Posts by hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

MASSACHUSETTS BALLOT QUESTIONS : OUR TAKE

ballot-question-licenses

^^ Question 4 is the big controversial issue on tomorrow’s ballot

Tomorrow voters in our State will find four bllot questions requesting our yes or no.

Every voter has received the Secretary of State’s information sheet explaining these questions, plus arguments pro and con concerning each. I found this information made the matters more confusing, not less. Nonetheless, the questions are on the ballot. I now offer Here and Sphers’s take:

Question One would, if approved, increase the State tax on very high incomes. Fair Share is pushing this question. On many fronts I like Fair Share’s work. This time, however, it seems out of synch. The State is about to refund to taxpayers billions of dollars of EXCESS colleected revenue (pursuant to a 1986 law requir ing such refund). Why, with the State collecting much revenue MORE than budgeted, would we want, or need, to raise taxes further ? If anything, we should probably be cutting State taxes back.

Vote NO.

Question Two would change the State law on dental insurance charges to require that dentistry insurers apply to costs at least 83 percent of what they charge us — which, says the question, would put dental insurance on the same footing as other medical insurance. The State information does not explain why dental insurance allocations should be the same as other medical allocations. I am thus not convinced that dental insurance operates in the same cost lane as other medicals. Possibly the two insurance categories do incur the same cost but if so, the information does not show us that. I would like to vote yes, but without further information that seems necesary, the case here is “not proved.”

Vote NO

Question 3 would allow for more liquor licenses to be issued than are allowe euner current State and local regulations. i see no reason why not.

Vote YES.

Question 4 asks voters whether or not to approve the law passsed by the legislature, over Governor Baker’s veto, to allow undocumentd immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. Governor Baker’s objection is well founded : the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), he says, doesn’t have a means for verifying that an undocumented applicant is who they say they are. Yet there’s a solid respons to his objection : 17 States have already made undocumented people’s driver licenses legal. Why can’t our RMV adopt similar verification procedures to those already being utilized in these 17 States ? I fund no reason why the Governor’s office cannot require the RMV to implement these procedures — problem solved.

As for the law itself, I agree that it is in everybody’s interest to not have unlicensed, uninsured drvers on the road.

Vote YES.

What do I think will the voters do ? It would not surpris eme one bit to see all four questions fail. uestion 3 is the most likely to pass. The others have a harder road. Voters in our State have become skeptical of ballot questions, usually with solid reason.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON’s SMALL VOTER PARTICIPATION ON SEPT 6TH AND WHAT IT MEANS

Hayden

^^ Kevin Hayden won election to a full term as Suffolk DA — but in a low-turnout race.

A mere 84,434 Boston voters participated in September 6th’s State primary. This totals about 19 percent of the City’s registered. That’s a bit higher than recent special elections in which about 12 to 15 percent of eligibles voted, but hardly encouraging. In 2018, 92,800 Boston people voted on primary day.

I suppose there’s at least some good news here. In the 2014 State primary, ony 58,832 Bostonians voted. In 2010, the number was 51,780.

There has been an even lower number: in 2016, only 34,424 voters cast a primary ballot. That total however, can be excused : there was no major contest being voted on. Contrarily, in 2020, when Joe Kennedy III and Ed Markey butted heads for one of our US Senate seats, 138,646 Bostonians voted — a total similar to the turnout for a hotly contested Mayor’s race.

Yet even the 138,646 number cannot be applauded. 40, 50, 60 years ago, Boston election turnouts numbered in the 250,000 range. Individual neighborhood numbers loom even larger. 50 years ago, South Boston could turn out 9000 votes in an election. Today, 3000 Southies seems an upper limit. In the 1983 Mayoral election, 21,000 votes were cast in Ward 20 — more there than in the 1980 Presidential election ! Today, on primary day, ward 20 voters number barely 9800 votes cast.

How about East Boston ? Once upon a time Ward One saw 7000 to even 10,000 votes cast. This year, 3209. In the 2018 State primary, the Ward One number was 3532. In the big 2020 primary, 3548. In the 2015 special election wherein Adrian Madaro won his State Rep seat, 3531 voted. That’s about a 15 percent turnout, well below the City’s low average. Maybe we should be grateful for the 3500 ? In the 2016 special elction for State Senator, with an East Boston candidate running along with four others, only 2751 votes were cast. The totals in this year’s two special elctions were even lower !

What then is going on here ? Why are fewer than one in every five registered voters bothering to participate in primaries and “specials” ? Why, in East Boston and South Boston, is that fraction an even lower one in six, or one in seven ? Murray Levin once wrote an entire book about what he called “the alienated voter,” but alienation is not what I see here. Alienation suggests a reaction, a purpose. What I see is utter indifference. Our local elections simply don’t matter any more, to anyone but the activists.

Perhaps the following observations tell us what has happened.

1. When we more or less eliminated patronage in favor of hiring meritocrats, we eliminated what had been ordinary voters’ number one motivation for getting involved.

2. Those who sought a City or Suffolk county job (or a job at Boston Edison, for those too were often patronage) had families — big families — who would ALL vote for their job-seeking family member. Those big families made Boston their permanent home.

3. Today there are almost no families in the City; transient singles dominate. (Statistic on point : enrollment in the Boston school system numbers about 48,000 — down from about 92,000 fifty years ago.) Hardly any of these often newly-arrived singles feel any connection to local elections nor have any reason to. They’re well paid, in bio medical or academia or similar institution shielded from day to day hassles (and often in charge of City agendas via their economic power), and they are as likely to be transferred to a similar job in another city as to stay in Boston for any length of time, much less start a family here and commit to raisng said family in the City. (In fact, often said new families move out when it’s time to enroll kids in school, the parents having scant confidence in the Boston schools performance.)

4. When patronage was eliminated, we left the political arena to ideologues who are absolutely certain they are right and everybody else is wrong  — which of course turns off ordinary voters who are just trying to get ahead 

5. Once basic campaign work stopped being done in person, a lot of it by patronage families, the only recourse was to $$$$ to hire campaign work & script the messaging. Result : moneyed interests now control the candidates and the agenda.

This is oligarchy, not democracy.

I do not know how we reverse course, and for sure no one is even trying to. Nor should we forget that it was Mayor Kevin White who, although the most machine-oriented of Mayors, inititiated the big money-real estate developer impetus that now controls and owns the City, with the active encouargement of City hall during the 27 years that Tom Menino and Marty Walsh occupied the Mayor’s office. (not that their decisions are in any way digfferent from the exact same strategies employed nationwide by almost every major office candidate.)

Ordinary voters see that City government isn’t being operated for their benefit. Heck, they aren’t sure if even our mostly diligently-operated State government is being operated with average voters in mind. Voters see what is being said by ideologues of various sorts, and they hear the platitudes of the moment being spoken by politicians who as a matter of course say the least that they can, or with the least meaning beyond shibboleths, slogans, and buzzwords which everybody knows have no meaning except to the activists who demand the right lip service. Ordinary voters see and hear and then go about their jobs and their chores, just trying to get by, to keep things in one piece, to have some fun now and then and to be left alone by politicians who come around only at election time.

Although what I have written so far is how I see things, I am sure it’s hardly the whole story. Voters do turn out increasingy, in big, national elections with existential import. This is good. But a democracy is healthiest when it works the most local elections first. If we see all power surging to the center and from the center — if we no longer see our local, city governments as the first line of our political aspirations, then where is our sense of community ? Of neighborhood ? Of determinng our own destiny on the streets where we live and work among people we know or soon get to know ?

Maybe my view is an old fashioned one. Maybe a vast, billion dollar, centralied politics is quite ok. Yet I’m not convinced by this maybe. When by far the most frequent response I get from voters when I door knock voters in a local campaign is “nobody listens to us,” something is badly wrong.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

MASSACHUSETTS : OUR LEGISLATIVE ENDORSEMENTS IN TUESDAY’s PRIMARY

SHEPHERD

^^ a committed environmentalist and a Republican : Andrew J. Shepherd is our choice to be the new 1st Middlesex State Rep, a seat now held by Sheila C. Harrington.

— — — — — — —

Our preference with lawmakers is for moderate reformers, people who will exercise a trial juror’s judgement rather than for ideologues who are on a mission regardless of such facts as may not conform. That said, we also like Governor Baker’s great line, that “when there’s more than one opinion in a room, you might learn something.”

In that spirit, we make the following endorsements for the Massachusetts House and Senate :

State Representative, Democratic :

7th Essex, DOMINGO DOMINGUEZ

8th Essex, POLLY TITCOMB, TRISTAN SMITH

11th Hampden, BUD L. WILLIAMS

9th Middlesex THOMAS M. STANLEY

14th Middlesex, SIMON CATALDO

16th Middlesex District, RODNEY M. ELLIOTT

35th Middlesex District, PAUL J. DONATO

5th Suffolk, DANIELSON TAVARES

6th Suffolk, RUSSELL E. HOLMES

11th Suffolk, JUDITH GARCIA

15th Suffolk, ROXANNE LONGORIA

State Representative, Republican :

1st Middlesex, ANDREW J. SHEPHERD

State Senator, Democratic :

3rd Essex : JOAN B. LOVELY

1st Hampshire : SYDNEY LEVIN-EPSTEIN

Norfolk, Bristol & Plymouth : WALTER F. TIMILTY

1st Worcester : JOSEPH M PETTY

State Senate, Republican :

1sst Plymouth & Norfolk, PATRICK O’CONNOR

MASSACHUSETTS : OUR ENDORSEMENTS FOR TUESDAY’s PRIMARY

MAURA and CHRIS

Chris Doughty (Republican) and Maura Healey (Democratic) : our endorsees for Governor

— — — — — —

On Tuesday, September 6th, many of us — hopefully a great many — will vote for the nominees we wish to advance to November’s election ballot. We at Here and Sphere thus offer you our candidate endorsements, which we base on personal character, common sense gaenda, and preference over the alternatives.

GOVERNOR: Democratic primary — we support MAURA HEALEY, who is unopposed, with State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz having dropped her own candidacy. Healey’s diligent, comprehensive record over eight years as Attorney General, of support for women’s rights, immigrant rights, and against predatory lenders and oil companies support her case for governing the entirety of State administration. Will her supporters allow her, as Governor, to pursue a course independent of the Democratic-dominated legislature ? That’s a fair question to ask, but the answer is for November, not the primary.

GOVERNOR : Republican Primary — we endorse Wrentham businessman CHRIS DOUGHTY and his Lt Governor runnung mate KATE CAMPANALE. Doughty has two advantages : his opponent, GEOFF DIEHL, a former legislator, was Trump’s Massachusetts chairman, which, for us, is itelf a disqualification. Second, Doughty is pursuing a low tax, cautious reform agenda more or less reminiscent of Charlie Baker’s practices. Diehl’s LtGov, Leah Cole Allen, won a House seat in Peabody, was re-elected (narrowly), then quit — seat was then won by a Democrat — to retrn to her nursing job, from which she was later fired for refusing to be Covid vaccinated. Doughty’s second, Kate Campanale, served two estimable terms as a House member from the City of Worcester.

LT GOVERNOR, Democratic : easy to endorse four-term Salem Mayor KIM DRISCOLL over a Springfield-area State Senator, Eric Lesser, and Metro-west House member Tami Gouveia.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL, Democratic : easy agin to endorse, this time former Boston City Councillor ANDREA CAMPBELL, a pragamtic reformer who ran a superb 2021 campaign for Boston mayor, over ultra-progressive lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan, whose prodigious spending of her own money doesn’t help matters. As a Mayor hopeful, Campbell drew support from every part of Boston but with four strong contenders in the battle, wasn’t the top pick of most neighborhoods — I am reminded of Larry diCara’s similar finish in the 1983 Mayor race. This time, Campbell is the better choice in a two-person contest.

SECRETARY OF STATE, Democratic : current Secretary Bill Galvin, who has held the office for decades, is being challenged by Tanisha Sullivan. Galvin has held the job long enough, but I see nothing in Sullivan’s corpprate attorney resume that suggests she’s ready to oversee the State’s elections. No endorsement.

AUDITOR, Democratic : easy again to endorse, this tume Merrimac Valley State Senatir DIANA DiZOGLIO, over Cris Dempsey, whose big accomplishment (if you can call it that) was leading the pack that in 2014 hounded to defeat Mayor Walsh’s 2020 Boston Olympics proposal.

SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY, Democratic : We support and endorse KEVIN HAYDEN, a 25-year former Assistant D. A., appointed by Governor Charlie Baker to fill the term of Rachael Rollins, who was named United States Attorney for Massachustts by President Biden. Hayden is opposed by Boton City Councillor Ricardo Arroyo.

SUFFOLK SHERIFF, Democratic ; We roudly endorse STEVEN TOMPKINS, the current Sheriff, who has innovated the entire role of Suffolk Sheriff, for re-election. He is opposed by Sandra Zamor Calixte.

ESSEX DISTRICT DISTRICT ATTORNEY : Easy to endorse PAUL TUCKER, Salem’s present State Rep and former Salem Police Chief, over private-practice attorney James O’Shea, a Middleton resident.

ESSEX DISTRICT SHERIFF : we endorse the current Sheriff, KEVIN COPPINGER a former City of Lynn police chief, over newcomer challenger Virgina Leigh.

Legislative endorsements to be posted next.

— Mike Freedberg, for the Editors, Here and Sphere

THIS ELECTION IS NOT ABOUT JOE BIDEN… …AND THAT’s JUST FINE

Congress’s leaders now take their case to the voters. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) talks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) talks with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD

In November the voters of all 50 States will go to the polls — or will vote by mail, and that’s fine — to elect their State’s members of the next Congress.

Some who do not like him want this citizen action to be a referendum on President Biden. It would be that, if Biden were a person like his predecessor, hogging the news, making crazy moves or insulting this or that beloved group, bullying and trashing like one of those “very fine people” whose gutter bigotries he succored. Were Biden like that, the 2022 election would HAVE to be about him.

But Biden is NOT like that. He is a decent, soft-spoken man who respects his fellows, who works his office as the Constitution sets it forth, who rarely captures the news cycle and, in my opinion, prefers not to except when his appointed task requires it. As a result, the media doesn’t cover him much. He isn’t news. People don’t talk about him every waking minute.

This frustrates his opponents, who want the President to dominate everything, as we have all become accustomed to by way of the nation being almost constantly at war since 1941: because the Constitution makes the President commander in chief, giving him war powers he doesn’t have when there isn’t war. During war, therefore, the President IS the news; his every act is an order. That is NOT the case otherwise. Congress has pride of place in our system — Article One of the Constitution is about Congress, which makes all the laws — and the President comes second. His job is to execute those laws. It’s a Sisyphean task that challenges every person who has held the office since at least FDR’s day and taken its obligations seriously (as Biden’s predecessor did not).

Doing the job, and understanding that Congress creates the work, and letting Congress do that, is not a newsworthy mission. As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote, the thing he was proudest of about his term as Mayor of Bordeaux, was that there was no news ; because, as he wrote, such news is usually a record of pestilence, wars, corruption, and disaster. (He might have added tyranny.) But such dispassion, though a boon to public life, is, in the media arena, like a sober man at a drunk party: who wants him ? So Biden is seen by many, including some Democrats, as “weak,” and thus his low approval level.

How perverted our current default view of the Presidency is ! We WANT, many of us, a President who makes news, any kind of news, destructive news and worse, as long as it’s something that will turn our heads and set us remarking, screaming, cheering, hating.

In other words, a President who is not what our Framers wanted of a President.

But Joe Biden is exactly what our Framers wanted of a President; and because he is that, this election will be not about him but about the offices actually being elected to.

The current Congress, up for judgement by the voters, has much to boast of. This term has been the most comprehensively productive since the Civil Rights Congress of 1965-1966. We have a new, vast, bipartisan infrastructure bill; the equally vast Covid Relief Act; a first stab at gun and ammo control, not big but at least something; massive, continuing suppor for Ukraine at war; a “CHIPS” act, which will surge money into our domestic manufacture of computer chips, so that we aren’t at the mercy of foreign suppliers; very likely an act (the “Inflation Reduction Act”) requiring competitive pricing of drugs used in ACA health plans, setting a corporate minimum tax, and investing serious Federal dollars in non-fossil energy businesses. In addition, the Senate has confirmed more Federal judicial nominees, so far, than in any previous session, including a first-rate new Supreme Court Justice who may well, one day, become Chief. And all of it with some Republican support, in many cases, a lot of Republican support.

That’s a mighty good record for a sitting Congress ember to seek re-election on.

No, this Congress didn’t accomplish some vital basics. The politics of religion stymied any attempt to reverse, by law, the Supreme Court’s terrible decision wiping out one of women’s basic Constitutional privacy right, or even to safeguard women’s right to travel to States where abortion is still legal.

Fixing this radical reversal may be beyond the power of any Congress.

Meanwhile (I’m going back to the election now) Republican primary voters, dominated in many cases by the whims of Mr. Biden’s predecessor, seem to have, in several crucial States, nominated candidates utterly negative and, in some cases, radical or even kooky. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose shrewd handling of his Senate Republicans has contributed significantky to this Congress’s success, deserves better candidates, but it is what it is..

Partly for the above-cited reason (and yes, partly because of the Supreme Court’s savage erasure of women’s most basic privacy right), I think the Democrats will gain at least four Senate seats and may well hold their majority in the House and might even extend it.

Which four ? I’d say Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and North Carlina. Nor is Utah’s Mike Lee sure of winning another term, seriously challenged as he is by independent Evan McMullin. But this is grist for a next Here and Sphere column.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

SOMETHING WILL BE DONE… OR WE ARE ALL DEAD

UVALDE

There will at last be serious gun and ammo control legislation adopted by Congress.

Well, at least I HOPE there will be.

And if there isn’t ? If nothing is done, yet again, or if only tiny tweaks are enacted, we are truly finished a a nation of laws. Maybe even personally dead.

In what kind of cockamamie society can an 18 year old kid go into a store and buy two military-grade weapons, ammo, and body armor, with no background check, and no waiting period — no nothing — and then go and shoot up a shopping mall, a school, a church ? Is this really real ? Why do we allow it ? Have we a death wish ?

I think we do have a death wish. After all, this is the same society in which about twenty percent of adults willingly, even defiantly, rejected masks and vaccination, risking death by Covid. What do you call 200,000 entirely preventable Covid deaths but a death wish ?

Death by gun is now the number one cause of death for American young people. Yet we do nothing. What other conclusion can I draw but that we as a nation prefer to see our young people shot dead than to stop the gun stuff ?

But maybe, just maybe, this time it will be different. Congress appears to want to enact at, least, some gun controls. Even some Republicans, hitherto owned by the gun extortionists, sound fed up. Perhaps the death wish isn’t working for them ?

But enough of what Congress might do. Let’s list the steps they SHOULD do :

( 1 ) require background checks for ALL purchases of guns or ammunition; establish and enforce a two week waiting period after purchase and before delivery

( 2 ) raise the minimum gun or ammo purchase ageb to 21.

( 3 ) require purchasers of guns or ammo to maintain $ 1 million of liability insurance

( 4 ) repeal the immunity from lawsuit presently enjoyed by manufacturers of guns or ammo

( 5 ) ban permanently the sale or private possession of military-style weapons and ammo; take by eminent domain, properly compensated, all such weapons currently in private possession

( 6 ) require all first time purchasers of a gun or ammo to undergo training by a licensed trainer of same, as a pre-condition of being licensed to own same

( 7 ) ban the carrying of any weapon by any person except under either militia regulation or strictly individual rules

( 8 ) enact a so-called “red flag” law;

( 9 ) guns or ammunition legally owned must be kept at all times under lock and key. None should ever, under any circumstances, be loaded in the presence of minors. Confirmed, repeated violation thereof must be grounds for revocation of such license to own as said violator may have

It should be national policy to advocate and advertise gun and ammunition safety rules and the responsibility of owners to self-enforce them. Ownership of even legally possessed guns and ammo should be discouraged and advertised as such.

As for the NRA position, that everybody should be allowed to own any sort of weapon and brandish them anywhere and whenever: Western civilization got past this state of anarchy in the 12th and 13th Centuries, when the kings took control of their realm’s peace. We are not going back to the “war of all against all,” no matter how fervently the gun and ammo manufacturers desire it. Nor are we going to exchange Constitutional law for gun anarchy ruled by King Trump.

Ugh.

The question arises, what about the Second Amendment to our Constitution ? To me, this is no issue at all. The meaning of the Amendment is clear : it seeks to establish the eligibiity of all citizens to serve in a public body of societal defense, subject tyo rigorous regulation, and granting to all such eligibles a collective, but not an individual, right to bear arms in said militia. That is all that the Amendment meant to the framers, who wnated to avoid having a professional body of troops such as the British employed aginst us in the Revolution. Which said, this intention went by the boards when, in 1917, we instituted a national draft, and during and after World War II, when we established and supported a standing army. Today the Amendment governs only service in a State’s national Guard.

It grants NO individual rights at all. The 1688 English Bill of Rights, from which writing was taken the language of our Amendment, specified an individual right. That language was left out of our Amendment. End of story.

Zealots for universal gun ownership by individuals speak of having to defend themselves. Against what ? What or who are they afraid of ? so afraid that they countenance the constant slaughter of children and others by gun crazies ? WHAT ARE THEY AFRAID OF ? Or better yet, ask, WHO are they afraid of ?

I think we all know the answer. It ain’t pretty. It violates every American principle most of us swear to. It is nasty and it is ripe bigotry.

It cannot go on.

—- Mike Freedbenrg / Here and Sphere

THERE IS NO WORKABLE SOLUTION FOR BOSTON’s NUTTY HOUSING PRICES

WU

^^ Mayor Wu : lots of government activity, none of it of the least effect and some of it aggravating to the problem. What else is new ?

—- —- —-

This week a Commonwealth Magazine column proposed doubling the State’s transfer deed excise tax. The writers claimed this would raise $ 600 million, which — so they said — could be used, in part, to build “affordable” housing.

Who they kidding ? Themselves ?

I don’t care if you raise $ 60 billion. As long as Boston is the hub for bio-technology, and for the vastly over-priced educational behemoths that school the bio industry’s gluttonous salaries, housing in Boston will be way, way out of price reach for ordinary grunts — which comprises at least 80 percent of us. For us, there is no future except to leave.

As long as the bio boom goes on — and who would even think of wanting it to stop ? it brings to our City money so vast that even Long John Silver and his pirates would stop dancing on dead men’s chests and start buying leather yachts, $ 800 tomahawk steaks, $ 500 concert ticket goers, casino guests with unlimited credit, and buyers of grapefruit-colored designer sneakers — the cost of having a place to live will be veddy veddy pricey, mate.

That these instagram influencers and “content creators” of whom I speak — singles all, of course — might only stay here for a couple of years till they transfer to the next G start up, or to a trendy application shop of the moment, is no bar to $ 4000 to $ 8000 apartments: because as one class of glamor smarties leaves, another class comes to town. Call it the university-ization of Boston : move to town, earn barrels of money, live in dormitory-sized “units,” rent out another to air bnb, and then sail on — heck, even I, a local stiff who can barely pay my bills, know several lovelies who have done exactly this, or who will be doing it.

Perish forbid that our city might be governede by those who were born here, want to work here and stay here. that’s old fogey, man ! No one does that any more, only those biased old ethnics who micro-aggress people of color; who are glued to the old ways (such as honoring the murderer, Christopher Columbus); who are all racists anyway, right ? So why not price them out of the city they and their forbears came to, worked to exhaustion in, but could at least call home ? They’re obsolete, man ! So buy them out if you can, price them out if you can’t. See ya !

(Fun fact : it isn’t only the old ethnics who are being pushed or bought out. Most Bostonians of color also cannot afford the new prices. Many of these folks also have families, and the parents aren’t very happy, to say the least, with Boston’s schools. If they can’t get a kid into “Latin,” or a charter school, the suburban schools, with their better reputations, look most appealing; and so families of color — lots of them — are leaving Boston as well.)

But back to my main point:

As long as the university lifestyle– here for a couple, party and shop and live “off campus” : for what is a “unit” but an off-campus room, the “campus” being the app shop or bio lab in which the $ 250 k-a-year kids do their post-Ph.D researching ? — continues, real estate guys with banked money looking for action will buy up our old fashioned homes, and either renovate and condo them at vast profit, or else demolish them and erect “units” made of featureless crap. And as long as these real estate guys have impatient money — often using greed-sized lines of credit — to bet, sellers, being no fools, will demand insane prices — and get them. Wouldn’t you do the same ? I sure would.

So the land acquisition cost, which has quadruped since 2010, goes up more. likewise the cost of buying a working family’s house and demolishing it. And then ? Do you suppose that the developer will now build ordinary housing ? Hell no ! He’ll build for the most expensive audience he can afford to target. Heck, even in the suburbs, where actual families still live, the builders build elephant-size houses with twice the room space any ordinary family would ever want. You see them everywhere : vast piles with zero style devoid of grace but plump with gabled avoirdupois.

Meanwhile, the small homes — complete with lawn and driveway — built after World War II have passed into history. No one builds them any more. The only small houses that get built today are the micro-apartments favored by zoning reformers.

Climate zealots love the micro-apartments. They use little fossil fuel energy, and in keeping with the climate folks’ abhorrence of cars, they don’t have driveways.

Zoning codes ? No problemo, man ! Zoning rules were devised in the small home era, Not for us, right? We are PROGRESSIVE ! So city zoning boards dismiss zoning rules out of hand. Besides, how could you honor a zoning code that no builder will build to ?

But I digress.

What, then, could the $ 600 million excise tax revenue build ? The Commonwealth writers don’t explicitly say — though I can guess what they are thinking of — but it’s not hard to figure : they would channel that money through City and town governments to allot to builders via some sort of building permit covenant, such as what already are in place, where a builder would be required to offer a percentage of his “units” at ‘affordable” prices, whatever that night be. The current requirements range from 13 percent of units to 20 percent. I would imagine that the $ 600 million would push cities to require maybe 33 percent.

(Or we could hve “rent stabilization,” if Mayor Wu can fool enough legislators, who ought to know better.)

But back to my point.

Either that or cities would build entire quadrants of subsidized housing. Being subsidized, these units would be rentals only — or, if available for purchase, how would the City do so without bestowing upon the buyer a huge immediate value profit ? I have heard that some cities are offering buyers only a portion of the equity so as to negate the prospect of an immediate value profit at taxpayer expense. But how can such a device be legal ? And if it is legal, by what right does a city have the authority to own private, for sale housing and to withhold from a buyer value to which she is entitled ?

But let’s not go further down this guessing game road. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen, whether planners and reformers like it or not. The ordinary working stiffs of Boston — and cities as captured as ours — are going to do one of the following : ( 1 ) double and triple up in what’s left of wring class housing ( 2 ) move far far away, like to Fall River or Holyoke, where housing costs one-third to one-fifth of Boston prices or ( 3 ) demand much, much higher hourly wages for the exhausting, vital grunt work that they do and without which the university researchers and instagram dolls could not exist for more than 24 hours.

My own guess is that there’ll be a little of all three. And that the concerns and living arrangements of those of us who must decide between these three options will be of no account to the politicians who cannot fund their increasingly overpriced campaigns except from those who have it (and we now now who they are, don’t we ?); but what we WILL get from the politicians who want our votes is a blizzard of tipsy promises and contradictory devices.

It ain’t pretty, and it ain’t going away.

I’ll also make another prediction : rents and buy prices will continue to get MORE expensive. Why ? Because they can.

—- Mike Freedberg

MONEY FLOWS POINT TO THE END OF AMERICA’s DEMOCRACY

George Soros

George Soros, international investor and bugaboo of Trumpist autocrats because he funds liberal causes. But he is hardly the only political billionaire, and big money people and institutions now buy all of our nation’s successful politics.

This will be a rather distressing column by me. I am a pessimist these days when contemplating the future of American democracy. But please hear me out :

You can’t have a democracy if the voters who actually democratize have no money in the game. As things go in the age of Citizens United, almost all the money in political campaigns comes from the well off and institutions. Ordinary wage workers cam barely pay their bills. They don’t have money to donate; or, if they do donate, its small beer. Meanwhile, vast pools of parked money form PACs with millions of dollars that flood the field.

Ordinary wage workers earn better pay now than ever before, but even the current $ 15/hour to $ 17/hour pay that’s available pales before the costs of housing, food, car loans, kids’ clothes, utilities, and credit card debt. I mention credit cards because in America these past 50 years, credit cards have enabled consumers to spend forward — spend money before they actually have it — thus expanding the economy beyond what actual money in it would otherwise permit. The use of forwarded money has turned once free people into indebted servants whose waking hours become lashed to the need to pay debts: and yes, you pay that carded debt because in our economy, if your credit is taken away, you are truly screwed. It’s bad enough that a wage earner can’t save a dime. And if his access to loans is lost, he is the helpless if a bill comes due before he gets his next paycheck. (I speak of paychecks here because at least those who work can foresee a payday. Those who live on public assistance are even worse off and an entirely different condition beyond the scope of this column. We are here discussing those who at least do generate money.)

The higher-paid can save at least a retirement account — against which they can borrow, of course; those who generate money in our economy are always able to borrow their futures — and of course can obtain much larger borrowings than can the average wage earner. Yet even they are not fully free. If they ca take on larger dollar forwards, their obligations likewise become bigger. The monkey on their backs is a gorilla. We like to think that the buyer of a $ 750,000 home is a very lucky person. But in our economy, with a good credit score he or she need pay in actual money as little as $ 37,500 of that $ 750,000; the rest is borrowed i what usually these days is a 40 year mortgage — a lifelong indebtedness which becomes a financial death sentence if the borrower loses his or her job. And if that job requires a 70 or 75 hour work week — because the pressures of venture capitalized start ups create almost unbearable competition ? Well, you grab hold of your cubicle ad you work those 70 or 75 hours.

This doesn’t feel a whole lot like freedom, at least not to me.

But there is worse to tell. The lender of that $ 712,250 forty-year debt servitude doesn’t have to wait for his money to be repaid. In today’s America he sells the promissory note to a investor — actually, he packages the $ 712,250 note with hundreds or even thousand more like it and sells the bundle to a huge hedge fund or other owner of uselessly parked money who earns a “management” fee for buying and selling 440-year promissory notes. Such fee can tally a billion dollars or more, out of which the recipient can fund one of those vast PACs which control what is said, and to who, by our big political campaigns. Which campaigns thus become mouthpieces not for the ordinary worker — barely even for the borrower of a $ 712,250 mortgage — but for the buyers of hundreds of huge promissory notes.

It works both sides of the campaigns, by the way. Investment managers have differing views, and they buy the political purveyors of each such view. Said buyers spend vast amounts of campaign time begging for this sort of money — much, much more time than they spend campaigning to ordinary voters. Oh sure, they’ll film a scene at a wage earners; diner, maybe, just to show that they do care about voters, but though we used to be fooled by these, we no longer are. We know the deal now. We know that we do not count.

Which is why voter turnout has trended downward. Recently this has changed, but the reason is different. In the past six years or so, culminating with the rise of Trump, a bitter, angry, and increasingly intolerant opposition as arisen to the above scenario, a movement of the left out, of those who do not share the corporate, institutional view of what our politics should be doing. We choose to call the arisen situation “culture wars” because the new angry opposition tends to focus on the libertine preferences of those who back he corporate wish lists: but actually the left out are, mostly, being left out of the money trends. The views espoused by the corporate, and mostly urban money elite come with actual changes fueled by money. : development and demolition in the name of “housing crisis”; billions for public transportation and vast new impediments for the autonomous automobile — the most vital instrument of personal liberty to come along in the last 200 years — in the name of climate crisis”; and “diversity, equity and inclusion” demands, in the name of “marginalized” people, assumed to be people of color, when the actual marginalizeds are the old line, mostly ethnic (but also of color) wage earners who stocked the old, pre-credit card economy.

The authoritarian tactics of this angry opposition, and its antipathy to our old Constitutional order, are intended to threaten the bases of the big money, urban “progress” interests. It would be a true people’s movement, of a kind our nation has seen before, except that it isn’t. Big money fuels this autocracy too. Why ? Simple : it’s a ;profit opportunity for media moguls who have grabbed (and helped voice) a customer base. That the means by which these “hate profiteers” (as my cousin Chris Mugglebee calls them) put our Constitution in jeopardy doesn’t seem to worry them. Maybe they know something we should know about the power of big money to override political devices meant to protect the average voter ?

Let me add one more observation. The angry autocrats of Trump world often view people of color as their enemy because people of color overwhelmingly vote for those whom the rump world hates. But the angry opposition is more and more attracting wage earners of color who see that the well off and corporate demolishers and developers, new economy industries and work from home consultants are coming for them as well as for the old ethnics. We would be celebrating this gathering coalition of the financially crushed, a coalition envisioned by Bobby Kennedy 60 years ago, except that those who fund the movement’s candidates (and its media) want only the angry people’s votes. As for money, they want it all. They envision, even openly propose, draconian decreases in wages and benefits including the phasing out of social security. Under their autocratic rule, where bought legislators overrule popular votes in elections, the ordinary wage voter has even less chance than she has under progressive crisis rule. At least the progressives have yet to propose overriding popular votes or to stymie the installation of duly elected Presidents. Yet what comfort is this seeming adherence to Constitutional order, when the progressive crisis coalition has the money to buy campaigns which employ racial fears, climate doomsdays, and housing chimeras — not to mention the profit opportunities in each — as a sure means of marshalling urban votes even from the financially crushed ?

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UKRAINE WILL WIN THIS WAR

Ukraine-Flag

Count on it. The 40,000,000 Ukranian people will not be defeated by Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attack.

As Kristina Berdynskykh, a Ukranian journalist, put it : “Ukraine will break Putin. Our country might have to suffer greatly for it, but this is definitely the end for him.”

President Zelkenskyy sounded the same defiant note. He broke off diplomatic relations with Putin, called up all the nation’s military reserves, declared martial law, and had his foreign minister appeal openly for all assistance from NATO and from anywhere.

The Ukranians will fight.

They will fight for their homeland, their neighbors, their freedom to be a nation of their choice. Meanwhile, what are Putin’s 190,000 troops fighting for ?

Just as in Afghanistan — as we ourselves learned the hard way — the Russians will not defeat a people fighting on its own turf for its right to be, to exist, to be a nation.

It will be painful. It is a tragedy that a war of aggression on European soil has ben unleashed for the first time since World War II. We are now at war, all of the West. This is a moment that we created NATO to prevent, or if not prevent, to defeat. For 77 years this moment did not come to pass. Perhaps we grew comfortable about it. Doubtless we imagined that aggression in the heart of Europe was a thing of the pasty, a bogeyman of old boneyards. But we were wrong. Now what ?

Putin claims that his attack is righting wrongs wreaked on Russia, that Ukraine was a creation of Russia and belongs to Russia. If he believes that, he is a fool. Almost the reverse is true :

In the 900s, Viking adventurers founded the principality of Kyiv. It was a very prosperous trading kingdom lying astride the main trade routes from the Baltic Sea to Constantinople. Kyivan “Russia” — those Vikings called themselves “‘rus” — prospered mightily for over 2509 years, until the great Mongol invasions of the 12009s put an end to it all and then some.

The principalities that sprang up in northern “Russia” in the 1400s arose entirely separately from the Kyivans. The men of Nizhny Novograd, Veliki Luki, Yaroslavl and Tver, who established satrpies under Petcheng rule (the Petchengs were descendants of the Mongols) … were in no way descendants of, nor related to, the men of Kyivan “Rus.” Far from it. At the time that these small dukedoms held sway, the lands of Kyiv were ruled by Lithuanian first, then Poland, then Sweden. It wasn’t until the armies of Peter the Great defeated the last major Swedish army at Poltava (in what is now central Ukraine) in 1707 that the peoples of what is now Ukraine began to recover something of the glories of 10th century Kyiv.

But not for long. The armies of Tsar Alexander, after defeating Napoleon’s 1812 attack on Russia, swept through the Ukranian lands, occupied what was left of Poland, and besought borders with the rising Prussian state. Well until the collapse of the Soviet Union, this was the men of the Kremlin’s plan (with one exception which I will discuss below) , and they carried it out with all the repession at their command, including, in Stalin’s time, an imposed famine that killed millions of Ukranians.

So much for Putin’s theories of who created whom.

I mentioned that there was an exception to the Moscow men’s repressions of the Ukranian peoples. By which I refer to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (a city in what was then Poland), by which Vladimir Lenin, newly installed as the Bolshevik boss of revolutionary Russia, accepted the creation of an independent Ukraine, as demanded by the then victorious German Army (eastern front, World War I) in exchange for Germany agreeing not to contest Bolshevik rule in Moscow. By that treaty an independent Ukraine was established, and it proceeded until crushed by Bolshevik armies during the 1920s, the protecting German Army having eventually been itself defeated in November 1918.

Putin referred to the Brest-Litovsk treaty in his speech justifying his attempt to conquer Ukraine. He excoriated Lenin for having “given Ukraine away.” Maybe Lenin did “give Ukraine away” : but the Ukranians were no less real and distinct, speaking a distinct language and with a distinct history much older than that of the Moscow regime.

Thus it was that when the Soviet empire collapsed in 1990, the people of Ukraine formed themselves a nation, much along the lines of the Brest-Litovsk creation. And thus it has been, these 32 years, that Ukraine has enjoyed sovereignty over its ancient lands with a bustling capital at Kyiv just as it was 1000 years ago, long before there was any sort of regime in Moscow — indeed, long before Moscow even existed.

Putin’s history is a mistake, just as his war is a mistake, as he will find out. Because the people of all NATO countries will not stand by and watch their neighbor be swallowed. Because we of the United States know a thing or two about freedom and fighting for our right to exist. Because, as the UN ambassador of Kenya so eloquently spoke at the recent Security Council meeting, the world cannot go back to old, dead empires.

But most of all, because fighting for one’s liberty — one’s nation, and its right to be sovereign — is a fight that all of us have a life stake in.

I stand with the people of Ukraine. I stand with Ukraine. As do you, and you, and you. Ukraine will win.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BEAUTY, JOHN KEATS, and THE ART OF CROSSDRESSING

Laura Lipton

^^ Laura Lipton, a seriously accomplished crossdresser, walks down a street in central Paris

What is it about crossdressing that animates in every culture or society I am aware of, today in particular but also back through much history ? What is it ? What moves those who do it, to do it ? I refer here not to entertainments, though much of what I am about to opine applies to those who use crossdress to amuse, make money, or otherwise perplex one’s attention. What fascinates me is those crossdressers who dress for ordinary life in ordinary (though not so ordinary, actually — the crossdresser whom I have in mind dresses smartly and with great care) clothing and makeup. Why do they do it ? How did the ide of crossdressing come to them ? Here one finds every sort of personal recall, reason, and inspiration, because people are different even when they do the same thing. These engage one’s heart as a fellow human, but I am much more interested in the pleasure that crossdressers get — and that they give to those who like to see it. I am no psychologist and approach this subject the way I approach all art : as a lover of beauty.

When I think the noun “beauty” I think always of John Keats and “Ode Upon a Grecian urn,” in which he marvels at the living immortalized by the artist who crafted it 2400 years before. Summing up what the figures and actions on the urn meant to him, Keats wrote, in the voice of the urn itself, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Those words stick to my soul. They urge me to love the beautiful and rely on the truth in it. Hard to parse a more optimistic message ! Yet even as beauty is our doorway into the house of truth, it is, for Keats something more, it is the path of immortality. As he wrote just before the sentence I quoted : “when old age shall this generation waste, Thou doth remain, in midst of other woe Than ours…”

Keats

“when old age shall this generation waste” –there you have it. Beauty within us may brighten the skies of a society for a while, but the beauty in art knows no death. It conquers what another poet, Dylan Thomas, called “the dying of the light.” It defats doubt,. It withstands and triumphs and, says Keats, bestows divine meaning upon our otherwise wasting life. To who among us would such beauty not endear ?

And so to the art of crossdressing, which, I must say, proudly actually, has ben a passion in my own life for many decades. As a kid I had no idea why i wanted to do it. I doubt many crossdressers even as adults know why they love to do it. Yet is it not likely that profound love of beauty is a key ? Many societies accord women a second place, and even those in which women enjoy more or less equality in the business of living sometimes devalue women’s worth. yet almost none of us think women anything less than beautiful, attractive, loveable. And if imitation is, as Oscar Wilde said, the sincerest form of flattery, then the serious crossdresser is as sincere as it gets. And I think that this desire to be beautiful, to feel “girly,” and to feel what it is like to be beautiful, is, if not the whole story — of no human activity do we know the whole story — a very, very important part of why crossdressers crossdress.

Let us remember that even in our own supposedly “liberated’ society, and almost tragically repressive in others, there are crossdressers crossdressing. In some societies for a man to dress as a woman is beyond the pale and actually dangerous yet they do it. In Lebanon, in Egypt, In Pakistan, in Russia, in China, in Mongolia and probably in Iran too. You name the country, there are crossdressers there crossdressing despite. This is the power of the beautiful. This is the power that it holds over some men.

Sophie, bambi, Ophelia

By beauty I do not necessarily mean pleasure. Women’s clothes are not always easy to wear. High heels hurt to walk in. Most women’s clothes fit close on the body (which is what fashionistas have in mind when they call themselves “pulled together”). After a full day out one wants to take off the art and just let the body go, artlessly free. (Though pretty soon the desire to be girly rushes back upon one, and one gets dressed again.) Doing one’s make up takes a ton of time and an almost snivelling attention to detail. Yet crossdressers do it — most of us love doing makeup. it validates our passion. It is the magic of our transformation. And maybe that’s it, the transformative : if beauty is like nothing else — which is my entire point in this article — then whoever you are — women too — if you are make yourself a thing of beauty, you TRANSFORM. Of course girls learn the transformative from early on; boys do not. Yet some boys take to it anyway. Despite rejection by family and or friends. despite the threat of taunting and worse by classmates were they to “find out.” In spite of all, boys who take to crossdressing DO IT. In almost every society — which fact offers some powerful proof that beauty is a universal.

Which is my final point. Keats writes that beauty is truth, truth beauty. He EQUATES the two. With no qualifications of time or place — and as I have shown, crossdressers prove it. They exist in every phase of history and almost everywhere. Indeed, it would take an oppression even more totalitarian than Stalin’s to repress crossdressing out of existence., At last, beauty cannot be denied, will not. Any more than what he think of as “true’ can be denied. As Spock would say, it’s not logical. We also today talk of “my truth.’ I find the phrase peculiar and self-centered and a shutting out of one person by another; yet one can say about the serious crossdresser that he is acting out his truth.

Fortunately for all of us, the truth that a crossdresser acts out is no mere theory. Crossdressers are as real as it gets, as significant, and, yes, as beautiful. Pleasing to the eye and, hopefully, to the soul.

Many will also tell you that it’s just fun to do. That I will “dress the ay i want.” That there is no deeper meaning in dressing in women’s clothes. I can’t dispute anyone who says this. Life isn’t always (usually ?) lived to consciously held ideal. Yet even if cross dressing is fun — which it is– and even if doing it is to act the rebel (which it is — David Bowie caught that d rift back in 1973’s “Rebel Rebel”), I’d submit that it is not ONLY fun or an act of rebellion. I am amaze, too, by the numbers of guys who have just begun to cross dress, within the past five years or even the past year, and become part of a truly momentous instagram community of guys dressing up as girls and doing so with fashion skills, make up cleverness, and a ready hand for insightful and playful photo-post captions. These are almost all “straight” guys, many of them married to supportive wives; I’ve seen several instagram [photos of crossdressers and their wives and even some with the kids. can cross dressing be a family adventure ? Seems it can.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

WRITER’s NOTE : the photos I have collaged come from friends on Instagram, a crossdressers’ community like no other. The photos shown are a mere selection, even an unfair one. But the level of beauty flaunted here is no rarity. I could just as easily have chosen 8 different people, or 16, or 60, to flaunt upon this column.

Juliette

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