^ as if Governor Baker didn’t have enough to do, he has been forced to referee the Attorney General’s new weapons regulation.

—- —- —-

There has been much brou haha about Attorney General Maura Healey’s new regulation respecting weapons illegal in Massachusetts. Inevitably Governor baker has been asked to opine about the matter. This has led to accusations seeking partisan advantage in an issue that should be the essence of public safety. One such accusation is that Baker has changed his position on the matter — has “backtracked” from supporting the regulation, as he seemed to do in his first statement. Let us see if there’s any leg in this accusation.

Here’s how Governor Baker has addressed AG Maura Healey’s new assault-weapon regulation :

Six days ago he said this —-

“Baker appeared to largely support Healey’s decision, although he said Healey should make available a list of which guns are banned. “The big issue in the short term is going to be the confusion around which weapons this applies to and which weapons it doesn’t apply to,” Baker said. “And my hope is at some point there’s going to be a list, and people will know of which ones are on and which ones are off.”

More broadly, Baker said Healey has the authority to decide which weapons are considered assault weapons under Massachusetts state law. “If people are in fact selling weapons that violate the Massachusetts assault weapons ban, then that should be dealt with and people should do something about it.”

Yesterday he was reported to be saying this —

“Governor Charlie Baker is asking Attorney General Maura Healey to provide more information on the new gun rules.

Last week, Healey called for eliminating the sales of so-called copycat weapons, which have been altered to get past the state’s assault weapon ban.

The governor says the notice needs to be clarified in order to protect responsible gun owners.”

Is there is a difference in these two statements by Baker ? A “backtracking,” as some partisan Democrats have claimed ? I do not see one. As I read it, The Governor’s position isthe same : the Attorney General has the authority and the jurisdiction — but clarification is in order.

I fully support the purpose of the new regulation : to get control of copycat weapons that may, by leaving off one part or another, slither through a regulatory loophole. I agree, too, that her purpose works from existing law and does not require new legislation. Still, the consequences of the regulation for gun dealers and for those who own weapons legal when bought but now illegal are not simple. In particular, what happens to gun dealer inventory that now cannot legally be sold ? Thus I agree that Healey needs to clarify her regulation.

Making progress on weapons regulation is a tricky business. Backing off from the armed vigilantism that has almost captured the entire nation, even though 80 to 90 percent of us oppose it, means actual changes for actual people. It wasn’t easy to defeat cigarettes. It took decades to do so. It will surely take even longer to get the tic of gun addiction out of people’s necks. Those who favor unregulated weapons everywhere may amount to barely ten percent of the people, but that ten percent are passionately organized and ready to  intimidate anyone who threatens their outlawry . Their opposition can only be pushed back one tiny, tiny step at a time. Healey may well have acted a bit too brusquely. She may well find that the Governor’s caution helps her, and so helps us — and helps the cause of weapons regulation.


—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ ah yes, the man on a white horse, come to save us all.

—- —- —-

If you read the history of Britain’s long struggle against Napoleon, from 1790 to 1815, you will be amazed, since everyone now counts Napoleon an egomaniacal, destructive ogre, to find that a large segment of British public opinion supported the Ogre and hoped for his victory of British troops. Right up to the week before the decisive Waterloo victory, British Whigs were carping for “Boney” to smash the redcoats; not long before, these same politicals were poo-pooing the Duke of Wellington’s classic Peninsula campaign and doing everything they could to destroy his reputation.

It is disheartening to see a significant number of a proud nation’s political leaders rooting for its defeat.

I mention these matters from 150-odd years ago because something of the same has awoken in our own election campaign. On the one side, we have Hillary Clinton, fighting for just about the entire range of progress that is mortally opposed by progress’s enemies; on the other side, a devilish, maybe psychotic demagogue who loves Russia’s Vladimir Putin and says so and whose campaign manger, the odious Manafort, has money ties to Putin and his thugs — former KGB poisoners who now steal their nation’s assets and who murder their opponents, including journalists. Given that Putin has been our enemy, and Europe’s enemy too, these past ten years or more, and that he is doing his best to undermine our nation at home and overseas — yes, Virginia, the Cold War is back — you would think that a candidate for President would hurl political obscenities at Putin, not send him orange cheeto kisses. But you would be wrong.

Not since Aaron Burr, who was in 1804 our vice president, tried to engage the Spanish in creating him a separate frontier nation, has a presidential contender toyed with treason. How did this happen to us ?

Burr made his treasonous pact for personal, money advantage. Trump and his gang are doing so because he hates the tolerant, inclusive, diverse America that is coming to be — and is glad to arouse all those who hate it as he does — and because he, like Burr, believes himself the only person in the political universe who counts. And because he admires Putin’s government of thuggish embezzlement. And if that is Trump himself, what can we say about the substantial following that wants him ? Despite the dictatorship of threat and payback and the outright thuggery that he almost boastfully announces ?

Better dictatorship and thuggery, in their minds, than to see people who do not look like them, or live as they live, or who are not macho males, or who came to this country uninvited to seek a better life, take power and make America something new in which they, the Trump campers, might not be able to lord it.

And the fear. The gun-toting cowboy response. The fear of bogeymen and aliens. Putin nation.

Trump’s thuggery has been called “weaponized politics of nostalgia.” Shrewd observation, but incomplete. The Trump dictatorship of armed vigilantes, violent bigotry, closed door policies, personal hucksterism, fraud, and insult of everyone perceived as weak is politics of the jackboot. It is nothing American, and those who seek nit want nothing to do with America; indeed, they seek to end America, the nation and the idea.

America is more an idea than we realize. It is an ideal, one that we have almost always aspired to; a nation in which liberty and union go together and in which all men (and women) are created equal, a nation in which the General Welfare is the goal of government, a nation creating itself, all hands on deck.

It’s a noble idea and an heroic ideal, which is why so many millions want to join us, to help build something better. Yet an idea and an ideal are all that America ultimately is. If enough people who vote here do not want America, it won’t be; it will go away. Right now, we see that almost half the voters want something other than America and are willing to vote for a man who sells out to Putin and his gang of thugs, to line his wallet, if that’s what it takes to get America out of their lives.

An enemy is within us; Putin loves it; and we had better wake up to what is being done to our blinded nation before it is too late.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ the saddest man in the moral universe

—- —- —-

There have been hundreds of sad political days during the past four years of life in America, but last night was the saddest of them all. In his acceptance speech of the Republican party’s nomination for President, Donald Trump defiantly spurned everything that it means to hold high office in a great nation.

He identified many challenges that — so he claims — we face, some of them chimerical, most of them misconstrued, the rest overblown. He offered no solutions : probably because how can you have solutions to tasks that aren’t real, or are misidentified or are molehills spoken of as mountains ?

He spoke several outright howlers. Perhaps the absurdest was his claim to protect LBGTQ people from….ISIS ? Oh I see : he was thinking of the club shooting in Orlando.  Horrific that was, but LBGTQ people face far more immediate persecutions from members of Trump’s own party (though admittedly not death, unless you give credence to the ravings of a fringe).not to mention from the Supreme Court judges he promises to appoint or from his supposed opposition to same sex marriage.

Assuming that you believe him. I don’t.

He doesn’t like trade deals — so he says — even though our export economy benefits enormously from them and despite his manufacturing his Trump brand clothing overseas via trade deals.

He doesn’t like immigrants or Muslims, though he loves immigrants’ low wages (which he wants to lower further — assuming you believe him; I don’t).

He ascribed all of our nation’s problems to people who are not like us, whatever that means. To his followers, it means you know what. To him ? Just a convenient rubber ducky to bust — although the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius identified the tactic 1900-odd years ago. “There are three stages of growing up,” he wrote in his Meditations. “first, you blame other people for your troubles. Second, you blame yourself. Third, you do something about them.” Trump squats squarely on step one — grinning in your face, because he knows you’re falling for a gimmick he doesn’t believe for a minute.

Trump wants America to be first. So he said. What does that mean ? That we win Olympic competitions ? that we build more warships than anyone else ? That we build bigger banks than the Chinese ? That we expand the national debt ? That we bomb as many brown-skinned people as possible back to the Stone Age ? that we torture terrorist prisoners till Assad sends him gushing letters of admiration ?

Assuming, of course, that you believe anything he said.

Perhaps I should give him a pass, however. How could he offer any actual solutions, or lay out any agenda items, as nominees always do in their acceptance speeches, when the platform adopted by the convention  is binders full of oppressions against this group or that gender ? Even Ted Cruz might break up laughing were he to mouthe the platform item by item. Conversion therapy — really ?

“I am your voice,” he said. I heard him say it. But actually, he is not. The people he claims to be the voice of — working people with scant education and thus few options in the skill economy — he has stiffed time after time, or defrauded by the thousands, or used and used up as he played the New York City real estate game, a field of smarm and violence, criminality and dog eat dog, parlaying his Dad’s millions of dollars into billions of dollars — won and lost, lost and won as cavalierly as the carelessness with which he has diddled his campaign of insult and bile.

The people he claims to be the voice of need better than a dilettante.

Chutzpah, however, Trump has. What else was it but unmitigated gall for him to say to “his” people, “I’m With You” ? But I suppose that’s what a con man MUST do. Only by saying “I’m With You’ with utter conviction utterly believable can a huckster stiff you, defraud you, pick your pocket.

Sixty years ago, Lyndon Johnson, who knew his fellow politicians well, said that demagogues are always pointing fingers at scapegoats and while they have your attention turned, they’re picking your pocket.

That is Trump.

How sad, how unutterably sad, how uselessly sad, is it that  major political party has given its nomination for President — which it only gives every fourth year; make a mistake, and it has to wait yet another four — to a slim-mouthed, hate-pouring, scapegoat sculpting, incompetent accident ! To a man whose graveyard epitaph will read “picker of pockets.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Governor Baker lays out his long and detailed, full transformation plan for a  very different MBTA future  –if he gets his way

—- —- —-

It’s not often that, when addressing a major public issue, I feel justified in letting an elected official’s response speak for itself. When it comes to the MBTA, however, and where it stands after 16 months or so of Governor Baker’s management, there really is nothing to add to his lengthy address reprinted in its entirety below. Baker was elected as Mr. Fix It, with the managerial experience and know-how to accomplish the fixes, and this address makes clear that he has a detailed grasp of the T’s many, many shortfalls  and of the kind of effort that will be needed to get them fixed

One can argue about some aspects of baker’s assessment. I’m not convinced that the best solution for the parts warehouse’s inefficiencies, or the sad condition of the money counting room, is to outsource the work. Capital upgrades seem equally useful, thus preserving the know-how of the T’s current workers and letting it continue to be used. Still, it’s hard to differ with most of the under-performance examples cited by Baker, nor to dispute his plan to eliminate the mindset that adapts to these failures rather than correcting them.

And now, to the very long Baker statement itself. You can read it here  — — or in full in this article :





^ local government apostle : Governor Baker at kickoff, 70 miles west of, Boston,of St Representative Susannah Whipps Lee’s re-election campaign. (Worcester Sheriff Lew Evangelidis on the right)

—- —- —-

On July 18th, at a campaign kickoff for State Representative Susannah Whipps Lee of Athol, Governor Baker spoke as one seldom hears from mainstream elected officials these days. I wish that all my readers could have heard what Baker had to say and how he said it. I can’t reproduce his speech here, nor anything like it, but I will do my best, in this article, to bring his message to you.

“It’s a long way from Beacon Hill to the rest of Massachusetts,” Baker said, speaking to activists in Lee’s District 70 miles from Boston. “We get that, Karyn Polito and I. It’s why we do not just tell communities how to do things but instead encourage communities to implement State policy in their own way.

“Because,” Baker added, “government works better when it’s local. People judge how they’re doing based on how things are going in their won community.” If we want people to feel that life is working for them, Baker was saying, we need always to remember that to the people we are governing, “works well” means working well in that community. “This is why,” said Baker, “Lieutenant Governor Polito and I give so much attention to community compacts.” (More than half the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts have signed these compacts, intended to upgrade local government’s practices and modernize its outreach.)

Usually, these days, when one hears talk about local government it’s in a context of distrusting either State or nation or both. Baker intended no such distrust, nor to evoke any; he is, after all, Governor, not a selectman. Nor was there the slightest overtone, in anything Baker said, of untying any locality to “Beacon Hill.” Baker’s point was to strengthen “Beacon Hill” by committing our “351 towns and cities” to carrying each its own burden, on its terms, in tandem with one another and, perhaps, sharing practices with one another.

That said, Baker was just as firm, in his words, that all politics is local, just as the late Tip O’Neill famously said; that participation in democracy begins in the precinct and carries out its most necessary missi0ns in the precinct, door to door and neighbor with neighbor. He was saying all this, of course, because Susannah Whipps Lee represents towns little visited by “Beacon Hill” deciders but in which actual people live, who are — so Baker insisted — just as important to the State as those who live in the Capital City : and so, he wanted to add, is their representative, Susie Lee.

These were points crucial to Baker’s talk : distance matters, more than it should, perhaps, but it matters, and its presence creates a burden upon the equality of those who live distant from “the center.”

This burden can probably never be lifted; but baker’s theory of governing from locality to center, rather than the other way around, alleviates as much of this inequality as is practicable. His theory takes onto his shoulders, as Governor, some of that burden, and the over 200 Athol, Orange, Templeton, Warwick, Wendell, and, yes, Phillipston activists who heard him, in that restaurant room 70 miles uphill from Boston seemed to thank him for  bringing more to them than just a Beacon Hill gesture.



^ signing the FY 2017 budget does not mean it’s easy or fun time for Governor Baker

—- —- —-

The legislature enacted a state budget for fiscal 2017 that somehow managed to expand funding for crucial state services despite there being no new taxes — as well as a significant revenue shortfall. Not surprisingly, the budget which Governor Baker agreed to sign leaves several state services under-funded.

But not to worry : Baker will submit a supplementary budget to fund those shortfalls. To quote his message :

“We have identified several underfunded accounts, such as the Committee for Public
Counsel Services and the Emergency Assistance program, which we know we will need to fund at higher levels during FY17. In addition, we remain committed to our obligation to fund Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) at $77 million versus the reduced amount of $26 million in the conference committee report.
In conjunction with today’s budget signing, we are filing an FY17 supplemental budget
for the underfunded accounts plus $5 million for substance abuse services to further support our ongoing efforts to combat this epidemic, as we filed in House 2 and believe is necessary.
To accommodate the spending and revenue differences with the conference committee
report, we are making corresponding corrective measures in order to balance the budget and maintain fiscal stability. We are vetoing $256 million in line-item and outside section spending, including $60.6 million across 497 earmarks. Of the 200 outside sections presented in the conference report, we are signing 141, vetoing 36 and amending 23.”

Baker had more to say. He vetoed a variety of line items, igniting several fires of complaint :

“I am reducing appropriation amounts in items of section 2 of House 4450 that are
enumerated in Attachment A of this message, by the amount and for the reasons set forth
in that Attachment;
“I am disapproving, or striking wording in, items of section 2 of House 4450 also set forth
in Attachment A, for the reasons set forth in that Attachment;
“I am disapproving those sections of House 4450 itemized in Attachment B of this
message for the reasons set forth in that Attachment; and

“Pursuant to Article LVI, as amended by Article XC, Section 3 of the Amendments to the
Constitution of the Commonwealth, I am returning sections 12, 24, 36, 54, 63, 73, 108,
111, 113, 115, 133, 145, 148, 157, 168, 179-181, 186, 191, 194, 196, and 201 with
recommendations for amendment. My reasons for doing so and the recommended
amendments are set forth in separate letters dated today which are included with this
message as Attachments D to W, inclusive.”

So much for the verbiage. Let’s talk about a few of Baker’s more controversial vetoes.

First : an entire series of Courts and Legal Administration reductions made, in his words, “to the amount projected to be necessary.” (Projected by Baker’s Office of Administration and Finance, no doubt.) Of all these reductions, one stands out : a decrease of $ 16,757 in the Recidivism Reduction Pilot Program. I would think that, recidivism being a major difficulty for prisoners facing re-entry into the community, this line item would be increased, not cut. Also cut : $ 211,328 from the Community Corrections Administration’s $ 21,132,834 appropriation and $ 5,000 from the $ 500,000 District Attorney Heroin Pilot Program.

Second, Baker vetoed several appropriations involving voter registration and early voting. Much was made, in news reports, of the $ 4000 cut from the state’s $ 400,000 early voting program. More troubling to me is Baker’s $ 58,549 cut to the state’s approximately $ 6,000,000 Central Voter Registration, given the enormous expansion of voter registration for November’s unnerving Presidential vote. What was his reasoning ?

Third, Baker ( 1 )  almost eliminated an Economic Empowerment program which he termed “not recommended. I would like to know why. Doubtless Workforce Development Chief Ron Walker has an answer ? ( 2 ) cut by more than half the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s $ 14 million appropriation. Funding for the Arts is always easy to cut. That does not mean it should be cut. Given the current pessimism and isolation afoot in the state’s public life, I’d expect artistic expression to expand, not cut back.

Fourth, Baker made substantial reductions — over $ 2,000,000 — in the Budget’s various Environmental Protections appropriations; reductions in fisheries and waterways management; state parks and recreation funds (over $ 5,000,000); and an enormous reduction in the Transitional Assistance account : $ 23,590,222, reducing the appropriation to 167,625,494. I have no idea on what information Baker has made this determination.

Fifth : Baker vetoed significant funds for two health programs that he has, in the past, made top priorities : HIV/AIDS Treatment and Prevention, cut by $ 917,485 to $ 32,217,113, and Substance Abuse Treatment, cut by $ 1,764,000 to $ 123,928,987. Many other health and mental health accounts received cuts to the “amount deemed necessary.”

The list goes on. Travel and Tourism, higher education, state university incentive grants, Northern Essex Community College expansion, Department of Fire Services, the State Police Crime Lab, all the Sheriffs, the Council on Aging, Delivery System Transformation — all found their budget appropriations cut.

Much of this veto activity undoubtedly represents back and forth negotiation between Governor and legislature, as always; overrides will surely ensue, restoring the funds cut ? But maybe not. For many of his item reductions or outright veto, Baker states “not consistent with his recommendation.” Evidently Baker has his own ideas on how state services should be set up. We already know that he is remaking MBTA administration quite radically. Is this the basic objective of his more significant vetoes ? It makes sense if so. Structural reforms seem needed in many state departments in which lines of authority and job description don’t take into account the cost-efficiency rigors of “data management.” Many of baker’s vetoes and cuts were made because they didn’t comport with his recommendations. Could it be that before he accepts the funding, he wants the structure that will expend them to be his choosing ? If so, his vetoes and cuts are far more significant than they look at first glance.

Baker made clear from day one that he wanted to reform state administration from the bottom up, structurally; to redeploy how state government delivers services. His  FY 2017 vetoes and cuts look like wedge moves toward that goal.

As Baker’s restructure reforms deepen, expect many battles between Baker and the legislature and with the constituencies who value every dollar appropriated to their priorities, not to mention more dollars not granted at all. The Supplemental FY 2017 budget request will certainly tell us more about Baker’s long-game intentions. It should be a dramatic show.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATED : as of 10.20 AM 07/19/16













^ Governor Charlie Baker : building a political party in his image and accoprding, mostly, to his priorities and style

—- —- —-

We haven’t read the entire platform approved by the national Republican party’s Cleveland convention, but those sections we have read, we strongly oppose. There isn’t much else we can do about the Cleveland platform, but here in Massachusetts there is plenty that we CAN do. We can craft a platform of our own, for the Massachusetts Republican Party. I now propose one. You will recognize it as being prettty much (though not exclusively) in Governor Baker’s image. And why not ? There would not now BE an idebntifable Massachusetts Republican party, with a personality all its own (and it has one), but foir Baker.

So here it is, my platform for the Massachusetts Republican party

Preamble : we the Republican Party of Massachusetts are a party of reasonable reform. We seek the doable before the impossible, the likely befoire the unlikely. We offer a platform .that is useful to all citizens, that includes everyone, that values the dignity and sacrednes of everyone. We adopt the statement in the Preamble to the Federal Constitution, that our purpose is to promopte the general welfare.

( 1 ) civil rights. We defend and promote the civil rights of everyone, citizen and non-citizen, to enjoy equality at law; to be employed; to not be discriminated against by any public accommodation, employer, landlord of housing, hospital or other health care provider, and place of education, by reason of national origin, skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religious faith.

( 2 ) basic human rights. We defend the basic right of all people to control their own bodies; to not be subject to cruelties; or to imprisonments, indictment, restraints, searches or seizures without due process of law. Included herein, we defend the basic right of women to control their own reproductive decisions. By this provision we do not express any judgment upon lifestyles or sexual and gender identities, and while we would rather that women accept an occurring pregnancy, we recognize that continuing a pregnancy is her personal decision to make.

( 3 ) workers, unions, and wages. We support the $ 15/hour minimum wage, or a two-zone version thereof: one zone at $ 12/hour, the other at $ 15/hour. We do so because ( a )  it is vital to the economy that people who work full time should not have to require taxpayer assistance to make ends meet ( b ) because, earning a living wage, workers will pay taxes rather than draw an EITC tax credit, thereby expanding the State’s revenue and ( c ) workers earning a living wage can spend into the discretionary economy, thereby boosting all sorts of businesses. We also support the right of workers to form unions and to use unions to advance their employment interests.

( 4 ) administration of state government. How much to appropriate in a State budget, and to which services, is a decision for the legislature and Governor to make. We insist, however, that they impose the principle that a taxpayer dollar spent must deliver a dollar of value. Constant monitoring of state appropriation and expenditure, with full transparency for budget provisions and decisions, including their publication, is essential to our principle.

( 5 ) public health and criminal justice reform. We affirm that opioid addiction, as for all chemical addiction, is a health crisis, not a criminal one. To that end we guarantee to addicts a bed and a treatment option; and we support the inclusion of the addiction and recovery community itself in advising, administering, and publicizing all treatment programs, including opioid prescription limitation.

( 6 ) infrastructure. Diligent maintenance of our state’s roads, bridges,and public transportation systems must be a top priority in the budget and administration of what is allocated. In particular, the MBTA’s backlog of debt must be paid down as swiftly as feasible, and the MBTA employees’ pension must be subject to the same regulations aas all other public employee retirement funds.

( 7 ) immigration. We encouarge immigration into Massachusetts, which is a major port of entry for people seek a new life in America. We acknowledge that immigrants lacking documnetation work very hard at often disregarded jobs and pay taxes just like anyone else. We applaud them for their efforts and will work to regularize thir legal status as well as complete their documentation.

( 8 ) state-paid education. Providing an excellent school to every child is a basic state obligation. We support the charter school movement as well as the creation of inmnovation schooling of many kinds. Curriculum is a natter for each individual school distruct, subject only to the state Department of Education’s curriculum essentials, which all districts must implement. We also support early eduaction and fgunding it adequatelky, as the earlier a child begins education, the better achiever he or she becomes.

( 9 ) the environment.  Clean water is a basic service that the State must fund, monitor, and deliver. We support full funding and staffing of our state parks — for many, the only feasible recreation option. As climate change is real, and the state’s long ocean front leave thousands of homes at risk, we support reasonable efforts to restrict carbon emissions. We support transitioning our energy supply, as rapidly as feasible, from oil and gas to hydro, wind, solar, and, where workable, nuclear. We support the legislature’s recent energy bill, enacted now into law.

( 10 ) gun control. We recognize the individual’s right, within the purview of the Second Amendment, to keep and bear arms: but that right is qualified first by the words of the Amendment requiring a “well regulated militia.” We agree therefore that militia weapons be well regulated and not a public danger. We support the enactment of a rigorous gun safety course, that all applicants for a gun carry permit must take and pass. We also require that guns and ammunition be kept under lock and key when not upon one’s person and their whereabouts be known at all times; that any lost weapon be immediately reported to the local police; and that all applicants for a carry license, and all purchases from any vendor who maintains a business be subject to background check in the ordinary course. We also oppose the private, non-police and non-military ownership of weapons designed for combat and combat-like situations. We also make it clear that keeping the peace is a police function; and that persons who are not duly authorized police officers take justice action upon themselves strictly at their own risk. We discourage any such action.

( 11 ) voting. No civil right is more important than the right to vote. We support automatic  registration online, or at RMV offices, post offices, and ceremonies of naturalization of citiznes. Voting should be made easier, not more difficult.

In sum : I recognize that the Massachusetts Republican Party platform hereabove presented may be incomplete. I invite you to suggest other provisions. Let us do this. Becabuse if we don’t, those we oppose will do it to us.

—-Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





starter homes

^ “starter homes” circa 1880-1910 in “Southie” : where and how will Boston build them now ?

—- —- —-

That Boston is growing — rapidly — has not caught our governments unaware. Both Governor Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh have called for building thousands of new homes, condominium units, and rental spaces, and both men have taken steps to make that happen. Still, as my twitter follower Molly Goodman of Jamaica Plain noted — retweeting a Boston Globe story: link here :–  where are the “starter homes” ?

Answer : there are hardly any. Almost all the home-building in Boston so far has targeted the high end. And the VERY high-end. How could it not ? Land acquisition costs for a $ 250,000 house are the same as for a $ 1 million spread, and the construction cost for the luxury item isn’t that much greater than for the cheapo version. Developing ANYTHING in Boston also requires huge patience and a team of consultants to shepherd through the BRA design approval stage, the “community” review charade, and the permitting labyrinth. Far better to maximize one’s cash haul than to go through six stages of bureaucratic hell for small beer.

Not even the Mayor, for all his chartered power, can force thousands of home units through thee hells. Any building contemplated in Boston either changes the environ of an empty lot or assaults the vested interests of one with structure upon it. The slapstick pie of a “community” review makes clear right away that those who want everything to stay exactly as it is will swarm to sting change proposals to death. I don’t care what you, the developer, are planning — housing for veterans, market-rate rentals, “affordable” condos, a mixed-use structure, even environmentally sexy upscale dream cottages : sixty people who live nearby will fill the review meeting with every manner of objection, from utility lines to conservation impacts to traffic density scandal, and they will keep you tied up in meeting after meeting until you tell your investors that “heck, this crap ain’t worth it.”

And yet the City grows, despite.

It grows because the arrangements of new businesses right now demand it: closeness to the workplace, no car lifestyle, socializing and shopping within walk or biking distance, and all one’s peers and pals equally nearby. As the most desirable skilled workers congregate, so the businesses must congregate, too; and both mayor and Governor encourage it, and have to, because the new businesses 9and the new million-dollar pleasure domes) bring plenty of new tax revenue to keep the City;’s schools from collapsing, not to mention the public transportation chatchki. All of this is as obvious as gust of perfume at the cosmetic counter; as are the $ 2,200 to $ 5,000 rents that knuckle you in the la-banza.

Thus the call for “starter homes.”

Once upon a time, starter homes — cheapo boxes with maybe 900 square feet of living space — were the urban norm. (You can see them on the streets across from the George Wright golf course on West Street in Hyde Park, hundreds of dachsund-size dwellings built in the 1949 to 1959 decade.) But they were built on vast and unbuilt land surrounded by yet more of the same. Nor was there then any mechanism by which opponents could interpose: the BRA was yet to be. Tens of thousands of these $ 6000 homes — yes, $ 6000; that was the price of a starter home back then — were built in Boston’s outlying neighborhoods, just as, forty to sixty years earlier, homes at a wage-earner’s price were built all through Dorchester, Mission Hill, Roxbury, and Brighton; and still earlier, in East Boston and “Southie.” Life was so much simpler then. Thousands of newly immigrated wo0riuers needed homes ? Homes were built and sold — bingo ! — on land formerly farmed and sold to developers for what was then lottery prize money (but which would today hardly buy you an economy car), and neither the farmers nor their neighbors complained or had any say in the matter.

It was easy. The city’s merchant and manufacturing elite wanted their workers housed, and those workers had the votes, and the builders were mostly immigrant workers too, and all coincided. Today not so. The entrepreneurs want their workers close, but the builders have to foot the bill, and those who already live on the parcels that would be built upon have pride of place. So : what to do ? You tell me.

If Mayor Walsh really means to get his 53,000 housing units built — and I think his number is at least 53,000 short — he ought to use his powers to get it done :

( 1 ) establish a new approval process in which proponents have just as easy time of it making themselves heard as do the opponents in today’s review charade. Imagine Boston 2030 is already doing this online.

( 2 ) take derelict properties by eminent domain and condemnation and auction them off for affordability-covenant housing; do the same for derelict industrial properties between Massachusetts Avenue and Norfolk Avenue in “Ward 8”

( 3 ) fill in tidal flat land extending out from Columbia Point (and maybe also from Castle Island), as our ancestors did in the Back Bay, for the express purpose of building affordability-priced housing of various kinds (condos, two family homes, three deckers, and singles)

( 4 ) approve the Widett Circle area for as much housing development as feasible, with associated shopping and amenities

( 5 ) cut the land acquisition cost to $ 1.00 per parcel, so that developers aren’t forced to seek the top end customer.

( 6 ) enact a $ 15/hour minimum wage, so that full time workers who live in Boston, or who want to live in the City, can actually afford, eventually, to buy an affordable home and pay a mortgage. ( Even at $ 15/hour, affording a starter home will require two incomes. Assuming a slightly higher wage of, say, $ 18 an hour for the two workers, that’s a monthly earning of about $ 5500: which just happens to be the median family income in Boston right now.)

We should be planning for 100,000 units of housing; that number would by itself so increase the supply as to hold prices back — and halt the dangerous ascent of rents — and we should prepare for the infrastructure, utility service, and school choice and innovation requirements that so many new residents will want and need. Remember : growth means change; life is change; supposedly, we like life; let’s see if our liking of life is more than just happy talk.





^ Mayor Walsh : a former labor leader who, as Mayor, cannot do “job actions.” And now knows it

—- —- —- —-

Responding to indictments of Boston City administrators Ken Brissette and Tim Sullivan by the United States Attorney’s office, some who oppose the accusations are saying not only that City Hall is not at fault in the matter but that City officials should actively encourage union hiring and union organizing. I cannot agree.

Private industry employment is none of any government’s business. The only exceptions are rules basic to all employment : minimum wages, safety concerns, paid leave and the like, as well as wage theft and workplace abuses. These are matters for the Attorney General, not for City Halls.

Association is protected by the First Amendment and by similar clauses in state Constitutions. But authorized does not mean prescribed. It is up to the associators to decide whether to associate; and firms whose employees do not associate are not to be penalized thereby, nor preferred.

City Hall certainly has a mission to attract business into the City. But attracting business does not mean telling those businesses how to manage their hiring. A City that attempted to impose such a condition would soon find itself losing businesses, not gaining them. (It has already been tried in Boston.   Two years ago a hotel developer cancelled his development when a City Councillor, at a public meeting, demanded, as a condition of his support, that the hotel be a union shop.)

Labor Law governs the organizing of unions. It neither discourages nor encourages one or the other choice. This is how it should be. Those who form businesses are free to decide how best to address their employee relationships; and they are free to campaign against the formation of a union. Those who seek to organize a union, or to maintain one, must make their case.

Other nations may do this differently; in Germany, unions are preferred, at least in large firms, as a matter of public policy. Yet even in Germany, the government does not intervene to force a decision, or to dictate to firms seeking government licenses. Much more the case in our nation, where no law or public policy permits governments to impose labor agreements upon  businesses, much less demand it.

Our law on these matters may change; but until that happens, no government official can do what Brissette and Sullivan are accused of doing, and no government head can order it or encourage it. If it is to be a condition of Boston city contracts that a firm hire a union work force, that rule must be enacted via home rule petition. My sense is that such a petition won’t pass the legislature any time soon; nor can I support it. Nor do I think such a law would or should survive Constitutional scrutiny. Yet even if I am wrong, until such law is enacted and court approved, City Hall must be scrupulously workforce neutral in the matter of approving applications by companies for city licenses.

As for the case itself, which some union activists are protesting — saying that the accused can’t have extorted because they asked “nothing for themselves” — since when is it not extortion for A to force B to pay money to C ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Civil Rights Governor

^ Charlie Baker of MA : a civil rights Governor

—- —- —-

The civil rights of transgender Americans aroused a contentious debate here in Massachusetts, one that led up to Governor Baker signing Senate Bill 2407 into law. The arguments advanced by opponents tell me that a lot of Americans do not understand what civil rights are all about.

First : “civil rights” for transgender people are NOT “favoring the 1 percent over the rest of us,” as opponents claimed. Civil rights are not a matter of numbers. Every single person, individually, is guaranteed his or her civil rights, as basic as the civil rights of a million people.

Second : the civil rights of one person NEVER impedes the civil rights of another. Opponents of civil rights for transgender people liked to say that such rights violate the “privacy rights” of others. This is false. First of all, “privacy” is not a civil right; it is grant that can be limited, and is; and it may, in some cases, be taken away entirely. None of this can be done to a civil right. Ensuring the civil rights of one class of persons enhances the civil rights of all people. As civil rights are, by definition, those rights that the society guarantees to all and each, the guarantee works in both directions : each person in the society respects and defends the civil rights of all, and all defend and respect the civil rights of each. Civil rights are reciprocal rights.

(Opponents of civil rights for transgender people who say that bathroom rights impact other people’s privacy are correct — but beside the point. Civil rights are paramount BY DEFINITION.)

Third : civil rights are different from basic human rights. The right not to be murdered, or tortured, raped, or kidnapped, or subject to cruelties — rights to life and to not have crimes  malum in se committed upon one — are basic to any society whether it guarantees civil rights or not. They are yours no matter what. Civil rights are contractual: covenants of citizenship according to the compact made and ascribed to by those who live in a society. Civil rights can differ from one society to another. We in America have ours. We’ve fought wars, and many have died, to assure our rules:  the right to vote; to have equal protection of the laws; and to have equal access to the services and benefits offered to the public by enterprises, organizations, governments and individuals, as well as the many rights enumerated in Amendments 1 through 8 of the Constitution; and we assure them to each and all.

As for the phrase “right to privacy.” it suffers from imprecise ascription. Many Supreme Court majority opinions concerning contraception, abortion, and sex between consenting adults seem to suggest that privacy is a right. Opposing Justices — Scalia being the most vocal — say there is no such right in the Constitution. What, then, is the right that Courts call “privacy” ? The true answer is to be found in cases such as one (I cannot find the citation) in which Justice Frankfurter described certain rights as those whose violation “shocks the conscience.” The shocks that he alluded to are rights which he, and I, referred to earlier as basic human rights — which even prisoners and inmates of asylums possess. The most basic of these rights is to control one’s body and be sacrosanct in it. I see no difference, legally, between protection from infliction of cruelty and control of one’s sexual and reproductive functions. It would be far stronger for Courts to refer not to privacy but to “basic human.”

So there we are. Civil rights are societal contracts. Basic human rights are inviolable by anyone. And both are reciprocal : each to all and all to each; but different.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere