the land is quiet, the streets empty; one can see the  Milky Way again !!
The inside of my apartment has been memorized. Every blemish on the walls is known, each slant of the floor. I can tell the exact temperature — and the difference — of the various rooms. I remember each room’s smell. The details vary and vary within each. On the stove my evening pasta is boiling.

We are alive here, and as Henry. MIller recounted in Tropic of Cancer, every chair is in place, not a spoon mishandled. However, none of us is lousy. We wash our hands every minute, our hair thrice a day. We launder our clothes, trim the hairs in our noses. If we had a coronavirus, we would self administer. Of course we have none. Yet we keep an eye out and the tongue in.

we have caught up with ourselves, my wife and I and two of our grandchildren sheltering with us. I in particular like To run my days months ahead of my time.ine. Always going, moving  — you who know me see it. That’s all gone now. My timeline sits folded like an accordion — snugged into the bookshelves like a carry-on in an overhead flight pouch. My life no longer runs — it barely walks. My wife even knows who it is, now, unlike before, when, coming home at ten pm after an all day work run, she woujd be asking, as she heard the door opening, “who’s that ??”

she watches movies. I read. The grandkids pretend to play. Occasionally we take a ride. There is barely any traffic; we can go where want to, just like in the 1950’s. Yet we can’t stop at a roadside restaurant. lucky if we find an open gas-station. The countryside feels empty. At night we can see the Milky Way. No airplanes drone across the heavens.

All is calm. All is anything BUT calm. When will this end ? I can’t stand myself.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


^^ a doctor in a densely populated city is frightened. She has good reason. But : will this season’s pathogenic fear become a political first premise after this is over ? Will we ever again live the optimism that established American liberty as a foundation principle ? I seriously doubt it. I think our liberty centuries are over

—— ——- ——

Sixty years ago my college friend Ken and I were having one of those all-night bull sessions we lived for. W e were talking about the libertine life so abundantly available to us who had grown up in very different circumstances. Ken paused and went silent. And then :

”Michael; we are trading political freedom for the sexual,” he said. “The whole nation is doing it.”

Ken was a little ahead of himself, but he got me thinking then, and he has me thinking even more today.

The events of 9/11 led to a huge curtailment of our liberties, stuff we had taken for granted. An entire new bureaucracy was set up, and staffed, to (a) surveilling us and our private communications (b) search us at airports (c) create no-fly lists that woe betide you if you have a Nam similar to someone on that list. Our even go put you on that list with only burdensome means of obtaining removal fro the list (d) require passport to visit Canada — a crossing that had been easy and neighborly and (f) authorized torture of prisoners taken in the legit,ate fight against ALQ and then ISIS.

More generally, we came to live in fear and paranoia, far afield from the confident optimism that made America so special.

Doubtless most of the so-called “Patriot Act” was served up by well intentioned legislators. Unhappily, good intentions are sometimes secret emissaries of illiberty. In any case, we know what life has been like for air travelers in the nearly two decades since 9/11 : all of it aggravated since the election of Mr Trump, by travel bans; by detentions of people profiles for their skin color, nation of origin, and in a few cases, for their political leanings. Customs agents have been known to demand the contents of travelers’ private social media. Immigration police (ICE) have stopped buses and private cars on American highways and demanded papers. They’ve gone into courtrooms in search of undocumented residents; threatened hospitalized undocumented with removal; forced families into detention centers.

And lots of people applauded them for doing it.

And now we have the corona virus and what its arrival has generated : almost complete control of our lives by a very few. Doubtless much of this broad-brush control is necessary, yet control is not eased by being unavoidable. Control is control. And even if the present corona virus control is eased, or even set aside, does anyone think that some future “very few” won’t bring it back if they deem a situation to be a crisis ? Have we not heard climate-change zealots describe the climate events as a crisis and that “we have no time to lose” The climate crisis folks have tried to import much of their agenda into the 3rd #stimulus Bill now being debated (as of this writing) in Congress. Can anyone doubt that, if the climate crisis interest acquires the kind of power being amassed by Mr. Trump these.days, they will impose all manner of restrictions upon us ?

They will be different controls, yes, but controls none the less, and from what I have read about the crisis agenda, it won’t be pretty. Serious privations of liberty, especially in the arena of personal movement. Gone will be the autonomous vehicle. Goodbye also to the domestic air flight (aircraft pollute us !!) Hello, public trains and buses, a transportation of control, inconvenient and crowded, a throwback to Orwell’s 1984.

But one need not fixate on crisis dictatorship Do you really suppose that any American candidate for President, henceforth, will shy from the sort of sweeping executive claims, immunities, and orders that Mr. Trum0 has shown them how to use ? Congress may pursue legislation to curb Presidential dictatorship — though I doubt it. Because the majority, if of the same faction as the President, will want her to dictate stuff— but the President will contest it in Federal Court, and who can say that she won’t be successful ?

To the Bernie generation, freedom  means sexual freedom, just as my friend Ken surmised so many years ago. I am all for sexual liberty, and am thrilled that LGBT people can now — in many jurisdictions — be fully themselves And marry the person they love.  Yet the college generation, which loves Bernie Sanders so much (or so the pollsters tell us), and which has grown up Taking sexual civil rights almost for granted, evidently sees no such advantage in political freedom. It supports  speech codes; uses social media to bully those who express  opinions it dislikes, opposes opinion with condescension; and seeks government control of the infrastructure, and the economy; and it scapegoats my generation. The drive to eliminate the electoral college, would, if successful, leave us with a majoritarian overrule unfettered by checks, limits and political rights for the minority.

The current college generation  grew up after 9/11. It has ever known federal, Political liberty. What it has not known! It cannot miss. The world is heading in the direction of illiberty — not liberty. As I am of an earlier generation, I object. My objections are laughed at by the censorious, command-and-control, defiant young know it alls.

Good luck to the illiberal politics of libertine tomorrow.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere









^ new BPS superintendent Brenda Cassellius may actually get stuff done. Mayor Walsh is counting on it.

—- —- —-

On February 5 the Boston School Department presented its FY 2021 budget proposal. It increases last year’s $ 1.1.7 billion by $ 80 million, to $ 1.258 billion– a raise of about seven percent. That’s the largest percentage increase during the six years that I have tracked the BPS budget, during which time the school population has not grown at all.

Why is more money needed ? Why a seven percent increase, double last year’s increase ? What will $ 1.258 billion do, that last year’s $ 1.17 billion not do, to make the City’s schools enough better that parents will have enough confidence in them to not leave the City in search of school systems that they feel good about ? A very good question.

You can look at the budget proposal’s details here, in Excel format :

The new budget does in fact represent significant shift in priorities. Salaries used to take up 85 percent of the Budget. Next year they consume only 66 percent : $ 836,224,362 (an eight percent increase) out of $ 1,258,633,065. “Instructional Supplies” — actual classroom tools — this year budgeted $ 6,080,924; next year it’ll be $ 79,552,656 — a  33 percent bump. “Equipment” cost BPS $ 8,743,883.40 this year; next year $ 12,200,376 will be allotted. “Support” — mainly bilingual teachers, Special Education instructors, and kindergarten teachers — take up $ 66,555,794 this year. Next year, $ 77,501,985 — a 21 percent increase. Aides — bilingual, special education, sign language, security, and more — received $ 73,666,8456 this year; $ 789,522,490 next year.

Given these increases for people and tools that actually support education as a serious matter, its probably less troubling, though hardly okay, that the budget includes $ 107,025,226 for “transportation,” including the cost of student MBTA passes.

More troubling is the 39 percent increase in the “part time” account : clerical, coach, “transportation attendant,” custodial, professional overtime and stipend. From $ 24,028,017 it rises to $ 32,234,639. It’s distressing to see the school system increase its reliance on workers who don’t receive benefits and whose jobs can be eliminated easily.

That said, clearly Mayor Walsh sees that, with re-election coming next year, he absolutely has to have better achievement results in place that parents know they’ve got to live with now and which will be detailed in a State report which Walsh admits “won;t be pretty,” Will that expectation come to pass ? perhaps. I’m not encouraged, however,m by seeing diminishment of the Boston Latin School exam’s rigor as the chief structural reform. We should be making that exam tougher, not easier. The system does need structural reform, however. If only important influencers would start insisting upon : consolidation of under-utilized school buildings; complete overhaul of school buildings’ heating and ventilation systems; home visits by teachers and the re-establishment of parent-teacher associations; elimination of Court-ordered busing, as every neighborhood is now integrated; expanded charter school or innovative curriculum options; advanced, college level classes for high achievers; trade education, everywhere, for the building trades; dress codes, so that students do not use fashion as a device for forming cliques and creating hierarchies of popularity. It would also help that BPS hire an inspector general to oversee its accounting practices.

The above list is probably not complete.

I hear and see not much talk about any of the above. If anything, the talk walks in the opposite direction. That won’t work. Parents know when they’re being conned or appeased. When they feel that that is happening, they up and leave the City. I do hope that the Mayor’s attempt to eliminate the most glaring inadequacies convinces parents that he means business; that the “not pretty” report which is coming — but which is likely nonetheless to be nicer than it really should be — will change the direction in which Boston schools have been moving since the City made the grave mistake of not insisting that John McDonough remain as “interim” superintendent.

The final budget vote takes place on March 28th at the Bolling Building in Nubia n Square.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




Two major oil producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia have decided that instead of co-operating on production amounts, they will fight it out, testing each other’s economic stamina. Mr. Putin may think himself a tough guy, but during the hideous world recession in 2008, when oil prices dropped by almost 60 percent, Russia came close to bankruptcy. Saudi Arabia owns almost 25 percent of the world’s oil reserves. As the demand for oil is usually quite stable, even a five percent increase in production can crater the market price of crude. The effects of a production increase look all the greater with oil demand actually falling thanks to the coronavirus’s impact on world trade, which is slumping as much s fifty percent, at least in the short term.

A detailed overview of the Saudi oil increase and Russia’s objections can be found here :

So much for background. My intention in this column is to parse out some of the effects the Saudis’ oil production increase will likely have on the American economy.

First : prices of gasoline are declining at the pump by about 25 percent. Immediately that means that the gas tax increase passed last week by the Massachusetts House loses, if enacted, 25 percent of its anticipated income. Or, the legislation had a secondary purpose : to discourage people from driving wherever possible, That purpose now looks on hold.

Second : the present price of crude in the market is about $ 27.88 per barrel. At that price most American producers cannot produce. If the price cut lasts, US producers will come under major financial stress. Most are highly leveraged — operating on borrowed money — which they cannot pay back if they can’t sell crude at a price above their cost. (This has happened before. In the mid-1980s the price of crude, jacked way way up during the 1970s because of Saudi production cuts, fell from $ 60 per barrel to as low as $ 5.00; many exploration and extraction firms went belly-up.) Probably the Saudi production spurt won’t last as long as the 1980s production cuts — the Saudis aren’t immune to an oil price recession — but if it goes on for even six months, it will impact many firms that are already experiencing a decline in demand because of COVD-19.

Third : the success of present clean energy programs depends upon being able to compete on price with the cost of fossil fuels. A 25 percent decrease in gasoline, oil and natural gas costs sets back ,the process of conversion to “clean energy” systems.

Oil is not only the major source of energy. Its also one of the world’s most widespread investments.  A sustained 25 percent decline in the price of crude forces investors to hedge their contract commitments, which means borrowing money — money backed ultimately by US Treasury bonds at a time when huge demand for safe investments has driven the interest rate ion “Treasuries” below one percent, almost into negative territory. A negative interest rate is, in effect, a tax. The 2018 tax cut legislation has put enormous sums of corporate and investment money on the sidelines, parked in money market accounts and “Treasuries,” money that, in order to remain parked safely, will, if interest rates go negative, incur an interest penalty in place of a money return.

Fourth : the current US budget deficit is running a TRILLION dollars yearly. That trillion dollars is backed by Treasury bonds and notes which the Treasury buys from investors, whose own trillions of parked money bought these bonds to begin with. But with both investors and the Treasury buying Treasury bonds, the seller vs. buyer equilibrium tilts radically in favor of the seller, who sells for a price, not on the basis of his coupon rate, which he no longer owns. That is why interest rates have fallen almost to zero. And why with the Saudi oil production increase can only fall further, as investors who would ordinarily buy oil forward contracts decide to avoid the market and buy Treasury notes instead.

Fifth : the decline in economic activity due to the virus, linked to the Saudis’ decision to slash oil prices via over-production, threatens to turn our economy downward, into recession, at a time when there is very little flexibility available, in either bond markets or money availability — thanks to huge operating deficits — to stimulate economic activity, which activity is already limited by the inadequacy of wages paid to at lest half of all American workers. American workers have no money to spare, nothing to spend on discretionary products, and in the present coronavirus situation, less inclination to spend it anyway. A recession in these circumstances would be painful, very painful.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





On Tuesday, Joe Biden won the City of Boston vote — by 56 votes, bringing to mind Julia Mejia’s one-vote win in last November’s at-Large City Council race. This time the close division between Boston  voters extended further : Liz Warren finished third, but within 3,500 votes of second place. The map above shows the distribution of wins among the City’s 255 precincts. It’s an unusual map to say the ;least. Gone from it is the stark gap between “new Boston” voters and the “traditional vote.” In this map we see strips of wins extending across the city as well as wins, for Biden in particular, among all kinds of voters who recently haven’t agreed on much of anything.

In that respect, the map recalls the map of Charlie Baker’s 49.3 % near miss against Jay Gonzalez in the 2018 Governor race. Baker won 90 precincts in very different neighborhoods, again, winning the support of vote groups that had rarely agreed on much. If we superimpose the Baker 2018 map upon the Tuesday primary map, we can see the beginnings of a pattern that proclaims what political Boston has now become : a City of very dissimilar vote groups voting similarly for very dissimiliar reasons. This is the essence of coalition, as opposed to an Us vs. Them division such as dominated Boston voting for 100 years.

And now to my analysis.

Joe Biden won 70 of the 90 precincts won by Charlie Baker in 2018. Sanders won 19 of them. (the other was a tie vote between Biden and Sanders). Liz Warren won none of them.

All of Liz Warren’s wins were in Baker’s worst precincts in the City. In all, she won 39,188 votes in Boston.

Warren won almost only the committed, ideological progressives of Jamaica Plain and Roslindale. Sanders’s wins were much more diverse : he won all the precincts in which students represent a large percentage. He won most of the heavily Hispanic and Cape Verdean precincts. He won precincts in East Boston that aren’t very Hispanic at all, nor populated by students. He won Chinatown’s Ward 3, Precinct 7. He won four of five Mission Hill precincts and the three “back of the Hill, Hyde Square Precincts. He won Fort Hill and Egleston Square. He won the Jewish Senior Home precinct in Brighton — one of Charlie Baker’s best in the City — probably the last instance we will see of Jewish ethnic voting in a City with almost no Jews any more. And he won the most Vietnamese precincts in Dorchester.

It was enough to give Sanders 43,154 votes.

Joe Biden won the rest : All but one precinct in West Roxbury; all of South Boston; all of Hyde Park; one Roslindale Precinct (Ward 18, precinct 11); all of English-speaking, Black Boston; the Haitian-majority precincts; all of Charlestown; all of the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the North End, Downtown, and the Seaport; Mission Hill Project (Ward 10, Precinct One); and most of “traditional” Dorchester. As I indicated above, Biden’s wins closely trace Charlie Baker’s 2018 successes. Baker did not win any Black-majority precincts, but in the English-speaking Black precincts — and in the Haitian majority ones — he took from 38 to 45 percent. Biden won these precincts that Baker did not  carry because Baker faced only one opponent; Biden dealt with two.

Meanwhile, Liz Warren carried only a single type of constituency. Coalition was out of her reach. That’s what happens when you are primarily an issues candidate. Those who don’t agree with this or that issue go elsewhere if they have options, and on Tuesday they had options. (Note also that Congresswoman Pressley, so seemingly unstoppable in recent Boston elections, could not propel Warren, her candidate, to victory in any English or Haitian Creole-speaking Black majority precinct.)

Joe Biden can be very satisfied with how he won the City, just as Charlie Baker had to be more than pleased with winning 49.3 percent of our vote. Biden’s successes carry less good news for Mayor Walsh, whose re-election campaign has already begun. The Warren vote is almost certainly not his next year. The Sanders vote will most likely not favor him either. Nor is it clear that all of the Biden voters favor him. Walsh has a ton of work to do, to win voters who voted out his Democratic ward committees, who dislike his aggressive development agenda, who are dissatisfied — for very solid reasons — with Boston’s schools, and who want to see a person of color finally. be elected Mayor. It cannot please him to see State Representative Dan Cullinane decide not to seek re-election — Walsh’s own representative — in a district in which “traditional” voters count less and less every week. It can’t please him to see the old-line, Hyde Park crowd pushed entirely out, politically, and, likely, residentially, in one of the most ruthless tribal battles I have seen in Boston since the Jewish community of Blue Hill Avenue was viciously block-busted fifty years ago.

Can Walsh be re-elected ? Yes he can. He has enormous power to effect change and to dole out $$ to this group or that. He may, in fact, have to do what amounts to buying a re-election. He will have to do a ton of it, every day, picking off voters 100 at a time, every day, if he is to turn back a tide that begins to look like a tsunami.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere