Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Our economy set to music

Melodies derived from Stock Charts, arranged with Songsmith, the Microsoft Composition Tool. The most expensive Music of the World. By Johannes Kreidler. www.kreidler-net.de

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What do homeless people want from the police?

The Sacramento Police Department came in for some criticism this week when an officer towed the uninsured, unregistered car of a homeless woman. She was left on the curb with her belongings in the rain.

The SPD blog acknowledged that criticism but wanted to make sure the public knew that the officer involved tried to assist the woman in phoning friends to help her move her belongings.
The sentiments of readers who called to complain about the towing of Van Slate’s car are understandable. However, we doubt that anyone would want to find themselves in a collision with an uninsured motorist. The Sacramento Bee’s own recent article on February 6 (Road hazard: uninsured driver rates climb), stated that the numbers of uninsured motorists are rising nationwide. This also means that the frustration and expense incurred by insured motorists who find themselves in accidents with the uninsured can also be expected to rise.
According to the Insurance Research Council cited in the article, rising unemployment rates correlate to the rise in uninsured motorists (3 million more uninsured motorists than five years ago). More insured motorists in collisions with uninsured will be picking up the tab for auto repair, injuries and court costs after accidents. This also means police officers everywhere are going to increasingly be faced with difficult situations like the one on Friday, and will have to wrestle with the aftermath of negative public opinion in order to protect all of the drivers on the road.
The blog also calls attention to the larger societal issue of homelessness, and says society's efforts would be better spent solving that problem than blaming officers for enforcing the law.
These are all fair points. So what is it that homeless people really want and need from law enforcement.
First, they want to be treated with dignity. The police departments in various cities tend to reflect the attitudes toward homeless people that are held by their superiors and by the city's elected officials. When Edward Flynn was hired as police commissioner in Springfield, Massachusetts, my home city, his focus on "quality of life" issues led to officers being told to photograph homeless people, with or without their consent, ostensibly so they could be identified if found dead. Homeless people were frequently rousted and told to move on. Sometimes their tents were destroyed.Homeless complaints about the police have declined (thought not disappeared) under the new police commissioner William Fitchet, who is focusing, with some success, on reducing serious crime.

Second, homeless people want the police to use their discretion humanely when homeless people are technically violating laws which are rarely if ever enforced for other populations-- jaywalking, loitering, vagrancy-- as long as they are otherwise behaving.

Last but scarcely least, homeless people want the police to help keep them safe. When Steve Donohue, a homeless man, was murdered by another homeless man last summer, the Springfield police comforted his friends and moved swiftly to apprehend the killer. Those actions went a long way in closing the trust gap between the homeless community and the police. With the terrible increase of violence against homeless people, the homeless community needs the police as much if not more than the community at large.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Plan To Start Little Stationery Store Too Sad For Bank To Deny Loan

KANSAS CITY, MO—Loan officers at the First National Bank of Kansas City defended their decision to lend local man Tim Creamsby $650,000 to open a small stationery store Monday, explaining that, while the business's long-term prospects were poor, the idea was "simply too pathetic and heartbreaking" not to sign off on.
"In order to qualify for a loan of that size, an applicant normally must demonstrate significant financial holdings, have an impeccable credit score, and fill out a number of contracts," First National loan officer Robert Lewiston said. "But when I met Mr. Creamsby and listened to his pitiful story about how he'd worked all his life at an office-chair factory to save up for his dream—his dream to have a little shop where people could buy thank-you notes and maybe pick up some fountain-pen ink every now and then—well, I blurted out the first number that came to mind just to make him stop."


Read more at The Onion.

Richard Holbrook talks nonsense to Wolf Blitzer

I listened to Richard Holbrook being interviewed on CNN Thursday and I was so struck by the meaninglessness of his statement that I replayed the segment and transcribed it. Most of his words lack any clear referent to reality; they sound good but are empty of substance. Anyway, you can judge for yourself (if you ignore my few editorial comments).

Wolf Blitzer: President Obama is ordering an additional 17,000 more forces to Afghanistan, a controversial move with no guaranteed results. So is the Obama Administration making the right move?

We’re interviewing Richard Holbrook – former ambassador to Iraq and current special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

WB: You’re just back from a critically important mission to Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. A lot of folks are fearful that this whole troop buildup in Afghanistan right now could turn out to be a waste, given the inherent problems in that country. Can you look in the camera and tell the American people right now that it’s not a waste, that this is going to work?

Richard Holbrook: There’s no question that these troops are necessary. (WHY?) This is a request by Gen McKiernan, the commander in Afghanistan, and General Petraeus that was put to President. Bush last summer. It did not get acted upon and it landed on President. Obama’s desk on Day One. There was no question, and I can tell you this having just been in Afghanistan, that these troops are needed to stop the deteriorating situation. (WHAT SITUATION IS THAT?)

WB: but will it work?

RH: It will turn the tide but I cannot tell you for sure what will happen after that because there are many other variables. (HUH?) This is a war that includes political components, military components, (WHAT ARE THOSE COMPONENTS?) and the president has asked us to give him a full scale strategic review, which we’re doing right now, and we are going to try to revamp strategy in a way that upgrades the civilian and economic and reconstruction components and above all, Wolf, we’ve got to deal with Pakistan. We’ve got to stem the deterioration in the tribal areas.

WB: I want to get to Pakistan in a minute but Russ Feingold, the Democratic senator from Wisconsin, a member of the Intelligence Committee, says that you guys may have it reversed.. “We need to have a strategy in place for Afghanistan that will actually work before we commit thousands more American troops. A military escalation without a strategy to address the complex problems facing Afghanistan and the region could alienate the Afghani people and make it much more difficult to achieve our top national security goal of defeating Al Qaeda.”

WB: So you saying you’re going to come up with a strategy, but the decision to send troops, additional troops, double the current U.S troop presence has already been made.

RH: It’s not a doubling, Wolf, it’s about a 40 or 45 percent increase, the doubling is some kind of misunderstanding. But let me go to my friend Russ Feingold’s point because in an ideal world, Senator Feingold would be correct. You do everything in the core order he suggested, but in the real world, the military, having waited for six or seven months for action on their request, made the case to the pres. That if these troops were not sent immediately, the effect on the situation, our ability to support the government of Afghanistan in their elections, and to help with reconstruction would be severely compromised. (SO IN THE REAL WORLD, STRATEGY COMES SECOND? AND WE HAVE TO SEND THE TROOPS BECAUSE WE HAVE TO SEND THE TROOPS?)

"Afghanistan needs troops--but it needs troops of doctors, troops of teachers, troops of Peace Corps volunteers, and troops of farmers to go and replant the fruit orchards."
--Kavita Ramdas, President and CEO of Global Fund for Women
Photo from Reuters/Omar Subhani

Why zoos can be a good idea sometimes


The lovely little chick with her foot in the air, ready to dance, is a Tawny Frogmouth, native to Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. She was born at Seaworld but I found her at Zooborns.

The second, fearful-looking bird in the hand is a Worcester's buttonquail, shown moments before she was sold to be eaten in a market in Luzon, Philippines. Her species was believed to be extinct and, according to the National Geographic, known to ornithologists only through drawing made more than thirty years ago.

It is hoped that this modest species survives elsewhere in Luzon, the only place where it was ever found.

What's life like in the Philippines? According to the Philippine blog Spirituality Page,

The National Statistical and Coordination Board (NSCB) identified the following indicators of the said goal, accompanied by 2003 figures: people living below the poverty line – 30.4%; the poverty gap ratio – 8.4; the share of the poorest quintile in national consumption – 4.7% income and 5.8% expenditure; the number of undernourished children under age 5 – 24.6%; and people whose dietary intake is lower than the required 100% – 56.9%.

Independent surveys in 2008, however, revealed alarming figures. The Social Weather Stations (SWS) reported that in the last quarter, 23.7% or about 4.3 million Filipino households experienced involuntary hunger, the highest record of 11 points in a 10-year average of 12.6%. There are an estimated 9.4 million households or 52% who are ‘self-rated poor’ and 42% or an estimated 7.7 million households who are ‘food poor.’

Friday, February 20, 2009

Old Dog New Tricks

My last post asked folks to guess what the lovely photo I displayed was-- and half an hour later, Matt P. did exactly that! I thought he also must have seen and been fascinated by the picture. I asked him how he guessed, and he told me he'd moused over the photo, gotten the name, then typed it into Google Image Search!

Well, duh! I guess I'd just never noticed you could do that... and how many years have I been using a computer? So if I ever want to do this kind of puzzle again, I must remember to rename the photo before putting it up.

While we're on the subject of photos, how is it that Stumble Upon has come to learn that a stunning or unusual photo is likely to win my approval? Maybe that one's not too hard to answer, but what are the algorithms for deciding why I've faved a vivid, well-designed website on weather? The design or the subject? Content or form?

Photo of Katie from SRivera's photostream at Flickr's Creative Commons.

PS: I love finding the right photo for a post-- sometimes takes me longer than the actual writing-- and I try to give accurate credit. Why doesn't this seem important to many other bloggers?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Is this gorgeous or what?


I'll tell you what it is and where it came from tomorrow-- unless you want to guess? (Hint: unintentionally compounded word whose second part relates to a place of education.)

Funny and sad: Borneo now and then

On the blog Futility Closet, I found a list of phrases that the Borneo Literature Bureau thought a tourist might need in 1966:
  • Wait while I remove these leeches.
  • I have been bitten by sand flies.
  • There are too many rats.
  • There are a lot of mosquitoes here.
  • The cockroaches have eaten my shirt.
  • Is this poisonous?
  • What made that noise?
  • Is Sibu Laut in a swamp?
  • Is there a taboo on your house?
  • Is the burning finished?
  • Where can I defecate?
  • Is that fish dangerous?
  • This floor is not safe.
  • The roof is leaking.
  • There is no room in this boat.
  • We must keep dry.
  • I can't come for a time because the monsoon will soon start.
  • She has a bad pain/snakebite/gunshot wound.
  • Tear some clean cloth into strips.
  • Keep him warm.
  • Go quickly for help.
  • This vomiting needs urgent treatment.
  • I do not know what is wrong. You must take her to the clinic.
  • Your eyes need treatment, or you will become blind.
Now take a look at the graphic from GRID Arendal, documenting the extent of deforestation in Borneo. Looks like a fair number of those phrases are out of date and will continue to be so.

Radday, M, WWF Germany. 2007. 'Borneo Maps'. January 24, 2007, personal e-mail (January 24, 2007)
Cartographer/
Designer
Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/GRID-Arendal

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What people will do for money


I'm not much for ranking oppressions but you have to admit that children and mentally disabled adults don't have much institutional power. Those two groups did, however, prove to be quite profitable for two juvenile court judges in Pennsylvania and-- allegedly-- the Texas-based Henry’s Turkey Service.

Until someone used an anonymous hotline to tip off the state of Iowa, 21 mentally disabled men lived in a 106 year old building-- a bunkhouse, you might call it-- that depended on space heaters for heat. During the day they worked at a meatpacking plant for Henry's Turkey Service for the princely sum of about 44 cents an hour the rest going to Henry's Turkey. Their disability checks also went straight to Henry's Turkey, which returned about $60 a month to the men. That means, according to the Houston Chronicle, the men paid $1,124 a month for room and board.

Now it turns out that at least some family members had made complaints to the Dept. of Social Services, although the agency has no record of complaints. In the town of Atalissa, Iowa, with a population of fewer than 300 people and where the men lived and work, people are doing a little soul-searching.

"Maybe we should have looked a little harder," said (City Councilor) Hepker. "We depended on their caretakers. Des Moines Register.

The men, whom one imagines have developed quite a bit of camaraderie, have been placed in a group home.

For three years, Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan moved children through their courtrooms and got rich in the process. The scheme was simple: the judges would sentence the young to a for-profit lockup owned by PA Child Care LLC, and PA Child Care LLC would pay them-- more than $2.6 million.

Among the offenders were teenagers who were locked up for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing a prank note and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many had never been in trouble before. Some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it.

Many appeared without lawyers, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1967 ruling that children have a constitutional right to counsel. AP.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is considering expunging hundreds, maybe thousands of juvenile records. The judges will be sentenced to seven years in prison. The young people get a little justice and lifelong memories of their experience.

Photo from the National Juvenile Justice Network.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Protest closing of Holyoke Geriatric Authority

65 elderly men and women will have to leave their home; another 65 elderly will lose services that help them stay in the homes they have now-- unless we can do something about it.

I don't often write about the paid work I do for the Mass. Senior Action Council, because I am not the spokesperson, I am the organizer. In this case, however, the situation is so urgent that I want to get the word out anyway I can-- and my own organization, Arise for Social Justice, was the one that tipped me off first to the threatened closing of the Holyoke Geriatric Authority.

The Holyoke Geriatric Authority may have other financial problems-- in this day and age, what agency doesn't?-- but what prompts the Authority into asking permission to close its doors is the failure of Gov. Patrick to release a million dollar bond he promised them last August. It's all too easy to make cuts in programs where the recipients of the services are presumed to have the least political power to protest. Let's make sure that's not true in this case.

Here are two links to MassLive stories about the closing, and here is the press release we've sent out.

Please join us on Wednesday, February 18 at 12:30 pm. in front of the Governor's Western Mass office, Springfield, MA on Dwight St. Here's a link to a Google map to the site.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FEBRUARY 15, 2009

COMMUNITY GROUPS TO PROTEST CLOSING OF HOLYOKE GERIATRIC AUTHORITY

Community organizations and members will be holding a protest over the closing on the Holyoke Geriatric Authority this Wednesday, February 18, at 12:30 p.m. in front of Governor Patrick’s Western Mass. Office, 436 Dwight St., Springfield.

Because the state has failed to release a $1,000,000 bond it promised the Holyoke Geriatric Authority in August, 2008, the Authority administration says it has no choice but to close its doors and relocate its 65 residents. The facility also provides off-site services to an additional 65 elderly community members.

John W, Bennett. President of Mass. Senior Action Council said, “I was born and brought up in Holyoke, and I am dismayed that the Holyoke Geriatric Authority facility is in danger of being shut down, For as long as I can remember, Holyoke has provided a place where the elderly could get affordable care when their families could no longer care for them. In these times when seniors are faced with rising costs for food, shelter and health care, it would be a mistake to shut down this important facility, especially if State funding which could keep the facility open has, in fact, been earmarked for the Authority.

“We must also consider the impact on the facility’s workers and the Holyoke economy if 130 workers lose their jobs. In a time when the national focus is on a stimulus package to increase the number of good available jobs, it seems inappropriate to allow this facility to close. Massachusetts should be providing the funds to keep this place open, and then use stimulus funds to ensure that these workers keep their jobs and that they receive proper pay for the work that they do.”

Arise for Social Justice President Don James says his organization condemns the failure of Gov. Patrick to release the bond which will result in the sudden closing of the Holyoke Geriatric Authority.

“We are deeply concerned this closing will have a traumatic effect on the residents of the Holyoke Geriatric Authority who will be forced to find housing on very short notice. Relocating a person at an advanced age can be a death sentence. We call on Governor Patrick and the legislators to release the promised bond to this valuable social services asset and to allow the Holyoke Geriatric Authority to remain open and operational for the people who have called it home for many years.

“We hope the community will join us in opposing the closing,” James said.

For more information, contact the Mass Senior Action Council at 786-3741 or 455-3829, or Arise for Social Justice at 734-4948.

Withdrawal from Iraq

Having the widget "Withdrawal from Iraq" on my blog is having an interesting effect on me-- probably exactly the effect it's supposed to have! Every morning I find myself wondering what progress Barack Obama is making to withdraw us. (Afghanistan is another story.) Wouldn't it be nice is there was a place on WhiteHouse.gov that specifically addressed Iraq? I've been thru every posting on the WhiteHouse blog but Iraq isn't mentioned; Iraq is listed as on the President's Agenda but it's a simple statement of intent straight from the campaign trail; I suppose I can go thru every press briefing in the Briefing Room although CNN does a pretty decent job of hitting the highlights.

Found another widget...for a March on the Pentagon on the 6th Anniversary of the war, March 21 sponsored by ANSWER. Went to the United for Peace and Justice website, and they are calling for LOCAL actions on March 19-- anything to avoid working with ANSWER. MoveOn.org barely makes a mention of Iraq on its front page, although on another page withdrawal from Iraq is listed as Number 4 of four priorities as voted on by its members. (And if members had voted on the exploration of Mars, would MoveOn be promoting it?) The International Action Center is calling for an April March on Wall St. called Bail Out the People, Not the Banks.

Unity between factions in the anti-war movement has been achieved only sporadically in the last six years.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Some can't forget, some won't forget: prisoner abuse damages all involved

"SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Army Pvt. Brandon Neely was scared when he took Guantanamo's first shackled detainees off a bus. Told to expect vicious terrorists, he grabbed a trembling, elderly detainee and ground his face into the cement — the first of a range of humiliations he says he participated in and witnessed as the prison was opening for business.

Neely has now come forward in this final year of the detention center's existence, saying he wants to publicly air his feelings of guilt and shame about how some soldiers behaved as the military scrambled to handle the first alleged al-Qaida and Taliban members arriving at the isolated U.S. Navy base." Read the rest of Mike Malia's AP story here. Photo from (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

I'd bookmarked the following photos from Abu Ghriab in Iraq some time ago and found them again for this post. I found that the passage of time made them harder, not easier, for me to look at-- as if these nightmare images when seen in the middle of a nightmare are less shocking than when seen in the cold light of day. Anti-War.com.

How easy to want to look ahead, to forget what's happened. But that would just be crazy. So let me again point to a Care2 Petition to Call for a Special Prosecutor for Bush War Crimes. If you feel the same way, sign it.









Shamelessly cute video

Guess it's been around about a year, but first time I've seen it. From YouTube.

Black youth beaten, then arrested! Will there be justice for Jason?

Picture this: you're a pre-med student sitting in your UMass dorm room with a couple of friends when one friend looks out the window and sees two white guys looking in. One white guy says he wants to be "friends" with your female friend; when you go to the window and tell them to go away, they start calling you "nigger" and one of them breaks your dorm window. You call a friend to come over for support and when he enters the dorm, the two guys force their way in. One of the guys throws the first punch, hitting you in the face and breaking your nose. You've got a small knife with you for protection because you fear for your life and you use it to defend yourself. You've told a friend to call the police, and when they arrive, at first they put you in handcuffs-- but after further investigation, they release you.

The next day you go down to the Amherst Police Station to file charges against the guys. Instead, you're arrested and charged with attempted murder!

That's what happened to Jason Vassell on February 8, 2008. While the two white guys admitted to be drinking that night, one was charged with a misdemeanor and the other not charged at all.

Robert Thrasher, the on-call police lieutenant of the UMass campus police, appears to believe the event was a drug deal gone bad. (Vassell, being black, had to be a drug drealer, right?) This was true even though, according to the Valley Advocate and Vassell's attorneys,
Thrasher was in possession of police records that described numerous incidents involving Bowes; in at least one case he was charged with a civil rights violation for attacking a black man. Bosse’s rap sheet is similarly lengthy, and includes two incidents in which he became physical with the police. Once—nine days before the incident at UMass, according to court documents—he attacked an off-duty Hispanic police officer and an Asian fireman; in another incident 25 days after his encounter with Vassell, the record shows, Bosse attacked a mounted officer and his horse. It’s since been alleged that the two run in a gang-like group who call themselves the “East Milton Mafia.”
Jason was told by the UMass administration that he needed either to withdraw from school or face expulsion. Jason, who still hopes to become a doctor, chose to withdraw rather than have an expulsion on his record.

Much of the UMass student body and a number of professors feel the whole process has been tainted with racism and have formed the Justice for Jason Coalition along with many community organizations. They've mobilized to be in court for every hearing for Jason, who is now living at home with his parents in Mattapan.
On January 15th Northwestern Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Dunphy Farris asked the judge to move Jason Vassell’s case out of Hampshire County, claiming that Jason’s supporters and defense had distributed sensitive information about the case to the media to infect the jury pool. The Judge promptly informed Ms. Farris that all documents, including the Motion to Dismiss, are in fact public court documents.
The Committee for Justice for Jason Responded to the request by releasing the following:
“At this hearing the Deputy First Assistant District Attorney now in charge of prosecuting Jason, Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, was clearly concerned by the support that the Committee for Justice for Jason has continued to mobilize for almost a year now. The fact that the prosecutor and the DA’s office are getting uncomfortable, frustrated, and accusatory is due largely to the success of the Justice for Jason campaign in shining a spotlight on this case. District Attorney offices and police departments around the country rely on the lack of transparency with most court cases. They thrive on the secrecy. But now this DA office is scared…scared of having to be accountable to a public that they have, until now, kept in the dark. The DA is elected by her constituency and must therefore be accountable to that constituency. It is clear that DA Scheibel does not want to be accountable. This case and the DA’s racist choices therein highlight the need for an open and transparent criminal justice system–both here in the Northwestern District and in the country at large.” Justice for Jason.
In spite of the substantial community support Jason Vassell is receiving, the outcome is far from certain.

Three events are coming up to assist with Jason's defense and to show widening community support.

On Wednesday, February 18, at the Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton, MA, the judge will be hearing a Motion to Dismiss filed by Jason's lawyers “on the grounds that the defendant has been selectively prosecuted because of his race, in violation of the rights guaranteed him by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Articles I and XII of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.”

On February 21, a Silent Auction will be held to raise funds for Jason's defense because although Jason's attorneys, David P. Hoose and Luke Ryan of Amherst and John Reinstein from the Massachusetts ACLU are working pro bono, there are a number of other costs. The Justice for Jason Coalition is still seeking donations of goods and services.

Then, on March 7, if the Motion to Dismiss has been denied, organizers are calling for a national march in support of Jason Vassell. Organizers can be reached at justiceforjason@gmail.com.

If there's anyone out there who believes that racism automatically came to an end on the day we elected a Black man as president, Jason's case reminds us how far we still have to go.

Homeless man denied right to run for office

Daniel Fore goes to every village council meeting in Oak Park, ILL and speaks at most of them. This year he decided to run for a seat on the village council. The elections will be held April 7.

But the three-person electoral board has decided that Mr. Fore has no right to run and will be kept off the ballot. The reason? Mr. Fore is homeless. Although he has a post office box in Oak Park, and says that is where he lives, there is no "proof" he actually lives there, the electoral board decided.

The one dissenting vote on the electoral board, Village President Daniel Pope, who thinks Mr. Fore should be allowed to run, admits it would be difficult for another resident to challenge Mr. Fore's residency. State law requires a candidate's nominating petitions to include their place of residence with "the street and number thereof, if any."

Mr. Fore has lawyers who will assist him in filing with the state court on the grounds that the phrase "if any" would allow a homeless person to run for office.

Voting rights for homeless people have become better-established over the last twenty years, with people living in shelters allowed to register and vote in 49 states (data for North Dakota not available). People living on the streets have the same right to vote in all but two states. Only ten states, however, have enacted legislation giving voting rights to the homeless.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has a wealth of materials on homeless rights and registration. As more and more people become homeless, attempt of homeless people to run for
office is bound to become more common.

Photo from the Chicago Tribune.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Three proofs: you can solve all the world's problems with greenery

Everything is connected, even if we don't always understand how and why.

1. A recent study held by two Scottish universities showed that even a little bit of greenery near our homes improves our health. Green space reduces health inequities between rich and poor, maybe by encouraging exercise or reducing stress. This is especially true for heart disease and stroke, two conditions much higher among the poor.

A Columbia University study found that asthma rates among four and five year olds fell by 25% for every 343 trees per square kilometer! Given that asthma rates have gone up 50% in the last 20 years, and no one knows why for sure, this astoundingly simple preventative needs to built into urban planning. Again, the researchers aren't sure if the effect is because trees clean the air of pollution, or because trees encourage children to go outside, where they are exposed to the microbes necessary to build their immune system.

2. Not all greenery is created equal, however-- when it comes to the vegetables we eat, your mother's cauliflower is not the same as the cauliflower you eat-- it has 40% less vitamin C than it did in 1975, broccoli has 50% less calcium and watercress has lost 88% of its iron-- and this is as was measured in 2001. You can read about the discovery in the 2001 Le Magazine. And the larger the vegetable, the lower the nutritional value overall. A 2007 Organic Center report shows that
  • The more a tomato weighs, the lower its concentration of lycopene, a natural anti-cancer chemical that makes tomatoes red. There is also less vitamin C and beta carotene, a nutrient linked to vitamin A.
  • Milk from high-production dairy cows has lower concentrations of fat, protein and other nutrition-enhancing components than the milk from dairy operations of 20 years ago or more.
  • Sweet corn, potatoes and whole-wheat bread show double-digit declines in iron, zinc and calcium. The time span of the decline varies depending on the product studied but generally ranges from 20 to 100 years.

  • Vegetables pumped full of water from fertilizers and then grown in nutritionally depleted soil are nowhere near as good for you as vegetables grown in your backyard in a raised bed filled with your own compost from backyard greenery.

    3. Finally, while we are all becoming more familiar with the necessity of greenery for the survival of the planet in terms of global warming, consider the number of wars caused by scarcity of resources, in particular water and food. Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia has been developing permaculture projects across the globe. This short video will give you a sense of what's possible if we are wiling.

    Image from Inspired Economies.

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    Obama mean to LOL cats


    It's good to go to bed smiling....

    from Whatever.

    End Poverty! If not now, when?


    I have noticed that it's taken a while for really poor people to feel the effects of the economic downturn. And why is that? Because we've got so little to lose! We don't own homes so we have no homes to lose. We don't have pension funds so the Bernie Madoffs of this world have nothing to steal from us. And for those of us who work at Taco Bell and Dunkin Donuts, it's only as working class and other poor people tighten their belts and eliminate their morning coffee and their lunches that our jobs become at risk.

    But it's bad, it's bad. Not to complain, but I didn't put oil in my tank until January and when that hundred gallons is gone, it's gone. This past week I've been cutting a dose of a medicine I need in half so it will last me to payday today. I also found out that my fulltime hours will be cut in half in April, so if you hear of any jobs in the Greater Springfield, MA area, let me know. I'm very happy I'm done raising my family so I don't have to make these tough choices for three instead of one.

    Middle and working class people are wondering how Barack Obama's stimulus plan is going to help them; poor people are organizing because we can't wait much longer. My organization, Arise for Social Justice, is a proud member of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, a national organizing effort to bring poor people together to fight for our rights. July is the next big convening. Below is information about a conference in Kentucky this July and a call for participation. If you're poor and you can get there, do it. If you're an ally, maybe you can help someone else get there. More details to come.

    "Building the Unsettling Force:
    A National Conference to Abolish Poverty"

    Organized by the Social Welfare Action Alliance (SWAA) and the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC)
    Thursday, July 16, 2009 -- Sunday, July 19, 2009
    Spalding University -- Louisville, Kentucky


    This conference is being organized to provide a forum for people to share ideas, inspire, and motivate each other. We will strive for collective actions based in sound analyses - actions that can be taken locally, regionally, and nationally when we leave this gathering. Abolish poverty in these times of increasing joblessness, homelessness, hunger, and unemployment? We say "yes" and turn to the wisdoms of Martin Luther King, who envisioned an organized "unsettling force" built across racial lines that would spark a "revolution of values" to reorganize our society.
    Community activists and organizers, social workers, human service workers, students, faculty and all who are concerned with meeting human need and claiming economic human rights are encouraged to propose workshops, roundtables, panel discussions, presentations, papers, skill-building sessions, and more. Participatory formats are especially encouraged. We also seek proposals for cultural contributions in the form of music, poetry, art, drama, and multimedia presentations. We invite you to submit your proposal by fax to 216-651-2633 or e-mail to mpardasani@fordham.edu. Please include the following:
    • A cover page indicating title of the proposal and the names, addresses, and affiliations of all
    presenters.
    • A 200 word proposal linked to the conference theme.
    • Proposed format & amount of time desired
    Note: No presentations on Thursday. We may contact you for approval to combine presentations.
    Updates at www.socialwelfareactionalliance.org. For questions or assistance, contact Manoj Pardasani (SWAA), 212-636-6622 mpardasani@fordham.edu or Larry Bresler (PPEHRC), 216-651-2606, lbresler@economichumanrights.org.

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    Are more people homeless? "Point in Time" results start to trickle in.


    Every year in January communities across the country participate in "Point in Time" counts of homeless people, an initiative of the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It's not as easy as just calling up shelter directors and asking for their census; volunteers take flashlight and sometimes warm coffee and hit the alleys, abandoned buildings and riverbanks to find the unsheltered homeless. I've always wondered why this count doesn't take place in May, where the unsheltered homeless are a bit easier to spot, but it is what it is.

    Officials from my home city Springfield, Massachusetts are having a press conference today to announce that the number of homeless single people has gone down but the number for homeless families has risen, leading to an overall increase in homelessness. A random sampling of cities doesn't look good. Elizabeth City, North Carolina found one less person homeless than from the previous year's census, but McHenry County, Illinois found a 36% increase. Billings, Montana found 10% more homeless people than last year. Nineteen of twenty-five cities polled by the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported an average 12% more homeless people in their cities over last year. I can't imagine that figures are going to improve for the year ahead.

    Foreclosures are driving up family homelessness in a big way, and it's not just the individual homeowners who are suffering. Many renters keep paying their rent, unaware of the fact that owners are in default. I've known a number of people who moved into an apartment one month, only to be evicted by a bank the very next month! Yes, sadly, there are property owners that unscrupulous.

    Children pay the highest price of homelessness. Their nutrition is likely to suffer, especially if they're temporarily housed in motels, the way 673 Massachusetts families are right this moment-- can't cook in a motel room. Homeless kids miss more school days, even though many counties try very hard to help kids get to school. But the problem is outpacing school systems' ability to cope. The largest school district in Arizona has 28% more homeless kids this year than last.

    The blog Invisible Homeless Kids is helping to promote a new campaign to pass the H.R. 29, the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2009, which will make sure that homeless children and also homeless teens not with their families are counted as homeless-- believe it or not, they're often excluded from the count, skewing the number of actual homeless. You can get more information about the bill at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. Then take action.

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    Coincidence? I think NOT!

    What are the chances of reading the words "perfect storm" on the screen at the exact moment the words are spoken on television? Just happened to me. How does one calculate the odds on this?

    My favorite and most mind-blowing coincidence, though, came about twenty years ago when my friend Patti and I were making collages in her living room. The television was on in the background.

    I had hundreds-- maybe thousands-- of pictures I'd cut out from a variety of sources over many years, including a stack of old Life magazines I'd found in a farmhouse in Maine.

    One of the pictures I remembered had come from Life was of actress Joanne Dru in a checkered dress pointing a revolver at someone. I held it up for Patti to see. At that moment, I glanced at the TV and there was Joanne Dru, in the same dress holding the same gun in the same pose as in my photo! The movie was She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, with John Wayne.

    That particular scene must have become a stock photo, because when I typed "Joanne Dru" into Google images just now, up popped the very same image.

    So here she is, for your perusal.

    Lost jobs at Ludlow jail: sorry for the individuals, but...

    Sheriff Michael Ashe is not a happy camper right now. Budget cuts to correctional centers across the state have hit home at the Hampden County Correctional Center in Ludlow and the women's jail in Chicopee. Twenty-three newly-hired correctional officers and three counselors will be losing their jobs, and I'm sorry for anyone in that position.

    Here's what Sheriff Ashe isn't talking about as he bewails job losses: more than half of the 1,900 inmates in the jails are there pre-trial-- not convicted of anything but unable to pay the excessive bail that a few area judges have been imposing. Every incarcerated inmate COSTS MONEY.

    Now, we're not talking about your accused rapists, murderers and armed robbers, here, or even your Bernie Madoffs. We're talking about offenders whose maximum sentence is likely to be two years and under. Many of them will serve their entire "sentence" without ever being sentenced, because they can't afford bail.

    Keep in mind that an unknown number of people awaiting trial and serving sentences are actually not guilty of any crime. Earlier this week the New York Times reported on new efforts to exonerate imprisoned people where there is no DNA evidence to go on.

    “All these hundreds of DNA exonerations across the country have demonstrated to anyone who’s paying attention that there are far more innocent people in prison than anybody could imagine,” said James McCloskey, the founder of Centurion Ministries, an innocence project based in New Jersey.

    Unfortunately, no one is likely to take extraordinary effort to prove the innocence of someone who will "only" lose two years of his or her life.

    Both the men's and the women's correctional facilities are very overcrowded. Many educational and recreational programs can't take place because there's simply no room. The sheriff doesn't like this, either. He has a national reputation as an innovator to maintain and recent jail conditions have put a crimp in his plans.

    One of my early posts on this blog was about the day the new women's jail opened. My organization, Arise for Social Justice, was operating by the principle, "If you build it, they will come"-- and how true that's proved to be! Especially now, when money is so tight, there has to be a better way to deal with people accused of low-level offenses.

    Sunday, February 8, 2009

    Saturday, February 7, 2009

    Unattended children



    Take action for homeless families

    If you live in Massachusetts, you have a chance to stick up for homeless families. Call your legislator and tell him or her to oppose these proposed regulations (below) that would make it harder for homeless families to get into shelter.

    You can get a list of your legislators by town here. You can find your legislators' phone numbers here.

    For more information, contact Mass. Coalition for the Homeless, 781-595-7570.

    SAVE ACCESS TO EMERGENCY SHELTER FOR HOMELESS FAMILIES
    The Patrick Administration has proposed to restrict access to emergency shelter for children and
    families experiencing homelessness, beginning on April 1. Please take all steps possible to ensure
    that these restrictions do not take effect, including calling the Governor and asking him to withdraw
    the proposed restrictions and supporting supplemental funding for family shelter (item 4403-2120).
    The proposals to restrict shelter access for homeless children are based on a projected budget deficit
    of less than $3.4 million in the family shelter account for the current fiscal year. This deficit is directly
    related to the skyrocketing number of families facing homelessness due to the poor national economy.
    These families are in desperate need for help, and restricting access to shelter in these precarious
    times is not the answer. And these punitive proposals wouldn’t even resolve the deficit, since they
    would “save” the state less than $520,000 this fiscal year.
    The restrictions on access to shelter are unnecessary to close the projected deficit. The state is
    expected to receive from the Federal Economic Recovery bill more than $17 million this fiscal year
    and another $23 million next year in emergency TANF funds that are specifically intended to help the
    state meet the costs of serving more low-income families in need. These funds can be used to
    cover the shelter deficit and avoid harm to homeless children. In addition, the Federal Economic
    Recovery package is expected to include additional Emergency Shelter Grant funding that can be
    used to prevent homelessness in the longer run. Also, the regional coordinating entities established
    through the work of the Commission to End Homelessness -- whose mission is to pilot and study
    creative ways to prevent homelessness -- are not yet operating but are scheduled to begin operations
    in the next few weeks. We should allow the regional entities to do their work, as their efforts should
    render these new restrictions unnecessary.
    The eight proposed restrictions on shelter access (see over) include denying eligibility for shelter
    and services to children and families who have been evicted or voluntarily left subsidized or
    public housing in the past three years. This proposal is particularly unfair and unwise because:
    • Emergency shelter was created to protect children who have no control over their parents’
    conduct. Denying them shelter will punish kids unfairly. Moreover, many families are evicted
    from subsidized housing due to issues beyond their control, such as those related to disability,
    domestic violence, limited English proficiency, or conduct by someone who is no longer a part
    of the household seeking shelter. In some cases, families are evicted from housing because
    they never even got the court papers telling them when their eviction hearing was.
    • There are inadequate systems in place to prevent evictions. Few public housing authorities
    have eviction mediation systems and most tenants in eviction proceedings do not have legal
    counsel to represent them (in 2005, only 6% of tenants but 66% of landlords were
    represented). Denying emergency shelter to families evicted from subsidized housing will
    reduce the incentive the state has to create better eviction prevention systems, and therefore
    will not further the Commission's goal of preventing homelessness.
    • Without shelter and housing search services, these families will have no safe places to go and
    their children may have to enter state custody, causing greater trauma to the children and
    greater expenses for the state over time.
    ACT NOW TO PROTECT FAMILIES EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS!
    For more information, please contact Mass. Law Reform Institute 617-357-0700 (Ruth Bourquin x333,
    rbourquin@mlri.org or Deborah Silva x340 dsilva@mlri.org), Mass. Coalition for the Homeless 781-595-7570 (Leslie
    Lawrence x16, leslie@mahomeless.org or Kelly Turley x17, kelly@mahomeless.org), Greater Boston Legal Services
    (Steve Valero 617-603-1654 svalero@gbls.org), South Coastal County Legal Services (Rick McIntosh 508-775-7020
    x114 rmcintosh@sccls.org), Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Mass. (Faye Rachlin 508-752-3718
    frachlin@laccm.org), Western Mass. Legal Services (Marion Hohn 413-686-9015 mhohn@wmls.org), Neighborhood
    Legal Services (Emily Herzig 781-244-1405 eherzig@nlsma.org), Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services (Ellen
    Shachter 617-603-2731 eshachter@gbls.org).
    General Description of Proposed Restrictions on Family Shelter Access
    (Note: As of February 3, 2009, the Administration has not yet made available to the Legislature
    or the public a copy of the actual language of the proposed regulations.)
    The Patrick Administration is proposing to:
    1. Deny access to shelter to any family who has been evicted or who has voluntarily departed
    public or subsidized housing in the past 3 years without good cause. See discussion on page 1.
    • No details currently available about what will constitute good cause.
    • Existing rules already bar families whose current homelessness is caused by eviction for
    criminal activity, destruction of property or nonpayment of rent.
    2. Impose a 30-hour per week work requirement on families in shelter and kick them out of
    shelter if they cannot comply.
    • While details are currently lacking, the requirement reportedly will be imposed even though
    there are few jobs and training opportunities in the current economy, without regard to the
    age of the youngest child, with no exemptions for families with disability-related barriers
    (although DTA has indicated that individualized reasonable modifications will be available).
    • In 2004, the Legislature said families in shelter should not be subject to other work
    requirements because they need to prioritize housing search obligations.
    3. Reduce the period that families who go over the income limit can stay in shelter and try to
    find housing from the 6 months set by the Legislature to only 3 months.
    • Given the economy and lack of housing subsidies, 3 months is not much time for families
    to secure safe, permanent housing; families who run out of time could be forced into
    unsustainable housing arrangements.
    • The Administration says it believes it can find these families housing within 3 months. If
    that is the case, there is no need for the change in the rule.
    4. Deny continued access to shelter to families who are absent from a shelter placement for 2
    or more consecutive nights or for 1 night on repeated occasions without advance approval.
    • No details currently available as to how onerous the requirements for getting approval will
    be or whether this will prevent families from temporarily staying with relatives or attending
    to crises, even if they have given DTA or their shelter provider advance notice.
    5. Deny continued access to shelter for families who reject just one offer of housing.
    • No details currently available as to any exceptions that might be allowed or whether the
    housing offer must be in a place close to jobs, schools, medical providers, etc.
    6. Deny access to shelter to families in which the only child is between the ages of 19 and 21
    unless the child is disabled or in high school and expected to graduate by age 19.
    • Under this plan, most families with dependents aged 19-21 would be sent to already overburdened
    individual shelters, where access is not guaranteed and family members may be
    separated from one another.
    7. Deny access to shelter to children whose parents have outstanding default or arrest warrants.
    • Children would be kept out of shelter even though state statute authorizes denial of
    benefits only to the person with the outstanding warrant.
    8. Require all families in shelters (but not including motels) to “save” 30% of their income as a
    condition of continued eligibility for shelter.

    "Poverty is Not a Crime" stops panhandling ordinance

    Congratulations! You wouldn't know it by reading the Northampton Gazette article, but skilled and persistent organizing by the new group Poverty is Not a Crime has forced the Northampton, MA City Council to table indefinitely a proposed ordinance which would have restricted panhandling to such a degree as to make it virtually forbidden, and which would have instituted impossible-to-pay fines that could have led to warrants and incarceration.

    Thanks also to Bill Newman of the ACLU, who also recently stood up against a Springfield City Council proposal which would have recriminalized possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.

    Mayor Claire Higgins said that the community had become so polarized over the ordinance that it was impossible to move ahead. Efforts by the Business Improvement District to improve business conditions had also become inextricably linked to the anti-panhandling ordinance. You can read Fred Contrada's Springfield republican article here.

    The new blog The Invisible People has collected some examples of panhandling ordinances, both passed and proposed. Check it out.

    Photo from DTE People's photostream at Flickr.

    Thursday, February 5, 2009

    Thank You, M'am

    She was a large woman with a large purse that had everything in it but hammer and nails. It had a long strap, and she carried it slung across her shoulder. It was about eleven o'clock at night, and she was walking alone, when a boy ran up behind her and tried to snatch her purse. The strap broke with the single tug the boy gave it from behind. But the boy's weight and the weight of the purse combined caused him to lose his balance so, instead of taking off full blast as he had hoped, the boy fell on his back on the sidewalk, and his legs flew up. the large woman simply turned around and kicked him right square in his blue-jeaned sitter. Then she reached down, picked the boy up by his shirt front, and shook him until his teeth rattled.

    After that the woman said, "Pick up my pocketbook, boy, and give it here." She still held him. But she bent down enough to permit him to stoop and pick up her purse. Then she said, "Now ain't you ashamed of yourself?"

    Read the rest of this very short Langston Hughes story at American Literature.

    The dreaded Nos calls out the cops

    Poor Josh..... Seems like being a Puerto Rican young man and walking the streets of Springfield, MA at 2 a.m. is automatically a suspicious act. I wrote about how he and my nephew went on a wild ride with the Springfield police last October. Well, last night he was walking to meet up with my nephew, who was just getting out of work from Taco Bell, when he was stopped by a cruiser. The officer had him lean against the cruiser while he patted Josh down.

    "What's in your backpack?" the officer asked.

    "Four cans of Nos," Josh answered.

    Well, the officer didn't know what that was and called for backup! Three cruisers turned up. They checked his backpack and of course what they found was for cans of the energy drink Nos.

    "Sorry," the officer said, "you can go."

    So Josh went home.

    Must be one of those "quality of life" issues.

    Minke whale and dolphins rescued in Wellfleet, Cape Cod

    Tuesday: rescue four dolphins.
    Wednesday: lead a minke whale back to sea.
    Just another day in Wellfleet?

    This summer I'm going to have to shake the hand of Wellfleet Harbormaster Michael Flanagan, who gently guided back to sea a minke whale who'd come too close to shore and was in danger of being stranded by the approaching low tide. According to the Boston Globe's Green Blog, Flanagan has quite a bit of experience with strandings, which are all too common in the Cape Cod winter.

    On Tuesday, the International Fund for Animal Welfare rounded up thirty volunteers and help capture and rescue four dolphins who were stranded in Duck Creek and Chipman's Cove in Wellfleet Harbor. The animals' body temperature had fallen so low that the rescuers had to warm them up in a trailer before driving them to Herring Cove in Provincetown. All seemed to be well as they swam away.



    Photo by Eric Williams, Cape Cod Times. video taken by Cape Cod Times.

    Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    Bureaucratic barriers hide the real numbers of poor people

    Sunday's New York Times reported on a curious phenomenon: poverty and unemployment are increasing, but somehow the welfare rolls are not going up-- the rate of enrollees from last year to this year is a statistically insignificant 0.3%. A few states had increases, a few had decreases, but it all balanced out.

    The number of people receiving food stamps, however, went up in every single state, sometimes dramatically-- Florida's rate went up 16%.

    So why the difference?

    Since the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act passed in 1996, public assistance, although partially funded by the federal government, is administered by each state with a great deal of latitude. The Food Stamp program, however, or SNAP as it is now called, is a straightforward federal program with a simple application form, and it doesn't cost the states a penny.

    Therefore states have no reason to hide how many people are on the SNAP program, while much of public assistance, with its poor cousin homelessness, come directly from cash-poor state coffers.

    Here in Massachusetts, public assistance administrators have a long history of keeping the family homeless rolls down by by creating regulations that disqualify families from shelter. If a family is not in a homeless shelter, that family can't be counted in the statistics.

    This year, the line item that provides shelter for homeless families is facing a $3.36 million deficit. The Executive Office of Health and Human Services has figured out a way to reduce that deficit by $517,375 by instituting eight new regulations.

    The advocacy organization Mass. Coalition for the Homeless has analyzed the impact of one of these regulations:

    1. Denying eligibility to families who have been evicted or voluntarily left public or subsidized housing without good cause in the past three years. This represents a significant expansion of grounds for denial. Under current regulations, a family can be denied access to shelter if they have been evicted from public or subsidized housing for non-payment of rent, criminal activity, or destruction of property and that eviction is directly connected to the family’s current need for shelter.
    Currently, this bar from shelter usually is in effect for no more than 12 months. It is unclear how broadly DTA will define good cause. In one estimate from DTA, this change would affect 20 families per month, although the actual number of children and families left without shelter may be much higher. In describing this change, DTA has said, “Families in this situation have already been granted and lost one of the most generous public benefits due to their own actions…Besides saving scarce EA resources for those who have not had this opportunity, this policy shift will be an incentive to those with subsidies to keep them.”

    The Coalition does not believe that households purposely make themselves homeless knowing that they can obtain shelter or that housing authorities will change their behavior and work more closely with tenants to address problems before eviction because the family will be ineligible for this assistance. No child should be condemned to homelessness, and denied a basic safety net, for even a day, let alone three years.

    Once again, poor people are in a "damned if we do, damned if we don't" situation.

    During the Bush years, when the leaks in our economy had not yet become visible, there was no room for poor people to make a decent living. Now, when even the middle class is suffering, poor people are just supposed to suck it up-- times are tough for everyone, right?

    I will be curious to see if the new stimulus plans will reach deeply enough to to offer hope for those at the economic bottom. But based on past history, I'm not holding my breath.

    Pavlov's Dogs


    From Say No to Crack

    Springfield judge on side of common sense; marijuana law goes back to committee

    Seems like I'm having an exceptionally busy week but I want to find time to remark on two events in Springfield, MA this Monday.

    First, Councilor James Ferrara's attempt to circumvent new state law by making marijuana an arrestable offense-- as well as increasing the fine by $300-- was sent back to committee Monday night after possibly more opposition than expected.

    Ferrara said he's heard that Chicopee, a neighboring city, was planning to increase fines for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and he didn't want Springfield to become a haven for pot smokers. Yup, that's right, all the area pot smokers, whether they reside in Springfield, Chicopee or not, are going to say, Hmmm...$300 fine in Chicopee, $100 fine in Springfield.....Let's all head to Springfield to smoke a joint. Yes, indeed, Springfield is a haven for pot smokers.....

    The ACLU's Bill Newman said increasing the fine would likely clog the court system, as a $100 fine is payable but a $400 fine might go unpaid. Newman was representing a group I'd never heard of, the Liberty Preservation Association of Massachusetts, Inc., which seems to be Libertarian, and about a dozen of whose members also came to the City Council hearing.

    A considerably more controversial event came about after Judge Cornelius J. Moriarty II threw out evidence against a suspected drug trafficker, saying that he did not believe the testimony of two of the arresting officers. That's the third time in recent months that a Hampden Superior Court judge has refused to believe evidence presented by officers, and the second time for Moriarty. Unfortunately, in the first case, the man who was set free then went on to kill another man at Springfield's Mardi Gras strip club this past January. I'm sure that case was on Moriarty's mind when he made his ruling on Monday; he knew he'd be wide open to criticism, but still he did what he thought was the right thing. the Springfield Republican reported on police reaction and anger here.

    Debate on the local forums has been pretty one-sided, with most people saying the judge was clearly on the side of the criminals, and only a few pointing out that no, the judge was on the side of the law. Moral of the story: if you want to arrest someone and have the charges stick, you've got to do it the right way.

    You know that moment in life where something you've always believed is overturned by personal experience? My own very minor experience of an arrest for possession of marijuana became one of those "Aha!" moments.

    Forty years ago, when it really did seem like a revolution was around the corner two friends and I were sitting in a parked car in Cambridge, MA and we had just finished smoking a joint. We had about another quarter ounce in the glove box, but otherwise, no marijuana was visible.

    Suddenly a police officer knocked on the window of the car, and as we rolled down the window, I imagine he was hit with a strong whiff of an illegal substance. He told us that he was going to arrest all three of us then and there, but that it would go easier on us in court if we just turned over anything we had rather than making him search, and like idiots, we did.

    Flash forward to our day in court, where we had a public defender and a little better sense of our rights but were still basically naive-- 3 eighteen year old white kids.

    The officer was called to testify, and the ADA asked him the circumstances of our arrests.

    "I was walking by the car and could smell marijuana. I looked in the window of the car," he said, "and I could see a bag of marijuana right there on the seat."

    Well, we were so astounded at his lie that we let out three very audible gasps. The judge let the case finish up and then found us not guilty, clearly not believing the testimony of the arresting officer. What a relief.

    That was the end of my belief that all police officers always tell the truth. I have not replaced it with a belief that all police officers always lie, but through the years I've personally been aware of at least thirty similar situations, not counting those I've learned about through the media.

    I have a flare and a fondness for the law which probably started when I was a kid reading about Clarence Darrow's great labor and criminal cases. I do believe unjust laws are made to be broken and I know that sentiment is not limited to my generation. But I respect the intent of the law, which, at its best, is simply a set of rules defined collectively about how we live in a fair and safe society.

    My message to the criminal justice system is simple: If you want to enforce the law, do it by following the law.

    Monday, February 2, 2009

    Kicked to the curb, ignored, homeless man dies while others step around him


    OK, so everybody knows about this by now, but I have to comment because by tomorrow, the story will be gone.

    A homeless man is struck by two others, hits his head, falls unconscious, and dies shortly afterwards. He lays in the middle of the sidewalk in Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C., for twenty minutes before someone calls an ambulance.

    That's what happened to 31-year-old Jose Sanchez last Tuesday. People in the neighborhood said they're used to seeing people passed out drunk in the neighborhood, and put Mr. Sanchez in that category.

    Sorry, though-- Mr. Sanchez was in the middle of the sidewalk, NOT where people choose to pass out. People stepped around this guy, for God's sake.

    But actually, who cares where he was laying.

    I have never passed by someone on the street who was not conscious without at least stopping and making a judgment about his or her well-being. Sometimes I speak to the person. Sometimes I tell a cop, or call an ambulance, and sometimes I pass on-- but never without thought.

    I think many people are like me, and I think there are many more who would take some kind of action if they had any idea how to do it. But they don't know the protocol, don't know what's polite or impolite, don't know what to do.

    So I ask everyone to take a moment, right now, and think about what you would do if you saw a person unconscious on the sidewalk. A little mental practice will make it easier to act.