^ Speaker DeLeo : the personification of a Democratic “big tent” party. Some do not like that.



Debate is under way now concerning what Massachusetts’s Democratic party should be. One faction says that the party platform defines the party. If you’re a Democrat, you must support it. The other faction — much the larger — says, no, the party platform is only a proposal, and actual candidates are not bound by anything in it, the objective being to represent the candidate’s voters, not a document drafted by a committee.
You can tell by what I just wrote that I favor the second position: that a political party cannot allow itself to be bordered by a committee’s platform.
Candidates must of course stand for something. The voters need to know that if they elect X, they will be supporting this or that. It’s part of the compact that candidates make with voters. Still, that compact runs between candidate and voters, and every district is different in our diverse, complex society; and all of that diversity and complexity has a right to be heard when the legislature meets.
A party platform should be heard, too; but why should it claim more respect than the voices of the state’s voters ?
We are hearing calls for party platform dominance because Democrats see that the Republican party’s ideological rigidity has won recent elections nationally. The easy lesson to take is that what worked for Republicans can work for Democrats too.
Unfortunately for the advocates of platform dictation, most voters are not ideologues, and it is a mistake to assume that those who have voted for a rigid Republican campaign do so because of the ideology. Much more likely is that most voters who have voted Republican do so merely to express rejection of the status quo.
In Massachusetts, none of this has legs. We elect almost exclusively Democrats, of many ideological varieties, or no ideology at all, because we still vote the old fashioned way ; for the candidate we know best, or who commands the most campaign respect, or who seems the most likely to master the many issues that voters care about. In short, character and competence rule our elections, and they do so in a very non-partisan way. Those Democrats who want a party platform party forget that the majority of Massachusetts voters belong to no party and don’t much want to.
The many Democrats who prefer the “big tent” principle understand that ideological parties are small parties — the more ideological, the smaller. This was the dynamic of Leninism. Lenin purposely imposed ever more ideological rigidity upon his followers because his goal was ferocious insurgency; and ferocity was not an absurd tactic for opposing a regime as incompetent, unjust, and bankrupt as Czar Nicholas’s rule. Nothing like that exists in Massachusetts, however; you may disagree with the priorities expressed by the Democratic legislative leadership, but they are not incompetent, or unjust, or bankrupt. Indeed, they seem qui9te prudent and likely represent majority sentiment among all the voters. Legislators are not fools. They want to be re-elected, and the votes they cast for bills that usually are enacted almost unanimously are not cast recklessly.
Nor is it a horrible sin for Speaker DeLeo to suggest that he prefers seeing Governor Baker, a Republican, re-elected rather than an alternative. The Speaker and the Governor have partnered the enactment of many bread and butter reforms, most of the enabling legislation being adopted unanimously or almost so. In what way is this bad ?

The platform advocates think it’s very bad. Read their view here :

The Speaker understands that, as the most powerful legislator in the state, he must answer to all the voters. (The same is true of Governor Baker.) As far as I’m concerned, a political party is far more useful, and successful, answering t,o all than to the limited perspectives of platform writers.

May the “big tent” always be big and proud of it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ huge lines of voters waiting to cast a ballot in last year’s election : we have the power. And we know it. Whether we use it or not. Often we do not use it. But the important thing is that we have it. Even we who haven’t registered know we always can, know that the power is ours

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Almost everyone except the nationalists who love Mr. Trump cherishes the right to vote. Those of us who think of citizenship consider voting rights the bedrock civil right. We are not wrong. Our ancestors fought a bloody civil war at least in part to se cure voting rights for African Americans and immigrants. Several important expansions of voting rights ensued; today our nation practices universal suffrage, at least in principle. If you’re a citizen, and eighteen years of age, you have the right to vote.

Yet the path from the right to vote to actually voting is not universally taken. About half of vote-eligible citizens never register; and in local, Boston elections, only about 37.5 percent — and not always that high a percentage –of those who do register actually cast a ballot. Boston’s registration rate is high: about 80 percent of eligibles register; still, these numbers tell us that about 68 percent — more than two of every three — of vote-eligible Bostonians do not vote in city elections.  Why not ?

Because more than two of every three vote-eligible Bostonians do not vote in city elections, those who do acquire about three times the voting power that they would have in a universal suffrage participation. Because elections are won by a majority, if only 32 percent of eligible vote, barely 1/6 of all vote eligible citizens choose who wins. This isn’t much different from the situation that prevailed in the 1780s and 1850s, long before /universal voting eligibility was enacted, or even thought of . Boston in 1822, the year it, became a city, had about 10,000 voters; by 1850, about 30,000; Civil War Boston counted about 60,000 voters. Today, 150 years later, 60,000 votes almost wins a Mayor election (65,000 is the actual).

Does it matter that most of us who  could vote do not ? Evidently it doesn’t. Very few people except pundits complain that Boston elections are decided by 16 to 19 percent of us. Would elections look all that different if 50 percent of us voted ? Maybe not. But one thing seems  certain : if 50 percent voted — about 230,000 voters — there’d be far more  candidates. There’d be a culture of participation. There’d be vigorous primaries and heated second rounds. Today, at least half the municipal election contests have no primary. If there’s no primary, there isn’t much to excite voters.

But perhaps political excitement, except for President, is a rare thing and one that doesn’t feel necessary. Life in Boston has its pressures, and its drama, but those in charge do not slack, and every citizen, voter or not, makes her voice heard in a dozen venues including social media and the streets. If a citizen can make her voice thus heard, as so many are now effective at doing, maybe voting isn’t so crucial. Perhaps democracy is an arsenal with many different weapons in it.

A weapon need not be used to be effective. If the opposition knows it’s there — and you know it’s there — that’s often effect enough. Having the right to vote is power enough. And we all know that we all have that. We have the power.

Those who want to restrict the right to vote, or impede it, would not bother if they did not understand, as well as we do, how powerful the right to vote is, used or left unused. We cannot let them restrict us or impede us, and we won’t, no matter if we vote this time, or next time, or hardly ever, and even if we have yet to register.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Governor Charlie Baker : bread and butter reform in sometimes surprising directions

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Two recent developments in state funding, both of them Governor baker initiatives, have resulted in an FY 2018 State Budget that is expanding despite the substantial revenue shortfall revealed a couple of months ago.

The first development is Governor Baker’s ongoing program of grant awards to various industries pursuant to his Workforce Development initiative that began almost the day he first took office. As the link I’m attaching makes clear, Baker’s grants come frequently and are hardly ungenerous :

Baker has also delivered substantial funds to the development of workforce-priced housing. In a Budget that has included no new taxes or fees, and that has a revenue shortfall, where is this money co0ming from ?

This may well arise from Baker’s careful analysis of the State’s Budget; there is, however, nothing careful about Baker’s really ambitious new move : assessing $ 180million in fees to businesses that do not offer their employees health insurance. It’s not precisely anew tax, but it is a new levy, and it comes with full support by the House, and thus that of Speaker DeLeo :

Baker originally proposed an even larger assessment : $ 300 million; but the House felt that the smaller levy would do. So far, so good. What’s truly interesting Is to see Baker, who has the label “Republican” attached to him, moving in a direction one would never expect from the term “Republican” today.

I have often wondered what would happen when the “no new taxes or fees” Baker of 2014-16 met the “we need new revenue” reality of 2017. One need wonder no longer. Baker has made his choice : to seek new funds for a purpose that cannot be quarreled with : we badly need to pay our rapidly rising health care costs, especially in light of potential hurt if the Congress ends up enacting its controversial, undermining health care venture. Baker has now signed onto doing so. It is, in fact, his top priority.

Baker recently told a gathering of his activists that “there’s no partisanship in our program going forward.” He said it with pride, and it was and is true.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here andm Sphere




^ the man and his memo : Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein

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The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. — F. Scott Fitzgerald


  • The firing of James Comey defines this political moment. As America continues to unpack his sudden firing by President Trump,what becomes immediately clear is the contradiction in it: the firing of Comey is supported, and unsupported, by almost everyone. Why is that? It’s simple, really, yet nothing in American politics is, or is allowed to be, so simple.The American narrative is based in contradiction. We’re for wars before we are against them. Firing FBI Director Comey was a curveball that almost no one saw coming. No one, except Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, that is.Late last October, you will recall, Comey stepped into the election at a critical time and in a very critical way, one that seemed to most an unprecedented partisan effort to sway an election by speaking about an ongoing investigation. The election then resulted in boosting the very candidate Comey’s move seemed to benefit. Couldn’t be better, right? Not right.Comey had a peculiar set of values and a sterling reputation, but at once his move became a scandal of a type seen in our history but which we hoped we’d never see again : the tyranny of an FBI Director; of J Edgar Hoover. Since Trump had now won, Comey’s role seemed affixed…yet, perhaps, not. Because, you see, Comey had his own conflict. He absorbed so much criticism for his decision to speak on the Clinton e mail matter in a way that had the appearance of impropriety, that he literally felt he needed to make it right. Perhaps, and this is based on his testimony last week on his regrets, his contradiction side began to take command: bent on correcting a perceived error of serious magnitude and, thus, using the only things at his disposal…turned his focus on the focus of much of the nation- the Trump/Russia ties.As Attorney General, Jeff Sessions had already recused himself of handling the Trump/Russia inquiry thanks to his own ties thereto : which made the sudden firing of Comey all the more strange : because the President acting on advice from Sessions would violate the promised recusal. So into the picture steps Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a 27 year Department of justice veteran. The President solicits a recommendation – a memo -regarding Comey’s actions in November. This, mind you, is on the heels of Comey’s most recent testimony highlighting significant investigation into Trump/Russia collusion and the high level of threat to the country that it presents. No wonder that the timing of James Comey’s sudden firing is immediately suspect.During perhaps the most divisive election in our country’s history, most Trump supporters, who were rabid anti-Hillary, at the time saw Comey’s rogue actions as “saving the country”, and of course acceptable (on their side). But this is how things get difficult: the very same man who helped them defeat Hillary is now helping defeat Trump, possibly.The crux of F Scott’s quote above. Two opposing ideas.Americans are tasked, right now, with understanding the inherent contradiction of two opposing ideas at the same time: Jim Comey deserved to be fired, but not now. Not under these circumstances. This is what makes this so damn difficult- politics loves to sow confusion and divisive thought. If F Scott is right, the very measure of intelligence is also the very lever of anti-intelligence, or forcing people to hold two opposing ideas in mind and retain the ability to function. People like Sarah Huckabee Sanders want you to function on one idea and one alone, and that isn’t intelligent. Rod Rosenstein has chosen a curious duplicity here. While he memo’d what most Americans on each side of the isle truly believe about Comey’s actions (which did indeed stun and worry most of us), Trump wanted to use Comey’s actions when they benefitted him (and so did his supporters)…and then completely reverse direction when it also suited him. He did so on the back of this simple memo from Rosenstein seemingly suggesting firing Comey. Why? You could say Rosenstein merely addressed Comey’s over-steps: an analysis as non-partisan as objective. Yet given the cut-throat culture in today’s White House, the Rosenstein memeo could easily be a trap. It’s been said that the difference between clever and intelligent is that clever is short-sighted and seeks immediate gain at the expense of long-term loss. Intelligence travels the opposite path.What F Scott was talking about, and makes clear, is doing the opposite twice; but taking two different opposing actions at separate times isn’t intelligence: it’s clever. To be intelligent, one must keep two opposing ideas in mind at the same time AND function from there. Trump was for Comey before he was against him. Rosenstein, on the other hand, may be for AND against at the same time. But for and against what? By handing Trump a memo, which seemed to be for firing Comey…He’s also against Donald Trump.Trump firing Comey suddenly may have thrust into him the sword that will end his presidency. As things unfold — and Trump admitted last night he indeed fired Comey to “end the investigation” — undoubtedly it’s clear to everyone that new have obstruction of justice. (clear to everyone but Trump, that is.)As the likely Constitutional crisis unfolds, I end with yet a second Scott Fitzgerald quote, one that I personally like:So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.


  • — Christopher Mugglebee / The Mugglebee Files for Here and Sphere



^ Tylenol is my constant companion as I recover from nine days of hospitalization and ten days of home therapy.

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As you may know, I have had a significant health issue to deal with, one that put me into the hospital for nine days and has imposed a rehab regimen on me that has already lasted ten more days and will continue for about another week. My absence has left you the reader without much of Here and Sphere’s food for thought.

I want now to share with you some details of what I have been though as well as what portends.

An explosion of blood disorder hit me practically without warning (although in hindsight, there were song indications of what would soon blow up). There I was: vomiting, loss of appetite, slow urination, fever over 101 F: This was sepsis, infection of the blood, a grave portent. Three days later my Doctors finally specified the precise bacteria causing the infection, and from then on, I began get better.

I was saved, yes; but recovery from such a blow is not fun. It hasn’t been fun for me. On this the eleventh day after I was released from hospital, I remain somewhat incapacitated. Walking is difficult. Hospital bedding left my lower back sore, my bum numb, nerve pressure excruciating — I live with Tylenol.

Today is my first on the computer writing to you, our faithful readers. I apologize for the interruption. Read on : we’ve an op-ed on the drama of Salem’s Sanctuary City ordinance.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere