This Month in Corruption: Improprieties, Deceptions, Misrepresentations

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Surgical Device Boosted by Deceptive Marketing. On Dec. 13, AG Healey announced that Massachusetts will receive $2.4 million from a medical device company as part of a multi-state settlement that resolved allegations of unlawfully promoting a device used in certain surgical procedures. 

In a consent judgment entered that day in Suffolk Superior Court, Boston, Medtronic Sofamor Danek, Inc., and Metronic Sofamor Danek USA, Inc., agreed to resolve claims they had engaged in a deceptive marketing strategy for a device intended to stimulate bone growth.
“Companies cannot use deceptive practices to increase their profits, while compromising the safety and well-being of patients,” Healey said.  “With this settlement, we are bringing more than $2 million back to Massachusetts after uncovering this unlawful conduct.”

The payment was part of a $12 million multi-state settlement that also involved Oregon, California, Illinois and Washington.
Benefits of Four Prescription Drugs Misrepresented  On Dec. 20, AG Healey announced that Massachusetts will receive nearly $250,000 from Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (BIPI) as part of a nationwide settlement to resolve allegations that the company had unlawfully marketed four of its prescription drugs: Micardis, Aggrenox, Atrovent, and Combivent. The payment is part of a $13.5 million multi-state settlement that concluded an investigation by Healey and 50 other attorneys general.

According to a press release from the AG, the states specifically alleged that BIPI misrepresented that its antiplatelet drug, Aggrenox, was effective for many conditions “below the neck,” such as heart attacks and congestive heart failure, and that it was superior to Plavix without evidence to substantiate that claim.  The states also alleged that the company misrepresented that Micardis protected patients from early-morning strokes and heart attacks and treated metabolic syndrome, and misrepresented that Combivent could be used as a first-line treatment for bronchospasms associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  BIPI further stood accused of falsely stating that Atrovent and Combivent could be used at doses exceeding the maximum dosage recommendations in the product labelling and that they were essential for treatment of COPD.
“Misrepresenting the benefits of prescription drugs puts people’s health at risk,” said Healey.  “Companies cannot compromise the well-being of patients to make a profit.”

It Happens in Politics, These Frigid Days Before New Year's...

THAT Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler of Worcester expects more senators to pursue the presidency of the upper branch beyond the current crop of candidates, which includes Sal DiDomenico of Everett, Eileen Donoghue of Lowell, Linda Dorcena Forry of Boston, and Karen Spilka of Framingham.  “This is only the beginning,” Chandler said of the presidential machinations during an interview this past Sunday on WCVB’s “On the Record.” 

THAT Harriette Chandler, who earned the first of her three university degrees in 1959, is sticking with her decision not to seek the presidency on a permanent basis.  It’s not the heavy workload of the presidency that discourages her from becoming a candidate, but rather the heavy responsibilities of running the “venerable chamber,” because “I am not 20 years old, as you all know.”
THAT Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, age 83, is showing signs of breaking an informal, behind-the-scenes agreement with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to have Romney replace him.   Hatch had said publicly earlier this year he could retire if someone as good as Mitt (wink, wink) could replace him.  Now, under pressure from President Donald Trump, who can’t stand the Mittster and wants to punish him eternally for trying to sabotage his 2016 campaign, Hatch is stifling talk of retirement.

THAT persons who know Mitt Romney well believe he’s “too much a gentleman” now to turn on Hatch and tell him, “Too bad.  You said you were leaving.  You told me you’d support me.  I’ll run against you if you don’t retire.”  Romney’s a tough-minded businessman, for sure, but when it comes to taking the killshot in politics, he’s always been squeamish.
THAT the Lowell Sun’s estimable Peter Lucas sees Steve Kerrigan of Lancaster, the Democrat nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014 on a ticket headed by former Attorney General Martha Coakley, as the favorite in the race for the Democrat nomination to succeed Niki Tsongas in the 3rd Congressional District because, of all those running, Kerrigan is the only candidate who has campaigned across the district before.  There are more than a dozen Dems in the race, which is being waged across 37 cities and towns.

THAT Attorney General Maura Healey, who has filed more than 20 lawsuits this year against the Trump administration, sees it as her plain duty to ding The Donald. “My job is pretty simple,” she says.  “It’s to enforce the law and protect people’s rights.  Unfortunately, we have a president of the United States who continues to do things that are illegal and unconstitutional, and my job is to sue him to make that right, to stand up for the constitution and the rule of law.” That’s what she told Comedy Central’s Jordan Klepper.
THAT Chelsea’s Tom Birmingham, an attorney and former Massachusetts Senate president, puts his formidable forensic skills on display in a recent opinion piece in CommonWealth magazine, “Our schools ignore US history at our peril.”  Birmingham advocates re-imposing the requirement that students pass a U.S. history test before graduating from high school.   Read it, please, at:

THAT outgoing Attleboro Mayor Kevin Dumas, who lost his bid for re-election in November to State Rep. Paul Heroux, has been chosen as the next town manager of nearby Mansfield.  When interviewing for the job with the Mansfield Board of Selectmen, Dumas said he has no plans to run for public office again, which should make Heroux happy.  “That section of my life is over,” Dumas emphasized.
THAT everyone at the State House will soon be missing Tom McGee, whose resignation from the Senate is due to take effect on Tuesday, Jan. 2.  That evening, he will be inaugurated as Mayor of Lynn, having defeated incumbent Judith Flanagan Kennedy in November.  The son of a former Speaker of the Massachusetts House, and a man I had long considered a possible Senate President, McGee is ending a 23-year legislative career.  He’s been in the Senate for fifteen and a half years, and served in the House before that.

THAT a group called the Boston Atheists had a banner installed on the Boston Common, on Friday afternoon, Dec. 22, that says: “Joy to the World!  This holiday season, take care of yourself, of each other, and of the world.  Warm wishes from your friendly neighborhood atheists.” Next atheist I see will get a big Christmas hug from me.
THAT the passage of even 40 years is not sufficient to dull the institutional memory of the Massachusetts legislature, as we saw yesterday when the House adjourned in memory of Henry Gillet of Fall River, who served as a state rep from 1977 to 1978 and died on Dec. 21 at age 73.  After the legislature, he went on to be a lobbyist for agricultural interests in the state: the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, the Massachusetts Association of Dairy Farmers, the Massachusetts Farm Wineries and Growers Association, etc.  May you rest in peace, Representative Gillet.



Add a Recession to Existing Fiscal Threats and Gov Race Gets Interesting

Friday, December 22, 2017

There’s no way Governor Charlie Baker can be beat next year, right?

He remains the most popular governor in the U.S., according to the latest quarterly survey by Morning Consult.
By wide margins, he outpolls each of the three candidates now in the race for the Democrat nomination for governor: Jay Gonzalez, Robert Massie and Setti Warren.

And the Massachusetts economy continues to hum.  Just this week, for example, we learned that the unemployment rate here has dropped to 3.6 percent.
“Year-to-date, the jobs and labor force estimates indicate a strong and stable economy in the Commonwealth,” said Rosalin Acosta, the state’s Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development.

Yup, Baker’s sitting pretty and it’s hard to see how things could turn ugly for him.
Unless you happen to read the latest [December 6] forecast from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.  The title says it all: “MTF Forecast: Foundation Advises Beacon Hill – ‘Batten Down the Hatches’.” 

The forecast is eight-and-half pages and has some helpful, easy-to-understand charts.  If you want to check it out, click on the link at the bottom of this post. 
Here’s my stab at a highly condensed overview:

The economy remains robust and the state budget seems safely in balance. However, federal tax reform legislation will have a huge and uncertain impact on a blue state like Massachusetts; the state could lose $650 million in revenue in FY 19 (July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019) if voters approve a statewide ballot question next year reducing the sales tax from 6.25% to 5%; and if voters approve another ballot question, on paid family and medical leaves of absence, there would be an additional $150-million revenue loss because of reduced taxes, state program administration costs, and participation costs to the state for its employees.
The “only sound course,” MTF President Eileen McAnneny warned, “is a return to fiscal discipline that limits state spending growth, delivers needed reforms and savings in MassHealth, and deposits all excess capital gains and corporate tax settlements into the rainy day fund.”

The forecast did not overlook the largest elephant in the room: a national economic expansion that is now on borrowed time. “...there has not been a significant external shock or economic downturn since the last recession,” it noted.

Think about that. The economy began recovering from The Great Recession in 2009 and has been growing without interruption ever since: eight years without a recession.  A recession is inevitable.  We just don’t know when.
If the economy were to stall in the second quarter of calendar 2018, if the aforementioned fiscal threats were to materialize in full, and if the Baker administration were compelled in response to propose cuts in MassHealth, which ensures one out of four citizens and accounts for 41% to 42% of the entire state budget, the governor’s popularity could plummet.  Just as suddenly, the popularity of Setti Warren, a Navy intelligence specialist during the Iraq war, a proven executive as Mayor of Newton [2010-16], and an unabashed liberal, could rise.  (Polls indicate Warren is way ahead of both Massie and Gonzalez.)

This talk about an unbeatable Charlie Baker is really just talk.  I don’t think our governor is buying it, either.


Church Will Never Regain Political Juice Lost during Cardinal Law's Misrule

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Roman Catholic Church began to be a factor in Massachusetts politics in the 1640s when the colonial government adopted anti-priest laws.  There were maybe a few hundred Catholics, French and Irish mainly, in Massachusetts at that time.  They were scattered across the colony, lying low, in fear of the Puritans.

That the church continues to matter in Massachusetts politics -- only nowhere near the way it did in the heyday of Cardinal Richard Cushing, 50-some years ago -- was apparent on the State House News Service website today, where an obituary appeared under the headline, “Cardinal Law, 86, Leaves Behind Dark Legacy in Boston.”  A photo of a younger, smiling Law accompanied the unflattering write-up in an editorially taunting way.
Law’s successor, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, was quoted by the State House News Service as follows: “…Cardinal Law served at a time when the Church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people, and with tragic outcomes failed to care for the children of our parish communities.”

The SHNS obit featured a vivid quote by a victim of clergy sexual abuse, Alexa MacPherson, who had spoken at a press conference this morning.  MacPherson said she hopes “the gates of hell open wide” for Law.  “With his passing,” she said, “I feel no remorse in saying that I hope he gets what he deserves in hell.  There is nothing positive about him.”

That got me thinking about Law’s journey in the afterlife, which caused me to look up online the funeral arrangements.  The requiem Mass for him will be held tomorrow at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and and Law will be buried in Rome, where he has been on the lam, in splendor, since resigning as head of the Boston archdiocese in late-2002.
I believe that Law will get what he deserves on the other side of this life.  We all do.  But I would not bet he’ll spend eternity in hell.  I had twelve years of Catholic parochial school education in Revere, MA, and I remain a believing, practicing Catholic. 

One thing we Catholics learned at a young age is that God will always forgive a sinner who confesses his sins to a priest, asks for forgiveness with a good and contrite heart, receives absolution from the priest, and performs the penance ordered by the priest.  It doesn’t matter how large and terrible and damaging were the penitent’s sins.  Even Hitler could, in theory, have been forgiven if he had made a good confession, forgone suicide, and accepted his earthly punishment at the conclusion of World War II, the Sisters of St. Joseph taught us. 
Here’s another thing we learned: the church will say that someone is in heaven but will never say that someone, anyone, has gone to hell, so great and unfathomable are the ways of God.

Based on what was inculcated in me as a boy, I would surmise that Law had enough faith and self-awareness to have confessed his sins in covering up for the many priest-criminal-deviates who ruined the lives of hundreds of innocent children and, in return, to have received absolution. 
I believe that Law squirms now in Purgatory, suffering from an unimaginably intense and burning supernatural awareness of the harm wrought in Boston by his nonfeasance and malfeasance, and that he will undergo such suffering for a humanly inconceivable period before receiving the grace of approaching God in all of his unapproachable goodness and light.

Faith along these lines must be guiding the Vatican big shots planning Law’s funeral and burial in the very heart of Roman Catholicism tomorrow.  They’re saying the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, will preside at that Mass.  They’re also saying – I can’t believe it! -- that Pope Francis himself will offer some sort of final blessing.
The top men in Rome must have realized how offensive this grand send-off at St. Peter’s will be to the victims of clergy sex abuse and the ones who love them.  They had to know what a public relations disaster it would be.  Yet they went with it. 


My guess is they’re willing to risk the world’s scorn, contempt and hatred on this matter in an attempt to make a point about God’s inscrutable capacity for forgiveness and mercy.  Call them crazy.  Or call them brave.  Just don’t call them for marketing advice.
I read today that, in 2010, the Religion Census found that 45 percent of Massachusetts residents considered themselves Catholics, making Massachusetts one of the most Catholic places, at least nominally, in America. This was eight years after Law had been driven from the ecclesial heights in disgrace.  My initial reaction was: maybe Law didn’t do as much damage as one would have expected.

A picture then came to mind of the many empty pews I see on any given Sunday and of the occupied pews predominantly filled with older Catholics.  By the 2020 Religion Census, Massachusetts will be a lot less Catholic.