Billerica: Some things never change

What a peculiar story. Never change, Massachusetts. - promoted by david

Multiple sources report that Billerica selectman George Simolaris (a painting contractor by trade) faces arrest, prosecution, and fines because he had the audacity to paint five crosswalks himself after months of inaction from the town.

BILLERICA — A member of the Billerica select board got so frustrated by delays in painting crosswalks in town that he took matters into his own hands and painted them himself.

Now he faces arrest.

George Simolaris, a painter by trade and an advocate for pedestrian safety, used green deck paint on five crosswalks in the town center this weekend.

The Lowell Sun quotes Mr. Simolaris:

“This project was supposed to be done by November, then it was supposed to be done by the opening day of Little League, then Memorial Day, then Fourth of July. It just wasn’t coming to fruition, so I thought as a roadway commissioner I could do this as a temporary solution,” Simolaris said.

His fellow board members are calling for him to resign.

Meanwhile, the town immediately power-washed the streets in question, removing his work. Apparently the town couldn’t find a way to do the crosswalk painting itself for months, yet was able to remove the ad-hoc replacement within hours. The entire episode convinces me that nothing has changed in Billerica in the thirty years since I left, and that I made the right decision to leave.

Some things never change.

My Op-Ed in the Boston Globe: Let Americans Decide For Themselves on GMOs

You know, this is fine as far as it goes. But I detect more than a whiff of anti-GMO hysteria in the movement to label these foods. GMOs per se are neither good nor evil. There are bigger problems in agriculture, cf the comments. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

 

America has a proud tradition of empowering consumers. Families deserve to know what’s in the food they eat and that’s why GMO labeling is so important.

This week, the House of Representative will consider the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Unfortunately, the bill does nothing to support safe and accurate food labeling. Instead, it protects the status quo by preventing states from requiring labels on foods containing GMO ingredients and locks in the current and inadequate voluntary GMO labeling system.

In today’s Boston Globe, I join Congresswoman Chellie Pingree to set the record straight.

This is about consumers’ right to know. Plain and simple. Help spread the word if you support ‪GMO‬ labeling to ensure all Americans know what’s in the food we buy. Read the full Boston Globe op-ed here: bos.gl/MnKSd5u

MBTA commuter rail contracts rose by a greater percentage than in-house bus costs

Dave continues to hold the Pioneer Institute's feet to the fire. More debate = better. - promoted by david

(Cross-posted from The COFAR Blog)

While proponents of privatizing the MBTA point to the rising cost of in-house operations there, the cost to the agency of contracting out appears to have risen even faster.

The annual cost to the MBTA of contracting for commuter rail services has risen by 99.4 percent since 2000, compared with a 74.9 percent increase in the annual cost of the agency’s in-house bus operations, according to cost information we’ve compiled from public online sources (see below).

In our view, the rising cost of the commuter rail contracts since 2000 casts further doubt on the claims by the Pioneer Institute and other privatization proponents that contracting out for services will automatically save hundreds of millions of dollars at the T.

In case you missed it, the Pioneer Institute issued a report earlier this month that compared the actual cost of MBTA bus operations to a proposal based on bids from outside contractors to undertake those functions.

House, Senate should pass public records reform by July 31st recess

Yes, indeed they should. Thank you Senator. - promoted by david

Last week, a significant step was taken on Beacon Hill towards improving our state’s public records laws. The Boston Sunday Globe reported on how backwards and outdated public records laws in Massachusetts truly are: ranking behind every other state except Hawaii.

The Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight reported out a redrafted committee bill, H.3665 on Thursday, July 16th, that would among other things create the following reforms:

• Require state agencies and municipal departments to provide records requests electronically
• Limit the cost of photocopies to 5 cents per page by state agencies and municipal departments
• Allow attorney’s fees to requesters if a court determined that they were wrongfully denied access to public records
• Assign a designated public records officer in each agency or department, for greater accountability to the record requester

Great credit on this progress goes to committee co-chairs Senator Joan Lovely (D-Salem) and Representative Peter Kocot (D-Northampton), as well as Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), whose bill S.1676 mirrors the redrafted committee bill.

Since the beginning of the legislative session, newspapers from across Massachusetts, and good government groups, including Common Cause, MassPIRG, and the ACLU have been advocating for public records reforms, highlighted at the joint committee’s public hearing on public records reform bills in May. In addition, Secretary of State Bill Galvin has suggested that he may propose a ballot referendum to push reforms, if the Legislature does not pass comprehensive legislation this session.

Efforts at updating the state’s public records laws are not new. Many legislators, including myself, have been filing bills for over five years, and last session the Joint Committee on State Administration reported out a similar bill to the one reported out last week. The bottom line is our public records laws have not been significantly updated since 1973 and the time for change is now.

Unfortunately, last Friday legislators from across the state began receiving calls and emails from some of their municipal officials, asking us to vote against the bill, water down the reform, or delay its passage. The time for this bipartisan reform has come, and is in fact long overdue.

If you care about updating our state’s public records laws, making government and government decisions more transparent, and improving the public and the media’s ability to access public information, please contact your State Representative and State Senator this week, and urge the House and Senate to take up and pass H.3665 by the July 31st legislative recess.

Joke Revue: Obama Squandering America’s Precious Supply of Enemies

Borowitz:

Obama Squandering America’s Precious Supply of Enemies

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—By easing tensions with Cuba and now Iran, President Obama is “recklessly squandering America’s precious supply of enemies,” the leader of a conservative think tank said on Tuesday.

“Our adversarial relationships with Cuba and Iran took years of frostiness and saber-rattling to maintain,” Harland Dorrinson, the executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Infinite Conflict, said. “Thanks to the President, decades of well-crafted hostility have been thrown out the window.”

According to Dorrinson, fears abound in conservative circles that the President might be “capriciously casting about for other powder kegs to defuse” during his remaining time in office.

“If his shameful record is any guide, he’ll probably try to disarm North Korea,” Dorrinson said. “That’s the doomsday scenario.” …

Daniel Kurtzman:

“After severing ties with Donald Trump, NBC is reportedly in talks with comedian George Lopez to take over ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’ So Trump’s greatest nightmare came true. A Hispanic guy took his job.” –Seth Meyers

“President Obama said yesterday that education is the key to reducing the prison population. Though apparently power tools also work.” –Seth Meyers

“It was announced today that Iran has reached a deal with the U.S. to limit its nuclear program and send most of its uranium to Russia. Then Americans said, ‘That’s great! Wait, WHAT?’” –Jimmy Fallon

“Today Scott Walker announced that he is running for president, making him the 15th Republican candidate to enter the race. Which I think means we get the 16th one for free. I’ve got a punch card.” –Jimmy Fallon

To Serve and Protect Everyone Massachusetts Needs a Law for the Use of Lethal Force

... And to be trained so well that under stress they can refer to that training which reflects the law. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

A tale of two communities.

One a mid-sized Massachusetts city, the other a small suburb of 14,000.

An officer from the city is laid off and finds work in the suburb. Responding to a call in the suburb one evening, the officer finds himself in the living room of a nice home talking to an older couple about an attempted home invasion. Their dog is barking at him. The officer isn’t in danger, just annoyed. Nonetheless, he takes out his gun, points it at the dog, and tells the couple, “Shut that fucking dog up, or I’m going to shoot it!”

The officer does not last long in the suburb.

…………………………..

This anecdote, I think, illustrates a problem with American law enforcement: different communities, different standards. Suburbanites tend to know their rights. They are not afraid of the police. They do not fear retaliation if they make a complaint. They know the people in the local government. They know lawyers. They know how to sue. The suburb does not tolerate police who pull their weapons and threaten house pets. They tolerate such behavior. A suburban kid gets busted with intent to distribute, his parents hire a lawyer to get him off with a suspended sentence and probation. His urban counterpart, with an overworked, underpaid, public defender, ends up in the system. Our communities have their standards, what we will tolerate and what we won’t.

What people of color once knew from experience, we all know from Youtube. Lethal force are too frequently applied in a racist and capricious manner. One source of the problem is that statutes set a very low bar for law enforcement. Communities may set certain norms for law enforcement, but laws are supposed to provide a backstop for social norms. In the United States, the law tragically provides almost no backstop.

If a police officer has “probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or other” in Tennessee v. Garner471 U.S. 1 (1985), s/he can shoot to kill. That belief only needs to be reasonable as it will be “[t]he “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight” Graham v. Connor 490 U.S. 386 (1989). Thus case law goes a long way in protecting police officers from prosecution. These cases set a low bar for police use of lethal force, and provide the standard for objective reasonableness as a test. It’s important that they only consider the officer’s point of view. In Utah, an unarmed 20-year old was shot and killed by police when he went to adjust his pants. Police were looking for three people that flashed a gun. The 20 year-old was with two friends. He was wearing headphones and not complying with police orders. The shooting was justified. As Amnesty International reports, “No state limits the use of lethal force to only those situations where there is an imminent threat to life or serious injury to the officer or to others.”

I’m no lawyer, but as I understand it, the lack of a statute results in a reliance on case law, which compared to international law and standards, are decidedly weak. I’m not overly concerned with complying with international law, but it’s worth comparing any American system to an ideal. That’s often how change starts. This should be our guiding principle:

“Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life” (emphasis added).

There is much more that needs to be done. Police work is not necessarily discriminatory, insensitive, or abusive. Most police do see their jobs as serving and protecting. In many communities, and many instances, their jobs have more to do with social work than criminal investigation. Since the advent of the Quinn Bill, police have become a much more professional group of people, educated and well-trained. It’s time for our laws address all of their roles in the community in all of our communities.

………………………….

Final anecdote: A police officer makes a traffic stop. The driver threatens him with a knife. and a car chase through two towns ensues. The suspect is eventually cornered in a strip bar where he brandishes a barbecue fork with 5 inch tines. An autopsy later determines that he is drunk and has used cocaine. The police officer, a 16-year veteran of the force, ends up shooting and killing him.

“An individual, including a police officer, may use deadly force if he has a reasonable belief that he is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury,” [District Attorney William] Bennett said.

“Applying this legal standard to the credible facts, there is insufficient evidence to prove that the sergeant did not actually and reasonably believe that he was about to be attacked. … Consequently, no criminal charges will be sought in this matter and the criminal investigation will be deemed closed.”

I remember there being some controversy over this shooting, which took place in Monson. Would the suspect be alive today if police followed used lethal force “”only as a last resort when strictly necessary to protect themselves or others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury”? Would the officer in question have been indicted? The DA’s words echo Garner, but they hardly offer a ringing endorsement of his actions.

Olympics Debate Coming to a TV Near You

Wow! - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

I know a lot of us have already made up our minds, but we may finally get what I’ve been hoping for for some time.  This Thursday evening at 8:00 Fox 25 will air a debate, co-sponsored by the Boston Globe between Boston 2024 and No Boston Olympics.  Viewer questions are being accepted via Facebook and Twitter.  Fact-checking and analysis will follow at 9:00.

As early as next week, the Legislature will consider veto overrides. Help ensure that these vetoes of programs for the homeless youth and families do not stand!

Bumped - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

Stand Up With People Without Homes:
Ask Your Legislators to Override the Governor’s Vetoes of Funding for Unaccompanied Youth + the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program

from Kelly Turley, Director of Advocacy Coalition for the Homeless whose hard won budget increases have been vetoed by Governor Baker.

Help us keep hope and progress alive!

This afternoon, Governor Charlie Baker signed the FY’16 state budget into law, while also issuing numerous vetoes and a request for supplemental funds to close out FY’15.

Disappointingly, among those vetoes were the $2 million for housing and services for unaccompanied youth in a brand new line item, 4000-0007, as well as $3 million of the recommended funding of $90.9 million for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP). While the overall budget includes much for which to be grateful, we cannot rest while these vetoes stand– because people without homes cannot safely rest!

As early as next week, the Legislature will take up veto overrides to restore some of the funding and language to the final budget. In order to do this, both the House and Senate must vote with a two-thirds majority to override a veto. Help us ensure that youth without homes do not lose their chance to access much-needed housing and services, and that the MRVP program has as much funding as possible to provide housing to families, youth, and adults who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity! Please pick up the phone today to call your State Representative and State Senator.

For insights into how meaningful the youth homelessness funding will be to youth, please read these two powerful blog posts by Synthia Kennedy (“We are not the enemy. We are houseless, not homeless”) and Ayala Livny (“The things that matter”), two of our strong allies in the multi-year Youth Without Homes Can’t Wait campaign.

Legislators can be reached via the State House switchboard (617-722-2000) or directly through the links listed here.

Help us keep hope and progress alive!

With gratitude,
Kelly

Kelly Turley
Director of Legislative Advocacy
kelly@mahomeless.org
781-595-7570 x17

On Twitter? Please Reach Out to Key Legislators to Ask for Their Support on Veto Overrides

Senate President Stan Rosenberg: @SenStan
Senator Karen Spilka: @KarenSpilka
Senator Sal DiDomenico: @SalDiDomenico
House Speaker Robert DeLeo: @SpeakerDeLeo
Representative Stephen Kulik: @repstevekulik
Other legislators can be reached via the State House switchboard (617-722-2000) or directly through the links listed here.

Please also express your disappointment to the Governor:
Phone: 617-725-4005
Twitter: @MassGovernor

link to alert

Passing gas, no matter what

Kinder Morgan announced its intent to build its gas pipeline through New England, despite not having sufficient orders to make it profitable.  Why? Is this in order to make it seem like a fait accompli  in order to gin up more orders and discourage local opposition? Are they really that committed to an old-industrial white elephant for all of us to enjoy? It’s really hard to figure.

Three things to consider:

F'd? Or "stupendously exciting"? Our choice.

Here is a searing assessment of the emotional effects of studying climate change for a living. I could (and should) write an entire essay about this myself, just speaking as one whose newsfeeds with the growing evidence of calamity. It’s goddamned depressing. And most people, even die-hard liberals, don’t want to stare into the abyss of the most likely outcome, which is catastrophe.

The things that give me solace are the facts that a. Many of the greatest minds of our generation are hard at work on the problem, in technology, business, policy, and even religion, and b. We have each other. That’s really it.

We need politics and public policy: Systemic solutions designed for the public’s protection, just like water treatment, police departments, and driving on the right side of the road. Examples like RGGI show us that we can change. We can make better policy to lower emissions and even thrive while doing it.That means electoral politics. That means showing up to vote, and getting others to do so as well. That means you, dear reader.

Aaron Huertas at The Union of Concerned Scientists makes it plain that what we do here and now does matter.

The bright spots are incredibly bright: look at what’s been happening in California, on its own one of the world’s largest economies, as the state adopted a comprehensive climate plan:

Believe it or not, this is a stupendously exciting graph. Economic growth with reduced emissions is having our cake and eating it, too. Source: California Air Resources Board

A stupendously exciting graph from the Golden State. Economic growth with reduced emissions is having our cake and eating it, too. Source: California Air Resources Board

This a great story. And stories like it are being repeated all over the world, from growing demand for solar energy, falling prices for wind, and people in developing countries leapfrogging baseload fossil fuel energy to take advantage of emissions-free renewables.

We need California-style leadership from this administration. Get it done, Governor — lean forward on this. You’re smart enough.

Quick hits

David and I have been busy with work and family lately, so I apologize for the lack of content; luckily it’s a big community and our contributors have stepped up big time. My thanks.

I hope these don’t read like Larry King’s Twitter feed …

Where Mass Members of Congress Stand on the Iran Deal

Excellent resource. - promoted by david

I made a quick cheat sheet. Links to the statement under the name.

Leans Towards Support

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA-2)
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA-5)
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA-6)
Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA-7)

Undecided

Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA-4)
Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA-9)
Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA-3)
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA-8)
Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA-1)