On Fifth Anniversary of Kennedy's Death, I Found Myself Reflecting on a Particular Fact

Friday, August 29, 2014

This past Monday, August 25, on the fifth anniversary of the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, I eagerly read Marty Nolan’s column in the Globe: “Obama’s Kennedy.  Five years ago, the president lost his only real friend in Congress.”  I thought how good it was to be reading something by Nolan again; he’s been retired a while and no one has replaced him, if you know what I mean.   I also found myself thinking of the times I’d met Senator Kennedy and of how good he was, as so many public persons are, at shielding his actual self from the persons who came at him without end…

On a weekday morning, late in November of 1997, there was a large group of mourners gathered at a funeral home on Broadway, Everett, waiting on Ted Kennedy. 
This was the day of the requiem Mass for Joseph A. Curnane, Sr., a friend of Kennedy’s for nearly 40 years.  The senator had called the deceased’s son and namesake, young Joe Curnane, to say he was stuck in traffic.

 “Could you hold things up a bit?” the senator asked.
He wanted to see his friend one last time, to pay his respects properly. 

The time to form the cortege to the Immaculate Conception Church was drawing near. 
A few minutes later, the senator walked in, alone, to the funeral home.  He offered his condolences to the widow, the former Rosemary Murdock, once the most beautiful girl in Everett.  He had a gentle word, too, for each of Mr. Curnane’s four children.

Then the senator made his way purposefully through the room to the casket.  He knelt in prayer for half a minute, stood, and moved back two or three steps.  He did not take his eyes from the figure of his friend, a campaign warhorse he’d inherited from his brother the President.
No one spoke above a murmur.  No one approached their senator.  It was right, everyone knew, to let him have at least a moment on his own to reflect and to grieve.

The senator turned to his left, where I happened to be standing.  I introduced myself and shook his hand.
“Joe was my father-in-law,” I said.

“An amazing man,” the senator said. “Incredible.”
“Oh, yes.  He was…He was,” I said.

Neither of us seemed to know what to say next.  We stared at the exquisitely crafted wooden casket, nestled in a wall of flowers.
Fidgety, I blurted out: “He hated lies.”

The senator turned abruptly to me.  His eyes had a look of alertness, as if he had been stung.  It was an unguarded look from a naturally guarded man, something I’d never observed in previous encounters with him.
“That was like my father,” Ted said. “He hated lies more than anything.  You did not want to lie to him.”

I searched my mind for something that would keep the conversation spinning that fiber of the personal.  I hoped that I might have an honest-to-goodness conversation with a living legend of American politics.  Maybe I should say something to him about my father, I wondered. 
Before I was able to speak, the senator turned and shuffled off through the crowd.

Was he more mindful of the clock than I? 
His car was waiting.  Perhaps he wanted another look at the eulogy he was about to give at the church.

Or did he want to head off a too-personal conversation, however brief, with yet another stranger, an in-law no less?


Now Comes the 'Moore Commission' to Corral Growing Herd of Surgical Robots

Friday, August 22, 2014

Senator Dick Moore, Democrat of Uxbridge, has his robotic surgery bill on the verge of enactment, and that’s a good thing.

The Massachusetts Senate, where Moore serves as President Pro Tem, second only to the President herself, passed An Act Relative to Robotic Surgery on July 11. 
The legislature’s Joint Committee on Rules gave the bill, now designated Senate Bill 2261, an “ought to pass” recommendation on August 14 and sent it to the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling.

Steering Policy and Scheduling placed SB2261 in the Orders of the Day for the session of the House held on Monday of this week, August 18, and the bill went through a quick, ritualistic third reading on that day.
“Third reading” does not mean it was actually read aloud three times on the floor.  Rather, it refers to the step where a legislative body formally considers a measure for a third and final time in public session.  It is a step equivalent to passage: a bill’s third reading and its passage are accomplished in the same motion. 

To become law now, An Act Relative to Robotic Surgery needs only to be engrossed by the House -- a perfunctory step -- and signed by the governor.
SB2261 would set up a 17-member special commission to “investigate and review the use of robotic surgery,” develop a training protocol for each application of robotic surgery, devise an application and certification process for hospitals seeking to perform robotic surgery, and establish guidelines for the training and experience of surgeons who use robots.

Representatives of the Massachusetts Medical Society, the American Urological Society, the Society of Gynecological Surgeons, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, and the Massachusetts Hospital Association will be among those appointed to the commission.  Three state representatives and three state senators, including, presumably, Dick Moore, will also be put on it.
The robots now widely deployed in U.S. hospitals are operated by surgeons working at consoles.  The surgeon does the directing; the robot does the cutting.  In certain procedures, there are definite upsides to having a robot wield the scalpels and other surgical tools.  For example, they can use tinier instruments and work in tighter spaces than a surgeon’s hands can.  They also often accomplish the desired results with less extensive cutting.  Studies have indicated that many patients recover quicker from robotic surgery because of smaller incisions and fewer disturbances of internal organs and tissues.

Surgical robots, however, are expensive little devils. The initial outlay for what may be considered the top-of-line surgical robot can exceed $2.5 million; the per-procedure instrument costs often approach $2,000; and the annual service contracts run into the tens of thousands of dollars. 
Robotic surgery is also more costly than conventional surgery. As an example, prostate removal by robot will run about $4,500 higher than standard prostatectomy. 

That money is well spent, robotophiles say, because patients who have undergone a robotic procedure experience less post-surgical pain and discomfort, and are able to return to their normal routines sooner.
Perhaps the hardest knock on robotic surgery is that studies to date have not found it to be more effective than standard surgery.  If future studies corroborate that finding, it will mean we’re paying more for robotic surgery to get the same results as from standard surgery. 

Robots in the surgical suite have also been criticized for setting off a new kind of “medical arms race,” with hospitals having no choice but to acquire robots once their competitors have them.
Dr. Marty Makary, director of surgical quality at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, has decried the surgical robot as “a symbol of what’s wrong with American health care: the widespread adoption of expensive new technology with little evidence to support its use – all within the context of a poorly informed, even misinformed, public.”

On my clearest days, I’m barely one notch about “poorly informed, even misinformed” on this topic.
That’s why I’m glad Dick Moore, Beacon Hill’s most knowledgeable person on health care costs, has come up with this special commission idea.  If they get the right persons on it and if they do their jobs energetically, we’ll all become better informed.  And our health care system will end up spending our limited dollars more wisely.

THAT LAID-BACK TIME IN THE LEGISLATURE, POST-JULY 31:  We’re at a point in the 2013-14 legislative session when you might say that only “feel good” measures are on the agenda.  Back in 1995, the legislature adopted Rule 12A obligating itself to conclude “all formal business” no later than the last day of July in the second year of a session; after that, the House and Senate may meet informally.  Only a few legislators from each party show up for these meetings, and no debates are held.  The rules governing “informals” make it impossible to go beyond routine business or to vote on controversial matters.  If even one member present objects to taking a vote on something, that item must be tabled for that entire session.  As the minority party in the legislature, Republicans send at least one member to all informals to prevent Democrats from passing anything momentous or contentious.





Lawsuit vs. State Auditor Maybe Shortens Election Odds for Patricia Saint Who?

Friday, August 8, 2014

What a mess.  State Auditor Suzanne Bump got sued this week by her former chief assistant, Laura Marlin, someone who knows everything about Bump.

The first question that came to mind was: Does Patricia Saint Aubin have the stuff to exploit the messiness?
Patricia Saint Who?

Patricia Saint Aubin, the Republican candidate for State Auditor, that’s who.  Check her out at http://www.patriciasaintaubin.com/meet-patricia/

I suspect there’s been more traffic at that site since Marlin filed her suit on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts.

Before Wednesday, I would not have given Saint Aubin one chance in a hundred of bumping off Bump in November.  Now, I might give her one in ten.  And if more shoes drop in the Marlin vs. Bump affair, Marlin’s odds could improve to one in four, or even one in three.  You never know.
Marlin’s lawsuit against Bump states, “Her (Marlin’s) forced resignation resulted from her repeated objections to the fact that Ms. Bump was improperly conducting re-election campaign activities during her working hours and out of her office at the State House, using state employees to assist her in those activities, and attempting to curry favor with a possible political ally as part of an independent audit.”

Marlin is asking for a jury trial on all her claims.  If she wins, Marlin’s hoping to receive money for her lost wages and benefits “and other remuneration.”  She also wants punitive damages, damages for emotional distress, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorneys’ fees and costs, and “such other relief as this Court deems equitable.”

Bump wasted no time putting out a statement denying Marlin’s claims.  “I am proud of the ethical standards that I have established and continue to uphold for my office,” Bump said.  “They have contributed to our receipt this spring of the highest possible rating from our peers in government auditing.  As her former employer, I must respect Ms. Marlin’s privacy rights, so I will not elaborate on the reasons for asking for her resignation other than to say that it was for cause.”

Saint Aubin, too, was quick with a statement.  “These unconscionable allegations of illegal campaign activities and a rigged audit of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), to protect supporters, are more disturbing evidence of the corruption created by one-party rule on Beacon Hill.”
“Evidence” is clearly too strong a word for what gets trotted out in a lawsuit such as Marlin’s.  People can and do say just about anything when suing someone’s pants off. 

Nothing prevents anyone from suing anybody or from saying anything nasty about anybody in that suit, especially at the outset. 
The lawyer who puts the suit together for a plaintiff only has to believe that what the plaintiff alleges is true and to have no facts in her possession that would indicate it is untrue.   

Civil lawsuits, in other words, are a time to swing for the fences.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy for Bump to brush the suit off or to move away from it as if nothing has happened.  The Power of the Word is at work.   We tend to remember bad things said about someone much more than the good.  The more colorful the accusation, the harder it is to purge from our memory banks.

And Marlin, through her lawsuit, has already accomplished what Lyndon Johnson strove for in many a political fray.  Johnson famously said, “I can at least make the (blankety blank) deny it.”  Marlin forced a denial out of Bump.  (Bump would have been crazy not to deny it.)

Marlin wants us to believe that her former boss went a little soft on an audit of the Department of Children and Families because many of the department’s employees are members of the Service Employees International Union and Bump wanted the union to endorse her for re-election this year.
“On May 14, 2014, Ms. Marlin met with Ms. Bump regarding the list of audits she had prepared,” the lawsuit says.  “During that meeting, Ms. Bump stated that Ms. Marlin should have, during the course of a recent audit, contacted the political director for the labor organization with which she had met the previous day because the organization had members who worked at the audited agency.”

The lawsuit continues:
“Ms. Marlin responded by stating that engaging in such contact would have amounted to political contact during the course of an audit, which would compromise the independence of the audit in violation of the Comptroller General’s auditing standards.  At that time, she presented Ms. Bump with the memorandum she had prepared regarding compliance with the Comptroller General’s auditing standards.

“Ms. Bump became extremely angry and combative in response to Ms. Marlin’s statements and memorandum.  She hurled invectives at Ms. Marlin, at times raising her voice and using foul language.
“The following Monday, May 19, 2014, Ms. Marlin arrived at work and received an email from Ms. Bump instructing her to cancel her morning meetings and appear at her office at 9:30 a.m.

“When Ms. Marlin arrived at Ms. Bump’s office, Ms. Bump stated that she was terminating Ms. Marlin because, ‘based on [their] interactions the previous week,’ she felt she ‘could no longer trust [Ms. Marlin] to act in the best interest of the organization.’ ”
In her prepared statement Wednesday, Bump averred, “…I have never allowed any organization or individual to influence the conduct or independence of an audit.  All of these allegations against me and my office are without merit.  I will be conducting a vigorous defense of my reputation and my office’s ethical standards.”

Marlin was given the choice of resigning as First Deputy Auditor and Deputy Auditor for Audit Operations, or being fired.  She chose to resign, submitting her resignation letter to Bump on May 23. 
This is one of those cases, inevitably bitter, where affection and admiration have turned into their opposites.

Marlin, 44, began working for Bump, 58, in May, 2007, when Bump was appointed Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development by Governor Deval Patrick.  Three years later, Marlin left her state job to serve as Bump’s campaign manager as Bump began her run for Auditor.  When Bump won, in November, 2010, Marlin served as her transition manager.  In one of her first moves as Auditor, Bump made Marlin her top deputy.
Marlin holds two degrees from Northeastern University and is a member of the Massachusetts bar.  Her curriculum vitae includes a stint as an Assistant Attorney General.

And what of the woman who would replace Bump, Patricia Saint Aubin?
I know only what I’ve read and seen on her campaign web site.  She looks like a normal, pleasant person.  She does not seem to be a lightweight or a nut. 

Saint Aubin graduated from Providence College with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1980, which would make her about 55 years old.   Some years ago, she worked as “an auditor with the Asset-Based Lending group of the Shawmut Bank in Boston.”
Bump will be able to hit Saint Aubin hard for having no recent, substantial experience as an auditor.  Saint Aubin will be able to point out that Bump, an attorney, had no experience as an auditor before she was elected.

In a state where only 11% of the registered voters are Republicans, Saint Aubin was on a kamikaze mission against Bump prior to the filing of Marlin’s lawsuit.  Now, you’d have to say she at least has a chance of surviving the battle with Bump.  It will be interesting to see what she makes of that.