Entries I Won't Be Submitting to MassDOT Contest Promoting Good Driving Habits

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I was glad to see that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is running a contest to come up with more good safety slogans like, “Changing Lanes, Use Yah Blinkah!”

You may recall seeing that on all those flashing highway signs a few months back.  First they’d flash, CHANGING LANES?  Then they’d flash, USE YAH BLINKAH! 
The message went viral and MassDOT reaped a ton of favorable publicity.

Now the agency has launched a contest asking the public “to get creative and help stop bad behavior behind the wheel.”  They want us to submit catchy messages in one or all of following categories: Road Rage, Distracted Driving, and Seatbelt Use. 

There will be one winner in each category, with winners receiving various gift cards from vendors at the service plazas on state highways.  The winning slogans will be displayed on hundreds of message boards around the state, according to this staggered schedule:
  • Road Rage Winner, August 15-18 (MassDOT says that, based on 2013 toll data, this is “a top 10 travel weekend.”)
  • Distracted Driving Winner, Labor Day Weekend
  • Seatbelt Use Winner, Columbus Day Weekend
Space on the message boards is very tight.  You almost have to be a haiku master to attempt something like this.  Messages have to be composed in two “panels.”  The first panel contains the message set-up, the second panel the pay-off.  Each panel has space for three lines, and no single line may exceed eight characters.

I think I could handle the space limitations. But I’m not confident of my ability to achieve the proper tone, and not all that eager to try for it.  Something about driving on crowded highways dominated by overly aggressive drivers inevitably brings out my dark side.  Even thinking about it gets me agitated.
In a looser, less repressed world, a world, say, where every place was like New York City at rush hour, contests like MassDOT’s would at least give honorable mentions to those who eschewed “cute.”  Until that world materializes, I will have to content myself with blog posting not-ready-for-prime-roadways messages, stuff like this:













POSTSCRIPT & UPDATE:  Here are the actual winners in the Highway Message Board Contest, as announced by MassDOT on August 14:

Road Rage Category






Distracted Driving Category






Seat Belt Use Category







Looking at Joe Kennedy, Speaker Boehner Saw an Early Moment in His Own Life

Friday, June 20, 2014

Young Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts was new to the Congress in 2013 and he figured it would be good to have a meeting with John Boehner of Ohio, the Speaker of the House, just to say hello and get acquainted.

He asked the Speaker’s staff to arrange the meeting and began waiting. He wasn’t sure if the Speaker would consent to a meeting because the Speaker’s a Republican and he’s a Democrat, but Kennedy knew that, if the meeting was to take place, it wouldn’t be for a while.  The Speaker has more things on his plate than he.

Several weeks passed.   Kennedy got a call instructing him to be in the Speaker’s office at 5:30 p.m. on a certain day that week.  He showed up a little early and was ushered to the Speaker’s large private office, which has a commanding view of the National Mall, from The Capitol down to the Washington Monument and beyond.
Boehner arrived promptly.  The two men, now alone in the Speaker’s sanctum, sat down in high-backed chairs facing each other from a distance that Kennedy felt was unusually wide.  They had just started conversing when the Speaker got up from his chair, walked toward Kennedy, and went past him.  “I didn’t know if I should follow him or remain seated and turn my head around to him,” Kennedy later said.

Boehner told him to remain where he was.  From a cabinet behind Kennedy, Boehner took a decanter of red wine and poured a glass.  He did not offer Kennedy a drink. (No doubt he knew his guest did not touch alcohol.)  Then Boehner lighted a cigarette and strolled back to his chair to enjoy his drink and smoke. 
Boehner asked, “Do you know why I agreed to meet with you?”

“No, not really,” Kennedy said.

Boehner told him that, when he was a freshman representative in the Ohio legislature (almost 30 years ago), he requested a meeting with the House Speaker.  He did not receive a reply from the Speaker’s office for six months.  Then one day, out of the blue, he was told he could see the Speaker for three minutes that afternoon while the Speaker was walking from one appointment to another.  Boehner decided to decline the offer.  He told Kennedy that, if all he could get after waiting half a year was three minutes on the fly, it wasn’t worth the trouble and he no longer cared if he met the man or not.
Boehner also told Kennedy that, at that moment of disappointment and disillusionment, he vowed that, if he was ever in a position of leadership and a freshman legislator, regardless of his party affiliation, asked to meet him, he would do so as soon as he was able.

I know this story because I was at the Seaport Hotel in Boston one week ago today, on Friday, June 13, when Kennedy told it to a roomful of people at a breakfast event sponsored by the New England Council.
Other than recounting Boehner’s explanation of why he met and repeating some advice Boehner gave him, Kennedy declined to discuss the details of that discussion “because it was a private meeting.” 

Boehner’s advice to Kennedy was simple.  He said that, if Kennedy wanted to be successful as a Congressman, he should,  “Be nice.  Be respectful.  Work hard.  And don’t take it personally” (when a colleague disagreed, or refused to vote, with him).
In his speech last week, Kennedy reflected, “Turns out, that’s some pretty good advice.  It’s also not easy.  But if you can do it – in the midst of the rhetoric, the emotions of the day and the partisan ping pong – then you get to what really matters, what this job is actually all about: Good policy; informed, intelligent decisions that make the lives of the people you represent a little bit better;  and what happens far away from cable news and election-year antics, in the decidedly unglamorous zone of bringing facts, evidence, and data to tough choices.”

Be nice.
Be respectful.

Work hard.

Don’t take it personally.

That’s good advice, but difficult to arrange in order of priority.

If, God forbid, in the unlikely event I were ever advising a young man who was keen to climb the ladder of Congressional leadership, I’d tell him Don’t take it personally is the most important, for it serves equally well as a guide in coping with opposition, insults and betrayal, and as a comforting bit of self-talk, i.e., He shouldn't take it personally, and hence an inducement, in pursuing one’s own political goals and advancement.

Who can fail to hear in Don’t take it personally an echo of the words spoken by Sal Tessio, the character played by Abe Vigoda in the Godfather, Part 1? 
Tessio is being taken off for execution for having joined a plot against his boss, the Godfather, Michael Corleone, when he says to his executioners, “Tell Mike it was only business.  I always liked him.”
I love it when life imitates art.

It's What If Time: What If They Had a Round 2 in Eastern Casino Licensing Game?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Boston should stop playing the bad hand it’s holding in the casino licensing game.

Mayor Marty Walsh should make the best neighboring city mitigation deal as soon as he can with Steve Wynn.  (Wynn wants to build a casino in Everett and is competing against Suffolk Downs for the eastern Massachusetts casino license.)  Walsh should then do everything he can to persuade the Gaming Commission to reject both the Wynn and Suffolk applications. 
I’m not saying it would be easy for the mayor or anyone else to get the commission to do that at this late date.

But the interests of the city and the commonwealth over the long haul would be better served by an alternative proposal, an alternative that does not yet exist and against which the odds are high: a downtown Boston casino.
Downtown Boston, and particularly the area around South Station, is a better, more appropriate site for a casino than the racetrack on the East Boston-Revere line or the former Monsanto chemical factory site in Everett.

If Walsh decided it was worth attempting a major shake-up in casino licensing at this time, I think the people of Boston would support him.
A majority of East Boston voters voted no in the required local referendum on the Suffolk Downs casino.  In response, the Suffolk team redesigned the plan to put the casino entirely on the Revere side of its property, which only recharged the motivation of the opposition in Eastie. The people of Charlestown (not to mention Somerville) are deeply concerned about how a Wynn casino, only a long home run from Sullivan Square, would affect them. 

The sharpest point Walsh would have is financial: Boston would get many millions more per year from an in-Boston casino than it would from one in a neighboring community, no matter how good a mitigation deal it struck with an in-Revere or in-Everett casino.
I’ve been saying for a long time that South Station is the best area for the eastern Massachusetts casino. If you’re interested in my ramblings on this subject, go to

I’ve also been saying that Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker was right four years ago when he said we should license only one casino and see how it affects the state before licensing others. 

For reasons of law and politics, the one-versus-three casino argument cannot take place.  
We could, however, potentially re-do the competition for the eastern Massachusetts casino license and thereby create the possibility of a downtown Boston gambling palace, a true “destination resort” casino.  It’s a longshot but worth a try.

A recent poll showed that the Massachusetts electorate has flipped on supporting casino gambling.  Whereas before a majority of citizens favored casinos, a majority now would like to see the casino enabling legislation repealed.
It seems reasonable to infer that support for casinos has shrunk, in part, due to: (a) questions about a possible hidden ownership stake in the Everett site and a convicted felon who might benefit from the sale of the property, and (b) the very real possibility that the people of East Boston will have to endure the impacts of a casino even though they voted against having one in their midst.

One could aver that public confidence in casinos could be rebuilt by a dual Wynn-Suffolk rejection and a Gaming Commission decision to take a mulligan on the eastern Massachusetts license.






With New Death Stats, Nurses Go Nuclear in Long-Running War over Staffing Legislation

Friday, June 6, 2014

If you accept the findings of the latest survey by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) as 100% sound -- a big if -- you will open your mind to an old but endlessly potent species of dread: the fear of what can go wrong in a hospital.

On Wednesday of this week, June 4, the MNA announced that a survey of bedside nurses in Massachusetts had found that one in four (23%) “report patient deaths directly attributable to having too many patients to care for.”
In a press release, the MNA said the survey respondents “were all nurses currently working in Massachusetts hospitals randomly selected from a complete file of the 92,000 nurses registered with the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing.”  (The total number of respondents was not disclosed.)

Further, the release said that, according to the firm that conducted the survey, the results “can be assumed to be representative” of the 92,000 nurses to within 7 percentage points, plus or minus, “at a 95% confidence level.”  (Bold facing added.)  Translation:
If you could somehow ask each of the 92,000 nurses if they were personally aware of a patient having died because there weren’t enough nurses on hand to care for all of the patients who needed care, you could be confident that between 16% and 30% of them would answer in the affirmative. 

Sixteen percent of 92,000 is 14,720.  Thirty percent is 27,600. 

This is a startling assertion.

Assuming just one witnessed patient death per surveyed nurse, the MNA is implying that at least 14,720 patients have died because not enough nurses were assigned to care for them. 
The Massachusetts Hospital Association quickly challenged the findings.  In a statement to the State House News Service, the MHA said:  

“It (the survey) is not credible, and it is troubling that the union, to advance its political agenda, would issue such unsubstantiated safety claims that run counter to the publicly available data and evidence.  No federal and state government agency that routinely monitors and licenses hospitals for performance or quality of care has raised concerns on issues that the union makes claims about.  There is no evidence to support the union’s claims regarding patient safety.  (Bold facing added.) But there is evidence that the quality of patient care in Massachusetts hospitals is of high quality.”
The survey comes amid an intensifying effort by the MNA to get a law enacted that would allow the Department of Public Health to establish mandatory nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. 

A co-sponsor of the bill in the House, registered nurse and state representative Denise Garlick of Needham, said on Wednesday, “There’s an old adage in medicine that says: ‘If you don’t listen to nurses, you will not hear the patients.’  If we listen to the registered nurses of this Commonwealth and what they are saying, we will hear the sound of patients who are suffering needless complications, medical errors and readmissions, and the silence of those who cannot speak at all.”
State Senator Marc Pacheco of Taunton, who’s the lead sponsor of the bill in the upper branch, said, “Just think about the liability issues that are out there for all these hospitals.”

On a parallel track, the MNA is working to put a nursing ratio question on the November, 2014, statewide ballot.  If approved by the voters, the measure would limit the number of patients that could be assigned to a registered nurse in a hospital and certain other health care facilities.
It will be interesting to see how aggressively and how extensively hospitals (and others) question the survey results going forward.  Will they, for example, ask state and federal health care regulators to furnish the figures on how many registered nurses in Massachusetts have filed formal complaints to the effect that a patient died on her/his watch because of inadequate staffing?

If those figures were made available, I’d be surprised if the total was anywhere near 14,720.
Then the question would be: How come the nurses did not come forward?

A full summary of the survey may be found on the MNA’s web site by going to: