Sheltering All Our Homeless Children

The state is greeting Governor Patrick’s proposal to provide shelter for some of the Central American children now crossing the border into the U.S. with both praise and derision.

Some are applauding the Governor for rekindling the Massachusetts tradition of leading by example: like Governor John Winthrop, he is calling on us to recognize that we are as a city upon on a hill with the eyes of the world upon us. Others are scornful of the notion of opening our doors to these speakers of other languages and their rumored crime and drug-resistant diseases.

Gone is the consensus that prevailed in 2008 when President George W. Bush signed into law the Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act, under which the nation resolved not to send children from countries other than Mexico and Canada entering the U.S. alone back to their country of origin before hearing their claims to stay. Now resolutions disapproving of the Governor’s policy are being introduced in the Legislature and a “send them home” rally at the State House is being planned.

One popular rationale for rejecting the Governor’s proposal is the state’s own homelessness problem: “While I appreciate the desire to be sympathetic and helpful,” House minority leader Brad Jones told the Globe, “the state already faces enough of a challenge trying to care for its own homeless children.”

Representative Jones has a point, although it must be said that meeting that challenge has not been a high priority for him or for most other state lawmakers. In fact, the Legislature has been largely content to allow the Governor to continue his policy of denying emergency shelter to families with homeless children unless, as his regulations require, “the children of the household are in a housing situation not meant for human habitation, and where there is a substantial health and safety risk to the family that is likely to result in significant harm should the family remain in such housing situation.” This policy, the Patrick administration believes, serves as an important deterrent to those who would otherwise flood the system.

In the past nine months alone, nearly 2400 families with children — a far greater number than the 1000 children the Governor is proposing to help — obtained shelter in the state only after braving these risks by, for example, sleeping in cars and abandoned buildings. The Globe’s Yvonne Abraham, whose column yesterday described the acutely perilous journey of one nine-year old girl from Central America to the U.S., also wrote nearly two years ago about the dangers facing the state’s homeless families when the Governor’s policy was put into effect. In yesterday’s story, Dayanna from El Salvador was not raped. But in the October, 2102, as Abraham reported, Ginna from Boston, the mother of a 17-month old daughter, was not so fortunate.

Both these stories illustrate the point the Governor made last week: we are “great when we open our doors and our hearts to needy children, and diminished when we don’t.” Is there a good reason to be selective about who the needy children are?

To Jeff Jacoby: Re your 7/6 Column on State Budget, Respectfully Suggest Reading 7/2 Column on Immigration by Jeff Jacoby:

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby thinks that we all owe a round of applause to the eight state legislators — all Republicans — who voted against the new fiscal year budget that was enacted last week.

These votes against the budget, Jacoby writes, benefit us all because they represent a blow against the centralized power wielded by the Democratic party in the state. He is particularly admiring of the memo that two of them –Representatives Marc Lombardo of Billerica and James Lyons of Andover — wrote to explain the reasons for their votes.

It might have been better if Jacoby had looked a little deeper into that explanation before praising it as “principled” and calling for a standing ovation for its authors, because it relies in large part on an unfounded fear of and hostility toward immigrants, a stance Jacoby himself justly criticized as “restrictionist” in a column that he wrote less than a week before.

In that earlier column, “The Stolen Job Myth,” Jacoby absolutely flattens a recent report by the Center for Immigration Studies (which, as he notes, favors sharp reductions in immigration) “purporting to show that all net jobs created in the United States over the past 14 years have gone to immigrants, both legal and illegal.” After demonstrating that report’s many flaws, Jacoby concludes that “immigrants aren’t taking jobs that ‘belong’ to Americans. They are fueling the economic engine that creates more opportunity for everyone, and we would be poorer by far without them.”

Now, the problem is that the eight dissenters whom Jacoby praised on July 6th are notable restrictionists of the kind he criticized on July 2nd. Here, for example is candidate Marc Lombardo in 2010: “I 100% support Arizona’s illegal immigration law…I would support a similar type law in Massachusetts. Illegal immigration is one of the most pressing matters facing the country because it cuts across all areas of life. Illegal aliens take jobs from Americans.” And, if you want more evidence, here are the bills that Representative Lombardo and Representative Ryan Fattman, another budget dissenter, filed to increase the penalties for employing undocumented immigrants.

The primary rationale for the votes of these eight legislators against the budget was their contention that taxpayer dollars are being spent on unqualified (which is to say, immigrant) recipients. This rationale relies on a study produced by an another anti-immigrant organization, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which asserts that 1.8 billion dollars have been spent in Massachusetts alone for public benefits to unqualified immigrant recipients. You can read about the very dubious premises behind this study here. Not surprisingly, they mirror Jacoby’s takedown of the jobs study.

And once the argument that the state is wasting $1.8 billion dollars on benefits to unqualified immigrants has been punctured, the other arguments of the budget dissenters — that taxes are too high and spending on local aid is too low — collapse. Their principled dissent is revealed as a mere tantrum.

Jacoby was exactly right in criticizing the restrictionists’ inconsistent position this way: “immigrants can be depicted on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays as indolent leeches who flock to the United States to go on welfare — and condemned on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for taking away jobs that would otherwise go to Americans.”

For proof, consider that vote on the budget happened on a Monday. That was one of the “indolent leech” days.

26 Ways of Fouling Off a Baseball

As we head toward the All-Star break with our sputtering Sox eight games under .500, let us pause to savor one of the game’s less transient joys – its reciprocally enriching relationship with the English language.

Later this month, Roger Angell, “the greatest of all baseball writers,” will be honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. This anticipatory tribute, in the form of 26 verbs, owes a great deal to another of the game’s bards, Ned Martin, the Red Sox play-by-play announcer for the Impossible Dream team of 1967 and the great tragedians that followed in the 1970′s and 80′s. Thanks to him, I can summon the flight (or otherwise) of each of these foul balls:

  • beat
  • blistered
  • carved
  • crushed
  • cued
  • dribbled
  • dumped
  • fisted
  • hammered
  • hooked
  • jacked
  • lashed
  • launched
  • lifted
  • looped
  • nicked
  • nudged
  • poled
  • pumped
  • roped
  • skyed
  • slammed
  • spanked
  • tomahawked
  • twisted

(PS – thanks, Wallace Stevens, for the title.)


Nice Casino Referendum You Got There: Too Bad if Anything Was to Happen to It

House Speaker Bob DeLeo, the Legislature’s biggest casino fan, had some ominous-sounding words to say to WGBH News yesterday about the possible budget consequences if the casino repeal succeeds at the polls:

Massachusetts speaker of the House Bob Deleo says lawmakers would have to patch a multi-million dollar hole in the state budget if voters choose to repeal the casino law in November.

“We would have to make some difficult decisions in terms of cuts. That’s one of the issues I thought about this morning actually,” DeLeo told reporters Wednesday.

The state is banking on $54 million in casino licensing fees and $20 million in slot parlor money in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“We’ve already started to use it and depend upon it.”

OK, OK. Message received. We are to understand that there’s a threat of a big budget hole — something that would require either big budget cuts or big tax increases to fix.

Well, those of us who think casinos are a terrible idea also like to think of ourselves as problem solvers. And if budget cuts might be needed because the casino law is repealed, we offer up one suggestion to the House for the very first cut to make: give up the “sales tax holiday” that you have proposed for the second weekend in August.

The sales tax holiday weekend is a gimmick that’s been going on in the state for a decade. Its original purpose was to encourage people who to go buy things that they would not ordinarily buy during one of retail’s slowest months. But, even assuming that the holiday met its intended goal a decade ago, the fact that the Legislature has reprised the holiday in seven of the eight subsequent years has substantially reduced whatever stimulative power it once had. Now that buyers anticipate the holiday, it doesn’t encourage more sales, but simply shifts the timing of sales to coincide with the holiday. Little wonder that the Senate Ways and Means Chair, while defending the program, said in a moment of understated candor that it “may not be the finest public policy on the planet” (State House News, 7/28/11). On top of everything else, the accounting complexities the holiday requires of retailers favor bigger rather than smaller companies. The result? One weekend each August we shovel millions to our Walmarts.

According to the Department of Revenue, last year’s sales tax holiday cost the state over $24 million. We could make up one-third of the $74 million gap that Speaker DeLeo is forecasting just by bagging the sales tax holiday this year. Now that didn’t hurt too much — maybe this won’t be such a big problem after all. And eliminating the sales tax holiday is just one idea.

The budget hole that concerns the Speaker, when compared to the $22 billion in revenue that the state will collect amounts to…let’s see, about three-tenths of one percent. And by eliminating the sales tax holiday we’ve already made a big dent in that three-tenths of one percent.

The Speaker really shouldn’t worry so much.

Here Come the Ballot Questions

Update: The Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that the casino repeal question should be on the ballot, so six questions appear headed there.

So it’s looking like there will be either five or six questions on the November statewide ballot.

Proponents of questions were required to submit an additional 11,000 or so voter signatures by last Wednesday to city and town elections officials. And to judge from their subsequent press releases, the campaigns for these six questions succeeded in collecting far in excess of the required number and therefore are on their way to the ballot:

  • Patient Safety Act
  • Limit Hospital CEO Compensation
  • Earned Sick Time for Employees
  • Prohibiting Casino Gambling
  • Updating the Bottle Bill
  • Repeal of Gas Tax Indexing

(More details on the substance of these questions here.)

The folks at Raise Up Massachusetts, who were collecting signatures for both the Earned Sick Time proposal and a Minimum Wage Increase proposal, announced today that they would not move forward with the minimum wage question and instead would accept the terms of the minimum wage bill that is now on the Governor’s desk. They plan to focus their efforts now on Earned Sick Time.

Whether the final number of ballot questions is five or six is up to the Supreme Judicial Court, which is now considering whether or not the casino prohibition question meets the requirements the State Constitution has set for ballot questions (the Attorney General ruled that it did not).

But whether it’s five questions or six, the 2014 ballot will be the busiest since 2000, when the questions numbered eight. For you hard-core ballot question fans, here’s a list by year of the number of ballot questions and, of those, the number that were approved: 1994 – 9/5; 1996 – 1/1; 1998 – 4/4; 2000 – 8/4; 2002 – 3/1; 2004 – 0; 2006 – 3/0; 2008 – 3/2; 2010 – 3/1; 2012 – 3/2.

In a couple weeks, the Secretary of State will hold a lottery to assign the numbers (1 through 5, or 1 through 6) to the ballot questions. It looks like the folks working on the gas tax indexing repeal have jumped the gun. They’ve already got a logo for that question (which proposes to repeal a provision passed last year to indexing the tax the state imposes on gasoline to the Consumer Price Index in order to keep tax collections reasonably comparable to the costs of constructing and repairing roads and bridges). Their logo urges voters to Vote “Yes 2 Repeal” indexing, which rather strongly implies that their petition will be Question 2 on the ballot.

The gas tax folks have a one in five (or one in six) change of winning the #2 spot in the lottery. Otherwise, they’ll have to modify their pitch to something like — “Vote ‘Yes 2 Repeal’ indexing by voting yes on Question #5.”

It could be a confusing election year.

Question for Warren Tolman: Is Gambling Really Different from Tobacco?

Warren Tolman, who’s running against Maura Healey for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General, is promoting his candidacy by touting his defeat of Big Tobacco. Here he is promising to do to the National Rifle Association what he did in the 1990′s to the tobacco industry.

One of Tolman’s allies in the fight against Big Tobacco was law professor Richard Daynard, who at the time was the head of the Tobacco Liability Institute at Harvard. And one of their joint successes was the enactment of the state’s tobacco disclosure law in 1996, the first law of its kind in the nation. The law requires tobacco companies to measure the level of nicotine that is absorbed into the body after smoking a cigarette and also to disclose to the federal government the ingredients (including ammonia, cyanide and DDT) in its cigarette brands.

Tolman is understandably proud of his anti-smoking accomplishments. But here’s a little wrinkle. His one-time ally Richard Daynard believes that the addictive dangers that tobacco companies encourage by selling cigarettes are the same as those the gambling industry encourages by promoting casinos and slot machines. And because of these dangers, Daynard, who is now the head of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Judicial Court supporting the position the casino law should be presented to the voters for possible repeal. An excerpt from his indictment of the gambling industry (the entire brief is available here):

The harm caused by the tobacco industry’s products has been the archetype of a commercial threat to public health, and in considering the introduction of gambling industry casinos into Massachusetts, much can be learned from the object lesson of considering the tobacco industry as a disease vector. The predatory gambling industry shares much in common with the tobacco industry, and the People deserve the opportunity to exclude it from the Commonwealth. For example, casinos employ electronic gambling machines that are designed to addict their customers in a way that is similar to how the tobacco industry formulates its cigarettes to be addictive by manipulating their nicotine levels and other ingredients. Mirroring the tobacco industry’s strategy of creating scientific doubt where none truly exists, the casino industry has co-opted and corrupted scholarship on the effects of gambling through the use of front groups that funnel money to beholden scientists who are able to sanitize its origin. Borrowing another tobacco industry technique of shaping the debate around its products, by creating a misleading lexicon and using euphemisms, the casino industry has tried to influence debate, deflect criticism and mislead the public about its role as a disease vector. And finally, by employing personal and corporate responsibility rhetoric honed by the tobacco industry, the casino industry hopes to gain and maintain social acceptability and stave off litigation, regulation and citizen-driven activism.

Tolman does not support the repeal of the casino law. He believes he can regulate the industry to mitigate its harms. But his former ally Daynard’s position that the two industries present identical perils raises a couple questions: does Tolman disagree with him? If not, why is he willing to let another predator get a foot in the door?

Choose one: (a) Mohegan Sun, (b) Wynn Resorts, or (c) Neither of the Above

Gambling giant Mohegan Sun, which is hoping to win a license to build a casino near Boston, took out a full-page ad in the Globe last week touting itself as “a better choice for Massachusetts.” Better, that is, than Wynn Resorts, the other contestant. Both Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts would very much like you to forget that there is a third alternative: neither of the above.

Mohegan Sun’s claim to being “a better choice” than Wynn rests largely on its promised payoff to its host community, the city of Revere, and surrounding communities:

Through agreements with 12 communities, more than double our competitor in the region, and without the need for arbitration, Mohegan Sun will deliver more than $30 million in dedicated revenue each year and ensure maximum regional economic development from its development.

OK, so what’s rival Wynn promising for its host community, the city of Everett, and surrounding communities? Why, more than $30 million in dedicated revenue each year, the same as Mohegan Sun. There’s not really a lot to choose between the two on this score.

While we’re here in the weeds, let’s look at a few more numbers from the license applications. Mohegan Sun is projecting 8.1 million visits to its casino each year, which would generate between $850 million and $1 billion in gross gaming revenues. Of those 8.1 million visits, 87 percent would come from Massachusetts.

So, in exchange for “more than $30 million in dedicated revenue,” Mohegan Sun is planning to take between $740 million and $875 million out of our pockets. Not all of that money would be casino profit, of course. Some of it would pay operating costs and some would be shared with the state. But all of it would be lost by Massachusetts residents.

Which is one reason, as recent polls show, why more of us are taking another look at this whole idea. The premise of Mohegan Sun’s ad — that our only choice is which developer should get the nod, not whether to build a casino in the first place — reminds me of a joke that the mother of writer Annie Dillard was fond of playing with governmental requests for information. As Dillard wrote in An American Childhood, her mother, something of a comedian, regarded the instructions on bureaucratic forms as straight lines: “‘Do you advocate the overthrow of the United States government by force or violence?’” After some thought she wrote, “‘Force.’”


[Note: the numbers cited in this post are available at links contained in an Amicus Brief in Abdow v. Secretary, the case pending before the Supreme Judicial Court that will decide whether the question of repealing the state's gambling law will appear on the November ballot. The brief is here and well worth a read.]