Sunday, November 25, 2012


We’ve just gone through an election where the discussion was centered exactly where the voices of greed and anger wanted it to be, on their crybaby need to shrink the size of American government. To methodically eviscerate, program-by-program, its power and its mission till ultimately our government would no longer be capable of caring for its people or governing responsibly.  And if it turned out it was also incapable of regulating and inhibiting bad behavior by predatory oil companies and billionaires, so much the better!

Who gave the rich and powerful, not to mention angry conservatives, the right to set both the agenda and the topic of discussion for America’s civil intercourse? And who decided they were allowed to purchase outright the entire American political process, as they attempted to do this last election? Happily, there were a lot of votes they couldn’t buy. And a lot of discerning voters they couldn’t instruct on what to believe. But they made such a racket clamoring for their negative agenda, the media seemed unable to hear or discern the quieter voices engaged in the process.

Well, as one of those quieter voices, let me give a rousing cheer for a government large enough to care for its citizens and maintain a safety net under their feet. A government that will help pick them up when they fall, and give them a hand when they need it—without resentment or harsh judgments. Obviously a government can’t do everything for its people, nor should it even try. But there’s so much it can accomplish—so much that needs to be accomplished—we never have to worry about running out of things for it to do. We could clean up our air, free students from lifelong debt, bring illegal aliens in from the cold, salvage more homes from the clutches of the banks, care for our seniors, fix our broken health care system, protect consumers, repair storm ravaged communities and make college more accessible. We could do all that if we didn’t have the Republican party, guided by the selfishness and obscene wealth of its prime supporters and fueled by the zealotry of its Tea Party fanatics, standing in front of progress like a brick wall straddling a train track.

Which government would you prefer?  One that Republicans and their wealthy backers would have us strip down to bare essentials, or one that is worthy of the ideals voiced by our founders and our greatest leaders?

Most of all, we need a government as big as our idea of America. If our vision is guided by those who are small-minded, petty and grasping, we will forge a government that reflects their mediocrity of spirit. If we see ourselves having a moral obligation to share our prosperity and watch over others, we become big enough to rescue Europe from the Nazis and powerful enough to rescue a single mother and her children from the spiraling grip of poverty.

America has always been bigger than the people who lead her, though there are many now who seek to dampen her grandiosity, reduce her generosity, and deny her moral obligation to care for those less fortunate. Any student of history knows a government so painfully insignificant and uninspired was never intended for an America as great as the one we were given as our birthright.

Not only does America need a big government, she needs a government strong enough to stand up to this raucous horde of complainers who deny anything they don’t agree with: global warming, the physical consequences of rape, the theory of evolution, the equality of women, the need for the wealthy to pay taxes. They deny everything except the dangers of living in a big scary world. Which is why we spend more than half the country’s wealth on our military machine, sucking the lifeblood from budgets that would otherwise go to educate our children, operate our trains, build our cities, run our parks, and care for our veterans.

The Republicans and the right-wing fanatics have kept us trapped in time like flies in amber. We’re fated to forever re-negotiate gains made fifty years ago. That’s why, today, we’re still fighting for racial equality, the right to vote, the separation of state and church, and a woman’s right to choose.  And, if we allow these self-righteous misanthropes to continue their obstruction, the same thing will happen with Obamacare, leaving us to spend the next fifty years fighting for its survival.

So, here’s my vote for an American government big enough to help create and protect opportunity for all, and to ensure no one segment of the population gets more than its fair share. A government unapologetically magnanimous in meeting the needs of its citizens. A government as well intentioned and self-sacrificing as those World War Two soldiers who made up the greatest generation.

Anything less…well, just wouldn’t be American.

Monday, November 19, 2012


It is a city comfortably settled, it is a city ripe for development, it is city in need of housing for families and those with low incomes, it is a city that hopes to lower rents and create housing by building towers for the wealthy, it is a city dedicated to improving the lives of its current residents, it is a city committed to bringing in new people and new revenue streams at the expense of current residents, it is a city whose roads and T-stations are already overcrowded, it is a city that wants to believe more capacity remains, it is a city that needs a citywide study to determine the city’s future, it is a city that wants to blindly step on the gas to keep things moving. It is a city still liveable, it is a city whose liveability is on the selling block.

Whatever you believe about the City of Cambridge: believe this…it is on the cusp of change. Big change. The kind of change that comes when you add over 18 million square feet of NEW development to a city already densely populated. That’s 18 million square feet of new labs, offices and residences, ADDITIONAL to what’s here today! Which will generate over 100,000 ADDITIONAL car and transit trips a day.

If the Community Development Department hadn’t spent most of its time and psychic energy trying to bring in more development, rather than helping us prepare for the future, we in the community who care about such things might actually be engaged in a sensible discussion on what the City of Cambridge should be doing to prepare for this virtual tsunami on the horizon. We might be studying possible impacts on our schools, on our air quality, on our city streets, on city services, and on dozens of other aspects of our lives.

But instead, rather than study and anticipate the impacts of all this developmental activity, our civic leaders appear to be caught up in a dance that has them pandering to it, inviting more in, treating developers as the solution rather than just more of the same problem. And the Community Development Department, our agents of change and preservation, often appears to be working more for the interests of development than the community, as if maximizing developer profits was the only way to gain concessions for the city.

There’s an interesting parallel you can draw between what’s happening here in Cambridge and the effort nationally of rich and powerful interests to control the debate as they maximize their profits (or tax advantages). Isn’t this the same as their trickle-down economic theory—that we’ll award some lucky millionaire the rights to build 15 story apartment towers with 130 apartments, and thus help him earn many extra millions of dollars, as long as he doles out 15-20 of those apartments for our poorer citizens? Isn’t that another way of saying we should live off the largess of our job creators, eating whatever crumbs trickle down to us, and in return we tax them less than we tax their secretaries?

But fear not! We’ll not spend a second of time pondering the fate of our schools or the congestion of our roads, rather we’ll argue and plead our case against the gradual diminishment of Cambridge one zoning petition at a time, one preliminary set of recommendations at a time, one City Council hearing at a time, one Oped at a time. All in the interest of the destiny and long-term well-being of this city we love.

There were two meetings last week that reflected this tale of two Cambridges in the flesh. Meeting Number One was held by the Central Square Advisory Committee, overseen and guided by the Community Development Department (CDD). In which the committee publically reviewed their final draft of recommendations for the rezoning of Central Square. Meeting Number Two, held by the Cambridge Residents Alliance, was a community-led forum on transportation.

In Meeting Number One, The Community Development Department offered a long involved presentation with slides, but the ugly truth could not be hidden. They were recommending building heights of 140 feet in a Central Square neighborhood that had long served as a buffer zone between the square and the neighborhood. Now they were zoning for 14 or 15 or 16-story apartment towers in an overlay district that essentially expanded the Central Square footprint to include the two streets that run parallel to Mass Ave. on either side. This overlay district was designed so that city-owned land, a series of parking lots and a two-story garage, could now be sold off to developers and, possibly, used for residential projects.

So what, you might ask, is the big deal? There must be tradeoffs for having such out-of-scale buildings casting shadows on our neighborhood… Of course there is, the community gets back a set percentage of the units, usually 11-15%, to be set aside for low- or middle-income folks.

What if the neighborhood doesn’t want the shadows, or the noise, or the congestion, or the added newcomers further crowding an already crowded T-ride?

And what if the neighbors actually do want the low- and middle-income units that come with the towers?

Let’s build them ourselves! Only not as towers. Once we let go of satisfying the gluttony of developers we can actually look at building structures appropriate to the site and to the neighborhood. We can be just as resourceful as the developers, since we'll be building small and efficient instead of big and expensive. “We” being the City of Cambridge, of course—with PCA funds, or by digging up all possible sources of funding before we’d ever think of defacing the neighborhood with sky-blocking towers. 

In the other meeting, Meeting Number two, late Saturday afternoon, men and women who not surprisingly support the city building its own small-scale affordable housing communities, were gathering to present a forum on the grim future realities of real estate and transportation in Cambridge. Hoping that by presenting the facts, they might also help shape the city’s future.  Right now, the millions of dollars that come with development are driving both the discussion and the city’s actions, they're certainly not driven by the needs of the city or its residents. 

In Meeting Number One, Cambridge was served up as a side of beef to be chopped up into its different cuts. 140 feet of height in one district, 160 feet of height in the next. Or should we call them Rib Cut and Pork Chop? 

In Meeting Number Two, Cambridge was seen as a gem whose facets can be easily scratched, and thus need protection. It's our very diversity and liveability, now at risk from over-development, that makes us so attractive to those who would come in to share our city, all the more reason for not allowing market realities to dominate our thinking or treat us roughly.

Meeting Number One continued to ignore the fact that 18 million new square feet of development is coming to Cambridge. Bringing more cars, bicyclists, T-riders and bus passengers than the present systems can handle.

Meeting Number Two attempted to thwart the misguided lurch towards weakening our zoning protections, that was coming out of Meeting Number One .

Meeting Number Two envisioned a Cambridge whose delicate intertwining of races, economic groups—blue collar and white—is a rare and beautiful thing that needs to be protected, while Meeting Number One saw a Cambridge whose liveability, liberality and academic propinquity were merely happy underpinnings of its highly sexy, and highly priced, real estate market. And too much of a good thing can't be all bad, can it? 

In the end, of course, one vision will win out. Whether it’s the Voice of Money finally convincing us to let the investors and big developers make more money off our city so that a few of us can eke out better lives. Or if it’s the Voice of Reason asking us to be good stewards of this city we have been handed down. A voice that believes the abiding principle in steering Cambridge towards the future must be borrowed from the Hippocratic oath, “First, Do No Harm!”

There were two meetings last week that were sharply focused on where we see Cambridge evolving. They were also sharply divided, one calling for expanding higher-rise development, the other calling for a temporary halt to all up-zoning, so we can study and prepare for what the future is sending our way.

Which meeting spoke to you?

Cambridge is Two Cities
It is a city comfortably settled, it is a city ripe for development, it is city in need of housing. It is a city that hopes to create housing by building towers for the wealthy, it is a city dedicated to improving the lives of its current residents, it is a city committed to bringing in new people and new revenue streams at the expense of current residents, it is a city whose roads and T-stations are already overcrowded, it is a city that wants to believe more capacity remains, it is a city that badly needs a citywide study, it is a city that wants to blindly keep things moving. It is a city still liveable, it is a city whose liveability is on the selling block. It is a city some of us love, it is a city some would love to develop.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


One of the chief political lessons of this new millennium is that Republicans have taken up residence in an alternative universe. You only have to watch them conduct the nation’s business, or hawk their unattractive political ideology, to realize how dark and angry and bereft of joy their alternate world truly is.

Strangely enough, for all the wealth their supporters possess, Republicans live in a world of shortage and insufficiency. For them, there will never be enough to go around. For them, the danger is clearly represented in the hordes of poor and struggling masses who, they worriedly suspect, would rise up to seize and redistribute their mountains of riches and possessions.

It would be, as they mostly fear, a marriage of the French and Bolshevik revolutions…

“Off with their wallets!”

Contrary to popular belief, women are allowed into this alternate Republican universe—as long as they mind their manners and their sexual organs, leave their opinions at the door, stop enticing men to rape them, and desist complaining about men getting more money and the best jobs. Hispanics, too, have their place in this ersatz America, as long as they’re willing to work for next to nothing. And promise not to bring any of their family over.

But, hey, I haven’t done a good deed all day. How about you and I rescuing the elephant from his dark unfriendly world, bringing in light, air, and the happy chatter of over one billion people…

Yes, let’s outsource Republicans to India!

How appropriate for the party whose presidential candidate was a proud “pioneer” of outsourcing.

But this is supposed to be a good deed, extracting the elephant from the dark place he inhabits, where gloom and fear of mob rule casts a heavy pall. How much sunnier, and more pungent a refuge India would be. Besides, India knows what to do with elephants. They put them to work, they venerate them, they even have an elephant diety named Ganesha. Whereas here, at least 47% of the population would shoot the elephant, were someone to hand out elephant guns.

I know, you’re worried about the impact. Can’t say I blame you, since Republicans have totally gummed up the works in Congress for the last four years. But India will do very well by insourcing the elephant—there’s all the extra money Republican billionaires will pump into the local elections. And it won’t even matter who wins. Republican billionaires love to throw their money away. Most of it will be spent spreading villainous lies, since that’s mostly what they know, but it’s time those masala-makers on the Indian sub-continent learned life isn’t really a Bollywood movie.  It only seems like one because they don’t have enough Republicans to bring the music to a stop. The elephant being the ultimate buzz-killer.

MESSAGE ALERT: here comes the serious recommendation.

I would like to suggest we say “bye-bye” to the elephant and give a real ‘hello’ to the Greenies. Send Republicans overseas and bring the Green Party in from the cold. We wouldn’t lose our two-party system. But for once both our parties would actually give a damn about the struggles of the middle class. And neither's ranks would be filled with obnoxious, whiny and self-righteous A-Holes who bitch about everything except the gluttony of their billionaire masters.

Some of us haven’t forgotten how the elephant went rogue during the Bush years. Committing acts of torture, ignoring global warming, jamming religious creational crap into children’s textbooks, looting the treasury for two wars and a financial crisis, hanging out with Jim Crow, tapping on men’s toilets; it’s sickening how long the list goes on.

There was a time the elephant represented both the interests of business and the needs of the people. Today, the elephant has become a born-again convert to fiscal restraint even as we’re still digging ourselves out from the ditch they drove the economy into.

Enough! I say enough is enough! Let’s not waste another moment; let's outsource the elephant as soon as we can get it shipped overseas.

Then all the elephant shit will be India’s problem.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


I don’t know about you, but I’m going to move to the other side of the electoral bed and light up a cigarette. Anyone have a match?
And how sweet it is!
Please, if only till the last ash is flicked, let me just lie here and savor the moment. I'm not used to such extended foreplay, or such a rich sense of satisfaction and afterglow.
Let me contemplate Karl Rove handing out T-shirts that proclaim, “I spent $400 million on the Goddamn 2012 election and all I got is this lousy T-shirt!”
Let me picture Eddie Haskell’s twin, Paul Ryan dragging his 87-year-old mother onto the stage repeatedly, as if they were both trapped in a nightmare that wouldn’t go away, to prove to blue-haired and highly-wrinkled audiences everywhere his heretofore-hidden concern for the elderly.
Best of all, as I suck in the aromatic smoke from this symbolic-but-delicious cigarette, I see Willard Mitt Romney himself, foot in mouth, shape-shifting and position-changing like some creature from a 1950’s William Castle horror flick. Think “The Tingler” or “The House on Haunted Hill,” made over by dint of Mitt’s millions into “The Shapeshifter” and “The Creature From The Hollow Core.”
“Step right up, folks!” the narrator calls, “Watch the man on the screen change from pro-choice to pro-life, from advocate of universal health care to advocate of universal emergency rooms, from moderate Republican to conservative ideologue. Don’t be afraid, children, it’s only a movie.”
In the end, Mitt, as most fairy tales go, you were saved from an eternity of shape-shifting by the kiss of the handsome dark prince.
I can’t see you in the dark of the room, boys, but I can hear your heavy breathing.
Let me take a lungful of smoke as I savor the thought of Karl explaining to his billionaire friends how hard he worked, and how difficult it can be, to create hundreds of totally discreditable TV commercials that could chase people out of their living rooms faster than an air raid siren.
Just imagine, Karl, if you had only had another $100 million and one more year to work with…The Democrats might have recaptured the House!
And one more smiling drag on the butt to recall Paul Ryan balancing on the razor-thin edge of fatuous logic, explaining how he and Mitt were the ones looking out for the interests of the poor and the elderly and how especially he—his house budgets aside—had not come to bury Medicare but to save it. 
Well, the ash grows longer, boys, the time grows fleeting. One last drag, Mitt, to accompany these sleepy memories of all the glorious gaffes you blundered through. How you managed to insult the British and the Palestinians on your whirlwind foreign affairs tour. How you inelegantly managed to insult 47% of the entire population at your chummy millionaires' fundraising dinner. How you inhumanely, and ill-politically, tied your faithful dog Seamus’ carrier to the top of your station wagon for the 12-hour trip from Massachusetts to Canada.
Good grief, if I start recalling all your gaffes here in bed, Mitt, I’ll smoke so many cigarettes I’ll ruin my lungs.
Better to crush out the butt and forget how badly you and your friends tried to screw America.
No hard feelings, Mitt, we only flirted with you for a few cheap thrills ourselves.
Could you pass over the ashtray?

Sunday, November 4, 2012


(sung to the tune of “You’re so Vain" by Carly Simon)

Dedicated to Millard Mitt Romney

You walked into the party like you had always been on the right,
Your thoughts strategically hidden from all eyes,
Your disdain was hot that night,
You had one eye in the mirror as you jumped into the fight,
And all the nuts dreamed that you’d be their partner,
You'd be their partner, and...

You're so dumb, you probably think this race is about you,
You're so dumb, I'll bet you think this race is about you,
Don't you? Don't You?

You had us all several years ago when we were still quite naive,
Well you said that we had such a pretty state
And that you would never leave
But you lied away the things you said and headed for the door,
We had some dreams, and they put you in office
Put you in office, put you in office…

You're so dumb, you probably think we’re going to elect you,
You're so dumb, I'll bet you think we’re going to elect you,
Don't you? Don't You? Don't You?

You had some dreams and they sent you to D.C.,
Sent you to D.C., and...

You're so dumb, you probably think your lies will just sail through,
You're so dumb, I'll bet you think your lies will just sail through,
Don't you? Don't You?

Well I hear you went up to find a partner and Ryan naturally won,
Then you lied about his evil Medicare plans
And said you cared about everyone,
Well you're who you should be all the time,
And when you’re not you try
To change your opinions so you fit in,
Opinions so you fit in...

You're so dumb, you probably think this race is about you,
You're so dumb, I'll bet you think this race is about you,
Don't you? Don't You? Don't you?

You're so dumb, you probably think we can’t see right through you
You're so dumb, you probably think we can’t see right through you