Second vote on new Chelmsford fire station defeated


A local resident casts her vote. SUN/David H. Brow image.

As written today by Rita Savard of the Lowell Sun:

CHELMSFORD — In the town’s only contested race, voters said a controversial building project led the charge for a shake-up on the Planning Board.

Attorney Richard McClure, who is suing the town over an alleged preservation restriction violation at 9 North Road, topped the three-way race for two open seats, pushing out Chairwoman Ann McGuigan.

McClure earned 2,392 votes, followed by Michael Raisbeck with 2,180 votes. McGuigan trailed with 1,883 votes.

“I believe the election results were clearly a referendum on the 9 North Road project, given the ouster of the chair of the Planning Board,” McClure said in an email last night. “I am very thankful for the voters and I hope to do my best in representing their interests.”

The results took some by surprise last night, including members of the Planning Board, who have been sued by McClure.

“I will still go about doing the business of Chelmsford as always,” board member George Zaharoolis said. “The Planning Board has a responsibility to uphold the bylaws. That’s what I’ll continue to do, and I hope the new members do the same.”

The 9 North Road parcel, next to the Center Fire Station, ignited the feuds that led to several ongoing legal battles.

Michael Eliopoulos, father of former longtime Selectman Philip Eliopoulos, purchased the privately owned land from Eastern Bank for $400,000 in 2009. McClure has sued the town over an alleged violation of a 1978 preservation restriction, which he said was created to retain the two-acre parcel as open space.

McClure also alleges that the land sold for such a low price because it has always been marked as “unbuildable.”

Former Selectmen John Carson, Paul Hart and Joe Shanahan, who helped author the preservation restriction more than 30 years ago, spoke before town officials last year to confirm the intent of the bylaw was to keep the land as open space.

But other town officials argue that the bylaw was not written specifically to prevent building on the parcel. An attempt to halt construction last year was rejected by a state Land Court judge.

Accusations that the land was acquired through backroom deals have spurred several lawsuits. McClure is also the attorney representing Chelmsford businessman Roland Van Liew in his suits against various town officials.

McGuigan was unable to be reached for comment.

Raisbeck, who was a Planning Board alternate, said he might have done well with voters because he positioned himself “somewhat in between the other two.”

“I was a fan of Ann’s,” he said. “I don’t really know Dick McClure that well, but I’m looking forward to getting to know him and having a productive term on the board.”

The amount of blank ballots for the race, 2,726, topped all candidates’ votes.

Looking at the results last night, Town Meeting representative Brian Latina said it is clear that “this election was about 9 North Road.”

“People were sending a message,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Read more: http://www.lowellsun.com/rss/ci_17782655?source=rss#ixzz1Il9eggfP

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Financial Entitlement in the US


Robert Lenzner, Forbes —

Don’t blame David Sokol’s  craving to make a fortune  and become a philanthropist on Warren Buffett’s understandable confidence  that  his leading heir-apparent would do nothing to embarass him and Berkshire Hathaway.

It was  David Sokol’s personal responsibility to tell Buffett on January 25th latest  that he  owned 96,000 shares of Lubrizol worth $10 million that, excuse me , he had  purchased  the first week of January, 2011, ahem, just 18 days before the Jan. 25th  decision to go ahead and  negotiate for Lubrizol.

Then, Buffett would have realized he had to reveal this stock activity in the merger materials, which was going to be an embarassment– even if he had ordered  Sokol to sell the shares before ANY negotiations.

This  is not an issue of corporate governance, that mushy concept that obfuscates what you should be born with– an ingrained sense of what is right and what is wrong.  Unfortunately, our celebrity culture has placed a priority on public excess, the insatiable need to be richer than the next guy,  keep up with the private equity billionaires, the hip-hop entrepreneurs with diamonds in their ear lobes, the Donald Trumps of the world.

Read today about the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac execs who were paid multiple  millions personally and presided over public  losses of billions. It’s  time to pull “The Rich And The Super Rich, A Study of  Money & Power And Who Really Owns America” out of the bookcase and  remind  myself of  the prevailing culture.

The Oscar-winning  documentary “Inside Job,” is deep-down a narrative of the insidious culture of financial entitlement, an invisible virus  at work  in the culture.  Cut the school budget, layoff policemen, cannibalize  training programs for the unemployed, don’t make GE pay any taxes etc. is  the dark side of the  culture of  financial entitlement.

Here  are some of the many examples of the virus at work in our recent history. The leading investment banker who  is also chairman of the investment bank’s regulator who buys shares of the investment bank at a  depressed price during the financial crisis  with full insight as to public  policy support for the  institution, and never has his wrist slapped.  Supported by his former  partner, who once held a high cabinet post, who assured me there  w as nothing wrong in taking advantage of inside knowledge to make an extra buck or two.

The  leading executive of a  public-private housing finance institution who brags to me that she got out just in time without being stained by the  crisis, her extraordinary small fortune  intact.

The phenomenon of a leading  bank, JP Morgan Chase allowing  $100 billion to be transferred back and forth between  the crook of the century, Bernie Madoff and another major client of the bank.  Or my alma mater, Goldman Sachs letting a  hedge fund  maven client pick out the lousy mortgages to go short  in a public offering.  Or Credit Suisse having to pay a fine of $535 million to  the government for violating the  sanctions against  doing business with knave nations  like Iran and the Sudan.

Just have a look at hedge fund biggie Raj Rajaratnam, blithley protesting  his innocence  of criminality  in the  biggest inside information trial ever, despite 19 guilty pleas  by others caught in his dishonest web.  Absurd.

Soldiers responsibile for slaughter get court martialed


According to the Globe & Mail’s website:

A 22-year-old soldier accused of taking a lead role in a brutal plot to murder Afghan civilians faces a military trial Wednesday in a case that involves some of the most serious criminal allegations to arise from the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, has agreed to plead guilty to three counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to commit assault and battery, and one count of illegal drug use in exchange for a maximum sentence of 24 years, said Geoffrey Nathan, one of his lawyers.

His client is one of five soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 5th Stryker Brigade charged in the killings of three unarmed Afghan men in Kandahar province in January, February and May 2010. Mr. Morlock is the first of the five men to face a trial, known in the military as a court-martial — which Mr. Nathan characterized as an advantage.

“The first up gets the best deal,” he said by phone Tuesday, noting that even under the maximum sentence, Mr. Morlock would serve no more than eight years before becoming eligible for parole.

According to a copy of the plea agreement, Mr. Morlock has agreed to testify against his co-defendants. In his plea deal, Mr. Morlock said he and others slaughtered the three civilians knowing that they were unarmed and posed no legitimate threat.

He also described lobbing a grenade at the civilian in the January incident while another soldier shot at him, and then lying about it to his squad leader.

The court-martial comes days after a German news organization, Der Spiegel, published three graphic photos showing Mr. Morlock and other soldiers posing with dead Afghans. One image features Mr. Morlock grinning as he lifts the head of a corpse by its hair.

Army officials had sought to strictly limit access to the photographs due to their sensitive nature. A spokesman for the magazine declined to say how it had obtained the pictures, citing the need to protect its sources.

Mr. Morlock told investigators the murder plot was led by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Montana, who is also charged in the case. Mr. Gibbs maintains the reasons behind the killings were legitimate.

Mr. Nathan said Mr. Morlock’s mother and hockey coach are among the witnesses who might testify on his behalf in court. He indicated the defence would argue that a lack of leadership in the unit contributed to the killings.

“He’s really a good kid. This is just a bad war at a bad time in our country’s history,” Mr. Nathan said. “There was a lack of supervision, a lack of command control, the environment was terrible. In his mind, he had no choice.”

After the January killing, platoon member Spc. Adam Winfield, of Cape Coral, Florida, sent Facebook messages to his parents saying that his fellow soldiers had murdered a civilian and were planning to kill more. Mr. Winfield said his colleagues warned him not to tell anyone.

Mr. Winfield’s father alerted a staff sergeant at Lewis-McChord, which is south of Seattle, but no action was taken until May, when a witness in a drug investigation in the unit also reported the deaths.

Mr. Winfield is accused of participating in the final murder. He admitted in a videotaped interview that he took part and said he feared the others might kill him if he didn’t.

Also charged in the murders are Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes of Boise, Idaho, and Spc. Michael Wagnon II of Las Vegas.

Seven other soldiers in the platoon are charged with lesser crimes, including assaulting the witness in the drug investigation, drug use, firing on unarmed farmers and stabbing a corpse.

Afghan civilians slaughtered for sport


 

 

US Soldiers pose with their victims’ bodies

As reported by the U.K. Guardian’s Jon Boone:

The face of Jeremy Morlock, a young US soldier, grins at the camera, his hand holding up the head of the dead and bloodied youth he and his colleagues have just killed in an act military prosecutors say was premeditated murder.

Moments before the picture was taken in January last year, the unsuspecting victim had been waved over by a group of US soldiers who had driven to his village in Kandahar province in one of their armoured Stryker tanks.

According to testimony collected by Der Spiegel magazine the boy had, as a matter of routine, lifted up his shirt to reveal that he was not hiding a suicide bomb vest.

That was the moment Morlock, according to a pre-arranged plan, threw a grenade at the boy that exploded while other members of the rogue group who called themselves the “kill team” opened fire.

They would later tell military investigators that the boy, a farmer’s son, had threatened them with the grenade.

The pictures include a similar photograph of a different soldier posing with the same victim and a photograph of two other civilians killed by the unit.

There was no sign on Monday of the anticipated public outrage. But withAfghanistan on holiday for the Persian new year celebrations, and media outlets initially unable to get hold of the images, anger may yet build.

The US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, recently confided to officials that he feared it might trigger the same kind of scandal as that at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, where images of prisoners being abused by US soldiers sparked anti-American protests.

For weeks the US government has been working to pre-empt any outrage, with top officials, including the US vice president Joe Biden, in talks with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

Despite being a setback in the propaganda war between the western coalition and its insurgent enemies, Nato will be relieved that for the time being only a tiny sample of a total collection of roughly 4,000 images and video clips have found their way into the public domain.

The publication of the photos will also mark the ultimate disgrace of the group of young US soldiers, who are currently facing military justice for killing innocent civilians for sport and mutilating their bodies by cutting off fingers and ripping out teeth to keep as trophies.

Morlock has turned on his former colleagues, agreeing to testify against them in return for a reduced jail sentence. Some of the activities of the group are already public, with 12 men currently on trial in Seattle for their role in the killing of three civilians. Morlock has told investigators that Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs was the ringleader. In videotaped evidence, he has said Gibbs would pick out a possible target with a comment such as: “You guys wanna wax this guy or what?”

Gibbs, if found guilty, could receive a life sentence.

Hans-Ulrich Stoldt, a spokesman for Der Spiegel, said the magazine had other, more graphic photos.

“We published three but not others, and we even pixilated those we did print so that the victims could not be identified,” Stoldt said. “We needed to document [the accusations] in some form, and were as restrained as possible.”

Chelmsford BoS cower under threat of lawsuit


On August 23rd, the Chelmsford Board of Selectman (BoS) held a town meeting to vote on the construction proposal for 9 North Road and whether it violated a preservation restriction. Though the selectmen seemed contemplative throughout the meeting, their composure appeared lost after the Epsilon’s lawyer forewarned of a lawsuit should the BoS repeal their permit.

What makes this project so controversial is due to a preservation restriction that was created in 1978. The Epsilon group, which represents the Eliopoulos family, claims that restriction doesn’t bar all construction. The group also claims that the intentions of the restriction and the 1978 BoS are not only immaterial, but inapplicable to the project. Specifically, the Epsilon group focuses its argument on Articles 2 and 6 of the restriction. These sections require that any construction be “barnlike” in appearance, that all construction not exceed 55% of the total land area, and that the owners have a limited right to develop the land, respectively.

Such bold statements were probably a smack in the face for former selectman, John W. Carson. Carson, who was on the BoS in 1978, adamantly spoke out against the project at the meeting. According to Carson, he and the other two surviving selectman that signed the restriction crafted the measure in order to preserve the open land as a public park. Carson’s argument relies on Articles 5, 7 and 8 of the restriction. The sections maintain that the land is to be maintained as a park, that all structures are to be small, and that all buildings must match the architecture of the Emerson barn.

The board’s 2 to 1 vote in favor of the project was met with resounding outrage from the dozens of citizens that attended the meeting. Though there was support for the construction, it seemed to have been overwhelmed by the public’s opposition.

July political developments, part 2


With the immigration debate being a big issue, protesters took action across Massachusetts.  Opponents of Arizona law S.B. 1070 marched at the National Governors Association meeting that was held in Boston.  The Boston City council backed off of its boycott of Arizona-based businesses after receiving heat.  A poll conducted by the Boston Herald revealed that many residents were frustrated by the boycott.

July also saw the burgeoning Tea Party movement split in half.  This division came to pass after several groups within the movement were associated with outspoken critics of the president and current policy. Mass.-based chapters seem determined to carry on despite the criticism the movement has received.

July also saw the expansion of unemployment benefits.  For Massachusetts, that meant that approximately 70, 000 residents gained financial help for a few more months. The bill passed by a vote of 272-152 in the House.  Senator Brown proposed an alternative funding source for the measure but his amendment was not passed.

On the casino gambling front, state legislators that supported the bill faced firm opposition.  The problem seemed to have begun over the House’s introduction of slot machines at all of the race tracks, or “racinos”, which both Patrick and the Senate refused.  The stalemate lasted until the last possible moment when the House and Senate agreed to slot machines at only two of the racetracks.  Though that version passed just before the end of the session, its fate is not yet determined because Patrick doesn’t support the current version.

Just as the legislature was wrapping up its current session, both the House and the Senate passed measures in favor of a national popular vote.  As a result, Massachusetts is now part of a “pact” with five other states to give all of their votes to the candidate that wins the national popular vote.  A major sticking point, according to opponents, is that it ignores the stated amendment process contained within the U.S. Constitution.

July political developments, part 1


The month of July started with president approval ratings holding steady at 46% for the first few weeks.  By the second half of the month, President Obama’s ratings dropped down one percentage point.  His disapproval ratings fluctuated throughout the month and ended at 47%, which was two percentage points higher than at the beginning of July.

According to Gallup editor Frank Newport, Obama’s 6th quarter ratings stood at 47.3%, which is on par with previous president’s ratings at the same point in their administration.  In fact, Clinton’s (D) approval ratings for the 6th quarter were 46.1%, Reagan’s (R) was 44.2% and Ford’s (R) was 43.2%.  Historically speaking, most presidents lose popularity the longer they are in office with a handful of exceptions.  The most notable include JFK (D), Eisenhower (R) and Johnson (D).  So much for the supposed “Obama paradox” which stated that President Obama was loosing popularity despite the legislation that was passed.

In Massachusetts, Obama’s approval ratings seems to be around 56%.  This number seems to show a correlation between Democrats and Independents support of Obama and the local voting population.  What this means is that the Bay state has one of the highest populations of independent voters in the country.

Congress fared worse than President Obama given that it’s ratings hit an all time record low.  Though recent controversies might have probably played a role in these figures, chances are that this could be more due to political trends.  Midterms elections are usually somewhat painful for the party in power, irrespective of whether it’s the Republicans or Democrats.

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