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Massachusetts stays true to its blue laws

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There’s no better phrase than conspicuous consumption to describe the orgy of excess that is Black Friday. The first day of the traditional holiday shopping season had been creeping earlier into the predawn morning after Thanksgiving.

This year, Walmart and Toys R Us decided to go for broke and open on Thanksgiving evening. Walmart decided to open at 10pm. Not to be outdone, Toys R Us went for 9 pm.  With the economy still sluggish, retailers are eager to reel in holiday shoppers and to get a jump on the online outlets that have been steadily draining businesses away from bricks and mortar stores.

But if there is a force stronger than conspicuous consumption, it is the Bay State’s blue laws. Under the 21st century rendering of the 17th century edicts, employees cannot work until after 12 am on certain holidays, including Thanksgiving.

The state Department of Labor and Workforce Development website says that work may be performed on restricted holidays like Thanksgiving, provided the retailer obtains a local police permit and approval of the Department of Labor Standards.

Suffice to say those approvals won’t be forthcoming. “This agency has not issued a statewide permit to allow retail stores to be open or permit work on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day,’’ Patricia DeAngelis, general counsel for the Department of Labor Standards, told The Boston Globe. “The spirit of the law and intent is to give people a day off, and that is why this state has exercised that authority in the way it has.’’

The Bay State’s blue laws are the best defense for retail workers to maintain some semblance of a family holiday against over-eager retailers and those crazed shoppers who are willing to maim and kill to get a good deal not long after they’ve snapped the last turkey wishbone.

Though Massachusetts retailers complained about losing business to neighboring states with earlier opening hours, they were quick to capitulate. Wrentham Village Premium Outlets will open at 12:01 am. Macy’s will open at 12:30 am. Target and Best Buy pushed back to 1:00 am. Walmart went back to a 4:00 am opening.
 
Elsewhere, there is a small but significant backlash growing against this latest display of consumer capitalism run amok. One Nebraska Target worker started an online petition against the stores’ Thanksgiving hours that has attracted the support of nearly 100,000 people. There are 26 similar petitions circulating online.

Even the rationale for Black Friday is coming under fire. Though most retailers count on the holiday period to get into the black, Adam Davidson of National Public Radio’s Planet Money, argues in The New York Times that they should strive for “a few  months” of Black Friday discounts to improve their bottom lines rather than relying on an intense burst of consumer spending.

Perhaps the best response is to just say no. The Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary implores people to stay home, reminding readers that the much trumpeted savings are anything but. “Saving is an act signified by the absence of spending,” she says.  

                                                                                                                                                            --GABRIELLE GURLEY



BEACON HILL

State lawmakers are nearing final approval of casino legislation.  With the last-minute sweetening of the pot for the state’s troubled race track industry, the Globe editorial page says the case has only gotten stronger for the once pro-casino editorial board’s more recent message to Gov. Deval Patrick: Kill this bill. Lawmakers dispense with the happy hour provision and bar legislators from taking a job in the industry for a year after leaving office, the Lowell Sun reports. Patrick raises some minor concerns, WBUR reports.

A Revere councilor tells the Lynn Item a casino at Suffolk Downs would make his community a “world class city.” The Herald says the smart money is on Suffolk: The racetrack already has architectural drawings and a contractor, meaning it could get a casino running a year before any competitor. The Cape Cod Times explores what the bill means for the Wampanoag. Western Massachusetts is the area “most available for competition,” according to the Springfield Republican. Rhode Island plans to study how Bay State casinos will affect them. Plainville town officials pin their hopes on a slot parlor.

Patrick seeks a federal disaster declaration for the state’s fisheries and asks for $21 million in assistance, the Gloucester Times reports.

The Legislature approves new congressional districts.

The state solicits bids for the former Edward J. Sullivan Courthouse in Cambridge. The 22-story tower still holds the Middlesex County Jail.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

State Rep. Marty Walz is urging the Boston Licensing Commission to revoke the liquor license for a Back Bay restaurant that has been unopened for a decade because of a myriad of building and construction problems and give the license to someone else who could get up and moving -- and hiring. Via Universal Hub.

The daughter of a senior school custodian in Brockton, which is moving to revamp its hiring and disclosure processes after a series on nepotism in city departments by the Enterprise, was hired from a pool of 120 applicants for one of four jobs.

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch was so wrapped up in his reelection for a third term, he lagged on his other official duty -- organizing his high school class 30th year reunion the day after Thanksgiving, which is his responsibility as former class president. He’s scrambling to get classmates to RSVP so his office put out a press release.

Brian McGrory mulls over the meaning of Mayor Tom Menino’s willingness to play the respect-obsessed Godfather, Vito Corleone, in a video spoof that was part of last week’s MassINC/CommonWealth magazine 15th anniversary fundraiser.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Governing magazine examines Nebraska’s successful bid to reroute the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

New York City police oust Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park, an action backed by a judge, Governing reports (via AP). The New York raid energizes other cities’ protests, even as the movement debates whether it really needs tent cities. The Atlantic calls the New York raid a blessing in disguise, since it’s an opportunity for the Occupiers to focus less on geography, and more on creating “an inclusive campaign that non-marching liberals can feel a part of.” Occupy Boston protesters launch a preemptive bid to block eviction from the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

The White House is not optimistic about the prospects for the debt-reduction supercommittee.

In Congress, it pays to run a committee. Any committee will do.

The Federal Housing Administration may need a bailout.

Middle-class neighborhoods shrink across the country, replaced by pockets of wealth and poverty.

ELECTION 2012

Bloomberg reports that Newt Gingrich’s consulting contracts with Freddie Mac were much bigger than previously reported, as much as $1.8 million.

Caution is the watchword in the Mitt Romney campaign, reports the Globe’s Matt Viser.

Elizabeth Warren is the “rock star” of the 2012 Senate campaign season.

FISHING

Gov. Deval Patrick has renewed his request for $21 million in federal aid for commercial fishermen after an analysis found the state’s groundfish fleet shrank by 24 percent and nearly half of the remaining boats failed to break even because of catch share restrictions.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

WGBH’s “Where We Live” series and its focus on the American Dream puts the spotlight on Chelsea and the issue of immigration on Greater Boston.

The US Post Office lost $5.1 billion last year.

EDUCATION

The Boston School Committee approved a major school relocation and expansion plan over the strenuous objections of City Councilor Michael Ross, who opposed the planned move of the Mission Hill K-8 School to Jamaica Plain.

State education officials have tagged six chronically underperforming schools for major overhauls under the state’s 2010 reform law.  Three of the schools are in Lawrence, where Mayor William Lantigua says the state should take over  the entire district. Here is the Eagle-Tribune report.  For the second year in a row, New Bedford has a school on the list.  Most of the state’s 40 lowest-achieving and least-improving schools are in Gateway Cities, the Worcester Telegram reports.

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth released the credit card records of the former law school dean, who abruptly resigned last month, but the school had to reissue a redacted version of the expense record after it included thousands of dollars in charges, including Amazon.com purchases, made by another employee.

Since the October snowstorm has already eaten up most of the snow days in Western Massachusetts school districts, the Springfield Republican says now would be a good time to debate extending the school year.

The Berkshire Eagle and the North Adams Transcript applaud the handling of a racist incident at Williams College.

HEALTH CARE

Tufts Medical Center and its affiliated physicians are threatening to stop accepting Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts insurance coverage in a dispute over payment levels.

TRANSPORTATION

Boston’s Logan International Airport ranks ninth on a list of the 30 worst airports in the United States, according to a story in The Daily Beast.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Fall River city councilors voted unanimously to borrow the funds to buy trucks and bins to expand the recycling program citywide.

The state needs new revenue sources to fund upgrades to its drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Comedian Steve Sweeney, who appeared at MassINC’s Serious Fun event last week, is hit by a beer glass after a show in Saugus, NECN reports.

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