^ ugly and hasty and nowhere near enough : new housing construction in Boston

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Every politician in Boston today wants the City to enable “affordable housing.” Wouldn’t we all ? Nobody I know wants to pay 50 percent of her income for rent. We’d all want to find an apartment with a rent of, say, $ 1,200 a month. Why not $ 800 ? After all, an apartment isn’t a golden Cadillac, it’s just space into which we can snuggle and relax. No big deal. Why not then ?

Let us take a look at “affordable” and its curiosity :

Boston would be very “affordable” if we could cancel the building boom, evict all the businesses that have located here, and go back to the 1970s, in which the downtown, and the close-in neighborhoods of our City attracted nobody and nothing. Those who lived in South Boston, Charlestown, East Boston and even the North End, 45 years ago, paid very little rent, or paid very small amounts to purchase. Incomes were much smaller then, to be sure, but rents and sale prices were many times smaller. Paying 12 percent of one’s income was standard for rents, and homes cost less than one year’s income. Houses cost so little — and hardly ever came onto the market — because almost everyone wanted to move to the suburbs, and almost no one wanted to move into the city. Why so ? Crime mobs controlled many neighborhoods, jobs were for life — which meant that newcomers could not break in — and those who owned houses rarely renovated them because they couldn’t recoup the cost of doing so. No wonder that by the late 1980s vacant lots abounded; that many decayed dwellings had been condemned and eventually demolished.

The laws of economics cannot be evaded. If people want something — want more of it than exists — the price of it goes up. Boston in the 1970s tried to dent the first blip of rising house prices by installing rent control. All that did was to displace value, not abate it. Landlords stopped repairing apartments whose rents could only be raised a little at a time — and that only with the City’s permission — and more than one rent control tenant rented out a room or two for more money than she was paying in rent. Eventually the City had no choice but no end rent control, and the legislature made it illegal statewide.

That was the beginning of economic acceptance, and of the City’s attraction as a place to move into.

So much for the curious facts of property economics. We are NOT going back to funky, dilapidated Boston into which no one wanted to move. Rents are not going to backslide any time soon, and house prices aren’t headed for the dustbin either. $ 600,000 to $ 800,000 is now the standard for purchasing a home in the close neighborhoods to downtown, and few condominium units can be bought for less $ 400,000. You’ll pay $ 2,100 to $ 3,000 a month to rent a two-bedroom apartment, and in some cases, more. I doubt these prices will rise much higher — they’ve already priced more than two thirds of families out; our medium, family income is about $ 44,700, and to afford a $ 2,500 a month rent you ought to be earning about $ 90,000 — but they aren’t headed downward much either. Meanwhile, Mayor Walsh wants the City to have 53,000 units of new housing by the year 2030, and his Planning and Development authority, which oversees all new construction, is approving almost every proposal submitted to it.

Into most residential proposals is built the City’s “affordability covenant,” by which ordinance a development of more than a few units must set aside a particular percentage of those units at a price determined to be “affordable” the other units can be offered at “market rate”). (You can read the City’s Affordablity Rules and income restriction guidelines here : )

It’s a useful policy, but the need for housing that costs twenty to forty percent less than market — as indicated by the median income figures that I identified earlier in this article — is far more widespread than the affordability number required by the City of its 53,000 unit plan. So what can we do ?

Actually, there are four means that might help:

First : why not adopt the $ 15.00 an hour minimum wage that some progressives have proposed ? Minimum wage workers perforce require affordable housing. Increasing their paychecks by 30 percent would enable them to pay the current rents in most Boston neighborhoods without having to live five to seven adults to an apartment, as is common in many bull market-impacted pars of the city.

Second : build more so-called “micro” units : very small apartments, good for single people — of which there are a great many, come into Boston to work in our booming technology industry — and rentable at $ 1,200.00 or some such.

Third, require universities based in Boston to build dormitories, thereby removing from the ordinary rental market many thousands of students who now compete with regular residents for scarce Boston living space.

Fourth, apply City occupancy and zoning ;laws to prevent the purchase by investors of residential buildings for air bnb rentals and such like.

Every one of these suggestions generates its own difficulties. Still, these can be met, and it is not acceptable to do nothing because actions to mitigate the high costs of housing have consequences. Activists and policy makers are already working the last three of my four suggestions. Why not also the minimum income rise ? Yes, it may generate difficulties for marginal businesses, and the other three moves may create logjams at college budgets, zoning and occupancy administrators, and construction projects. Yet I think our City has the authority and our people have the ingenuity to find ways around the obstacles posed by too high housing costs. There might even be ways other than those I have listed, and these might surpass the effectiveness of my list. Why not propose some ?

We want the current economic boom to continue. People want to live here, work here, shop here and socialize here, innovate here and produce here. These are good things. They’re why cities exist at all. Yet no one can sit on the laurels of a vibrant city. Always the city pushes us to keep moving, and moving faster than the difficulties which, if we do not move fast, can set us back to the dark ages of funk, dilapidation, and silence.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





^ defending the Constitution’s guarantee of civil rights for everyone : Texas small business significantly helped to defeat a proposed transgender discrimination bill

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What is so controversial about saying the words of today’s headline ? “Civil rights for all” seems to me the most basic social commitment that our nation has made, the bedrock of our Constitution. We fought a civil war, in which some 600,000 of our forbears died, to ensure that civil rights for all would never be questioned :

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

So speaks Section 1 of the great 14th Amendment, in which we the people committed every state in the Union to abide by the commitments made in the 1790s by the Federal government.

Therefrom derives all the sweeping enactments that protect all manner of voting rights, forbid discrimination by any entity that does business with the public, ensure public respect for all people.

That should be an end to the matter. To question the principle is to question the Constitution itself, to disapprove of the nation that it has created. Those who do not accept that all should have civil rights should admit that they do not support the Comnstitution, do not accept the social compact that we are all charged with accepting.

There are many countries where those who do not approve of our Constitution can practice their exclusions; .the United Stares is not one of them. As for those who take the oath of office, their non-acceptance of the pact that they swear to uphold and defend betray their sacred word. They are free to enjoy the favoritisms adduced by nations that do not accept the equality of all, but they should never be allowed to continue in an office whose oath they lie to.

So much for them. I wish now to speak of the matter at hand : civil rights for all. There can be no grounds whatsoever for abating a person’s basic civil rights other than conviction of a crime the penalty for which is imprisonment. In Massachusetts, by our state Constitution, all residents and all visitors are guaranteed basic civil rights: please note that immigrants without papers are not excluded. I fail to see how our Commonwealth’s daily life has suffered in the slightest thereby. If anything, our sweeping guarantee promotes the economic life of Massachusetts.

This is the surprising message, i think, in “civil rights for all.” It’s good for business. have no doubt at all, that “business progressivism” is the bedrock of social justice and government reform. We’ve seen “business progressivism” at work in Indiana in 2015 and recently in North Carolina and Texas, where legislators attempted to restrict the civil rights of LGBT people on the basis of ‘sincerely held religious belief.” Certainly many many activists other than those in business helped turn back these attempts, but business was prominent in the lead . After all, business means the economy, and the economy means all of us. Whoever we may be.

N o business wants to operate in a jurisdiction where its employees do not feel safe or respected, and where its customer base can be restricted. Large businesses care about their nationwide reputation, and if they accept the discriminations of one jurisdiction, they send an immoral message to potential customers in other jurisdictions. No business wants to do that.

I rest my case.

Every immigrant who is deported by the administration in Washington is one less customer for our businesses, and in many cases, one less entrepreneur. The persecution of paperless immigrants is bad for business.

Business progressivism funds and promotes the cause of civil rights for all, wherever that cause needs promotion. Our Constitution was created by a merchant class, and it has always expanded its commitments when business insists upon it. Businesses owe the society at large a large moral duty — and business as we know it was first enabled by religiously motivated urban enterprisers as focused on morals as on profit. The two go together, and our Constitution remains the finest achievement of economic moralists.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


^ the three Council District 1 candidates : Lydia Edwards, Margaret Farmer, Stephen Passacantilli
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TO ALL OUR READERS : We are pleased to reprint the following report made on facebook by Here and Sphere reader Mary Berninger, an activist in East Boston who is both well informed about political happenings and knowledgeable of campaigns.

Last night’s debate, organized and facilitated by the Harbor View Neighborhood Association, was well run and informative.

To begin, each candidate was given time for personal remarks. Those comments gave a sense of how they approach public service. Lydia Edwards (LE) focused on her path of service and record of advocacy. Margaret Farmer (MF) detailed her community-based volunteerism and the need for the city to “plan for changes.” Stephen Passacantilli (SP) referenced his “passion for public service” that began after he reached a turning point in his life and he felt that the councilor position is about helping people who are down and out.

The “tough questions,” as they were described by moderators, began the Q&A portion of the event. Each candidate was given one “tough question” and there was time allowed for the others to speak briefly to questions posed to their opponents. As referenced in an earlier post, SP was asked to weigh in on his OCPF filings, specifically the perception that he has accepted donations from developers and others involved in the building boom in the district. He felt that there are 200 or more donations under $100.00 from people in the district, too. Acknowledging the $1000.00 donations from others, he wanted the gathering to know those donors “can’t buy” him because his integrity means a great deal to him. He explained that he has helped abutters and neighborhorhood groups go against developers. His final comment in that segment was “I’m fiesty and don’t let people push me around.” (LE responded that the issues of the campaign should be the focus.)

LE was asked about her position on the the Jim Brooks Stabilization Act in light of her being appointed to the Housing Department of the City of Boston by Mayor Walsh. It was interesting that she acknowledged that she is a homeowner and it is for her retirement, which is a stance taken by many in this community who have sold their homes to others or to developers. LE is concerned with speculative land and property owners and she worked to tell tenants their rights. She advocated for a “balanced approach to housing.” (MF stated our neighborhood is in danger due to Airbnb and large luxury development. “We need more workforce development.) (SP felt fortunate to rent from a family member; doesn’t support Jim Brooks Stabilization Act and not a fan of Airbnb.)

MF’s tough question from Mr. Marcella was more of a statement, i.e., that her Jefferies Point neighborhood was ground zero for large development and no city hall experience made her the least qualified candidate. Her answer was pointed and direct: she has worked with the community and neighbors, with no pay, to push city departments to do their jobs. She stated she knows she doesn’t have the special connections, but she doesn’t owe anyone anything (in city hall.) MF offered an example of her advocacy for East Boston: The city doesn’t tow cars in Charlestown for street cleaning, why do East Boston cars get towed? She suggested that a $90.00 ticket was a better idea to get residents to see the need for street cleaning and to move their cars. (SP: feels he can get things done and can help people navigate city hall.) (LE: worried that the people who planned the tunnel situation will be planning the ferries. Instead of hearings, she will have listening sessions.)

Next came the questions written by audience members. These are some of the responses to a mix of questions.

SP: Development in East Boston is out of control.

LE: City Hall should be giving free legal advice to small business owners.

MF: Wants to create a working harbor ferry system that will move people, not cars.

SP: Admitted he didn’t know a great deal about Massport issues. Felt City Hall lacked in the way Zoning Board of Appeals hearings, etc., are handled. “Pace of process” is too fast, in his opinion. He would revisit the timelines to give people time to prepare for their input to the ZBA. He would be more deliberative.

Closing statements were given by all three candidates.
MF: “We’re not preparing for change, (but) not against change.”

SP: Doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as old Boston because he has worked at City Hall.

LE: Stated she is passionate about helping East Boston as a neighborhood within a city.

Mary Berninger / a loyal Here and Sphere reader



winston churchill

^ freedom of speech includes the duty to accept being outraged

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We support the principle commonly referred to as free speech. As a publication devoted to opinion, including on controversial, political matters, it’s part of our mission to speak freely. That’s a given. Now it’s time to explain to you what we at Here and Sphere mean by “free speech.”

The phrase excerpts from the Constitution’s First Amendment, which includes the following : Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Few of us do not know these words. Most of us also know that the Fourteenth Amendment applies the First’s precepts (and others) to the States as well, so that no jurisdiction in our nation is permitted to abridge “the freedom of speech or of the press.”

The question then arises: “Granted that no governmental body in America can restrict freedom of speech or of the press, but what about private individuals, or corporations, or any other entity ? Can these abridge free speech ?” To which we say the following:

( 1 ) everyone is guaranteed the right to speak freely, or to publish to the public, whatever opinion he or she likes. It makes no d9iffrerence whether we who hear the speech or read the writing like what we hear or read. We may be offended by it : no matter. It may anger us : that too makes no difference. The answer to speech we do not like is to speak in  opposition.

( 2 ) we oppose all manner of abridgement of speaking or publishing freely. Those who seek to shut down a speech or condemn a publication cannot be allowed to do so. We can think of no exceptions other than the extremely limited ones set forth in libel law and slander — and such cases must be proved in a court of law — or incitement to a criminal act (and that incitement must be explicit, immediate, and intentional).

( 3 ) we oppose the concept of “safe spaces” by which an institution or organization accords certain people a zone within which no one is allowed to speak or publish matters which the space seeker finds offensive. People must accept that being offended is a regular part of living in a diverse society in which a multitude of competing opinions is said and printed.

Recently we have seen so-called “free speech rallies” organized by groups of people on the political far right who hold extremely unpopular opinions. I’m not convinced that the organizers’ purpose is to promote freedom of speech — more likely they seek to attract attention, from the media first of all — but their purpose does not matter. Their right to speak is fully protected, as is their right to assemble, to march, to carry flags and torches and to shout.

Our right to oppose such speech, marching, shouting, etc. is equally protected by the First Amendment and the 14th. We too can speak, march, carry flags and shout. What we CANNOT do — not can they — is to intimidate, threaten, or attack the speakers, etc. who we oppose. There has certain been some of that recently. We are not cool with any of that.

Far too often today the dishonest example of talk show radio dominates public speech. we must remember that talk show hosts say outrageous stuff, offensive stuff, to evoke a reaction and thus to increase their listenership and thereby generate ad revenue. The talk show shtick is nothing but a con, a money fraud induced by network owners who want their talk shows to become ever more outrageous because that is what generates the most ad dollars. But if these networks’ purpose is patent, the readiness of some to accept the stuff being said as truth, or as worthy for its own sake is as unworthy as it gets. Peopled must grasp that what is freely said or published is not true, or even half true, simply because it is said on the radio.

In other words, the freedom with which what is said is said has nothing at all to tell us about how true it is.

People are free to lie. The consequences of lying are, or should be, enormous : but these are social sanctions, not legal ones except in the case of false accusation.

I believe it was John Adams who said that the participatory democracy he and his fellows were creating required a morally disciplined, informed public if it was to live long. He was right. The freedom of speech is not only a right protected, it imposes on us  a duty, or, should I say, a host of duties : to restrain our passions; to defend our opponents’ rights; to deliberate — is what is being said to us true or worthy ? or not? — before we respond; to understand that our primary mission as speakers of free speech is to defend the right itself. Because what we speak freely is here and gone: but the right to speak it, freely and without fear of intimidation or sanction, is forever — is not merely about ourselves and what makes us feel good today.

The freedoms protected by the First Amendment and the 14th are personal to each one of us and at the same time universal to the nation as a whole, today, tomorrow, and into the future, to which we who speak and publish owe a responsibility that has a name of its own : citizenship.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here nad Sphere




Yesterday, at precisely high noon, two hours before maximum solar eclipse, State Representative Susannah Whipps announced that she is leaving the Massachusetts Republican party.

She provided the following, very lengthy statement to me before announcing it publicly :

Whipps chooses “People Over Party”

2nd Franklin District Rep. Susannah Whipps of Athol has officially changed her voter registration from republican to unenrolled (independent).  “I represent a district where nearly 2/3 of the voters are unaffiliated with any major political party” explained Whipps.   Public records show that 65% of voters in the 2nd Franklin District are unenrolled, 22% are registered as members of the Democratic Party, and 12% are registered as members of the Republican Party. 

 “Serving as state representative while not affiliating with either major political party will allow me to more effectively utilize the relationships I have developed with the members and leadership on both sides of the aisle, and will allow me to better serve all of the people of my district, without the obligation of towing any particular party line,” Whipps continued.  “I want my party affiliation to reflect my position as an independent voice for the people of my district.”

The second-term representative, whose district includes Athol, Belchertown – precinct A, Erving, Gill, New Salem, Orange, Petersham, Phillipston, Royalston, Templeton, Warwick and Wendell, currently serves on the Joint Committee on Higher Education, the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use & Recovery, and has been a republican member of the House Ethics Committee.  “Leadership has the authority to change my committee assignments,” said Whipps, “however, I have requested to remain on the Higher Education Committee and the Mental Health, Substance Use & Recovery Committee, which is particularly relevant to me as it is a topic I feel very passionately about and is also very important and helpful to the people of my district.”
“I often say that the federal government could look at Massachusetts as a model, in regards to the way our legislature and state government operates,” said Whipps.

“That contrasts sharply with politics at the national level, where the current political atmosphere has become unpalatable for me and many other folks I know.  The once healthy, lively debate of issues has turned to almost constant partisan attacks.”  Whipps continued, “This is a decision that I have spent a great deal of time making.   I look forward to having the freedom to support colleagues and candidates regardless of their party affiliation, and I look forward to continuing to work hard for the great people of this district and the Commonwealth.”

Whipps spent some time reaching out to her neighboring colleagues as well as legislative and party leadership last week to make this transition as smooth and undisruptive as possible.   “I just want to do my job and that being said, I don’t intend to make any further comments on this change,” she said.  “The purpose of this change is to avoid partisan bickering and politics as usual, and accordingly I will not engage in any commentary that suggests blame, reaction to any particular person or incident, or anything other than professional growth and a desire to best align with and serve the people of my district.”

This is a huge loss for the Republican party in our state. Whipps has total electoral command of her district; her voting record is as uncompromising on civil rights issues as any legislator’s in this state — on women’s health care rights too. As she once commented on a facebook post (I am paraphrasing, I do not have her exact words at hand) : “you say the Republican party opposes big government, but until it gets out of the bedroom, stops telling people who they can and can’t love, and stops interfering with women’s health care rights, I say it is indeed a party of big government.”


Our state’s GOP needs voices like Whipps’s. Heck, the entire GOP nationally needs such voices. The Republican party must become, again, a voice of rational reform. Our politics need two such parties, because neither party has all the answers.

The GOP must cease being the party of vengeance; of undoing 130 years of social progress; of deconstruction; of fear and rage, directed at all sorts of Americans and soon to become Americans. Whipps’s leaving does not help that to happen.

Maybe the national GOP is too far gone to recover its historic mission ? Certainly the GOP’s brightest and most generous cadres are dropping their party enrollment with increas8ing frequency. They’ve have had enough of the madness, the political slapstick, the reactionary wastage.

In our state the GOP is so small that one elected legislator leaving it hurts plenty. There were only 35 in the House, six (6) in the Senate, in each case less than a quarter of all members. One less makes the party that palpably smaller.

The more minuscule our state’s GOP, the less important it becomes, no matter what this or that it happens to talk about. As Whipps shows, only one out of eight — 12 percent — of her District’s voters are Republican. Why should she have to fight a primary, against the usual brand of pissy zealot, in a primary that involves such a small portion of those she is responsible to ? When by running in the general — the November election — most likely in a three way race against a Republican and a Democrat, she almost cannot lose ? (An incumbent who can’t win a three-way race is either under indictment or dead.) And if the sentences I just wrote sound cold calculating, most facts are just that.

I feel sorry, nonetheless, for Whipps’s progressive GOP colleagues : in the House, Hannah Kane, Kim Ferguson, Sheila Harrington, Jim Kelcourse, Randy Hunt, David Muradian, Shawn Dooley, Paul Frost; in the Senate, Richard Ross. All voted “yes” on last year’s transgender civil rights bill, as did Whipps. These civil rights Republicans will miss their colleague.

Governor Baker, too, will need to work even harder. Though Whipps assures me she is solidly, “100 percent for Charlie” — and I know she is — Baker is trying to establish centrist reform as the #magop brand. It does not help his cause to lose a voice as importnat in that direction as Whipps’s.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Senator Kamala Harris of California : very Left but evidently not left enough for the purists’ identity politics and speech code utopias

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The American Left of today is flawed, maybe fatally. It came about as a reaction, a negation, of the American “right” Tea Party movement. But “what you are against” is not a political programme. Voters want to know what you are for; only once you have shown that you promote policies that voters can support do you acquire the legitimacy to be credibly “against.”

This has always been true of our politics in the mainstream, and though the practitioners of reactive activism do not see it — or do not care — it is true of them too.

The activist Left had it pretty good this week. It confronted nazis, white nationalists, KKKers, bigots of all kinds and suffered injury and one death, and almost every American stood n the Left’s side because the opponent was as disgusting as it gets.

Nor was there any validity whatsoever to comparisons attempted, by some, between the Left’s anger and the idiocy of the bigots. However we may critique the Left — as I will do in this column — at least its evident agenda has some basis in fact., while the grievances of the torch army are chimeras. If the Left’s talk were groundless, it wouldn’t be worth talking about at all.

So what ARE we to do about the Left ?

Because some of its grievances do need to be addressed — for example, the continuing prevalence of skin color judgments, vote suppression, income imbalance, attacks upon women’s rights to control their own bodies — the Left has a part to play in  reforming our nation’s social and economic habits. Politicians on the Left address these urgencies well and responsibly. I know of few who speak without thinking, or who waste our time with digressions into speech codes and Southern history shaming. Minimum wage laws should indeed be raised up. Women everywhere should have liberal access to birth control medicine and pregnancy decisions. The right to vote must be safeguarded vigorously and access to voting made easier. And yes, the South should free itself from beautifying the dark failures in its history. These are goals that every reformer either agrees with or can appreciate. The Left has all the opportunity any political movement could ask for.

All that is needed is for the Left to acquire some political discipline; to restrain its utopian addiction; and to not by its actions alienate voters who are trying to decide which movement has the wiser agenda and the greater maturity to see it accomplished by the compromises that are the only way a diverse democracy can progress without stoking contention that prevents accomplishment and can even set us back.

Will this be done ?

Much of tghe answer comes from how the media treats movements of reform. The owners of media want to attract attention (my Mother the Hearst newsgal used to say “we’re in the business of selling newspapers”), and outrage attracts much more attention than patient gruntwork. Thus instead of writing about ordinary political campaigns assembled in the usual manner, we see stories about anarchists attacking people with pepper spray, or about the taking down of statues of people dead over 100 years, or about the blocking of highways by Black Lives Matter activists.

Seeing such stories, one wonders if the media do not want reforms to happen. Maybe so, but one also wonders, seeing such stories, what bright bulb intelligence thought that blocking highways, or pepper spraying right wing jerks, or taking down statues, or shouting down speakers at college campuses, would win the public’s hearts and minds.

Nor is it very smart of the Left’s purists-in-a-hurry to excoriate its political leaders — potential presidents — as has been seen on twitter these past several weeks.

These are the actions of a very very few, but when publicized by the media, they quickly become the symbols of an entire movement and so render that movement anathema to most.

You would think that responsible leaders of Left-inspired reform would know this and would insist that such grandstanding stop now. I assure you that these leaders of the Left know the danger. They see that the more outrageous the miscues of Mr. Trump, the more outraged the responses by their own followers. They understand backlash. And if the incompetence and depravity of Mr. trump are far too egregious for him to be saved even by backlash, Mr. Trump is fast becoming a political irrelevance. The five points victory of Karen Handel in a Georgia Congressional district that Hillary Clinton almost won should make it clear that the voters are not going automatically to elect Democrats in contests against normal Republicans simply because they don’t like Mr. Trump.

The suburban Atlanta voters who decided to elect Karen Handel rather than Jon Ossoff want to hear what t.he Left’s activists are FOR, not just what they are against. And they aren’t much interested in exchanging the far right’s ugly intolerance for speech bans and identity utopias.

Will the Left rein in its iconoclasts and street actors and propose an agenda a majority of voters can support ? It has the chance to do so. we shall see if it gets its house in order — or not.



no hoods

^ we’ve all seen this picture of hoodless ugliness in the cause of totally imaginary grievanaces

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This was a bullshit event, of a college prank mentality, garbed in ignorance and driven by malice. Any comparison of what was done by idiots to the tactics of anti-fascists subverts itself. Let me explain:

These racists well knew what they were doing, taking their torch march to a major university. They could have held their flag and flesh rally somewhere in a Tennessee field, and the First Amendment would have protected their right to do so: but no, they went to where they knew they’d incite passionate opposition, and maybe — so they hoped — acts of violence against them. They wanted a fight, they longed for it, and they got it.

I cut these punks no slack at all. They invited it, they own it. All of it.

Of course every politician, Republican and Democrat, should condemn these jerks, be they KKK, neo-nazi, white nationalist, or whatever bullshit hallucination they shout and march for. That’s the easy part, the condemnation. I would hope that all politicians would take the next step: to call out the absurdity of these noises and the danger they pose to a society that thinks that the louder and uglier a shout, the more basis. This is a lie.

I also reject entirely any attempt to make equivalence between the idiocy at Charlottesville and any other political violence these past many decades in America.

Some may recall the violence of protests in the streets during the Viet Nam War, some 50 years ago. As much as I abhorred those protests and the often cockeyed ideologies embedded in some of them, at least the stated aim of those protesters was legitimately political: end the war. The same cannot be accorded the baseless hatreds screamed and marched by the white-shirted, khaki-uniformed kooks who disturbed the peace of Charlottesville. There’s no politics in their hatreds, nothing American about their borrowed naziism, nothing useful in their gun brandish hobby.

They have put themselves beyond the pale, and that is exactly how they want it to be. They do not want to be us. They do not want to be American. They want to replace America with an hallucinated storm trooper circus in which they can feel importantly ugly. Is that not the message their hollering faces express in the disgusting photographs we’ve seen of them torturing by torchlight a Virginia summer night ?

There will be a time and place for critiquing the tactics of anti-fascist groups and their co-actors on the left. That time is not now, and that place is not Charlottesville. What happened there was entirely unlike anything the left has shown even at its most ridiculous. You can talk to me, if you want, about the BLM movement blocking traffic: I would agree with your outrage about it: but the issue raised by BLM, however off-putting many of their actions be, is a real one: the evil results of persistent racism against people of color. Critiquing BLM and the anti-fascists is a matter of tactics and objective. That is NOT the case with the imagined grievances irresponsibly thrust upon Charlottesville.

These grievances do not exist except in the vicious street theater that weans them. It must end. If not, it must be smacked down. The boys who advance it must be spanked, woodshedded, shamed. Their nonsense must have consequences for them, because at bottom it is all about them. Isn’t it ?

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



3rd district

After five terms in Congress, representing Lowell, the entire Merrimack Valley, Route 2 towns out to Gardner, and the Route 495 belt from there to the Mass Pike, Niki Tsongas will not seek re-election. I admit that I did not see this coming, and it seems that no one else saw it either. So what now happens to the 350,000-odd voters of the 3rd Congressional District ? Let’s take a look.

In state elections, this region is often winnable by Republicans. Not so much when the election is national. Governor Baker easily carried its towns and either won or came close in most of its cities. Scott Brown in 2010 and Gabriel Gomez in 2013 also won the District. That said, few communities in the 3rd District voted for Donald Trump: Dracut, Tyngsboro, Pepperrell, Townsend, Ashburnham, Ashby, Winchendon, Westminster. Of these, only Dracut, Winchendon, and Ashby gave Trump a win by more than two or three points. I doubt seriously that any Republican who seeks this Congress seat can do much better. Trump’s favorable and unfavorable numbers in Massachusetts right now could hardly be worse : only 25 percent approve, 62 percent disapprove.

Any Republican who wants to campaign for this seat faces at least three obstacles all but impassable : ( 1 ) will he or she vote for Paul Ryan as Speaker ? If so, he or she carries Ryan’s un-Massachusetts agenda on his or her back. ( 2 ) does he she support Trump or was he or she is the Trump campaign ? If so, game over. ( 3 ) If he or she has zero connection to Trump and commits to not voting for Paul Ryan as Speaker, what, exactly, will his or her platform be, that his or her likely Democratic opponent cannot advocate more convincingly or with a longer record of elective office ?

Within the District reside several Democratic office holders significantly well liked across the state : Senators Jamie Eldridge of Acton, Eileen Donoghue of Lowell, Jen Flanagan of Fitchburg, and Kathleen O’Connor Ives of Methuen; and State Representatives Jen Benson, David Nangle, Natalie Higgins, Kate Hogan. (Brian Dempsey of Haverhill — who would have ben the obvious choice — left the legislature perhaps too soon, and Stephan Hay of Fitchburg only just won a special election as State Representative.) Add to this list the wife of former Congressman Marty Meehan (now chancellor of the University of Massachustts system), and you’ve assembled a long bench of major league electeds.

There are two Republicans who have plenty of star power too : State Representative Sheila Harrington of Groton and Rick Green of Pepperrell, who was the choice of many to be Senator Warren’s Republican opponent but decided not to run. Will he now seek a lesser post, albeit without an incumbent to face ? Perhaps. Will Harrington give up her very safe seat State House seat to climb the hill of disadvantage ? Maybe. If neither of them runs, it will be difficult to find a Republican who has large name recognition, is well liked in the state as a whole, and can credibly surmount the obstacles I have already assessed.

Which leaves the many, many Democrats who would all be formidable final election favorites but who cannot all run. Something has to give.

Historically this has been Lowell’s seat in Congress — reliably Republican until Paul Tsongas won it in 1974, but Lowell no matter what the party label. Which spots the light on Senator Eileen Donoghue, State Representative David Nangle, and Marty Meehan’s first wife, Ellen Murphy Meehan. (See the Boston Globe : And on many other Lowell politicians, not overlooking State Representative Rady Mom.

That said, the District is no longer restricted to Greater Lowell. Lawrence has a claim — Mayor Dan Rivera has plenty of statewide credibility and has been a go-to advisor to Governor Baker, and if he runs, he will, or should, be a formidable presence — and the Fitchburg-Leominster-Gardner area has at least as much population as greater Lowell. Then there’s the high tech communities of the Route 495 belt, from Westford and Littleton to Acton and Hudson, Marlboro and Bolton. The Senator who represents this area, Jamie Eldridge, is perhaps the best known and most followed “progressive” in the entire state and has “fighting Congressman” written all over him.

My own guess is that Lowell activists will settle on one candidate : Ellen Murphy Meehan, that progressives will insist Jamie Eldridge run, despite the District’s decidedly centrist leanings; that Dan Rivera will, unfortunately, not go; and that none of the Democratic State Representatives will enter the contest, but that there will be one surprise candidate if not two. Of these — plus Sheila Harrington if she runs — who will win ? It’s much to early to say, but unless Ellen  Murphy Meehan has some major impediment in her resume, she’s the one to beat — though in my opinion as a centrist reformer, Sheila Harrington would be the most broadly representative voice for a District far less progressive than Jamie Eldridge’s supporters hope.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere






^ use your mind. Why ? Because you have one. Do not let other minds use you.

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Anybody who uses social media as constantly as a journalist must sees the vulgarity that pervades it; the ugliness; the ignorance. We are tempted to declare it the result of social media rather than a temporary aberration. Myself, I think the opposite. I think the ugliness —  especially the personal rudeness and the self-absorbed political dumps — is extremely temporary and will soon be discarded.

How so ? Simple. It will be done away with the same way that societies have always done away with it : by shaming it, declaring it bad, shunning it and, on social media, blocking it. We’re no different, as a society, than any of our antecedents. They were people, so are we. Community norms are crucial to us just as they were to the societies that preceded ours. Then, and soon for us too, rudeness got you disinvited. As for political extremism, it too was never applauded except in times of crisis and then only by a few. Why should we be any different ? The novelty of seeing people speak vulgarities perhaps misleads us into assuming it’s here to stay, but all one has to do is block the vulgar user and he or she is gone. Same for those who throw nazi-ism at us, or bigotry, or wilful ignorance. If you choose not to block it, you can laugh it away.

Of course there’s another way to dispose of vulgarity and ignorance : use your mind. Frank Zappa said it well: “think — it ain’t illegal yet.” If you use your mind, you can know when you are being fooled with. And when what is shown to you or said passes muster.

There are a few who will almost certainly continue to stink the threads of social media, no matter what, just as their predecessors stunk the pages of yellow journalism, or promoted hatred on hand out sheets and placards. The only difference now is that these hitherto shunned folks now get seen by all of us on our social media page feeds. It’s a difference of sensing only. We see it and thus assume it has increased in volume or dispersion.

What to do ? Here one can benefit from re-visiting the work accomplished almost 300 years ago by science, as those who practiced it looked at the world of things and actions with a skeptical, inductive eye un-tempered by opposition and untainted by myths.

Scientific philosophers of 300 years ago asserted that the eyes see many things that are not what sense perception says they are. Let us sample this principle in operation, here in some pages of Bishop Berkeley, who in or about the year 1733  wrote these lines (paraphrased in t.he Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) in his “Essay on Vision” :

“When one perceives mediately, one perceives one idea by means of perceiving another (NTV §9), for example, one perceives that someone is frightened by perceiving the paleness of her face (NTV §10). Empirically, the geometrical account fails, since one perceives neither the requisite lines, nor angles, nor rays as such (NTV §§12-15), even though such mathematical computations can be useful in determining the apparent distance or magnitude of an object (NTV §§ 38, 78; TVV §58). So, what are the immediate ideas that mediate the perception of distance? First, there are the kinesthetic sensations associated with focusing the eyes when perceiving objects at various distances (NTV §16). Second, as objects are brought closer to the eye, their appearance becomes more confused (blurred or double, NTV §21). Third, as an object approaches the eyes, the degree of confusion can be mitigated by straining the eyes, which is recognized by kinesthetic sensations (NTV §27). In each case, there is no necessary connection between the ideas and distance; there is merely a customary connection between two types of ideas (NTV §§17, 26, 28).”

(Berkeley’s entire ewssay is worth reading, by the way. Assuming that we have the emotional courage to embrace his all encompassing skepticism about things and sayings. I fear that our desire to believe is so strong in these turbulent times that we dare not shun the easy route of faith rather than travel the hard road of science.)

Where Berkeley’s skepticism applied to sense perception, and what we read on social media has a meaning apart from how it looks to the senses, his insistence on observing things, and on the changes that appear in those things as one shifts one’s position relative to them, so we can apply the principles of observational judgment to meanings too. Just because someone expresses his or her meaning in words does not require that we accept that meaning. We are free to reject it.

Myself, I live by skepticism about the things — and for this purpose words are things — that I encounter. T<here is far more on social media that I do not like at all than there was in social interaction before the coming of internet conversations; but more does not mean more acceptable. I think that I am not alone; far from it; and that soon enough the society at large will bring the permanent truths of social interaction to bear upon anti-social internet talk and scorn it. We will all breathe more freely when that happens.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


door knocking 2010

^ door knocking in 2010 : the right thing to do, but the list in his hands does not look like an official, all-voter list.

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It is, or should be, an axiom of the art of politics that every registered voter is entitled to have his or her vote personally asked for.

Famously, the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, said that ‘all politics is local” and that you have to ask people for their vote if you expect them to give it to you. He was right then — and still is right. Unhappily, most voters never do get asked for their vote, and they know it and feel disrespected thereby. Can you blame them ?

We in the political community — and I count myself in it — must accept much of the blame for this situation. All of us have contributed to it; every campaign. (NOTE : Some have suggested that by this column, I am criticizing the campaign I now consult for. Not so. I am not directing this column at ANY one campaign but at ALL local campaigns.) If we decry that voters feel left out, that they distrust us and feel that “we’re all on the take, and that in consequence they vote for angry and negative voices, perhaps it is WE who are doing it wrong ? Let me explain :

It’s become standard for campaigns now to use “likely voter” lists — called “voter-file” and purchased from several data-mining companies — that allow candidates to give attention to those who vote in most elections. Since campaign time is limited, and since most local campaigns can’t find enough volunteer door-knockers to do a precinct properly, these “likely voter” lists become THE voter list, replacing the list of ALL voters that one gets from City or Town Hall; those who are on the “likely” list get campaigned to A LOT, and those who are not on it get minimum attention, if any.

Because only about 37.5 percent of the voters actually vote in Boston elections — and often less than that — the substitution of “likely voter” information for an all-voter list means that a majority of voters are barely campaigned to.

This cannot stand. But it does stand. Which is why so many voters feel left out and why, when they have the chance, as Mr. Trump gave them, they sometimes vote for angry, negative voices. Can you fault them ?

Do we believe in democracy, or don’t we ? Democracy grants to every eligible adult the right to vote. It is bad enough that many do not register — I will discuss this later — but to ignore those who do register betrays democracy. If only 37.5 of registered voters get campaigned to, we undermine our democracy. Because this artificial restriction of the voters list now happens in almost every campaign, it has become a system in itself, of vote suppression. We who live by this system have scant right to decry the vote suppression efforts going on in some states, when we ourselves have solidified our own method of vote limitation.

I do not criticize campaigns for ascertaining the leanings of a voter and thereafter avoiding those who support one’s opponent. That makes sense : you mobilize your supporters and hope that your opponents forget to vote. But the process of ascertaining must include an initial door knock that offers the voter — every voter — a choice. If a voter chooses against you, fine, as long as you gave him or her that choice.

Nor do I decry the information offered in “voter-file” lists. It is useful to know that a voter is “likely.” We in the campaign community have always wanted to know this. I recall going to Boston’s election department with my four pens — red, yellow, green, and blue: one color for each of the four elections I wanted to know about — and spending countless hours doing a “check list” by hand. But the campaigns I worked this work for used “likely voter” information the opposite of what is done today. For us, likely voters required less campaigning, because we felt pretty sure that they would vote. Our time and effort was directed to0 those who were less likely.

The “likely” would get a mailing from us, or two. The less likely would get door knocked and telephoned.

But that was when fifty to seventy percent of Boston voters voted in most elections. Because a majority voted, it was crucial to campaign to a majority, even to all. I do not know for sure why that has changed, but I do know what keeps a 37.5 percent turnout — and less — in place: we do.

(NOTE : those who swear by “likely voter” lists misjudge the information in it. Please remember that campaigns have followings, and those followings vote, including many who were not classed as “likely” voters. Thereafter, those voters, followers of one candidate, become “likely” although they may become “likely” by being intensely campaigned to. And could not the same be said of almost any voter ? A campaign that does not build its own following of voters likely or otherwise is a campaign with one leg missing. )

SO: to sum up : if we are to restore the voters’ confidence in politics, and reassure them that we do, in fact, listen, we who do campaigns must campaign to ALL the voters on the City voter list. It is our duty. If we do not do this, we betray the voters — and thus get from them, perhaps more than just this once with Mr. Trump, an angry negativity that we fully deserve.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



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