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Reality-based commentary on politics.

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    The Boston Globe started to connect the dots between Christopher Gabrieli profiteering on charter schools and his advocacy for charters in the public discourse. There's more, and people really need to understand Gabrieli's conflicts of interest and conflicts with a progressive New England vision of local accountability for public education.

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    Charter school profiteer Christopher Gabrieli has found another "market on the edge of change."  Head start. 

    Reported in today's Boston Globe:

    A venture capital firm founded by gubernatorial candidate Christopher Gabrieli invested more than $1 million in a controversial profit startup company that manages or operates Head Start programs in several states.

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    Chapter 40T, left in limbo last year, is back (S146/H159) and moving through the legislature quickly; it's already out of the Community Development and Small Business committee and before the Bonding committee. 

    This is the bill letting big landowners/developers create their own governmental entities ("local improvement districts" or LIDs) within existing municipalities.  It grants the developers the power to issue tax-exempt bonds and levy property taxes ("assessments") to pay the cost of their desired "infrastructure," broadly defined to include parking garages, recreation and cultural facilities and other profitable improvements.

    The boundaries, drawn by the developers, may include up to 20% acreage/parcels of property-owners who do not want to be in the District, yet would be forced to pay new property taxes to pay off the bonds. Tenants -- who could be the vast majority of LID residents and small-business leaseholders -- would be entirely excluded from the decision to create the District, but would end up paying the new taxes through rent increases. This bill is a throw-back to feudal times when property ownership was a prerequisite for civil rights. 

    These new governments would be exempt from many public interest safeguards, including public records law, oversight by the Department of Revenue, laws governing public construction, civil service, conflict of interest and more.

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    First, a word of disclosure. I used to work for COFAR, a nonprofit that has fought to keep the Fernald Developmental Center open.

    In her column today in the Globe, Joan Vennochi repeats the canard that it costs $250,000 per person (or whatever the figure the media likes to use) to operate Fernald.  The implication here is that Fernald is simply prohibitively expensive to continue to operate. The facility has been at the center of a bitter, four-year battle between families that depend on the high quality care there and privatization advocates who want the state dollars to go to private vendors.

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    [Cross-posted from the Accountable Strategies blog

    Kennedy School of Government Lecturer Elaine Kamarck has just published a book called "The End of we know it," in which she argues that traditional forms of bureaucratic government are giving way to privatized and "marketized" forms, and that this is largely a good thing.

    Kamarck was in charge of the "reinventing government" effort in the Clinton-Gore administration, and she naturally argues that reinvention is one of the key characteristics of the "post bureaucratic" state.  "Reinvented government" is government that acts more like business.  In reinvented government, performance is more important than process, burdensome budget and procurement rules are lifted to allow managers flexibility to get results, and citizens are treated as "customers," among other innovations.

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    The cost of the increasingly hollow, ideological governance within our public sector is starkly revealed in one of the more riveting political books of 2007, The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein.

    In fact, this book has explained to me why the Bush administration didn't equip our troops with adequate armor in Iraq and why they weren't, and still aren't, interested in winning the war.  It appears the administration is not even really interested in reconstructing Iraq.  That's because scores of current and former members of the administration and their friends in the corporate sphere are more interested in making a huge profit off the billions of taxpayer dollars intended to reconstruct the place.

    What are the presidential candidates saying about this?  They've taken positions on withdrawing the troops from Iraq, but what about the matter of America's role in plundering the country?

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    (Cross-posted from Daily Kos and the Accountable Strategies blog.)

    A bitter battle over privatization is being fought in federal court in Massachusetts. It’s one that has garnered little substantive media coverage in the state, yet it promises to have lasting consequences for the care of some of the most vulnerable members of society and for the role of government itself in this state.

    The battle is over the fate of the Fernald Developmental Center in Waltham, Massachusetts, the nation’s oldest, state-run facility for persons with mental retardation.  The administration of Gov. Deval Patrick, which is seeking to carry out the former Romney administration’s plans to close Fernald and privatize its services, is appealing  U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro’s ruling last year that Fernald must stay open to its current residents.

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    [Posted on behalf of the Fernald League for the Retarded, Inc.]

    In an apparent attempt to subvert a federal judge's ruling that the Fernald Developmental Center must remain open, the Patrick administration recently started a process to move a number of residents out, including a 91-year-old woman who has repeatedly said she wants to stay where she is.

    Due to privacy requirements, the resident's name cannot be publicly revealed.  The woman, who has moderate mental retardation, congestive heart failure and is legally blind and hearing impaired, has lived at Fernald for over 50 years and has many friends and longtime caregivers there.  She can speak, and she has expressed a definite preference to stay at Fernald.

    "It isn't right.  It's disgraceful that they are moving her," said Marilyn Meagher, president of the Fernald League for the Mentally Retarded, Inc., a family-supported organization fighting to keep Fernald open. "Everyone I've spoken to is afraid of repercussions from DMR (the Department of Mental Retardation) if they speak up, but they feel that if she is forced to leave, her life will be shortened."



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    (Posted on behalf of the Fernald League for the Retarded, Inc.)

    We have some numbers to report about the staffing levels at the group home to which A.T., a 91-year-old, blind woman with mental retardation, was transferred from the Fernald Developmental Center.

    We think this data, which was obtained from the Department of Mental Retardation, calls into further question the Department's claim that A.T. is currently receiving care that is equal to or better than the care she received at Fernald.

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    Rose Kennedy Greenway[Crossposted from ONE Massachusetts]

    Can a consortium of businesses do a better job of promoting the public good than the city of Boston?

    Anti-government activists in the United States often complain that their local, state and federal government should be run more like a business. “If we operated our government like a business,” the argument goes, “we could have better services and lower taxes.”

    So now that a group of downtown businesses calling themselves the Greenway Conservancy have stepped forward claiming they will help develop the Rose Kennedy Greenway by pooling private donations, it’s worth questioning how much of the taxpayers’ money they will save.

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    (Posted on behalf of The Fernald League for the Retarded, Inc.)

    The Patrick Administration has just posted its "Community First Olmstead Plan" for long-term care for people with disabilities and the elderly in Massachusetts.  This plan has come as a surprise to us.  Unfortunately, the plan is woefully short on specifics in key areas, and it misreads the Olmstead Supreme Court decision. 

    We would note that we don't disagree with some of the plan's overall goals.  It calls, for instance, for: 

    A vision of choice and opportunity that requires the deliberate development of more accessible and effective long-term supports in local communities. 

    We would particularly applaud the word "choice" in this vision statement, although we're not quite sure what the administration means by it.  Private-vendor-based care appears to be the only choice the administration wants persons with disabilities and the elderly to have under this plan.  

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    [Posted on behalf of The Fernald League for the Retarded, Inc.]

    State-funded human services vendors are already starting their celebration over the pending closure of the Fernald Developmental Center. 

    Now is the time, they apparently believe, to kick the Fernald families while they're down and hammer home their false mythology that Intermediate Care Facilities for the developmentally disabled in Massachusetts are "outdated" and "segregated" etc.

    In a May 11 column in The Waltham Daily News Tribune, Arc of Massachusetts Executive Director Leo Sarkissian has this to say about Fernald's closure:

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    (Cross-posted from the Accountable Strategies blog

    On a recent segment of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the folks around the table were discussing the federal government’s seeming inability to get BP to act with urgency and effectiveness in stopping the oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.

    Much of the discussion, of course, concerned the damage to the environment that is being compounded daily by the spreading oil.  But there was also frustration expressed by just about everyone at the table at the government’s “loss of capacity” to do anything about it. 

    It does seem that we used to be a “can do” nation that could win wars unambiguously, land men on the moon, and respond effectively to disasters.  But it seems we have lost much of our capacity in recent years, not only to accomplish great public undertakings, but even to manage the growing number of private sector actors that have moved in to fill the vacuum. 

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    [Posted on behalf of The Fernald League, Inc.]

    It seems to have become almost conventional wisdom in Massachusetts that it's long past time to repeal the Pacheco Law, which has supposedly put the brakes on contracting out for services as a way to save taxpayer dollars.

    The law, which was named for its original sponsor, Senator Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat, has gotten more bad press over the years, it seems, than just about any other single piece of legislation.

    What does the Pacheco Law do?  It essentially requires that a cost analysis be done before state operations can be privatized.  It authorizes the state auditor to undertake that analysis by comparing bids from private constractors to a calculated cost of continuing to perform specified work in-house "in the most cost-efficient manner."

    Sounds fairly common-sensical.  Yet, to say this law isn't popular with many commentators and politicians would be an understatement.  Why?  Probably because the law messes with the sacrosanct private sector.

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    (Posted on behalf of The Fernald League, Inc.)

    Last week, I posted a (lonely) defense of the Pacheco Law here in the face of a continuing onslaught of calls for its repeal.

    I noted that GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker has made repeal of the law a campaign issue.  Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh characterized the law, which was enacted in the early 1990s, as having "effectively ended the state's experiment with hiring private-sector firms to deliver public services."

    The pro-privatization Reason Institute claimed that as a result of the Pacheco Law, Massachusetts is the "only state in the nation that has virtually outlawed the privatization of public services."

    However, I've just received some numbers from the state Comptroller's Office, which appear to indicate that, despite the allegedly insurmountable hurdles put up by the Pacheco Law, privatization is alive and well in Massachusetts.

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    I was interviewed recently on Danvers cable access TV about my new book, Managing Public Sector Projects: A Strategic Framework for Success in an Era of Downsized Government. The book has been moving steadily up the charts on Amazon. (It made it to 24th this weekend among books on public administration and government, before slipping […]

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    [Posted on behalf of The Fernald League, Inc.]

    You just have to admire our rigged political (sorry, uh) democratic process sometimes.

    The venerable Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and the prestigious Boston Foundation jointly issued a report (actually an executive summary) last week, concluding that closing all of the remaining state facilities for persons with developmental disabilities will save the commonwealth $50 million a year.

    The Globe dutifully reported the report's findings and recommendations, which happen to go even further than the Patrick administration's plans to close the Fernald Developmental Center and three of the five other remaining intermediate care facilities in Massachusetts.  Close all six ICFs, the Mass. Taxpayers and Boston foundations recommended.    

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  • 08/09/10--02:46: The politicized presidency
  • [Cross-posted from the Accountable Strategies blog]

    Using the term "politicized presidency" might sound at first like an exercise in redundancy.

    What presidency isn't politicized?  But Donald Moynihan and Alasdair Roberts (who teaches at Suffolk University Law School) draw a distinction between "politicized" and "political." 

    In "The Triumph of Loyalty Over Competence: The Bush Administration and the Exhaustion of the Politicized Presidency"  (July/August 2010 issue of Public Administration Review), the authors make a case that the administration of George W. Bush went further than any others in history in subordinating hiring and decision-making to political considerations.

    The result was a disaster, not only for Bush's popularity toward the end of his second term and potentially for his legacy, but for the institution of the presidency itself.

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    [Posted on behalf of The Fernald League, Inc.]

    Lest anyone is under the impression that the courts around the country are uniformly ruling against the appropriateness of care in facilities such as the Fernald Developmental Center, two recent court decisions in Tennessee and California should set the record straight.

    At the very least, these two decisions show that the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in Masschusetts two years ago that paved the way for Fernald's closure did not necessarily portend or reflect any national judicial trends.

    As the national VOR is reporting in its Summer 2010 newsletter and on its website, the Tennessee and California cases both recognize that guardians and family members  are in the best position to determine the most appropriate care for their wards and loved ones with developmental disabilities.

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    For folks who care about public education, students, teachers, issues around high-stakes testing, school funding, charter schools and privatization, check out the Citizens for Public Schools issues conference on Saturday, Oct. 16 at Bunker Hill Community College. Details below....

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