^ tandem rivals : Senator Liz Warren (l) speaks with Governor Charlie Baker (r) at Warren’s 3rd Annual Business conference recently

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The headline in today’s Boston Globe says much :

“Baker enters fray on Senate health bill… Joins Obama in backing legislation criticized by Warren.” 

This isn’t the first time that Governor Baker has supported initiatives that President Obama wants. Charter school expansion, a welcome for Syrian refugees, and the Trans Pacific Trade Treaty have all enjoyed support by both men, President and Governor. This despite partisan divisions perhaps too well documented.

As is my usual practice, I will link you to the legislation itself, as it reads as passed by the House last year (there have been several changes since then), so that you can study the exact words being argued over between our state’s two most popular politicians:

Much that is in the bill, which may be hard for readers to spot in the text I linked above, is explained clearly here :

Note that the “21st Century Cures Act” passed the House by a vote of 390 to 26. Which brings me to subject of this column : why has Senator Warren become out against the bill, and why has Governor Baker, who is said to be a Republican, weighed on in Federal legislation, something he almost never does ? The answers to these questions tell us a lot about the dividing line likely to motivate the 2018 election, in which both Baker and Warren will be seeking second full terms.

Warren criticizes the current Cures Act — which she admits she had a hand in writing — for two reason : first, the $ 4.9 billion of funding for faster and more flexible drug development, isn’t guaranteed, as in the original draft it was; and second, because she sees in it no language relieving high and soaring drug prices.

Baker, meanwhile, supports the Cures Act because it includes $ one billion funding to fight the opioid crisis — a top baker priority — and because it streamlines the drug discovery and approval process. He notes that, as quoted by the Globe, “Massachusetts is a global leader in medical research and development and a strong partnership with our Federal partners is impoprtant to ensuring future advances in this field.”

Baker is right about Massachusetts, and he stands on solid ground advancing the cause of our pharmaceutical industries — one of our bedrock businesses. He’s also on solid ground supporting a 390 to 26, completely bipartisan House vote including all nine (9) Massachusetts Congresspeople. So the question is, why has Senator Warren chosen to oppose the bill passed by the House so overwhelmingly ?

Perhaps she is fighting for changes in the final wording, doing so with her usual, fist-shaking tactic. And to be sure, she has won a couple of language alterations, one of which — ensuring the Federal Government takes into account which communities suffer most from the present opioid crisis — Baker probably is glad to see included. Still, Warren’s focus on the bill’s lack of curbs on drug pricing suggests she’s attending to Bernie Sanders’s supporters (indeed, Sanders’s criticism of the bill mirrors her own) and thus keeping her political options credible as she fights Sanders for leadership;, going forward, of consumerist Democrats.

If that sounds calculating, it’s no less so than baker’s own calculation that his supporting an Obama initiative looks good to our state’s voters and bolsters his reputation for espousing policies rather than party. That’s crucial given that Baker’s Republican enrollment comports with a mere eleven (11) percent of our voters (and probably less than that by 2018); after all, when he was elected in 2014, almost 80 percent of his votes came from people who are not Republicans.

For Warren, the math is different. Because Democrats number about 36 percent of our voters, it’s not hard at all for her to attract an additional 15 percent — out of a pool of 64 percent — and win re-election. (She will likely do far better tan 51 percent.) Her problem is that the Democrats here are numerous, not few, and, being numerous, represent many points of view and include many politicians ambitious to “move up” and hardly deterred from moving top Warren’s left if they can in order to gain traction.

Baker is free, pretty much, to make his own decisions; warren is not free to make hers. One day these differing political situations will test ach other directly. In 2018 they will compete in tandem. We will see whose politics has the stronger Massachusetts support.

—– Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ the opposite of controversial, as a matter of policy intention : Governor Baker is now “public official of the year ”

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The past two days, Governor Baker has been in Washington discussing military issues and transportation — just a part of his long list of job duties — but also is there to be feted as “public official of the year.” One is tempted to conclude that what won him this award wasn’t so much his accomplishments — which are many — as his favorability rating : 69 favorable, 10 unfavorable at last polling. These would be remarkable numbers for any elected official, much less a Governor thought of as Republican in a state that Hillary Clinton won by 27.2 points. Perhaps they represent Baker’s greatest accomplishment : advancing major reforms that are upsetting many vested interests yet becoming more popular thereby rather than less.

In any case, he has won the award and is now back in Massachusetts continuing to do what he has been doing all along : attending to the western part of the state — so often much neglected — and moving the marks bit by bit toward improved service at the T, in the DCF, and in the criminal justice system so badly in need of overhaul;. And then there’s the huge health care administrative overhaul, — recently reported in the Boston Globe –which the Governor told me had been put off but could no longer be delayed and which, so he said, might take years to complete.

Any one of these systemic reforms would tax a Governor’s management skills; yet Baker has taken them all on and doesn’t seem the least bit miffed at having to do so. I think he’s rather glad of them actually. Everybody agrees that state administration of taxpayer-funded services needs all kinds of restructure, and the voters agree that baker is the right leader to get it done; and as long as he loads his case file to the maximum he can actually accomplish, all the better does he look to the voters who have confidence in him.

It works, even if none of his reforms has come anywhere near the finish line. Even the MBTA, whose misfires he took on almost the week that he was sworn into office, remains quite dysfunctional and in the same ways : broken equipment, cars that malfunction, trips delayed, trips lost, budget anomalies, outsourcing perhaps over-eagerly, of services. (My former Boston Phoenix colleague Dan Kennedy, who commutes into Boston to his job at Northeastern University, tweets pretty often about delayed trips and missed schedules.) Just this week the Boston Globe spotlighted the cruelties visited upon people with institutionalizable mental health problems, the budget cuts for their services, the paradoxes that prevent them from being properly attended to. Yet Governor Baker’s name doesn’t appear even once in that article. All the focus is on budgets cuts during the previous administration’s years. It’s easy to read the long article as a plea to Baker to add mental health incarceration and lack of treatment to his list of reforms undertaken.

Though state funds are hardly available to this reform, and with so many reforms slowly working their way one step at a time, Baker might think the Globe’s plea is one commitment too many; yet I suspect he is glad to be pled with. His reforms are of the same kind : one detail after another, very few of them separately newsworthy. He can move from  detail number one to item number two, and so on, without stirring up pots; and because everybody know sthat that is what he is doing, and that all of it is needed, he is approved of.

So why rock this boat ? There are those, partisans politically, who would like the Governor to take on controversial matters; and certainly many such matters burn fiercely in social media and threaten the social and political norms of our nation; and people are calling upon their leaders to speak up, to marshal public opinion, to stop the “Trump train” for example. So far, Governor Baker has refused to go there. Our view is, “why should he?” What has he to gain by becoming controversial ? Lighting political bonfires is not his style, not his mission, not what people expect of the man they expect to do the workmanlike opposite.

Controversy didn’t get Baker his public official of the year award, and, with his re-election campaign getting under way, it would serve no purpose at all for him to change up now. He is ready to run on his record, which he once described as “at the end of the day, the public wants better service from the services it pays for.” That’s the record he’s built and the record he wants voters to judge him on when deciding whether or not to give him another four year term.

I also think that most voters are glad to claim a Governor who lowers the temperature of policy debate rather than flame it up. We have plenty of flamers; why not at least one voice of cool ? We have one. I think the voters know it and like him that way.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ news from Dallas : a ten-point swing to Clinton, from  2012, in one urban Texas congressional District

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The 2016 Presidential election had its unique aspects — boy did it ever — but for the most part it was a classic change balloting. We have been here before : the elections of 1828, 1860, 1876, 1896, 1912, 1920, 1932, 1948, 1964, 1980, 1992, and 2008 were all “change elections.”

What do I mean by “change election” ? Here’s how I apply it :

( 1 ) our nation is constantly changing, its people, its views of events, its emphases, its coalitions. People do not live in constant politics, but they do live constantly their lives; and the circumstances of their lives keep on changing : some faster, some not so fast; and their perceptions about their lives at any given moment change, too.

( 2 ) elections take place on that continuum; they occupy a segment of the ongoing movie, as it were, of people’s lives individually, in a community, in the society generally, and in their own minds.

( 3 ) campaigns can alter those perceptions quite a bit; the better a campaign is at identifying stuff that people find really important to them, the more effect the campaign can have — without those affected realizing the full extent of said effects, or whence they came.

It is always thus, in a universal suffrage political system. Yet constant change doe snot mean that the character of the nation changes. Germany’s Otto von Bismarck, who more than 140 years ago accepted universal suffrage as a conservative measure was right : the broader the voter base, the more the ongoing character of a nation is reflected in and through the momentary stuff, the changes. So it is with the United States, where elections exhibit oppositions that long outlast the particular circumstances of their development. After all, we talk of Donald Trump — with much justice — as a Jacksonian leader heading a  Jacksonian coalition. The elections of 1828, 1832, and 1836 live on.

Nonetheless, though American elections seem to repeat themselves, the complexity of our system — 50 states with much sovereignty, overlain uneasily by the Federal Constitution  –assures that the constant stream of changes in people’s lives rearranges the various coalitions that have come and gone since those early years. The two basic coalitions are ( 1 ) cities, the educated, and people of color and ( 2 ) rural and small town life, almost exclusively white and less educated than life in the cities. each coalition has had its wins and its losses. This time, coalition # 2 won and coalition # 1 lost.

This time, Hillary Clinton gambled that coalition # 1 encompassed enough voters in enough states to win. She was right about the voter number, wrong about the states, because coalition # 2 ended up as sharply defined — much of it by her doing — as coalition # 1; and as often happens, people don’t get riled up often by a campaign, but if yours makes its opponents angry, they’ll work like hell to beat you, and so it was — narrowly, but it doesn’t usually take much more than narrow to decide an American election with no incumbent running.

So where do we go politically from here ? I think Hillary Clinton’s gamble will pay off, and soon, but not for her; for somebody new. Here’s why:

( 1 ) America is becoming more educated, not less, because the jobs require it. Even service jobs require skill in electronic devices and social media.

( 2 ) jobs requiring education are locating more and more in the cities : because that’s where the educated people choose to live and shop, work and eat, and because the new skill jobs require face to face networking all the time with all kinds of skill people. (In addition, living in cities allows people to not be bound by the expense and parking/garaging inconviences and costs of car ownership.)

( 3 ) cities remain ports of entry for moist immigrants, or immigrants’ destination, because that’s where immigrants already live, where entry level service jobs abound, and where their immigrant status doesn’t render them outcasts or suspects among the community. It’s also easier for immigrants to start businesses in cities, and they do.

( 4 ) cities are places where physical change — building booms, renovations, “gentrification,” and novelties — happens day to day and imposes its own dynamic, even its own sound, sight, and smell, to daily life. Cities are noisy, and noise is the voice of change.

( 5 ) small town and rural America are not growing economically or otherwise. When they do grow, its because they turn into newly sprung up cities : Charlotte and Greensboro in NC; Phoenix, AZ; greater Atlanta, GA; Harris County, TX; Bergen County, NJ; Fairfax County and Arlington, VA; Salt lake City, UT. many of these new cities have grown up around major land-garnt universities, immense in size themselves : Champaign, IL; Columbus, OH; Lincoln, NE; Ann Arbor, MI; Bloomingtton, IL; Athens, GA; Athens, OH; Centre County, PA; and Orlando, Gainsville, and Alachua Counties, FL.

Hillary Clinton ran up huge margins in cities, even bigger wins in college cities. This was true almost everywhere but especially in the parts of America that are growing generally, not only in their big cities. Clinton’s coalition of educated cities and people of color allowed her to put Arizona, Georgia, and even Texas in play. She lost Arizona by 3.5 %; Romney carried it by 11. She lost Texas by 9.1%; Romney carried it by 16. She lost Georgia by 5.1%; Romney won it by 12. Cities had a lot to do with it. Clinton swept Harris and Dallas Counties in Texas, dominated Greater Atlanta, overwhelmed in  Charlotte and Greensboro, won Richmond, Virginia, Denver, and Nashville, Tennessee, and surpassed Obama’s numbers in Chicago (her home town as well as his), Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Salt lake City, all the West Coast cities, Boston, Indianapolis, Madison, Miami, and Orlando.

Where her coalition fell short, it was done in by turnout. In Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina, Black voters, for example, numbered 8 to 15 percent fewer than in 2012. In Florida, Latino turnout surged — but turnout in rural countries surged more. The same  was true in Pennsylvania : Philadelphia matched Obama’s totals, and in Pittsburgh, Clinton doubled Obama’s 2012 win margin; but turnout in the state’s many rural countries was bigger and more a landslide against her.

Clinton also appears to have violated some of ground game’s basic rules. It appears, from what I have been told by sources who know, that her campaign never reached out to Democratic organizations in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. Her campaign discounted what her opponent was doing in Wisconsin and Michigan, and once she did realize it, it was too late.

That said, her coalition’s numbers are growing, and her opponent’s are not. If Democratic prospects in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan, and Maine (!) look not so hot, those in Texas, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and even Utah look very hot indeed. And Nevada, Virginia, Colorado, and New Mexico seem to have decisively moved from swing states to reliably new-Democratic.

And even though it is easy to see Donald Trump and his coalition as neo-Jacksonian, remember : when Andrew Jackson became his backwoods and rural people coalition’s champion, it was just forming and growing, booming; today it is shriveling. Trump cannot be Jackson even if he wants to be. He will either have to be something else, or he will be one term. Meanwhile, though the future-America coalition given shape by Clinton  is growing, it lacks an obvious candidate to bestow voice upon it, set for it a beat, and offer a persuasive mission. And even if such a candidate does emerge, every dirty trick in the book, plus Russian intervention, will be throw at him or her to prevent the old ways from losing their lasts and before societal oblivion freezes them cold.

We shall see if 2020 fulfills the promise of 2106 or proves that the surprise of 2016 has life left in it.

Of course there has to be a candidate. The Democrats have many good ones. Will their primary be a 17 candidate free for all, as was the Republican primary this years, and get bogarded by a charlatan ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphjere



^ Michigan as yet uncalled, but you get the point : the Midwest – Southern coalition, against northern and West Coast cities, still holds, as it usually has since the game-changing election of Andrew Jackson in 1828.

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Today’s column has a negative headline because it is important, as we go about reforming how we elect a President, to not be sidetracked by arguments that are not true. There is a conversation on social media right now that claims the Constitution’s electoral vote system is all about slavery. It isn’t. Slavery had almost nothing to do with why it was agreed to elect the Constitution’s President by states’ votes, not the people’s. I now set forth my reasons :

( 1 ) much is made of the agreement, in the Constitution, that a state’s slave population would count, on a three-fifths basis, when apportioning that state’s Congress representatives (and thus its electoral vote) for elector purposes. The states which had already barred slavery wanted slaves not to count; slave states wanted them counted whole. The non-slave states wanted slave starts to be punished, electorally, for sanctioning slavery; the slave states actually had the better argument : very few people at that time had any right to vote, so why should not slaves, who had no rights at all, count as well as a white man without property, or a woman ? (and of course non-citizens had no voting rights; yet they counted in the population upon which representative apportionments were based.)

( 2 ) apportioning representative by population — with or without voting rights, which very few in 1787 had — was itself a radical reform. No nation at that time apportioned its legislatures by population. England, whence the Constitution’s drafters took much precedent, allotted seats in Parliament to boroughs and corporations — only in the case of London were more members allotted by reason of a great population.

( 3 ) extending voting rights beyond white men of property was not to come until a generation later, at least. England’s Reform Bill, which opened up Parliament to population apportionment, was enacted not until 1832. States began to widen the franchise after 1808 — the year in which the Constitution ended importation of slaves  — but not until 1834 did the last of them, Rhode Island, grant voting rights to all men.

( 4 ) those who agreed to the compromises we know as the Constitution expected slavery to end, sooner rather than later. Importation was to end in 1808. Slavery was already unprofitable; not until the beginning of mass cotton farming, in the late 1820s, did slavery, originally hired to work tobacco plantings, become profitable again. For the 1787 generation, slavery was at best a temporary evil. They proved wrong; but their electoral agreements were not made to accommodate it.

( 5 ) it was states that the original electoral agreements were made for. Same with the 1804 adjustment we know as the 12th Amendment. The Constitution was a kind of treaty between 13 independent states, whereby those states agreed 6to act in concert on certain matters vital to them all , and to accord the final say to such decisions made by the coordinating, central government as were enumerated in the Constitution, or implied thereby. In today’s word, the Constitution was a kind of European Union, but with important political power, as well as economic powers, granted to the Union’s government.

( 6 ) By no means, however, did the 13 states that entered into the Constitution’s covenants want to surrender their independent sovereignty, not did they. Election of the central government’s executive officer — the President — was to be made by the states, and not by the people, except by limited proportionality as et forth in Article 1, section 8 as later modified by the 12th Amendment. This is still the case, as we have seen. Hillary Clinton has won the popular vote by well over 2,000,000 votes and by almost two percent (2 %), but she has not been elected President because the popular vote has no legal standing in our “common market” government.

Slavery became more important, politically, after 1820, when the slave states advanced the dictat that for every non-slave state entering the union, a slave state had to enter as well. Such was the basis of the Missouri Compromise, in advance of which ugly sectional passions burst fo90rth (and, as Jefferson, who hated slavery, well saw, was a “bell ringing in the night”: of possible civil war). This was to prevent a Congressional majority, especially in the Senate, from outlawing slavery nationally. At this point, the electoral system agreed to in the Constitution acquired slavery significance after the fact. Because it gave election power to the states, only partly to a popular vote, it had the potential to elect an anti-slavery President.

But what of it ? After 1820, most elected Presidents were elected with the electoral votes of Southern States acting as a pro-slavery bloc (often in alliance with new states in the MidWest). Only the Civil war and the Amendments enacted thereafter did ex-slave states lose their electoral majority. Today, the alliance of most Southern states with the majority of Midwestern starts persists, as it has often done since William Jennings Bryan almost successfully reconstituted the pre-Civil war coalition.

It is true that racism plays as large a role in said coalition today as slavery did in the period 1820 to 1860. But there was then, and before, and again now, another factor, at least as important as slavery/racism, in the support upon which the electoral system stands : cities versus small towns and rural. In some respects, the two go hand in hand. Most voting power that people of color possess lies in the cities; and the whole purpose for which the Constitution was enacted was to promote the financial power — the progress of trade, finance, immigration, and ,manufacture — of cities. Indeed : the Constitution was almost not ratified because rural and small town delegates to ratification conventions saw it as a power grab by the city elite. Which it was.

That the coalition of Southern, mostly rural and small town states with similar states in the MidWest persists, and has just won a narrow electoral victory over a candidate of the cities– who won far more popular votes —  demonstrates my point : that the fault line in the Constitution was cities, not slavery. Cities were its reason; slavery was set to the side and only came back into the picture after an anti-urban political coalition had formed in which slave states were a crucial component. Anyone who today attacks the electoral system on a slavdert6ty basis misses the point as well as the facts.

Reform of the electoral vote method benefits chiefly cities, whose votes get overwhelmed within many states as they cannot be in a nationwide, popular vote. Benefiting cities of course also means benefiting most Americans of color; nor is that a bad thing.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





Assuming that Mr. Trump means what he says — not a very solid bet — about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty (“TPP”), which he claims to oppose, there is method to his misgivings. Let us examine these, but first, let’s look at the Treaty itself, summarized here by the U. S. Trade Representative at his website.

For those who may decline to read the entire summary, here’s the five key components of the Treaty that Mr. Trump says he opposes :

Five defining features make the Trans-Pacific Partnership a landmark 21st-century agreement, setting a new standard for global trade while taking up next-generation issues.  These features include:

  • Comprehensive market access.  The TPP eliminates or reduces tariff and non-tariff barriers across substantially all trade in goods and services and covers the full spectrum of trade, including goods and services trade and investment, so as to create new opportunities and benefits for our businesses, workers, and consumers.
  • Regional approach to commitments.   The TPP facilitates the development of production and supply chains, and seamless trade, enhancing efficiency and supporting our goal of creating and supporting jobs, raising living standards, enhancing conservation efforts, and facilitating cross-border integration, as well as opening domestic markets. 
  • Addressing new trade challenges.  The TPP promotes innovation, productivity, and competitiveness by addressing new issues, including the development of the digital economy, and the role of state-owned enterprises in the global economy.
  • Inclusive trade.  The TPP includes new elements that seek to ensure that economies at all levels of development and businesses of all sizes can benefit from trade.  It includes commitments to help small- and medium-sized businesses understand the Agreement, take advantage of its opportunities, and bring their unique challenges to the attention of the TPP governments.  It also includes specific commitments on development and trade capacity building, to ensure that all Parties are able to meet the commitments in the Agreement and take full advantage of its benefits. 
  • Platform for regional integration.  The TPP is intended as a platform for regional economic integration and designed to include additional economies across the Asia-Pacific region. 

As for what countries are to be treatied with, read this brief excerpt :

On October 4, 2015, Ministers of the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries – Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam – announced conclusion of their negotiations.

You will note which major countries are NOT on this list : China and Russia. They’re not on the list because it is they who the “TPP” Treaty is aligned against. The “TPP”‘s first purpose is to take macro-economic control of the entire Trans-Pacific area, twelve economies aggregating well over one billion people who together command almost 50 percent of the world’s gross economic output. It’s also a region in which the United States has long claimed a major role economically and as a national security interest. We have fought two major wars, and two lesser ones, within the region for precisely these reasons. In each of these wars, either China or Russia — occasionally both — have been our adversary, and both maintain an adversary position to us : Russia by force and espionage, China by economic manipulations.

Opposition to our agreeing the “TPP” arises from several directions, chiefest of which is a perception that because prior global trade treaties have resulted in accelerated loss of low value-added jobs, they are a detriment, not a benefit. This argument misreads the trade treaties it opposes. The jobs that went to low-wage countries on account of these treaties were not likely, in any case, to survive the enormous productivity innovations that have since come to market — innovations that have almost entirely remade our production economy; the trade treaties may have sped up these innovations, but they did not cause them. Meanwhile, prior trade treaties have dramatically lowered the USA prices of many consumer goods, enabling millions of buyers who previously could not buy — and, in the process, providing boom times to importers, distributors, salespeople, and budget retailers. Where would Costco, Wal-Mart, H & M, Forever XXI, Charlotte Russe, Madrag, and hundreds more low-price goods retailers — and all of their employees — be ?

Granted that almost all the jobs made feasible via trade treaties are service jobs, not manufacturing, but so what ? A job is a job. As long as the pay is fruitful — not by any means assured, although union organizing in the service sector is boosting workers’ pay — the important thing is the job itself. May I add that work in the service sector is usually far safer than in manufacturing ?

Trade treaties also have helped our exporters, of which Boeing is by far the largest; the world’s leading aircraft manufacturer accounts for almost one-third of our export dollar goods. as Boeing employs some 150,000 people, most of them very high wage, its prosperity is hardly a minor advantage for trade agreements involving us.

“TPP” would expand the export factor by eliminating tariffs between the 12 agreeing nations, setting rules for currency arbitrage, instituting workplace rules common to the treaty signers, and enabling movement (for job purposes and otherwise) among the signers’ citizenry, a huge boost to their future prosperity, and giving them all an advantage over the economies of Russia and China and their populations. (Of course nations as large as Russia and China aren’t going to be disabled by exclusion from the “TPP,” but surely their citizens would certainly prefer to have more economic options than fewer.)

Mr. Trump opposes this cross-border movement of peoples, economically and culturally (although his insult to other nations may be his way of persuading people to oppose economic choices without realizing that its’ the economics of them that truly move him.). Why does he oppose ? His plan looks quite comprehensive to me :

First : he proposes that America become an entirely self-contained economic zone. No immigrants coming here to work in it, no cheap foreign goods coming here to under-price goods made in the USA.

Second : he would cut corporate taxes way back, enough so that low taxes would allow manufacturers to retain more money than sharply higher US wages would cost them, thus offering manufacturers an economic inducement to bring operations back from overseas.

Third : he intends to increase the customer base — and the wage heft — for repatriated manufactures by launching a one trillion dollar infrastructure program that would require hundreds of thousands of new hires in the highly-paid building trades sector. (This, if it could be done, is a major priority for building trades’ workers even in Boston, where the building boom has meant boon times for hard hats.)

Fourth : cutting taxes and appropriating a trillion Federal dollars for infrastructure would increase Federal debt by at least that amount, but with interest rates barely above zero, Mr,. Trump can borrow the money almost for nothing.

Fifth : rather than compete economically with Russia and China, Mr. Trump seems to propose allowing them to take the risks — as he sees them — of global trade, offering them friendship in exchange for their non-interference with a self-contained American economy.

Mr. Trump’s vision, if he means it, is not impossible. The Constitution, when agreed to, was itself a kind of economic trade union between independent states. One of its express purposes was to promote trade between the agreeing states; and this purpose has worked so well that today we do not see that America still is, at bottom, a common market, a trade treaty trade zone. Furthermore, we are a large enough trade zone to be able, perhaps, to prosper entirely within ourselves, given appropriate trade and profit rules. If Mr. Trump’s recommendations for disallowing immigration, disadvantaging foreign trade, and creating the largest Federal jobs program since the 1930s could work, the risks he assumes might be worth taking.

Yet again, what I said about exporters being benefited by trade treaties, and consumers being enabled by low prices for imported consumers goods, applies to Mr. Trump’s common market vision of America. His market would make export all but impossible (this too has happened before, President Jefferson’s embargo order of 1808 being a most discouraging example); would eliminate low-price import clothing and durables; and would deny our economy the perspective of immigrants, thereby disabling much of the innovation that makes our big cities such  dynamic business zones.

Nor is there any guarantee that manufacturers bringing production back to America would pay the much higher wages needed to make an exclusively American common market work. As long as stock speculators control share prices in search of quick-hit arbitrage profits — as long as high-speed hedge fund traders control the workplace decisions of corporate managers — employees will be treated as cost items to be reduced, not as asset items to be enhanced. So far I have seen not one word from Mr. Trump about the vital need to change how traded corporations account for employees. I have suggested that they be carried as an asset item on SEC reports, not as an asset item, and i have called for a new GAAP rule that would require such employee attribution. Without such a rule, or something approximate, Mr. Trump’s hermetic common market America offers workers and their families no sort of improvement over what the TPP proposes.

NEXT : the unavoidable internationality of oil & gas trade.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




Immediately after Election Day, I wrote a column supporting the electoral vote system that governs choosing a President. The system is set forth in the Constitution’s 12th Amendment, in which the Constitution’s original electoral vote procedure is reformed. I now suggest that we reform it again.

As the adoption of that Amendment shows, the electoral vote method is not sacrosanct. It is an approximation and legitimately subject to modification. This is one of those occasions. Hillary Clinton is on her way to a popular vote win of over 2,000,000 votes; the margin right now surpasses 1,700,000. Those who feel cheated of a clear popular vote win cannot be dismissed by pointing to the 12th Amendment. So what then can we do ? And why do it?

First : although the Constitution was agreed to as a pact among stares, and everything in it is done to protect as much state sovereignty as feasible, the entire relationship of the states to the government agreed to in that pact has changed. When the Constitution was agreed to, and still when in 1804 the 12th Amendment was adopted, voting was restricted to men of property. Universal adult suffrage did not arrive until later, indeed not until the adoption of the 19th Amendment giving women voting rights. (Some may say that universal suffrage wasn’t achieved until 1965, when the Federal Voting Rights Act was enacted.) Universal suffrage upends the assumptions upon which the 12th Amendment (and its predecessor in Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution itself) were based. With a small electorate, all of one social class, selection of a Federal President by the stares worked no disadvantage upon anyone. No one in that social class was attempting to disfranchise anyone else in it or to gain systemic advantage. Indeed, the compromises made upon representation in Congress and senate were agreed to in order to safeguard reasonable equality among the states. Today the opposite is true. States have gerrymandered Congressional districts in order to disfranchise political opponents or to vitiate their voice.

Second : the electoral vote system was never intended to enable a minority President. Its apportionment of votes more or less approximated proportionality — so successfully that only on three occasions prior to this time did a candidate win office with less popular votes than his opponent, and then only by a very small number. In fact, the electoral vote system agreed to was purposed — as I have stated above — to advantage exactly the opposite result : that the elected person have the support of a majority of voters. How could it have been agreed to otherwise ?

Third : the Federal President agreed to in the Constitution was not conceived as having much independent power; Congress was everything. The Constitution’s negotiators did not want a king. Their plan proved durable. Except during the Civil War — which proved a portent — not until the 20th Century did the Federal President begin to acquire significant sovereignty. Concurrent with enormous increases in the Federal budget, and the expanded executive agencies vital to execute an increasingly complex executive mission, the Presidency more and more directly acted upon individual lives, not only upon state governments and their elites. Today, the Presidency is looked to by all the people as the ultimate arbiter of justice and economic progress, and in large measure it is no mistake to so expect.

Fourth : in an age of globe-wide commerce and information, travel and personal movement, there is no going back to the simple, low budget Federal government assumed by the Constitution’s negotiators. Any attempt to do so would create enormous economic dislocation, or personal injustice, or both. Nor does the newly elected executive have any plans to do so. (His plans will seriously weaken America, but in a different direction.) This being the case, the manner of his or her election needs accord greater say to the voters and less to the individual states. Otherwise, we have taxation (and much else) without representation. In addition, the information debated in a national campaign is disseminated nationally — in no way locally. There is no way to recover the unchallenged sovereign uniqueness of early 19th Century states.

Still : the states do have a vital role to play in our Federal pact. Retaining some measure of state advantage in the electoral system assures that candidates will campaign locally and bolster the individuality of the states where the campaign is hard fought. Still, the huge population of our big states cannot simply be fenced off from the power their numbers must possess in our universal suffrage nation.

I therefore suggest the following electoral reform :

( 1 ) each state’s electoral votes shall be cast proportionally. Example : if in North Dakota candidate A gets 63 % and candidate B gets 27 %, that’s the percentage that each candidate shall be entitle to when the electors vote.

( 2 ) each state shall be entitled to an aggregate electoral vote corresponding to its proportional share of the population attributed in the most recent official census, the aggregate base being 438 — the number of members of Congress — to which each state shall add two 92) electoral voters corresponding to its membership in the Senate. Said proportionbal shares s hall be carried out to the second decimal, so as to approximate as nearly as feasible to the actual proportion — no rounding off.

This reform would not produce an absolute popular vote result, but it would avoid the dire consequences of the present winner take all system, where voter minorities within one state end up with no vote at all in the actual result. And let us not shy from saying that in many states, the minority being shut out is racial : people of color. Mississippi. for example, is 37 percent Black, but because the state’s white voters — 63 percent of the total — vote about 90 to 10 for the candidate opposed by 98 percent of Black voters, its Black voters are disfranchised as surely as if the 1965 Voting Rights Act had never been.

Other Southern states vote much the same way; and the only reason why Black voters in the North are not usually disfranchised is because up here, white voters do not mostly vote for racial purposes. The present electoral winner campaigned to increase the racial purposes of white voters, and he had some success, aided by many states;’ attempts to make difficult for voters of color to vote at all. His evil purposes must be made less doable. Reforming the electoral rules will help.

We cannot have a racialist nation. If we do that, we are no longer America, we are something else, something unConstitutional and uncivilized. Those who seek such an illiberal politics — and the present electoral winner has stoked their cause on purpose — must be cancelled. Reforming the electoral apportionment will help cancel them. we must do it.

Some argue that no, we are not a democracy, we are a Constitutional republic. My reform suggestion does not fall afoul of that argument; accommodation is made to factoring the States as electing entities. However, I do advocate factoring in a popular vote component, yes. Given the significance of the modern Presidency — enormously expanded from the purely executor functions accorded by the Constitution — it is unjust to accept a en electoral system that allows a 2,00,000 vote loser to win the office that he lost.

Let us not overlook that this same “constitutional republic’ argument is used to support Gerry-mandered Congressional districts that segregate and diminish the voting power of minorities (racial and political) in direct contradiction to the universal suffrage imperative won by generations of civil rights activists. Because of Congressional Gerry-mandering, imitated in state legislative apportionments as well, minority voters are shut out of power as effectively as if they had no vote at all.

This tactic  cannot be allowed to prevail. It must be changed. We may not be able to eliminate racialist  voting, but we can curb its control of election laws and voting procedures, both of which must be voter-neutral.

To sum up : Hillary Clinton should have been elected. She has the votes — by a lot. Her opponent’s one percent wins in four key stares cannot be allowed to overtop Clinton’s massive victories in other states. The system must change, and we know it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ Doing his job : Governor Baker, in with & to announce a $3.63 million award for water, sewer, & utility upgrades.

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The election of a President is over, and the results are bad news for many of us — and for two thirds of us in Massachusetts. We knew that a win by Mr. Trump would have significant consequences for Governor Baker, and that’s what is happening right now.

Specifically, ambitious politicians in the Democratic party — and their operatives — are trying to bait Governor Baker to step into the war of words over the more controversial of Mr. Trump’s executive appointments.

It would be stupid of Baker to take the bait. He won’t. His opportunistic opponents, whose first priority is to solidify their own followings, probably know that he won’t take their bait. All the better for them. If baker won’t play their game, they get their portion of the playing field all to themselves and can be re-elected.

Do not misunderstand my drift. I’m as appalled by the naming of Steve Bannon, a cynical devourer of racism and an entire banquet of other bigotries, as Mr Trump’s Chief strategist. I’m unhappy to see Senator Jefferson B. Sessions III named to the Attorney General’s duties. I’m horrified to see retire General Michael Flynn, a racist friend of Russia’s boss, Vladi Putin, chosen to be Mr. Trump’s National Security advisor. These are ignorant appointments, nails in the coffin of civil rights, immigrant welcome, and the national interest. Yet what can Governor Baker do about them ?

For baker to speak out, as if he were a Senator, would have no effect and would divide the constituency on which his won re-election depends. If you’re seeking elective office, or re-election, you DO NOT divide the voters whose votes you need in order to win. You unite them.

Baker was elected Governor not to be a voice advocate, as are our Senators and Congresspeople, but to reform state administration and make it work better for everybody who uses state services. That is what he is doing. Almost every day he initiates an improvement, or tweaks a reform, or presses forward a reform already underway.

Baker’s reform initiatives run the gamut from grants to improve drinking water safety — a significant issue, considering what happened to Flint, Michigan’s drinking water — and smoother veterans’ services to grants for affordable housing construction, workforce retraining, addiction treatment reforms, municipal law reform, and of course rearranging the MBTA. Just two weeks ago Baker announced a huge, $ 25 billion overhaul of the state’s health care service, a job which, as he told me recently, will not be simple and might take several years to accomplish.

These are major reforms. They may not win twitter wars or engage the appetites of protest, but, as Baker said during his 204 campaign, “at the end of the day, people want better state services delivered better to them.” It will be hard enough for Baker to accomplish these transformations, given the resistance posed by entrenched vested interests : we see it in the successful fight by teachers’ unions to turn back school reform (the Question 2 ballot initiative voted down by 63 to 36), and we see it in the protests stated by MBTA employees in response to outsourcing of much MBTA performance.

In other words, it will be hard for Baker to do what is always hard for elected officials to do : assure the taxpayer a dollar’s value for a dollar of taxes.

It’s not even clear that Baker will be able to avoid a tax hike. The state’s revenue is not increasing, but service costs are. Fortunately for baker, a question on the 2018 ballot — establishing a surtax on incomes over$ 1q,000,000 — will pass easily and thus provide the state new revenue without Baker having to advocate it. Here, his political opponents are, ironically, helping him. (Do recall that I oppose the two-tier tax. rather than punish the very successful, I advocate raising the minimum wage to $ 15/hour, which would give low-income workers discretionary spending ability and move them from EITC recipients to taxpayers, thereby providing much more new revenue to the state than the “millionaire’s tax” would bring.)

Yet these are arguments for another day. My point in this editorial is that baker is not going to be baited off his game, is not going to do his opportunist opponents’ work for them, and IS going to continue doing the nuts and bolts jobs of reform that the voters elected him to do and attention to which has made Baker the nation’s most popular Governor.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere