Ben Sasse

Midland University president and Republican Senate candidate Ben Sasse is pictured on campus in this photo from June 5, 2013, in Fremont, Neb.

NOTE : We reprint this letter from  United States Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) because to us, it sums up, with great moral force, the stark choice that Republican-minded voters now face, given the threat of Trump :


“To my friends supporting Donald Trump:

“The Trump coalition is broad and complicated, but I believe many Trump fans are well-meaning. I have spoken at length with many of you, both inside and outside Nebraska. You are rightly worried about our national direction. You ache about a crony-capitalist leadership class that is not urgent about tackling our crises. You are right to be angry.

“I’m as frustrated and saddened as you are about what’s happening to our country. But I cannot support Donald Trump.

“Please understand: I’m not an establishment Republican, and I will never support Hillary Clinton. I’m a movement conservative who was elected over the objections of the GOP establishment. My current answer for who I would support in a hypothetical matchup between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is: Neither of them. I sincerely hope we select one of the other GOP candidates, but if Donald Trump ends up as the GOP nominee, conservatives will need to find a third option.

Mr. Trump’s relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation. Much like President Obama, he displays essentially no understanding of the fact that, in the American system, we have a constitutional system of checks and balances, with three separate but co-equal branches of government. And the task of public officials is to be public “servants.” The law is king, and the people are boss. But have you noticed how Mr. Trump uses the word “Reign” – like he thinks he’s running for King? It’s creepy, actually. Nebraskans are not looking for a king. We yearn instead for the recovery of a Constitutional Republic.

At this point in Nebraska discussions, many of you have immediately gotten practical: “Okay, fine, you think there are better choices than Trump. But you would certainly still vote for Trump over Clinton in a general election, right?”

Before I explain why my answer is “Neither of them,” let me correct some nonsense you might have heard on the internet of late.


***No, I’m not a career politician. (I had never run for anything until being elected to the U.S. Senate fifteen months ago, and I ran precisely because I actually want to make America great again.)
***No, I’m not a lawyer who has never created a job. (I was a business guy before becoming a college president in my hometown.)
***No, I’m not part of the Establishment. (Sheesh, I had attack ads by the lobbyist class run against me while I was on a bus tour doing 16 months of townhalls across Nebraska. Why? Precisely because I was not the preferred candidate of Washington.)
***No, I’m not concerned about political job security. (The very first thing I did upon being sworn in in January 2015 was to introduce a constitutional amendment for term limits – this didn’t exactly endear me to my new colleagues.)
***No, I’m not for open borders. (The very first official trip I took in the Senate was to observe and condemn how laughably porous the Texas/Mexican border is. See 70 tweets from @bensasse in February 2015.)
***No, I’m not a “squishy,” feel-good, grow-government moderate. (I have the 4th most-conservative voting record in the Senate:…/member/S001197 )

In my very first speech to the Senate, I told my colleagues that “The people despise us all.” This institution needs to get to work, not on the lobbyists’ priorities, but on the people’s:

Now, to the question at hand: Will I pledge to vote for just any “Republican” nominee over Hillary Clinton?

Let’s begin by rejecting naïve purists: Politics has no angels. Politics is not about creating heaven on earth. Politics is simply about preserving a framework for ordered liberty – so that free people can find meaning and happiness not in politics but in their families, their neighborhoods, their work.


“Now, let’s talk about political parties: parties are just tools to enact the things that we believe. Political parties are not families; they are not religions; they are not nations – they are often not even on the level of sports loyalties. They are just tools. I was not born Republican. I chose this party, for as long as it is useful.

“If our Party is no longer working for the things we believe in – like defending the sanctity of life, stopping ObamaCare, protecting the Second Amendment, etc. – then people of good conscience should stop supporting that party until it is reformed.


“Now, let’s talk about voting: Voting is usually just about choosing the lesser evil of the most viable candidates.

“Usually…” But not always. Certain moments are larger. They cause us to explicitly ask: Who are we as a people? What does the way we vote here say about our shared identity? What is actually the president’s job?


“The president’s job is not about just mindlessly shouting the word “strong” – as if Vladimir Putin, who has been strongly bombing civilian populations in Syria the last month, is somehow a model for the American presidency. No, the president’s core calling is to “Preserve, Protect, and Defend the Constitution.”

Before we ever get into any technical policy fights – about pipelines, or marginal tax rates, or term limits, or Medicare reimbursement codes – America is first and fundamentally about a shared Constitutional creed. America is exceptional, because she is at her heart a big, bold truth claim about human dignity, natural rights, and self-control – and therefore necessarily about limited rather than limitless government.


“America is the most exceptional nation in the history of the world because our Constitution is the best political document that’s ever been written. It said something different than almost any other government had said before: Most governments before said that might makes right, that government decides what our rights are and that the people are just dependent subjects. Our Founders said that God gives us rights by nature, and that government is not the author or source of our rights. Government is just our shared project to secure those rights.

“Government exists only because the world is fallen, and some people want to take your property, your liberty, and your life. Government is tasked with securing a framework for ordered liberty where “we the people” can in our communities voluntarily build something great together for our kids and grandkids. That’s America. Freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of speech – the First Amendment is the heartbeat of the American Constitution, of the American idea itself.


So let me ask you: Do you believe the beating heart of Mr. Trump’s candidacy has been a defense of the Constitution? Do you believe it’s been an impassioned defense of the First Amendment – or an attack on it?

Which of the following quotes give you great comfort that he’s in love with the First Amendment, that he is committed to defending the Constitution, that he believes in executive restraint, that he understands servant leadership?

Statements from Trump:
***“We’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”
***“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. They were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak…”
***Putin, who has killed journalists and is pillaging Ukraine, is a great leader.

***The editor of National Review “should not be allowed on TV and the FCC should fine him.”
***On whether he will use executive orders to end-run Congress, as President Obama has illegally done: “I won’t refuse it. I’m going to do a lot of things.” “I mean, he’s led the way, to be honest with you.”
***“Sixty-eight percent would not leave under any circumstance. I think that means murder. It think it means anything.”
***On the internet: “I would certainly be open to closing areas” of it.
***His lawyers to people selling anti-Trump t-shirts: “Mr. Trump considers this to be a very serious matter and has authorized our legal team to take all necessary and appropriate actions to bring an immediate halt…”
***Similar threatening legal letters to competing campaigns running ads about his record.

And on it goes…


Given what we know about him today, here’s where I’m at: If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, my expectation is that I will look for some third candidate – a conservative option, a Constitutionalist.

I do not claim to speak for a movement, but I suspect I am far from alone.

“After listening to Nebraskans in recent weeks, and talking to a great many people who take oaths seriously, I think many are in the same place. I believe a sizable share of Christians – who regard threats against religious liberty as arguably the greatest crisis of our time – are unwilling to support any candidate who does not make a full-throated defense of the First Amendment a first commitment of their candidacy.

“Conservatives understand that all men are created equal and made in the image of God, but also that government must be limited so that fallen men do not wield too much power. A presidential candidate who boasts about what he’ll do during his “reign” and refuses to condemn the KKK cannot lead a conservative movement in America.


Thank you for listening. While I recognize that we disagree about how to make America great again, we agree that this should be our goal. We need more people engaged in the civic life of our country—not fewer. I genuinely appreciate how much many of you care about this country, and that you are demanding something different from Washington. I’m going to keep doing the same thing.

But I can’t support Donald Trump.

Ben Sasse



^ first campaign I ever worked in : John V. Lindsay (R), for Mayor of New York. Does this look familiar to members of #TeamBaker ? It should

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As Here and Sphere’s political reporter,my job is to report what I see going on and to opine about what it all means. Today, however, I want to talk about myself ; my own views, my commitments in this adventure we call “citizenship.”

From the very first campaign I was ever involved in, a long time ago, I felt it my duty to participate; to give back to the society that had given so much to me. I had no idea how to do campaign work, but I felt I had a duty to learn.

Those first two campaigns that I worked on — both of them Republican, Mayor Lindsey’s campaign in New York City and John Volpe’s Governor campaign in Massachsetts — I began to grasp a message that, over the years, came to mean a lot to me : that it is a citizens’ duty to promote the civil rights of all, and that it is a campaign’s job to tackle the challenge of urban progress, socially and economically.

To me at that time, and to the people I learned from, there was no political enemy. we were not working against another party; instead, the other and ours were in a contest to see who could formulate the most workable program of civil rights and urban progress and to get it chosen by the voters.

That is the political commitment i still live by, indeed, have lived by ever since. I think that in a life filled with career mistakes, this is the one, big citizen decision that I got right.

Not that I was anything special. We all at that time made a somewhat similar decision. Going to the front lines of civil rights and of urban progress was how we made sure that our lives would benefit the lives of others.

This sounds elitist; but there is no bar, in America, to citizen participation. All it takes is to just do it.

Today I hear a lot of noise in the other direction : that, somehow, it is society’s duty to come to us, rather than our duty to come to it. I’m sorry, but that is not how it works. A nation is not a self-starting thing. It moves only when we who are in it move it. Jack Kennedy had it exactly right when he said, ‘ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

There are some who interpret his words, and what I said in the sentences before it, as an attack on the welfare state. By no means is that true. Our society is to be judged, as Suffolk Sheriff Steve Tompkins says, by how we treat our most compromised people. A generous social safety net is how we assure those who have the least confidence, or skills, or family stability, or health, that their lives will not be tossed on the trash heap.; that if they are, for some cause, unable, they are not thereby unworthy.

I hear even more noise today decrying all politics, that government is the enemy, that the whole structure should go to hell. To this noise I have no three-word response. How our politics became so broken is a long story of selfishness, big money dominance, talk radio lies, resentments, prejudice, fear and, above all, a failure of commitment, of moral force.

To speak of “the establishment” as if it were a demon is to reject all of American history. To establish is to erect an edifice solidly; this our Founders did, and still today, their establishment stands strong, if we do not turn on it, to our utter destruction.

To surrender one’s soul to a loud strongman is to assure one’s destruction, morally, economically, politically. History demonstrates this time and again. There never has been a strong man, a caudillo, who did a nation any good at all.

Commitment to participation in democracy is a political decision, but it is a moral feeling. It has always been a moral thing. In the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome, some 16 centuries ago, men and women gathered in monasteries, under the constitution established (yes, I said “established”) by Benedict Nursia, to serve the faith thery believed in and, thereby, to live moral lives. It wasn’t long before the weak governments of the net four centuries called upon these Benedictine monks to help them govern, do justice, and create system.

They did so;,because they believed that government mattered.

Those monks — and Benedictine nuns too — preserved Roman culture and learn ing; they formed schools and taught; they advised dukes and kings. And they gave us even today an example of what must be done to make society work better, and why it is important to do so.

I am far from being a Benedictine, and so, likely, are you who today commit to participate in political citizenship. But we can emulate their example and feel a great deal holier for having done so, and why.

Political work is hard work. There are no short cuts. There is much pushback, many dirty tricks. There are candidates who should never be. Vested interests do not give their power away. To do political work well is to learn the taste of patience, the smell of effort. There can be no excuses. What you do not do, your opponent will do.

Every vote matters, and every voter. You find that out very quickly, and you also realize that most voters know their own interests very well. So you do less talking and more listening. That is how you develop your policy smarts. Having learned, you then seek to persuade that your side can do the job — that we all want done — better than the other side.

When you win, you win generously. When you lose, you lose gracefully. Whichever happens, you keep your eye on the sparrow : that your work must make society fairer, more prosperous, more inclusive of all; a society in which no one of good will is anyone’s enemy.

This is my declaration of political conscience.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ fascism in America : the white volk shouts heil

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David Brooks, writing in today’s New York Times, correctly notes that societies have only two governance choices : politics, or dictatorship, and that our Founders chose politics.

Today, for the first time in America, a significant bloc of voters are choosing dictatorship.

The coming of dictatorship is an evil that any society should reject unless the alternative is anarchy. I will get to that later. First, let us look at what kind of dictatorship is offered by the man Trump:

His would be a fascist tyranny, not a Leninist one. The Leninists saw society ruled by class warfare economics. Fascists see society racially. In Lenin’s Soviet Union, you could come from any tribe or nationality whatever, so long as you adhered rigidly to the party line. In fascist nations, nationality was the party line. So it is with the man Trump. His dictatorship is only for Aryans. Everyone else is the enemy.

As America is by definition a potpourri of all nations,Trump’s fascism is as anti-American as any message can be. Yet that is what gives it its power, because the man Trump’s followers, most of them, reject everything about the actual America. They reject its melting pot, its tolerances, its politics, its Constitution and all that is in it. That is how it is with fascist movements, which draw their power from fear, insecurity, and powerlessness.

Fascists see power as their birthright, a thing taken from them by “the other,” who are thus the enemy to be destroyed.

However, there is one other major difference between Leninism and fascists. Leninists are true beli3evers. They are principled. Fascism is as corrupt as it is violent. There is no escape from a Lenin9st rule except exile. In fascist nations you can buy your way. So it is with trump,  whose career is a study in corruption and favor buying.

Leninism rejects religion. That sort of dictatorship can’t gain any traction in America, where the “good people” love their religion. Fascism often likes religion, too (though not always), and in America, plenty of faith-goers embrace the fascism of the man Trump, even though such religion as he voices is clearly nothing but a veneer for the real message, a racial one.

Fascism in Germany gained traction because

(1) the Democratic government at Weimar was imposed by the powers that had defeated it in World War I. Similarly, our own fascists saw the election of Barack Obama as the imposition, by enemies, of a Black Presidency upon a defeated white nation.

(2) every move toward economic recovery overseen by the Weimar democracy had to be approved by the still occupying enemy. Similarly, our fascists see our nation ‘s economy as governed by international money and trade forces who own our national debt and push our “illegitimate” Black President around.

(3) even though Germany’s working class enjoyed the most advanced protections, by way of unemployment insurance, health insurance, and the right to organize unions, of any labor force in the world, somehow that did not matter to German workers as much as the desire to surrender it all in exchange for the electric psychological jolt of power to the volk.

After all, soporifics have always been a refuge for powerless workers — an instant surge of ecstatic dominance over everything. One cannot ever discount the significance, to fascism, of the urge to self intoxicate. Similarly, American fascists are willing — as one viral social media meme puts it — “surrender my safety net to the Republican radicals because of Benghazi, that’s important to me.”

(4) Weimar democracy was seen by fascists as the result of a “stab in the back.” To America’s fascists, the Benghazi events are “stab in the back.”

(5) In Weimar Germany, enormous numbers of armed, volkisch militia stomped through cities, beat up Jews, held noisy torchlight parades, intimidated tourists, burned books. America’s fascists haven’t quite developed that level of organization — yet; Germany’s militias had only recently been soldiers at the front –but with millions of guns everywhere and vigilante encouragement from NRA-bullied state governments, storm trooper parades of Trump shouters are likely soon.

(6) powerful business bosses openly abetted Weimar fascists as a counterpoise to the socialist legislation advancing through the Reichstag. These bosses cared nothing fort democracy and openly opposed progressive legislation. Sound familiar here ? I think so.

(7) finally, in its last years, the Weiamr parliament was gridlocked by rejectionist parties right and left, so that nothing could be done at all; the chancellor chosen in 1930, Heinrich Bruning, had to rule by emergency decree. Those last Weimar parliaments won every concession Germany’s enemies could offer. Did it bolster Weimar’s legitimacy in the eyes of the voters ? Just the opposite. Similarly, here in America, our fascists, rejecting the legitimacy of the Black President,a nd seeing gridlock in Congress — almost all of which the insist on — decry every advance and advantage won by the President’s executive decrees, which are seen as benefiting the white race’s “freeloader” or “illegal” enemies.

There is nothing new or imaginative about Trump fascism. It is same old, same old, as fascism always is. It is curious, however, to watch our fascists proclaim ting fealty to a Constitution whose every provision they reject. Others have called it ‘anti patriotism,” and I agree. When the fascists say “Constitution,” the arguments they adduce in support are those of the people who, in the 1787 ratification conventions, rejected the Constitution. Like the anti-Constitution party in 1787, our fascists do not want a strong Federal government. There is, however, one difference : the anti party in 1787 saw a strong Federal government as  an instrument of financial tyranny. Our fascists see it as an instrument of racial (and immigrant) tyranny against the white, native volk.

I meentioned above that anarchy is also a possible state of affairs; and that fascism may, in some cases, be preferable to it. I’m not sure I’m right about that. The history of societies in anarchy suggests that islands of stability eventually coalesce and, given enough opportunity, grow rationally. Fascism cannot grow. Its dishonesty and corruption do it in, leaving it defenceless against enemies.. The same is true of Leninism. It has a very hard crust  ut nothing within except fear and despair.

As suggested by the meme I quoted above, Trump fascists have no idea at all of how our economy operates, or the vital role played in it by our Federal government — the Federal Reserve, the power of our national debt — and know only that they do not understand how it guides economic transformation when allowed by Congress to do so. Because most American voters of all persuasions hardly know how our economy works, Trump fascism cannot be economic. This is also why Leninism cannot arise here, although Bernie Sanders supporters are advancing a still mostly political version of its class agenda.

It is sad to see volkisch, Aryan fascism come, from the very, very cold, where it has always lain, into the mainstream, of our nation’s suffering public life. It is disheartening to see Trump people envision better times arising from their movement., I see nothing good atg all in it, nothing but disappointment, disaster, destruction. And it will not soon go away even if, as I truly believe, Trump is soundly defeated in November. Keep in mind that the Civil War still lives. 37 percent of Trump'[s people wish the South had won the Civil Wart. 20 percent think the slaves should not have been freed.

If that many people can harbor Secesh, slavery sentiment 160 years after the Civil War crushed them, I doubt that defeat of Trump[ in an election will stop his supporters from marching onward. Elections defeat but do not change minds. The 1896 election, for example, was won by a northern, business Republican over a Southern, racist, economically democratic Bible thumper. The margin was three points — 51 to 48 — and the shape of that election was almost identical to the shape of this year’s, with the party labels reversed. It is amazing to think how, in a nation as dynamic as ours, constantly re-peopled by immigrants from everywhere, that an elect.ion 120 years ago could be almost exactly replayed now : but it is so. Assimilation is THAT powerful.

Our fascism, too, will likely gain support from the assimilated descendants of immigrants. Look at who our fascists are right now if you don’t believe me.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ A nullification Senator : Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire

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Watching the national political picture these days, I’m tempted to wonder if I’m living in an absurdist movie — Mel Brooks, maybe. Or a Marx Brothers slapstick. If it isn’t the vulgar bigotry of trump, it’s the laxative lack of a Ted Cruz. Or the master of walk back, Marco Rubio.  One would guffaw and maybe throw a pie or two if this weren’t the actual nation we’re watching being pied.

Now comes the matter of a Supreme Court vacancy. I have written of it once already. In that story I opined as to what sort of jurist I would like to see : someone who has not already been a judge, so that the Court can benefit from a variety of legal experience.

I seem to have missed the point, however. From all that I read and listen to, filling the vacancy left by Antonin Scalia’s death is a matter of political campaign, not of Constitutional process.  Evidently the President, so the noise has it, must not perform his Constitutional duty, of nominating a  Justice, because — wait for this — it’s the last year of his term, and the last year of his term doesn’t count ? This is an argument more invalid than rotten excrement.

I don’t know about you, but to me, the Constitution stands above bullshit arguments. Its prescriptions say what they say, whether it serves your personal interests or not, or those of the donors who pimp you for their private benefit. In the matter of nominations to office, the Constitution does NOT say that in the last year of a President’s term he holds different powers then before it, or that his powers change because a political party other than his holds a  Congressional majority.

To assert otherwise is rank dishonesty. It isn’t worth a cup of warm spit.

President Obama : do your job. Nominate whom you think best to appoint. You’re the President. Do it.

And now to the Senators who are charged with giving the President “advice and c9onsent” as to his nomination, and who now say that they refuse to give it. Where does the Constitution say, or imply, that the Senate can refuse even to give advice or vote consent ? The very presence of the word “consent” implies, perforce, an act in which said consent is given, or refused.

In other words, the power to grant consent, or not, does NOT extend to telling the President that no matter who he nominates, it won’t be consented to. This is a matter of good faith dealing. The Constitution is  a pact, an executed, written agreement. No agreement has any validity in law if done without good faith dealing by every party to it. Either we have a good faith Constitution, or we don’t.

If we don’t have a good faith Constitution, best that we know that now, and accept the anarchy that must surely follow. The rise of trump makes clear that many Americans think the Constitution — and its great and noble provisions, for which hundreds of thousands of us have died — is a bad faith instrument. But that is to be expected. Many who stand outside the system do so for a reason. Those who are elected to stand within it have no such excuse.

For a Senator to game us all — to say stuff that everybody recognizes as bullshit —= is nothing less than rank rebellion. It may not be secession, as was done by 13 Southern states in 1861, but it is nullification.

It is bullshit to say that the President cannot have a consent vote on his Supreme Court nominee because “the voters need to weigh in on who is chosen.” The Constitution nowhere says, or implies, that nominations to office must wait upon the next election.

It is bullshit to say this because everyone knows that what the Senators of nullification are really about is filling that vacancy with a nominee whose politics they support and because everybody knows that the nullification Senators have stood against almost everything the current President has sought to do, no matter what or who suffers.

This nullification is worse than bullshit, because everybody knows that if it is successful, in the future when there is a Republican President and a Democratic Senate, the same nullification will be wielded, thereby rendering the relevant section  of Article 2 of tghe Constitution moot. That, too me, is rebellion.

Little wonder that voters who stand outside the system think it a fraud, rigged, fake. After all, if those within the system can get away with nullification, how is the system NOT merely a paper wall of movie set illusion ?

The only way the nullification Senators can avoid this consequence of their rebellion is to set it aside. Hold hearings on the President’s nominee and then vote. That’s what the Constitution assumes that the Senators will do.

And let me add, on a personal note,m that they had better have a darn good reason, other than not liking the nominee’s politics, for not consenting to his or her confirmation, if that is what they intend to do.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere






^ Ohio Governor John Kasich at a rally in Wakefield last weekend

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We at Here and Sphere hardly ever write about national politics. We have written nothing about the national election. Now that must change. On Tuesday, March 1st, Massachusetts voters have their turn at nominating, and I, as Here and Sphere’s political reporter, think it would be a mistake to not say how I feel.

For those taking a Republican ballot : John Kasich.

Kasich is a two-term Governor Ohio, re-elected with 62 percent of the vote, carrying 96 of Ohio’s 98 counties. Not too long ago, he boasted an 80 percent favorable rating — well earned, as he has led a significant turn-around in Ohio’s economy as well as eliminated the state budget deficit. He is also one of the few GOP Governors to accept Obamacare’s Medicaid funds — “it saves lives,” he tells those who oppose this.

Kasich is campaigning as “a kind man” — in every way the antithesis of Donald Trump, the vulgarian and bully who so far has held onto — but cannot add to — about 31 percent of GOP primary voters. He talks about helping those who live in poverty — “in the shadows,” he says; and he cites examples of his doing so as Governor.

Kasich supports relieving student debt, innovative education solutions, restructuring the broken Veterans Administration, and re-purposing many of the other major Federal agencies. He oversaw agency budgets when he served in Congress and was Ways and Means Chairman, in the 1990ps. There will be few sacred bureaucratic cows in a Kasich presidency.

Kasich also confronts Russia’s Vladmir Putin more knowledgeably than any of his rivals, as you would expect, given his Yugoslavian ancestry and support base among voters who all have long family memories of what it means to be extorted by Russia. He speaks from the heart when asked how he would deal with Putin face to face.

Republicans frightened by Trump and put off by Senator Ted Cruz, would like Kasich to not be in the race so that they could coalesce for Senator Marco Rubio. I dissent. Rubio as I see him lacks all conviction. He supports positions he once opposed, and he impresses me as entirely unready to be President. I find no advantage in choosing a weak minded candidate with zero executive chops because, so far, he polls somewhat well. There may come a time when I will change my mind; but that time is not now. I enthusiastically prefer the best. Governor Kasich is that man.

2.For those choosing a Democratic ballot : Hillary Clinton.

She’s a controversial pick, to be sure — 25 years on the national political stage, including two terms as a New York US Senator and a term as Secretary of State, bring with them both goods and bads; and both her apologists and enemies have made sure that just about every American knows all about both. I am not dissuaded by the negatives nor overwhelmed by the positives.

Clinton knows the issues facing this nation better than anyone and can debate about them masterfully without teleprompting. Her rival, Bernie Sanders, offers huge idealisms, but of a very narrow, “break up the big banks” version. Clinton offers realism — far less dramatic, but — backed by solid knowledge and an indisputable reputation for toughness, even ruthlessness, in a job that requires both and which, in a Clinton presidency, will array on the side of economic fairness and social justice. Her reform agenda is less disruptive than Sanders’s version, but that’s OK by me. Why should we raise well-paid people’s taxes by double, as Sanders wants to do ? For that matter, why should we break up our biggest banks., as Sanders seeks, when in the world of finance, our biggest banks are dwarfed by the 20 largest Chinese finance companies ? If anything, we should bulk up our big banks.

Both Clinton and Sanders call for a multi-billion dollar infrastructure rep[air program : Clinton’s will cost $ 550 billion, Sanders’s about double. Whose do you think more likely to be approved by a  Republican Congress ?

Clinton gets lots of negative attention for the events at Benghazi two years ago, but it’s hard to nail the blame for that terrorist attack on her. Our Benghazi envoy station requested more security but didn’t get it : why ? Congress actually cut State’s security budget by some $ 300 million. Yes, Benghazi was a tragedy. But many State personnel were killed during President Bush’s time, and, as Clinton said, “we cannot allow ourselves to be driven out of dangerous parts of the world.”

Meanwhile, during her term as Secretary of State, Clinton enormously raised every nation’s attention to abuses of women in far too much of our world..

For all these reasons, I recommend a vote for Hillary Clinton if you’re taking a Democratic ballot.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Brian Shortsleeve

^ Brian Shortsleeve, MBTA operations manager : it’s up to him now, and to General manager Frank DiPaola, to put into permanent effect the accountability commitments made imperative but what we have learned of past T mis-mangement

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Perhaps, as my friend Ed Lyons suggests, the voters of Massachusetts are finally excavating the last of the ill-advised stuff that has plagued MBTA operations for more than a decade. Certainly the latest revelations are ugly :

1.the T worker who clocked over $ 270,000 in overtime hours approved his own overtime slips, somehow, despite such approval supposedly requiring the okay of a supervisor.

2.the T’s employee pension fund invested about 20 percent of its money in low-interest rate bonds backed by credit swaps that have now turned aggressively against it, forcing the pension fund to pay OUT some $ 26 million a year.

You can read all about the pension fund’s surprising investment strategy in this Boston Globe article :

What the blazes did the T’s pension fund managers think they were doing, investing in interest rate swaps ? Putting T funds at risk, for the sake of a few interest income points that have now turned bearish ? The “prudent investor” rule, created by courts overseeing trustees of funds at least 150 years ago, has permanent application : the first obligation of a money manager is not to LOSE his clients’ money. It’s OK, if you’re risking your own money, to accept big risk in an arena of unforeseeable unknowns. It is NOT OK if you’re investing other people’s money.

It’s possible — though I hope not — that we the public have become numb to the financial mismanagement found by Governor Baker’s MBTA Fiscal Control Board (FCB) and reported, one finding after another, all year long. But numb need not mean dumb. We need to continue our outcry until such time as the FCB has put in place all of the accountability commitments that a public service like the T owes to its public. It is an outrage that the MBTA has been permitted to mismanage all these years; a scandal, to waste its resources and then call upon the legislature for more money to waste; an insult, to hire one general manager after another, only to say “nothing doing” when she, in good faith (one hopes), seeks some measure of reform. But that’s what you get when your Governor doesn’t bite the bullet.

So much for the bad news, however. There is actually good news at the T.

We appear, finally, to have uncovered the last of the T’s closet skeletons. The light shines on every part of T finance : pension risk; overtime abuse; missed trips; fares not collected because fared machines don’t work; over-expensive maintenance work; signal breakdowns and track failure; drivers forgetting to brake a train while they step outside it; lack of infrastructure winterization; imposing the Big Dig debt on T finance; Green Line expansion’s contracting mistakes; the unreview-ability of a Carmens’ Union binding arbitration  rulings.

It confounds me that almost everey6 aspect of MBTA operation was allowed to fall to the failure level : previous Governors and legislatures have a lot to answer for. Yet here we are. There’s a new boss in town, and he is NOT the same as the old boss.

The public may now, finally, be ready to trust the MBTA with the vast new money it will need to upgrade infrastructure,m replace old trains, expand, install wi-fi in trains, install heat in T and bus stations, assure that Charlie card machines work, account for bus trips by online rather than by hand, manage T workers’ pension money prudently, and integrate its services with outside transportation providers.

Just in time for the arrival of new Orange Line and Red Line cars beginning in 2018.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





at least 400 people, largest crowd I’ve seen so far for anybody, rallied for Winthrop candidate Joe Boncore on Saturday night.

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With seven candidates seeking a State Senate seat that only one can win, and none of them the obvious choice, the campaign to choose a successor to Anthony Petrucelli has taken a long while to form even an outline of potential. This lack of shape accords with the illogical nature of the District itself. Onto an East Boston, North End, and Winthrop core, mappers in 2011 added Downtown, Revere, Beacon Hill, Chinatown, and — craziest of all — CambridgePort. Clearly these add-ons were put in place purely to meet the one man, one vote population standard.

Unfortunately for the re-districters, these add-on neighborhoods have refused to take the hint. Three of them have candidates in this race, and all said candidates have an opportunity to win in a small, activist-only vote divided seven ways. Every one of the seven has an activated following and a rationale for his or her election.

Equally unfortunate for the District’s voters, these rationales have little to do with issues or legislative competence and a lot to do with whose insiders are the most influential insiders. I’m no Trump or Sanders anti-establishment person, not at all; but I am uncomfortable with seeing an election decided by which clique of influentials defeats the other cliques of same. Elections should be decided by all the voters. (I say this every time I write about this race, I know; but it is still true !)

That said, the shape and potential of the seven candidacies are becoming clear at last. Let’s rank and assess the seven now, from least potent to most :

  1. Paul Rogers of East Boston. Nobody knows the issues better, and nobody is as well known as Paul in East Boston. But he has entered the race very very late, and as the contest’s “technology candidate” represents enormous potential almost entirely unrealized. Technology candidates generally are just beginning to find their way to connection and coalescence. And a lot of potential Rogers voters are already committed elsewhere.
  2. Lydia Edwards: major observers tell me that she and Diana Hwang are seeking the same young-professionals vote. I disagree. Edwards has mobilized an activist, protest base; Hwang has gathered a following more social than political, and closer to the tech-savvy, networking, civic sentiment than Edwards’s. Hwang voters also seem of a higher income level. Edwards is a very likeable, passionate supporter of her target voters : the District’s most dispossessed. I’m unpersuaded that that is a winning strategy, but I credit Lydia enormously for committing to the effort.
  3. Diana Hwang : she has raised plenty of campaign funds and has some “traditional voter” support. She also won the two Ward 5 Democratic committee votes that did not go to jay Livingstone, proving that she has power inside the doors. Early on, she already has support in Winthrop, Cambridge’s four precincts, and parts of East Boston. Still, it’s a stretch to see a candidate whose identity is bureaucratic networking overcome her more or less newcomer status to a District designed to elect a long-resident, “traditional” candidate. Nor has Hwang, as a Chinese-American, been helped at all by having Boston’s two most influential Chinese American politicals endorse other candidates.
  4. There are two Revere candidates: former Mayor Dan Rizzo and current City Councillor Steve Morabito. They could not be more different., Moarbito is young, Rizzo a mid-50-ish veteran of political wars. The two seem to be revisiting the recent Revere Mayor campaign, a grudge match between Rizzo and new Mayor Brian Arrigo, with an almost 50-50 result. But Rizzo has run for our Senate seat before and has longer connections than Morabito to the other parts of its old-line neighborhoods. I get the impression that Morabito, as he campaigns all across the District, may be greeted positively more often than committed to; meanwhile, Rizzo has an established support group able, probably, to call out its troops locally for one more battle. I seriously doubt it’ll be enough. I put Morabito 4th — but rising, Rizzo 3rd and falling.
  5. Joe Boncore. I had thought that he, like Morabito, would be a candidate well liked everywhere but committed to hardly anywhere. That first impression, he has disproved. Boncore has Winthrop almost to himself and has it well motivated. He also shows solid support in East Boston and grabbed a bit of Revere as well. Yesterday he announced being endorsed by Chinatown’s legendary political leader, “Uncle Frank” Chin — a major get, as Chin does not often back candidates he thinks will lose. Can Boncore now find similar support in the North End ? He is starting to do just that. If Boncore can make that happen in a big way, he will win it all.
  6. Jay Livingstone, State Representative from the Beacon Hill and Cambridge edge of the District has mounted an improbable candidacy that might very well work. He has the afore-mentioned eight precincts (out of 46 total) to himself, will surely capture votes from ChinaTown and Downtown (a very large voting precinct), seems likely to win like-minded voters in the North End, and has gained toe-holds of support in Revere, Winthrop, even East Boston. His chief challenge is turnout. His base precincts of very high-income aren’t much attuned to local elections — $ 200 to $ 500 k earners seldom are; in our turf-passionate District, Livingstone definitely comes from the wrong real estate. Still, his base is his alone — as he proved at the recent Ward 5 Democratic Committee Forum. Jay has the legislative experience, and lots of campaign funds, and since day one he has played every move of this sport non-stop.

The above ranking is not the entire story. I still believe that the District was created to elect a candidate from its East Boston – Winthrop – North End core; of a traditionalist social class bent ; and the candidate closest to that concept is Joe Boncore. He has still to prove himself. That so many of the District’s wisest core-communities heads remain uncommitted with only seven weeks left tells me they are still not convinced.Same is true for me.

There is, however, some movement arising in our corner of District opinion. In a seven-way, small turnout primary, very influential leaders can decide, even dictate, the outcome. Things should become most interesting here in about two to three weeks.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Governor Baker with two of his boldest state committee candidates : Reed Hillman and Linzay Valanzola (in the Anne Gobi Senate District)

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Rarely do I get to frame a political story in the stark good versus evil terms governing Peter Jackson’s masterful Ring Trilogy’s Part Two movie. And maybe I overstate the case. Still, I see Governor Baker’s battle to win control of Massachusetts’s Republican State Committee in pretty much those terms.

On the one side, a party inclusive of everyone, stalwart for civil rights, common nese in its govenance; on the other, demonization of gay people, imposition of the state on women’s reproductive rights, and an anti-governemnt ideology that makes state administration impossible, if not actually immoral.

That Baker has decided to fight rather than be pushed around by such folk, I find admirable and crucial. He is doing all of us in Massachusetts a favor. Having a useful, flexible, streetwise Republican party, rather than one that rejects people and the world, is something all of us can benefit by.

The GOP state committee frames the party’s platform. As such, it has public policy consequences. In recent years, the party platform, written by rejectionists, has put Massachusetts’s GOP on the wrong side of our state’s voters. In 2014, that platform was made even more rejectionist. The 2014 platform serious embarrassed Baker’s campaign and contributed to the narrowness of his victory. This has to end, and it will end, on March 1st, when Baker’s endorsed state committee candidates win full control.

Let me be quite clear about the nature of our opponents :

Almost all belong to an organization called the “Massachusetts Republican Assembly” (MARA) — fraudulent on its face, as it has nothing whatsoever to do with the legally organized Republican Party. (Yes, MARA does say on its webpage that it is thus unaffiliated, but to the public at large, an opposite impression is created, surely on purpose.) The MARA webpage goes on to call itself “the Republican wing of the Republican party” — a joke, if it weren’t so ominous in its import. How dare these folks, some of whom aren’t registered Republican at all, profess to be “more Republican” than other Republicans ? Who made them Pope of the GOP ?

Are you surprised to find out that MARA demonizes gay people, denies the very existence of transgender people, rejects marriage equality, presumes to tell women what to do with their own bodies, wants immigrants deported, thinks “voter fraud” a big deal, condemns welfare recipients, opposes a minimum wage hike, opposes all gun control legislation ?

If anything sums up the MARA misfire, it’s their pledge to :represent only the Republican voters of my district.” Almost the opposite is true. A state committee member owes a responsibility to ALL the voters of her District, to recruit, train, and support the best candidates, present them to ALL the voters, and to give them a platform that enables victory.

Our Republican Governor does that every day. As he said, he campaigns to ALL the voters. That is how it is done. It is one big reason why Baker was elected.

Massachusetts voters, overwhelmingly aligned with the Democratic party in our views, elect Republican Governors to be an independent overseer of a one-party (or no party) legislature. That is ALL that our voters elect a Republican Governor to do. We do NOT elect Republican Governors to advance a MARA agenda.

I have called the present state committee fight a “Helm’s Deep.” That it is. This is, I fear,m just a preliminary to a much larger battle ahead. The Governor will win this one; but the MARA people are not going away. This battle has forged them solidly in its fire. I fully expect them to mount a primary challenge to Baker in 2018, and, given the disaster that is today’s national GOP, I expect them to get stronger as our state’s sensible Republican voters — an aging group averaging at least 60 years, often much older — leave us, only to be replaced by young right wingers : a very small number, yes, but in a party that commands onloy 11 percent of Massachusetts voters, a lethal dose.

Baker can command those among the young right-wing who prefer winning to ideology; but by 2022, when Baker hopes to have his Lieutenant Governor, Karyn Polito, succeed him, will there be enough victory-oriented pragmatists to command the day, as baker cionvinced the 2014 GOP to do, despite ? And will the GOP brand, by then, not be so toxic in Massachusetts that not even a brilliant, often bold centrist like Polito can win ?

Baker must win this Helm’s Deep and must continue the fight. He had better be in for the long game, because his opponents sure are.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ the boring work of major reform must feel sweet to a Governor currently locked in deadly combat with bitter opponents in his own party

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Two days ago, Governor Baker announced that he was joining with 16 other state Governors in an alliance entitled “Bipartisan Governors Accord for a New Energy Future.” The 17 Governors — 4 Republicans and 13 Democrats — came together for the purposes Baker outlined thus at a press conference :

“The Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future highlights the tremendous opportunities to create a shared clean, affordable and resilient energy future. Massachusetts will continue to lead the way on clean energy, energy efficiency and the adoption of innovative technologies such as energy storage. These efforts, and our legislative proposal to bring additional hydroelectricity and other renewable resources into the region, will ensure we meet our ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets while also creating a stronger economy for the Commonwealth.”

As Lieutenant Governor Polito added, This Accord will allow us to collaborate with like-minded governors to create innovative clean energy policy and ensure a stronger national energy future. Joining the Accord reaffirms our commitment to diversifying the Commonwealth’s energy portfolio, supporting new energy technologies, and meeting our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020.”

You can link to the Governors’ report here :

Energy reform is the matter of importance which, to judge by hits recorded at the Here and Sphere webpage, our readers care the least about. Yet matters boring —  so it seems — to most are prized by baker, because the less viral, the more Baker feels he can accomplish : and accomplish it with leaders willing to join with him regardless of partisan ties. That’s how Baker sees the public’s business being done most effectively. Whether we journos write it up or not.

Why have I written four full paragraphs about the Joint Governors’ New Energy Initiative  when the topic of this essay is “a fight” ? Because I think it’s significant to note Baker’s attention to issues that the common wisdom identifies as Democratic. For Baker, as we have seen, there is nothing Democratic or Republican about good reform : it’s just common sense. Committing to do common sense stuff has helped make him the best liked Governor in the nation.

You would not imagine, from hearing the ugly noise storms arising from the national election campaign, that common sense, collaboration, and doing the boring stuff would make Baker popular at all, much less very popular. Perhaps common sense is precisely what the voters want.

Yet the hard stuff remains.

Baker is moving to take over the Massachusetts Republican State Committee, whose 80 members, in 2014, voted a party platform anathema to a solid four out of five of our voters; a platform that embarrassed the Governor’s campaign and contributed to the narrowness (1.9 percent) of his victory. In 57 committee contests Baker has publicly endorsed a candidate, mailed letters to the voters, delivered fliers with his picture on them, put the full power of his popularity and his achievement on the line to make the GOP platform comport with his priorities and his positions on all the issues, including the social ones which are the chiefest dispute between him and those he seeks to defeat.

Were it not that a Baker victory in this fight has major implications for state government policy, I wouldn’t care much about it. For most state committee members, that office is their pet, their pride and joy, which they cling to for dear life; being on the state committee validates their activism. That the job of a state committee member is to help win elections, by recruiting appealing candidates and handing them an appealing platform, seems not to engage the majority of today’s state committee people. You read the words of those who Baker is working to defeat, and you learn that, for these folks, adherence to positions vastly unpopular with the state’s voters is the be-all.

One almost gets the impression that the Baker opponents want the party’s positions to be unpopular, often in terms as offensive as the positions, because the more voters they can drive away, the less chance of anyone defeating them for a state committee seat.

Baker’s challenges these folks existentially. He seeks not only their defeat but an end to small-party-ism. Baker wants the Massachusetts GOP to grow larger, even much larger, and he wants state committee members attuned to doing it and to guiding it in that direction.

He wants state committee members who will espouse issues positions that accord with what the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters want. You would think this would appeal to all his party’s activists; but you would be wrong. Read his opponents’ facebook posts, and you find a tone of hostility to Baker himself — and to his agenda. The anti-baker people say that they are responsible only to their District’s Republican voters. Huh ? No responsibility to the voters as a whole, whose votes will elect or defeat the party’s candidates ?

I know of no other political situation in Massachusetts where the idea that elections should actually be won is controversial.

Here we are, with the most popular Governor in the nation, and these folks are not only not giddy with joy but actually angry about him ? Logic cannot comprehend it.

And so Governor Baker, whose intends to win re-election and to elect more Republicans to office if he can, is in battle with people whose objective is entirely different, even opposite to his. No wonder the battle has become intense. There is nothing at all on which the two sides agree, or can agree; and Baker cannot afford to lose. If a Governor can’t command his own party — and a very small party at that — how can he command the state ?

March 1st is the day on which h this battle will be decided. Until it is, baker will be distracted from pushing major reforms forward. But that delay cannot be helped. Forcing the Massachusetts GOP to row up is itself a major, major issue, especially given the sickening mess going on in the Republican party beyond our borders.



Two days ago, the six-candidate contest to elect a new State Senator in Boston’s core District suddenly became a seven-way struggle, as East Boston’s Paul Rogers took up arms. Thus members of Ward 5’s democratic committee became the first group in the District to listen to seven, not six, hopefuls.

Not surprisingly, committee member Jay Livingstone was endorsed by a vote of 24 to 2. More about this later.

Boston’s Ward 5 includes Beacon Hill, the Back bay, the Fenway, and Bay Village. It boasts the state’s highest priced homes. Four of its 13 precincts fall inside the Senate District, yet every committee member was allowed to vote to endorse. That was odd; but these are party matters, and the Democratic party’s rules probably authorize such process.

The candidates’ presentation unsettled me. Only two discussed actual issues : Lydia Edwards, who itemized her “progressive” priorities, and Jay Livingstone, who talked about transportation funding. Others told their life histories — their resumes. Unacceptable ! If you seek to be a legislator, you owe it to voters to tell them what legislation you will prioritize and what position on it you intend to take. The voters are electing you to do a very specific job; tell them what you will do. At the very least, it shows that you know the job you seek and that you are serious about the people’s legislative business. Save the resume for your palm card.

I was especially surprised to see former Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo do the life resume routine. No one in this race has more mastery of the issues affecting our District. Why did he not speak of a few at the Ward 5 Forum ?

The same was true of Steve Morabito, Diana Hwang — who received the two non-Livingstone endorsement votes — and Paul Rogers. Joe Boncore did mention charter schools, but ducked the cap lift legislation and referendum with a general comment about how all schools need to be good.

A candidate must impart to the voters an opportunity for them to have confidence in him or her ! It is better even to have the voter disagree, but at least feel fairly certain about you, than to leave him or her puzzled about what you have in mind. State Senators represent about 140,000 people. That’s a lot of people to bewilder.

Some of these candidates have “consultants” advising them. It doesn’t say much for the expertise of “consultants” to see what they’re so far producing in this dispiriting contest. You can do all the voter-filing that $$$$ will buy you, and micro-target six dozen groups of voters every minute, but if you aren’t fully confident of your candidacy and what it means, you are wasting your money.

The Governor has filed plenty of legislation now before the Senate. The voters might like to know how the seven feel about baker’s opioid bill, his energy proposal (renewed yesterday), his municipal reform bill, his continuing MBTA reforms,; and yes, his charter cap lift legislation. From what happened last night, I doubt we will hear any of it except probably from Jay Livingstone.

On that score alone, Livingstone becomes the lead candidate despite qualms the rest of our District rightly feels about giving the seat to a resident of its least characteristic neighborhood.

The lack of address given to Baker’s legislation by any of the candidates seems especially obtuse given that in his 2014 campaign, Baker won 27 of the District’s 46 precincts, including the home precincts of all but two of the seven Senate seekers. The voters of our District want what the Governor advocates. The seven Senate seekers have a duty to tell us where they stand.

Unfortunately at least five of them — Livingstone and Edwards have the right approach — may worry that vested interests, whose strangle hold on state administration the Governor is trying to loosen, may loom larger, in a small-vote, party primary than they would in a general election, and thus are loathe to stir stuff up. This is a serious problem in Massachusetts, where three-quarters of the legislature is elected in low-turnout party primaries, in which vested interests overweigh their actual numbers. We aren’t likely to reform state-wide this fundamental of Massachusetts politics any time soon, but in our own District, we should resolve never again to permit the Senate seat to be decided in a primary rather than in a final, one on one election in which major issues cannot be avoided or fluffed by resume happy talk.

Meanwhile, Jay Livingstone, already a State Representative, and girded with campaign dollars, looks more and more the confident leader of this pack.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere