Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is technically a Republican, in as much as calling himself a "Republican" helped him to garner votes in the western part of the state, which is less Deep Blue than the Metro Boston Area. But as far as I've ever been able to tell, Baker has never demonstrated any capacity for principles or beliefs beyond "being governor." I often like to say that he makes Mitt Romney look like he has a spine. In perhaps the most painfully Boston sentence of my life, I once met him at a Dropkick Murphys fundraiser while he shared a bucket of Coronitas with Mike Napoli from the Red Sox, and trust me — he's terrible.
So imagine my surprise when I learned that Baker had recruited Patriots' President Robert Kraft — a frequent Trump ally who was recently connected to a sex trafficking scandal in Florida — and essentially commandeered the football team's private jet to fly to China in order to obtain the vitally necessary PPE (including N95 masks) that was otherwise being denied to the state by the spiteful federal government.
From The Boston Globe:
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The journey began, in the governor’s telling, roughly two weeks ago, when the federal government confiscated a shipment of more than 3 million N95 masks at the Port of New York and New Jersey that Massachusetts had arranged to buy.
"I just started reaching out to anybody and everybody I knew, trying to find some other path,” Baker recounted in an interview.
Prisons in America are already overcrowded, under-supported, and maddeningly profitable for the people who made them that way. And when people die in incarceration under more normal circumstances, it still tends to get ignored or covered up. As a result, some of them have been struggling with how to deal with social distancing, quarantine, and general medical safety during this pandemic. (Case-in-point: Joe Exotic may have been exposed to coronavirus.)
Even in that context, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections offered a particularly absurd excuse for their less-than-bare-minimum effort in treating incarcerated people with basic humanity. According to CourtWatch MA, a volunteer community group that acts as a watchdog for the state prison system, the state's latest prison capacity report claims that the DOC is prepared for a capacity of 7,492 people. But there are 7,916 people currently incarcerated by the state — nearly 500 more than that design/rated capacity. (The state also claims that its operational capacity is 10,157, which is not consistent with the data available records requests.
This week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court asked the sheriffs of 14 counties to provide information about their handling of this overcrowding during the coronavirus outbreak, to ensure that they're all adhering to proper CDC guidelines. Here's the first question they asked:
Approximately what percentage of inmates or detainees sleeps within six feet of another inmate or detainee? Individuals in disciplinary isolation should be excluded from this estimate.
That seems fairly straight-forward. But the sheriff Hampden County responded that "0% sleeps within six feet of one another" at the main institution, the women's facility, the regional recovery and wellness center, and the pre-release center in that county. Read the rest
Macarthur "Genius" Kelly Link and her husband Gavin Grant are the forces-of-nature behind the amazing Small Beer Press (previously).
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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is not the first state to sue Purdue Pharma, members of the Sackler family (who own the company), and other board members for their role in deliberately seeking to addict people to their powerful opioid Oxycontin, but unlike other states, Massachusetts is conducting the suit in the public eye, targeting a court judgment rather than a quiet settlement with an accompanying gag-order.
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Northeastern grocery chain Stop & Shop has been goosing its profits at its workers' expense, increasing their healthcare costs, reducing company pension contributions, and reducing holiday and Sunday overtime pay; the United Food & Commercial Workers, who organize the Stop & Shop employees called for a strike nearly two weeks ago, and since then, 31,000 workers from 240 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have been off the job.
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The first two recreational marijuana dispensaries opened in Massachusetts last week to blockbuster numbers. The two dispensaries, located in Leicester and Northampton sold over $2 million dollars of product in just five days. Black Friday was especially popular, with customers spending almost half a million dollars in one day. The state of Massachusetts gets $376,995 in tax revenue and the two dispensary locations will get $66,528 in local taxes from those five days. Not too shabby.
But the launch of legal weed hasn't been without problems. Neighbors of Cultivate, the Leicester dispensary held an emergency meeting Monday night to address the massive traffic jams created by weed seekers. Cultivate is averaging 1,000 customers a day and has pledged to add more parking spaces and additional employees.
Three new dispensaries are expected to open in Salem, Easthampton, and Wareham over the next couple of weeks. Salem's opening will be interesting to watch as it will be the closest dispensary to Boston. Some cities and towns in the state (including the city of Peabody, where I live) have banned recreational sales. But I have a feeling that sweet, sweet tax revenue will become impossible to resist.
Massachusetts’ Pot Industry Is off to a $2.2 Million Start (Spencer Buell/Boston Magazine)(Image: MarijuanaStox.com) Read the rest
If you were living in Massachusetts a few years back, you might remember that Comcast was offering what seemed to be a screaming deal: a $99 lock-in rate plan. I say "seemed to be," because Comcast's advertised $99 price didn't include the cost of renting equipment and the fact that, as we're talking about Comcast here, there were a number of additional fees that could (and often did) appear on a subscriber's bill at the end of the month, for reasons only Comcast understood.
Did I mention that escaping the rate plan set folks back $240 for killing their contract with the company early? No? Well, it totally did. The state's Attorney General, Maura Healey, felt that this was bullshit of the first order. Her office did something about it.
Comcast will cancel the debts of more than 20,000 customers and pay back $700,000 in Massachusetts as part of a settlement with the state’s Attorney General over deceptive advertising. Back in 2015 and early 2016, the cable giant advertised a $99 lock-in rate for plans that didn’t include equipment costs and had additional fees that could be jacked up at any time.
As part of Comcast's settlement with the state, they'll be forced to fork over refunds to anyone who paid the $240 early termination fee. They'll also be forced to forgive all outstanding unpaid early termination fees and related late fees that Massachusetts consumers incurred between January 2015 and March 2016. Comcast fully cooperated with the AG’s investigation. Read the rest
When workers at an Ikea in Stoughton, Massachusetts expressed interest in forming a union, the company responded with an illegal anti-union crackdown that culminated in locking workers into a conference room and forcing them to watch anti-union slideshows that workers described as "scaremongering".
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Frank Wu writes, "US Congressional candidate (MA-8) Brianna Wu (previously) will be killing virtual Nazis today. Brianna will be doing a playthrough of the new video game Wolfenstein II, whose tagline is 'Make America Nazi-free again.' The playthrough starts today at 5 pm Eastern."
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Hey, remember how Bill Clinton doubled down on the War on Drugs, perfecting Reagan's haphazard and shoddily made race-war into a well-oiled incarceration machine that turned America into the world's greatest incarcerator, a nation that imprisoned black people at a rate that exceeded Apartheid-era South Africa? Read the rest
Having successfully invented the paperclip-bending machine, engineer Elis F. Stenman set out to build a new summer home for himself in Rockport, Mass in 1922, entirely from paper. Read the rest
81-year-old Peg Holcomb of Amherst, Mass wasn't home when a low-flying Massachusetts National Guard helicopter and seven ground-based law-enforcement vehicles raided her home, and demanded that her son allow them to seize a single marijuana plant she'd been cultivating in her back yard. Read the rest
Noah Swartz writes, "Parts and Crafts, a youth and community makerspace in Somerville, MA, is kickstarting a series of Creative Commons/Open Hardware licensed educational kits and projects for kids. The project is called 'Monthly Make-It' and it's a maker-kit subscription service where you sign up to get a box of cool DIY buildable projects sent to your house every month." Read the rest
Massachusetts is one of the few places in high-tech America where non-compete agreements are enforceable, a factor that scholars have pointed to in explaining why the state's tech industry has stayed so small relative to California, where the best workers can always move to the best companies. Read the rest
The City Council told its manager not to transfer the town's cable license from Charter to Comcast (Comcast is in the process of borging Charter and assimilating its customers). Read the rest
The ACLU reports [PDF] that when it made Freedom of Information requests for Massachusetts SWAT team records, the SWATs claimed that because they were organized as "law enforcement councils" (jointly owned by many police departments, with additional federal funding) that they were not government agencies at all, but rather private corporations, and not subject to open records laws.
SWATs are the white-hot center of the increasingly brutal and militarized response of US police forces, which have outfitted themselves with ex-Afghanistan/Iraq military materiel and have deployed it in an escalating violent series of attacks, largely as part of the war on drugs. As Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post, the SWATs' claim to be private companies doesn't pass the giggle test: they are funded by the government, pay government employees, and do the government's business.
The argument boils down to this: we are not the police, we are private mercenaries armed with automatic weapons and military-grade vehicles and equipment, and when we attack and kill in the streets of American cities, we do so as private soldiers who happen to be funded by the police departments' budgets.
The ACLU is suing the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council to challenge this ruse, but even if they win, this should be setting off alarm bells for anyone who believes in good government and responsible policing. The cornerstone of democratic legitimacy is a duty to the public, with all the transparency and respect that implies. When police forces up and down the state structure themselves to create and exploit a loophole that lets them obscure the details of their most violent, most spectacular screw-ups -- which generally result in gruesome injuries and deaths to innocent members of the public -- there is no way they can claim to be acting in the public interest. Read the rest
Michaelann sez, "Four Springfield Mass police officers beat Melvin Jones in 2009 and the incident was captured on videotape by a resident. Now, one of the four officers involved, who was suspended for 45 days, is seeking a criminal complaint against the woman for illegal wiretapping. This article has a link to the original video, where the woman doing the taping pretty much said everything I would have said-- "strong language."
The woman will be in court on Wednesday and some members of my group, Arise for Social Justice, will be there to support her."
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Police Sgt. John M. Delaney, aide to Commissioner William J. Fitchet, said Sedergren filed the complaint personally, not on behalf of the Police Department. “If officer Sedergren feels his rights were violated under the law then he has the opportunity to make his case in court, just like everyone else,” Delaney said. A lawyer for Jones – who was charged with shoplifting, domestic battery and drug trafficking on separate occasions since the 2009 incident – contends Sedergren can be heard on Greene’s videotape calling Jones a racial expletive. “They’re really just trying to intimidate and silence her, but whether she’s charged or not (the tape) can still be used in court,” said attorney Shawn P. Allyn, who represents Jones in a civil rights lawsuit against the police in U.S. District Court.
Ann Lambert, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Boston office, said although the ACLU opposes a “big brother” society, the law is designed to combat secret audiotaping of conversations, not amateur videographers, which are rampant.