1 Obama nominates

^ President Obama will nominate a Supreme Court justice — and the Republican Senate will likely reject them all. Very bad portent for the nation’s future

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There is no justification whatsoever for the notion that the President should not nominate a successor to Justice Scalia, and do so with all dispatch. The power is expressly granted him in Article II of the Constitution.

The Senate does have a Constitutional power to give “advise and consent” to the President in the matter of major nominations to appointed office, of which lifetime Supreme Court justices loom largest. What does “advise and consent mean ? the Constitution does not say.

Two duties are granted. First is “advise.” What is the senate to advise the President ? Advice is often given; nothing in the Constitution — or in the history of advice — requires the person advised to accept the advice given.

The Senate is also granted power to “consent.” What is consent all about, and how is it done ? The custom here is to hold hearings at which the nominee is questioned, and then to recommend his or her confirmation, or not. Consent need not have been this formal. A simple voice vote would do. But the custom here has become the expectation.

The Constitution offers no guidance for what matters the Senate should take into account when exercising the consent power. The case used to be that a Presidential nomination was given the benefit of the doubt, and, qualification being established, no consent would be withheld. That changed in 1987 at the hearings given to Robert Bork. Now the nominee’s judicial philosophy is also subject to consent.

This is, in my mind, a deplorable development. It ensures that partisan political battles will override the Court’s intended insulation from  politics. Lifetime appointments were given to Supreme Court Justices for that very purpose : to assure that they would not be vulnerable to political pressures. Instead, we now have a political Court.

The Court can NOT be a mere extension of a partisan Congress and President. If that is what it is, it might as well not exist at all.Indeed, on vitally important matters, it does not in fact exist. Significant blocs of voters — even of whole states — refuse to recognize its rulings as the law of the land.

Operating a Court thus delegitimized, the current Senate has for some time now declined to act on Presidential nominations, especially to judgeships. By doing so, the Senate has made it more difficult for the Federal government to operate at all. this has been, for the Republicans, what they want ; no operating Federal government. We have seen the result : progress and decision has devolved to the states and cities. America is reverting to the disunion existing prior to the ratification  o the Constitution. this too has been a matter of conscious policy for national Republicans : profess “loyalty” to a Constitution that you are, in fact, working to negate.

This sneak attack on our Constitution has worked up to now because the public has not seen it much, or for what it it is. The sneaking can no longer work because a Supreme Court nomination is a big deal with all eyes firmly focused on it. If the Republicans dare to apply their negation tactic to a Presidential nomination, they will surely lose, because, I dare say, very few actual voters want to see the Constitution negated.

My guess is that the Republican senate will see that it cannot simply refuse a vote on this Presidential nomination. But it can vote the nomination down, and it will likely do so. After all, why grant legitimacy to a Court that is not a Court at all but a partisan political plaything ?

I reject this situation. I say ‘vote a reasonable nominee and confirm him or her, and do so with some dispatch. I think that most Americans agree with this.

To do otherwise, as the Republican Senate will probably vote, is to continue the devolution of American unity that they seem to want. It is to aggravate the formation of two very separate Americas in which two very different arrangements of society are being bricked into place. one America, a place of diversity and inclusion, of civil rights for all, a place in which all religions, or no religion, are granted equal tolerance but no dictat upon public policy. the other nation, one in which a certain religious view is impose on everything, including the law, even at the expense of equality, civil rights, and Constitutional protections which, in this other America, are not granted any loyalty or legitimacy.

Such being the stakes called up by the ensuing Presidential nomination, I expect the Senate to reject anyone and everyone the President nominates. By doing so, they will reap the violent retribution of a seditious vengeance that they seem ready to evoke. It is a sad moment in our often sad history as a nation unsure of itself and often averse to its noblest mission.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




1 Scalia

At some time yesterday morning, Justice Antonin Scalia died, in his hotel room while on vacation. He was 79 years old and had been a Supreme Court Justice since 1986.

As controversial a Justice as the last 100 years has witnessed, Scalia had superb Constitutional insight — as I shall demonstrate — but also passionate beliefs which often wounded the equally deeply held, opposing beliefs of many. Because very few people, any more, understand what the Constitutional role of Supreme Court Justices was intended to be, most of us assume that Scalia’s often virulent public statements underlay his most controversial opinions. I disagree.

We need recognize that what Justices may say, off the bench, is obiter dicta in the truest sense : commentary, but not part of the judgment. Making judgments is why Justices are chosen. Their off the bench comments are irrelevant to it.

Thus, in this essay, I have nothing to say about Scalia’s dicta. It is his judging that i want to talk about.

As a Justice, Scalia demonstrated an understanding of the relationship between the Constitution and real life as profound as any Justice since Holmes.

Let me demonstrate by quoting his opinion in California Democratic Party v. State of California (530 US 567, 2000), not a decision often talked of by Scalia’s detractors (or his supporters). The case was brought by that state’s Democratic Party challenging a state law allowing any voter, including members of other parties, to vote in the Democratic primary. Scalia wrote the Court’s finding that that law violated California Democrats’ right of free association guaranteed by the First Amendment :

“… States play a major role in structuring and monitoring the primary election process, but the processes by which political parties select their nominees are not wholly public affairs that States may regulate freely. To the contrary, States must act within limits imposed by the Constitution when regulating parties’ internal processes. See, e.g., Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Comm., 489 U. S. 214. Respondents misplace their reliance on Smith v. Allwright, 321 U. S. 649, and Terry v. Adams, 345 U. S. 461, which held not that party affairs are public affairs, free of First Amendment protections, see, e.g., Tashjian v. Republican Party of Conn., 479 U. S. 208, but only that, when a State prescribes an election process that gives a special role to political parties, the parties’ discriminatory action becomes state action under the Fifteenth Amendment. This Nation has a tradition of political associations in which citizens band together to promote candidates who espouse their political views. The First Amendment protects the freedom to join together to further common political beliefs, id., at 214–215, which presupposes the freedom to identify those who constitute the association, and to limit the association to those people, Democratic Party of United States v. Wisconsin ex rel. La Follette, 450 U. S. 107. In no area is the political association’s right to exclude more important than in its candidate-selection process. That process often determines the party’s positions on significant public policy issues, and it is the nominee who is the party’s ambassador charged with winning the general electorate over to its views. The First Amendment reserves a special place, and accords a special protection, for that process, Eu, supra, at 224, because the moment of choosing the party’s nominee is the crucial juncture at which the appeal to common principles may be translated into concerted action, and hence to political power, Tashjian, supra, at 216. California’s blanket primary violates these principles. Proposition 198 forces petitioners to adulterate their candidate-selection process—a political party’s basic function—by opening it up to persons wholly unaffiliated with the party, who may have different views from the party. Such forced association has the likely outcome—indeed, it is Proposition 198’s intended outcome—of changing the parties’ message. Because there is no heavier burden on a political party’s associational freedom, Proposition 198 is unconstitutional unless it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. See Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U. S. 351.

“None of respondents’ seven proffered state interests—producing elected officials who better represent the electorate, expanding candidate debate beyond the scope of partisan concerns, ensuring that disenfranchised persons enjoy the right to an effective vote, promoting fairness, affording voters greater choice, increasing voter participation, and protecting privacy—is a compelling interest justifying California’s intrusion into the parties’ associational rights.”

Since many of my readers are political activists, and since may of us talk a lot about whether party ptrimaries should be “open” or “close” or “partially open,” how can we help but find shrewd the way in which Scalia relates the political discussion in the real world to the Constitutional precepts that proctor the making of party primaries ? Few of us realize that our process tinkerings have actual Constitutional borders or underpinnings : but here they are, evoked by Scalia with shrewd first Amendment insight..

A friend has asked me to opine about Scalia’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. No case better illustrates Scalia’s masterful understanding of this Amendment — and its long history in English common law — than what he wrote in Florida v. Janes (30 So. 3rd 34). I quote from Kevin Russell’s SCOTUS blog :

“In an opinion written by Justice Scalia, the Court affirmed the Florida Supreme Court. The Court held a dog sniff at the front door of a house where the police suspected drugs were being grown constitutes a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Justice Kagan filed a concurrence joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor. Justice Alito filed a dissent joined by the Chief Justice, and Justices Kennedy and Breyer.

“Justice Scalia’s opinion for the Court resolved the Fourth Amendment question solely on property rights grounds, holding that bringing a dog to conduct a forensic search on someone’s porch constitutes a trespass at common law and, under the reasoning of last term’s GPS case, United States v. Jones, constituted a search subject to the limitations of the Fourth Amendment. While the general public, including the police, generally have license to approach a house’s front door (for example, to leave a flier or ask the occupant to answer a question), that license does not include an invitation to bring a dog onto the porch to search for drugs. If a member of the public did that, Justice Scalia observed, it would “inspire most of us to – well, call the police.” For that reason, the majority decision found it unnecessary to decide whether the dog sniff also violated the suspect’s reasonable expectation of privacy. When the police trespass onto private property to conduct a search, the Fourth Amendment applies regardless of whether the trespass also invades someone’s reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Scalia evoking the common law of trespass reminds us that the Fourth Amendment — like the First, Second, Fifth, SIxth, and Eighth — did not arise de novo; all drew upon English precedent, some of long standing. The common law of trespass traces back at least to the 1300s, as the King’s courts devised a legal action — one that had not existed before — that property owners (or possessors) could use to prevent unwarranted entry.

My friend notwithstanding, Scalia’s Fourth Amendment opinion contains what appears a contradiction, one that opens doors to the deepest implications of Scalia’s jurisprudence. Bear with me; it’s a fairly long excursion:

1.Why was  it was OK, in Scalia’s argument, for the King in the 14th Century to create new legal rights but not OK for the High Court to create new rights today ?

Was it because the King’s realm did not get its power from a written pact (though such did exist in Medieval Europe) and was therefore free to innovate ? Whereas our nation does arise from a written Constitution, and so we are constrained to act within the meaning of its words as formulated ?

Formulation ad hoc is OK, Scalia might say, for societies operating under an unwritten Constitution, because they are in the nature of settlement discussions, not final judgments; and a written Constitution IS a final judgment, a decision.

2.The distinction here goes to the nature of language itself — words as actually used by people. Language is public, communal; it binds those who share it; but language changes all the time, as do the events of life. The meaning of words changes; the spelling and the pronunciation : Latin became French, Portuguese, Catalan, Italian, and so forth, as people in these societies applied their words to new situations and things.

3.It is no coincidence that the most innovative period in European law was that in which literacy was almost non existent except among Catholic clergy and thus legal decisions were hardly ever written down. Law was made on the spot as an occasion demanded it.

It is also not a coincidence that the illiteracy period of European law-making was also marred by widespread violence — anarchy. Nor is it any coincidence that the first European powers to become firmly established in this environ used written documentation as a weapon, wielded by a king or duke to bring order to his realm.

4.From the “common” law — meaning laws common to an entire kingdom — promulgated by these newly prepotent kings and dukes, law that Scalia grants the right to innovate, anarchy found its antidote, and the peace of the realm began to establish. Written laws and judgments, accessible to all who could read them, provided a large measure of unification, and agreement.

5.This is the context in which we should measure our framers’ decision to have a written Constitution rather than an unwritten, as was (and still is) the case in England. Our framers were dealing with enormous disunity ; with 13 states each going its own way. A written Constitution bound them all.

6.The Constitution was like a treaty — and treaties were always written, even in antiquity — and more than that too. It is a prescriptive document and meant as such. It tells us what to do and not to do.

It is a kind of creed as well; a statement of basic arrangements preambled by a magnificent commitment of purpose : to form a more perfect union, and to provide for the general welfare. As such, the Constitution stood in the place of numerous Medieval European pacts, written down in order to bind all who signed them AND to give notice to the entire society thereof.

A written charter served several purposes; giving public notice was perhaps the most significant. Even today, notice is required in all disputes at law. No notice, no case. The Constitution gives notice to all of its existence, its content, its binding consent.

Scalia draws almost all of his jurisprudence from the finality therein and the notice given. But notice of what ? For Scalia, the notice given is of the Constitution as agreed to by those who agreed to it. To admit of evolving meanings, or innovative interpretations, is to let the anarchy of unwritten custom into the temple of written agreement. And Scalia is right about this. The changes that Courts have read into the Constitution are not as agreed as are the written language of it.

7.The Constitution was ratified by vote of elected conventions held in all 13 states. No such ratification validates any of the innovations read into the Constitution by succeeding Justices unelected. What, then, does validate the innovative decisions of the Court ? Custom and sentiment — ephemeral things, as we see toady, when many Court decisions are not at all agreed to.

8.For Scalia there is also the matter of tradition. As with the Roman creed, and the catholic canon law developed from it as practiced ad ordered, Scalia sees the Constitution, and decisions of the Court, as the bulwark of certainty agreed to by all over a long period of time ad thus understood by all. And just as the church reected ghe idea of different customs for different speakers of languages evolved from Latin by word of mouth, so Scalia rejects the notion that Constitution’s words can change meaning, pronunciation, spelling, as do spoken words.

Of this Constitutional view, Scalia has been the ablest advocate maybe ever. And the reach of his view does not stop there. I like to say that for Justices Brennan and Black, both of whom I admire enormously, “the Constitution is for the little guy.” Well? That is exactly the moral basis of Scalia’s literalism. In his view, the ordinary citizen should not have to become a Constitutional scholar in order to figure ot what it requires of her. The simpler, the better; the more literal, the more sure.

9.This is a generous view of citizenship — but, in my mind, it falls short. Is it really too difficult for us to build legal support for a society not simple ? Can the written law not sanction the complexities of even ordinary days ? Simplicity is good; yet we cannot restrict the good to a brief cook book ? Change in societal arrangements shake us like earthquakes : is our society really that fragile ? Church law, which Scalia respected so highly, has a way of managing change : the written canon law is what it is; but the actual facts of ordinary, unwritten life are tolerated.

But our nation is the child of Martin Luther and of the Protestant Reformation, in which printed protest claimed equal standing with written Papal bulls. And asserted superior truth. Our framers were the grandchildren of 200 years of ensuing religious war; they wanted no part of the notion that there could only be one written truth. Their Constitution was to be not a papal bull — incontestible, a final word — but a document admitting change and interpretable by a Court.

10.The framers knew that they had not settled all American politics forever. They themselves argued bitterly afterwards as to the import of what they had done. I think that Scalia decries that bickering. I think he much preferred the incontestible certainty that governs church law.

And now back to my orig9inal essay. I think that Scalia had America wrong. The dynamism that makes us the nation we have always been is to be advantaged, not punished. We have always been a people of adventure, innovation, dissent from the common wisdom. Our entire economy arises from it. We are an economic nation before we are a political one. Scalia’s disapproval of societal change is disapproval of our nation itself.

We do best when we think more deeply than common opinion. We create the most prosperity when we reinvent our lives, and mold language to what we reinvent, and how we reinvent it. The invention of new words, or their reinvention, are the DNA by which we empower our purposes. I see no reason why it is beyond our power to apply similar invention to the laws that govern us.

This is why I prefer the judicial views of Justice Holmes. Who famously wrote, in his great treatise The Common Law, that ‘the life of the law is not logic but experience.” With an unwritten Constitution, that precept is all. How else to operate ? With a written Constitution, printed words threaten to override what we learn, every day, that we did not know yesterday.

Just how does what we learn today comport with what is written ? Is there no place inside writing for what its writers did not specifically know ? If so, then our society will become two societies : a legal printed one and an undergrond one of customs unsanctioned. I think we can do better than that.

Yet I am glad that Justice Scalia has challenged our society’s understanding of its basic law so forcefully. No one who commits to the obligations and rewrads of citizenship can afford not to read what he has said to us about what our nation is about.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ deceptive innocence ?  serious pol Councillor Michelle Wu with the late Mayor Menino

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Long ago, I learned politics while getting my monthly. haircut from one Frank Ciampa. Frank was Great Albano before Albano became great. He was East Boston’s political oracle, a Frank Bellotti guy first and always, an intense presence who served up politics the way Rino’s Place serves food.

Sitting in his chair, I was, one day in late 1971, as Frank told me “Michael, no one in politics ever respects you till you show you can hurt them !”As it turned out., Frank had a big hurt in mind — against Mayor Kevin White — and all through 1972 he brought the hurt, wave after wave of it. The details are for another time; but, boy, was frank ever correct.

Ask Michelle Wu, the City Council’s newly elected president.

Three days ago, Wu endorsed a candidate, of the six seeking our District’s Senate seat. Wu is Chinese-American, Boston’s leading Asian-origin politician. As it happens, there is a Chinese-American candidate among the six, Diana Hwang : a woman equally accomplished as is Wu and just as articulate; and Chinatown’s two precincts are part of this District. Wu had no obligation to endorse, but her endorsement of Diana Hwang would go a long way to securing those two precincts and lifting Hwang’s prospects throughout the Boston part of the District.

Wu chose otherwise. She endorsed Lydia Edwards, perhaps this contest’s most left.-leaning candidate with — from what I can see — the smallest base of support.

In her endorsement announcement, posted on facebook, Wu praised Edwatds for exactly those accomplishments : her social justice record and advocacy for immigrants and low wage workers. Not a word about Hwang.

I did not see this coming; but as I read it, Wu has accomplished several tasks vital to her future; and it is her future, not Edwards’s, which is the thing here : one, Wu removes lingering doubts about her bona fides as a “progressive” on account of her supporting Bill Linehan as prior council president; two, Wu cuts off Hwang’s vote base at the knees — as one politically sharp observer told me, “you could say she wants to be the only Asian American game in town” ; third, Wu gains Edwards as a future ally; four, proved to one and all that she can and will hurt people who might occupy her political space.


^ Diana Hwang : “nothing can stop us !”

This was a political assassination, and believe me, Boston pols are noticing. Wu speaks so softly you can hardly hear her, and she is sugar sweet in person. But the speech she gave after winning election as council president was tough, uncompromising, a wish list of “progressive:” aspirations. At the time, they were just words, perhaps. Now they are deeds.

It’s no secret to any of you who read me that I like Diana Hwang. Like her a lot. She is, as I see it, the candidate most aligned with Governor Baker’s reform mission, and with his political culture. So perhaps I receive Councillor Wu’s take-down of Hwang a little bit more personally than I should. Anyway, I asked Hwang for her response.

“Nothing can stop us !”

So said she after fumbling for the right resolve. I like her answer, but the story is what it is.

One other point. I have written, over and over again, that a six person primary is no way to pick a new State senator. Diana Hwang should be running as an independent, in the May 10th election, rather than in the primary, so that she could debate the issues one on one with the primary winner and thereby draw maximum voter attention to herself and her priorities. Had she done so, a Wu endorsement for her opponent would be seen as a mere party matter, of no great benefit to her and certainly no damage to Hwang.

But instead, we have the faction versus faction, palace-conspiracy Ottomanism of a six-way, low voter interest primary.

Someday, the wiser pols of our District will start listening to me on basic political stuff. Our District deserves better than what we are being given right now.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere






^ do companies actually fill jobs ? Or do they only pass the unemployed along through a gauntlet of temporary exploitation to further unemployment ?

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Lat week I saw a job posting at a facebook discussion group. I don’t see job ads on facebook every day, certainly none for a significant position at a local non-profit.

That was the good news for those who seek a great job. Then came the bad news : the gauntlet of obstacles that an applicant needs to put herself through : (1) Submit your application online only, with cover letter and resume. (2) wait as some nameless person, or committee, reads who knows how many applications (3) if lucky, get called for an interview (4) who knows what you’ll be asked, or how you should dress ? (5) maybe be called for a second interview, perhaps by a team of interviewers (6) stress back at home while one, two, three or ten dozen people discuss your eligibility among themselves (7) perhaps now get called for background check (8) stress while the background check is done. And while your references are called. And while your previous employment record is looked at. And, and, and…

Meanwhile, your bills need be paid, so you continue on your current job, or you submit to the application process elsewhere, maybe at a lot of elsewheres.

Then comes the e-mail (always an e mail, only an e mail): “Thank you for your interest in job X; your application was carefully reviewed but we have chosen another candidate.”

Should you have asked your local politician to help you ? Maybe, but in most cases, the organization he or she might call would likely resent being interfered with. A call or visit by your local pol only works, sometimes, if the job is itself political, or with a utility. But if you have that sort of call upon a local pol, you’re probably not stressing a job  in the first place.

But you are stressing, because you don’t have political clout, and you do have bills to pay.

How do you get a job ? A good job ? I really don’t know how people get good jobs. One friend has applied, these past three years (!), to five hundred (500) jobs for which her resume qualifies her for. She’s been called to about 40 interviews, reached finalist status eight times : still no job.l Meanwhile she does part time work, when it’s available, or works at Costco.

She’s also 55 years old. They say “XYZ Associates is an equal opportunity employer” but at shoe leather level,. it is no such thing. More like “equal lack of opportunity.” But I digress.

How do you get a good job ? A minimum wage job, you can probably get without too many hassles. Dunkin Donuts, the local supermarket, cleaning services, Home Depot shelf stocker — these you can get hired for even if you are 55 years old, or the wrong skin color, or an immigrant. Perhaps you can get two such jobs and work (plus commutes) 17 hours a day. Good luck to you and your health.

Two minimum wage jobs, and you earn maybe $ 700 a week before taxes. You take home maybe $ 2200 a month, all of which goes to rent, food, transportation, and utilities. You need public assistance — food stamps, most likely, or EBT cash for two kids — to get by, and there’s almost no money left for a cell phone and none for anything else at all.

Meanwhile, you get a parking ticket which you can’t pay, or there isn’t money for auto insurance or car repair (and the 16 year old car you probably own always needs repair). It is expensive to be poor. It hurts your health, stresses your kids, breaks your relationships.; More marriages fail for financial stress than for any other cause.

But at least in the poverty world you can get a $ 10 an hour job. The problem is keeping it. Most minimum wage jobs experience enormous turnover.

Is it any wonder that people are angry ? My friend the 55 year old who has applied to 500 jobs has a fright to be angry. I would think less of her if she were NOT^ angry.

And what of those who are lucky enough to get hired for a “good job,” a job paying (let’s say) $ 78,000 a year ? Do you suppose that’s that’s the end of it all ? It is not. On the job, rivals for promotion talk you down behind your back. You are smarter than your supervisor ? expect a quick demotion. Or, your boss hits on you. How do you respond ? What if your firm is bought out ? Is your department safe from layoffs ? Likely not. Meanwhile, you have to meet your three month evaluation, ignore the back bites, smile and be happy, dress well, be a good team-mate, play tennis with your tennis-loving manager, take night courses to keep current in your field, learn a new computer language or operating system, and hope that one day you’re not fired and your company credit card shut off while you’re on a business trip.

Frankly, I would rather not have such a job. I would rather start my won business (as my partner and I have done with Here and Sphere) than be unlucky enough to get hired for a nightmare.

This is the vast majority, today of the world of organized, well-paid work. Bureaucratic in everything, pressured to fake stuff or lie about it, obligated to be humiliated, to lie, to pretend, and to do it for at least eight hours a day if not more only to see it ended by getting fired without warning.

Perhaps you will be one of the lucky ones to not be fired; to win a promotion.l But I will be much surprised if even then you aren’t very, very angry. How can you spend quality time with the family if you are working or commuting 12 hours a day and maybe taking work home on the weekends ? Sure, you’re now earning $ 125,000 — not that that’s luxury in Boston, where rents for executive condos run $ 3,000 to $ 4,000 and buy prices range from $ 800 k to $ 1.5 million — but how can you enjoy any of it ? Any day you can be laid off, or your spouse can run off with a new love interest (and you’ll be paying a divorce lawyer plenty) and there just isn’t any peace.

Life has played a hell of a bad joke on you. The land of opportunity ? Pure horse effluent. No wonder people are angry. A job is a boarding pass to the Good Ship “Suffer.” Assuming you can get one at all.

Many of us have given up trying. Can’t say that I blame them.

—- Mijke Freedberg / Here and Sphere





^ Dan Rizzo, recently Revere’s Mayor : easily, of all the candidates, the most masterly command of the District’s major legsialtive issues

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During the past two weeks I have spoken to all six (6) candidates seeking the State Senate seat from which Anthony Petrucelli resigned about three weeks ago. What follows is my second look at an election that isn’t really an election but which will willy-nilly have an elected result.

If that sentence reads like a Mel Brooks absurdity, the resemblance is intentional. On what basis are the voters of our District to choose a new Senator from such a field, and in a party primary, no less ? How are the voters to distinguish between the candidates ? It’s hard enough for voters, busy with their won lives, to remember even the names of six, not one of which is familiar to the entire district. Imagine the percentage turnout on primary day, April 12th, given this lemon.

I will say again what I have said since day one of this campaign : a party primary is no platform for choosing an office as important as Senator. You need a general election, one on one, where two finalists can raise and debate actual issues. Can we please keep in mind that our Senator will be voting on legislation that actually affects us ? that he or she will be one of only 40 (forty) Senators statewide ? that he or she will be asked, also, to file and advocate for legislation arising from our District;’s unique need ? How can that debate happen with six faces vying for your attention ? It can’t, and that is why I decry this so-called election.

The six candidate, party primary platform also does the candidates disservice. At least one of the six would be — already is, when you speak to him or her (I’ll reveal who it is later)– a superb advocate for Governor Baker’s reforms to state (and party); but in a six candidate jumble, in which our district’s Republicans can’t vote and in which few “independents’ will care to, that advocacy gets kneecapped. Considering that Baker carried 27 of our District’s 46 precincts in his own election, not enabling an advocate among the six is a huge political failing.

What we get is a small campaign with small goals and small eyes.

Meanwhile, the out of District endorsements are flying. Do they matter ? I hope not.

That said, here’s how I evaluate the six candidates and their campaigns with primary day  nine weeks away :

1.Lydia Edwards. personable, smart, plenty of presence; lives in East Boston; highly regarded by the “social justice” community. I don’t see a heck of a lot of actual support, certainly not among the District’s big names, but as Bernie Sanders has shown, there are plenty of non-big names who can make an election difference.

2.Diana Hwang. she presents as the quintessential public relations professional, networker, and office job interviewer. Of Chinese family, she claims two precincts of the 46 — those in which Chinatown is the core — and not merely by ethnicity; she’s the founder of an Asian-American women’s Alliance. Hwang is seen as a “progressive,” but my impression — and her words — tell me that she is, of all the candidates, the most attuned to Governor Baker’s reforms and political culture. I wish she were running as an independent on May 10th; the District needs that, and it would maximize all of her gifts as speaker and presence. But she isn’t.

3.Steve Morabito. A young Revere City Councillor, he has a fairly good, if not authoritative, grasp of most of the District’s particular issues. He has a gentle demeanor that seems to work well; of all the six, he has by far the largest social media support, at least on my posts. He isn’t seen as a progressive, but my sense is that sort of voter is his likeliest support, along with his hometown strength. The only difficulty there is that he faces a very strong Revere competitor : the former Mayor.

4.Joe Boncore. He’s a Winthrop Housing Authority member and, from what I see, has solid support from voters of his town. Boncore also has a law office in East Boston and the support of some big names in the District’s central community. I do not know where else in this diverse District he can garner a whole lot of votes, but we will see. He has been reaching out to the North End (4 of 46 precincts). On the issues, Boncore — whom I interviewed first, before the campaign revved up — doesn’t yet express with the kind of authority, or boldness that i would like to see. That will likely change, because it has to.

5.State Representative Jay Livingstone : as the only current legislator in this contest, he has to be considered “investment grade.” He knows how legislation works, and he has strong support from all manner of activists from his part of the District. Unfortunately for Livingstone, his “part” lies on the District’s periphery; on “the other side of the harbor” from where he lives, Livingstone often looks lost. Clearly it never, ever occurred to him that he might someday need to grasp a political culture extremely different from what dominates his Beacon Hill and Downtown home ground. Livingstone is aware of his outsider status, however, and is moving to gain support from elected officials in Revere and Winthrop. In that, he is aided by plenty of funds and a campaign manager well attuned to campaigning from “the top down.” Can it work in a District to which Livingstone’s home ground is peripheral ? It might. (Disclosure : Livingstone’s campaign manager and I are sometimes campaign colleagues.)

6.Dan Rizzo. Until November of last year he was Revere’s Mayor. That he was outpolled narrowly (by an excellent young challenger, Brian Arrigo) does not detract from his mastery of the issues, most of which he has already worked with during his term as Revere’s executive. Indeed : of all the six candidates, Rizzo has shown me by far the greatest command of our District’s issues. Mastery is not too strong a word.

This is also his second attempt to win our Senate seat. He ran in 2007 but lost to Anthony Petrucelli by about 8 to 5.

The no-casino people excoriate Rizzo as the man who “wanted to shove a casino down our throats.” He does have that negative to face, but in a six-way contest, it’s hard for any “negative” to derail a candidacy as commanding as Rizzo’s. He does have to contend with losing Revere votes to Morabito — maybe a lot of Revere votes — but if issues mastery is what you want in a Senator, Rizzo is definitely your guy. I suspect that a strong cohort of voters will make that choice on April 12th.

Whoever wins will have immediately to run again in November., I hope that in that election there will be a candidate who can take command of a much, much larger turnout of voters than the factional finick likely to cast a ballot on April 12th.

I’ll take another look at this race in about three weeks — sooner if anything significant to it breaks upon us.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere






Silver Line

^ don’t just repair the T; re-make it !

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As our state government goes about reforming the MBTA (and the Commuter Rail), most of the commentary provided by officials sounds ominously minuscule. Don’t get me wrong : I am quite glad that Governor baker’s fix-the-T team is digging into the smallest, most impenetrable details and finding absurdities that only decades of go-along, get-along can accumulate. Still, for Baker’s reform team to pick away chiefly at maddening nits would constitute big mistake. The T can only be made truly useful by seeking the biggest feasible outcome.

Doing so will mean big money. It will mean new taxes, or fees, or both. Transit pundits talk of a $ 7.6 billion “ready for use” backlog of infrastructure upgrades. It’s not enough. Here’s my list of what is needed :

1.Every line of the T needs new rapid transit trains. The Commuter rail needs new cars, and it needs locomotives that get delivered from the manufacturer ready to roll. (Right now, as has been reported, the 40 new Commuter line locomotives have come with quite a few bugs requiring out-of-service repair.)

2.Stations need heat panels so that people waiting as much as 15 minutes for a train don[t have to endure winter’s cold and snow.

3.Charlie Card machines need constant maintenance. Almost never do I go into a station and find each of its three or more card machines fully operative. Sometimes only one machine is working. Si you wait for the persons in front of you, some of whom may be unfamiliar with how to use the machine. Meanwhile, your train arrives and you can’t get on it, so now you need to wait another 15 minutes.

4.Green Line expansion cannot be put off. Re-contract the job and get it done. Of course that means that public meetings cannot invite attendees to demand every bell and whistle in their wish list.

5.If various T tasks are going to be contracted for — such as maintenance of card machines, or trains, or buses — require each contractor to apply the same monitoring system and job completion list, so that T managers don’t have to oversee a host of overlapping, even contradictory, task schedules.

6.Plan T expansion for the future, in which ridership will double. Both the Blue Line and the Orange Line ought to extend; perhaps the Red Line as well. Synchronize systems : why do the Commuter Rail and Green Line use one method of fare collection and the rest of the T another ? Connect the Silver Line directly to the Airport.

7.Consolidate surface stops on the T; give Green Line trains stoplight priority on the avenues and boulevards they travel along. Restart the Green Line’s Watertown line.

8.Co-ordinate T expansion — and maybe even current T service — with housing plans, so that a public transit option will be within easy access distance of newly planned residences. In this regard, Mayor Walsh’s capital spending program, whereby he intends to consolidate 126 old, inefficient school buildings into 90 larger, new ones, should take transit immediacy into account when siting a new school. Kids now use the T to get to school; why not make it easier ?

9.Co-ordinate Commuter Rail schedules and accessibility with Amtrak.

10.Merge MBTA employment with the rest of state employment. The state manages, operates, and funds the MBTA. Why shouldn’t its employees be state employees rather than separate ? There’s absolutely no need for such duplication. 30 odd years ago we merged the Registry of Motor Vehicle Police 9and the MDC police) into the State Police, creating one state police department. We should do the same for MBTA workers.

11.Put wi-fi capability in the MBTA’s buses and trains.

The time to do these tasks is now. The public is ready for it. Who knows when the next opportunity to transform the MBTA will arise / Or even if ? We should do it all, do it now, while the getting is good. It will cost maybe $ 12 billion, you say, to do everything ? OK then; let’s do it. Do it before it ends up costing twice that.

All of what I’ve listed doesn’t even begin to deal with the inefficiencies that bedevil our state’s road system. In many ways, our roads are in worse physical and managerial shape than the MBTA. Wait till you read what I recommend for them !

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ the Governor at affordable housing ground-breaking in Downtown Boston

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For a man whose decision process by-word is “caution,” Governor Baker has certainly been activist busy these past couple of weeks. Most timely of his moves of late has to be the $ 6.7 million dollars awarded, pursuant to the “Shannon Community Safety Initiative” to communities experiencing gang youth difficulties. In particular, this program is awarding Boston $ 1,365,434.46 at a time when gang violence has erupted in East Boston as well as continuing in Dorchester and Mattapan.

[ NOTE : What is the “Shannon Community Safety Initiative” for which such legislated grants are appropriated ? Link to the program here : http://www.mass.gov/eopss/funding-and-training/justice-and-prev/grants/shannon-csi/shannon-community-safety-initiative-overview.html ]

It cannot be easy for Baker to deploy activist state government, as he is doing, given the skepticism of government rampant in his GOP, not to mention his passion about avoiding governance mistakes. He has no choice, however. Breakdowns in society hurt actual people, hinder economic growth, necessitate digressive state services. Baker has made it his bottom line that, “all the voters want, at the end of the day, is for government to work.” He does not say “part of state government.’ He includes it all. Steering youth at risk away from gangs onto the education path to successful employment is a huge part of the “all” that Baker pledges to get working properly.

Thus Brockton, for example, gets $ 425,692; Fall River (where Here and Sphere is based), $ 452,754.68; Holyoke and Chicopee, $ 479,594.20; Lowell, $ 563,778.45; inner Middlesex County cities, $ 343,991.69; New Bedford, $ 496,192.66; Springfield, $ 717,569.13; and Worcester, $ 506,992.66.

Yes, readers, it costs money to put state-run initiatives to work. Please note the amounts. The sum given to Holyoke and Chicopee far outweighs their population size, as does the amount slated to Brockt0n. Yet these cities are home to unyielding youth troubles. It’s where Shannon funds are needed.

Political types will also note that none of the communities awarded large Shannon monies are Republican voting; and Baker is of that party. But as he has said all along,. he is Governor of all and will campaign to all. There’s no other way, no matter what those who distrust government — even question its legitimacy — may expect of a Baker.

In like vein, Baker welcomed the $ 1.1 billion Federal funds appropriated in President Obama’s FY 2017 budget to address opioid prescription drug abuse and the heroin epidemic. Said Baker : “President Obama’s comprehensive proposal aimed to help states combat the opioid epidemic, including additional funds to expand treatment options and overdose prevention efforts, is a positive development for Massachusetts’ own efforts to address this public health crisis. It is encouraging that the President is taking action on a recommendation from our opioid working group to create a pilot program for nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine.”

If so far I had not mentioned the MBTA, it’s not that reform thereof has halted — far from it. Big decisions face Baker5’s Fiscal Control Board, relative to T worker pension reform, curbing abuse of sick day accumulation and overtime hours, funding infrastructure upgrades, and re-contracting Green Line expansion. All these continue even as baker commits to the vast challenges posed by addiction, mental health, youth at risk, and public safety. Not to mention close monitoring of the DCF, which has yet to demonstrate mastery of its own huge dysfunction.

All of these tasks Baker has taken on despite the unavailability, at crisis time, of his operative caution — or his skepticism about expenditure. Much easier it must be, politically, to preside, as he did on Thursday, at a ground-breaking in downtown Boston, of an affordable housing complex immediately across the street from, TD Garden. There, with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as his policy partner, Baker extolled developer Bob Beal for going all in on Boston’s biggest economic need : housing that people not earning six figure incomes can afford to pay for.

This, at least, is one policy priority of Baker’s that the state does not need to foot the entire bill for. At the ground-breaking, the busily careful Governor smiled.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




Silver Line

^ Silver Line, from Airport to South Station. How about a link from the Airport direct to East Boston ?

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Last year Governor Baker made clear that his strategy for fixing the T would be “reform before revenue.” For me, the “reform before” period is closer to end than beginning; which means that the period “new revenue” is knocking on the door.

I wish the Fiscal Control Board (FCB), responsible for T reforms, saw it that way. As Pioneer Institute4’s Jim Stergios pointed out in a Boston Globe op-ed today, the FCB has put the prospect, directly, of cutting T services to save money. Like Stergios, I find that a cut too far. The T cannot discard the services it offers to the public. The T is not a business, it is a public utility. Its services are needed by the public, and wanted by us; and providing them is a basic responsibility of the state.

I don’t want to belabor this basic point. Suffice to say that riders depend on the T to get to work, to entertainments, even to visit friends. T service is aff0rdable by almost everyone. That is how it should be. We pay for T service, a ride should not cost us much. Should there be a fare increase ? Probably, yes. Less of the T’s cost should be paid by taxpayers than now; riders must have skin in the game. But again, that is not the point I wish to make.

My concern is that the MBTA continue to accomplish three goals : repair its infrastructure and equipment; rationalize its union contracts; and expand its services to cover at least projects already under way, as well as a few still in the mention stage : of which the creation of a direct Blue Line to Silver Link seems to me a priority. I would also like to see a Blue Line – Red Line link as well as Orange Line extension to Needham.

My friend John Vitagliano likes to point out that in twenty years commute by public transit is expected to double. How can that happen, if we do not upgrade present infrastructure to safety grade ? How again, if we do not expand rapid transit to cover all of the close-by suburbs ? One other need begs for attention : cross-City routes. Today, if a rider wishes to go from Dorchester to Brookline, or from Jamaica plain to Quincy, for example, she has to plan at least four transfers en route — and set aside two hours or more for the trip. There needs to be a faster way of transporting commuters across the radial lines from a center which hold our present transit system in thrall.

To me, this means bus lines on which several sizes of bus do their routes. Not all routes require the big bus. Some can use the mini, or even a van. Perhaps the T can assemble and budget a sort of Uber system. Unfortunately, all of these will be using the present road system : hardly a call to rapidity. Which brings me to a more radical suggestion : tiers of roadways; or, perhaps, tiers of pathways of varying size.

The T needs also to think transit by water. Ferries now operate from Hingham, Quincy, and Salem. As the upscale building boom continues in the Seaport District and in East Boston, for example, it is surely time to cost out ferry systems from these new population zones to Downtown, Charlestown, and the Mystic River.

These new methods and vehicle types will occasion new MBTA hires. Perhaps that will be time to negotiate a new contract with the Carmen, or with a different union for the new hires, in which overtime loo0pholes cannot create wage jackpots or sick day hoards. Several reforms come to mind : one, sick days, if not used within a one year window, go away; two, contract arbitrations must be subject to approval by the legislature; three, no hours per week can be eligible for overtime unless the worker has already accumulated forty hours, in that week, of regular time — Sunday and Holiday work the only exception; four, the MBTA pension system must merge into the regular State Employees pension fund.

T workers have every right to earn their very generous base pay; but they should have no right to scoop up bonanzas that other public employees never see.

The public is, I think, almost ready to trust the T again and thus to grant it the substantial new revenue it needs to (1) reduce its huge debt burden (2) complete Green Line expansion once the project is re-contracted (3) commence project planning for the more ambitious expansions I have outlined and which will take at least a decade. maybe two, to commit to in the best of political circumstances. Let’s not forget that T expansion also means more transit police hires, new driver training; better equipment at delivery, so that expensive maintenance costs don’t get passed on to us by the manufacturer; environmental impact review that doesn’t ask for green perfection at any cost; janitorial services at T stations, and on T lines, that doesn’t require a late night service shut down; charlie card purchase boxes that aren’t out of order half the time; wi-fi service on all commuter rail lines and buses; and heat panels inside open-air T and bus terminals (I think especially of Haymarket, open to the northeast cold wind and weather.)

New revenue will be required for all of this, even for part; and probably sooner rather than later. Gas taxes, anyone ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere