JUSTIFYING A COUP : BILL BARR’s “UNITARY EXECUTIVE” ORDER

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When Bill Barr became Attorney General in 2018, he immediately set to work changing Mr. Trump’s hitherto ad-libbed Presidency. Until Barr took control of the nation’s justice system, MrTrump had ruled by personal grievance : firing this one, threatening that one, grousing and insulting by gut instinct and unpredictable as to time or place. There was no method to his madness and no plan in his petulance. He pissed off everybody without counting the numbers. and the result was a wipeout of Republican Congresspeople in the 2018 election, a damning Mueller Report, and— much too late to work—a vote to impeach.

Barr in office changed everything. He implemented, from his first day, his version of a “unitary executive” — a theory of Presidential management that had already  gained much support as a curb upon the autonomy of Federal administrative agencies. As a practical argument, the “unitary executive” plan has much to recommend it. The concept is, that only the President may make executive rulings; that agencies charged with carrying out Congress’s laws are not empowered to put their own interpretations upon those laws except express Presidential approval. The reasoning is that administrative bodies are not elected and thus not permitted  make changes to laws enacted by officers who are elected : because anyone aggrieved by an adverse administrative ruling has only indirect recourse.

This application of the “unitary executive” idea has found much favor with judges of Federal Courts. Judges have, in many cases, found administrative agencies using their regulatory powers too liberally, so as to distort, or overstep, the intent of the Federal laws they are charged with administering. Given the complexity of Federal regulation, it is not surprising that administrators have sought to enact procedures that they feel fit their appointed tasks : but the Courts have said that that is not a sufficient standard: that they must conform to the parameters of the laws.

All of the above I am sure seems reasonable to you as to me. Yet some “unitary executive” advocates apply its admonitions to the Presidency itself, arguing that, as Article 2: Section 2 says “HE shall take Care that the “Laws  e faithfully executed,” on,y the President himself can make administrative, executors decisions, and that no action taken by another administrative officer has no force unless ordered by the President only —because – Sotheby’s argument goes—on,y he is accountable to Article 2.

From here it is only a short step to AG Barr’s dictum that only the President has discretion, as o subord8 age officerhad, to execute the la wsss he sees fit. And from there it is only another short step to holding that, as the President has discretion how best to administer the Laws, Congress, having enacted those Laws, can’t oversee how the President is doing things. After all, who of us likes to be given a task only to find the task giver telling us how to do it ?

When the Mueller Report was published, Barr had already succeeded Jeff Sessions as AG. He immediately set to work to neither Mueller’s damning narratives.  ueller’s report was, in every way, an impeachment referral, but because he did not say so directly, Barr was able to deliver his own interpretation. Barr could not allow the special counsel’s report to generate action, because Mueller was Presidential oversight, and under Bar’s view Congressional oversight of  the Presidency is unComstitutional.

That  was the beginning of what has now  become essentially a Barr Presidency. Oversight of Mr Trump’s-official acts cannot be allowed, and therefore Congressional requests for testimony by Trump administrators will not be honored, nor will Congressional subpoenas : all are “privileged,” in Barr’s view.

Impeachment at first looked to be a big problem fir the Barr Presidency, because it is expressly called for in the Constitution. But here, Mr Trump used his own, independent, demagogic power— enabled by technology ** — his twitter account feeding directly the tastes of his 45 million followers — to rally against potential Republican defections from an acquittal :and in the end, only Senator  itt Romney defected.

Perhaps it was the battle situation of impeachment that convinced Trump that he had no choice but to govern by Barr’s one man rule — unalloyed despotism. In any case, that sis what he has done. The year since Barr came to office has seen Gru,p adopt every feature of “unitary” rule : people who oppose his cockamamie notions are fired; those who act in service to the “rule of law” are sent packing. Congress 8s told to take a hike. Executive agencies either carry out Trump’s ignorant or contradictory orders or see their top executives reassigned. FBI agents ho insist on oversight are fired and  publicly defamed.

The Roger Stone and General Flynn cases make sense given this background. When Flynn was first indicted, pursuant to the Mueller investigation, with Jeff Sessoions — who had been a US Attorney and aSenator under the old, Constitutional dispensation –  as AG, everything  followed the old rules. Mr. Trump  agreed that Flynn had lied and to Vice President Pence, Flynn pled guilty, and he faced a stuff sentence recommended by the prosecution. Stone, too, was thus indicted, and he, too, was headed for justice.

Then things changed.

If oversight of Mr Trump was out, and the rule of law veered to “I am the law,” then it was foolish of Flynn to accept a long jail sentence, especially to when he could see the Barr Justice Department overrule it’s own case prosecutors a d call forS6one t9 receive a $lap on the wrist. Thus Flynn  over to withdraw his guilty plea”and —waddaya know — the JusticeDepartment, citing interrogation notes, moved to dismiss the Flynn case are entirely !

Thus a man who subverted the nation’s foreign policy (just as Trump has done the same, often), took $ 500,000 from the Turks to effect a kidnapping on their behalf —  not much different from what theSaudis wanted to do to Jamal Khashoggi — and lied about it or concealed it from our authorities— all in violation of several Federal laws— is free to serve “Ia  the law”

Just as AG Barr intends.

I take AG Barr at his word that he is not implementing despotism for Trump’s sake but for the Presidency itself. Trye, one man Ruhr is very much what Trump wants. But Barr has not fed his principle solely to Trump’s appetite. He wants fur the rest of time a President free act as he sees fit, cleared of all oversight by anyone, subject solely to a quadrennial “consent of the governed,” as Senator Lamar Alexander put it in defense of his vote not to convict Trump at his impeachment trial.

It is a Hobbesian policy that assumes a world controlled by unconquerable evils that leave mankind no space for hope or better things. It is profoundly un-American, is in fact the negation of America and of the partnership that our Constitution requires between governed and governors.

Whatever the “unitary executive” theory may tell us about the proper role of administrative agencies of-the Executive, Barr’s autocrat erosion is not it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

** Reference is made to what Albert Speer had to say at his Nuremberg trial about technology’s enabling of one man despotism. It can be read on pp 520-521 of his memoir INSIDE THE THIRD REICH, the chapter styled “Vonclusions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN SHOULD FREEDOM COMPROMISE WITH OBLIGATION ?

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^ living in a unicorn movie : protesting for what will never be

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The question I pose can never be answered once and for all. Ethics do not admit of finality, unlike moral questions, which can and do have universal answers. (I think of Rabbi Hillel the Elder’s great moral rule, “what is hurtful to you, do not do to your fellow man.”) As human beings are the same everywhere, and as all human societies aggregate humans, moral rules apply to all. Not so with ethics, which involve timing, situation, place, and disagreement. Ethics involve choice, and which choice to choose is never simple or final.

Having said the above, I would like now to discuss an ethical choice germaine to our current predicament : what am I to do, considering that the government which I live under and consent to advises me, or requires me, to do certain things and to not do others, the reasons being that I owe a duty to the good of all ? That I must give up a portion of my autonomy — a principle basic to the Constitutional arrangement that I consent to — because certain of my exercises of autonomy may place my fellows in harm’s way ?

Here I must say it again : there is no facile answer here. We all give up portions of our autonomy every day — traffic rules, noise nuisances, smoking in the presence of those who don’t like smoke — by long habit overcoming any feeling of inconvenience. Here, habit tricks us. We should always remember that no compromise of autonomy should ever be accepted without our express consent. That said, we really have no feasible choice but to consent to some exceptions to autonomy. In my mind, a public health emergency demands some such set-aside. How can it not ? Each of us may carry the virus that now wages war on us. Therefore each of us must see to it that we do not wound our fellow man. By “social distancing” — a phrase I think none of us will ever forget — and by masking up, we can foil the virus at least 90 percent of the time. That’s a result worth achieving ! In war you fight to defend your buddies and you never leave a buddy on the battlefield. Why not see the fight against this virus in just these terms ?

What, then, are we to say about the “liberate” protesters who are showing up at State capitols these days ? Obviously every one of us wants the days of autonomy to return, sooner rather than later. I think that every elected politician gets that and would be more than thrilled to make it happen once it looks safe to do so. Does anyone doubt this ? Then why are the protesters protesting ?

They certainly are not protesting reality. Confederate flags, nazi symbols, cosplayed camo gear, anti-vaccine signs all have in common a life of wishful, of lost causes and distant evils, of things that either once were or never will be. And thus we can dismiss these protests pretty easily. You may well wish that things were not as they are, but things are always what they are. Or, as right-wing provocateur Ben Shapiro likes to say it, “facts don’t care about your feelings.” I guess we all wish that this or that reality were not as it is — each of us can imagine a better life. But it is useless to protest for wishbones to become any more real than Klingons or unicorns; and if wishboning is the basis of the current protest, as I think it is, then the protests disavow themselves, as I think we all can judge.

Each of us can decide how much of the present governmental advisories to honor. I myself wear a mask when I am required to do so, and I keep the required distances. I do hope that businesses open up sooner rather than later: and I am very sure that my political leaders want that to happen too. As for wishing, the only wish that I take seriously is to become rich.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

YES, LET’S ENACT A VOTE BY MAIL OPTION

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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

 

 

 

THE AMERICA OF 2019 IS NOT COMING BACK. NOT THAT OF 2015 EITHER

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^ 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

 

PRIORITIES FOR A BIDEN ADMINISTRATION

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 ?

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^^ 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

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^^^
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.

 

 

 

CATCHING UP WITH OURSELVES

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^^
the land is quiet, the streets empty; one can see the  Milky Way again !!
The inside of my apartment has been memorized. Every blemish on the walls is known, each slant of the floor. I can tell the exact temperature — and the difference — of the various rooms. I remember each room’s smell. The details vary and vary within each. On the stove my evening pasta is boiling.

We are alive here, and as Henry. MIller recounted in Tropic of Cancer, every chair is in place, not a spoon mishandled. However, none of us is lousy. We wash our hands every minute, our hair thrice a day. We launder our clothes, trim the hairs in our noses. If we had a coronavirus, we would self administer. Of course we have none. Yet we keep an eye out and the tongue in.

we have caught up with ourselves, my wife and I and two of our grandchildren sheltering with us. I in particular like To run my days months ahead of my time.ine. Always going, moving  — you who know me see it. That’s all gone now. My timeline sits folded like an accordion — snugged into the bookshelves like a carry-on in an overhead flight pouch. My life no longer runs — it barely walks. My wife even knows who it is, now, unlike before, when, coming home at ten pm after an all day work run, she woujd be asking, as she heard the door opening, “who’s that ??”

she watches movies. I read. The grandkids pretend to play. Occasionally we take a ride. There is barely any traffic; we can go where want to, just like in the 1950’s. Yet we can’t stop at a roadside restaurant. We.re lucky if we find an open gas-station. The countryside feels empty. At night we can see the Milky Way. No airplanes drone across the heavens.

All is calm. All is anything BUT calm. When will this end ? I can’t stand myself.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE AGE OF AMERICAN LIBERTY IS DONE

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^^ a doctor in a densely populated city is frightened. She has good reason. But : will this season’s pathogenic fear become a political first premise after this is over ? Will we ever again live the optimism that established American liberty as a foundation principle ? I seriously doubt it. I think our liberty centuries are over

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Sixty years ago my college friend Ken and I were having one of those all-night bull sessions we lived for. W e were talking about the libertine life so abundantly available to us who had grown up in very different circumstances. Ken paused and went silent. And then :

”Michael; we are trading political freedom for the sexual,” he said. “The whole nation is doing it.”

Ken was a little ahead of himself, but he got me thinking then, and he has me thinking even more today.

The events of 9/11 led to a huge curtailment of our liberties, stuff we had taken for granted. An entire new bureaucracy was set up, and staffed, to (a) surveilling us and our private communications (b) search us at airports (c) create no-fly lists that woe betide you if you have a Nam similar to someone on that list. Our even go put you on that list with only burdensome means of obtaining removal fro the list (d) require passport to visit Canada — a crossing that had been easy and neighborly and (f) authorized torture of prisoners taken in the legit,ate fight against ALQ and then ISIS.

More generally, we came to live in fear and paranoia, far afield from the confident optimism that made America so special.

Doubtless most of the so-called “Patriot Act” was served up by well intentioned legislators. Unhappily, good intentions are sometimes secret emissaries of illiberty. In any case, we know what life has been like for air travelers in the nearly two decades since 9/11 : all of it aggravated since the election of Mr Trump, by travel bans; by detentions of people profiles for their skin color, nation of origin, and in a few cases, for their political leanings. Customs agents have been known to demand the contents of travelers’ private social media. Immigration police (ICE) have stopped buses and private cars on American highways and demanded papers. They’ve gone into courtrooms in search of undocumented residents; threatened hospitalized undocumented with removal; forced families into detention centers.

And lots of people applauded them for doing it.

And now we have the corona virus and what its arrival has generated : almost complete control of our lives by a very few. Doubtless much of this broad-brush control is necessary, yet control is not eased by being unavoidable. Control is control. And even if the present corona virus control is eased, or even set aside, does anyone think that some future “very few” won’t bring it back if they deem a situation to be a crisis ? Have we not heard climate-change zealots describe the climate events as a crisis and that “we have no time to lose” The climate crisis folks have tried to import much of their agenda into the 3rd #stimulus Bill now being debated (as of this writing) in Congress. Can anyone doubt that, if the climate crisis interest acquires the kind of power being amassed by Mr. Trump these.days, they will impose all manner of restrictions upon us ?

They will be different controls, yes, but controls none the less, and from what I have read about the crisis agenda, it won’t be pretty. Serious privations of liberty, especially in the arena of personal movement. Gone will be the autonomous vehicle. Goodbye also to the domestic air flight (aircraft pollute us !!) Hello, public trains and buses, a transportation of control, inconvenient and crowded, a throwback to Orwell’s 1984.

But one need not fixate on crisis dictatorship Do you really suppose that any American candidate for President, henceforth, will shy from the sort of sweeping executive claims, immunities, and orders that Mr. Trum0 has shown them how to use ? Congress may pursue legislation to curb Presidential dictatorship — though I doubt it. Because the majority, if of the same faction as the President, will want her to dictate stuff— but the President will contest it in Federal Court, and who can say that she won’t be successful ?

To the Bernie generation, freedom  means sexual freedom, just as my friend Ken surmised so many years ago. I am all for sexual liberty, and am thrilled that LGBT people can now — in many jurisdictions — be fully themselves And marry the person they love.  Yet the college generation, which loves Bernie Sanders so much (or so the pollsters tell us), and which has grown up Taking sexual civil rights almost for granted, evidently sees no such advantage in political freedom. It supports  speech codes; uses social media to bully those who express  opinions it dislikes, opposes opinion with condescension; and seeks government control of the infrastructure, and the economy; and it scapegoats my generation. The drive to eliminate the electoral college, would, if successful, leave us with a majoritarian overrule unfettered by checks, limits and political rights for the minority.

The current college generation  grew up after 9/11. It has ever known federal, Political liberty. What it has not known! It cannot miss. The world is heading in the direction of illiberty — not liberty. As I am of an earlier generation, I object. My objections are laughed at by the censorious, command-and-control, defiant young know it alls.

Good luck to the illiberal politics of libertine tomorrow.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

 

 

 

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$ 80 MILLION MORE FOR BOSTON’s SCHOOLS : WILL IT WORK ?

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^ new BPS superintendent Brenda Cassellius may actually get stuff done. Mayor Walsh is counting on it.

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On February 5 the Boston School Department presented its FY 2021 budget proposal. It increases last year’s $ 1.1.7 billion by $ 80 million, to $ 1.258 billion– a raise of about seven percent. That’s the largest percentage increase during the six years that I have tracked the BPS budget, during which time the school population has not grown at all.

Why is more money needed ? Why a seven percent increase, double last year’s increase ? What will $ 1.258 billion do, that last year’s $ 1.17 billion not do, to make the City’s schools enough better that parents will have enough confidence in them to not leave the City in search of school systems that they feel good about ? A very good question.

You can look at the budget proposal’s details here, in Excel format :  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1AP2Msx1JKRHm5TQQf0ZlA1MeBN7SKGBF/view

The new budget does in fact represent significant shift in priorities. Salaries used to take up 85 percent of the Budget. Next year they consume only 66 percent : $ 836,224,362 (an eight percent increase) out of $ 1,258,633,065. “Instructional Supplies” — actual classroom tools — this year budgeted $ 6,080,924; next year it’ll be $ 79,552,656 — a  33 percent bump. “Equipment” cost BPS $ 8,743,883.40 this year; next year $ 12,200,376 will be allotted. “Support” — mainly bilingual teachers, Special Education instructors, and kindergarten teachers — take up $ 66,555,794 this year. Next year, $ 77,501,985 — a 21 percent increase. Aides — bilingual, special education, sign language, security, and more — received $ 73,666,8456 this year; $ 789,522,490 next year.

Given these increases for people and tools that actually support education as a serious matter, its probably less troubling, though hardly okay, that the budget includes $ 107,025,226 for “transportation,” including the cost of student MBTA passes.

More troubling is the 39 percent increase in the “part time” account : clerical, coach, “transportation attendant,” custodial, professional overtime and stipend. From $ 24,028,017 it rises to $ 32,234,639. It’s distressing to see the school system increase its reliance on workers who don’t receive benefits and whose jobs can be eliminated easily.

That said, clearly Mayor Walsh sees that, with re-election coming next year, he absolutely has to have better achievement results in place that parents know they’ve got to live with now and which will be detailed in a State report which Walsh admits “won;t be pretty,” Will that expectation come to pass ? perhaps. I’m not encouraged, however,m by seeing diminishment of the Boston Latin School exam’s rigor as the chief structural reform. We should be making that exam tougher, not easier. The system does need structural reform, however. If only important influencers would start insisting upon : consolidation of under-utilized school buildings; complete overhaul of school buildings’ heating and ventilation systems; home visits by teachers and the re-establishment of parent-teacher associations; elimination of Court-ordered busing, as every neighborhood is now integrated; expanded charter school or innovative curriculum options; advanced, college level classes for high achievers; trade education, everywhere, for the building trades; dress codes, so that students do not use fashion as a device for forming cliques and creating hierarchies of popularity. It would also help that BPS hire an inspector general to oversee its accounting practices.

The above list is probably not complete.

I hear and see not much talk about any of the above. If anything, the talk walks in the opposite direction. That won’t work. Parents know when they’re being conned or appeased. When they feel that that is happening, they up and leave the City. I do hope that the Mayor’s attempt to eliminate the most glaring inadequacies convinces parents that he means business; that the “not pretty” report which is coming — but which is likely nonetheless to be nicer than it really should be — will change the direction in which Boston schools have been moving since the City made the grave mistake of not insisting that John McDonough remain as “interim” superintendent.

The final budget vote takes place on March 28th at the Bolling Building in Nubia n Square.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere