...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.
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.
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.