^ from 2017 but still a thing, I guess : attention paid to what the Councillors look like rather than  what they are tasked to do

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Much has been said about who the incoming Boston City Council members are. Not at all much as been suggested about what they want. I myself am not sure what they want: but it’s worth this column to offer some suggestions, not of what they want — though I may opine thereupon — but of what they ought to want. So here we go.

The Council is empowered by Article 17 of the current City Charter. It gives the Council power to input to the City Budget and to approve it or not. The Council may hold hearings and may ask the Mayor to appear before it. It may subpoena people to appear at a hearing. Councils past have made liberal use of the hearings power. Ordinances don’t always result, but the issue raised gets publicity and arouses activism. Thus the Council wedges its foot into the actual door of City power, the office of Mayor.

All of the above, we know. Refer back to it as I now proceed:

The Council elected in November ought to want the following :

( a ) a serious audit examination of the School Department budget, which currently amounts to $ 1.27 billion and will likely surpass $ 1.5 billion in the coming fiscal year. When I went through the FY 2020 budget, I found many areas of inefficiency, some incompetence, and a far too great attention to salaries rather than supplies and maintenance. The School budget takes up fully one-third of all City spending. It cannot go on goosing the taxpayer as it does.

( b ) as the total value of taxable real estate in the City balloons, why is the City strapped for tax receipts to fund its basic obligations ? If Proposition 2 1/2 limits the City’s ability to tax its taxable real estate values fairly, perhaps an override would be in order. Of course that would free the City’s voters to take hard looks at how the City spends what it already budgets. It is not at all edifying to see the Council pressure tax-exempt institutions to pony up ever bigger “in lieu contributions.” Tax-exempt property is tax=exempt by law. It ill behooves the Council to use extra-legal means to get money they are not legally entitled to have. If tax exemptions annoy the Council, let it seek a home rule petition to the legislature to adjust the State’s property tax exemption criteria.

( c ) schools again. By far the most frequently mentioned issue by actual voters is their lack of confidence in BPS : its management, its maintenance, its assignment by lottery, its classrooms and its curriculum. In the most starter-home-dominant precinct that I canvassed during this past campaign — Ward 18, Precinct 22 — we saw at least a dozen homes with “for sale” signs. In ONE precinct ! Families are moving to the suburbs, not because they need to or even want to but because they dare not chance their kids to a School System managed as arbitrarily and ineffectively as Boston’s. In Bostons’ family neighborhoods the word is “if the kiddo doesn’t get into Latin, and there’s no room available in the parish school, we’re out.” The Council cannot simply pass this buck to the Mayor’s appointed school committee. It should demand major, massive reform. There’s so much talk, in campaigns, about “gentrification” ? Well, if you don’t want regular Boston people to move out — and sell their home, very likely, to a “gentrifier” — then DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE SCHOOLS. Either that, or shut up about “gentrification.”

( d ) Address climate change with common sense. Yes, Boston’s coastline is at risk of serious flooding. Engage innovative citizen groups like The Harborkeepers, whose proposals for channeling and making use of the Harbor and the beaches accept the inevitable by channeling it. Also, plant trees. Lots of trees. The City has begun to focus on wetlands protection : well and good, but far more effective as a climate mitigator is to increase the City’s verdure. Plant trees in City parks and along City streets wherever feasible.

( e ) scrap the so-called “affordability covenant” by which developers of large projects must set aside a percentage of units at “affordable” prices. Currently the covenant number is 13 percent. Some Councillors may want to raise that to 20 percent/. Nothing could be more foolish. If a developer has to take a loss — land acquisition and construction costs are what they are, covenants notwithstanding — on 13 percent of her units, she’ll have to jack up the price of the other 87 accordingly. At 20 percent, the jack up would be even bigger. Thus the “affordability covenant” aggravates the inequity that now dominates Boston’s economics. Instead, the City this past year increased its “linkage fee” — the amount that it charges commercial developers for the permit to build. (Kudos to Councillor Edwards for advancing this ordinance.) Linkage fee increase doesn’t skew residential development at all, and it doesn’t affect commercial building much either. If any sort of “affordability” move is to be made, within the real estate arena, increase the linkage fee again.

( f ) make it easier, not harder, for car-owning residents to park on public streets. That said, don’t forget, when establishing “resident-only” zones, that residents have visitors. There’s also exceptions difficult for regulations to accommodate : a few years ago Rino’s Place, a famous East Boston restaurant sited in an entirely residential zine, had to petition its way out of a residents-only zone that left its customers hanging.

( g ) when seeking special road lanes for MBTA buses or for bicyclists, keep in mind that most of us use automobiles to get from here to there, and every lane denied to us makes  worse the traffic you guys complain about. The people of West Roxbury had practically to rise up in arms last year to block a big speed bump — and a set-aside street lane — that threatened to render Centre Street all but impassable.

( h ) spare us the MBTA street theater. Repairing the T’s infrastructure is difficult work that can only be done during late night down time and, at public inconvenience — on weekends. Get the T’s repair message — tweeted regularly by MassDOT, the T itself, and by general manager Steve Poftak, a Boston resident — to the voters instead of doing a fireworks show. It isn’t hard ! I do it all the time, and I went out of my way to explain T decisions to voters while I was door knocking for a Council candidate. Much of what I let voters know — by showing them the T’s twitter account on my iphone — they did not know. Why can’t you Councillors do the same that I did ? It ain’t all THAT hard, is it ?

The above by no means completes the list of initiatives the incoming Council should take up. Every day during the past campaign we heard from voters unhappy about streets and sidewalk maintenance, trash pick-ups, snow removal, and signage. I get the impression that many Councillors want to address big-picture issues that will get them media attention rather than doing basic clean-up. This is understandable. Who wants to clean the dishes or mop the bathroom floor when there’s a Trump outrage to protest or an MBTA blooper to get frothy about ? But in my mind, it’s up to the Council to do that floor mopping and dish washing. Protesting doesn’t fix one street sign, and frothing can’t get a neighborhood street snow-plowed.

It would also help if Councillors could set aside the entire value system encased in the phrase “what …. looks like.” Quite frankly, the voters don’t care — and I don’t care — WHAT you look like. Being a City Councillor is not doing an Instagram selfie. Being a Councillor is being an employee, hired by the  voters to do an entry-level, basic beans-counting job. If you want an example of how to do the Councillor job description, obtain and read one of Annissa Essaibi George’s newsletters. It’s all there, in detail, plus information which you will likely not find elsewhere — important information at that. Or you might ask yourself how did Lydia Edwards ever get elected as District One’s Councillor, since she doesn’t “look like” a District that is barely four percent African American ? She certainly didn’t get elected, nor has she performed as a Councillor, by “looking like” (although she is in fact gorgeous) but by being what a Councillor is supposed to be : attentive to ALL the voters and focused on every issue no matter how block-local.

This is not to say that Councillors who “look like” their District majority don’t do their job. But I think it’s more tempting for Councillors who represent their area’s largest tribe to pursue demagogic paths. Those who support the principle of tribal election point to James Michael Curley as an example. Some example ! He broke the law and went to jail even as he waved the “no Irish need apply” flag long after such discrimination had vanished from  Boston’s economy. The incoming Council is a lollipop of tribal temptation : it has 8 women, only 5 men; five women of color. Only one of the four at-Large is male. There are many to whom this situation is a rally flag, an electoral objective. I would hope that that sort of vicarious indulgence passes from the scene as soon as possible. There is no way for “looking like” to do the boring, un-newsworthy jobs that our City Council is charged with doing.

The voters can’t say it often enough, I guess : “We don’t care what you look like, just GET THE JOB DONE.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Expand the MBTA, and build residential density to accommodate it ? Be careful what you wish for

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We wouldn’t be having this discussion, right now, in and around Boston, had not, in the past 20 years, a torrent of institutions decided to move themselves into the center City. Universities, hospitals, financial firms, and all manner of technology enterprises had, once upon a time, spread themselves all across metro Boston — and thus so did huge shopping malls and myriad small enterprises serving these institutions’ employees and clients — which is why we have Route 128, 495, 93 and 95. These roads were built to get employees and clients from their homes — all over greater Boston and beyond — to their jobs and their destinations, which were also all over greater Boston and beyond. For the same reason, we authorized and paid for extensions of the MBTA and for a commuter rail system which was needed when the previously existing passenger railroads went bankrupt.

Today, all that has changed. The same roads exist, and the same commuter rail and MBTA, but now almost all of the traffic goes to Downtown Boston, Cambridge, and the Airport. The universities, the malls, the hospitals, financial outfits, and the people all reside Downtown or very close by. Thus our transportation network looks left behind. A great deal of it is as under-used as the rest is hugely overburdened.

Add to the mix the rise of Uber and Lyft, which have put thousands of taxi-use cars onto roads that once served only the very limited number of licensed taxis. People who live in and close to Downtown complain — as they have to — about hundreds of Uber and Lyft cars using local streets and crowding access roads to the Airport; but how could Uber and Lyft not gravitate to where all of the “mobility” action is ? 30 years ago, had Uber and Lyft existed, they’d have used the highway network that now sits wall-flowered — except that, 30 years ago there’d have been no Uber or Lyft, because everybody got around by their own car, and who would pay the huge fees that an Uber would charge for a 30 to 50 mile commute ?

Which brings me to matter of density. Planners talk a great deal about density. 40 years ago, when the approaches to New York City became overwhelmed with vehicle traffic, it was noted that  you could not have meaningful rail or rapid transit without accompanying residential density, which did not exist outside the four major boroughs : and that was why rapid transit and rail was not built much beyond the Queens – Nassau line. Planners there calculated that, if transit and rail lines were built up through low-density Nassau and Suffolk counties, they would draw maybe an additional ten percent of commuters — and possibly much less — and thus the expense of building them was impossible to justify. The same calculation holds today in greater Boston. This is why, today, Massachusetts planners have made such a push for increased residential density and why said density is increasing throughout the neighborhoods adjacent to Downtown. Get those neighborhoods — and maybe the neighborhoods beyond them — more residentially dense, and it will make economic sense to build more rapid transit and rail lines.  This is why Governor Baker’s zoning override bill has big support from Mayors of cities near Boston and why he talks a lot about “transit-oriented housing.”

There is, however, plenty of resistance to Baker’s zoning-override bill AND to the entire policy of increasing residential density. Much of that opposition seems class-based and even racially generated. Quite a few voters in cities in Boston’s core region don’t want to see a flood of low income newcomers, many of them large families, bringing noise and traffic into quiet, single-family neighborhoods. Of course I cannot condone this objection, nor should you : people are different and they have a right to be different, and large families have a right to be large even if it means generating much larger garbage-day pickups and kids playing and making noise — kids do make noise, and its’ just as easy to enjoy the sound of happy kids as to be annoyed by it. Nor can residents of a city claim immunity from change : city life has to be dynamic — has to bring change — or else it withers. Of course I can say this, but voters who purchased a single family home for its spaciousness and the quiet of a single-family neighborhood feel very differently, and it is understandable why.

My beef is not with residential density, which can be a good thing — it’s not bad at all to have neighbors very close by in case of emergencies, or to generate a summer block party, or just to hang out with. No, my beef is with planners using housing density as a wedge to get rapid transit and rail lines built. Rail lines and transit systems cost huge amounts of taxpayer money, require enormous maintenance, and, once built, can hardly ever be unbuilt. (Some railroad lines have been unbuilt, and the rights of way have been made into bike paths and hiking trails. I’m not sure that that is a good thing. The land strips involved bear no relationship to land uses adjacent.) Transit and commuter rail ridership and employees also become an immovable vested interest which, were unbuilding ever a policy option, would prevent the option. Look at public schools : they’re universal, out of good intentions — to educate all, which a modern society needs — but their very universality has made reform — badly, badly needed — all but impossible : school employees and parent councils control the discussion, as we saw during the 2016 fight to expand the allowable number of charter schools. Do we want to make the rapid transit — commuter rail vested interest even more powerful than it already is ? I don’t think so. Thus residential density fails as a policy goal. Rapid transit and commuter rail expansions should stand on their own, not be boosted by altering long-established residential densities.

All of the above paragraph is to say that residential density should increase, if at all, only because people want it to.

And there is another issue at stake here : individual freedom. Why should planners tell us how to live, where to live, or what kind of transportation to use ? Isn’t that up to each of us to decide, based on our own assessment of our own needs ? The first rail lines and rapid transit were built as enterprises by entrepreneurs who saw a market for such transport. They took the risk, with their own capital and that of investors, and they built; and for about 100 years their market vision proved correct : people did want these services. But then came cars, and very quickly the short rail lines failed : because people found they liked much better being able to decide where to go, and when, when they wanted to go , and not when a rail company had a train ready. The rail companies offered rapid movement, but movement only from A to B. Once people had cars, they could move from A to B, C, D, E, and F and more; and they could go there when they wanted to go, and not have to deal with overcrowded trains, or noise, or standing in stations in cold and weather. From trains to cars was just like the move these days from taxis to Uber and Lyft : cars served the individual  needs of free people much better than trains served the collectivization of a mass.

When the short rail lines failed, the taxpayers agreed to assume much of the costs of running those rail lines, along side the fares paid by users; and thus we now have the four transit lines, bus service, and the commuter rail, all of it paid for largely by taxpayer dollars, with contribution from users. Is it worth the taxpayer cost ? The “yes” argument is that businesses need a way for their employees to get to work, and many do not own cars, may not even be able to afford them. Students, too, need public transit to get to their classrooms, and most are not old enough to have driver licenses, or else come from away and do  not bring carts which they might be unable to park on our very crowded streets. For these folks, and for many others of us, from time to time, who don’t want to pay $ 25 to park a car Downtown, we the taxpayers are willing to finance such rapid transit as we have, and to pay for the system’s repair and upgrades, even for some expansions, such as the Green Line from Lechmere to West Medford.

All of which is fine; I have no problem with the bargain our State made in the 1930s and 1940s, to assume the financial burden of rail transport that is no longer a profitable private enterprise. I have no problem with the system’s expansions into zones as residentially dense as those it has already served. I do, however, object to having policy makers tell us that we need to live more residentially dense so the State can build more public transit and rail (not to mention “high speed rail,” a billion-dollar device that almost no one will use no matter how beautiful it smacks to those who like eye cake). To do any of this is to put the cart before the horse. Let people live where they want to live, and how they want to live there, to the extent that people have any wherewithal to make such choices. For the same reason, let people who have a car continue to prefer using their own car to get about, and support that choice — or, at least, never, ever attempt to hinder it. The traffic congestion that we now experience is annoying for sure, but anyone who uses public transportation will find a helluva lot of annoyances, many of them worse than anything experienced by car drivers. And I am NOT talking about the delays endemic to the MBTA today : the system is undergoing badly needed repair and upgrades, and General management is doing as much as it can to bring those repairs and upgrades as quickly as feasible. What I AM talking about here is conditions endemic to a mass transit operation : the inflexibility of it : only certain destinations, at set times, with wait times, crowding, and weather. By no means should such a system be a priority over the individual liberty considerations of residence place, residence type, and mode of mobility. These deserve our financial priority. After all, the current shape of commercial and residential destination may change — will change; but transit systems , and housing densities, once built, will almost never be overturned, leaving our future needlessly Prometheus Bound.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





State Representative Bill Straus, chairman of the House Transportation Committee : the TCI gas price hike is a tax and can only happen if the legislature approves.

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The leaders of twelve Northeast states have been seeking a regional carbon tax program they call the “Transportation Climate Initiative.” The participating states are: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia, “working together to explore potential regional policies to improve transportation systems and reduce pollution.” We are skeptical of the mission and even more so of the details.

The initiative — whose processes and progress you can read all about HERE : https://www.transportationandclimate.org/main-menu/tcis-regional-policy-design-process-2019 — promises to raise the pump price of gasoline by as much as 17 cents a gallon. For those who drive to work and on errands — by far the majority of us — said tax hike would likely add $ 27 a month to our gas costs (assuming 40 gallons of gas a week; I use almost double that.) It doesn’t sound like much, but for most of us, living on budgets with scant flexibility, an extra $ 27 a month comes directly out of budget essentials.

It’s even worse for rural drivers, who have to travel longer distances than most of us to get to almost everything; and rural residents are likely to not have anything like tghe incomes earned by city denizens.

Governor Sununu of New Hampshire, a largely rural state, recently announced that he is withdrawing his state from the TCI group : https://www.governor.nh.gov/news-media/press-2019/20191217-climate-initiative.htm. Said Sununu, ““I will not force Granite Staters to pay more for their gas just to subsidize other state’s crumbling infrastructure,” said Governor Chris Sununu. “New Hampshire is already taking substantial steps to curb our carbon emissions, and this initiative, if enacted, would institute a new gas tax by up to 17 cents per gallon while only achieving minimal results. This program is a financial boondoggle and the people of New Hampshire will never support it.”

Sununu asserts that New Hampshire is already taking several steps to curb vehicle emissions. The same is true in Massachusetts and very likely applies to the other “TCI” States. In which case, why is the TCI needed at all ? From what I can tell by reading the TCI website (linked above)’s updates, the ONLY unique feature, beyond what states are already doing, is policy uniformity. There’s certainly advantage to uniformity in any public policy reform, but said advantage is dissipated by local decision making about locally different conditions. When you read the TCI annal, you find that all the TCI really is, is a carbon tax. Carbon tax is not a new idea. Environmentalists have promoted a carbon tax for at least a decade. You know the drill : activities that produce excess carbon emissions, over the goal established for all, pay a “tax” to those whose activities emit less than the median. Under-norm emitters can also “sell” their carbon credits to excess emitters.

The major critique levied so far upon carbon taxes is their regressive nature. low income people are less able to buy electric vehicles, or to solarize their residences — many low wage families rent, not own — and less able to buy newer-model, more energy efficient gasoline vehicles. This objection stands, against all carbon tax proposals; the TCI, however, adds a new objection : how can a TCI carbon tax be imposed by executive order, as is the intention of eleven Governors still participating ?

I don’t ever like to find myself on the opposite side of an issue from Governor Baker : but that’s where I am on this matter. I agree with State Representative Straus, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, that the TCI gas price hike makes the same change to gas prices that a legislatively approved tax would make; and that it must, therefore, be submitted to the legislature for approval — executive order won’t do. Straus is right. In any case, why is the TCI needed at all ? There are far more useful environmental reforms to transportation  than the heavy hand of a carbon tax via gas price hike. The MBTA intends eventually to electrify its entire fleet of buses. Electricity charging stations are coming to Massachusetts, thus allowing ordinary people to actually use an electric vehicle. Electric commuter rail will replace diesel engines sooner rather than later.

Electrification stands at the threshhold of convenient availability. Not everyone will be able to afford an electric, but if even half of all car owners switch to electric, the effect on carbon emissions will be far more dramatic than anything achievable by either a tax or a tax equivalent. That’s where I stand right now. I’m skeptical of the TCI as an idea an d as planned for implementation.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ a solemn Jerry Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sends Articles of Impeachment to the full House for a vote.

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It’s no secret that we at Here and Sphere haven’t much use for the policies of President Trump or for his way of conducting his duties of office. You will not be surprised, therefore, that we now join the call already made by many that he be impeached.

We support both articles of impeachment presented by the House. These are Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress.

The first article seems to enable the second : if Mr. Trump did not abuse his power, then how can have obstructed Congress by not complying with lawful subpoenas ? This argument fails, however : Congress has the sole power of Impeachment and is therefore fully authorized to investigate Presidential acts and to subpoena material sand testimony furthering that investigation. Just as the President is charged with faithfully executing laws enacted by Congress, so he is fully accountable to Congress therefor. Even if Congress’s investigation of Mr.  Trump’s Ukraine dealings did not lead to an Impeachment article, his refusal to obey Congress’s lawful subpoenas would justify impeachment for obstruction.

Obstruction, therefore, stands on its own, and the record, every minute of it, demonstrates Obstruction, a continuing, sustained obstruction that is an offense against the Constitution.

It might have been sufficient for Congress to censure Mr. Trump for said Obstruction rather than impeach him had the Obstruction been merely technical rather than done in the context of an abuse of office, particularly one as grievous as Mr. Trump’s extorting the president of Ukraine as he did. But Mr. Trump did extort Ukraine’s newly elected President — committing two Federal crimes in the event, illegally withholding $ 391 million in duly authorized military aid and demanding that Ukraine announce an investigation into Mr. Trump’s chief political rival, purely to abet Mr,. Trump’s re-election campaign — as  he had no power or authority to do; thus Mr. Trump did not merely obstruct. He obstructed an investigation into a serious charge, a charge which, if sustained, demanded impeachment : for in no way would censure equal Mr. Trump’s putting his electoral interests ahead of national security considerations. (It is in our interest to support Ukraine in its war with Russia, our nation;’s most grievous adversary, for were Russia to subvert Ukraine independence it would put Russia in a dominant position within Europe, that for 75 years we have worked to prevent. Support for Ukraine independence has thus been a sustained national policy since the fall of the USSR in 1990.)

As the House Judiciary report (which you can  read all 658 pages of here : https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20191216/CRPT-116hrpt346.pdf ) puts it, Mr. Trump did not merely engage in a months long operation to extort Ukraine for his re-election purposes. He continues to do so. blatantly, justifying his actions as “I can do whatever I want.”

No, Mr. President, you can NOT do ‘whatever I want.” You shall be impeached,and we at Here and Sphere join with the millions of Americans who demand your impeachment. You are not a law unto yourself. You are a Constitutional office holder who takes an oath to protect and defend said Constitution, against all enemies, foreign and domestic, including yourself if need be.

Mr. Trump will have ample opportunity to defend his actions in the Senate in the impeachment trial that will begin soon, assuming just and fair trial rules can be established consistent with the precepts and juror oaths set forth in the Constitution.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Job Quality

^ many jobs are being added, but most jobs are barely worth having. Not a good economy at all.

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Supporters of President Trump are praising the new official jobs report. In it, we find 266,000 new jobs for November 2019. Wages also rose by 3.1 percent, higher than expected. You can read the report here : https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/06/us-nonfarm-payrolls-november-2019.html

Unfortunately, the official report doesn’t represent facts on the ground. First, and so reported, a lot of the official growth results from the big GM strike ending. More significantly, the quality of jobs in the current economy subverts the impression left by their increase number. A far more accurate picture is displayed in the following Forbes magazine article : https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2019/12/05/understanding-the-us-economy-lots-of-rotten-jobs/?utm_source=FACEBOOK&utm_medium=social&utm_term=Valerie%2F&fbclid=IwAR1IyDJ_ESPZas8EbjFmQvfiwPO9AcQDXkfjYcYxVj5XfOzVYNLWndx7uxw#26c5155b2d97

Our economy is that of a highly stratified work force, one that resembles all too well the hardcase economy of imperial Rome in its best century : at the top, a small circle of the very rich; who are served technologically by a substantial force of well trained “comfortables” ; all of whom are serviced, every day, by an enormous army of helots (slaves in imperial Rome). (And of course underneath all these, a swarm of unemployed who exist on doled out bread and entertainments.)

Rome’s viciously stratified economy broke at the first shock — in the 250s — and wasn’t restored even to modest working until 40 years later, only to collapse completely in the 5th Century. It is not an edifying story — told remorselessly in many books on the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — and we should worry a lot about its recurrence today.

Do I exaggerate ? I don’t think so. As the graph heading this column makes clear, job quality has fallen a lot in the past thirty years and resides at very low levels. Service work and retail jobs – which are a kind of servicing too — abound: food workers of all sorts, retail clerks, home health aides, janitors, hotel room cleaners, pot shop cashiers, delivery drivers, Uber and Lyft drivers, airplane clean-up crews — and many more, you name it — make life bearable for the “comfortable” and comfortable for the rich. Neither class, the Comfortables and the Rich, could for one day live their lifestyles without the low-paid help of our economy’s helots.

After the Depression, almost 90 years ago, families began to learn how to live without dependency on helots. Family servants all but disappeared; doing one’s own chores became almost the norm even among the rich. In those decades, it was relatively easy for a worker to rise, or at least to accumulate substantial savings, enough to buy a home, maybe two homes. The typical house cost about two times annual household income; rents took maybe one-sixth of family earnings. Taxes were high, but the economy was expanding rapidly even as those working in it took home a major share of the entire national earnings. These were good times for workers.

Then came the securitization of mortgages — banks, which were almost the only mortgage lenders, could now sell their loan portfolio — and house prices began to rise rapidly. Easily fungible mortgages continue, and house prices continue to climb, even as the family earnings for most workers have refused to rise much. House prices in “hot spots” have risen 2000 to 10,000 percent since 1977, yet family incomes have risen only about ten times. What is the result ? Home ownership, once a universal national priority, now eludes most, and in hot markets eludes nearly everyone who is not at least a Comfortable. Only by having families double up, or triple — eight to sixteen people to a home — can low wage workers find a way to buy.

So much for the home ownership situation. The effects of low-quality, low-wage work impact well beyond the real estate markets. The millions of workers who earn from $ 10 to $ 16 an hour, at 30 hour jobs that carry no benefits, live lives encumbered almost completely by work, bill paying, and doing crucial family errands. They can’t take vacations, they can barely pay for a night out once a month. They can’t buy quality clothing, or, in many cases, afford to keep a car legally on the road (many are forced to drive without insurance, or even with suspended licenses because they can’t pay traffic tickets) or pay for day care for the kids. Yes, their lives are better than for the entirely work-less — the low wage worker at least has work to give him or her some sense of purpose and maybe a good credit rating. But by no means is his or her life anything anyone would choose who sees how the Comfortable live (much less the Rich).

There is no reason why government tax policy and wage laws cannot ameliorate this situation. Work should never be compensated at a less rate than is needed for the worker to prosper; to feel good about her life; to not feel inferior to those he meets at a socializing. This is why I am an all-in supporter of strong unions, which work to increase wage earners’ pay and benefits.

Union activity is, however, not enough. Companies must begin to treat their employees as assets, not as cost items. That means major GAAP reform. Government can chip in : the minimum national wage should be $ 12 an hour, $ 21 an hour in “hot markets.” Frankly, even that is not enough. To belong to the Comfortables, you need an income of at least $ 80,00 in the “hot spots.” Add kids, and you can make that figure $ 125,000.

Rome had one economic bonus : it was easy to move from the slave class into the Comfortables if you had a skill or could acquire a patron. It is far less easy to move in our economy from helot to Comfortable. Low wage workers tend to lack the technological dexterities that are prerequisite to obtaining Comfortable-class jobs. As for becoming rich, maybe a lucky few, who have a great idea, or extraordinary skill at something, and receive some breaks along the way, can rise to the Rich class, but hardly anyone else will do that. Yet once so ensconced, tax breaks now in law enable Rich persons to build enormous, unusable wealth (even if most of that worth is a paper figure dependent on a healthy stock market). This concentration of unusable wealth in the hands of a very few is economic absurdity, by the way. What economic good is gained by amassing dollars that can only be parked ? Capitalists at least invest their funds. They take the risk. What does a billionaire with his money parked in a money market account do except to hinder the economy by keeping his vast sums out of service ?

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ time to get the maps out again

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The decennial census being tabulated this year will make clear that big changes will affect how Massachusetts’s legislative seats — as well as Boston’s city Council Districts — are to be apportioned. All signs indicate that Boston has added at least 125,000 new residents since the 2010 census, and that Massachusetts as a whole has gained about 250,000. If so, the 160 State Representative districts will require about 44,000 people — up from 42,000 — and that Boston’s nine Districts will encompass 78,000 people each.

The big State change will occur in Boston. 125,000 new residents suggests at least two additional House seats, if not three. This means that two or three seats will be lost elsewhere in the state — almost certainly in the regions beyond Route 495.

I am quite sure that political junkies are already drawing their district maps. Likely it is that the Speaker’s office is also crafting maps. I see no reason, then, why I should not offer a map of my own. I’ve done this before; I think I understand considerations of incumbency, community and compactness.  So here goes:

Suffolk County legislative seats : there’s 19 currently. Expect twenty one in the new redistrcting :

1st Suffolk (Adrian Madaro) : Ward 1 of Boston, precincts 2, 4 through 14

2nd Suffolk (Daniel Ryan) : Ward 2 of Boston and wards 1, 2, 3 of Chelsea

3rd Suffolk (Aaron Michlewitz) Ward 1 of Boston, precincts 1 and 3; Ward 3 of Boston, precincts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

4th Suffolk ( new seat ) : Ward 3 of Boston, precincts 6, 7, 8 ; Ward 6 of Boston, precinct 1

5th Suffolk (Jay Livingstone) : Ward 5 Precincts 1, 3 through 10

6th Suffolk : (David Biele) : Ward 6 of Boston, Precincts 2 through 9; Ward 7 of Boston, precincts 1 through 9; Ward 13, Precinct 7

7th Suffolk : (Jon Santiago) : Ward 4 of Boston, Precincts 1 through 8; Ward 9 of Boston, precincts 1, 2, 3; Ward 8 of Boston, Precincts 1. 2, 3

8th Suffolk : ( Nika Elugardo ) : Ward 10 of Boston; Ward 4 Precincts 9, 10; Ward 5 of Boston, Precincts 2, 2A, 11; Ward 21 of Boston, Precincts 1, 2 ; Ward 19, Precinct 1

9th Suffolk : (Chynah Tyler) : Ward 9 of Boston, Precincts 4 and 5; Ward 11 of Boston, Precincts 1 through 3; Ward 12 of Boston

10th Suffolk : ( Liz Malia) : Ward 11 of Boston, Precincts 4 through 10; Ward 19 of Boston, Precincts 2 through 6, 8, 9

11th Suffolk : ( new seat) : Ward 19 of Boston, Precincts 7, 10 through 13; Ward 18 of Boston, Precincts 7, 9, 10; Ward 20 of Boston, Precincts 1, 2, 4, 6,7

12th Suffolk : ( Ed Coppinger ) : Ward 20 of Boston, Precincts 5, 10 through 14, 16 through 20; Brookline precincts 13, 14, 15, 16

13th Suffolk : ( Angelo Scaccia ) : Ward 20 of Boston, Precincts 3, 8, 9, 15; Ward 18 of Boston, Precincts 8, 11 through 20, 22, 23; one precinct of Milton

14th Suffolk : ( Dan Cullinane ) : Ward 17 of Boston, Precincts 4, 12, 13, 14; Ward 16 of Boston, Precincts 8 and 11; Ward 18 of Boston, precincts 1. 4 through 6, 21; precincts of Milton

15th Suffolk : ( Dan Hunt ) : Ward 16 of Boston, precincts 1 through 7, 9, 10, 12; Ward 13 of Boston, precincts 6, 8, 9, 10, 3 ; Ward 15 of Boston, Precinct 6; Ward 17 of Boston, Precincts 6 and 9; one precinct of Quincy

16th Suffolk : (Russell Holmes) : Ward 14 of Boston; Ward 18 of Boston, Precincts 2 and 3; Ward 17 of Boston, Precincts 7, 8, 10, 11

17th Suffolk : (Liz Miranda) : Ward 17 of Boston, Precincts 1 ,2, 3; Ward 15 of Boston, Precincts 1 through 5, 7 through 9; Ward 13 of Boston, Precincts 1, 2, 4, 5; Ward 8 of Boston, Precincts 4 through 7

18th Suffolk : ( Mike Moran ) : Ward 22 of Boston

19th Suffolk : ( Kevin Honan ) : Ward 21 of Boston, precincts 3 through 16

20th Suffolk : ( Robert DeLeo ) : Winthrop; Wards 2 and 5 of Revere

21st Suffolk : ( Rose Lee Vincent ) : Revere, Wards 3, 4, 1, 6; Chelsea, Ward 4; Saugus, two precincts

The city’s State Senate seats will change accordingly. I shall work out that map in my next column.

Note : for the new 4th Suffolk, an entirely in-Town District, there is no obvious candidate. This should be fun.

The new 11th District is an all-Roslindale seat. There are many worthy candidates. I can think of several : Conor Freeley, Robert Orthman,Travis Marshall, Emily Anesta, Chris Lang, Sean Berte, Andrew Cousino, Peter Pappas, Scott Hoffman, Elizabeth Sherva, Carol Downs, Adriana Cillo.

Let the games begin.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere