Monthly Archives: April, 2008

Bitter Religion–What Would MLK Do?

Former President Jimmy Carter is an evangelical Christian. It was just lucky for him that when he ran for president in 1976 he had his Jesus credentials in place. All our politicians were suddenly born-again, and the voters were acting as if they were born yesterday. Since then, displaying religion is right up there with ‘being fun to have a beer with’ and dodging ‘gotcha’ moments.

When some inflammatory excerpts from sermons by Senator Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, were broadcast on ABC news this March, Senator Clinton was already doing a ‘gotcha’ on this comment Obama made during a fund-raising speech…

“It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

What, us bitter? No way, that would be unpatriotic. We always look on the bright side of life. And it sounded like Obama was implying that religion could be a bad thing. What is he, against God? Religion is always a measure of how good a person is — the more religious, the better. Right? Like in Northern Ireland, or Iraq.

It seems unfair to castigate Barack Obama for saying that religion can be divisive and reinforce a siege mentality. He’s dealing right now with a former pastor who offers a mixed message of hope and paranoia, who seems to have become so attached to a conspiratorial vision of America that he is, perhaps unwittingly, undermining the candidacy of the first African-American politician who actually has a chance of winning the presidency.

If Senator Obama had not made this connection before, he’s got time now to reflect on how bitterness can distort religion in the Black community, as in other parts of our society. Bitterness can spark loyalty to deeply flawed leaders when those leaders mix their demagoguery with truths that no one else dares to speak. But the prophetic tradition that inspires in church is not a substitute for debate and process in the state house. Religion and politics is a bad combination.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright is no stranger to politics. He presided for many years over a powerful church in a large denomination with its roots in American history. The Rev. has not been isolated and is not inexperienced. He could have taken this opportunity to build bridges. But even reading his interview with Bill Moyers, a fellow member of the United Church of Christ , who invited him to explain his more inflammatory sermons, Rev. Wright seemed more interested in justifying himself. If he has become too used to preaching to the choir, he has forgotten how to reach out to people who will not understand the context of his anger. He missed a chance there.

Still, he is not without substance. An excerpt from one of Rev. Wright’s sermons, on the attacks of 9/11, contains a great deal of the kind of truth that politicians don’t dare to speak.

“Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism. A white ambassador said that y’all, not a black militant. Not a reverend who preaches about racism. An ambassador whose eyes are wide open and who is trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised. The ambassador said the people we have wounded don’t have the military capability we have. But they do have individuals who are willing to die and take thousands with them. And we need to come to grips with that.”

The truth is that the attack on 9/11 did not come from nowhere, but from people who resented our country because of our actions in the Mideast. For generations the US has been politically involved, and we’ve made enemies. If we don’t face that truth, then we won’t elect leaders who are able to negotiate peace. “They hate us for our freedom” was never an explanation.

But there’s a difference between a preacher saying that god will judge, and a preacher who claims that a national disaster was inflicted by his personal god to punish his personal enemies. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright can, like his namesake in the Bible, stand outside the walls and exhort. The Rev. John Hagee was invited in to bless Sen. John McCain with his approval and endorsement.

Here are Rev. Hagee’s words after Hurricane Katrina…

…in September, 2006. During an interview with NPR, he said the devastating storm “was, in fact, the judgment of God against … New Orleans.
The city, he continued, “had a level of sin that was offensive to God” because there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came.

Nice. Rev. Hagee had a recent bout of humility where he conceded that he doesn’t have direct access to the mind of god, but I don’t think it will last. He’s lucky he’s white, because white preachers have been talking appalling nonsense for so long we don’t even hear them anymore.

Such as Rev. Jerry Falwell after 9/11…

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'”

John McCain also sought Rev. Falwell’s blessings. And votes.

And Pat Buchanan, who isn’t reverend, but has the true religion, gives us his take on how white Christians are such wonderful people that even when they are raping, murdering and slaving god turns it around for the good…

First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.

Gee. This helps me understand why someone would rather listen to Louis Farrakhan.

There’s a lot of bitterness, and misdirected anger, being channeled into religion. Barack Obama was harangued for saying so, but it’s true.

When the first attacks on Jeremiah Wright hit the press, Barack Obama responded with a powerful speech on race. He didn’t toss his old friend and mentor under the bus, like a former president I won’t name. But now the Reverend has left him little choice but to distance himself completely. That’s too bad. Because white America and black America need to understand one another better. It won’t help to retreat into our separate churches. We need to keep talking and listening. (Incidentally, this whole mess is a good argument for respecting the separation of church and state. )

And there is a place for socially-minded preachers. But it’s not a comfortable place. Remember that Rev. Martin Luther King did not run around claiming that his personal god smote people, he didn’t spend all his time attending White House dinners, and he didn’t use the Civil Rights movement to get rich. He was more like that Other Guy who also died young. Follow him if you dare.

Let’s Go Green

That’s the tabloid in today’s Providence Journal. Our good friends at Natural News Network are providing content, with great articles by Mary Grady and others about how to live well without wasting money or energy. Mary writes about how to reduce your carbon footprint and save on your electric bill, and Caroline Brown explores locally grown food. If you got the paper today, that section is worth saving, otherwise, you can check out the environment section at Projo.com.

Steven Bloom Provides Cranston with Fiscally Sound Budget

UPDATE: Steven Bloom attended the city council’s special meeting last night about the 2007-2008 deficit in the Cranston schools. He states in an email: “The forecast is worse than predicted by about $1.1 million which is partially offset by School District reserves of about $500,000.” Click here to see the School Department’s summary of the deficit.

ORIGINAL POST:

It’s always amazing when someone steps forward to address a problem in a community and brings knowledge and expertise (for free!) to the table. Steven Bloom appears to be doing just that. He is a Cranston resident and businessperson with a Masters in accounting who has made it his own personal project to help Cranston be more fiscally smart and responsible.

The Providence Journal has an article on Bloom today, and he was also interviewed by WPRI. Bloom has invested many hours in reviewing the city’s budget and interviewing city council members, in order to provide an alternate budget. He describes his concerns about Mayor Napolitano’s budget in this email which I received through my Eden Park PTO listserv:

The Mayor’s proposed budget is seriously flawed on several counts, jeopardizing the City’s solvency and exposing it to large tax increases in the future. I have outlined my reasons in the attached letter. Unfortunately, for fiscal 2008-2009, I think we are facing a 3% tax increase along with some additional personnel cuts on both the City and School sides of the budget. The resulting alternate budget preserves the City’s solvency, funds approximately 85% of the School District’s budget increase, and maintains a minimum baseline of services (education included), while limiting the tax increase to no more than the rate of inflation (3%).

A .pdf of Bloom’s budget and his letter to the city is available here.

I was able to talk to Steven Bloom on the phone for a while this morning. I suggested to him my theory that Mayor Napolitano was putting the schools on a pre-contract starvation diet, to ensure that contractual obligations are as pared down as possible. Steven Bloom emphasized that it is not the city’s lack of funding for the schools that is the main culprit — he reminded me that the new cap on property taxes mandated by the state, combined with the state not funding education, and further combined with costs continuing to rise — are the bigger factors that have created financial crisis for the Cranston schools.

Bloom’s budget proposes $1.8 million in staff cuts on the city side of the budget, including some mechanics, laborers, clerks and assistants in various departments. It would also give the schools a 3% increase, which would help alleviate the current financial crisis and might also prevent, or at least postpone, another Caruolo action.

Bloom also talked about the need for more transparency in our budgets. He has requested more detailed budget information from the schools — an employee listing (without names), listing position, payroll grade and step and current payroll, summarized by department line item — but has not received this information yet.

Here’s hoping that more people like Steven Bloom get involved in Cranston’s education and finance issues. We need all the help we can get.

Cultivating Relationships

I realize now that it is not enough to care about the earth, to defend it with words and charitable donations from those who would abuse or exploit or deplete it. It is not enough to treat the earth with gentle respect and reverence, as I journey across its woods and valleys and peaks. It is not enough to educate myself as a citizen of the earth and a consumer of its bounty and then to act and vote and shop responsibly. These things are important, yes…but they are not enough.

I must also thrust my hands in the earth and experience it directly. I must feel its lush vitality and inhale its musky scent. I must interact with the earth and cultivate it.

Some 15 years ago, back when I was a resident of the Ocean State and sharing my life with a lovely woman named Sally, we planted a vegetable garden in the backyard of her home in Barrington. It was a flop. (Thank goodness for Four Town Farm and other local providers of fresh produce.) Convinced I had a brown thumb, I would not try my hand at gardening again for more than a decade. Last year, in partnership with my friend and next door neighbor Julie (and her partner Michael), I waded back into the earthy shallows. Our garden was quite modest, a mix of tomato plants, peppers, basil, chive, and marigolds. In contrast to the Barrington experiment, the Easthampton garden flourished. Through the summer and into the autumn, I experienced the delight and satisfaction that comes from cultivating and harvesting some of my own food. And in working the earth and reaping its bounty, I experienced a deeper and more tangible connection to the natural world. It left me hungry for more.

I offer these thoughts as a prelude to sharing an excerpt from a fine article in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Written by Michael Pollan, the piece is entitled “Why Bother?” I encourage you to follow the link and read the full text, but here are the concluding paragraphs:

But the act I want to talk about is growing some — even just a little — of your own food. Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don’t — if you live in a high-rise, or have a yard shrouded in shade — look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind.

A great many things happen when you plant a vegetable garden, some of them directly related to climate change, others indirect but related nevertheless. Growing food, we forget, comprises the original solar technology: calories produced by means of photosynthesis. Years ago the cheap-energy mind discovered that more food could be produced with less effort by replacing sunlight with fossil-fuel fertilizers and pesticides, with a result that the typical calorie of food energy in your diet now requires about 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce. It’s estimated that the way we feed ourselves (or rather, allow ourselves to be fed) accounts for about a fifth of the greenhouse gas for which each of us is responsible.

Yet the sun still shines down on your yard, and photosynthesis still works so abundantly that in a thoughtfully organized vegetable garden (one planted from seed, nourished by compost from the kitchen and involving not too many drives to the garden center), you can grow the proverbial free lunch — CO2-free and dollar-free. This is the most-local food you can possibly eat (not to mention the freshest, tastiest and most nutritious), with a carbon footprint so faint that even the New Zealand lamb council dares not challenge it. And while we’re counting carbon, consider too your compost pile, which shrinks the heap of garbage your household needs trucked away even as it feeds your vegetables and sequesters carbon in your soil. What else? Well, you will probably notice that you’re getting a pretty good workout there in your garden, burning calories without having to get into the car to drive to the gym. (It is one of the absurdities of the modern division of labor that, having replaced physical labor with fossil fuel, we now have to burn even more fossil fuel to keep our unemployed bodies in shape.) Also, by engaging both body and mind, time spent in the garden is time (and energy) subtracted from electronic forms of entertainment.

You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems — the way “solutions� like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do — actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon. Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself — that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need. We may also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce Americans ate.

But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen. Chances are, your garden will re-engage you with your neighbors, for you will have produce to give away and the need to borrow their tools. You will have reduced the power of the cheap-energy mind by personally overcoming its most debilitating weakness: its helplessness and the fact that it can’t do much of anything that doesn’t involve division or subtraction. The garden’s season-long transit from seed to ripe fruit — will you get a load of that zucchini?! — suggests that the operations of addition and multiplication still obtain, that the abundance of nature is not exhausted. The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. [full text]

Whitehouse Joins Senate Dems to Push Voter Registration

This year’s elections provide an excellent opportunity to improve voter registration. To that end, Senator Whitehouse is working with other Democrats in the senate to “ensure all eligible Americans have the opportunity to register to vote.”

Washington, D.C. – With November’s elections drawing closer, several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed concern today that the Department of Justice has failed to enforce a landmark law designed to help Americans register to vote.

In a letter to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) noted that DOJ has vigorously enforced statutes that remove voters from the rolls, while refusing to enforce those that aim to expand voter registration. The senators asked Mukasey to specify how DOJ plans to step up enforcement of statutes meant to facilitate registration before the voter registration deadlines for the fall elections.

You may remember Whitehouse’s tough questioning of Mukasey over the definitions of torture and waterboarding. He also made an impassioned speech in opposition to Mukasey’s appointment.

Media Math = Rounding up to Double Digits

Remember that joke about right being ‘military left’? Maybe there is a media decimal system that is different from the one I learned in high school.

Following a lead from Daily Kos I went to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania elections webpage. With 99.44% of results in, Hillary Clinton has 54.6% of the vote and Barack Obama has 45.4%, for a difference of 9.2%.

If they’re still using the same rules they used back when they invented the decimal system, that should round off to 9%.

I had a funny feeling that we would see screaming headlines showing the Clinton win to be just a little bigger than it actually is. I went to bed praying for nothing worse than a single digit loss, and it seems that someone answered my prayer. By the time the media catches up and corrects the mistake, most of the country will have moved on. Hillary Clinton will get credit for a double-digit victory she didn’t really win.

All the major outlets are saying 10%, a suspiciously whole number.

I wish my paycheck got rounded up like that, but then, I wouldn’t want it done to my bills.

It’s just a different feel, Barack Obama cutting Hillary Clinton’s double-digit lead in the polls down to 9% makes it less of a victory for her and shows how effective his campaign was in a state that heavily favored his opponent.

As I write this, 4/23 15:05 in military time, Google produces dozens of headlines citing ‘double digits’, and you really have to dig for the actual numbers. The press is doing its usual thing — giving us part of the story.

Mayor Nap’s Starvation Diet for the Schools

Andre Araujo lamented in his comments today that the turnout for the Cranston school’s information meeting on their budget crisis was “dismal.” Truly, if there was a situation where Obama’s “bitter” seems to be revealing itself front and center, it would be in the apathy of parents in Cranston. Parents are just so tired of being played like pawns in a game of ever-diminishing returns, the result of which is a lessening in the quality education for our children.

I’m going to come out for the city council meeting tonight, to advocate for better funding for the schools, but it is not without strong reservations about the fiscal leadership of our schools. Back in 2005 when the teacher’s contract was signed, I recall people asking School Committee Chair Mike Traficante how we would pay for the raises and the added salary step. “We’ll figure that out when the time comes,” is what I remember the tenor of his answers to be.

Well, three years have passed and no one figured out where to get all the extra money that was needed. Instead, with each passing year, the Cranston schools have gone more in debt. Why? Because of poor fiscal planning. Because they wagered that they would be able to get the money out of the new Mayor, and they wagered wrong. Little did they know that Mayor Nap was on a mission to put the schools on a little pre-contract-negotiating starvation diet.

And so, with Napolitano taking office, the lack of increases began. At the same time, health care costs, food costs, and energy costs soared. The economy tanked. Still, the Cranston schools were contractually obligated to give raises to the teachers and support the lion’s share of their health benefits.

And now, here were are: $8 million dollars in debt. The school committee is asking parents to call their city councilors and plead for more money. I will show up for the meeting to plead. But I will also discuss with my city councilors my concerns about how we will deal with our l, when we have no idea how we will fulfill them. Maybe we need to have another campaign to call our school committee members and discuss how much we can allow the new contract being negotiated this year to mandate more steep increases in spending.

Donald Carcieri Walks off With the Keys Again

It’s ten o’ clock, do we know where our Governor is? Today’s ProJo says that he took off for somewhere with the keys in his pocket…

He was out of state all week and isn’t expected back until early this week, according to his spokesman, Jeff Neal.

“Governor Carcieri used the opportunity provided by the legislature’s spring vacation week to take time off.”, Neal told Political Scene. “He visited family in Ohio and spent time with family in Florida.”

The governor’s chief of staff, Brian Stern, was also on vacation last week. Neal wouldn’t detail where Stern had gone, saying only that Stern ‘also used the legislative break to take time off with his family out of state.’

Stern directed state government’s reaction to the now-infamous Dec. 13 snowstorm when Carcieri was in the Middle East.

So, with the governor and his right-hand man out of state last week, who was running the state?

“Governor Carcieri is leading state government”, Neal told Political Scene. “Governor Carcieri has been in touch with this office every working day while he was outside Rhode Island. He has been consulted on every decision that required his input or guidance. Throughout this period, we had the ability to contact him at any time of the day or night.”

Okay. Did he bother to tell the Lt. Governor this time? You remember what happened last winter…

Governor Carcieri was in the Middle East during the Dec. 13 storm and was out of contact with his administration until after the storm. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, a Democrat, said she tried to act and provide leadership, but was rebuffed by Republican Carceri’s administration.

But the Governor had a way to fix it that didn’t involve giving the keys to a mere woman, and a Democrat besides…

After the Dec. 13 snowstorm and the heated public criticism that followed about the lack of leadership during the storm, Carcieri said that Maj. Gen. Robert T. Bray, who is head of the Guard and acting executive director of the state Emergency Management Agency, would be in charge if another weather emergency happened and the governor could not be contacted.

Carcieri’s decision came in a Jan. 11 e-mail responding to Journal questions about leadership in similar future emergencies. “In the future, the Adjutant General of the Rhode Island National Guard will be in charge whenever the Governor is not personally in state,” spokesman Jeff Neal wrote in the e-mail. “In the Governor’s absence, the Adjutant General will be responsible not only for overseeing the state’s on the ground preparations and response for potential weather emergencies, but also for acting as the public face and voice for the state’s effort.”

Since the e-mail, Carcieri has not elaborated on what Bray’s powers would include. The governor did not respond to several phone calls and e-mails sent through Neal.

But constitutional experts say Carcieri’s decision to put a military officer in charge, instead of an elected official, goes against the founding principles of the state and the nation.

Picky, picky, picky. So we don’t know what Adj. Gen. Bray’s powers include. And now he seems to have taken a lower profile. Maybe he’s on vacation like the Gov.

Rhode Island Adjutant Gen. Robert T. Bray, whom the governor has said is the public voice in emergencies, is no longer visible on the Rhode Island National Guard’s Web site.

Bray’s photo, welcome message and the entire ‘adjutant general’ link under the organization heading on the Guard’s home page have been removed. Visitors to the Web site wouldn’t know that Rhode Island ever had an adjutant general, except for a year-old news release about Army National Guardsmen receiving the bronze star.

Is the Guard commander’s departure from the Web site a sign of changes to come? Reached on his cell phone at an Air Force senior leadership conference this week, Bray said tersely: “I have no intentions of leaving.”

So, why aren’t you on the Web site anymore? “I’m not leaving.” Bray said. He declined to comment further.

And those annoying reporters should be ashamed for even asking. So who’s really in charge in case something needs to be decided? The Gov. says he has his red cell phone on him even when he’s swimming. You can’t expect him to be accountable the way ordinary working stiffs like us have to be. Considering the last few months, maybe it’s just as well if he stays away. He seems bored with the whole deal anyway. He’s made lots of friends in the most reactionary wing of the Republican party, and he’s probably taking time to set up his next move.

Geoff Schoos: Smart Ways to Reform RI Corrections

Geoff Schoos has an interesting column in this week’s Cranston Herald about what the state could do to save money on incarceration and bring non-violent ex-offenders back into the economy. I’m reprinting the column here for educational purposes, and because for some reason his column is having formatting problems on the Herald’s website and is cutting off the text on the edges of the page. From the Herald:

We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side: one which we preach but do not practice, and another which we practice but seldom preach. –Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays (1928)

Society often presents us with a never-ending stream of paradoxes. Some are big and obvious. For example, it is paradoxical that the United States supports the spread of democracy throughout the world, while propping up totalitarian governments “vital� to our national security. It is paradoxical that our government promotes the strict adherence to the rule of law, while bending and stretching that rule in order to win the “War on Terror.� It is definitely paradoxical for government at all levels to speak about shared civic responsibilities, while enacting policies and programs that favor the few at the expense of the many. These are big, almost transcendent paradoxes.

There are other less obvious paradoxes in our country and state. One is how we treat people who were incarcerated or otherwise under a court’s supervision and who re-enter our community. According to a report of the Re-Entry Policy Council, which was created by the Council of State Governments, nationally many of these ex-offenders committed non-violent crimes and suffered from some form of substance abuse.

The situation is similar in Rhode Island. According to the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC), in its 2007 Annual Commit and Release Report, 4,181 people were either released upon completion of their sentences or paroled. Based on the DOC’s report, roughly one-half of those released were non-violent offenders. Many of these individuals were sentenced to six months or less. According to friends in the recovery community, nearly 70 percent of those incarcerated suffer from drug abuse problems.

The RIDOC also reports that in calendar year 2007, 4,470 individuals were sentenced to prison. Of this number, 39 percent, or approximately 1,744 people, were sentenced as probation violators. It’s those 1,744 people that I’d like to focus on. Let’s assume that each one of these people is a non-violent offender who, for whatever reason, violated his/her parole. More often than not, the probation violation is the result of falling back into old habits, including drug use. Using the RIDOC’s per diem cost to house these people in minimum security (for purposes of this illustration, I assume all to be males as the cost per diem to house females at the women’s facility is higher) the cost to the state, if each is sentenced to six months, is $27 million. Compare that with the cost of supervising the same 1,744 people as community-based offenders. Those same offenders during those same six months would have cost the taxpayers $923,000. Neither cost includes the cost of administration and capital expenses. I’m no math whiz, but it seems that we’re spending a lot more money putting people in jail than we’d need to spend in keeping them out.

According to Director Wall of the RIDOC, in calendar year 2004 by the second year of their release, 46 percent of these ex-offenders were re-incarcerated for at least one year for other offenses. Permit me a couple of more assumptions. First, the recidivist rate remains at 46 percent two years after release. Second, each re-offender will be sent to medium security for at least one year. Third, we can apply that 46 percent recidivist rate to the 4,181 persons released in calendar year 2007 and we get 1,923 people sent back to prison. At the per annum cost of housing these inmates at the medium security facility here in Cranston (again minimizing the cost by excluding the cost of the women’s facility and administrative costs associated with incarceration), we get to spend an additional $67 million on the same guys that were released only 24 months earlier.

OK, I know that this analysis is (a little?) dense. However, I needed to do it to make two points. One is that our current system of re-entry is not working well, and two that we’re paying a lot of money for failure. Maybe if we spent some of this money on programs and policies that keep people out of prison, we wouldn’t have to spend so much to keep them in prison. And if we could keep these people out of prison, drug-free and gainfully employed, we’d all be better off.

In the quote that opened this column, Russell puts his finger on the moral paradox regarding this issue. We preach the morality of rehabilitation, but provide scant resources to that goal. The state could direct some of this money on re-incarceration to state and private drug treatment programs. The state could use some of this money to better fund job re-entry programs. The state could issue Certificates of Rehabilitation based on the New York State program on a case-by-case basis to aid ex-offenders in their search for jobs, applications for licenses and attainment of housing. The administration of this Certificate program would cost much less than re-incarcerating the same guys over and over again. The legislature could enact, at no cost to the taxpayer, Senate Bill 2189 that would mandate parity in insurance coverage for mental illness and substance abuse treatment. There are many things we could do that make better sense than what we’re doing now.

One additional thing that needs to be done in order to ease and complete an ex-offender’s successful re-entry into society is to revise the expungement statute. Recently, this has become a “hot button� issue with many Rhode Islanders. There are legitimate concerns about expunging an offender’s record. There are those who shouldn’t be eligible for expungement, such as sex offenders and those who commit homicide. However, if 46 percent of those released into society are going to be re-sentenced to prison after two years, that means that 54 percent do not re-offend and need a little help.

Let me introduce you to a client of mine. He got into some trouble for a five-year period during the late ’80s and early ’90s. The cause for most of his problems was alcohol. He was convicted of five misdemeanor offenses related to his alcohol abuse. However, for the past 15 years, he’s been clean and sober, gotten married to a wonderful woman and is the proud father of three. He went back to college and graduated with honors. For all his professional life he has been employed in the nonprofit sector working with families and kids. He has been praised for his efforts by his employers and even by Attorney General Lynch.

Because funding for nonprofit agencies is tenuous in good economic times, and these are decidedly not good times, my client sought to guard against any income disruption and thought that he’d like to obtain a chauffeur’s license to supplement his income. He submitted his application and was denied because of the incidents that occurred 15 years ago. To add insult to injury, he can’t get his record expunged because expungement is available only to “first-time� offenders. He is a multiple misdemeanant.

My client is no longer the guy he was 15 years ago. That is to his credit. Yet rather than recognizing the change in him, society still treats him as though he were still that person. That’s not just wrong. It’s stupid.

If we are to overcome Russell’s moral paradox, we need to match resources to our rhetoric. We want those re-entering society to succeed. It’s good for them and it’s good for us. Understand that in 2007, 4.9 percent of those released from prison came home to Cranston. This is one of those rare instances where it makes both moral and economic sense to extend a helping hand to those who need and truly want our help.

For our efforts, we get to do the right thing, live in safer communities, and save a few dollars to boot. What’s better than that?

City Council Meeting April 22 — More Education, Please!

It’s time to fight for the right to quality education for children in Cranston. School committee member Steve Stycos gives a good rallying summary for why it’s important for parents to come out for Tuesday’s meeting:

If passed by the Cranston City Council, Mayor Michael Napolitano’s budget will be a disaster for the schools. Supporters of education need to attend the council’s budget hearing on the schools, Tuesday April 22 at 6:30 pm in the Cranston East Auditorium. They also need to communicate with individual city council members. Just coming to the hearing will not be enough to convince the council to raise taxes to fund education.

The mayor’s April 1 budget presentation to the city council took five minutes. Only four of the nine council members (Santamaria, Barone, Garabedian and Lanni) attended. Five members of the school committee were present.

The mayor’s budget has three major problems.

1. The school committee requested an $8.5 million increase from the city. The mayor proposes a one million dollar increase. $8.5 million is a lot of money, but that is because the mayor and council only gave us an additional $900,000 last year and consequently we are running a $4 million deficit this year. The mayor proposed a four percent increase for the fire and police departments and less than one percent for the schools. If the council does not drastically increase the mayor’s proposal, I expect the EPIC program, middle school sports, JV and freshman sports and many other programs will be cut. Other programs, like the charter school and bussing, would also be subject to possible cuts. Under the city charter (section 6.04), the mayor is supposed to explain proposed cuts to the school department budget, but he said nothing in his speech.

2. The mayor proposes taking $2.7 million from the surplus or rainy day account to balance the budget.. This means that next year, the city will have to raise taxes by $2.7 million just to level fund all departments. A five percent tax increase, the maximum allowed by state law, would raise about $7 million dollars.

3. The mayor proposes no tax increase. Taxes need to be raised to fund the schools and eliminate the raid of the rainy day fund. We cannot run the schools with less than a one percent increase for the second year in a row. I see no other option, except raising taxes.

The school budget growth is dominated by pension and health insurance cost increases. Pension costs are determined entirely by the state legislature. They send us a bill and we have to pay. Health insurance costs cannot be altered with agreements from the employee unions. If the unions do not agree, under state law, things stay the same. After cutting $8 million from the superintendent’s proposed budget, we have few options.

Please attend the April 22 meeting at 6:30 PM at Cranston East and talk with your city council representative.

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