On November 6th, all signs point to Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly re-electing both Senator Liz Warren, a Democrat, and Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican. Given the partisan polarization going on in states west and south of us, how has it come about that our voters decide so differently from theirs ?

The roots of our politics run far back in time; and many have commented at length upon our state’s unique political way. To that long history, I have not much to revisit in this column; yet I would like to list some current facts that support how we do :

( 1 ) 54 percent of our voters belong to no political party.

( 2 ) the two major parties that we do have — Democrats number about 36 percent, Republicans about 10 — lack structure, and to the extent they have it, said structure adopts positions the rank and file does not care much about

( 3 ) almost every Massachusetts elected wins her race in the Democratic primary, which means that every candid\ate who actually wants to win runs as a Democrat regardless of what he or she thinks about the issues.

( 4 ) municipal elections in Massachusetts are non-partisan. Thus party plays no part in the most local, most close to the voter, of all election contests

( 5 ) political patronage has almost disappeared here, which means that the only people who participate physically in campaigns, except for a candidate’s immediate family and close friends,  are ideologues — a very small number — and special interest people. The rest of us watch from our doorstep. The precinct captains of old are gone.

( 6 ) the great ideological divides, many of them based in religion, have minimal presence here because with respect to them, the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters take the positions advocated by the national Democrats.

( 7 ) because that is true, Presidential elections are never contested in Massachusetts. No PAC money is spent here, no ground game is organized. Our stare is never in play. As a result, we are free to develop our own political customs, and we have done that.

( 8 ) The only issue divisions that matter much exist within the Democratic party, yet those have little sway except in a few legislative districts, because even most Democrats don’t care much about such arguments. The big argument this year was, has the legislature done its job of reform or did it fall short ? Two legislators — and only two — were defeated by the “it fell short” interest. A few others defeated “it fell short” challengers.

( 9 ) within our Republican party the big issue was, support for Trump. Governor Baker, who has kept his distance from Mr. Trump and has opposed him almost every time it really mattered, was challenged by a candidate for whom loyalty to Trump was almost a religion. In many states, distancing oneself from Trump was a fatal move within the Republican primary. Not so in Massachusetts. Baker defeated that challenger by 64 to 36.

Therein lies a story that tells us much about our state’s political customs :

Support for Mr. Trump among Massachusetts Republicans mirrors that of Republicans elsewhere : about 75 to 85 percent support him. Most of Governor Baker’s cadres support Mr. Trump, too. How, then, was Baker, who has nothing to do with Mr. Trump and has often said as much, able to win his primary by 64 to 36 ? The answer, as I see it, is that most Massachusetts Republican activists want to win. Baker has taken positions far to the left of most Massachusetts Republicans. He has signed bills no Republican Governor in any other state (except perhaps Maryland) would sign. He is an uncompromising social liberal and even, in his own way, a supporter of identity politics : how else explain his Latino Advisory Commission, the Black Community Advisory Group, or his out-front support for the newly formed LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce ? Yet he commands the work of a staff who, in many cases, have been recruited to Massachusetts from Republican operations in other,m far more partisan and conservative states.

Baker has built a support team of people who, had he not taken them on, would likely be working for Republican candidates in states whose politics we in Massachusetts reject. In doing so, he has set these political operatives on course into the political mainstream and thereby impacted the national Republican party generally, in ways not yet fully developed. I think that 2020 and beyond, we will see the consequences of what Baker has accomplished.

That is the inside effect. Most of us vote on the outside. Yet we, too, will be voting in a way that casts our state firmly into what observers are now calling “the exhausted majority.” (see the graph at the top of this column.) Probably a majority of Massachusetts voters will vote for both Baker and Warren. I can’t think of another state where that will be true this time around.

The rest of the nation sees Senator Warren as a “bold progressive.” We in Massachusetts view her differently. We see a professorial, charming and idealistic advocate — what my parents’ generation knew as an ADA, Adlai Stevenson/Hubertt Humphrey liberal — who can be careless sometimes but very judicious — and bipartisan — often enough. I think we know her correctly. She understands that she cannot depend on Democrats alone, not when these total only 36 percent — and run the gamut of political views; she , like Baker, has to win a good chunk of the 54 percent who belong to no party. No-party voters are, almost by definition, not ideologues on the political fringe. (The “exhausted majority” graph suggests that committed ideologues on the left total about eight percent of voters, and those on the right about six percent.) If the “exhausted majority” — voters who don’t live and die for an ideology — amount to 86 percent of all, they probably number 95 percent, at least, of those who belong to no party. A Massachusetts candidate has almost no choice but to adopt consensus views if she wants to win an election.

Consensus, therefore, is our state’s political watchword. No matter which political party you are campaigning with, in Massachusetts you either voice consensus views or you lose. For me, that’s the right result. The success of our state’s government and politics declares it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





^ as far as the eye can see, Boston is booming its population and its money chase. Can any of us cope ? What about those left behind in the small towns and outlying cities ?

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According to a forecast published by the City, Boston by year 2030 will have over 800,000 residents — up from barely 625,000 in 2000. 175,000 additional people means much more commerce in Boston and proportionally less the farther you travel from Downtown.

It’s a kind of gold rush, like every other gold rush. Ever since cities acme to be, and commerce arose within them, people have left wherever they were and moved into those cities to get on board the commerce train. Its why cities grow. Boston in 2018 is no different in that regard than New York in 1787, 1820, or 1890; than Florence in the 13th and 14th centuries; than Lyon and Paris in the 12th Century; than Rome in the age of Augustus, Milan in Ambrose’s time, Babylon in the 5th century BC, Ur in the fourth and third millenium BC. Cities are hubs of money.

I’ll discuss the major adjustments that Boston faces, and will continue to face, in this and the next 12 years. Before I do that, however, what of those of us who do not move to the cities ? Who are left behind in towns losing population, where businesses that serve the public are forced to shut down for loss of customers ?In the 19th century many small towns found economic viability by location on a river, which meant water power to drive a mill. Lowell, Lawrence, Manchester (New Hampshire), Fitchburg, Gardner, Maynard, Uxbridge, Milford, even Grovesnordale, Torrington, Shelton, and Waterbury in Connecticut all grew to prosperity and in population thereby. Today, however, river power has lost its prominence, and all of these once booming small cities have declined substantially or forced themselves into complete re-purposing. As for towns even smaller, most of these in New England peaked in population in the 1830s, before the rise of riverside mill cities and the Gold Rush of 1848, each of which decimated towns strictly agricultural. Throughout New England one finds stone walls, once boundary to adjacent farms, falling to ruin amid woods, the farms once tilled now tolled, the rural roads long disused and overgrown with new forest.

Forty years ago, before the move that many city folk took to rural peace as craftspeople and gentle-person farmers, these rural New England towns were Appalachia poor. Many still are. Inland Maine is one of the lowest income regions in the entire United States. In forgotten mill towns like Newport, New Hampshire or North Adams, or Erving, or Skowhegan, Maine and Barton and Orleans, Vermont, one sees Caucasian people with grey skin, tell tale sign of malnourishment, and/or buildings abandoned to the elements. Granted that these are extreme examples : most rural or exurban communities maintain a marginal but persistent economic existence. Orange and Clinton, Massachusetts, Bennington and Pittsfield in New Hampshire, Sanford and Bangor in Maine, Barre in Vermont — all continue on, despite loss of population and an almost complete lack of 21st century technology jobs.

The economy of these places could not be more different from that of Boston, and it is very difficult for public policy to do much about it. In Fall River you can rent a three bedroom apartment for $ 1000; in Holyoke, $ 800; in Ludlow and Blackstone, the same or less. Massachusetts now has a $ 15/hour minimum wage law (the higher figure to be in force by 2023). In Fall River, that’s a very generous wage. In Boston, not nearly enough. As for the jobs, in Boston there’s a labor shortage; in Fitchburg, Springfield, and Hopedale a job lack. Granted, that Governor baker has moved smartly these past four years to establish education-to-job, workforce development systems in areas far away from core Boston, and he’s also established, or encouraged, transportation expansions therein; yet no Governor can overcome the laws of market. The money is rushing into Boston, and perhaps now into Worcester as well, and money goes to money. Investors do not gamble with their millions, nor with huge bank loans; they want to have a pretty dependable twenty year run ahead of their monthly loan payments. In Boston, they can count on at least 20 years, as the Mayor has made it city policy to add 69,000 new housing units by 2030. 69,000 new residences means maybe 120,000 new people, and an investor can feel quite confident of this happening because there are hundreds of investors investing alongside him, and there are hundreds of businesses forming in the city or moving to it (example: GE.)

Someday, most likely, people will begin to leave the city and its supercharged bustle in search of exurban or rural peace of mind. Who doesn’t want to raise a family in a town blessed with open space, a river, good hiking, and a school that isn’t overburdened ? Yet until that happens, Boston will boom with newcomer and already here’s, and with the jobs and six-figure salaries that rush to Downtown like iron filings to a magnet: while those who stay in the communities losing people to Boston (and Worcester) will have to commute long distances — and longer distances — to the only jobs that pay enough to fund a decent life.

Meanwhile, what of Boston ? Adding 125,000 new people means ( 1 ) politically, adding two, maybe three State Representative seats and most of one additional State Senate District. And subtracting those from outlying communities ( 2 ) imposing enormous pressure on an MBTA system that will take another seven or eight years just to reach “state of good repair” status; expansion of lines will be needed as well as increased number of trains, buses and employees ( 3 ) increases in residential density that will dislocate many neighborhoods — several have already undergone this change — and impact quality of life for those who grew up in the neighborhoods with expectations of life quality that will now be abandoned.

In addition, the $ 15/hour minimum wage will fall way short of what is needed for survival in Boston without falling back on public assistance. Even now, a $ 21/hour wage isn’t too much, with typical apartment rents fetching $ 1,900 to $ 2,900 a month. By 2030, the required wage, for those who want to live in Boston, might need be $ 30/hour. ($ 30/hour = about 5000 a month. With rents at $ 2,900, or higher by 2030, and withholding, $ 5,000 a month doesn’t cut it.) Nor are “micro apartments” any answer, because only a single person can live in one, and soon enough our 125,000 new people, singles mostly, will want to raise families. They will simply be forced to move out of Boston altogether./ Do we want that ? I hope not.

City life rarely stands still. The current boom has huge undertow, dragging most of us into its deep quicker than we can outrun it. It’s well and good to chase money. I do it too. We all do it. Yet what happens when the chase favors the luckier, and the rest of us have to play catch up when catching up has by-passed us ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ HYM’s Tom O’Brien speaking last night at the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association meeting

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Last night, at the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association’s monthly meeting, neighbors heard once again from Tom O’Brien, founding partner and managing director of HYM, the developer of the 161 acres that had housed Suffolk Downs for 100 years. (I say “once again” because O’Brien and his project team have appeared numerous times at neighborhood meetings throughout East Boston starting last year, when the Suffolk Downs project first unveiled.) Those of us who’ve heard from O’Brien for many months know the proposal quite well. What was new last night,m at least to me, was the development’s impact upon our area’s public transportation system. It will be major.

According to slides that O’Brien displayed, Suffolk Downs, with its 10,000 new housing units, will cause ridership on the Blue Line to double during peak hours. O’Brien noted that the Blue Line holds two of its 14 full six-car trains in reserve: and that math does not add up. If O’Brien’s ridership forecast comes to pass, the Blue Line might need 12 additional trains, not two.

The HYM display also includes major rebuilding of Route 1-A, a road already jammed up at peak hours. Not all of HYM’s 10,000 new housing units will be occupied by car owners, but many will, and perhaps most. Where will their commute routes take them through ? Clearly Route 1-A will need some restructure. As for the three Harbor tunnels, one hardly dares picture the mess. Right now tunnel-bound traffic experiences delays of up to one hour, inbound in the morning, home-bound at night. I have many times found myself stuck in said jams; it ain’t fun.

Governor Baker has a pretty good handle on upgrading the current MBTA as well as plans to increase bus service and extend the Green Line. I’ve written often the details of his MBTA program. Yet when I spoke to him on Sunday about “what are we gonna do, for transportation, about the additional 100,000 people who will live in Boston soon,” he said “it never ends, does it ?” — a sense that no matter what we are able to do, it will never be enough as long as Boston continues to boom beyond all expectation and attract ever more residents, not to mention commuters and shoppers. So when I asked O’Brien if he had worked out any of his project’s transportation impacts with Baker’s office, I was hoping that he would tell us details of a work-out. He did not provide one, although he did praise MassDOT secretary Stephanie Pollock’s knowledge and effectiveness.

I will be talking at length with O’Brien about his transportation impacts, specifically about what Baker’s office is willing to include on his MBTA upgrade agenda. as we all know, the estimated cost of bringing the current MBTA system to “SGR” (state of good repair) is about $ 7.8 billion, of which about $ 2 billion has so far been spent, chiefly on track repair, signaling, digitizing trains and schedules, and new cars for the Orange and Red Lines. How much additional will the expansions cost that the Suffolk Downs project will require ? That depends on deciding specifics of the expansion, first; has any agreement between HYM and the State been arrived at ? If so, what are the cost estimates ? O’Brien decried the voters’ repeal of gas tax indexing: yet would those finds, amount purely speculative, have borne more than a small piece of what is coming ? I doubt it.

So we shall see where this goes. I’ll publish details of my ta=lk with To m O’Brien as soon as it happens.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Supreme Court Kavanaugh

^ Susan Collins speaks for ordinary voters, those of us who act as neighbors in the real world of community

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During the past four weeks those who get their information from the media, including social media, have witnessed the impact upon our nation’s civic consensus of activists far too sure of themselves. It is a mistake politically and epistemologically to be sure of oneself — more on this topic later — but that doesn’t stop those who are sure from being sure: nor has it ever. Certainty is more often a curse than a boon, and on social media certainty among politicals is the thing: people who don’t do actual physical campaigning get onto their cell phones and insist, insist, and insist some more, finding plenty of people to insist alongside them in pursuit of an absolute or three. The actual media loves it. The certainty interest is where they get their users, their subscribers, their followers, without whom they can’t make money.

My Mom was a newspaperwoman, a section editor at one of Boston’s great dailies. As a kid, 60-odd years ago, I used to ask her how the paper could print the scandals, many of them doctored, that were its bread and butter ? Her answer : “son, we are here to sell newspapers.” She was right; I was wrong.

The problem with publishing one sided stories, doctored or not, as that people believe what they read, The pen really is mightier than the sword. Yet in the traditional newspaper era, those who believed a thing had no way of knowing if anyone else believed it, or how many; and so people were shy to discuss stuff with their friends or neighbors. That’s still true in actual life; but in social media, there are no neighbors, only cliques of folks who know of each other’s existence and so know who they can safely vent their beliefs with. Belief is thus weaponized by sharing.

If you wonder how fairness — the rule of law, due process, and all that other fuddy-duddy stuff upon which our Constitution and society are based — can be so roundly discarded, even attacked, by warriors on the net, the weaponizing of belief is how it’s done. On the net, you are safe to be a bigot of whatever sort because you can block anyone who doesn’t share your particular rant and do so without actual comital consequences. On the net, in social media, there are no neighbors.

Thus Brett Kavanaugh could be savaged by accusation, piled on by yet more nonsensical gossip — all of it published by media in search of the net’s beehives of belief — and his most credible accuser savaged as well,  by opponents of anti-Kavanaugh belief, with no consequences at law or for justice. My sense is that neither he nor she told the whole truth; that each side-stepped inconvenient facts; and that each was manoeuvered into impossible shape by people with an agenda that cared not a whit if their champion ended up damaged, maybe forever. I am sure that Dr. Ford had no clue that her confidential letter would be used to ambush Judge Kavanaugh or destroy his good name, certainly not in the lurid, lawless, ruthless ways it was used once published. She grew up before social media existed, and the shy and quite self-absorbed person I saw give testimony seemed completely perplexed by what was happening to her. The same is true for Judge Kavanaugh, though at less extent: he has long been an important actor in the politics of Washington and knew that he was hated by the party opposite. He would face hostility galore — that he knew; yet even he, I think, had no idea what was to come. He seemed quite unprepared for it, genuinely puzzled as to how his high school, or college, life —  not at all unlike the life lived by my college and prep school contemporaries, believe me — had any bearing on the successful attorney and Judge he now was. He ducked many questions about that stage of his life, and I can’t really blame him: who of us at age 53 expects to be confronted publicly by the jerk we were at age 15, 17, 20, and to have the public now see us — at least partially — as kid jerk ? We have a right, we do, to grow up and put childish things aside, as Apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters, and be judged as adults. The same, of course, was true of Dr. Ford : it was very difficult, at least for me, to see the 15 year old party girl — and she was that — in the delicate, bookish 53 year old academic testifying at such a solemn bench.

Social media erased almost all this nuance. The two principals ceased to be fallible human beings like you and like me and became avatars of opposing causes insisted upon regardless of the skepticisms embedded in our nation’s legal system, Constitution, and venerable notions of fairness. Partisans of Dr. Ford set due process aside — because what is “believe women” but an assertion that accusation is its own proof ? — and partisans of Judge Kavanaugh, though forced to adhere to fairness, sometimes resorted to disparaging Dr. Ford’s character or candor. That the case in question could be neither proved nor disproved rendered it all the more open to ruthless war, on social media especially:  because certainty thrives untamed when no certainty can ever be shown.

Susan Collins’s epic speech put an end to all that, for the present. She spoke the common sense wisdom of those who do not get sucked into the undertow of social media’s certainty waves. She spoke for ordinary neighbors, who do not shout each other down or bang protest upon each other’s doors, who do not corner each other in elevators or text death threats to one another. Collins decried every detail of the Senate hearing, scolding the opposition as it deserved to be, from the point of view of ordinary neighbors — of voters who don’t think they know it all and who work humbly in their community —  and how they act in the world. She was correct: fairness must govern how we deal with each other, if we are to be true to our nation’s ideals and our community custom. It was a superb speech, one that we all should read in the context: neighbors and community.

Unfortunately, the arena of social media is expanding, perhaps to overtake that of neighbors and community. As we spend more and more time ranting into our cell phones or yelling in the streets, and less time interacting with actual neighbors, the ideals that gave rise to American political agreements weaken. An age of illiberality, and of inquisition; of belief for belief’s sake; of mob rule and almost civil war between competing mobs, is upon us. Good-bye to the Constitution and its careful barriers to passions of the moment, its safeguards for differing viewpoints, and its guarantees of fundamental rights TO ALL. I fear for the future of our unsocial nation.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




There aren’t many people who think the current state of the Kavanagh nomination is any kind of model for future nominations. So the question arises, what will future nominations be like ? I’m not bullish on the prospect.

First : we have allowed the Supreme Court to become almost entirely a political body in which nine justices render political decisions that the Congress s unable or unwilling to arrive at. The Court was not frame to do this, and, correctly, the voters will not accept the Court doing it.

Second : being now a political body, elected by no one, decided by a majority of the one hundred Senators, the Court finds itself chivvied by nominees who, if confirmed, arrive with their integrity and/or legitimacy severely wounded. Thus both the Court AND its membership attract scant respect and scarcely merit it.

Third : being entirely political, nominations become occasions for partisan campaigns. As Congress campaigns have become battles between this one’s misleading ads and that one’s false statements, so will Supreme Court nominations become an arena for lying and deception, ambush and smears, gaslighting and grandstanding. Hardly a recipe for amassing any public respect.

Can this prospect be reversed ? Not very likely. To use the current argot, you can’t unsee what you’ve seen or unlearn what you have learned. Devices used will be used again. If a nominee can’t be slandered, or belittled, or made to look shady, he or she won’t be granted a hearing at all (Merrick Garland). Nor is the Constitution any help. In requiring that the Senate advise and consent, without more, it opens the door to whatever interpretation suits the political interests of a majority.

For the past fifty years or so, Courts have ruled that where a contract requires the consent of one party to the proposal of the other party, it is necessarily implied that such consent ‘shall not be unreasonably withheld.” Today, contracts include that express language. Why should the “consent” requirement in Article II of the Constitution not include the same implication ? Contracts are not contracts at all if they are negotiated in bad faith; and to withhold consent unreasonably, as Mitch McConnell’s Senate did to the Merrick garland nomination in 2017, is an act of bad faith that, in my opinion, per se violates the Constitution. If those who the Constitution directs do not act in good faith, its precepts don’t mean much.

Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 sets forth the directive :

[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

In English law, the advise and consent power rests entirely with Parliament :

This enacting formula emphasizes that, although legally the bill is being enacted by the Queen of the United Kingdom (specifically, by the Queen-in-Parliament), it is not through her initiative but through that of Parliament that legislation is created.

Here, however, the framers thought differently. Their view was that President and Senate share equally the power to appoint and nominate. If that be the case, then the implied “shall not be unreasonably withheld” precept is included in the grant of power. Which, to my mind, means that President and Senate must confer upon nominations, meaning, perforce, that the President and Senate be in the same room, at one of those big conference tables we’ve seen President Trump sitting at with Senators gathered around. This is a recipe for teamwork, President and Senate conferring together, equally, to elevate or decline to raise a nominee — nomination being the exclusive province of the President — to the office nominated.

Yet American nominations have come to be anything but collegial. Political division, Republican versus Democrat, has rendered Article II nominations adversarial. The Senate, or half of it, greets the nomination with suspicion, with skepticism at best, and treats it as a detriment to their political prospects.

Perhaps the English advise and consent view is more realistic. Parliament is divided into two sides that face each other across a big room, and as such, its advise and consent function naturally takes the shape of party versus “the party opposite.” the party in power carries the day, and that’s that.

We, however, have been wedded to the more idealistic view, that Article II expects collegiality. Nor are we wrong to cling to this view, because a nomination of course carries greater authority if an overwhelming majority — both sides — buy into it. Consensus, at least in our system, is always stronger than rule by one side of the room only.

I don’t think we are head in the direction of collegiality. The Parliamentary method seems much more the case. As our politics have become ever more rigidly divided into Republican and Democrat, nominations will succeed, or fail, by the vote of mere majorities cohesive by party; and the other party will never consent, but will enforce its majority order when it attain Congressional power. This is becoming ever more the rule in all matters before Congress, no matter who is President, and I see no reason why it won’t become the norm for Court nominations. that such nominations leave even the successful nominee (to ay nothing of those rejected) cut in half, politically, and the institution nominated to damaged as well, is something we’ll just have to get used to.

If that is even possible.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





Many Massachusetts voters find themselves stumped by what Question One on the November ballot is asking them to decide. I;m one of the stumped. We’re asked to weigh in on a question few of us have any expertise to opine upon : should nurses be limited, by law, in the number of patients assigned to them ?

Before I discuss what I’ve concluded, I link you to Ballotpedia’s survey of what Question’s proponents are trying to do, as well as the full text of the question and details of both the Yes and No campaigns :,_Nurse-Patient_Assignment_Limits_Initiative_(2018)

Once you read the full text of the measure, you see clearly that it calls for very detailed hosp[ital management expertise that I sure don’t have and neither, most likely, do you. Yet there is one point that you and I can figure : why should a state law govern such a quintessentially management decision ? A few hospitals are under State management. and for them, management by state statute might work. For the vast majority of hospitals, which are run by hospital corporations (profit or non-profit), management decisions are made by the management, not by the state. Why should corporate management not have discretion to decide its staff to patient numbers on the basis of its own, corporation, real time experience ?

As you read the text of what Question One seeks to do, it immediately strikes you, that the details asked come directly from “the shop floor,” where very few of us work. Nurses and other hospital employees have that knowledge (and from my encounters, they re almost evenly divided on which way to vote), but you and I don’t. Perhaps this is one reason why the legislature has declined to enact the law Question One’s proponents seek to win. Perhaps the legislature views this matter outside its jurisdiction.

One wants also to ask why collective bargaining by the Massachusetts Nurses Association has failed to win these rules in its contract negotiations.

Those opposing the Question often cite its financial cost to small businesses and small hospitals. Their argument has a place, but to me it’s not the decider. The deciding factor, as I see it, is managerial discretion. As long the vast majority of our hospitals — or any hospitals at all — are run not by the State, those hospitals must be accorded the liberty to make their own managerial decisions.

On that basis, I think the No side has the netter argument.

This may not be the final word. I remain open to persuasion opposite. It will not be an easy task, but I am willing to listen. Voting day is still 45 days away.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





^ Congressman Joseph Kennedy III speaking at a large “Yes On 3” rally in Copley Square yesterday

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This November, when those of you who vote in Massachusetts cast your ballots, you will find three Referenda to be voted on. One of those three seeks to repeal the transgender civil rights bill that our legislature enacted overwhelmingly two years ago and was signed into law by Governor Baker.

This repeal is opposed by Governor Baker ; opposed by the legislators who voted for the hill; oppoded by Attorney General Maura Healey; opposed by the entire business and law enforcement communities; by labor; by every sort of civil rights activist; and opposed by us at Here and Sphere.

The so-called “TransBillMA” accords transgender persons full civil rights access to all public accommodations, including restaurants, store front businesses, and — yes, bathrooms, which are the focus of the repealers. They claim that it is unsafe for women if transgender women use a women’s bathroom.

Please note that no objection is made to transgender men using a men’s bathroom.

Why are the civil rights of transgender men any more guaranteed than the civil rights of transgender women ? The repealers have no good answer for this question except to posit a rather comic hypothetical : men pretending to be transgender women.

Really ? How does one pretend to be a transgender woman ? It is difficult to be transgender. I cannot imagine how anyone who is not transgender gets even a small grip on what being transgender is like.

Frankly, I find the entire repeal argument to say, in essence, that transgender people do not exist, that being transgender is a myth or a mental disorder.

By what right does anyone get to decide who someone else is ? If there is any basic human right, it’s the right to be who you are.

And what’s the big deal about bathrooms ? Many establishments have unisex bathrooms, one at a time. Where multiple bathrooms present, in stalls, each person still goes into one stall and can lock the door. People use a publicly available bathroom because they simply want to take a piss, period. A piss and move on. And anyone who wants criminally to predate people in bathrooms can already break the law.

The repealers’ motive is deny that transgender people exist. Or, that if transgender people do exist, they can’t be allowed to participate fully in the community and society. This is segregation, pure and simple. Second class citizenship.

It cannot be allowed to happen.

Please vote “yes” on Question 3, to preserve the protect the full civil rights of our state’s thousands upon thousands of transgender people.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ The mayor and Jeffrey Sanchez : what happened here ?

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The big media have remarked that Tuesday’s primary election was a bad day for Mayor Walsh’s political standing. Whether that continues true for ominously long, we’ll see. What I can say, however, is that he seriously mishandled his options.

From what I have been told, or could see with my own eyes, Walsh sent his impressive political army to assist five — yes, five — candidates, in this order of priority so far as I can tell : ( 1 ) Mike Capuano ( 2 ) Dan Koh ( 3 ) Dan Cullinane ( 4 ) Jeffrey Sanchez ( 5 ) Greg Henning.

If your mouth has gone agape at seeing Dan Koh number two on the list, you’re with me. I was stunned to see it and even more stunned to discover that, with four Boston-based candidates in some electoral trouble, he chose to prioritize a person running for an office 30 to 70 miles from Boston. Dan Koh seems to have lost the primary for the office he sought : Congress from District 3. Yet even had he won, what good could that have done Walsh  The 3rd District contains none of Boston nor even any of Boston’s suburbs. Politically, from a Boston standpoint, it might as well be in Wyoming.

Dan Koh was Walsh’s first chief of staff, starting in 2014 soon after Walsh took office. Walsh favored Koh immensely, siding with him in territorial disputes with persons who had worked day and night for Walsh’s election. I am not privy to most of the relationship, yet it was clear, when Koh left to run for Congress, and Walsh helped him raise much of his $ 3,000,000, that Walsh has hitched his political standing to a young man whom he hired from outside his own substantial ranks of solid loyalists.

I do not ask why. That’s not the point of this article. What I want to focus on is why, for goodness sake, wasn’t Jeffrey Sanchez a top priority for the Mayor ? Sanchez lost his difficult re-election fight by about 300 votes. Could not a couple of dozen Walsh operatives have found those 300 votes and delivered them to the polls ? Yet it appears that Walsh operatives based in Sanchez’s district were sent to help Dan Koh on the vital weekend just prior to the primary.

Why ?

Would it not have been mightily to Walsh’s benefit to have the Chairman of House Ways and Means owing re-election to him ? The most powerful Latino elected politician in the entire state ? Walsh now faces a major challenge in 2021 from communities of color enormously empowered and aroused by Tuesday’s wins. Would it not have helped him to have the House Chairman of ways and Means solidly his ally ?

Maybe there is a different answer. I’ll come back to it.

Meanwhile, by what standard was it wise for Walsh to divide his political army into five pieces ? Mike Capuano, I can see helping. He had endorsed Walsh in 2013, and his endorsement mattered. A Mayor needs a close friend in Congress. His help for Capuano made sense. But why Greg Henning ? I like Henning. I supported him. But why did he need any help from Walsh other than a nod ? As for Dan Cullinane, as a former Walsh aide he surely merited some assistance from the Mayor. He actually needed all the help he could get, winning by about 180 votes. But would not Sanchez victory have mattered so much more to Walsh’s future than a win by Cullinane, whom Walsh can always bring back into his administration ?

Even a political army as large as Walsh’s — and his is most impressively large — can’;t fight five battles at the same time. You want to concentrate your forces.l In my opinion, Sanchez and Capuano should have been Walsh’s ONLY election priorities, for his political sake and his agenda’s. As it turned out, four of the five who he assisted lost. Which brings me to wrap up my thinking about Walsh and Sanchez, to whose campaign he gave little more than token assistance :

Can it be that Walsh saw Sanchez more as rival than ally ? Might he have seen Sanchez, as House ways and Means chairman, as a serious challenger — maybe his MOST serious — in 2021 ? For it is a fact, now, that Sanchez is no longer any rival at all, and that those who are possible rivals have nothing like the clout that Sanchez had. Linda Forry is an ally, not a rival. Ayanna has now left the scene to go to Congress. Who of the remaining players can assemble the money, and the community power that Jeffrey Sanchez had ?

Here is yet another way in which Speaker DeLeo’s naming Sanchez House ways and Means chairman put a target on his back.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Kava nagh

We at Here and Sphere cannot support the nomination of Brett Kavanagh to be a Supreme Court justice.

I’ve written about the nomination in a column posted about two months ago. There I wrote that I had read all eight of Judge Kavanagh’s significant Appeals Court opinions and dissents. I showed how his arguments evidenced an agenda political, not jurisprudential; that his findings mirrored specific policies advanced by this or that “conservative” think tank, as if he were a Senator, not a Judge. Brilliantly worded his opinions are, but themes are always those of a paper written for a think tank by a researcher working there.

That is not what the nation expects of its High Court. Justices are not to be Senators or Congress-people. they must not be voices for this or that lobbying interest or policy research team.

Once you read the Appeals cases that include a Kavanagh opinion, you do find that the majority opinion, or the dissent, written by other members of the Court,. with one exception, those of Judge Millett — including those by Merrick Garland — read no better than Kavanagh’s. They too deliver many, many words — many more than in a Kavanagh essay — in favor of a law they clearly want to support, in the manner of a legislative majority. Never does one read a jurisprudential rationale in those findings, only a bureaucratic one : this is the way the regulations tell us to rule. Not very edifying. But the other Appeals Court judges are not before us with a Supreme Court nomination. Kavanagh is.

The Court must be peopled by Judges who think for themselves; who do not have an agenda that knows in advance how to decide each case that comes to the bar. Some of the most famous, and controversial Justices, such as Brandeis, Holmes, and Marshall, had a recognizable agenda that they applied when judging, but these agendas were legal, and procedural, evidentiary and grounded in how the law should judge. I do not find that sort of priority in Kavanagh’s rulings.

Presidents have often nominated men and women whose legal theories they liked. Not often have nominees been selected for their political views.

We supported the nomination of Justice Gorsuch because it was clear, from reading 30 of his available opinions, that his findings derived from legal theory; that it was rare to know in advance, on the facts, how he would decide. Indeed, as Al Franken demonstrated in the case that involved the now famous frozen trucker, that Gorsuch insisted on a strict view of the law whatever the facts might be. That was perhaps a shock to some, who believe that justice comes before strict law, but his was a legal rationale, not a political one. His finding was, if anything, quite impolitic.

No such rigor does one find in Judge Kavanagh’s opinions. He says that he supports precedent, but his opinions are quite ready to discard it, or to wish to discard when he cannot, whenever he feels the need; and he grounds his preferences not in legal theory but in debate school dialogue.

I do not for a minute believe that Kavanagh perjured himself on the matters involving his work in the Bush ’43 White House, nor did I find his careful answering of Senator Harris’s deposition-like, gotcha questions disqualifying. Nor was I much moved by Cory Booker’s grandstand play against clear Senate committee rules on document disclosure. There was no need for any of this preening for the television cameras. I’m also not persuaded by those who argue that a President under investigation should not be allowed to nominate Justices. As long as Mr. Trump occupies the office of President, he occupies all of it. He either is President, or he isn’t. There’s no such Constitutional thing as half-President.

All the evidence for assessing Judge Kavanagh’s nomination is right there in his opinions plus the think tank and lobbying group back stories. On the basis of these, I cannot support his nomination. It should not be agreed to.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ collapse of a portion of the Alewife T stop parking garage highlighted additional problems inherent in our 50 year old MBTA system

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Recent news has clarified that the MBTA’s repair situation remains in flux. First came collapse in the Alewife T station garage; today the Boston Globe reports that more of the T’s stations than not are in serious disrepair. Add that during the past month, track and signalling repairs have shut down the Orange Line, on weekends, between Ruggles Station and Forest Hills. Nor can we forget the power outage that put the Maverick Station to Government Center section of the Blue Line out of commission for two hours on the night that Harbor Fireworks caused a ridership surge during that very time frame.

What does all of this mean ? I think most of us felt that when Governor Baker took office in 2015 and immediately made full-scale MBTA reform a top priority, that somehow the entire T would be humming sweetly by now, three years later. I also think that most of us had expectations out of sync with the MBTA’s facts. Let’s look at these :

( 1 ) early on, Baker’s MBTA team determined that at least $ 8 billion would b e needed to bring the system’s tracks, signalling, power , and cars up to a “state of good repair. This level of money was not going to be available all at once, the legislature and baker having decided that no new taxes could be asked until the MBTA out its existing financial house in order.

( 2 ) The T has done that part. New contracts with the Carmen, a Fiscal Oversight Board to see that spending is efficient, and new management of the T workers’ pension funds have entirely re-written how the MBTA deploys its finances.

( 3 ) Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollock, a commuter advocate prior to joining the Baker administration, determined that the first repair priority would be tracks, signalling, and cars. Every rider understands, or should, that actual transportation must come first, before station and garage upgrades.

( 4 ) Meanwhile, Pollock ordered a comprehensive assessment of the T’s stations and garages. The report has come back : more than half rate below average or worse for state of repair.

( 5 ) Actual transportation has not gone unfixed. Tracks, switches, signals, and power boxes have been upgraded, repaired, replaced. New Orange Line cars are here; new Red Line cars are coming soon,. Electric buses are o n order, as well as minibuses for less traveled routes. Late night service has begun. Heavy travel bus routes are getting additional buses.

( 6 ) The Green Line extension is under way, all the way to West Medford, including a brand new Lechmere Station to replace the present one more than 50 years old. The Silver Line has added a bus route from Chelsea through East Boston direct to South Station and the Red Line.

( 7 ) the Fairmount commuter rail line has added several new stations, serving chiefly Boston’s communities of color, from Newmarket and Upham’s Corner to Four Corners and Blue Hill Avenue.

( 8 ) We now have non-stop commuter rail service from Boston to Worcester

( 9 ) the entire system has been digitalized. Every bus has a GPS location that tells a rider when it will arrive at her stop; every T station has arrival information on a digital board.

Garages and stations will now see repair and modernization. I would also like to see major stations become weather-proof, as none are right now. The money has been allocated, and a Transportation Bond b ill,. passed by the legislature in this session, should fund much of heavy lifting for what remains to be done with tracks, power, signalling, and cars.

That said, it’s not going to be a brand  new, state of the art Transit system any time soon. Governor Baker has a target year if 2023. It might take more years than that, even. Yet when complete, the present objective of restructuring every aspect of the T seems well worth the public’s patience.

I almost forgot to talk about traffic : auto and truck traffic. What are we going to do about that ? The business boom and population increase within downtown Boston has made traffic almost self-defeating. Gridlock affects everyone who uses a car, Uber or one’s own. Can we assemble a regional master plan ? I hope we can.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere