Saturday, May 31, 2008

A dog question

Why is it a dog will eat half a can of dog food in less than five minutes and then spend an hour licking the inside of the can in a delirium of pleasure?

Coffee in your garden

A friend tipped me off to this: save your coffee grounds-- or even ask Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks if you can have theirs-- and use them in your garden as fertilizer. Check out all the ways you can improve your garden at Sustainable Enterprises. Photo: Joe Lencioni at Flickr

Planted your tomatoes yet? Food prices going up 9%

As reported by Reuters, Advanced Economic Solutions says food prices are going to go up 9% a year at least through 2012. If I've done my math right, that means that if a pound of tomatoes cost $1.79 in 2007, the same pound will cost $2.79 in 2012.

Check out the Helpful Gardener for some great tips on growing tomatoes.

Photo by Dockingman at Flickr.

A housing law we need

The Republican reports that foreclosure rates in Hampden County were three times as high this April as the April before.

Many people seem to don't have a lot of sympathy for the owners of foreclosed properties. But what about the tenants?

I drove an old friend "home" last night. She told me she was looking for another place to live because the three family house she and her son were living in had been foreclosed on. The weird thing about it was that the house was in foreclosure three months before she moved in; the owner knew it and didn't tell her. Turns out I know the guy who lives downstairs from my friend, he's the son of an Arise member. He'll be out on the street, too.

The owner told me friend that she should go ahead and look for another apartment, and that on the day she found one, he would write her a check for first month's and security at the new place if she agreed to sign a paper abandoning all future claims. She agreed to do that, and she's found two different apartments and notified the owner, but somehow the check was never given!

Tenants in foreclosed properties don't have many rights in Massachusetts. the mortgage companuies who buy the properties want tenants-- even very good, longterm tenants. -- put out before they buy. The Massachusetts Trial Court Law Library has information on some tenant right, but what exists isn't very substantial, and even so, many landlords and mortgage companies don't follow it.

How about a law that requires landlords to inform potential tenants if their property is in foreclosure? The legislative session is almost finished for this year, so such a law couldn't even be introduced until the fall. But something needs to be done. Tenants in foreclosed properties do not deserve to suffer because property owners want to squeeze every last penny they can out of their housing.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Chelan Brown/ Three days of no blogging

Feels very strange, now, to go three days without posting-- three unusual days, Boston once, trip to the vets twice, not good news on the dog front, plus work, a meeting at Arise, and lots of emotionally charged contact with lots of people. I did get garden plants and I did (with my nephew's help) get four wheelbarrows of earth from my old garden to my new garden so I'll do some planting this weekend, rain or not.

In ways I can't completely explain, I've found myself deeply upset about the current controversy with State Rep candidate Chelan Brown ever since the news broke on Wednesday that her campaign website had (at that time) large chunks of text taken from state rep candidates from around the country!

I say the news broke and yet actually the first tip came from a poster on MassLive who recognized a graphic on Chelan's website as a picture of the state of Washington.. (her website had only been up since Sunday, but it was the first many of us knew of it.) Within two hours, other MassLive posters had researched text and found much of it not original . Fellow bloggers Bill Dusty, Heather Brandon and Greg Saulman at LocalBuzz have done an excellent job of following up on this story, but in a nutshell, by Thursday the website was down and replaced by a wait page that said: The site: Elect Chelan Brown for State Representative has been pulled due to unauthorized tempering. We will be back online soon!

Thursday afternoon, Chelan and her supporters held a press conference on City Hall steps. Chelan announced that someone had tampered with her website to make it appear she had plagiarized other websites. She also said that she hasn't filed any complaints yet because the Springfield police are too busy. Peter Goonan, Springfield Republican.

I must say that my heart sunk. If someone hacked into Chelan's site in an effort to discredit her, then it is absolutely essential that there be an investigation and that the truth come out. We simply can't afford to let the cynicism in this city deepen any further.

A poster on MassLive tonight said that Chelan is a forgiving person and that's why she's not pursuing a complaint. She can be forgiving all she wants, but we need the truth. If, for example, someone working against her hacked into her site, we need to know that to put doubts to rest. Another scenario: if someone on her campaign designed the website and borrowed text that seemed to represent what he/she thinks Chelan stands for, it was a terrible mistake, and Chelan could announce it as an unauthorized mistake and move on from there. But her solutions provides no answers to anybody, does us a disservice, and won't satisfy anybody except Chelan's core circle. In the most pragmatic terms, it is not a winning strategy.

For local readers, I want to say here that I decided some months ago that I was going to work on State Rep Ben Swan's re-election campaign. I lived in Ben's district for thirty years and had many opportunities to work with him. I had my cross moments with him last year when I wanted more help from him in pushing ward representation through the Legislature, but overall I couldn't be more satisfied. I also respect his long history as a civil rights activist. Again, another poster on MassLive pointed out all the connections between Ben Swan, his relatives and in-laws who work in various agencies, and funding he has helped secure for them and others . As I've written before about others, I don't think that is a bad thing per se-- it shows a whole family committed to public service-- but it does bear extra scrutiny on the part of the public and extra meticulousness on the part of the public official.

I didn't decide to support Ben because I dislike his opponents, Lorenzo Gaines and Chelan Brown. I've seen them both as up and coming Afican-American young people with the potential to contribute a great deal to Springfield. But Ben has incredible experience and if he has the energy and will to run again, then I support him. (I also think that for two young people who have never held elected office, starting at state rep is more the kind of thing you do to build recognition than to win. I'd prefer to see both of them prove their ability to serve in a smaller venue first.)

Lorenzo I don't know well yet but Chelan I've known since she first ran for mayor at 19. I wrote a story about her-- I think it was for the Advocate-- and passed out some of her literature. My organization, Arise for Social Justice, brought her in to some of our early work, including planning a major criminal justice conference and being a plaintiff in our first ward representation lawsuit. We promoted and supported her boycott of Eastfield Mall after she was arrested there for refusing to leave a food court. I admit it was a disappointment that after she started her own organization, AWAKE, she didn't follow up on other chances for our organizations to work together. But at no time have I ever wished her less than well.

I will say again: we in this city, even in our most cynical and despairing moments, do want to believe in change, do want to believe we can have leaders with integrity. (Otherwise we wouldn't be fooled so many times!) We deserve answers and I think the Chelan Brown campaign should do everything possible to make sure we get them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Not everyone can walk their way out of hunger

For every mile you walk, you burn about 250 calories. How much do North Koreans take that into account as they attempt to walk into South Korea and China? Surely they are aware of the shoot-to-kill orders issued to North Korean border guards. On the Chinese side of the border, Chinese border guards invade the homes of ethnic Koreans living in China who may be harboring refugees from starvation.

Biofuels, increased food demand in developing countries and the high cost of fuel are taking the blame for the current world crisis but there are many reasons more people are hungry right now.

Global warming may very well bear the blame for the cyclone that destroyed 65% of Myanmar's rice fields. That same area is responsible for 50% of its poultry and pork production and 85% of its aquaculture.

Global warming is definitely one of the factors responsible for the salmon shortage that is leaving the Stellat'en people in British Columbia with only one salmon for every twenty-five people, not enough to meet their caloric needs. Warmer waters mean fewer salmon spawn. The salmon shortage has involved the region in difficult discussions over catch-sharing and fishing practices. The Tyee.

The 1,100 inhabitants of Christmas island shouldn't be hungry, but the company the island contracts with to deliver food hasn't made a delivery since January. Planes fly over from Australia once a week with small amounts of fresh produce; lettuce is selling for $11 a head.

While the U.S. may be coming to think of the typical Indian as working in a call center, India still has more poor people-- some 600 million-- than any country on earth. Yet farmers are abandoning their farmland and rice fields because they cannot recoup the cost of seeds, fertilizer and pesticides, much of it a result of patented seeds from multinationals like Monsanto, which forbids farmers saving seeds from one harvest to the next. More than 36,000 farmers have committed suicide in the years from 1997 to 2006, the last year for which statistics are available.

Other people around the world are still (and increasingly) dealing with the shortage of rice and the cost of food, exacerbated in many places by poverty and unstable governments. Boarding schools in Zimbabwe are so short of food they are asking students to bring their own groceries. The Ugandan government said this week that increasing competition for scarce food supplies in Kenya and Sudan are leading to shortages in Uganda, also.

Finally, a full belly is one of the first casualties of war. 130,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria received subsidized food aid last month, but the U.N. agency that provides the food is running out of money.

Solutions to hunger exist, but the longer we wait, the more difficult it will become.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Do you care about Springfield's environment? We have an opening...

So Springfield's Finance Control Board is hiring MassInc. and Dartmouth's Urban Issues Initiative to do a $125,000 study to develop an economic growth strategy for Springfield MA.

This is the perfect time to integrate green jobs and sustainable environmental systems into our economic development plan.

I just left MassInc's website and I must say the site is filled with the kind of generalities that leave you asking just what it is they actually do. But I won't hold that against them at this point. Of more concern is that I saw no references to the environment in any of their listed publications, research papers, programs, projects or upcoming events.

According to Peter Goonan at the Republican, John Schneider, the Executive VP of MassInc, told the Control Board that after the study is completed, a second phase of the study would involve engaging stake-holders in the community in drafting and completing the long-range economic growth strategy plan,

No, thanks, Been there, done that. (Or should I say, Wasn't there, didn't get to do that!) ! know that "second stage' stuff all too well. If Springfield's residents want to see green values and jobs as a core part of economic development, and not just as an add-on, we'd better start letting the Control Board, the mayor and MassInc. know that as soon as possible.

PS-- Didn't mention Dartmouth's Urban Issues Initiative much, because apparently the Institute is less than a year old and I couldn't find much info.

PPS-- I think I'm going to start sharing some of truly practical and creative ideas I'm finding for generating energy, repairing infrastructure, growing food, creating jobs and building community-- all of which preserve and improve our environment.

Bush's Memorial

Sunday, May 25, 2008

FOUR councilors reject ethics proposal-- what are they afraid of?

Mike Plaisance did a nice piece of reporting yesterday in the wake of City Council's failure to pass an Ethics proposal, 's today in the wake of the faulure of an proposed ethics law which would have required financial and conflict of interest disclosures.

It turns out that all nine of Springfield MA's city councilors have spouses or family members who work for a government agency, or they themselves do.

Now, this isn't a bad thing per se. On the face of it, it simply means a family committed to public service. Making this information public-- and of course, it's no secret to those in the know anyway-- just puts potential conflict of interest issues aboveboard for all to see. Financial disclosure shouldn't be very controversial, either.

Yet the Gang of Four-- Bill Foley, Tim Rooke, Jimmy Ferrera and Bud Williams voted against the ethics proposal, with reasons ranging from too much paperwork to protestations of honesty. The proposal was sponsored by Bruce Stebbins and Pat Markey and supported by Rosemarie Mazza Moriarty and Jose Tosado. Kateri Walsh was absent.

All this plays out as we approach our city council's first election with a mixed system of ward councilors and at-large. We have all at-large now, nine seats, but next November we will only be electing five at-large. So at least four of Springfield's current councilors will not be returning to the Council next year (unless some choose to run from their ward and I doubt any of them will, they'd consider it a "demotion.")

My guess is that two of the "Gang of Four" will not run for re-election. I've got my thoughts, which two do you think?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Patient Safety Act passes the Massachusetts House

Last February I wrote about why we need the Patient Safety Act, which would require a certain ratio of nurses to patients. Hey, we go into the hospital hopefully to get better, not to catch a hospital-related infection or get an overdose of a drug-- or the wrong drug entirely!

Naturally, hospitals oppose such legislation-- just like the drug companies are opposing legislation prohibiting them from giving gifts to doctors and nursing homes are opposing legislation requiring a 50/50 split of state money with home care providers.

Looks like institutional power may be giving way to common sense, at least as far as the Patient Safety Act goes. The legislation has been passed by the House and is now going to the Senate.

You can find out your senator and his/her phone number here. There's a new bill number-- HB 4714. Let them know you want to be safe in the hospital. You can get more infromation at the Mass. Nurses Association website.

Friday, May 23, 2008

365 days of blogging: 11 tips about writing

Do all new bloggers learn the same lessons? There's so much information on blogging out there, but surprisingly little that is comprehensive. So let me say that I hope the following narrative and information will be useful to all other sixty year old political bloggers without advertising-- and a few other folks, too. I welcome comments and other tips and experiences from fellow bloggers.

Michaelann Land'
s initial purpose was to allow me to stay in touch with day to day organizing because I was no longer able to stay on at Arise for Social Justice, an anti-poverty organization more than twenty years ago, but Arise was out of money, and I had bills to pay. (We're doing much better and I'm still on the board and on an organizing committee.)

I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do when I started-- reach and influence readers to take action on homelessness and poverty-- but I didn't know that over the first year I would also improve my writing skills, learn more about issues I care about, and discover diverse and talented communities of fellow bloggers with something to share.

I actually started my blog on April 1st, but consider May 19 the real anniversary date-- that's when I discovered there was such a thing as stats and that I could actually find out how many people were reading my blog. I was humbled to look at the numbers but also learned to take pleasure in each new reader.

One of the decisions I had to make early on was how much of my personal life to share on my blog. I knew that complete anonymity, even if desired, wasn't possible. I'm pretty involved in local organizing, and quite a number of people know at least something about me. What I do freely share about myself (if it's interesting) is what I'm thinking and feeling, and I share what I've always done as an organizer: the connections I see between things, and the sense that solutions exist and change is possible.

At first almost all of my posts were original writing and primarily linked to specific organizing campaigns happening in Springfield, MA. As time went on, I began to include environmental and criminal justice issues, and even a bit of humor (although not everyone appreciated it-- one person on my blogroll demanded to be removed). Initially I posted only when I felt like it-- but I started feeling like it more and more; by August, I was even using a bit of my precious vacation time elbowing for a space on the public computers at Wellfleet library. What I posted during vacation, though, was the poetry that came to me on the beach. If folks didn't like it, they didn't have to read it.

With some embarrassment, I admit I had barely read another blog prior to starting my own. I didn't know how big the blogging world was and how much extraordinarily good stuff was being written. Eventually I recognized that bloggers borrow from each other! (Duh!) So I started to borrow also, but usually mixed linked material with at least some original writing.

To some degree I have ignored the common advice for new bloggers to find a niche and to stick with it. I have that luxury partly because I don't have advertising on my blog and therefore don't have to add the dimension of money-making to my considerations. I want my blog to be readable and enjoyable, I want readers, but I decided never to let that desire influence what I write-- although it does influence how often I blog. So I've developed strategies for developing content.

So here are the writing lessons I've learned so far and some tips about composing a blog::
  1. Have a focus for your blog but let it evolve. Don't be too rigid about content.
  2. Decide what you do and don't want to share about yourself.
  3. Write as much original material as you can; don't let your entire content be borrowed.
  4. When you do borrow, don't copy the whole post of another blogger and make sure to link back! Give your reader a reason to go to another site; it'll pay off eventually.
  5. Watch out for libel! The best online source of info I've found so far is the Bloggers' FAQ at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Check out their Intellectual Property section, too.
  6. Keep a journal of works in progress and keep adding to it.
  7. Save articles and posts on topics you're interested in; when something current happens, you'll have some background material ready. Use Google Alerts and such to keep up on news in your area of interest.
  8. Don't post without reading what you've written one more time and go back and edit, even after posting, if you need to.
  9. Don't get hung up, though-- not everything has to be a great work of art.
  10. Take a break when you need it. Don't get addicted to blogging!.
  11. Stay true to yourself.

Fun things to do with little or no money

Over at CreditCardPundit, there's a nice list of 60 things you can do with little or no money. The list reminds me of vacation or summer camp activities, or what you do when the power goes out.....
  • Some examples:
  • Go for a hike in the woods.
  • Play board games.
  • Run through your garden sprinkler.
  • Tour a television or radio station
  • Make a chalk mural in your driveway.

Sarno and the city's trash fee: doing the right thing in the wrong way..

Domenic Sarno made a number of different promises when he campaigned for mayor of Springfield, MA last fall, but the promise that probably got him the most votes was his promise to eliminate the $90 annual trash fee imposed by Springfield's Control Board.

Well, this year's budget was finally been released, and the $90 trash fee is still a part of the budget-- but Sarno says he intends for the city to move to a "pay as you throw" system.

People are angry, rightly so, but I hope Springfield's residents don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. "Pay as you throw" is a good system, but Sarno has gone about it all wrong. Anger should focus on the process rather than the content of his proposal And we are right to be angry about his broken promises. It's exactly this kind of crap that makes people cynical and and decreases our willingness to engage in civic participation. Here's a link to Sarno's promises at his inaugural address. I think every Springfield resident should read this once a week.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, here are some key steps our mayor could have/should have taken to build support for his idea:
  • Sell the Program to Key Decisionmakers. Begin by gaining the support of local officials. Prepare briefing documents that analyze costs and address potential concerns, and develop a number of program options from which decisionmakers can choose. Once support among key decisionmakers has been established, build community awareness and support for the program.

  • Gather Public Input. Community awareness and support is a key to the ultimate success of PAYT programs. Without public support, a PAYT program has less chance of being accepted. After all, the citizens make the program work by following the rules. Comments should be solicited from the public to help identify misperceptions about the program and reasons for opposition, and to inform program planners of current public opinion. Public meetings also are important for providing an additional avenue for residents to voice their concerns and raise issues.

  • Educate the Public. The final step in the process of building local support for unit-based pricing is to address the public's concerns and misperceptions. Provide program specifics and offer information on waste reduction and recycling. If residents believe the pricing structure is arbitrary and are unaware of ways to reduce their costs, the program is likely to fail.
Sarno may have "sold the program to key decisionmakers" but he certainly has not solicited public input or undertaken any public education. Maybe he intends to take these steps after the fact, but we shall see.

If this program doesn't get the public support it deserves, Sarno has so one to blame but himself.

His approach is unfortunately typical of elected officials.

Here's how he could have played it: hold a series of public hearings on our trash dilemma in different neighborhoods across the city, laying out an honest analysis of budget difficulties and soliciting input on possible solutions. I can guarantee you that at every meeting, at least one person would have proposed the "pay as you throw" system. And he could have built public support from there.

Instead, not only did Sarno not solicit public input, he mystified the entire budget process, refusing to allow City Council to even glimpse the budget, let alone have any say.

Some of the benefits of the "pay as you throw" system:
  • Fairness - each household pays based on its use of solid waste services.
  • Increased Recycling - residents have incentive to recycle.
  • Waste Reduction - consumers become more aware that they can purchase recyclable packaging, avoid excessive packaging and consider alternatives to disposable products.
  • Composting - householders can reduce waste and recycle by practicing home composting, vermicomposting (using worms) and grasscycling (leaving grass clippings on the lawn).
  • "Pay as you throw" systems are already in place in 117 cities and towns in Massachusetts.

    Tuesday, May 20, 2008

    The "Black Community," Majorie Hurst; Unexpected trip to City Council

    Sunday night I blogged about Mayor Domenic Sarno's so far unkept promise about moving forward on the environment in Springfield, MA. On Monday, my sister called me to say that Councilor Ferrera intended to introduce a resolution to urge Mayor Sarno to establish a Green Commission at Monday's City Council meeting. So I took myself down to the public speak-out to talk about what could be done right away to improve our city's environment. It was a bit odd. Through the years I've addressed City Council on only two issues: homelessness and ward representation. There are limits to how thin I can spread myself! Well, we have ward representation, now. Homelessness is another story.

    While I was in City Hall I picked up a copy of Point of View, the local newspaper published by Frederick and Marjorie Hurst, and read it while I waited for the public speak-out to begin. I could not help but contrast the image of the city's African-American population as represented in the newspaper with the image that many of the city's white people have of African-Americans.

    Point of View's stories this month included an article on students at Frederick Harris School talking about peace, the accomplishments of Major Toy R. Frasier, Jr., the Basileus of the Delta Chi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity located in Springfield, MA, the The 2nd Annual Hoop City Jazz & Art Festival, a column on Older Americans Month by Ruth Loving, and much more. The paper also included a pretty devastating picture of how an important issue about underperforming eighth graders was cavalierly by the School Committee. Marjorie is serving her last term as a School Committee member and was one of two dissenting votes. Read this article if you really want to know what went on at the school committee meeting. As Marjorie says,
    "No research was conducted or cited. No public discussion was scheduled or held. No written policy was drafted or presented for review. And the adopted policy wasn’t even on the agenda for that night. It was simply brought forward as an oral motion by Christopher Collins, our newest school committee member, during his Curriculum and Programs subcommittee report of a meeting that had been held just prior to the school committee meeting.

    And the four other members of the school committee voted in favor of it!!! We don’t know how much it will cost for busing or staffing or who will be in charge of this new program. Neither parents/guardians, students, teachers, nor principals have had any advance warning or opportunity to prepare for the implementation of this policy, which will go into effect next month. By contrast, we just recently spent over a year accumulating and studying data, holding meetings, getting feedback and buy-in and drafting and revising the wording for a school uniform policy, for heavens sake! And we spend all of 30 minutes discussing a policy that possibly will have permanent and irreparable effects on a segment of our students."

    Yesterday five hundred people, mostly youth, participated in a vigil mourning the murder of Mario Hornsby, Jr., a high school student who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two hours after the rally, police arrested a 17 year old man in the murder. Police said the community cooperated with the police with information leading to the suspect's apprehension.

    Now contrast the above picture of the African-American community with what posters on Masslive-- anonymous, of course-- have to say about Black people. I have to paraphrase (no direct quoting allowed) but here goes:
    • One poster, commenting on the vigil, says that nothing in the Black community will change until the community rejects its own image. (Which image is that, the Point of View image?)
    • Another poster says that this (the violence) isn't a community problem, it's a Black problem. (Blacks aren't a part of this city?)
    • Another poster, after calling the violence a Black problem, admits he/she has no idea what goes on in the Black community.
    • Another poster says it's the fault of so-called Black "leaders."
    • Another poster says that summer jobs are just throwing money at "baby thugs."
    • Another poster suggests tying them to a tree and beating some sense into them.
    As usual, there are a few thoughtful posts.

    I wonder what would happen if I started posting comments on Masslive like, "If only the white community would stop glorifying gangsters, we'd have less mob activity," or "White people just wanna lock themselves away in their gated communities and leave the rest of us to sink or swim." Boy, would I get jumped on!

    Too many times we white people see only a part of the picture and think it describes the entire Black community. We say, "We're not racist, we're just telling it like it is!" And we ignore any evidence to the contrary.

    On my way to work this morning, I saw: Black kids in groups walking to school, Black men in suits waiting for the bus, Black moms waiting at the bus stop with their kids, two Black guys on a corner with documents in their hands gesturing to a local building, a young Black man in a work uniform headed to work at Dunkin Donuts, two Black women dressed the way lawyers dress walking toward the intersection of State and Main.

    Yes, communities of color are struggling with drugs, crime, the school drop-out rate-- but
    most Black kids manage to make it through school without getting addicted to drugs or being murdered or murdering. And these problems are scarcely non-existent among whites.

    Here's hoping that someday we can see each other in the full range of our struggles and triumphs, without stereotypes and generalizations,
    and wishing the best for each other.

    Sunday, May 18, 2008

    Do you watch starlings? Starlings watch you!

    Science Daily reports that starlings and other birds can tell if you are watching them, because they are watching you! Experiments show that if you are near a starling's food and looking at the food, the starling will stay away, but if you are just as near but looking away, the starling will approach and eat.

    Starlings are intelligent creatures-- maybe not up there with crows, but pretty smart. They have a wide repertory of their own songs and are good mimics of other birds' songs and repetitive neighborhood sounds.

    The starlings where I work have two babies this year, and had them considerably earlier than last year's fated infant. I go in and out of my building a number of times a day, and each time i do, I say, with as close to the same tone as possible, "Hello, little starlings! Hello, little starlings! How pretty you are! How pretty you are!" Maybe somedfay I will hear a whistle with the same intonation; at the least I hope they will be less wary of me.

    This is the time of year when starlings fall out of their nests. A good site obout starlings and how to care for them can be found at Starling Talk.

    Seven actions Mayor Sarno could take RIGHT NOW to improve Springfield's environment

    I know a number of Springfield, MA citizens are tracking the commitments Mayor Domenic Sarno made at his Inaugural Address on January 7. He named his five priorities as increasing public safety, improving our schools, creating jobs and expanding our tax base, maintaining and expanding basic services to Springfield residents, and environmental stewardship.

    Specifically regarding the environment, Sarno stated:
    • We will designate a municipal official to coordinate and manage our "green" initiatives.
    • We will consider the environmental impact in procuring goods and services.
    • We will critically evaluate our use of energy of all types and institute measures to reduce energy consumption.
    • We will develop and implement smart growth policies that encourage "green" design and sustainable development.
    • And we will look at ways to reduce the city's carbon footprint and to remediate existing environmental issues.
    More than four months into Sarno's term-- more than one-sixth of the period in which he will serve-- and he has yet to implement his very first priority-- designating a municipal official to coordinate and manage green initiatives.
    I think we can assume that without that first step, no progress is being made on the rest of his environmental commitments.

    In light of the city's fifth murder this year on Friday, I understand that improving our city's environment probably doesn't rank very high on the list for a lot of people. But that doesn't mean that nothing can and should be done to keep this Sarno commitment, just as all his commitments need to be closely monitored..

    Here's seven things Mayor Sarno can do right now that will cost little or no money and that will make immediate improvements on our city's environment. Some will even save us money! Not all of them are the most important in the grand scheme of things, but it gives you an idea of what can be done with just a little thought:

    1. Appoint a municipal official to oversee green initiatives.
    2. Appoint an audit team to assess the current siutation to to recommend improvements in city services including water supply and sanitation and solid waste management.
    3. Re-examine all the intersections which do not allow "right turn on red" with the goal of identifying intersections that can safely be added to the list.
    4. Monitor and aggressive promote any statewide environmental legislation that would improve our city, and pass local versions if necessary. (I wrote here about school bus anti-idling legislation; there is nothing to prevent a local version from being passed ASAP.)
    5. Ban all toxic chemical use in school systems and public buildings and replace them with safe alternatives.
    6. Introduce legislation right now that requires that any new construction that uses any public funds to include green design elements.
    7. Mandate that all city departments, including all schools, thoroughly sort its trash for recycling.
    Talking about the environment, especially on the day you are inaugurated as mayor, certainly sounds good, but actions speak louder than words. If we the citizens don't hold Mayor Sarno accountable to his commitments, who will?

    Saturday, May 17, 2008

    10 things you should know about John McCain

    This may very well be the only post I write about the Presidential election; I'm an optimist but my optimism does not come from believing in electoral politics.

    However, this week I met three different Hilary Clinton supporters who told me they would rather vote for John McCain than vote for Barak Obama.

    "I'm not a racist, but..." is the way all three conversations began. Yeah, sure, buddy......

    Anyway, borrowed from Bligbi who borrowed it from MoveOn:

    . John McCain voted against establishing a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now he says his position has “evolved,” yet he’s continued to oppose key civil rights laws.

    2. According to Bloomberg News, McCain is more hawkish than Bush on Iraq, Russia and China. Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan says McCain “will make Cheney look like Gandhi.”

    3. His reputation is built on his opposition to torture, but McCain voted against a bill to ban waterboarding, and then applauded President Bush for vetoing that ban.

    4. McCain opposes a woman’s right to choose. He said, “I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned.”

    5. The Children’s Defense Fund rated McCain as the worst senator in Congress for children. He voted against the children’s health care bill last year, then defended Bush’s veto of the bill.

    6. He’s one of the richest people in a Senate filled with millionaires. The Associated Press reports he and his wife own at least eight homes! Yet McCain says the solution to the housing crisis is for people facing foreclosure to get a “second job” and skip their vacations.

    7. Many of McCain’s fellow Republican senators say he’s too reckless to be commander in chief. One Republican senator said: “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He’s erratic. He’s hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”

    8. McCain talks a lot about taking on special interests, but his campaign manager and top advisers are actually lobbyists. The government watchdog group Public Citizen says McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign, more than any of the other presidential candidates.

    9. McCain has sought closer ties to the extreme religious right in recent years. The pastor McCain calls his “spiritual guide,” Rod Parsley, believes America’s founding mission is to destroy Islam, which he calls a “false religion.” McCain sought the political support of right-wing preacher John Hagee, who believes Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for gay rights and called the Catholic Church “the Antichrist” and a “false cult.”

    Friday, May 16, 2008

    What could you do with one billion dollars?

    I heard on NPR today that Barak Obama has now raised a quarter of a billion dollars for his campaign, and I thought when I heard it, What a waste of money, what a stupid system, there are better ways.

    Joel John Roberts at the L.A. Homeless Blog has a post about the billion dollar campaign to house just a single family--the one that will occupy the White House-- and what that kind of money could do for homeless people..

    Pet cemetery used to cremate U.S. soldiers' remains

    If you didn't catch this article in the Washington Post, apparently some American military killed in Iraq have been cremated in a pet cemetery in Delaware near Dover Air Force Base. The base itself has no crematorium for the arriving dead, and so contracted with a local pet cemetery.

    The practice came to an end May 9 after photos of the site taken by an Army officer worked their way up to Secretary of defense Robert Gates. The officer had been there to attend the services of a fallen comrade and was appalled to see the crematorium labeled "Friemds Forever Pet Cremation Service."

    Bees not making a recovery, situation worse

    Now that spring is here and the state of wintered over bees can be assessed, the news is not good. A survey conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the Apiary Inspectors of America among beekeepers reported a 36% loss of colonies over the winter, on top of a 17% loss last year. Colony Collapse Disorder continues to make inroads among the bee population. Science Daily.

    The Buffalo News has an in-depth article on how bees are faring in New York. Honey production fell by 20% to 40% last year, but the real problem is pollination: Up to 70% of what we eat is pollinated by insects. New York beekeepers are experiencing big losses; blueberries and apples are two important crops from New York that may be affected this year.

    While agricultural specialists in every state are pulling out all the stops to discover the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, everything from cell phone towers to pesticides, The Organic Consumers Association is taking a more wholistic approach. Causes are probably multiple with any one of a number of factors pushing bees over the edge. (I think the human equivalent would be the huge increase in autoimmune disorders and the late development of allergies and asthma in adults.) The Association sees organic settings as providing a buffer for colonies. They have a very informative page up at their site.
    Picture by Aussiegill at Flickr.


    Pretty rainy in Springfield, MA this afternoon, but I don't care, it's the weekend! Short weekend--
    I'm going to Boston tomorrow with my sister
    to meet up with one daughter
    to go shopping for a dress to wear
    to the wedding of my other daughter.
    I think they don't completely trust me
    to be appropriate
    to step out of the sixties
    to know how to buy something
    new, not second-hand
    and maybe they're right!
    Anyway, it'll be fun.

    And tonight I want to catch up on some stories...

    Court rules Fresno violated homeless rights

    Yesterday was the day that BlogCatalogue promoted as Bloggers United for Human Rights! I'm not sure yet how many bloggers participated, but I suspect a fair number of us did. Not me, though! A sick cat occupied my spare time in the early part of the week, and then a sick dog got the latter part of the week. If I'd just thought about it, I could have saved Saturday's post on International Tent City Day or Tuesday's post on the Topfree movement for Wednesday....but I didn't. Or I could have taken yesterday's post on excessive police force and made an explicit link to Bloggers Unite...seems, in fact, that about 80% of what I write is related to human rights in some way. I want to thank BlogCatalogue for recognizing and encouraging blogs' role in social change.

    This Monday, a federal court ruled that destroying the property of homeless people is a violation of the 4th and 14th Amendments to the U.S.l Constitution, and that the city of Fresno, CA had violated those rights in a series of raid of homeless encampments. Specifically, the city violated homeless peoples' right to due process and the right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

    One would like to think that the word would spread quickly to other municipalities but too many of these cities believe they are nations unto themselves; more court battles are sure to come.
    Photos: Fresno encampment from Humanity for Homeless; homelessness activists, StreetSpirit.

    Thursday, May 15, 2008

    Peru home to baby black Jaguar

    Born in captivity at Huachipa zoo, Lima. Thanks, Green Expander! photo credits: © AP Photo/Martin Mejia/Scanpix

    Ex-officer involved in shooting death of 92 year old woman says he was forced to lie

    Remember the 92 year old Atlanta woman shot 39 times in a botched no-knock drug raid? Check out this AP story about the trial of ex-officer Arthur Tester, who says he was forced to go along with a cover-up..

    What scares me is the ones we don't hear about, where the victim is not a 92 year old grandmother...

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008

    Florida man ticketed for wearing a speedo - good thing he wasn't naked!

    Don't Tase Me Bro! (rapidly becoming one of my favorite blogs) reported yesterday that a Florida man was ticketed by a Lee County deputy sheriff for wearing a speedo on Bonita Beach. The man had been coming to the beach for years without problems. Good thing he wasn't nude or he probably would have been arrested.

    Every state in the union has laws against indecent exposure (quite rightly) but few of those laws make a distinction between indecent exposure and public nudity, and even where not expressly forbidden, states allow local cities and towns to make their own laws.

    Massachusetts laws in their entirety read as follows:


    Chapter 272: Section 16 Open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior

    Section 16. A man or woman, married or unmarried, who is guilty of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than three years or in jail for not more than two years or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars.

    Chapter 272: Section 53 Penalty for certain offenses

    Section 53. Common night walkers, common street walkers, both male and female, common railers and brawlers, persons who with offensive and disorderly acts or language accost or annoy persons of the opposite sex, lewd, wanton and lascivious persons in speech or behavior, idle and disorderly persons, disturbers of the peace, keepers of noisy and disorderly houses, and persons guilty of indecent exposure may be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than six months, or by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

    Maybe it'll be a while before public nudity, but what about TopFreedom?

    Every summer I head to the National Seashore at Cape Cod and every summer, at least once, I am struck with the unfairness of not being able to take the top of my bathing suit off.. Whatever "look the other way" attitude that may have existed in the 60's and 70's has long since faded away. Last year, in fact, rangers issued more citations for public nudity than ever before, even employing ambush tactics by leaping from behind dunes (yikes!) and at least once citing a person who had called a warning to another, topless woman that a ranger was approaching.

    Three Canadian provinces-- British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario-- have explicit laws allowing women to go topfree, as do some states and municipalities. You might get away with going topfree on the California coast and in Maine, New York, Ohio and Texas, as well as Boulder, Colorado and South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida.
    However, you can be arrested for disturbing the peace.

    Many European countries, of course, as well as Australia, have a high tolerance for female toplessness on beachs and in parks and public swimming pools.

    The Topfree Equal Rights Association is a Canadian organization promoting legal changes to allow women to go topfree without arrest.

    Just about any woman who has breastfed a child knows how utterly ridiculous laws against going topfree really are. Some women have been arrested for breastfeeding in public, or kicked off airplanes, or made to leave malls and restaurants.

    If you haven't thought about this issue much, think about it. What would it take for you to be comfortable with topfree women at beaches and parks? .

    Just so you know...

    I had two comments to approve this morning, one positive and one critical, and I approved both of them, but they never appeared! Blogger's great but not perfect. I have no problem with comments that disagree with a perspective in my posts, as long as they're not excessively rude.

    My one year anniversary writing this blog is coming up next week and I will be self-indulgent and let you know what I've learned. Thanks for reading!

    President gives up golf in solidarity with U.S. dead in Iraq War

    I'm tempted to let this headline to stand for itself-- but I can't. Supposedly Bush gave up golf in 2003 (but we're just now hearing about it) after being notified, while on the golf course, that a truck bomb had killed 22 soldiers.

    And this is supposed to show his compassion and understanding of the depth of suffering that U.S. military and their families have experienced? And what will he give up for the rest of us, who are getting poorer and poorer in this three trillion dollar war? Chocolate bars?

    Tuesday, May 13, 2008

    Soil is the skin of the earth

    This Sunday my nephew and I are going to be digging in the dirt-- taking the first six inches of soil from my old garden and moving it to my new garden five miles away.

    I tried to have a garden in my new place last year, but the end result wasn't great. The soil was sandy and didn't make a fragrant ball in my hand when I squeezed it together-- just ran out between my fingers. I'd forgotten what unenriched backyard soil is like.

    For nearly thirty years I gardened in the same spot, the deep back yard of an inner city house. My tools were a garden spade, a shovel, garden shears, a wheelbarrow, a trowel and a claw. I turned the soil myself each spring and in the first years, the thatch grew so thick I'd have to beat the clods against the earth to shake loose the dirt. I bought bags of composted manure for the first years and I started a compost pile. Just about everything went into it: leaves, yard waste, food scraps, used kitty litter (minus the poop). A few times I mixed in a 30 x bag of bone meal to help the pile heat up. My compost pile was very informal, not even fenced in. Once or twice a year I'd turn it by taking from the top layers with my spading fork and moving them to another pile. When I got down to soil, , my shovel would slide into dark, rich, grumbly earth and I'd shovel it (and many earthworms) into the wheelbarrow, cart it over to my garden and mix it in to the soil's top layers. I'd get ten or twelve full wheelbarrows a year. Now multiply that by thirty years over a 40' by 60' plot, add years of grass clipping and other mulch, and you can see why I want my soil! That soil is my true wealth, accumulated through investment and hard work.

    I don't exactly know how I came to care so much about earth, seeing as I grew up in the suburbs and the city, but I feel incredibly fortunate to have more than a passing understanding of how plants are born, live, provide food, and enrich the soil at the end of their season.

    Last week the Associated Press said that according to a new World Resources Institute report, food production has been cut by about a sixth because of declining soil productivity. One-fifth of the world's cropland has deteriorated to some degree.

    Fertilizer is a quick fix to improve crop yields, but the real solution is soil health: crop rotation, addition of organic material, less tilling, cover crops, erosion prevention.

    The Nation has a good article on the roots of our food crisis and what can be done about it.
    The current global food system, which was designed by US-based agribusiness conglomerates like Cargill, Monsanto and ADM and forced into place by the US government and its allies at the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, has planted the seeds of disaster by pressuring farmers here and abroad to produce cash crops for export and alternative fuels rather than grow healthy food for local consumption and regional stability
    Please, grow something-- anything-- this season.

    Save for a hot day

    Sunday, May 11, 2008

    Gas rip-off on Boston Road

    I admit the second part of my day hasn't been so good (sick cat) so I wasn't in the best mood, but what happened tonight really pissed me off.

    I'm on my way home driving down Boston Road basically running on fumes. Usually I get my gas at the gas/convenience store on the corner of Oakland and Dickinson--very nice people-- but I know I won't get that far. I'm coming up to the Citgo station on the corner of Boston Rd. and Harvey St. and glance at the prices on the giant lit-up sign and it says, $3.61 for regular. Not Bad! I think, and pull in but when I get to the pump, the pump says $3.71 a gallon. I go into the store thinking I've got a good case for getting it at the lower price. With prices going up so fast these days, the store owners may have changed one sign but not the other.

    I wait until the guy behind the counter finishes with a customer, and then say, "Excuse me, but the sign on the outside says $3.61 but the pump says $3.71."

    "$3.71 is right," he says, "the 3.61 is with a fill-up."

    "Where does it say that?"

    "It's right there, next to the price."

    By this time I'm getting really annoyed. I go outside to look at the sign, and sure enough, in the space where it usually says ".99" in small letters, it says, in even smaller letters, "with carwash"-- only, a bulb is burned out so that what it really says was, "with car!" I go and look on the other side of the sign, and yet another bulb is strategically burned out, also coincidentally just leaving the words, "with car." So even if I had seen it, I wouldn't have gotten it. I put 75 cents in the tank and drove elsewhere.

    If this isn't deceptive advertising, I don't know what is. I'm going back tomorrow with my camera and I'll post it here. Meanwhile, don't get taken.

    Seven homeless arrested at Portland OR protest

    "You may be giving up, buddy, but I'm not." that's what homeless leader Larry Reynolds told Portland Mayor Potter, after the mayor refused to lift the ban on camping and pointed instead to the city' ten year plan to end homelessness. If that's not good enough, the mayor had said, I'm giving up.

    Ten year plans don't mean much when you are homeless NOW.

    Reynolds and others had set up a tent city protest on the sidewalk near city hall. The protesters were arrested for resisting arrest. Check out the post by Amy Ruiz at Blogtown.pdx as well as the more mainstream story and background at Portland Mercury.
    Photo from Amy Ruiz' blog.

    Saturday, May 10, 2008

    International Tent City Day to be commemorated May 15

    Last night I got an unexpected phone call from a former resident of Springfield's 2004 Tent City. He's in Tennessee now and considering whether or not his city's homeless are ready to organize a tent city. Lots of homelessness but not much leadership, he said-- a not uncommon scenario. Organizing takes time.

    Four years ago, on May 15, fifteen tent cities around the country held our nation's first commemoration of International Tent City and Housing Alternatives Day. We here in Springfield, MA didn't know anything about it, though, because we were too busy organizing our city's first tent city!

    My organization, Arise for Social Justice, had been working intensively with the homeless community for more than a year. Homeless people had come to events we'd hosted at Arise with the Poor people's Economic Human Rights Campaign and half a dozen had become members. We'd demonstrated outside the Friends of the Homeless Shelter, calling for the resignation of then-director Frank Keough. (Frank is in prison, now, along with many of the other heads of city agencies from that era.) We'd been petitioning Mayor Ryan to give an empty building to homeless people to fix up, and had compiled a list of people and skills. We'd even done a clean-up of the building we wanted, and had met a few times about taking the building over.

    Then the Warming Place shelter for single men and women closed on May 9, and circumstances forced our hand in a totally unexpected way.

    May 10, ten people slept in our office. May 11, those ten plus fifteen more staked tents on the lawn of St. Michael's cathedral. The next day, 45 people. The next day, most of the 76 who'd been displaced from the shelter plus some who'd come in from the woods. 400 different people over the next six months stayed at Sanctuary City.

    What happened from that point four years ago to the present day is a long and bittersweet story, not without its successes but to be told another day. But the picture I want to paint is that in order for desperation and anger to have the chance to become social change, homeless people and organizers (often but not always the same people) have to take small steps together before that quantum leap.

    Dignity Village in Portland, OR, established 2000, is getting ready to celebrate International Tent City Day. I imagine Share/WHEEL's Tent City 4 in Seattle, WA will be doing the same-- they've been operating non-stop since 2002. Most tent cities have a considerably shorter lifespan.

    What poor people in New Orleans have experienced has provided them with a political education that no one deserves to learn in that way. I've written about some of the housing organizing going on in New Orleans here. but it's hard to know how demoralized the community may be: a tent city set up across from city hall, partly in protest and partly from need, was cleared earlier this year and about 100 tents are now set up under the Claiborne Avenue underpass. Moast have lived there more than a year. In January, Mayor Nagle said he'd be moving everyone into one big tent where they could get help, but it hasn't happened yet.

    There's been a tent city in Ontario, CA since last July, which reached a high point of 400 in March. Then the city took control of the tent city, refurbished it, provided sanitation and other amenities, and required everyone to prove they were from Ontario if they wanted to stay in what has now become known as the "Homeless Services Area." More than fifty people were forced to leave. Some people left because of the No Pets policy. Smaller encampments have been set up around the city but are quickly cleared only to be reestablished elsewhere.

    Somewhere in these tent cities and in others across the country are leaders. Maybe those men and women lead in a very laid-back way, providing a touchstone of humanity; maybe they lead more explicitly and organize others in the encampments to provide some security . It's a hard way to get experience and people can burn out very quickly, but more leaders spring up. As long as people's incomes can't meet their basic need for shelter and food,as long as people lack power at the top, they will continue to find their power at the base.

    Next Thursday, May 15, spare a thought for homeless people in encampments around the world. Wish them unity and power.

    intersection of race and poverty

    Where are Springfield's falcons?

    The Republican reported this morning that the nesting pair of peregrine falcons, a familiar site in Springfield for the last 19 years, don't seem to be around this spring. Usually, they next on on a specially-build platform on the 21st floor on Monach Place, although they moved to the Memorial Bridge twice.

    Peregrines had become endangered because of the use of the pesticide DDT-- the same pesticide responsible for the decline of the bald eagle-- but after it was banned on the last day of 1972, the population rebounded. You can find peregrines on every major land mass in the world except New Zealand.

    Come home, falcons!

    Friday, May 9, 2008

    Does this make sense? Canadian Gov't pays farmers to kill 150,000 pigs

    The pork industry is on the verge of collapse in Canada and so the government will be paying $50 million to kill off 150,000 pigs. Each farmer who wants to participate must kill off an entire breeding barn of pigs and agree not to restock the barn for three years. About 25% of the meat will go to food banks; none will enter the market.

    Besides the rising price of feed, new rules from the U.S. which will require "Country of Origin" labeling is reducing the demand for Canadian pork from American companies.

    Farmers are encouraged to send their iigs to euthanizing centers, although nothing prevents the pigs from being killed on the farm. Article at Canadian Press.

    How about if the government helps these farmers transition to crops that will always be needed, that helps the environment by reducing methane, and that doesn't require the taking of a life?

    Bees to have their own movie

    Bees are finally getting their own movie! Well, actually, we've had "Killer Bees," "The Savage Bees" and "The Deadly Bees," but nothing about the disappearance of bees until now.

    I've been meaning to get to an update on bees and I still will, but in the meantime, I found out from the Organic Consumers Association that a movie is nearly completed that focuses on why bees are disappearing and what effect it will have on world food production. You can watch the movie's trailer here:
    Photo: two bees in a pumpkin flower, Chris Higgins

    Thursday, May 8, 2008

    Fences both protect and destroy animal habitat

    More than 50 years have passed since the end of the Korean War and the establishment of a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. In those 50 years an abundance of plants, bird and animals have thrived in a strip of land only 150 miles long and two and a half miles wide. 97% of the land is now covered by forest and prairie.

    Making themselves at home in the DMZ are Asian black bears, spotted seals, lynx, and the rare red-crowned and white-naped cranes, to name a few. Some believe the Siberian tiger has returned to the land where no human live.

    In spite of years of separation, a North-South reconciliation seems inevitable. Two rail lines and two highways have been rebuilt across the DMZ. South Korea's Ministry of the Environment says that when reconciliation comes, the DMZ will be preserved for two years until more long-range plans can be developed. What those plans will be is anybody's guess. The international organization the DMZ Forum wants to see the land become a Peace Park, both to protect the land and to honor the many soldiers on both sides who are buried there.

    No buffer zone exists between the wood and the steel of the 700 mile fence being built between the U.S. and Mexico. With some 440 miles of fence still to go, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wants to make sure he completes the job before George Bush leaves office. To that end, he has announced he will be ignoring
    36 federal environmental laws.

    Animals, of course, are no respecters of borders. Bears, lions, wolves, parrots bighorn sheep and owls cross back and forth as part of their survival. The jaguar, which until recently bred only in Mexico, may just now be establishing a breeding presence in Arizona. Even more than Korea's DMZ, the 2,000 mile long U.S.-Mexician border is able to support a diversity of wildlife because of its diversity of terrain and climate.

    The Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife claim Chertoff's waiver of environmental laws is unconstitutional and have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. They want more time to develop plans to lessen the environmental impact of the wall.

    Thus two entirely different human impulses, the yearning for reconciliation by Korea and the demand for isolation by the U.S., threaten habitat that once destroyed may never be remade.

    How Massachusetts are you?

    Take this little quiz over at GoToQuiz and find out how Massachusetts you are. Not too many questions yet, but the author plans to expand. If you have good ideas for additional questions, you can leave them in the Comments section.

    Sample questions:

    Do you know what a packie is?
    A beater car
    A young camper
    The local liquor store
    Sure, and I can tell you which ones sell nightcrawlers too!

    Who is "Whitey" and why is he so famous?
    A well-known Irish pub owner in Southie who has twelve kids
    A well-known firefighter from Worcester that grew up with Denis Leary
    Former Boston mafioso and on the FBI's 10-Most-Wanted since '95
    Brother of former UMass President Billy Bulger

    Wednesday, May 7, 2008

    Councilor Tim Rooke doesn't get ward representation

    The Civil Rights and Race Relations Committee met again this afternoon to discuss plans for implementing ward representation. I must say it was a thought-provoking meeting. Each department head that had been charged with assessing potential changes in their departments gave a report. Mike Plaisance over at the Republican will probably give more details but for me two issues remained key. The first is resolving the situation with the School Committee, three of whose members were elected for four year terms but who can only serve two years in order for ward representation to be implemented.. The second issue, and one that will play out over time, is the role of neighborhood councils and civic associations in a system with ward representation.

    Councilor Tim Rooke (not on the committee) came in about fifteen minutes after the meeting started and was greeted by Chairman Tosado. Rooke started by asking about salaries for ward councilors-- were they going to be the same as at-large councilors? Tosado said yes, that he had looked at Chicopee and Holyoke, both of which have at-large and ward councilors, and that the salaries were the same.

    Rooke said he'd wondered about that, because, for example (I'm going to have to paraphrase here because I didn't have a tape recorder) if you were a councilor from ward seven, you'd get to vote on ward seven issues, but....At that point, he seemed to tune into a general sense of disagreement.

    "Isn't that the way it is?" he asked.

    "Everybody votes on everything," I said, at which point Chairman Tosado said, "Michaelann, please, let the lawyer answer that," cutting me off. (Although I noted he seemed to have no problem with the men who spoke out of turn.) So then City Attorney Ed Pakula gave the legal opinion and basically said just what I'd said, only with more words..

    I must say I was just astounded that a sitting city councilor, who was one of two "no" votes on ward representation proposal when it came before City Council in 2006 apparently was unaware of the details of what he was opposing and even now has not taken the time to educate himself about ward representation-- now the law of the land, even for him, if he plans to run again. Perhaps he thinks he's such a shoe-in for an at-large seat next fall that he doesn't have to think about those those lowly ward councilors?

    At this point Councilor Rooke went from bad to worse when he started questioning whether there would still be a role for neighborhood councils and if the city should continue to pay for staff for some of them! Of course this is exactly what the neighborhood council members present were fearful about, a forced irrelevance of the council and civic association system.

    Rooke said he thought Mayor Sullivan had created the neighborhood council system in the 70's as a way of giving neighborhoods a voice, but now with the ward representation, would they be needed? I thought his question surprisingly parochial seeing as nearly every city in Massachusetts has neighborhood councils AND a mixed-- at-large and ward-- city council. Maybe Councilor Rooke doesn't get out of town much. I think it was Councilor Tosado who had a good comeback-- neighborhood councils are not ward-based and neighborhoods often overlap wards.

    Well, I certainly think there's a continued need for neighborhood-based organizations.As far as I can recall, we've got twelve neighborhood councils and ten civic associations. Long may they reign.

    I'll save the School Committee for tomorrow..

    Poor people kicked out of session on poor people

    Well, if this isn't typical. Premier Dalton McGuinty of Ontario was elected partly on his party's platform of reducing poverty by 25% in five years, but now that he is starting the process of "getting firsthand feedback" (his words) apparently that doesn't include getting any input from the people actually living in poverty.

    Today poor people protested the invitation-only poverty session. Some of the protesters had their mouth shut with tape with the word "silence' written on the tape. Infoshop has a good story about people's struggle to be heard..

    I must say, however, the Premier's 25% reduction on poverty sounds a whole lot better than what is promoted in cities around the country including Springfield-- and some states have their own plan, also; Massachusetts does-- although sometimes I get confused: is it eliminate chronic homelessness in five years? or all homelessness in ten years? or ten percent in five years? or five percent in...oh, never mind.

    Premier McGuinty must know something about where the economy is headed that I don't know, to set his sights so high.

    Homeless, Tired of foreclosures, Reclaim Vacant Government Homes

    I have a link to these folks -- the Nashville Homeless Power Project-- on my blog, and when I got this email today, asking for help publicizing what they're up to, I was happy to oblige.

    Contact: Jeannie Alexander, 615-799--8108

    Homeless, Tired of foreclosures, Reclaim Vacant Government Homes

    The Nashville Homeless Power Project led a march of poor and homeless families for housing, Wednesday which culminated with the takeover of vacant HUD homes. The march began at 1:00 p.m. in front of the Metro Court House then proceeded to Dickerson Road, an area that has been recently rezoned for luxury development. The homeless group is concerned that redevelopment will again not prioritize the needs of the poor and may push families out of the area. “In this time of foreclosures, many of us are facing homelessness. We need our city to prioritize poor and working families above luxury development. Despite repeated promises from local government the homeless are left the die in the streets while their demand for housing is ignored” said Clemmie Greenlee, formerly homeless grandmother and organizer with the Power Project.

    The march then became a caravan and participants were driven to Tom Joy Elementary School where the group held a brief prayer vigil for the estimated 1,800 homeless school children in the Nashville area. The march ended where one of the vacant HUD homes has been reclaimed. Homeless people vow not to leave the homes voluntarily.

    Cheri Honkala, National Organizer of the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign, also participated in the march and takeover and cited the City of Nashville for “ their failure to address the homeless crisis and rise in foreclosures. “ Representatives of the power project vow that the May 7th march and takeover is the next step in a fight that will not end until everyone has access to safe and affordable housing. Jeannie Alexander, program director of the Power Project further stated that the takeover was the first public takeover of a vacant HUD home by the Power Project but that the organization has “covertly taken over more than a dozen other vacant houses in the city” and will continue to take additional houses “as long as there are people who do not have homes.”