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Mostly Martha

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NOTE: The Download will be taking an end of the year break next week, and will return on Tuesday, January 3rd. Happy holidays!

If living well is the best revenge, Attorney General Martha Coakley should be feeling good this holiday season.

On Wednesday, Bank of America agreed to a $335 million settlement, the largest residential fair-lending deal in history, with the US Justice Department over deceptive lending practices by Countrywide Financial, the mortgage company that the bank acquired in 2008 in probably the
worst deal ever.

The case recalls Countrywide’s $22 million payout to Massachusetts that Coakley reeled in several years ago after she abandoned a multi-billion settlement brokered by her fellow state attorneys general in search of a better outcome.

Bank of America isn’t out of the woods yet.  They’ll just be able to better focus on the new battle with Coakley, who ditched her colleagues again to single-handedly take on BOA and four other major banks for their roles in the subprime mortgage catastrophe. Should she succeed, some legal experts believe that the case would be a template for other states to do the same, especially if the mega-lawsuit by other state AGs falls through.      

Other states are wondering why their law enforcement officials can’t be more like Martha. In Florida, one of states hardest hit by the foreclosure debacle, Attorney General Pam Bondi has been criticized for not coming down as hard on lenders as Coakley and other AGs, prompting one Palm Beach Post commenter to opine, “Go Mass.”

The largest Medicaid fraud payout by a single company in Massachusetts history? Coakley’s fingerprints are all over that, too, after she also reached a $24 million settlement with the pharmaceutical giant Merck this week.  

Perhaps it’s time to admit that Massachusetts is better off with Coakley as AG, taking on the 1 percent and shoveling that money into the state’s coffers or residents’ pockets. With the “Party of No” running the show in Washington, a Senator Coakley would be spinning her wheels on Capitol Hill as Scott Brown has found out much to his frustration. Instead, she is actually getting stuff getting done.

She’ll probably never live down her ignominious defeat. (How many other state AGs get the Saturday Night Live treatment?) But if the stars align for presumptive Democratic nominee Elizabeth Warren to take down Brown next year, the 2010 special election might just become a historical footnote.

                                                                                                                                            --GABRIELLE GURLEY


BEACON HILL

The first criminal charges have landed in the federal probe of the state’s Probation Department. Christopher Hoffman, who ran the probation office based in Hampshire Superior Court, was charged yesterday with witness intimidation in connection with a conversation he had with a probation officer who had agreed to talk to FBI investigators.

One-time Worcester congressman Peter Blute, done in from a subsequent stint as executive director at Massport by Gidget of Booze Cruise fame, is returning to the political fold as deputy director of the state Republican Party.

Massachusetts continues to grow at a slower rate than the rest of the country since the 2010 census, according to figures released yesterday for the past 15 months.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Boston City Council completed the insider hand-off of the $102,000 a year city clerk’s position to Maureen Feeney, who resigned from the council a month ago to facilitate the move. The vote didn’t take place, however, until council president Steve Murphy took the opportunity to lash out at the press for sticking its nose into the business of city government, where it apparently doesn’t belong.

Dianne Williamson, a Worcester T&G columnist, reports that a city councilor’s bid to crack down on the city clerk there for performing weddings at City Hall was motivated not by the desire to improve public policy but the result of a “personal hissy fit.”

A hydroseeding company that caused a three-day water ban in Somerset last May because of a potential contamination scare was fined $19,000 by the state.  

Two former Department of Conservation and Recreation employees are being charged with reckless endangerment of a child related to last summer’s accidental drowning of a Fall River woman whose body went undetected at the bottom of a public pool for two days.

Springfield bar owners aren’t happy about a city proposal to close them down at 1 a.m. instead of 2 a.m.

The debate over a proposed casino in Foxborough is getting ugly. State Rep. Dan Winslow, whose Norfolk district abuts Foxborough, campaigns against the casino.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Eight states will raise the minimum wage next year.

The housing market may be trending in a positive direction. And unemployment claims are also down to their lowest level since 2008.

ELECTION 2012

National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru, who’s already stated his preference for Mitt Romney, says all things being equal, it would be preferable not to have an adulterer in the White House but Newt Gingrich’s marriage and religious conversion should at least open up the gates of Heaven for him, which, really, is more important anyway. Meanwhile, Gingrich is willing to debate Romney in Iowa, any time, any place.

Instead of complaining about Romney’s attack ads, Gingrich should launch his own.

Bold prediction: Rick Santorum may not win Iowa but he could surprise.

Iowa voters to GOP field:  Yawn.

A ProPublica story details how California Democrats tried to manipulate an independent redistricting commission by enlisting and even inventing local groups to lobby on their behalf.

Joan Vennochi says Barack Obama’s biggest problem going into the election -- apart from the economy and all that stuff -- is Barack Obama.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The conservative Weekly Standard says Henry F. Potter, the antagonist in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, was really a misunderstood banking visionary.

Nevada is positioning itself to legalize online poker within state boundaries.

TRANSPORTATION

It can’t be. The Daily Beast runs a list of the states with the worst drivers and Massachusetts doesn’t even make the top 25.

Alec Baldwin isn’t the only flyer who is refusing to turn off electronics during take-offs and landings.

The MetroWest Daily News reminds people not to drink and drive in the wake of the death of a Framingham State University student.

ZOMBIES

They’re everywhere. Plainville author Jeff Kinney, whose Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is popular among the grade school set, has filed suit in US District Court in Boston to stop a Texas publisher from selling a knock-off called Diary of a Zombie Kid, which looks every bit like the original, except for the undead drawings. Via Universal Hub.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Level 3 sex offender in Lynn had indicated he might challenge a Lynn ordinance prohibiting sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, but a for-sale sign in front of his house suggests he’s going to move, the Item reports.

Civil liberties activists are denouncing the conviction of Mehanna Tarek on charges of aiding Al Qaeda as a dangerous assault on free speech rights.

Attorney General Martha Coakley is going after a Waltham driving school that offered a special $400 rate for classes and then closed, allegedly stiffing patrons for a total of $175,000, NECN reports.

MEDIA

New York Times CEO Janet Robinson will receive an exit package worth $15 million -- $10.9 million in pension benefits and a $4.5 million consulting fee – when she leaves next week, Reuters reports.

The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard asks more than a dozen really, really smart people -- including even some they found in the media -- what 2012 holds for the future of journalism. Via Media Nation.

YES, SAUGUS, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS

Keller@Large says sanity prevailed in the dispute over whether Santa could make his annual rounds with firefighters to Saugus schools.

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