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Populist fury may not yield electoral edge

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When President Obama traveled to Kansas recently and delivered speech full of populist fury at the great concentration of wealth among the country’s richest elite, a great sigh of relief could be heard among Democratic Party loyalists. “At last” was the feeling among leading liberals, who had been feeling increasingly ambivalent about a president who seemed to have gone wobbly on fighting the great fight over income polarization that was becoming the economic story of our time.

It was not just that they felt taking on income inequality was the right thing to do. Many Democrats say the president’s feistier new demeanor is a winning strategy for next year’s election, when they think economically distressed voters will rally behind a bolder Obama who calls out the greedy fat cats who are reaping all the income gains in the country.

But what if that view is just wrong?  

William Galston, writing on The New Republic website, says that’s the conclusion he draws based a look at recent polling data.  Among the pieces he points to: A Gallup poll released on December 15 that says fewer Americans think the country is divided into haves and have-nots than was the case in 2008.  Independents and moderates -- the swing voters that are crucial in any election -- account for much of the decrease. Also instructive, says Galston, is a comparison of current Gallup results with those from 1998 on the question of whether the gap between the rich and poor is problem that needs to be fixed. In 1998, 52 percent of Americans said yes, while 45 percent said is was an acceptable part of the economic system. Today, he says, those numbers are exactly reversed. Another Gallup survey released week, says Galston, shows Americans rank growing and expanding the economy as much more important than reducing the wealth and income gap between the rich and poor.

MassINC’s latest research report, “Recapturing the American Dream,” released last week, provides evidence of growing income inequality in Massachusetts. According the report, prepared by Northeastern University’s Andrew Sum, income inequality in Massachusetts over the last decade has gone from roughly the middle of the pack to one of the most extreme of any state.

It is tempting to think a direct attack on such trends -- and on the policies that may have accelerated them -- will be rewarded politically in coming election. Galston draws an important distinction, however, between what may be a “serious data-based argument” that widening income inequality is problem we need to confront and the political mood of moderate voters. If Obama’s Kansas speech “becomes the thematic template for his reelection campaign,” writes Galston, “ it may well reduce his chances of prevailing in a close race.”

                                                                                                                            --MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

The checkered reign of ex-Chelsea housing authority chief Michael McLaughlin is only getting more checkered, as the Globe reported yesterday that he rarely put in full days of work, despite collecting what appears to be the biggest salary of any public housing director in the country and cashing tens of thousands of dollars of supposedly unused vacation and sick time on his way out the door.  

Meanwhile, ex-UMass president Jack Wilson’s golden parachute will be reviewed following last week’s Globe report on the salary bonanza he is in line for.

Activists are criticizing both House and Senate proposals to revamp sentencing guidelines for habitual offenders, say both plans represent “knee-jerk” tough-on-crime approaches that squander the opportunity to cut prison costs and put offenders on the road to rehabilitation and successful reintegration in society.

Part one of a series on laws passed by the Legislature in 2011 and who voted for them. The Lowell Sun has the report from Beacon Hill Roll Call.

Stephen Crosby, the new chairman of the casino commission, says test-running a single casino before granting new licenses is reasonable.

Martha Coakley, national leader for homeowners battling foreclosure.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A news story in the Eagle-Tribune takes Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua to task for refusing to settle a grievance before a final decision was handed down costing the city $89,100. Meanwhile, another story in the Eagle-Trib says the group trying to recall Lantigua is complaining about a ruling by the city attorney requiring it to translate the recall petition into Spanish.

The Brockton Rox minor league baseball team has suspended operations for the coming year because of finances, leaving the city on the hook for the remaining $3.2 million owed on its city financed stadium.

A Hull police officer who is suing the police department over sexual harassment charges against her superiors filed a second suit alleging town officials are assessing her an exorbitant fee for documents she requested under the public records law.

The Berkshire Eagle applauds outgoing Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Rick Perry, the Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate, is collecting his $133,000 salary plus a $7,700 monthly pension, Governing reports (via AP).

Vice President Joe Biden says the US won’t spend a dime bailing out Europe as he sits down for a chat with Newsweek.

Sen. John McCain and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin go after each other in 140 characters.

How Bay State workers benefit from the federal payroll tax cut impasse.

The New York Times profiles Attorney General Eric Holder, as the AG steers the Justice Department into more intense political fights.

ELECTION 2012

The US Senate seat held by Scott Brown has moved from #6 up to #3 on Chris Cillizza’s list in the Washington Post  of 10 most likely Senate seats to change party control in next year’s election.

Newt Gingrich is in “free fall” in Iowa polls because “attack ads work.” New flavor of the day: Ron Paul. The Wall Street Journal says Gingrich is trafficking in a kind of blistering anti-judiciary rhetoric that hasn’t been heard since the desegregation orders of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

President Obama would be better off losing two key US Supreme Court cases, says Daily Beast writer Adam Winkler. Via Political Wire.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Yesterday’s Globe spotlighted the recently-released MassINC research report Recapturing the American Dream, which documented growing income equality in the state.  

Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan has proposed an ordinance that would require homes in foreclosure to have a posted notice for contact information of a management company within 20 miles of the city.

CHARITY

There’s a giving phenomenon sweeping the country: Anonymous strangers walking into Kmart and paying off people’s layaway balances.

EDUCATION

The state’s elementary and secondary education commissioner is planning to recommend the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School remain open for several more years at least, the Gloucester Times reports.

Early acceptance rates are down at most colleges as more people apply for the coveted spots, The Daily Beast reports.

Nine states, including Massachusetts, share $500 million in Race To The Top Early Learning grants, Governing reports.

After the US Justice Department finds fault with teacher training for English language learners, the state considers how to improve the program.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A parasitic fly imported and grown to try to eradicate the tree-eating winter moth population in the southeastern region of Massachusetts seems to be doing its job in test release sites.

Nantucket residents fight a wind turbine project.

New EPA air pollution regulations will force 32 coal-fired power plants, including two units in Salem to close, the Salem News reports (via AP). The Salem units were already on the way out.

Time examines the politics of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Westport officials will give out scores of rainwater collection barrels to avoid paying a hefty fine to the EPA for filing a mandated report past its due date.

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