HOW TO BE A 21ST CENTURY BOSTON CITY COUNCILLOR

 

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^ Professor Jim Lambrechts : a bold Blue Line Extension plan presented at a forum hosted by Council candidate Margaret Farmer

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Disclosure : I am the consultant to candidate Margaret Farmer’s campaign. If I focus on her role in the story I am writing here, please know that that is why she is my subject. What I will assert, however, should be of general application to all Boston City Councillors in the current economic and political circumstances, and I do mean to apply it to all who hold or seek to hold a Councillor office.

Last night the candidate whom I consult for, Margaret Farmer, hosted a forum at which Professor James Lambrechts, a transportation specialist, presented an ambitious plan for Blue Line extension all the way to Riverside in Newton. The forum was held in the meeting room at Maverick landing in East Boston; a fair number of people attended, and so did I.

Lambrecht’s plan solves a host of Boston’s transportation inadequacies. It is, as I said, very ambitious. Obstacles abound. It foresees new tunnels constructed, and one new routing to connect the Blue Line to the Green Line and the Red Line — tunnels deep under existing lines — and it envisions 13 years of construction, not to mention innumerable years of prior public comment and state budget negotiations. His anticipated price tag — $ 2.8 billion — feels short by at least half. The new extension goes through Brookline and Newton, and who knows what those communities will think of a line that makes them more accessible to the immigrants who live in East Boston ? (It’s a shame I have to mention such a condition, but Boston-area transit line extensions have failed several times for precisely this reason : extension communities didn’t want to become more reachable by “those people.”)

In addition, as the proposal includes a new, deep tunnel under Newbury Street after running under the Boston Common and Public Garden, it will be subject to the most critical-powerful neighborhood associations in the City, not to mention all the (also influential) property owners along said Newbury Street. Good luck.

Nonetheless, despite every barrier, the plan has enormous merit. Lambrechts is right that the current Green Line is overburdened, and that the Blue Line is under-utilized. Why not unify the two ? Residents of East Boston have called for a Red Line to Blue Line connection for years (it was the first matter that transportation expert Jim Aloisi, an East Boston native himself, mentioned to me when we first talked). Politically that’s the entry to this much larger vision.

So much for the proposal itself. The point I want to make is that, given the vast and comprehensive changes Boston is committed to, or impacted by, isn’t it important for its City Councillors to direct the conversation about them ? You may answer that that is the mayor’s job. It is his job. But the mayor is not a dictator. Under Boston’s City charter,, as set forth in Sections 17 D through 17 I, the Council legislates ordinances of the city, may subpoena persons to testify to matters before it, and may request the Mayor provide specific information to it.  (Acts of the Council are also subject to the mayor’s approval, and the Mayor may present his own legislative proposal to the Council for its consideration.) The Charter reads like a manual of procedure, but implied in its grants and limitations of power is plenty of authority to raise major issues longer term than any particular ordinance. This is where my view of the Councillor job comes in.

Mayor Walsh has themed his mission as “imagine Boston 2030.” In which he envisions 53,000 new units of housing and, perforce, major expansions of city services to the 75,000 to 100,000 people who will live in them, new to Boston. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information coming from Walsh’s office about said expansions other than his ten-year Capital Plan for reconstructing, consolidating, and re-purposing Boston’s public schools. In which case — and even if Walsh were providing all the information that he isn’t — voters have to look to the Council to lead the discussion. In particular this is a vital duty for District Councillors, of which there are nine. The four at-large councillors can converse about changes with a city-wide application; but the city’s nine Districts differ enormously, and these differences can best be voiced by their Councillors.

That is what I want to see our District Councillors do. It is not enough for them to talk only about what is happening now, indeed in most cases if a change is happening now, it’s too late for a Councillor to amend it. Councillors must get ahead of the story. They must talk about changes that will be upon us two, three, five, even twenty years from now — because the Mayor sure is planning them, and voters shouldn’t have to wait until the beast is already biting. Change is in most cases a good thing;’ life is change in action, and the future belongs to those who create it. Still, change in cities is directed, if not by you then by others. A Councillor who does not work to shape upcoming changes, and instead leaves it to others, disserves his or her voters.

Which is why I applaud Margaret farmer for alerting her District to transit eventualities. Transportation obstacles beset District One more, probably, than any other district in the city. Transportation reform involves every branch of government, enormous construction and maintenance contracts, temporary inconveniences, and huge trouble if the reform gets it wrong. Hosting last night’s forum may not be the most vote-getting move that Farmer will make, but it’s one of the most responsible. I would like to see issues forums become a staple of Councillor activity in this city.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

HEALTH CARE COSTS AND THE TUFTS NURSES STRIKE

 

 

Tufts nurses

^ striking Tufts nurses : no matter which side is right, containing health care costs is the biggest challenge facing state governance reformers, including Governor Baker

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We have seen, this past week, plenty of strife and controversy in the matter of the strike by Tufts Medical Center’s nurses. The hospital has brought in replacement nurses, a sit must; patients’ health problems do not go on strike, and that being the case, without replacement nurses, Tufts Medical Center would have to shut down rather than offer inadequate care to the very sick. It is always a risky thing for an employer whose wage employees strike to hire replacements, and just because Tufts is a hospital does not insulate it from the picket line consequences. If the reports that I have read are true, those consequenecs have been the usual : verbal abuse, even the threat of violence (both of which the striking nurses deny have happened). The strike continues, and so does the hiring of substitute nurses.

I begin this column with the Tufts situation because it arises — so the reports narrate in much detail — from the pressure that surging health care costs have imposed upon medical institutions. These are well known to policy makers : the rising cost of drugs, much of it attributable to the increasing difficulties in research; an even larger increase in the price of medical equipment, caused by their increasing intricacy; longer hospital stays and more expensive treatment, because more people are living much longer, and people older than 70 experience more diseases and system failures than those younger; the inability of many medical institutions to adopt the most cost-efficient records keeping means; and the expansion of medical administration resulting from the takeover of health care costs by the insurance industry.

Last year, Governor Baker decided that he could no longer defer the daunting challenge of proctoring our state’s health costs, which (in the upcoming year) amount to more than 40 percent of its $ 39.4 billion figure. The plan that he came up with surprised me, as it asked employers to contribute up to $ 300 million toward Massachusetts’s $ 16.6 billion Medicaid allotment. In June Baker offered a compromise, which you can read at this link : http://www.wbur.org/commonhealth/2017/06/20/health-care-costs-baker-employers

Baker’s compromise proposal did not survive the legislature’s FY 2018 budget vote, but others of his health care cost containments did prevail. You can read the update here https://www.boston.com/news/politics/2017/07/07/massachusetts-lawmakers-approve-compromise-40-2-billion-state-budget

Such has been the first legislative response to the package of changes to our health care budget that Baker proposed on July 1st. The Boston Globe editorialized more or less favorably to the Baker proposal, as you can read here : https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2017/06/30/decoding-baker-mass-medicaid-changes/qnWg7cjtRpoD0fek1YrXEP/story.html

As the Globe editorial stated, the task facing the legislature and governor is not easy or quick. 40 percent of the state’s budget can’t be reshaped that fast. Apportioning health care invoices is only the surface problem. The real difficulty rests in those invoices themselves. I itemized most of these above. Many of them transcend the efforts of one state only; a few can’t be cured at all, only accommodated. The consequences of more people living much longer, in particular, affect every part of health care’s invoices. Disciplining these costs will only succeed once medical science learns how to manage aging itself. That day is surely coming, as we grasp the genetic codes that supervise our bodies. Yet if people become able, normally, to live to age 110 and even beyond — and do so in their own house or apartment, not in a warehouse euphemistically dubbed a “nursing home” — they will face disorders whose dimensions — and treatment thereof — we can’t begin to compute. Not to mention personal attention needs giving rise to an entirely new — and potential enormous — class of home care careers.

Yet who would prefer health care to retreat from its advance ? Not most of us.

Now back to the Tufts Medical Center situation. Reports suggest that Tufts is falling behind rival medical centers for two reasons : first, it lacks the price negotiating clout of larger medical institution; second, its revenues aren’t growing fast enough. Tufts advances these factors as reasons for its refusal to meet the nurses’ wage and benefits demands. The nurses assert that Tufts can in fact afford the benefits changes it seeks.

Which side is right, I cannot tell, as I have not seen the Tufts Medical Center’s FY 2017 accounts. Yet surely the Tufts impasse will not be a one time only occurrence if health care costs continue to grow faster than the economy. Tufts, as a small institution, has evidently suffered from lacking sufficient economy of scale. Yet size isn’t always a plus in the world of health care. The individual attention that we all want from health care providers contradicts the mass production economy of large institutions. In that regard, health clinics offer personal attention and, in many cases, expertise in a few areas of medicine that draws patients to them — call it “boutique medicine.” Whether clinics can survive depends on that niche expertise. Perhaps Tufts’ future is to downsize to clinic status and not try to emulate the price dominant large hospitals.

For most of us, however, the “general hospital” is our likely destination. There, the economy of scale may accommodate factors difficult to reconcile : high salaries for staff, stingy reimbursements by insurers, a bull market in the prices of medical instruments, therapies, and drugs. Only one course might resolve this blockade: single payer health care, in which the entirety of health care invoices becomes a charge on the Federal budget — in other words, Medicare and Medicaid for all.

Can single payer do the trick ? Perhaps, yet it too is subject to its own blockades : ( a ) will taxpayers always agree to the demands of medical invoicing ? ( 2 ) how can a single payer system prevent overuse of facilities by people taking advantage ? ( 3 ) how do we assure that hospitals and clinics do not go the route of the Veterans Administration, which in some cases offers substandard care ? If health care workers become, in effect, Federal employees, how do we motivate them to their best efforts rather than settling for job description minimums ?

As we seek to contain health care costs — as we must — all kinds of questions thus arise that few policy makers want to take on. This is why it takes a nurses’ strike to force legislators to answer for the almost un-answerable.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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ISSUES THAT GOVERNOR BAKER’s LATINO COMMUNITY ADVISORY COMMISSION SHOULD ADDRESS

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Yesterday Governor Baker swore in the 27 members of a Latino Community Advisory Commission in a ceremony witnessed by a standing room only crowd. I was pleased to attend and to congratulate my friend Regla Gonzalez, who will without doubt be a force among her 26 peers on this advisory body.

The Governor was wise to appoint this commission and to make it as large as he did. In his 2014 campaign Baker didn’t fare very well with Latino voters, and he definitely wants to do much better with them in his re-election effort. The creation of this Commission, by itself, should help him; Latino voters have been sent a message that they will be specifically noticed, and heard, by Mr. Baker.

Still, the Commission needs to do more than simply exist. It should dedicate itself to aiding Latino residents vanquish the many difficulties that beset our state’s Hispanic communities.

I cannot speak for all such, but I am very well acquainted with the diverse Hispanic communities of  Boston, and from what I have observed, the challenges confronting them chiefly are these :

( 1 ) income inequality. Greatly distorted incomes have become an unfortunate norm in post-industrial America, but as I see it, the situation is even worse than average within Hispanic neighborhoods.  Successful Hispanic business people and professionals abound and are very successful indeed; at the many Hispanic networking events I have attended, optimism and achievement are on display and are believed in with an almost evangelical fervor. At the same time, for working class Hispanics in Boston, life is two jobs, even three, beginning at four A.M. and continuing well into the dinner hour with scant time for anything but sleep. Most of the workers I have seen at 4.45 A.M. on the 117 bus from Maverick Square to Haymarket — or on the 5.15 Blue Line train to State Street station — are commuting to janitorial jobs earning barely above minimum wage. (Their earnings have improved these past few years thanks to heroic organizing efforts by unions such as Local 26 and the various SEIU locals.) Even more desperate are the people I have seen riding the early morning 450 bus from Haymarket to Salem; they get off at the Salem Home Depot store and stand, often for hours, in all kinds of weather, waiting to be hired for day labor. I am sure that many others ride other early morning buses looking for work of a similar sort.

Theirs are lives of sacrificial toil dedicated to securing a better life for their children : but will their children be able to get that better life, given the cost of higher education and the social exclusion that limits opportunity for immigrant children from families with limited, pay check income ?

( 2 ) family pressures due to long hours of drudge work. I hope that the Latino Advisory Commission has some answers for these workers: How do they afford child care — which they need, considering that for as much as 17 hours a day they are working or commuting ? Do they have adequate health care provisions ? Do they need to improve proficiency in English — taking more time away from their families ?

( 3 ) Freedom from Gangs.  Many of our Hispanic communities are beset by gangs originating in central America but with members living here amongst immigrants from there. Kids aged eight to seventeen need plenty of support from adults who can ward off gang associates who prey on kids seeking to belong, or just trying to get ahead in school. Gang pressure is  an almost constant presence among families of Salvadoran origin. What will the Governor’s Commission do to provide defence for kids vulnerable to that pressure ?

( 4 ) Political Training.  Many of Boston’s Hispanic communities lag badly in degree of political participation, at all levels. Registration to vote lags; registration drives are agonizingly labor intensive and often don’t get done. Those who register do not always vote : they’re too taken up by work, or do not know where the voting place is or don’t understand the procedure once they get to the voting place. The increasing cost of running campaigns for office puts Hispanic community candidacies almost out of reach except for the successful — and the successful are usually quite happy to pursue their success rather than dive into the uncertainties of a candidacy. What will the Commission do to increase the degree and levels of Hispanic participation ?

These challenges and more, I await answers to. The leaders whom Governor Baker appointed have all overcome such challenges and enjoy the sort of successes we all look up to. They understand the obstacles I have listed above. I look forward to reading their recommendations and to seeing them put into practice on the field of struggle itself.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

HOW NOT TO RUN A CAMPAIGN AGAINST SENATOR WARREN

Liz Warren

^ more than just a label : Senator Warren deserves a worthy opponent. Will there be one ?

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It wasn’t hard for me to evaluate the Presidential candidacy of Chris Christie. One day, up in New Hampshire last year, I heard him deliver one of his “fist in your face” speeches. About ten minutes later, backstage, I met him and we talked. He was super nice, a gentle and easy going man completely unlike the leatherface I had just watched.

Was he, then, just an actor, playing a role ? The Presidency, to him evidently, was merely a traveling vaudeville shtick. I was disillusioned to say the least.

Granted, that Mr. Trump demonstrated that you can play political vaudeville and still win it all. To this day he’s still doing that, at enormous cost to our social cohesion as a nation, and so far it has worked. For some folks: according to most polls, barely 35 to 38 percent of the voters approve of the job he’s doing. Do they actually believe that when he says stuff he means  it ? That they think he’s authentic ? I have my doubts that it matters.

Perhaps I am hopelessly old school, but I believe that if you’re going to run for office, you should listen to people more than you talk, and that if you do talk, you’d be wise to be your best self. I also believe that you shouldn’t have your campaigners send out silly e mails calling your opponent bad names.

For example : today I received an e mail, from “Bonnie and Marty,” whoever they re, telling me that Senator Elizabeth Warren is a socialist.

I’m not a certified economic theorist, but so far as I can tell, Senator Warren is hardly a socialist. It is true that she supports social security, and Medicare, and maybe wants to see a single payer system for health care. Well ? So did Theodore Roosevelt, and also Otto von Bismarck — hardly socialist men, though they did believe in activist., centralized government. They felt that centralized, activist government worked, that it won the loyalty of the average voter. Is that a bad thing ?

From the vantage point of those who believe that effective central government is a bad thing — that a Federal government shouldn’t do very much — supporting a whole lot of government stuff seems to make you a socialist. I find the argument boring, and silly.

And why did I even get this e mail ? Evidently I’m on some sort of list, one that you are on if the sender assumes that you are opposed to Senator Warren and that you don’t like socialists. But how did my name get onto such list ? Wait — I know why. I supported Scott Brown in 2012, indeed donated to him, when Elizabeth Warren was his opponent. The persons who put me on their mail list assume that because I opposed Senator Warren in 2012, I must perforce oppose her now; and they also assume they know why I opposed her.

They’re wrong on both fronts. I did not oppose Warren in 2012 because I am not a socialist. I opposed her because I thought Scott Brown had done a reasonably good job and because I liked the idea of our state having one Senator from each of the two major parties. I still support this second reason, but I am unwilling to see just anyone at all be our Republican Senator. You want my vote, you had better demonstrate to me that you will enhance our state’s political clout, not embarrass it. Otherwise, I’m voting for Senator Warren — as I would have in 2012 had I found Scott Brown seriously wanting.

I expect both my state’s Senators to understand the issues they will vote on and to support legislation that will benefit everyone, especially those who need government to be their voice because they don’t have the money to fund their own voice loudly enough to be heard. Senator Warren makes some mistakes on specific issues, but she seems to have her priorities in order, and she does recognize the need to be  a voice for the voiceless, even if at times her voice seems more loud than profound. Meanwhile, the opposition, so far as it advances an actual position on an issue, expresses contempt for the voiceless and thinks we who support the voiceless are all kool-aid drinkers.

You may win the votes, by such means, of those who weren’t going to vote for Warren in any case, but you sure cannot win the votes of a majority, not in Massachusetts anyway, by freaking and name calling. That’s actually a pretty general campaign principle : I want to know what you are FOR, and why you will be effective in getting it, befoire you tell me why your opponent is bad.

So far, Senator Warren has one declared opponent, State Representative Geoff Diehl. Diehl was Mr. Trump’s Massachusetts campaign chairman. Mr. Trump was defeated in our state by 61 to 33 (the rest of votes going to minor candidates). Today Mr. Trump has a 28 percent approval rating in Massachusetts. I do not see in what way Diehl’s being Mr. Trump’s man in this state enhances his candidacy, such as it is. I can certainly say that no candidate who has connection to Mr. Trump or his agenda (if he has one) will have my vote against Senator Warren. Nor will he or she probably have yours.

Still, not many of us want to see Senator Warren automatically re-elected. There is solid reason to not like her “voice first” style. Her favorability numbers, in recent polls, bears that out. They aren’t overwhelmingly great; there is some dissatisfaction, much of it arising from her occasional carelessness (or lack of preparation). A strong argument can be raised in opposition, and it would be good for our democracy if such strong opponent were to run on a platform of “can do.” There are a few who could fit that role, but so far I see none of them stepping up.

If one of them does step up, there is no guarantee that he or she will take the course that I recommend : contend with Senator Warren on the issues. Accept what the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters wants — firm opposition to the Trump agenda, and perhaps a single payer health care law — and suggest a stronger route for getting to it than Senator Warren proposes. Is there some rule that says that a candidate cannot convincingly say “we agree on what should be done, but I can do it better” ?

If a Warren opponent can’t take that route — if the opponent is not a person of impeccable credibility — and thus the campaign devolves to an affair of labels tossed like ping pong balls — Warren will likely be re-elected easily, and should be, much to the disadvantage of our state’s standing as an example of political debate at its best

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

EMBRACING THE INDEPENDENCE OF A NATION

Ben Franklin

^ Benjamin Franklin : conscience of Independence

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The men who met at Philadelphia in 1776 did not lightly decide to break with the government in London that had ruled their prospects and their legislatures. But as that summer approached, more and more a majority of them accepted that independence had to be; that accord could not be trusted; that between what they wanted and what London wanted of them, there was impasse; and that in any case, occupation of the 13 states by armed soldiery sent, from London was an act of war.

Thus they set Thomas Jefferson (and perhaps others) the task of writing a bill of particulars setting forth the many reasons why they could no longer be ruled from London and why, instead, they would be a league of republics governing themselves and relating by accord with one another. It was a risky move. As Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have said, when the meeting at Philadelphia grew contentious, “gentlemen, we must be all hang together or we shall all hang separately.”

So saying, Franklin summed up what independence relies upon and without which it cannot thrive : together.

The Independence of a nation is not the act of a lone individual who breaks with his neighbors, who spurns his community, who relies on a gun to get his way and others be damned.

The Independence of a nation is the consensus of those who comprise it. Those who, today, assert that every person goes his or her own way, and that the right to bear arms is a right guaranteed to individuals acting individually (as we often hear on Independence Day), mistake selfishness for solidity, whim for will, freedom for free-booting.

On this, the 241st anniversary of the announcement, kin Philadelphia, of the united colonies’ resolve to be sovereign thenceforth, we who inhabit and bear responsibility for the nation they created eleven years later need to recall — and embrace — the togetherness upon which our sovereignty rests. Only in unity are we sovereign. Only by pursuing the General Welfare do we protect the welfare of each of us.

Those who would demean any part of our people, or seek to separate any group of us from the rest of us, weaken our sovereignty, compromise our freedom, betray our founders. If from Washington we hear, from this or that elected leader, words of insult, or of casting some of us adrift, or of enemies, we are hearing the opposite of what Independence Day stands for : words of indulgence and ego, feral and libertine — that have no place, ever, in the national conversation that began with Thomas Jefferson’s bill of reasons for insisting on Independence.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

SHAKING MY DAMN HEAD ? YOU BET I AM

Rob Portman

^ thank goodness for Ohio politicians : Senator Rob Portman, like Governor John Kasich, opposes the Senate health care bill, whose Medicaid cuts would seriously impact a state ravaged by the nation’s worst opioid epidemic

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Social media has made the above phrase a vital part of conversation vocabulary. Written usually as “SMDH,” it captures the absurdity of what is going on in Congress right now, the attempt by many Republican Senators to 3nqact a bill that purports to be about health care but isn’t, really, and that is offered as an improvement when instead it’s, well, an absurdity.

What can one say about a “health care bill” that only about 17 percent of the voters support; that — according to the Congressional Budget Office — would strip health insurance from about 22,000,000 of us; that would balloon premiums for many of the rest of us; and that gives tax relief to those who don’t need it ? What in tarnation is going on here ?

Governor Baker, who firmly opposes said bill, says that if enacted it would cost Massachusetts about $ 8 billion over the next ten years, as we struggle to revise our own state health care system to compensate for loss of Medicaid funding. No surprise that every member of our state’s Congressional delegation opposes the bill along with Baker. But what of Senators and Congress-people from other states ? Why does this bill have almost (but not quite, thank goodness)  enough support to be enacted ?

The Senate bill proposes to shrink Medicaid funding by about $ 721 billion over 10 years. Why ? To what end ? Medicaid is the federally funded, state-administered health care insurance system that covers about 40 percent of America’s children and almost all adults of low income. Is there some reason why these should not have the taxpayer support necessary to assure them the same health care taken for granted by we who can afford the premiums ? Without health insurance, people cannot receive health care except in emergency rooms — the full cost of which is paid by tax dollars; so, why must people who can’t afford insurance have no access to care except in emergencies ? Doctors will not see an uninsured person unless she can afford fee for service — the most expensive option by far. Yet in the Senate bill, fee for service is the preferred option, as it renders the cost of insurance so high as to equal, or surpass, that of fee for service.

The arguments I have heard from those Senators who actually like the bill sound like Charles Dickens’s London, 1850 : “it’s time to restore personal responsibility to the health care market,” say some. Or, “those who need Medicaid can always get jobs.” Others decry taxpayers having to pay for women’s reproductive health — as being a woman is somehow wrong. What the blazes are these Senators thinking ? Presumably they want to be re-elected ? How can they be re-elected if they advocate a health care bill this damaging to so many voters ? Their actions contradict every law of election, and yet they seem oblivious to the absurdity of it all.

For now, the Senate bill lacks votes to pass it. Yet the House, which began with the same impasse, fairly soon thereafter passed an even more damaging bill. The Senate probably won’t follow suit. It’s a lot harder for a Senator to hide than for a Congress-person. And if the Senate bill fails, and the House bill cannot gain even a hearing in the Senate, the Congress will have wasted almost six months spinning fake yarn. The voters se the absurdity of it all and seem poised — maybe — to overturn this Congress at the mid-term elections. But why are we at this juncture at all ? Can we please elect a Congress that will enact legislation that the voters actually want ? Here I think not only of health care reform (maybe single payer — expanding Medicare and Medicaid to cover everyone — or perhaps improvements to the current health care system, but also of these : (1) immigration reform, including some form, of path to citizenship for the millions who live here without sanction; ( 2 ) universal background checks for guns and ammunition purchases, supported by more than 90 percent of voters; ( 3 ) a revised Voting Rights Act that restores Federal monitoring of voting in jurisdictions where denial of vote rights is a current situation;  ( 4 ) some increase to the Federal minimum wage, which remains locked at $ 7.25; and ( 5 ) a major Infrastructure bill.

None of my list of six reforms is very controversial. All have overwhelming public support., Why can’t a Congress elected by the people who support these reforms enact them ? I can think of several answers to my question — every one of them indefensible and absurd.

Which is why I am SMDH, shaking my damn head.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

“NEITHER POLITICAL PARTY CARES ABOUT POOR PEOPLE”

Kasich

^ Thus spoke John Kasich, Governor of Ohio, last night, as he tore into the Senate’s proposed health care bill, one that would make health care pretty much unaffordable for people of low income.

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Kasich is right, of course. Low income people have less influence on our politics right now than they have had in at least 100 years, maybe longer. But why ? In a system of universal suffrage, and accounting even for vote suppression efforts, low income people should carry great numerical weight — more weight as low income situations increase. Why isn’t this happening ?

The obvious first answer is money. The enormous cost of campaigns today has forced candidates to spend much of their time talking to donors. BIG money donors. These fully understand the leverage they possess over candida5tes and can hardly be blamed for pressing that leverage. Nor is there any easy answer to the monstrosity of money campaigning. The Citizens United case, and its successors, make clear that money donations are protected political speech no matter how huge. A Constitutional Amendment seems most unlikely. The power of big money will continue.

There is, however, a not so obvious, second answer that cannot be so readily excused: campaigns more and more have concentrated their people efforts on those who always vote — called “super voters” — to the exclusion of every other voter, much less those who aren’t registered at all. The election of Mr. Trump was generated at least in part by voters whop have — correctly — found themselves left out. Actually, their anger is probably a preferable response to the much more widespread indifference that has overtaken so many low income voters.

One sees it all the time on the campaign trail. I fully believe in campaigning to all the voters, but at the doors of many low income, or low frequency voters — the overlap is large — I find voters who clearly don’t see candidates knocking on their door and express a kind of stupefied surprise before they are able to actually say anything; nor do these voters expect much, other than gratefulness that we actually came to their door. Will they vote ? Will our visit move them to do so ? the chances are not great, but if candidates do not campaign to these voters, the chance that they will vote is close to nil. Which is why candidates, not blessed with unlimited time, are reluctant to campaign to them.

I can’t blame candidates for campaigning to the “super voters” first; and these are almost always people connected to “the system,” or elderly and thus trained to vote back in the day when it was thought an obligation. Yet to forego campaigning to everyone else almost assures that everyone else won’t care about an election.

What individual candidates have come to do, so have entire political parties. Lists of “super voters” are kept, and can be bought as a “voterfile.” Donor lists are kept and distributed to candidates. Big money meets big money at high-ticket fund raisers disseminated through social media. Meanwhile, low income voters, disinterested, either have no such network or don’t think it matters much to try and build one: for what purpose, anyway ? Worse, political party committees need big money just as much as candidates do — maybe more. They have hundreds of employees who must be paid, structures to be funded, events and conventions, media campaigns, lobbying, opposition research…

Meanwhile, what do low income people contribute ? Certainly not tax revenue; indeed, if you are low income, you’re likely eligible for an earned income tax credit, or for Medicaid, or for any other benefit that someone else must pay for. Low income people thus have almost no leverage. And yet. And yet low income people are our neighbors and, in many cases, our relatives, parents, grandparents, friends. Their needs are no less than our needs, and if we care about our fellows for who they are, not merely for how much they earn, then we as a society cannot say no. Yet many of us do. Which means that low income people should use the one leverage they do have : large numbers of votes.

I’m not holding my breath.

To the above I must, sadly, add a third reason: low income people include a large segment of Americans of color, or of recent immigrant status. Some voters are afraid of these, or largely ignorant about them, or uncomfortable campaigning to them. Voters of color have been the object of vote suppression legislation; immigrant voters are new to the system and not fully connected to its local nuances. Immigrants, too, require registration efforts; and registering voters is a time consuming, labor intensive, educational endeavor that few politicians have any ability to undertake. Churches have stepped up; but as it takes time for newly registered voters to acquire the custom of actually voting — of remembering when voting day comes, knowing where one’s polling place is, and going through the check in and check out procedures — many do not do it unless pushed, and who will do the pushing ? My experience is that it can take newly registered voters (not only immigrants, but also voters generally who are new to the city they register in) at least a decade of living in a city to become accustomed to voting in its local elections.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere