983 Deaths

Incredible. Treatment-on-demand now. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

If there was a terrorist camp in Afghanistan that sent a few sleeper cells to to Massachusetts and in the course of one year, 983 civilians would lose their lives at the hands of these militants in 2014, it would be in the headlines for months.  We’d be printing bumper stickers to remember the 983.  There would be a fund drive to help the families of the 983.  No doubt Secretary Kerry, Governor Baker and a who’s who of that sort would be working to stop another 983 Massachusetts citizens from meeting the same fate in 2015.

983 citizens did lose their life in 2014 but it was not at the hand of Afghan militants; it was at the hands of Afghan farmers.  While not all heroin comes from Afghanistan and while not all opiate deaths are from heroin, I do hope you see my point.

983 citizens were killed in 2014 but there are no slogans, no rallies, no fund drives because, perhaps, we dismiss them as junkies, weak people, morally inferiors who did it to themselves.  And then comes the day when we read about a drug bust in our quaint and quite suburban town, we hear that a daughter of a friend of ours in a posh neighborhood is in rehab, and we learn that a co-worker has been fired because he was stealing on the job to support his wife’s drug habit.

This is not “those people” anymore.  This is us.

983 of us died last year from this attack and unless we wake up, we’ll hit 1,000 this year.

I am relived to see Attorney General Maura Healey put this at the forefront of her office and I hope that our other elected officials will do the same.

Let's support reliable, safe and affordable transportation

If you haven't read today's Globe article about how behind other cities the MBTA is, read it now. Here's the lede: "The primary problem that plagued the MBTA’s subway cars this week — and caused thousands of commuters to be stranded on Monday and Tuesday — is a familiar challenge to transit specialists that other cities solved years ago using modern technology." - promoted by david

The Transportation for Massachusetts coalition has launched an online petition to ask the Governor and the Legislature to adequately fund transportation.  We must build on the 2013 Transportation Finance Act that reversed years of underinvestment, but which does not meet our proven needs.  Read more and sign up through this link.

The recent and ongoing weather-induced travel horror stories have focused attention on the antiquated MBTA.  But all around the state, people are enduring transportation travails from weather that is predictable.  So this crisis is an opportunity to engage people in solutions.

Revenue is essential.  Smart reform is critical.  Accountability is necessary.  And good project decision making and priorities are the future.

One element of the 2013 law is the Project Selection Advisory Council, which our coalition advocated for and which is charged with making recommendations for how MA prioritizes and chooses transportation projects in the years to come, considering cost effectiveness, regional equity, climate, social equity and public health.

Even as we dig out from decades of underfunding (and feet of snow) we must plan wisely.

Please hop on board at this link.

Thank you.

Josh Ostroff, Outreach Director, Transportation for Massachusetts

@T4MASS, https://facebook.com/T4MASS

Undecover Boss, American Capitalism On Display

"He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!" Read the wise tale here. - promoted by Bob_Neer

If I feel my blood pressure falling, all I need to do is watch one episode of Undercover Boss, a hit TV show on CBS.  Each show follows a standard plot line.  The owner or CEO of a company goes under cover as a regular Joe trying to make a living at one of the numerous low paying, dead end jobs with no benefits that have become standard issue in the USA.

The undercover boss quickly discovers that the employees are doing the best they can under horrible conditions.  Many are suffering from illnesses that their health insurance or lack of insurance will not cover.  Some are crushed by mountains of debt from trying to live in the USA with a paycheck that no longer covers even the basics.  The boss is often touched by the dedication and high morality of these people who are barely scraping by at a job for a company where the same company has provided that owner or CEO with an opulent lifestyle beyond the imagination or reach of any employee.

This plot line has a rich history.  The producers at CBS act like a modern day Jacob Marley’s Ghost as they take their Scrooge de jour through a labyrinth of lives all in ruin and all employees of Scrooge’s business.

In the last quarter of each show, the boss sits down with each of the four or five exploited employees that he or she has met in this episode.  The boss thanks each employee for their dedication, hard work, and devotion to the company while giving them gifts of cash or other benefits to make up for the shortfalls that existed because the employees were paid so little in the past.

The company that is the subject of the program receives a wealth of positive advertising and the CEO or boss hands out up to $100K in gifts to a few lucky employees; not a bad deal for the company.

Unlike the story in A Christmas Carol, however, only a few employees are treated with compassion and respect.  Bob Cratchit’s family gets a helping hand.  Tiny Tim gets his 15 minutes of fame and new pair of crutches, but with Undercover Boss, that’s where it ends.  The other employees are still out in the cold as, so far as I know, not one of the episodes of Undercover Boss has resulted in a dramatic catharsis where the CEO is transformed from Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders. Their only hope is the next episode.

American Capitalism on display on CBS.

Rep. Stephen Lynch Steps Up.

And speaking of transparency, bravo to Rep. Lynch. It's high time these documents were declassified. - promoted by david

Via digby’s blog, I found this New York Times article about how Stephen Lynch is standing up for releasing a “still-classified section of the investigation by congressional intelligence committees into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks … that examine[s] crucial support given the hijackers and that by all accounts implicate[s] prominent Saudis in financing terrorism.” Those 9/11 attackers got their financing from someone, and the American people deserve to know who did the financing.

“I think it is the right thing to do,” said Representative Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts and an author of a bipartisan resolution encouraging President Obama to declassify the section. “Let’s put it out there.”

White House officials say the administration has undertaken a review on whether to release the pages but has no timetable for when they might be made public.

Mr. Lynch and his allies have been joined by former Senator Bob Graham of Florida, who as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee was a leader of the inquiry. He has called for the release of the report’s Part 4, which dealt with Saudi Arabia, since President George W. Bush ordered it classified when the rest of the report was released in December 2002.

Mr. Graham has repeatedly said it shows that Saudi Arabia was complicit in the Sept. 11 attacks. “The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11, and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier,” Mr. Graham said last month as he pressed for the pages to be made public.

Relatives of those killed on Sept. 11 as well as plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against Saudi Arabia have also demanded that the pages be made public, seeing them as the vital link that they believe connects an important ally of the United States to the deadly attacks. They say the pages, Part 4 of the report, could also help in determining the source of current funding for terrorist activities.

“If we stop funding of terrorism and hold those people accountable, wouldn’t it make a dent in the financing of terrorism today?” asked William Doyle, whose son, Joseph, was killed in the World Trade Center. Mr. Doyle said that President Obama personally assured him after the death of Osama bin Laden that he would declassify that section of the report.

Read the whole thing. And if you see Stephen Lynch, thank him for standing up for the right thing.

Time for Public Hearings on Boston 2024/Go Boston 2030 Spending

Transparency! Thanks for posting here, Senator. - promoted by david

In Tuesday’s edition of the Boston Herald an article appeared stating that members of Boston 2024 and Go Boston 2030 have been meeting “behind closed doors” with some state legislators and transportation officials to discuss long-term transportation plans for the Boston.  Many of those duly elected and charged with helping to shape the Commonwealth’s transportation policy are being left out.

That is why I have asked for public hearings.  On Wednesday I sent the attached letter to Senator McGee, the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, to request hearings before our committee on this important matter. I am very concerned that the public and their elected members of the legislature are being circumvented. These are decisions that will affect Massachusetts residents and taxpayers for many years to come.

I encourage my colleagues and citizens on both sides of the aisle to insist upon transparency in this process. Many here on BlueMassGroup have expressed the same misgivings I share about public resources going toward the Olympics and about a few connected insiders making consequential decisions for our state. I know many of you agree that the public deserves a say on these matters, and I look forward to seeing an open and healthy discussion on the Transportation Committee and in the legislature about the long-term transportation plans for the Commonwealth.

Warning: Lane Closures Ahead #Boston2024

I was planning to write this up last night, honest!  But I didn’t get to it, and the Herald beat me to the punch.  No matter, it’s still a good story.

See, one thing everyone has been wondering – especially after the #MBTAfail of recent days – is how all those Olympic athletes, spectators, media, etc. are going to get around Boston in a timely fashion.  After all, Boston traffic does have a nasty habit of locking up at the most inopportune moments.

Well, Boston 2024 has a fix (p. 13) for that: “Olympic Lanes.”

Olympic Lanes will connect venues and provide reliable, safe transport for the Olympic Fleet and spectator shuttles on a network of more than 55 km of dedicated roadway lanes.

55 km translates to about 33 miles, for the curious.  So where are those 33 miles of “dedicated roadway lanes” going to come from?  See page 56:

Two main highways comprising about half of the Olympic Network —I-90 and I-93 — will connect Boston-Logan International Airport to the Athletes’ Village, downtown hotels and the waterfront while providing the spine of the ORN for Boston 2024. A series of downtown arterials will provide permitted vehicles with dedicated connections between competition venues when active, the IBC/MPC and hotels.

Ohhhhkaaayyy.  So we’re talking at least one lane in both directions on I-93, the same on the Turnpike, and a bunch of dedicated lanes on downtown roads well.  What could go wrong?

Not to worry, though, Boston 2024 says we’re used to this kind of thing.

The city and the region have become accustomed to changes in roadway capacities as result of the significant investment in public works over the past two decades. As an example, in 2011, the accelerated replacement of 14 bridges along I-93 north of Boston severely restricted capacity along the corridor for every weekend of the summer. During that project, traffic reductions/diversions of about 50 percent of typical summer demands were achieved through a comprehensive transportation demand management and regional traffic management plan. A similar plan would be put in place to mitigate the impacts of the Olympic Lanes associated with the I-93 corridor during the Games.

In other words, we’re used to traffic so awful that you’d rather gnaw off an arm than deal with it.  And this’ll be just more of the same.

Maybe not, though.  The problem with the Boston 2024 “analysis” is that as far as I can recall, there has rarely if ever been a situation in which capacity on the highways and secondary and downtown roads was severely restricted simultaneously.  To the contrary, as just one example (also cited in the Boston 2024 document), when the Callahan Tunnel was shut down recently, other roads (such as the South Boston bypass) were opened in order to ensure that traffic diverted from the Callahan had somewhere else to go.  But what Boston 2024 is proposing is basically to give the Olympic Lanes priority access to everything, and the rest of Boston can just lump it.

There’s no explanation in the Boston 2024 document as to how it would be possible to mitigate the impact of the Olympic Lanes.  Nor does it seem like the Mayor’s office has given it much thought.  From the Herald story:

Boston 2024’s public relations team declined to comment on the shuttle plan, street closures or parking bans outlined in their own proposal, deferring comment to Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

A Walsh spokeswoman said she could not estimate how many on-street and metered parking spaces could be eliminated for the Olympics or which streets may be closed.

“We are still nine years away from the 2024 Summer Games, and it is too early to determine how athletes will be transported or street closings and parking spaces,” said Walsh spokeswoman Laura Oggeri. “Many of those decisions will be driven by the location of the venues, which will be finalized over the coming years after a thorough community process.”

Keep reading those bid documents, folks.  There’s lots in there yet to be fully vetted.

Boston 2024 drops one hilariously terrible part of their bid to host the Olympics

The Globe reports today that Boston 2024, under pressure from both landlord and tenant groups, has scrapped a particularly ill-conceived part of their plan to find enough housing in Boston for spectators.  Here’s what they originally had in mind (p. 33):

approximately 100,000 students live off-campus in privately-owned, rental apartments throughout the city. In line with the academic calendar, the majority of Boston apartment leases are one-year in duration with a lease commencement date of September 1. As a result, students who vacate the city during their summer break opt to sublet their room or apartment to other tenants.

This scenario presents a tremendous opportunity for spectator accommodations, offering places for visitors to stay in neighborhoods popular for students such as Allston/Brighton and Fenway, which fall within walking distance to the University Cluster and provide convenient access to public transit.

Using a third-party specialist to manage the operation and create a streamlined program for Boston-area landlords, leases signed for September 1 of the year preceding the Games could be executed as 9-month leases, as opposed to typical 12-month leases. Regulations would then be in place to support reasonable rates for spectator accommodation for the duration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Wow.  First of all, have any of these people actually seen those student apartments?  Not exactly what the international tourist set has in mind for an Olympic visit.  Second, did they seriously think they can tell an entire segment of the market to execute 9-month instead of 12-month leases?  

Third, the most shocking part is the bit about enacting regulations “to support reasonable rates for spectator accommodation” – i.e., rent control.  Rent control, of course, has been illegal in Massachusetts since a 1994 ballot question banned it.  The Globe gets a great quote on this subject:

Kathy Brown, coordinator of the Boston Tenant Coalition, questioned why regulations to hold down rents, if legal, should be limited to international visitors.

“If they can do some restrictions for spectators, let’s see about some protections for hard-working Bostonians, as well,” she said.

Yeah, how about that.

Anyway, this part of the bid has been dropped – per the Globe, Boston 2024 assures us that “we are confident that there are more than enough accommodations for spectators in the region, and we will not be pursuing it further.”  Though it’s unclear exactly where those accommodations will come from, since, as Boston 2024 itself says (p. 33), “the majority of [the 50,000+ hotel rooms in a 50 km radius of Boston] will be allocated to client groups that take precedence over spectators.”  It’s unclear who “client groups” are, but my guess is that phrase refers to the visiting one-percenters.

In any event, there’s undoubtedly a lot of other stuff in the Boston 2024 bid documents that, when you read it carefully, might raise a few eyebrows.  I confess I haven’t taken the time yet to read the whole set of documents.  But there are surely some more terrific nuggets of awful yet to be discovered.  This is a great project for the BMG hive mind, so have at it!

Heard The One About Scott Brown's $60,000 State Pension?

Food for thought... - promoted by david

What with the snowfalls and the Super Bowl, you might have missed the news that Scott Brown has applied to the State Board of Retirement to begin collecting his state pension. As reported by the Globe, Fox 25 and other outlets (but not the Boston Herald, which is ordinarily vigilant on public pension matters), Brown filed his application shortly after his electoral loss in New Hampshire in November.

Here’s the squirrely part. The stories are estimating the amount of his pension to be $60,000. That’s wildly wrong on the high side. His pension will be closer to one-third of that number.

Fox 25 has helpfully shared Senator Brown’s pension application, and a handy guide on the State Board of Retirement website walks you through the math. The amount of our former Senator’s state pension will be the product of:

  • The number of years of service he is claiming (Brown is claiming 16.5 years)
  • Multiplied by an adjustment for his current age, (Brown is 55, the youngest age at which it is even possible for non-public safety workers to apply for pension benefits, so his age factor is .015)
  • Multiplied by the highest 36 consecutive month average rate of regular compensation (Brown made between $73,200 and $76,400 during that time, so let’s eyeball that number at $74,200).

So, (16.5) x (.015) x $74,200 = $18,364 per year, considerably less than $60,000, but maybe enough to pay the property taxes on the New Hampshire homestead. Glad that’s cleared up.

If, like me, you have a nagging suspicion that Senator Brown’s pension, even at the modest number of $18,364, nevertheless involves some advantageous calculations that are not available to many of the rest of us, a couple more points.

  • Senator Brown’s highest 36 months of compensation were his last three years in the State Senate, when he received an additional $15,000 (on top of the base legislator salary) for serving as Third Assistant Minority Leader. Since he was the least senior member of the minority party during that time, the $15,000 bonus he received was compensation for leading himself. Without that $15,000 bonus, his pension would be closer to $14,000.
  • Most of Senator Brown’s 16.5 years of service was time he spent not on the state payroll, but as a town assessor and then selectman in his home town of Wrentham, positions which were not full-time employment and for which he received little pay (a Globe article from last year reported that many towns pay their selectmen in the range of $3000 to $5000 per year). But for the existence of a law allowing such service to be counted toward state pension eligibility, the Senator would not have the 10 years of service required to collect a pension. As it is, he will be receiving more in pension benefits than a person who worked full-time for the state for the same number of years but whose highest 36 months of salary were less than Brown earned as his party’s Third Assistant Majority Leader.

Will the Olympic Bid Have to Face Democracy This Fall? City Councilor Files for Four Ballot Questions

Councilor Zakim goes for the gold! - promoted by Bob_Neer

I’ve been disappointed that, so far, we’ve seen more outspoken skepticism about Boston’s Olympic bid from Republican electeds than Democratic electeds in the state. It felt weird actually agreeing with Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) the other day. So this was a very welcome development:

Councilor Josh Zakim said Monday that he’s filed an order for four nonbinding Olympics-related ballot questions. He plans to present the order to the full city council on Wednesday.

The questions would ask if the city should host the games; if any public money should be used; if the city should promise to cover any overruns; and if the city should use eminent domain to take private land for the games.

In order to appear on the ballot, the questions would still require a majority vote in the City Council and the approval of Mayor Walsh. I think Michelle Wu would be on board, given her calls for a more democratic and transparent process, but I can’t vouch for any of the other members of the City Council (Can you?). And would Walsh quash the ballot initiatives if City Council did vote to move forward?

Either way, it’s nice to see that democracy is forcing itself into a most anti-democratic of processes.

The T: Still absolute toast.

Update on the ongoing cluster@%$ which is not merely inconveniencing, but actually endangering a considerable number of MA citizens right now:

 

Today’s insult:

Ah yes, “alternatives”. LIKE WHAT.

 

 

I’m constrained to point out that climate change will make/is making extreme weather events like this more common, which should make weather resiliency a major priority for transit planning. “Transit planning” BWAHAHAHAHA See what I did there? *wipes tear*. Oh mercy.

You simply must call your representatives at 617-722-2000 and give them an earful. wheredoivotema.com will tell you who your reps are.

 

Well, that about wraps it up for the T.

UPDATE: At this moment the Red Line is in total crisis:

More:

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In light of the MA House’s installation of Bob DeLeo as Speaker For Life (just call him Dear Leader from now on), and the experience of many commuters the last week or so, it’s time to evaluate the MBTA’s utter inability to run in at least one of the four seasons experienced in the Northeastern United States.

Maybe we don’t actually have a real transit system. Maybe it’s just a Potemkin Village. Maybe it’s a toy, so that you can pretend to try to get to work. And maybe it really doesn’t matter if you get to work, or wherever it was you thought you were supposed to be getting to. Because apparently when it snows, or it’s cold, or even when it’s too hot, you just can’t get there from here.

It’s like that Onion article — Pretty Cute Watching Boston Residents Play Daily Game Of ‘Big City’; ‘It’s Fun Watching Them Hustle And Bustle Around Like They Live In A Major Metropolis,’ Nation SaysWe don’t have a real transit system; we have a false promise — one that is so unreliable, that requires so many workarounds, that causes so much inconvenience that maybe it’s just not worth it at all. The MBTA is a bad boyfriend. Oh, it’s an expensive one, no doubt. But the degree of technical face-falling and absolute no-doubt administrative incompetence really blurs the line as to whether they’re even trying.

Maybe we should just give up the illusion. It’s in free-fall, a death spiral. We don’t have a functional transit system. It’s busted. Done.

If this bothers you — if you have been endangered, inconvenienced, or have experienced loss of work time, wages, opportunity, and/or reputation due to the MBTA’s constant malfunction, you simply have to tell that story to your state rep and Senator. Here’s how to find out who they are, if you don’t know. State House # is 617-722-2000. You have to do it. The ones that support the existence of the MBTA need the motivation; the ones that don’t, or are on the fence, need to know that there’s a constituency that is pissed off.

And it is not too early to think of 2016 primary (or general) challengers to electeds who do not make this a priority.

Two years ago, Bob DeLeo kneecapped the Governor’s legitimate funding proposal in favor of a literal half-measure that continues the neglect. He is now seemingly untouchable. But he may not be deaf.

Otherwise your representatives will be terrified to raise the money necessary to get this shambling wreckage back to anything approaching acceptable function. They will be more afraid of the knee-jerk anti-taxers than they are of the workforce that drives the economy of Eastern Massachusetts — the folks just trying to get to work.

The Butler Did It! NE Super Bowl Champions

Bumped, for the video. - promoted by Bob_Neer

And Bill Belichick and Tom Brady even arranged a snow day for Monday so the children of Massachusetts could stay up late and watch the game.

Punt, Punt, Punt, Pick! Great defense by the Patriots at the end of the game. An excellent summary from, of all places, the NYT:

Because it came against the swaggering Seahawks, who boasted the N.F.L.’s best defense and would tell anyone who asked as much. Because in its last eight games, all victories, Seattle had outscored its opponents by 83-13 in the fourth quarter — and by 130-26 after halftime.

With New England trailing, 24-14, with 12 minutes 10 seconds left, Brady led the Patriots on consecutive touchdown drives. The second culminated with a 3-yard pass to Julian Edelman, who had nine catches for a team-high 109 yards.

“Considering the fact that I almost had two heart attacks,” said Edelman, still wearing his grass-stained jersey, “it was great.”

A game for the ages. Way to go, Patriots!