Thursday, March 30, 2006

Color Me Unimpressed

Soooo, the Senate passed a bill revising the lobbying laws. It passed on a 90-8 vote. I could be wrong, but any bill that supposedly "reforms" the thoroughly corrupt lobbying system cannot be good enough if it passes 90-8. But let's take a look at some of the finer points:

According to press reports, "Senators also decisively rejected a proposal for an independent agency to investigate allegations of ethics violations, a move that lets lawmakers continue to police themselves." They've already proven themselve so effective at that, haven't they?

And I had to laugh at this:

That sense of urgency faded, however, as lawmakers grappled with the details of the legislation and became sidetracked on other matters, such as the Dubai ports deal and overhauling immigration. Yesterday's Senate vote broke that logjam, albeit with a bill that was significantly watered down from the type of legislation that House and Senate leaders once promised.

"Sidetracked on other matters." There are 100 members and thousands of staff experts. You'd think these august folks could walk and chew gum at the same time, yes?

I think the event can be summed up best by the exulting proclamation of Senator Chris Dodd:

''There's a sign now up in front of the Capitol that says, 'Not for sale.' "

That such a sign would have to be hung in the first place is the disgrace. Bro has an excellent take on the whole mess:

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Thanks, But No Thanks

Well here's some news that I suspect will add to Tom Reilly's burgeoning reputation for political deafness:

BOSTON - Weymouth resident Peter Scannell did an admirable job
bringing to light substantial fraud at Putnam Investments, his former employer,
Assistant Attorney General Mary O’Neil said.

But that doesn’t mean he deserves payment for his efforts,
she argued in Suffolk Superior Court yesterday.

Scannell, whose inside information about improper mutual
fund trading at Putnam eventually led to Putnam agreeing to pay the state $50
million, is now suing for a portion of the state’s settlement under the state’s
False Claims Act.

But despite Scannell’s significant - and undisputed -
cooperation with state and federal officials, he didn’t properly sue under the
Massachusetts false claims act, better known as the whistle-blower

O’Neil, arguing on behalf of Attorney General Thomas Reilly,
said Scannell doesn’t have any claim to the settlement because of he failed to
file such a suit.

AAG O'Neil does have a persuasive argument on the legal front. The statute governing false claims, M.G.L. c.12 s.5A et seq does contain an amusingly balkanized set of procedural hoops that a whistleblower has to jump through in order to make a claim for a portion of recovered funds, none of which, apparently, Mr. Scannell met. Chief among them is that the whistleblower (euphemistically called "the relator" in the statute) must first file the original complaint, under seal, and serve a copy on the Attorney General's office. Then the Attorney General is in control of the litigation and may dismiss or settle the case against the wishes of the relator or even have the relator kicked out of the case. (Pardon my cynicism, but it's almost as if the legislature wanted to discourage people from coming forward.)

Mr. Scannell was, of course, fired from Putnam for his exercise of disloyalty. He would, of course, have causes of action against Putnam for wrongful discharge and other tortious acts. Perhaps some might consider this enough.

But this "whistleblower" statute appears to add injury to insult because it cuts back on the "relator" employee's rights to sue for damages:

An employee who is discharged, demoted, suspended, harassed,
denied promotion, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and
conditions of employment by his employer because of participation in conduct
which directly or indirectly resulted in a false claim being submitted to the
commonwealth or a political subdivision thereof shall be entitled
to [damages and attorneys fees] only if both of
the following occurred:

(i) the employee has been harassed, threatened with
termination or demotion, or otherwise coerced by the employer or its management into engaging in the fraudulent activity in the first
place; and

(ii) the employee voluntarily disclosed
information prior to being dismissed
to a government or law
enforcement agency or acts in furtherance of a false claims action, including
investigation for, initiation of, testimony for, or assistance in an action
filed or to be filed.

[ed. note: Do you really think that the legislature intended to say that the whistleblower has to engage in the fraudulent activity in the first place in order to qualify for a remedy? As a former member of that august body, I can confidently say that the thought never cross their collective minds]

Pardon me for living, but I don't want any part of that.

At the end of the day, I end up wondering why Reilly's office would prefer to have the public witness his office stiffing an honest guy who has been put through hell to do the right thing, resulting in a mammoth windfall to the Commonwealth. It's not like it's their money!

And woe to the guy like him who sees something he knows is wrong and wonders what, if anything, he should do about it.

A Gruesome Exhibit

I don't know what to think about this:

The controversial ‘‘Body Worlds 2: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human
Bodies’’ is coming to the Museum of Science in Boston on July 30 and will run
through January 7.

On exhibit will be human bodies that have been preserved through the process of plastination, where water and fat is removed from tissues and polymers are injected to prevent decomposition....

...In one of the featured exhibits from the original Body Worlds is a male body that has been skinned sitting on the body of a skinned horse: the man holds his brain in one hand and the horse’s brain in the other. Another exhibit features the body of a pregnant woman who died of natural causes; her uterus is partially cut open to reveal a preserved fetus inside....

One part of my brain says "wow," the other side says "yuck."

I'll be interested to see how the public responds.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

And Now for Something Completely Different

Friends, take a few moments, let your mind rest, and watch this extraordinary display of juggling artistry.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Cheapniss... the title of one of my favorite Frank Zappa compositions. It makes fun of things that are made cheaply, shoddily --such as a low-grade Japanese horror film (where "you can see the little strings dangling down").

Here's a good example of cheapniss, too -- Tom Reilly demanding that all of the gubernatorial candidates release their tax returns, saying "what do they have to hide?"

Hey Tom, if you're so interested in disclosure, why are you okay with hiding the findings of Bechtel's Big Dig errors from the public?

I've always been angered by this cheap political stunt -- suggesting that everyone in the world is entitled to know all about a candidate's personal finances. What a bunch of crap. There's only one genuine answer to the question, "what do you have to hide?"

That answer is "it's none of your business." Because it isn't.

(Cross-posted at New England Republican.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Golf Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

In a poignant and dramatic demonstration of the vast cultural differences between America and Korea, it was announced today that South Korea's Prime Minister, Lee Hae Chan, was forced to resign for playing a round of golf.

From the Herald-Tribune, Asia-Pacific:

On March 1, a national holiday in South Korea, Lee went golfing with a group of businessmen, including at least one with a criminal record. Even on a holiday, his critics said, it was inappropriate for the prime minister to leave his office because the government was struggling with a railroad strike.

Can you imagine if every high-ranking elected official in America who had played golf on a holiday was forced to resign?

Bye Bye House Speaker Sal DiMasi (D., Ipswich C.C.). When enterprising reporters looked up Sal's handicap on the publicly accessible MGA handicap system, they found it was a svelt 5.7.

In partisan fairness, we'd have to have done without George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, both fond of the links on their time off.

It turns out that we Americans and the Koreans have more in common with golf than we might have thought:

Golf is widely popular in South Korea, an essential tool for upper- class socializing. The privileged spend vast amounts on lessons, greens fees and golf vacations. But golf also has a reputation as being a corrupt sport, so much so that government officials were once banned from playing it. Shady deals have often been discussed on the links and businesses reportedly pay greens fees for politicians and journalists.

Now no politician in America will ever be banned from the green carpet, but one thing I know politicians in the U.S. of A are adept at is accepting a free round of golf well-wishing supporters.

Lee's end came rather ignominiously:

[President] Roh accepted Lee's resignation, "taking into account various political considerations," said a presidential spokesman, Kim Man Soo.

That's the way the ball slices.

Judging the Judges

Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey has come out with an idea I like very much:

Frustrated with wrist-slapping judges who free repeat offenders who have gone on to rape and kill again, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey vowed to set up an independent review board that could boot bad justices off the bench. Citing several high-profile cases involving questionable sentences, Healey wants a
“thumbs up, thumbs down” panel to review all the state’s judges every seven years.

Her proposal, which would require majority support from the Legislature and the approval of voters, would create a clear-cut removal process for judges for the first time in state history.

Remarkably, Massachusetts is one of only three states in the U. S. where judges enjoy lifetime tenure (the other two are New Hampshire and Rhode Island -- must be some sort of quaint New England vestige of colonialism, eh?). Actually, it's not quite lifetime, there is a mandatory retirement age of 70. Sort of a play on the old Down East joke -- "You been a judge your whole life?" "Not yet."

Details of the proposal are sketchy. I suspect that's because it's not written down yet. My guess is that Healey rushed something out to take advantage of the
controversy over the wrist-slap given to a repeat child molester by a Worcester Superior Court judge:

Worcester Superior Court Judge John McCann put Winchendon child molester Glen Wheeler on 10 years’ probation and an electronic monitoring bracelet - even though the 56-year-old con has racked up 11 probation violations, has an alias and went on the run for eight months before being tracked down at a Tampa, Fla., mosque. Wheeler was on the state police list of “most wanted high-risk sex

Can't pass up an opportunity to strike while the iron is hot.

In any event, it appears this proposal will require an amendment to the Constitution, which will allow Healey to run on this issue against the legislature, which is dominated by lawyers and lawyer-influenced Democrats.

Of course, the judges see this proposal differently. Coming out of the box, here's what one retired appeals court judge said:

“It infringes on the separation of powers,” said retired state Judge Rudolph Kass. “It disregards precisely what the framers of the Constitution founded, which is to allow judges to be free and independent, which includes not looking over your shoulder every time you act.”

Kass also argued that there are already systems in place to evaluate judges. The Judicial Conduct Commission handles complaints against judges, while the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Supreme Judicial Court have recently begun issuing “report cards” on justices.

“We have a judicial review institution and it works,” Kass said. “I’m not sure the introduction of an additional institution of review is particularly a good idea.”

Of course he doesn't. And we can expect the state bar association to be coming out against it too -- especially MATA (Massachusetts Association of Trial Attorneys), who will jump at the chance to aggressively defend the judges they appear before on a regular basis.

Judge Cass is correct -- there is a Judicial Conduct Commission. Its purpose is to investigate formal complaints against judges and, where warranted, act on them. Let's see how the Commission disposed of a few of the more egregious cases to come before it, taken from the Annual Reports of the Commission:

From the 1998 Annual Report:

In 1997, the Commission entered eight formal charges against District Court Judge John Markey, and an initial punicshment of censure was recommended (censure is essentially no more than a public admonishment -- a bit of humiliation, so to speak).

The Commission alleged that the Judge violated the canons in the following ways: Canon 1, by failing to uphold the integrity of the judiciary and failing to observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity of the judiciary may be preserved; Canon 2(A), by failing to conduct himself in a manner that promoted
public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary; Canon 2(B), by allowing his social and other relationships to influence his judicial conduct and judgment, and lending the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of others; Canon 3(A)(4), by engaging in an ex parte communication with another judge designed to influence her judicial action, thereby inducing that judge to violate the canon; and Canon 3(C)(1), by failing to disqualify himself in proceedings in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to one in which he had a personal bias favoring a party. The Commission also charged the Judge with violating the Disciplinary Rules of the Canons of Ethics, S.J.C. Rule 3:07, Canon 7, DR 7-110(B), as appearing in 382 Mass. 793 (1981), by engaging in a private ex
parte communication with another judge in an adversary proceeding as to the merits of the case.

There was no disciplinary activity during 1999-2000.

Annual Report 2001:

I think you get the point. The Commission deals only with allegations of misconduct, not claims that a judge is particularly awful. That happens, you know. Every litigator knows it. Some people are spectacular lawyers that just happen to make particularly lousy judges. There has to be a means of reviewing their performance.

I do not think, however, that judges should be reviewed by the electorate via elections. That is an absurd notion, notwithstanding the many states where it is employed. A judge must feel assured that he is free to apply the law to the facts found and make a reasoned decision in accordance with both, no matter how unpopular the result may be to the public at large. Popularity of outcome is not an appropriate benchmark for retention of one's robes.

But with the current system, a judge may be reversed on appeal ad nauseam -- indicating some serious deficiency of performance -- and be immune from any discipline whatsoever, short of some measure of "professional development" or further training. But again, if a judge is particularly recalcitrant in accepting this "training," there is no means of removing him or her from the bench. How many middle-aged, life-tenured judges do you think are amenable to re-education?

Healey's proposal, it seems, could find a solution "half-way:" An independent commission, chartered to review the performances of all trial judges at some interval to insure that performance, as a whole, is consistent with the type of integrity and competence that the citizens should be entitled to expect.

Welcome to Dean's World

I was trundling along Sunday afternoon, minding my own business, noodling around some blogs, and I happened to check my site meter and discovered a massive influx of traffic from this Dean's World blog. Investigating further, I discovered that Dean had somehow come across the piece I wrote some time ago about anti-Catholic bias and the Anti-aid Amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution and linked to it.

Hmmm, I thought, never seen this fella's blog before. So I checked it out.

Know what I found? Something rare and wonderful.

I found comment threads full of articulate, reasoned arguments delivered with respect for others opinions. I found discussion, not argument. And I found not one troll.

Dean baby, where ya been in my life!!!!

Go see Dean. He's the man.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Ye Reap What Ye Sow

(the following was cross-posted at New England Republican):

In a public announcement that the Boston Globe described as a "stunning turn of events," the Boston Archdioses and Catholic Charities of Boston said that they would get out of the adoption business rather than comply with the state's anti-discrimination laws that would force them to place children with gay couples.

While some might find it stunning, I don't find it surprising at all. As a related article points out:

...a conflict between the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts and Beacon Hill has been evolving for several decades, as state policy makers have adopted an increasingly expansive view of gay rights, starting with a nondiscrimination measure in 1989 and culminating in 2004, when Massachusetts became the only state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

At the same time, the Vatican, often guided by the theologian who is now Pope Benedict XVI, became increasingly alarmed at the growing tolerance of homosexuality in the West, and in 2003 Benedict issued a doctrinal statement opposing same-sex unions and declaring that ''allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development."

While some lay Catholics express disagreement with the decision (the same Catholics who depart from church teachings on gay marriage, abortion and other progressive social issues), Bishop O'Malley made the point unambiguously:

"Sadly, we have come to a moment when Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Boston must withdraw from the work of adoptions, in order to exercise the religious freedom that was the prompting for having begun adoptions many years ago."

Bishop O'Malley was referring to the Church's initial involvement in adoptions in the early 20th century in order to ensure that orphaned Catholic children were not placed by the state with Protestant families. By this time, Catholics had been subjected to vile hatred and discrimination at all levels of government at the hands of the majority "Know Nothing Party." Catholics were then fighting for their very survival.

And one can say the same today.

But what is "survival?" Is it acceding to the prevailing political tide (and some members of the flock) and abandoning core principles of the Faith? Such might garner mathematic survival, but in doing so, the bedrock of the Church's beliefs become diluted, compromised, eventually meaningless. What is the value of such survival?

Religious freedom is a funny thing. We all have the freedom to worship as we choose. We can join a church, we can leave a church. That is a function of our Democracy.

But the establishment of Church doctrine is a decidedly un-democratic process. It is not subject to review and debate by a committee of members. And whether people of the faith (or not of the faith) agree or disagree, the strength of a Church depends on the strength of its doctrine. As a result, the Catholic Church may end up becoming smaller, but it will certainly be stronger.

The political establishment in Massachusetts now sees the impact of its antipathy to the Church's position on this important social issue. And even as the Governor and others begin the process of seeking a religious exemption to the anti-discrimination law so that Catholic Charities (and other religious institutions) can make valuable contributions to society without abandoning their religious principles, Democratic leaders in the legislature express their firm resolve, guaranteeing that their progressive political goals are more important than religious freedom, more important than child welfare.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

One Collossal Fraud

(the following has been cross-posted at New England Republican, where I'll be posting most material henceforth))

In one of the Big Screen's finest works, Captain Renault (Claude Raines) bursts into
Casablanca with the purpose of shutting down Rick's (Humphrey Bogart) operation. The following exchange occurs between Rick and the Captain:

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here! [a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.

In the finest spirit of such hypocrisy, here is a bit of local
news that comes as absolutely no surprise to me or any number of those in the political trenches here in Massachusetts:

Representative Martin T. Meehan has gained national exposure in recent years as a champion of efforts to reduce the influence of money in politics. Now, the
Lowell Democrat is poised to achieve a new distinction: He is days away from
becoming the only House member in the nation with a campaign war chest that tops
$5 million, with an eye on a possible run for the Senate.... ...that a
representative who has been at the vanguard of campaign finance reform has the
largest campaign bank account in the House speaks to the huge advantages of
incumbency, said Celia Wexler, vice president for advocacy at Common Cause, a
government watchdog group.

I have never been one to agree much with anything Common Cause has to say (I think my legislative rating with them was around 15%), but ol' Celia speaks da troot.

For his part, the Meely-mouthed Meehan comes glibly to his own defense:

Meehan, 49, said he agrees that elections have become too expensive, but notes
that his colleagues on Capitol Hill have shown no appetite to embrace a system
that would replace big-money politics with publicly financed campaigns. Until
the system changes, he said, there's no choice but to aggressively raise money
to stay in Washington. He would almost certainly have to raise millions more to
run for the Senate. ''Passing landmark campaign-finance legislation does not
mean you raise the white flag and give up seeking higher office," Meehan said.
''The intent was never to reduce the overall amount of money being spent, but to
get people to run for office with smaller contributions."

Interesting explanation. See, less than a month ago, Meehan joined his colleagues McCain, Feingold and Shays in submitting a brief to the United States Supreme Court in defense of the State of Vermont's legislative proposal to do just that. Their principal argument was thus


Of course, this isn't the first, or most egregious, example of political fraud to be perpetrated by the smarmy Meehan. That would be his well publicized about-face on his pledged to serve no more than four terms in the House, made when he was first running for Congress in 1992 against incumbent Chester Atkins. At that time, he
avidly embraced self-imposed term limits, "railing against career politicians in Washington." In 1995, he went so far as to write a "letter of resignation" instructing the House clerk to remove his name from the congressional record if he won a fifth term. As he rode this reform horse into his second term, he bravely held forth on the reasons for his support of this essential reform:

Furthermore, I do not believe that term limits alone will suffice to make every election cycle more competitive. For the ten years during which they would be
eligible to run for reelection under H.J. Res. 2, incumbents would still be
magnets for lobbyist dollars, because only they could cast meaningful votes on
the future of programs dear to organized constituencies. Incumbents would also
continue to dominate media coverage, not only because they are usually able to
raise more money than challengers to pay for campaign commercials, but also
because their actions as legislators will inevitably be the subject of nightly
news programs and daily newspaper stories throughout their tenures
. And term
limits would do nothing to eliminate the franking privilege available to members
of Congress, which enables them to communicate their opinions to constituents in
an unchallenged format. Only comprehensive campaign reform can address the
problem of incumbent advantage, the phenomenon which is most responsible for the
public's poor opinion of our current political system.

Unconcerned that his prescience would hold to be true even in his own case, in 2000 Meehan changed his mind, and when faced by the press, had this to

"I made an announcement over a year ago that I would be running," said
Congressman Meehan, 43. "Look, I can't respond to every ridiculous assessment
made. I changed my mind. I made a mistake. I've decided to let the people
decide. If the people don't like what I am doing, they'll throw me out."
That was quite a bit different than what he had to
say in 1995 after the Republican controlled House defeated a term-limit amendment:

When term limits were defeated in 1995, Meehan was livid. "The whole exercise
was nothing more than a big political show designed to confuse people into
thinking that House Republicans really support term limits ... I have always
been skeptical of the legislators who claim they are for term limits but have
been in office for 15 or 20 years. The best test of any politician's credibility
on term limits is whether they are willing to put their careers where their
mouths are and limit their own service."

Apparently that test does not apply to him, but that is the best test of any politician -- whether he believes that the rules only apply to others.

Here it is clear that Marty fails.

This eyebrow-raising news also comes after the embarrassing news that (so soon before the news of his fundraising prowess should come to light) his own Chief of Staff admitted that he had deleted "unflattering references" to Meehan's broken pledge from his Wikipedia profile.

What I find interesting about this is that there has been ZERO follow-up with the Congressman, as in, for instance, this question:

"Congressman, your Chief of Staff, Matt Vogel, has admitting to overseeing the deletion of truthful but unflattering facts about your public record from the Wikipedia website. Did you have any knowledge in advance that he intended to do this?"

I'd like an answer to that question -- not because I think I'd get the truth, but because it's always fun to watch a weasel squirm.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Crybabies in Texas

If we can step away from all of the smoke and mirrors involving Tom Delay for a moment, the true impetus behind Texas Democrats' concerted efforts to destroy him is laid bare as their challenge to the Republicans' redistricting plan is argued before the Supreme Court:

''The only reason it was considered, let alone passed, was to help one political party get more seats than another," the justices were told by Paul M. Smith, a lawyer who represents the League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the groups challenging the plan.

''That's a surprise," Justice Antonin Scalia joked. ''Legislatures redraw the map all the time for political reasons."

But Smith said lawmakers should not be able to get away with drawing oddly shaped districts that protect incumbent Republicans and deny voters their chance to vote for other candidates.

They shouldn't?

Imagine the impact on American electoral politics if the redistricting maps that were drawn by the party in power were suddenly illigitimized, solely because the drawers had as their goal Incumbency Protection, i.e., preservation of numerical advantage!

Why, let's just look briefly at Massachusetts -- home to Elderbridge Gerry, the venerable politician whose redistricting exploits gave rise to the term "Gerrymandering."

Here's a look at Congressman Jim McGovern's Third Congressional District. As some may recall, McGovern's employment prior to his election was with Rep. Joe Early, an old Democratic war horse who was pals with Speaker Tip O'Neil and Rules Chairman Joe Moakley. Early was one of the check-bouncers at the now defunct House Bank, and lost his re-election campaign to my old friend Peter Blute. (Early's explanation has gone down in the annals of political bloopers: "They gave me a book of checks. They didn't ask for any deposits." ) Blute was the first Republican ever to win this seat, but he was able to hold it for only two terms, as the Democrats in the Masachusetts House redrew the district to remove some republican households and add some democratic strongholds, and their union buddies did the rest on election day.

Apparently, the Massachusetts Democrats weren't happy with 9 of 11 seats being theirs (the other Republican, Peter Tolkildsen, also lost in the same election cycle, returning the Democrats to 100% occupancy of the delegation).

Another striking example of redistricting chicanery is the current district of Rep. Barney Frank, a Newton arch-liberal whose (first-term) seat migrated severely south when, in another notorious redistricting battle, the Massachusetts Democrats combined a portion of his seat with that of eight-term Republican
Peggy Heckler, forcing Heckler to run against Frank in unfamiliar democratic territory:

In 1982, in Frank's first try at reelection, the Massachusetts Legislature threw Frank and another incumbent, Republican Margaret Heckler, into a reconfigured district that included not only Frank's liberal strongholds in Newton and Brookline but also the blue-collar city of Fall River.

Can you find Barney's hometown? It's that tiny little area at the very northern tip. It is a 45 minute drive to his furthest constituents in Somerset.

So, as I think it was quite clear to the Justices, the fairness of partisan redistricting all depends on whose ox is being gored. As Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz stated to the Court, "Republicans were only fixing a map that had been drawn to benefit Democrats, despite the fact the state has more Republican voters. "

The real question to ask these hypocrites is, would they favor taking the redistricting process entirely out of the legislature's hands, and handing it over to an independent commission, like that proposed here in Massachusetts? Maybe they would call their fellow Democrats here in Boston and encourage them to support the measure?

As I've said before, "we good government types aren't holding our breaths."

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