Monthly Archives: June, 2009

Scharfenberg Investigates the Decline of TV News in RI

Veteran Cranston reporter David Scharfenberg (as one of the newer hires he got downsized from the Projo when they went thin) tells the story of how Jim Taricani and other investigative reporters for TV news are being expected to do more with less. From the Providence Phoenix:

There has been plenty of hand-wringing, in these parts, over the decline of the local broadsheet. The Providence Journal is the paper of record, after all, the agenda setter. And the agenda is decidedly thinner these days.

But that other mainstay of Rhode Island news — the local television station — is taking a beating, too.

The three major local newscasts – at WJAR (Channel 10), WPRI (Channel 12) and WLNE (ABC6) — have shed dozens of jobs in recent months. Live, on-scene reporting is in decline. Investigative work has taken a hit. And it could get worse. Quickly.

Television advertising revenue, in free-fall across the country as the auto industry cuts back on marketing outlays, is dropping at twice the national average here as Rhode Island continues its headline-grabbing economic implosion. [full text]

Parasitical Worms Afflict American Health Care

Good article by Richard Salit in today’s Providence Journal about scammers marketing fake health insurance…

“Medical discount cards are spreading like kudzu because so many people are being laid off and going without health insurance or simply can’t afford premiums anymore. They are looking for affordable ways to cut their medical costs and discount cards are springing up in response to an urgent market need,” says James Quiggle, spokesman for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a group that includes consumer advocates and insurance companies. “Unfortunately, much of that response is fraudulent and abusive.

It’s easy enough for even amateurs to put up a website, print cards, run a TV commercial and take hundreds of dollars monthly out of a bank account via direct withdrawal. Just like the big guys. But they don’t spend much on phone support…

After being put on hold, the line went dead. When the reporter called back, a man answered the phone, “Bob’s Abortion Clinic.” The screen on the reporter’s phone showed it was the same number. The reporter asked to speak to a supervisor. A man who called himself “Stuey” eventually got on the phone. He insisted it was an abortion clinic in St. Louis and then the line went dead again. [the rest of this sordid tale here]

The big guys are more accountable. They answer their phone, and most of the time they give coverage for the money. But don’t get yourself too sick, or you might find out that they operate on the same basic principle as “Stuey”–charge the most money for the least service. It’s not that they’re evil, it’s the profit principle–a shark has to keep moving.

A single payer system would clean out the parasites. A government sponsored affordable insurance plan would give people a safe alternative to the shady, complicated, ‘buyer beware’ system we have now. This system sucks money from the people who can least afford it, and really dishes out the pain when they get sick.

Update– via Daily Kos this link to a NYT editorial about a process called ‘recission’ that allows big insurers to cancel benefits when a subscriber gets sick and needs to make claims.

Dog Whistle

So up in Vermont I was searching for the well-modulated voice of NPR when I caught part of a right-wing radio show. One caller, who sounded old enough to qualify for Medicare, said that health care reform would lead to total government control–

“They’ll plant microchips in our hands, or our foreheads, and no one who doesn’t have one will be able to see a doctor.”

A ‘dog whistle’ is a signal to a constituency that is couched in language that the faithful will recognize, but unbelievers will miss.

The concerned caller was quoting from the Bible, the Book of Revelations. Ever since the ink dried on that document, people have been applying it to their current political miseries. The End Is Near. It’s always near.

I recommend that any of our readers who want to understand our cultural roots read the Bible. It’s said that the Devil can quote scripture, and current politics shows the Word is true. A wise witch said that the challenge of our time is to integrate the rational and the mystical. She didn’t mention the irrational and fanatical, but that is the spirit of fundamentalism, of all brands.

Wipe Out Prostitution

Russ Smith has a good post about Prof. Donna Hughes’ editorial in the Providence Journal and the process that led to the latest new bills. Sounds like this sausage mix sat on the counter for too long. Smith lists the many ways a broad and poorly defined law against prostitution can be applied to make it possible to arrest people who don’t think of themselves as ‘pros’.

I was in the Coalition Against Human Trafficking the first year, and we did succeed in getting a good law passed. The devil is in the implementation. If that guy washing dishes in the back room of a restaurant is suicidal with homesickness and his wages are paying off his indenture, who will crusade to save him? Where’s the glamor?

Early on, the Coalition began to focus on sex trafficking, which is an atrocious crime, but difficult to fight–even with the FBI few cases are prosecuted.

In the second year, the Coalition turned to an easier target–the Asian spas that operate so openly. There was the ‘loophole’ in the Rhode Island law, with political allies committed to closing it.

When you can’t win the game, move the goal posts.

I think prostitution is a bad thing, I think the body is the self, and to sell a kidney, or access to the body is a violation of personhood.

So I would rather see this trade out in the open, with laws enforced to protect people from crimes such as rape, assault, extortion and blackmail. Making prostitutes into criminals will drive them far from the legal system, which should be a protector from violent crime. I would rather see my tax money go to pursuing those who commit such crimes, who are a threat to everyone.

Tara Hurley heard Prof. Hughes’ testimony, and comments here.

Nice Place to Visit But I Wouldn’t Want to Live There

Just got back from a week in Vermont on the shores of Lake Champlain. They sure have a lot of cows up there.
If I’d seen it on a commercial I wouldn’t have believed it, but we drove past herd after herd, grazing serenely in green pastures, gazing at the rolling hills, breathing air like wine and all. This makes me feel way better about eating ice cream–in fact I’ll try to eat more of it.
I tell my friends that I fear the country with its deer ticks and feral ducks, but really I love it too much to bear to see it carved up into suburban lots.
And the city rocks. Living in Prov and getting away to Vermont once in a while is the best of both worlds.

Pawtuxet Village Book Sale and Farmer’s Market This Saturday

UPDATE: Here’s some pics from the Book Sale and Farmer’s Market, compliments of my older daughter, the budding photographer. It was great fun and the sun felt wonderful. We got a pile of books, a beautiful yellow Fox Tail (originally from Tibet, now being grown in Cranston) and some yummy-looking greens. Woo-hoo!HNI_0029

School Committee member Steve Stycos provided the following update, with information on the Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market and annual book sale this Saturday. They’re talking about Saturday bringing us some much-needed sunshine, so this might be a great time to get out, enjoy the sun, and browse the books.


This Saturday’s Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market features our summer used book sale, a guided tree walk and a great selection of vegetables. The rain has slowed plant growth, but our farmers will have salad baby summer squash, lettuce, strawberries, scallions, clams, basil, turnips, spinach, kale, swiss chard, free range eggs, herbs, bok choy, garlic scapes and more.

The book sale benefits the market’s environmental projects, including the berry box recycling program and tree planting. Thanks to generous donations, we have a completely new selection of books, including children’s literature and some great CD’s.

If you still have books to donate, they can be dropped at 10 and 18 Williams Avenue, 25 Berwick Lane and 37 Ferncrest Avenue or at the sale before 9 AM.

The sale runs from 9 AM until noon and we can use some help with packing up at noon. If you can help, just show up.
Also, at 10 AM, starting at the market’s recycling table, the Rhode Island Tree Council’s John Campinini will lead a tree walk. John is the Willie Mays of Rhode Island trees and will demonstrate how to measure champion trees for the council’s ongoing effort to locate Rhode Island’s largest trees.


Heidi Blais sends along this recipe for pesto which includes Vitamin A packed kale.

Kale/Basil Pesto

1 bunch of kale (about 15 – 20 leaves), ribs and stems removed
1 cup fresh basil leaves
4 cloves garlic, peeled
3/4 cup pine nuts
1 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
1 1/4 cups olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Wash and remove the stems from the kale. Place in large microwave safe bowl. Add 1/2 cup water. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Stir and microwave for another 2-3 minutes. Remove lid to cool. (Kale can also be steamed if you prefer)

2. In a food processor, chop garlic cloves until finely minced. Add basil and cooked kale. Process until finely chopped and well blended.

3. Add olive oil, and pine nuts. Process until well blended.

4. Add cheese, process until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes approximately 16-20 oz. of pesto. Use as you would any pesto: As a sauce for pasta, add to soups and stews, use as a base for salad dressing. This freezes well. I freeze it in 4 oz. containers (enough for 3-4 servings on pasta). The amounts of the ingredients are approximate – you may like more olive oil, less cheese, or more garlic. Experiment and see what works for you.


The Hall Library’s outdoor summer concert series starts Thursday July 9 with music from Avenue A and continues July 16 with the United States Navy Band Northeast. Bring a lawn chair or a blanket and enjoy the music. Both concerts begin at 6 PM in front of the library on Broad Street.

See you Saturday at the market.

Not Funding Charter Schools May Hurt RI’s Stimulus Funding for Education

UPDATE: Angus Davis reports on Passing Notes that this morning Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commented on the mistake that Rhode Island is making by not funding charter schools:

Places like Rhode Island that are thinking about under-funding charters are obviously going to put themselves at a huge competitive disadvantage going forward. So we don’t think that’s a smart thing for them to do, and we’re going to make that very, very clear.” (APPLAUSE)

It is time for the General Assembly to reconsider whether they want to shortchange all of Rhode Island by not paying attention to the new Democratic national leadership on education.

ORIGINAL POST: In a post on his blog, Passing Notes, entrepreneur and education reformer (and member of the Rhode Island Board of Regents) Angus Davis responded to the state budget which cut $1.5 million in funds for charter schools:

Rhode Island Risks Losing $4.3 Billion “Race to the Top”

Statement of Angus Davis, speaking for Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education, Thursday, June 18, 2009:

Preserving the Governor’s proposed $1.5 million in funding for new charter schools is a priority for RIDE and the Regents as the General Assembly debates the budget. On June 8, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said states that fail to embrace new charter schools “jeopardize their applications under the [$4.3 billion] Race to the Top Fund.” Loss of support for new charter schools recently approved by the Regents would put Rhode Island at risk of dropping out of the race, just as it gets underway.

Rhode Island’s budget is balanced in part thanks to an influx of $110 million in new education stimulus funding (with $88 million more pledged next year, and $4.3 billion up for grabs through the ‘Race to the Top’ Fund), all overseen by Secretary Duncan and administered in Rhode Island through RIDE. Winning additional federal dollars (not just for public charter schools but for all public schools) depends on how we spend these new funds we were just given, and how our policies embrace education reform to raise student achievement moving forward. [full text]

It’s sad to think we may be jeopardizing large amounts of educational funding to our state because we did not fund charter schools. I hope the General Assembly will carefully consider this decision and its ramifications as they vote on the budget next week.

Happy Endings Documentary

Since the first brothel raid on Club Osaka in the late 1990’s the police have claimed that the alleged victims will not testify. That there are victims seems certain. Human trafficking is real and there are infinite ways to coerce vulnerable people. But are the most visible exploiters of the ‘loophole’, the Asian spas, holding women against their will? Or is the nature of the problem more subtle and connected with other social problems like poverty and racism? Is prostitution being conflated with slavery in order to sell arrest as rescue?

For the first time, women from the spas testified in the General Assembly. Surely they don’t represent all sex workers and all situations, but this is an important voice that has to be heard or the good intentions of anti-trafficking activists could result in more danger and isolation for people who decide, or are forced, to sell sex.

I’m rerunning a review of Tara Hurley’s documentary, and you can visit her blog here.

Happy Endings

In the debate on human trafficking in Rhode Island one point of view is conspicuously absent — that of the women concerned. Who are the women who live in the ‘spas’ advertised in the Providence Phoenix? Are they here illegally? Are they underage? Are they forced into prostitution? Tara Hurley spent three years interviewing spa workers, johns, police, politicians and activists. She takes you through the doors, covered with police association stickers, that lead into the spas. She says that her documentary film, ‘Happy Endings?’ is a tough sell because it offers no easy answers, and no one comes off looking good.

Human trafficking has been referred to as modern-day slavery. In the US and worldwide, women, men and children are tricked and coerced into working involuntarily in factories, farms, homes and brothels. This is fact, and a heinous violation of human rights. ‘Rescue and Restore’ is a viable strategy in these cases. But what is the strategy when the ‘victim’ is free to walk out the door?

On one side are the ‘New Abolitionists’ who see themselves as rescuers, on the other ‘Sex Workers’ who don’t acknowledge the damage that prostitution can do to women, children and communities.

“In a roundabout way, they’re being held against their will.” says ‘Greg’, an undercover police officer on the vice squad.

As Providence police Major Steve Campbell testifies, the women in the spas are adult, South Korean. Sometimes they are married to Americans, they are here legally.

They are here to make money.

“No one is forced to work.” says ‘Heather’, a spa owner who let Hurley interview her along with her American husband ‘Chris’.

“They’re here to make money.”, says ‘Jen’, a spa worker, with an angry contempt that even comes through the voice distorter, “What do you think? They want to have sex?”

“In your life, everybody’s for rent.” says Chris. He seems happy with this state of affairs. As the police lean harder on the spa, Chris becomes more powerful, wheeling and dealing, talking to his lawyer, getting the women released.

Heather goes to Boston for immigration hearings, seeking a green card that always seems just about to be granted– and always delayed. Her homesickness becomes more evident as the documentary unwinds. She seems to regret what her life has become. She arrived here single, 43 years old:

“I heard from the people I work with you could make a lot of money just by giving massages. I had just failed at operating my own business and I didn’t want to be a burden on my siblings. I could be brave because I was uninformed. I wasn’t planning on getting married, so I thought that would be the best solution for me… Many underwent working as a prostitute before becoming owners.”

The film takes a turn down lurid, neon-lit streets in Korea where the spa industry grew after Korea suffered a financial crash in the ’90’s. Lack of money creates desperation. And money becomes addictive. The women live in the spas, and can earn $18,000-$20,000 a month. And then lose it at Foxwoods. Compulsive gambling is common, and then they are back working off their gambling debts.

Jen, who appears in silhouette with her voice altered for anonymity, explains why she does it:

“There’s no fun, no babying. I want to make money so I can pay my bills. My kids…I’m single and I have two sons. There’s no life for me, and I don’t want a life for me. What’s good for my family. If I have to die, I am going to die for my family.”

There is a deep alienation. The alienation of the women from their own feelings. The language and culture difference that allows both prostitute and john to project their fantasies on each other. If Jen is harsh with herself, she has more contempt for the customers. They in turn can act out a racist fantasy of the submissive Asian woman. In any case, it’s all about money.

Is prostitution a victimless crime? Danielle tells how she lost $80,000 in a failed attempt to open a spa in a working class neighborhood. That was on a corner in Fox Point adjacent to an elementary school, a children’s library and the Fox Point Boys and Girls Club. Danielle seems not to want to understand why the Neighborhood Association did not want johns cruising their streets.

At one point Heather, who is truly hurt and frightened by a police raid on her business, says that it’s racial discrimination. But these women who live in their half-world don’t know how much hurt they are dishing out. Rhode Islanders don’t want our state to be a destination for sex tourists. As Rep. Joanne Giannini says in the film, “What a thing for Rhode Island to be known for!”

What to do? Hurley follows the spa raid in 2006 that led the National Council of Jewish Women to organize a community forum that drew more than 300 attendees. About 50 of them formed the Rhode Island Coalition Against Human Trafficking. A year of work and lobbying brought the passage of a law against “Trafficking of Persons and Involuntary Servitude.” Which so far has changed nothing. The reconstituted Coalition is lobbying for the Federal Wilberforce Act, which they hope will be a more effective legal tool. But the dilemma still exists. How do you save people who don’t want to be saved without running over personal freedom? And how do you stop prostitution? Harsh laws have never done anything but drive the trade underground, and make it more dangerous.

As Danielle says of her gambling habit, but it could apply to her life — “You get lucky you win, but you lose more.”

Heather speaks though a Korean interpreter, seeking to explain herself, to reconcile her conscience with who she has become. She pursues her receding goal of enough money and a green card, and in the end loses everything. Meanwhile the spas multiply, women are picked up in raids, the johns walk.

“Happy Endings?” has no answers, but brings up better questions. It’s a film that gives a voice to a group of women who are much talked about, but seldom heard. With heart and objectivity, and with courage, Tara Hurley walked through the doors and let the women speak. We have to listen to them if we want to help. I hope that Tara Hurley will find a place to show her film.

To read Tara’s blog, follow the link here.

To see a trailer from the film, go here.

The Women Speak

Finally — the legislature hears from some of the women it proposes to ‘rescue’.

PROVIDENCE — An Asian woman who said she works in a “spa” took the witness stand in a Senate hearing room Thursday night and asked why lawmakers want to outlaw indoor prostitution.

The rest here at — long overdue.

Ascension Receives $11,000 Grant for Children’s Music Program

In the good news department, Church of the Ascension (interview with Rector of Ascension Greg Lisby) in Cranston will be receiving $11,000 from the Episcopal Diocese to start a children’s music program.

This is wonderful news. Speaking personally, it has been a tremendous joy to watch my older daughter develop her musical skills as a member of the St. Cecilia choir at St. Luke’s in East Greenwich. There are 54 choristers in the choir at St. Luke’s and they have done some wonderful singing this year, both in church and in the production of their Cantata, “The Rock Slinger and His Greatest Hit.” The children are also instructed in music theory following the Royal School of Church Music curriculum.

Ascension is hoping to begin a program modeled on the successful program at St. Luke’s. Stay tuned for updates and announcements as we invite the community to participate in and benefit from this program. For those parents in Cranston who feel like they want their children to have more education in music than they get in public school, the program starting at Ascension may be the place to come.

On a side note, Church of Ascension has become a Goodsearch charity. Click on this link to start Goodsearching to benefit Church of the Ascension.


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