Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hundreds of youth criminal records expunged

Update: Former Pennsylvania Judges Mark A. Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan are headed for prison-- seven years each and not nearly long enough, if you ask me-- for sentencing young people brought before the bar to a privately-run juvenile facility in return for kick-backs totaling in the millions. I wrote about the case when it first went national here.

Now the New York Times is reporting that the records of hundred of youths will be expunged. 70 of those youths have filed a class action suit against the judges, asking that "all profits that the detention centers earned from the scheme placed in a fund that would compensate the youths for their emotional distress." NYTimes.

If there were no prison, and still the judges could be sentenced, what should they be sentenced to do?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Support workers at the YWCA and its battered women's shelters

I was talking to an old friend of mine the other day, Nancy Lyman-Shaver, about whether she still was planning to write a book about the development of the battered women's movement in Western Massachusetts, which so closely parallels efforts around the country. Unfortunately, much of Nancy's material was lost in a flooded basement, but a very abridged version of the story goes like this: back in the late 60's and early 70's, if a woman was being battered at home, she had virtually no options. There were no battered women's shelters and the 209A restraining order laws did not yet exist. In Springfield, working class feminists rented a house for women who needed a place to flee to, and they staffed it with volunteers for a number of years. It was an effort women undertook willingly, but without funding, it eventually became too much. When the MA Department of Public Health decided to offer funding to agencies willing to operate battered women's shelters, it was, in many ways, the beginning of the end of the battered women's political movement, bureaucratizing essential services to they could be "delivered" more efficiently.

Maybe it was inevitable and necessary, but that bureaucratization has been a mixed blessing. We've replaced a political analysis with one that tends to treat women as part of a social pathology, and that brings with it all the concomitant mandatory "services.". And some battered women's services have even become the oppressors of their women employees.

Springfield's Young Women's Christian Association, which operates the ARCH and New Beginnings battered women's shelters, has been under criticism for some time by many in its workforce. This Thursday, the Western Massachusetts Jobs with Justice Workers' Rights Board will be holding a hearing on labor relations at the Y. The following is a press release from Jobs with Justice.


On Thursday March 12, a panel of the Western Massachusetts Jobs with Justice Workers' Rights Board will take the testimony of workers at YWCA of Western Massachusetts and issue a report on labor contract bargaining there. The hearing will be 3:00-5:00pm in Room 220, City Hall, 36 Court Street, Springfield. The public, the press, and the employer are invited to attend. Attendees are asked to come fragrance-free.

The YWCA’s workforce – predominantly women, many of whom are of color – claim it is not living up to its mission of “eliminating racism and empowering women.”

The United Auto Workers Local 2322 has been bargaining a new contract at the YWCA since May 2008. The employer is showing an anti-worker and anti-union animus at the bargaining table and has shown such animus since the workers organized in 2003. Despite being a non-profit social service agency subsidized by tax dollars and tax benefits and public and private donations, the YWCA has spent in excess of $300,000 on the well-known anti-union law firm, Skoler, Abbott & Presser, and has given sizable raises to its Executive Director, Mary Reardon Johnson. It claims there is no revenue to grant its employees decent raises.

UAW Local 2322 President Ron Patenaude will conduct the testimony by YWCA workers and also provide basic information including the YWCA’s many violations of the National Labor Relations Act.

The Western Mass. Jobs with Justice Workers' Rights Board consists of two dozen “public citizens” in Western Massachusetts. The following are on the March 12 panel:

Irene Kimball, Chairperson of the Western Massachusetts Jobs with Justice Workers' Rights Board; retired Regional Director, Massachusetts Office for Children

Anne Awad, President/CEO, Caring Health Center Inc, Springfield; Health Systems Consultant; former Amherst Select Person

Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, Director, Office of Peace & Justice, Catholic Charities Agency, Diocese of Springfield

Frances Borden Hubbard, Project Director, Springfield Adolescent Health Project; Retired Professor of Black Studies, Labor Studies, and Public Administration at several universities

Prof. Stephanie Luce, Acting Director, Labor Relations & Research Center, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Benjamin Swan, Massachusetts State Representative from Springfield and civil rights activist

William R. Toller, Deacon, Holy Cross Church, Springfield; Consultant, Hampden County Sheriff’s Department

E. Henry Twiggs, Chairman, Springfield Inner City Rehab Inc.

Across the U.S., Workers’ Rights Boards act as “the conscience of the community” regarding labor relations, exposing employers' misconduct and also helping workers form unions and reach collective bargaining contracts. There is more information at

More information about law firms like Skoler, Abbott & Presser is at

Jon Weissman, Coordinator,Western Mass Jobs with Justice,640 Page Blvd #101, Springfield MA 01104, (413) 827-0301

Photos: Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone, two Massachusetts feminists.

Today is International Women's Day, and my post is as part of a coordinated effort on the part of Bloggers Unite!,
an attempt to harness the power of the blogosphere to make the world a better place. By asking bloggers to write about a particular subject on 1 day of the month, a single voice can be joined with thousands to help make a difference; from raising awareness for cancer, to an effort to better education systems or supporting 3rd world countries. if you're a blogger, check it out!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

CNN's Rick Sanchez uses the language of violence

Irony of ironies....this afternoon on Rick Sanchez' show on CNN, he read aloud from the filing documents released by the Los Angeles police that described the "alleged" beating of singer Rihanna by her boyfriend Chris Brown. The literally blow by blow description of the assault was chilling and and graphic.

After reading the filing documents, Rick addressed one of his guests, Ashleigh Banfield from In Session.

"There's talk..that she's gonna go back to him and all that jazz..and as a guy, as a human being, you can't help but wonder why. And there's talk now, that there's some people who know her who are gonna try to knock some sense into her. What are you hearing?"

Hold on! Isn't that what Chris Brown probably believes, that he was "knocking some sense into her?"

Is he next going to call the assault a "crime of passion?"

Photo from Dvux's photostream at Flickr.

Monday, March 2, 2009

15 year old girl beat by Seattle cop

OK, this video is going to get a lot of play, but if you ask me, it can't get too much. A fifteen year old girl, arrested for reasons unknown at this point, is placed in a holding cell. Just before the door closes, she kicks off a shoe, which goes outside the room on a low trajectory. You can watch what happens next for yourself. There's no audio to the video, but according to treports the girl is calling the officers fat pigs. (Make sure you catch the part about how after she is handcuffed, they pull her into a standing position by her hair.) Guess the officers forgot that old playground chant, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me."

YouTube link:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Speaking of dumps....

I've been pretty down in the dumps the last week or so (political, though it's become personal) and sometimes when I get like that, I don't really feel like putting myself out there-- especially if my disquiet moves from the intellectual and emotional to the physical-- too much adrenalin, meaning not enough sleep, etc. I just have to wait for it to pass and to keep breathing.

A friend left a message on my phone last night inquiring as to my wellbeing because I hadn't been blogging-- pretty insightful on her part. Actually, I've still been collecting items I want to share so I haven't been completely neglectful.

So today: I plugged in my Christmas lights, left the stepladder up so my cats can play King of the Hill, and made a cup of cocoa. I'm going to: finish cleaning the house, reorganize a bookshelf, water my plants, and then wait for the snow, which I complain about but secretly savor. Let there be white.

Photo from DoortoRiver's photostream at Flickr.

East Coast and snowed in? Take some simple, meaningful actions

Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup

Save the Date: Ocean Conservancy to release "The Rising Tide of Ocean Debris: And What We Can Do About It" in March. The report compiles the findings of the 2008 International Coastal Cleanup providing a global snapshot of the problem of trash in our ocean.

Our own health is intrinsically tied to the health of the ocean, and we each have a personal responsibility for its care. The International Coastal Cleanup, the world's largest volunteer effort for the ocean, provides a unique opportunity to make a difference in your own backyard or favorite beach and be a part of a global movement. The 24th annual International Coastal Cleanup will be held September 19th worldwide.

For questions or to receive a copy of the report contact Media Relations Manager Michele Capots.

Double Murder in Russia - Human Rights First

Last month, a leading human rights lawyer and a freelance reporter were gunned down in the middle of the afternoon in downtown Moscow. Both were returning from a press conference concerning the case of a Russian colonel charged with the murder of an 18-year-old Chechen girl.

Similar attacks have been repeatedly met with impunity. This one, in daylight and in front of dozens of witnesses, takes the danger faced by human rights defenders to a new level. Human Rights First responded quickly by sending a letter to Secretary Clinton and an appeal to President Medvedev. Thanks to those of you who joined our efforts!

HRF is pushing the new administration to take up this and other important human rights issues with Russia. Read more in our blueprint and in a recent Letter to the Editor in the Washington Times.

House Passes Act Stopping Chimps Sold as Pets - Petition at Care2

Lost in the pomp and circumstance of President Obama's non-State of the Union address on Tuesday was an important step in Congress for animal lovers. The House of Representatives passed the Captive Primate Safety Act by a vote of 323 to 95.

The Captive Primate Safety Act would make it illegal to engage in interstate and foreign commerce with primates as pets - making it much more difficult for people to buy a chimp as a pet. And given the recent incident in Connecticut (which fellow Care2 blogger Sharon S. so eloquently discussed earlier), it's becoming more and more clear that some sort of regulation is necessary to ensure something like that doesn't happen again. Ask your senator to sign on.

Regulate Toxic E-Waste

Target: U.S. Congress
Sponsored by:
Do you want the latest and greatest technology? Before you decide, consider that over-consumption has led to 20-50 million metric tons of toxic e-waste worldwide each year. And the U.S. does not federally mandate recycling of e-waste.

Most old or unusable computers, televisions and cell phones are shipped off to Asia or West Africa where they are smashed and scrapped for precious metals. Young people seeking to earn a little money work at dumps to demolish electronics for valuable parts. But unknowingly they are exposed to poisonous chemicals like mercury, lead and cadmium, all known to cause cancer.

In an effort to prevent international dumping of e-waste 170 countries agreed to notify developing nations of incoming hazardous waste shipments. Sadly, the U.S. is the only industrialized country that would not sign the agreement.

Dumping e-waste is harmful to the poor nations where it ends up and harmful to the environment. The EPA refuses to take responsibility for international dumping of e-waste.
Tell Congress that it's time to federally regulate e-waste dumping.

Photo from the Ocean Conservancy's photostream at Flickr.

Belated Justice for Kathryn Johnston as Judge Sentences Atlanta Narcs Who Killed Her to Prison

From Stop the Drug

A federal judge in Atlanta Tuesday sent three former Atlanta narcotics officers to prison for their roles in a misbegotten drug raid that ended in the death of a 92-year-old woman and shone a disturbing light on police practices in the Atlanta police drug squad. The victim, Kathryn Johnston, was killed when the three officers fired 39 rounds at her after she fired one shot at them as they were breaking down her door on a bogus drug raid.

US District Court Judge Julie Carnes sentenced former officer Arthur Tesler to five years in prison, Gregg Junnier to six years, and Jason Smith to 10 years. All three sentences were less than those called for by federal sentencing guidelines.

Johnston was killed about 7 p.m. on November 21, 2006. Three hours earlier, Tesler arrested and roughed-up a small-time drug dealer named Fabian Sheats and threatened to send him to prison unless he gave up another drug dealer. Sheats eventually pointed out Johnston's home, apparently at random, telling Tesler and his partners he saw a dealer named "Sam" with a kilo of cocaine there.

The three officers wanted to make a buy, but didn't consider Sheats reliable, so they called an informant named Alex White to come make the buy. But White was unavailable, so the trio simply wrote a false affidavit saying they had watched White make a cocaine buy at Johnson's home. Shortly before 6:00 p.m., they had their no-knock search warrant. An hour later, Johnston was dead after firing upon the intruders she apparently thought were robbers.

Then the cover-up kicked in, with the trio creating more false documents to hide the truth. But their cover-up fell apart when their informant, Alex White, grew frightened and went to the FBI.

In her sentencing statement, Judge Carnes criticized the Atlanta Police Department for its performance quotas for search warrants and arrests, saying the "pressures brought to bear did have an impact on these and other officers on the force." If anything good came from Johnston's death, it will be "a renewed effort by the Atlanta Police Department to prevent something like this from ever happening again," Carnes said. "It is my fervent hope the APD will take to heart what has happened here," the judge said.