OUR NEW YEAR’s GREETING

Hillel quote

May 2018 be a year of progress and peace, of prosperity and fairness, of tolerance and citizens of the world uniting.

May these hopes that we have just asked not be too much to ask. Almost everyone in the world wants to live a life of accomplishment, safety, and love. All of these should befall all of us. Why can’t this take place now ?

As we see it, the biggest obstacle to the happiness of almost all of us is the selfishness of a few. That and their possession of powers which they are willing to abuse for the sake of imposing what THEY want on all the rest of us.

Some of those who have these powers were given them freely in elections or otherwise. Others simply took powers when and as they could. Whichever is the case, the powers possessed by those who have them threaten us all. It’s time that we the vast majority confront abuses of power and defeat their purposes.

I do not speak of our won situation here in the United States. Though the person who now occupies Article 2 of the Constitution’s executive office violates his oath of office every day, as well as the duties imposed on his office by the Constitution, we the people retain full power to end his misrule. One of our hopes for 2018 is that the citizens of this nation will do just that : take possession of the Congress and block 45’s overreach and abuse.

Our hopes for 2018 scope larger than the upcoming Congressional elections. What we see, and want, and hope for, is that everywhere in the world where there is abuse of power those who do the abuse will be ousted from their misdeeds and replaced by the rule of law, of respect for all,  of tolerance and liberty so that people can go about their lives freely — free to invent stuff and even to reinvent themselves.

Every single life musty be free to live. For us, the ‘worldwide” means every single person, but singly; every life, but lived one life at a time.

Yesterday we read the story of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager whose parents refused to accept their child as she is, who isolated her from her social circles, who forced her into “conversion therapy,” a kind of mental torture by which the “therapist” pushes the child to hate herself even more than her parents have already made sure of. Alcorn eventually committed suicide and left a note in which she said that “it doesn’t get better… it gets worse.” No child — no person — should ever have to judge their future so darkly. No parent — no person with a power — should ever abuse that power; not on their child, not one anyone.

We probably cannot “fix society,” as Alcorn in her suicide note asked. But we can each of us fix ourselves: one life at a time. That’s all it takes. Each person fixing himself or herself. Perhaps each of us can begin to build our lives on the precept that Rabbi Hillel the Elder (who lived and taught in the generation immediately preceding that of Jesus, who preached much of what Hillel taught) reputedly told a student who came to him 2,000 years ago : ‘whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Now go forth and study.”

—- the Editors / Here and Sphere

SOLVING THE INCOME INEQUALITY RIDDLE

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What exactly is meant by those who speak of “income inequality” ?

Most people think it means that high incomes are too high. “Yes,” they say, “high incomes are far too high. Rich people own half the world’s wealth. That’s unfair.”

Well, what of it ? Let’s assume that rich people — I’ll define “rich’ as having a net worth of at least $ 5 million and a yearly income of at least $ one million — do own 20 percent of the world’s wealth. They don’t own it because their incomes are too high. They own it because low income people’s incomes are too low.

This is the “income inequality” problem. Low incomes are too low. It has nothing to do with high incomes. Incomes have always been very unequal in market economies. It could hardly be otherwise.

Before I proceed to detail, you may want to read the useful examination of the inequality issue that I’ve linked here : https://www.thebalance.com/income-inequality-in-america-3306190

Have you read the article ? If so, let’s get into the details of the problem.

It’s not the inequality that breeds economic trouble and social unrest, it’s that too many people earn an income inadequate to participate usefully in the discretionary spending economy. An economy does not reach its full potential if of those who live in it, less than all can spend into it. Consumer spending equals about two-thirds (2/3) of the ENTIRE market economy. If 30 percent of those living in an economy can’t afford to buy goods and services on offer — and which these consumers want — the economy’s supply and demand do not match.

Demand for any good or service has a potential market — just as the economy as a whole has its  potential. Any business offering a service or good wants to be able to sell to all potential buyers. It’s hard enough to bring a good or service to market without potential customers being unable to afford them.

Likely there will never be a market in which every potential customer can afford a good or service. Still, the government that regulates our economy can take steps to maximize the number of customers who CAN afford. Those steps can be taken without impacting high incomes. Chiefest of these steps is raising the minimum wage to a level at which full time employees can all afford to buy discretionary products.

Those who object to raising the minimum allowable wage to $ 12/hour, or $ 15/hour — or even $ 21/hour, as it stands in Denmark, for instance — say that it will cost jobs because many small businesses can’t afford to pay such wages. I disagree. Why should higher wages hurt employers ? Presumably if your employee is earning more, and can spend more, she will purchase more of your products. (Or of other business’s products, in which case that business’s workers will buy more of yours.) My friend John Barros, Boston’s Director of Economic Development, likes to say that “if you can’t afford to pay your workers a decent wage, you shouldn’t be in business.” He is right, but the reason he is right isn’t affording, it’s the business model. Higher wages create more spending for every business, and one’s business model should recognize this.

A second step to a more equal economy is to encourage immigration rather than persecuting it. Every immigrant is a customer; and many immigrants become start up businesses. Also : the more immigrants, the younger the demographic, thereby solidifying Social Security, whose solvency depends on there being sufficient workers for the “FICA” tax to fund every retiree’s benefits.

If wages rise substantially, the cost of doing business rises as well. But businesses can raise prices. They don’t have to raise them a lot, either, to cover the added cost of adequate wages. Somewhere I read that every $ 1.00/hour rise in the minimum wage adds 19 cents to a McDonald’s burger. As that burger now costs $ 2 .99, it’s not a very large increase for customers to pay. (If a business can raise prices to account for higher wages, there goes their “can’t afford it” argument.)

Lastly, the money paid to high income people looms large only in its own mirror. Economically, the top one percent of income earners aren’t very important. As has been said, a billionaire isn’t likely to buy 33,000 times as many widgets as a person who earns “thirty k” a year. Very high income people park most of their money. To the extent that they do so, they don’t affect consumer spending — which is the real motor of the actual economy.

Yet if the large sums of money that rich people simply park go economically to waste, we do live in a free society — thank goodness — and rich people are free to not maximize their economic power. They are free to have lazy money. Or does their money only seem lazy because it is not spent ? Much of it is invested, in bonds; in stocks; in real estate; in art. Each of these activities — art, real estate, the stock market, bond issuers and dealers — employs many, many people whose livings derive from commissions earned on sales. Thus even lazy money generates incomes that will be consumer-spent: because money is like that. Once it exists, it affects — cannot help but affect — the general economy.

All that we should ask of money in a market economy — as is ours — is that every family have enough of it to maximize participation.

Some who oppose the new tax reform object that the huge tax cuts it gives to corporations will not generate jobs, as the reform’s supporters like to say it will. I agree. A lower tax rate will not, by itself, induce a corporation to hire more workers. Only increased customer demand can do that. Still, if there are corporations looking to capitally expand, that expansion itself generates new jobs, and the result of that expansion — the ability to produce more — will, presumably,. allow the corporation to meet customer demand. Is this capital expansion likely ? If so, the argument against the tax cut job-creation fails.

But that argument is for another day. My point in this column is simply that income inequality is a bottom-end problem to be solved by bottom-end reform.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

OUR CHRISTMAS MESSAGE, 2017

Carolers

We at Here and Sphere send our holiday best to you as always. Some of you celebrate Christmas as a religious event; others savor its cheer and happiness for their own sake; some of you celebrate joy and happiness under a different name. Whichever of these rituals you observe, we embrace your observance and wish you bright days, weeks, months ahead.

For many of us, 2017 has been a year of trial. Most of us did not vote for Mr. Trump and dislike his behavior in office. I think I can say that most of us react to his presence with disappointment, even heartache; some with anger. As we are politically minded, we share these reactions fully. Almost every day we have wanted to yell, to scream, to wish Mr. Trump gone.

I ask that for these next few holiday days we set these feelings aside, that we focus on what is nearest and dearest to us : our family., our pets, our neighbors and our work colleagues. Remind ourselves that those who share our life journey are loved by us and love us in return and that that love binds us and blesses us, daubs us in glory, renders us immortal even in mortality. We can never forget those who love us and have our backs, just as they can never forget us.

Those who have our backs, and whose backs we have, are male, female, transgender. They are straight, gay, bisexual. They have all kinds of skin colors, come from every sort of culture and national origin, worship all sorts of gods or none at all. Some who have our backs, and whose backs we have, are not American but Canadian, or French, or German — Catalan — Chinese — Russian — Colombian — Salvadoran –Vietnamese. They are Italian, Iraqi, Irish, Iranian, Hindu, Haitian, Korean and on and on and on : for our backs have no nationality, they are human backs backed by anyone from anywhere who stands behind us as we behind them.

Thus our message : celebrate the day and its rise-up meaning, and invite all who love you, and who you love, to celebrate with you, harmonious and glad of it. Truly I say to you : let the angels sing. All the angels.

Merry Christmas !

—- Mike Freedberg and the Editors / Here and Sphere

BOSTON SCHOOLS : THE START-TIMES FAILURE

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^ Boston school parents protesting school start time changes. Photo by Boston Globe.

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Yesterday I wrote about Boston Public Schools management’s difficulties with financial accounts : misfeasance, inefficiency, waste. These are scandal enough, yet as we all know, there’s more. What the dickens were BPS’s executives thinking when they outsourced the planning of school start times to a consultant ?

Doesn’t BPS have enough institutional knowledge on its won, after many decades of billion-dollar budgets and hundreds of managers in staff — not to mention the entire system’s teachers and principals — to plan school start reforms on its own ? Evidently not.

The BPS website links to the following research study by a group known as “Start School Later” : http://www.startschoollater.net/major-studies–other-resources.html

I am not a child psychologist and cannot opine on the conclusions asserted in this research. (I will say that in my own school life, from first grade to high school graduation, I started school at 7.30 AM and don’t recall any ill side effects. I always made the honor roll and graduated magna cum laude.) Yet I will say that BPS surely has enough anecdotal testimony in its decades of operating schools to know what start times to impose. The outside research, for which BPS evidently paid substantial money, adds nothing but the common bureaucratic excuse that we call “impartial study.”

That BPS felt a need to seek otiose outside study is bad enough. Worse — much worse — is that it announced start times changes without any parent input at all. Acting on its own hook, the City’s School Committee unanimously voted the time changes at its December 6, 2017.

Again : the time changes may well be a good thing. But the School Committee erred in voting them into place with no public comment. Once upon a time Boston’s schools each had its won Parent-Teacher Association — a PTA, once a revered community institution. PTA’s ended with the Federal Court’s imposition, in 1974, of city-wide school assignment and busing of students from one neighborhood to another in order to integrate schools racially. That Court order, too, was a heavy hand; and the consequences of its heft we still feel today. We still have city-wide busing, and the resulting absence of school and community coinciding.

Because we no longer have PTA’s, parents have no institutional path for dialogue with BPS administration except public comment times at School Committee meetings. So naturally such dialogue as takes place does so ad hoc, as street theater or outcry, cried at a School Committee wholly appointed by the Mayor.

In 1992 we abandoned an elected School Committee that was part of the major charter change voted in the 1981 city election. We had always had an elected committee but citywide. The charter change created school committee members elected by district. I have forgotten why our City’s powers decided it was better to have its school committee be wholly appointed. Whatever the reason given, it was wrong. We see the consequences now. An elected School Committee would never — COULD never — have voted start time changes with no advance discussion.

The outrage did not, however, address the undemocratic basis of our City School Committee. It confronted only the result. Why do start times matter so much ? Simple : parents have to plan their day around those times. If a student who was going to school at 7 AM now goes at 8.30 AM — well after her parent(s) go to work, who is to see them to the bus or the T ? Parents must make plans based on their children’s school start. Those plans have to respect their own job start times. Most parents have not left for work at 7 AM, but by 8.30 almost all have left. The adjustment may seem no big deal to observers, but home schedules often hang on the minute. 90 minute changes matter a lot.

All of the disconnect on full display here could be avoided if Boston had PTA/s, or an elected School Committee, or a school management with an institutional memory. When John McDonough– a Charlestown native and lifelong employee of the Department — was schools Superintendent, from 2012 through 2015, BPS had plenty of institutional memory. It had wisdom and it had political awareness. Tommy Chang, the Superintendent now, has none of these. I am sure of his bona fides and his integrity as a person, but he has looked like a stranger to BPS ways from the first day of his appointment until now. I do not fault him. He walked into a system that only a master of shrewdly knowing moves like McDonough could navigate and master. Chang’s job was hardly made any easier by Mayor Walsh having his own, in house schools advisor, Rahn Dorsey, a man as political as he is educational and who does know what is being said on the street.

I don’t think that I disparage Tommy Chang by noting his almost impossible position rendered worse by his reliance on research and decision making that cuts against the grain of Boston political custom and parental expectation. I also understand the desire, among many, to appoint an outsider — an objective observer not compromised by local politics — as Superintendent. I think, however, that that point of view must give way to political reality. It’s time for a new Superintendent, one who knows the system and has the confidence of the City’s numerously autonomous public schools constituencies. John McDonough had that. I’m not sure there’s another John McDonough available, but we darn sure need one, and fast.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

BOSTON’s SCHOOLS BUDGET : WHAT THE BLAZES IS GOING ON ?

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^ Superintendent Tommy Chang (with Mayor Walsh’s Schools chief Rahn Dorsey to his left) answer questions about the school budget miscues. Chang is on the spot, but the problem is bigger than just his superintendency.)

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Even a Boston Schools budget skeptic like me was shocked to be told, about a month ago, that an IRS audit found that, for many years, the Department has been using funds from one account to fund another. The report, in a Boston Globe story dated November 28, deserves to be quoted extensively :

The City of Boston paid nearly $1 million in penalties to the federal government after an IRS audit revealed wide-ranging problems with the city’s payrolls, from schools paying stipends to individuals under the table to the city failing to deduct Medicare withholding taxes for many employees, according to findings released Tuesday by the city.

The IRS described broad financial dysfunction in the School Department’s oversight of the funds and listed myriad excuses from school employees:

“The individuals responsible for the school activity funds had various reasons for not having any payments go through the payroll system including: ‘Those records were thrown out, I was unaware of documentation needed, responses are based on memory, no recollection of what payments were for, the person wasn’t a city employee, therefore not on payroll, I had no access to making a payroll payment, I don’t have the names, the work was not covered by our BPS budget, they were temporary positions,’ ” according to the audit.

The IRS ran into some of its biggest problems with the School Department. It examined student activity accounts at 16 schools for 2014 — the year before Chang became superintendent — and three-quarters of them had problems, involving $150,000 in spending, according to the audit findings.

In several instances, the findings paint a picture of sloppy bookkeeping by the schools, including a lack of receipts. In other cases, schools failed to fill out necessary tax forms for payments made to vendors, creating confusion about whether the appropriate parties paid taxes. While the IRS looked at only a sampling of schools, the problems were so severe that they raised concerns about schools across the city, prompting BPS to take systemwide action. However, the School Department did not inform the School Committee until last week about the IRS findings.

I’ve written often about the waste and inefficiency that abounds in the Boston Schools (“BPS”)  budget — the City’s biggest single account, totaling about one-third of the entire City budget — and the many millions needlessly misspent therein are reason enough for a major overhaul of the BPS budgeting process. Still, I had not questioned the Department’s bona fides. Now I must do that. If the IRS audit’s report is true, lots of BPS managers just don’t get it. Many questions must be asked :

( 1 ) The School Committee is charged with reviewing the Budget. Why did they miss these misdeeds ?

( 2 ) The Department has a chief financial officer, Eleanor Laurans, styled “Director of School Finance.” How did these misuses escape her scrutiny ?

( 3 ) The City paid the IRS a fine of about $ 944,000. Mayor Walsh told the Globe that he did not know of it until notified by the paper. Who kept the information from him, and why ?

( 4 ) The report states that some employees were paid “under the table.” Really ? Who did the paying ? Who approved it ? I assume that someone has to issue the check. Or were they paid in cash ? I assume that however they were paid, someone had to make a requisition.  What reasons were given ?

( 5 ) Is there discretion, at the individual school level, for funds from one account to be used for another ? If so, who has that say ? i assume it’s the principal. Can a teacher make that decision on her own ?

We’re already formulating a FY 2019 School budget. Last year’s totaled $ 1.081 billion — about a three percent increase from the FY 2017.  The large increase —  one percent as been the norm — results from the City agreeing to a new Boston Teachers’ Union’s collective bargaining contract. The $ 50 million increase was still not enough, evidently, to fund some basic school needs because none of the waste and anomalous items in the budget were corrected. Will that be true this year as well ? (As last year was election time for the Mayor, it is quite understandable that he decided not to raise any interest group’s hackles with respect to BPS budget difficulties.)

The public comment period for BPS FY 2019 is open already. I’m pretty sure that the IRS audit findings will be argued about; they darn well should be. It is high time that the City’s voters hold its largest single Department to account for money misfeasance, inefficiency, and waste — beginning with some $ 13 million paid to teachers who have no teaching job because no principal will hire them, and including at least $ 50 million of maintenance and utilities costs at school buildings that should be closed (and consolidated) because they’re enormously over capacity (BPS maintains buildings for 91,000 students but only about 56,000 actually enroll.)

At election time every candidate talks about how “every school should be an excellent school,” etc. etc.; and of course almost every voter understands this to be a cop-out. It;’s hard to have even passably effective schools when the budgeting operation lacks respect for tax regulations, much less performance demands.

Do I blame the teachers ? Not really, though surely some may fall short. I call out school management. DO YOUR JOB.

Monitor your finances rigorously. Insist on a dollar of value for every dollar requisitioned from the taxpayers. Reduce waste as much as feasible and correct the obvious, unsupportable inefficiencies. Do all of this openly, and broadcast it, so that the City’s taxpayers — some of whom are also BPS parents — can have confidence that its public schools aren’t gaming them and failing the kids who depend on schooling to get from childhood to useful careers in the real world.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, PART 2

TAX

Elsewhere I have posted and tweeted that the Tax reform bill promoted by Republicans in Congress isn’t at all the big deal its friends — or its opponents — say it is. The numbers that will result end up about the same for most taxpayers; what changes, big time, are the routes by which those numbers are arrived at. (Some taxpayers will see significant change. Very low income householders drop off the tax rolls entirely, and if they have children, can get a Child Tax Credit refund up to $ 1400.00.)

I’ll get to the Tax bill itself later. First, however, I want to alert you to what really IS major about the Tax bill : the Congress’s vote.

No Democrats voted for the bill, and, in the House, only 12 Republicans said no. None said no in the Senate (John McCain did not vote. He is in Arizona trying to recover from the effects of his chemotherapy.) Instead, the Democrats cried holy hell against the Tax bill, taking a worst case scenario of its outcome as their rally cry, and distorting, even mistaking, some of its provisions.

This was the exact same outcome as in 2009, when the ACA health care reform was passed with not a single Republican vote, after which the Republicans spent seven years decrying it, distorting its provisions, and misstating many of them.

In our Constitutional system, the Congress represents the wishes of voters back home; members must exercise, individually, their own judgment about legislation. That was, after all, the model that actually existed in Great Britain, where the then unreformed House of Commons (and the House of Lords) more often than reflected the consensus of individual members acted on their own deliberation. Granted, that in England during the Napoleonic Wars and thereafter, and in our own Congress from time to time, partisan sentiment has outweighed individual conscience. The surest situation for overriding partisan decision was for Congress (Parliament too) to reflect a large number of discrete interest groups, none a majority, so that no legislation at all could be enacted without coalition and compromise. Still in Parliament, the hardening of party rules — and the near extinction of all parties but two — has led to absolute rule by a majority chosen by voters who vote for the party, not the candidate.

Our legislature did not take that route, because the fact of 50 states, each with its own locally elected power structure, kept our two parties from hardening into a uniform orthodoxy. Senators, especially, voted their state’s interest, which forced the body to pursue coalition: and coalition always means compromise.

How, then, has our national legislature become parliamentary, a place where party overrides every other consideration ? The answer is simple : the Citizens United Supreme Court decision did it.

Today, hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions, go into Congressional elections. Senate elections cost $ 20 million and more; even Congress races require $ 2 million and up; many cost $ 10 million. Some Senate elections require $ 50 million. The donors who pony up that sort of money don’t care about state particularities. they want uniform national policies, and as their money absolutely controls the stuff that campaigns can do and say, when it comes time for the people that their money has elected to legislate, they legislate what the donors want, not what their state may happen to prefer.

I have overstated the case, of course: but not by much. State particularities still count — Congress people from New York and New Jersey voted NO on the Tax Bill because its $ 10,000 per year cap on the state and local tax (“SALT”) deduction prejudices homeowners in these very high house value states; and Maine’s Republican Senator, Susan Collins, only agreed to the tax reform when it included at least some SALT deduction as well as child tax credit (“CTC”) relief for her state’s large number of very low income families. Still, these examples prove the current rule : legislation in Congress is now accomplished by donor-united parties, not by coalitions of various interests.

The consequences of our Congress becoming a parliament are still difficult to forecast, but I doubt they will be small. As long as one party controls both houses of Congress and the Presidency, legislation can be enacted, albeit with utter opposition from the other party and inevitable gross distortions of its provisions, leading perhaps to that opposition party winning total control at a next election, at which point said legislation gets repealed.

This is government as ping pong. I can’t imagine much that is more damaging to the effectiveness of our Constitution.

Except for this : what happens when one party does NOT control both houses of Congress AND the Presidency ? We have already seen it, in the sessions of 2011 to 2016 : nothing gets done. Sometimes the government even gets shut down, at huge cost to Federal employees and to the orderly process of administration. The only check upon such lawlessness is the need that donors have to run their businesses: shut downs disrupt business stability.

The obvious remedy for ping pong government is to ( 1 ) repeal the Citizens United decision and bar corporate and LLC money from engaging in campaign politics; and ( 2 ) severely regulate the influence of special interest lobbyists, most of whom represent the big donors and the industries whence they operate. Can either of these solutions happen ? I doubt it. I’ve tried for years, unsuccessfully, to devise a legal rule that would reverse Citizens United without crippling the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech. Congress could overturn the decision; but as donors control all of it, it will never do so.

Welcome to the parliamentary, partisan America our founders wanted no part of and warned against.

As for the tax bill itself, it’s clearly the best that a one-party, parliamentary bill can get to, but that leaves the nation very short of what could be.

The bill offers some noticeable tax relief to very low income households, but that relief is mostly offset by repeal of the personal exemption — and is further nicked by repeal of the ACA individual mandate, which will raise health insurance costs for most. For every one else, a two percent tax benefit is on offer, but that relief is discounted by repeal of many deductions as well as a $ 750,000 cap on the deductability of mortgage interest. Nor is the corporate tax cut as huge as it reads, for many corporations don’t pay the current 35 percent stated rate, and the new 21 percent rate is linked to repeal of many of the deductions corporations have used to cut their tax bill. Then there’s the one-time “repatriation” tax on corporate funds brought back into the country from overseas.

All of the above, and more, is why my view of the tax bill is that after all the ink and outrage vented, and all of the utterly ludicrous talking points cannonading on both sides, it amounts to much ado about nothing. The big winners are the nation’s tax accountants.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here ad Sphere

BOSTON’s NEW CITY COUNCIL

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^ District One Councillor-elect speaking at her recent “Birthday bash” celebration

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Much has been made of Boston’s newly elected, 13-member City Council having six women, five who are of color — a first. It is certainly a good thing that candidates do not have to look like me to be elected; yet the important event isn’t what our Councillors look like but what they do and have done to win a majority of the very judicious voters who make Boston democracy so special.

I know every one of the six women very well. I have actively supported the campaigns of three and gotten to know the three others as closely as a dedicated journalist can. They are politicians first, which means that they’re careful what they say and accommodate to the realities of Boston’s powerful interest groups. Nonetheless, all six have fairly idealistic goals clear to their supporters and shared by them : a City in which every voice feels confident it will be listened to and where no voter should be allowed to lose hope of a better life in this City.

City elections are non-partisan, thank goodness; which means that candidates are free to amass a large following of whoever wants to follow — no one is excluded by registering in this or that political party. The five female Councillors of color, and Annissa Essaibi George, have achieved that kind of following, some more so than others due to the nature of their electorate. The three who were elected city-wide — Annissa Essaibi George, Ayanna Pressley, and Michelle Wu — amassed a broad coalition of supporters, whereas Kim Janey and Andrea Campbell, representing Black majority Districts,  have a more particularist support group. (Although both Janey and Campbell also enjoy major support from non-Black voters and donors.)

The most fascinating following, however, is that which supports my Council District’s new Councillor, Lydia Edwards. Granted, that District One, which covers East Boston, Charlestown, the North End, and a bit of the Waterfront neighborhood, is home to as varied an assemblage of voters as anywhere in the City, or n the entire state, so that Edwards could not have won without attracting all sorts of voters : rich and poor, young and old, middle c lass, of all sorts of skin colors; long-term residents and new, social justice activists and very right wing anti-establishment folks: she had them all in her 830 vote win — and at her recent “Birthday bash” at Filippo’s in the North End.

The more successful a candidate is at gathering a coalition of the many, the more likely she is to win an election — and the more likely to govern in the interest of all. If that is the measure, as I assert it is, Edwards has a long and significant future in Boston governance.

But so do the other five women of the new Council.

Andrea Campbell will be the new Council President — setting the tone and much of the agenda for the next two years of city policy. Michelle Wu was Council President just before her: she too made very clear her goal of radical inclusivity. Ayanna Pressleyt has now finished first three times among the four City-wide electeds: higher office seems assured if the opportunity opens up. Pressley has already won a major change in City affairs: the opening up to availability of once very limited,m expensive liquor licenses. Essaibi George has yet to choose a single priority as her hallmark, but having now won re-election, she has room to choose one : could schools reform — so very much needed — be the ticket for this former Boston Public Schools teacher ?

Lastly, Kim Janey, District Seven’s new Councillor : she succeeds Tito jackson, who often favored street theater over policy accomplishment. (He was, however, a master street actor, very much in the tradition of his long-ago Roxbury antecedent, James Michael Curley, albeit without Curley’s ruthless mastery of demagoguery and corruption.) Janey is unlikely to be a theatrician. She hails from one of Roxbury’s most prominent activist and business families and may well be a voice for business and entrepreneurship in a Roxbury which, by price and momentum, is fast becoming a high-income and young professional innovation center.

Any one of these six  women could become our City’s next mayor. Will they ? It’s far too soon to know, and the field is not theirs alone. Councillors O’Malley, Ed Flynn, and McCarthy look like very solid contenders, and so do State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and State Representatives Jeffrey Sanchez– now the House’s Ways and Means chairman — and even Adrian Madaro of East Boston. (Councillor Zakim, of District Eight, is choosing a different path : seeking tgo become our Secretary of State.)

The twelve people I have named may look very dissimilar, but all have, or will develop, one political trait in common : appeal to a diversity of interests and voter types. That coalition dominates our City;’s political future is a very positive sign.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

ASSASSINATION

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^ Al Franken : willingly sacrificing himself. Why ?

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Perhaps it’s an overstatement to call the resignation of Senator Al Franken an assassination, but the events of the Ides of March come to mind. You will remember that Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by his fellow Senators on the Ides of Mrach in the year 44 B.C., including his close friend Junius Brutus. Shakespeare quoted Caesar’;s words at seeing Brutus come to kill him : “Et tu, Brute ?” Here Caesar used the familiar “tu,” used only by very close personal friends just like “du” or “tu” in modern German on French.

Like Caesar, Franken was forced out by his “friends” — fellow Democrats, 33 in all out of the 48 Senators of that party, some of whom reportedly hugged him after he delivered his resignation speech. Truly bizarre. Ugly, unreal.

But enough of that. The 33 forced him out, and he allowed himself to be forced. He did not fight back. This amazes me. Even Roy Moore, the embattled candidate running in Alabama for that state’;s open Senate seat, has fought back against accusation and an avalanche of calls for him to “drop out.” But Al Franken ? He did not fight back. Willingly he allowed the 33 to end his Senate career.

At this point another analogy comes to mind : the sacrificial rituals of the Aztecs, in which virgin girls were willingly led to the slaughter altar to be offerings to the Aztecs’ gods.

Again, I probably overstate the event. Franken did not lose his life and may well prosper in his next phase, whatever that might be — myself, I can’t see it, except as a witness to bizarro world.

Bizarro it was. There was no outcry from the Democratic base for Franken to leave; indeed, my facebook feed was filled with hundreds of Democratic activists imploring him NOT to resign. Franken was the Democrats’ most effective Senator, a devastating cross examiner, an advocate for reform policies, a potential President. Then why was it done ? Why frag your General ? Far from me to read the minds of 33 Senators, but not far for me to posit a theory: they did it in order to make the 2018 election a referendum on men’s sex lives. Democrats will do whatever it takes (Franken, Conyers) to support women who claim victim status, Republicans refuse to (Moore, Trump). 

Because no one supports sexual assault, and because the presumption among some feminists is that there is “rape culture” afoot, the 33 Senators — and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who forced Congressman Conyers out — are betting that outrage about powerful men abusing vulnerable women will fuel a Democratic takeover of Congress in 2018 and the Presidency in 2020; and they are willing to override all law and due process in order to make this the defining issue in 2018. They have seen the huge wave of Democratic women candidates stepping up to run for all sorts of elected offices, as a protest against Mr. Trump, a man eminently protest-able for his bigotry, ignorance, corruption, and radicalism.

Perhaps the 33 Democratic Senators are right; Pelosi too. maybe the 2018 election’s big issue will be men mistreating women and women punching back. Yet I doubt that will be the case. Most American voters don’t buy raw outrage or the overriding of due process. (Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont actually said, on twitter, that Senator Franken was entitled to an ethics committee hearing but that it would take too long ! Too long for what ? For the 2018 election ?)

Meanwhile, the Republicans press ahead with actual policy. There is much in error, and to correct, in the two tax proposals, now being discussed in joint House and Senate conference, but there is much in them that I like and that you should like, too. (I have posted two columns analyzing the tax proposals, you will find them in our archives.) Yet even if you do find the tax proposals unhelpful, at least they represent an attempt to do actual public policy; and public policy is the mission for which the voters elect Congresspeople and Senators.

Most voters do not judge candidates on the basis of media reports. We’re much smarter than that. We know how to weigh arguments and examine evidence. Centuries of the jury system have taught us instinctively how to be jurors : skepticism about claims and allegations and a well-grounded belief in that old divorce lawyer’s quip that “there’s three sides to every question — his, hers, and the truth.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

GOVERNOR BAKER IS “IN”

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^ Governor Baker signs the bipartisan “Contraception Access” Bill,. with almost every major Democratic woman politician on hand.

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A few days ago Governor Baker announced that he is seeking re-election. This is hardly a surprise. Why wouldn’t America’s most popular Governor seek a second term ?

He brings to the table a most impressive record, one that I have almost always supported since the day he first took office. Granted, that credit for his achievements must be shared with the legislature, particularly the House, which has adopted almost all of the following list of reforms, unanimously or close to it :

( 1 ) complete restructuring of how the MBTA is operated, including its financial decisions

( 2 ) limiting the number of opioid pills a physician can prescribe in a 72-hour period

( 3 ) enacting the first comprehensive municipal law reforms in 50 years

( 4 ) assuring no-cost contraceptive health care for Massachusetts women

( 5 ) reforming the Department of Children and Families, including requiring its social workers to be licensed and providing each social worker an iPad so that they can write reports in real time

( 6 ) enacting our first in the nation ban of “bump stocks,” which when tacked onto rifles turn them into automatic weapons

( 7 ) enacting the “TransBillMA,” as twitter users short-hand it — legislation assuring transgender residents full civil right including in all public accommodations, thereby completing legislation only half done in the 2012 session. Baker also strongly and vocally opposes the upcoming ballot question that seeks to repeal this law. Baker also appointed transwoman Sara Schnorr to the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women — a first.

( 8 ) successfully achieving a balanced state budget for all three years of his term so far, and doing so by unanimous vote in the House.

( 9 ) shepherding transportation improvements into place whereby greater Worcester is now connected to Boston by non-stop trains.

( 10 ) maintaining Massachusetts’ policy of embracing alternative energy, more so than ever, and devoting resources and personnel to protecting our conservation lands and urban farming projects

( 11 ) bringing workforce to employer connectivities to Western Massachusetts and the Connecticut Valley, areas of the state frequently neglected by Boston politicians.

( 12 ) changing Bridgewater State Hospital from a prison operation to one of treatment, thereby ending, finally, a 40 year scandal of abuse and mishandling of people committed to Bridgewater care. Baker also oversaw legislation that abolished sending to Framingham Women’s Prison women convicted of drug crimes. These women now go to treatment centers.

( 13 ) appointing the state’s first Latino Community Advisory Commission, a vital outreach to the growing number and location of Latino businesses, social organizations, and community concentration.

Baker’s record hasn’t been perfect. He has yet to find a workable answer for protecting undocumented immigrants from ICE harassment, or to provide them driver’s licenses, or to embrace the so-called “Trust Act.” Nor does Baker’s cautious persona, or his refusal to take on battles that aren’t core missions for his job, satisfy those who want him to lead the state’s resistance to President Trump’s many attacks on all sorts of people he wants to demonize and on the rule of law itself. Still, baker has found a way to make his absolute opposition to Mr. Trump felt and heard. As he said at the conclusion of his 2017 “state of the state” speech : “my job is to represent Massachusetts to Washington, not Washington to Massachusetts.” That said it all.

He now enters the re-election highway full of political fuel : a recent poll showed that 68 percent of our voters approve his work, only 14 percent disapprove. Because 36 percent of our state’s voters are Democrats, and because some Republicans disapprove of Baker’s centrist record, he will likely not win 68 percent of the vote; still, his re-election looks on course. Everyone I talk to, in my neighborhood and in my part of the LGBT community, likes him except the committed “progressives.” None of this surprises me. Surprising would be  the most popular Governor in America not being re-elected, or winning re-election narrowly.

Instead, the State House political question that matters is, “what happens after Baker ?” Since 1990, our state has elected Republican Governors almost exclusively — only Deval Patrick’s eight years intervened. The state’s Republican activists saw very well that our voters like d Republican Governors and have been ready to accommodate Governor candidates whose politics are far more centrist, even liberal, than theirs for the sake of Republican victory., Now that seems to be changing. The old, realist cadres are aging fast, and the younger recruits — few in number though they be — are, many of them, unwilling to compromise for victory’s sake : they want Trumpism in policy and personality — radical reaction and rude, angry speechifying.

As Mr. Trump is enormously unpopular in our state (a favorable rating of 25 percent), the Trumpism of our state’s younger Republican activists seems a suicide pill; but to the activists, that’s OK. OK or not, if Trumpism becomes the language of the Massachusetts GOP< there won’t be another, seventh modern-era GOP Governor for a long long time. Baker could well be — probably will be — the last of the current GOP tradition : socially liberal, economically careful.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE TAX BILL : THE GOOD AND THE BAD

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Here’s where the tax bill stands as of today, as it heads to the required Joint Conference of House and Senate :

First, a list of some significant snags to be resolved —

(1) can’t have ACA mandate repeal. The House version doesn’t have it 
(2) student debt interest : House version keeps this deduction, as it should
(3) medical expenses deductions : thank Susan Collins for the Senate Bill’s more generous allowance
(4) the Rubio-Lee proposal to increase the child tax credit and offset it by raising proposed corporate tax rate from 20% to 22% — this should have passed, but it split the GOP caucus and only nine Democrats voted for it. Perhaps they can try a re-vote and do better ? 45 now says that he would support a 22% tax rate for corporations, but the Democrats want it to be 25%.
(5) get rid of the carried interest deduction
(6) include a Bankruptcy Code change that allows most student debt to be dischargable. The current Code prevents almost all student debt from being relieved.
(7) repeal the ACA’s medical instruments tax — supported by MA’s entire delegation other than Liz Warren
(8) make individual tax cuts & credits permanent

( 9 ) assure that State and Local taxes remain deductible so that local and state budgets aren’t hemmed in financially any more than they are already

(10) tax credits for alternative energy must be retained. No tax bill at this time should favor fossil fuel energy.

Did you know that the House version actually includes a stepped up 45% tax rate in certain very high incomes ? I didn’t.

Lastly : the enormous cuts and credits accorded to most earners of 75 k or less means an enormous boost to consumer spending, which is 2/3 of the economy and is by far the major job creator. The GOP talking point for this tax bill is laughable and wrong, but there is enormous job creation in the individual tax cuts & credits themselves, nor the corporate tax cuts, which have other policy purposes — repatriation of funds parked overseas; advantaging investments — that may or may not occur.

What Democratic opponents of the tax reform do not seem to get , or dare to admit, is that its huge tax cuts & credits going to earners of under 75 k is exactly where they should go. The small percentage cuts for most high income earners are economically irrelevant. Those earners mostly save extra dollars. Small earners spend theirs, and there are about 100 million such households. They’re getting an annual money boost of about 3000 $ each = $ 300 billion annually. That’s about 3% of annual GDP. If it is spent, as I think it will be, every year out to 2025 (at least), the effects will be typhoon level.

To sum up : the good aspects of the tax bill are those that the Republicans do not emphasize, while the reforms that they do highlight seem fairly irrelevant and mistakenly advocated for. The tax bill’s economic boost will NOT come from corporate tax rate cuts but from the enormous increase in exempt income for people earning 75,000 or less. (The boost assumes that the final tax bill does NOT include ACA mandate repeal, a bad feature of the Senate bill.)

However : can any tax bill actually get enacted ? The nation is so bitterly divided on this proposal that it seems unlikely. Any tax bill passed without any Democratic support seems doomed to aggravate our already poisonous political split. Yet before we agree that Democrats must be brought into the discussion, there’s the problem that Democrats have already decided they don’t WANT to be consulted. I don’t see how it can be possible to erase that hostility. And if that’s the case, we aren’t likely to get a tax bill; or, if we do get one, it will be a disaster for politics generally.

Let’s see what happens. I doubt it will be happy.

—- Mike Freedbewrg / Here and Sphere

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