S1:E20 An October Respite

Show Notes

14 Oct 2020

Podcast

Transcript

Time for a break, no? When starting this project during the spring of 2020, I wrote the line: “Welcome to the year of fraud, waste, and abuse”. I got pissed off at injustices I had witnessed and that I had experienced. Lacking the hubris of knowing answers, maybe I could make the invisible visible. Others are doing the same. The ubiquitous mobile phone permits the world to witness an injustice to one. That’s magical. What do we do with what we are seeing? Let’s explore that now.

[00:37] In literature writers often explore “The Lost World”. Typically, we think of Shangri La, El Dorado, and even Brigadoon. Mario Puzo’s novel “The Godfather” and the related movies also explore the concept of “The Lost World”. The Matrix movies and little Alice take us to us to a world just adjacent to our own.

As a young athlete I trained and competed on the campus of Harvard University, my father’s alma mater. Uncles attended that school or MIT down the road. My mother was raised in the neighborhoods of North Cambridge, Massachusetts near Porter Square. Stories told by her were best resembled the Our Gang or the Little Rascals movie shorts, black and white vignettes of kids being kids on the streets of a small city.

[01:17]Like others exploring lost worlds, I stepped through the gossamer curtain to see another Cambridge entirely. In my early twenties and an EMT on the city’s ambulances, it was gritty and corrupt and violent and all kinds of mean nasty ugly-looking people there. As Arlo Guthrie sings: Mother rapers. Father stabbers.

We do this to our youth – or our youth does this to themselves. We enlist in the military. We join the Peace Corp and other services. We volunteer to either solve big problems, or just to see them. Me, I worked urban ambulances as a summer job and for the year or two after school. Few wanted to hear about my “day at work”, especially over the dinner table.

[02:00]There are a lot of Americans who firmly believe problems exist just beyond their site, beyond their reach, beyond yard.

And yet, our daily lives and our communities exist within a framework that often masks criminal activity. You do not need a telescope or an airplane to find trouble, peak through gossamer curtain in front of you.

[02:21] I arrived in Puerto Rico with an expectant echo of my younger days on ambulances. Me, my team, our tools will be helpful. We had all heard rumors that Puerto Rico politicians were corrupt. But heck, I grew up in Metro-Boston. The ambulance service I worked for was owned by a cousin the mayor. Within two years of my leaving that service, the owner was arrested for tax evasion, Medicare/Medicaid fraud, and labor law violations. We all knew that. The cops missed the racketeering and extortion. We expect this on a city contract (or rather we expected this on a city contract – things are better today, right).

[02:57]  I was too young for that job, stepping into an interview with insufficient experience. I got ask a couple of tough questions, then the interviewer looked at my last name (not Moore, but my maiden name). And with a proud Boston-Irish accent: “Auch, I didn’t see your name. Just when is it that you can start. Will Tuesday do?”  

We paid off hospital staff for the precious phone calls that gave us billable calls. We delivered food and pizzas and gift. And I know management did a lot more to maintain happy relationship with hospital management. We were to be the first and only service called.

[03:32] Given what EMS paperwork is like today, those days it was easy. We were instructed even skip the mileage reporting. The bosses would fill that in for us. We were to grab a wallet, and write down social security numbers, insurance information and everything we could find on identification cards.

The former governor of Puerto Rico stood in front us, extended disaster response staff, making a joke out of “politics being the national sport of Puerto Rico”. Little did I know. Eighteen months later, our contract ended, and a Canadian-multinational firm was given an award that was 27 times the cost or value of our contract – for the same work. Government officials, with whom we worked daily, challenged use during the bidding process. How can you do this work for so little? (We were charging a lot, by the way). My answer was: “I have a year’s worth of data, I know what it costs. We’ve been managing FEMA disaster moneys for years. We know the basic parameters for what they will accept.”

[04:32] I was not then aware that FEMA executives are at that very moment participating in the same sort of pay-to-play schemes that we were being asked to engage in by the Puerto Rican government. The whisper and wink was: “How can you do this for so little?” Translates into, if you bring your prices up, we’ll all do better if you provide the normal 7-10% back to us. One is expected to pay your lobbyist several percentages off of the gross. These funds channel directly to the politicians one is negotiating with.

[05:04] When awarded a contract, one is expected to do a bit of tithing. A portion of your contract revenue funnel back to the source of the money. One is expected to pay in order to play. Which we did not do.

Instead of admitting our failures to play by the rules of the land, we accepted that the competing firm was 27 times better than we. It was 27 times faster than we. And thus, the Puerto Rican government would be 27 times more satisfied with their performance.

[05:04] When awarded a contract, one is expected to do a bit of tithing. A portion of your contract revenue funnel back to the source of the money. One is expected to pay in order to play. Which we did not do.

Instead of admitting our failures to play by the rules of the land, we accepted that the competing firm was 27 times better than we. It was 27 times faster than we. And thus, the Puerto Rican government would be 27 times more satisfied with their performance.

[05:36] By the way, this particular Canadian multi-national firm hates with when I call them a Canadian multi-national IT firm. They correct me each time, informing me that they are based in the DC region. They are a US firm. Yet they sponsor a huge welcome to Toronto sign sculpted into the landscape at the Toronto Airport: Green topiary, meticulously maintained. On their website which celebrate a global presence, they list DC as an office.

[06:05] When visiting their website, you’ll also never discover that this same Canadian firm is the exact firm that completely balled up the websites for the Affordable Care Act of 2010. They were also the firm that balled up the websites for ACA in numerous states including Vermont. You can find that out for yourself though. It is how we found out.

Maybe Puerto Rico forgot to do an internet-based search on the firm that is 27 times better than our firm.

Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle dazzle them
Give ‘em am act with lost of flash in it
And the reaction will be passionate

Musical Chicago: Razzle Dazzle

When you’re in the game, you see the game. When you are outside the game, you are expected not to see the game being play. Or at least, you are not supposed to care.

Why would we care that Puerto Rico, or olden-days Cambridge, has corrupt practices involving public money? The answer is… we create victims.

[07:01] Victims get obscured behind that razzle-dazzle too.

In Olden-days Cambridge on my white ambulance, we knew (everyone knew) that victim of violent crime and many sexual assaults that happened in the dark of the night were not of interest to the cops. We would haul humans to the emergency department. Together, we engaged in a process called: Treat and Street. Getting the bleeding to stop, pull them back from the brink of further damage or death, then return them to the street. There was no justice for gay men, young people of color, people engaged in sex trade.

[07:32] Today, we’d expect cops to meet us at the hospital. We expect specially trained sexual assault care nurses to gather evidence for a future prosecution. Today, we’re not actually supposed to blame the victim.  (Should I say: anymore?)

During the springtime, I set my sights on a few federal agencies. Having seen the razzle-dazzle from both the U.S. democratic party and the U.S. republican party, I feel obliged to point my finger at the problem. I have striven to remove any reference to political partisanship. Not because I don’t care and not because I don’t have an opinion of one, but because partisanship is just another form of razzle-dazzle. Partisanship bickering obscures the corruption and hides the game.

[08:16] During my last months in Puerto Rico, I start what Sarah Chayes called a link analysis during her interview with me in September. On a corkboard, I pinned up pictures of Puerto Rican officials and related folks. I connected these pictures with red yard. As I worked, I started collaborating with an investigative journalist from the Wall Street Journal. The two political parties in Puerto Rico had a nexus in a small tight group that linked through schools and other affiliations. In Puerto Rico, there is a blue party and a red party. The partisanship is so strong that when we provided official disaster briefings to officials, we normally had to do it twice. On one day, we presented to members of one party with one facilitator. Then the next day, we’d pack the room with the other party and a new facilitator. Same data, same slides.

[09:04] Yet, at the core of this stiff stood a few families and one law firm. The top lobbyist served to both. And you know some of these names. Paul Mannafort was connected. When some of the elusive names appear in the press, you can hear a gasp. Oh, someone else now discovered the red yarn ties Elias Sanchez into everywhere and published it. Surprise.

During our negotiations with Puerto Rico, we met with a lobbyist (er, um, I mean “lawyer”) and her lawyer/lobbyest daughter. While we discussed our strategic plans, she was texting a member of the evaluation committee. We did not know is that the Canadian multi-national firm hired her husband. The two firms competing for the same contract with the government were paying fees to the same family. Of course, mother and daughter and father served their clients under separate corporate cloaks. And clearly, they ate at the same dining table (oh and went to school with the governor and were the law firm for the governor’s father, a prior governor).

[10:07] It is a sin to say: Lobbyist when discussing contract negotiations. One is to say: lawyer. That’s just part of the razzle-dazzle. That’s part of the invisibility cloak we make believe exists.

We met with this lady once. That behavior of texting/communicating with the evaluation committee is a strict violation of federal procurement law. That’s a threshold I’ll not cross – well maybe I did, but we ran away. And by running away, we lost the contract.

[10:36] From the outside, one can say: that government is corrupt. Especially when discussing that far-away place. We can even do that when looking at history. As long as the corruption is someplace else – even some-time else. Cambridge of forty years ago was corrupt. Certainly, better today. Those were the bad-old days.

[10:56] New York City of the 1970 – oh such corruption. Las Vegas – a city born in corruption begatted by mobsters. Thank god none of that exists today. Those days are gone. Those crooks are gone. Those are stories for novels and movies.

The old Boston political machine was run by a guy named Honey Fitz. Still famous here. Boston city council, Massachusetts state senator, US representative, mayor of Boston. He modelled a political machine after New York’s Tammany Hall. John Francis Fitzgerald. One grandson was named John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Another grandson was name Robert Francis Kennedy. In 2020, Joseph Patrick Kennedy III became the first Kennedy in over a century to lose a democratic nomination in Massachusetts. One hundred- and twenty-five-years prior Massachusetts sent Joe’s great great grandsire to the House of Representatives.

[11:59] I don’t know Joe the Third. And that is not a rock I need to go turn over. My mother’s family has a family-compound in Hyannis too. A bit smaller, only 4 houses. During the last century and a half, the Kennedy family made money from Hollywood, whisky, real estate, and benefitted from an old-timey political machine.

That’s long ago and far away. That corruption is distant from here and now.

[12:25] In olden-days Cambridge, if you were a black kid, or gay, or transgendered, or a homeless, or an immigrant, or whatever else and you got your ass kicked on a warm Saturday night, you got an expensive ambulance trip to the very expensive hospital. And no expectation of any sort of criminal investigation. The bad-old days – everybody knows that. Its better today, right?

The cellphone footage of the recent years shows us all it is not. On the 16th of July in 2009, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr was arrested by the Cambridge City Police. He was charged with disorderly conduct. Professor Gates teaches at Harvard and has hosted television shows on genealogy for over a decade was accused of breaking into to his own home. A black man, called Skippy by friends, is hauled away being human-while-black. That’s an ancient offense around here. In October 2020, Bene Apreala was harassed by apparent DHS agents for running-while-black.

[13:28] How do I slide from a corrupt ambulance service in Cambridge Mass to bad-cops behaving badly in Cambridge Mass? Because they are connected through a city government with a long history of corrupt policies, corrupt contracts, and police unions that place a very heavy finger on the scales of justice.

How do I connect the dots between unmarked, yet heavily-armed, DHS agents harassing a human being for being human and a contract for disaster recovery services in Puerto Rico? Because we have a Department of Homeland Security that can have up to 240,000 law enforcement agents with absolutely no accountability and absolutely no transparency on their actions and detentions. And now DHS is asking the National Archives and Records Administration to approve the destruction of public records of misconduct.

 [14:20] Because we have a Department of Homeland Security with staff at all levels facing criminal charges for corruption. Just remember, FEMA is part of DHS. So those criminal charges related to a deputy administrator Asha Tribble for $1.1B contract for the reconstruction of power in Puerto Rico that is a stain on DHS – another case of misconduct.

This is not a partisan issue. And it is not an issue of long-ago and far away.

Corruption and financial crimes exist right there next to you. Here in a rural Vermont town of 500, we have a nasty bru-haha regarding conflicts of interest, illegal procurement that had it completed would have expose us to even higher taxes. In the adjacent town, we faced a major real estate fraud scheme involving public moneys that embroiled hundreds of millions of dollars. On the other side of the state, over 400 million sucked away in another real estate scam. In Coventry Vermont a town clerk embezzled (allegedly embezzled?) $1.4 million in town funds. The alleged fraudster was the poor victim of an alleged witch hunt. The town clerk was also on the hunt for the missing moneys. The alleged frauster ran her scheme for over a decade and still hasn’t faced criminal charges. Oh gee, and she was connected to prominent families and appeared untouchable.

[15:41] People were uncomfortable calling the fraud fraud.

We do not want to believe it is right here, right now. Fraud is a far-away thing. It is a big city thing. It is a big government thing.

And yet it isn’t.

Listener and neighbor Lynda asked what do we do? Well, the same question Roz asked in the last episode.

[16:02] While I do emphasize looking for yourself and seeing the issues for yourself. And I do eschew speedy answers, there are some steps I have been identifying.

  • Transparency
  • Compliance
  • Enforcement
  • And acknowledgement of a social contract.

First, make public data transparent. Make public actions transparent. It is our bloody government. You know that whole: for the people, by the people thing. That us. It is our government. Budgets need to be public and available on-line in standard formats. There are international standards developed by our own government that we don’t even follow.

[16:41] Transparency involves footage of interactions between police and citizens. Transparency means having cops professionally and properly identify themselves as cops. Scaring the poo out of human being and intimidating human being is just a bad way to operate a government.

[17:00] Transparency involves open meetings, open agenda, open and fair criteria for selecting vendors. Pay-to-play and backroom deals screw us all unless were in on the game. That Canadian multinational firm is not actually 27 times better that our firm. But they sure had a budget that was 27 times larger than ours. Which means that the fees and tithing paid to officials were as much as 27 times larger.

[17:25] Second, accept that compliance and regulations are not inherently bad. Often the people calling them bad are doing the razzle-dazzle, the old distraction. The basic elements of regulations involve proving that laws are being followed. We do actually want to protect the integrity of public funds. That is a basic standard we should achieve. We do want to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil upon which we live. One should be able to affirmatively prove that this particular contract was awarded based on merits and because the value of the money meets agreed upon standards.

We should all agree that awarding public contracts to enrichen public servants or their families is bad. Three decades on, I am still surprised that my old ambulance service got caught. Yay for the good guys.

[18:18] Third, enforce the bloody law. Enforce it consistently and uniformly. If some public servant leaves office after shady deals that are or were likely illegal, let’s pursue criminal charges. Resigning in the middle of a scandal is not sufficient. Go to jail, do not collect $200. We make examples of all sorts of sometime crooks.

And when looking at Vermont, I saw glaring cases of missing laws and missed opportunities. We don’t have strong laws related to criminal fraud. We do not have strong laws related to mishandling of public funds. We do not have strong laws related to conflicts of interest and self-dealing while serving in a public office. Damn, we don’t even have a uniform means of protecting town official websites. Any jackass can standup a website for a Vermont town. Maybe we should have a uniform means of sharing our public data hosted by the government. It is as simple as having the state grant simple official dot-gov names like Coventry.vermont.gov or Wilmington.vermont.gov. A simple and nearly free maneuver to enhance the trust of these tiny town governments.

[19:30] We need to see the missing laws and missed opportunities.

Then, since I am still on enforcement, let’s get criminal prosecutors to look at and investigate financial and public sector crime. The Vermont AG does not. He ducks and hides. I don’t have an office large enough. We don’t have the experience. If I go for criminal charges, I’ll interrupt civil. If I do civil action, I can’t do criminal prosecution. Come on Barney Fife, do something. You are the top law enforcement officer in Vermont.

And that Texas Attorney General? Texans elected him while he faced indictment and during his tenure the criminal charges appear to grow. Maybe we should not have alleged crooks running the law enforcement stuff?

[20:13] Oh, and Boston. Those cops that are beating on protestors? Aren’t those the very same cops that you wanted to fire over a decade ago for criminal fraud related to overtime violations, lying on public documents, and likely defrauding federal grant programs? See, you let them off of their big deal crimes that have netted them over $300K in annual income, and they also bludgeon the citizens with impunity. It is actually related Boston.

And Cambridge.

[20:40] And Puerto Rico – your savior new governor is likely facing criminal charges too? Shocked, I am not. Just know that the two parties are pretty deeply connected at the core.

The operation of a legitimate democratic government should be a familiar rhythmic and almost boring process. Governmental operations ought not involve a magical invisibility cloak or gossamer curtain. When there is a razzle-dazzle; when there is confusion; when there is a deliberate effort to divide us; stop, look, see, question and act. Something is being obscured that you are not meant to see – and it is right there next to you.

[21:22] With respect to a social contract… We should expect some standards of public decorum and integrity. We should expect people we elect to act honestly. Shame has a role. Someday maybe we can discuss that. I am not ready. Maybe next year?