Mueller Trump

^ Two Republicans : one from the era of reform, one from the era of losing

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Today, with very few exceptions, the national Republican party is all but dead. Yes, numbers of living people call themselves Republican, but a name is more than the sounds that come out of one’s mouth when speaking it. What we call the national Republican party now is a negative thing, a subtraction, not an addition.

The Republican party was formed in America in the 1850s to be an American political party pursuing American ideals; and so it remained, generally, for the next 130 years at least. Republican electeds initiated great reform legislation and saw them to enactment : the Land grant College Act, the Homestead Act, anti-trust laws, the Interstate Commerce Commission (which regulated railroad rates so as not to bankrupt farmers), and even labor legislation : the Norris-LaGuardia Anti-Injunction Act gave labor the right to picket as a tool for organizing and bargaining with employers. Republicans saw the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments presented and ratified. Republicans supported the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, even if by then a large part of the party were opposed. Republican-appointed Judges and Justices enforced those civil rights acts and, earlier, gave us the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision that ended legal segregation in schools and public accommodations. Republican-appointed Justices like the two John Marshall Harlans, Wiliam Brennan, and Oliver Wendell Holmes led the Supreme Court into the modern era of Constitutional rights. As late as the 1970s, Republican reformers like Nelson Rockefeller, Ed Brooke, Jacob Javits, and Clifford Case effected important reforms in Federal housing policy. Republicans enacted the Clean Air Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1991. It was a fearless heritage of idealism in action on the practical level.

But that Republican party is no more. Less than 30 years — just one generation — after President Bush 41 signed the AWDA into law, the Republican party has become the enemy of reform and, indeed, of the nation’s ideals themselves. We see it every hour : the cruelty of Mr. Trump, the corruption, the ignorance. We see Mr. Trump degrading LGBT people, immigrants, and people of color expressly othering them all and calling for them to “go back where you came from” — the exact opposite of what America calls upon people to do : come here, from wherever you came from, just come and be part of us.

We see this, and we see almost every national elected Republican go along or even endorse it all.

We see Mr. Trump condone and even applaud direct Russian manipulation of our elections, and we see nothing counter except for a few elected Republicans,. most of them not running for re-election .

Those who are classic Republican — economically conservative, jealous of our national est interests, and embracing the national mission, including welcoming all immigrants of god will — have had to quit the party, as Congressman Justin Amash has done. Joe Scarborough, Max Boot, George Will, Jennifer Rubin, Ana Navarro, and dozens of state legislators.

Yes, Republicans of reform persuasion still find place in the states, which, thanks to the localizing checks written into our Constitutional system, continue to elect reformist Republican Governors and a few such legislators. How long this sort of Republican can continue to exist is unclear.

The destruction of the Republican party begins in 1957, when Lyndon Johnson, as senate majority leader, got the Democratic-controlled Senate to enact a Civil Rights Act which, however, token, predicted the coalition which would, eight years alter, enact Civil Rights Acts that truly mattered. The 1957 act split the Republican party and gave the Democrats the Civil Rights initiative. By 1965, that year’s civil rights acts were passed with bipartisan majorities, but though they split the Democratic party, anti-Civil Rights Democrats who became Republicans confirmed the direction of the times : the Democratic party would now be the party of rights reform, the Republican party its opponent : a complete reversal of 100 years of political custom.

The more anti-Civil Rights Democrats who became Republican, the more they weakened the party, now torn free of its roots and traditions and in the Congressional minority to boot. As such, the Republican party more and more became home to the losers in the many reform fights of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. When, in the 1980s, Evangelical Christians — losers in the battle to secure women’s rights to abortion — began to organize within the Republican party, its status as the nation’s losing side party became destiny.

A party of losers is a party of grievance. It’s a party of negatives. And pretty soon a party of losers forgets the actual loss that brought them a loser frame of mind; and they begin to view everything political that is happening as directed at them, so that when it enacts, they are somehow defeated by it, no matter what sort of law is being enacted. Thus, when the Bush ’43 administration opened its major anti-AIDS initiative, somehow that was a loss for Republicans. And when Ronald Reagan, and then Bush ’43, oversaw immigration reforms, these too were somehow loss for the loser mindset. When war hero John McCain became the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, this too was, in the loser mindset, a loss to be complained of. Yet again when Mitt Romney became the 2012 nominee : another loss for those whose political identity was “in all battles, the loser.”

But losers eventually tire of being outnumbered by winners. They want the politics of losing to become the majority. By 2016 it wasn’t enough for candidates to embrace the Evangelical platform to make the nation’s public law conform to Evangelical writ. That was nice, but it wasn’t the truth. The truth was LOSING. Losing as an attitude, losing as a policy, losing as a statement of purpose of identity. For the plurality of Republicans who voted for Mr Trump, the tipping point was his loser attitude, his loser language, his loser opinions. Everything that had won in America, he spat upon. Everyone who was respected in America, he degraded. And if the committed Evangelicals resisted — supported Ted Cruz — well, Mr. Trump turned upon his own loser platform and embraced theirs: and why not ? The evangelical platform had also lost, and though it seemed paradoxical to depend upon a loser to get the laws that they wanted, they could see which way the political wind was blowing : losers of the world, unite !

Had Mr. Trump lost the 2016 election, the Republican party might have turned from its 25 years of loser attitude and loser policy. (I say MIGHT have. It also might have not.) But the election went Mr. Trump’s way, and this gave to a loser party the one gift it cannot achieve by itself : power.  All of the terrible things that have happened politically since January 20, 2017 owe their existence to the anomaly of a party of losers having winners’ power. What does someone do with power who never expects to have it and whose entire mindset is dedicated to despising everyone and every principle that has defeated them, and to keeping themselves in the loser position ?

We are seeing the answer to that question now. A policy of against. Everything you have lost to must go. Everything that you felt you had lost to, even though you didn’t lose at all from it, that too must go, because you felt that you had lost to it. If LGBT people secure the right to love who they want to and live as they want to, well, that is a loss for those who find every change a personal loss. If some categories of undocumented immigrants secure permission to reside in the nation, well that too is a loss. Because immigrants ARE America. And the more American an idea, the more that a professional loser dislikes it.

The loser in power invents all sorts of losses to feed his or her appetite for loser-hood.

People watch this orgy of losing causes embraced and say “there must be a bottom.” There IS NO bottom. Neo-nazis, the KKK, “go back where you came from,” anti-Semitism, harassing Black people who are just living life, scrawling graffiti on Synagogue walls — all of it becomes a revelation to the loser as he or she realizes that you can actually be a hero to the “loser community” by being a punk.

(So far actual violence seems off limits, but how long will that last taboo on loser-hood last ? Charlottesville doesn’t exactly give one comfort that violence isn’t the next phase of losers embracing being loser heroes, loser martyrs even.

And one further step down the road to negation : an entire species of attention-getter has blown up on cable Tv and in social media, dedicated to saying and publishing outrageous, disgusting, loser’s shit — punk’s, jerk’s, liar’s, con gamer’s shit — because it gets them attention (from fellow losers but also from the shocked rest of us, who cannot believe the stuff these attention addicts say) and thus advertising dollars which makes them rich.  The money being real, there’s a veritable swarm of liars competing to become “influencers” — Laura Loomers, Milo Yannopouloses, Tomi Lhrens, Jacob Wohls, Mike Cernoviches, Jack Posobiecs, Pam Gellers, what have you — and thus the nation today is smothered in every sort of broadcast pollution, the stepchildren of supermarket tabloid sensationalism which purports to be political punditry but is nothing more than the monetarization of the loser attitude and loser policy which Mr. Trump’s victory has given a momentary currency.

Of course it cannot last. Negation is its own destroyer, and soon enough the torrent of negation will swallow itself as a black hole swallows gases and masticates particles that get near to it. Thus we see the Republican party turn on itself, devouring its own body, as Mr. Trump, the President of losing, attacks a Republican of the old reform type, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, and is joined in said attack by losers for losing’s sake.

You cannot build a political party on negation, only destroy it. Most people believe in their lives. Most people want to succeed, not to lose. Most people believe that they will succeed and should succeed and that losing is a ditch in which one should never wallow. Confidence and success will win out; it always does. And confidence is the foundation of political achievement. Which fact is no comfort to a Republican party completely trapped in the black hole of losing, a hole that material people know to avoid at all costs.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




Biden and Mccain

^ decades of friendship, compromise, and meeting of minds : always better than an overnight solution

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We will defeat Mr. Trump. All we have to do is vote. We have the numbers, he doesn’t. We have them even in the states that he needs to get to 270 electoral votes. He is underwater, with the voters, in almost every state where the outcome is not assured. He is down in Michigan, down in Pennsylvania, down in North Carolina and Arizona. He is down even in Texas, down in Iowa, down in Georgia. He could well by landslided out. All we have to do is vote.

The defeat of Mr. Trump is not by any means the 2020 election’s chief challenge. The factor that engages me — troubles me — is that a cutting edge of those who are working to defeat him seeks to go as far in the opposite direction as Mr. Trump has taken the nation in his direction. How that edge is not worrisome for people escapes me.

If Mr. Trump’s radicalism is dangerous, and undesirable, why would radicalism of the opposite sort not be dangerous and worrisome ? If it is bad to call mainstream journalism “fake news” and “:the enemy of the people,” why is it not equally bad to censor journalism or hound and harass speakers of unpopular opinions ? If unbridled corporate speculations are bad as greedy and short-sighted, why are not price controls and regulation of management not equally bad, as stifling initiative ? If Presidential executive orders (“E/O’s’) are bad when Mr. Trump tries them, why are they not equally bad when Democratic candidates propose E/O’s of their own ?

To defeat Mr. Trump, we must vote the Democrats in. This is not without risk. When I hear Democratic candidates talking about how we’re in “an emergency,” I think about all the rules that govern most emergency situations : hurry, dispatch, doing away with procedural safeguards, rush to judgement. Emergency politics opens the door to — encourages — rash acts, prejudicial orders, the creation of enemies to be done away with. Think 1789 to 1794 in France. Think 1917-1939 in Russia. Every totalitarian tyranny talks of facing emergency situations and of the drastic acts it must adopt in order to meet said emergency. Who decides if the stated emergency actually exists ? Usually the person or people who decide that end up judge, jury and executioner.

Agreed, that the Trump administration has created many situations that some might justly call a crisis : detention of asylum seekers at the southern border, abolition of climate science, demonization of LGBT people, attacks upon women’s health rights, disdain for our alliances, indifference to Russian and Chinese attacks on our cyber existence. All of these acts need to be rolled back and much fairer, wiser, more tolerant governance and diplomacy installed in their place. What should NOT be allowed to happen is the substitution of equally repressive alternatives. This sort of substitution begins with prejudicial slogans and pre-decided arguments. A depressing example is the phrase “believe the women” or “believe survivors.” First of all, I don’t believe women any more than I believe men. I believe facts and only facts. Second, in order to be a survivor you have to have survived something; but the existence of that something must be established first; otherwise you are not a survivor, just a claimant. Nor does the Presidency of Mr Trump override these basics. If anything, the presidency of Mr. Trump makes adherence to process and ascertainment more vital than ever. Verification as a standard of justice,m rather than accusation, becomes more important as the desire to accuse becomes more insistent.

Insistence has nothing whatsoever to do with fact finding.

Times of emergency call for more skepticism — more patience, more circumspection — than ordinary times.

Cold water should equally be thrown upon heated assertions of identity. Just because Mr. Trump and his cult say that brown people are bad does not mean that brown people are good. The good or bad of a person has nothing to do with their skin color, nor their national origin, nor their sexual attributes, nor their biology. The present tendency, among people boiled by social media, to cook up racial criteria of goodness is a misuse of moral fire and customary cookware. Cooled off, the meal of personal worth tastes much better, as we realize that every person is a child of God. There is no racial, national, or sexual qualifier in Rabbi Hillel’s great precept “whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to your fellow.”

So there it is, my political friends: calm down. Do your job. Organize, canvass, vote. Send Mr. trump back to the ghost world whence his sort arose. But do not put in his place an opposite species of ghost, equally bladed, blindly sure, touchlessly harsh, Philistine and censorious, illiberally tolerant, violent about violence, fervently generous with other people’s money — despising compromise because, after all, why not have it all, and now ? — and demanding overnight solutions to every problem that confounds entire generations. Be slow to the front lines, late to the party, derelict in hasty duties. Be patient: those who went before you did not change there world very much, and neither will you. Be satisfied with small wins gained on the margins. The most radical changes arise from war. And war is the stupidest, most destructive, unprogressive fact of all the miserable facts that human beings create in our dreadfully imperfect attempts at a better and more just world.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^^ at the door : District Eight’s Jen Nassour

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There exists, in this year’s City Council race, a curious disconnect between what the candidates are saying to the voters and what the voters are telling the candidates. Perhaps I should say “most of” the candidates, not all. Some candidates actually give voice, or try to give voice, to what the voters are saying when one meets them at the door.

I have door knocked with two candidates this year, in Districts Five and Eight, and I have canvassed a little bit for an at-Large Council candidate. I’ve probably knocked on 5,000 doors. That’s a fairly respectable number, I think, whence to generalize. Here’s what the voters are saying :

The number one issue is the unacceptable condition of Boston’s schools : the potluck assignment system, which sends kids all over the city and, if you’re not lucky, to a choice of school you’d rather not agree to; the physical plant of many schools, in poor condition, or with outmoded,. ineffective ventilation or heating systems; the lack of classroom supplies. Some express concern that the exam school tests will be weakened. Hundreds of voters have expressed to the candidate I’m walking with — expressed in detail and at length, sometimes ten minutes of talk — their dissatisfactions and, in many cases, their desire to leave the city, if they have to — if their child doesn’t make one of the exams chools —  to assure their kids an acceptable school system.

Number two issue is a potpourri of very, VERY local matters : trash pickups that don’t get picked up; one way street requests; speeding traffic; sewers in need of cleaning; noisy neighbors at three in the morning.

Number three is development. Almost everybody who mentions development agrees that it’s good for the neighborhood, but few like the process of zoning variances overriding the zoning laws, and nobody likes proposals that build right to the property line, or build too high, or both. Along with development comes the matter of affordability, for which few voters feel they can offer any solution. (Nor do the candidates have one that actually works.)

Number four are the many, many voters who tell the candidate that they’re quite OK with how things are going and don’t really have any neighborhood concerns at all. They are glad, however, to have a neighborhood Councillor — and a District Councillor is that — whose office they can call upon if need be.

A few voters raise transportation issues. What are these ? Increased cross-town bus service; parking at Forest Hills T hub; too much bike laneage; out of towners parking on the neighborhood streets.

Overriding all of the above, the voters who we meet and talk to want to be listened to, want to be recognized, want to feel that their Councillor values their vote and their opinion.

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Given all the noise and the drama going on in the political arena as it plays to the social media audience, what I’ve written may read impossibly out of touch, seem naively pollyanna, look mundanely obvious — and not news at all. So be it. The voters of Boston get up in the morning, go to work, or take care of the kids, come home, eat dinner, watch a little TV or take the kids into the backyard to play, or walk the dog, perhaps paint the fence or fix a bathroom sink, have a night out at the local trendy bistro. If they’re elderly, they may stay at home — many do not — be visited by a social service provider, or go to a senior center for socializing and a meal. Mirror er, this is true regardless of their last name, or skin color or other personal attribute.

Pretty mundane, right ? Naive maybe ? Not news at all.

The voters do not breathe politics, do not eat wedge issues, shrug the protests they see on the evening news. Activism, for them, means Main Streets, or the local Art Association, or the Garden Club, or the Library committee — and of course caring for the local park. (Park people are passionate about the park whose well-being they’ve adopted.) Or it means the neighborhood crime watch, or the Farmers’ market, or Porchfest. In East Boston, where I have my base, activism also means caring for the Harbor, or confronting it, transporting over it, finding ways to channel it; and showing love to Constitution Beach.

Small stuff, mundane, not news at all.

You would think, given what the voters I have listened to are saying — the voters whose concerns and lives I have written about — that Council candidates would be talking about these matters, humble and small; about school improvement; about the City’s traffic policies. No such luck. Most of the candidates whose literature I’ve read talk a whole other world of words. They write big words, fancy terminology, loaded phrases, slogans. You would think they were running for  Congress.

What I do NOT hear at the door : “social justice” ; “environmental justice”; “transportation equity” or “sustainable mobility.” (Who invents these terms ?) Nor does anyone say we should impose the $ 25.00 resident parking fee that one Councillor suggests.. (I do hear people who think this fee is crazy.)  I don’t hear calls for increasing taxes. I don’t hear anyone say “I’m tired of voting for old white men.” Only one person, of the 2,500 or so that I have listened to, has mentioned an immigration matter. A few people — not many — grumble about “the progressives.” A few say they’re sick of politics and all the yelling and insulting. All such complaints don’t amount to more than one percent of the voters I have met.

Yet these are subjects focused by many of this year’s candidates. You’d think they were running for Congress.

I have news for you if you’re a Council candidates : The big bad, evil Trump doesn’t live in Boston, he’s not the Mayor, he isn’t a kind of “Kilroy was here,” a schmoo lurking in every shadow ready to pounce upon you and say “boo !” When you run for a seat on the City Council, you’re not marching to do battle with President Kilroy. You are sitting down: to pore over the City budget, to make a phone call to the DPW to fix a street light, to host a constituents’ coffee hour, to attend a neighborhood abutters’ meeting, to moderate a dispute about where to put the proposed Roxbury Prep school.

The voters of Boston want Council candidates who will do the detail work, who will address the many, many BPS deficiencies and waste of millions of dollars. They want Councillors who will guide the development process going forward. They want candidates who will support the Boston Police in their dangerous work. They want their tax dollars used effectively and not heaped upon failure. They want District Councillors who will be just that : Councillors for the District, for the neighborhoods within it.

When we set up Council Districts 38 years ago, the whole idea was to give a voice at the table to the NEIGHBORHOODS. The District Councillor was to bring his or her unique neighborhood viewpoint into policy discussions. The City already had at-Large Councillors whose brief  was to represent city-wide issues, big issues (but still City issues, not issues for Congress) What had been missing, in City policy talks, was recognition that its neighborhoods had character all their own and that that character needed to have its voice written into the City charter.

We cannot overcome the Congress-campaign agenda so many Council candidates are spieling at us unless we have a competing agenda that rings true, that speaks the actual voice of the actual voters. That agenda is NEIGHBORHOOD.

It is a politics of SMALL. Of HUMBLE. A politics in which facts on the ground override will o’ the wisps and wake up to the mistakes that neither the administrators nor the Congress wanna-be’s care to talk about. (This is especially true of the City’s $ 1.27 billion schools budget and its misplaced priorities.) It is, and has to be, a politics of community, of unique community: because why else even have District Councillors ? And it has to be, at the City-wide Council level, a politics of congregation, in which the various communities of Boston pool their common interests to arrive at a policy that every sort of voter  can feel he or she has a personal stake in. I don’t see that in some of the at-Large candidacies, a few of which feel more like candidacies for Mayor than for a Council seat.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Boston future

^ future Boston : high water, a market economy, and mobility liberty

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Often I have written about the many challenges that prosperity has brought to Boston but singly rather than together. Let me now attempt to offer a unified plan for the next twenty years or so of Boston governance.

One can sum up the riddle quite simply : ( 1 ) wages and salaries have not kept up with — not even close to — the rising prices of housing ( 2 ) the Mayor’s call for 69,000 new units of housing by 2030 bumped the acquisition price of buildable land by double, even triple ( c ) ( 3 ) the movement of enterprise and jobs into Center City put unanticipated bnurdens on the MBTA and the City’s roads ( 4 ) as jobs moved into Downtown, so did those holding them, followed by shops, restaurants, and bars serving their social needs and commute routes ( 5 ) the coming of Uber and Lyft, to meet those commute needs, put thousands of ride-share cars onto Boston’s streets and ( 6 ) climate change is upon us, requiring structural responses to water control in this very coastal city

As no one — I hope — wants the City’s current prosperity to backslide, but instead to continue, solutions are in order to the radical rearrangements occasioned by the prosperity.

I would hope that everyone involved would want to see workable solutions, but the baleful influence of political agendas puts such a wish in serious doubt. We see, for example, one City Councillor — who would like to be Mayor — calling for the T to be free and “equitable,” whatever that means, and to “unite us all.” I’m sorry, but the T is only one component of a serious Boston plan, and not by any means the most important or pressing, although its upgrade and modernization is certainly a priority for the State. Keep in mind that most of the goods that Boston customers purchase move b y rail and truck. None moves by the T. Only people move by the T, and not all of the people., perhaps only a minority of us. The Councillor who would be Mayor would like to tax car users hard enough to force them onto the T — thereby removing cars’ carbon emissions from the climate, a serious policy goal for said Councillor — and of course the more people said Councillor can feed into the T’s maw, the more grumping can be generated against the Governor whom the Councillor’s supporters and colleagues do not like, all to the political benefit, they hope, of their movement.

So much for the political impediment to a sensible, workable Boston plan. But if we are not to move Boston in the T-only, car-penalizing, future that said Councillor envisions — complete with free T rides, forcing the entire T finance onto state taxpayers — then what future do I suggest for a sustained prosperous Boston ? This :

( a ) support unions in their actions to drive workers’ wages higher, much higher. To live in Prosperity Boston, one needs to earn at least the current median city income : $ 60,000 a year. We can’t legislate a minimum wage particular only to Boston, although we can — and should — legislate an even higher minimum wage than the current $ 12 to $ 15/hour scheduled to take full effect by 2023; but unions can win company-specific, or industry-specific, contracts that achieve the $ 21/hour and more that Boston workers should earn.

( b ) accept greater residential density than the current norm, including micro apartments and tiny houses, and higher structures than current zoning allows. Land acquisition costs are what they are, whether the buyer builds three stories, or five, or eight, or twelve. Thus the large impact that land costs have on current development can be minimized by allowing taller buildings, so that more units can be built on the same lot of land. There is no economic reason why it HAS TO cost a builder $ 500,000 per unit to build. Lower the effects of land acquisition cost, and you can lower the rents or sale prices that a builder has to charge.

( c ) eliminate dedicated bus and bike lanes on City streets. Boston’s streets are narrow enough. Even the main streets in its outer neighborhoods are only so wide. Hiving off lanes for bikes or buses, or for both, is a favoritism that car users — the majority of us — rightly resent. If “Transportation equity,” a term that some reformers talk of, means anything, it means that all forms of “mobility” operate in the same arena, with no favor given to any. You want to relieve some of the traffic that clogs City streets and highways at peak hours ? The last way to do this is to jam car users into smaller and smaller portions of those streets and highways.

( 4 ) go with the flow rather than fighting it. Measures that seek to impede the effects of big buyer money on the City’s residential economy only divert money/ from one pocket to another. Much smarter to let the price market “work the numbers,” because eventually — maybe soon — the “numbers” will peak. There are signs that these numbers are already peaking. But if not — yet — is it so bad that property owners who invested in Boston when prices were way too low — a thing few of us were ready to admit to, or insure against — and who never had much money or equity other than their property now find themselves blessed with a lottery ticket of money ? Those who are buying are buying from US, not from a stranger. Meanwhile, the new buyers are assuming all kinds of price risk : for markets fall as well as rise, and economies change, and those who buy a three-decker for $ 1,300,000 know they have to find a way out, sooner rather than later. The coming of 10,000 housing units in the new Suffolk Downs, with a meager 5.7 percent rate of return for the investor, has to warn current buyers that the boom is aging. In fact, as I see it, any sensible plan for future Boston should confront the question : what happens to property when the boom turns down ? The history of such turns is not pretty. Take a look at Detroit these past 25 years as an extreme example. When Boston moves into this sort of phase — as it surely will — our future residents will long for the Prosperity Days.

( 5 ) end the Federal Court’s Busing Order so that community schools can revive. Busing serves no one any more. Every Boston neighborhood is now racially and cultural;ly diverse. You can’t have community without community schools, and if you have community schools, families with school age children won’t up and move out of the City, as they have been doing in large numbers since the late 1970s. The most significant reform we can make to the vast Boston Public Schools (BPS) budget ( $ 1.27 billion in FY 2020) would be to repurpose the $ 96,000,000 now spent on  busing kids as dictated by the obsolete Federal order.

( 6 ) do not rely chiefly on the T for all our “mobility” urges. The T only goes where it wants to go and only when it wants to go there. Using the T also involves standing and waiting in all kinds of weather. It often means being crushed in overcrowded trains and buses. The T should be a last resort, not a first. I use it only when I have to go Downtown — which is often — because one simply cannot park a car Downtown except at enormous cost even assuming that one can find an available parking spot. The T is OK for commuting from home to a job, and for the young, who don’t mind ugly weather or crushing in overcrowds, the T can even be fun. Given our T expectations, its a wonder that it works at all; upgrades can basically only be done during the night hours, otherwise major disruption results. I certainly favor expanding the Orange Line to Readville, and the Blue Line to Lynn, and I like the coming Red Line to Blue Line connector. The T definitely has a role to play in the future of Boston people’s moving about. But it is a very rigid system in a culture and economy that correctly values flexibility and liberty. Roads are by far the more useful option for most of us.

( 7 ) we must meet the rising ocean, but people can do it a lot more innovatively than government. I have a lot more confidence in ad hoc, activist groups like The Harborkeepers, to find and put into practice ways of controlling the coming years of high water than I do in government agencies. Controlling high water should not be a subject for political manoeuver. It is rather a challenge for architects, greenspace planners, and, yes, waterside property owners. In this fight, the City is only one among many communities faced with water encroachment. Regional planning can help, but the burden should first fall on those who own property that will either be flooded or safeguarded. I think the owners know best, and if not, then self-starting activists should and will step in, quite beneficially, because these organizations are not bound by pre-existing rules, and they correctly confide in the imaginations of people who think for themselves.

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One other point I wish to make : Boston in the decades from 1970 to 2000 built a ton of senior-citizen housing. I am not a fan of this sort of custodial, supervised living, but it proved a boon to older folks whose kids moved out and away, leaving their parents abandoned in run-down homes and apartments. The City also provides homeowner residents a substantial real estate tax credit. A similar credit should be granted to seniors. (it may already be, I am not sure.) That said, a senior lucky enough to own a Boston home today sits on a pretty substantial fund : at least $ 400,000, more likely a price of $ 700,000 to $ 2,000,000. I find these sorts of situations every day that I door knock in Council District Five for a candidate I am supporting. Given the state’s homestead exemption of $ 500,000, and the prevalence of very low income seniors living thusly, with all manner of home health aides to visit and serve their daily needs, including for company, the current boom gives these old and even very old Bostonians plenty of options for at least financial ease without having to move into a large residential institution in which institutional culture dominates, even suffocates individual liberty.



Having fun

Some of my political friends are having fun today, poking and playing at protest, out in the beautiful July weather, of our MBTA, which is an easy mark for fun pokings. I wish them a good time and hope that they meet  many of our citizens on their way to work and enjoy some fun conversations on this cusp of holiday day.

The fun was invited by a City Councillor who proposed this as a “Boston Tea Party” — as if we didn’t already have enough tea parties. But I guess we didn’t yet have enough, for my friends who are out dancing up this one.

Buzzing up behind the party-celebrants there’s more bad City temper for our much-abused MBTA. Mayor Walsh has proposed that the City be given its own, Boston government seat on the MBTA governing board. At the same time,. the Councillor who hosting today’s caper insists that the MBTA’s six percent ( 6 %) fare hike not go into effect. (Notice : it has.) I’ll deal this suggestion next, but first, the Mayor’s demand for a Boston seat on the MBTA board, which I will dispose of in two brief paragraphs :

( 1 ) the City spent decades getting the legislature to repeal laws by which the Governor had the right to appoint members of the Boston Licensing Board. We were well within our rights to do this. So why, now, does the Mayor think that it is right for the City to have what it correctly insisted the Governor should not have ?

( 2 ) The State governs the MBTA, which receives the overwhelming bulk of its funds from the entire State’s taxpayers, with whom the State has a direct relationship. Why should Boston City hall have any part of that direct relationship ? No City administration is part of state administration; each is elected separately. They should remain separate.

Now I will dispose of the Councillor’s argument concerning T fares, which rose by six per cent today :

( 1 ) the City’s budget for FY 2020 has increased by three percent, thus burdening city taxpayers an extra three percent. Why is it OK to increase the burden on taxpayers, but not on T riders, for whose benefit taxpayers pay most of the T budget ? The T is NOT a taxpayer gift to riders. Riders must pay their share of this service, as we do — I too am a rider, and I am not burdened by an extra $ 4.50 a month. (Some protestors say that this fare hike burdens low income riders. I doubt that $ 4.50 a month — at most — is that huge a burden.)

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Meanwhile, has anybody noticed, or protested, the City’s raising its parking meter fines ? I guess that that’s OK, because it hits only car users, and in Boston today, car users are the devil…

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It is all too tempting for politicians, whose appetite for attention exceeds their capacity, to chew the most available issue candy, the sweetest gripe ice cream, the juiciest policy hot dog. But public policy is not food at a block party. The MBTA — indeed, all of MassDOT — had, in 2014, suffered through at least 40 years of neglect. It cannot be made good quickly, because all of it has to be USED, which means that repairs have to wait until late night hours and on the weekends; and even weekend road and T closures cause mighty disruption. Politicians with eyes bigger than their stomachs want to order the entire menu of taxpayer money, but if the T had $ 80 billion, not just the $ 8,050,000,000 that it now has, it could not repair itself very quickly without massive, cataclysmic disruption. Were the T to institute this , the public outcry would make today’;s caper look like a will o’ the wisp. It ain’t gonna happen.

Fact is, the T will be upgraded and made good, in all its aspects — including its enormous fiscal imbalances that none of the caperers dare talk about — in the shortest time frame that the public will tolerate having T service disrupted. Meanwhile, new trains and electric buses are coming into service — and I’m betting you that not one of todays’ caper-cutters will utter so much as a peep of thank you.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



patience and prudence

^^^ The headline has a gimmick in it, for those who remember this singing duo from the 1960s, as I fear too many of the coming generation do not…

Oh well.

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When it comes to politics and government, the first response today is, too often, impatience, which makes imprudence almost inevitable.  Reform of government, and of the laws, is always in play, because human institutions can always do better. They’re attempts and nothing more. That said, my rule, in matters of reform, is that of the physician :  “first, do no harm.” It’s far too easy for a hasty reform to make matters worse, or to exchange one failure for its opposite, or carelessly to miss the unintended consequences of a change that looked good on paper.

Thus we come to the agenda being proposed by a group of Massachusetts activists who all themselves “progressives.” Is their agenda actually a progress ? I will answer that question later. First, let us look at some of the legislation they’re backing, and which they demand that candidates commit to in order to qualify for a “progressive’ endorsement :

( a ) the so-called “fair share amendment,” which seeks to amend the Massachusetts constitution to provide for a four percent surtax on incomes above $ 1,000,000. Currently, the Constitution’s equal protection clause requires that all laws, including tax laws, be applied equally to all. The proponents of this amendment require that this surtax be allocated to transportation and education. My response : writing specific budget items into the constitution ensures that s needs change, the money to fund them will not be able to change without a corresponding constitutional amendment. This is no way to budget state governance, which should be flexible enough to respond to needs as they come current. We should avoid constitutional amendment except where civil rights are involved.

( b ) “Debt-free College Act : an act to guarantee debt-free public higher education for MA residents. My response : ( 1 ) the taxpayers already fund the salaries and maintenance expenses of public universities in the state. Why should taxpayers pay the costs of private colleges ? Why should taxpayers fund ANY private institutions ? ( 2 ) if enacted, this act would be an invitation for private colleges to charge whatever they want to charge by way of student tuition, subject only to the state budget process. ( 3 ) the cost of this item would add billions of dollars to our $ 42.7 billion state budget.

( c ) “Medicare for All” was proposed in 2014 by candidate Don Berwick. He admitted that it would be a budget-buster. It’s also unnecessary, as we already have universal health care  via the system enacted here in 2006.

( d ) “Safe Communities Act” would bar all local and state police from co operating in any way with federal immigration agents, including ICE. My response : in my opinion, the actions of ICE and CBP during the current Federal presidency are at outrage, and counter-productive, as immigrants boost the economy no matter how they got here. To that end, many cities have declared themselves “Sanctuary.” Yet the issue is terribly divisive and has actually hardened a fair percentage of public sentiment against undocumented immigrants. Governor Baker is right : leave the issue to each community to decide.

( e ) Ranked choice voting : the idea that voters should be able to rank many candidates,. rather than having to choose only one, sounds good, because it would assure the ultimate winner of having at last 50 percent of the total vote. Yet the system would lead to all sorts of abuses, including the use of “bullet” voting (voting for only one). Alliances among candidates, to create “slates,” would merely duplicate the current party primary system. It would also assure, for voters who do not “bullet,” that fringe and “slate” candidates get votes which in our one-vote system they do not. Let’s leave well enough alone.

( f ) Raising the age of adult prosecution to 21. “allowing offending youth to have better access to treatment and educational services. My response : Is it progress, to lower the voting age to 16, but raise the prosecution age to 21, or is it a strange inconsistency ? A society should have one age of majority, not several. Plus, the act’s proponents load the question by using the term “youth.” Who exactly is a youth in the eyes of State law ? Is someone a youth for one purpose but not for another ? If we raise the adult prosecution age to 21, we should also raise the voting age to 21, and the age of consent for medical matters requiring adult consent.

In all of the above cases, what is proposed either seeks change where no change is called for, or seek laws and covenants that would make state government more rigid, less flexible. These are moves away from reform, and they stand in the way of other “progressive” proposals that are well worth considering :

( a ) An act to seal eviction records, which seriously impair a person’s ability to obtain living quarters. A large share of eviction cases are far more complex than simple non-payment of rent. Defendants in such cases deserve not to have their past disputes hang over their resumes moving forward. (Besides, landlords can always talk to the landlord before the tenant’s most recent one.)

( b ) Gas leaks and pipeline placement — an act which, by imposing fines on utility companies for Grade 3 leaks, would give utilities incentive to prevent and limit such leaks. The Columbia Gas explosions last year in North Andover, Andover, and South Lawrence were only an extreme case of a more general problem of gas leaks all over the state. The state only has so many gas line inspectors. This act would force the gas companies to police themselves. (Note that this act was filed by Senator Mike Rush and State Representative Ed Coppinger, neither of whom anyone would call “progressive.”)

( c ) Visitation Rights. Senator Chang-Diaz’s bill to permit incarcerated persons to receive more frequent visits, in order, says the bill, to allow them to maintain relationships. I see no reason why this bill should not pass and much reason why it should. Being incarcerated should not mean an end to a person’s family bonding. Incarceration has to have a rehabilitative component, and allowing a person to maintain his or her personal relationships gives him or her much reason to reform. He or she may not reform : but why not allow the possibility ? I support this bill.

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Massachusetts is a state built by reform. We believe that our public customs and laws can always be improved and that taxpayers have an interest in supporting these improvements. In return, we promise to ourselves, and to the taxpayers among us, that we will be careful not to ask too much of our taxpayers, or to over-promise, or to hurry processes that require time for second thoughts and testing. We also believe that the State should not be asked to do that which we can do better ourselves, or which basic principles of liberty require us to keep in our won hands.

We’re also very alert to the readiness of some to arrogate the “reform” idea to their own agendas, and that such arrogance almost always signals changes which are not reform but the opposite. The voters of our state know well the difference and guard jealously the patience and the prudence which alone assure proposed changes will actually be reform rather than a special interest plea.

That’s where we at Here and Sphere stand, and where we always will.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere