Reality bites: Boston 2024 now open to ballot question on the Olympics

Looks like reality just slapped the Boston 2024 pooh-bahs in the face.  After a really terrible two weeks, in which the folks trying to bring the Olympics to Boston saw their poll numbers nosedive so that a majority of Boston-area respondents (52%) now oppose the idea, were so embarrassed by the revelation that they were planning to pay ex-Gov. Deval Patrick an eye-popping $7,500 a day for boosting the bid that Patrick himself had to reverse course and say he’d do it for free, and came close to losing the support of their most sympathetic Globe columnist, they’ve come around to what should have been obvious from the get-go: they cannot have an Olympics in Boston unless the people want it.  From today’s Globe:

The local Olympic bid committee says it will move forward with a proposal to bring the 2024 Summer Games to Boston only if a majority of the public shows support for the effort — and the panel would be open to a statewide referendum to accomplish that.

“We’re only in this if we have a majority with us,” said Richard Davey, chief executive of the bid committee, Boston 2024, in a Globe interview over the weekend. “It’s clear we have to find a measure to show that support. How we measure, we’re open to that.” … Davey stopped short of directly calling for a referendum, saying the committee is open to how the support would be measured, either with a vote or through public polling closer to the deadline for submitting a bid.

This is a startling turnabout from Boston 2024′s earlier statements, which (under now-departed president Daniel O’Connell) seemed to take the position that even a defeat at the ballot wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of the bid.  Perhaps not coincidentally, O’Connell is now gone from the process, and that surprising line hasn’t been repeated.

Boston 2024′s newfound commitment to majority public support is certainly welcome – some of us have been saying from day 1 that Boston 2024 should be the first to embrace the idea of a ballot question.

It’s politically stupid not to hold a referendum.  A positive result allows backers to proclaim that the public is behind the bid, without fear of contradiction.  Whereas relying on polls, or on elected officials, can and will always be second-guessed…. I frankly can’t imagine what the case against a public referendum would be.  So come on, Boston 2024 and Mayor Walsh, just back a referendum.  Then everyone will know that you mean it when you say that you only want to have the Olympics in Boston if the people are behind it.

Increasing efficiency and decreasing waste in state government

Pretty good idea, and particularly salient in light of today's Globe's story on how there isn't enough parking at MBTA stations. - promoted by david

An innovative and fresh idea emerged from our family’s discussion of the recent legislative photo op at the expense of the MBTA: take bold steps to increase efficiency and decrease waste in state government.

Instead of one highly-publicized “Gov On The T Day” (why am I reminded of “take your daughter to work day”?), I propose that we restructure government incentives so that EVERY member of Massachusetts government (Governor, Governor’s staff, legislator, legislative staff, etc.) is rewarded for taking public transportation, and simultaneously end all stipends, parking privileges, and so on for those employees. Any member of government who chooses to use a soft-tired conveyance (other than a public bus) must pay the entire cost of that use from personal funds.

Here’s how my plan would work:

1. The state will save money by ending daily automobile stipends, parking privileges, and so on. Parking space in downtown Boston is a scarce and expensive resource. The state can earn more by renting those downtown parking spaces to the public.

2. Each member will be awarded a CharlieCard that is prepaid each month, valid for travel on any MBTA conveyance in the state. If regional systems require a separate physical item, those will be provided as well.

3. Members will be provided pre-paid parking at the nearest Commuter Rail/MBTA lot near them (where they can compete with other commuters for space).

4. Daily stipends will be paid for the distance between the member’s home and the nearest MBTA/Commuter Rail access point.

5. No special accommodations will be made for members on board any conveyance. Each member will wait the same time as the general public. Each member will stand in the same over-crowded and unventilated car as other commuters. This has the benefit further increasing transparency in government, as the public has greater opportunity during daily commutes to share their opinions and views with members of government, and vice-versa.

Globe initiates full-court press to get Elizabeth Warren to run for president

An interesting development: today’s Globe puts an editorial and an op-ed on the first page of the opinion section (unusual), and then adds two more op-eds on the same topic (highly unusual).  The argument all of them make: Elizabeth Warren should run for president.

run warren

Of course, we BMGers have talked about this subject long before the Globe thought of it.  :D  Charley wrote up a comprehensive list of why he thinks Warren will not run for president; I added a few of my own thoughts along similar lines; many others have chimed in, mostly (but not entirely) along the lines that Warren won’t, and/or shouldn’t, run.

What is notably absent from any of the four opinion pieces in today’s Globe is a realistic assessment of the downsides for Warren of tossing her hat in the ring.  All of the pieces assume that Warren would be more influential as a presidential candidate than she is as a Senator.  But why should that necessarily be so?  Yes, she will get a lot more national press coverage, especially because if she jumped in, she’d probably see a quick bump in the primary polls that would make her appear competitive with Hillary.  But much of the coverage would be on horserace nonsense, about the latest perceived gaffe, and about the latest tidbit that some RWNJ managed to dig up about Warren’s past, as it always is.  A bunch more of it would be on international affairs – ISIS, Israel, Russia, all stuff that is squarely in Hillary’s wheelhouse and that is not likely to help Warren much.  Relatively little of it would be about what Warren really wants to spend her time talking about, namely, income inequality and related economic issues.  Query whether, as a presidential candidate, she could generate more favorable press coverage on those issues than she can if she participates in the campaign actively, but from the Senate.

And think about it: when was the last time that a primary candidate was able to direct the nation’s focus to particular issues to which he or she wanted to call attention, and actually achieve something substantive?  I can’t think of one.  Maybe Warren would be different.  But maybe not – and if not, she likely returns to the Senate less influential for having failed than she is now.  Unless she wins … but honestly, there is precious little evidence that that’s a realistic outcome.

So I remain skeptical that Warren will run, and also that she should.  Have your views evolved?

Mad as a March Hare: Charter School Propaganda Month Continues

It's funny, because Scot Lehigh seems to think this study should pretty much end the debate. And he's always been pretty fair-minded on this topic. ;-) - promoted by david

“Then they begin to swerve and to stare, And be as brainless as a March hare.”

If this is March, it must be Charter School Propaganda Celebration Month! A couple of weeks ago, we had some of Boston’s white shoe wonders threatening a civil rights suit against the charter school cap. Everyone who wasn’t laughing was taking the proposal with all the serious it deserved. Even Captain Charter himself Paul Grogan didn’t seem to take the threat seriously. Anyhoo, that was last week. There is a week and a half left in March.

This week is the release of the CREDO’s Urban Charter School Study. Picked up by the State House News Service and turned over to the Globe for stenographic treatement, the study was incarnated as headline. Studies like this are less about the facts than the press release, don’t you know? Reading a study like this is like reading a contract for cell phone service: you’d like to know the details, but it’s really hard to understand. In the end, you sign on the bottom-line. And in news, nine times out of ten, the bottom-line is the headline. The headline that doesn’t even mention a study.

The Globe doesn’t have what it takes to read and analyze the study (truth be told, it’s pretty complicated for any lay person), and instead of calling someone about the quality of the research, Globe calls all the usual people and types who haven’t read the study but certainly have an opinion on charter schools. BTU President Richard Stutman challenges the assumptions of the the study: that charter school kids are equivalent to public school kids. Mark Kenen, who chairs the Charter School Cheerleading Squad, has his obligatory cheer: “These are historic achievement gains. Charters are providing a blueprint for success.” Cap the article off with a sensationalized headline like “Boston’s charter schools show striking gains: Test scores surpass traditional public schools, counterparts nationwide.” It’s no wonder reading the news leads us to know more about less.

The Globe may not be churlish enough to point out that CREDO, the organization responsible for publishing the study is part of the Hoover Institution, but I am. 

Do you believe the stats? New research paper shows MA one of the 3 least corrupt states in the US

A wag (possibly Benjamin Disraeli) once observed that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.  Is that what’s at work in this recently-released study (PDF available for download) showing that Massachusetts is among the least corrupt states in the union, both in terms of what the authors call “legal corruption” (“the political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding”) and “illegal corruption” (“the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups”)?  Can this possibly be right, given the recent probation trial, the three indicted Speakers, Chuck, Dianne, etc.?  Or is our perception skewed because we are too close to it?  Or are things bad here, and just a lot worse in other states?

Interesting to ponder.  First of all, the important thing to know about this study is that it results from querying reporters.  Why?

[W]e surveyed the news reporters covering state politics, and investigative reporters covering issues related to corruption, in the fifty states during the first half of 2014….

Boylan and Long [who conducted a similar study several years ago] make a compelling argument regarding why we should survey reporters, instead of other professionals such as trial lawyers or small business owners, to measure government corruption. Reporters have a better knowledge of state governments, and spend a great deal of time observing and interacting with government officials. We identified close to one thousand reporters through an extensive search of the internet and contacted them, during January and June of 2014, via email.

And here is an important, and unfortunate, caveat:

Unfortunately, in some states (Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and South Dakota) only a small number of reporters responded to our survey; results from these states should be interpreted with caution.

That’s really too bad (especially because the study was conducted out of the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard).  Wouldn’t it be nice to know whose perceptions we’re actually dealing with?  But I asked the authors that question, and they declined to elaborate, explaining that they promised their respondents complete confidentiality.

Anyway, here’s the key finding:

What are the most and least corrupt states, taking all three government branches into account? … With respect to illegal corruption, … Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, the Dakotas, and Vermont are perceived to be the least corrupt states overall … With respect to legal corruption, … Massachusetts is the least corrupt state ….

Also of interest, from the tables at the end of the paper, is the finding that when it comes to illegal corruption specifically of the legislative branch, Massachusetts and 6 other states received the best “not at all common” rating.  Even more surprising, when it came to legal corruption of the legislative branch, only Massachusetts and Vermont were rated “not at all common.”

Your thoughts?

Joke Revue: President Obama at the Gridiron Club

Partisans of the Revue haven’t had to wait as long as usual this week: here is the second one in just three days. Happily, we have a rich trove of material, and now that our one-week spring has ended and winter has returned, perhaps it will be more useful as a cheerful distraction than evah.

President Obama at the Gridiron Club Dinner:

“This is my third appearance at this dinner as president. And I predict you will laugh harder than ever. I’m not saying I’m any funnier. I’m saying weed is now legal in D.C. I know that’s how you guys are getting through this dinner. That’s why you ate the food.”

“The other week [Walker] said he didn’t know whether or not I was a Christian. And I was taken aback, but fortunately my faith teaches us forgiveness. So, Gov. Walker, as-salamu alaykum.”

“Gov. Walker got some heat for staying silent when Rudy Giuliani said I don’t love America — which I also think is a problem. Think about it, Scott — if I did not love America, I wouldn’t have moved here from Kenya.”

“Over the past several weeks, many of you have been writing about a possible conservative coup — or as Bill O’Reilly calls it, ‘reporting from the war zone.’” He’s been sniffing around. The good news is, Bill has an eyewitness who can back up some of his claims. The bad news, of course, is that it’s Brian Williams.”

“We also have Dr. Ben Carson. He wants to make it clear that being here was a choice. The fact is, doctor, embracing homosexuality is not something you do because you go to prison. It’s something you do because your vice president can’t keep a secret on Meet the Press.

“I got flak for appearing on a video for BuzzFeed, trying to reach younger voters. [Featured here the on the Joke Revue - ed.] What nonsense. You know, you don’t diminish your office by taking a selfie. You do it by sending a poorly written letter to Iran. Really, that wasn’t a joke.

Daniel Kurtzman:

“During an interview with Playboy — that’s right, Playboy — Dick Cheney said President Obama is the worst president in his lifetime. Meanwhile, subscribers to Playboy said Cheney was the worst centerfold in their lifetime.” –Conan O’Brien

“Mitt Romney announced he will fight former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in a charity boxing match. You can tell that Romney is serious about it. Today, his butler gave him a piggyback ride up the steps of the Philadelphia art museum.” –Jimmy Fallon

It turns out they’re already trying a bunch of nicknames to try to hype up the match. First they considered ‘Vanilla in Manila.’ Next up, they tried ‘Lean and Mean versus L.L. Bean.’ Finally, ‘Mitt Romney Loses to Another Black Guy.’” –Jimmy Fallon

Russia’s Vladimir Putin appeared in public for the first time after a mysterious 10-day absence. Putin said it took him that long to recover from the finale of ‘The Bachelor.’” –Conan O’Brien

“I always liked Mitt Romney. He looks like the salesman who follows you around at Brooks Brothers.” –David Letterman

For Beacon Hill, The Right Time to Invest in MBTA is Never

The T will continue its decades-long decline unless its structure is changed so that it can generate billions in new revenues that can be reinvested into the system, in my opinion. - promoted by Bob_Neer
Snowstorm Special

Feb. 9 in Mission Hill (Flickr/Ian Martin)

As WBUR’s Zeninjor Enwemeka reports, a group of Massachusetts legislators rode the commuter rail this morning and got a representative ride:

In an effort to better understand the challenges — and headaches — faced by public transit riders this winter, dozens of state lawmakers rode the MBTA and the commuter rail Thursday morning.

About 47 lawmakers took part in what is being called Gov On The T Day.

At South Station, many of the state representatives who rode the commuter rail said they experienced delays, overcrowded trains and waits in the cold — issues commuters have been dealing with all winter.

But if Gov On The T organizers thought a first-hand look would break Beacon Hill’s decades-long refusal to spend what’s necessary to get the T back on track, they were wrong:

Healey challenges Beacon Hill's Fortress of Secrecy

Our newly elected “People’s Lawyer” Maura Healey is showing what the Attorney General can accomplish if she works for the people.


Newly elected Attorney General Maura Healey said this week she’s optimistic she can give the public greater access to government records by resolving a longstanding rift between her office and the secretary of state’s.

That friction has effectively blocked the state from enforcing the law intended to give the public access to government records for the past five years. …

The problem arose partly because of a quirk in the Massachusetts public records law. The secretary of state’s office is charged with deciding whether records are public when citizens appeal. But that law doesn’t give him the authority to go to court when agencies refuse to abide by the decisions. That’s up to the attorney general.

But Coakley and her predecessors sometimes disagreed with Galvin’s rulings and refused to enforce the decisions.

Out of frustration, Galvin’s office stopped referring orders to the attorney general altogether years ago.

Of course, it may well be that protecting insiders was the primary cause of “That friction,” whatever the specific legal parsings and political posturing may have been. If so, the degree to which this challenge to Beacon Hill’s Fortress of Secrecy produces any practical results — because the forces of darkness will fight back, of course — will become clearer in relatively short order.

In any event, WTG AG Healey!

Tsarnaev Trial Raises More Questions Than Answers. Who Is David Margolis? Who Is Winston Wolf? What Is The Justice Department Hiding?

You can read a good write-up of the testimony Ernie describes in the Guardian at this link. WBUR also covered it in less detail. Interestingly, a quick Google search did not reveal any Globe reporting on the embarrassment of this FBI agent beyond some sporadic tweeting. Huh. - promoted by david

Here’s an anecdote from the marathon bombing trial. The other day an FBI agent was on the stand testifying as to the text messages and tweets found on the younger Tsarnaev’s phone. There were a few thousand messages and tweets discovered. The agent detailed a couple of dozen. He showed the jury a picture of Mecca and a number of tweets that had no other meaning than ‘death to America’. Guaranteed.

Well on cross-examination it came out that the poor FBI agent was set-up by some of Carmen Ortiz’s finest. The photo of Mecca was actually a picture of the mosque Tsarnaev attended back home. The tweets? They were all pop culture references including a couple of Tosh.0 bits. When broken down none of the tweets were nefarious in anyway.

But here’s the kicker. The FBI agent was just doing his job. The defense attorney got him to admit that the prosecutors just gave him those few tweets to review and informed him what they meant. He was not asked to investigate further, just take the script and get on the stand.

Here’s the bigger question? Is the Justice Department hiding something? Like the Bulger trial, is this trial more about protecting people and institutions than seeking justice? Are there one or two bureaucrats holed-up in Washington D.C. who pull strings to put out fires like this? Like this Margolis guy perhaps?

Remember, it’s not about justice it’s about protecting the image.

The facts:

Wonk Graphics: U.S. Income Inequality by City

In Olympics terms, we are on the podium. - promoted by Bob_Neer

From the Washington Post:

The following graphs illustrates the ranking and comparative trends of income inequality between 2012 and 2013, with the top table ranking those cities with the most income inequality and the bottom table ranking the cities with the least:

Joke Revue: Romney to fight Holyfield

Apologies for the delay in last week’s review. Our first contestant isn’t actually a joke — although it is humorous. It also speaks well of our former governor: fighting for charity, and evidently putting his time to much better use than he would have done in the White House. Bravo! CNN:

Romney is jumping into the ring — an actual boxing ring — with ex-heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, a Romney aide confirmed on Monday.

“It will either be a very short fight, or I will be knocked unconscious,” Romney told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Romney, 68, will suit up and face the 52-year-old retired boxer for a charity event in Salt Lake City on May 15.


Progressive Company Pays Both Men And Women 78% Of What They Should Be Earning

SEATTLE—Stressing the importance of treating all its staff members equally, progressive technology firm Northstar Solutions described to reporters Wednesday its strict policy of paying both male and female workers 78 percent of what they should be earning. “At Northstar, we’ve always believed that employees who contribute the same level of hard work for the same duties should earn the same meager fraction of a reasonable wage, regardless of whether they’re men or women,” said the company’s founder and CEO, Jack Stargell, who noted that every staff member’s compensation package was routinely reviewed to ensure that personnel with comparable experience and job responsibilities were being equivalently underpaid. “Sex is simply not a determining factor in how we view our workers; they’re all disposable quantities to us that deserve an identical amount of disrespect and lack of recognition. No exceptions.” While noting that these gender-equal practices were unorthodox, Stargell added that the company was already seeing clear benefits to its bottom line.

Daniel Kurtzman:

“Yesterday was not only daylight saving time, but also International Women’s Day. What better way to address the issue of inequality for women than giving them a day that’s missing an hour.” –David Letterman”


Hillary Releases Twenty Thousand Spam E-Mails from Old Navy

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Hoping to quell the controversy over e-mails missing from her private account, the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday released twenty thousand spam e-mails she received from Old Navy.

“In an effort to be transparent, I have gone above and beyond what is required of me by law and released every last e-mail I received from this retailer,” she told reporters. “Now I think we can all consider this case closed.”

The e-mails reveal an extensive one-way correspondence between Clinton and Old Navy, as the retailer sometimes contacted her up to a dozen times in a single day to inform her of sales and other offers.

“This is one of the main reasons I set up a private e-mail account,” she said. “I did not want spam from Old Navy clogging up the State Department servers.”

But if the former Secretary of State thought that she could end the controversy swirling around her e-mail account by releasing the Old Navy spam, she may have miscalculated.

Representative Trey Gowdy, the Republican chairman of the House Benghazi select committee, questioned why Clinton would let twenty thousand spam e-mails from Old Navy accumulate rather than simply unsubscribe. “It doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said.

Responding to that allegation, Clinton said, “I want the American people to know that, on multiple occasions, I tried to unsubscribe from Old Navy, and my requests were ignored. The most frustrating part of this whole affair is that I’ve never even bought anything from Old Navy.”

Pass Bill Classifying Student Athletes as Employees

And get them to pay taxes on all sports revenues, which are commercial ventures not academics. - promoted by Bob_Neer



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The sheer injustice exposed by John Oliver and his team at Last Week Tonight is happening right now in Massachusetts, and we have the ability to change it. I urge the Massachusetts State Legislature to pass a law classifying that all athletes at a college or university, where a majority of the student athletes receive scholarships for playing, shall be classified as employees under state and federal law, and shall have all the protections afforded to them as such. Let’s make it happen!