Blogster's Miscellany: Slow Probe, Elevated Risks, River Like a Sewer, and More

Thursday, December 27, 2018

TURTLES ARE THEY. They are either being very careful and painstaking or there’s a hell of a lot to investigate.  Come January, it will be one year since the start of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against former casino magnate Steve Wynn and how his former company, Wynn Resorts, handled those allegations prior to Wynn being granted the Eastern Massachusetts casino license.  Wynn Resorts, which has renamed its casino-under-construction in Everett “Encore Boston Harbor,” could potentially lose its Massachusetts license because of the investigation, but I doubt it will -- and I don’t believe it should, given the tens of millions it has spent on the environmental clean-up and restoration of the casino site on the banks of the Mystic River, where a chemical manufactory once stood.   Without Wynn Resorts the place would have remained a nasty, multi-acre toxic heap in perpetuity.

HOPING HYPOTHETICALS STAY THAT WAY. Recent developments in the stock market have rendered even more unsettling a report this past September from S&P Global Ratings, which placed Massachusetts at “elevated risk” of financial distress during a hypothetical recession.  Under S&P’s “moderate” recession scenario, Massachusetts could expect to experience a 10 percent revenue shortfall and the state’s Stabilization (a.k.a. Rainy Day) Fund could make up for only 62 percent of it.   S&P said only 20 states are well-positioned to weather the next recession, and Massachusetts isn’t one of them.  
GOVERNMENT SHOULDER-SHRUGGING.  If you want to lose your holiday glow really fast, read the Eagle Tribune story of how a couple of commercial buildings apparently dumped thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the Merrimack River for as long as a decade, [“Lawrence buildings disconnected from sewers for years dumped waste into Merrimack River,” 12-2-18].  If you neglect to repair a failure of your car’s emissions control system, you can have your registration suspended, but some people can avoid sanction while allegedly grossly polluting a drinking water source for years.  Years.  Here’s the link:

GOLDEN AGE OF REALTORS. The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman, reported today that the median sale price for a single-family home in Massachusetts reached an all-time high last month, for a November, of $385,000, up from $368,000 a year earlier.  I like owning a home I could never afford to purchase today until I consider all the young couples out there with $3,000-a-month mortgages, brutally long commutes, and 50-hour-a-week-plus work weeks.

WHO’S LOSING WHAT? Steve Aylward of Watertown, one of 70-plus members of the Republican State Committee, sent a lengthy email to his colleagues yesterday asking them to face the “bitter truth” that the Massachusetts Republican Party “is all but irrelevant.”  It’s a long message.  Towards the end, Aylward, a Boston College grad who describes himself as a manager in the banking and information systems industries, gets to what really seems to be eating at him. “I could go on about our failings, why we lose and how our leadership maintains control in spite of those habitual losses,” he writes. “But while we fiddle, the country burns.  Because if you watch the News with any regularity, you know that we are losing our country.  There will be little left of the country we knew when our children and grand-children come of age.”
SOME PERSONS CAN DO AN AWFUL LOT IN 17 YEARS.  In January, 2002, Katherine Clark became a member of the Melrose School Committee, the first elective office she ever held.  In January, 2019, shortly after she takes the oath of office for the third time as the representative for the 5th Massachusetts District, Clark, 55, will assume the position of Democratic caucus vice chair, the sixth highest ranking position in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Clark was elected vice chair by her Democrat peers.

LOVES TRUMP, AND DeLEO!  Geoff Diehl, Republican rep from Whitman who went all-in for Donald Trump in 2016 and ever since, gave his farewell speech on the floor of the Massachusetts House on Tuesday, Dec. 4, recalling how he happened to get a seat next to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, at an event DeLeo hosted in 2010 for Republican members of the body.  It was “one of the greatest evenings of my life,” said Diehl, who gave up his House seat to challenge U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and is reported to be angling/interviewing for a federal job appointment.  He added, “I will never forget how welcome Bob made me feel and how gracious he has been to members on both sides of the aisle during my time in this chamber.”  As far as his personality and demeanor go, Diehl is the antithesis of Trump.  Never have I understood how he fell for The Donald.
DO I HEAR AN AMEN? The Rev. Rick Walsh, Catholic chaplain of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, is known for his thoughtful, history-based prayers with which he opens the sessions of the lower branch.  Take what he said on Thursday, Oct. 4, for example: “God of justice and righteousness, we pray for the efforts of legislators and staff in crafting laws for Massachusetts as we remember that it was on this day in 1636 when leaders of the Plymouth Colony wrote the first code of laws in America.  They were known as the General Fundamentals.  The legal code included a simple bill of rights that guaranteed trial by jury.  The General Court of Plymouth Colony (the first legislature) levied taxes, decreed the distribution of land, and set out punishments for certain crimes.  Several crimes carried the death penalty, including witchcraft and adultery.  The use of profanity was to be punished by no more than three hours in the stock, and if one travelled, worked or participated in sports on the sabbath, the person would be fined 40 shillings or (given) a whipping.  God of truth, we are grateful for the wisdom of today’s General Court and the greater leniency and morality exhibited in its legislation.  May God continue to bless our Commonwealth.”

What I Would Have Told Those Fresh Faces at Academy for New Legislators

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Last week, members-elect of the Massachusetts legislature and legislators who won special elections during the 2017-18 session attended an Academy for New Legislators at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. 

An event designed to prepare them for their new responsibilities and to smooth their transitions to life in the legislature, the Academy included simulated committee hearings on bills, a simulated legislative session, question-and-answer sessions with current legislators, panel discussions on weighty topics (e.g., “the new world of communications”), presentations on the state budget process, the rules of the House and Senate, legislative ethics, and more.  (There were three days to kill here.)
Perusing the Academy web site the other day, I found myself daydreaming about what I would have said to those legislative newbies if, by some massive error or misunderstanding on the part of UMass, I was invited to speak there.

Daydreaming led to jotting ideas on paper.  Before I knew it, I had drafted a series of steps I’d recommend to anyone aspiring to mover-and-shaker status on Beacon Hill.  The working title I scrawled at the top of the page was: What to Do at the State House If You Don’t Want to Be Irrelevant
Here’s the text:

  1. Before you take the oath of office, carefully study legislature’s committee structure.
  2. Identify a committee or two that offers best chance of ultimately delivering something your district badly needs and/or could benefit from in multiple ways.
  3. Upon taking office, establish friendships with alpha dogs in your branch: House Speaker, Senate President, Majority Leaders, Ways & Means Chairs, et al.
  4. Do not be shy about expressing your interest in serving on the committee of your dreams.
  5. If appointed to said committee, work hard and long at the business at hand.
  6. Constantly build and deepen relationships with alpha dogs.
  7. Become an expert on issues under your dream committee’s purview.
  8. Maximize all networking opportunities so that peers come to recognize your expertise.
  9. Get re-elected.
  10. During second term, successfully seek vice chairmanship of committee.
  11. Pay attention to everything “in the building.” Work hard, work smart.
  12. Get re-elected.
  13. During third term, secure committee chairmanship if it becomes available. (By virtue of chairmanship, you are now considered a member of leadership.)
  14. Over time, strongly define your leadership profile while remaining humble and helpful to all, and especially to Speaker or President.
  15. Become trusted, ever dependable insider on small team around Speaker or President.
  16. Get re-elected.
  17. When time is ripe, when all ducks are lined up, introduce your district’s dream project and start calling in chits to move it forward.
  18. Work hard but don’t ever show the strain. 
  19. Develop the patience of a sage.
  20. Help other leadership members with their priorities at every juncture.
  21. Don’t talk too much or issue oodles of press releases.
  22. Do everything possible, every little thing, to move dream project over goal lines in both House and Senate, while also cultivating Governor and staff on the side.  (You’ll need him or her to sign your bill or approve your budget item.)
  23. Get re-elected. 
  24. Repeat process next session.
If the new legislators doubted my formula, I would have encouraged them to do a little research on John D. Keenan of Salem, a Harvard grad and attorney who served in the House (2005-2014) and is now president of Salem State University.  When he entered the legislature, Keenan knew the big coal-fired power plant in his city, a major taxpayer and employer, was coming to the end of its useful life, and would have to be phased out at some time during his expected tenure. 

Keenan then set out to become a member and eventual House chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, a perch from which he engineered a special section of an energy bill that delivered millions of dollars to Salem to compensate it for the loss of the plant and to help the city redevelop the site. 

This was a once-in-a-generation development for Keenan’s community.  He pulled the operation off masterfully with the state senator then responsible for Salem, the late, great Fred Berry of Peabody. 
Shamelessly, I would have recommended to Academy goers that they begin their research at a blog post I wrote in August of 2012.  Here’s a link to that post:

So Many Positives with George H.W. Bush. Then There's the War His Son Started.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States of America, was born in a home in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1924, and died yesterday shortly after 10:00 P.M. at his home in Houston, Texas.  In between, he led an incredibly meaningful and eventful life: he was a decorated Navy pilot in World War II, millionaire oilman, congressman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, ambassador to the United Nations, first U.S. envoy to communist China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Vice President, President, and father of the 43rd President, his namesake, George W. Bush.

Mr. Bush, who was 94 years old when he died, was a patriot in the oldest and deepest sense of the term.  The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor six months before he was to graduate from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and he decided that day he would go off to war as soon he finished high school.  "I could hardly wait to get out of school and enlist," he wrote.  He became the youngest Navy pilot in the war and risked his life in 58 combat missions, flying a one-engine bomber off aircraft carriers in the Pacific.  He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mr. Bush was what Massachusetts and other New England States used to be filled with: a Yankee Republican.  This was a breed of conservative, hard-working, understated, public-minded, country-loving patriots whose grandfathers built what used to be called more frequently than it is today "the party of Abraham Lincoln." 

To make his way in the world of politics in his adopted state, he morphed himself into a pork-rind-chewing, horseshoe tossing Texan who bragged about trying to "kick a little ass" in his vice presidential debate with Geraldine Ferraro in 1980 but he was never really convincing or even comfortable in that role.  At heart, he was a polite, considerate, charitable and self-effacing gentleman of means.  No wonder he spent so much time in Maine, his mother's state.  He always fit in better there than in Texas.

Had George H.W. Bush been born in America in the 18th Century rather than in the 20th, it's not hard to imagine him as a delegate to the Continental Congress from Massachusetts -- his ancestors were all over the Bay Colony -- and as an aide-de-camp to George Washington during the Revolutionary War, in which he would have fought valiantly.  That's how true of a true-blue American he was.

Mr. Bush was like our founding fathers in other ways, too, which is to say he was far from perfect -- and not always nearly as courageous in politics as in combat.  He spoke out against the Civil Rights Act when he was trying to get elected to Congress, and later expressed regrets at having done so.

Many years later, when he came out of the Republican convention in 1988 as the nominee for President and was 17 percentage points behind Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis, the Democrat nominee for President, he did not hesitate to adopt the strategy concocted by his handlers to demonize Dukakis as an ultra-liberal, card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union who was uncomfortable making schoolchildren recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.  Mr. Bush also signed onto the racially tinged strategy devised by his campaign manager, Lee Atwater, to fill the airwaves with ads highlighting a Dukakis administration policy that granted weekend furloughs from prison to murderers, one of whom, Willie Horton, who was black, raped a white woman and stabbed her husband while on furlough.

In 1991, when Mr. Atwater was dying of a brain tumor, he made an apology to Mr. Dukakis in the pages of a national magazine.  He said, "...I said that I 'would strip the bark off the little bastard' and 'make Willie Horton his running mate.'  I am sorry for both statements: the first for its naked cruelty, the second because it makes me sound racist, which I am not."  Further, he said, "In part because of our successful manipulation of campaign themes, George Bush won handily," and this, "While I didn't invent negative politics, I am one of its most ardent practitioners."

Naked cruelty.  Manipulation of campaign themes.  Ardent practice of negative politics.

Because he benefited from all of the above, these are all a part of George H.W. Bush's legacy.

Although he was a man of physical courage, personal rectitude and decency, devotion to duty, strong family values, and deep love of country, there will always be one very large reason to regret there ever was a George H.W. Bush presidency, his many positive accomplishments as president, such as how he handled the peaceful demise of the Soviet Union and ended the war to liberate Kuwait early, notwithstanding.  I'm referring to the presidency of George W. Bush. 

Without the first President Bush there never would have been a second President Bush.  Without a second President Bush, there never would have been a misbegotten, needless, seven-year, trillion-dollar war in Iraq (March 2003-December 2011).

As Michael S. Dukakis lamented many a time, "If I hadn't lost to the father, we never would have had the son and that terrible war he started."

In addition to its monumentally stunning cost of $1.06 trillion, entirely financed by deficit spending, the war killed 4,424 Americans and wounded 31,952, many of whom were permanently disabled, blinded and/or maimed for life.  This was the war of bombs planted in roadsides, the improvised explosive devices.

Then there are the hellish costs on the Iraqi side of the ledger.  Close to half a million Iraqis died from war-related causes, according to an academic study published in the fall of 2013.  An article on the study published at that time in the Huffington Post, and updated in December 2017, stated:

"The latest estimate by university researchers in the United States, Canada and Baghdad in cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Health covers not only violent deaths but other avoidable deaths linked to the invasion, insurgencies and subsequent social breakdown. 

"It also differs from some previous counts by spanning a longer period of time and by using randomized surveys of households across Iraq to project a nationwide death toll from 2003 to mid-2011. 

"Violence caused most of the deaths, but about a third were indirectly linked to the war, and these deaths have been left out of previous counts, said lead author Amy Hagopian, a public health researcher at the University of Washington.

"Those included situations when a pregnant woman encountered difficult labor but could not leave the house due to fighting, or when a person drank contaminated water, or when a patient could not get treated at a hospital because staff was overwhelmed with war casualties."

There are those who believe that George W. Bush went to war in Iraq to finish the job his father should have when he called an early halt to the war in Kuwait, as our troops were advancing toward Baghdad. It has been said the younger Bush was driven by vengeance against Iraq President Saddam Hussein because Hussein was involved in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate his father after he had left the presidency.  We'll never know if these things are true.

We know for sure, however, that George and Barbara Bush produced a son of such hubris that he readily bought into the wildly ill-founded and absurd-in-retrospect premise of his Vice President, Dick Cheney, to wit, that the Iraqi people would welcome the conquering Americans in 2003 with flowers, and that the U.S. would be able to pay for what they hoped and believed would be a short war with the proceeds from the sale of Iraqi oil.