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Taxi guys opposed : big crowd of taxi men at today’s “DOT” hearing on Governor patrick’s proposed Uber and Lyft regulations

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In Boston there’s a brouhaha going on right now that very likely you haven’t heard much about, but which has already generated intense conlict and much controversy. I refer to the battle between Uber and Lyft, two ride-sharing ride-sharing businesses, and licensed taxis.

Even as I write this column there’s a hearing going on — a day-long hearing — at the offices of Massachusetts’s Department of Transportation at which Governor patrick’s proposed regulations of ride-share firms will be discussed. Patrick has previously okayed these firms to opeerate but now wants Uber and Lyft to conduct criminal background checks for all drivers used and to obtain proper liability insurance. Uber’s managers support the regulations.

Taxi drivers passionately oppose both the regulations and the firms themselves. their view seems to be that the state shouldn’t permit the kind of ride competition that Uber and Lyft bring to the marketplace; that it’s hard enough or taxi operators to make a living without having to compete with the entirely new service offered by Uber and Lyft.

It Is hard to make a living driving a taxi. But that is no reason why innovation shouldn’t reconfigure the ride-for-hire business. Potential riders do not exist to give a living to drivers. Drivers exist to give service to riders.

1 Uber customer with his ride summoning app

use your smartphone Uber “app” to find an Uber car near you. That’s all there is to it.

There is no good reason why Uber and Lyft shouldn’t compete for business in the ride marketplace, any more than Hertz should be able to bar Zipcar.

If I can rent a car, why can’t I rent a ride ? Why should taxi drivers be able to limit my choices this way ?

Uber and Lyft charge far less for long rides than taxis do. Taxi fares are regulated by the department of public Utilities, which uses a cost per minute scale. Uber and Lyft use a cost per distance. More sgnificantly, a rider hails an Uber or Luft car by application on a smartphone. The “app” shows the location of the most nearby available car. Taxis can’t be hailed that way, at least not yet.

Uber, Lyft, and also SideCar have created a new system for city people to get from point a to point B. They’re to be applauded for innovating and thereby better serving poyential customers. That’s how a healthy business marketplave works.

There has been much publicity given to unpleasant ride experiences at Uber, whose business practices have also come to criticism. That’s for the market to work out. If Uber or Lyft alienate or mistreat customers they won’t be in business very long. As for taxis, it;s up to them to recalibrate how their systems operate. Rides for hire atre a service offered to the public. Those who drive riders serve the riders, not the other way around.

Taxi drivers in Cambridge, another city that deals with Ubver and Lyt, oppose ride-summoning businesses altogether. Of course they do. i see no grounds whatsoever for their opposition other than to assert monopoly so that their members can control prices. we don’t allow monopolies in America,. and we shouldn’t sanction this one.

Approve the regulations and let the market then work out what business model — and waht prices — best serves those who seek rides and are ready to pay for them.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Sam Sutter

Today at 9.30 AM, the City of Fall River inaugurated its new Mayor. Sam Sutter, hitherto the reformist District Attorney of Bristol County, takes over from Will Flanagan, overwhelmingly recalled by 16,557 voters, a huge turnout for a Christmas season election.

Sutter has promised his city a new, optimistic, forward-looking era, and given his record as District Attorney, he’ll probably do it. Certainly Fall River needs it. Vacant land abounds’ empty factories; boarded-up storefronts. Dining out costs about one-third of what you’ll pay in equivalent Boston restaurants. Unemployment approaches ten percent.

Fall River lies 38 miles from downtown Boston, but it might as well be 3800 miles for all that the booming Boston economy means to this riverside community of about 90,000 people. Housing prices tell all that you need to know. You want a spacious two-family house ? $ 199,000 will buy you many. You need a cozy single-family home ? Pony up $ 150,000 and there’s all kinds of offerings at the ready. Rents, too, boggle the Boston mind. Two-bedroom apartments in the city’s marvelously ethnic core fetch $ 600 a month, three-bedrooms $ 900.

Fall Rivber

$ 185,000 buys you this two-family home in the uphill corner of Fall River behind South main Street at Kennedy Park

There isn’t anywhere in Boston that you can find housing at anything close to Fall River prices. Even the cheapest Boston rents ask more than double the Fall River price; house purchases too; and in most of Boston, the increase runs much higher than that. Renting even a small apartment in downtown Boston will cost you $ 2800 and up; buying a downtown condominium, at least $ 575,000 and probably much more.

What does this price abyss tell us ? Plenty that isn’t good at all, for either Boston or Fall River and the many cities in Massachusetts like it — some where housing costs even less, occasionally much less, than in Fall River.

Developers of housing aren’t charities. They’re mostly small business people who build to make a profit. They can’t wait around. An unsold home deteriorates. A developer wants to build and sell and move on.

In  Boston, a developer can do all of that and be very sure about it. Downtown Boston is booming economically — and socially — because the new network of technology, research, finance, public relations, government, health care, and the many service businesses that cater to employees of these all want now to cluster close to one another, personally and for business reasons. Think of today’s downtown Boston — the entirety of it — as one great big Industrial Park with attached amenities; or, more aptly, as one huge mixed-use — residential, restaurants, offices, parking,entertainment — development project.

Fort Point condoFort Point 2

Downtown Boston : $ 1,285,.000 for this 2-bedroom, 2 bath condo in the “Channel Center” complex

Lots of money circulates through t.his Development Project we call “downtown,” and housing is being created within it as fast and as plenteous as builders can get financing and BRA approval for.

Downtown Boston has pretty much sucked the money out of the rest of Massachusetts the way a vortex sucks air out of a jet stream. Likewise, Downtown Boston is a magnet for people, lots of people who a generation ago would have lived in the suburbs, or even farther away, and commuted to jobs.

All of this has left outlying cities like Fall River gasping for attention, people, and money. And worse : housing in many outlying cities of Massachusetts aren’t even holding firm. They’re declining.

Grafton Hill house

$ 150,9000 buys this home on Worcester’s Grafton Hill

Beyond Route 495 one soon comes to Worcester, the state’s second largest city. Despite having many colleges and a robust health system, Worcester has a housing market cheaper even than Fall River. Prices in and around downtown run about 20 percent less than in Fall River. Currently there’s many single family homes for sale under $ 140,000, two family properties at $ 165,000 threes at $ 199,000. In Fitchburg, an old mill city north of Worcester, $ 80,000 to $ 150,000 will buy you a “single”; even lower prices are not impossible.  Farther west, in Athol, most currently for sale singles run from $ 40,000 to $ 140,000. There’s also one for $ 269,000 — a ten-room home on more than an acre of land with a two-car garage. Such a home would likely sell for $ 750,000 in Boston, if you could even find one.

Athol house

“MOTIVATED SELLER” — I’ll bet he or she is, to be offering this Athol 4-bedroom, 2 bath house at $ 118,999

Holyoke house

$ 90,000 is the asking price for this house on Walnut Street in Holyoke

House prices in Holyoke, on the Connecticut River and loaded with empty industrial buildings, begin at about $ 30,000 and go to the $ 150,000s.

To some, the prices I’ve posted here look like magnificent opportunities. I think otherwise. When house prices are that cheap, it doesn’t pay to renovate, because a renovator — and most houses in these cities badly need renovaion — can’t recoup his investment back. Nor can a builder build anew, for the same  reason. And if he could build, who will buy ? People aren’t moving into these cities; if anything, they are moving out. Businesses too.

Of these cities only Worcester faces a significant economic boost. It’s close enough to Route 495 and Boston to attract industries seeking cheaper land costs and commercial rents without being so far from Boston that workers can’t commute. Worcester also has the new Lieutenant Governor, Karyn Polito, and a Governor who appears ready to make economic revitalization of Worcester a priority.

Fall River, with its new “trophy Mayor” and Portuguese culture attractive to tourists, may also see some significant change. If so, its house prices — Worcester’s too — will jump, and its rents. That will be the crisis point, not to be surpassed unless the entire business and culture of the city transforms. Can they ? Should they ?

But if not transformation, what other course will the cities far from Boston choose ? What course can they achieve ? Perhaps like White River Junction in Vermont, or Claremont in New Hampshi8re — once thriving mill cities — they will become havens of post-modern rural tourism, museums for the Industrial Age soon vanished. Myself, I find this outcome much more likely than that they will rise again as centers of innovation. Because housing prices and rent costs that low — plus distance from stuff — impose their own agenda, one in which scarce money eliminates far more possibilities than it incubates.

The same economics are reshaping America’s families as much as its cities. Prosperous families prosper more and moire; the un-prosperous become yet more un-prosperous and have to live vastly different lives than the lives of the propserous.

Actyivists can talk a good game and throw all kinds of political drama into the vortex, but every day that passes, without radical change, the trend I see embeds itself, like a tic, ever more irrevocably in the nape of our nation’s neck.

Welcome to tomorrow.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 worcester factory1 worcestrer coral

^ reviving Worcester — a baker/Polito priority. (Left) Lots of space and cheap (Right) Coral Seafood on Shrewsbury Street’s restaurant row

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It won’t be easy, but incoming Governor Charlie Baker will definitely accomplish at least this basic Massachusetts task. Baker’s administration will extend the successful economy of Greater Boston outward.

How far outward ? No one yet can say; but Worcester can count its good fortune. Politically, Baker has to make this city a place to be. His Lieutenant Governor, Karyn Polito, hails from Shrewsbury, Worcester city’s biggest bordering suburb. Her political clout — and future — depend on it. So does baker’s political success. If his selecting Polito as his governance partbner signified anything, it said “Worcester matters.”

Baker and Polito have spent at least as many campaign and post-election hours in Worcester as in Boston. Politically, they have to. Baker carried every commnity in Worcester County except the city itself, and by large margins. These voters are counting on him to give them attention — and a better economy. So is Polito.

Worcester lies just beyond commuting distance from Boston, but to new businesses it offers advantages : much cheaper housing than Boston’s and plenty of under-utilized commercial land. Boston’s old factories and lofts have all been reconfigured, as technology space and hugely expensive condos. Nothing like has yet befallen Worcester. But with a city administration eager for economic progress, and a Governor whose Business and Econimic Development chief, Jay Ash, knows how to negotaite attractive deals to lure businesses to a location, Worcester is sure to become a “hot” place to site.

1 worcester grafton hill

cheap and funky housing on Grafton Hill in Worcester’s southeast

Three bedroom Worcester apartments rent for $ 1,000 to $ 1,400, as opposed to Boston’s $ 3,000 and up. Worcester has almost as many colleges, a booming night life, an auditorium (the Centrum) for major entertainments, a restaurant row (Shrewsbury Street) second to none, and easy access to the new MGM casino in Springfield.

Juan Gomez, a Worcester activist now running for Mayor, famously said at a Baker rally during the governor campaign, “we don’t need more programs, we need more opportunity !” Chalk it up.

Beyond Worcester, there’s much more development work to do. Let’s look briefly at three major regions :

1.Springfield has the new MGM Casino to look forward to, but it won’t be up and running for a few years. Meanwhile, Springfield house prices remain much too low to attract investment or to repay upgrades; downtown lacks every modern amenity; and at 100 miles from Boston, the city cannot connect economically or culturally to the Boston boom.

2.New Bedford and Fall River lie much nearer to Boston, but they’re difficult to access from the Interstate highway system that makes the Route 128 and 495 belts, north of the Masachusetts Turnpike, so effective a commercial zone.

Downtown and Park Square, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Pittsfield, a city much forgotten by Boston, 135 miles away

3.Pittsfield, all of 135 miles from Boston, and west of the Berkshire ridge line, connects more to New York state than to the rest of Massachusetts : it’s just a 30 mile drive to Albany, the state capital, and its Tri-City complex (Schenectady and Troy). Until two decades ago it was home to a major General Electric plant : but that’s now long gone, and the city has endured a bankruptcy. Pittsfield’s problems extend throughout the northern half of Berskshire county, to Adams and North Adams. Small manufacturing once made these inacccessible communities matter. No longer.

Building “innovation Districts” in these three areas doesn’t seem likely. High technology in general isn’t going to move away from where it already has a circle of discussion and networking. Yet there is a model that works, if baker can make it hapepn : germany’s “mittelstand.”

The “mittelstand” is the vast honeycomb of middle-sized, mostly famiuly-owned, specialty manufacturing enterprises that make the Geramn economy so powerful. Most “mittelstand” enterprises are located outside Germany’s major cities — some of them in small cities indeed, and all over that country’s landscape. Successful “mittelstand” businesses provide such niche prodcts as ice making machines, pressure valves, hydraulic brake systenms, water pressure valves, fire extinguishers, electric pumps, and the like : markets that each “mittelstand”: business dominates, even owns altogether. In the small cities where they’re loacted they are that town’s employer.

That’;s how it used to be in back-counhyry New England, but few such American businesses survived industrial phase-outs, as most of our middle-stand operations either sought to become biggies, or were bought out (most being publicly traded corporations) and foled into others’ biggie operations.

in Germany that didn’t happen, because family-owned businesses, unlike companies publicly traded, couldn’t be bought out aginst the owners’ wishes, and because the best middle-stand businesses paid their workjers incredibly eell — and still do.

In western and soiuth-coast Massa husetts a few such businesses remain, and baker during the campaign sometimes talked about business development in these parts of the cstate as if he had “mittelstand” in mind. Replicating the German model will not be simple. That nation’s middle-firms took decades, even a century, to achieve — and maintain — market omiance of extremely specialized niches. The long view will be needed : and Americans rarely accept it.

German’s middle-firms also have a huge geographic advantage. They’re right there in the heart of the world’s largest market — all of Europe — and well attuned, politically and by cultural habit, to doing business with every player in the Middle East, as we are not. America, on the other hand, is separated from most of the world by the vast distances of our oceans. Transportation costs alone put our piotential middle-firms behind an eight-ball.

Still, Baker wants to connect the manufacturing businesses of tMassachustts’s outlying regions with their school systems, so that graduates can target available jobs, many of which, Baker said, go unfilled. This is a good first step for Baker and Jay Ash to take.

Somehow, we must make the deep valley towns of Berkshire, the by-passed city of Springfield (and nearby Holyoke, where hundreds of acres of brick factories sit empty), and the port cities of the South Coast havens of family-owned, middle-sized, niche market manfacturers (or servicers : because some services, too, have niche sepcificity) who can develop, over time, sufficient market dominance to prevail long-term. Massachusetts once had many thousands of such firms. The future of our state’s west and south may depend on doing it again.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Walsh announces

^ at a Roslindale High School press conference, Mayor Walsh announces the 40 minute school day lengthening. School Committee chairman Michael O’Neill (L) and Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman (R) stand behind him.

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Yesterday Mayor Walsh delivered — with much fanfare — a deal to extend by 40 minutes the school day for 60 of Boston’s public schools. Walsh, superintendent McDonough, Teachers Union president Stutman, and school committee chairman O’Neill all signed on.

The proposed deal — the Union must still vote to approve it — generated instant wide-ranging discussion on social media — proof, if any was needed, of just how much schools reform matters to so many of us.

The deal orders 20 schools to extend the day net year, then 20 more the year after, and another 20 in the third year. The staggered implementation will lessen the budget impact of the plan’s $ 12,500,000 cost, that being the $ 4,484 stipend paid to each teacher in the schools affected. In addition to the 40 extra minutes of classroom time, teachers will have fifteen added minutes for professional development.

Mayor Walsh can take some pride in accomplishing this step forward : his predecessor had tried but not been able. Without a doubt Walsh’s reputation as a respected powerful labor leader gave him both the clout and the know-how to win Stutman’s confidence. Labor leaders know, too, that if they do not reach agreement with Walsh, a potential 2017 opponent will be able to say — with great effect — “see ? we elected a labor leader on his promise to reach agreenments with the unions, and he couldn’t or wouldn’t.”

Walsh has done so, with the Police, the firefighters, and the teachers : the big three of city labor unions.

I also feel quite sure that the election of Charlie Baker as governor, and Baker’s selection of Jim Peyser, a charter schools advocate, as his Education secretary, made this deal a necessity for the Union. Stutman knows, as we all do, that Peyser and Baker are going to make major education reform a statewide priority — and that Baker owes the Union almost nothing, electorally. There will be school choice, and experiment in many directions, and the one-size-fits-all school will be put to its mettle as never before.

Stutman also knows that, of all the school reforms that reformers want, a longer school day enjoys the widest support.

Hurdles remain. Will the Union membership approve the deal ? That’s not guaranteed. Second, how will the extra time be used ? 40 minutes adds up to one extra month a year of instruction — Walsh said so — but doled out by eyedrop amounts, it’ll be little felt day to day.

Charter schools often feature eight-hours of daily instruction. That’s how it was in the schools that my parents sent me to. This deal extends Boston’s elementary school day to six hours and forty minutes. is that enough to teach English, math, softward coding, history, science, a foreign language, civics, and, maybe, the arts ? I wonder.

Giants steps beckon. If we are to accomplish Baker’s two goals, closing the “achievement gap” and preparing graduates for actual jobs, we need to establish a school culture of hard work, focus, dedication, experiment, and to challenge students to think beyond their comfort zones. we need them to be well fed, properly clothed, physically secure in school, free from bullying, with proper textbooks and equipment; with a curriculum attuned to real world needs; with testing at least once a term; courses attuned to expectations of homeowrk and that that homework will be done. None of these can happen without gaining the full commitment of parents or guardians, nor without equal access for all children in all classrooms.

Those are the steps we must climb. This small step barely begins the ascent. It needs to lead to a next step, and a next, and a next after that.

Will we climb the challenge, step after step after step ? Will we ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Jim Peyser

^ Jim Peyser, education reformer, is Charlie Baker’s pick to get school transformation done. It will not be easy.

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No sooner had Jim Peyser been named Education Secretary by incoming Governor Charlie Baker than the attacks began. Upon him, upon Baker too. Suddenly the bipartisan Baker became “a Republican after all” — as if school reform were important only, or even chiefly, to Republicans.

Peyser’s a no-nonsense guy who means to loosen the rigid parameters of education in Massachusetts — rigidity which brooks no reforms, no imagination to remedy mis-educations of  many children in our state. His appointment was certain to bring protest, and it has.

Witness the mantra now seen on twitter : “keep public education public.” Or this one : ‘the school privatization movement.” These are poison pills for a mission that needs good health if it’s to achieve its mission.

“Public education” is education paid for with public — taxpayer — funds. No more, no less. It is NOT part of the definition of “public education” that public funds be administered and taught only by members of teachers’ unions.

Nor is it part of that definition that there be only one publicly-funded curriculum per district, one school day length, one system of staffing, one way of administering, one form of classroom assignment, one transportation method.

The only reason that singularity came to be the norm for taxpayer-funded education is that, during the era, over 150 years ago, in which public schools were established, it was bold simply to establish one such system, where before there had been none. And the only reasons that singularity has persisted right up to the present, are that any bureaucracy, once established, tends to entrench; second, because industrial economy favored educating almost everyone in the same way and in the same place. Unity was needed to bind together an industrial nation’s economy.

Today, all of that has changed. What is needed is diversity ; because much of today’s workplace today is fragmented into small units of intelligence and experiment. This is particularly true of the jobs that require highly educted entrants. As for mass employment, in service jobs, even they aren’t as ‘mass’ as they used to be, because every service sector requires different specific knowledge : home health aides, fast food workers, retail staff, delivery drivers, and the like.

In order to educate children for the aggressively varied workplaces of today (and tomorrow), public funds need to sponsor schooling systems that vary accordingly. “One size fits all” just won’t do. Nor can our state any longer tolerate having staff dictate what is being taught, and where, and how.

The big push back arises neither from fragmentation nor diversity but from the fight for funds. The people whose careers and hopes are fully invested in the one size fits all system fear that in the new, diversity system, where school styles are pitted against one another to see which gets the job done best, those schools that don’t get the job done — or are judged by the state education bureaucracy, to not be getting it done — lose funds, whence kids and staff suffer.

That, at least, is the argument. Let us look to see if has any benefit.

Is there anyone who seriously argues that public money — taxpayer money — should underwrite the invoices of schools that fail ? If so, please step forward and identify yourself.

By any measure, some schools are failing. Job postings in all kinds of businesses are going unfilled because not enough high school (or college) graduates in our state have even entry level skills needed to do them. Class size in many schools is too large for even a great teacher to control all. Textbooks are out of date. Many children arrive at school speaking a different language from English. Some have psychological impediments. The Special education law imposes an enormous burden of time upon teaching staff and designers of curricula.

Perhaps worst of all, many school systems cannot establish the most basic quality controls. In Boston, superintendent John McDonough has managed with great skill, and fighting the teachers’ Union at every turn, to impose a rule by which every school principal can hire his or her own staff. Why has this even been an issue ?

Quite contrary to the mantras being lobbed in all corners of the discussion zone by anti-charter school people, the push for diversity of education initiatives does not come from “the Republicans.” Most Republican-voting communities have publicly funded schools that work fairly well. No ; the push for school transformation comes from communities of color, whose schools are the most likely to be failing; to employ the least effective teachers; to have the poorest equipment. And it comes from the upper-income, liberal suburbs, where school experimentation is seen as vital to the success chances of kids being educated.

And now the “school privatization” thing. What this means is, first, that the teaching force, in charter schools, and likely in other experimental school initiatives, are not required to belong to a union; and, second, that the operation of many diversity initiatives will be entrusted to organizations other than the state itself.

School unions are right to be upset about having to compete with non-union employees; but they should take it as a challenege, not as doom. As for entrusting the management of some school initiatives to non-profit organizations, why not ? School district administrators have all they can handle — then some — managing standard schools, with all of their staffing, discipline, truancy, work rule, school day, curriculum, school plant, transportation, and school lunch issues. School district administrators must be extremely grateful to have some part of their enormous burden shifted onto other shoulders.

It will become quite obvious, as Peyser takes on the challenge of transforming our schools, that who the constituencies for change actually are belies every argument profferred by the anti-reform forces. And if “the Republicans” happen to be right about the need for school reform, and its direction, and that in many cases school employee unions stand doggedly against, then good for “the Republicans” for being correct for once.

The fight will be stormy. Last year’s Charter Cap Lift bill failed because, first, it allocated compensation funds to school districts for every child being moved into a charter school, and that compensation formula bears no relation whatsoever to the actual budget consequences of such removal. second, it failed because the Senate version of the bill contained amendments that tied the charter cap lift to preconditions that negated the entire purpose of the lift. These objections were placed in the Bill as attempts to placate the opponents of charter school expansion.

Those who prepare the next charter expansion bill should present a bill that serves reform, not anti-reform. Otherwiuse why even bother ? I cannot imagine what it will take, however, to get a useful charter expansion hill through the legislature. Speaker DeLeo, who listens to the constituencies that support school transformation, surely wants such a bill; and usually, what the Speaker wants, he gets. But then there is the Senate, where a new, “progressive” President takes office; and Stan Rosenberg, who represents a union-friendly District in which Baker received lss than 20 percent of the vote, need not fear the Governor’s voters and is unlikely ever to oppose the uncompromising opposition of the state’s teachers’ unions.

Jim Peyser has a very hard task ahead of him.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ Charlie Baker : meeting the people while trying to decide who to entrust with people’s transportation and Education expectations

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No one has yet been selected to head up the state’s Public Safety, Education, and Transportation portfolios. This should not surprise. They’re the three most difficult departments to succeed at, Education and Transportation hardest of all.

My guess is that the Schools brief will be the next picked. There’s at least a transition team tackling the entirety. For Public Safety and transportation, no such luck. of the two, Transportation looks the harder. The funding isn’t there; who knows if it will be ? Nor has Baker’s team figured out its transportation priorities. That’s no surprise either. Whatever project they want to work on first, supporters of the others will balk.

If Transportation is actually many separate interests, so is Education. Schools look simple at first : we need to close the ‘achievement gap’ and to align our schools with approproate employment. But very quickly as one moves into the issue it’s painfully obvious that “schools” is really several interests, some of which oppose one another, many more of which work at cross purposes. Education’s complexity and internal battling killed the mayoral campaign of John Connolly, who made education his big issue, only to find out that it isn’t one issue at all.

Do we lift the cap on number of allowed charter schools ? Or do we de-emphasize charters and place our emphasis, once again, on stahdard public schools ? If we lift the charter school cap, do we require charters to change their selectivi9ty, codes of discipline, and foreign language student access ?

Do we require a longer school day, and, if so, what curricula should the added school time pursue ?

Do we expand MCAS and PARCC testing, keep tests at current levels, or de-emphasize them ?

Do we require our state’s pumped-up version of Common Core curriculum stahdards, or do we teach to another curriculum standard ?

How do we apply the anti-bullying law without over-managing school society ? What degree of free expression do we allow to students, and in which grades ?

How do we transport kids to school ? In Boston, the supeeintendent’s decsion to use public trsnit to get 7th and 8th grade kids to school aroused major opposition.

How do we make higher education more affordable ? Do we allow undocumented immigrant kids the same in-state tuition accorded to other kids ? If not, why not ?

I cannot see any of these major school issues being resolved uickly or without political cost to Baker. Yet resolving most of them is vital to his goals of closing the “achievement gap” and of assuring that schooling readies kids for actual employment. Whomever Baker appoints Commissioner of Education need only look at current commissioner Mitchell Chester’s difficulties and frustrations, decisions reversed, others mistaken.

Lastly : will the new Education Commissioner be someone from high school or grade school background, or a higher eduaction name ? Whichever direction Baker chooses, the other may feel itself second-placed.

And now for Transportation. Where do we apply first ? The MBTA, which needs better cars, new tracks and signalling, lines extended (and these, soon), and stronger pension mangement ? Or do we rebuild our bridges — thinking especially about bridges now that Boston has had to close down the Northern Avenue and Long island bridges because they’re dangerously deficient — and fix roadways ? In this regard I think especially of the white-paint lane dividers which, on many highways, haven’t been repainted in years and can’t be seen any longer at night — a very dangerous proposition.

Can we actually build the long-awaited South coast rail line, currently sidelined by state and Federal environmental impact studies ? What status do we accord bicycle traffic, which is increasing rapidly in the big cities ? How will the state’s alternative energy interests, who seek an end to use of fossil fuels, affect future road and transit planning ?

The proposed Boston 2024 Olympics will require significant changes in Boston’s transit lineage and scheduling. Do we have the fubnds to accomplish therse changes ? Lastly, can the legislature enact — would Governor Baker sign — any kind of transportation tax to replace the gas tax index that waas voted out by a November referendum ?

I do not envy the person who gets handed Baker’s transportation portfolio. The “DOT” is a varsity-grade agency, stafed by dedicated, knowledgeable, savvy people. How do we best use the smart people who oversee our state’s transportation systems ? I am waiting to see who it will be and how he or she intends to do the job.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 seaport housing1 hyde park houses

affordable housing ? Not in Boston. Lots of the photo on the left, almost none of the photo on the right

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Most of us agree that housing is a human right. But how to bring it about ? Because housing is not free, having it is not automatic for everybody. There should be no such phrase a “homeless person,” but there is.

There also shouldn’t be any riddle is, how to find housing that one can afford that’s also safe and, or not a two hour commute from where I work ? So what do we do about it ?

It’s easy to find affordable housing, but almost all of it, at least in Massachusetts, lies distant indeed from everything else in one’s life. Or it can be had by moving away from where one lives out to where the affordable housing beckons. For most, that’s not an option. Why should one have to move away from family and friends ? Why can’t we have affordable housing where we already live and work ?

There are two ways to bring that about. One is to impose rent control. Boston tried that 40 odd years ago. It didn’t work. The other way is to build so much housing that rent prices (and sale prices for buyers) decline over time. This method, we are beginning to try. I doubt that it will work either.

Land acquisition costs are what they are : in Boston, hugely high. As for rents, what landliord is going to ask less rent than the market accords him ? And waht home builder is going to sell for less than he feels a buyer will pay ?

Building affordable housing means defying the market. Boston’s economy is working quite well for those who earn a six-figure income, and because many affluents now want to live in center city — or as close to center as they can get — rents and sales prices have risen higher and higher; even during the 2007 – 13 real estae market collapse, center city sales prices rose without a break.

The City can require a developer to offer a portion of his planned living units at a price agreed to be “affordable” — more on this term later — but nothing can prevent that “affordable” unit from moving up in price as the market moves up.

Well meaning, or politically smart developers are now winning BRA approval for projects of this mixed-price type. Neighborhoods like them. We’ll see how long they survive as such.

Ultimately, the only event likely to establish a supply of “affordable” housing is for people with six figure incomes to change their living habits; to move out of the city, as happened after World War Ii, leaving center city with a huge inventory of vacant apartments and unsold residences. Right now, the opposite is happening.

And what, exactly, does “affordable” mean ? For people with six figure incomes, a $ 3,000 monthly rent, or an $ 800,000 condo price, is affordable. Can you handle that ? I know that I can’t. I don'[t meaaure up. Clearly, in a political context, “affordable” means “housing for those who people who, like me, don’t measure up.”

We can create housing with prices susidized (by Federal programs accessible via HUD, for example), but such housing rapidly acquires a neighborhood identity as such, amd as those who live in such housing are perforce visibly lower income than people who live nearby in “market rate” housing, subisdized housing becomes ghetto-ized, socially if not racially.

Or we can continue to tolerate having the Boston area’s “affordable” housing be 30, 40, 60, 80 miles away, forcing those who have to worry about “affordability” to endure commutes of up to two hours (and more) each way, to get to work, with the added transportation costs long travel imposes.

Mayor Walsh has called for Boston to add as many as 53,000 units of “affordable” housing in the next decade. He may well achieve the number, but how will he keep it in place ? The only ways that I can foresee Boston becoming hospitable to ‘affordable” housing are — to repeat myself — for the city’s economy to decline, or for people to once again decamp to leafy suburbs as happened after World War II.

Boston today is a luxury wallet’s dream. It is hot, it is trendy, it is gleaming with well off young professionals and those who service their high-end desires. If you can’t cope, you will simply have to find some other way — and all the wishes and hopes of well-meaning politicians can do nothing about it.

—– Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Voters In LineA few voters

for some citizens, voting still matters a lot. Enough to wait in line., But to most of us, voting is something we just don’t do any more.

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As the 2016 Presidential election approaches, I can’t but wonder if it will engage more than a minority of American citizens. Heck, barely a majority even of registered voters will likely bother to cast a vote. About 50 percent did so even in 2012, when America’s first Black president sought re-election. Not much more tan that voted in 2008 despite enormous enthusiasm in communities of color.

What is going on ? Why are Americans not voting ?

We all know that in the mid-term election a month ago, about 27 percent of voters voted. The percentage was much less than that for all citizens — maybe as many as half of all American citizens aren’t on the voter lists. Why not ?

Not so long ago, American elections claimed turnouts of 70, even 80 percent of voters. In Massachusetts, 70 to 80 percent was the norm; sometimes, back in the 1920s and 1930s, 90 percent voted in many communities of Massachusetts. This time, the state turnout was barely 50 percent — 37 percent in Boston, same percent as voted in the city’s big mayoral election in 2013. Mayor elections once drew 60 to 70 percent of voters. Not now. Why not ?

What are the consequences of this non-participation ? Do they really matter much ?

I say that the consequences are enormous and do matter a lot. But first, the reasons why citizens aren’t voting :

( 1 ) politics has become enormously less participatory. Forty years ago and more, for example, almost all campaigning involved labor intensity. Doing a state-wide mailing required thousands of volunteers to fold brochures, insert them in envelopes, lick and stamp the envelopes, bag them bulk mail bags.. Today those huge mailings are done by hired mailer firms. Meanwhile, advocacy and single-issue interest groups do almost all the door knocking and GOTV work non election day. Ordinary volunteers aren’t needed or sought.

( 2 ) campaigns now cost so much money that candidates and their key people spend vast time raising money, thus much less time seeking out voters or doing voter registration drives. Registering people to vote is hard, slow, diligent work. Few people have time now to do it. Interest groups are focused on their already existing members. Party committees don’t organize registration drives. So no one does them. Black churches make for an exception; but even they can only reach people who are, or are related to, congregants. As newly registered voters are more likely to turn out than not, the lack of voter registration work holds down potential turnout.

( 3 ) the almost disappearance of political patronage has left campaigns without a ready source of dependable volunteers. First, it, used to be that many people, especially in cities, joined campaigns in order to seek patronage. That happens much less now. Second, patronage people can be counted on to do campaign work and are known; no time needs to spent finding them and training them how to do campaign work. Gratis volunteers need to be identified, and that comes chiefly from door knocking that today occurs much later in campaigns and chiefly by interest groups.

( 4 ) the dominance, in campaigns, of advertising has made citizens think of campaigns as a commercial imposition on them and done by strangers, not neighbors. People hate commercials. Campaigns whose major activity resembles commercials turn voters off rather than engage their enthusiasm.

( 5 ) Negative advertising is not only commercial, it’s bad gossip. The message of every negative ad is that politics is dirty and degrading, a whiff from the lowest of life. Not many voters want anything to do with that, nor should they. Voters, like all citizens, want to participate in doings that inspire them and make them feel that they are bettering their condition. Activities that proffer the opposite, people avoid like the plague.

( 6 ) Lastly, many voters feel that campaigns don’t really matter; that the powerful and the wealthy own the system and the process, so why bother.  In this, the voters are right. Every one of the first five causes that I have listed arise from this biggest of all burdens on our democracy. Patronage was a sure way for the ordinary person to benefit from politics. Participation was an easy way for  such a person to get noticed. Advertising shuts down the voices of ordinary voters. Money excludes all who don’t have much of it.

We instituted universal suffrage in order to enable everybody to participate more or less equally in directing our nation and its government., For the past 30 years we have done just about everything guaranteed to make universal participation feel useless, look unnecessary, make a waste of time and smell dirty., Is it any wonder that most of us now see it that way ?

Those who still vote are almost all people with a stake in the system and the process : activists, insiders, interest groups, political groupies, campaigners, candidates and their families.

I see no prospect that this trend will reverse. It’s not a happy time for those of us who believe that every vote should be cast and that each vote must count.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Read our report on Sam Sutter’s victory in Tuesday’s Mayor recall.

The Local Vocal

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Mr. Smith goes to City Hall : victorious Sam Sutter enters his victory party at the legendary Clipper Restaurant on South main Street

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Yesterday 16,557 Fall River voters cast ballots in that city’s first ever recall election. On the recall question itself, the result wasn’t close. 10,631 voted “yes” to recall the city’s three-term mayor, Will Flanagan; only 4,669 voted “no.”

On the second question — who should be elected the city’s new mayor — the result wasn’t really close either. 6021 people voted for Bristol County District attorney Sam Sutter, 4393 for Flanagan. So that’s it, Sam Sutter will be Fall River’s new mayor.

A third candidate, Seekonk town manager Shawn Cadime, received 3,068 votes. City Councillor Mike Miozza won 2,298 votes. Both men had plenty of volunteers helping. Cadime had the city’s firefighters, a campaign organizer from Boston, and a team of policy people…

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1  H Uppmann 21  H Uppmann

You are authorized, once again, to buy, and bring back to America, up to $ 100 worth of the best cigar in the world : Cuba’s H. Uppmann

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Two nights ago President Obama announced that after 56 years, our nation and Cuba would restore full diplomatic relations. To effect this chanhe, he is sending Secretary of state John Kerry to Havana almost immediately, to negotiate the opening of an American embassy.

Many observers hail this decision as a big deal. To us, it’s simply common sense. It should have been done long ago, but everyone’s been afraid of angering the Cuban-American vote, virulently anti-Castro regime (for very good, personal reasons), and concentrated in Florida, a state with 29 electoral votes and almost always winnable for either party. as we see it, Obama decided to change the policy or three reasons : first, Pope Francis asked both parties to do so — and Pope Francis is a man whom all people of good will respect. Second, the confrontation policy hasn’t worked at all other than as a display of pique. Lastly, I think Obama decided that with Jeb Bush likely to run for President, Florida’s 29 electoral votes will be his whatever : thus the opening of relations with Cuba will not, of itself, hurt the 2016 Democratic candidate.

Whatever the calculation, the new policy helps the world move forward. Even as so many parts of the world are going to the mattresses, vicious with brutal tribal wars, we two nations are moving toward peace, communication, and great cigars.

There is plenty to not like about the Castro Brothers rule over Cuba even now. Human rights mean little to them; the economy struggles; few Cubans have internet, or businesses, or cars newer than the Meyer Lansky era; or any but local freedoms. The new agreement between America and Cuba will change this situation but slightly, yet not insignificantly. Cubans will now have internet access; US travelers are freer now to visit Cuba; they’ll also be able to use their credit cards to buy; and Cuban nationals with bank accounts outside the island will have thiose accounts unbloocked.

Lastly, two American prisoners, jailed in Cuba for whatever, have now been released,and three Cubans held in American prison have been freed as well.

We celebrate this common sense and wise initiative by President Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro. History will surely reward them. As for me, I’m going to light up an H. Uppmann.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere