We at Here and Sphere support adding a vote by mail option to Massachusetts’s election laws.

It will not be easy to do, but methods can be devised. What follows are our suggestions:

( 1 ) to vote by mail, a registered voter must apply in writing to his or her City or Town clerk to receive an official ballot. When said voter’s request is received, he or she shall be marked on the clerk’s records as a requestor. No further requests in his or her name shall be allowed.

( 2 ) The clerk shall then, promptly, forward a ballot to said voter at his or her address of registration. Postage shall not be required, nor of the voter sending back said ballot by mail.

( 3 ) said voter can still change his or her mind and vote in person. If he or she does so, his or her in person vote shall be counted, and the mail-in ballot, if received, shall be destroyed.

( 4 ) city and town clerks shall maintain a written record of all vote by mail requests and shall record all mail vote ballots received by them. Said ballots may not be postmarked later than 5 pm on election day.

( 5 ) if a vote b y mail voter did not vote in person on election day, his or her mail ballot shall be accorded three business days after election day in which to arrive. Any ballot not received by then shall be destroyed if and when received, and said voter shall be recorded as not having voted.

( 6 ) each city and town shall hire one or more election aides to maintain said records and monitor them.

( 7 ) if adopted during this year, the vote by mail option shall apply at the next State election, beginning with that of 2022.

I do not see that this system will cost the vast amounts of money that opponents claim. There will be some administrative costs, yes, but hardly the torrent of costs claimed. I therefore offer Here and Sphere’s support for enactment of vote by mail legislation at the current legislative session, or at a supplemental session later in the year.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere






^ he’s a great guy,  but in no way should a person with such dictatorial powers at his disposal ever be a President. I am afraid that in the new America this will be a huge risk.

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Between the presidency of Mr. Trump and the residency of this corona pandemic, the America we once knew has passed into history. It is NOT coming back.

There was a chance, before the arrival of Covid, that the coming presidency of Joe Biden could be a term of restoration. Now the outlook is for major change. Restoration will be limited to voting rights, competence, and the personal decency of Mr. Biden. These are no minor benefits; we will be grateful to have them; yet the rest of the picture involves vast policy and administrative innovation. The challenge facing us is to enact sensible innovations and to reject the foolish or the utopian.

What can we expect Congress to attempt, and/or President Biden to support ? A lot depends on Mr. Biden’s readiness to resist his party’s radical voices. Much also depends on Nancy Pelosi’s continuing skill at keeping inconsiderate change sidelined. I wonder if either she or Biden can mange it. Right now, with every anti-Trump interest focused utterly on his defeat, with policy dreams held in check, Pelosi has handled things very smartly, and Mr. Biden has studiously avoided blame games and high tax raptures. Can they handle the repturers and the accusers once the overriding goal of defeating Mr. Trump has been won ? I am far from confident of it.

Here’s my estimate of what is likely to happen and what is less likely but still to be guarded against :

( a ) social distancing will continue until a vaccine is found for the Corona and given to all. Thereafter, mask-wearing and other valetudes will be strongly recommended as a matter of course, just as boarding an airplane today means not carrying liquids or other TSA no-no’s in your carry bag. Surveillance of everybody, down to the biological, will be enacted into law, ending anything like privacy rights forever, save only potential Supreme Court decisions contra –– I like some of this, but not not all

( b ) the drive to phase out fossil fuels will ramp up, assuming oil and gas prices recover to normal, putting at risk the jobs of millions and unsettling the world market for its most basic connecting commodity; and taxes to speed up this phase out will be enacted by Congress and by most States — I am not a fan of any of this

( c ) immigration laws will finally be reformed. DACA and TPS people will finally win a pathway to citizenship, as will those who enlist in the military with a promise of citizenship. Refugee and asylum seeking will once again be welcomed by Congress and the President. National quotas may well be set aside. — All of this is good news

( d ) there will be Federal gun control legislation, at least the basics : universal background checks, assault weapon ban, elimination of gun manufacturers’ immunity from lawsuits. — All of this is very welcome

( e ) legislation will be filed curbing the current list of special Presidential powers : pursuant to national emergency acts, tariff authorizations, recess appointments. — I doubt that many will be enacted, but I would welcome all of the above.

( f ) a national $ 15/hour minimum wage will be come law. — This, as I have written, must be a first priority.

( g ) the Center for Disease Control will become an independent body with administrative powers similar to those already given to the NLRB and FTC. — this could be a benefit, but it can also be an occasion for administrative aggrandizement. we’ll have to be vigilant, given public health bureaucracies’ evident dictatorial powers.

Other initiatives I’m less happy to see :

I would seriously hope that any attempt to impose upon taxpayers the enormous costs of higher education will fail. Higher ed already costs far too much. Lavishly paid bureaucrats dominate most college staffs now, where once upon a time colleges were simply students and teachers.  I see no reason why college bureaucrats should be paid $ 275,000 to $ 750,000 a year or even why such jobs should exist at all. Student loans don’t fund education as much as they pay bureaucrats’ bonanzas. It’s an absurdity.

Resist any attempt to create a medicare for all that eliminates most people’s employer-provided health plans. It is, in my opinion, a benefit for people to have all kinds of health care options.

Reject out of hand any attempt to establish “collective action'” as a social norm. America was created to give liberty to every person and to guarantee it. In America, consent of the governed requires the consent of every person, individually. “Collective action”: almost always means social pressure, including condescension and shaming, usually by self-appointed elites, to force people to do the “collective will” — particularly I see this coming to the fore around the so-called “climate crisis,” which is a perfect storm of control for those who profess it.

In America there must never, ever be a “collective will” for any thing. That is the hallmark of totalitarian hells.

One of the first priorities of the climate-crisis folks is to tax and fine people’s cars into oblivion and force as many of us as possible into public transportation. Not on my watch ! Public transportation is an instrument of big brother control. It goes where it wants to go, when it wants to go there, mostly at taxpayer expense; when what freedom guarantees is to go to where WE want to go WHEN we want to go there, in  our own vehicle. Fortunately, 80 percent of us, at least, own and use carts,. and we are determined, I think, never to have the public transportation bogeyman imposed on us, nor the tax es that supposedly would pay for it.

That said, it will not surprise me to see some of these rejectable policies enacted in the new, post-lockdown America in which the bloody Covid flag will constantly be waved by those who seek to keep us “safe” from the freedoms and Constitutional power separations that our forbears were strong enough to bequeath to us whole and hearty.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at an event in Wilmington

Assuming that Joe Biden wins the Presidential election upcoming — and all signs point to him winning big — what ought his policy priorities be ? Everyone has his or her own favor, and certainly the Biden administration and its friends in Congress will need address many matters at the same time. That said, it’s hard for me not to insist that economic reform is the number one.

If the past decade of American economic life has taught us anything, it’s that our nation’s money is unsustainably misdirected. Most of us have or earn far too little, while a small few of us take in enormously unusable amounts. Money exists to be used, not parked; yet a very few have been parking trillions of dollars for years, dollars that, going unused, might as well not exist at all. An economy is trade; A buys, B sells, C produces, D brokers the transaction. Money in action moves rapidly from hand to hand and back again. The more money acts, the more vivid the economy. The economic genius of democracy is to fund the participation in it of all; and when all participate, the economy fulfills its theoretic potential. All that remains is to insure that ll who participate have enough money to make their participation maximal.

So much for the theory. The reforms needed, and which I hope that the Biden administration will work to enact, must guarantee every resident adult a living wage or income — enough for those who can’t work, more for those who can. A Federal minimum wage of $ 15/hour seems a minimum; in prosperous cities, even $ 21/hour is scarcely enough to buy anything more than the basics : rent, utilities, food, clothing, cell phones, child care, transportation. A two-income family earning $ 21/hour takes in $ 6720 a month before taxes — maybe $ 4800- after tax. If this family lives in a city like Boston, rent will take up between $ 2000 and $ 2600 of that money, food another $ 400, utilities another $ 200, clothing about $ 200, and transportation another $ 200 to $ 500. That doesn’t leave very much for discretionary spending, which is the most profitable part of the economy, but it does leave some. Allow such a working family less, and their ability to boost the economy suffers. The spending needs of non-working people are less — as those of us stuck in the house right now can attest — yet they too must make purchases and pay bills, and why should they too not have an entry fee into the most prosperous part of the economy ? A seller of stuff doesn’t bask you, the buyer, whether your money was earned, or merely provided. All he wants to know is, can you pay the price he is asking ? If you can., you’re a customer, and he can prosper his business.

We either want an efficient economy or we don’t. We want it to aspire to its full potential, or we don’t. I happen to think that an economy approaching full potential is stronger and more profitable than one that misses its potential by a lot. So : to recalibrate our economy as we ought, the following reforms seem significant :

( a ) enact a Federal $ 15/hour minimum wage and allow economic hot spots to set a $# 21/hour minimum

( b ) enact a guaranteed $ 4,000 a month living income to every family of two or more and $ 2,000 to a single

( c ) encourage by example and public informercials that all work has social value, so that the sorts of grunt work that we now find so essential is as honorable to do as it is to be paid for, and that there should be no social disfavor levied upon workers who do such work, indeed such workers are to be sought after socially as well as in their employ

( d ) require that all corporations or other economic associations operating in interstate commerce include on their governing boards employees of said organization and at least two members representing the public interest. Require that top executives’ pay or other compensation be approved by a three-quarters vote of the board; enact a penalty tax of 50 percent on executive compensations greater than five percent of the market value of the firm or organization

( e ) eliminate margin allowances that support leveraged stock and other instrument trades, bonds excepted; require an eight year period for holding stock or warrants in publicly traded corporations (money that is actually committed to investment is not merely parked, by the way)

( f ) enact an annual penalty tax on money that is parked for more than one year

( g ) encourage capital investment in innovation and in ordinary production, using Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway methods as a template

( h ) strongly increase funding for NLRB investigations,. supervisions., and prosecutions of corporate violations of labor laws.

( i ) repeal the Citizens United decision; require full and prompt disclosure of all PAC donations

( j ) no money borrowed by a publicly traded corporation can be used to fund stock buybacks; any publicly traded company borrowing money from a Federally chartered bank or directly from the Federal Reserve is barred for five (5) years after borrowing date  from doing a general stock buyback

Make clear to the people that the objective of all of these reforms is to get more money into the hands of more ordinary people — including resident non-citizens, because every resident is a customer — and less money in the hands of people who will simply park it or employ it only for speculation. Because how many cars, yachts, bedroom sets, overseas trips, or mansions can a billionaire by ? Not enough to matter, whereas 200 million adults can by a whole lot of everything (except mansions, but who needs those ?)

There is plenty else that a Biden administration and its friends in Congress will want to work on, and should work on. Yet I don’t see how any of it matters much if we can/t get the American economy to work well for everyone. Our Constitution in action cannot win the public’s confidence if it doesn’t make things better for everyone than they would be without the Constitution. If we want Constitutional government — and I sure do; do you ? — then the money part of things has got to come first. The Constitution is and has always been first of all an economic union — a common market agreement, if you will. I think we should embrace that and make it work, starting on  January 20, 2021 when Joe Biden takes the oath of office, as he almost certainly will.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


The Wisconsin primary and Voting Rights for Whom ?


^^ Jill Karofsky, the Democrat, defeated incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, in last night’s Wisconsin election.

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Last night, Jill Karofsky, the Democratic challenger, won an eleven point in over Republican incumbent Dan Kelly to become a Supreme Court justice of that State.

The vote was 856,315 to 692,956.

Turnout was low, for reasons that should never have happened. There’s no excuse for the botched voting that took place. Election days should be sure — not postponed for any reason, nor trifled with– and both Governor and legislature worked to confuse both the election and the voting public.  The Republican-controlled legislature wanted the election to go forward as scheduled — but they also wanted all absentee ballots to be received by election day. Given the pandemic, that was unlikely. Thousands of voters who had no plans to vote absentee were lately forced to request absentee ballots because it became risky fort them to vote in person, given the imperatives of social distancing. Governor Evers, a Democrat, wanted the election date postponed, or, if not , then  he wanted the date for receiving absentee ballots to be extended by one week. The legislator Republicans sad no.

There was more. Polling places in the city of Milwaukee were reduced from 180 to five (!!)(, and a similar shut down was decreed in Madison, the State Capital, a heavily Democratic city.

Clearly the intention of these actions was to suppress the vote, in the State’s two very Democratic cities, in order to boost Republican Dan Kelly’s chances of winning re-election. We know now that it didn’t work, but it might have. Fortunately for those who were incommoded by the curtailment of voting access, voters proved stronger than their opponents anticipated. Turnout in the two cites wasn’t high, but it was dramatic. Karofsky won Madison 80 percent to 18 percent and Milwaukee by 68 to 32. Together, the two cities gave her a 220,000 vote margin.

Kelly won three-quarters of the suburban and rural counties, but by much reduced margins. The enthusiasm for voting was enormous among Karofsky supporters everywhere.

Americans do not like having their voting rights curtailed.

Wisconsin is not the only State in which vote suppression has occurred recently. States controlled by Republicans have, in some cases, closed polling places in neighborhoods heavily populated by people of color; they have moved other polling places from easy access to remote corners of precincts. Some states refuse to restore ex-felons’ voting rights. (Take the case of Florida : voters overwhelmingly enacted a ballot initiative restoring ex-felons’ voting rights, but the State then tried to impose a requirement that such people pay all outstanding criminal; case fees. It took a high Court ruling to prevent that.) Other Republican States want to impose burdensome voting ID requirements, or to rush voters off the active voting list if they don’t happen to vote in one election.

Most of these burdens expressly targeted people of color — because voters of color overwhelmingly vote Democratic.

No one in America should ever support such suppressions. The right to vote is the paramount power that voters exercise over our governments. Curtailment of that power, in any way, for any reason, taints our democracy, taints it with illegitimacy. Faith in our public institutions has fallen far enough. We cannot permit such loss of faith to go on at all, much less worsen.

Every voter should be accorded the maximum feasible opportunity to vote. No one should be allowed to manipulate the Election Day, for any reason, so as to impede some blocks of voters. No one should have authority to decrease the number of polling places — minor consolidations excepted, in good faith— or to locate a polling place more than walking distance entombed any voter listed in that precinct. No election authority or commission should be allowed to purge its voter list except by diligent, good faith monitoring of death notices and residency inquiries annually sent.

It’s sad that any of the above needs be said.

In Wisconsin, every party acted out of school, of base partisan purpose, to ensure a snafu result. The Democratic Governor erred in seeking to delay Election Day. The Republican legislature erred in demanding Election Day take place as scheduled without attempting agreement with Governor Evers.

This cannot happen again. The November election right now looks to put paid to the Presidency of Donald Trump and to elect Joe Biden. If that;s what the voters want, that is what they should have, indeed must be allowed to have. It is the voters’ right. Nuff’ said.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

COVID-19 case data reveal serious race and income inequities in America’s health system


Boston #COVID19 cases by neighborhood, showing greater impact upon low-income neighborhoods. The same situation exists in other US cities.

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The case numbers are already there, the locations and the seriousness. Communities of color and of mostly low-income people are suffering proportionately more confirmed cases per population than in other sorts of neighborhoods, and the cases there are more likely to be serious and worse.

The question is, why ? Some suggest that workers in care centers, grocery work, office cleaning, waste fcolland senior citizen comple.xes are disproportionately of color and mostly low-income. True; yet hardly everyone living in such zip codes is a health care worker or nursing home aide. Others cite that grocery workers, office cleaners, janitorial, airport cleaning, and  transit employees are of color. True as well. Nonetheless, the numbers tell a story:

here in Boston, case frequency is higher in East Boston, Hyde Park, and Dorchester, less frequent in West Roxbury, Brighton, Fenway and Downtown. Despite our superb hospitals of worldwide reputation, the inequity is there..

Low-income City neighborhoods tend to be residentially denser. Residents greatly distrust the various governments, which hardly makes authorities’ job easier of warning people. Far less money is invested into hospitals and health clinics sites in low-income neighborhoods. Because residential segregation still exists in many cities — some of it semi-voluntarily — people of color, even if not low-income, are just as much at risk as very one lose living in these neighborhoods.

To be blunt : our health care system literally does not value low-income lives equally with other lives.

Which may not be anyone’s intention, yet the result seems plain.

Low-income people have many other health issues that go relatively unmet. Evidence of this under-investment in their health care include the following : stress and stress-related diagnostic issues ; abundance of diabetes, obesity and asthma cases (much of it aggravated by poverty pressures) ; and the density itself, often in old tenements, poorly maintained, or in poorly built structures readily dilapidated. Low-income people often work two or even three jobs, and they miss sufficient sleep; hours spent commuting by inefficient bus tire the body and stress the soul. 170 years ago, Henry David Thoreau noted that most people live lives of quiet desperation : is much the same not still true ? Fact is that our society accords far less economic or emotional security to low-income people than our ideals of equality promise; add to this deprivation frequent societal uneasiness about non-white skin color – and for those who have it – and you have the worst of health care Situations : isolation from easy pass and from the best health  care (and from much else), unhealthy density in often substandard housing, and a prevalence of poor nutrition.

We now see the consequences : disproportionate COVID19 cases of disproportionate severity, often untreated. The statistics from New Orleans, Detroit, District of Columbia, New York, Chicago,  Miami, and Philadelphia — and even Boston — do not lie, and they do not overstate.

We cannot let this situation continue. Once we get past the immediate battle, policy makers must enact legislation and establish City ordinances that demand a living wage for all workers and put in place solid building codes and aggressive housing inspection. Schools must monitor kids’ diet and insist.upon healthy choices. Of course no reforms that we might agree to do, at the last, won’t matter much if the nation generally does not embrace low-income people as their neighbors and people of color as Strivers, heroes, and success stories.

I may be asking way too much. But so do our national ideals and promises written in the Constitution we profess to revere.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere.