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Apparent Horizon

GROUNDED MONKEYS: MILLIONAIRES UNLIKELY TO FLEE COMMONWEALTH IF RAISE UP MASS WINS TAX ON 1 PERCENT

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Image by Kent Buckley

December 8, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Boston Business Journal’s Craig Douglas made an interesting criticism of Raise Up Massachusetts last week (“Excited about the proposed millionaires tax? Cut off your nose while you’re at it,” Dec. 4). For those who missed it, RUM is a progressive labor-community coalition that just collected over 155,000 signatures to field a constitutional amendment referendum in 2018 that will create an additional 4 percent income tax for residents who make more than $1 million a year.

RUM initially estimated that the new tax would generate $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion of new revenue a year if enacted in 2019. Then the state Department of Revenue recently did their own analysis, and projected that the additional revenue will be significantly higher—$1.6 billion to $2.2 billion a year.

This led BBJ’s Douglas to call foul on both the RUM numbers and the DoR numbers. The problem? BBJanalysis shows that projections by amendment advocates and the DoR aren’t taking into account that the number of Mass millionaires fell in 2013 and 2014—leading him to point out that the amount of tax money the amendment will raise could be far lower than expected.

Certainly food for thought. And if Douglas had stopped there he would probably have landed on solid ground. But then he overplayed his hand, arguing that if the amendment passes we can “expect more millionaires—and their earnings—to flee the state like a bunch of flying monkeys.”

That’s just a truism. The kind of spectre that anti-tax jihadis are fond of raising whenever there’s the slightest danger of tax equity in America. And Douglas offered no citation to back up the claim.

Turns out the Commonwealth’s very own UMass Amherst Political Economy Research Institute did a study called “Raising Revenue from High-Income Households: Should States Continue to Place the Lowest Tax Rates on Those with the Highest Incomes?” in 2012 that states “… the research reviewed in this study suggests that modest tax increases on affluent households are unlikely to make substantial changes in their work effort or entrepreneurship or make them any more likely to leave the state.”

Also, Douglas seems to have forgotten his own article from Oct. 22, “The BBJ Wealth Report: The towns and cities with the most millionaires,” in which he stated that the falling numbers of millionaires in the state were the result of rich people accelerating “income-related activities in 2011 and 2012 in anticipation of the pending rate hikes on high-income earners” and “deferred asset sales and related income-triggering events to avoid the higher rates, hoping instead for a more-favorable tax climate following the 2016 national elections.”

In other words, they played games to make sure that they could report as little income as possible after 2012. Nowhere did he say they left the state, however. Or even that they really lost money.

And that’s basically what I would expect rich people to do if the amendment passes. They’ll play games that allow them to report as little income as possible. Some will drop off the millionaire rolls for a time. But the state will gain a good chunk of desperately needed extra income we’re not getting from any of the various neoliberal shell games that legislators have been playing to avoid taxing the rich. The flying monkeys, meanwhile, will remain safely in their roosts.

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

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

BARGAINING AGAINST OURSELVES: MEANS TESTING MBTA FARES WILL DECREASE PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR MASS TRANSIT

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Image by Kent Buckley

November 30, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

As the latest round of the ongoing neoliberal campaign to shift the cost of mass transit in Massachusetts from state government to individual riders gets in gear—a necessary step along the road to privatizing the MBTA—regular readers will be unsurprised to find that I am in agreement with progressive transportation advocates like Alternatives for Community and Environment that are against T fare hikesof any kind next year.

However, there is a related fare reform proposal being floated that also needs to be vigorously opposed early in the game: The idea of means testing T riders and giving poor people lower fares.

Supporters of the proposal include Monica Tibbits-Nutt and Brian Lang—two members of the powerful new MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board that is tasked with bringing public transit costs to heel in the Bay State at a time when the T’s annual operating deficit is expected to rise from a projected $170 million this year to $240 million next year to $427 million by 2020. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack has also voiced support for the idea.

I don’t doubt that Lang (president of Boston’s hotel and food service union UNITE HERE Local 26), Tibbits-Nutt (executive director of the 128 Business Council), and Pollack (former associate director for research at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University and onetime Conservation Law Foundation staffer) are well-meaning in their concern for low-income riders in the face of constant pressure for regular fare hikes.

But I think their push will create a two-tier system that undercuts the core principle of public services: universality. As the tremendous success of the Social Security program informs us, society as a whole does better when public services like mass transit contribute to the common good. If we start giving a better deal to one relatively powerless group like poor riders, then other more entitled groups like middle class riders will stop seeing support for the T as being in their best interest. Driving another nail in the coffin of the idea of public transportation as a human right and a critical public service when the governor’s seat is held by a Pioneer Institute privatizer like Charlie Baker and when a Democratic legislature has just suspended the anti-privatization Pacheco law for the T for the next three years.

Also, such a weak policy initiative can be undone as easily as it is enacted. Poor riders can have their discount taken away in a political heartbeat. And that’s the danger of mass transit advocates inside and outside government trying to forestall a necessary battle in the public interest with piecemeal reform. That’s the danger of hewing solely to politics of the “possible”—the politics of least resistance—and of buying into Maggie Thatcher’s dictum that “there is no alternative” to the neoliberal capitalist ideology. To forgetting about democracy. To absolving corporations and the rich of their responsibility to pay taxes, and privatizing government. Thus killing off public services while guaranteeing ever greater profits for the one percent.

Last spring, the Boston Globe‘s Shirley Leung predictably tried to put a positive spin on the means tested fare discount plan by inferring that it is somehow akin to progressive taxation—the opposite of Thatcher’s vision—where the poor pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes and the wealthy pay a higher percentage. But while declaring that the single fare system is a regressive tax on the poor, she tripped lightly past the fact that if we had a genuinely progressive income tax in Massachusetts we’d not only have plenty of money to properly fund the T without regular fare hikes, but would also be able to significantly expand the system. And get all those suburban SUV cowboys and cowgirls on a public bus or train once in awhile—which would be good for both the environment and for reminding conservative suburbanites that they live in a democratic society. Not a Randian individualist dystopia.

The constitutional amendment campaign by the labor-backed Raise Up Massachusetts coalition would go part way towards that goal if enacted by raising state income tax on just the rich and by dedicating some of the funds to mass transit. Which is helpful. But, absent a public groundswell an order of magnitude larger than the Occupy movement, we’ll apparently have to wait for a progressive coalition with the political will to fight for a full progressive taxation amendment that will really solve the problem of properly funding public services like the MBTA.

Meanwhile, former Transportation Secretary James Aloisi (a sometimes controversial figure himself) amply demonstrates what could be done to save the T without major tax reforms in a recent article in Commonwealth—starting with forcing state government to take back the billions in “legacy” and Big Dig debt it dumped on the T years back, shifting up to 10 percent of highway dollars to mass transit each year for five years, and committing the billions in freed-up revenue toward desperately needed system maintenance.

Aloisi points out that the highest possible fare hikes under the law passed in 2013 that limits T fare hikes to 5 percent every two years would only result in an additional $20-23 million in new annual revenue when its operating deficit is rising and the bill for deferred maintenance—that will allow the system to reach a “state of good repair”—is $7 billion (and rising). And that even the 10 percent fare hike that some legislators insist the 2013 law allows would only bring in around $40 million in new annual revenue. So fare hikes are only going to alienate more people from the T in an era when it needs strong public support more than ever.

There’s lots more political drama to come over the next few months before anything is set in stone, but my general admonition to transportation activists would be to echo what a mentor of mine, longtime labor activist Tim Costello, told me over and over again in situations like this years before he passed away: “Don’t bargain against yourselves!”

In other words, mass transit advocates should not start the current fight with a weak political proposal like trying to give low-income T riders lower fares and exposing a lot of other better off—but still economically vulnerable—riders to a stiff hike. They should fight to defend and expand public transportation on democratic principle.

If it becomes necessary to make political accommodations along the way during the hard grassroots fight it will take to make that goal a political reality, then at least public transit advocates will be bargaining from a position of strength … and will end up winning more than they started with.

Rather than less.

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

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

REMEMBRANCE AND PROTEST: THANKSGIVING THEN & NOW

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November 23, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

The following passage is excerpted from a piece I wrote in 2005. It recounts the story of King Philip’s War—which was fought across southern New England 340 years ago, and started not far from where I attended a Thanksgiving dinner that year at my cousin’s place in North Attleborough. Read it. Think about it. Discuss it with friends and family. And, if you can make it, join the United American Indians of New England and allies for a day of remembrance and protest at the 46th National Day of Mourning on November 26 at noon at Coles Hill in Plymouth. Get all the information, and a more accurate version of the history of  “Thanksgiving” at the UAINE website.

In 1675, a Wampanoag sachem named Metacomet (or King Philip to the English) launched—somewhat reluctantly—a war against English colonists in what is now Massachusetts that came closer than any other war launched by America’s native peoples to ending European domination in at least one corner of the “New World.” It was the last colonial war in which the two sides had relatively equal numbers, and used basically equivalent technology.

Had not disease already decimated the native population of the area decades before, the English never could have won.

The grievances of the faction of the Wampanoags that began the war—and the other nations that joined them including the Narragansetts, Pocumtucks, and Nipmucks—were fairly straightforward. The English unceasingly attempted by foul means and fair to convert the native nations to Christianity. And they continually overstepped the bounds of various treaties and contracts with native peoples in taking land that wasn’t theirs for their own exclusive use.

Two years later, roughly 800 colonists and 6000 Native Americans were dead. Dozens of towns and settlements on both sides were wholly or substantially destroyed. Atrocities were committed by all parties to the conflict—though the English outdid their opposition in that respect, unsurprisingly.

Most of the fighting took place in what are now Plymouth and Bristol Counties in southeastern Massachusetts, in much of Rhode Island, and in the Connecticut River Valley in both western Massachusetts and Connecticut—but it raged throughout modern day New England, and smouldered on for over 100 years with no official end date marked. No treaty, broken or otherwise, was ever signed by either side.

A number of Native American nations were for all intents and purposes destroyed—at least as political entities. The rest were assimilated or marginalized.

The war forever cast Native Americans into the role of “savages”—a subhuman status fit only for subjugation or extermination. For 300 years after the war, most American historians gave short shrift to native justifications for the conflict, and exulted in the glory of a holy war won against the forces of darkness.

After you absorb that Native American history, I recommend you delve into some local Black history that activists at Harvard Law School have unearthed. It seems the school was founded with money from a vile family of slavers by the name of Royall. Making matters worse, Harvard Law then adopted the Royall family coat of arms as its crest. The protesters are calling for the decolonization of their campus, the symbols, the curriculum and the history of Harvard Law School. Readers can find out more by following #RoyallMustFall on Twitter and Facebook.

And a big shout out to the #ConcernedStudents2015 student activists at Brandeis University occupying their administration building for racial justice on their campus as we go to press. Stay strong!

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

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

LEFT BEHIND: THE PARIS ATTACKS AND THE NEED TO FUND A MASS INDEPENDENT AMERICAN NEWS MEDIA

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Image by Kent Buckley

November 17, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Shortly after the Paris attacks on Friday, I flipped on the TV and saw that Fox 25 was feeding Fox News live during its normal evening entertainment slot. I was not surprised to find that News Corp HQ was taking full advantage of Americans’ understandable outrage about the tragic slaughter of more than 100 innocent people to foment hysteria against immigrants, refugees, Muslims and any other convenient target in the service of a raft of hard-right policy agendas. From calls to shut all European and American borders against people fleeing the horrific Syrian civil war, to demands that government increase surveillance and expand military and police budgets.

All par for the course. Fox will be Fox after all.

But that’s not what bugged me in this case. What bugged me was that the rest of the major American news media was not much better than Fox in its early reportage of the Paris crisis, and that we do not have a mass independent news media representing the positions of the broad left (and much of the populace) in this country: democracy, equality, peace, human rights, and social justice.

There are many interesting “humane and sane” independent news projects around the US—like theBoston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism that I’m helping organize. They’re just not large enough to reach masses of people during periods when global politics is fast-moving and when—as with this latest crisis—reactionary demagogues are given days of constant exposure to rehearse their racist colonialist Islamophobic fantasies unchallenged to audiences of millions on Fox and allied outlets. Which means that News Corp succeeds in pulling public discourse far to the right in the absence of major outlets willing to confront them when it matters most. The comedian journalists of The Daily Show excepted.

The politics of major American news organizations—conservative protestations to the contrary—now generally run from right to center. With editorial lines that are beholden to the rich and powerful. There are a few large outlets like the Boston Globe that lean left in select political economic and cultural debates, but they are slow to challenge powerful government officials and corporate leaders in dangerous moments like this (and the run-up to various recent imperial wars, the railroading of numerous anti-democratic “trade” treaties like NAFTA since the early 1990s, the defeat of several landmark global warming treaties in the same period, etc., etc.).

In many other countries, however, the media spectrum is much broader. There are mass news media of the left, right, and center. The left press is fairly large, influential, and far more likely to be critical of elite responses to political crises like the Daesh (ISIS) orchestrated killings in Paris. And to inspire their audiences to act politically to prevent such crises from being used by the hard right as an excuse to clamp down on civil liberties or rush headlong into armed hostilities. Especially, as with the Syrian civil war, when a multinational conflict and related refugee crisis is already ongoing.

This independent progressive news media has often been funded by donations from trade unions, non-governmental organizations, protest movements and—significantly—by subscribers who are sometimes organized into consumer co-operatives. Employees may also hold a stake in such publications through employee co-operatives. Examples of this kind of progressive mass independent news outlet include Die Tageszeitung in Germany and WOZ Die Wochenzeitung in Switzerland. There are others like Dagbladet Information in Denmark that have more traditional ownership arrangements.

But there has been nothing like these major news publications of the left in the US since the weeklyAppeal to Reason folded in 1922 and the NYC daily PM folded in 1948. Even the smaller city-based alternative weeklies that were founded in the 1960s and 1970s—like the Boston Phoenix—have been in rolling collapse for some time.

Working on BINJ, and having run the left-wing metro news weekly Open Media Boston for seven years before that, I have no doubt that there is more than enough talent in cities like Boston to build the kind of professional mass progressive news operations that this country desperately needs if we are going to remain a democracy in the coming decades.

The question is: Will the remaining progressive institutions with deep enough pockets to bankroll such major news operations step forward while there’s still time? The labor unions, the major nonprofit community organizations, the progressive businesses, religious denominations, foundations and wealthy donors. And will you—the audience that agrees we need such a left news media complex—step forward and donate to projects like BINJ, and to consortia of such projects?

I hope so. At BINJ, we’d like to work with any institution or organization that is forward-thinking enough to see the need for a mass progressive news media. And that is willing to put their money where their aspirations are. Email me at jason@binjonline.org to start that conversation today.

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

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

MASS BAIL REFORM NOW

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November 9, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Lots of innocent people are spending time in jail in Massachusetts. And unsurprisingly many of those people are poor and a disproportionate number are people of color. But they are not convicted criminals. They are people who are charged with a crime—often a minor infraction—and can’t afford to pay the cash bail they’ve been assigned. So judges consign them to what to amounts to debtors’ prison while they await trial.

The number of people in the Commonwealth’s pretrial holding has grown nearly 13 percent since 2008, according to a recent study by MassINC, Exploring the Potential for Pretrial Innovation in Massachusetts, while “arrests have declined by 10 percent and the number of commitments annually to state prisons and county houses of correction has fallen by 22 percent.”

Although bail data are woefully scarce statewide, numbers released by the sheriffs in three Massachusetts counties are telling. The study shows that “Black residents are overrepresented in the pretrial population by a factor of 10 in Barnstable County. As a share of Franklin County’s jail population, the proportion of Black detainees is nine times higher than the share of Black residents in the general population; in Norfolk County, the disparity is a multiple of five.”

Furthermore, defendants of color face much higher bail. “In Barnstable County, the median bail amount for African-American defendants is four times higher than for white defendants. Median bail amounts for African-Americans in Berkshire County are five times higher than for white defendants.”

Clearly, the Commonwealth’s mostly white judges have some explaining to do.

Regardless, immediate reform is needed. Advocates are proposing a number of approaches to improve the system, but the one that will likely have the fastest effect is to significantly reduce the use of cash bail. Judges already have the ability to release people charged with a crime on their own recognizance until trial. And it would be good if they did that more often—especially for Black defendants that are currently being slammed with cash bail at a higher rate and for a larger amount than white defendants charged with the same crimes in the same jurisdictions. An even better option would be for Mass. courts to use unsecured bonds that only require a cash payment if a defendant fails to appear for court and abide by conditions of release.

Readers interested in getting involved in the campaign for bail and other pretrial reforms should check out the Pretrial Working Group and the Massachusetts Bail Fund. Those organizations are working on “An Act reforming pretrial process” (H.1584/S.802) that will introduce a raft of solid improvements to the Bay State’s bail system if enacted.

If you want to help affected folks right away, go to the Mass. Bail Fund website and donate whatever you can afford. They help defendants who owe $500 bail or less stay out of jail prior to trial by directly paying their bill. It’s a stopgap solution, but a necessary one until real bail reform gets passed.

The idea that defendants are innocent until proven guilty is enshrined in common law, in the US Constitution, and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We cannot allow such a core democratic principle to be nullified for anyone in our society. Especially here in Massachusetts. So join the fight for bail reform now.

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

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

BOSTON ARTISTS UNITE

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Kenmore image by Henry Han via Wikimedia Commons

November 2, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

If you work in one of the creative professions, then you know how tough it has become to make a living in the Boston area in recent years. But there are a couple of upcoming events that are aiming to improve the political economic situation for local artists, writers, musicians, dancers, designers, filmmakers, journalists, and other creative workers, and both are definitely worth attending.

First, the annual Artists Under the Dome event is happening at the Massachusetts State House this Wednesday (Nov. 4) from 9:30 am to 2 pm. It’s hosted by the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition (MALC) together with the State Treasury, the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

MALC’s mandate is “to make Massachusetts one of, if not the best, State in the Nation for artists of all disciplines to live and work in,” and “to empower artists of all disciplines to become part of public policy dialog on the issues that impact their livelihoods.” As such, Artists Under the Dome is essentially a grassroots lobby day when creative workers are encouraged to connect with their state representatives and senators, and to speak with them about key legislation affecting the creative professions. According to MALC, legislators and other state government officials will assemble to “thank and talk directly with the artists community regarding issues, legislation, and regulations that directly impact working artists of all disciplines.”

There are a number of important arts-related bills coming up this legislative cycle—including An Act Establishing a Public Art Commission (HB 3667)—that will stand a much better chance of getting passed if lots of creatives show up to bend their legislators’ ears on Wednesday.

Second, on Nov. 19, creative professionals are invited to join my Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism colleagues and I for a panel discussion we’re organizing called “The Crisis in the Creative Professions: How Can We Make a Living in Boston Again?” The free public forum at the Community Church of Boston will take a look at how creative workers might organize more effectively to improve our situation. Speakers will include professionals from the affected fields and advocates from relevant advocacy organizations. The event is co-sponsored by Getting by in Boston, Mass. Creative Workers, and Community Church of Boston.

If you’re a creative worker and wondering how you can makes ends meet while doing what you love, plan to attend … and spread the word. For starters, go to Facebook and click “Like” on The Crisis in the Creative Professions event page to get plugged in.

Hope to see Apparent Horizon readers at both events.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ network director, a member of the MALC steering committee and active with Mass. Creative Workers and Getting by in Boston. He is a visual artist and journalist.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

SHUT PILGRIM NOW … AND SAVE MASS FROM NUCLEAR DISASTER

Image by Kent Buckley

October 26, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

About 50 people—most from the South Shore and Cape Cod—held a protest rally last Thursday at the Grand Staircase in the Massachusetts State House to demand the immediate closure of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station on a long list of public safety grounds. This in the wake of the facility’s owner, Entergy Corp., announcing it will shutter the plant by 2019 because it’s become too expensive to run.

The demonstrators, led by the several grassroots groups that comprise the Pilgrim Coalition, say that’s an improvement from the 2012 decision, by the industry-friendly Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to allow the plant to remain open until 2032. But every minute that Pilgrim remains open increases the possibility that some calamity could render large swaths of the Bay State radioactive for thousands of years.

It was the kind of event that left me thinking, “We need 50,000 people here, and another 50,000 people surrounding Pilgrim until Entergy shuts it down.” So great is the existential crisis of such a dangerous and aging nuclear reactor being allowed to continue operating far closer to Boston than the now-infamous Fukushima Daiichi nukes are to Tokyo.

Photo by Jason Pramas

Photo by Jason Pramas

Seriously, the Fukushima plant is 141 miles from Tokyo. Pilgrim is only 38 miles from the State House—well within the 50-plus mile distance of the furthest communities that ended up being contaminated by the radioactive plume from Fukushima.

In early 2014, Gov. Deval Patrick confirmed what area activists had been saying for years: there is no viable evacuation plan in the event of a disaster at Pilgrim. Many people living in areas affected by releases of radiation would essentially be told to “shelter in place” by Entergy and the Mass. Emergency Management Association. At the time, Patrick asked the NRC to step in and to close the plant if it failed to comply with regulations. Later that year, the NRC kicked the responsibility for developing real plans back to Patrick. In short: there is still no evacuation plan for communities near the plant, let alone for Boston.

As the protesters pointed out last week, following the 2011 meltdown at Fukushima, the NRC told Americans who were living and working within 50 miles of the plant to evacuate. Given that there are no evacuation plans for the less densely populated communities near Pilgrim, what exactly would we do in Boston if Pilgrim were to suffer a similar disaster? No responsible party has an answer to that very obvious question.

To make matters worse, the Pilgrim nuke is a General Electric Mark I type. Exactly the same type as five of the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi—including all four of the reactors that suffered catastrophic failures in 2011. Like Fukushima, Pilgrim is situated right on the ocean, and is therefore susceptible to damage from the kinds of super-hurricanes and massive winter Nor’easters that are expected to hit the Massachusetts coast with increasing frequency in the coming decades due to global warming—much like how Fukushima was hit by a tsunami caused by a powerful earthquake.

Pilgrim has already had numerous safety violations over the years—some of which, as with Fukushima, were not properly reported until recently. Nevertheless, the NRC has repeatedly downgraded the safety rating of the plant due to such problems, making it one of the lowest rated plants in the country.

Given these facts, the only sensible thing to do is to shut the plant down immediately. So I join the protestors in calling for Gov. Charlie Baker and the legislature to take all appropriate actions necessary to make that happen now, and for Entergy to think about more than just its bottom line. Rally speakers Sen. Dan Wolf and Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives can be looked to for legislative leadership in this fight, though it won’t be their last. Seabrook is only 39 miles from the State House and has similar problems, but that’s a column for another day.

Readers interested in getting involved in this critical campaign can check out the Pilgrim Coalition website.

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

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

SANDERS SHRUGGED

Image by Kent Buckley

October 20, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

One of the marks of what scholars call hegemonic discourse is the assumption that a society’s ruling ideology is considered so “normal” that it does not even need to be named, let alone explained. So it is with the Boston Globe and capitalism.

Most of the Globe’s editorial board, columnists, and reporters,  like virtually the entire mainstream American press corps,  start from the position that capitalism is the best of all possible political economic systems. And, while it may need periodic reform on behalf of “the neediest” in our society (as they like to put it), fundamentally “there is no alternative”—as Margaret Thatcher famously quipped—to capitalism. Understood as free markets, free trade, and corporate globalization. Yet only a handful of Globe staff, like conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby, openly state that position with any regularity.

How then are the Globe’s mainstream capitalist journalists to deal with the increasingly successful Presidential candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders, a socialist running as a Democrat?

If recent articles referencing Sanders are any measure, the Globe is choosing to deal with him by setting up straw men about his stated ideology and then knocking them down.

Take Joan Vennochi’s latest column, “When did Democrats become the party of free stuff?” In it she states that “progressive ideology” (whatever that is) “is increasingly about asking government to provide more for its citizens—and more for noncitizens, too.” She juxtaposes that already problematic typification to JFK’s famous call to “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for you country.” She cites that call as being “strongly rooted in the notion of self-reliance,” and in the belief that “government is not there to serve us. We are there to serve it.”

No Bernie Sanders Scandinavia is not a socialist utopia The Boston Globe

She then moves on to paint Sanders and his ideas as essentially a threat to said Kennedy values. The crux of her argument hinges on the definition of socialism that she chooses to use. Which, to get to the point, is incorrect. In this case, Vennochi cites a recent Washington Post blog post that describes socialists “as people who believe ‘that the government should provide a wide range of basic services to its citizens free of charge or at a discount, typically including university education and health care, as well as child care, housing, telecommunications, energy, and more.’ They also believe these services ‘should be available to everyone, not just the neediest.’”

The problem with that definition of socialists and socialism is that it describes a welfare state, not socialism. Welfare states are possible under pretty much any type of modern government. One of the earliest welfare states began under a German emperor in the late 1800s. There have been welfare states in fascist nations, like Italy under Mussolini, in capitalist dictatorships like Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, and here in the United States to a degree between the 1930s and the present. And yes, also in social democratic (a.k.a. democratic socialist) countries like Sweden—particularly from the 1960s to the 1980s.

So the definition of socialism is not the fact that it allows for a strong welfare state.

Socialism encompasses a broad sphere of ideas, but most socialists share in the belief that human beings should have equal rights (not one set of rules for privileged groups, and another for everyone else), that there should be democratic control of both political and economic institutions worldwide, and that a socialist society must strive to eliminate private control over the means of production. So that the working people of the world—the “99 percent”—can finally control our own destiny.

It’s commonly thought that socialism has to spring from national governments, but elements of socialism can also be introduced by regional and local governments, and critically by trade unions, nonprofit organizations, and co-operatives. Many anarchists are in fact libertarian socialists who believe that networks of very democratic local governments and smaller scale non-governmental organizations should run society— not nation-states, multinational corporations, and huge political parties of the traditional left, right, or center.

There can still be capitalism in socialist societies, but it is typically limited—and kept away from the commanding heights of core economic sectors like healthcare, housing, education, and energy. Also, politics is kept more free from the influence of concentrations of individual and corporate wealth in such societies, helping to ensure that the rich don’t use their funds to seize control over government as completely as they are now doing in the US.

Other articles referring to socialism in the Globe recently have the same flaw as Vennochi’s piece. To the extent they address socialism directly at all, they mischaracterize it. Then dismantle their mischaracterization.

I’ve been watching capitalist reporters take that kind of “ranting at an empty chair’ approach for my entire adult life when it comes to any ideology left of the Democratic Party, and have always thought it to be a cheap tactic and intellectually dishonest. If the Globe was a real forum of ideas, they would at least invite prominent socialist thinkers—of whom there are a number in Boston—to openly discuss and debate what socialism, democratic or otherwise, might mean for America on an ongoing basis.

A good step in that direction would be running the text of the speech that Sanders is planning on the meaning of democratic socialism in its entirety. A better one would be allowing local thinkers across the political spectrum—the full political spectrum, including intellectuals on the anti-capitalist left—to debate the merits of Sanders’ speech in the Globe’s pages. There are several people I could recommend. But why not invite the most famous left thinker on the planet, who lives here in the Boston area, and who theGlobe has resolutely snubbed for the last 50 years: Noam Chomsky.

Here’s his email: chomsky@mit.edu. He answers all communications faithfully. Heck, if the Globe wants, I’ll invite him for them. Globe editors are welcome to flag me at jason@binjonline.org. Anytime. My line, as ever, is open.

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

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

INTRODUCING #BINJBADBOSS

BINJBADBOSS LUMB

October 14, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Do you have a bad boss?

I don’t just mean a boss that you don’t want to hang out with after work. I mean a boss that’s ripping you off or otherwise harming you systematically over time. And doing the same to your co-workers.

Think about it. Have you worked overtime repeatedly, but not been paid for it? Are you not allowed to take legal holidays and sick days off? Are you not given time off at all?

Is your boss violating health and safety regulations, refusing to provide necessary safety equipment, and forcing you and your co-workers to risk life and limb on the job?

Does your boss repeatedly sexually harass you and your co-workers? Or worse?

If you’re a tipped employee, does your boss steal your tips?

If you’re a temp, part-timer, contractor, independent contractor, day laborer or any other type of contingent worker, should you be? Like is your job really the kind of job that needs to be short-term or “flexible” in some way, or is your boss just misclassifying you to avoid having to give you a decent job?

Does your boss refuse to give you and your co-workers raises, no matter how long you’ve worked at your job?

Did your boss ever threaten to fire you and your co-workers if you even talk about forming a union at your workplace?

Has your boss engaged in outright wage theft? Just taken cash money that’s owed to you in one way or another? Like, as was the case with a restaurant that I heard about last week, not paying employees wages at all — only tips, skimming those too, and threatening to rat out the largely undocumented immigrant waitstaff to ICE if they say boo to anyone who might help them?

If this kind of nonsense or anything like it is happening to you and your co-workers on the job, then the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism is here to help.

We’re not a replacement for starting a union or talking to the Mass Attorney General’s office or the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. But if you really feel you and your co-workers have a legitimate actionable grievance, we — as journalists working in the public interest — can do that thing that most bosses hate the most: we can shine light on your bad situation.

In doing so, we can help government, labor, and nonprofit advocates to find you and fight with you for a better deal on the job. And we can get you support from the general public when it counts.

So here’s how this will work: You flag us at #BINJbadboss on Twitter or by email at badboss@binjonline.org. Let us know what’s up. You can be as public or anonymous as you like when you contact us. If we see evidence of systematic abuse at your workplace, we’ll get on the case. We’ll publish columns or news articles that will shed some light on your bad boss.

Sound good? Good. My colleagues and I look forward to sharing your stories.

 

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

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

 
 

UMASS BOSTON WILL ALSO BE USELESS UNDERWATER

UMASS-AH-IMAGE

Image by Kent Buckley

October 5, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

This week’s column is a codicil to last week’s column on the need for local policy wonks and politicians to stop proposing major public infrastructure projects in parts of Boston that are going to flood during the increasingly frequent global warming-driven super storms slated to hit us in the coming decades. Which, together with rising oceans, stand a good chance of wiping our city off the map if we don’t begin a “strategic retreat” now.

Despite this very real and looming crisis, hapless Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung devoted her latest missive to the idea of building dorms for UMass Boston. The wildly unpopular Boston 2024 Olympics she flacked for revived a wildly unpopular plan to build dorms at the campus (in the form of an Olympic Village for athletes), and now Leung is trying to help manufacture a groundswell of support behind the original plan for 2,000 dorm beds — complete with positive quotes from some select bigs who are already on the way to making it a reality.

I’ve long been opposed to dorms at UMB. The school was founded with an “urban mission,” that dictates that its primary purpose is to educate Boston residents. Most residents being working and lower middle class people of color who often can’t even afford one of our increasingly expensive community colleges, let alone one of our increasingly expensive state universities. Not without crushing and criminal lifelong student loan debt.

columbiapoint_construction_2014_fall_magazine_usac_news

UMass Boston was specifically created as a commuter school with a mandate to educate and uplift the people of the city. And a commuter school it should stay. Having sat on a campus advisory board for future infrastructure development as a leader of the UMB graduate student union in 2006–2007, I believe that the biggest reason for wanting to build dorms (beyond sadly typical sweetheart deals with private developers) was — and remains — to attract young white upper-middle class suburban students whose families can afford to pay an outrageous sticker price for what should be a free (or at least cheap) school. Thus allowing the UMass Board of Trustees, the Mass. Board of Higher Education, and the state legislature to absolve themselves for their rank irresponsibility in refusing to fight for proper funding for the state public higher education system. All of which primarily benefits big “private” universities like Harvard, MIT, BU, and Northeastern that don’t want public competition for the huge amounts of federal and state money they suck up every year.

That said, there’s another reason why it’s a bad idea to build dorms — or indeed any new construction at the current UMass Boston campus: Because the campus is right on Boston Harbor, and therefore just as much at risk for future super storm destruction driven by global warming as proposed coastal projects like the North-South Rail Link that I criticized last week.

It’s time for UMass Boston and other public institutions to think seriously about the flooded future that climate scientists are predicting for the Boston coastline, and start moving their operations inland to higher ground. A sensible step for UMass and state higher ed leaders would be to start buying up property on hills near the present site of UMB — with an eye toward building a new campus. But having attempted to debate with some of them in the past on this very issue, I’m not holding my breath for any of them to do the right thing until it’s too late.

In the meantime, students, faculty, and staff in the UMass system might also change the conversation by pressuring those leaders to do the right thing. And if anyone gets some campus action going on this critical political front, I’m happy to help publicize the effort. I can be reached, as ever, at jason@binjonline.org.

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

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.