MA Dark Money: Education, Tech, Environment

 

I’m sharing a post from 2018 which needs updating, but remains relevant – there is a little updating but not in full. This post is not necessarily helpful towards smoothing diplomatic relations with the persons mentioned, but should be more widely known. Relevant updates and new topics are welcome.

 

A disturbing trend in Massachusetts seems to be use of taxpayer money to support private profit rather than public interests. Often, this is presented as benefiting “business” but usually the businesses are giant monopolies that have more money than God.

This post focuses on the role of the executive.

The following is a listing of Massachusetts topics discussed below indicating that money talks – to search this article, hit CTRL F.

  • Communications
  • Education
  • Utilities and the “Smart” Grid
  • Gas & Fossil Fuels
  • Donation Relationships

 

Please feel encouraged to share this information or write a letter to the editor on the topic.

 

PUBLIC COMMUNICATIONS

Key HashTags: #Monopoly #FinancialIncentives #DataGathering

Funds to finish building broadband infrastructure were given to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute by the state legislature some years ago.

Cooperative and municipally-owned WiredWest expected funding from MBI based on positive review, but this was put on pause by the newly-elected Baker administration and a newly-appointed director, Eric Nakijima, critical of WiredWest.

Since then, rules for application were revised to require $100 million in yearly revenue and five years experience in building, operating and maintaining residential broadband network — an enormous barrier.

Susan Crawford was damning in stating this seemed to be about preventing community-owned fiber.

Criticism of and anger with the MBI eventually led to a revision to state grants to speed the process.

However, the Baker administration preferentially granted money to private companies, leaving town cooperatives on an uneven playing field and disappointing residents with preferences for cable and wireless services rather than fiberoptic.

Charter Communications (Cable) $4 million – Egremont, Hancock, Peru, Princeton and Tyringham

Comcast Cable Grant $805,800 – Montgomery, MA

Comcast (Mixed Services) $4 million – Buckland, Chester, Conway, Hardwick, Huntington, Montague, Northfield, Pelham and Shelburne

Charter Communications (Cable) $3.1 million – New Marlborough (town paid $720K instead of 1.44 million by going with MBI grant exclusive to Charter)

For those concerned about wireless emissions, fiberoptic is the only from which emissions are not measurable. In contrast, coaxial cables not only radiate, deteriorate more quickly, but are usually bundled with television boxes directly radiate wireless. Update: installing fiberoptic in 2020 is now problematic as fiberoptic is being used as a backhaul for 5G and other cell towers, which no one wants as discussed at Last Tree Laws – those installations must be stopped.

Fiberoptic is better quality, but (coaxial) cable insures a monopoly according to current laws and vendors available to provide service.

As it is, many of these towns are “underserved” which means competition is nonexistent or DSL.

Unlike older copper phone lines, broadband infrastructure has few, if any, requirements to allow shared use of infrastructure or prohibit spying or data gathering without a warrant.

Gaining ownership of telecommunications infrastructure is a guarantee of income, data gathering access, and capability to censor.

Meanwhile, telecommunication companies are lobbying to stop maintaining and remove old copper phone lines. In parts of Massachusetts, this has already occurred.

Bruce Kushnick, part of a suit against FCC with Irregulators, has repeatedly written how telecommunications providers have taken public money to improve the network with fiberoptic, failed to follow through, and have let copper phone lines deteriorate. In New Jersey, for example, 16 cities accused Verizon of failing to install fiberoptic service and simultaneously allowing copper lines to degrade. In Boston, Verizon is providing wireless instead of promised fiberoptic for $300 million and letting copper phone lines degrade. Kushnick says the purpose of this is to install unregulated and expensive wireless service, which sadly is less secure from power outage and hacking.

 

EDUCATION

The Massachusetts Teachers Association(MTA) opposes the 2016 selection of the LearnLaunch Institute by Baker’s administration to lead a public-private initiative, Massachusetts Personalized Learning EdTech Consortium (MAPLE). The complaint is in three parts:

1) Emphasizing online instruction and technology at expense of skilled teachers, and

2) Absence of research showing benefits, and

3) Profiteering.

Profiteering? How? The MTA notes MAPLE will be beneficial for a Boston venture fund named New Profit. MAPLE’s other private gig is supporting EdTech business ventures. Profiteering can also occur through privatization of online education and sale of technology products.

Baker educational appointees have had connections with Big Tech, venture funds and technology or educational technology (EdTech) such as audience analytics, online classroom platforms, and massively multiplayer online games:

  • K-12 – The current Massachusetts state secretary of education, James Peyser, was formerly Managing Director at NewSchools Venture Fund, which invests in educational technology and whose donors at the 5 million level include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative DAF. While certainly there are positive aspects to technology, there are also negatives that may be ignored when blinded by the excitement of “innovation.” Not everyone invested in technology will ignore risks, but admitting risks has to be more difficult when one is financially invested and surrounded by others who are as well.
  • Paul Sagan, the chair of the Board of Education from 2015 to 2019, formerly worked for Time Warner Cable (now owned by Charter Communications) and is the director of two technology companies and managing director of a technology investment fund, Greater Catalyst Partners, which has been and is invested in Brainly, “the world’s largest [school] social learning network,” CCP Games (massively multiplayer online games), ClassDoJo (Classroom sharing platform), and many other technologies: Remesh (audience analytics), SuperPedestrian (networked vehicles), Cyphy (drones), etc.

EdTech ventures generally sell “successful” products to Big Tech, so Microsoft and Facebook “charity” for this public-private venture can lead to financial reward.

One of Baker’s appointees, Paul Sagan, has also been critiqued by public school advocates for “illegally” donating to charter school campaigns and the media suggested that is why he stepped down in 2019.

Baker’s administration has been critiqued by the MTA and Citizens for Public Schools for measures that reduce the bargaining rights of teachers and teacher unions and allow for charter schools.

Will online preschools be the new Massachusetts charter schools and public-private ventures just like in Indiana and other states?

The Innovation Partnership Zones proposed by Senator Eric Lesser of Longmeadow and Representative Alice Peisch of Wellesley and supported by the Baker administration allow takeover of local districts performing poorly, not just “failing,” by the educational commissioner. This takeover reduces bargaining rights of teacher unions and gives complete control to the commissioner — eliminating any power of local officials and allowing for purchase of EdTech or other scripted programs.

As it is, the state’s accountability measures have also been termed flawed measures that target poverty rather than assess learning.

By eliminating local control and teacher bargaining rights, decisions could be made favorable to the interests and profits of the state board and to educational technology venture funds at the expense of local students and teachers.

Another source for further information on this topic is Wrench in the Gears blog, which I found randomly after writing this post. Wrench in the Gears looks quite interesting.

 

HEALTH TECHNOLOGY

In 2016 Baker launched the Mass Digital Health Initiative to support the digital health industry.

Normally, this would be thought positive, but not by me or others concerned over modern wireless exposures and proximity to electronics.

The Department of Health has even completed public health fact sheets on wireless and power frequency risks based on continuing complaints and concerns from citizens, but these have not been released. The administration had been informed of risks of wireless at least as far back as 2013.

A second problem is that the taxpayer money being used seems to benefit private profits and ignore a payback of any kind to the public. The pharmaceutical industry is already wealthy and is known for charging high prices. The direction of the initiative also seems to be for the benefit of pharmaceutical and medical companies, because Jeffrey Leiden, CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, is to advise the initiative on priorities.

That there will be be profits is suggested by the list of members. The list of members seems to include a few belonging to venture capital funds, besides pharmaceutical, biotech, or research organizations:

  • Jeff Bussgang, General Partner, Flybridge Capital Partners

  • Stephen Kraus, Partner, Bessemer Venture Partners

Event partners for the organization include a number of other venture funds. Venture funds invest to make a profit.

As the press release states, the digital health market includes “the life sciences, electronic health records, consumer wearable devices, care systems, payment management, Big Data analytics and telemedicine.”

For this market, profits are expected in the billions. In the USA, health deals were over 4 billion in 2016, including venture fund General Catalyst. Profits for the global digital health market profits are expected to reach 206 billion by 2020.

In 2017 Baler’s Assistant Secretary of ITE Kate Stebbins also noted the value of digital health for remote monitoring, via smart phones and pills with sensors.

If the public is not informed of wireless risks or if the social aspects are ignored, then health problems result besides deletion of many jobs without consideration for replacement. Digital health records are also susceptible to hacking and ransomware, another problem that is being ignored.

As part of the initiative, the governor’s office and MassTech, designated as the lead state agency, have invested in digital health, providing 10 million in 2017 for a research lab. WPI is contributing 9.5 million, and General Electric (GE) another 2.5 million. GE’s investment is comparatively miniscule for return, as the labs are intended to allow academic and industry collaboration to test smart and robotic medical tools. This is taxpayer money that appears to be supporting private profit based on the involvement of venture funds and private-public partnership.

Other funds provided in 2017 included:

  • $250,000 to Digital Health Innovation Labs

  • $170,000 for the digital health hub in Boston

  • $80,000 for Baystate Health’s TechSpring

GE is apparently happy enough with tax breaks, the laboratory investment, and membership on the digital health board to move to the state and simultaneously donate to Baker (as listed further below).

In contrast, community hospitals are struggling. Closures due to financial troubles have occurred notably at maternity clinics, recently at UMass Memorial HealthAlliance-Clinton Hospital pediatric clinic and Lowell Hospital clinic for malnourished children, and previously even at full hospitals such as North Adams Regional. Nursing and assisted living facilities are also struggling and closing with ensuing job losses.

 

UTILITIES & THE “SMART” GRID

Utility companies began installing “smart meters” in 2007 with heavy promotion of benefits, and noting to fully fund modernization costs projected to the tune of 476 billion. By 2009, states were rolling out government funding for smart meters or automated meter/mesh infrastructure (AMI).

In Massachusetts, the “Green Communities Act” provided funding for the smart grid underneath a title that linked the smart grid to alternative energy. The intent was to use these meters to improve payments for alternative energy and also to closely monitor consumer energy use.

As Patricia Burke explains, the term “green” in reference to smart meters is a misnomer, as the infrastructure and data analysis simply increases energy usage; however, the term has drawn solar supporters, even though the meters are now being used to discriminate against solar and non-utility providers by imposing additional charges. National Grid and Eversource in fact have lobbied heavily to cut back on solar installations. The DPU appears to have provided support to cut back on solar. In any case, what the meters do is allow convoluted pricing and data gathering, for better or worse.

Around the world and by 2013 in Massachusetts, citizens began to note problems and raise issues such as privacy invasion (smart meters gather data), additional cell towers, fire hazards, meters rigged to average high costs, obscene infrastructure costs, unfair opt-out fees, etc. One utility company even filed a complaint on the docket to point out that smart meter infrastructure was excessive, a waste of money, and simply not needed.

Meanwhile on January 2015, Governor Baker appointed, alongside a fossil fuel lobbyist, former senior vice president of the National Grid for pricing and regulation, Ron Gerwatowski, as Assistant Secretary for Energy, hailing him for his work on the wireless smart grid as paid for by the “Green Communities Act.”

A 2016 Commonwealth Magazine article “Politics Behind the Plug” notes that utilities are big donors to Baker:

The utilities, particularly Eversource, are big political donors to Baker. On June 30 last year, for example, Eversource officials, including CEO Tom May and his wife, Donna, contributed a total of $9,600 each to Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito.

The Baker administration and DPU are not alone, as the state legislature also has some part.

In 2015 Senator Mark Pacheco led hearings across the state regarding public progress around climate change and energy — and at each hearing activists spoke regarding the risks of the smart grid, in particular the health risks. A bioengineering professor, Dr. Diane Testa, was among those who spoke at the Springfield hearing. Nevertheless, the final report included this statement about getting people to support the smart grid:

One incentive, for example, could grant the utilities savings if a certain number of their customers adopt smart meters. Alternatively, the administration could offer utility bill savings for customers who adopt smart meters. Whichever form the incentives take, the Baker administration must act swiftly to prioritize smart meters.

In 2017 a bill was submitted to allow citizens to refuse smart meters, but this died in the telecommunications committee despite the testimony of citizens and scientist Dr. Martin Pall who flew in from another state. While it is not known who in this committee voted for or against the bill, members of that committee include:

  • Michael J Barret

  • Michael D Brady

  • Thomas A Golden

  • Frank A Moran

  • Carolyn C. Dykema

  • Josh S. Cutler

  • Adrian Madaro

  • Daniel Cahill

  • Joan Meschino

  • James K. Hawkins

  • Leonard Mirra

  • Randy Hunt

  • Marc R. Pacheco

  • Anne M. Gobi

  • Joan B. Lovely

  • Bruce E. Tarr

On September 6, 2018, at a public hearing a request to raise prices for cost overruns of Worcester smart meter pilot, Patricia Burke provided a summary of citizen concerns over the obfuscations and apparent deceit of the smart meter pilot by the Massachusetts DPU and industry. A glaring oddity she discusses is that the report provided of the Worcester smart meter pilot expenses blacked out or censored all the expenses, when the hearing was to discuss cost overruns.

Still, she notes:

The 2-year Worcester pilot was behind schedule and over budget, reportedly reaching $60M in expenses by the 2015 filing at the halfway mark, once the pricing plans were in effect. 6 This is nearly 2 ½ times more costly that the NY pilot.

Despite the fees paid to Navigant, no complete, transparent, simple final cost – benefit analysis has been provided for the Worcester pilot program, which involved both off-book as well as on-book expenses.

Shortly after this hearing, Patricia Burke filed a complaint with the Securities Exchange Commission about the reporting by Navigant regarding the Worcester National Grid smart meter pilot.

In the complaint to the SEC, Burke describes how concerned citizens were already critiquing a wireless “smart grid” in s 2013 public hearing. Complaints at that time primarily revolved around the lack of honest investigation of health risks from the high-powered wireless smart meters and accompanying infrastructure.

Jan Newton, of the EMR Policy Institute, is cited as having listed twenty inadequacies in wireless research listed by the 2008 National Academy of Sciences Report on RF [wireless] guidelines. The 2011 International Agency for Research on Caner (IARC) classification of wireless as a 2B carcinogen (possible) was also discussed at this hearing.

Burke describes how Peter Valberg defends smart meter health across the nation, and notes his integrity ought to be questioned for he appears to have an unbelievable amount of expertise in multiple unrelated areas for which he serves as a paid industry consultant for product defense: tobacco, air quality, and radiation.

Despite these health concerns and other concerns such as privacy, costs, and economic justice, the DPU went forward with the smart meter pilot and use across the state.

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN GAS & FOSSIL FUELS RULE

Governor Baker has consistently backed the gas pipelines, and hidden behind the stance that federal laws determine the issues. However, NY has consistently denied pipelines through the state on the basis of water protection and just won a recent challenge to their denial. In MA, gas pipelines are running through natural habitat and water reserves.

Governor Baker has allowed a compressor station for the pipelines in a highly populated area, again denying ability to effect change despite the fact that state certification is required (as discussed here along with his ties to the pipeline). Failure to speak against the dangerous and polluting Compressor Station has earned Baker the ire of some on the South Shore.

The Brookline Beacon has a damning article stating that Baker appointed fossil fuel friends who then illegally set up a procedure for electric companies to raise prices and then invest in fossil fuels. Maura Healey’s notified the DPU of the illegal practice. This came to an end when a lawsuit was brought forth from a fossil fuel provider over the uneven playing field.

Besides the pipeline, irritation exists over Eversource’s $100 Million Sudbury-Hudson (and other towns) 115 kV transmission line through conservation land, a `’public-private partnership’ that DCR Commissioner and Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs supports and which electric ratepayers are to foot a substantial bill. The transmission line is to cross 6 conservation and 2 town water sites and would require cutting down many trees with an 82-foot wide clear-cut through areas with species that are state-listed or of special concern, besides including continued spraying of herbicides. Sudbury has filed complaints over lack of transparency and failure to account for or manage environmental impacts. Six state legislators filed H. 2683 to prevent transmission lines in “fall zones” of homes as result of the proposed path being near homes.

NOTE REGARDING ENVIRONMENT:

Many of the examples above show a disregard for the environment.

An article in the Boston Globe points to favoring of political donors, supporters, and family for hires to the environmental agency.

In fact Baker angered the environmentalists concerned over water by proposing in April 2016 and again for this session that the state take over monitoring from the federal government. Opponents noted that it would weaken water protection and cost millions of dollars per year when the state environmental agency is already underfunded, and that the EPA consistently has done a good job even when Trump was elected and that transfer to the state would be forever and a burden.

Environmentalists noted that reductions at the environmental agency have reduced the ability of the agency to conduct inspections or enforcement actions. A Boston Globe article notes from 2015 to March 2017 a total of 1000 less inspections and 1000 less enforcement actions in contrast to previous administrations.

Baker’s appointment of Matt Beaton to run the agency was also questioned, due to his lack of credentials in comparison to former heads to run an 800 million agency.

The state’s environmental police continue with a split shift policy Baker said he’d end two years ago, whereby police interrupt shifts to serve “overtime” at higher pay and then return to “regular” shifts. As discussed in the linked Boston Globe article, the agency, including Beaton, has used funds for personal items such as plane flight for Beaton, and has ignored internal policies for patronage hires. The environmental police also stand accused of political intimidation as several examples describe in the Lowell Sun.

In May 2016, the state fisheries board was heavily purged and replaced, when the previous year the board had blocked the governor’s appointment to direct the Marine Fisheries — Baker denied any knowledge of the event oddly enough. The replacements were criticized by many as favoring commercial industry and federal knowledge rather than state or recreational. Presently MA fisheries are struggling with the loss of herring, blamed largely on trawlers and commercial industry.

 

DONATIONS & RELATIONSHIPS

In 2014, Charlie Baker joined General Catalyst as an “executive in residence.” General Catalyst is the same venture fund in which Paul Sagan on the state educational board is involved, the one that invests in educational and other types of technology including digital health.

Charlie Baker then got General Catalyst in trouble for donating to the New Jersey Republican State Committee (on behalf of Cris Christie), directly before General Catalyst solicited the state for a new fund.

While impossible for me to review his donors, in 2017 the Boston Business Journal reported top GE executives donated 5K+ to Baker’s campaign. Included in members of Baker’s Digital Health Initiative is a representative of GE Healthcare Digital, Justin Steinman.

The GE donation pairs with the concept that Baker’s digital health initiative is a huge benefit to corporations rather than most state citizens. The donations might also pair with the large tax breaks GE received for moving to Massachusetts although apparently GE now is struggling?

Besides digital health, GE, or General Electric, has many patents for items such as data gathering or “smart” homes and meters, the latter the subject of protest from Massachusetts residents, over the Worcester pilot, as well as across the nation such as Michigan.

As discussed in the smart meter section, utilities appear to be big donors.

Baker chose non-public funding, or dark money, and thus by law is allowed to set the cap for the governor’s election.

Baker set his cap for donations at 20 million, an enormous sum. Other politicians are running on 2, which looks like a drop in the bucket now.

The Boston Globe reports that the Commonwealth Future Independent Expenditure PAC is already buying 5 million of ad time for Baker – who are these people? This is on top of the money Baker is spending. Public Integrity states the primary donor is the Republican Governor Association. Corporations may make unlimited donations to such a PAC.

VoteSmart dot org shows names of top donors to Baker’s campaign (not the PAC).

APPOINTMENTS

Ronald Amidon appointed while president of Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts, which was suing Healey in U.S. District Court over a copycat assault weapons ban – Fish and Wildlife – Also on Ron Amidon: Using state position to lobby for guns and also NRA affiliation of GOAL and lobbying for mental patients access to guns.

Ron Gerwatowski, a former senior vice president for regulation and pricing at National Grid and connected to wireless smart grid through work on the “Green Communities Act” – Assistant Secretary for Energy

Angela O’Connor – Chairwoman Department of Public Utilities (Critiqued by environmental groups due to former jobs:)

Laura Sen chair and former CEO of BJ’s Wholesale Club – MassPort

Bain Capital executive Mark Nunnelly – Secretary of Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (Bain Capital also has many investments in technology)

Former Mayor Michael Albano – Labor Review Board

Sushil K. Tuli, Chairman and President of Leader Bank – MassHousing Board

Kerry Gilpin, former Lieutenant – Superintendent Colonel State Police

Supreme Court appointments:

David A. Lowy

Frank M. Gaziano

Kimberly S. Budd

Superior Court

Janice W. Howe

Susan E. Sullivan

Associate Justice of Appeals Court

John C. Englander (previously General Counsel for MassDOT and the MBTA)

 

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Kirstin Beatty