HillaryJeb Bush

^ that these two candidates are “elite:” is NOT a reason to not vote for them.

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There’s much talk, among commentators and on social media, about “elites.” For most of the talkers the word emits pejoration. Why so ? What is wrong with political elites ?

By “elites” we seem to mean “people who have been around a long time,” or “people who have lots of money,” or some combination of the two. I don’t see how these attributes detract. Those who have lots of money usually take a lot of care to preserve or extend it; which necessarily involves them in understanding markets, industries, and politics. Those whose names have “ben around a long time” owe their longevity at least in part to mattering for a long time, either because they are always asked for an opinion, or because they take part in newsworthy decision making. (Not always, but often enough.)

Elites thus have experience of affairs. I don’t see how that’s bad. Experience of affairs cautions one to take many points of view into account, many factors, disciplines, chance. Experience breeds healthy skepticism even as it — should — arouse experiment.

For example : Hillary Clinton was exactly right when she said this (according to a report) at a fundraiser this weekend : “‘…I don’t believe that elections that are going to result in leadership decisions should be about personalities, should be about insults, should be about rhetoric, should be about a lot of what we see going on in this campaign.’ 

Democracy premises that anyone can be Governor, Senator, President. True enough., But it cannot — or should not — happen with a mere snap of the fingers. The Byzantine Empire, for much of its history, chose its Emperor with what amounted to a snap of fingers. An inspired churchman would have a vision that so and so was called; or an itinerant hermit would suddenly announce that this or that ordinary man — a shepherd, come to town, perhaps : it happened — was It, and so it was. Who could tell whethe4r the Emperor thus chosen ruled brilliantly, or carelessly,m or downright drunk (yes, there were utter sots who ruled the Byzantine world.) The only reason that the empire didn’t collapse, ruled by a  drunk, was that the imperial bureaucracy kept on keeping on, no matter what. The Emperor might murder his rivals, torture his nobles, exile his bishops, and tax rich men into poverty, but the bureaucracy kept on — kept on and on. We in 2015 America have, I hope, a better way. We don’t go helter-skelter. We enable people of vast experience and, yes, much money, running for office; and we usually want it that way, and should this year too.

I do not mean that you must vote for either of the two major “elite” candidates running for President. There are other well worthy men running who have just as strong resumes and almost the same fame. But to support someone on the grounds of “not being of the elite” is really quite inconsistent with the reality.

As far as I’m concerned, only two questions need be asked of a candidate seen as “elite” :

  1. Do you intend to govern in the national interest and not merely in your own financial interest ?
  2. Do you commit to governing for the sake of everyone, not just the elites ?

After that, the contest becomes a question of which candidate’s platform you prefer. That is all.

Let’s be quite honest ; everyone wants to rise into “the elite,” or to see his or her children do so.  Elites have a wide circle of connections as well as money and famed name. Elites simply can touch more lives first-hand than those who are not of the “elite.” What we do ask, and justly, is that the elite be open to all who aspire to it. This has been the way with the wisest prior elites : think the Catholic Church during the years from about 400 AD to today. A poor boy’s son had — has — just as much chance of becoming an archbishop, even a Pope, as a rich man’s. Education was his opportunity. And we who devote the bigger part of our taxpayer dollars — or tuition fees — to education know very well that school is the escalator to elite condition., Would we spend generous dollars if we did not believe profoundly in the desirability of becoming of the elite ?

Why, then, do we, in political time, scorn the elites ? They are elite because of us; and in most cases, we are3 not wrong to have caused them.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ leadership with conclusive authority : Charlestown’s State Rep Dan Ryan

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Not very often does it fall to a State Representative, as opposed to the Governor or the Mayor, to take a stand — against, perhaps, majority opinion in his own District — that resolves an almost insoluble dispute and thus moves things forward. Yet that is what Charlestown’s Representative, Dan Ryan, did last week. He announced, in a letter, that he favored the Steve Wynn casino — which will now be built in Everett, across the Mystic River from Charlestown, thanks to Ryan’s stand and what ensued : the granting of a go-ahead permit by the Baker administration.

Ryan was elected only last year. But he’s no rookie, that you know the minute you read his letter. He spoke to me by phone yesterday telling me the reasons why he decided as he did. Chiefest of them : “the casino opponents talk about traffic it’ll cause. But there’s been a traffic problem on Rutherford (Avenue) and in Sullivan Square for a long time, and no one did anything about it before. Now that the casino is the issue, they’re doing something about it. Isn’t that what we want ?”

Hard to disagree with that. Ryan cited another reason : “look, the traffic situation in Boston has to be handled regionally. Because the whole region creates the traffic and you can’t fix it one square mile at a time.”

Ryan sent his letter to Matt Beaton, Secretary of Environmental Affairs, referencing also Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. Those who want to read it can find it, in a tif file that I cannot post here, at the Mass.gov website.

I have never read a more authoritative, comprehensive, boldly accurate argument by any political person, much less a simple State representative. Ryan not only addresses Charlestown’s longstanding traffic situation, he also calls out forty years of neglect thereof. He appraises the Wynn casino from several viewpoints : revenue, sales tax, jobs, mitigation, development criteria, social impact, gambling. As he notes with truthful finality, those who oppose the gaming law ought to be consistent and oppose the Lottery.

He is not shy to be sarcastic. As he writes, “if you have another business to place near us that generates $ 200 million revenue a year and provides lots of jobs, please send it to me.”

Is it a coincidence that Secretary Beaton issued the Wynn casino a go-ahead license only a few days after receiving Ryan’s letter ? I think not. His timing was as authoritative as his argument reads conclusively.

Before Ryan took his stand, the Wynn casino was on hold, mired in litigation, and going nowhere fast.

The stand that Ryan took occasioned much guts. Opposition to the Wynn casino has galvanized much of charlestown. That opposition has found encouragement in Mayor Walsh’s all-in legal battle to force Wynn to agree to a large annual mitigation payment. Mayor walsh cannot be happy to see his mission embarrassed and defeated by Ryan’s stand. As for Charlestown voters, they’re likely the reason why Ryan’s letter extends to six pages discussing every aspect of his stand, every consequence, every reason why the go-ahead is a plus for the neighborhood.

Will Ryan’s stand cost him when he comes up for re-election next year ? It could. Many Town residents have attended many meetings bitterly opposing the Wynn plan. Given the comprehensive discussion in his letter, however, I think he can persuade most. But we shall see.

Political leadership has scant value if it merely hands public opinion a microphone. Nor is a political leader a mere messenger. He or she must persuade, must change minds, must cut through all the reasons inertia adduces for why change should not happen, reform not be adopted. Ryan has done a leader’s work, and his neighborhood — and the entire region — will surely benefit enormously from it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Going about Suffolk County, mainly, according to my own commitment as a citizen, i am reminded every day that politics thrives because people use it and accept its gifts. Equally I find confirmation that politics still seeks the good.

1 Thucydides

^ Thucydides : whose observations of politics still govern good citizenship

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To do politics, you ought remember what Rabbi Gamaliel taught, in Judea, some 2050 years ago : ‘whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to your fellow man.” (Jesus of Nazareth, so the gospels tell us, took up Gamaliel’s saying in the form “do unto others as you would do to yourselves.”) This is the moral ground of politics in our nation; its ethics..

The second fundamental of politics comes to us from 4th century BC Greece, Aristotle inventing the word “politics” (from the Greek word “polis” meaning “city”). Aristotle’s politics was the art and system by which cities ruled themsleves. Citizens — the “demos,” from the word “deme” meaning tribe or extended clan, met “democratically” in public assembly to choose a city’s leader and to decide public questionas. The process by which all this took place was “politics,” which I can readily translate as “city-ism.”

Aristotle did not limit his analysis of politics to city-ism. His treatise describes several other systems of governing, weighs their worth, critiques their failings — he critiqued city-ism too. Even today, city-ism requires a constant vigilance and much criticizing.

We who engage in politics seek the good; but we know when to settle. Plutarch tells this story of the pre-Aristotelian city manager Solon (yes, that’s what the Greek word “tyrannos” meant. not despot or sultan but “city manager.”) who, in exile far from Athens after being ousted, was asked by the king, “did you give the Athenians the best laws ?” replied “No, I gave them the best laws they would accept.” The late Ted kennedy said much the same : “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Let’s opine about that saying of Kennedy’s. “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” In it we read everything that Augustine had in mind when he saw that men do evil because they want to — because they substitute their will to that of God (who for Augustine was the good). We who engage in politics can adviocate ideal solutions, annd we proably should; but we must always be ready to see that an ideal solution may leave out a lot of people live other means or modes. And doesn’t become any more just because we advocate it.

The city-ism that Aristotle described was full of argument and discussion, difference of opinion and, sometimes, the wron g outcome. There was no guarantee at all in Aristotle’s city-ism that the process would make life better. And as we read Thucydides, who preceded Aristotle by a century, we measure the misjudgments made by Athenian politics, the selfishness, the petty piques, and the manipulations, just as we see the bbrilliant oratory and debate. Still, no one who wrote about Athenian politics had any doubt that it was the best way to do good.

Nobody who reads Thucydides’s narrative should have any doubt that the offended temper tantrums of Alcibiades are not beneficial to the state; nor that the cynical scandal-mongering and backstage maneuvers of Cleon helped the Athenians to focus on the war they had decided to engage in. Thucydides — who personally participated in the history he wrote about — wrote after the fact; still, he wrote, so he tells us in his magnificent prologue, in order that future politcians might avoid the mistakes and conflicts that voided the Athenians’ policies. Today, we who engage in politics have no excuse. We have Thucydides’s book and his admonitions looking over shoulder, telling us to do better, and about what; to be circumspect even as we fight for reform; to not think ourselves possessed of ultimate wisdom about people, nor to seek our own power at all costs, or tasked to make the world wholly right all at once.

This year we see an ocean of tantrums flooding our politics. we see the usual maneuvering by cynical power-seekers. We see it and we usually recognie them as such and as evil — because there is no guarantee, in politics, that the decisions will go as you want them to. Oten they do not; because no one is always right or able to persuade a majority of his cause. When that happens, the citizen (a Latin word meaning “inhabitant of a civis, a city) doesn’t become a bomb tosser. He or she accepts the decision and works patently to alter or change it.

Thus politics meets the moral precept of Gamaliel.

i am conident that most Amrricans desire the good and trust that citizenship politics is the best way to bring the good about. i am confidht that the tantrum tossers and cynical subverters will be seen for what they are about and will be rejected. We in America do have moral leaders and just. I ve confidence that in the end, the vast majority of us will recognize them and vote them to office.

But I do have one last illustrative story. it comes from Plutarch, who wrote about Aristides, an Athenian politician of the generation preceding that of Thucydides. A move was started to vote Atistides into banishment (which was often how Athenians voted leaders out of office). One day an illiterate man came up to Aristides in the street (not recognizing him) and said, “I want Aristides bansished. Will you please write his name on this tablet ?” To which Aristides answered, “Has he wronged you ?” The man said, “No, and I do not even know him, but it irritates me to hear him everywhere called the just.”

At which point Aristides wrote his name on the man’s tablet.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ some of the many recommendations advanced at last night’s Dudley Square Neighborhood Initiative meeting

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If last night’s meeting at the Dudley Square Neighborhood Initiative’s Headquarters indicates, residents want an education prospect very different from the situation that exists now.

Each table of people at the meeting was asked to discuss what aspects of current education they think are working and those they think need more work. The group included school principals, teachers, parents, and one member of the Boston School Committee, Jeri Robinson. Their responses were written up on large sheets of paper (see my photographs) and produced remarkably authoritative assessments:

  1. Contrary to those who wanted the old Dearborn School preserved and a different location, or different model, sett\led upon for the new Dearborn, last night’s people universally like the new Dearborn STEM Academy.
  2. Everybody agreed that there needs be a broader range of school choice : charters and, yes, schools operated in partnership with employers.
  3. Everybody wants to see greater parental involvement and a higher number of people-of-color teaching staff.
  4. Everybody agreed that students need to be confronted with far moire real, world, everyday experience
  5. Almost everybody had praise for the Public School headquarters being located now in Dudley Square, no longer downtown.

Attendees also want to see a curriculum better attuned to “21st century skills”; younger teachers; more up to date technology in classrooms; a longer school day; and stricter monitoring of bullying at school and on school buses. Strong, too, was support for more effective special needs teaching. Many want better “ESL” (English as second language) pedagogy. Few had a good word for the present BPS use of public transportation for seventh and eighth graders.

Little, if any, discussion was had of school budgets. Much of what the meeting did not like, or wanted reformed, lacks budget money to accomplish. That said, what you’ve read amounts to an education menu monumentally different from current parameters. Expanding school choice means, first, getting the cap on charter school creation lifted. Expanding partnership pedagogy is fiercely opposed by the Diane Ravitch, teacher-control constituency. Younger teachers threatens Boston Public Schools’ teacher tenure system. The other DSNI recommendations challenge fewer entrenchments, but those that challenge had the broadest support.

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Clearly the Dudley area’s residents and education professionals get what almost everyone else wants, who cares about education in Massachusetts. The Dudley list also parallels, quite closely, the education platform advocated by John Connolly in the epic 2013 Mayor contest. I highly recommend that city and state elected office holders, at all levels, think seriously about the full range of last night’s agenda and work to get as much of it implemented as feasible — beginning with, but not at all limited to, charter school cap lift on next year’s November ballot.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Governor Baker greets Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang and 30 graduates of College Bound’s matriculation program at last night’s ceremony in the Bruce Bolling Building in Roxbury

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If you want to grasp Governor Baker’s fundamental message, a good place to start is Curtis Mayfield’s 1960s-era anthem “Keep On Pushing” :

Keep on pushin’
Keep on pushin’

I’ve got to keep on pushing
I can’t stop now
Move up a little higher
Someway or somehow

‘Cause I’ve got my strength
And it don’t make sense
Not to keep on pushin’

Hey, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Keep on pushin’

Now, maybe some day
I’ll reach that higher goal
I know I can make it
With just a little bit of soul

‘Cause I’ve got my strength
And it don’t make sense
Not to keep on pushin’

Now look a look, look a look
A look a yonder
A what’s that I see
A great big stone wall
Stands there ahead of me

But I’ve got my pride
And I’ll move the wall aside
And keep on pushin’

Hey, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Keep on pushin’
Keep on pushin’

What I say, yeah
Keep on pushin’
Well, that’s alright

Or one might watch James Brown do “I Don’t Want, Nobody To Give Me Nothin’, Open up the Door, I’ll get It Myself” :

These anthems from the Black struggle for Civil Rights 50 years ago inspired us all; the determination, courage, and idealism that made it happen remain iconic for the best in us. They’re the fire that moves Baker’s basic message to people : that life is tough no matter what and that yhou have top keep on keeping on, at all times, if you want to have any fair chance tro succeed.

Last night, at the College Bound matriculation ceremony, Baker talked of “grit,” speaking directly to the 30 or so graduates in front of him : “I cannot imagine the grit necessary to face life;’s problems, feed a family, work, and still have the desire to go to college… you have grit.”

He talked of setbacks in life — of his own setback, the defeat of 2100,and what it took for him to decide to try again, knowing that if he lost, he would be, and forever known as, a “two time loser.”

Politicians rarely talk about their defeats. They certainly do not talk about how defeat got to them, challenged their self worth.But baker here was talking to people who have had their self worth challenged many, many times by defeats in life.

You simply have to keep on pushing. Yes, you may have to ask someone to open the door for you — as College Bound’s graduates all have had to do — but once that door is open, you simply have to be ready to grasp the opportunities yourself. Now and forever after, as long as you live.

This is the message that baker brings, over and over again, to Boston’s communities of color, at sports events and to self-help groups — of which there are many in Communities of Color, largely because self-help is often the only help available to people whom society often shuts out. Baker bonds with self help groups all the time, and politically it’s as wise as ,morally, because Baker is, at day’s end,a Republican, and self help groups accord well with the morally, politically best GOP mission.

Self-help also has deep, broad roots in American history well beyond particular applications to people of color. And Baker is right : underlying self-help is grit : keep on pushing, I’ve got to keep on pushing, I can’t stop now, Move up a little higher, 
Someway or somehow.

Baker’s view is that government can — and should — give those who need a hand all the door-openings it can; but that it really is up to those for whom doors are opened to keep on pushing, getting it themselves. Baker talks all the time about getting people out of poverty. For him it’s a partnership been door openers and people’s motivation : their grit.

I think he’s right. Motivation is crucial. Life is never easy, not for anyone at all who isn’t born rich (and even for them quite often) and there is nothing government can do to make it easier except to not be an actual barrier to people’s advancement.

Baker sees every agency of state government as a door opening. He’ll do the best he can to open those doors effectively and at not too dear a cost, in hopes that people will take equally effective advantage of said services.

This is the pact that Baker is building with the state’s residents. There remains work for him to do, especially with the state’s Hispanic communities, which have different cultural referents than Black Americans and somewhat different legal barriers facing them. But my guess is that Baker will bring his message and power position to Hispanic communities, too. It’s what motivates him.

Obviously Baker has his sights on re-election. Will his mission prove a vote-winning one ? In the 2014 election he won barely 9 percent of Black voters,maybe 12 percent of Cape Verdeans,  about 18 percent of Hispanic voters. Voters of color are the Democratic party’s core constituency. Baker is almost certainly winning the favor of many. I see it every day. Yet come 2018, the Democrats will almost certainly nominate a Baker opponent who voters o color will like as well. How will Baker stack up against that nominee ? Better than 9 to 18 percent of the vote, almost certainly. But by how much ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


north south rail link

^ the Boston University Bridge, seen here under repair in 2012, is the only current rail link between North of Boston and South of Boston. Will we build an actual connector ?

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If Governor Baker thought that securing his MBTA reform bill was the end of his transportation wars, he now knows differently. About a week ago a revived fight to build a North Station to South Station connector rail hit prime time, and yesterday came news that the Green Line expansion to Somerville and Medford might cost at least $ 1 billion more than anticipated — a stunning number.

So what does Baker do now ? He cannot set either one aside, as he was able to do with the Boston Olympics bid. The Olympics Bid was a trial balloon; Boston’s economy and social life may hurt without the Games, but only temporarily. Not so with Green Line expansion or the North-South rail connector. Dismissing either will impact our region’s transportation for many decades. That’s not to say that the decision to go ahead with either project is easy. Still, the two are not equal. The North to South rail connector remains conceptual, while Green Line expansion has reached the build-out point.

So, again, what decisions is Baker likely to make ? He hasn’t asked me, but I’d offer the following :

1, Green Line expansion should continue, even if the contract price can’t be brought into line with the engineer’s projections. The Feds have committed $ 1 billion to the project; it would be foolish to lose that.The City of Somerville needs the Green Line. So does Medford. Communities farther up Route 38 can use it. So can people who now pack I-93 to overflow at rush hour. If we’re serious about decreasing vehicle traffic — and carbon emissions — Green Line expansion must be finished, as soon as feasible. So I repeat: it should be done even if there’s a substantial cost overrun.

Two problems portend. First, a Green Line cost overrun means making hard decisions about repairing existing MBTA tracks, equipment, signals, and trains. These can NOT be put off, which means applying state monies currently slated to other state agencies. (DO I hear DCF reform ?) Second, anyone who has attended public meetings concerning Green Line expansion has seen the nitpicking and design unrealities that always get pushed into the mix. Green Line expansion cannot be finished anywhere close to budget if it takes on every bell and whistle desired by those who show up at public meetings.

That said, extension of the Green Line has already consequenced development in Somerville and the city’s entire economy. It can’t be set aside.

2. The North Station to South Station connection looks daunting. Certainly Baker should require thorough cost and engineering analysis of the project before deciding anything.

Digging a tunnel between the two stations means going very deep under immense structures. If you thought the Big Dig was an engineering nightmare 25 years ago, imagine what will be needed to tunnel under buildings vastly taller than those of 1990; under sewer lines, subway tunnels, and the depressed Central; Artery itself. It also might require relocating South Station and its current ten rail portals, because, imagining potential connector routes, I can’t see how it gets from North Station to South Station otherwise. The easiest route would be to underride Atlantic Avenue. Sixty years ago that roadway included train tracks of a connector railroad. I recall those trains : they were surface vehicles. Today’s connector would have to tunnel under the already very deep Blue Line tunnel — and under the Red Line tunnel, which, quite inconveniently, runs directly alongside South Station. How would the connector tunnel rise up steeply enough to go from under the Red Line to a surface connection with South Station’s ten rail portals ?

Perhaps a connector line could run alongside the Orange Line from North Station to Downtown Crossing, thence alongside the\ Red Line to South Station ? This too would be an engineering nightmare and a budget buster, and you’d still have the rise to surface problem, at both ends of the connection.

Lastly, what happens to the $ 1.6 billion expansion of South Station, planning for which is nigh complete, awaiting only agreement to move the Boston Post office ? Do we roll this project into the connector proposal and thereby delay it, even kill it ?

Advocates for building the connector speak passionately and hurl a blizzard of answers at you, to questions you ask — and to those you haven’t asked yet. Which only ratchets my skepticism up. Not skepticism for the idea. I support the concept. Why our city lacks a rail pass through, I’ll never understand. Lacking a connector forces cars onto the Central Artery which that groaning roadway can barely manage — and at rush hours, cannot. Someday the rail connector ought be built. I’m just not sure that now is the right time, given the huge dollar demands faced immediately by the MBTA, commuter rail, bridges and roadbeds.

On September 9th, Baker meets with the connector rails’ two most potent advocates : former Governors Dukakis and Weld. That should be quite the dust-up. Let’s see what comes of it.

NOTE : this story has been UPDATED as of 08.26.15 at 10.05 AM in light of what we now know about the economicsof Green Line extension.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ immigrants from Central America, mostly, waiting for a border crossing

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Never in my long history of political involvement did I anticipate that the citizenship of people born in America would become an issue, much less be taken up by one of our two major political parties. What has happened, to make a substantial number of voters want to deny citizenship to people born here ? Extending citizenship into all who are born on American soil was one of the great victories of the Civil war. 5r00,000 of us died so that civil rights could be own and secured, firmly in the Constitution. The 14th Amendment was that war’s ultimate victory. Let us quote the Section One of the Amendment in full, so that you can grasp its no=nonsense power :

“Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

These are words of equality first of all. They make clear that everybody is included in all the basic rights accorded by the Constitution — no exceptions — and by “the laws” of all jurisdictions — again, no exceptions.

A war had only recently been concluded as these words were crafted and adopted. They were a life and death affair. The makers of the Amendment weren’t fooling around.

Nobody of any political significance missed that message for over 125 years. Only in 2012 did I begin to hear some people on the far right say that birthright citizenship ought to be repealed. They said it during a time when right wing extremists were one-upping each other saying things so outrageous that you wondered when they would find themselves cast out, utterly, by voters who had to be offended — at the very least — by hearing people talk about taking away basic Constitutional protections. But these extremists were not cast out. They found support, more and more support.

I did not see this coming. I’ll admit that I could not imagine it even when it had in fact come. Reluctantly I find it necessary now to write this editorial defending stuff that I assumed was long since settled. Obviously I was wrong. A substantial number of voters think the 14th Amendment should be repealed ! Candidates for President say so. Thus t.he need to rebut them.

Every person born in America is a citizen of America AND — the Amendment says so — OF THE STATE in which he or she resides. All does indeed mean all. No matter what ski9n color, or national origin, or native language., you are a citizen by virtue of being born on American soil. And more : being born here, you are guaranteed equal protection of the laws, state and Federal. No state, nor the Federal government, can take away birthright citizenship for some people or some class of people.

Those who want to change this — which they cannot; the 14th Amendment will never be abolished or amended — want it because they don’t like immigrants. Don’;t like immigrants’ looks, or origin, or language, or don’t like that some immigrants came here on their own and not by way of immigration laws, quotas, time frames. We have been here before. Hatred of immigrants has diseased America since at least the 1820s, when people rioted against incoming Irish immigrants to New England. Such hatred makes no sense at all. All of us are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. It;’s who America is  Hating immigrants, we hate America and hate ourselves. Not that that ever gave a hater pause.

Common human decency says that we welcome the newcomer. Welcome him and maker him (or her) feel at home. America has enshrined those words on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, no less :

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

That was how America some 130 years ago engraved its welcome on its most iconic statue. Do these words hold any less powerful feelings today ? Has the human heart altered its state since our great great grandfathers heard these lines ? I think not. Through the port waters upon which the Liberty Statue rises passed all those immigrants whom haters hated most : the Italians, the Jews, the Poles, the Greeks. Welcomed first and foremost, long before they reached the havens of hate.

Even then, other immigrants, from Asia, arrived 3300 miles West and faced discrimination which was thrown utterly down by the Supreme Court in an 1898 case involving the right of Chinese immigrants to have their children born here recognized as citizens pursuant to the Amendment now under hater attack.

It is all so immoral, and so futile. Immigration boosts the American economy. Every immigrant is a customer for American business. Even undocumented immigrants — 11,300,000 of them, pay billions of dollars in taxes for services which the laws of many states deny to them. If you cannot welcome immigrants morally, do so economically. Their coming here is bullish — economics 101.

Immigrants almost always worship this nation. How else come here by way of such trails and tribulations., leaving one’s home to chance it anew ? Who of us would endure what immigrants do to get here ? Few, I think.

And if for many the endurance and the danger of getting to America is undertaken in order to give their future children citizenship, why is that not a terrifically good thing ? If American citizenship is that valuable, what voter would debunk it ? What activist devalue it ? What presidential candidate disparage it ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ signing the EITC expansion : will there be consensus on the NEXT economic reforms ?

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Economic reform of Massachusetts began about three weeks ago, as the Governor signed a new law expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by 50 percent. State Senators, state Representatives, and progressive activists joined the Governor and Lieitenant Governor at the signing — the very icon of consensus.

No one cared to mention that a significant number of Senators had wanted to pay for EITC expansion by not lowering the state income tax to 5 percent from 5.15 percent, as by law it will change. The Senate did move away from that proposal; instead, EITC expansion is being paid or by not implementing a scheduled corporate tax break.

The House, led by a more conservative financial voice, had already enacted that EITC plan. And so the State had its progressive consensus moment.

Less than month later, however, there are at least two plans afoot in the senate to increase taxes. Both should be rejected.

First is a proposal to create a two tier tax assessemnt. Those with incomes over one million dollars annually will pay 9 percent tax. Everybody else will pay the new 5 percent rate. The second proposal — just released this week — will create a $ 250 college savings account fotr every baby born in Massachusetts, half to be apid fpor by taxpayers. The cost : $ 18 million annually.

Progressive State Senators adduce these proposals because the state probably does need additional evenue if it’s to pay for massive transportation upgrades and service expansion, pre-kindergarten education, and the new Opioid addiction crisis terams. Taxing to obtain that money, however, doesn’t seem a wise choice.

In our view, instead of penalizing those who earn a lot — and who spend most of it into the economy, boosting businesses and thereby creating jobs — it’s far better to raise the state’s minimum wage, or to approve home rule petitiions raising the minimum wage in our big cities. Bernie Sanders likes to point out that if the 1968 Federal minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, it would now be $ 26 an hour. Imagine the economic boost if every full time worker had that kind of income to spend on stuff and services !

We don’t advocate raising the minimum wage that high — yet — but we do think it smart to boost the state’s minimum to $ 15 an hour and index it to inflation. Workers earning $ 600 a week — or more — and thus $ 31,200 a year would rise above the level of EITC credits; they’d actually pay taxes instead of receiving credit payments rom the state. They’d also have funds to spend into the discretionary economy. A two-worker family earning the current minimum wage and, let us say, ten percent above it, $ 9.90 an hour, can barely afford necessities. At $ 792 a week, that family, if living in Boston, pays at least 50 percent of its total income rent. Even in New Bedford or Worcester, they’d pay one quarter of their income for rent only, never mind utiiities, cell phone, cable TV, clothes, food, and insurance.

Raise that two worker family’s income to $ 1200 a week, now, and they’re paying one-third of their earnings for rent even in Boston and can afford to eat out occasionally, buy furniture, send the kids to summer camp, take in an entertainment event, maybe even save some money to buy at least a condominium. And pay taxes.

To us, that makes sense.

We likewise do not see the purpose in asking taxpayers to pay half of the proposed college savings accounts. State Treasurer Deb Goldberg proposes that such collgege savings accounts be funded entirely from private sources. Why not do this ? And if we can raise the state’;s minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, why not give families the option to designate a portion of their state tax payment to such fund ?

Economic growth for all seems to us far more progressive than tax penalties for a few.

One last note. At the EITC signing, Governor Baker said, “this is just the first part. i can’t wait to come back for the second part !” I wonder what he has in mind.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Boston 2024

^ great vision, bold plan : but the Brattle Report strongly suggests there wasn’t enough time between now and 2024 to get it done

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NOTE : I have updated this story in light of Boston 2024’s response to the Brattle Report. See below for updating.

We now can read the much-awaited Brattle Group’s report on the risks involved in Boston 2024’s Olympic Games bid. At 10.30 AM this morning the e-mail arrived from the Governor’s press office. There it, was : the Executive Summary, which I have now read, and the full report, which I’ll read eventually. There’s enough in  the Executive Summary to tell us much about the “2.0” Bid.

To read it, click on the link : http://www.mass.gov/governor/docs/news/final-summary-brattle-report-8-17-2015.pdf

The Brattle Report evaluates four separate areas of revenue and cost : ( 1 ) revenue ( 2 ) construction costs ( 3 ) security costs and ( 4 ) infrastructure costs. As we might have expected, the greatest area of risk was construction costs. It is disturbing to read that, according to Brattle, the 2.0 Bid underestimated construction costs for everything, as much as 90 percent too low in the case of the Media Center. It is equally disturbing to read Brattle’s finding that the major construction — at Widett Circle and the Olympic Village — had no developer committed to doing it, and to read that the costs of construction, in relation to likely financial return (i.e., developer profit) might very well not compute. To read this section of the report is to conclude that the Bid Committee had nothing more solid in its hands than high hopes.

That part is unsettling enough. Just as unhappy it is to read the report’s assessment of Bid 2.0’s Infrastructure Plans. The Plans themselves get high marks, but not the available time. The report makes clear that it would have been next to impossible to complete all of the planning, financing, approving, and building of the various transportation segments in anything like the eight years available.

Those of us who supported the games Bid felt that the transportation infrastructure requirements, which would also benefit the entire City’s transportation improvement, would not get done in our lifetime but for the time pressure put on them by the Games Bid. The Brattle Report concludes that our strategy was infeasible. For those of us who supported the Games Bid, that is OK; our thought was a shrewd one. For the Bid Committee itself, however, it was regrettable to learn that they allowed supporters to advocate a tactic the Committee knew would not fly.

UPDATE 08/19/2015 10.30 AM

I leave that sentiment as is; however, last night the Boston Bid Committee sharply criticized the Brattle Report, and their rebuttal has legs. Specifically, the Bid Committee notes that the Brattle report erred completely in estimating the Media Center. As the Bid Committee noted,. it wasn’t building a Media Center from scratch but instead retrofitting already existing buildings. thus the Bid Committee;s estimated $ 50 million allocation was NOT 90 percent too low, as charged by the Brattle Report.

The Bid Committee also correctly notes that the Brattle Report never mentioned the financials from the last three American games., This omission I noted when first I read the report. The only recent games mentioned by the Brattle Report were the 2012 London games. What happened to Atlanta ? To Salt lake City ?

I’m left with the impression that, as to costs, the Brattle Group wanted to describe a kind of worst-case outcome.

So let us instead surmise that the Bid Committee would have found developers ready to commit to the Widett and Olympic village developments at available cost prices for available profit. Those are numbers, and numbers can adjust. Not so time. Time is what it is. The Brattle Report’s one undeniable critique asserts quite convincingly that the Bid not have enough time available to complete its preliminaries; and that, therefore, the games could not have happened at all, except, if possible, by an heroic undertaking by everybody in City and State with a damn the costs, damn the approvals, to hell with the procedures attitude.

It would have taken the City and State an all hands on deck, crisis level of commitment to thus beat the clock. Could we have don it ? Yes, but not given the division, the confusion, the overlap and disagreements that abounded during the Bid months.

Scant wonder that the Mayor refused to commit the City’s finances to a money guarantee of a Bid so likely to not get to the starting line on time.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere