Friday, October 31, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Where I saw ten frogs, today's children would only see three-- amphibians worldwide have declined by seventy percent and one in three amphibian species is listed as endangered.
Frogs are like canaries in coal mines, an early warning system that something's wrong. Their skin is thin and very permeable, easily affected by rising ozone levels. An infectious fungal disease deadly to frogs is spreading rapidly because of the increasing temperature of the earth.
Causes of the decline in amphibians are many and complicated, but today Scientific American reported on a study that shows a clear link between use of the pesticide Atrazine plus fertilizers with the decline of the northern leopard frog. This modest frog, the State Amphibian of Vermont and Minnesota, is being decimated by flatworm parasites that proliferate on snails that grow fiercely in waters polluted by Atrazine and fertilizers.Although this pesticide is banned in Europe, in the last fifteen years it's become the top-selling pesticide in the United States.
Syngenta, the Swiss-based company that produces Atrazine, had this to say about the University of South Florida study: "50 years of use and a vast amount of research has shown that (atrazine) can be used safely with no long-term detriment to ecosystems."
Photo from Transguyjay's photostream at Flickr
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
"You'll never guess who was in the emergency room when I was," he said.
"Morgan?" I said, naming a friend who is missing in action.
"Way higher than that," he said.
"OK, who?" I said.
"Really? What was he doing there?"
"Some minor accident on his movie set. Didn't really seem hurt. He had his own doctor with him. The nurses were all giggling."
"Yeah, one nurse said, "I'm all set, I touched his feet!' I don't like feet though, so that didn't do anything for me," my friend's girlfriend said.
"And how long was he actually in the emergency room?"
"He was in and out in about an hour and a half."
"Mel Gibson at Mercy," I pondered. "Oh, wait, I get it-- Mel Gibson's a Catholic."
"Yeah, and I'd gone outside to smoke a cigarette while I was waiting, and he came out, surrounded by five people, and got in the passenger seat of his stretch SUV. He looked right at me," my friend said.
"You know he's an anti-Semite"-- my friend looks at me blankly-- "someone prejudiced against Jews."
"Really?" my friend said, a bit crestfallen
"Yeah, when he was stopped for drunk driving a few years ago, he said the Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world. Called a female cop sugar-tits, too."
"Well, I certainly pick the exciting times to come to Mercy. The last time I was here, people were standing in the parking lot, looking at that window that was supposed to look like the Virgin Mary."
"Mel Gibson...the Virgin Mary....hmm."
"Man, I'm tired," my friend said. "Thanks for dropping me home."
"No problem," I said.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Sunday, July 26: eight year old Christopher Bizilj is with his father, Dr. Charles Bizilj, at the Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo held at the Sportsman's Club in Westfield. He holds a 9mm micro Uzi submachine gun in his hand. Moments ago his father has taken his picture, the last of his life. With a firearms instructor at his side, Christopher pulls the trigger of the submachine gun. As the rounds fire, the gun recoils and Christopher loses control. The gun flies upwards, shooting him in the head. where Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Conn., died after accidentally shooting himself in the head. A few hours later he is pronounced dead.
The Expo was a wholesome, family-oriented event. Children under 16 were admitted free. Come one, come all.
Dr. Bizihj is the medical director of the emergency department at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford Springs, Conn. Has he never seen a gunshot wound? Just what does one do with an UZI submachine gun, anyway, except shoot it? And why, why, would anyone think it appropriate for an eight year old buy to fire one?
Every parent has thought about what it would be like to be responsible for the death of your child. Just thinking about it is like approaching a the edge of a steep cliff. I know two people who backed over their own children with their vehicles and killed them. They were never whole again. How can they forgive themselves? How can others? My thoughts are with this family that they can understand what has happened to them and come to some kind of peace.
On Sunday, in Suffield, CT, thirty-five year old Brian J. Moson, smashed out his mind, ties his dog to the back of his pick-up truck. Ten minutes later, having completely forgotten about his dog (and the fact that he was drunk) and decides to drive into town and sets off down the road in his truck. Some horrified person observes what s happening and calls the police. Brian is arrested a few miles later; his dog is taken to the Boston Road Animal Hospital where he is euthanized.
I would not want to be Brian, stopped by the police and stepping out of his truck, and seeing his dog.
Yesterday, Massachusetts Senator Diane Wilkerson, the only African-American woman in the Senate and a longtime champion of the poor and oppressed, is arrested at her home by the F.B.I. on charges she accepted more than $23,000 in bribes from undercover agents posing as businesspeople. She had helped one of them to obtain a liquor license denied once already, and helped another develop property by promoting legislation on his behalf. Today, she is free on bail and keeping a low profile.
The Boston Globe has many articles about Sen. Wilkerson's troubles recently and in the past, including a timeline of her run-ins with ethics probes, her disbarment for income tax evasion, and campaign finance problems.
I remember Sen. Wilkerson at many State House hearings. I went there with others to fight for better health care, a living wage, more affordable housing. She always appeared to be on our side.
i would not want to be Diane Wilkerson, facing the people of her district.
Question Three doesn't actually ban all dog racing-- you and your friend can race your dogs to your heart's content-- but it would eliminate racing where wagers are taken.
Proponents of Question Three point to the fact that dogs are confined in small kennels an average of 20 hours a day. numerous injuries and sometimes deaths that greyhounds suffer when racing. More than 800 dog injuries have been documented (by the industry itself) since 2002 and a number have resulted in fatalities. ProtectDogs.org has a video clip of a collision at Raynham Park last year which led to the euthanization of Starz Voice, a two and a half year old red and white greyhound. Watch if you can.
Opponents of Question Three have their own website, Protect Dogs and Jobs, and claim that more than a 1,000 jobs will be lost if the question passes, in addition to towns losing considerable tax revenue. ProtectDogs challenge that figure, but there is no doubt that some jobs and some tax revenues will be lost.
For me, the heart of the question is, what is the ideal relationship between humans and animals? How do we eliminate suffering? How are humans spiritually enriched by their relationship with animals rather than diminished and hardened? There's no one answer, and no easy answer. Animals have provided food, labor, companionship and sport for humans for millennia. Civilizations grew more quickly where there were animals suitable for domestication. Dogs and cats proved their usefulness to humans very early.
In my own family, my granddaughter is a vegan, uses no animal products including soap, and wears no leather, my two daughters are vegetarians, and my nephews are meat-eaters who think of vegetarianism as a mental affliction. I'm a lapsed vegetarian who eats little meat and am a very big fan of Dick Francis' detective stories, all of which are set in the world of horse racing. Life is complicated. But eating meat to survive is one thing; allowing animals to suffer for our entertainment is something else again.
According to the Boston Globe, dog racing appears to be a dying industry-- something we seem to be outgrowing. A survey of Massachusetts voters shows a dead heat in public opinion, with a substantial number still undecided.
Do your own research; I believe you will agree: vote Yes on Question Three.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Cheap, easy to make and highly effective, as long as you have a south-facing window, the devise will last for years and really cut into your heating bills.
We're making two of them for our house next week.
- If organic farming methods were practiced on all the planet's food-growing land, it would be like taking more than 1.5 billion cars off the road.
- You can increase your antioxidant intake by 30 percent by choosing organic.
- The average child in America is exposed to five pesticides daily in their food and drinking water.
- The U.S. water system is regularly contaminated above safe limits immediately following chemical fertilizer applications to farm fields.
- Farms in developing countries that use organic techniques produce an average of 79% more than farms that don't. From the Organic Consumers Association
Thus the City of Northampton is getting ready to pass an anti-panhandling law which, while not banning panhandling outright, prohibits asking for money while sitting on a park bench or standing on a corner, or asking anyone while they are waiting in a line, or within fifteen feet of a public telephone, bus stop, bank or ATM. You also can't be within five feet of a building entrance or fifteen feet of a parking meter or overpass. What's left, you might ask? Not much. And if you break this restrictive law, you can be fined from $50 to $300. This makes a lot of sense-- you don't have money so you are fined-- and if you don't pay the fine, then what? More unnecessary criminalization. The Daily Collegian covered this story well earlier in the week.
Why ban panhandling? I can hear the downtown business people talking about how panhandling drives away businesses. Beyond that, many people are uncomfortable when asked for spare change. Well, then, just say no!
My own rule is, one person a day. I live too close to the margins myself to do more than that. But as tight as my own budget it, at least I have an income.
Arise member Caty Simon has formed a group in Northampton called Poverty is Not A Crime. That group, plus the Freedom Center, the ACLU and Social Change in Mind are all fighting this ordinance. If you live or shop in Northampton, call Mayor Claire Higgins at 413.587.1249 and let her know: help homeless people, don't criminalize them. Leave panhandlers alone!
Photo by Emily Grund/Collegian
Friday, October 24, 2008
I'd been suspicious since I heard the story, and after I saw a picture of Ms. Todd, I was sure: the letter B carved into her cheek was backward-- the way it would be if you were looking in the mirror while you mutilated yourself.
The McCain campaign is unlikely to have had anything to do with Ms. Todd's tale. She was a volunteer for the McCain campaign, and if she's anything like several other people I've met in my life, felt like she wasn't getting enough attention, needed that attention, and would do just about anything to get it. How very sad.
Meanwhile, the usual suspects on Springfield, MA's online forum MassLive were clucking like hens. Mr.Wasp and Redneck33's monikers do tend to give away their bias against African-Americans, and fear mongering is their game. Blacks are voting for Obama just because he's black, blacks are racist, whites who support Obama should wake up, "Obama thug supporters" would just as soon kill you as as let you pass with a McCain sticker or will burn down your house..
Of course you understand that these are white people who are terrified of Blacks, who see the word "mugger" or "rapist" superimposed on every Black male under forty that they pass on the street. So to protect themselves from their fear, they have to make out that they, the white people, are the real victims. How very sad.
A few folks on the forum had doubts from the beginning also, and called out Mr. Wasp and Redneck33's paranoia. A lot of other decent folks just wouldn't even dignify the discussion with a comment. Those are the people who give me hope. My fear is that those who think like Mr. Wasp and Redneck33 but say nothing are numerous enough to sway the election.
Photo from CNN.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Marijuana reform right for Bay State by The Republican Newsroom, Wed., Oct. 22, 2008In the Comments section following the editorial, one woman worried that if Question Two passes, her mother's nurse, the school nurse and the school bus driver will all be able to smoke pot without consequences. This attitude always astounds me-- that people think that others would start smoking pot if it were decriminalized. If they wouldn't start smoking, why would others? In any case, the eleven other states that have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana have not seen any increase in marijuana use. So why should it happen here?
You have friends and family members and co-workers who have smoked marijuana. You may have even indulged a bit yourself back in the day.
Few people today would argue that someone who had been caught with a small amount of marijuana for his or her own personal use should be denied, say, a job. Or a student loan. Or an apartment. Or a professional license.
But that's exactly what could happen under current laws that are in place in Massachusetts. Question 2 on the November ballot seeks to right that wrong by making possession of an ounce or less - for personal use - a civil rather than a criminal offense.
Opponents of Question 2 - most notably district attorneys - argue that first-time offenders are directed to programs outside the criminal-justice system and thus leave no record of their transgression. But that's because the district attorneys currently in office choose to handle it that way. A successor could opt for a completely different tack, marking each offender for life.
Question 2 takes that possibility off the table.
Someone caught with a bit of pot would have the marijuana confiscated, would be assessed a $100 fine - and that would be that. There would be no criminal proceedings, no record to be accessed.
Question 2 is sound and sensible public policy.
It does not make marijuana legal. It does not make it OK to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana. It does not change a single law on the books regarding the sale or distribution of marijuana.
And it deals with youthful offenders in the most rational way: by getting the family involved. Juveniles caught with marijuana would have the citation delivered to a parent or guardian, and would have to complete a drug awareness program and perform community service.
Across the nation, there are 11 states that have passed laws similar to Question 2. Some have been in place for decades, and there is no evidence whatsoever that the change has led to increased marijuana use or a decrease in general order.
This reform is right for Massachusetts. We urge voters on Nov. 4 to support Question 2.
Arise and a few other organizations were going to have a press conference in support of Question Two next week but we were dissuaded from doing so by decisionmakers at the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy. Somehow the half dozen messages we've left at their office since this summer, saying we wanted to be involved in the campaign, didn't get through until just this week. Their position is, why give the district attorneys and other opponents a platform from which to respond? Instead, CSMJ is focusing on paid political ads. Check out their website for some great examples. You may have already seen the ads on TV or hreard them on the radio. Let's hope that hearing law enforcement officials say that it's time for reform will change enough minds.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Months ago I noticed candy cigarettes in the candy rack. At the time I mentioned to one of the clerks that I wished they wouldn't sell them-- sent a bad message to kids; there;s lots of other candy they can make money on, etc. He said he wasn't the store owner and didn't seem able or willing to point me to the person who was really in charge.
Several more times in the past six months I've tried my anti-candy cigarette monologue but the candy remains on the shelves.
Monday I tried once more.
"Who really owns this store?" I asked. "Who makes the decisions."
"The manager is here in the mornings," I was told.
So yesterday morning I stopped at the store early and caught up with the manager, who did not seem unaware of my issue.
"OK," he said, "when this box is gone, I won't order anymore."
"Thanks!" I said, and stuck out my hand. He took it, and we shook.
. When I get paid this week I'll buy a bunch myself, but there are a bit too many for me to take this project on by myself. So help me get rid of the store's current supply. Drop in, buy a box, and tell 'em Michaelann sent you. (Don't want them to think the items are a bigger seller than they are!) Then eat them, crush them, perform whatever exorcism you like.
Down with candy cigarettes!
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The biggest list is I keep is of blogs that write about homelessness-- in particular those written by homeless and formerly homeless people themselves, although they're not that easy to find. I could put in many more links to agencies that work to end homelessness, but most of them already have a voice; still, I've added a couple that are particularly well-done-- L.A.s Homeless Blog, for example.
Some homeless blogs come and go quickly, but many writers have made a long-term commitment to their blogs. Homeless Man Speaks describes life on the streets in just a few lines of dialogue a day. Oldtimer Speaks Out is dedicated to homeless and other veterans, and is currently deep into a tutorial about house-building by Habitat for Humanity. Michael at SLO Homeless speaks with thoughtfully and experience about the struggles homeless people face and how hard it can be sometimes to get housed people to understand.
Rare and valuable are those blogs that follow the people's movements for housing around the world. Squatter City posts about the resiliance and tragedy of squatter communities in Afghanistan, Brazil and elsewhere; Save Feral Human Habitat covers tent cities, homeless activism, and saving the Canadian environment.
Unlike blogs about homelessness, environmental blogs are easy to find and there are so many good ones that my link list is more representative and more about what I find and like than it is comprehensive. Native Harvest, the home of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, promotes indigenous autonomy as well as a catalogue of products including wild rice, organic coffee and native arts. It was founded by poet and warrior Winona LaDuke. Inhabitant is about "forward design for the world we inhabit."
Last but not least I like to collect Western Mass blogs or blogs by Western Mass. authors, even when they run in a different political gamut or aren't political at all. Grace the Dog tells odd little stories loosely about journalism and the media. Exploring Western Mass blends the past and the present with exquisite photographs of our region. Springfield Intruder takes a passionate and acerbic view of Springfield's neighborhoods and politics.
Do take the time to check out the variety of visions in the blogging world today.
Graphic from the International Alliance of Inhabitants
According to the Oakland County Press, Mr. Wilford was well-known for his friendliness and his signature beret. "Frenchie," as he was affectionately called, was also an artist. The graphic on this page is his self-portrait from the f/k/a blog, which also details other attacks made on homeless people by the same boys that week.
Last week the boys were charged with first degree murder in Mr. Wilford's deathnd are being tried as adults. They attended Jefferson Middle School in Pontiac.
Last year the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness counted 79,940 homeless people in Michigan.
The National Coalition for the Homeless has listed the number of documented (far more are undocumented) attacks on homeless people by the non-homeless from 1999-2006:
Total number of violent acts over 8 years: 614
Total number of deaths over 8 years: 189
Total number of non-lethal attacks over 8 years: 425
Number of cities where crimes occurred over 8 years: 200
Number of states where crimes occurred over 8 years: 44 states plus Puerto Rico
Age ranges of the accused/convicted: from 11 to 75 years of age
Age ranges of the victims: from 4 months old to 74 years of age
Gender of victims: Male: 359 Female: 48
What does it take to stand over a man and beat him to death?
Monday, October 20, 2008
The state could save $30 million a year by not running those arrested for simple possession through the criminal justice system, according to a senior lecturer in economics at Harvard University.
Studies of other states that have decriminalized marijuana have not shown an increase in marijuana use. Believe me, if there was any study that shows decriminalizing marijuana has bad consequences, the DAs would be talking about it big time.
Let's be smart and vote YES on Question Two.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
After a brief introduction to the initiative, we who attended were invited to address the planners about our vision for Springfield in twenty years and how we might get there. We were asked to keep our remarks to three to five minutes.
People are so funny. Some people had come clearly prepared to give a speech, and they barely looked at the planners-- they turned to address the audience! Most of those people ignored the time limit and a couple didn't even address long-range issues but talked about problems now. But most people had something interesting to say; poor people took a lot of the blame for Springfield's problems, but I expected no less.
Whether they knew there was a name for it or not, a lot of people focused on directions that would relocalizing our economy. What is Relocalization? This is from the Relocalization Network:
Relocalization is a strategy to build societies based on the local production of food, energy and goods, and the local development of currency, governance and culture. The main goals of Relocalization are to increase community energy security, to strengthen local economies, and to dramatically improve environmental conditions and social equity.
Think about this: we're surrounded by farmland yet import most of our food. We have natural sources of energy but are dependent on the grid and imported oil. Most of our clothing comes from China. Most of our restaurants are national chains. Why is this so, given our incredible natural resources and a city full of people desperate for training and a new start?
Even more than revitalizing our local economy, we become a part of the solution to save our planet.
Willits, CA may have one of the best Relocalization effort in the country, check out their website. Also worth checking out, if you want to find out about what Relocalization is: EcoLocalizer and Boulder Valley Relocalization,
A number of local groups are working on aspects of Relocalization. I'll get a list together and post it.
Photo from Corquey's photostream at Flickr
Two million people will get a hospital-related infection this year, and 100,000 will die from it-- every single one a preventable death.
Protocols exist for IV lines and central line and urinary catheters, the most common (but hardly sole) sources of infection, but hospitals are inconsistent in applying them. 85 percent of the 95,000 people who will get MRSA, a drug-resistant and life-threatening inftction, get the infection in a hospital!
The Consumers Union is calling on the U.S. Congress to pass a national standards law to reduce the chances you'll get worse, not better, when you need to be hospitalized. You can sign a petition urging Congress to take action.
Photo from Bert Becker's photostream at Flickr Creative Commons
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Here's a piece of the story you won't be hearing about anyplace but here.
My nephew Steve (the one who helped me break the story about Wendy's closings around the region) is now working at Taco Bell's. My nephew was closing and got out of work about 3 am. He'd already decided to stay overnight at his best friend Josh's place. Josh lives in the North End, is Puerto Rican, and has been a family friend for a number of years.
Josh met Steve halfway so he wouldn't have to walk the whole distance alone (still shorter than going home would have been). While walking, they became aware of the U-HAUL careening through the neighborhood with the police following close behind. By the time they got to Josh's house, the U-HAUL was parked across the street, the driver had fled, and a police car was pulled over to the curb.
"Hey, did you catch the guy yet?" Josh called out to the officers in the cruiser. One officer responded.
"Who are you? Get over here!"
Josh and Steve started walking toward the cruiser. Josh was carrying two pebbles in his hand that he'd been playing with as they walked and he dropped them to the ground as the two of them approached.
"He dropped something!" the officer said. He grabbed Josh and threw him up against the cruiser hard. "What did you drop?"
"Just two little stones!" Josh said. He was frisked by the cop, then Steve was frisked (although not manhandled) and they were both put into the back of the cruiser. The two officers went over the ground with flashlights but of course didn't find anything.
For the next hour Josh and Steve went on a wild ride with the police.
"They were going through red lights, speeding around the corner, and we were just sliding all over the place in the back seat," Josh told me. Steve still had his cell phone and was trying to work up the nerve to use it to call his mom and dad.
"What are you going to do with us?" Josh asked the officers.
"Execute you," one of the cops said, making a joke, although it didn't feel very funny to Josh and Steve.
After about 45 minutes the officers got a call on the radio that the U-HAUL's driver had been captured. A few minutes after that one of the officers turned to Josh and Steve.
"What should we do with you?" he said.
"Just drop us back where you found us," Josh said.
"What are you going to do if we drop you off?"
"Go home and go to bed," Josh said.
So the officers dropped them off.
I guess the officers were right to suspect them initially, but they were wrong to manhandle Josh and they were wrong to keep the young men in the cruiser as they continued to chase a potentially dangerous individual.
Most of all, they were wrong to to add to the layers of suspicion that too many young men already feel about the Springfield police.
Patrick also intends to lay off 1,000 state workers. Some of those workers will not be able to pay the mortgages on their homes and will fall into foreclosure. Other workers will have to apply for food stamps and fuel assistance. Food stamp usage is at an all-time high in this country and fuel assistance funds are in short supply.
There's nothing like a fiscal crisis to move an economy into a penny wise, pound foolish mode. That's one thing I'm appreciating about Barak Obama-- when asked what he will cut from his proposed programs if he becomes president, he says he is not going to cut fund to promote energy independence. Not only would it free us from dependence on other countries to meet our needs, true energy independence would create jobs.
I'm finding it hard to figure out how we're going to get out of this mess short-term-- maybe even long-term-- and I worry about how the poorest people are going to survive. Usually I aim to be pro-active, but I think I'm going to cut myself a little slack and let myself realize that like it or not, a lot of us will do a lot of suffering before this is over.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Whatever else may come from Barak Obama's campaign for president, the extraordinary level of debate about race now taking place is bringing change in unanticipated ways. I have my fingers crossed that most of the change will be positive.
One trend that disturbs me is when discussions of race lead to accusations against blacks of reverse racism.
If a white person talks about a black person talking about race, the black person is accused of "playing the race card." Well, if that is the hand you are dealt, is that any surprise? The cards in the white person's hand are white, not black. Those cards may be more kings than queens or more low than high-- but they are not colored.
One huge part of the problem is that most people don't seem to understand the difference between prejudice and the isms-- racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism and more. The isms are backed by more than prejudice, they are backed by institutional power.
Prejudice is painful. One poster on MassLive listed a group of insulting words about white people and called them racist. One of those words, redneck, is certainly classist. I remember a southern friend explaining the derivation of that word-- that it was about white workers in the field whose necks became sunburned while they were working. I can guarantee you, however, that the big bosses standing over them were also white, not black.
To see the effect of institutional power in play, one has only to look at the halls of Congress, the administrators of the government, the Wall St. brokers and the heads of financial institutions. Those members are overwhelmingly white, male, rich and declared heterosexuals.
A black person can call me a name and even get his friends to beat me up, but she or he has no control over where the majority of whites can live, what education we receive or where we am employed. That power rests elsewhere.
Photo from BrainEthics.
In practical terms, if we don't understand institutional power, we can't challenge it. We turn on each other as the cause of our miseries and never look up the food chain. Thus we remain struggling for power-- blacks, gays, working and middle class whites, women-- but we're struggling against the wrong people.
We have an opportunity to dig a little deeper in 2008, and I hope we take it.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
How much rosier economic conditions from last May seem than from our current October viewpoint! Of course the economy was already in deep trouble-- housing prices had started to fall in 2006-- but most of us had no idea of the extraordinary austerity that was about to be forced upon us. Some of us still don't get it.
Now more than ever longterm economic planning for Springfield has to take place and as many people as possible have to be involved in it-- besides the benefit of all that creativity, it's the only way residents can be invested in the solutions. Maybe a few short-term options are off the table for the moment, but so what? I don't think most people are willing to throw up their hands and say no solution is possible. If you really believe that, and you've got the resources to do it, get out of Springfield.
Key question What is it that will retain current residents, increase their productivity and contributions, and attract new skilled residents?
Photo from Asmey145's photostream at Flickr.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
The Cape Cod Tmes has been reporting on sightings of a manatee, of all things, in Sesuit Harbor near Dennis on Cape Cod. Given that there are only 3,000 manatees left in the U.S., every one is precious.
Dennis, as the manatee has been nicknamed, had a quite low body temperature from the chilly Cape Cod waters and seemed a bit malnourished wise all right. Between Sea World, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and state and local officials, Dennis was rescued and will be rehabilitated at Sea World in Orlando.
The U.S. Department of the Interior has been trying to change the way animals covered by the Endangered Species Act are protected by allowing the government itself to decide if its actions pose a danger to endangered animals. Hmm, do you trust the government?
You can sign a letter to the Department of the Interior urging them to keep to the stricter standards at the IFAW website. Comment period has been extended until October 15.
Photo from Old Shoe Woman's photostream at Flickr.
Thirty years ago I was a single mom living with my year old daughter in a 4th floor apartment in Springfield's South End. I loved my little apartment, but hardly anyone came to visit, and I was barely making ends meet. One day-- still in the tail end of the feminist era-- I saw an ad in the Valley Advocate from a woman who was looking for three or four woman to rent a house with. I answered her ad and in fairly short order we found a large Victorian in McKnight that we could rent. It hadn't been occupied in a number of years and there was lots of work to be done, but it seemed a great adventure.
The owner of the house was a young man who'd also bought a dozen other properties in McKnight. Lots of gentrification was taking place in the late seventies/early eighties, but this guy had a different vision for McKnight. I thought he was idealistic but flaky. He used a lot of big words and it was hard to pin down his meaning. The repair people he hired tended to be pretty low-skilled. Once he hired unlicensed people to remove the lead paint from the exterior, but they didn't put any tarps down so later the soil around the house had to be removed. I'll never forget that when a set of plumbers he sent forgot to recap the soil pipe in the basement. He sent his elderly mother with a mop and bucket over to clean up the mess! This was pretty par for the course with him.
Over the next six or seven years women, mostly young professionals, came and went, but somehow I stayed. I loved the huge back yard and had started an organic garden which got a little bigger (and better) every year. I'd also started doing a little front desk coverage for the Valley Advocate, which at the time had a Springfield office right at the end of my street, and was beginning to do a little writing for the paper. And there were lots of kids in the neighborhood, which was mostly Black families with a few Latinos and whites sprinkled in. What better way to safeguard my Caucasian daughter against racism than for her to grow up in a racially diverse neighborhood?
Gradually the household occupants shifted from strangers to family. My older daughter moved in and both of my sisters lived there for a while. I grew fonder and fonder of my house and my neighborhood. Paying the rent and utilities was always a challenge, but manageable because the expenses were shared. Still, it wasn't my house, and our future was always uncertain.
One day my landlord came to me and asked if iId be interested in helping to form a housing cooperate, where people owned coop shares and could stay in their homes for as long as they lived. Would I? Did he even have to ask?
Saturday, October 11, 2008
State Sales Tax: 5% (food; prescription drugs; fuel costs; gas, oil, electricity; clothing costing up to $175, are exempt). For a complete list, click here.
Gasoline Tax: 23.5 cents/gallon
Diesel Fuel Tax: 23.5 cents/gallon
Cigarette Tax: $1.51/pack of 20
Personal Income Taxes
Tax Rate Range: Flat rate of 5.3% of federal adjusted gross income
Personal Exemptions: Single - $4,125; Married - $8,250;
Dependents - $1,000
Standard Deduction: None
Medical/Dental Deduction: Federal amount
Federal Income Tax Deduction: None
Retirement Income Taxes: Social Security, civil service, state/local government pensions are exempt. Pension income from other state or local governments that do not tax pension income from Massachusetts public employees is exempt from Massachusetts taxable income.
Retired Military Pay: Not taxed.
Military Disability Retired Pay:
Disability Portion - Length of Service Pay; Member on September 24, 1975 - No tax; Not Member on September 24, 1975 - Taxed, unless combat incurred. Retired Pay - Based solely on disability: Member on September 24, 1975 - No tax; Not Member on September 24, 1975 - Taxed, unless all pay based on disability and disability resulted from armed conflict, extra-hazardous service, simulated war, or an instrumentality of war.
VA Disability Dependency and Indemnity Compensation: Not subject to federal or state taxes
Military SBP/SSBP/RCSBP/RSFPP: Generally subject to state taxes for those states with income tax. Check with state department of revenue office.
Massachusetts does not provide for a general homestead exemption but does have a Homestead Act. The Homestead Act permits a homeowner who occupies a house as his/her principal residence to shield up to $500,000 in equity in that house from creditors. By simply filing a Declaration of Homestead with the appropriate Registry of Deeds, a homeowner may be able to protect his/her residence from the claim of a future creditor. The Homestead Act permits only one spouse to file for the equity protection if each has an ownership interest in the home. The protection offered to the disabled and the elderly is even more comprehensive because it allows a husband and wife who own their own home to each file for the $500,000 equity protection. Click for details.
Massachusetts also has a circuit breaker program that offers a real estate tax credit for persons age 65 and older. Certain taxpayers may be eligible to claim a refundable credit on their state income taxes for the real estate taxes paid during the tax year on the residential property they own or rent in Massachusetts that is used as their principal residence. If the credit due the taxpayer exceeds the amount of the total income tax payable for the year by the taxpayer, the excess amount of the credit will be refunded to the taxpayer without interest. For tax year 2007, the maximum credit allowed for both renters and homeowners is $900. To be eligible for the credit for the 2007 tax year; the taxpayer or spouse, if married filing jointly, must be 65 years of age or older at the close of the 2007 tax year; the taxpayer must own or rent residential property in Massachusetts and occupy the property as his or her principal residence; the taxpayer's "total income" cannot exceed $48,000 for a single filer who is not the head of a household, $60,000 for a head of house hold, or $72,000 for taxpayers filing jointly; and for homeowners, the assessed valuation as of January 1, 2007, before residential exemptions but after abatements, of the homeowner's personal residence cannot exceed $772,000. Click for details.
Inheritance and Estate Taxes
There is no inheritance tax and a limited estate tax on estates valued at $1,000,000 or more.
For further information, visit the Massachusetts Department of Revenue site.
State Sales Tax: None. There is an 8% tax on lodging and restaurant meals and a 7% tax on two-way communications.
Gasoline Tax: 19.6 cents/gallon
Diesel Fuel Tax: 19.6 cents/gallon
Cigarette Tax: $1.08 cents/pack of 20
Personal Income Taxes
New Hampshire depends more upon real property taxes for revenue than most states since there are no general income, sales or use taxes. The state also receives substantial revenue from taxes on motor fuels, tobacco products, alcoholic beverages sold through the state liquor stores, and pari-mutuel betting. The state income tax is limited to a 5% tax on dividends and interest income of more than $2,400 ($4,800 for joint filers). A $1,200 exemption is available for residents who are 65 years of age or older.
Retirement Income: Not taxed.
Local property taxes, based upon assessed valuation, are assessed, levied and collected by municipalities. To view the tax rates for each town, click here.
A state education property tax rate of $2.24 (2007) per $1,000 of total equalized valuation is assessed on all New Hampshire property owners. It will be $2.14 for tax year 2008. An elderly exemption for property taxes can be age, net income limits, including Social Security income, and net asset limits. Property taxes can be deferred but accrue interest at the rate of 5% per annum. The deferred property tax may not exceed more than 85% of the equity value of the residence. The deferral is available (if granted) by the assessing officials, to any resident property owner who is at least 65 years old. For single homeowners 65 and older who earn less than $5,000 and married couples who earn less than $6,000, $5,000 of their property's assessed value is exempt from taxes. In addition, the homeowner's other assets besides the home must be worth less than $35,000.
There is a Low & Moderate Income Homeowner's Property Tax Relief program in New Hampshire. Click here. You must own a homestead subject to the state education property tax; reside in such homestead as of April 1 of the year for which the claim for relief is made; have a total household income of (1) $20,000 or less if a single person or (2) $40,000 or less if married or head of a New Hampshire household.
Call 603-271-2687 for details on property taxes or click here for municipal tax rates.
Inheritance and Estate Taxes
New Hampshire's Legacy & Succession Tax was repealed in 2002 and is effective for deaths occurring on or after January 1, 2003. As a result there is no inheritance or estate tax.
For further information, visit the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration site or call 603-271-3397.
From Retirement Living
Question One, which calls for the elimination of the state income tax, will cut the state's revenues by 40%.
Half or more of Massachusetts cities' budgets come from the state coffers. Springfield's $529 million budget includes $310 million from the state. Right now cities and towns are preparing for a 7% cut. What if that cut were 40% instead of 7%?
If you were mayor, how would you make the hard choices if you lost 40% of your state aid? Of course you'd want to save as much of the fire and police departments' services as possible, but layoffs would have to take place. And then what? Teachers? Road repair? Solid waste management?
Meanwhile, the state would be cutting 40% of the services that they fund directly. Health care, home care for seniors, job development, environmental services, shelters for homeless families, community colleges, state parks--- the list goes on and on.
Question One is tempting for individuals and families who already are having a hard time making ends meet. Add to that the fact that we all know where waste is present in city and state budgets, and we all feel like our input isn't valued very much. But in this case, the cure is worse than the disease. Question One didn't make sense even before our current financial meltdown; I can't imagine our communities suffering these cuts now unless we all want chaos in the streets.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
“Our memories and dreams walk beside us, informing everything we think we see,” Ms. Landowne (artist) and Mr. Horton write in the book. “We are scavengers of stories. We seek hidden messages of hope and find them. We gather evidence of resistance to oppression and despair.”
Check out the story at NYTimes.
- Number of children: 12.9 million
...four times the number of all the children in Illinois
- Number of seniors 65 and over: 3.6 million
...the same as the entire population of Oklahoma
- Number of women: 14.6 million
...the entire population of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Iowa combined
- Number reporting a disability: 8.0 million
...a population larger than the State of Massachusetts
- Number of homeless: 3.5 million
...twice the population of Nebraska
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
I wish I could be like that, but....when I see the local district attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs gathered in opposition to decriminalizing an ounce or less of marijuana, the focus of Massachusett's Question Two, I have to ask myself....how important to their job security is it that no cracks appear in the wall of drug prohibition?
Arguments against Question Two, which would turn a possession of small amounts of marijuana from a criminal offense into a civil one, only make sense if you ignore history, common sense and the facts.
The U.S. already has an excellent example of what happens when a substance that should be a matter of personal choice is criminalized. The thirteen years of alcohol prohibition in the U.S. during the early part of the twentieth century created a huge black market and allowed organized crime to become the American institution that it is today.. Prohibition led to the corruption of many law enforcement officials. Stronger alcohol was developed so that a little went further. The U.S. government lost $500 million a year in tax revenue.
Worst of all, prohibition turned millions of ordinary citizens into lawbreakers.
At today's press conference, Berkshire County District Attorney David F. Capeless, said that a first offense by someone 17 or older would lead to an automatic six month continuance, and that the case would be dismissed if someone stayed out of trouble for six months.
What he didn't say is that one single arrest for possession of marijuana leads to a criminal record that will affect housing, employment, benefits and military service.
Hampden County District Attorney Bill Bennett said that Question Two is " is a green light to drug dealers to target young children, especially high school students, to buy and use drugs." Mr. Bennett seems not to know how wothe minds of high schoolers work very well. And if this is so, shouldn't we recriminalize alcohol? How about cigarettes? How many lawbreakers do you think we'd have in Massachusetts if we did?
I have family members and friends who intend to vote against Question Two. They take a "Just say no" approach-- if you don't want to get arrested, don't break the law. They've never smoked, never will, and aren't missing a thing except, fortunately for them, the tar that smokers drag into their lungs. Far be it from me to say that non-smokers are missing out on anything. Marijuana. is not a necessity of life . It is simply one of life's pleasures.
When prohibition was finally repealed in 1933, organized crime took a huge loss in profits. We won't see that in Massachusetts if Question Two passes because decriminalization is not the same as legalization. By keeping marijuana illegal we lose potential tax revenue and lose out on the opportunity for regulation. At this point in time however, I would be satisfied just to see marijuana smokers be able to live without fear of arrest.
PS. Not all law enforcement officials think drug prohibition is a good idea; I wrote about it here. If you want to see what ABC's John Stossel thinks, go here.
PPS: Twelve states have already decriminalized marijuana and if there were any great upsurge in drug use or violent crime in those states, the DAs would have made sure we know about it. More than 71,000 Massachusetts residents were arrested for simple possession of marijuana from 1995-2002. Consider the personal cost as well as the financial cost and vote Yes on Question Two.
just as I went to close it.
I looked around, it wasn't there,
now where do you suppose it
travelled next? I'm not awake.
The cat is black. Its name is fate.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, charges that NISD�s actions violate Betenbaugh's and Arocha's rights to raise Adriel according to their family's religion, heritage and identity, as well as Adriel's constitutional and statutory rights to free exercise of religion and free expression. Courts have held that the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protect students� rights to dress in conformation with their religious beliefs. Texas' Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) provides additional protections.
�"he Constitution protects the right of all people in this country to express their religious beliefs as they see fit," said Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. "The same law protects Catholic students who wear a rosary, Christian students who wear a cross, or Jewish students who wear a Star of David. Yet the school board has ignored this basic principle by punishing this young child's expression of his faith and heritage."
You can read more at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
One of Arise's members, Lamont, has been going around to the single shelters in the Springfield, MA registering homeless people to vote and Liz has been scheduling for the family shelters. We've registered more than 50 so far, and can probably double that by the deadline next Wednesday, October 15. Of course, getting folks out to vote, whether homeless or not, is another story. Then again, if not this election, then when?
You can get a state by state chart of homeless voting rights at the National Coalition for the Homeless website.
Photo by Lauren Farina at Worcesterhomeless
A very comprehensive site for donating by click is at The Non-Profits.com. ; the site lists more than fifty opportunities to give. Check it out.
A personal favorite of mine is Care2. I've been a member for some years, now, and the site just keeps getting better and better. Start here for Click to Donate. Better yet, if you want to see your efforts as they accumulate, create an account and the site will keep track of how many feet of rain forest you've saved, how many chimps you've fed, how many pounds of carbon you've offset, etc.
Don't stop with Click to Donate, though. Care2 has a great news service for people particularly interested in animals and the environment (although the site covers everything) a petition site, a great ecard collection, and more. Community is an overused word on thw web, but you really will find a great community at Care2.
Monday, October 6, 2008
The decision came about because of a lawsuit filed by Food Not Bombs and several other plaintiffs last September after groups were diened a permit by the City of Orlando to feed people in a public park.
To establish that their conduct is expressive and protected by the First Amendment, the members of Food Not Bombs had to prove that they are conveying a message that is likely to be understood by the public. The city tried to argue that their message – that society can and should provide food for all of its members, regardless of wealth – wasn’t likely to be understood. But Mayor Buddy Dyer testified that he believes that Food Not Bombs provides food to the homeless only to convey its political message – not necessarily to help the homeless. 13th Juror.How sad that Mayor Dyer thought that people wouldn't understand the message that we all need to take care of each other. I know that much of selfishness comes from fear but it is not each other we need to be afraid of.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
More than 2,000 families are homeless in Massachusetts today, and more than 500 of them are staying in motels-- a practice which had been mostly discontinued under Gov. Romney and which flies in the face of current Gov. Patrick's plans to drastically reduce homelessness in five years by focusing on housing. Federally, the Bush Administration is hip-deep in a strategy to end homelessness in ten years; locally, Springfield's "Homes within Reach" program intends to mirror the state and the federal government's strategies and successes.
Mostly these plans give lip service to the economic underpinnings of homelessness but their strategies focus on treating homeless people as if they had a personal problem rather than a political problem. One would think that the solution to homelessness is a home, but no new housing has been created in many years.. Add in the fact that many people don't have sufficient income to stay housed and you have the poor people shuffle: from apartment to shelter to a friend's to an apartment and so on. Still, Springfield and other cities were making incremental progress in housing some "chronically homeless" people and were starting to think seriously about family homelessness.
But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and with the storm waves from the foreclosure crisis just beginning to reach us, much of the progress is swinging back to a loss. People's incomes are stagnant or falling and what we pay for food and utilities keeps climbing. I'll venture to say that in six months we will have a crisis of homelessness that cannot be concealed. We need visionary solutions but instead many will be moving into survival mode.
Hardly an original question but one that deserves a deeper answer: how can full shelters and empty building exist in the same city?
Photo from Thomas Hawk's photostream at Flickr
She was punished, of course, in those early years of the 20th century, and sometimes cried herself to sleep, but in the morning, irrepressible, she was laughing again. Who was it who climbed the drainpipe in the playground, or tied Officer Sharp's shoelaces together as she sat darning socks?If it wasn't Jane, it might as well have been, so she got the punishment. The master of the workhouse vowed to break the 'saucy little madam'.
When Jane owned up to making a sketch of him with a square head, small eyes and an exaggerated stomach, she was taken to the discipline room, a small cell with no windows and no furniture except for a stool. The master took down one of several canes and beat the little girl so severely that she could not sit down for several days.
Read the rest of the story at Mail Online.