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Tanicia Goodwin case sparks debate on state's policies toward abused kids

March 27, 2012 01:44 PM

How far should the state go to keep troubled families intact?

The shocking allegations against Tanicia Goodwin, the Salem mother accused of slashing the throats of her two children and then setting their apartment on fire, has raised questions about the state's handling of her case. Child protection workers had returned the older of the children to Goodwin's custody in 2010.

Globe columnist Lawrence Harmon argued that the state places too much emphasis on reuniting children and parents. "Some families simply aren’t worthy of preservation," he said. Instead, more children should be placed in orphanages.

Goodwin poses a severe test to the underlying family preservation philosophy of the state Department of Children and Families, the agency charged with protecting children from abuse and neglect. The agency sees its mission not only as physical protection but as making “every reasonable effort’’ to keep family units intact. That mission reflects, in part, the social work profession’s decades-long bias against long-term institutional care. But it also reflects a simplistic view of orphanages as some Dickensian throwback where little kids go begging for bowls of gruel. What social workers should fear instead is the isolation of the Salem public housing unit where, according to police, Goodwin tried to kill her children.

Joanna Weiss took the opposite view. No system is perfect, she writes, but on balance keeping kids with their parents is still the best policy.

What if the system works, the rules are followed, the risks are correctly assessed, and something still goes terribly, tragically wrong?

This is a cold reality of the child welfare system: It is a matter of calculated risk, built around risk-laden lives.

NFL should vacate tainted 2010 New Orleans championship

March 21, 2012 06:32 PM

While Roger Goodell is at it, he should vacate the New Orleans Saints’ 2010 Super Bowl title, earned while the Saints had a bounty system for deliberately injuring opposing players. It was bad enough the system existed for the last three seasons. But players and coaches also engaged in a cover-up. Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, said without hesitation in an interview Wednesday on the NFL Network, "We were misled, there denials throughout that period. Clearly we were lied to. We investigated this back in 2010. We were told it was not happening and it continued for another two years."

There is plenty of precedent in college sports for vacating the performance of scandalous top teams. Many basketball teams, including the University of Massachusetts, have had Final Four appearances vacated since 1961. The University of Southern California football team had its 2004 Bowl Championship Series national title stripped and was banned two seasons from bowl games for the improper benefits to Reggie Bush. Bush was also stripped of his Heisman Trophy. In 1987, the National Collegiate Athletic Association gave Southern Methodist the "death penalty," a complete ban from play over its play-for-pay scandal.

Most of the cheating and slush-fund infractions in collegiate sports, while deserving of their punishments, pale in comparison to a system of players and coaches pooling money as an incentive to go out and deliberately cripple other players. To be sure, Goodell is off to a strong start in addressing the bounty scandal, suspending head coach Sean Payton for a year without pay and indefinitely suspending former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who is current with the St. Louis Rams.

But if college teams can have titles and Final Four appearances vacated for improper gifts to players, improper recruiting by coaches, Goodell is well within the bounds of logic to send an unprecedented message for a literally far more injurious system. Football is a violent enough sport as it is without adding the cynical, mercenary dimension of a bounty. The biggest message Goodell can send is to tell the Saints to return the Vince Lombardi Trophy back to NFL headquarters in New York, and tell the players to return their Super Bowl rings. These were not rings earned in honor.

Sheldon Adelson and Michael Bloomberg: the divergent paths of two Boston-bred billionaires

March 19, 2012 04:54 PM

Two billionaires, each with Boston area roots — and two different explorations of loyalty and identity.

The day after Globe columnist Farah Stockman dug deep into the roots of Dorchester-bred Sheldon Adelson, to ask how a son of ultra-liberal, hardscrabble Dorchester could emerge as Newt Gingrich's biggest backer, New York Times reporter Michael Grynbaum looks at how that city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, never forgot his hometown of Medford. From libraries to synagogues to arts organizations, Bloomberg was a quiet, behind-the-scenes presence. He even helped the son of a local restaurant owner get contacts on Wall Street. This was partly because of Bloomberg's loyalty to his mother, who'd continued living in his childhood home until her death last year at 102.

Adelson has no such ties to Dorchester. This may be explained by the vast demographic and cultural changes in his Erie Street neighborhood since his childhood in the 1930s and '40s. His relatives are also long gone. But while Bloomberg left the Boston area after his childhood, Adelson built his fortune in the Boston area, living here until he was well into middle age. The different approaches, no doubt, reflect different experiences — but also different characters.

Adelson left Dorchester behind.

Bloomberg always kept Medford in mind.

Boston scores top-tier ranking in economic competitiveness survey

March 14, 2012 01:32 PM

Adjectives used by outsiders to describe Boston are often not very complimentary: cold, parochial, academic, unattractive. (And, yes, they mean the people).

So it's worth giving some credit to a new report commissioned by Citigroup that found that of 120 of the world's major cities, Boston ranks 10th in overall competitiveness. Yes, 10th in the world. The research report by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that, when ranked on 31 indicators including "economic strength, human capital, institutional effectiveness, global appeal and... social and cutural character," we were even ahead of Singapore, which came in 15th.

The report is substantive and thorough. And it highlights how governments can make cities more attractive to investors and foreigners. We can still attract capital, talent, and tourists — even if others may find us unattractive.

Too many NCAA teams still lag on black graduation rates

March 12, 2012 05:30 PM

The clock is ticking on next year’s tournament ban for teams with poor graduation rates, but a stunning number of major powers are frozen in time, as if they are daring the National Collegiate Athletic Association to really kick them out of March Madness. In my annual alternative look at the long-term academic performance of Division 1 tournament teams, to be published in full later this week, 21 men's programs, the same number as last year, have African American player graduation success rates of below 50 percent. Repeat offenders are Connecticut, Syracuse, Florida, Nevada-Las Vegas, Michigan, Temple, Texas, and Kansas State.

On the positive side, there were three teams that I would have flunked out of last year’s tournament that raised their black and team graduation rates to at least 50 percent, roughly the level that the NCAA will begin requiring next year. To give credit where it is due, those schools are Missouri, Michigan State, and Kentucky.

If you want to watch the brainiest of basketball in the first round, you do not want to miss 100 percent Vanderbilt vs. 100 percent Harvard, nor 100 percent Notre Dame vs. 93 percent Xavier. If you want to watch programs that demonstrate through their black graduation rates that they couldn't care less, check out Connecticut (14 percent) vs Iowa State (29), and Florida (20) vs. Virginia (33).

And if you want to see achievement gaps between white and black players on single teams, in real time and living color, then you must get your popcorn for Florida, Iowa State, Wisconsin, New Mexico State, Virginia, Michigan, and Kansas State — all teams with racial gaps between 62 and 80 percentage points. Better catch them now, because under the tournament rules going into effect next year, some of those teams might not be back anytime soon.

Tickets for seat hogs? T should try some PR first

March 12, 2012 02:55 PM
Why should the MBTA care about "seat hogs," when it has so many bigger problems?

That seems to be general reaction to complaints about inconsiderate passengers who put their bags on the seat next to them. The T could follow New York City's lead by issuing tickets, but saddling the T's police force with an extra enforcement burden when the agency is already struggling to close a $161 million deficit doesn't seem like a great idea.

Still, there's a pragmatic reason why seat hogs merit at least an extra public address announcement or two: they can be a source of conflict that escalates into much worse.

I had a first-hand illustration one morning on a crowded Orange Line train, when a woman politely asked a man to move his large bag from a seat. With an angry glare, he did — and then swung the bag at her shoulder after she sat down, with enough force to knock a cell phone out of her hand and send it careening across the train. Moments later, a third rider leapt out of his seat, walked past the broken remains of the cell phone, and punched the offender in the teeth. Other passengers called police and the train was stopped at the Mass. Ave. station, but both men disappeared once the doors opened. (I left my phone number with T personnel, gave a statement to the police the next day — and never heard another word.)

Was that an isolated incident? When I emailed Joe Pesaturo, the MBTA's spokesman, to ask if the T kept track of crime stemming from seat disputes, he wrote back that the agency had no such statistics. He added that in 13 years of riding the Green Line, he'd never experienced anything similar.

More importantly, though, would a policy of issuing tickets to seat hogs — like the one in New York City, where thousands of $50 tickets were issued last year, according to a story in Monday's Boston Herald — have prevented the altercation I witnessed? Probably not. After all, the man did move his belongings when asked; the real problem was when he walloped his neighbor with the bag, and that's already illegal.

But the T could raise the issue's profile by making seat hogs a more prominent target of its "courtesy counts" announcements. Doing so might foster a climate that emboldens passengers to ask other riders to move their bags — and send a message to the hogs themselves that they've got no right to object.

Kennedy's record was clear: he would not have agreed with Brown on contraception coverage

March 2, 2012 05:43 PM

No one owns Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s legacy. But Scott Brown has made an essentially deceptive claim — that the senator would support the Blunt Amendment. He has not just made the statement; he used it in a political advertisement. It is not only wrong but disrespectful to invoke the Kennedy name for a position that is contrary to what the senator believed.

Kennedy’s record and his values were based on the belief that all Americans should be treated equally under the law. This commitment was at the heart of his lifelong battle for civil rights, for employment opportunity, for educational opportunity. He believed that quality, affordable health care should be the birthright of every American, both men and women. That is why he had a long and consistent history of supporting legislation to provide contraceptive coverage. As Kennedy put it during a hearing in 2001, “contraceptive insurance coverage is essential for women’s health.” In 1997, 1999, 2001, 203, and 2005, Kennedy co-sponsored the Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act introduced by Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. The legislation would have prohibited insurers from restricting contraception or denying contraceptive services — and the bill had no exemption for religious or moral reasons.

But Kennedy was also deeply sensitive to issues of conscience. He included conscience clauses in many of his own health bills, including his comprehensive health reform bill that was approved by his health committee in 2009. That bill was the foundation of the Affordable Care Act that President Obama signed into law in 2010.

Kennedy believed that doctors or nurses or hospitals should not be required to perform non-emergency procedures in violation of their religious beliefs. But in every case — every case — Kennedy wanted to make sure that patients still received the health care they needed at no extra cost. That includes contraceptive coverage for women.

He would have supported wholeheartedly Obama's accommodation of the health care rules as applicable to religiously affiliated institutions. But he would not have supported any efforts to curtail equal access to health care for women or any Americans.


Congratulations to Vladimir Putin on his impending reelection

March 2, 2012 01:40 PM
Can I be first? I want to go out on a limb and congratulate Vladimir Putin for his victory this Sunday in the Russian presidential election. He won the last time, but there was so much fraud that even he couldn’t ignore the public outcry. This time, a bunch of Putin mini-mes and Kremlin lovers are running against Putin. Congratulations.

As Bill McKay, the young Californian running for Senate played by Robert Redford in the movie The Candidate, asks after realizing that losing his ethics and ideals got him the position he wanted so badly: What do we do now?

Russia is faltering under the weight of corruption and a system that makes a few exceptional billionaires and puts anyone who complains in jail. Democracy is a pipe dream. Russian protestors are not likely to go away easily, and Putin will make some concessions to reform and transparency. Such reforms may work in the short term, but they are not the answer for Putin's long-term success — or Russia's.

ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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