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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Editor's Gamble

How many honest words have suffered corruption since Chaucer's days!
Thomas Middleton (1580-1627)

It’s a pity when a juicy scandal doesn’t pan out. As a fellow journalist, I feel the pain of your Cape Cod Times editor, Cliff Schectman.

In a March 13, 2005 editorial titled, “Government Secrecy Affects Every Citizen” (good grab!), writing a leetle pompous but that’s the style now, he began by quoting Jemmy Madison - "A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both." His beginning indicated the tone - “Public access to government documents is your birthright, one that's critical to safeguarding everyone - particularly those who can't protect themselves.”

He went on to talk about ‘Sunshine Sunday’, the beginning of a week when journalists drag out old chestnuts about how we of the Fourth Estate are actually just protecting you by following Prince Harry about in a vain attempt to snap a compromising photo. Lots of trenchant criticism of your government for using the Sept. 11 attacks and terrorism to hide “information about dangers to your health, threats to your safety, or misuse of your hard-earned tax payments to the government should be yours simply because you're an American citizen.” Sound stuff.

He then proceeded to make a strange comparison – he compared the refusal of OSHA to release injury records, the refusal of the EPA to list chemicals spills, the refusal of the government to release safety records on airplanes, and so on, with his own personal crusade to make Sheriff James Cumming release the names of the 292 people who joined his Deputy Sheriff Association which raises money for charitable purposes like the youth camp. He ended his March 13 editorial with the words, “But not all the news is bad. A few rays of sunshine have broken through the clouds. In fact, you may have seen a recent bright spot: Just last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered the Barnstable County sheriff to release the names of about 200 people who had been sworn in as reserve deputies. The sheriff wanted to keep their names secret. Imagine that.”

Actually, the Sheriff asked if he was required to disclose the names of a private organization, but in Schectman’s eyes, that was the same as keeping them secret. So he went to court, spent several thousand dollars, and by late March he had the names.

Well do I remember the furtive meeting in the tavern, where you casually slide over a few silvers, and the ‘stranger’ opposite casually slides over a small packet of information to you – and when you hustle away with it, cut the strings and read – you are sick with disappointment. So I truly feel Schectman’s pain.

By late April, some were joking that freedom of information meant information for the Times, as there had been such a long delay in publishing this ‘treasure trove’, but I understand why there was such a delay.

What a bust.

A former state Representative, a doughnut king and a burger burgher. No real high profile names and few recognizable ones. I’m sure that a squad of reporters tried their hardest to find culpability, dirt, or misconduct on the part of every member of the list – I know that’s what I would have done. The truest insult to the Times is that over 100 additional people paid to join the association after the hard-hitting investigation began, confirming that the list had little potential for scandal. At the end of the day, they weren’t even able to find significant political donations, just an average of $100. Out of the 292 on the list, 170 were donors – but would they have paid the dues to join the association if they didn’t support the Sheriff? All but a few of the Sheriff’s larger donors weren’t even on the list, or were appointed to the Deputy Association by Cummings’ predecessor, Jack DeMello. The only real surprise is that they weren’t ALL donors.

Oh, he tried. Schectman had his high profile story made of nothing. He got other county Sheriffs to say that they had no such organization, or had disbanded them. He got Rob O’Leary, the tousle-headed Senator to say that it was "a net work of political friends," and "a bit of a throwback…My instinct has always been that it's a way for the sheriff to reward his political supporters. I don't see it as sinister. But there's a potential for it." The same could be said of the Senator and the Mass. Teachers Association, but that’s entirely different – because their hearts are pure.

My condolences, Mr. Schectman. Not every political scandal works out, especially in this modern day with its reliance on facts. You’ve just learnt a valuable lesson – railing against the secret brotherhood was a far better story than the pedestrian unveiling.

Maybe there’s a nice, juicy pension scandal you could work up?

Regards from a fellow scrivener, Yr. Obedient Servant,
Peter Porcupine

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Luck of the Irish

Your District Attorney, Michael O’Keefe, is a fine Irish Republican (no, not that kind!), and his recent troubles have brought several Irish proverbs to mind.

It is better to be lucky than wise.

In the years leading up to his run for District Attorney, Mike O’Keefe had almost twenty murders to prosecute. Remember the National Guardsman who chopped up his children and hid them in a duffel bag at the base? Or the lady who was biking who accepted a ride from a stranger and was brutally murdered? Or the son who decapitated his mother in Chatham? These and others, O’Keefe had to handle as first Assistant DA, and he was able to resolve all of them, with a great deal of dispatch, skill and Irish luck. Only the Worthington case eluded him.

A kind word never broke anyone's mouth. Or
Everyone is wise till he speaks

In a spectacular lapse in judgment, O’Keefe spoke – on or off the record, clad or unclad, it doesn’t matter – to an opportunistic writer working on a book, destroying in a moment the reputation for prudence and cautiousness he had built up over the years. Still…

Time and patience would bring the snail to Jerusalem.

The Michael never gave up, and doggedly pursued the case which had become a personal embarrassment to him and a threat to his political future as he contemplates running for reelection for the first time. He needs to act, and makes his second big mistake…

You can't build a barrel around a bung hole.

By initiating a bullying DNA sweep of the small town of Truro, he got attention, all right but all of the wrong kind, as he loses the respect of liberals and conservatives alike, who view the overkill stunt as desperate and futile, as it ultimately proved to be when…

Talk of the devil, and he will appear

The elusive murderer proved to be a suspect questioned early on, and then lost in the process as flashier DNA sweeps and constitutional issues were debated in the national media. O’Keefe’s mulish insistence that his dragnet was necessary and proper makes him look narrow, tyrannical and petty. Blaming the crime lab won’t help. There is only one thing O’Keefe can do now to rehabilitate his image…

When your hand is in the dog's mouth, withdraw it gently.

Nobody has asked what happened to the random Truro DNA samples yet. Now is the moment for O’Keefe to publicly announce, on his own, that they are being destroyed in the interests of justice, and will never be used in any other investigation (before he is forced to do so). O’Keefe has to make a gesture to regain the confidence of the people of Barnstable County, as he can’t hope that he’ll be able to run against a dunderhead like Kevin Callahan again. Or he’ll cease to be the DA next election.

And that would be Irish luck indeed.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Scoundrel's Day

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year…
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Well, I remember it perfectly well. Today is Patriot’s Day, a holiday almost unique to Massachusetts. The only other state to celebrate it is Maine, which was once part of your Commonwealth, and it is a meet and proper time to reflect upon what is patriotism, what passes for it, and what is valuable about it.

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

My friend Samuel Johnson is famous for his remark, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” That toady, Boswell, what you would now call a groupie, reported that Johnson made this famous pronouncement about patriotism on the evening of April 7, 1775. In his smirking, gossipy way, young James is careful not to provide any context for how the remark arose, so we would wonder who was on Johnson's mind. Unctuously, Boswell assures us that Johnson was not indicting patriotism in general, only false patriotism. The man would write anything to sell a few extra books.

I knew the Great Lexicographer, and I know who he was referring to – Edmund Burke, the politician that made his Tory gut rumble. The Doctor wrote and thought quite a bit about the subject of Patriotism, though he had no sympathy for your American Experiment – “That man, therefore, is no patriot, who justifies the ridiculous claims of American usurpation; … He that accepts protection, stipulates obedience. We have always protected the Americans; we may, therefore, subject them to government”.


According to Johnson (this is edited down some - gad, how that man could get going when he had a few coffees in him!) - "A patriot is necessarily and invariably a lover of the people. But even this mark may sometimes deceive us. The ‘people’ is a very heterogeneous and confused mass of the wealthy and the poor, the wise and the foolish, the good and the bad. Before we confer on a man the title of patriot, we must examine to what part of the people he directs his notice....If the candidate of patriotism consorts chiefly with the wise, the temperate, the regular, and the virtuous, his love of the people may be rational and honest. But if his first or principal application be to the indigent, who are always inflammable; to the weak, who are naturally suspicious; to the ignorant, who are easily misled; and to the profligate, who have no hope but from mischief and confusion; let his love of ‘the people’ be no longer boasted." No two-faced hypocrites among your government leaders, if you please. Free and frank to all stations, as good as any and better than some, is the watchword.

Dr. Johnson again - "A patriot is he whose publick conduct is regulated by one single motive, the love of his country; who, as an agent in parliament, has, for himself, neither hope nor fear, neither kindness nor resentment, but refers every thing to the common interest." We have all known such, and all have our own opinion as to who this might be; but no person would quarrel with the definition.


Too many people remember the facile quip about scoundrels, and too few have read Longfellow’s poem. Like many legends, it suffers from being historically inaccurate, but the sentiment behind it was common a century ago and almost unknown today. Your American Revolution has suffered in popularity to some degree from a lack of sympathetic women, blacks, and other fashionable types in its cast of characters. I was there, and I can tell you that they were indeed rich white men.

But these rich white men created a place of hope and a dream of freedom and justice with their patriotism that has remained far longer than any of them dared to dream. “A republic, if you can keep it”, said Dr. Franklin when asked what kind of government was created. We do not seek to emulate their genuine patriotic fervor, or teach it to our children, and today is a day set aside to do so. We need those dreams; as Longfellow reminds us:

A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A Pamet Divorce?

Virtually everything that happens is this world can be applied to somewhere else. The strange case of Islesboro, Maine is a case in point.

The island has asked its State Senator to file a bill in the Maine Legislature to allow them to secede from Waldo County, and join itself to Knox County to the south. The tiny island pays almost 11% of the entire county budget because of the enormous value of its oceanfront property, yet it receives far less in county services. If it were to join with the larger and more industrial Knox County, while the value of the property would remain the same, its assessment would be far lower, because of the broader commercial tax base which includes Rockland and Camden. Lincolnville is horrified, as its county assessment would jump over $72,000 in the first year (this is Maine money – really a large sum up there). Lincolnville is pushing for a county-wide vote, but Islesboro is having none of it, as they would be handily defeated, even though they voted 101 to 12 to pursue this at their town meeting. One councilor said, “We have to have some principles. What right do we have to hold the people of Islesboro in financial servitude in order to subsidize Waldo County?”

What does this have to do with Cape Cod? Has the time come for the nine towns east of the Bass River to create Pamet County?

East of the Bass River, the needs of Barnstable County change radically. There is much less development, much less commercial enterprise. Because of the impact of the National Seashore, and shrewd Land Band purchases (unlike sister towns in the county who have used their land bank money to buy abandoned gas stations at traffic circles and airports instead of bona fide open space), much of the remaining undeveloped land is under conservation protection. There are towns down Cape that have public streets that are still dirt roads, and towns with no town water system It is much more rural, much more residential and agricultural, and much ignored by the current Barnstable County. Truro receives less than a 1% vote in the weighted Assembly of Delegates, while Barnstable and Yarmouth can virtually outvote the other thirteen towns on every issue.

So why not secede, and create Pamet County?

The outer Cape already has its own Courthouse. A Pamet Registry of Deeds can be established, which can help subsidize down Cape expenses. It has a commercial hub of Orleans and Chatham, as well as Provincetown. It is working on developing a transportation system to operate east of the Orleans rotary. Pamet is a maritime county, with fishing as a major industry, not a tourist occupation.

The disease wall at the Canal has been breached on the upper Cape, and rabies is spreading. There is still time to make a new line of demarcation at the Bass River and have Pamet County protect the lower Cape. Barnstable has its healthcare services in Hyannis, at the hospital and at the clinics nearby. The Lower/Outer Cape Outreach is attempting to create its own network of
healthcare providers – how much easier it would be to do it as a county!

The greatest pending expense in Barnstable County is the potential county-wide wastewater authority. Just about every scenario we’ve heard about the fact that this is a boat we are all in together ignores one fact – the Sagamore lens we’ve heard so much about over the years, the underground aquifer that Barnstable water comes from, ends at the Bass River. Beyond that is the Monomoy, Pamet and Pilgrim lenses under Pamet County – without the intense development in Barnstable County, two airports leaking jet fuel, and so on that we ‘all’ have to clean up. Pamet County can develop much less expensive solutions if it isn’t asked to subsidize Barnstable County.

And of course, the Cape Cod Commission, the Assembly of Delegates, and the various layers of porcine government that Barnstable County has managed to lather on would all be left behind, too. And we could always rent the dredge! Like Islesboro, residents of the lower and outer Cape should consider shrugging off a bad relationship, and creating a new destiny for themselves.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Dutch Treat? Watch Your Wallets...

Your local Legislature in Boston is about to begin its annual money deliberations again, indulging in the behaviour that has made it so famous - Bacon Hill, as one reporter once called it. Makes me recall when John Hancock joined in with the Revolutionaries because he was about to become a bankrupt because of back taxes owed to the Crown. When the collectors came knocking, he sped off in full cry, to overthrow a government rather than live wihin his means.

$22 billion dollars would seem a moderate pie to slice, yet there is never enough to stay the appetite of Legislators. Every year, they piously endeavor to raise the tax rate, so they can take care of more of those in need - many of them in need of a job or pension. Every year, your Governor cuts them back to size, as required by the state's balenced budget amendment. Of course, it is the Governor who must show balance, not the Legislature. This year's debate will be worse than those for the past few years, as the Legislature has chosen to cast off one of the few bits of restraint it showed.

This year, they will deliberate without the confines of the Holland Amendment, whcih had been in force for the last five or so years. Briefly, if the Holland Amendment has been adopted as a rule, then every Legislator who offers an amendment for a wee bit of fluff for the folks back home must name where else in the budget the money will be found. That is why, last year, there were over 100 amendments taking money from the pool created out of added fees at Registries of Deeds to fund the Community Preservation Act, one of the last great standing resevoirs of money in the Commonwealth. Mind you, these are the same Legislators who piously decry any implication that the Governor might do the same thing. THAT would be entirely different.

Now, amendments can be filed, willy-nilly, without a care as to where the cash may come from. It remains to be seen if the new leader, DiMasi, can keep as iron a grip on the proceedings as Tom Finneran, but ditching the Holland amendment is not a good start.

Of course, an election will be held next year, and an Irishman, a Blackamoor, and a Prince of Darkness have all announced interest in dethroning the Governor. There may be method in this madness. Send the Governor a budget, oozing like a sausage in a tight casing, and then shrug your shoulders and tell the homefolks that that Bad Man in the Corner Office took away their treats - why, YOU are on record as having voted for them!

It will be an interesting process to watch - but remember, the tab for this Dutch Treat will be paid out of your wallet.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Please allow me to introduce myself...

...I'm a man of wealth and taste. I've been around for a long, long time...

Ah. No, not quite who you might think.

I was once arrested by that Quincy rascal
John Adams after I advocated the cause of the Federalist party, and under the name of "Peter Porcupine" wrote a series of powerful pamphlets, in which the French revolutionists and their sympathizers were severely criticized. One of your current solons, William Safire, has written a recent book, which exposes all the dirt that MacCullough left out of his reverential volume about that twit, John Adams. Never trust a Scotsman, sirrah! Good dirt on that distinguished bastard, Alexander Hamilton, and how Jefferson bribed the Clerk of the House to blackmail others. My heart warms to this new author, and I wish him well in his career.

I fled these shores returning to England where I wrote dozens of books, served in Parliament, and distinguished myself as an advocate of Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform.On a May morning 170 years ago, in the midst of a debate on the
malt tax, I was struck down by heart disease, and died soon after being removed to my country house at Farnham. Now almost two centuries later, looking down at Olde Cape Cod from this celestial vantage point, I will comment and correct your errant behavior when I see it. I shall now become the Cape Cod
Porcupine, well able to defend my views and my belly, while casting my darts at those who need it most. From what I've observed, I shall have ample targets, indeed.

Your obedient servant, Wm. "Peter Porcupine" Cobbett, Esq.

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