^ Governor Baker chairing a policy working group early in his term. He will need to chair a lot more of these if he’s to take on income inequality in Massachusetts

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On Sunday I participated in a podcast whose topic was : income inequality, and what, if anything, should Governor Baker propose about it ? As the hosts, Jeffrey Semon and Ed Lyons, are both active Massachusetts Republicans, the appeal to Governor Baker was understandable. I am afraid that I set it back, a bit, by reminding Ed and Jeff that income spreads are a macro problem, that there is little that ANY Governor can do about it. Which does not mean that Baker cannot make a difference.

I’ll suggest later initiatives that I think Baker can commit to, if he likes. But first, let’s examine the inequality situation generally:

1.It does not exist everywhere. As I pointed out during the podcast, there’s isn’t much inequality in old-line, low cost cities like Fall River. There’s no hi-tech, very little of the gig economy; rents are one-fourth of Boston’s rate; food doesn’t cost much. Most workers earn enough to afford Fall River, and work of the physically demanding kind that Fall River people are used to keeps on coming : Amazon just opened a huge warehouse on the City’s northern border; at least 500 people will be hired, and Amazon pays well. You can’t outsource warehouse work, or delivery; Amazon’s Fall River jobs thus seem quite secure. And so it goes in a city where life is lived as if 50 to 100 years ago.

2.Income equality looms largest in the big cities becoming huge hubs of technology innovation. Boston is one such, maybe the prime example. The proximity to major post graduate education and research brings all manner of innovation enterprises into Boston; and innovation jobs pay extraordinarily well. How can they not ? Those who have the skills are few, compared to the demand; and the demand for advanced programming and engineering is growing fast. Meanwhile, Boston’s $ 150,000 to $ 500,000 technology earners — and the lawyers and financial people who work with them at equally high salaries — are peopling Downtown and neighborhoods close to Downtown, for a variety of irresistible reasons; and they are doing so amid service workers — including delivery people, janitors, backroom facilitators, data clerks, and call center support teams — who earn not much more than their predecessors earned 20, 30 years ago.

Every wants to “keep up with the Joneses,” and the service workers who easily socialize with the high earners — they’re of the same age group — are under huge pressure to live in the trendy neighborhoods, despite having scant income to pay the rent; to max out their credit cards on high-end clothes and shoes that the high earners can pay cash for; to buy $ 12 drinks at trendy bars; to flaunt the latest smartphone with an unlimited data plan; and to do all of this while paying, or deferring, huge student debt burdens. Service workers earning $ 12 to $ 17 an hour can’t really keep pace with geeks earning $ 150 k, but how can they not strive to do so ? Who wants to take oneself out of the social whirl ? Once you do that, you’re out forever, because, first, you’re not missed and second, those on the whirl dare not reach down to rescue you: social whirls don’t work that way. They’re ruthless at winnowing out, just like the television’s versions : think Project Runway or RuPaul’s Drag Race.

3.Eventually, however, most $ 12 to $ 17 an hour service workers do get winnowed out: by marriage if by nothing else, or by single motherhood, or simply by coming to the limits of one’s credit cards. (as recently as 2007, total consumer credit card debt comprised 20 percent of the ENTIRE national economy. It’s quite a bit less now, which is one reason why we have had slow economic growth.) And once a $ 12 to $ 17 an hour worker is winnowed out, life becomes a series of barriers, every one a payday crisis : paying parking tickets, or not being able to renew your car registration; paying the credit card or having it cancelled and your credit rating fouled; paying the electric bill, the cable TV bill, the cell phone bill (miss a payment, and, unlike with electricity, it gets shut off, no mercy), the car insurance, and on and on.

All of these, a $ 150,000 to $ 500,000 earner has no trouble paying; and lest you the low-income worker be cast out utterly, you pay for them too; because to lose communication with those living the prosperous life is to become almost irretrievably isolated. And powerless. As you find out when the first emergency hits — car repair, a tax lien, trip to the emergency room, the plumbing breaks — and there’s no money to pay for it, which means you have to borrow, if you can.

4.These are the social facts that make income inequality almost unbearable in 2016 America. Worse exists, too. Not every city is a huge innovation hub like Boston. Smaller, old industrial cities, especially in the “Rust Belt,” have seen jobs disappear even as rents and house prices remain high from when they were more or less prosperous. Or else house prices have fallen so low that a renovator can’t get his money back — and in any case, there are no new jobs coming, because the new jobs — and the service jobs that flock to them like bees to a hive — are all going to the innovation hubs.

5.Lastly, there’s the situation of immigrants, those with documents and those without. Immigrants are ready and willing to work the vilest jobs for the lowest, minimum wage pay, and they can survive in the big cities by doubling, tripling up in apartments which although overcrowded, are less so than the shacks and hovels they left behind. Still, though immigrants survive, they wield almost zero political clout. many officials, don;’t even know they exist. Theirs is almost entirely an aspirational life : but at least t.hey do, most of them, have firm aspirations. There is scant aspiration in the backwaters of formerly industrial places.

We also need to rethink the value of work. Service jobs are not going away, nor are the people who work them. Pay service workers enough so they’re not merely living paycheck to paycheck — enough to spend into the discretionary economy — and they will feel prouder of their job, and even elicit respect from those they serve. The health care cost of living a life of the margins cannot be a good thing for our economy or our social cohesion. Nor can the stress itself. Many low-wage workers have to work two jobs; how can that be any good for their families if they have one, or their health, or their work performance ? Pay workers enough so that they can do one job rather than two jobs less well. Besides : if a worker only has to work one job in order to live a decent life, the other job becomes available for somebody else who perhaps doesn’t have even one!

What to do about these matters ? It’s time now to propose stuff that Governor Baker might want to commit to. It isn’t much, because a Governor cannot create an entire economy. All that Baker can do is to tweak the momentum. Here’s a possible list :

1.commit capital funds to building as many units of rental and ownership housing as the state budget has money for. Baker has already begun to do this. If we cannot guarantee hourly age workers higher incomes, we can at least trim the demand over supply imbalance in this most basic of markets. This initiative assumes, of course, that NIMBYs do not nix the nearby construction of such housing.

2.He can sign onto the “Raise Up” campaign for a $ 15/hour minimum wage. (My own preference is for a two-zone minimum : $ 12 outside greater Boston, $ 18 within it) Not only would this move, teamed with big new housing construction, render low-wage workers’ lives economically freer, it would also transform many from recipients of an EITC (earned income tax credit) into taxpayers, thereby giving the State the additional revenue it needs to complete the MBTA’s $ 8 billion worth of”state of good repair” infrastructure obligations.

3.Baker understands the importance of education excellence in getting city graduates to the high-earning jobs. Lifting the charter school cap, which he supports, is a first step in assuring this. Closing the achievement gap between Caucasian and Asian students on the one hand and students of color on the other will at least assure an equal opportunity for high-salary employment. That said, assuring inner City students of an education escape route does nothing to boost the incomes of those who have to take service jobs. To this end, Baker’s Workforce Development department can ( 1 ) encourage employers to locate facioliti9es close by to where potential employees lived ( 2 ) support unionization of service industries such as home health aides, retail clerks, wait staff, and farm workers; and ( 3 ) join with Senators Warren and Markey as they seek legislation to reduce student debt burdens, even forgive them (as John Kasich made this an issue priority in his recent Presidential campaign, Baker need not be limited in this work by partisan considerations).

4.He can think outside the box when attracting business to locate in Massachusetts. Wooing and winning GE was a terrific coup, but GE fits the high-tech assumptions that rule us.What about crafts ? We already host a vast number of craft brewers — and have enacted legislation to make their distribution easier — and these provide quite a few highly skilled, well paid jobs. I would add high fashion to our craft portfolio. For example : right now, $ 1000 shoes (Louboutins cost that much, most of them bought with credit cards) are made in Northern Italy, by craftsmen who have inherited the craft from tens of generations past.  Why can’t an entrepreneur from Boston, seeing the vast and growing market here for high-end luxury, go to Northern Italy and learn the craft ? That is what Francis Cabot Lowell did, in 1810, bringing back what he learned in English textile mills to build his revolutionary new factory in the city they soon named after him. Where is 2016’s Francis Cabot Lowell ?


^ $ 1000 Louboutins : you see them everywhere. Why not make them here ? At least why not a high end fashion craft industry here in Boston ? Extremely well paying jobs serving the even better paid folks who are driving everything’s prices

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We do have Joseph Abboud, and his enormous factory in New Bedford. And we do have a large and growing “Fashion Week.” Why not a local Louboutin ? (we were once the world’s major shoe manufacturing region, after all.) After all : given how many high earners Boston now houses, does it not make sense to manufacture what they want right here, saving transportation and import costs ? Not to mention that craft jobs pay very, very well, as the income figures for Northern Italy attest. This is an initiative that Baker can get to without the slightest political cost.

Will Baker commit to any of these ? Has he his own income fairness agenda with perhaps other options to advocate ? I do no0t know. But I do know that his re-election campaign will benefit by getting out front on these difficult matters.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 VERIZON workers

^ winners — but the company won, too, defeating the stock speculators who pushed the firm to this brink

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Yesterday came the news most of us have been waiting to hear : Verizon and its employees have agreed to a deal — in principle. If the terms published online hold true, this deal is a big one in every way. It establishes the following agreements:

1.Verizon Wireless employees are granted full authority to form a union.

2.Verizon employees not only will not see their jobs eliminated and outsourced to India, they will in fact be strengthened with higher wages ad full benefits uncut and not subject to a 30 year accrual limit.

3.perhaps most importantly, Verizon, by agreeing to these terms, admits that stock speculators pressuring the firm to “maximize shareholder value” quickly do NOT have first call on the company’s structure and employment decisions.

Publicly traded enterprises cannot allow speculators to pirate the company to their own ends. It isn’t much benefit to a company to offer its stock to the public if the eventual result is seeing huge pools of quick action money wresting the value of such companies into their nets. Capitalism was never intended to be speculation. Capital is given the freedoms we accord it because entrepreneurs need capital in order to bring their ideas to market, for everyone’s good, including the workers who create, produce, market and serve entrepreneurial ideas. Verizon has now explicitly recognized this vital principle. Its agreement is a capitalist one.

You can read the agreement here, as reported so far :

That stock speculators have diverted the nation’s entrepreneurial assets to their own purposes solely, to the detriment of all else about our capitalist economy, is hardly a new story. Corporate “raiders” have been raiding capitalist assets for thirty years at least. To date, nothing serious has been done, by way of major legislation, to block, or impede, speculative arrogance. I have written several editorials in this blog suggesting legislation to push speculation back, but so far few opinion makers have taken up my ideas. That is OK if firms begin to do what Verizon has now done.

The problem is that it took a union — a solidly led, determined, deeply embedded union — to force Verizon to a capitalist decision. Publicly traded companies that don ‘t have a strong union within them lack this defense. Perhaps it is time for policy makers to encourage union formation at big corporations : first, to give employees a stronger voice in making major economic decisions affecting them, but second, to give the company itself a stronger hand in pushing speculators back. Few speculators will put up their impatient pools of money if they see the money being held hostage to other forces, at long time frames.

Perhaps, too, if publicly traded firms can put a union or two in place, and thereby commit some economic power to their employees — as well as said employees staying on the job for a long time — they will force impatient money pools out of the hurry game altogether. Capital investment rarely produces its optimum in a hurry. It takes time for an enterprise to organize, to grow, to mature its market. But why is this bad ? Anybody who invests money in stocks finds out pretty soon that the biggest gains come to those who invest for the long term. Look at warren Buffett : the $ 1 million that he invested SIXTY years ago (!) in Berkshire hathaway is now worth some $ 62 BILLION. There aren’t ANY speculator money pools that make anything like that level of gain.

Speculators know this; but the wealthy individuals who entrust huge money to speculator firms want quick action. It may not be a 62,000 percent return; but if a speculator can make 50 percent on his money in a year, he is a very happy money pooler, sure to attract many more billions of hurry-up dollars into his corporate cannibalism and thereby increase his “management fee” exponentially.

That is the rapid greed that capitalism is up against. Absent major Federal reforms — which are not likely to happen in our lifetime — the only power available to stop it is corporate managements willing to see their employees become stronger, organized, and in charge of the arena that speculators want to sell out.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here ad Sphere



^ Establishment : East Boston leaders at the Greenway ribbon cutting : Alex Rhalimi , Cecelia Bardales, Mr and Mrs Buddy Mangini, Paul Rogers, Joanne Donatelli, State Representative Adrian Madaro, City Councillor Sal LaMattina, former State Senator Anthony Petrucelli, and Sheri Raftery

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Yesterday was a heady day in East Boston, the neighborhood that my Mom’s parents came to in about 1896. First was the 8th Annual Community Breakfast at the Salesians, who give so much to Eastie’s boys and girls; at least 400 people attended, including Lieutenant Governor Polito, Governor baker’s chief secretary Carlo Basile, and just about all of Eastie’s leaders, elected and otherwise. Then, at 12.45 pm, Mayor Walsh presided at ribbon cutting the extension, to Constitution Beach, of our “Greenway” walk and bike path. Again, many community leaders attended, including some who missed the earlier event. It was a day of activism and progress.

Ever since East Boston’s ship piers became destination for immigrants coming to Boston — starting in about 1840 — the neighborhood has boomed; but 1950 it housed over 40,000 people, and today it counts maybe a few more than that. But as people came, investment left; when my Aunt Elizabeth came back to Eastie for my Mom’s funeral in late 1969, she having decamped to a childless marriage in Cleveland, Ohio in 1926, she noted that every building she remembered was still there, even every business.  Not so today. Aunt Liz would scarcely recognize today’s Border Street, Lewis place, Peabody Park, Central Square, Wood Island. Or our people ! When Aunt Liz left, Eastie was Irish and Jewish, Italians just beginning to find their way over from across the harbor; today, 90 years later, Eastie has become overwhelmingly Latino and even somewhat Arabic, not to mention folks from other exotic origins. You can’t roam through Eastie’s heart without being tempted by restaurants of many cuisines or having your head turned by many languages.

This is the East Boston we read about in histories of immigrant Boston, a history which actually lives and, if precedent can predict, portends a brilliant future of innovation, enterprise, and community citizenship ahead for many decades. But…..

I say “but” because recent elections have almost passed East Boston by.

This April we participated in choosing a new State Senator. 2751 of us voted. Last year, in the City Council election,. only 1895 (!) voted. In March of last year we chose our new State Representative : 3561 voted. Almost completely absent from these totals — all of them less than one in five of our registered numbers — were voters of recent immigrant origin. Nor does the registration total account for numerous Eastie people who haven’t taken even that step.

It takes a lot of hard work to establish a Greenway, or to organize the Salesian breakfast and charitable mission. Councillor LaMattina made a point of noting the 20 years of advocacy needed to accomplish the Greenway : and Greenway leader Chris Marchi confirmed the intensity of that =sustained effort. I am quite sure that it will require just as much sustained effort to bring our immigrant citizens into the voting process and to the po9lls on an election day; but i am equally sure that this effort is as necessary as was the Greenway effort,. It is great that we now have walking and bicycling access to most of Eastie’s waterfront. But our community cannot secure its rightful influence, as a community of maybe 50,000 people now, unless we vote in numbers impossible for our public decision makers to brush off.

Our recent vote totals, and the faces who dominate at our leadership events, make clear that our immigrant majority has yet to command its numerical place. Granted that in Presidential elections, all our voters vote; doubtless the coming of Donald Trump will energize an even larger turnout — it is doing so quite fervently, in fact. But community solidarity must exist in every year, not merely those i n which Presidents are chosen. We suffer if we have a community in which 20 percent act while 80 percent do not. I recognize that most immigrants in East Boston work two, even three, jobs beginning at 4.445 A.M.’s bus into Haymarket Square; and that working 70 hours a week to provide for a family leaves scant time for the public effort of voting : leaving home, going to the voting place,m voting, and coming home again can take up an hour, even longer.

So far, a few candidacies have failed to energize more than the usual fraction of East Boston’s immigrant vote. The challenge remains. It’s a challenge bigger than the Greenway, longer than the Salesians, and equally if not more important to our community success.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ conned and used : students walkout to protest a very strange Schools Budget decision

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Political hay has been made recently by some who see the Boston Schools Budget as a lift off for their space ship of ambition. News cameras have brought student walkouts to our attention; social media has gone batty with back and forth accusation an d glorifying. You may, like me, decry the use of students to heat an agenda to the boiling point; or you may like boiled agendas. Whichever your taste, you may find it instructive to take a hard look at Boston’s Schools Budget and to ask hard questions of its accountants.

I will try to do just that. Myself, I find Boston’s Schools Budget bloated with redundancy, lame with misappropriation, lazy and in some cases absurd. Before you read further, however, I urge you to examine the FY 2017 Budget yourself right here :

Several line items puzzle me.

1.Why is there $ 11,706,729 in per diem payments to substitute teachers, when included in the $ 409,514,539 being paid to “teachers” is about $ 13 million paid to about 100 teachers who have no teaching assignment, because no principal will have them ? (Note : the approximately $ 13 million paid to said 100 non-assigned teachers is not itemized in the FY 2017 Budget accounts. If you did not know about them, you would not see the $ 13 million at all. Note, too, that the $ 140,298,023 accounted as “employee benefits” includes some amount — probably about $ 3 million — paid as such to the 100 non-assigned teachers.)

2.Why does the utilities account allocate about $ 20,258,000, up about $ 1,142,000 even though fuel costs have come way down ?

3.Why does the Budget include $ 1,222,095 for “renting space,” when the Department maintains significantly under-used buildings of its own, given that its buildings anticipate about 93,000 students, while current enrollment is 57,000, or 54,000, depending on whose statistics you read ?

4.Why does the Budget allocate $ 14,686,707 for “repair and maintenance,” of such under-capacitized space ? Consolidating buildings and selling off the rest would save much money in this account as well as accord the City a Capital Budget windfall to help pay for the new schools construction now under way.

5.Why must the Budget allocate $ 94,949,554 for Transporting 53,000 to 57,000 students — assuming that it does, in fact, transport all of the students so enrolled ? Granted that this figure amounts to about one dollar per school day per student, a bargain amount. Still, all of it is being paid by the taxpayer. Should not parents be asked to share the cost ? Of course taxpayers should be obligated to pay for the education of society’s children, for all sorts of reasons moral and economic; but transportation is not education. It wouldn’t even be necessary were it not for our City’s sad history of intentional racial segregation. of its schools 40 years ago and more; today, however, some 87 percent of students covered by the BPS budget are of color. Isn’t it time to restore the neighborhood school 9and the great Parent Teacher associations — PTA’s — that invigorated them long ago ? And to put an end to misapplication of most of that $ 94 million, that could be used for classrooms, as the protesting students want and deserve ?

Overall, I see the Boston Schools Budget misapplying as much as $ 150 million of its $ 1.03 billion allocation. Half that amount could make a lot of Boston Schools classrooms great places in which to learn what charter school students learn via budgets much, much smaller. One wonders at the strangeness of the decision, by the City’s Budget Office, to leave classrooms about $ 50 million short of what they say they need instead of cutting at least $ 50 million from Budget items unjustifiable by any rational standard.

As it proceeds with its capital plan to consolidate 126 very old school buildings into 90 new ones, and to establish uniform enrollment on a hotch potch school choice system — both of which moves I fully support — the City would be well advised to restore classroom funds to high priority and eliminate — or at least pare back — the duplicative or unneeded Budget allocations that have no justification at all beyond vested interest stubbornness.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



We’ve looked at the Verizon (stock symbol VZ) situation for a few weeks now and read statements by both the company and its union. An examination of Verizon’s latest 10-Q SEC filing does not support the company’s position, that financial stress forces VZ to fire its call center employees and outsource the work to India. To demonstrate my conclusion, at the end of this report, I reprint, from Yahoo’s finance pages, the 10-Q filed last month, a report which says it all.

If you study this report you will see that Verizon income is not suffering, nor does it appear to face any downturn. Operating income is holding steady, expenses as well; the firm’s EBITDA (earnings before income tax, depreciation and amortization) run about 22 percent of revenues, good enough to support a dividend distributed from an AFTER TAX 15 percent profit.

If VZ’s after tax profit came in at about five percent, or less, there would be an argument for slashing employee costs; although even then, I think it a foolish economy to fire long-established, home front employees in favor of poorly paid, overseas workers hard to monitor and/or discipline. With profit at 15 percent, no such argument makes any sense at all. VZ must keep its domestic call center people and accord them all the wage and benefits that top quality workers merit. In addition, VZ should allow its wireless employees to unionize if they wish to form one. VZ should welcome that its wireless employees want to stay on the job rather than create the expense and distractions of worker turnover.

I cannot imagine that VZ’s top managers do not understand all of the above. What, then, can possibly be driving them to disrupt the firm’s operations, as they have ? It seems that the initiating force is investor desire to “maximize” value, i.e., to wrench VZ stock from the high $ 40s to, maybe a temporary $ 60 per share based on cutting employee costs.

If stock speculation by vast pools of wanderlust money is the force at work upon VZ, it should be cut down. Speculation of publicly traded stock is the single most damaging feature of our macro economy today. Speculative manipulation, and rapid-fire trading upon temporary inefficiencies, aids no one but the speculators. The money pushed into quickie manipulations doesn’t invest in a product, doesn’t aid a service, doesn’t assist employees, doesn’t innovate the economy. It is an entirely inbred self serving of money for moneys’ sake. It is NOT capitalism. I am not sure what kind of ism it IS.

It may be many years before the ills of speculation are curbed (and they can be curbed, by tax rules, by SEC regulations, by Federal Reserve margin requirements, and by corporate governance law reform), the only weapon that the capitalist economy has is a workers’ strike. Make no mistake ; a company’s workers are an asset. A MAJOR asset. Their skill, their reliability, and yes, their good earnings are vital to the probity and market power of an enterprise. Verizon workers striking are doing the work of capitalism, and we who support the indomitable power of capitalist operations should thank the striking Verizon workers.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Verizon’s first 2016 quarter 10-Q SEC report :


Service revenues and other    $   28,217      $   28,611   
Wireless equipment revenues      3,954        3,373   
Total Operating Revenues      32,171        31,984   
Operating Expenses     
Cost of services (exclusive of items shown below)      7,614        6,988   
Wireless cost of equipment      4,998        5,108   
Selling, general and administrative expense      7,600        7,939   
Depreciation and amortization expense      4,017        3,989   
Total Operating Expenses      24,229        24,024   
Operating Income      7,942        7,960   
Equity in losses of unconsolidated businesses      (20     (34
Other income, net      32        75   
Interest expense      (1,188     (1,332
Income Before Provision For Income Taxes      6,766        6,669   
Provision for income taxes      (2,336     (2,331
Net Income    $ 4,430      $ 4,338  



^ then candidate Walsh, with State Representative Liz Malia and (r) Ken Brissette, at a Club Cafe fundraiser on September 12, 2013 (photo by this writer)

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It was hardly unexpected; yet the indictment of Ken Brissette, by the Feds in Massachusetts, stunned me nonetheless. It had been twenty years since a top City of Boston official was indicted and almost forty since corruption was challenged throughout a Mayor’s administration.

The indictment not only accused; it implied. Much can be read into its simple but suggestible sentences. (Read the indictment itself here : )

Who were the “more than one other City official” who made the demands, upon arts companies — so the indictment seems to say — that Brissette is charged with ? If these others did the same, why were they not also indicted ?

Did Brissette demand, on his own hook, that Boston Calling hire union workers or else get no permits ? It seems unlikely that a department head, as Brissette was, would make such a risky — illegal, according to two officials who are said to have warned him –demand on his own whim. Especially after being warned of its illegality — as the indictment states took place — Brissette had to know that to continue doing what he is said to have done would put the Mayor at risk. After all, wasn’t the purpose of the warning, from the City’s then Director of Operations, to make sure that Brissette didn’t dirty the Mayor ?

At this point I wish to engage in some speculation about what probably took place. I state right here that nothing I am about to speculate arises from evidence; but I am not looking to put the law on anyone. All I want to do is to emphasize the drama of it all, because when power is on the move, the motives and relationships of those who move it speak vividly, as Shakespeare, for one, knew so very well. So let me begin :

1.Ken Brissette is not simply a City department head (Office of Tourism and Entertainment). During the 2013 Mayor campaign he hosted a significant fundraiser for Mayor Walsh, one that I attended (see my photograph above). At the time, Walsh’s rival., John Connolly, was close to gathering the support of almost all of Boston’s gay activists — a significant voting block. Walsh had only State Representative Liz Malia; Connolly had much more support. Then came Brissette’s fundraiser, at Club Cafe, with Malia delivering a passionate speech about how Walsh, as a legislator, had made the difference in securing marriage equality from a ballot challenge. Walsh then spoke, to a gathering of more than 50 gay community leaders. Walsh did not win a majority of gay voters on election day, but he halved Connolly’s expected lead.

2.The “Director of Operations” referred to in the Brissette indictment is Joe Rull, who field-directed Walsh’s election team. (disclosure : Rull is a friend of mine whose friendship I treasure. I know no person more effective or honorable than he.) No one who worked the 2013 Walsh campaign had any doubt of Rull’s authority. None could possibly doubt his authority once Walsh became Mayor. A warning  call from Rull to Brissette, as the indictment states was made, would have been suicidal for Brissette to not heed. Yet according to the indictment, he went ahead anyway. And was not disciplined.  Whence arises two questions : ( a ) did Rull make that call to dissuade Brissette or simply to give Mayor Walsh cover ? ( b ) if Rull meant the call to be a warning, not cover, did Brissette read it wrong ? Did he read it as a “cover call “?

3.That’s not the end of it. Rull eventually left his powerful position at City hall to join the action team at Boston 2024. Some speculated that he had lost a “power battle” with Walsh’s Chief of Staff, Daniel Arrigh Koh; that Rull’s traditional politics style did not fit Koh’s technocratic methods. This seemed a reasonable explanation. Rull is old school, as am I. But now I wonder. Rull was a Menino man; and I am wondering if the call he is said to have made to Brissette was a Menino kind of call, in short, a warning in fact and not a “cover call” : because Menino always did things the right way, and integrity is Rull’s reputation as well. And if it was a warning, did that not sit well with the Mayor, because ?

To repeat : who were the other City officials referred to in the indictment (“at least one other official…”) ? How come Brissette was charged and not they ? Are they co-operating with the investigation as it pursues yet other officials not named or even alluded to ?

No one will say or probably will ever say. These are the sorts of secrets, if they are true, that people in politics take to their grave. Yet the questions that I have asked are being asked right now by everyone in city politics, because everyone in it has been faced with similar situations, and all of us have had to figure out just how we would respond when the facing faces us.

Beyond the personal, I ask these questions because as long as they hang in the air, the entire careful arrangement of Massachusetts governance is at risk. Walsh and Governor Baker are basically a team, and their togetherness has allowed both men to effect major reforms and to advance a strongly pro-business agenda on every front. Walsh’s firm support assures Baker of a big vote in Boston come 2018, just as it assures Walsh of a strong taxpayer and business vote in his own upcoming re-election. Were Walsh now to be weakened — or to no longer be Mayor — much of this would change radically, for Baker too. The most likely alternative Mayor, Michelle Wu, disagrees profoundly with Baker’s charter schools program and with his pro-business, no-new-tax principles. And a weakened Walsh faces a likely re-election opponent even more radically anti-Baker than Wu would probably be.

Will there be other City official indictments ? Will Walsh’s conduct as a major Labor leader in 2012 — which is also being investigated by the Feds — be his downfall ? I have no idea, but until these questions are resolved, Walsh will have to push his re-election campaign against the tide of a passionately uncompromising minority. So far, Walsh has by far the upper hand, because City taxpayers want no part of the teacher’s union’s contract tactics and because the City’s strong charter schools constituency stands solidly behind him. Walsh has enjoyed favorability numbers as high as Baker’s despite major defeats ( Boston 2024, Indy Car Race, several political endorsements ). His potential opponent, however, has his own strong following, and a big issue : the Boston Public Schools budget. Still most of the public gives Walsh A for effort — and an A for results. He will need its life-giving self-confidence, and more of it, but also some luck, and better newsdays, if he hopes to prevail against the various swarms now gathering against him.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ the 2016 caucuses brought many people into a previously too small GOP, but it will onloy make the Massachusetts situation worse

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Ever since Bill Weld’s election in 1990, Massachusetts has elected only Republican Governors, with one exception, for very solid, institutional reasons unique to our state. So it was in 2014, when our voters chose Charlie Baker — narrowly, but Republican candidates for Governor have won by even less, and not that long ago. Until this year the likelihood was for this habit would continue well into the future. I no longer think so..

The rise of Trump has changed the entire mindset of Massachusetts Republican voters. Until Trump came into view, the majority of Massachusetts GOP voters were quietly conservative politically — not very ideological — but well aware that, to win, a GOP Governor candidate would need to be much less so; and said conservatives were willing to accept a Cellucci, a Romney, and a Baker rather than not have a GOP Governor at all. As recently as 2013, Gabriel Gomez — hardly a conservative; he voted for Obama in the 20123 election — won 51 percent in the primary of that year’s United States Senate race.

Yet the danger signs had not long to wait.

In the 2010 Republican race for Governor, the “tea party” candidate, opposing Baker, won eleven percent of convention delegates, falling short of the ballot. At the 2014 convention, an even more right wing candidate, with hardly any campaign money — a candidate who had no chance whatsoever of winning the election —  secured enough votes to get his name onto the primary ballot. Earlier this year, Governor Baker, as a sitting Governor no less, moved to take control of the Republican state committee and won barely enough seats to do so. Opposed by right wing interest groups and talk radio hucksters, some of Baker’s candidates were beaten, including some seeking re-election. Finally, although Baker was able to get his candidate for national GOP committee woman elected, over a paid employee of a right-wing special interest group, the vote was far too close for comfort : 41 to 37.

All of this took place during the rise of Trump but prior to his becoming the presumptive GOP nominee for President. Since that time, Trump has taken over, and his sort of voter — angry, bigoted, nativist, heavy-handed and uninterested in political nuances — has taken over caucuses and overwhelmed a party grown very small and even non-existent in many parts of the state. During the controversy involving transgender civil rights and the chimera of bathroom crime, the newly repopulated Republican ranks have become a mob of ignorance and hate, of shameless smarm and dog whistle bitterness. I doubt that the noisy drool will smile upon Governor Baker signing the transgender civil rights bill that will pass the House overwhelmingly in a few weeks.

That mindset, of reckless negativity — of uninhibited vulgarity and rot-gut bigotry, and proud of it, no less — will almost surely become the norm for the many thousands of voters who have moved into the Massachusetts GOP : a party whose thin to non-existent corpus was easy to bulldoze. True, Governor Baker does have a solid following, of those who work in his administration and who value access to his staff and even to him; nor is his following small. But his following isn’t much benefit to the local GOP, as but much of it comes from outside the GOP. Baker’s huge war chest of money and his solid record in office will probably win him a 2018 primary: but a recent Suffolk University poll showed Baker’s favorable-unfavorable rating worse among Republicans than with any other major voter group.

Granted, that even among Republicans his numbers are 65 favorable to 16 unfavorable, easily good enough for 2018’s primary. But my guess is that, as Baker has stated clearly his unwillingness to support Trump, and given his quite reformist record in office, he stands very outside the mindset parameters of this seasons’ GOP voters. I think they realize it. By 2018 it can only get worse : while voters obsessed with defeat are flocking into the GOP, tolerant voters are leaving it. Just as many — of a demographic that has gotten older and older during 40 years of no replenish at all — are dying.

It’s hard now to recall that as recently as 1966, the Massachusetts GOP was the natural party of government, reformist in spirit, optimistic, honorable, and sometimes boldly innovative.

In Boston and surrounding communities, registering as a Republican has, for 30 years, been a statement of outsider status. If you vote in the Boston area and register as a Republican, you are barred from almost every election that takes place : in the Democratic primary. If you register as a Republican, you don’t choose a State Senator, a State Representative, a county officer. You almost certainly don’t choose a Congressman, nor any of the State’s Constitutional offices except Governor.

For 26 years, that one office has been enough to assure voters who register Republican that they have a significant, if outsider, part to play in the state’s governance. But what happens if the new majority of Republican voters dislikes state governance, period ? Adopts positions, and chooses candidates, that assure defeat by spitting on everything that most of our voters want ? Where does Karyn Polito, in 2022, find a path to a winnable nomination ? And if not Karyn Polito, who else has a better path ?

The Republican party in Massachusetts can NOT become the manipulated instrument of right wing talk show hucksters, anti-everything gripe-sters, and the intentionally out of it. It cannot become known for outrageous views that guarantee pariah status. But right now that’s exactly what it is becoming. It’s already almost impossible to have a sensible policy discussion with Massachusetts GOP activists. What could you say to a party 80 percent of whose legislators opposed last year’s $ 10 to $ 11 minimum wage hike that is supported by 80 percent of voters ? How can you talk about transgender civil rights, supported by two to one of our voters, when of five GOP State Senators, only one voted in favor ?

What future can there be for a political party that opposes what four out of five voters want ? Talk show hosts can do that, because they attract an audience by being outrageous, offensive, ugly. That’s how they gain attention and thus advertising dollars. But a political party cannot win elections by vulgar huckstering. Trump will soon find that out : but will his voters see it ? Probably not.

It will be a shame if Massachusetts’s Republican party collapses to tempest in a teapot infamy. All of the importantly serious policy debates — charter school cap lift, alternate energy sources, MBTA expansion, flood waters and climate control, housing expansion — are taking place within the Democratic party and its activists; other than they, only the Governor and his team participate, and when he does so, he does so well outside the inly-working, imploding GOP that seems set to end our era of GOP Governors.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ hot or not ? right now Boston is hot hot hot, and many of us don’t like that because we have to pay for it

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The current panic about housing availability in Greater Boston is not new. For the past 30 years we’ve had to live with soaring house prices and skyrocketing rents. What happened ? Back in 1970, the typical Boston house sold for $ 20,000; $ 50 a month rents were common. Today, the typical Boston house sells for $ 400,000 to $ 650,000 and the average two-bedroom rent runs $ 1,800 to $ 2,800. That’s a 20 to 30-fold house increase and a rent rise of 90 times. To frame it another way, in 1970 a house cost an average of two times annual income; today, five times. Rents in 1970 equalled about six to ten percent of monthly income; today, 33 to 50 percent.

To fizz this relentless bubble, Boston has tried rent control, which made things much worse. We’ve tried condominium conversion — which has made renting more difficult. We’ve built all manner of homes — but almost exclusively for the high end buyer : because land to build upon costs the same whether you’re building a $ 300,000 house or a $ 650,000 McMansion; so builders built McMansions. Building permits are issuing all over the City, but it isn’t working. Prices are still going up. (Yes, during the mortgage collapse of 2008 to 2013, prices went down; in some neighborhoods,m way down. But today they’ve fully recovered, and in the City’s priciest spots they’ve moved way higher than ever.)

What are we going to try next ? No one is building houses in the suburbs, because today’s typical home buyer wants to be in the City — as c lose to Downtown as possible. Live Downtown, and you don’t need a car; your friends all live nearby, the nightclubs and boutiques can be walked to, and all that money that suburban people spend on cars, car insurance, garaging and gasoline can be spent by you on high end clothes, $ 1000 Louboutin shoes, $ 50 to 75 a plate “fine dining,” $ 150 per ticket arts events, $ 500 a ticket Mayor Walsh birthday parties, and a night at the trendiest craft brewery. Or on your monthly $ 6000 mortgage payment for your condominium in the Seaport or South End. It’s an attractive life, even if you have to work 80 hours a week to afford it. And because so many of us now live it, all the services (and their employees) that serve Downtown life also locate in Downtown. So is this trend unstoppable ? Maybe so.

Unfortunately, not all of us can afford the Downtown Life. We all know that incomes in America are diverging : high incomes are earning more, middle incomes less, bottom incomes the same. Our political leaders know this too. Both Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker have called for building thousands of new “affordable” houses and condominiums; Walsh cites 5000 new house build permits in 2015 alone. As for Baker, even as I write, he is announcing “significant housing production in…his upcoming capital budget plan. As his budget office puts it, “The  capital investment follows last week’s announcement by Governor Baker of  a new $100 million workforce housing development fund established in partnership with MassHousing to support the creation of 1,000 new units of moderately-priced housing.”

Yet even these City and State resolves don’t seem enough. Mayor Walsh is calling for 53,000 new residences to be built in Boston by the year 2030; he may well get more than that built; but the City’s population has grown by at least 90,000 people since 2010, and judging by the thousands of building proposals now awaiting BRA action, perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 more people will flock to Boston by that time. Where will they live ? From the rent rises going on all over Boston, it looks as if these new residents will live where current residents will no longer be able to afford.

One wants to stabilize rents so that that “displacement” does not happen; but how ? Rising rents mean significant renovation, upgrading, modernization of residences : today’s $ 2,000 apartment is a haven of luxury compared to the antiquated, firetrap apartments that rented for $ 50 a month 45 years ago. Nor do today’s $ 650,000 houses compare at all to the flimsy, plywood walls, cheap windowed, miserably applianced stuff that buyers of $ 16,000 ticky-tack homes had to accept in 1970. What landlord is going to invest capital for major improvements if he or she can’t recoup the investment and maybe more ? Perhaps building Federally-financed house complexes, of the row house type built during the past two decades all over Roxbury and Mattapan, will serve; yet strong objections from neighborhood activists are stopping many such proposals, or else are altering their affordability agreements. Not everybody even in the city’s communities of color wants to see more “affordable” housing built in the neighborhood.

My own sense of things is that significant new housing will be built but nowhere near enough to resolve the demand. We had better face it : Boston is “hot,” and the suburbs are not, and being “hot” means enjoying prosperity even if it costs almost more than the enjoyment thereof rewards us. So who will raise the average wages of Boston workers, so that we can all savor the flavor of price boom prosperity that I cannot see any good end to ?

Nor is returning to the cheap price cheap stuff that prevailed in Boston 50 years ago an answer either. Those who decry the building boom and its supply bottlenecks are really telling us that we should become undesirable again. I think not. The building boom must continue; it must expand; it must overpower demand. It must do so within Boston city limits. This is our problem to solve. It is not the suburbs’ problem. Someday the suburbs will face the problem. I do not want that. That would mean that Boston is no longer “hot.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere













^ equal rights for all is not only a South Dakota value

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Pursuant to authority directed in Title 9 of the nation’s Civil Rights acts, President Obama has directed the nation’s schools to enforce the civil rights of transgender students. We applaud his taking this action.

The Directive Order can be read here :

By his order, schools are directed to assure transgender students full access to the bathrooms and locker rooms that accord with their gender identity, the lives they actually lead.

What he has ordered enforced, we in Massachusetts already do, successfully, pursuant to regulations issued by the Commissioner of Education in keeping with the Civil Rights Act adopted here in 2011. It is a shame that in many other states a Presidential order is needed; but such is the case. Without his order, the rights of transgender students would depend on which state they live in. It is exactly that sort of outcome that 148 years of Federal civil rights laws have determined to prevent. It is basic to our nation that the civil rights accorded to all be the same no matter where we live. All really does mean all.

Too many times Americans have had to fight, even die, to assure this principle fundamental to our nation. I do not get why there is opposition. In what way does the civil rights of a person impede those of another person ? They do not impede it.

I was very young when, in the 1960s, thousands of Americans risked assault and even death in  order to assure voting rights in every state. Opposition was violent. Anyone who thought that the full rights of African Americans was assured once and for all by the Civil War and Reconstruction’s laws found out that that battle had to be fought all ovce4r again. It was. And victory went to the side of civil rights for all.

Yet it is one thing to establish the law, another to change minds. Today we see that the minds of the South continue unchanged : and not only in the South., Despite that civil rights for all is our nation’s foundation principle, many Americans don’t approve. I wonder what they do approve. What do they think America is ? Rights only for some ?

Too many Americans think that civil rights should be accorded on;y to people whom we approve of. As if we have a right to judge them. But that is NOT our national principle. Our principle is that everybody has the same basic civil rights; our approval of the persons is irrelevant to the rights all people possess.

Our Constitution and the laws enacted pursuant to it, as amended, was established to assure that basic national principle be uniformly operative throughout. As the Preamble states : “to promote the general Welfare.” it does NOT say “to promote the welfare only of those we approve of.” That this is so is why I often assert that objectors who cite the Constitution as a source are in fact opposed to the Constitution rather than supportive of it.

All of the above I adduce for one chief reason : to show that the order issued by President Obama, to assure the civil rights of transgender students, is not only well within his powers (pursuant to Article II of the Constitution) but is, in fact, his duty, legally and morally, to do. He has now done it. All Americans of good will should applaud him. Transgender kids in  particular should thank him. Their lives will be safer and surer, bolstered by the law and thus by the common sentiment of the entire community — a force far more powerful than the fears and discomforts of a few.

The President’s order is far from final victory. Some states are pushing for laws preventing people from amending the male or female check box on their birth certificate. Others are passing laws specifically ordering discrimination against transgender people. All such bills are utterly un-Constitutional, but it will take years to litigate them (and even then hard-line resistors will continue to erect barriers), and in the meantime transgender people will be at severe risk from bullies and haters who deny the very existence of transgender.

The fight for our nation’s foundation principle goes on.

—- Mike Freedbereg / Here and Sphere


DOTBlock^ DOT Block : the Building Boom brings adventure and movement to a city too much attached to “Place”

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Every day, almost, my friend John Doherty, President of IUPAT Local 35, posts news of yet another building project approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (known to all as the “BRA”). Doherty has a point. Every new project keeps his members at work painting and developing and earning good money.

I do not see why that is a bad thing. I do not see why any of Boston’s numerous new building is a bad thing. We live in a city, or we work in it, or we do both. Cities are dynamic things. They change. It’s why they exist. Commerce is their purpose, change the result; the process, the benefit. The workers earn good pay, the risk capitalists profit, the city draws in more and more commerce, and that in turn draws in more and more people : because people want to do things and to earn a better life doing them.

Almost every part of Boston is changing now. Mattapan and Hyde park haven’t yet seen it, but every other neighborhood throbs with the sounds of construction. Shirley Leung’s story in todays’ Boston Globe Business section tells it :

As Leung points out, the Building Boom’s new phase involves housing — lots and lots of it, enough maybe to reverse the present shortfall of supply and thus reverse the stupefying rise in rents and prices that has, during the past 20 years, made Boston residence almost unaffordable except for very high earners.

To get to that point, of course, has come more and more to threaten certain residents’ sense that where they live should forever remain as is. All over Boston, neighborhood activists complain about developments. Either they’re too expensive, or they’re too cheap. They bring noise, traffic, density. They have too many floors. They block sunlight. They “displace” people. And on and on.

We’ve seen the complainers and heard the nay’s. Every BRA proposal must, by the rules, be submitted to “community input:” at required “public comment” hearings. These hearings are perfectly attuned to the agendas of opponents, who always show up, whereas supporters of the proposal usually do not, because few developers have the time or the staff on hand to marshal them. Much of the objection to development is bare “NIMBYism” — “not in my back yard” — but the argument of “displacement:” also arises. This is a more serious argument and merits the response I’m about to make.

It is true that Boston’s Building Boom has boosted housing prices and rents enormously. How can it not ? It costs money to build : land costs, architect renderings, construction contracts, building materials, permitting, labor, utility hook-ups, marketing, brokering. None of these comes cheap. You want construction to be done right; you want high quality materials and amenities. Land costs are high because it is scarce — nobody’s creating any more of it — and why should its owners take less of a selling price than the market accords ? Meanwhile, residents facing “displacement” have to pay nothing for simply staying put. Residents get all the benefits that the Building Boom brings, by way of higher value for their homes, or newness to their neighborhood, yet they pay nothing for it. If you ask me, residents make out like a bandit when development comes calling.

Still, residents have a legitimate beef when development upgrades their neighborhood. As rents go up, rental residents may not be able to afford what’s asked by landlords. As house prices go up, owners have to decide whether to cash in and leave or to stay put and not cash in. Thus the “displacement” outcry.

Boston is a city easy to love. It’s hard to face leaving it, even moving to a different neighborhood of it, merely because prices push you. But would any of us prefer the alternative, the dead, often vacant, sometimes unsafe, bleak, jobless city that was Boston 30 and 40 years ago ? I suppose some of us would. We’re all too ready to romanticize that Boston, of tribal loyalties, neighborhood self-sufficiency, hardscrabble dollars, and cheap housing. It wasn’t as great as we make out. It was hard to make a living unless you knew someone. Tenants had few legal protections. The BRA dictated. That era has gone, probably for good reasons, and today tenants have far more power than formerly, while the City itself — the neighborhoods, too — bustle with boutiques, outdoor dining, and streets crowded even at night with pedestrians and sight-seers. The new Boston isn’t merely a home, it’s an adventure; an exciting, risk taking, innovative adventure; an exploration.

I’ll admit that Boston adventure means expanding one’s reach beyond one’s beloved old  neighborhood; it entails investment, newness, tear downs, and re-invention. Yet there’s also nothing stopping you from making the change rather than letting someone else impose change on you.

In the new Boston, you have to get out in front or be run over ? Game on.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere