Thursday, April 30, 2009

How ’07 ABC Interview Tilted a Torture Debate

NYTimes had a story Monday that should be required reading by all media and anyone who uses media to be informed about current events-- guess that's just about everybody. It's the tale of a former CIA official who said on an ABD interview that only 30-35 seconds of waterboarding forced the cooperation of the suspected terrorist Abu Zubaydah in interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.. This assertion was repeated by numerous other media sources over the next years

With the release of the recent torture memos by the Justice Department, it turns out that Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times.

"The conclusion that he revealed no new information after being waterboarded appears to be supported by a footnote to a 2005 Justice Department memo saying the use of the harshest methods appeared to have been "unnecessary" in his case. An official with direct knowledge of the case told The Times that watching his torment caused great distress to his captors." NYTimes.

chat chasse pigeon


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Some tent city news

"If it were left to George Taylor, homeless veterans living in wooded areas around Brevard County would be in one large "tent city," where they would tend vegetable crops until they could move into a home of their own." So begins a story at Florida Today about a former vet who is now president and founder of Veterans Homeless Support, reaching out to some of the estimated 600 veterans camping out in Brevard County, Florida.

Mr. Taylor was homeless himself, and rootless for a number of years until he tackled the PTSD that had plagued him since Vietnam. For the last fifteen years his mission has been to help homeless vets. Read more about him to see what good intentions can accomplish.

Good intentions haven't been enough to keep the River United Methodist Communities Church in Woonsocket, RI from being cited by city officials after the church put up four tents for homeless people in their courtyard. The six homeless men who had been staying in the tents are staying elsewhere for the moment, but the tents remain while the church decides what to do. Providence Journal.

Not quite sure to make of this next piece of news, but the Housing Predictor, which does real estate market forecasts, did a survey (sample number unknown) about whether or not the government should, because of the current housing crisis, close down tent cities and more residents into housing. 58% say the government shouldn't do this, 42% say the government should.

What do people's answers really mean? And what odd phrasing! For example, I'd disagree that the government shut shut down tent cities and agree that the government should have housing available for homeless people. Of course most of the time the government does one but not the other.

Photo: Amanda Stratford, Florida Today.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Am I unfair to cops?

This may be the most defensive post I've ever written, and I've thought more than twice about it, but after a number of recent accusations both on this blog and in Springfield/Northampton forums that I am a liar, filth, and damaging the lives (!!) of police and hospital personnel, I decided to go back and take a look at my previous posts to see: am I really too hard on law enforcement?

In the two years I've been writing this blog, I've posted 781 times. Fifteen of those posts have mentioned the police-- that's a bit under 2%.

In fact, I could have posted much more about the police than I do-- there are many items that catch my eye that I'd like to share. But I happen to have two very close family members in frontline law enforcement, and there are so many other things to write about-- why go out of my way to choose to write about things that might alienate my family? It's a balance I find myself weighing every time I post about the police.

Of those fifteen posts, I have never engaged in name-calling-- the closest I've come is calling the actions of the New Orleans Police Department in setting up homeless people by leaving valuable items in parked cars and waiting until a homeless person broke into the cars as "sleazy."

So: four of the posts were about police actions regarding homeless people-- cutting up their tents, arresting them at demonstrations-- facts not in dispute. One of the four was sympathetic to the position of the police.

Two were about people who died after being tasered. Facts not in dispute.

Two were about SWAT raid-- one where a 92 year old woman was killed in a botched drug raid where the ex-officer on trial said he was forced to lie to cover up the facts; one where a small town mayor's home was raided and his two dogs shot to death. Facts not in dispute.

Two were primarily about policy issues where the police were mentioned, one over police departments confusion over the new Massachusetts marijuana law, and one about the Mass. Supreme Court expanding the powers of the police to frisk people on the street. I did say I thought that would make the police happy.

Two of the posts were complimentary to the police, in particular about how swiftly they acted to catch the murderer of a local homeless man.

One was primarily about the rapes and beatings of sex workers in Springfield which quoted Sgt. Delaney of the Springfield Police Dept.

And five were personal.

Three of them were about friends and what I considered to be overzealousness on the part of Springfield Police when it came to finding their behavior suspicious. Guess those depend on who you believe.

And two were about my own experiences. One happened many years ago, when a police officer lied about how he obtained evidence when I was arrested for possession of marijuana. (The case was dismissed.) The other was about my being arrested at a protest where, besides being charged with disorderly conduct, I was also charged with assault and battery on a police officer. She had her hand on my arm, and supposedly I pulled myself out of her grasp and she sprained her wrist. It was entirely bullshit, and both charges were dropped when the officers failed to appear in court.

My recent post "Police Brutality in Northampton?" does seem to fall into a different category. What I did was repeat an entire email sent to me by someone who was at a Northampton rally about an alleged incident of police brutality. I've been trashed by a number of people and all I can say is that if I'm proved to be wrong, I'll admit it. But the truth is, I may never be able to be proved right. The truth may never come out.

The degree of institutional power held by law enforcement stacks the deck against the average person here in Western Mass. and everywhere. Last week Springfield's toothless Community Complaint Review Board was disappointed when only two people showed up at Springfield City Hall to hear the board's first annual report. Why should anyone have bothered? All the board can do is review the already completed decisions of Internal Affairs, and return them to IA if the board doesn't agree with IA's conclusions. This, however, mandates no action on the part of IA.

"Alejandro (board chair) said the board determined none of the 43 use-of-force complaints it dealt with merited being returned, though he said police officers in some of those cases were ordered to undergo additional training." Springfield Republican. Well, that makes me feel a whole lot better.

I remain as interested in the truth of the alleged brutality in Northampton as anyone else. Let's hope we get to find out.

SalesTax; between a rock and a hard place

So the Massachusetts House of Representatives has just passed an apparently veto-proof increase in our sales tax, from 5% to 6.25. It's not law yet, but certainly seems to have smooth sailing ahead. See today's Boston Globe.

Taxes are one of those issues where our personal needs and desires are often different from what we know is good for the state and the country. I look at the difference between my gross and take-home pay and am not happy. Yet I know states have to have revenue in order to fund local aid to cities and towns and services such as the Department of Public Health and the State Police, at a time when revenue is down-- people are buying less, and fewer people have jobs. So what's fair?

Sales tax is a flat rate tax-- the rate remains the same whether you are buying a car or a set of dishes. But sales taxes are more burdensome on middle and low-income people than on those who have higher incomes, because, while the tax rate is the same, upper income people have far more disposable income.

Income tax is generally considered a progressive tax-- that is, if you have more, you pay more. Local property taxes are also considered progressive but are often considered unfair because of the disparities in the evaluation process from city to city.

My personal least favorite tax is the one not considered a tax at all, and that's increasing state (and local) fees for Registry of Motor Vehicle Services, fishing and hunting licenses, etc. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was a master of the hidden tax.

How does Massachusetts compare to other states in terms of sales and income tax? Not the worst, but not great either. If sales tax goes to 6.25%, only twelve other states will have a sales tax equal to or higher than we will. Federation of Tax Administrators.

We fare better with our 5.3% income tax. While 8 states have no income tax at all, 23 states charge at least some of their residents (at the upper end) more in income tax than Massachusetts.

Then there's the gas tax. Everyone who has a car lived through last year's $4+ a gallon last year, and it wasn't easy. You can read a pro-gas tax editorial here.

Massachusetts has a $3.5 billion budget gap. Which tax or combination thereof is likely to solve our budget problems? A one percent sales tax increase will raise $750 million. A one percent income tax increase will raise about $1.2 billion. Then there's alcohol/cigarette taxes. But I can guarantee you there will be no income tax increase this year, because next year is an election year for our representatives and senators.

By the way, our federal income tax is the third lowest in the world!-- probably a surprise to most people. From MoneyCentral:

Tax burdens around the world
CountrySingle, no kidsMarried, 2 kidsCountrySingle, no kidsMarried, 2 kids
Czech Republic43.8%27.1%New Zealand20.5%14.5%
Germany51.8%35.7%Slovak Republic38.3%23.2%
Italy45.4%35.2%United Kingdom33.5%27.1%
Japan27.7%24.9%United States29.1%11.9%
Source: OECD, 2005 data

So what do YOU think?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Movie about the real lives of poor people!

We always want our children (when we have them) to do better than we have done, while not forgetting where they've come from. I know that Cheri Honkala, founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and coordinator of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, is very proud of her son, Mark Webber, an actor turned director who has just made a movie very much based on the lives of poor people in Philadelphia, their trials, and how they organize to fight back. Go, Mark!

I doubt the movie is going to show around here, but I will definitely buy it when it becomes available, and then we'll show it at Arise's office. Here's th trailer and also a short clip about the making of the movie.

Anti-Bullying Community Forum and Vigil

In the wake of the recent tragedy that took the life of young Carl Joseph Walker- Hoover a forum is being held to create an opportunity for the community to address the issues affecting all the youth of our city, and build solutions together.

This event brings together a board array of perspectives on bullying to highlight its sever impacts, as well as solutions to this ending this epidemic in our city, state and country.

At this special event the community with have the opportunity to voice their thoughts, ask questions and offer solutions. This event will end with a candlelight vigil remembering all those who have been the affected by bullying.

Special Guest: Sirdeaner L. Walker, mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover

Musical Performances: Holyoke High School Madrigal Singers, Shakira L. Hanley

Opening Speaker: Rev. Irene Monroe, Coordinator of the African American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion, and a religion columnist.

Panelist(s): Lisa – Perry Woods, Executive Director Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Youth Commission, Jossie Valientie, Senior Bilingual Academic Counselor, Holyoke Community College, Holyoke and Parent, OutNow member and public school student

Come to Listen! Come to make your voice heard! Come to make a difference!

Date:April 29th 6:30pm- 8:30pm; Location: American International College,Griswold Theatre, 1000 State Street,Springfield, Ma 01109

Total Solar Eclipse

Total solar eclipse, photo by Prof. RNDr. Miloslav Druckmuller CSc.

See NASA for a list of upcoming eclipses.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bullies, suicides and suspensions

Massachusetts Rep. Alice Wolf, D-25th Middlesex, has introduced legislation that would rein in the out-of-control rate of school suspensions. A a hearing on the proposed bill will take place this Tuesday, 6 pm., at the Springfield Science and Technology High School, 1250 State St.

The purpose of the hearing, sponsored by the Graduation and Drop-Out Prevention and Recovery Commission, is to solicit information on the effect of school suspensions, and to build support for Wolf's bill, "An Act to help students stay in school."

Some bullets from the hearing fact sheet:
  • Many Massachusetts school districts exclude students from school for non-violent misconduct that does not threaten student and school staff safety.
  • African-American students are six times more likely to be excluded, often for the same infractions that bring lesser discipline for non-minority kids.
  • Last year, 64,000 kids were excluded from school in Massachusetts, with 4,200 exclusions of longer than ten days. Many exclusions go unreported.
  • School exclusion is strongly linked to students dropping out of school.
The Stay in School Act would limit school suspensions to 90 school days in most cases, and limit suspensions to 10 days unless students assault staff, bring weapons to school, deal drugs or engage in other felonious behavior. It would also require a written explanation of the suspension, and allow parents the right to appeal.

The timing of this hearing in Springfield couldn't be more ironic. On April 6, Springfield student Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hung himself in response to bullying in school. He was eleven years old. Ten days later, another eleven year old Georgia boy hung himself for the same reasons. Bullying is serious business and the cruelty that some children endure produces lifelong scars. Yet are suspensions the best answer to this problem?

Charles M. Blow at the NYTImes wrote a sad and chilling column this week about the effect of homophobic bullying on children, with statistics to break your heart. The main focus of bullies seems to be boys who are perceived as "gay"-- that is, kids who enjoy music, like to read, like to dance or who otherwise don't fit the lowest common denominator of masculinity, and kids who are bullied for their appearance.

These realities have not stopped the Massachusetts House, however, from taking away 40% of the funds earmarked for suicide prevention programs for gay and lesbian youth in next year's budget.

Every parent in Springfield needs to have a conversation with their kids about the rights of all children to be who they are and look the way they look. Every school in Springfield needs to have the same conversation. Unless we can find a way to increase tolerance among our children and ourselves, more tragedies are just around the corner.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Update on Northampton incident

I got several negative comments on my post about the alleged incident of police brutality in Northampton, and I can tell you that we're continuing to dig for the truth...and I can also tell you that someone I know went to Cooley Dick Hospital and took photos of the alleged victim, which I will post as soon as possible.

One comment from a former Northampton police officer was quite credible until he got to the part where he said there had never been an incident of excessive force in the Northampton police department...that's like saying nurses always wash their hands between patients; child welfare workers always check on the kids when they say they have; DAs never prosecute someone they suspect is innocent; restaurant workers never spit in the food they serve; elected officials never take bribes; grocers never willingly mislabel food as fresher than it is; and tobacco companies always tell the truth.

Come on, everybody is human.

Ward Representation correction

John Lysak emailed me today to say that two school committee candidates actually lived in different wards than I had said... I can only say that that was the information I got from the Election Commission. I did catch that they'd assigned the wrong ward to Frank Buntin and corrected it in the document I posted yesterday, but didn't catch the other two.

This info does change the lay of the land for the ward school committee seats...there is now a candidate for every ward...but hey, one is not enough! No one should be elected simply because there is no opposition. So come on, Springfield residents, now's your chance!


School Committee At Large

Incumbents who’ve taken out papers: Michael Rodgers, Thomas Ashe, Antoinette Pepe (undecided at-large or ward)

Non-incumbents: Felix Rivera , Rafael Bones, Nathaniel Davis (undecided)

Incumbents who haven’t taken out papers yet: Ken Shea, Chris Collins

Wards 1,3: Norman Roldan, Orlando Santiago,

Wards 4,5: Frank Buntin, Peter Murphy,

Wards 6,7: Joshua Carpenter

Wards 2,8: Joseph Flebotte:

Torture: why is anyone shocked?

This is purely a rant....I am sitting here about as furious as I can be that anyone can act surprised about the fact that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice all knew that Justice Department-authorized torture was taking place. Everyone I know was aware that this torture was authorized at the highest levels.

From the NYTimes: In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

I am particularly infuriated about the officers that were demoted and the enlisted personnel that were imprisoned for crimes that were actually NOT crimes-- in the legal sense, that is-- because those actions were approved by the Bush Administration. Yet no one-- not Bush, Cheney or anyone else-- stepped forward to defend them. They ALLOWED these people to suffer for them.

The lawyer for Charles Graner, currently serving a ten year sentence, plans to seek a presidential pardon. More info on possible appeals can be found at the Guardian.

Now, I understand that the "just following orders" excuse didn't cut it at the Nuremberg trials. But I do believe that the culture of the military makes it very difficult to do so. What do you think?

Earth Day one day late - part one

From StarDate Online-- great site.

How fast is Earth moving through space?

To begin with, Earth is rotating on its axis at the familiar rate of one revolution per day. For those of us living at Earth's midlatitudes -- including the United States, Europe, and Japan -- the rate is almost a thousand miles an hour. The rate is higher at the equator and lower at the poles. In addition to this daily rotation, Earth orbits the Sun at an average speed of 67,000 mph, or 18.5 miles a second.

Perhaps that seems a bit sluggish -- after all, Mars Pathfinder journeyed to Mars at nearly 75,000 miles per hour. Buckle your seat belts, friends. The Sun, Earth, and the entire solar system also are in motion, orbiting the center of the Milky Way at a blazing 140 miles a second. Even at this great speed, though, our planetary neighborhood still takes about 200 million years to make one complete orbit -- a testament to the vast size of our home galaxy.

Dizzy yet? Well hold on. The Milky Way itself is moving through the vastness of intergalactic space. Our galaxy belongs to a cluster of nearby galaxies, the Local Group, and together we are easing toward the center of our cluster at a leisurely 25 miles a second.

If all this isn't enough to make you feel you deserve an intergalactic speeding ticket, consider that we, along with our cousins in the Local Group, are hurtling at a truly astonishing 375 miles a second toward the Virgo Cluster, an enormous collection of galaxies some 45 million light-years away.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ward representation: candidates start to emerge

Next Thursday, April 30, Arise is sponsoring a workshop with MassVOTE on how to run for city council or school committee in Springfield (5:30 at the Central Labor Council, 640 Page Blvd.) so I went down to the Election Commission yesterday to see who had taken out papers.

Of course, no one is officially a candidate until he or she has returned the proper number of signatures and had those signatures verified, but if everyone who has taken out papers runs, then at this point we would definitely have a preliminary election for the at-large city council seats and for the seats in wards 1,2, 4 and 8.

Of the nine incumbent city councilors, none has chosen (so far) to run for a ward seat. Bud Williams, of course, is running for mayor; Tim Rooke, James Ferrara and Jose Tosado have taken out papers while Kateri Walsh took out papers but apparently has not yet decided if she's running at large or for a ward seat. Walsh lives in ward 6, where only one other person has taken out ward papers so far-- the only ward in which there is, so far, no competition.

School committee candidates, however, are quite thin so far. The four ward seats for school committee consist of combined wards, and as of yesterday, NO candidates have emerged for wards 6/7 and 2/8. Only two incumbents have taken out papers for the at large seats, with Antoinette Pepe apparently undecided as to whether she will run from her ward or run at large.

Following is a list of everyone who's taken out papers:

City Council At Large:

Incumbents who’ve taken out papers: Timothy Rooke, James Ferrara, Jose Tosado

Non-incumbents: Peter Appleby, Walter Gould, David Poehler, Victor Davila, Robert Francesca, John Rivera

Incumbents who haven’t taken out papers yet: William Foley, Patrick Markey, Rosemarie Mazza-Moriarty, Bruce Stebbins

Not sure ward or at large: Kateri Walsh, lives in Ward 6

Non-incumbents for ward seats

Ward 1: Zaida Luna, Rajah Walia, Gumersindo Gomez, Michael Tuckey

Ward 2: Luis Garcia, Robert Underwood, Tommy Sullivan, Gil Perron

Ward 3: Melvin Edwards, Larry Lawson

Ward 4: Charles Stokes, Norm Oliver, E. Henry Twiggs, Lorenzo Gaines, Omega Johnson

Ward 5: Clodo Concepcion, George Bruce

Ward 6: Keith Wright

Ward 7: Alexander Sherman, Kenneth Pooler

Ward 8: Orlando Ramos, Gloria DeFillipo, John Lysak, Miguel Soto

School Committee At Large

Incumbents who’ve taken out papers: Michael Rodgers, Thomas Ashe, Antoinette Pepe (undecided at-large or ward)

Non-incumbents: Felix Rivera , Rafael Bones, Nathaniel Davis (undecided)

Incumbents who haven’t taken out papers yet: Ken Shea, Chris Collins

Wards 1,3: Norman Roldan, Orlando Santiago, Joshua Carpenter

Wards 4,5: Frank Buntin, Peter Murphy, Joseph Flebotte:

Wards 6,7: None

Wards 2,8: None

Police brutality in Northampton?

I got this following message by email this morning from my friend and fellow Arise board member Keely:

I went to the rally yesterday and I wanted to update you all.
People have been VERY hostile to this information getting out, many listserves that I am on have been home to heated debate with area residents making exclamations like "Come on this is Not L.A." Or " There Is no story. It was made up" to "if its true why is in not in the police blotter"--Come on, since when have the police kept record of their own brutality??!!?? These things do happen--even in th happy valley!

The following is information of what allegedly took place in Downtown Northampton this past weekend.
Here is the information as it was told by Al's best friend Aaron @ yesterday's rally:
Al is a Black Disabled Veteran. He was arrested at Urban Outfitters for alleged shoplifting. Aaron believes that when the police brought him out of the store and around the corner there were reports of Al yelling "You are really hurting me!" It is at that point that Aaron believes (based on eye witness accounts) that the beating ensued. It is believed that Al received many blows to his face (and probably body as well). Aaron reported that he was notified of the arrest and proceeded to gather bail money. Aaron arrived at the Police station sometime after the arrest (I'm not sure how much later--it might have even been the next morning?) Aaron said that he was here to bail Al out. The officers began processing bail. It was at that point that an officer went to go retrieve Al and found him unconscious (later to be deemed in a coma) in his cell. Al was NOT breathing at this point in time and the officer returned to report to Aaron that he "had come bad news," It appeared his friend had suffered a Massive Heart Attack. Aaron said that it was was clear at that point in time that Al had NOT been monitored while locked up. The police were ONLY aware of Al's condition because they had gone to retrieve him for bail. Once at the Hospital Aaron was disturbed to see the extent of Al's injuries.
Al's bottom jaw was injured so badly and that it was knocked so far to the right that "Al can look down to the side and see his own jaw!" His upper lip was completely split open horizontally and his eyes were swollen shut. Al's family came to Cooley Dickinson and they, as well as Aaron and members of Poverty is Not a Crime, have reported that all doctors and nurses at Cooley Dickinson Hospital who have cared for Al have said "There is Nothing wrong with this man's heart. He did not have a heart attack" Aaron reported that Al has no spleen and due to this feels pain much more intensely than most. Aaron said that the medical professionals believe that Al's body went into a coma as a way of coping with the intense pain he was experiencing. It is not known for how long Al laid on the cell floor, not breathing, nor the extent of brain damage due to an extended period of time with no oxygen going to his brain. Al is currently at Cooley Dickinson, in and out of consciousness.

Action MUST be taken!!! Please make the following phone calls:
Mayor Higgins should have an earful--413.587.1249

Police Chief Russell Sienkiewicz---413.587.1100
The arresting officers AND the officers that left Al bleeding and unconscious in a cell should be suspended without pay effective immediately

Even if you are NOT a resident of Northampton I urge you to make these phone calls--because we ALL do business in that town, purchase items in that town, are patrons at its stores and restaurants, or work in Northampton! We ALL have a stake in protecting our Disabled Veterans! We ALL deserve to feel safe.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Not paranoia after all...NSA has been listening in...

This week the New York Times reported-- on Tax Day, how fitting-- that apparently the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies have been "overcollecting" the emails, phone calls and other private information of U.S. citizens-- but they say they've stopped and won't do it anymore. That makes me feel a whole lot better.

Is it better to know than just suspect? Reminds me that in the early days of the Iraq war, the listserve that my organization operates for Western Mass. progressives to share organizing news was openly infiltrated by a Springfield police officer. Officer Phil joined the listserve under his own name. We had quite a bit of discussion about his presence-- should we allow it, or remove him?-- but figured that at least we knew he was there. He was already our unchosen liason with the police department when it came to demonstrations against the war-- he'd call us to ask if we planned civil disobedience and assure us it was OK if we were planning to be arrested, that was our right-- but just wanted to know how many police officers we had on hand. Of course, we did any organizing that related to civil disobedience off-list, as we figured Bush and his cronies were already monitoring us.

We did, eventually, remove Officer Phil, for passing on information he got on the list about a civil disobedience action in another state-- not that we believed the action was not already infiltrated, but simply because his actions were a violation of the same standards to which we held everyone else on the listserve . However, because the list had open membership, and anyone could join (and stay a member, unless posting racist, homophobic, right-wing, etc. rants), I assume he simply rejoined under another name.

Anyone who thinks that listserves, blogs and other internet-posted information are not monitored is kidding himself. We should have no expectation of privacy. Monitoring mail, phone calls and email, however, are a different story. Yet it happened under Bush and I'm sure it will continue to happen under Obama.

Want to communicate a secret without being overheard? Go stand in an open field and keep your fingers crossed. I suspect the overhead satellites are learning to read lips.