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.