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Robbins: New winds change Mass. political landscape

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Robbins: New winds change Mass. political landscape

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” wrote a French essayist in 1849, and the expression has become part of our common parlance. But it isn’t always true, and recent events have demonstrated that if the saying once applied to the norms of Massachusetts political life, it no longer does.

Ranked 15th among the states in population, the Bay State always punches well beyond its weight on the scale of national impact, which is why its political doings receive outsized attention. This makes sense: what happens in Massachusetts doesn’t always stay in Massachusetts, politically speaking. Four of America’s 46 presidents were born here, and seven others studied here. In the last nine presidential elections, three major party nominees – Michael Dukakis, John Kerry and Mitt Romney – were Massachusetts politicians. In 2020 alone, five candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination – Elizabeth Warren, Deval Patrick,  Michael Bloomberg, Seth Moulton and Bill De Blasio – were either Massachusetts officeholders or were raised here.

Then there are the armies of campaign operatives and public policy types that hail from the state. The result: Massachusetts politics is not only a local blood sport but an ongoing national spectacle. Just as a now defunct financial services company’s advertisements once proclaimed “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen,” so too do political professionals ascribe tea leaf qualities to what happens here.

Two recent developments have generated national attention. The election of 36-year-old City Councilor Michelle Wu as Boston’s new mayor has excited young Bostonians and communities of color, punctuating their ascendancy. The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Wu’s election has made it clear that the days when white men ruled Boston’s roost are over. “The old Boston is gone,” Democratic strategist Mary Ann Marsh told the Washington Post last month, “and there’s a new Boston in terms of political power.”

Census figures tell part of the story. In 1970, 79.8% of Boston’s population was comprised of non-Hispanics whites. Now it is 44.6%. Only 2.6% of Bostonians were Hispanics; now it is 18.7%. Asian Americans numbered only 1.3% of the city’s population 50 years ago. Their proportional representation has increased almost tenfold since then.

Wu’s election has electrified Bostonians. Whip smart and seemingly limitless in her energy, the mother of two small children has been everywhere since winning the mayoralty four weeks ago. She doesn’t appear to have much choice in the matter: every group in every neighborhood in the city has been clamoring for her appearance at every ceremony that Boston’s robust holiday season has to offer, and there are a lot of them. This goes beyond the normal “Wouldn’t it be nice to have the mayor come?”; there is a slightly frenzied “Do you think we can get Michelle?” aspect that has taken hold. Nor is this simply a testament to Wu’s personal vibrancy. Her push for free public transportation, cost containment for renters and environmental protection has resonated widely.

Also marking the end of a political era was Republican Governor Charlie Baker’s announcement that he would not seek reelection. Baker is the latest in a long series of moderate Republicans who have won the governorship in dark blue Massachusetts over the past century, and he may be the last. Since his election in 2014, Baker has been one of the country’s most popular governors, not merely projecting but displaying a steady hand, decency and thoughtfulness. These qualities have not endeared him to his own state party which, like the Republican Party generally, is now dominated by election-deniers. The odds that Baker would have lost his own party’s nomination for a third term were likely a big factor in driving a good man from public service.

In Massachusetts, the Gods of Good Governance have both given and taken away, all in the same month. It’s plain that politics here has actually changed and not stayed the same.

Jeff Robbins is a Boston lawyer and former U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission

 

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Wilmington deadly train strike: MBTA says ‘human error’ is behind ‘heartbreaking accident’

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Wilmington deadly train strike: MBTA says ‘human error’ is behind ‘heartbreaking accident’

Police investigating the fatal collision of a Commuter Rail train into a vehicle last Friday say that “human error” is behind the horrific wreck that occurred in Wilmington.

The victim of the devastating crash was Roberta Sausville, 68, of Wilmington, according to the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office.

Investigators say that Sausville was driving alone on Middlesex Avenue in Wilmington at around 5:51 p.m. when an inbound Haverhill Line train struck the driver’s side of her vehicle near the North Wilmington MBTA station. Sausville was pronounced dead at the scene.

The investigation remains active, but “human error is the primary focus of investigators from MBTA Transit Police, State Police and the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office,” MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said in a statement.

Less than an hour before the accident, a signal maintainer for Keolis — the Commuter Rail operator — was performing regularly scheduled testing and preventative maintenance of the railroad crossing’s safety system.

“Following the testing, our preliminary finding is that the safety system was not returned to its normal operating mode,” Poftak said. “This failure resulted in the crossing gates not coming down in a timely manner as the train approached Middlesex Avenue.

“Investigators have not found any defects nor any other problems with the various elements that comprise the infrastructure of the railroad crossing system,” he added.

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Minnesota COVID-19 patients face a lottery for monoclonal treatment that works against omicron

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Minnesota COVID-19 patients face a lottery for monoclonal treatment that works against omicron

Minnesotans who get a serious case of COVID-19 may face long odds of getting one of the life-saving treatments that can fight off the omicron variant because they are in such short supply.

State health officials had steadily increased the availability of monoclonal antibodies — a type of antibody infusion — to help high-risk patients avoid severe COVID-19 infections. Unfortunately, now only one monoclonal antibody formula, Sotrovimab, works against omicron.

“That is in very low supply nationally and in Minnesota,” Jan Malcolm, health commissioner, recently told members of the Minnesota House health committee.

The state has moved to a random selection process to decide who gets what monoclonal antibodies the state has on hand. This week it got just under 600 doses of Sotrovimab, a slight increase from the week before.

The state received larger allocations of the two new antiviral pills — Molnupiravir and Paxlovid — getting about 12,000 total doses of those newly approved pills since they became available in December.

The random selection process the state uses is a weighted system that identifies patients who would most benefit from monoclonal treatments. When treatments are scarce, patients who receive the medicines are picked through a lottery.

In some instances, the process could give consideration to front-line health workers who were sickened while caring for COVID patients. Many Minnesota health systems, but not all, follow the state’s guidance for distributing scarce treatments.

The guidelines do not take into account whether someone has been vaccinated.

The state stopped using race as a factor in that weighted system for allocating monoclonal treatments Jan. 12 after America First Legal threatened a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Health alleging racial and ethnic discrimination.

“These racist policies decide questions of life and death based on skin color and must be rescinded immediately,” Stephen Miller, the group’s president and a former adviser to President Trump, said in a statement. “No right is safe if the government can award or deny medical care based on race. End this horrid injustice.”

America First Legal filed a lawsuit Jan. 16 against the New York State Department of Health for a similar policy.

Throughout the pandemic, Minnesota Department of Health data has shown Black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial residents have had higher rates of COVID-19 hospitalization and death than white residents.

When asked about the rationale for removing race as a factor, despite it being part of federal guidance, a state Department of Health spokesman said in an emailed statement:

“The State of Minnesota is committed to serving all Minnesotans equitably in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring that communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 have the support and resources they need is critical and we are constantly reviewing our policies in order to meet that goal.”

Minnesota continues to experience record high caseloads of COVID-19 driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. The state is reporting, on average, more than 11,000 new infections each day and test-positivity is at 27 percent.

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Nikola Jokic, Nuggets avoid fourth-quarter disaster, end homestand 4-2

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Nikola Jokic, Nuggets avoid fourth-quarter disaster, end homestand 4-2

The Nuggets don’t know easy. It’s just not in their nature.

Denver avoided what would’ve been an ugly double-digit, fourth-quarter collapse Sunday and hung on to beat the Pistons, 117-111. Up 16 points to start the fourth quarter, Detroit chiseled away at the lead, tying it twice in the final two minutes.

Former Nugget Trey Lyles added to the drama with eight of his 18 in the fourth quarter, but the Pistons were rebuffed by Nikola Jokic, who scored six consecutive points late to ice the game.

Jokic finished with 34 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, snapping his four-game triple-double streak. Not that it mattered to Jokic.

The Nuggets, now 24-21, will get the Pistons again Tuesday in Detroit to start their daunting six-game road trip. They ended their six-game homestand with a 4-2 record.

DeMarcus Cousins was relatively underwhelming in his Nuggets debut, finishing with just two points and six rebounds in 12 minutes. But he was part of a strong bench showing, which saw the Nuggets outscore Detroit’s reserves 41-37.

In addition, the Nuggets hung 60 points in the paint to help combat 18 points each from Detroit’s Isaiah Stewart and Cade Cunningham.

Each time the Nuggets looked like they’d create separation, they’d turn it over or fail to capitalize on an open 3-pointer. Finally, with 4:50 left in the third quarter, Jokic found Bryn Forbes lingering outside the 3-point line, and he drained the look. Two minutes later, reserve Davon Reed knocked in a 3, and shortly thereafter, so did Facu Campazzo.

As Campazzo trotted back on defense, he looked to the sky with relief. Zeke Nnaji canned a triple before the quarter was over, and the Nuggets’ second unit had engineered a 92-76 lead heading into the final quarter.

Playing some with Jokic and some with the reserves, Forbes looked more comfortable than he did in his debut.

“When you make a trade, in and of itself, that takes some time because you’re bringing in a new person, a new personality to a locker room, to a culture,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

His prior experience with well-respected organizations like Milwaukee and San Antonio helped ease the transition.

Entering Sunday, Malone had a healthy fear of the rebuilding Pistons for one specific reason.

“As I told our players, when you’re a team like Detroit, they have nothing to lose,” Malone said pre-game.

He said human nature becomes a factor, and teams inevitably let their guard down against lottery-bound teams.

“… These games scare the hell out of me,” he said.

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