...And the World:
Against the din of violent protests, the Greek Parliament passed the latest round of austerity measures to secure a critical second bailout from the European Union. The measure passed with 199 well above a majority, but below the number of seats the two governing parties hold in the coalition caretaker government. The defecting members were expelled from their party. However, the approval of the new bailout funds, necessary to prevent a Greek default in March, will not come until the first of the month. As a result, Greeks will remain on the edge of default until that time. New elections are planned for April and the party most likely to win, which voted for the austerity yesterday, has promised to renegotiate part of the agreement. Whatever happens, Greece will need some pro-growth measures and/or stimulus very soon or it will never become solvent.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani, was indicted by the country's Supreme Court for not pursuing corruption charges against the President, Asif Ali Zardari. The Prime Minister's indictment comes at a time when relations with United States are at their nadir, but also against the background of Pakistan's historically poor history of civilian control over military and intelligence agencies. Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, is accused of corrupt practices during one of his wife's terms as Prime Minister, and Gilani's failure to pursue the charged with Swiss authorities precipitated the indictment. With elections planned for February, the indictment could push Pakistan and its uneasy democracy to new elections later this year.
President Barack Obama unveiled his last budget before standing for reelection this Fall. Obama's budget has been praised and condemned by many for its "populist" measures. The budget taxes the wealthy and includes measures to improve infrastructure and education. A deficit of less than $1 trillion is projected, the first since the bad economy took a hacksaw to government revenues and activated automatic spending for relief programs like unemployment and food stamps. As Republicans complain about Obama's budget, the President has resoundingly rejected any effort to voucherize Medicare, which was a key component of House Republican Budget Chief Paul Ryan's budget proposal last year and is expected to be again this year. The higher taxes in the budget also serve as a useful way to highlight Mitt Romney's shockingly low tax rate for the campaign ahead.
After last week's furor, contraceptives are here to stay, but so too, it seems, the battle over them. While Catholic bishops opposition was expected, Republicans, too, seem to believe that this matter is still about religious liberty, even though religious institutions have been "liberated" under the President's reasonable, new rule which shifts the contraceptives burden to insurers. Republicans fight on to remove any coverage for something that offends an employer's beliefs, which defies any reasonable notion of employment given that it is the employee who is earning the benefit. It is not a gift from the employer.
Washington State's governor Christine Gregoire signed a law that would make her state the seventh to grant marriage equality to gays and lesbians in that state. That bill will take effect pending a waiting period for opponents to gather signatures to put the measure on the ballot, which they promise to do. The passage of the bill comes after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned California's prohibition of gay marriage on the grounds that the state failed to articulate a reason to abolish that right. However, marriage equality remains under threat elsewhere in the country, particularly New Hampshire, where allegedly small government Republicans stand poised to repeal that state's gay marriage law. The governor, John Lynch, promises a veto.
The State of Things:
Paul Tuthill at Northeastern Public Radio reports that retiring Amherst-based US Congressman John Olver will endorse Congressman Richard Neal in Pittsfield. Olver's district was largely chopped up between Neal and Congressman Jim McGovern. For the most part, Olver's district in western Hampden County and Berkshire was given to Neal's new district. Pictures from the event, here.
The Boston Globe Editorial Board blasted Lt. Gov. Tim Murray for playing along with the cozy corruption that typifies many Bay State cities. The editorial comes after new allegations that Murray built a state organization and raised money with the help of Chelsea's housing authority chief. The problem was that that official was under-reporting his grossly outsized salary. The editorial pointed to politicians like, they allege, Murray, who let the corruption go on due to a resign about how politics in the state work, effecting enabling the corruption to endure.
Any rational human being would think that Scott Brown would sign onto the President's compromise over the contraceptives issue or at least do nothing. No. In fact, Scott Brown, likely banking on gathering the Catholic vote on this issue (or kissing up to Mass Citizens for Life), is signing onto the personal conscience objection bill that would allow an employer to decline to cover ANY procedure they object to. From birth control for Catholics or blood transfusions for Jehovah's Witnesses, employers could impose their religious beliefs on their employees via health insurance. While this may pick up a few of the Ray Flynn (read male Catholic, who probably would vote for Brown anyway) votes in South Boston, it could be his death warrant among middle to upper class women in Suburban Boston that will likely decide this election.
Must read: David Bernstein's breakdown of Mitt Romney's bizarre emulation of Charlie Baker's campaign for governor. If you're not sure, yes, Baker lost to Deval Patrick in 2010.
Mostly minutiae before the Springfield City Council tonight as lots of housekeeping piled up since their last meeting a month ago.
However, the issue of pushing the MCAS tests back a month remains hot. The Council passed the home rule petition tonight and it now awaits Mayor Sarno's signature to get to the State House. The Republican story is here, but you can read our assessment, including comments from the state officials here.
Sorta a regional issue, but we'll give it a pass since the Springfield City Council voted on a resolution urging the Department of Defense to keep the C-5 planes at Westover Reserve Base. The Republican has a story on the economic impact of the base.
Some tweets about the budget. The first is from President Obama's communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, mocking Republican reaction to the president's budget, but in a way doing the GOP's position an odd justice. Indeed, the Republican response has been near-unanimous disapproval of the President's budget, however, the biggest part is a complaint about the higher taxes on the wealthy. They prefer to lower taxes for the "job creators" further, but at the expense of everything else, including as mentioned above, Medicare.
By comparison, Ezra Klein, who while a liberal, is really too wonky to be accused of partisan fudging of the facts. However, he points out another GOP hypocrisy. Namely, that the GOP attacks the president's budget to raising the debt to GDP ratio, but that Cong. Paul Ryan's budget also raises the debt to GDP ratio. Except for Cong. Ron Paul, no Republican has produced a budget that would end the deficit immediately (it is worth noting that if the deficit disappeared solely through cuts, it would throw the nation immediately into recession and create a new deficit). They would all need to borrow more to get to the balance point, although even there they are as guilty of gimmicks as Republican claim the president is.