Library woes

Plus, Arizona declares war on immigrants
By EDITORIAL  |  April 28, 2010

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In an attempt to save four Boston Public Library branches that are slated to close due to budget shortfalls, some state legislators from Boston have threatened to block all state funding the library receives if it shutters any of its 26 branches. The legislators should back off. This is brinksmanship at its most destructive, short-sighted, and irresponsible.

Regarding the Boston Public Library, there is plenty to be angry about. The trustees — whose authority derives from state law, but who are appointed by the mayor — were negligent to have let this budget crisis develop, or at least to mature in the peculiar way it unfolded. Theirs are sins of omission, not commission. Too often, they’ve seen their constituency as City Hall, not the library-using public.

The underlying economic crisis affecting the nation is a fact. And the strains of municipal finance have been apparent for a long time — to anyone, that is, who has been paying attention.

In terms of funding, however, City Hall has not been actively punishing the library. From a fiscal point of view, the picture is one of benign neglect. That said, Mayor Tom Menino has stage-managed this crisis very effectively, ensuring minimal damage to the system while appearing to lay maximum blame at the trustees’ feet — and all with barely a public statement.

The misguided rebellion by state legislators is at least a healthy reminder that the library enjoys widespread support. If the trustees had spent the same amount of time and energy cultivating Beacon Hill relationships as they have in sucking up to Menino, the Boston Public Library might not be in the straits it is in today.

Arizona: state of shame
Arizona’s odious new immigration law is wrong-headed in so many ways, it’s hard to know where to begin. The law requires officers to ask for documentation from anyone they have reason to suspect of being in the country illegally, and to detain for prosecution anyone who cannot demonstrate otherwise.

In short: if you have brown skin in Arizona, you are assumed illegal, harrassable, and arrestable until you prove you belong here.

The civil-liberties infringement is blatant, as is the inevitability of abuse by law-enforcement personnel. The law also will waste police officers’ time and public resources, and hinder criminal investigations by discouraging cooperation and reporting of crime.

One would imagine that the passage of such a drastic law must have been triggered by a recent increase in the size and scope of problems caused by undocumented aliens in the state — and not by simple anti-Hispanic hysteria.

But reality is just the opposite. Arizona’s undocumented population is in real decline, due mostly to economic circumstances — from 560,000 to 460,000 in 2008 alone, according to government statistics. That’s an 18 percent drop, the largest of any state.

Crime had been decreasing in the state even when the illegal population was growing, and hit new lows last year.

Evidence of any growing harm from undocumented aliens is so hard to come by, its advocates have resorted to manufacturing nonsense. Senator John McCain, for example, declared that illegal immigrants are intentionally causing car accidents.

McCain was once a leading advocate for sensible measures to reform immigration; but now, facing a primary challenge, he kowtows to the nutty conservatives. Ditto for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who signed the law in hopes of retaining her seat.

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