FOR MASSACHUSETTS: OUR GUBERNATORIAL RACE – Marilyn Armstrong

I spent some time today reading about races that are close and which are not. Here in Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren is expected to win handily and I am glad. She’s a live wire in a house full of deadheads.

Charlie Baker, our Republican governor, is considered extremely likely to win in more or less of a landslide because everyone likes Charlie Baker. Even I like Charlie Baker, but I’m not going to vote for him.

BOSTON, MA. – SEPTEMBER 26: Gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez speaks to media at The Massachusetts Statehouse on September 26, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Patrick Whittemore/Boston Herald)

I’ve been thinking as a middle of the state semi-rural resident of Worcester country, I’d like to know what exactly he has done? He certainly hasn’t done anything around here.

He hasn’t paved the roads, repaired the bridges, or updated our disastrous trains (commuter trains, and Amtrak). He hasn’t invested in new or improved schools, better healthcare, or extended MassHealth (our state’s Medicaid) to people who need it. I can’t think of anything he has done that has anything to do with me or anyone in this county. I’m pretty sure the rest of Massachusetts would agree with me.

But he is a pleasant fellow. Your basic nice guy. Garry once told me the nicest people you’ll ever meet are politicians and mobsters. I’ve met both.

Garry was right.

Flowers growing in the potholes

Other than being nice, what else is Charlie Baker doing? All the problems we had when he took office are still with us. And if you live in this state, you absolutely know — 100% sure — the rails will stop working as soon as we get snow. Moreover, we won’t have enough snowplows, sand, or salt.

Charles Baker, Governor – Massachusetts

Charlie Baker is Boston’s mayor. He has little or nothing to do with anyone outside greater Boston or the wealthy areas along our eastern coastline. In short, he’s not our governor. If you live in Newton or Framingham, maybe he’s your guy, although I’m not sure what he’s done for you, either.

In fact, I’m not sure he does anything except be pleasant. He is, however, committed to supporting the Republican ticket because that’s where the money comes from. He may act like a Democrat to get elected in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, but make no mistake. He is not. It’s a political shell-game.

One of the things Gonzalez said during the debate was that anyone who doesn’t live in or around Boston must wonder when the government might do something for them. He actually said he had wanted to do this debate in Worcester, but Baker’s staff would not agree. He said he would like to be governor for the entire state because everyone west of greater Boston was still waiting to some any kind of public transport, much less upgraded transport.

That is exactly how I feel. I get that we are always outvoted by the city and its suburbs, but we live here too. Wouldn’t it be nice to at least get back the amount of taxes we pay in? Maybe have an extension so we could take a  train to Boston? How about a minibus so if you can’t drive, you are not helpless.

I don’t think charming Charlie is enough. We deserve better. Not that this post is going to change the race, but we need to stop electing pleasant do-nothing governors and find one who will actually accomplish something.

The last good one we had was Michael Dukakis — more than 30 years ago.

WHO IS RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR IN MASSACHUSETTS? – Marilyn Armstrong

I had to look it up. I actually didn’t know who else was running for governor. Shame on me.

Shame on us!

We were watching the millionth advertisement for Charlie Baker, our current governor. He’s a Republican, but not the kind you find in Washington D.C. Massachusetts’ spawns very liberal Republicans. They are so liberal, it’s can be hard to figure out to what party they belong.

Our Republican governors run on everybody’s money — Democrat and Republican — because he manages to be nice to everyone, or at least nice enough to keep them on his side, more or less.

Charlie Baker is not a bad governor or a bad guy. He has basically followed the path of previous governors, except he has been more parsimonious. He hasn’t done anything very different from other governors or “Republicanized” our laws. He briefly waved at supporting Trump and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts came down on him like a mountain.

He backed off faster than a speeding bullet. This is the bluest state in the U.S. and a really red Republican was not going to do well here.

Since then, he has streamlined the budget until we now have a billion dollar surplus in the state treasury. Golly! That’s a fair bit of change. I have nothing against dealing wisely with finances. But where is the money coming from?

On the surface, a billion buck surplus sounds great, right?

Except in order to accumulate that billion dollars, he simply stopped doing stuff which urgently needs doing. The roads have gone unpaved. The rails are downright unsafe. Bridges are crumbling.

We are short 13,000 nurses statewide and many hospitals have closed. There are large areas without any local hospitals and barely any doctors.

Fall at UMass Amherst

The University of Massachusetts is as expensive as many private universities — and that is for people who are Massachusetts residents. The curriculum has been cut, too.

Meanwhile, our public schools are not improving. In another effort to financially cut back, MassHealth, our state’s version Medicaid has been slashed. A lot of people who have no other medical insurance now are forced to pay some dollar amount monthly.

It usually isn’t a lot in gross amounts but it can seem an awful lot to a family who depends on it. Still, compared to other American states, it’s about as good as American medical care gets. It even includes some care for eyes and teeth! It used to have more, but each year there’s less.

So then, I asked Garry which Democrat is running against Charlie Baker? He said “Someone with a Spanish last name,” but he couldn’t remember the actual name. Jay Gonzalez hasn’t had any television ads — or at least we haven’t seen them. None.

Basically, we have a choice of voting for Charlie Baker or someone about whom we know nothing because he apparently has no war chest for getting out the vote.

This bothers me.

I should at least know who else is running. It shouldn’t be that one guy has all the money, all the advertisements, all the endorsements, so naturally, we all vote for him. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.

The thing is, with all the advertisements about the great things Charlie Baker has done, he hasn’t done anything in this part of the state. The bridges are as bad as ever. The roads are worse. The schools are mediocre, ranging to pathetic.

BOSTON, MA. – SEPTEMBER 26: Gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez speaks to media at The Massachusetts Statehouse on September 26, 2018, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Patrick Whittemore/Boston Herald)

All public schools teach is how to pass required tests. Students learn nothing. They memorize what teachers expect to find on the exams. Good memorizers get good grades. Not such good memorizers do poorly.

Bad teachers, not enough teachers, huge classes. A lot of kids fall by the wayside.

When money goes to “help” schools, it always goes to some “charter school” in Boston or suburban Boston where the leaves are green and so is the money. And, because the population in Worcester county doesn’t come close to Boston or any of the areas near it, we can vote our hearts out, but unless it’s a local representative, we don’t have much effect on the election. Essentially, unless it’s a very local representative, our votes don’t count. Not nationally or regionally.

Areas with very with small populations don’t get much say in American politics.

So I’m voting for the other guy.

Because when I look at Charlie Baker’s slick advertising? What I I see is Boston. I see him cutting the bottom out of our upper and lower educational systems, failing to help improve our medical facilities, not helping the nursing schools engage students or helping hospitals pay for more nurses. I’m sure we can get him to pass a law about it, but that won’t solve the problem and will probably make it worse because the rest of the issue is that we need nurses and the money to pay them. And a law isn’t going to make that happen. Laws need funding and enforcement and some concept of the potential side effects of the law.

We have a habit in this state and this country of passing laws and then trying to figure out how to make it work. On a national level, sometimes this works, but mostly, it doesn’t work anywhere. Passing laws is not a single-layer job.

Even though I’m voting “no” on mandatory nursing ratios, it’s not because I don’t believe our nurses deserve a better deal but because I live in an area where there are very few decent hospitals. If mandatory nursing ratios force another 200 hospitals to close and any of them is in Worcester County,  it’s going to be hard to get into a hospital. I’d rather have overworked nurses than no place able to care for me.

For some of us, this is a life or death set of issues in this election and I’ve decided I want to live.

VOTING BLUE IN THE BLUEST STATE – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m sure California could make its own case as “the bluest state” but I think Massachusetts has a real grip on the whole “blue” thing.

We had our primaries last Tuesday. Since a lot of Democrats run unopposed, getting elected in the primaries is pretty much getting elected. The Republicans run national candidates, but locally, they often don’t bother.

Especially because our Democrats aren’t always particularly liberal. Some of them are clearly old-fashioned conservatives, but because they live in this state, they are registered as Democrats. I’ll bet this works the same way in traditionally Republican states.

Why fight with color? You are what you are, no matter what your banner might say.

Finally, this year we’ve been seeing some young or at least younger local people running. And winning. For many local offices, we had some young people — late thirties, early forties campaigners — running for office.

Finally! Some of the candidates, we just didn’t know enough about to make a judgment, but in the race for Secretary of State, there was a clear choice between Bill Galvin who has been holding that office since before I moved to the state in 1987.

Ayana Pressley, the new house of representatives winner beating long-term Representative Micheal Capuano

Galvin is, was, will always be, an old-fashioned conservative. Anywhere else, he’d be a Republican. In Massachusetts, it’s simpler to hold to your personal opinions but run as a Democrat or Independent.

He handles a lot of money issues and has done a good job of keeping our tax money in the treasury. Basically, he has done this by letting everything fall apart. The roads are giant potholes. You could lose a tank in some of those holes. The bridges are crumbling, too and around here, where we are completely surrounded by rivers, it’s getting a bit perilous to drive anywhere.

I think we will hear more from Josh Zakim. Especially after one more year of crumbling infrastructure.

Galvin (left) and Josh Zakim (right)

We have a billion dollar positive balance in our bank, but the infrastructure explains why that is. The trains are an ongoing disaster. Every year, they appoint a new transportation secretary and fire him or her in the spring, which is right after winter when those old, damaged rails stop functioning. We lack most of the safety features newer trains use.

It would help if they actually appointed someone who knew something about trains — but the real problem is that Massachusetts doesn’t want to spend the money to fix the railroads on which so many people depend. Daily. We have an underground and a lot of other, surface trains that are “supposed” to be fast, but barely gasp their way into the station. Places like Uxbridge don’t even have trains anymore.

We thought the young guy, Josh Zakim (34 years old) had a chance, but Galvin took him down two to one in the primary. Garry and I hoped for someone not quite so stodgy and old. You can’t win them all.

We did get a few young ones and a couple for whom I hold high hope. We got our very first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representative from Massachusetts, Ayana Pressley.

It’s the same seat Tip O’Neill and Teddy Kennedy held, so she certainly has an honorable place to start her fight. The guy she defeated, U.S. Congressman Michael E. Capuano had held the seat for ten years — was warmly gracious about her win and his loss.

Imagine that! Graciousness in politics! Who could have imagined such a shocking event in 2018?

Ayana Pressley is running unopposed in November, so she is set to become the first African-American woman elected to Congress from this Commonwealth. Many people compare Ayana Pressley’s win to that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, winner in New York (age 28)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a 28-year-old an educator and political activist who, on June 26, 2018, won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district — considered a significant upset and I wish her all the best.

Even though Massachusetts is the “bluest” state in the country, our “blues” range from highly conservative (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) to very far left and straight-out socialist. I’ve lived under Socialism and rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, it’s a pretty decent system. It has flaws too, but overall, it works. Rather better than our government is working, but that wouldn’t be difficult.

Charlie Baker, our guv, is the most left-wing Republican on the map. Massachusetts’ always elects liberal Republican governors. It’s a thing. Maybe some kind of balance?

Our senate and house are Democrats, but the governor is usually a Republican. After a brief flurry of Conservative speeches when he takes office, he quickly realized that he isn’t going to accomplish anything unless he works with all those Democrats in Congress. So, he buckles down and does what they all do. Governors work with the House to try and get something accomplished.

Remarkably, what gets done is rarely what everyone was hoping for — like rebuilding the damned bridges before they fall into the rivers. And making the trains run, even when it snows. And preventing them from derailing and crashing.

I miss Tip O’Neill and Ted Kennedy. I miss the savvy guys who knew how to write legislation, then reach across the aisle and turn it into functional policy that helped people. Nationally, our legislators are stuck like a fly to flypaper. Lots of buzzing followed by death.

I have no idea how all the other primaries have gone. Primaries from states not part of New England are not covered by the news here, so I’m just hoping that at least in a few places, younger, more open people are running for office.

There was a comedienne on Colbert last night who commented that our government is quite simply too old. The reason why Drumpf thinks coal mining is a cool idea is that he’s old. Really old. No one younger than 70 would think for a minute coal mining is “the way to go” and how we’ll find “new jobs.”

That isn’t a new job. It’s a terrible, awful, poorly paid, dead-end job no one but a few people who grew up in the mines thinks is a good idea. Yeah. Let’s save 200 jobs and trash a few million. Way to go, U.S.A.

I love some of our older senators and representatives. There are some smart, savvy guys and gals there. But we need some new life too. We need them to stop sleeping at their desks and find ideas for the next 100 or so years.

DEATH BY TRAFFIC

When I lived in Boston, traffic was basic. It was as much “life” as getting up to go to work. I had audiobooks in the car to keep my brain engaged. Traffic was fundamental. You couldn’t go anywhere without adding that extra hour — in case traffic was bad. Traffic was usually bad, but sometimes, it was worse. These days, I don’t need to think about traffic because we don’t have it. We don’t commute. If we need to drive, we schedule it for when there is likely to be little or no traffic. Locally, a traffic jam is a tractor with two cars waiting at an intersection. Or road repairs.

Until we moved here, traffic was a major issue. It controlled our days. Road work in Boston could make it impossible to get from one side of the city to another. Gridlock before and during holidays could effectively close the city. I once tried to pick Garry up from work. It was less than a mile from home. Normally, he walked, but he had things to carry and so he asked me to come get him.

I left the parking lot, drove a block, and had to stop. Nothing was moving. An hour later, I was in the same place. I finally made a u-turn and went home to the apartment. It was before cell phones, so I had to call the guard at the front desk at Channel 7 and ask him to go outside and tell Garry I couldn’t get there. The next day it was in the papers and TV. The entire city had been gridlocked, the Friday before Christmas.

Less than a year later, we moved from Boston to Roxbury, about 4 miles outside downtown Boston. There were trees. Empty lots. Almost the suburbs. You could park — for free — on the street, as long as you remembered alternate side of the street parking.

Then came the Big Dig.

The Central Artery-Tunnel Project, called The Big Dig, was a monstrous project involving rerouting and redesigning virtually every road in, out, around, and through Boston. If you lived in the city, there were no areas unaffected by it. It was supposed to solve the city’s traffic disaster. Ultimately, it made it easier to get to the airport, but the rest of it? It’s still a permanent jam that will never go away. Was it worth it?

The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in history. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it was plagued by cost overruns, scheduling disasters, water leakage, collapses of ceilings and other parts of roads and tunnels, impressive design flaws, blatantly poor workmanship, nepotism, corruption, payoffs, substandard materials, criminal arrests for a some of the aforementioned offenses (but not nearly enough), and four deaths.

The project was supposed to be finished by 1998 and cost $2.8 billion. I am sure no one in Boston expected it to cost that or be finished on schedule — and we were right. It took an additional nine years and was finally finished in December 2007  It cost more than $14.6 billion. The Boston Globe estimates when all is said and done, including interest and fines, lawsuits and so on, the project will total more than $22 billion and won’t be paid off until sometime in 2038. Or later.

The Big Dig drove us out of Boston. One day, I had to go grocery shopping. The supermarket was a mile away. It took me two hours to get there and another hour and a half to get home.

“Garry,” I said that evening, “Let’s get out of here!”

We did.

We fled Boston. Traffic had taken over our lives. We couldn’t go to a restaurant or a movie. We couldn’t shop, park, or get to or from work. People trying to visit us couldn’t find our condo because the exit to our neighborhood kept moving and was often closed. Out-of-towners roamed helplessly through Dorchester, looking in vain for a street sign or marker to give them a clue where to go. Maps and GPS were useless.

Sometimes we couldn’t find our way home. It was unnerving.

THE COST

I must have spent years of my life in traffic. By the time we slouched home, exhausted and beaten, we were wrecks.

Is there a solution to this? Not that I know of.

You don’t find good jobs in small towns or the country. We underestimate how seriously the wear and tear of commuting affects us. It wears us down physically. It tightens our backs and necks. When it take hours to get to work, you are already tired when you get there. Maybe it’s easier by train, but we haven’t lived anywhere with direct train — or even bus — service to where we worked, so we had to drive.

If not for the commuting, I might have survived longer in the work place, but it was hopeless. One day, something snapped. After that, no amount of pushing was going to keep me going. I was done. There were other reasons too … but if I hadn’t had that two to three-hour twice-a-day commute? I might have found a way to hang on. Traffic has a lot more to do with our survival than we think.

Work is easy. Commuting is a killer.

UNIDENTIFIED PROBLEM WITH AUTO REGISTRATION

The annual inspection for the Jeep runs out in a few days, so like everyone else, we left it for the end of the month. There’s no advantage in doing it early unless you think you have problems that need fixing.

Today being the 25th of October, Garry hauled himself out of bed. He didn’t even stop for coffee. Just put on his rain gear (yes, it is still raining and will be tomorrow too) and went to get the car inspected. I got a call from my son telling me that the inspector (my son is also an inspector) had found “Unidentified problems with registration” and could not inspect the car.

What? Why?

We paid the Excise Tax. That’s the usual problem. Half the time, they don’t send you the bill or they send it a month after it was due with an added fee for not paying it on time. Occasionally, they do send it and if you don’t forget to pay it, it’s all good. I was pretty sure — as sure as I am of anything these days  — I had paid the excise tax. I vaguely remembered feeding it into the electronic hopper at the bank. I know I  renewed my license this year because I had to physically go to an office so they could take my picture and make sure I’m not too demented to drive legally.

I passed.

The test for dementia (I’m wandering here, sorry) boils down to checking three boxes. One says “No, really, I’m not demented” Another asks if you can see. A third … what was that third one? Never mind. They check your vision by waving a huge, brightly colored flag in front of you. If you can’t see that, you probably need a dog more than you need a car.

“That was not much of a test,” I said.

“That’s all we are allowed to do,” he said.

I got my new license and the picture isn’t nearly as hideous as it could have been, though it is bad enough.

We also had to cancel the old registration on the yellow car, which we sold last April (I think). Meanwhile, I never got paperwork indicating that the Jeep needed new registration. Although they don’t send anything to remind you about renewing your license (Massachusetts is too poor to afford a postcard), they do usually send you paperwork about registration.

Mine (apparently) didn’t arrive. That is not unusual because they have some kind of mailing issue at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Ask anyone. When your paperwork shows up as expected, that is cause for celebration. But of course, I didn’t get the paperwork so I didn’t know I was supposed to renew it. And I didn’t. Apparently. Because I couldn’t find any evidence in my bank account that I’d paid it and they’re pretty good about this stuff.

So the “unidentified problem” turned out to be that the car’s registration ran out in September and now, it’s late in October. Fortunately, the RMV let me renew it online. The printer wasn’t out of ink, so I could print a piece of paper that says “This is your registration ID until we get around to sending you the real one  in … a week? Maybe two? But we’ll send it. Eventually.”

Woo hoo.


Registry of Motor Vehicles Registration Renewal XXXXXXXXX

The requested Registration Renewal for XXXXXX has been successfully processed on 10/25/2017 at 11:57 AM in the Amount of $60.00.

Your registration certificate and decal will be mailed to you. If your old registration has expired, your vehicle cannot be operated legally until you receive your new registration certificate, unless you print and carry this e-mail in the vehicle. M.G.L. c.90 s.11 allows the Registrar to issue a receipt for the fees paid, which may be carried in lieu of the registration certificate for up to 60 days. A printed copy of this e-mail shall be deemed a receipt for the fees for the purposes of M.G.L. c.90 s.11. If you do not receive your registration certificate and decal within 30 days of the renewal, or you have questions, please contact the Telephone Center at 857-368-8000 (from the 339/617/781/857 area codes) or 800-858-3926 (from all other MA area codes) from 9:00am to 5:00pmMonday – Friday, except holidays.

We welcome your feedback!

Please e-mail us at feedback.registry@state.ma.us

Thanks for using www.massrmv.com

Sign up for your E-ZPass MA transponder for use on the Massachusetts Turnpike, the Sumner and Ted Williams Tunnels, and the Tobin Memorial Bridge. To learn more about E-ZPass MA, visit the E-ZPass MA program Website.


The feedback link was broken for feedback about the RMV and we’ve had an E-ZPass for a long time. So I didn’t tell them what I think of the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Probably just as well. If you don’t have anything nice to say, shut up and drink your coffee.

Identity having been fully restored, Garry took a huge cup of coffee and a book and went back to get the car inspected. It was just another day in our lives.


Crisis. Confusion. Clarification. Payment.


At least I didn’t have to try to actually talk to someone there. The “waiting” time on the phone for the RMV is in excess of an hour. I don’t know if the battery on the phone would last that long.

Identity completed.

CONTINUING FOREVER ON THE MASS PIKE

Does you ever feel like life is an exercise wheel for hamsters? And you are a hamster? You run and you run, but you stay in that wheel.

This morning, I got a note from our state government, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts about our EZ Pass. It showed two cars, including one we sold months ago. I tried to delete it using the “Delete car from list” option, but instead, it decided I was closing my account. There was no option for “do not close my account” and their chat line was broken, so I called. On the phone. Remarkably, I got an automated answer.

After yelling “AGENT, AGENT, AGENT” into the phone a few dozen times, a person came on the line.

He insisted he couldn’t do ANYTHING without my pin number — which I apparently created 15 years ago? More? What PIN number? I finally figured out it must be someone’s birthday and in desperation, figured out who that might be — because otherwise, I’d have to take three forms of ID and go to the nearest physical booth. And where would that be? No doubt somewhere on the Mass Pike and there I would sign a few hundred forms so they wouldn’t cancel the account I never tried to cancel.

Eventually, after I deduced the pin number and now (he says) we have an open account and the yellow Sunfire is gone. That’s what he told me.

But I’m dealing with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Which has the bureaucracy from Hell. I’m not sure how it got this bad, but we put other bureaucracies to shame. Ours is THE best bureaucracy on earth, bar none. Talk about continuing.

I bet they cancel the account anyhow. A couple of weeks from now, I’m going to get another notice telling me that I requested my account be cancelled. That’s just the way it goes. Year by year, month by month, day by day.

Welcome to Massachusetts. Forever may it continue!

CRANKY AND WHINY

Welcome to New England where our most popular regional sport is politics. Football, baseball, basketball and hockey cannot compete with the joys of arguing politics. That this year is politically the worst experience since we drove out the British only means that all our other complaints will have to wait in line until the political rage has been satisfied, at least temporarily.

When politics and sports are finished, we move on to the single sport in which everyone, of any age, can actively compete.

Weather.

From bitterly cold to stiflingly hot, we’ve got the perfect weather to cover it.

Winter is too long, too snowy, too icy, and much too cold. I couldn’t agree more. Everyone is cranky and whiny from the first flakes through final melting. Of course, mud season, the inevitable followup to the heavy snow, is no one’s favorite, discounting the dogs who revel in it.

Spring? What spring? Where are the flowers? Why can’t we get a decent spring season? Is this the punishment of a malign deity? Until the lilies bloom, New Englanders are cranky.

Some time during May, summer drops by, usually in mid-afternoon. The morning is comfortable until the temperature goes way up there, the humidity moves in. The leaves on the trees droop and it is definitely summer. Which is always too hot. Muggy. Humid. Or, it may not be hot enough.


“Hey, how come it’s June and we still need heat?”  

Those triple H days — hot, hazy, and humid — give us a collective headache. Cranky and whiny, that’s us.

Autumn is everyone’s favorite season except it’s much too short. and there are oceans of dead leaves to shovel. We rate our autumn by brightness of leaf and you can stand on line in the grocery and hear people commenting that “this one isn’t as good as the year before last and who remembers 2012? Wasn’t that a doozy?”

We live in the “Snow and Long Commutes” region. Especially the snow. And Worcester.

On a bad year, heavy rains from a southern tropical storm drives up the coast and ruins the foliage. Which makes everyone cranky. And whiny. We get over it if the Sox are in the playoffs, but are even crankier if they are not. I know people on Facebook who, in the middle of a summer-long drought during which we haven’t gotten a drop of rain, will rant furiously on the day the drought breaks. I bet they’d be even more cranky and whiny if their well went dry . That would be a big, serious rant!

New England. What’s not to love?