MAYOR WALSH’s POLICE REFORMS : SOME GOOD, MORE NOT SO GOOD

walsh

Given what has been said and done this season against our police forces, I have looked at Mayor Walsh’s police proposals very skeptically. Was my reluctance justified by what I have read ? Read the task force recommendations for yourself, then tell me whether skepticism has any basis —->> https://www.scribd.com/document/475570498/Boston-Police-Reform-Task-Force-Recommendations-to-the-Mayor#from_embed?campaign=SkimbitLtd&ad_group=126006X1587340Xc4fd461afbde719210d7f3311239083d&keyword=660149026&source=hp_affiliate&medium=affiliate

To be clear : I am opposed to much of what has now been accepted by Mayor Walsh and even by Commissioner Gross.

The task force convened by Mayor Walsh began in biased circumstances and under political pressure from protesters and rioters. No elected official should EVER undertake anything thuis demanded :

the Mayor convened a Task Force when people across Boston and the United States were protesting police misconduct…”

The above statement proves too much. Just because accusations are laid of misconduct does not mean there was any.

“…that all too often has had deadly consequence for people of color and demanding institutional change to local law enforcement infrastructure.

“deadly consequence for people of color” has occurred, this we all know. But “all too often” suggest that such deaths are commonplace when they are no such thing. They are, in fact, very rare. Of course deadly consequences should never occur, for people of color or otherwise, and our society should insist that police departments require significant training and certification of all who seek to become officers. Governor Baker’s police training and certification bill ought to pass.

And now to the actual recommendations., all of which Mayor Walsh has agreed to :

 The Task Force recommends that the City and the BPD undertake the following:

1. Create an independent Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (“OPAT”) with full investigatory and subpoena power, i.e. the ability to call witnesses and to compel the discovery of documents, to replace the Co-Op.

2.  Formalize and expand the BPD’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

3.  Expand the BPD’s use of the body-worn camera program where it increases police transparency and accountability, and continue to ban the use of biometrics and facial recognition software.

4.  Enhance the BPD’s Use of Force policies (Rule 303,Rule 303A,Rule 303B,Rule 304) so that they articulate clear and enforceable disciplinary code of consequences for violations and infractions and hold the BPD publicly accountable for the violation of these policies.

Item One : absolutely opposed. Police out on a call cannot be second-guessed by those who aren’t at the time and place or engaged in the circumstances. Here is where the current BPD’s de-escalation policy gives officers their principles. Here, too, is the crux of Governor Baker’s training and certification. It is crucial, when examining events after the fact, that the examination NOT be done by persons with an anti-police, accusatory agenda. Every profession regulates and polices its own. Why are police officers not entitled to the same self-governance respect ?

2. Conditional. Officers should always be chosen for their excellence and not for their biology. I would support diligent efforts being made to recruit officer applicants from every ethnic group and social identity interest; but who shows up, shows up; and who succeeds at the training academy succeeds. I also support ( 1 ) an application process that disqualifies persons actively belonging to militias, bigotry, or other such groups whose purposes pit people against one another ( 2 ) a preference for so-called “community policing.”

3. Officers say they approve the body camera device. If they approve it, I am OK with it. Crucial, however, that videos taken by body cameras never be selectively published. Publish it all, or do not publish, period. Too many of the recent cases in the news look very different wen all the video is published than they did when initially sensationalized.

4. I don’t like the accusatory, judgmental tone of this recommendation. Also note : disciplinary hearings should never, ever be public. First of all, reputations are at issue. Second, why would anyone ever seek a policed career if she knows that she will be second guessed constantly and that the merest complaint will cause her loss of reputation, job, and even peace in her off duty life ? Complaints must be written, signed by the person complaining, notarized, and put through an initial assessment before any kind of formal disciplinary hearing be scheduled.

Let’s note that the “emergency” police reform bills enacted by the two parts of our legislature have snoozed for months in committee, as legislators realize that there is no emergency and that much of what is in the two bills is unworkable, even unConstitutional. It is a shame that Mayor Walsh feels it politically important to enact what the legisalture has wisely deferred. I am hoping that once he is re-elected — as i am fairly sure he will be — he will let much of the Task force’s agenda fade away, as it should.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

EXCELLENCE, NOT GEOGRAPHY

exmas

Boston’s School Department is proposing to apportion admission to Boston Latin, an exam school, by geography. We oppose this plan. (You can access it HERE : file:///C:/Users/Customer/Downloads/Exam%20Schools%20Admission%20Criteria%20Recommendation%20to%20SC%20FINAL(3).pdf

The only criterion that an exam-admission school should honor is excellence. Is that not the whole point of having admission by exam ?

Proponents of geographic admission say that exams disadvantage children of color. I disagree. Kids taking the exam, in the sixth grade and again in the ninth, have presumably attended Boston schools for years. If some come to the Boston Latin exam less prepared, is that the kids’ fault or the school system’s ?

Perhaps some fault rests with the parents. Let us not assume that, however. The parents of any kid aspiring to examine for admission to Latin know full well what is going to be asked of their kid. Is there a parent, of whatever skin hue or national origin, who does not want her kid to ace that exam ? To suggest that any parent faces the exam challenge slack is to condescend grievously.

My own parents pushed me very, very hard when it came to school performance. My Mom — youngest of six children of a penniless immigrant, East Boston tenement family –worked a full time job at a Boston newspaper, sometimes bringing home the next day’s edits and staying up till two AM: yet she had time to go over my reading with me, and my math, and my geography, so that when it came time to take the SAT high school admission, I would be prepared. My Dad wasn’t able to help, as he was a house doctor often making house calls at 3 AM (for $ 3 and $ 4 a call, if the patient even had any money) and then getting up at 8 AM to take my Mom (who did not drive) to the train station.

My Mom had a saying : “if you want something done, ask a busy person.”

I suspect that most of today’s immigrant and dark skinned parents know and follow that rubric. I have such a parent in my own extended family; and though she has enormous issues in her own life, she stops at nothing to push and prepare her kids for school excellence. Her older daughter is now attending University on full scholarship after getting all A’s in high school.

I think it is therefore a terrible injustice to push Boston’s school system’s failings onto the backs of families who live in under-achieving school districts.

This is not to say that geography is irrelevant in exam admissions. I went to Princeton,. and that I came from Massachusetts, not New Jersey, was a factor in my admission (although I also had the grades needed.) Princeton very much wanted to admit students from, say, Idaho or overseas; but if geographic diversity was desirable, it did not overrule or even qualify scholastic excellence. Admission was done by a point system : exam excellence, 5 points; school grades, 5 points; extra curricular activism, 3 points; legacy, two points; geography, one point. I was not a legacy, but I did have most of the other points and so was admitted as a 13 out of 16. ( Today a 13 out of 16 might not be enough ! )

All of the above said, my view is not the be-all. There are other views, of actual Boston school parents embroiled in the matter, that deserve our attention. Here’s what one parent — a personal friend — said on facebook this morning :

They don’t have a friggin test and because BPS was misusing it. The affluent have tutors for a year out sometimes more. The last paragraph is key: “Who would be less likely to show up for the test administration: a child of working immigrant parents in East Boston, or a child whose parents have been paying for test prep for the last two years,” asked Green. A test in the 6th grade should determine your future. The pressure is insane for 11 year olds. There is no reason it can’t be performance based, essay submitted, some sort of huge research project etc. but giving kids one chance on one day to decide their future is bullshit. (BLA mom here)

The level of disconcert that she expresses ought to concern those who administer Boston’s schools. The great disconnect is not between exams and parents but between the School system and parents.

The current plan must be set aside for at least much extended, open discussion.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

WHY DO PEOPLE BELIEVE MR. TRUMP ?

TRUMP

^ saying “goodbye” as he prepares his flight to Kazakhstan after defeat ?

—- —- —-

Yesterday at a rally the President of the United States quipped, “if I lose to Biden, maybe I’ll leave the country.”

Even as a quip, this is not normal. Nor is it usual that many people think he might do just that. Many of us opine that he has good reason to flee the jurisdiction. This too, is not usual. Yet there is basis for the opinion. Mr. Trump owes almost $ 1 billion to lenders, much of it Russian; he is leaving behind him a trail of crimes that the nose-weakest bloodhound could follow. He has been able, as President, to shout down the accusations and to intimidate almost all who could testify directly to them; yet once he loses, all of that is gone. Or almost all.

I say ‘almost” because he retains a solid core of true believers.

That I employ the noun “belief” to a person of politics, not of religion, is also not normal. How comes it that millions of 21st Century Americans, living in a secular nation built by science and experiment, skepticism and show-me, grant BELIEF to a politician, any politician ? Respect, yes, that we give to politicians who have earned it, and rightly we give it. (Trust, sure — although as Ronald Reagan said, “trust but verify.”) But belief ? Mr. Trump is not a pastor or a priest, he is  not a God, not an object of worship like the icons of Byzantium. Far from it; to the non-believing observer he appears as he most likely is, a thoroughly corrupt, ignorantly selfish, indulgently cruel,  faker and liar who makes his way by stiffing those who deal fairly with him. To a non-believing observer, he is just another stagecrafted caudillo, a man who insists that his word is law.

Before the late 17th Century, religion and government partnered, and each upheld the other. Religion had, almost always, thus linked with the public authority. From the times of Pharaoh to the Temple priests of Israel, from the time of Constantine to the accession of Lotario de’ Conti as Pope Innocent III, kings, dukes, and counts took to account the utterances and pronouncements of bishops and preachers, sometimes stabilizing, more often troublesome. But that was then. Beginning in the 1640s, when Duc de Richelieu, adviser to King Louis XIII, became the first chief minister to separate political interests from religious ones, Western civilization’s leaders have pushed religious interests ever farther from the power center. It became a private matter. That view is guaranteed to us in our Constitution’s First Amendment. Religion is free to exercise but cannot affect in any way governance of the republic.

In Europe, religion, pushed completely out of politics, retains today chiefly a tourist, artistic interest : we visit its great cathedrals and abbeys and appreciate its great works of art. The Pope does have power, mostly organizational; and financial, but of political influence has next to none. Europe’s politicians,. too, have plenty of power, but hardly any are worshipped — the continent has far too tragic a memory of what worship of politicians occasioned there. So why is the situation different here in the USA ?

Why is religion itself so vastly more alive here than in Europe ? Perhaps that’s because free exercise, separating religion from politics, insulated religion from the perils and transactions that make politics a skeptic’s art. In Europe, religion continued to be political all the way into the 20th Century and so was swept aside by more timely belief systems. Here, however, the will to believe was free from public responsibility for anything and so has been able to retain its followers, who see in it escape from the harsh fates of politics.

There is the rub: escape from harsh political fate. Is that not what Mr. Trump promises, or seems to promise, to those who yearn to escape ? Once you travel the escape route, all sorts of impossibles become tangible, and Mr, Trump’s believers are, if anything, inundated with waves of impossibles, untenables, loony stuff, absurdities. After all, in a world free of proof, the more absurd an absurdity, the more sense it makes. George Clinton of the 1970-1980s band Funkadelic, liked to tell us “free your mind and your ass will follow.” He was on to something. Free your mind, and a heckuva lot more than your ass will follow.

Yet Mr. Clinton also liked to say “free of the need to be free”; and that is the reverse side of freeing your mind of common sense and its platitudes. You don’t have a need to be free once your mind is free because it’s already there. Having freed your mind, you are now ready to become unfree, as unfree as your free mind leads you to. Thus take hold the quackery of Q, the nonsense of a “deep state,” the utter implausibility of Trump’s so-called “hoaxes.

So it has long been with all manner of vaudeville medicine salesmen. And if P. T. Barnum said his “there’s a sucker born every minute” without explanation, the explanation is easy : people want to believe, and the more ephemeral a wisp, only belief will validate such a viewpoint or a claim, The surer it is that some people will believe it utterly.

The mountebank intimidated by conscience can’t mange it. It requires a faker wholly without scruple to win the most devoted believers. The wilder his claims, the more certain to find devotees. The more constantly he claims them, the more enthusiastic his believers become. He works them up, frenzies them, stews them  in his kettle of crackpot. This is why Mr. Trump[ doe snot stop, nor qualify his prophecies, nor moderate his accusations. This is why he doesn’t take a break. Were he to take a break, or to moderate, it would all come crashing down, absurdity conquered by fact., This he cannot allow, nor can his cult.

Remember Jim Jones ? To us on the outside looking in, it all seemed cuckoo — who the blazes would buy such crap ? Well, now we know who. A lot of ordinary people buy it. It will always be thus.

Until the soap bubble bursts and one’s hands are seen to be dirty.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

SICK AND TIRED

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Amy Coney Barrett To Be Supreme Court Justice

^^^ a duffel bag full of smelly socks would be of more use than these overpaid selfie-sticks

—- —- —-

We the voters of America are sick and tired.

We are sick and tired of “shaking things up.”

We are sick and tired of the lies, the insults, the corruption, the tin-pot Mussolini.

We are sick and tired of the riots, the obsession with statues, the bigotry and the preaching.

We are sick and tired of the schlepp games being played by so-called Senators and Congresspeople.

We are sick and tired of green new deals, but also sick and tired of beardos bearing Confederate battle flags.

We are sick and tired of attention seekers and instagram “influencers.”

We are sick and tired of a minimum wage that isn’t enough to sustain a pet parrot, much less a family.

We are sick and tired of never-ending campaigns, sick and tired of plump pocket donors, sick and tired of wing tip selfishness and genderfluid socialism.

We are sick and tired of a Congress that can’t get a trip to the toilet done without dirtying the tile but thinks it can bogard the lives of vulnerable immigrants.

We are sick and tired of nutty conspiracy hippies.

We are sick and tired of braggarts and newcomers, sick of pissy egotists and paunch-tongued hippo-crats.

We are sick and tired of bicycle tyranny.

We are sick and tired of having to be sick and tired.

Justin Amash is right ; the two party system of politics is now nothing but competing arenas of avaricious slapstick comedians.

Justin Amash said it : most voters want just to be left alone to work out their lives and accommodate to their neighbors. Government to them has become an imposition, and worse, a late night Marx Brothers, a kettle of absurdity.

We are sick of that, tired of this, amused no longer,and beyond anger. We deserve better, and the drinkers of donor piss and eaters of zealot vomit — who currently misrepresent us — know we deserve better. Better than them. better than the political parties.

The Constitution is a superb document, built on the solid foundation of skepticism, erected by check and balance, topped off by high ideals that its skeptical structure recognizes lie beyond the power of mere humans to achieve.

Speaking of the Constitution, isn’t Amy Coney Barrett something special ? I am impressed wildly by her. I dislike her jurisprudence; but her presence and intellect radiate just as Fiona Hill’s did at the impeachment hearings eight months ago.

Of Barrett and Hill we are NOT at all sick and tired. Of them we are awake and hale.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

INCOME IS THE PRIORITY REFORM

JOE

What will a Biden administration work first, once it has been inaugurated ? (I am assuming that Biden will in fact be elected; as of today, all the polls forecast a landslide Biden win.) I beg that he and his team work on income inequality first.

Our economy cannot aspire to its actual potential if most people haven’t enough money to participate. In and around big cities, the minority who have plenty command the prices for most everything. The more costly the item, the more that the well-off command it — real estate being the example that shuts out the most people. Boston is trying all sorts of unworkable fixes in search of a solution, none of them responding to the basic fact : people do not have enough money. There really is no other wise way but to raise — by law or otherwise — the wages that workers earn.

If it costs $ 500,000 to bring qa housing unit to market, you can try, artficially, to make that purchase “affordable” by restricting the sale price. Yet this does not work. The builder cannot offer one home at a loss without pricing the next home higher than market in order to cover his loss on the “:affordable” unit. This conundrum can be avoided, however, if a potential buyer earns enough to afford a market-rate home.

So, what do I suggest ? This : the minimum wage should be at least $ 15/hour, maybe $ 22/hour in hot-spot big cities. (Geneva, Switzerland just raised ITS minimum to $ 25/hour. $ 30/hour, frankly, would not be too high in places like New York, San Francisco, Honolulu.)$ 15/hour sounds radical, but in fact it’s timid. At $ 15 an hour, a full-time worker earns barely $ 600 a week. That’s not at all enough to afford stuff in Boston, much less New York. Two $ 15/hour incomes would suffice, yet even these, pooled together, would leave little room for discretionary purchases. At $ 22/hour, a full time worker earns $ 880 a week. That begins to approximate enough, but by no means is a $ 3520 monthly income a liberation.

Businesses would certainly not survive having to take on the entire burden of such large raises in pay, and I am not asking them to. (Yes, I am asking businesses to do better. No business should be able to get away with paying workers so little that they need taxpayer assistance to get by.) What we can do is appropriate taxpayer money to provide people — includng those who can’t work or who work only part time — a basic monthly income, as some have suggested. $ 2,000 a month has been advocated; it seems generous to people living in not-so-prosperous regions and hardly enough for people living in booming cities, yet it is a start, and with interest rates at little above zero, deficit financing of this Federal support begs to be used.

A Biden administration should enact Federal support legislation, and it should work on two accompanying reforms : curbing stock market speculation and short-term strategies; and raising taxes on money income of more than $ 2,000,000 annual. There is absolutely no reason why top executives of large firms should get paid tens of millions of dollars yearly.  Firms can pay executives in stock — which the Securities Acts of 1934 and 1940 require them to hold for five to eight years — but in cash, why ? It is all too easy for director boards to grant huge pay to the executives they supposedly oversee. Boards should include at least two members who are union or who represent a firm’s wage workers. Instead, big firms should be financially and legally encouraged to pay their wage workers more — maybe much more.

Some will say that these reforms are socialism. They are not that. But yes, they constitute a significant limitation on management discretion. I cannot oppose this sort of limitation. Allocations of the nation’s commercial money are out of whack. Because they are out of whack, a major portion of our people cannot buy into the discretionary economy, and it is there, in non-essential purchase, than economy finds its most vibrant growth, its innovations, its legitimacy in the minds of those who vote. Survival purchases, such as food, cell phone, clothing,. transportation, utilities, and child care certainly fuel the economy, but these purchases can’t grow much. Their only growth is population increase. Discretionary purchases, however, can expand. There’s a whole universe of goods and services that people can buy if they have the money to buy them.

I’m looking to a Biden administration to get this ball rolling — in a big way and broadly-based.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

JUSTICE BARRETT ? WE SAY “NO”

The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court is  influencing swing voters - The Economic Times
President Trump no0mnates Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court. We oppose.

Soon enough, the Senate will consider the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to a seat on the Supreme Court. We at Here and Sphere oppose it.

Our reasons for opposing Judge Barrett are purely ideological. We have no dispute with her intellect or her legal acumen. It is clear from what even opponents have written that she excels at legal analysis and that she writes very readable opinions, which too many Judges do not. None of this, however, changes our mind about opposing her nomination.

We also have no dispute with her faith. A person’s religion, by itself, should never affect their fitness for an office to which they have been directed.

Unfortunately, however, Barrett appears, from her own written words, to believe that the law should subordinate to faith. That view contradicts one of our Constitution’s basic premise, that religion cannot be a test for office or a measure of the public law of State and nation.

There are many in America who now believe otherwise, that the Constitution and its guarantees to all are inferior to the precepts of a faith and that people are Constitutionally justified in denying basic civil rights to others if said rights contravene their “sincerely held’ faith. We reject this view.

You may fully observe your faith, if you have one, but the Constitution’s guarantees make it clear that your faith cannot impose its opinions on anyone else. People, of course, are free to subject themselves — and the rights sworn to them in the Constitution — to the strictures of a faith. In no circumstances, however, can anyone be allowed to restrict anyone’s enjoyment of the Constitution’s guarantees without said person’s freely given consent.

The case that comes first to mind is a woman’s right to determine the outcome of her pregnancy. Some religious assert that a woman does not have that right because, so they say, the fetus in a pregnancy is a life in being. That is a religious opinion, however. The law does not say so. The law gives full priority to the pregnant woman. It is her body, and one has the right, so says our law, to control her body — all of it. In other words, where religion is certain, the law is skeptical.

The Constitution rests upon that level of skepticism. It says, in effect, “certain beliefs may be true, or may not be. To protect the rights of all, we will err on the side of doubt rather than of certainty.”

The Framers lived barely three generations from wars of religion in which people degraded, tortured, burned, and killed one another for this or that belief or lack thereof. And to what end ? What did the society the Framers inherited gain from having arisen out of wars about beliefs ? Only a conviction that futility was the consequence, that every such abuse only proved that abuses of that kind should never again occur.

People who believe as Judge Barrett does, about abortion, and about marriage equality. gender identity, and the like — decrying them all — may be right, but they may also not be right, and our law, schooled by the wars of religion that preceded us, chooses to preference the “may not be,” the doubt, the skepticism about certainties that can only exist by tyranny of one kind or another; and we are not a tyranny.

Our preference for the “may not be” is kin to the basic assumptions of our law that one is innocent until proven guilty by clear and convincing evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. it is kin to evidence, period. It is kin to our common wisdom that charges and accusations are insufficient to determine an outcome no matter how fervently they are believed by those who bring them. Judge Barrett, with her preconceptions — her believed certainties — stands outside these basics of the law. Does she accept these basics ? If so, how can she not apply them to matters where her faith is sure but the law refuses to be ? Is she a lawyer or a preacher ?

I am profoundly unclear on which she is.

Soon enough Judge Barrett will have to answer Senators’ questions, some of which are sure to address the sorts of matters I have discussed. we will then learn whether Judge Barrett is a lawyer or a minister of religion. If she cannot convince us that she is a lawyer and not a preacher, her nomination must fail.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

AN OPPORTUNITY MISSED

Massive Suffolk Downs Development Approved by Boston – NBC Boston
Suffolk Downs is unlikely to become what is shown here. A missed opportunity

Two nights ago, after seven hours of “public comment,” the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s Board voted — after two years and more of meetings between developer and neighborhood groups — to approve the massive — 10,000 housing units — project proposed for the Suffolk Downs site.

What, then, did the BPDA approve ? Subject to what conditions and provisos ? I give you now a list thereof, as set forth by District Councilor Lydia Edwards in her report on the details :

✅An increase from 13% to 20% in the total affordable housing

✅A $5 million housing stabilization fund independently controlled by East Boston with continued funding over the course of the project

✅A wider range of incomes and more family sized units

✅Immediate rent relief for East Boston families up to $800,000, with $400,000 coming immediately after the vote

✅The site will be held to the standards of the upcoming fair housing amendment to the zoning code which will ensure housing for seniors, working families, and people with disabilities at the site for generations

✅Publicly owned streets and sidewalks. Park space deeded to the city. First amendment protections on privately owned publicly accessible space.

✅A Carbon Net Zero feasibility study with a commitment to pursue funding to implement the results of the study

✅Updates to city zoning regarding environmental standards will apply to the site

✅A Belle Isle Marsh visitor impact study and funding for an additional ranger at the marsh

✅A Project Labor Agreement to guarantee union jobs for the construction

✅$1 million for workforce development and and ESL classes for East Boston families

✅$1 million for apprenticeship programs to get East Boston residents into the trades

✅Expanded vocational education for East Boston residents and priority in the hiring process

✅Daycare facilities on-site to support our families

✅$200,000 for a learn-to-swim program for East Boston children

✅An Implementation IAG to ensure compliance with agreements

✅Continuous review to ensure commitments are being met before new buildings can be built

It’s an impressive list of add-ons, and Edwards rightfully defends it as a significant achievement for what is expected these days from “community engagement.”

Yet if the objective of all this engagement is to enhance the project’;s economic end housing cost effects on East Boston, the list fails, indeed aggravates the situation.

To begin at the beginning : requiring that 20 percent of the units — 2,000 houses — be “affordable” pursuant to Boston’s “affordability covenant,” means that the buy price, or rent amount, of the other 8,000 units will have to RISE by five percent, or the investor risks a loss. That would be the case anyway, but as Tom O’Brien, the project manager, has stated that the syndicate of investors was looking for a bare FIVE (5) percent return, any pricing concessions make the investment very chancy. Granted that with interest rates at near zero, parked money earns practically nothing, a five percent, or even a four percent return looks pretty good: yet historically, real estate investors have wanted a much larger expectation because real estate is always highly leveraged. It doesn’t take a very great default rate for leveraged real estate to be a loser; and once real estate falls into the red,. its redness accelerates, sometimes to the point of bankruptcy. Thus the price jack-up to compensate for the price loss.

O’Brien told a meeting about a year ago that it costs $ 500,000 a unit to build a house in Boston. Add union labor to that cost — an add-on which I approve, for reasons I’ll give later — and the price becomes $ 550,000. Now add on the jack-up and the sale price of a market rate house starts at $ 582,500. Now add on advertising,. brokerage, and closing costs, and the sale cost rises to about $ 625,000.00. Add a five percent return, and w’re at $ 656,500. But that’s not all the costs that the compromised Suffolk project has now agreed to. What do you suppose the cost to Suffolk will be of the Belle Isle marsh impact study ? The “carbon net zero feasibility study ? Expanded vocational education for East Boston residents ? Daycare facilities on site ? Continuous review ? It won;’t be cheap. Then there’s the $ 5,000,000 housing stabilization” fund, $ 1,000,000 for “workforce development” and another one mil for “apprenticeship programs.” Add about an additional $ 30,000 to the asking price of those 8,000 market-rate houses.

Banker and Tradesman estimates that the sale price of the market rate houses will top $ 1,00,000. On what basis can I disagree ?

Doubtless that figure arises from the vast costs of lawyers, engineers, environmental consultants and more that Suffolk’s builder will have to hire to get utility lines laid, sewers installed, roads built, and landscaping scaped to the satisfaction of at least three government oversight administrators.

Nor are these the only costs that the project imposes. How about the costs to the Boston (and Revere) taxpayer ? Consider the army of bureaucrats who will have to assess the thousands of applications for purchase of those 2,000 “affordable” units. Also their supervisors. The salaries of these all are going to be paid by YOU.

Even at $ 686,000 per house — not to mention $ 1,000,000 — the 8,000 market rate homes –which are not going to be free standing but townhouse style, and maybe condominium, Suffolk’s market-rate houses will jack up the entire price spectrum of homes in a neighborhood where home prices are already much too high — after all, why the outcry for “affordable” homes if the home price was not now too high ?

Would it not have been much smarter to scrap the absurd “affordability” covenant entirely, and some of the items that really have nothing to do with housing (Belle Isle Marsh ? Apprentice programs ? Vocational ed ?), set the entire project at market rate, then use the market power of 10,000 market-rate houses to peak our already overpriced real estate and perhaps lower it by five to ten percent ? At an asking price of $ 595,000 per house, 10,000 market rate houses offered would absorb more than all of current demand and might bring some market sense to what is asked. That would be an actual affordability move, rather than the government -manufactured, ersatz affordability being imposed.

Why we in our capitalist economy do not trust the market to do its work, I cannot tell. Market prices are the sum of everyone’s opinion. No method of pricing is more democratic than the market method. Yet our City’s wise ones see fit to substitute concocted detours which only add to inequities, choking off the democracy of a market, in the most important purchase most people will ever make.

Above, I stated approval of the project’s use of union labor even though it increases the cost basis of house prices. Why do I approve this cost ? Simple : it puts more money in workers’ wallets. And they will spend it into the economy. Anything that puts more money into consumers’ wallets is good — for the economy, for equity, even for the affordability of homes, obviously. But as for the rest of Councillor Edwards’s long list, I favor ripping it up and starting all over again with market embrace as the primary and absolutely vital goal.

— Mikke Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE PERILS OF HAVING AN ASPIRATIONAL CONSTITUTION

Are there holes in the Constitution? - Harvard Law Today
an aspirational document — with which we have to live, whether we fail it or not

The debate over the 1619 Project, which purports to condemn as evil the founding of America, rests upon the unique character of our nation. We are an aspirational adventure.

Unlike all other nations., we are not formed by language or tribal origin, not by unities of origin at all, but by the ideals we aim for. Every immigrant who came here voluntarily, and every descendant of those who did not arrive voluntarily but who willed to stay, cherishes the ideals that our founding documents — Declaration, Constitution, Bill of Rights — assert. Other nations generate; we are a work in progress; a long journey exploring the golden rules we expect, we believe in, we will not betray.

Into this celebratory optimism comes now an opposite view : that America was founded in slavery, in “colonization,” in hypocrisy of claiming great ideals while practicing brutal oppression. It is noted that almost all the Founders owned slaves and that few had any objections to dispossessing Indians. Much is made, for example, of the “three fifths” clause of the Constitution by which the apportionment of Congress members is determined : there it is, right in the document to which we all swear an oath to defend, that slaves are counted only three-fifths of a life. It is noted that every sort of impediment, first legal, later social, to assuring Black people the full equalities insisted upon by the Declaration: and indeed, Frederick Douglass, in his great “Fourth of July’ speech, noted that to the then slave, the Declaration was a mockery. We are all aware that barely 60 years ago, Blacks in many States were denied the most basic civil rights; and that even today, many people who hold positions of power, including some police, do not value or respect, equally, the lives and dignity of Black Americans: and we are told, by hose who extol the 1619 Project, that the persistence of these inequities is built in to our founding.

That is what we re asked to accept; but should we ? I differ. What I see is that the very perfection of our ideals is their curse. Political and social aspirations cannot be beyond the talents of we who are asked to live them. The equality of all reads well, because we conclude that it applies to us. It is OUR OWN potential inequality which we object to — not so much the possible inequality of others. By nature, self-preservation — not that of our fellows — is the basic instinct. we too easily read that instinct into Thomas Jefferson’s words which were intended to shield all, not just we ourselves. It is all good to say that the good of each of us is secured best by the good of all. That is what the preamble to the Constitution says — “the general welfare,” not the welfare only of me, only of you — and we easily utter these words only to feel, afterwards, that the general welfare is actually MY welfare first.

Nonetheless, the aspirations are there. They are written down, and we take an oath to defend and advance them, no doubt sincerely when sworn to.

Even as we fall short, in practice, of the ideals we say we honor, so too do we rise above the pessimism and generalizations written by the 1619 Project. America was NOT founded in slavery nor was African chattel slavery an American invention., It existed for at least 100 years before 1619 and, indeed, had existed throughout Saharan Africa for at least a milenium. The slave trade, rightly condemned, was just as much fueled by African tribes doing the capturing as by Portuguese and Spanish slavers buying the captives. At that time, moreover, slavery systems existed almost everywhere and had so existed since very ancient times. We think of African slaves, but the word “slave’ is derived from “Slav,” because it was Slavic peoples who were most often enslaved during the Byzantine and Venetian commercial heydays (6th to 16th Centuries).

Slavery nowhere was declared illegal until Massachusetts did so in its 1780 Constitution. Abolition of slavery arose, as a goal, during the rise of industry : slave labor was incompatible with industrial work. At the same time that slavery began to look infeasible economically, so did its moral injustice discomfort many; and Bishop William Wilberforce in England and Unitarian preachers in New England contemporaneously condemned it.

Abolition arose here, in America, and though a minority opinion, it built sufficient political and moral force to secure slavery’s end as a Civil war goal. That our founding documents echoed their equalities in our ears was not incidental. They were, in fact, vital to the political success that abolition finally won after decades of failure. Nor dare we overlook that the Founders, who mostly owned slaves in an era when slavery was common everywhere, were troubled by it and sought its end, albeit by voluntary means — several freed their slaves, and almost all wanted it phased out. Phase out is actually in the Constitution: the slave trade was to end in year 1808.

The much-maligned “three-fifths” compromise was in no way a backsliding. It was, in fact a major step forward. No slaves had ever before been counted as persons before the law., now they were accorded three-fifths enumeration, and their number was included in the most vital of political arrangements, the number of elected representatives given to a State. Those who decry the devaluation, compared to enumeration of white residents, argue backwards.

The question I now want to ask is, why has slavery had such vast political consequences in America when it had none in any European nation ? Including Spain and Portugal, the creators of Transatlantic slavery trade and for centuries its dominant practitioners ? First, for European nations,. almost all the slaves were imported into New World colonies, not the home country. Yet even there, emancipated slaves were accepted into society fairly readily. Tensions there were, and are; yet nothing like the hundred fifty years of opposition to equality in society that has occurred in the USA.

Second, the end of slavery was imposed here by a conquering army and its government. Acceptance by the conquered would have been difficult in any case, and with universal suffrage, everybody’s resentment found sanction in votes cast at elections. Yet I think we cannot dismiss what I said at the outset : our nation has founded itself upon the noblest of aspirations, from which we cannot help but fall short, even as the people of Israel — so we are told — constantly backslid from the Ten Commandments and honoring God. Set yourself goals almost beyond human capability, and you set yourself up for a fall.

Which is what we have done, for better or worse, by creating an America dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal and have certain unalienable rights….

We did in fact found such a nation — not in slavery but in its opposite — and have to live with the consequences.

I think often of Solon, the great Athenian magistrate, who when asked by a foreign king whom he visited, did you give the Athenians the best laws, answered, “I gave them the best laws that they would accept.”

That is the way that prevailed all over Europe. it is realistic. It defers to human capability. It is NOT the way that we in America chose. We want the best laws, whether our people accept them or not. And many do not.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

SAY NO TO RANKED CHOICE

RCV Ballot Design - FairVote
ranked choice ballot : a bad idea masquerading as a reform. Do not allow it.

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On the November ballot as Question 2 will be a voter question : should Massachusetts adopt the “ranked choice” method of voting ?

We urge a NO vote.

Here’s why :

First : ranked choice will cut in half the power of your vote. As we vote today, with two major candidates on the ballot, we vote for one and not for the other. This is worth TWO votes. Because if you take one vote away from candidate A and give it to candidate B, you change the result by two, not one.

Under ranked choice, you give first choice to A but second choice to B. Your second choice vote for B gets added to her first choice votes. Which means that A, your preferred winner, gets only a slight bump instead of the equivalent of two votes. I doubt this is a result most of us want to see happen to our vote.

Second : ranked choice empowers organized activists far more than ordinary voters. Ordinary voters don’t organize campaigns. They only vote. But organized activists do organize campaigns, and in a ranked choice system, they can put five, seven, nine, or fifteen candidates from their group onto the ballot. They then give each of these a rank vote, where a non-activist candidate gets only ordinary votes, the activists blanking him. Count up the activist candidate votes, and the ultimate winner far outvotes the sole non-activist, who receives no activist ranking.

This situation actually just happened in the 4th Massachusetts Congress District, where a non-activist candidate won with 25 % of the vote, the activist candidates splitting the other 75 percent. Had ranked choice been operative, an activist candidate would easily have won. Why so ? Because activists know not to give any rank vote to the non-activist, where ordinary voters, offered a rank vote, would almost all use it.

Not surprisingly, the 4th’s activists, having lost, now want to change the rules. I think we know why.

Third : ranked vote reduces the power of your single vote by giving you a number of votes, each less powerful, than the one you already have, but in total, amounting to more than your one powerful vote. I doubt that any of us is entitled to more than one vote, no mater how weak the plural votes may be. With one vote, you use it or you don’t. With plural voting, some have an opportunity to vote more than others. Do we rally want to empower this sort of inequality ? I hope not.

Ranked choice voting is bad idea. It devalues your vote, empowers special interests, and creates inequality in voting. IT MUST BE REJECTED.

—- Mike Freedberg, for the editors at Here and Sphere

WU vs. MARTY : A FIRST LOOK

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu announces candidacy for mayor
^^ the challenger and the challenged : who has the upper hand ?

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Yesterday, City Councillor Michelle Wu announced her candidacy for Mayor of Boston. Wu, a Roslindale resident, spoke thus :

““We’re in an unprecedented time as Boston faces a pandemic, an economic crisis, and a national reckoning on systemic racism,” Wu said. “To meet this moment, we need leadership that matches the scale and urgency of our challenges.”

The thrust of Wu’s candidacy will be familiar to many. She doubled down on it, too :

“The Boston we love is a city that takes care of each other, where hard work meets big dreams with grit and resilience. But for too many — during this pandemic and well before — it’s been impossible to dream when you’re fighting to hold on.Fighting to afford to stay. Fighting for our kids. Fighting a system that wasn’t built for us, doesn’t speak our languages, doesn’t hear our voices.I’m running for Mayor because Boston should be a city for everyone. Now’s the time for bold, urgent leadership.

It’s nothing unusual for a challenger to appeal first to those who are, presumably, an existing opposition to the incumbent and his record. That’s what Wu is doing here. She is betting that the black lives matter activists (“systemic racism”) are opposed to Walsh; assuming, too, that voters for whom English is a difficult second language (“system that doesn’t speak for us, doesn’t speak our languages…”) are opposed. She also sees a mood of “crisis,” voters who want “urgent” change — a variation on the “change can’t wait” theme that Ayanna Pressley wielded so successfully in 2018.. Lastly, she mentions “fighting to afford to stay” — a pitch to the many voters who are not happy at being priced out of the City by the development boom.

All of these are sensible voter interests for a challenger to reach out to. So will it work ? Depends on the accuracy of her reading the moods of Boston voters and also on her math: how many voters are there in the interests she is reaching for ?

As to the mood of Boston voters, is it still 2018 ? A year in which being an aging, white male incumbent was a ticket to defeat ? Had the Mayor election come in 2018, or even in 2019, I think Wu’s shot would have hit the target. Congressman, District Attorney, District 5, 8, and 9 Council, and 15th Suffolk State Representative all saw a change from male incumbents to challengers of color, four of them female.

In 2019, Wu, seeking Council re-election, won EIGHTY percent (!!) of the vote in the precinct cluster around her Roslindale home (she lives in Ward 18, Precinct 10, for those who follow these things.) I can’t recall if I have EVER seen a Councillor win that huge a share, not even when running city-wide, where voters have four votes to give. The most I can recall is about 66 percent. Even that is rare. Wu had a wave to ride, and she surfed it like a boss.

But next year is not 2018-2019. The mood of our voters has shifted. On September 1, credible challengers from Wu’s political direction sought State Representative seats in Charlestown, Allston, and Roslindale-Readville-Hyde Park. All three seats were won by candidates very likely to be Mayor Walsh allies. No win was bigger than the one that encompasses Wu’s home : the 14th Suffolk District that will now be represented by Rob Consalvo, whose 5484 to 3292 win over Gretchen van Ness, a very credible opponent and Wu ally, was larger than anybody anticipated. In 2018, long time incumbent Angelo Scaccia had eked out a win over van Ness, garnering barely 38 percent in a four-way contest. Consalvo running in 2020 won 53 percent in a three-candidate race.

Different contest, different candidates, to be sure. Yet I think Walsh has to like having Daniel Ryan, Kevin Honan, and Rob Consalvo representing three crucial parts of Boston than had their opponents won. Better still, he has to like that in this primary, the turnout of voters was immense, where in 18 it was much smaller. Activists — which is who Wu is appealing to — are far fewer than ordinary voters. If Walsh can turn out ordinary voters in anything like the numbers who voted on September 1, he is likely in good shape.

Lastly, he has to like the shape of the primary vote : for stability, not change. Voters have had enough “shaking up” in the past four years to last them a lifetime. What most of us want now is some quiet — political quiet. Governor Charlie Baker is as popular as he is because he epitomizes political quiet and stability. Baker moves the State forward, maneuvers it through bad weather without shipwreck, without breaking the furniture. Walsh can’t duplicate Baker’s helmsmanship because Boston is as stormy a sea as every big city. Boston quakes with big changes : development, immigration, identity clashes, economic displacement, hurry and more hurry. Wu is not wrong to see voters beset by the dizzy whirl of big Boston.

Yet my guess is that, if Boston whirls like one of those superheroes people like to adore, Walsh is up to the challenge. If Boston is Goliath, Walsh is David : he holds all the reins of power, he controls the budget — anybody who doubts that should recall the 8 to 5 vote by which the Council, Wu’s Council, rejected Wu’s budget proposal and backed Walsh’s — and he controls all of city administration., Chiefest of these in today’s climate of street protest is Police Commissioner Bill Gross, a Walsh appointee who is nobody’s puppet and who speaks for the vast majority of Boston voters in insisting on police primacy. Walsh has made it very clear that he will not tolerate, in Boston, what has been allow to happen in some other cities (and Walsh as Governor Baker to backstop him, and Baker has done so).

When I think about Walsh’s budget command, and about Bill Gross’s street command, and when I factor in September 1’s vote for legislators of stability,. I think Wu has a very weak hand to play — a hand which was strong two yars ago, and last year, but that has lost strength since then. I know that Wu cares deeply to be a fighter for justice. She is not a faker at all. But as caring as she is, she may find that she has missed the political bus.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere