Category Archives: Services

Railroad to nowhere: another tunnel under Boston

Visions of sugarplums clog up public projects. Often they are promoted by gadflies who don’t have to make anything actually work–always to be paid with somebody else’s money. Lessons from childhood: “If it sounds to good to be true, then it isn’t true.”

Grand vision left disaster: In 1983, the second Dukakis administration, as led by a sometimes visionary Transportation Secretary Fred Salvucci, claimed that highway tunnels under Boston to replace the Fitzgerald Expressway would cost $2.35 billion, with Massachusetts paying only 15 percent and with the federal government funding the rest. “If it sounds too good to be true, then it isn’t true.”

Dukakis and Salvucci got federal funding for the Big Dig–over a veto from former Pres. Reagan–by a margin of one vote in the Senate. They did not manage the construction. Republican state administrations that managed the Big Dig and its aftermath of repairs–from Bill Weld through Mitt Romney–lied to the public about rapidly growing costs. Massachusetts taxpayers have been hit with at least 45 times the costs claimed in 1983.

So far, including interest, the financial disaster is at least $24 billion and counting–over two-thirds being paid by Massachusetts. As of 2006, about 80 percent of the state Department of Transportation and its routine projects were being funded with money borrowed for the Big Dig. The Democratic administration of Gov. Patrick straightened out budgets. However, while state government returned to pay-as-you-go, Big Dig debts are not scheduled to be retired until 2038–55 years after efforts began.

Railroad to nowhere: Many historic, congested cities–including London, Paris and New York City–have long-distance railroad stations outside a central district, connected by transit lines. Boston’s MBTA provides transit similar to the London Underground, Paris Metro and New York City subways. There is no unique need to link Boston’s North Station and South Station via a long-distance railroad track. It would become a railroad to nowhere.

Proposals for a long-distance railroad tunnel under Boston have circulated since the 1920s, when there was an elevated transit railway–closed in 1938 after lack of use and scrapped in 1942 for steel needed during World War II. Likely costs always outweighed likely benefits. The surface Union Freight Railroad along Atlantic Avenue, built in the 1870s, was abandoned in the late 1960s for lack of use. The surface Grand Junction Railroad through Cambridge and Somerville still connects between the Boston railroad stations. It is now owned by the MBTA and is used occasionally to transfer equipment between the north-side and south-side commuter-rail lines.

Atlantic Avenue Elevated and Union Freight Railroad
near South Station in Boston, c. 1915

BostonAtlanticAvenueElevated1915

Source: Wikimedia, copyright expired

For some local visionaries, practical issues don’t seem to matter. Former Gov. Dukakis, now Prof. Dukakis, apparently learned little from the Big Dig financial disaster. In 2014, he was touting yet another tunnel under Boston: the would-be railroad to nowhere. It would cost “as little as $2 billion” he claimed. We have heard the same line before from Prof. Dukakis, when it proved wrong by more than a factor of ten. For a public works project, governments rarely seek out designs and costs from lawyers or academics.

Former Transportation Secretary Salvucci, a Boston Latin and MIT grad who trained as a civil engineer, was not on board the Dukakis train. As quoted in 1992, he said a long-distance rail tunnel under Boston faced “any number of problems, each of which was fatal.” Although veteran observer Stephen Kaiser has called Salvucci’s tactics with state projects “Machiavellian,” he shows a clear instinct for self preservation.

$18-33 billion boondoggles: On June 18, 2018, a state-sponsored engineering analysis, performed by Arup Group of London, attached price tags to several plans for the railroad to nowhere, Depending on the plan, the designs, construction and equipment alone would cost from $12 billion to $22 billion–in the spending range of the Big Dig–according to the initial report.

Arup Group initial estimates were projected to mid-completion in 2028 and include new rolling stock and “investments to support increased service.” They do not include any interest on state bonds. If interest costs were comparable to the Big Dig, they would add around 50 percent to construction and equipment costs, resulting in total costs to taxpayers of about $18 billion to $33 billion.

According to Bruce Mohl, writing in Commonwealth, the House chair of the General Court’s Transportation Committee said the results show “how expensive and unnecessary the project really is…beyond the reach of any conceivable financing plan.” Final shoes will drop with release of a completed Arup Group analysis this fall, but as of mid-summer, 2018, the railroad to nowhere looks headed for scrap.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 28, 2018


Bruce Mohl, North-south rail link to cost at least $12.3 billion, Commonwealth, June 18, 2018

Adam Vaccaro, North-south rail link would cost $12 billion, maybe more, Boston Globe, June 18, 2018

North-South Rail Link Feasibility Reassessment, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, June 18, 2018 (See page 39 for combined estimates, excluding bond interest.)

Robert Huber, Michael Dukakis’s last stand, Boston Magazine, December 5, 2017

Mike Deehan, State House News, Dukakis teams with Weld to push rail link plan, Brookline (MA) Tab, November 10, 2014

Gil Propp, On and along the Grand Junction Railroad, Boston Streetcars, 2014

Eric Moskowitz, Add interest and Big Dig cost expected to top $24 billion, Boston Globe, July 11, 2012

Mark Bulger, Atlantic Avenue trains times two, Good Old Boston, December 12, 2011

John E. Petersen, The Big Bill, Governing, September 1, 2008

Sean P. Murphy, Big Dig’s red ink engulfs state, Boston Globe, July 17, 2008

Stephen H. Kaiser, History of transit policies and commitments relative to the Central Artery Project 1989-1992, Somerville (MA) Transportaton Equity Project, 2004 (See page 2 on Fred Salvucci abandoning a Boston rail tunnel.)

Alan Altshuler and David Luberoff, Mega-Projects, The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investment, Brookings Institution Press, 2003 (See page 95, note 41, on Salvucci and the Boston “rail link” project.)

Craig Bolon, Billion-dollar splurge: Connecticut expands Hartford commuter-rail service, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2018

Discord over surveillance: Justice Kennedy retires

Justice Kennedy had enough sense to step aside before most of the public would see that he was losing his grip. Evidence showed in his dissent from Carpenter v. United States. In this high-profile case, he failed to see a difference between business and personal data. Even Chief Justice Roberts–sometimes a backer of imperial government–saw the difference, described in the U.S. Supreme Court opinion released Friday, June 22.

Carpenter v. United States involved government use of cell-phone location-tracking data in a criminal case without obtaining either consent from a cell-phone owner or a search warrant. As Justice Roberts wrote, “Tracking a person’s past movements through [cell-phone data is]…detailed and encyclopedic…the Court has already recognized that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the whole of their physical movements.”

Interstate crime watch: The Carpenter case arose from interstate crimes in Michigan and Ohio. Through cell-phone location-tracking data, the FBI found that Timothy Carpenter, alleged ringleader of a crime gang, was near the sites of several armed robberies at the times they occurred. Carpenter was convicted by a federal district court jury and sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.

Informed by a confession from one of the robbers, the FBI might have been able to justify search warrants for cell-phone records under the Fourth Amendment. Instead it relied on exemptions found in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. [Public Law 99-508] A key issue was whether locations tracked from cell phones are Constitutionally protected as elements of personal privacy. If so, the Fourth Amendment requirement for search warrants should apply to records of locations.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

A so-called “third-party rule” derived from United States v. Miller and from Smith v. Maryland exempted data voluntarily sent to businesses from Fourth Amendment protections: bank transactions and manually keyed telephone numbers. However, those Supreme Court cases from 1976 and 1979 could not anticipate circumstances of the recent Carpenter v. United States case. Consumer cell-phone services were introduced to North America in the mid-1980s and grew slowly in early years, when they were very costly.

Surveillance: While they are powered on, cell phones sample the radio environment and silently exchange messages with transceivers so that they can respond to incoming calls and be ready to place outgoing calls. Most if not all cell-phone services keep records of silent messages that include cell-phone identifications and transceiver locations. Location tracking exposes cell-phone owners to continuous surveillance–a major threat against personal privacy.

The 2018 Carpenter case challenged whether the federal government can access location-tracking data for a criminal investigation without obtaining a search warrant. Joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor, the opinion from Chief Justice Roberts said no–citing among other cases Riley v. California, decided by the Supreme Court in 2014.

The Riley case arose from data contained within cell phones, not data acquired by cell-phone transceivers. As in the Carpenter case, however, data had been examined by law enforcement without obtaining consents or search warrants and had been used to convict cell-phone owners, who appealed. The Supreme Court opinion found a novel, qualitative factor in the “immense storage capacity” of cell phones, calling that “a digital record of nearly every aspect of their [owners'] lives.”

Confusion: The Supreme Court opinion in the 2014 Riley case was likewise written by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor. Justice Kennedy also joined that 2014 opinion, yet for the 2018 Carpenter case he wrote a carping dissent. It shows confusion, starting with a claim that the Carpenter case somehow involves “new technology.”

Justice Kennedy either knew or should easily have learned that technology relevant to the 2018 Carpenter case is older than technology relevant to the 2014 Riley case. He tried to invoke the “third-party rule” based on cases four decades ago. Only by comparison with the 1970s era of communications does either of the more recent cases involve “new technology.”

Justice Kennedy’s dissent failed to recognize changes in communication uses and technologies over the 39 years since Smith v. Maryland. It failed to distinguish the 2018 case from the 2014 case whose opinion he joined. He was unable to see that–unlike bank transactions or manually dialed telephone numbers–durable records linking individual cell phones to dates, times and locations are not essential to business services as usually provided in the United States but instead reflect personal information.

Justice Kennedy seemed to think cell phones are active only when “a cell-phone user makes a call, sends a text message or e-mail or gains access to the Internet.” His views suggest location data from cell-phone transceivers have been voluntarily sent to businesses and are subject to the “third-party rule.” At a late point in a long span on the Supreme Court, he faded to a shadow of his former presence.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 29, 2018


Todd Ruger, Justice Kennedy to retire from Supreme Court, Roll Call (Washington, DC), June 27, 2018

Adam Liptak, Supreme Court says warrants generally are necessary to collect cell-phone data, New York Times, June 22, 2018

Carpenter v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 16-402, June 22, 2018

Matthew Tokson, The Supreme Court’s cell-phone-tracking case has high stakes, New York, November 27, 2017

Orin Kerr, Supreme Court agrees to hear Carpenter v. United States, Washington Post, June 5, 2017

Riley v. California, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 13-132, June 25, 2014

Ken Schmidt, Wireless telecommunications timeline, Steel in the Air (Baldwinsville, NY), 2014

Smith v. Maryland, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 78-5374, June 20, 1979

United States v. Miller, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 74-1179, April 21, 1976

Pipeline fiascos: Mass. gas morass

In a brazen money-grab, two big U.S. pipeline companies proposed major new natural-gas pipelines across southern new England a few years ago. At 2.7 Bcf/d (billion cubic feet per day), their combined new capacity would have far exceeded the most aggressive estimate of domestic needs over 30 years, 1.1 Bcf/d.

Thinly disguised motives were to build channels to ship U.S. natural gas overseas as LNG (liquefied natural gas), mainly sent in ocean-going tankers to Europe. Natural gas is a finite and strategic U.S. resource that has greatly reduced emissions of toxic substances and greenhouse gases, as compared with coal-fired power, during our country’s transition to renewable energy.

The pipeline developments were poorly reported in New England. The Boston Globe, the region’s largest news medium, has never employed a competent energy reporter. It has lacked a dedicated reporter on environmental issues since Beth Daley left in 2011 for a Knight fellowship at Stanford, never to return. Its politics reporters are usually clueless about business. Its business reporters pretend to be clueless about politics.

Take the money and run: Greedy, hostile companies trying to ream out New England were Kinder Morgan of Houston, TX–successor to Enron, El Paso Pipeline and Tennessee Gas Pipeline–and Spectra Energy of Houston–successor to Texas Eastern Pipeline and Algonquin Gas Transmission. Spectra recently became a division of Enbridge, a tar-sands pipeline developer located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

The greedy, hostile companies were looking for a cheap date and found one. What could be cheaper than building pipelines with somebody else’s money? At somebody else’s risk? The 2014 Republican candidate for Massachusetts governor became an eager cheerleader. On Election Day, 2014, five Kinder Morgan executives forked over $2,500 to the campaign of Governor-elect Charles Duane Baker, Jr. Senior personnel at other interested companies and groups had kicked in earlier for “Charlie”–as he styled himself.

As Gov. “Charlie” likely knew at the time and surely should have known, the largest electric utilities in New England entertained partnerships with Spectra Energy. Eversource–successor to Boston Edison–and National Grid–successor to Northeast Utilities–considered commitments to Spectra’s “Access Northeast” project: a major, new gas pipeline along the route of the Algonquin pipeline opened in 1953.

Payback to business backers of Gov. “Charlie” was prompt. Angela O’Connor became chair of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). She was a former president of New England Power Generators Association. Ron Gerwatowski became assistant secretary for energy. He had been a senior vice president at National Grid. Robert Hayden, a DPU lawyer who lost for Congress, running as a reactionary, became DPU commissioner.

Three months after Gov. “Charlie” took office, mastiffs at the Department of Energy Resources proposed to allow electricity distribution companies to invest in natural-gas pipelines, funded by surcharges levied against retail electricity rates. They should have known the proposal violated both letter and spirit of the 1997 Electric Utility Restructuring Act. [St. 1997, C. 164] That law took the distribution companies, including Boston Edison and Northeast Utilities, away from electricity generation they had mismanaged.

Three and a half months later, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) notified the DPU that the proposal in DPU docket 15-37 appeared to violate the Electric Utility Restructuring Act. According to the AGO, the proposal also lacked “ratepayer protections such as competitive processes, transparency, avoidance of conflicts of interest and incentives to achieve the best results for ratepayers.” In other words, it encouraged greedy, hostile companies against which the Electric Utility Restructuring Act had been aimed.

Battling the elements, elements mostly win: An ox set to be gored by would-be money-grabbers was the operator of the Distrigas LNG terminal on the Everett waterfront. Since 1971, that facility has landed natural gas shipped from overseas to fuel what became the largest generating plant in New England. Lower costs for U.S. gas delivered from pipelines shut in three other New England LNG terminals, but the Everett terminal survived through enterprising services and favorable, long-term contracts.

More recently interconnected to major pipelines, the Everett terminal has supplied gas to pipeline customers during winter months when demands peak. Operator GDF Suez, reorganized as Engie in 2015, was incensed to find that Massachusetts might subsidize operations of pipeline competitors through regulated electricity rates and promptly filed a Massachusetts lawsuit: Engie Gas & LNG v. Department of Public Utilities. Other New England energy operators petitioned a federal agency to block similar state subsidy schemes.

Through an amicus filing, the AGO advised the Supreme Judicial Court that DPU support for pipeline subsidies using regulated electricity rates violated the Electric Utility Restructuring Act and went beyond DPU powers under the state’s general laws. The SJC assigned expedited reviews. In a decision of August, 2016, the SJC flatly reversed the DPU, closely following the attorney general’s reasoning.

Seeing that Massachusetts utilities were lining up behind the Specta project, Kinder Morgan had folded its cards before the SJC decision, shelving the “Northeast Energy Direct” project. Less than a year later, finding no customer base to support oversized capacity, Spectra shut down the “Access Northeast” project. Thus the administration of Gov. “Charlie” was left adrift–ready to run but lacking a race track.

Working mostly in the shadows, Gov. “Charlie” continues catering to business allies at the expense of voters and taxpayers. Recently the DPU shut down residential solar energy, again pandering to large utilities that would rather not be bothered with an intermittent, nondispatchable energy source.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 6, 2018


Residential solar suffers a major setback from latest DPU decision, Solar Energy Business Association of New England (Amherst, MA), January 12, 2018

Enzo DiMatteo, More banks bailing on tar sands pipelines, Now Magazine (Toronto), November 6, 2017

Herman K. Trabish, Massachusetts utilities take divergent approaches to grid modernization, Utility Dive (Washington, DC), September 6, 2017

Mary C. Serreze, Enbridge suspends Access Northeast natural gas pipeline plan, Springfield (MA) Republican, June 29, 2017

Jon Chesto, Lacking financing, utilities put $3 billion natural gas pipeline plan on hold, Boston Globe, June 29, 2017

Andy Metzger, State House News, Beaton ‘saddened’ by retribution charges as State House inquiry lingers, Worcester (MA) Sun, October 2, 2016

Richa Naidu and Sweta Singh, Enbridge buying Spectra in $28 billion deal, Reuters (UK), September 6, 2016

Lee Hansen, The Massachusetts natural-gas pipeline-expansion proposal, Connecticut General Assembly, August 29, 2016

Eugenia T. Gibbons, DPU approval for pipeline tax sought no more, but Spectra project still very much in the works, Mass. Energy Consumers Alliance (Boston), August 25, 2016

Engie Gas & LNG v. Department of Public Utilities, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case nos. SJC-12051 and SJC-12052, August 17, 2016

Colin A. Young and Katie Lannan, State House News, Gov. Baker signs renewable energy bill, Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger, August 8, 2016

Jon Chesto. SJC rejects Baker’s plan to impose fee for gas pipelines, Boston Globe, June 29, 2016

William Opalka, Generation owners seek to block EDC-pipeline deals, RTO Insider (Potomac, MD), June 27, 2016

Jon Chesto. Kinder Morgan shelves $3 billion pipeline project, Boston Globe, April 20, 2016

Mary C. Serreze, More than 90 Massachusetts lawmakers oppose ratepayers financing natural gas pipelines, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 11, 2016

Craig Altemose, Gov. Baker’s campaign contributions from energy executives, Huffington Post, April 7, 2016

Mary C. Serreze, Supreme Judicial Court to consider if Massachusetts electric utilities can buy pipeline capacity on behalf of power plants, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 5, 2016

Paul J. Hibbard and Craig P. Aubuchon (Analysis Group, Boston), Power System Reliability in New England, November, 2015 (prepared for Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office)

Rebecca Tapper, Healey slams Baker’s DPU in letter, Commonwealth, September 22, 2015

Craig Altemose, Emerging reality of gas infrastructure: destination export, Huffington Post, July 10, 2015

Initial comments of the attorney general, Department of Public Utilities docket 15-37, June 15, 2015

Shira Schoenberg, Seek to expand state’s natural gas capacity, Baker administration tells Department of Public Utilities, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 14, 2015

Natural gas delivery capacity for thermal load and electric generation, Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, Docket 15-37 initial filing, April 2, 2015

Brian Dowling, National Grid joins $3 billion New England pipeline buildout, Hartford (CT) Courant, February 18, 2015

Mary C. Serreze, Region needs energy upgrades, including more natural gas pipeline capacity, says grid operator ISO New England, Springfield (MA) Republican, January 26, 2015

David Abel, Baker appoints controversial new energy team, Boston Globe, January 13, 2015

Matt Murphy, State House News, Beaton shakes up DPU team, hires former National Grid exec, Lowell (MA) Sun, January 12, 2015

David Abel, Environmentalists wary of Baker’s energy pick, Boston Globe, November 28, 2014

Shira Schoenberg, State Rep. Matt Beaton appointed energy secretary by Gov.-Elect Charlie Baker, Springfield (MA) Republican, November 17, 2014

Beth Daley, Senior reporter at New England Center for Investigative Reporting, Huffington Post, 2014

Thomas Overton, Everett LNG terminal at the crossroads, Power Magazine, July 2, 2013

An act relative to restructuring the electric utility industry, Massachusetts Acts of 1997, Chapter 164

Craig Bolon, New gas pipelines spurned: no subsidies from electricity rates, Brookline Beacon, August 17, 2016

Craig Bolon, Little need for new gas pipelines, Brookline Beacon, July 20, 2016

Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: attorney general weighs in, Brookline Beacon, November 1, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: need versus greed, Brookline Beacon, August 29, 2015

Suicides among veterans: searching for factors

Suicide among U.S. military veterans became a rising concern during the era of the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War, begun in 2001 and 2003 by the Walker Bush administration. Sens. Daniel Akaka (D, HI), Patty Murray (D, WA) and Tom Harkin (D, IA) called attention to the crisis in 2008, claiming the Department of Veterans Affairs was trying to ignore a growing problem.

Sen. Harkin had filed a bill the previous year asking the department to document suicides among veterans and take steps to prevent them. About eight years passed before the issue gained traction. Democrats in Congress continued to seek action, while Republicans who supported the Iraq War resisted. As a last blast before retiring, in late 2014 former Sen. Tom Coburn (R, OK)–an anti-abortion, “gun rights” reactionary–blocked the major bill then in Congress, using a procedural foil.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (PL 114-2) was soon refiled, passed and signed into law by former Pres. Obama. It stimulated research at the Department of Veterans Affairs and improved access to help at federal facilities. It also opened the door to new efforts aimed at understanding the effects of war stresses on military personnel.

Searching for factors: Reacting to early criticism, the Department of Veterans Affairs had published a 2012 report on veteran suicides, but it was pockmarked with missing information and did not measure impacts and trends clearly. Renewed research led to a more comprehensive report released in August, 2016, and to publication of data organized by states in September, 2017.

The newly published data have attracted interest: the first organized and detailed information available from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The 2016 report focused on veterans enrolled in programs operated by the department. However, in a chart–without numerical data–it also showed that the ratio of veteran to civilian suicides remains high and rose steadily between 2003 and 2008, as critics in Congress had charged. [Figure 14, page 25]

Ratios of veteran to civilian suicides by years

VeteranCivilianSuicideRatio2001-2014
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

On average, in 2001 military veterans were about 15 percent less likely than civilians to commit suicide. By 2009, they were about 20 percent more likely to commit suicide. Throughout, the veterans who enrolled in federal services (shown as “VHA Veteran”) have been more likely to commit suicide than the veterans who were not enrolled. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq associated with increases in veteran suicides. Uses of federal services also associated with increases in veteran suicides.

State factors: The most recently released data, grouped by states where veterans who committed suicide were living, make it possible to look for other factors. The states reporting the lowest rates of veteran suicides during 2001 through 2014 were Massachusetts, Maryland, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut–about 22 to 26 suicides per year per 100,000 veterans. The states reporting the highest rates were Montana, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming–about 69 to 55 per year, around 2-1/2 times as much as the states reporting the lowest rates.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released state data at 5 pm on a Friday afternoon. The few reporters from mainstream media who were paying attention noticed high suicide rates in Mountain West states. Some speculated that rural isolation might be a factor. None compared suicide rates quantitatively with the characteristics of states.

Characteristics of states are unlikely to be strong factors in veteran suicide rates, because they cannot identify impacts on the lives of individual veterans. For example, higher state spending on mental health services might be associated with a lower suicide rate, but it could have impact only if the services were actually being used by veterans. In fact, an analysis showed no statistically significant relation.

Since motor vehicle accidents may involve reckless and destructive behaviors, their impact was examined. Motor vehicle fatality rates have been collected and reported by federal agencies since the 1920s. So far, that has turned out to be the strongest state factor found associated with veteran suicides.

Veteran suicide versus motor vehicle fatality rates

VeteranSuicideVsMotorVehicleDeathRates
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Two other state factors produced statistically significant associations: percents of households reported as containing loaded guns and percents of state populations living in rural areas. Data on loaded guns were collected in a 2002 survey reported in a medical journal. Data on rural populations came from the 2010 federal census.

Correlations (R) with veteran suicide rates

MV death rates….0.50

Loaded guns…….0.43

Percent rural…..0.40

Sources: as described in text

The state factors are not statistically independent. Together they account for less than 40 percent of the state-to-state variance in veteran suicide rates. Although they can provide some insight, effective ways to prevent veteran suicides will likely develop from considering individual circumstances.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 19, 2017


Suicide rates of U.S. military veterans, 2001 through 2014, per 100,000 per year, Brookline Beacon, September 19, 2017

Thomas E. Ricks, Veterans Administration throws suicide stats out the back door on Friday at 5 pm, Foreign Policy, September 18, 2017

Hope Yen, Associated Press, Suicide among veterans highest in western U.S. and rural areas, ABC News, September 16, 2017

Suicide among veterans, state data sheets, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, September 15, 2017

Suicide among veterans and other Americans 2001-2014, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, August 3, 2016

Lauren M. Denneson et al., Suicide risk documented during veterans’ last Veterans Affairs health care contacts prior to suicide, Military Behavioral Health 5(1):1-119, 2016

Dave Philipps, Senate approves research into combat effects on mental health, New York Times, November 12, 2015

Kimberly Leonard, Obama signs suicide prevention bill to aid veterans, U.S. News, February 12, 2015

Richard A. Oppel, Jr., Preventing suicides among veterans is at center of bill passed by Senate, New York Times, February 4, 2015

Rep. Timothy Walz, Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, H.R. 203 of the 114th Congress, PL 114-2, U.S. House of Representatives, filed January 7, 2015

Motor vehicle fatality rates per 100,000 persons per year for calendar 2014, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015

Leo Shame, III, GOP senator blocks vets’ suicide prevention bill, USA Today, December 16, 2014

Janet Kemp and Robert Bossarte, Suicide data report, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2012

State urban and rural population percentages, 2010 Census of Population, U.S. Bureau of the Census

Associated Press, VA official accused of covering up suicide rates, NBC News, April 24, 2008

Sen. Tom Harkin, Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, S. 479 of the 110th Congress, U.S. Senate, filed February 1, 2007

Catherine A. Okoro et al., Prevalence of household firearms and firearm-storage practices in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Pediatrics 116(3):370-376, 2005

Star Wars revisited: shooting fish in a barrel

Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) has been underway in the United States over 20 years, managed since 2002 by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. The objective has been to disable long-range ballistic missiles at high altitudes, by striking them with interceptor missiles. The program sprang out of “Star Wars”–the Strategic Defense Initiative begun in 1983 during the first Reagan administration.

Efforts were inhibited by the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 between the U.S. and the former USSR, and only research occurred at first. During the first Walker Bush administration, the U.S. withdrew from the treaty and began full-scale development and deployment–then called the National Missile Defense program, later renamed GMD. Following a longstanding pattern of problems with military programs–”buy before fly”–about 30 GMD interceptors were deployed to the field years ago, long before any successful test.

Test fatigue: At a cost of around $40 billion, the GMD program conducted 40 test flights between June, 1997, and August, 2017, with about half involving some type of missile interception (listed in the GMD Wikipedia article). About half the flights are officially marked as “success.” However, the most recent one during May, 2017, was the first to disable a long-range missile.

To alert readers, the 2017 test was unconvincing. The target missile’s range of travel was just barely enough to make it a long-range missile: less than two-thirds the range between North Korea and Los Angeles, which is the longest potential range achieved so far by North Korea. Much more discouraging: the target’s path was aimed directly toward the interceptor missile, making interception far easier than a wide-angle path.

All but a few of the GMD interceptors–ones used in testing–have been deployed to Alaska, where they have midcourse access to flight paths between North Korea and places in the continental United States. However, using that access would require interceptions at angles of up to 90 degrees. No test so far has explored the practical need for wide-angle interception at very high speed and altitude.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 4, 2017


Robert Burns and Lolita Baldor, Pentagon missile defense program scores direct hit, Associated Press, May 31, 2017

Robert Burns, Leery of North Korea, U.S. plans first test of ICBM intercept, Associated Press, May 27, 2017

Laura Grego, The upcoming GMD missile defense test, Union of Concerned Scientists (Cambridge, MA), May 25, 2017

Cristina Chaplain, et al., Missile defense: some progress, U.S. Government Accountability Office, May, 2017

Ken Dilanian, U.S. may not be able to shoot down North Korean missiles, say experts, NBC News, April 19, 2017

Andrew Glass, President Reagan calls for launching Star Wars in 1983, Politico, March 23, 2017

David Willman, Flaw in the homeland missile defense system, Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2017

Ground-based Midcourse Defense program overview, U.S. Missile Defense Agency, 2016

Thomas Karako, Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, DC), 2015

High-rise fire in London: needless catastrophe

Around 1 am local time Wednesday morning, June 14, a kitchen fire began in a London high-rise public housing building. It was reported promptly to 999, London emergency services. The Grenfell Tower structure in west London–built mainly with precast concrete, steel and glass–should easily have resisted a kitchen fire long enough for the London Fire Brigade to arrive and extinguish it, but instead the fire spread.

Fire escaped through a window on a lower floor of the building, ignited newly installed, flammable materials on the exterior and quickly spread upwards. By the time the London Fire Brigade arrived, only a few minutes after the emergency call, the fire had already climbed well up the building of 24 floors, and it was also spreading sideways.

London high-rise fire, June 14, 2017, about 2 am

GrenfellTowerFireLondon20170614
Source: London emergency services

Desperate efforts: The London Fire Brigade was able to extinguish the kitchen fire, but its efforts against the massive fire on the outside of the high-rise building proved futile. By the time water flowed from aerial pumpers, the fire had spread onto two or more sides of Grenfell Tower and had reached the upper floors. As shown in photos, water streams rose only about halfway up one side of the building and a third of the way up a second. Apparently the London Fire Brigade could not access other sides when it mattered most.

The intense fire warped or melted new, thin aluminum window frames, and window panes fell out, allowing the fire inside. The building never had sprinklers. Contents of nearly all dwellings above the eighth floor and some below eventually ignited, further spreading fire from window to window. Interior fires became mostly air-limited and very smoky. Photos show interior fires burning at least 12 hours, until there were no more dwelling contents left to burn.

Inside Grenfell Tower, survivors say chaos reigned. In some areas, fire alarms did not sound or could not be heard. Emergency lighting was dim. Residents had been warned to stay inside dwellings in case of fire, but many ran through smoky corridors and down the single, narrow stairway, colliding with firefighters rushing upward. Most Grenfell Tower residents survived, but many who followed instructions became trapped.

While the lowest floors of Grenfell Tower suffered water damage, photos show at least three-quarters of the building incinerated. Five days after the fire began, London police stated that at least 79 people had perished. News reports speculated that final numbers could be much higher. Parts of the structure had been found unstable, so that dogs had been sent in to search for remains.

Causes of the catastrophe: The Grenfell Tower fire of 2017 did not compare to property damage from the Great London Fire of 1666, but the death toll may have been higher. The British prime minister has ordered a public inquiry directed by a judge. While that is likely to take at least months, contributing factors are already known.

It was clear from the outset that materials installed in a recent renovation of Grenfell Tower spread fire outside the building. High-rise structures were traditionally built with fireproof materials: typically concrete, steel, brick and glass. The renovation clad the building in a thick layer of insulation and a thin layer of rainshield. Both the added layers contained flammable materials, and both apparently burned.

Early news reports mentioned several different materials used in renovating Grenfell Tower, including highly flammable polystyrene and polyurethane. Discovery of specifications narrowed the list to Celotex RS5000 insulation, 6 inches thick, and Reynobond PE rainshield, 1/8 inch thick–both manufactured in Europe. The Celotex product is rigid polyisocyanurate foam, fire resistant but not fireproof. The Reynobond PE product has a solid polyethylene core, easily melted and readily flammable.

For a short time, Philip Hammond, the famously arrogant Chancellor of the Exchequer since July, 2016, muddied waters with a claim that Grenfell Tower renovation materials were banned under British building codes. If so, that might shift liability away from the UK government and toward renovation contractors. Writing in the New York Times, reporter David D. Kirkpatrick soon showed Hammond misinformed or lying.

In recent years, flammable materials have been allowed on the exteriors of high-rise buildings in several places, including France, Britain, Dubai, Singapore, South Korea and Victoria, Australia. That has resulted in a series of so-called “cladding fires” on the outsides of high-rise buildings. Until the Grenfell Tower catastrophe, the most widely publicized of those fires occurred in Dubai.

The worst of at least five recent high-rise cladding fires in Dubai heavily damaged the Address hotel on New Year’s Eve, 2015, the Sulafa tower on July 20, 2016, and the ironically named Torch Tower on April 2, 2017. The disasters resulted in several injuries but no deaths. In response, Dubai reportedly tightened building requirements, with some previously installed building materials needing to be replaced.

Avoiding another catastrophe: A cladding fire in Melbourne, Australia on November 25, 2014, showed how multiple fire-safety measures can avoid catastrophes. Lacrosse Docklands is a 23-story apartment building similar to Grenfell Tower. The exterior had been clad with similar flammable materials. A cigarette left in a plastic dish on a balcony ignited the dish and the wood table under it, starting a fire.

The burning wood table ignited an adjacent area of rainshield material, starting the cladding fire. The rainshield on this building was known by the trade name Alucobest. Like the Reynobond PE product, the standard Alucobest product has a readily flammable solid polyethylene core. As with the Grenfell Tower fire, the Lacrosse Docklands fire warped and melted aluminum window frames, and window panes fell out, allowing the fire to enter dwellings.

That is where similarities end and differences begin. Unlike Grenfell Tower, the insulation behind the rainshield at Lacrosse Docklands in Melbourne was non-combustible, not merely fire resistant: glass wool instead of polyisocyanurate foam. That probably slowed the speed of fire spreading, and it fed less fuel to the fire. The design of Lacrosse Docklands features bays of dwellings separated by protruding fins. The fire in Melbourne rose rapidly up one bay but did not jump to adjacent bays.

Unlike Grenfell Tower in London, Lacrosse Docklands in Melbourne had sprinklers–likely the most important difference. They worked as intended and kept fire from spreading inside dwellings, even though fire had been able to enter through damaged and open windows. The intensity of the fire did not increase through igniting dwelling contents, and fire did not spread inside the Melbourne building.

Unlike the London Fire Brigade performance, water flows from aerial pumpers in Melbourne reached to the top of the Lacrosse Docklands building and extinguished the cladding fire. There was substantial property damage in Melbourne, but there were no deaths or major injuries. Multiple safety measures combined to prevent a disaster from becoming a catastrophe.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 21, 2017


A visual guide to what happened at Grenfell Tower, BBC News, June 20, 2017

Danica Kirka and Frank Griffiths, Associated Press, 79 now believed to have died in London high-rise fire, ABC News, June 19, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, UK officials said cladding on tower burned in London was banned, but it wasn’t, New York Times, June 19, 2017

Justin Pritchrd, Associated Press, Insulating skin on high-rises has fueled fires before London, ABC News, June 18, 2017

Tom Peck, Grenfell Tower cladding is banned in UK, Philip Hammond says, London Independent, June 17, 2017

Danica Kirka, Associated Press, Anger erupts over possible flaws at burned London tower, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 16, 2017

Aaron Morby, Twenty London high-rises with Grenfell cladding system, Construction Enquirer (UK), June 16, 2017

Tom Bergin, Maker of panels at London tower cautioned on high-rise fire risk, Reuters (UK), June 16, 2017

Hayley Dixon, Sarah Knapton, Steven Swinford, Leon Watson and Danny Boyle, Grief gives way to anger as Grenfell Tower residents demand answers over string of failures, London Telegraph, June 15, 2017

Dan Bilefsky, London fire death toll rises to 17, New York Times, June 15, 2017

Hannah Lucinda Smith, The Grenfell Tower blaze was a disaster waiting to happen, The Spectator (UK), June 15, 2017

Benedict Brook and Rose Brennan, Melbourne skyscraper fire, caused by cladding, may have been a warning for London, News Corp Australia, June 15, 2017

Calla Wahlquist, Cladding in London high-rise fire also blamed for 2014 Melbourne blaze, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 15, 2017

Henry Bodkin, Fire safety expert had warned government advisors ‘entirely avoidable’ deaths would occur at structures like Grenfell Tower, London Telegraph, June 14, 2017

Jon Gambrell, Fire hits Dubai high-rise complex near world’s tallest tower, Associated Press, April 2, 2017

Unattributed, AFP, Dubai toughens fire rules after tower blazes, Business Times, January 22, 2017

Unattributed, Dubai fire: blaze engulfs more than 30 floors of Sulafa Tower, BBC News, July 20, 2016

Lacrosse Docklands fire: post-incident analysis report, Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board, Victoria, Australia, April 27, 2015 (5 MB)

Andrew Moseman, Huge fire engulfs Dubai skyscraper full of apartments, Popular Mechanics, February 20, 2015

UMass Boston: hoop dreams

Ten years of Dr. Keith Motley leading UMass Boston bent toward a close last month with an announcement of his departure by the end of June. Something like that seemed likely, since it was known that his contract had not been renewed. Motley came to UMass from Northeastern, where he began on a basketball scholarship in the early 1970s. He became a protégé of Northeastern administrator John Curry, president from 1989 to 1996, and had worked at Northeastern as an admissions reviewer, athletics coach and sports recruiter.

To further a long-range ambition of becoming a college president, in 1999 Motley earned a PhD from the Boston College School of Religion and Education, whose best known graduates have become Roman Catholic bishops and administrators at Catholic-led colleges. Four years later he took a UMass Boston job as an administrator for student affairs.

During the short tenure of Dr. Michael Collins as the UMass Boston campus president–called “chancellor” there–Motley took a detour as a marketing administrator in the statewide university office. In 2007, Collins moved out to lead the medical school at the Worcester campus, and Motley got the nod to lead the Boston campus.

Poor relatives: Public colleges in New England are mostly poor relatives of the private colleges that comprised higher education in the region for three centuries: from the mid-1600s through the mid-1900s. Land-grant colleges common in the Midwest and Southwest were latecomers in New England. Of the few founded in the region, only MIT emerged as a first-tier institution; it has remained privately run.

Together with the Dartmouth campus, UMass Boston has long been a poor relative of a poor relative. The better-off members of the UMass family are the founding Amherst campus, the medical school and–more recently–the technologically driven Lowell campus. UMass Boston opened in 1965, then housed in a 12-story building fronting on Arlington Street. It looked like an office building because it was one: the 1927 Art Deco headquarters for Boston Gas. Better things were supposed to await UMass Boston at the city dump.

UMass Boston at Arlington Street, 1965

UMassBostonArlingtonStreet1965
Source: Massachusetts Department of Higher Education

At the wishfully named Columbia Point, bordering the ocean, the UMass staff and students and the state’s taxpayers were victimized by massive graft in public construction that was commonplace during the 1950s through the 1970s. Recalling unusable floors at the Middlesex County Courthouse in Cambridge, condemned before completion, the central garage at Columbia Point proved structurally unsound the day it opened. It and adjacent buildings–McCormack Hall, Wheatley Hall, the Science Center, Healey Library and Quinn Administration–were plagued with leaks, crumbling masonry, failing ventilation and mold.

The original UMass buildings at Columbia Point shared an architect with the central Chicago prison. In 1977, state Sens. Joe DiCarlo (D, Revere) and Ron MacKenzie (R, Burlington) were convicted and jailed for extorting $40,000 in bribes from McKee, Berger and Mansueto of New York–the firm hired to oversee the UMass construction. Punishing corrupt politicians did not cure the evils visited on UMass Boston.

UMass Boston at Columbia Point, 1974

UMassBostonColumbiaPoint1974
Source: Massachusetts Department of Higher Education

According to Laura Krantz, writing in the Boston Globe, during 43 years at Columbia Point more than $40 million has been spent on stabilizing the original UMass Boston buildings, but that has only postponed disasters. Now the garage and at least McCormack Hall, Wheatley Hall and the Science Center are likely to be demolished and somehow replaced.

Marty Meehan, current president of the statewide university system, has been quoted as claiming that UMass Boston should come up with the funds for such a project–maybe a quarter billion dollars. For a campus with a total yearly budget of only $19 million for all asset depreciation, that would clearly be far beyond its capacity. Ten years ago, when the Amherst campus needed around $2 billion for building repairs–including a failing underground garage–no one suggested that the UMass Amherst budget should bear the whole cost.

Hands on the throttle: UMass Boston needed steady hands on the throttle. Built entirely as a commuter college, it serves large low-income and moderate-income populations ambitious to succeed in the world of work. Between 1965 and 2007, the former campus presidents (“chancellors”)–John Ryan, Francis Broderick, Carlo Golino, Robert Corrigan, Sherry Penney, Jo Ann Gora and Michael Collins–provided steady hands. They achieved stable management despite rapid growth.

During 1965 until 2007, UMass Boston enrollment grew from about 1,230 to 13,400 students at the starts of academic years–a compound growth rate of about 6.0 percent per year. The pace slowed with Keith Motley as the campus president (“chancellor”) of UMass Boston. During 2007 until 2017, enrollment grew from about 13,400 to 16,800 at the starts of academic years, a compound growth rate of only about 3.1 percent per year.

UMass Boston enrollments, 2008-2016

UMassBostonEnrollments2008-2016
Source: U.S. Department of Education

After continuing historic rising trends at first, during the Motley regime the in-state undergraduate enrollment flattened, and the in-state graduate enrollment fell. The breakpoint year was 2010, making it look likely that changes in goals and policies from Motley’s planning “vision” at UMass Boston were the causes–not, as some might have thought, the deep recession that began in early 2008.

Vision: Dr. Motley became the organizer of a so-called “vision” for the future of UMass Boston. As with many other such institutional schemes, concrete in 2009 preceded concepts in 2011. The concrete was the product of architects Chan Krieger Sieniewicz–then in Cambridge, MA–later merged with Naramore, Bain, Brady, Johanson of Seattle, WA, now NBBJ headquartered in Boston.

Unlike Harvard, MIT, Wellesley, Northeastern, Tufts, Brandeis, and a few other institutions in the region, UMass Boston has an historic mission as an affordable teaching university, not as a research university. In 2007, when the Motley regime began, UMass Boston remained a teaching university. However, spiraling student charges for tuition and fees had been eroding the UMass Boston mission of community service.

UMass Boston student charges, 1988-2016

UMassBostonStudentCharges1988-2016
Source: U.S. Department of Education

As described in the “vision” released in 2011, concepts for the future of UMass Boston reflected Motley’s background at Northeastern more closely than they did the needs and goals of UMass Boston students and their families. Motley described his focus as the “research university that we are and continue to become.” [App. B, p. 1] To most who have followed campus development, the falsehood and pretension would be obvious.

Rubber meets road: During the planning blitz for a future UMass Boston, Dr. Motley got blunt warnings from his finance staff that costs could easily spiral out-of-control. However, Motley likes to be liked. Results show him an easy touch for campus entrepreneurs who conjure up new programs. UMass Boston currently offers more than 200 academic programs to about 17,000 students.

Many degree-granting programs at UMass Boston lack sustainable enrollments. Of about 70 undergraduate majors available for at least ten years, only half have awarded ten or more degrees per year. The faltering yet longstanding programs include chemistry, physics, music, African studies, women’s studies, French, Italian, operations management, history and public policy.

Rather than trim back that unstable mix, the Motley regime has allowed several new programs a year. Most of the newer programs have awarded few degrees. Regardless of enrollment, all programs generate costs–mostly for teaching and support staff. Costs of less popular ones are not being offset much by revenues.

Dr. Motley does not seem to care very deeply about the impact of his research university “vision” on the Boston-area students and their families. He planned pay the bills by drawing in more out-of-state and foreign students. Early in his regime, he hired an expanded staff of very high-paid administrators who predicted, around a year ago, that there would be little or no deficit at this time.

Over the past year, rubber finally met the road. Not enough of those out-of-state and foreign students came. Recent reports estimate a $30 million annual deficit. The high-paid administrators were clearly wrong, but apparently either Motley had no contrary advice, or he chose to ignore it. His background as a basketball coach and sports recruiter left him personally unprepared to cope with storms of institutional finance.

In early March, state officials announced they had hired former Bowdoin College president Barry Mills to provide oversight but not to replace Motley. Early this April, Motley turned in his papers. The buzz coming out of UMass Boston signals desperate dodges to cut spending: classes cancelled without warning, part-time faculty laid off, library subscriptions dropped, copy machines unplugged. Hoop dreams.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 10, 2017


Laura Krantz, UMass Boston community fears cuts will erode its mission, Boston Globe, May 6, 2017

Laura Krantz, UMass Boston’s biggest challenge? Its own Big Dig, Boston Globe, April 22, 2017

Joan Vennochi, UMass Boston needs a reality check, Boston Globe, April 11, 2017

Michael P. Norton, State House News Service, Stoughton’s Keith Motley to step down as UMass-Boston chancellor, Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger, April 6, 2017

Peter Lucas, Beacon Hill silent on UMass Boston’s fiscal fiasco, Lowell (MA) Sun, March 28, 2017

Laura Krantz, UMass Boston was warned of financial crisis years earlier, Boston Globe, March 23, 2017

Laura Krantz, Growth spree has the UMass Boston campus in a bind, Boston Globe, March 18, 2017

Facts and Figures 2016-2017, University of Massachusetts at Boston

Statistical Portrait for 2916, Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning, University of Massachusetts at Boston

Annual Financial Report for 2016, University of Massachusetts, for Boston campus, see page 5-6

Chancellors and provosts, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 1965 to 2016

Emily Sweeney, The evolution of Columbia Point from calf pasture to UMass home, Boston Globe, March 29, 2015

Gabriel Baumgaertner, Hoop Dreams: where are the main figures now?, Manchester Guardian (UK), February 18, 2015

UMass Boston at 50, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2015

Edwin Khoo, How did MIT become a private university?, Quora, June, 2013

Tracy Jan, When good enough is simply not enough, Boston Globe, February 27, 2011

History of UMass Boston, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2011

A Blueprint for UMass Boston, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2011

Fulfilling the Promise, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2011

Vision statement, University of Massachusetts at Boston, dated 2010, published 2011

25-Year Campus Master Plan, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2009

Chan Krieger Sieniewicz (Cambridge, MA), Campus Master Plan, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 2009

James Vaznis, UMass facing a daunting repair bill, report says Amherst needs an extra $1.8 billion, Boston Globe, May 9, 2007

Collins and Motley to assume top posts, Media office, UMass Lowell, May, 2007

Facts 2006-2007, University of Massachusetts (all campuses)

Lisa Prevost, Is UMass pricing out kids like Joe Drury?, Boston Globe, December 11, 2005

Richard A. Hogarty, Massachusetts Politics and Public Policy: Studies in Power and Leadership, University of Massachusetts Press, 2002

Michael Knight, Massachusetts told of wide corruption, New York Times, January 1, 1981

John W. Ward (Special Commission chair), Final Report to the General Court of the Special Commission concerning State and County Buildings, 1980

Associated Press, Massachusetts state senators are convicted in extortion case, New York Times, February 26, 1977

Wendell H. Woodman, Let me call you sweetheart, New England News Service (series of five articles), February 8-12, 1971

Bermuda explosion: medical racketeering

On February 14 of this year, Bermuda filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for Massachusetts, seeking damages and legal costs from the Lahey medical organization of Burlington, MA. Bermuda claims that Lahey, aided by Dr. Ewart Brown, former prime minister of Bermuda, cost the country millions of dollars by engaging in a “pattern of racketeering activity.”

Bermuda v. Lahey is likely to prove complex. It seeks to apply the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970 to a civil dispute. Congress aimed RICO at “organized crime.” RICO helped reduce the New England Mob from subverters of mainstream business through violence and threats to exploiters of some peep shows and massage parlors. However, little known to most people, RICO also includes a section authorizing civil lawsuits.

When a “pattern of racketeering activity” by an “interstate enterprise” has been proven in court, triple damages plus legal costs can be awarded in a civil RICO lawsuit. As an early example, civil RICO was used successfully against anti-abortion activists who harassed and trashed a Philadelphia clinic during 1984, resulting in awards of about $45,000 for damages and $90,000 for legal costs.

Bermuda’s claims: According to the recent lawsuit, Lahey “accept[ed] fees for medically unnecessary…services…using those fees to pay Brown increasing bribes…to promote its interests in Bermuda.” [Bermuda v. Lahey complaint, paragraph 121] The “actions have caused [Bermuda] to…increase the rate at which it pays for certain health benefits, and to pay for overseas services in the United States….” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 132]

That is the essence of Bermuda’s arguments that it is owed damages under the RICO Act, in 18 USC 96.1962(a). Bermuda has also made claims under RICO Sections 1962(b), 1962(c) and 1962(d), using similar arguments. Its complaint says that fraud continued over more than ten years, that fraud cost Bermuda millions of dollars and that “bribes” and “kickbacks” were key elements in the “racketeering activity.”

“Lahey and Brown concocted a scheme built upon bribery and greed and carried out with complete disregard for Brown’s position of public trust or for the physiological and psychological impact on patients–who were subjected to excessive, medically unnecessary and frankly dangerous scans so that Brown and Lahey could obtain greater reimbursements….” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 3]

“Between 2006 and 2016, Bermudian public healthcare insurers paid Lahey over $40 million for services…To induce patient referrals for diagnostic scanning at the Brown clinics, Brown…offered and paid kickbacks, which he dubbed and disguised as ‘commissions.’…” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 92]

Dr. Brown is a bystander to Bermuda v. Lahey, not a defendant. If damages and legal costs were awarded under the lawsuit as filed, Lahey would have to pay. However, Dr. Brown’s activities would be key elements in showing a “pattern of racketeering activity” by an “interstate enterprise.”

A key issue for Bermuda will be proving that Lahey knew services in which it participated were “medically unnecessary.” If they were medically necessary or if Lahey did not know otherwise, then Lahey would not likely be seen as a party to fraud. According to the complaint in the lawsuit, patients were often referred to the Brown clinics in Bermuda, who would perform scans and send images to Lahey in the U.S. for interpretation. In such a sequence, Lahey acted as a third-party provider.

Conflicts: According to Bermuda’s complaint, “By 2001, Brown…was…serving as Bermuda’s minster of transport. At this time, [Lahey] entered into the first of many consulting agreements…whereby Lahey agreed to pay Brown and [his company Bermuda Healthcare Services] substantial sums of money in exchange [for] their promotion of Lahey’s interests on the island. [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 28]

The complaint continues, saying “agreements called for Lahey’s payment of ‘consulting fees’ to Brown…in exchange, Brown…would ‘promote healthcare opportunities (for Lahey) in Bermuda and elsewhere in the West Indies.’…Brown’s use and exploitation of his role as a government minister to promote Lahey’s interests in Bermuda [was] a clear conflict of interest….” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 31]

According to the complaint, what looks to have been a problem developed into a threat: “Increasing the rate of Lahey’s payments was important to Brown because he was reliant on the payments to fund his clinics, which had to operate at capacity each month for him to stay…solvent.” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 38]

Bermuda’s complaint says Lahey had helped Brown make arrangements to buy a CT scanner for his clinics and later buy an MRI scanner–very costly and risky moves for an individual physician. In addition to paying off debt for equipment, he was also paying Lahey directly for interpreting scans, rather than their trying to bill Bermuda’s national health program, and he tended to fall behind on payments.

Bermuda’s complaint continues by saying that “Brown routinely used his role as premier…to ensure that Lahey got the access for which it paid him…on February 5, 2007, [the chief operating officer at Lahey] mailed Brown to thank him ‘for offering Lahey the opportunity to meet with your minister of health…to participate in the development of a future urgent care center’…Brown responded, ‘You didn’t know you were in the in-crowd? (Smile)’.” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 50]

As of 2007, an outside survey found that Bermuda did not require a government certificate of need to operate CT and MRI scanners. Its national health-care program did not require preauthorizations for scans. In Massachusetts, certificates of need for scanners began in 1976, and most health-care insurance plans required preauthorizations for scans in the 1980s. In its complaint, Bermuda notes that Dr. Ewart Brown successfully opposed a preauthorization requirement proposed in 2013. [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 99]

Prospects: Clearly set out in Bermuda’s complaint initiating the recent lawsuit are issues that might have been obvious to Lahey executives: conflicts of interest between Dr. Brown’s efforts in Bermuda for Lahey and Dr. Brown’s duties in government, plus financial pressures created by Dr. Brown’s debt payments for medical equipment and Dr. Brown’s payments for medical services provided by Lahey.

Bermuda’s complaint has benefited from unexplained disclosures, such as messages cited between Dr. Brown and an executive at Lahey. However, Bermuda probably has more to learn about Lahey’s activities. Unless the case is dismissed on preliminary motions, it will enter discovery, providing Bermuda with opportunities to obtain information.

Bermuda’s complaint says that “no one was better positioned than Lahey, which read all scans conducted at the Brown clinics, to detect medically unnecessary scans.” [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 81] However, Lahey did not necessarily know what medical indications had prompted scans, since it was reportedly Dr. Brown’s clinics that performed them. Whether scans were or were not “medically necessary” and how much Lahey knew about that are issues likely to develop at a trial.

Bermuda has accused Lahey of paying Dr. Brown for favors and accused Dr. Brown of paying other physicians to refer patients to his clinics. It will surely try to obtain documents and testimony strengthening those claims. If successful in the efforts, Bermuda might be able to prove at a federal trial what it now alleges–that the cooperation between Lahey and Dr. Brown comprised a “fraudulent enterprise,” subject to sanctions under the RICO Act. [Bermuda v. Lahey, paragraph 70]

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 15, 2017


Complaint, Bermuda v. Lahey, case 1:17-cv-10242, U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, February 14, 2017

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Lahey fights back against Bermuda bribery allegations, Boston Globe, April 14, 2017

Unattributed, Brown braced for chance of arrest, Royal Gazette (Bermuda), February 24, 2017

Shelley Murphy and Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Former Bermuda premier defends his ties to Lahey, Boston Globe, February 22, 2017

Shelley Murphy and Danny McDonald, Bermuda’s ex-premier calls claims Lahey bribed him a litany of lies, Boston Globe, February 16, 2017

Sam Strangeways, Lawsuit slams Brown and Lahey, Royal Gazette (Bermuda), February 16, 2017

Janelle Lawrence, Bermuda files lawsuit accusing a U.S. hospital group of costly, unnecessary medical-imaging tests, Bloomberg News, February 15, 2017

Mark Arsenault, Former Bermuda leader with ties to Lahey was educated in US, Boston Globe, February 15, 2017

Jo Anne Pool, Northeast Women’s Center v. McMonagle: a message to poltical activists, Akron Law Review 23(2):251-267, 2015

John J. Hamill, Brian H. Rowe, Kaija K. Hupila and Emily Burke Buckley, A guide to civil RICO litigation, Jenner & Block, 2014

Bermuda Hospitals Board: Estate Master Plan review, Johns Hopkins, 2007

Seeking the bialy: a Jewish gift

The bialy shares only a few features with its distant cousin, the bagel. Both are round and low, and both came into the world from Jewish bakers. A good and genuine bialy, however, has a thin, crisp crust with a soft, fragrant texture inside. If it seems slightly sweet, that taste comes entirely from partly caramelized fresh onions. There will be no malt, no sugars, no starches and no enzymes added to a good and genuine bialy. There is only flour, water, yeast and salt–plus toppings made from vegetables, seeds and oils. The classic bialy, originally from the city of Bialystock while it was part of czarist Russia, has lots of poppy seeds.

A good and genuine bialy takes some special care. There are many ways to cut corners, and they probably have all been found by some source one might encounter. There are always the traps of poor ingredients, sloppy technique and stale product. Beyond those, for example, attempts to produce a bialy from bagel dough simply make an inferior bagel–usually firm and heavy. Reducing water in the dough may make it easier to shape but yields a tough texture. Adding sugar or malt to speed rising or cutting out an overnight build produces bland flavor, somewhat like mass-produced bread. Adding eggs, milk or fats makes an inauthentic product. A topping made with dried instead of fresh onions will have an odd, medicinal taste, maybe suggesting a bargain-price pizza-sauce.

There are still a few small bakeries that will turn out a good and genuine bialy, often at special points of days and weeks or on special order. However, it is a difficult product to handle all the time, with a short shelf-life. The well known bakeries located in New York City are all deep into product changes that tend to help profits but pare quality. Fortunately, one can make a good and genuine bialy at home. It does not need unusual equipment or ingredients that are hard to find. If it did, neighborhoods of mostly poor Jews once living in czarist Russia would probably never have developed the bialy.

A recipe: The bialy recipe presented here uses only vegetable ingredients, so it is vegan (purely vegetarian). With kashrut, as observed in an Orthodox kitchen, and proper selection of ingredients, it can be kosher and pareve. The recipe uses techniques familiar to artisan bakers and lists all ingredients by weight, where an ounce is 28.35 grams. Measuring by weight is the method of nearly all bakeries: the only way to achieve reliable results. If one does not already have it, a digital kitchen scale that measures from 1 to 2,000 or more grams can be found for about $15 to $40 at most department and many discount stores.

To make 16 about 10 cm (4 in) diameter, 65 g (2-1/4 oz) as baked
– for the dough –
720 g unbleached strong AP flour, 4 cups unsifted
500 g water, 2 cups + 2 tsp, room temperature
12 g fine kosher salt or sea salt, 1-3/4 tsp
4 g instant yeast, 1-1/4 tsp
– for the toppings –
180 g onion, minced, 3/4 cup
10 g olive oil, 2 tsp
2 g fine kosher salt or sea salt, 5/16 tsp
10 g poppy seed, whole, 1 tbsp
– for supplies –
semolina flour for work surfaces, as needed
vegetable oil such as canola, as needed

We usually use King Arthur unbleached, all-purpose flour: kosher certified and readily available in markets throughout the northeastern United States. Made with hard winter wheat, it provides good flavor and texture. We found little if any improvement in either flavor or texture from using “bread flour” or other extra-high-gluten flours. For kneading, we use a Varimixer appliance made by Wodschow in Copenhagen. It is a labor-saver and has proven useful and reliable when baking often. When baking occasionally, however, kneading by hand works just as well. The recipe gives directions for both approaches.

Preparing a build: Flavor is improved by preparing an overnight build–also called a sponge, a pre-ferment, a “biga” for Italian bakers or a “poolish” for French bakers. During the second half of the nineteenth century, that reduced the use of baker’s yeast, a new and expensive ingredient for the period. The bialy seems to have originated as a “sweet yeast” bread. No nineteenth-century descriptions have appeared that mention “sour yeast”–wild yeast cultures widely used for breads before development in Europe of baker’s yeast from beer brewer’s yeast, between about 1750 and 1850.

In a small bowl, combine 240 g of the flour (1-1/3 cup unsifted) with 240 g of the water (1 cup) and 0.2 g of the instant yeast (1/16 tsp). Cover the bowl, and allow the build to rise about 12 to 18 hours at 20 to 21 C (68 to 70 F). Stir the build at about halfway. Use or refrigerate the build when about doubled in volume or when any shrinkage is noticed. Temperature affects rising time; a lower temperature takes longer.

Mixing, kneading, rising, shaping and proofing: Varimixer technique. Lightly oil the Varimixer bowl and hook tool and a large bowl for bulk rising. Blend the remaining 480 g flour, the remaining 260 g water and the entire build at Varimixer 0.5 for about 1-1/2 minutes until well combined and smooth. Cover the Varimixer bowl tightly, and let stand about 20 minutes. Knead at Varimixer 1.0 for 12 minutes, clearing dough off the hook at least once. Add the remaining nearly 4 g instant yeast and the salt, and blend at Varimixer 0.5 for 1 minute. Place the dough in the bowl used for rising, form it into a flattened ball and cover the bowl.

Hand technique. Lightly oil a mixing and rising bowl. Place the remaining 260 g water, the remaining nearly 4 g instant yeast and the entire build into the bowl and blend them. In stages, add the remaining 480 g flour, and mix gently with a spatula until smooth. Cover the bowl and let stand about 20 minutes. On a work surface lightly dusted with semolina flour, knead the mixed dough by folding it in half and pushing and stretching, then rotating a quarter turn and repeating. At around 20-30 cycles, taking about 10-15 minutes, the dough will become elastic and resist kneading. Gather it into a ball, put it back in the bowl and let it rest about 5 minutes. Smooth it across the work surface, sprinkle the salt evenly and knead for about 10 more cycles. Place the dough in the bowl again, form it into a flattened ball and cover the bowl.

Allow about 2 hours for bulk rise at about 25 C (77 F), folding twice at intervals of about 40 minutes. After bulk rise, working on a surface lightly dusted with semolina flour, form the dough into an even roll. Divide in half 4 times, making 16 equal rounds of about 75 g (2-5/8 oz) each. Shape each round into a disk about 6 cm (2-1/2 in) diameter. Stretch the bialy disks to about 10 cm (4 in) diameter with thin middles and thick rims, about 2 cm (3/4 in) apart on nonstick baking surfaces. Proof about 1-1/4 hour at about 25 C (77 F).

Adding toppings, baking and serving: Preheat the baking oven to 220 C (425 F). That is the maximum rated temperature for high-performance, nonstick baking trays; results are just as good as with higher temperatures. A baking stone low in the oven will help to maintain an even temperature. Cook the minced onion in the olive oil over medium heat about 15 minutes, stirring often, until translucent and lightly browned. About half the original weight of onion should remain. Blend in salt, and set aside to cool. Place poppy seeds in a small bowl or a spice dredge for dispensing.

After proofing, dock the hollows in the middles of bialy disks around their edges with a plastic fork. Spread about 6 g (1/2 tbsp) of onion mix on each bialy, mostly in the hollow but a little toward the rim. Using more onion mix or leaving onions wetter than described can make a bialy blow up and become a lump. Brush each bialy rim lightly with water, then sprinkle about 0.6 g (1/4 tsp) of poppy seeds across the top, including the hollow. Bake about 15 minutes at about 220 C (425 F) until golden brown with crisp crusts. Allow to cool about 5 minutes on an open rack, and if possible serve within a half hour. Best while warm.

Can be frozen for storage, best in a sealed plastic bag about 10 minutes after baking. Can be kept frozen for up to about a month. When ready to serve, thaw and crisp in a toaster oven about 2 minutes, or thaw about 20 seconds each in a microwave oven and crisp about 2 minutes under a broiler. Traditionally consumed whole, not sliced, often spread with butter, cream cheese or whitefish salad. Also eaten with a variety of other foods.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 1, 2017


Rebecca Kobrin, Bialystok, YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut, founded in 1925 at Wilno, Poland now Vilnius, Lithuania, today the Institute for Jewish Research, since 1940 at New York, NY), 2010

Leo Melamed (CME Group, former chair, Chicago Mercantile Exchange), There are no Jews in Bialystok, 2000

Barry Harmon, Bialy photos fresh from the oven, Artisan Bread Baking (West Valley City, UT), 2013

Bialys, pp. 262-263, in Jeffrey Hamelman, Bread, Wiley, 2004

Sarah Smith, Well-travelled food: the story of the bialy, The Garden Deli (Yorkshire, UK), April, 2015

Sylvia Carter, For many, a bialy is the bread of a lifetime, Newsday, September 6, 2000

Florence Fabricant, Kossar’s is sold and kosher, in Food Stuff, New York Times, March 11, 1998

Dylan Schaffer, Life, Death & Bialys: A Father/Son Baking Story, Bloomsbury, 2006

Mimi Sheraton, The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World, Random House, 2000

Elections in 2016: trends from Massachusetts cities and towns

In 2016 general elections, Massachusetts voters extended a record of support for progressive causes and candidates. Voters strongly supported Clinton and Kaine for President and Vice President, and they returned a delegation of mostly progressive Democrats to Congress. On four statewide ballot questions, voters opposed another slot-machine casino, opposed lifting limits on charter schools, favored protective measures for farm animals and annulled former state laws against marijuana use and sale.

Votes for President and Vice President: Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine won majorities in 257 Massachusetts cities and towns, losing in 94 of them. Populations in the cities and towns that Clinton won ranged up to 618 thousand (Boston), averaging 22 thousand. Populations in the cities and towns that she lost ranged up to 41 thousand (Westfield), averaging 10 thousand. Opposition came mostly from small towns. The ten communities with the strongest opposition were Blandford, Chester, Douglas, East Brookfield, Granville, Holland, North Brookfield, Russell, Southwick and Tolland–all with populations of less than 10 thousand.

Clinton support for President in Massachusetts

clintonsupportquintiles2016
Source: Secretary of the Commonwealth, preliminary

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau

Contrary to speculation that higher-income communities were more likely to support Clinton and Kaine, the votes of Massachusetts communities did not show a clear trend of that type. Instead, communities with larger populations voted more strongly for Clinton and Kaine. When Massachusetts communities were divided into quintiles according to support for Clinton, with quintile 1 the strongest support, there was a clear, uniform trend of increasing support with increasing community population.

Votes on charter schools: Sponsors of Question 2, trying to abolish limits on charter schools, spent $24 million. At around $20 for every vote they attracted, it was by far the most costly campaign ever on a ballot question. They won majorities in only 15 of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns.

Under current laws and regulations, up to 120 charter schools are allowed statewide. Six cities have reached their local limits: Boston, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Springfield and Worchester. As of November, 2016, 88 charter schools had been designated in Massachusetts, located in 36 communities–one school in each of the following communities except as noted:

Adams, Boston (27), Cambridge (3), Chelsea (2), Chicopee, Devens, Easthampton, Everett, Fall River (3), Fitchburg, Foxborough, Framingham, Franklin, Greenfield, Hadley, Harwich, Haverhill, Holyoke (2), Hyannis (2), Lawrence (8), Lowell (3), Lynn, Marblehead, Marlborough, New Bedford (3), Newburyport, Norwell, Plymouth (2), Salem, Saugus, Somerville (2), South Hadley, Springfield (6), Tyngsboro, West Tisbury and Worcester (2).

No Massachusetts community that has a charter school supported Question 2. No city in the state and no town with a population over 28 thousand supported Question 2. Instead, high household incomes correlated with support for Question 2. When Massachusetts communities were divided into quintiles according to support for Question 2, with quintile 1 the strongest support, there was a clear, uniform trend of increasing support with increasing household income.

Support for Question 2 in Massachusetts

question2supportquintiles2016
Source: Secretary of the Commonwealth, preliminary

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau

The ten communities voting the strongest support for Question 2 were Aquinnah (on Martha’s Vineyard), Chilmark, Dover, Gosnold, Lincoln, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Nantucket, Sherborn, Wellesley and Weston. They include four of the six highest-income Massachusetts towns: Sherborn, Wellesley, Carlisle, Sudbury, Dover and Weston. None of the Massachusetts communities that supported Question 2 has a charter school.

Meanings of trends: Measured trends of support for Clinton and for Question 2 run cross-current to some popular political lore. In a graphical analysis, New York Times writers speculated that lower-income voters turned against Clinton, while higher-income voters did the reverse. Results from Massachusetts communities show no clear trend connected with incomes but instead show a trend involving sizes of the communities where voters live. The more urbanized voters tended to support Clinton.

In contrast, results for Question 2 from Massachusetts communities do show a clear trend connected with household incomes. Sponsors of Question 2 and their apologists claimed that the charter schools are hugely popular with low-income households. If that were true, then there might have been a trend linking stronger support for Question 2 with lower household incomes. However, the actual trend from Massachusetts communities went in the opposite direction.

Promotions for Question 2 appeared to have sophisticated authors, but perhaps the sponsors of Question 2 fooled themselves about the appeal of their products. Bystanders in communities hosting charter schools are much more numerous than participants–a factor that sponsors of Question 2 might not have weighed accurately.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 22, 2016


Massachusetts 2016 election results by cities and towns, plus demographics, Brookline Beacon, December, 2016

Massachusetts elections statistics, Secretary of the Commonwealth, December, 2016

American Community Survey, U.S Census Bureau, 2009-2013 ACS 5-year data release

Names and locations of charter schools, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, December, 2016

Robert Weintraub, Massachusetts should vote No on more charter schools, BU Today (Boston, MA), October 17, 2016

Michael Altman, Charter schools: an issue of civil rights, WGBH (Boston, MA), October 25, 2016

Paul Crookston, Massachusetts charter school measure backed by Republicans, National Review, October 27, 2016

Editorial, Vote Yes on Question 2, Boston Globe, October 29, 2016

Jim Hand, White House says Obama neutral on charter schools ballot question, Attleboro (MA) Sun Chronicle, October 31, 2016

Editorial, Vote Yes on Question 2, Harvard Crimson (Cambridge, MA), November 3, 2016

Katharine Q. Seelye and Jess Bidgood, Charter schools are the big issue on Massachusetts ballot, New York Times, November 6, 2016

Felicia Gans, Donors spent big on Massachusetts ballot questions, Lowell (MA) Sun, November 7, 2016

K.K. Rebecca Lai, Alicia Parlapiano, Julia Preston and Karen Yourish, How Trump won the election according to exit polls, New York Times, November 8, 2016

Phil Demers, Fiercest Question 2 opponents often from communities with existing charter schools, Springfield (MA) Republican, November 13, 2016

Joan Vennochi, With Question 2 defeat, voters ignored the elites, Boston Globe, November 14, 2016

Samantha Winslow, Massachusetts teachers defeat charter school expansion, In These Times, November 14, 2016

Frank Phillips, Moody’s calls charter school rejection credit positive, Boston Globe, November 16, 2016

Lisa Guisbond, People power trounces big, dark money, as charter expansion suffers decisive defeat, Network for Public Eduction (Kew Gardens, NY), November 21, 2016

Dan French and Diana Lebeaux, Question 2 was defeated: now what?, Center for Collaborative Education (Boston, MA), November 21, 2016