Busing mostly a bust


From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in

Joe Biden was excoriated by Sen Kamala Harris in the recent debate of Democratic presidential candidates for his opposition in the 1970s to busing ordered by federal judges to “integrate’’ public schools, mostly in cities. Senator Harris perhaps believed or hoped that there aren’t all that many people around who clearly remember what happened with busing.

Well, Biden was generally right. Forced busing was often a disaster, most famously in Boston, for which U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity, a resident of rich, and lily white, Wellesley, ordered a massive busing plan that sent African American students all over the city, via long bus trips. It was a disaster, and not just because it took time from schooling and gave it to transportation and led to racial violence.

It also undermined neighborhood schools and the parent and student commitment they encourage, and intensified “white flight’’ to the suburbs and private schools, which further destabilized the school system.

If only Garrity and his ilk had spent considerable time in poor white (especially South Boston, large parts of Dorchester and Charlestown) and black sections (mostly Roxbury) of Boston, as I did as a reporter for the old Boston Herald Traveler, they would have realized that court-ordered busing would do more harm than good.

Joe Biden, representing Delaware, a state with a large African-American population, mostly in Wilmington, some affluent and middle-class white suburbs around that city and the area south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, which had more in common with the Deep South than with the New Jersey-like region to the north of the canal, understood the sociological complexities of busing more than most politicians. He never was a racist, though like other senators had to work with racist Southern senators to get important legislation through. (I worked for the News Journal, Delaware’s dominant newspaper, for part of 1975 and met Biden a few times.) The area “South of the Canal’’ was a trip! One local pol down there asked me when the News Journal “is going to start hiring Americans’’ – in a nasty reference to the paper’s superb political writer Ralph Moyed, who happened to be Jewish.

Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe’s conservative columnist, usefully reviewed Boston’s busing mess in a July 2 article. He noted in it:

“In 1982, a Globe poll found that only 14 percent of black Boston parents still favored busing. The overwhelming majority preferred a free-choice plan, allowing parents to send their children to any public school in the city. In practice, that would have meant schools their kids could walk to.’’

“Busing made everything worse. Public school enrollment plummeted. In Boston, 78 school buildings were closed. In 1970, 62,000 white children attended the city’s public schools — 64 percent of the total. By 1994, only 11,000 white students remained. Before busing began, the average black child in Boston attended a school that was 24 percent white. By the mid-1990s, the proportion was 17 percent. Far from reducing racial isolation, busing had intensified it.’’

The best way to encourage long-term integration is to try to ensure that all students, in whatever school they’re in, get as good an education as possible so they can succeed economically and otherwise and to eschew rigid, racially based formulas. This also requires public policies that encourage family stability, including as politically incorrect as it sounds, two-parent households in which the parents are married. Family stability is a key factor in most kids’ success in school.

A corporate move that worked for a state


From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in

Massachusetts is making back the $87 million that it spent on Boston property connected with General Electric’s headquarters move there – plus $11 million in profit, helped by the city’s booming economy. (GE, however, has not been booming.) Also, the company has not taken the $25 million in tax breaks offered by Boston. GE will remain in the Seaport District, but with a considerably smaller footprint than foreseen when the company decided to move its headquarters from Connecticut.

So some government incentives to lure companies work out okay. That especially when you’ve got a highly competent governor such as Bay State Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston’s able Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh who craft careful offers to protect taxpayers

Franklin Institute, Boston announce tuition-free plan

Main building of the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology

Main building of the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology

This is from The New England Council (

The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) and the City of Boston unveiled a new program that will provide tuition-free community college to incoming and enrolled students next year. This program targets those studying to obtain their associate’s degree within three years.

The institute is a non-profit private college of engineering and industrial technologies established in 1908 with funds bequeathed in Benjamin Franklin's will.

Students enrolled in the new program must be Boston residents who graduated from a high school within the Boston Public Schools system, graduated as a METCO student, or earned their HiSET or GED from a Boston institution. While some area schools are already participating in this program, such as New England Council member Bunker Hill Community College, BFIT is the first private institution to participate. These programs are funded by the Neighborhood Jobs Trust, which collects linkage fees on big sale commercial development in Boston.

Anthony Benoit, president of BFIT, explained, “A lot of kids leave high school saying ‘oh I’ll get back to that’ and then it turns into year after year where don’t go back so this is specifically designed to say ‘go right to school, don’t wait just keep going to school.’”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said, “The investments being made in our city by the people developing and building in our city and taking that money and putting it back into a program that offers education for people to move forward. . . That’s the best way to do it. . . We will continue to make college more accessible and affordable and that’s the way you make a better Boston.”


Editor’s note; The school recently announced plans to sell its three-building campus at 41 Berkeley St. and build a campus elsewhere that would be around 30 percent bigger.

The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) in BostonMassachusetts, is a non-profit private college of engineering and industrial technologies established in 1908 with funds bequeathed in Benjamin Franklin's will.

A city for genealogists and antique dealers?

Part of the Boston skyline seen from Memorial Drive,  Cambridge.

Part of the Boston skyline seen from Memorial Drive,  Cambridge.

"Harvard (across the river in Cambridge) and Boston are two ends of one mustache. ... Without the faculty, the visitors, the events that Harvard brings to the life here, Boston would be intolerable to anyone except genealogists, antique dealers, and those who find repletion in a closed local society.''

-- Elizabeth Hardwick (19176-2007), critic and essayist.

Editor's note: Things have changed a lot in Boston recent decades, and it's now a very dynamic and globalized city

Saving a stoner signpost

Boston Citgo sign viewed from Lansdowne Street.

Boston Citgo sign viewed from Lansdowne Street.


From Robert Whitcomb's "Boston Diary'' column in  last week's The Boston Guardian:

Even ads for companies owned by South American dictatorships can be beloved. Consider the Citgo sign at Kenmore Square. Since 1965 the spectacle with the red trimark atop 660 Beacon St. has told many millions of Bostonians and visitors where they are.  Few care that Venezuela’s state oil company now owns Citgo (a descendent of the old Cities Service oil company).

The pulsing (throbbing?) logo presides in its surreal way over Fenway Park, which helps  expand its hypnotic allure well beyond Boston. After all, people around the world can view it in televised Red Sox games. And exhausted Boston Marathon runners love it because they know when they see the sign that they’re near the finish.

As most Guardian readers probably know, Kenmore Square development pressures in the past few years had put the sign’s future in doubt. But happy news comes from real-estate firm Related Beal, which now owns the Citgo sign building.  The company says it will preserve the damn thing and protect views of it from various points around the city and Cambridge.  Mayor Marty Walsh, relentless preservationists and many in the general public deserve much credit for saving this hallucinogenic treasure.

Some proper Back Bay folks in the mid-‘60s complained that the sign was too tacky. That reminds me of the delayed love of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center, in Lower Manhattan. I worked across the street from those skyscrapers for a few years in the ‘70s as they were being built and then slowly rented out. For quite a long time many people hated them as a sterile Modernist travesty. But as their “twinness’’ became that overused word “iconic’’ and as New York recovered from its woes of the ‘70s and again became prosperous in the ‘80s and ’90s, a deep affection developed for the towers, which, of course,  with their extreme height also served as markers for those confused amidst Manhattan’s density.

I most remember the Citgo sign from summer jobs in Boston in the late ’60s, and then as a reporter for The Boston Herald Traveler in 1970-71. The sign provided geographical guidance and psychological  soothing for the college kids, Hippies and even many respectable people. Further, staring at the sign was a way to, er, enrich the pot-smoking experience of that rowdy time. And it evokes the Pop Art of the ‘60s; it looks like an Andy Warhol poster.

Growing reverence for the sign was manifest when it was turned off during  stretches of two energy crises. Some  then called it “Boston’s very own ‘North Star,’ and The Boston Globe’s celebrated architecture critic, Robert Campbell,  in 1980 called it a “symbol’’ of the city.

I remember when the gold-topped, Art-Deco United Shoe Machinery Building dominated Boston’s Financial District and the company itself, nicknamed “The Shoe,’’ was a very powerful player in  the New England economy. Now you’ll have a hard time finding the quaint skyscraper amidst the many new, higher office buildings  around it and the company itself is long gone.

Will the Citgo sign be there in 50 years? I doubt it. But I hope it remains to help guide me through Boston’s labyrinth for the rest of my days.

Robert Whitcomb is president of The Boston Guardian, editor of and a columnist.


A city for the middle class?

Long Island, in Boston Harbor.

Long Island, in Boston Harbor.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

Boston Mayor Marty  Walsh promised at his second inauguration last Monday that he’d rebuild the city’s middle class.  “We can be the city that is world class because it works for the middle class,’’ he said. That’s an admirable if vague goal for a city that’s among the most prosperous in America but that also has increasing income inequality, as very highly compensated people at the top of the city’s tech and financial-services sectors get bigger and bigger slices of the economic pie. The new federal income-tax law will further widen the inequality. But Mr. Walsh can’t do much about it and he can sincerely celebrate Boston’s prosperity.

Mr. Walsh has shown himself an effective booster of the city’s reputation and so far, anyway, shows the potential of being as good a mayor as his immediate predecessor, Tom Menino, the “urban mechanic’’ who served from 1993 to 2014 and whom Mr. Walsh sees as his model. The current mayor said Mr. Menino “put us on the world stage as a national leader in health care, education, innovation, and the nitty-gritty of executing basic city services.” Of course, Boston was already a leader in those areas but there’s no doubt that Mr. Menino helped make “the Hub of the Universe’’ truly a world city.

Most interesting to me was the mayor’s promise to rebuild the Long Island Bridge and create on the Boston Harbor island a campus focused on substance-abuse treatment and especially on the opioid crisis. Perhaps it could become a center serving all of southern New England.


Try to glom onto megacity wealth

The Boston skyline from across the Charles River in Cambridge.

The Boston skyline from across the Charles River in Cambridge.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

Emily Badger had a very important story in the Dec. 24 New York Times entitled “The Megacity, Untethered: Urban Giants are going global but losing their connections with smaller neighbors’’.

It basically says the such big globalized high-tech cities as Boston, San Francisco and Seattle no longer need as much their old connections with manufacturing centers, both nearby or elsewhere in America. She writes:

“The companies that now drive the Bay Area’s soaring wealth — and that represent part of the American economy that’s booming — don’t need these communities in the same way. Google’s {which also has a large operation in Cambridge/Boston} digital products don’t have a physical supply chain. Facebook doesn’t have dispersed manufacturers. Apple, which does make tangible things, now primarily makes them overseas.’’}

“A changing economy has been good to the {San Francisco} region, and to a number of other predominantly coastal metros like New York, Boston and Seattle. But economists and geographers are now questioning what the nature of their success means for the rest of the country. What happens to America’s manufacturing heartland when Silicon Valley turns to China? Where do former mill and mining towns fit in when big cities shift to digital work? How does upstate New York benefit when New York City increases business with Tokyo?’’

So how do the old manufacturing cities of, for example, Worcester and Providence deal with this problem? They become lower-cost extensions of Greater Boston, using their higher-education institutions to supplement the work being done in Greater Boston. They’re better positioned to do this sort of thing than are most old American mid-sized cities.

James P. Freeman: Boston's mayor should keep his ambitions within reality

Boston Mayor Martin ("Marty'') Walsh.

Boston Mayor Martin ("Marty'') Walsh.

“Believe or not I’m walking on air
I never thought I could be so free
Flying away on a wing and a prayer, who could it be?
Believe it or
not it’s just me”

— Theme from The Greatest American Hero (“Believe It or Not”)

In homogeneously progressive Boston  pell-mell fantasy  can exceed partisan reality.

Appearing on WGBH's Greater Boston a day before Election Day to promote his book Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, former aide to the late U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill, was getting a second thrill going up his leg. When asked who in the Democratic Party today is closest to the late senator (presumably in temperament and spirit), Matthews responded with understated hyperbole:  “Maybe the mayor here.”   

And on WCVB-TV’s Sunday political program OTR five days after Election Day, the usually rational Patrick Griffin was clearly under the influence of hypnosis. Or something else. When asked during the roundtable discussion who had the “best week,” the Republican strategist responded with overstated gusto. “Marty Walsh!” Where the mayor, newly reelected, is now poised and positioned to begin a “national narrative.” Well.

Cue the needle scratching over the record.

With little enthusiasm (just 27 percent voter turnout in the general election; 14 percent in the primary), little competition (his challenger lost by over 30 percentage points), and little in the way of transformational advancement during a single term (understandable after following the longest-serving Boston mayor, the late Thomas Menino (five terms, 1993-2014)), Boston Mayor Marty Walsh won re-election. And, summoning ghosts in machine politics, Walsh is — so say observers — now worthy of higher office in Massachusetts and, possibly, a position in national affairs. Play me a new song.

Walsh’s parochial progressivism may in fact appeal to those outside  Routes 128 and I-495. And that may even extend beyond, to the hills of Williamstown and West Stockbridge, if he were to seek statewide office. But it stops there. (Besides, he will have to wait until 2022 to run for governor, when, presumably, Charlie Baker will be leaving, with the state in better condition than when he found it, after serving two terms.)

Thrilling for conservatives, Walsh’s platitudinous progressive record will play like warped vinyl on the national stage. It will be punched through with holes, and its collection of Democratic covers will be relegated to the bargain bin of bad ideas. Like abandoned vinyl records. 

Still, it will be fun listening. (Will he reprise Hillary Clinton’s “Listening Tours”?)

How does Walsh propose to solve problems in the country that he hasn’t been able to solve in the city or the commonwealth? The playlist is long but exposes progressivism’s universal shortcomings:  affordable housing, income inequality, climate disruption, sanctuary cities (some calling for sanctuary states), and public education.

And his first forays into the national spotlight proved opportunistic and potentially disastrous: He essentially blamed his hyper-interest in Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid as a form of payola, a political payoff to honor the legacy of a commitment made by the Menino administration. No friend of the First Amendment, he essentially suppressed freedom of speech and freedom of the press during the monstrously overblown Free Speech rally last August on Boston Common, despite favorable media coverage. That won’t work on the National Mall.

In many regards, Walsh is instinctively progressive but he has learned lessons from his Massachusetts mentors.

If you can’t fix it, expand it. Former Gov. Deval Patrick proposed in 2013 massive growth of the state’s transportation system, while he ignored the troubled MBTA. If you can’t improve it, market it. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s persistent message in tweets and books is that ever more government is what is needed to make America great again.

Walsh hasn’t written any books, but that didn’t stop him in 2016 from actually issuing a suggested reading list to all Bostonians. Reading is not fundamental in Boston. The booklist directive reflects the new soft sell of progressive bullying:  from the cold engineering of public power to the warm “engagement” of like-minded citizens. For Walsh’s Boston (like Warren’s America) believes in diversity of all aspects of life. Except thought. Or political party.

Walsh can’t even claim one thing that Patrick and Warren could:  reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans. Because there are no Republicans in the elected part of Boston government.

City Hall is not a standard steppingstone to the Oval Office. Only two mayors have gone on to become president of the United States. The first was Grover Cleveland, former mayor of Buffalo, N.Y. (1882), who is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms (1885-1889 and 1893-1897). And the last was Calvin Coolidge, former mayor of Northampton, Mass. (1910-1911), who, as vice president, became president in 1923, when President Warren Harding died of a heart attack. Coolidge is the only American to be a mayor, lieutenant governor (1916-1919, Massachusetts), governor (1919-1921, Massachusetts), vice president, and president. He might be the last.

Mayors fare better becoming senators. Today, they include Dianne Feinstein (San Francisco), Bernie Sanders (Burlington, Vt.) and Cory Booker (Newark, N.J.). There might be a practical explanation behind these histories.

As explains, “Americans, not surprisingly, have come to respect big-city mayors as managers, but not necessarily as custodians of important values.”

Over the last 30 years, Massachusetts politicians have had difficulty articulating ideas — exporting local values? — that resonate with voters outside of the commonwealth, into electoral victory for national office. Probably, their loud, turgid progressivism is incomprehensible to the nation. And moderates are undoubtedly viewed with suspicion — guilty-by-approximation to progressives. Walsh must be acutely aware of the performance of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (1980), Gov. Michael Dukakis (1988), the late Sen.  Paul Tsongas (1992), Sen. John Kerry (2004), and Gov. Mitt Romney (2012) in presidential contests. What will happen to Elizabeth Warren in 2020?

With or without Warren, Walsh may decide next decade, cape in hand, that he will be the Greatest American Hero to progressive causes. For now, though, those lofty aspirations are prematurely foolish.

Should America reject Warren and Walsh’s propulsive progressivism, the consolation prize might be membership in an exclusive club. They could join George McGovern, who won just one state in 1972. In a landslide, he swept Massachusetts. As they likely would too.

James P. Freeman, a former banker, is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times. His work has also appeared in The Providence Journal and here, in

Beyond traditional 'urban renewal'

Cutting down Beacon Hill in 1811; a view from the north toward the    Massachusetts State Hou s e   .

Cutting down Beacon Hill in 1811; a view from the north toward the Massachusetts State House.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

Boston’s new master plan, called “Imagine 2030’’ is refreshingly flexible. It encourages improvements in accessibility and interconnectivity across the city through more reliable public transportation,  better education and  more recreational re sources. However, it leaves many of the details and decisionsto private-sector organizations and individuals, with city government acting more as referee and cheerleader and improvements promoted more through economic incentives than through regulations.

It’s not a heavily top-down government-run “urban-renewal’’ approach of the wrecking-ball-and-bulldozer sort that did so much damage in many old American cities in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Rather it takes more of a Jane Jacobs (author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities) stance – treating the city as an immensely complicated organism with vibrant and open neighborhoods and walkability key strengths.

The plan has a couple of powerful forces behind it: One is that cities in general are on the upswing; suburbs have lost a lot of their allure. Another is that Greater Boston’s great research and innovation machine, lubricated by its famed higher-education sector and its roles as a major financial center and the capital of New England, will probably keep running indefinitely to pay for the improvements. Let’s hope that more of that money washes down to Providence and over to Worcester..

Llewellyn King's Notebook: Of seaweed baths, the Humbert School and Boston's mega-Irish


St. Patrick’s Day will be celebrated with special gusto in Boston. But then it should: The Boston Irish are, if I might say so, more Irish than their relations in the Old Sod.

I used to be the American director of one of Ireland’s summer schools -- peculiarly Irish institutions, dating back to when Ireland was a lot poorer than it is today, and when vacation travel was a lot more expensive.

The Irish used to stay at home for their summers rather than flying, as they do now, to the United States, the Canary Islands or mainland Spain, and other countries. They traveled to their own sea coasts, which are lovely but the weather does not always favor swimming.

So, other entertainments abounded, such as seaweed baths. These – there are few left – are rather fun, though slimy. You are immersed in a bathtub with, if you like, your nearest and dearest -- there are doubles. It is filled with warmed seawater and lashings of seaweed.

In Enniscrone (also spelled Inniscrone, and officially named Inishcrone), a small seaside town in County Sligo, I got slimed with my wife. It does a world of good, and it keeps you out of the pub for a while -- at least that is what I was told when I was getting initiated into the joys of seaweed bathing.

For those who wanted to do something a little more inspiring than take a slime bath, they could attend the so-called summer schools.

The one I was affiliated with, which is no longer in operation, was the Humbert International Summer School. These are not schools with desperate students attending make-up classes over the summer. Rather the summer schools -- there are as many as 40 of them -- are think-tank weekends or longer.

They started with literary schools, as you might expect in Ireland. Soon musical schools opened and in due course, as you also might expect, knowing the Irish love of politics, political schools.

For example, there is a Yeats School, for scholars of the famous writer and a Parnell School, named for the great Irish politician and member of the British House of Commons, until he fell afoul of the prudery of his time and was destroyed by his love affair with Kitty O’Shea, nominally a married woman.

The Humbert School, created and directed for three decades by John Cooney the Irish historian and journalist, was named for the French Gen. Jean Joseph Amable Humbert, who led an expedition to liberate Ireland in 1798: The Year of the French. Humbert and his 1,100 men were defeated by Gen. Charles Cornwallis and his British regulars, who then took a terrible revenge on the Irish patriots, hanging them 20 at a time. The song, “The Wearing of the Green,” commemorates the fact that after the 1798 rebellion, wearing green was assumed to be a sign of defiance, punishable by death.

The Humbert School, which was based in Ballina, County Mayo, concentrated on the troubles in Ulster and Ireland’s position in the world. The current Irish prime minister, or taoiseach, Enda Kenny, was a frequent participant, as was the first woman president of Ireland, Mary Robinson. Over three decades, all the Irish prime ministers participated in the Humbert School as well as some names from Northern Ireland, including John Hume, David Trimble, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, with whom I debated.

Back to Boston and the joy that will be overflowing there this Friday. Some of the revelers there might find Ireland not quite what they expected.

Over the years, everyone I invited to attend the Humbert School – none had been to Ireland before -- were enthralled with the place, except the American Irish. It just was not, well, Irish enough.

The worst sufferer from this culture shock was a dear friend and one time co-worker from Boston, who had very definite ideas about what Ireland would be like -- and it was not like that. He even dressed head-to-toe in Donegal tweed. My Irish friends asked, “What’s your man wearing?” I had to tell them to drink up and be nice because he was from Boston -- where they are sure they know what the real Irish are like. And maybe they do.

Slainte, Boston!

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle,  on PBS. His e-mail is


The Chinese love Boston

The gate at the entrance of Boston's Chinatown.

The gate at the entrance of Boston's Chinatown.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' in

The Chinese were the number one source of foreign tourists in Greater Boston last year, taking first place from the British. The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau estimated that 230,000 Chinese visited the area last year (compared to 224,000 Brits), drawn particularly by its history and its great educational institutions (and maybe by the opportunity to do a little industrial espionage in the region’s huge high-tech sector). The Chinese are especially eager to see MIT and Harvard, which many Chinese attend.

It’s too early to tell how much the Trump administration crackdown on immigrants might reduce the flow.  Meanwhile, The Boston Globe reported that a U.S.-China climate summit slated to be held in Boston this year has not been scheduled, raising suspicions that that’s because of the Trump administration’s opposition to doing anything about global warming.

Hollywood: Enough with the Boston bathos, please

Fort Point Channel, Boston. Film noirish photo hy Mr. duPont  from Boston below.   -- Photos by Russell duPont (copyright Russell duPont Photography)

Fort Point Channel, Boston. Film noirish photo hy Mr. duPont  from Boston below.

-- Photos by Russell duPont (copyright Russell duPont Photography)

Adapted from an item in Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' column in

There was a funny column in The Washington Post the other day headlined “Too Much Boston’’ about excess movies being made about what the headlines used to call “The Hub’’.  These films, replete with real or badly done  “Boston accents’’ (which basically means the speech of Irish- or Italian-Americans there and almost never of the famous upper-crust “Boston Brahmins,’’ usually focus on the seamy, violent, crime-ridden underbelly of the city and its environs (including, for example, the town in Manchester-by-the-Sea, much of which is actually rich). It is almost always cloudy and dark in Hollywood Boston, and there's menace around each corner.

You’d think that Boston was the most dangerous, forbidding burg in America rather than the  generally safe, internationalized and prosperous (for many residents) place that it is --- world-famed for research, education, medicine, finance and high and popular culture. Indeed, much of downtown Boston has become positively glitzy, as have such formerly rather forlorn  nearby places as Cambridge's Kendall Square (now home to Google and many other fancy companies).

 I suggest that the screenwriters, producers and directors give up the Boston bathos and make more use of, say, Chicago --- a much more dangerous place. That’s not to say that there aren’t some sour, gritty and indeed dangerous places in Boston. It is to say that its film noir aspects are getting overdone. And could we also get off the grossly outdated presentation of Providence as a Mob town!

New England is usual among American regions in having such a strong sense of regional identity and coherence (excluding Connecticut’s Fairfield County, which is glued to metro New York City). This came out, of course, with the frenzied six-state celebrations of the Patriots’ astonishing Super Bowl win. And part of that identity is having one major city, Boston, that’s not only the capital of its leading state but also the psychic, economic and cultural capital of the whole region. People in the Canadian Maritime Provinces used to call New England “The Boston States.’’

This will continue. The other good-sized cities in the region – Providence, Worcester  etc., --- will never be able to ‘’compete’’ in a big way with Boston. Rather, they should present themselves as interesting, livable and less expansive urban satellites of “The Hub.’’

Near North Station, Boston.

Near North Station, Boston.

Robert Whitcomb: Open woods; the aim is merely fame; Art Deco challenge

A version of this first ran in the Digital Diary feature on

The other week, as I drove through miles of woodsin inland southern New England where caterpillars had consumed the leaves of so many trees, I thanked God that no one has suggested spraying to kill the creatures. You hear enough about massive spraying campaigns to kill mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus.

The trouble with these campaigns is that they kill a lot more than the targeted culprits. They kill, for example, bees, which we need for pollination of our crops,  as well as birds, fish and many other creatures.

The trees will come back without chemical bombing. For now, we can enjoy the eerie sight of midsummer woods looking like November’s.


In picking Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, Donald Trump has shown yet again that he really doesn’t have any “policies.’’ His only real apparent interest is maintaining himself as a “winner’’ and Mr. Pence might help.

Mr. Pence’s support for “free-trade’’ agreements that have helped kill jobs and lower wages in the U.S.; his backing for open immigration (which also cuts U.S. wages), and his evangelical  Christian views don’t jibe with Mr.  Trump’s rhetoric or behavior.

Mr. Trump has two main issues:  Crack down on “free trade’’ and on immigration. On the latter, he wants to kick out 11 million illegals, build a “wall’’ on the Mexican border and make it tough for Muslims to enter America. Operational details to come.


The governor has also been a loyal servant of the Koch Brothers and other very rich  people.  For a time, Mr. Trump made  vague populist noises about the need to reduce the power of  Wall Street big shots and Washington lobbyists but that has gone away as he realizes the Republican reality. The public has less and less patience with details anyway, and citizens rarely remember what a candidate said a few months back.

Judging by how he has conducted his business and much of his personal life, The Donald would rank high up on most metrics of, to be polite, ‘’amorality’’.

But that matters little in the Reality TV and Twitter age, even to the Boy Scouty Mr. Pence, who has decided to try to ride the Trumpmobile back to Washington, where he was an ineffective, if pleasant, congressman promoting the usual collection of Tea Party and supply-side nostrums that,  although having been tried for much of the past few decades, do not seem to have ushered in a golden age for the middle class.

Anyway, the aim is fame. Isuspect that Donald Trump originally ran for president  simply to keep himself and his businesses in the news. He may have been surprised that his incoherent, virtually detail-freebut entertainingly demagogic primary campaign did as well as it did. And this pathological liar and con man will get a lot of votes in November from people who won’t admit their choice to their neighbors. As for Mike Pence,  he knows that there’s a good chance that a vice president can become president.


People tend not to like Hillary Clinton because she has told some self-protective lies; because she has a reputation for extreme secretiveness; because she seems to feel herself privileged to make her own rules (but not as much as Donald Trump), and because she and her husband have made a fortune by mingling/cross-self-promoting government work, “nonprofit’’ work and for-profit work (especially by being paid vast sums to speak to companies and other special-interest groups).  And, as unfair as it is, a lot of people find her voice grating.

Not surprisingly, she generally avoids press conferences. But she could do herself a big favor by holding a long press conference in which she takes any questions. She could, for example, elaborate more on why she used a private server to conduct top-secret discussions by email and  also explain the mysterious workings of the Clinton Foundation. Such a forum might help lance the boil of public distrust, if not dislike.


David Sweetser, whose High Rock Development owns the Industrial Trust Building,  in downtown Providence, is smart to have arranged for public tours of the Art Deco skyscraper to be offered over the next couple of months to, he hopes, get people excited/intrigued enough to rent there (or buy the whole place).

It’s a gorgeous structure, although, of course, fading. The model in New England of how to retrofit such a stepped-back Art Deco building is the gold-topped United Shoe Machinery Building, on Federal Street in downtown Boston, which is now fixed up and full. But it’s  usually a lot cheaper to tear down an old building and put in a cheap utilitarian replacement than to save it.  And there’s much more money in Boston than in Providence. But hang in there, Mr. Sweetser!

Robert Whitcomb is the overseer of New England Diary.

James P. Freeman: Mass. in '15: A state of hope and (fiscal) peril


It is right there
Betwixt and between
The orchard bare
And the orchard green

— Robert Frost from “Peril of Hope”

With an eerie prescience, the Jan.  9, 2015, front page of The Boston Globe captured perfectly the mixture of fear and anticipation associated with the hope a new year brings. Two headlines above the fold – “Boston picked to bid for Olympics” and “Baker promises firm fixes, sensitive touch” – would set the tone for 2015 in Greater Boston.

Boston 2024 Partnership, the consortium of business and political interests (so-called “thought leaders”) to bring the 2024 summer Olympic games to The Hub, underestimated Bostonians’ capacity for common sense and overestimated Bostonians’ tolerance for large municipal projects. (Didn’t anyone remind planners of the Big Dig experience?) Residents rightly feared costs would be socialized and any profits would be privatized by special interests. The bid was rescinded in July.

Charlie Baker was sworn in as Massachusetts’ 72nd governor within hours of the Olympic announcement. No politician campaigned on the Olympics but it consumed precious time and energy from more mundane and serious matters, such as the opioid emergency, which rages on unabated (1,256 people – likely more this year – fatally overdosed in Massachusetts in 2014). Alarmingly, more people die  in Massachusetts from overdoses than from car crashes.

Boston broke the record for snowiest winter on record, with 108.6 inches. But the MBTA was broken long before 2015 from decades of incompetent government oversight. With melting irony, man could not make the trains run during the blizzards but a train actually ran without a man this December in Braintree, due to “operator error.” Baker must restore the entire system to ensure a second term.

The New England Patriots earned their fourth Super Bowl championship in February, amidst the faux-scandal of Deflategate (which is now being taught as a class at University of New Hampshire). A federal judge determined that the NFL went too far in suspending quarterback Tom Brady. In May, some suggested that Salem State University went too far in paying him $170,000 for a one hour “lecture.” But don’t tell that to the local media, which cover the team by way of sports jingoism, not journalism.

It took a jury in April nearly 26 minutes just to read the “guilty” verdict on all 30 counts against unrepentant terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in the Boston Marathon bombing trial.

Irish rockers U2, who lived through the terror of “The Troubles,” charmed the town with four sold-out concerts this summer, as “#BostonStrong” was featured prominently on a massive vidi-wall during their encores.

Pedro Martinez was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and David Ortiz announced this post season he would retire in 2016. Their recognition and retirement mark the perilous end of an era of Boston baseball dominance. Perhaps no other players were better catalysts of hope for a despondent Red Sox Nation before 2004.

Two films about Boston’s ugly underbelly proved to be, in many respects, largely for Boston; another cathartic exercise in order to exorcise criminality. “Spotlight” chronicled the unspeakable and unimaginable clergy sex abuse cover up, and “Black Mass” showcased Whitey Bulger. Each affirmed that evil can reside both in men of the cloth and the cleaver.

After nearly a century, Cambridge-based Converse unveiled the long-awaited Chuck Taylor II sneakers.

After 20 years since the first charter school was opened in Massachusetts, with some municipalities having reached their quotas, many want a reset, a Charter 2.0.

Atty. Gen. Maura Healey, prodigal progressive, concluded that more regulation (of course) would be best for Boston-based fantasy sports league website DraftKings (and FanDuel). But former Gov. Deval Patrick, promiscuous progressive, discovered free enterprise by joining the investment firm Bain Capital.

In November, the financial news Web site ranked Massachusetts as the best place to live among the 50 states. General Electric thinks so, as it imagines what a world headquarters might look like in Boston as it contemplates relocation from Connecticut for lower taxes and closer proximity to the area’s innovation ecosystem.

This autumn, the Oxford Dictionaries determined that its word of the year was, in fact, not a word, but a pictograph. The “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji according to Oxford lexicographers, “best reflected the ethos, mood and preoccupation of 2015.”

In retrospect, then, Frost got it partially right. Time — and 2015 — might best be defined as an alloy of peril and hope.

James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and a former Cape Cod Times columnist. This comes via the courtesy of The New Boston Post. 

For some of his previous columns, read:

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