T: Baker's leak machine springs a leak

Hm, some difficult questions for the Baker commision’s T report. Among the fairly explosive allegations were that the T was sitting on billions of unused funds, and that absenteeism was rampant.

Well gosh, are those things actually true?

McGee, for example, wanted to know more about the $2.2 billion in capital funds that the report said the T failed to spend over the last five years. McGee remarked that there’s an image out there of “$2 billion sitting around in a drawer unspent.” According to a report in theGlobe, “no one answered that question clearly.”

via Pushing back on Baker’s T reform – CommonWealth Magazine.

And again from Commonwealth, Steve Koczela pushes back on the absenteeism numbers, leaked to the press devoid of context or methodology for weeks:

The T panel’s report said the average absence rate at the transit agency is 11 to 12 percent, meaning roughly a tenth of the workers fail to show up on any given day. In calculating that percentage, the panel divided the average number of unscheduled days away from work (22.5) by the average number of days T workers actually do show up at work (204). The calculation is puzzling. Absenteeism is normally calculated by dividing the average number of days workers are absent by the total number of work days in a year. The T’s “employee availability reports” list 261 work days in a year, meaning the calculation would be 22.5 divided by 261, or 8.67 percent. One could debate whether holidays and other types of scheduled days off should be removed from the 261 work day total, but it is clear that removing the unscheduled days off from the work day total is misleading and inflates the absenteeism rate.

… The T panel’s approach makes impossible any comparison to absenteeism figures outside of the MBTA. The T panel report compared the 11-12 percent MBTA absenteeism rate to rates of 5-6 percent at unspecified peer agencies and 3 percent for the transportation industry as a whole.  Neither comparison is accurate.

Look, I’m 100% for reform as necessary. What I can’t get with is crappy methodology leading to a politically corrosive media strategy — seemingly intended to foist undeserved blame on employees of a major public asset.

The Baker administration is not playing it straight. That’s a damn shame.

Baker, be more like Brown

Jerry Brown continues his streak of heroism:

California would aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 under a plan announced on Wednesday that steps up the state’s previously established target, which has cut emissions partly by forcing companies to pay for their carbon pollution.

Governor Jerry Brown’s executive order is loftier than a federal goal that also aims to curb global warming, but it gives the state more time to achieve it. Brown’s plan lacks specifics, but he previously has cited increasing renewable electricity sources, reducing petroleum use in vehicles, doubling the energy efficiency of existing buildings and make heating fuels cleaner as ways to reduce emissions.

Brown set a target of reducing emissions to 40% below 1990 levels over the next 15 years and called it the most aggressive benchmark enacted by a government in North America.

“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached – for this generation and generations to come,” Brown said in a statement.

President Barack Obama announced a plan earlier this year to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 26% to 28% by 2025, with 2005 levels as the starting point.

California has already moved on its environmental goals, partly through a program that puts a monetary value on carbon emissions. In 2006, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the state’s landmark global warming law, and Brown has aggressively enforced it. It called for reaching 1990 emissions levels by 2020 and 80% below that by 2050.

The state’s cap-and-trade program, launched nearly three years ago, offers one of the few real-world laboratories on how to reduce carbon emissions. It expanded this year to fine companies that produce gasoline and other fuels, prompting predictions that consumers will see a spike in prices to cover the costs.

via California governor calls for drastic reduction in gas emissions by 2030 | US news | The Guardian.

A number of takeaways:

  • California is the largest state in the country, with a population of 38.8 million, 12% of the US population, more people than Canada.
  • As we’re seeing, they have a ton to lose from climate change.
  • They have a lot to gain from moving to renewables as quickly as possible — lots of home-grown industries from Tesla Motors to mom-and-pop solar contractors.
  • If you make fossil fuels more expensive, people will stop using them so much. And perhaps for the first time in history, that’s actually a viable alternative. The price of gasoline or natural gas is less important when you use less of it. And the marginal cost of sunshine and wind is zero.
  • They are explicitly trying to lead the country. They need followers in order to really make a dent in the country’s CO2 production.

Compare that to our own governor, who is supporting a new pipeline to continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels and the commodity-price roller-coaster.

Massachusetts shares a number of factors with California. We have a home-grown renewables industry that has a lot to gain from a reduction in emissions. Cape Wind would have been a good start, since even its relatively high price of 18.7c/kwH would have been below this winter’s peak of 21c/kwH — and the actual cost of Cape Wind’s energy would have been less than that.

Point is, you can build renewables and efficiency, and bring the weight of the state’s public interests to bear on the issue so that we get ourselves to the renewable economy as soon as possible. Or you can declare yourself captive to the whims of the fossil-fuel commodity market, and defer necessary action on climate change, endangering everyone and everything we care about.

California’s doing it right. Charlie Baker, not so far.

Bernie Sanders runs for President


Bernie Sanders immediately distanced himself from Hillary Clinton on trade, foreign policy and the environment as he announced a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination that represents her first serious challenge from the left….

Asked how he would differ from Clinton, Sanders claimed he would not run a negative campaign but highlighted three issues where the former secretary of state has been vague since announcing her frontrunner bid earlier this month – and more conservative since long before then.

“I voted against the war in Iraq, and not only did I vote against it, I helped lead the effort,” he said. “I am helping right now to lead the effort about the trans-pacific partnership because I believe it continues a trend of horrendous trade policies which have cost us millions of decent paying jobs.”

“I helped lead the effort against the Keystone pipeline, because I don’t think we should be transporting some of the dirtiest fuel in the world and have got to be really vigorous in terms of transforming our energy system,” he added. “Those are some of my views and we will see where secretary Clinton comes back.”

Fox employee and O’Reilly Factor booster Dennis Kucinich, redux?

Holyoke Schools Declared Level 5, State Takes Control

- promoted by Bob_Neer

BESE hearing on the proposed takeover of the Holyoke Public Schools.Via Michelle Williams of MassLiveNews.com: “BREAKING: The state board of education declares Holyoke Public Schools a ‘chronically underperforming’ Level 5 district, under state control.”

As Peter Balonon-Rosen reports for WBUR, Holyoke has had trouble meeting state standards in part due to its demographics:

Nearly half of Holyoke students do not speak English as a first language and nearly 30 percent are English-language learners. Standardized tests, which have been a major factor in determining achievement in Holyoke, present a number of challenges for English-language learners (ELLs).

Research suggests that although such tests intend to assess subject-area knowledge, many ELLs can find themselves required to take assessments before their English language skills are developed enough to comprehend the tests.

Eighty-five percent of Holyoke students come from low-income households. Recent research shows that poverty may be the largest factor that affects academic achievement and likelihood of dropping out of school.

I’ve weighed in before on state takeovers in general:

We let our children grow up in communities with high unemployment, low-paying jobs and high crime rates, then when they don’t do well on tests, we declare the school, principal & teachers “failing.” Here in Massachusetts, our “failing” schools are all located in inner-city Boston, Fall River, Holyoke, New Bedford and Springfield – all urban areas, all poor, most heavily minority.

But I’m not familiar with Holyoke’s story. Are you? What do you think of the state takeover?

Anti GMO food = Climate denier?

Bumped, for the awesome Comedy Central clip located by esteemed BMGer jasiu. Thanks! - promoted by Bob_Neer

A provocative NYT Op-Ed “How I Got Converted to G.M.O. Food” by Cornell Alliance for Science researcher Mark Lynas, asserts that GMO opponents are intellectually equivalent to climate deniers:

After writing two books on the science of climate change, I decided I could no longer continue taking a pro-science position on global warming and an anti-science position on G.M.O.s.

There is an equivalent level of scientific consensus on both issues, I realized, that climate change is real and genetically modified foods are safe. I could not defend the expert consensus on one issue while opposing it on the other. …

The environmental movement’s war against genetic engineering has led to a deepening rift with the scientific community. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science showed a greater gap between scientists and the public on G.M.O.s than on any other scientific controversy: While 88 percent of association scientists agreed it was safe to eat genetically modified foods, only 37 percent of the public did — a gap in perceptions of 51 points. (The gap on climate change was 37 points; on childhood vaccinations, 18 points.)

Our meeting with Mayor Walsh: Boston 2024

Ryan already summarized the 90-minute meeting Sabutai, Hysterprynne, he and I recently with Mayor Walsh at his City Hall office to discuss Boston 2024 and other issues of the day. Esteemed BMGer Joyce Linehan, Walsh’s Chief of Policy — the woman who “convinced Elizabeth Warren to run for Senate” according to Boston magazine — arranged the confab. As Ryan wrote, prime takeaways related to the Olympics included the need for Boston 2024 to “be competent,” “be different,” “be inclusive,” and have explicit financial commitments. Read his full post here, along with commentary by Sabutai. I’ll just add a two additional points that struck me.

First, Boston 2024 is a private organization distinct from the Mayor of Boston. Media coverage typically presents “the Olympic bid” as a fused public-private effort, with an implication that elected leaders support every detail of the bid, from clear-cutting the Common for a temporary volleyball court to straightening the Charles River for crew competitions (I jest). As Adam Vaccaro wrote on Boston.com in February, “That setup created the impression that the city and Boston 2024 are at this point in lockstep as it applies to the bid. That’s not quite a new dynamic—Walsh described the city’s relationship with Boston 2024 as team-like in an interview with Boston Public Radio last week; the United States Olympic Committee said when it selected Boston that the teamwork between Boston 2024 and City Hall helped to win them over …”

Walsh has certainly been supportive of the bid in general terms. Until our meeting, however, I hadn’t realized the degree to which 2024 had been setting the agenda — with the disastrous results we all know. Whatever else the consequences of their Winter of Defeat, by weakening the authority of the bid committee it should enormously strengthen the Mayor’s voice in the process. It will be intriguing to see if the Committee recognizes that reality, especially in the run-up to the referendum, and how Walsh uses that expanded power.

Second, the value of using the bid as a way to boost Boston’s global profile is not inconsequential, and will accrue to the city whether or not it gets the Games. Walsh stressed this point in our meeting, and it bears some consideration. Advertising and promotions can produce revenue — visitors and jobs, for a city — which is why businesses spend billions on it, and why the Commonwealth has been spending about $8 million annually to boost its profile. (Of course, not everyone agrees about its value: Governor Baker has proposed to cut the budget for the Office of Travel and Tourism from $14.2 million in fiscal year 2015 to $6.1 million in 2016). Tragically, many in this world are unaware that the Hub of the Universe, Cambridge’s largest suburb, is located right here on Massachusetts Bay: to the degree Boston 2024 educates them, as it has already done to some degree by winning the US Olympic Committee’s nod, there is some public benefit.


Sensible, frugal Cambridge bans plastic bags

Kudos to Cambridge for adopting a bottle bill for bags: banning plastic bags and requiring that retailers charge a fee for paper bags starting in March 2016. This responsible legislation will reduce litter, better align the costs of trash creation to those who create it, and reduce the existing effective public subsidy to establishments that contribute to trash across the city without helping to pay for its clean-up. Boston and other cities and towns should follow their common sense example, and that of California. WBUR on 31 March:

The Cambridge City Council voted Monday night to ban single-use plastic bags in the city. The ban goes into effect in March 2016.

The OK’d ordinance says “the reduction in the use of disposable checkout bags by Retail Establishments … is a public purpose that protects the marine environment, advances solid waste reduction, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and protects waterways.”

According to City Councilor Dennis Carlone, Cambridge is now the largest city on the East Coast with such a ban.

The Cambridge measure, which had been studied there since 2007, passed by an 8-1 vote.

The ordinance also requires retailers charge a fee for paper bags. Carlone says Cambridge is the first city in the state to introduce a paper bag fee.

Both the plastic bag ban and the paper bag fee are intended to encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags.

Trying again: graduated income tax possibly heading for 2018 ballot

Our friends at MASSter list report that Raise Up MA, the group behind last year’s successful earned sick time ballot question, has a bigger target in its sights this time around: a graduated income tax.  Specifically:

Raise Up is considering an aggressive target for revenue from a new tax rate for top earners – upwards of $2 billion a year, which the coalition believes would result from raising the rate to 9 percent on incomes over $500,000.

According to MASSter list, Raise Up has already done polling on the issue, and finds that this sort of approach is popular.

Raise Up conducted polling in January that showed strong support – upwards of 70 percent – for significant tax increases on incomes over $500,000. According to one person familiar with the polling data, an income of $500,000 and above resonated in polls as “wealthy” – and a level that should be taxed at a higher rate.

“Polling and focus groups have opened a new horizon about how strongly people feel about that $500,000 level,” said one of the organizers. Raise Up expects to be on the streets collecting signatures in the fall.

I think this is excellent news, even despite the unfortunate history of ballot questions like this one.  Of course, in my view, the Massachusetts Constitution does not actually prohibit a graduated income tax.  But, until the Supreme Judicial Court overturns its misguided precedents on the subject, a constitutional amendment is the only way forward.  And it’s well worth another try.

Somerville Home Sells for 1.7 mil-I'm sorry but housing is out of control

Two comments: 1. Somerville's a nice, convenient place to live. A victim of its own success. 2. We have nowhere near enough housing in Eastern MA. We are pricing out the middle- and working classes. And it's going to be zoning reform, not 40B, that solves the problem. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

Hat tip to BMGs Ryepower for bringing this item to my attention. From today’s Globe:

A house on Foskett Street in Somerville has just become the most expensive single-family home ever purchased in the city, according to property records on the area’s Multiple Listing Service, a real estate information network. The 4-bedroom, 4 and a half-bath house at 32 Foskett St. sold on Friday for $1,725,000, which Curbed reports is several hundred thousand dollars above the asking price of $1.5 million. The home is a Colonial built in 1920 and comes with a two-car garage.

No offense to SomervilleTom or other denizens of that fine city, but there is no freakin way that kind of house should fetch that kind of price. My own old home shouldn’t sell for 990k, but that’s what the flipper we sold to is asking for. Something isn’t right. We need to build more homes and build more densely. We may need to build upward and reconsider zoning laws, but something has to change.

This conversation of two thirty something Somerville residents who moved to Austin was awfully close to one my fiancee and I had when we were in that fine city. Man, this place is as cool as Davis Square and we could actually afford to live here! And it’s 80 all year round with great BBQ to boot. Now, I don’t want to abandon my roots and I want to get elected in Massachusetts, my home, not pretend to be someone else in Texas. But these terrible costs on top of the mess of the MBTA are not helping me make my case to the misses that this is where we belong. Who knows how many young people and natives we keep losing? We already lost one congressional district, can we afford to lose another? Do we want to be the People’s Republic of Zuckerstan? Do we want to outsource the poor to exurbs that can’t help them?

We have to reform our zoning and we can make housing more affordable and build more urbanized and sustainable communities. It’s not hard. We just need to find the will.

Take down the POW/MIA flags

Do they do any harm? - promoted by Bob_Neer

One of the many strange things about the story of the POW/MIA flag is that it grew more popular decades after the Vietnam POWs came home than they were when the flag was created by activists lobbying for their release. That’s when politicians everywhere started flying the POW/MIA flag outside public buildings.

Now the flags are everywhere. I pass several on my way to work every day, flown not just at veterans organizations, but wherever you see the American flag.  At the inauguration of Gov. Charlie Baker in January, I noticed three flags on the podium of the House chambers: the U.S. flag, the flag of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the POW/MIA flag.

For a long time, I’ve been wondering why this flag rose to such unprecedented prominence. What does that flag say about American history and the attitudes of Americans? Who does it honor – just the Vietnam-era POWS and MIAs for whom it was created, or POWs and MIAs from other wars, like my Uncle Bub, whose plane crashed in the Balkans during World War II? What about the KIAs and the disabled vets and everyone else who has served in uniform? Are they promised they’ll “never be forgotten” just like the POWs and MIAs? And if all their sacrifices are to be honored, is the image of an American held in a foreign prison the symbol we would choose?

I raise these questions and more in a column this week in the MetroWest Daily News and other GateHouse Media publications:


In the column, I call on people to start taking the POW/MIA flags, hoping to start a conversation. The response has been interesting, and anything but one-sided.

It’s not an issue politicians want to touch. I asked John Kerry about in an ed board in 1996, and he predictably dodged the question. But I still think the wrong flag is being flown in the wrong places, and 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, we ought to be able to talk about it.

Joke Revue: "G.O.P. Chairman Warns Against Hatred for Hillary Peaking Too Soon"

Happy Earth Day, in arrears:


G.O.P. Chairman Warns Against Hatred for Hillary Peaking Too Soon

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In an urgent memo to the field of G.O.P. Presidential candidates, the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, praised them for their relentless personal attacks on Hillary Clinton, but warned that their hatred for the former Secretary of State might be “peaking too early.”

Priebus called the candidates’ ongoing evisceration of Clinton “magnificent,” but expressed his concern that “no human beings, even an impressive group like yourselves, could possibly sustain such a high intensity of throbbing hatred for an entire year and a half.”

“Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint,” he wrote. “You need to leave some hate in the tank.”

In the conclusion of his memo, Priebus advised the candidates to take an occasional day off from hating Clinton so that they could “return to despising her with renewed freshness and vigor.”

Responding to the R.N.C. directive, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said that he understood Priebus’s concerns, but assured him that, at the end of the day, they were groundless. “Anyone who doesn’t think I’m capable of spewing an infinite stream of vitriol and bile doesn’t know what I’m made of,” he said, pointing with pride to his long record of hating President Obama.

Daniel Kurtzman:

“Jeb Bush has to distance himself from what they call the Bush brand. So he keeps saying, ‘I am my own man.’ But when Governor Chris Christie is out on the campaign trail, he’s always saying, ‘I’m my own man, plus another guy.’” –David Letterman

“Hillary Clinton is making income inequality a central theme in her campaign. Yeah, for example, today she pointed out that her husband makes $300 million a year. She has to get by on $200 million a year, and that’s not fair.” –Conan O’Brien

“Hillary’s trying to appear downhome. Earlier today she was sitting on the front porch of a general store whittling a pantsuit. ” –David Letterman

“Governor Chris Christie says if he’s president, he will crack down on the sale of marijuana. However, that was before he was told it also comes in a brownie.” – Conan O’Brien

“Hillary Clinton announced she’s running for president. Yesterday in Ohio, Hillary popped into a Chipotle and she ordered a burrito bowl with chips and salsa. And on her way out she said, ‘That locks down the Hispanic vote.’” –Conan O’Brien

“Hillary Clinton is not the first woman to run for president. That title belongs to Victoria Woodhull, who ran for president in 1872. Her running mate was a young, scrappy John McCain.” –Conan O’Brien

“A new report says that dogs can sniff out prostate cancer with almost 98 percent accuracy. The report also finds that cats can sniff it out with 100 percent accuracy but they prefer to watch you die.” –Conan O’Brien

“Yesterday President Obama traveled to Jamaica, where he will meet with students and Caribbean leaders. Jamaica’s such a beautiful place, Obama says he can’t wait to just take it all in, hold it for several seconds, and then exhale.” –Jimmy Fallon

“In a recent interview, Michelle Obama said that the Secret Service taught Malia how to drive. In exchange, Malia taught the Secret Service how to throw a party when her parents are away.” –Conan O’Brien

What the Globe Forgot to Tell You about Two of Boston 2024’s New Board Members

Useful information. Oh, Globe ... - promoted by Bob_Neer

A few days ago, Boston 2024 rolled outs its new 30-member board of directors, a mix of (mostly) corporate executives, athletes,  and USOC officials.

The Globe printed a handy list of all 30 members and a line or two of background information. However, in at least two cases, the Globe gave rather deceptive descriptions.

The first is Mo Cowan, who has already been a government relations adviser for Boston 2024 for some time. The Globe describes him as  “the former chief of staff for Governor Patrick, who also served briefly as US senator.” This is all true. But he hasn’t been in the US Senate for almost two years now.

After leaving the Senate, Cowan went back to Mintz Levin, where he now serves as the Senior VP and Chief Operating Officer of the firm’s lobbying practice ML Strategies.

Here’s how ML Strategies describes its work:

From Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill, ML Strategies delivers superior government relations and consulting services. With deep knowledge in a range of issues including energy, transportation, health care, financial services, real estate, education, and telecommunications, our senior-level professionals in Boston and Washington, DC use their extensive experience in federal, state, and city government, as well as in the private sector, to build creative, informed, and strategic solutions that meet the goals of our clients.

In other words, he’s not a public servant as the Globe implies: he’s a corporate lobbyist.

We can also see the Globe’s deceptiveness at work when they describe former Boston 2024 President Dan O’Connell as a “former state housing secretary.” Again, that is not untrue. He was Secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development under Deval Patrick from January 2007 to February 2009.

However, that was over five years ago. What is Dan O’Connell up to now?

Well, he’s the President and CEO of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, a self-described “public policy group comprised of chief executive officers of some of the Commonwealth’s largest businesses.” They’re open about who they are: a bunch of rich people trying to shape government to further enrich themselves.

The MCP consists of the CEOs of Raytheon, Mass Mutual, Suffolk Construction, Partners HealthCare, State Street Corporation, Fidelity Investments, The Kraft Group, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Liberty Mutual, Everousrce Energy, Bank of America, Putnam Investments, Staples, BJ’s Wholesale Club, and EMC—and then Jack Connors, the co-founder and former chairman of Hill Holliday.

Boston 2024 board members John Fish (Suffolk Construction), Roger Crandall (Mass Mutual), and Robert Reynolds (Putnam Investments) are all members of MCP. Joseph Hooley (State Street Corporation) and Jeffrey Leiden (Vertex Pharmaceuticals), who both serve on Boston 2024 advisory committees, are also members of MCP.