Portrait of the family of Septimius Severus

^ Septimius Severus with his wife Julia Domna and his son Caracalla

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Septimius Severus, the Roman Empire’s only Africa-born Emperor, lay on his death bed in York, England. The year was AD 211. His son Caracalla was at his side, about to succeed to the Imperial purple. To Caracalla, Severus said these words : “reward the soldiers, despise all others.”

Severus had practiced that principle. He had ruled the empire since April of AD 193 — 18 years, a long stretch for emperors then. He was now 67 years old, a long life for hat time in which plague regularly visited the citizenry. He had risen through the ranks of the formidable Roman army, and after the chaos of the year 192, following the assassination of Commodus, Severus, by then commander of the 14th Legion (XIV Gemina), defeated all rivals to claim the throne. He acquired it by harsh rule and kept it severely — an adjective we derive from his own nickname. How did he keep it, when so many cosplay emperors found themselves dumped by the City’s Praetorian Guard ?

He kept it by rewarding the soldiers, despising all others.

By “despising” he did not mean hating. He meant not worrying about what “the others” could do to his rule as long as he had the army’s unquestioning loyalty.

Now we come to Donald J. Trump, whose presidency, such as it is, has moved into the AD 192 phase. I say 192 because I think Mr. Trump’s corrupt, mercurial incompetence more resembles the bluffers who Severus displaced — Pertinax, Didius Julianus —  than he does Severus. Nonetheless, Mr. Trump now has the army at his command, if he can keep it. So far, that’s a given. General Milley and rest of the US military like the current mob rule awash in many cities no better than Trump does.

We shall see.

Mr. Trump has an opportunity now to attempt what Severus managed : impose military dictatorship AND allow mob rule. Severus didn’t care what the city mob (from the term “mobile vulgus” in Latin, the turbulent rabble) of Rome did day to day and night to night so long a it did not challenge the military. As long as the grain shipments from Egypt weren’t interfered with, or the movement of legions long the autobahns of the empire, as long as the Temples and government buildings of Rome weren’t put to the torch or sacked,. all was OK.

It was a libertarian rule, even a libertine one. The City mob was fed and provided with brutal arena games; the Senatorial order was allowed to pretend it still had power, which it was glad to pretend, since it held uncontested ownership of farms and production, much of it operated by slaves kidnapped from the empire’s enemies after battle. (There really wasn’t much of that by 192-211, which would rock the empire’s ruling consensus in the next century.) Commerce was scarcely regulated — but highly taxed, often by surprise. The City’s officials held uncontested authority over established avenues of information by controlling those appointed to the office of “auspex” (whence we get our adjective “auspiciuous”)

It was, for a time, a very successful system.

Today, in America, there are three constituencies with power :

( 1 ) the mob and the Black Lives Matter protesters, whose remarkable operations the mob exploits with impunity, so far

( 2 ) the established forces of order : City police, State police, the National Guard, and the military. All are more or less military in application right now, and will become entirely so shortly

( 3 ) everybody else, powerless in the streets but possessing, through the right to vote, the power to elevate one or the other of the first two forces and reject the other.

So far, number ( 3 ) is led by Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for our equivalent of the Severan office. Biden is a decent guy, a nice, well-meaning guy who really, really wants everybody to be at peace and thinking uplifting thoughts. So did Pertinax, the aged Senator who in 192 was elected emperor by the Senate only to be bankrupted by the Praetorians and assassinated by them when he had no more bank to give. Joe Biden, if he wins our Severan office, is heading straight into the fate of Pertinax — not to be assassinated or bankrupted, but to be politically bankrupted and neutered by his own activists, who hold Praetorian power over him. The “Black Lives Matter ecstatics never wanted Joe in the first place, almost all of them supported Bernie Sanders, and they accept Joe today only on sufferance : that if Joe wins the election, they can force his hand, probably, if need be, by the same means they are now using to make him their policy captive.

Today’s situation is no country for nice guy old white men.

I really feel for Joe. I am supporting him, because he IS that nice, decent guy who believes in America’s Constitutional ideals, as do I, and who has lived them his whole life, and because I could not, would never, have anything to do with Mr., Sanders, whose would-have-been presidency we are now getting a taste of. I say i am supporting Joe, but I am very bearish on his being able,  if elected, to accomplish what he so badly wants to, because his victory in November will only increase, not diminish, the power of the street activists and the mob-rule parasites who feed off them.

Yet how can I support Mr. Trump — how can anybody ? — given his utter incompetence at anything, his bellowing, every day, that it is all about HIS power, HIS ego, HIS amour propre. In this, he is more like Commodus than like Severus : just a vain, spoiled son of an always absent, if brilliant, father, whose rule was about nothing and was ended by his own supporters. There isn’t anyone who thinks that Mr. Trump commands the military out of loyalty to some ideal or policy purpose. For him, at this time, it’s nothing but power for the sake of power, a kind of instrumental fetish. I can’t imagine that at some time, probably sooner rather than later, the military will start transferring its confidence to Mr. Biden, who at least does speak for the ordinary voter and lacks only power at street level.

Were this to happen, Mr. Biden might become more than a new Pertinax. He might have actual power to command and thus to change the political equation. Thereby giving new meaning to “reward the soldiers, despise all others.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




^ Just a nice little shopping trip for looters, courtesy of “apology City” (i.e., Boston)

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What happened in Boston last night has angered me and very likely angered you as well. Thus I may well write stuff in this column that would not appear were I more at peace, and you may want to correct me, even call me out. Nonetheless, I write.

Thousands of us gathered yesterday to march in solidarity with a very basic American principle : that justice should protect every man, every woman, equally and faithfully, and that no one of us should ever be abused by those we entrust to protect us from harm. In Minneapolis, a young man named George Floyd was denied his rights to the benefits of this principle. This we all acknowledge and decry.

Unfortunately, some cities proved utterly unprepared for the horrors that befell them in the aftermath of very justified protests of the treatment of Mr. Floyd. It should by now be basic operating procedure, for any city, that when huge numbers of people are expected to gather, for any reason, that the City’s police forces are fully mobilized and at the ready, close by every part of the gathering route, supported by State police and, on standby, that State’s National Guard. None of this happened correctly in any City that I observed. Minneapolis was caught absolutely flat-footed, taking four days to assemble and deploy all the force at its command.

It sure did not happen in Boston either.

There are many reasons for this failure. High among them is the City’s unwillingness to give our police the men and equipment they need to face rioters in this time of riot. A lot of us have leveled oceans of blame — deservedly — at President Trump’s administration for its unreadiness for the COVID outbreak. How come these same blamers can’t blame cities for their equally limp-legged unreadiness for riot ? The first cities attacked by riot might merit some measure of excuse for being surprised (although I’m unwilling to let them off that hook. You HAVE to be ready for the unthinkable.) But Boston’s leaders had FIVE DAYS to prepare. We knew what was coming. Why were we not ready ?

Did we think that the good will — and evident naivete — of the protest organizers, most of them Democratic Socialists (check their twitter handles) for whom George Floyd’s death was a convenient pretext for intimidating electeds in anticipation of next year’s Mayoral contest, would carry the day ? The protest was set to begin at 6.30 pm. Dark would be arriving soon. After dark, the current protests have almost all turned to mob violence, as groups with agendas much more radical than that of the Democratic Socialists, unleash their kraken.

Yet the protest in Boston took place Downtown, in a very constricted geographical area, surrounded by water on three sides, that should have been duck soup to encircle with overwhelming force. The various areas of stores within that small zone are not many; they too could have been defended. They were not, because the City’s forces were far too few.

Later, when the City did finally have sufficient force,. it didn’t use them aggressively. Looters, once inside stores,.were easy to trap and surround and arrest; the tires of their getaway vehicles should have been shot out. None of this happened for three hours after the looting began. Granted that because the City hadn’t sufficient force to surround the looters, they broke out and looted in many locations. That is still no reason why the police, now aided by national guard, could not have deployed on the obvious shopping streets and blocked the rabble from getting onto them. Once the forces did, finally, start to wage these tactics, they found plenty of crimers to arrest– 55 in all, said Police Commissioner Bill Gross today.

It should have been a lot more.

I am also unable to grasp why Cities have not declared martial law, under which anyone found criming can be shot on sight. You cannot play games with rioters. Martial law was imposed on crimers in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; why not for the Floyd rioters ?

It’s hard not to conclude that Cities have played nice guy with these rioters because everybody in power is in apology mode, self-blaming for “systemic racism,” that, I guess, they must be a part of, and therefore, maybe in their minds having their constituents’ property destroyed is their punishment for being “systemically racist.” If you feel that you are a racist and that you need to atone publicly for your failures,. you’re in no state of mind to wreak the havoc on those who can’t wait to take advantage of 500 elected suckers.

The mea culpa caper has been in charge in Boston. We see the result.

Look : the protests really aren’t about George Floyd. He is mainly a pretext for the protesters’ far more ambitious agenda of radical imposition. How come the huge protest only now ? Didn’t a hundred previous police overreaches, including killings, engender this level of outcry ? Why now ? Can it be because there’s an election coming, and the protesters hope to fill Congress with their sympaticos ?

I leave these questions up in the air on purpose. Do your own thinking on them. Yet wherever you come down on an answer, is there any doubt that George Floyd has absolutely nothing to do with the crimers ? They came to loot, to burn, to riot. No more no less. Theirs is a politics of anarchy, of utter nil. We appease them at our peril.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





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.”










^ 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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other initiatives I’m less happy to see :

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


The Wisconsin primary and Voting Rights for Whom ?


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

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

The vote was 856,315 to 692,956.

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

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

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

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

Americans do not like having their voting rights curtailed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere.






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