Georgia’s new United States Senator Ralph Warnock : elected via an all-party (and thus no party) all-candidate preliminary followed by a top-two runoff.

—- —- —- —-

After last year’s well-deserved rejection of the trap called “ranked choice voting,” it might seem that Massachusetts election reform has nowhere to go. Not so. There is, in my. view, one reform that might just do the job: an all-candidate, non partisan first round followed by a runoff of the top two candidates if none receives 50 percent in the preliminary. This is how they do it in Georgia, and by which voters were able to nominate, and then elect, two Democratic US senators. I would also follow on part of the Nebraska example and make membership in the two legislative bodies nonpartisan. (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature. That part I would not adopt here.)

Here is my argument :

( 1 ) Political party primaries leave a candidate defenseless against dirty tricks and smears. When Democrats unleashed a holy hell smear against Justice Kavanaugh — one that the Democratic activist base had made its top cause at that time — he had the power of a political party, the Republican, to defend him and fight back — and ultimately to defat the smear. In a party primary, the smeared candidate has no such institutional defense force. We see it in the Republican party, as well, as Congresspeople and Senators who voted to impeach or convict Mr. Trump have been censured and harassed for their vote. A no-party first round, followed by an equally no-party runoff, would detoxify the power of activist-base smear campaigns.

( 2 ) Our municipal elections here in Massachusetts are no-party runoffs. Although many Mayor campaigns become really rough, full of passion and mutual brickbat, they at least do not add the toxicity of partisan zealotry to the mix. Every voter, of whatever partisan persuasion, or none oat all, casts the same one vote on the same ballot. Furthermore, as at-large Council elections elect multiple Councillors — voters elect three, four, six, even nine — no candidate with any sense in his head smears any other because every candidate wants a voter’s second, third, eighth vote for herself.

( 3 ) Political parties are still free to organize and to make their voice heard, but such party voice is only one among a great many voices equalized in a no-party election system. As in Massachusetts both major political parties lack unity and represent only a minor portion of all our voters — 60 percent of us belong to no party — there is no policy reason why the parties should be institutionally favored over any candidate or all candidates. The small numbers enrolled in each of our two parties should not be able to enjoy easier access to a general election ballot than no-party candidates. In most party primaries, maybe 15 percent of the eligible voters — enrolled party members as well as those no-party voters who care to take a primary ballot — usually participate. This has two bad effects : first, it gives activists inordinate power over the result and thus over campaign smears; and second, it elevates candidates who spend their time within the partisan bubble as opposed to among the entire voter community which the winner will represent.

I welcoem your thoughts and suggestions.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^^ Oscar Wilde : today we all admit to the injustice of condemning his sexuality, but we have substituted for it other sexual crimes no better criminalized.

We in America are living in a time of Middle-class ascendancy. It is no easier to bear this time than it was 160 years ago, when a newly empowered class of haberdashers, cotton factory managers, and private school headmasters, in England and here in the US of A, decreed that sex was an evil and that displays of passion were contrary to limitless progress.

All around us, in the news, where Middle-class proctors enforce their rules, we see men — and it IS mostly men — ruined by vicarious accusation or having to defend themselves by resort to an equally ruesome device, party political interest. It happens now in business, in the media, in the entertainments, and, inevitably, in politics as well.

I said that the targets of this Philistinism are mostly men, but women aren’t safe from defamation. If you have violated a current rule of sex — are merely accused of it : “believe all women,” goes the justification for ruining a man — you are subject to retribution rampant. Nowhere in our law– yet — does such vengeance find sanction, and for that very reason, the lack of specification, the new Philistinism can do as it likes, say what it wants, and do so with near impunity. Thus it was in mid-19th Century England. Violation of the Rules Of Sex brought instant dismissal from polite company that could last a lifetime with no path for appeal.

We do chafe at these punishments. We feel their unfairness. We feel thus because in our heart of hearts w know that sex is not subject to laws or reason, is not an instrument of progress, is in fact the very essence of a human condition that DOES NOT CHANGE, that cannot change. As Blaise Pascal, that brilliant mathematical and philosophic mind of 17th Century France, put it, “le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ignore plus.” — “the heart has its reasons which reason always ignores.”

Merrick Garland said yesterday at his Senate confirmation hearing for the office of Attorney General, that biases and prejudices are built into the human condition., He is wrong about that — they are learned, not innate — but he would have been on firm ground had he opined thus about sex. As old as i am, I have seen much, and if there is any arena of human nature that impresses itself, it is that sex has enormous power to command us, has its own ways not easily subject to reason or to restriction. Indeed, the harder one tries to stifle the calls of sex within one, the fiercer the sex becomes to burst forth and have its way. I stand in awe of sex’s power. I dare not presume to judge the sexual life of anyone. Indeed, if there is any call for the higher authority of a God, it is for this purpose : to judge where mere mortals cannot. Yet to call in a God to these trouble is to pas the buck. Why can we not admit that we are humbled by the power of passion, that there but for grace go we ?

The age of Philistinism was set aside by the next generations, who saw that sexual passions were best left unjudged; that men and women live their life, lives that we do not live because we live our own life, not theirs; and that it was best to turn our desires for mankind’s progress to other matters than sex. Unhappily, this reformative period has now passed by as well, and we find ourselves back before it. The case of Lincoln Project’s John Weaver comes vividly to mind. He sent — so it is charged — amorous texts to young men ? Texts unwanted ? And this is now an occasion for casting a very effective political mind utterly out of polite society and his profession ? Perish forbid that a similarly insatiable sex arouse within us ! I could go on. The instances of sexual condemnation in these times aren’t hard to name.

When I was young and to college, a professor of criminal law once told our class that “you always want older people for jurors, for they have learned how to forgive.” I would advance his aphorism one step further : we who are old have learned to marvel at the perplexities of the human condition; to seek not to judge them but to be taught by them; and then when it comes to sex, we are and ought admit to being its playthings AND its beneficiaries : because sex is the very protein of life itself, of which we partake; and as its protein is within us as much as it is within us as within anyone else, we ought walk humbly upon its steps, and condemn never, for they are what we are and how the Creator made us.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Yesterday, at his confirmation hearing to the office of Attorney General, Merrick Garland was asked a basic question by Senator John Kennedy — a very astute questioner : “systemic racism — what is it ? What do you say it is ?”

Garland searched his mind for an answer, at which point Kennedy, clearly (and rightly) frustrated, asked a further : “racism./.. you say that I am a racist even though I don’t know that I am ?”

Said Garland : “bias and prejudices are in all of us. They’re part of the human condition.”

That is the conventional answer today, and Garland, once you read through his numerous Appeals Court opinions, is the very epitome of convention — of the safe answer. This may please you. It does not please me. Conventional thinking isn ‘t good enough for one who is to be a leader. One wants something more original — a man or woman who thinks for his or herself, who enlightens rather than induces a yawn.

I have no doubt that Garland will be a fine Attorney General His commitment to the rule of law is the finest, and his personal history is heroic. He is a man of some conviction, too — conventional convictions, which in the case of prosecuting the January 6thy US capitol mob, will do just fine, for in that case all of us are horrified and want full justice against the mob. Garland enjoys the profound respect of all; for almost all have known him well, and he is what everyone who knows him calls “a fine man.” Well and good.

Nonetheless, his disappointing answer to Senator Kennedy’s questions cannot pass unresponded to.

No, Judge Garland, biases and prejudices ARE NOT part of our human condition.

No baby is born with prejudices. No baby is born with biases. The very terms falsify themselves, for they are judgments made by people who assume a side in a debate of some sort, a debate about morals in which the person using these terms believes he or she is morally better than the rest of us, or that there is someone morally better than us who is monitoring our flaws. Myself, I know of no such god.

People are born learning by imitation and curiosity. As almost all are born into a family of some shape and are weaned by an adult human, we often pick up the assumptions and opinion s that that adult shows as he or she goes about waning us. Those assumptions and opinions, or even what appear to be instincts, can be almost anything. The diversity of human shticks is endless. Many of us pick up opinions which we observant consider prejudices — opinions or beliefs which we do not like. (No one calls a popular belief a prejudice. Only socially disapproved beliefs are so nouned.) Many others of us do not pick up such beliefs.

The peddlers of universal racism — a prejudice which they attribute only to ‘white’ people — “white” being a term which is OK to use as long as we are aware of its pejorative generality — want politicians to adopt their agenda, and in America right now, a sense that there is such racism in the air and that it ought be pushed back against has given rise to a reluctance by politicians as afraid of the race theorists as Republicans are of Trump to challenge the theory. B y this, Senator Kennedy is rightly annoyed. His annoyance was evident in his question. I am glad that he asked it, and I am unhappy that Judge Garland felt that an anodyne answer — one as feckless as Congressman Scalise’s answers when questioned about President Biden being legitimately elected — was necessary in order for him to be readily confirmed on other grounds.

Judge Garland says that all that matters to him is the rule of law, but he made clear in his answer to Kennedy’s question, and in other answers too, that he will be guided by President Biden’s agenda and that thinking for himself will not be his M/O. I am sorry to see it. Discussions about systemic racism, which does exist and is mostly driven by money allocations and the short-changing of communities that do not have much of it, cry out to be argued. Right now, only the race card threorists and their bigoted opponents are doing any arguing. This is not a good sign.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the Roman Republic’s Trump

The temptation is to say, of Trump (who even looks like Sulla !) that he is a second coming of William Jennings Bryan, the Plains populist who led a rural coalition of racists, religious zealots, and anti-immigrant nativists, almost to victory in 1896 and as Democratic Presidential nominee twice thereafter. I say “temptation” because much of what Bryan did, politically, Trump has done. The coalitions almost duplicate, and the issues too. Yet what is tempting to conclude cannot be concluded, because Bryan never thought to lead an insurrection to overthrow the republic. Perhaps had he been elected President, and then defeated, he might have done so ? Maybe, but history is made by facts, not speculations.

For 12 years, Bryan dominated the Democratic party. Even in 1912, Woodrow Wilson, although defeating him to become the nominee, felt it necessary to put Bryan in his cabinet. Later still, at the Scopes “monkey” trial in 1926, Bryan was lead attorney for the side that sought Mr. Scopes’s firing for teaching evolution in a Tennessee school contrary to the law there. Yet all of the above shows only that religious zealotry, nativism, and bigotry counted large all that time as voting constituencies. At no time did they command an electoral majority, much less threaten the republic. From the time of Wilkson all the way to the election of FDR, LBJ, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, as well as the election of several Republican Presidents, Bryanism never counted more than one part of a coalition which either lost presidential elections or had diminishing influence on the winner.

The same cannot be said of Trump. He was elected, as Bryan never was. He took the Bryan platform — amazing how persistent are American voting habits, interests, and policy objectives ! — all the way to the White House and made it his to-do list. For his bigotry, religion fetish, and nativism, plus his gross incompetence and brazenly criminal corruption, he was soundly defeated. Yet as the long career of Bryan shows, that pf Trump was likely even on his loss day to live on, more powerful even than in Bryan’s time for having actually elected Trump that once. Had the Trump event ended there, that is all that we would have to say : a political problem, a coalition to be defeated every time, yes; but not an existential threat.

The came the two months of refusal to concede and all that followed, leading up to Trump’s attempted coup against our democracy. The damage has been great, and it will not be un done:

( 1 ) the unthinkable, that a mob of rebels could overthrow our democracy, has now been shown doable, and by whom.

( 2 ) a politics of lies, intimidation, and cockamamie disinformation has proven effective. It will almost certainly be used again, probably often, maybe even will become the default method of politicking on the grand scale.

( 3 ) a previously undared disregard of the Constitution, even opposition to it, in favor of a rebel “1776” — which such charge bruited a lot of the violence on January 6th — has now been dared, and it will be dared again.

( 4 ) racism begets racism, and both political parties now include large constituencies which advocate a skin color assessment of people’s worth and rights. We used to call it “identity politics,” but it has now metastasized beyond politics into employment, school, social acceptance. (Curiously, the Trumpian right appears more inclusive of skin colors than the responding “anti racist” left.)

( 5 ) impeachment pursuant to the Constitution has been rendered otiose. As I have written, it was flawed from the beginning. Impeachment in Great Britain had always been used to oust APPOINTED executives, not ELECTED ones. The workable method for ousting elected officers who abuse their office is RECALL. Impeachment might perhaps have worked, but three Presidents have now been impeached, always unsuccessfully. I doubt that anyone will attempt it again.

( 6 ) Trump made disinformation his hallmark. You don’t merely lie — although he always did that — you invent stuff that did not happen, in a way that allows believers to believe it even more BECAUSE IT DID NOT HAPPEN and therefore can’t be disproved.

(Disinformation is an interesting phenomenon in Trumpism. Besides building a never land of not factuals, it serves as a code, a kind of port-manteau way of saying the racist, nativist, and fake-religious zealotry that actually fuels the people who believe and propagate disinformation. The ugly Congress member from Georgia, one Greene, exquisitely exemplifies the code way in which disinformation conveys bigotry, anti-immigrant bias, and mullah-ish religion. )

( 7 ) The calculated failure of most Congressional Republicans to slam trump to the ground, when they had the chance in 2020, and again now, institutionalizes the methods of Trump ; the disinformation, the lies, the disregard of the Constitiution, the money-grubbing sell out and, consequently, the rampant corruption, the utter nihilism. These are now accepted political methods. I doubt that for long they will be spurned by the democrats; political survival will dictate that Democrats disinform voters, lie to them, advance their own versions of bigotry, social bullying, and actual intimidation. Indeed, some Democrats are already doing these. Visit a “Justice Democrat” sometime, contemplate pejorative terms like “white privilege” or “racism unaware of being racist,” or read a screed upon “equity,” or attend the growing numbers of people being shamed or worse for not saying the right things (rtight as proclaimed by self-appointed arbiters, of course, because if lawless is the way to go, why not ?)

Just as, in Rome, the ruptures wreaked by Sulla upon the republic engendered an equally destructive response by Marius — it would be useful top reread Livy — which extra-legal rivalry led eventually to full blown civil war and the dictatorship of Augustus, which ended the republic altogether, so the institutionalization in our politics of lawless, unConstitutional Trumpism will likely lead to the end of our restrained, self-disciplining republic built upon honor, not ruthless enmities. Our honorable politicians, can, like Cicero in Rome, oppose these events; but let us remember that Cicero was eventually executed on Augustus’s orders. Honor is defenseless against armed bullies, thug gangs and coded mouths. We shall almost certainly find this out, to our utter ruin.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


President of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka speaks about his role in securing labor protections in the USMCA trade agreement in Washington

—– President of the AFL-CIO Richard Trumka —–

The headline recalls a phrase of George Orwell’s, from his Animal Farm, in which one species claims that even if all animals are created equal, some are more equal than the others.

Orwell was, of course, speaking ironically. If someone is more equal than another, there is, in fact, no equality. I am thinking, as I write this, of the assertion by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, that President Biden was wrong to stop the Keystone XL pipeline (which line would carry natural gas from Canada down to the Gulf to be shipped.). How did President Biden so quickly cancel an estimated 11,000 union labor jobs — and yes, almost all natural gas and oil work is unionized — while at the same time hesitating to ask public schools to reopen because teachers unions balk ? Is Biden a unionist or isn’t he ?

Biden has nominated Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to be his labor secretary. Walsh is a unionist from top to toe, It’s his life. How does Walsh explain, or accept, the cancellation of up to 11,000 classically union jobs ? He can’t be happy about it. Rich Trumka is one of Walsh’s sponsors for the labor job. If there’s any gap between the two men on labor issues, I haven’t sensed it. Likewise, Walsh is not instinctively a teacher union guy. As Mayor he has had to deal with a host of teacher-generated school budget and school administration issues. His support for building trades unions came much more naturally and easier in a decade of full-tilt real estatre development.

Trumka makes a good point when he says that any job creation by clean energy businesses doesn’t do anything ort the unionists losing their Keystone jobs. “These guys,” he says, “live in their community. they like their community. The clean jobs are far away.” Why should the union guys have to move 2000 miles to where the clean jobs will be, even assuming that the unionists can qualify for them ? It’s hard not to see Biden’s decisions here as purely political. The Keystone XL runs through North Dakota, a State which Biden lost by double digits, whereas teachers unions are concentrated in the cities that Biden won by double digits.

The decision is also political, purely, on policy grounds. The idea that there is a climate crisis is almost entirely a Democratic one. Most Republicans are far more skeptical. (So am I, obviously.) And the Democrats most fervent about there being a crisis in the climate are the “progressives”; for whom Bidden is an accommodation only — Bernie Sanders was the candidate most preferred. Meanwhile, the kinds of unionists whom Trumka speaks for tended to vote for Mr. Trump, both in 2016 and last year.

Trumka of course wants these unionists to come home to the Democratic party that almost all of them once supported. After all, oil workers, like their factory floor cohorts, are the AFL-CIO’s base. That base has moved away from the Democratic party, to which Trumka has long been committed. Can he win them back to the Democrats ? I wonder. It certainly won’t happen if the Democratic President makes clear that he answers to teachers unions while dismissing Trumka’s guys. Nor is the happy talk about “:millions of clean energy jobs” likely to convince Trumka’s oil workers. What sorts of jobs are they, exactly ? And where worked ? But also, why ? And why now ? One wants to say that if there is any crisis involving union workers, it’s the refusal of some school districts to re-open. Students computering from home can learn, I suppose, but they cannot interact socially, which is so so important for young people, and they lack the immediacy of a teacher and student conversation. Yet this crisis gets scant recognition from President Biden’s ate keepers, while the purveyors of weather emergencies eat his bread and drink his Pepsi right there in the Oval Office.

In the Biden Presidency’s world, some unions are more equal than others.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


House Republican Conference

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., chair of the House Republican Conference (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

—- —- —- —- —-

It is happening now, right now, and sooner than I had anticipated. Responsible Republican electeds are reclaiming the party from the spinners of nonsense and poison. In the House, Adam Kinzinger (IL16), Liz Cheney (WY), Peter Meijer (MI03), John Katko (NY24), Michael McFaul (TX), Nancy Mace (SC01), Jen Herrera Beutler (WA03), Fred Upton (MI06), and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA01), joined by several others and by former colleagues including Denver Riggleman (VA05), Barbara Comstock (VA10), and Paul Mitchell (MI10), have taken their stand against Trumpism. They haven’t won all of their battles– yet — but the 145 to 61 vote to not push Liz Cheney out of her role as Republican House Conference Leader was a very big win, especially considering that Mr. Trump made calls to Congressmen to vote her out. He lost.

If the House’s good-policy Republicans have — as yet — small numbers, no matter how aggressive their advocacy, the Senate’s anti-Trump Republicans seem an actual majority. It’s far from certain that enough Senate Republicans will vote to convict and disqualify Mr. Trump from future office, but plenty have pointedly rejected Marjorie T. Greene (GA14), the anti-Semitic, violence-addicted, conspiracy demagogue Congresswoman whose fate I shall discuss later in this column. Several have said the same about Mr. Trump himself. I’m pretty sure that five Senators — Mitt Romney (UT), Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Ben Sasse (NE), and Pat Toomey (PA) — will vote to convict. Add, maybe, another 12 to 14 : Thom Tillis (NC), Shelly Moore Capito (WV), Richard Shelby (AL), Jerry Moran (KS), Rob Portman (OH), Richard Burr (NC), Dan Sullivan (AK), Jim Imhofe (OK), Roy Blount (MO), and yes, Mitch McConnell (KY) in which case you can add in John Cornyn (TX), Chuck Grassley (IA), Roger Wicker (MS), and Mike Rounds (SD). In fact, it would almost be easier to list the Republican Senators who WON’T vote to convict than those who might.

Of journalists and observers, only Bill Kristol of The Bulwark has so far publicly recognized the new momentum on the anti-Trumpian side of Congress’s Republicans. Yet it is there. What the Trumpians are saying sounds very yesterday, fusty and old-hat, tired and predictable, as is always the case when one fights the last war. Elections are about the future, not about the past, and it is the anti-Trump advocates who are sounding a tomorrow note: in the words of Senator Sasse, “politics is about more than the weird worship of one dude.” Or, as he also said in a video directed at his State’s Republican committee leaders, “politics as a religion is not conservative. Spreading conspiracy theories is not conservative. Overturning an election isn’t conservative.”

The reclaimers aren’t only speaking out., They’re forming political action committees, crafting television ads, doing podcasts, recruiting challengers to the party’s Trumpians. (Congressman Kinzinger (IL16) was the first to form such a PAC, to raise money for the House’s anti-Trumpians.) It’s a timely thing to do. After all, power in Washington is to the Democrats. It’s one thing to talk crap when your party is in power, quite another to be an asshole when you’re out. And yes, Marjorie T. Greene — chastised by the House as a whole for her ugly harassments, bigotry and spew, shown for who she really is — can affect to laugh it off and use the big rebuke as a kind of faux martyrdom, upon which she shamelessly raises money from those who are glued to her grievance baseboard: but the rest of us can all see that she is just that : base board.

It won’t work.

Meanwhile, mainstream Republican donors, corporate and individual, are cutting the Trumpians loose. You can’t win Congress elections without lots of money. Right wing media is under a — fully justified — attack by corporations and individuals defamed during the two months of Trump election lies which they abetted and broadcast. The big Trumpy megaphone now broadcast humiliating disclaimers.

Most observers are saying that the Republican “base” continues full Trump, that the anger is not abating; that there’ll be a whole platoon of Marjorie Greene’s candidate-ing in the 2022 Republican primaries. Which might well be the case, but how many of them will win ? I doubt very many. Maybe none at all. The 2022 primary season is a year away. The issue then will be very different from what they were in November of last year. President Biden and a unified Democratic Congressional majority are moving to enact major reforms, and an almost 360 degree reversal of the Trump agenda, personnel, and methods. Most of Biden’s agenda is popular, very popular. Conspiracy theories, vote suppression, and worship of Trump won’t even dent the Biden agenda, much less reduce it to a Congressional minority.

My money is with the Adam Kinzinger – Liz Cheney — Ben Sasse — Mitt Romney — Mitch McConnell resurgents.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



The Biden administration’s COVID-19 relief bill includes a provision that raises the Federal minimum wage to $ 15/hour, to be increased in phases. We support the measure. It isn’t just a fairness matter. It is smart economics.

Here in Massachusetts we enacted a $ 15/hour minimum a few years ago. The final; phase, up to $ 15, will kick in on January 1, 2023. I argued at the time that this increase would lift hundreds of thousands of workers out of a tax credit level and into taxpayer status. The same would be true at the Federal level.

A worker earning the current Federal minimum, $ 7.25/hour, or anything close to it, can’t possibly get by without substantial, public assistance. She’s also well below the IRS tax minimum. She’s a very costly economic unit, costs borne by those who do pay taxes. Understandably, taxpayers ask, “why do I have to subsidize full time workers ?” We ask the same question.

Pay that worker $ 15/hour — or more — and she becomes a taxpayer herself, as well as no longer requiring taxpayer assistance for her basic living expenses. As a $ 15/hour earner, she pays taxes that contribute to Federal revenue, decreasing annual budget deficits. Nor is that all she now gives us.

Her increased earnings allows her to spend into the discretionary economy. Someone who earns more has more money to spend, right ? And people who earn at the $ 15/hour level do spend their money. They have to. Even at $ 15/hour, a wage earner hasn’t much left over for frippery. Yet she does have money, now, to buy things and services beyond the bare minimum : child care, a car, an occasional meal out, summer camp for the kids, new furniture and some clothes. Every dollar of that extra spending bulks up the businesses that offer these goods and services, spending that helps businesses pay the increased wages.

That’s the real thing here : substantially increased wages pay for themselves because those who earn more, spend more.

Yes, that increased spending probably doesn’t get spent equally into every kind of business. Being in business, however, means supply meeting demand. A businessman facing required wage increases has time to adjust his business to the goods and services likely to be in greater demand by workers earning more. Change Is difficult, yes, and a businessman trying to predict which sorts of goods and services will see increased demand from better paid wage earners has some market research to do, not to mention what his own experience tells him. Yet business is always a risky adventure. Its up to the business person to manage risk and keep up with economic changes.

My own opinion is that $ 15/hour is, in many States, far from enough — even higher than that in certain cities. I would hope that once a Federal $ 15/hour is in place, high-cost States would lift their minimum to $ 21/hour and even $ 24/hour. We as a society simply HAVE to value full time work, much more than we do now. It isn’t only a matter of numbers. People who work have to feel that their work is valued — that it counts and that They count, as members of our society. We should never allow full time workers to hate their job or to feel that they are chewing gum on the sole of society’s shoe. Why should a service worker be looked down on, or seen as a faceless crowd of helots, compared to professionals or financiers ? Work is work no matter what work you do. As I see it, the only reason that we look down on service workers is that they are paid very little and most of the time look it, because they haven’t time or money or self-esteem to look great or cheerful. To sum up ; there’s no social benefit at all from paying workers so little that they can’t live discretionary economic lives.

This also makes economic sense. Well-paid workers are less likely to leave that job for another, and believe me, staff turnover is hugely costly, all of it wasted, because if staff stays on the job you don ‘t have to train a new employee or to spend time and effort looking for and hiring new employees.

I am not suggesting that full time workers will likely ever earn the same as Doctors, bankers, or college administrators (though why college executive earn $ 275,000 and up is beyond me). Pay in a market economy will always range from lower to higher. I am advocating, however, that ALL actual work be resopectd and paid an amount that delivers that respect economically to the entire entire economy and honorably to ther worker earning it.

When the Biden Covid relief bill is enacted, or something like it after negotiations, I darn well hope it includes the $ 15/hour minimum wage. Let’s insist on it.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



As current Mayor Marty Walsh looks to serving as President Biden’s Secretary of Labor, Boston will be electing a new chief executive. It is fitting that this should be so. Boston in the coming four years will be a very different City from what it has been these past eight.

Myself, I am all in for Councillor Essaiabi-George. I have for some time now been looking for her to seek the Mayor’s office, were Walsh to not run, and my reasons for committing to her election remain the same. Hear me out :

As I see it, the coming phase will be one of major readjustment, as we make working from home a permanent feature and thus tone down the demand by everyone to live close to Downtown, a stampede which has overturned all the housing price expectations of everyone. KEEPING people IN Boston — making the City worth staying in — is very likely to be the major 2022-2026 challenge, as it was during the period 1960-1980. That means, above all, a school system in which Boston parents have full confidence — unlike the situation now; and Annissa Essaibi-George’s core expertise is schools. No Mayor candidate that I know of matches her mastery of this major matter. The moment is uniquely Annissa’s.

Few observers of Boston have yet published any focus on the significant change I have just evoked; I think they ought to start doing so, because working from home is here to stay, with all the changes that it imposes. Car traffic has cut down by over 50 percent — traverse the Ted Williams tunnel at rush hour now and see the difference from 2019 — which means that we no longer need focus on “congestion Pricing” or “dedicated lanes” or any of the other radical restrictions that some sought to impose. Bicycle people can now bike the City in comparative peace without annoying those of us who use cars. Problem solved.

Immigration will continue to demand the City’s constant attention, the more so now that President Biden is in office, directing an expansionist view of newcomers to America the opposite of his predecessor’s persecutions. Most immigrants will not be doing jobs that can be handled from home, which means that transportation within the City will focus even more on newcomers than it already does. As the Covid pandemic has forced the State to cut back public transportation because few riders want to risk the exposure in closed-quarters trains or buses, the next mayor will have to work out rider-van and small-bus alternatives, probably in partnership with Governor Baker and whoever succeeds Stephanie Pollock as Transportation Secretary. (My money is on Steve Poftak, a Roslindale resident, who has rebuilt much of the subway works in record time and below budget.) I should here note that Annissa is the daughter of immigrants, a father from Tunisia, a mother from Poland, who met after World War II in a displaced persons camp. The immigrant experience — and the wonderful diversity of it — is — as we say today — written into her DNA.

Housing will no longer be a matter of building umpteen zillion crapitecture apartment boxes. Already, rents have flattened — house prices too. To cite one example of this change, in 2019, apartments in Winthrop were 20 percent cheaper than those in East Boston. today, apartments in Winthrop run 20 percent MORE EXPENSIVE than similar East Boston offerings. I suspect much the same is true of West Roxbury and Hyde Park versus Dedham and Milton, or of Southie and Dorchester versus Quincy, Braintree and Weymouth. Any easing of development mania means fewer jobs for Building trades workers, many of whom live well outside the City anyway and thus less political pressure from the trades on the next mayor’s priorities.

Yet all of the above said, keeping people living in Boston begins with the City’s schools. Boston’s Schools allocation takes up over one-third of the entire City budget. Managing that budget, 85 to 87 percent of which goes to salaries, requires constant executive attention. These past seven years, since interim superintendent John McDonough was eased out, have been years of budget failure. Audits have not been done, or on time; accounts have been borrowed from to fund other accounts; supplies allocations have fallen far short; the system’s meals don’t always meet nutrition or freshness requirements; many schools have been seen, by staff, as assignments to avoid — and most of these have, unfortunately, been schools serving primarily people of color. Last, but definitely not least, a school committee entirely appointed by the Mayor has shut the school parent public out of the mix. A new school committee, at least in part elected, seems urgent.

I suspect that the above list doesn’t come close to enumerating all the problems that parents and soon to be parents see in their kids’ futures and which make moving out of the City even more attractive than it was during the previous eight years despite the urge among many to live, shop and socialize close to Downtown. I say it again : IF PARENTS AND SOON TOI BE PARENTS LACK COINFIDENCE IN THE CITY’S SCHOOLS, THEY ARE GOING TO MOVE OUT OFG THE CITY.

Annissa Essaibi-George is the right person to tackle these situations because she understands their details; profoundly well. Anyone who reads her seasonal newsletter knows her mastery of City administrative fine points as well as grand policy goals.

Then there’s her character as a leader, her operating style. To me she is a prudent yet bold elected, much in the vein of Governor Charlie Baker, who has shown us, these past six years, just how an executive leader should lead in order to deliver the most feasible good to the most voters. Annissa dismisses the comparison, telling me “I am not a Republican,” but there’s nothing Republican or Democrat about Governor Baker’s administrative diligence, nor should there be. Same for Boston’s Mayor. Our City elections are non-partisan anyway, and leadership styles are not matters of party, they work for anyone who practices them. That Essaibi-George does her job without attention-seeking vicarity or news TV drama is, to me, a major plus. The French essayist Michel de Montaigne, who in the 1570s served a term as Mayor of Bordeaux, liked to boast that during his term there was no news — and, so he wrote, as most news is of disasters, that was, he felt, a good thing. I see Annissa as Mayor following much the same principle, which in today’s lingo we call “do your job.”

I expect to join Annissa’s campaign full time as soon as she calls me to serve. Obviously I am therefore not an objective observer, and the other Mayor candidates have cases to be made as well, cases that I cannot make for them. That said, I honestly do feel, as i have written, that the times have met their applicant. The moment is truly Annissa’s.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ celebration, shine, and optimism : Veronica Robles and friends at El Planeta newspaper’s Power Meter 100 party last night

—- —- —- —-

NOTE : This column originally appeared in mid 2016. I am re-blogging it now, as is, with its 2016, Trump references unedited, because it remains crucially relevant as President Biden begins his drive to reopen the welcome doors to immigrants, who have always been the inspiration and prosperity of our nation.

Nothing in today’s cascade of negativity repels me more than the assault on immigrants. So strong is this assault that it has generated an entire Presidential campaign: that of Donald Trump, whose candidacy would not even exist, much less arrive at the GOP nomination, were it not for hatred of immigrants. Like Trump votes, the assault on immigrants rears almost everywhere. I see it even in East Boston, our city’s premier immigrant neighborhood. But it has always lurked, and often erupted, inexplicably in the nation whose very meaning is “immigrants.”

Why assaults upon immigrants and immigration occur, I can not answer. There seem to be dozens of reasons. Which of them — jobs, language, “they don’t look like us,” religion, etc., or the latest outcry, “they’re illegal !” — weighs most heavily, I have scant idea. Yet I hear them all. I always respond to posts of immigration hate. I feel a duty to do it : my own ancestors were immigrants, as were yours. An attack on immigration is an attack on YOU.

I first responded, years ago, by quoting Emma Lazarus’s poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal : the one that talks about “send me your poor, your hungry, your tired, etc., yearning to be free.” Today, every supporter of immigration quotes that poem. We should quote it. Is not the Statue of Liberty an icon of patriotism ? As much so as the flag that people drape their facebook profile photos in ? As much as The Constitution which is so often pictured, especially by people who haven’t the vaguest idea of what the Constitution is about and who, in most of their politics, oppose much of it ? I say the Statue of Liberty is the FIRST of American icons, because for over 120 years it has been the first image that most arriving people have had of the nation they have come to be part of.

True it is, that today, more people come to join us by way of the Rio Grande River valley, and the southwest’s desert, than by the Statue on Ellis Island in New York Harbor. Yet I venture that most of these, too, have the Statue’s image in their minds and hearts even if they do not the actual sculpture as they arrive. And this, they should have, because everyone who arrives in America of good will arrives to seek the better life the Statue of Liberty symbolizes.

Those who come here — who leave everything behind and, often, risk their lives to come to America do so because they believe the future will be better. They are optimists. America always was an optimistic nation; most of it still is. That optimism is the sum total of immigrants’ souls and hearts. It is the immigrant spirit in action. When Ronald Reagan, the greatest optimist of all, spoke of “America’s best days lie ahead” or “It is morning in America,” he spoke what immigrants say and so spoke for almost all of us.

To rail against immigrants, as Donald Trump does, is to rail against the nation itself. The negativity of it turns American optimism inside out : is our nation headed for disaster ? For the dustbin ? That is what opponents of immigration tell us. Some of them say it explicitly; all believe it. I have no idea why they believe it. In immigrant communities I see dynamism, invention, enterprise; I see celebration; I hear music; I feel excitement. How else can a man or woman get up at four in the morning and take a 4:45 AM bus to work, to clean toilets and empty dirty laundry hampers, in office buildings and hospitals ? To work in restaurant kitchens and as busboys; to stand outdoors on a winter day waiting to be hired for day labor ? To clean airplanes at Logan Airport ?

The immigrants who I see and hear go to these dirty, messy, sloppy jobs, or stand in the cold for hours on end, seemingly without complaint. Yet I hear anti-immigrant people say that immigration was all right 100 years ago, because there was no welfare state, but now immigration is not OK because … welfare. Where does that notion come from ? I hear it despite the unavailability of any form of welfare to people without papers or a state-issued ID. As for immigrants who have documents, if they work for $ 10/hour in a city where apartment rents run at least $ 1,600 per month, why shouldn’t they receive public assistance in order to survive ?

Those who decry welfare assistance for low-wage earning immigrants miss the point. Today’s struggling immigrant is tomorrow’s successful skilled worker and is the parent of an entrepreneur. (Immigrants start more — many more — businesses than native-borns.) We should invest some of our dollars in them !

Immigrants renew our communities and, with their languages and cultures, broaden the national menu of choices for how to live. Innovation is peculiarly an American practice ? If it is, it is so because we are immigrants.

Too many of us who were born in America, to American-born parents, have lost our way or become tired, or disillusioned, because the struggle to get ahead is to difficult in an unforgiving economy. This is real, and it exists, and we exist in it. But to give up — to turn on one another, as the Trump voters have, is no answer. You can’t give up. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going:” is a cliche, perhaps, but cliches are usually true. You can’t give up, and you can’t view your neighbor as an enemy. He or she is much more likely a friend. Especially so if he or she is an immigrant, documented or not.

We who were born here, of ancestors born here, should learn to be more like our immigrant neighbors than they should become like us. Our community, city, state and nation would be much the better for it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^^ Senator Hawley clenches his fist : the latest in a long line of political American charlatans

The type does not change. Loud voices, rebellion played at, quack medicine salesmen, faux Declarations, victim fixation, cosplay Minute Men: only the stability of America allows these crinky carnivalians to clown a petty anarchy without generating actual apocalypse. But they are careless too, and on January 6th, apocalypse, usually a mere breath stink, came close to actual disaster…

Today I shall opine about the almost mythic stability of American life, its resistance to betterment, its insistence on flim flam, its political stasis. Hear me out “:

Politicians love to extol what they call “American exceptionalism.” We are the only nation, they declare, founded on an ideal and open to all, the only nation not built upon one tribe, one language, one home ground, the only nation built all by immigrants. (Black Americans are mostly the descendants of captives kidnapped to here, but of course they too originate from elsewhere and thus fit the immgration situation.)

These declarations are true, as far as they go, yet they surely do not tell us the whole story. The most exceptional thing about America is its social and political stability.

Take as an example the current insurgency by the national Republican party (most of it) against the Constitution, in favor of a libertine, Declaration of Independence idea of freedom — a rebellion with no end game — freedom free of civic duty, freedom for its own irresponsible sake. When these freedom addicts and religion fetishists aren’t smoking conspiracy hash, they talk of “defending the Constitution” — when in fact they despise it — the actual Constitution expressly forbids religious tests for holding office – and want it gone, replaced by what some call a “Christian Constitution,” whatever that may be, whereas others of them want no part of the Constitution’s guarantees of rights to all; rights which, in these Republicans’ minds come at the price of Federal control of most of public life.

So saying, these republicans mirror the arguments made by those who OPPOSED ratification of the Constitution at the 1787 ratification conventions. What is more, these anti-Federalists represent the same sort of constituencies — rural, self-reliant, gun-toting, what the late Albert Murray called “the backwoodsman archtype” — that voiced anti-Constitution views at that time.

Only an almost unshakable stability could assure that in 2021, arguments made in 1787 would still import an outdated urgency, or that they would be made by the same sorts of interests. I can’t think of any European nation whose 1787 issues have not long since disappeared. The Stuarts no longer trouble England, the Bourbons have long since faded from France’s politics, and both the Holy Roman Empire and Bismarckian Germany have shrunk to the history books ( as has Naziism). Italy is no longer rent by twenty rivalling city states; Spain has long since buried the Spanish Inquisition. No European nation has engaged in wars of religion since the late 1600s. Yet here in America, the politics of religious fascism retains — or, more accurately, has returned to — a metastisized lump of its full 17th Century force.

The rejection that now dominates the Republican party isn’t new. Colonial America was governed by authoritarians who ruled by, or claimed, divine right as agents of the King. Many were corrupt. All were patronage appointees, loyal to the Crown, indifferent to their colonial subjects. Mr. Trump would have been right at home amonmg thnem.

We may recall the famous case of John Peter Zenger, a printer/newsman in New York City who, in the 1730s, was arrested for printing true stories of the lawless methods of New York’s Governor. That Governor forced the disbarment of Zenger’s attorneys and was only come-upped when colonial America’ s most prominent lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, took up his case. Zenger’s case was far from unique, and it could easily be happening now, as fearless journalists are harrasssed, fired, threatened with death, assaulted by mobs right and left, for reporting what is actually happening.

Yet one need not harken to colonial America to see the persistence of political religion. The William Jennings Bryan coalition of 1896 was aggressively evangelical, anti-Catholic, rural (and racially segregationist as well.) Geographically, Jennings’s following duplicated almost exactly the Southern and Midwest coalition that Stephen Douglas had led before the Civil War; and almost the same State grouping is now the Republican-voting strongholds. I know of no nation in Europe whose 1896 vote patterns recur today, much less those of the 1850s.

This is a remarkable stability. It has survived Civil War, ratification, immigration by millions, wars, depression, and the Civil Rights revolution, all of which did away with slavery and legal separation but seems not to have even dinged the body of American politics. In this we are indeed exceptional, but we should not take pride in a stability which seems unable to resolve the negatives that attend upon a Constitution which was narrowly approved and continues to be a bane to so many who shamefully claim to act in its name but cannot — will not — embrace the deal that it makes between centrally governed prosperity and locally treasured opt-outs; between immigration as a fundamental and fear of immigrants equally fundamental; between equality for all and a dislike of the equity remedies that ensure it; between voting rights and the partisan divides which full voting rights recruit.

Their antecedents were enemies of the Constitution in 1787, and they themselves are enemies of it now.

We live with the unchanging even as we think we are changing. Changing, we are NOT. I am thinking that we CANNOT.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere