Thursday, February 28, 2008
I often think about the disconnect between my own experience and the "common perception, " especially when I compare organizing against the Vietnam war with organizing against the war in Iraq.
(Now, I know the first thing that is jumping to many people's minds is the difference in which those of us against the wars treat the members of our Armed Forces. We are certainly doing better this time around. But I have to tell you that the image of hippies spitting on returning veterans was almost entirely a lie-- part of the propaganda war against us.)
My daughter was saying earlier this week that she thinks more young people are politically active right now than in decades, mostly because of Barak Obama. I believe her. What blows my mind is that their activism is that of the early sixties-- the John F. Kennedy era when idealism reigned and we believed in the possibility of change. Yes, we can!
The counterculture was the inevitable result of crushing materialism, wars, assassinations and poverty riots. We grew out of the early sixties retaining our idealism while abandoning our belief that change could take place within the system. Everything that followed grew from that. Longterm, of course, we had about as much chance of surviving and thriving as would the lone communist country in a capitalist world. But what a ride we had in the meantime.
To seriously mine "the sixties" for its wisdom and follies is more than I'll undertake this evening. However I got quite a rush recently (the words are coming back to me!) to see a post on BoingBoing about the collaborative online updating of Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book called Steal This Wiki-- "over 500 pages of the most useful street and homeless survival combined with plenty of ways to fight oppression of all sorts."
Hoffman has always gotten to me. he's a local boy (well, Worcester MA) and a fellow Sagittarian. I will never forget the trial of the Chicago Seven-- eight, with Bobby Seale-- and apparently Steven Speilberg and Alan Sorkin won't, either. Production of a new film about the infamous trial is is scheduled to begin in March, now that the writers' strike is over.
As far as Steal This Book goes, the way the economy is looking, it can't be updated soon enough.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
The fun thing is that these pictures are so ambiguous they could mean anything! Here are a few interpretations.
If you have set yourself on fire, do not run
If you spot terrorism, blow your anti-terrorism whistle. If you are Vin Diesel, yell really loud.
If you spot a terrorist arrow, pin it against the wall with your shoulder
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I was shocked by her honesty but not surprised. The previous year my sister had had an emergency splenectomy and then gone two days without seeing a doctor because someone had neglected to put her on the medical rotation list. Later she was accidentally over-medicated.and her breathing was suppressd. She survived both events, minor in the grand scheme of things, but others have not been so fortunate.
Don't get me wrong-- I'm not saying that hospital-acquired illnesses, complications and mortality are all attributable to a shortage of nurses. But consider the following
- One out of ten patients admitted to six Massachusetts hospitals :suffer serious and avoidable medication mistakes, according to a Boston Globe article last week.
- The higher the patient to nurse ratio, the more likely there will be patient deaths or complications after surgery. Each additional patient per nurse over four is associated with a 7% increase in mortality.
- Inadequate staffing precipitates one-fourth of all unexpected occurences that lead to patient death, injuries or permanent loss of function.
- The more nurses, the lower the infection rate in patients. Sources for this information can be found at the Mass Nurses Association.
Nurses become nurses because they want to help people, but they can wind up working in conditions we wouldn't tolerate on the assembly line. Overworked nurses quickly burn out and many leave the profession or cease to work at the bedside.
You'd think that hospital administrators would want to do everything possible to maintain a good workforce and ensure safety for its patients, but no-- they've been vehement in opposing legislation requiring safe staffing ratios, saying hospitals can't afford it. This year, however, H. 2059, the Patient Safety Act, has a good change of passing.
You can send a message to your legislators asking them to support H. 2059 at the Mass Nurses Association website.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Their concerns are understandable-- Longhill Gardens was incredibly mismanaged; the apartments were not maintained; in the last years of their current life, crime plagued the buildings and the neighborhood.
The WinnCompanies' proposal to buy and rehabilitate the buildings for "affordable" housing is being interpreted by some as an opportunity for the worst elements of the buildings' old life to recur. But it doesn't have to be that way.
A mixed income renovation seems to be what WinnCompanies has in mind. The project will be designed for those earning 60% of the median income. Using 200 census figures, 60% of the median income for a family would be about 22,000-- not rich by any means, not even middle-class, but I'd say solidly working class-- families don't bring in that much money on public assistance or Social Security.
Some thoughts for the Civic Association to ponder:
- -- Every abandoned home on a street drives down the value of other homes by 6 to 7%.
- -- Springfield lost more than 1,200 units of housing in the 90's. How can we be the City of Homes without housing?
- -- Forewarned is forearmed. With the Civic Association in discussion with WinnCompanies from the beginning, neighborhood needs are much more likely to be addressed.
The city has had more than its share of bad property managers. Here's hoping the city and the neighborhood thoroughly research WinnCompanies' properties; here's hoping it's a good match for Springfield.
Photo: Oak Grove Village, Melrose, WinnCompanies.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Holyoke has built an impressive coalition of environmental activists in the last year, "Holyoke Organized for the Environment." Member of the coalition mostly don't come from the "traditional" movement, but instead come out of struggles that fight against poverty and racism, and for community self-sufficiency, economic development and political empowerment.
A Valley Advocate article by Maureen Turner gives a good overview of the struggle.
No mention of homeless people, of course, but that's par for the course.
Our old friend Phil Mangano, Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness will be the keynote speaker-- the same guy who promotes Ten Year Plans without ever mentioning that the man he works for, George Bush, continues to decimate housing opportunities. Will he change his tune now that the Presidential election is approaching, and actually say we need more housing?
I'm trying not to be cynical, here-- communities working together to end homelessness is a brand new phenomenon in this region-- but will we be skating on thin ice or really plumbing the depths of this crisis?
Friday, February 22, 2008
Forty years later, the pilot whales and dolphins slaughtered for food in the whaling town of Taiji are turning up with high levels of mercury-- and once again, public officials say the danger is overblown. Activists have resorted to passing out flyers to townspeople to let them know of the danger. Still, schools have stopped serving pilot whale meat for lunch. The NYTimes has an article about it here.
Most Japanese don't eat whale meat, but most residents of Taiji do-- and they cling proudly to the tradition of whaling. But the Times article points out a growing generational gap. Young people just aren't into whale and dolphin meat, and are more health-conscious. Whaling may eventually die out on its own.
Meanwhile, there's work to be done. You can take the following three actions to help protect whales.
- For two weeks the Greenpeace ship Esperanza chased a Japanese factory whaling ship across the Southern Ocean, preventing whaling and saving more than 100 whales. But when Greenpeace ran out of funds for fuel, whaling resumed. Now Greenpeace is asking people to contact the CEO of Canon Japan, who has shown concern over environmental issues, and ask him to speak out publicly against whaling. You can do that here:
- The NRDC has won another injunction against the U.S. Navy, prohibiting them from training with a low frequency sonar system that creates so much underwater noise that whales and other marine mammals are disoriented and damaged. The Navy has appealed every decision against them and plans to appeal this one. Meanwhile, every injunction wins another day for whales. You can become a member to help them keep up the fight.
- Twenty-seven North Atlantic Right Whales were hit and killed by ships along the Atlantic seaboard from 2001 - 2005; fewer than 350 remain. A year ago, the National Marine Fisheries Service approved a policy reuquiring ships passing through whale territory to slow down to 10 knots, a speed that allows whales and ships to avoid each othyer. But the shipping industry's influence over White House environmental policies has prevented the rule from being implemented. You can email Congress to support the Ship Strike Reduction Act, which would force the Commerce Department to set firm rule at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
But before I plunge in for the afternoon, two snow poems by me:
her mom trudges in sneakers
thru the snow
while she, five years old,
trudges beside her
wearing red dancing shoes
that look like fresh blood on linen
bought in a previous moment of hope
totally wrong for the weather
but all that's left now
is to walk on dreams
Not for ten paces
can my mind empty itself
even in white snow
Photo by Kirk Lau
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Meanwhile, another resource for homeless vets bites the dust with the forced closing of the U.S. Vets shelter which operates on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home-- fifty men with nowhere to go. Story and photo: Washington Post.
Adding injury to insult to injury...
The question remains, however, for both homeless men and women: W#where can you go if you are banned from Worthington St. shelter? If you're a woman, NOWHERE. If you're a man, and and sober, and IF there's room, the Springfield Rescue Mission.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Yesterday I had a physical task to do and it was taking me longer than expected. As I lugged yet another box of "stuff" from the spare room to the basement, I heard two voices in my head, one saying, "No rest for the weary" and the other one saying, No rest for the wicked!"
Where do these two voices come from?
The "weary" voice is from my maternal grandmother, who worked long hours most of her adult life at the Belmont Laundry, while her two daughters were cared for by her mother. My grandmother was a young widow, and she worked for the next fifty years, the last twenty as housekeeper for a priest. "No rest for the weary," I remember her saying, after washing the rectory floors.
The other voice comes from some Longmeadow stay-at-home mom whose name I have mercifully (for her and for me) forgotten.
Back in the early 80's, during the few years I was on public assistance with my younger daughter, I used to do some housecleaning under the table. (Wonder what the statute of limitations is on welfare fraud? I can picture my enemies trying to find out.) In any case, welfare benefits, both then and now, were some 40% lower than the federal poverty level, and the couple hundred bucks a month I made from housecleaning really helped.
Of all my housecleaning jobs, the one I liked the least was the house in Longmeadow. (Actually, I take that back; it was probably a tie with the trailer park home of the disabled guy who'd let his dog lift his leg over the toilet. Phew!)
The problem with the Longmeadow house was that it never really seemed to need cleaning! I'd dust shelves that weren't dusty, wash windows that sparkled, wipe countertops that looked like they'd never held a speck of food.
Guess I had never before been in a house where everything was new and the walls and floors met in every corner and no oily city dirt blew in to coat everything dull.
Mrs. Longmeadow had me wash the kitchen floor every other time I came, but she didn't like the effect of mops because they made the floor look streaky so she would have me wash them on my hands and knees with a bucket and a cloth.
One day, as I was so engaged, she passed through the kitchen, saw me, and said brightly-- she was always so bright-- "No rest for the wicked!" I was stunned. I'd never heard it said that way before.
Mrs. Longmeadow's version, I've found out since, seems to come from the bible, Isaiah 57: 57:20 But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. AND 57:21 There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. "No rest for the weary" seems to be a working-class variation.
It must have been easier for Mrs. Longmeadow, seeing me on my knees in her kitchen, to think of me as wicked, because then I was only getting what I deserved. Yet somehow, thirty years later, both weary and wicked still resound in my soul.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Maybe you have to be my age or older to remember those black and white World War Two movies where the scientist or the Jew or the resistance fighter or the American pilot shot down behind enemy lines sweats it out on a train to the border while the Gestapo agent works his way down the aisle, demanding, "Papers, please?"
Or how about twenty-five years later, in John LeCarre's divided Berlin, when no one can cross the border without passing through endless checkpoints, and have to show their "domestic passports" whenever it's demanded?
"That would never happen in our country! We have the right to privacy!" Most people in the U.S. actually used to believe this, and didn't hesitate to say it. When was the last time you heard that one?
Most people who do think about the right to privacy believe it is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but that isn't strictly true. The Ninth Amendment does say "enumeration of certain rights" in the Bill of Rights "shall not be construed to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people." and the Supreme Court has interpreted that broadly through the year. But times are changing.
In 2004, California passed Proposition 69, which allows the state to collect DNA samples from anyone arrested for a felony, and maintain that information in a databank. Before 2004, collection was limited to those convicted of a felony.
The Federal Real ID Act of 2005, according to the ACLU,
Opposition to the Real ID Act cuts across the political spectrum. The Vice-Chairman of the Libertarian Party in Connecticut says,would force the states to standardize driver’s licenses cards across the nation into a single national identity card and database. It does this by stipulating that state driver’s licenses and state ID cards will not be accepted for “federal purposes” – including boarding an aircraft or entering a federal facility – unless they meet all of the law’s numerous conditions, which include:
- Standardized data elements and security features on the IDs
- A “machine readable zone” that will allow for the easy capture of all the data on the ID by stores or anyone else with a reader
- The construction of a 50-state, interlinked database making all the information in each person’s file available to all the other states and to the federal governmentA requirement that states verify the “issuance, validity and completeness” of every document presented at motor vehicles agencies (usually called “DMVs”) as part of an application for a Real ID card.
"To some these measures seem to be reasonable and effective methods to protect us. Others of us have serious concerns about the protection of our 4th amendment rights to “be secure in (our) persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” without “probable cause.” Libertarian hero, Congressman Ron Paul, argued against this legislation declaring the tactic ineffective and more than a minor invasion of our privacy, “While I agree that these issues are of vital importance, this bill will do very little to make us more secure. It will not address our real vulnerabilities. It will, however, make us much less free.” The Day.How crazy are things getting in this country? How much danger of overreaction on the part of law enforcement and governmental officials is there? to give just a few examples:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is challenging the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's right to force people to give them access to electronic devices such as cell phones and laptops, sometimes confiscating and never returning such equipment.
The town of Needham, Massachusetts was virtually locked down last December when a pizza parlor employee called the police to report a customer who was acting jittery and "may be armed."
An Icelandic woman who tried visiting the U.S. had a horrendous experience that makes you just feel ashamed to be American.
"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." Benjamin Franklin
Thursday, February 14, 2008
40 year old Timothy Curtiss was found dead in Springfield, Massachusetts this morning by the banks of the Connecticut River-- a not uncommon place in this city for homeless people to die. Mr. Curtiss had most recently stayed at the Springfield Rescue Mission, but left the shelter last evening and didn't return, according to Gerry McCafferty, Deputy Director of Housing, in an email this afternoon. The police say his death appears to be from natural causes.
Just how natural can the death of a homeless person be?
It was lousy weather yesterday-- cold and it rained all day and the ground was saturated-- not the kind of night that a homeless person might choose to spend outside instead of in a shelter.
Was Mr. Curtiss intoxicated? If so, he would have had to leave the Rescue Mission-- you have to be sober to stay there. Was he too tired and cold to walk up the hill to Worthington St. Shelter, or had he been banned? If so, he was out of luck and out of shelter options and his life dwindled down to a matter of hours.
I was writing earlier this week about the decline in homelessness in Springfield-- two fewer people this year than in 2006. Today, reading about Mr. Curtiss, it hit me that if a couple of dozen homeless people hadn't died in the last two years, we would have seen an increase, not a decrease. If only Mr. Curtiss had been accommodating enough to die 30 days earlier, he would have been one less homeless person to be counted in the Annual Point-in-Time count.
The craziness of our strategies for solving homelessness continue to blow me away. Springfield gets its model of ending homelessness from Phil Mangano, head of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and flunky for the Bush Administration. When Mangano was in Springfield talking about how wonderful our Ten Year Plan for Ending Homelessness is, he neglected to mention how Bush had slashed funding for affordable housing. Because Springfield has chosen to focus on those so-called 10% who are "chronically homeless," that is, those people who have multiple issues playing into their homelessness-- the real lack of affordable housing in Springfield hasn't yet been a stumbling block for the Ten Year Plan. Twenty-two homeless people have been placed into housing, with plans for more-- don't remember the exact number.
But what happens to the other 90% of homeless people who need help?
Governor Patrick is out with a "Five Year" plan to end homelessness in the Commonwealth. He will start by decommissioning 20% of the shelter beds in the first year, and using the saved money to help people retain the housing they're in or find other affordable housing. Sounds good, doesn't it? Yet my experience tells me that as the state and the city move toward tighter control of homeless services, statistics and strategies, the real truth of the situation, the real solutions, will be buried under the muck of rhetoric and self-congratulation.
Photo from Stoneth at Flickr
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
I said 37 fewer people homeless this year than last, but it is actually 24 people-- TWO people less than in 2006!
- 2006: 237
- 2007: 259
- 2008: 235
On another note, I should have made it clear in the post about banning plastic bags that I'm not talking about green garbage bags, but the flimsy, usually beige bags handed out at the supermarket, drugstore, etc. A couple of people commented that those bags are among the most re-used. Sorry, folks-- YOU may re-use them, but most people don't.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
If Mayor Domenic Sarno wants to be known as Springfield's environmental mayor, he could set in motion a plan that would virtually eliminate plastic bags in this city.
First, hold this image in your mind: You're sailing in the North Pacific, on your way home from a sailing race in Hawaii, when you notice you've sailed into as sea of plastic waste suspended just below the surface of the water. You have to sail through an area twice the size of the continental U.S. before you are clear of it. That's what happened to Charles Moore, businessman turned environmental activist, in 1997. Today the plastic soup is estimated at 100 million tons and growing. Independent UK.
Plastic bags are a significant part of this soup. Less than one percent of these bags are recycled and they can cause damage in unexpected ways. In the state of Maharashtra, India, plastic bags clogging sewer drains were blamed for flooding that caused the deaths of more than a thousand people in 2005. Bangladesh has banned plastic bags completely for that reason, as has Sri Lanka.
Not surprisingly, a number of other countries are ahead of the U.S. in dealing with plastic bags, including China, France and Israel. The most successful strategy seems to be on Ireland's model-- charge a substantial tax on each plastic bag consumers use and don't allow stores to pick up the cost for the shoppers. Plastic bag usage has fallen by 90% and the substantial revenues raised are going into environmental projects. before the tax, Ireland's consumers were being given an astounding 1.2 billion bags a year.
Seeing as we lack a national strategy, cities are beginning to take action. Portland OR, Oakland CA and the city and county of San Francisco have all banned plastic bags, as well as 30 cities and towns in Alaska!
Sen. Brian Joyce of Milton has introduced legislation to charge Massachusetts consumers a tax on each plastic bag. Boston has been considering a ban. How about if Springfield takes the lead in Western Mass.?.
Map from Independent Graphics
Friday, February 8, 2008
You shall find books and sermons everywhere, in the land and in the sea, in the earth and in the skies, and you shall learn from every living beast, and bird, and fish, and insect, and from every useful or useless plant that springs from the ground.- Charles H. Spurgeon
First published sermon, "Harvest Time"
Meanwhile, David Eby of the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver, British Columbia, writes about a friend of his, Darrell Mickasko, who has died from burns received when a gas heater he was using to keep warm behind a dumpster ignited his sleeping bag. Vancouver is hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics.
I saw Darrell last week when he asked if I knew of anywhere he could rent. I didn't. Now he's dead, and the cause is indisputibly homelessness.Last November, Pivot Legal Society said homelessness could triple in Vancouver by the time of the Olympics unless something is done. 1,200 people sleep on the streets in Vancouver on any given night. More than 400 units of affordable housing were lost in the city the year before.
The public needs to know why, in Vancouver, people are burning to death trying to keep warm on our streets. Darrell's family, in Edmonton, needs to know why he died.
Over at YouTube, China's Olympic Lie talks about the impact of the coming 2008 Olympics on poor people and the environment.
Graphic from a Flicker group on feral cats. Check it out.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
The Housing First model, which prioritizes housing and services for the city's most entrenched homeless people, seems to be paying off. The strategy is to house those 10% of the homeless who use the most resources, leaving more resources for the other 90%.
There's a lot I think is missing from the Housing First model-- like new housing!-- but what is very different in Springfield now compared to three years ago is that the city has a plan. Homeless people and allies have moved the city from ignoring homelessness to managing it. Too bad homeless people can't be a part of that "management," but how often does that get to happen? Maybe only in tent cities....
George Graham from the Republican called me yesterday for any thoughts I had about this news, but I didn't have a lot to say. My organization, Arise for Social Justice, hasn't been organizing with homeless people since the end of May, when we had to close our headquarters and the Warming Place shelter was forced to close. Arise has never been a smoke and mirrors organization; as old saw as it sounds, our authority comes from the people and we won't have much to say until we're doing the work again. That won't be much longer, I hope. Next week we're painting over the "Coming Soon" above Arise for Social Justice.
Earlier this week I ran into a woman, Ethel, who's known Arise since we were in our first home, 718 State St., twenty years ago. Now we're back on State! I start to tell her about it, and she says, "I know, I go by it every day on the bus. When can I stop in?"
"Soon, very soon," I say.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
We've all seen that Army recruiting commercial where a young Black woman is telling her mom that if she joins the Army, and gets to be a medic, then when she gets out of the Army her experience will help her to meet her goal of becoming a doctor when she gets out.
Not necessarily, according to a story in today's Boston Globe. Academic institutions just don't seem to know how to convert military courses and specialized skills into academic credits for those veterans eager to use their G.I. benefits to get into college. It's not the military's fault, although surely they are aware that their highly touted educational benefits may not readily translate in the civilian world. Something can be done about this, and it ought to be.
Many of the young men and women wanting to get into school after military service were just dying to get out of school before they enlisted. All Things Considered reported tonight that the Army is getting ready to announce a new program: a $40,000 recruiting bonus for high school graduates who score in the top 50% of their qualifying tests and who give five years of service.
The Army knows it's having problems enlisting "high quality" recruits. The Army News Service reported that at a Senate Armed Services Comittee meeting last month, Maj. Gen. Thomas Bostick called the recruiting environment "challenging" and said, "Less than three out of 10 of our nation's youth are fully qualified for service in the Army due to disqualifying medical conditions, criminal records, lack of education credentials or low aptitude test scores." he said. A new National Priorities Project report says the Army is at a 25 year low in recruiting high school graduates.
This has all been on my mind the last couple of days-- I'd experienced a convergence of information about the military that I hadn't exactly gone looking for, culminating last night. I was at an Arise for Social Justice meeting at our new digs on State St., and heard the following tale.
A local queer youth organization has a number of members who are interested in enlisting in the military. One guy, Hector, who's in J-ROTC, came to a meeting at the organization with his recruiter! The recruiter was asked to leave by other members, which he did. Later, Hector said, "But he's really cool! He has a brother who's gay, so he knows. He's a good guy, he likes me."
I must say that recruiting at a queer youth organization does seem to bend the credibility of the "Don't ask, don't tell." policy. Mustn't that also mean, Don't look at the posters on the wall and the literature on the table?
I felt bad when I heard how Hector thinks his recruiter is his friend. I remember going through this with my nephew. "It's just a job!" I'd say, when he'd be all aglow after some activity they'd done together. "-- a job that requires persistence and good acting skills". But there's only just so far you can go, because after a while it sounds like you're implying that he, and Hector, and all the others, couldn't possibly be good enough for someone just to like them. That's not a good feeling for anyone to take away with them, and, in the end, it's their lives.
Monday, February 4, 2008
Responding to a John Edwards statement that there are homeless veterans sleeping under bridges, O'Reilly said, "Come on. The only thing sleeping under bridges is [Edwards'] brain ... We're still looking for all the vets under the bridges, so if you find one, let me know." according to the The NY Daily News.
I know this is stating the obvious, but seeing as Fox News describes the O'Reilly Factor as news, shouldn't there be some fact checking, here?