THE REFUGEE CHILDREN : AROUSING MASSACHUSETTS’S DARK STRAIN OF UGLY NATIVISM

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^ 1,000 refugee children : a threat to white picket fence, suburban fantasies ?

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By the narrowest of margins, according to Boston Globe’s poll of opinion on the refugee children coming to Massachusetts, our State passes the moral test.

It appears that a bare 50 % of voters support Governor Patrick’s plan to shelter 1000 refugee children temporarily, with 43% opposed. The poll also finds that only 52 % of Massachusetts voters favor a path to citizenship for immigrants here undocumented.

Not surprisingly, the poll finds that 79 % of Republicans oppose Massachusetts housing the children. More surprising is that only 69% of Democrats favor the children. Independents are evenly split; younger voters more inclined to favor the children than older.

You should read the entire Globe article : http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/07/22/voters-wary-immigration-split-patrick-plan/215sbf5pmQCVkgdzoxUVoI/story.html

Some observers want to say that the poll’s findings contradict Massachusetts’ reputation for progressive views. I disagree with this. On immigrant matters, Massachusetts voters have always exhibited a nativist, even violently bigoted, strain, beginning with opposition to Irish Catholic immigration in the 1830s-1840s and continuing with opposition to Italian and Jewish immigration in the period 1900-1919. Who can ignore the burning, in Charlestown, of a Catholic convent, in the late 1830s, by Protestant nativists ? Or the rise of the anti-Catholic “know nothing” party in the 1850s ? Or the Sacco-Vanzetti case that roiled Massachusetts for seven years beginning in 1920 ?

Allied to our nativist strain has been, at times, an equally fierce slice of out and out racism. Who can forget the school busing crisis that beset Boston in the 1970s and poisoned the city for almost twenty years ? Or that the suburbs, asked to share the desegregation burden — and it was a big one — refused to do so ?

Housing segregation has also been — continues at times to be — a dark presence in our state. Though our cities are strongholds of amazing diversity of peoples, the suburbs almost entirely lack the presence of people of color and of diverse origins. Much suburban policy is directed to keeping diverse peoples out. It is there that one finds movements to repeal the MGL c. 40B housing law. Suburban gate-keeping is why the Blue line has never been extended, as it should be, to the North Shore; why the Orange Line has never has made it past Forest Hills — to West Roxbury and Needham, as has been proposed in times past; and why communities constantly fight — by means fair and foul — the construction of affordable housing.

The same division also affects lifestyle civil rights for people living in Massachusetts. Though our cities have fully embraced and mainstreamed LGBT people, most of our suburbs have not. It’s one reason why Massachusetts still hasn’t enacted full civil rights protections for transgender people despite 17 other states having done so. Progressive we are, on economic issues; on diversity issues, we barely pass the moral test.

A Republican candidate for statewide office — his name John Miller — issued a statement yesterday in which he made plain that to him, the refugee children are first of all a public health crisis and a budget burden. Not a word about their humanity ! It made me angry to read his statement. It makes me angrier still to know that an actual candidate said it.

Guess what, Mr. Miller ? The refugee children are not coming to your picket fence Ozzie and Harriet-ville. They are coming, almost all, to our cities — our overcrowded, triple-decker, public school, dance culture, pig-roasting, ghetto-fab — cities, as their predecessors always have.

Myself, I welcome the children. I wish all 57,000 would come here and impart their enthusiasm and diversity to cities already enriched by thousands of Viet Namese refugees, Haitians, Cape Verdeans, Somalis, Trinidadians, Iranians, Albanians,Koreans, Syrians, Iraqis, Bosnians, Irish. Ride the bus into Boston, and you will see them — taking always the hard road, because we deny them drivers’ licenses, to hard and thankless jobs. Ride the “T” and you will see them again. They keep our society going. They are our drive train, the diesel for our engines, the stokers in the stokeholds. I take my hat off to them and wish their children a rapid rise to the top of a nation that should be grateful for their coming here and thankful as hell if they choose to stay here and make us a better and more imaginative society.

I only wish that those who do not, like me, live in our cities, could see what I see, feel what I feel. Maybe someday.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

OF BUFFER ZONES AND IMMIGRANT KIDS

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^ the reality of no buffer zones ; perfect strangers getting in the face of women seeking pregnancy counseling

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Much there is in today’s news here in Massachusetts about immigrant children being sent here for ICE detention and of the legislature’s crafting a law to replace the recently struck down Buffer Zone Law.

Both situations present Massachusetts people with basic questions about what kind of a society we are. Being a “values state,” we are well situated to make the right decision. Below, I will write what I think we should do. First, however, a few words about today’s Boston Herald, which screams loud headlines about the busloads of immigrant children being sent to detention at county lock-ups in our state : the gist of Herald immigrant headlines is that “we don;t want these dirty foreigners bringing their diseases into our society.” Yes, to the Hera;ld, immigrants are pests, locusts of a plague, so to speak. And there are voters out there who think the same, or worse, of immigrants driven to refuge with us.

When you actually look past the “plague of locusts” headlines in the Herald, however, what you read is much ado about nothing. The Governor says that it’s an ICE contract with local sheriffs — he’s not involved. The sheriffs want the Feds to pay for the kids they must house. Steve Grossman attacks Charlie Baker for not voicing our state’s concerns in Washington. Charlie Baker berates the Governor for not doing so. Martha Coakley says she isn’t sure of what the ICE is up to.

Yawn…

Meanwhile, the kids await closure. Will they be welcomed into our society to grow up safely and, maybe, prosperously ? Or be sent back to parents who sent them here for safety ?

I see no good resolution to these questions. I see failure on our society’s part, and it hurts me.

Meanwhile, the legislature is hurrying to enact a new abortion clinic law that will provide women seeking pregnancy counseling space within which no stranger can assault, harass, intimidate, or imcede their access. The proposal includes a moving 25-foot protection zone and specified hours during which protesters can protest. The bill also enacts quite severe criminal liability for those who assault, harass, or intimidate women coming to pregnancy clinics.

Will this new proposal succeed where our 35-foot Buffer Zone Law did not ? I think the criminal liability sanctions will be approved, because no free speech rights give speakers any right to assault, harass, or intimidate anyone. The moving 25-foot zone, and the restriction of what times of day protests can take place, may not survive, however. If panhandlers can get in one’s face by way of the First Amendment,and if Jehovah witnesses can ring my doorbell every morning to find out if I know the Bible, why can’t abortion protesters ? I really think there’s no good answer to the intimidation of women seeking abortion counseling than a large police presence at clinics, all day long, to keep the peace. At great expense to taxpayers.

I hope that I am wrong.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

#MAGOV14 CHARLIE BAKER STUMBLES. RECOVERS — AND POLLS WELL

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^ Baker stumbles, recovers, and polls well ; Martha Coakley pounces — but mishandles even that.

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Charlie Baker, GOP candidate for Governor, got a huge present yesterday : a new Boston Globe poll according hm his best numbers yet. In a matchup with likely Democratic nominee Martha Coakley he now gets 35 to her 40, with a full one-quarter of voters still undecided or supporting one of the non-party candidates.

This was good news indeed — and there was more: I’ll discuss it below — especially after days in which Baker, running as the accomplished manager of state government, stumbled in his management of himself.

On Wednesday he told the Boston Globe that “Hobby Lobby doesn’t change a thing in Massachusetts, because our own health care law accords women all their health care needs.”

Immediately all three Democratic candidates charged Baker with going South on women’s health care — Coakley, in her typical classless fashion, used Baker’s remarks to fuel a fundraising letter.

Actually, all three Democrats didn’t know the whole story. On Wednesday night Baker’s wife Lauren and his running mate, Karyn Polito, were on stage at NARAL’s “Supreme rally.” Both gave me — I was there as a WGBH journalist — statements in which they made very clear their outrage about both the Hobby Lobby and Buffer Zone Law rulings. I thus knew that the statement that Baker gave to the Globe could not be the entire picture.

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^ GOP Lieutenant Governor candidate Karyn Polito at Supreme rally : she gave me this statement : “I have always supported women’s rights to access health care and am here to protest the Supreme Court rulings !”

Next day, in fact, Baker reversed his remarks. He agreed that there might be some corporations in Massachusetts that would qualify under the Hobby Lobby ruling (in which the Court gave closely-held corporations an exemption from the ACA’s requirements on Freedom of Religion Act grounds)  for an exemption from providing women employees full access to contraceptive health care. “If that happens,” Baker said, “my administration will provide these women contraceptive health care through public funding.” Baker also encouraged Governor Patrick and legislators to devise a new abortion clinic “protection zone” in light of the Buffer zone law being struck down.

All good; and, in fact, the misspeak gave Baker a chance, in the full glare of news, to make clear his uncompromising support for women’s full access to health care, including pregnancy care.

That part of the flap will end; and it’s likely that Baker will now have many media opportunities to repeat his strong support for women’s health care. But he did stumble; and as the “competent manager’ candidate, Baker should not be stumbling how he manages his own statements. It better not happen again. Baker needs to be sure of himself, to speak his true mind and not to try to hedge — which is what I think he was attempting. Vital issues like women’s health care cannot be compromised away or smoothed; a Massachusetts governor has to be vocal, strong, morally sure of the right thing — as was Mayor Marty Walsh in his speech at the Supreme rally. Baker would do well to study vidclips of that speech and to adopt Walsh’s indignant moral certainty about the rights of women and of all. it’s what we expect, — and always have expected — here in Massachusetts, of our political leaders.

And now to the Boston Globe poll. If its findings are accurate, Baker stands in a very good position to be our next governor :

His favorable-unfavorable rating is 47 favorable, only 18 unfavorable. Yes, 20 percent of voters still don’t recognize his name. that needs be worked on.

Coakley’s numbers ? Not quite as good as Charlie’s. 54 favorable;le, 36 unfavorable. But only 6 percent of voters don’t recognize her.

Coakley’s the dominant Democrat.  Steve Grossman’s numbers are 32 percent favorable, 13 unfavorable, 55 percent unsure or don’t know him. Don Berwick, for all the news noise he has made, barely registers with voters : 10 percent favorable, 4 percent unfavorable, a full 86 percent unsure or don’t know him. Two months from primary day, Martha Coakley absolutely commands : 53 percent to Grossman’s 17 and Berwick’s 5.

The poll also shows that Massachusetts voters feel optimistic about our state’s economy and lifestyle. Asked to agree or disagree with the statement “living in Massachusetts is very expensive but worth it,”  a full 65 percent say it’s worth it, only 30 percent say it isn’t worth it.

Those who oppose casinos will also have to accept that their view is, thankfully, a minority position. 51 of voters say “keep the casino law in place”; 41 percent say repeal it.

Charlie Baker in this poll looks well positioned, despite all — despite the national GOP’s depressing negativity–  to be our next Governor : IF he can win a majority of the 20 percent still undecided. He will find himself leading voters who are glad to live in Massachusetts, even at great expense; who feel confident about the future; who care a lot about women’s health care rights, and who want an open, tolerant, liberal society — and will have it, well managed from the State House, assuming the manager candidate doesn’t fumble his advantage away.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

#MAGOV : THE DCF NEGLECT SCANDAL BECOMES A HUGE ISSUE

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^ answering questions from legislators justifiably angry : DCF Commissioner Olga Roche

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The unfortunate and wholly inexcusable matter of 5-year old Jeremiah Oliver — a Fitchburg child under Department of Families and Children monitoring, whose disappearance was not known by the department for months because of missed visits — has now made the DCF a major issue in this year’s Governor campaign. In which case his plight — no good outcome is expected — will have at least some good consequences.

Right now, however, the DCF and its Commissioner, Olga Roche, are on the very hot seat of inflamed public scruitiny. How could this have happened ? The very first sentence at the DCF’s website says “The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the Massachusetts state agency charged with the responsibility of protecting children from child abuse and neglect.” How can an agency  set up to prevent neglect do neglect ?

But it did. as we all now know, the social worker whose caseload included Jeremiah Oliver missed several obligatory house visits. She also noted the fact in the ccase record. Her supervisors knew, or were charged with knowing, that Jeremiah Oliver was not receiving the monitoring that DCF must give to children in its work-load.

Of course for Massachusetts people with long memory, case neglect practically defines the agency. We used to joke about news stories so cliched — “dog bites man” stories — they made you laugh. Well, “Children under DCF care abused in home, parents arrested” was such a story. It happened all the time. The DCF has probably undergone more system reviews and policy changes than the entire rest of state government combined; yet here we are, once again, faced with the trope headline : “DCF worker missed visits, child is missing.”

So yes, DCF failure is a big issue in the Governor race. It should be. Other state departments have come under criticism, for good reason, in the past two years. Who can forget the Department of Public Safety hiring, as a Road safety supervisor, a political appointee with an egregiously bad driving record including a DUI ? The Department of Public welfare was also found lax in overseeing the state’s EBT program — not that EBT fraud was widespread (the fraud rate was quite minor, in fact) but that the Department’s procedures for monitoring EBT cards was lax enough to enable fraud to occur. Of course the patronage hire was something that occurs in every administration. People aren’t perfect. Even elected officials aren’t flawless. As for the EBT procedures situation, agency regulations aren’t perfect either and require adjustment to actual practice. Which takes time. But the events at DCF occurred in an administration already shown to be not running smoothly. This time, big change is needed. Kids’ well-being is at stake.

The DCF is set up pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws c. 119, the language of which you can read in this link : https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXVII/Chapter119 . It is helpful to read the mission assigned. The DCF also has its own regulations and procedures, a link to which you can follow here : http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/laws-regs/dcf/regulations-and-policies.html . All the major candidates for Governor are likely now reading these links and devising their response to the Jeremiah Oliver neglect event from what the law and regulations state. Yet these are not the entire story. What did not happen in the DCF Fitchburg office is not merely a matter of egregious failure. it’s also a budget matter. As a recent story in the Boson Globe wrote, “As the department’s lapses have come under scrutiny, its budget has become a focal point. In the five years prior to Jeremiah’s disappearance, the department sustained deep cuts. This week, Governor Deval Patrick proposed restoring some of that funding, but even his proposal would leave the agency with less than it had in 2008, child advocates said.”

So it’s a budget matter ! Imagine that. Who’d have guessed ?

In the Globe story we learn that the DCF’s social worker caseloads have increased from 15 to an average of 19 — this despite a contract — DCF’s social workers are represented by the SEIU — limiting caseloads to 15 per worker. With larger caseloads come increased monitoring, but the money hasn’t been there to budget it. The truth is that we cannot have effective state government if we do not pay for it. State work isn’t charity. State workers aren’t volunteers. Even the DCF workers who neglected Jeremiah Oliver — and were fired for neglecting him — can’t readily work an increased case load without added compensation. Nor should they be asked to do so. The answer is to hire additional case workers, so that none has to work 15 cases at a time, but of course without budget funds the DCF can’t hire the added workers.

The State budget is failing on many fronts. Look at how difficult it was for Massachusetts to enact an $ 800 million transportation bill that included tax increases — being fought now by referendum — without which our public transit and roads can barely be repaired, much less upgraded. Large increases will be needed if our state is to meet its educational reform goals, revise the justice and sentencing system, enable undocumented immigrants, provide for a homeless population that has more than doubled since 2008, add funds to EBT because more families now need it, and, yes, give the DCF what it needs for its increased caseloads.

Is it too rhetorical for me to say that the real neglect story here isn’t the DCF — though neglect at the DCF there surely was and is — but state Government itself ? Our State right now is a neglect adventure. We have given the State several vital communal missions but not the funds to carry them out. The neglect lies with us.

It will be interesting to see what answers Steve Grossman, Charlie baker, Juliette Kayyem, Martha Coakley, and Don Berwick have for the neglect in us. With Democratic caucuses beginning as early as next week — and on the Republican side already under way — we will soon be hearing. I hope.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE Jan 27 2014 at 9.45 AM : The Boston Globe reports that Governor Patrick will make a pubic address today on the “systemic” failure of DCF workers to do all of their mandated monthly visits to children in their caseloads. He will, I suppose, also address that these expanded caseloads violate the Social Worker contract; and will also likely mention that his FY 2015 state budget adds $ 9 million for the hiring of additional social workers. — MF

BOSTON MAYOR RACE : THE SCHOOLS ISSUE GETS DIVISIVE

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^ John Connolly : SFCs $ 500,000 guy

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The cat is out of the bag now. Big-time.

About a week ago we mused, on our Facebook page, that there would soon be huge money entering the Mayor election on behalf of a “major” candidate. As Marty Walsh had already said, “and it won’t be for me,” we concluded that the money at issue would go to John Connolly.

Today’s Boston Globe confirms it. Stand for Children (SFC), a non-profit, school reform advocacy group based in Oregon, will spend at least $ 500,000 to promote John Connolly’s candidacy. And why not ? His schools agenda conforms almost exactly to SFC’s. He, like SFC,supports a longer school day, more stringent teacher performance standards, counseling for all children, and — yes — an increase in the number of charter schools. None of this should have been fire-storm news.

Still, no sooner did the Globe article appear than all hell broke loose. The brother of candidate Felix G. Arroyo attacked SFC on his Facebook page as “anti-teachers union, pro-privatization …group ‘Stand ON Children'” and linked to an article about SFC headlined “profiteering and Union-busting repackaged as school reform.”

Nor is Arroyo the only candidate who supports the Boston Teachers Union in opposing authorizing more charter schools. So do candidates Charles Clemons, Rob Consalvo, and Michael Ross.

Meanwhile, candidates Barros, Conley, Connolly, Walczak, and Walsh support lifting State law’s current limitation on how many there can be of charter schools. Of these five, SFC picked Connolly as its “most aligned with us” candidate. That is what advocacy groups do.

Of course a hue and cry also arose about “outside money” coming into what has paraded itself as a locally funded, “people’s pledge” campaign (the pledge refers to an agreement made between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren in their 2012 Senate race, not to accept outside PAC money.) Candidates opposing SFC’s schools position cried the loudest; Consalvo even asked all Mayor candidates to take that “people’s pledge.”

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^ Rob Consalvo : people’s pledge not to accept SFC money …

It is a given that big money is spent on big elections, and in Boston there’s none bigger than an open election for Mayor — especially now, with the City in the midst of a construction boom and a Downtown revitalizing as a place to shop, work, party, and live. Connolly has latched onto the downtown wave, and his schools agenda hews close not only to SFC’s but also to that of Governor Patrick, to legislation adopted in 20120 and to a schools agreement concluded in 2012. It signals that he absolutely means to see the agreements enacted in 2010 and 2012 adopted throughout the Boston School system. Also that he, if elected, will powerfully push for more charter schools and for a longer school day. Radical ? Not at all. most voters agree with all of it. Anti-union ? only if the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) sees it that way.

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 Marty Walsh : Labor’s guy supports lifting charter schools cap

Fascinating it is, to see how far out of step with voter sentiment the BTU has become. Forty years ago, Boston teachers were being elected to the City’s School Committee simply because they were teachers. the profession had that much respect. The schools of that day were racially segregated, and that was wrong; but to most parents they provided an education that comported well with what parents then expected : preparation to enter the then industrial and public-employee workforce.

Today public employee jobs still exist aplenty, but industrial employment mostly does not. If your child is going to be hireable into the technologically savvy economy — even into public employment — he or she needs more than just to pass an MCAS test or three. He or she needs to become computer fluent, conversant with mobile technology, program languages capable; failure-free in spelling, grammar, technical writing, Windows, Unix, network administration, mathematics, and, yes, current events; as well as able to create an Adobe PDF document, not to overlook all kinds of other forms and formats that today’s businesses create and modify every minute. These skills and arts cannot be mastered in a school that settles for average achievement in a short school day. The children of 40 years ago needed to know mainly how to respond to a boss and to concentrate on tasks repeated over and over. Today’s child needs to master work teams, social graces, how to take and respond to criticism and give it; how to book travel and negotiate airports; to speak and read more than one language; and such like.

That corporations might just have an interest in seeing that Boston’s school graduates can handle strongly all these skills and arts may seem like “corporatism” to some. To us it seems only common sense. Corporations hire a large number of those graduating. If they cannot fill that large number of hires in Boston, why shouldn’t they relocate to cities whose graduates can fill them ? The same is true for start-ups. Boston has far more than its share of these because we care about education. we will not settle for the out of date or the average. Teachers Unions, like all institutions, develop an institutional undertow of their own; the Union is led by those who began in it decades ago and then rose to power inside it, notwithstanding the huge societal and economic changes going on outside. Because Teachers’ Unions leaders must respond to its membership, and because its membership goes by seniority just as it insists on seniority as a job securement, so the Teachers’ leaders fight to hold on to bargains already won — even as these bargains lose their cogency to what is needed of schools. And thus the Teachers; union has lost a great deal of the solid support and respect that it once had among Boston voters.

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^ Felix Arroyo : advocate for Boston Teachers Union

The BTU seems not to understand how cornered it is in the arena of public opinion. While the MTA (Massachusetts Teachers Alliance) has heard the message and opted into the State’s reform process, it is not clear that the BTU has faced the music. Until charter schools, it was the BTU way or no way; public schools, or off to the suburbs or to parochial school. The coming of charter schools, however, which operate something like parochial schools, in which teachers are paid less but have much more input, along with parents, into curriculum and administration, parents now have choices. No wonder that they are exercising those choices.

It is no way a bad thing that Boston school parents now have choices. Heck, they want even more choices ! Why should they not have them ? It is their children who are going to school, after all; and schools exist for their students, not for their employees. School employees only serve. SFC’s backing of John Connolly’s campaign puts the ball of school improvement and school flexibility directly into the Teachers’ court — and to the voters.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE : Because of today’s release, by the BTU, of a poll purporting to show that few voters support more charter schools, we will be posting a follow-up to the above story. This story is likely to grow even bigger as Primary Day approaches.