GLAD on the Kosilek Case

The strange and unfortunate decision by the full Appeal Court of the First District in the Michelle Kosilek case gets not only my thoughts yesterday. The insightful legal view today came from Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).

She has been involved in the case and similar ones for a long time. She too expressed surprise and disappointment at the 3 to 2 panel majority’s finding that Kosilek could be denied sexual-reassignment surgery. That came despite the strong majority of Department of Corrections medical and mental health professionals saying such treatment was necessary.

Click below to hear Levi on the case.

Levi would not be backed into saying what the motivations of the three-judge majority was in denying treatment or in overruling trial judge Mark Wolf’s decision. She did concur with dissenting Judge Ojetta Thompson’s inference. That opinion noted the difficulty many have in thinking about what they find “strange…immoral…unfamiliar.”

See the scathing dissent to understand the legal issues and the flaws in Tuesday’s decision. The 117-page ruling, majority and dissents, is here. Fortunately, Judge Thompson in the lead dissent covered the content of the majority decision thoroughly. You can start on page 71. Judge Mark Wolf’s original 128-page decision from two years ago is here. He shows his work and analyzed all the ideas and details.

She discussed the dismal and daunting options left to Kosilek, who can appeal to the SCOTUS or live with the DOC’s solution of hormone treatments and cosmetics instead. No decision on appeal has been made.

She spoke of the implications of this ruling. Not only does this imply that the DOC can deny such surgery to transgender inmates, this can extend to other medical treatments. Largely, under Eighth Amendment standards, we provide necessary care for the likes of heart disease, broken bones and such. Yet, here the majority ruled that the DOC is not allowed to shop for doctors to support its denials (footnote on page 57), but can take a second, minority opinion if it chooses. Likewise, the majority ruled on what seems to be a red herring of pre- and post-operative security concerns for Kosilek. From her prison behavior and from the experiences with other transgender inmates, Wolf was correct in dismissing such arguments, I say.

Click below to listen in as Levi discusses both the Eighth-Amendment issues and the relationship between the district’s Court of Appeals panels. She does not see how this case even qualified for a full en banc review.

I’ll keep tabs on this case and follow up as necessary. It is a sad ruling.



Cross-post from Left Ahead.

"Hello, this is Barack Obama of Somerville"

In case you missed it … this was pretty sweet:

“Ya done good, Deval.” Yeah, pretty much. (Watch the Gov blush.)

Today in "even worse ideas": a special state lottery game to fund the Olympics

To be clear, this is only an idea and has not been formally proposed by anyone.  Still….

One of the options that the movers and shakers behind Boston 2024 have explored is their very own game run by the Lottery, which typically funnels money only to cities and towns. Though both sides say the talks were preliminary and led nowhere, the door has been left open just the slightest to revisit the issue….

[Said Boston 2024 executive vice president Erin Murphy-Rafferty:] “Our financial team conducted some very preliminary due diligence on the lottery ticket programs used by our local sports teams but chose not to pursue this any further with the Massachusetts Lottery.”

But they could pursue it with the Legislature, which [State Lottery Commission Beth] Bresnahan said they would need to do [because at present state law requires that all net lottery proceeds go to local aid]…. State Rep. John Scibak of South Hadley is House chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, the committee that hears most bills related to the Lottery. Scibak said there would probably be resistance from cities and towns to watering down local aid funds but he said the possibility of a dedicated Olympic ticket was intriguing.

Oy.  Let’s just rattle off a couple of the ways in which this is a truly awful idea.

  • The Lottery, as problematic as it is, funds local aid to cities and towns.  If you drop a new, high-profile game into the mix whose proceeds go to fund the Olympics instead, that will almost certainly siphon off money that otherwise would have gone to paying firefighters and schoolteachers.
  • Lottery tickets are purchased overwhelmingly by people with relatively low income.  Yes, it’s voluntary, but the fact remains that if a lottery ticket is dedicated to funding the Olympics, then that portion of Olympic funding will be coming directly from the people who can least afford it.  That’s a far cry from the promises we’ve consistently heard from Boston 2024, which is that all the operating costs will be covered by corporations etc.
  • It’s impossible to precisely estimate how much revenue this would generate.  So if it’s part of the budget and doesn’t meet projections, someone else has to pick up the tab.

Please, someone, put this idea out of its misery before it gains any traction.

Wonk Post: 2016 Democratic Presidential Preference - Early Polling

From HuffPollster:

Clinton leads among Democrats - Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming favorite in the Democratic side, with just over 60 percent support when Democrats are prompted for their choice on the McClatchy/Marist and Fox News polls, and just under 50 percent on Monmouth’s open-ended question. Although Clinton’s dominance made it easier for Democrats to name a choice without prompting, nearly 40 percent were still unable to volunteer a preference.

Solar Microgrids and Water Biomonitoring for Christmas

Solar Microgrids in Tanzania:
Maasai Stoves & Solar Project
International Collaborative
81 Kirkland Street, Unit 2, Cambridge, MA 02138

Water biomonitoring in Costa Rica:
ANAI, Inc.,
1120 Meadows Road, Franklin, North Carolina 28734

More about these programs below.

I met Bob Lange at a presentation by Paul Polak (, a social business entrepreneur for the bottom billion customers, hosted by MIT’s D Lab, Design Lab (, in April 2008. Bob was then combining cleaner cookstoves with solar electricity in a village on an island near Zanzibar:

“About a mile from Unguja, the southern major island of Zanzibar, there is the Island of Tumbatu. There are two villages on Tumbatu. Neither has electricity and there are no roads or cars on the island… Jongowe, on the southern tip of Tumbatu, has 625 households and a population of several thousand people.”

Previously, he had worked in Africa on science education. Since then, I’ve seen him start the Maasai Stoves and Solar Project which has helped a number of people, households and villages build their own cleaner cookstoves and chimneys and install their own solar lights and power systems. Now he is building microgrids on a compound, boma, or village scale in Tanzania:

“our boma-scale microgrid is really loved by the local people…. the boma owner has to put clean stoves in all the houses of the boma, as we are not going to electrify a network of unhealthy homes. and he has to provide a room or building for the panels, the battery, charge controller, and shared appliances. we provide the rest.

“the boma people work together to bury all the wires etc.

“we use auto fuses for the individual households.

“check it out on face book. maasai stoves and solar.

“For a better life for the rural world, and a cleaner environment for all”
International Collaborative, Maasai Stoves & Solar Project
81 Kirkland Street, Unit 2, Cambridge, MA 02138

Maasai Stoves and Solar has a fund raising goal of $60,000 for this program.


Bill McLarney was one of the founders of the New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod and I met him there back in the 1970s. Since 1978, he was been working with Asociación ANAI ( in the Talamanca region of Costa Rica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and ‘Biodiversity Hotspot’. Over the years, ANAI and its Talamancan partners have built economically viable and environmentally sustainable projects which integrate conservation, development, and national technical development:

“…nature conservation, organic agro forestry, local processing and marketing, sustainable forest management, land titling for small farmers and community ecotourism. In all cases, our approach has included local participation and leadership, applied science, synthesis of local and external knowledge and experiences, creating linkages to integrate conservation and development, grassroots organizational development, and forming alliances.”

There is now a network of local and regional initiatives, facilities, grassroots organizations which are self-sustaining and new projects focused on strengthening the practical linkages between rural development, nature conservation, and biodiversity including a significant citizen science effort in biomonitoring:

“training residents of the indigenous territories bordering the La Amistad World Heritage Site in Costa Rica and Panama as aquatic parataxonomists – citizen scientists capable of analyzing and reporting on the health of their rivers and streams. This program – so far as we know the first aquatic parataxonomy program in the world – has been of critical importance both in solving water and habitat quality issues of local origin and staving off destructive megaprojects such as open pit mines and giant hydro dams which threaten not only aquatic systems but the cultural identity of the Cabecar, Bribri, Naso and Ngobe people.”
ANAI, Inc., 1120 Meadows Road, Franklin, North Carolina 28734

ANAI has a fund raising goal of $30,000 for their biomonitoring project.

'Our Policy of Isolation has Failed'-President Obama Normalizes Relations with Cuba

This is the biggest story in diplomacy since President Nixon came back from China. Our longtime policy of isolating the Castro regime has failed, not only to depose that regime, but to turn the Cuban people towards the United States. It has also failed Cuba-the lack of foreign investment has forced it to rely on handouts from client states, which have grown few and far between. The Russians pulled out after the Wall came down, the Chinese have a soft presence since the market is no longer lucrative, and Venezuela is undergoing an economic crisis due to globally low gas prices.

President Castro and President Obama, with an assist apparently from Pope Francis, have concluded 18 months of high level and surprisingly secret talks to exchange prisoners, exchange spies, free high level political prisoners important to the exile community, and gradually begin restoring relations. We will be re-opening our embassy and phasing out the sanctions the Executive Branch has authority to eliminate- mainly restrictions on remittance, travel allowances, and what goods you can bring back. A full embargo must be ended by Congress, but Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is already sponsoring a bill to do so along with Pat Lehay (D-VT).

The President in the boldest and most visionary stroke of diplomacy in his presidency, has begun the process of opening up full relations to Cuba. Only a moron like Marco Rubio, or a morally bankrupty opportunist like Robert Mendendez, would say something so un-patriotic that exposing the Cuban people to American culture, American democratic norms, and American consumer goods will somehow embolden the Castro regime. This is a diplomatic master stroke.

Where's the Outreach?

Looks like the Democrats are in the midst of a subcommittee restructuring.  I took a look at the possibilities of joining an Outreach Group:  Affirmative Action and Outreach, GLBT Outreach, Senior Outreach, Women Outreach, Disability Outreach, Democratic Latino Caucus, Youth Services  and a few others.  As I have written earlier, while all of these demographic groups are important, does anyone see what’s missing?  Why is there one glaring demographic that we are not reaching out to?  If you can’t see what’s missing, look at who is driving the next pickup truck you see.  It’s not Scott Brown, but it’s the guy who voted for him and Charlie, perhaps because no one from our party reached out and asked him for his vote.

Heads up! BRA wants to extend its ability to exercise eminent domain for pretty much any reason

Fascinating story in the Globe today:

[Mayor Marty Walsh's] administration is seeking state approval to extend 15 of the city’s 18 urban renewal districts for another decade, allowing the BRA [Boston Redevelopment Authority] to use eminent domain powers, tax breaks, and other tools to shape development…. [I]t will seek to preserve urban renewal powers in 15 areas stretching from Charlestown to the Fenway, and to parts of Roxbury and Dorchester. Overall, the districts cover about 3,000 acres, or about 10 percent of the city.

Now, why is this important?  After all, you say, doesn’t the city already have the power to exercise eminent domain, offer tax breaks, etc.?  Well, yes and no.  I don’t claim to know all the ins and outs of these matters, but I do know something about the eminent domain piece.

As you probably know, both the state and federal constitutions permit government to take private property by eminent domain, as long as the taking is accomplished for “public use.”  In the (in)famous 2005 decision of Kelo v. New London, the US Supreme Court decided that the US Constitution does not prevent a city from taking private property, even if that property is in good condition (i.e., not “blighted”), not because it needs the property for a road or a post office or some other traditional “public use,” but simply because it thinks that a different private owner would make more economically beneficial use of the property – a so-called “economic development taking.”  There has of course been a lot of fallout from Kelo, including several posts here at BMG.  You can give yourself a refresher here, here, here, and here.

For present purposes, the important thing to realize is that, unlike the US Supreme Court, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has never authorized a pure “economic development taking” under the Massachusetts Constitution.  As I explained a while ago,

at least in Massachusetts, the law has long been that (to quote a 1955 Opinion of the Justices) “the expectation that adjacent areas and the city as a whole will benefit through the increase of taxable property and of values [is only an] indirect public benefit [that] has never been deemed to render a project one for a public purpose.”  Most Massachusetts cases upholding transfers of seized property to a private entity have noted that the seizure was undertaken in the course of “urban renewal,” or some other government program designed to remedy “blighted,” “decadent,” or “substandard” conditions.

As far as I know, Massachusetts courts have never held that a taking is permissible under the state Constitution solely for “economic development” purposes – urban renewal, slum clearance, blight removal, or some similar purpose was always part of it.

Which brings us to today’s news.  An “urban renewal district” is a marvelous tool that governments came up with decades ago in order to get around pesky constitutional restrictions on their ability to seize private property for economic development purposes (to be fair, they serve other purposes as well).  Basically, the documents creating these districts declare that an entire area of a city (usually many acres at a time) is full of “blighted,” “decadent,” and/or “substandard” conditions, or words to that effect, and that getting rid of these dreadful conditions is a public purpose sufficient to justify the use of eminent domain.  As long as a parcel of property has the misfortune to sit within one of these districts, it is subject to seizure, regardless of the actual condition of that parcel.  And the kicker is that these districts typically have an extremely long shelf-life – 40 years, for example.  To my knowledge, Massachusetts courts have generally upheld takings within “urban renewal” districts on the basis of the findings in the urban renewal plan, regardless of the actual condition of the property being taken or the presence of a more traditional “public use.”

So why is this in the news now?

Most of those districts are set to expire in April, but the BRA will seek a yearlong reprieve to solicit public comment about how its priorities for those areas should change. Then, it will seek state approval to extend its urban renewal powers for another decade.

Aha.  In other words, come April, the city will no longer be able to justify the exercise of eminent domain simply by pointing to a decades-old document that in many cases describes area-wide conditions that have long since ceased to exist.  Instead, it will have to supply a genuine “public purpose” parcel by parcel, every time it wants to exercise eminent domain.  How inconvenient that will be.

To be fair, the city recognizes that, in the past, it has badly abused its urban renewal powers.

Newly appointed BRA director Brian Golden acknowledged Tuesday that the authority has abused those powers in the past — by bulldozing whole neighborhoods in the 1950s and ’60s and more recently by being less than forthcoming about its financial dealings with developers and other parties.

But Golden pledged that the BRA will use urban renewal powers more sparingly in coming years to build moderately priced housing and promote business growth in neighborhoods. He also said citizens will have more input on zoning decisions and the use of public property.

“We will show people that we are a people’s BRA, not just a developers’ BRA,” Golden said in a meeting with reporters. “We will show them that with our deeds, not just our words.”

Maybe so.  If that’s the case, though, then I have another idea.  Maybe, instead of extending blanket “urban renewal” powers that are at least subject to the possibility of abuse, the city should propose a new document that spells out the “more sparing” public purposes to which Golden now claims the BRA will limit itself when exercising eminent domain, and also spells out exactly how “citizens will have more input.”  That way, we can have a full and open public debate about what those public purposes ought to be.

Eminent domain is among the government’s most intrusive powers.  It can be used very well and very successfully; it can also be used very badly.  Proceed with caution.

Housing needs a market solution

In an otherwise highly laudatory column about Governor Deval Patrick’s economic record in the Globe, Shirley Leung gets this quote from Michael Widmer:

“[Recent governors] all have made efforts trying to remove some regulatory barriers,” Widmer said, but “we remain a very heavily regulated state. Nobody is talking about repealing environment regulations. It’s having it done in a way that is less labyrinthian.”

With regard to housing, there’s an economic problem here, and a gigantic social justice problem: There just isn’t anywhere near enough housing for the middle class in Massachusetts. In a state where the economy is doing quite well in most places, by rights we ought to be able to accommodate a significant influx of people.

But we’re not. We’re losing middle class people whom we ought to keep and squeezing hard the ones who don’t leave. Matt Yglesias says straight-up “Housing affordability is Blue America’s greatest failing”, and the problem is zoning:

This comes about primarily because coastal areas have adopted excessively strict zoning rules. There is not enough semi-dense mid-rise construction in the affluent suburbs of San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, etc. Secondarily, there are too many restrictions on the creation of new, big apartment towers in the very most expensive parts of coastal cities.

Ed Glaeser has been saying this for ages. Paul Krugman, too. There are 351 separate, highly idiosyncratic zoning regulations for housing development in the Commonwealth. And 40B building is not going to make a dent in the housing market in a way that actually affect the middle class; the state simply can’t pull off that kind of scale.

To put Widmer’s and the others’ concerns together: We need clearer and simpler regulations for where you may, and where you may not build. Where you may, build up to the sky. Where there are wetlands or yes, even aesthetic considerations, you may not. Here people, there nature.

There are significant political risks: Homeowners are perfectly happy to have their property values rise. But if they have to find another place within Massachusetts, their gains are simply plowed back into the next house. It makes it more attractive to leave the state for someplace cheaper (and warmer) — pocketing the difference in real estate values.

Access to affordable housing is also part of the solution. We can also increase transit options so that places that do have relatively affordable housing (Brockton, South Coast) have access to jobs in the places that have them. But of course, without an increase in actual supply, this has the tendency to raise housing prices.

This is an opportunity for a wonky, reform-minded, free-market oriented Governor who’s not afraid to take on some knotty problems. If Charlie Baker wants to be that guy, here’s his opportunity.

Hobson's Dichomoty and Beating around the Bush.

Let me be blunt.  I’m not Ready for Hillary and I have decided that I do not want Elizabeth Warren out of the senate.  Is it possible for us to look at other possibilities?  Any viable suggestions?  Anyone?  Bueller?

When George H. Bush took office, unemployment was 5.4%%.  When he left it was 7.3%.

When George W. Bush took office, unemployment was 4.2%%.  When he left it was 7.8%.

Now Jeb Bush wants to run for president?







Can we believe Boston won't be on the hook for Olympic cost overruns?

Boston 2024 has promised at numerous points that Boston won’t be on the hook for any cost overruns.

But can we afford to believe them?

Let’s ask Seattle what happens when you get involved in a major project  with regional implications (in this case, a major tunnel project) – with promises they wouldn’t be on the hook for potentially billions of cost overruns.

Originally the state and city were each financially responsible for their part of the project — the state for the tunnel, the city for surrounding infrastructure, like the new seawall, that would be needed to make the tunnel possible. Tunnel cost overruns would be covered by the state. Back to The Stranger:

But the state screwed Seattle at the last minute. One month after signing the agreement, the legislature passed the law capping spending and requiring Seattle to pay for all cost overruns—including all cost overruns on the state’s part of what is a state highway project.

This is an unprecedented funding arrangement: city taxpayers on the hook for a state highway project.

Obviously, these are two very different kinds of projects, but both have some very similar aspects.

  • Both projects are projected to costs billions.
  • Both kinds of projects often come with absolutely massive cost overruns.
  • Both projects are something powerful politicians and corporations pushed/are pushing on a lukewarm public.
  • Both kinds of projects have a history of promises made to the public that never materialize.

We should think very carefully before we agree to host the Olympics, because whatever bill of goods is promised us to go along with it can and almost certainly will be changed as corporate sponsors and the IOC worm their way in.

Seattle has found that out the hard way. We should demand answers to all specifics now, while we can, or the deal will get altered for our little Cloud City on the Hill.

No Boston Olympics - Hydra needs help

For the past 13 months, has attempted to level the playing field as Boston2024 advances Phase I of its efforts (the quiet bid to the USOC). With today’s presentation by boosters to win the American bid, we are concluding Phase I with an NBO presence outside the USOC meeting in California,

Now we potentially enter Phase II (the national, public push for Boston to the IOC). And we need your help.

We are just one of many voices – from Dan Shaughnessy to veteran JP activists – that have made the USOC & local/national media take notice, and we hope that a variety of voices continue to be heard. We are an all-volunteer organization, but every time the No Boston Olympics co-chairs had to step back (births, deaths, work, etc) we had five other community members stepping forward to volunteer. As the booster operation goes from $11 Million to $36 Million in the next stage, we are going to need the experience and energy of the BMG community. We need the Hydra to grow more heads.

The No Boston Olympics mantra has been to avoid kneejerk reactions that proponents expected (too much traffic, corruption, etc) and focused on the gigantic opportunity cost – what other priorities could we focus on with the civic attention and resources consumed by a Boston Olympics? How many kids off the early childhood wait list? How many bridge repairs? Etc, etc.

As we potentially enter this more intense, complicated Phase II we know there are many likeminded BMGers who could help keep the playing field somewhat level. Please email us at  to get involved, stay connected to us through and on Twitter @NoBosOlympics, or join an allied group. Thanks for your support!




One step closer to Bush v Hillary

Jeb is exploring forming an exploratory committee sometime in the future. News about as meaningful as my news today that I am exploring an exploratory committee to find a good wing joint near my house this Sunday that delivers. But in an era when Elizabeth Warren’s strong denials are considered soft denials, this exploring to form a committee is considered major political news.

I have two personal reflections on this. The first is that around 2009 I made fun of the fact that my fiancee was rooting for ‘Noynoy’ Aquino to win the Filipino presidency (he did). A former Brookline resident, he is the son of Coriazon Aquino, the first democratically elected President of the Philippines after Marcos, herself the widow of the longtime opposition leader and ‘best President the Philippines never had’ Benguino Aquino. He succeeded the daughter in law of a former President and has to contend with the widow and son of Marcos (who both probably conspired to kill his dad) both serving as opposition figures in the House and Senate respectively. So I joked at the time, ‘two or three families vying for the Presidency is always the sign of a healthy democracy’. She gleefully texted me this news today and reminded me of my quote….

The second reflection is more of an invitation. My dad and I have talked about forming the Sam Adams Party in the event of a Bush and Hillary battle. Anyone can register for it, but we won’t be running any candidates. Instead, we will be drinking cans of Sam Adams on his porch all day long on election day, you’re all welcome to crack open a can and bring a chair to sit next to us. Our friend Nero will be bringing his fiddle.

Our Towns Are Not War Zones: Police Militarization in MA

The debate on police militarization, rumbling for years, has been thrust into the national spotlight after protests in Ferguson, Missouri were met with heavily armed and armored police forces acting more like combatants than peacekeepers. This approach to policing is made possible by the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which distributes surplus military equipment for free to police departments who request it and simply pay the cost of shipping. 1033 was quietly conducted for over two decades before becoming the subject of scrutiny, but now the Department of Defense has released a huge trove of data on transfers to local departments.

Thankfully, the Marshall Project has organized this data into a simple tool that displays the transfers for each local jurisdiction across the United States. Looking through the Massachusetts data, most police departments involved in the program received a few hundred or few thousand dollars worth of equipment, typically rifles and pistols. Many others received high-dollar items with peaceful uses, such as dump trucks, utility trucks, and snow plows. But buried among these innocuous transfers are some incredibly concerning items that simply don’t belong in a local police department.

One of the most widely criticized excesses of 1033 is its distribution of MRAPs, or mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, and Massachusetts received its fair share. Designed to withstand gunfire and explosions, these heavily armored vehicles weigh about 18 tons. They don’t come with gun emplacements as standard, but they do look like they’ve been plucked right out of a battlefield. They’ have been known to damage roads and their intimidating appearance feeds public fears and flies in the face of community policing. Police departments in Haverhill (population 60,967), New Bedford (pop. 95,072), and Rehoboth (pop. 11,608, just east of Providence) have all recently acquired MRAPs, worth between $658,000 and $689,000.

Corporate Profit Drive Squeezes Out New Bedford Standard-Times Editor

L2000354Local newspapers provide a valuable public service that I want to support. But how many newsroom layoffs does it take to make subscription fees feel more like a corporate subsidy than a common good?

Bob Unger, universally respected editor of the New Bedford Standard-Times, is quitting in the face of corporate pressure to lay off more journalists. “We’re looking at a tough year, revenue-wise, coming up,” Unger tells colleague Steve DeCosta. “it would have been very damaging to the newspaper and the community to make the additional personnel cuts that would have been required.”

In 2014, newspapers are like sports teams: If you’re lucky, yours has an owner who doesn’t mind losing money. But unfortunately, as the Boston Globe’s Jon Chesto reports, the Standard-Times is one of many New England papers with corporate ownership trying to squeeze out every possible penny of profit:

Why Warren won't run

This morning we heard Elizabeth Warren’s definitive non-denial denial that she would ever run for President:

Would you tell these independent groups, “Give it up!” You’re just never going to run.

I told them, “I’m not running for president.”

You’re putting that in the present tense, though. Are you never going to run?

I am not running for president.

You’re not putting a “never” on that.

I am not running for president. You want me to put an exclamation point at the end?

OK, so that’s a maybe someday. With an exclamation point.

But I don’t think she’s going to run. Not in 2016, and I think probably never.

  1. Too human. Think about the kinds of people who run for president. Typically there’s a relentless, robotic, teflon temperament, which has a lot more to do with ego than any visceral, deeply felt desire to do something for actual people.  It’s more the grand sense that whatever the matter, I’m the one that should be at the center of it all. George W. Bush was perfect at that. Obama absolutely possesses those qualities. Clinton, definitely. But honestly, I don’t think Warren particularly relished her run against Scott Brown. She seemed stressed and incoherent at times. Brown even agreed to limits on outside spending and then wasted his time on the stupid Cherokee attacks. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that election was kind of a joke –  in a geographically small state, pitting a woman who is a hero to many against a guy who is a barn coat to many. But she didn’t win in a laugher.It’s her compassion and anger, her very emotional volatility, that makes her compelling. She’s the opposite of robotic. That’s why we like her. But that’s why she’s unlike anyone who’s been at all successful in running for President.  Maybe she’s got the hang of it and has an appetite for the big fight. But at the very least, it wasn’t definitively proven in 2012.
  2. Age. She’s 65. Young enough for a couple of terms in the Senate. Not that young to be running for President. Hillary is 67, but has already demonstrated mind-boggling, hot-pepper-fueled physical stamina.
  3. Johnny-One-Note. Warren basically has one riff, and it’s an awesome one: The game is rigged on behalf of the big banks and the wealthy against the little guy. It’s undeniably true, and it fits the Zeitgeist, it’s wide and deep and has huge explanatory power. But particularly when it comes to foreign policy, I wonder if this frame is going to fit. She would have to answer all manner of questions in topic areas we’ve never heard her in.
  4. Risking influence. Sometimes power is greater when held in reserve. Right now she’s a movement hero. If she came at Hillary, she’d be up against a lot of party apparatus and jes’ folks who truly are “Ready for Hillary”, who have a lot invested in her personal success. Going from increasingly powerful Senator and voice of a movement to “losing primary candidate” is definitely a step down. I think that’s because it’s assumed that anyone running for President has sold his/her soul for ambition’s sake.

  5. Doesn’t need to. Beyond party ID, the personal qualities of the President are arguably less important than the political Zeitgeist and set of assumptions that surrounded their election. It’s not even the controversial stuff; it’s the movement of certain ideas into the non-controversial realm, like (increasingly) gay marriage. As said above, Warren is in a much better position to get her message out, without compromising very much at all. She’s shown that she’s perfectly happy to embarrass her own party and call out its uselessness. And hey look: Wall Street fave Cory Booker is now shocked, shocked! that derivatives gambling is going on in this establishment.When Hillary runs, she’s going to know where her bread is buttered. Warren’s buttering that bread right now.

Now, I don’t know anything anyone else doesn’t know. I could probably write another list as to why she’s perfect, and as I say, maybe she’s changed. But I like how she’s using the current gig, and I hope we see more Dem senators follow her lead. 2016 could be pretty good even without her at the top of the ticket.

The Fall River Mayoral Recall Election: Everyone Has It Wrong Except Me, The God of Blue Mass Group - Today's Major Media Blemish

I laugh my ass off reading these self-described political smarties describe tomorrow’s mayoral recall election in Fall River as a farce or a joke or ridiculous because the current mayor’s name is one of the candidates to choose from on the ballot if the recall is approved.

“Huh? Ernie, WTF are you talking about? Who the hell can understand what you just said?”

I know. See it’s like this.

Tomorrow is the recall election. The voters have two questions on the ballot.

1. A yes vote id for recalling the mayor. A no vote is to let him stay.

2. If the mayor is recalled whom do you choose to be the next mayor.

Then it lists eight or nine names as replacements. One of them is the current mayor, a chap by the name of Flannigan.

Okay, you have all that? Do you see the problem here?

It’s not that the mayor’s name is on the ballot it’s that they have a contingent election on the same day using the same ballot.

These idiots in the media who see this as a dumb way to do it because the mayor’s name is on the ballot, like the jamokes at Commonwealth Magazine, never fail to miss the point.

The best way for me to explain the Monty Python logic of this procedure is to ask you to close your eyes and imagine you live in Everett where everyone and his brother and sister are big shot locals protecting their turf. (BTW the Fall River recall needed less than a thousand signatures to go forward.)

Because they can get their names on the a contingent vote beneath the recall their is incentive for a few to get the recall signatures (easy) and then go at it in the contingent election. See what I mean? Every faction is voting for the recall in hopes that their guy might capture the small amount of votes to beat out the other candidates in what is essentially a special election.

It’s all about organization and little about the recall issue.

There should be two separate elections. One for recall and if necessary one for replacement. Tough shit if it costs money. Democracy is not cheap.



Wow, talk about the self-important media sucking wind


Save money, help the world, help BMG

What could be better? It’s all possible if you own your own home and sign up for a free energy audit from Next Step Living. The service is paid by a surcharge on energy bills across the state. A trained service engineer will come to your home, replace inefficient light bulbs with new LED and CFL bulbs for free (you can keep your old bulbs), and make recommendations about how you can increase the energy efficiency of your home and save money. There is no charge, and no obligation. You can use Next Step to do additional work, or use someone else, or do nothing.

BMG will get a $25 referral free for each audit, which is great and will help to support the website, but the real reason to do this is to help improve your home’s energy efficiency. More on Next Step Living from their website:

Next Step Living® is the groundbreaking company on a mission to make it easy, affordable and rewarding for homeowners to implement energy-saving solutions.

Founded in Boston in 2008, the company is unique in offering a whole-home approach that helps homeowners:

Save energy and money
Reduce their carbon footprint
Live more comfortably
Information Resource and Service Provider.

A one-stop resource for informed advice, expert workmanship and guidance about available incentives and rebates, Next Step Living partners with more than 400 municipalities, civic organizations and leading corporations to deliver energy-efficient and environmentally friendly solutions. Those solutions include:

Home energy evaluations
Weatherization work (air sealing and insulation)
Roofing and windows
Heating and cooling (ductless mini splits, HVAC systems)
Solar panel installation

Named to the Inc. 500 list of fast-growing companies, the 2014 Global Cleantech 100 and recognized by the New England Clean Energy Council as an employer of the year, Next Step Living has more than 800 employees in Massachusetts and Connecticut, where early in 2013 we opened our second office. Next Step Living is also an A-Rated BBB Accredited Business.

I believe there are other companies that provide similar services in the Commonwealth. If you have had good experiences with them, please feel free to say so in the comments.

Click here to schedule an appointment. Give it a try. I did, and was very pleased.

The Long Island bridge clusterf&@k

UPDATED – see below

Did it seem strange to you that a bridge that obviously had been deteriorating for years had to be shut down with no warning, such that residents on the island had to be rushed off so fast that they weren’t even given time to collect their belongings?  After all, bridges don’t become unsafe overnight.  And, since the closure was a long time coming, how strange that the bridge was closed with no evident plan in place for what to do once that happened.  And how awful that, since there was no plan, the people who relied on the services available on Long Island have been left basically stranded, “as hundreds of men and women have been sleeping on cots and floor mats in improvised shelters since the island was abruptly evacuated Oct. 8.”

Yesterday’s Globe had a long, must-read story on why things went as badly as they did with the bridge.  It’s more or less what you’d expect: a bad combination of temporary fixes, poor planning, poor communication, and near panic when the decision to close the bridge was actually made, all combined with everything coming to a head under a new Mayor whose team wasn’t fully on top of things yet.

And yet, it seems impossible not to chalk this up as a failure in the early going of Marty Walsh’s term as Mayor of Boston.  It’s not like the closure happened a week after he took office.  It happened in October, ten months in.  Even though the problem had been brewing for years, that should have been enough time to take stock of an obviously problematic situation before it became a crisis.  And the problem has been magnified by the administration’s decision to abandon its initial plan to build a shelter on city-owned land on Frontage Road due to local opposition, as well as “concerns that a shelter on Frontage Road would interfere with a proposal by the family of Robert Kraft to build a soccer stadium.”  Instead, the city will move forward with … a plan that has not yet been disclosed.  Advocates are understandably upset.

“I’m appalled and disappointed that it has already taken this long,” said Michael Kane, executive director of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants and a member of the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee. “The governor and mayor should be treating this as the emergency that it has been since day one.”

Karen LaFrazia, executive director of the St. Francis House, where 25 women from Long Island are sleeping on cots in their atrium and dining room, said she hopes the new location means the homeless will live in better conditions soon.

She noted the city will soon be struggling to cope with its annual winter surge, when more beds are needed.

“I’m very concerned,” she said. “I don’t see a plan to deal with this.”

Today’s Download from MassINC (email, no link) has the following accurate, if brutal, summary of the situation by Michael Jonas:

It was bad enough that the city’s homeless shelter on Long Island was shuttered on several hours notice, with 450 beds suddenly yanked from the city inventory of places for those with no place to call home.

The task of replacing those beds with either temporary or permanent shelter housing elsewhere is exposing an inconvenient truth, one all the more glaring at this season of giving and help for those less fortunate: No one wants these people….

Talk of relocating 200 shelter beds to the former Radius Hospital in Roxbury was scrapped in the face of neighborhood opposition. Then the city said it was also abandoning talk of building temporary shelter space on city-owned land on Frontage Road in the South End. One South End neighborhood leader told the Globe the neighborhood is becoming a “dumping ground for Boston’s homeless.”

Roxbury residents, too, said they weren’t interested in being the solution to the shelter problem. Even the neighborhood’s uber liberal state senator, Sonia Chang-Diaz, got in on the action, saying the proposed site was “too close to schools and playground.”

It’s hard to blame Roxbury residents, who rightly recognize that such a facility is not going to land anytime soon in Beacon Hill or the Back Bay, or in leafy West Roxbury or the high-end side of Jamaica Plain. But it also begins to make the city’s homeless population seem less like fellow humans who have fallen on hard times and more like the barge loaded with 3,000 tons of garbage that famously spent five months at sea in 1987 after being turned away by six states and three countries.

The Walsh administration now says it has a new site in mind, which it will announce later this week. City officials are keeping the location under wraps for now, though.

It’s hard to blame them.

I don’t know what the best solution is.  I do know that something has to be done … and soon, because it is getting very cold.  And I agree with Michael Kane, quoted above, who said that “the governor and mayor should be treating this as the emergency that it has been since day one.”

UPDATE: The city has announced the proposed location for the new shelter:

The city in the next few weeks will begin building a new shelter in Boston’s Newmarket area for the hundreds of homeless displaced from Long Island, Mayor Martin J. Walsh told reporters on Monday.

The squat, brick building at 112 Southhampton St. will require significant upgrades, as it currently lacks showers and may require a host of other renovations to prepare it for more than 450 people who relied on the refuge on Boston Harbor. The Long Island Shelter was closed in October after the city abruptly condemned the bridge that connects it with the mainland.

Walsh told reporters in his City Hall office that he expects about 100 homeless people to be able to move into the space in mid-January.

“This is going to be fast-tracked,” he said….

He said the city is consulting neighbors but he does not expect that there will be a significant backlash, given that the building is located in an industrial area with no residential buildings.

We’ll see.  At least things are moving forward.

Administration proposing last-minute regs changes that will reduce DDS oversight of providers

(Cross-posted from The COFAR Blog)

As it winds down to its last few weeks, the Patrick administration is set to make changes to two state regulations that we are concerned will reduce state oversight of corporate providers of services to the developmentally disabled and further reduce family involvement and choice in care and services.

We are particularly concerned about a proposed change by the Department of Developmental Services that appears to give DDS providers at least partial say in whether their licenses to operate residential and other programs are renewed.  Proposed new language in the regulation (115 CMR 8.00, Certification, Licensing and Support) codifies a process that allows providers to assess their own compliance with state licensing and certification standards.  This, to us, seems to sanction a conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, proposed changes to a second regulation (115 CMR 7.00: Standards for All Services and Supports) appear to reduce staffing requirements for group homes and remove the words “rights and dignity” from a discussion about providing residential supports and services to DDS clients. More about those additional changes below.

The rewrite of the licensure regulation adds a new section that refers to both a “self-assessment” done by the provider of its own supports and services and a “targeted review” of the provider by the Department as part of the licensure renewal process. Licenses to operate are normally granted to DDS corporate providers every two years following a survey or inspection of their residences and programs.  The following sentence in this new section seems to describe a key aspect of this process:

Ratings from the targeted review and self-assessment [done by both the Department and the provider] will be combined to determine…the licensure levels for the provider. (my emphasis)

Based on this language, it appears as though the provider is expected to be involved in making the decision whether the provider will be granted a full renewal of its license or a conditional license or whether it will receive some other licensure requirement.  This seems to defeat the purpose of the licensure process, which should be to provide an outside assessment of the provider’s ability to provide adequate supports and services, and to make licensure decisions that are independent of influence from the entity being licensed.

In particular, the provider will be given the authority to review licensure and certification “indicators” that it was found in surveys not to have met.

DDS licenses and certifies hundreds of nonprofit,  state-­funded  group home and day program providers throughout the state each year.  A review by COFAR in 2012 of 30 randomly selected online licensure  and  certification reports raised a  number of questions about  the effectiveness of the provider licensure and certification system in general.  The review also found that DDS made substantial changes to its licensure and certification procedures based on input from the providers themselves.

Other proposed licensing changes

In addition to the introduction of the self-assessment process, the rewritten licensure regulation adds a requirement that the Department give providers at least 30 days notice of planned licensure visits or surveys of their residences.  Currently, there is an advance notification requirement, but there is no timetable for that notice in the regulation.  Under the new language, the provider has a month to get ready.  Once again, this allowance appears to defeat the purpose of the licensure survey process, which is to assess the ongoing care and conditions in facilities.

If a provider knows a month ahead of time exactly when a two-year licensing survey of its facilities will take place, the provider will have an incentive to bring its facilities into compliance with licensing standards at that particular time, but not necessarily at any other time.

In the same section, the rewrite removes current language stating that notification of the survey must also be given to guardians, family members, individuals, and service coordinators.  It seems doubly inappropriate to us that the providers will receive a month’s advance notice of planned survey visits, but guardians and families will apparently no longer be told about those visits. We cannot think of any legitimate justification for eliminating that notification to families and guardians other than a desire to keep them in the dark about the Department’s licensure and provider monitoring efforts.

In addition those those changes:

  • The rewrite of the licensure regulation removes a statement that the survey team may review the provider’s system for conducting Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks on all persons whose paid responsibilities may bring them into direct contact with individuals served.  We do not understand the rationale for removing this common-sense requirement.
  • The rewrite removes language stating that in cases in which a provider fails to correct conditions that place residents’ lives in jeopardy, those services will not be licensed or certified until such time as corrective action has been taken.  We do not understand the rationale for removing this common-sense requirement either.
  • The rewrite also increases the length of term of a “conditional license” granted when there is only “partial achievement” of licensing standards or “critical indicators” from one year to two years.  Thus, even if a provider is only able to partially meet licensing standards, the provider will still receive the same two-year term for its license as providers that are able to meet all the standards.

Changes to the Services and Supports regulation

As noted above, DDS is proposing a number of changes to the services and supports regulation, which we are concerned will reduce both group home staffing requirements and rights of DDS clients.  Those proposed changes include the following:

  • In defining and discussing both Residential and Individualized Home Supports, the rewritten language in this regulation removes the words “rights and dignity” in discussing client outcomes.  In one instance, that wording is replaced by language stating that providers “shall operate in a manner that supports positive outcomes for individuals in all of the services and supports offered…”
  •  In defining Family Supports, the rewrite eliminates the phrase that these supports should “enable the family to stay together.” We cannot think of any legitimate justification for removing that phrase.
  • In discussing Staffing Standards, the rewrite removes a reference to providers having sufficient staff with enough training to ensure “quality of life outcomes delineated in the provider’s mission statement…”
  • The rewrite of this same section removes a requirement that there be at least two staff persons on duty in homes where three or four individuals live and in which three or more individuals require assistance to evacuate within 2½ minutes.  In addition, the rewrite removes a requirement that at least one “overnight awake” staff person be on duty at night in homes in which at least one individual requires assistance to evacuate within 2 1/2 minutes.
  • The rewrite adds a section to the regulation that appears to advocate the opportunity of “integrated” or mainstream work opportunities for all persons with developmental disabilities, apparently no matter how low-functioning they are.  For instance, the new language states the following: “Integrated, individual employment is the preferred service option and outcome for adults of working age…All individuals are to be encouraged and supported in seeking and securing employment or becoming engaged on a pathway to employment.” (my emphasis)

We believe the Department needs to recognize that there are differences in the levels of ability and achievement potential in different people.  The new language in this section reflects an ideological blindness to those differences and does a disservice to all persons with developmental disabilities.

DDS has scheduled hearings on the regulatory changes on Wednesday (December 17) at 10 a.m. at the DDS Central Office at 500 Harrison Avenue in Boston, and on Thursday (the 18th) at 10 a.m. in the Northborough Free Library, 34 Main Street, Northborough. Written comments may be submitted by mail to the Office of the General Counsel, DDS Central Office, or by fax to (617) 624-7573 until 5:00 p.m. on Thursday.