1 Stephen Pagliuca

^ Boston2024’s new chief, Stephen Pagliuca : feeling the heat of Governor Baker’s “wise use of taxpayer funds” principle, now firmly established in Massachusetts public policy

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It should by now be apparent to all that “wise use of taxpayer funds” is the first principle of Governor Baker’s government reform. Don’t undertake an initiative if it wastes money; don’t do necessary state services incompetently; don’t expand a state agency that isn’t handling its current duties well.

This insistence on efficient, effective government, in both the execution and the planning stage, has radically recalibrated public policy assumptions even as it cancels, or delays, one project after another that can’t justify its budget.

Before, the assumption seemed to be “roll out the plan first, worry about paying for it later.” We now know the consequences. Governor Baker has put in place, in five short months, the exactly opposite assumption. We approve. So do the voters.

The consequences of this major shift show up all over both City and State. Most obvious is reform of the T, in which the principle of “reform first, then new revenue” is well on the way to enactment by the legislature. Clearly it was the T’s collapse that convinced voters to endorse the Baker Principle.

He has applied it to everything.

Many people were surprised that Baker decided to halt Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s move to new quarters on Tremont Street in Roxbury, yet that decision rests on the same Baker principle : get things right first before undertaking new ones. Reforming the MBTA’s operations matters more than moving its headquarters, so, reform the MBTA first. then, once that’s done, move the headquarters — maybe.

Governor Patrick had pushed the “DOT” move as a means to jump-start private investment in Roxbury — an agenda well worth achieving. Revival of Roxbury’s economy has moved ahead anyway, at a pace alarming to some, who see the neighborhood changing rapidly, becoming pricey and “gentrified.” As the only sure way to halt “gentrification” of a neighborhood is to make it less, not more, desirable to live in, those who oppose “gentrification” of Roxbury might have welcomed Baker’s move, were it as damaging to Roxbury prospects as Patrick claimed when touting the plan. Yet no such applause was heard. (NOTE : We shall see. This entire topic merits a separate op-ed, which Here and Sphere will publish at its Roxbury Here subsidiary.)

Baker has also established the axiom that state budgets should not incur deficits that have to be covered by borrowing. Hard decsions were made about funding for crucial state agencies : DCF, District attorneys’ offices, aid to early education, includiung grants. All of these programs have large constituencies; in the Patrick years, taxes would have been raised; yet the House, under Speaker DeLeo”s leadership, voted UNANIMOUSLY for Baker’s no new taxes budget.

The Baker Principle has changed the story also for the Boston Olympics bid. Opposition to the bid began with public school advocates, from both sides, the Teachers’ union and the so-called “Democrats for education reform,’ who normally oppose the Teachers Union. Why spend public money on a three week party, these folks said, when the same dollars could be allocated to schools ? It was a red herring question, because the money likely to be spent on Olympics structures wasn’t otherwise going to be spent at all; and this was seen or what it was, and the Olympics Bid went forward quite undeterred. Mayor Walsh decided to go all in, sending his top political people to the Olympics Bid staff. No sooner had he done so than support for the Bid collapsed, as the piublic began to see it as purely a haven for political typoes needing a cionsulting paycheck.

All of that was interesting to newsmakers such as me; but it also played into the Baker Principle, as the Bid Committee was seen to not have a land use plan free of embarrassing errors or t0o have a financial plan not grounded in wishes and hopes. Baker demanded a better plan, one that adheres to his Principle. He could do so, because the Bid Committee anticipates using public funds — a funding source it denied at first — and public funds are Baker’s territory. Period.

Baker has continued to demand a candid, defensile plan, even as the Bid Committee has restructured itself completely — including easing out its original chieftain, John Fish — and as it twists in the wind of its poor (even deceptive) prior planning.

Today, the Olympics Bid’s ordeal with the Baker Principle stands as the most vivid demonstration of why that Principle matters, and of its timeliness in a state where big plans are driving a booming economy of innovation. there’s hardly one voter constituency, other than the Building Trades Unions, that do not stand with Baker’s applying his Principle to the Olympics Bid; and support for applying his Principle to the MBTA — and all of state government — seems hardly less strong. It might even be stronger.

I’m not at all sure that the OLympics Bid Committee can come up with a plan that meets the Baker test. But they will have to, or else be defeated. Because the Baker Principle has taken deep root and now guides all of Massachusetts public policy — Roxbury dynamics and Olympics dreams included.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 james o'brien

^ Carmen’s Union’s James O’brien opposes a Fiscal Control Board for the T,  threatens to invoke the Federal Transit Act

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Yesterday’s Boston Globe reported that the Carmen’s Union, which represents most MBTA workers, refuses to accept the Fiscal Control Board that Goveror Baker and the legislature seek to enact, and by which the Governor will possess full power to reform every part of the MBTA’s operations.

Said their President James O’brien, the Carmen will invoke a 1974 Federal law that protects transit workers throughout the nation from having any of their bargaining rights amended — a law that authorizes the Federal government to withhold Federal funds assistance from any authority seeking to amend those worker protections. In the case of the MBTA, those funds amount to several billions of dollars. O’Brien is saying, in essence, that he will crash the T rather than compromise even one part of the Carmen’s bargaining agreements.

It’s worth reading the transit law that O’Brien threates to invoke. So here it is — the statutory requirements of Section 13(c) of the Federal Transit Act, as codified at 49 U.S.C. § 5333(b):

“It shall be a condition of any assistance under section 3 of this Act that fair and
equitable arrangements are made, as determined by the Secretary of Labor, to protect the
interests of employees affected by such assistance. Such protective arrangements shall
include, without being limited to, such provisions as may be necessary for (1) the
preservation of rights, privileges, and benefits (including continuation of pension rights
and benefits) under existing collective bargaining agreements or otherwise; (2) the
continuation of collective bargaining rights; (3) the protection of individual employees
against a worsening of their positions with respect to their employment; (4) assurances
of employment to employees of acquired mass transportation systems and priority of
reemployment of employees terminated or laid off; and (5) paid training or retraining
programs. Such arrangements shall include provisions protecting individual employees
against a worsening of their positions with respect to their employment which shall m no
event provide benefits less than those established pursuant to section 5(2)(f) of the Act
of February 4, 1887 (24 Stat. 379), as amended. The contract for the granting of any
such assistance shall specify the terms and conditions of the protective arrangements.”

The language of Section 13(c) seems inescapable. If Baker’s T reform seeks to amend even one bargained agreement with the Carmen, the Secretary of Labor can move to withhold Federal transportation assistance from that transit system.

Section 13(c)(1) and (2) leave no room whatsoever for unilateral alterations. But two of the proposed changes that the Carmen object to may not fall under a bargaining agreement. First : is the operation of the MBTA pension system a contractual right ? Second, is the Pacheco Law — an entirely separate, state enactment regarding the process needed before T workers’ work is outsourced — any part of the Carmen’s actual bargaining agreement, or is it, instead, a separate protection, entirely state-sanctioned, and thus not covered by the Federal law O’Brien threatens to invoke ?

The one bargaining right assured to  the Carmen by the Transit Act is binding arbitration. It’s specifically mentioned in therein.  Some have argued that as no other public worker union in Massachusetts enjoys unreviewable binding arbitration, why should the Carmen have it ? True : all other public worker unions arbitration rights are subject to review by city councils, mayors, and town managers. Why should T workers not see their arbitration awards subject to review ? Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, when he was a state representative, introduced legislation to remove the reviewability of arbitration awards; it went nowhere. Public sentiment has moved in the opposite direction.

Nonetheless, the Federal Transit act stands. O’Brien is free to invoke it to safeguard binding arbitration. Does he really want to do that ? Maybe he does.

My own opinion is that the Governor and legislature should forge ahead with the top to bottom T reform law they are likely to enact; and let the Carmen do their damedest. The law they seek to invoke does not apply at all unless an actual move is made by the Fiscal Control Board (FCB) to make the unilateral changes O’Brien complains of. Meanwhile, the state can petition the Department of Labor for an administrative opinion letter as to what the FCB can and cannot do.

Meanwhile, I am not sure that O’Brien will, in fact, invoke the Federal Transit Act and its withholding of Federal funds assistance. To do so would put the Carmen at odds with the entire riding and taxpaying public, as well as with the legislature and governor. It would be the end for any public support at all for T workers and their bargains, at a time when public unions do not look particularly good to most voters. It would be a huge mistake for the Carmen — for any public workers’ union — to take such a course.

NOTE : for those who want to read the emntire Federal Transit Act, and learn its legislative history, as a significant study in public policy as it operates upon our nation, here’s a link to the entire thing :

Click to access tcrp_lrd_04.pdf

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 President O speaks

^ the right-wing noise fantasy — fakers all — hates the America that President Obama is president of, but it’s glad to rake in millions of dollars from hate media which Obama’s America allows.

This has gone far enough.

For at least six years, Americans have been pummeled by the ugliest sort of negativity from what we call the “Right Wing.” Racism, selfishness, religion on the hoof, guns in your face, demeaning of everyody who isn’t White and — by their definition of it — Christian. The election of President Obama boomed this wave of anti, but even during George W. Bush’s presidency it festered. And now comes the lunacy that has circulated through social media these past two weeks, that an Army training exercise in Texas is actiually a plot to “take over” the state.

This has gone more than far enough.

This sort of craziness would be insignificant — clown car stuff– were it not that media controlled and funded by bigot billionaires give it enormous presence, seducing us to think that it represents many people, whereas it represents hardly any. It is but a loud fart farted from a very small butthole.

This smelly buffoonery toilets the noses of millions, persuading us, ny its stink, that something factual is at our door. It isn’t. None of it is a fact;. Nothing that right wing media bellows at us has any truth to it at all. It is false, as anyone can find who takes the time to do some serious looking at how things actually fall out.

The typical tactic of rightist media is to hit upon a incident which no one else finds of any importance, edit that incident, cut and splice the events, and reshape them as something that never did happen at all, then bellow that invented event at you as if it were your danger.

This has gone well beyond far enough.

Nothing of this diverges from what Nazi Germany did, or Stalin’s Russia, or from any other tyranny imposed, in the age of radio, TV, and the internet, by pirates and schemers lying to people and spreading groundless fears among us. But one difference there is : ur current noise folks do it for the money it brings them. Hucksters. Elmer Gantry.

As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in 1933, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He said this at a time when Americans had plenty to worry about, and at which there were plenty of demagogues and liars all around — some with microphones and large audiences of the scared — bellowing out doom and hatred. Go listen sometime to the rants of Gerald L. K. Smith.

It stopped back then, and it must stop now. And if you won’t stop it, we will.

To the falsifiers, the propagandists, the apologist for greed, for bigotry, for guns and racism, the pugs who wrap their butts in “the Constitution” — whose purposes they actually oppose — as they go about attacking our nation, insulting what it stands for, we say this : America is not you and never will be you.

Though the struggle is difficult, and made much more difficult because of the noise glitter uttered by bigot media — which many seem to believe who ougut to know better — the America of tomorrow is coming : diverse, optimistic, innovative, tolerant, respectful, less violent; brave and welcoming.

The new America is growing fast in our big cities, whence it shall spread to the rest of our country, erasing the illusions, ridiculing the falsities, dissolving the fears and the hatreds, many of them spread by policy pimps whose purpose is to profit from people’s willingness to believe craven liars.

The new America is ours. Let us go for it, emabrace it, teach it to our children.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Boston on a hill

^ Boston at night seen from East Boston. Our City on the coast was — and is being — built by believers in a better future

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America exists because many generationms o men annd wome have opted to make the world new. Optimism drives the nation, makes it what it is ; a land of tomorrow.

There are plenty of human societies in which yesterday is the goal. Whose people fear the future, terribly afraid of what it may ring and what it means. America has never bee among them. It has been the place to which believers in the future have come. We call such people “immigrants.” they are us.

But today that which America has ever been is fast becoming what it now is : a land in which people fear the future and what it will bring. Every poll shows that a huge majority of Americans think the nation is on “the wrong track.” The same polls show overwhelmig disapproval of Congress. that isn’t surprising. People who fear the future fear especially the government charged with leading them ito the future.

Why do so many Americans fear the future ? It’s easy to say that declining earnings and buying power make people afraid. They do. But there is much more afoot than that. As Thomas Friedman recently opined in the New York Times, the entire world of work, of production, of education and information, is changing top to bottom; and few of us have figured out how to adapt to that revolution in human arrangements.

We who live in Boston see it up close. The economy of collaborative competition among small start ups and research outfits, bound together by networking and public relations, and fueled by educational experimentation in partnership with business and government, has grow up all around us without — util recently — our really noticing. Now we notice big time. Now that it has taken command of our institutions, our salaries, our living costs and our social arrangements, we see it, we feel it. It hurts even we who live among it. imagine how those who live far beyond the City and its economy must feel about things.

Pessimism ? Let me count the ways : Student debt that can’t be paid off; graduates who cannot find jos i their study field, or at all; an interview process that excludes almost everybody; background checks that eliminate entire categories of people; layoffs and more layoffs, followed by years of searching for a new job at half the pay — and ot getting one; rising costs or housing; expensive credit card fees and bank charges; the enormous costs that we shove onto the shoulders of the poor, including the risk of ies and penalties for those who drive without insurance because they can’t afford it or without a license because they can’t pay old traffic tickets — not to mention back child support.

internet access costs money. So does a new smartphone. The cell service bill, with unlimited data — which one needs — costs at least $ 100 per line per month. Utilities are not cheap, given our City’s heating season. Cable TV costs about 4 170 a month. Parking a car costs up to $ 20 a day downtown. Clothes needed for city life cost money, entertainments and a meal out cost even more. If you aren’t making $80,000 a year at least, you can’t hang out, can’t network, can’t stay with the momentum. And the $ 80,000 a year jobs are there, for the lucky few who have the education, the imagination, the connections and the look. Even the $ 150,000 jobs are there, and some at $ 250,000.

the people earning such salries have the optimism that livelies up a room. Go to Row 34, or Trade, or the Bostonia Pub or Cathedral Station, Stephanie’s, Bricco, the Navy Yard Bistro, and Bastille Kitchen : you’ll see them conversing and discussing all the way through $ 40 a person meals and $ 7 craft beers. No politics of pessimism here.

But for every 100 people yoiu will see at these smartphoned boites there’s 10,000 people who don’t have the money to pay last month’s cable TV bill, or two months ago’s electric bill, or their auto excise tax, much less afford a $ 40 meal out. 10,000 stay at homes who you do not see but who exist living “lives of quiet desperation,” as Henry David Thoreau once said of the average family. Among them, the politics of pessimism rule. It’s a wonder that — at least here in Massachusetts — more people living on the edge (or over it) have ot yet plunked for political pessimism.

Oe tright spot : the Downtown inovatots who ear $ 80,000 to 4 250,000 a year 9ad higher) buy a loty of stuff from businesses who employ a lot of service workers. The next twety years will see a huge urst of service jobs. We should assure that those thousands of new service workers (and those already working) enough money to buy the same stuff that they serve. That was the principle that made Henry Ford a rich man and grew America : “my workers should earn enough to buy the cars that they make,” he said. He paid them that, and buy they did.

The $ 15 ann hour wage that Boston’s service workers now seek is a good start. Frankly, i would not mind seeing full time service workers earn $ 22 an hour. They earn that in much of Europe, with benefits too. Why not here ? Many US cities are already ordering the $ 15 an hour wage. Businesses are flocking to such cities, because they know that there they’ll find an entire populace with money to spend.

The economic revolution well under way is going to breed more pessimism still. Every arrangement our society has taken for granted will be not at all the same ten years from now, 20 years, 50 years. Not work, not education, not business, not wages, not transportation, not the climate, not lifestyles. Yet we cannot go back to what was. Those ways have been rendered useless. we have only two feasible options : grumble through the changes, or take command, make ourselves masters of it all. Just as our boldest forbears did, again and again.

Three good places to start : raise the miimum wage to $ 15 an hour, or higher, and adjust other wages accordingly; make community college tuition free for all, including for undocumented immigrants; and free publicly funded education from the one size fits all, work rule inertia that keeps schools focused on 1930, not 2030.

Too difficult ? i think not. As Nelson Mandela, the greatest of political optimists, famously said : ‘it always looks impossible until it’s done.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Speaker DeLeo fights1 Stan Roseberg speaks

^ Speaker DeLeo has neatly deflected Senate President Rosenberg’s power play — for now — by advancing the Governor’s T reforms

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With the announcement today by House Speaker Robert DeLeo that he supports Governor Baker’s call for creation of a Financial Control Board to operate the MBTA, full reform of the “T” looks as if it’s going to happen. Actually.

i attribute the Speaker’s decision at least in part — maybe important part — to the ongoing turf war between the House and State Senate. Senate President Rosenberg has made it quite clear from the beginning of this session that he had an agenda of his own, and he has pursued that agenda relentlessly. One part of that agenda is to free the Senate from dominance by the House. Speaker deLeo has fought back. The dispute remains undecided.

Rosenberg’s power play has led to huge changes on Beacon Hill. For the past two decades plus, Beacon Hill has been run by the Governor and the key legislative leader worling in parthership. While Bill Bulger was Senate president, he was the partner. But ever since then, the House Speaker has been the dominant. Governors who failed to accept a subordinate role found very quickly that they had no role in legislation. Governor Baker early on realized that partnership with DeLeo was the only way for him to have any effect at all.

That was how it looked when, on January 8th of this year, Baker was sworn in. But almost the next day, Senate President Rosenberg announced that he was no longer satisfied with being a minority player in joint legislative committees; that the Senate wanted equal representation or it would set up its own committees.

The dispute at first seemed procedural only — a musical chairs thing but not a policy fight. Fairly soon that impression was shown the door. By March at the latest it became evident that Rosenberg — supported by several very vocal Senate members, Jamie Eldridge above all — intended to pursue the so-called “progressive” agenda. It was, and is, an agenda that DeLeo does not support.

Progressives made it quite clear during last year’s Governor campaign, in which they advanced a candidate of their own, Don Berwick, that they viewed DeLeo as an obstacle. His priorities align closely with those of the business community — and with the Governor’s. The progressives have other connections.

It seemed, as Rosenberg took the Senate into progressive policy space, that his move would make it difficult for Baker and DeLeo by themselves to settle the state’s business. The opposite has happened. As DeLeo has fought back, he has actually strengthened his partnership with the Governor on many key issues, because he now needs the Governor as much as the Governor needs him.

DeLeo has fought this new battle impressively. The house unanimously enacted Baker’s no new tax, fiscal year 2016 budget, with its deep cuts to many programs — cuts necessitated by a $ 1.8 billion deficit. That unanimous vote included all the House’s progressives, even the most progressive. Unanimously they voted for a budget matching Governor Baker’s.

The Fight for MBTA reform seemed, until today, to be a different matter. The legislature speedily gave the Governor complete control of the Department of Transportation’s oversight board — but not, yet, the Fiscal Control baord that he wanted in order to gain day to day, operational control of the T itself. Senator Rosenberg, too, was quick to give Baker that; and why not ? Giving Baker — the expert manager — full control of a board that appeared to have control of the T but actually does not have it, was giving him a booby trapped gift : with only oversight under his control, Baker would not be able to reform the T (its unions especially) and, in 2018, with an unreformed T obvious to all, Rosenberg and his likely 2018 Governor candidate could campaign against the managerial failure of “expert manager'” Baker.

The Governor does not seem to have realized that a trap was being set. To the Transportation Board — all of it now his to appoint — he appointed only one person likely to be in the Senate camp : Local 26 President Brian Lang; whereas he ought to have appointed only Senate candidates, people who, he could say in 2018, had hindered his expertise in supporting the T status quo.

He did not do that, and until today, the risk was real.

Speaker DeLeo’s support for the Fiscal Control Board wanted by the Governor may not do the trick; but I think it will — a few Senators already support it, dividing that now isolated body. More importantly, the Speaker’s move heads off the entire Rosenberg 2018 argument.

Rosenberg would be wise now to concede. He has made his point. He has proved to the progressives that the Senate is theirs, a launching pad for a 2018 Governor candidacy. Here, Rosenberg cannot lose. If his progressive Governor candidate wins, he has bested the Speaker. If that candidate loses, Rosenberg still controls the path to the Democratic nomination, giving his fellow progressives the dominant position in future Democratic nominations. And who knows ? After 2018 he may even confront a different Speaker who hasn’t the enormous power now wielded by DeLeo.

That, in my view, is Rosenberg’s long game. The Speaker has smartly deflected the gambit, or now — and full T reform will surely follow. But there are other fights ahead, on issues in which the public is not as universally on the side of both Governor and Speaker as it is with regard to the T. I think of early education funding, or alternative energy priorities (incliuding funding for the Department of Environmental affairs), and the DCF caseload crisis. All these will reuire new revenues and thus, possibly, new taxes. The fiscal year 2017 budget will be the arena in which Rosenberg will make his nexxt, much stronger move in what is — so far — a brilliantly planned long game.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ on the issue of international trade, it’s his yes versus her no. We’re with Yes.

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Last week we argued that the President should, on balance, be granted what he calls “fast track” authority to negotiate an Asian trade partnership Pact (TPP). Since that time we’ve heard, or read, all the primary arguments pro and con. We come away even more certain than we were : the President should — must — be granted full authority to conclude the TPP.

Trade is the lifeblood of civilisations. Commerce makes us freer than we would be otherwise, and more prosperous. Commerce promotes tolerance, cultural diversity, lifetsyle multiplicity.

Commerce is not tio be trifled with. Yet ever since the embargo used by President Jefferson , in 1812, as a kind of war by other means, Americans have from time to time thought it useful to disconnect our trade from the world’s. It almost never is wise. The 1812 embargo bankrupted coastal New England. President Carters’s boycott of the Moscow Olnypics, on an issue of human rights, saved no people from rights abuse but did bring us scorn and irrelevance. Moves to have universities divest holdings in companies doing business with Isarel disfigure those who make such moves. The same is true of those who would have universities divest from the energy industry. All that such moves do is to put thousands of well-paid jobs at risk and make an investor’s task harder.

Yet embargo and divest are the siblings of the courses being bruited by those who oppose the TPP. We can’t have it, they say, because our prospective trade partners might not obey our ideas about child labor, unions, smoky skies, or currency. We can’t have trade agreements because some of our trade partners abuse human rights. (Hmmm, so do we.) Or, say some of the objectors, we can’t have TPP because the Obama administration isn’t enforcing provisos written into trade treaties already enacted.

Our own senator, Elizabeth Warren, has made a huge magillah along these lines. Those who think no further than the sound emoted from her lips applaud her profusely.

The “fast track”: proposal was held up, briefly, because some Senators want to attach provisos to it barring currency manipulation by the Chinese and insisting on protections for workers, including a ban on child labor. Worthy goals all. I do ot see how not having a TPP treaty at all advances them.

We find the objectors’ refusals a mere, modern version of embargo. Do things our way or we’ll take our marbles and go home.

Forget, I guess, that, as President Obama points out, the nations with whom we wish to do TPP represent 95 percent of the world’s consumers. Forget, evidently, that if we don’t partner with these nations, our economic competitors will be glad to step in. Forget, too, I guess, the huge economic benefits of TPP : the trade surpluses — which strengthen our dollar and support our Federal bonds; the enormous revenue opportunities; the innovation that will be required in order to dominate this huge economic zone, which just happens to feature most of the world’s best education systems, best skilled students, and most efficient manufacturers.

Lastly, there’s the big private industry labor unions. they too don’t want to see the President have “fast tarck.’ Heck, they don’t want any trade treaty at all. to them, trade treaty means lost American jobs.

About that, they’re probably right,. a trade treaty does probably mean lost American jobs. But it also, just a likely, means new American jobs, of a different order in different economic environs. Are these new jobs nothing ? To the unionists they probably are nothing, because it’s very likely they won’t be union jobs. Skilled technology jobs in small enterprises aren’t very conducive to the union method — a very worthy method, as it is, for the settings in which it works.

The new types of jobs that the TPP is likely to create will be higher paid, perhaps ot very secure, highly mobile; but they will be jobs. Better them than no jobs at all. The jobs that the anti-TPP union leaders seek to preserve will not be around much longer no matter how much political formaldehyde they’re washed in.

No one can say if the TPP will create a brave new world of workers’ rights, currencies not manipulated, environments shiny and new. But I don’t see how not ennacting TPP will bring any of those to pass either. Give the President full, authority to het a TPP treaty doe.

—- Mike Freederg / Here and Sphere


1 Green Line Ext

^ Hallelujah !  route of Green Line Extension to be ready by mid 2020

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Two nights ago I attended a meeting in Medford at which community activists discussed the forthcoming Green Line extension with MBTA project managers. What i heard, over the course of almost two hours, was a case study in budget busting. I’m afraid that such busted budgets are a way of life at the “T.” This cannot continue.

Extension of the Green Line, from its current terminus at Lechmere out through Somerville and into Medford, has been on the table for years and years. At the meeting we found out — because I asked; nobody else did — that completion won’t take place until mid-2020. Meanwhile, the entire project is having to undergo environmental reviews of all kinds ; noise, vibration, track bed, bed width, snow fences, station size, exiting and entering, footpath access and crossings, traffic study, train frequency. All were at issue at Wednesday night’s meeting, along with the usual NIMBYism.

Here’s a link to the Green Line Extemsion project in all of its details :

i cannot imagine how large the bill will be for all these environment studies; the people hired to do them; the equipment; the web-siting; and meetings after meetings, leading — probably — to yet more design reviews, environmental studies, and more meetings. All of it just to get a few miles of much needed rapid transit built.

The MBTA project team had already worked a full day as the meeting began. They called an end to it somewhat after eight o’clock because, as some said, their last trains home left at nine p.m.

I have seen several such MBTA project teams hosting meetings well past their scheduled work hours. Never have I heard even one T project person express frustration, or show anger, at having to go through endless questioning of the most minor points, some of them palpably irrelevant, again and again. I do’;t kow how they manage it. I could not. I don’t have half the patience. Why do we even have such meetings ?

Riders need the T. Taxpayers are being asked to pay for its deficits. Once we decide that building out the T is a public policy priority — and we have — the process should be one, two, three : pick a route, design the track bed and stations, award the contracts and build. I’m betting we could have at least twenty percent of the cost, and at least half the time, if not more. Get it done.

The above example symbolizes the huge political Rue Golderg that is our present T operation, i which a thousand coflictig political intdrests beget tripliaction and quadruplication, lung-emptying time lapses, and a culture of shrug. Why should a T worker be diligent when all around him is slack ? Why should a T economist count his dollars when the process requires illogical expenditures and spendthrift conversations ?

No woder that South Coast rail ca’t get built despite billions spent on plans, studies, and miore studies.

Some transit extensions have failed for uglier reasons. Thirty years ago, addition to the Orange line from Forest Hills to Needham was quietly snuffed, in some part at least, over objections by suburbanites (and others closer in) to granting “those people” rapid transit access to their precious picket fence havens. The same genus of objections infected extension of the Blue Lne to Salem. I heard them voiced. And yes, I can hear quite well.

If only the T could have been built region-wide back in the day, before narrow interests coalesced to stop things in the public interest from happening !

The T exists so that riders can ride it, to work or to home, to the city or out of the city. The T exists because one cannot usuallly walk to where one needs to go, or bike, or park i the City, or catch a Uber ride. It exists for riders, who are also a large part of its taxpayers. The T should be managed by those who act in riders’ interest. As for the noise, the vibrations, the smell of trains, the traffic, well : those are part of the fizz and buzz of inhabiting the City. Please don’t double the cost (and inefficiency) of T projects because you don’t like the hubbub you live in.

The Governor’s proposed Fiscal Control Board will have power to reconfigure every part of T operation, including collecting fares on the Commuter-rail : its cost, its work rules, its bargaining arrangements, its culture, its mission, its accountability. Because the Winter exposed the T’s may weaknesses mercilessly, we have a unique opportunity, politically, to conquer the maelstrom. We should take it. We MUST take it. Those who oppose the Governor’s proposal want things to stay as they are — and some, I think, have a more disingenuous agenda that we cannot allow to gain traction.

But that’s a story for another day — though maybe not at all, if the Governor wins this fight.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ The President is angry. He has a right to be.

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We haven’t seen the details of the Trans Pacific partnership accord that President Obama is negotiating. As the details of the accord are listed classified, we can not see them. Nonetheless, we can tell a lot about the accord by the opposition to it : who is opposed, and why. Based on that opposition, we feel pretty confident in supporting the President’s request for authority to “fast track” the accord.

By “fast tarck” it is meant that the accord, once negotiated, can only be voted up or down, as is. The Senate cannot amend.

It was this request by the President that the Senate voted down two days ago. The vote was 52 to 45. Only one Democrat, Tom Carper of Delaware, voted yes. Rejected by his own party, the President had a right to be angry.

Once before we saw this sort of thing debase the Senate. It was a dark day, two years ago when pressure by Republican extremists forced defeat of the Disabilities treaty that Bob Dole fought long and so hard for. Only eight Republicans voted for it; the rest surrendered to crazy outcries from home schoolers.

In the “fast track” case, it is labor unions who drummed down 44 of 45 Democrats. Even the fast-track initiative’s sponslor, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, folded — reminding us of how Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, leading sponsor of the Disabilities Treaty, folded his spine on that dark day two years ago.

The labor union drum, high-hatted by our state’s vocal Senator Warren, is that the new trade treaty will cost millions of American jobs. How do they divine this ? They cite the 1993 North American free trade Agreement (NAFTA), which did result in a dramatic shift of old-line manufacturing jobs away from high-wage America to low-wage nations south of us.

This argument has two parts. We disagree with both. The first argues that because A did X, B, which is of the same genre as A, must also do X. This is nonsense. 22 years later NAFTA, the world of trade and work has transformed. Old line manufacturing jobs no longer lead an economy; indeed, they’re a distraction from the economy that has taken hold and is expanding relentlessly. There aren’t many jobs left to outsource — quite the opposite. Many outsourced indiustries are returning to America for production because today’s US workforce has ar greater competency than that of 1993. As for labor union jobs, today’s can hardly be outsourced or devalued : building trades, service work, government employment. None of these is going to suffer when the Trans Pacific partnership finally becomes agreed to do.

The second argument against “fast track” seems to be that somehow it will create unfair cost competition for American companies seeking to sell to “the rest of the world, 95 percent of the world’s consumers,” as the President puts it. This is merely a circuitous version of the first argument. America conmpanies making manufactured goods have already settled what they saw as labor cost imbalaces.

The opponents simply refuse to accept that the world of work today is dominated by small unit technology enterprise in communication, biomedicine, and education above all; and that these fields know no national boundaries — no boundaries of any kind except for artificial ones erected by governments. China in particular has set up artificial detours to trade in these technology zones, road cones that “TPP” seeks to move aside, so that America technology firms can travel the highways of innovation to the benefit of consumers throughout the TPP zone. (That zone includes Mexico, by the way.)

But we too have barriers to cross border trade. Our laws of trade involve rights and obligations that much of the world has’t yet recognized or adopted.Opponents of “fast track’ seek to defend every jot and tittle of our business laws. The effort is laudable but unrealistic. International conventions on business law and trade regulations are part of the “TPP” and will perforce be part of world wide trade in futuro.

The new global world of techno-work is not one conducive to labor unionization. It’s far too fragmented, rebellious, ornery for the mass teamwork that makes unions effective. Old line unions are having a very hard time adjusting to the new arrangement of economies. They simply do not know how to get from yesterday to tomorrow, and they have a point. But that point cannot command our support. The future of work and trade is already in place and taking over almost every enterprise with economic potential. In big cities like our own Boston, the new economy is a fact to which the rest of the city is now adapting, with some difficulty but adapting all the same. America as a whole needs to follow suit.

Lastly, we reject the idea that NAFTA was all loss. It accelerated economic transformation maybe too quickly, and its consequences caught many by surprise. But even as it destroyed that which could no longer be sustained, it hastened the new world of technology and productivity gains — no decade in 100 years achieved productivity improvements on anything like the same scale.

Thus we come to our decision. The opponents of “fast track’ authority have made the case why that authority should be given to President Obama.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ the Governor (with Secretaries Stephanie Pollock and Jay Ash by his side) testifying in favor of his T Reform bill at yesterday’s legislative hearing

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At Gardner Auditorium yesterday it quickly became evident that everybody wants major reform of the MBTA except the T’s own employees. A good many T workers — not a full room, the auditorium was much more crowded for the recent Opioid Addiction hearing — sat behind him, stone faced as the Governor and his team of transportation advisers testified to the legislature’s transportation Committee in favor of the his T reform bill.

A link to the actual Reform Bill is here, in PDF format :

It also became obvious that sveral legislators were more ready to voice the T workers’ objections than the reforms that riuders, taxpayers, and the public have made the State’s number one current issue. One Senator, Linda Dorcena Forry, voiced one T worker objection in particular, the absenteeism documented in the report recently issued by the Governor’s MBTA reform panel. Absenteeism, as the panel’s report showed, has caused over 10,000 missed bus trips. Senator Forry wanted to excuse much of that absenteeism on one ground or another.

Perhaps there is room for adjustment on this or that critique made of T performance in the MBTA panel’s report, but now seems not the time to be making it. the public wants reform big time, and it wants it now. Polls say that T reform is the state’s number one issue. The public wants the entire T operation reconfigured, and ater this winter’s failures, on top of years of missed trips, equipment failures, and broken down trains, the public has absolutely had it up to here. This, however, you would be hard put to know from what was said yesterday by several members of the Transportation Committee.

House chairman William Straus, in paticular, let it be known — and showed it on his face — that he finds the Governor’s legislation unnecessary, even devious. “Exactly why do we need a Financial Control Board,” he asked the Governor several times, ‘when we’re already giving you a T Board appointed by you ?”

That really Is the question. The Governor didn’t really answer it — although one of his advisers did. the reason that he wants a T Financial Control board is to redirect, rearrange, rethink the T’s entire financial picture, including outsourcing some work now barred by the state’s Pacheco Law and overseeing the MBTA workers’ pension system. The T’s workers want none of this.

The Governor didn’t say it — most of his testimony accentuate big thenes, such as “if nothing changes, then nothing will change” — but fact is that the MBTA Board, as proposed, and whose creation the entire legislature accepts, gives the Governor only oversight powers. His MBTA Board can monitor the T, but it cannot change any part of its procedures. the legislature also is ready to give the Secretary of transportation power to name the MBTA general manager; but the manager cannot change work rules, or act outside the Pacheco Law, or reform the T workers’ pension system, or avoid binding arbitration of labor negotiations.

The Financial Control Board can do that. Which is exactly why the State senate, and some in the House, won’t grant it. or these legislators, it’s well and good to create a few appearances of reform, but unthinkable tlo enable actual, on the ground reform.

It really is a sweeping reform, one that has the power to change the MBTA forever.
Read the Governor’s own legislative argument :

“Effective Oversight and Management: A Fiscal Management Control Board (FMCB) will function as the board of the MBTA, consisting of 5 members, 3 appointed by the Governor, and 1 each referred to the Governor by the Senate President and Speaker of the House, through June 30, 2018. The daily operational, budgeting and planning duties would lie with a Chief Administrator appointed by the Governor.

“Reconstitute the MassDOT Board: Chaired by the Secretary of Transportation, the MassDOT Board will consist of 11 members, eight serving four-year terms coterminous with the Governor, and three serving three-year terms. Members will include a representative from an MBTA core community, an outer MBTA community and a city or town served by a regional transit authority.

“Financial Accountability and Transparency: The FMCB will immediately develop one and five year operating budgets with a focus on improving productivity and increasing revenues. A clear separation of the operating and capital budgets will be implemented and improved procurement practices will move the MBTA to assuring that its capital funds are timely and well spent. The MBTA Retirement Fund would be frozen for payouts to new hires until an independent audit is completed within 180 days and would be subjected to annual audits and public record law.

“Operations, Personnel and Contracting: The FMCB will have the ability to restructure the organization of the MBTA and install rigorous performance management metrics while altering existing procurement requirements and lifting the Pacheco Law’s application to the MBTA.”

No wonder the T’s workers don’t want it. Recess would be over, class about to begin.

This battle is not new to the State. As one of the Governor’s advisers testified yesterday, as receiver of the City of Springfield, he was empowered to make whatever decisions were needed — including labor decisions — to cobble the City’s finances into new and feasible order.

As mayor Joseph Sullivan — who chaired the Governor’s T Reform panel — testified, ‘we considered receivership for the T.” Receivership remains an option, if the legislature chooses the T’s workers over its riders and the taxpayers. But it’s a clumsy option, drastic, and likely to lead to much disruption on the job. I doubt the Governor wants to be seen as “breaking’ unions. Testifying yesterday, he went out of his way to reject any such intention.

And now we see the shrewdness of his recently naming Brian Lang, political director of Unite Here Local 26 Hotel Workers, to the MBTA board. that is hardly the move of a Governor with an anti-union purpose.

More likely is that the Governor will keep the issue vividly in the news, highlighting the legislature’s priorities, and counting on the public (and his allies in the business community) to — perhaps — move the T workers’ union leadership off its no-reform stance and, once that’s done, force reluctant Senators to agree to some measure of Financial Control Board, if not one as fully empowered as the Governor advocates.

In this fight, the Governor also counts one more, truly huge ally : the Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo, who supports the Financial Control Board’s three year suspension of the Pacheco Law. All year long, DeLeo and the House have been fighting against the Senate’s moves to change the legislature’s joint committee rule. recently, DeLeo has been winning the fight, as his body has voted unanimously — ! — again and again on budget items that he and the Governor agree on, forcing the Senate to concur. This time, the Senate has committed itself beyond walk-back to an ideological course that directly challenges the Speaker. It’s his turn now. as the debate on the Governor’s T Reform bill goes forward, we will soon see if Speaker DeLeo can win this one. it will not be easy.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ a huge turnout greeted the My Brother’s Keeper committee in Mattapan yesterday. Let’s see if the community confidence continues.

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Thanks to our friend Ed Lyons for directing our attention to the report newly issued by the organization My Brother’s Keeper pursuant to Mayor Walsh’s request. It’s worth uoting the preamble in full, by which you can grasp the report’s purpose :

“Mayor Martin J. Walsh tasked the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Boston Advisory Committee to
develop policy and program recommendations to provide a lasting, sustainable impact on Boston’s youth, especially Black and Latino males. By engaging the community and working across subcommittees, the MBK Boston Advisory Committee shaped recommendations supported by best practices, evidence-based practices, and promising practices from effective existing policies and programs locally and nationally. Each recommendation is also supported by action plans and data indicators to measure future progress and success.”

All during the 2013 Mayor campiagn, candidates agreed that improving the oppportunioty prospects for Black and Latino youth was a top priority for whoever won. Mayor Walsh made that clear as well during his inaugural address. 17 months later, we have the action plan that he endorses and will, presumably, now work to implement.

A link to the full report is here, in PDF format :

The first “milestone” in the report concerns education — as it should. The paper’s recommendations will surprise many. It makes no bones about involving business and universities in monitoring, advising, shaping Boston’s schools. The report expects, demands, better school performance : “rigor for all” is its motto. This is all good. It takes the administrative reforms put in place by Superintendent John McDonough and expands them.

If the City can succeed at doing this, it will transform the learning experience for tomorrow’s young people — as it must, if they are to be ready on graduation day to accomplish even entry-level jobs in the new technology economy and its generous pay scales.

Milestone One also includes a commitment to expanding minority staffing of Boston schools. as the City is under Federal Court order to reach 25 percent minority staffing, but hasn’t even come close, this matter is more than a priority. It must be done. Why hasn’t it been done before this ?

Crucial to accomplishing more than just a token of minority staffing is the undertaking that I quote directly from the report :

“Both BPS Human Capital and Equity Offices are rethinking teacher development
strategies and prioritizing the need for central and school based educators to
demonstrate cultural proficiency in their practice. Planned training reforms will
focus on culturally responsive and relevant instruction, and will call on educators to
demonstrate an understanding and use of research-based strategies to engage
students who are disproportionately found in the gaps.”

Milestone Two of the report concerns getting Black and Latino youth from school to employment. The recommendations in this section will reuire constant and broad-based participation from the City’s businesses. I am not bullish that can happen, but the mayor does have many levers of power by which he can persuade business leaders to make this chancey effort. Again, to uote from the report :

“1. Increase resources and policy support for the development of award-winning vocational and technical training within Boston public high schools to support a pipeline of talented Black and Latino youth as well as all youth.
2. Leading by example, re-examine the City of Boston’s hiring policies to build a focused
strategy for investing in and employing Black and Latino residents for construction and
permanent jobs.
3. Launch a new Disparity Study to assess the City of Boston’s record and formal practice of
engaging Minority-Owned & Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs/WBEs & MBEs)
in its contracts and procurement. Study results will guide the City’s official engagement
strategy for leveraging its spending power for economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs.”

Here one senses more wish than achievement. All of these objectives have been part of Boston City government’s stated goals for at least two decades. Why have they not fully happened ? There’s also politics in this section. Mayor Walsh knows that he will likely face a strong, minority opponent in the 2017 election, and the never-ending outcry all across the City’s communities of color is for “jobs, jobs, jobs.” it was so in the 2013 campaign. walsh knows that he must deliver good jobs to people of color, and also contractor work paying prevailing wage. Thus this part of the report. Can he do it ? He will have to.

That said, the closing recommendations in this Milestone read bold, very bold. An all out effort to mentor Black and Latino youth and to encourage entrepreneurship among these youth will be worth doing even as a start-up project. Simply putting Black and Latino youth together with young entrepreneurs and start-up peopl,e from the City’s innovation economy will have social repercussions, enmding the social isolation of people of color from Caucasians, that one confronts everywhere — at night especially — in Downtown Boston.

Milestone Three is the big one : Reducing Youth Violence and Providing a Second Chance.
That’s the title, and it directs the MBk mission not strictly to Black and Latino youth bit to a subset of these young people. It’s nice that the report recognizes that violence and family dysfunction impact far too many young people of color, but — as many Mayor candidates pointed out during the 2013 campaign — this is a mission that involves everyone and everything.

What part can even the most diligent City government play in the lives of young people who live 24-7 in a world of information everywhere from every source and whose most intimate relations are with the street they live on ? Even the most engaged citizens in the highest income neighborhoods do not live civic activism all the time; far from it. In the neighborhoods that Milestone Three seeks to reach, hardly anyone is an activist at all. To most people in Milestone Three’s target communities, government is an outside obstacle, a nuisance, when it isn’t completely irrelevant or, worse, a fearful danger.

Making any dent at all in this disconnect will take all the resoiurces Mayor Walsh is likely to command and far more. The report’s recommedations are worthy, for example :

“Develop a strategic plan for the Boston Centers for Youth & families, outlining short and long
term goals to increase engagement and use of its facilities, especially supporting youth and
families from low-income households.

“Through the Mayor’s Public Safety Initiative, create a quality assurance system to streamline
coordination and communication to improve the delivery of trauma response within the
community and accountability for safer streets and neighborhoods. In tandem, this quality
assurance system should include standard programming to provide outreach and
communication within the community regarding available resources and services.”

But the report does not say exactly who will do these things, or under which City departments, or how much the initiatives will cost. The words do have good intentions. That’s the easy part.

Six My Brother’s Keeper subcommittees will meet, open to the public, during June. There’s a schedule of these meetings at the end of the report. You would do well to attend a few. There we will likely find out if the report’s target communities believe in the initiative. Mayor Walsh had better see that they do.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere