On August 1st the Massachusetts House voted 142-17 to include a so-called ‘environmental justice’ amendment into the pending 2050 Roadmap bill setting our State’s future energy policy. The size of the vote suggests the bill won’t be successfully vetoed, even assuming that it should be vetoed.

What then is “environmental justice” ? Is there such a concept beyond the phrase ?

Proponents say that the term means that when energy policy is set, its environmental consequences should not disproportionately impact certain communities or neighborhoods. This sounds good. Equal protection of the laws, a principle we supposedly all accept, requires that energy laws, like any other laws, give equal, not unequal, protection to all.

The “environmental justice” amendment, however, is not a principle but an application of a principle. The devil as always, is in the details. The following lengthy quote from WBUr’s report on the House’ s discussion, tells us much :

Madaro’s amendment, in addition to defining an environmental justice community based on new race, income, and language-proficiency criteria, would give community members a much more meaningful role in the decision-making process about new projects. It also, importantly, says that any future environmental impact statement must take into account something called cumulative impact.

Right now, when a state agency like the Department of Public Utilities or the Energy Facilities Siting Board weighs whether to approve a pipeline, highway or other big project, it looks at whether the pollution from that specific project would exceed state law, but it doesn’t necessarily take into account any background pollution. (This has been a big point of contention in the ongoing fight over the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station.)

“You have to look at the whole picture and the cumulative impact that EJ populations have been bearing the brunt of,” Belén Power says. “It makes a big difference to look at the entire picture and all of the burdens that communities like Chelsea, East Boston, Brockton and so many others are already carrying.”

If this provision becomes state law, it could have a really big impact on where big infrastructure and energy projects can be sited, she says.

That last sentence serves us a warning. Utility facilities have to be sited somewhere. They can;’t be floated up in the sky but must stand on planet Earth. Given passage of this amendment, where, then, will utility facilities be sited ? If not in or near an “:environmental justice” community, then where ? In a community that is not entitled by law to “environmental; justice” ? The language of the amendment suggest that it’s OK to place an electric power substation or gas pipeline transfer house in a neighborhood of higher income, or that is home to a smaller population of color than protected by the Madaro amendment. Yet communities of this sort have political clout. Will they approve such a utility station ? I am betting not. It’s in such communities that one finds the bulk of climate crisis activists.

Where, then, can a new or renovated electric port gas facility be sited ? Probably they can’t be sited anywhere.

There are plenty of environmental activists who would be quite happy to see electric and gas facilities disappear. Solar and wind, those are their thing. Let’s not forget that the so-called “Green New Deal” envisions just this, not to mention an end to airplanes (!)

I mention airplanes because, as State Representative Madaro specifies, the East Boston neighborhood which he represents lives with enormous environmental impacts from Logan Airport. Logan could never be built today, unlike in the 1920s. It abuts East Boston. planes almost skim East Boston rooftops as they come in for landing. Take-off noise often deafens residents. Jet fuel burns create substantial pollution. Car traffic to and from the airport stuffs east Boston streets. If any Massachusetts community houses environmental overload, East Boston is it.

There’s also an electric substation issue in East Boston. For three years now, Eversource has sought to build one on empty land abutting Chelsea Creek — empty but neighbor to a fish processing plant, baseball field and numerous homes. The proposed site fails on all kinds of levels, and I have written opposing it. I still do oppose it. My objections, however, have had to stand on their own criteria. These haven’t a law to fall back on, one that precludes the substation for reasons whose application creates a “catch-22.”

If the 2050 Roadmap Bill is enacted — which it likely will be — objections to the Eversource substation will be mooted, and my friends who oppose it can celebrate. But their celebration comes at the cost of creating a law that imposes next to impossible conditions on utility services, which we all need. Even East Boston needs them. Good luck getting them henceforth. And what of the airport, whjich expands all the time as Boston becomes ever more commerce-prosperous ? Oh well, that isn’t the legislature’s problem, I guess. If they make it hard for businesses to op;erate, or for customers to access them, well, that’s just collateral damage ?

Proposals like the Eversource substation should have to stand or fall ON THEIR OWN MERITS, not have their prospects barred by legislation that simply overrides the major issues involved because it’s easier to close doors than to have to make decisions on who they can open for.

—- Mike Freedberg / Hereand Sphere



^ First Amendment in action, yes. But what, exactly, do these protesters want ?

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More than two months have passed since the current wave of “black lives matter” protest began. The movement is said to be the largest ever in our history. Maybe so, although I recall that Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights movement was quite large and enormous. However, it is not my purpose to measure but to ask two questions : what, precisely, is the “black lives matter” movement trying to achieve ? What, if anything, CAN it achieve, if all goes well ?

It was easy to understand  Martin Luther King’s movement. He and his helpers, followers, and supporters wanted things promised in writing in the Constitution : full voting rights and laws to enforce of the “privileges and immunities” guaranteed to all citizens by the express language of the 14th Amendment. The 15th Amendment gave Congress full power to enforce these guarantees by legislation. The King movement asked Congress to pass that legislation.

You could read everything that King and his million followers asked for.  It was nothing that any of us has not asked for. The “black lives matter” protest hasn’t the same certainty. Its objectives are vague and not written down. I’ll have more to say about that later.

The King movement had its leader, and a very special leader he was. A minister of God; always dressed Sunday best; dedicated strictly to nonviolence; and, a speaker of rare power, who used the words of our founding documents just as Frederick Douglass before him had done. King — and not only King but also A Philip Randolph, Medgar Evers, Charles Evers, Hosea Williams, Ralph Abernathy, and the late John Lewis — controlled the moral high ground, the political ideal, and the confrontations : and when beaten, imprisoned, and even murdered, Americans could not help but say that it was wrong what was being done against them. Opponents had only one option : explicit Jim Crow.

King’s movement was also sectional. He confronted the South only. People were reminded of the Civil War, which all of us knew and understood — fought and won by the rest of the country now overwhelmingly more numerous and powerful than the eleven states of the old Confederacy.

Yet despite all the advantages that the King movement possessed and made full use of, and even accounting his and his cohorts’ dignity, Constitutionalism, eloquence, and numbers, it still took a President of the United States, willing to split his party, to get through Congress a Voting Rights bill and a Civil Rights Act, each with enforcement teeth, that already had major support in both House and Senate.

The “black lives matter” movement’s links to the Constitution that we all swear to are “equal protection of the laws” and “due process of law” — guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Then what of it ? Objection is made that our nation’s police departments do not give citizens of color equal protection; they discriminate and give citizens of color pressures that they don’t put upon others. That’s the case being argued.

Viral videos certainly make the police in them look bad, ready to discard the protections that we all have a right to demand, or to blunder grossly, as happened to Breoma Taylor.  Yet even the worst of those viral videos — and the one involving George Floyd and officer Chauvin is terrible to watch — seem anecdotal rather than outcomes of a policy of Jim Crow. No one has established that any police department, or any city authority, has a policy of treating citizens of color more harshly, on purpose, than they treat others. I am readily convinced that some police have that sort of racial animus, and that city authorities knowingly tolerate it. Yet that is an assumption on my part, as it it is on the part of protesters.

(Note — I wrote “protesters.” By “protesters” I mean peaceable protesters exercising First Amendment guarantees. Vandals., looters, highway blockers, car jackers, arsonists, muggers, and combat rioters confuse a movement that cannot afford to be trapped. Let’s not let them trap us.)

We’ll talk now about the protest itself :

( 1 ) It badly needs eminent leadership. I speak not of wealthy athletes and Hollywood celebrities but of civic and religious leaders. Where is this movement’s Martin Luther King? Its Charles Evers ? Its John Lewis ?

( 2 ) It MUST act as the King movers acted: dress in Sunday best, practice nonviolence, and protest IN THE DAYTIME, not under darkness of night.

( 3 ) It must have a specific, legislative objective that everyone can buy into. “F the police’ chants won’t do, indeed they alienate. Disband the police is not going to happen, and even calls to defund the police aren’t going anywhere except in a few very left-political cities. Police reform is, however, on the table. Be specific and practical. Win police support for it. Many police chiefs urge it. Why not accommodate them ?.

( 4 ) The movement MUST address Black on Black city crime. A shock-jock podcaster, Gillie da Kid, citing the hundreds of shootings in Chicago as one example,, says “Black lives ain’t gonna matter until they start mattering to Black people !” He is right. In some cities, strong Dads and Role Model movements began arising long before George Floyd. The movement should embrace these action groups and bring their leaders forward.

I emphasize this because the main reason why police departments put so much police presence into majority Black city neighborhoods — what protesters call “over-policing” — is because people who live in those neighborhoods are scared, and angry, hearing gun shots all the time, and they call 911. A lot. Moreover, police sometimes overreact because they have every reason to fear whenever they make a stop or an arrest in neighborhoods whose worst side is what they see so much of.

( 5 ) The movement must clearly reject the criminals. It must shut them out, policing itself. It can do this. It has security people and can deploy them to fend off the outlaws. Nothing I know of will win the movement more support from ordinary people than its shoving the outlaws away for good.

( 6 ) The movement must win the support of Black police officers. It isn’t going anywhere if it views them as the enemy.

( 7 ) the movement cannot have a marxist agenda.

( 8 ) the phrase “black lives matter” implies that to an unspecified group or number, they don’t matter. Who is being thus accused ? Name them. 

( 9 ) the movement might well fail, given its lack of leadership and absence of a specific, achievable objective. It can also fail for not making common cause with the entire nation, as the King movement did. The movement cannot say “if you’re not Black, you don’t understand. The rest of us HAVE TO BE INVITED IN. It cannot be about being Black.

So far, the movement — much wrapped up in congratulating itself — enveloped by Black, Black, Black — seems not to imagine failure or to care much about the consequences.   

Lastly, “black lives matter” has to mean more than an admonition to police departments.  It should embrace self-improvement initiatives and — above all — social integration. As long as most people who are not Black interact rarely with people who are Black, each will readily see the other as “other” and be a bit uncomfortable about it. Uncomfortable doesn’t make for a healthy social com[pact ! If we can’t alleviate social segregation, legal reforms will always lack solid foundation in community custom.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ our Constitution : the nation’s teacher — and its safe harbor to which we all sail course

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Having today finished reading Stephen Budiansky’s admirable biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes, I am moved to discourse again upon my own views about our nation’s Constitution. I have written of this subject before. You can read my earlier essay here : In that column I spoke a lot about Mr. Justice Brennan and his view that the Constitution expands organically as the nation expands that it guides. I wrote there that the Constitution expands not the powers it grants but the subjects to which it applies. That was good, as far as it went. I see nothing that I wrote there that needs taking back. Today, however, I wish to speak of the Constitution from another perspective entirely. I want to speak of it as the nation’s teacher, its political headmaster, and — a corollary — a kind of destination toward which the nation and its people sail course.

Much of the Constitution is a kind of operating manual. That’s the part of it that I wrote about before. Yet most of the Constitution’s Amendments aren’t so much operational as statements of principle. And here, in the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, 14th, 15th and 19th Amendments in particular, we meet the Constitution as teacher and as destination. The principles set forth are momentous. Nothing petty about them : freedom of speech, of religion, of the right to peaceably assemble; freedom from quartering of soldiers; freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures; guarantees of due process and rights to jury trial; freedom from cruel and unusual punishments; guarantees that every American citizen is a citizen of both his State and the nation; entitling him to all the privileges and immunities granted by any state; birthright citizenship; guarantee of equal protection of the laws, of State and nation; voting rights not to be denied on account of sex; and the application of all of these to all.

Everyone who reads the history of our nation since the years that these Amendments were adopted knows that the ink on parchment by which they were written down in no way assured that the principles therein would take universal effect easily or soon. None did. All required decades of conflict. Some required strife amidst violence by those who resisted. I needn’t elaborate the events we have read of, or participated in. My purpose here is to illustrate the situation created by the principles enunciated in a document we all profess to honor.

Holmes, in most of his Supreme Court rulings and dissents, always insisted on the principlar nature of our Constitution. Decisions in favor of actual litigants were to match Constitutional guarantees with facts on the ground. People at the bar of his Court — individually or as the citizenry of a State or city — were not to have their better life barred by logic but enabled by common sense : and to him, the great Constitutional principles — including those in the “operating manual” — expressed the common sense of political mankind. If not, how were they to be understood by common people ? And understood by all, they had to be, or the Constitution and the nation it guided risked a permanent class of the dissatisfied, the not understanding, or the not accepting.

As I have written to a dear friend, I see these great statements of sweeping principle as instruction given to us, the Constitution as the nation’s teacher. As I further wrote, I also see the great Amendments as a kind of harbor toward which our national boat sails, we being its helmsmen and crew. We were settled by immigrants brought here by ship (even the slaves came here thus albeit against their will), and ion important ways, that — the coming to an idealized, dreamt-of nation by ship — is our essential national experience. America did not exist when the first ships brought our first forbears here. It would  be no lie to say that America still doesn’t fully exist. In that sense, we are all — and I do mean ALL — immigrants coming by ship to a fully realized America, the America written in the Constitution’s great statements of principle.

Mel King, who galvanized so much of Boston when he ran for mayor in 1983, liked to say, “we came on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.” He meant simply that we have to work together, and so we do. Yet as I see it, we have more work than : striving toward being who we say we are. The Constitution has settled the question of which principles we are committed to. The wars that were fought to settle it have been fought, and the debates in Congress and in our elections have been debated. The nation is clear on which harbor we are headed to. The Constitution beckons us to plot a correct course and to build a ship that can get us there, that can withstand storms and tides, fair weather and foul. I think that if we see the Constitution in this light, we’ll be a lot clearer about which duties we have as citizen crew aboard what kind of political ship.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ Joe Kennedy III at Tino Capobianco’s big meet & greet, last November 2nd


Here and Sphere has yet to endorse a candidate in the contest to elect our State’s Federal Senator whose seat is on the ballot this year. That does not mean that I, personally, do not have an opinion. I do have one. I’m voting for Joe Kennedy. In the Democratic primary on September 1st.

Why am I voting for him ? I don’t usually vote a Democratic primary ballot, but this time I am doing so. That was the first step I took : to pass by the two men seeking the Republican nomination for this office. Until the Republican party extricates itself from the ugliness of Mr. Trump, and from the nihilistic, bathroom-graffiti level of gripes that he has imposed on the party as substitute for an actual agenda — until, as I say, the party asserts an actual agenda that I can support, I won’t be voting in its primary, no matter who may step into that mud.

A Democratic ballot, i will take.

On the ballot on September 1st I will find two names : Ed Markey, the current US Senator,  a man I have known since he first sought public office — in 1972 — and Joe Kennedy, presently a multi-term Congressman from our 4th District (centered in Brookline and Newton).

Markey was a long-time Congressman from the Middlesex County District before  deciding, in 2013,  to make a late-career move to the Senate (the seat was open because John Kerry had been appointed Secretary of state.) In that contest, I consulted to a Republican candidate, Dan Winslow. When Gabriel Gomez won the GOP nomination, I voted for him.  I did not see then why Markey — an eloquent voice to be sure, on rare occasions when he spoke up — was surrendering his seniority in the House to become a back bencher in the Senate. He has since become as rigid a “no” vote as the current Senate has. I am not a fan of “the universal No.” it gets us nowhere.

I met Kennedy for the first time last November at a big house party in Winthrop, home of my friend, Tino Capobianco. At least 100 people attended — some of them political, most not. No woke activists were there, only Kennedy followers. I was very impressed to see so many moderately ordinary voters there — the sort who get involved in politics for somebody they like but who don’t mainline political opium. Activists are few, and have a tendency to rigid mind. They want this, this, and this done, period — no matter by whom. (The current crop also voices a tendency to racial

thinking, a sad detour which I want no part of.) Ordinary voters — a personal candidate following — have only modest goals : they want somebody they can look up to, who will do a good job and who will remember their names and be seen out and around from time to time.

That’s the politics of neighborhood, what the late Tip O’Neill had in mind when he famously said “all politics is local.”

Kennedy has built a solid reputation as a civil rights advocate. He has also partnered with Governor Baker on Federal funds requests. I like that.

During this campaign, however, he has, unhappily, attempted to match Senator Markey’s very progressive agenda : medicare for all, green new deal, abolish the electoral college, you name it. I have watched him say that, again and again, and I have winced. I wondered if I could vote for him after all or whether I should maybe just take a pass on the entire contest: for I am very opposed to all three of those positions.

It turned out that I had missed the real event : Kennedy was very solidly becoming the candidate of labor and of those personal-following voters I mentioned above — the State’s Joe Biden voters, the Pete Buttigieg voters, and the Amy Klobuchar voters. Meanwhile Ed Markey became the candidate of our “progressives,” those who actually want the agenda he talks of.

Our state has pretty much divided, politically, into three camps : Trump Republicans, with their 25 percent; the pragmatic Democrats, who may well number 45 percent; and progressive Democrats, who seem to number about 35 percent. I am committed to the pragmatic Democrats. Anybody who thinks that that commitment isn’t crucial should take a look at the police reform bill presently being conferenced. If we are to deflect its hurry and its recklessness, it will be the pragmatic Democrats who will do it. The same split looms large in Boston. Next year’s Mayor contest, like last year’s City Council, Congress, and District Attorney contests, will be a battle between the progressives and the pragmatics.

It is vital, therefore, that Joe Kennedy win his race. I am under no illusions that he will espouse any sort of conservative, or even moderate, positions; but I am fairly convinced that he will hurry nothing, will listen to all, will embrace ordinary voters first, and will work across the political aisle to get good stuff done. it was, after all, his late uncle, Ted Kennedy, who made Voltaire’s quip his motto : “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Joe Kennedy will, thank god, NOT be perfect. He will, however, be good. That’s my political comfort zone.




The major debate afoot right now is not what you think it is. It’s not the election, not black lives matter, not even how much money we’ll get in the coming stimulus bill, although that is definitely in our minds.

Instead, the really big issue for everyone is whether school, opening for the coming year, should be in person or online. As I do not have kids in school, the question does not directly impact me. Nonetheless, we are Here and Sphere for a reason. Important public policy is our mission’s arena, and no decision seems more significant to us than how to educate our kids.

What we can do, if not to decide the big question, is to make sure that important factors do not get passed by. First of these, in our opinion, is that in-person school is mandated for a reason : kids cannot do without peer interaction. Do we value “diversity,” or don’t we ? Kids in school meet all of each other and have to deal with all of each other. It’s hard enough a sit is to know contemporaries who live in different neighborhoods without imposing more drastic social isolation. An entire school year spent at home, learning in the anodyne medium of on-line, trades socialization for safety. Yet is it safe, socially, to do his ? I wonder.

Some will say that the reality is that kids will separate into cliques anyway, including skin color cliques, so nothing is in the end gained by requiring kids to attend in-person school. These observers may well be correct; yet are we to simply give in to undesirable social outcomes rather than do what we can to dilute them ? I understand that after graduation, out in the real world, kids, now adults, will enter workplaces in which “diversity,” more or less, is in place. I’m not satisfied with that answer. It’s much harder to develop a workplace friendship than a school one. At work, adults practice dissimulation. They “front,’ as the slang has it. In school, these social strategies are far less workable, not to mention not yet come to mind.

For all these reasons, I strongly favor kids returning to in-person school.

There is more — considerations of a different kind: money. The Boston Public School budget includes $ 106,000,000 for “transportation.” It shouldn’t be there in any case, but at least it is required for in-person schools., If Boston decides to impose online, at-home schooling, what becomes of the now otiose $ 106,000,000 ? And what of the school facilities maintenance budget, several millions of dollars ? It’s hard to justify not returning all these dollars to the taxpayer, yet I’ll sell you six hundred Portland antifa lasers if you think tax money will EVER be returned to those who pay it.

Lastly, a parenting consideration : if Boston school kids are required to school from home, who will watch over them ? Supposedly we would like to get people back to work sooner rather than later. For high-tech folks who work from home as a matter of course, no problem; but for first responders, retail workers, health care aides, transport workers, construction guys, and many more,. work from home cannot happen. They HAVE to go to a workplace. How can they do this if their kids are stuck at home doing school by “zoom” ? You say “daycare,” but individualized daycare is far too expensive for the very workers who will need it the most.

Finally, an ethical consideration : safety is important, yes, but is it so important that we discard all of the above for its sole sake ? Maybe so. Maybe we do that. But there will be a price paid : not by us but by the kids themselves whom we are running through a safety gauntlet..

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ State Representative Hannah Kane : the five amendments which she emphaized to the House police reform bill can make the bill acceptable.

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Three days ago the Massachusetts House voted 93 to 66 to approve a police reform bill that still misses the mark. The bill is certainly less radical than  the Senate’s bill, which imposes impossible conditions on policing and on nurses, firemen, and first responders as well. Speaker DeLeo is to be commended for crafting a bill that can almost be accepted.

The House bill does not eliminate qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that exempts officers (and nurses, firemen, and first responders) from personal liability for actions taken in the course of their work. The Senate bill proposed to wipe qualified immunity out entirely. So far, so good for the House. Only officers who are decertified, as a result of a decertification procedure set forth in the House bill will lose their immunity. That is a fair compromise.

The bill also incorporates most of Governor Baker’s own certification and police training bill. It lacks only the $ 500 training bonus in Baker’s bill.

Yet the House bill still asks too much of officers. It imposes on officers a duty to intervene if they see an officer violating police procedure. I find that an unrealistic imposition. Officers are not going to second guess their fellows, or, if they do, their fellows are unlikely to want to partner with them in the future. In addition, decertification criteria remain unclear. They are to be reported by a commission created by this bill and tasked with informing us NEXT YEAR If that is thee case, why can’t the whole bill wait till next year ? What is the hurry ?

The House bill also bars schools from sharing with police departments incidents of gang activity on school premises. This is unacceptable. Schools are hardly exempt from gang works, indeed they are a locus of much other juvenile crime and have been thus since at least the 1970s, when teacher assaults became common.

During debate on the House bill, State Representative Hannah Kane, who represents Westborough and Shrewsbury, highlighted five amendments which would have made the House bill a successful consensus. Read them here :

• establishing a clear definition of what constitutes unprofessional police conduct, to include excessive use of physical force or repeated and sustained instances of behavior that violates departmental policies;
• protecting police officers from anonymous complaints by requiring that complaints submitted to the Division of Police Standards be from an identifiable complainant and signed under the pains and penalties of perjury;
• mandating that prior disciplinary actions resolved or adjudicated before the effective date of the bill not be considered sufficient on their own to deny an officer recertification, but may be used if the officer becomes the subject of further discipline after the effective date;
• eliminating language that prohibits school officials from sharing information on students who may be involved in gang activity with outside law enforcement agencies; and
• removing restrictive language that prevents individuals with prior law enforcement experience from serving on the new Massachusetts Police Standards and Training Commission.

Unfortunately, all five were rejected. I ask that the House reconsider the vote, or at least that Representative Kane’s amendments be added to the house while it is in joint conference.

The Speaker says he wants to get this 129 page bill to the Governor by Friday. I repeat my above question : what is the hurry ? This is a complex bill, making several significant changes to the operation of police forces — an institution basic to maintaining civic peace and safety. I cannot understand why our legislature would want to rush any such bill. Even if Representative Kane’s five amendments are added to the bill, it should be tabled and resubmitted next year so that all concerned can assemble their objections or support, after which extensive public hearings can be held.

That is what OUGHT be done. Will it be ?

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




There’s a lot to like in Governor Baker’s bill to establish certification of police officers and officer applicants. It’s the one police improvement bill the legislature should enact.

You can read its provision s here :

The bill is simple and functional. It includes none of the punitive provisions ore pejorative tone of the bill recently approved by the State Senate — a bill now being assessed by the House and which we do not like very much. It does not have a police review board specific to one interest group or tribe. It does not specify what police techniques re okay and which are not. It is not a “defund” bill.

Baker’s bill offers police and officer applicants a training bonus. Officers should be paid for the time they will be required to devote to the certification process. we like this provision.

In short, Baker’s bill seeks to bolster the credibility of police forces, not institutionalize distrust of them. Look : skepticism about power is built into our Constitutional system, and rightly so. Yet skepticism becomes an obstacle to good government when it feels like suspicion — when it operates as mere distrust. Baker’s bill, which was filed last month – and surprised most of us, including me — incorporates the same principles that today govern licensing of doctors, attorneys, and real e state brokers. it treats police as professionals and asks them to live up to that level of respect.

It is a good bill. We support it. Lets hope that the House embraces it and that in the ensuing joint conference with the Senate, the Governor’s bill, and not Senate 2820, sees its way to final enactment.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^^ insurrection in  Portland, Oregon : supported by the same political drift people that opposes Israel defending itself

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Remember way back when, as Israel sen t troops deep into Lebanon to get rid of the PLO once and for all ?

Remember later, when Israel sent its forces into South Lebanon to do away with Hezbollah once and for all ?

Remember several times that Israel sent military force into the Gaza redoubt to get rid of Hamas once and for all ?

I do.

Every one of these uses of force was a crucial defensive move by Israel to destroy thugs whose avowed objective was to wipe out Israel. each said force had launched numerous rockets into Israel, and/or sent assassins into Israel to kill Jews. Eliminating these forces was a vital national interest.

What, then, did the world say about it ? Do about it ? I remember. With the exception of America and its closest allies, “the world” condemned Israel for defending itself. The “world” supported the thugs and the assassins. The ‘world’ called for censuring Israel. Only a US veto stopped it.

The censure was stopped, but not the noisy “worldwide” condemnations; and so in each case Israel bowed to pressure — much of it violent extortion — and stopped the mission short of completion. Each of these organizations lives on, threatening Israel and, in the case of Hezbollah, amassing weapons to attack it and blackmail it. Israel remains under dire, existential threat, forcing the nation to maintain an enormous armed presence and to ally with repressive regimes in its region that share Israel’s enmity for its enemies.

Fast forward to today and to the West Coast of our own nation. An armed insurrection, of avowed marxists, violent and determined to destroy our nation, riots, loots, intimidates, assaults, and burns two cities, Seattle in Washington and Portland Oregon. Our Federal government, which exists first of all to defend us, sends DHS forces into the two cities to defend Federal property and to arrest those who would damage it or attack Federal officers.

Not to snuff out the insurrection, even; just to defend property that belongs to you and me the taxpayer.

What, then, does the America-based version of the “world” that condemns Israel say about our Federal government doing its vital job ? They support the insurrectionists !

I know what I think of this deplorable abandonment of our nation at its most basic. I will refrain from publishing it. I do, however, say : there’s a pattern here. The same people who shout down Israel for defending itself shout down our Federal government for defending its property.

“Down with the police” doesn’t sound much different from “down with Israel.” Israel is America’s loyal ally; the police are Americans’ loyal defenders. Both must then go. Israel must accept defencelessness, and America must helplessly allow insurrectionists to destroy its economy, its cities, its police, its democracy.

By their rhetoric you can know them. The words of Israel’s haters are pretty clear. Those of our own insurrectionists — as well prepared for street battle and funded as Hezbollah was 20 years ago, and becoming ever more co-ordinated — cannot be missed. Our national heroes are enemies, our nation’s progress an injustice, our economy a theft, our people racists. Our insurrectionists are becoming as venomously racist as Israel’s enemies have long been poisonously anti-Semitic. “By their words shall ye know them” still applies.

The enemies of America and of Israel will surely attack me as this, and that, an d whoa and boo. You know what ? I take their attacks as a badge of honor. And so should you.

None of the above should you interpret as sympathy for Mr. Trump. I blame Mr. Trump for much of what is going on. His incompetence and his baiting of our enemies has simply opened the anthill. If fire ants are now pouring into our streets — and very little of it has anything at all to do with the murder of George Floyd; that ship sailed on Day Two — you should blame Mr. Trump as much as anyone.

Can Joe Biden do any better when he takes office next January ? He will bring us honest and competent government, yes. As for the insurrection, we’ll see.

I hope that Joe understands that the insurrection is directed first of all at the Democratic party’s established powers. Regular Democrats run almost all our cities and all of those in which insurrection is waged.

Defunding the Democratic power structure is the first battle being waged by the present insurrection, but this attcak upon Democratic governing bodies has been under way since 2013 at least. We see a mild version of it in Boston. We have watched the intolerant left gather force, a tentative subversion done by legal means : voting and campaigns.

Not so on the West Coast. there, naked rebellion is afoot. Will Joe Biden step in ? After all, its his power base that is under siege. Will he defend it ? We will soon enough find out.

—- Mike Freedberg / H\ere and Sphere



^ the personal is the ethical, and the ethical is the personal : Rabbi Hillel the Elder teaching Torah to the student, one to one.

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When door-knocking for a candidate, as I always do when I’m in a campaign, you quickly learn that every voter has his own vote to give and only his. I’ve met a wife at the door, discussed my candidate with her, and then waited as she called her husband to talk to me, each entirely for themselves only. That I may win the wife’s vote in no way wins me the husband’s vote. The same is true as I go from door to door. Winning Joe’s vote at house number 99 in no way wins me Don’s vote at the house next door nor Mary’s vote at the house after that.

People make up their own minds, and not only about voting. Each of us perceives the external world with our own sense perceptions — not with anybody else’s. There is no skin color way to evaluate what the senses perceive, no judgments to be made because of who one’s grandfather was. I never knew my grandfathers : am I then to refer my perceptions to them ? On most occasions where I must respond to a perception, the response must take placer quickly. There isn’t time to reflect, or very long. The work is mine alone.

Now there are some who will say, “but your responses to perceptions are inherited, or they were taught you early on by your parents, who learned them from their parents.” That may be true, though I’m skeptical; but even when true, the act of perceiving is yours alone because hat you perceive happens now, not 60 years ago when your grandparents were alive, and what you perceive has itself likely changed from its categorical predecessors: for things that take place influence what takes place afterward : cause and effect does happen. Thus your perceptions and responses are yours. What is learned from them, you learn, and only you.

If skin color were a part of perception and response, or one’s ancestry, then what you perceive would be perceived similarly by others of the same skin color, or ancestry. So far as I can tell, that does not happen. What I perceive, only I perceive. A person of the same ancestry as myself, or the same skin color, can be standing right next to me and not perceive any of what I have perceived, much less respond to it. I may speak the same language as the person standing next to me, even the same local dialect or trendy slang, and be of the same age with him; yet I would probably find it difficult to convey to him what I have perceived, or for him to understand what I have perceived by my telling, or, if understood, for him to respond in the same way as I did.

We are born alone and die alone. We pay our own taxes, nobody else’s. We vote our vote, not our ancestral kin’s vote. Is there any important life decision that we make jointly other than those we agree to, such as marriage ? But I am putting my weight on the scales. I assume that there is individual decision. There are persons who deny that individual decision occurs. Count in this number the biological determinists, who assert that what we call “decision” is nothing more than learned, electrical impulses. Well, I don’t know about that. That sounds like mistaking effect for cause.

To import a bit of Bishop Berkeley’s philosophy of knowledge :

Berkeley claimed that abstract ideas are the source of all philosophical perplexity and illusion.  In his Introduction to the Principles of Human Knowledge he argued that, as Locke described abstract ideas (Berkeley considered Locke’s the best account of abstraction), (1) they cannot, in fact, be formed, (2) they are not needed for communication or knowledge, and (3) they are inconsistent and therefore inconceivable.

In the Principles and the Three Dialogues Berkeley defends two metaphysical theses:  idealism (the claim that everything that exists either is a mind or depends on a mind for its existence) and immaterialism (the claim that matter does not exist).  

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All of the above is preamble to my main purpose : to argue against those who see human ethics, politics, and social obligation in terms of group rather than individual. There is nothing new about this rivalry of self and collective. In the ebb and flow of human history, group has often seemed more dependable than self during periods of social decline. We act individually, but most individually in times of great social cohesion in which the mutual obligations of each to all are honored as a matter of course, when there is no debate whether such obligations are actually obligatory. Roman portraiture during the age of Augustus is far more realistic, and more fully fleshed, than during the time of Constantine, when social norms had severely fractured and depictions of persons crashed crudely and stereotyped; and to the magnificent candor of the mid-6th Century mosaics in San Vitale at Ravenna, made 200 years later, but in a place where the rule of Justinian was taken for granted, I contrast Gregory of Tours’s hackneyed annals of gossip and rumor, written barely 30 years later in a city where anarchy as more the rule than civic certainty.

We are told today, by temporary typists, that there is such a thing as “whiteness”; or that “one should be proud to be Black”; and that so and so is a “racist” if he or she exercises “white privilege”; and that we must learn to be “anti racist.” Whatever do these admonitions mean ? What to say about an assertion that assumes its own conclusion ? It isn’t easy to debate a circular target, and I don’t presume to a conclusive antidote.

When discussing human beings, however, one thing that is never, ever ethical to do : deny any person his or her individual dignity, her autonomy, his perceptions and imaginings personal to him alone. Begin with the individual, because individual people do exist. Attempts to categorize two or more people, on any basis, step into the realm of speculation. We can say, without too much risk, that a certain 330,000,000 people are all Americans — though there are many who would deny that all 330,000,000 are that. Much riskier is to categorize people with dark skin color. Many who do not have dark skin color consider themselves Black because of ancestry, and many who do have dark skin do not consider themselves “black,” because of national origin or other reason. But you may say, “well, white people do group dark skin people together and then ‘other’ them” ? To which I respond, maybe so; maybe people do do that; but not all “white” people do it, and in any case, a person is not what others call him; a person is who he actually is, an autonomous individual with his own life to risk and decide about. Nor do I accept there exists a category “white people.” There is nothing that applies to all people with light color skin except having light color skin. The category “white people” is a circular assumption, just as the category “black people.”

There can be no ethics where there is no actor. Only individuals make ethical decisions. And the rule of Rabbi Hillel the Elder sums it up : “whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. this is the whole Torah, the rest is explanation.” Note the terms that Hillel uses : “what is hateful to YOU” and “do not do to YOUR FELLOW.” For Hillel, ethical obligation is personal and person to person, an act of reciprocity between one person and another. The rule becomes societal when all members of a society follow the rule as individuals.

Hillel taught at the height of the Jewish political revival under Herod the Great. 1000 years later, when Pope Gregory VII and his successors felt under threat from various Christian heresies and even a faddish attraction by many to Judaism — the threat was not imaginary at all; in the south of France and cities elsewhere in Europe, heresy and Judaism abounded —  he anathemized “the Jews” and saw to it that Jews were segregated residentially. (Sound familiar ?) For the next 250 years most of Catholic Europe (but not Islamic Spain !) exploited “the Jews,” expelled them, isolated them. As a group, not as individuals.

Did Jews in Europe thereby become ‘a group” ? They did not. Individual Jews made their way individually, some to great success. Individual Jews disputed other Jews. Some converted to Catholicism. Some were agnostic. Many were friends with individual non-Jews, as the stories in Boccaccio’s Decameron make clear. Nothing united them except in being oppressed as “a group,” which was the legal situation but not often the actual. They were “a group” only to those who chose to not know any Jews.

That many in today’s America assert group “pride,” group “culture,” group ethics and group existence is a measure of our social collapse. Of our loss of personal confidence. Of our fear of our fellow man. There is nothing at all good in any of this. Where the individual loses his or her personal sacred; where he or she finds succor only in the company of those who “look like” him or her; where we judge that “racism” is anything other than an absurdity — there we step into an undertow with no bottom, a falsity with no truth, a circular argument which is actually an eddy sucking us into it, though of course we feel it as liberation — the freedom that comes with death spiritual as well as epistemological.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ a hero for our time. (photo by Tim Terranova, of bay Ridge, Brooklyn)

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Last night, at 4.15 AM, the State Senate voted to enact an “emergency” police bill by a vote of 30 to 10.

One might think that this bill addresses the actual emergency, which we have all seen : assaults upon our police forces by rioters and “peaceful” protesters, harassment of police and their families (even shootings), and defunding actions by various City Councils that undercut the police, who are on the front lines combating the mayhem in the streets of so many American cities right now — not to forget the crime sprees that have gushered up in many cities these past few weeks.

Yet one who assumes this would be wrong.

The Massachusetts Senate bill just voted 30 to 10 addresses nothing of the kind. Instead, it weakens the police and creates an unnecessary, racially constituted commission whose members are to be appointed by persons of said race, for the express purpose of overseeing police operations dramatically compromised by other provisions of this bill.

Begin with the bill’s title : “An act to reform police standards and shift resources to build a more equitable, fair and just commonwealth that values Black lives and communities of color.”

What the blazes is this sentence talking about ? It isn’t the police force’s responsibility to create a “more equitable and fair” commonwealth or to “value Black lives,” etc. The police’s job is to fight crime and to work with neighborhood residents to arrest those responsible. The first request that people ask of police is to keep us safe and to arrest those who interrupt our safety. What else should police do but that ? As for valuing lives, police must first value the lives of those who they are protecting. That is who police work for. ’nuff said.

Sections 3 and 4 of the bill read mostly useful. They outline detailed standards for training prospective police, an initiative which Governor Baker has himself proposed and which makes sense. Section four, however, includes the following language at its end : (iv) the history of slavery, lynching, racist legal institutions and racism in the United States. What this condescending history lesson has to do with the job of keeping residents safe from criminals, I don’t know. Slavery ended 155 years ago — seven generations. Policing takes place entirely in the present, as does almost all of life. I’m also very skeptical, given today’s maoist bullyings and “cancel culture” — all of it assaulting people in the street and online — of the line that would be taken by the “history teachers” who would be providing these lessons.

Sections 6 through 33 of the bill spell out detailed regulations and standards for appointing, overseeing, and promoting or disciplining police, Most can be accepted, although I note that they override union contracts or set aside civil service protections, all of which generations of police and government reformers have fought to enact and maintain.

Sections 34 through 41 of the bill regulate funds received by police forces from other than State budgeting and also enumerate military-grade equipment to be used by police. I have no significant objections to any of these.

Sections 42 through regulate the disciplining of police officers and include the following absolutely objection able provision, which I expect will be stricken from the bill in House deliberations to come : Section 98H. An agency employing a law enforcement officer, as defined section 220 of chapter 6, shall not include or permit the inclusion of a nondisclosure, non-disparagement or other similar clause in a settlement agreement between the agency and a complainant; provided, however, that such settlement may include, but not be limited to, a provision that prevents the agency from disclosing the identity of the complainant and all facts that could lead to the discovery of the complainant’s identity if such provision is requested and approved by the complaint.

Equally offensive is the following school police provision, which cannot stand : School department personnel shall not disclose to a law enforcement officer or agency, or submit to a database or system designed to track gang affiliation or involvement, any information from its databases or other record-keeping systems including, but not be limited to: (i) immigration status; (ii) citizenship; (iii) neighborhood of residence; (iv) religion; (v) national origin; (vi) ethnicity; (vii) native or spoken language; (viii) suspected gang affiliation, unless it is germane to a specific unlawful incident or to a specific prospect of unlawful activity the school is otherwise required to report; (ix) participation in school activities, extracurricular activities outside of school, sports teams or school clubs or organizations; (x) degrees, honors or awards; and (xi) post-high school plans

Section 52 micro-manages street-stop policing to such an extent that front line policing becomes next to impossible. Read the provision here — —  to find out just how unrealistic this provision is.

Section 55 regulates actual police uses of force — a fit subject for reform — much too far, crippling a forceful response to rioting, looting, and harassment of officers. The useful admonitions it does offer are already standard policy for most Massachusetts police forces.

Section 58 : I quote in full.

Chapter 276 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 2C the following section:-

Section 2D. (a) A warrant that does not require a law enforcement officer to knock and announce their presence and purpose before forcibly entering a residence shall not be issued except by a judge and only if the affidavit supporting the request for the warrant establishes probable cause that if the law enforcement officer announces their presence their life or the lives of others will be endangered.

(b) A police officer executing a search warrant shall knock and announce their presence and purpose before forcibly entering a residence unless authorized by warrant to enter pursuant to subsection (a).

(c) An officer shall not dispense with the requirements of subsections (a) and (b) except to prevent a credible risk of imminent harm as defined in section 1 of chapter 147A.

(d) Evidence seized or obtained during the execution of a warrant shall be inadmissible if a law enforcement officer violates this section.

So much for taking into custody dangerous persons who would surely skee-daddle if notified in advance. This provision arises, of course, from the Breoma Taylor death caused by officers exercising a no-knock warrant at the wrong house for a suspect already in custody. Wrong in so many ways as that police mistake was, it strikes me reckless to place unworkable provisos upon these warrants.

I understand that this column has become a very long read. I will therefore sum up the reaminder of the bill.

It revises guidelines for sealing one’s criminal record. It also eliminates “qualified immunity” from lawsuit for police, firemen, nurses (!!!) and first responders for actions they may perform in the course of doing their jobs. This elimination has generated a ton of controversy. it’s probably the one part of Senate 2800 that you have heard of. It cannot stand.

What policeman, fireman, nurse or first responder is going to risk his or her life, or serious injury, from going into danger, if he or she knows that persons with grievances can ruin their finances, cost them their jobs, and destroy their reputations ? Qualified immunity is the sine qua non of employment in jobs of danger where the readiness to face danger must be supported in every way possible. This bill’s elimination of it alone makes the bill unacceptable.

—- Mikde Freedberg / Here and Sphere