New Campaign Will Turn Up Heat on Health Care in Already Hot Election Year

Monday, April 30, 2012

The news today that the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) is launching its largest issue campaign in two decades got me wondering again if health care will be a winning bet this year for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.

Right now, it looks like it’s tilting in favor of the former Massachusetts governor, as a majority of voters continue to tell pollsters they’re unhappy with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the massive reform of health care that Obama brought about in 2010 without a single Republican vote.

You have to hand it to Romney for coming up with a pretty good reason why, when he was governor, he favored universal health coverage and the individual mandate to obtain coverage but now as a presidential candidate opposes the federal government doing precisely that, to wit:

Within their borders, Massachusetts and other states should be free to reform health care any way they see fit but there is no one-size-fits-all solution to what ails our health care system, and the federal government should not be in the business of requiring every last citizen of the USA to buy coverage.

But when you look at some of the facts and figures AIM is citing in its hours-old Employers’ Campaign for Affordable Care, you have to wonder if Obama could turn the issue his way by some Harry Truman-style plain talk.

You Can Take the Judiciary Out of O'Flaherty, But Not the O'Flaherty Out of Judiciary

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

“I think he (Rep. Eugene L. O’Flaherty) does a very good job…I think he certainly knows the material so well, and I think he is very serious about needing to hear both sides of an issue.”
                -Senator Cynthia S. Creem, Co-Chair, Judiciary Committee

Everyone has a breaking point.  Everyone.

Gene O’Flaherty, the tough-as-nails state rep who co-chairs the joint House-Senate Judiciary Committee, got to that point last month when the Boston Globe suggested he was coddling sex criminals who “murder children’s souls.”

Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, writing on a bill that would remove the statute of limitations on sexual abuse crimes against minors, said, “There is a general consensus that there should be no statute of limitations for murder, and the law reflects that.  There is a growing consensus that there should be no arbitrary hiding place for those who murder children’s souls by sexually abusing them.  That consensus does not include Gene O’Flaherty.”

That column was published Tuesday, March 20.  The next morning, O’Flaherty sent an e-mail to Cullen saying, “Your article, and its depiction of me as unconcerned about the ‘murder of children’s souls,’ has resonated with me since I first read it.  So much so that I will be resigning my Judiciary Committee chairmanship after I complete the important work assigned to me this session.”

O’Flaherty’s message to Cullen also said, “To be googled and to have such a depiction of me is very unfortunate, but thankfully my family and constituents know me to be someone that cares deeply about children and their safety…I hope in the future you take the time to realize how indeed the pen is more powerful than the sword and how hurtful it can be to individuals and their families.”

It’s hard to see how O’Flaherty can backtrack now on a decision made so publicly.  There will almost certainly be a new House chairman of Judiciary next January.

Will the legislature be a better place when that happens?  I don’t think so.  Will the citizens of Massachusetts be better off, will they somehow gain more protections, more freedoms, more privileges under the law, when that happens?  NO.

Bill Constraining Teen Access to Tanning Parlors May Survive Legislature's Darwin Stage

Monday, April 16, 2012

You could say that the 2011-12 session of the Massachusetts legislature has entered its inevitable Darwin Stage, the time when only the strongest bills survive.

At the beginning of every session, when literally thousands of bills are filed, a legislator may evince optimism about the enactment of almost any bill and not incur any skepticism or scorn whatsoever.

My bill is both good and necessary, a rep or senator may reason, and I am a born campaigner, so I know I can make the case for it to my colleagues…and there’s plenty of time to move it forward, so why not be confident?

But as the session grinds on, and as the legislature bogs down in routine business and is continually obligated to deal with pressing issues, the window for action on any given bill steadily shrinks. Next thing you know, it’s Year 2 of the session; everyone is absorbed by the struggle over the next state budget, which must be completed by June 30; and the deadline for concluding formal business is looming:

In a year such as this, when there’s an election for state offices, the legislature must adjourn by July 31.

It then becomes clear, as it is today, that only a handful of compelling bills have a realistic chance of passing both the House and Senate, and making it to the Governor’s desk for signature. Generally speaking, bills achieve such force only when they promise to respond to a problem weighing heavier and heavier on the public’s mind.

This spring, for example, some influential members of the legislature are standing by with a bill to clamp down on tanning parlors at a time when public awareness is coalescing around the risks of exposure to ultraviolet light, especially among celebrity-besotted teens in pursuit of perfect bronze-ness.

Sometimes It's Good to Unpack the Random Contents of an Under-Capacitated Brain

Friday, April 6, 2012

Some random info and thoughts that may (or may not) go well with this brisk Good Friday…

A Positive Campaign at Last. How good it was to hear that Bishop Richard Malone, who heads the Diocese of Portland, Maine, will not campaign against a statewide referendum this November that would legalize same-sex marriage in the Pine Tree State.

Instead, His Eminence will make a special effort in the coming months to teach the members of his flock about the Roman Catholic belief in the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman, and to gently engage non-Catholics on the subject as well.

A native of Salem, Massachusetts, and a graduate of St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, Massachusetts, Malone served as a priest and bishop in the Archdiocese of Boston for decades before assuming the Portland post in 2004. Mindful of the same-sex referendum, but not in direct response to it, he recently wrote a pastoral letter on the topic titled, “Marriage: Yesterday…Today…Always.” This forms the basis of his new teaching effort.

In that letter, Malone reflects upon what he calls the “greatness and the beauty of marriage” as an “original gift of God’s creation, as a vocation, and as the foundational institution of family and society.”

You can disagree with the bishop and still appreciate his taking a positive approach to the tenets of his own faith, as opposed to going negative on the sincerely held beliefs of others. There are advocates for same-sex marriage in Maine who certainly feel that way.

Said David Farmer, a spokesman for the Freedom to Marry Coalition, “What they (the Portland diocese) are doing is appropriate. That’s what they should do.”

Maybe Malone is establishing a template that will be used in other dioceses when similar situations arise, whether on gay marriage or other hot-button issues?

PHD (Parrot Held Dearly). It’s always good to see Jonathan Gruber, Ph.D., of Lexington, Massachusetts, a distinguished M.I.T. professor, getting ink on the subject he knows better than anyone else: the financial and economic underpinnings of the legal requirement that everyone purchase health insurance. Professor Gruber was featured in a recent New York Times article, (“Academic Built Case for Mandate in Health Care Law,” March 28, 2012), which explored how the “individual mandate,” as it is commonly referred to, came to be the centerpiece of national health care reform legislation in 2010, and also explained why President Obama has so much riding on the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the law.

“Mr. Gruber has spent decades modeling the intricacies of the health care ecosystem, which involves making predictions about how new laws will play out based on past experience and economic theory,” the article said. “It is his research that convinced the Obama administration that health care reform could not work without requiring everyone to buy insurance.”

As Massachusetts legislators who worked with Gruber in 2006 on our state’s universal health coverage law knew, and Obama soon learned, Gruber is a very persuasive gentleman.

In his 2008 campaign for the presidency, Obama opposed the individual mandate during debates and voter forums, and so had to reverse himself when he decided to push for the enactment of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, (“Obamacare”).

While some may have viewed the NYT piece as a positive for the Democrats and Obama, my guess is the Romney team was not troubled by it and is actually cackling over the stroke of luck that had Gruber posing with a large white parrot in both photos accompanying the article. Nothing says this guy is for the birds like a four-column, color photo of a parrot perched chummily on his right shoulder.

Time to dial up an image doctor, Doctor!

To find the Gruber article, go to:

McCourt Cries All the Way to the Bank. Speaking of media portraits, is there anyone from Massachusetts whose image took a worse beating over the past couple of years than Frank McCourt as he battled with his estranged wife over the ownership of the Dodgers baseball team, of Brooklyn and Los Angeles fame?

Things got so bad that McCourt had to put the team into court-supervised bankruptcy to prevent major league bosses from taking over the team and running it in “the best interests of baseball,” as the frequently invoked, legal-ish term has it.

It turns out that the privilege of laughing last goes to McCourt, a familiar figure here before heading west to run the Dodgers -- and a political player of sorts in Boston as he tried to devise the best new use of the parking lots his family then owned on the redevelopment-ready South Boston Waterfront.

McCourt sold the Dodgers last week to a group headed by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the retired Los Angeles Lakers basketball superstar, for the vertiginous sum of $2.15 billion, the highest price ever paid for a professional sports team. The Wall Street Journal reports that McCourt, after paying off his debts, will walk away with something like $1 billion!

That’s enough to salve anyone’s wounded pride.

Dorothy Wouldn’t Like That Kind of Talk. In a lengthy Kansas City Star article on Mitt Romney’s tenure as Massachusetts governor, (“How Mitt Romney wielded power as Massachusetts’ governor,” March 30, 2012), a number of folks from the Bay State who served with Romney were quoted.

The author of the piece, Lesley Clark, made much of how Romney apparently did not bother to learn the names of most members of the Massachusetts House and Senate. Dan Winslow, now a Republican state rep and formerly Romney’s chief legal counsel, wryly observed, “He (Romney) knew who he needed to know. Everyone else is just a munchkin.”

True enough. But you can see Romney’s brain trust wincing as they read that.

The image of the Republican frontrunner dividing the world into two halves does not help him connect with average voters:

On one side, people of power and influence, the movers and shakers whose names he memorizes to advance his own agenda; on the other side, the rest of humanity, all the little people who won’t stop yapping and who merit nothing so much as a good stepping over.

Winslow is a good man. I’ll bet he wishes he hadn’t yielded, however light-heartedly, to that flip impulse.

The Civil Action Resulting from Probation Patronage Case Seems More Compelling

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

To say the least, the Ware Report of 2011 painted an unattractive picture of how people got hired and promoted in the Massachusetts Probation Department from 2003 to 2010.

An investigation led by Attorney Paul F. Ware, Jr., of Goodwin Procter, found that politically connected candidates had a definite advantage when applying for jobs, and when seeking better jobs, in the department.

His report actually said that former Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien, recently indicted by a federal grand jury along with two of his former deputies, presided over a hiring/promoting system that amounted to “pervasive fraud.”

Fraud is defined as “deceit, trickery,” or “the intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right.” It’s a term that covers both criminal and non-criminal behavior, which leads to the question:

Did O’Brien and his colleagues break the law when they allegedly turned Probation into a patronage haven that would have turned James Michael Curley green with envy?

The U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts and a federal grand jury obviously believe they did. But a jury of their peers may decide otherwise, especially when they look at O’Brien, et al., in the courtroom and notice that none of the elected office holders who sponsored Probation job candidates have been charged in the case.

Many people feel strongly that O’Brien, et al., are not guilty of any crimes, and that all the defendants did was add a new wrinkle or two to patterns of patronage that have been the norm in Massachusetts for generations.

Ask these same folks, however, if O’Brien, et al., will be found liable in a civil action, and they whistle a different tune.

Don’t forget that the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), which represents some 1,300 Probation employees in Massachusetts, filed a lawsuit against O’Brien and his top aides last summer, asking a federal judge to rescind more than a hundred promotions made in the department since 2003. The suit accuses the ex-Probation leaders of violating both the U.S. Constitution and the union’s labor contract by making promotions on grounds other than the qualifications and performance records of the candidates.

The parties accused here are of modest means -- and destined to be of the most humble means imaginable once they’ve paid their legal bills. So any promotion-deprived person who emerges vindicated and victorious from the NAGE lawsuit probably won’t get a penny from the defendants.

But they could get promotions, and the pay and benefits that go with those higher grades, not to mention the plaudits of their sincere-hearted peers, and the unique satisfaction that comes from having been proved right, unexpectedly, years after the fact.

If I were one of those long-aggrieved Probation employees, I’d enjoy that a lot more than seeing Jack O’Brien hauled off to jail.