Foe Tries to Put the Heat on Secretary Galvin but the Sparks Seem Absent

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin had the task of selecting a date for the statewide primary elections to be held this fall.

By law, Galvin had to schedule the primary within seven days of the second Tuesday of September, which falls this year on September 11.  He thus had to choose a date within the fourteen-day span beginning on Tuesday, September 4, and ending on Tuesday, September 18.
By longstanding practice, our Secretaries of State aim to hold a statewide primary 49 days before the final election in November, which is always scheduled on the first Tuesday of the month.  The first Tuesday this year is on November 6.  If you count back 49 days from November 6, you get to September 18.

September 18 this year was deemed infeasible by Galvin because the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur will be observed that day.  Likewise, Galvin ruled out September 11 because of the observance of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.
That left only one possible Tuesday within the allowable two-weeks: September 4, the day after Labor Day this year.

Galvin settled on September 4 after a formal public comment period and after consulting with Robert DeLeo, Speaker of the House, and Harriette Chandler, Acting President of the Senate.  When announcing the primary date, Galvin proposed that the state institute a five-day early-voting period before September 4, and that the legislature make allocations to every city and town to cover the costs of early voting.
A former member of the Massachusetts House, Galvin was first elected Secretary of State in 1994. Many folks, myself included, consider him the single most knowledgeable person on election and securities laws – and on basically any matter pertaining to state government.  He’s a walking one-man governmental/political encyclopedia. 

Like anyone who’s been in office a long time, Galvin has his share of detractors.  But there’s no one who says he’s lost his stuff.   At age 67, his political fastball still flies low across the outside corner of the plate in the high 90s.
Boston District 8 City Councilor Josh Zakim, who will be a candidate against Galvin in the Democrat primary in September, harshly criticized his opponent’s scheduling decision.

“It is outrageous and unprecedented to schedule a statewide primary for the day after Labor Day, when people are just returning from their summer vacations and haven’t had time to focus on the upcoming election.  And scheduling an early voting period during the last week of August is equally ridiculous,” said Zakim, the son of Joyce and the late Lenny Zakim, who was the New England director of the Anti-Defamation League and the man for whom the I-93 Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge over the Charles River was named.
For good measure, Zakim asserted, “This is a brazen example of the Secretary trying to depress voter turnout.”

Candidates trying to make an issue out of something for attention and votes is like the sun coming up. Candidates have to try something.  On a scale of one to ten, I’d give Zakim’s try a two at best.
Come September, maybe we voters will be so distracted and so enervated by summer’s end that we’ll be incapable of cogitating on the primary election candidates. But I don’t think so.  And rather than considering as “ridiculous” the opportunity to vote early on any of the five working days leading up to the primary, I think many of us will see it a serious convenience.

I take a dim view of projects that would coddle voters in the hope of increasing turnout.  Voting is a privilege.  Voting is a responsibility, an obligation of citizenship.   Ask not what your Secretary of State can do for you.  Ask what you can do for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.    

 

 

This Month in Corruption: Improprieties, Deceptions, Misrepresentations

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Medicaid Program Billed Improperly.  On Dec. 5, Attorney General Maura Healey announced that Centrus Premier Home Care, Inc., a national home health agency, has agreed to pay more than $14 million to settle allegations that it improperly submitted and received overpayments for services from MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program.  This was a civil settlement and part of a larger effort by the state “to combat fraud, waste and abuse in the home health program,” a press release from Healey’s office stated.  Centrus, which does business as Maxim Healthcare Services, has locations in Needham, Plymouth, Springfield, Taunton, Wilmington and Worcester.  Maxim “fully cooperated with the investigation,” the AG’s office said. 

In recent months, the AG’s office has taken criminal action against three home health agencies and their owners for allegedly overbilling and falsely billing MassHealth for home health services that were not authorized and/or not provided.  The office identified those agencies as: Compassionate Homecare, Harmony Home Health Care, and Lifestream Healthcare Alliance.
Surgical Device Boosted by Deceptive Marketing. On Dec. 13, AG Healey announced that Massachusetts will receive $2.4 million from a medical device company as part of a multi-state settlement that resolved allegations of unlawfully promoting a device used in certain surgical procedures. 

In a consent judgment entered that day in Suffolk Superior Court, Boston, Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Inc., and Metronic Sofamor Danek USA, Inc., agreed to resolve claims they had engaged in a deceptive marketing strategy for a device intended to stimulate bone growth.
“Companies cannot use deceptive practices to increase their profits, while compromising the safety and well-being of patients,” Healey said.  “With this settlement, we are bringing more than $2 million back to Massachusetts after uncovering this unlawful conduct.”

The payment was part of a $12 million multi-state settlement that also involved Oregon, California, Illinois and Washington.
Benefits of Four Prescription Drugs Misrepresented  On Dec. 20, AG Healey announced that Massachusetts will receive nearly $250,000 from Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (BIPI) as part of a nationwide settlement to resolve allegations that the company had unlawfully marketed four of its prescription drugs: Micardis, Aggrenox, Atrovent, and Combivent. The payment is part of a $13.5 million multi-state settlement that concluded an investigation by Healey and 50 other attorneys general.

According to a press release from the AG, the states specifically alleged that BIPI misrepresented that its antiplatelet drug, Aggrenox, was effective for many conditions “below the neck,” such as heart attacks and congestive heart failure, and that it was superior to Plavix without evidence to substantiate that claim.  The states also alleged that the company misrepresented that Micardis protected patients from early-morning strokes and heart attacks and treated metabolic syndrome, and misrepresented that Combivent could be used as a first-line treatment for bronchospasms associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  BIPI further stood accused of falsely stating that Atrovent and Combivent could be used at doses exceeding the maximum dosage recommendations in the product labelling and that they were essential for treatment of COPD.
“Misrepresenting the benefits of prescription drugs puts people’s health at risk,” said Healey.  “Companies cannot compromise the well-being of patients to make a profit.”

It Happens in Politics, These Frigid Days Before New Year's...

THAT Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler of Worcester expects more senators to pursue the presidency of the upper branch beyond the current crop of candidates, which includes Sal DiDomenico of Everett, Eileen Donoghue of Lowell, Linda Dorcena Forry of Boston, and Karen Spilka of Framingham.  “This is only the beginning,” Chandler said of the presidential machinations during an interview this past Sunday on WCVB’s “On the Record.” 

THAT Harriette Chandler, who earned the first of her three university degrees in 1959, is sticking with her decision not to seek the presidency on a permanent basis.  It’s not the heavy workload of the presidency that discourages her from becoming a candidate, but rather the heavy responsibilities of running the “venerable chamber,” because “I am not 20 years old, as you all know.”
THAT Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, age 83, is showing signs of breaking an informal, behind-the-scenes agreement with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to have Romney replace him.   Hatch had said publicly earlier this year he could retire if someone as good as Mitt (wink, wink) could replace him.  Now, under pressure from President Donald Trump, who can’t stand the Mittster and wants to punish him eternally for trying to sabotage his 2016 campaign, Hatch is stifling talk of retirement.

THAT persons who know Mitt Romney well believe he’s “too much a gentleman” now to turn on Hatch and tell him, “Too bad.  You said you were leaving.  You told me you’d support me.  I’ll run against you if you don’t retire.”  Romney’s a tough-minded businessman, for sure, but when it comes to taking the killshot in politics, he’s always been squeamish.
THAT the Lowell Sun’s estimable Peter Lucas sees Steve Kerrigan of Lancaster, the Democrat nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014 on a ticket headed by former Attorney General Martha Coakley, as the favorite in the race for the Democrat nomination to succeed Niki Tsongas in the 3rd Congressional District because, of all those running, Kerrigan is the only candidate who has campaigned across the district before.  There are more than a dozen Dems in the race, which is being waged across 37 cities and towns.

THAT Attorney General Maura Healey, who has filed more than 20 lawsuits this year against the Trump administration, sees it as her plain duty to ding The Donald. “My job is pretty simple,” she says.  “It’s to enforce the law and protect people’s rights.  Unfortunately, we have a president of the United States who continues to do things that are illegal and unconstitutional, and my job is to sue him to make that right, to stand up for the constitution and the rule of law.” That’s what she told Comedy Central’s Jordan Klepper.
THAT Chelsea’s Tom Birmingham, an attorney and former Massachusetts Senate president, puts his formidable forensic skills on display in a recent opinion piece in CommonWealth magazine, “Our schools ignore US history at our peril.”  Birmingham advocates re-imposing the requirement that students pass a U.S. history test before graduating from high school.   Read it, please, at: https://commonwealthmagazine.org/opinion/schools-ignore-us-history-peril/

THAT outgoing Attleboro Mayor Kevin Dumas, who lost his bid for re-election in November to State Rep. Paul Heroux, has been chosen as the next town manager of nearby Mansfield.  When interviewing for the job with the Mansfield Board of Selectmen, Dumas said he has no plans to run for public office again, which should make Heroux happy.  “That section of my life is over,” Dumas emphasized.
THAT everyone at the State House will soon be missing Tom McGee, whose resignation from the Senate is due to take effect on Tuesday, Jan. 2.  That evening, he will be inaugurated as Mayor of Lynn, having defeated incumbent Judith Flanagan Kennedy in November.  The son of a former Speaker of the Massachusetts House, and a man I had long considered a possible Senate President, McGee is ending a 23-year legislative career.  He’s been in the Senate for fifteen and a half years, and served in the House before that.

THAT a group called the Boston Atheists had a banner installed on the Boston Common, on Friday afternoon, Dec. 22, that says: “Joy to the World!  This holiday season, take care of yourself, of each other, and of the world.  Warm wishes from your friendly neighborhood atheists.” Next atheist I see will get a big Christmas hug from me.
THAT the passage of even 40 years is not sufficient to dull the institutional memory of the Massachusetts legislature, as we saw yesterday when the House adjourned in memory of Henry Gillet of Fall River, who served as a state rep from 1977 to 1978 and died on Dec. 21 at age 73.  After the legislature, he went on to be a lobbyist for agricultural interests in the state: the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, the Massachusetts Association of Dairy Farmers, the Massachusetts Farm Wineries and Growers Association, etc.  May you rest in peace, Representative Gillet.

 

 

Add a Recession to Existing Fiscal Threats and Gov Race Gets Interesting

Friday, December 22, 2017

There’s no way Governor Charlie Baker can be beat next year, right?

He remains the most popular governor in the U.S., according to the latest quarterly survey by Morning Consult.
By wide margins, he outpolls each of the three candidates now in the race for the Democrat nomination for governor: Jay Gonzalez, Robert Massie and Setti Warren.

And the Massachusetts economy continues to hum.  Just this week, for example, we learned that the unemployment rate here has dropped to 3.6 percent.
“Year-to-date, the jobs and labor force estimates indicate a strong and stable economy in the Commonwealth,” said Rosalin Acosta, the state’s Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development.

Yup, Baker’s sitting pretty and it’s hard to see how things could turn ugly for him.
Unless you happen to read the latest [December 6] forecast from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.  The title says it all: “MTF Forecast: Foundation Advises Beacon Hill – ‘Batten Down the Hatches’.” 

The forecast is eight-and-half pages and has some helpful, easy-to-understand charts.  If you want to check it out, click on the link at the bottom of this post. 
Here’s my stab at a highly condensed overview:

The economy remains robust and the state budget seems safely in balance. However, federal tax reform legislation will have a huge and uncertain impact on a blue state like Massachusetts; the state could lose $650 million in revenue in FY 19 (July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019) if voters approve a statewide ballot question next year reducing the sales tax from 6.25% to 5%; and if voters approve another ballot question, on paid family and medical leaves of absence, there would be an additional $150-million revenue loss because of reduced taxes, state program administration costs, and participation costs to the state for its employees.
The “only sound course,” MTF President Eileen McAnneny warned, “is a return to fiscal discipline that limits state spending growth, delivers needed reforms and savings in MassHealth, and deposits all excess capital gains and corporate tax settlements into the rainy day fund.”

The forecast did not overlook the largest elephant in the room: a national economic expansion that is now on borrowed time. “...there has not been a significant external shock or economic downturn since the last recession,” it noted.

Think about that. The economy began recovering from The Great Recession in 2009 and has been growing without interruption ever since: eight years without a recession.  A recession is inevitable.  We just don’t know when.
If the economy were to stall in the second quarter of calendar 2018, if the aforementioned fiscal threats were to materialize in full, and if the Baker administration were compelled in response to propose cuts in MassHealth, which ensures one out of four citizens and accounts for 41% to 42% of the entire state budget, the governor’s popularity could plummet.  Just as suddenly, the popularity of Setti Warren, a Navy intelligence specialist during the Iraq war, a proven executive as Mayor of Newton [2010-16], and an unabashed liberal, could rise.  (Polls indicate Warren is way ahead of both Massie and Gonzalez.)

This talk about an unbeatable Charlie Baker is really just talk.  I don’t think our governor is buying it, either.


 

Church Will Never Regain Political Juice Lost during Cardinal Law's Misrule

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Roman Catholic Church began to be a factor in Massachusetts politics in the 1640s when the colonial government adopted anti-priest laws.  There were maybe a few hundred Catholics, French and Irish mainly, in Massachusetts at that time.  They were scattered across the colony, lying low, in fear of the Puritans.

That the church continues to matter in Massachusetts politics -- only nowhere near the way it did in the heyday of Cardinal Richard Cushing, 50-some years ago -- was apparent on the State House News Service website today, where an obituary appeared under the headline, “Cardinal Law, 86, Leaves Behind Dark Legacy in Boston.”  A photo of a younger, smiling Law accompanied the unflattering write-up in an editorially taunting way.
Law’s successor, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, was quoted by the State House News Service as follows: “…Cardinal Law served at a time when the Church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people, and with tragic outcomes failed to care for the children of our parish communities.”

Amen.
The SHNS obit featured a vivid quote by a victim of clergy sexual abuse, Alexa MacPherson, who had spoken at a press conference this morning.  MacPherson said she hopes “the gates of hell open wide” for Law.  “With his passing,” she said, “I feel no remorse in saying that I hope he gets what he deserves in hell.  There is nothing positive about him.”

That got me thinking about Law’s journey in the afterlife, which caused me to look up online the funeral arrangements.  The requiem Mass for him will be held tomorrow at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and and Law will be buried in Rome, where he has been on the lam, in splendor, since resigning as head of the Boston archdiocese in late-2002.
I believe that Law will get what he deserves on the other side of this life.  We all do.  But I would not bet he’ll spend eternity in hell.  I had twelve years of Catholic parochial school education in Revere, MA, and I remain a believing, practicing Catholic. 

One thing we Catholics learned at a young age is that God will always forgive a sinner who confesses his sins to a priest, asks for forgiveness with a good and contrite heart, receives absolution from the priest, and performs the penance ordered by the priest.  It doesn’t matter how large and terrible and damaging were the penitent’s sins.  Even Hitler could, in theory, have been forgiven if he had made a good confession, forgone suicide, and accepted his earthly punishment at the conclusion of World War II, the Sisters of St. Joseph taught us. 
Here’s another thing we learned: the church will say that someone is in heaven but will never say that someone, anyone, has gone to hell, so great and unfathomable are the ways of God.

Based on what was inculcated in me as a boy, I would surmise that Law had enough faith and self-awareness to have confessed his sins in covering up for the many priest-criminal-deviates who ruined the lives of hundreds of innocent children and, in return, to have received absolution. 
I believe that Law squirms now in Purgatory, suffering from an unimaginably intense and burning supernatural awareness of the harm wrought in Boston by his nonfeasance and malfeasance, and that he will undergo such suffering for a humanly inconceivable period before receiving the grace of approaching God in all of his unapproachable goodness and light.

Faith along these lines must be guiding the Vatican big shots planning Law’s funeral and burial in the very heart of Roman Catholicism tomorrow.  They’re saying the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, will preside at that Mass.  They’re also saying – I can’t believe it! -- that Pope Francis himself will offer some sort of final blessing.
The top men in Rome must have realized how offensive this grand send-off at St. Peter’s will be to the victims of clergy sex abuse and the ones who love them.  They had to know what a public relations disaster it would be.  Yet they went with it. 

Why?

My guess is they’re willing to risk the world’s scorn, contempt and hatred on this matter in an attempt to make a point about God’s inscrutable capacity for forgiveness and mercy.  Call them crazy.  Or call them brave.  Just don’t call them for marketing advice.
I read today that, in 2010, the Religion Census found that 45 percent of Massachusetts residents considered themselves Catholics, making Massachusetts one of the most Catholic places, at least nominally, in America. This was eight years after Law had been driven from the ecclesial heights in disgrace.  My initial reaction was: maybe Law didn’t do as much damage as one would have expected.

A picture then came to mind of the many empty pews I see on any given Sunday and of the occupied pews predominantly filled with older Catholics.  By the 2020 Religion Census, Massachusetts will be a lot less Catholic.

 

This Month in Corruption: Two Ex-Cops to Gain New Perspective on Iron Bars

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Embezzler.  On November 14, Glenn P. Pearson, a former sergeant on the Whitman police force, was sentenced (a) in connection with the misappropriation of funds from the accounts of disabled veterans while serving as a fiduciary appointed by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, and (b) for the preparation of false income tax returns for clients of his tax preparation business.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Patti B. Saris sentenced Pearson, 62, to four years in prison and three years of supervised released.  She also ordered him to pay $252,992 in restitution to the VA and $826,865 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service. 
Back in May, Pearson had pleaded guilty to wire fraud, misappropriation by a federal fiduciary, preparation of fraudulent tax returns, and obstruction of the IRS.

The Extortionist.  On November 17, John R. DeSantis, a former Lawrence police officer, was sentenced in connection with an attempt to use his position to extort cocaine from a drug trafficker. 
U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor, IV, sentenced Methuen resident DeSantis, 45, to 18 months in prison and two years of supervised release.

Back in August, DeSantis had agreed to plead guilty to one count of extortion and attempted extortion under color of official right and through the use of threatened force and fear.

NOTE: Above information derived from press releases issued by Office of Acting Massachusetts U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb.

Senate Republicans Don't Notice or Don't Care What Baker Thinks of Their Tax Bill

Ten days ago, late on the afternoon of November 20, I printed out a State House News Service article headlined, “Mass. Middle Class May Take ‘Biggest Hit’ Under Federal Tax Reform, Baker Says.” 

It concerned an appearance earlier that day by Governor Charlie Baker on WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio” show, which is hosted by Jim Braude and Margery Eagan and airs Monday through Friday, 12:00 to 2:00 P.M.  Once a month, there’s an “Ask the Governor” segment, with Baker speaking and answering questions the entire two hours.
The article rested atop a pile on my desk until this morning, when I picked it up, read it again, and shook my head, marveling anew at how strange this time of the Trump ascendancy in U.S. politics is.

Here we have a popular Republican governor, Charlie Baker, telling the world that his feelings on a major component of Republican tax reform legislation are the same as those of Elizabeth Warren, a liberal Democrat member of the U.S. Senate loathed by multitudes within the GOP.
And here we have a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate that does not give a fig that GOP moderates like Baker are worried sick about how that legislation will affect their states and are rushing head-over-heals to pass a tax reform bill -- possibly as soon as today or tomorrow. 

“If you really want to do something for the middle class, this is not it, because the middle class – in Massachusetts – will probably take the biggest hit,” Baker told Braude and Eagan on November 20.  “This is just a big shift, as you point out Jim, to the haves, at the expense in many cases of working people and the have-nots.  And I don’t support that.”
Baker also said:

“There are all kinds of things in this bill that will just make life for middle-class families in Massachusetts dramatically more expensive. And one of the things that Senator Warren said about this that I thought was spot on was she said, before we start taking things away from middle class families to support tax cuts for big corporations, we should be talking about what we’re going to do to make life easier for middle class families first.  And I agree completely with her on that point.”

The national press is reporting today that several Republican senators -- including Susan Collins of Maine -- who were on the fence about tax reform, are coming around after lunching with Trump the other day and receiving verbal assurances from the president that their concerns would be addressed in various ways.
Collins has not yet firmly committed herself to the bill, the New York Times said, “but is more optimistic after the lunch.”  The Times quoted her as saying, “I believe that a lot of my concerns, it appears, are going to be addressed and that I’m going to be getting the opportunity to offer amendments on the Senate floor.”

In his November 20 interview with Braude and Eagan, Governor Baker happened to mention that he communicates regularly with Senator Collins in Washington.  Said Baker, “I talk to Susan Collins quite a bit about a lot of stuff that’s going on down there, A) because she represents New England, and B) because she’s somebody I’ve known for a long time and I can have a conversation with.”
I have this wild hope. Senator Collins is on the Senate floor. In a few minutes, she’s going to have to cast her final vote on tax reform.  Standing by her desk, she closes her eyes, puts her fingers to her chin and silently asks, “Who am I going to believe, Charlie Baker or Donald Trump?”

FOOTNOTE: In a statement late this morning to the State House News, House Speaker Robert DeLeo expressed "deep concern" about the GOP tax plan.  "I thank our congressional delegation for its advocacy against this ill-conceived legislation, which is built on specious economic arguments.  It is abundantly clear that the plan would be detrimental to hardworking residents of many backgrounds and income levels.  Additionally, it would negatively impact the Commonwealth's fiscal health, which would have sweeping ramifications on our ability to provide both essential services and programs that have given Massachusetts a competitive edge."  DeLeo said he was "particularly concerned" about the state's colleges, universities and research institutions.  "In addition to the short-term economic losses for Massachusetts, these cuts would stymie the nation's preeminent role in innovation and discovery.  That's not a loss we can afford, financially or for the morale of this country."