shown by Native Americans to the original immigrants, it seems a good time to reflect on what has happened to the generosity of the Pilgrims' descendants.

The nativist instincts of the current Republican presidential candidates is a far cry from the sentiments on which this nation was founded -- and rather hypocritical from a group whose ancestors arrived in the new land on a variety of modes of transportation, including a slave ship.

But it is of a piece with the search for scapegoats that marks the campaigns of the party whose candidates profess divine intervention as a reason for their entry into the race.

I find myself in a strange position of sympathizing with Newt Gingrich over the outrage he has generated among his fellow candidates by using the word "humane" as a goal for immigration policy.

Humanity is at the core of a nation founded on the ideals of liberty and justice for all. It's true our slave-owning founders didn't put those concepts into practice on a regular basis, but they laid down noble goals for those who followed them and helped to build a great nation on the sweat and labor of Africans, Europeans and Asians.

When Gingrich becomes the voice of compassion for the Party of the 1 Percent, it suggests just how far the party founded by Abraham Lincoln has fallen.

So as we enjoy family, friends and a feast today, perhaps we should all reflect on where our families came from, how we have enjoyed freedom on which this nation was founded and give thanks we are not in the sights of the mean-spirited crew whose rhetoric stands in sharp contrast to those ideals.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tax hikes loom

Don't look now, but while Republicans defend against tax hikes for millionaires, they have a nasty surprise in store for working folks.

Our Do Damage Congress is poised to do (not do?) just that in its continued ignoring of the Obama jobs bill filed last fall -- and broken down in little pieces since then. At issue is a measure that would extend payroll tax cuts for 160 million who work for a living.

It's the great under-covered story in Washington. While Republican presidential candidates opine on immigration and being God's chosen one, the "leaders" in Washington are studiously avoiding action on anything that might be seen as a victory for Barack Obama.

Which brings us the the payroll tax cut that was part of the stimulus bill and is set to expire at the end of the year. Economists suggest the cuts, which cost about $111.7 billion, are worth about 1.2 percentage points to the gross domestic product.

Obama, speaking yesterday in New Hampshire, put it in more user-friendly terms:
If Republicans reject the measure, “a typical family’s taxes will go up $1,000 next year. If they vote ‘yes,’ the typical working family will get a $1,500 tax cut. All right?’’ Obama said. “So I just wanted to be clear for everybody: ‘No’ — your taxes go up. ‘Yes’ — you get a tax cut.’’
Republicans who supposedly have never seen a tax cut they couldn't love, apparently have problems with this one:
Republicans including House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan, who typically support tax cuts, have raised concerns about the cost of extending the payroll provision. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin have said the tax holiday is a bad idea.
Why? I haven't heard a good answer. Maybe because it wouldn't benefit 160 million people and not only the 1 percent?

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Banana Republicans

Apparently failure is an option when it comes to Congress.

The best damn Congress money can buy has once again proven even the most hardened cynic wrong when he or she questions whether our political system can get even more screwed up. The results are not going to be pretty, particularly in Massachusetts.

And please, no "on the one hand, on the other hand" sugar-coating of the supercommittee's failure to reach a grand bargain to cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion through program cuts and tax increases. The record is Washington is pretty clear: Democrats pledge allegiance to the flag; Republicans offer their allegiance to Grover Norquist.

Time and time again, the Republican members of Congress, offered plans heavy on cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and discretionary spending, while eschewing any notion of tax increases -- even the elimination of the windfall Bush tax cuts that helped propel us into this mess.

Time and time again, Democrats offered to give away too much of the store in terms of Medicare and Social Security, only to have the Republican side ask for more while in the end offering a $300 billion package whose idea of revenue was elimination of the home mortgage interest deduction.

The "liberal" media has played a key role in this charade by failing to adequately report the facts and expose the ultimate GOP game plan so ably announced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

There has also been a distinct failure to adequately spell out how we got here: the Bush tax cuts alone amount to $1.5 trillion, more than the total the supercommittee was asked to trim. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost $4 trillion, wars George Bush never thought about paying for.

It's a sad but true fact that our political system is broken, a government of the lobbyist, by the lobbyist and for the lobbyist representing the people with the campaign cash to get what they want.

What a bunch of turkeys.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Ready, aim, finger point

The failure predicted last August is upon on and elected officials and wannabees are in full blame mode over the congressional supercommittee.

While Democrats have not been shy about aiming a few fingers across the aisle, it strikes me that the GOP is in higher dudgeon, perhaps because they know in their heart of hearts that their Pledge of Allegiance to Grover is in direct opposition to the view of a majority of Americans who think higher taxes should be part of any plan.

The Tea Party Newsletter naturally takes aim at John Kerry, the only local representative on the panel. In a typical story that fails to back up the headline, the TPN postulates how Kerry's clout could be diminished by the failure -- even though his constituency would applaud him for holding the line against a GOP cut-only solution.

Meanwhile, Our Man Myth takes aim at the one who wasn't there -- blasting Barack Obama for not immersing himself in congressional negotiations. The Mittster says Obama should have taken personal charge of the talks and forced the committee to act.

Or what? He'd send them to bed without vegetables from Michelle's garden? Romney conveniently offers no answers of his own, other than rejecting both higher taxes and defense cuts -- a daily double of ineffectiveness from the GOP talking points.

The stalemate was a foregone conclusion when lawmakers set Thanksgiving as a deadline to resolve issues that Republicans have refused to move on. Anyone who thought differently should take an extra helping of crow to go with this turkey of a Congress.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Premature demise

You can't open a paper or turn on a TV and not see a story proclaiming polls show Barack Obama is doomed in his quest for a second term.

So why is he mopping the floor with his GOP rivals in small donations, even outpacing his own 2008 efforts?

The Political Reporters Holy Trinity are polls, gaffes and, oops, give a me a second, oh yeah, cash. All reporting stems from that foundation, issues coverage be damned. And for all the Chicken Little coverage out there today highlighting Obama's flirtations in the 40 percent range, a couple of salient facts are overlooked.

Pollsters frequently avoid calling cell phones, which are rapidly becoming the only phone for many people. As a result, numbers invariably get skewed. It's also worth noting the tried and true adage that polls are merely snapshots in time and there's a long way to to next November.

Yet there is some validity to aggregating results over a near term. And when you do, it becomes extremely clear that Mitt Romney is having a very hard time getting more than 25 percent of the committed GOP electorate. But a Google search for stories highlighting that trend is sparse indeed.

And while cash has corrupted our political system, it is a benchmark. Corporations have taken advantage of Citizens United and have flooded campaign coffers -- mostly Republican -- with millions.

But the real grassroots -- the men and women who eventually turn out at the polls are apparently voting now with their checkbooks, regularly writing small checks to Obama.

It would be nice if the political press corps actually lives up to its quadrennial promise to change its ways and focus on real people and real issues and not continue the superficial stories about trends that don't exist.

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Picking Newt's nits

OK, so Newt Gingrich wasn't quite as cold and calculating a former husband as often portrayed. He was only 32 degrees instead of below zero.

That in essence is the effort in setting the record straight about his divorce from his first wife. She wasn't dying of cancer when he entered her hospital room -- she was recovering from cancer surgery -- and the divorce they discussed was no surprise because she wanted one.

I feel better now about Gingrich's family and interpersonal skills don't you?

But what about cheating on his second wife while leading the effort to impeach Bill Clinton? That's almost as hypocritical as taking $1.6 to $1.8 million from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as an historian while urging jail time for Barney Frank because he spoke to a agency lobbyist.

Just how many angels are dancing on the head of Newt's pin?

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

The bankers' seat

Wall Street appears ready for its next major acquisition: the Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat occupied by Scott Brown.

The New York Times points out the important role Sen. Barn Coat plays in the 2012 election strategy of the financial services industry:
“It’s not even about Scott Brown,” said one Wall Street executive, who asked for anonymity to discuss private discussions with his colleagues about the race. “It’s about: Do you want Elizabeth Warren in the Senate?”
Not exactly an overwhelming endorsement. But good enough to be on the receiving end of their financial largess.

As has been chronicled in this space, Brown has been amply rewarded for carrying the financial services industry's water on Capitol Hill. The Times estimates the haul at more than $1 million since his election.

While Brown may have occasionally strayed from the industry reservation during this time, the Wall Street movers and shakers are clearly fearful of the alternative, Elizabeth Warren, offering rhetoric that could heat the tents of Occupy protesters for the rest of the winter:
“We are working very hard for Scott,” said Anthony Scaramucci, the managing partner of Skybridge Capital and a major Wall Street fund-raiser. “Herman Cain is all about 9-9-9, Elizabeth is about 99-1-99. She thinks the 99 percent want to tax the 1 percent 99 percent. It is failed strategy.”
The People's Seat? Or Wall Street's Seat? Time will tell.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Control ... delete

If the best defense is a good offense the Mitt Romney campaign appears to be making a furious goal line stand.

Myth's minions demanded Deval Patrick turn over all communications with the White House in the wake of the Globe's revelation the outgoing administration purchased their computer hard drives as they walked out the door in 2006. Deval's doing Barack's dirty work, they claim.

No problem, says Patrick’s chief legal counsel, Mark Reilly:
“We have fulfilled over 250 public records requests in our five years in office, and we will be happy to fulfill this one.’’
In the meantime, the "everyone did it" story crumbled like a Romney policy paper.
“I don’t remember anybody buying their hard drives. I don’t remember anybody buying anything,’’ said Stephen P. Crosby, who worked for Romney’s two predecessors and handled the transition between Jane Swift’s outgoing administration and Romney’s incoming one, and who was also co-chairman of Governor Deval Patrick’s budget and finance transition team. “I can’t even remember anybody discussing it. It certainly wasn’t [standard operating procedure] in any way. That’s almost unthinkable. It seems inherently a bad idea. You almost think you’d want to have a record of everything going on for the public.’’
Ouch. When it takes just one phone call to demolish a myth, what does that mean for Our Man Myth?

Secretary of State Bill Galvin helped fill in some of the context, noting that while technically the governor’s aides do not have to release e-mails to the public, they do have to preserve them for the state archives.

I expect Globe reporters are beginning a conga line across Morrissey Boulevard from their offices to the State Archives to see what the public doesn't know (and when they didn't know it) about the Romney years under the Golden Dome.

Anyone who thinks this won't make its way to the presidential campaign is in serious denial. Romney has been having trouble reaching 25 percent support among conservatives who have embraced just about everyone except Ron Paul and Rick Santorum (yet) in their zeal to find a Myth alternative.

This looks like an very interesting chapter in the the public life of a candidate who until this point had a squeaky clean reputation to fall back on.

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The 2014 race starts early

So much for Tim Murray's sweep to the 2014 Democratic nomination for governor.

It's way to soon to tell what the fallout will be from revelations that he was cell phone buddies with former Chelsea Housing Authority boss Michael McLaughlin. No word if he even knew how much McLaughlin was pulling down -- and not admitting to -- as the highest paid public employee in the state.

His relationship certain did not affect how Deval Patrick lowered the ax on McLaughlin or the Chelsea Housing Authority. But take this story along with the L-G's early morning ride in search of coffee and a newspaper and you can be sure Murray's name recognition is a lot higher than it is today.

CORRECTION: Thanks to the anonymous commenter who pointed out that I delayed the next governor's race by two years. Obviously it is in 2014, not 2016 as I initially wrote.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

C-Drivegate

It's a comment that should make voters skin crawl:

“I’m confident that we complied with the letter and the spirit of the law.’’

The Boston Globe reports that aides to Mitt Romney wiped e-mails from the state servers and purchased their hard drives effectively eliminating the e-mail trail of actions during their four years as governor.

The Romney administration apparently took advantage of a loophole in the Massachusetts Public Records Law that does not explicitly include the governor's work product. So Mark Nielsen, Romney's chief legal counsel, may indeed be correct about the letter of the law.

But spirit? Eliminating an electronic record of four years as the state's chief executive officer leaves any rational person with the question: what have you got to hide?

The Romney camp is obviously touchy about document elimination and private purchase of hard drives, going into full attack mode. Says campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul:

“In leaving office, the governor’s staff complied with the law and longtime executive branch practice. Some employees exercised the option to purchase computer equipment when they left. They did so openly with personal checks.’’

But to highlight just how unseemly the practice looks to the average person, she accused Deval Patrick of “doing the Obama campaign’s dirty work’’ and called it one in a series of “political attacks to distract from Obama’s horrible record on jobs.’’

Way to misdirect attention away from a blatant slap at the notion of transparency. There are legitimate reasons built into the law to protect certain work product from public disclosure. But to eliminate information wholesale suggests either of two things: a blatant disregard of the public trust or a deep need to hide.

Unless of course the Romney staffers are enjoying the hard drives as unique jewelry items or framed works of art.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Decamping Zuccotti

The Occupy movement may not know it, but New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did them a big favor.

New York's $20 billion man became the ultimate symbol of the 1 percent by ordering the middle-of-the-night raid that emptied Zuccotti Park, much to the delight of the financial industry that has occupied the area for decades.

Instead of dealing with the problems caused by their own 1 percent of unruly campers, the Occupy movement now has another rallying cry in their quest to show the double standard that exists for Americans based on income.

Foes had seized on the bad elements that infiltrated the fringes and lumped them together with the collective governance style to proclaim Occupy a rudderless fringe element. So much for those issues in New York.

Instead, the movement now has multiple outposts sharing a sense of solidarity and outrage and the issue of income inequality is now openly discussed around the world.

The biggest challenge facing the movement has been and will continue to be finding a voice -- and perhaps a spokesman or woman who can articulate the values that brought campers to Zuccotti Park and Dewey Square and other outposts.

But even that is not insurmountable. Quick: Who speaks for the Tea Party?

And while that search goes on, part of the maturation of a two-month-old movement that has spread around the world, campers won't face the prospect of a cold winter being tarred by the misdeeds of their own fringes.

But if they still insist on an encampment, how about Occupy Gracie Mansion? Bloomberg has a few other options at his disposal.

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Conspiracy theory

Sal DiMasi may be going to prison quietly, but someone never got that message to his wife.

Deborah DiMasi offers the foolish charge that the former House speaker was set up by the casino industry and is innocent of the crimes on which he was convicted earlier this year.
"He was the only man standing in the way of the casino industry, and they wanted him out! If he had passed casinos, I don't think this would have happened."
The Good Wife was upset over what happened in the federal courthouse over the course of months.
"So much of what I heard (in court) was just so insanely outrageous! And it's very frustrating not to be able to get up and stand up and scream,” she said.
Funny, the one thing I don't recall hearing is DiMasi taking the stand in his own defense against the charges. It might have been more effective than screaming.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ka-ching!

It appears casino gambling in Massachusetts after four years of often contentious debate is about to become a reality. Now comes the hard part.

The measure approved by the House-Senate conference committee calls for three "resort" casinos and one slots parlor. Happy hour across Massachusetts is out, a one-year cooling off period for elected officials working for the industry is in.

Also is in the DeLeo Amendment, a provision that will limit a voter referendum on casinos to East Boston, home to Suffolk Downs and a likely casino location.

And House Speaker Robert DeLeo also succeeded in carrying the oats of the moribund horse racing industry that employed his father -- winning a provision that would divert an additional 5 percent of the money from the one-time casino license fees and 5 percent of annual taxes from casinos to the horse racing fund.

That money would come from the pot intended for local aid to all cities and towns to preserve an industry that has been dying on the vine for decades.

Patrick and lawmakers have been dreaming of their own jackpot of jobs and revenue since the governor first proposed destination casinos four years ago. Their cause was strengthened when the casinos' biggest foe, Sal DiMasi, turned out to be a crook.

The inevitability of this bill was apparent from the beginning of the current session Patrick, DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray negotiated the broad parameters behind closed doors and lawmakers held limited open debate until the measure had a symbolic lengthy airing in the Senate.

So with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads -- and industry dollars filling their campaign coffers -- it's time for Patrick and lawmakers to get to the very important next steps: making sure making sure that gambling's promised gold gets into the hands of cities and towns and not the folks with outstretched hands.

Attorney General Martha Coakley has suggested the state's anti-corruption and racketeering laws are not up to the task of policing the free flow of cash from this new industry. It would be good policy to beef that up.

But given the history of this bill, I'm not betting on that happening -- until someone's well-manicured hands are found in the till.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Saving Paul Ryan

If you believe the latest congressional supercommittee idea I've got a bridge in need of repair I can sell you.

With the clock ticking down on a deadline to come up with a deficit reduction plan, our "leaders" are mulling a variation on "check is in the mail" theme: Do the spending cuts now and leave the revenue decisions to the House and Senate tax-writing committees.
“There could be a two-step process that would hopefully give us pro-growth tax reform,” Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the top Republican on the panel, said Sunday on the CNN program “State of the Union.”
Leave aside the idea of a Texas two-step and consider the bargain being offered by Republicans: we'll do what we want now and then do what you want next year.

All you need to know about the sincerity of the proposal is the reaction from Grover Norquist, the man to whom the GOP pledges allegiance to over the flag:
"I am not losing any sleep” over the Republicans’ latest proposal ... “at the end of the day, the Republican House will not pass a tax increase.”
He's undoubtedly correct that the House which brought you Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's slash-and-burn plan -- the one that lowered taxes on the wealthy -- is unlikely to do anything to burden the 1 percent.

The GOP proposal allegedly on the table is a token, a political gesture designed to make it look as if Democrats are the ones unwilling to compromise. And why do I fear that the Donkey Party will fall for it?

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

He is the 1 percent

It reads like a classic American horror story: buy on borrowed money, wring out the profit by tossing workers and borrowing even more. And when there's nothing left to squeeze, toss it away, damn the consequences.

The New York Time account of the corporate rape of Dade International should have a familiar ring to it: it parallels the fate of Ampad, the paper company that also fell victim to Mitt Romney's slash-and-burn venture capital tactics.

Here's the nut graf of the Times account:
Bain and a small group of investors bought Dade in 1994 with mostly borrowed money, limiting their risk. They extracted cash from the company at almost every turn — paying themselves nearly $100 million in fees, first for buying the company and then for helping to run it. Later, just after Mr. Romney stepped down from his role, Bain took $242 million out of the business in a transaction that, according to bankruptcy documents and several former Dade officials, weakened the company.
Romney stepped down from Bain in midstream -- to challenge Ted Kennedy for the US Senate seat. But the story was similar several years earlier at Ampad, a Marion, IN company.

As MIT professor Howard Anderson told the Globe in 2008, the business philosophy was also similar:
"It's not that employment grows, it's that their investment grows. Sometimes its expansion, and sometimes it's shutting things down."
To listen to Romney on the stump and to read the tweets of his staff, you would think Our Man Myth is the best friend of the working man and woman, possessing the right tools to get America working again. Why? Because he's a businessman whop knows how to create jobs.

The Romney team is always ready to point to his role in creating Staples, the office supply giant But for every Staples, where jobs are created, there appears to be at least one Dade or Ampad, where jobs and companies are destroyed while the folks who used borrowed money to invest walk away with tidy profits.

Sounds like the 1 percent to me. Maybe we should Occupy Mitt. Of course that would require figuring out whether he's at his home in Massachusetts. Or New Hampshire. Or Utah. Or California.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Powerless

We've heard a lot recently about utilities not up to the task of dealing with the havoc caused by Tropical Storm Irene or the Halloween nor'easter. This is is not in that league, only about 16 hours in the cold.

But NSTAR's failure to have any human beings available when their planned "equipment upgrade" went south, and 11:30 a.m. turned into 12:30 and so on until 4:50 p.m. is inexcusable.

Let's be direct: everything was working until NSTAR took it down. I'm not an expert but 10 hours seems like a long time for planned maintenance. Maybe more regular upkeep would have allowed shorter turnaround?

The automated voices that kept spewing out worthless time estimates was infuriating enough. Not having anyone to explain what was really going on pushed it over the top.

Again, I count my blessings the outage was hours, not days. But regulators really need to take a look at the lax practices of the electric utilities, whether it's the failure to trim trees or the failure to keep its paying customers informed.

Epic fail NSTAR.

UPDATE: Still waiting for the promised call that everything is working again, NSTAR. Caller ID shows you called, but you could have left a message.

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Knight in tarnished armor

Once upon a time Luther Scott Harshbarger was the man they turned to right wrongs. He stood up against the back room deals that have long characterized government, particularly in Massachusetts.

Yet here he is, calling Deval Patrick on his cell phone to try and engineer a face-saving out for former Chelsea Housing Authority boss Michael McLaughlin, who was paid a king’s ransom to run the authority and tried to snag all his unused vacation and sick time as he headed out the door.

The anti-casino crowd has been fairly quick to say it’s pay back by Patrick for Harshbarger’s visible role in opposing legalized gambling. And maybe it is. But the larger question is: so what?

Harshbarger, according to accounts obviously leaked by the Patrick camp, failed to address the fact he was acting as McLaughlin’s counsel when he dialed up Deval, a fact he also initially didn’t tell the Globe. The former attorney general, a champion of open government was trying to cut a quiet backroom deal for a man caught with his hands deep in the public till and Patrick exposed him.
“The fact someone would try to cut a backroom deal over this pension is infuriating,’’ said one official briefed on the conversations between Harshbarger and the governor’s office.
Score one for Deval.

I’m no great fan of the casino culture that is about to ensnare Massachusetts and make life busier for Martha Coakley, Harshbarger’s successor once removed. Coakley has said the state’s current statutes are not up to the task of effectively prosecuting the problems likely to emerge – including the backdoor deals involving elected officials.

Harshbarger has seriously damaged his reputation for knowing right from wrong – and apologists who see only his anti-casino stance ought to think twice about their own priorities if they condone this tacky backroom maneuver.

POINT OF PERSONAL PRIVILEGE: This post was delayed for hours by Nstar's planned power outage that was supposed to end at 11:30 a.m., but came in closer to 5 p.m. More coming.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Warr-en Peace

Call it the Television Profit Act of 2012 And call it a potential problem for Elizabeth Warren.

The first wave of what John Carroll calls the the $4 Billion Rumpus is lapping up on our shores with attack ads against both Scott Brown and his likely Democratic foe. The League of Conservation Voters offers a takedown of the truck-driving Sen. Barn Coat and his stance on energy-related issues while Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS offers a classic dark attack on Warren's claim to laying an "intellectual foundation" to Occupy Wall Street.

The Brown ad delivers its message with humor, largely because Brown's visibility and popularity makes a hard assault risky business a year out from the election.

Not so the Warren ad, which has all the subtlety of a Rove production. And there in lies the problem for a candidate who has yet to really introduce herself to a broad swath of Massachusetts voters.

Warren has demonstrated an easy-going nature, taking some sarcastic jabs at Brown and herself. Some verbal miscues have failed to draw blood because of the rapid ebb and flow of the news cycle.

But Warren is clearly on thin ice when it comes to attacks like the Rove jihad. Repeating an attack creates a context where none exists if voters are not familiar or comfortable with a candidate.

It can happen to some as seemingly familiar to voters as Tim Cahill, who was a twice-elected state treasurer when the Republican Governors Association launched a blitz against him in 2010. As Democratic consultant Dan Payne told the Globe:
He never got up after that ... because people had no opinion of Tim Cahill at that moment. He didn’t bother to introduce himself.’’
Warren managed to chase her credible foes out of Democratic primary thanks to a massive third-quarter fund-raising total. It might behoove her campaign brain trust to spend some of that right now on an effort to introduce her to Massachusetts voters before Karl Rove does.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is that all there is?

Rick Perry trips over his tongue. Herman Cain trips over his libido. Mitt Romney changes his positions as frequently as some people change their clothes. Is this really the best the Republican Party has to offer as leaders?

Perry's appalling performance in last night's GOP debate, where he couldn't even remember his own well-rehearsed talking points, is the latest affront to the intelligence of Americans serious about tackling our nation's financial woes.

But it's not terribly surprising in the sense that the entire GOP effort is designed to make Americans forget who got us into this mess in the first place through credit card spending on two wars and lax-to-nonexistent regulation of the Wall Street 1 percent.

Perry's blunder helped take the heat off Cain and the serial accusations of sexual harassment being leveled at him by women who entered his orbit while he led the National Restaurant Association. For one night at least, Cain was allowed to avoid having to engage in a he said, she said, she said, she said, she said discussion.

Just as well because he has been as clear as Perry and has offered as many stories as Romney.

Add to this cast of characters Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Rich Santorum and Newt Gingrich and you have to ask yourself how the GOP could once actually tout itself as the party of ideas. All they have offered are discredited leftovers like tax cuts for the rich and electrified fences on the Mexican border.

Unless or until both political parties engage in a serious discussion of how we got here and what we must do to get moving, there is no real possible improvement in our situation or the toxic mood.

And as long as the Republican Party offers the fourth string, we won't have that discussion. Is the GOP really this devoid of dynamic, fresh leaders with courage and new ideas?

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Building a new wave?

The voters have spoken -- again -- and it appears they are tired of Republican overreach.

It's not just that Ohio voters rejected an anti-collective bargaining law or that Mississippi voters turned back a "personhood"amendment that was antithetical to the conservative concept of ejecting government influence.

What was significant was the margins -- more than 60 percent no in Ohio and 58 percent no in Mississippi. Loud, strong voices against excess in both states.

Pundits will be quick to say the votes should not be seen as support for Democrats or progressive values, surprisingly wise analysis from talking heads who are often quick to flatly declare the next big thing.

But it is hard to ignore the votes are a resounding repudiation of those Republicans who took last year's midterm elections as an excuse to move ahead with ideological dogma that was far more controversial than the health care reforms that had been debated nationally for decades.

And it will be interesting to see if congressional Republicans will be chastened to back off their Defeat Obama agenda in the face of polls showing Americans want action against income inequality.

Some GOP lawmakers appear ready to toss off their allegiance to Grover Norquist and think about the people over their party. But it is an infinitesimal move and one not supported by leadership, so far.

Best analysis of yesterday's vote? Something's happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear...

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Packing his bags

Does Bill Keating have frequent mover miles? With a second relocation in the works just to qualify for a job in Washington, you have to hope so.

In the end, the legislative redistricting committee did the right thing, making the first-term Keating the odd man out. After a move from Sharon to Quincy to qualify for the seat vacated by Bill Delahunt, Keating will need to move full time to his summer home in Bourne if he wants to keep representing the southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod district.

And move he will, to avoid going up against fellow incumbent Steve Lynch, who swallows up party of Keating's current stomping grounds.

Not that the move is a sure thing for Keating. His new district includes New Bedford, stripped from the serpentine monster that now constitutes Barney Frank's district. And a community that, while quite happy with Frank, is more than ready to assert its own identity, which doesn't always match that of the Cape and islands.

Things could also get interesting for John Tierney, whose cozy world was rocked with the addition of a few Republican-leaning communities that might look askance on the misdeeds of his wife Patrice. A credible Republican candidate, like former state Sen. Richard Tisei, could mount a far stronger candidate than Bill Hudak.

In the end, the results are far better than what the Globe insinuated could be result of an effort where one of the co-chairs has long had his eyes on a seat. Instead of heading to congress based on his handiwork, Amherst Democrat Stan Rosenberg bid adieu or at least delayed his quest to follow his mentor, John Olver.

And a whole heck of a lot better than the legislative map drawn 10 years ago by former House Speaker Tom Finneran, a plan than placed him firmly in the Indicted Speakers Club.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Plane speaking

Let's face it: Mitt Romney makes Richard Nixon seem warm and fuzzy. And that's why Herman Cain, Rick Perry and even Newt Gingrich remain viable candidates for the GOP nomination.

Romney simply fails the nice guy test (so important to the George Bush victory) as the Times reports in a dispatch about candidate's aloofness on a recent Delta flight. Glad-handing everyone on board would be a no-no, but sticking on head phones when your seat mate wants to discuss health care reform is rude too. A polite declination would have been far more courteous.

That snapshot clears shows why Romney remains virtually unloved in a GOP primary, hovering around 25 percent in a campaign with outsize personalities. Republican voters may rightly recognize Romney is electable, but they have no clear idea what he stands for and find him wooden and standoffish.

And that's also why no one should write Barack Obama off one year before America votes. Polls may change but people's attitudes often do not. Obama may frustrate friend and foe with his Spock-like coolness, but he has shown passion on the stump and has a solid record of accomplishment.

Recall too that Romney not only has to battle Obama, he has to account for John Boehner and company, a group that makes Our Man Myth seem wildly popular.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Time out

Apparently someone forgot to tell the Boston Globe and New York Times about the time change.

Neither newspaper was on the doorstep this morning. The Times' automated system hiccuped to a start and informed me a "production problem" will delay delivery until 9:15 a.m.

Um, did no one remember to change the clocks?

The Globe was even worse. Their automated system hasn't even woken up yet, requiring me to leave a message so they can call back.

Message to Globe: remind me again why I pay a premium price, in advance, for "service" like this?

And you wonder why Tim Murray drove out to find a copy of the Herald the other day.

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Change I can't believe in

The folks who have agita at the thought of change apparently have a big one in mind for all Americans -- the kind that weighs down pockets and purses.

Conservatives who call phasing out of the incandescent light bulb a Communist plot, are hatching their own plot to eliminate the dollar bill and replace it with a coin.

The fact the idea is as popular as Rush Limbaugh at an Occupy rally is only of marginal interest to the Tea Party-backed lawmaker who wants to phase out the paper dollar.

Arizona Rep. David Schweikert is attracted to a Government Accountability Office report that says replacing paper with metal could save about $5.5 billion over 30 years. That is chump change in comparison to the waste that can be found in the defense budget, to name just one source of bloat. No problem, says Schweikert:
“It fits the mantra of why we got elected — to save money...”
No matter that the public finds dollar coins as popular as, um, taxes. Three-quarters of the American people responding to a poll around the 2007 introduction of a series of dollars paying tribute to American presidents rejected the idea. Frankly I haven't even seen a presidential dollar and have a couple of Sacagawea bucks I would like to unload if it didn't annoy the merchants who would have to take them.

Then there's the odd-sided Susan B. Anthony dollar that even gave vending machines fits.

A friendly suggestion to my Tea Party friends: let's try to solve the problems we currently have before heading out to deal with issues that no one else considers an issue.

That would be change I can believe in.

UPDATE: H/T to Mrs. OL for a link to a story on how much we are wasting on a dollar coin program. Maybe ending that would save as much as getting rid of the paper bills we prefer?

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Saturday, November 05, 2011

One-legged stool

Pore over stories about Mitt Romney's budget proposal and one thing becomes very clear: no shared sacrifice. Search for the words "defense" and "taxes" and you will fail.

The Pander Man was in high dudgeon appearing before the Koch brothers Americans for Prosperity conference, proclaiming his allegiance to future generations of Americans who should not be saddled with crushing debt -- by trimming Medicare and Medicaid.
“There are some who are going to argue that fiscal responsibility is heartless and immoral,’’ Romney said. “No, what’s heartless is to imperil our children, and what’s immoral is to imperil the strength of a nation that was founded under God and preserved by his hand.’"
No sane person will argue the nation's current financial path is a sound one. Yet Romney's moralistic call for sacrifice conveniently overlooks two other important pieces of the stool on which reform must be built so it can last.

With troops leaving Iraq by year's end and scaling back in Afghanistan -- wars paid for by credit card with the bills left for future generations -- why do we need to spend $680 billion (as in $680,000,000,000) on the tools of war?

And why do those prosperous Americans get a pass on participating in the form of a share of the tax bills assessed against the 1 Percent who earn 23.5 percent of the nation's income.

With Americans living longer, there is a case for sensible Medicare and Social Security reform that acknowledges 65 is no longer a universal age when men and women can or want to hang 'em up and head off for what could be another 25 years of life.

But by focusing only on this one leg of the stool, Republicans like Romney fail to acknowledge the broader ills facing our nation caused by unchecked weapons spending and a free pass offered to the Top 1 percent.

We need leaders who care about all citizens, not just the ones with the resources to buy the attention and affection of elected officials through campaign cash.

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Friday, November 04, 2011

One way to reduce delays

Those wise heads at the MBTA have come up with a novel solution to the problem of stranding passengers in bad weather. Cancel service before the storm.

While it's true many school systems have taken to making decisions based on Harvey Leonard's best guesses, the T's plan to call in sick before the storm could create all sort of new possibilities in the world of novel excuses. I invite you to share some.

File this under "we had to destroy the village to save it."

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Next time, skip the Herald

Thank heaven the Tea Party Newsletter is there to guard the taxpayer wallets from that noted spendthrift Lt. Gov. Tim Murray. At least that's better than snickering about his sobriety.

While State Police said icy roads were to blame for the early morning rollover in central Massachusetts, the Herald's resident ethicist questioned the results of a Breathalyzer test that Murray requested at the scene.

Few can say the story is run-of-the-mill. The state's No.2 is out for coffee and a Herald in the wee hours and decides to head up from his Worcester home to survey storm damage in Sterling along a pitch dark road. He hit black ice and totaled the Crown Vic he had been assigned from the state motor pool.

Wise enough a politician in today's age, he asked for a field sobriety test which came out 0.0.

Bizarre? No doubt. Backed up by a state police report (that noted an arriving trooper almost wiped out on the black ice), the normal reaction of most human beings would be to say thank goodness he didn't get hurt or worse.

Trying to stick Murray being wasteful of taxpayer cash? Priceless.

My own advice to Murray: it's never worth getting into a car to try to buy a Herald. Next times, stick with coffee.

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

The GOP Follies (II)

He may not be able to win the hearts and minds of the GOP faithful, but Mitt Romney has one thing his current foes do not: credibility.

Yeah, Our Man Myth has more positions than the Kama Sutra. But he has had the good sense to lead a boring life and thus far avoid the finger pointing now embroiling the Herman Cain and Rick Perry camps over allegations of sexual harassment and dirty tricks.

At least so far.

CainGate is simply the latest example of the GOP's lack of touch with reality. You have the primary field descending into trivia while the congressional counterparts do everything in their power to ignore the real issue facing the nation -- an economy where there are a handful of big winners while the rest of us idle in neutral or fall back.

Romney comes across statesman-like amid this rabble, even as Democrats begin to soften up the last Republican likely to be standing after this farce of a campaign comes to a close.

A Pyrrhic victory for Romney -- and a stunning loss for a nation that deserves better than political sideshows from a party that has yet to offer a solution for our woes that doesn't involve more tax cuts for "job creators" who aren't creating anything but wealth for themselves.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

They are the 1 percent

Not every Americans net worth has suffered in the last two years. We know about Wall Street. But how about Congress?

While American wages have stagnated and property values plummeted, the net worth of our elected officials -- you know the ones who are supposed to represent us?-- have done quite well, thank you very much. According to Roll Call's analysis of disclosure forms:
Members of Congress had a collective net worth of more than $2 billion in 2010, a nearly 25 percent increase over the 2008 total..
And just like with the population at large, it's really quite concentrated.
Nearly 90 percent of that increase is concentrated in the 50 richest Members of Congress.
We all know about the John Forbes Kerry-Teresa Heinz wealth. What's stark about this analysis is the growth in wealth in the House of Representatives, you know that hotbed of Tea Party support.
The minimum net worth in the House has jumped to $1.26 billion, and Senate net worth has climbed to at least $784 million, for a Congressional total of $2.04 billion.
With the billions in cash pouring into the system to finance campaigns and lobbyists, it's long been obvious that Congress has more in common with Wall Street rather than Main Street. Now we have some numbers to back up that suspicion.

Representative government? It is if you're among the 1 percent.

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