Bill Evans

^ Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans testifies — for tough ride share legislation — at yesterday’s ride-share legislation hearing

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We whole-heartedly support ride-sharing, as a concept and as a business. In case you haven’t been living in the real world these past two or three years, ride-sharing businesses have now become the ride hire of choice for a growing number of city denizens. One accesses ride sharing via smartphone applications, Uber and Lyft being the best known. Ride sharing costs less than standard taxi fares and is far easier to call upon. No need to stand on a busy sidewalk, outstretch your arm and yell “taxi !” in hopes — often vain — that such taxi will be empty and will stop. You simply call the ride share firm by phone application, make request, and — voila !

Standard taxi operations are not taking this transport revolution well. Instead of adapting to the new paradigm, they are protesting it. That’s highly unlikely to work.

Ride-sharing does present difficulties, as does any new methodology. Uber and Lyft users want to know that the driver who picks them up is not a criminal or a weirdo. Ride share vehicles must carry significant insurance. The vehicles have to be inspected, just as do any vehicle registered upon Massachusetts roads. Horror stories have arisen about ride share pricing : in busy times, so the anecdotes have it, ride prices explode upward — so-called “surge pricing.” If true, .the state ought to curb the practice. (see our argument below.)

In April, Governor Baker filed detailed legislation to regulate ride share firms. You can access the proposal here

State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and State Represented Mike Moran have submitted a much more onerous regulation bill. You can read its provisions and the legislators’ arguments here :

Which bill do we support ? Probably a bit of both.

We support the Forry-Moran bill’s call to have ride share drivers background checked under the same regulations now imposed on taxi livery, and train operators. It seems needlessly complex to write two separate background regulations into law.

However, we support the Baker bill in most other aspects. The Forry-Moran bill calls for ride share vehicles to be accessible to disabled people. This is an admirable goal; but imposing it on every private vehicle used for ride shares — and almost all ride share vehicles are private — would eliminate almost every vehicle now used for ride shares. Baker’s bill also addresses the issue of surge pricing : ride share prices will, under his legislation, be overseen by the DPU. Ride share firms say that surge pricing induces more people to offer ride shares in peak traffic times, so that those calling for rides don’t have to wait long. I don’t see it. Retailers hold sales, but they don’t do rush-time price hikes. It’s enough that peak usage hours offer more customers and thus more fares for Uber and Lyft drivers.

As for the insurance requirement of both the Baker and Forry-Moarn proposals, I agree that requiring individual drivers to buy $ 1,000,000 of commercial-price insurance is a deal breaker. What individual driver can afford $ 10,000 for insurance ? Requiring it will restrict ride share drivers to only the well off. In my opinion, insurance for ride share drivers should be carried, as a blanket policy, by the companies for which ride share drivers drive. After all, the companies have almost no other costs except for technology administration, marketing, and server fees. They’re cash cows.

As for the standard taxi industry, it probably has to reconfigure and become, in effect, itself a ride share business. Otherwise it will be as gone in a few years as the horse and buggy by 1940. I read that some taxi drivers are now choosing to be Uber or Lyft drivers instead. I can’t blame them, and why shouldn’t they ? The system, of day leasing cabs from medallion owners, with all of the abuse and manipulation that seems to accompany it, cannot go on, and should not go on. If that means that medallions, for which big money was paid before, now become almost worthless, so be it. The market rules its own.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ future T service : biotech companies split the cost of shuttling employees from one facility to another

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It was suggested, in a recent Shirley Leung column in the Boston Globe, that businesses may have to pony up a big part of what the MBTA fix will cost. Keep that suggestion in mind as I outline to you the quagmire of our transportation systems.

Fixing the T may just be the simpler part of the clean-up. The legislature enacted every crucial systemic reform. Innovation is here. Management is trying stuff out — using Keolis’s non-performance fines to hire additional fare-collecting commuter rail staff is one such. The MBTA employees’ pension trust is being reconfigured to align with the pension system that oversees other state employees’ retirement. Tracks, signals, and switches are well on the way to optimal condition. Low-usage bus runs are being outsourced to low-cost operators. Bus and transit departures are being closely monitored for on-time performance. Missed runs, too.

Even the present Green Line extension through Somerville to West Medford poses no conflict. The sole issue is cost overruns. Procurement and design issues have arisen, as they must when transit costs fall under pressure. Still, the extension cannot be set aside; Somerville and Medford have committed their municipal planning to it.The process issues raised will have to be addressed the next time an expansion of T service arises..

Paying for all of this still includes comprehensive system reform. Is it really possible, as this photograph suggests, that bus supervisors track buses on paper ? in 2015 ? The T must update — big time –what Juliette Kayyem in last year’s Governor race called “data management.” Money ? yes, it will require money. Properly accounted for money.


^ garage supervisor monitors T buses … by paper ?? Really ? (photo via Jed Hresko)

What about roads and bridges ? Here we face an additional difficulty : some roads and bridges are municipal responsibilities, others the State’s. Massachusetts has 351 cities and towns. That means there are 352 government entities overseeing the upkeep of highway transportation. Or maybe more : because the State’;s highway brief includes the very separate Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, with its own funding system and day to day management.

Which brings me to the bottom line subject of this editorial : how do we pay for the transportation systems that we need ?

If only transportation funding were simple, one size fits all. It isn’t :

  1. tolls pay for the Turnpike and for Boston’s bridges and tunnels.
  2. fares pay part of the cost of operating the T and commuter rail
  3. highway bonds fund most of the State’s highway responsibilities.
  4. Federal funds pay a significant part of T expansion
  5. the State’s Local Aid fund, by which money from the Lottery goes to cities and towns, pays for highways and bridges that fall under municipal responsibility
  6. local aid also pays for much snow removal work and tidal flooding clean-ups. Beyond that, Federal disaster funds sometimes help.
  7. taxpayer dollars, much of it via the State’s gas tax, pay for some highway maintenance and T operations.

Seven payment streams, and it’s still not enough. Nor does it look as though there’s much logic to proposed alleviations. A coalition of progressive-politics advocacy groups seek to place on the November 2016 ballot a two-tier tax — which would require a Constitutional Amendment — earmarking to transportation (and education) the additional tax money they hope to raise. Even assuming this proposal becomes adopted, there is no certainty that the additional money will in fact pay for transportation costs. Tax revenues coming into the State’s coffers aren’t differentiated, and I do not see any feasible method for marking which tax dollars arise from the two tier tax and which not.

Thus the solution proposed by Shirley Leung.

As Leung points out, businesses already pay for some transportation means. Many businesses operate shuttles to take workers from one facility to another. Massport operates shuttles to and from Logan Airport. And then there’s Steve Wynn, who, says Leung has offered to pay for transporting customers to and from his casino.

I think we should run with this idea. Why shouldn’t businesses pay into the T’s operations costs ? Without an optimum T operation, businesses suffer, as workers take longer to get to work and as customers take longer as well. And if business payments lead to discussing funding entire transit routes, or creating and funding news ones, why not ? We already have Uber and Lyft transforming the taxi concept. Why not businesses transforming at least part of the transit operation ?

That prospect, of course, leads to confrontation with the Carmens’ Union and the Pacheco Law.  But there’s no way around the huge transportation cost quagmire. We must have a workable, diverse transportation system, and it costs money to operate. Somebody has to pay for it, and he who pays should have the authority to decide.

In any case, business paying for ad hoc transportation service seems to me a very smart idea.

My guess is that it will take at l,east 20 years to accomplish reconfiguration of the State’s transportation operations in such fashion that nobody loses his or her job even as methods of transport and payment for them change drastically. Am I optimistic that we can actually do this ? Yes I am. Governor Baker, Speaker DeLeo, and even Senate President Rosenberg seem ready to not be deterred. Neither man will hold power for anything like 20 years, but each will hold it long enough to render clkean-up of the quagmire unstoppable.

I hope.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Spherer


speaker_deleo_240grace sterling stowell

^ ( Left) Speaker DeLeo, at signing ceremony for the 2011 law; (right) Grace Sterling Stowell and Nancy Nangeroni, leaders in the fight to establish full civil rights protection for transgender people in Massachsuetts

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Four years ago Massachusetts joined the list of states according transgender people some civil rights protection. The law banned discrimination in housing. employment, lending, and public education.

Left out of the law, however, were “public accommodations” protections. Transgender people could still be denied service in stores and restaurants — indeed, all manner of public places. This omission now needs to be remedied. Transgender people cannot have fewer civil rights than the rest of us.

It has been the custom, rigidly, to see people as male or female, irrevocably, to the extent that a gender identity is socially imposed on you in all that you do. That custom is now seen to be mistaken. Gender identity is not perforce a subject for imposition; rather, it belongs to the arena of affirmation.

To put it quite simply : you are who YOU say you are, not who other people say you are.

During the past year, the fact of transgender has become commonplace. Not too long ago, the notion of transgender was strange and quite uncommon to see. Today we know, as a society, that transgender people are just like the rest of us in every aspect that matters.

The Boston Globed reports today that support for assuring public accommodations protections for transgender people is increasing smartly; that many businesses now want our transgender civil rights law amended to include such protections. (This growing support accords with the editorial that we at Here and Sphere wrote yesterday about “business progressivism” as an important new force in our nation’s politics.) The Globe also notes that State Senate President Stan Rosenberg supports amending the law and that members of the House support it as well.

Whether our state will enact this measure of social justice is now up to Speaker DeLeo. So far he has not decided. Nor has Governor Baker, who, according to the Globe, “prefers” the current law. That’s an interesting choice of verbs. Baker does NOT say he would veto the amendment if it reaches his desk. The implication is that if it reaches him, he will sign it, his “preference” notwithstanding.

Baker’s diffidence arises from his awareness that almost the entire House’s GOP 2011 membership opposed passage of the transgender rights bill; and that some vocal activists still oppose transgender rights. Baker does not want a fight with the House GOP caucus on an issue which, to him, as a social progressive, should not be an issue at all.

So : will the amended transgender rights bill reach Baker’s desk ? The finger of fate points directly at Speaker DeLeo. It’s his call. 123 of the House’s 160 members are Democrats — a super-majority. If DeLeo, a Democrat himself, supports the law, it passes and gets signed. If not, not.

Speaker DeLeo boasted of his support for the 2011 law. At the signing ceremony he said : “As my very first event as Speaker of the House, I went to the MassEquality dinner, and I had made a statement that we were going to get this done . . Henceforth, we as a Commonwealth will not have to tolerate hatred . . . I’m so proud to be part of such an important civil rights milestone.” Will the Speaker now finish the job that he had such an important part in beginning ?

We urge the Speaker to support this important grant of civil rights protection to our transgender neighbors, friends, and family. There’s a hearing on the proposed amendment this Thursday at the State House. Supporters should attend.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere.


1 Megan Barry

^ Nashville, Tennessee’s new Mayor :Democrat Megan Barry, a business progressive

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We all know what Nashville is : the capital of Country Music. That it is; but Nashville also exemplifies the politics of urban America, and political Nashville is the topic today.

On Tuesday the city elected its first female Mayor, Megan Barry, currently an at Large city Councillor, who voices a combination much more powerful in the nation’s political life than observers realize : business progressivism.

Barry, according to the New York Times report (see the link below), supports marriage equality, a raised minimum wage, and women’s health care rights. Significant business community support boosted her vote already strong in a city hosting not only Country Music but also Vanderbilt University, Fisk college, and a growing population of technology workers.

To read the New York Times article in full, click here :

In the article you find a story that isn’t as uncommon as casual observers may think. Business has taken a leading role in fighting the recent tide of religion-based discrimination. In the past twelve months we’ve seen business overturn a discrimination law in indiana; prevent one in Louisiana; and turn back such a law in Arizona. Here, too, in Boston, businesses large and small have moved to the forefront of civil rights causes. it was no surprise to see business groups provid ing a huge majority of the marchers in Boston’s 2015 Pride Parade; and the same has been true in the small, but nationally iconic, city of Salem, where as we all know, hundreds of people in 1692 were accused of witchcraft and twenty were hanged.

Businesses and city basing more and mire, as the most technologically advanced workers, and their start-ups, congregate in cities to live; to work, buy, socialize, and educate. This is happening in the South just as much as it is elsewhere in America. For City businesses and their millions of workers, progressivism and capitalism form an obvious partnership. The car-less life, the twelve hour work day and six hour play day, the expensive meal, the entertainment lifestyle, artistic ambience, and crowded accommodations epitomize enterprise in all things. call it a “business lifestyle,” you won;t be far wrong.

Businesses want customers. They embrace lifestyle customers — who have plenty of money to spend. Few businesses of any kind care to be seen by any potential customer as unwelcoming. Nor is this a new deal. Businesses fought Jim Crow in the post-Reconstruction South and did so as long as Jim Crow ruled. The infamous Plessy v. Ferguson Case (Supreme Court 163 U.S. 537, 1896), in which a majority of the Court held that “separate but equal public accomodation s were OK, arose becase the Illinois Central Railroad resisted the segregated trains required by a Louisiana Jim Crow law. Businesses also played a key role in stopping the lynch law terror that dominated sveral Southern states from about 1890 to 1920. (Lynching did not end entirely, but never agian did it rule unchecked and even sanctioned.) More recently, long before “equal opportunity employment” became automatic, najor businesses embarced the policy and eforced it.

This is not to say that business in America equates with progressive social and economic policy. Much business politics — arising from individual billionaires in particular — backs regressive agendas, and a few corporations seem wwilling to be governed by religious sanction. But these have nothing like the ground-level, concentrated vote clout wielded by city-based businesses.

In the South, there are more than a few Megan Barrys. Houston, Texas, has a Mayor, Annise Parker, who is female and lesbian. Black Mayors rule many Southern cities. And as we saw during the Charleston, South Carolina shooting tragedy, Mayor Joseph Riley stands as progressive and business oriented as Barry will ever be. Still, the election of Megan Barry is the story of the moment and is, finally, being talked about for what it really is : a coming of age, so to speak, of a politics that is very likely to expand in force and power as the next national election takes place — and beyond. The business progressivism of urban America has a brilliant future in a jobs-expanding South; and in the South — as in the North — almost all of it belongs to the Democratic party.

In the South, this aprtisan condition portends bad days agead for the GOP, which has dominated the region these past 15 years. As the Republican Party more and more embraces voters who live the opposite of urban, and voices agendas that city voters anathemize (and many suburbanites too), elections in much of the South will see Democrats winning again — and more so as elections 2020 and 2024 approach. The era of rural-religion politics is coming to an end.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Mayor Walsh will run for re-election. Game on.

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Two days ago Mayor Walsh told a news reporter that he will run for re-election. Are you surprised ? Are you glad, or pissed ? Doubtless you have a thought or two about Walsh’s plans. So do we.

Walsh has moved much more forcefully to change Boston than I thought he would. Moved with passion; aroused deep enmity in some quarters; much respect in others. That Walsh would juice the City’s building boom, we knew : his core support comes from the Building Trades unions and the developers who hire them. The BRA has opened the floodgates to projects of all sorts, in almost every neighborhood. Walsh seems ready even to grant major real estate tax breaks to developers who insist they need this.

Many of us think that developer tax breaks are an outrage. In fact they’re commonplace in most cities. Less commonplace is the extent to which Walsh seems willing to rewrite the City’s footprint. One of the reasons he backed the Boston 2024 Games Bid at the outset was its transformation of many areas of the City where, so the argument had it, land use was not optimal. These transformations — of the entire Widett Circle area, of the South Station – Dorchester Avenue district, and the greening of Columbia Road — continue on. As does some of the new school construction that Walsh promised in his 2013 campaign.

Less visible is an even more sweeping transformation : the imagine Boston 2030 project, by which, with direct citizen input via online, the City is planning (and in some cases, building) as many as 53,000 units of moderate income housing as well as amenities appurtenant thereto. Imagine Boston also has a transportation component : and here is the nexus of a connection that few might have predicted of Walsh ; a partnership with Governor Baker that has developed into a friendship.

Transportation makes their friendship vital to both, because the vast reformations of the area’s public transit system (and attendant alleviation of motor vehicle traffic on roads) underpin the success or failure of both men’s administrations. It is to the State (and Federal dollar assistance) that Walsh must look for transportation legislation and administration,. and it is to Walsh that Baker must turn to get the users and neighbors of most public transit projects to approve. Housing, too, brings Baker and Walsh together, because the State owns much unused Boston land upon which Walsh’s Imagine 2030 housing might be built.

The same  seems truer of education. Walsh clearly supports the charter school movement and likely will support, or stay neutral about, next year’s ballot initiative to raise the cap limits on charter school permissions — an initiative Baker fully committed himself to. Like Baker, Walsh also encourages school and business partnerships (a Baker favorite), as well he might : they’re well analogous to the apprenticeships that train the next generation of Building Trades workers.

All of which is easy to say : but the same could narrate many, many other infrastructure necessities involving State, City, and Federal government which aren’t proceeding , because there is no partnership at all between the necessary parties. We should cherish the friendship that Walsh and Baker have put in place. Not every state or city is so lucky.

These are the plus side of Walsh’s re-election campaign. There’s a down side as well.

Walsh has thrust his Labor supporters into several political fights that have not worked out. He is culturally far removed from the mindset of Boston 2024’s opposition — and showed it. His building boom explosion has exacerbated neighborhood change — opponents call it “displacement” — even as neighborhoods as yet untouched get attention from City Hall only when their Councillor demands it. Walsh has yet to find any workable answer for the City’s street violence. Trash ticketing and parking space conflicts aggravate many streets. The City’s gas pipeline leaks continue : what is the Mayor’s answer ? What is to happen to Long Island, now marooned without a land bridge ? I am not aware of effective solutions being advanced for these annoyances and failures.

Lastly, the big question of the 2013 Mayor election continues : can Boston’s communities of color elect a Mayor, finally ? Identity  politics shouldn’t take precedence, but other issues boost them. Communities of color continue to fall short of the City’s income median, its street safety, its restaurants and shopping, its school quality. With some justification, activists of color assert that having a Boston Mayor who is of color will change much of this fall-short. If Walsh’s main opponent in 2017 is a credible, well financed person of color, all of these open issues will be on the table for an electorate whose Caucasian voters by no means all support Walsh.

Thus the Mayor faces a challenging election. But he knows it. He also knows that a Mayor of Boston has vast powers to marshal against even a well financed opponent. Right now I say he has much the advantage.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


FullSizeRender (35)

^ Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh presiding at ribbon cutting, opening of Codman Academy’s K through 8 expansion

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Next year voters in November will have the opportunity to decide, by initiative petition, whether or not to increase the number of charter schools permitted in Massachusetts. At present the allowance falls far short of demand. Parents in communities of color especially want the much more disciplined, challenging, individualized education that most charter schools offer.

We support these parents. we support expanding the allowed number of charter schools, which are able to hire and fire whom they please, devise their own versions of the State’s curriculum requirements, establish codes of conduct, and offer a much longer school day to the students lucky enough to be selected for a spot in a charter school.

We also support that some charter school students do not make the cut. Only in a system where students understand that they can in fact not make it is there unavoidable pressure to not fail. That realization is integral to charter school’s lesson : you will not be able, simply by showing up, to get promoted to the next grade. Performance is required.

Advocates for the traditional, one size fits all, take-everybody public school decry charter schools’ codes of conduct and expulsion. I find their argument unconvincing. Taxpayers pay for public education; they have a right to expect schools to do more than provide a kind of pedagogic day care. Taxpayers have every right to insist on better. One might even say that taxpayers, as citizens, have a moral duty to the community to demand better.

Granted, that traditional public schools are asked to perform many task that aren’t pedagogic and to provide education to kids all along the scale of commitment from motivated to indifferent to sullen. Traditional public school teachers face impossible expectations and often meet them.

Yet the traditional public school, without systemic consequences for kids who do not make it, no longer assures what education must do : prepare students for the actual workplace. Every sort of employment today requires its own specific technologic skills and has its own workplace culture. What works in a research firm doesn’t work in a utility. The skill set needed for public relations differs hugely from what workers in health care or education must master.

Under John McDonough’s leadership, the Boston School District moved toward performance teaching and away from the lold time-served work rules. I applaud McDonough for seeing the goal and for moving our 57,000 Boston district students toward it.

Still, there’s huge imbalance in every year’s Boston district budget. Teacher salaries — not overly generous, mind you — take up a huge percentage of available money, leaving scant resources for school meals, school facilities, books, laptops, and extra curriculars. Budget imbalances worsen every year, as costs of everything increases : facilities repair, custodial work, books and laptops, technology, and teacher pay. As a friend observes, the State’s Chapter 70 reimbursement can’t keep up with current costs, much less future increases.

All this will change, and quickly. Soon enough, it will all be gone. The “summer vacation” will be gone, and the school day ending at 2:30 to 3:15 pm. School will last all year, for a child aged four to such age — seventeen at least — as a student needs be ready to handle the challenge of job or gig. A prime example of future schooling is the Mattapan Technology Center, created entirely by the Haitian community with support from Comcast and other smart businesses. It prepares students for specific technology jobs and successfully places graduates, thanks again to its partnering with businesses.


^ at Mattapan Technology school : Lt Gov Karyn Polito with (from Left) Councillors Mike Flaherty and Tim McCarthy and Sheriff Steve Tompkins

The schooling of tomorrow will involve so much specialization that, in effect, every student in it will be a special needs kid. The lessons we have learned, in the 36-odd years that state education law has enacted special needs services, provide a surprise new model.

Teachers, too, will have to be specially skilled. in many disciplines they’ll need to be younger. Tenure, gained after years of service, will be irrelevant to schools in which the younger a teacher is, the better equipped to teach the curriculum.

Schools of the future will demand experiment, imagination, intellectual rebellion : because those are the capabilities that the workplace will insist upon — is already wanting. In future schools, teachers will not have actual careers. They’ll be skill workers in technology and cutting-edge systems, teaching for a year because it’s a terrific way for them to stay ahead of the curve — challenged by students who aren’t afraid to be bold on a whim.

They’ll teach for a year and then move on to an other gig : both to apply what their students have taught them and to master what the new gig demands of them.

Schools of the future may resemble universities, in which all kinds of individualized colleges co exist in community, and where such coexistent community provides lessons in citizenship. It may happen that such university-like school communities will also include workplaces — certainly in the future university this will be the case — because in the future school there won’t be a years of pedagogy followed by years of employment. Pedagogy and employment will alternate, co-operating, challenging each other.

On the highway to this new education purpose, charter schools are only the first step. We can and should expect to see more education operated, or co-managed, by businesses, universities, non profit associations : because these are what education today must prepare students to take on. We can, and should, expect to see far greater variety in the missions of charter schools. There will be vocational education, maybe apprenticeship learning, maybe seminar and field-trip education. (these last worked for Aristotle’s students, why not for ours ?) e should expect, we should insist, on these transformations, because the entire economy is changing, society with it. Our children will be living it. Encourage them to make the most of the new, as we once made the best of the old.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Labor day

We celebrate Labor Day to honor labor unions : their struggles, their achievements, their ongoing importance to those who labor.

Tomorrow Governor Baker will greet President Obama at Logan Airport as the President comes here to address the annual AFL-CIO Labor Day breakfast. It is particularly timely that we say our say in favor of what unions at their best do for workers.

Less workers belong to unions now than formerly, mostly because mass-employment enterprises have given way, in large part, to much smaller businesses. Yet today unions are enjoying some resurgence as once unorganized service businesses have grown to mass size.
Meanwhile, public employment unions remain strong, thanks to the huge growth of public budgets during the years 1942 to 2009, but are now seeing their power challenged.

We honor them all. There is a tendency today to identify unions as a Democratic party thing. Not so. President Teddy Roosevelt said over 100 years ago : “As capital has organized, so Labor must organize.” Barely 25 years later, two Republican members of Congress, Senator George Norris of Nebraska and Congressman Fiorello LaGuardia of New York, sponsored successful passage of the Norris-LaGuadia Anti Injunction Act, Labor’s biggest victory prior to the New Deal 1930s and still a vital cannon of labor rights. It outlawed the use of injunctions, on grounds of disturbing the peace, riot, or restraint of trade, to block worker strikes. There was more to be done, yes; and the presidency of a second, Democratic Roosevelt saw the ceation of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), by which labor union organizing could be monitored and opponents sanctioned, as it exercised power to issue and enforce rulings.

The NLRB still matters a lot. Barely ten days ago it issued its most important ruling in years, holding that employees of a business’s franchisees could be deemed employees of the parent business for purposes of organizing drives and contract bargaining.

We honor unions because more than any other activism, they enable workers to earn higher pay and secure better benefits than they’d likely gain singly.

Some employers understand that workers are their greatest asset and pay accordingly as well as give benefits commensurate. Why businesses do not see workers as an asset I cannot understand. How can you execute if you don’t have workers ? Yet many businesses, especially those whose stock is publicly traded and thereby at the mercy of speculators choose to maximize instant arbitrage profits by whittling worker costs down to the bone. Against such short sighted hurry, labor unions build mighty fortresses.

Today union organizers take the lead in securing living wages for fast food workers, home health aides, airport janitors and many other employees whose wages have not kept up with the cost of normal living. We applaud union struggles on behalf of these hard working people.

Are unions perfect ? Not at all. When industries become obsoleted by technological change, unions often block such changes. Unions in declining businesses choose security over change even though it means losing public support and, just as likely, hastening that industry’s demise. Public employee unions sometimes make the same mistake. The structure of public education is undergoing radical transformation, and teacher unions, for example, are being left behind, as if on an island, as they post one block after another against such change, heedless o its inevitability. Unions aren’t very good at systemic reform.

That said, we honor Labor day and what it means. More often than not, unions put more money in workers’ wallets and thereby boost the general prosperity of our economy — not to overlook the social peace that well paid workers are part of. Let us applaud and be glad that unions have fought the good fight and still do so.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 C Baker DCF

^ Governor Baker has every right to be upset at child care confusion in Massachusetts. Now comes the hard part

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You do remember that old saw, right ? About how “too many cooks spoil the broth” ? I’m thinking about just how appropriate the saying is to the Rube Goldberg machine known as Department of Families and Children (DCF) and its failure to protect little Jack Loiselle of Hardwick in Worcester County, who now lies in a hospital bed in a coma.

Or perhaps the too many cooks thing doesn’t apply merely to DC. Perhaps in the matter of protecting children it lies with the entire palette of child protection laws in force in Massachusetts. Because DCF does NOT have the cause of child safeguards all to itself. Probate Courts share in it. Custody of a child is covered by c. 208 of our General Laws. Probate Courts make custody decisions, and the rule is that a child’s parents (natural or by adoption) have a presumption over other possible custodians. Probate Courts also appoint a lawyer — a guardian ad litem — for any child whose care is before it.

If custody of a child up for ruling by a Probate Judge has a DCF involvement, the DCF is asked for its opinion. But i DCF is not involved, the Probate Judge makes his or her decision based on the presumption I mentioned. Which is how jack Loiselle came to have his very dysfunctional father as his custodial parent once his mother lost custody.

Thereby DCF, later called to investigate reports of abuse, found itself nicked at the outset of its involvement. or it, too, is greatly influenced by the custody presumption in favor of parents. DCF tries hard not to take custody of a child away from its parent(s). Child advocates make much noise about it. Has anyone forgotten the Justine Pelletier lap last year, in which mostly right-wing activists made huge noise that she should not be in hospital care but returned to her parents ?

In custody matters the DCF is damned no matter how it decides.

Care of children is an issue where passion has become an obstacle to right decision making. How else to explain the 20 to 30 people, therapists and DCf workers, school people and Courts,. monitoring Jack Loiselle in the first place ? It was almost inevitable that 20 or 30 monitors would have very different opinions of his situation; and so they did. But after the loss, last year, of Jeremiah Oliver, under DCF care in a city not very far from Hardwick, DCF was taking no chances — because what DCF leader ants to go through what Commissioner Olga Roche went through ? – and thus the overkill that led to irresolvable confusion.

Governor Baker said yesterday, at a press conference regarding the Loiselle case report, that there was systemic failure on DCF’;s part. There was. he will now move to reconfigure DCF procedures; as he should. Yet no DCF rewrite can, by itself, cut to the quick of child care confusion in Massachusetts, because a DCF rewrite won’ change how Probate Courts rule in custody conflicts.

In addition, state law has yet a third procedure for dealing with children in need of extra care : the so-called “CHINS,” a child in need of services petition, that almost anyone involved in a particular child’s life can file at a District Court. Judges of District Courts lack the family service help that Probate Judges have at hand; and if, in “CHINS” cases a guardian ad litem is always appointed, the money or him or her to do a worthwhile investigation may not be at hand. The result is a guesswork decision that often feels like sledgehammer justice.

If we want to put paid to DCF outcomes like that which has befallen Jack Loiselle, we need to reform our child care laws much more comprehensively than Baker ha snow ordered. we need to integrate DCF decisions — and its administrative procedures — into Probate Court family service guidelines, and we need to merge “CHINS” cases entirely into DCF procedures.

Doing all this will require the legislature to add significant money to the DCF budget — probably much more than the $ 100,000,000 that was cut during Deval Patrick’s second term and which Baker has committed to restore.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Kristen Lepore

^ Baker has every reason to look worried as he and his Budget chief Kristen Lepore face FY 2017’s many crucial choices

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To what the Governor actually does every day, I am not privy. Much of his time is spent on the roads of our State, going from the Cape to Springfield and everywhere in between, sometimes delayed by traffic, speaking at this factory or touring that educational institution, talking to officials, addressing fund raisers — more than most, he also visits kids’ sports programs and self-help organizations where he encourages young people to challenge life’s difficulties.

Good thing that he has a cell phone. I’ve seen him take calls and make them when out and about. Mostly, though, when he’s at an event, he’s talking to people, addressing the difficult issues and selling his solutions. Of course he also meets with his management team in the office most every day. And there, i assume, he reviews the details of their tasks.

Meanwhile, as the Governor is out selling, his chiefs of agencies have the actual grunt work of putting Baker’s agenda into practice. For most of these managers, the challenges become more difficult, not less, every day.

For Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollock, every week uncovers a new difficulty. Can we complete Green Line expansion within budget ? How much will it ACTUALLY cost to bring the current MBTA up to performance condition ? (Last week we found that the repair backlog price has increased from $ 6.7 billion to $ 7.3 billion.) In what budget year can we install new-technology trains on the commuter rail’s Fairmount Line ? There’s also the Carmen’s Union pension trust, which is undergoing redesignation — we will soon see the result.

Baker has made T reform his top priority. Which means that Pollock has no place to hide, no occasion to not be scrutinized.

The task is no easier for Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. The Department of Families and Children (DCF) is in the news constantly, answering for neglect by the Department’s foster parents, deaths of abuse of children living with utterly dysfunctional parents, often in rural settings far away from, notice by neighbor, school officials, or police. Then there’s the Governor’s Opioid Addiction Task Force, which he has established and which pretty soon must move from surveying the problem to actually dong something about it ? Can they ? So far, the actual addiction community has been left out of the task — given so far entirely to institutional advice — even though addicts are the people who have to deal with it and do, often ingeniously.

Department of Public safety’s Dan Bennett has just as busy a schedule and plenty of challenges. Public Safety emergencies arise without warning. Protestors may block highways : Bennett has to get State Police to the spot and quickly. Bennett’s biggest challenge, however, lies in criminal justice, where reform is every policy activist’s hot topic. Much of this reform will be done by the legislature; but the five hours and more of inquisition given to Parole Board nominee Paul Treseler, at his confirmation hearing before the Council, makes painfully clear that every part of criminal justice reform will be contentious. In particular, the Councillors grilled Treseler at such length because parole decisions in Massachusetts have led, recently, to newsworthy misjudgments, followed — during Governor Patrick’s last years in office — by removal of an entire Parole Board membership. Treseler is a career prosecutor; and Councillors Duff, Iannella, and Albano made it quite clear that they think a prosecutor ill suited to reform; to expansion of parole eligibility.

And what of Kristen Lepore, Baker’s Secretary of Administration and Finance ? Her task seems hardest of all. Every piece of Bennett’s, Sudders’s, and Pollack’s missions entails money. The Parole Board, as we learned at Treseler’s hearing, has seen its budget cut by $ 2,000,000. No less than $ 100,000,000 was pared from DCF’s budget during Governor Patrick’s last years in office; so far they have not been restored, though at a recent press conference Baker committed to bringing back quickly the lost $ 100 million. Lepore probably still does not have a good figure for what the Opioid Addiction crisis initiative will cost. And then comes Transportation, for which the bill never seems to stop adding up.

Lepore is probably already working out the next year’s fiscal budget — FY 2017 — because it needs be presented to the Legisdal;ture early next year. that’s only a few months away now. In a way, Lepore had it easy working the FY 2016 budget. The State faced a large budget deficit. Lepore had no choice buy to cut, and she did. As it turned out, she overestimated the deficit; and the State now has a surplus, much of which Baker is allocating to this and that urgency, Transportation especially. The FY 2017 budget will be more difficult. Every Department will bark loudly for more money. Most of that will be fully justified — the MBTA’s anguish cannot be set aside.

The FY 2016 budget also continued a hiring freeze ordered by Baker the week that he took office. Now the freeze will end. But how many new hires will be allotted to which agency ? That’s not merely a money decision.

Lastly, there’s a huge, political dimension to the FY 2017 Budget. Many policy activists are calling for new revenue, especially for the MBTA. There may be a ballot initiati8ve to establish a two-tier state income tax. The Governor has promised to seek a second part to the EITC expansion he spearheaded in his campaign and which the Legislature adopted. Advocates are mentioning a new Gas tax hike, and it is receiving support from some people who opposed the previous gas Tax hike. All such proposals will have to pass muster with the :Legislature. So far, House Speaker DeLeo has resisted tax hikes and user fee increases, well in line with Baker’s position. The Senate has taken the opposite position. Its leader, Stan Rosenberg joined by about eight “progressive” senators, want more revenue. Will Speaker DeLeo continue to say no ? Will Baker ?

For Baker, it’s a gamble no matter which way he goes. His Republican activist base mostly wants less taxes, not more. But 78 percent of Baker’s winning 2014 vote came from voters who are not Republicans. Many of them — to say nothing of voters who didn’t support Baker in his narrow, two-point victory and who he surely hopes to win this time –want state services to be full funded (for education especially, a Department I have not even mentioned). I expect that Baker and Lepore  have many days and evenings ahead of them hammering one difficult money nail after another into the political mileposts.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ Governor Baker accompanied by major medical leaders : heavy artillery rather than small scale platoons of infantry

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When last year Charlie Baker made fighting the opioid crisis a top campiagn priority, the only question was How, not If. Baker spent several years guiding Harvard Pilgrim Health Care through hard times into good, till it became maybe Massachusetts’s numnber one helath organization. Health care was and still is his roots. The opioid addiction epidemic was a natural for him to take on. And that he has done.

Today, at a major press conference, Baker was joined by the Deans of the Boston area’s top four medical schools — Harvard, Tufts, Boston University, and UMass — and by Dr. Dennis Dimitri, President of the Massachusetts Medical Society as well as by his own Department of Health Commissioner, Dr. Monica Bharel. said baker, “the number of opioid deaths is going up steeply” — he made a steep-slope gesture with his arm — ‘and we can’t move fast enough to deal with it.” By which he meant, “we can’t possibly move too fast because the death incidence is rising that steeply.”

Baker is right. The statistics show it. Last year there were some 2500 opioid deaths In Massachusetts. This year’s number will surpass that. So Baker is correct : no matter how fast the State moves to head the opioid epidemic off, it might not be fast enough.

The assembled Deans and organizational Doctors all agreed that there are too many opioid prescriptions written; too many opioid pills abounding in the community. Yet, as Dr. Dimitri eloquently noted, there so far isn’t an easy alternative for dealing with patients in severe pain; and to not deal with grave pain is not an option.

What, then, will the Doctors, Deans, and Baker do ? Baker explained that he’s expecting these high-level medical advisors to give him a kind of best practices user manual.

But why them ? Why not entrust the opioid crisis fight to actual opioid addicts, who have been there, done that and who communicate remedy option among themselves ? Why adopt such an institutional approach to a crisis that mostly plays out on the streets in settings improvisational, difficult to rank on a best practices scale ?

I ask this question because there is a large communhity of opioid addicts who do meet and do discuss and who forge large networks of their own, addict to addict, exchanging information, emergencies, and solutions.

As I see it, the reason that Baker has chosen to fight opioid addiction with instititional weapons, instead of street level search and destroy, is that street level addict experience may involve too much gamble : which anecdotes to support, which not ? Truthfully, who really can tell ? There may be genius in some direct addict response, but just as likely there is a dead end. Do, fat safer, as I see Baker thinking, to entrust battle to institutiions that can process thousands of addiction narratives and compute the best fair odds of doing some good.

It’s a “take as few chances as feasible”” approach rather than a bold ambush; but Baker has said, about voters, that “at the end of the day, what people want is effcetive delivery of ssvices.” This is a motto of caution; and caution has been Baker’s basic gait since day one of taking office. “Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.” he has said at meet and greets.

That’s certainly a wise tactic, usually, and in the “Fix the T” struggle it makes precise sense.

But perhaps when fighting opioid deaths, csutiin hasn’t the same clout ? Activists in the addict commnity passionately believe they, not the institutions, know the iopioid devil best and how to fight it.

But what if they don’t ? Baker will be up for re-election, not the addict community. He will be judged, not they. Thus the decision to entrust the Baker administration’s opioid fight to the biggest, most experienced, highest prestige organizations he can bring to bear.

How quickly can such heavy artillery be deployed in the fight ? the addict community is already in it, fighting it at platoon level in the jungles where opioid drugs lurk and seduce. It may take the institutional people a year to get its opioid combat boots on. Does that support Baker’s assertion that “we cannot move fast enough to fight the (death curve) momentum” ? I guess it will have to.

—– Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere