Charlie Baker’s secret budget cuts don’t add up.

Update: A quick search on Twitter unearthed the document I’m looking for. You can grab a copy of Charlie Baker’s FY17 9C cuts by line item and earmark for yourself!

Compare: Notice how much information they left out from the official public line item listing. No wonder they didn’t want the detailed one circulated externally. There are enough cuts to different services in here to effect everyone in the Commonwealth.

Correction: The constituent aide and I were looking at 9C cuts to last year’s budget. I’ve updated link to the public line item accounting of FY17 budget cuts above. The public numbers and secret, private numbers still don’t match. The official and secret budget cuts are off by 64 million dollars!

Normally the Massachusetts state legislature handles the state budget and state budget cuts. Earlier this month, Governor Charlie Baker made unilateral so-called 9C budget cuts to slash funding from state services without going through the legislature. I called Baker’s office to find out more about his budget cuts.

This morning a constituent aide from Governor Baker’s office called back to tell me the details of the Charlie Baker’s budget cuts are NOT for external circulation. It wasn’t his decision though. His contact in Legislative Affairs made the call. He did ask if I had any specific questions. So I asked:

Why are the details of Charlie Baker’s reductions in public money to public services not public? Why can’t that document be circulated to the public?

He didn’t know. I guess the internal affairs of the Governor’s office are as secretive to their constituent aides as they are to Massachusetts constituents. I explained how this all started:

The reason I called initially is because I read an article explaining that a emergency food program in Cambridge called the Cambridge Weekend Backpack program lost its funding due to the 9C budget cuts. It tried to verify the cuts, but could not from the public line item listing.

At this point, the aide interrupted, “They are verified.” So I asked:

Can you tell me which line item the Cambridge Weekend Backpack program falls under? I could not guess based on the very general category names of the publicly posted account.

Happy to help, the aide agreed to look up the details for me in the document that he refused to send me. And he found it! A cut for $110,000, just like the original reporting said. It was bundled under a reduction to Department of Agricultural Resources Administration.

But wait a second! The budget cut to the Department of Agriculture Resources Administration that the governor’s office posted to the public was only $9,250. How could the true, secret value be over $100,000 more? So I asked the aide:

Why is the reported reduction in that line item only $9,250? You just told me that a single cut to that department is $110,000. Why are the numbers different?

He added that question to the list.

(Update: The Boston Globe reports that the line item reduction for emergency food assistance programs 2511-0105 was $650,000. Which is it? Is any of these numbers correct, Governor Baker?)

And he asked me if I had any more questions. The aide reminded me that their office is busy and cannot spend a lot of time with every constituent. So I made him an offer.

I understand that you’re very busy. And I really appreciate your calling me back and taking this time with me. If it would be easier for you, I can come to the office to pick up a print out of the 9C budget cuts and go over it myself. That way you can attend to other things.

The aide sympathized with me, but reminded me that the details of the budget cuts cannot be released to the public. For some reason they didn’t want me to know how the budget cuts would effect the entire state, so I asked specifically:

Can you send me the details of all of the services that were effected in Cambridge? I’d like to know so that I can choose which ones to donate to.

He said he would try to find out:

  1. Why are the details of Charlie Baker’s 9C budget unavailable to the general public?
  2. Why is there a discrepancy between the publicly reported budget cuts and the the internal, secret cuts?
  3. Which services in Cambridge are effected by the cuts and by how much?

In the meantime, he referred me to the Office of Administrative and Financial Affairs since they published the public line item account of the budget cuts. I called them and left a message.

Do you think it’s bizarre that Charlie Baker won’t release the details about how he uses public money on public services to the public, too? Call his office at (617) 725-4005. Let me know what they say!

Grinch Charlie Baker takes away food from hungry children for Christmas

Imagine being a child at home on Christmas.

"Freedom From Want" - NARA - 513539

What if there wasn’t any food in your house, how would you feel? How would you feel when you found out the governor doesn’t think you’re important enough to feed?

For Christmas this year, Grinch Charlie Baker, in a dazzling display of cold-heartedness, cut a grant of $110,000 from the state budget that funds Food For Free’s Cambridge Weekend Backpack emergency food program for children. The Cambridge Weekend Backpack program provides 500 of the city’s poorest kids food on weekends because, without it, they’d go hungry. (You can donate to help them out!)

Charlie Baker, is this how you lead the state—by taking food from the mouths of hungry children? I want better from my governor. So last Thursday I called his office and spoke with one of his aides to ask when Governor Baker plans to reinstate the funding.

Here’s a script you can use to call, too! It’s easy: just call (617) 725-4005.

Hello, how are you? My name is Joshua Reyes and I live in Cambridge, MA. I read in the Cambridge Chronicle that Governor Baker recently cut state funding for a program called Food for Free. Have you heard about that program?

I just want to remind you that Food for Free provides food to poor children on the weekends who would otherwise go hungry. They serve about 500 kids where I live in Cambridge.

Having food to eat is a basic dignity and these kids should not be expected to provide for themselves. Taking away food from poor kids is an especially horrible Christmas present from the governor. Can you tell me when Governor Baker plans to reinstate funding for Food for Free?

Thank you and have a good day!

Carry the giving spirit of Christmas all year round. Please call Charlie Baker’s office today to tell him to give back the food food he took away from hungry kids. Please let me know how it goes!

Love that Dirty Water

Today marks the beginning of my Olympic career. This morning I went to Charles River Canoe & Kayak for the first of two introductory lessons on paddling. The class began at 8:30am on one of the small lawns that punctuate the Kendall Square biotech ghetto. There our instructor, Bob, led eight nervous adults through basic kayaking anatomy, including rudimentary rescue techniques.

Before long we were on the docks and in our boats. After a quick adjustment of the foot rests we were in the water practicing our forward strokes, side sweeps, backward sweeps, J-leans, bracing and edging. Our three-hour tour of the canal ended with three water rescues. I demonstrated flipping and re-entry first. Soon enough, I want to learn to roll. (I may need stronger obliques, though.)

With enough practice, hard work, and friendly support, I think I can make my splash in the world of competitive paddling within three years. Dear readers, kindly keep me honest. Look for me on the River again, tomorrow after work but before sunset.

Today I helped Mississippi families.

Because I don’t think the government should intervene in every, single pregnancy in the state of Mississippi, I donated to help keep family planning up to families.

Here’s the blurb I got after donating. Maybe you’ll receive it in your email, too.

I just made a contribution to Mississippians for Healthy Families, which is leading the fight against Initiative 26. The amendment could ban birth control, prevent women with cancer from receiving life-saving treatments, and ban all abortion in any circumstance. It goes too far. Say NO on Initiative 26&mdashlearn more and make your contribution today:

A Quickie

Boil some speghetti. Strain the water and put the pasta in a small, blue bowl. Add chopped tomatoes, some spinach. Coat with Caesar salad dressing to taste. Mix throroughly. Serves one.

A Medical Curiosity

The ejection fraction gives the medical world an index by which they can measure, in some sense, just how well a person’s heart is working. An average, healthy adult has an ejection fraction between 55–60. That means with each beat of the heart, about 60% of the blood that was in it gets pushed out. Anyone with an EF in the twenties is in critical condition, though people have been known to live, for a time, with fractions as low as ten. My mother, before her collapse, was walking, talking, and living a normal life with a documented ejection fraction of twenty-six.

The doctors and nurse staff in the ICU here are flabbergasted by it. Even before she moved to Canada, over three years ago, her medical records correctly reported that her heart was in critical condition. Yet, during check-ups doctors thought that since it seems to work, there’s no use tinkering with it. They were most likely right. The condition and quality of life she enjoyed is stunning to me, and to the doctors. No one can seem to wrap his head around the reality of my mother, her strength, and good dumb luck.

Now her ejection fraction hovers at around ten, sometimes a little higher, others a little lower. Again, it’s hard to believe that my mother has stuck it out these past five days. The doctors have installed a balloon pump to alleviate some of the stress on her heart, but it is only a temporizing measure and can’t stay in longer than five or six days. The same goes for most of the medication she’s on. They’ll keep her on the ventilator longer if need be. She only takes about ten breaths per minutes on her own. They oxygen levels on the lowest possible setting, though, 30%. And they’ve been weening her off the drips and balloon. Right now it pumps once for every two of her heart’s. That’s medium. We’re aiming for low (1:3).

I should note that many of her neural and cognitive functions have not suffered. She is very aware of her surroundings. She knows that she’s incredibly uncomfortable and that she doesn’t want to be in the hospital anymore. She has recovered only enough strength to move her hands, one at a time, from her side onto her stomach. When asked questions she can nod in response albeit slightly, open her eyes for several seconds at a time, focus on others, and once Janice and I believe she blew me a kiss. Her doctor uses a crude scale to quantify the relative condition his patients. When my mother arrived at the hospital, she was a one, perhaps even less. Now she’s a three. They won’t consider moving her until she reaches at least a five, ideally, seven.

Studies on those obnoxious family newsletters demonstrate that families can’t help but put a positive spin on everything. Some items don’t need much spin. “Jordan and Angie have decided to get married. They’ve already got a cute apartment priced within their budget and will move in right after the wedding in April,” for example. Here the spin comes from the adjective, particularly from “cute.” Others require a little work. For massive, reconstructive spin, it is often necessary to tack on an unrealistic and unnecessarily optimistic phrase at the end as in : “David has been charged with a count of DUI and involuntary manslaughter after a messy break-up with his high school sweetheart last Friday, but it looks like he might get off!”. It’s within our nature to hold onto those tenuous threads of hope wherever we can find them. Of course, pessimists are never disappointed. Aware of both approaches, I elect to leave you with this bittersweet, moderate summary in proper positive-then-tempered-with-negaitve order.

My mom is doing outstanding well within the confines of a tremendously bleak prognosis.

Fresh Air and Sunshine

We begin day three in Sudbury, ON, at about the same time we did yesterday. Apparently it wasn’t the travel that knocked us out until one in the afternoon, it was just us. Although, it could also be the air. Mom, JC, and Janice have touted the superiority of the so-called fresh Canadian air up here. Having lived in Toronto before, I wasn’t convinced of its immediate and pristine perfection.

Sudbury is a small city to me, but up here, with a population in excess of 150,000, the Greater Sudbury metropolitan area a behemoth in the Near North. I am constantly baffled by this mismatch of opinions. Mining is the primary industry, and it seems that most people have a personal connection to it, either directly, or through family ties. We met another couple here to see their mom. Like ours, she had been airlifted from hundreds of miles away for heart failure. Like ours, too, she is young; this one even younger, clocking in at only 47 years. Sudbury’s renown for cardiology, at least in Ontario, is wide-spread. Sonny, a man at the the Peddler’s Pub, told me that the first bypass surgery was done right here, and that he knew the patient. Sonny is an old man. We have plans to visit him on his seventieth birthday, November 2, 2009.

The daughter’s name is Mel. She and her boyfriend Jason were the first to arrive. They agonized during the mandatory wait period. Janice and I visited our mom, who was relatively stable by comparison, and left them. Before leaving, I ran to the car to fetch the camera from the car. DJ and I had been working on a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle of Paddington Bear, the smallest, least complicated puzzle we could find. While we did not finish it, we had assembled enough of it that the image was recognizable. And the scattered, extraneous pieces, which were mostly of a solid color and filler anyway, framed the interior nicely. So nicely, in fact, that we thought it fitting to capture the whole set-up for later.

When I returned from car in the adjacent lot owned by CTC college—the adjoining building has space to lease if anyone’s interested—, I discovered Jason tooling about the elevator in the main lobby. He paced back and forth, stopping only long enough to decide whether we had met before. I spoke to confirm his suspicions, and to be nice, “So, we meet again.”

He responded, “I hate this place.” I had to leave Jason. I was on a mission; Paddington and his toggles were waiting.

Janice and I made it back for the next round of visiting hours. We didn’t expect to see the doctor. I was told she wouldn’t be around until the morning, but she was there now. So were Mel and Jason. This time a huge crowd of people accompanied them. Family, Mel told me.

Janice has found the courage to walk into the room and sometimes even speak to my mother. However, her focus and strength are not unlimited. From time to time dizziness overcomes her and she has to leave the room to sit. The doctor winked at the nurse, Bonnie, “It must be all this fresh air.”

“From those two smoke stacks,” Bonnie agreed.

Because of the mining culture, the three hospitals that serve Sudbury see all sorts of perverse diseases caused by airborne nickel and sulfur in uncommonly high concentrations. So much for that fresh air.

We’re looking into medivac options to bring mom to Boston. She has to go somewhere else for the transplant, anyway. She’s well beyond a bypass.

Everyone else is doing fine. We haven’t used the pool yet, but I plan to tonight.


Presently I am in the bed nearest to the bathroom in a hotel room across the hall from but within the same hotel as my mother’s fiance and one of his boys. My sister is with them just now. DJ is trying to sleep in the other double. Our window looks out onto the offices of Dr. U. O. Kau across the street. This place is a city by Canadian standards, but in Massachusetts, hamlet might be more apt. The traffic is no more dense than in my small hometown. On the other end of the city, there is a hospital. On the fourth floor, the floor parallel to mine, in the critical care unit, is another room. There, a nurse observes my mother’s body from the corner of the room.

A vast array of medical equipment surrounds a bed placed in primary position. To the left, a number of IVs drip medication to keep her blood pressure low enough for what’s left of her heart to maintain a pulse. She receives liquid nutrition through a tube that enters through her nose. Another, snaked down her mouth, aids her breathing. Her medical outfitting is extremely unconfortable, and when she is awake, she is very adamant about letting her medical staff know. They tell me she tries to take out the tubes, complains that her throat is sore—she first went to the hospital because her throat was sore; she exhibited serious flu-like symptoms, common for women, and diabetics in particular during heat failure—she is so violent in her opinions and actions that they have tied one foot and arm to the bed and doubled her sedation treatment to keep her more comfortable and more manageable. My mother’s strong, stubborn personality is to her benefit. The nurse marvels at her surviving this long. Right now she’s resisting everything, treatment and death alike.

Her body makes a small amount of urine, which proves that her kidneys are functioning, however slightly. The same is true of her lungs. If her condition does not improve quickly, her organs will fall into disrepair due to their disuse. The heart medication also damages the kidneys. Unfortunately, last night she was not strong enough even to be transported to another hospital for a transplant. I will check today soon.

Dead Man Floats

When I woke up yesterday, something told me I ought to go back to sleep. To celebrate the fourth, DJ and I hit up Christopher’s in Porter Square after we saw off Steve in a cab headed for his ship with his crewmate (Uncle) Dizzy, someone whom I had only just met but had immediately adopted me as his own because I refill my pint glass with an athletic celerity.

Scott, the bartender, told me that last call on the fourth was scheduled for midnight. DJ and I left, the last ones to leave, close to 1:30am. Just months after my college graduation, I’m too old and too out of practice to close a bar and not pay for it twelve hours later. The sun is too unkind. The trees are too loud.

After work, Janice picked me up at the Braintree T. She was tinkering under the hood in a no standing zone near the main entrance. Her car burns oil and we had quite a drive ahead of us, and it was already close to midnight.

“JC called. Mom had a heart attack,” she told me as she helped me load my bag in the trunk.

“I told her to go to the hospital yesterday when I talked to her. I thought she needed a few liters of fluid,” I answered.

This morning JC called again. This time I picked up. My mother was air-lifted about four hundred miles away to a hospital in Sudbury, second best in Canada he said, but things looked bad. Her heart had failed her. Only about a quarter was still functioning, the rest of it was probably dead. I stood in the middle of Commercial Street, the main thoroughfare in Provincetown with my father, sister, and her boyfriend Andrew. We were on a mission: to find Andrew a bathing suit. I had just picked up a pair of navy blue running shoes for myself, a purchase about a year over due.

“Thanks for calling. I appreciate your taking care of my mother,” I told him with utter sincerity.

“Well, I didn’t do a good enough job, now did I?” he answered. JC and I have never exchanged more than 250 words, less than a middle school book report. Now his voice was shaking. Emergencies can make strangers into family.

I replayed critical scenes every movie I’ve ever seen in mind head, measured my words, and tried to be comforting and appropriate. “You’ve done the right thing. There’s nothing left to do. All we can do now is wait.” My voice was noticeably flat. I put on a smile for my audience to explain that my mother was ill and almost certainly going to die. Now I know why couples break up in public. No one was angry. No one cried. We continued on our way to the next shop, to find Andrew a suit.

On the way I snapped at my father and apologized.

Once there, I ducked out again, this time to talk to my grandmother for the second time that day. I thought we were done talking, but she interrupted our goodbye with a very simple and moving prayer. I winced but the public setting saved me. I didn’t cry.

The walk back to the hotel lasted about twenty minutes. On the way Ellen, Paul’s wife, pulled me out of the crowd. She was with her daughter Gracie, who was happily nursing in the stroller, and Alice, their dog. A moment later Paul bounded out of the cigar store across the street. I walked into him, head down, and quickly. It seems to surprise everyone every time. For a moment I was able to suspend the severity of reality; I smiled without thinking too much about it. He reminded me that I find out about a job tomorrow. Even if I don’t get it, “there’s still purpose to your life,” he told me.

On the walk back, I pondered what that purpose might be. My dad filled the time with talk of submarines. The Germans or the Swedes, he couldn’t remember which, have developed a new submarine that leaves an almost invisible signature. It uses diesel and fuel cells rather than conventional nuclear technology. The hull is rubberized to absorb sonar, and all of the metal, even the dishwashers, are magnetically neutral. Maybe I’d take that commission in the navy, I thought. I could fight the good fight against Ikea.

There wasn’t much to do back at the hotel except swim. My dad challenged me to a few races. I gave him a crash course to the butterfly. Then we stewed in the jacuzzi a while. As he lounged, I practiced holding my breathe. First trial: 70 seconds; then: 63; third: 71; and finally: 82. I laid on my stomach with my arms and legs extended and my eyes closed. I tried to imagine what it’s like to be dead. I aimed to last longer at the start of each go and to be more convincing, at least to me, of my death. I let my limbs go limper than before. Over time I found muscles I hadn’t realized her tense and relaxed them. The bubbles turned me onto one side. I floated. I felt free.

Janice and Andrew left for the pool just as dad and I returned. Now there wasn’t anything left to do. I played a little Tito Puente in the background and started my routine of push-ups and crunches. My mother isn’t stable enough even to be a candidate for a heart transplant. The first from a collection short stories by Judy Budnitz, Flying Leap, crept into my mind.

In this story, a woman needs a heart transplant. Her sisters cajole their nephew, the woman’s son, to donate his. At the end of the story, the woman lives and thanks the son, who promptly dies. I’ve read most of the other stories in the book, and heard this one on NPR, and even installed an AC for the author’s sister a few weeks ago, but I just can’t get into it. Magic realism just isn’t my thing.

Tonight my sister made her signature boiled dinner. Tomorrow I may be in Ontario. Check me out if you’re in the Greater Sudbury area.

Probability Follow-Up

After writing my last post, where I casually mentioned that probability and statistics are probably the single most important topics left out of the current standard math curriculum, I read the most recent entry at Cognitive Daily. They’re concerned that people don’t know probability, too. For an alarming example, they turn to a recent study on doctor-patient relationships.

In a course on noise and data analysis conducted in the astronomy department, we had to tackle problems like:

One test for a deadly, rare disease is 97% accurate. The disease is genetic and only about 1% of the population has it. The only treatment for this disease is expensive, but effective if you actually have the disease and potentially deadly if not you don’t. What would you do if your test results came back positive?

The correct answer, of course, is to take the test again. Even though the test is pretty accurate, because almost no one has the disease, the inaccuracy of the test will be responsible for most of the postive readings; false positives will far outnumber positives reported because disease is actually present. But because of the high accuracy of the test, the likelihood that you will get several false positives is low. The more times you test positive, the better the chances are you actually have the disease. And with the scenario I’ve presented, it’s worth your time to take the test again.

We also did astronomy in this class, too.