^ what a candidate looks like has nothing to do with selecting him or her

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It’s sad to have to say the next sentence, but to some, the obvious isn’t obvious at all, so here goes :

We at Here and Sphere DO NOT pick our candidates on the basis of their skin color, their gender, or their ancestry.  What matters to is about a candidate is his or her character, diligence, knowledge of the issues, openness to compromise, and likability.

Two nights ago, on twitter, I was critiqued for not insisting that the candidate to support for the State Senate seat just vacated by Linda Dorcena Forry be a “person of color” and, preferably, a woman. The reason given, in  twitter shorthand, by my critic was that the population of Boston is “more than 50 % POC.” To which I responded, “that is irrelevant to a candidacy.”

The population of Boston may be more than 50 percent people of color, or it may not be. Whichever is the case, it has no bearing on who a preferred candidate should be. I know of no particular in which a person of one biological sort is unable to represent people of all sorts of biologies. Being an elected representative isn’t different from being one’s attorney. People do not choose their attorneys for biology but for expertise and skill. But I digress…

The rise of social media and selfie custom has moved people to think that how they look is who they are and that the message is the image. I beg to differ.

How one looks, changes. One’s skin color turns to dust. One’s character and accomplishments, however, only grow stronger. We may look at pictures, but pictures do not vote, do not speak, do not debate and persuade, do not beget children, do not kiss and hug, do not eat or cook, do not write great literature or research into history. Nor do I find much truth in the proposition that I am set back if the person representing me doesn’t “look like me.” What does matter is that that person have similar ideals to mine and has accomplished deeds that give me confidence in his or her future deeds.

We all need to think again, step back from the moment, lift ourselves outside ourselves. Responsible citizenship is N OPT “all about me.” Or, to put it another way, these words of Socrates say what I am am trying to say :

A friend of Socrates, I believe, took a trip through the eastern Mediterranean. When he returned, another friend asked Socrates, what did he learn ?” To which Socrates answered, “Nothing, for he took himself with him.”

The responsible citizen steps outside of him or herself and makes his or her candidate choices from several such outside steps away.

As it happens, I have supported candidates of all manner of look. People from all over the world live in Boston and are citizens here and run for office here, and from them I, like you, select those we appraise as the best. I hope that will always be the case, and that selfie custom will never become anything more than a diversion.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





DACA kids : equity welcomes what “the law” is too rigid to remedy

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Today the Senate will likely vote to end the minority’s filibuster and fund the Federal Government. This is good news but hardly good enough. That supporters of immigration reform thought it smart to “shut down” the Federal government to force a vote on their issue doesn’t promise much progress — just the opposite.

First of all, some explanation : the top immigration priority is protecting the 800,000 or so children and young adults covered by an Executive Order (by former President Obama) entitled”deferred action for childhood arrivals” — what we call “DACA.” 87 percent of voters support granting these residents a pathway to citizenship, or to legal permanent residence, because they were brought to America young and by their parents’ doing and thus cannot be viewed as “illegals.” All equity and justice says that as they know no other country, and have no other home than America, they should be left in place to succeed as Americans.

It should be easy to enact legislation to do just that. So why isn’t it ?

There is only one reason why DACA enabling legislation isn’t the no-brainer it is : the president wants other immigration measures, and he won’;t sign DACA legislation unless he gets them. Those immigration proposals are not easy,. They are controversial. Some are bad, bad policy. A majority opposes them. Thus the impasse over DACA, made acute by DACA advocates insistence on attaching DACA legislation — but not the measures that Mr. Trump says he wants — to a basic government funding bill.

I fully understand the frustration of DACA advocates. A “DACA deal” was all but agreed to, two weeks ago, as the President met with the DACA legislation working group of legislators. Then anti-immigrant supporters intervened. Their basic pitch was, “OK, you want to legalize the DACA 800,000 ? Fine, we’ll give you that, but in exchange you’ll have to throw almost every other sort of immigrant under the bus. No more family re-unification admissions. No more special program Visas. And $ 20 billion to build that ‘wall.'”

It is outrageous for supporters of harsh anti-immigration legislation to hold DACA kids hostage like this. Once the debate on DACA legislation begins in earnest, the following principles must prevail :

( 1 ) no longer can people who are here in the country without documentation  be shamed for “breaking the law.” The law exists for people, not people for the law.

( 2 ) even if undocumented people have “broken a law,” the concept of equity provides a remedy. Equity jurisdiction was invented in our common law in the late 12th Century, by the Church, as a means of providing justice to people for whom the ordinary law had no remedy. Central to equity courts was the INJUNCTION, an order by the Court to stop a defendant from doing something. Injunctions remain central to our system of laws; indeed, they are used all the time to prevent injustices, including Mr. Trump’s “travel ban” orders and overreach by immigration law enforcers. It is expensive to go to court, however, and injunctions are purely passive : they stop but do not authorize. Why can’t the Congress enact the sort of immigrant protections that equity courts prevent officials from violating or suspending ?

( 3 ) the limitations on equitable immigration concepts such as family reunification and special purpose visas amount to nothing more than discrimination against certain origins. If immigrants change the skin color or language make-up of the nation, as they do, so what ? Superficial effects or prior habits readily give way, in America, to our transformative national impetus. I am not afraid of any immigrant of good will, indeed I am thrilled they come here to join our nation’s mission.

Back now to the equity concept.

Equity could always go beyond injunction to authorize; but equity authorizations were case-specific. Only Parliament (or Congress) could enact general legislation. Nonetheless, the principle carries: general legislation to authorize DACA kids is nothing more than 800,000 individual court injunctions — a kind of class action injunction with further orders.

For me, the immigration principle is central to who and what America is. We may be a nation of laws, but we’re also a nation of immigrants — the more and more diverse, the better, the more advantageous to our culture of innovation and multiplicity. This is where the concept of equity steps in. Equity is kin to equality, the fundamental rationale for our Declaration of Independence and for our system of universal suffrage voting. Equality assures all of us that no person can lord us; equity guarantees that no law is a closed box. It’s really quite easy to embrace the equity concept of immigration and to free it from the rigidity of “the law” without rendering it lawless.

So let’s do it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Almost immediately upon talking office, Governor Baker submitted legislation to address the state’s opioid addiction crisis. Most of what he asked for was enacted but not all. Medical professionals balked at his proposal for 72 hour involuntary commitment of addicts unable to seek help on their own; this part of Baker’s bill was not adopted.

That was a shame, because the opioid addiction community people whose opinion I asked told me that involuntary commitment — a kind of forced “intervention” — was sometimes necessary. Without it, the most incapacitated addicts were left to their own devices.

That said, the medical community had a point : ample beds were not available for the large numbers of addicts who might end up involuntarily committed. Now, two years later, much progress has been made as to treatment availability. Beds are more readily available, and lists of such bed locations find their way onto social media.

Thus the involuntary commitment feature of baker’s first opioid treatment bill is included in his new proposal. You can read his entire memorandum in support of it here:

Click to access TheCAREAct.pdf

For me, an equally significant proposal in Baker’s bill is something badly needed and, at last, supported by Baker: the creation of “recovery coaches” and a commission to establish standards for what ‘recovery coaches” will be asked to do. As Baker’s memorandum puts it,

The bill recognizes the important role that recovery coaches play in successful long-term addiction treatment by creating a commission to recommend standards for establishing a professional credential for recovery coaches as an important step toward formalizing the role of recovery coaches in the regimen of long-term addiction treatment.

Even now, years into the opioid crisis, there is still far too little high quality data guiding decision making about the most effective forms of treatment for addiction. To address this gap, the bill creates a commission to review evidence-based treatment approaches to substance use disorders and mental health conditions. The bill directs the commission to produce fmdings in 180 days to help insurers and patients to identifY the most effective addiction and mental health treatments offered across the full range of licensed behavioral health clinician specialties so that each patient can find the specific treatment that best meets the patient’s needs.

Those who have gone through recovery insist that only members of the “recovery community” have the experience to guide addicts into and through successful recovery. I might add that, very probably, only a recovery person will have the full confidence of those who the recovery process seeks to help.

The idea of having “recovery coaches” is not a new one in his debate. Governor Baker has at least one close friend, Jack Kelly of Charlestown, who since the 2014 campaign, in which he provided significant support to Baker — from recovery people as well as Charlestown activists — has been advocating for the recovery-community’s primacy in the battle against opioid addiction. For a while after baker’s victory, it looked as though Kelly’s views — recovery community being the opioid crisis’s primary responders — would become Baker policy. That did not happen. I do not know why, but the likeliest explanation is that the state’s vast medical establishment opposed it. Now, it looks as though Kelly’s view will be adopted, if the legislature agrees to it.

Baker emphasized the role of “recovery coaches” at a recent address he gave to medical professionals at Beverly Hospital. Youcanread the report here :

Baker has had significant success already in the fight against opioid deaths. It is good to see him now doubling down, requesting $ 174 million of state funds to the effort, and making the availability of naxolone more widespread. It is this reporter’s hope that his new legislation will be enacted in full, as it should be;  and it is my hope, on a personal basis as an admirer of Kelly, that he will ask Jack, whom he knows on a first name basis having sought his advice and knowledge regularly — and who, after Mayor Walsh, is perhaps the most widely followed and trusted recovery person in the Boston area’s political community — to establish the standards for recovery coaching and to oversee their coaching work.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


FullSizeRender (19)

^ opposing the 238 Webster Street proposal : Casey Silvia speaks; Margaret Farmer waits. Behind them : Scot Krueger

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Last night at the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association meeting, a large gathering of residents saw and listened — as at every such meeting — to several proposals for property development. Most fit well within the parameters of what property redesign should look like. One such however, stood out for its utter disregard of every recognized standard : that for 238 Webster Street. This is currently a typical three family, three story wooden dwelling. The developer proposes fourteen units, on four floors.

Let that sink in. 14 units — 28 bedrooms — on a lot that now hosts nine bedrooms in three apartments.

The developer could probably win approval for five units, maybe even six. Parking would be scarce, but the lot includes a large back portion currently vacant. Five or six tenants could park there without jamming up the lot’s open space back yard. That’s the sort of renovation that dominates Webster Street : buildings — mostly Beacon Hill brick style or classic wooden three-deckers; a few freestanding Victorian or Greek Revival “singles” — with one, two, or three to six apartments or condos, some with parking, some not.

It was thus no surprise to see almost unanimous opposition at the meeting to the 238 Webster proposal.

Most of the region’s residents are not lifelong East Bostonians; they’ve come to Jeffries for a reason, and almost all live in buildings renovated or redeveloped. They’re not opposed to development, nor does it discomfort them. I’ve attended maybe 20 Jeffries Point meetings; almost never does a project proposal arouse such absolute disapproval as was shown and spoken last night.

In part that’s because most residential renovators who build in Jeffries Point understand the neighborhood’s well defined character and the expectations that residents have of it. Developers generally do not want to spend time and effort on a proposal that will be voted down at meeting. Indeed, there were three other projects presented,  by Richard Lynds, an East Boston attorney who has deep family roots in the area; who represents many developers; and whose grasp of neighborhood expectations is masterful. All of Lynds’s presentations honored those expectations.

The developer of 238 Webster was not represented by Lynds. I can’t speculate as to why, but the result was clear. 238’s presenting attorney is someone I haven’t seen at these meetings before (I am informed that he is the “backup” for the office he works at, one that represents some East Boston developments) nor did everyone in the room appear familiar with him. This is not to disparage a man who had a job to do and did it as best he could; but he was given a tough hand to play.

Not only is the 238 proposal far out of scale to the neighborhood, it also looked ugly. The artist rendering that we were shown had almost no design to it, just a boxy flat front with a coldly geometrical sloping roof — a very poor excuse for the ornate, subtle, 1880s-ish Mansard roofs common in the Jeffries area, and utterly embarrassed by the fully retained Mnasard design of 228 Webster Street — almost next door — whose renovation was presented — by Lynds — immediately after the 238 Webster show ended.

That “show” was commandeered, with fatal effect, by a trio of Jeffries Points’s most respected activists : Casey Silvia, an attorney who lives on the next street over; Scot Krueger, Webster Street resident whose wife Mary Cole sits on the Jeffries Point board; and Margaret Farmer, who lives on Webster directly across the street from 238 and who, in addition to being a past president of the Jeffries association, ran, in 2017, an impressive first-time campaign for District One’s City Council seat. All three spoke in opposition.

There were very few in the room who did not applaud each’s speech.

The developer would be wise to reduce his aspirations substantially.

I’m not going to guess at the developer’s motives for trying to build 14 units on a three-unit property, nor am I going to assess the wisdom of his thinking he can get any kind of approval for it from the Jeffries Point neighborhood. All I want to say is that Jeffries Point deserves better than this. “The Point” has a clear character that motivates people to move in, to live there, to love the neighborhood and to be pro- active in keeping it a true neighborhood where most people socialize as well as reside. It is an affront to tamper with such neighborhood success, and it is a bad example for development elsewhere in East Boston, a growing ward in which cheap materials, scrawny design, comfortless shapes, cheek-by-jowl density, and starved contours give so many big-numbers buildings a tenement air : sardines packed in throw-away cans. East Boston cannot thrive on throwaway residences. Jeffries Point manages to harmonize density with graciousness. It deserves to have its esthetics respected and regenerated.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





doctor kingIn his glory years, when he was the voice and leader of America’s Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. was viewed very unfavorably by most. Today, he holds iconic status, beloved by almost all as THE voice of our nation’s most basic ideal : the equality of all of us.

That ideal is written in the Declaration of Independence, a document much before Dr. King was even born. As the Declaration is itself of an iconic status equal to, or even higher than, that of Dr. King, one might suppose that Dr. King’s importance would step back behind it. Instead, he holds almost equal status with the Declaration : both it and he have national holidays. His national holiday was yesterday.

Why, then, has Dr. King acquired such crucial significance ? That everybody celebrates his birthday holiday, even those who opposed him in life ? Even those who appear to disapprove of much that he achieved and who seek to undo it ?

I think the answer is plain : Dr. King lived the ideals that we try to live but often cannot.

He was what our consciences tell us we should be. He spoke for the ideals that we all profess. His voice and his life are like rescue buoys which we can grab onto and lift ourselves from the muck we live in, the fallings short, the failures we know we tolerate even while knowing that we’re better than that.

To be blunt about it : we know that skin color prejudice is absurd and that we shouldn’t do it. Dr. King spoke eloquently of how our own ideals as a nation and as people require us to do the opposite, and we know that his arguments are right.

We know this because we have already sworn to it. It’s right there in the Declaration. The equality of all of us is also in the Constitution  that we say we love and pledge  fealty to. The Constitution embraces the equality of all even more comprehensively than the Declaration, many of whose signers owned slaves.

But commitment to documents satisfies only our obligation. It does not comfort our consciences. Only a commitment to human beings can do that, and no human being we are nationally familiar with, who is also of our era, exemplifies commitment to the equality of all than Dr. King =– what he said and how he lived, and also the ideals that he died for.

And something else. Dr. King, we know, was a man of color, and we know that our nation has a huge debt to pay to our fellow Americans of color, a debt much larger than apology, deeper than foundations, crueller than disparagement. For almost all of our history as a society, people of color have NOT been accorded the equality we accord to all of us. We know this. We know it is wrong. We know that we are part of the wrong, that we live with it, that its taint is upon every garment we put on and in every meal that we eat; and that its accents every word we speak with the dialect of injustice.

Even those of us who do not harbor skin color disparagements live with them, because they are all around us, we hear them said, or done, every day here and there, and because we cannot often do anything meaningful about it — because we have to swallow it into is as we swallow our tongues — we live with social poison inside us. Thus we c all upon Dr. King’s words and deeds, to antidote the poison and to free us to aspire to what we know we should be. A doctor he really is, with the power to save us.

I speak of course of those of us who are not people of color.

For people of color, Dr. King is a savior too but, for many, he is something more ; a personal example, possibly a family friend, maybe a fraternity brother, a presence in the private lives of thousands, a Moses in an exodus : this last an image he often preached, marches for Civil Rights being in fact an exodus from injustice to a land of law. And more than the law. For those who feel a sharing with him of skin color and its consequences, Dr. King’s exodus is a march from disrespected to respected, from disparagement to dignity.

And why not also for the rest of us ? That is the challenge. To honor Dr. King sincerely is to take that challenge and win.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere