MA Voices Hardly Heard as GOP Focuses on 'Freeing' Us from ACA 'Pain'

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The state’s largest union held an event this past Thursday at Boston’s Old South Church to call attention to the “the damage the Republican Affordable Care Act replacement bill will inflict in Massachusetts.”

The executive vice president of that union, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Tyrek D. Lee, Sr., told a large gathering of his members and assorted health care advocates, “This bill is a tax break for the richest and will shift costs to low- and middle-income people in the state and across the nation.”
According to a physician-speaker at the event, James S. Gessner, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, there is “no federal policy that has had as positive an impact on my patients” as the Affordable Care Act. 

Thanks to the ACA, Dr. Gessner said, “more families here in the Commonwealth have been able to acquire health insurance, and more patients have finally had peace of mind about their ability to get the medical care that they need.  This bill to replace the ACA will ensure that patients fall through the cracks – patients who are among the most vulnerable.”
The Old South Church rally was, in part, an angry, mournful reaction to what had gone on earlier that day in Washington, where two key House committees voted to approve the Republicans’ first formal proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare.

GOP leaders said they were “fulfilling a political promise to uproot a law that had done untold damage,” the New York Times reported that day.
“This bill guts Obamacare and starts putting patients back in charge of their health care, without government bureaucrats telling them what they can or cannot buy,” boasted Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

Kevin Brady of Texas, the House Ways & Means chair, called the committee votes an “historic step, an important step, in the repeal of Obamacare and the freeing of millions of Americans, patients and local businesses from that pain.”
That’s an interesting formulation for a measure with the potential to take health coverage away from 24 million Americans:  “Here ,folks, let us stop the pain you’re suffering on account of that insurance that pays for your health care and protects you from a medically related bankruptcy.”

Do you ever wonder how many members of the House Freedom Caucus, the Republican vanguard in the long war against Obamacare, have refused the five-star, taxpayer-provided Congressional health plan?
It was a big mistake for President Obama and Democrat leaders in the Congress to enact the ACA without bipartisan support.

Eight years later, it will be an even bigger mistake for President Trump and Republican leaders in the Congress to kill, unilaterally, the ACA and replace it with some mangier, weaker program.
A one-party solution eight years ago allowed the opposition party endlessly to portray as a bad thing something that everyone agreed hundreds of years ago is a good thing, insurance.

I have no inkling if there’s a positive result to be had from the political battle over the dismantling of Obama’s greatest domestic achievement.
If there is, I suspect it will come from the inability of Senate Republicans to agree on an Obamacare replacement. 

At that point, with the Congress deadlocked, sane Democrats may join forces with sane Republicans. 
The sane collective, I hope, will then begin talking about what everyone in Washington should have been talking about during the years they were talking about freedom and the evils of big guvmint:

How does the world leader in higher education, medicine, science and technology, the USA, create a smart insurance system that enables every citizen to secure health coverage?

 

Rick Perry's No Ernie Moniz, and Other Ramblings of an Under-Capacitated Brain

Friday, March 3, 2017

NUCLEAR STEWARD ON STEEP LEARNING CURVE - Former Texas governor Rick Perry was confirmed by the U.S. Senate yesterday as secretary of the federal agency he once advocated eliminating, Energy, but whose name he famously could not recall during a big moment in a presidential debate, a lapse that doomed his faltering  candidacy.   Yesterday, Perry was quickly sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence.  Nice color photos of him taking the oath of office soon appeared online.  Perry’s wearing a Trumpian tie of blazing red and Clark Kent-style glasses.  He’s standing tall, erect and confident -- so confident he must have banished, at least for the moment, all thoughts of his illustrious predecessor as Secretary of Energy, Fall River’s own Ernie Moniz, a Ph.D. from Stanford, long-time professor at MIT, and world-renowned physicist.  When Trump offered Perry the top position at Energy in December, the New York Times reported, Perry “gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas energy that he had long championed in his home state.”  Only later did he discover “he would be no such thing – that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.” 

A QUESTION THAT SCREAMS, ‘FINESSE ME’ - A late-January poll by WBUR and MassINC revealed that Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly favor the so-called “millionaire’s surtax,” which will be a referendum question on the November, 2018, statewide ballot.  Forty-eight percent of respondents indicated they “strongly support” the surtax; 29% said they support it “somewhat.”   If passed, the referendum would amend the state constitution in order to allow a 4% surtax on annual household incomes of $1 million or more.  The new tax would be in addition to the existing 5.1% flat income tax paid by all residents.  When he read those poll results, Charlie Baker reached, I imagine, for an aspirin bottle.  As a fiscal conservative, the flaws in the surtax are obvious to him.  As a practical politician, the risks of voicing opposition to it and/or openly campaigning against it next year are equally clear.  The beating he took this past November on highly contentious ballot questions is still fresh:  voters rejected Baker’s energetic and sustained arguments on legalizing marijuana for fun (against) and increasing the number of charter schools (for).   Referenda are rough for this Republican.  Running for re-election next year, and facing a Democrat who is certain to be hitting him hard for not hitting Trump hard, Baker will most likely punt on the surtax.   “I have some concerns about the possible unforeseen consequences of a surtax,” he will have to say, “but I will certainly abide by the will of the voters.”
TREADING CAREFULLY ROUND THE ‘PEOPLE’S LAWYER’ - Baker has to be relieved that Maura Healey, the Commonwealth’s popular, omnipresent Democrat attorney general, appears to have firmly ruled out running for governor next year.  About two weeks ago, responding to questions on WGBH Boston Public Radio, Healey said, “You know, as lawyers, sometimes you get in the courtroom and the other side objects and they say, ‘Asked and answered.’  That’s a little how I feel on this one (question of challenging Baker in 2018).  I’m running for re-election.  I think that my job as attorney general, it’s never been as important as it is now to do my job and do my job well.  Certainly we have our hands full, so that’s what I’m focused on.”  Others smiling broadly now that Healey’s staying put are Setti Warren, former mayor of Newton, and Jay Gonzalez, former secretary of administration and finance in the Deval Patrick administration, both of whom are already running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  After one of Healey’s earlier disavowals of a run for governor, Warren issued a press release flowing with Maura love.  “I am glad that she will be a leader of the Democratic ticket in 2018 as she asks voters for another term as the People’s Lawyer,” Warren said.  You bet he is.

A LISTENING TOUR ON THE LEVEL FOR ONCE - There’s nothing I usually laugh at more than the notion of a would-be candidate going on a listening tour.  My problem with this staple of politics is that I’ve never seen anyone come back from such a jaunt and tell us he wasn’t going to run because he’d earnestly sought to discern the mood of the electorate and the electorate had told him, “We think you’d be a lousy candidate. Don’t run.  Please.”  I’m making an exception in the case of the estimable Dan Wolf of Harwich, former Democrat state senator from Cape Cod, as Dan is a sincere servant of the public, one who truly listens, and enjoys listening, to people.  Wolf also has the honesty to tell the world at the conclusion of his particular tour, which commenced on Feb. 16: “I’d like to be the governor of Massachusetts.  I believe I’d be a very good governor.  However, I did not sense that my candidacy would be successful.  Therefore, I shall not make the extraordinary effort required of a committed candidate for governor.”  Wolf did not build Cape Air, a regional airline, into a behemoth from scratch by missing the facts.  I hasten to add that Wolf’s listening/speaking tour could legitimately uncover much evidence that he’d be a strong candidate.  Charlie Baker, Setti Warren and Jay Gonzalez have likely already come to that conclusion.
A STRATEGIC RETREAT, PERHAPS  – Evan Falchuk’s dream of building his baby, the United Independent Party (UIP), into a legitimate third party expired quietly on Feb. 13, a purported victim of the widespread anxiety induced by the Trump presidency.  In an announcement that day, Falchuk said he was changing his party registration to Democrat because the Democratic Party is “the only organization strong enough for the fight against the excesses of the Trump administration.”  Normally, guys who start their own political parties are uncontrollable egomaniacs and/or conspiracy theorists.  Falchuk was the exception:  a young, charming family man and lawyer cum health care executive from Auburndale -- a graduate of Noble and Greenough, Lehigh, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  Not at all a nut.  I remember watching him in a televised debate in 2014 when he was running for governor.  He was patently intelligent, had charisma, and the camera loved him.  Thoroughly at ease, he actually seemed to be having fun, which made it fun to watch him.  Do not be surprised if Falchuk seeks some office as a Democrat next year, say lieutenant governor or secretary of state.  

 

This Month in Corruption: Contractors Fined for False Billing on Assembly Sq. T

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Two contractors involved in building the Assembly Square T station knowingly submitted inflated payment estimates for materials and will pay large fines and penalties to resolve the case, according to the Office of Attorney General Maura Healey.

A press release from Healey’s office, issued this past Friday, Feb. 24, announced: 
“S&R Construction Enterprises, its president Stephen Early, subcontractor A&S Electrical LL and its manager, Gregory Lane, agreed to resolve allegations that they violated the Massachusetts False Claims Act by knowingly submitting false and inflated pay estimates to improperly front load payments under their contracts. 

“In addition, S&R Construction and A&S Electrical are barred from bidding on and accepting new public contracts in Massachusetts for five years and one year, respectively.”
S&R Construction was the general contractor for the Assembly Square station construction project.  The T awarded the company a $29 million contract in October, 2011; the station opened some three years later.

The “false and inflated requests for payment” reflected that the companies “had purchased construction materials in greater quantities or at higher prices than they had actually purchased, in order to receive larger payments than they were entitled to at the time under the lump sum contract,” the press release said.
Under the terms of a consent agreement finalized last week in Suffolk County Superior Court, the parties will pay over $420,000 to resolve the allegations, including civil penalties of at least $110,000.

S&R Construction has also been cited by the Attorney General for “failure to pay the prevailing wage and failure to submit true and accurate time records on both the construction of the Assembly Square station and the Wachusett Commuter rail station on the Fitchburg line.” 
These citations will require S&R Construction to pay more than $40,000 in restitution to its employees and more than $25,000 in penalties, the Attorney General’s office reported.

The investigation by the Attorney General began with a referral from the Office of State Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha.  Reportedly, the Inspector General had been tipped off that A&S Electrical allegedly asked one of its subcontractors to submit inflated invoices.
“Building new public transportation infrastructure is how we will move Massachusetts forward,” said Healey, “and taxpayers deserve confidence in how we spend every dollar.  Overbilling and front-loading create unacceptable risks of delays and degrade the integrity of our public contracting.”

She emphasized that “taking on this fraud is a top priority.”
The first new station in the metro subway system since 1987, Assembly Square has been the linchpin of the revitalization of a large, formerly industrial site in East Somerville, which is now filled with apartments, condominiums, offices, restaurants and stores.

Ethics Chief Gets Permanent Appointment; Case Overview Shows Agency's Vital Role

Friday, February 24, 2017

A week ago today, on Feb. 17, the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission announced the appointment of David A. Wilson as its executive director, where he’s responsible for administering and enforcing the state’s conflict of interest and financial disclosure laws.

A graduate of Columbia University School of Law and Brandeis University in Waltham, Wilson is kind of a fixture of Massachusetts government, having been an attorney on the Ethics Commission staff for three decades.  For the past eight months, he’d been serving as the commission’s acting executive director.  He needs no warm-up for this big role.
The commission is composed of five members, three appointed by the governor and one each appointed by the secretary of state and attorney general.  All of the current commissioners are attorneys, and three of them are retired judges: Barbara Dortch-Okara, Regina Quinlan and David Mills. (The non-judge lawyer-members are Thomas Sartory and Maria Krokidas.
Wilson’s appointment, I thought, was a good occasion to look at the product of the commission.  So I went to the agency web site -- http://www.mass.gov/ethics/ --and I download and printed the 14 cases it resolved during calendar year 2015, the last year for which such information is publicly available. 
What follows are abridged versions, or summaries, of those cases.  The verbiage has been taken for the most part entirely from the 2015 commission records.  I’ve added only the sub-heads above each case and a word or two here and there to clarify the subject matter:
Conflict of Interest in Salisbury
The commission approved a Disposition Agreement in which Henry Richenburg, a member of the Salisbury Board of Selectmen, admitted to violating the conflict of interest law by his actions as selectman in connection with the board’s consideration and approval of an application for a license to operate a poultry business submitted by Richenburg’s son-in-law.  Richenburg paid a $2,500 civil penalty. 
Richenburg participated as a selectman in the decisions to table the application and then to approve the application.  Richenburg also signed the license along with the other selectmen.  At the time he participated in these matters, Richenburg knew that both he and his daughter had a financial interest in the proposed poultry business.
Problematical Hiring in Oak Bluffs
The commission voted to find reasonable cause to believe that John Rose, Chief of the Oak Bluffs Fire-Emergency Medical Services Department, violated section 19 of the conflict of interest law by participating in the hiring and supervision of his immediate family members.  The commission chose to resolve this through the issuance of a Public Education Letter rather than an adjudicatory hearing because the commission recognized that in certain areas of public service, such as fire and police departments, there is a strong family tradition in which many members of the same family pursue the same type of employment and frequently work together or for each other. 
Non-Posted Job in Rutland
The commission approved a Disposition Agreement in which Rutland Department of Public Works Superintendent Gary Kellaher admitted to violating the conflict of interest law by hiring his son into a seasonal DPW position without posting the position.  Kellaher paid a $2,500 civil penalty. 
Family Hiring in Somerset
The commission voted to find reasonable cause to believe that Somerset Recreation Commission members Maryellen Aspden, James Pereira, Raymond Frizado and Richard Silvia violated the conflict of interest law by requesting that the Recreation Department Director hire their family members for summer jobs with the department and/or by approving the summer jobs lists in 2012 and 2013 that included those family members or others with whom they had private relationships.  The commission chose to resolve the matter by issuing a Public Education Letter rather than through an adjudicatory hearing in order to provide other public employees in similar positions and circumstances with a clearer understanding of how to comply with the conflict of interest law. 
Self-Sanctioned Salary Hike in Cambridge
The commission approved a Disposition Agreement in which Joseph Tulimieri, the former Executive Director of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA), admitted to violating the conflict of interest law by increasing his own compensation on five separate occasions.  Tulimieri paid a $37,500 civil penalty and was also required to make restitution to the CRA in the amount of $21,245.  Tulimieri served as the CRA executive director from 1978 until January 1, 2011. 
Improper Financial Interest in Methuen 
The commission approved a Disposition Agreement in which Joyce Campagnone, a Methuen City Councilor who is also a full-time paid employee of the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District, admitted to violating the conflict of interest law by having a prohibited financial interest in a municipal contract.  Campagnone paid a $1,000 civil penalty for the violation and made restitution to the City of Methuen in the amount of $4,000. 
A Trooper’s Out-of-Bounds Help for Family Member  
The commission voted to find reasonable cause to believe that Massachusetts State Police Trooper Seth Peterson violated the conflict of interest law by: (a) using his position to intervene with a tow company to have a family member’s tow charge reduced, and to deprive the tow company of work to which it would have been entitled, and (b) participating in an inspection of the tow company, which ultimately resulted in the temporary removal of the company from the regional State Police tow lists.  The commission chose to resolve the matter by issuing a Public Education Letter rather than through an adjudicatory hearing because the State Police took disciplinary action against Peterson, imposing a forfeiture of 15 vacation days, at a cost to Peterson of approximately $5,500. 
A Sheriff’s Misplaced Displeasure 
The commission approved a Disposition Agreement in which Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins admitted to violating the conflict of interest law in 2013 by identifying himself as the sheriff when asking eight business owners in his district to take down his opponent’s campaign signs on display in their shops.  Tompkins paid a $2,500 civil penalty for the violation. 
Commission Withdraws After Care Coordinator Is Indicted
The commission issued an Order allowing a Joint Motion to dismiss the adjudicatory proceeding involving Kathryn Christopher, a former home care coordinator for the Town of Belmont Council on Aging (COA).  The commission’s Enforcement Division initiated the adjudicatory proceeding in July 2010 by issuing an Order to Show Cause (OTSC) alleging that Christopher repeatedly violated several sections of the conflict of interest law.  Specifically, the OTSC alleged that Christopher violated the conflict of interest law by:  (1) coordinating services for an elderly COA client and selecting herself to provide those services to the client for private compensation; (2) accessing the client’s funds and assets to pay for Christopher’s personal and family expenses; and (3) using those funds and assets for the benefit of herself and her family.  In allowing the Joint Motion and dismissing the proceeding, the commission stated that Christopher was criminally indicted in September 2011 for conduct that related to the actions alleged in the OTSC, and that the commission’s adjudicatory proceeding was stayed pending resolution of the criminal case.  In March 2015, Christopher was convicted of one criminal charge, obtaining a signature by false pretense, and was sentenced to a term of probation for 5 years. 
'Active Deception' in Blandford 
The commission issued a Final Order on Summary Decision and Civil Penalty concluding the adjudicatory proceeding involving Robert Nichols, a former member of the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Blandford. The commission found that Nichols violated section 19 because he participated as a selectman in choosing Berkshire Consulting to do work on a culvert, work in which he and Berkshire Consulting, his private employer, had a financial interest…The commission found that Nichols violated section 20 because he had a financial interest in the $12,150.50 that the Town paid to Berkshire Consulting under the contract.  The commission ruled that Nichols violated section 23(b)(2)(ii) by using his position as selectman to secure an unwarranted privilege of substantial value -- $12,150.50 -- for himself or others by misrepresenting the unavailability of Tighe and Bond (the town’s engineering consultant) to work on the project and by mischaracterizing his relationship with Berkshire Consulting to his fellow selectmen.  The commission ordered Nichols to pay civil penalties of:  $5,000 for violating section 19; $5,000 for violating section 20; and $2,500 for violating section 23(b)(2)(ii).  Although Nichols had reimbursed the town the $12,150.50 as the result of a different proceeding, the commission concluded, “Civil penalties are appropriate because Nichols accomplished his objective of directing town money to himself by means of active deception as well as concealment of facts of vital importance.”
Consultant Acted on Own Plans in Canton 
The commission issued a Decision and Order concluding the adjudicatory proceeding involving Robert Murphy, a former consultant to the Town of Canton Conservation Commission.  The commission found that Murphy violated sections 17(a) and 23(b)(3) of the conflict of interest law, and ordered Murphy to pay a civil penalty of $10,000…Murphy violated section 23(b)(3) when, as the town’s ConCom consultant, he knowingly or with reason to know, reviewed and acted on applications and plans submitted by a company he operated, M&M Engineering, on behalf of its private clients.  The commission ordered that Murphy pay a $5,000 civil penalty for violating section 17(a), and a $5,000 civil penalty for violating section 23(b)(3).
Commissioner Mixed Town, Private Business in Marshfield
The commission approved a Disposition Agreement in which Mark Stevenson, former chair of the Town of Marshfield Conservation Commission, admitted to violating the conflict of interest law by referring to his ConCom position and stating that there would not be any complications with a marine construction project while discussing his contracting company’s prospective bid on a construction project with project officials, and by participating as a ConCom member in an enforcement order issued for the project after his company did not receive the contract, without disclosing his company’s unsuccessful bid for work on the project.  Stevenson paid a $2,500 civil penalty for violating two sections of the law. 
Town Funds Subsidized Private Suit in Holland
On March 19, 2015, the commission voted to find reasonable cause to believe that Town of Holland Board of Selectmen members James Wettlaufer, Michael Kennedy, Christian Petersen and Lynn Arnold violated the conflict of interest law by authorizing the use of town funds to pay for town Highway Surveyor Brian Johnson’s private civil lawsuit against a local blogger.  The commission also voted to find reasonable cause to believe that Johnson violated the conflict of interest law by receiving payment of the legal fees in his private civil lawsuit.  Rather than authorizing adjudicatory proceedings, the commission chose to resolve the matter by issuing a Public Education Letter because the town has been reimbursed in full and there is a question as to whether the selectmen relied on advice of counsel.
Tainted Zoning Variance in Bridgewater
The commission approved a Disposition Agreement in which Thomas Snell, a member of the West Bridgewater Zoning Board of Appeals, admitted to violating the conflict of interest law by participating as a ZBA member in granting variances for two properties while knowing that he had a financial interest in those matters.  Snell paid a $6,500 civil penalty for violating the conflict of interest law.  Snell owns and operates Tom Snell Construction and Excavating, a sole proprietorship that performs excavation and demolition work for property owners and developers. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Guv Fends Off Trump Bashers as GOP Readies Medicaid Bomb for MA

Friday, February 17, 2017

It looks like Charlie Baker has for the time being thwarted the practitioners of outrage -- they who were demanding from him at least daily denunciations of President Trump, notwithstanding the Commonwealth’s serious-as-heroin financial dependence upon the federal government.  I’ve not heard anything in several days from any Massachusetts group ordering Baker to make explicit his revulsion toward the Donald or else risk losing any claim to political legitimacy, moral credibility, human decency, normal eyesight or clothes sense.  Baker’s winning this game by refusing to play. Good for him.  He knows that any denunciation he did make would never be judged sufficient, and that, if by chance it were so deemed, those suffering from Trump derangement syndrome would be back the next day, baying for more and louder condemnations.  Because Trump’s an idiot doesn’t mean Baker has to slash the Commonwealth’s wrists.

Yesterday morning, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center released a report illustrating, in chapter and verse, just how much Massachusetts relies on federal dollars to balance its books.  “This fiscal year, one of every four dollars that supports the state’s budget comes from the federal government – close to $11 billion in federal funds,” according to the report, [“Partnership in Peril: Federal Funding at Risk for State Programs Relied on by Massachusetts Residents”].  Uncle Sam’s reimbursement for Medicaid spending is the biggest single federal subsidy in the Massachusetts budget. “There is a real risk that Congress could change the basic funding structure of the Medicaid program,” the report warns. “For instance, Congress could turn Medicaid into a block grant, which would be a fundamental threat to the program.” 
“Partnership in Peril” may be found at:

http://massbudget.org/report_window.php?loc=Partnership-in-Peril-Federal-Funding-at-Risk.html

Only hours after this report appeared, the national press was reporting on the outlines of the proposal-in-the-works from Congressional Republicans to replace the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.  As predicted, and as greatly feared in Massachusetts, the GOP wants to end Medicaid as an open-ended entitlement and convert it to a block grant program.  No longer would federal Medicaid subsidies keep pace with the inexorably growing demand here for Medicaid care and services. 

Medicaid spending has been increasing in stunning fashion for years now in Massachusetts.  The State House News Service reported in January, for example, that, “Over the past decade, enrollment in government-funded health coverage under MassHealth (the name we give to our Medicaid program) has rocketed upwards, growing by 70 percent since 2007 when Gov. Deval Patrick took office…”  Today, Medicaid spending represents just over 40 percent of the entire state budget. 
A federal conversion of Medicaid to block grants would trigger an almost immediate budget crisis.  There’d be enormous pressure on the governor and legislature to avoid cutting Medicaid care and services, and to have the state make up the shortfall.  From communities large and small, there’d be impassioned cries to increase state taxes to maintain the Medicaid status quo.  It could become an office holder’s worst nightmare.

If Baker soon finds himself in Washington, arguing and pleading for a kinder, gentler Medicaid block grant program, I hope what I read the other day on Yahoo, i.e., that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may soon replace Reince Priebus as Trump’s chief of staff, comes true. 
Christie’s an old friend and supporter of Baker.  With him at Trump’s side, Baker would at least get a sympathetic and respectful hearing in the White House.  “…whatever else you want to say about Christie, and I’ve always found him to be a more complicated and gifted politician than his detractors can stand to admit," wrote Yahoo's Matt Bai, "the man knows how to bring focus to a political operation, and how to advance a governing agenda, and how to balance public bluster with backroom pragmatism.”  Baker would be quick to agree with Bai, as would I, that Christie’s a gifted politician. 

What a remarkable political resurrection it would be if Christie, after losing his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, embracing Trump, then being cast ignominiously aside by Trump’s inner circle soon after the November election, suddenly found himself one of the most powerful men in Washington. The possibility ought not be dismissed. Politics routinely produces such wonderments.  The Bai column may be found at:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/trumps-in-trouble-is-it-christie-time-already-100043322.html?.tsrc=fauxdal

We need no further proof that Baker is not cut from the same Republican cloth as Trump, but here it is anyway: a comment our governor made to the Lowell Sun earlier this week. “I get the fact that I’m not living in a measured-tone environment,” he said, “but I’m going to model the behavior I believe other folks should exemplify: It’s to be hard on the issues, and soft on the people.  Anybody can stand on a corner and shout insults, but what matters is coming into an arena and finding common ground.  I wish everyone in politics behaved that way.”  [“Gov. Baker: Goal is finding common ground to benefit all,” 2-15-17.]
One of the controversies Trump has triggered since taking office concerns the propriety of medical professionals speculating, in the media, on the mental health and stability of the president.  An example of that phenomenon may be found in a recent letter to the editor of the New York Times, [“Mental Health Professionals Warn About Trump,” 2-13-17.]   

“We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president,” wrote Lance Dodes and Joseph Schachter.  Significantly, the letter was co-signed by 33 other psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers.
Dodes is a retired assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Schachter a former chairman of the Committee on Research Proposals for the International Psychoanalytic Association. 

I can’t help but lap this stuff up...but not without qualms.  Many medicos frown on statements like this because it constitutes diagnosing without directly knowing, much less examining the patient.  The other day, I heard one clinician say Trump’s behavior may be disturbing but that doesn’t mean it’s a sign of mental illness, and that in fact Trump is likely not mentally ill because he doesn’t seem to be suffering on account of his temperament.  This called to mind a piece of wisdom I once found on the tag of a tea bag: Some people don’t suffer from mental illness, they enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Governor, T Runs Better but Confident Riders Are Hard to Find

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An interview with Steve Kadish, Charlie Baker’s chief of staff, by CommonWealth magazine’s Michael Jonas appeared online January 10.  Headlined “Governor Fix-It’s fix-it man,” the Q&A was heavy on the details of Baker administration policy and governance, but nevertheless a good, fast read.

Somewhere near the end, as Jonas and Kadish were discussing the MBTA, to which both the governor and his chief of staff have devoted incredible amounts of time and energy, Jonas said something that had my head nodding like a bobble head doll’s.
“I ride the Red Line.  One day this week there was a signal problem at Harvard.  I start at the far other end at Ashmont and we were delayed because of it,” Jonas related. “And the doors in one of the cars were not working, so people on the platform had to keep scurrying to another one.  It (the T) still has the feeling sometimes of being held together by bailing wire and bubble gum.”

Indeed.
I ride MBTA buses and subway cars every work day -- and almost every day’s an adventure.  My commute yesterday morning is a case in point.

The 7:40 a.m. bus I was supposed to catch in the Melrose Highlands was eight minutes late.  No one shovels out bus stops after snow storms, so I had to wait in the snow-narrowed street, Dunkin’-guzzling, cell-phone-talking motorists be damned.  Upon boarding, I shuffled to my usual spot, a sideways-facing bench at the back.  I like the extra leg room there.  Then I put my face in a magazine. 
More than half-way to Oak Grove station, I noticed something different, something I’d never seen before on that bus at that hour: there were only two other passengers besides myself.  Scanning the road ahead, I saw the why.  My bus was directly behind the 7:25 a.m. bus.  The system wasn’t working as it should; lots of people were going to be late for work.

When our buses-in-tandem got to Oak Grove, there was a big tie-up on the access road, Banks Place.  This happens after heavy snowfalls because the T has set up paid parking spaces on one whole side of Banks Place. It’s impossible to clear all the snow that falls during big storms out of those spaces. Banks Place grows much narrower. With traffic moving in both directions, everybody has to slow down to avoid scraping fenders with oncoming vehicles. Usually, the trip down Banks Place takes maybe 30 seconds; yesterday morning, it took five minutes.
Heading to the platform where the trains pull in, I read on the overhead message board that one train was boarding (about to leave) and the next would depart in 10 minutes. Ten minutes between trains guarantees you’ll be packed into a car like bullets in a magazine.  The T could use one train every three minutes in the rush hours.

I did my best imitation of running to catch the boarding train.  There was only one open seat remaining, between two guys built like the defensive linemen on the Everett High football team.  I couldn’t squeeze my shoulders between the two and had to perch on the edge of the seat, holding my briefcase on my knees.  But I was one of the lucky ones.  I wasn’t standing up and I wasn’t squeezed shoulder to shoulder, face to face with strangers.  Somebody’s 18-inch-wide backpack wasn’t pressed into my spine the whole way to Boston.
The first stop after Oak Grove is Malden Center.  Its platform is always crowded in the morning.  Within 10 seconds of the doors opening, almost every inch of “my” car was occupied.  One may assume the same was true of every other car, meaning there would be a lot of disappointed, angry T patrons at the next three stops, Wellington, Assembly and Sullivan Square.  Not until the train rolled into Community College and the Bunker Hill students disembarked would some standing room open up.

SO, if you were waiting yesterday morning, circa 8:30, at two very busy stops (Wellington and Sullivan Square) and one medium-busy stop (Assembly) on the Orange Line, you had almost zero chance of getting on a train.
“There’s huge investment that’s needed, and so every day we look at performance of all the lines, and it’s not reliable enough yet,” Steve Kadish said in response to Michael Jonas’s “bailing wire and bubble gum” observation, before adding some nuance.

“Let me take that back,” he said.  “The reliability of the Blue Line, the general reliability of the Orange Line, the general reliability of the Red Line – pretty solid when you see the daily stats.  It comes very close to hitting 75 percent on-time performance.”
Kadish is correct.  The Baker administration has definitely made the T run better than it did in the disastrous winter of 2014-15.  That has been no small feat.  As a T rider, I am very glad that Governor Fix-It, (or, as I call him, Our Eagle Scout Governor), decided to “take ownership” of our Godforsaken mass transit system.

The T will not, cannot become the system metro Boston needs, and that “bailing wire and bubble gum feeling” will not vanish, until we get really serious about that “huge investment” Kadish mentioned. 
Read the entire Jonas-Kadish interview by going to: http://commonwealthmagazine.org/politics/governor-fix-its-fix-it-man/

 

Beware! The Oracle of Boston Ain't Digging Trumponomics

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The money crowd has dubbed him the “Oracle of Boston,” signifying his exceptionally high standing in the investment world as an equal to Warren Buffett, the “Oracle of Omaha.”

Used copies of his book, “Margin of Safety: Risk-Averse Value Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor,” sell for thousands of dollars on the Internet.
He’s so important in the financial circles that, when he had heart surgery a while back, the Wall Street Journal kept its readers apprised of his medical condition and progress.

Meet Seth Klarman, age 59, a Baltimore native, Harvard grad, resident of Chestnut Hill, billionaire, frequent donor to Republican office holders, (including Charlie Baker), and founder of the Baupost Group, a Boston-based private investment partnership.
And, guess what? Our new Republican president has Mr. Klarman shaking in his boots.

As just reported in the New York Times, Klarman recently wrote a private letter to his investors, which found its way to Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin.  In an article headlined “A Quiet Giant of Investing Weighs In on Trump,” Sorkin revealed that Klarman views with skepticism and alarm the gains in the stock market that followed Trump’s election.
“In particular, Mr. Klarman appears to believe that investors have become hypnotized by all the talk of pro-growth policies, without considering the full ramifications,” wrote Sorkin.  “He worries, for example, that Mr. Trump’s stimulus efforts ‘could prove quite inflationary, which would likely shock investors.’ ”

Sorkin’s piece, replete with quotations from Klarman’s letter, is a must-read.  There’s a link to it below.  I should not summarize it when the original’s readily available and better written than my blog.  But I'd like to present a few choice excerpts from Klarman’s letter, as reported in the Times:

“President Trump may be able to temporarily hold off the sweep of automation and globalization by cajoling companies to keep jobs at home, but bolstering inefficient and uncompetitive enterprises is likely to only temporarily stave off market forces.”
“While they might be popular, the reason the U.S. long ago abandoned protectionist trade policies is because they not only don’t work, they actually leave society worse off.”

“The erratic tendencies and overconfidence in his own wisdom and judgment that Donald Trump has demonstrated to date are inconsistent with strong leadership and sound decision-making.”
“The big picture for investors is this: Trump is high volatility, and investors generally abhor volatility and shun uncertainty.”

“Not only is Trump shockingly unpredictable, he’s apparently deliberately so; he says it’s part of his plan.”
“If things go wrong, we could find ourselves at the beginning of a lengthy decline in dollar hegemony, a rapid rise in interest rates and inflation, and global angst.”

Here’s the link to “A Quiet Giant…”:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/06/business/dealbook/sorkin-seth-klarman-trump-investors.html