Entries by Liam Day

Somehow, Some Ideas Just Never Die

An editorial this morning in the Herald revealed that Congressman Lynch is pushing for funding to develop a plan to dig a rail link between North and South Stations in the forthcoming federal stimulus bill. Yet another billion(s)-dollar tunnel beneath the City of Boston that will drown out any discussion of transportation reform and Hoover up the funding required to achieve it, dish out millions in mitigation to affected communities and utilities, and serve exactly what demand? Do we really want to go through all of this again?

Obama-Day Mind-Meld

To a comment left on a post on state budget cuts I made the other day at Blue Mass Group, I suggested that federal stimulus dollars might only exacerbate the structural problems in the Commonwealth’s budget because money that flows in this year that is applied to operating expenses will, eventually, have to be supplemented once federal stimulus is off the table. As I wrote, Relying on federal money to close an FY10 budget gap would simply be kicking the difficult decisions we need to make down the road. Well, now, in a meeting with the Washington Post’s editorial board, President-elect Obama had this to say when discussing Social Security, Medicare and the country’s long-term budget deficits: What we have […]

Someone please strip of him of his chairmanship

It seems Edolphus Towns, the incoming Democratic Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is calling for hearings on college football’s Bowl Championship Series. He’s even considering subpoenas for NCAA officials, coaches, players, athletic directors and college presidents. So, let me get this straight. The economy’s in meltdown, Israel has launched a war on Hamas in Gaza, we’re fighting two wars of our own, Russia’s doing it’s annual cut-off-the-gas-to-Ukraine routine, no one seems able to account for the first $350 billion distributed during phase one of the financial sector bailout, the national debt is about to cruise by $10 trillion at 65 mph, if there’s a single state out of the 50 that isn’t staring a yawning […]

Moral Hazard

The outcomes of the various bailout and stimulus packages already passed or currently being contemplated, and the lessons to be drawn from them, won’t be known in their entirety for quite some time, if ever. There is, however, one quite basic premise that is once again being revealed by the federal government’s current attempts to step in and bolster the economy. Government spending creates moral hazard. Check out the lead story in this morning’s USA Today – States continue spending sprees. Why is that? As the national daily reports, though a few states have attempted to curb spending: Most have taken a wait-and-see attitude because spending cuts may not be needed if Congress approves a large federal aid package, and […]

A rose by another name

Totally off topic, but I do want to acknowledge Kevin Cullen’s column in today’s Globe. One of my first jobs out of college was as one of the teen directors at the Daniel Marr Boys and Girls Club in Dorchester, which has now changed its name – to reflect how much it’s grown – to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester. In all, I spent three years at the Club. The men and women who work there – Bob Scannell, Mike Joyce, Dave Bonnell, Bruce Seals and Queenie Santos, the person I worked with most closely – are among the finest people I know. The club has been an anchor and an oasis in a neighborhood that too often […]

17-year old wisdom

We have an expression we use around the office: adult in the room, that person in any organization whose cooler head usually prevails when panic, or sometimes silliness, otherwise would. For example, the Patrick Administration didn’t have an adult in the room last January to say no to the Governor when he wanted a new Cadillac and damask drapes. That’s why Doug Rubin was brought in. Why the exposition of internal Pioneer lingo? Because of the report in today’s Globe on replacing the”underperforming” label for schools with a gentler euphemism. It seems the Massachusetts Board of Education has devoted parts of its last three meetings to debating nomenclature. Now, I’m not one to dismiss the significance of language, but this […]

From James Joyce to Grand Theft Auto

I’ve been reading David Boaz lately, so I’m in a bit of a Libertarian mood to begin with, but, even if I weren’t, I would still have raised an eyebrow at Mayor Menino’s latest crusade. Not satisfied with a ban on trans fat, he is now going after violent video games. Now, I’m not a gamer, nor am I a big junk food fan, but I have to stand up for the rights of the people out there who do like trans fats and Grand Theft Auto. There is an argument to be made for a local, state or federal ban on trans fat. In a society in which most of us don’t buy our own health insurance, I suppose […]

Go to D.C, young man, for that is where fortunes are made.

Telling article on Forbes.com I just read this weekend listing the best places in the country to get ahead. The list was compiled based on job and income data. Coincidently enough, 6 of the 7 best counties to live to get ahead today are located in Maryland and Virginia. They include Stafford County, Va., Calvert County, Md., Loudoun County, Va., Charles County, Md., Prince William County, Va., and Anne Arundel County, Md. Is it possible, just remotely possible, that the reason for this geographic concentration of jobs and income is in any way related to the explosive growth of the federal government the last 8 years? And, if related, what does it bode for our country that more and more […]

Supply vs. Demand – and Demand is winning

The Boston Zoning Commission voted yesterday to approve the City Council’s measure to cap students renting off-campus apartments at 4 per unit, without regard to its size. (Read the Globe’s front page article here.) Now I’m sympathetic to what motivated this measure in the first place: I’m pretty sure if my wife and I lived in Allston or Mission Hill, next door to the noise and the revelry, we’d be annoyed as all get up too. Nevertheless, what this measure will most likely not do is bring rental rates in the neighborhoods around the city’s colleges and universities back down to what proponents might call an affordable level. As some of the displaced students would (hopefully, if they paid attention […]

Blue Cross Blue Shield – The Public Trough?

I hate to go on a rant here, but $70,000 to be on the board of directors? (Read the Boston Herald story here.) That’s a pretty good gig. How does one get a gig like that? Well, if you’re Bob Haynes, I suppose, you flex your political muscle as head of the state’s AFL-CIO. Though, you would think it’d bring up conflict of interest issues, as BCBS is hard-wired into a good number of the local public employee union contracts. Actually, if you think about it, at $70,000, Bob might be underpaid. Ensuring that BCBS doesn’t have to compete on cost for municipal business has to be worth a lot more than that. Looking around the BCBS director table, we […]

Huey Long. . . er, I mean, Hilary on vouchers

My colleague, Jamie Gass, the cynic that he is, predicted after reading my last post that Barack Obama would backtrack on charter schools and vouchers. And, sure enough, he was right. From an Obama campaign statement Jamie forwarded to me: There have been misleading reports that Senator Obama voiced support for voucher programs in an interview with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Senator Obama has always been a critic of vouchers, and expressed his longstanding skepticism in that interview. Still, as Democrats for Education Reform does, contrast that statement with Hilary Clinton’s response to Mr. Obama’s orginal comments (see my last post). As reported in the New York Sun: Senator Clinton had a strong response, saying she […]

Obama on charter schools and vouchers

I like Barack Obama. I like the rhetoric he uses and the hope he embodies and, unlike some people, I believe rhetoric is as important as policy. More important even, for rhetoric defines the parameters in which policy operates. In a sense, rhetoric sets strategy, whereas policy only defines the tactics to achieve the strategy outlined by rhetoric. To refer to a prior post of mine a leader must possess clearly stated strategic goals that are based on deeply held principles and from which he or she refuses to waver. A candidate’s rhetoric helps define the strategic goals he or she seeks to achieve and from which he or she refuses to waver. That being said, rhetoric without policy is […]

A lack of imagination

As Dennis Miller used to say, I don’t want to go on a rant here, but it beggars the imagination how glib some public officials can be when it comes to talk of budgets. This from Holland Selectman James E. Wettlaufer, in an article in the Springfield Republican about the town’s rejection of two Prop 2 1/2 overrides in yesterday’s election: “This means we will have to sit down and craft a budget that fits within the levy limit, which means reduced services.” Crafting municipal budgets within the levy limit is what the law intended. Under the law, it is what town selectmen are supposed to do. It’s not supposed to be a last resort. Then, of course, Mr. Wettlaufer […]

3 trillion and counting

Of note today, a milestone somewhat akin to watching your car’s odometer hit 100,000 miles: President Bush will submit to Congress his 2009 budget proposal for the federal government, the first ever to exceed $3 trillion. I don’t think you need to be fiscally conservative to blanch at that figure.

To lead or follow

I apologize, but I need to digress from Pioneer’s usual topics of research and commentary. Though politicians are ultimately responsible for public policy, politics is not something Pioneer usually delves into. That being said, David Runciman’s piece on political hypocrisy in the Ideas section of today’s Globe bothered me. To begin with, Mr. Runciman never exactly defines what he means by political hypocrisy. In fact, the definition, at least as he conceives it, seems inordinately broad, including, for example, a politician who might change his or her stance on an issue in the face of evidence supporting a contrary position. What is hypocritical about that, I don’t know. I would have thought the hypocrite is the politician who, having considered […]

Small Things Matter

We are sometimes so focused on what doesn’t work, that we sometimes miss the small successes. Here’s to the Dracut police force, which, as reported in this morning’s Lowell Sun, reduced sick-time use in 2007 by 54%. In fact, the total of 155.25 sick days used in 2007 is down from 497 used in 2005, a 69% reduction. Chief Richardson and his officers are to be commended for recognizing the strain that high absenteeism places on a force’s fiscal and human resources and for making it a departmental priority.

The Week in Review

It certainly has been a busy one, both nationally and here at Pioneer. We are set to release a short policy brief on the inequities in Unemployment Insurance in Massachusetts and are gearing up for an education event Tuesday to discuss issues around student test data, including MCAS, TIMSS, the state’s data warehouse and the need to use data to guide professional development and inform classroom practice. For that reason, I saved up my thoughts this week for one weekend post. Here goes; from lightest to most serious. 1) This week’s sign of the apocalypse – According to The Week (a periodical I’ve trumped here before) a Colorado inmate is suing the prison where he is incarcerated because he was […]

There are no other issues. This is the issue.

At a critical moment in The Verdict perhaps the best Boston movie ever made (considerably better, anyway, than the wildly overrated The Departed), Paul Newman’s character, a Boston defense attorney, is advised by his mentor (played by the incomparable Jack Warden, who, as you movie buffs out there may know, played the grandfather in one of the all time great cheesy movies, Problem Child) that there will be other cases. In response, Newman repeats over and over, more to himself than to Jack Warden, that “There are no other cases. This is the case. There are no other cases. This is the case.” I was reminded of this scene this morning reading Ed Moscovitch’s op-ed in the Boston Herald, Soaring […]

Shameless Gary Gnu reference

I’m a few days late, but I want to offer a quick rebuttal to JoAnn Fitzpatrick, whose op-ed, Sparse history’s made in a year with potential, appeared in Monday’s Boston Herald. I don’t disagree with Ms. Fitzpatrick’s argument. 2007 was not an extraordinarily productive year for the Legislature. What I disagree with is the premise upon which her argument is based. An unproductive legislature is not de facto a bad legislature. Our state representatives and senators – and, for that matter, our congressmen and women – should not be expected to create laws simply because they can. This mindset – that our state and federal legislatures must always be doing things – has contributed to a culture in which Massachusetts’ […]

Panderbears are so cute and cuddly

What does it say about the Democratic party that its entirely uncritical relationship with the teachers’ union has become the baseline against which to measure other panders. This from the Talk of the Town section in the most recent New Yorker, in which George Packer analyzes the Republican presidential candidates, who he claims try to outdo one another, burnishing tough foreign policy stances while “. . . pandering to the war lobby as if they were Democrats addressing the teachers’ union.” And this is The New Yorker, mind you, not the National Review.

Boston vs. Buffalo

The Patriots rolled to victory again last night. The victim this week – the Buffalo Bills. Football, however, is not the only field in which we appear to have a distinct advantage. It seems, at least according to msn.com, that Boston and Buffalo will be the most and second most expensive cities in which to heat your home this winter. Msn.com surmises that Buffalo comes in at no. 2 on the list because, well, because it’s quite simply a godforsakenly frigid city. Boston, however, is a different story. We top the list because we rely much more on heating oil than natural gas, whose price has inflated only 72% in the last decade compared to oil’s 234% increase. This obviously […]

Thoreau, he most certainly is not

This is priceless. David Wasserman, a Madison, Wisconsin middle-school teacher, recently refused to administer the state assessment to his students. It appears he was protesting No Child Left Behind’s mandatory testing requirements. As the controversial law’s first “conscientious objector” he received a fair amount of press coverage. In fact, he recently gave Newsweek Web an interview in which, when asked why he took his stand, he responded: I feel that the tests assess academic achievement in biased ways, with a challenging and confusing format of questions and answers. Shoot. I just hate that confusing question and answer format.

Happy as a Clam

A few comments on news items of note this week. Some serious, some less so. In response to Dan Brown’s op-ed in today’s Boston Globe: I love it – just love it – when people who have been teaching all of a year or two feel emboldened to speak with authority about education policy. (I’m reminded of Boston’s old pal Rick Pitino, who had the gall to publish Born to Coach when he’d only been one for about five minutes. But more on him later.) I also always appreciate it when people believe they speak for all teachers, as if teachers and their views of standardized testing and No Child Left Behind were one giant monolith. Psst, there are some […]

Oh, the days draw out like the blade of a knife

One that cuts both ways, that is. On one side, longer school days, an idea being pushed right now at the state level, make sense. They allow for more instructional time, as well as for time for all of the activities that seem to be being pushed off the agenda by the need to meet state and federal standards as measured by MCAS. On the other hand, extending the school day will be frightfully expensive, which yesterday’s Lawrence Eagle-Tribune correctly pointed out in an editorial regarding Andover’s participation in a state grant program for longer school days. This comes on the heels of passionate parent testimony at a recent Methuen school committee hearing to discuss extended day learning in that […]

A shrinking dependency ratio

But fewer younger, healthier people are joining the state’s workforce to defray the costs incurred by the older, sicker population. Thus spake the Boston Globe this morning and their assessment is correct. The Commonwealth’s population is stagnant. We are losing young workers even as we gain dependents. Their focus, however, is another matter. We must begin with the fundamental question, which in this case is: Why are so many young workers leaving the state? The easiest answer to that question is the high cost of living. And, yes, double digit increases in health insurance premiums are part of the problem. Its crux, however, is not health insurance; it’s housing. We should be focused on ways to reduce the cost of […]

Goodbye, Camelot

Mr. Robert Goulet, the pride of Lawrence, died yesterday. You may be more familiar with his work in Camelot and Man of La Mancha, but for those of us weaned on ESPN, he will always be remembered for the series of faux-lounge college basketball commercials he made during the 90s. Pure genius.

Greek futurists, indeed.

November 13, 2007, at the Boston Harbor Hotel, Dr. Peter Diamandis will excite the imagination when he delivers this year’s Lovett C. Peters Lecture in Public Policy. Space travel, cars that get 100 miles to the gallon of gas, returning to the moon. These are ideas that can bring out the daydreamer in anyone. The thing is, Dr. Diamandis is helping make them reality. Watch and hear what he has to say, then decide for yourself whether it is worth a contribution to Pioneer to be there November 13, 2007. Who knows what previously-thought-to-be-impossible endeavor he may come up with?

Why wait?

My post today is really a question. It has to do with Boston English High, one of the oldest and most venerable secondary schools in the country, erstwhile rival to Boston Latin and the focus two weeks ago (sorry, I’m behind the times) of a Boston Globe feature. It seems that English High is on the brink of closure due to consistent underperformance. The school, and its principal, Jose Duarte, have been granted a one-year reprieve to turn it around. To help him, Mr. Duarte has been given a moratorium on union work rules, allowing him “greater leeway over faculty appointments.” As Mr. Duarte and his teachers strive to turn English High around, I wish them only the best. But […]

Shoot, did I miss Bastille Day?

First of all, let me just say how proud I am of my fellow Pioneers: eight, now nine, blog posts in a single day. A new Institute record, I do believe. And let me just also say how honored I am to have inspired two of them, which, I suppose, require me to respond. I was looking forward to posting on the Red Sox’ disappearing lead, but no matter. My own research had led me to believe the ancient Egyptians invented the tie, but I will defer to my learned colleague. Where we agree is in its modern inception: the court of the Sun King. Where we also agree is Jim’s suspicion of my revolutionary tendencies, but, alas, I am […]

Taxes and Tolls

As promised, today’s Mass Media headlines on the homepage will be devoted to toll hikes and gas taxes – yesterday’s were to casino gambling – and all of it – new tolls, taxes and pleasure palaces – in pursuit of revenue to cover the cost of road and bridge repair, local and state obligations to public employees and retirees, and with maybe a little something left over for property tax relief (or so the Governor hopes). I have no problem with the Governor and Legislature publicly discussing new sources of revenue to cover the cost of some pretty enormous liabilities staring us in the face. My problem is the exclusive focus on new revenues. There is a flip side to […]