^ how to resolve the state’s traffic and transportation riddles without surrendering people’s freedoms or unbalancing tax allocations : Governor Baker confronts Massachusetts’s most intractable public policy problem

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Whether he likes it or not, Governor Baker is now Massachusetts’s “transportation governor.” Of the many problems facing our Governor, many of them challenging and even intractable for any government, the state’s transportation situation surely ranks high. Higher than the opioid addiction epidemic ? Affordable housing ? Schools performance ? Possibly. Certainly in political terms, transportation comes first. Not necessarily with the voters — at the door, in the campaigns that I am working, schools challenges get many, many more mentions than transportation issues — but with activists and executives as well as most media, the state’s traffic congestion has take the top spot. Which means that it must take first place with Governor Baker as well.

It’s an obstacle to us all and to him. No transportation fix can be quick. Roads and bridges can’t just be closed down for repairs. Nor can the T or commuter rail. They must all be fixed while being used — a riddle that no Governor can resolve. Which means that fixes will linger and last and hang around even as they’re being fixed. Baker sets the year 2032 as the target date for bringing the T and commuter rail fully into the 21st Century — signals and track, trains and cars, electrification, service expansion, greater frequency of trains and T cars, you name it.

The Governor’s recent submission to the legislature of an $ 18 billion bond bill announces his acceptance of a long term commitment — well beyond his term ending in 2022 —  to the transportation challenge. Today the Boston Globe reports two additional Baker proposals : ( 1 ) creating opt-in, toll-paying lanes on some of the state’s major roads and ( 2 ) including buses in the opt-in lane. I am skeptical of set asides that set one form of transportation apart from another, and I most definitely do not want the opt-in tolls to b e diverted to the MBTA / commuter rail budget — tolls charged to users of roads and bridges should be used for roads and bridges. Still, if we are to have dedicated lanes, and it seems that we can’t avoid it, then the Governor’s plan is  a workable one. You want to escape traffic ? Pay for it. You want buses to arrive on time and to not take forever to make a trip ? Let buses use dedicated highways lanes.

You can read the Governor’s press conference on this proposal here :

Critics of Baker’s suggestions say ( 1 ) that opt-in lanes favor those who can afford it, and secondly, that the way to price traffic is to charge drivers a surcharge for driving in peak traffic hours. My response is, first, that so what if opt-in lanes earmark those who can afford it ? Getting them and T buses off the rest of the highway frees up traffic on both the opt-in lane and the rest of the highway. Second, I agree with the Governor that surcharging those who drive in peak traffic hours penalizes people who have no other good option. To which some critics respond that congestion pricing will push drivers to forgo cars and use the T. My response : first, government has no business pressuring people to use one form of transportation over another and second, the T goes where it wants to go, not necessarily where you want to go, and it goes there when it wants to, not necessarily when you want to. The T is a controlled environment, and most people prefer to be their own control, which is why we use cars, not controlled transport.

I think that Governor Baker gets what I am saying; that he has no intention of pushing free people into an unfree environment for the sake of transportation rationales. The T and commuter rail must serve us : we do not serve it and should not be made to serve it. Fixing the T and the commuter rail, and applying highway lanes more skillfully than the current method, cannot be rushed, cannot be excuses for changing our tax system or reallocating our tax allocations. The city “progressives” who want the traffic challenge to be their entry into a state of higher taxation and controlled movement cannot be allowed to stampede us, nor to fool us by their street theater of emergency. Alleviating metro Boston’s traffic density can NOT be hurried, MUST not be hurried, nor should it engender “temporary” taxes and other crisis suspensions of regular order. Patience here is not only required, it is wiser than you may think. In patience come suggestions that might actually pass muster with the voters rather than rushing into places much to be regretted later.

Nor is metro Boston’s traffic density likely to recede any time soon. It results from the new urban prosperity that has transformed Boston from an empty downtown surrounded by ethnic residencies to an international entrepot of enterprise, social life, community, shopping, and fun. Immigrants are making money here, young tekkies are inventing new devices and interfaces, businesses that serve them are prospering, and everybody wants to be part of it. Our big problem is that wages have lagged the rest of the boom, prices especially. Traffic and T antiquity impose time burdens on those who want to get around, but the burdens exist because the City is alive, dynamic, cool. Hopefully, if we make good decisions, it will remain alive, dynamic, and cool — and a bastion of liberty, not control by others.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Tim Flynn

^ the coming man in Salem city politics : Ward Four City Councilor Tim Flynn

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About once a year I feel the need to write about the politics of Salem, a city of some note in American history and which also happens to be my Father’s home and that of his family before him. This year, however, I may write not only this column, for the hotly contested city Council elections under way in Salem signal significant change.

For the past 14 years, the city has been directed basically by one person, its powerful and very hands-on Mayor, Kim Driscoll. Now in her fourth term, “Mayor Kim” has overseen enormous development of Salem’s downtown and of its waterfront (and adjacent streets). Almost an entire new city has been built: now busily peopled with tons of tourists who come not only to see where Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter or to visit the various points associated with the witchcraft accused of 1692. Kim Driscoll’s Salem features a dozen or more fine dining restaurants, European-style terrace bistros, bric a brac shops, banks and investment letter offices, and the vastly expanded Peabody-Essex Museum and its smaller sister, the Essex Institute, wherein as a kid I browsed the family records and gossip chronicles of Salem’s past. Into this trove of memories and garden of impulse purchases come those thousands — tens of thousands — of visitors who I mentioned. Some even come to live. Driscoll’s Salem has draw into it more newcomers in 20 years than chose Salem in the previous 60. By all measures, Driscoll’s Mayoral record is one of growth and triumph, of rebirth and more for a city which even 25 years ago smelled as dead as it looked.

In 2017 Driscoll won another term by better than two to one, against fierce competition supported by much of the city’s pre-Driscoll establishment. Long-term residents conspicuously set the tone of an opposition whose message was “no more of this, we’re going too far.” Driscoll’s decisive win seemed to close forever the power hopes of those who had set the city’s pace and direction in the decades before her.

It now looks that I was wrong, very wrong to assume so. There are 11 candidates seeking the city’s four at-large Council seats, and several of them represent long-term Salem, the very Salem which got electorally crushed in 2017, but newly led. Then, and for years before, the opposition leaders featured Paul Prevey, Steve Pinto, Todd Siegel, Elaine Milo, Steve Lovely, Jerry Ryan, Lenny O’Leary, Kevin Harvey, and Arthur Sargent — all of them City Councillors or former. This time most of the names one hears most are new to the scene or of recent arrival : Belle Steadman, Jennifer Brown, Melissa Faulkner, Bob Camire, and, above all, Tim Flynn, a City of Salem Fire Department lieutenant who was first elected as Ward Four’s Councillor in 2017.

Flynn’s win was noteworthy, as was Ward Four’s vote generally. On the ballot in 2017 was the question whether Salem should be a “sanctuary city,” proclaiming its refusal to assist Federal immigration officers seeking to arrest persons illegally resident. The question was voted Yes by about 58 percent to 42: Flynn’s Ward was the only one in the City to vote No.

The Sanctuary City ballot question divided the city as intensely as any political issue had done in my entire lifetime observing Salem politics. It created ideological factions within the city. Barely two years prior to this vote Salem had unified, without any controversy at all, as a “no place for hate” community, featuring then well-loved drag queen “Gigi” Gill as its symbol of unity and peace; now the city found itself riven, more or less along lines of long-term residents versus newcomers. (There were of course plenty of long-term residents voting Yes on the ballot question, as did I; but there were very few, if any, newcomers voting the No side.)

Flynn was a strong advocate of No. That fight is over, and he never now mentions it. But he has gathered into his camp all the No” activists — who were, mostly, opposed to Dtiscoll as well — and has outreached to support candidates running city-wide, well beyond his ward, who now look to him as their leader. Being a city firefighter, born in Salem, and in complete charge, politically, of his own Ward — a ward which has, historically, sent major city leaders to the Council — he seems stronger than Paul Prevey, a former Ward Six councillor, ever was — and his timing is excellent, for the current sentiment one hears a lot in Salem is that development has reached maximum benefit and henceforth a new direction is needed.

This is not to say that the Sanctuary City activists — “progressives” —  and the catalysts of downtown innovation, have lost their mojo. Far from it. They too have a slate of Council candidates — Alice Merkl, Jeff Cohen (who ran in 2017), Ty Hapworth. All three impress me. Each would be a diligent City Councillor. It also appears that Conrad Prosniewski may become a “no place for hate” candidate. Even if not, he’s a formidable candidate, known by all from his years serving as Salem Police’s community outreach officer. The problem with the “progressive” side is that they’re fighting 2017’s battles still. They’re the candidates of no change, of “give our side another term doing what we do.”

Affordable housing has become the issue of the day. The “wait a minute !” team wants less development, Mayor Kim wants passage of Governor Baker’s Zoning reform so that the City can approve more of it. But will any potential development be affordable ? The record in Boston suggest that every affordability measure does not really work, in fact may aggravate the situation. The progressives believe in residential affordability, and Mayor Kim is obsessed with it, but as I just noted, no one has a good or workable answer. As a result, the election may turn not on the issue but on a simple feeling that new faces and new voices should be elected.

This is not to say that the Flynnites do not have an agenda. They do. What they want is for Salem politics to detach from the national madness and become basic again : keep water rates low, use every tax dollar wisely, involve the long-term residents in every decision, take care of city workers, slow down the planning and developing process. Flynn is also skeptical of Mayor Driscoll’s “temporary” bike and scooter lane program for some of Salem’s main streets, a skepticism which I share: government shouldn’t be favoring one form of transportation at the expense of another.

The Flynnites not only have an agenda, they seem to have brought to their side Councillor Domingo Dominguez, leader of Salem’s Hispanic community, who finished first in the 2017 at large Council race and could well do so again. Dominguez is an old-school politician who believes in helping people and is effective doing it. In 2017 he befriended both sides. The “progressives” seem not to have liked that, and Dominguez this time has thrown in his lot more or less with Team Flynn. Salem’s Hispanic vote is small, at most five per cent, but five percent matters quite a bit, and having the city’s most visible immigrant community on your side is  a powerful way to sway the votes of people who may be skeptical of the Flynnites because of their 2017 opposition to the Sanctuary City question.

Of course only pundits are likely to see the Salem election in the light I have cast upon it. Most voters will do what voters have always done : vote for the candidates they know personally and like, for character, experience, and campaign diligence. Most voters do not live and breathe ideology, thank goodness; and at the City Council level, it’s much more usual for an election to be decided on personalities than agendas. That said, I do sense that many, many voters, the Salem-born in particular, want a return to “small ball” elections. (I think the same feeling may well govern next year’s national election, which is why Joe Biden looks so likely to win it all.)

So — who will be the four at-large winners ? It’s not easy to tell. The field of eleven is a very strong one. My own guess is that Domingo Dominguez, Arthur Sargent, George McCabe (a former Councillor and son of a former Councillor as well), and Elaine Milo will be hard to beat, with Alice Merkl coming fifth, then Belle Steadman, Conrad Prosniewsi, Jeff Cohen, Ty Hapworth, Gary Gill, and Melissa Faulkner, in that order. Yet I could just as easily be wrong. It would not shock me to see Steadman win, or Prosniewski. Alice Merkl ran for Register of Deeds last year; she has some name recognition from that race,m and this year she’s running one of the most diligent and imaginative Council campaigns. In a less strong field, she’d win comfortably. Jeff Cohen finished eighth last time; can he move up to fourth ? Not out of the question, though he may this time be on the wrong team. The same is true of Gary Gill. Ty Hapworth and Melissa Faulkner depend on slate voting by their respective sides. Their day is likely to be in the future, not now.

AS for my own votes, I wish I could vote for them all. I like them all. All do credit to the city. There isn’t a nuisance candidate among them — and in past Salem elections there have been nuisance candidates and less. I know which four I’m going to vote for, and I hate having to disappoint seven. I’m not telling you who my four are. Very likely you have a different four in mind, and in no case would you be making a mistake.

I do hope, however, that you will vote for at least one Council candidate from the “wait a minute,” Tim Flynn side. The City needs to embrace its long term residents and multi-generational Salemites in a way that it has neglected to do these past two decades.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Mueller Trump

^ Two Republicans : one from the era of reform, one from the era of losing

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Today, with very few exceptions, the national Republican party is all but dead. Yes, numbers of living people call themselves Republican, but a name is more than the sounds that come out of one’s mouth when speaking it. What we call the national Republican party now is a negative thing, a subtraction, not an addition.

The Republican party was formed in America in the 1850s to be an American political party pursuing American ideals; and so it remained, generally, for the next 130 years at least. Republican electeds initiated great reform legislation and saw them to enactment : the Land grant College Act, the Homestead Act, anti-trust laws, the Interstate Commerce Commission (which regulated railroad rates so as not to bankrupt farmers), and even labor legislation : the Norris-LaGuardia Anti-Injunction Act gave labor the right to picket as a tool for organizing and bargaining with employers. Republicans saw the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments presented and ratified. Republicans supported the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, even if by then a large part of the party were opposed. Republican-appointed Judges and Justices enforced those civil rights acts and, earlier, gave us the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision that ended legal segregation in schools and public accommodations. Republican-appointed Justices like the two John Marshall Harlans, Wiliam Brennan, and Oliver Wendell Holmes led the Supreme Court into the modern era of Constitutional rights. As late as the 1970s, Republican reformers like Nelson Rockefeller, Ed Brooke, Jacob Javits, and Clifford Case effected important reforms in Federal housing policy. Republicans enacted the Clean Air Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1991. It was a fearless heritage of idealism in action on the practical level.

But that Republican party is no more. Less than 30 years — just one generation — after President Bush 41 signed the AWDA into law, the Republican party has become the enemy of reform and, indeed, of the nation’s ideals themselves. We see it every hour : the cruelty of Mr. Trump, the corruption, the ignorance. We see Mr. Trump degrading LGBT people, immigrants, and people of color expressly othering them all and calling for them to “go back where you came from” — the exact opposite of what America calls upon people to do : come here, from wherever you came from, just come and be part of us.

We see this, and we see almost every national elected Republican go along or even endorse it all.

We see Mr. Trump condone and even applaud direct Russian manipulation of our elections, and we see nothing counter except for a few elected Republicans,. most of them not running for re-election .

Those who are classic Republican — economically conservative, jealous of our national est interests, and embracing the national mission, including welcoming all immigrants of god will — have had to quit the party, as Congressman Justin Amash has done. Joe Scarborough, Max Boot, George Will, Jennifer Rubin, Ana Navarro, and dozens of state legislators.

Yes, Republicans of reform persuasion still find place in the states, which, thanks to the localizing checks written into our Constitutional system, continue to elect reformist Republican Governors and a few such legislators. How long this sort of Republican can continue to exist is unclear.

The destruction of the Republican party begins in 1957, when Lyndon Johnson, as senate majority leader, got the Democratic-controlled Senate to enact a Civil Rights Act which, however, token, predicted the coalition which would, eight years alter, enact Civil Rights Acts that truly mattered. The 1957 act split the Republican party and gave the Democrats the Civil Rights initiative. By 1965, that year’s civil rights acts were passed with bipartisan majorities, but though they split the Democratic party, anti-Civil Rights Democrats who became Republicans confirmed the direction of the times : the Democratic party would now be the party of rights reform, the Republican party its opponent : a complete reversal of 100 years of political custom.

The more anti-Civil Rights Democrats who became Republican, the more they weakened the party, now torn free of its roots and traditions and in the Congressional minority to boot. As such, the Republican party more and more became home to the losers in the many reform fights of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. When, in the 1980s, Evangelical Christians — losers in the battle to secure women’s rights to abortion — began to organize within the Republican party, its status as the nation’s losing side party became destiny.

A party of losers is a party of grievance. It’s a party of negatives. And pretty soon a party of losers forgets the actual loss that brought them a loser frame of mind; and they begin to view everything political that is happening as directed at them, so that when it enacts, they are somehow defeated by it, no matter what sort of law is being enacted. Thus, when the Bush ’43 administration opened its major anti-AIDS initiative, somehow that was a loss for Republicans. And when Ronald Reagan, and then Bush ’43, oversaw immigration reforms, these too were somehow loss for the loser mindset. When war hero John McCain became the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, this too was, in the loser mindset, a loss to be complained of. Yet again when Mitt Romney became the 2012 nominee : another loss for those whose political identity was “in all battles, the loser.”

But losers eventually tire of being outnumbered by winners. They want the politics of losing to become the majority. By 2016 it wasn’t enough for candidates to embrace the Evangelical platform to make the nation’s public law conform to Evangelical writ. That was nice, but it wasn’t the truth. The truth was LOSING. Losing as an attitude, losing as a policy, losing as a statement of purpose of identity. For the plurality of Republicans who voted for Mr Trump, the tipping point was his loser attitude, his loser language, his loser opinions. Everything that had won in America, he spat upon. Everyone who was respected in America, he degraded. And if the committed Evangelicals resisted — supported Ted Cruz — well, Mr. Trump turned upon his own loser platform and embraced theirs: and why not ? The evangelical platform had also lost, and though it seemed paradoxical to depend upon a loser to get the laws that they wanted, they could see which way the political wind was blowing : losers of the world, unite !

Had Mr. Trump lost the 2016 election, the Republican party might have turned from its 25 years of loser attitude and loser policy. (I say MIGHT have. It also might have not.) But the election went Mr. Trump’s way, and this gave to a loser party the one gift it cannot achieve by itself : power.  All of the terrible things that have happened politically since January 20, 2017 owe their existence to the anomaly of a party of losers having winners’ power. What does someone do with power who never expects to have it and whose entire mindset is dedicated to despising everyone and every principle that has defeated them, and to keeping themselves in the loser position ?

We are seeing the answer to that question now. A policy of against. Everything you have lost to must go. Everything that you felt you had lost to, even though you didn’t lose at all from it, that too must go, because you felt that you had lost to it. If LGBT people secure the right to love who they want to and live as they want to, well, that is a loss for those who find every change a personal loss. If some categories of undocumented immigrants secure permission to reside in the nation, well that too is a loss. Because immigrants ARE America. And the more American an idea, the more that a professional loser dislikes it.

The loser in power invents all sorts of losses to feed his or her appetite for loser-hood.

People watch this orgy of losing causes embraced and say “there must be a bottom.” There IS NO bottom. Neo-nazis, the KKK, “go back where you came from,” anti-Semitism, harassing Black people who are just living life, scrawling graffiti on Synagogue walls — all of it becomes a revelation to the loser as he or she realizes that you can actually be a hero to the “loser community” by being a punk.

(So far actual violence seems off limits, but how long will that last taboo on loser-hood last ? Charlottesville doesn’t exactly give one comfort that violence isn’t the next phase of losers embracing being loser heroes, loser martyrs even.

And one further step down the road to negation : an entire species of attention-getter has blown up on cable Tv and in social media, dedicated to saying and publishing outrageous, disgusting, loser’s shit — punk’s, jerk’s, liar’s, con gamer’s shit — because it gets them attention (from fellow losers but also from the shocked rest of us, who cannot believe the stuff these attention addicts say) and thus advertising dollars which makes them rich.  The money being real, there’s a veritable swarm of liars competing to become “influencers” — Laura Loomers, Milo Yannopouloses, Tomi Lhrens, Jacob Wohls, Mike Cernoviches, Jack Posobiecs, Pam Gellers, what have you — and thus the nation today is smothered in every sort of broadcast pollution, the stepchildren of supermarket tabloid sensationalism which purports to be political punditry but is nothing more than the monetarization of the loser attitude and loser policy which Mr. Trump’s victory has given a momentary currency.

Of course it cannot last. Negation is its own destroyer, and soon enough the torrent of negation will swallow itself as a black hole swallows gases and masticates particles that get near to it. Thus we see the Republican party turn on itself, devouring its own body, as Mr. Trump, the President of losing, attacks a Republican of the old reform type, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, and is joined in said attack by losers for losing’s sake.

You cannot build a political party on negation, only destroy it. Most people believe in their lives. Most people want to succeed, not to lose. Most people believe that they will succeed and should succeed and that losing is a ditch in which one should never wallow. Confidence and success will win out; it always does. And confidence is the foundation of political achievement. Which fact is no comfort to a Republican party completely trapped in the black hole of losing, a hole that material people know to avoid at all costs.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




Biden and Mccain

^ decades of friendship, compromise, and meeting of minds : always better than an overnight solution

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We will defeat Mr. Trump. All we have to do is vote. We have the numbers, he doesn’t. We have them even in the states that he needs to get to 270 electoral votes. He is underwater, with the voters, in almost every state where the outcome is not assured. He is down in Michigan, down in Pennsylvania, down in North Carolina and Arizona. He is down even in Texas, down in Iowa, down in Georgia. He could well by landslided out. All we have to do is vote.

The defeat of Mr. Trump is not by any means the 2020 election’s chief challenge. The factor that engages me — troubles me — is that a cutting edge of those who are working to defeat him seeks to go as far in the opposite direction as Mr. Trump has taken the nation in his direction. How that edge is not worrisome for people escapes me.

If Mr. Trump’s radicalism is dangerous, and undesirable, why would radicalism of the opposite sort not be dangerous and worrisome ? If it is bad to call mainstream journalism “fake news” and “:the enemy of the people,” why is it not equally bad to censor journalism or hound and harass speakers of unpopular opinions ? If unbridled corporate speculations are bad as greedy and short-sighted, why are not price controls and regulation of management not equally bad, as stifling initiative ? If Presidential executive orders (“E/O’s’) are bad when Mr. Trump tries them, why are they not equally bad when Democratic candidates propose E/O’s of their own ?

To defeat Mr. Trump, we must vote the Democrats in. This is not without risk. When I hear Democratic candidates talking about how we’re in “an emergency,” I think about all the rules that govern most emergency situations : hurry, dispatch, doing away with procedural safeguards, rush to judgement. Emergency politics opens the door to — encourages — rash acts, prejudicial orders, the creation of enemies to be done away with. Think 1789 to 1794 in France. Think 1917-1939 in Russia. Every totalitarian tyranny talks of facing emergency situations and of the drastic acts it must adopt in order to meet said emergency. Who decides if the stated emergency actually exists ? Usually the person or people who decide that end up judge, jury and executioner.

Agreed, that the Trump administration has created many situations that some might justly call a crisis : detention of asylum seekers at the southern border, abolition of climate science, demonization of LGBT people, attacks upon women’s health rights, disdain for our alliances, indifference to Russian and Chinese attacks on our cyber existence. All of these acts need to be rolled back and much fairer, wiser, more tolerant governance and diplomacy installed in their place. What should NOT be allowed to happen is the substitution of equally repressive alternatives. This sort of substitution begins with prejudicial slogans and pre-decided arguments. A depressing example is the phrase “believe the women” or “believe survivors.” First of all, I don’t believe women any more than I believe men. I believe facts and only facts. Second, in order to be a survivor you have to have survived something; but the existence of that something must be established first; otherwise you are not a survivor, just a claimant. Nor does the Presidency of Mr Trump override these basics. If anything, the presidency of Mr. Trump makes adherence to process and ascertainment more vital than ever. Verification as a standard of justice,m rather than accusation, becomes more important as the desire to accuse becomes more insistent.

Insistence has nothing whatsoever to do with fact finding.

Times of emergency call for more skepticism — more patience, more circumspection — than ordinary times.

Cold water should equally be thrown upon heated assertions of identity. Just because Mr. Trump and his cult say that brown people are bad does not mean that brown people are good. The good or bad of a person has nothing to do with their skin color, nor their national origin, nor their sexual attributes, nor their biology. The present tendency, among people boiled by social media, to cook up racial criteria of goodness is a misuse of moral fire and customary cookware. Cooled off, the meal of personal worth tastes much better, as we realize that every person is a child of God. There is no racial, national, or sexual qualifier in Rabbi Hillel’s great precept “whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to your fellow.”

So there it is, my political friends: calm down. Do your job. Organize, canvass, vote. Send Mr. trump back to the ghost world whence his sort arose. But do not put in his place an opposite species of ghost, equally bladed, blindly sure, touchlessly harsh, Philistine and censorious, illiberally tolerant, violent about violence, fervently generous with other people’s money — despising compromise because, after all, why not have it all, and now ? — and demanding overnight solutions to every problem that confounds entire generations. Be slow to the front lines, late to the party, derelict in hasty duties. Be patient: those who went before you did not change there world very much, and neither will you. Be satisfied with small wins gained on the margins. The most radical changes arise from war. And war is the stupidest, most destructive, unprogressive fact of all the miserable facts that human beings create in our dreadfully imperfect attempts at a better and more just world.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^^ at the door : District Eight’s Jen Nassour

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There exists, in this year’s City Council race, a curious disconnect between what the candidates are saying to the voters and what the voters are telling the candidates. Perhaps I should say “most of” the candidates, not all. Some candidates actually give voice, or try to give voice, to what the voters are saying when one meets them at the door.

I have door knocked with two candidates this year, in Districts Five and Eight, and I have canvassed a little bit for an at-Large Council candidate. I’ve probably knocked on 5,000 doors. That’s a fairly respectable number, I think, whence to generalize. Here’s what the voters are saying :

The number one issue is the unacceptable condition of Boston’s schools : the potluck assignment system, which sends kids all over the city and, if you’re not lucky, to a choice of school you’d rather not agree to; the physical plant of many schools, in poor condition, or with outmoded,. ineffective ventilation or heating systems; the lack of classroom supplies. Some express concern that the exam school tests will be weakened. Hundreds of voters have expressed to the candidate I’m walking with — expressed in detail and at length, sometimes ten minutes of talk — their dissatisfactions and, in many cases, their desire to leave the city, if they have to — if their child doesn’t make one of the exams chools —  to assure their kids an acceptable school system.

Number two issue is a potpourri of very, VERY local matters : trash pickups that don’t get picked up; one way street requests; speeding traffic; sewers in need of cleaning; noisy neighbors at three in the morning.

Number three is development. Almost everybody who mentions development agrees that it’s good for the neighborhood, but few like the process of zoning variances overriding the zoning laws, and nobody likes proposals that build right to the property line, or build too high, or both. Along with development comes the matter of affordability, for which few voters feel they can offer any solution. (Nor do the candidates have one that actually works.)

Number four are the many, many voters who tell the candidate that they’re quite OK with how things are going and don’t really have any neighborhood concerns at all. They are glad, however, to have a neighborhood Councillor — and a District Councillor is that — whose office they can call upon if need be.

A few voters raise transportation issues. What are these ? Increased cross-town bus service; parking at Forest Hills T hub; too much bike laneage; out of towners parking on the neighborhood streets.

Overriding all of the above, the voters who we meet and talk to want to be listened to, want to be recognized, want to feel that their Councillor values their vote and their opinion.

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Given all the noise and the drama going on in the political arena as it plays to the social media audience, what I’ve written may read impossibly out of touch, seem naively pollyanna, look mundanely obvious — and not news at all. So be it. The voters of Boston get up in the morning, go to work, or take care of the kids, come home, eat dinner, watch a little TV or take the kids into the backyard to play, or walk the dog, perhaps paint the fence or fix a bathroom sink, have a night out at the local trendy bistro. If they’re elderly, they may stay at home — many do not — be visited by a social service provider, or go to a senior center for socializing and a meal. Mirror er, this is true regardless of their last name, or skin color or other personal attribute.

Pretty mundane, right ? Naive maybe ? Not news at all.

The voters do not breathe politics, do not eat wedge issues, shrug the protests they see on the evening news. Activism, for them, means Main Streets, or the local Art Association, or the Garden Club, or the Library committee — and of course caring for the local park. (Park people are passionate about the park whose well-being they’ve adopted.) Or it means the neighborhood crime watch, or the Farmers’ market, or Porchfest. In East Boston, where I have my base, activism also means caring for the Harbor, or confronting it, transporting over it, finding ways to channel it; and showing love to Constitution Beach.

Small stuff, mundane, not news at all.

You would think, given what the voters I have listened to are saying — the voters whose concerns and lives I have written about — that Council candidates would be talking about these matters, humble and small; about school improvement; about the City’s traffic policies. No such luck. Most of the candidates whose literature I’ve read talk a whole other world of words. They write big words, fancy terminology, loaded phrases, slogans. You would think they were running for  Congress.

What I do NOT hear at the door : “social justice” ; “environmental justice”; “transportation equity” or “sustainable mobility.” (Who invents these terms ?) Nor does anyone say we should impose the $ 25.00 resident parking fee that one Councillor suggests.. (I do hear people who think this fee is crazy.)  I don’t hear calls for increasing taxes. I don’t hear anyone say “I’m tired of voting for old white men.” Only one person, of the 2,500 or so that I have listened to, has mentioned an immigration matter. A few people — not many — grumble about “the progressives.” A few say they’re sick of politics and all the yelling and insulting. All such complaints don’t amount to more than one percent of the voters I have met.

Yet these are subjects focused by many of this year’s candidates. You’d think they were running for Congress.

I have news for you if you’re a Council candidates : The big bad, evil Trump doesn’t live in Boston, he’s not the Mayor, he isn’t a kind of “Kilroy was here,” a schmoo lurking in every shadow ready to pounce upon you and say “boo !” When you run for a seat on the City Council, you’re not marching to do battle with President Kilroy. You are sitting down: to pore over the City budget, to make a phone call to the DPW to fix a street light, to host a constituents’ coffee hour, to attend a neighborhood abutters’ meeting, to moderate a dispute about where to put the proposed Roxbury Prep school.

The voters of Boston want Council candidates who will do the detail work, who will address the many, many BPS deficiencies and waste of millions of dollars. They want Councillors who will guide the development process going forward. They want candidates who will support the Boston Police in their dangerous work. They want their tax dollars used effectively and not heaped upon failure. They want District Councillors who will be just that : Councillors for the District, for the neighborhoods within it.

When we set up Council Districts 38 years ago, the whole idea was to give a voice at the table to the NEIGHBORHOODS. The District Councillor was to bring his or her unique neighborhood viewpoint into policy discussions. The City already had at-Large Councillors whose brief  was to represent city-wide issues, big issues (but still City issues, not issues for Congress) What had been missing, in City policy talks, was recognition that its neighborhoods had character all their own and that that character needed to have its voice written into the City charter.

We cannot overcome the Congress-campaign agenda so many Council candidates are spieling at us unless we have a competing agenda that rings true, that speaks the actual voice of the actual voters. That agenda is NEIGHBORHOOD.

It is a politics of SMALL. Of HUMBLE. A politics in which facts on the ground override will o’ the wisps and wake up to the mistakes that neither the administrators nor the Congress wanna-be’s care to talk about. (This is especially true of the City’s $ 1.27 billion schools budget and its misplaced priorities.) It is, and has to be, a politics of community, of unique community: because why else even have District Councillors ? And it has to be, at the City-wide Council level, a politics of congregation, in which the various communities of Boston pool their common interests to arrive at a policy that every sort of voter  can feel he or she has a personal stake in. I don’t see that in some of the at-Large candidacies, a few of which feel more like candidacies for Mayor than for a Council seat.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Boston future

^ future Boston : high water, a market economy, and mobility liberty

—- — — —

Often I have written about the many challenges that prosperity has brought to Boston but singly rather than together. Let me now attempt to offer a unified plan for the next twenty years or so of Boston governance.

One can sum up the riddle quite simply : ( 1 ) wages and salaries have not kept up with — not even close to — the rising prices of housing ( 2 ) the Mayor’s call for 69,000 new units of housing by 2030 bumped the acquisition price of buildable land by double, even triple ( c ) ( 3 ) the movement of enterprise and jobs into Center City put unanticipated bnurdens on the MBTA and the City’s roads ( 4 ) as jobs moved into Downtown, so did those holding them, followed by shops, restaurants, and bars serving their social needs and commute routes ( 5 ) the coming of Uber and Lyft, to meet those commute needs, put thousands of ride-share cars onto Boston’s streets and ( 6 ) climate change is upon us, requiring structural responses to water control in this very coastal city

As no one — I hope — wants the City’s current prosperity to backslide, but instead to continue, solutions are in order to the radical rearrangements occasioned by the prosperity.

I would hope that everyone involved would want to see workable solutions, but the baleful influence of political agendas puts such a wish in serious doubt. We see, for example, one City Councillor — who would like to be Mayor — calling for the T to be free and “equitable,” whatever that means, and to “unite us all.” I’m sorry, but the T is only one component of a serious Boston plan, and not by any means the most important or pressing, although its upgrade and modernization is certainly a priority for the State. Keep in mind that most of the goods that Boston customers purchase move b y rail and truck. None moves by the T. Only people move by the T, and not all of the people., perhaps only a minority of us. The Councillor who would be Mayor would like to tax car users hard enough to force them onto the T — thereby removing cars’ carbon emissions from the climate, a serious policy goal for said Councillor — and of course the more people said Councillor can feed into the T’s maw, the more grumping can be generated against the Governor whom the Councillor’s supporters and colleagues do not like, all to the political benefit, they hope, of their movement.

So much for the political impediment to a sensible, workable Boston plan. But if we are not to move Boston in the T-only, car-penalizing, future that said Councillor envisions — complete with free T rides, forcing the entire T finance onto state taxpayers — then what future do I suggest for a sustained prosperous Boston ? This :

( a ) support unions in their actions to drive workers’ wages higher, much higher. To live in Prosperity Boston, one needs to earn at least the current median city income : $ 60,000 a year. We can’t legislate a minimum wage particular only to Boston, although we can — and should — legislate an even higher minimum wage than the current $ 12 to $ 15/hour scheduled to take full effect by 2023; but unions can win company-specific, or industry-specific, contracts that achieve the $ 21/hour and more that Boston workers should earn.

( b ) accept greater residential density than the current norm, including micro apartments and tiny houses, and higher structures than current zoning allows. Land acquisition costs are what they are, whether the buyer builds three stories, or five, or eight, or twelve. Thus the large impact that land costs have on current development can be minimized by allowing taller buildings, so that more units can be built on the same lot of land. There is no economic reason why it HAS TO cost a builder $ 500,000 per unit to build. Lower the effects of land acquisition cost, and you can lower the rents or sale prices that a builder has to charge.

( c ) eliminate dedicated bus and bike lanes on City streets. Boston’s streets are narrow enough. Even the main streets in its outer neighborhoods are only so wide. Hiving off lanes for bikes or buses, or for both, is a favoritism that car users — the majority of us — rightly resent. If “Transportation equity,” a term that some reformers talk of, means anything, it means that all forms of “mobility” operate in the same arena, with no favor given to any. You want to relieve some of the traffic that clogs City streets and highways at peak hours ? The last way to do this is to jam car users into smaller and smaller portions of those streets and highways.

( 4 ) go with the flow rather than fighting it. Measures that seek to impede the effects of big buyer money on the City’s residential economy only divert money/ from one pocket to another. Much smarter to let the price market “work the numbers,” because eventually — maybe soon — the “numbers” will peak. There are signs that these numbers are already peaking. But if not — yet — is it so bad that property owners who invested in Boston when prices were way too low — a thing few of us were ready to admit to, or insure against — and who never had much money or equity other than their property now find themselves blessed with a lottery ticket of money ? Those who are buying are buying from US, not from a stranger. Meanwhile, the new buyers are assuming all kinds of price risk : for markets fall as well as rise, and economies change, and those who buy a three-decker for $ 1,300,000 know they have to find a way out, sooner rather than later. The coming of 10,000 housing units in the new Suffolk Downs, with a meager 5.7 percent rate of return for the investor, has to warn current buyers that the boom is aging. In fact, as I see it, any sensible plan for future Boston should confront the question : what happens to property when the boom turns down ? The history of such turns is not pretty. Take a look at Detroit these past 25 years as an extreme example. When Boston moves into this sort of phase — as it surely will — our future residents will long for the Prosperity Days.

( 5 ) end the Federal Court’s Busing Order so that community schools can revive. Busing serves no one any more. Every Boston neighborhood is now racially and cultural;ly diverse. You can’t have community without community schools, and if you have community schools, families with school age children won’t up and move out of the City, as they have been doing in large numbers since the late 1970s. The most significant reform we can make to the vast Boston Public Schools (BPS) budget ( $ 1.27 billion in FY 2020) would be to repurpose the $ 96,000,000 now spent on  busing kids as dictated by the obsolete Federal order.

( 6 ) do not rely chiefly on the T for all our “mobility” urges. The T only goes where it wants to go and only when it wants to go there. Using the T also involves standing and waiting in all kinds of weather. It often means being crushed in overcrowded trains and buses. The T should be a last resort, not a first. I use it only when I have to go Downtown — which is often — because one simply cannot park a car Downtown except at enormous cost even assuming that one can find an available parking spot. The T is OK for commuting from home to a job, and for the young, who don’t mind ugly weather or crushing in overcrowds, the T can even be fun. Given our T expectations, its a wonder that it works at all; upgrades can basically only be done during the night hours, otherwise major disruption results. I certainly favor expanding the Orange Line to Readville, and the Blue Line to Lynn, and I like the coming Red Line to Blue Line connector. The T definitely has a role to play in the future of Boston people’s moving about. But it is a very rigid system in a culture and economy that correctly values flexibility and liberty. Roads are by far the more useful option for most of us.

( 7 ) we must meet the rising ocean, but people can do it a lot more innovatively than government. I have a lot more confidence in ad hoc, activist groups like The Harborkeepers, to find and put into practice ways of controlling the coming years of high water than I do in government agencies. Controlling high water should not be a subject for political manoeuver. It is rather a challenge for architects, greenspace planners, and, yes, waterside property owners. In this fight, the City is only one among many communities faced with water encroachment. Regional planning can help, but the burden should first fall on those who own property that will either be flooded or safeguarded. I think the owners know best, and if not, then self-starting activists should and will step in, quite beneficially, because these organizations are not bound by pre-existing rules, and they correctly confide in the imaginations of people who think for themselves.

—- —- —-

One other point I wish to make : Boston in the decades from 1970 to 2000 built a ton of senior-citizen housing. I am not a fan of this sort of custodial, supervised living, but it proved a boon to older folks whose kids moved out and away, leaving their parents abandoned in run-down homes and apartments. The City also provides homeowner residents a substantial real estate tax credit. A similar credit should be granted to seniors. (it may already be, I am not sure.) That said, a senior lucky enough to own a Boston home today sits on a pretty substantial fund : at least $ 400,000, more likely a price of $ 700,000 to $ 2,000,000. I find these sorts of situations every day that I door knock in Council District Five for a candidate I am supporting. Given the state’s homestead exemption of $ 500,000, and the prevalence of very low income seniors living thusly, with all manner of home health aides to visit and serve their daily needs, including for company, the current boom gives these old and even very old Bostonians plenty of options for at least financial ease without having to move into a large residential institution in which institutional culture dominates, even suffocates individual liberty.



Having fun

Some of my political friends are having fun today, poking and playing at protest, out in the beautiful July weather, of our MBTA, which is an easy mark for fun pokings. I wish them a good time and hope that they meet  many of our citizens on their way to work and enjoy some fun conversations on this cusp of holiday day.

The fun was invited by a City Councillor who proposed this as a “Boston Tea Party” — as if we didn’t already have enough tea parties. But I guess we didn’t yet have enough, for my friends who are out dancing up this one.

Buzzing up behind the party-celebrants there’s more bad City temper for our much-abused MBTA. Mayor Walsh has proposed that the City be given its own, Boston government seat on the MBTA governing board. At the same time,. the Councillor who hosting today’s caper insists that the MBTA’s six percent ( 6 %) fare hike not go into effect. (Notice : it has.) I’ll deal this suggestion next, but first, the Mayor’s demand for a Boston seat on the MBTA board, which I will dispose of in two brief paragraphs :

( 1 ) the City spent decades getting the legislature to repeal laws by which the Governor had the right to appoint members of the Boston Licensing Board. We were well within our rights to do this. So why, now, does the Mayor think that it is right for the City to have what it correctly insisted the Governor should not have ?

( 2 ) The State governs the MBTA, which receives the overwhelming bulk of its funds from the entire State’s taxpayers, with whom the State has a direct relationship. Why should Boston City hall have any part of that direct relationship ? No City administration is part of state administration; each is elected separately. They should remain separate.

Now I will dispose of the Councillor’s argument concerning T fares, which rose by six per cent today :

( 1 ) the City’s budget for FY 2020 has increased by three percent, thus burdening city taxpayers an extra three percent. Why is it OK to increase the burden on taxpayers, but not on T riders, for whose benefit taxpayers pay most of the T budget ? The T is NOT a taxpayer gift to riders. Riders must pay their share of this service, as we do — I too am a rider, and I am not burdened by an extra $ 4.50 a month. (Some protestors say that this fare hike burdens low income riders. I doubt that $ 4.50 a month — at most — is that huge a burden.)

— — —

Meanwhile, has anybody noticed, or protested, the City’s raising its parking meter fines ? I guess that that’s OK, because it hits only car users, and in Boston today, car users are the devil…

— — —

It is all too tempting for politicians, whose appetite for attention exceeds their capacity, to chew the most available issue candy, the sweetest gripe ice cream, the juiciest policy hot dog. But public policy is not food at a block party. The MBTA — indeed, all of MassDOT — had, in 2014, suffered through at least 40 years of neglect. It cannot be made good quickly, because all of it has to be USED, which means that repairs have to wait until late night hours and on the weekends; and even weekend road and T closures cause mighty disruption. Politicians with eyes bigger than their stomachs want to order the entire menu of taxpayer money, but if the T had $ 80 billion, not just the $ 8,050,000,000 that it now has, it could not repair itself very quickly without massive, cataclysmic disruption. Were the T to institute this , the public outcry would make today’;s caper look like a will o’ the wisp. It ain’t gonna happen.

Fact is, the T will be upgraded and made good, in all its aspects — including its enormous fiscal imbalances that none of the caperers dare talk about — in the shortest time frame that the public will tolerate having T service disrupted. Meanwhile, new trains and electric buses are coming into service — and I’m betting you that not one of todays’ caper-cutters will utter so much as a peep of thank you.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



patience and prudence

^^^ The headline has a gimmick in it, for those who remember this singing duo from the 1960s, as I fear too many of the coming generation do not…

Oh well.

—- —- —-

When it comes to politics and government, the first response today is, too often, impatience, which makes imprudence almost inevitable.  Reform of government, and of the laws, is always in play, because human institutions can always do better. They’re attempts and nothing more. That said, my rule, in matters of reform, is that of the physician :  “first, do no harm.” It’s far too easy for a hasty reform to make matters worse, or to exchange one failure for its opposite, or carelessly to miss the unintended consequences of a change that looked good on paper.

Thus we come to the agenda being proposed by a group of Massachusetts activists who all themselves “progressives.” Is their agenda actually a progress ? I will answer that question later. First, let us look at some of the legislation they’re backing, and which they demand that candidates commit to in order to qualify for a “progressive’ endorsement :

( a ) the so-called “fair share amendment,” which seeks to amend the Massachusetts constitution to provide for a four percent surtax on incomes above $ 1,000,000. Currently, the Constitution’s equal protection clause requires that all laws, including tax laws, be applied equally to all. The proponents of this amendment require that this surtax be allocated to transportation and education. My response : writing specific budget items into the constitution ensures that s needs change, the money to fund them will not be able to change without a corresponding constitutional amendment. This is no way to budget state governance, which should be flexible enough to respond to needs as they come current. We should avoid constitutional amendment except where civil rights are involved.

( b ) “Debt-free College Act : an act to guarantee debt-free public higher education for MA residents. My response : ( 1 ) the taxpayers already fund the salaries and maintenance expenses of public universities in the state. Why should taxpayers pay the costs of private colleges ? Why should taxpayers fund ANY private institutions ? ( 2 ) if enacted, this act would be an invitation for private colleges to charge whatever they want to charge by way of student tuition, subject only to the state budget process. ( 3 ) the cost of this item would add billions of dollars to our $ 42.7 billion state budget.

( c ) “Medicare for All” was proposed in 2014 by candidate Don Berwick. He admitted that it would be a budget-buster. It’s also unnecessary, as we already have universal health care  via the system enacted here in 2006.

( d ) “Safe Communities Act” would bar all local and state police from co operating in any way with federal immigration agents, including ICE. My response : in my opinion, the actions of ICE and CBP during the current Federal presidency are at outrage, and counter-productive, as immigrants boost the economy no matter how they got here. To that end, many cities have declared themselves “Sanctuary.” Yet the issue is terribly divisive and has actually hardened a fair percentage of public sentiment against undocumented immigrants. Governor Baker is right : leave the issue to each community to decide.

( e ) Ranked choice voting : the idea that voters should be able to rank many candidates,. rather than having to choose only one, sounds good, because it would assure the ultimate winner of having at last 50 percent of the total vote. Yet the system would lead to all sorts of abuses, including the use of “bullet” voting (voting for only one). Alliances among candidates, to create “slates,” would merely duplicate the current party primary system. It would also assure, for voters who do not “bullet,” that fringe and “slate” candidates get votes which in our one-vote system they do not. Let’s leave well enough alone.

( f ) Raising the age of adult prosecution to 21. “allowing offending youth to have better access to treatment and educational services. My response : Is it progress, to lower the voting age to 16, but raise the prosecution age to 21, or is it a strange inconsistency ? A society should have one age of majority, not several. Plus, the act’s proponents load the question by using the term “youth.” Who exactly is a youth in the eyes of State law ? Is someone a youth for one purpose but not for another ? If we raise the adult prosecution age to 21, we should also raise the voting age to 21, and the age of consent for medical matters requiring adult consent.

In all of the above cases, what is proposed either seeks change where no change is called for, or seek laws and covenants that would make state government more rigid, less flexible. These are moves away from reform, and they stand in the way of other “progressive” proposals that are well worth considering :

( a ) An act to seal eviction records, which seriously impair a person’s ability to obtain living quarters. A large share of eviction cases are far more complex than simple non-payment of rent. Defendants in such cases deserve not to have their past disputes hang over their resumes moving forward. (Besides, landlords can always talk to the landlord before the tenant’s most recent one.)

( b ) Gas leaks and pipeline placement — an act which, by imposing fines on utility companies for Grade 3 leaks, would give utilities incentive to prevent and limit such leaks. The Columbia Gas explosions last year in North Andover, Andover, and South Lawrence were only an extreme case of a more general problem of gas leaks all over the state. The state only has so many gas line inspectors. This act would force the gas companies to police themselves. (Note that this act was filed by Senator Mike Rush and State Representative Ed Coppinger, neither of whom anyone would call “progressive.”)

( c ) Visitation Rights. Senator Chang-Diaz’s bill to permit incarcerated persons to receive more frequent visits, in order, says the bill, to allow them to maintain relationships. I see no reason why this bill should not pass and much reason why it should. Being incarcerated should not mean an end to a person’s family bonding. Incarceration has to have a rehabilitative component, and allowing a person to maintain his or her personal relationships gives him or her much reason to reform. He or she may not reform : but why not allow the possibility ? I support this bill.

— — —

Massachusetts is a state built by reform. We believe that our public customs and laws can always be improved and that taxpayers have an interest in supporting these improvements. In return, we promise to ourselves, and to the taxpayers among us, that we will be careful not to ask too much of our taxpayers, or to over-promise, or to hurry processes that require time for second thoughts and testing. We also believe that the State should not be asked to do that which we can do better ourselves, or which basic principles of liberty require us to keep in our won hands.

We’re also very alert to the readiness of some to arrogate the “reform” idea to their own agendas, and that such arrogance almost always signals changes which are not reform but the opposite. The voters of our state know well the difference and guard jealously the patience and the prudence which alone assure proposed changes will actually be reform rather than a special interest plea.

That’s where we at Here and Sphere stand, and where we always will.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Linked In

^^ LinkedIn — a website that suggests vital networking connections but which, after eight years belonging, hasn’t won me a single gig, job, or contract. This actually is a feature, not a bug, as the saying goes.

— — — —

The headline is no joke. How DO you actually get a job ? From what I have seen, these past decades of my life, the necessary prerequisite to getting a job is to already have one.

If you have a job, it’s simple to get another one. Your co-workers know people. Headhunters recruit you — because if you have a job, it’s easy for them to fit you into a slot, and headhunters need a slot that can be fit to. Transferring from one slot to another, not so easy; your job-finder has to actually work at it, and headhunters don’t want to work at it, not when their commission isn’t any greater whether they move you from widget painter at Company A to widget painter at Company C, or whether they work to move you from widget painter, first class, to widget packager, third class. But in any case, if you already have a job, you can reasonably expect to move to another one.

And if you don’t have a job ? ( a ) headhunters are really, really glad to get you interviewed for a job selling stuff, especially stuff that nobody will buy. Headhunters have all sorts of such jobs on the shelf — the back shelf in the back room — sent them by recruiters for sales work, recruiters who head-hunters would love to add to their rolo-dex because who knows when these recruiters might actually send Headhunter Joe a job that Joe has dozens of clients ready to fit that slot ? So there you are : Headhunter Joe says, “Mike, I have the greatest job for you, you are SO lucky, it won’t last long. Can I send your resume to my contact ?” And you of course ask, “what is the job about ?” Headhunter Joe : “selling ads for the phone company. Their book is to close in tgwo months and … Mike ? Mike ? Are you there ?”

I hung up. So would you.

I simmer down and call Heady Joe back. “Joe,” I tell him. “I’m looking for a job as an editor. Editing is what I do. Is there an editing job or isn’t there ?”


Joe gets his smile on and finally responds : “Editing jobs don’t come every day, Mike. But you know I am looking. Your resume is on top of my desk.”

Sure it is. Like the turd that I shat yesterday is on top of mine.

So that’s how it goes. You can’t get a job doing what you do unless you already have one, and if you don’t have one, it’s off to sell ads for the phone book.

Straight commission, no less. No salary, no expense money.

Thus it was that led me to the job I now have. Because if you don’t have a job, there actually are jobs that you can get. What jobs are these ? Easy : jobs that few people will do. Those, you can get any time you like. It does help to know someone who has one, as with any job; in my case, my wife got the job for me. One phone call, one on-line application — and tens of forms to fill out — and back came the e mail : we are excited to welcome you to our team…”

EXCITED, no less. You laugh ? So did I. What is this job which the company was EXCITED to give me ? I’ll tell you about it later. But first let me offer some more observations about the job world :

( a ) the best time to get one from point zero is at college or high school graduation. Companies are always happy to hire young folks who don’t know shit, don’t have a network in place, unformed brains whom they can train to do things the company’s way. Every year from then on, it gets harder to be hired. The more experience you have ion a job, the less desirable you are as a hire. If you acquire enough experience to become an expert you are totally fucked. You’ll have to start your own business.

I kid you not. Take my own example. I am an expert political campaign manager, and because I know campaign work cold from top to bottom, I am anathema to consultants. To become a campaign manager these days (not in all cases, but in most) you have to not ever have worked on a  campaign and to know nothing about it. Hired to manage one, and they hand you a “voter file” program and tell you that’s what you will use. Not a voter list, oh no, never. A voter list, for the district in which your candidate is going to campaign ? Heavens no. The rule now is, that if you aren’t on a “super voter”: list — those who have voted in each of the last umpteen elections for the office your campaign seeks —then you do non’t get campaigned to. This is how one arrives at the 11 percent (11) turnout in the recent Queens County District Attorney campaign won by a defense lawyer who intends to dismantle the office. But what do I know ? Answer : I know too much.

You wonder why so many voters think the system crooked, or that nobody in it listens ? Just step into a current campaign and you’ll quickly learn that the voters, as always are right. The system IS crazy. And yes, nobody in it does listen to you unless you are already in it. Capeesh ?

Most insurgent campaigns from the left are just as bad. They too use “super voter” files and avoid anybody who hasn’t voted in the last umpteen elections. The difference is that most insurgent campaigns of the let are run by, and peopled by, students — high school and college — and it’s simply a social fact that everybody who is 18 years old, or 22, knows everybody who is 18, or 22 — because they all go to school, mostly in the same system. And so they tell their friends, and the friends tell friends, and a kind of ad hoc, second campaign develops, large enough to beat the default campaigning opponent.

For the rest of us, thus escape valve isn’t open. Once you move into the adult world, you’re too busy with job and family to maintain those close social ties, and gradually you lose contact with one another. By the time you’re 50, you hardly know anybody any more, and if you are already in office, you’re usually running on habit and a familiar name, the enthusiasm and networking of student years long worn away.

But what do I know ? I know too much. To be hired into the current world of political campaigns I would have to unlearn everything and become an enthusiastic student of bullshit. How else but bullshit would you describe the glossy card stock mailers that every campaign sends out now, usually on the same day ? They look the same because they are the same, and most voters, when they receive this avalanche of picture-color, advertising-lettered fliers, either toss them aside onto the hallway table or throw them into the trash barrel.

They look like ads from the telephone book and are produced by the same mentality that would try to headhunt you for a job selling ads for telephone books.

Which leads me to the job I now have. It pays $ 14.00 an hour, for 30 hours a week,and when added to my social security income, enables me to pay my bills, go out to dinner once in a while, and take the wife on a weekend outing in mid-Coast Maine on Labor Day break. Other than that, I am free to operate my own business — which, as I said, is the fate of those who actually know how to do things — writing and editing, with my partner Heather Cornell, at the website you have now visited, the political and parental advice world of Here and Sphere.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



LyidaCity Councillor Lydia Edwards (District One, Boston) stepped forward recently in support of a proposed real estate transfer tax hike, the money going to help mid-range and lower-range income people buy into the Boston housing market. We also support the proposal. Here’s why :

There are actually two real estate transfer tax hikes before the legislature. The first one, filed by Governor Baker in January, would raise the transfer tax by one-half, the money to be earmarked in support of climate resiliency efforts. Baker’s bill has received plenty of publicity. Less has been given to the second proposal, the transfer tax which is the subject of this column. It would double the transfer tax from the present $ 25 per thousand of value to $ 50 per thousand. Baker, when questioned about this bill, seemed unsure of its details, which is not all that surprising, given the lack of public attention shown this proposal. Would he support it ? We will see.

I would hope that he will do so, and of course that means that Speaker Robert DeLeo will need to support it as well, because neither transfer tax bill will get to Baker’s desk unless Speaker DeLeo brings them to a vote. When Baker first proposed his climate resiliency tax, legislative leaders were shy to sign on. DeLeo and Aaron Michlewitz, the House’s new Budget Chief, opined that they didn’t need the extra money just then. It appears that they have now reconsidered, at least for Baker’s climate resiliency tax. No word yet on the larger transfer tax proposed to fund affordability purchases.

Edwards urges adoption of the second transfer tax, a bill filed by State Representative Mike Connolly of Cambridge, because, so she argues, the affordability crisis is forcing current residents of her District (and others) to have to move, often to far away, in search of housing that they can pay for. This is hardly news. we all know that the Boston real estate market has boomed almost to the breaking point, leaving ordinary earners far behind the wave. Edwards supports the bill’s allocation of its funds to neighborhood housing trusts. I’m not so keen on this specific, but she has mute ideas for battling the housing crusts than that.  Earlier this year she endorsed permitting people to build add–on apartments to their homes, even a small unit in one’s back yard, if need be. She’s got hold of an idea now gathering attention in Boston and other cities.

Alterbatuves to the neighborhood land trust idea are but hard to come up with :

( 1 ) Some Massachusetts cities have had programs granting mortgage money to buyers, with no payback, on condition that they live in the home for at least five years, the money to help pay the buy price of a home. Any funds raised by the proposed transfer tax could allocate to this sort of City program.

( 2 ) Funds might be used to create a kind of city equivalent of the Federal government’s Section 8 certificate program, whereby lower income renters pay market rate, of which they pay only the portion thereof that their income affords, the balance being paid via the certificate.

( 3 ) the transfer tax funds could be applied to the State’s earned income tax credit (EITC), raising eligibility from the present $ 32,000 level (I think that is the amount) to maybe $ 45,000 or even to $ 59,000 — the median earner income in greater Boston — but solely for eligibles upon their applying to buy a home.

i would hope that the Connolly bill, if enacted, might prefer these uses.

It seems that real estate industry lobbyists have spoken in opposition to this transfer tax, saying that it would chill the market. I am not persuaded that a 2 and 1/2 percent tax will turn back a market in which $ 500,000 is below the average sale price and $ 2,000,000 not uncommon even in what used to be working-class neighborhoods of Boston. Presently, if you are a long time homeowner, who bought an East Boston home, for example, in 1980 at $ 35,000, and you now sell for $ 700,000, are you really dissuaded by a tax that docks you $ 35,000 instead of $ 17,500 ? If need be, brokers can absorb some of the tax by accepting a four percent commission rather than the traditional five percent.  When houses in “Eastie” were selling for $ 125,000 — not long ago at all — a five percent commission was $ 6250. Today, at $ 700,000 — not an uncommon price these days — a four percent commission is $ 28,000. Not bad — and let’s note that whereas very few homes sold at the lower price, because fewer people wanted then, today, at $ 700,000, everybody and his cousins want in. Thus a broker who might have sold five houses a year in 2004 might sell 12 houses this year. (Yes, there are many more brokers now; but that’s how it has always been in real estate. Lots of brokers in the boom times, not so many in the bad years.)

Councillor Edwards, I have to say, is not shy about the stuff she supports. I don’t always agree with her stand, but in far more cases than I had expected, I do support what she supports. (Disclosure : I am a donor to her committee.) It’s always smart to listen to her arguments for stuff. In this case, it’s smart to give her transfer tax argument serious thought even if you have doubts about its success. The affordability crisis is real, and very little of what most Boston politicians are offering as a response makes any real world sense. This proposal makes all kind of good sense.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere