Category Archives: Politics

Another side to a judge’s free legal assistance

I don’t want to defend a possible conflict of interest on the part of a judge. But I do want to offer a different perspective on today’s lead story in The Boston Globe, in which we learn that a judge accused of misconduct received $550,000 in free legal assistance.

The Globe’s Andrea Estes reports that Boston Municipal Court Judge Raymond Dougan received the free legal help in order to fight charges brought by Suffolk County District Attorney (and current mayoral candidate) Dan Conley that Dougan was biased in favor of defendants and against prosecutors. The Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct dismissed Conley’s complaint in late 2012.

In today’s story, Estes writes:

For more than two decades, the Judicial Conduct Commission had required judges to pay for their own legal representation during misconduct investigations. Free legal services could violate the state’s conflict-of-interest law and the code of conduct for judges, both of which prohibit giving gifts to public officials.

But consider. When Conley filed his complaint, he was in a no-lose situation. Even if Dougan ultimately prevailed, Conley knew that the judge would be ruined financially, and be held up as an object lesson for other judges wary of incurring the wrath of prosecutors. That’s outrageous, and tilts the balance in favor of the prosecution even more than it already is.

Dougan found a way around that. And keep in mind that Conley’s complaint was ultimately found to be bogus.

Pamela Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause, tells the Globe, “This is a very large sum of money, and only ­increases the need for a second look at the issue of legal representation of judges.”

Yes. And one way to do that is for the state to pay for legal services when judges  face allegations that don’t involve corruption or personal wrongdoing.

The missing context in the IRS scandal

Here’s an assignment for some enterprising journalist: Try to find out how many conservative 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) groups were formed in, say, 2009 through 2011 and compare that to the number of liberal groups formed during the same time period.

Only then can we judge how outrageous it was for some IRS employees to be searching for terms like “tea party” and “patriot” in attempting to crack down on tax-code abuse.

You drop your line where the fish are, you know?

Dan Winslow brings his campaign to Danvers

Winslow in Danvers

U.S. Senate candidate Dan Winslow calls himself “the Dan with a plan.” I am the Dan without a plan. But I do follow Winslow on Twitter. So when I saw that he was heading for Danvers Square, I walked the block and a half from my house to see if we could connect.

Winslow, one of three Republicans running in the primary on Tuesday, was greeting voters and meeting supporters at New Brothers. We’ve conversed so much on Twitter that it was hard to remember that this was actually our first meeting.

Winslow is as ebullient in person as he is on social media, touting his endorsement by the Springfield Republican as representing a “clean sweep” of Massachusetts newspapers. (Most notably, Winslow has been endorsed by both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.)

Still, the polls suggest that Winslow — a state representative, former judge and a top adviser to Mitt Romney when he was governor — is running third, behind former U.S. attorney Michael Sullivan and venture capitalist Gabriel Gomez. The winner will square off against one of two Democratic congressmen, Ed Markey or Stephen Lynch, in a special election to be held in June.

Winslow’s hopes would appear to rest on low turnout (likely to be especially low given how little attention the campaign has received following the Boston Marathon bombing) and his get-out-the-vote effort. His profile as a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican is one that has traditionally appealed to independent voters in Massachusetts. But he’s not well known, and there are only a few days to go.

Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy. Some rights reserved.

The Russian government’s literally incredible behavior

News Dissector Danny Schechter retweeted this blog post by former British diplomat Craig Murray, who questions the notion that the Russian government warned the United States of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s radicalism in 2010.

I will confess that I know nothing about Murray. But what he writes is the simple truth about the official story: After raising a warning flag about Tsarnaev, Russia allowed him into the country in 2012 and let him stay for six months, then leave again. Murray’s gloss on those facts also seems worth thinking about:

In 2012 Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who is of such concern to Russian security, is able to fly to Russia and pass through the airport security checks of the world’s most thoroughly and brutally efficient security services without being picked up. He is then able to proceed to Dagestan — right at the heart of the world’s heaviest military occupation and the world’s most far reaching secret police surveillance — again without being intercepted, and he is able there to go through some form of terror training or further Islamist indoctrination. He then flies out again without any intervention by the Russian security services.

Murray adds: “That is the official story and I have no doubt it did not happen.”

The New York Times today reports on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s time in Dagestan. This passage pretty much sums up the paper’s findings:

During his six months in Makhachkala [the Dagestan capital], according to relatives, neighbors and friends, he did not seem like a man on a mission, or training for one. Rather, they said, he was more like a recent graduate who could not quite decide what to do with himself. He slept late, hung around at home, visited family and helped his father renovate a storefront.

We are at the very beginning of what is likely to be a long investigation. But these reports are relevant at a moment when — as the Boston Globe reports — Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are despicably calling for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be treated as an “enemy combatant,” and when Republicans are already describing the Boston Marathon bombings as a breakdown in intelligence.

Not only do we not know that, but early indications are that such irresponsible speculation is not in accord with the facts.

Michael Sullivan’s tired, uninspired debate performance

Dan Winslow and Gabriel Gomez at least seemed interesting in tonight’s Republican Senate debate, sponsored by WBZ and the Boston Globe. But Michael Sullivan, who’s way ahead in some polls, came across as old and cranky, a garden-variety right-winger who couldn’t even bring himself to support the gun-control compromise announced in Washington today.

It seems to me that either Winslow or Gomez could at least make the Democratic nominee — Steve Lynch or, more likely, Ed Markey — break a sweat. If either of them gets a chance, that is.

And, oh, the Massachusetts Republican Party has come to this: both Sullivan and Gomez attacked Winslow for being part of a governor’s team that raised taxes and passed Romneycare. If Willard Mitt Romney is now too liberal for Republican primary voters, then their candidate is headed off an electoral cliff.

Lynch staggers under weight of chip on his shoulder

I thought Ed Markey and Steve Lynch both acquitted themselves fairly well in the Democratic Senate debate last night sponsored by the Boston Herald and UMass Lowell. (Herald story here; Boston Globe story here.)

What really struck me, though, was their closing statements, in which they both emphasized their working-class roots. Lynch came off as bitter and resentful. Markey told a lovely, uplifting story about the Dominican immigrants who now live in the Lawrence home where his father grew up.

The contrast turned an otherwise-OK performance for Lynch into a lost opportunity. I’m surprised Lynch can walk upright with that massive chip on his shoulder.

Tom Menino’s days of future past

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My one extended interview with Boston Mayor Tom Menino came in the summer of 1997 as part of a package I was doing for the Boston Phoenix on “The future of Boston.” (Check out Kristen Goodfriend’s enhancement of John Singleton Copley’s Paul Revere portrait.)

I remember showing up in Menino’s brightly lit City Hall office overlooking Faneuil Hall on a warm afternoon. Given his famed struggles with the English language, I found myself surprised and relieved at how articulate he was. Why, I asked myself, do people say this guy can’t talk?

Later, when I started to transcribe the tape, I realized I had a mess on my hands: without the mayor’s facial expressions and hand gestures, at least half the meaning was gone. Menino is a master of non-verbal communication, and here I was trying to cobble together a Q&A for print.

I did the best I could. As you’ll see, he said nothing particularly startling that day. He put forth some fairly bold ideas, and not all of them came to pass — expanding Copley Square to the edge of the Boston Public Library and remaking the Stalinesque City Hall Plaza, to name two.

“People get mad when I say this, but visionaries don’t accomplish anything,” Menino told me that day. “You have to have an idea of how you want to move the city forward.” Hmmm … isn’t that the definition of a visionary? Never mind.

Ex-Phoenician David Bernstein is still Talking Politics

Former Boston Phoenix political columnist David Bernstein hasn’t skipped a beat, moving his Talking Politics blog from thephoenix.com to his own domain. I’ve changed the link in the blogroll. And, of course, as I learn about new homes for Phoenix staffers, both virtual and terrestrial, I will post the information here.

Media to president: You’re a liberal!

The state of the union may or may not be strong, but the State of the Union was liberal.

That was the view of media commentators from the left, right and center the morning after President Barack Obama delivered his fourth State of the Union address. The president called for a higher minimum wage, universal preschool and action on gun control and climate change, among other things. And the consensus is that his support for such measures signaled a public embrace of activist government that we’ve rarely seen since the rise of Ronald Reagan more than three decades ago.

Read the rest at the Huffington Post.

Mass. teachers join the national surveillance state

Photo via Wikimedia Commons (click here for info)

Teachers in Massachusetts must now submit to being fingerprinted. And another part of our liberties just died.

This happened so quickly and quietly that I had no idea it was in the works until I read a small Associated Press item in the Boston Globe this morning. Googling revealed a detailed story published by Patch. The new law, signed on Thursday by Gov. Deval Patrick, pertains to everyone who works at schools and child-care centers. As this press release from the governor’s office makes clear, the law applies to private-school teachers as well.

Please read this sentence twice: The information would be forwarded to the State Police and from there make its way to the FBI.

It’s always easy to defend such measures as being in the best interests of kids. And if you’ve got nothing to hide, why should you care?

Let me offer a hypothetical. A teacher’s fingerprints could turn up in an investigation that has nothing to do with kids. That teacher will then be hauled in the police for reasons that have nothing to do with why the fingerprints were submitted in the first place — putting teachers at greater legal jeopardy than those of us whose fingerprints are not on file.

In effect, teachers are becoming part of the national surveillance state as the price of being employed. Taken in isolation, maybe it’s not a big deal. Several other states, including New York, already fingerprint teachers. But it chips away at our freedom, and it’s too bad Patrick decided to pander rather than use his veto pen.