The officer who mistakenly shot Daunte Wright now faces a manslaughter charge. What went wrong and what can we do about the future of police practices ?

—- —- —-

The news is aglow these days with bad news about various failings by police in action. Because we at Here and Sphere support police departments, in principle and as a matter of practical politics, we take up the matter of police reform without animus. We want police officers to succeed, not fail. In that spirit, I will proceed as follows.

Obviously I am upset by the accidental fatal shooting of Daunte Wright in a suburb of Minneapolis. As I see it, the entire course of events involving him and police officers from his local department was one long series of practical errors.

First : why was he, the driver of his mother’s car, out for an errand with his girlfriend, stopped at all ? There seems not to have been a moving violation. It is reported that his car had an obstruction in its rear window. I am not persuaded that such minimal violations of some automobile directions call for a police response. If so, the officers could just as well have sent him a citation by e mail (information available in the records of a Stater’s driver license). Surely an officer’s time and attention are better applied to more serious offenses ?

Second : what was the officer who shot him, mistaking her gun for a taser, doing out on patrol as a 26-year veteran of police work ? Why was she not a supervisor or other management ? Tasers didn’t exist when she was in police academy in 1993 or so. Was she trained recently in the use of a taser ? My suspicion is that she was not so trained; that no one thought it necessary to update her training because today’s officers, trained in taser use, know the difference between gun and taser and just assumed that, as a 26 year veteran, so would she.

Lesson : you should never assume.

Third : what happened during the stop of Mr Wright that made a veteran officer want to tase him ? This was an ordinary traffic stop. I grant that officers will tell you that they hate traffic stops because there’s no telling what the stopped driver might do, and because traffic stops are so ordinary, officers can tend to relax — which can lead to a bad end for them. Perhaps the veteran officer had in fact relaxed and was suddenly surprised by something Wright did that she had not seen coming ? If so, that’s no excuse. The officer who loses focus puts both the driver and herself at risk.

The officer, who resigned her position the next day, now faces a pretty conclusive manslaughter charge. The municipality faces loss of reputation and, likely, a huge wrongful death award against it. And Mr Wright is dead at age 21. All because a veteran officer failed what her job requires. I see this as a tragedy for everyone concerned.

All of the above I have written by way of argument for the sorts of reforms I am now going to plead for. These are not necessarily legislation but more in the manner of regulations pursuant to legislation :

( 1 ) police officers should be retrained regularly, so that updates in police tools and procedures can be learned and mastered. There simply can NOT be a possibility of an officer mistaking a taser for a gun. It has happened before; this case is not unique. That adds to the urgency of my suggestion here.

( 2 ) officers should never tase someone unless the situation is out of control. Because a traffic stop of someone whose habits are unknown can put officers on edge about possible bad stuff, officers should conduct the stop from within their cruiser or squad car and approach the driver only if necessary. Writing a traffic citation does not make such approach necessary. The driver’s license and registration info are online and can be accessed by the officer in her cruiser’s computer. All cruisers now have them. If the driver has an expired license or registration, or both, in some States an arrest is called for. In such case, the officer should wait for backup, or if she is accompanied by a second officer, the second officer should stand directly in front of the stopped vehicle while the other officer approaches from the passenger side. That way the officers can control all but the craziest driver.

( 3 ) Officers should patrol with restraint. If they see a driver committing a mere safety equipment violation, as seems to have been Mr Wright’s case, they can check his driver record to see if he is an habitual offender. If not, why stop him at all ? Just send a citation, if you must, by e mail.

( 4 ) A municipality should prepare a code of patrol regulations in writing, supply each officer with one, and require a written exam to see that the officer understands the regulations and how to apply them. This test should be updated and an update exam given and graded.

( 5 ) Officers should make an effort to know personally the community they will be patrolling. The captain in charge of a police precinct should schedule a public town hall in his precinct from time to time, and his community relations officers should diligently attend — and deliver a report at — monthly meetings of neighborhood associations in the precinct. In Boston, these are standard procedure. they should be standard everywhere.

I do not buy the accusations laid against police forces by activists with ulterior agendas. I oppose unalterably calls to defund police forces or to create public agencies whose enabling legislation gives them an accusatory slant. Police are not our enemy. They are doing a job. The doing is only as good as the job description, the regulations, the force’s morale, and the training. Let us focus on the actual problem, not on chimeras invented by agenda groups or by our own quick-reaction anger

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^^ Mob rule in the French revolution

We in the United States no longer discuss much about the French Revolution, but in my youth, some 60 years ago, it was still an intense topic of recrimination and musts to avoid. It had taken place some 160 years prior, yet we all knew, or were taught, to study its excesses of zealotry and to never forget them as we graduated into our adult lives in and amongst the American public.

There was much to abhor. The king had ruled all France from an utterly. centralized bureaucratic despotism in which some thousands of nobles and their families were exempted from all sorts of taxes, tolls and fees, while the rest of the nation paid every one of them, with some regional exemptions entirely ad hoc and always liable to withdrawal on the whim of a monarch and his few courtier favorites.

Then came the great upheaval; even the minor nobility had had enough; the “national convention” met and began the process of curbing the king and, eventually, abolishing almost the entirety of French custom, law, and culture. The world watched in horror as the convention set up tribunals where, without process of law or a bare sham of it, condemned to death first nobles and priests, then those who opposed the tribunals, then members of the “convention” itself battling to their mutual beheadings at the “guillotine.” Religion was abolished; religious monuments torn down; the graves of monarchs desecrated; the homes of aristocrats burned and looted, their occupants forced to flee or, if caught, imprisoned and in thousands of cases, guillotined. Even the calendar was abolished, the twelve months renamed (Priarial, Thermidor, Vendemiaire, Brumaire, Pluvoise, and the like) and a ten day week imposed. Mob rule terrorized all Paris and many of the provinces. An estimated 40,000 people were judicially murdered, thousands more imprisoned and impoverished, or forced into exile.

It all ended, of course, in a twenty year burst of Napoleon’s kleptocratic, military dictatorship, world war, and the utter ruin of all France and much of Europe. It took a coalition of England, Prussia, Russia, and the “guerillas” (a word then invented) of Spain to defeat him and to restore legitimate government to France — which never recovered its governmental equilibrium, really, until, in the 1950s, General, then President, Charles DeGaulle won ratification of the constitution that ever since has governed French politics and law.

I am hardly the first conservative to make a French revolution allusion to the ominous trends in our nation’s current public life, but the reference has enormous pertinence despite its recent frequency. So, please bear with me.

I do not want to see anything like it befall the United States, yet as I look at events, I see an undertow sucking us in that direction :

( 1 ) the Republican party of Trump attempted a coup d’etat that, had it succeeded, would have begun a civil war at least, just as the storming of the Bastille on July 15, 1789 initiated the French conflict. Much of the Republican party remains loyal to autocracy today — a religious fanatic autocracy supported those whom the media and academic worlds have stamped with the scarlet R of “racist.”

( 2 ) cultural revolutionaries are, if many reports are to be believed, imposing self-loathing orthodoxies and race-based tribalisms on teachers, administrators, and school managers as well as on employees in major corporations, sports teams, and public figures generally where they can. If reports such as this one –>> https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/i-refuse-to-stand-by-while-my-students?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&utm_source=twitter — are at all true, we are well into the fanatic phase of a revolution as ominous as the French one of 230 years ago.,

I have read many, many reports similar to the one I have linked you to. I have not visited campuses to research for myself if they are accurate. yet in my own experience of big city politics recently, I have certainly encountered zealotry of the same type : preachy, condescending, sure of its own utter righteousness and of the perfidy of anyone who in any way opposes it. The zealotry is especially virulent when questions of race are on offer. The preached view — “anti racism,” they call it — is the only correct one and anyone who disagrees the slightest is to be coventried, or worse, as a racist.

That this sort of demand-politics generates enormous push back, does not give them pause. Sure now, via social media, that they can intimidate businesses, faculties, and many politicians, and even economically extort them, the demanders seek to impose their racially sequestered, self-agitated manifestos upon public policy generally.

Fortunately, the framers of our constitutional republic so divided sovereign powers that almost no movement, no matter how zealous or extortive, can overtake the entire system. Trump could not do it, and — so far — his much better organized opposites seem to fall short of their take-overs except at the State level in some States in which they command veto-proof majorities. (Last week in Maryland the zealot legislature enacted, over Governor Hogan’s veto, a bill, much of it unconstitutional, which will make policing almost impossible in that State.) Nor is this zealotry limited to the “left.” Legislatures in some Republican States have enacted bills that would seriously erase the civil rights of LGBT people, or unconstitutionally interfere with women’s control of their own pregnancies.

Tragic mistakes by police as well as police overreaction lead now not to judicious reform, or to fair trials in court, rather than in the media, but to riots, threats, and calls for abolition. Do we have the moral fortitude to say No to these impulsive responses ?

At the Federal level, no such impulse or law sweep seems enactable, yet how close to the tipping point we are ! An unconstitutional voting bill, styled H R 1, fall short of passage only because Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia refuses to abolish the Senate filibuster — guarantor of the legitimacy of minority viewpoints against majoritarian rule — and thus prevents said bill gaining sufficient Yea votes. The filibuster also stands stalwart against the Democratic left’s impatience to pack the Supreme Court with political Justices.

Thank goodness.

Equilibrium, the fundamental societal principle underpinning our Constituition system, is defended by the filibuster as well as by our other obstacles to tyranny : the electoral college, the provision giving two Senators to every State, no matter its population.

Equilibrium breeds and fortifies the freedom of the citizen. It is the Nay to every sort of attempt to curtail diverse opinion. It sanctions multiplicity of method, plurality of policy, and contradiction in the culture. It sanctifies every citizen’s assessment of public experience and wards off all attempts to silence or shame anyone for who he is or what she thinks about whatever he cares to think publicly of.

Equilibrium is the driving wheel of equality. It is the platform of freedom.

Without equilibrium, we are the tools of whichever mountebankery happens to prevail momentarily. One may live for the moment on a dance floor, where the jolt of a beat or the thrill of a riff takes us high, high, high: but public policy is not music, nor is a governmental system a dance floor. We lose sight of this at our peril.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



As you surely have read, a buzzing beehive of queens is all het up about the new voting rules law enacted in Georgia. The law has several provisions that alter in part — sometimes a small part, sometimes quite major — how elections in Georgia are to be conducted.

Immediately the law was signed — even before — it was being assailed as “worse than Jim Crow.” It is no such thing ! Have we really forgotten what Jim Crow was actually like ?

But is the new law a significant impediment to Black voters registering and voting ? Not that I can tell. It may in fact INCREASE Black voter turnout.

I have read two ( 2 ) major-media articles in which the law’s changes are serially analyzed. Some of the provisions actually make voting easier; some make it harder. the net effect is not much. Let us read them :

First, Stephen Fowler’s article here : https://www.gpb.org/news/2021/03/27/what-does-georgias-new-voting-law-sb-202-do

Next, the New York Times’s analysis : https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/03/upshot/georgia-election-law-turnout.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimes

The Times’s report, authored by election analyst Nate Cohn, suggests that the Georgia law’s tweaks are essentially much ado about nothing. I agree. Under our Constitution, States operate their own elections, subject only to the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. Nothing in the new Georgia law crosses those guarantees.

The law is basically administrative. It alters procedural rules : expands early voting (a device which I don’t like at all, because risks the early voter missing important candidate information revealed after he votes early), changes voting hours, substitutes voter ID for signature on ballots, and limits the number of ballot drop boxes — albeit making them a formal part of the Georgia process rather than a temporary emergency measure. The law also makes it harder for voters waiting in line to receive a beverage, but the new provisions mirror those in other States (including Massachusetts); however, the law also expands voting locations, so as to minimize the length of voting lines.

The Georgia law does do one very troubling thing: it takes election administration away from the Secretary of State — Brad Raffensperger, whom Mr. Trump tried hard to pressure, and giving it instead to a state elections board controlled by the legislature. (Raffensperger is still a board member but without a vote on it.) This is surely a revenge move by Republicans angry that Raffensperger chose integrity over Trump.

I see no way to gloss this over. It taints the entire law and marks its passage as suspect, thus opening the door to the altogether more unfounded objections by Democratic activists.

Why did the Georgia legislature not leave well enough alone ? I’ll let you speculate an answer. I’ve heard several versions. In any case, the State has now achieved the highly unlikely : its elections system was attacked by Democrat Stacey Abrams in 2018, by Mr. Trump last year, and now by activist Democrats in 2021. Bipartisan consensus !!

that’s quite the trifecta.

Governor Brian Kemp stands in the middle of it all, everybody’s pinned donkey tail. More : his US Senate pick, Kelly Loeffler, was soundly defeated on January 5th by now Senator Ralph Warnock. Is Kemp really that politically stub-toed ? Maybe so. In any case, he now faces an angry Donald Trump AND an even angrier Doug Collins — a former Congressman and Trump favorite whom Kemp passed over for the Senate appointment that Loeffler got — and of course Ms Abrams and now the entire nation’s Democratic wokes. Can Kemp win re-election ? Can he even win a Republican primary ? We will soon know the answer.

But enough of Governor Kemp. The big question is the voting rights situation generally. Set aside the Democrats’ big Federal elections bill, H R 1, of which I wrote in a previous column and whose provisions, overreaching unConstitutionally, cannot pass. I am here thinking of the many States — including Massachusetts — which, setting their own election rules as the Constitution assures them power to do, operate elections under rules stricter than the new Georgia rules and/or which no one seems to complain of. Why not ? Answer : because those States are never in play in a national election. They are either safely Democratic or securely Republican. Thus no one complains when their election rules, no matter how flawed, administer an unsurprising win.

Georgia is different . it was, until last year, a safe republican win in national elections. Republican activists are angry that that safety is now unsafe, just as Democrats are angry that their new Georgia-win accomplishments may be turned back by the State tweaking its rules.

The Georgia brouhaha is not about the election rules per se, its about PARTISAN zero-sum : if you win, I lose; if I win, you lose. Nor is the noise about Black voters per se. If Black voters voted 95 percent Republican, Republicans would be celebrating their turnout surge. The fuss is NOT AT ALL about racial animus. It is about PARTISAN advantage, that and nothing but that.

Myself, I do not like early voting. Not because it favors Democrats, which it needn’t, but because it deprives the early voter of candidate information which may befall after he votes. I don’t like voting by mail either. I want voters to appear personally at the poll on election day appointed. Absentee voting, yes, but limited only to those who CANNOT personally appear at the poll. Voting should require voter effort. Americans fought and died to sure us voting rights. the least we can do in return is to exert ourselves to register and again to vote.

I stand by the above principles.

Election rules are hardly the only field on which today’s partisan hatreds bump and bruise. But election rules are sensitive to those who value our Constitutional republic AND the basic political principle of equilibrium upon which our Constitution’s success rests. The partisan activists of this era seek to up-end that equilibrium. They know not the consequences of their rash radicalism, nor do they care. It is THEY who scare me, a lot more than i am alarmed by election law tweaks, even significant ones.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Congress Schumer

Demanding Federal rule for State elections ? Here’s Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaking during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Samuel Corum/Pool via AP)

—- —- —- —-

Before the Congress these days is a large chunk of Federal legislation concerning voting laws in the States. Unhappily, I must oppose most of what is proposed. Per our Constitution, elections are empowered by the States united by it. Federal power cannot impose or interfere with elections in the several States except pursuant to the 14th Amendment : all State election laws — as with all State laws of any kind — must give equal protection to all who those laws obligate.

With these sanctions in mind, let me set forth for you what the proposed Federal voting bill seeks to require or forbid :

( 1 )

A set of national voter registration and mail-in voting standards: H.R. 1 requires the chief election official in each state — the secretary of state in most — to establish an automatic voter-registration system that gathers individuals’ information from government databases and registers them unless they intentionally opt out.

And it says it’s the government’s responsibility to keep that information up-to-date, based on information from agencies like state motor vehicle administrations, agencies that receive money from Social Security or the Affordable Care Act, the justice system, and federal agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, the Social Security Administration and others.

There is simply no authority given in the Constitution by which Congress can impose registration procedures upon a State, nor order a State policy. One encourages citizens to vote, of course: but it’s entirely a State matter how that encouraging becomes a legal duty. This is especially true for Federal elections. The office may be Federal, but the election of Federal office candidates is entirely a State matter, with that one proviso, equal protection. If a State pursues a registration policy that asks potential registrants to take action — to bestir him or herself — I se no reason why that fails approval. In America there is NO DUTY to vote; it is an entirely voluntary matter, and a State is fully justified in requiring potential voters to get out of bed and go to where registration can be done. Indeed, I think it preferable to seek an active electorate. Participation is the essence of a republican system.

( 2 )

Nonpartisan redistricting commissions: In an attempt to get rid of gerrymandering, the law would require each state to use independent commissions (not made up of lawmakers) to approve newly drawn congressional districts. The commissions would each include five Democrats, five Republicans and five independents, requiring bipartisan approval for districts to be allowed.

“Regardless of whether it’s a red state or a blue state, we are seeing significant manipulation in the legislative redrawing of districts,” said Tom Lopach, CEO of the nonpartisan Voter Participation Center, which has advocated for the bill. “H.R. 1 presents an opportunity for everyone to get onboard with independent, unbiased and balanced redistricting that frankly is good government.”

Everybody finds fault with State legislatures drawing Congressional district lines, but how can it possibly be better for those districts to be drawn up by anyone other than people who are elected by the voters ? The last thing we should want is for ELECTION districts to be drawn by persons not elected and thus not answerable to an electorate. And if the elected legislature does draw districts which violate the Equal Protection principle the Federal Courts are there to overturn such drawings.

Number ( 2 ) cannot stand.

( 3 )

Big changes in campaign finance law: H.R. 1 would require super PACs and “dark money” groups to disclose their donors publicly, a step Democrats say would eliminate one of the most opaque parts of the U.S. election process. It would establish a public funding match for small-dollar donations, financed by a fee on corporations and banks paying civil or criminal penalties.

This provision appears on its face a worthy reform.

( 4 )

New ethics rules for public servants: The bill would create the first ethics code for Supreme Court justices, to be created within a year of the bill’s passage.

It would also stop a controversial practice in Congress: When a member of Congress settles a sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuit, in certain cases they can use taxpayer money to settle. H.R. 1 would prevent taxpayer money from being used for such settlements.

These have nothing to do with voting. I absolutely oppose the former. Congress has no business telling Supreme Court Justices how to do their jobs, other than jurisdiction, which powers are enumerated in the Constitution but can be expanded by Federal laws. As for the latter provision, that’s a matter for Congress to do or not do within its rules setting power. I see no reason whatsoever why it should be pasted into a voting rights bill. (I also oppose it. It would encourage vicarious accusation of the sort now virulent in the social media environ we all are targets of, but as it is Congress’s business, so be it if they want it.)

( 5 )

A requirement that presidential candidates disclose their tax returns: This one is a little more relevant to recent events. Democrats have been frustrated for years that Trump never released his tax returns, and H.R. 1 would require it by law.

This, again, has nothing to do with voting rights. It also demands that candidates lose the privacy protections given to all of us by laws and thus violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection guarantee.

All in all, the Democrats’ voting rights bill fails to improve voting and does much to demean it. There are proposals now in debate, in several States, which would hamper the registration to vote process and squeeze the available hours of voting as well as methods. Limiting voting days and hours almost never looks good, but let us remember hat until recently, voting could be done only on voting day. Early voting was a convenience reform, not a Constitutional requirement . The same was true of absentee voting, although here physical necessity required some provision be made.

Early voting is a potentially bad decision. What does the early voter do about events that happen to candidacies after a voter votes early ?

I personally would get rid of early voting entirely and instead make election day a Federal holiday.

As for voting by mail, if States want to have it, that’s on them. As long as Equal Protection is accorded, that’s an end of the matter as far as the Federals are empowered.

Lastly, the Democrats’ Federal bill, like many State legislative bills proposed by Republicans, doesn’t even disguise being proposed for strictly partisan advantage. Its bad enough that we have political parties, to advantage zealotry over common sense and one side’s fantasies over another side’s fears. the last thing our electeds should do is to sell us the stink of such merely partisan — and monumentally un-Constitutional — fish bait.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



head to head, face to face : the filibuster is a symbol of passionate opposition, once upon a time actual fighting, today the trials and troubles of debate

—- —- —- —-

Much talk has arisen concerning a Senate tactic we call “filibuster.” It is a venerable device, about whose beginnings these mid-19th Century observers had these words to say :

FILIBUSTERING is a term lately imported from the Spanish, yet destined, it would seem, to occupy an important place in our vocabulary. In its etymological import it is nearly synonymous with piracy. It is commonly employed, however, to denote an idea peculiar to the modern progress, and which may be defined as the right and practice of private war, or the claim of individuals to engage in foreign hostilities aside from, and even in opposition to the government with which they are in political membership. [Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, January 1853]

The noun in the legislative sense is not in Bartlett (1859) and seems not to have been in use in U.S. legislative writing before 1865 (filibustering in this sense is from 1861). Probably the extension in sense is because obstructionist legislators “pirated” debate or overthrew the usual order of authority. Originally of the senator who led it; the maneuver itself so called by 1893. Not technically restricted to U.S. Senate, but that’s where the strategy works best. [The 1853 use of filibustering by U.S. Rep. Albert G. Brown of Mississippi reported in the Congressional Globe and cited in the OED does not refer to legislative obstruction, but to national policy toward Cuba.]

About these observations I will have more to say later. Right now, I want to express my view that the filibuster at it is practiced is a necessary foundation of minority power during the legislative process. Properly wielded, it forces the majority to negotiate a compromise in which the minority sees some of its amendments incorporated into the bill which the majority wants. Or, in some cases, a filibuster may oppose the bill completely.

Why do we allow such a custom ? We do so because our Constitution, and our political practice, is skeptical of majorities. We see how readily a majority for x may change into opposition to x. We see also that today’s elected majority is tomorrow’s defeated majority, and thus we ask that bills proposed by today’s majority be able to attract enough minority support that when today’s minority becomes tomorrow’s majority, the bill, if enacted, does not get repealed. After all, most of us prefer stability in the law; input from a minority helps us get to there. We all see how in Massachusetts, legislative consensus assures that reforms stick. If everybody has a stake in what is enacted, how can an opposition gain traction ?

Such are the arguments in favor of filibusters. The question then comes, what sort of filibuster make for good legislative days ? I guess that my preference is the same as expressed yesterday by President Biden : a filibustering minority in the Senate must actually stand up and speak –debate the issue — contribute to the discussion. It is not enough merely to threaten a debate. The objector must actually argue his objection.

This is the same position now taken by centrist Senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia being the foremost. I understand that minority leader McConnell passionately wants no change to current filibuster standards, and he has reason to be stubborn : once you begin to alter the standards, it becomes hard to stop further alteration. I share his worry; yet the majority has rights of brag as well, and it is a majority, however temporary, and presumably advocates laws that a majority of voters support. Although our Constitution is not a majoritarian agreement — far from it — it does grant numbers to the majority, and we should dilute said numbers only when necessary : I say ‘necessary’ because advantage is not enough reason to curtail a majority; something more urgent must be at hand. Thus, necessity.

Scot Lehigh in his excellent column about the filibuster, in today’s Boston Globe, notes that our Constitution already grants a minority important buttress: by way of allocating two Senators to each state regardless of population. This was done expressly at the insistence of small States, who rightly feared being power-swamped by large states had a purely majoritarian legislature been agreed to. Filibuster frosts an additional layer of objection onto said cake, a layer not included in the Constitution and therefore precarious. It arises from the world of fighting opposition — from actual violence — and is that opposition’s formalized symbol. Today it exists at the pleasure of a Senate which sets its own rules every term. Having thus to pass muster every two years, filibuster has to compromise just as its use asks for compromise. I see no reason why the present request, to require actual debate of those who would filibuster, is not a just solution to this particular paradox of governance.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



(L-R)Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan wave from the Truman Balcony at the White House after they participated in the signing of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognize Israel, in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates arrived September 15, 2020 at the White House to sign historic accords normalizing ties between the Jewish and Arab states. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

— —- —- —- —-

Back during the Bill Clinton administration, there was a chance — a very good chance — that Israel and its West bank enemies would settle their differences. Those differences were deep and hard, but a compromise was offered by Israel prime minister Ehud Barak. Then West Bank leader Yasser Arafat did not accept.

More about that decision later. Let me now talk about the current state of things in the land called “holy” and the prospects going forward.

One of Mr. Trump’s few successes as President was the campaign to bring Israel and its Gulf Arab neighbors into full accord. The UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia all opened diplomatic and economic relation s with Israel, an opening which has now become an established reality. Israelis visit Dubai all the time now; flights between Israel and the according states take place daily.

Granted, that the impetus for these embraces came from outside: the imperial aspirations of Shi’ite Iran, whose fanatical leaders have fomented war and terrorism in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and, occasionally, in the Gulf States. As Israel wields the region’s most powerful and combat-ready military force, what better for the Gulf States than to fall in under Israel’s shield ?

So far, so good : Israel has now become as normal a Middle East entity as its neighbors have long been. Like them, its enemy is Iran and Iran’s proxy militias in Syria and Lebanon. So here’s the deal : the Gulf States oppose Iran, Israel fights Iran’s proxies. This is a sensible apportionment of force.

Now that Israel’s external security is settled (we hope), one can revisit the internal matter at hand : what to do about the residents of the West Bank and Gaza, who call themselves Palestinians and who have never accepted Israel’s right to exist ?

Yes: what about them ? They number about 2 million people; Gaza has another million.) Seventy years ago, about 40 percent were Christian — 98 percent in Bethlehem — but constant persecution of West Bank Christians by the Sunni Muslim cadres of Fatah, occasionally violent, has reduced Christian numbers to little more than five percent. As Fatah cadres have done to their Christian neighbors, so much the more violence have they wreaked against Israelis. You might forget what happened at the 1972 Olympics, or at Uganda’s Enteppe airport; you might set aside numerous terrorist attacks and individual murders on Jerusalem buses or of the occupants of cars on highways near the West Bank border; five wars with the terrorists of Gaza, and four battles with Iran’s Hezbollah proxies in South Lebanon, but Israel cannot forget these. Deaths caused thereby are a family hurt for almost every family in Israel.

Meanwhile, West Bankers will tell you about the Israeli military’s often high-handed occupation of West Bank cities. I find it understandable, however, that Israeli soldiers, having seen their own and their neighbors executed, might often not be kind to people whom they suspect of harboring, even encouraging, such murders. Recall that even today, West Bank children are taught that Israel has no right to exist. Granted that soldiers as well disciplined as the IDF (Israel Defence Force) should never give way to feelings of anger, it happens, and the bad feelings perpetuated add to the unlikelihood of any two-state agreement such as might have happened in 1999.

Fact is, that Arafat did not accept Ehud Barak’s offer — to make Jerusalem an open city with shared governance — because he knew that if he did accept, he would be assassinated by his own Fatah militias. He had seen Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin murdered by an Israeli irreconcilable, and he knew of the murder of Michael Collins by IRA fanatics back in 1922 after Collins had accepted a compromise agreement with Great Britain. Assassination is the way of fanatics everywhere, but that was and remains the point. Though West Bank negotiators may in good faith wan t to live in peace with Israel, and though most Israelis would like to settle their 75 year battle with the West Bankers, fanatics hardened by 75 years of zero-sum battle won’t let it happen.

My prediction : there will not be, ever, a “two state” peace between Israel and its West Bank neighbors.

No Arab nation wants anything to do with the grievances of West Bankers, much less the thuggery wreaked upon the hapless citizens of Gaza by the rapacious gang that calls itself “Hamas” that controls Gaza while subjecting itself — and its captive civilians — to Iranian militias because no one else will have anything to do with them. Life for Gaza’s million residents isn’t pleasant, but rescue isn’t coming, not from Egypt nor from Israel.

In which case, where does Israel go from here ? Whence the West Bank ? Perhaps it is time for West Bank leaders to accept Israel’s right to exist and to blend its economy with the Israeli economy so that its people can at least live and prosper despite a political vacuum. Worse outcomes could certainly happen. They already have. Why not try economic agreement ? It works much more readily than political agreement and more often.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


One day in early 1957, a young blues harpist named James Moore took his place at the mike at Jay Miller’s Shreveport, Louisiana studio, gave the sign to Miller’s studio band — drums, guitar, bass — and, using the song name Slim Harpo, sang his bit : “well…I’m a king bee, buzzin’ around your hive…I’m a king bee, want you to be my queen…”

The song became an instant hit, a classic later covered b y almost everybody with a blues gene in his or her flesh, including, famously, the Rolling Stones. However, it is not the song’s history that I want to talk about today but instead Moore’s use of the “king” and queen” metaphor. It is, of course, ironic: Moore is no king, and the lady he is seducing is no queen. It’s also, therefore, comic : bees do sting, and to prick with king’s venom the queen bee in a hive takes, perforce, a king bee — right ? Haha.

We Americans don’t have kings and queens. We don’t have titled nobility at all. Titles are expressly forbidden by the Constitution which we profess to honor. Why, then, do many of us find kings and queens a must to attend to ? Why is the British royal family of such interest to us ? It has a queen, and many princes, princesses and duchesses: so what ? We are not British but American. What does the Windsor family, on its throne and living in its palaces and dressed now and then in frou frou, medals, and gowns, to do with us ? Certainly they are not kings, etc. in the sense that Slim Harpo asked a “queen” if he might be her “king.”

Perhaps what interests us is that a Windsor prince, Harry by name, has married an American. Yet that isn’t a miracle. Many British high-ups have married American women. Winston Churchill’s mother was American — did our forbears go ga-ga about her ? If so, I don’t recall reading of it. American women have attracted the suit of many European big shots. Nazi Germany had no less than three Americans in its entourage ; the mother of Ernest “Putzi” Hanfstangl; the mother and both grandfathers of Baldur von Schirach; and the mother of Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht. Of course reference to Nazi Germany isn’t my resort here. American women have, since our nation’s rise to great riches and power, been sought after by titled European nobility and impoverished dandies everywhere. I am unaware that any of these women became media stars, or interview subjects of gossip hosts. Nor did any that i am aware of beget a frenzy for addressing as king or queen any American living in America.

There is, in the land these days, a custom now, among certain groups, of dubbing a young achiever as “King” or “queen.” Far from irony or comedy, the address seems slated to prop up those whom the society at large may overlook, or denigrate, or dismiss on account of skin color or national; origin., I have no doubt that such young people well deserve all praise and then some; denigrating anyone, much less an achiever, for his or her biology or ethnic history, is an absurdity. Nor am i certain that the young achiever applauded as “king”: or “queen” will not one day want to discard such a cloak and begin to dress him or herself in the ordinary clothes of achievement, which is its own reward.

Myself, I never do it. When faced with a young achiever’s achievement — assuming it is an achievement and not a matter of “everybody gets a prize,” a commonplace in today’s non-schools, in which actual achievement is cheapened out of existence because to applaud singular achievement is, so they tell us, to offend, or to wreak trauma, and perish forbid that we should ever offend anyone or wreak trauma — I always say “good job !” or some such; because actual achievement is its own reward and merits its own applause. Without frosting its cake with king and queen ersatz.

Which brings me back to Slim Harpo. Back then, in 1957, irony and comedy were understood as such. They were the courtship skills of rakes and flirts at a time when flirting was a serious art and rakery a notable gamble. “I am young and able, can buzz all night long,” cries Harpo, “let me come inside ?” The question mark is there, you can hear it in the down note that carries the word “inside.” She can definitely say “no.” He knows it; goes ahead to have his band prove his claim : “buzz awhile” — the bass line buzzes — and “sting it then” — comes a descant guitar lick. After which Harpo repeats his boast, and then adds “I can buzz better, baby, when your man is gone.” Yes, his plea is illicit, and it offers the lady the thrill of behaving badly, of doing forbidden mischief. Of such treats are the words “king’ and “queen” made here in an America, in which the Windsor family is an offstage irrelevance.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi : a relief bill passed with only Democratic votes

Not a single Republican in Congress has voted to give Americans a $ 1400 stimulus check; or to extend a $ 300 per week unemployment addition through September 6th; or to relieve $ 80 billion of multi-employer pension liabilities; or to fund billions for Covid vaccination, States’ depleted funds, or support small businesses. The question is, WHY ? Why HAVEN’T a single Congressional Republican voted Yes ?

Probably no Republican response is better stated than Senator Susan Collins’s. This is how she justifies her Nay vote :

“There is widespread support in Congress to pass a sixth package to increase funding for the distribution of the vaccine and to help struggling families, workers, small business owners, and health care providers. I led a group of 11 Republican Senators in proposing a targeted $650 billion bill that would have done just that. Among other provisions, our amendment would have supported rural health care providers, helped students return to their classrooms, extended unemployment assistance, sent direct $1400 checks to low- and middle-income Americans, expanded access to child care, increased resources for substance use and mental health, bolstered nutrition assistance programs, and sustained small businesses and jobs across the country.“Regrettably, there was no interest from Democratic Leadership in negotiating a targeted, bipartisan relief package that meets the challenges at hand. Instead, Democrats chose to ram through a partisan bill using a partisan process. The only thing bipartisan about this package was the opposition in the House. Under the guise of providing COVID-19 relief, the Democratic leaders proposed a bloated $1.9 trillion package stuffed full of provisions that have nothing to do with fighting the coronavirus, from either a public health or economic perspective. The bill also picks winners and losers. For instance, rather than allocating state aid based on population size as Congress did previously, a new formula will result in a cut of $155 million for the State of Maine.

Fair enough, as far as it goes: yet her statement doesn’t really go very far. What are the features of the Covid relief bill that “have nothing to do with fighting the coronavirus” ? She doesn’t say. Here are the major provisions :

  • $1,400 stimulus checks capped at individuals making less than $80,000 per year and households earning $160,000.
  • $300 per week jobless benefits through September.
  • $350 billion for states and local government.
  • Payments up to $3,600 per child.
  • $34 billion to expand Obamacare subsidies.
  • $14 billion for vaccine distribution.
  • $130 billion for schools.

There is more, of course. i will get to it. First, let me address the provisions listed above. Of course the $ 34 billion for Obamacare subsidy isn’t directly a Covid relief matter. Yet All major Federal spending bills include dozens of earmarked items. Congress members all have local interests to advance as well as interests entrusted to them by actiuv9ist and donors., it has been thus since the beginning and is of the nature of a government by representation. One wants to say that the Republicans’; objection isn ‘t to earmarking but that the wrong interests have received earmarks. that’s hardly a persuasive objection except to partisans.

Much of the $ 1.9 trillion goes to very specific budget items, State and local. These allocations don’t make for headlines but to enumerate them is to grasp their crucial Covid relief nature :

  • The Senate bill provides $510 million for the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Program. That money would support homeless services providers for overnight shelter, meals, one month’s rent and mortgage assistance and one month’s utility payments.
  • The Senate version expands the Employee Retention Tax Credit for start-up companies and other businesses hit by the pandemic
  • The bill also increases the value of the federal COBRA health insurance program from 85 percent to 100 percent
  • The bill adds a $10 billion infrastructure program to help local governments continue crucial capital projects.
  • The bill makes all coronavirus-related student loan relief tax-free.
  • The bill increases the total amount of Amtrak relief funding by $200 million.
  • For education funding, the bill sets aside $1.25 billion for summer enrichment; $1.25 billion for after-school programs and $3 billion for education technology
  • The Senate bill also adds $8.5 billion in funds for the Provider Relief Program to assist rural health care providers.

Much of the $ 1.9 trillion gows to a one-year child tax credit which sends up top $ 3,000 per child aged 6 to 17 and 4 3,600 per child aged up to 6 years old :

  • Under the Senate plan, most Americans would receive $3,000 a year for each child ages 6 to 17, and $3,600 for each child under age 6.
  • The provision in the bill would last one year and be sent via direct deposit on a “periodic” basis. It is also a major expansion of the existing child tax credit, which currently provides $2,000 a year for children from birth through age 16.
  • More regular payments are intended to help offset costs families face day to day, instead of sending families one annual payment.

Of course this large subsidy isn’t all a matter of Covid relief; yet it addresses an economic problem that the Covid crisis aggravated : child poverty. The child credit will greatly increase the consumer spending power of millions of low income families. I do not see how that can be anything but hugely beneficial for the economy as a whole.

Republicans seem unready to accept the basic facts of money in an economy : that it does not stop moving; that allocating dollars to one purpose does not end the flow of those dollars; that increasing the flow of money, and the breadth of its flow, lifts the entire economy, which consist, or should consist, of all who live within that economy.

I am not advocating equality of money distribution, far from it : a major gradation of money allocation spurs ambition, innovation, and dedication to work. But I Am saying that a society suffers badly if many people in it live in poverty, require public assistance in order to get by, and cannot participate in the discretionary economy. wages in America have decreased for at least 40 years relative to process and asset values. this cannot stand. It cannot co0ntiue for even another day. People who work must be able to earn enough to spend into the discretionary economy and to not need public assistance. We cannot pass a $ 15/hour minimum wage in a budget bill, of which this Covid relief is one, but we can take such budget measures as will enable similar economic benefits. And we have now done this. I do not find Republican objection valid in any way.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^^ Paul the Apostle writes his letter to his church at Corinth, saying the words I am using as my lede.

—- —- —- —-

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul the Apostle wrote the following : When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

His admonition speaks to us today. Paul reminds us that the child is not the adult, and that we shall be judged not as we were as a child but as an adult. This is why societies establish rites of passage for their young: before, they are children; after, they are members of the society. But not before.

I recall Paul the Apostle to you because I have just finished working on a political campaign in which my candidate was savaged, likely by a rival, for things he is alleged to have done when in high school — in short, as a child.

The savaging was bad enough. Who is presumptuous enough to judge somebody else’s childhood ? Isn’t that for the child’s parents ? But enough of this. Worse than the minding somebody else’s business was the response to the savaging. My candidate had been endorsed by a number of big-name politicians, including the legislator for whom he had, until the campaign, worked as chief of staff ! Upon publication of the accusations, all four disowned my candidate. DISOWNED the man they had only a week prior endorsed ! Remember : all four had known my candidate well for years; he had worked hard on the campaigns of three of the four, and they were glad to soak up his help when they needed him. Yet when he most needed him, they went “who ? Never heard of him” or “these accusations are grave and BAD.”

We have seen this act before. My candidate is hardly the first to be accused of sexual improprieties in his school days (which somehow in the telling become predation). We all recall the shock and awe thrown at Judge Brett Kavanugh during his confirmation hearing for the office of Supreme Court Justice. Though Kavanaugh at hearing time was 53 years old, and had enjoyed 30-odd years of distinguished adult life, his “I thought as a child” years were — as the objectors screamed — so disqualifying that he was to be rejected for office, forced to resign as a Judge, and personally ruined forever.

As we recall, the attack did not work. Because Kavanaugh had the power of a political party backing him — a majority party at the time — he survived the vilification. I am no fan of political parties, which in our nation have become the wholly owned playthings of zealots and greedy donors, but in the Kavanugh affair, a strong party in support saved his reputation and his appointment to the High Court.

My candidate in the 19th Suffolk Democratic primary yesterday is not Brett Kavanugh, but it was no mistake for supporters, rejecting the attacks upon him, to quip that he was “being Kavanughed.” My candidate is now 33 years old, 15 years out of high school. In what way are his high school capers relevant to his responsible life as an adult, a life that until accusation day everyone in Democratic politics was glad to make use of all the time ?

Unfortunately, in Democratic party primaries, being accused of a sexual impropriety — only accused, mind you, and of course accused in the press; no court action need be brought, where evidence and proof would be obligatory — has become poison. If Vladimir Putin’s poison squad regularly novachuks the life out of critics like Aleksey Navalny if they can, accusers in the Democratic party’s candidate fights are allowed — encouraged, even — to poison reputations. And the party’s primary voters don’t fight it.

The Republican party is no better. It is actually worse. There, the lies of a Republican President become truths which, if you do not believe them, subject you to electoral poison. Where Democratic character assassins destroy only individual reputations, Republican character killers seek to destroy the nation., Obviously that’s a much deeper threat; but I am not assuaged by sacrificing only one life rather than an entire people. Character poisoners should be shunned at all stages. Those of us who know the person poisoned m,ust rush to his or her aid, lance the poison, and punish the poisoner, not the poisoned.

Every. Single. Time.

i am not holding my breath….

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Georgia’s new United States Senator Ralph Warnock : elected via an all-party (and thus no party) all-candidate preliminary followed by a top-two runoff.

—- —- —- —-

After last year’s well-deserved rejection of the trap called “ranked choice voting,” it might seem that Massachusetts election reform has nowhere to go. Not so. There is, in my. view, one reform that might just do the job: an all-candidate, non partisan first round followed by a runoff of the top two candidates if none receives 50 percent in the preliminary. This is how they do it in Georgia, and by which voters were able to nominate, and then elect, two Democratic US senators. I would also follow on part of the Nebraska example and make membership in the two legislative bodies nonpartisan. (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature. That part I would not adopt here.)

Here is my argument :

( 1 ) Political party primaries leave a candidate defenseless against dirty tricks and smears. When Democrats unleashed a holy hell smear against Justice Kavanaugh — one that the Democratic activist base had made its top cause at that time — he had the power of a political party, the Republican, to defend him and fight back — and ultimately to defat the smear. In a party primary, the smeared candidate has no such institutional defense force. We see it in the Republican party, as well, as Congresspeople and Senators who voted to impeach or convict Mr. Trump have been censured and harassed for their vote. A no-party first round, followed by an equally no-party runoff, would detoxify the power of activist-base smear campaigns.

( 2 ) Our municipal elections here in Massachusetts are no-party runoffs. Although many Mayor campaigns become really rough, full of passion and mutual brickbat, they at least do not add the toxicity of partisan zealotry to the mix. Every voter, of whatever partisan persuasion, or none oat all, casts the same one vote on the same ballot. Furthermore, as at-large Council elections elect multiple Councillors — voters elect three, four, six, even nine — no candidate with any sense in his head smears any other because every candidate wants a voter’s second, third, eighth vote for herself.

( 3 ) Political parties are still free to organize and to make their voice heard, but such party voice is only one among a great many voices equalized in a no-party election system. As in Massachusetts both major political parties lack unity and represent only a minor portion of all our voters — 60 percent of us belong to no party — there is no policy reason why the parties should be institutionally favored over any candidate or all candidates. The small numbers enrolled in each of our two parties should not be able to enjoy easier access to a general election ballot than no-party candidates. In most party primaries, maybe 15 percent of the eligible voters — enrolled party members as well as those no-party voters who care to take a primary ballot — usually participate. This has two bad effects : first, it gives activists inordinate power over the result and thus over campaign smears; and second, it elevates candidates who spend their time within the partisan bubble as opposed to among the entire voter community which the winner will represent.

I welcoem your thoughts and suggestions.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere