instruments of their own destruction : ISIS and the paradox of civilization

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In seeking to divide the world between people who like life and those who like death, the death cult known as ISIS has united the world, not divided it.

This is paradox — a nerve of life we cannot do without. The co-existence of good and evil, injustice and justice, is what generates commitment to do right. Augustine was perhaps the first Western Civilization thinker to see the point; he made it his theme and the structure of his prose, and if you want to understand how paradox drives life, you should turn to his Confessions and read it, as vivid as a drama, in full cry.

Paradox creates civilization as we know it. Those who seek an outcome often bring about an opposite result, one that almost everybody wants but which, without the acts of those who opposed it forcing the matter, probably would not have happened at all. Vested interests prevent transformative outcomes. Those who seek to change the situations over which vested interests exercise dominance, and who use persuasion to do so, most often taste defeat. then comes an unreasonable, or even violent event or series of events, and vested interests are swept away.

Thus ISIS has united nations once enemies — Russia and France, America and Iran, Turkey and Great Britain — in struggle to defeat it. By unify I do not men alliance; the many nations and people now working to end ISIS have their own outcomes in mind and mostly are going about the mission on their own dime. Still, the opposition to ISIS encircles. Coming at ISIS from many directions may even be more lethal to it than a alliance.

Within the Muslim communities, also, whereof ISIS has arisen by revelation, an enormous confrontation is swelling : the overwhelming majority are telling the radicals, “not in my name.” How could it not be thus ? It is one thing to be ready to die, another to die in the act of killing people.  Few of us go that route; such revelations do not come to us, fortunately, and if they do, they usually come as happened to Saul of Tarsus : a revelation to cease persecution and travel the road of good news.

The road of good news is almost part of our genes; how could it not be ? Whatever life may be, the breath of it strikes almost all of us as good, as a miracle, as a treasure to protect and enhance; and when Rabbi Hillel famously told the Torah student that “whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to your fellow man, the rest is commentary,” his saying struck consciences with truth sufficient to keep his words alive and quoted even 2000 plus years later. Often it strikes some that the road of good news is a deception, that those who profess it mean good only to their own nation or community; and because life is almost always tough even for those who believe in it — Thoreau had it right when he said that “most people live lives of quiet desperation” — for those who despair of life, the route of death seems tasty. At least in death there is a decision. The desperate are often advised to wait, wait, wait; until it becomes a mockery. In death there’s no more mocking. Yet most people prefer to wait, if need be, and to seek a better day in which their olives can be glorified; maybe even happy.

In the meantime, during the years of waiting and struggle people fall out and divide against each other; this we know from reading history and from observing our own day. Easily enough we dislike those we differ from, even to “unfriended” them on facebook or block them on twitter. These blockages cut deep (don’t I know it !). Then along come the  killers of ISIS, and suddenly all that had divided us from each other no longer matters.

For bringing us together; for making us whole again; for reminding us how sacred to us is the life we have been accorded by grace, we thank the killers of ISIS. Pursuing death, they ennoble life. The empire of paradox reigns still, powerful to rescue and revive our civilization.

The more heinous the evil, the more restorative the good that arises in opposition to it.

And this shall always be our destiny as a civilization.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Over 30 People Shot Within Four Days In Chicago

^ different shooting, but the same martial law response. Why ?

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Anyone who watches the video of the shooting of LaQuan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason van Dyke will see it : 16 shots into the body of a kid lying motionless on the ground. There were eight (8) police officers on the scene; none but van Dyke used his weapon.

We are told that van Dyke feared for his life; why then did the other officers not also fear for theirs ?

We are told that McDonald had lunged at officers with a knife. But van Dyke came to the scene after that, and in any case, none of the officers who McDonald lunged at acted to shoot him.

You can see the video for yourself here :

Van Dyke has now been indicted on a charge of murder in the first degree : that he intended to kill McDonald and had sufficient time and occasion to formulate that plan before he began to shoot. Will the jury agree ? That’s for it to decide.

For me, as an editorialist trying to make sense of this event, the question is not IF, but WHY.

Officers do not simply go about executing kids because they feel like it. They do it for a reason. What could that reason be ? To send a message.

A message to “the street:” that, if you fuck with me, even just a little bit — even if you don’t realize you are fucking with me — I will shoot you dead.

“I am not to be trifled with” is a very powerful message for a man in uniform, armed with a killing weapon, to send to those who he might someday confront at a crime scene. Is there any crime prevention message more powerful than “hey, fellas, keep away from that dude” ?

The officer executing a kid lying on the ground is taking out street insurance, that someday, if he has to face a really dangerous kid, he has the upper hand, the fear advantage.

Chicago, with its horrific murder rate, as gang members fight and kill each other and each other’s families,  is almost a textbook killing ground on which an officer wants — needs — a fear advantage.

I hear you saying, “but that’s all the law of the jungle. That’s not emnforcement, that’s lawless enforcement. We are a nation of laws to which police are subject like everybody else.”

You are right. We ARE a nation of laws. But we are also a nation of death. Which would you choose ? Laws or death ?

The people who initiate calls to police do so for a reason. They live in the neighborhood where law breakers do their stuff. They live with the sound of gunshots and seeing their neighbor’s kid shot dead. They live in fear, and unlike vigilantes, they turn to the police to keep them safe. Thus the death message that cops like Jason van Dyke send.

Is there racism involved ? Probably,. but not in the way you think. LaQuan McDonald was not executed because he was Black. He was killed because Chicago is a rigidly segregated city, and the very Black neighborhood in which he lived is loaded with unemployed young men, many of them released felons, many of them involved in the drug trade over which traders fight and kill each other because the drug money is there, and not much other money is.

He was killed because most residents of segregated neighborhoods are not killers or drug dealers but live where they do because that’s the only area they are allowed to live in, or the only place where they can aff0rd to buy or rent — not to mention that they feel safer among long time neighbors just like them, neighbors who form a very strong anti-crime network that usually works, whereas moving to a mostly white suburb might subject them to isolation and worse. And when that community network does network ? call the police, and yes, the death message, executioner policeman.

It certainly shocks the neighborhood when an execution like McDonald’s occurs, but you can bet that within the week calls will be made to police from the neighbo0rhood and the police will come and will do what they feel they have to.

It does not have to be like this. In Boston there is plenty of gang violence, too, and its neighbors look to the Boston Police Department just as do the neighbors in Chicago. But Boston Police respond to gang killings by hosting community meetings, encouraging discussion, and by actively encouraging the area’s youth — they along with a passel of outreach organizations —  to keep their eyes on the sparrow of a better life. It really does take an entire community to move everyone in  it away from death messages, and even in Boston it does not always work.

Even here, the death message execution remains a possibility. Imagine, then, the situation in segregated cities like Chicago — not to mention St. Louis — or in the South, where Black poverty is hardscrabble beyond anything we in the urban North know, and where outreach organizations almost do not exist and where petty fines municipal shakedowns are commonplace. Until we find a way to integrate low income neighborhoods — especially black ones — into the national economy and away from fear and the violence that fear breeds, there will continue to be death message executions like the one that Jason van Dyke used LaQuan McDonald to send.

—– Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




1 The_first_Thanksgiving

Citizens of Massachusetts, we live in a great state. Really we do. For this we are thankful, very.

While much of the world erupts in killing, in torture, in a million unnecessary cruelties, we in Massachusetts bond together and treasure the future.

While much of the nation lets go of grace and descends into negativities of all kinds; while many decide that fear is their Daddy; while all too many pursue an appetite for revenge, we in Massachusetts embrace our fellow human beings, feel enriched by their diversity, engage in pluralistic discussion that leads to innovative policy and enhancing the dignity of all.

While college campuses across the nation evidently debilitate in racial foolishness and gob-smacking claptrap, here in Massachusetts our university students keep their eyes on the sparrow of acquiring the skills needed to obtain prosperous employment, or to invent the future.

While the police forces in so many American cities pursue a policy of enforcing the peace not by protecting citizens but by sending death messages to those they should be policing, our police forces in Massachusetts commit to all the citizens they serve — and prove it every day. In this regard, special thanks to former Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans and to former Superintendent, now Commissioner Bill Gross.

While the political communities of may states give in to the worst impulses of their voters, our political community in Massachusetts accepts the challenge to improve state services and encourage the inner confidence of all who live here. Our political leaders never disparage anyone, never blame the victim, never find in diversity 100 occasions for dividing us from one another. In this regard, thanks to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for his passionate leadership, and to the new Boston City Council for its demonstrated confidence in both business AND community. And lastly, a special thanks to Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, and Attorney General Maura Healey for their personal moral witness — which they demonstrate every day — as well as their commitment to careful reform.

Personally, this writer is also thankful for my wife and my kids, for my Here and Sphere partner Heather Cornell, for my many brothers and sisters in House Music nation, for my fellow journos (you guys rock !), and for my even larger circle of colleagues on the political battlefields of Boston democracy.

And let us not forget that Thanksgiving began here, in Plymouth, as a haggard group of refugees joined their Indian rescuers at a rough, wilderness meal of thanks redolent, for those refugees, of the last Supper, a meal of hope and of bonding with their fellow human beings on this harsh but promising coast.Today is the 394th re-enactment of that meal.

Onward and forward on this day of giving thanks.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ she learns best if (1) test challenged and (2) visited at home by her teacher(s)

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Last week we learned that the standard test our state requires of all students will not be the test known as PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of readiness for College and Careers) but something else : evidently, a compromise between features of the PARCC and those of the MCAS test that Massachusetts has used for twenty years.

We support the PARCC test. Before we explain why, we invite you to visit the PARCC website and learn about its features for yourself :

You can even try out PARCC practice tests here :

Having visited the website and worked some practice PARCC tests, you’ve probably developed some grasp of why the PARCC tests have attracted support from educators. The practice Grade 11 English test that I took, for example, required me to read the two novel excerpts carefully and to demonstrate a thorough grasp of what the authors were trying to tell the reader. (The two novels excerpted were ones that even I, a professional writer and well read student all my life,m had not read. This I am sure was intentional. You cannot test for comprehension by offering up a novel that we’ve all read 100 times.) I found the test challenging. That’s what a preparedness test should be.

As the PARCC Website says, Many current state tests measure only lower-level skills. The new assessments serve as an “educational GPS system,” assess students’ current performance, and point the way to what students need to learn by graduation so they are ready for college and/or a career.

Some object to a test that is difficult for almost all students. I feel exactly opposite. A test should be difficult enough that no student can get a perfect score. how else are we to test students in comparison to one another, than to challenge them all, beyond their capability ?  To find the tensile strength of an elastic, you have to stretch it.

Some do not like PARCC because it demands more than the minimum curriculum known as “Common Core. You can learn what the Common, Core Curriculum entails by visiting its website here : I support the common, core curriculum, because no student, no matter where she lives, should fulfill the same minimum knowledge learning. Major employers hire from every state in the nation; we cannot allow students in one state to be disqualified from hiring because they lacked a national minimum education.

By no means should education be limited to the minimum standard proposed by the makers of the Common, Core curriculum. Massachusetts rightly demands more. So should all states, if possible. The PARCC test meets that challenge. So9 why are we “developing our own standards” ? I really do not know. What appears to be the decision of our State Board of Education is a compromise between the MCAS test adhering to the Common, core curriculum and the much more demanding PARCC test. This is a step in the wrong direction. Many Massachusetts school districts have adopted the PARCC test as its standard; Boston among them. Now this adoption has to wait another two years for a final decision.

Every school achievement discussion of testing and standards also brings up, sooner or later, parental involvement. This is the arena in which school administrators should be ramping up their performance. No teacher can do her job if she also has to be a kind of day care provider to students whose parent or parents send him or her to school just to have some peace for the day. Schools must see that parents commit to supporting the education of their child.

To that end, home visits by teachers probably are the single most important support that we can give to educational achievement. In Massachusetts that sort of connection is being accomplished by 1647,org,m a non  profit set up by former Mayor candidate John Connolly. His staff develop teacher home visit programs that are transforming the learning experience for children visited at home by their teachers.

The home visit program, joined to the rigorous PARCC Test, offers a pathway to closing the “achievement gap” as well as preparing students the skills needed for entry level employment in today’s economy. If we do nothing else by way of education policy, we absolutely must do at least this much.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere










Aleppo 2015

^ This is what Aleppo, Syria’s once most vibrant city, looks like today. Utilities destroyed too. Fought over by four militias.

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Some 5 million Syrians no longer live in Syria. That’s out of a population of about 30 million. Of those who remain, at least 2 million Kurds now live in “Rojava,” as they call their northern-border enclave. Another 7 million remain in Syria but displaced from where they once lived.

This, of a pre-war population of about 22 million. You can see a map of these displacements, and read the sad story, at this link :

Another 300,000 Syrians — according to reports — have been killed; hundreds of thousands more have been tortured and now live maimed, mutilated in body and traumatized beyond anything most of us will ever know. How bad is it ? The tortured who have surviv3ed describe themselves as “lucky.” The tally of dead rises every hour.
For the rest — about 11 million — there is little hope and no security, not even for the elite who guard Bashar Assad and are guarded, more or less, by him. In Damascus and on the Latakia coast of Syria actual war may not be present, but the effects pervade. Every home, of every faction, has a son or a cousin serving in the Assad army or a militia; every home has suffered a casualty. Many families still living inside Syria count family members among the refugees — people from whom they never hear or fear of consequences : the Assad forces choke everyone, even their own.

The country’s economy, once one of the Middle East’s strongest, now lies shattered or belongs to militias or Iran via its support for the Assad forces. Syria’s oil reserves move via the lack market if they move at all. Tourism once sparked Syria’s businesses. today there is none, and much of the nation’s ancient cultural heritage has been destroyed or looted.

The Syrian civil war has visited upon the nation its worst disaster at least since very ancient times. Alexander’s armies fought battles on Syria’s coast and in its northeast, but except cor the destruction of Tyre, those battles barely scraped the population. Roman Syria was a prosperous place, the corner in which the Jesus Movement grew to become Christianity (and the Syrian Christian church, numbering about 4 million souls, is still the oldest congregation in the world, tracing its origins all the way back to Paul and Peter.) The Muslim wave that changed Syria from Christian to Islamic during the late 600’s brought prosperity, not ruin; and the Crusades barely touched the nation, which remained a major world trading force right down to modern times.

Yet the coming of Islam brought theocratic divisions that, unlike those within Christian congregations, did not heal. they worsened; and today Syria is broken in part because of the Islamic cleavages between Sunni, Shi’a, Alawite, Druze, and others. The shattering of peace has also forced ethnic templates to the surface : Kurds, Yezidis, Turkmen, and Arabs have all, for themselves, found cohesion in ethnicity as exclusion.

We in America tend to see “Syria” as uniform. It is no such thing. Few nations host so much diversity. For us, diversity is a boon; it enriches us. So it does. Diversity of peoples enriches a civilisation just as does diversity of opinions. For a diverse nation, however, its enhancement can become its poison when the nation — the unifying idea — shatters and falls. So it has befallen Syria.

I doubt that Syria as we knew it can ever resurrect. Just as the destruction of the Jewish Temple by Rome in 70 AD generated the diaspora of Jews that persists to this day — ad which has only been partially reversed by the forced establishment of Israel some 67 years ago — so the demolition of Syria is likely to magnify not shrink. Syrians now live elsewhere, in large numbers, and are adapting to different cultures and situations. Their diaspora is real, riveted on their minds and ours by stunning pictures of desperate escape. It is a national epic, but not one to stoke pride; only sadness.
There will surely be Syrian communities the whole world over; but even though many Syrians will remain within the old national territory, it is unlikely they will ever be Syrians again. they will be Kurds; they will be coastal Alawites; they will, in some places, be Christian towns defending Christian autonomy; and they will, certainly, be Sunni Arab. But Syrian, they will not be. The divisions run deeper than deep, unforgivable acts of horror cutting bone breaking crevices into millions of surviving souls and schooling their children in the horrific before all else.

Let us not dismiss the horror as all the fault of the “Daesh.” ISIS is definitely one of the world’s nastiest ever death cults; but the Assad regime and its military units have tortured, brutalized, kidnapped, and killed many times more Syrians than the Deash have done. Blood is on almost every Syrian hand.

The Syrian Civil war has been a disaster for everyone involved, except maybe for the Kurds, who have assured their national identity — long suppressed — and almost forged themselves a nation named Rojava running from the Iraq border near Hasakah to the Mediterranean coast at Afrin. . Yet even this, the one potential good to result from the war, is not assured. Not at all.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ by the hundreds of thousands they trek, through weather and barbed wire, in search of life itself

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The millions of refugees from Syria deserve better than exploitation by political demagogues. The 65,000 or so who may be welcomed by our nation, subject to the draconian vetting process we require, deserve better than crossfire in our own war of loudmouths.

It was depressing — shameful — to see the avalanche of Republicans vilifying the refugees, or dividing them by religion (as if they haven’t had enough of that already, back home), shutting the door entirely on part or all who seek our safe shore. This is not who we are as a nation.

Yet it was almost as shameful to hear the partisan missiles shot by Democrats in the name of welcome. It is very easy to embrace the Syrian refugees when you’re not the one having to answer for mistakes in the vetting. It is also easy for partisan Democrats to attack Republicans for their admitted callousness, but then fail to criticize the Democrats who also voted callously. A congressman from our state did exactly that to Governor Baker, attacking him, but giving a complete pass to his House colleagues.

The Syrian refugees deserve better than that.

Give credit to Governor Baker for his cautious but welcoming REVISED statement, and give credit also to Governors Brown of California and Jay Inslee of Washington, who stated clearly the moral honor of welcome while acknowledging the caution that underlies vetting of the welcomed.

Many Syrian refugees are already here, enriching our nation with their courage. Here’s a link to a great story about them :

For my part, I stand with welcome. All refugees, from every place, should find in America embrace and encouragement. Our nation is enriched immeasurably by those who put life and death faith in our society and our laws; and, as Mitt Romney eloquently said a few months ago, every religion enhances our national character. I have read that more Mexican immigrants are now leaving us than coming. To me, this is an indictment. We should all be ashamed to hear that people find another nation more promising than ours to live in.

I do not know what sort of envision the rejecters of refugees envision, nor the haters of immigrants. Certainly whatever they have in mind is not the America that has existed for 400 years, been built by sweat and blood (and tears) ever since, the nation made mighty by the participation of all who dare to join us (and by those who were brought to us in chains to take orders at the tongue of a whip).

Whatever nation these rejecters have in mind, it is not one that any of the rest of us should cotton to. The principles upon which we built our laws and to which we have applied our courage and our moral compass will have come into being in vain, if we allow those who would tear it down, or stain it with injustice, or abuse it with selfishness, or distort its heart with bigotry, to have their way.

It is said that these societal ills arise from fear. Perhaps they do.

What is there to be afraid of ? Franklin Delano Roosevelt said it correctly in 1933 : “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

To live for fear’s sake is not to live at all. I reject fear, just as President Hollande of France has nobly, powerfully done. “Let 30,000 refugees come,” he avowed, recommitting his wounded nation to the battle that make  nations great.

As for fear and its prisoners, I say to you my readers now : neither I nor you will let it have its way. We will not be ground down by worry, or intimidated by hysteria, or bent to ill will, or bothered by bad moral breath. We will not allow it. We are better than that, and our nation will prevail because of it.

—– Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





^ artists celebrating the Green Line have been laid off, and with them, the art they were creating

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Were you saddened to read that the T has cancelled several Green Line extension art contracts ? I sure was.  For the sake of saving $ 1,700,000 — less than one percent of the cost of extending — middle managers at the T have nixed the art work that might have graced the new Green Line stations with visual beauty and even a message or two.

This is a false and foolish economy. Public art is not a mere cost item, a financial annoyance. Public art has a moral purpose. Beautifying visual space encourages the soul. It raises the optimism of those who see it.

Even the darker messages of art — Rembrandt, or Goya — strengthen us by confronting the wounds and subtractions put upon us by evil. But one need not delve that profoundly into the purposes of art to applaud the soft spoken appeal of Green Line artwork. It is a shame to see it go.

That cost overruns impact Green Line extension, at a time when the T’s finances are being entirely reset, is not an excuse for this cancellation. T art may seem like  a T budget item, but it isn’t. Art has its own purposes as witness to the society it displays; T art is simply one arena of that witness

The T’s managers say that they hope corporate sponsors will take up the cost so that the art project can go ahead. That would be good news. I suppose, at least for the artists, whose family budgets have been decimated by the T’s act; but the responsibility, as I see it, of the state to promote art work cannot buck-pass to corporate generosity. The purpose of public art is to engage public participation.

Public art is no new or controversial idea. Until very recently — the 19th Century — only governments, church establishments, or the very rich sponsored most art. Not until mid-century revolutions gave voting power to the middle class did private art become the standard. Private art of the period 1850 to, say, 1980 served purposes financial, psychological, and intravenous : artists taught other artists, within the private aisles of private museums, or at art gallery showings, and at auctions, where private, investor-owned art was sold for investor purposes. Almost the entire finance of private art was private money, as were the guests lists of private art events.

I’m inclined to think that the T managers who cancelled the Green Line extension’s artist contracts assume the private sphere that has defined how we see art and deduce its provenance. Yet they are wrong. The arena of artwork is changing. Public art sponsorship is increasing, in dollars and in the number of people committed to it. All across Europe, and in Montreal, publicly sponsored festivals of arts — music, film., comedy, painting — dominate how art is made and performed. The same is coming to Boston; is already here, centrally and in the neighborhoods. The T by its cancellations has missed the bus even as the bus route itself has arisen.

Public art is becoming important not just because governments  think it nice to have. Public art binds community, helps create it; enhances conversation, generates discussion. It is an act of citizenship; and as all acts of citizenship arise from the “yes” side of our souls. so public art stands firmly on moral ground.

The moral message of public art is that there is meaning to citizenship, that it is enhanced when shared; that enhancement strengthens the soul and gives us the courage to do what we know to be right no matter what tries to undermine it. Now of all times, as many avenues of fear drive relentlessly toward us, we ought to increase our commitment to public art, not cancel it. The T’s decision could not be more ill-timed.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


CB reform

^ top to bottom DCF reform : Governor Baker vows it — and is doing it

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Governor Baker has initiated four major reforms : fixing the MBTA and Commuter Rail; restructuring DCF; changing opioid addiction from a matter criminal to a health and wellness mission; and expanding the state’s number of allowed charter schools. For most governors, this would pursue pie in sky; for Baker, it actually seems doable.

Where do his four big reforms stand, now, in the eleventh month of his governorship ? Let us examine.

( 1 ) Fixing the MBTA and Commuter Rail : new tracks have been laid, snow fences built, switch heaters put in place, 20 new track plows procured. Train on time performance metrics now monitor train trips. Late night and low-rider bus trips have been outsourced to providers capable of handling them cost-effectively. The MBTA employees’ pension trust is being integrated into the State Employees retirement system. Commuter Rail non-performance fines now allocate the hiring of additional staff to improve fare collection. A Fiscal Control Board, appointed by the Governor and answerable directly to him, now directs day-to-day operations of trains, buses, and dollars.

Trains still run late thanks often to equipment failure, and bus trips are still missed, but the former will look better once new trains on order actually arrive, and the latter will look better as employee morale rises — which it is doing.

As for Green Line expansion through Somerville to West Medford, it continues despite some worry, a few months back, about unaffordable cost overruns. (Will we get a Silver Line connection from East Boston to the airport, to match Silver Line expansion to Chelsea ? maybe. There’s even a Red Line to Blue Line Connector being bruited, probably a foot tunnel from Aquarium to South Station paralleling the Central Artery. So far, Baker hasn’t said what he plans for these proposals.)

( 2 ) restructuring DCF : the Governor and DCF social worker unions have agreed upon new work rules incorporating new case valuation tactics; less burdensome case loads; start of the art communications devices; background checks for all foster home applicants; and rigorous monitoring of all DCF cases, including those that have been closed but might re-open. According to major media, worker morale has improved substantially; workers cite renewed faith that reform will actually occur, not merely be talked about.

Baker has not merely announced DCF reforms. He has followed up, again and again, to assure that his reforms become fact on the ground and that DCF social workers understand and accept his reforms. This was how he manged Harvard Pilgrim’s recovery from bankruptcy to excellence. Persistence and attention to detail at every level of work was his method. He has applied it to DCF with what looks like success.

Here’s a link to baker’s vow for comprehensive DCF reform :

( 3 ) opioid addiction crisis : Baker has proposed legislation that embraces the axiom that addiction is a matter of health, not criminality. He has filed legislation to that end. It contains several controversial features. Sources in the legislature tell me that Baker will get some of what he wants but not all. Baker’s call for involuntary hospital commitment of addicts is not liked by many in the medical and hospital field; it’s also seen as unconstitutional by some. There’s less objection to his call for opioid prescriptions to be limited to a 72-hour dose.

The addiction and recovery communit6y is divided on the issue of involuntary commitment. Some like it; some feel it’s too aggressive. It would not surprise me if the legislature defers to enact it.

That said, baker has been dogged in amassing support for his opioid legislation, from sheriffs to police chiefs, medical students and medical schools. Boston Mayor Walsh — a recovering alcoholic — supports it, and Attorney General Maura Healey  has made the opioid epidemic a major concern of her office. Even if baker does not get all of what he wants, every policy person in the state is now talking about the opioid epidemic and doing so as a health issue.

( 4 ) lifting the current limitation on number of allowed charter schools : of all baker’s reforms, this faces the largest opposition. Against it stand teachers’ unions, allied parents’ groups, and many municipal school committees. Baker’s bill calls for the creation of 12 new charter schools each year, for an unspecified period of years, said schools to be allocated to school districts falling in the bottom 25 percent of school districts, as determined by the State’s Education Commissioner. Baker’s bill also requires that new charter schools give specific attention to English language learners (ELL), whose needs are seen as insufficiently met by the state’s current charters.

Baker’s bill is likely to not be enacted, as it is opposed not only by teacher unions and allies but also  by Boston Mayor Walsh, who has his own charter school proposal. Walsh’s proposal would not take place for several years — until after his ten-year, $ 1 billion capital spending school construction plan takes hold. It also calls for an additional $ 55 million in state funding (via MGL c. 70, by which school districts are compensated for the funds reallocated to its charter schools).

(Some say that Walsh’s capital spending plan is actually a ploy to change the Boston school system to a mostly charter system. That’s enormously unlikely given the legislation’s limitations. They also say he intends to turn over operation of Boston schools to the Gates Foundation. That would be an interesting development, but it certainly isn’t happening in  the near future.)

Walsh’s opposition is supported by an organization that calls itself “Democrats for Education Reform,” a group that backed his opponent in the 2013 mayor campaign and which led opposition to Walsh’s hopes to bring the 2024 Olympic games to Boston. I see no sign that Walsh cares at all what “DFER” does or does not do, but to the extent that legislators feel pulled from both sides on how to vote on Baker’s bill, the “DFER:” opposition adds a bit to those who want a “Nay” vote.

Still, that Baker’s charter cap lift bill may not pass — as last year’;s charter cap lift bill also did not — does not mean that charter school expansion will not happen. A ballot initiative to expand the number of charters, largely funded by the Gates Foundation with help from the Walton Foundation  (of WalMart), has gathered large support from parents in under performing school; districts. Those parents and their allies have rallied and organize behind the initiative, and its message will be well funded. baker also supports the initiative, openly, enthusiastically.

Opponents rail at the prospect of “corporations meddling” in education. This view falls flat. We educate children for citizenship and for employment.”Corporations” have an enormous vested interest in having job applicants ready on day one to perform at least entry level jobs; the lack thereof has been, and continues to be, a major obstacle to expansion of the technology economy. Today in Massachusetts numerous non-profits exist with a mission to do “bridge education” giving high school graduates the skills they need to secure entry level work. These non-profits (such as : Year UP, College Bound, Bottom Line) do magnificent work; but why must students who have graduated from high school need to defer work for a year or two, when in an effective education set up they would already have the needed entry skills upon graduating ?

Such is the argument shaping up as the ballot initiative takes shape. The Governor stands on the side of mostly inner-city and minority group parents.

On the other side, far fewer people, but almost all teacher unions. I see this as a shame. Teachers should be the first to advocate the most effective, innovative education platforms feasible.  After all, schools exist to educate children. Teachers are hired and paid to perform that mission, as the voters and taxpayers define it and command it. Why should teachers have power to dictate what structures education adopts any more than IRS employees, for example, should be able to dictate how and why the IRS is set up ? It is up to the voters and their elected officials to determine policy and structure, and up to those hired to carry it out to — carry it out.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere






^ Governor Baker speaking at MIRA’s Thanksgiving luncheon one hour efiore he misspoke the Syrian refugees issue

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Yesterday when asked whether Massachusetts would welcome Syrian refugees, as we said we would, let us imagine that Governor Baker said this :

“I intend to work closely with the President so that he can both uphold America’s traditional role as a place of asylum, but also ensure that anyone seking refuge in America is fully vetted in a sophisticated and utterly reliable way.”

What he actually said, as quoted by several news sources, was this :

“…I think that at this point in time we’d have to be very cautious about accepting folks sithout knowing a lot more about what the federal government’s plan looks like…”

The two statements — the first was made by Governor brown of California — could practically be twins — except for one huge omission on Baker’s part. Why did Baker not begin his statement with the “I intemd” clause that Governor Brown was careul to say first, before he spoke the tough stuff ?

Words matter. Baker’s omission allowed his potential opponents — all those who in Massachusetts have been tackled politically and left in the dust by the corner office’s Tom Brady as he has scored one legislative touchdown after another — to get up again, coalesce, and throw him or a big loss on a sore point huge for many residents of our state.

Today, the Governor has been kocked back into his own territory — his political base — by his huge fumble. The yahoos loved his statement as much as every immigrant community in our state rejected it. That the yahoos loved his words should be a major red flag to Baker. Scott Brown’s campaign for re-election to the Senate was cooked the moment that the yahoos loved hearing him talk the language of his base. Of his own ten yard line.

Baker has done this before : say stuff without thinking. Worse, he is the most liklely to misspeak, the more hot-button the issue. Remember his first reaction to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision ? That it didn’t matter because in Massachusetts we have universal health care ? True, we do have it : but that was hardly the threat posed by Hobby Lobby. Baker quickly corrected his mistake and reaffirmed a full commitment to women’s reproductive health care.

Baker will have to revise his Syrian refugee statement quickly. Likely, he will. He must know that what he said does not accurately reflect his true opinion. After all, only an hour before he spoke, he attended the MIRA Coalition’s Thanksgiving luncheon and addressed the gathering (see photo at top of article) ! MIRA is Massachusetts’s most infliuential immigrant advocacy group; surely Baker did not put himself on its luncheon podium out of hostility.

MIRA has asked Baker to revise his remarks. So have I. Words amtter, as do the sentiments and policies that they carry on their backs across the opposition’s goal line.

We are a nation built by immigrants (including those brought here in chains) and ennobled by refugees who value what we are about enough to risk all. Every immigrant community draws strenth from every other; it’s why in America immigrant communities blend rather than precipitate. Baker’s misspeak did not sadden only Syrians.

Baker is better than his misspeaks. I think we all know this. I think even his opponents, thrilled to see him sacked for this loss, know that he is Tom Brady when he focuses. I look forward to his net three touchdowns.

Now to the question itself : should Massachusetts welcome Syrian refugees ? Of course we should. There is already a large and well established Syrian community in place, in West Roxbury, that began arriving here during World war I. It now numbers well over 5000. A West Roxbury Syrian, Sharon Abdelahad, was elected a Ward 20 state representative back in the late 1980s. The famous fashion designer Joseph Abboud calls Boston’s Syrian community home. I could list many, many more promient West Roxbury Syrians (and Lebanese). Most are Christian — of four separate rites — but some, more recently arrived, are Muslim, like Mike Haidar, who broadcasts a Syrian lagiuage radio hour.

The community is prepared, as it has been since the horrific civil war began in 2011. The head priest at St. George’s Orthodox Church, on Emmonsdale Road, the City’s largest Syrian parish, told me, “Michael, we are ready to do our part.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Belgian death lord : the body will be killed, but the evil lives on

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The attacks in Paris continue to command our attention, as they should. They were intended to get our attention. On that point, we share common ground. You the killers have our full attention.

What will we DO with that attention ? That is the puzzle. We have to get this right. Our survival as a free society depends on it. And yes, survival as a free society. There’s no sense surviving only to be prisoners of a police state. I think we’re agreed on that.

We have to get right that the challenge upon us is not going ever to be eliminated, like a vaccine eliminates a bacterium.Ideas cannot be killed. As long as there are human beings, ideas will live no matter how evil. Anti-Semitism has existed for 1700 years or so, Naziism for about 95; racism has a long history in America and seems unlikely to disappear any time soon. Leninist politics are alive and well on the internet and on college campuses; Leninism may rise and fall, but it will likely never go extinct.

Thus we see that the ideas that make up Islamism —  glorification of mass murder and self-murder via distortion of the Quran — cannot be made to vanish. Even if everyone who professes it today were to die, the idea would remain, re-discoverable by anyone anytime so inclined. It is a will o’ the wisp to assert that our goal right now is to “defeat the idea.”

To defend our civilisation we will need to act differently. War it is, and war means violent defense. The most committed Islamists today call Daesh home, and the means of obliterating that home are at hand : French and American war,planes; Kurdish and Iranian-trained Iraqi fighters; Russian aircraft and marines; airbases in Jordan, Turkey, and the UAE. Everywhere in its home turf, Daesh is being defeated; Syrian Kurds are pushing Daesh out of the Al Hawl oilfields, its last; airplanes are attacking Daesh oil trucks. Drone strikes continue, taking out Daesh leaders one by one every other day. Raqqa will soon be crushed, and Ramadi retaken, only Mosul will remain.

Taking Mosul will not be easy, but the co-operations necessary to the task were discussed seriously this weekend at the G 20 meeting.

Military and diplomacy are weapons that work. They cannot kill the Islamist idea, but they can make it infinitely harder for bearers of the idea to work its evil.

France failed enormously this time despite the lessons of Charlie Hebdo. Why did French intelligence fail ? Probably because the attacks of November 13 were planned and launched from Belgium, where police inefficiency rules. We like to think that the unified European Union, with no internal border controls, is one nation, It is not. National jurisdictions crease the weave; the Paris attackers used them. How easy it was to drive from Molenbeeck in Brussels down to Paris to wreak death, unfollowed by even those who were following !

It will be less easy now. French security services are taking the battle to the homes and hangouts of those who before they merely followed. Belgium, horribly embarrassed by being outed as Europe’s nest of Islamist death, is doing the same. Ultimately this era’s inspirers and facilitators of killers housed in Belgium (and in France too) will be droned away.

Yet future possibility of attack will not go away. There will some day be more planning, more recruiting of killers, more would-be bombmakers itching to sew new suicide vests, more Islamist — or maybe other — dreams of darkness. This will NOT go away. Evil does not die. It lives. All manner of it lives. This we must understand.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere