State Ethics Commission fines Sheriff Steve Tompkins $2500 for "Coercive Use of His Official Position."

Sounds like a desperate man. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Karen L. Nober

Executive Director

Media Contact

David Giannotti
Communications Division Chief

For Immediate Release – September 23, 2015

Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins Pays $2,500 Civil Penalty for Violating the Conflict of Interest Law

Displayed his Sheriff’s ID when asking business owners to take down his campaign opponent’s campaign signs

The State Ethics Commission approved a Disposition Agreement (“Agreement”) in which Steven Tompkins (“Tompkins”), the Suffolk County Sheriff, admitted to violating G.L. c. 268A, the conflict of interest law, in 2013 by identifying himself as Sheriff when asking eight business owners in his district to take down his opponent’s campaign signs that were displayed in their shops.  Pursuant to the Agreement, Tompkins paid a $2,500 civil penalty for the violation.

Section 23(b)(2(ii) of the conflict of interest law prohibits a state employee from using or attempting to use his official position to secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges or exemptions which are of substantial value and which are not properly available to similarly situated individuals.  According to the Agreement, in 2013, Tompkins went to eight retail shops in Roxbury that were displaying campaign signs for Douglas Bennett, Tompkins’ 2014 campaign opponent.  The signs all read, “Vote for Sheriff Bennett.”  At each of the shops, Tompkins orally identified himself as Sheriff and displayed his official identification.  He then requested that each business owner remove Bennett’s campaign signs.  All of the business owners complied with Tompkins’ request.

The Agreement states that Tompkins violated the conflict of interest law by using his official position as Sheriff to secure the removal of his opponent’s campaign signs.  The removal of his opponent’s signs upon his request was an unwarranted privilege of substantial intangible value, which personally benefitted Tompkins as a candidate for Sheriff.

“It is unreasonable to think that any shop owner in this situation would have felt comfortable denying what appeared to be an official request from a law enforcement official,” said Executive Director Karen L. Nober.  “Under these circumstances, the requests made by Sheriff Tompkins were an inherently coercive use of his official position to aid his candidacy, and therefore were prohibited by the conflict of interest law.”


Today's political earthquake

My guess: (1) he had finally accomplished his decades-long quest to have the Pope address Congress; and (2) he was sick of trying to hold his majority together while avoiding a shutdown. - promoted by david

As this news is now a few hours old I’m surprised nobody else has posted.  I could have linked any number of stories, but for now I’ll just do a drive-by report that Speaker Boehner has announced his resignation.  There’s speculation about whether he was pushed by the base and even if somehow the Pope’s visit had something to do with it.  There is no modern precedent for leaving the Speakership midterm.  Since it’s not a scandal, even Dems are praising his leadership.

China is pricing carbon; Will Massachusetts?

We certainly should. Fossil fuels suck money out of the Commonwealth and carry many costs. Renewable energy plays to our strengths in technology and research and can create thousands of new jobs. Anything we can do to encourage a move from the former to the latter is a net gain. - promoted by Bob_Neer

For those of us who recognize that the science of climate change is real, this may be the most important news story of the year. China is moving forward with a cap and trade system by 2017.

Of course, there is a lot of work to be done before we know for certain what the program will look like and how effective it will be. But this is the largest polluter in the world taking the single most important step necessary to reduce emissions, by putting a price on carbon. It’s huge news, and alongside the Pope’s visit to the United States, it demonstrates that humanity may indeed be pulling ourselves from the brink of catastrophic climate change.

Carbon pricing, which can be accomplished through either a cap and trade program or a direct fee or tax on carbon emissions, is recognized by almost all economists and policy experts as the central, critical step necessary to wean our economy off of fossil fuels and create the clean energy economy necessary to solve the climate crisis. By making fossil companies pay a cost for their emissions of pollution, putting a price on carbon can hold big polluters accountable for their emissions, while providing an incentive throughout the economy for efficiency and clean energy.

At the same time, putting a price on carbon raises revenue – money that can be used to protect poor and middle class people, either through direct rebates or through investments in efficiency and clean energy that will create jobs and reduce energy costs.

Massachusetts was once a leader on carbon pricing. Massachusetts leadership helped create the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a regional cap and trade program in the electricity sector. Through RGGI, Massachusetts has generated hundreds of millions in revenue from the fossil fuel industry – money that we have wisely invested in energy efficiency programs that have saved consumers billions. According to a recent report by the Acadia Center, the RGGI program has created over 28,000 jobs while reducing electricity prices and creating over $2.5 billion in economic gains for the region.

The Political Strategy of Pope Francis

America, in particular the GOP which controls the Congress and Supreme Court, by contrast, steps farther away from the norms of the developed world. - promoted by Bob_Neer

A lot of writers on all sides of the spectrum, from Catholic and non-Catholics alike, will be parsing the words and actions of Pope Francis during his American visit to determine what, exactly, the man and his office will stand for the duration of his Papacy. One of the more astute observations was buried in observational commentary from the Atlantic’s political writer Molly Ball.

But what makes Francis different is really a matter of which Catholic beliefs he has elevated to the level of communal concerns—public policy—and which he has framed as individual choices. To Francis, sharing wealth and fixing global warming are matters that governments should address, while not committing homosexual acts or having abortions are individual choices he endorses. (As he famously put it: “Who am I to judge?”) This is quite different from the American Catholic church, which has poured its political energy into laws banning gay marriage and restricting abortion. (The church, often through the Knights of Columbus, was one of the largest funders of anti-gay-marriage ballot initiatives, particularly post-2008, when the Mormons largely stopped funding them.

Pope Francis offers hope to progressives of all faiths (or none), since he recognizes that government cannot control individual moral choices but it can-and should-have a wide role in governing our economy, our environment, and the international community. In this light, endorsing climate action, diplomacy with Iran and Cuba, responding to the Syrian refugee crisis, ending the death penalty and government solutions to income inequality make sense and are consistent with the morality of the Church. These are actions well within the purview and range of the government.

These are also similar to the fights government has won in the past and can win in the future. One can only look at the failure of Prohibition in the US, or the failure of morally rigid Church backed dictatorships in Latin America to see how they can’t control the morality of individuals nor respond to the real needs of the community.

It’s why Francis will continue to be an ally, in my view, of center-left governments in North America and Europe, along with reasonable center right governments like Cameron’s or Merkel’s that are compassionately responding to climate change and the refugee crisis. It is why social conservatives, especially those within the United States, will continue to be disappointed.

Uber's imaginary "airport surcharge"

An entertaining story in the Herald today about Uber caught with its pants down ripping off customers:

Massport is questioning the $8.75 surcharge Uber charges to take passengers to Logan International Airport, saying in a letter to the ride-hailing giant that any implication the charge comes from the state agency is “patently false.”

“Massport requests an immediate explanation from Uber of the charges on its customers’ receipts,” reads a letter sent Sept. 2 from Massport Acting Chief Legal Counsel Catherine McDonald to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. “Any representation to the traveling public that there is a ‘Logan Massport Surcharge & Toll’ of $8.75 is patently false.”

Uber riders are routinely issued the charge for trips to Logan. But, according to the letter obtained by the Herald, Massport does not charge Uber such a fee.

The same surcharge is at the center of a lawsuit filed last year seeking class action status in U.S. District Court in Boston.

“The fee is completely bogus,” said John Roddy, a lawyer who filed the suit.

Uber said the fee is meant to offset the time and cost of driving to Logan, where many UberX drivers are not allowed to pick up passengers. In its response to Massport, the company said the name of the fee has been changed to “Airport Surcharge.” An Uber spokeswoman said the company worked with Massport to change the name nearly a year ago.

Of course, many would say $50 or more to take a licensed taxi from Logan to parts of Boston and Cambridge is rip off enough in an age where one can fly to Indiana for less. Uber may offer lower fares than legal drivers even with its magical surcharge (or it may charge far more). If Boston had a developed-world subway system with a direct train to downtown from the airport, of course, this discussion would be academic. Sigh.

With the Pope's Visit, Congress Has Opportunity to Think Big Again

Rep. Jim McGovern is the Congressperson for the 2nd Massachusetts district. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Photo Credit: White House

As our economy continues to recover and more Americans are getting back on their feet, many families are still struggling and worried about the future. Income inequality, poverty and hunger continue to be among the greatest challenges we face today and for too many families, these are holding them back from achieving their dreams.

With the visit of Pope Francis to Washington this week, I hope my fellow members of Congress will be inspired by his call to tackle these issues. Americans are eager for bold leadership and big ideas. Francis’ address to Congress is an opportunity for us to put politics aside and come together to build an economy where everyone has the opportunity to succeed and no one is forgotten.

Read my full op-ed by clicking here.

Wonk Graphics: Some Biden Numbers

Interesting. Not sure about the stipulation. - promoted by Bob_Neer

From the Bloomberg Poll:

There is a certain ambivalence among Democrats about a Biden candidacy:

While we can stipulate that Sanders will continue to repel black and Latino voters, the gender dynamics are interesting:

A closer look at the sample of the Democrat and Democrat-leaning poll respondents shows that nationally, Clinton is better liked by women than men—74 percent to 64 percent—while Biden’s favorability is closer to gender-neutral, with 81 percent for women and 79 percent for men. The survey also found those who are married or have children under the age of 18 were more likely to give Biden favorable ratings than Clinton.


I think it’s fair to say that that’s what we’re looking at here in Massachusetts.  Consider the developments of just the last couple of weeks:

  • Attorney General Healey certified (as she had to) a ballot question that would alter the MA gambling law by authorizing another slot parlor, this one located in Revere near Suffolk Downs.  Both the city of Revere and Suffolk Downs say they are not involved and don’t intend to support the measure.  Nonetheless, if the proponents can gather enough signatures, it’ll be on the ballot in 2016.  Generally pro-casino Globe columnist Shirley Leung is shocked! shocked! that someone might have the temerity to end-run the existing casino licensing scheme by changing it at the ballot.  But once MA declared itself open for business to the gambling industry, there was every reason to think that this is exactly what would happen.
  • The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe received approval from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to convert 320 acres of land into an Indian reservation, which will allow the tribe to move forward with long-stalled plans to build a casino in Taunton.  Because the tribe will be proceeding under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), they do not need a license from the Mass. Gaming Commission.  There is already a compact in place between the tribe and the state, pursuant to which the tribe agreed to pay the state 17% of its gambling revenues – less than the 25% required of commercial casinos, but still something.  This development throws a huge monkey wrench into the plans of those seeking a commercial casino license in nearby Brockton from the Mass. Gaming Commission, though that group says they plan to move forward.  The Commission hasn’t said what it’s going to to; Governor Baker won’t take a position.  And here is an interesting detail:

    Now that the petition has been granted, the commission is forbidden under the compact between the Mashpee and the state to award a license to Mass Gaming & Entertainment. If the commission decides not to honor the compact, the tribe could operate a casino, albeit with some restrictions, while paying the state none of its revenues.

    It’s certainly hard to imagine two casinos within 20 miles of each other doing very well.  It’s also a virtual certainty that the tribe’s plans to build a casino on tribal land will be challenged in court, since there’s a Supreme Court decision that seems to put up an obstacle to their doing so; legislative fixes have been proposed but to my knowledge not yet enacted.  So the casino drama in southeastern MA seems likely to drag on for years.

  • MGM announced that it would ditch the high-rise portion of its planned casino in Springfield, and would move some other features of the planned development, including moving 54 proposed market-rate apartments away from the casino property.  It’s unclear exactly why, but the most likely candidate seems to be Connecticut’s move to build a new casino jointly operated by the tribes now running Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, which would probably located south of the MA border on I-91, only a few miles from Springfield (MGM has sued to try to stop that from happening).  Is MGM getting cold feet about investing $800 million in Springfield?  Sure looks that way, and some Springfield officials are upset and are already invoking the magic words “material change” (which could nullify the agreement between the city and MGM), though MGM bizarrely claims that radically changing the design “leave[s] our original design largely untouched.”  Ironic, given that Springfield has always been touted by casino proponents, from Charlie Baker on down, as the best argument for passing and keeping the MA casino law.  (Remember the heartstring-tugging ad urging you to vote “no on 3″ to give Springfield a chance?)  Look for additional shoes to drop on this one.
  • The ongoing sh!t-fight between would-be Everett casino mogul Steve Wynn and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was in court yesterday, and things don’t look good for Team Walsh.  But, of course, whatever the trial court rules, there will almost certainly be an appeal, which seems likely to guarantee that things will drag on for months.

Endless lawsuits and broken promises.  About par for the course with casinos.  How sad that it’s come to this in Massachusetts.

Hillary Clinton comes out against Keystone.

Impressive statement by Clinton. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Today for the first time she publicly stated her opposition, having previously remained mum in order to let the administration continue the process she was involved in starting.  She said she thought the decision would have been made by now, but feels she could no longer wait.  Unfortunately, many of the Democratic “tea party” that had used this as a litmus test rather than celebrating that she agrees with them is instead saying things like too little, too late and doubting her sincerity.  She instead wants to repair existing pipeline infrastructure so they don’t spring so many dangerous leaks.

Mass pension system blows $500 million by ignoring collapse in fossil fuel stocks

D'oh! - promoted by Bob_Neer

The Massachusetts public pension system — with $61 billion — has been refusing for years to look at the question of fossil fuel divestment on the grounds that selling fossil fuel stock would be a violation of fiduciary duty. Now it turns out that by hanging on to oil, coal, and gas they have managed to lose $521 million in just twelve months. That’s $10 million a week — down the drain. My estimates are that each member of the system has about $300,000 backing up his or her retirement in which case this loss equals the total retirement funds of 1,400 workers.

I spoke this morning to the investment staff at the pension system, and they could not say whether they have ever given the question of climate risk a moment’s thought. Now THAT is a breakdown of fiduciary duty.

Donald Trump (peace be upon him) shows his character

Trump’s tacit acceptance of the premise of his New York questioner in a New Hampshire question and answer session last week — that President Obama is a Muslim and not an American, and that Muslim Americans are, in general, a threat — sums up in a nutshell the thesis of his campaign: to seek the nomination on the backs of the worst of America. Washington Post:

“We have a problem in this country — it’s called Muslims,” the man said. “We know our current president is one.”

To this, Trump responded, “right.”

The man continued: “You know he’s not even an American — birth certificate, man!”

“We need this question, this is the first question,” Trump responded with nervous laughter.

“We have training camps growing where they want to kill us,” the man said. “That’s my question. When can we get rid of them?”

Trump responded by steering clear of the question entirely and giving a vague catch-all statement before quickly calling for another question.

It’s worth watching the exchange, and Fox’s segue into McCain’s defense of Obama when asked a similar question in the 2012 race:

Trump’s campaign followed up on the story with this statement to the Washington Post: “The media wants to make this issue about Obama. The bigger issue is that Obama is waging war against Christians in this country. Their religious liberty is at stake.”

This approach is why Trump (peace be upon him) is unlikely to win the nomination: ignorant racists and religious bigots comprise a fraction of the electorate, but not enough to carry the general election, and probably not even the GOP nomination. Still, it’s a strong character statement.

Terrified MBTA passengers: "DROP THE GUN"

What the hell is wrong with people? Is this what police training calls for? - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

According to published reports, an armed MBTA police officer drew a gun on a crowded bus while attempting to subdue an unarmed woman:

A Massachusetts transit police officer was caught on video hitting an unarmed woman with a baton and drawing his firearm in a crowded bus as onlookers yelled for him to “drop the gun.”

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Police Department says it is investigating the video posted to Facebook Friday, which occurred in Dudley Square in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood earlier that day.

Watch the video (permissions prohibit me from embedding it) and see for yourself. The MBTA claims that the beginning of the altercation is not recorded. So be it.

What I see and hear is a police officer striking a woman multiple times. The apparent effect (not surprisingly) is to aggravate the encounter. At about 0:38 into the altercation, the officer draws his weapon. The terrified crowd begins to yell “Drop the gun”. The officer holsters his weapon at 1:13.

I note that the officer and woman (as well as most of the onlookers) are black, so at last this is not another example of racist police violence.

Why do we continue to tolerate police officers who worsen already tense situations by threatening lethal violence? The bus was stationary and stopped in a busy MBTA station. Backup was on its way.

At best, this video shows a police officer taking actions that worsen, rather than calm, an encounter with an unarmed woman. When that officer unholstered his weapon, he immediately jeopardized the lives of the many bystanders on the bus.

There is no excuse for this behavior from our police. We should not tolerate it.