Saturday, June 28, 2008

Who said this?

"When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before."

John D. Rockefeller, one year before prohibition ended in 1933.

Now substitute drugs.

This letter is quoted by David Borden, Executive Director of Stop the Drug War.org. in his editorial, How Long Does an Experiment Need to Continue Before It's Declared a Failure? Check it out.
Thanks for the tip, Cliff Thornton at Efficacy.

Low-Tech/ Design for the other 90%

If you think the only direction technology can go in is bigger and more complicated, these two sites are really worth checking out.

Low-Tech Magazine suggests ways to accomplish our world's tasks with less, rather than more, technology.Check out this article on why Citro├źn cars from the fifties through the eighties are more energy-efficient than the newest models.

Design for the Other 90% describes itself:
Of the world’s total population of 6.5 billion, 5.8 billion people, or 90%, have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted; in fact, nearly half do not have regular access to food, clean water, or shelter. Design for the Other 90% explores a growing movement among designers to design low-cost solutions for this “other 90%.” Through partnerships both local and global, individuals and organizations are finding unique ways to address the basic challenges of survival and progress faced by the world’s poor and marginalized.
Check out this design for a Big Boda Load-Carrying Bicycle-- capable of carrying hundreds of pounds or two additional passengers.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Homeless Cleveland man beaten to death by teens

Only 48 hours ago, down on his luck welder Anthony Waters still had hope-- that he could get out of the shelter, that, instead of working odd jobs at a beverage store, he might get a job in his trade.

But Wednesday evening, three teenagers guessed to be between 14 and 17 beat Mr. Waters so severely that he died at the hospital.

Portions of the attack were caught on surveillance tape and show cars slowing down to watch the attack; none of the drivers interfered. Mr. Waters managed to get himself into the parking lot of a towing company, where he was assisted by employees.
"It was just horrifying the way he looked," said Marlo Massey, Waters' sister, who saw her brother's body after the attack. "They beat him to death and I just can't stop thinking what was on his mind while it was happening." Associated Press.
The attackers have not yet been caught.

Meanwhile, in Tampa, Florida, two more members of the white racist organization Tampa Blood and Honour have been charged with the murders of two homeless men in 1998. The beating deaths were part of an initiation rite. Tampa Bay.

A service question

How did it come to happen that total strangers feel they have permission to call you "Hon?" Gas station attendants, waitresses, nurses, convenience store clerks, receptionists-- so many of them feel comfortable with adding "Hon" to the end of their sentences.

Sometimes I think I'm the only person alive to be consistently taken aback by being called "Hon." Hell, I'm 60 years old and I still call the parents of my peers Mr. and Mrs.! But maybe we are so starved for affection that this (basically meaningless because of overuse) word is OK.

I treated myself to soup and a sandwich out the other day and the waitress was friendly-- maybe a little too much so for my taste. I had to send my soup back because it wasn't very hot and she said to me, "Oh, I wondered, because, you know, I held my hand over it, and I wasn't sure. Sorry, Hon." Too much information!

I'm not a very formal person; when I go into a store to buy something, I usually say hello to the person behind the counter, smile, make some kind of human contact. On the other hand, if there's a customer ahead of me, and the clerk and he are engaged in a lengthy catch-up session about old friends, I do expect the clerk to say, "Excuse me, let me take care of this next person."

I want a certain level of unobtrusiveness from the person waiting on me. Sorry, when I go into a restaurant to have a quiet meal, I'm paying for the experience, so can't I have it my way?

Lest you think I'm just a snob, I've been a clerk and a waitress more than once. But as far as I'm concerned, bringing back the old-fashioned "Ma'am" would be a step in the right direction.

Oh, well.
Waitress drawing. Photo Libcom.org

Thursday, June 26, 2008

You can make this!


Go to Gardens and Crafts for step-by-step instructions.

Three stories: water stories: dead zones, fish kills and toxic lakes

Lest we forget and think that global warming is our only environmental issue, three stories:
  • Life may have been completely wiped out in the Sixmilewater and Ballymartin Rivers in Glengormley, NEWTOWN ABBEY, UK by a discharge of toxic chemicals from an as yet unknown source. More than 300 incidents of fish kill have been reported in the last five years. Someone's not doing good detective work! Newton Abbey Times.
  • If you were a mining company in Canada with lots of toxic tailing to get rid of, and you wanted to get around laws prohibiting destruction of fish habitat, what would you do? How about getting the Canadian government to reclassify 16 pristine lakes as toxic dump sites? The lakes include prime wilderness fishing lakes from B.C. to Newfoundland. In northern B.C., Imperial Metals plans to enclose a remote watershed valley to hold tailings from a gold and copper mine. The valley lies in what the native Tahltan people call the "Sacred Headwaters" of three major salmon rivers. It also serves as spawning grounds for the rainbow trout of Kluela Lake, which is downstream from the dump site. CBC News.
  • Forrest Gump would not fare too well at shrimp fishing in Louisiana this summer. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which covered more than 6,000 sq.mi.last year, this year was expected to equal an area the size of Massachusetts-- some 10,000 sq.mi.However, that estimate was made before the midwest floods washed an incredible amount of fertilizer down the Mississippi. The dead zone is created by agricultural practices hundreds, evebn thousands of miles away. Time magazine.
Photo: Kerry St. Pe

Letting the Buffalo Roam/ Hoppy: The Story of Wolf 253

Earth Justice reports on one of the casualties of the loss of Endangered Species status for gray wolves in the northern Rockies-- Hoppy, or, officially, Wolf 253,

part of the wolf population brought back from the verge of extinction in the Northern Rockies, and one of 1,500 gray wolves that lost federal protections in March when the federal government "delisted" wolves from the Endangered Species Act.

And on March 28, he was shot dead.

Hoppy wasn't just any old wolf. His distinctive gait, walking on three legs, made him one of the more easily recognized wolves in Yellowstone. Among his pack, too, he was unique: he was taller than Wolf 21, his father and the alpha male of the Druid pack that roamed the open fields in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley.

You can read more of his story here.

Defenders of Wildlife is reporting on what's happening to bison who wander out of Yellowstone National Park-- more than 1,300 of them have been killed just this year. That's more than a quarter of the park's population! You can go here to email Montana's Promotion Division to protest this needless slaughter.

Playing Catch-Up

Every now and then I'm reminded that my blog doesn't fit easily into a niche. Most blogs that cover local events are entirely local. Blogs that deal with larger issues like the environment or crime mention local news only when it illustrates a point. But I want to do both, even knowing it may make my blog less interesting to two different groups of readers!

Momentarily, I'm at a local impasse-- lots going on in the background, lots percolating, nothing I want to write about yet.

On the global front, lots I want to share, but the news has gradually built up and I don't have time to tie them together the way I would usually. Still, they're too good not share, so I will.

.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

10 Million Millionaires equals 2.8 billion in poverty

It's an old joke poor people tell ourselves:
Why are people poor?
Because we don't have money! Do away with sociological and psychological reasons for poverty; stop confusing the symptoms with the causes, and in the end, it all boils down to money, which is about distribution of wealth, which is about control of resources.

Merrill Lynch & Co reported yesterday that the world now has 10 million millionaires, with an average wealth of about $4 million. Their wealth grew 9 percent last year, some $41 trillion dollars. Those 10 million make up one fifth of 1 percent of the world population. Meanwhile, some 2.8 billion people live on less than $2 a day.

The super-rich are doing particularly well. Those with incomes of $30 million or more saw their incomes go up by 15% last year. There are about 103,000 of the super-rich.

Very few people in the U.S. earn less than $2 a day, Yet more than 20% of us earn less than $20,000 a year; another 23% of us earn under $40,000. And in this country, almost nothing is free: we pay for housing, food, utilities, water, clothes, medicine; most of us have no land to cultivate, no community well, no cotton to spin into cloth. And half of the country is cold half of the time.

The value of a house has gone down 15% since last year-- bad time to sell if you're a senior, or want to relocate, or can't handle the burden of homeownership anymore and you want to get out.

Heating oil is projected to be $479 for a hundred gallons this winter. That's my take-home pay for a week! I hear the utility companies are at their wits' end, paying nearly the same high coal and oil prices as we do. But pity the poor consumer-- we'll pay that price at least twice.

It's dangerous for people to go without utilities. Fires get started by candles and space heaters. People get hypothermia. Landlords can evict you, child protection services can take your children. All of that will happen more this year.

I worry that the margin for disaster seems so large for so many. We can be creative, we can be act collectively,
but not everybody is going to make it though this winter.

WFCR covers AWAKE's outreach efforts

WFCR has been following efforts to deal with Springfield's gang problem. Yesterday reporter Karen Brown focused on the Springfield Police Department; this morning AWAKE was profiled in their work to intervene before gang violence takes place.

The story gave a good picture of how outreach workers approach young people and ask them, among other things, if they'd like to apply for a summer job. (They have applications with them.) They encourage young people to stay away from gangs, stay in school, and improve their grades. Because the outreach workers are not coming from a punitive or "Holier than thou" position, but more a "Been there, done that (and wish I hadn't)" place, they are able to develop a rapport with kids where others may fail.

I must say, in spite of my wariness of Executive Director Chelan Brown's campaign for state rep, that this is exactly the kind of violence prevention work that is likely to succeed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Homeless win $2.3 million settlement

The 13th Juror has been tracking the progress of a Fresno, CA lawsuit in which homeless people charged that their rights were violated when the city destroyed their belongings in a series of raisd on encampments. The archives tell the whole amazing story.

Graphic: Memorial poster for Pam Kincaid, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit who died last August under suspicious circumstances. Central Valley Indymedia has an article about her life and death here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Set up at the Control Board


Angry and disgusted. Furious and cynical. Bitter and determined. Not surprised and yet somehow still blown away at the machinations of city government.

I went to the Springfield Finance Control Board meeting this morning to show support for the Open Pantry in its current struggle to feed the poor people of this city, along with Behzad, Ellen, Liz and Doug with Arise.. The Open Pantry was there to ask for some short-term financial help from the city I saw Bill Miller, Director of Friends of the Homeless, Paul Bailey, Director of Springfield Partners for Community Action and Gerry McCafferty, deputy director of Springfield's Homeless and Special Needs Housing across the room.

Chairman Chris Gabrieli phoned in to say he was stuck on the turnpike in a rainstorm, so the meeting, which was supposed to start at 10:30, didn't get going until after 11 am. By then I was close to having to leave for another meeting, so OP Director Kevin Noonan gave his spot to me and he took my spot later on. Finally the public speak-out began.

Most of the people who eat at Loaves and Fishes and get food from the Food Pantry are not homeless, I said in part of my three minutes, just too poor to avoid hunger on their own-- nothing very profound, just the truth-- and that we as a society are judged by how we provide for those who have the least. Then Liz and I had to leave, though I wanted to stay.

As I was pulling out on the parking garage onto Columbus Ave. to the first red light., Bill Miller pulled up beside me in his car.

"Did Chris Gabrieli ever show up?" he said. So I knew he had left even before the speak-out.

"Yeah, he got there," I said. "Says he'll have to start staying overnight in Springfield." Then the light changed.

My sister gave me a look.

"Somehow, in spite of everything, I've managed to keep a civil relationship with Bill Miller," I said.

The rest of this story I've reconstructed from people who stayed at the Control Board meeting,

Kevin presented to the Control Board (in the speak-out, even though he'd asked to be on the agenda) about who the Open Pantry serves and what kind of help the agency needs to keep going.

Then James Morton called on Gerry McCafferty, who said that if the Open Pantry was no longer able to serve, that other agencies would step up and provide the services. She said that Friends of the Homeless serves 300 people on Sunday (?) and would be able to handle the Soup Kitchen. She said that Springfield Partners for Community Action would be able to take over the Food Pantry. (SPCA currently rents space to the Open Pantry for the Pantry) and Paul Bailey confirmed that. then she said that of course, if FOH and SPCA were to do so, they would need to get money. Gabrieli agreed and said the city would have to put out a Request for Proposals.

So let me get this straight: They won't give the money to the Open Pantry but they will give the money to FOH and SPCA to provide the same service.

If this doesn't completely indicate the malice of the city toward the Open Pantry, I don't know what does. And agencies, which once upon a time stood in solidarity with each other, stab each other in the back.

Of course the city would be more than thrilled to have the Soup Kitchen out of Christ Church Cathedral and as hidden away as possible. (Carol Costa, who lives at the Classical Condos right across the street from the Cathedral, was also there, chatting away with Gerry McCafferty.)

FOH's eating space is quite small and its kitchen underequipped. Will people eat in shifts? Will a queue stretch down the stairs and into the parking lot? Will the people who eat there have enough time to chat with each other, or be rushed right along? How many people won't be able to get there at all, given that FOH is less central? And, let's face it, will families with children be comfortable going to a setting dominated by homeless adult males?

I see James Morton quoted on Channel 3 tonight saying the city can't give the money to the Open Pantry, because of an "Anti-AID" amendment that supposedly prohibits the city from giving money to non-profit agencies. How will the city then get the money to whichever agencies apply to the Request for Proposals? Is there not even one non-profit which has received city money in the past? I doubt it.

I won't write more now. There's a lot to think about.

100,000 marine mammals, 1 million seabirds die

Maybe if 100,000 marine mammals ans 1 million seabirds all died on the same day every year, in a very visible way, we would start taking plastics pollution of our oceans seriously. Instead, this is the yearly toll that plastics pollution causes, and most of us don't see it. That makes it easy to ignore, easy not to take actions that would make a difference.

The NY Times has an article on efforts to clean up plastics pollution on the shores of Gore Point, Alaska. I wrote about plastic in our oceans here and here in February and April. Stop and Shop is certainly promoting re-usable bags in its grocery stores, but so far has not yet discontinued plastics. Hope they do it soon.

Last month Gov. Patrick signed the nation's first comprehensive Ocean Planning legislation.
The legislation, sponsored by Senate President Therese Murray, Senator Robert O'Leary and Senator Bruce Tarr, ends decades of ad hoc decision making by placing oversight, coordination, and planning authority of the state's ocean resources with the Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. That authority will be exercised through an ocean management plan and advised by a broad-based, 17-member ocean management commission, including state agency representatives, state legislators, municipal officials, and environmental, fishing, and marine industry stakeholders. Most importantly, the legislation provides for a balanced and coordinated plan for growth. More at the Mass Ocean Campaign.
On Saturday, September 20, the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup will take place. Last year, 378,000 volunteers from 76 countries and 45 states cleared six million pounds of trash from oceans and waterways and recorded every piece of trash collected. Besides better managing your own use of plastic, you can take part in this clean-up, and learn more about what we can do, by signing up here. You can send a great e-card, too. Take action!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

How much oil and gas money do Kennedy, Kerry and Neal take?

True Majority has an interesting breakdown of how much oil and gas money our senators and representatives in Washington accept and how it affects their voting record. From Massachusetts:

Senator John Kerry (D-MA)

Accepted $31,180 from the oil and gas industry since 2000.
Supported the industry in 22% of selected votes.

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA)

Accepted $52,350 from the oil and gas industry since 2000.
Supported the industry in 22% of selected votes.

Representative Richard Neal (D-MA02)

Accepted $12,250 from the oil and gas industry since 2000.
Supported the industry in 9% of selected votes.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Control Board Monday: Save Open Pantry/Loaves & Fishes

I heard from Kevin Noonan, Director of Open Pantry Community Services, yesterday. I knew the funding situation for two of the OPCS most important programs, the Food Pantry and the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen, had not improved. Money was not allocated by the House of Representatives and although it's technically still possible, the odds are very much against it. I wrote some about what a catastrophe for Springfield's poor that loss or reduction of these programs would be this last April. Nothing has improved since then.

Kevin has been trying for a month to follow up with a presentation to the Springfield Finance Control Board and thought he had succeeded for this Monday but it turns out that that presentation must be made at the public speak-out-- three minutes only, thank you.

If you care about the well-being of poor people in Springfield, please come to Monday's Control Board meeting at 10:30 at City Hall. Let the Control Board know how important it is to maintain these services.

I know things are getting worse for almost everybody but when you get right down to the basics-- being able to eat, keep a roof over your head, and keep your place heated and lighted-- many poor people are already going without. One hundred gallons of heating oil is almost $450. Food prices are still going up, and the cost of rental housing certainly isn't going down. I wrote this before, but think again: last year more than 27,000 people-- in a city of less than 150,000!-- came to the Open Pantry Food Pantry for help. People ate a meal at the Loaves & Fishes Soup Kitchen more than 100,000 times.

I'd hate to think we'll need to rely on Food Not Bombs to feed our city's hungry.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Are children to be seen and heard? or just controlled?

Can you imagine a culture in which children freely participate in the social, cultural, political and economic life of the community? Where children are recognized as an asset with inherent rights and responsibilities?

That's the way it used to be in much of Africa and that's the balance that Sunday's Day of the African Child wants to restore. Under the banner: "Child Participation: Children to be seen and heard," governments, NGOs and community groups are talking about how to provide children with a platform to express and achieve what they need. AllAfrica has a good article on some of the challenges facing one country, Uganda.

The Day of the African Child is held every year on June 16, to commemorate the massacre of schoolchildren in Soweto, South Africa in 1976. Youth held a massive demonstration that day to protest being schooled by Afrikaans. Their murders helped fuel the anti-apartheid movement and were an extreme example of how children are penalized for their powerlessness. But it's not hard to find everyday examples of how little power children have over their lives. From children's inability to avoid famine, rape and murder in times of war to the more common and pervasive lack of control over their education and their environment, children are possibly the most oppressed group in the world.

There is another way. Educator John Holt's book "Escape from Childhood" was published almost thirty-five years ago. In it, Holt says,
Young people should have the right to control and direct their own learning, that is, to decide what they want to learn, and when, where, how, how much, how fast, and with what help they want to learn it. To be still more specific, I want them to have the right to decide if, when, how much, and by whom they want to be taught and the right to decide whether they want to learn in a school and if so which one and for how much of the time.......As adults, we assume that we have the right to decide what does or does not interest us, what we will look into and what we will leave alone. We take this right largely for granted, cannot imagine that it might be taken away from us. Indeed, as far as I know, it has never been written into any body of law. even the writers of our Constitution did not mention it. They thought it was enough to guarantee citizens the freedom of speech and the freedom to spread their ideas as widely as they wished and could. it did not occur to them that even the most tyrannical government would try to control people's minds, what they thought and knew. That idea would come later, under the benevolent guise of compulsory universal education. John Holt and Growing Without Schooling.
Here in the U.S., in spite of dismal school drop-out rates and achievement scores, we continue to move toward a more controlling and punitive educational system. Mandatory testing and ever stricter expulsion policies are only part of the story.
  • Students are suspended for sharing Tylenol or medicated lip gloss with each other as part of a zero tolerance drug policy.
  • A five year old girl having a temper tantrum in a Florida kindergarten class is handcuffed by three police officers and then driven to her mother in the back of a police car. Video here at BBC.
  • "A uniformed police officer went to 20 classrooms El Camino High School in California on Monday and announced to students that several of their classmates had been killed over the weekend in alcohol-related car accidents. He was lying, and he and the school continued to lie about it for two hours to the grief-stricken students. Why? To teach the kids an important lesson about drunk driving. I imagine the students learned another lesson-- that cops and authority figures are liars." BoingBoing.
Most adults find it difficult to imagine that children would act responsibly if they were in charge of making their own decisions-- after all, they aren't given many opportunities to gain experience. We say, "Children are our future" without really thinking it through. But if children create the future in which we will live, the sooner we start letting them hone their skills, the better.
Photos: Maria Montessori, Survival

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rep. Ben Swan's campaign kicks off/ Mayor should hide his head

My sister and I went down to the Keg Room late Thursday afternoon to go to Ben's first fundraiser of the season. I'd call it a successful event-- maybe a hundred people, a minimum of speeches, and enough food to keep people happy.

I ran into Juan Gerena, director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, and we chatted for a while. I told him I thought it was a good move to cancel the Puerto Rican Festival this year. He said that if people didn't behave at this year's Puerto Rican parade, it would be the last year for the parade, also.

"We've got too much other important business to spend our time and energy on a festival right now," he said.

Juan asked how come I wasn't at Springfield's legislatively-sponsored hearing about Gov. Patrick's proposed bill for Springfield. (I was in Boston all day for my job.) The bill, which will take the form of a binding referendum on November 4th's election ballot, proposes an extension of our $52 million loan from the state to twelve years from our current five. Unfortunately, that proposal comes with three conditions, which come as close to blackmail as anything I can think of: a raise for the mayor, the establishment of a new position, a Chief Financial Officer, AND an extension of the mayor's term of office from two years to four years. I imagine most of the citizens of this city feels the same sense of disgust at this proposal that I do. Nobody likes being strong-armed.

(Another bizarre aspect of the governor's proposal, that only a few people recognize, is how very different the voter approval path for this referendum is than the one we ward rep advocates had to take. Among other things, this question is going on the ballot in an even numbered year that is usually reserved only for state and federal elections. Juan said Rep. Cheryl Rivera brought this up at the budget hearing.))

I've said I wasn't opposed to the idea of four year terms for mayor in general, but Juan pointed out something that has made me change my mind. Think, he said, of the size of the war chest a four year mayor could build up over that time period-- it would make him pretty damn unbeatable. Oops! Hadn't thought of that one. He's right.

No one seems to be very clear yet on whether this four year term measure, if passed, would automatically extend the current Mayor Sarno's term from two to four years. If it does, I'd say that's the kiss of death for the Governor's proposal.

About an hour into Ben's fundraiser, Domenic Sarno stopped in. He said a few kind words about Ben and then said he was off to a School Committee meeting. I could hardly even look at the guy. Rarely have I seen a new administration get off to such a bumbling and heavy-handed start. The trash fee, of course, is a prime though not sole example. If Sarno had brought the community in on decision-making about the trash fee, he could have won our support. Of course, a lot of people who voted for Sarno did so thinking that they were involved in making a decision about the trash fee, and that decision was to eliminate it.

Liz and I left after about an hour, my tolerance for political people in a bar having come to an end.

I will work on Ben's campaign; just give me a stack of flyers to distribute and I'll go door to door.I'd rather be a foot soldier than a general when it comes to getting a candidate elected-- even one I like.

Meanwhile, the Sarno saga has only just begun.

Vote for Nobody


Really, I'm the perpetual optimist, but this was too good not to share. Found at Tinypic.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

For Rickie


Coming home from work I wonder
if you will be in the yard.
You always knew when I was coming,
Did you know that you were going?

At home, I step over you
when you're not there.
The doorbell rings and
I almost say, Be quiet.
At bedtime, I wait to see
if you will come in my room
or stay in your cool corner
but you do neither.

(The doctor laid a blanket
on the floor
I lay beside you
my arm around you
until you were no more.)

In my sleep, I see you running,
a black and white blur
against the summer ground,
smiling, running toward me,
almost there.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Progressive Democrats: is their rudeness inevitable? (or is it just when I'm around?)

Last Friday I went to a very nice event at the Northampton Senior Center which was a fundraiser for the Franklin/Hampshire Health Care Coalition. Charlie King and Karen Brandow were performing, and I always enjoy hearing them, but the real reason I went is that Single Payer Health Care activist George Markham was being honored for his life-long commitment to the movement. George and his wife Arky are in their 90's now, and they are two people I admire very much. I'd love to think I can keep going for that long!

Charlie and Karen performed for a bit and then Diana Stein from the Amherst League of Women Voters took the microphone and began speaking about George in preparation for giving him a a citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

At that very moment, two people came in with flyers and, starting from the rear rows, began handing out the flyers for people to pass down the line. It was incredibly distracting and I said to the person at the end of my line, "Grab that guy! Tell him to hold on!" But somebody else got to them first and made them sit down until the presentation was over.

I was thinking one of the guys looked familiar, and then it hit me: Tim Carpenter, Director of Progressive Democrats of America! Arise had a horrendous experience with PDA several years ago when we were supposedly "co-sponsors" of an anti-war event that they totally hijacked. Their organizer at the time, whose name mercifully escapes me now, had botched communication with the local groups involved, and we'd actually met with Tim to try to get through to the bottom of it. Then came the event, which was pretty much as self-promoting as you might think. At the end, we gladly put the whole PDA experience out of our minds.

And now they were back, acting with total obliviousness, interfering with what should have been entirely George's moment.

I went to the PDA website later that night. They look professional and progressive. But I have to wonder: how many other groups have had to be subjected to their insensitivity?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Will we decriminalize marijuana in Massachusetts?


This November, Massachusetts voters will have a chance to vote on a proposal to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, turning it instead into a civil offense punishable by a fine.

If our state mirrors the national average, then probably a third of Massachusetts residents have smoked marijuana. Nationally, 97 million Americans admit to have tried it. I myself have smoked with a number of people whose names would be well-known in the region. Of course, this was in the late 70's and early 80's, before the War on Drugs had reached the extreme proportions that it has now.

The number of people who are being incarcerated for drug offenses in this country continues to rise. 43.9 percent of the nearly two million arrests for drug abuse violations in 2006 were for marijuana offenses. Of these, 738,916 people were arrested for possession alone.

Besides the impact of incarceration on those incarcerated, the War on Drugs costs an astounding amount of money and is responsible for many deaths. In 1999, the combined local, state and federal expenditures to fight this War on Drugs exceeded $30 billion. The U.S. is getting ready to send at least $350 billion to Mexico to help its Drug War efforts.

And look how well it's working!

People may agree or disagree on the harm marijuana does, yet I can't imagine anyone making a sensible case for marijuana's doing more harm than two legal substances, alcohol and tobacco. Florida, in fact, just did a study on the lethality of legal prescription drugs compared to illegal drugs (alcohol and tobacco not included) that showed that deaths caused by misuse of legally prescribed drugs was three times as great as deaths from illegal drugs. By the way, the study could find no deaths linked to marijuana use.

If the Massachusetts ballot initiative is passed, the state will save about $30 million next year-- the current cost of low-level marijuana possession arrests and proseecution. It will also:
  • Amend the current criminal statutes so that adults possessing an ounce or less of marijuana for personal use would be charged with a civil infraction and fined.
  • Remove the threat of a CORI report for minor marijuana possession charges.
  • Maintain current penalties for selling, growing, and trafficking marijuana, as well as the prohibition against driving under the influence of marijuana. Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy.
I hope there will be forums and opportunities to talk about this referendum proposal as we head toward fall elections. If, for some reason, you're unsure about the wisdom of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, please take the time to educate yourself. But I already know how I'm voting. In both human and financial costs, we just can't afford to go on the way we're going.

Friday the 13th

I suppose I shallowly hold a fair number of superstitions-- as a child, were the leprechauns responsible for the knots in your hair overnight?-- but Friday the 13th has never been one of them.

This Friday the 13th, however:
  • I had a fight with a person who has some authority over me
  • The mouse port on my computer died
  • I took out my own stitches from a minor operation and wound up with a rapidly growing infection on my elbow
  • And, most significantly, I had my dog at the vets in the afternoon and then, at midnight, drove him to the emergency animal hospital in Deerfield to have two litres of fluid drained from his abdomen-- all of which was just to make him comfortable one more time because on Monday, I will have to have him put to sleep.

Yesterday was a fog of sorrow and illness. Today is a grey day but I feel more like myself. My poor dog made it downstairs and lies under a bush to keep cool and doesn't feel like coming in right now. I will clean my house, water my plants, get organized a bit for the workweek ahead and do some writing. Normalcy returns except for the pain in my heart.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Picture the Homeless to put Mayor Bloomberg on trial

Got an email today from Picture the Homeless, a New York organization by and for homeless people. They've been extremely frustrated with Mayor Bloomberg's tactics in implementing his Five Year Plan to End Homelessness.

Four years of the mayor's five year plan have passed. The chart above is from the city's own records: black being the projected figures and red the actual figures.

Picture the Homeless believes Mayor Bloomberg has not been accountable to the homeless community; therefore, they plan to put him on trial before a jury of his homeless peers. The trial will be held Tuesday, June 24, at St. Bartholomew's Church, Park Avenue at 51st St., in the Chapel from 1 to 3:30.

At 3:30, a march to deliver the sentence will begin.

If you're in or near New York, go and support Picture the Homeless.


mmm

Sen. Downing's Anti-School Bus Idling bill moves forward

Earlier this week I was riding to work with my windows open-- heat wave!--and felt nearly asphyxiated by the non-stop white smoke billowing from First Student school bus number MB28. For what it's worth, I called First Student and told them to check out their bus. Being as it's close to the end of the school year, I doubt they will.

Today I checked in With Sen. Downing's Pittsfield office today to see how his Anti-Idling legislation was doing. The bill, which passed the Senate, is now in House Ways and Means.

For Western and Central Mass. residents, we have a few representatives on the committee. In Webster, you can call Rep. Kujawski at you can call 617-722-2017 or Rep.PaulKujawski@hou.state.ma.us; in Clinton, Rep. Naughton at 978-365-1955 or Rep.HaroldNaughton@hou.state.ma.us; in Spencer, Rep. Gobi at 617-722-2210 or Rep.AnneGobi@hou.state.ma.us, in Pittfield, Rep. Speranzo at 413-447-7225 or Rep.ChristopherSperanzo@Hou.State.MA.US.

(Hey, how come out of 31 members on House Ways and Means, we don't have ONE representative from Hampden, Hampshire or Franklin County???)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Could you live in a shepherd's hut?



Do you know the small house movement? Plankridge takes commissions to build them.

Eagle gets artificial beak


There's a nice story over at National Geographic about an eagle named Beauty who got an artificial beak not only to improve her appearance but so that she can eat on her own and not have to be hand-fed. Check it out.

The cupboard is bare: one half a loaf for each of us

Worldwide grain production is up 4% from last year, some 2.3 billion tons worldwide, but, it won't be enough to build up countries' grain reserves, already at their lowest point in 30 years.
According to World Watch Institute, "Despite the record harvest, low stocks and strong demand combined to push prices of all cereals to new highs.At harvest time, U.S. corn export price was up about 70% from the previous year, while the American hard wheat5 price averaged 65$ more than a year earlier." The same is true in grain- producing countries around the globe.

Here at home, if you think that a significant portion of those amber waves of grain are in the stocks of the U.S. grain reserves, well, that's not exactly correct. Right now the U.S. has about 27 billion bushels of wheat in reserve. But we are about to sell more than eleven-twelths of that reserve, leaving the U.S. with only 2.7 million bushels. That's half a loaf for every person living in the U.S.

"Our concern is not that we are using the remainder of our strategic grain reserves for humanitarian relief," Larry Matlack, President of the American Agricultural Movement said last week. "AAM fully supports the action and all humanitarian aid relief. Our concern is that the U.S. has nothing else in our emergency food pantry. There is no cheese, no butter, no dried milk powder, no grains or anything else left in reserve." FourWinds10.

Funny how many different ways wealth can be defined. When my younger daughter's father and I lived in Maine, we had four 55 gallon tin barrels lined with plastic and filled with rice, wheat and buckwheat. I used to thrust my arms up to the elbow in a barrel and feel incredibly wealthy.

Corn now sells for over $5 a bushel, up from under $2 in 2006. That means that any food product that uses corn as an ingredient will continue to climb in price, especially now that 20% of the Midwest's corn crop has been damaged by flooding. If you want to save money on food, avoid those that use corn. Make your own granola. And learn to love a variety of grains.

Gay scientists isolate Christian gene

It was only a matter of time. Maybe it will end the debate about how they can change if they really want to. You can check out the video at Glumbert.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What one degree of temperature can do


For a long time I was convinced that the heaping snows of my childhood only seemed so big because I was so small. If you grew up in New England and you're over 50 you've probably had the same feeling. It's not that we can't have heavy storms-- last winter broke snowfall records for Northern New England-- simply that winter storms are less frequent and less potent.

One degree warmer or cooler doesn't seem like much. We've been sweltering in temperatures in the high 90's for several days; the difference between 97 and 98 degrees isn't noticeable. Yet a drop of less than one degree Fahrenheit in 1400 brought a "Little Ice Age." Glaciers in the Swiss Alps crushed whole villages; Iceland could no longer grow grain and people could walk from Staten Island to Manhattan because the New York Harbor froze over.

Of course cooler is not exactly where we're headed. It's warmer now than any time in 10,000 years, and we're within one degree Celsius of being the warmest in a million years. New Scientist. One degree warmer means four times as many forest fires, according to Tom Boatner, chief of fire operations for the federal government.. One degree warmer will cause an extra 20,000 deaths by pollution. One degree warmer will turn semi-dry parts of the Southwest into desert.

Five years ago, global warming skeptics rejected the idea that the planet was warming. They can't do that now, so they reject the idea that global warming is not natural. But what does it matter? Carbon dioxide levels haven't been this high for more than half a million years, long before anything resembling a human walked the earth. Surely even the skeptics agree that the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer it will become.

It's why everything we do matters. We have a lot of bad habits to break; we've been trained to consume and to look the other way so we don't see the price we are paying. We need to start acting in our own interest and I believe we can do it, but let's do it now before snowy winters are just a memory.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The most important rule in community organizing

I've just come from a meeting at my organization, Arise for Social Justice. It was not a regular meeting. We'd asked a guy who has been an ally of Arise for many years to come and talk with us about some recent happenings that had left us wondering about where he stands toward us. The outcome was neither as good as we'd hoped for nor as bad as we'd feared, but at least we know, and can proceed from there.

At the root of the issue we talked about tonight is, I believe, institutional power. Arise is a low-income rights organization, founded by women on welfare more than 20 years ago because we believed then-- and believe now-- that we have a right to speak for ourselves about the issues that affect us. And, of course, we want to change the things that make us poor in the first place.

Many times I/we have thought about just what it is we've accomplished since we've been around. I know that there are thousands of individual people who are better off for having connected with Arise. I know there are many poor people who have been able to up their analysis a few notches after having been with us. But institutional change? Institutional change, as compared with winning an occasional traffic light or getting a vacant lot cleaned up, is the hardest job of all.

Someone asked me not long ago if it was easier or harder to make change now than 20 years ago. Harder! Back in 1985, we mostly had to make government and its myriad agencies accountable. Now, in 2008, the major decisions in this country are made by the unelected, the corporations, the power behind the throne.

I still remember when, in the early 90's, my friend Jean Grossholtz said to me, "There's something going on that you've got to know about if you want to make any sense at all about what's happening: structural adjustment and its tools: deregulation, privatization and globalization,." And my! What the last 15 years have wrought!

One clear-cut example of institutional change that Arise has been able to accomplish is moving Springfield, MA's city council and the school committee from an all at-large system to one where each of our wards will have an elected representative as well as at-large seat. The first elections under the new system take place next November. It took 13 years! I really think that one reason we were able to win is that nearly every citizen of Springfield had a self-interest in the outcome. Of course, at first the only people who knew they were being denied their voting rights were people of color and poor people. If we didn't frame it that way directly, we sure knew we had limited access to power. Eventually, after our trying every trick in the book (referendum, persuasion, a federal lawsuit) 74.2% of the voters felt the same way.

A victory-- but we didn't fight for ward representation so that any of us individually could run for elected office. We did it because it was the right thing to do. But just one thing feels off for me: it was not directly a victory for poor people. Yes, I know, if ward representation works well, then poorer wards will have a voice. It's just not enough.

Now that the campaign for ward representation is done, the community partners we worked with and who are more likely to directly benefit from better democracy (because they know how to use it) are fading into the background. I know we can call on them if we really need to and if the issue fits them them, but once again we can feel the gulf that separates those with instututional power and those without. In a weird way, it feels good. We turn once again to our own struggles against poverty and injustice, which are so deeply linked to the struggles of others even when they don't know it. But that's part of our work, too, to make those connections.

So the most important rule in community organizing? Don't stop. Don't stop, be true to yourself, accept your failures and successes, but above all, don't stop.

Seattle homeless, advocates camp out in protest

OK, it's bad enough that since April, when Mayor Nichols signed the order, homeless encampments can be broken up with 72 hours' notice. Homeless people are offered "help" and their belongings are stored for 60 days. BUT if you are kicked out of one camp and move to another, no 72 hour grace period for you, and this time your belongings go in the trash.

That's just one of the reasons why 150 homeless people and their allies camped out at the City Hall Plaza last night. Seattle may have 1,000 beds for homeless single people, but another 100-300 homeless people are camped out in the city and its surroundings. The Mayor says he plans to provide another 20 beds-- better than nothing, but far from enough.

Last night, Women in Black read the names of 283 homeless people who have died outside since 2000.

This morning, fifteen people were arrested for pitching a tent in the middle of Cherry St., demanding an end to business as usual.

You can go to Real Change, a community newspaper which also played a big role in organizing the camp-out, and check out what's happening in Seattle.

From an email I received this morning from Real Change:

Right now, dedicated supporters are flooding the mayor's office with calls, urging him to halt all non-emergency sweeps, and open real negotiations with Seattle/King County Coalition for the Homeless to fix his immoral and woefully inadequate policy. It's vital that the mayor yield to public pressure, stop punishing people for surviving outside, and work to create a policy that involves the people affected and provides for real accountability.

Please call the mayor at 206-684-4000. Tell him to halt all non-emergency sweeps immediately, and tell him to negotiate with Seattle/King County Coalition for the Homeless for a policy that really protects the rights of those on the streets. Add your voice to the community's, and stop the sweeps!

Thank you for your support! And a huge thank-you to Women in Black, the Interfaith Task Force On Homelessness, Operation Sack Lunch, Food Not Bombs, Heroes for the Homeless, and everyone else who provided food, blankets, and moral support last night and this morning!

Photo from Gurldoggie.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wildflower extract can kill MRSA

Natural News is reporting that extracts of two wildflower, the Pasque flower and elecampane, eliminated 100% of MRSA-- Multidrug Resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria-- on contact.

From its first reported case in 1961, MRSA is believed to now kill more people in the U.S. than AIDS. There were almost 300,000 cases reported in the U.S. in 2005.

The research was carried out at Cork University Hospital.

This is why I say there's hope for the world; for every problem there's an answer. We just have to find the will to force our government to the people first and the corporations second.

75,000 young salmon die in highway accident

75,000 young salmon being trucked from the Colman National Fish Hatchery in California to acclimation pens in San Pablo Bay died on May 19 on route when the oxygen pumps in their tanks failed to deliver enough oxygen. The salmon transport is part of an effort to get fish past the killer water export pumps and predators and into pens operated by the Fishery Foundation of California rather than directly into the bay, where their initial disorientation makes them prey to predators. Some 100,000 other young salmon were delivered safely. Counterpunch.

California salmon levels are so low that the salmon season has been closed, bring economic disaster to the commercial fishing industry and fishing communities. The Farm Bill will pump $170 million into the communities in the form of economic disaster funding.

Just as bees are struggling with Colony Collapse Disorder, so salmon are facing a collapse. The difference with salmon is that many of the causes are known. Besides the difficulties of salmon negotiating the dams and water pumps that dominate every route salmon take to the sea, salmon and trout depend on cold water to breed and travel. The National Resources Defense Council says trout and salmon could lose up to 17% of their habitat by 2030.

Don't think that farmed salmon can in any way make up for the loss of habitat. Fish farms in Chile are being plagued with a virus called Infectious Salmon Anemia, killing millions of salmon. Farmed and Dangerous, a U.S.-based environmental organization, provides a list of why anyone should think twice about eating farmed salmon: fish lice, high levels of dangerous chemicals, and real risks to the wild salmon population, as well as other animals.

The Bush Administration, apparently, is encouraging preserving wild salmon by attacking their natural predators. Ted Williams at High Country Times writes about the ridiculousness of this approach. Farmed and Dangerous reports:
Salmon farmers are granted licenses to kill predators such as sea lions and seals to stop them eating their fish. In the spring of 2001 a mass grave containing at least 15 sea lions killed by a farm operator was discovered in Clayoquot Sound. Since then, more pits of dead sea lions have been found in the same area. BC salmon farmers reported having killed at least 5000 seals and sea lions in the last decade. The real figure could be much higher as some kills according to fish farm employees go unreported.
If you enjoy salmon, I'd suggest eating wild salmon only.

Graphic from The Why Files: Farmed Atlantic salmon (red), especially from Europe, showed the highest contamination of flame retardant. Five species of Pacific salmon (green) had much lower levels. Data Courtesy Ronald Hites, University of Indiana.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Project Homeless Connect

In the cookie-cutter model of the ten year plans to end chronic homelessness across the county, yesterday Springfield held a Project Connect event for homeless and poor people.

By all accounts, it was a very successful event. In one place, people were able to accomplish what it otherwise takes an incredible amount of energy to accomplish: getting birth certificates and Mass. I.D., health screenings, and social security applications. Nineteen people found housing.

My sister did voter registration at the event yesterday. She said it was announced that the event cost $1,000,000.

Not to take away from any accomplishments yesterday, but here's how a poor person might think about this;

Say the average rent for an efficiency apartment is $500. $1,000,000 divided by $500 is 2,000 months of rent. 2,000 divided by 12 months is 167. In other words, 167 homeless people could have been provided housing for a year. That happens to be about the number of single homeless people in Springfield.

So how is it again that we are going to end homelessness in Springfield?

Friday, June 6, 2008

LA's Homeless Blog has a new look

Joel John Robert's LA Homeless Blog is always full of good information, but with its new look has seemed to come a loosening of provider mentality and a tightening of anger at the ridiculousness of homelessness in the world's wealthiest country. His recent stories include a post about multimillionaire Ed McMahon's brush with foreclosure compared to the hundreds of thousands already homeless, the destruction of one squatter community in Seattle and the growth of another squatter community in Reno, Nevada. Check it out.

Remember Kitty Genovese? Some Hartford citizens should.

I was 17 years old in 1964 when Queens, New York resident Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death. Her killer stabbed her twice and then came back half an hour later to finish the job. She was nearly home when it happened, and portions of the attack were witnessed by at least a dozen people, who did not intervene. One man called out, "Leave her alone!" Another man called the police. The rest did nothing.

The public's reaction to the neighbors' apathy that night of the murder was both horrified and introspective. There was much discussion of the Bystander Effect, a psychological phenomen in which a person is less likely to interfere in an emergency if there are other people standing by who could also help but don't. Yet the same person, if alone, might help.

Is that what happened in Hartford, CT last Friday, when a 78 year old man was the victim of a hit and run and no one came to his rescue? The whole sorry incident was caught on video and if you want to know how long 50 seconds is-- that's how long it took for someone even to step into the street although that person still did not approach Mr. Torres, or take any particular role in trying to stop the cars headed straight toward Mr. Torres.

This hit and run came on top of another sad story earlier this week on Monday when former Deputy Mayor Nicholas Carbone was robbed and beaten so severely that he remains hospitalized in fair condition. Mr. Torres is in critical condition.

The Hartford Courant is covering the soul-searching the city is experiencing right now about the level of violence in Hartford, which is not unlike what Springfield MA has been going through since the death of Mario Hornsby Jr. Digging to the roots of violence is hard work andI can only wish all of us well

Baby starlings love Cheez-its

I hadn't heard the two baby starlings cheeping from their nest in over a week, but didn't necessarily think that boded badly: not to be gross, but no flies hovered near the nest, no parents flew around looking a bit lost (though that's probably just projection on my part).

Earlier this week I threw some cheez-its out in the parking lot-- is that bad of me?-- and the next thing I knew, there were six adult starlings and six babies! I could tell the babies because they were smaller, though not by much, and still brown and not yet the iridescent black of their parents. One silly baby would peck a few crumbs herself and then wait for a parent to feed her more! Glad they're OK for the time being.
Photo: Wolfpix at Flickr

Bush is only funny if you like your humor black

I can hear arguing from the offices down the hall where I work. Can't quite make out what they're saying until I hear one woman's voice, suddenly louder and filled with frustration.

"Well, I'm gonna vote for whoever the hell can undo the mess Bush has made!"

Then I realize she must be talking to the office manager of the union headquarters down the hall. The office manager, a sweet and kindhearted woman, is so disappointed that Hilary Clinton didn't get the Democratic nomination for president that she's planning to vote for John McCain.

I've talked to her about this myself, even saying, "Is that what you think Hilary would want you to do?"

"I don't care," she said, "it's just not right, it's just not fair she didn't win. They stole the nomination from her."

So what I feel like doing, if McCain wins, is throwing it in her face every time that:
  • A soldier is killed in Iraq or Afghanistan
  • A storm linked to global warming devastates our coast (or any other country's)
  • Unemployment goes up
Well, I won't go on. And I probably wouldn't do it; she's a nice lady. Just completely crazy.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Homeless man wins right to land in london

The 13th Juror tipped me off to a story about a squatter in London who won rights to a piece of land where he'd lived for more than 20 years.

70 year old Harry Hallowes, originally from Ireland, was broke and "sleeping rough," as they say in the UK, when he settled on Hampstead Heath. The Land Registry awarded him the land after Mr. Hallowes proved he had lived in his 12' by 8' shack for more than 12 years. (How could they resist the alliteration?) The land is valued at two million pounds.

How to have free green onions forever

Looking to save money? My Byrd House has a simple tutorial about using the ends of onions to create all the green onions you want. Check it out.
Photo by Vigilant20 at Flickr.

Is Chelan Brown unfair to the Swan family?

Who tampered with Chelan Brown's campaign for state representative website?

She certainly doesn't seem in any hurry to find out, or to share anything she knows with the rest of us.

Her website was barely up a week from last Sunday when on MassLive posters identified huge chunks of the website actually came from the websites of other candidates for state rep around the country.

Earlier this week, Rev. Talbert Swan, incumbent State Rep. Ben Swan's nephew, called upon Chelan to investigate the tampering of her website, which she has said she does not intend to do. Meanwhile, anonymous posters on MassLive who are clearly supporters of Chelan's candidacy, have accused various members of Ben Swan's family of the tampering.

I think Chelan owes it to the Swan family to investigate this alleged tampering so blame may fall on right person or persons.

Four year mayoral term? PLEASE don't make it retroactive.

Gov. Patrick introduced a several part bill into the Massachusetts Legislature today on Springfield's behalf. If passed, two minor portions of the bill would create new financial officer positions for Springfield and set up a study commission to determine if the mayor's salary should be increased from $95,000.

The big news, however, would be the extension of Springfield's $52 million loan from from a five year payback to twelve years, and the extension of the mayor's term of office from two to four year.

The loan extension is good news. We need a balanced budget in Springfield but too many years of austerity in a row are bad for the city's spirit. We need a little wiggle room.

Changing the mayor's term to four years is a good idea, too, but I'm afraid that with the increasing dislike for Springfield's current mayor, Domenic Sarno, people might reject this idea out of hand. I know the law won't be retroactive, just kidding in the post's title, but again, people might subconsciously think of support for the proposal as as a vote of confidence in Sarno. The question would go on this year's ballot if passed by the legislature.

(I must say, how simple a change in charter becomes when the right political support is leveraged. Changing to ward representation took years of citizen effort.)

Think of yourself, starting a new job in top management. Is two years long enough to learn the job's fine point, keep a lot of balls in the air at one time, and achieve major accomplishments and reforms Would you want to be judged after two years-- actually, a year and a half, given someone will be running against you at least six months before your term is finished?

I'm not saying it's impossible to judge if someone is doing an appallingly bad job, but it's not always possible to judge is someone is going to do a good job in just two years. Let's hope Springfield voters can take this on with cool heads.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I'm gonna miss Dunkin Donuts

So Dunkin' Donuts pulled an ad featuring Rachel Ray because someone thought a scarf she was wearing was a kaffiyah, a scarf traditionally worn by Palestinian men, and started an uproar about it. It wasn't, it was just a black and white scarf, but that doesn't matter. On the basis of some right wing idiot's attack, and the potential for loss of revenue, Dunkin' Donuts actually apologized for the ad.

What an excellent, self-serving job Bush and his cronies have done in exacerbating anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice. Yeah, OK, it was Saudi Arabians who blew up the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon but it was white Christians with ties to the militia movement that were responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing. Are all Christians bombers? Are all Palestinians terrorists? I'm just so sick of it.

I like Dunkin' Donuts. I used to work at the one in Springfield's X back in the mid-seventies, long before there was such a thing as a drive-thru. We used to make our own donuts in the back of the store and grind our own coffee. I used to challenge myself to provide good service and to remember how the regulars liked their coffee; if I got it right, I'd usually get a tip. (I always did like the challenge of waitressing, even though most of the places I worked were owned by sexist pigs who didn't know their asses from their elbows.)

I suppose I've kept a fondness for Dunkin' Donuts ever since, especially because I've thought of it as a local success story, started in the mid-fifties by a local guy from Worcester, Massachusetts. Somehow in the ensuing 30 years it's become a truly multinational corporation, with nearly 6,000 stores in the U.S. and 2,000 internationally. I just didn't notice.

Two or three days a week, I swing through the Dunkin' Donuts on upper State St. I've gotten used to the proverbial "Hon" from the invisible woman or man who takes my order through the speaker; whenever I can, I leave the change from a dollar as a tip. Most times, I'm impressed with the employees' efficiency and friendliness.

I'm going to miss them. But I won't go back to Dunkin' Donuts until the company undoes its idiocy and apologizes-- not just to the Arab community, but to all of us.

My organization, Arise for Social Justice, talked about this at our board meeting last night (among 20 other things!) Only about half of us had heard about the controversy, and seeing as we're generally a well-informed crew, I'm going to assume that the same is true for the general public. News like this seems to sink fast into the morass of presidential campaign coverage. We're going to pick a day and a store and do some informational leafletting next week.

Act Now to Stop War and Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.) has a letter you can send to Dunkin' Donutes at its website here.

A traffic question

Why is it that the driver in front of you, who's going 20 miles an hour in a 35 mile an hour zone while you tap your fingers impatiently on the steering wheel, muttering, "Come on, come on!" suddenly speeds up just in time to go through a yellow light, leaving you to catch the red light?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

According to Springfield police, you might be a gang member if...

According to the Springfield Police, you might be a gang member if you're a kid, ride a bike, and carry a backpack.

Here's what happened: Jeff, a friend of the family, 20 year old Puerto Rican kid, has been stopped twice by a Springfield MA police officer while riding his bike-- once late afternoon and once late evening; once by Allen and Plumtree, once in the North End. Both times the officer asked for identification and "asked" to look in his bag. Both times my friend complied. One officer was polite and one was verbally abusive.

My friend wanted to know if he had the right to refuse to open his backpack. I said that in general, he did have that right (at least one exception would be if the officer felt a weapon was present in the bag and he might be in danger) but that I couldn't guarantee him the outcome if he did.

Just for the hell of it, I called the squad room at the police department and asked for the duty officer. I gave him my name (which he did not) and described the situation with my friend.

The officer asked me where this had occurred and I told him.

"Well, you see, we have reported gang activity in those areas."

"On Plumtree Road?"

"Yes." Of course I had to wonder if my friend had been in an area without gang activity, if he would have been stopped because he looked out of place!

I told the officer my friend had asked me if he had the right to refuse to show the contents of his backpack.

"I told him that he did have that right, but that if he refused, the officer might very well find some other reason to arrest him."

He didn't contradict me. "If the kid's got nothing to hide, why not let the officer look?" he said.

Well, lots of people would agree with that statement. We do have a gang problem in Springfield, as the recent murder of Mario Hornsby Jr. reveals so clearly. Lots of people would say, Who cares how police officers act, Who cares if every young person is searched on sight? Of course the folks saying that are not usually the ones being stopped.

We have a new police commissioner, William Fitchet, the promise of 50 more police officers, and the re-establishment of the anti-gang task force. But one thing that hasn't changed-- and in fact, has gotten worse-- is the lack of oversight of the Springfield Police Department.

Once upon a time, we had a police chief, not commissioner, and we had an appointed police commission with a variety of duties including hearing civilian complaints against the police. This commission had some binding powers, although they very rarely found against a police officer.

When Edward Flynn was hired to replace Police Chief Paula Meara, one of his conditions was that he be commissioner-- the only commissioner. The existing police commission was disbanded. Flynn got then-Mayor Ryan to hire a firm to make recommendations about civilian oversight of the police. The firm's name escapes me now, but as I recall, their recommendation was not what was established under Flynn. We now have a nine member "Community Complaint Review Board."

This Review Board has met exactly twice since being established. So far, it has not reviewed a single complaint. (This doesn't mean there haven't been any, just that we know less about it than ever before.) Not only that, all the Review Board has the power to do is review decisions already made by Commissioner Fitchet-- they can't hear from complainants, witnesses or officers directly. And even if they decided Fitchet's decision was wrong, they have absolutely no power to change his decision.

The current process lacks transparency and accountability. It is under these circumstances that we are likely to find complainants turning to civil lawsuits, being awarded sums of money that can't be disclosed to the public.

But the situation is unlikely to change unless that's what the public wants.
Photo: Josh Haner/The New York Times