^ City Council members hold historic hearing inside Suffolk Jail : Stephen Murphy, Mark Ciommo, Chairman Tito Jackson, Matt O’Malley, Josh Zakim, frank Baker

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Last night the Suffolk County Jail and its leader Sheriff Steve Tompkins hosted an historic first : a City Council hearing right there, in the jail’s auditorium. It was, said Tompkins, the first time anywhere in the entire nation that a formal City Council hearing had taken place inside a correctional lock-up.

Six Councillors attended : Mark Ciommo; Stephen Murphy; Frank baker; Matt O’Malley; Josh Zakim; and Tito Jackson, chairman of the Council’s Special Committee on the Status of Black and Latino Men and Boys.

The audience included State Representatives Gloria Fox and Russell Holmes; council candidates Andrea Campbell and Jean Claude Sanon; and many City of Boston staffers.

This Special Committee — which, as Jackson said, also cares about Black and Latina Women and  Girls — heard from, and questioned, several panels of witnesses. Including : Suffolk Jail staff; women incarcerated there; City Health Care Officials; the State’s Commissioner of Transitional Assistance; and men incarcerated; police officials; and one Darryl Wright, who announced himself a long term addict now successfully transitioned to the position of licensed addiction treatment counselor.

Jail staff testified to the many, many services and educational programs offered; health care people talked about recovery services. The incarcerated witnesses talked about what got them imprisoned and of their plans for a better life — though some seemed daunted — understandably — by the obstacles to making a better life once you have an imprisonment record.

These are legion : CORI checks; the absurd cost of reinstating a driver’s license; no family, no money, no home; few skills; not much of a support system; and children to feed who cannot wait for things to fall into place. It is true. In our state, if you become imprisoned you’re almost always in addiction or have mental health issues, or both; and are three to four times more likely to be Black or Latino; and probably lack job skills; and are in the company of, or next to, other people in as bad straits as yourself.

All of this the Council committee heard, over and over again. Sheriff Tompkins emphasized the night’s main theme in his won speech : that it’s “outrageous” to have mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, that most of the people who “live downstairs” should be “at home with their families.,”

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^ Sheriff Tompkins : “the first 72 hours after a person leaves jail are the most crucial if we’re to see them not come back.”

Tompkins and his witnesses also made the point, over and over again, that it’s almost impossible for his “guests” to successfully re-enter society. “95 percent of those who live downstairs are coming out,” he said. “And 55 percent of them are coming back.” Why so ? Because against their lack of skills, family support, and money, and their low self confidence, is a system most reluctant to hire people with a tainted CORI (criminal offender records information), few skills, and no ready way of getting to their job.

Tompkins did not need to remind anyone that it’s hard enough to get ahead or even to keep on keeping on, for most of us, much less for those re-entering society after a year or two in Suffolk Jail. The challenges hung in the air : are we going to change how we re-receive inmates into society or aren’t we ? Are we going to reform sentencing laws or not ? Are we going to change the laws that take driver’s licenses away from people for offenses not connected with driving ?

Tompkins’s coup de theatre succeeded. The City took notice of this Council hearing. Hopefully so will the legislature. We cannot continue to keep so many people in prison, nor incarcerate so many people of color.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ Governor Baker (with Energy Secretary matt Beaton) testifying at yesterday’s clean energy Legislative hearing

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Yesterday Governor Baker testified for a full hour to the legislature’s Public Utilities Committee. In that testimony he committed himself fully to meeting the state’s published goals of reducing greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. There were a good 600 people there in Gardner Auditorium, and they heartily applauded Baker’s words, laughed with his jokes, and seemed ex cited to have him as a spokesperson for green energy. Baker too. “I want to make Massachusetts the nation’s leader in clean energy solutions,” he said.

You can listen to the Governor’s testimony here : https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4omc5faDIECSmQ1dDISTFdQaFE/view

Some in the hall seemed to have assumed that Baker would not be a supporter of these goals. (why they thought that, I can’;t guess. Baker is a veteran of Governor Weld’s administration, and Weld was as conservation-mined a chief executive as Massachusetts has elected in my lifetime.) Whatever the assumptions of some, Baker corrected them all. In principle he’s fully aboard the clean energy train.

But principle is not practice. The bill that Baker advocated, Senate 1965, has critics. Before I discuss the criticisms, I invite you to read the legislation itself at this link : https://malegislature.gov/Bills/189/Senate/S1965

The bill seeks to add large chunks of Canadian hydro-power into our state’s green energy mix. Everybody agrees that hydro power should be part of the “diversified portfolio of green energy solutions,” as advocates put it. The difficulty, according to critics, is that Canadian imported hydro power would be expensive; would actually raise electricity rates for Massachusetts consumers. Baker responds that the legislation does not require4 such contracts be entered into, only that the state allow them to be negotiated for. The legislation does say exactly that.

Critics also assert that long-term hydro importation contracts, such as advocated by Baker, would undermine the arrangements currently in place between suppliers and deliverers. Senate 1965 says nothing about that, but it does note that any hydro contract entered into pursuant would require approval by the state;’s Public Utilities Commission.

Critics also aver that Massachusetts is already well on track to meet its Federal Clean Energy Act goals and therefore does not need a bill like Senate 1965. That may be true, but electric rates in Massachusetts have risen substantially during the past two years — some 37 percent at least —  which makes the addition of substantial green energy urgent. As Baker said it : “we need to get large users off the grid.”

It is hard to see how the addition of large hydro power supplies can raise electric rates at all. To accept the critics’ argument one would have to assume that imported hydro power would merely substitute for current power rather than add to it.

One power source that everybody remains committed to is gas supply. This has risks, because West Roxbury people are up in arms — justifiably — about a pipeline plan to route along a major street that borders a blasting quarry. That the pipeline firm planning this route is willing to accept huge public disfavor suggests that there’s an urgent need for much, much mire gas supply. There is; and if pipelines cannot be built because they will pass through communities that face being degraded, hydro importation now has its moment.

Baker also said that he would be open to adding substantial wind power — passionately advocated by one Senator — as well; and that he would study the requirements of the “clean energy standard”: that legislators suggested at the hearing. These details and plans will surely enter the policy conversation, now that Baker wants them discussed. Meanwhile, the state moves forward : to lower electric rates, to increase its alternative energy sources, and to diversify its energy preferences so that all can help. Only one electric power source was not mentioned at all at the hearing : nuclear.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ at a presser this morning, Governor Baker and DCF Commissioner Linda Spears announce a major agency restructure.

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Below I have reprinted the actual items of Department of Children and Families (DCF) reforms that Governor Bake4r announced this morning. These reforms have been occasioned by tragic events that DCF either failed to prevent or misjudged via the standards that baker has now replaced. Most moving of these tragic ends was that of “Baby Doe” Bella Bond, who, it is alleged, was killed by her mother’s live-in boyfriend, a man deep in the clutches of long-term addiction, as was the mother herself.

I have an opinion about these reforms to DCF, but before I give it, I urge you to read the itemized reform list :

New DCF Intake Policy  

The Department’s intake policy covering the period of time from when an allegation of abuse or neglect is filed (51a) through the investigation, substantiation of a claim and opening of a case, has not been updated in 12 years. Through negotiations with SEIU Local 509 leadership already underway, the policy will be updated by November 17, 2015. Reforms will include:

·       Standardized risk assessment tools for social workers

·       CORI checks in all DCF cases (Currently used in approximately 70% of cases)

·       Review of the entire family or household’s prior or current involvement with DCF

·       Review of frequency and type of emergency (9-1-1 calls) responses to the home

·       Parental capacity assessment

New Supervisor Policy

The new supervisor policy to be implemented by November 17, 2015 consistently across all DCF offices, will include detailed, mandated steps for case review and management support necessary to working with all families and especially those with complex conditions, ensuring all information about the family is understood and special consultation is provided for thorough understanding of a case and decisions to protect the children involved.

Examine All Complex Cases Within the Department

Regional Directors began examining more complex in-home cases where there are multiple abuse reports.  DCF directors will use a nationally developed child welfare continuous quality improvement (CQI) tool to assess several facets of cases including: safety, stability, placement needs, permanency, wellbeing, engagement of service providers, understanding of case situation and context.

Retention and Recruitment of Social Workers; Reinstating Technicians

The stress of high caseloads at an average of 20.66:1 in July is cited as a primary reason for the loss of social workers and the Department continues to target an 18:1 average caseload. DCF management and union leadership will make a concerted effort to develop strategies for retention and recruitment of social workers by Fall of 2015, as the Department continues to hire new social workers with the $35.5 million increase provided in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. DCF will also work towards reinstating social work technicians, first eliminated due to budget reductions in 2009 and critical to providing non-clinical support for caseworkers and families.  

Reestablishing the Central Massachusetts Regional Office

Budget reductions in 2009 also forced the closing of DCF’s Central MA Regional Office, resulting in the Western Office taking on more than 50% of the state’s geography and caseload. The Department will reinstate the Central Regional Office in Worcester by January 1, 2016, with managerial, administrative, legal, nursing and other staff to increase frontline workers’ access to supervision and other support resources.  

Reduce Backlog for Foster Home Applicants

The Department will initiate further efforts by this fall to meet the immediate needs for placing children in safe, caring foster homes, working with social service providers to review applicants and reduce the applicant backlog.

Other Reforms and Policy Updates

The Department and union leadership by March of 2016, will also develop and implement a new Practice Model as well as policies around Ongoing Casework, Family Assessment and Service Planning, Case Closing and Coordination with service partners, Data Integration, and Foster Homes – all reforms recommended by the CWLA Blueprint.

New Specialist Positions include: medical social workers statewide, Central Regional Director, Ombudsperson, Assistant Commissioner for Adoption and Foster Care, and Director of Strategic Initiatives.

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These reforms were worked out by DCF management, its leader Linda Spears, and SEIU Local 509 representing DCF’s social workers. There are some who feel that structural reforms shouldn’t need SEIU participation; with that, I disagree. It’s the social workers who have to do the front line work and who are held accountable if they do it wrong. How can it not be vital to them that DCF get it right, when, starting in year 2009, the agency’s budget was slashed, important support positions were eliminated, and caseloads fore ach social worker increased way beyond the agreed number ? These imbalances have now been made good. SEIU Local 509’s participation was crucial to getting there.

Governor Baker’s forte is institutional reform. It’s how, at Harvard Pilgrim, he won respect from the state’s institutional public. Thus I expected no less than the major accomplishment he has now achieved. And as Baker says often — I am paraphrasing — “at the end of the day, the voters want to know that the State services they pay for get delivered to them effectively, efficiently.” To the extent that systematic reform can accomplish this, Baker will without a doubt achieve.

In the case of DCF, however, I don’t think that systematic transformation is enough. DCF is not a health clinic; yet most of the people it becomes involved with live deep in addiction — just like Bella Bond’s Mom and Mom’s boyfriend. DCF can’t possibly hire enough people to oversee every family in addiction, not even close. Commissioner Spears concedes that the DCF caseload has increased by 30 percent : but addiction impacts far more homes than that. Unless the State puts in place an apparatus for treating the addiuction epidemic, DCF will fall short even if it restructures once a month.

I know that Governor Baker knows this. He has an Opioid addiction working group, and it is moving diligently to get a treatment structure in place f or opioid addicts. Baker’s people passionately defend the Opioid Addiction Working Group; they are right to do so. Yet the group is taking an institutional approach to solving a crisis that in my opinion needs an ad hoc component. The addiction and recovery communities are directly affected, and it is they who, as I have had reason to see, are working out solutions of their own to the addiction menace. The recovery community provides support for each addict and a networking method to keep every addict bonded to every other. To me, no remedy seems more crucial. Addiction causes isolation, and isolation aggravates addiction. Networking addicts to one another, and people in recovery to all, can bust the isolation gene instantly.

In my opinion, baker should import this ad hoc component and make it a vital part of his Opioid Addiction response. The sooner he can bring the addiction and recovery community itself into the solutions discussion, the sooner, in my opinion, he can lighten the burdens that addiction places on DCF.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ the Forum — candidates from L to R : Andrea Campbell; Charles yancey; Moderator; Charles Clemons; Tito Jackson

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Last night at least 250 voters showed up at Jubilee Church to hear the four candidates running in Boston’s only Council District contests. District 4 denizens heard from incumbent Charles Yancey and challenger Andrea Campbell. Council District 7 voters listened to challenger Charles Clemons and present Councillor Tito Jackson.

District 4 runs the length of Washington Street from Four Corners down to the Milton line and also takes in Harvard Street and a small, American Legion Highway bite of Roslindale. District 7 encompasses the entire 02119 portion of Roxbury, Blue Hill Avenue, and the Franklin Park-bordered neighborhood old timers call Elm Hill or “Sugar Hill.”

As i am writing for a Roxbury journal, I would like to report that Clemons and Jackson edified the campaign. The opposite was the case. all night long Clemons voiced positions –loudly — that are Jackson’s, constantly : better jobs and more of them for District 7 residents, a quota system so that at least 51 percent of jobs filled in local construction live in District; and “action, not talk.”

Jackson, for his part, has been the activist as well as the talker; but at the Forum, he talked, and not to advantage. To questions from the Forum moderator he gave responses inflammatory and as distorted of the facts as anything you’d hear at a GOP Presidential debate. It was difficult to hear him say that “charter schools steal money” from the City school budget and then, in the net breath say “I’m not against charter schools per se.”

Nor was it easy to listen as Jackson talked about how the Boston 2024 games bid — which he did much to wound — would have cost the city 13 billion dollars, a figure about three times higher than what even the anti-Games people cited during the 2024 debate.

For all his and Clemons’s railings at the evils of charter schools, they spoke not one word about the many non-profit education organizations — based in these two Districts, too — that every year get thousands of kids from Districts 4 and 7 from high school to employment. Nor did Clemons or Jackson seem to care that charter school cap lift is a pressing issue for school parents in District 4 especially. Do they never attend a Dudley Square Neighborhood Initiative education conversation ? Were they unaware of the hundreds of parents of color who rallied at the state House a few days again support of charter school cap lift ? Jackson, at least, knows better. he attended College Bound’s graduation ceremony at the Bolling Building about three weeks ago.

Little wonder that audience member Ken Williams asked the candidates, “exactly what will you do to close the achievement gap ?”

From what was said, not much.

District 4’s two candidates performed much better. Campbell (whom i am supporting) and yancey gave well reasoned, authoritatively detailed answers to questions. Each made clear a very diufferebt vision of what the role of District Ciouncillor shoulod be. campbell sees her work as being constantyly on the move, talking to voters in her Distriuct all the time, bbringting them information aboytr what is going in around them “a week in advance, not just on the day before, as happens now.” Yancey listed his accomplishments : among them, building the Mildred Avenue Community Center and the Mattapan Branch Library (which, as he was glad to announce, is named after his formidable mother, Alice Yancey). “I will fight for you,” said Yancey.

Yancey also admitted a defeat : he has never been able to persuade a mayor to build a Mattapan High school. and, in answer to a charter school question, he cited that a larger percentage of public school graduates go to college than charter graduates : a talking point direct from the Citywide Parents Council that ignores the competitive nature of charter schools, from which many children drop out. This despite Yanc ey’s having been happy to attend the ribbon cutting for an expanded Codman academy scarcely two weeks ago.

Campbell, meanwhile, hinted at recognition or schools other than standard public. She certainly knows, having attended a Bottom Line fundraiser at Antico Forno in the North End a few months back. “poverty and race play a role in school underperfiormance in this District,” she said, “and we need to address that.” As an example, she cited the excellence of Worcester’s technology academy — a role model for what Governor Baker wants to bring to many big city school districts.

Campbell won the District 4 primary overwhelmingly; Yancey is playing a steep game of catch-up. Yet the two candidates aren’t making voters’ November choioce easy: both speak well and know their role.

The same, actually, can be said of the District 7 race ; two candidates who speak loudly and loosely with the facts, each given to showmanship — Clemons as “Brother Charles’ of 108 FM “Touch Radio,’ Tito Jackson as master of the “Tito dance,’ whose presence on youtube he mentioned and demonstrated. Perhaps it will go viral yet.

—- Mike reedberg / Roxbury Here



^ Governor Baker at ground level — as in his campaign he said he would do — supervising MBTA upgrades

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Initiative petitions should not be the first sign of how an upcoming election might break, but right now that’s how it looks here in Massachusetts.

On one side, there’s the initiative to raise the charter school cap. It will be on the November 2016 ballot. Governor Baker supports it strongly. On the other side is a petition to amend the Constitution and enact a two-tier state income tax. This initiative will need two votes (at least 50 in support, or it fails) by the legislature and cannot be on the ballot until 2018. Baker has not weighed in, but as his no new taxes stance remains fully in force, I expect that he will oppose this.

Early polls indicate risk for Baker. Support for raising the charter cap at best barely outnumbers opposition. As for the two-tier tax initiative, SEIU supporters tell me it polls very well. They would say that, but I’m willing right now to believe them, even though twice in the 1990s initiatives to enact a graduated state income tax failed two to one. Perhaps this time will be different because people’s income expectations have fallen back.

Connected to the two-tier tax initiative is a big push to have the legislature pass a $ 15.00 an hour minimum wage, to be phased in at three intervals. Will Baker support it ? He isn’t saying, nor should he yet say.

What interests me politically about these moves is the composition of their support.

Backing the charter school cap lift one finds Pioneer Institute conservatives, some of them for anti-teacher union reasons or in opposition to common core curricula; many of Massachusetts’s communities of color, who have had enough of underperforming schools and few options otherwise; a substantial number of the state’s employers, who need entry level workers every year with sufficient skills to do the job; innovation school projects snd skills bridge groups; and — of course — the charter school movement itself, including its advocacy support.

By itself, this support should score a substantial victory boosting Baker’s re-election two years later. But tgst assumes that supporters of the initiative will also support Baker; whereas many, especially from communities of color, are core Democrats. In 2014, Baker won barely 9 percent of Boston’s Black voters and only about 18 percent of Hispanic voters. His all in support for the charter cap lift — which is almost universally supported by voters of color — should win him many; but  core Democrats will be pulled toward the Democratic nominee by their party activist neighbors, who include almost all the state’s of-color elected officials. Will the many, many activists of color who rallied at the State House this week in support of charter cap lift rally for Baker in 2018 despite big pressure from such as Councillors Ayanna Presley and Tito jackson, three or four State Representatives, and two state Senators ? I see this question as a daunting challenge.

Support from Baker’s of-color charter school ralliers faces added pressures, because voters of color almost all support the $ 15.00 an hour wage boost. I know of not one elected official of color in Boston who opposes the big wage hike. Baker would surely solidify his “Yes !” from inner city charter school activists if he supports the $ 15.00 an hour hike or at least does not oppose it; yet Baker is also very much the candidate of the state’s business establishment, which isn’t keen on this wage hike.

He does have other cards to play. He has brought to his side leaders of the State’s shrewdest unions, Local 26 Hotel Workers and the Building Trades. Their first priority is to keep the building boom going — and to see the MBTA and commuter rail operate within budget and on time all the time, because Building Boom workers use it to get to their job sites and customers and tourists use it to get to hotels and downtown buildings. In 2014 almost every union opposed Baker actively. i suspect that in 2018 many will stay neutral, maybe even support him. As for the initiatives, most of Boston’s unions support both the charter cap lit and the $ 15.00 minimum wage.

Baker has one other, huge card to play : his solid partnership with House Speaker DeLeo. As the Globe’s Scot Lehigh shrewdly observed, DeLeo is happy to be Baker’s reformist ally. History makes clear that the Speaker almost always gets what he wants; he can therefore deliver to Baker victory on Baker’s key agendas. Yet DeLeo is also a Democrat and so cannot ignore the support many of his 123 or so Democratic members want him to provide to the wage hike, especially — and to yet another bill now in process : adding public accommodations protections for transgender people to the current transgender civil rights law. The last thing that Baker and DeLeo need is a split on this issue, which should not be an issue at all. Hopefully the two men will get this bill enacted quickly and then move on with an alliance crucial to Baker’s re-election.

The State Senate is another matter altogether. as i have editorialized often, it is now the institutional base for the agendas being pushed by SEIU and what some call “the Elizabeth Warren wing of the State’s Democratic party. From the Senate comes a constant pepper of criticism of stances taken by Baker and DeLeo and their bsuiness, big labor, and innovation-economy allies.

Of course all of this shifting and shoving won’t matter much if Baker’s 2018 opponent turns out to not loom large. (A 70 percent afvoarble poll gives much reason to pause.) But the charter school cap and minimum wage hike fights promise to be divisive, passionate, energetic. Which means that Baker will have to lead by passionate, energetic example — because when you’ve picked a side in such a battle you can’t be so-so about it. Your support finds other things to do if you look like you’re hearing time outs.

In any case, the honeymoon phase of Baker’s term will soon give way to the battle act. These are fights that Baker must win if he’s to be the successful Governor his campaign promised that he would be.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Governor Baker at presser expressing confidence that he will get Green Line extension completed.

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Today at 1.30 PM Governor baker will pay a visit to the MBTA’s Staging facility in Dorchester, there to review and discuss ongoing winter resiliency efforts.

At a presser in the State House on Monday, he spent many minutes detailing what the T has already achieved, and why it made the improvements thus chosen. Doubtless today’s visit will highlight those upgrades in hopes of convincing the riding (and taxpaying) public that the T is restoring itself to some sort of dependable health.

These upgrades seem the easy part of Baker’s “Fix the T” mission. Because, like some kind of endless ridge up a Himalayan mountain, the Massachusetts public transportation climb gets longer and longer. Is there no end to the fixes needed, the cost of fixing, the bad news uncovered at every close look the Fiscal Management Control Board takes ?

Yesterday the FMCB issued a 50-PAGE report which you can – should — read here (in pdf format) : http://www.mbta.com/uploadedfiles/About_the_T/Board_Meetings/FMCB60dayReportReport1BaselineAnalysisandProgresstoDate.pdf

Key findings of the report read urgently enough :

 The MBTA’s operating budget (including debt service) is unsustainable, with expenses increasing at nearly
three times the rate of revenue growth. Left unaddressed, the structural operating deficit of the MBTA will reach $427 million in FY2020.
 Annual capital spending on deferred maintenance and capital investment – the “state of good repair” backlog –has historically fallen substantially below the $472 million annual spending needed to prevent the SGR backlog from growing greater. That backlog has risen to $7.3 billion, reflecting both this prolonged underspending as well improvements in the SGR data base. The SGR backlog does not, however, account for inflation. Other non-SGR needs, including safety and security,better accessibility, and improved capacity and modernization, add further pressure to the capital budget.

The report then itemizes steps that the FMCB has taken to improve MBTA service.

 The FMCB and MBTA management are increasingly utilizing performance metrics to improve MBTA operational
practices and to expand transparency and accountability for the riding public.
 Capital spending increased to $740 million in FY2015 and is budgeted at $1.05 billion for FY2016. MBTA management and the FMCB are closely monitoring capital spending to ensure that all available funds are spent and that the MBTA remains on course to reduce the SGR backlog.
 The MBTA’s Winter Resiliency Plan has prepared the system to better withstand major storms and extended periods of cold.
 The MBTA and Keolis Commuter Services have signed a Performance Improvement Plan to address identified shortfalls in commuter rail performance. On-time performance for the commuter rail system has improved since April.
 The FMCB and MBTA management are developing a strategy to improve MBTA contracting processes and to review all
existing service contracts. Utilizing the contracting flexibility provided by the Legislature, the MBTA has issued a Request for Information for the private sector to provide service on some low- and moderate-ridership bus routes, some express bus routes, and late-night bus service.
 The FMCB and MBTA leadership are pursuing efforts to increase workforce productivity and to reduce absenteeism among MBTA staff, the leading cause of dropped trips on buses and the subway. The FMCB is committed to a positive employee engagement program, understanding that morale,a shared sense of mission, and workforce investments are essential ingredients of any successful organization.

Every page of the 50 page report teems with performance goals, tasks itemized, timelines for accomplishing. The report warns that the MBTA budget is not under control and isn’t likely to reach stability until FY 2020 at the earliest. Page 8 of the report makes clear that the FMCB will request the State’s FY 2017 budget to appropriate much more funding of T operations than  the system received in FY 2015 and FY 2016. This should not surprise. I said as much in a prior article some months ago. There’s far too much deferred upgrading as it is; either the T finishes these upgrades now, or it will continued to not have the public’s confidence, which means that rider fares will fall short of where they need be.

I’m impressed with the clarity of the report. Impressed too with the steps itemized. This is what all of us expected of baker as expert manager. The legislature was not wrong to enact Baker the enabling laws that he requested.

Unfortunately, the FMCB’s MBTA report does not embrace the entirety of the State’s Transportation challenges. It touches only tangentially on Green Line extension — a project that Baker said, at Monday’s presser, that he supports and wants to accomplish, as soon as, and if, the project’s cost can be stabilized at something less than the billion-dollar overrun  recently forecast.

Assuming that Baker can find a way to complete Green Line extension to Medford without busting the transportation budget — he thinks he can do this — we come next to a list st.ill long of projects awaiting or in discussion : installing positive train control, at a cost of about $ 490 million; putting in place new trail technology and cars on the Fairmount commuter rail line, at a cost of about $ 350 million; and deciding whether to build a North Station to South Station rail connector, and with what components. For this last project, which will cost at least $ 2 billion and maybe as much as $ 8 billion, there is no telling yet what it will entail and certainly there’s no likelihood of it being included in a FY budget before 2021.

We also cannot tell whence the FY 2017 and FY 2018 transportation allotments will arrive. Will there be added revenue from a gas tax increase ? Will the SEIU’s two-ti8er tax initiative, which requires amending our Constitution, be approved ? And, if so, will the additional revenue anticipated actually arrive and, if it arrives, will it be earmarked to transportation, as the SEIU wants ? Good luck with that. My guess is that if the FMCB requests a budget sum, it will be granted them, from available revenue, because fixing the T is a priority for everybody. And this will be true right through FY 2019, no matter what becomes of the SEIU tax initiative.

That leaves three major State needs in second place : bridge and road repair, especially in regions beyond the T and commuter rail heads; the South Coast rail project, which remains trapped in competing environmental impact reviews; and early childhood education, which many people want but which so far has received funding on a case by case basis only.

I look at the transportation needs listed in the prior paragraph and wonder exactly how they will fare if the North – South rail connector makes its way into an FY 2021 budget. Did I mention that the connector, as envisioned by its supporters, conflicts with the Governor’s plan for South Station expansion, a $ 1.6 billion plan that Mayor Walsh very much wants as well ?

Clearly there’ll be no end to the steeply necessary public transportation ridges that Baker will be climbing all the way to his re-election campaign and, if he’s re-elected, well into his second term too. I think he can climb them all, it’s why we elected him; but the sheer scale of Transportation Mountain makes clear just how much climbing our previous State leadership teams chose to avoid. They failed us.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ education, skills training, school choice, “rise up” : a VERY big idea, and Baker has it and is working it

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A few days ago the Boston Globe published an article in which the writer asserted that while Baker may be a great “Mr Fix It,” he has to start showing a “big idea.” Because Governors are supposed to have big ideas.

The writer implies that Baker hasn’t got a “big idea” ; that he is so tied to the caution which is his obvious first principle that he is skeptical of big ideas, loath to advance one. I disagree with this assessment. I think baker has hold of a very big idea indeed and is advancing it every step of the way. That idea can be expressed in two words : “rise up.”

“Rise up” is no stranger phrase. Those seeking a $ 15 an hour minimum wage use it, albeit amended as “raise up.” Jeb Bush, in his current Presidential campaign, uses the theme “Right to rise.” All have the same goal : getting those who lack up to a place where they can manage and even abound. Yet there’s a difference. Supporters of “raise up” advance a worthy but single object. Jeb Bush means well, but his device for rising seems detached from the actual steps needed. Baker, on the other hand, sees the idea comprehensively and is in office to do something about it.

So : what then is Baker working on in pursuit of “rise up” ? Quite a lot.

Baker has focused his program on the people who need it most and who have the least clout : those with low incomes, or who lack job skills, or who live in dysfunction or are homeless; and on communities of color. He supports all manner of self-help and non-profit organizations which provide education, skills training, personal confidence training, recovery from addiction and/or isolation. Almost daily you’ll find him at gatherings of such groups — and did I forget to mention sports groups ? baker is there for them, too, and for the same purpose. Baker’s attendance enhances their visibility and clout. There’s also State grant money, which Baker designates on a well purposed case by case basis.

Baker is often accompanied to these meetings by Labor Secretary Ron Walker and Business Development Secretary Jay Ash. the message is clear : Baker supports self help, sports,m and non profit skills training groups because they help their mostly low-income and/or people of color participants to gain education, find jobs, and perhaps go into business.

I was puzzled when Baker appointed Ron Walker, a banker, rat.her than a unionist, to be labor Secretary. Now it’s clear why. He wants a Labor Secretary to oversee new jobs that don’t yet exist, not old jobs that soon will not exist.

Toward the “rise up” goal, Baker will soon up the ante : he will file legislation to increase the number of allowed charter schools. There’ll be nothing cautious about this move. Teachers’ unions and allied parent groups doggedly oppose even the current charter schools, much less an increased number. For Baker, however, expanding access to charters — and hopefully to all kinds of innovative school set-ups — expansion of innovation education is crucial to giving parents of ‘”rise up” kids more options for assuring their children an education that can get them to the jobs that Ron Walker monitors.

Baker’s move also portends major changes in the traditional public school. If baker’s charter school expansion succeeds, traditional schools will have little choice — at least in the big cities — but to individualize, so that each “traditional” school adopts an innovation curriculum unique to itself. This transformation will have other major consequences. Kids will now all have to travel to the school of their innovation choice; there’ll be a lot less “neighborhood’ schoolhouses. And this, too, will enact changes, big social changes, as kids from all parts of the city become friends with kids from all over, not chiefly from only their six or seven abutting blocks. The result can only be revolutionary.

This is a very big idea. It’s a risky idea. Breaking up the one-size-fits-all public school, an institution put in place almost 175 years ago,. is no small thing. Breaking up any vested bureaucracy is never minor. But Baker sees very clearly that the state’s economy has transformed and will continue to transform; and that education must transform with it, because one of education’s two main purposes is to prepared graduates for the actual job market. (The other purpose of education is to prepare kids for citizenship : social life in public.)

Baker knows that right now, it’s often non-profits that get low-income and/or people of color school ready for employment. At YearUP’s opening ceremony last week in their new offices, the group’s CEO touted that State Street Bank alone had taken in 500o graduates of the program during its 15 years of existence; and that this year the bank will take in 125. That’s an awful lot of kids who needed more than the graduation they received in Boston’s public schools and which they could not get from a charter school because the allowed number of charters offer barely one-sixth of seat applicants a seat.

Transforming the procedures and pathways for low-income and/or kids of color to ‘rise up” is a huge idea. And Baker has it and is working it. He’s a lot more than just Mr Fix It.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 constitution

^ it might have been wiser to not have our Constitution be a written one

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It was not a given that the document we call “the Constitution” would be a written one. From the decision to make it so follows much of what the Constitution is and does. From it also follow most of the misreadings made by those who evoke it as a political calling cry.

The British have a constitution : but it remains unwritten. (Magna Carta was not, and is not, a British Constitution.) Many other nations have developed without a written Constitution. Not writing the constitution of a nation, state or city avoids the crystallization that comes with writing. An unwritten constitution can change, develop, adapt to the felt needs, era by era, of a society a lot more easily than a written one. (for example : France, from the 6th to the 12th Century, changed enormously, on an ad hoc basis, according to the practicalities of the time; not only did France have no written Constitution, it often had almost no court officials who could read or write.)

We see the difference play upon language itself. English spelling reflects how our words were pronounced at least 600 years ago. The pronunciations have changed as people use the words in speech. No one asks, when he speaks, how am I supposed to pronounce this word or that ? We simply speak as best we feel.

When we read the words upon the pages marked “The Constitution,” we read not the words we speak, but the words varnished and formal. This is true not only of the Constutution. If we sing Episcopal hymns, we sing “thou” and “thee” and all kinds of words written on the hymnal page which no longer get used in speech. Hymnal words have a context of their own, that probably is not the conntext of our actual lives. The same occurs with the Constitution ‘s words and phrases.

This troubling disconnect between the Constitution’s printed words and the words that we actually use in daily life makes for much misapplication. As the Constitution was written in 1787, using words that its framers used ordinarily, many of these words now mean quite differently from what they meant to the men who first put them to parchment 228 years ago.

Responses to this riddle mostly miss the significance hereof. The “originalists” who assert that we should read, and apply, the Constitution as those who framed it deny to us today the validity of the lives we lead, today, according to what we feel the need to do, today, as we go about. Is the Constitution a document for the living, or isn’t it ? Why should the living apply words according to their meaning ten generations ago ? Are not our life trajectories every bit as sacred as the lives of those who faced their life decisions 228 years ago ? The framers did not create a Constitution based on documents written in 1559, after all. Nor did the men of 1559 enact charters using the words of 1331.

The Constitution contains no mention of any religion — though it alows people to practice one, yet Originalists approach the Constitution the way Christians approach the Bible. To believers, the ministry and death of Jesus, whlo lived some 1990 years ago, is the only revelation. But is it reasonabke to believe that our generation is to be denied a Savior appearing among us, now and today ? Are we any less created by the Creator than the people of Jesus’s day ? You can believe, if you like, that God sent his son then and never will do so again, but that belief undermines the creation that believers believe in. In the same way, Originalists deny us today the right to have the Constitution apply to us, today and now.

Faith may benefit from its belief in one Revelation only. For secular human life, the principle cannot stand. Were our Constitution unwritten, the one time only theory would not even arise. Politicians and citizens would apply the rules to meet eigencies as they happen. Why should a written Constitution not enjoy a similar practicality ? The living have every right to work out the societal rules that will govern their lives : who better to do so, than those who will have to live with the rules thus made ?

The Constitution has always expanded, even as the nation it guides has done so. Always in the direction of greater participation, larger equality, more comple commerce. Every Amendment has widened the Constitution’s sanctions — with only one exception, Prohibition, whose 1933 repeal confirms the law of Constitutional expansion. I see no time at which the Cionstitution will cease to so expand. After all, its stated purpose is “to promote the general welfare” — a mission every word of which is basic.

The welfare that the Constittion promotes generally is the welare of those who live in it. Just as today the Constitution must mean what today’s citizens read it to mean, so tomorrow will the Constutuon mean something a bit else. This is what it must do, if it is to remain trusted by the living people — now and in futuro — whose political arrangements it professes to guide.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Bella Bond, a life in isolation ending anonymously

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We in Boston are all upset to the max to discover that “baby Doe” lived immediately among us, next doot to neighbors whose kids played with her one day and then not the next. We are shocked to find that “Baby Doe,” now identified as Bella Bond, was killed at home, next door to those neighbors who, with her picture posted everywhere by police seeking to find out who she was, never said a thing; never said “I know that girl !”

Unfortunately, the world in which children like Bella Bond live doesn’t operate as we wish. Dysfunctional families such as Bella’s mother’s live isolated. We can see them on the street; we can live next door; we can play with their kids or say “hi” to the mother, and none of it dents the isolation that I am talking about.

Isolation isn’t merely a skin rash of dysfunctional life; it is central to it. People like Bella Bond’s mother may dwell in addiction; they may live from Food stamp day to food stamp day; they often swerve from one behavioral eruption by their child to the next; or they may be visited by social workers from DCF and ground to bits by DCF administrative procedures. Or they may experience all of the above, for long periods of time. Boyfriends may visit — often dysfunctional themsleves, here today and gone tomorrow, and, while visiting, experiencing the child as an annoyance. A dysfunctional parent often can’t wiat to be free of a child’s constant need for attention — aggravated in a dysfunctional home, where the parent sometimes wants to party, or sleep, or go do drugs : anything that will free her from being lashed to her child. (Note that while i use the proun “her,” the same dysfunction applioes to d ads as well as to moms like Bella’s.)

I could go on for several dozen pages listing the incidebts of conflict, avoidance, disorganization, and obstruction that dysfunctional people swim in. What they all add up to is isolation. Together, conflict — obstruction — disorganization — and avoidance envelop the entire lives of dysfunctional people; indeed, they solifify the dysfunction, isolating a person from the opposite world, the world of order, purpose, breathing room, agreement.

It is hard for a dysfunctional person’s neighbor to grasp that the neighbor lives in a world opposite. All too easy it is to simply assume that that person is having a hard time, or “going through a stretch,” such as we in our own, orderly lives, sometimes do. It’s difficult to see that a dysfunctional person’s “hard time” is, for them, the way it is. Our difficulty at grasping this situation confirms the isolation of dysfunction.

Neighbors of a person living in dysfunction isolation are, after all, neighbors only. They’re not family members. Most neighbors do not mind the business of other neighbors. Many may live in dysfunction themselves. Thus the dysfunctional neighbor becomes just another neighbor, someone whose ways one accepts day by day as life goes on.

We who now express shock about Bella Bond going identified may very well be going unaware of some other child missing or mistreated right under our noses. And we won’t know until something ahppens and the news announces it to us in print or on televsion. So let’s not be judgmental about the Maxwell Street neighbors who did not spring into action as we say we would have done.

It turns out that, according to news reports, Rachelle Bond was well known to police as a drug user and prostitute. DCF had been involved in her life before. We might like to think that this history is exceptional; but it isn’t. It’s commonplace.

As for the thousands of kids who are very likely living in homes as dysfunctional as the Bonds — kids maybe unwanted, fathered by a prostitute’s johns — what of them ? DCF cares for as many as are brought to its attention; but as we all have read recently, DCF does not have either the systemic efficiency or manpower availability to monitor every child brought to its attention. Nor will it ever; because DCF, no matter how effective we make it, cannot live 24-7 with each child, nor would our society condone such administrative imposition on family primacy.

Nor should we. Our society charges parents with caring for children. A person who makes the decision to give birth to a child should, says our society, care for that child as he or she grows to adulthood; it is right and proper that parents be parents and not merely vehicles for birthing. Which responsibility only works if our society grants parents full moral leeway to make these decisions and carry out this mission as free as we can make it of interference by government.

That parents sometimes do not, or by way of dysfunction cannot, do what we give them full freedom to do is the price our society pays — and is right to pay — for sanctioning the primacy of parenting.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Target workers vote to unionize in search of higher pay and better benefits

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News comes today, via the Wall Street Journal, that workers at a Brooklyn-location Target store have voted to join a union. They join a growing number of retail and fast food service workers who are unionizing in search of higher pay — maybe even much higher. I applaud their effort.

A link to the story : http://www.wsj.com/articles/target-workers-at-brooklyn-store-vote-to-join-union-1442445420

I have editorialized several times in favor of raising the minimum legal wage to $ 15.00 an hour here in Massachusetts. I see service worker organizing as crucial to that policy goal. I even prefer it, because a one-size minimum wage isn’t as efficient as a union bargain. A $ 15.00 minimum wage may be too small for some cities, such as Boston, and maybe too generous for others. Union bargaining store to store can achieve a wage more effectively location-based.

Retail and service workers have for too long been paid far too little. many have needed taxpayer-funded public assistance merely to get by. Workers in that situation cannot participate in the discretionary economy, the chief locus of economic growth. (the other engine of economic growth is immigration. More about that later.) Unionized service workers can more effectively. bargain for useful incomes than workers on their own, and they should be encouraged to do so,not only in order to spend into the discretionary economy but also to boost the esteem in which the public holds service workers. There is no objective reason why service work should be judged inferior to managerial work. The chief cause is income. Low paid workers can’t socialize at restaurants and pubs as readily as high paid workers and thus become socially isolated. We tend to look down upon those we see only in a crowd, passing, or behind a service counter. It’s completely different if the person who serves us at a service counter someone we know and socialize with.

I support unionizing service workers for both reasons : enabling such workers into the discretionary economy and boosting the respect in which service workers are held.

The second reason also has economic consequences. Those whom we respect, we do socialize with. The wider the circle of respect, the larger the party we can gather, at a pub or restaurant, or at a golf course, or on a trip, all of which means money is being spent into the economy.

The results that I support do mean important changes in the way businesses are governed., For smaller businesses and the privately owned, workers must be considered a major business asset, not a burden or a cost. As higher paid workers are more loyal and more enthusiastic, they help a business to avoid the vast costs and time wastes occasioned by high employee turnover. This holds true for large, publicly traded businesses as well, but the large issue here is that stockholders of such businesses can no longer be free to impose short-term earnings results in search of rapid speculative arbitrage. (Donald Trump, oddly enough, has it exactly right when he criticizes hedged fund speculation;’s ruinous impact on business operations.)

Some businesses complain about having these changes imposed on them, but their plaints fall flat. How can improving a worker’s ability to buy stuff be bad for any business ?

I briefly mentioned immigration  as a vital source of economic growth. This isn’t difficult to see. Every immigrant, no matter how he or she got here, is a customer. The more customers a business has, the bigger it grows. Immigration does not merely grow our economy; it created it. Immigration created America. To impede immigration is to impede us.

Many accusations are hurled at immigration; one that merits a response is the claim that immigrants take jobs that Americans already here would otherwise get. I oppose this claim. Immigrants do not take existing jobs, they create jobs that didn’t exist : working in businesses serving the immigrant community itself; doing work that other workers won’t do, such as cleaning toilets at 5;00 o’clock in the morning and picking crops at farms; as language interpreters and community information centers. Immigrants also create new businesses — indeed, more new businesses than are started by Americans already here.

But it is true that many immigrants work in regular service jobs that people already here might take. As I see it, tahts’ a problem that boosting service wofrkjers’ income can relikeve. As service workers gain more income, their spending into the discretionary income boosts businesses and thus creates jobs that Americans already here can get hired for.

I don’t say that boosting the income of service and retail workers will bring Nirvana. But it sure will boost then economy for lots and lots of people who are waiting to see their own economies improved. Let’s support service workers as they unionize to bargain better wages and benefits.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere