^ the would-be “emperor of the world” is NOT our friend

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Two days ago, President Obama took the first of what promises to be several actions countering the recent hacking of our election by Russia and its boss, Vladimir Putin. Obama expelled 35 Russian intelligent agents who were living here as diplomats, sanctioned two Russian agencies thought to be instruments of that interference, and closed down two Russian compounds housing the interferers, one in New York, the other in Maryland.

By doing so, Obama did two crucial things : first, he assured that the issue of Russian interference in our election would be noted by many, as it was not during the election. Second, he thereby created an ongoing, political constituency of opposition to Russia’s cyber war imperialism, which threatens the stability of all the Western democracies, not just our own.

This second result was crucial to the President’s policy. As the incoming President, Mr. Trump, supports Putin and was the beneficiary of Putin’s interference,. it is vital that Mr. Trump face a large, committed, ongoing opposition to any moves he might make to get nicey nicey with our national enemy.

It helps to give some historical facts so that you can grasp what is at stake here and why:

1.The break-up of the Soviet Union freed the three Baltiic States, Belarus, and, most importantly, the Ukraine, to be independent and to form a cordon of hostility around what was left of the Soviet Union, namely Russia only. All these newly independent states except Belarus have since become NATO members, an encirclement that includes America under NATO treaty obligations.

2.havinga hostile Ukraine on its southwest border rather than integrated into Russia is, historically, a mortal wound. You may recall that an independent Ukraine was forced upon Russia by a victorious Germany in 1918. Quickly that treaty ended up being reversed; but now it is in full force again, courtesy of the Soviet Union’s own breakup.

3.Without the Ukraine, its farmlands, and its geographic thrust into the heart of Europe, Russia is almost only an Asiatic power, not a European one; and Putin’s policies have been, first, to take back Ukraine — he succeeded in taking its Crimea section — and to exploit Russia’s Asiatic power to the fullest, as he has done by involving Russia militarily in the Syrian Civil War.

4.Surrounded by enemies on its European side, and with oil prices crumbling, thus all but bankrupting Russia’s economy, Putin has had to strike back in the Middle East for the sake of oil and to find weak nesses in the cordon that walls him in. He has found one : cyber war, by which disinformation — a Russian specialty since Tsarist days — can subvert the solidity of his opponents’ own politics. Putin has used cyber hacks and news disinformation to subvert several elections in Europe; he was more successful than ever in ours because he had an actual candidate to support, not just some to oppose; and Mr. Trump was happy to embrace him and thus create a political constituency here that favors Putin even over our own politicians.

5.Never since the war of 1812 had America experienced the creation of a political interest espousing a foreign leader over any of our own. This is not a minor thing. Nations divided politically by favoring foreign leaders rather than their own are enormously weakened. Nothing could be more debilitating to a nation’s moral civic commitment. One thinks of Germany during the centuries that its component states owed more loyalty to French kings than to each other; or to England during the 17th Century, when one faction supported Catholic Spain and/or France, another Protestant Holland, and actually fought civil wars with ach other in pursuit thereof.

6.Within our own nation, Putin regularly hosts conferences of various secessionists : Texas, California, and the like,. He is actively promoting secession — an act of war which, were it to get beyond the chimeric stage, would require us to fight him likewise, and with force.

We have seen in our recent politics how opponents of President Obama have gone the whole route to outright treason (support for a foreign leader over our own) and to opposing democracy itself, if need be, to undermine our elected leader’s policies. Now, with the coming of Mr. Trump, said opponents see advantage in touting Mr. Putin as the good guy; which he is not.

We cannot advance as a nation if a foreign leader — especially one who is a criminal and a tyrant — can sway and command a major portion of our public opinion and, in fact, create his constituency in the heart of our politics. Not only can we not advance; we will be lucky to avoid break up and civil war if such a constituency is not defeated, and soon. This, President Obama has now begun to do. It comes none too soon, and my thinking is that he is opening the 2020 election and its policy debate on this basis : we cannot allow Vladimir Putin to have a political following inside America.

This issue unites Democrats and most Republicans. It is by far the majority opinion. President Obama has assured that Mr. Trump’s pro-0Russian foreign policy will not stand for long,. That is an achievement worthy of Obama’s Presidency and of our nation’s political solidarity.

-0— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ the candles of Chanukkah (photo credit : Phyllis Pollack)

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The festival we call Chanukkah celebrates events from about 2200 years ago, much of which are related in the first two Books of Maccabees, books not included in the Bible canon but which probably every observant Jew — and many others — have read many times over.

The Maccabee family, especially youngest brother Judah Maccabee, led and guided the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, ruler of what are today Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel, descendant of the general whom Alexander the Great left in charge after his untimely death at age 33. The revolt was maybe the first in recorded history generated almost purely by people seeking the right to worship as they saw fit and to practice their culture and language — all of which Antiochus, negating his father Antiochus III’s guarantees, had banned. The revolt was successful, and services in the great Temple in Jerusalem were revived.

It’s not as clean a good guy story as we now hold it; Antiochus was called into Israel by a Jewish faction supporting the Egyptian, Ptolemaic rulers with whom, for decades, the Seleucids had been contesting for regional dominance; and so the Maccabee family was rebelling not only against a Greek ruler but also against an opposing party of Jews. Yet this complication need not impede our current remembrance of Hanukkah’s significance; for the Maccabees fought for several decades against Antiochus IV, were subjected to cruelties that even today’s ISIS might envy, and often were forced to become guerilla fighters even as they politicked with influential families to win alliances powerful enough to prevail ; which they did, giving Israel freedom that it did not lose until Herod’s time, the generation of Jesus.

That was then. Toady, what meaning has Hanukkah for us, and to what do we ascribe it ? A fairly authoritative answer was given last night at the Boston lighting of the Hanukkah Menorah by the Chabad/Boston rabbi who presided : He said : Hanukkah means freedom of worship, freedom to be who you are, freedom to be safe in a community of all faiths and nations.

Stripped of its political complications so painstakingly narrated in the four Maccabees books, what the Chabad Rabbi said is exactly what Hanukkah is about. That Judas Maccabeus and his descendants acquired rule in Israel was surely the political necessity, but the need for it was generated by the purpose : the desire — the right — to be oneself, to worship as one desires, to speak one’s language, to be recognized as all of these and equal to anyone in politics and in respect.

Both Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh — each spoke eloquently; each loudly applauded — affirmed in their talks this essential of Hanukkah as it applies in Boston and Massachusetts today : we welcome all people, of all faiths and of all nations, to a safe home in our community social and political. The 400 to 500 people attending the ceremony exemplified this diverse welcome.

And while no one said anything explicit of it, everyone at the lighting understood exactly the political events and persons that our leaders’ affirmations confronted, stood up to, rejected. It was a declaration of defiance not all that different from the one thrown down by the Maccabee Family in 167 BC.

These are timeless verities, rights without expiration date, dignities that no dictator or strong-man can extinguish.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere






^ Mayor Walsh (third from left) with Superintendent Tommy Chang ( fifth from left) and six of the seven school committee members : what now for the billion-dollar schools budget ?

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From where I sit, the defeat of ballot Question Two — to approve charter school expansion or no — by a 63 to 37 margin looks as definitive as can be. A coalition of teachers’ unions, parent allies, and school committees pressured by the unions and parents waged a campaign that the proponents of charter expansion had no good answer for. The anti-charter forces convinced a substantial majority of voters that ( 1 ) charter schools take money away from public school districts — which they do NOT ( 2 ) that the charter school ballot question was an attempt by corporations to privatize education — which it was NOT and ( 3 ) that corporations should not be involved in deciding education policy.

This last argument was false, but the proponents never addressed it directly. Of course corporations have an interest– a vital interest — in education, because it is school graduates who they will be trying to hire, and if those graduates are not ready to tackle even entry level jobs, they either won’t be hired or the corporations that do hire them will have to train them, at corporate expense, when the entire purpose of publicly financed education  is that the schools (and school budgets paid by atxpayers0 bare supposed to do that.

That seems pretty basic to me, but the arguments failed, and thus here we are, facing a new FY Boston Schools budget, not t0o mention anew teachers’ union contract, in a political climate where the unions have all the leverage and the City very little. Mayor Walsh decided to support the opposition side on Question Two, thereby neutering his most likely opponent, Tito Jackson, who had made leadership of the”no” side his calling card. Having chosen the “no” side, mayor Walsh is in no good position to now take the side of taxpayers who have every right to object to a Schools budget totaling $ 1.03 billion and climbing and which includes substantial absurdities and waste.

Yet numbers matter, and far more Boston voters are taxpayers than are parents of Boston school kids. I would suppose that taxpayer voters will be looking hard at Walsh’s teachers’ union contract negotiation, once he makes its status public, which he has yet to do. That can’t last. Very soon the School Superintendent’s office will put its FY 2018 budget on the table for discussion, and we will then see what sort of waste it tolerates, what absurdities, and which, if any, reforms. As this year is an election year for Mayor Walsh, surely he wants to limit the school budget’s surprises and avoid controversy. But how to do that ? The waste cannot continue — the Boston Globe has recently editorialized about the most flagrant budget abuses — and the new teachers’ contract will have to be factored in. Considering that more than 86 percent of the FY 2017 schools budget is allocated to staff salaries, there’s no way that the union contract won’t bulge.

Mayor Walsh has no really good option for this new schools budget., If the new union contract approximates what other city worker unions have received, the current budget will probably allocate 88 percent of its funds, or higher, just to salaries. Which means that the budget will have to increase by at least $ 22 million just to avoid hurting other accounts. That’s an increase of 2.2 percent, double the boost that Walsh accorded last year’s schools budget. I doubt he’ll grant more money than that, which means that supplies, transportation, meals, and after school programs will go without.

At some point the absurdities and waste in the Boston schools budget will have to be faced directly. That means school facility consolidation. It means doing away with the 100 or so teachers who have no assignment because no principal will have them. It means no longer passing the buck to State aid via MGL c. 70 — a fraud in itself — to make up the shortfall. Still, this is an election year, and mayor Walsh wants as unruffled an election as possible; and he is in the drivers seat to get a smooth re-election. Which means the real battles will wait until FY 2019, or beyond even that.

One budget item won’t recur even then. Because of last ear’s ballot vote, there won’t be any new charter schools to relieve the pressure of under-performance, or to become the scapegoat for public district failure. The unions now own the school effectiveness issue — and the lack thereof. Let’s see how they do with it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Mayor Walsh confronting serious matters of race in Boston schools : the duty of a citizen that he has taken the risk to address personally

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As we approach Christmas, and then the New Year, we all want to think good thoughts. We all want the coming year to enrich our lives. We all want to do a better job at our own work than we did this year. We all want something like happiness.

Anticipation generates its own betterments; in which feeling we bask right now as the days grow longer, the sunsets later, the sun higher in the sky shining on our heads rather than from beneath our chins. These things are real, and so, we hope, will our anticipations transpire.

I’m no exception to the generalization. I want my life to flourish, my body to glow, my soul to find its place in the pulse of time. Perhaps these wants will accomplish, but they cannot come sans price : my obligations as a citizen, for which my happiness in fair exchange is no robbery. So what in my opinion is the duty of a citizen ?

First, a citizen — of Boston in my case — is not a mere resident. A citizen is accorded many rights that set him or her apart from those who are not yet citizens. Above all, a citizen has the right to vote in all elections; and as we have just seen, elections really do matter.

There is more than that, however,. In my opinion, a citizen must participate in campaigns and speak up in debate about major societal issues. a citizen should speak and act with moral force : because political decisions have a moral component : the good of all. I do not speak of religion. Religion is a response to the fact of death; moral codes are a response to the necessities of life.

No moral code more sublime do I know of than rabbi Hillel’s famous dictum: “whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is whole law, the rest is commentary.”

Hillel took no exception for this group of people or that. Forb him, “fellow man” included all people. Thus it is for me. As a citizen, I must act so as not to hurt ANYONE. (Of course there is the criminal law exception. Leave that aside for the present discussion.) When I act politically, or speak up politically, I try to keep in mind that whatever policy or position I advocate, it must NOT BE HUIRTFUL to anyone. The political language adopted by Mr. trump is thus immoral as can be. He scapegoats entire nations, demonizes groups, mocks individuals. He is a divider who profits from division. It would be difficult to think of a public position more immoral than his.

That he honors no promises, benefits from lies, thinks it a virtue to degrade women, sells his supporters’ trust to line his pockets, surrenders the interests of the nation to the pleasure of our most serious enemy — these are the ingredients of an immorality gross and difficult ever to forgive. The duty of a citizen is to do exactly the opposite of what Mr. Trump does, and to say the precise opposite of what he says.

If we keep this in mind, that what Mr. Trump does or says, we should do or say the opposite, benefit may yet arise from his depravity. Yet the social price will be expensive, for as we figure out how to turn Mr. Trump’s mal-behavior around, his followers will hurt many people; they already have.

Lastly : Mr. Trump is not all. The responsibility for your life rests with you whether Mr. Trump exists or not. The sole voice to which you the citizen must listen is your own moral conscience. You know what is the right thing to do. So do it. The price may in fact be sharp. The compromised will scorn you, the self-absorbed won’t understand you; you’ll be called jerk, out of touch, naïve. I suppose that I am all of these. So will you be. No mind : do the right thing, publicly, when advocating political policy, by your fellow man, and you cannot do wrong ever. There’s a short phrase to sum up what I am trying to say : “country first.” In other words, community. We do not exist by ourselves. Freely our consciences embrace the bonds that bind us to each other, so that when we act politically, we give it our all, and we do so with the best interests of all of us first in mind, regardless of what party w may formally be registered in.

This is the duty of a citizen.

—- Mikje Freedberg / Here and Sphdere




^ David Friedman, an outrageously bad ambassador selection, may represent the Trump family’s money interests, but he does not and cannot represent our nations’ interests.

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We don’t often opine about American ambassador choices. Indeed, we never have.But there’s a first time for everything, and so we decry the President-elect’s intention to make one David Friedman our nation’s ambassador to Israel.

Who is David Friedman, you ask ? Good question. He’s hardly a household name. At this link you can read what Haaretz, Israel’s centrist news medium, says about him : http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.759434

Friedman’s top qualifications seem to be that he is, in fact, Jewish and, second, is a personal attorney to Mr. Trump. Being part of Mr. Trump’s personal security force seems, indeed, to be the essential qualification for all jobs in his administration. It’s how he intends to safeguard his profits as he uses the power of the Presidency to bully bully-able interests into spending their money in his hotels, etc. Friedman has zero diplomatic experience — another sine qua non for success in Mr. Trump’s crony empire — but he does have opinions: and these express contempt for mainstream Jewish opinion as well as for the realities of Israel.

Specifically, he supports the settler movement, whose goal is to push Palestinians out of the entire West bank, just as the Turks expelled Greeks after World War I, as most Arab nations have expelled Jews, as India and Pakistan have mutually expelled each there’s peoples. In Friedman’s world, the cycle of tribal / ethnic expulsions goes on. Maybe it does : but it ill behooves America, a nation which until now has melded everybody into one people, to embrace tribal expulsions.

The Fri8edman world envisions no peace, only undying mutual enmity. Friedman’s Israel would be forever at war with all of its neighbors, not to mention a pariah of human rights. In Israel itself, only the extreme ethnic identity folks — the same folks who want to arrogate the power to declare who is legally a Jew and who isn’t — support views Friedman espouses. That should be no surprise. The Friedman ethnic cleansing view of Israel’s future is a disaster, politically and morally.

Israel was founded as a nation led by and home for Jews; but it has never been a nation only of Jews. Almost 40 percent of Israel’s population is Arabic, Christian, Druze, or Muslim; and at least in theory, all are fully citizens of Israel. many serve in the IDF (Israel Armed Forces). They have full civil rights; are represented in the Knesset; and enjoy full respect for their faiths. This was how it was at Israel’s foundation, as a secular nation committed to Western civilization and our ideals.

Israel has since moved away from these ideals, under pressure by Palestinian terrorists and by the thugs of Hamas; but the ideal itself remains in place even if amended on the ground. Palestinian society, too, has moved away from peace because its governing agency is too weak (and too corrupt) to command the conversation. Yet to surrender the admittedly wounded ideal of peace between Israelis and Palestinians to the pursuit of Israeli conquest would shake the foundations of far more of the world than merely the two peoples. Almost the entire world has committed itself to one solution or another to the Israeli / Palestinian conflict; no nation supports Israeli conquest and expulsion. Not even Israel itself supports it.

Admittedly the present Israeli and Palestinian difficulties feel messy and tenuous. Life for many Palestinians is difficult, often humiliating. Life for many Israelis involves constant vigilance and much stress. However, better stress and difficulty than outright war, which would  be the certain consequence of Friedman’s policy.

His views merit condemnation He cannot be confirmed as our ambassador.


—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ Mayor Walsh officiates at yet another groundbreaking, this time in Mission Hill with Maria Sanchez at his side and her son, Jeffrey, the area’s State Representative, behind them.

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Nationally, the turmoil has already begun to increase. Locally, however, the opposite seems true. This year Mayor Walsh of Boston faces a re-election with no obvious major candidate opposed — more on this below — while statewide, next year both Governor Baker and Senator Elizabeth Warren will seek a second term with no clear or significant challenger either. (I will discuss both of them below as well.) For us, a quiet period is new. Since former Governor Romney ran for President in 2008, and then longtime Senator Ted Kennedy died the next year, we have had election after election, many of them piqued by huge issues, in which more than 25 candidates sought the offices of President, Governor, and Senator. Then, in 2013, Boston Mayor Tom Menino didn’t seek re-election, arousing no less than 12 candidates onto that year’s ballot.  I’m guessing that upward of $ 200 million was spent.

Issues were raised debated, ambushed, initiated, protested fiercely, think-tanked, turned back, raised again. Twitter was the arena of battle, long before it became Donald Trump’s lane for destroying our democratic norms. Twitter trolling denied Boston the 2024 Olympics and played a big role in crushing the city’s charter schools constituency. Twitter skull-dugged Public forums, Mayor’s conversations, legislative hearings, state House pro9tests, Black Lives Matter, and nightly stories of MBTA failures, all of which broke up friendships and kept us embroiled with failures of government and the long struggle to fix. Unions, too, have been active seeking the higher $ 15/hour minimum wage, organizing service workers, shepherding a two-tier tax onto the 2018 ballot. Their activity aroused less controversy but achieved more — perhaps for that reason.

Maybe the biggest recent political flap involves Attorney General Healey, whose recent, newly issued regulation that adds an assault rifle adjustment to the list of guns already banned and regulated by existing law was met — unsuccessfully so far — by howls of protest from gun owners organizations claiming that Healey’s new regulation was “making law” — when clearly she was not. These gun groups have not given up, and with Healey also taking on Exxon Mobil (whose CEO is to be become Mr. Trump’s Secretary of State, perhaps), she seems certain to face a very busy re-election run.

That’s for tomorrow. Today, in the three major races, quiet rules. First, Governor Baker :

Perhaps Baker learned, by the 63 to 37 defeat of charter cap expansion, that his support for a major ballot initiative doesn’t make much difference. He advocated for the initiative which, had it been voted Yes, would have permitted a major opening of the allowed number of  charter schools in Massachusetts. Instead, the measure was beaten soundly. Baker gave it lip service (intensely) but not much visible muscle. That’s how it is for our Republican Governors. If there were any doubt, every major cut Baker made to the Fy 2017 budget that passed both legislative bodies were easily snuffed by veto override. The same will happen to the approximately $ 94 million he has recently cut from the state’s arts and similar budgets.Now he’s back to his Mr Fix It core, probably to persist until 2019; and by far the most of our state’s voters seem to like him doing Fix Its.

Now, Senator Warren.

She has tried to raise her voice, and in the usual key of accusation of bankers and financiers. It’s an odd target for a Senator from the state in which finance looms large (is our second largest industry); yet has Mr Trump not said much the same ? One senses that for Senator Warren, as for Trump, the finance industry is an easy target; its executives expect to be vilified. Bit will Warren’s noise birth much controversy ? or attract a serious competitor ? One senses the controversy dying out (as it has) and her wardrobe of models wearing ever thinner. It’s enough for Warren that she opposed Mr. Trump openly and savagely all through the  campaign; that “Feisty Liz” image remains vividly in place among Massachusetts voters; I doubt it will become feistier because her rant continues well past its sell-by date (her attack upon a financier who turned out to be a major supporter would have seriously embarrassed, except that attacking everybody has served Mr. Trump well, why not serve Liz ?)

None of this has enticed a serious challenger, which is not surprising given Mr. Trump’s 27 point defeat here — he garnered barely 33 percent of the vote. The national GOP agenda is anathema to most of our voters, Mr. Trump even more so. Senator Warren can go as rogue as she likes; her re election is assured. Thus the quiet in her zone.

Lastly, Mayor Walsh. I have written about his prospects recently; they looked really good then, more so now. There’s no major issue against him. He is what he is : a labor guy.in a city where Labor rules, especially in the local Democratic party, whose levers Labor was able to direct to the “No On 2” campaign with full force and effect. Walsh has tons of money on hand, an army of door knockers, a tech savvy administrative crew, major citizen involvement initiatives, power over all permitting in a city ablaze with developments requiring all kinds of permits. For all their style dissimilarities, Walsh, like Baker, has assumed a Mr. Fix-It role with respect to City housing, traffic, public safety, and social cohesion issues; and the voters appear to9 like him doing it.

Walsh certainly wasn’t hurt by yesterday’s Circuit Court ruling overturning last year’s convictions in the Probation Department mess. If these folks, openly corrupting a state system taxpayer funded, haven’t committed a Federal crime — as it appears they haven’t — there’s zero chance that Walsh’s Labor moves prior to his election as Mayor will give rise to anything but scuttlebutt.

Quiet also dominates the City Council elections., All four at-large incumbents seem running for re-election, and only one of the nine District Council seats may be open, assuming that District Two’s Bill Linehan actually does retire, as has been talked of. Expect, therefore, a small voter turnout and, so far, an easy time for Walsh headed to his second term running a very prosperous City.

All of which explains the quiet. The voters approve what is going on. More or less. This is not a dramatic news story, but I will soon find some for ya.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ selfie-ing with the people : Mayor Walsh so far has no obvious opponent for his upcoming re-election

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About three months ago i wrote that the re-election campaign for mayor Marty Walsh had already begun. This may not be evident to you. No specifically campaign events have come for us so far. Nonetheless, the campaign is well under way — more about this later — except for one somewhat important factor : who will Walsh’s opponent be ?

I assume he will have one. Mayors do not get re-elected unopposed. Not even Tom Menno, podesta of Boston for 20 years, managed an unopposed re-election. Seven or eight months ago, an opponent, maybe more than one, looked certain. City Councillor Tito Jackson seemed gearing up to run at Walsh as the tribune of the Boston teachers’ union, Roxbury long-time residents, and the “Black Lives Matter:” movement : traditional urban progressive stances; and it looked as if he would have quite widespread support and sufficient money to make a serious go of things. And then things changed.

First, Jackson’s candidate to succeed Gloria Fox as State Representative was defeated ; by a  supporter of charter schools, no less. Meanwhile, Mayor Walsh declared his opposition to the Charter cap Lift initiative that was torched at the November election. Until then, Walsh had been seen — no mistake — as a supporter of charter school expansion, not to mention school consolidation via closings of excess school buildings. These plans were well publicized and made Walsh the target of the same groups Jackson had become the voiced of.

Then came Walsh’s decision to cast aside his charter school expansion project — to hold it for another day (a year prior he had so testified at the State House hearings on Governor Baker’s charter cap lift legislation, but his testimony had been forgotten) and become, himself, a voice for the Teacher’s Union position with respect to the Boston school budget. Walsh must well have known that the union’s arguments about Boston schools being underfunded were giraffe soup : but he voiced them nonetheless, and while his opponents in the public school advocacy arena like him no better, he ceased to be their number one 2017 target. As a result, Tito Jackson’s candidacy is much less talked of now and may not transpire at all.

Walsh has moved on another Jackson front : race relations in the city. Our communiti8es of color enjoy a fair but not ideal relationship with the Police; mandatory body cameras remain a debated matter; so does staffing. Walsh knows this full well; knows that his own hiring record of people of color isn’t great. Thus he has initiated a series of conversations on race relations in Boston, using his :Mondays with the mayor’ as a model. The first such convo was very well attended, and that by itself marks his initiative a success.

The Mayor has also fundraised, big time. As of this writing, he had $ 1,712,346.36 in his account (according to OCPF filings), a figure that does not account for the huge birthday fundraiser held three nights ago at Venezia in Dorchester. A hard fought re-electrion might cost three to five million dollars; but Walsh’s nearly two million looms large against the cash on hand for any potential candidate on people’s likely list.

So, who will it be ? The usual names don’t seem to be moving toward candidacy, and the less usual haven’t made much noise either. Given Walsh’s favorable-unfavorable rating, with numbers almost as outstanding as those for Governor Baker, it’s hard right now to forsee any but a token or newcomer candidacy, somebody with nothing to lose and maybe a name to make for the future. Is there a city councillor ready to make the case ? I can’t name one likely. A State Representative ? Can’t point to one of those either. A businessman ? A civic activist ? That night work, but the business community’s political image was cratered by its amateurish failure in both the Boston 2024 and IndyCar race ventures.

I guess we’re going to all end up surprised by whoever decides to make the move. It has to happen soon, though. Primary day is barely ten months away, electrion less than eleven.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





Six Boston School Committee members (including Chairman Mike O’Neill (l) with Superintendent Tommy Chang and Mayor Marty Walsh : calm now, but big budget storms coming very soon

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The political weather in Massachusetts right now feels vividly calm. There’s almost no noise, hardly any disputes, plenty of holiday fundraisers, a period of good feelings. can it last ?

Ahead lie budgets, always a noisemaker. What will Boston’s FY 2017 Schools Budget look like, now that charter school expansion has been decisively defeated by the voters ? Can the states’ FY 2018 budget not include new taxes ? If it doesn’t include them, how will we pay for Green Line expansion ? MBTA fixes without raising fares ? Health care reform that Governor baker has undertaken ? Criminal justice reform and opioid crisis treatment increases ?

What will we do about undocumented immigrants in the era of President Trump ? Can we accept new refugees, as we always have ? how can we protect immigrant families from being torn apart ? Can we curb the surge of hate crimes ? It’s great that Attorney General Healey is taking them on head first, but punishing haters comes only after the fact. How do we stop the fact itself ?

Speaking of Attorney General Healey, aren’t you amazed — and pleasantly thrilled — by the full assortment of crucial causes she is tackling ? Never have we at Here and Sphere been more proud of an endorsement than the one we gave to Healey in 20114m as we watch her do her job (1) fighting wage theft (2) using her regulatory authority to curb gun ban loopholes (3) taking on energy companies that fail to clean up and (4) fighting fir the safety and dignity of immigrants, transgender people and LGBT people generally.

There are some who prefer the Attorney General not be an activist on the front lines of civil rights and public safety issues. Some are c lose friends of kine. Yet how can an Attorney General, in a socially conscious, justice state stand aside when our commonwealth’s basic values and commitment to public peace are under attack ? Healey’s opponents have it backwards. They find the Second Amendment absolute and civil rights limited; in fact, in our polity,. civil rights are absolute, as per the 14th Amendment, and gun ownership is limited, by regulation. Healey defends the position that most Americans understand and support, and as she is not one ever to quit or back off — which we approve — her work will probably succeed.

But I digress. The topic of this column is the current calm, and calm it feels. Not many policy makers are sure what to do next, about Mr. Trump, about the 2018 elections, about upcoming budgets. Meanwhile, policy makers are readying budgets that will be voted on sooner than you think. During February and March 2017, the Boston School Department will present and debate its FY 2018 budget. Here the big question is : will Mayor wal;sh control the budget and its various allocations, or will vest6ed interests get their way ? Given the 63 to 37 vote that finished the charter school ideal, and the political control definitely asserted by vested interests, I think the FY 2108 budget will be expensive and needlessly in every way except the Mayor’s need to be re-elected.

The state budget promises an equally paradoxical outcome. Baker needs to begin his re-election, and the T continues to require huge sums of money that it doesn’t now have and cannot now get. Baker’s other initiatives also require large budget sums. He’s done a superb job of finding the smaller sums needed to support public drinking water, workforce grants, municipal improvements, and technology training : no Governor has done these better. But the big ticket i8tedms cannot be glued together with glue tubes almost dry of glue. A new budget day is sure to arr8ive in FY 2019, after Baker’s re-election; will the voting public wait that long ? Or will the horror stories of MBTA failures and underfunded social services programs stub Baker’s toes on the way to 2109 ? I guess we’ll soon begin to find out, as the current calm gives way to serious weather.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here ad Sphere



^ tandem rivals : Senator Liz Warren (l) speaks with Governor Charlie Baker (r) at Warren’s 3rd Annual Business conference recently

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The headline in today’s Boston Globe says much :

“Baker enters fray on Senate health bill… Joins Obama in backing legislation criticized by Warren.” 

This isn’t the first time that Governor Baker has supported initiatives that President Obama wants. Charter school expansion, a welcome for Syrian refugees, and the Trans Pacific Trade Treaty have all enjoyed support by both men, President and Governor. This despite partisan divisions perhaps too well documented.

As is my usual practice, I will link you to the legislation itself, as it reads as passed by the House last year (there have been several changes since then), so that you can study the exact words being argued over between our state’s two most popular politicians: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/6/text

Much that is in the bill, which may be hard for readers to spot in the text I linked above, is explained clearly here : http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/11/29/503759592/congress-poised-to-pass-sweeping-law-covering-fda-and-nih

Note that the “21st Century Cures Act” passed the House by a vote of 390 to 26. Which brings me to subject of this column : why has Senator Warren become out against the bill, and why has Governor Baker, who is said to be a Republican, weighed on in Federal legislation, something he almost never does ? The answers to these questions tell us a lot about the dividing line likely to motivate the 2018 election, in which both Baker and Warren will be seeking second full terms.

Warren criticizes the current Cures Act — which she admits she had a hand in writing — for two reason : first, the $ 4.9 billion of funding for faster and more flexible drug development, isn’t guaranteed, as in the original draft it was; and second, because she sees in it no language relieving high and soaring drug prices.

Baker, meanwhile, supports the Cures Act because it includes one billion dollars of funding to fight the opioid crisis — a top Baker priority — and because it streamlines the drug discovery and approval process. He notes that, as quoted by the Globe, “Massachusetts is a global leader in medical research and development and a strong partnership with our Federal partners is impoprtant to ensuring future advances in this field.”

Baker is right about Massachusetts, and he stands on solid ground advancing the cause of our pharmaceutical industries — one of our bedrock businesses. He’s also on solid ground supporting a 390 to 26, completely bipartisan House vote including all nine (9) Massachusetts Congresspeople. So the question is, why has Senator Warren chosen to oppose the bill passed by the House so overwhelmingly ?

Perhaps she is fighting for changes in the final wording, doing so with her usual, fist-shaking tactic. And to be sure, she has won a couple of language alterations, one of which — ensuring the Federal Government takes into account which communities suffer most from the present opioid crisis — Baker probably is glad to see included. Still, Warren’s focus on the bill’s lack of curbs on drug pricing suggests she’s attending to Bernie Sanders’s supporters (indeed, Sanders’s criticism of the bill mirrors her own) and thus keeping her political options credible as she fights Sanders for leadership;, going forward, of consumerist Democrats.

If that sounds calculating, it’s no less so than Baker’s own impression that supporting an Obama initiative looks good to our state’s voters, thus bolstering his reputation for espousing policies rather than party. That’s crucial, given that Baker’s Republican enrollment counts a mere eleven (11) percent of our voters (and probably less than that by 2018). When he was elected in 2014, almost 80 percent of his votes came from people who are not Republicans.

For Warren, the math is different. Because Democrats number about 36 percent of our voters, it’s not hard at all for her to attract an additional 15 percent — out of a pool of 64 percent — and win re-election. (She will likely do far better tan 51 percent.) Her problem is that the Democrats here are numerous, not few, and, being numerous, represent many points of view and include many politicians ambitious to “move up” and hardly deterred from moving to Warren’s left if they can in order to gain traction.

Baker is free, pretty much, to make his own decisions; Warren is not free to make hers. One day these differing political situations will test each other directly. In 2018 they will compete in tandem. We will see whose politics has the stronger Massachusetts support.

—– Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere