Kearney OConnell

^ perhaps the most interesting open=seat House race is taking place in the 4th Plymouth, which covers Marshfield and most of Scituate. Read our endorsement below.

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This column complete our endorsement decisions for the State election that finishes up this coming Tuesday. Some of you have already voted. We hope that even if you have already declared your choices, you will find our recommendations worth reading.

As we stated in our previous endorsement column, for the State Legislature this has been a ‘deserves re-election” occasion. The 2018 legislative session enacted a wide assortment of reforms, most of it unanimously or almost, and these enactments have been signed by Governor Baker. We in Massachusetts have consensus governance, and full credit should go to those who have made it a reality — one almost unique in our politically polarized nation. Generally, therefore, we find it difficult to name a State Representative who should not be endorsed for re-election. That said, there are a few House members whose replacement by a challenger will not disappoint us.

We do not trouble to endorse House members running unopposed, because why ? that said, most of those running unopposed who are known to us count among the House’s most capable, well informed, and hard-working electeds we know. Thank you to all.

We therefore endorse the following House members seeking another term. All have opponents :

5th Barnstable : Randy Hunt (R)

1st Essex : Jim Kelcourse (R)

4th Essex : Bradford Hill (R)

4th Middlesex : Danielle Gregoire (D)

9th Essex : Donald Wong (R)

9th Norfolk : Shawn Dooley (R)

2nd Essex : Lenny Mirra (R)

2nd Middlesex ; Jim Arciero (D)

2nd Plymouth : Susan Gifford (R)

7th Worcester : Paul K. Frost (R)

6th Bristol : Carole Fiola (D)

10th Plymouth : Michelle DuBois (D)

3rd Norfolk : Ronald Mariano (D)

31st Middlesex : Michael A. Day (D)

36th Middlesex : Colleen Garry (D)

1st Barnstable : Tim Whelan (R)

10th Worcester : Brian Murray (D)

2nd Barnstable : Will Crocker (R)

There are several open House seats on offer in this election. We have looked at the various candidates and made our choices. Where we could learn a candidate’s position on Question 3, a “No” was a deal breaker. We might accept a few House incumbents who aren’t “Yes on 3,” but we will not accept newcomers who refuse to support civil rights for all. And now to our open-seat endorsements :

19th Middlesex : David A. Robertson (D)

7th Plymouth : Alison Sullivan (R)

12th Bristol : Norman Orrall (R) Note : Norman Orrall is Treasurer candidate Keiko Orrall’s husband. Keiko held this House seat for four terms. We’ve met Norman and find him a gentle, diligent man who will surely continue Keiko’s work.

12th Plymouth : Joe Truschelli (R)

30th Middlesex : Richard Haggerty (D) His opponent touts a Trump-like agenda.

17th Worcester : David LeBoeuf (D)

4th Plymouth : Patrick Kearney (D) (Marshfield and most of Scituate) A close call here. Republican Ed O’Connell seems a strong candidate whose top priority is infrastructure. There’s also an independent candidate, Nathaniel PowellA vote for either of the three candidates would be a good one.

14th Essex : Christine Minicucci (D) Her opponent is a “No on 3.” Nuff said.

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We also are endorsing Rachael Rollins (D) for Suffolk County District Attorney. We aren’t happy with Rollins’s overreaching intent to use of “nolle prosequi” powers, but she has, since winning her primary over the established favorite, reached out to many City interest groups that hold a less sweeping view of the District Attorney’s office as an instrument of criminal justice reform. In addition, her independent opponent, Michael Maloney, has failed to persuade many voters, who might be inclined not to vote for Rollins, that his campaign is to be taken seriously. Running a serious, strong campaign seems to us like an essential prerequisite. If you can’t marshal strong and broad voter support, how can you run the executive office you are seeking election to ? We endorse a vote for Rachael Rollins.

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The Ballot Questions :

Question 1 : we’ve written in opposition to this initiative, which seeks to impose, as a matter of state law, complicated hospital staffing regulations that few voters have any expertise to decide. A majority of voters appears to agree that this complex proposal is better handled by collective bargaining or by the legislature. We recommend that you vote NO.

Question 2 : would established a citizens’ commission to recommend ways to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate money into elections. The intent of this proposal seems good to us, but the Commission, if approved by voters, won’t be able to do much. call this a “feel good:” question, then. Vote “Yes” if you like. we intend to do so ourselves.

Question 3 : In 2016 the legislature enacted, and Governor Baker signed, a civil rights bill assuring transgender people full access to all public accommodations just as everybody else has a right to. A “No” vote here is a vote to repeal those civil rights protections. We can NEVER and will never support denials of civil rights to anyone. Please Vote “YES” on Question 3.

—- Mike Freedberg for the Editors / Here and Sphere











Maura 3

Today we announce our endorsements for state-wide offices other than Governor and Senator as well as the state legislature. (Last week we offered endorsements for Governor, Senator, and Congress, and you can read them here : ) But before we list today’s endorsemnst, let us give one warning : today’s endorsements involve a  so-called “litmus test” : any candidate who in any way evades a “Yes” on ballot Question 3, or who is a “No” on it, cannot have our endorsement no matter what else he or she may offer.

Attorney General : we like the incumbent, Maura Healey.

Healey said in 2014, when she first sought this office, that she would be “the people’s lawyer.” that is exactly what she has been.  From prosecuting wage theft to embracing strict enforcement of our gun laws, she has fought for economic justice and public safety. She has successfully opposed Exxon’s attempts to deny her access to company pollution records; has pushed back against the Trump administration’s denials of equal rights and its regulatory misfeasance; and she has aggressively overseen major non-profit organizations and trusts. She has also spoken out, as a people’s lawyer must, in protest against Trump administration overreach and irresponsibility. Meanwhile, her opponent lent his presence to, and spoke at, rallies held by Scott Lively, the Trump-worshipping bigot whose presence on the Massachusetts ballot disgraced this year’s primary season. We are proud to endorse Maura Healey for a second term as Attorney General.

Treasurer : a vote for either incumbent Deb Goldberg or her challenger, Keiko Orrall, currently a State Representative from Plymouth County,is warranted.

Goldberg has not been the subject of a single headline during her term, which speaks well of her judicious operation of the office that oversees the state Lottery and unclaimed property fund. meanwhile, Orrall has critiqued Goldberg for waiting much too long to secure a new Lottery headquarters — the present lease expires in January. Orrall’s critique has merit, but there may well be rental reasons why the move remains not certain. That said, Orrall has brought sanity and inclusion to the state Republican party, as its national committeewoman,w here before, the office had been an instrument of radical divisiveness. We have full confidence that, if Orrall is elected, she will be a diligent and open-door Treasurer. This contest is the state’s best, featuring two outstanding electeds. We like both Orrall and Goldberg.

Secretary of State : we like the Republican challenger, Anthony Amore.

Usually we don’t cotton to the idea of term limits, but in the case of incumbent Bill galvin, we do. Though he runs an effective office — corporate maters — his stewardship of our elections doesn’t measure up. He scheduled this year’;s primary for the  day after Labor day,. hoping, evidently, to suppress turn out, thereby protecting his incumbency from a primary challenge (from a Boston City Councillor) that seemed serious when it first arose. That proved not the case, yet we simply  cannot support a Secretary who schedules primary day to his expected benefit. Meanwhile, Anthony Amore is a strongly pro-choice, civil rights-stalwart Republican whose appetite for election fairness you can count on. We are proud to endorse Anthony Amore for Secretary of the Commonwealth.

State Senate : the legislative session this year was a triumph of consensus reform. “Deserves re-election”: is therefore very much our theme. There aren’t very many actual contests, but we endorse the following :

Bristol and NorfolkPaul Feeney (incumbent). His opponent supports No on 3. Nuff said.

Cape and IslandsJulian Cyr (incumbent). Unclear where Cyr’s opponent stands on civil rights issues.

5th MiddlesexJason Lewis (incumbent). His opponent, Erin Calvo-Bacci, has an estimable business background but opposes the $ 15/hour minimum wage that we enacted and also waffled on support for #YesOn3 before finally and rather grudgingly agreed to be a Yes.

First MiddlesexJohn McDonald is a #YesOnQuestion 3. Thus we endorse his energetic, classic door-to-door campaign to represent the key city of Lowell and most of its suburbs in the State Senate.  We’re less than thrilled with the “progressive” views of his opponent, Edward Kennedy, former mayor of Lowell.

Norfolk, Bristol & Middlesex Richard Ross (incumbent): Ross was the only Republican State Senator to vote Yes on the 2016 transgender Rights Bill. (Patrick O’Connor had not yet been elected.) He also voted Yes to eliminate “conversion therapy.”

Plymouth & Barnstable : Vinny deMacedo (incumbent)

Plymouth and Norfolk : Patrick O’Connor (incumbent) : O’Connor is perhaps the Republican State Senator most supportive of Organized Labor. We applaud that. He even has the Boston Teachers Union endorsement, and that is one that counts, thanks to the union’s smart new leadership team.

Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire & Middlesex : Anne Gobi (incumbent): a tireless worker for her very rural District, opposed by a challenger who, like Jeffrey MacDonald,. spoke at at least one Scott Lively rally.

Worcester & Middlesex : Dean A. Tran (incumbent). Elected in a spec ial  contest when Jen Flanagan resigned to join the state’s Cannabis Commission, Tran is a civil rights stalwart and a supporter of economic prudence. He can be stubborn sometimes, and cast a lone vote on principle, but that’s hardly a reason to not give this city-based Republican a full term.

Worcester and Norfolk : Ryan Fattman (incumbent) : Fattman was a lead supporter of John Kingston, the US Senate candidate who in 2016 openly opposed Mr. Trump.

We will post our State Representative endorsements tomorrow. Also our position on the three ballot Questions.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ ’tis a season for re-election : Governor Baker and Senator Warren

An election is not a party primary. As a result, we do not feel that political party identification has more than incidental to do with who should lead our state and county, and our endorsements reflect that. As for who we send to Washington, political party does matter a lot, thanks to the capture of our Federal government by narrowly partisan institutions, vote blocs, and donor groups. Thus our endorsements for national office involve party affiliation.

United States Senator : we endorse Elizabeth Warren. She’s far from perfect. She can be careless, and her “Accountability capitalism” proposal is wildly impractical. Yet on the major issues that partisans have caused to divide the nation — immigration reform,. health care for all, student debt relief, economic policy, and government accountability, she is a stalwart voice for common sense, equal rights, and economic flexibility. Warren also has a much more bipartisan record of legislative co-operation than the major media lets on. Meanwhile, her two opponents fall far short. Shiva’s campaign is a Pocahontas joke — low-grade slapstick, and Geoff Diehl’s platform mirrors that of President Trump in all its injustices and ranting horror.  Warren could have had a worthy opponent had Republican primary voters chosen Beth Lindstrom, or even John Kingston, but they chose Mr. Trump’s Massachusetts chairman and will have to live with the consequences. We are glad to recommend a second term for Senator Warren.

Governor : we endorse Charlie Baker. Some voters feel that Baker hasn’t supported sufficient reforms, others feel that he has supported much too much. That’s an argument for another day. We support re-electing Baker for three reasons : ( 1 ) he has involved almost every local government body as well as the legislature in a co-operative drive for all kinds of public policy reforms, from workforce housing and infrastructure repair to state administration modernization, MBTA renewal, criminal justice reform, full civil rights for transgender people, and the $ 15/hour minimum wage ( 2 ) he has recognized the best of “identity politics” by organizing, and focusing upon, specific task forces developing policy for the Black Community, Latino community, and the LGBTQ community: and he has devoted countless hours to outreaching to both leaders and ordinary members of all three communities. ( 3 ) he has refused to take the Governor’s office into the national political maelstrom — with a few significant exceptions — and has thus enabled Massachusetts political and civic life to seek consensus without fear of retribution. And consensus reform is always the most lasting and effective.

Baker’s opponent, Jay Gonzalez, is a nice enough guy, and well qualified for administrative office, but it’s hard to see how he could improve upon Baker’s work or even match it. His policy proposals also put him at odds with state consensus.

In effect, Baker has seen that in an era of national political dissonance, a state, well led, can go its own way and accomplish its own political goals pretty much unimpeded. And that is what he has done, brilliantly. If anyone ever deserved re-election, it’s Governor Baker. We endorse him for a second term.

Congress, 3rd District : The “Third” is an open seat resulting from Nikki Tsongas’s decision to not seek another term. It’s also the only seriously contested Congress seat in our state. There are three other contests — the 2nd, 8th, and 6th Districts — but we aren’t impressed with the efforts mounted by any of these three challengers to Democratic incumbents in addition, we feel that party does matter here. It is crucial that the Democrats take control of the House, both to stop the hurtful proposals from Mr. Trump as well as the rollback works sought by the so-called “freedom caucus.” Democratic control is also needed in order to get the nation closer to immigration reform that works for immigrants as well as born here citizens.

Toward that objective, we endorse Lori Trahan, the Democratic nominee. Her opponent, Rick Green, has run a smart, locally-based, nuts and bolts campaign that, in ordinary times,would match what voters should want from Congress. Yet Green, by talking local, has avoided, probably for good reason, how he would vote on Trump or Freedom caucus initiatives; nor is it likely that he would support any kind of immigration reform other than a bare minimum. Meanwhile, Trahan has been a “max” donor to Governor Baker and is therefore a proven bipartisan voice, which we like as we’ve said, and will, in addition, support the kinds of legislation which a Republican-led Congress will not.

We endorse electing Lori Trahan the 3rd District’s Congress-person.

The nation at Large : we are a Massachusetts-based medium, but we have readers elsewhere, and we feel also a duty to the entire nation where Congress is involved. Thus we make the following endorsements for Congress and Senator from states beyond our state’s borders :

Congress : in almost every Congressional District that has a contest on hand, we urge a vote for the Democrat. The exceptions we are aware of are few., 17 total. We support only the following Republican Congress members : Will Hurd (Texas 23), Carlos Curbelo (Florida-26), Leonard Lance (New Jersey-7), Steve Chabot (Ohio-1), David Valadao (California-20), John Culberson (Texas-7), Brian Fitzaptrick (Pennsylvania-1), Dan Donovan (New York 11), John Katko (New York-24), Peter King (New York-2), Mike Bost (IL-12), Scott King (PA-10), Tom Reed (NY-23), Elise Stefanik (NY-21), and Pete Roskam (Illinois-12). We also support these two Republicans running in open seats : Louisa Marisa Salazar (Florida-27) and Young Kim (California-39). In every other case, we support electing the Democrat.

Senator : It’s not the same matter here as in the House. states have interests of their own, particularly in a time of national dysfunction. Who best represents the interests and views of their state is thus our endorsement basis. We also list some Senator candidates who we can’t endorse but whose candidacy seems appropriate for the state they are running in.

Endorsements : Martha McSally (AZ-R), Bill Nelson (FL-D), Jon Tester (MT-D), Joe Manchin (WV-D), Amy Klobuchar (MN-D), Sherrod Brown (OH-D), Bob Casey (PA-D), Phil Bredesen (TN-D), Kevin Cramer (ND-R), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS-R), Josh Hawley(MO-R), Dean Heller (NV-R), and Mitt Romney (UT-R). 

There are significant contests also in Indiana, Texas, Michigan, New Jersey, and the second Minnesota seat (to fill remainder of Al Franken’s term). The Indiana race leaves us unimpressed by either Joe Donnelly, the present Senator, or Mike Braun, his major challenger. Texas pits the media favorite Beto O’Rourke against incumbent Ted Cruz, who won’;t win any Mr Congeniality prizes. Polls suggest Cruz will win re-election ? that’s probably how Texas wants it. New Jersey features a damaged Democratic incumbent against a Republican pharma CEO: best we pass this one by. We would like to support John James, the Republican running in Michigan against Debbie Stabenow: but we’re not sure of his political views. as for the Minnesota contest, Democratic incumbent Tina Smith seems unimpressive, but her challenger, Karen Housley, has some history of racial insensitivity that she hasn’t yet cleared up. Our recommendation ? Do your own research if you vote in one of these contests.

That completes our first round of endorsements and recommendations. We’ll do our more local endorsements on Friday.

—- Mike Freedberg for the Editors / Here and Sphere






Friday, at the State House, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito chaired a first meeting of her Sexual Assault / Domestic Violence public awareness task force. Its mission is a significant part of what Governor Baker sees as a core Health and Human Services responsibility, which is why HHS Secretary Maryou Sudders co-chaired the meeting.

(The group was originally formed by Executive Order in mid-2015. Use this link to read the purpose of the Order and the full Awareness Group membership : )

At the meeting a power point presentation set forth a seven-month timeline of what the Group will do, including public comment and policy conclusions that it hopes to put into action. I tweeted those displays, and you can find them also on my facebook page.

Definitely the members of the task force mean well. Definitely they respect the primacy of process. This effort is a bureaucratic one, which means that process is everything. That said, certainly the Task Force will enlighten some of the dark strata in which sexual assault and domestic violence breed. More light will fall thereon via the media, for whom accusations of sexual assault have become a magnet for readership. All good, as far as it goes.

I see the subject differently. Perhaps a long life has worn down the knife edges of my assumptions, for I see sexual assault and domestic violence as deeply embedded in human nature, the socio-biology of sexual attraction, competition, commitment, bonding, and social sanction. Various societies have adopted differing customs for alleviating the passions that sex engenders, but all societies fall short of remedy. Our society too. Whether sex is seen as libertine amusement, or temporary bond, or a life-changing imperative, once attraction overtakes us, our perceptions change, our emotions redirect, our bodies act out, whether sex is fulfilled or falls short. For human beings, the arousal of one intense passion almost always upsets another passion: and inhibition often intervenes too late or not at all. Sex fundamentally affects self-esteem. I know that in my own case, as a teenager, a “no” from a girl I wanted to date shied me away from even asking another girl, for months on end, for fear of another “no.” I doubt that i was unique. Nor do I believe that it’s any different for girls. Rejection by a boy often comes wrapped in rejection by his friends too. Rejection becomes a tit for tat ritual of humiliation, revenge, and success — which often breeds the opposite sort of humiliation.

These traits do not fall away, like one’s first set of teeth. They stay in the psyche. Adults are better at resisting the consequences of rejection or success, but they’re no less prisoners of the feelings. Some cannot hold back. I don’t see how any Task Force, no matter how well-intended, can illuminate these basics any more brightly than we all of us see them already. I do suppose, I guess, that a Task Force can enlighten us to how frequent is the number of those who cannot hold back. Perhaps that will help the rest of us to understand just how true is the old saying “there but for the grace of God go I.”

As for domestic violence, it too pressures us all. Unless we live alone, we lash out at those nearest to us. The old saw about yelling at one’s wall arises from this condition: that if not at the wall, then what do we get angry at but those who stand between us and that wall ? Which usually means family. All of us are capable of domestic violence. I’ll never forget the evening when my mother,m overworked and frustrated by it, started yelling at my Dad and did’t — couldn’t stop: in full cry she threw a grapefruit at him.

And then the anger abated, as often happens. Domestic abuse is shameful — our society’s customs assure that — and the abuser knows it. Usually that stops him or her.

Sometimes it doesn’t, and the criminal justice system steps in, to punish and sanction; but it acts too late, of course, as all criminal cases do.

Can these basics be changed by a Task Force ? I rather doubt it. What Polito’s Task Force can do is to remind us all that domestic violence can happen to anyone, of any income level or education attainment, that its happening is not a sign of poverty or moral failure but of human weakness. The Task Force can also, perhaps, create settings for an intervention: because the custom we call “intervention” can, if done in time, assuage the tensions that lead family members sometimes to strike at one another. The tactics of intervention can be taught, and if Polito’s Task Force accomplishes that much, it will be well worth its members’ time, research, and decisions.

The next task Force meeting takes place on November 5th at in Room 157 at the State House.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



On November 6th, all signs point to Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly re-electing both Senator Liz Warren, a Democrat, and Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican. Given the partisan polarization going on in states west and south of us, how has it come about that our voters decide so differently from theirs ?

The roots of our politics run far back in time; and many have commented at length upon our state’s unique political way. To that long history, I have not much to revisit in this column; yet I would like to list some current facts that support how we do :

( 1 ) 54 percent of our voters belong to no political party.

( 2 ) the two major parties that we do have — Democrats number about 36 percent, Republicans about 10 — lack structure, and to the extent they have it, said structure adopts positions the rank and file does not care much about

( 3 ) almost every Massachusetts elected wins her race in the Democratic primary, which means that every candid\ate who actually wants to win runs as a Democrat regardless of what he or she thinks about the issues.

( 4 ) municipal elections in Massachusetts are non-partisan. Thus party plays no part in the most local, most close to the voter, of all election contests

( 5 ) political patronage has almost disappeared here, which means that the only people who participate physically in campaigns, except for a candidate’s immediate family and close friends,  are ideologues — a very small number — and special interest people. The rest of us watch from our doorstep. The precinct captains of old are gone.

( 6 ) the great ideological divides, many of them based in religion, have minimal presence here because with respect to them, the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters take the positions advocated by the national Democrats.

( 7 ) because that is true, Presidential elections are never contested in Massachusetts. No PAC money is spent here, no ground game is organized. Our stare is never in play. As a result, we are free to develop our own political customs, and we have done that.

( 8 ) The only issue divisions that matter much exist within the Democratic party, yet those have little sway except in a few legislative districts, because even most Democrats don’t care much about such arguments. The big argument this year was, has the legislature done its job of reform or did it fall short ? Two legislators — and only two — were defeated by the “it fell short” interest. A few others defeated “it fell short” challengers.

( 9 ) within our Republican party the big issue was, support for Trump. Governor Baker, who has kept his distance from Mr. Trump and has opposed him almost every time it really mattered, was challenged by a candidate for whom loyalty to Trump was almost a religion. In many states, distancing oneself from Trump was a fatal move within the Republican primary. Not so in Massachusetts. Baker defeated that challenger by 64 to 36.

Therein lies a story that tells us much about our state’s political customs :

Support for Mr. Trump among Massachusetts Republicans mirrors that of Republicans elsewhere : about 75 to 85 percent support him. Most of Governor Baker’s cadres support Mr. Trump, too. How, then, was Baker, who has nothing to do with Mr. Trump and has often said as much, able to win his primary by 64 to 36 ? The answer, as I see it, is that most Massachusetts Republican activists want to win. Baker has taken positions far to the left of most Massachusetts Republicans. He has signed bills no Republican Governor in any other state (except perhaps Maryland) would sign. He is an uncompromising social liberal and even, in his own way, a supporter of identity politics : how else explain his Latino Advisory Commission, the Black Community Advisory Group, or his out-front support for the newly formed LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce ? Yet he commands the work of a staff who, in many cases, have been recruited to Massachusetts from Republican operations in other,m far more partisan and conservative states.

Baker has built a support team of people who, had he not taken them on, would likely be working for Republican candidates in states whose politics we in Massachusetts reject. In doing so, he has set these political operatives on course into the political mainstream and thereby impacted the national Republican party generally, in ways not yet fully developed. I think that 2020 and beyond, we will see the consequences of what Baker has accomplished.

That is the inside effect. Most of us vote on the outside. Yet we, too, will be voting in a way that casts our state firmly into what observers are now calling “the exhausted majority.” (see the graph at the top of this column.) Probably a majority of Massachusetts voters will vote for both Baker and Warren. I can’t think of another state where that will be true this time around.

The rest of the nation sees Senator Warren as a “bold progressive.” We in Massachusetts view her differently. We see a professorial, charming and idealistic advocate — what my parents’ generation knew as an ADA, Adlai Stevenson/Hubertt Humphrey liberal — who can be careless sometimes but very judicious — and bipartisan — often enough. I think we know her correctly. She understands that she cannot depend on Democrats alone, not when these total only 36 percent — and run the gamut of political views; she , like Baker, has to win a good chunk of the 54 percent who belong to no party. No-party voters are, almost by definition, not ideologues on the political fringe. (The “exhausted majority” graph suggests that committed ideologues on the left total about eight percent of voters, and those on the right about six percent.) If the “exhausted majority” — voters who don’t live and die for an ideology — amount to 86 percent of all, they probably number 95 percent, at least, of those who belong to no party. A Massachusetts candidate has almost no choice but to adopt consensus views if she wants to win an election.

Consensus, therefore, is our state’s political watchword. No matter which political party you are campaigning with, in Massachusetts you either voice consensus views or you lose. For me, that’s the right result. The success of our state’s government and politics declares it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





^ as far as the eye can see, Boston is booming its population and its money chase. Can any of us cope ? What about those left behind in the small towns and outlying cities ?

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According to a forecast published by the City, Boston by year 2030 will have over 800,000 residents — up from barely 625,000 in 2000. 175,000 additional people means much more commerce in Boston and proportionally less the farther you travel from Downtown.

It’s a kind of gold rush, like every other gold rush. Ever since cities acme to be, and commerce arose within them, people have left wherever they were and moved into those cities to get on board the commerce train. Its why cities grow. Boston in 2018 is no different in that regard than New York in 1787, 1820, or 1890; than Florence in the 13th and 14th centuries; than Lyon and Paris in the 12th Century; than Rome in the age of Augustus, Milan in Ambrose’s time, Babylon in the 5th century BC, Ur in the fourth and third millenium BC. Cities are hubs of money.

I’ll discuss the major adjustments that Boston faces, and will continue to face, in this and the next 12 years. Before I do that, however, what of those of us who do not move to the cities ? Who are left behind in towns losing population, where businesses that serve the public are forced to shut down for loss of customers ?In the 19th century many small towns found economic viability by location on a river, which meant water power to drive a mill. Lowell, Lawrence, Manchester (New Hampshire), Fitchburg, Gardner, Maynard, Uxbridge, Milford, even Grovesnordale, Torrington, Shelton, and Waterbury in Connecticut all grew to prosperity and in population thereby. Today, however, river power has lost its prominence, and all of these once booming small cities have declined substantially or forced themselves into complete re-purposing. As for towns even smaller, most of these in New England peaked in population in the 1830s, before the rise of riverside mill cities and the Gold Rush of 1848, each of which decimated towns strictly agricultural. Throughout New England one finds stone walls, once boundary to adjacent farms, falling to ruin amid woods, the farms once tilled now tolled, the rural roads long disused and overgrown with new forest.

Forty years ago, before the move that many city folk took to rural peace as craftspeople and gentle-person farmers, these rural New England towns were Appalachia poor. Many still are. Inland Maine is one of the lowest income regions in the entire United States. In forgotten mill towns like Newport, New Hampshire or North Adams, or Erving, or Skowhegan, Maine and Barton and Orleans, Vermont, one sees Caucasian people with grey skin, tell tale sign of malnourishment, and/or buildings abandoned to the elements. Granted that these are extreme examples : most rural or exurban communities maintain a marginal but persistent economic existence. Orange and Clinton, Massachusetts, Bennington and Pittsfield in New Hampshire, Sanford and Bangor in Maine, Barre in Vermont — all continue on, despite loss of population and an almost complete lack of 21st century technology jobs.

The economy of these places could not be more different from that of Boston, and it is very difficult for public policy to do much about it. In Fall River you can rent a three bedroom apartment for $ 1000; in Holyoke, $ 800; in Ludlow and Blackstone, the same or less. Massachusetts now has a $ 15/hour minimum wage law (the higher figure to be in force by 2023). In Fall River, that’s a very generous wage. In Boston, not nearly enough. As for the jobs, in Boston there’s a labor shortage; in Fitchburg, Springfield, and Hopedale a job lack. Granted, that Governor baker has moved smartly these past four years to establish education-to-job, workforce development systems in areas far away from core Boston, and he’s also established, or encouraged, transportation expansions therein; yet no Governor can overcome the laws of market. The money is rushing into Boston, and perhaps now into Worcester as well, and money goes to money. Investors do not gamble with their millions, nor with huge bank loans; they want to have a pretty dependable twenty year run ahead of their monthly loan payments. In Boston, they can count on at least 20 years, as the Mayor has made it city policy to add 69,000 new housing units by 2030. 69,000 new residences means maybe 120,000 new people, and an investor can feel quite confident of this happening because there are hundreds of investors investing alongside him, and there are hundreds of businesses forming in the city or moving to it (example: GE.)

Someday, most likely, people will begin to leave the city and its supercharged bustle in search of exurban or rural peace of mind. Who doesn’t want to raise a family in a town blessed with open space, a river, good hiking, and a school that isn’t overburdened ? Yet until that happens, Boston will boom with newcomer and already here’s, and with the jobs and six-figure salaries that rush to Downtown like iron filings to a magnet: while those who stay in the communities losing people to Boston (and Worcester) will have to commute long distances — and longer distances — to the only jobs that pay enough to fund a decent life.

Meanwhile, what of Boston ? Adding 125,000 new people means ( 1 ) politically, adding two, maybe three State Representative seats and most of one additional State Senate District. And subtracting those from outlying communities ( 2 ) imposing enormous pressure on an MBTA system that will take another seven or eight years just to reach “state of good repair” status; expansion of lines will be needed as well as increased number of trains, buses and employees ( 3 ) increases in residential density that will dislocate many neighborhoods — several have already undergone this change — and impact quality of life for those who grew up in the neighborhoods with expectations of life quality that will now be abandoned.

In addition, the $ 15/hour minimum wage will fall way short of what is needed for survival in Boston without falling back on public assistance. Even now, a $ 21/hour wage isn’t too much, with typical apartment rents fetching $ 1,900 to $ 2,900 a month. By 2030, the required wage, for those who want to live in Boston, might need be $ 30/hour. ($ 30/hour = about 5000 a month. With rents at $ 2,900, or higher by 2030, and withholding, $ 5,000 a month doesn’t cut it.) Nor are “micro apartments” any answer, because only a single person can live in one, and soon enough our 125,000 new people, singles mostly, will want to raise families. They will simply be forced to move out of Boston altogether./ Do we want that ? I hope not.

City life rarely stands still. The current boom has huge undertow, dragging most of us into its deep quicker than we can outrun it. It’s well and good to chase money. I do it too. We all do it. Yet what happens when the chase favors the luckier, and the rest of us have to play catch up when catching up has by-passed us ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ HYM’s Tom O’Brien speaking last night at the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association meeting

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Last night, at the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association’s monthly meeting, neighbors heard once again from Tom O’Brien, founding partner and managing director of HYM, the developer of the 161 acres that had housed Suffolk Downs for 100 years. (I say “once again” because O’Brien and his project team have appeared numerous times at neighborhood meetings throughout East Boston starting last year, when the Suffolk Downs project first unveiled.) Those of us who’ve heard from O’Brien for many months know the proposal quite well. What was new last night,m at least to me, was the development’s impact upon our area’s public transportation system. It will be major.

According to slides that O’Brien displayed, Suffolk Downs, with its 10,000 new housing units, will cause ridership on the Blue Line to double during peak hours. O’Brien noted that the Blue Line holds two of its 14 full six-car trains in reserve: and that math does not add up. If O’Brien’s ridership forecast comes to pass, the Blue Line might need 12 additional trains, not two.

The HYM display also includes major rebuilding of Route 1-A, a road already jammed up at peak hours. Not all of HYM’s 10,000 new housing units will be occupied by car owners, but many will, and perhaps most. Where will their commute routes take them through ? Clearly Route 1-A will need some restructure. As for the three Harbor tunnels, one hardly dares picture the mess. Right now tunnel-bound traffic experiences delays of up to one hour, inbound in the morning, home-bound at night. I have many times found myself stuck in said jams; it ain’t fun.

Governor Baker has a pretty good handle on upgrading the current MBTA as well as plans to increase bus service and extend the Green Line. I’ve written often the details of his MBTA program. Yet when I spoke to him on Sunday about “what are we gonna do, for transportation, about the additional 100,000 people who will live in Boston soon,” he said “it never ends, does it ?” — a sense that no matter what we are able to do, it will never be enough as long as Boston continues to boom beyond all expectation and attract ever more residents, not to mention commuters and shoppers. So when I asked O’Brien if he had worked out any of his project’s transportation impacts with Baker’s office, I was hoping that he would tell us details of a work-out. He did not provide one, although he did praise MassDOT secretary Stephanie Pollock’s knowledge and effectiveness.

I will be talking at length with O’Brien about his transportation impacts, specifically about what Baker’s office is willing to include on his MBTA upgrade agenda. as we all know, the estimated cost of bringing the current MBTA system to “SGR” (state of good repair) is about $ 7.8 billion, of which about $ 2 billion has so far been spent, chiefly on track repair, signaling, digitizing trains and schedules, and new cars for the Orange and Red Lines. How much additional will the expansions cost that the Suffolk Downs project will require ? That depends on deciding specifics of the expansion, first; has any agreement between HYM and the State been arrived at ? If so, what are the cost estimates ? O’Brien decried the voters’ repeal of gas tax indexing: yet would those finds, amount purely speculative, have borne more than a small piece of what is coming ? I doubt it.

So we shall see where this goes. I’ll publish details of my ta=lk with To m O’Brien as soon as it happens.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Supreme Court Kavanaugh

^ Susan Collins speaks for ordinary voters, those of us who act as neighbors in the real world of community

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During the past four weeks those who get their information from the media, including social media, have witnessed the impact upon our nation’s civic consensus of activists far too sure of themselves. It is a mistake politically and epistemologically to be sure of oneself — more on this topic later — but that doesn’t stop those who are sure from being sure: nor has it ever. Certainty is more often a curse than a boon, and on social media certainty among politicals is the thing: people who don’t do actual physical campaigning get onto their cell phones and insist, insist, and insist some more, finding plenty of people to insist alongside them in pursuit of an absolute or three. The actual media loves it. The certainty interest is where they get their users, their subscribers, their followers, without whom they can’t make money.

My Mom was a newspaperwoman, a section editor at one of Boston’s great dailies. As a kid, 60-odd years ago, I used to ask her how the paper could print the scandals, many of them doctored, that were its bread and butter ? Her answer : “son, we are here to sell newspapers.” She was right; I was wrong.

The problem with publishing one sided stories, doctored or not, as that people believe what they read, The pen really is mightier than the sword. Yet in the traditional newspaper era, those who believed a thing had no way of knowing if anyone else believed it, or how many; and so people were shy to discuss stuff with their friends or neighbors. That’s still true in actual life; but in social media, there are no neighbors, only cliques of folks who know of each other’s existence and so know who they can safely vent their beliefs with. Belief is thus weaponized by sharing.

If you wonder how fairness — the rule of law, due process, and all that other fuddy-duddy stuff upon which our Constitution and society are based — can be so roundly discarded, even attacked, by warriors on the net, the weaponizing of belief is how it’s done. On the net, you are safe to be a bigot of whatever sort because you can block anyone who doesn’t share your particular rant and do so without actual comital consequences. On the net, in social media, there are no neighbors.

Thus Brett Kavanaugh could be savaged by accusation, piled on by yet more nonsensical gossip — all of it published by media in search of the net’s beehives of belief — and his most credible accuser savaged as well,  by opponents of anti-Kavanaugh belief, with no consequences at law or for justice. My sense is that neither he nor she told the whole truth; that each side-stepped inconvenient facts; and that each was manoeuvered into impossible shape by people with an agenda that cared not a whit if their champion ended up damaged, maybe forever. I am sure that Dr. Ford had no clue that her confidential letter would be used to ambush Judge Kavanaugh or destroy his good name, certainly not in the lurid, lawless, ruthless ways it was used once published. She grew up before social media existed, and the shy and quite self-absorbed person I saw give testimony seemed completely perplexed by what was happening to her. The same is true for Judge Kavanaugh, though at less extent: he has long been an important actor in the politics of Washington and knew that he was hated by the party opposite. He would face hostility galore — that he knew; yet even he, I think, had no idea what was to come. He seemed quite unprepared for it, genuinely puzzled as to how his high school, or college, life —  not at all unlike the life lived by my college and prep school contemporaries, believe me — had any bearing on the successful attorney and Judge he now was. He ducked many questions about that stage of his life, and I can’t really blame him: who of us at age 53 expects to be confronted publicly by the jerk we were at age 15, 17, 20, and to have the public now see us — at least partially — as kid jerk ? We have a right, we do, to grow up and put childish things aside, as Apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters, and be judged as adults. The same, of course, was true of Dr. Ford : it was very difficult, at least for me, to see the 15 year old party girl — and she was that — in the delicate, bookish 53 year old academic testifying at such a solemn bench.

Social media erased almost all this nuance. The two principals ceased to be fallible human beings like you and like me and became avatars of opposing causes insisted upon regardless of the skepticisms embedded in our nation’s legal system, Constitution, and venerable notions of fairness. Partisans of Dr. Ford set due process aside — because what is “believe women” but an assertion that accusation is its own proof ? — and partisans of Judge Kavanaugh, though forced to adhere to fairness, sometimes resorted to disparaging Dr. Ford’s character or candor. That the case in question could be neither proved nor disproved rendered it all the more open to ruthless war, on social media especially:  because certainty thrives untamed when no certainty can ever be shown.

Susan Collins’s epic speech put an end to all that, for the present. She spoke the common sense wisdom of those who do not get sucked into the undertow of social media’s certainty waves. She spoke for ordinary neighbors, who do not shout each other down or bang protest upon each other’s doors, who do not corner each other in elevators or text death threats to one another. Collins decried every detail of the Senate hearing, scolding the opposition as it deserved to be, from the point of view of ordinary neighbors — of voters who don’t think they know it all and who work humbly in their community —  and how they act in the world. She was correct: fairness must govern how we deal with each other, if we are to be true to our nation’s ideals and our community custom. It was a superb speech, one that we all should read in the context: neighbors and community.

Unfortunately, the arena of social media is expanding, perhaps to overtake that of neighbors and community. As we spend more and more time ranting into our cell phones or yelling in the streets, and less time interacting with actual neighbors, the ideals that gave rise to American political agreements weaken. An age of illiberality, and of inquisition; of belief for belief’s sake; of mob rule and almost civil war between competing mobs, is upon us. Good-bye to the Constitution and its careful barriers to passions of the moment, its safeguards for differing viewpoints, and its guarantees of fundamental rights TO ALL. I fear for the future of our unsocial nation.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere