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Monthly Archives: April 2016



April 28, 2016


The lowlights of the Mass House Ways and Means Committee FY 2017 state budget proposal

Time for a look at the latest act of the Commonwealth’s annual fiscal circus: the House Ways and Means Committee (HWMC) FY 2017 budget proposal.

As with the governor’s FY 2017 proposal three months back, I’m simply going to give readers a taste of the worst proposed cuts culled from the ever-helpful analytical reports that the Mass Budget and Policy Center (MBPC) releases at each stage of the budget process. If you’d like to check out all the details – and I highly recommend that you do—you can find the latest MBPC budget report at

Beyond the outright reductions I review below, most other programs are slated to be level-funded or given slight increases—both of which amount to further cuts by failing to keep up with inflation. Meaning that if the HWMC budget proposal is enacted, our state’s financial situation will continue its downward spiral. Unless the Mass political establishment finally does the right thing and raises taxes on corporations and the rich to properly fund state government again. And that isn’t happening without a grassroots mass movement that hasn’t materialized yet.

The main bright spot in the HWMC proposal is a modest increase in funding for local public schools. According to MBPC: “The proposal both directly increases Chapter 70 funding (state aid to local school districts) by more than the Governor recommended and funds a reserve account that can supplement Chapter 70 aid for districts that were adversely affected by changes in the ways the state counts low-income students.” Which is nice, but not enough—especially with hundreds of millions of state K-12 education dollars being regularly dumped on charter schools.

Otherwise, there’s potentially good news for a few other programs—like the State Police getting a whopping $20.6 million increase (7.8 percent) to add new troopers to their ranks. Joy.

But overall, the HWMC proposal will slash the budgets of a large number of vital social programs in a time of continuing economic crisis. Read on for some of the disquieting particulars:

Environment & Recreation

The FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut $16.1 million (7.6 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. Leaving $196.7 million. A .6 percent larger cut than the Governor’s proposal. Specific hits include gutting the Department of Environmental Protection with a very nasty cut of $4.4 million (15 percent) from current FY 2016 levels.


Funds for affordable housing, and shelter and services to homeless people. The FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut $46.5 million (9.51 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. For a total of $442.3 million. A 4.96 percent larger cut than the governor’s proposal.

Transitional Assistance

This program used to be called welfare in (slightly) more honest times. It provides short-term help for poor individuals and families. The FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut $27.2 million (3.9 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. For a total of $666.6 million. This represents a reduction of 35.9 percent since FY 2001 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Other Human Services

A grab bag of programs in various areas—notably support for veterans. For example, the FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut veterans’ services (including the Soldiers’ Homes) $4.6 million from current FY 2016 levels. For a total of $146.1 million. That’s $1.9 million less than the governor’s proposal.

Economic Development

Funds for programs that, among other things, help unemployed people find work. The FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut $26.7 million (17.5 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. This includes painful cuts to: the One-Stop Career Centers that serve unemployed people (a $525,491 cut from both current FY 2016 levels and the Governor’s FY 2017 proposal—for a total of only $4 million), YouthWorks (formerly Summer Jobs Program for At-Risk Youth, a 23.1 percent cut from current FY 2016 levels, and a 21.7 percent cut from the governor’s proposal), and the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund that provides training for unemployed workers that got zero funding – while the governor’s proposal would increase FY 2017 funding $2.2 million from last year’s levels for a total of $4 million.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.




Photo by Jason Pramas

April 22, 2016


BOSTON –  From the St. James Avenue side of Copley Square on Thursday afternoon, passers-by could be forgiven for wondering what the group of 300 people in red T-shirts opposite them was cheering about. If they were told that they were seeing the front lines of a desperate battle for the future of the American working class, they wouldn’t believe it. But the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers members and their families did not turn out for a nice day in the sun. They were there to fight.

The general public may be aware that 39,000 unionized Verizon workers (out of a total of 178,000) have been out on strike for a few days—including many here in Boston. But the vast majority of onlookers don’t understand the stakes.

Verizon (officially Verizon Communications, Inc.) is no ordinary company. Rather it’s a vast telecommunications conglomerate that has benefited hugely from government tax breaks, subsidies, and a favorable regulatory climate since it was created in 2000 out of the merger of Bell Atlantic (which had only recently merged with fellow “Baby Bell” NYNEX) and GTE.

It has two major businesses: its traditional wireline service, based on the old copper wire phone system and the newer fiber optic FiOS service (weirdly coming soon to Boston six years after Verizon said it would stopping building it out in any new cities). That’s where virtually all of the company’s 39,000 unionized workers are employed. Then it has Verizon Wireless—which was originally a joint venture of Bell Atlantic and the British telecom Vodafone, bought outright by Verizon in 2014. Only a handful of its wireless employees are currently unionized.


Photo by Jason Pramas

Basically, Verizon leadership wants to focus on its extremely profitable wireless division and cut back its wireline service. The numbers show why. According to Fortunemagazine, “Wireless now brings in the vast majority of the company’s sales and profits. Last year, for example, the wireless unit brought in revenue of $91.7 billion, up 5% from a year earlier, and an operating profit of nearly $30 billion. The older wireline unit, which also includes wired video and Internet service, brought in revenue of only $37.7 billion, a 2% decline from the year before, and an operating profit of just $2.2 billion.”

Unfortunately, Verizon—like so many companies these days (our “new Boston neighbors” at General Electric spring to mind)—is a world class tax dodger and loves soaking the government for free handouts. According to the nonprofit Citizens for Tax Justice, between 2008 and 2013, the corporation made over $42 billion in profits, received a $732 million tax break (an effective federal tax rate of -2 percent), and paid almost $1.3 billion in state taxes (an effective state tax rate of 3 percent).  In the same period, it made almost $4 billion in foreign profits and paid $274 million in taxes (an effective foreign tax rate of 7 percent). And this year? In the first quarter of 2016, Verizon has made $4.31 billion in profits.

According to the nonprofit Good Jobs First, Verizon has also received about $149 million in state and federal subsidies. Free money. And about $1.5 billion in federal loans, loan guarantees, and bailout assistance. Almost free money.

The nonprofit Americans for Tax Fairness adds: “Verizon also reported $1.9 billion in accumulated offshore profits in 2012, on which it paid no U.S. income taxes … Verizon raked in $956 million in federal contracts in 2011, according to the federal government. It also recently landed a new nine-year government-wide contract worth up to $5 billion to provide communications services and equipment to federal agencies.”

So Verizon is filthy rich with help from its friends in the government. Just like its predecessor, AT&T, in the days of “natural monopoly” before its 1984 breakup into regional Baby Bells. Unlike the old AT&T, though, Verizon is not interested in putting up with a unionized workforce in exchange for what are approaching monopoly profits in markets it and the handful of other remaining telecoms dominate. It has eliminated thousands of unionized jobs since 2000. How many? There were 85,000 unionized Verizon workers on strike in that year. There are 39,000 now. Do the math.

Photo by Jason Pramas

Photo by Jason Pramas

This brings us to the central issue of the strike. Verizon wants to convert lots of decent jobs—unionized and ununionized—to contract jobs. Many of them abroad. Union leaders recently told CNN Money: “Verizon has outsourced 5,000 jobs to workers in Mexico, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic.” The company is also “hiring more low-wage, non-union contractors.” Increasing wages, minimizing out-of-pocket health costs, preserving job security, keeping traditional pensions, and stopping forced out-of-state work transfers are all very important issues, too. And certainly worthy of more discussion in these pages. But, as ever, contingent work is a dagger pointed at the throat of organized labor. According to Computerworld, the Trade Adjustment Assistance forms that workers losing their jobs due to outsourcing file with the US Department of Labor show that offshoring jobs is indeed proceeding apace at Verizon—despite management denials.

Once jobs have left the US, it’s highly unlikely they’re coming back. And if it’s hard for unions to organize units like Verizon Wireless now, it’s nearly impossible to organize workers transnationally. Similarly, once “regular” full-time jobs with benefits have been replaced with lousy part-time, contract and other contingent jobs, it’s very difficult to convert them back. And it’s extremely difficult to organize contingent workers into unions or other types of labor organizations.

That is why this strike matters to all American workers. If well organized and militant union members at Verizon—who have gone on strike against the company and its predecessors in 1983, 1986, 1989, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2011 and now—can’t stop the outsourcing and destruction of decent jobs, unorganized workers spread across the planet in industries like telecommunications will find the task insurmountable.

Yet that’s where we’re heading. The end of traditional labor unions. The end of decent jobs. The war of all against all. This is where latter day capitalism is taking us. Unless we help good unions like CWA and IBEW win this strike, and start expanding the labor movement again. This isn’t about “the dignity of labor,”as the Boston Globe would have it. It’s about class war. Working people didn’t start it. But we sure as hell had better finish it. Before it finishes us.

Readers who would like to support the Verizon strikers should visit


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.



Image by Tak Toyoshima

April 13, 2016


There was an interesting exchange last week between Sen. Bernie Sanders and General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt. In an interview with the editors of the Daily News, when asked for “a sense of corporate America, as the agent of American destruction,” Sanders said, “General Electric, good example. General Electric was created in this country by American workers and American consumers. What we have seen over the many years is shutting down of many major plants in this country. Sending jobs to low-wage countries. And General Electric, doing a very good job avoiding the taxes. In fact, in a given year, they pay nothing in taxes. That’s greed. That is greed and that’s selfishness. That is lack of respect for the people of this country.”

Immelt fired back a couple of days later in the Washington Post, “GE has been in business for 124 years, and we’ve never been a big hit with socialists. We create wealth and jobs, instead of just calling for them in speeches.”

Now the reason that Immelt can get away with that kind of nonsensical reply is that socialists like me haven’t been allowed to regularly participate in political debates in the mainstream news media for many decades. Perhaps that isn’t a shock given that the news outlets in question are ideologically capitalist. But American journalists—including the editors that run the outlets—pride themselves on being fair and accurate. Sadly, they are rarely fair or accurate when it comes to talking about socialism.

Hence, Immelt can say “we create wealth and jobs.” And there might be some opposition in the big press about his trying to paper over GE’s terrible track record with PR platitudes. But no one will challenge his core idea that GE leadership creates wealth and jobs. Because it is a capitalist position to say that managers and investors create wealth and the jobs that flow from it. Socialists, for our part, argue that labor creates wealth. Regular people working day in and day out build the wealth of a society. And they have every right to expect a fair share of that wealth. And more to the point, every right to expect democratic control over their workplace. As well as democratic control of the political system.

Immelt at the GE press conference in Boston this month | Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian

Immelt at the GE press conference in Boston this month | Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian

That democratic control of political and economic life, in a nutshell, is socialism.

The Sanders campaign has created a big opening for publicly discussing the merits of socialism in the US. But the major American press—owned, like the Boston Globe, by the very billionaires who control GE and other multinational corporations, and run by editors who believe that capitalism is the best possible economic system—is refusing to facilitate that very necessary discussion. In a country where nearly half of our children now live near the poverty line.

Last fall, I issued a challenge to the Globe to sponsor a discussion of Sanders’ statement on his definition of democratic socialism. I encouraged them to include area socialist thinkers—and there are many—in any such discussion. Unsurprisingly, Globe editors failed to do so. Other major news outlets aren’t exactly lining up to host such discussions either. Even as more and more Americans are calling themselves socialists, while the Sanders campaign shows every sign of powering through to the convention.

So, for the moment, Boston area readers who would like to find out what actual socialists have to say about socialism before the presidential election drama concludes should register for the Boston Socialist Unity Project (BSUP) conference on April 30 at Old South Church in Copley Square. The event is being organized by a coalition of socialist organizations. The best known speaker is Vijay Prashad, prolific author and international studies professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn, who will address the opening plenary on “Socialism in the 21st Century.”  Workshops will range across a number of timely topics—including the “ABCs of Socialism.” With registration at $10 per person (in advance or at the door), it’s a great educational opportunity for the price of a typical lunch.

Check it out. Engage with socialist ideas directly than relying on the straw man version of them set up by the capitalist news media. Then join me in thinking about how we can build a more democratic news media.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


BINJ_GE Press Conference_040416_DSC_2449_©2016 Derek Kouyoumjian

Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian

April 8, 2016


General Electric brass, pols celebrate government giveaway while public opposition grows

While General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh cavorted with assorted political and business glitterati on the 33rd floor of the 60 State Street tower this week—celebrating the seeming fruition of the deal they cut last fall with zero public oversight— about 75 activists representing 36 community organizations picketed outside in the driving snow to criticize the $270 million-plus in state and city tax breaks, direct aid and services being lavished on the $117 billion multinational in exchange for moving its headquarters to Boston. 

According to one of the organizers, Eli Gerzon of Jewish Voice for Peace-Boston, the reason for the rally was simple, “This GE deal is a clear example of supporting abusive corporations instead of human beings … The idea that it will help everyday people is just the same old trickle-down economic logic that has failed us over and over. We’re not falling for that again. We need our budget and public funds to support human beings: public transportation, local good paying green jobs, schools, and housing. We don’t want to invest in a company that pollutes rivers in Massachusetts, dodges taxes, and builds warplanes used against Palestinians and other people of color around the world.”

Meanwhile, GE leadership thought it was appropriate to show a video at their event lauding the city’s “bold innovative thinkers” by calling out Malcolm X, Phillis Wheatley, Susan B. Anthony, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman. Famous radical agitators and intellectuals who probably would have all joined the protesters had they been alive.

In the March 25 installment of this Missing Manual, I predicted that the inevitable GE charm offensive aimed at attempting to placate increasingly perturbed locals would begin by spreading some money around town. And said that nonprofit organizations should refuse to take funds from a criminal corporation that ruined the lives of tens of thousands of poor families by selling them subprime mortgages, helped cause the 2008 financial collapse by selling toxic derivatives based on said mortgages, got bailed out by the feds (who changed the rules just for them), stole untold millions in a years long municipal bond scam, and avoided paying billions in taxes by—among other tricks— offshoring their profits (just like those nice Russian gentlemen we’ve been hearing about in the Panama Papers scandal). A position I stand by.

True to form, this week’s festivities began with the announcement of GE’s plan to donate $50 million to Boston schools, community health centers, and job training programs. But not all at once. Over five years. So, roughly $10 million a year. Looking under the hood of the official press release announcing the minor allotment from the company’s huge and growing PR budget—$393 million in 2014 according to AdAge, over $50 million on digital media alone in 2015 according to Kantar Media—the funds will likely benefit GE more than anyone else.

Here are a few illustrative quotes followed by my commentary:

Boston Public Schools (BPS): GE will reach 100 percent of Boston Public Schools high school students each year through our career labs, computer science courses, and high school design experience to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by committing $25 million. The donation will provide students the opportunity to explore college and career possibilities, and to understand the skills necessary for future employment. GE will also create “GE Brilliant Career Labs” with both physical and virtual locations to allow students a unique hands-on experience with advanced manufacturing technology and software to assist them through career planning and internships. GE will also assist 100 percent of STEM high school teachers, to better prepare students for college and their future careers.

All roads here lead to GE polishing its tarnished image. The company’s goal being to look like it supports public education while donating less to BPS over the next five years than the $32 million the city is cutting from its budget next fiscal year alone. And at the end of the day, they’re not actually promising BPS students training that will lead to jobs at GE. Just the opportunity “to understand the skills necessary for future employment.” Which means what exactly? Understanding that you’ll either need to be a manufacturing robot in some zero regulation foreign Export Processing Zone, or a white, wealthy, Ivy League-trained manager in the Boston HQ to have a job with GE in the future? Sad.

Boston Community Health Centers (CHC): GE will commit an additional $15 million to developing, and expanding the skills of health care providers at critical Community Health Centers in underserved communities. This will include training in the use of technology, leadership skills, and increased access to specialty care, in order to deliver better treatment for common, complex medical conditions like cardiovascular disease and addiction. The Developing Health Boston program will initially support 22 Boston area CHCs and will provide skills training to more than 75 percent of CHC leaders, health care providers, and staff. As well, GE Foundation partners will help to develop next generation health care workers.

“Next generation health care workers?” More robots. Maybe they’ll revolt like in The Matrix or something. Regardless, it’s frankly insulting to talk about “expanding the skills of health care providers at critical Community Health Centers in underserved communities.” In Boston. Which has some of the best medical training programs in the world. What’s needed is for GE and corporations like it to pay the taxes they owe; so that Community Health Centers—and the US health system in general—no longer have to struggle for needed funds to provide top flight medical care to everyone. Preferably through a new national health program that expands Medicare to cover the entire US population.

Building the Diversity Pipeline: GE has also pledged $10 million to increase the capabilities and outcomes for our diverse students. GE will leverage its employees and leaders to provide training, access to manufacturing labs at GE Garages, and externships for underserved populations outside of the Boston Metro area, including Lynn and Fall River.

Result? GE will fail to provide jobs for “diverse students” from the cities and towns they screw over by not paying taxes.

And what of all those new jobs GE recently claimed would materialize in Boston because of their presence here?

According to an economic impact study conducted by Oxford Analytic, GE’s move adds 4,000 new jobs in the Boston area, between temporary construction jobs and permanent GE employees and vendors ….

This explains why the construction unions predictably haven’t uttered a peep of criticism of the deal—nor have any unions except the ones that used to have lots of members at the plants that GE shut down over the last few decades. As GE Lynn union leader Pete Capano presciently stated after the announcement of the GE Boston deal in January, “There will be more … donations to charity, that allows them to lay us off without looking bad.”  Many of the “4,000 new jobs” will be short-term (and presumably unionized) construction jobs building the new HQ. Which could be seen as a fat paycheck for Marty Walsh’s supporters in the Boston Building Trades Council. The rest will be some new jobs at any GE facility in the “Boston area” (i.e., Massachusetts), and some “vendors”—a category which can include any number of low-wage jobs like delivery people. Not very impressive.

After the press release, the dog-and-pony show began in earnest.

Just before the big soiree, Immelt told the Boston Herald, “Let’s say we’re here for another 40 or 50 years in Boston. Whatever we got in incentives, no one remembers. This is really about the vibe. It’s really about being part of a vibrant community, us adding to the community. So if you don’t feel that when you come, it’s bad to bet on that happening at some point down in the future.”

Ah yes, “the vibe.” GE isn’t coming to Boston because of “incentives” like potentially not having to pay rent on the buildings the Boston Redevelopment Authority is buying on its behalf. Perish the thought. It’s “really all about being part of a vibrant community.” And about the public forgetting such “incentives.” And not guaranteeing that GE HQ will stay in Boston for any specific length of time.

The 60 State Street event featured much more of the same kind of airy rhetoric. But Immelt felt it necessary to nod to the protestors, as recounted in CommonWealth magazine. Perhaps because he found himself on the defensive regarding the public giveaways in nearly every interview he’s given lately.

“ … I empathize with the people that are outside, particularly today. They have to be dedicated.”

The protesters, as the early voice of rising public discontent with the GE Boston deal, were having none of it—issuing a clear warning to the politicians who brokered it over the heads of area working families. Horace Small of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, who emceed the street rally, said, “Mayor Walsh and Governor Baker needs to understand they need to support people not rich white guys and corporations.”

True that.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.