Friday, May 29, 2009

Earl, don't listen to your sister.

Your uppity, AARP insurance-pushing sister makes fun of you because you drive a 20 year old car.

"And what's even worse," she says, "he's had the same insurance company for 20 years!"

Well, I say, Good for you! You've done the responsible thing maintaining your car and not trading up just because the neighbors did. You look like a fun-loving guy who thinks for yourself. Don't let her get to you.

By the way, I'll bet your long relationship with your auto insurance company has helped a local agency stay in business. You go, Earl!

Blissfully unaware?

Neal waffles on health care

A hundred people showed up yesterday for a rally at Congressman Richard E. Neal's Springfield office on State St. We were there to see if we could win Neal's support for HR 676, The United States National Health Insurance Act.

Many groups have met with Cong. Neal to ask him to support HR676. He just keeps putting off a real answer. Yesterday he released the following statement:

“Since President Obama’s election, I have pledged to work with him to reform America’s health care system. I share his goals that comprehensive health care reform must be affordable, provide coverage options for every American and guarantee quality care. As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, one of three committees in the U.S. House that has jurisdiction over health care, I am committed to passing real health care reform legislation this year. On numerous occasions, I have spoken with the White House and officials in the Obama administration about the importance of passing health care reform during the 111th session of Congress. I know they share my view that the American people cannot afford to wait any longer. As the debate in Congress resumes, I look forward to continuing my work with President Obama and the leadership in Congress to make health care affordable and accessible for every American.”

Well, blah, blah, blah.

Two days before the rally, a member of the Western Mass. Single Payer Network had a conversation with Neal's legislative aide Bill Powers about HR 676. The gist of it went like this:

  • Rep. Neal has already met with 2-3 groups regarding his stance on healthcare, and can't keep spending time meeting with groups over this single issue.
  • Neal's position on health care is not clearly articulated in any public place and cannot be articulated without a "longer conversation" but unfortunatelty Neal is not available to meet on this topic for at least a month-and-a-half or two months in the future.
  • When asked whether Neal supports HR 676 or not, Powers stated that Neal takes issue with how HR 676 is written, but does not necessarily object to HR676. Again, his position on HR676 requires a "more lengthy discussion".

Could Neal's lack of support for HR 676 be linked to the fact that his top contributer category is insurance companies? That's not the case for any of the other 13 U.S. Senators and Representatives in Massachusetts.

Unfortunately it seems as if President Obama has yet to come around to supporting a true single payer plan. His current proposal gives too much power to insurance companies. A good fact check on his plan can be found at PolitiFact. A real problem is that his plan mimics the Massachusetts model. Yesterday's Boston Globe sees the state's health care costs spiraling out of control, waits for doctors increasing, and costs keeping patients from accessing prescription drugs and doctors.

It's not too late to win HR676, but we have our work cut out for us.

Photos: President of Arise Don James, Shirley McCready and John Bennett from Mass. Senior Action, Liz Bewsee from Arise and Ashley from OutNow, Arky Markham from Western Mass. Single Payer Network, Sadie Centeno and Vanessa Rivera from Arise, State rep. Ben Swan, City Council candidate Norm Oliver.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The mice say, "Please don't hurt me!"

The Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology announced today that it has added the gene for human speech to a strain of mice and has successfully bred them. Live Science.

No, the mice haven't started speaking back to the researchers yet, but apparently it has changed the way mice communicate with each other.

The purpose of the experiments is to understand the roots of human speech and language.

Even as avowedly pro-technology as I am, what I feel right now is almost entirely negative-- sad, horrified, angry. I won't try (couldn't be able) to sort out the range of ethical issues to which my feelings attach at this moment.

If animals could communicate with humans, would we treat them differently? Or would we learn to ignore them, and would the world then be filled with their hopeless cries?

Pound dogs facing the death chamber: "Please, I'll be a good boy, I promise, I promise!"
Deer after being shot: "Why? Why did you do it? And what will become of my daughter?"
Cattle on their way to the slaughterhouse: "No, I don't want to die!! Please, please!!

Photo from Sergey Yeliseev's photostream at Flickr.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Worthington St. Shelter takes the heat

This Monday, Bill Miller, Executive Director of Springfield, MA's Friends of the Homeless, sought out the press for an all-too-familiar story-- area emergency shelters are closing and the Worthington St. Shelter, already overcapacity, is worried.

Miller says that the 107 bed men's shelter has been overcapacity 15 of the last 20 days, and I know the women's 26-bed shelter is always full. On June 1st, the 30 bed, 6 nights a week shelter run by the Springfield rescue Mission will also close. Then what?

Unfortunately, in terms of publicity, this has not been a great month for the shelter.

On April 22, Springfield police raided a Worthington St. apartment and arrested two men for possession of cocaine. One of those men-- the buyer, not the seller-- was reported living at the shelter. On May 5, a bicycle-riding crack dealer arrested by the police turned out also to be a shelter resident. And last Thursday, in a situation so pathetic it's laughable, a shelter resident was arrested trying to break into an unmarked police car in a lot behind the Springfield Police Station!

Of course the media outlets will never pass up an opportunity to point out perps who live at the shelter-- just doing their job, they list everyone's address when available-- but I do wonder if Bill Miller is finding it difficult to take all the heat now that they don't have Open Pantry Community Services to kick around anymore. Well, let me clarify: of course the Open Pantry is still around, providing food to the hungry, but lack of local support plus state budget cuts forced the OP to close its Warming Place shelter. Now Friends of the Homeless operates Springfield's only year-round shelter for single people.

As might be expected, every arrest at Worthington St. shelter elicits public (but anonymous) comment on Springfield's Masslive forum calling for the closing of Worthington St.

But I haven't seen anyone tackle the question: what then? So let's play this out a bit.

Let's take a hundred-plus men who suddenly have no place to go. Does anyone think they will then leave town? Of the 159 single homeless people surveyed in January by the City of Springfield, 61% came from Springfield and 84% came from Hampden County! And before anyone starts going "Aha! 39% come from outside Springfield!" I'd like to point out that homeless people from Springfield are surely in Holyoke, Westfield and Northampton shelters.

So: they're homeless, they're still in Springfield, and, according to statistics, 30% have substance abuse issues and 15% (some of which are included in the 30%) are severely mentally ill. So let's accept (for the moment) the stereotype that all these men are likely to engage in criminal activity.

Would you rather have them living in the shelter, or looking for a place to sleep in your cellar, your car or your back doorstep?

Of course, we could just take them out and shoot them.

OR: We could treat substance abuse as a mental health issue and provide as much access to treatment as necessary. We could continue to support the city's Housing First strategy, which helps chronically homeless people find and maintain housing. We could support the expansion of the Worthington St. shelter, which, unfortunately, adds no new beds, but which will add some affordable efficiency apartments plus a day center where people can do job search, receive health care and take GED classes. I have a number of more radical solutions, but we'll leave them be for the moment.

I have frequently criticized the Worthington St. shelter and will probably continue to do so, but given that the shelter is now the only game in town, the last thing I want to see happen is to have it close down.

Photo from Faces of the Homeless.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

At the Dunkin Donuts parking lot

Four grackles make a donut dance.
First one cuts in and then the next,
and tossing high their heads, they catch
the crumbs of glossy minuet.

The cinnamon diminished by
sharp yellow beaks now grows as close
as earthbound herbs can get to sky:
A shift of wings and up all fly.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Green and white roofs, green walls, blue sky?

I posted earlier this month about the positive environmental impact white roofs and roads would have on the environment. But when will we catch up to Europe and start building green roofs and walls?

Check out WebEcoist for some beautiful examples of green walls around the world and then G-Sky, a company that designs and installs green walls, for what's being done in the U.S.

The photo in this post is from TreeHugger; here's what they say about the wall's architect:

Patrick Blanc and Le Mur Végétal

But the reigning king of the living wall is Patrick Blanc. He invented a version that he calls Le Mur Végétal, or Plant Wall, a dense sheet of vegetation that can grow against any surface, or even in midair. It works by doing away entirely with dirt, instead growing plants hydroponically in felt pockets attached to a rigid plastic backing. His most famous is at the Quai Branley Museum; Read more at A Really Green Building: Quai Branley Office Wing

170,000 stops, 6 arrests, zero convictions?

I don't understand what's going on with civil rights in the U.K. Civil libertarians in the U.S. still have a lot to criticize; although I want to think things are getting better, I have a few examples that will have you shaking your head....but the U.K. seems headed off the deep end.

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act in the U.K. has allowed London Metropolitan Police to stop and search people every three minutes-- that's `70,000 stops last year, with an arrest rate resulting from those stops of a whole 65 people-- and no convictions to which any public official can point. BBC.

People who attend anti-war rallies in the U.K. are finding themselves stopped and questioned because of a new system to tracking license plate numbers through a going-national CCTV surveillance system. BoingBoing.

At least some U.K. school kids are standing up for their rights to not be surveilled. when CCTV cameras were hooked up in Davenant Foundation School, students staged a three week walk-out. BoingBoing.

Back in the U.S.A., although this may seem less serious, apparently law enforcement personnel in Massachusetts have been using the Criminal Offender Record Information system (CORI) to look up personal information on Matt Damon, James Taylor, and Patriot and Celtics stars. CORI records are only supposed to be accessed by trained personnel for specific purposes. Other flaws in the CORI system (though surely not all) were identified in a state audit. Boston Globe.

In Baltimore, a couple who were the victims of a mistaken "No Knock" warrant have found themselves facing a $50 trash ticket for the door that police destroyed when they broke it down!! (Wrong address.) The victims are trying to get the city to pay for replacing the door. Don't Tase Me, Bro.

And check out Photography Is Not a Crime for some astounding examples of officials thinking they have some power they don't have, and then enforcing laws that don't exist. Example: an Akron, Ohio man had his cellphone confiscated and then the video on it deleted by a police officer because he was recoding the rescue of a five year old from a revolving door. He'd been planning to sell the video to a local TV station.

Photo from Publik15's photostream at Flickr.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Is giving water to the homeless illegal?

John Ross, San Diego's "Water Man," is friends with most of the police but he didn't know the two officers he claims assaulted him on March 15.

Ross was doing what he's done every day for the last few years-- handing out bottled of water to homeless people.
In a claim filed Tuesday by John "David" Ross, 74, the so-called "Water Man" said an unidentified officer grabbed his head, twisted his arm and threw him to the ground while he was passing out water to the homeless at K and 15th streets the morning of March 15, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Similar claims were also filed by Marvin Britton, 59, and Myron Hill, 41. The men claim the officer became violent when they questioned why he ordered a crowd receiving water to disperse. They are seeking damages in excess of $25,000.

The department, Police Chief William Lansdowne, the City Council and two unidentified officers are also named in the claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit. San Diego 6.

Photo from Briebanokski's photostream at Flickr.

Live Nude Girls Unite!

A Springfield stripper announced on Masslive today that she's started a blog, MardiGrasClub, to talk about the injustices she sees being perpetrated against the MC employees.

From her second post:
50 dancers a day average $ 50 house fee = $2500 a day
$2500 a day x 7 days a week= $ 17,500
17,500 x 52 weeks a year= $ 910,000.00 per year
So Mardi Gras collects almost a million dollars a year in "house fees" from the Strippers .
That's not enough ? They have to extort $25 from each bartender and $ 200 a day from the dj's.
Clearly none of this is legal. Millions of dollars, all cash stolen from hard working people.
This is the second area blog that I know of about (the catch-all phrase) sex working. Marginalutilities' blog, The Virtues of Vice, brings a high level of consciousness to talking about her work as an escort and life in general.

But the Masked Avenger, the pseudonym our Springfield blogger is using, is focusing for the moment entirely on working conditions, and she's got a rough road ahead of her. Organizing any worker is hard; organizing strippers is harder.

" heart it's a movie about work, part of the rich tradition of labor documentaries that includes Barbara Kopple's "Harlan County, U.S.A.," and "American Dream." The idea of a strippers' union may seem farfetched, even laughable at first; the owners of the Lusty Lady and San Francisco's municipal authorities certainly thought so. But Ms. Query's film effectively makes the case that work, whatever you wear or don't wear when you're doing it, is still work.

The only successful campaign I know of became the subject of the documentary, Live Nude Girls Unite!

The dancers at the Lusty Lady have tuition to pay and children to raise, and the claims they make hardly seem extravagant: job security, paid sick days, a safe working environment. Before the organizing drive began, the film asserts, dancers were routinely fired and non- white dancers were routinely discriminated against. (At upscale lap- dancing clubs, working conditions are shown to be worse: the dancers must pay extortionate "stage fees" and work as independent contractors, without the protections afforded regular employees or the possibility of union protection.) New York Times

You can read the organizers' story in their own words at Live Nude Girls Unite.

And good luck, Masked Avenger. Check out the Exotic Dancers Alliance archives for some tips.

St. Petersburg homeless stand up for themselves

St. Petersburg city officials got themselves a bit of a bad reputation last year when they ordered cops to cut up the tents of the homeless while destroying a homeless encampment. Since then, the city has passed a number of ordinances which make life difficult for homeless people, including the amount of personal belongings people can have beside them when sleeping out.

Now, six homeless people and a group of advocacy organizations are suing the City of St. Petersburg.
"What has been happening in St. Petersburg over the past couple years is one of the worst examples nationally of widespread abuse of homeless persons' civil and human rights," said Tulin Ozdeger, civil rights director for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, one of three organizations representing the city's homeless. The Southern Legal Counsel and Florida Institutional Legal Services have also sided with the homeless.
The lawsuit, filed in Tampa, claims the city's ordinances violate various constitutional protections, including freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, freedom from unreasonable searches and free speech.
Ozdeger said the ordinances also fail to provide sufficient guidance for police officers, which encourages arbitrary enforcement.
"We feel that we have a very strong case," she said. Tampa Bay.

Photo from OB Rag.

Earth as art

Clouds over the Aleutian Islands. From NASA's Earth as Art website.

Is this capitalism, or what?

Walk into the SAME (So All May Eat) Cafe in Denver, order what you want, and then pay what you like! Recipe for disaster? Well, the non-profit cafe seems to be doing OK. Organic, made-from scratch soup, pizza, cookies and more are served to the cafe's customers, who then put whatever they think is fair (or can afford) into an envelope. Read more at the Denver Westword.

Are Carrotmobs on their way to your community?

Instead of boycotting a store, Carrotmobbers promise to spend lots of money in a particular store in return for a commitment from the owner to install green lighting, do better recycling or take some other negotiated green idea. Mobbers use carrots, not sticks, to accomplish their goals. Check out their website.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Kangaroo falls out of its pouch

Assiniboine Park zookeepers couldn't figure out which mother the baby belonged to, so they've created an artificial pocket and are taking the care of the babies themselves. Thanks, Zooborns!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tent city "more like homesteading," Marysville Councilor says

Police and city council in Marysville, CA are trying to figure out what to do about a growing homeless encampment in the Thorntree area of the city, but, unlike so many other communities, they seem to have some understanding and sympathy for the camp's residents.
The people living there are "working class folks just looking for a place to sleep at night," (Police Captain Mike) Wilson told the City Council on Tuesday night.
What had once been a violent population of transients living along the trees and heavy brush is now a clear product of the current downturn in the economy, he said.
The occupants — perhaps 40 or more at night, Wilson said — have a series of neatly kept campers, some of them fenced.

City Councilor Michael Selvidge, who's seen the encampment, said it was less like a transient camp and more like homesteading.
Some U.S. cities are reporting a decline in the numbers of "chronically" homeless people. But how many people are homeless right now? The federally-sponsored Point-in-Time Count, done this past January, haven't been released yet for the country as a whole. Then there's the question of definition. Homeless activist Diane Nilan at Invisible Homeless Kids, wants to know why H.U.D. is still refusing to expand the definition of homeless "to include families and teens in motels, doubled-up with others, or outside the sparse HUD-funded shelter system." She could use signatures on a petition in support of HR 29, The Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2009.
When does a person's untenable living situation reach the level of definition of being "without a home?" I spent a few hours at Arise for Social Justice this week, and here are some of the stories I've heard of people's living situations: A man applying for food stamps who is "tenting out" rather than stay at the local shelter; a mom with one kid who is being evicted but isn't eligible for shelter for another month because almost a year ago she was also in need of a shelter; a man going to a local beauty academy who said he is "renting a room' in somebody's house but they don't want him there any longer; a mentally ill grandmother just dropped at her granddaughter's doorstep by her son.

Who is without a home?

Mistake on residency

Sorry, the residency requirement for living in the city or a ward is one year, not two. I misstated this in my post on city council and school committee candidates.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Three quotidian moments

I'm driving back from Boston on the pike through thick traffic and notice a tour bus pulled to the side with engine trouble. Its passengers, very young adults, are scattered on the green hillside. I notice something odd about them-- they're all facing forward looking straight ahead, not talking to each other. Are they being punished? Are they military school recruits? Then I realize each one is talking on a cellphone!! Talking on cellphones instead of to each other!! What a world.

I'm driving up Maple Street in Springfield while a young Latino father pushes a bright and entirely PINK stroller down the street with his (almost undoubtedly) female infant bundled inside. I wonder if he is aware of its PINKNESS and if so, what if anything he feels about it. I wonder how long girls born to working class families will be stuck in the endless pink and lavender of Wal-Mart and K-Mart.

I'm driving down Hancock Street moving slowly toward the State Street light. To my left is a vacant lot where once a building burned to the ground, now framed between the two remaining apartment buildings. A man and his chubby three year old son stood in the lot, each with a golf club, and the father was instructing his son how to hit a ball invisible in the gravely grass. The club was nearly twice as tall as the child and completely unwieldy in his hands. Did I catch the father peeking to see if the drivers thought his son was as cute as he did? (The answer is yes.)

I'm not romantic about homeless

Good article in Spartansberg, SC's GoUpstate on Sunday about a homeless man, Tom Rogers, who graciously allowed reporter Lee Healy to accompany him on his journey through the typical day of a homeless person.

The comments that followed Healy's article are at least as interesting as the story itself. So many people seem to know what being homeless is all about, even though completely lacking personal experience. They put the most cynical interpretation on Rogers' situation, including comments like, If they offered him a job, he'd run in the opposite direction!

Well, I don't know Mr. Rogers so I'm not going to judge. I certainly have met a number of homeless people who fit the worst stereotypes. I've suffered personally from some of my relationships. But I've also been homeless myself and lived "at risk of homelessness" most of my life.

Question of the day: how do we construct a society where our inborn optimism cannot be warped into being satisfied just to survive?

Wildfires make strange bedfellows

Two animals rescued from Santa Barbara's wildfire...put together because the rescuers ran out of room...and you see what happens. Read more at Animal Planet. Thanks for the tip, CuteOverload!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Go ahead, raise my taxes

I doubt there's a single working person who hasn't looked at his/her paycheck and thought what a difference it would make to be able to take home gross rather than net pay. I know I have.

But I also don't much feel like going door to door, collecting enough money to pay for our police and fire departments, basic human services for my elderly neighbors, and road repair for the state highways.

Taxes are to the business of government as salary is to the business of families. We've got to have them. Massachusetts is nowhere near the most tax-burdened state, just as the U.S. is nowhere near the most tax-burdened country.

That said, I am far from a fan of the House of Representatives' proposed sales tax increase. The Senate Ways and Means budget does not include any new revenue sources and therefore their proposed budget cuts are even more severe than the House's, which passed an increase in sales tax from 5% to 6.5%. I think the Senate is waiting for public outcry to "force their hand" on the same. But sales taxes place a greater burden on working and poor households than on families with more disposable income.

There's a growing consensus in the progressive movement to accept whatever tax increase we can get as a way of eliminating the most devastating budget cuts, and the sales tax seems most likely to pass.

An income tax increase would be far fairer-- if you make more, you pay more. Would I like it? No. But don't worry, folks-- we're not going to get it, because our legislators are too concerned that they wouldn't get re-elected. They know that the public in general does not have the information we need about sources of revenue and that we're going to react in a kneejerk and totally understandable way about having any more taxes taken out of our paychecks.

I had a meeting a month ago with State Rep. Ben Swan about budget line items of particular concern to the elderly. We talked about possible new sources of revenue. When I mentioned an income tax increase, Rep. Swan said that the will (in the Legislature) just wasn't there.

"Remember, next year is an election year," he said.

It wasn't until several days later that it hit me-- given that legislators serve only two years, it's always an election year either this year or next year! (But don't get me wrong, I don't think four year terms would solve this problem.)

Yes, there's waste in government, and we as taxpayers deserve a since effort on our legislators' parts to eliminate it. But it's not going to keep our state from resembling a third world country if we don't find new revenue sources.

Contented frog

From Majorly Cool Things

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Removing homeless links is painful

Every so often I go through the homeless links on my blogroll to look for those that have become inactive. I try to wait until I'm pretty sure the blog is dead-- at least six months and sometimes longer.

I always wonder: Did the author's situation improve? Did the author become too discouraged to write anymore? Has the cause for which a person blogged become resolved? or become hopeless?

In any case, there's some pretty good writing on some of these blogs, and at the least they are useful for historical purposes. So even though I'm removing them, here's a list. Maybe someday they'll spring to new life?

Formerly Homeless
Homeless in Jax
Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom
Just Another Blog (from L.A.)
NH Under the Bridge Project

If you know of any homeless or formerly homeless-written blogs, or other good blogs about homelessness, please let me know.

Artists for Employee Free Choice

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

City council, school committee races getting crowded

With ten weeks and one day to go before the filing deadline, the races for the school committee and city council seats are starting to look competitive.

So far, there are nine candidates for the five at-large city council seats, two candidates who are undecided as to whether to run at large or from a ward, and twenty-five candidates for the ward seats, with competition for every seat so far except ward 6.

For the school committee seats, five are running for the two at large seats, four haven't yet decided if they'll run at large or for a ward seat, and twelve people are running for the four ward seats. Combined wards 4 and 5 have only one candidate so far.

City Council

Of the nine current city council incumbents, only four are firmly in the running for the (now only) five at large seats: Bud Williams is running for mayor, Bruce Stebbins has announced he's not running, and Bill Foley, Rosemarie Mazza-Moriarty and Pat Markey haven't yet taken out papers. I've got pretty solid info that at least one of them is not running again, but I'll let that person make his/her own announcement.

Two incumbents, Timothy Rooke and James Ferrera, have already returned their signatures to the Election Commission and had them certified-- so they will definitely be on the ballot unless they withdraw. Incumbents Jose Tosado and Brian Santaniello have also taken out papers.

Incumbent Kateri Walsh and challenger Khali Maddox-Abdego of 15 Ventura Street. haven't yet decided whether to run at large or for a ward. Perhaps they're waiting to get a look at the competition before they decide?

Other at large challengers include Walter Gould, David Poehler, Victor Davila, Robert Francesca, Peter Appleby and John Rivera.

Here's the breakdown by ward so far:

Ward One: Zaida Luna, Gumersindo Gomez, Michael Tuckey and Rajah Walia. However, so far the Election Commission does not have Rajah Walia listed as either a resident or a voter.
Ward Two: Robert Underwood, Gil Perron, Luis Garcia and Thomas Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan has also turned in his signatures and had them certified.
Ward Three: Melvin Edwards, Larry Lawson.
Ward Four: Charles Stokes, E. Henry Twiggs, Lorenzo Gaines, Omega Johnson and Norman Oliver. Mr. Oliver is already certified to be on the ballot.
Ward Five: Clodo Concepcion and George Bruce.
Ward Six: Keith Wright. However, two potential candidates who have not yet taken out papers but came to Arise's workshop for candidates a few weeks ago are Richard Carpenter with Springfield Forward and Amaad Rivera with United for a Fair Economy.
Ward Seven: Alexander Sherman and Kenneth Pooler.
Ward Eight: Betty Agin, Gloria DeFillipo, John Lysak, Miguel Soto and Orlando Ramos. Mr. Ramos may not be eligible, however, because he has not lived in his ward for the required two years.

School Committee:

Incumbents Michael Rodgers and Thomas Ashe have taken out papers for the two at laerge seats; other at large challengers are felix Rivera, Denise Hurst (recognize that last name?) and Jaime Santiago. Incumbent Antoinette Pepe (wards 6,7) still hasn't decided if she's running at large or for a ward seat, nor have Nathaniel Davis (4,5), Rafael Bones (4,5) or Dawn Summerville-Simon (2,8).

Wards 1 and 3: Norman Roldan and Chris Joseph.
Wards 4 and 5: Frank Buntin
Wards 5 and 7: Orlando Santiago and Joshua Carpenter.
Wards 2 and 8: Darryl Williams and Joseph Flebotte. Mr. Flebotte, however did not register to vote until September of last year (according to the Election Commission) so will have to prove his two year residency in order to be eligible.

That's it so far, folks! Of course, a lot can still happen. Some people who took out papers may never return them and some will return them but fail to have 200 certified signatures. (Rule of thumb: get about 50% more signatures than you need!) Some people will take out and return papers between now and July 24th for the city council and July 28th for the school committee.
So everything is still wide open.

By the way, we now have four potential candidates for mayor: incumbent Domenic Sarno and challengers Bud Williams, David Pankhurst and and Jeff Donnelly.

At the moment, it looks like we'll have primaries in most of the wards for school committee and city council, and in all of the wards for mayor.

An editorial note: None of these elected offices should be treated like playthings-- every seat under the new system is an important seat that will help set the tone for years to come. I hope that neighborhood councils, civic associations and other organizations will make sure there are candidates' nights in every single ward.

Photo from Steven Jareb's photostream at Flickr.


It is more difficult to fight poverty in a rich country than in a poor one. Mother Teresa

photo on roland's photostream at Flickr

State budget: we'll all be hurt, but poor take the biggest hit

I received the following message from the Mass Coalition for the Homeless last night. PLEASE take action TODAY-- and don't forget the little car program from my previous post.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee released its version of the fiscal year 2010 budget today, and the outlook it paints is bleak.

In the face of the ever-worsening economic crisis, the Senate Ways and Means (SWM) budget includes $26.7 billion in spending recommendations for FY'10, which will begin on July 1st. (As a comparison, the state anticipates it will spend $29.1 billion during this current fiscal year.)
The Senate Ways and Means budget includes $2.4 billion in cuts to state programs and services, including the elimination of 77 line items. As compared to Governor Patrick and the final House of Representative's proposed budgets, the SWM budget is based on a dramatically lower revenue projection for next year, $1.5 billion lower than the projection used by the House just a few weeks ago. The SWM budget does not include any proposals for raising taxes, but the full Senate is expected to take up the tax debate next week.

The SWM Committee has proposed devastating cuts to many of the key homelessness, housing, and safety net program line items. The budget would:

-- Reduce funding for the Emergency Assistance family shelter program (FY'10 line item 7004-0101; current line item 4403-2120) from the FY'09 spending level of $113.4 million to $82.6 million for FY'10. (This is $11.2 million less than the House's budget proposal for FY'10.) The Senate Ways and Means Committee has recommended the elimination of eligibility for families with incomes between 100%-130% of the federal poverty guidelines. (For a family of three, income eligibility would be reduced from $23,803/year to $18,310/year.) Based on data from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), there were 158 families with children in shelter in March 2009 who had incomes between 100%-130% of the federal poverty guidelines. If those numbers are representative of a typical month, the change sought by the Senate Ways and Means Committee could lead to more than 300 children each month being left without the basic safety net of shelter! The SWM budget also lacks critical line item language included in the final House budget that would require the Department of Housing and Community Development to apply the regulations used by DTA at the time of the program's transfer on July 1st, and additional provisions that would protect families.

-- Impose a 45% reduction in spending for the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP, line item 7004-9024). This is the same as the House Ways and Means Committee proposal, which was rejected by the full House during their budget debate. If the SWM funding level remains in the final budget, this reduction of funding to $17,997,061 in FY'10 could lead to an unconscionable loss of subsidies for 2,300-2,900 extremely low-income households in Massachusetts. Outside Section 73 of the Senate Ways and Means budget would require the Massachusetts Housing Finance Authority (MassHousing, an independent public authority) to provide additional funding for MRVP, as was provided in FY'09- although it is unclear if these funds exist (as the FY'09 MassHousing contribution was referred to as "one-time funding"). At a time when the Commonwealth has committed itself to ending homelessness, we unfortunately may see how the economic crisis and budget decisions will increase the level of homelessness in our state.

-- Cut $10 million from the Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children Program (line item 4408-1000), a program that provides cash assistance to extremely low-income elders and persons with disabilities. This could lead to a dramatic benefit reduction for program participants, who currently receive only $304/month!
-- Slash funding for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition Program (RAFT, line item 7004-9316) from $5.5 million in FY'09 to only $2 million in FY'10. SWM also would limit benefits to $2,000 per household, from the current benefit limit of $3,000 per household. If the average payment per family remains the same as FY'09 levels, the program would be able to serve approximately 1,100 families in FY'10 versus an estimated 3,000 families in FY'09.

Senate members only have until this Friday, May 15th at noon to submit floor amendments to this proposed budget. The Senate is scheduled to debate this budget and consider floor amendments starting next Tuesday, May 19th.

The Coalition will be back in touch shortly regarding floor amendments that need your support, as well as other advocacy efforts to protect these vital programs. In the meantime, please continue your outreach to your State Senator to let him/her know that you support increasing state revenues so as to protect key services and resources for families and individuals who are at-risk or experiencing homelessness.
We hope to see you at the Stop the Cuts rally and lobby day at the State House this upcoming Monday, May 18th, from noon-1 p.m.: Stop the Cuts rally information

Once again, we are grateful for your tireless advocacy during these difficult financial times!

Senate Ways and Means Committee Budget Recommendations for Homelessness Prevention, Shelter, Housing, and Benefits Programs

Please follow this link to access the Coalition's chart comparing the Senate Ways and Means Committee's recommendations with the FY'09 appropriations, the Governor's FY'10 recommendations, and the final House FY'10 recommendations: Budget Comparison Chart

To access the Senate Ways and Means Committee's complete budget recommendations, please go to Senate Ways and Means' FY'10 Budget Recommendations

To learn more about the Coalition's FY'10 budget work, please go to the Coalition's FY'10 Priorities

We hope you will join us as the Coalition continues to push for the protection of housing and homelessness programs for FY'10. We will keep you informed of the progress as the state's budget makes it way through the next stages in the weeks ahead.

For more information, please contact Leslie Lawrence

or Kelly Turley at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, 781-595-7570.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Don't let Mass. elected officials scapegoat poor people!

Looks like some politicians just can't pass up the opportunity to score a few points with the voting public even if it means eliminating a very tiny program that helps working families on public assistance. (Yes, it is all too easy in these low-wage days to have a job and still be eligible for public assistance.)

Thanks to the Drudge Report, a $400,000 program that has provided cars, a year's worth of auto insurance and a Triple A membership for 65 families who live in areas without public transportation may very well be scaled back or even eliminated by the Massachusetts Senate.

Gov. Patrick had planned to add a whopping $30,000 to the program this year.

We have a $5.4 billion state deficit (46 other states have budget deficits also) and this program is a target?

“Folks are calling for reform everywhere I go,” said Sen. Stephen J. Buoniconti (D-West Springfield). “We need to start taking a look at the welfare packages we give to folks, including the program in your article.” Boston Herald.

Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, wants to eliminate the AAA benefit, saying it flies in the face of common sense.

Oh, yeah?

Let's say you're a Springfield resident whose car breaks down on a city street and before you can get back to it, your car is ticketed by the Springfield police and towed by CJ's Towing, which holds the Springfield towing contract. You will pay an initial $250 fee for the ticket and towing, and then $20 a day for storage. When this happens to poor people, there's a good chance they'll never see their car again. (Hell, it's happened to me.) Compare this to the $63 a year cost of AAA.

I can guarantee you there's not a single Massachusetts legislator without towing insurance.

Brewer is also bothered by the fact that recipients who lose their jobs still get to keep the car, although all other benefits under the program cease. Won't that make it harder to get another job? How about if we limit it to people who have lost their jobs for cause?

Like it or not, we're definitely going to have to find a way to increase revenue in Massachusetts. But is there still waste in the budget? For sure (although NOT $5.4 billion dollars' worth). At times like these, I fantasize about being president in the movie Dave and bringing in my accountant friend to go through the budget line by line. As I recall, Dave did it in order to save funding for a homeless shelter.

There's a lot of pain for regular people in this year's proposed budget, and some of it isn't necessary. If you're a Massachusetts resident, call your senator and tell him or her not to scapegoat poor people. You can find senators' numbers here.

Photo from Patrick Docken's photostream at Flickr.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mothers and peace

A day late, as usual-- I'm a member of Bloggers Unite and yesterday was the day to blog about the Mothers' Day for Peace event. But I didn't get it together to write Saturday and Sunday I was with my own kids. I've been working on coming to terms with how some things will never change, other things are worth the work, while the rest is too good to mess with.

When I stopped over at Arise for Social Justice today, I asked two of the women who were there that I knew were mothers how their day was yesterday.

"Don't ask," one woman said, and then proceeded to tell me her car adventure. The car needed some repairs, so she brought it to a backyard mechanic. Later that night, he "loaned" it to somebody he owed a favor to. That person drove it through a McDonald's where her brother worked, who recognized the car and then reported it as stolen to the police. The car was left in the lot and she came and got it, and then was promptly stopped by the police for driving a stolen car.

This is the kind of chaos that comes with not having enough money and having to cut corners.

The second woman asked if she could talk to me in the back office. Turned out a longtime friend-- who was not even currently a boyfriend-- had blown up at her and then pummeled her with a pillow from the couch.

"It wasn't a soft pillow, either," she said. "I've got a headache and a stiff neck."

So I worked all the PC options into the conversation-- if he did it once, he'll do it again, you should think about getting a restraining order-- but the truth is, life is much more complicated. Her longtime friend had just behaved in an inexplicable way and she saw the possibility of a ten year friendship going down the drain. Without his friendship, her life would also get harder, because he helps out-- not with money, but picking one of her kids up after school if she's working.

"Well, let me make a really white suggestion", I said.

She laughed.

"You know you have to tell him that that can never happen again," I said. "What about asking him if he'd be willing to see a counselor with you-- or even a mediator, just to work out the terms of what's acceptable in your friendship and what isn't?" I could see her running my suggestion through her mind to see if it could even possibly make sense in her situation.

Later she told me she'd called him-- didn't quite catch what she'd said to him-- but his answer was, "That's not your choice to make."

"Well, that about says it all, right?" I said.

We'll have to talk more later. This is the kind of chaos that comes with....well, the life of a single mother with not enough resources, among other things.

This week the local Springfield, MA forum MassLive burned with cruelty and pettiness-- maybe even envy-- because of a very small state-funded program that gives cars to families on welfare that get a job. The program also pays the cost of insurance and AAA for one year, but those payments cease if the working family member loses her/his job or stops working. They get to keep the car, although, seeing as the car is donated and repaired through a Vermont program called the Good News Garage, they're probably no great shakes. Only 65 cars have been donated so far in the $400,000 a year state budget.

Much of the criticism of this program and others such as cash assistance, childcare subsidies and food stamps (now SNAP) seems to come from a basic misunderstanding of what fairness is.

"It's not fair that someone on welfare should get subsidized childcare when I pay $120 a week!"

Yup, not fair. So why not make it available to both instead of taking it away from one? Or is that too hard to imagine?

I could talk about how successful capitalism has been at creating a great divide between the classes.

But sometimes I just want to send people for a brainwipe. Maybe the second time around some people would learn some compassion.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The War on Drugs : FAIL

If you want to take the time to understand why the war on drugs is a huge failure, and what we can do about it, you can't do better than absorbing the following video of Cliff Thornton, Director of Efficacy in Hartford, CT.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Controversial furniture commercial talks about race

You've GOT to watch this video. Check your first reactions, think about what you think it means, think about whether or not you think it's racist, and then watch the follow-up video by the video's maker. I will only say, at this moment before you've had a chance to watch it, that my mouth was hanging open most of the time.



Questions I have never been able to answer

See more questions at SpongeFish.

Why do banks charge a fee on "insufficient funds" when they know there is not enough?
Whose idea was it to put an "S" in the word "lisp"?
What is the speed of darkness?
Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him on a car ride, he sticks his head out the window?

Homelessness down on Cape Cod?

Last November I wrote about the contentious atmosphere pervading the discussions on how to decrease homelessness on Cape Cod. Advocates, businesspeople and the homeless yelled at each other in public meetings, all feeling unheard and misunderstood.

This January's Point in Time count, however, seemed to indicate progress had been made-- 806 homeless people counted as compared to 936 the year before.

The question for me is, Have that many homeless people found housing? Or have many of them simply moved on?

One clue may be that the area is finding ways to work regionally, thanks in part to a $765,000 grant to the Leadership Council to End Homeless on Cape Cod and the Islands.

And maybe, just maybe, a few myths are being overturned. The Community Action Committee of Hyannis found that of the 95 identified homeless people on the town's streets, 67% of them had lived in Hyannis for six years or longer, "a surprise to the group that believed that many of the area's homeless were overwhelmingly from outlying towns." Barnstable Patriot.

I've heard this discussion of where homeless people actually come from for years-- "they come from Bourne, not Hyannis! Holyoke, not Springfield! (And "some people believe homeless people actually spring full-grown from the ground!") What does it matter? The more urban areas will always attract homeless people from outlying areas, because that's where the services are more likely to be. Of course, some people will continue to think that if you just eliminate services, you will solve the problem of homelessness.

So is life getting better for homeless people on the Cape? This summer, I hope to ask some homeless people myself, because they're the experts.

Photo from c_bear's photostream at Flickr.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Homeless Life: four tidbits, many ironies

Marriages: Joe and Joyce met and fell in love when they were both volunteering at an Illinois homeless shelter, and so they decided to get married there last month. More than a hundred people, including shelter residents, attended. BGViews.

Nhiahni and Dante were both homeless when they met in Washington D.C. nine years ago. They've been attending a meals program and Bible Study class at Grace Episcopal Church. After Dante confided to a parishioner how much he wanted to be able to marry Nhiahni, the chutrch helped arrange a wedding and even sprung for a two-night honeymoon in a local hotel. AFP.

Auto fatalities: A Chicago woman was moved to write a letter to the Chicago Tribune after observing a homeless man attempt to rescue a scared and confused dog on the highway who was then hit by a car. "At that moment the homeless man picked up the dog's body and carried him away to a gas station on the corner. I was so impressed by the compassion this man showed towards the dog. It was an automatic reaction on his part and I admire him, as I don't know if I would have been able to do what he did. To that man, I say "thank you" for giving that poor dog a last moment of respect."~Lori McDaniel

Poor Charlie Shafer-- he was 56 and homeless, just released from the Orange County Jail in Orlando, FL when he was struck and killed by an Orange County deputy's patrol car. He had been held on a contempt of court citation. "He's my buddy," said One-Eyed Charlie, a homeless man who didn't give his last name. "He tried to help people out. If someone needed something done, he'd do it." Orlando Sentinel.

Public service: Daniel Fore, a homeless resident of Oak Park, ILL, was barred from running for public office because he didn't have an address, but that didn't stop him from receiving 39 write-in votes. Better luck next time. KWQZ.

Faron Hall, aged 44, was just sitting by the riverbank in Winnipeg, which also happens to be his home, when he heard a lous splash and saw a young boy has fallen into the fast moving river. Although he hadn't swum since he was 13, he jumped in and brought the young man most of the way to shore, where his buddy pulled both of them in.

Since then Mr. Hall has received the medal of valor from Winnipeg's mayor and other offers of help.
"Hall recognizes the attention and offers of help have put him at a "crossroads" that might allow him to turn his life around.
"I believe I gave that little guy back his life. I've got to get my life back as well. That's what I plan to do." The Canadian Press.
Money: Miley Cyrus was approached by a homeless man while in London making a movie. Apparently she passed up the opportunity. Chatty Kathy.

Food poisoning attorney Bill Marler has offered to donate $2,500 to a Washington, D.C. homeless resource center if he can get 2,500 more Twitter followers. Sustainable Food/

Finally, Na Hae-dong, a homeless South Korean man with more than $100,000 in the bank died on the streets last month without access to any of his money because he couldn't prove to the bank that the money was his-- even though he'd been depositing small amounts into the account for years. New York Times.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Afghanistan quarantines its only pig

Pity the lonely pig of Kabul. Reuters.

Mass. bill would limit sexual freedom for seniors, disabled

Remember the stories (all too true, unfortunately) about parents charged with child pornography after the submitted photos of their naked babies doing funny/cute things to their local film processor?

Well, Grandma and Grandpa may be next!

A bill submitted by Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein, D-Suffolk, meant to protect the mentally incompetent, will make it a crime punishable by up to ten years in prison to take a nude picture of a person over sixty or a disabled person. The bill is written so broadly that a 60 year old husband taking a picture of his 60 year old wife could be prosecuted.

Part of the bill states that people over age 60 and people with disabilities who have been declared mentally incompetent cannot give consent to erotic photographs, any more than a minor can give consent. But other parts of the bill only use the term "elders and persons with a disability," without referencing mental competence or consent.

As a result, said University of California-Los Angeles law professor Eugene Volokh, the bill could be interpreted as banning competent, consenting couples with disabilities from taking nude photographs of each other, or lovers over age 60 from making saucy pictures of themselves.

"If the law was limited to [the mentally incompetent], I wouldn't be mocking it," he said, adding, "let me be more academic: I wouldn't be condemning it as I have been." Boston Globe.

Photo of Kathi-Anne Reinstein from the website

Paint It White, Swine/Bird Flu and other sundry

Would you support using $3 billion in stimulus money to paint roofs white? Before you consign this idea to the trashbin of pork barrel projects, a new study estimates that painting surfaces white or light colored in warm parts of the world could entirely offset the carbon emissions of every car on the planet for the next twenty years! (Let's not use that as an excuse, though, to do nothing about improving fuel efficiency of our cars.) Miller-McCune.

Is factory farming creating a breeding ground for the next flu pandemic? Looks that way. It's not the animals per se but they way they they are raised, kept, bred and slaughtered that's dangerous.

A number of people I know are switching to "free-range" eggs, not only because of concerns about animal well-being, but also because the eggs are supposed to be better for you. But beware-- all is often not what it seems on these free-range farms-- check out HumaneMyth for a look into several free-range farms.

Here in Western Mass, I've been getting my eggs from The Country Hen, a small farm in Hubbardston, MA, which offers tours of the farm, and I'll definitely be heading up there this spring to see it with my own eyes. The smaller, more local farms are the ones most likely, I think, to be able to use best practices.

For a bit of good news, scientists believe they've discovered the underlying cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been decimating bee populations in the U.S. and Europe, and which has now moved to Japan and other countries. According to Science Daily, the parasite Nosema Ceranae has been found in suffering bee colonies, and treated with success.

However, the Organic Consumers Association, which has been tracking Colony Collapse Disorder closely, thinks there's more to the disorder than just a parasite. Like other factory farmed animals, bees have been overtreated with antibiotics, bred to an abnormally large size, and stressed by being transported around the country. Just like those flu victims who have succumbed to their illness, "underlying causes" probably create a greater susceptibility to the Nosema parasite. Stay tuned.

Photo from Maryatexitzero's photostream at Flickr.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cats, jobs, music, gardens

The cats broke into my room quite early this morning, bringing an end to my plans to sleep in. Maybe it's just as well. I have to finish a grant for Arise this weekend. More than anything, I'd like to be outside working in the garden, but most of that will have to wait for my next unemployment check and a solid block of time.

Last night I went up to the annual May Day event organized by Western Mass. Jobs with Justice which this year took place at the Campus Center Auditorium at UMass. Funny, I've always supported unions but never been in one!-- never any union at the places I've worked.

The speaker this year was long-time community and labor organizer Stewart Acuff. In his speech, he laid the moral and economic foundation for the Employee Free Choice Act, which strengthens the right of workers to unionize.

We gather on this May Day of 2009 at a time of great hope and great promise and a time of great challenge.

How we meet the challenges and opportunities which we face all around us will determine the near term future of our country, the quality of life for our kids and grandkids and possibly even the world.

Though some of us may have been divided in the past, we no longer have the luxury of division.
Workers, trade unionist, advocates and organizers of the poor and immigrants, environmentalists, feminists, LGBT activist, clergy and people of faith, community leaders, seekers of peace and warriors for justice, our individual destiny is bound up in our common destiny.

So we are bound by our common destiny, but we are bound even more tightly by our common values. You see, my brothers and sisters, we believers in justice and progress are bound by the fundamental thread of humanity - as old as the human species and the human spirit.

The Huffington Post has published his entire speech.

As usual, music was a big part of the celebration. Western Mass. is blessed with talent. Tom Neilson, Red Valley Fog, Verne McArthur, Jay Mankita and Jose Ayerve all performed, as well as the WMA contingent of the Raging Grannies.

I'm not on the inside of this, but it seems to be union organizing is ready to make the biggest gains in years.

11 a.m. and a quick glance out the kitchen window: I think my strawberries are flowering and I'm going to go look.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ward rep candidates want to make a difference

Last night's Arise-sponsored workshop for ward representation candidates and their supporters drew about twenty people and I must say I was impressed. Every candidate had a solid reason for running: increasing public safety, more government accountability, creating a better climate for small businesses, opposition to Longhill Gardens. I didn't agree with every position every candidate took, but one thing really stood out: every candidate there really believes he/she can make a difference.

Avi Green from MassVOTE led the workshop-- he's funny, experienced and a good teacher. Former Council member Carol Lewis-Caulton talked about what it took to put a winning campaign together, and why she thought she didn't win a second term: supporting a challenger to a popular mayor didn't help. I talked a bit about the history of winning ward representation and admitted what a disincentive it would have been if we'd known when we started that it was going to take thirteen years.

Several of our candidates are in their twenties, and they reminded me of what it's like when you are young enough not to recognize the limits to change-- that's the way change is made, by not recognizing limits!

There were several community organizers in the room. While a candidate's role is to target the people who most often vote, our role is to get the folks who are least likely to vote to get more involved. As a non-profit, Arise doesn't endorse candidates, but working to register and turn people out to participate is a core part of our mission.

It's going to be an exciting election season.