Saturday, September 29, 2007

Invasion of privacy

So much going on, I've barely had time to write about anything but ward representation, BUT--

How do people in Massachusetts feel about a proposal to eliminate MA turnpike tollbooths and replace it with an automated system that would track our comings and goings?

From the Associated Press-- Instead of fumbling for change or navigating through special lanes in transponder-equipped cars, drivers may soon have to do little more than cruise on and off highways passing under a metal beam spanning the entire width of the road.

At the end of the month they'd receive a bill, much like any other utility bill. Except this bill would log each time they entered or exited a highway system, how far they traveled and how much they owed.

Does this idea bother anybody else?

Now comes a truly absurd and invasive idea-- The National Animal Identification System (ever heard of this agency before?) wants the owners of all farm animals " register their premises and personal information in a federal database, to buy microchip devices and attach them to every single one of their animals (each of which gets its very own 15-digit federal ID number), to log and report each and every "event" in the life of each animal, to pay fees for the privilege of having their location and animals registered, and to sit still for fines of up to $1,000 a day for any noncompliance." Alternet.

These things get put in place and we have no say about them-- or no idea they're even happening.

Teeny, tiny, PATHETIC correction

Spoke to Jim Gillen, City Desk editor at the Republican yesterday-- asked him WHY the paper keeps getting the ward representation deadline wrong. He said, "Don't worry, we'll take care of it."

So in this morning's paper, inside section bottom of left side, about ONE INCH that says

Springfield: State law requires the city get approval to put a question on the Nov. 6 ballot ny Oct. 2. The date was incorrect in a newsbrief and editorial yesterday, due to an editing error.

That's the whole thing. Why didn't the paper mention the question under discussion is ward representation? A little context would have been more than appropriate.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Back your ballot with a paper record

Uncomfortable with electronic voting that does not produce a paper record? You can go to Common Cause and send a letter to your Representative in support of the Holt bill, coming up soon in the House for a vote.

Newspaper WRONG AGAIN!

Just WHAT does it take for the newspaper to get this VERY IMPORTANT DEADLINE RIGHT? Once again the paper has said the deadline for getting ward representation on the ballot is October 19. It is NOT the 19th, it's the 2nd! I have been trying to correct this mistake with them ALL WEEK. One would almost think the paper WANTED people to relax, not worry...

Here's the article from newsbriefs:

House OKs Springfield ward representation
BOSTON - With no debate, the state House of Representatives yesterday voted to approve a bill that would create a system of ward representation for the Springfield City Council and School Committee.

The bill now moves to the Senate. Legislators need to approve the bill by Oct. 19, a deadline for the Springfield Election Commission to place a binding question about ward representation on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Doomsday Clock for Ward Representation

The games continue. Today the House passed the ward representation legislation, but mysteriously, so late in the day that the Senate had already adjourned.

I got this information today from Candace Lopes at Sen. Buoniconti's office. Sen. Buoniconti is committed enough to ward representation that he called Senate leadership about meeting in Session on Monday, where, I'm told, it will pass easily.

So now the question is: Where will Gov. Patrick be between the time the Senate acts on Monday, and Tuesday end of day by which the bill MUST become law to be on our November 6 ballot.

I haven't yet used this blog to ask people to take political action, but now I must. Massachusetts readers: please call Gov. Patrick's office tomorrow and Monday and urge him to make himself available to sign this bill, H4071. (Don't know if the number changes after the Senate passes it; probably, but this should do.) Let him know it's about allowing ward representation to be voted on by Springfield citizens. The Governor's office number is 617-725-4005. I don't know any name there except for Ann Walker, his Legislative Director. You could ask for her or anybody else who can get in touch with the Governor.

Whenever something as apparently inexplicable as the Legislature's delay in acting on this Home Rule petition takes place, especially when it is so contrary to the will of the people, there's a useful question to be asked: who benefits?

We know incumbent city councilors are less secure in their seats when there are five-- not nine-- at-large seats for them to hold.

But today, something else occurred to me. Under the current at-large system, state representatives are the only political force in any given ward-- there is no other governmental structure in which leadership can emerge. With ward representation in place, a ward councilor would be building his or her own political contacts and power base, and could eventually challenge a state representative for the district. That makes ward rep a threat.

Much to think about.
Call the Governor!

The new Doomsday Clock for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists designed by Pentagram.

October doesn't matter

Crossing my open window:
a golden thread of web.
Exclamation of small creatures:
I live! I am not dead!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Thanks-- but paper gets the date wrong.

The Springfield Republican had a pro-ward representation editorial today which, I hope, will play a part in pressuring legislators to keep pushing the home rule legislation through ward rep can go on this November's ballot. But the editorial got the deadline date wrong! The editorial said the deadline was October 19. It is NOT the 19th, it is the 2nd! This misinformation is counter-productive to the real sense of urgency citizens and legislators need to be feeling right now. TUESDAY! TUESDAY! TUESDAY! Even a core Arise member left a message on my phone tonight saying, "Well, at least we've got till the 19th." I think/hope the paper will correct this tomorrow.

We had a ward representation meeting tonight. If the question gets on the November 6 ballot, we certainly know what we have to do-- it's old-fashioned grassroots work. Arise, Oiste and the NAACP have organized on fair city council and school committee elections for so many years, we've laid a lot of groundwork.

But we still just don't know.

We decided tonight that we will have a press conference Tuesday, October 2nd, noon, on the steps of City Hall, either:
to celebrate Springfield's opportunity to vote in ward representation
to castigate those elected officials who waited until the eleventh hour to act, when the eleventh hour was already too late.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I was wrong by a day

Talked to our lawyer Nadine Cohen who remembered clearly info from the Secretary of State's office-- the ward representation legislation must become law 35 not 36 days before the city election. Yipee.

Ward Representation - will we even have a chance to vote for it?

What a frustrating day yesterday was. I returned a call from Candace Lopes, Sen. Buoniconti's aide, and I knew was bad news even before I called.

No, the Senate had not voted on the home rule legislation for ward representation-- in fact, the House hadn't even finished voting. And even after the legislation is passed, it still has to be signed by the Governor-- all before what I believe to be the deadline for getting a question on the ballot-- next Monday, October 1. Candace said the rumor was that a House member from Western Mass-- no identity known-- was holding the legislation up.

I called Rep. Ben Swan, a longtime ward rep supporter, who said he hoped it would finish being voted on this Thursday, but that it really wasn't up to him, it was up to the House leadership-- that means Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi. So I called his office and talked (of course) to an aide.

Then I called the Governor's office to make sure he was going to be in town to sign the legislation, should it pass both houses of the Legislature. Of course that's like trying to talk to God, but I did speak to his legislative director who said that getting the Governor to sign was not that simple-- that it often took 30 days or more while the Governor did "due diligence" on the legislation.

During the day other ward rep supporters called their state representatives. The responses ranged from pretty clueless to informed and ready to vote favorably; everyone denied being "the one" to hold the bill up.

Then I called Mayor Ryan's office, for the fourth time since August, to ask him the same thing-- PLEASE be in touch with the Western Mass. legislators and tell them to move the home rule petition forward. Later in the day I was told by a mayor's aide that Mayor Ryan was, that very day, writing a letter to the reps-- too little, too late for a mayor who is supposed to be a ward rep supporter (as is his mayoral opposition, Domenic Sarno, at least for the last couple years).

Finally I called Mike Plaisance, reporter at the Springfield Republican, to fill him in on what was (not) happening. He called me later and said he'd been told by the city's Election office that the question could go on the Springfield ballot as late as October 19. Now that's not what I was told by the Election office, (and not one of the city councilors, state reps or city lawyers that I've talked to over the last several months have challenged that date-- maybe they just don't know) so my job today is to clarify what the real deadline is.

If it's October 19, terrific. Of course that gives us grassroots folks even less time to campaign among the city's registered voters. However, even that date probably doesn't guarantee that the Legislature will finish doing it's job.

And they wonder why people are cynical about voting and politics.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Stealing the next presidential election

"Right now it’s just a petition drive on its way to becoming a ballot initiative in California. But you should think of it as a tropical depression that could develop into a major storm that blows away the Democrats’ chances of winning the White House next year."

So begins Bob Herbert's begins his NYimes editorial published Friday, September 21. While Democrats debate the merits of the eight presidential candidates, Republicans have come up with a scheme to steal the next presidential election. Read it, we've all got to know what's going on. Also read Doug Kendall's Slate piece. For a local report, check out the California Progressive Report.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Toys Made in America

I am eight years older than my next youngest sibling, but when I was a kid, I was lucky enough to have a passel of first cousins, ages arrayed in typical catholic stepladder pattern.

On rainy afternoons, we'd take two or three chairs and drape them with my gracious aunt's sheets to create a playhouse. Sunny days, those same sheets hung from the clothesline and otherwise draped around the yard became jails, forts, tee-pees, convents. Add a few random items of clothing and we became gangsters, cops, soldiers, cowboys and Indians. (This doesn't sound very PC, but you had to have two groups that opposed each other to have a good game.)

We played jacks, jump rope, hopscotch and ball-against-the-wall. Some of us became experts in yo-yos, kites and gyroscopes. We played Red Rover, Mother May I and Red Light Green Light and the always popular Hide and Seek. Sometimes we just spun in circles on the grass until we staggered away and fell over.

(I just remembered how we used to pool our change to buy the forbidden Mad magazine.)

Of course there were toys-- especially I remember Mattel and Milton Bradley toys. And lots of wooden blocks-- we could use up every one and still not have enough. And bicycles, scooters and roller skates. Oh, my.

When I became a mom, toys became important to me again for a different reason. First, they had to be safe-- no parts small enough to swallow or sharp enough to put out an eye. Next, they had to spark the imagination in some way-- magic tricks, chemistry sets, ovens that really baked, woodcraft, beadcraft, papercraft. Both my kids liked to read so that helped a lot-- books were not boring gifts. Lastly, they had to be toys my kids wanted and many of the most wanted toys were those advertised on television. I certainly did my fair share of hunting through stores at 8 am. looking for Star Wars Action figures, Cabbage Patch dolls and My Little Ponies.

I'm sure it must be much tougher for parents today. Electronic toys, games and computers have increased kids' horizons and are great options, although I do think they tend to fill way too much of our kids' leisure time at the expense of too many other activities. Advertising intrudes into our kids' lives to a degree I would never have imagined possible. We have to teach our kids to understand just what marketing is, and how to resist, and we'd better not wait until they're ten years old to start.

Then there's the safety issue rearing its head again.

CNN covered the congressional hearings currently taking place on the safety of imported toys, and the situation is not good. While I reject the idea that all imported toys (especially from China) are dangerous, and all toys made in the U.S.A. are safe, let me just say that what's farther away is harder to see.

I looked online for American-made toys and found a number of great sites. They were so easy to find that I won't list them here. Some of them are a real blast from the past.

One suggestion: don't just think made in America, think local. Not only will you get a great toy, you'll be helping to keep the local economy going.

Shop Western Mass is a link to merchandise all of which is made in WMA. About has a listing of WMA clothing and toy manufacturers. Finally, Abbington Village's Shops on Main Street lists handmade products across New England.

The last time?

If all goes well this week, Springfield will have experienced its LAST low-turnout primary. Less than 7% of Springfield's voters bothered to vote yesterday.

According to City Attorney Ed Pakula, Sen. Buoniconti told him that the House was due to vote on the home rule legislation allowing ward representation to be on November's ballot on Tuesday, with the Senate due to vote tomorrow.

Buoniconti, who squelched Councilor Ferrerra's effort to do away with this year's primary, is quoted in the Republican, saying, "It's a sad day for the city when it's such a low turnout. Obviously, there's a major disconnect when people feel they don't have to participate, and it's not just in Springfield," he said.

Ward representation will change all this.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Same Day Registration

From Act for Change

The Massachusetts legislature is poised to make history in the coming weeks. A bill to allow Election Day Registration (EDR) -- a measure that would protect every eligible citizen's right to vote -- is about to face a do-or-die committee vote. If it passes out of committee, it will be well on its way to becoming the law of the land.

Increasing civic participation is good for our democracy. Allowing registration on Election Day makes voting easier and brings people into the electoral process who are often excluded -- like students, renters, low-income people, and those who have recently moved. We need a groundswell of support for this legislation from the public to pass it into law.

Contact your legislator here:

Monday, September 17, 2007

Get out and VOTE!

I frequently find it hard to explain to people why their vote matters, because too much of the time, I don't believe it does. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't believe in Democracy (whatever that may be). But we've had the last two Presidential elections stolen right from under us and there was little dissent from the citizens of this country. It was almost like people were embarressed to make a fuss.

Local elections still feel different-- difficult to impact but still within the range of possibilities. In Springfield, MA, what started out as a probably well-meaning attempt to reform a cumbersome, bicameral form of ward representation fifty years ago has become a tool for keeping the decision-making in this city in the hands of a very few individuals. People with new blood and fresh ideas are locked out of this at large system. Becoming an elected official is a near-superhuman task.

Oddly enough, even those wards from which the 89% of all city councilors have come in the last ten years-- Wards Five, Six and Seven-- really have no direct representation on the city council. (Ward Seven, by the way, whose residents are the whitest with the highest median income in the city, has 51% of all councilors.) Springfield is like a ship where most people are crowded into one end of steerage, destabilizing the ship even for those lucky few at the captain's wheel.

Legislative update: I called Sen. Buoniconti's office today-- possibly the House will vote Tuesday and the Senate Thursday on the Home Rule legislation allowing ward representation to be placed in this year's ballot. Then the legislation moves to Governor Patrick's desk, where, if he doesn't sign it within a week, it becomes law. That would bring the date it becomes law to September 28th. We have an October 1 deadline for the question to go on the ballot. Can they push it any closer? Cross your fingers and say your prayers.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

John Lysak, Also

In case folks don't catch it, John Lysak put up a comment on my ward representation post-- he is also a ward rep supporter. Check it out-- he lives in Ward 8, no city councilor from there in recent memory...

Ward Representation

My sister Liz and I went to a Ward Four Democratic Committee event yesterday at the Cozy Cafe. The event was a forum for candidates for City Council and School Committee. Each candidate was asked his or her position on ward representation, which most likely will appear on the November 6 municipal ballot.

Seven of the nine current city councilors voted in favor of ward representation last October, with Bud Williams and Tim Rooke dissenting. Yesterday's forum gave some of the incumbents a chance to reiterate their support. All but one of yesterday's non-incumbents supported ward representation, although some wished the version-- eight from wards, five at large--was stronger-- Bob Underwood, Vera O'Connor, Jacob Bennett, Lorenzo Gaines, Chris Collins, Clodo Concepcion, Mo Jones, Pat Markey, Orlando Santiago, Hamilton Wray, Gloria DiPhillipo. Karen Powell was the sole "No" vote of those present. Mayoral candidate Dom Sarno reminded us he voted in favor in October.

After twelve years of fighting for ward representation (that's just Arise, some have been fighting much longer), we are finally close to success.

I looked around the forum yesterday and saw a number of excellent candidates for office. Most of them don't have a snowman's chance in hell to be elected. In two years, everything could be different.

Oliverio Designs updated a map showing where elected city councilors have lived for the past 10 years, and it pretty much speaks for itself.

The most common argument against ward representation usually starts with "those people." If "those people" worked harder, came out to vote, etc., people from the un- or underrepresented wards could get candidates elected. But whether it's true or not is not the point. If we can bring down the barrier that makes so many people feel that voting is a pointless exercise, let's do it! Giving more people a greater stake in our city's well-being can only benefit all of us.


According to today's Boston Globe, Gov. Patrick intends to announce his support for three casinos in Massachusetts, including one in Western Massachusetts.

I'm not in favor of criminalizing gambling. Prohibition is the classic example of what happens when society criminalizes a common activity or substance in which many people participate or use. Doesn't mean I have to like it, though.

I will leave it to others to lay out the economic pros and cons. Instead, I have three images:

Returning from a four year stay in Maine, I go to a local smoke shop looking for a deal on cigarettes. (!!!) I notice there are a half-dozen people just standing around, not in line, each separate from each other and silent. They give off creepy air of mass lobotomy. In those racing seconds when my mind is seeking an explanation-- an outing from some local residential center?-- I realize that their attention is focused upwards toward a television mounted on the wall, where the screen says, "Next game will begin in four minutes." I ask the propriator what's going on and he says, "Keno." First time I have heard those words.

I go to my local convenience store, only one older man in front of me, and wait five minutes while he spends $50 choosing scratch cards from the overwheming diversity of ticket rolls behind the counter. I notice that the sole of one of his shoes is hanging on by just a few stitches.

A ninety year old woman who lives in subsidized housing and who I have been expected at a meeting calls me to explain she can't come-- her "friend," to whom she will pay $100 for transportation, is taking her to Foxwoods.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Poverty of Coverage

Poor mostly missing from network news, research finds

The tens of millions of Americans living in poverty made the news last week, on the occasions of the census report on poverty and the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. But will the poor remain on the media agenda?

Most likely not, according to a new FAIR study of ABC, CBS and NBC news.

The study examined all stories on the three national broadcast nightly news shows that had more than a passing mention of poverty over a 38-month period (9/11/03-10/30/06):

* The three networks, combined, aired only 58 stories that dealt with poverty.(In contrast, Michael Jackson's legal troubles garnered 69 network stories.)

* In 2005--the year Katrina devastated Gulf Coast communities--the networks aired 22 stories about poverty. (Twice as many stories in 2005 were devoted to Jackson's trial, which was covered in 44 nightly network newscasts.)

* Outside of the six-month period immediately following Katrina, barely one network news segment a month dealt with poverty.

The study found that poor people's opinions on the causes and solutions to poverty were absent in most coverage. Poor people were mainly included only to tell anecdotal stories of suffering, before the networks turned to "experts" who discussed what policies should be pursued to address the situation.

FAIR found little attention to children, who are statistically the poorest age group, in the networks' coverage of poverty.

Among the 114 sources who were not people in poverty, non-Latino whites made up 79 percent of the total, though they are only 67 percent of the population. Of the 76 sources who were themselves poor, African-Americans made up 38 percent of the total, though they make up only 24 percent of people in poverty in the U.S.

Latinos, who constitute 14 percent of the U.S. population, were dramatically underrepresented as media sources in stories about poverty. Among the 114 non-poor sources cited in network coverage of poverty, there were no Latinos at all. Among the 76 poor people the networks included as sources, only 12 percent were Latino, although 24 percent of America's poor are Latino.

The full study is available online at fair.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

No New Jails!

The new Chicopee jail for women (official name: Western Mass Women's Correctional Center) had its Grand Opening today, with 200 public officials attending Sheriff Ashe's big bash.

On my lunch hour I ran over to a second, satirical demonstration of about 30 people "celebrating" the jail's new opening.

"Free Housing! Free Health Care! Sorry, no childcare."
"We want a jail in our community, too! How do we get one for Longmeadow? For Sixteen Acres?"

We held signs saying "Feminists for Cages" and "Out of the Homes and Into the Lock-up." We gave away keychain souvenirs with little stuffed orange jumpsuits dangling from them. We had balloons and a cake and offered some to the police stationed across the street to make sure we behaved.

The "celebration" was sponsored by the Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition (SHaRC), which includes the groups present: Out Now, the Freedom Center, Arise and the Community Church of Boston. We also had students from Smith College and a number of formerly incarcerated women.

"I know that guy!" one of those women said about one of the law enforcement officials standing across the street. "He used to wake us up on purpose in the middle of the night."

In reality, of course, there was little to celebrate. The jail cost $26 million to build and will cost $13 million a year to maintain. Do I think incarcerated women will be "happier" in Chicopee than they are in their current cramped quarters at the men's jail in Ludlow? Of course. One huge benefit is that busses run by the new jail regularly, so it will be easier for women to keep in touch with their families.

But should they be there in the first place?

Even the Sheriff will admit that most of the women sentenced to serve their time there will be in for prostitution and drug-related offenses.

All of them would be better served by getting in the community the best of what they will be getting in jail-- be it job training, counseling, drug treatment or education. And it would certainly cost a lot less money.

We are so on the wrong track in our thinking about how to live in a safe community. I will be writing more about this.
Photos by Liz Bewsee

Monday, September 10, 2007


The U.S. Open is over and I can finally have my life back. I know I have disquieted my poor cats the past two weeks with my random shouts of "Out!" Watching tennis is a semi-guilty pleasure. I don't know even one other person who follows the game. I feel like a class traitor.

Bad language (and I don't mean cursing) has really been getting to me recently. From the WWLP website on Friday:
Lieutenant John Slepchuck told 22News the victim is in his 50's. He adds that the man had visual injuries and it was determined they were caused by a fall down the stairs and not from an assault."

Now I don't know if it was really Lieutenant Slepchuck who said it or if it was the reporter's paraphrase, but wouldn't "visual injuries" be an awkward way of saying injuries to the eyes? Could he, perchance, have meant "visible injuries"-- that is, injuries you can see? Oh, well.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

No one speaks-- on MassLive, anyway

Yesterday the Springfield Republican carried a story about vandalism that took place at three Jewish cemeteries in West Springfield. Three dozen headstones were toppled; a nearby Catholic cemetery was left untouched.

As commonly happens when an important story is carried on MassLive, there's a link to the local forum --"West Springfield Talks." So I went to the West Springfield forum to see what people were saying-- and they were saying absolutely nothing about it. Missing dogs, speeding busses, Ludacris coming to the Big E-- all those things that
really affect people.

It's a little early, but Happy New Year.