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.

THE END OF MODERN CONSERVATISM… AND OF MUCH MORE

Liz and Adam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are so screwed.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON’S SCHOOLS MUST BE DRASTICALLY REFORMED

Brenda-Cassellius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON CITY PRIMARY : A POLARIZED RESULT

MAYOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But back to the money.

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

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

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

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

You tell me. I have no idea.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

GETTING VACATINATED…

doctor

The world has been challenged this past year by a virus, a zombie organism that attacks parts of the human body, fatally in some cases, others delibilitating. So far, about 4,550,000 humans have died as a result of Covid-19.

Rapidly three effective vaccines have been developed using “mRNA” chemistry which reverses the processes by which the novel coronavirus attaches itself to human cells — respiratory cells chiefly. The vaccines have proven to be — so the data have shown — 90 to 95 percent effective against the virus and over 99 percent effective against hospitalization. Few if any vaccines have ever mounted such a success rate. A big win for humans.

The world is vaccinating rapidly, as it should. Yet in the United States, and almost only in the United States, a significant number of people reject, even oppose, being vaccinated. Why ? I really have no idea; the reasons given make no sense, are mostly irrelevant, are pure willfulness, stubborn, deadly. I have nothing further to say to those who profess such death vibes and whose pig-headed morbidity endangers the rest of us who have the misfortune to be their neighbors.

Instead, I want merely to talk of my own vaccination.

On February 8th I received my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine, by most accounts the most effective. My second dose arrived in my shoulder on March 5th. I will be getting a booster shot as soon as I am allowed. These shots were not my first. I’m vaccinated against measles, the flu, pneumonia, chicken pox, mumps.

My Dad was a Doctor, a “G P” or house doctor. I saw him diagnose and treat patients every day. I listened to him describe to me the way the human body works — muscles, glands, blood vessels, nerves, the brain. He described to me the symptoms of several diseases and what these symptoms entail. I watched as he sewed up wounded patients in the emergency room. I read his anatomy book, his treatise of endocrinology (endocrine glands are those which secrete a serum; the testicles are endocrines, as is the pancreas, etc.), his books on nervous disorders like multiple sclerosis, ALS, and dystrophy, appendicitis, gastroenterological diseases (ulcers, hernia, etc.), urinary infections. He loved to remind me that the human body is like my car (I was a hot rod car nut as a kid): it is made up of parts, and you must maintain those parts diligently or they will break down.

These were not Dad’s speculations. They were physical facts that I could see, feel, touch, observe. I am told, by vaccine deniers, that science is speculative and really, who knows ? But the human body is not a matter of speculation. it is not quantum mechanics, gravity, subatomic particle physics, archaeology, or evolution. You can see it being itself.

Why and for what possible reason would a person refuse to protect his bodily parts against a viral invader ? What sense does it make to die, or be incapacitated, by a virus which is so readily disabled by a chemical remedy administered to the shoulder the way oil is inserted into a car’s engine or brake fluid into into an hydraulic pump ? Yet we see people dying, or becoming seriously sick, by exactly such a refusal to care for their bodily car. They would more surely change their car’s oil, or check out its radiator, or make sure of its brakes, than they will do of their own body, the car of their life. Why ?

We can’t all be lucky enough to have a Doctor a sour Dad or Mom, but we can darn well act as if our Doctor were our parent and thus LISTEN to him or her and WATCH him or her as he or she treats the bodies of our fellow humans. Maybe if we were to do that, we’d get vaccinated and thereby save our bodies and thus our lives and protect the bodies of our fellows.

—- Mike Freedberg / here and Sphere

FOR SALEM, CHANGE — MUCH NEEDED — BEGINS AT THE CITY COUNCIL

DRISCOLL

^^^ seeking a fourth term : Mayor Kim Driscoll, as commanding a figure as any Mayor in America

The present tack that the City of Salem is on cannot continue. No City in America should ever be remade as an emporium of junky quality, box-unit, elephant-big apartment buildings. Yet that is what Salem is fast becoming, with much more of it on offer if present policy continues.

Salem, of all cities, deserves differently. Here, history oozes from the bricks of sidewalks, screams from, the clapboarding of ancient houses. The bodies of falsely accused persons — hanged as witches — lie in Salem cemeteries. Nat Hawthorne and his Custom, House, in which he wrote The Scarlet Letter, are commemorated there ad all around the City. 15 houses from the First Period remain in old Salem, some of them still lived in. THESE are what plans for Salem’s future should imitate and bolster. Instead, the big plan is to create a city of featureless residential warehouses, overpriced as well — more Amazon, airport hangar, and Walmart than Nat Hawthorne, 1692, and sea captains.

Mayor Driscoll talks of “affordable” housing and the necessity for it. The opposite is happening. The junk being built, or planned, is and will all be overpriced, way overpriced. Affordability in it, there is none. Instead, the more junk boxes get built, the higher that rents and sale prices go. Why that is the case would require a lengthy economic analysis not useful in this endorsement article. Suffice for now to assert the illogical fact of it.

So the question arises : how do Salem voters turn back this wave of price-gouging junk ? Some say, “replace Mayor Driscoll, whose plans these are.” I disagree.

Driscoll does want one change which we enthusiastically endorse : making Salem’s long waterfront overwhelmingly residential rather than industrial, as most of it has been for 125 years and more.

Most of Driscoll’s other building plans deplore : but she is also a stalwart of what we now call “inclusion”, a very thorough administrator (some would say “too thorough”) and has the confidence of Governor Baker. These are not attributes and advantages Salem should just cast aside. How about, instead, voting to keep Driscoll’s diligence, her savvy, her civil rights idealism, and the State respect which she so clearly has, and instead, give her a City Council whose majority will require her to change direction ? This is what our endorsements intend.

For Mayor : we endorse Kim Driscoll for a fourth term for the reasons given.

For City Council : there are many, many great and independent candidates, although one of the most independent, Arthur Sargent, is not running for re-election. That saddens us, yet there are other candidates who will do Salem proud. Voters will elect FOUR. We offer five recommendations to choose from, some of whom support Driscoll’s plans, which we justify because the Mayor is entitled to a voice even in an independent Council :

Our five at Large recommendations are Domingo Dominguez, seeking re-election to a third term; Conrad Prosniewski, former Police Department community engagement officer, seeking a second term; Alice Merkl, a supporter of Mayor Driscoll, who ran last time and missed election by only 100 votes; Melissa Faulkner, who also ran last time; and Juana Fernandez, a promising newcomer.

Salem also elects seven Ward Councillors, one from each of the City’s wards. Our recommendations :

Ward One : Belle Steadman, who ran citywide last time. Definitely an independent voice.

Ward Three : David Freni, who is challenging a Mayor Driscoll loyalist in a ward deeply impacted by junk-unit box ruination.

Ward Four : Stepanie Rodriguez is not only independent, she is also this year’s most engaged outreach campaigner with a confident and affable personality to match., We enthusiastically endorse her.

Ward Five : Steve Kapantais seeks the seat being vacated by Josh Turiel. Steve has long been a leader of those who seek an independent Council.

Ward Seven : Francis Riggieri seeks the Council position being vacated by Steve Dibble, who is challenging mayor Driscoll. he faces a strong supporter of Mayor Driscoll making a second run at this Council seat.

Were all of our recommendations to win election, Salem would have a Council with four votes Mayor Driscoll can count on and seven which she would have to try to convince. We like such an outcome. It would be a Council of persuasion and debate, upon issues which will decide if Salem becomes a livable City of history and residable waterfront or a dense hive of featureless, junk-constructed, overpriced “units.” As we see it, the matter is absolutely existential.

— Mike Freedberg, for the editors of Here and Sphere

FOR THE USA, THERE IS NO GOING BACK.

RUDY

The above person may be known to you. By name, anyway. By reputation, not so much. Once upon a time, he was a giant of our elected democracy, an elected Mayor entrusted with governing a major City, which duty he mostly exemplified.

But that was 20 years ago.

On his watch, terrorists steered hijacked aircraft into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon and were prevented from further destruction only by the heroic self-sacrifice of Flight 93’s heroes.

Rudy Giuliani was younger then, and so was our nation. We still lived by the founding ideals and fulfilled our oaths to the Constitution so exhaustingly forged and won then some 212 years prior. Even those who did not like our national politics did not contemplate subverting it. we were mindful of our nation’s victories in war and in peace, of our immigrant character, of our certainty that — as President Reagan put it — “our best days lie ahead.”

But that was then.

In the twenty years since that awful day in September, 2001, our nation has lived in fear — of another such attack ? Of our vulnerabilities ? Of the world beyond our shores ? Of ourselves ? maybe all four.

Not all of us live in such fear. Maybe half of all Americans still believe in the future.Maybe even more than half ? Yet the half, or almost half, who do not believe in the future have since 2001 spread their fears across the lives of all of us. Some of us feel that blanket of black more directly than others, yet all of us can smell its wool, its mildew, a blanket from the crypt of the crazed.

There is poison in it all. Poison to the soul, strychnine to the mind. Rudy Giuliani epitomizes its effects. We often blame Trump for unleashing these cyanides upon us, but there would have been no Trump but for the effects of 9/11, 2001. How else to explain the reduction of Giuliani ? A friend of Trump, he was already within Trump’s range of contagion. He could have left that circle of defeat. He could have said, as most of us would have, that no, I will not go down your road, your avenue of lies, of hate, of subversion of all we hold dear and which I once held dear.

He could have said all that. He did not.

He once knew better. On 9/11 he had been a hero, a front line, hands on Mayor of 8,000,000 people, citizens and visitors, immigrants and commuters. Why did he not continue to walk that path ? Why have so many millions of us also not walked it ?

The United States of America was founded by immigrants, created a nation by educated men who believed in the rights of all men, the equality of all, of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. President Washington invited immigrants of all stations of life. The Federal government enabled our infrastructure, our land grants, our public colleges, the Federal highway system, public electricity, the Federal Reserve System, a social safety net. It regulated our commerce, as empowered by the Constitution. Harder to win, the civil frights of all, yet by 1965 those legal rights were won for good and always.

It was a history worth celebrating, of ideals and purposes many of us gave our lives to advance. Most of my own life has been lived thereunder. I know the drill, and I celebrate it. I grew up proud to be an American. Grandson of immigrants who risked their all to come here nad be whatever they could strive to be.

The confidence of those founders, and of our immigrants : where is it ? Why have we misplaced it ?

Yet to all things there is, as the prophet has written, a season; and the life of nations is no exception to seasonality. It is clear now that, a mere 20 years after 9/11, America is fracturing. One half of us wants to advance into the future according to our ideals and in furtherance thereof. The other half wants to abolish all that we have lived these past 232 years.

That this other half pursues an entirely different future from the American mission is its right — I may be saddened by their mission, even angered by it, but it is their right to have. I get that they despise immigration; hate Jews and many other sorts of scapegoat-able people; demand to control women’s health care and bodies; eliminate the social safety net; and many other abolitions of all that we, of the other half, cherish. I get that they want these things., What I do not get — what I WILL NEVER accept — is their readiness to destroy our Constitutional democracy on the way to getting their way of things, or their readiness top consort with our national enemies — all manner of tyrants and charlatans around the world — as a mans of subverting and sabotaging the nation.

Rudy Giuliani has done all of the above.

He did all that in service to his friend Trump, or so we are told; yet as I see it, he did all that he did because he wanted to do them. He did them to satisfy himself — turned his back on all that he was and had been and on his reputation. Can anyone really believe that he did that because he was pushed to do it ? No. He did what he did because he has no self, no honor to which he is sworn, no commitment to any duty. To be a man one must live beyond the mere moment and outside the aroma of aladdin lamps. To be a man one must have principles for which one will say “no” to those who would abuse them.

Rudy has failed that test.

He is far from the only one to fail it.

The nation itself is failing it. In my opinion, no matter how hard the others of us struggle, there is no going back. We will have only a half future.

In the life of nations, half a loaf is not better than no loaf at all.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

HOW ABOUT LEAVING US ALONE FOR A CHANGE ?

MADARO

State Representative Adrian Madaro moderates a neighbors’ meeting to protest the City of Boston’s proposed changes to traffic and development zoning.

—- —- —-

Can I ask you a dumb question ?”

That’s what I asked of Jay Ruggiero last night, the City of Boston’s outreach co-ordinator for its “Boston Planning and Development” department.

Jay lives in East Boston, a lifelong resident and a son of our respected funeral director Joe Ruggiero, Sr. Jay knows exactly what I was getting at and why. Yet there wasn’t much he could say, and I can’t fault him. During the past two years he has tried to engage community activists in the ambitious re-thinkings the City intends for its chief neighborhood of newcomer immigrants.

Last night, however, those rethinkings met up with a large group of Meridian Street residents (and many from adjacent streets) who do not want to be re-thought, or re-planned; who want really to leave well enough alone. Led by Karen Osarenkhoe and moderated by State Representative Adrian Madaro — who lives nearby — about 40 people., few of them known activists, said “no mas !” to plans that would eliminate car parking on one entire side of Meridian Street and Border Street and make Border Street one way.

The 40 had plenty to say, none of it congratulatory. Nor did the neighbors present — at 7.30 pm on a sweltering summer night when many folks are on vacation or want to be — cotton to the idea of allowing four story development on Meridian Street and five story (!!!) buildings on Border Street.

One could well ask the question, “why does the City want to do any of this ?” Instead, i asked a more basic question ; ‘why can’t the City just leave well enough alone ?”

East Boston works as a community. It is Boston’s primary receptor of newly landing immigrants., My grandparents were among those. They arrived — penniless — in 1896. They were no different from immigrants who came in 1920, 1960, 1970, 1990, or now. They arrived in a neighborhood of very inexpensive housing, near to all sorts of grunt work that new immigrants will do, close to many churches, several schools, corner stores, ethnic eateries, ball fields, and piers off which immigrant kids (like my Mom and her siblings) can dive to escape hot summer days. Even now, when immigrants have become somehow an unpopular cause, newcomers continue to come to East Boston; because Boston has jobs and it has opportunity, and those are what immigrants risk everything to get to. Which is why East Boston is what it is.

Why, then, would the City want to screw around with a community set up that works ? Shouldn’t a City government SUPPORT a community that works and look for changes elsewhere, where they are useful ? I mean, Boston’s City government has enough to do, trying to make our schools work — having a $ 1.25 billion budget to work our schools with — and also boost its police department, now short some 500 officers, including several retiring right here in Eastie’s District Seven.

I mean, why should an immigrant community become the new South beach ? A new Marina bay ? Condominiums at $ 600,000 and homes for $ 1.2,00,000, all of them snapped up by the new highly paid elite who like the idea of living near a harbor view ? The highly paid can buy or rent anywhere. Immigrants working for scant wages don ‘t have that luxury. As for Eastie residents who earn better money, or are retired, why should they be forced to move or to watch 75 percent of their neighbors move out ?

And why does Meridian Street, a street that works — that has long accommodated to its traffic flows and parking woes — now be forced to remake all of its long-settled adjustments because somebody has decided that buses, which have traveled Meridian Street for generations, now need a special travel lane ?

You would think that a rational politician would realize that it doesn’t pay to remake a community of 40,000 into something it isn’t, thereby maybe pissing off 10,000 voters. Or to remake streets and traffic just for the hell of it ? But no ; our City electeds, somehow, decided maybe a decade ago that East Boston should become the new Klondike for a generation of gold rush developers who could reap huge profits everywhere between Waldemar Avenue and Border Street and thereby fill the campaign coffers of candidates needing upwards of $ 250,000 to fund their campaigns. Take a look at the “OCPF” website; it’s all there — the vast funds thrown at candidates by developers and , indeed, the entire development-process coterie.

Yet if it’s developers and their aides who provide the bucks, it’s neighbors who do the voting; and the voters of East Boston, at least, have had enough and are gathering in ever-increasing numbers to say so loudly and publicly. Forty people may not sound like much, but the meridian Street neighborhood has not been the scene of mass activism. I fully expect to see many more people at a next meeting, and the same is happening elsewhere in East Boston, a community which has finally decided to yell a collective yell at a City bureaucracy that doesn’t seem to care.

Yet.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THOUGHTS ON THE EVACUATION OF AFGHANISTAN

AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT

Afghan families walk by the aircrafts at the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. (Photo by Wakil Kohsar / AFP)

— — — —

Much criticism is heading President Biden’s way concerning what we, the USA, did or did not do correctly leading up to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban insurgents. I find most of that criticism unfounded.

Such criticism as may be made ought go to the humiliating deal that our former President made. Almost al the evil consequences we have witnessed derive from that sellout of our Afghan friends.

As for the only option left — complete evacuation — it is maybe the hardest military operation. Plenty of momentum for “fubar.”

Yet There is always much “fubar” in war. The crux isn’t avoiding fubar but what one does to counter it. Our military leaders misjudged how quickly Kabul would be taken; they have moved strongly to get the evacuation phase in order. Of course it’s not pretty — evacuations and retreats rarely look trim. But consider where we are right now :

5200 troops on the ground controlling HKAI airport.

More consular officers on the ground to help process people seeking a flight out.

More entry gates to the airport being opened and manned by our soldiers.

US Navy jets flying constant sorties over Kabul city to protect people seeking to leave.

Special ops teams exfiltrating at-risk individuals and families by night.

More troops coming, and there’s the possibility of “widening” the perimeter of the airport under our control.

Will everything go smoothly ? Doubtless not. This is a seat-of-the-pants, ad hoc operation, correcting itself on the run. Yet if the Taliban have any doubts about our resolve to get this evacuation done in full, they’ll soon find out. I especially like that President Biden has taken full responsibility, publicly, upon himself. He has, of course, done so for all his administration’s major initiatives. Is there anyone who would rather see the former guy in charge of this stuff ?

Speaking of the former guy, did you se where Stephen Miller, his chief persecutor of immigrants, spurns our welcoming the Afghan refugees, saying “they won’t fit into our way of life” ? Immediately he said that he was swatted back by an immigrants’ advocate noting that Miller’s “way of life” included separating 5000 migrant-refugee children from their parents.

Several Governors, of both political parties, have offered welcome to such Afghan refugees as are coming here./ I could not be prouder of them for offering this. we are a nation of immigrants and refugees. Welcoming the Afghans who want to join us is as American a thing as it gets.

I’m good with President Biden’s “way of life.” And with his management of the Kabul evacuation.

So far.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

COMPOUNDING OUR HOUSING MISTAKES

BLUE LINE

Shall controlled transportation now be the criterion for “housing” ? If policy makers get their way, yup! (Here, An outbound MBTA train oln the beloved Blue Line cranks its way to Orient Heights Station in East Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It is evidently not bad enough that our policy makers have imposed junk “units” on communities that used to work as such but are rapidly being remade into glorified college dorms. Now these same policy makers want to impose “transit’ on us — to link the construction of crap-itecture boxes to renovation and expansion of the horror we call “public transportation.” What could possibly go wrong ?

We are toild, by these highly-paid experts, that the future of our economy requiires that people live in “transit-oriented” housing — by which I suppose they mean, housing that is walkably close to a bus stop or subway station. When one asks, as I now do, why living close to a bus stop is vital to economic growth, they have no good answer. Instead, they tell me that the more people who live close to a bus stop, say, the fewer will need cars and thus the less impact upon our climate, which, say the policy makers, is nearing irreversible doom state.

Obviously a doom climate would be hella bad for our economy. Thus, say the experts, we must subject both housing and personal mobility to a third criterion. I’m not au fait with this, and I doubt that you are happy with it either. As for climate,. planting millions of trees — as smart metropolises are now doing — will do more for climate health than any mobility control. The same is true of electric vehicles, which will be enormously enabled by the electric charging stations being funded by the infrastructure bill soon to pass Congress.

So much for requiring more public transportation and housing tied to its presence.

To continue : why do we need “transit oriented housing’ when, as a result of Covid, many people will continue to work from home ? The old regime of commuting from home to the office or factory is not coming back. Moreover, people working from home don’t need to live in an overly dense, sardine-like city. They can live in the suburbs, or the exurbs, or even farther away and do just fine. As for those who cannot work from home — maintenance people, grocery workers, health care people and such like — their housing need is for apartments or owned homes that they can afford, which is none at all of what is being built now or contemplated as “transit oriented.” Need I tell you AGAIN that what is being built in Boston today is enormously expensive and likely to become more so ? Because it is not service workers, etc., who move into it, because the costs are way, way beyond what such workers earn.

The “units” now being built are priced for the well-paid or for the city’s thousands of college students (often these “units’ are advertised as such !); but even if these crap boxes were priced to working-class incomes, they would be unacceptable because of the utter lack of community therein. East Boston’s housing stock was built as singles, two-families, and threes, a mall-scale architecture which enabled humble community. You knew your neighbors. Doors were not locked, no one was shut out by security systems, you were not parceled out one by one along lengthy corridors as in a hotel or an army barracks. Said housing was also dirt cheap, because land acquisition costs were cheap, and consttruction — even with high quality woods and crafted woodwork — wasn’t expensive either. More significant, almost all potential buyers lor renters were very low income. You either made your construction cheap enough, or you didn’t build at all.

Many workers in today’s Boston are just as poorly paid, relative to the entire eceonomy, as were the residenbtrs of 1900, but construction today faces so many costly and bureaucratic obstacles that its price points have to be high, and why not, when there exists a vast market for very expensive housing that a developer would be a fool not to build for ? Nor does this very well-paid horde of buiyers or renters have much time for community. If you work 70 hours a week drafting legal briefs or managing hedge funds, you’re sort of unlikely to be kayaking, hiking, or attending a little legaue football game. Not to mention that you probably don’t have kids or are even married. The market which builders aspire to is a young singles market — which is also why bistros like The Quiet Few, Cunard, and the Reel House prosper where family restaurants often don’t.

So much for community. Welcome to dormitory city.

As for the wage earners who supposedly “transit oriented” housing is to serve, all they see right now is that ( 1 ) “transit oriented” means “priced way above me” (and affordability regulations don’t help), and ( 2 ) such affordable housing as does exist is rapidly being bought by devlopers and either demolished to make room for $ 3200 – $ 3800 a month customers or being sold for $ 1,350,000 — to condo converters, because what ordinary working family can afford such a price ?

That any such housing requires an expansion of public transportation is a sick joke. Firstly, many of the buttered young folks moving into $ 600,000 condos or $ 3200 apartments move by bicycle; and our public policy folks have decided that bicycles have a right to the roads thnat were built for cars and paid for by car owners. Second, public transportation is a means of social control. Do we really want more of that ? My grandparents — and yours — came here for liberty; control, they had plenty of back in Europe. Third, the workers whose incomes make it hard for them to own and register a car — given the plethora of fees, fines, taxes, and closts imposed on car owners by our laws — can’t afford much l;onger to live in a $ 3800 a month City. So who, exactly, is this proposed expansion of control transportation going to serve ?

As always, those who do not have much money get nothing but sympathy, plans, and promises when what\’s needed is the basics of life that you or I have grown up assuming would always be there.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

OUR BEST DAYS DO NOT LIE AHEAD

CHUCK BERRY

^^ Chuck Berry gave us “Promised Land” 60 years ago.

— — — — —

Ronald Reagan, forty years ago, as President, told Americans that our best days lie ahead. I heard him say it. I was inspired. We all were. We believed him when he told us that it was “morning in America.”

We were wrong. It should have occurred to us — or to me, at least — that if the sentiment needed saying, that it wasn’t something assumed — that there was no assurance at all; that perhaps our best days did NOT lie ahead; indeed, that they were very likely behind us,

America the world’s great democracy, the unique experiment in self-government, has lost its mojo. The nation that conquered the Depression, won the World War, was the “arsenal of democracy,” won the heroic civil rights struggle, defeated the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War — that America, the hope and savior of all humankind, has used up its energy and is today a kind of collapsing, crumbling colloseum.

Stay with me awhile as I demonstrate…

Let us start with the January 6th, 2021 terrorist attack by Trump hordes on the US capitol. A nation is not in its best days when a mob of its citizens violently attack it.

We’ve all seen the videos, heard the shouting, listened to the police officers who were assaulted on that horrible day. It was NOT our best day, and best days are not coming soon because the violence of January 6, 2021 is out there being touted and praised by the supporters thereof.

It is not morning in a nation where roaming mobs of miseducated brats deface statues of our heroes, as happened last summer. Below is a photograph of an ignoramus attacking the statue of Mathhias Baldwin, a Philadelphia Quaker and Abolitionist who paid from his own money to set up a school for Black children 30 years ahead of its time.

Baldwin

So much for what Chuck Berry in 1961 called the “Promised Land,” his song and ours, done back when we all understood that America was the new Canaan, the land of our hopes and struggles to which we all, and our ancestors all, had risked everything to get to.

Destroyed by our own hands, attacked by our own neighbors, insulted and broken by those who hate the nation that not so long ago all had loved.

The music, too, has turned on itself. The music of 1961 — as that, of 1951, 1941, 1931, and also that of 1971 — was enthusiasm, exuberant,  straight-ahead beat, a fast-forward rhythm, a voice of confidence, triumph, joy. It was the sound of victory. It was a battle hymn of the Greatest Generation. Think Count Basie, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, James Brown, the Kingsmen, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Gary U.S. Bonds. But now ? The hit music of today — hip hop and its variants — has a chunk beat, a square rhythm that encloses the self within it. It’s the sound of a locked door to a very small quarters within which one hides from the world and shrinks from challenge. It is pent-up and sometimes murderous (for real) and always it is sad; its sex is a lot of talk, no action. Even when dancing, it is “dancing in the dark,” as Bruce Springsteen wrote in 1985 and as house music and techno do it.

The America of 1962 to 1969 sent men to the moon. Today we send house prices sky high.

Civil rights activists of 60 years ago dressed in their Sunday best, protested in the daytime., steeled their courage to nonviolence no matter what. Result ? They won the support of almost the entire nation. Today ? Don’t get me started….

The Civil Rights heroes of 1950-65 believed in the dream of America. What do protestors of today believe in ? 

Wage workers in 1961 America had strong unions and got ahead. They could buy a house. What can wage workers do today ? Even when they have a union, house prices have long since lifted way beyond. In 1968 I paid $ 35 a month to rent a two bedroom apartment in Roxbury. Today a two bedroom apartment in East Boston costs $ 2100 to $ 3200 per month. Has my salary increased 80-fold to accommodate this price surge ? Hardly. Has yours ? 

So no; it is NOT “morning in America.” as for our days that lie ahead, they are not our best, not even average. They are sick and getting sicker. I’m not talking the pandemic. We can still conquer viruses, at least those in nature. Computer viruses, it seems — cyber attacks — are beyond us.

We used to be the victor in war. Then came Viet Nam and failure. Ever since, except for the first Gulf War (1190-1991), it has been failure, extended failure followed by ignominious withdrawal, abandonment of allies. We have “the greatest military in  the world'” but no will to use it greatly.

Our democracy — our Constitution and the ideals vowed in the Declaration  — used to be our treasure, our lodestar to which we would all rush. Today we are told — by our educators, and enforced by the corporate elite — that our Constitution is nothing but racism and our Declaration an hypocrisy. is it anyt wonder that 30 percent of the nation feels betrayed and wants nothing but to stab us dead and set up a crooked noisy fascism, or that another large percent want to wipe out our history and equal protection of the laws and all that it implies in favor of “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “equity” ?

As for the Ogre, he is still out there, honking his immodest horn. He has his wanna-be’s as well, screeching to seduce our attention like the selfie whores they are.

I fear that I am tempting your patience, dedar reader. Fear not. What more can I add to examples from music, money, the law, the nation, and our courage at home and in war ? We all have our own anecdotes to add here. They add up, however,m to the same thikng : our best days DO NOT lie ahead. Far from it.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

Americans in 1961 had strong labor unions, could earn fair wages and fight for more. Today ? Unis stNo, it is NOT ‘morning in America.”
No, it is NOT “morning in America.”

Continue reading →