Students across the nation show what truly makes America great

With the forces of division stronger than ever, leave it to the kids to give America what it needs: solidarity.

Students all over the country walked out of class in protest yesterday to bring attention to the fact that no one in power is doing anything to stop the senseless and horrific epidemic of gun violence in America. Tired of thoughts and prayers followed by inaction and neglect, the youth of America have chosen to “be a nuisance when it counts” in an attempt to change the deadly status quo. This symbolic act of political expression was the result of a coordinated, grassroots campaign spearheaded by the students themselves, exactly one month after 17 of their peers were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

In Massachusetts, the third nor’easter in as many weeks couldn’t stop thousands of teenagers from making their voices heard. Students in Boston, Somerville, Andover, and elsewhere used their snow day to trudge through the elements in order to deliver their message to lawmakers. And where the weather proved to be too much to safely march, such as in the harder-hit western part of the state, planned protests were rescheduled for today.

Nowhere in the Commonwealth was safe from the wrath of the engaged and energized youth. In Springfield, students gathered outside of the Smith & Wesson headquarters to loudly protest the gunmaker responsible for mass-producing the weapon used to kill 17 people in Parkland.

[fiftystates_blockquote quote=”Students are uniting in solidarity under a common banner: to bring an end to the violence, to push back against the entrenched interests of a brutal and powerful industry of death, to demand that their leaders take them seriously and act as if their lives have value.”]

As a leader in responsible gun control policy, the state of Massachusetts lent a generally receptive ear to the rightfully enraged protesters. But elsewhere, students were met with a less empathetic response — not just from lawmakers, but also teachers and school administrators. One high school superintendent in Texas, who threatened to suspend any and all students wishing to express themselves in peaceful and conscientious demonstration, justified his administration’s zero-tolerance policy by asserting, without a hint of irony, that schools are in fact places “to learn and grow educationally, emotionally and morally.”

But the teens will not be deterred — and they are in good company. History is replete with examples of young people standing up to do the right thing when adults in power have abdicated their shared responsibility to look out for the common good. What is seemingly different this time, at least in modern American history, is the level of solidarity among students from disparate regions of the country, with different backgrounds and life experiences, all uniting under a common banner: to bring an end to the violence, to push back against the entrenched interests of a brutal and powerful industry of death, to demand that their leaders take them seriously and act as if their lives have value.

Such unified, active, and prolonged engagement in a just cause represents the true stuff of American greatness. And the cause is not only just, it is necessary. Whether through apathy or outright hostility, adults in power have failed to adequately protect the interests of the young — including their most basic right of freedom from physical harm.

So the youth of America are taking power unto themselves with an impassioned unity long discarded by the old. From an unceasing refusal to let the conversation die yet again, to yesterday’s walkouts, to the upcoming March for Our Lives, their committed efforts are working where others have failed and when they are most needed.

The kids are more than all right. They are America’s only hope.

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By kissing Trump’s ring, Mitt Romney proves he is who Massachusetts always knew he was

It’s 2018, and political windsock Mitt Romney is still running for something.

On Saturday, Romney announced he would be entering the “race” to fill Orrin Hatch’s Senate seat in Utah. With no high-profile challengers in sight, victory seems all but inevitable for the carpetbagging CEO.

Certain members of the media elite immediately and predictably fell over themselves to proclaim Romney the new face of the nonexistent Republican “Never Trump” movement in Congress. (Apparently, for some, Romney’s 2016 anti-Trump speech — spinelessly delivered at a time when Trump’s nomination was all but guaranteed — voids his post-election prostration in pursuit of a cabinet role.)

In short order, all eyes turned to President Trump, who, in what appeared to be classic trolling fashion, offered his full support for Romney’s Senate bid:

Half an hour later, Romney, relishing his post as elder statesman atop the moral high ground, responded to reject the President’s endorsement and distance himself from Trump’s odious brand of politics. Just kidding:

Now, if any Republican is in prime position to speak out against the historically unpopular Trump with minimal political consequence, it’s Romney. To do so here would have been the rare confluence of political expediency and moral righteousness.

Romney’s failure to seize this opportunity, and his full-throated embrace of Trump’s support, defy logic … if you’ve never met Mitt Romney.

Massachusetts knows full well the extent of Mitt’s rank opportunism. This is a man who once tried to outflank Ted Kennedy on his left, whose flexible position on abortion earned him the designation “multiple choice,” and who will always be the literal and symbolic namesake of universal healthcare in the Commonwealth.

Now, thanks to Romney’s warm embrace of his onetime political “foe” and his reinvention as a JT-style man of the woods, America and the world are now witness to the full-blown Romney treatment — a level of hypocrisy that would make Marco Rubio blush.

To its credit, the Boston media has pretty consistently seen through Romney’s faux opposition to Trump and the Republican agenda, even before he announced his most recent run. And with this unnecessary and gushing nod to President Trump, Romney’s true nature is now impossible for any reasonable person to deny.

But this is the man Romney has always been, in Massachusetts and soon the US Senate: a nebulous political blob with his finger to the wind. Moving out west, tucking in his flannel, and preaching about “Utah values” was never going to change that.

Now that his cards are clearly on the table, we can all look forward to a few vague lamentations on divisiveness and generic calls for unity as Romney, Trump Republican that he is, falls in line once again and forever more.

Liz Warren goes after Democrats for helping Republicans gut Dodd-Frank

Elizabeth Warren warns Democrats: “We’ll be paving the way for the next big crash.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren had some choice words yesterday for both Republicans and fellow Democrats after learning that her own party is assisting in the continued dismantling of Dodd-Frank, President Obama’s signature financial reform law passed in 2010 in the wake of the Wall Street-spawned recession.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled plans to bring multiple pieces of legislation to the floor as part of a broad financial reform package, including an atrocious bill sponsored by none other than former vice presidential candidate and bilingual political blob Tim Kaine.

A coalition of 12 Democrats and one Independent (Angus King, not Bernie Sanders) have pledged support for Kaine’s bill, which would, among other terrible things, make it harder for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to crack down on racially discriminatory home lending practices, including the notoriously destructive practice of redlining. (Ta-Nehisi Coates eloquently breaks down the tragic effects of redlining in his seminal work “The Case for Reparations.”)

The meat of Kaine’s bill would exempt 85 percent of American banks from reporting data on certain lending practices, including loan approval and denial numbers — effectively making it impossible for the CFPB to determine whether or not these banks are dispersing money in a fair and non-discriminatory manner. In case you, like our leaders, have forgotten, these predatory lending practices, which heavily marketed subprime mortgages to poor, minority communities, were a leading cause of the recession and a major reason why these same communities were hit the hardest.

Kaine has defended his bill as “relief for small community banks and credit unions,” a common trope wheeled out by both parties during financial reform debates in an attempt to get blue-collar constituents on board with legislation specifically aimed at, and often written by, the nation’s largest commercial banks. And that’s exactly what’s happening here — community banks, credit unions, and big banks have all thrown their lot in together in an effort to fight and/or roll back any sort of sensible financial regulation.

We’ve been led down this road many times before — but this time, a few outspoken progressive Democrats like Warren and Sherrod Brown of Ohio (as well as basically every consumer protection and public interest group under the sun) are calling for a new way.

Dodd-Frank was by no means perfect, but it did create a few important systemic safeguards. In addition to its anti-redlining provisions, it imposed stricter Federal Reserve oversight on “big” banks, or those with with over $50 billion in U.S. assets. Now, Congress is considering not only scrapping the anti-discrimination rules, but also upping the minimum asset threshold for big banks to $250 billion. This goes in the wrong direction.

America needs more, not less, financial regulation — especially when it comes to increasing access to sustainable home ownership for historically marginalized communities. Nowhere is this more sorely needed than in Massachusetts, a state with a troubled history of racist housing policy and lending practices. The lingering effects of these practices can still be felt today and will no doubt be exacerbated by Kaine’s bill.

It’s been almost ten years since the worst financial crisis in modern American history, and the rich are richer, the poor are growing in number, and the banks are back to their old tricks. Corruption at the highest levels has reached comical, Gilded Age proportions. Trump’s robber baron cronies (like adviser Carl Icahn, who dumped $30 million in steel stocks just days before new steel tariffs were announced) are treating this country like the proverbial cash cow and, with the help of bipartisan DC complicity, are milking it for everything it’s worth before someone actually tries to stop them.

Unfortunately, the only ones who can stop them are Democrats. But if Democrats are too invested in the status quo, if they can’t resist Wall Street’s money and cushy private sector retirement plans, if they can still get away with ignoring voices of reason like Warren and Brown — who will save us from the next inevitable crash?

What Congress can learn from Massachusetts: Gun bans work

Yes, the federal Assault Weapons Ban had huge loopholes. Congress should bring it back anyway — and Massachusetts can show how to do it right.

It’s been over two weeks since the Parkland shooting — and despite the best efforts of Republicans and societal apathy, America is still talking about gun control. Which is a good thing.

But the conversation is all over the place. Teenagers are calling for practical solutions to stop the bloodshed, “adult” conservatives are viciously and personally attacking said teenagers online, Democrats are wrestling with their general fear of alienating the right, and Republicans top to bottom are slandering teachers, cops, and the mentally ill in an attempt to deflect from the real problem: the ludicrous abundance and accessibility of guns in America.

Before things digress to the point of oblivion, again, Congress should do something. Specifically, it should reinstate the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.

The original ban, passed in 1994, was a novel and short-lived experiment in reasonably sound public safety policy that garnered mixed reviews from advocates and opponents alike, expiring in 2004 after its 10-year clock ran out. Republicans and Democrats then spent the following decade-plus heaping blame on each other as mass shootings in America became more commonplace. While the original ban wasn’t perfect, much of its questionable efficacy had less to do with its broad mandate and more to do with the monster-truck sized loopholes written into its legislative language by the gun lobby.

The Bay State is all too familiar with these types of loopholes. In 1998, Massachusetts enacted its own Assault Weapons Ban, and the period since has been one of historically low levels of gun violence in the Commonwealth. But certain intrepid, freedom-loving Second Amendment defenders (read: bored white men who like to shoot stuff) began to figure out how to get around the ban, building what are effectively illegal machine guns out of various legal parts and components. In 2015, around 10,000 of these “assault-style” rifles were sold in Massachusetts.

Which is why, in 2016, state Attorney General Maura Healey announced her office would be coming after any weapon that clearly violated the spirit of the ban. She received immediate pushback from local gun advocacy groups and the NRA. Even the state’s “moderate” Republican Governor Charlie Baker (who expressed doubt regarding the constitutionality of the state ban in 2013) went out of his way to call Healey’s well-intentioned and probably legal attempt to close this dangerous loophole “ambiguous.” Litigation concerning the legality of Healey’s 2016 directive is currently pending.

These days, though, even Charlie Baker seems to be coming around, calling on the feds to implement “something similar” to the Massachusetts Assault Weapons Ban. Welcome to the party, pal.

But all cynicism aside, it’s encouraging to see Republicans support doing something, anything, to stop the scourge of gun violence in America. Despite full GOP control in Washington, the idea of banning guns at the federal level is far less politically toxic than it has been in decades, even more so than in the aftermath of Sandy Hook.

And it’s about time. It’s utterly mind-boggling that any reasonable person could look at the epidemic of gun violence in the United States (almost 100 gun deaths per day) and blame this true American carnage on anything other than the millions and millions of guns we intentionally make easier to obtain than beer and birth control. It’s not rocket science: more guns closely correlate with more gun deaths. Isn’t it possible, nay, likely, that the inverse might also be true? Don’t we owe it to our terrified children to at least partially loosen our grip on unfettered access to unnecessary killing machines?

For years, the deadly combination of NRA lobbyists, fear-mongering conservative politicians, and acquiescing liberals have rendered this question practically unanswerable. But today, maybe, finally, the nation is at a turning point — thanks to the kids. We owe it to them not to waste this moment.

Federal immigration agents are running wild in Boston

Immigration arrests shot up 50 percent in Boston in 2017, according to a recent Boston Globe exposé. Federal agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are making their presence felt with a vengeance in a city whose mayor once famously promised to shelter undocumented immigrants in City Hall.

ICE has different plans, and they aren’t just going after violent criminals. “Non-criminal” arrests (whatever those are) have tripled since 2016. ICE is taking into custody people with civil infractions and expired paperwork. They’re showing up at arraignment dates in courtrooms across the state and arresting people who haven’t been convicted. They’re even arresting those who voluntarily show up at federal immigration offices in order to legalize their stay in America, including a 30-year old mother of two and wife of a U.S. citizen trying to apply for permanent resident status.

What’s truly insane about ICE’s operations in Boston and around the state, other than the indiscriminate Gestapo-esque inhumanity of it all, is that Massachusetts largely supports protecting its undocumented population. The Safe Communities Act, a bill limiting the power of local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE in pursuit of non-violent immigrants, is making its way through the state legislature with broad bipartisan support. It’s even backed by the Chiefs of Police Association, one of the most influential police unions in the state.

So leave it to the Trump administration to send swarms of federal agents into the Commonwealth, against the express will of its leaders and people, to round up and deport those who are trying to do the right thing. Not only is this an abhorrent waste of resources, it represents the height of hypocrisy. In 2018, the GOP’s official stance appears to be that states’ rights only deserve autonomy and protection when they extend to white, native-born Americans.

What ICE is doing amounts to the intentional and systematic purging of an entire ethnic group from America’s shores. At the very least, the practical effect of ICE’s efforts on the ground in Massachusetts and across the country has been the mass deportation of non-violent brown people. Trump is making America whiter, and there is no logical or policy-driven explanation for it other than xenophobia and racism. America’s deportation machine might have metastasized under Obama, but Trump and his fellow Republicans are taking it to unprecedented levels for the modern era by aggressively pursuing an unabashedly pro-white immigration policy.

I have worked in district attorneys’ offices and as a criminal defense lawyer. I have seen ICE agents sitting in the back of the courtroom, unsuccessfully attempting to blend in with broken and upset families, waiting for the clerk to call names like Ramirez and Ortega before formally identifying themselves and approaching the bar. I have seen parents, spouses, and children wave what little money they have in front of helpless judges in a futile attempt to post bail as ICE agents drag their loved ones out of court. I honestly didn’t think it could get any worse than that.

But arresting those who are trying to get right with the law, who want to stay in America despite the concerted efforts of their government to get rid of them as fast as possible, is a new and despicable low. The damage ICE is doing to families, communities, and the nation as a whole cannot be overstated. The agency’s efforts, emboldened by decades of Republican fear-mongering, are a stain on the soul of America that will not be easily, if ever, wiped clean.

I moved from Boston to Copenhagen between two government shutdowns. It almost didn’t happen.

I was born in Boston. I spent my childhood and most of my adult life in and around Boston. I went to law school in Boston.

Then in 2014, I met and fell in love with a Danish girl. While she had spent most of her adult life in America, she had deep roots in Denmark and one day hoped to return.

So she did. And I went with her.

Last week, my now fiancée (and our 75-pound bluetick coonhound named Boone) moved to Copenhagen.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have the chance to embark on this adventure, and I will miss Boston and Massachusetts tremendously. But this post isn’t about that.

This post is about how our entire plan was almost derailed by the two monumentally stupid government shutdowns that sandwiched our trip, and the unforeseen consequences that can result from these kinds of failures of leadership.

Before my trip, I thought I was at least aware of the inherent drawbacks of living under a government periodically funded on a monthly basis and routinely on the verge of collapse. But I had no idea how far-reaching the ramifications of an inefficient and paralyzed government can be.

I had to jump through many hoops in order to move abroad — any one of which, if closed, would have delayed my trip and jeopardized my potential employment in Denmark. From having my visa paperwork reviewed by the proper American authorities, to changing my tax status, to confirming my health care coverage abroad, even to having my dog approved for air travel. All of the agencies in charge of these processes close their doors during a government shutdown, and move at a snail’s pace even when they’re open. Between finding an affordable flight, navigating arcane bureaucratic directives, and trying to make a scheduled job interview in Copenhagen, I literally had a 10-day window to move and get settled. I barely made it, despite the best efforts of my government.

Now, none of these are life or death issues, just stressful inconveniences. But for poor children, low-wage workers, immigrants, veterans, and others, government shutdowns can be devastating.

That’s because, during a shutdown, the government halts all “non-essential” services, a laughable euphemism that encompasses any agency with the power to do good and directly improve the daily lives of average people. Basically, in America, if it serves no military purpose, it’s not essential.

My travel plans, while admittedly non-essential (other than bringing the dog; no way was I leaving him behind) piqued my curiosity as to what else is considered non-essential in America.

Here’s a brief list of agencies and programs that go without funding to provide services and pay their employees during a government shutdown:

Agriculture.

Commerce.

Education.

Energy.

Environmental Protection Agency.

Food and Drug Administration.

Health and Human Services.

Housing and Urban Development.

Interior (national parks).

Labor.

NASA.

National Institute of Health.

Smithsonian museums.

Notice a trend? Not just learning, culture, art, and science, but also housing, health, safety, even food. This is the stuff of life, and this is what grinds to a halt in America when our government decides to play games with the lives of its people.

Politics is all about the allocation of resources, and how a nation chooses to allocate its resources says a lot about its values. Yes, national security is a vital concern, but it’s not the only one.

Even when they’re brief, shutdowns are horrible and potentially life-threatening for anyone who relies on the government to provide an unarmed service, from sick kids waiting on health care (although, to be fair, they weren’t getting it before) to thousands of federal employees anxiously looking for their next paycheck.

Government shutdowns bring America’s priorities into stark focus, and the picture is far from pretty. They show us who really allocates our collective resources, who is really in control. And, in striking fashion, they reflect what our leaders think we think government’s role ought to be. While I’m sure some people out there would love to see everything but the military shut down for good, most people just want efficient, responsive, and stable governance.

Children, federal employees, and the American people as a whole deserve better. When a government shuts down, it’s not because the general public wants it to; it’s because their leaders have failed. Maybe shutdowns are unavoidable and even sometimes necessary — but if they happen, and someone must suffer as a result, it should be those who caused it. Not the average person, not the privileged traveler, and certainly not society’s most vulnerable. For if their wellbeing isn’t “essential,” what is?

For a small, blue state, Massachusetts wrongfully convicts a lot of people

In 1985, George Perrot was convicted of rape in Springfield, Massachusetts. In 2015, a Superior Court judge threw out his conviction. For all the time in between, George Perrot was in prison. Thirty years of his life. Now free, and with prosecutors signalling they won’t retry him, George Perrot is suing Springfield, the police, and the DA’s office for wrongfully convicting and imprisoning him.

Perrot’s conviction was tossed because the state relied on a once widely used and now wholly discredited form of investigative junk science known as hair microscopy. In the 1980s and 1990s, investigators would collect hair follicles from crime scenes (literally any random hair follicles they could find) and send them off to FBI “experts” for “analysis” in a hare-brained (I’M SORRY) attempt to identify the perpetrators. Problem was, all one can learn from analyzing a hair follicle to any degree of certainty is the former owner’s race, and in some cases, sex.

But this didn’t stop the FBI from pushing hair microscopy hard and employing these “experts” to testify in hundreds of trials over a 20 year period, convicting otherwise innocent people based on hair microscopy alone, including 14 who were either executed or died in prison. The FBI has since admitted the patent unreliability of hair microscopy as an investigative tool and is undertaking a review process to see just how many people were wrongfully convicted based on this shady, and often racist, practice.

Perrot’s wrongful conviction was one of the first discovered — and, if his lawyers are to be believed, one of the most egregious. Thankfully, justice seems to have finally caught up with Perrot, 30 years late and millions of dollars short. But plenty of other innocent people are still sitting in jail, waiting for someone to notice the injustice of their plight. It’s time we do just that.

For a small, progressive state, Massachusetts has an outsize record of wrongfully convicting people. The Commonwealth has paid $8.34 million to wrongfully convicted men and women since 2004, when a compensation law was enacted. From Dennis Maher to Victor Rosario to Fred Clay, it seems like every few months we’re hearing about another conviction getting overturned based on bad evidence or official misconduct. What’s going on?

Some of it is unique to Massachusetts; we are distinctly awful at public oversight of law enforcement and government in general. But it’s also an American problem: the FBI sent its hair people all over the country, and law enforcement corruption happens everywhere.

The problem runs much deeper than faulty science — it’s rooted in police and law enforcement culture. And while Massachusetts politics may be blue, we are by no means immune to regressive police and prosecutorial tactics.

In another life, I worked in the public defender’s office and as a criminal defense attorney in courts all over the state. I’ve also done innocence work. In my experience, the biggest obstacle to justice was never a mistake.

Cops, district attorneys, defense attorneys, and judges make mistakes all the time. Mistakes don’t obstruct justice. Justice is obstructed by refusing to acknowledge and rectify mistakes, and instead doubling down on and repeating them.

Law enforcement culture perpetuates this approach. The lack of official accountability for police and prosecutorial misconduct enables and emboldens both careless and bad actors. Yes, you hope most are good people doing good work — but there are too few systemic incentives to do things by the book, and too many to cut corners and let biases run wild.

These thought processes, this culture, has proven that it will not change on its own. So it must be forced to change. The truth is there are already laws on the books to prevent cops and prosecutors from misbehaving. What we really need is the political will to go all in on criminal justice reform.

There’s no magic bullet, but there are reasonable solutions. One would be to stop electing, and start appointing, district attorneys. There is no reason to mix the law enforcement and political worlds if not absolutely necessary.

Another answer would be for the state legislature to overhaul police oversight in the Commonwealth, something that is long overdue. From strengthening public records law, to establishing an independent commission to investigate all officer-involved shootings and allegations of official misconduct, the legislature is in prime position to increase transparency, accountability, and public confidence in a fair and just system.

We also need leaders with the strength to challenge the status quo, even if it costs them their jobs. As long as politicians (that includes DAs) are scared of appearing soft on crime, I predict there will be more George Perrots and more compensation payouts.

And maybe that’s just ok with us. But if it is — if locking up more than a few innocent people is the price we’re willing to pay for law and order, perceived or actual — then the extent of our cultural rot goes way beyond law enforcement.

Massachusetts should investigate Steve Wynn and halt his Everett casino project

Casino magnate and Trump ally Steve Wynn has been accused of rape. The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that dozens of women have come forward to accuse Wynn of engaging in, and fostering a workplace defined by, sexual harassment and assault. The piece is thorough and details the lengths to which Wynn was willing to go in order to hide his abuse, including a $7.5 million payment to one of his victims.

These allegations are shocking — but then again, Wynn has always seemed unsavory to say the least. And naturally, the state of Massachusetts has welcomed him with open arms.

Wynn is a friend of local Trump-supporting billionaire and Patriots owner Robert Kraft. He’s also a prodigious fundraiser for the RNC, like our governor Charlie Baker (the two have a documented relationship). And in 2014, Massachusetts authorities approved a plan for Wynn to build a massive casino in Everett, just five miles north of Boston. Construction is well underway, with plans for a grand opening in 2019.

Massachusetts can, and should, do better. It’s time for the Commonwealth to cut all ties with Steve Wynn. His behavior should be condemned from all corners of state government. Governor Charlie Baker (whom I already fear may be too close to the GOP) should do whatever he can to distance himself from Wynn — including returning any donations made by Wynn to Baker’s campaign, related PACs, and the RNC itself.

Most importantly, the Baker administration should put the Everett casino project on hold until the legislature or another independent state body can conduct its own investigation into the allegations against Wynn. While the Everett project started under Baker’s predecessor, Deval Patrick, Baker’s administration has supported the casino up to this point, and has secured key environmental and transportation-related approvals for Wynn. Baker has the power to pump the brakes on the project and any future business with Wynn, and he should.

Pausing the Everett casino until the Wynn issue is addressed wouldn’t even be a political risk for Baker. Judging by the drop in Wynn Resorts stock, Wynn’s buyout and/or removal from the company appears imminent, and any delays in construction likely wouldn’t be long.

It’s important that Baker take this seriously. The people the Commonwealth chooses to do business with is of great concern to taxpayers. If the state is going to give enormous amounts of land and tax breaks to a shady billionaire, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that it also perform due diligence if and when new information about him arises.

At the very least, the people of Massachusetts deserve to know whether or not they are giving millions upon millions of dollars to an accused and likely rapist.

In 2014, Massachusetts voters had the chance to reject casinos via referendum, and they chose not to. Their will should be respected. But they never said anything about a Wynn Casino. Massachusetts can and should halt the Everett casino project until Steve Wynn is no longer involved.

Charlie Baker’s decency doesn’t absolve him of the GOP’s obscenity

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker delivered his annual State of the Commonwealth Tuesday night, his last before facing reelection this November. Baker focused his rousing speech on popular issues such as expanding housing and access to education, improving public transportation, and tackling the state’s opioid epidemic.

State Democrats, including some running for governor themselves, responded with complaints about Baker’s less-than-direct criticism of President Trump and his omission of sexual harassment and criminal justice issues.

But the most pointed critiques took aim at Baker’s lack of “vision” and tangible success in his first term. Jay Gonzalez, former budget chief for Deval Patrick, claimed that Baker has “no record of any meaningful accomplishment on any issue that makes a difference to people on a day-to-day basis.”

While these critiques may have merit, they don’t seem to matter to the vast majority of Massachusetts voters, who have made Baker the most popular governor in the country. To be sure, Baker looks presidential, talks a good game, and has presided over a period of sustained economic growth.

Baker gives the impression of a moderate and knowledgeable administrator with “business sense” and nebulous social values. (Mass voters eat this gubernatorial model up.) He also seems to be a decent human being, which in 2018, is something that cannot be discounted.

Unfortunately, Baker is also a Republican, and in 2018, this cannot be discounted either. Charlie Baker’s decency does not absolve him of the obscene forces that have taken hold of his party and its leadership. Broad platitudes and calls for civil discourse are insufficient at this stage of the game. President Trump and congressional Republicans have essentially declared war on everything Massachusetts stands for, and now is the time for our state leaders to tell us how they intend to fight back.

It would have been nice if Baker used his State of the Commonwealth platform to lay out not only his vision for Massachusetts, but his plan for achieving that vision in the face of a national party apparatus and federal government diametrically opposed to some of his proclaimed core initiatives. His failure to do so sends a troubling signal about the substantive commitment behind his rhetoric.

While I don’t think Baker likes Trump personally, or approves of the president’s most controversial agenda items, there is a definite overlap of interests between the two — an overlap that Baker seems to have some trouble acknowledging.

For example, in the Alabama Senate special election last month, Baker was quick to verbally condemn Roy Moore’s Trump-backed candidacy. But the governor wasn’t so quick to justify his own continued fundraising for the RNC, which was bankrolling Moore’s campaign.

Or take the environment. In his State of the Commonwealth, Baker touted a 2016 bill he signed requiring the state to solicit bids from wind and solar companies as an example of his commitment to renewable energy. But since then, there’s been little movement from his administration in terms of shovel-ready green energy projects.

Just this month, Baker’s Department of Public Utilities approved a new plan from Eversource, the state’s largest electric provider, to slap a new fee on residential solar panel owners. So does Baker actually want to expand access to affordable green energy in Massachusetts? Or is he just another Republican?

Mass voters deserve to know where their governor stands on a variety of pressing issues, especially when it comes to dealing with the hateful monstrosity that is the modern GOP. Charlie Baker might not be Donald Trump, but both belong to and actively support the same party.

It’s important to shine a light on the areas of agreement and disagreement between the two, especially in a state like Massachusetts, where we enjoy heavy federal investment in healthcare and other vital social programs. Baker’s prolonged silence on this front, masked by a friendly demeanor and much-welcome calls for civility, isn’t doing anyone any favors.

For now, most people seem to want Baker’s apparent moderation. But ultimately, they will need a leader with the strength to do what is right. The governor should take care to ensure that caution does not veer into cowardice.

Massachusetts mourns Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien’s death, the first trans murder of 2018

Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien was a transgender woman from North Adams, Massachusetts and the founder of the Miss Trans America and Miss Trans New England beauty pageants. She helped organized pride parades and was a familiar face in her community.

On Friday, January 5, she was murdered in her home. That same night, Steele-Knudslien’s husband walked into the Adams Police Department and confessed to the crime. He told them that the two had been fighting and that she was “always belittling” him — so he killed her.

Steele-Knudslien had discussed problems with her marriage on social media last year, and the Adams Police Department had previously responded to calls at the couple’s home.

Steele-Knudslien was the first transgender murder victim of 2018, but she won’t be the last (in fact, there has already been another; her name was Viccky Gutierrez). Violence against trans individuals in America is on the rise: 2017 was the deadliest year on record for trans people with 28 murders, an increase of one from 2016. Trans women, especially black trans women, are twice as likely to be murdered as the average American.

What’s more, these numbers are almost certainly low — there is no collective database for state murders, and the social stigma of being trans, as well as the difficulty of locating real names and other up-to-date identifying information, can make precise tracking difficult. Christa’s death is the first reported murder of a trans woman in Massachusetts since 1998, but there may well have been others that weren’t properly tracked, or were never reported at all.

The fact that Steele-Knudslien was murdered by her husband brings up another important point. Trans people don’t just face an increased risk of violence from strangers, but from family, as well. They’re 20 percent more likely to be the victims of domestic violence than the average person. This includes spousal and partner abuse, as well as violence from parents and other family members.

Domestic violence law reform has been a major issue in Massachusetts, with new laws and police practices recently established. But domestic violence, like transgender equality, can’t just be addressed through law enforcement — community and social service involvement should play a big role as well.

In Massachusetts, transgender men and women are more likely to experience violence, domestic or otherwise, than any other group. Trans people are one of the most at-risk populations here and across the U.S. But their stories, good or bad, are seldom reported in the news media. The lack of substantive coverage is so dire that GLAAD and other trans rights advocacy groups have resorted to calling out the media for not spending enough time on the persistent and worsening struggles of the trans community.

Like all marginalized groups, the trans community deserves public acknowledgment of its unfair and unjust treatment. Trans people deserve to be able to walk down the street and sleep in their bedrooms without fear of violence. They deserve the same legal protections government can provide to all of its citizens. They deserve a voice in mainstream press coverage. They deserve not just tolerance, but respect.

Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien’s used her life to advance a worthy cause, but her death was senseless and tragic. When trans individuals face violence, it’s the media’s job to call it out and society’s job to stop it. Time for both to do their jobs.