This Month in Corruption: Snapshots of the Public Trust Betrayed

Monday, December 26, 2016

If I were back in the newspaper business, I’d probably write a lead for this article containing the cliché, “Crime never takes a holiday.” 

Yes, clichés are the first resort of lazy-minded and hurried scribes, but the good thing is, they're usually accurate. 
So, with perfunctory apologies for interrupting your holiday cheer, I now present four separate accounts of public corruption in Massachusetts, which were all brought to culminations of sorts this month within a span of six days:

Embezzlement at Housing Authority.  On Tuesday, December 13, Rosa A. Famania, age 33, of Milford, pleaded guilty to one count of embezzling money from an agency receiving federal funds.  That agency is the Framingham Housing Authority (FHA), where Famania was employed as an accounting assistant for five-and-a-half years.
A press release from the Office of U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz states, “Between February 2014 and August 2015, Famania stole approximately 181 cash rental payments totaling $70,649 from FHA and utilized an FHA accounting software program to assist in disguising the theft...”

The release continues, “When Famania came into possession of the rent payments, she did not deposit the payments into the FHA bank account.  Instead, she kept the cash rent payments and adjusted the tenants’ balance downward…Approximately $55,100 in cash was deposited into an account maintained by Famania between July 2014 and July 2015.  From February 2014 to July 2014, nineteen U.S. Postal Service money orders totaling $17,900 were deposited into another bank account maintained by Famania.”
Famania will be sentenced for the crime, which carries a prison term of up to 10 years, on March 14, 2017.

Fraudulent Billing for Services. On Friday, December 16, Nita Guzman, age 52, of Burlington, was sentenced to jail and ordered to pay up to $570,000 in restitution for stealing from public agencies by billing for unlicensed psychological services.  
Guzman had pleaded guilty in Middlesex Superior Court to two counts of filing false Medicaid claims, one count of filing a false claim with a public agency, four counts of larceny, and two counts of practicing psychology without a license.  Her sentence to the house of correction was for 18 months.  After that, she’ll be on probation for five years.

According to a press release from the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, Guzman and her sister “orchestrated a criminal scheme to provide and bill for unlicensed psychological and mental health services for patients, including children, that they were not qualified to offer…”
The release continued, “Guzman’s twin sister, Nina Tischer, pleaded guilty in February 2016 to charges of False Claims to Public Agency (3 counts), Larceny (3 counts), Identity Fraud (3 counts), and Unlicensed Practice of Psychology (3 counts).  She was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in the House of Correction, suspended for a probationary period of five years…

“Through their corporations, both located in Lowell, the sisters provided bilingual psychological services to Medicaid and Medicare members in the greater-Lowell and greater-Lawrence areas, performed mental health disability evaluations for the Department of Transitional Assistance and the state’s Medicaid program (MassHealth), and assessed children for learning disabilities for Lawrence Public Schools.
“The investigation of Guzman began when a licensed psychologist reported to the AG’s Office that Guzman’s company had used her name and license number without permission to bill a Medicaid managed care organization more than $430,000.”

Theft from State Agency.  On Monday, December 19, Ennia Manto, age 52, of Braintree, the former Director of the Finance Division of the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission (GIC), pleaded guilty to stealing more than $122,000 from the agency.  (The GIC is a quasi-independent agency  providing and administering health insurance and other benefits to state employees and retirees.) 
A press release from the Office of Attorney General Maura Healey states, “In June 2015, an accountant at the GIC discovered a wire payment for $72,349.83 that could not be reconciled with the GIC’s statements and internal documents.  Manto acknowledged that he made the transfer, claiming it was a payment to a health plan administrator for a nonstandard report.  Later, the accountant discovered that the required payment was for a different amount and not due for another year.  The GIC launched an immediate internal investigation and reported the matter to authorities.”

The release continues, “Upon learning that the wire transfer was being looked into, Manto altered the original printout of the wire transfer by cutting out information related to Seaport Equity, a company owned by Manto, and taping in information about the health plan administrator.  These documents were later found in a GIC recycling bin.  The contract documents that Manto had given to the accountant as backup documentation for the wire transfer had also been altered.
“Authorities subsequently confirmed that between March and June 2015, Manto made two wire transfers to Seaport Equity.  Further investigation revealed that Manto made an additional unauthorized wire transfer from the GIC’s funds to Seaport Equity in March 2015 for $50,000.”

Although the Attorney General’s office had recommended jail time followed by probation, Manto was ordered to make full restitution to the state and given three years’ probation.
Conspiring against Federal Regulators.  On Monday, December 19, Robert A. Ronzio, age 42, of North Providence, Rhode Island, national sales director for the New England Compounding Center (NECC) in Framingham, pleaded guilty in the federal district court of Boston in connection with an alleged conspiracy to defraud the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Ronzio is reported to be cooperating with the government in its ongoing investigation of the center, where legal drugs were compounded, and he will not be sentenced until September 27, 2017.

A press release from the Office of U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz stated, “Ronzio admitted that NECC was a pharmacy dispensing drugs pursuant to physician-created prescriptions when it fact it operated as a manufacturer distributing drugs in bulk.  NECC created numerous work-around methods to make it appear to federal and state regulators that NECC was dispensing drugs pursuant to valid patient-specific prescriptions when it fact it was not.”
The release noted that “The NECC criminal case arose from the nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis that was traced back to contaminated vials of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate (MPA) manufactured by NECC.  The outbreak was the largest public health crisis caused by a pharmaceutical product.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 751 patients in 20 states were diagnosed with a fungal infection after receiving injections of NECC’s MPA.  Of those 751 patients, the CDC reported that 64 patients in nine states died.  The government’s investigation has revealed that those numbers continue to rise.

“In December 2014, following a two-year investigation, Ronzio and 13 other owners, employees, and associates of NECC were charged in a 131-count indictment.  The indictment did not charge Ronzio with having an active role in the drug manufacturing operations of NECC, but did charge him with conspiring to defraud the FDA.”


Reversal of Probation Dept. Convictions Means Ortiz Term Ends with a Whimper

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Carmen Ortiz’s term as U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts runs for only a few more weeks.  If she’s wishing it were over today, I’d understand. 

The biggest case Ortiz ever handled as the state’s top federal prosecutor, the alleged conspiracy to rig the entire hiring system in the Massachusetts Probation Department in favor of politically connected candidates, has fallen to pieces. The second-guessing has begun.

Lawyers all over town are saying: Why did she ever make a federal case out of patronage hiring on Beacon Hill?  This was never more than an Ethics Commission matter.  I’d hate to see how much the feds spent, the total number, on this case.

Late yesterday afternoon, the three-judge federal court of appeals for the First Circuit issued a ruling overturning the convictions of John J. O’Brien, 59, who served as Commissioner of Probation, the highest position in the department, from 1998 to 2010, and two of O’Brien’s deputies, Elizabeth Tavares, 58, and William Burke, 72.

Writing for the court, Justice Juan Torruella declared, “We find that the Government overstepped its bounds in using federal criminal statutes to police the hiring practices of these Massachusetts state officials and did not provide sufficient evidence to establish a criminal violation of Massachusetts law under the Government’s theory of the case.”

Back in March of 2012, right after she’d indicted O’Brien and his deputies, Ortiz held a press conference at the Joe Moakley courthouse in South Boston.  She emphasized, “This is a very serious matter.  We’ve just indicted three former state public officials who were supposed to be working on behalf of this Commonwealth and who were engaged in criminal activity.”

Ortiz opined, “There was a lot of patronage that was clearly going on (in the Probation Department).”  But patronage, “in and of itself, is not illegal,” she pointed out. 

“It could be very unseemly.  It could be criminal under some circumstances,” she said.  “But, in and of itself, it’s not, and we really have to be fair.”  

In 2014, a jury decided that O’Brien was guilty of one count of racketeering and conspiracy and four counts of mail fraud.  Tavares was found guilty of mail fraud, racketeering and conspiracy, and Burke of conspiracy.  Each of those convictions has now been thrown out.

Contrary to what Ortiz has been saying for over four years, there was no “criminal activity” in Probation.

The appeals court ruling in favor O’Brien et al. will send Ortiz, a resident of Milton, bleeding into retirement.  She’s the ultimate loser in a very prominent and potentially impactful case.  If the court had upheld these convictions, we’d now be discussing how the boundaries of patronage had been permanently redrawn.  Instead, we’re talking about the irreversible fading of Ortiz’s light in legal circles.

Ortiz’s defeat is also a blow to the legacy of the man who, in 2009, appointed her, President Barack Obama, even though, on balance, it’s more like a mosquito bite than a broken nose for a leader confronting the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the rejection of the Paris accords on global warming, and the abandonment of the war-averting nuclear deal with Iran.

A little over two years ago, The Boston Globe published a brief editorial concerning the sentencing of O’Brien, which was then pending.  Recall that, in 2010, it was the Globe’s Spotlight Team that conducted an investigation and assessment of Probation Department hiring, which led to the independent counsel (Ware) report, which led to the indictments by Ortiz.

“It’s irksome to some that none of the lawmakers who supplied ‘recommendations’ to O’Brien, and then fattened his budget after he acted on them, have suffered any consequences, while O’Brien faces years in prison,” said the editorial, which was headlined, “John J. O’Brien’s sentence should send a warning on patronage.” 

The editorial continued:

“Nonetheless, that doesn’t exculpate O’Brien, and his conviction should be a warning to officials that if they claim to hire on merit, circumventing those rules will carry great risk.  Lawmakers can ask officials for favors, but if O’Brien’s sentence scares them into ignoring them, that would be a fine outcome.

“The fact that O’Brien has expressed no remorse almost dares Judge William G. Young to deliver a harsh sentence; prosecutors have asked for about 6 years.  But in itself, whether or not O’Brien apologizes doesn’t change very much.”

I know O’Brien only from the pictures taken of him entering and leaving the courthouse, wherein he always seemed grimly defiant and barely in control of his anger.  Given all that his death-match with the feds had to date cost him and his family – the loss of livelihood, savings, reputation, pension, future earning capacity, etc. – how could he be expected not to be peeved and pugnacious?

If he were ever then in the mood for apologies, I imagine O’Brien would have said he was sorry first to his wife for ever thinking it was a good idea to go on the public payroll.  The times were good when he was the King of Probation and even Ivy Leaguer judges meekly stepped out of his way.  Then The Boston Globe came calling and it all turned bad -- very, very bad.  Until yesterday. 
O’Brien’s a lot older than the passage of four or five years would otherwise suggest and he’s asking himself the old Ray Donovan question, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?”  You don’t want to be muttering that when you’re pushing 60.

POSTSCRIPT: On Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 21, Carmen Ortiz announced her resignation. It will take effect on Jan. 13, 2017.

Here’s a link to the text of Judge Torruella’s decision overturning the O’Brien, Tavares and Burke convictions:



In Legislative Foray vs. Principals, School Custodians Gain a Short-Lived Victory

Friday, December 16, 2016

On December 1, both the Massachusetts House and Senate enacted a bill during informal sessions that would have made it harder for public school principals to fire custodians and other non-teaching employees for not doing their jobs right.

Eight days later, Governor Charlie Baker returned the bill unsigned, an action known as a pocket veto, having accepted the argument that the bill would weaken the authority granted to school superintendents and principals under the state’s momentous, acclaimed Education Reform Act of 1993.
Given the opposition of superintendents and principals to the bill -- House Bill 2319, An Act Relative to Protecting the Rights of Custodial and Other Non-Teaching Employees of School Districts -- I’m trying to figure out how the advocates for the bill got it passed during informal sessions. 

Only “non-controversial” measures are supposed to be taken up during “informals.”  Under the rules and customs of the Massachusetts legislature, if only one legislator present objects to voting on a bill in an informal session, the presiding officer must immediately table it for the entire session.  At that moment it is considered dead for the day.
The Republicans, as members of the minority party in the legislature, always send at least one member to every informal session whose specific job is to object if a controversial bill is unexpectedly brought up.  Controversial, in this context, means anything that does not enjoy unanimous support. 

It looks like the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents was caught by surprise here. 
My guess is that the association, at the July 31 conclusion of formal legislative sessions, made the reasonable judgment that HB 2319 could not possibly get done during upcoming informal sessions; therefore, it did not see the need to impress upon sympathetic Republicans and Democrats alike the need to be on guard against it. 

Once the bill did slip across the legislative finish line, I surmise that the association swung into action in the governor’s suite, bringing about the pocket veto and quelling for now the rebellion of the custodians:  the governor’s action spelled the doom of HB 2319 because veto overrides are held only during formal sessions.
As just one result of the Education Reform Act of 1993, public school principals were given the power to “supervise the operation and management of their schools and school property, subject to the supervision and direction of the superintendent.” 

The law inserted a provision in Chapter 71 of the Massachusetts General Laws, Section 59B, stipulating that principals “shall be responsible, consistent with district personnel policies and budgetary restrictions and subject to the approval of the superintendent, for hiring all teachers, athletic coaches, instructional or administrative aides, and other personnel assigned to the school, and for terminating all such personnel…” 
Section 59B rather quickly became known as the “principal’s choice statute” in recognition of the significant additional power it had conferred upon school leaders.

HB 2319 seeks to diminish that power, which the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission has recognized as “broad” but not “unfettered.”  The bill would do that by amending the state’s civil service law, Chapter 31 of the general laws, to require that persons holding custodial, maintenance and other non-teaching positions be hired and fired in accordance with civil service rules if any given school department classifies those positions as civil service jobs.
The Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union representing non-teachers in many public school systems, has determined that a janitor in the crosshairs is going to do better before a civil service hearing officer who has never met him than a principal who knows him all too well. 

When testifying on behalf of HB 2319 at a hearing of the Joint Committee on Public Service on June 2, 2015, James Durkin, legislative director for Council 93 of AFSCME, said the bill “would correct the injustice of denying civil service rights to public school employees because they’re on a school budget and not a municipal budget.”
Gov. Baker, on the other hand, in his Dec. 8 letter to the legislature, made it clear that he sees the bill as a potential injury to the “managerial authority of public school principals.”  He wrote:

“That authority is at the heart of the Education Reform Act of 1993, which granted enhanced authority over internal school matters to the principals in order to increase their accountability in the preparation of our children to compete in the global economy.”
One public school superintendent I know says the power vested in principals by Section 59B “has absolutely helped to ensure the better performance of our public schools since the passage of the Education Reform Act.”  Here’s what this superintendent told me in an email earlier this week:

“In regard to the custodians, cafeteria workers and clerical help, these people are all major contributors to the schools and their ability to function well day to day.  The custodians not only clean the buildings, they also check all the time on the safety of the equipment used by the schoolchildren.  The cafeteria workers ensure proper nutrition and present the best foods in ways that are appealing to the students.  The clerical help are an integral part of the hour-to-hour operation of the schools and the school buildings; they are key to dealing effectively with parents and school personnel, as well as to maintaining student confidentiality and proper, accurate records.  
“The only sensible management approach is to have all teachers and non-teachers accountable to the principals, and solely to the principals, within the bounds of the law.”

The 2015-16 legislative session was the second one in a row where AFSCME fought for legislation taking away from principals the power to hire and fire non-teachers as they saw fit.  No doubt the union will be championing The Son of HB 2319 during the soon-to-be-upon-us 2017-18 session.   I’m no prognosticator.  But I don’t think the kid will do any better than dad or grandpa.



Every Citizen Has a Stake in Success of The Boston Globe's New CEO

Monday, December 12, 2016

“In 2016, the political climate and social media within the United States have identified, if not created, what I would call a factual imperative.  There has never been a greater need to help citizens distinguish between that which is true and that which is false, and to do so with a sense of purpose and a sense of fury.  It’s why we do what we do.”       
-John Henry, owner, The Boston Globe

From age 23 to 33, I was a full-time newshound, working as a reporter, then as an editor at the Evening News & Mercury daily newspaper group in Malden, Medford and Melrose.  Before that, during my college years, I worked as a reporter at the Chelsea Record, a small but pugnacious daily.  I was a  Northeastern University co-op student/kid reporter in Chelsea.
The respect I have for the craft of news gathering and the appreciation I have for the practitioners of that craft have only deepened through the years.  To sustain the life of our republic, we need strong and independent newspapers.  The Internet is wonderful and all, but we became a great nation without an Internet and could (theoretically) remain a great nation without the Internet -- but not without strong and independent newspapers.

Thus do I wish, sincerely, that Doug Franklin enjoys great success in his new role as chief executive officer of The Boston Globe, New England’s largest circulation newspaper, and that the Globe attains lasting financial stability during his tenure.
Today, the Globe has around 100,000 digital subscribers, for more than it did just a few years ago. But that number equals just one-tenth of the readers who pay to read the New York Times online.  Franklin’s job will be to increase digital subscriptions, and thereby advertising revenue, at a time when newspapers continue to lose print subscribers and see net advertising revenue decreases.  He has to make more people under age 40 care enough about the Globe to pay for its content online.  These tasks have defeated some of the greatest minds of American journalism and publishing.    

The Globe announced Franklin’s appointment in its online version this past Thursday afternoon and in its print edition this past Friday morning.  Also on Thursday afternoon, John Henry, owner of both the Globe and the Boston Red Sox, introduced Franklin to the newspaper’s employees in an internal memo, a copy of which found its way to my inbox.
“Doug is a seasoned newspaper executive, dedicating much of his career to Cox Media Group Properties and overseeing virtually all aspects of the business while leading change in each role along the way,” the Henry memo said.

The Henry memo noted: “Between 2013 and 2015, Doug was Executive Vice President and CFO of Cox Enterprises, the parent company of all Cox businesses including communications, media, and automotive.  Cox is an $18 billion company with 50,000 employees.  Prior to that, from 2010 to 2013, he rose from EVP to President of Cox Media Group, which is comprised of their TV, radio, newspaper, direct mail, and digital operations.  Doug has extensive experience as a newspaper publisher, overseeing four Ohio newspapers including the Dayton Daily News from 2004 to 2008, then becoming Publisher of the Palm Beach Post for a short but high-impact stint in 2008, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution until 2010.  Doug has experienced virtually every challenge our industry faces today – and succeeded at every turn.  As I’ve gotten to know Doug over the past few months, I’ve come to understand that he is fearless, energetic, articulate, and passionate in his desire to help the Globe achieve our long-term goal of creating a sustainable business model for high level journalism.”
Friday morning’s Globe article on Franklin’s appointment said: “A friend who learned of the Globe CEO search suggested to Franklin earlier this year that he would be a good fit.  Franklin was not looking for work at the time, though he acknowledged ‘retirement is pretty boring…I don’t have to work; I like to work.' ”

I don’t have to work.
Promisingly, this suggests that Franklin has the objectivity and freedom to make the truly best decision every time he has a tough choice to make at the Globe and there are powerful factors on either side of that decision.  “Clearly, there’s going to be lots of changes,” Franklin told the Boston Herald, (“Ex-Atlanta publisher to be Globe’s new CEO,” 12-9-16).

On the other hand, it might suggest Franklin does not have enough skin in the game.  As a journalism wash-out, I lack standing to pontificate on such matters.  Even wash-outs, however, stumble across truths in their working lives, such as the one imparted to me by a successful hospital CEO many years ago: For a big job, always hire someone who’s at a point where his career and future will be damaged if he fails in the job you are giving him.    

College May Have Averted Flag Debacle If They'd Consulted Stan Rosenberg

Monday, December 5, 2016

The brain trust that runs Hampshire College in Amherst thought it would be a good idea to lower the American flag to half-mast on Wednesday, Nov. 9, the day after Trump’s victory, “as an expression of grief over the violent deaths being suffered in this country and globally.” 

The college planned to raise the flag to its full height two days later, on Veterans Day.  After someone or some group took down the flag without permission on the night of Nov. 9 and burned it, the college’s board of trustees decided it would be nice to remove the flag altogether from public display on campus. 
Then the president of the college, Jonathan Lash, called for an open-ended dialogue on how the flag symbolizes different things, some of them quite horrible, to different people.  Some Hampshire students, he noted, “grew up victims of racism and injustice” and are troubled by the flag because it is a “symbol of a system that has been repressive.” 

That decision created a controversy that quickly spread beyond the college’s idyllic setting in the Pioneer Valley.  Veterans groups around the country were particularly outraged. Lash and his college got mauled in the media and on the Internet.  The president's appetite for dialogue seemed to diminish daily.  
This past Friday, Dec. 2, he announced his decision to put the flag up again at Hampshire.  

“…we were getting so many graphic, threatening calls and emails,” said Lash, “that I just felt it was safer to put the flag back up -- which we’d always intended to do at some point – and continue the discussion with it up.”
When the controversy was at a fever pitch, Lash took pains to point out that, for him personally, the American flag “is a symbol of the highest aspirations of our country, the things that I believe in that our country hopes to provide, in terms of liberty and opportunity and justice.”

But, but, he emphasized that he was “simultaneously profoundly aware of the differences in perception for marginalized communities who, as one student said to me, wake up every morning afraid, and who felt deeply and personally threatened by the toxic rhetoric, the racist rhetoric and Islamophobic statements during the (presidential) campaign.”
So, Lash was for taking down the flag and having a dialogue until that course of action became just too much trouble.  He loves the flag as a symbol of the highest aspirations of our country but does not believe enough in that symbolism to withstand the disapproval of anyone enjoying a high-priced Hampshire education while residing in one of the most liberal, most welcoming communities in the country, if not the whole world.

If he’d consulted Stan Rosenberg, the president of the Massachusetts Senate who lives in Amherst, Lash might have saved himself a lot of anguish, not to mention bad publicity and ill will throughout America.  Referring to the flag controversy, Rosenberg told the State House News Service on Nov. 28, “It’s really disappointing to see what’s happened out there.”  He added that he would “like to see the flag go back up as soon as possible.”
When the flag was torn down and burned on his campus, President Lash was at a crossroads, a place where he could have written his own little chapter in American history.  He could have called a morning-after press conference, held up a photo of the burned American flag, and declared:

“I am ordering that a new and larger flag be raised to the top of the pole at noon today, where it will remain as long as I am president of Hampshire College.  The flag that flies at our college symbolizes the highest and best aspirations of our nation.  End of story.  Everyone should return immediately to the business of getting the best education they can during the precious little time they have at Hampshire College.  Thank you.” 
Instead, Lash took what he thought was a safe choice, the middle ground, which has been the wide territory of mediocrity since time immemorial, the place one goes to get his ticket to oblivion punched.










There Can Be Only One Reason Romney's Kissing Up to the Donald Now

Monday, November 28, 2016

To the pundits and members of the chattering class I would say, Stop wracking your brains trying to figure out what was Mitt Romney thinking when he came courting Trump in New Jersey right after the election; instead, keep it simple and go with the most obvious explanation: Mitt wants back in the big show because he still hopes to be President one day.

Since losing to Barack Obama four years ago, Romney’s been picking at the edges of the political game but has avoided jumping back into it, although you could say he came close when he called Trump out as “a con man, a phony and a fraud” -- a famously ineffective attempt to halt Trump’s march to the nomination and possibly position himself as a draft-able alternative at the Republican convention.  After Trump secured the nomination and then upset Hillary to secure the presidency, Romney was definitively out of the game, lost forever in the Trump dust cloud.  Or so it seemed. 
Imagine Romney on election night out there in Utah, California or wherever, immediately calculating that there’s a good chance Trump will be a one-term president because he’ll screw up so badly he’ll either be impeached or will not be able to run credibly for re-election, in which case Mike Pence would be the heir apparent.  (There’s also always the chance, Romney would see, that Trump, an anger-filled, out-of-shape septuagenarian, could die in office.)   Romney calculates he could take Pence -- but not easily from a standing start as a long-out-of-office governor from liberal Massachusetts. 

Romney therefore makes the painfully pragmatic decision to swallow his pride and ask Trump please, pretty please to give him a national/international platform as the next Secretary of State, from which he can regain political viability and play the power game in a large way for a sustained period.  (Mitt the Bain Guy has always excelled at long-range planning.)
Does Romney sincerely want to counter Trump’s worst impulses and render true service to America and the world?  Indubitably.  But, like most alpha politicians, he’s driven more by ambition than anything.  The presidency is the ultimate prize for them.  If serving a White House “fraud” potentially advances that ambition, it will be more than worth it to Romney.

Heed Harvard's Lepore and Barney Frank: Inequality Gave Us Trump

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Trump wins and I can’t get out of my head the comments of a good friend who’s a relative by marriage, a true-believing Republican who’ll tell you that Barney Frank caused the subprime mortgage industry meltdown that caused the Great Recession because Barney wouldn’t let up on policies to foster home ownership by families that had no business owning homes because they didn’t have the money, never mind the mindset, to be owning homes, absent federally facilitated inducements.

This friend is a retired bank lawyer who had a distinguished career in New York City and Chicago and he’s telling me last summer, to my surprise and astonishment, that everyone had “a duty to vote for Hillary” in November.  Why? Because this friend was part of a team of lawyers who worked on Trump’s first mega-bankruptcy in New York, circa 1990, and he had a long-running opportunity to observe Trump up close.  “I was in the room with him a lot,” said my friend.  “I wasn’t the only one in the room with him.  But I was there, with other people, with him, for a lot of hours over a period of days and weeks and I can tell you there is something wrong with that man.  He has something fundamentally wrong with his personality, his psyche, and I can tell you that he has the ability to cause lasting harm, grievous harm, to our country.  He will do something really bad and we may never recover from it.”
Trump wins and I’m sick ever since thinking about my friend’s prediction, although Trump didn’t really win, did he? Hillary is ahead by two million-plus in the popular vote as of this afternoon.  Has America’s fate been sealed?  What, if anything, can a citizen, who does not wish to “normalize” (the term du jour) Trump and his fear-mongering/resentment-stoking ways, do to push back against the Trump tide that has overrun the presidency and the congress and the state houses, and also soon the Supreme Court? 

I’m wondering, Yes, what can be done, when I read Harvard University historian Jill Lepore’s piece in the Nov. 21 edition of The New Yorker, my mood starts to lift, and I think there may be a course, or at least a general direction, for all the Trump doubters in America to take, a positive theme and a progressive cause to embrace.  Lepore’s piece, titled “Wars Within,” is among a group of brief articles by 17 or 18 authors grouped under the headline, “AFTERMATH, Responses to the election of Donald J. Trump.”
Trump’s election, Lepore writes, “…ends an era of American idealism, a high-mindedness of rhetoric, if not always of action, which has characterized most twentieth- and twenty-first-century American Presidencies, from F.D.R. to Eisenhower, from Reagan to Obama, from the New Deal order to the long era of civil rights.” 

The (posited) end of “an era of American idealism” prompts Lepore to reflect on “the beginning of another, very different end,” one that “lies quite far back in American history,” the Civil War.  She quotes Frederick Douglass, statesman, abolitionist, former slave, from an 1862 speech in Philadelphia titled, “The Reason for Our Troubles.”   Douglas said, “We have sought to bind the chains of slavery on the limbs of the black man, without thinking that at last we should find the other end of that hateful chain about our own necks.”   
Lepore notes that Douglass was “astonished” at “how blind Americans were” to the origins of the Civil War.  She then offers this analysis of Trump’s win:

“The rupture in the American republic, the division of the American people whose outcome is the election of Donald Trump, cannot be attributed to Donald Trump.  Nor can it be attributed to James Comey and the F.B.I. or to the white men who voted in very high numbers for Trump or to the majority of white women who did, too, unexpectedly, or to the African-American and Latino voters who did not give Hillary Clinton the edge they gave Barack Obama.  It can’t be attributed to the Republican Party’s unwillingness to disavow Trump or to the Democratic Party’s willingness to promote Clinton or to a media that has careened into a state of chaos.  There are many reasons for our troubles.  But the deepest reason is inequality: the forms of political, cultural, and economic polarization that have been widening, not narrowing, for decades.  Inequality, like slavery, is a chain that binds at both ends.”
The “deepest reason” for our troubles is inequality.  “Inequality, like slavery, is a chain that binds at both ends.”

I’ve been obsessing over those two thoughts since reading Lepore’s “Wars Within.”  Today, I happened to read, online, another article in The New Yorker concerning Barney Frank, retired member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the Fourth Massachusetts District: “Barney Frank Looks for the Bright Side of Trump’s Win,” by Jeffrey Toobin, http://www/newyorker/com/news/daily-comment/barney-frank-looks-for-the-bright-side-of-trump’s-win
“The fundamental reason that Trump won is the anger in America and other developed countries at the unfairness of the distribution of wealth.  It’s been building and building, and all of a sudden it broke,” Frank tells Toobin.

America is sending a billionaire from a gold-encrusted penthouse in Manhattan to the White House to re-set the economy for the benefit of the little guy? 

That is one big, absurd a roll of the dice.  If Trump does do that in the two-and-a-half years he has before starting his re-election campaign, I’ll say, “Fantastic!  Thank you, Mr. President.”  But I will not hold my breath waiting for that to happen.  I will not give Dear Leader the benefit of the doubt on the matter of measurably improving the lot of the little guy. 
Also, there’s an excellent chance that Trump will be confronted with some serious and highly complex challenge internationally, say Vladimir Putin starting trouble in Estonia on the ground of protecting ethnic Russians residing there, and that Trump will come up with some deeply wrong and misguided responses, a la my fearful retired bank lawyer friend, after which the economy could be the least of our worries.

To recap: Trump has arrived at the presidency by convincing enough hurting and angry people that he’ll make the economy work better for them.  I’m in despair that Trump will soon be occupying the office of Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.  Inspired by Harvard’s Jill Lepore, I think I might counter that gloom by supporting, in the tiny ways within my power and ability to do so, any idea or project that lessens income inequality in our state and nation.  If Trump actually does what those hurting and angry people want him to do -- and I hope he does -- he will be responsible for lifting the gloom he has evoked during this campaign-from-hell.  
The last (and best) words go Lepore, from “Wars Within”…

“When does an ending begin?  Douglass saw that the end of a republic begins on the day when the heroism of the struggle for equality yields to the cowardice of resentment.  That day has not come.  It is thought by many, lately, and said by some, that the republic has seen its best days, and that it remains for the historian to chronicle the history of its decline and fall.  I disagree.  Sparrows may yet cross the sky.”

If We Really Did Now What McConnell Said, Garland Would Get on Top Court

Friday, November 18, 2016

Hey, Elizabeth Warren! Hey, Ed Markey!   Listen up.  Please.

I have an idea for a speech for you to give in the U. S. Senate.  If you decide it’s not worth an entire speech, use it as a talking point in a constituent newsletter or a pitch to campaign donors. The subject: President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court and the refusal by the Republicans who control the Senate to hold hearings, and vote, on that nomination.
An opening on the court was created by the death of Antonin Scalia, who passed away in his sleep on the night of Feb. 12 or the morning of Feb. 13 at a ranch in Texas.  About an hour after the death was announced, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement asserting that the Senate should not confirm a replacement until after the 2016 election for president. 

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” McConnell said.
On March 16, President Obama nominated Garland, chief judge of the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to replace Scalia.  McConnell immediately came onto the Senate floor “to declare an end to Judge Garland’s nomination, no matter his qualifications,” as the New York Times put it.

Said Kentucky’s gift to the world’s greatest deliberative body: “The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration.  The next president may also nominate someone very different.  Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”
Warren and/or Markey, the senior and junior senators from Massachusetts, respectively, should stand up the next time the Senate’s in session and make this argument:

The Majority Leader has repeatedly and resolutely declared that the American people should have the determinative say in the choice of the next Supreme Court justice through their votes in the 2016 presidential election.  The Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, received far more votes in that election than the Republican, Donald Trump.  The last votes are still being counted.  As the count goes on, Mrs. Clinton’s lead keeps getting larger. That lead now stands in the vicinity of 1.3 million votes.  Therefore, we are appealing to the better nature of our esteemed Majority Leader. Mr. Leader, please to do the honorable thing!  Please acknowledge and respect the majority of Americans voters who chose the Democrat in this presidential election. The prevailing vote for the Democratic candidate has, by the logic of your own position, imposed an obligation upon us to place on the Supreme Court the nominee of our sitting Democratic president.  The American people have spoken, Mr. Leader!  They endorsed the Democrat over the Republican by a clear margin.  They wish to have Judge Garland on the highest court in the land.  It is our duty to honor that wish.
McConnell will not budge, of course.  The Garland nomination is even deader today than it was before the election, if that is possible.  The unfortunate justice will never be a member of the Supremes. 

At least Warren and Markey can have a little fun at McConnell’s expense, though.  Fun of this painful variety is a specialty of the Majority Leader. 
Warren and McCarthy can put him on the spot and make a splash for a day in the media.  They might even succeed in cheering up, for a few moments anyway, their disconsolate fellow Democrats.

While I’m being free with my (ever unsolicited) advice, I’ll offer this to anyone now hoping, understandably,  for the demise of the Electoral College, which has produced in modern times two presidents (W. Bush & Trump) who lost the popular vote: Stop wasting your time and energy arguing for an historic change in how we elect our presidents. 
The popular vote will never be used to elect a President of the United States for the simple reason that the Electoral College, by the intention and design of our founding fathers, gives disproportionate influence to states with smaller populations.  The College can be eliminated only by amending the U.S. Constitution, which requires ratifying votes by three-fourths of all state legislatures.  Smaller-population states will never vote to diminish their outsized power.  There are enough such states to block forever an amendment abolishing the College.  Case closed.

There's a Better Way to Put a Roof over the Head of a UMass President

Monday, November 14, 2016

What could be more obvious in human behavior than this: rational human beings act in their own economic self-interest.  

Thus, it was no surprise when Marty Meehan, former representative in the U.S. House from the Third Massachusetts District and current President of the University of Massachusetts, decided last month to buy a $975,000 condo in Boston and pay the mortgage on it with the $60,000 annual housing allowance granted him by the state.

Meehan, who was appointed UMass President last year, works mainly in an office at One Beacon Street, in downtown Boston, and had been renting an apartment nearby for $3,900 a month.  When his landlord raised the rent, he realized he’d be better off buying a place in order to gain equity and make a profit upon selling it.
Meehan and his family own and occupy a home in Andover.  He told the Lowell Sun he intends to use his new condo, which has two bedrooms, for meetings and meals with prospective university donors.  No doubt he’ll be staying there overnight when he has business keeping him in Boston during the evening hours and an early-morning meeting the next day.

Meehan’s immediate successor, Robert Caret, also used his housing allowance to acquire a Boston condo; Caret bought his for $880,000 and sold it for $1.3 million, a profit of $420,000.
Gregory Sullivan, the state’s Inspector General at the time, pointed out that the public got nothing from Caret’s real estate deal even though he had paid the mortgage on it with public money derived through his employment contract with UMass.  That, of course, was entirely legal.   But it got IG Sullivan wondering if it would be better for the state to purchase an official residence for the leader of the UMass system.  Many public universities in the U.S. do so.

“Ultimately, all you are paying for vaporizes, and you are not getting a return on it,” Sullivan told the Boston Globe.  “To me, it probably makes sense to use the $60,000 to pay for a property.”
I have a better idea. 

The state should change the plan for a dormitory now under construction on the campus of UMass Boston to include a modest three-room suite -- large living room, small kitchen, average-sized bedroom -- for the university president to use when he wants to entertain or stay in Boston overnight.  That dorm is due to open in the fall of 2018.
Once the dorm, with my suggested alteration, is ready for occupancy, the $60,000 housing allowance should be eliminated and the money applied to a program or purpose directly benefiting university students.

On-campus housing would have the added benefit of putting the president routinely in contact with students and front-line members of the staff and faculty.


Until My Magnum Opus on Election, These Random Notes Will Have to Suffice

Friday, November 4, 2016

I’m an outlier.  Most voters are disgusted by now with the race for president and just want the whole thing over with.  I, on the other hand, remain wonderfully stimulated by the never-ending spectacle of presidential politics.  Or maybe I’ve been overstimulated to the point of derangement? 

Earlier this week, I attempted to write an essay summarizing my thoughts on the race.  Many have encouraged me to do so.  (Thanks, Mom.)  But, struggling diligently at the keyboard, all I was able to produce were these meager jottings:
-If lightning hits the outhouse on Tuesday and Trump emerges as our next President, I have a suggestion for our governor on how to get in the good graces of The Man: Hire one or more of his obnoxious sons as lobbyists for the Commonwealth in D.C.  When it comes to friendship, the Donald has always been a transactional kind of guy.

-Senator Elizabeth Warren, I predict, will remain perpetually unsatisfied with Charlie Baker for not denouncing enough “the cheddar-colored billionaire,” as the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd has dubbed the Donald.  As recently as Oct. 10, Warren was complaining that Baker’s early disavowal of Trump was “not enough” for a leader in the Republican Party.  That was many months after Baker had stuck his neck out by saying he’d never vote for Trump.  Two days after Trump dies, Warren will be blasting Baker for not having been quoted in the obituaries as wishing for Trump’s eternal damnation.
-Dr. Jill E. Stein of Lexington, the Green Party candidate for U.S. President and a former Town Meeting member in her hometown -- the highest elective office she has ever held -- enjoys the support of 4% of likely voters across the nation, according to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, (“Voters Express Disgust Over U.S. Politics in New Times/CBS Poll”).

-Imagine Dr. Stein was the Democrat nominee for president instead of Hillary Clinton. You would then be forced choose between two political neophytes for the most powerful office in the world.  Most Americans would check the box for a bullying businessman rather than a leftist healer with a heart of gold.  Few could be persuaded that an honor’s graduate of Harvard and Harvard Medical School and a longtime member of Physicians for Social Responsibility is a more worthy adversary of Vladimir Putin than a foul-mouthed, misogynistic real estate tycoon and TV celebrity.  And, I hate to say, they’d be right.

-You must recall this metric from the 2000 presidential campaign: Which candidate would you rather have a beer with?  The thinking was that, in the end, George W. Bush prevailed over Al Gore  because voters perceived him as the more regular, down-to-earth guy, a guy you'd like to have a beer with.  (No matter that Bush was a famous teetotaler by then.)  Given a choice among the four candidates this year -- Clinton, Trump, Stein and Gary Johnson, the Libertarian -- I would have to take Johnson, even though that would mean passing up the opportunity to be able to say forevermore, "I had a stein with Stein!"  Johnson's much less of an actor than the rest -- a looser, more irreverent human being.   

-Given the polls indicating voters in Massachusetts and elsewhere are likely to approve ballot questions legalizing recreational pot, in four years' time we could all be asking: Which candidate would you like to light up a joint with?  (It'll be no contest if Johnson's on the ballot again.)   

-I don't know much but I know this: the booming Massachusetts gun manufacturing sector, centered in the Pioneer Valley, fears a Trump victory.  If Trump wins, the phony fear that Hillary is going to maim the Second Amendment and take away folks' guns cannot be utilized to spur sales in anticipation of a putative gun-grab. 

-In 2010, I was having lunch with a businessman in Westfield, whose operation was adjacent to a huge gun factory.  "They're so busy they had to put on a second shift for the first time in years," he said.  "Why are they so busy?" I asked.  "Obama," he said.  "Everybody wants to get a gun before he makes its more difficult to own one."  If Obama did that, I totally missed it. 

-I imagine the National Rifle Association is also hoping in its heart of hearts for a Hillary win. She'd be good copy for the association's next fundraising and membership drives.
-News flash from the Kennedy School at Harvard: Losing is painful.  The school issued a press release today regarding a new study co-authored by associate professor Todd Rogers, which found that “winning elections only slightly improves the happiness of those affiliated with the winning party, while those on the losing side experience dramatic levels of sadness for as long as a week.”  Professor Rogers et al. learned that “eventually partisan losers recovered” from the blues.  Time heals all wounds.  Glad they cleared that up. 

-Where at the Kennedy School does one apply for a research grant?  I possess some unique insights into the effects of sunset on the utilization of artificial lighting sources at the Massachusetts State House, which I need to flesh out through extensive fieldwork.  With half a million a year from Harvard, I think I could make my case in about three years.  On the other hand, this could become a much longer academic exercise, depending on the availability of additional grant money.
-Princeton University Professor Cornel West, a philosopher, mentioned in an op-ed piece in today’s Boston Globe, (“Spiritual blackout in America: Election 2016”) that he prefers Dr. Stein over Hillary Clinton for president.  West was with Bernie Sanders in the primaries…I enjoyed West’s ruminations and recommend that you read them, if you haven’t already, by clicking on

-My favorite lines from West’s piece: “The founder of Western philosophy, Plato, foresaw this (spiritual blackout) scenario.  In 'The Republic' – history’s most profound critique of democratic regimes – Plato argues that democracies produce citizens of unruly passion and pervasive ignorance, manipulated by greedy elites and mendacious politicians…For Plato, democratic regimes collapse owing to the slavish souls of citizens driven by hedonism and narcissism, mendacity and venality.”  I don’t think the professor will be adapting this for an address at the next U.S. Chamber of Commerce convention in D.C.

-Email is a perfect medium for spreading all kinds of jokes, and especially political jokes during an election season.  Have you heard the one about Hillary that goes like this:  Hillary Clinton goes to a gifted-student primary school in New York to talk about the world.  After her talk, she offers to answer questions from the kids.  One little boy puts up his hand.  Hillary asks him what his name is.  "Kenny," he says.  "And what is your question, Kenny?" she asks.  "I have three questions," he says.  "First, what happened in Benghazi?  Second, why would you run for president if you are not capable of handling two email accounts?  Third, what happened to the $6 billion that went missing while you were Secretary of State?"  Just then the bell rings for recess.  Hillary tells the students that they will continue after recess.  When they resume, Hillary says, "OK, where were we?  Oh, that's right: question time.  Who has a question?"  A different boy, little Johnny, puts his hand up.  Hillary points to him and asks what his name is.  "Johnny," he says.  "What is your question, Johnny?" she asks.  "I have five questions," he says.  "First, what happened in Benghazi?  Second, why would you run for president if you are not capable of handling two email accounts? Third, what happened to the $6 billion that went missing while you were Secretary of State.  Fourth, why did the recess bell go off 21 minutes early?  And, fifth, where's Kenny?"

Attention, Passengers! Better Communication on T May Be Impossible to Achieve

Friday, October 28, 2016

Late Wednesday afternoon, while my fellow prisoners of the MBTA were smashing their way out of a smoke-filled train at Back Bay station on the Orange Line, I was four stops away at State Street, having flashbacks to the brutal winter of 2014-15, a time when I did not descend into the tube without expecting to be delayed, stranded and ignored.

At about 4:40 p.m. on Wednesday, a motor on a train pulling into Back Bay began filling with smoke due to what the T later described as a “propulsion issue.”  There was a fire of some sort, which, one T official said, “caused a large arc and an explosion.”  The fire “also caused trash to catch fire, creating an exorbitant amount of smoke,” that official said.  (Yes, there’s almost always enough trash on the T tracks to catch fire.) Three people, overcome by smoke, were taken to the hospital.
Boston Magazine had an irreverent account of the episode up on its web site in no time, God bless them. 

“The real story,” the magazine said, “is the footage that emerged from what happened: Panicked passengers scrambling to escape an Orange Line train by smashing through windows and crawling out of them.  One video of the chaos had been retweeted nearly 2,000 times by Thursday morning, and by the early evening had been featured in at least one national news outlet.  ‘This is the picture of Boston we are sending to the world,’ tweeted Steve Koczela, MassINC president.”

I entered State Street station a few minutes after 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday.  Everything seemed ordinary.  My wife and sister-in-law were planning to pick me up at the northern terminus of the Orange Line, Oak Grove station, between 6:45 and 6:50.  We were going from there to Stearns and Hill, a restaurant in Melrose.   State Street to Oak Grove is about an 18-minute trip when the T's at maximum efficiency.  I had a cushion.
Soon there was an announcement over the public address system that, “Due to an earlier emergency at Back Bay station, service on the Orange Line between Haymarket and Jackson Square has been suspended.”  Since I was going the other way, I felt relieved.  About a minute and a half later, the same message was broadcast on the PA.  Ninety seconds after that, we again heard the same message. 

I noticed the platform was filling up around me.  Consulting the flashboard over my left shoulder, where the arrival time of the next train was usually posted, I found nothing but the time of day.  Worry began churning in my stomach.  More people kept arriving.  I was being subsumed by the crowd.  “Let’s hope everyone stays calm,” I thought.
The PA would not stop with the due-to-an-earlier-emergency-at-Bay-Bay-station stuff while never addressing when the northbound train would arrive, or even if another northbound train would show in State Street this evening.  The T was flunking Communications 101. 

I’d been in this movie before.
At 6:29 p.m., a northbound train finally arrived.  Amazingly, it was not too crowded.  Every seat was occupied but there was standing room. 

At the next stop, Haymarket, the waiting crowd was larger than it had been at State Street.  The doors opened and people poured into every square foot of space.  We moved on to North Station, where the crowd was so large people were standing, stopped, on every step of the staircases down to the platforms. 
The doors opened.  Some persons onboard advised their would-be fellow passengers solemnly that there was no room.  The front line of would-be’s pushed forward anyway, with the result that everyone was compressed into a snuggly-tight, submarine-shaped humanity sandwich.  It was a test of our ability to follow the biblical command to love our neighbor.  If forbearance and mutual respect pass for love in such a situation, as I believe they do, everyone on my car passed.

The train pulled into Oak Grove a few minutes after 7:00 o’clock.  It took ten minutes to find my wife and sister-in-law in the dense, confusing, honking mash-up of cars waiting outside the station.  The jam created by scores of frustrated family-chauffeurs-of-the-moment was one of those inevitable byproducts of an emergency in a confined and thronged public space. 
On Thursday, Governor Charlie Baker told WBZ NewsRadio, “The T probably has some issues it needs to pursue with respect to training.”  He said, “There were some protocol issues there (at Back Bay station).  Normally, when there’s an incident like that, the operator is supposed to make an announcement about it, and explain to people what’s going to happen next.  That didn’t happen.”

Shortly thereafter, the president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, James O’Brien, released a statement that had been prepared for him by the union’s big-time Boston media consultant, O’Neill and Associates.  Here it is in full:
“An MBTA operator jumped out of his cab to evacuate riders, manually opening as many doors as he could while faced with the danger posed by an active fire.  We are disturbed that Governor Baker, today, has chosen to publicly blame that operator despite his heroic actions.  The Governor’s blame is nothing more than an attempt to deflect from the real issue: our MBTA trains are falling apart as a result of decades of neglect and lack of investment.  We are thankful the riders, and the operator, are safe.”

There was a one-sentence post-script, titled “Background,” to that statement.  It said: “Many years ago, MBTA trains had two operators per train.  In a situation like this, one operator could have kept passengers informed while the other worked to manually open the doors.”
I hope that doesn’t mean the Carmen’s Union will resist new training and new rules on handling emergencies.  Management is to blame for poor or non-existent training and rules, but labor is ultimately responsible for protecting the lives and safety of train and bus patrons.

If this situation can’t be improved, I’d be in favor of issuing large ball peen hammers to every T rider until every failure-prone rust-bucket on the Orange Line is replaced with one of those state-of-the-art cars now under construction at the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation's new factory in Springfield.  Riders could take hammers from racks upon entering stations and return them to racks when exiting their destination stations.  Next time there’s propulsion-issue-related chaos in the underground, I want a fighting chance.



Those Confining DiMasi Are Challenged to Make a Better Case for His Freedom

Friday, October 21, 2016

I’m hoping the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) does a bang-up job on the homework assignment it’s been given by Judge Mark Wolf in the matter of freeing Sal DiMasi, former Speaker of the Massachusetts House.

Sal’s been in prison for more than four and half years.  He should have been paroled two years ago, if not earlier.
On Oct. 13, the BOP filed a motion in the federal district court in Boston to grant DiMasi a “compassionate release” due to his age, 71, and poor health.  According to the motion, DiMasi suffers from “cancer of the tongue and prostate, atrial fibrillation, hyperlipidemia, esophageal stenosis, esophageal reflux, acid reflux, and musculoskeletal pain.”

Four days later, Judge Wolf responded to the motion with an eight-page memorandum and order. In 2011, Wolf had presided at DiMasi’s trial and given him an eight-year prison term after the jury found him guilty.
I was glad to see, when I read the memorandum/order, that Wolf had not expressed opposition to the release of DiMasi, but rather wanted more information and evidence from the BOP in support of its position that it was time to release him.

“…the government has provided the court only unverified statements,” Wolf wrote, “but not any evidence, regarding DiMasi’s medical history in prison, current medical condition, prognosis, or ability to function in prison.” (NOTE: The underlining of “evidence” is Wolf’s work, not mine.)
Wolf added, “The government has also failed to provide the court with evidence concerning other matters that the court is required to consider in deciding whether a motion filed pursuant to Section 3582 (c) (A) (i) [of the United States Code] is meritorious.” Those other matters are: the history and characteristics of the defendant, particularly his current medical condition and his experience in prison; the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities, and the need to promote respect for the law.

“The court must have evidence, and a complete explanation,” Wolf wrote, “to understand and evaluate the grounds for the Motion,” before declaring: “Neither has yet been presented.”
Wolf concluded with an order to the BOP to file with the federal court by next Thursday, Oct. 27, “one or more affidavits and a memorandum in support of the Motion, which addresses, among other things, the issues discussed in this Memorandum.”   He also indicated that he would accept from DiMasi’s legal team “one or more affidavits and a memorandum in support of the Motion,” should it choose to produce such materials.

The news coverage of this latest development in the DiMasi case zeroed in on two paragraphs in Wolf’s memorandum/order, wherein the judge cited the small number of federal prisoners who have been released on compassionate grounds, and raised the question -- emphasizing that it “is only a question” -- of whether the BOP director’s decision to seek DiMasi’s release “was influenced by DiMasi’s former status” as a House Speaker “and the stature of some who may be advocating for his release.”  
Wolf wrote, “The Motion does not provide argument, let alone evidence, concerning how often, if ever, motions for compassionate release are filed on behalf of persons similarly situated to DiMasi.  This question is important to whether a reduction of sentence would reasonably be viewed as a form of unwarranted disparity based on power or privilege, which could injure respect for the law, a relevant Section 3553(a) factor the court is required to consider.”

When I heard Wolf had filed an eight-page document in response to the BOP motion, I reacted emotionally against it.  DiMasi is a broken man.  He made a big mistake, taking bribes from a software vendor doing business with the state, and he’s paid a big price.  He has lost his reputation, his monetary assets, his pension, his license to practice law, his health and his freedom.  Fifty-six months is a very long time to be locked up.  No doubt he has aged at least 112 months during that time.  “What a nitpicker this Wolf is!” I thought.  “Does he have even an ounce of compassion in his bones?”
When I actually read Judge Wolf's memorandum and order, however, I found it to be well-reasoned, well-written and airtight in its logic.  I was also impressed by his sincere concern that the process “promote respect for the law.”  All the greatness of the United States (yes, Donald, we ARE great) rests on our system of laws, how well we uphold it, and how much we respect it.

May the BOP overwhelm His Honor with the quality of what it hands the court on Thursday.