Saturday, April 30, 2005

How Is This Possible?

I'll be danged.

(HT: Oswald)

Another Overblown Headline

This morning's Patriot Ledger blares:

4,600 South Shore tax deadbeats owe the state $28 million

Now, a reasonable person reading such a headline would form an opinion that this "state exec" was a tax deadbeat -- one who has failed to pay his taxes.

But is a company that filed its tax returns, and paid the tax it claims it owes, a "deadbeat" if the Department of Revenue subsequently asserts that the taxpayer owes more?

The company here is Intercontinental Energy Corp. It built and operated power plants across the country and on other continents. In 1998, the company sold the power plants, and kept the corporation in existence each year so that matters such as TAXES could continue to be adressed.

So it would seem to me that Intercontinental's business dealings were, in 1998, extraordinarily complex. The sale of multiple power plants in multiple jurisdictions, some of them foerign countries. This is just the type of situation that gives rise to a dispute with a taxing authority that has been no stranger to over-reaching in the past.

Taxes were paid. The Department thinks it is owed more. The matter is being disputed in an appropriate forum. Since there is a hefty interest charge running on any potential underpayment, the Commonwealth is sure to receive more than its fair share of tax revenue. So we'll see what the Appellate Tax Board has to say in due time.

In the meantime, the Patriot Ledger should apologize to the "state exec" for libeling her.

Friday, April 29, 2005

See Where the Tree is Falling??? Posted by Hello
"Ivory-billed!!!" Posted by Hello

A Spiritual Experience

The ornithological world is atwitter this morning at the stunning news that an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, thought to be extinct, has been discovered in the Big Woods of Southern Arkansas.

Surely one can appreciate the boundless nature of the enthusiast who describes such an experience as "spiritual," "like finding Elvis." Everyone should be so lucky as to have an interest so rooted to the soul that itspractice evokes such genuine glee.

I am blessed to have two. Blues guitar and....


I am not an afficionado -- I do not own a pair of $4,000 binoculars, I do not visit sanctuaries.

But I have been watching birds in my back yard since I was ten years old (back then, I really did go to the sanctuaries).

Now, I watch birds in earnest during one period of the year, and it is almost upon me.

I live on a tidal river off of Massachusetts Bay south of Boston. It is squarely in the migratory path of dozens of warbler species. Beginning in the first week of May, they will begin to arrive, and for nearly a month, I will get up in the morning (early!) and walk around the perimeter of my yard, binocs in hand, listening and watching.

Warblers are tricky. They are quite small, and they flit and dart about, toward the tops of deciduous trees. It takes practice to hear the call and train your eye where the noise came from. Then you must use your peripheral vision to detect the darting movement, and retrain the eyes. Then, having found the object, you must raise binocs quickly before the next dart.

Very tricky. Wouldn't be quite so with the $4,000 glasses.

Each year, I keep a daily record. The different species seem to arrive and depart in roughly the same pattern. The Parulas and Black & Whites first, then Myrtles, Black-throated Greens, Yellows and Yellowthroats, Chestnut-sided, Connecticuts, Bay-breasteds, and on it goes, each day for about a month.

But I know how those two guys in the canoe felt, in the deep swamps of the Big Woods, when they cried out in unison, because I have done it myself.


Not near extinction, but what a pretty bird it is.
"Redstart!!!" Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Short Straw Is Drawn Posted by Hello

On Second Thought....

Last week I made a rash committment to compose an in-depth profile of all judicial nominees currently being held up in the Senate. On Monday, I posted a profile of Terrence Boyle. It took me a lot of time to research and write.

To say the least, it has not been a marquee item here.

Ya gotta go with what works. Time is precious. So I'm scrapping the judge project.

It's hard enough reading all these cases while being paid. I am not enough of a law nut to be reading cases for recreation.

Sorry, Amba.
Ocean View, Needs Some Work? Posted by Hello

Those Pesky Details

They'll get you every time.

Eric McLaughlin is an enterprising and ambitious sort of fellow. But he's just got to control that impulsive streak.

McLaughlin paid $1.00 for a three story victorian mansion. The trick was, he had to move it from Chapaquoit Island, transport it up Buzzards Bayto Old Silver Beach, and move it from a barge onto land, then down Old Main Street and Winslow Road to his property in one of Falmouths "most storied neighborhoods."

Eric got the house moved, alright, all the way to Old Silver Beach, where it sits collecting a $75 per day bill for storage, while he fights with the neighbors about his plan to finish the journey. What's the problem?

Eh, trees. Big, old ones.

Eric is the Chairman of the local Conservation Commission. How embarrassing for him. He's been asked to resign.

He might also consider moving, with his house, somewhere else.

Object lesson in thinking through a project before you start it?

The Evils of Incumbency

Here's a story that demonstrates why it is perilous to proceed with an irreversible plan when obstacles still remain. It is also a story about how extended incumbency can be an evil thing.

We go to the (relatively) upscale Dorchester neighborhood of Melville Avenue. There, a politically connected family has been hoist by its own petard, and now has Da Mayah involved in an attempt to changing the rules retroactively to wipe the slate clean.

Back before 2001, Jackie and Anthony O'Flaherty lived in a two-family house on Melville Avenue, a tree-lined street dotted with beautiful homes. In 2001, they went to the Zoning Board of Apeals, seeking a variance so that they could build a second, single-family house on the same lot. Ignoring the rigorous mandates of the state's strict variance statute, the ZBA granted the variance (resulting in three dwellings on a single lot, two of which, presumably, produce income for the O'Flahertys).

The neighbors sued, and well they should have.

Their law suit should have prevented the Inspectional Services Department from issuing a building permit for the house, but one was issued anyway. Then:

"Suffolk Superior Court judge refused to issue an injunction to stop construction, but warned the family that they ''proceeded with the construction at their own peril." The family's lawyer assured the judge that if the family lost the case they would tear down the house.

They built the house, now valued by city assessors at $407,400, and moved in 2002. The following year, Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders ruled against them, ordering the Zoning Board to deny the variance and take ''all action necessary against the O'Flahertys to enforce the provisions of the code, including an order that they remove" the house.

In January, the state Appeals Court upheld Sanders's decision."

Oops. Sad end to a story about greed and power?

Nah, this is Boston.

"The battle over the house has galvanized the community, and hundreds of people turned out Monday night to speak for or against the city's proposed solution to the problem: changing the zoning code to circumvent the court decisions by ensuring that the lot complies with zoning rules."

You might think that a Mayor intent on running for re-election would show some of the empathy for the neighborhoods that was the hallmark of his rise to power years and years ago. But now it's about helping friends circumvent zoning laws, and then not even having the courage to admit it:

"City officials said that they are not looking to change the zoning code simply to benefit the O'Flahertys, but that the family's ordeal has brought to light a problem in the code that needs 'clarifying.'"

No clarifying needed here, Mayor. We get the picture.

Score One for the Good Guys!!!

"A remote Cape Cod farmhouse became the scene of a bloodbath early yesterday after two masked gunmen burst into a West Barnstable home and pistol-whipped its occupant, only to have the victim's son beat one intruder to death with a baseball bat, sources said. "

Baseball bat overcomes gun. Violates Kilvinski's Law, but goes to show you it can't hurt to have a Louisville Slugger around the house.

Would have been a lot less messy if he had used a gun, though.

And Another....

"An elderly woman fought off a cold-hearted slasher who was trying to snatch her beloved pug puppy last night in Revere. "

She could have used the kid with the baseball bat, though.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Those SIlly Men In Their Ribbons Posted by Hello

We Know Who You Are

My friend John at The Modern American expresses succinctly his (what I assume is) virulent opposition to the idea of a national registry of driver's license information, as reported in the Globe this morning.

While I do not share his antipathy of such a system, I have a huge problem with its creation being accomplished in the manner at hand -- being stuck in an outside section of a supplemental defense spending bill without the benefit of a hearing, study, comment, amendment, etcetera.

This is a matter of grave concern (even if I do sort of support it -- heh heh), and it should be accomplished in the light of day, where every American whose rights will be directly affected by it has a chance to put in their two cents. This is not an issue that should be handled the way $200,000 for a bike path in Toledo is (and that's the subject of a whole other post!).

ABA Ratings of Judicial Nominees

Not that they mean much any more, but here are the ABA ratings of all pending judicial nominees:


Last Updated: 4/25/2005

Key to ABA Rating

WQ = Well Qualified; Q = Qualified; NQ = Not Qualified; sm = substantial majority; m = majority; min = minority. Unanimous committee ratings appear as a single rating. In other situations, the rating from the majority or substantial majority (constituting ten to thirteen votes) of the committee is recorded first, followed by the rating or ratings of a minority of the committee. The majority rating is the rating of the committee.
Boyle, Terrence William (NC) Fourth Circuit -- WQ

Haynes, William James, II (VA) Fourth Circuit -- WQsm/Qmin

Owen, Priscilla Richman (TX) Fifth Circuit -- WQ

Griffin, Richard A. (MI) Sixth Circuit -- WQsm/Qmin

McKeague, David W. (MI) Sixth Circuit -- WQ

Neilson, Susan Bieke (MI) Sixth Circuit -- WQ

Saad, Henry W. (MI) Sixth Circuit -- WQsm/Qmin

Myers, William Gerry III (ID) Ninth Circuit -- Qsm/NQmin

Pryor, William Holcombe Jr. (AL) Eleventh Circuit -- Qsm/NQmin

Brown, Janice R. (CA) DC Circuit -- Qm/NQmin

Griffith, Thomas Beall (UT) DC Circuit -- Qm/NQmin

Kavanaugh, Brett M. (MD) DC Circuit -- WQsm/Qmin

Seabright, John Michael USDC: D. Hawaii -- WQsm/Qmin
Ryan, Daniel Patrick USDC: E. D. Michigan -- NQsm/Qmin

Ludington, Thomas Lamson USDC: E. D. Michigan -- WQ

Cox, Sean Francis USDC: E. D. Michigan -- WQ

Dever, James C. III USDC: E. D. No. Carolina -- Q

Conrad, Robert James Jr. USDC: W. D.No. Carolina -- Q

Sheridan, Peter G. USDC: D. New Jersey -- Q

Crotty, Paul Austin USDC: S. D. New York -- WQ
Sandoval, Brian Edward USDC: D. Nevada -- WQm/Qmin

UPDATE: And here is a chart showing all federal judicial vacancies.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Terrence W. Boyle

[Days ago, I committed to reviewing each of the judicial nominees whose appointments are currently held up in the United States Senate. As I undertook my research, I discovered that some of the nominees have very little information discoverable on-line. I had hoped to be able to take a look at one or two of the nominee's more controversial decisions in order to assess them against the accusations of their detractors. With time constraints, that is not going to be possible. I have sought, instead, to provide a reasonably useful profile of the nominee, based upon press information in their home states, and the judiciously-parsed partisan information that is available from the various interest groups embroiled in the fight.]

So, onward with Judge Boyle:

Nominated to: Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit May 9, 2001

Born 1945 - Passaic, New Jersey
B.A., 1967 - Brown University
J.D., 1970 - American University, Washington College of Law
U.S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Housing, Committee on Banking and Currency
1968-70 Staff Assistant
1970-73 Minority Counsel
1973 - Legislative Assistant to Senate Jesse Helms.

LeRoy, Wells, Shaw, Hornthal & Riley
1973-76 Associate
1977-84 Partner

U.S. District Judge, Eastern District of North Carolina, 1984-present
(Appointed by President Reagan)

At the request of Senator Helms, Boyle was originally nominated to the Fourth Circuit by President George H.W. Bush. Judge Boyle's nomination lapsed at the end of 1992 and President Clinton refused to re-nominate him. In response, Senator Helms blocked confirmation of all of Clinton’s North Carolina nominees to the Fourth Circuit, including a friend of Senator John Edwards, James Wynn.

When George W. Bush took office, Helms resumed his role as chair of Senate Judiciary Committee, and the nominations of Judge Boyle and others followed. Boyle was first nominated in May of 2001. The Democrats in the Senate cooperated with the Bush Administration to confirm two nominees, Allyson Duncan and Dennis Shedd, but have held up the remaining two. Despite having stated in the Congressional Record that, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he will approve "well qualified judges" regardless of party,
[1] Senator John Edwards of North Carolina has spearheaded the Doyle opposition. Edwards’ interest in obstructing Judge Boyle’s appointment is likely payback for Senator Jesse Helms’ refusal to back Clinton appointee James Wynn.[2] Edwards has stated he will oppose Boyle unless President Bush re-nominates Wynn.[3]

The Fourth Circuit currently has nine Republican appointees, four Democratic appointees and two vacancies.

While Boyle’s candidacy has creating controversy in Washington, D.C., according to newspapers in his home state, people find it difficult to understand why. The Charlotte News-Observer notes that the legal community, in particular, is puzzled:

"If you read what they say about him, you expect to see somebody in a Klansman's robe," said James B. Craven III, a criminal defense attorney from Durham.

Boyle, a former aide to conservative Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, has been described as too far out of the mainstream and his nomination is hotly opposed by civil rights groups, police and advocates for the disabled.

Craven, who has practiced in front of Boyle for 20 years, describes himself as a "tax-and-spend, bleeding-heart liberal Democrat" who actually likes Boyle.

"He's bright, he's super-compassionate, he's incredibly productive," Craven said. "What else matters?"

The fuss is over Boyle's long and dense record, which defies easy description.

He is respected by environmentalists, supported by the American Bar Association and well-regarded by many of the lawyers who practice before him day to day.

But U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat and head of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a recent letter, "His rulings show this judge to be especially determined to defy both the civil rights statutes enacted by the Congress and the court rulings on which they are based."

Boyle has ruled on 12,000 cases as a federal judge in the state's Eastern District, the 44 counties in the easternmost part of the state. He has a reputation as a tough judge who won't accept an "I don't know" from lawyers, and who quizzes criminals before he passes a sentence on them.

He was the judge who ruled that the 12th Congressional District of the 1990s, which stretched along Interstate 85 from Charlotte to Greensboro, was the result of an illegal racial gerrymander.

In February, Boyle stymied the Navy's efforts to build a practice landing strip in eastern North Carolina, saying it had not adequately studied the impact on the environment.

And last month, he bristled at a plea agreement that would allow state District Court Judge Garey Ballance to remain a judge even after pleading guilty to tax evasion in a far-reaching criminal conspiracy case.

Boyle has said almost nothing about his nomination, commenting publicly only at his committee hearing in March.

"I regret that I'm having to defend what I think a more complete examination will show is a record of sensitivity to plaintiffs and to the underprivileged and for those who don't have a voice otherwise," Boyle told the senators. "A careful look at my record will show that I am evenhanded, that the cases I've decided have been decided on the facts as I understood them at the time and not based on any agenda."

The News-Observer recently published a a review of Judge Boyle’s record. The essence of it is this (with full attribution to the news story):

Boyle has presided over more than 12,000 cases in twenty years on the bench.


Boyle was part of a 2-1 majority that ruled the 12th Congressional District was illegally drawn on the basis of race (i.e., favoring black voters). Cromartie v. Hunt, 133 F. Supp 2d. 407 (E.D.N.C. 2000).

After the 4th Circuit upheld his decision, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the decision, saying the panel was wrong to make its decision without hearing evidence and sent the case back to Boyle's court. After a trial, Boyle again said race was the predominant factor in drawing lines for the 12th district. Again, the Supreme Court reversed him. Cromartie v. Hunt, 121 S. Ct. 1452 (2001) (5-4 decision)


Advocates for the disabled have been some of Boyle's most persistent critics, saying Boyle has repeatedly undermined the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Boyle acknowledged at his Senate confirmation hearing that he had made mistakes interpreting the law.


In a key area of law, Boyle has consistently ruled for the environment over commercial and governmental interests.

With respect to Boyle’s environmental record, Derb Carter, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center in Durham said, "Judge Boyle is willing to apply the law as he sees it. And he showed a lot more courage than many political leaders in the state in making this ruling."

Carter said in an earlier article, "As a lawyer, what I want in a judge is someone who is smart, thorough, understands the law and gives you a fair hearing…Those are all qualities that I have found in Judge Boyle."


In death penalty cases, Boyle has taken a middle course.

Boyle has not granted convicted murderers new trials or resentencing. But several times he has ordered court hearings to explore inmates' legal claims.

At least three times in the past two years, he has temporarily halted executions to allow time for arguments on newly raised legal points, each time over the state's objection.

"He has paid a lot of attention to the details of the cases, and his procedural rulings have been fair," said Ken Rose, director of the N.C. Center for Death Penalty Litigation. "It takes some courage for a judge to stay an execution, even a life-term federal judge, because there's a lot of public pressure not to stop them."


The Southern States Police Benevolent Association came out against Boyle's nomination to the 4th Circuit. In his Senate hearing, Boyle downplayed the police opposition, saying he thought it was based on a single case.

In that case, Boyle ruled that a Goldsboro police officer had no legal right to teach an off-duty gun-safety course when his department forbade it.

The 4th Circuit said that Boyle abused his discretion when, at one point, he refused to let the officer amend his lawsuit.


In another ruling that critics highlight, Boyle in 1996 refused to approve a lawsuit settlement agreement between the N.C. Department of Correction and the U.S. Justice Department.

Boyle rejected the settlement. The 4th Circuit sent the case back to Boyle with instructions to approve the settlement, saying he couldn't reject it. When the case came back from the 4th Circuit, he followed the appeals court's orders.

Reversal Rate

A highly contentious aspect of Boyle’s candidacy is his rate at which his decisions have been reversed. The News-Observer had an amusing take on that issue:

“Lawyer Craven said that debate is bunk. "The 4th Circuit is the most conservative court north of Argentina," he said. "Particularly in the area of criminal sentencing, he's to the left of many of them. My sense is that in many of the cases where he's been reversed is because he's trying to give some slob a break."

At his Senate hearing, Boyle sat at a desk in front of the senators and acknowledged the controversy swirling around him. He spoke about his commitment to fairness in criminal cases, but he might as well have meant his entire 21-year record as a federal judge.

"Obviously I've been criticized at times," Boyle told Sen. Ted Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat. "That's part of the world of working in a criminal justice system."

"Politics, too," Kennedy replied. "Politics, too."


On this subject, according to the News-Observer here, “Republicans say it's about 7.5 percent, lower than the 9.7 percent average. Democrats say that Boyle defined a reversal narrowly and that the rate is more like 12 percent.”

[If Boyle has ruled on 12,000 cases in his twenty years on the bench, 12% would be 1,440 reversals, and the 9.7% average would be 1,164. In either case, the number of reversals is certainly “more than 150,” as the Alliance for Justice contends, erroneously, is “more than twice the average.”]

Judge Boyle’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee contained the following exchange that tells you more about Senator Patrick Leahy than it does about Judge Boyle:

Leahy homed in on a unanimous reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court [ed: this was the Redistricting case]. He said the court "couldn't agree on a lunch order" unanimously, much less the rejection of a decision.

Leahy also said Boyle has been reversed by the 4th Circuit itself, a court that, like Boyle, is conservative in ideology.

"Are you so out of the mainstream that you shouldn't be on an important appellate court?" Leahy asked.

"I hope that I'm clearly in the mainstream," Boyle said, "and have done my best to apply the law and hear cases on an individual basis and have no agenda or predisposition about cases."

The News-Observer seems to think Judge Boyle is not so easy to pigeonhole as Senators Leahy and Kennedy would think:

Is it "liberal" to rule in favor of environmentalists and local governments trying to stop the Navy's planned fighter jet practice runway near a bird refuge in Washington and Beaufort counties?

Or is it "conservative" to make the military follow the law?

Boyle worked for Helms decades ago in Washington and married a daughter of Raleigh lawyer Tom Ellis, Helms' political strategist. And Boyle is conservative enough for President Bush, who nominated him in 2001 for a seat on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- a nomination that has yet to come up for a Senate committee hearing.

But in 20 years as a judge, Boyle has won considerable support from Eastern North Carolina lawyers who say he's fair and plays it straight, often with tough questioning of both sides before him.

"He comes prepared," Carter said. "He demands that the lawyers be prepared to present their cases and answer his questions about the law and the facts."

Boyle, a New Jersey native who settled in historic Edenton and often works in Raleigh, has built a complex judicial record. He has ruled against the state in congressional redistricting suits, and he's no comfort to violent criminals.

Veteran Raleigh criminal defense lawyer Wade Smith, a former state Democratic Party chairman, has called Boyle "a great friend of the Constitution."

Boyle has deep knowledge of northeastern North Carolina, where he lives and where the Navy wants to build the runway.

When a lawyer for the Navy said during a hearing on the injunction that heavy traffic noise on N.C. 99 already disturbs birds in the nearby Pocosin Lakes, Boyle pounced. He knew better.

"A lot of traffic on Highway 99?" Boyle asked, incredulous. "Have you ever driven there?"

In all, from what I have observed, it would seem that Judge Boyle has been culpable on rare occasions of exercising his judicial discretion in, shall we say, a somewhat arbitrary. But with over twenty years on the federal bench, if all the opponents can come up with is an argument over a few percentage points in his reversal rate and some controversial rulings that liberals didn’t like, what is the story here?

The story here is the same as the story in Michigan (keep tuned). This is payback for some of old Jesse Helms’ hardball -- but it is nothing that shouldn't be dealt with among good negotiators in the Republican majority.

For additional reading material from unabashed partisans on both sides:, a website of the Free Congress Foundation, describes Boyle’s work in a number of areas important to conservatives.

On the side of those opposing Boyle, the Alliance for Justice maintains a website which contains a fairly obvious partisan review of Judge Boyle’s work.

[1] 146 Cong. Rec. S9671 (daily ed. Oct. 3, 2000)
[2] New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 30, 2001, 01
[3] The News & Observer (Raleigh NC), May 22, 2001, A3
A "Two-fer" Posted by Hello

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Best of Intelligent Design Blogging

The onging debate between Darwinians and the Intelligent Design supporters is one that I was following with some degree of frustration, until today. While the issue itself is fascinating, I followed the acrimonious free-for-all between Paul at Wizbang and "the Oozers," as he so incitefully called them, all of which can be found here. I found it somewhat amusing, only marginally informative; separating argument from invective (which is about all I found on the part of the Darwinians) was tiresome.

I mentioned this to my brother-in-law, a screenplay writer and director who occupies a very obscure niche in Hollywood: working highly dense philosophical subject matter (e.g., quantum physics) into marketable works of film. He referred me to Jeff Schwartz, who in turn referred me to the blog of his co-author, Annie Gottleib. Her Ambivablog contains an exceptional and comprehensive treatment of the intelligent design issue, and I find her to be a most intellectually honest, exciting and brilliant writer.

She also has a number of extraordinary blog posts on the subject of abortion.

Go check out Ambivablog. You'll be hooked.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The "Dirty Dozen"

So-called is the group of judicial nominees who are being held up by the Democrats in the Senate. The beneficiaries of the "nuclear option," as it were.

We've been reading and blogging about the politics of this for months. But in reviewing my regular skein of conservative blogs, I see that there has been a paucity of information on who these nominees are. What are their backgrounds? Why are they being opposed? What, specifically are the natures of their "extremism," as middle-of-the-roaders like Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer call it?

And so I have decided that this week, I am going to provide a reasonably comprehensive profile of each of the thus-thwarted judicial picks, and discuss the nature of the case against them, as described by the Democrats, NARAL, the Environmental advocacy groups, People for the American Way, etcetera.

That said, I must say this further.

I have done enough research today to suggest that there is more than one person in this list that I wouldn't object to seeing thrown under the bus.

Hint: If you were a Senator of the majority party, would you go to the wall for a nominee to the Circuit Court of Appeals who, as a district court judge, has been reversed by the appellate court at TWICE the rate of the average federal trial judge (in many cases, on the grounds of "plain error)?

If you have any special sources of information you would like to brng to my attention about any of these nominees, ssend it on!

More daily.

Big Dog and Pony, Dig?

Well yesterday was a big day for the Big Dig, when the U. S. House Committee on Government Reform held a hearing into the pesky "leak" problems.

There was much finger-pointing (funny how the finger always points away from the body to which it belongs --- sort of an anatomical anomaly of politicians and those under investigation), but the remarks of USDOT Inspector General Kenneth M. Mead gave me something to crow about, and I'm gonna do it (in my usual understated fashion).

From the Boston Globe today:

Mead also suggested that the close relationship between the Turnpike Authority, the state agency that oversees the Big Dig, and project managers Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff led to a lack of proper oversight on the project. The Big Dig would have benefited from having an outside party charged with quality and cost control over the massive project, he said.  ''What was fundamentally wrong here was the closeness," Mead said. ''What you had here was a partnership between Bechtel and the Turnpike Authority. You needed to have more checkers in place, from the beginning, on all these change orders."

In an earlier post, I described my meeting with a then-Big Dig attorney who informed me that the attorneys were instructed not to perform their oversight function. I said, "I can't help but wonder how the project might have turned out if a dozen lawyers at the Central Artery were allowed to do their jobs. "

Smart man, Mr. Mead.

Well the horse is out of the barn and half-way to Calgary, but the lesson is clear: An Owner's Representative should be a requirement of any federally-funded transportation project.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Senator's New In-law

I really wasn't paying attention to the news yesterday. I couldn't have been.

I did note the very small, one column inch story buried in the Globe about Ray Reggie, the brother of Senator Kennedy's wife, pleading guilty to bank fraud in a New Orleans federal court. My reaction was rather blase, as this was New Orleans, after all, and stories about politically-connected people committing fraud are almost trite. Kind of like a "Sun Comes Up" headline.

But as I've learned this morning (from doing my reading with more focus), the story of Ray Reggie is much more interesting than garden variety bank fraud. As the New York Sun reported this morning (and yesterday), the bank fraud case against Reggie began in 2001, and his plea deal was reached in 2002, but the charges and plea weren't filed publicly until February of 2005.

What's been going on during that expanse of time?

Why, "Raymond Reggie, has been operating in Democratic circles for the last three years as an undercover informant for the FBI...[as] part of an FBI plan to secretly audiotape conversations with political operatives, including a well-known person who prosecutors said was seeking to funnel donations from foreigners to federal campaigns."

Isn't that special?

For all of the intrigue of the story, however, I find one of the more mundane elements of it the most amusing:

"Reggie also faces a separate, unrelated state trial in Louisiana next month for allegedly impersonating a police officer. The felony charge stems from a 2002 incident in which Reggie allegedly used a blue light to stop another vehicle.

"'He pulls over a car full of young girls, tells them he's a cop; and wants one of them to get out; tried to get them to follow him somewhere,' the prosecutor handling the case, Kim McElwee, said in an interview.

"Ms. McElwee complained that she has had great difficulty obtaining routine evidence for the case. 'I've never had a case quite like this," she said. 'People say they have a document. I call back. Not only is the document gone, they're gone. It's bizarre.'

"Reggie, who has maintained his innocence, has waived his right to a jury trial. Ms. McElwee said the judge will probably acquit Reggie. 'I'm getting entertainment out of this. I'm certainly not going to get a conviction,' she said."

Entertainment indeed!

(Hat tip: Squaring the Globe)

Final thought: I wonder if the Reggies aren't a little annoyed with being referred to as "Kennedy in-laws." Granted, the moniker carries weighty implications, but I think after several generations of their own political chicanery, the Reggies are entitled to stand on their own name. Perhaps in New Orleans, Senator Kennedy is referred to as a "Reggie in-law."

A Welcome Voice of Reason

I have to admit that I have been very uncomfortable with the extent and degree of pugnacity exhibited, in Congress and especially the blogosphere, over the issue of judicial appointments and the so-called "nuclear option." As I daily peruse the political blogs (left and right), I have the empty feeling that we are bound to be left with a scorched earth in the end -- courtesy of two sides equally at fault. This is a feeling I'd rather not express in the comment threads in my preferred conservative blogs, as there is enough genuine moonbat red meat there for the carnivores, and I am fond of my extremities and don't care to see them eaten in front of me.

So I am greatly relieved when someone of impeccable credentials and obvious brilliance says what I feel, and in a manner so much more eloquent than my own.

Ted Olson, former Solicitor General of the United States (2001-2004), lawyer for the Bush campaign (and architect of the Florida litigation strategy), and "no quiche-eating lefty," as Glenn Reynolds notes, wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday aboout the growing (political)attacks on the federal judiciary. At the end of his essay, he says the following:

"No discussion of the judiciary should close without reference to the shambles that the Senate confirmation process has become. It does no good to speculate about how or when the disintegration began, which political interest has been the most culpable, or the point at which the appointment of judges became completely dysfunctional. That sort of debate is both endless and futile. The only hope for an end to the downward spiral is for the combatants to lay down their arms; stop using judicial appointments to excite special-interest constituencies and political fund-raising; move forward with votes on qualified, responsible and respected nominees so that those who have the support of a majority of the Senate can be confirmed, as contemplated by the Constitution; and remove the rancor and gamesmanship from the judicial selection process.

We expect dignity, wisdom, decency, civility, integrity and restraint from our judges. It is time to exercise those same characteristics in our dealings with, and commentary on, those same judges -- from their appointment and confirmation, to their decision-making once they take office."

What he said.

Sit down, make a deal (requiring actual compromise), stop screwing with the damn rules, and get to work.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Another Study Finds Serious Woes???

On the heels of the most recent revelation that the CDC over-estimated the number of obesity-related deaths by a factor of FOURTEEN, I am evermore leery of "studies," but this one deserves some special recognition.

So, the Boston Globe informs us, "Hub race woes serious, study finds."

Woah. Sixties bussing all over again? Uh, no. The story begins:

"Despite metro Boston's increasing diversity, 80 percent of African-Americans and roughly half of Hispanics polled recently said that racial discrimination remains a somewhat serious or very serious problem that can cost jobs or promotions and make others feel unwelcome at sporting events and shopping centers.

More than half of African-Americans and almost four of 10 Latinos said they face day-to-day discrimination at least a few times a month -- for instance, by being treated with less respect, offered worse service, or called names."

Less respect than what? Worse service than what? I have news for the participants of this "poll." Service is terrible everywhere. Service personnel have no respect for anyone. Get used to it!

Seriously, I couldn't help but wonder who made up these questions:

Q: Because of your race or ethnic background, how often have you felt out of place or unwelcome at...

a. Professional sports venues?
b. Museums?
c. Shopping areas?
d. Restaurants?

Not, "have you ever, and if so, how often."

And how does an ethnic person know that the "worse" service s/he is getting is because of...race or ethnicity?

And what does it mean to "feel out of place?" Or "unwelcomed?"

This is apparently a study on how 403 African-Americans and Hispanics feel, and that's valuable information to someone, I suppose. But it tells us nothing about what it is about the environment that makes them feel the way they do. And so, I think it is, at the very least, atrocious headline-writing for the Boston Globe to trumpet, at the top of the Metro section, HUB RACE WOES SERIOUS.

One of the authors of the study, Josephine Louie, lamented about the lack of integration in Boston communities:

"Not only do people live in seperate towns and neighborhoods, but they socialize in different places. You go to a symphony, it's a sea of white faces. You go to nightclubs, it's either all-white or all-latino or all-black."

I wonder if Ms/ Louie might be open to the notion that this is not because of deliberate racism on the part of whites, but simply because people of the same culture prefer to be together. And that's not a bad thing. In fact, there is this nugget in the back quarter of the article:

"Wilbur Rich, a Wellesley College professor of political science who reviewed the study before its release, said Boston is not unlike other cities. 'People are sort of escaping to be among folks in their class,' he said.

And he can relate, somewhat; as one of a smattering of black faces on campus, he lives in Wellesley but continues to go to a multiracial church in Cambridge, rather than seek an Episcopal congregation closer to home."

Now, is Professor Rish going to the Cambridge Church because he prefers to, or because he would feel "out of place" in a Wellesley Episcopal Church?

More Nonsense from the Golden Dome

As the inimitable Gilda Radner character Emily Litella used to say at the end of her soliloquy, "if it's not one thing, it's another."

Again, some members of the Massachusetts legislature insist on distinguishing themselves at the top of the Clueless List by seeking to impose
even more costs on the already gasping Massachusetts auto insurance industry. My buddy Bruce at mASSBACKWARDS has already provided us with his characteristically eloquent rant, but I cannot resist piling on.

So, as we know, the proposed legislation would seek to fund the Commonwealth's cost of police training by imposing a surcharge on automobile insurerers. They say it is only $15 million, but the legislation sets the surcharge at ".25% of all premiums collected," so I see a slush fund building. This surcharge, most certainly, will be passed along to consumers in their policy premiums.

The reason for looking to the auto insurers? Because, between the Romney administration and the House and Senate, they can't find the money in the state budget to train police officers.


According to some of the "several dozen lawmakers" who sponsored the bill, "some officers are forced to personally pay the $2,300 for their mandatory basic training course." I don't believe that for one second. I want to see proof of that. And by the way, when I read about how many police officers are making over $100,000 a year with their "
detail pay," I might be inclined to look at the $2,300 as table ante. But I still don't believe it.

But rather than harp on the details, let's pull out some of the nuggets from this story and have a laugh, shall we?

I wish Jarrett Barrios and the rest of his pals would pay more attention to helping restore competition to the pricing of auto insurance, rather than figuring ways to make it more expensive. But I...just...don't...think....they'

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Your Tuition Dollars At Work

A recent article in Psychology Today reaches several startling conclusions about the environment our young adults face on higher education campuses:

1. They don't get enough sleep;
2. They eat too much crap; and
3. They drink too much booze.

All three are found to impair the learning process.

Stop the presses. I hope no government money went toward this ground-breaking discovery.

The one bright light in this study? The rate of smoking is higher on college campuses, and smoking improves memory. Great.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Red Sox Make A Statement

The Red Sox did what most expected they would do, and yanked Chris House's season tickets for the entire year. In doing so, they have surely made a statement. But I think they need to make their statement clearer.

As the Sox organization points out, the season ticket agreement contains the following language:

"interfering with the play of the game in any way . . . will be grounds for . . . cancellation of subscription privileges.''

Was House punished because he interfered with play, or because he came into contact with Sheffield? Is any first-row fan who reaches over the fence to snag a ball now going to be ejected, or do you have to have the bad luck of doing it in close proximity to an opposing player?

What about the people in row one of the Green Monster seats? If one of them reaches over the wall and catches a ball that was clearly in play, does he get ejected? How about on the left field foul line?

I appreciate the Red Sox making a statement here. The effect of House's action created a potentially dangerous situation, even if his action itself was just stupid. But I think he was somewhat of a victim of his own stupidity. If Sheffield had been ten feet away, there would have been no event at all. If Sheffield had been ten feet away and House had come into contact with the ball, he would have had more than his season tickets to worry about losing.

The Sox need to make it a bright line rule. If you interfere with play, you will be ejected and your season tickets will be revoked. Period.

Now This Is Just Stupid

I have always been on the fence about whether Boston or Providence politics is more crooked. Well this story doesn't prove one or the other --- but it does prove how stupid (and greedy) you can be and still get elected state senator in Rhode Island.

All you need to know is contained in this sentence:

"Celona resigned from the Senate in March 2004 after he admitted he was a CVS consultant while chairing a key committee considering legislation that would affect the drugstore chain."

A little more discretion would be warranted, no?

Bar Business, Boston Style

This is a story about a long running battle between two sets of brothers: Ed and Jerry Burke, neighborhood bullies, and Dave and Jay Balerna, the guys who wouldn't be cowered by him.

It's a story about big shots (insofar as any bar owner can truly be a big shot) with big cajones and big friends in big places, pulling big strings to do big damage to a coupla of regular guys who just want to run a neighborhood bar which just happens to be three doors down.

Doyle's Cafe has been an institution in the City of Boston for more than a century. Founded in 1882, it is the quintessential Irish Pub, with a capacity for 265 patrons (don't go near the place on St. Patty's Day). Long ancient wooden bar, big tall old wooden booths -- Guinness on tap everywhere, and a Boston brogue as genuine as any. It has been a watering hole for local politicos, political junkies, reporters, police officers and neighborhood regulars. James Michael Curley even drank there. The current mayor, Tom Menino, is a regular (if not frequent) visitor and has a room named after him. And of course, the mayor' closest friend and political advisor is a fixture -- has his own booth and everything. And he is asshole buddies with the owners, the Burke brothers.

The Midway Cafe is,'s a dive. A hole in the wall. A real roots city bar. Capacity of only 60 (and that's tight). Just a bar. A daytime pool table that gets broken down for a stage at night. Live music, six days a week, catering to the wide variety of J.P.'s melting pot -- not too many of whom would prefer to be regulars at Doyle's.

The bar is owned by the Balerna brothers, who are not from J.P., but they could be. Just regular guys trying to make a place work. And to make it work, they need a larger capacity.

They've been trying for more than ten years to increase their capacity to 99. Every time they've attempted to obtain zoning approvals, they've been shot down. They've worked with the neighborhood association, sponsored clean-up days, donated soft drinks to to community events, improved their noise control. Eventually, they won the neighborhood association over, and prepared to seek zoning approval for the fifth time. Represented by the most wired zoning attorney in the city, the Balernas went before the zoning board in January, with the neighborhood association and five city councilors supporting them. The attorney is also a very close friend of the mayor, and he knows well that when the "word comes down," it comes from him, not from the Office of Neighborhood Services or some paper pusher.

Usually, he knows in advance if his client will be approved or not. But this time, it was special.

There was no evidence or testimony against the application. Not one neighbor spoke in opposition. No one from Doyle's spoke against it. Of course, they didn't have to. The word had already come down from the mayor: "Blow it up."

The zoning board did not look happy when their time to act arrived. The Chairman asked for a motion. No one would offer one. The members looked down at their desks. Finally, one member mumbled something about denying the application. Silence followed. The Chairman rolled his eyes. "Well can I have a second??" More silence. Finally, "second." And yet, still, with the Word from the mayor, the vote was 5-2.

The bullies had won, again. Profiles in Courage.

Or had they?

As is frequently the case in old-time Boston politics, the truly wired are favored with inside deals, and the Burkes had been favored with a big one from the outset. There is a small tract of land underneath Doyle's Cafe that is owned by the city. It is a parcel some 2,202 square feet, and it runs right under the bar. Doyle's has paid rent in the princely sum of $10.00 a year for the privilege of having its bar situated over a culvert that diverts an underground stream. To access the culvert, there is a trap door on the floor behind the bar.

But sweetheart deals like that don't last forever, because sooner or later, when the light shines on such dark and gritty places, a lawyer somewhere within the bowels of City Hall does his job and strongly recommends that the city follow the law and advertised the property for sale at a competitive bid.

Which the Boston Water and Sewer Commission just did. And the bullies got the shock of their charmed lives.

The Burkes bid just $5,000 for the parcel -- which must have seemed like a lot to a cheap son of a bitch who had paid $10 a year forever.

But a "mystery" bidder has offered the city $100,000.

The Balernas swear they are not behind it. And the city is not obligated by law to accept the highest bid. But if they don't, and the Burkes wins again, I would suspect that is something that people with subpoenas should look into.

In the meantime, the Balernas have sued the zoning board, and it will be interesting to see what each of the members has to say when he is deposed by their attorney, the legendary Earl Cooley.

In the Globe story, Jerry Burke is quoted as saying "Some people like to get in the ring and fight. We like to do it behind, where nobody's looking. That's what makes life fun."

The Balernas have showed that they know how to play that game too, and they're finally going to have some fun of their own. Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Air Guitar Championships?

My friend Jonathan at Modern American discovered an event that demonstrates truly that art takes all forms.

As an avid and accomplished (amateur) blues guitarist (with an actual, real guitar!), and one who has, admittedly, played air guitar in my sordid past (remember Johnny Winter's lead in his original "Rock n' Roll Hoochie Koo"?), I find the existence of an Air Guitar Championship...well, hilarious.

My first reaction was "oh, come on," but when I perused the photos on the site, I realized that some of these people are more capable of extreme acrobatic activity than I am. Therefore, to the extent that this can be considered a sport, I support its popular explosion.

But, like The Berklee School's development of an actual course in hip hop "turntablism," if this becomes "recognized" as a form of music art, then I'm convinced that I am officially an "old fogey."

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Joan Plays Ball

As one prominent Boston attorney has forewarned, the dispute between Joan Kennedy and her children is bound to become a "tawdry affair." But unlike so many prior entanglements, in which the Kennedy clansmen seem to be extricated unruffled, it looks as though Joan may have gained the upper hand.

press reports have noted that Mrs. Kennedy transfered her ownership of her Squaw Island home six months after her children had been granted temporary guardianship over her affairs. This implies that the transfer to Webster E. Jansen, Trustee of Joan B. Kennedy 2004 Real Estate Trust may be clouded by the issue of her authority or capacity to sign such a deed. Previous reports have indicated that the lawyer for the Kennedy children has filed a document in the Barnstable County Registry of Deeds that would impose a cloud on the title to the property, preventing its sale to a bona fide purchaser.

But records at the Barnstable Registry of Deeds reveal a different story.

The property in question, deeded to Mrs. Kennedy by Senator Kennedy as part of their 1983 divorce, is registered land, the record of which is strictly controlled by a separate office of the registry. All encumbrances imposed on registered land are noted on the property's Certificate of Title. The Certificate of Title for Mrs. Kennedy's land does not contain any Notice or Order from the Barnstable Probate Court with respect to the guardianship appointment. As of the date of the transfer to Mr. Jensen, her Trustee, there was no cloud on the Certificate of Title suggesting that she lacked the capacity to execute the deed. While news reports indicate that "an attorney for the Kennedy children as filed paperwork at the Barnstable County Registry of Deeds alerting possible buyers that they cannot get clear title," this is not so.

Ironically, statutes regarding guardians and conservatorships provide for such recording as early as the time the original petition is filed. There are several provisions of Massachusetts law governing the appointment and powers of guardians. Unless the children allege that their mother is mentally diseased or retarded, they would most likely be petitioning for guardianship under the provision governing "spendthrifts:

"A person who, by excessive spends, wastes or lessens his estate as to expose hiumself or his family to want or suffering...may be adjudged a spendthrift. ...A relative of the alleged spendthrift may file a petition in the probate court, stating the facts and circumstances of the case and praying that a guardian be appointed." G. L. c. 201 s. 8.

"A copy of the petition, with the order of notice thereon, may be recorded in the registry of deeds...where...the spendthrift is located; and if a guardian is appointed...all sales and conveyances of land made by the spendthrift after such record in the registry of deeds...and before the termination of the guardianship, shall be void." G. L. c. 201 s. 10.

There is no copy of any petition for temporary guardianship on record against Mrs. Kennedy's Certificate of Title at the registry of deeds.

Additionally, according to earlier press reports, it appears that perhaps the childrens' legal team dropped the ball a second time as well. Although the records of the guardianship petition are sealed, earlier press reports and statements from the children or their representatives raise questions as to whether or not Mrs. Kennedy was legally under any sort of guardianship at the time she made the transfer.

Earlier press reports have indicated that the children first sought, and received, temporary guardianship in May of 2004. According to one Barnstable County official familiar with the process, a temporary guardianship typically lasts for ninety days, during which a petition for permanent guardianship would be heard. If that was indeed the case in May of 2004, then it appears that the original temporary guardianship would have expired by its terms in August of 2004. The childrens' subsequent petition to continue the guardianship was apparently not filed (according to press reports) until well after the transfer to her trust.

I suggested in an earlier post on this topic that there was more to this than meets the eye. Well a few moments ago, my eye met a document.

It is the deed from Ted Kennedy to Joan Kennedy in 1983.

That deed specifically recognizes Joan Kennedy's right to sell her house, subject to a Right of First Refusal on behalf of the Senator and/or any of his children:

"If Grantee receives a bona fide offer to rent, lease or sell said property from a third party, other than one or more of the issue of the marriage…, which Grantee proposes to accept, Grantee shall forthwith give written notice of such offer to Grantor and the children of the marriage which notice shall contain the name of the third party and the terms and conditions of said proposed rental, lease or purchase. Grantor and the children or any one of them shall have thirty (30) days from the receipt of said notice, by written instrument delivered to Grantee, to elect to rent, lease or purchase said property on the same terms and conditions as the third party’s offer…." (emphasis supplied)

Here we have a proposed transaction that is squarely within the four corners of the deed. Mrs. Kennedy lists her property for sale (through her newly established trust) so that she may receive a bona fide offer to purchase. She thereafter notifies her family and ex-husband of the terms of the offer, and they elect to exercise their right of first refusal or they don't.

I asked in my
earlier post, "why would they so vehemently insist that she is defying them by selling the house, unless their ownership of the house was one of their primary interests in seeking guardianship?"

Well, according to her own deed, Mrs. Kennedy cannot sell the house without offering it to her children and ex-husband first, so her selling the house cannot "spite" her family as has been implied by Teddy Jr.

What comes immediately to mind is that the children wish to have the house remain available to them, but they don't want to be put in a position to exercise their right according to Mrs. Kennedy's time. In other words, they don't want to pay for it. Excellent thinking for those wishing to protect a spendthrift.

Update: From today's Herald, the Trustee of the Joan Kennedy Real Estate Trust says:

"It's not hers to sell. The trust owns the property and I'm the trustee.''

If it his to sell, it is his to sell subject to the right of first refusal retained in the original deed to Joan.

I don't understand why the Trustee does not make that clear.
Joseph C. Lincoln, Cape Cod Treasure Posted by Hello

A Cape Cod Treasure

My grandfather, a first generation French-Canadian immigrant (and who became one of the very first federal tax lawyers in Boston), was an eccentric character, inscrutable and silent, prone to raising prize-winning Chrysanthemums in the greenhouse of his classic old home in Chestnut Hill. He was also a voracious reader and a collector of books.

When my grandfather died, my father took custody of the voluminous contents of his library. The complete works of Kipling, Twain, Stevenson and every other significant author, most bound in leather or cloth, were contained in the grand mahogany bookcases of the library in a house, built originally in the early 1800's, where I spent my childhood. And yet, as close as I was to those books, I never read one of them.

Over the course of years, my father handed off the collection to my brothers and me, parceling it out to us in accordance with his assessment of our particular affinities. Because I was, at the time, residing on Cape Cod, I was given an extensive collection of books about Cape Cod.

Part of that collection included the complete works of Joseph C. Lincoln.

Lincoln was born in 1870 in Brewster, Massachusetts, son of a sea captain who had run away to sea at fourteen and died in the harness of his full-rigged ship the year Joseph was born. Having spent his youth on the Cape, he went off to Boston at the urging of family friends to become a banker. After some experience in business and banking houses, Mr. Lincoln decided that as a banker or bookkeeper he would not, nor did he desire to, shine. Eventually, he would turn to writing, and produce a series of 55 books (novels abd ballads) about Cape Cod life and people, including titles such as The Woman-Haters: A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-lights (1925), Keziah Coffin (1910) and Cap'n Eri : a Story of the Coast (1904).

I share this because I have nearly completed reading the entire collection, and I promise you that when I have finished it, I shall begin again with the first (Cap'n Eri).

I commend to you anything of Joseph Lincoln's work that you are able to get your hands on. You can never thank me enough.

Here are some links to learn more about Joseph Lincoln and his works. Have fun: (interview with Joyce Kilmer) (Book News Monthly, 1913)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I'd say the desks are quite well arranged! Posted by Hello

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Sympathy of Federalists? Posted by Hello

Another Kennedy Tragedy

When you might have thought it was not possible that the Kennedy family could create another public spectacle, there now comes a new story that has uncharacteristic twists and intrigue.

Joan Kennedy, the former wife of Senator Ted, has had a very long and very public problem with alcoholism. She grew up in a family with alcoholic parents, and then had to endure the pressure of trying to "fit in" to a clan so rabidly insular and clannish that she was almost doomed to fail at the outset. No one could have been surprised that, once she had escaped the cloistered compound and began to find herself, she might have difficulties, and she did.

Several weeks ago, her children took the extraordinary step of petitioning the Barnstable County Probate Court to have them appointed her permanent guardians. While the Court records are under seal, the children had said enough in public statements to acknowledge (or allege) that they are doing so because of her illness.

I have wondered (perhaps because this occurred in the midst of the Schiavo ordeal) since reading these stories whether the guardianship they sought was for medical care or for all care, including financial affairs. Lacking any facts in the public domain, I had surmised (perhaps hoped) that they were taking this step only to attempt to have control over their mother's medical treatment.

Then this story hits both of Boston's dailies:

From the Boston Herald:

"The feud between Joan Kennedy and her children has taken a nasty turn as she tries to sell the family's lavish waterfront Cape Cod home, her son said.
'This is a sudden decision she's made,''
Edward M. Kennedy Jr. told the Herald. 'Basically, my mother is taking it out on us by trying to sell the house.'
The six-bedroom manse on Hyannisport's posh Squaw Island recently was put up for sale by Joan Kennedy for $6.4 million. It was the childhood home of Edward Kennedy Jr., U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Kara Kennedy Allen, the three children of Joan Kennedy and her ex-husband, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). `This is just very upsetting to my brother and sister and I,' Kennedy said. `My mother is not happy with the court-ordered guardianship. But we're trying to save her life'....

...Joan Kennedy, 68, is reportedly fighting the court order and taking financial advice from a distant cousin, a source said. Edward M. Kennedy Jr. said her bid to sell the house ``speaks to the insidiousness of alcoholism.'' He said any sale would have to be cleared by her children, as guardians...

...The source said Joan Kennedy has become 'very uncooperative' with her court-ordered caretakers and has turned `nasty' in her fight with her children. `That's the house they grew up in and it's a house they love. It's a place they summer all the time,'' the source said. '"

There are a few things about this story that I find fascinating and disturbing. First, I find it fascinating that the the story was clearly initiated in the press by the children themselves. Teddy is quoted directly, speaking with a reporter (a Herald reporter, no less!), and it is quite apparent that the "unnamed source" is speaking for the children.

The Kennedys have never aired their (considerable) dirty laundry in public. They have remained very private and have always made measured comments in response to largely unwelcomed inquiries. Yet here, the children themselves are apparently initiating this public fight over whether their mother can sell her house (a house that the kids grew up in, but have not lived in for years and years) without their permission.

And the Globe story (front page of Metro section, below the fold!) clarifies the childrens' move:

"Joan Bennett Kennedy has put her oceanfront Cape Cod home on the market for nearly $6.5 million, defying her children who moved last year to take legal control of her assets amid her continued battle with alcoholism." So they do want to control her assets.

It seems to me that there is a great deal more here than meets the eye (having been in Masachusetts all my life, I have learned to think that way when it comes to this particular group of celebrities). While I don't doubt for one moment that the children love their mother and are trying to "save her life," I find their strident public objections suspicious and unseemly. It is their mother's house. If she does not want to own it any more, that is her business. If the children feel the house has so much intrinsic value to them, let them step up to the plate and buy it -- I wouldn't doubt for a moment that there are sufficient funds in the family-at-large to preserve this piece of their heritage.

But why would they so vehemently insist that she is defying them by selling the house, unless their ownership of the house (presently or in the future) was one of their primary interests in seeking guardianship?

This story is highly unusual, and there is much more to it. Let's see what the unnamed sources continue to peddle.
Seems to be working! Posted by Hello

Friday, April 08, 2005

A Must Link

The great thing about blogging is, if you spend a few minutes a day browsing new links, you come across some really special stuff. Yestiddy, I added Phat Free to my "Ridiculous Humor" category, but not until I finished reading this piece for the third time. Ridiculous.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

My brother Jim, the political "black sheep" of our family. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Bare Knuckles In the Limelight

If you know anything at all about Massachusetts, you understand that politics here is a contact sport --- and as with the roughest of contact sports, the biggest battles are about “turf.”

A great turf battle is has developed over who will be the “go-to” person for movie and television producers who are interested in bringing productions to Massachusetts.

In the red corner, wearing the paisley trunks, Robin "Duker" Dawson, current head of the Massachusetts Film Bureau. In the blue corner, wearing the pinstripes, is Mark "the Masher" Drago, Executive Director of Entertainment for the Massachusetts Sports and Entertainment Commission. I'm not much of a tout, but if forced to bet, I'd put my money on the guy with all the backing. How courageous, I know.

The battle began to get nasty last week when Dawson sent a letter to Governor Romney (obligatory copy to the press) in which she accused Drago of threatening people from Martin Scorcese's production company if they didn't come exclusively to him. In a meeting yesterday, the Governor's office, preferring to avoid internicine warfare, counseled them both to behave and get along.

This battle has all the intrigue, back room elbowing, back stabbing and score settling that you could reasonably hope for – here’s how it unfolded:

Back in 1994, after ten years working in radio and television (doing what I have not been able to ascertain), Dawson was tapped by Governor Bill Weld as Executive Director of the Mass Film Office -- an entity that had been created some 17 years earlier but had a lackluster track record.

By accounts (see
here and here), Dawson was doing a good job, establishing an aggressive "fee free" incentive program that was designed to overcome some of the expensive disadvantages of filing in Massachusetts. By her own account, the film office succeeded in increasing the econonomic impact of film activity by almost 1500%, from $ 5M in 1994 to over $73M in 2000, and corraling some Bigs, notably John Irving's Cider House Rules in 1997-1998. [I note that these accounts have all the appearance of promotion directed by the Film Office itself, and the entertainment press was happy to fall in]

But while Dawson appeared to being having success on the Hollywood end of her job, those that worked with her on Beacon Hill had difficulty with her personality, and she accumulated widespread and significant antipathy. This is the downfall of many a good worker who must inevitably rely on relationships "in the building" for survival. And I refrain from laying blame on any party. High places in government are frequently inhabited by large egos and/or small minds, and I have marveled more than once at the aptitude for chicanery that is present in all altitudes of intelligence. The path to political success can be treacherous indeed.

While Dawson was building her fiefdom at the Film Office (and accumulating enemies, if the whisperers are to be believed), Drago was working his own inside baseball game, as an advance man for Weld, then Cellucci. Some time in the beginning of 2001, he latched on to a position in the International Marketing Department at Massport. This attests to his superlative networking skills and ability to secure political support that is broad and deep -- skills that are preternaturally essential in Massachusetts. But he was only able to participate in a precious few international trade junkets before his department (hence he) was wiped out in post 9-11 budget cuts in November of 2001. Drago was back on the street.

But Dawson was hitting some serious bumps of her own. Reportedly, she had been receiving information from people in the film business all along that the local Teamsters union was "exceedingly difficult to work with" (my words, in what can only be called understatement). Hard as that is to believe, she apparently found it significant enough to attempt to warn her bosses, Governor Weld, and then Governor Cellucci, of the problems. Now I'm purely guessing here, but since the President of Teamsters Local 25, George Cashman, was a close ally to both Weld and Cellucci and also sat on the Massport Board of Directors, I'm not sure they listened quite as well as they might have.

But if the Governors weren't listening, the feds sure were. By the begining of 2000, the U. S. Attorney's office and the Labor Department's Office of Labor Racketeering were investingating allegations of shakedowns. In what must have been the least pleasant of experiences, Dawson was called to testify before that Grand Jury sometime during the beginning of 2002. Also during this time, she had been meeting with others who the U. S. Attorney's office was planning to interview, and well....apparently she put the cost of these lunches on her state-issued credit card. When she was called upon to reveal who these people were, she refused, at the behest of the U. S. Attorney's office (lest the names of potential grand jury witnesses to labor racketeering be divulged -- you know the drill in that case, don't you?).

If you have been wondering at all about just how much enmity Dawson had garnered to this point, here's your big tip:

When she refused to identify the names of the people she ate with, Governor Swift tried to fire her for misusing the credit card, and "someone" leaked the story to the press. While the U. S. Attorney's office intervened and saved her job (for the moment), Dawson was now identified in the press as a Grand Jury witness.

Wow. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess!

Do we know what happens to grand jury witnesses in labor racketeering investigations? Well, sometimes, they get
death threats. And that's what happened to Robin Dawson. She received a death threat on March 22, 2002, as she was attending an Oscar party at the Four Seasons Hotel to benefit the Massachusetts 9-11 Fund. Reportedly, officials at the Four Seasons hotel, where the gala was held, beefed up security because of the threat. She reportedly received other threats to her safety and was offered a safe house for her protection.

Now I assume it is purely coincidence and bad karma, but as the old saying goes, bad luck comes in threes, and the third shoe dropped soon after. As the Commonwealth fell into a precipitous budget abyss, budget writers looked for targets, and found one in the Mass Film Office. Four months after Dawson’s life had been threatened as a result of her cooperation with a federal Grand Jury investigating union corruption in the movie business in Massachusetts, legislative budget writers eliminated the Film Office. And there was no one fighting to keep it.

[ ed: Here's one way to spin the story so far: An official who, according to the trade press anyway, is doing a creditable job, seeking to warn her bosses about trouble brewing, "cooperating" with authorities who are attempting to root out corruption, loses her job. I don't believe it.]

Dawson hit the street in late July, 2002, started up the Film Bureau, and generated very
positive publicity immediately.

Around the same time, Drago found his landing spot at the Massachusetts Sports Commission. He set about, almost immediately, to expand the Sports Commission’s mission, and by July of 2003 had succeeded in getting the Legislature to expand the Commission’s mission to include all entertainment -- including movies.

By November of 2004, Drago was named Vice President and Executive Director of Film and Entertainment, with great fanfare. The MSEC
press release announcing his promotion was replete with quotes of high praise from Governor Romney, Senate President Travaglini, and House Speaker DiMasi:

"It is vital that Massachusetts be a leader in attracting major sporting events, films,
and other entertainment projects which have a significant positive financial impact on our
state and local economies," said Governor Mitt Romney. "I am confident the focused
emphasis on film and entertainment, as part of the Massachusetts Sports & Entertainment
Commission's overall mission, will yield positive results. From an economic impact
standpoint, it is a growth area for the Commonwealth and so we support and encourage the
Commission's ongoing film and entertainment efforts."

"Mark is the ideal person to spearhead the Commonwealth's efforts to secure world-class
film and entertainment projects for Massachusetts," said Mass. State Senate President
Robert Travaglini. "His leadership and proven ability make him the perfect choice for
this position."

"Mark is a dedicated public servant who can help Massachusetts capitalize on the
tremendous economic opportunities in film and entertainment," said Mass. Speaker of the
House Salvatore DiMasi. "We are excited about the potential economic spin-off created by
the MSEC and look forward to Mark leading the film and entertainment division of the
organization, as he continues to reestablish the Commonwealth as the rising star of the
entertainment world."

MSEC's press release should have signalled to Dawson that she had no support left on the Hill. But not only did she not blink, she did what any self-respecting, bare-knuckles Massachusetts political insider with no remaining support does --- she tossed a bomb. But first...
She started her own operation and cranked up her public relations front:
Movie Maker 2004 Magazine named Boston the Third Best City in the U.S. in which to film, putting the praise directly on Dawson:

“It might seem quite a feat to go from nowhere on this list to number three. But if any city has proven that the dedication of just a few hard-working individuals can pay off, it’s Boston.

In July of 2002 the Massachusetts Film Office, one of the top film offices in the country (generating about $500 million annually) was closed down due to Draconian budget cuts. But just one month later, the reigns were retrieved by Robin Dawson and Laura Yellen, the Film Office’s former executive director and marketing consultant, respectively. The two created the Massachusetts Film Bureau, a private, nonprofit organization supported by local businesses, and have been keeping Boston moviemakers busy ever since.

Currently, Dawson and Yellen can boast about the more than $112 million that has found its way into the area as a result of six major productions, including Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon; Mike Newell’s Mona Lisa Smile, with Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst and Julia Stiles; David Mamet’s Spartan, starring Val Kilmer and William H. Macy; Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s Stuck on You, featuring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear; and Rob Reiner’s Alex and Emma, with Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson.”

But Drago was undeterred and ginned his own PR grist:

Imagine News did a fabulous
puff piece on him, including gushing like this:

Why Drago?

Well, because Senate President Robert Travaglini and Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi have crowned him, and we need someone who is blessed by Beacon Hill. [ed.: wink wink]His office and his mandate have the support of Governor Romney. “Mark is the ideal person to spearhead the Commonwealth’s efforts to secure world class film projects for Massachusetts,” says Travaglini. “His leadership and proven ability make him the perfect choice for this position.”One of a film commissioner’s most important roles is to juggle complicated logistics and work with city and state officials. Mark Drago can call upon his wealth of contacts from years of public service to facilitate film production. His first order of business is opening doors.
and the coup de grace:
"Says Bill Weld, 'Mark was a great asset to my office when I was governor. He’s a real professional. He has tremendous interpersonal skills, integrity, and ability to work with diverse constituencies. Above all, he’s dependable.'"

He's dependable. Do you think Bill Weld was trying to send his former employee, Robin Dawson, a message? I do.

But if she still was listening, she wasn't learning, and pushed back:

Singing Dawson’s praise in an
interview with the Boston Globe’s Janice Page is star homie Matt Damon:

“Though much has also been made of dueling Massachusetts film offices that Damon says only serve to confuse the movie world at large, there is no competition or controversy as he sees it. His support lies squarely with Robin Dawson, former head of the now-defunct Massachusetts Film Office, who runs the nonprofit Massachusetts Film Bureau.

''I don't even know that other guy," Damon said of Mark Drago, director of film and entertainment at the Massachusetts Sports & Entertainment Commission. ''My personal opinion is you stick with somebody who knows the business and knows the people, somebody who's worked with all the A-list directors who've come in in the last eight or nine years. That's who everyone in town knows to call."
I love that. I don't even know that other guy. No wonder he's got an Academy Award.
So the two of them traded PR volleys for months, from November 2004 until last week, before Dawson lobbed the bomb, implicating unnamed people from Martin Scorsese's production company as complaining about strong arm tactics from Drago.
This tactic looks to me like the madman who points a gun at his own head and threatens to shoot the hostage. It's a scorched-earth approach that has a couple of results -- it confirms to your opponents that you are truly desperate, and it scares the crap out of the Hollywood people, who don't know, and don't care who they deal with. Both bad.
It seems fair that, under the circumstances, the Governor's office could demonstrate some gen-yew-wine leadership here, and tell Robin something like this "The Governor will be very supportive of your efforts to find a different position in the entertainment sector, but he cannot have you embarrassing the Commonwealth on this any further."
But apparently all they did was tell the two of them to "figure it out and stop fighting," so to speak, to which Dawson responded, "OK, but I'm still running the show."
This isn't over.

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