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Image via ELM Action Fund

October 2, 2015


When I heard that two former Massachusetts governors — Michael Dukakis and Bill Weld — are both pushing for a North-South Rail Link between North Station and South Station in downtown Boston, my first reaction was, “I guess they didn’t get my memo.”

The “memo” in question was my March 7, 2014 Open Media Boston editorial, in which I criticized a proposed “remediation strategy” by various local think tanks and officials in response to the negative effects of global warming over the next few decades. Said strategy largely involves ignoring the magnitude of the existential crisis facing Boston (and the planet), and sort of squirreling around its edges rather than tackling it head on while there’s still time to do so.

One of my key points was that even level-headed climate scientists are predicting a significant amount of sea level rise by 2100. Couple that with Boston getting slammed by ever more frequent “super storms,” and the net result of these linked disasters makes it a virtual certainty that Boston’s floodplain — which includes much of our present downtown area — will be reclaimed occasionally, and eventually permanently, by the Atlantic Ocean.

Funny thing about tunnels like the proposed North-South Rail Link, and about our famously sketchy Big Dig tunnels … they don’t work if they’re flooded. Much like New York’s subway system didn’t work after Hurricane Sandy.

So proposing any major infrastructure projects — let alone a rail tunnel — on a known floodplain in the age of global warming is a laughably bad idea. Especially when Boston has no real plan to slow the inevitable flooding of low-lying areas. And stopping the flooding is probably beyond our current technology, or any technology we are likely to develop in the coming decades.

But slowing the effects of rising oceans long enough to move key Boston infrastructure to higher ground by pursuing a “strategic retreat” strategy is possible (using tactics like our own version of Holland’s famous dike system). Unless global warming’s other negative impacts render our region uninhabitable within the lifetime of the current generation of children. In which case all bets will be off for our fair city anyway.

Assuming we don’t end up facing one of the absolute worst case scenarios, the best course of action that Boston regional planners and politicians can take going forward is to start strategic retreat projects immediately, avoid building anything significant near the harbor, and gradually develop the hills around the city as the new Boston. Starting with transportation hubs on that higher ground. That’s where the big money needs to go. To the projects that will help our city survive. Not to the rail link that should have been built decades ago.

Check out the full version of this column on Medium at:

Apparent Horizon is the first column syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ network director and a professor of critical media, visual art and political economy at the Global Center for Advanced Studies.

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

Why “Apparent Horizon”: This column explained


September 19, 2015


APPARENT HORIZON: Your Gateway to a Better Universe is the full title of my new column and it was inspired by a somewhat rarefied area of scientific inquiry. Current hypotheses in theoretical physics — notably one recently propounded by Stephen Hawking — discuss the region surrounding a black hole as an “apparent horizon.” Unlike the older model of black holes, Hawking et al propose that they do not contain infinitely dense singularities and that there are no sharp event horizons separating them from the rest of the universe. Matter (plus energy) is captured by the superdense gravity of a black hole, but its constituent information doesn’t make it inside. It stays in the apparent horizon in chaotic form. Where it remains until Hawking radiation, produced as the black hole slowly evaporates, carries it back to normal spacetime. Or possibly to another universe, since Hawking suggests that apparent horizons may be gateways to alternate universes. So this column functions as an apparent horizon for discussions of Boston politics, visual art and other topics of interest. Information gets chopped up, reordered and may transport the reader to another, hopefully better, universe of possibilities. Enjoy.

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.

LABOUR HATERS: The Boston Globe’s Worrisome Rightward Lurch


September 17, 2015


There was a time when the Boston Globe was led by what Americans like to call “good liberals.” In global terms that would have made them perhaps center-left at best. Reliably progressive on social issues. Able to at least consider the public good in political economic discussions while trumpeting the wonders of capitalism like every other mainstream news outlet. Of late, however, with staff cuts continuing apace and much of their content devoted to advertising-friendly fluff, they’re well on their way to becoming little more than corporate cheerleaders.

How else to explain yesterday’s bizarre editorial “The Labour Party’s worrisome leftward lurch”?

Why the pressing need for the Globe editorial board to bash the ascendency of a genuinely pro-worker socialist like Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom — which was, after all, founded as a socialist party? And governed as such for decades post 1945.

The piece attempts to smear Corbyn as wildly unrealistic and out of touch after the long and ostensibly glorious reign of Tony Blair’s corporatist New Labour wing of the Labour Party. This position relies on the low levels of American awareness of international politics. Because only near total public ignorance of foreign affairs could embolden Globe editors to paint the devastating effects of nearly four decades of successive warmongering neoliberal Thatcherite and Blairite governments as being positive on the balance for the vast majority of UK residents.

Worst of all, the Globe editorial board fails to mention that the UK public is overwhelmingly in support of Corbyn’s major policy proposals. But can barely restrain its glee in attacking those very same proposals. Most puzzling. They seem to be simply echoing their counterparts in the corporate media across the pond. And this passage in the middle of the hectoring editorial is where the knives really come out:

“The election of Corbyn as Labour Party leader represents a large leftward lurch even from the politics of Miliband. Corbyn’s stands include such outmoded ideas as nationalizing the UK’s railroads and energy companies, imposing a maximum wage on private-sector salaries, and the widespread reimposition of rent control. Some prominent Labour MPs are already upset about his refusal to rule out joining the campaign to pull Britain out of the European Union.

The polemic continues: “On foreign policy, Corbyn has called for unilateral nuclear disarmament for Britain, is against air strikes targeting ISIS, and supports a ban on the sale of weapons to Israel. He has talked of having Britain leave NATO, though more recently has called for a rethinking of NATO’s mission. He labeled the killing, rather than trial, of Osama bin Laden ‘a tragedy.’”

Let’s get this straight:

  • Corbyn’s “large leftward lurch” includes renationalizing the UK’s railroads and its energy industry — both of which did just fine as public services. Privatizing energy, an extremely undemocratic and brutal process in the case of the once-mighty coal industry, caused massive layoffs and the ongoing immiseration of entire sections of the country. Not to mention providing worse service across the board for higher prices while profits for stockholders soared. Privatizing rail resulted in “series of failures, scandals and fatal crashes, each at great expense to taxpayers” according to the pro-renationalization activist group Bring Back British Rail. Nevertheless, the Globe thinks such privatization was positive, and that Corbyn’s thinking about deprivatizing those industries is bad. Got it.
  • And a maximum wage is also bad? In an age when fewer and fewer people control more and more of the world’s wealth — and then use the money to rig political systems to their ever-increasing advantage — we don’t want to cap CEO salaries? Why would this a bad thing? Here’s what Corbyn has to say on the matter: “Why is it that bankers on massive salaries require bonuses to work while street-cleaners require threats to make them work? It’s a kind philosophical question really. There ought to be a maximum wage. The levels of inequality in Britain are getting worse.” Sounds like a fine idea from this corner. Especially here in the US where CEOs make more than 350 times as much as the average worker — compared to UK CEOs, who make 183 times as much as their average worker … up from 160 times as much in 2010.

  • And rent control? Why is that bad? The Globe itself reports on the huge and growing housing crisis in the Boston area. And is continually amazed that “letting the market handle it” isn’t working. Of course the market isn’t handling the crisis at all. It’s not designed to do that. It’s designed to make profits for the real estate and construction corporations. So some sort of rent control is definitely one reform that needs to come back to both the UK and Boston. Were the old rent control systems perfect? No. Could they be handled better now? Sure. Were they better than the current situation for working and middle class families in both locales?Hell yes. Then why can’t rent control be on the table, too?
  • Also, is pulling the UK out of the European Union bad? Even if the existing foundational treaties can’t be renegotiated to benefit the people of Europe? When the Greek crisis recently exposed the EU as just a front for German banks and American financial service hucksters providing toxic loans to entire countries via the Troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in collusion with various local oligarchs? And then reducing those countries to penury if they refuse to pay up under the worst possible terms? Is allowing bankers to hold sovereign nations hostage an example of the “good governance” that Globe writers are always crowing about?
  • And then … seriously now … is unilateral nuclear disarmament bad? Of what possible use are nuclear weapons to Britain or any country? They’re massively expensive, utterly pointless — except to the war companies that profit from their manufacture, and the reactionaries that insist on huge militaries — impossible to defend against, and if they’re ever used by anyone then … the entire planet is completely screwed. Because even if it’s “only one” nuke, the door will then be open for using more. And more. And more. Until the Earth is a cinder. So why is nuclear disarmament bad?
  • By the same token is banning “bomb diplomacy” against enemies like ISIS — which has worked so very well when the US, a servile UK and other puppet allies du jour used it in Iraq that it spawned ISIS in the first place — a bad idea? Is disbanding NATO — a cold war relic that a parade of US and European neocons are using to reignite hostilities with the Russia via proxy wars in border countries like Ukraine — so terrible?

Not that the Globe offered anything at all in the way of proof of its positions. It simply stated them. In the confident normative tone that is the mark of the edicts of hegemonic power. That is to say, these kinds of truisms are the stock in trade of journalists who are acting as mouthpieces for the rich and powerful. Which rich and powerful people and institutions don’t really matter.

What does matter is that attacking the kinds of positions that Jeremy Corbyn represents is pro-corporate, pro-war, anti-democratic and therefore quite right wing.

And how do we account for this strong rightward drift from Globe editors? One could speculate, as above, but it’s not clear.

So Globe readers need to contact them and ask them. Early and often. Boston is about the last city on the planet that needs two major right wing corporate newspapers.

PS: Shout out to the Boston Carmen’s Union, who slapped down Joan Vennochi’s pro-Pioneer Institute column in last Friday’s Globe with a feisty fact-laden rejoinder on their website.

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.



Boston Fight for 15 March, April 2015 — Photo © 2015 Jason Pramas 


A number of contradictions hung in the air at the Greater Boston Labor Council’s annual Labor Day breakfast on Monday. Foremost among them was that the Democratic Party-dominated Massachusetts legislature has agreed to release the MBTA from the provisions of the anti-privatization Pacheco Law for three years — which will allow Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, to start to privatize some of the beleaguered transportation agency’s services.

This unfortunate decision by the Dems spurred hundreds of Boston Carmen’s Union members to stage a protest outside the labor breakfast. With Pres. Barack Obama about to headline inside, the transit workers demonstrated in favor of keeping the T public and saving good union jobs. A worthy goal to be sure. So worthy that Steven Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, spoke at the rally as well as the breakfast. To his credit. But neither he nor any other labor leader at either event laid out any specific plan to punish politicians who support replacing decent unionized jobs with lousy non-union jobs. Vague warnings were about as heated as things got. And ironically, the rally primarily targeted the Republican governor who proposed the hated privatization move rather than the Democratic legislature that disposed it. Or perhaps not so ironically.

In an ordinary year at an ordinary Labor Day breakfast, the rally and maybe the remarks of the ranking local politician present would have been the biggest excitement of the day. But this year, Obama not onlyaddressed the breakfast, but also used his speech to announce an executive order providing up to seven days of annual paid sick leave to 300,000 federal contractors. Unable — and often unwilling — to push larger versions of this and similar labor reforms through either friendly or unfriendly Congressional sessions, Obama has taken to using executive orders to improve the situation of discrete groups of workers that he can affect directly when it suits his political purposes.

The problem being that any future President can reverse such executive orders upon taking office. And Presidents often reverse their predecessors’ executive orders. So they are a policy tool of only limited usefulness.

The other problem, and certainly the most significant contradiction on offer Monday, is that it has been decades since the Democratic Party has been reliably pro-labor — which means that neither major party genuinely supports American workers in this era.

Despite this monumental political crisis facing American labor, two linked spectacles were on display — for those who cared to look — at Monday’s breakfast that demonstrated the reluctance of current union leadership to break away from the Dems. The first was that the Boston labor establishment hosted Democratic leaders and candidates shortly after the legislature they control handed a new Republican governor a victory on his dangerous agenda to further privatize and destabilize critical public services like the MBTA. As a fellow union held a significant protest against that agenda outside. Some offending pols were then scolded by speakers, but most current labor leaders will not actually follow through on threats. Instead they’ll do what they have grown too accustomed to doing: brag about minor achievements, and remain silent as a tomb about their many failures.

The second was the even larger spectacle of the President of the United States — a Democrat — flying national labor leaders up to Boston in Air Force One, and offering unions an olive branch in the form of adecent (but minor) reform. All the while eliding the fact that he has personally inflicted some of the most bruising defeats on labor in history — including winning fast-track approval authority for a so-called “trade agreement,” the Trans-Pacific Partnership, earlier this summer. An agreement that, among other very bad things, will accelerate the “race to the bottom” among the global workforce by allowing corporations to more easily outsource jobs to countries with worse labor standards than our own. Yet those same labor leaders ate up the President’s very temporary attention with gusto. At least in public.

While it may seem strange that labor continues to cleave to a political party that is openly committed to supporting the very capitalist forces that are ripping this country and planet asunder, it makes sense if one understands that most labor leaders are terrified to let the increasingly feral and triumphalist Republicans gain any more political ground. Yet they have no strategy to break free of the two-party duopoly. And the Republicans are hammering labor mercilessly, it’s true. Because the Democrats not only let them do so, but ally with them more often than not.

This regrettable alliance with the Democrats prevents labor from organizing waves of mass mobilizations and other forms of direct action against corporations and the rich that might actually change the American political scene. Because such mobilizations would be difficult to control. Too much like Occupy, which scared some labor leaders (and some ostensibly left-leaning non-profits) so much that they tried to co-opt it or outflank it on a number of occasions.

By way of example, the Service Employees International Union did lead the latest in a series of marches and rallies Monday for its version of the Fight for 15 campaign following the Labor Day breakfast. But it was a march of hundreds — a good number of whom, as ever, were staffers from participating unions and progressive non-profits. Not the needed march of tens of thousands of enraged and emboldened Boston workers, synced with marches of millions of workers in cities around the country. And thus it presented no challenge at all to a Democratic establishment that has failed to enact needed reforms, even when it has controlled the entire Congress and Presidency (as was the case after Pres. Bill Clinton’s 1992 win, and Obama’s 2008 victory). Or entire state governments, as with Massachusetts under eight years of Gov. Deval Patrick.

Improving this difficult situation for labor will require a number of internal reforms, even as the various external crises are taken on. Highest on the list should be democratizing the more authoritarian unions to allow free, full, and ongoing discussions of key political economic issues. Followed by regular, binding, union-wide referenda on vital questions like: “What politicians, if any, should we support in the next election cycle?” And: “What politicians should we punish?” Such a program of reform is absolutely necessary if labor is going to transform itself into the militant independent force for democracy that it once, at its best, was. And stop the kinds of weak back room deals that have passed for political programs in many sectors of American labor for far too long.

At the end of the day, it’s up to union members to change their organizations from one-stop free money and campaign worker shops for the pro-business Democratic Party into standard bearers for the just society to come.

Will they do so before American labor unions cease to be a meaningful social force? That remains to be seen.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network. APPARENT HORIZON is the first column syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is a longtime labor activist and BINJ network director. He recently lost his job as assistant professor of communication after helping lead a successful core faculty union drive at Lesley University with SEIU Local 509. He is currently challenging the Lesley University administration’s refusal to renew his contract at the National Labor Relations Board.


Boston Celebrates May Day


Lessons for May Day

by Jason Pramas (originally credited as Editor)


Today is May Day. There are many Americans, including many on the American left, who have a somewhat skewed view of the history of May 1st as a workers’ holiday. (There are even more Americans who have no idea what May Day is at all, and a few old and cranky conservatives who know the holiday as “Loyalty Day.”) The idea is that it was called into being by early socialists and anarchists in the United States on May 1st, 1886, and that it spread worldwide in remembrance of the anarchist Haymarket Martyrs who were falsely persecuted for throwing bombs at the original May Day protest in Chicago that year and later hung for their political beliefs.

That all has an element of truth to it, but according to Prof. Priscilla Murolo – a historian at Sarah Lawrence College and author of From The Folks Who Brought You The Weekend: A Short Illustrated History of Labor in the United States – it’s a bit more complicated than that.

It seems that May Day as a labor holiday (its “Red Root” according to Wikipedia, as opposed to its “Green Root” as a pagan European holiday) was initiated not by the large and basically left-wing labor federation of the 1880s, the Knights of Labor, but rather by its far smaller and technically more conservative sibling, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions.

In September 1882, the New York City Central Labor Council of the FOTLU called a “labor holiday” parade and 30,000 men and women marched for labor rights. Quoting Murolo “Many marchers carried banners and placards emblazoned with the slogan ‘Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Sleep, Eight Hours for What We Will.'” This holiday quickly spread around the U.S. and eventually became the official American Labor Day. The government endorsement and its later use as an anti-communist alternative to May Day has kind of destroyed its street cred among left militants in the U.S. But Labor Day has legitimate radical roots and should be reclaimed by the American left. And it would be a mistake to forget that the International Workingmen’s Association, the storied socialist First International, called for the eight-hour day at its founding convention in 1866; so doubtless there were some active socialists in the ranks of FOTLU 16 years later.

The FOTLU continued to push for the eight-hour day, not through legislative action, but through direct action. In 1884, the FOTLU Convention passed an amazing resolution by the standards of modern national labor conferences that stated “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” The admonition to the U.S. government and the American ruling class was clear. American working people were calling a nationwide general strike on May Day in just over a year. And 350,000 working men and women at 11,000 establishments did just that. Over 65,000 of them hit the streets in Chicago alone, striking fear into the hearts of the city’s capitalists, and resulting in the reaction that led to the deaths of anarchist strike leaders Albert Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel and Louis Lingg.

The Knights of Labor’s national leadership did not back the strike call, but its local assemblies did which ironically made the fight for the eight-hour day the Knights’ largest campaign. It also led to the organization’s demise, when in months following the events of May 1886, the leadership refused to back continued strike calls by its locals. This emboldened employers who proceeded to crush Knights assemblies in most industries. Its membership plummeted from 750,000 in 1886 to 220,000 in 1888. Interestingly, the last Knights local assembly was a Boston movie projectionists union that merged into another union in 1949 (area projectionist unionists now in the Industrial Workers of the World should take heart in this).

Meanwhile, in December 1886, the FOTLU voted to expand its mandate and become the American Federation of Labor – which soldiers on to this day as America’s largest labor federation, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations.

So why bring this history up? Two reasons. Many of the militant activists behind the original May Day, in both labor federations of the day, were immigrants. Most of the Haymarket Martyrs were immigrants. So May Day in the U.S. in addition to being one of two labor days, must also be recognized as an immigrants’ day. In the last few years, May Day has seen a revival nationwide precisely because immigrants have made it so. Many of them hailing from countries that celebrate the day as the official workers holiday when the country of its birth doesn’t.

May Day is now inexorably tied to the fight for immigrants’ rights in the U.S. So all Open Media Boston viewers are encouraged to get out and march for labor and immigrant rights today starting with a 4 p.m. Rally at the Boston Common Bandstand, and a 5:30 p.m. March to Copley Square.

The second reason will be a little more obscure to many, but worth mentioning nonetheless. The house of American labor is again split in two, as it has been on a number of occasions. Three years ago, led by the large and growing Service Employees International Union, a new labor federation called Change to Win left the AFL-CIO. The CtW platform sounded more progressive than the AFL platform. There was much talk of pouring money into organizing and vastly expanding union ranks. But that has not really come to pass. If anything, CtW is coming to be seen as merely a creature of the SEIU which in turn is seen as a top-down undemocratic union that is making some uncomfortably accomodationist deals with American capitalists in the name of “organizing.” At the same time, the weakened AFL is looking more grassroots and more progressive in spots – particularly in member-unions like the Communication Workers of America.

Of course, neither federation is uniform in its political orientation or organizing strategy. And that’s the point here. The way forward for the American left and the working people of America – immigrant and non-immigrant – is not to put all our cards in any one labor organization (or political party for that matter). Instead it is to broadly map out what we really collectively need and want for better lives and a better society, and go out and demand it from the powers-that-be. Working and middle-class activists fought an ultimately successful, if messy and still contested, fight for the eight-hour day in the 1800s and 1900s. None of the labor federations of that era were solely responsible for the victory, and many unnamed political tendencies and organizations and individuals deserve credit as well. Ultimately, the form of their organizing was never as important as their message. And therefore, what feminists in Redstockings of the Women’s Liberation Movement pointed out to women in the 1970s in their book Feminist Revolution holds just as true for working people everywhere today – “go for what you really want.”

So everyone have a great International Workers Day. Get out and demonstrate (and party) for a better America and a better world. Keep your eyes on the prize. One day we’ll make every day May Day.

Related Story: Boston Celebrates May Day

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Boston Summer Youth Jobs Program Fails in a Time of Crisis

by Jason Pramas (originally credited as Editor)


It’s pathetic, but true. Boston can’t even keep a proper summer youth jobs program going these days. This according to a Boston Globe piece indicating that the city’s 3 main summer jobs programs – run by Action for Boston Community Development, Boston Private Industry Council and the Mayor’s Office – expect to fall far short of the 9,500 jobs provided last summer.

There’s an old social democratic saw that says if we’re going to have a capitalist economic system with built-in permanent unemployment then we sure as hell had better have a cradle-to-grave living wage to provide a minimum taxpayer-funded income for everyone who needs it.

But since this is the U.S. we’re talking about, even that kind of minimal safety net was successfully beaten back by corporate forces decades ago. So the next best thing historically was to run various public jobs programs coupled with Social Security, Welfare, vets pensions, Medicare and a few other Depression-era artifacts to keep people on their knees through hard times, if not on their feet.

Yet even that pale shadow of a government for the people was too much for triumphalist corporations from the 1970s onwards. So government-run jobs programs at all levels are a thing of the past, unemployment is on the upswing, and the remaining U.S. social safety net is in such precarious shape after several years of the latest Bush regime that it barely lives up to the name.

And now, despite a growing list of economic woes, it seems that Boston is not going to be able to provide even the number of summer jobs for young people that it did last year – which was already insufficient in a time where the ranks of “high-risk teens” is growing and almost 25,000 of Boston’s children (about 23%) live in “intense poverty.”

According to a 2005 study by the Boston High-Risk Youth Network, about 8,000 of the over 100,000 youth in the 16-24 age range are classed as “idle youth” (neither in jobs nor school). It is, therefore, quite clear that our city, state and federal governments need to step up and provide sufficient public jobs to give young people a fighting chance for economic survival.

After all, those 8,000 down-and-out youth are hardly the only ones in need of summer – and long-term – employment. And if last year’s 9,500 summer jobs is now slated to drop far below that figure this summer because of cyclical and structural factors in the regional economy as we enter a serious recession, what can we expect will happen to all these unemployed kids?

Simple. Rather than have a city with full employment, and a rising standard of living for all, as we would with a real social safety net, we will instead get rising levels of poverty for over a quarter of Boston’s families – and rising crime, including serious crime like homicides, across the city.

So it seems that, once again, profit trumps people. Rather than reinstitute progressive taxation at all levels of government to pay for the public services we need to have a good society, our corporate-dominated government would just assume let society go to hell as long as profits keep flowing. And perhaps it’s just a bit ironic that the chicken coop that is city government allows foxes like the Boston Private Industry Council to guard the economic welfare of our young people at the same time that such corporate lobby groups fight tooth-and-nail to prevent the expansion of needed social programs across the board. But that’s a discussion for another day. As is a serious look at overall unemployment figures for Boston and environs.

However, there’s still time to act in this case. Mayor Menino needs to seriously get on the stick with what he has long considered one of his policy priorities, and find public money to create a real public jobs program to make sure that every young person that needs a living-wage job this summer will have one. It seems likely that there are two or three things in our fair city that young people in such a program might be able to spruce up, no?

Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC-SA

Excerpts from the Town Meeting on Black Male Joblessness

14 April 2008 – 6:25pm
by Jason Pramas


News video on the April 4, 2008 Town Meeting on Black Male Joblessness at the University of Massachusetts Boston in Dorchester, MA, USA – commemorating the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death. The event was sponsored by the Union of Minority Neighborhoods and featured MA State Senator Dianne Wilkerson, Boston, MA City Councilor Chuck Turner, Horace Small of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, and Brian Corr of the Cambridge, MA Peace Commission. Sarah Ann Shaw (not featured in this video) was the moderator. 10 minutes, 51 seconds.

For more info, check out

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Boston’s Muni Wifi Woes Exacerbate the Digital Divide

The news last week was that Boston’s municipal wireless internet access (“muni wifi”) plan had slowed to a crawl – the city’s “public-private” muni wifi partnership having raised far less than the estimated $15 million it claims it needs to deliver cheap broadband wifi access to Boston’s neighborhoods.

At stake is a much-needed end to the “digital divide” that keeps Boston’s working class communities and communities of color in the information dark ages compared to more wealthy, and predominantly white, communities. But at this point, the digital divide is alive and well in neighborhoods like Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, South Boston, and Hyde Park. And there’s no solution in sight.

This problem is part of a national trend – and part of the failure of national telecommunications agencies like the Federal Communications Commission to fulfill their mandate to protect the public interest.

Over the last few years, cities around the U.S. got easily suckered by a series of ill-fated private sector dominated plans to deliver muni wifi – only to watch them all fall like candlepins as internet corporations like Google and Earthlink realized that they were never going to be able to make the kind of money they’d hoped for from muni wifi and pulled out of projects around the country. These developments took place even as telecoms and cable companies like Verizon and Comcast fought the muni wifi proposals tooth-and-nail as “unfair competition” to their private (vastly overpriced and pathetically slow) internet networks.

Boston tried to outclever such internet industry-led plans (and, not conincidentally, preempt attacks from Verizon and Comcast), by following Cincinnati’s lead, and proposing the creation of a non-profit entity to run its nascent wifi project – although the city’s partnering with various high-tech corporations made it questionable how non-profit the effort would really be out of the gate.

Regardless, the city’s plans quickly hit the aforementioned fundraising wall, and the few pilot tests of its system ran into protests from the local blogging community that it was “filtering” (i.e., censoring) what websites users could access. Which can be read as one of a number of ways of purposely hobbling its system’s performance to appease the telecom industry’s hollow claims of unfair competition with their paid internet services. In the Cambridge public wifi plan – which also looks to be in trouble – a similar hobbling effect is created by only offering slower-than-normal internet connections through its system.

It’s actually pretty difficult to find accurate information on what’s up with Boston muni wifi as the rather limited energy behind the project has seemingly dissipated. All the relevant city or advocate websites are either out of date or shut down. City of Boston web pages referring to the project haven’t been updated since 2007 (or 2006 in some cases). The same is true of City of Cambridge web pages on their muni wifi project.

The Boston Foundation and other non-profits sponsors are silent. Most noticeable is the absence of the Boston Wireless Advocacy Group formerly run by Michael Oh, the guy that owns the Tech Superpowers internet cafe and Mac repair business on Newbury Street. He was the most visible booster of the project next to Mayor Menino in 2006, but has dropped from view since then.

Still, wherever Boston’s at with its existing muni wifi plans, the fact remains that there’s just no substitute for a fully public taxpayer-funded muni wifi system. For example, comparing where U.S. cities are now to cities like Paris, France that have real public muni wifi (check out this site for a map of Paris’ public wifi access points) shows precisely how far behind the curve we are. Even forcing Comcast and Verizon to change their home and business wifi service contracts to allow for public use of the tens of thousands of existing wifi access points around the city (the way Fon and other European telecom companies are doing in many cities) would be an excellent alternative to the current mess.

Of course both these potential solutions involve privileging the public sector over the private sector – and with corporate power over our government at all levels still in the ascendant, this will only happen if powerful social movements arise to force the issue. Winning a real public wifi system will take a great deal of work, needless to say, but it’s surely a battle worth fighting.

Because unless Boston and other American cities are willing to admit that access to the internet is a basic right in an age where being an information have-not is the equivalent of being shut out of the political and economic systems, and agree to devote tax money to provide the needed coverage as a public service, then we’re going to continue to see only fitful progress toward the goal of universal public internet access in the U.S. There will certainly be no improvements on the federal level until there’s a changing of the guard after the November Presidential election, and maybe not even then. So progress in regional centers like Boston will still be critically important to moving policy change on the national level.

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