Sunday, December 30, 2012

Don Ogden: After the End of the World

Predictions about the end of the world have come and gone for millennia and we all know how those turned out. This latest one concerning misreadings of the Mayan calendar got its legs from social networking and the media, but like so many others, when the date on the calendar passed........nothing. Having said that, it seems way past time we seriously addressed the real end of the world: the Climate Crisis. Going back decades and longer, the world's leading scientists (and more than a few activists like myself) have been sounding the alarm about humanity being on a collision course with the natural world. Way back in 1992, exactly two decades ago, The World Scientists' Warning to Humanity  stated: "The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we are fast approaching many of the earth's limits". Then the Scientists' Warning went on to say: "No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished".  That was two decades ago.

During the intervening years, in every avenue available to us, environmentalists and others have been sounding the alarm. When we launched The Enviro Show on Valley Free Radio in late 2005 we read from the World Scientists' Warning on our very first show. Just this past summer we read those words again on this, the two decade anniversary of the Warning's release. These days we have no shortage of warnings concerning the Climate Crisis. Activists like Bill McKibben and the folks at 350.org , Al Gore and even more mainstream groups like Greenpeace or the Sierra Club, as well as a growing student movement may be out in front on this, the most critical issue facing humankind, but governments and industry are not. Do we really need to ask why? In case you missed it, scientifically proven, human-caused climate change is a product of western civilization, industrial development. You probably won't be hearing that from Bill McKibben or Al Gore, much less cable or network news. You can read about the numbers, about the need to return CO2 levels in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, down from its current level of 392ppm, or the need to transition to alternative energy and away from fossil fuels, but seldom will you read or hear about how our own industries, how Corporate America, is destroying the biosphere on our planet, how it is diminishing the lives of our children and future generations.

Recently we had wildlife biologist Guy McPherson on the show. His take on the Climate Crisis is even more grim than McKibben's or The World Scientists' Warning. McPherson's position? Game over.  The link takes you to his recent presentation at Greenfield Community College. Rumor has it that he will not be invited back. Why? No one wants to hear about the end of the world. This is not to say that McPherson has all the numbers right, that his analysis is, dare I say, the last word. I enter it here simply to point out two important things: 1) the real end of the world (as we know it) is an ongoing process, and  2) everyone, everyone, needs to fight back. The time for denial or waiting for the UN or government or God to fix things is over. We are the savior we've been waiting for.  Regardless of McPherson's gloom & doom, just the chance that we may lessen the effects of climate chaos, just the chance that we can give future generations more time, should be enough to motivate us into action. This is what is required: a massive popular groundswell, a movement even more powerful than the abolition of slavery or civil rights. It is the Rights of Nature, and our right to a livable planet that should empower us. Some Mayans have said the turning of their calendar was not "The End of the World" but rather the beginning of a new world. We need that new beginning now.

-- d.o.

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ten Numbers the Rich Would Like Fudged


We don't usually reprint an article from another site in its entirety but this article has the kind of bullet points we should memorize.

The numbers reveal the deadening effects of inequality in our country, and confirm that tax avoidance, rather than a lack of middle-class initiative, is the cause.
November 19, 2012 |
1. Only THREE PERCENT of the very rich are entrepreneurs.
According to both Marketwatch and economist Edward Wolff, over 90 percent of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), personal business accounts, the stock market, and real estate. Only 3.6 percent of taxpayers in the top .1% were classified as entrepreneurs based on 2004 tax returns. A 2009 Kauffman Foundation study found that the great majority of entrepreneurs come from middle-class backgrounds, with less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs coming from very rich or very poor backgrounds.
2. Only FOUR OUT OF 150 countries have more wealth inequality than us.
In a world listing compiled by a reputable research team (which nevertheless prompted double-checking), the U.S. has greater wealth inequality than every measured country in the world except for Namibia, Zimbabwe, Denmark, and Switzerland.
3. An amount equal to ONE-HALF the GDP is held untaxed overseas by rich Americans.
The Tax Justice Network estimated that between $21 and $32 trillion is hidden offshore, untaxed. With Americans making up 40% of the world's Ultra High Net Worth Individuals, that's $8 to $12 trillion in U.S. money stashed in far-off hiding places.
Based on a historical stock market return of 6%, up to $750 billion of income is lost to the U.S. every year, resulting in a tax loss of about $260 billion.
4. Corporations stopped paying HALF OF THEIR TAXES after the recession.
After paying an average of 22.5% from 1987 to 2008, corporations have paid an annual rate of 10% since. This represents a sudden $250 billion annual loss in taxes.
U.S. corporations have shown a pattern of tax reluctance for more than 50 years, despite building their businesses with American research and infrastructure. They've passed the responsibility on to their workers. For every dollar of workers' payroll tax paid in the 1950s, corporations paid three dollars. Now it's 22 cents.
5. Just TEN Americans made a total of FIFTY BILLION DOLLARS in one year.
That's enough to pay the salaries of over a million nurses or teachers or emergency responders.
That's enough, according to 2008 estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN's World Food Program, to feed the 870 million people in the world who are lacking sufficient food.
For the free-market advocates who say "they've earned it": Point #1 above makes it clear how the wealthy make their money.
6. Tax deductions for the rich could pay off 100 PERCENT of the deficit.
Another stat that required a double-check. Based on research by the Tax Policy Center, tax deferrals and deductions and other forms of tax expenditures (tax subsidies from special deductions, exemptions, exclusions, credits, capital gains, and loopholes), which largely benefit the rich, are worth about 7.4% of the GDP, or about $1.1 trillion.
Other sources have estimated that about two-thirds of the annual $850 billion in tax expenditures goes to the top quintile of taxpayers.
7. The average single black or Hispanic woman has about $100 IN NET WORTH.
The Insight Center for Community Economic Development reported that median wealth for black and Hispanic women is a little over $100. That's much less than one percent of the median wealth for single white women ($41,500).
Other studies confirm the racially-charged economic inequality in our country. For every dollar of NON-HOME wealth owned by white families, people of color have only one cent.
8. Elderly and disabled food stamp recipients get $4.30 A DAY FOR FOOD.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has dropped significantly over the past 15 years, serving only about a quarter of the families in poverty, and paying less than $400 per month for a family of three for housing and other necessities. Ninety percent of the available benefits go to the elderly, the disabled, or working households.
Food stamp recipients get $4.30 a day.
9. Young adults have lost TWO-THIRDS OF THEIR NET WORTH since 1984.
21- to 35-year-olds: Your median net worth has dropped 68% since 1984. It's now less than $4,000.
That $4,000 has to pay for student loans that average $27,200. Or, if you're still in school, for $12,700 in credit card debt.
With an unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds of almost 50%, two out of every five recent college graduates are living with their parents. But your favorite company may be hiring. Apple, which makes a profit of $420,000 per employee, can pay you about $12 per hour.
10. The American public paid about FOUR TRILLION DOLLARS to bail out the banks.
That's about the same amount of money made by America's richest 10% in one year. But we all paid for the bailout. And because of it, we lost the opportunity for jobs, mortgage relief, and educational funding.
Bonus for the super-rich: A QUADRILLION DOLLARS in securities trading nets ZERO sales tax revenue for the U.S.
The world derivatives market is estimated to be worth over a quadrillion dollars (a thousand trillion). At least $200 trillion of that is in the United States. In 2011 the Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported a trading volume of over $1 quadrillion on 3.4 billion annual contracts.
A quadrillion dollars. A sales tax of ONE-TENTH OF A PENNY on a quadrillion dollars could pay off the deficit. But the total sales tax was ZERO.
It's not surprising that the very rich would like to fudge the numbers, as they have the nation.
Paul Buchheit
Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.
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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ben Grosscup: Social Justice Cries Out for Music


Hey, things are starting to shape up nicely for the People's Music network gathering in Spr9igfield the last weekend in January.  Meanwhile, there's a meeting next Wednesday, 5 pm., at Arise, 467 State St., for local musicians and folks interested in music as a vehicle for social change.  All welcome!

Area musician Ben Grosscup, who is very involved with the People's Music Network, will be performing in the region...catch one of his performances!

Saturday, January 5, 2013, 12:00 p.m - 2:00 p.m
Amherst Winter Farmers Market
Amherst Regional Middle School
170 Chestnut Street
Amherst, MA

Saturday, January 5, 2013, 7:00 p.m
The Nacul Center
592 Main St.
Amherst, MA
Featured Performer at the Pioneer Valley Folklore Society Song & Story Swap
From 7:00pm to 8:00pm, there is a song and story swap on the theme of "ecology", followed by an hour-long featured performance.
(Free will offering.)

Saturday, January 12, 8:00 p.m.
Media Education Foundation
Frances Crowe Community Meeting Room
60 Masonic Street
Northampton, MA
A concert that is part of the Institute for Social Ecology Winter Intensive (Jan 7-14)
(Suggested donation of $5-10, which benefits the Institute for Social Ecology)

Saturday, March 30, 7:00 p.m.
House concert at the home of Dan and Betsy Chodorkoff
491 Ennis Hill Rd
Marshfield, VT

($10 suggested donation)

May 4, 2013, 8:00 p.m (Doors open at 7:30 p.m.)
People's Voice Cafe www.peoplesvoicecafe.org
Community Church of New York (U-U)
40 East 35th Street
New York, NY 10016
Fellow performers include Elaine Romanelli (www.elaineromanelli.com) and one other.
($18 contribution -- more if you choose, less if you can't; no one turned away.)

BEN GROSSCUP performs songs of social critique, taking on issues of like student debt, ecological breakdown, and economic injustice. His songs contain a moral clarity about the need for social change and they nurture the longing in each of us to live in a freer society. His powerful voice and thumping guitar are the foundation for lyrics that make no apology for having a position about what's happening around us. Based in Amherst, MA, Ben is an activist involved in organizing for immigrant rights, ecological justice, and resisting military violence. He serves on the Steering Committee of People’s Music Network. Print Friendly and PDF

Supreme Court Confirms Citizens Right to Film Police

We need to spread this news far and wide.

By Martha Neil, ABA Journal
28 November 12
he U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review a federal appeals court decision finding it unconstitutional to enforce an Illinois state law that makes it a felony to videotape police officers working in public if a microphone is turned on.
The law had been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, and a divided panel of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed earlier this year that it "restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests" and, "as applied to the facts alleged here, it likely violates the First Amendment's free speech and free-press guarantees," as Judge Diane Sykes explained in the majority opinion (PDF).
On Monday, the nation's top court declined to hear the state's appeal, leaving the 7th Circuit ruling in force, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Meanwhile, a number of citizens throughout the country say they have been charged with a crime (often obstruction) while recording police on the job. A Massachusetts man is facing a wiretapping case after allegedly posting a video on YouTube that shows him instructing a female passenger how to use an electronic device to record a traffic stop by Shrewsbury police.
Irving Espinosa-Rodrigue, 26, is scheduled for a pretrial hearing in January, reports theShrewsbury Daily Voice.
Among other accounts of such incidents recently posted on the Photography Is Not a Crime site, Daniel J. Saulmon tells PINAC that he spent several days in jail earlier this month after being arrested in Hawthorne, Calif., while filming police on a public street. He faced an obstruction case, but says the charges against him have been dropped.
A spokesman for the police department wasn't immediately available to respond to a Monday afternoon request for comment from the ABA Journal.
For those who want to know more about the legal issues involved in such cases, the American Bar Association Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division is hosting a Dec. 4 teleconference called Videotaping Police, Wiretapping Laws and the First Amendment. A press release gives the details.

Photo from Chelzdd's photostream at Flickr. Print Friendly and PDF

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Beat Beat Back the Frack Attack! - Don Ogden

Most of us already know about fracking for gas (oil too!) done by the fossil fuel corporados and the damage that drilling process does to the air and water. The film "Gasland" by Josh Fox a few years back helped to raise awareness of the issues. In the movie a resident of Pennsylvania, where a lot of fracking takes place, actually lights his tap water on fire. It seems the largely undisclosed list of chemicals used in the drilling process are flammable as well as toxic. Not surprisingly the public is not privy to information about those chemicals. As noted on the Gasland site: "In 2005, the Bush/ Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. It is now commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole."  As you may know, Dick Cheney and Halliburton are joined at the hip. Like so much of what goes on in Corporate America, industry and government have merged. However, on the state and local level daylight can still be found showing through here and there between those two entities. This means we, the people, still have a chance to protect our families and the environment from this particular assault.

Apparently, fracking has another drawback that fewer people know about. There have been reports over the past few years of Earth tremors associated with fracking. Recently a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team presented a paper that made this astonishing claim about the Raton Basin of Southern Colorado/Northern New Mexico: "the majority, if not all of the earthquakes since August 2001 have been triggered by the deep injection of wastewater related to the production of natural gas from the coal-bed methane field here.”  Similar discoveries came from Ohio as well as questions about large sinkholes opening up in populated areas. It will be interesting to read what comes out of the USGS conference taking place as we speak.

Fracking is also a big issue in our neighboring state of New York where the Marcellus Shale deposit extends northward from PA. Presently, there's a big drive to get Gov. Cuomo to ban fracking. Occupy Wall Street has taken up that cause in a big way.  All of this might lead you to believe that we here in Massachusetts will not have to endure this particular disaster-in-the-making. I wish that were true........but it's not. Just recently we've learned from The Valley Advocate that another gas deposit called the Hartford Basin that extends deep into our Valley may be on the industry's hit list. The Advocate article notes: "On December 13, a conference organized by a group of engineers and industrialists calling itself the American Groundwater Trust (GT) will be held at UMass to provide a venue for discussion of what may happen when natural gas companies begin extracting gas from sites in this area."  We went to the Groundwater Trust website and frankly, we don't trust the Groundwater Trust. Remember Halliburton? One of their representatives sits on the GT Board  and presenters at the conference represent Cabot Oil & Gas, some of the worst frackers in NE Pennsylvania. In other words, the $100 a pop conference at UMass is most likely a greenwashing dog & pony show. The Groundwater Trust wants all "stake holders" to attend. Given that we're talking about the air you breath and the water you drink (and perhaps the ground you walk upon) that means YOU. Grab your stakes and head over to UMass, Amherst and join with students, Pioneer Valley Green-Rainbow Party activists, the Western Massachusetts chapter of Progressive Democrats of America and others this Thursday December 13 in the basement of the Campus Center at 1pm. There's no need to bring $100 (even if you had it!) because there will be plenty of free opportunities to let your voices be heard.

More information on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/enviro.show/allactivity#!/events/473791522664454/

Photo from Billb's photostream at Flicker. Print Friendly and PDF

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Why I love Arise; why we work for social justice Part One

Excuse this more personal post as a way to talking about Arise's recent work and what lies ahead.  I've been a little teary today, but only once from sadness; mostly I've been moved by the remarkable number of people who have given so much of their lives to making things right with the world.

This past week didn't start out very well.  We'd signed up for Toys for Tots for some of our members and close contacts, and, when we were called to pick up our order, we discovered we had less than half the toys we needed!  We put a call for help to the folks in our network, and folks are starting to make commitment to help.  (Still need more help, though; email, leave a comment or call us at 734-4948).

This was all my fault-- I'll tell you why-- so I'm determined to make it right.  Here's what happened.  Way back at the beginning of Arise, when our office was next door to an infamous "welfare motel,"  we decided we were going to do a Christmas Party for all the homeless children in Springfield.  We'd find out the names and ages of all the kids in shelters, plus our motel folks, spend months recruiting toys from every agency and church we we could think of, and then throw a huge party, with Santa and presents and lots of food.  It was lots of fun and utterly exhausting.

We did this every year for four years and every year we had to start earlier and work harder.  On the fifth year, after much discussion and soul-searching, we sent a letter to everyone who had ever donated a toy.  We said that after thinking it through, we'd decided that these parties were not really what Arise was all about.   We wanted to be about social change, not charity, and that we felt our parties were diverting our time and energy from our real mission.  We asked people if they would be willing to contribute the money they would have spent on toys directly to Arise instead.  To our joyful surprise, a number of people did so.  And that was the birth of our base of donors which has helped sustain us ever since.
These days, there's absolutely no way we could take care of all the homeless children in Springfield.  And besides, who's to say which child is homeless and which is not?  70% of homeless or about to be homeless families who apply for shelter from the Dept. of Housing and Community Development   Keep that in mind when you look at this chart.

But we know that this year, families are hurting more than ever before, and when  I realized we were eligible to apply for Toys for Tots, I gave in to temptation and asked other staff and board what they thought-- and we did it.

Maybe it's because it's the holiday season, or the sun is in Sagittarius, my sign, but I believe this is going to work out.

More about everything tomorrow.





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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

People's Music Network coming to Springfield!

OK, this is exciting-- the People's Music Network Winter Gathering will take place in Springfield this year!
Lots going on-- and I will keep posting about this-- but right now I want to invite you to a meeting of local musicians, artists and those who believe in the power of music on Tuesday, December 11, 6 pm at Arise, 467 State St.  Let's make sure that the color, composition and creativity of our community is in full force at the PMN Gathering in January.

Here's the PMN press release:

The Peoples Music Network will hold its Winter Gathering at the Duggan Middle School, 1015 Wilbraham Rd., Springfield, MA on the weekend of January 25-27, 2013.  The theme for the weekend will be “Taking Back Our Communities”.

           The Peoples Music Network (PMN) uses music and culture to bring about social change.  PMN is a network of musicians, performers, song-writers, DJs, sound and recording engineers, music lovers, record and concert producers, promoters and archivists, whose artistry is rooted in political and social activism.  In the words of Paul Robeson, “The artist must fight for freedom or slavery.”
      
            Since 1977, PMN has developed a format that includes a Friday night concert, a weekend of workshops, and a round robin. Members come from all over the country to share their love of music. The gatherings are held in different cities each winter. Summer gatherings are at a camp in the Hudson Valley.                                      
           PMN is a place to come to work on issues pertaining to cultural survival. It is a welcoming place for new musicians and songwriters as well as seasoned veterans.  It is a culturally diverse group of people committed to working on issues of oppression, having fun in the process.

             The winter gathering will present a dynamic group of musicians at its Friday night concert on January 25.  The concert will be held in the Duggan Middle School Auditorium and will begin at 7:30 pm.  The evening’s line-up will combine the political poignancy of emma’s revolution, comprised of Pat Humphries and Sandy Opatow, PMN’s Artists-in-Residence, the revolutionary lyrics of David Rovics, the musical version of Democracy Now!,  the passion and power of multilingual singer/songwriter Colleen Kattau & Some Guys, the kamikaze guitar style of Pamela Means, the driving beat of Springfield’s hip hop artists from the “Like It Or Not” collective, and the jazz-infused, hip-hop bred, politicized texts of Lenelle Moise. All the performers have a strong commitment to social, ecological and economic justice.

Weekend workshops and song swaps focus on topics such as songwriting, the marketing of musicians, funny songs, choral and improvisational singing, rounds, labor, protest, war and peace songs, environmental, economics, homelessness, and gay/lesbian/bisexual issues.
           
             There will be a Plenary on Saturday afternoon, focusing on music and the movement that is working to take back our communities. Co-sponsors of the weekend are the community organizations of Jobs with Justice, Arise for Social Justice and the Pioneer Valley Project. We invite you or your organization to co-sponsor the PMN weekend. The primary responsibility of co-sponsors is to help publicize the weekend and to encourage your members/associates to attend.
Over 100 PMNers will be coming from out of town and will need lodging for the weekend. If you can provide a homestay for the weekend and for more information, contact Diane Crowe, at diacrowe@yahoo.com  -   413-548-9394.
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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The “Grand Bargain”: Thanks But No Thanks!

The “Grand Bargain”: Thanks But No Thanks!

WHAT:            Press Conference
WHEN:           Thursday, November 29, 11:30 am
WHERE:        Old Federal Building, 1500 Main St.
WHO:              20 people including Union and Peace activists, green energy small business people, social service and medical providers, National Priorities Project, and religious leaders

President Obama and congressional Republicans are negotiating a “Grand Bargain”.  The danger is that such a bargain will undermine the economy and slash vital social programs instead of growing the economy and improving the quality of life for Americans.

“Reports indicate that a “Grand Bargain” may increase the Medicare eligibility age, switch to a ‘chained CPI’ to reduce future benefits for Social Security recipients, allow extended unemployment insurance to expire, or make similar cuts," said Susan Theberge of Fund Our Communities Not War.  “Any 'Grand Bargain' with further cuts beyond the $1.5 trillion already adopted by Congress should be rejected out of hand. In the spirit of this holiday season, ‘thanks but no thanks.’”

Adds Jon Weissman of Western Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, "We’re not broke! We need our Senators to heed the will of Massachusetts voters who overwhelmingly passed the Budget for All question, to oppose any 'deal' that would cut programs that benefit us all, and to invest in jobs instead.”

The "Budget for All" referendum question passed in all 91 cities and towns in which it was on the ballot by an average 3 to 1 margin. The referendum called on Congress and the President to prevent cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits and other vital safety net programs; stimulate the economy by creating and protecting jobs; raising revenues by closing corporate tax loopholes and raising taxes from the top 2% income earners; and redirecting military spending to domestic needs and ending the Afghanistan war now. 

The “Deal for All” resolution, H. Res. 733, makes similar proposals as the “Budget for All”. It is cosponsored by 41 members of Congress, including Massachusetts Reps. Capuano, Frank, Markey, McGovern, and Olver.

Join us for a press conference calling on the President and Congress to heed the will of Massachusetts voters, fiscal responsibility and the social conscience in the imminent budget deal. Print Friendly and PDF

Monday, November 26, 2012

Standing up for what you believe in

Ellen Graves will be missing a few days of work at Arise next week-- she and five other members of the Shut It Down Affinity Group will be going to trial for a protest at Vermont Yankee in August.

Here's a link about the trial.  There a chance that she and others will be serving some time and we'll have to get by without her for a while, which won't be easy.  But whatever happens, we know Ellen and her affinity group are acting on behalf of us all.

What if everyone were willing to stand up, lie down, sing, chant, link arms and say, "Enough is enough!"

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.”
Howard Zinn

“Colorful demonstrations and weekend marches are vital but alone are not powerful enough to stop wars. Wars will be stopped only when soldiers refuse to fight, when workers refuse to load weapons onto ships and aircraft, when people boycott the economic outposts of Empire that are strung across the globe. ”
Arundhati Roy, Public Power in the Age of Empire  



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Sunday, November 25, 2012

What next for homeless families?



So after two public hearings, many phone calls and emails, and more than one protest here in Springfield, DHCD has made some changes in the regulations that govern homeless families' access to shelter.  So the situation facing homeless families is somewhat improved.  But the situation is still worse than I've ever seen it.

The gap between people's incomes and the cost of housing and other necessities of life is big enough to swallow the 35% of Springfield's residents who live below the poverty level.  TAFDC benefits-- welfare for families-- had a 10% increase twelve years ago and nothing since. In the last ten years, wages have grown at the slowest rate since the decade of the Great Depression. 

Families who become homeless are those pushed over the edge of the cliff by the backward movement of the working and middle class.The question is, of course, who's doing the pushing?  Who benefits from the misery of so many?


To: Interested Parties
From: Ruth Bourquin (MLRI) and Kelly Turley (Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless)
Date: November 20, 2012
Re: DHCD’s Proposed Changes to “Final” Emergency Assistance Regulations and Guidance

We received today from a third party a memorandum from DHCD outlining certain changes they intend to make to the emergency EA regulations and related pieces of Guidance before they become final.  Some of the planned changes are very important and meaningful, for which we thank the Administration.

But the proposal on the key issue of “imminent risk of having to stay in a place not meant for human habitation” and the requirements for proving “irregular housing” are unsatisfactory and will continue to leave too many children at risk. For this reason, we urge additional changes.

1.         “Imminent risk of staying in a place not meant for human habitation.”

In its memorandum entitled “Further Actions to Strengthen the Safety Net for Homeless Families” dated November 19, 2012, DHCD states on page 2 that it will provide eligibility for certain families at “imminent risk”. But the limitations on this “imminent risk” category are too extreme, e.g. it applies only to (a) those with a child under the age of 6 months, (b) households with a family member with a documented medical condition or diagnosed disability, and (c) those in double up situations in which the presence violates the lease and there is documentation that the landlord will take action to terminate the tenancy if the homeless family remains.

This leaves out most families with vulnerable children whose health and safety will of course be threatened by staying in a place not meant for human habitation, including those with a child over the age of 6 months.

Moreover, the proposed language about “imminent risk” is nowhere in the actual, enforceable regulations. It appears only in a sub-regulatory policy document, Housing Stabilization Notice 2012-06B, p. 7. And the language there does not require that eligibility be conferred in such situations. It only gives DHCD workers discretion to request a DCF health and safety assessment.

While we appreciate that the Administration has made some movement, this is not a satisfactory response with respect either to the substance of the policy or the failure to include the limited protection in the actual regulations.


2.         Irregular Housing Situation/Chronic Couch Surfing.

            On page 2 of its November 19 memorandum, DHCD says it has provided additional instruction on “irregular housing situation.” This additional instruction is also in Housing Stabilization Notice 2012-6B, pages 5- 6. Unfortunately, this additional instruction makes this category more, not less, restrictive than current practice,[1] and will relegate families to as much as a full month of bouncing from one place to another for very short periods of time in each place.

            On page 6 of the Notice, DHCD says:

The determination of what constitutes “persistent irregular housing” in a particular case will vary dependent on a weighing of all the factors. The shorter the lengths of stay in particular places, the greater the number of total moves, the greater the number of different locations, and the longer the time since the family last had regular housing, the more likely that the family will be found to have had persistent irregular housing. In general, a family that has moved every 2–4 days, to at least 6 different locations, over a period of over one month, will be considered to face persistent irregular housing. For daily moves to a different place every night, the total time period might be somewhat shorter; for weekly moves among 6 different families, but without any regular pattern of rotation forming, the total time period should be considerably longer. (emphasis supplied)

This is not a reasonable policy for families with children most of whom are trying to maintain regular attendance at school and parents who are trying to retain employment. And this is a policy that will subject homeless families to additional serious stress and related health risks.

3.         Positive Changes.
            The regulations are being amended to provide:
a) that a family evicted for purely no fault reasons can be eligible for shelter without first staying in a place not meant for human habitation or engaging in irregular housing, 67.06(1)(a)3.e;
b) that a double-up housing situation will qualify as a significant threat to health and safety if it qualifies as “unfit for human habitation” pursuant to the State Sanitary Code, 67.06(1)(f)6.d.(iv); and
c) that the exhaustion of time limits in a time-limited emergency family homeless shelter not funded by EA qualifies as “irregular overnight sleeping situation.” This should cover the end of stays in motels paid for by Travelers Aid, regional networks, faith community groups and others, although clarification of that from DHCD would be helpful.

Certain sub-regulatory Guidance is also being amended as follows:
a) DHCD sub-regulatory Guidance on Domestic Violence is being amended to allow required third-party professional documentation to be dated close in time to the EA application even if the domestic violence that was fled occurred more than 60 days before the application. To avoid confusion, we would continue to suggest that DHCD simply remove the language about requiring documentation “dated close in time to the domestic violence incident” on page 7 of the Notice 2012-07A, instead of keeping that requirement and then creating a fiction that more recent documentation meets that standard. Most importantly, the DV Guidance has not yet been amended to allow crediting of a domestic violence survivor’s own declaration of the violence or of statements by family members, friends, neighbors or other third parties who do not meet the definition of a “professional” yet have knowledge of the violence.
b) A provision has been included in new Housing Stabilization Notice 2012-06B recognizing that a family is eligible for shelter if they are being kicked out of a double-up because their presence violates a lease and there is documentation confirming that the landlord will take action to enforce the lease. This change is positive, but too limited. Many host tenants will reasonably not want to tell their landlords that they have violated the lease by having guests. Proof that the presence of the EA applicant family violates the lease should be enough.
c)  Former homeowners who were foreclosed upon and then evicted may qualify under the “no fault” eviction provisions but only if their foreclosure was based on failure to make mortgage payments due to decreased income within the past 12 months or due to a disability or medical condition. No provision is made to confer eligibility on victims of predatory lending.

Conclusion
            We thank the Administration for making the positive changes and Legislators for helping to make them happen. But we look forward to continued dialogue and further, much-needed changes, particularly with respect to the issues of “imminent risk of staying in a housing situation not meant for human habitation” and requirements for proving an “irregular housing situation.” 






[1] The adoption of this more restrictive language without another 60 days advance notice to the legislature is arguably unlawful.
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Friday, November 23, 2012

Life in Gaza


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'Kill the Gays" bill back before Ugandan parliment

Readers of this blog know that we have our own local villain in Springfield-- "Rev." Scott Lively.  Join us on December 7 for a standout for International Human Rights Day-- details to follow.  Take action!





Act now to stop the "Kill the Gays" bill in Uganda.
Join the global outcry now and make sure Museveni keeps his promise to veto.
Dear amy,
Uganda's infamous "Kill the Gays" bill is back. If it passes, this horrific law would allow the death penalty for lesbian and gay Ugandans. It could pass at any moment. 
President Museveni once promised to veto this heinous bill. But Uganda's politicians are desperate to pass the bill and they're pressuring Museveni to give in. The Speaker of the Parliament is actually calling it a "Christmas gift" to Uganda!
Last May, millions of us stood up with activists from across Uganda to stop this very same law - and it worked.  Now we have to do it again.  We need to take action and share this far and wide.  We need every voice to build a massive outcry that the media and world leaders can't ignore.  The pressure could be enough to stop this bill in its tracks:
www.allout.org/uganda
According to our partners, the bill is now up for debate and can be voted on at any moment.  As Ugandan politicians work to finalize the the text of the bill, one thing is clear - if passed, it will force lesbian, gay, bi and trans Ugandans into the shadows.  Despite global opposition, some politicians in Uganda refuse to give up the bill and one is even calling for a new regional law, that would send every gay person in Africa to jail – for life.
If this bill passes in Uganda, it wouldn't just mean tragedy for gay and lesbian Ugandans – it could set off a domino effect across the continent. Will you add your name and ask your friends to sign with you now?
www.allout.org/uganda
These politicians are using homophobia to distract Ugandans  and the world  from the very real problems they're supposed to be addressing at home, from corruption to freedom of the media. They're playing political games with people's very lives and lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans Ugandans will pay a steep price if they win.
With millions of us together, we helped knocked this bill off course once before. Our friends in Uganda need to know we still have their backs.  Sign now and then ask your friends to get on board there's no time to lose!
www.allout.org/uganda
This global movement for the simple right to live and love freely is unstoppable. But, as this hateful bill shows, there are still many hurdles in the historic battle for human rights and full equality. This is one of those milestone moments, and by raising your voice you are making a huge difference.
Thanks for going All Out.
Best,
Andre, Hayley, Jeremy, Sara and the rest of the All Out team.

SOURCES:
Uganda's anti-gay bill to be passed by end of year
www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/official-ugandas-anti-gay-bill-to-be-passed-by-end-of-year-despite-criticism-abroad/2012/11/12/a4f5d3b8-2cb4-11e2-b631-2aad9d9c73ac_story


Contact:
 
 
Center for Constitutional Rights
Condemns Reintroduction of Ugandan
Anti-Homosexuality “Kill the Gays” Bill
 
 
November 21, 2012, New York, NY –  In response to today’s announcement that the Ugandan parliament has reintroduced its notorious anti-homosexuality bill, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:
 
The Center for Constitutional Rights strongly condemns the Ugandan parliament’s reintroduction of its notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Whether the bill is passed into law or not, it intensifies a climate of hatred and persecution of the Ugandan LGBTI community, where activists have been outed in the press, attacked and killed. While we have not yet seen the current version of the bill, earlier versions have led to the death penalty for homosexual acts between consenting adults, criminalized writing, speaking, demonstrating, or otherwise advocating for LGBTI rights, and required extended prison sentences for anyone  including family members, doctors and clergy who does not turn a suspected member of the LGBTI community over to the authorities.
 
The reintroduction of this bill comes, as it has several times in the past, at a time of political turmoil in Uganda.  It serves as a convenient distraction from foreign aid embezzlement scandals, a pension scam involving a high-level government official and a damaging UN report on Uganda’s role in the Congo.
 
U.S. evangelicals have played a major role in fomenting this hate as well as creating the legislative strategy, which puts a special onus on the U.S. government to publicly condemn the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The Center for Constitutional Rights stands with Sexual Minorities Uganda and everyone in Uganda fighting for the rights of LGBTI people, and we join international calls for this bill to be stopped once and for all. 
   
 
The Center for Constitutional Rights brought the case Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively against Abiding Truth Ministries President Scott Lively for his anti-gay efforts in Uganda, including his efforts to strip away fundamental rights form LGBTI persons in Uganda.
 
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org and follow @theCCR.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

THE CHILDREN AND I NEED SHELTER – LAST NIGHT WE SLEPT IN A CAR (MASSACHUSETTS FOUND POEM)*



THE CHILDREN AND I NEED SHELTER – LAST NIGHT WE SLEPT IN A CAR   (MASSACHUSETTS FOUND POEM)*

I. From the official Department of Housing and Community Development Homeless Coordinator’s training Powerpoint

Where were you sleeping before you slept in the car?
How many nights have you spent in the car?
Were your children with you?
Do you own the car?
Do you have the keys to the car?
Do you have the registration or insurance paperwork for the car?
Can you identify the car by make, model, or license plate?
Can you describe the interior color or exterior color?
Are your belongings in the car now?
Where was the car parked when you slept in it?
Where is it parked now?
How did you get to our office?
Can you substantiate that you slept in the car
with a parking ticket, citation
police report or letter from the owner?

II.The Unofficial questions

How cold did it get?
How many people tried to break into the car?
How many people did break into the car?
Where did you relieve your bladder?
Why is your hair so neat if you slept in a car?
Why are you giving your child carbon monoxide poisoning?  
Why should you not lose custody of your child for resorting to these irresponsible measures?

And can you tell me the color of the seats?
And how many cars passed you in the night?
What time did the birds start singing?
What time did the children stop crying?

*In August and September of 2012, new regulations came into effect which drastically reduced the right to shelter for homeless families.  Mothers and children who should have been eligible for shelter slept in cars, police stations, subway stations, and still they were turned away. The administration claimed that indigent mothers and children were sleeping in cars and emergency rooms deliberately to make themselves eligible for shelter, or were lying about having done so.  Part I of the poem is from an official DHCD training Powerpoint for the workers who screen shelter applicants. Parts II is culled from the spontaneous email responses of community services organizations to the Power point. 

Just published in Cutthroat 
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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change

[This is a reflection on Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath in New York City. D.O. recently returned from delivering hurricane relief supplies to Occupy Sandy in Brooklyn]

As a born and raised New Yorker I've always identified deeply with the City. As an accidental environmental activist and broadcaster, I always fear for our planet and all her inhabitants. I feel certain most people do as well, when they actually think about it. Sometimes it takes a disaster to bring these things into our everyday lives. Twenty years ago I helped to promote
The World Scientists' Warning to Humanity, a paper that told us "No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished".  Those one or a few decades have passed and it's not just humanity whose prospects are immeasurably diminished, it's most of life on Earth. Now, the streets I walked so often on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan have been under water.  A lot of water.  And this is just the beginning. Frankly, I take that personally.  I am saddened and I am outraged.

The Climate Crisis is not some abstract scientific paper. It's certainly not the alleged hoax so many far-right reactionary ideologues would have us believe. It is real, it is human-caused, and it is upon us. We can take down greedy financiers and traders on Wall Street, we can stop immoral home evictions, and we can rebuild devastated communities, but how can we push back the change in our climate? There are multiple answers to that question and it is a personal thing for each and every one of us, even for those who have never given the natural environment a second thought. Some of the answers are as simple as committing ourselves to use less: less energy, less junk from China, less resources. Other answers involve the larger community, the state and federal government. That can require getting into the streets or to seemingly endless hearings and meetings. And still other answers involve confronting Corporate America, the companies and forces that are most responsible for destroying the planet. That takes a lot of time and personal energy. Since we are legion we can address all these answers and more. We can change the way industrial civilization uses the planet we all live upon. We can do this thing,
really, but we must do it now.

-Don Ogden (d.o.)


d.o. is the producer of The Enviro Show and co-producer of Occupy the Airwaves
WXOJ-LP, Valley Free Radio
Florence, Masachusetts


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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Greenwashing at Walmart


As Walmart and Walmart supply-chain workers rise up for dignity and respect, we can support them in Western Massachusetts and across the nation.
On November 23 (Black Friday) Jobs with Justice coalitions are adopting Walmart stores to engage in creative action.  In areas where OUR Walmart members are walking out, coalitions will mobilize community/labor solidarity for the picket line, coordinating with the workers’ plans.  Elsewhere, actions will include Walmart-focused Christmas caroling, leafleting shoppers, asking them to wear “I support Walmart workers” stickers inside, flash mobs inside the stores, and more.

To get involved in Western Mass., click here to email us.  After you pick a store, the team captain will be in touch.  Our stores are:
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Arise's 25th Celebration- A success- A tribute to some of the members behind the scenes


The humble work of those behind the scenes.The value of those beautiful individuals who only wish to serve. I stand in awe. I embrace them. I honor them.

On Saturday, November 10th I had the privilege of working closely with some amazing individuals. We, as a team, a well lubricated machine, a precisely choreographed dance, an act of Love and devotion to Arise for Social Justice, prepared a meal for 300 guests. Some of us met at Christ Church Cathedral in the morning. Throughout the day, others filtered in to lend their Love. In all of the years I have been working in the culinary field, I have never experienced the level of willingness to help, that I did for this event. It was a pleasure. I found each and every person there to be a gift. We gave it our all. No corners cut. Everything that we did that day was well focused. Our plan as a team was to prepare quality food and serve it hot. The kitchen was spotless when we left thanks to Sharon and all who helped clean up. The transportation team was something to be envied by UPS, fast, efficient and task oriented.   

A labor born of Love can only be a success. I have come to know that it is all about relationships. I have learned this through the devoted members of Arise for Social Justice. The priceless reward of working with all of you on Saturday has had a profound effect on my life. I am proud to be a fellow member of Arise with all of you. To all who helped that day, Thank You.

Mitchell-Ellen-Patti-Ruben-Alexie-Tonique-Zeborah-Lisa-Sharon-Madeline-Barbara- Vee –Jackie-Fran- (and all of the others whose names I have missed)

Additionally- Hats off to Margret Malloy for a splendid Alfredo Sauce and the coveted “Lemon Squares” and Mo Ringey for incredible potato, cheese and grape appetizers.


In Solidarity,
John Morris
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