Liz and Adam

Governments, no matter how beneficial or enlightened, do end. So do the intellectual movements that underwrite such governments. Thus we see, in today’s America, that modern conservatism, a theory of government which arose largely from the writings of the late William Buckley, has reached its end. Limited government; personal liberties; low taxation and a reluctance to borrow upon the credit of the national treasury; an interventionist foreign policy based upon opposition to communism — all these have lost their hold upon the advocates, donors, and political parties which helped make the America of the past 50 years what it was.

Recently we have taken to naming this political stance “principled conservatism.” Which implies that the movements that now profess to be “conservative” are un-principled. This is a mistake. Today’s “conservatives” are fully committed to a principle : the end of our Constitution and of the liberal democracy which it details. Consider what the current Republican faction insist upon every day : ( 1 ) insurrection and sedition ( 2 ) falsehoods about elections ( 3 ) overturning election results if they go against the Republicans ( 4 ) an end to the separation of church and State guaranteed in the First Amendment ( 5 ) an end to free speech guarantees in said Amendment ( 6 ) an end to the equal protection and due process guarantees in the Fourteenth Amendment ( 7 ) isolationism ( 8 ) the President as absolute monarch and the un-personing if all who do not swear him a loyalty oath ( 8 ) Presidential control of the Federal Courts ( 9 ) disinformation via Republican-minded media ( 10 ) the application of vigilantism, including bullying of voters and harassment of officials, to enforce its agenda and ( 11 ) a love of death by whatever means those who support the Constitution do not support.

Nothing political could be less like principled, modern conservatism than these. The current Republican faction is a radical, illiberal, sometimes fascist, sometimes obscurantist, often delusional, bone-sawed hallucination funded by cynical money men and women who bamboozle working class supporters and foment a political epidemic in the course of which they can free their money purposes from regulation, oversight, and consequence.

We like to think that Trump made this happen, but that too is a mistake. He gave it permission, and has since then played up to it and allowed it to think itself good and right; and he has shown his troupe the ways to destroy; but the impulses were there already. They harken back to long traditions in American life — minority positions always., but of long persistence. All of the actual agendas espoused by today’s illiberals have made the scene many times : in 1787, against ratification of the Constitution; in 1794, the whiskey rebellion; after the Civil Wart, in Jim Crow laws and lynchings; many occasions when immigrants were hounded, harassed, and even murdered;. after World war I and II, in “red scares”; before World war II, the existence of Nazi sympathizers and anti-semites (these led by Father Coughlin and Gerald L K Smith); and for two decades, from 1894 to 1914, the William Jennings Bryan movement, which was racist, religiously intolerant, rural, and economically populist.

What was NOT present, however, in any of these movements, was ( 1 ) a willingness to resort to sedition. 1787’s anti-Constitution people, who might have led a rebellion, instead accepted the ratification; ( 2 ) movements led by liars broadcasting disinformation and fake bugotry ( 3 ) a readiness to chose death over public safety.

The utter falsity of the present illiberalism is scary. A political refusal to accept what is, is absolutely lethal to any kind of ratio0nal government. That today lies and falsity direct the politics of a major political party is a novel phenomenon for our natioin, one whose consequences will likely be fatal to our 234 years of rational governance.

And what of the Democratic party ? For decades beginning with the rise of Woodrow Wilson, it stood for utilitarian reforms that would make the Constitution’s guarantees more available and supported. All of the great democratic reforms since 1912 owe their enactments to Democrats (and, to be fair, to the reformist segment of the old Republican party as well). All of these reforms were achieved by legislative compromise, some of them rapid, some not so rapid, but in every case the consequence of deliberation and campaigning. Which is not to say that they were not accompanied by sometimes outrageous street actions — the antics of some suffragettes cannot be forgotten. Nor were the victories of labor won without violence. Yet if at street level the great reforms of 1913-1968 were often occasion for civil disobedience, often painful, in the halls of Congress, legislation was debated, crafted, redrafted, and enacted in the manner accorded by our Coinstitution as practiced.

Today that is less and less the case. The Democratic party has responded poorly to the current Republican menace. It is off balance at best. It can’t decide whether to become as cultish as the Republicans or to remain Constitutional. Much of its working class base has left the tent. The Democrats of today are, more and more every month, led by outlandish ultras who want it all and want it now; by mega-rich, technology donors and corporate human resource zealots; by academics who have turned universities into inquisitions; by racially obsessed biology nuts who divide the electorate into skin color or ethnic origin apartheids; and by consultants and campaign managers who have intentionally excised a huge part of the nation’s registered voters from their campaign lists. I have some advice for the Democrats : elections are won by addition, not subtraction. An act-blue campaign only to a “vote builder”: voterfile list is by definition a vote suppression, an oligarchic structure.

By campaigning thus, the current Democratic party is sticking its head in the Republican lion’s mouth, doing exactly to the voters what the Republicans want Democrats to do and verifying, for Republican voters, all the lies that Republican manipulators tell their voters about the other party and its activists. If that were all, it would be scary enough. There is more, however. Today’s Democratic party has almost given up on the deliberative Congressional process and on the independence of our Federal Courts. The party is dangerously close to trying to impose its priorities rather than negotiate them, to seek tinkering with the Constitution rather than accepting its skeptical, centuries-wise limitations. Nor should this surprise us. just as the Democrats’ academics and administrators tell students (and professors) what to think, say, and learn, and just as the party’s corporate managers tell employee what to think and say (much of it being skin-color and national origin diktats), so these same folks see no reason why in the political sphere they should not impose rather than discuss with their opponents. Nor is the Constitution any precept to them; after all, the Democrats’ favorite academics and advocates consider the Constitution illegitimate because crafted by slave holders in defense of slavery. Indeed, some Democratic zealots consider the entire history of our nation illegitimate.

The Democratic party hasn’t slid as far down the slope to illiberal as its political opposite — after all, Joe Biden is President, not AOC — but the clock is ticking. If the modern conservative movement is already dead, the modern liberal movement is maybe two election cycles away. All of the great Democratic leaders — Hoyer, Clyburn, Pelosi, Schumer — are 80 years old or almost. They have no successors. We are watching the constitutional Democratic party move into death’s waiting room.

We are so screwed.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



A recent report by the State’s Department of Education makes clear that Boston’s Public School system isn’t doing the job. Of course this is not news. Boston’s schools administration has failed across the board for decades. Its finances are a hot mess. Its school performance varies from superb to unacceptable. It follows a busing order, almost 50 years old, that no longer relates at all to present residential facts. It maintains facility capacity, at needless cost, for 92,000 students when barely 54,000 are enrolled. Principals cannot choose their own staff. The exam schools have just adopted a racial quota admission rule that reminds one of 1950s apartheid in South Africa. Lack of trade and technology curriculum remains a problem. School bus timeliness seems hard to secure. The safety of school lunches has sometimes been questioned. Three years ago, the system was fined about $ 1,800,000 by the IRs for filing its reports late or not at all. Some members of the appointed school committee have succumbed to racial gossip.

I’d better stop right here before this column is reduced to a list.

So what, then, are we to do about a system that for fiscal 2021 eats up $ 1,250,000,000 of taxpayer’s money — one third of Boston’s entire City budget ? $ 135,000,000 of which is allocated to “transportation” ? About $ 15,000,000 to pay the salaries of system teachers who have no assignment because no principal will have them ? Maybe $ 20,000,000 in unnecessary maintenance costs for vastly under-utilized buildings ?

Why do we continue to hire superintendents from out of town who then pass through a rapidly. revolving door as their inability to manage a system out of sync becomes too obvious to be glossed away ? Is there no one in Boston schools administration who can do the job — who knows the failures first hand and can crack the whip of radical reform ?

Why did Mayor Walsh not reappoint John McDonough, who as interim superintendent from 2012 to 2015 had begun the reform process before system failures became this publicly scandalous ?

But enough questions and accusations. Below I set forth the radical reforms I beg us to consider urgent and to get busy at making it so :

( 1 ) change the City charter to institute a mostly elected school committee, of 13 members, eleven elected by district and two appointed by the Mayor. Parents MUST be brought in to school decision making. As voters, parents will have a direct say by electing whom they will. The same goes for taxpayers who foot the bill even if their own kids attend private schools or are homeschooled. As for the Districts, they should NOT be co-extensive with our City Council Districts, to prevent, or at least lessen, the rise of political rivalry. (My own suggestion is that we use the current busing assignment districts, electing five members from the large district, four from the next one in size, and two from the small district.)

( 2 ) divide the system into those three election districts, with a superintendent for each and a budget for each. Each District would be separately managed and would be required by the State to compete with each other on performance standards monitored by the state through the Mayor’s two appointed members. As separate districts, the central administrative staff would be reduced accordingly.

( 3 ) enact a City ordinance that the school principals in each District have hiring and firing power for ALL of their staff.

( 4 ) Each District budget will be separately subject to annual approval by the Mayor.

( 5 ) Establish parent-teacher associations, thus reviving the institutions which crucially oversaw and directed the operation of schools prior to 1974 and had the full confidence of the city’s voters, teachers and taxapers.

( 6 ) The exam schools will not be subject to any of the three district superintendents but will be operated and regulated directly by the mayor through his Education Advisor and staff. The ONLY schools issue on which the City’s most important elected official is accountable will thus be the success or not success of the City’s most sought-after schools. The exam schools will also have a separate budget overseen by the Mayor’s city comptroller, subject to approval by the Council. (the budgets for the three districts would not be subject to Council approval, as is the case in most Massachusetts communities, where school committees have budget autonomy.) As for exam standards, test scores shall be the ultimate arbiter of admission, but the school’s managers shall have discretion to consider the neighborhood status of a student seeking admission.

( 7 ) the City’s teachers union will bargain with each District Committee separately.

( 8 ) Budget performance will be overseen by the Boston Finance Commission and appropriate legislation shall be filed and enacted. These annual reports shall be published prominently in the City’s newspaper of record and on the City’s website in a separately accessible file.

( 9 ) End the 1974 busing order and the transportation if students all over the City. Boston’s students must be able to attired school with their neighbors.

In no way does the above list exhaust suggestions for major reform. Nonetheless, these certainly generate discussion and set the parameters of what can be devised to attack head on and utterly the comprehensive irrelevancy of much BPS administration, performance, and purposing. Nothing by way of reform should be off the table when we tackle 50 years of maladministration and misdirection. If we are to have a taxpayer-paid school system at all, we owe it to those taxpayers — and to school parents, potential school parents, and all students –to do the best we can and not ever again settle for a mish-mash inside a Rube Goldberg on behalf of kicking 1,000 inconvenient cans down the road.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



On September 14, 2021, about 108,000 Boston voters cast their verdicts on the multiple candidates seeking the offices of Mayor and City Councillor. Eight at Large Council candidates will face the voters on November 2nd, along with Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George seeking to be our next Mayor.

Ordinarily, such voter verdicts would be matters of character and size-of-following. Ever since I first involved myself in Boston elections, some 54 years ago, there has almost always been broad consensus on what city governance is about and should take care to do. Except for 1967, when Louise Day Hicks, as the voice of many aggrieved school parents, challenged those who sought to desegregate Boston’s then very racially separated school system, the main difference between candidates has been whose names would be on the City of Boston paychecks. We used to smirk at the unity of it all, but as I survey the current Boston situation, I wish those days of consensus were back.

Instead, we have polarization: so-called “progressives” versus “traditionalists.”

Annissa Essaibi George, the “traditionalist” candidate for Mayor, won votes by the barrel-full in Dorchester east of “the Avenue”; Michelle Wu amassed the same in Jamaica Plain and Roslindale. West Roxbury threw a tsunami of votes at Essaibi George; Back Bay and Downtown a wave nearly as big for Wu. Meanwhile Kim Janey, who became acting Mayor in March, all but monopolized the voters of Black voters. As for Councillor Andrea Campbell, she did defy the polarization pressure by winning a fairly even spread of votes all across the City (befitting her status as almost everybody’s second choice), yet finished third, proof (if any were needed) that polarization was the ticket to success this time around.

The polarization was racial as well as cultural. There was scant enthusiasm among the city’s Black and Hispanic voters for Wu or Essaibi George. Still, culture rulked the day, because Boston’s white voters are polarized among themselves.

The same is true almost everywhere in America today. Skin-colored conflicts inflame white voters almost exclusively. Why is this ? Pundits offer a dozen reasons. Who can say which is the proximate cause / Yet the fact is there. “Blue states” versus “red states” exist because white voters, who comprise about two-thirds of all voters, are at each other’s throats. Why would Boston be any different ? Myself, I think the proximate cause of this white-voter face-off is the unevennness of our economy.

Nowhere is that unevenness more flagrant than in Boston. The same highly-paid, tech-savvy, educated skillsters who are taking over the Democratic party nationwide are doing so in Boston with a vengeanace, shoving out the old-school, Catholic, ethnic working class, whose jobs pay less, whose technology savvy doesn’t often keep up, whose ways of life are embedded in the accommodations and successes of 50 to 85 years ago (Franklin D Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson) and whose job opportunities have narrowed savagely as the industrial phase of American life has given way to a service economy in which union solidarity and its economic boosts have faded into non-union, low-wage, peon jobs.

How could scions of the once successful, ethnic Bostonians (including my own grandparents) who commanded city government for 100 years not feel pissed at being pushed out by the buyers of million dollar homes and waves of luxury condo developments ? Wouldn’t it roil you to have to move out of Boston because no one will assure that every Boston public school imposes a high-quality education ? Wouldn’t you fight to keep the exams schools exam schools ? And the jobs — where are they ? Of course you’d be upset to watch three-quarters of your long-time neighbors — friends of your grandparents even — move to Peabody, Foxboro, Wakefield and Newton. Yet just as “old Boston” moves away or is pushed out, newcomers to Boston who stay for the $ 250,000 “diversity and inclusion” jobs ( you got to love that phrase, “diversity and inclusion.” What it actually means to “old Boston’ is “jobs for you, but none for me any more.”) are quite happy to rent a cubicle sized flat for $ 2500 or buy a poorly constructed, “luxury” “unit” for $ 650,000 — more money than “old Boston” voters see in a decade.

For the first 20 years or so of the high-income conquest of Boston, the “old Boston” among us could still command city elections and win city jobs in the manner of two generations before them: it takes time for newcomers to adjust to or grasp any significance in local politics. But lately even that last refuge has failed. The numbers just don’t muscle it any more. Essaibi George is proudly an “old Boston’ candidate. Where did she rule on September 14 ? In maybe 50 precincts of the City’s 255.

Another fact : once upon a time there’d be 20, even 40 City Council candidates with Irish or Italian last names. This year ? Only four with Irish last names, none of Italian heritage. Yes, none.

People who are being pushed out understandably don’t like it. For generations, “old Bostonians” have lived in, worked for, socialized among, and managed Boston. Are the current generation of “traditional” voters supposed to just bow out and smile ? Are today’s Bostonians of Italian ancestry supposed to cheer as statues of Christopher Columbus are defaced and removed by City order ? Look at what has replaced Columbus statues, men-only taverns, Park league football, and Irish politicians : bike lanes — which make driving an even huger ordeal; Boston-magazine restaurants, serving hummingbird-sized portions of leafy, stringy I-don’t-know-what’s “drizzled” with cilantro glaze; ring-and-video doorbells on security locked front doors; and vast nosefuls of corporate job descriptions — almost all of them written by new-to-town white people — which include, among the “interviewer’s questions” section this telling bit of agitprop : ‘will you commit to fighting white supremacy ?”

I could go on listing examples of the new condescension — the sleeve-worn race obsessions — spreading its expensive colognes all across Boston neighborhoods being planned out of existence by our City’s Ph.D’d bureaucracy, but you do get the point.

But back to the money.

Mark Twain’s famous quote — “money is twice tainted. taint yours and taint mine” — epitomizes today’s America, in which about ten percent of us are educated to the max and are a “good fit” for salaries above $ 200,000 a year; or we run brand-new online businesses which, after gestation, sell to mangers of land-speculation billionaire money for millions of dollars. You can see these sparkling new richies all over instagram, posting their world travels, dressed to the nine times nines, their photo captions littered with Via Napoleone brand names. It’s nice to have money, jeroboams and balthasars of it ! But Twain had it right : taint yours, and taint mine.

The rest of us earn far too little. Either we hustle at middle-management jobs thumbed by human resource departments and evaluated by supervisors, or we hold peon jobs serving fast food to impatient commuters, cleaning hospital bedrooms, washing skyscraper windows, longshoring, assisting “seniors” and what-have-you, jobs that in 2021 America pay about one-third of what a family requires to barely break even in and around the big cities where the jobs are. I hate to tell ya, but hey — even a $ 15/hour wage doesn’t cut it.

So, enough about the imbalances in our economy. You all know what I’m talking about. Back, then, to the Boston city primary, which is the main event filling up our arena right now. In one corner we have the candidates representing the new corporate progressivism, the big money thereof as well as the entire real estate industry, which has made of Boston its new Klondike toward which all are rushing as real estate prices climb ever upward. This is the current majority voice. In the opposite corner we have those who have worked for or had a personal stake in city governance lo these many decades, including Boston Latin School parents as well as most Boston labor unions representing crafts especially but also police, fire, and EMS workers. These comprise the current minority numbers.

The majority supports significant, even radical changes in how the city operates its schools its police, its traffic and the MBTA, as well as big-box, cheap-tack megalithic housing “units” (it favors high density “transit-oriented” housing, and zoning reform to allow for these, whatever that is) and of course regulation of the atmosphere, the ocean, and modes of transportation. The minority simply wants to be left alone to do our modest jobs, take care of our loved ones, and maybe plan a meager retirement. Who are this “rest of us” going to vote for in November ? You know whom. And if our candidate — our last hope of securing a viable, economic foothold in what was once our City — doesn’t win, as seems likely, what will we do ?

You tell me. I have no idea.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere