Monthly Archives: February, 2008

Getting on Board with Barack Obama

There are many reasons why I am choosing to support Barack Obama in the March 4th primary in Rhode Island. His foreign and domestic agenda is strong and his voice is genuine. He speaks as an experienced legislator, but also someone with an open mind, someone willing to learn. He is giving us a chance to become a better country again, and I am one of the many people willing to take that chance.

While it saddens me that I am not supporting a woman Democrat running for President, I am taking the leap of faith that Obama’s presidency would mean more leadership roles for women, and the possibility of more gender diversity in future presidential races.

I chose this video of Obama to include with my endorsement because the tone of his approach to foreign policy is key. The way he talks about how he would lead America and work with other nations is both hopeful and unconventional, and yet grounded in his own experience living abroad and having ties to family abroad. I also like the way Obama speaks of the need to avoid the petty stuff of politics, the scoring of cheap political points and the bickering for no good reason. I am so tired of seeing good people hurt by petty politicians on narcissistic power trips. I really hope Obama’s intelligence, kindness, and awareness of the larger picture carry him through all the garbage that politics sends his way.

The Right to Quit an Abusive Employer is Under Attack

I say to my colleagues, nurses and nurses aids, that health care is something you have to be suited for. You can screw up at the supermarket, or at the factory, but if you screw up really bad in health care you don’t get fired. You get arrested.

Bad nurses are dangerous, and they should be fired if they can’t correct their problems. Abuse, neglect, or any other criminal offense should be prosecuted. The least powerful position in health care is lying in a bed looking up. Patients need to be protected.

But some of the worst patient abuse happens far from the bedside. It happens in corporate offices and secret meetings. The law is not vigilant in the prosecution of corporations and individuals who cause widespread harm by greed and mismanagement. It took ages for the blame at the Hillside Nursing Home to find its way up to the owners, Antonio Giordano and John J. Montecalvo who were skimming and defrauding. Almost a million dollars, but how much more was taken legally? Cutting staff, cutting supplies, stretching care so thin that 87 year old Germaine Morsilli developed bedsores. She went untreated so long that even a transfer to another nursing home where she was given decent care couldn’t save her life.

There are national nursing home chains that make huge profits by cutting cost, and staffing is one of the biggest costs. Cut staff, cut quality, Is it a crime when you sit in an office and shuffle papers and the people who suffer are far away? Easier to blame the nurses.

So, two recent stories show health care workers as pawns in a global market. First, from the New York Times

Rich countries are poaching so many African health workers that the practice should be viewed as a crime, a team of international disease experts say in the British medical journal The Lancet. More than 13,000 doctors trained in sub-Saharan Africa are now practicing in Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia, leaving behind colleagues with impossible caseloads.

A crime. Strong words from The Lancet.

Second story from the L.A. Times, which still has a few reporters left…

For months, the nurses complained that they were subject to demeaning and unfair working conditions – not what they were promised when they came to America from the Philippines in search of a better life. So they abruptly quit.

But in doing so, they put more than their careers at risk: Prosecutors hit them with criminal charges for allegedly jeopardizing the lives of terminally ill children they were in charge of watching.

The 10 nurses and the attorney who advised them were charged with conspiracy and child endangerment in what defense lawyers say is an unprecedented use of criminal law in a labor dispute. If convicted of the misdemeanor offenses, they face up to a year in jail on each of 13 counts, and could lose their nursing licenses and be deported.

The case has unfolded against the backdrop of a chronic nursing shortage in the United States. All of the defendants were from the Philippines, which exported 120,000 nurses last year.

Note the word, ‘unprecedented’. This is a novel approach to managing those human resources. Or maybe we’re taking a page from American history, pre-Civil War.

Democratic Underground, links to a news broadcast that covers some important facts. Most important, none of the patients were harmed by the nurse’s action. Clearly, the facility was able to get other nurses to cover the immediate need. The home served severely disabled children, some on ventilators. The staffing ratio was unconscionable. The home had one or two nurses each shift. How they kept those children alive I don’t know, but all of them were severely stressed and unhappy. For months they tried working through the system, having to argue daily with the supervisors about the dangerous workload, but only came to fear that giving notice would result in reprisals. They actually felt that in two weeks their employer would find a way to take their licence. Finally, on the advice of a lawyer, they all resigned. The last nurse on stayed four extra hours so the children would have some care. That is more than enough time for the manager to call a temp agency and hire some temp nurses. It’s expensive, but I assume they did that since there was really no other choice.

The news video includes an anguished mother wondering who will take care of her daughter. For a parent in that situation the safety net is very thin.

The most interesting part of the DU post is the comments. One reader asked if nurses take some kind of oath. Actually we do. And we’re held to a high code of ethics. And we can get sued, or lose our licence as well. But we don’t lose all our rights as workers when we choose this work. Forced overtime, threats, danger to nurses and patients from understaffing — these are not acceptable. Some nurses posted comments about unsafe situations they refused, or jobs they had to quit. If you want to know what’s really happening with health care, you’ll want to read them.

Some say that immigrants do the jobs Americans won’t do. That’s nonsense. Americans will do any kind of work. But we don’t have to suffer being underpaid and overworked if we can quit and find another job. Getting prosecuted for quitting a job is a new development. This seems like a test of the power of an employer to use the law to punish and intimidate a worker who simply wants to quit. If you work for a living, you should watch this case. Guest workers today, who next?

What Would Obama Do?

I’m reading the surreal story of how the Clinton campaign is barring Mayor David Cicilline from attending her Sunday appearance, and I’m wondering what, in similar circumstances, Obama would do? In fact, if Cicilline does change his endorsement from Clinton to Obama, will Obama allow him to attend his events?

I’m surprised that the Clinton campaign has taken such a strong stance in barring Cicilline. The way things are going, it would seem they can hardly afford the negative publicity and inevitable backlash. We’ll see how Clinton, Obama and Cicilline handle things from here, but I’m betting that a migration of support is in the works.

Alien Nation

It’s the pre-dawn, a light snow is falling, I’m all caffeinated and I have to be at work soon. No time to put it all together, so I throw out the things that wake me up early.

I’m wondering about the half dozen people who picketed Michelle Obama’s campaign appearance at CCRI this week with signs that said, ‘Stop Illegal Immigration’. Were they with the man who held the Ron Paul sign?

I’m thinking of a post I want to start called, ‘Why Don’t They Just Learn English?’ I see some of my elderly clients struggle, and partly succeed, or give up and accept a kind of segregation. It’s definitely harder when a person is old. Add a stroke, or trauma, and sometimes it’s not possible. But just throwing it out as a question, what are the barriers? Have any of our readers learned English as a second language? Want to comment?

A friend wrote a letter to the ProJo in defense of immigrants and received hate mail at his home.

We the taxpayers are funding a Great Wall of Texas. When Pres. George Bush first took office it actually looked like he was going to talk with Pres. Vincente Fox of Mexico and address the problem of the joblessness that drives people over the border in the first place. After Pres. Fox refused to join the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ things got frosty. Wouldn’t it be cheaper, and saner, for our next president to re-open communications and build a legal temporary worker system that is safe and open? Also, I’m worried about the Canadians. They’re so quiet. They must be up to something.

Lani Guinier’s remarks about ‘demonizing’ those we disagree with have a synchronicity with a number of articles about the revival of exorcism in the Catholic Church. What’s up with this? As an ex-Catholic, and a former Pentecostal, I could tell a few stories about exorcism. Been there, done that. Is this all part of a new wave of xenophobia? Has WWII taught us nothing?

Finally, for no particular reason, a heartwarming story, sort of…

Walter Adler was touched that Hassan Askari jumped to his aid while a group of thugs allegedly pummeled and taunted him and his three friends. So Adler has invited his new friend over to celebrate the Festival of Lights.

The two new pals – Adler, 23, with a broken nose and a fat lip, and Askari, 20, with two black eyes – broke bread together and laughed off the bruises the night after the fisticuffs.

“A random Muslim guy jumped in and helped a Jewish guy on Hanukkah – that’s a miracle,” said Adler, an honors student at Hunter College.

“He’s basically a hero. Hassan jumped in to help us.”

It all began when Adler, his girlfriend, Maria Parsheva, and two other pals boarded the subway at Canal Street bound for Brooklyn and someone in another group wished them “Merry Christmas.”

Adler and his pal Angelica Krischanovich responded: “Happy Hanukkah.”

Apparently, those were fighting words.

“They just came at us so fast. The first thing that came into my mind was, ‘Yeah, this is going to be violent,’ ” said Parsheva, 20.

Ten people were arrested in the underground attack on Friday night – including two men who have been arrested for race crimes before.

I saw a patient this week. She came here from Russia, she struggles with English, but she managed to say these words, “Thank you, America.� Crazy as we all are, I’d rather live here than anywhere else in the world.

Senator McCain’s Sweetheart

It’s only human nature that we instantly understand being in the wrong bed, but our eyes glaze over when it’s a question of breach of ethics. The opportunities for politicians to siphon money from rich patrons and corporations to fund themselves and their campaigns are always there. There are so many ways to cover up the naked sell-out that you have to be a tax accountant to follow the money. Makes me miss the good old days of Governor Ed DiPrete and his bag of cash at Walts Roast Beef.

I am disgusted with the religious right, their zeal to persecute individuals for what they do in their private lives, combined with their endless stream of scandals when their ministers are outed. Letting personal matters stay personal is fine with me. If Sen. McCain was just cheating on his wife, I would let that be a matter for Mrs. McCain. I don’t sleep with him, so why should I care?

I care about the boring stuff. The political infidelities. The politicians who cheat on ‘we the people’. McCain’s sweetheart relationship should concern us, because it affects our media. Should we allow a few huge corporations to monopolize our sources of information? This is vital to our Democracy, and decisions shouldn’t be made on the basis of who donated to or slept with which senator. But it will unless we have a vigilant press. Expect the slime to come flying at the New York Times for this

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity.

A champion of deregulation, Mr. McCain wrote letters in 1998 and 1999 to the Federal Communications Commission urging it to uphold marketing agreements allowing a television company to control two stations in the same city, a crucial issue for Glencairn Ltd., one of Ms. Iseman’s clients. He introduced a bill to create tax incentives for minority ownership of stations; Ms. Iseman represented several businesses seeking such a program. And he twice tried to advance legislation that would permit a company to control television stations in overlapping markets, an important issue for Paxson.

In late 1999, Ms. Iseman asked Mr. McCain’s staff to send a letter to the commission to help Paxson, now Ion Media Networks, on another matter. Mr. Paxson was impatient for F.C.C. approval of a television deal, and Ms. Iseman acknowledged in an e-mail message to The Times that she had sent to Mr. McCain’s staff information for drafting a letter urging a swift decision.

Mr. McCain complied. He sent two letters to the commission, drawing a rare rebuke for interference from its chairman. In an embarrassing turn for the campaign, news reports invoked the Keating scandal, once again raising questions about intervening for a patron.

If you are reading this blog, you care about freedom of the press. So go to the New York Times and read the whole story, because it was a brave move for the Times to print it, and there will be hell to pay.

Michelle Obama Speaks at CCRI

I went to CCRI, Knight Campus in 1973. I think the building wears well, it’s a radical design, all poured concrete and ramps. I was wondering whether the campaign stop by Michelle Obama would take place in the large auditorium, or in the common area in the center of the building. That is a huge open space bordered by spiraling ramps that lead to the upper floors.

Doors were set to open at 5:45. At 5:40 I turned onto the exit off Rt. 95S and hit a traffic jam. There is a left lane that leads to a turn light to the college–it was full. I got someone to let me in, and saw cars behind and in front trying to wedge into the lane. It took about 10 minutes to get up to the light. At the bottom of the hill, where a wide drive leads up to CCRI, there were 5 or 6 picketers protesting illegal immigrants. There must have been almost 100 Obama lawn signs on the road up.

The huge parking lot was mostly full. There’s always night classes on week nights, so I can’t say how it would look normally, but the rows were lettered and I had to drive down to ‘K’, the 11th tier, before I found a space. There was a full moon and it was cold.

The entrance to the school is a wide concrete ramp leading to the front doors. A lone man stood holding a sign for Ron Paul.

Inside the door were rows of tables with volunteers signing people in. The speech was in the common area. Volunteers were trying to steer people down onto the ground floor, but it was irresistible to walk up the ramps and look down on the crowd and the stage. How many people I don’t know. The floor was mostly full and the ramps were solidly lined with spectators all the way to the top.

It was a happy crowd, diverse in age and race. I went up the stairs to the top of the ramps, and looked down on a sea of people. Some were waving signs and holding banners. Music played on the sound system. It wasn’t too loud, and there was a lot of soul, including the Staple Singers ‘I’ll Take You There’. Of course they kept us waiting until after 6:30. The program began with the National Anthem. Attorney General Patrick Lynch asked for a moment of silence for the five-year anniversary of the Station Nightclub Fire. Then he got into the spirit, rousing huge cheers when he said that for the first time anyone can remember, Rhode Island’s primary on March 4th really counts. He introduced Michelle Obama’s brother, Brown University basketball coach Craig Robinson, who warmly commended his sister’s accomplishments and introduced her as “the next first lady of the United States”.

Michelle Obama spoke about her husband’s start as a long-shot candidate, and how with each success they “raised the bar”. A well-chosen metaphor for listeners who knew about bars of race and gender and class. And a devastating response to the Clinton campaign’s need to downplay the amazing momentum the Obama campaign has generated.

I hated to leave, but I was supposed to be somewhere else, so I just appreciated that I got to hear some of the speech, and be a part of the crowd, and see people happy and full of hope. It’s been a long time.

Please Don’t Cut Enrichment in Cranston

It has come to my attention via the Eden Park Elementary listserv that the school committee is considering eliminating EPIC (Enrichment Program in Cranston) in order to deal with the budget deficit for the schools. As a parent and taxpayer, I urge the school committee not to eliminate this program.

It’s important to remember that EPIC teachers not only teach advanced learners, they work with the classroom teachers to make education more individually tailored for everyone. From the EPIC advisory committee:

EPIC consultants teach whole class lessons, and provide professional development for teachers on differentiated education — how to teach the same lesson for multiple level learners. This is a method proven to raise test scores. EPIC touches all elementary school kids in Cranston.

Please write to the school committee (click here for email addresses) to let them know that cutting funding for enrichment is not the answer to Cranston’s budget problems.

Yes We Can Can

I am shocked, shocked that any politician would ever use words in a speech he or she didn’t personally write. I know there are rumors that presidents hire speech writers, but I refuse to believe that. Seriously, it is always better to give credit right up front, but I always thought that plagiarism was using someone else’s words without their permission. It seems Barack Obama’s accusers are using the expanded definition. Soon they’ll be on to the terrible truth that he is not the first person to use the slogan, ‘yes, we can.’

Documentation comes from Liza Porteus Viana, who wrote the following, let there be no mistake about it, she wrote this, not me…

Not only has Barack Obama’s “Yes, We Can” theme caught on like wildfire on the Internet but it apparently has created some commonalities between the Democratic presidential hopeful and some foreign leaders, as well.

Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiyev’s favorite catchphrase, in Tatar, is “Bez Buldyrabyz!” That has the same meaning as “Yes, We Can.”

and let me not fail to credit Anne Stewart, who points out that Barack Obama’s outreach to labor recalls an earlier version of the slogan, in Spanish.

Although it only really caught on in English after New Hampshire, Spanish supporters of Obama have been using the phrase “Si se puede� since the get-go. The words are actually an old Spanish labor union slogan from the 70s, originally penned by Ceasar Chavez and United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta. Yet another example of amazing design ideas coming for the ranks of union organizers!

And I must admit that I did not personally compose the following verses. These are the words of the great musician Allen Toussaint, whose rockin’ version of ‘Yes We Can Can’ is on the CD ‘Our New Orleans’ ( a benefit CD for survivors of Hurricane Katrina.)

Make this land a better land
Than the world in which we live
And help each man be a better man
With the kindness that you give
I know we can make it
I know darn well we can work it out
Oh yes we can, I know we can can

Although Alan Toussaint wrote the song, it was a hit for the Pointer Sisters (who acknowledged his authorship) back in the day when the world was young and we believed in peace, justice and freedom. It seemed so close then, a change for the better. Do we keep coming back to the same realizations?

Some say time moves in circles, some say it moves in a spiral, with each turn bringing us to the same place at a higher level. Like the song goes, “Now’s the time…â€?

Education 101: Build Schools on Safe Land

UPDATE: To support this legislation through, click here.


Rep. David Segal and other members of the Rhode Island General Assembly are proposing legislation to ensure that public schools in Rhode Island are built on non-toxic land. The legislation is scheduled to be introduced on February 28, 2008. The text of the bill is available here.

Several new schools, including the Adelaide Avenue High School and the Springfield Street School, have been dealing with lingering questions and problems due to the fact that they were built on sites that were formerly used for toxic dumping. We need to do a better job evaluating sites for public schools and ensuring that no history of toxic use is going to make the public school an unsafe place for children and adults.

Fortunately, there is national movement on this issue. The Bush administration recently established federal guidelines to protect school sitings from toxic contamination. More information on this is available here.

Rhode Island Legal Services provided the following information on the proposed legislation:

Support H-7577, A Bill to Promote the Selection of Environmentally Safe School Sites

Bi-partisan bill sponsored by Representatives Segal, Diaz, Moffitt, McNamara, Slater

Cash strapped school districts across Rhode Island are building schools on contaminated sites, putting children and teachers at risk of exposure to harmful pollutants. This legislation consists of two reforms that would ensure that local school districts do not site schools on property that is contaminated by pollution left on the site as a result of former industrial or commercial uses:

Section 1 of the legislation bars the use of state school construction aid dollars for cleaning up hazardous materials (other than petroleum) at a site. School districts in RI have chosen to site schools on contaminated sites because they are cheap to acquire–and the cost of cleaning them up has been passed on to the State. School construction funds were never intended to be used to clean up pollution—either polluters should pay for clean ups or there are Brownfields clean up funds for that purpose. Currently, RI Department of Education regulations deem costs for cleaning up contaminated sites as presumptively not reimbursable by the state. This legislation takes that one step further and bars the use of any state school construction aid for the purpose of cleaning up contamination (“remediation”) at a given site.

Section 2 of the legislation bars the siting of schools on certain kinds of contaminated sites. These sites include garbage dumps, which state law identifies as any site where more than 3 cubic yards of hazardous or solid waste was disposed; and also, includes sites formerly used for industrial or commercial purposes that are too contaminated to be used for residential purposes without any clean up, and where the likely source of contamination is from a former use at the site. Currently there are no restrictions on using contaminated sites for schools.

If enacted several years ago, this legislation would have prevented the siting of schools such as the Carnevale Elementary and Springfield Middle Schools (built on the site of the former Providence City Dump), the Adelaide Avenue High School (built on the site of the highly contaminated Gorham Silver Manufacturing Company), and would prevent the siting of the Woonsocket Middle School proposed to be built on the polluted Hamlet Avenue Mill Complex site.

There is also this informative report from Rhode Island Legal Services and the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, which outlines why Rhode Island needs to work on avoiding placing schools on or near contaminated land.

Hillary Clinton’s Rhode Island Opening

Hillary opens her headquarters in Rhode Island today. Hundreds of people are expected to show, including her elected official supporters, who include Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, and Providence Mayor David Cicilline. Of course, Patrick Kennedy will be nowhere in sight, as he is going with Obama. The only big name that is conspicuously absent is Jack Reed’s. From the Hillary for President Campaign:

The Clinton Campaign will officially open their Rhode Island headquarters, tomorrow, Tuesday, February 19, at 5:00 p.m. Hundreds of supporters from across the Ocean State will be joined by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Congressman Langevin, Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts, Providence Mayor David Cicilline, and other elected officials at 175 Broad Street in Providence.

WHO: U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Congressman Jim Langevin, Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts, Providence Mayor David Cicilline, Other Elected Officials, Local Campaign Staff and Hundreds of Volunteers

WHAT: Official Headquarters Opening & Rally

WHERE: Hillary for Rhode Island Campaign Headquarters, 175 Broad Street, Providence, RI

DATE: Tuesday, February 19, 2008, 5:00 p.m.

For more information, call 751-HILL (4455) or visit our website at

As a feminist and realist, I admit to being partially swayed by arguments that Hillary is the better prospect for President. Obama has a lot of appeal, but his appeal borders on the romantic because it is based largely on people projecting what they want onto him. Obama is more of a blank slate than experience-heavy Clinton. He has captured the imagination of the American people, and this is a beautiful thing, but it may not be very practical when it comes to enacting a legislative agenda. Einstein believed that imagination is more important than knowledge and I tend to agree with him, but I also distrust romance and imagination — I know personally how misleading both can be.

As you can see, I am still in the process of making my final decision about which way to go on March 4. I appreciate the thought-provoking comments from both Obama and Clinton supporters.


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