This Month in Corruption: Smuggled Drugs, Bogus Billing, Tampered Equipment

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wrong Way to Keep Prisoners in Line.  The office of William D. Weinreb, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, announced March 3 that two former corrections officers at the Essex County Correctional facility in Middleton had been sentenced for their involvement in getting a drug used to treat opioid addiction into the jail and conveying it to inmates.  

The Weinreb announcement said that Katherine Sullivan, 32, of Londonderry, NH., was sentenced to 36 months of probation, 120 hours of community service, and was ordered to pay a fine of $5,000, after having pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring with inmates to distribute Suboxone, and that John S. Weir, 34, of Danvers, received the same sentence as Sullivan after a guilty plea on an identical charge.
Inmates who received Suboxone from Sullivan and Weir reportedly sold the drug to other prisoners.

Wrong Way to Fund Big Lifestyle. On March 15, a pain management physician pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston in connection with a scheme to defraud Medicare and other health insurers, and then using the proceeds of his illegal activity to support “his extravagant lifestyle.”
Fathallah Mashali, 62, pleaded guilty to 27 counts of health care fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and 16 counts of money laundering, according to the office of Acting U.S. Attorney Weinreb.  Judge Rya W. Zobel set June 21 as Dr. Mashali’s sentencing date.

In describing Dr. Mashali’s lifestyle, federal authorities pointed out that “he ordered the construction of a carriage house, outfitted with a squash court and movie theater, at his Dover home.”

Wrong Way to Steward the Environment.  On March 22, Berkshire Power Company and Power Plant Management Services were sentenced in federal court in Springfield for tampering with air pollution emissions equipment. 
Power Plant Management Services was also sentenced for submitting false information to both environmental and energy regulators relating to the Berkshire Power Plant in Agawam.

Judge Mark G. Mastrioanni ordered Berkshire Power to pay $2.75 million in criminal fines for violations of the Clean Air Act and to make a $750,000 community service payment to the American Lung Association to fund a program for the replacement of polluting wood-burning stoves in western Massachusetts. 
Judge Mastrioanni ordered Power Plant Management Services to pay $500,000 in criminal fines for violations of the Clean Air Act and the Federal Power Act and to make a $250,000 community service payment to the lung association’s wood stove change-out program.

In addition to the criminal fines outlined above, the two companies have agreed to pay $3,042,563 in civil penalties and disgorgement, plus interest, to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for their misrepresentations to the operator of the New England power grid regarding the Agawam plant’s availability to produce power, according to federal authorities.

Hey, Tree Huggers, Where Are Those Odes to Our Roads of Rail?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I’ve been working for the railroad.  And not just to pass the time away. 

No, I’ve been lobbying, which is undoubtedly easier than working on the railroad, involving as it does heavy, outdoor work in all kinds of weather.

I am a registered lobbyist for the Massachusetts Railroad Association, the trade group for the state’s freight-hauling railroads. My colleagues at Preti Strategies and I have had this account for almost 10 years.

It’s good work, advocating for things such as state funding for industrial rail access projects, which create jobs and stimulate the economy.

And it’s good to work with the people who run the freight railroads.  They know their stuff, they tell you the truth, and they have the right touch in meetings with legislators.  They never break the furniture, if you know what I mean.

I feel good about our freight railroads. And not just because they send us a check every month. 

I feel good about the goods they keep flowing to Massachusetts and the trucks they keep off our roads. 

It would take about 300 trucks to haul what the typical freight train does.  Our highways would be much more congested than they already are – hard as they may be to imagine -- if we didn’t have the 11 freight railroads we have operating in the Commonwealth.

I feel good about the energy freight railroads conserve and the greenhouse gases they keep out of our already overheated atmosphere. 

Railroads can move one ton of cargo 476 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel.  For every ton of cargo moved on rail and not on truck, there’s a 75% reduction in greenhouse gases.

I feel good that railroads have continually invested a lot of their own money in maintaining and improving the critically-important-but-never-noticed rail infrastructure of Massachusetts – tracks and bridges, ties and roadbeds, switches and sidings, etc.

Result: Said infrastructure is now, generally, in far better shape than our highways and bridges for motor vehicles.

In a March 22nd op-ed piece in The Republican/MassLive (Springfield, MA), Ian Jefferies of the Association of American Railroads, noted that America’s freight railroads have collectively spent some $26 billion on upkeep and improvements in recent years. 

CSX, for example, spent close to $8 million in Massachusetts in 2015 alone. 

“Freight rail makes the tall task of fixing America’s infrastructure a little less steep,” Jefferies correctly observed.

Here’s just a partial list of items shipped regularly into Massachusetts by our freight railroads: automobiles, lumber and other building materials, propane, plastics and resins (vital to the medical instruments and high-tech industries), food (mostly canned goods and bulk products, such as flour and edible oils), fertilizer, petroleum products (lube oils and waxes), and animal feeds (agriculture and horse breeding remain important to our economy).

So here’s to you, Bay Colony and CSX, and here’s to you, East Brookfield & Spencer, and Fore River!   

Here’s to you, oh Housatonic, and to all the rest – the Massachusetts Central, Massachusetts Coastal, New England Central, Pan Am, Pioneer Valley and Providence and Worcester railroads!

Without you, our economy would rot from the inside, our highways would go into constant gridlock, and our climate would change for the worse even sooner.







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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, March 3, 2017

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

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

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