Monthly Archives: August, 2010

Republicanism is a Choice

Ken Mehlman, Republican National Committee chairman during the Bush administration, has come out as gay. He’s now working as an attorney in a private equity firm. He’s no longer in a place where telling the truth could have rocked the establishment and slowed down the momentum of the anti-gay activists.

Back when he had some power in Washington, when he was close to the President and his advisers, he went along with the cynical decision to create an ‘enemy’ to rev up the base…

Mehlman said President Bush “is no homophobe” but acknowledged that the Bush administration used antigay initiatives for political gain. In private conversations with senior Republicans, he said, he fought back against attempts to demonize same-sex marriage.

Well, we all know how much good that did. What I’d like to see is more of the ‘family values’ crowd coming out as political players who will slander innocent people whose only crime is being in the minority–and do it for political gain.

Whatever good is left in the Republican party, conscienceless opportunists like Ken Mehlman helped diminish it. His ‘homosexual agenda’ was to stay undercover when being himself would have hurt his career. His ‘family values’ led him to hang out with the valuable families while others advocated for rights like marriage and adoption as outsiders holding signs at protests.

In related news, the current chairman of the Republican National Committee has come out with an admission that his party uses race to energize the base. Follow this link to Bob Cesca’s shocking revelations.

My first president was Kennedy, and I’ve heard a lot of things said. But I’ve never before heard claims that a president was not an American, not a Christian. The message is not ‘one of us’, and people believe it first and look for proof second.

It’ used to be said that ‘gay is the new black’. Now it seems that brown is, and ‘illegals’ and Muslims are playing the role of national scapegoat. Playing the divisive card may be a winner in the short term, but it hurts our country to divide our people.

Some of my best friends are Republicans, they are decent people. A two-party system where both parties offer a real choice is good for our country. Republicans who know better should speak up, and not wait until they are safely away from the consequences. It won’t put them on the right side of history to say that they knew all along they were using bigotry for political gain.

Books on the Street

The Bookstore


I had a day to myself and got to walk around Harvard.  

I stopped by this bookstore to check out some vintage titles, and get a look at Penny the dog and Charley the cat curled up in the cart sleeping through all the noise– that is until another dog walked by. Then Penny would start barking furiously and wag her tail in Charley’s face causing Charley to give her that look of disdain that only cats can master. I figured that the couple sitting in lawn chairs were there as official Cambridge vendors, since they were clearly running a business.  

Minding the Store

Their story is more complicated than that. The proprietor, Ken O’ Brien, and assistant manager Frenchie, are homeless. The sidewalk bookstore was almost ousted by the city but Ken and friends, including other nearby bookstore owners, prevailed. He says it is a good business nine months of the year. His books, an eclectic collection culled from sales and donations, are arranged neatly in heavy-duty banana boxes with plastic tarp stashed by in case of rain. Ken pays homeless people to collect the boxes. 

It’s been a struggle every step of the way…

O’Brien, 56, has been on the streets for 35 years. He met French, known as Frenchie, five years ago when he was panhandling in the square. She eventually joined him on the streets, and the two formed a family with their dog, Penny, who was rescued from a puppy mill, and their cat, Charlie, who was found on the busy streets of Harvard Square.

They run Almost Banned, a sidewalk book table that the city shut down earlier this year. But O’Brien reopened the Harvard Square business soon after, hoisting a brightly colored sign on a pole daring authorities to close it again.

The book table, where books sell for $2 each, is their lifeline.

He says he doesn’t want government support, just to run his own business and  employ other homeless people. He’s worked since he was a boy, rode the rails, begged for change when there was no other way. He created his own job but was arrested for flagrant bookselling until he won in court…

The city continued to arrest them for not having the proper permit. However, O’Brien believed the permit the city instructed him to acquire did not apply to his circumstances. It required a $5,000 surety bond as well as $1 million in liability insurance to be approved by the city, fiscal requirements that didn’t bode well for a man who lives on the street with his family.

A glimmer of hope for O’Brien came in the form of an old Cambridge ordinance, entitled “Peddlers”. The ordinance reads: “No person shall place or keep any table, stall, booth or other erection, in any street, public place or any sidewalk, for the sale of any merchandise, without permission from the Superintendent of Streets. The fee for the permit set out in this chapter shall be fifty cents.”

You can read the rest of the story here.

Chris Young Puts Rhode Island on the Map

And not in a good way. Here is Huffington Post with links to Fox TV. says that Young publicly proposed marriage to his campaign manager on condition that he wins. Words fail me.

Some time back I reviewed some of the highlights of Young’s career, including a link to an astounding photo in the ProJo of Young being hauled away by police, here in Serial Obstructor.

A Little Perspective

I will admit that there are times I succumb to self-pity or bemoan my lot in life. On more than one occasion, I have railed at the heavens for some perceived injustice, annoyance, or mishap. I have felt aggrieved at Fate’s toying with me like a cat with a rodent (or an investment broker with a Ponzi scheme). I have questioned why I must suffer so. Why me? What did I do to deserve this leaky faucet, hairball on the stairs, wilting tomato plant, flat tire, chipped glass, overcharge, snotty attitude, broken appointment, etc., etc.?

In addition to opposable thumbs, one of the benefits of being human is having the capacity to reflect on one’s own existence and mortality. Sometimes, I just wish I had the thumbs. (When opening a jar of pickles, they come in quite handy.) Self-reflection is a double-edged sword, and I’m always nicking myself. It helps to have a sense of humor and sense of perspective. I try to maintain both. Some days are more successful than others.

Today, I am soberly reminded that I truly have little to complain about:

Chilean Miners Could Be Stuck In 600 Sq. Foot Space Until Christmas
Pakistan Flood Recovery Expected To Take Years
China Traffic Jam Could Last Weeks

Empty Houses, Full Homeless Shelters

Skip Bronson at Huffington Post points out the obvious…

About 3.5 million US residents (about 1% of the population), including 1.35 million children, have been homeless for a significant period of time. Over 37,000 homeless individuals (including 16,000 children) stay in shelters in New York every night. This information was gathered by the Urban Institute, but actual numbers might be higher.

Fox Business estimates, there are 18.9 million vacant homes across the country.

3.5 million people without homes; 18.9 million homes without residents.

Maybe homeless families can be hired as house-sitters.

If ‘the homeless’ are all people of bad character, why are more people homeless when the economy is bad? I don’t want Barack Obama to give up smoking. I want him to get a cigarette holder and a hat and some wire-rim glasses. It’s time for a New Deal.

Undermining the Caregiver

‘Aren’t there any white doctors here?’ a clinic patient asked me once. ‘No’, I said. We had three doctors from Ghana and one from Egypt.

Like many primary care clinics, this one was staffed by young doctors starting their careers, some fulfilling a committment to the US Health Service, and they tended to move on after two years. The demographic mix was always changing. If I were looking for care for myself I would have chosen the doctor I thought best for my particular complaint. That could be any one of them depending on what illness I had.

Choosing a doctor by race or ethnicity is no better than choosing a doctor by astrological sign. And yet, there is enough prejudice remaining in our society to cloud patient’s judgment when they choose a doctor. Here is one doctor’s account of his education in medicine from his surgery professor, and in racial politics from his fellow students…

“If I were sick,” I said to my fellow resident that night, “I know which surgeon I would ask for.”

“But you can understand why some patients and referring doctors don’t go to him,” she replied matter-of-factly. “Other guys wear Brooks Brothers, have recognizable last names and carry a degree from the ‘right’ medical school. But when a potential patient or referring doctor sees our guy, all they might notice is a foreigner with an accent and a strange name who graduated from a medical school in some developing country.”

The prestige of having an MD doesn’t protect doctors from various kinds of disrespect, including prejudice. How much more exposed is a hands-on health care provider who does the hardest work for low wages.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Certified nursing assistant Brenda Chaney was on duty in an Indiana nursing home one day when she discovered a patient lying on the floor, unable to stand. But Chaney couldn’t help the woman up. She had to search for a white aide because the woman had left instructions that she did not want any black caregivers. And the nursing home insisted it was legally bound to honor the request.

Excluding a couple of nursing homes in the far corners of the state, the majority of nurses aides on teams I have worked with are women of color, and/or immigrants. Most often the relationship between caregivers and patients is a benevolent one. It has to be, there’s no energy to spare for conflict. Sometimes an assignment ‘doesn’t click’ and the patient is re-assigned. This is common and no big deal. I have never worked anywhere that made discrimination a matter of policy. This is just so wrongheaded.

It’s true that patients have rights to feel comfortable, the law recognizes that…

Courts have held that patients can refuse to be treated by a caregiver of the opposite sex, citing privacy issues. But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling in Chaney’s case last month, said applying that accommodation to race goes too far.
”The privacy interest that is offended when one undresses in front of a doctor or nurse of the opposite sex does not apply to race,” the ruling said.

Caregivers are workers providing a skilled service. Patients are diverse and have different needs. Caregivers have to work together as a team or the job becomes much more stressful and patient care suffers. Undermining the caregivers and dividing them by race can only hurt morale and send a message that some workers are less valued than others.

I’m so glad that the organizations I worked for never interpreted patient’s rights as erasing the non-discrimination policy required by federal law. I can’t imagine what Brenda Cheney felt each working day…

Documents in Chaney’s lawsuit, filed in 2008, say her daily assignment sheet at Plainfield Healthcare Center always included the reminder that one patient in her unit ”Prefers No Black CNAs.”

It’s a bad road to go down, accomodating prejudice. The range and variety of prejudices I have encountered in eldercare would make it impossible to function if an organization tried to indulge them all. Much better to have a clear policy of non-discrimination and focus on getting the job done. It’s a tough job, and those who do it deserve respect.

ALL AMERICAN: It’s worth noting, also, that Brenda Chaney is African-American. There should have been no cultural barriers or communication problems. Her family has been American for centuries. This instance of discrimination was based solely on skin color. It’s a painful reminder that the color line has not been completely erased.

Fear of Eggs

Megafarming is showing its scary side in the recall of eggs that may be tainted with salmonella. The number of eggs recalled may reach half a billion. Gods, where will they put them all?

Factory farming makes it inevitable that animal diseases will spread and affect the food supply.

This egg disaster goes hand-in-hand with industrial food production, some experts insist.
Years ago, communities would get eggs from nearby farms, so any outbreaks would be geographically localized, says Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Today, if there is a problem in some early stage in the distribution chain, it spreads quickly over a very large geographic area and involves a very large number of people, he says.

Is it the price we pay for a cheap breakfast? Not all experts agree.

“Yeah, when there are more birds, there will be more problems,” says Jeff Armstrong, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University, “but there is no clear data on whether one system of housing birds is more or less likely to encourage disease. The bottom line is that we can and have been producing eggs safely and economically in confinement.This unfortunate problem is not an indictment of the system.”

With thousands of people feared sickened, it seems that the arguments are destined to continue.
As for Nestle, she shops for eggs at her local farmer’s market. They cost more, but she says she knows how they are produced.

I don’t have any worries about it because East Side Pharmacy sells eggs from Stamp Farms in Johnston. There are a number of chicken farms in Johnston and around the state. I don’t know how freely the chickens range inside that big red barn at Stamp Farms, but at least I know where the eggs come from, and they’re not expensive like pretentious organic eggs from New Jersey, or Idaho, or wherever.

In honor of all things Rhode Island, here is the local list.

Me Vida Local List–
Acme Video
Silver Star Bakery
United BBQ
Stamp Egg Farms
East Side Prescription Center
Yacht Club Soda
Mangiarelli’s Fruitlands
Four Mile River Farm

Follow the above links to local providers. Keep our economy from tanking any worse.

The Schemers

I got to see Mark Cutler and the Schemers play in Warwick last night. I didn’t plan to dance but it was impossible not to.

It’s a good summer for music.

Meeting About Mashapaug Commons (Former Gorham Toxic Site)

The federal government has done a study of the health impacts of the Gorham site in South Providence, which was rehabilitated into Mashapaug Commons, which now stands mostly vacant, next to a newly built high school, Alvarez High School, which has a system for pumping potential toxic underground fumes away from the school. From Amelia Rose, Director and Lead Organizer, Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island:

Dear Neighbors of the Gorham Manufacturing Site, and friends,

Mark your calendars for an important community meeting coming up in two weeks hosted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is a federal government agency that looks at the health impacts of contaminated sites like Gorham. They just finished a health assessment of part of the site and will be holding a public meeting to discuss the results.

ATSDR Public Meeting
Monday – August 30, 2010
Time: 7-9 PM
Location: Renaissance Church, 77 Reservoir Ave, Providence, RI –behind Popeye’s in the Mashapaug Commons Shopping Plaza

Come to the Public Meeting to:

· Hear about the work ATSDR is doing at the former Gorham Manufacturing Facility Site
· Discuss the results of ATSDR’s Health Consultation for Parcel C
· Talk one-on-one with ATSDR and State and Local representatives from:
o The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM)
o The Rhode Island Department of Health
o Textron Corporation
o City of Providence
· Ask questions about the work ATSDR, State and Local agencies are doing to protect people’s health and recommendations for future development of the Gorham Site

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is a public health agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ATSDR works in communities to provide trusted health information to prevent harmful exposures and disease related to toxic substances. ATSDR is located in Atlanta, GA.

Fighting for Freedom in the Military

This is not my usual cut and paste from the HuffPo, but straight out of Veterans Today…

On May 13, 2010, about eighty soldiers, stationed at Fort Eustis while attending a training course, were punished for opting out of attending one of these Christian concerts. The headliner at this concert was a Christian rock band called BarlowGirl, a band that describes itself as taking “an aggressive, almost warrior-like stance when it comes to spreading the gospel and serving God.”

This has been covered by the left press, but Veterans Today goes into more detail. Soldiers serving in the military give up a lot of the liberties we enjoy, but freedom of religion is not one of them. Thank you to all of the eighty soldiers who stood up for the rights of all of us.


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