ANNALS OF POLITICS IN AMERICA : THE NEXT PHASE

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^ the new unionism : SEIU members raising up

 

The first significant signs of a new alignment of American politics are already apparent.

Even as the Tea Party and its corporate enablers roar through many “red” states, and even as marriage equality takes hold as the law of all states, new civil rights battles are coming to the fore as well as new economic urgencies.

Free-for-all banking is crashing to the ground as huge financial institutions rely, almost always unsuccessfully, on low level staffs with huge turnover that precludes learning the intricacies of customer service in the age of investment by hedge fund pools and pass-throiugh securities. The future of banking is “go small” : no big bank of today comes close to matching the efficiency and customer service smartness of medium-sized and community banks.

The needs of high-tech and cutting-edge employers for entry-level hires fluent in the basics of programming, math, and reading are pressuring public education to sacrifice common ground for small-unit specialization. This is the motive force behind charter schools, and also the inspiration for opposing common core curriculum standards. Supporters of small, experimental eduction don;t want common standards or a one size fits all school. they want individualized schooling.

 

that entirely individualized schooling cuts children off from the other great educative principle — citizenship in a common community, Horace Mann’s ideal — is less important to these folks, entirely fixated on securing their children a good career.

I oppose their single mindedness, as do many other Americans in the new politics. It’s a battle that will divide old alliances and is already creating new ones. Witness the coalition that opposes “common core” : right wing Republicans and teachers’ unions.

Income inequality in America has reached a level where it threatens the sustainability of the entire economy. Many states are already taking steps tp remedy this imbalance. Some are raising the minimum wage radically; proposals to raise the minimum wage even higher are taking hold in the most progressive cities. Unions, too — until recently dubbed “obsolete” by some “conservatives” — are finding themselves newly popular and powerful. in the service work world, unions are winning huge wage increases — with more to come — and new unions are being organized for the most basic of worker demands : a living wage and basic benefits.

At the same time, many public sector unions are losing popular support, as more such unions are seen to protect wage packages that bust city budgets, packages for six-figure earnings that look to fall on the tycoon side of income inequality.

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^ SEIU leaders : economic power AND women power

Nor does it help public sector unions that they often stand in the way of system reforms. Big changes are coming in how public education is delivered. Many teachers unions are fighting all these changes rather than getting aboard them; and the larger public — much the same public that supports service worker unions — is noticing and not liking.

American living arrangements are shifting radically. Millerites want to work, live, shop, and play in the downtowns of big cities, and in many cases to do so without cars. Almost all the well-paid young techies live this way; few if any have any interest at all in living in suburbs enduring hour to two-hour commutes to work. Meanwhile the less well paid have no choice bit to move away from Downtown — the farther away, the cheaper the housing — and to endure commutes, while shopping in malls along Interstate highways and socializing via online social media. Meanwhile, within the big cities, neighborhoods are reshaping as mini Downtowns, complete with boutiques, nightclubs, leafy restaurants, and young activists, many of them members of education/commerce co-operatives.

In all of these new living arrangements, personal diversity is the norm. Gay, lesbian, transgender people participate as regularly as anyone else; for millennials, personal lifestyle is no more an issue than one’s hair color or choice of beverage.

These changes read like “blue state America,” but they are also occurring in “red’ states. The difference — if it is one — is religion. In most of “blue” America, religion embraces, or tolerates, people’s choices rather than condemn them; the churches of big cities mostly look outward to the whole world as much as, or more than, they look inward into the individual soul. This orientation has big consequences, and a large future. The same, more or less, is true of churches in “blue’ state suburbs. But even if the churches of “red” stares orient opposite, the economies , education, and living arrangements of “red” states are changing in much the same direction as they are in “blue’ states. nd this too has consequences.

One consequence is that the “angry, old, straight white man” who has embodied right wing populism is fading from the scene, like the hippies of 40 years ago. In his place we find nerdy think tankers, big-stomach gun toters, and — ba-da-bing ! — women and people of color. Because, yes, even the South is becoming less nativist, less male dominant, less white.
The Hispanic population of practically every deep Southern state is growing fast. Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, even Alabama will be 20 percent Hispanic soon — or higher than that. Texas will be majority Hispanic by 2030 at the latest. The populations of these states will be younger, too. And more female, because women are the glue that holds immigrant families together.

Thus we arrive at the biggest change of all : America is rapidly moving toward having a majority of its people being of color. This matters in every way, but right now it most matters because the rights of people of color, and of women, have not been achieved as thoroughly as lifestyle civil rights. After all, gay, lesbian, and transgender people are just as likely to be Caucasian as not. Identity civil rights are this mot a matter of skin color or immigrant status.

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the voice & face of change in the Democratic party : Senator Elizabeth Warren

The rights of people of color, and the rights of immigrants, continue to be an issue. But these will be solved by the change in our population. As for the rights of women, these too may well be secured, finally, as women become more powerful politically by way of their primacy in the newly powerful service worker unions. By far the majority of service workers are women; and as service worker women acquire higher pay and greater political power thereby, so will they — as women and as union leaders — secure the personal, body rights that men take for granted.

It was noted that Hobby Lobby, while denying to its women employees health insurance coverage from some contraception, made no such detail for men’s Viagra. In the new era of financially and union empowered women, that kind of discrimination will become unlawful no matter what the excuse.

Our two political parties are only now beginning to adjust to the new America. The Democratic party has adjusted more quickly ; the new unionism unifies Democratic politics in some places, even as the huge change in education is dividing it. The GOP has changed less ; yet even in the GOP, new voices are working out new responses to the change in education, income inequality, and population shifts. The difference is that change in the Democratic party arises from activists and large interest groups, whereas so far in the GOP it is coming mostly from think tanks. Curious, the asymmetry. We live in a democracy, where voters rule. the Democratic party operates on this principle; the GOP doesn’t — yet. My guess is that the GOP will have to change its ways as radically as the nation is changing — will have to start acting like a party of voters, not of researchers; and to trust the voters, not disdain them — or its recipe will fade from the new America.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

SCHOOLS REFORM : THE SENATE KILLS A BAD CHARTER CAP LIFT BILL

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^ State Senator Sonia Chang-diaz : her Senate version of Russell Holmes’ charter cap lift bill was amended with poison pills, and as intended, these killed it.

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Yesterday, the Massachusetts State Senate killed, by a 26 to 13 vote, a charter cap lift bill much changed from the proposal that the House voted for by 113 to 33 a few months ago.

The bill voted down in the senate included, if i am to credit the Globe’s cot Lehigh, who wrote of it, many provisions that made no sense and were rightly voted down. Its transportation formulas, funding compensation,  attrition rules, and equivalents guaranteed that charters enabled under this law would not really be charters at all, or would fail.

Much of the Senate bill’s content was put in because of protests by teachers’ unions and groups allied therewith. My friend ed Lyons has called these provisions “poison pills,” and he’s right. they were meant to kill, and they did.

Undoubtedly, the teachers’ unions will view yesterday’s charter cap lift vote as a victory. It isn’t. Yesterday’s vote will only anger charter school supporters and assure a huge issue for this year’s Governor race — except that almost certainly both candidates will voice strong support for increasing the number of allowed charter schools, this assuring that yesterday’s vote will be a defeat for the teachers’ unions.

Ever since i began my in depth coverage of last year’s Boston Mayor race, it became apparent to me that teachers’ unions were going to take the route, not of spearheading reform, but of intransigence in opposition to the school reforms that almost everybody in Massachusetts wants. This is a shame and quite beside the real point, which is that public schools in low income neighborhoods and most communities of color do not work because of deep-seated racism and class bias. Poor people have almost no political power, even in supposedly progressive Massachusetts; and people of color have not much more. Almost all the problems besetting our public schools arise from this.

The charter school cap lift bill arose from the state’s communities of color, whose district schools are among the worst in our state. We need to assure, probably by legislation,l that public schools are funded equally, regardless of income level of the district or the racial composition of the student body; and we need to assure that schools especially in low income and COC districts are accorded the best, most committed teachers. Today these schools often get the worst. Let me repeat : this is a matter of institutional, cultural racism and class. it can be broken by assuring full hiring autonomy to the superintendent AND to the individual school principal. Raising the charter school cap does nothing to solve this cultural bias; indeed, raising the cap — for “underperforming districts,” mind you — aggravates it, in two ways ; (1) by taking the most ambitious students out of low income or COC public schools and by taking funds away from those schools, thereby assuring they will continue to draw the worst teachers. Of course my solution will probably not work, as the poor have no political clout at all in a Citizens United America, and COC people have not much more. All the clout lies in the upper income suburbs, whose people have zero interest in improving the schools that other kids go to and thereby increasing the competition (with the high income kids) for college admissions and, eventually, good jobs. Heaven forfend that low income or COC kids should actually compete with Johnny from Belmont and Mary of Wellesley !!!
Charter schools — innovation schools generally — should be accorded all respect and opportunity, both as laboratories for reinventing how we educate and as best practices alternatives. I support their existence. But reform of schools — transformation of them, as John Connolly eloquently said — must arise from within the public school environ, not in opposition to it. he Horace Mann idea, that all kids of a community larn together and grow up together,. and thus become a more positively bonded community, is a noble one, a democratic ideal that fulfills our nation’s most basic premise : that all kids matter equally and must be given the same level of primary education.

Innovation education may allow kids to grow their own life missions, diversely and more : but schooling is also about citizenship, and the common school teaches it by demonstration and example and does so better than any alternative method. It must be maintained and cherished. Looking to charter schools as an escape from bad public schools is an act of desperation, not improvement. looking to charters as a way to bust unions is an act of selfishness. And in such a con text, charter schools will look more and more, to teachers’ unions, as a threat rather than a boon. we are traveling the road of education disaster if we do not stop and recalibrate our political GPS.

Yesterday’s Senate vote should be taken as an opportunity to do just that.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

IN MISSISSIPPI, A GAME-CHANGING NOMINATION

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^ nominated to a 7th term, with major black voter support : Mississippi’s Thad Cochran

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Last night, voters in Mississippi made history. By re-nominating Senator Thad Cochran to a seventh term, in the manner and with the voters that they did it, Mississippians who voted in the Republican primary gave their Senator an entirely new coalition as well as the chance for a new term.

In the article linked below, the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza expresses amazement that Cochran was able to bring to his side at lest 10,000 Back voters. Amazing it was; but Cilizza doesn’t mention the bigger point : Cochran now becomes the only GOP senator in the entire nation ti owe his GOP nomination significantly to Black voters. this is as big a deal as it gets.

Link to Chris Cilizza’s Washington Post column here : http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/06/24/how-thad-cochran-won/

For almost 50 years now, and increasingly, the GOP has gotten along without important Black support. T>he party that was of Abe Lincoln, that was the home of civil rights and Black advancement — and remained significantly that right into the Richard Nixon years — has become the party almost entirely of Caucasian voters. Almost no Blacks shape its policies, its platform, its language. Almost no Black voters vote for its candidates. and thus the GOP of the last 50 years has behaved like a man with only one arm, or one leg ; doing only half the job a major political party is supposed to do; and this at a time when the other major political party, the Democrats, became the party of pretty nearly everybody.

The GOP of the last 50 years had no choice but to act by half only. As black voters left it, what remained to the GOP was what the party had to lead. A party has no choice but to begin by voicing what its core voters want. That’s how the ;party’s nominees for office are chosen. Voters who don’t participate in the choosing do nor enter that conversation.

It was that GOP, the GOP laid waste to by Thad Cochran’s victory, in which the Tuesday loser, Chris McDaniel, represented so negatively. He deserved to lose: and with the giant effort made by Cochran’s team, he did lose.

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^ gone for now and probably for a long time ; the politics of White voters only.

In Mississippi now, all of that has changed. How big was Black participation in yesterday;s win by Cochran over his tea Party challenger ? As Cilizza notes, voting in the 24 Mississippi counties whose vote is 50 percent Black or more rose by a full 4o percent; where in the state’;s other counties it rose only by 16 percent. The extra 7500 votes picked up by Cochran from Black Mississippians more than equalled his margin of victory.

Nearly all the Black Mississippians who assured Cochran’s victory are Democrats and will likely remain so. But for Cochran, they now have a stake in his success, and he in their participation. Big results are likely to follow. First, Cochran is likely now to become the first GOP Senator to vote for a new Voting rights act. Second, Cochran is likely to pursue the education funding, job training programs, and housing support that his Black core of supporters want. third, other GOP candidates in Mississippi are likely now to seek out the votes of those who gave Cochran his nomination : if only because if they don’t, their GOP opponents will.

Even bigger consequences may well follow. Black voters in other deeply red states may decide that they, too, need participate in a GOP primary in the states that allow open primary voting). After all, what to do ? Be let out entirely of the decision, or become the big decider ? And thus the national GOP faces huge change : because no group has a greater ability to impact a GOP nomination than Black voters, almost entirely out of the party’s loop for so long.

It was always going to be in the South — the deep South especially — that this revolution had to occur if at all. The GOP has become such a party of the South that whatever changes it there changes its direction generally; and Black voters of the deep South have the greatest numbers to bear upon the GOP. Cochran’s victory may not be replicated in other states; nothing is inevitable in politics. But the potential is there. the GOP stands at the edge of a huge revolution, which, if it happens, will utterly change — and all for the better — the entire nation’s policy future.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

MAGOV14 : DIVISIONS AND UNITIES SHAPING THE OUTCOME

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^ allies even though neither can admit it : the two men who dominate Massachusetts state politics today : Speaker DeLeo and GOP governor candidate Charlie Baker

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No one should have been surprised to see Don Berwick, the most vocally progressive Democratic candidate, win 15 percent of the Democratic convention vote last Saturday. The surprise was that he won much more : a full 22 percent, only one point behind second place finisher Attorney general Martha Coakley, who leads all polls but whom activists remain skeptical of and rightly so).

Berwick now commands a solid position in the Democratic field. Fringe he may once have been seen. No longer. He continues to win power endorsements, adding State Senators Ken Donnelly and Dan Wolf to his list. Wolf would have been a leading candidate himself, had the state’s Ethics Commission not caved his candidacy (as you may recall). His endorsement of Berwick will certainly matter for the Democrats’ September primary.

Berwick is surging because Democrats of an ideological bent want to be heard and felt and listened to. Progressives, as they style themselves, see that the state’s legislative leadership — all of it Democratic — does not share their concerns or support their agenda and that that leadership has the power to snuff progressive voices out. Time and time again i have heard progressive Democrats complain — bitterly — about “the legislative leadership,’ by which, of course, they mean Speaker Robert DeLeo. Berwick is the progressives’ answer to what they see as DeLeo’s shutting them out.

The current Speaker is definitely no progressive. His constituency is business. That and traditional labor, but business first of all. It’s about the money. Business interests have the ear of Speaker DeLeo — a fact he does not try to hide. As such, he is no friend of tax increases; when Governor Patrick last year called for $ 2 billion in new revenue for his Transportation Bill, the DeLeo-led House gave him $ 500 million, and that grudgingly.

That said, DeLeo’s business friendly agenda is no departure at all from the priorities of past speakers who, if anything, have been even more conservative than he.

In a state as Democratic voting as Massachusetts, business interests cannot afford to be exclusively, even primarily, Republican. Business has huge money to spend on lobbying its agendas, and it does so. Almost always, these past 25 years, business lobbying has dominated both the governor and the Speaker — the State’s two most powerful elected offices. In few states, if any, does the partnership between state government and local business go this far this successfully. Significantly that’s because a large portion of the state’s well-paying jobs, in building trades, health care, and education, arise from state government funds and legislation. In Massachusetts, the interests of business coincide with the interests of a great many wage earners and salaried people, and these people dominate the ranks of our state’s political activists. it’s no surprise at all that the current Democratic governor campaign has concentrated on the upper income suburbs of Boston and on the City’s highest income wards.

Unfortunately for Speaker deLeo, the state’s high-income voters (and some of its businesses are not uniformly as tax-skeptical as he is. Our state’s Progressives inhabit primarily the upper income city wards and suburbs. as such, now that they have hit upon the Governor primary as a vehicle to make themselves seriously felt, Democratic progressives have managed, with Don Berwick, to seriously inconvenience the Speaker and his very powerful legislative and lobbying allies. most of these would, I suspect, like to see Steve Grossman the Democratic nominee. They know him and they believe they can bring him to their side. In this they aren’t wrong. Grossman talks “job creator’ talk so aggressively you’d think he was Mitt Romney.

Yet even Grossman now calls himself “the progressive job creator.’ Obviously he sees himself being gouged from the left.

the division between the DeLeo constituency and the Progressives is causing big problems for Martha Cockney. Who, exactly, are her voters ? certainly not the progressives; almost certainly not the DeLeo people. as i see it, her voters are the non-involved, people who know her name and he work as Attorney General and not much else. Will that work in a Primary, in which the involved vote big time, the less involved not so much ? maybe so; because Coakley is the only woman in the race, and she polls very strongly with women voters. But we will see.

Meanwhile, as the Democrats split between progressives and DeLeo-ites, Charlie Baker is presenting a campaign perfectly attuned to alliance with DeLeo on business interests and also with DeLeo on labor issues. it is axiomatic in Massachusetts that only a Republican governor has a power base independent enough to face the Speaker on equal terms. the Progressives tally about 25 to 33 percent of Democrats, maybe 15-20 percent of all voters; much less than Charlie Baker’s 30-32 percent core.) Beyond the axiomatic, however, is baker’s current campaign, in which support for a $ 10.50 minimum age — the nation’s highest — is accompanied by expanding the earned income tax credit and initiating some tax credits to corporations for hiring welfare recipients and offsets to the wage hike. if you read Baker’s plan — see the link below ** — you’ll find it remarkably like what Speaker deLeo wants to enact. What is more, baker is having success bringing city voters to his side, communities of color included and several ethnic communities. He’s doing it in Boston and in Worcester and in Lynn, next door to his home town of Swampscott. Baker’;s Lynn campaign has drawn no media attention at all, but recently he has held several Lynn rallies at which hundreds of folks — mostly communities of color and immigrants — have gathered. Lynn is usually a 7500 vote victory for a democrat. I think Baker will carry Lynn this time. A 7500 vote turn around isn’t that big, but it is significant of Baker’s concentration upon Essex County generally : his home base, and one that he is pushing hard to win, as he probably must.

** Link to Charlie baker’s economic plan : https://charliebaker2014.com/opportunity

Some Democrats want to compare baker’s campaign to that of Scott Brown in 2012. The comparison is false. The Baker campaign is sui generis and quite ground breaking ion its unification of many voter groups who have much in common that has not been attended to by our state;s governor campaigns since at least 1994 if ever. While the Democrats split, the baker campaign unifies. i suspect that Speaker DeLeo is quite happy to see it. Nov ember’s result is beginning to take shape.

—- Mike Freedberg / here and Sphere

CLEMENCY AND PARDONS : RESTORATION AND REUNION

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“Yesterday the Federal justice department announced a plan to canvass the entire federal prison … to find inmates who committed low-level crimes and could be released early.”

So said today’s Boston Globe; the announcement wa also liberally tweeted. We are glad to hear of this. We fully approve.

In 1980 the entire Federal prison population totaled 24,363. Today 216,285 people live in federal prisons. Over 2,2000,000 people live imprisoned in America’s federal, state, and local prisons. It’s by far the highest number of any first-world nation.

People live their whole adult lives in American prisons. Prisoners aged 65, 75, even 85 and 90 years old abound in America’s jails. Hardly any other civilized nation keeps people locked up in old age. we do. Why ?

Aged prisoners are expensive to keep; much of their time is spent in hospitals or being medicated (when they’re not simply left untreated, maybe to die).

Finally, after thirty years of wielding the lock and key, the shackles and cells, our federal government — and a few states — are saying ‘enough.” Prison henceforth is to be strictly for the violent felon. That’s how it should be.

The pardon power and the authority to grant clemency have been central to governance since Roman imperial days and before. They are venerable, not novel. Presidents used to use their clemency and pardon powers liberally ; let punishment of crime use the stick and. in some cases, the carrot. But of late, through rear of what happens when a prisoner granted clemency commits a horrendous new crime — one thinks of Willie Horton in 1987, a murderer who, while on furlough, killed again, heinously — politicians have become unwilling to pardon or be clement. President Obama, accused by opponents of being a radical leftist (which he most definitely is not), has pardoned almost no one. The same is true of our own state’s Governor Deval Patrick.

This was, and is, a huge mistake.

Sentencing itself has been revised in recent years. Gone are the draconian penalties attached to drug dealing; drug use has become almost accepted. States and the federal government have seen that drug crimes are more a matter of taste than criminal minds. In this era of stringent government budgeting, the cost of trying and imprisoning drug offenders looks quite unacceptable.

The pardon and clemency now being planned thus arises from financial rather than moral considerations. This we dislike. Clemency and pardon are moral decisions, a hand of friendship, a restorative by which offender and community are re-united. The financial motive at work today does matter; government has an obligation to spend wisely. but the cost savings in clemency and pardon fall far short of the moral benefit of granting them.

we hope that when the federal pardons and clemency now being assessed are finally on the president’s desk gor signing, he will add to his many signings many words of restoration, re-union, and rightfulness.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

CIVIL RIGHTS : WE CELEBRATE AND COMMIT

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^ basic to what america is all about : President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights act of 1964

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This year America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the signing into law of the Civil Rights act of 1964. This was a landmark piece of legislation, as basic as can be to what citizenship in America means. The import of this law we quote from Wikipedia :

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88–352, 78 Stat. 241, enacted July 2, 1964) is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation in the United States that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public (known as “public accommodations”).

“Powers given to enforce the act were initially weak, but were supplemented during later years. Congress asserted its authority to legislate under several different parts of the United States Constitution, principally its power to regulate interstate commerce under Article One (section 8), its duty to guarantee all citizens equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment and its duty to protect voting rights under the Fifteenth Amendment. The Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964 at the White House.”

The law had opponents then — chiefest of whom was that year’s Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater, whose opposition has cursed the Republican party ever since — and it has opponents now. We reject such opposition root and branch. It is un-Constitutional in the exact sense of the word.

Opposition to the Civil Rights act of 1964 — and to the Civil Rights and Voting rights acts that soon followed — arises from anarchy, from selfishness, from refusal, basically, to be a citizen. The welfare of all is why our predecessors created the Constitution : Its provisions are to be the supreme law of the land, and its protections, as a result of the 14th Amendment, are guaranteed to every person living in every state. The power to enforce those Constitutional guarantees is also granted –and must be. No one living in America can be allowed to deny or compromise the basic civil rights of any other person living here. Those who oppose this oppose the Constitution itself.

No one living in America more loudly talks about supporting the Constitution than those who in fact oppose it — its purposes, its effect, its provisions. These people are deluded at best, liars at worst.

False or misled may they be, their persistence, since the days of slavery, made it necessary to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Acts 90 years after the equally commanding Civil Rights acts of the 1870s were adopted, only to be explained away by Supreme Court decisions that could not accept that Civil rights meant Civil Rights.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court of the 1965-1975 period agreed that Civil rights means Civil rights, nothing less, nothing explained away.

The opponents of Civil rights have never given up. They know that if the Federal government is allowed to guarantee basic rights to everyone, it can guarantee other incidents of equality; and nothing means more to the opponents of civil rights than that people should not be equal; should, indeed, be as unequal as luck, money, and ingenuity can make them.

Opponents of Civil rights laws have, recently, been offered a new battlefield to fight on: civil rights for people of differing sexual orientation or identity. It has pleased the opponents of Constitutional guarantees no end to find that this new ground for objecting to equality actually has supporters, sufficient vin number to have set back the Constitution’s guarantee by a decade and more. Indeed, the new opposition continues to set back constitutional guarantees in over half the states.

This effort will fail. It is failing even as I write. In state after state, Federal courts are overturning laws that violate the civil rights of people whose sexual orientation or identity are objected to by those who cannot bear the thought that all people — yes, all — are equally protected by the Constitution.

But even as, state ay state, the guarantees fundamental to America are enforced and obstacles to them wept aside, let us never forget that those who cannot stand the idea of equality remain enemies to it and will never, ever give up trying to render equality an evil.

The equality of all souls is the most radical social principle ever advanced. But it is ours, as Americans — people of the most radical experiment in social justice ever attempted in human history.

We either enforce civil rights for all vigorously, always, or we fail all of us. From time to time we may relax; or we may declare the fight for civil rights won. But eventually we will return to the fight, as did our grandfathers in 1964, as did their grandfathers of 1870-75, because the fight for equality is never absolutely won .

This is our society’s core mission, and we are proud to accomplish it, no matter how often it need be done.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

BOSTON SCHOOLS : $ 975 MILLION FY 2015 BUDGET APPROVED

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^ bringing Boston Schools quietly but hugely onto a change path : Superintendent John McDonough

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The Boston School Department’s new fiscal year budget was approved last night — unanimously. Superintendent John McDonough now has $ 975,000,000 to allocate — a four percent increase from last year, thanks, as McDonough said at the meeting, to Mayor Walsh’s “generosity” — to the education of some 57,000 children.

You might suppose that a unanimous budget approval would have been quick and easy. It wasn’t. The vote came only after three and a half hours of what Committee Chairman O’Neill called “public comment.” Almost all of this commentary was testified by more or less the same advocacy groups — Boston Truth, Citizens for Public Schools — that have been fighting the entirety of school reforms that Massachusetts has instituted since the Bill Weld years. Charter schools, MCAS, “testing fatigue,” even the race card : all were adduced by a good 30 or so teachers, parents, and advocates seeking — “begging,” aid one witness — full funding for a school system that is making what McDonough called “difficult trade offs.”

The Committee listened respectfully to every witness, many of them reading from prepared statements; a few read the same statement from the same yellow-green sheet of paper. For several months now, I have been listening to these citizens saying pretty much the same thing at rally after rally; I suspect the School Committee has heard it far more than that. Yet the seven committee members were more than ready to accord each witness full graciousness, despite the chants and shouts of a protest going on outside the hearing room, a protest loud enough that it was often hard to hear the speakers.

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^ the unease was momentary : Chairman Michael O’Neill

I doubt that the protest made a favorable impression upon the Committee members. Chairman O’Neill showed his unease. But John McDonough didn’t move an eyelash. Boston Teachers Union president Richard Stutman at in the second row of the audience, a grin upon his face…

There was other testimony, including from Councillor Tito Jackson, who opposed the Department;s plan to use the T for transporting students. But the Principal of the Jackson-Mann school in Allston approved the plan, even as he noted how strange it felt that one of his teacher staff was in the room testifying against it.

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Parents, two officers of the NAACP, and two school bus drivers testified against McDonough’s T Plan, which envisions 7th and 8th grade students and contemplates 6th graders too. The most convincing witnesses cited safety concerns — convincing because the T isn’t safe in many Boston neighborhoods.

Only because McDonough’s staff researchers presented the Plan’s basis as thoroughly as possible were the Committee’s many questions answered. A compromise was added by Chairman O’Neill ; that the Plan be subject to a safety review to be presented to the Committee in 60 days.

Thus amended, the plan was adopted unanimously.

Many in the audience did not like it one bit.

It soon became apparent that that vote was the big one. The room fell quiet, and there was actually much less to-do on the Budget Vote itself. Committee members made brief comments and then came the unanimous vote.

After which John McDonough summed up the night’s doings. In his voice so quiet, almost without affect, as if there were no passions involved, just dry statistics, he spoke huge policy momentum in a few eloquent sentences:

“For months we have heard from you,” he said. “At hearings we have heard parents’ concerns. You get it. I applaud the involvement of so many passionate parents and teachers.

“This isn’t about charter schools or standard schools. it’s about making all schools better.

Am I happy with this budget ? No, i am not. I wish i could present a different budget. in the end, there is only so much revenue. Trade-offs have to be made. We have to close the achievement gap.

McDonough concluded : “This is NOT a budget cut ! Thanks to the generosity of Mayor Walsh, we have a four percent increase, whole other city departments are getting only one percent.”

Neither McDonough nor anyone else in the room mentioned that almost all of that four percent is slated to pay teachers’ pay raises negotiated in the last union bargain. Obviously not everyone drawing upon the $ 975 million budget is begging.

McDonough is determined to make big changes . I suspect that the teachers union contract is high on the list of changes he seeks. He seems to have the full confidence of the School Committee to do that and more. It will not be simple or quick. It can’t be. Listed prominently in McDonough’s Memorandum — handed out to all at the hearing — is this “priority” item :

“extending hiring autonomy to all schools to hire qualified, diverse candidates early, with $ 6.1 million supporting the success of our early hiring initiative and an additional $ 400,000 to support hiring diversity.”

Even Richard Stutman can’t stop this. it’s in the current teacher contract. Boston is also under court order to increase the diversity of its schools staff.

Yet Stutman has his troops, and they are getting the bulk of the budget’s additional $ 37 million. even as support staff positions are being cut in some schools.

This must change, but even larger changes are coming. Testing will increase; school competition too. Employers insist. So does an overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters and probably a big majority of Boston voters too.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATED 03/27/14 at 3.3 PM

SCHOOLS REFORM : THE “ACT TO FURTHER NARROW THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP” — WHAT WE LIKE AND WHAT WE DON’T

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^ stalling the huge reform, maybe for good reason — one hopes ; St Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz

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Much energy from the usual suspects in schools reform matters has decried the exquisitely named “Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap” that now sits “stalled” in the legislature’s Education Committee. To find out why, and to assess the opponents’ arguments, one need first to actually read the proposed bill.

Please do so before going on to read my words. Here’s the link : http://www.bostonfoundation.org/uploadedFiles/Sub_Site/web_specials/Race_to_the_Top/An%20Act%20to%20Further%20Close%20the%20Achievement%20Gap%20(1.17.2013).pdf

You will have noted that the proposed new school law is twelve (12) pages long and has twelve (12) sections. Each has its points; some merit more discussion than others. As for the Bill in its entirety, you will have noted its language to be procedural. This is a law for administrators; not a law for teachers.

Were it a law for teachers, it would give some guideline, at least, for what teachers are to teach, and how, and in what spirit. This, the law does not do. It’s a law for superintendents, evaluators, testers, commissioners of education. All of which limits the law’s reform reach and thus details the devils.

The more a law clings to details, the more opposition it will draw. Each detail of an administrative directive inconveniences those who administer. From mastery of the process, they return to being beginners, having to re-learn all over again what it is they are supposed to do. Of course they don’t like it.

It would have been far wiser for the reform bill to set general goals and empower generally. Then the persons affected could work out for themselves how to devil the details; and all such work-out discussions would have given the affected persons personal input into making it work. This new law denies them that. It’s a directive — a tsarist ukase. Little wonder that the established interests are complaining and that key staff are opposing.

That said, the law commits to some very useful tasks :

It grants a superintendent strong power to make the administrative, staffing, and curriculum changes that he or she sees fit, the objective being to improve the performance of so-called “underperforming schools.”

It allows for additional charter schools, above the 140 charters already allowed by MGL c. 71 : but, unwisely, only in districts that fall within under-performance results specified in section 4 of the bill.

It identifies what school performance falls short of stated standards and thereby gives the superintendent a flash point at which to intervene comprehensively.

Let me note right away that everything the reform bill grants to superintendents, John McDonough is already doing as interim superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. This part of the reform law would be difficult for even the most change-averse teachers union to object to.

Much more controversial is Section 4’s creation of an under-performing school district exception to the 140 charter school limit in the current MGL cl. 71, section 89. In the context of the law’s drastic superintendent takeover of under-performing schools, this charter school exception feels like punishment : not only are the personnel of an underperforming school district to face an entire, superintendent make-over of everything they do, including keeping their jobs, but, with the charter school creation possibility, they are put in the position of losing students notwithstanding how they might improve performance under direct superintendent management.

It would be far wiser for the proposed school law to choose one or the other — superintendent takeover, or charter school creation — but not both. Superintendent takeover threatens the jobs of poor teachers; charter school establishment threatens all the affected District’s teachers.

The consequences of this provision in the proposed law leads it almost inevitably to its most objectionable provision : Section 2(g), in which superintendents are given the power, when confronting an under-performing school or district, to alter the compensation, hours, and working conditions of school staff. I don’t think it wise to threaten the pay of the very people whose enthusiastic support the law needs if it’s to work. as for hours of work, everybody agrees the school day should be extended; but i there any reasonable objection to the teachers’ insistence that they be paid for working longer hours ? I think not.

I’m also not a fan of that provision in Section 9 which, in case the Commonwealth is approaching its “net spending cap,” gives preference to charter school providers who operate in more than one municipality. Why so ? No charter school should be like a bank’s branch office, understaffed maybe and offering fewer services. I trust the proposers will explain ?

To sum up : the reform bill contains many valuable provisions, assuming that a bill almost purely administrative is advisable, and that micro-managing the administrative requirements is realistic. The charter school exception, however desirable, makes its entrance on the wrong foot and in the wrong way. it should be the subject of separate legislation and should NOT be tied to under-performance issues and administration. Heck ; if charter schools are good — and I strongly support them — why should only children in under-performing districts have extra access to them ? Has no one learned anything from the Special education experience ? parents, seeing that special need children could claim an individualized curriculum, did everything in their power to get their children designated as special needs so that they too could get an individualized curriculum plan. I can easily see, under this proposed law, parents seeking to have their kids’ school designated as under-performing so that their kids would have a better chance of winning a charter school placement lottery.

This is what happen when you try, by laws, to do too much. You end up with laws that work opposite to the intention, or which can’t get enacted at all because they coalesce many kinds of opposition.

Pare down the bill, make it less administrative, put its page after page of do-this detail — especially the per pupil tuition reimbursement formula ; my goodness me ! — into a regulation, and give the statute some room to flex and develop. Then offer it for enactment. Until then, I think not.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

5TH SUFFOLK DISTRICT : THE RACE BEGINS ON AN AMBUSH MOMENT

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^ “Henriquez intends to run in September” : State Rep Russell Holmes tells his ward 14 caucus

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There we all were, yesterday, at the Ward 14 Democratic caucus, at the Joseph Lee School on Talbot Avenue, two 5th Suffolk Special Election candidates among us, Jen Johnson and Barry Lawton, because one large precinct of ward 14 is in the District. Having listened to bushels of candidates plunk for votes; we were all about to call it a day, have cookies and a drink and socialize; when, completely unannounced, the caucus chair, State Representative Russell Holmes, decided to change the subject completely.

“We in the House had other options than to expel Carlos Henriquez,” he said — not that anyone in the room had asked him about that event, which took place almost a month prior; “I felt that censure was the right option.

And then came the ambush.

“When he ran in 2012 after the indictment, he had opponents in the primary. One got 40 votes, the other got 60. In the final, his opponent got 2000 votes, Carlos got 9000.” He continued : “I spoke to Carlos last week, he can’t run now, but he intends to run in September.”

So much for the candidates standing there, guests, in Holmes’s caucus. And for the voters of the 5th Suffolk who are now being aked to choose a successor to the disgraced Henriquez.

Why Holmes, who represents the 6th Suffolk District, bordering the 5th Suffolk on its west, chose to belittle both the Special Election and the candidates running it, I will not guess. He didn’t give any motive. Is it in any way his affair whom the voters of a District not his choose to be their State house voice ? Granted that Holmes has a right to an opinion and to express it; still, there are ways to do that and ways not to do it. If either Jen Johnson or Barry Lawton, present at the caucus, win the District’s vote on April 29th, Holmes will have some fences to mend. He’ll have fences to mend as well if the seat is won by Evandro Carvalho or Karen Charles-Peterson, the other two candidates. It won’t be easy to mend those fences if Holmes remains committed to seeing them defeated by Henriquez in the September Primary.

But the human soul works in ways beyond any man’s control; by what he said, Holmes has now given voters of the 5th District a fighting reason to come out in big numbers to choose their own voice, not Holmes’s; and to send Henriquez a message too, that his time has passed, September or no September.

My reporting of the 5th Suffolk District’s special election will continue, and it will expand. Several District events portend; I will attend many and hope there to converse with Charles-Petersen and Carvalho.

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^ citizen reformer : Jen Johnson at the Ward 14 caucus

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^ eloquence and State House “cred” : Barry Lawton addressing the ward 14 caucus

For now, I’ll just add two observations, from conversing with candidates Johnson and Lawton yesterday: Lawton is an eloquent speaker with an impressive State House, staff resume. He knows the turf and would be able to give his extremely diverse, mostly low-income voters some serious clout. Jen Johnson is a soft-spoken, citizen reformer — “environmental activist,” she described herself speaking to the caucus-goers — with an engaging personality and much idealism of a kind usuallly found in upper-income suburbs, not low-income urban districts. As easily as Lawton would meld with the House’s leadership, Johnson seems likely to join the House’s Progressive caucus. I like both her and Lawton a lot. (Disclosure : I know Johnson, having met her last year at a house-party for then Mayor candidate Felix G. Arroyo.)

As for the Henriquez matter : Holmes having brought it up, my own state Rep, John Keenan of Salem, told me, when I asked him, that the house felt that it had to make a sitting member’s domestic violence conviction — leading to a jail sentence — an expulsion offense; that the credibility of the body, with women voters, was at stake. We take domestioc violence crimes very, very seriously, he said.

The vote was 146 to 5. Not exactly a close call.

Was the vote a race thing, as some Henriquez supporters have asserted ? You can’t prove that by the House vote. Not one Hispanic House member voted “No.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

5TH SUFFOLK SPECIAL ELECTION : IT’S UPHAMS CORNER TIME

Image ^ the heart and soul of the 5th Suffolk District : Uphams Corner, where Dudley and Stoughton Streets meet Columbia Road  —- —- —-

It’s sad that the 5th Suffolk State Representative District should draw attention only because of the ouster of Carlos Henriquez. Uphams Corner, Bowdoin-Geneva, Meeting House Hill, Cherry Valley, Jones Hill, and Stanwood Street-Lawrence Avenue need a strong voice, an elite voice; none needs disgrace and expulsion. Million dollar homes do exist in the “5th,” on Jones Hill in particular; but most of the District’s neighborhoods are only now emerging — some not yet — from decades of blight, poverty, and urban violence. The 13th District, which borders the 5th to the East, is about to elect a new Representative who from Day one will have big clout on Beacon Hill. The 2nd District, Charlestown and Chelsea, seems ready to do the same.

Will voters of the 5th follow suit ? Will they even have the opportunity ? So far four candidates have made the decision. Evandro C. Carvalho, a local activist — we used to call them “citizen” — moved first. Then Jenny Johnson, who lives hard by Ronan Park on Meeting House Hill. Karen Charles-Peterson, of WGBH, has joined them. Today, even as I write, Barry Lawton has entered the list. (Lawton ran in 2010, losing to Carlos Henriquez.) Of the four, only Charles-Peterson was already known to me (and I knew her before I joined WGBH’s correspondent team). Even she is known chiefly to citizens; the general voting public, not so much.

Three of the four reside in Ward 15. John Barros, who ran for Mayor and wowed many with his articulation and knowledge, lives in the Uphams Corner heart of the District. He would have been exactly the All-Star voice the District’s all too overlooked voters need; but no sooner had his possible candidacy become general talk than Mayor Walsh claimed him to be Boston’s Chief of economic Development. As such, Barros will earn more than twice as much as a State Representative; and Barros may well need the money. Same could be said for just about every voter of the 5th District. Image ^ first in, and maybe the man : Evandro C. Carvalho

Image distinguished and active : Karen Charles-Peterson

1 Barry Lawton

^ almost won  the Democratic Primary 4 years ago : Barry Lawton is running again

Somehow the current 5th District contenders fall short of what this District needs. I may be wrong to think so; not one have I met in person as of yet. All may well merit prominence, respect, votes. But this District needs more than supposition.

Charles-Peterson, by her connection to WGBH, and married to Kevin Peterson, one of Boston’s most visible leaders on civil rights and Black community issues, might claim the “more” that the 5th needs. But for me, the heart and soul of the 5th is Uphams Corner, whence, decades ago, then state Representative Jim Hart oversaw recovery of the Strand theater — once vacant and derelict — and the creation of Jones Hill, as a neighborhood and a community. (Disclosure : I worked in Hart’s Columbia Road office as a go-fer.) Not since Hart has Uphams Corner been home to an elected State House voice. It needs be again. Uphams Corner is the crossroads of Cape Verdean Dorchester, old Irish Dorchester, Black community Dorchester. Uphams Corner is home to banks, insurance offices, funeral homes, restaurants, traffic. (My goodness yes, traffic.) To each side of Uphams Corner sit gorgeous Victorian homes — take a look at Chamblet Street some day, upper Hartford Street, or Virginia Street, Wendover Street, Cushing Avenue.) The people who own these homes toady are not poor or unmortgage-able, as all area home-owners were, back in the day. The people of Uphams Corner can fund much innovation and many centers of activity. At the Bird Street Community Center they already do.

1 Strand Theater No Uphams Corner person has yet stepped up, and, chatting with my old Jim Hart office mate Linda Webster (who now runs Pacific insurance), she could think of no local thinking of the race. I hope she’s wrong. Really, really I am hoping to see an Uphams Corner candidate step forward and claim the 5th Suffolk District with a new Boston vision of diversity, innovation, reform, and attention — of the right kind. Let the light of tomorrow shine — now !

 

UPDATE 02.19.14 8 PM : at an important community meeting, at the Strand theater jn Uphams Corner, not one of the four announced candidates in the upcoming Special election appeared. Not one.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere Image