Image by Tak Toyoshima
Much like in America at large, we used to follow tradition at DigBoston. Before these kids showed up with all their EDM and mashed-up rock ’n’ rap noise, there was a time when we would break out chainsaws on the last week of the month and tear Boston’s sociopolitical landscape a you know what so big that it made Howie Carr look like a standard sphincter.
But times change, and with our bringing back long reads in the last few years, we’ve aimed to cultivate more researched and refined ideas in this space, and to keep most of our ranting strictly on the web and in Media Farm. Like ballot measures passed by Massachusetts voters though, unofficial guidelines are meant to be ignored, broken. On that note, here goes the first half-year roundup that you’re likely to read anywhere.
How are we so positive that it’s the first such compendium of political chicanery and headline buffoonery to date? The truth is we don’t actually know for sure, but rather just assume that since we’re only five months into 2015, there’s a good chance that we got a jumpstart on competitors. And while global pandemonium will probably continue through the end of this year and long after, we felt there’s been enough insanity since January—in Boston alone!—to warrant a good old fashioned news dig …
It was approximately five minutes after we voiced our early fawning approval of new Mass Governor Charlie Baker that he went ahead and irreparably disappointed us. Like so many others, we’d fallen for the good guy charade, what with him personally helping plow us through the snow drifts in his understated, outdoorsy man gear. Not long after that, however, Baker unsnapped his blue-collar winter threads and finally revealed his Republican stripes, most notably by calling for reviews of every state regulation that exceeds federal protections, which are often tragically inadequate. Translation: The new gov wants to undo generations of hard-fought standards—from air-quality to workplace-safety regulations—that his number-crunchers arbitrarily deem an “unnecessary cost, burden, and complexity.”
Don’t kid yourself: This news, despite failing to register as more than a blip on the radar beyond some initial coverage, is potentially massive, state-shatteringly epic. For example, as reported in the Boston Globe, the Commonwealth’s “environmental protection agency has named 432 species … as ‘threatened’ or of ‘special concern,’” while “the federal government lists only 24 of those species.” Of course, it’s hard to be upset about a percolating deregulatory bonanza when, according to the National Journal, Charlie Baker is America’s most popular pol. In any case, you may want to brace for the storm …
SNOW GOIN’ BACK
Did we mention that it snowed? Did you notice? Of course you did, and now instead of being buried between banks of stalagmites and deceptively slick patches of sidewalk, you’re stuck in a conversational and media matrix that is already obsessing over next winter’s flurries. But wait … there’s more …
On the prevention and policy side of extreme weather, the good news is we’re approximately two million ideological miles away from Texas, where climate scientists who mention warming oceans are beheaded and ground into hamburger to feed bloodthirsty national guardsmen. In Boston, Mayor Walsh has assumed a number of seemingly superficial poses, like the “What’s Your Question” truck, a postmodern metropolitical hipster suggestion box on wheels. But his administration’s various efforts to economize and green the Hub add up to much more than a token gesture—from Boston winning top accolades from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, to the city’s spearheading a “regional agreement to establish a common policy framework throughout the Metro Boston area to prepare for climate change.”
For these reasons, plus the fact that Walsh enjoys spectacular public approval ratings in spite of the disdain with which many progressives increasingly view him, environmental activists have largely left his City Hall alone, mostly focusing on campus protests north of the river. If you’re not paying attention to environmental justice crusaders at Tufts and Harvard, or to any of the other students who are occupying buildings and setting examples for their peers nationwide, then five years from now, when even your grandparents are divesting from fossil fuels, you don’t get to pretend you always knew.
Though some were skeptical at first, the bid to host the 2024 Olympics in Boston has become the rallying point and beacon of unity the city needs. Following a series of productive forums in which members of the public contributed ideas about how the Games might spur sustainable development, organizers then proceeded with a plan so positively transparent that even many early critics joined the chorus. Wowed by the prospect of having a dressage stadium in Franklin Park, countless members of the Mattapan and Dorchester communities have taken to worshipping at the altar of Suffolk Construction magnate John Fish, who has been hailed by friends and foes alike as a wizard of media relations for his work in swaying public opinion on the Olympics. At City Hall, the fervor over 2024 has also helped boost confidence in the leadership of Marty Walsh, whose support has already been hailed as his best political move of the year. One thing’s clear: As he’s demonstrated in his dealings with supporters, the mayor’s foremost concern is for the welfare of Bostonians, and as such he would never permit any blatant lies or deceptions on the part of Olympic organizers.
There’s nothing left to say about “Deflategate” that hasn’t already been sleazed, no pathetic tabloid puns left unmolested about the unfortunate incidents that crashed down on the Patriots after another winning season. For those and fairly obvious other reasons, we’ll just acknowledge that while there have always been lots of opinions on this green earth, and while we all knew for certain that there are also lots of assholes, not until Tom Brady got caught cheating did we realize just how many assholes with opinions exist among us. This place stinks. You people should be ashamed of yourselves. Unless, of course, you nailed the point spread on the Super Bowl last year. In that case, go New England!
PATS LIVES MATTER
Since we’re on the topic of football and the good it does for the community, it’s worth noting that $850,000 went to Boston Police Department overtime for protest rallies and marches in the last fiscal year, while slightly more than that ($886,000) went to OT for the Super Bowl victory parade. It’s clear that politicians and radio talkers (particularly those on the sports end of the dial) who decry the calls of demonstrators have no qualms about looking like hypocritical jackasses, but their contempt for people of color who live in a violent police state is evident in their silent approval of a football celebration at all costs.
A lot of media neglects to realize just how utterly perverted it is to let cops and officials dictate the cost-value analysis of protests. Reporters also tend to applaud or at least accept the use of violence, as we witnessed with this week’s slaying of an alleged terrorist at a bus stop in Roslindale. So allow us to explain something important, since the first half of 2015 saw irresponsible revisionist histories galore, all of which threaten to compromise the legacy of movements erupting against state violence: Applauding the police for handling protests without using force is like complimenting firefighters for not looting burning homes.
We don’t thank chefs for not spitting in the salad dressing (though perhaps we should). The fact is there are many irresponsible and even sadistic cops—we need not remind you of the Boston Globe’s reporting about DUI coverups for department members, or of the seemingly unchecked bad apple who is charged with stealing a car from his Uber driver and then verbally accosting him with racial slurs before fleeing the crime scene. There’s been some progress so far this year in the realm of relationships between residents of the Hub’s most vulnerable neighborhoods and the cops who patrol their streets. But until more responsible officers acknowledge problems in their own ranks in the same way they wish more folks in communities of color would identify assailants after violent crimes occur, there’s likely to be more of the same mutual distrust and, looking forward, perhaps an even bigger budget for overtime policing of protests.
Did somebody say “marijuana?” Oh, that’s right, everybody did. Because it’s 2015, and more than half of Massachusetts voters support legalization of some strain or another. Meanwhile, thanks to diligent reporting by MassLive and others, we learned over the past few months that despite collecting more than $3 million in licensing and application fees from dispensary hopefuls, as well as registration charges from more than 7,000 patients, the state miraculously managed to run a deficit of $1.17 million on its medical marijuana program in FY2015. To put that in perspective, it’s like telling a friend that you’re going to wash his car for $10, then taking $15 out of his wallet, stealing his Camaro, and driving off a cliff with your head out the sunroof.
We could rant for days about the nightmare that the dispensary implementation process has been; Governor Baker has pledged to get things up and running, but his predecessor, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, managed to slow the burgeoning industry to a standstill, and the damage won’t be easily undone. Overall, one’s view of progress on the cannabis front rests largely on whether one is a pot optimist or a jar-is-half-empty type. As you read this, Bay Staters are anticipating their first dispensary, Alternative Therapies Group in Salem, while Red Sox broadcaster legend Bob Lobel has opened doors for the movement by lending his voice to the fight against prohibition. At the same time, a Downtown Crossing businesses association is fighting to keep a facility out of Boston. Go figure.
With unsubstantiated taboos running amok, we recently saw the MBTA turn away advertising dollars from the Northeastern Institute of Cannabis (Ed. note: Being slightly less selective, we have done business with NIC, while News + Features Editor Chris Faraone teaches at the institute). None of this should come as a surprise, considering that transit officials allowed ad revenue to shrink from roughly $21.6 million in 2005 to $16.2 million in 2015. Nevertheless, the fact that the T is turning down much-needed cash is worth pondering next time your face is buried in some vagrant’s armpit on a frozen Red Line that, even though you have to go inbound to Downtown Crossing, you chose to ride from Porter out to Alewife praying that you’d luck into a seat on a returning inbound train before it inevitably got too crowded for comfort around Harvard Square.
WILL BE (MOSTLY) MISSED
We’re still recovering from all the idiotic comments that polluted Facebook during the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but it’s hardest to shake off those that came from less enlightened friends during the sentencing portion. The whole ordeal taught all of us a lot about ourselves and our city, but who knew the most frightening revelation would be that the dolt posting Fox News infographics may one day be the juror weighing your fate?
Rather than a constant stream of buzz throughout the trial, spurts of coverage dominated occasional news cycles; take, for example, when Tsarnaev showed emotion in the courtroom, or when he raised his middle finger to a jailhouse security camera, effectively accomplishing his goal of rattling Americans. Beyond the courthouse though, there was a relatively positive vibe and much camaraderie around the Boston Marathon this year—even as the trial prodded old wounds, and as uncomfortable tangential stories registered …
Take the sad loss of Forum on Boylston Street, outside of which one of the bombs exploded in April 2013. There are many explanations for why a restaurant or retail establishment may shutter, but in Boston, the problem generally hovers near the intersection of skyrocketing property costs and long spans of arctic temperatures. Forum was among innumerable economic casualties; across the bridge in Central Square, this year brought news that indie venue T.T. the Bear’s Place will go dark after more than 30 years in business. The shit list goes on; not even the old guard or chains are immune. Even Pizzeria Regina’s parent company filed for bankruptcy. All this while sudsy independent restaurants across the region shiver in their booths anticipating the ways in which the state will punish them for overcharging breweries to get their beers on tap. And speaking of pay-to-play shenanigans, up on Beacon Hill …
DEVAL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
A lot of Dig readers are, how do we politely say this, less than old? We’re not knocking anyone for their youth, but it’s true, some of you are quite young, it is a fact of life. And of marketing surveys. That’s why we attempt to explore issues that affect people across a significant spectrum, whereas mainstream outlets tend to cater news to Baby Boomers and whoever else isn’t buried in college loans. With that said, we are as guilty as the worst of them for forgetting that securing and maintaining health coverage in this state can be as nightmarish for Generation X and Yers as it’s been for seniors for ages. In an attempt to scoop up yet another massive turd left on his legislative lawn by ex-Governor Patrick, Charlie Baker is overhauling systems and swinging a blade through bureaucratic blubber. For the time-being though, that means a whole lot of waiting … and waiting … and waiting on the phone to speak with operators who are ill-equipped to navigate the state Health Connector.
The good news? Those who don’t die of adverse reactions to the Mass Health hold music may not have to worry about their well-being after all. Nor should anybody be concerned about the metamorphosis of Boston, where in 2015 the average one-bedroom rents for more than $2,000 a month. As it turns out, Johnny Depp is bringing old school Southie back, the Black Mass trailer burning up social media. With Wahlburgers sprouting outposts from Las Vegas to Canada and so much Olympic excitement in the air, we may be living in a world class city by the time we have to write a year-end round-up for real.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.